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While 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar live in the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego in early 2000 and then possibly again before 9/11 (see Early September 2001), neighbors note unexplained late night car rides and visits. Time reports that a neighbor, “Nancy Coker, 36, saw them getting into limos late at night, even though the car that neighbors said they drove was a gray Toyota Camry, early ‘90s vintage. ‘A week ago, I was coming home between 12 and 1 a.m. from a club. I saw a limo pick them up. It wasn’t the first time. In this neighborhood you notice stuff like that. In the past couple of months, I have seen this happen at least two or three times.’” Note the comment, “a week ago,” which is further evidence the two are living in the Parkwood Apartments again just before 9/11 (see Early September 2001) [Time, 9/24/2001 Sources: Nancy Coker] Keith Link, a neighbor with a view of one of the apartments, referring to one of these hijackers, says, “People later in the evening would come and pick him up in really fancy nice cars, brand-new Lincolns. Everybody is friendly in this whole complex, except for that guy. Nobody knew him, nobody spoke to him.” Another neighbor, Sharon Flower, says, “I would see this man being picked up or dropped off at all hours of the day or night.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/15/2001 Sources: Keith Link, Sharon Flower] A similar pattern is seen by neighbors when the hijackers live with FBI informant Abdussattar Shaikh in the neighborhood of Lemon Grove in late 2000. Neighbor Dave Eckler later explains, “There was always a series of cars driving up to the house late at night. Sometimes they were nice cars. Sometimes they had darkened windows. They’d stay about 10 minutes.” At the time, Eckler guesses they are selling fake IDs. [Time, 9/24/2001 Sources: Dave Eckler] Neighbor Marna Adair says, “People come and go at all hours. We’ve always thought there was something strange going on there.” Her daughter Denise Adair adds, “We thought it was a little weird, but we never thought this [i.e., the 9/11 attacks].” [Associated Press, 9/16/2001 Sources: Denise Adair, Marna Adair] There has never been any media speculation as to the meaning of these late night rides and official 9/11 investigations have never mentioned the issue.
The front cover of the matchbox announcing a reward for bin Laden. [Source: Saeed Khan / Getty Images]The US begins circulating matchboxes in Pakistan with a picture of bin Laden and an announcement of a large reward for information leading to his capture. The reward promises confidentiality but also only lists the reward money as $500,000 instead of the $5 million announced by Washington. Additionally, 100 rupee notes, worth about $2, are being circulated with a message stamped on them announcing the reward. There is no matchbox campaign for other known al-Qaeda leaders. [Associated Press, 2/16/2000] The reward program is notable for its late start and low profile, especially when compared to a similar matchbox reward program for Ramzi Yousef starting in 1993 (see April 2, 1993). That program was announced about a month after Yousef was determined to be a major suspect, and it eventually helped with his capture (see February 3-7, 1995). The bin Laden campaign will come to an end by early 2004 (see January 2004).
The New York Times reports that “In recent months, American officials have circulated within the government a list of more than 30 groups that they are examining for links to terrorism, at least two of which are based in the United States.” The only groups specifically mentioned as being on the list are: [New York Times, 2/19/2000]
The Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA), a charity said to be tied to the government of Sudan, which the US officially lists as a terrorism sponsor. The State Department’s USAID program gave the IARA two grants in 1998 worth $4.2 million for work in Mali, then later cancelled the grants (see November 1996-Late December 1999).
The Holy Land Foundation, based in Richardson, Texas.
The Global Relief Foundation, also based in Richardson, Texas.
Human Concern International, a Canadian-based group shut down by Canada in 1997.
The US government is said to be stepping up investigations into such charities, and talking to countries in the Persian Gulf about their support of specific charities. “But officials said Washington had been reluctant to interfere in a domain safeguarded by constitutional guarantees of free association and separation of church and state. In addition, officials said, they lacked evidence that could be used in public court proceedings.” [New York Times, 2/19/2000] Later in 2000, the State Department will ask its USAID program not to give aid to Holy Land any more. It will cite the payments the charity gives to the families of suicide bombers. [New York Times, 8/25/2000] But aside from this one minor step, the US will take no actions against any of the four named charities until after 9/11. Three of the charities will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see December 4, 2001; October 12, 2001), while in 2004 the IARA will be shut down for providing “direct financial support” to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 8/25/2000]
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta returns to Germany from Pakistan using the same monitored route as he traveled on the outward journey (see Late November-Early December 1999). He flies from Karachi to Istanbul, Turkey, where he changes planes for Hamburg. Turkish intelligence discovered that militants use this route to travel between Europe and training camps in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and alerted Germany to it at that time, causing Germany to launch an investigation into one of Atta’s associates (see 1996). However, it is not known whether the intelligence agencies register Atta’s travel at this time. [Stern, 8/13/2003] Fellow alleged 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah appears to be noticed on his way back to Germany from Afghanistan (see January 30, 2000) and another member of the cell, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, may be monitored in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at this time (see January 5-8, 2000).
The CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, replies to a request from the CIA station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for information about future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash by saying that there will be a delay with the response due to difficulties obtaining the information. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247-8 ] The relevant information that should be passed to Kuala Lumpur station concerns the departure of Alhazmi and Almihdhar to the US (see January 15, 2000 and January 15, 2000). Kuala Lumpur station coordinated surveillance of the three men in Malaysia in early January (see January 5-8, 2000). When the trio flew to Bangkok, the surveillance was passed on to Bangkok station (see January 8, 2000). According to the 9/11 Commission: “Presumably the departure information was obtained back in January, on the days that these individuals made their departures. Because the names were watchlisted by the Thai authorities we cannot yet explain the delay in reporting the news.” It is therefore unclear why the CIA’s Bangkok station says it is having difficulty obtaining information it already apparently has in its possession. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502] The information will be reported about a week later, but will be incomplete, as Bangkok station will only report that Alhazmi has flown to the US, failing to name his companion as Almihdhar (see March 5, 2000).
The NSA’s Echelon satellite surveillance system has eavesdropped on numerous public figures, human rights organizations, charities, and even the Vatican, former British intelligence officials admit (see February 27, 2000). The NSA, which shares information with Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, has eavesdropped on, among others, Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), Mark Thatcher (the son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher), the Pope, Mother Teresa, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, and others. It is unclear exactly when the NSA performed its surveillance operations, and what information it collected. The officials choose to speak out after the European Parliament announces it will open an inquiry into Echelon’s operations (see July 11, 2001). Former NSA official Wayne Madsen says, “Anybody who is politically active will eventually end up on the NSA’s radar screen.” The NSA routinely monitors charities and human rights organizations operating overseas because they often have access to information about regimes opposed to Western interests. Madsen believes the NSA spied on Diana because of her human rights work; he says that “undisclosed material held in US government files on Princess Diana was collected because of her work with the international campaign to ban landmines.” Mark Thatcher was monitored in the 1980s because of his work on the huge al-Yamamah arms contract being negotiated between Britain and Saudi Arabia. The NSA also monitored conversations by officials of the Panavia consortium, which builds the Tornado fighter plane. British Aerospace is a major partner in the consortium. “I just think of Echelon as a great vacuum cleaner in the sky which sucks everything up,” says former Canadian intelligence officer Mike Frost. “We just get to look at the goodies.” Former US computer software manager Margaret Newsham, who worked during the 1980s at the Menwith Hill listening station in Yorkshire, says, “I was aware that massive security violations were taking place. If these systems were for combating drugs or terrorism, that would be fine. But not for use in spying on individuals.” Newsham recalls being shocked when she overheard conversations by then-US senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). “It was evident American constitutional laws had been broken,” she says. [London Times, 2/27/2000]
Entity Tags: Strom Thurmond, Wayne Madsen, Panavia, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Christian Aid, British Aerospace, Amnesty International, Echelon, European Parliament, Margaret Newsham, Margaret Thatcher, National Security Agency, Mark Thatcher, Mike Frost
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Mike Frost. [Source: NineMSN]One of the few commercial media reports about Echelon, the NSA’s global surveillance network (see April 4, 2001), appears on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The report is disturbing in its portrayal of Echelon as a surveillance system capable of, in host Steve Kroft’s words, capturing “virtually every electronic conversation around the world.” Kroft continues, “[V]irtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed,” including land line and cell phone signals, ATM transactions, fax machines,public and private radio broadcasts, even baby monitors. Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency which often works closely with the NSA, says, “The entire world, the whole planet” is being surveilled. “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.… Every square inch is covered.” Listening stations around the world transmit their data to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as Kroft says, “acres of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.” Frost adds, “Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words such as ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘blow up,’ to telephone numbers or—or a person’s name. And people are getting caught, and—and that’s great.” Echelon is so secret that even its successes are not publicly documented, though it is believed that, among other successes, it helped capture international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” and helped identify two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 [CBS News, 2/27/2000] which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. [Washington Post, 12/22/1988] “I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon,” Frost noted in a 1999 interview with the Australian press. “Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organizations have to abuse a system such as Echelon. Don’t think it can’t happen in Australia. Don’t think it can’t happen in Canada, because it does.” [NineMSN, 5/23/1999]
Monitoring Legal Conversations - As successful as Echelon has been in capturing terrorists, international drug dealers, and various criminals, it has raised serious concerns for its capability of monitoring ordinary, innocent civilians. Frost says that such monitoring happens every day: “Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a—a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w—was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.” Though the NSA has a long and checkered history of spying on American citizens, including extensive monitoring of antiwar and civil rights protesters during the 1970s, the agency refuses to provide any information about its activities—not to the public and not even to Congress. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has for years pressed for more information about the program, which he recently said “engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens.” Even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL) had trouble getting information when he requested it last year. At the time, Goss said, “[T]here was some information about procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the NSA said, ‘Well, we don’t think we need to share this information with the Oversight Committee.’ And we said, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. We do have the oversight, and you will share the information with us,’ and they did.” Goss had to threaten to cut the NSA’s budget before the agency would share even limited information with him. When asked how he can be sure the NSA isn’t listening in on ordinary citizens’ communications, Goss merely says, “We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well.”
Princess Diana, Human Rights Organizations Monitored - Evidence presented in the broadcast also suggests the NSA was monitoring Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), as well as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other groups (see February 27, 2000). [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
British Ministers Monitored - Frost cites an instance where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher monitored two of her own ministers (see 1983).
Americans Monitored - Former NSA contractor Margaret Newsham recalls hearing a monitored conversation featuring then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). Frost is not surprised. “Oh, of course it goes on,” he says. “Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.” Kroft asks, “You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in… in the United States?” Frost replies, “Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It’s not; not the world of fiction. That’s the way it works. I’ve been there. I was trained by you guys” (see 1980s). Goss seems less concerned. He says that it is “[c]ertainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?… It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it’s very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it’s there. But what I can make sure is that it’s not abused—the capability’s not abused, and that’s what we do.”
Used for Corporate Advantage - In 2001, the European Parliament released a report listing many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world and detailing their capabilities (see July 11, 2001). Kroft notes, “The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.”
Encryption Effective? - European governments and corporations are encrypting more and more of their phone, fax, and e-mail transmissions to keep Echelon from listening in. In response, the US government is pressuring the Europeans to give US law enforcement and intelligence agencies software keys so that they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Parliament member Glyn Ford is not opposed to the idea in principle: “[I]f we are not assured that that is n—not going to be abused, then I’m afraid we may well take the view, ‘Sorry, no.’ In [Britain], it’s traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if they want the neighbors to come in and—and do something in their house. Well, we’re neighbors, and we’re not going to leave the electronic key under the doormat if you’re going to come in and steal the family silver.” The NSA, CSE, and even Echelon are necessary evils, Ford acknowledges, but, “My concern is no accountability and nothing—no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through the cracks. That’s my concern.” [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
Entity Tags: Greenpeace, Wayne Madsen, Glyn Ford, Echelon, Communications Security Establishment, Central Intelligence Agency, Amnesty International, Strom Thurmond, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Steve Kroft, Princess Diana, Mike Frost, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Newsham, National Security Agency, Robert “Bob” Barr, House Intelligence Committee, Porter J. Goss, Ilich RamÃrez Sanchez
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Sources who know Osama bin Laden later claim that his stepmother, Al-Khalifa bin Laden, has a second meeting with her stepson in Afghanistan (her first visit took place in the spring of 1998 (see Spring 1998)). The trip is approved by the Saudi royal family. The Saudis pass the message to him that “‘they wouldn’t crack down on his followers in Saudi Arabia’ as long as he set his sights on targets outside the desert kingdom.” In late 1999, the Saudi government had told the CIA about the upcoming trip, and suggested placing a homing beacon on her luggage. This does not happen—Saudis later claim they weren’t taken seriously, and Americans claim they never received specific information on her travel plans. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001; Washington Post, 12/19/2001]
FBI agent Jack Cloonan, a member of the FBI’s I-49 bin Laden squad, will tell author Peter Lance after 9/11 that another FBI agent belonging to I-49 named Frank Pellegrino saw some of the surveillance photos taken of the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia several months earlier (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Cloonan will say, “Pellegrino was in Kuala Lumpur,” the capital of Malaysia. “And the CIA chief of station said, ‘I’m not supposed to show these photographs, but here. Take a look at these photographs. Know any of these guys?’” But Pellegrino does not recognize them, as he is working to catch Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and apparently is not involved in other cases. However, there have been numerous reports that KSM was at the summit (see January 5-8, 2000). Further, Lance will note that if Pellegrino could not identify KSM, he could have recognized Hambali, another attendee of the summit. Pellegrino was in the Philippines in 1995 and worked with local officials there as they interrogated Abdul Hakim Murad, one of the Bojinka bombers (see February-Early May 1995). During this time, Murad’s interrogators learned about Hambali’s involvement in a front company called Konsonjaya and passed the information on to US officials (see Spring 1995). Further, an FBI report from 1999 shows the FBI was aware of Hambali’s ties to Konsonjaya by that time (see May 23, 1999). [Lance, 2006, pp. 340-341]
Pashtun ethnic areas, shown in red, cover much of the heavily populated areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. [Source: New York Times]Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, director of the Pakistani ISI since October 1999 (see October 12, 1999), is not considered especially religious. However, around this time he begins telling his colleagues that he has become a “born-again Muslim.” While he doesn’t make open gestures such as growing a beard, when US intelligence learns about this talk they find it foreboding and wonder what its impact on the ISI’s relations with the Taliban will be. Perhaps not coincidentally, around this time he begins meeting less frequently with CIA liaisons and becomes less cooperative with the US. [Coll, 2004, pp. 510-511] But if Mahmood becomes a fundamentalist Muslim, that would not be very unique in the ISI. As Slate will write shortly after 9/11, “many in the ISI loathe the United States. They view America as an unreliable and duplicitous ally, being especially resentful of the 1990 sanctions, which came one year after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. Furthermore, the ISI is dominated by Pashtuns, the same tribe that is the Taliban’s base of support across the border in Afghanistan. Partly because of its family, clan, and business ties to the Taliban, the ISI, even more than Pakistani society in general, has become increasingly enamored of radical Islam in recent years.” [Slate, 10/9/2001]
Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, later claims that around this time he uncovers an intelligence report about the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Public details of his exact knowledge about this summit have been scant, but it suggests at least some information on the summit spreads beyond the CIA and FBI not long after it takes place. But apparently, Fallis, who had been researching terror links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence, learns that US intelligence discovered at the time that Malaysian security officials traced some attendees of the summit to the Iranian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, where they spent the night. Fallis will use this lead along with other leads to suggest a terror warning in late September 2000 (see May 2000-Late September 2000) that he believes might have stopped the USS Cole attack in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002]
Around this time, special CIA paramilitary teams begin “working with tribes and warlords in southern Afghanistan” and help “create a significant new network in the region of the Taliban’s greatest strength.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2001] Journalist Bob Woodward will later report that from 2000 through March 2001, the CIA also deploys paramilitary teams at least five times into Afghanistan to work with the Northern Alliance in the north part of the country. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 77-78]
CIA Director George Tenet forms a national security advisory panel that comprises a team of security analysts and is chaired by Admiral David Jeremiah. The panel is, in the words of authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, “asked to think the unthinkable.” The State Department’s WMD specialist Robert Gallucci is the official responsible for nuclear issues. Galluccci will comment: “It was all sources, all clearances.… I was the nuclear freak and got briefings set up on the nuclear terrorist thing. Every single scenario was extremely scary and entirely believable. There was lots and lots of intelligence. Put it this way, the US number one enemy was looking more and more like Pakistan.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 293]
Mohamed Atta and another of the 9/11 hijackers (presumably Marwan Alshehhi) rent rooms in New York City, according to a federal investigator. These rooms are in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Following 9/11, Atta is traced back to Brooklyn by a parking ticket issued to a rental car he was driving. However, immigration records have Mohamed Atta entering the US for the first time on June 3, 2000 (see June 3, 2000). The Associated Press article on this subject does not specify if Atta first stayed in New York before or after that date. [Associated Press, 12/8/2001] According to a brief mention in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, in the month of June, “As [Atta and Marwan Alshehhi] looked at flight schools on the East Coast, [they] stayed in a series of short-term rentals in New York City.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224; Washington Post, 8/13/2005] Earlier in 2000, a US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identified an al-Qaeda terrorist cell based in Brooklyn, of which Atta is a member (see January-February 2000). Also, a number of eyewitnesses later report seeing Atta in Maine and Florida before this official arrival date (see April 2000; Late April-Mid-May 2000).
German investigators finally agree to the CIA’s request to recruit businessman Mamoun Darkazanli as an informant. An agent of the LfV, the Hamburg state intelligence agency, casually approaches Darkazanli and asks him whether he is interested in becoming a spy. Darkazanli replies that he is just a businessman who knows nothing about al-Qaeda or terrorism. The Germans inform the local CIA representative that the approach failed. The CIA agent persists, asking the German agent to continue to try. However, when German agents ask for more information to show Darkazanli they know of his terrorist ties, the CIA fails to give them any information. As it happens, at the end of January 2000, Darkazanli had just met with Barakat Yarkas in Madrid, Spain. [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002] Darkazanli is a longtime friend and business partner of Yarkas, the most prominent al-Qaeda agent in Spain. Yarkas has long been under surveillance by Spanish intelligence, and they have been sharing that intelligence with the CIA (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003] The meeting included other suspected al-Qaeda figures, and it was monitored by Spanish police. If the CIA is aware of the Madrid meeting, they do not tell the Germans. [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002] A second LfV attempt to recruit Darkazanli also fails. The CIA then attempts to work with federal German intelligence officials in Berlin to “turn” Darkazanli. Results of that effort are not known. [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002]
An unnamed FBI agent who investigates suspected Saudi spy Omar al-Bayoumi after 9/11 will later tell the 9/11 Commission that he is 98 percent sure that future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar use al-Bayoumi’s cell phone during the first couple of months of 2000. For instance, a San Diego associate of al-Bayoumi’s will later state in an interview that when he received a page on February 15, 2000 for al-Bayoumi’s cell phone, he called the number and found he was speaking to Nawaf Alhazmi instead of al-Bayoumi. There are four calls from al-Bayoumi’s cell phone to radical imam Anwar al-Awlaki on February 4, 2000 (see February 4, 2000). There are calls to al-Awlaki on February 10, 16, and 18 as well. The agent will also note that there are numerous other calls on this phone from this time period that have never been investigated, and this should be an issue of grave concern. [9/11 Commission, 11/17/2003 ]
Around eight calls made by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from San Diego to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by his father-in-law Ahmed al-Hada are intercepted by the NSA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16-17, 157 ; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] At least one of the calls is made from a phone registered to hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in their San Diego apartment. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 ] Other calls are made from a mobile phone registered to Alhazmi. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 296] Calls may also be made from the communications hub to the US. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004]
Dates of Calls - One of the calls takes place days after they move into their San Diego apartment in February (see January 15-February 2000). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Another is on March 20, 2000 and lasts 16 minutes. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 57 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 ]
Intercepted by NSA - Although NSA analysts pick up Almihdhar’s first name, “Khalid,” they do not connect it to his second name, even though the NSA has been intercepting communications to and from the hub involving him throughout 1999 (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and he is on the NSA watch list at this point (see Mid-January 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16, 157 ; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] Some, or perhaps all, of these calls are between Almihdhar and his wife, who lives at the communications hub and reportedly gives birth to a daughter in early 2000 while Almihdhar is in the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] However, the NSA analysts suspect that Khalid is part of an “operational cadre.” [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004]
Dissemination and Content - According to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, the NSA disseminates some of this information to the FBI, CIA, and other agencies, but not all of it, as it apparently does not meet reporting thresholds. It is unclear why it does not meet such thresholds, although some sources will suggest Almihdhar was just talking to his wife. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] Another source suggests operational information was passed on during the calls (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). However, two FBI agents who worked on al-Qaeda cases relating to Yemen, Dan Coleman and Ali Soufan, will later claim that they and other senior counterterrorism officials only learn about these calls after 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Significance - Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “You know, this is the key. The NSA is all over this phone. And everybody, you know, that has any connection with it is drawing links from that phone. Now imagine eight lines from Yemen to San Diego. How obvious would it be that al-Qaeda is in America[?]” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]
Other Calls - The NSA also intercepts various other communications between the hijackers and the communications hub (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).
Italian information peddler Rocco Martino agrees to pay Laura Montini, an employee at the Niger embassy in Rome, the sum of £350 per month in exchange for any documents that might shed light on rumours that “rogue states” are trying to acquire uranium from Niger (see Between 1999 and 2000). Martino wants to sell the documents to the French who are investigating the rumours. France is concerned about the security of a French consortium that controls Niger’s only two uranium mines. Martino has reportedly been on French intelligence’s payroll since 1999 (see June or July 1999). Martino learned of Montini through his friend Antonio Nucera, deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome (see Early 2000). Up until this point, Montini, age 60, has been working as an informant for Italian intelligence. She goes by the name “La Signora.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; Marshall, 11/10/2005; Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006; Vanity Fair, 7/2006, pp. 150] One of the first documents she gives to Martino is one relating to Wissam al-Zahawie’s 1999 visit to Niger (see February 1999). Martino reportedly passes the document on to the French. [Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006] Over the next several months, La Signora reportedly provides Martino with numerous documents—a “codebook,” a dossier including a mixture of fake and genuine documents, and then finally, a purported agreement between Niger and Iraq on the sale of 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake.” [Marshall, 11/10/2005]
The US intelligence community obtains information suggesting al-Qaeda is planning attacks in specific West Coast areas, possibly involving the assassination of several public officials. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] While these attacks do not materialize, this is the same month the CIA learns that two known al-Qaeda operatives have just flown to Los Angeles (see March 5, 2000).
US intelligence obtains information about the types of targets that bin Laden’s network might strike. The Statue of Liberty is specially mentioned, as are skyscrapers, ports, airports, and nuclear power plants. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
The FBI obtains a wiretap warrant to seize al-Qaeda-related e-mails under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), but experimental software malfunctions and an angry FBI agent is said to destroy all the e-mails collected. The Carnivore software, which was installed in Denver, collects e-mails not only from the target, but also from other people. The FBI technician is reportedly so upset when he discovers e-mails from people whose communications the FBI has no authorization to collect that he apparently deletes everything the FBI has gathered, including the e-mails from the target. However, the article that first reports this deletion also says the opposite: “A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday night that the e-mails were not destroyed.” In either case, the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) at FBI headquarters, which deals with FISA warrants, is then informed and expresses its surprise it was not told the software was experimental before the warrant was issued. An FBI official will comment: “To state that [an OIPR official] is unhappy with [the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section] and the [Usama bin Laden] Unit would be an understatement of incredible proportions.” As the target’s e-mails have been destroyed in the FBI system, the FBI then wants a physical search warrant under FISA to go and collect the e-mails from the carrier. However, the OIPR insists on an explanation for the error before this can happen, and also demands an explanation for the problem, so the special FISA court can be notified. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/5/2000; Associated Press, 5/28/2002] It is not known who was being monitored, though there are potential al-Qaeda Denver connections: in 1994, a bin Laden front began routing communications through Denver (see 1994), and a passport was stolen there in 1995 from a man who was later confused with one of the 9/11 hijackers (see 1995).
FBI agents in Chicago are already investigating the Illinois-based Global Relief Foundation (GRF) for linked to al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups (see 1997-Late Spring 2001), when they discover a connection to Detroit. They find that GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade, a suspected al-Qaeda operative, is calling two people in the Detroit area, GRF’s unnamed spiritual leader and Rabih Haddad, a major GRF fund raiser. Based on this lead, in March 2000, the FBI’s Detroit office opens a full field investigation on these two subjects. A Detroit agent also applies for a FISA warrant on the two subjects to conduct electronic surveillance on them. But the FISA applications are not approved until just after 9/11 because FBI headquarters does not formally submit the request until then. The Detroit agent is never given a reason for the delay. In fact, FBI headquarters agents tell him the application looks good and repeatedly say that they are working on it. The agent will later tell the 9/11 Commission he “believes [the delay] caused him to miss a great opportunity to gather critical intelligence and substantially limited the Detroit investigation of GRF before 9/11.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 93-94 ] The GRF’s offices in the US and overseas will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see December 14, 2001). Haddad will be imprisoned for 19 months for an immigration violation and then deported. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]
The US routinely denies that its satellite surveillance program, Echelon, provides any information to corporations, noting that the law clearly prevents such transactions. But former CIA director James Woolsey confirms that the US does indeed conduct economic espionage against its European allies, though he does not specifically mention Echelon. Woolsey, a well-known neoconservative, justifies such actions by accusing European companies of using bribery to gain unfair advantages against US corporations. “We have spied on you because you bribe,” he writes in the Wall Street Journal. “[European] products are often more costly, less technically advanced or both, than [their] American competitors’. As a result [they] bribe a lot.” [BBC, 7/6/2000]
Maj. Brock Gaston. [Source: State Department]CIA official Gary Berntsen and a US Army Special Forces major known as Brock (an apparent reference to Maj. Brock Gaston) lead a six-person team with the mission to enter Afghanistan and capture one of bin Laden’s top aides. The exact target is not specified; the team is expected to take advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves. The team passes through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, then meets up with Northern Alliance forces in the part of Afghanistan still under their control. But from the very beginning they encounter resistance from a CIA superior officer who is based in a nearby country and is in charge of CIA relations with the Northern Alliance. Known publicly only by his first name Lawrence, he apparently had a minor role in the Iran-Contra affair and has a personal dispute with Gaston. The team stays at Ahmad Shad Massoud’s Northern Alliance headquarters high in the Afghan mountains for about two weeks. However, they never have a chance to cross into Taliban territory for their mission because Lawrence is sending back a stream of negative messages to CIA headquarters about the risks of their mission. A debate ensues back at headquarters. Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorist Center, and his assistant Hank Crumpton support continuing the mission. But CIA Director George Tenet and his assistant Jim Pavitt cancel the mission on March 25. Upon returning to the US, Berntsen, Gaston, Black, and Crumpton formally call for Lawrence’s dismissal, but to no effect. Berntsen will later comment that Black and Crumpton “had shown a willingness to plan and execute risky missions. But neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bill Clinton had the will to wage a real fight against terrorists who were killing US citizens.” [CNN, 12/15/2001; Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 43-64]
Shortly before British customs agent Atif Amin is to leave for Dubai to pursue an investigation into the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring (see After May 10, 1999), he is warned off a particular company by the British intelligence agency MI6. According to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento, the message comes through “liaison channels” and informs Amin that he should “steer clear” of a company called Desert Electrical Equipment Factory, even if the company comes up in his investigation. British customs are not investigating the company in connection with Khan’s operations, although its owner is reportedly a partner of Khan associate Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir in another company called SMB Computers. Libyan officials will later tell investigators that at this time Desert Electrical’s facilities are being used to manufacture centrifuge components and train Libyan scientists. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 181-182] The MI6 station chief in Dubai will warn Amin off another company involved in the smuggling ring (see March 2000).
After arriving in Dubai to investigate the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, British customs agent Atif Amin meets the chief of the British intelligence agency MI6’s station in the United Arab Emirates. Amin briefs the station chief on the investigation he plans to conduct, and gives him a list of companies he intends to visit. The station chief asks to be kept up-to-date, but the only concern he expresses is that Amin should, in the words of authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento, “not get too close to one of the institutions on the list, Habib Bank.” The bank was used by one of Khan’s suppliers, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, to send payments to another, Abu Bakr Siddiqui. It is unclear why the station chief makes this request. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 182] MI6 had previously asked Amin to stay away from another of the companies involved in the smuggling ring (see March 2000).
Said Bahaji in 1995. [Source: Public domain]German intelligence places two members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, Mounir El Motassadeq and Said Bahaji, on a German watch list. The two men, associates of future 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah, had come to the Germans’ attention because of their association with al-Qaeda recruiter Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who they meet regularly. The watchlisting means that their arrivals and departures to and from Germany will be reported immediately. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar is also placed on a watch list at some point before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). El Motassadeq was first investigated by German authorities in 1998 (see August 29, 1998). Bahaji was the target of a surveillance investigation starting in 1998 as well (see (Late 1998)). Bahaji may have recently traveled to Afghanistan with some associates using a route monitored by European intelligence agencies (see Late November-Early December 1999).
El Motassadeq's Travels Will Be Noticed Three Times - Because he is watchlisted, German intelligence will keep track when El Motassadeq goes to Denmark twice, and when he flies to Istanbul on his way to a training camp in Afghanistan (see May 22, 2000). [New York Times, 1/18/2003]
Importance of Watchlisting - Author Terry McDermott will later comment about the watchlisting of El Motassadeq: “In Germany, this was not a casual event. In order to be placed on such lists, intelligence agencies had to go to great lengths to demonstrate to the Bundestag, the German parliament, that the person under question was of potential danger to the state. Being placed on the list indicated that El Motassadeq had been under investigation for some time. In that he was an integral part of the group that included [Atta], [Ramzi bin al-Shibh], and Alshehhi, this at the least implies that they were being watched too.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 73, 297]
James D. Smith. [Source: Getty Images/ Alex Wong]James D. Smith is working for the private company Orion Scientific Systems on a contract that assists the Able Danger project. Smith will later claim that around March or April 2000, armed federal agents come into Orion and confiscate much of the data that Orion had compiled for Able Danger. Orion’s contract stops at this time and Smith has no further involvement with Able Danger. However, Smith happens to have some unclassified charts made for Able Danger in the trunk of his car when the agents raid his office. The chart with Mohamed Atta’s picture on it will thus survive and be remembered well by Smith, though it will be destroyed in the summer of 2004 (see August 22-September 1, 2005). Smith will later state, “All information that we have ever produced, which was all unclassified, was confiscated and to this day we don’t know who by.” [US Congress, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 2/15/2006]
After being prompted by CIA colleagues in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to provide information about what happened to future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash after they flew from Malaysia to Thailand on January 8, 2000 (see January 8, 2000 and (February 25, 2000)), the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, sends out a cable saying that Alhazmi arrived in the US from Thailand with an apparently unnamed companion on January 15 (see January 15, 2000). This information was received from Thai intelligence, which watchlisted Almihdhar and Alhazmi after being asked to do so by the CIA (see January 13, 2000 and January 15, 2000). [New York Times, 10/17/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502]
Companion - The companion to whom the cable refers is presumably Almihdhar. According to later testimony of a senior FBI official, the CIA learns the companion is Almihdhar at this time: “In March 2000, the CIA received information concerning the entry of Almihdhar and Alhazmi into the United States.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] The CIA disputes this, however. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ] If the companion the cable refers to is Almihdhar, then it is unclear why he would not be named, as the NSA has been intercepting his calls for at least a year (see Early 1999), he was under CIA surveillance earlier in January (see January 5-8, 2000), he is known to have a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000), he is associated with Alhazmi (see January 8-9, 2000), and this cable is prompted by another cable specifically asking where Almihdhar is (see February 11, 2000).
Missed Opportunity - Later, CIA officials, including CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black, will admit that this was one of the missed opportunities to watchlist the hijackers. Black will say: “I think that month we watchlisted about 150 people. [The watchlisting] should have been done. It wasn’t.” Almihdhar and Alhazmi will not be added to the US watchlist until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). [New York Times, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ]
Unclear Who Reads Cable - Although Tenet will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that nobody at CIA headquarters reads this cable at this time (see October 17, 2002), the CIA’s inspector general will conclude that “numerous” officers access this cable and others about Almihdhar. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District, 3/28/2006 ] These officers are not named, but Tom Wilshire, the CIA’s deputy unit chief in charge of monitoring the two men at this time, will access it in May 2001 at the same time as he accesses other cables about Almihdhar from early 2000 (see May 15, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that the cables are “reexamined” at this time, suggesting that Wilshire may have read them before. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 267, 537] Wilshire certainly did access at least two of the cables in January 2000, indicating he may read the cable about the arrival of Alhazmi and the unnamed companion in the US in March 2000. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240, 282 ]
FBI Not Informed - The knowledge that Alhazmi has entered the US will be disseminated throughout the CIA, but not to the FBI or other US intelligence agencies (see March 6, 2000 and After). When asked about the failure by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Wilshire will be unable to explain it, saying: “It’s very difficult to understand what happened with that cable when it came in. I do not know exactly why it was missed. It would appear that it was missed completely.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi, CIA Bangkok Station, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Alec Station, Tom Wilshire, Khalid Almihdhar, Malaysian Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
After the CIA learns that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000) and 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and a companion have arrived in Los Angeles (see March 5, 2000), operational documents reporting this are accessed by numerous CIA officers, most of whom are in the Counterterrorism Division. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005 ] In addition, the day after the cable reporting Alhazmi’s arrival in Los Angeles is received, “another overseas CIA station note[s], in a cable to the bin Laden unit at CIA headquarters, that it had ‘read with interest’ the March cable, ‘particularly the information that a member of this group traveled to the US…’” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] However, it is unclear what is done with this information as CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black will later incorrectly testify that nobody read the cable stating Alhazmi had entered the US (see October 17, 2002), so the use to which the information is put is never investigated. In addition, the CIA fails to inform the FBI that Alhazmi has entered the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 182]
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger chairs a Cabinet-level meeting to review the wave of attempted terror attacks around the millennium. There are counterterrorism reports that disruption efforts “have not put too much of a dent” into bin Laden’s overseas network, and that it is feared “sleeper cells” of al-Qaeda operatives have taken root in the US. It is recommended that the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service should begin “high tempo, ongoing operations to arrest, detain, and deport potential sleeper cells in the United States.” Some ideas, like expanding the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the US, are adopted. Others, like a centralized translation unit for domestic intercepts, are not. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] In July 2004, it is revealed that the Justice Department is investigating Berger for taking classified documents relating to this review effort out of a secure reading room in 2003. Most of the documents are returned, but a few apparently are lost. [Associated Press, 7/20/2004; Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
Laura and George W. Bush on the left, Sami al-Arian on the right. [Source: Al-Arian family via Associated Press]Sami al-Arian poses for a picture with George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, while Bush is campaigning for president in Florida. Bush chit-chats with al-Arian’s family and gives his son Abdullah the nickname “Big Dude.” Al-Arian is a former Florida professor and Muslim political activist who has been under investigation for suspected ties to US-designated terrorist groups. [Washington Post, 2/22/2003] Al-Arian will later tell friends that he used the occasion to press Bush about overturning the Justice Department’s use of “secret evidence” to deport accused terrorists, which is an issue for many Muslim Americans during the presidential campaign. Newsweek will later comment, “In those pre-9-11 days, Bush was eagerly courting the growing Muslim vote—and more than willing to listen to seemingly sincere activists like al-Arian.” [Newsweek, 3/3/2003] At the time, al-Arian is vigorously campaigning for Bush at mosques and Islamic cultural centers in the pivotal state of Florida. In a reference to Bush’s tight margin for victory in Florida which wins Bush the presidential election, al-Arian will later say, “We certainly delivered him many more than 537 votes.” [Newsweek, 7/16/2001] Author Craig Unger will later comment, “Astonishingly enough, the fact that dangerous militant Islamists like al-Arian were campaigning for Bush went almost entirely unnoticed.” Bush’s speechwriter David Frum will later write, “Not only were the al-Arians not avoided by the Bush White House—they were actively courted.… The al-Arian case was not a solitary lapse… That outreach campaign opened relationships between the Bush campaign and some very disturbing persons in the Muslim-American community.… [We] Republicans are very lucky—we face political opponents too crippled by political correctness to make an issue of these kinds of security lapses.” [Salon, 3/15/2004]
Intelligence Newsletter reports that a number of Osama bin Laden-owed businesses in Sudan are still operating and still controlled by bin Laden. The report specifically mentions Wadi al-Aqiq, El-Hijra Construction and Development, Taba Investment Company, and the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank. Bin Laden’s control of all these businesses were revealed in detail to US intelligence by al-Qaeda informant Jamal al-Fadl several years earlier (see December 1996-January 1997). The report notes that both Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid and his cousin-in-law Mohamedou Ould Slahi, both known al-Qaeda leaders, were reportedly employed in recent years by the El-Hijra company. The report further notes that money for bin Laden “pours into accounts at branch offices of Al Taqwa [Bank] in Malta,” Switzerland, and the Bahamas. Businesses and charities supporting bin Laden “are thriving around the world without any real curb on their operations” because “some US and European agencies hunting him seem to lack zeal” in stopping him. “To be sure, if journalists can track down bin Laden’s friends without too much trouble it can be imagined that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have long found the same connections. Recent anti-terrorism history has shown that when the authorities really want to crack down on an organization they cut off its financial and logistic roots. So why are bin Laden’s backers prospering when the world’s most powerful anti-terrorist organizations are chasing him?” [Intelligence Newsletter, 3/16/2000]
A joint investigation by British Customs agent Atif Amin and Dubai police lieutenant Alwari Essam uncovers links between the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring and “high-ranking Dubai officials.” This occurs in the first two weeks of the investigation, which the authorities in Dubai had tried to hamper (see August 1999-March 2000). The two investigators are able to uncover the links because they are following leads uncovered by Amin in Britain, and the two agents check out a number of businesses whose names have previously come up in the inquiry in Dubai. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 183]
British customs agent Atif Amin, who is investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring in Dubai, periodically briefs the local station of the British intelligence agency MI6 on how his investigation is proceeding. He tells MI6 that he has discovered new front companies and apartments used by Khan during his trips to Dubai. According to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento: “But MI6 offered Amin no useful information or assistance. The general sense, according to a source familiar with the briefings, was one of displeasure that the inquiry was taking place at all.” However, the station chief does tell Amin that the Khan network is aware of the investigation, but does not think it will turn up much. Presumably, MI6 obtains this information from communications intercepts. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 184]
Police in Leicester, England, investigate a terrorist fundraising ring based in that city and eventually wrap it up eleven days after 9/11. The men are connected to groups of Islamists in France (see March 15, 2005) and Spain (see September 26, 2001), as well as Finsbury Park mosque in London and leading radical Djamel Beghal, who has attended the mosque and whose arrest in the summer of 2001 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) apparently spurs the arrests in Britain.
The Cell - The two cell leaders live frugal lives in Leicester, claiming social security benefits under their real names, but work under false French documents. When police search a car belonging to one of the men, they find skimming machines used to steal details from credit cards, as well as boxes of unembossed cards from Visa and Mastercard. The cards are used to purchase goods in southern Spain, and the group is estimated to raise at least £800,000 (about US$1,200,000). The group is also involved in arranging forged visas for those traveling to training camps in Afghanistan. Eighteen arrests are made in total, and the two ringleaders are sentenced to eleven years each.
Extremists Raise Millions in Britain - Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later write that this was part of a larger pattern (see 1995-April 21, 2000): “British counterterrorist agencies now accept that in the years preceding the post-9/11 crackdown on militant Islamist networks in [Britain], millions of pounds were raised to finance violent groups operating in Afghanistan, Algeria, Chechnya, Kashmir, Yemen, and other jihad battlefields. Most of that money was raised through organized crime, ranging from sophisticated international credit card counterfeiting to benefit fraud and shoplifting gangs.” They add that “[r]acketeering was vital to the jihad” as Osama bin Laden lost most of his money in the early-to-mid 1990s: “The mujaheddin groups and terrorist cells around the world that allied themselves to the al-Qaeda ideology were largely autonomous and self-financing. Britain was a key source of that finance.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 68-69]
Investigators Atif Amin of British customs and Alwari Essam of the Dubai police learn that the A. Q. Khan nuclear procurement ring has shipped ring magnets, key components for building centrifuges, from Pakistan to Libya, via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The discovery is made when they visit a company called Deepsea Freight Services, a shipping agency that had been used by Abu Bakr Siddiqui, the subject of a British customs investigation, to ship goods from Britain to two Khan front companies in Pakistan, United Engineering and Trading Co. and Allied Engineering. The manager at Deepsea, K. Hafeez Uddin, shows the two investigators files about the traffic and they find documents about shipments of goods from Siddiqui in Britain to Dubai-based businessman Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, and then from Tahir to the Khan fronts in Pakistan. However, Amin then notices documents about shipments of the ring magnets from one of the front companies in Pakistan to Tahir in Dubai, and then on to Libya. The consignee for some of the ring magnet shipments is a company called Desert Electrical, a company the British intelligence service MI6 had warned Amin to avoid looking into (see March 2000). Amin asks to take the files, but Hafeez refuses permission, and also does not allow copies to be made, meaning the two investigators leave with no documentation. Hafeez will later make a series of contradictory statements about his business dealings with the Khan network, but a source on the British customs investigation will say, “The fact is that Deepsea received multiple shipments from Siddiqui and forwarded them on to Pakistan,” adding, “It also received multiple shipments from [Khan Research Laboratories]-related companies destined for Tahir’s front companies in Dubai.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 186-7]
Immediately after an investigation by Atif Amin of British customs and Alwari Essam of the police in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, finds that Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan is shipping centrifuge components to Libya (see Late March 2000), Essam’s superiors impose heavy restrictions on the inquiry. There is a “widespread commotion” at police headquarters when they arrive back from conducting a key interview and they are confronted by a group of police officers. The two men are split up and Essam receives a 40-minute talk from his police bosses and Dubai’s internal security service telling him that what he and Amin have been doing has to stop. He is accused of helping Amin “reveal A. Q. Khan in Dubai,” and asked why Amin wants to know where Khan stays in Dubai. The security service even suggests that Amin is really an MI6 agent plotting to assassinate the Pakistani. New limitations are imposed on their inquiry:
They cannot conduct interviews in the field, but witnesses and suspects have to be invited to police headquarters, and may decline to come. Amin will be allowed to submit questions, but will not be allowed to perform the interviews himself. However, if the interviews are to be used in a British court case, Amin has to perform them himself under British rules of law;
If Atif wants materials or records, he cannot go and get them himself, but must ask the Dubai police to do so;
In addition, Amin must give the Dubai police all the documents he has collected during the investigation, including those from the British section of the inquiry.
Amin is understandably angry at the restrictions, which will make it impossible to conduct a meaningful inquiry, but, as there is little he can do at this time, he decides to continue and try to get the restrictions lifted. He asks the Dubai police to get him a file containing documents about shipments from Khan front companies in Pakistan to Libya, but, when the file arrives, the Libyan documents have been removed and the file is noticeably thinner. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 187-9]
British customs agent Atif Amin briefs the chief of station for the British intelligence service MI6 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, about the state of his investigation into the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, but the station chief fails to disclose important information to Amin. Amin has found that Khan is not only procuring material for Pakistan’s nuclear program, but is also shipping centrifuge components to Libya (see Late March 2000). MI6 is already aware that Khan is moving material to Libya and has actually been monitoring these shipments in Dubai (see Second Half of 1999), but the station chief fails to mention this to Amin. In fact, MI6 had previously warned Amin to stay away from one of the companies involved in the shipments to Libya (see March 2000). Instead, the station chief insists that Amin narrate a detailed report of his investigation, which is then immediately sent to London. When writing down what Amin tells him, the station chief embellishes some of the facts, and Amin has to go through the report and have the embellishments taken out. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 189-190]
The British intelligence service MI6 tells Atif Amin, a British customs agent investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that the ring may attempt to kill him. However, Amin will later suspect that MI6 exaggerates these threats in an attempt to hamper his investigation. MI6 passes the news to Amin by having him woken at two o’clock in the morning at his Dubai hotel, and telling him to come down to the lobby, where he is met by the MI6 station chief and another customs agent.
Threats - At a table, the station chief leans over and whispers to Amin, “You’re at risk here,” and, when Amin seems not to understand the urgency of the threat, adds, “You’re in danger.” He also tells Amin, “You can’t stay here,” and: “You can’t keep doing what you’re doing. You have to get out.” The station chief then says he has received a telex from London that said Khan and his associates were discussing Amin and were angry about him. Apparently, physical reprisals had been mentioned, and, implying MI6 is monitoring Khan’s phone, the station chief says that the Pakistani scientist has called Amin—a Muslim—a “traitor” to the “cause.” The station chief adds, “These people are dangerous,” because: “They have assets in the local mafia they use for smuggling. They won’t hesitate to kill people.” He even suggests Amin might not be safe in his hotel and that he should move in with the other customs agent, Malcolm Nesbit. However, Amin does not regard the threats as serious and remains in his hotel.
Exaggerated - Later that day, Amin speaks to Nesbit on the phone and expresses the idea that the station chief may have been playing up the threat from Khan’s network. Nesbit agrees and suggests it is because Amin has stumbled across information showing that Khan is shipping nuclear technology to Libya (see Late March 2000). MI6 had been monitoring these shipments (see Second Half of 1999), had warned Amin off one of the companies involved (see March 2000), and had failed to disclose information about the Libyan shipments to him (see Late March 2000). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will comment, “It seemed both Khan and MI6 shared an interest in shutting down Amin’s inquiry.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 190-191]
Euan Stewart, a senior official at British customs, talks to a high-level representative for the British intelligence service MI6 about a British customs investigation into the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling network in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. According to lead investigator Atif Amin, who Stewart later tells about the discussion, the MI6 official compliments customs on its work, “Your man’s turned over far more stones over there than we’ve managed in the last few years and he’s found lots of insects crawling around underneath.” This is apparently a reference to Amin’s discovery that the network is shipping centrifuge components from Pakistan to Libya via Dubai (see Late March 2000). MI6 has been monitoring Khan’s operations in Dubai and knows a lot about them, but did not know of these components. However, the MI6 official then says, “If I was you, I’d get my man out of there.” This is seemingly a reference to threats coming from the Khan network against Amin (see Late March 2000) and also MI6’s displeasure at the investigation (see March 2000 and Late March 2000). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will explain: “But while Amin had turned up valuable intelligence, he had also created what MI6 and the policy makers who control it perceived to be a quandary: Should they act on the intelligence, disrupt Khan’s network, and expose Libya’s nuclear program, or should they continue their monitoring operation? They chose the later option. In fact, it would be another three years before MI6 and its American counterpart finally deemed the time right to take action—a move that would be accompanied by great fanfare and self-congratulation. In the meantime, Khan’s network had been allowed to continue peddling its dangerous goods.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 192-193]
British customs recalls one of its agents, Atif Amin, from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he was investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network. Amin learns of his recall in a phone call from his acting boss, who tells him to “[g]et your ass on the next flight to London.” Amin protests, saying that threats that have apparently been made against him by the network are not as bad as is being made out (see Late March 2000), and that he could stay at the British embassy, rather than a hotel. However, his boss says that the orders have come from above and there can be no discussion. Amin had been about to interview a key Khan associate, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, but is forced to return home before doing so. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 191-192]
Four analysts from the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit are forced to stop their work supporting the Able Danger program. At the same time, private contractors working for Able Danger are fired. This occurs around the time that it becomes known by some inside the military that LIWA had identified future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent Americans as potential security risks (see April 2000). It was apparently these LIWA analysts (such as Dr. Eileen Preisser) and contractors (such as James D. Smith) who conducted most of the data mining and analysis of al-Qaeda in the preceding months. One of the four LIWA analysts, Maj. Erik Kleinsmith, will later be ordered to destroy all the data collected (see May-June 2000). LIWA’s support for Able Danger will resume a few months later (see Late September 2000). [New York Post, 8/27/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; Washington Times, 9/22/2005]
[Source: Public domain]In early April 2000, Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams gets a tip that makes him suspicious that some flight students might be Islamic militants. Williams will begin an investigation based on this tip that will lead to his “Phoenix memo” warning about suspect Middle Easterners training in Arizona flight schools (see July 10, 2001) [New York Times, 6/19/2002] It appears that Lebanese flight school student Zacaria Soubra has been seen at a shooting range with Abu Mujahid, a white American Muslim who had fought in the Balkans and the Middle East. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Abu Mujahid appears to match Aukai Collins, a white American Muslim who had fought in the Balkans and the Middle East, who also goes by the name Abu Mujahid, and is an FBI informant spying on the Muslim community in the area at the time (see 1998). Collins also claims to have been the informant referred to in the Phoenix memo, which again suggests that Collins was the one at the shooting range with Soubra. [Salon, 10/17/2002] On April 7, Williams appears at Soubra’s apartment and interviews him. Soubra acts defiant, and tells Williams that he considers the US government and military legitimate targets of Islam. He has photographs of bin Laden on the walls. Williams runs a check on the license plate of Soubra’s car and discovers the car is actually owned by a suspected militant with explosives and car bomb training in Afghanistan who had been held for attempting to enter an airplane cockpit the year before (see November 1999-August 2001). [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 43-44] On April 17, Williams starts a formal investigation into Soubra. [Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] Williams will be reassigned to work on an arson case and will not be able to get back to work on the Soubra investigation until June 2001 (see April 2000-June 2001). He will release the Phoenix memo one month later. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect Soubra had ties to terrorism. For instance, in 2003, an unnamed official will claim, “Soubra was involved in terrorist-supporting activities, facilitating shelter and employment for people… involved with al-Qaeda.” For a time, he and hijacker Hani Hanjour attend the same mosque, though there is no evidence they ever meet. Soubra’s roommate at the time of Williams’ interview is Ghassan al-Sharbi. In 2002, al-Sharbi will be arrested in Pakistan with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. While Williams will focus on Soubra, al-Sharbi will also be a target of his memo. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003] In 2004, Soubra will be deported to Lebanon after being held for two years. He will deny any connection to Hanjour or terrorism. [Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004] Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of the British militant group Al-Muhajiroun, will later admit that Soubra was the leader of Al-Muhajiroun’s branch in Arizona. [Time, 5/27/2002]
A 1999 study by the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) to look into possible Chinese front companies in the US seeking technology for the Chinese military created controversy and was ordered destroyed in November 1999 (see Mid-1999-November 1999). However, apparently Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) protests, and the issue finally comes to a head during this month. One result of this controversy will be what Major Erik Kleinsmith will later call “severely restricted” support for Able Danger, including a temporary end to LIWA support (see April 2000) In an April 14, 2000 memorandum from the legal counsel in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Captain Michael Lohr writes that the concern over the LIWA data mining study raises privacy concerns: “Preliminary review of subject methodology raised the possibility that LIWA ‘data mining’ would potentially access both foreign intelligence (FI) information and domestic information relating to US citizens (i.e. law enforcement, tax, customs, immigration, etc.… I recognize that an argument can be made that LIWA is not ‘collecting’ in the strict sense (i.e. they are accessing public areas of the Internet and non-FI federal government databases of already lawfully collected information). This effort would, however, have the potential to pull together into a single database a wealth of privacy-protected US citizen information in a more sweeping and exhaustive manner than was previously contemplated.” Additionally, the content of the study is another reason why it caused what Weldon calls a “wave of controversy.” The study had connected future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent US citizens to business transactions with Chinese military officials.(see Mid-1999-November 1999). [New York Post, 8/27/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; Washington Times, 9/22/2005; Washington Times, 10/9/2005] One article on the subject will comment, “Sources familiar with Able Danger say the project was shut down because it could have led to the exposure of a separate secret data mining project focusing on US citizens allegedly transferring super-sensitive US technology illegally to the Chinese government.” [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] A massive destruction of data from Able Danger and LIWA’s data mining efforts will follow, one month later (see May-June 2000).
Spruce Whited, director of security for the Portland, Maine Public Library, later says 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and possibly a second hijacker are regulars at the library and frequently use public Internet terminals at this time. He says four other employees recognize Atta as a library patron. “I remember seeing [Atta] in the spring of 2000,” he says. “I have a vague Memory of a second one who turned out to be [Atta’s] cousin.” Whited also says federal authorities have not inquired about the library sightings. Even a year later, he says the FBI does finally speak to librarians, but not in relation to their 9/11 investigation. [Boston Herald, 10/5/2001; Portland Press Herald, 10/5/2001; Associated Press, 9/9/2002] The library’s executive director says that three other employees came to her saying they had seen Atta about half a dozen times in the spring and summer 2000. [Maine Sunday Telegram, 9/30/2001] According to the official story, Atta does not arrive in the US until June 3, 2000. [Miami Herald, 9/22/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 11/12/2001]
Niaz Khan. [Source: NBC News]Niaz Khan, a British citizen originally from Pakistan, is recruited into an al-Qaeda plot.
Khan's Story - In early 2000 he is flown to Lahore, Pakistan, and then trains in a compound there for a week with others on how to hijack passenger airplanes. He trains in a mock cockpit of a 767 aircraft (an airplane type used on 9/11). He is taught hijacking techniques, including how to smuggle guns and other weapons through airport security and how to get into a cockpit. In April 2000 he flies to the US and is told to meet with a contact. He will later recall, “They said I would live there for a while and meet some other people and we would hijack a plane from JFK and fly it into a building.” [London Times, 5/9/2004] His al-Qaeda contact in the US is only known by the alias “Babu Khan.” It is unknown who this really is (assuming Khan’s story is completely correct). [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] After 9/11, he will have “no doubt” this is the 9/11 plot. However, Khan slips away and gambles away the money given to him by al-Qaeda. Afraid he will be killed for betraying al-Qaeda, he turns himself in to the FBI.
The FBI Checks Out Khan - For three weeks, FBI counterterrorism agents in Newark, New Jersey, will interview Khan. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004; Observer, 6/6/2004] One FBI agent will later recall: “We were incredulous. Flying a plane into a building sounded crazy but we polygraphed him and he passed.” [London Times, 5/9/2004] Later in 2004, Khan will say he was only involved in a plot to hijack an airplane, not crash it into a building. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] However, he had earlier clearly talked to the media about flying a plane into a building, and FBI officials had also referred to his case as flying a plane into a building.
FBI Agents Told to Forget about Khan's Case - A former FBI official will say the FBI agents believe Khan and aggressively try to follow every lead in the case, but word comes from FBI headquarters saying, “Return him to London and forget about it.” He is returned to Britain and handed over to British authorities. However, the British only interview him for about two hours, and then release him (see (May 2000)). He is surprised that authorities never ask for his help in identifying where he was trained in Pakistan, even after 9/11. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004] Khan’s case will be mentioned in the 2002 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report. It describes a “walk-in” who told the FBI he “was to meet five or six persons,” some of them pilots, who would take over a plane and fly it to Afghanistan, or blow the plane up. The report will add that the he passed a lie-detector test. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; MSNBC, 6/3/2004]
Around this time, 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi boasts of planning an attack to a librarian in Hamburg, Germany. He says, “There will be thousands of dead. You will think of me.” He also specifically mentions the WTC. [Agence France-Presse, 8/29/2002; New York Times, 8/29/2002] “You will see,” Alshehhi adds. “In America something is going to happen. There will be many people killed.” [New York Times, 9/10/2002] The Guardian notes that this “demonstrates that the members of the Hamburg cell were not quite as careful to keep secret their plans as had previously been thought. In addition, it appears to bury for good the theory that the pilots were informed of their targets only hours before they took off. Not least, though, Marwan Alshehhi’s boast provides a key element for the reconstruction of the plot—a date by which the terrorists had decided on their target.” [Guardian, 8/30/2002]
According to the 2008 charge sheet at his military tribunal, 9/11 facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali speaks on the telephone to 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, who is living in San Diego at this time. The call or calls are apparently made at the direction of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and are about a wire transfer from Ali to Alhazmi made in mid-April (see April 16-18, 2000). The source of the claim that the calls are made contained in the charge sheet is not specified, so it is unclear whether it is only based on statements made by detainees under interrogation, which may be unreliable (see June 16, 2004), or whether it is corroborated by other evidence, such as phone company records. [US Department of Defense, 2/11/2008 ] At least some calls between Alhazmi and his partner, hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen are being monitored by the NSA at this point (see Spring-Summer 2000). However, it is unclear whether the call or calls to Ali are picked up by the NSA, or a joint CIA-NSA program to support “black ops” in progress at this time (see After July 11, 1997).
United Nations police raid a house in Pristina, Kosovo, rented by the Saudi Joint Relief Committee (SJRC). The house was rented by Wael Hamza Julaidan, one of the founders of al-Qaeda, and is discovered to be an al-Qaeda safe house. Shortly after the raid, the BBC reports that the US sent UN police a secret document asking them to monitor those connected to the house. It states that Julaidan is an associate of Osama bin Laden, and helped him “move money and men to and from the Balkans.” The SJRC is an umbrella body for several other Saudi charities and is partly financed by the Saudi government. [BBC, 4/3/2000] In a 1999 interview broadcast on the Al Jazeera television network, bin Laden referred to the origins of al-Qaeda and said, “We were all in one boat, as is known to you, including our brother, Wael Julaidan.” [Kohlmann, 2004] However, despite this openly shown interest in Julaidan, the US will not freeze his assets until late 2002 (see September 6, 2002). Julaidan has just been made director general of the Rabita Trust, a charity with many prominent Pakistanis on its board of directors, including Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see Mid-September-October 12, 2001).
ISI Director and “leading Taliban supporter” Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed visits Washington. He meets officials at the CIA and the White House. In a message meant for both Pakistan and the Taliban, US officials tell him that al-Qaeda has killed Americans and “people who support those people will be treated as our enemies.” [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 508-510] US Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering bluntly tells Mahmood, “You are in bed with those who threaten us.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 409] The US threatens to support the Northern Alliance, who are still engaged in a civil war with the Taliban. A short time later, Mahmood goes to Afghanistan and delivers this message to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. However, no actual US action, military or otherwise, is taken against either the Taliban or Pakistan. Author Steve Coll will later note that these US threats were just bluffs since the Clinton administration was not seriously considering a change of policy. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 508-510]
National Air College in San Diego. [Source: Fox News] (click image to enlarge)Future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi takes his first flying lesson in the US. In contrast to a lesson elsewhere a short time later, where the instructor describes him as “dumb” (see May 5 and 10, 2000), he does quite well. The lesson is at the National Air College in San Diego, in a four-seater plane with instructor Arnaud Petit. During the hour-long flight, Alhazmi proves to be surprisingly adept, and can almost take off and land on his own. Alhazmi is courteous and acts like a businessman. He wants a license within a month and does not seem fazed when Petit says it will cost $4,000. However, his English is not good enough to start flight training. Petit tells him to improve it and come back in a month, but he never returns. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 271-2; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 517-8] Alhazmi will say that his flight training continues in the winter (see (December 2000-January 2001)).
Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, is arrested at Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While much less known than his brother, Mohammed quietly served an important role as Ayman’s deputy in Islamic Jihad, and as the group’s military commander (see 1993). He apparently disagreed with the increasing unification between Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, and quit in 1998 over that issue. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 108] He is arrested in the UAE and then flown to Egypt as a part of the CIA’s rendition program (see Summer 1995). A senior former CIA officer will later confirm US involvement in the operation. [Grey, 2007, pp. 246, 299] Mohammed had been sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt the year before. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] But his execution is not carried out, and he is said to reveal what he knows about Islamic Jihad. In 2007 it will be reported that his sentence is likely to be lessened in return for agreeing to renounce violence. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 108; Associated Press, 4/20/2007] Note: there is a dispute about when he was arrested. Some sources indicate it was in the spring of 1999. [Grey, 2007, pp. 246; Associated Press, 4/20/2007] Others indicate it was a year later. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 108; New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security service MI5, learns that a top London-based operative known as Abu Walid is to travel to Afghanistan. He also hears rumors that Abu Walid is to meet Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders and will not return to London after the meeting. The mission is so important that Abu Qatada, a leading imam who reportedly sits on al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and also informs for MI5 (see June 1996-February 1997), is to hold a special prayer session to bless Abu Walid before he leaves. Hassaine attends the prayer session, but the militants realize he is an informant and attempt to murder him (see April 21, 2000). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 148] French intelligence had previously considered assassinating Abu Walid in London, but he will be reported to be in Afghanistan after the US invasion and will die in Chechnya in 2004 (see 1997-1998).
After deciding to end his career as an informant against radical Islamists in London (see April 21, 2000), Reda Hassaine reflects bitterly on his experience of the British security services, MI5 and the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch: “These guys I was risking my life for—they hadn’t arrested anybody, they didn’t do a proper job. All the work I had done, all the risks I took didn’t seem to amount to anything. All this killing was taking place abroad, but the British didn’t give a sh*t that the killers were here in London. As long as nothing happened in Britain, then everything was alright. Abu Hamza [al-Masri, another MI5 informer (see Early 1997)] was left to do whatever he liked, to brainwash, to recruit, and send people off to the training camps. I was telling the British this all the time. ‘This group is going to Afghanistan,’ I would say. ‘They’re leaving on Friday, they have tickets to fly to Pakistan.’ And the only reply I got was, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it.’”
'Harmless Clown'? - Hassaine will add: “I wasn’t surprised. When I began to work with MI5 I already knew from the French that they would do nothing, that they weren’t interested in what was happening in London, the threat didn’t register. They told me that they thought Abu Hamza was a ‘harmless clown,’ but I felt obliged to carry on with the work. [Note: a group closely associate with Abu Hamza murdered some British citizens and others in Yemen in 1998 (see December 28-29, 1998).] I had started this thing, I wanted to pursue it. I later learned that Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada were both talking to MI5 and Special Branch too. The British must have thought they had these guys under control, that they were collaborating with them.”
'A Factory for Making Terrorists' - Hassaine will continue: “Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Abu Hamza was busily recruiting hundreds of people, sending them off to Afghanistan, from where they were returning unnoticed and undetected to do whatever they like. Abu Hamza had this great big mosque where these people could hide, pick up a new identity, get money and support, and receive the blessing of the imam for their actions. Seven days a week that place was producing recruits for the jihad. It was a factory for making terrorists.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 150-151]
TIPOFF is a US no-fly list of individuals who should be detained if they attempt to leave or enter the US. There are about 60,000 names on this list by 9/11 (see December 11, 1999). Apparently there had been no prohibition of travel inside the US, but on this day an FAA security directive puts six names on a newly created domestic no-fly list. All six are said to be associates of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, including his uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). On August 28, 2001, six more names will be added to this list. Apparently all 12 names are associated with al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremist groups. 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later note the discrepancy of the 60,000-name list with the 12-name list and comment, “seems to me, particularly with what was going on at the time, that some effort would have been made to make—to produce a larger list than [only 12 names].” [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] The FAA’s chief of security in 2001, Cathal Flynn, will later say that he was “unaware of the TIPOFF list” until after the September 11 attacks. 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gorton will say that this admission is “stunning, just unbeleivable,” and an “example of absolute incompetence” at the FAA. Other FAA officials will say they are aware of the larger list, but do not make much use of it. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 115] On the day of 9/11, two of the 9/11 hijackers will be on the 60,000-name TIPOFF list but not the 12-name domestic list, so airport security does not know to stop them from boarding the planes they hijack that day (see August 23, 2001).
Les, a doctor from the CIA’s counter-proliferation branch, meets Curveball and takes a blood sample. The blood is analyzed for the presence of antibodies which would indicate if he has ever been exposed to anthrax or any other biological weapons agent. Curveball claims that he was injured in an accident in the fall of 1998 at the Djerf al Nadaf industrial site that killed 12 bio-warfare technicians. His blood test results are inconclusive. The doctor, who does not speak to Curveball at all during the visit, notes that Curveball speaks excellent English even though the Germans, justifying their refusal to allow the CIA to interview him, have told the CIA that Curveball does not speak the language. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
A secret CIA report details al-Qaeda’s use of the honey trade to generate income and secretly move weapons, drugs, and operatives around the world. The CIA had been gathering information and monitoring some honey stores for almost two years before the study. Bin Laden is believed to control a number of retail honey shops in various countries, especially in Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Khalil Deek, an American citizen, are said to be particularly tied to the honey trade. One US official will later say, “The smell and consistency of the honey makes it easy to hide weapons and drugs in the shipments. Inspectors don’t want to inspect that product. It’s too messy.” But although a number of companies dealing in honey are tied to al-Qaeda (and sometimes to Islamic Jihad), the US will not make any move to freeze the assets of these companies until after 9/11. [New York Times, 10/11/2001] Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will later claim Deek was “running an underground railroad in the Middle East for terrorists, shuttling them to different countries,” which would fit with his alleged role in the honey network. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005]
The inside cover of the training manual found in Manchester, depicting a knife plunging through the Earth. [Source: FBI]British authorities raid the Manchester home of Anas al-Liby. Remarkably, al-Liby was a top al-Qaeda leader who nonetheless had been allowed to live in Britain (see Late 1995-May 2000); some speculate his treatment was connected to a joint al-Qaeda-British plot to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see 1996). [Observer, 9/22/2001] The raid may have been conducted as part of an investigation into al-Liby’s role in the 1998 embassy bombings. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001] Al-Liby is arrested and then let go for lack of evidence (see May 2000). But shortly after he is let go, investigators searching through his possessions find “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants,” a 180-page al-Qaeda training manual written in Arabic. FBI agent Ali Soufan, who speaks Arabic, is the first to discover the manual. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 113-114] The manual appears to have been written in the late 1980’s by double agent Ali Mohamed. He wrote the manual, and many others, by cobbling together information from his personal experiences and stolen US training guides (see November 5, 1990). Others have since updated it as different versions spread widely. “The FBI does not know if any of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the manual… However, many of their tactics come straight from Mohamed’s lessons, such as how to blend in as law-abiding citizens in a Western society.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001] George Andrew, deputy head of anti-terrorism for the FBI’s New York City office, later will claim that after studying the manual, the FBI suspect that al-Qaeda operatives are attempting to infiltrate US society. But the FBI think they are not yet ready to strike. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001] The existence of the manual is made public in a US trial in April 2001. [New York Times, 4/5/2001]
The front of the Manchester manual, deceptively covered with flowers. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda leader Anas al-Liby is arrested in Manchester, England, and then let go. According to Ali Soufan, an FBI agent from 1997 to 2005, the I-49 squad, a mix of FBI agents and US attorneys, uncovers evidence that al-Liby is living in Manchester. FBI agent John O’Neill assembles a team, including Soufan, to go there. Soufan will later say that they are met by local police, and he tells them: “Anas al-Liby is a senior al-Qaeda operative. He’s a computer expert and was part of the team that did surveillance on the embassy in Nairobi [that resulted in the 1998 bombing there (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998)]. This is potentially a big win for us.” Al-Liby is caught in his residence and taken to a local police station. However, he denies any involvement in terrorism. According to Soufan, al-Liby is smart and careful, and no incriminating documents or computer files can be quickly found in his residence. O’Neill wants him held until his possessions can be searched more thoroughly, but he is immediately released. Al-Liby evades a team sent to follow him, and skips the country. Not long afterwards, Soufan, who speaks Arabic, discovers a terrorist training manual written in Arabic in al-Liby’s possessions (see May 2000). In a book he writes that is published in 2011, Soufan curiously will not mention the timing of this arrest, even though timing is given to most other events discussed in the book. But the arrest is placed between events that occur in late 1999 and early 2000. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 113-114] In April 2001, the New York Times will first report on the manual, and will mention that it was discovered in a raid in Manchester in May 2000. [New York Times, 4/5/2001] Shortly after 9/11, it will be revealed that the raid was of al-Liby’s residence. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001; Observer, 9/22/2001] In 2002, it will be reported that al-Liby was not at home during the raid, and then escaped the country. Furthermore, al-Liby has been living openly in Britain since 1995, apparently as part of a political deal after he had taken part in a plot with the British intelligence agency MI6 to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see Late 1995-May 2000 and 1996). [Observer, 11/10/2002] The embarrassing fact that al-Liby is actually arrested and then released will not be revealed until September 2011, in Soufan’s book. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 113-114] The US will later post a $25 million reward for al-Liby, and his death or arrest will never be confirmed. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002]
Drawings made by FBI sketch artists of Niaz Khan’s al-Qaeda contact in the US (left), and one of the people he trained with in Pakistan (right). [Source: NBC News]British intelligence fails to take advantage of an informant who may help penetrate al-Qaeda in the US, and even possibly the 9/11 plot. Niaz Khan, a British citizen originally from Pakistan, was recruited into an al-Qaeda plot to hijack an airplane in the US and possibly fly it into a building. It is unknown if this was the 9/11 plot or something else, because Khan became scared and never met his al-Qaeda contact in the US, and instead turned himself in to the FBI in April 2000. Khan said he trained in Pakistan for the hijacking. FBI agents checked out Khan’s story and gave him two lie detector tests, and after three weeks, they concluded he was telling the truth. But FBI headquarters was not interested and told the agents to get rid of him (see April 2000). Khan told the FBI he was ready to become an informant. His idea was to create a story to explain his failure to meet with his contact and then work undercover with Islamic radicals. Since the FBI wanted to get rid of him, it made arrangements with MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, so MI5 could handle him as an informant. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Khan is a British citizen and he had been recruited into the hijacking plot after he joined a radical Islamist mosque in London, so the hope is he will be able to identify and inform on the people who brought him into the plot. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004] Khan is put on a plane and flown with an FBI agent to London, where he is met by two MI5 agents. But according to an FBI agent who handles Khan, in 2004, Khan will explain that he only has a short meeting with MI5. “And then they let me go. I got on to the tube [subway] back home here to Manor Park. Even after 9/11 happened, I never saw anyone. I got no phone calls, no letters, nothing.” The FBI agent will later say: “I just assumed that when Niaz was turned over the British authorities would have conducted a full investigation. What I would have done is re-inserted him into the community and worked him.… We know that didn’t happen. It’s a real shame.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Erik Kleinsmith. [Source: C-SPAN]Maj. Eric Kleinsmith, chief of intelligence for the Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit, is ordered to destroy data and documents related to a military intelligence program set up to gather information about al-Qaeda. The program, called Able Danger, has identified Mohamed Atta and three other future hijackers as potential threats (see January-February 2000). According to Kleinsmith, by April 2000 it has collected “an immense amount of data for analysis that allowed us to map al-Qaeda as a worldwide threat with a surprisingly significant presence within the United States.”(see January-February 2000) [Fox News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/22/2005] The data is being collected on behalf of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, the J3 at US Special Operations Command, who is said to be extremely upset when he learns that the data had been destroyed without his knowledge or consent. [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] Around this time, a separate LIWA effort showing links between prominent US citizens and the Chinese military has been causing controversy, and apparently this data faces destruction as well (see April 2000). The data and documents have to be destroyed in accordance with Army regulations prohibiting the retention of data about US persons for longer than 90 days, unless it falls under one of several restrictive categories. However, during a Senate Judiciary Committee public hearing in September 2005, a Defense Department representative admits that Mohamed Atta was not considered a US person. The representative also acknowledges that regulations would have probably allowed the Able Danger information to be shared with law enforcement agencies before its destruction. Asked why this was not done, he responds, “I can’t tell you.” [CNET News, 9/21/2005] The order to destroy the data and documents is given to Kleinsmith by Army Intelligence and Security Command General Counsel Tony Gentry, who jokingly tells him, “Remember to delete the data—or you’ll go to jail.” [Government Executive, 9/21/2005] The quantity of information destroyed is later described as “2.5 terabytes,” about as much as one-fourth of all the printed materials in the Library of Congress. [Associated Press, 9/16/2005] Other records associated with the unit are allegedly destroyed in March 2001 and spring 2004 (see Spring 2004). [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; Fox News, 9/24/2005]
British authorities continue to be concerned that the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network may take action against a British customs agent named Atif Amin, who had headed an investigation into the network. Members of the network had previously discussed taking action against Amin when he was in Dubai (see Late March 2000), and this had led to his investigation being curtailed (see Late March 2000). Discussions between network members are overheard by the British intelligence agency MI6, which passes the information on to British Customs. Customs talks to Amin about improving security around his home and investigates network members based in Britain who may pose a threat to him. However, the risk appears to be minimal while he remains in Britain. On the other hand, Khan associates attempt to locate members of his extended family still living in Pakistan, and Khan apparently vows to take action against Amin if he ever comes to Pakistan. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 192]
[Source: courtesy Daniel Hopsicker]While future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar live in the house of an FBI informant, Abdussattar Shaikh, the asset continues to have contact with his FBI handler. The handler, Steven Butler, later claims that during the summer, Shaikh mentions the names “Nawaf” and “Khalid” in passing and says that they are renting rooms from him. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ; Associated Press, 7/25/2003; 9/11 Commission, 4/23/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 220] In early media reports after 9/11, the two will be said to have moved in around September 2000, but the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will imply that Shaikh lied about this, and they moved in much earlier. Alhazmi stays until December (see December 12, 2000-March 2001); Almihdhar appears to be mostly out of the US after June (see June 10, 2000). [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/16/2001; Wall Street Journal, 9/17/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ] On one occasion, Shaikh tells Butler on the phone he cannot talk because Khalid is in the room. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002]
Shaikh Refuses to Reveal Hijackers' Last Names Despite Suspicious Contacts - Shaikh tells Butler Alhazmi and Almihdhar are good, religious Muslims who are legally in the US to visit and attend school. Butler asks Shaikh for their last names, but Shaikh refuses to provide them. Butler is not told that they are pursuing flight training. Shaikh tells Butler that they are apolitical and have done nothing to arouse suspicion. However, according to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, he later admits that Alhazmi has “contacts with at least four individuals [he] knew were of interest to the FBI and about whom [he] had previously reported to the FBI.” Three of these four people are being actively investigated at the time the hijackers are there. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ] The report will mention Osama Mustafa as one, and Shaikh will admit that suspected Saudi agent Omar al-Bayoumi was a friend. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ; Los Angeles Times, 7/25/2003] Alhazmi and Shaikh will remain in contact after Alhazmi leaves San Diego in December. Alhazmi will call Shaikh to tell him he intends to take flying lessons in Arizona and that Almihdhar has returned to Yemen. He also will e-mail Shaikh three times; one of the e-mails is signed “Smer,” an apparent attempt to conceal his identity, which Shaikh later says he finds strange. However, Alhazmi will not reply to e-mails Shaikh sends him in February and March of 2001. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
Best Chance to Stop the 9/11 Plot? - The FBI will later conclude that Shaikh is not involved in the 9/11 plot, but it has serious doubts about his credibility. After 9/11 he will give inaccurate information and has an “inconclusive” polygraph examination about his foreknowledge of the 9/11 attack. The FBI will believe he had contact with another of the 9/11 hijackers, Hani Hanjour, but claimed not to recognize him. There will be other “significant inconsistencies” in Shaikh’s statements about the hijackers, including when he first met them and his later meetings with them. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will conclude that had the asset’s contacts with the hijackers been capitalized upon, it “would have given the San Diego FBI field office perhaps the US intelligence community’s best chance to unravel the September 11 plot.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ] The FBI will try to prevent Butler and Shaikh from testifying before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October 2002. Butler will end up testifying (see October 9, 2002), but Shaikh will not (see October 5, 2002). [Washington Post, 10/11/2002]
Abdussattar Shaikh’s house in Lemon Grove, near San Diego. [Source: Fox News]While living with FBI informer Abdussatar Shaikh (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi receive strange late night visits, as they did in their previous apartment in San Diego (see February 2000-Early September 2001). [Associated Press, 9/16/2001] The visits are seen by their neighbors. For instance, one neighbor says, “There was always a series of cars driving up to the house late at night. Sometimes they were nice cars. Sometimes they had darkened windows. They’d stay about 10 minutes.” [Time, 9/24/2001] The two hijackers are also reportedly visited by Mohamed Atta and Hani Hanjour at this time (see Mid-May-December 2000).
Abdussattar Shaikh’s house in Lemon Grove, California. [Source: Newsweek]While 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are living with FBI informer Abdussattar Shaikh in San Diego (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), they are apparently visited frequently by hijacker Mohamed Atta, as well as hijacker Hani Hanjour, according to neighbors interviewed after 9/11. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/27/2001; Associated Press, 9/29/2001; Chicago Tribune, 9/30/2001; KGTV 10 (San Diego), 10/11/2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal, 10/26/2001] However, Shaikh will deny Atta’s visits and the FBI will not mention them. [Associated Press, 9/29/2001] Shaikh will also deny having met Hanjour, but the 9/11 Commission will say that it has “little doubt” Shaikh met Hanjour at least once. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 518] The two San Diego-based hijackers also receive a series of mysterious late night visits at this time (see Mid-May-December 2000).
Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: FBI]During these months, Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh tries several times to get a US visa, but all his attempts fail, some possibly due to a link to the USS Cole bombing. In 2000, he tries to a get a visa three times from Germany, and once from Yemen, but all these attempts fail. He may also make a fifth attempt in May 2001, although the 9/11 Commission will not include that in their final report. One of the applications says he will be visiting Agus Budiman, a Hamburg associate, in Washington (see October-November 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 10/24/2001; Australian, 12/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 11-15 ; McDermott, 2005, pp. 209] Most accounts claim that bin al-Shibh is refused a visa on economic grounds based on fears that he will overstay his visa and work in the US. One official later suggests it was “only by luck” that he was turned down. [CBS News, 6/6/2002; Washington Post, 7/14/2002] However, Bin al-Shibh is in Yemen during the two months before the bombing of the Cole in that country, and investigators later conclude that he may have been involved in that attack (see October 10-21, 2000 and October 12, 2000). Possibly for this reason other accounts note that, as the London Times will put it, he was “turned down on security grounds.” [London Times, 9/9/2002] Newsweek will later report, “One senior law-enforcement official told Newsweek that bin al-Shibh’s efforts to obtain a US visa were rebuffed because of suspicions that he was tied to the bombing of the USS Cole.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2001; Newsweek, 11/26/2001; BBC, 9/14/2002] In addition, Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will say that according to his US intelligence sources, bin al-Shibh’s visas were “turned down because he was implicated in the USS Cole attack.” [TBS Journal, 10/2002] But no journalist will ever question why this information didn’t lead to the unraveling of the 9/11 plot. Not only is there the obvious visa connection to Ziad Jarrah while he is training at a US flight school, but also during this same time period bin al-Shibh wires money to Marwan Alshehhi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and others, sometimes using his own name. [CBS News, 6/6/2002] It is unclear how the US would know about his ties to the bombing at this time, though it’s possible that the consular official who reviews his fourth attempt in Berlin in October/November 2000 sees that al-Shibh entered Yemen one day before the attack and leaves shortly after it (see October 10-21, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 15 ]
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mounir El Motassadeq attends an al-Qaeda training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. He leaves on May 22, 2000, flying from Hamburg, Germany, to Istanbul, Turkey, and then on to Pakistan. He is there at the same time as another Hamburg cell member, Zakariya Essabar (see January-October 2000). Although they train separately, they are at the same camp and see each other frequently. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 194, 201-202] Hamburg associate Abdelghani Mzoudi also attends the same camp around this time, and El Motassadeq will later testify in court that he meets with him at the camp. (see Summer 2000). El Motassadeq leaves Afghanistan in August 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 8/30/2002] El Motassadeq’s trip to the camp is likely noticed by the Turkish government, because he is on a watch list and he uses a known route to the camps (see May 22, 2000).
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mounir El Motassadeq leaves Germany for Afghanistan and his travel is immediately reported to the German authorities because he is on a watch list (see March 2000). El Motassadeq flies from Hamburg to Karachi, Pakistan, via Istanbul. At least two of the future 9/11 hijackers have previously traveled this route to Afghanistan (see Late November-Early December 1999). Although Turkish intelligence is aware that radicals from Germany travel to Afghanistan via Turkey, it is unclear whether they pick up the travel by El Motassadeq (see 1996). There are two versions of German intelligence’s reaction to this trip. An early 2003 article in Der Speigel will say that the intelligence report only gives El Motassadeq’s destination as Istanbul, so there are no consequences for him. However, a later article in Stern magazine will say, “Naturally, the officials know that Istanbul is not his real destination but only the usual stopover on his way to Afghanistan, to the camps of Osama bin Laden.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003; Stern, 8/13/2003] Indeed, El Motassadeq goes to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan (see May 22 to August 2000).
Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, has been gathering evidence of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack or attacks. In 2002, he will describe to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry a research process similar to what Able Danger is using at the same time: “I began to notice there was a voluminous amount of information, as others have testified, regarding al-Qaeda. Most of it appeared to be unrelated to other pieces of information. It appeared to be almost chat. By using a piece of [commercial software called ‘Analyst’s Notebook’] I was able to put these small snippets of information into, and graphically represent them as well, I was able to, over a course of many months, to determine certain linkages between these items—linkages that would never be apparent without the use of this tool. It would be lost in the weeds. And there were a lot of weeds to look through.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002; US Congress, 10/8/2002] In his research, he claims to find links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence. By May 2000, he writes a classified report on his conclusion that “terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States. The only gaps were where and when.” Apparently, he envisions at least one of these attacks will use a small boat to blow up a US warship. However, the DIA has already issued a report concluding that such a method of attack would be impossible to carry out successfully, and the agency sticks by this assessment. A video message put out by bin Laden in mid-September convinces Fallis that an al-Qaeda attack will happen in the next month or two.(see Mid-September 2000). Shortly after learning about this message, Fallis reaches “the ‘eureka point‘… in determining an impending terrorist attack.” This comes “from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] This may be a reference to a lead by the Able Danger team on increased al-Qaeda activity in Yemen at this time (see Late September 2000), and/or it may refer to other intelligence leads. Fallis goes to his supervisor and asks that at least a general warning of an attack in the Middle East be issued. He hopes such a warning will at least put US military forces in the region on a higher alert. His superior turns him down, and other superiors fail to even learn of his suggested warning. The USS Cole will be successfully attacked in the port of Aden, Yemen, by a small boat of terrorists on October 12, 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] One day after the Cole attack, Fallis will resign in protest. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA),“What [Fallis] felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in the final intelligence reports provided to military commanders in the [Middle East region].” [CNN, 10/25/2000]
A Pakistani businessman called Mohammed Atta (spelt with three ‘m’s) arrives in Prague aboard a Lufthansa flight from Saudi Arabia via Frankfurt. As he does not have a Czech visa, he is sent back, although he remains in the transit area at Prague Ruzyne airport for six hours. Unfortunately, he spends most of his time at the airport out of range of the security cameras. In the confusion immediately after 9/11, Czech counterintelligence will believe he may be the real lead hijacker Mohamed Atta (spelled with two ‘m’s)—he paid cash for his ticket and names are often spelled wrong—and that he had a meeting that could not wait, although this theory is eventually discounted. The real Mohamed Atta has a Czech visa, but it will not come into effect until the next day. Atta arrives in Prague on June 2 (see June 2-3, 2000). [Slate, 11/19/2003; Chicago Tribune, 8/29/2004; Czech Radio, 9/3/2004]
Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed in 2000. [Source: Reuters]In 2002, French author Bernard-Henri Levy is presented evidence by government officials in New Delhi, India, that Saeed Sheikh makes repeated calls to ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed during the summer of 2000. Later, Levy gets unofficial confirmation from sources in Washington regarding these calls that the information he was given in India is correct. He notes that someone in the United Arab Emirates using a variety of aliases sends Mohamed Atta slightly over $100,000 between June and September of this year (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000 and (July-August 2000)), and the timing of these phone calls and the money transfers may have been the source of news reports that Mahmood Ahmed ordered Saeed Sheikh to send $100,000 to Mohamed Atta (see October 7, 2001). However, he also notes that there is evidence of Sheikh sending Atta $100,000 in August 2001 (see Early August 2001), so the reports could refer to that, or both $100,000 transfers could involve Mahmood Ahmed, Saeed Sheikh, and Mohamed Atta. [Levy, 2003, pp. 320-324]
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. [Source: ABC]Italian resident Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who previously informed for the CIA on extremists in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After and May 1997-2000), moves from Rome to Milan to live with a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000 and Summer 2000). Al-Zawahiri’s associate, Mahmoud Es Sayed, and Nasr arrive in Milan at the same time, and it appears their movements are coordinated. Nasr actually lives in Es Sayed’s apartment and the pair make use of two radical mosques in Milan, the Via Quaranta mosque, which is their headquarters, and the Islamic Cultural Institute (ICI), which is associated with a cell of radical Islamists that works with al-Qaeda and appears to have foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and March 2001). The ICI has a reputation as the most radical Islamic center in Italy, was a key supply point for Muslims fighting in Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995), and was connected to the first World Trade Center bombing (see Late 1993-1994). Nasr serves as deputy imam at the ICI and preaches anti-US sermons. Italian law enforcement authorities monitor him with bugs in his apartment and through a tap on his phone, finding out that after 9/11 he recruits Muslims to go and fight in Afghanistan. He does not seem to be directly involved in serious illegal activity, but the information the Italians gain helps them monitor other radicals. His relationship with the CIA during his time in Italy is unclear, but in one monitored call after 9/11 he appears to be dissuading another radical from attacking Jews and in another he tells an associate not to carry out a car bombing. [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005; Vidino, 2006, pp. 242] The CIA will kidnap Nasr in 2003 (see Noon February 17, 2003).
The FBI extracts a full confession from L’Houssaine Kherchtou, also known as “Joe the Moroccan,” a member of the cell that bombed the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, in contrast with methods used on al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11, he is not tortured and the FBI is at pains to treat him well.
Relaxing Surroundings, Respectful Treatment - FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later say of the initial interrogation, which took place in Morocco, “The setting was beautiful, it was this grand house with stables out back, gazelles bouncing in the background, palm trees, three-course meals.” Kherchtou had a relationship with the British intelligence service MI6 (see Mid-Summer 1998 and Shortly After August 7, 1998), but had broken off contact with it and has to be lured to Morocco, where his debriefing is headed by Patrick Fitzgerald. Cloonan will later describe the questioning: “We advised [Kherchtou] of his rights. We told him he could have a lawyer anytime, and that he could pray at any time he wanted. We were letting the Moroccans sit in on this, and they were dumbfounded.… The Moroccans said he’d never talk. He never shut up for 10 days.” Fitzgerald denies Kherchtou a plea bargaining agreement, and says he must plead guilty to conspiracy to murder, for which he may receive a life sentence, though Fitzgerald promises to ask the judge for leniency. However, Cloonan will later say, “His wife needed money for medical treatment in Khartoum, and al-Qaeda had failed to provide it.” It is Cloonan’s “in” with Kherchtou, who is also sure that the US will not torture him. When Kherchtou wavers, Cloonan steps in. As he recalls: “I said, ‘Joe, you understand English, so I’d like you to go out and pray on this with your two Moroccan brothers.’ I thought Fitzy was going to give birth. Joe went out and prayed and came back and said yes.” He provides the FBI with details of the plot and becoming a star witness at the trial (see September 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005; Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Invaluable Information - Kherchtou’s information, provided at a time when the US knows comparatively little about al-Qaeda, is, in Cloonan’s assessment, invaluable. “He told us about a lot of things,” Cloonan later says. “We learned how they recruited people, their front organizations, how they used NGOs [non-governmental organizations], false passports, what they thought about kidnapping, how they developed targets, did their surveillance, a day in the life of Osama bin Laden, what weapons they used, what vehicles they drove, who was the principal liaison with the Sudanese government, that there was a relationship between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, how they did their training exercises, their finances, and their membership.” After the trial, he enters the witness protection program in the US. Four of his onetime associates will receive life sentences as a direct result of his information. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
FBI Use Kherchtou as Example of Successful Interrogation Tacticss - FBI officials will later compare this outcome favorably to procedures used by other US agencies after 9/11. For example, following the detainee abuse scandals after 9/11, FBI manager Tom Harrington will write that the FBI has “been successful for many years obtaining confessions via non-confrontational interviewing techniques.” Cloonan will later contrast Kherchtou’s treatment with that of al-Qaeda training manager Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in December 2001, when the US sent al-Libi to Egypt to be tortured and interrogated, but some of the information he provided there turned out to be false (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]
Alleged al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Abdelghani Mzoudi attends an al-Qaeda training camp. Mzoudi has long been an associate of future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and others in the Hamburg cell. In the summer of 2002, a witness will tell German intelligence that Mzoudi was seen at one of the al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Mounir El Motassadeq, a member of the Hamburg cell, will later testify in a German court that he met Mzoudi in Afghanistan (see May 22 to August 2000). Their mutual acquaintance Zakariya Essabar is at the same camp as El Motassadeq at this time (see January-October 2000). [Associated Press, 5/9/2003] Mzoudi will later be convicted of a role in the 9/11 attacks, but will then be acquitted after the US does not allow a key witness in its custody to be questioned (see February 5, 2004-June 8, 2005).
Around this time, a number of very suspicious web domains are registered, including the following: attackamerica.com, attackonamerica.com, attackontwintowers.com, august11horror.com, august11terror. com, horrorinamerica.com, horrorinnewyork.com, nycterroriststrike.com, pearlharborinmanhattan.com, terrorattack2001.com, towerofhorror.com, tradetowerstrike.com, worldtradecenter929.com, worldtrade-centerbombs.com, worldtradetowerattack.com, worldtradetowerstrike.com, and wterroristattack2001.com. A counterterrorism expert says, “It’s unbelievable that [the registration company] would register these domain names” and “if they did make a comment to the FBI, it’s unbelievable that the FBI didn’t react to it.” Several of the names mention 2001 and, apparently, there were no other websites mentioning other years. Registering a site requires a credit card, so presumably, this story could provide leads, but it is unclear what leads the FBI gets from this, if any. No sites will be active on 9/11. [CNS News, 9/19/2001] All of the domain name registrations will expire around June 2001. [CNS News, 9/20/2001] This story will later be incorrectly called an “urban legend,” [Insight, 3/11/2002]
CIA Director George Tenet makes a secret trip to Pakistan to complain about funds being moved through Islamic charities to al-Qaeda. This is part of an effort coordinated by the National Security Council to cut off the vast sums of money that intelligence officials believe flow to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network through Islamic charities and wealthy donors from across the Middle East. The US campaign prompts the Pakistani government in early 2001 to make some efforts to ban raising funds explicitly designated for holy war. Former US officials will later claim the trip is part of a larger effort to disrupt bin Laden’s financial network following the 1998 US embassy bombings. [Wall Street Journal, 10/1/2001]
The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which helps obtain warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), discovers errors in several al-Qaeda related FISA applications under a counterterrorist program called “Catcher’s Mitt.” The OIPR verbally notifies the FISA Court of the errors, which are mostly in affidavits submitted by supervisory special agents at field offices. Then, in September and October 2000, the OIPR submits two pleadings to the court regarding approximately 75-100 applications with errors starting in July 1997. Many of the errors concern misleading statements about the nature of collaboration between criminal and intelligence agents. Most of these applications stated that the FBI New York field office, where the I-49 squad focusing on al-Qaeda was based (see January 1996 and Late 1998-Early 2002), had separate teams of agents handling criminal and intelligence investigations. But in actual fact the I-49 agents intermingled with criminal agents working on intelligence cases and intelligence agents working on criminal cases. Therefore, contrary to what the FISA Court has been told, agents working on a criminal investigation have had unrestricted access to information from a parallel intelligence investigation—a violation of the so-called “wall,” the set of bureaucratic procedures designed to separate criminal and intelligence investigations (see July 19, 1995). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Newsweek, 3/29/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 36-37 ] The information about al-Qaeda in these cases is also shared with assistant US attorneys without FISA permission being sought or granted first. Other errors include the FBI director wrongly asserting that the target of a FISA application was not under criminal investigation, omissions of material facts about a prior relationship between the FBI and a target, and an interview of a target by an assistant US attorney. [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, 5/17/2002] This leads the FISA Court to impose new requirements regarding the “wall” (see October 2000). Similar problems will be found in FISA applications for surveillance of Hamas operatives (see March 2001).
While in the US, future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta generally makes phone calls using pay phones with a variety of prepaid calling cards. One day after arriving in New York City on June 3, 2000 (see June 3, 2000), Atta buys a cell phone and calling card at a store in Manhattan. Later in the month, he uses the phone to make more than a dozen calls to al-Qaeda facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali in the Middle East (see June 28-30, 2000). But after about a month, he stops using that phone, and uses pay phones and more difficult to trace prepaid calling cards for his overseas calls. For instance, from February 10 to 12, 2001, he makes a series of calls to his relatives in Egypt (mother, father, sister, and grandfather) from a pay phone in Georgia. At the same time, he generally uses a cell phone to make calls within the US. For instance, he leases a cell phone from January 2001 to the end of May 2001, and he uses others. Other hijackers, like Marwan Alshehhi and Hani Hanjour, also have their own cell phones for calls inside the US. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 69 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 119, 124, 147 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001 ] But the hijackers use pay phones with prepaid calling cards often. Investigators will later determine that the hijackers used at least 133 different prepaid calling cards, making them hard to track. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 53]
Khalid Almihdhar. [Source: FBI]9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar flies from San Diego to Frankfurt, Germany. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] He is accompanied to the airport by another hijacker, Nawaf Alhazmi, and an unnamed associate (see June 10, 2000). Authorities later believe that Almihdhar visits his cousin-in-law Ramzi Bin al-Shibh and other al-Qaeda members in bin al-Shibh’s cell. Since the CIA fails to notify Germany about its suspicions of Almihdhar and bin al-Shibh, both of whom were seen attending the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January, German police fail to monitor them and another chance to uncover the 9/11 plot is missed. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] FBI Director Mueller and the congressional inquiry into 9/11 will claim that Almihdhar does not return to the US for over a year [US Congress, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 9/26/2002] , although it is possible that Almihdhar does return before then. For instance, there are indications Almihdhar attends a flight school in Arizona in early 2001. [Arizona Republic, 9/28/2001]
When 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar leaves the US in June (see June 10, 2000), he flies to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Oman in the Middle East. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] From there he returns to his family’s home in Sana’a, Yemen. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] His wife and children live at an al-Qaeda communications hub that is run by his father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. The hub is being monitored by the NSA and CIA. Phone calls to and from the hub, including ones made by Almihdhar and other hijackers, are intercepted, rooms in the building are bugged, and spy satellites record visitors (see Late August 1998, Late 1998-Early 2002, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Based on information gained from monitoring this house, the CIA and local intelligence services mounted a major operation against Almihdhar, other hijackers, and several more al-Qaeda operatives in December 1999 and January 2000, when they were followed around the Middle East and South Asia and monitored during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, January 2-5, 2000, and January 5-8, 2000). So presumably US intelligence should have been aware of this visit to the hub and who Almihdhar was, but what exactly was known and who may have known it has not been made public. He will return to the hub in February 2001 and stay an unknown length of time (see February 2001).
After 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar returns to the Middle East (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)), the NSA continues to intercept his telephone calls to and from an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, where his wife and children live. US intelligence understands that this is one of the most important al-Qaeda hot spots, and has been closely monitoring it since at least late 1998 (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). It also intercepts calls between hijacker Salem Alhazmi and the hub, as well as conversations between his brother, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, in the US and the hub (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] The NSA had previously intercepted calls made by the hijackers to and from the communications hub, both when they were in the US and outside it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).
From June 28 to 30, 2000, there are over a dozen calls from future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s cell phone in New York to the home phone of 9/11 facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi) in the United Arab Emirates. Ali is the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. On June 29, Ali sends $5,000 to 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in the US, and more money from Ali to the hijackers follows over the next few months (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000). Ali will later be imprisoned by the US. In a 2007 tribunal hearing, in proclaiming his innocence, he will admit the calls and money transfers took place, but say that he spoke to Alshehhi, and he thought Alshehhi was just a businessman (see March 30, 2007). Atta and Alshsehhi are traveling together at the time. [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2007 ] It seems probable that US investigators will later learn of these calls because they are one of the rare times Atta’s cell phone is used for overseas calls (instead of using pay phones), and thus they show up on phone records (see June 4, 2000-September 11, 2001).
Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah allegedly tries to get his flight school in Florida to help hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh obtain a US visa. Bin al-Shibh wants to come to the US to train as a pilot, supposedly so he can be the fourth pilot in the 9/11 plot, but he has been having trouble getting a US visa (see May 17, 2000-May 2001). Sometime between June 28 and December 2000, when he is training at the Florida Flight Training Center (FFTC) in Venice, Florida, Jarrah gets to be friends with Arne Kruithof, the owner of the school. Kruithof will later recall that Jarrah “told me that he knew somebody who was also interested in getting a commercial pilot license.… He said his name was Ramzi something.… When I found out that [Ramzi’s] English was poor, we referred him to a language school through which he tried to obtain a visa.… When I asked Ziad why, if he knew, his visa was denied, he said, ‘No, I do not know that.’ We did then make a few phone calls, but nobody could tell us anything.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 132] Bin al-Shibh wires the school a $2,200 deposit in August 2000 in anticipation of getting the visa, but he never gets it. [US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 225]
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. [Source: FBI]Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi receive a series of five money transfers from the United Arab Emirates:
On June 29, $5,000 is wired by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur” to a Western Union facility in New York, where Alshehhi picks it up;
On July 18, $10,000 is wired to Atta and Alshehhi’s joint account at SunTrust from the UAE Exchange Centre in Bur Dubai by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur”;
On August 5, $9,500 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Isam Mansour”;
On August 29, $20,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Mr. Ali”;
On September 17 $70,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Hani (Fawar Trading).” Some sources suggest a suspicious activity report was generated about this transaction (see (Late September 2000)). [Financial Times, 11/29/2001; Newsweek, 12/2/2001; New York Times, 12/10/2001; MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar previously received a transfer from the United Arab Emirates from a “Mr. Ali” (see April 16-18, 2000). The 9/11 Commission say this money was sent by Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi), a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 133-5 ] Although he denies making the $5,000 transfer to Nawaf Alhazmi, Ali will admit sending Alshehhi these amounts and say that the money was Alshehhi’s (see March 30, 2007). He also admits receiving 16 phone calls from Alshehhi around this time (see June 4, 2000-September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2007 ] The hijackers may also receive another $100,000 around this time (see (July-August 2000)). It is suggested that Saeed Sheikh, who wires the hijackers money in the summer of 2001 (see Early August 2001), may be involved in one or both of these transfers. For example, French author Bernard-Henri Levy later claims to have evidence from sources inside both Indian and US governments of phone calls between Sheikh and Mahmood Ahmed, head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, during this same time period, and he sees a connection between the timing of the calls and the money transfers (see Summer 2000). [Frontline, 10/13/2001; Daily Excelsior (Jammu), 10/18/2001; Levy, 2003, pp. 320-324]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mahmood Ahmed, Fawaz Trdng, Isam Mansour, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Saeed Sheikh, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Al-Qaeda, United Arab Emirates, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Richard Reid. [Source: Plymouth County Jail]MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, has Zacarias Moussaoui under surveillance. The French government had asked MI5 to monitor him in 1999 (see 1999), but it has not been confirmed if this is in response to that request. It is not clear when the surveillance begins, but the Observer reports that it lasts for “months” and ends when Moussaoui leaves Britain on December 9, 2000, to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. The extent of Moussaoui’s surveillance is not publicly known; the only reported detail is that some phone calls between Moussaoui and Richard Reid are intercepted. Reid will later be convicted for attempting to blow up a passenger airliner with a bomb in his shoe (see December 22, 2001). MI5 records the conversations between them made inside Britain. Opposition politicians in Britain will later criticize MI5 for not realizing Reid’s al-Qaeda ties between 9/11 and Reid’s shoe bomb plot over two months later. [Observer, 12/30/2001; Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001] Moussaoui appears to be in contact with other al-Qaeda figures during this time. For instance, he travels to Yazid Sufaat’s house in Malaysia in September 2000 and again in October 2000 (see September-October 2000), and Ramzi bin al-Shibh stays in London for a week in early December 2000 and meets with Moussaoui (see October 2000-February 2001). [Independent, 12/11/2001] However, it is not known if such contacts are monitored as well.
Jack Roche. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]Jack Roche, an Australian Caucasian Muslim, tries to inform on al-Qaeda for Australia or the US, but is ignored. In April, Roche returned from a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Malaysia, where he took an explosives training course and met with bin Laden, Mohammed Atef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and other top al-Qaeda leaders. In Pakistan, Mohammed discussed attacking US jets in Australia and gave Roche money to start an al-Qaeda cell in Australia. Roche also met Hambali in Malaysia and was given more money there. Early this month, he tries to call the US embassy in Australia, but they ignore him. He then tries to contact The Australian intelligence agency several times, but they too ignore him. In September 2000, his housemate also tries to contact Australian intelligence about what he has learned from Roche but his call is ignored as well. Australian Prime Minister John Howard later acknowledges that authorities made a “very serious mistake” in ignoring Roche, though he also downplays the importance of Roche’s information. Roche is later sentenced to nine years in prison for conspiring with al-Qaeda to blow up an Israeli embassy. [BBC, 6/1/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2004]
Bush, center, and some of the Muslim activists meeting with him in Austin, Texas. Alamoudi is standing over his left shoulder. [Source: CAIR]Presidential candidate George W. Bush meets with Abdurahman Alamoudi and other suspected Islamic militant sympathizers. US intelligence has suspected Alamoudi of ties to bin Laden and other militant figures since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994), but he has nonetheless grown in importance as a Muslim political activist. It will later be reported that Alamoudi “sought to secure the support first of the Clinton administration in seeking to repeal certain antiterrorist laws, but when Bill Clinton failed to deliver, Alamoudi defected to Bush, then governor of Texas.” [Insight, 10/23/2003] Alamoudi and other Muslim leaders meet with Bush in Austin, Texas, in July 2000, just one month before the Republican presidential convention. They offer their support to his presidential campaign in exchange for his commitment to repeal certain antiterrorist laws. A photo of the meeting shows Bush with Alamoudi, several open supporters of the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups, the former head of the Pakistani Communist Party, and other unknown individuals. One photo likely taken at this meeting shows Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove there as well (see June 22, 2001). Bush and Rove also met with Alamoudi in 1999 (see 1999). [Insight, 10/23/2003] Some of Alamoudi’s radical connections are publicly known at the time, and in October 2000 the Bush campaign will return a $1,000 contribution from Alamoudi shortly after Hillary Clinton returned an Alamoudi contribution to her senate race. [Insight, 10/29/2001] Muslim activists like Alamoudi are hinging their political support on the repeal of the use of secret evidence in terrorism cases. The Bush campaign had already been strongly pushing for support from Muslim American voters (see 1998-September 2001 and March 12, 2000) and such ties continue to grow. During the second presidential debate on October 11, 2000, Bush will come out strongly for repealing the use of secret evidence, saying, “Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what’s called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we got to do something about that.” [Salon, 3/15/2004] Later in 2000, Alamoudi will meet with two suspected associates of the 9/11 hijackers (see October-November 2000), and in early 2001 he will attend a public conference attempting to unite militant groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, to wage holy war against the US and Israel (see Late January 2001). Nonetheless, Bush will appear with Alamoudi several times even after 9/11(see September 14-26, 2001). Alamoudi will be sentenced to a long prison term in 2004 (see October 15, 2004).
A CIA informant reveals that a militant group based in Sidon, Lebanon that is affiliated with bin Laden is planning to attack a US naval ship somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, probably off the coast of Lebanon. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 215] This is a probable reference to Asbat al-Ansar, the only group that fits such a profile. [US Department of State, 5/21/2002] The CIA and Defense Department discount the threat, pointing out the US is not deploying ships near Lebanon. However, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later say he was alarmed by the warning because it showed increased ambitions for al-Qaeda in going after hardened military targets. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 215] Al-Qaeda will successfully bomb the USS Cole several months later in Yemen (see October 12, 2000).
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arranges for the FBI assistant legal attaché in Islamabad, Pakistan, to meet a source, later known in a New York Times article as “Omar,” that has substantial information on Osama bin Laden, his operatives and operations. Omar will go on to play a key role in the investigation of the USS Cole bombing, as he will identify Khallad bin Attash, one of the masterminds behind the attack (see November 22-December 16, 2000 and January 4, 2001). However, because the assistant legal attaché cannot speak the source’s language and due to the value of the information Omar has, the CIA is asked to help and he is handled as a joint source. The CIA attempts to prevent the source from working on criminal investigations for the FBI, fearing he may be exposed in court, but these attempts are not successful. [New York Times, 4/11/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 264-5 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Logo of the Joint Forces Intelligence Command. [Source: Joint Forces Intelligence Command]The Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC) conducts a briefing, based on its analysis of the terrorist threat, in which the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are identified as the buildings in the United States most likely to be attacked, and the possibility of one of the Twin Towers collapsing is mentioned. This is according to a counterterrorism and counterintelligence analyst for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service who is assigned to the JFIC from April 1998 to June 2001. [Defense Intelligence Agency, 5/8/2006 ] This individual, whose name is unstated, will later be referred to by the code name “Iron Man.” [US Department of Defense, 9/23/2008, pp. 5 ]
Unit Produces Reports on the Most Likely Terrorist Targets - The briefing was prepared by the JFIC’s Asymmetric Threat Division (DO5), which is responsible for reporting on “asymmetric threats,” especially terrorism. Between mid-1998 and mid-2001, DO5 carries out a wide range of original analysis. Based on this analysis, according to Iron Man, it creates numerous original reports that identify the probable and possible movements and locations of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It also creates reports on the most likely targets for domestic and international terrorists, both within and outside the US.
WTC and the Pentagon Are Named as Likely Targets - The first of its reports are prepared in the summer of 2000 and are briefed to numerous US Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) staffers. The first version of the briefing is titled “The WMD [weapon of mass destruction] Threat to the US” and is apparently produced in late July 2000. (The “information cut-off date” for the briefing is July 16, 2000.) The briefing slides emphasize “that New York City [is] the most difficult consequence management problem” and recommend using New York as “the model for planning/exercises,” according to Iron Man. The oral briefing is more specific, indicating that the Twin Towers are “the most likely buildings to be attacked in the US, followed closely by the Pentagon.” The person who delivers the briefing indicates that the “worst-case scenario” would involve one of the Twin Towers collapsing onto the other.
Possibility of a Plane Hitting the WTC Is Discussed - Iron Man will recall that the possibility of a plane striking the Twin Towers may have been discussed in the briefing. “[I]t was certainly discussed in the red cell analysis leading up to the briefing,” he will write. During that analysis, the acting deputy director of DO5 proposed that the Twin Towers might be struck by a jet aircraft. In the discussion that follows the oral briefing, the possibility of contacting WTC security, engineering, and architectural personnel is suggested. The idea is not explored further, though, “because of a command climate discouraging contact with the civilian community,” according to Iron Man. At the end of the briefing, JFCOM’s operations directorate instructs that the “national military terrorism exercise” for 2002 should be based on a “New York worse-case scenario.” The military is unable to use this scenario for its 2001 exercise because it is already financially committed to conducting an exercise involving a cruise ship that year.
Subsequent Briefing Names the WTC and the Pentagon as Likely Targets - The slides used in the July briefing will be revised for a briefing apparently delivered in late September this year, on “The Chemical and Biological Threat to the US.” This briefing will include a more detailed slide that lists likely targets in the US. The cities most likely to be attacked, according to the slide, are New York, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles. The target at the top of those listed for New York is the Wall Street district and for Washington, the Pentagon. The oral briefing will, as in the July briefing, specify that the WTC and the Pentagon are the most likely terrorist targets, according to Iron Man. [Defense Intelligence Agency, 5/8/2006 ] However, a September 2008 report by the Department of Defense’s inspector general will apparently contradict Iron Man’s allegations. “Evidence indicated that the JFIC did not have knowledge regarding imminent domestic targets prior to 9/11,” it will state. [US Department of Defense, 9/23/2008, pp. 5 ]
Unit's Work Is Well Known - The JFIC was established in 1999, evolving from the Atlantic Intelligence Command. Its mission is to “provide general and direct intelligence support to the USJFCOM, the USJFCOM staff directorates, subordinate unified commands, joint task forces, service component commands, and subordinate joint forces commands tasked with executing the USJFCOM geographic or functional missions.” [US Department of Defense, 9/23/2008, pp. i, 3 ] The JFIC created the Asymmetric Threat Division, DO5, in 1999, in order to ensure the quality of its analysis of international terrorist threats against the US. DO5 provides current intelligence briefings and produces the Worldwide Terrorist Threat Summary in support of the USJFCOM intelligence staff. [Defense Intelligence Agency, 5/8/2006 ; US Department of Defense, 9/23/2008, pp. 3 ] DO5’s work is very well known within the JFIC, according to Iron Man. Furthermore, Iron Man will write, DO5 is “widely known in the intelligence community to be conducting all-source intelligence analysis” of al-Qaeda. [Defense Intelligence Agency, 5/8/2006 ] However, the JFIC’s commanding officer will tell the Department of Defense’s inspector general that “the tracking of Osama bin Laden did not fall within JFIC’s mission.” [US Department of Defense, 9/23/2008, pp. 6 ]
Between July 20 and November 18, 2000, future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi receives 16 phone calls from someone living overseas named Ashraf Suboh. At the time, Alhazmi is living in San Diego, California, at the house of an FBI informant named Abdussattar Shaikh (see May 10-Mid-December 2000). Alhazmi apparently does not make any important calls using the phone in the house, and these are the only important calls he receives. It is unknown if Suboh is someone’s real name or an alias. The name will be discovered in a raid on an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan in May 2002. Suboh’s name and address will be discovered as part of a printout of an e-mail dated January 9, 2001. The 9/11 Commission will mention this in its 2004 final report, but it will not mention where Suboh’s address was or any other information about him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 535] The May 2002 raid is likely the same one where other information about the 9/11 hijackers is found, including passport photographs and other passport pages of hijackers Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Abdulaziz Alomari (see May 16, 2002).
The French intelligence agency, the DGSE, publishes a 13-page classified report entitled “The Networks of Osama bin Laden.” According to a 2007 article, the report describes the “context, the anecdotal details, and all the strategic aspects relative to al-Qaeda” in “black and white” terms. It mentions a payment of $4.5 million from the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) to in Laden. The US will not go after the IIRO even years after 9/11 because of the organization’s close ties to the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001 and August 3, 2006). The report also doubts Osama bin Laden’s purported estrangement from the bin Laden family: “It seems more and more likely that bin Laden has maintained contacts with certain members of his family, although the family, which directs one of the largest groups of public works in the world, has officially renounced him. One of his brothers apparently plays a role as intermediary in its professional contacts or the monitoring of its business.” French officials will later claim they regularly passed on their intelligence on al-Qaeda to the CIA. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]
Aquilino Pimentel. [Source: Publicity photo from Aquilino Pimentel website.]Senator Aquilino Pimentel, president of the Philippines Senate, accuses the Philippine government of collusion with the Muslim militant group Abu Sayyaf. He cites research that names two high police officers, Leandro Mendoza and Rodolfo Mendoza, as handlers for Abu Sayyaf informants. He also names Brig. Gen. Guillermo Ruiz, commanding general of the Filipino Marines in the early 1990s, as someone who colluded with the group, even splitting profits from illegal logging with them. Pimentel says, “My information is that the Abu Sayyaf partisans were given military intelligence services IDs, safe-houses, safe-conduct passes, firearms, cell phones and various sorts of financial support.” He accuses officials of manipulating the Abu Sayyaf “in the game of divide and rule as far as the Muslim insurgency is concerned.” He also accuses the CIA of helping to create the Abu Sayyaf, saying, “For what the Abu Sayyaf has become, the CIA must merit our people’s condemnation. The CIA has sired a monster that has caused a lot problems for the country…” He says Abu Sayyaf’s handlers “passed on military equipment and funds from the CIA and its support network…” He claims witnesses have come to him with evidence but are afraid of speaking out publicly. He concludes that “any Filipino who had a hand in the creation, training and equipping of the Abu Sayyaf should be held to account for high treason and other crimes.” [Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel website, 7/31/2000]
[Source: White House]Vulgar Betrayal, the most significant US government investigation into terrorist financing before 9/11, shuts down. FBI agent Robert Wright launched the investigation in 1996 (see 1996) and was removed from the investigation in late 1999 (see August 3, 1999). Apparently the investigation accomplished little after Wright’s departure. [LA Weekly, 8/25/2004; Judicial Watch, 12/15/2004; Robert G. Wright, Jr., v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/16/2005] A March 2000 affidavit named Yassin al-Qadi as a source of terrorist funds in Chicago, but no charges are brought against him. [ABC News, 12/19/2002] Mark Flessner, an assistant US attorney assigned to Vulgar Betrayal in 1996, later will recall, “Vulgar Betrayal was a case where the FBI’s intelligence agents would not cooperate with the criminal agents trying to put these guys in jail. They refused to let us arrest them. They only wanted to watch them conduct their business.” He will also claim that Frances Townsend, a Justice Department official working a variety of posts, helps close down the investigation. He will say Townsend did not share information but “deliberately obstructed it. And I found that very disconcerting.” He will claim that she completely supports FBI intelligence agents and refuses to share their information with the Vulgar Betrayal investigation. A federal grand jury was impaneled in 1996 to support Vulgar Betrayal, but without the information from FBI intelligence, Flessner did not have enough evidence to return indictments. “I couldn’t even get permission to do the basic things you do, such as collecting phone numbers from their targets’ incoming and outgoing calls, and addresses from their mail.” With the shut down of the investigation in 2000, Flessner will resign from the Justice Department in frustration. After 9/11, Townsend will be appointed President Bush’s Homeland Security Adviser and counterterrorism director for the National Security Council. [LA Weekly, 8/25/2004]
The US intelligence community has been monitoring al-Qaeda telephone communications to and from a communications hub in Yemen since the late 1990s (see Late August 1998). The CIA intercepts an al-Qaeda operative say in a monitored phone call that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” against the US. Failed millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, who is arrested in late 1999 (see December 14, 1999), confirms at the time that al-Qaeda is preparing such an attack. [New York Times, 10/14/2001; PBS, 10/3/2002] This sets off an immediate but unsuccessful search for further evidence. Shortly after 9/11, the New York Times will report that “intelligence officials now acknowledge that they never imagined that Mr. bin Laden’s organization had the ability to kill thousands of people in coordinated attacks on the American homeland. Looking back through the prism of Sept. 11, officials now say that the intercepted message was a telling sign of a drastic shift in the ambitions and global reach of al-Qaeda during the last three years.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001] There apparently is another intercepted message talking about a “Hiroshima” event in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001).
9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh spends four weeks in Yemen. The exact timing of his visit is unknown, except that he arrives in August 2000 and leaves in September. [Australian, 12/24/2002; US Department of Defense, 12/8/2006]
Planning Cole Bombing? - While in Yemen, it seems probable bin al-Shibh is involved in preparations for the USS Cole bombing. There are reports that he takes part in the bombing, and he flies back to Yemen to be there in time for the bombing in early October (see October 10-21, 2000).
Does He Visit Monitored Yemen Hub? - While there, it is also possible that he visits the highly monitored al-Qaeda Yemen communications hub, which is in Sana’a. It will not be confirmed or denied that he visits the hub at this time. However, bin al-Shibh is Yemeni, and he is a cousin of future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s wife, and she lives at the house where the hub is located. [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Washington Post, 9/11/2002] (Note that he also has other family in Sana’a, as this is where he grew up, so it seems probable he would spend at least some of his visit in Sana’a.) [McDermott, 2005, pp. 41] Furthermore, at some point before the Cole bombing, bin al-Shibh meets with
al-Qaeda operatives Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ahmed al-Hada in Yemen. It is not known where the meeting takes place, but al-Hada runs the Yemen hub (and he is also related to bin al-Shibh) (see Before October 12, 2000). Also, al-Qaeda operatives use the hub to “put everything together” for the Cole bombing, and bin al-Shibh is probably involved in preparations for the bombing at this time. The bombers also call the hub as part of their preparations (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000).
Could Bin Al-Shibh Be Tracked? - If bin al-Shibh does visit (or even just call) the Yemen hub at this time, and/or during his later visit right at the time of the Cole bombing, he would be monitored by US intelligence. The US not only listens in on the hub’s phone, but it monitors the house through bugs planted inside and through spy satellites to monitor people leaving and entering it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Although it is uncertain, US intelligence may already be aware of bin al-Shibh through his attendance at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in early 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000).
The bombing of the Jakarta residence of Philippine ambassador Leonides Caday. [Source: CNN]The Jakarta residence of Leonides Caday, the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia, is bombed. Caday is seriously injured and two people are killed. The bombing is later blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia. In 2003, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, on trial for the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002), will admit that he bought the bomb-making materials and built the bomb that targeted Caday. He will also admit to buying materials for the Christmas Eve bombings later in 2000 and the 2002 Bali bombings. [Associated Press, 6/12/2003] Also in 2003, Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, an Indonesian imprisoned in the Philippines and linked to both al-Qaeda and JI, will admit to taking part in the attack on Caday as well. He will further say that the attack was ordered by Hambali, a key leader of both al-Qaeda and JI, and that Hambali ordered it in retaliation for the Philippine government attacking Camp Abubakar in the Southern Philippines earlier in the year. The camp is run by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Philippine militant group, but is allegedly used by other groups, including JI. [Associated Press, 6/10/2003] This is possibly the first violent attack attributed to JI, even though the group has been in existence since about 1992 (see 1992).
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