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In 2002, the Washington Post will report, “European officials, including the German authorities, said that while they had indications in the summer of 2001 that al-Qaeda was planning a major attack, they had no specifics on what form it would take, where it would occur, or who, specifically, was involved.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2002] Other details will remain unknown, such as what other European countries besides Germany might know this. Also, it is unclear if this information is passed to the US. However, there will be other reports that in June 2001, German intelligence warns the CIA, Britain, and Israel that Middle Eastern militants are planning to hijack commercial aircraft to use as weapons to attack “American and Israeli symbols, which stand out” (see June 2001). British and French intelligence are also said to warn the US about a major al-Qaeda attack in the summer of 2001 (see July 6, 2001, July 16, 2001, Early August 2001, Late August 2001, and September 7, 2001).
The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that in spite of an unprecedented attack threat in the months before 9/11, US “domestic agencies never mobilized in response to the threat. They did not have direction, and did not have a plan to institute. The borders were not hardened. Transportation systems were not fortified. Electronic surveillance was not targeted against a domestic threat. State and local law enforcement were not marshaled to augment the FBI’s efforts. The public was not warned.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 265]
A British Intelligence paper reports that Iraq has been seeking aluminum tubes from Switzerland of the same precise specifications as the tubes Iraq recently ordered from China (see 2000). The report suggests the tubes are “probably for the Iraqi Air Force.” [United Kingdom, 7/14/2004 ]
A compendium of documents both real and forged is given to US intelligence by Italy’s military intelligence agency, SISMI. It is doubtful that the US receives the key documents themselves—it is standard practice among intelligence agencies to share reports, but not original materials, with allies. The dossier includes materials purloined from the Nigerien embassy in Rome (see January 2, 2001). According to document peddler Rocco Martino (see Early 2000), SISMI later added more documents to the ones he originally obtained from the Nigerien embassy, including a codebook and a dossier filled with documents both genuine and forged. The dossier includes an authentic telex dated February 1, 1999, in which Nigerien ambassador Adamou Chekou wrote to another official about a forthcoming visit from Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican (see February 1999).
Forged Document Asserting Sale of Uranium to Iraq Included - The last and most important document the US receives is a forged memo dated July 7, 2000. This forgery is supposedly a report on the sale of 500 tons of pure “yellowcake” uranium per year by Niger to Iraq (see Between 1999 and 2000 and Summer 2001). Such uranium is useful in making nuclear weapons.
Documents for Money - For Martino’s part, it seems that his only motivation in disseminating the forged documents is money. Italian reporter Carla Bonini later says, “He was not looking for great amounts of money—$10,000, $20,000, maybe $40,000.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 236]
CIA Analysts Disbelieving of Claims - The initial reaction of the CIA analysts reading over the documents is to dismiss the reports of an Iraqi attempt to buy huge quantities of Nigerien uranium as ridiculous. In September 2006, veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern will say: “The reports made no sense on the face of it. Most of us knew the Iraqis already had yellowcake. It is a sophisticated process to change it into a very refined state and they didn’t have the technology.” In October 2006, Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, will say, “The idea that you could get that much yellowcake out of Niger without the French knowing, that you could have a train big enough to carry it, is absurd.” Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who will serve in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia Division in 2002 and 2003, will note in October 2005: “Yellowcake is unprocessed bulk ore. If Saddam [Hussein] wanted to make nuclear bombs, why would he want unprocessed ore, when the best thing to do would be to get processed stuff in the Congo?” McGovern will add that it is routine for “all manner of crap” to come “out of the field.” The CIA’s experienced analysts “are qualified to see if these reports made sense. For some reason, perhaps cowardice, these reports were judged to be of such significance that no one wanted to sit on it.” [London Times, 8/1/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 207-208]
Difference in Dates - Other sources say that SISMI waits until October 2001 to provide the documents to the US (see October 15, 2001).
The CIA provides senior US policy makers with a classified warning of a potential attack against US interests that is thought to be tied to Fourth of July celebrations in the US. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/23/2001] The head of counterterrorism at the FBI, Dale Watson, will later recall that he and Cofer Black, the head of counterterrorism at the CIA, expected an attack to occur around the Fourth of July. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 265]
States the Israeli spy ring were known to have operated in, according to a June 2001 Drug Enforcement Administration report (this Fox news graphic was based on information from that report). [Source: Fox News]The DEA’s Office of Security Programs prepares a 60-page internal memo on the Israeli “art student spy ring.” [Drug Enforcement Agency, 6/2001] The Memo is a compilation of dozens of field reports, and was meant only for the eyes of senior officials at the Justice Department (of which the DEA is adjunct), but it is leaked to the press around December 2001. The report connects the spies to efforts to foil investigations into Israeli organized crime activity involving the importation of the drug Ecstasy. The spies also appear to be snooping on top-secret military bases. For instance, on April 30, 2001, an Air Force alert was issued from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City concerning “possible intelligence collection being conducted by Israeli art students.” Tinker AFB houses AWACS surveillance craft and Stealth bombers. By the time of the report, the US has “apprehended or expelled close to 120 Israeli nationals” but many remain at large. [Le Monde (Paris), 3/5/2002; Salon, 5/7/2002] An additional 20 or so Israeli spies are apprehended between June and 9/11. [Fox News, 12/12/2001]
US intelligence issues a terrorist threat advisory, warning US government agencies that there is a high probability of an imminent attack against US interests: “Sunni extremists associated with al-Qaeda are most likely to attempt spectacular attacks resulting in numerous casualties.” The advisory mentions the Arabian Peninsula, Israel, and Italy as possible targets for an attack. Afterwards, intelligence information provided to senior US leaders continues to indicate that al-Qaeda expects near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences on governments or cause major casualties. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
In June 2001, the CIA learns that key al-Qaeda operatives are disappearing, while others are preparing for martyrdom. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] CIA Director George Tenet will later elaborate in a 2007 book that during the month of June, the CIA learns:
Several training camps in Afghanistan are closing, a sign that al-Qaeda is anticipating a retaliatory strike.
Bin Laden is leaving Afghanistan in fear of a US strike (this later turns out to be erroneous).
Al-Qaeda operatives are leaving Saudi Arabia and returning to Afghanistan, which fits a pattern of movement just before attacks.
Ayman al-Zawahiri is warning associates in Yemen to flee in anticipation of a crackdown.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the masterminds of the USS ‘Cole’ bombing, has disappeared.
Other important operatives are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom.
A key Afghan training camp commander was reportedly weeping for joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 148-149] The CIA also heard in May that operatives are disappearing and preparing for martyrdom (see May 2001).
British investigators believe that at least five of the 9/11 hijackers have a “vital planning meeting” held in a safe house in north London, Britain. No specific hijacker names are mentioned, but eleven of the hijackers are known to visit London around this time (see January-June 2001 and April 22-June 27, 2001). [London Times, 9/26/2001] Authorities suspect that the meeting takes place in a home owned by Mustapha Labsi, an Algerian. It is believed Labsi also trained the hijackers in Afghanistan. However, Labsi could not have been at the June meeting because he was arrested in February 2001 in Britain and will be held continuously after that. He is a suspect in Ahmed Ressam’s attempting bombing of the Los Angeles airport. He is also wanted in France for planning a suspected attack at the 1996 G7 summit. [Daily Telegraph, 9/30/2001]
In June 2001, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a French judge who specializes in terrorism cases, concludes that Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan who owns a cell phone store in Madrid, Spain, is a major contact for Islamist militant recruits in Europe and Morocco. He warns the Spanish government that Zougam should be arrested. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] The French became interested in Zougam because of his links to David Courtailler, a French convert to Islam. The CIA told the French in 1998 that Courtailler and others had just come back from an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan to plan attacks in Europe. The French tracked Courtailler to London (where he was roommates with Zacarias Moussaoui (see 1996-2001 and After August 7, 1998). Then they tracked him to Madrid and Tangier, Morocco, where he met with Zougam and Abdelaziz Benyaich, another Islamist militant. [New York Times, 5/28/2004] The Spanish were already monitoring Zougam in 2000, and had linked him with Barakat Yarkas, leader of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, and the radical British imam Abu Qatada (see 2000-Early March 2004). But Zougam is not arrested. In November 2001, the main suspects in Yarkas’s cell will be arrested, but again Zougam will remain free (see November 13, 2001). Bruguiere will have to wait a year before the Spanish police will allow him to question Zougam. Bruguiere will later comment, “In 2001, all the Islamist actors in Madrid were identified.” [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Zougam will eventually be sentenced to life in prison for a key role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings. [Daily Mail, 11/1/2007]
CIA Director George Tenet will later write that in June 2001, the CIA learns that Arabs in Afghanistan are said to be anticipating as many as eight celebrations. Additionally, al-Qaeda operatives are being told to await important news within days. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 148-149] This is just one of many indications word of the upcoming 9/11 attacks is spreading widely in the Afghanistan training camps in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001).
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz asks the CIA to look over the 2000 book, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America by Laurie Mylroie, which argued that Iraq was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (see October 2000). Wolfowitz will mention shortly after 9/11 how he asked the CIA to do this, but it is unknown what their response is. Presumably it is not one Wolfowitz liked. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 559] Wolfowitz also asks Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), to have his analysts look at the book. The DIA is unable to find any evidence that support the theory. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 76] Around late July, the US reopens the files on WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef, presumably in response to these requests (see Late July or Early August 2001). But no evidence will be found to support Mylroie’s theory that Yousef was an Iraqi agent. The 9/11 Commission will conclude in 2004, “We have found no credible evidence to support theories of Iraqi government involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 559]
9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh allegedly meets with Zacarias Moussaoui in Karachi, Pakistan. This information comes from bin al-Shibh’s interrogations after he is captured in late 2002 (see September 11, 2002). If they meet, it will not be revealed what they discuss. However, around this time, bin al-Shibh reportedly gives Moussaoui the e-mail address of an unnamed contact in the US. [Washington Post, 11/20/2002] Moussaoui has been taking flying lessons in the US from February until June 2001 (see February 23-June 2001). His visa expired in May 2001 and he did not renew it or get a new one, so if he did leave the US, it is unclear how he manages to get back in by the time he resumes flight training there in August. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002] In late June, bin al-Shibh travels to Malaysia (see Late June 2001). It is uncertain how reliable any of the information from bin al-Shibh’s interrogations is, especially since bin al-Shibh may be tortured (see Late 2002).
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Said Bahaji tells his family and his employers that he will be quitting his job and moving to Pakistan. He is working at a computer company in Hamburg, and he tells his superiors there that he will be quitting in the autumn because he has accepted an internship in Pakistan. He tells the same story to his family. However, his aunt, Barbara Arens, doesn’t believe him. She contacts the police and tries to get them to do something. But the police are uninterested because they don’t see a sign of any crime being committed. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 229-230] His internship story suggests that in June 2001, the Hamburg cell already has a rough idea when the 9/11 attacks will take place. Bahaji will leave for Pakistan on September 3, 2001 (see September 3-5, 2001).
German intelligence warns the CIA, Britain’s intelligence agency, and Israel’s Mossad that Middle Eastern militants are planning to hijack commercial aircraft to use as weapons to attack “American and Israeli symbols, which stand out.” A later article quotes unnamed German intelligence sources who state the information was coming from Echelon surveillance technology, and that British intelligence had access to the same warnings. However, there were other informational sources, including specific information and hints given to, but not reported by, Western and Near Eastern news media six months before 9/11. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/14/2001; Fox News, 5/17/2002] According to a separate account, in the summer of 2001, German officials are aware that al-Qaeda is planning a major attack, but they don’t know the details (see Summer 2001).
During this time, President Bush and other top White House officials are given a series of Presidential Daily Briefings relating to an al-Qaeda attack (see January 20-September 10, 2001). The exact contents of these briefings remain classified, but according to the 9/11 Commission they consistently predict upcoming attacks that will occur “on a catastrophic level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil, consisting of possible multiple—but not necessarily simultaneous—attacks.” CIA Director Tenet later will recall that he feels President Bush and other officials grasp the urgency of what they are being told. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004] But Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin later states that he feels a great tension, peaking these months, between the Bush administration’s apparent misunderstanding of terrorism issues and his sense of great urgency. McLaughlin and others are frustrated when inexperienced Bush officials question the validity of certain intelligence findings. Two CIA officials even consider resigning in protest (see Summer 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, wishes he had “500 analysts looking at Osama bin Laden threat information instead of two.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Sahim Alwan. [Source: PBS]The FBI’s Buffalo, New York, field office receives an anonymous, handwritten letter from someone in the Yemeni community of Lackawanna, near Buffalo. The letter says that a group has traveled to “meet bin Laden and stay in his camp for training.” The person who wrote it adds, “I can not give you my name because I fear for my life.” It says that “two terrorists” have been recruiting in Lackawanna, and that eight men have gone to train in Afghanistan, and four more are planning to go later. It gives the names of the men. In fact, all eight of the men named are currently in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. This group will later be dubbed the “Lackawanna Six,” for the six of them that eventually return to the US (see September 13, 2002). The letter is assigned to FBI agent Edward Needham, the only Buffalo agent at this time working on counterterrorism. He runs the names through criminal databases and finds that many of them have criminal records for drug dealing and cigarette smuggling. He is skeptical that drug dealers would fight for al-Qaeda, but he sends the letter up the chain of command and formally opens an investigation on June 15. Three of them—Faysal Galab, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher—are stopped on June 27 when they arrive in New York on a flight back from Pakistan, because Needham put their names on an FBI watch list. But they are merely questioned for two hours and released. He keeps occasional tabs on the men as they return from Afghanistan over the next months, but does not learn they actually were in an al-Qaeda training camp until after 9/11. [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 124-125, 129]
[Source: NATO]Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley circulates a draft presidential directive on policy toward al-Qaeda. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and his staff regard the new approach as essentially the same as the proposal that they developed in December 2000 and presented to the Bush administration in January 2001 (see December 20, 2000 and January 25, 2001). The draft has the goal of eliminating al-Qaeda as a threat over a multi-year period, and calls for funding through 2006. It has a section calling for the development of contingency military plans against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Hadley contacts Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to tell him these contingency plans will be needed soon. However, no such plans are developed before 9/11. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others later admit that the contingency plans available immediately after 9/11 are unsatisfactory. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The draft is now discussed in three more deputy-level meetings.
A Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile. [Source: US Air Force]An armed version of the Predator drone successfully passes a test showing it is ready for use in Afghanistan. The Predator had been used successfully in 2000 to spot bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000), but it was not used in early 2001 while an armed version was prepared (see January 10-25, 2001). A Hellfire missile was successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. [CBS News, 6/25/2003] In early June 2001, a duplicate of the brick house where bin Laden is believed to be living in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is built in Nevada, and destroyed by a Predator missile. The test shows that the missile fired from miles away would have killed anyone in the building, and one participant calls this the long sought after “holy grail” that could kill bin Laden within minutes of finding him. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] But National Security Adviser Rice reportedly wants to use the Predator only after an overall strategy for confronting al-Qaeda is worked out, and no such plan is close to being ready. [Associated Press, 6/22/2003] She and her deputy Steve Hadley decide to delay reconnaissance flights until all the arrangements for using the armed version can be worked out. In July 2001, Hadley directs the military to have armed Predators ready to deploy no later than September 1. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main hold up seems to be bureaucratic. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke repeatedly advocates using the Predator, armed or unarmed. However, infighting between the CIA and the Air Force over who would pay for it and take responsibility delays its use. Clarke later says, “Every time we were ready to use it, the CIA would change its mind.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The issue comes to a head in early September 2001, but even then, a decision to use the Predator is delayed (see September 4, 2001). [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The armed Predator will finally be used in Afghanistan just days after 9/11. [Associated Press, 6/25/2003]
Associates of the 9/11 hijackers call a number in Yemen also called by the radicals who bombed two US embassies in East Africa in 1998. The calls, which MSNBC says are made “in the weeks before the attacks,” are presumably to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, an associate of Nairobi embassy bomber Mohamed al-Owhali (see August 4-25, 1998). The number is monitored by US intelligence at this time and is also called by the hijackers themselves (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), at least one of the calls being around this time (see (August 2001)). But it is not clear what intelligence the NSA and CIA gleaned from these calls or which associates of the hijackers make the calls. [MSNBC, 10/3/2001] However, it is thought that one of the hijackers’ associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, met with an associate of al-Hada’s in Yemen the year before (see Before October 12, 2000) and traveled to Yemen before the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 10-21, 2000).
9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi departs Saudi Arabia, traveling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 151 ] According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhaznawi may have had a passport with an indicator of Islamic extremism (see Before November 12, 2000). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007), so the Saudis may register his departure.
According to the trade publication PR Week, the ad hoc government public relations organization dubbed “The Rumsfeld Group” (see Late May 2001) is quite successful at sending what the publication calls “messaging advice” to the Pentagon.
Marketing a Link between Iraq, Islamist Radicals - The group tells Pentagon PR chief Victoria Clarke and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that to get the American public’s support for the war on terror, and particularly the invasion of Iraq, they need to fix in the public mind a link between terror and nation-states, not just fluid and ad hoc groups such as al-Qaeda. Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write, “In other words, there needed to be a fixed target for the military campaigns, some distant place to drop cruise missiles and cluster bombs.” The Rumsfeld Group comes up with the idea of labeling Iraq and certain other nations “rogue states,” an idea already extant in Rumsfeld’s mind, and the genesis of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002 and After January 29, 2002).
Veterans of the Gulf War - The government allocates tens of millions of dollars, most of which is handed out to private public relations and media firms hired to spread the Bush administration’s message that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein must be taken out before he can use his arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons on US targets. Many of the PR and media executives are old friends of senior Bush officials, and many had worked on selling the 1991 Gulf War to the public (see October 10, 1990).
Media Complicity Ensures Success - St. Clair will later note that while the PR efforts are, largely, failures with US allies, they are far more successful with the American population (see August 13, 2003). He will write: “A population traumatized by terror threats and shattered economy became easy prey for the saturation bombing of the Bush message that Iraq was a terrorist state linked to al-Qaeda that was only minutes away from launching attacks on America with weapons of mass destruction. Americans were the victims of an elaborate con job, pelted with a daily barrage of threat inflation, distortions, deceptions, and lies. Not about tactics or strategy or war plans. But about justifications for war. The lies were aimed not at confusing Saddam’s regime, but the American people.” St. Clair places as much blame on the “gullible [and] complicit press corps,” so easily managed by Clarke (see February 2003). “During the Vietnam war, TV images of maimed GIs and napalmed villages suburbanized opposition to the war and helped hasten the US withdrawal,” St. Clair writes. “The Bush gang meant to turn the Vietnam phenomenon on its head by using TV as a force to propel the US into a war that no one really wanted. What the Pentagon sought was a new kind of living room war, where instead of photos of mangled soldiers and dead Iraqi kids, they could control the images Americans viewed and to a large extent the content of the stories. By embedding reporters inside selected divisions, Clarke believed the Pentagon could count on the reporters to build relationships with the troops and to feel dependent on them for their own safety. It worked, naturally.” St. Clair notes the instance of one reporter on national television calling the US Army “our protectors,” and NBC’s David Bloom’s on-air admission that he is willing to do “anything and everything they can ask of us.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]
Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar allegedly tells a cousin about the upcoming 9/11 attacks. According to author James Bamford, during a one month trip to Saudi Arabia (see June 1, 2001 and July 4, 2001), Almihdhar talks to a cousin in Saudi Arabia. He tells him about the upcoming attacks in the US and mentions that there are five attacks planned. He adds that the attacks were originally planned for May, and then July, but now they are going to take place in September. He says that Osama bin Laden has said of the attack, “I will make it happen even if I do it by myself.” He also asks his cousin to watch over his home and family, because he has a job to do. Bamford will not say what his source for this is, or who learns this information, or when. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 64] The incident will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report.
The CIA tells President Bush that co-operation between the CIA and Saudi Arabia’s GID intelligence agency has enabled the US to penetrate al-Qaeda, according to a later account by investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento. They will write: “The great secret of why the president and his team were complacent about warnings of an impending 9/11 attack in the summer of 2001 is that the CIA had assured the national command authority that the CIA’s cooperative arrangement with Saudi intelligence had resulted in the penetration of al-Qaeda at the highest levels, according to intelligence sources who worked in this area for both the Saudi and US services.” This may be a reference to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who the Trentos claim are Saudi intelligence agents (see August 6, 2003). [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 193-4]
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz gives a commencement address at the United States Military Academy graduation at West Point, New York, where he focuses on the danger of surprise attacks. To an audience of about 15,000 people, he points out that 2001 marks the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor—“a military disaster whose name has become synonymous with surprise”—and notes that, “Interestingly, that ‘surprise attack’ was preceded by an astonishing number of unheeded warnings and missed signals.” He continues, “Yet military history is full of surprises… Very few of these surprises are the product of simple blindness or simple stupidity. Almost always there have been warnings and signals that have been missed.” He says one of the reasons these warnings have so often been missed is “a routine obsession with a few familiar dangers,” which “has gotten whole governments, sometimes whole societies, into trouble.” He stresses the need to “use the benefit of hindsight to replace a poverty of expectations with an anticipation of the unfamiliar and the unlikely,” thereby overcoming “the complacency that is the greatest threat to our hopes for a peaceful future.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001; US Department of Defense, 6/2/2001] Journalist James Mann will later reflect on this speech, saying that Wolfowitz “was more prescient than he could have imagined. America was about to be attacked. Once again the United States was unable to deal with the unfamiliar and the unlikely. Once again there were unheeded warnings and missed signals.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 29] In spite of his words of caution, around this time Wolfowitz himself appears to be ignoring the danger of a possible attack by al-Qaeda. In July, he will reportedly doubt whether the recent surge in al-Qaeda warnings is really of significance (see Mid-July 2001). And at a meeting on terrorism in April, he’d complained, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden” (see April 30, 2001).
On June 3, 2001, a British newspaper reveals that Hamid Aich, who is on the FBI’s international wanted list, is living in Dublin where he is applying for asylum. [Mirror, 2/18/2001; News of the World, 6/3/2001] Irish intelligence has been monitoring Aich’s movements since 1997, when authorities tied him to the mass murder of 77 tourists in Luxor, Egypt (see November 18, 1997). [Mirror, 10/17/2001; Daily Telegraph, 11/8/2001] He has since been linked to a number of militant groups (see, e.g., December 14, 1999). It is believed that between 1999 and 2001, Aich assisted 22 Islamic terrorist organizations, and even funded non-Islamic groups, for instance giving $200,000 to the ETA, a separatist group in the Basque region of Spain. Aich was also the director of Mercy International’s Ireland branch. (This charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998).) Despite these connections, he will continue to live openly in Dublin after the newspaper discloses his location. [Mirror, 9/17/2001] Irish authorities only publicly say, “Aich’s case is at a very delicate stage.” [News of the World, 6/3/2001] Then, on July 24, he leaves Ireland using a false passport. The FBI, which took no action against him while he was living in Dublin, is reportedly “furious” with Irish police for allowing him to escape. He has not been heard of since, and he has not been included in any known lists of wanted al-Qaeda leaders. It is believed that Aich eventually ends up in Afghanistan. After 9/11, Aich will be described as “one of the FBI’s chief targets” and “one of bin Laden’s most trusted men” who ranks seventh in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy. [Mirror, 9/17/2001]
A deputy head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center warns a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee, “We’re on the verge of more attacks that are larger and more deadly.” Apparently this is based on the spike in “chatter” picked up by NSA and CIA monitors and the realization that a number of well-known al-Qaeda operatives have gone underground. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Future 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi possibly enters an airline cockpit using an alias. According to a 2002 FBI document about the 9/11 attacks, a person matching Alshehhi’s photograph but using the name Matthew Cohen boards an American Airlines Boeing 767 flight from New York City to San Francisco. This person asks for and gets a tour of the cockpit just before the flight takes off. He talks to the pilot and asks questions, such as how high and fast the plane can fly, and how much fuel it can hold. The pilot will later recognize Alshehhi from a news photograph. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/19/2002] Another of the 9/11 hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, flies from Baltimore to Los Angeles on this same day, and then drives to Las Vegas, so perhaps Alshehhi is meeting other hijackers in Las Vegas (see June 7-10, 2001).
FBI agent Robert Wright gives the FBI a mission statement he wrote that outlines his complaints against his agency. It reads, in part, “Knowing what I know, I can confidently say that until the investigative responsibilities for terrorism are removed from the FBI, I will not feel safe. The FBI has proven for the past decade it cannot identify and prevent acts of terrorism against the United States and its citizens at home and abroad. Even worse, there is virtually no effort on the part of the FBI’s International Terrorism Unit to neutralize known and suspected terrorists residing within the United States. Unfortunately, more terrorist attacks against American interests, coupled with the loss of American lives, will have to occur before those in power give this matter the urgent attention it deserves.” Wright asks the FBI for permission to make his complaints public. Larry Klayman, chairman of the public-interest group Judicial Watch, claims that regulations require the FBI to give or deny clearance within 30 days, which would have made FBI failures an issue before 9/11. But the FBI delays making a decision and will only allow Wright to publicly reveal his mission statement in May 2002. [Cybercast News Service, 5/30/2002; Federal News Service, 5/30/2002] One month later, Wright and his lawyer David Schippers have a meeting with a reporter from the CBS news program 60 Minutes to express the concerns in his statement. He claims that he says it is only a matter of time before there will be an attack on US soil. However, he is prohibited by his superior from speaking to 60 Minutes or any other media outlet. [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] Schippers will later claim that this month he also attempts to contact a number of important politicians with his concerns based on information from Wright and other FBI agents that he knows, but he was rebuffed (see July-Late August 2001).
Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” [Soufan, 2011, pp. 243]
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-292 ]
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537]
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Entity Tags: Dina Corsi, Khalid Almihdhar, David Kelley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clark Shannon, Margaret Gillespie, Ali Soufan, Steve Bongardt, Central Intelligence Agency, Russell Fincher, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Lawrence Wright
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Kevin Ingram, Randy Glass, and Diaa Mohsen in August 1999. [Source: Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)Operation Diamondback, a sting operation uncovering an attempt to buy weapons illegally for the Taliban, bin Laden, and others, ends with a number of arrests. An Egyptian named Diaa Mohsen and a Pakistani named Mohammed Malik are arrested and accused of attempting to buy Stinger missiles, nuclear weapon components, and other sophisticated military weaponry for the Pakistani ISI. [CNN, 6/15/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 8/23/2001; Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Malik appears to have had links to important Pakistani officials and Kashmiri militants, and Mohsen claims a connection to a man “who is very connected to the Taliban” and funded by bin Laden. [Washington Post, 8/2/2002; MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Some other ISI agents came to Florida on several occasions to negotiate, but they escaped being arrested. They wanted to pay partially in heroin. One mentioned that the WTC would be destroyed. These ISI agents said some of their purchases would go to the Taliban in Afghanistan and/or militants associated with bin Laden. [Washington Post, 8/2/2002; MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Both Malik and Mohsen lived in Jersey City, New Jersey. [Jersey Journal, 6/20/2001] Mohsen pleads guilty after 9/11, “but remarkably, even though [he was] apparently willing to supply America’s enemies with sophisticated weapons, even nuclear weapons technology, Mohsen was sentenced to just 30 months in prison.” [MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Malik’s case appears to have been dropped, and reporters find him working in a store in Florida less than a year after the trial ended. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Malik’s court files remain completely sealed, and in Mohsen’s court case, prosecutors “removed references to Pakistan from public filings because of diplomatic concerns.” [Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Also arrested are Kevin Ingram and Walter Kapij. Ingram pleads guilty to laundering $350,000 and he is sentenced to 18 months in prison. [CNN, 6/15/2001; Black Enterprise, 6/19/2001; Associated Press, 12/1/2001] Ingram was a former senior investment banker with Deutsche Bank, but resigned in January 1999 after his division suffered costly losses. [Black Enterprise, 6/19/2001; Jersey Journal, 6/20/2001] Walter Kapij, a pilot with a minor role in the plot, is given the longest sentence, 33 months in prison. [CNN, 6/15/2001; Black Enterprise, 6/19/2001; Palm Beach Post, 1/12/2002] Informant Randy Glass plays a key role in the sting, and has thirteen felony fraud charges against him reduced as a result, serving only seven months in prison. Federal agents involved in the case later express puzzlement that Washington higher-ups did not make the case a higher priority, pointing out that bin Laden could have gotten a nuclear bomb if the deal was for real. Agents on the case complain that the FBI did not make the case a counterterrorism matter, which would have improved bureaucratic backing and opened access to FBI information and US intelligence from around the world. [Washington Post, 8/2/2002; MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Federal agents frequently couldn’t get prosecutors to approve wiretaps. [Cox News Service, 8/2/2002] Glass says, “Wouldn’t you think that there should have been a wire tap on Diaa [Mohsen]‘s phone and Malik’s phone?” [WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach), 8/5/2002] An FBI supervisor in Miami refused to front money for the sting, forcing agents to use money from US Customs and even Glass’s own money to help keep the sting going. [Cox News Service, 8/2/2002]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohammed Malik, Kevin Ingram, World Trade Center, Diaa Mohsen, US Customs Service, Walter Kapij, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, Randy Glass, Operation Diamondback
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
A CIA report says that a man named “Khaled” is actively recruiting people to travel to various countries, including the US, to stage attacks. CIA headquarters presume from the details of this report that Khaled is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). On July 11, the individual source for this report is shown a series of photographs and identifies KSM as the person he called “Khaled.” [USA Today, 12/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277, 533] This report also reveals that:
Al-Qaeda operatives heading to the US would be “expected to establish contact with colleagues already living there.”
KSM himself had traveled to the US frequently, and as recently as May 2001.
KSM is a relative of bomber Ramzi Yousef.
He appears to be one of bin Laden’s most trusted leaders.
He routinely tells others that he can arrange their entry into the US as well. However, the CIA doesn’t find this report credible because they think it is unlikely that he would come to the US (in fact, it appears he had (see Summer 1998)). Nevertheless, they consider it worth pursuing. One agent replies, “If it is KSM, we have both a significant threat and an opportunity to pick him up.” In July, the source clarifies that the last time he can definitely place KSM in the US was in the summer of 1998 (see Summer 1998). The CIA disseminates the report to all other US intelligence agencies, military commanders, and parts of the Treasury and Justice Departments. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later request that the CIA inform them how CIA agents and other agencies reacted to this information, but the CIA does not respond to this. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] It appears that KSM will send at least one and probably two operatives to the US after this time and before 9/11 (see August 4, 2001 and September 10, 2001). On July 23, 2001, the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia will give KSM a US visa (he uses an alias but his actual photo appears on his application) (see July 23, 2001). Also, during this summer and as late as September 10, 2001, the NSA will intercept phone calls between KSM and Mohamed Atta, but the NSA will not share this information with any other agencies (see Summer 2001).
Following a meeting at which FBI agents investigating the attack on the USS Cole were shown pictures of operatives who attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, including 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, but were not given all the relevant information (see June 11, 2001), deputy head of the investigation Steve Bongardt continues to ask for the material, but FBI headquarters fails to provide it. Bongardt apparently has “heated telephone conversations and e-mail exchanges” with FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi over the passage of the information. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 291, 294 ] Bongardt will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “I’ve had several conversations with the analyst [Corsi] after that, because we would talk on other matters, and almost every time I would ask her, ‘What’s the story with the Almihdhar information, when is it going to get passed, do we have anything yet, when is it going to get passed,’ and each time I was told that the information had not been passed yet. And the sense I got from here, based on our conversations, was that she was trying as hard as she could to get the information passed or at least the ability to tell us about the information.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] But in fact Corsi does not appear to take any steps towards having the information passed to the Cole investigators for two and a half months after the meeting. Part of the relevant information is from a wiretap on Almihdhar’s phone (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999) and, due to measures related to the “wall,” the NSA general counsel has to approve its passage to criminal agents. Corsi finally asks the NSA to approve passage of the information on August 27; the NSA immediately agrees, but Corsi continues to withhold the information from Bongardt (see August 27-28, 2001). The other part of the information consists of photos of the two hijackers in Malaysia with other extremists (see January 5-8, 2000). Corsi will later say she “probably” has follow up conversations about passing the photographs with the two CIA officers, Tom Wilshire and Clark Shannon, who gave them to her (see Late May, 2001), but these alleged conversations do not result in the photos being passed to Bongardt, even though Wilshire will later say that, as far as he was concerned at this point, they could be distributed through the FBI. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 294 ] After Corsi is told that Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), this information is made available to intelligence investigators at the FBI (see August 28, 2001), but not to the team investigating the Cole bombing (see August 28, 2001).
Arnaud de Borchgrave. [Source: Publicity photo]United Press International (UPI) reporter Arnaud de Borchgrave interviews top Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Afghanistan on June 13, 2001. The next day, in an article about the interview, de Borchgrave writes, “Saudi Arabia and the [United Arab Emirates] secretly fund the Taliban government by paying Pakistan for its logistical support to Afghanistan. Despite Pakistan’s official denials, the Taliban is entirely dependent on Pakistani aid. This was verified on the ground by UPI. Everything from bottled water to oil, gasoline and aviation fuel, and from telephone equipment to military supplies, comes from Pakistan.” [United Press International, 6/14/2001; United Press International, 4/9/2004]
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak later claims that Egyptian intelligence discovers a “communiqué from bin Laden saying he wanted to assassinate President Bush and other G8 heads of state during their summit in Genoa, Italy” on this day. The communiqué specifically mentions this would be done via “an airplane stuffed with explosives.” The US and Italy are sent urgent warnings of this. [New York Times, 9/26/2001] Mubarak will claim that Egyptian intelligence officials informed American intelligence officers between March and May 2001 that an Egyptian agent had penetrated al-Qaeda. Presumably, this explains how Egypt is able to give the US these warnings. [New York Times, 6/4/2002]
At President Bush’s first meeting with NATO heads of state in Brussels, Belgium, Bush outlines his five top defense issues. Missile defense is at the top of the list. Terrorism is not mentioned at all. This is consistent with his other statements before 9/11. Almost the only time he ever publicly mentions al-Qaeda or bin Laden before 9/11 is later in the month, in a letter that renews Clinton administration sanctions on the Taliban. [CNN, 6/13/2001; Washington Post, 4/1/2004] He only speaks publicly about the dangers of terrorism once before 9/11, in May, except for several mentions in the context of promoting a missile defense shield. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
Osama Bin Laden tells trainees in his Afghanistan training camps that there will be an attack in the near future. US intelligence learns of this comment and it is mentioned to top US leaders in an early July 2001 briefing (see July 10, 2001). More details, such as how the US learned this or how many people bin Laden told this to, have not been made public. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 152] But in the summer of 2001, bin Laden is overheard making a number of similar comments hinting at upcoming attacks (see Summer 2001).
9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi receives a new passport in Saudi Arabia. According to the 9/11 Commission, the passport contains an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 25, 33 ] According to author James Bamford, this is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] Alhazmi’s previous passport contained the same indicator (see April 4, 1999). The Saudi government will reportedly use this indicator to track Alhazmi and other Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007).
A guard on the US embassy in Sana’a, Yemen. [Source: CNN]In early June, new threats are received in Yemen and create a security crisis for the FBI team investigating the bombing of the USS Cole, as Yemeni authorities say they have arrested eight men who are part of a plot to blow up the US embassy in Sana’a, where the team is staying. Although the FBI is apparently on the verge of being granted access to a group of people who may have further information about the bombing, FBI manager John O’Neill and director Louis Freeh agree that the team should be pulled out and they all fly home. The investigation moved at a reduced pace after staff were relocated from Aden, where the attack occurred, to Sana’a, the country’s capital. O’Neill will send agents back to Yemen on his last day with the FBI in late August (see August 22, 2001). [Time, 7/10/2001; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Future 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami apparently attempts to purchase a gun at a US gun show. According to a 2002 FBI document about the 9/11 attacks, an unnamed person later tells the FBI that he is at a gun show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as a customer. But while waiting for his daughter to come out of the bathroom, a man resembling Alnami approaches him and asks how to purchase a gun without paperwork or having to wait. The person tells Alnami that it is not possible, but Alnami asserts that he understands that it is. Apparently, this is the extent of their interaction, and it is not known if this person is in fact Alnami, or if he manages to later successfully buy a gun. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/19/2002] There will later be some disputed claims that a gun is used by the hijackers in the 9/11 attacks (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Scenes in the al-Qaeda recruitment video show operatives training at the al-Farouq camp in Afghanistan. [Source: CBC]An al-Qaeda recruitment video created months earlier is made public. The video had been circling amongst radical militants, but appears on the news worldwide after a Kuwaiti newspaper gets a copy. The video celebrates the bombing of the USS Cole. Bin Laden appears on the video, and while he does not take credit for the bombing, others in the video do. Bin Laden says that Muslims have to leave countries that are ruled by “allies of Jews and Christians,” and join his cause to be “prepared” for holy war. In an address to Palestinians, he calls for “blood, blood and destruction, destruction.” He says, “We give you the good news that the forces of Islam are coming…” He also issues a call to arms: “Your brothers in Palestine are waiting for you; it’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts the most.” He also tells his supporters to “slay the United States and Israel.” A similar video appeared shortly before the bombing of the USS Cole. [Associated Press, 6/20/2001; Associated Press, 6/20/2001; Newsweek, 7/22/2001; Washington Post, 9/11/2001] Intrest in the videotape will grow in the Muslim world in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 9, 2001).
Time magazine reports: “For sheer diabolical genius (of the Hollywood variety), nothing came close to the reports that European security services are preparing to counter a bin Laden attempt to assassinate President Bush at next month’s G8 summit in Genoa, Italy. According to German intelligence sources, the plot involved bin Laden paying German neo-Nazis to fly remote-controlled model aircraft packed with Semtex into the conference hall and blow the leaders of the industrialized world to smithereens. (Paging Jerry Bruckheimer).” The report only appears on the Time website and not in the US version of the magazine. [Time, 6/20/2001] This report follows warnings given by Egypt the week before. In addition, there are more warnings before the summit in July. James Hatfield, author of an unflattering book on Bush called Fortunate Son, repeats the claim in print a few days later, writing: “German intelligence services have stated that bin Laden is covertly financing neo-Nazi skinhead groups throughout Europe to launch another terrorist attack at a high-profile American target.” [Online Journal, 7/3/2001] Two weeks later, Hatfield apparently commits suicide. However, there is widespread speculation that his death was payback for his revelation of Bush’s cocaine use in the 1970s. [Salon, 7/20/2001]
Baker Atyani, reporter for the Middle East Broadcasting Company, sits with Ayman al-Zawahiri and bin Laden. [Source: CNN] (click image to enlarge)Baker Atyani, a reporter for the Middle East Broadcasting Company interviews bin Laden. Keeping a promise made to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, bin Laden does not say anything substantive, but Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders promise that “[the] coming weeks will hold important surprises that will target American and Israeli interests in the world.” [Associated Press, 6/24/2001; Associated Press, 6/25/2001] Atyani says, “There is a major state of mobilization among the Osama bin Laden forces. It seems that there is a race of who will strike first. Will it be the United States or Osama bin Laden?” [Reuters, 6/23/2001] He adds, “I told my channel that his followers were telling me that the coffin business will increase in the states, the United States.” [CNN, 8/23/2006] After 9/11, Aytani will conclude, “I am 100 percent sure of this, and it was absolutely clear they had brought me there to hear this message.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 236] He is also shown a several-months-old videotape in which bin Laden declares, “It’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts most.” The video is soon made public (see June 21, 2001). [CNN, 6/21/2001] Author James Bamford theorizes that the original 9/11 plot involved a simultaneous attack on Israel and that shoe bomber Richard Reid may have originally wanted to target an Israeli aircraft around this time. For instance, Reid flies to Tel Aviv, Israel on July 12, 2001, to test if airline security would check his shoes for bombs. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 236-39]
US Central Command raises the force protection condition level for US forces based in the Arabian peninsula and the Persian Gulf. In six countries the force protection level is raised to Delta, the highest level possible. The US orders all its naval ships docked in those countries out to sea, and the US Fifth Fleet moves out of port in Bahrain. Regional military exercises are canceled and US embassies are temporarily closed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256-257, 534] This is partly in response to an al-Qaeda video which surfaced the previous week containing the message, “It’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts most” (see June 19, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 241; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534] Additionally, Newsweek reports at the time that this alert comes after “Western intelligence agencies picked up ‘quite reliable’ signs of increased activity among Islamic extremists with Afghanistan ties. These indications are said to have included information picked up through electronic monitoring of suspected militants, who US experts say have acquired fairly sophisticated communications and computer equipment.” [Newsweek, 7/22/2001] However, as author James Bamford later notes, “No precautions were ever taken within the United States, only overseas.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 241]
9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi leaves Saudi Arabia. The precise date is unknown, although it must be some time between June 20, when he obtains a US visa in Jeddah (see June 20, 2001) and June 29, when he arrives in the US from the United Arab Emirates (see April 23-June 29, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25-27 ] According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhazmi has a passport containing an indicator of Islamic extremism (see June 20, 2001). Such indicators are used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).
The CIA notifies its station chiefs about intelligence suggesting a possible al-Qaeda suicide attack on a US target over the next few days. CIA Director George Tenet asks that all US ambassadors be briefed on the warning. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256]
Abduraham Alamoudi (far left), Bush (center), and Rove (far right). Judging from the background, this picture was probably taken in 2000. [Source: PBS] (click image to enlarge)Sami al-Arian attends a meeting in the White House complex with President Bush’s adviser Karl Rove. Al-Arian is one of 160 members of the American Muslim Council who are briefed on political matters by Rove and others. Al-Arian had been under investigation for at least six years by this time, and numerous media accounts reported that US investigators suggested al-Arian had ties to US-designated terrorist groups. Yet al-Arian passes the Secret Service’s stringent security check, enabling him to attend the meeting. [Newsweek, 7/16/2001; Washington Post, 2/22/2003] “A law-enforcement official… [said] the Secret Service had flagged al-Arian as a potential terrorist prior to the event,” Newsweek later reports. “But White House aides, apparently reluctant to create an incident, let him through anyway.” [Newsweek, 3/3/2003] In 2005, al-Arian will be found innocent of serious terrorism charges, but sentenced to almost three years in a US prison on lesser charges (see December 6, 2005).
Abduraham Alamoudi is also at the meeting. US intelligence have suspected Alamoudi of ties to bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994). Rove and Bush met with Alamoudi in 1999 and 2000 as well (see 1999 and July 2000). Alamoudi will later be sentenced to 23 years in a US prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). [Washington Post, 2/22/2003]
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) with the title “Bin Laden Attacks May Be Imminent” is sent to top White House officials. The details of this brief are not known. It is probable President Bush received this warning since SEIBs are usually rehashes of the previous days’ President Daily Briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001). Also on this day a CIA cable is distributed with the title, “Possible Threat of Imminent Attack from Sunni Extremists.” The cable warns that there is a high probability of near-term “spectacular” terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534]
Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan are friends with each other and suspected associates of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. On June 23, 2001, al-Bayoumi moves out of the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego where Almihdhar and Alhazmi had lived the year before, and possibly live in again just before 9/11 (see Early September 2001). Basnan had been living in an apartment complex nearby, but he moves into the Parkwood Apartments in July. On the rental application, Basnan lists al-Bayoumi as a personal reference and a friend. A classified FBI report shortly after 9/11 suggests that the fact that Basnan moved in shortly after al-Bayoumi left “could indicate he succeeded Omar al-Bayoumi and may be undertaking activities on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia.” Both Basnan and al-Bayoumi have been suspected to be Saudi government agents. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 ] Al-Bayoumi moves to Britain (see September 21-28, 2001). Basnan remains in San Diego through 9/11. According to one US official, Basnan later “celebrate[s] the heroes of September 11” and talks about “what a wonderful, glorious day it had been” at a party shortly after the attacks. [Newsweek, 11/24/2002; San Diego Magazine, 9/2003]
John Miller. [Source: FBI]ABC News reporter John Miller gives a speech in which he discusses the growing indications that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has plans to carry out an attack in the United States. Miller gives his speech at the annual conference of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 286-287] The conference, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from June 24 to June 30, is attended by around 700 law enforcement officers from around the world. [Sandia LabNews, 6/15/2001] Miller will later explain some of the thinking behind his claim that bin Laden could be planning an attack in the US. “At that time,” he will write, “US authorities were divided over where bin Laden would strike next. Most officials believed that he was aiming at ‘soft’ US targets overseas, based on his past actions and electronic phone intercepts of al-Qaeda members around the world.” Other officials, though, taking into account al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam’s failed plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999 (see December 14, 1999), believe his next attack will take place on US soil. Miller will write that a “spike in phone traffic among suspected al-Qaeda members in the early part of the summer, as well as debriefings of Ressam,” have convinced investigators that bin Laden is planning “a significant operation” and he is “planning it soon.” Furthermore, he will comment, “[N]o one working on the problem seemed to doubt bin Laden’s intentions to target Americans.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 287] Miller has been a correspondent for ABC News, with a primary focus on terrorism, since 1995. Notably, he interviewed bin Laden in Afghanistan in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). Before joining ABC News, he spent many years as a television crime reporter in New York, and between 1994 and 1995 served as deputy police commissioner of New York City. [ABC News, 5/28/1998; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/16/2002; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/23/2005; Hollywood Reporter, 10/17/2011]
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden and Associates Making Near-Term Threats.” It reports that multiple attacks are expected over the coming days, including a “severe blow” against US and Israeli “interests” during the next two weeks. SEIBs usually contain the same information as the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush received this warning. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns National Security Adviser Rice and Assistant National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that six separate intelligence reports show al-Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack. These include a warning by al-Qaeda leaders that the next weeks “will witness important surprises” (see June 21, 2001) and a new recruitment video making further threats (see June 19, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that “Clarke [argues] that this [is] all too sophisticated to be merely a psychological operation to keep the United States on edge…” It is unclear how Rice and Hadley respond, but the CIA agrees with Clarke’s assessment. [Newsweek, 7/22/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 257]
A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah. [Source: CBC]On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh is arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada in the back of a tractor-trailer, carrying a forged Canadian passport and a bogus social insurance card. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] The New York Times will note that, “American officials had plenty of reason to believe that he was up to no good. Nine months earlier, he had been identified to American intelligence agents as one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in the United States. American customs agents knew about money he had transferred to an associate of Osama bin Laden in the Middle East. And the Boston police had issued a warrant for his arrest after he violated probation for stabbing a friend with a knife. But [US officials] simply let him go.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001] The US turns him back to the Canadians. He is held for two weeks, then released on bail despite evidence linking him to militants (see Shortly Before July 11, 2001). During his two-week detention in a Canadian prison, al-Marabh boasts to other prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI. When one prisoner asks him why, his reply is “because I’m special.” After 9/11, these prisoners will be puzzled that the FBI has not tried to interview them on what they know about al-Marabh. Al-Marabh will fail to show up for a Canadian deportation hearing in August and for a court date in September. It appears he quickly sneaks back into the US instead. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] Al-Marabh’s Boston landlord will later be asked if he thought al-Marabh could have been a terrorist. The landlord will reply, “He was too stupid, number one, to be a terrorist. Because terrorists today are very intelligent people. But he might be used by some smarter or intelligent sources, who use people like that.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In July, just after he is released on bail in Canada, the Boston police will go to his former Boston address with a warrant for his March arrest, but he will not be there. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] Also at some point in July, Canadian authorities inform US Customs about some dubious financial transactions involving al-Marabh, and apparently the information is used in a Customs money-laundering probe (see Spring 2001). [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] One prominent former Canadian intelligence official will say that whether a more detailed look at al-Marabh at this time could have stopped the 9/11 attacks is an “intriguing question.… It becomes ever more intriguing as evidence seeps in.” [Ottawa Citizen, 10/29/2001]
CIA official Richard Blee gives a briefing on the state of the terrorism threat to CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black. According to an account by Tenet in his 2007 book, Blee identifies more than 10 specific pieces of intelligence about impending attacks. Tenet claims that experienced analysts call this intelligence “both unprecedented and virtually 100 percent reliable.” Blee specifically mentions:
A key Afghanistan training camp commander was seen weeping with joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven, implying a successful suicide attack to come.
For the last three to five months, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to have been involved in an unprecedented effort to prepare terrorist operations.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, has disappeared. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 149] Leaders of the Cole bombing are believed to be planning new attacks against the US. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 147]
Other important operatives around the world are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 149]
Blee concludes by saying: “Based on a review of all source reporting over the last five months, we believe that [Osama bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; Tenet, 2007, pp. 149] This warning, including the concluding quote, is shared with “senior Bush administration officials” in early July. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
Shortly after being appointed acting FBI director, Thomas Pickard gives his first briefing to Attorney General John Ashcroft. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Ruben Garcia, the FBI’s Assistant Director for Criminal Investigations, also attend the briefing. Pickard sends an agenda in advance, and terrorism is the first item on it, as the CIA is reporting there is an increased risk of attacks. During the briefing, Ashcroft suggests he does not know much about al-Qaeda, so Pickard fills him in. “I told him about al-Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden, a little history about the World Trade Center bombing and East Africa,” Pickard will later say. Pickard also talks about increase in “chatter” by al-Qaeda operatives, and says this could be a sign of an upcoming attack. The speculation is it would take place in Southeast Asia or the Middle East, but other locales could not be ruled out. His terrorism briefing lasts about an hour. Although Ashcroft listens to Pickard’s explanation, he asks few questions about terrorism. He shows more interest in other items on the agenda, such as ending delays on background checks for gun buyers, which interests him because of his relationship with the National Rifle Association. [Pickard, 6/24/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 246-247]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke writes an e-mail to National Security Adviser Rice saying that the pattern of al-Qaeda activity indicating attack planning has “reached a crescendo.” He adds, “A series of new reports continue to convince me and analysts at State, CIA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], and NSA that a major terrorist attack or series of attacks is likely in July.” For instance, one report from an al-Qaeda source in late June warned that something “very, very, very, very” big is about to happen, and that most of bin Laden’s network is anticipating the attack. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 1 ] CIA Director Tenet sends Rice a very similar warning on the same day (see June 28, 2001). The 9/11 Commission does not record Rice taking any action in response to these warnings. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256]
CIA Director Tenet writes an intelligence summary for National Security Adviser Rice: “It is highly likely that a significant al-Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks.” A highly classified analysis at this time adds, “Most of the al-Qaeda network is anticipating an attack. Al-Qaeda’s overt publicity has also raised expectations among its rank and file, and its donors.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] The same day, Tenet is briefed by another CIA official that bin Laden “will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests” (see June 28, 2001). [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Apparently, these warnings are partly based on a warning given by al-Qaeda leaders to a reporter a few days earlier (see June 21, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke also later asserts that Tenet tells him around this time, “It’s my sixth sense, but I feel it coming. This is going to be the big one.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 235]
Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Source: BBC]The Italian Secret Service SISDE records a meeting in the Finsbury Park mosque, in northern London, Britain. Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri (an Afghanistan war veteran heading a radical Islamic group), Mustapha Melki (linked to al-Qaeda member Abu Doha—see February 2001), and a man only known as Omar talk to each other. Notes of the meeting state, “Abu Hamza proposed an ambitious but unlikely plot which involved attacks carried by planes.” This is apparently a reference to an attack on the upcoming G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, scheduled in several weeks (see July 20-22, 2001). But unlike other reports of an al-Qaeda attack on that summit, this refers to an attack using more than one plane. The notes of the meeting conclude, “The belief that Osama bin Laden is plotting an attack is spreading among the radical Islamic groups.” [Discovery News, 9/13/2001]
US intelligence learns that an al-Qaeda operative is considering mounting operations in the US. There is no information on the timing or specific targets. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden Planning High-Profile Attacks.” It states that bin Laden operatives expect near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic proportions. Despite evidence of delays possibly caused by heightened US security, the planning for the attacks is continuing. The briefing also contains another report entitled, “Bin Laden Threats Are Real.” SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush is given this warning. Also on this day, Saudi Arabia declares its highest level of terror alert. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256-257, 534; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 3 ]
The three authors of the book Germs, Judith Miller (left), Stephen Engelberg (top), and William Broad (bottom). This was the book Miller was working on before 9/11; it was published several weeks after 9/11. [Source: Publicity photo]New York Times reporter Judith Miller learns her government counterterrorism sources are worried that al-Qaeda is going to attack a US target on the Fourth of July holiday. There has been an increase in chatter about an impending attack. In 2005, Miller will recall, “Everyone in Washington was very spun-up in the counterterrorism world at that time. I think everybody knew that an attack was coming—everyone who followed this.… I got the sense that part of the reason that I was being told of what was going on was that the people in counterterrorism were trying to get the word to the president or the senior officials through the press, because they were not able to get listened to themselves.”
Conversation Overheard - She has a conversation with a still-anonymous top-level White House source who reveals there is some concern about a top-secret NSA intercept between two al-Qaeda operatives. She explains, “They had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the [USS] Cole. And one al-Qaeda operative was overheard saying to the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the US will have to respond.’ And I was obviously floored by that information. I thought it was a very good story: (1) the source was impeccable; (2) the information was specific, tying al-Qaeda operatives to, at least, knowledge of the attack on the Cole; and (3) they were warning that something big was coming, to which the United States would have to respond. This struck me as a major page one-potential story.”
Not Printed - Miller tells her editor Stephen Engelberg about the story the next day. But Engelberg says, “You have a great first and second paragraph. What’s your third?” Miller finds only one other source to confirm these details.
Yemen Connection - She later learns from her first source that the conversation occurred in Yemen. Though the telephone number is never disclosed, some circumstances suggest one of the parties taking part in the call may have been at the al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, that is monitored by US intelligence. One of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, lives there with his wife and children (see Late August 1998), and communicates there will be forthcoming attacks to at least one family member (see Late October 2000-July 4, 2001). The hijackers in the US apparently call the Yemen hub around this time (see (August 2001)). On July 3, the CIA will request the arrest of Djamel Beghal (see July 3, 2001), an al-Qaeda operative whose calls to the hub are apparently being monitored at this time (see Before July 3, 2001).
Regrets - Miller later regrets not following through more because she “had a book coming out” as well as other stories and that there wasn’t a “sense of immediacy” about the information. In 2005, Engelberg will confirm Miller’s story and agree that he wanted more specifics before running the story. Engelberg also later wonders “maybe I made the wrong call,” asking, “More than once I’ve wondered what would have happened if we’d run the piece?” The New York Times has yet to mention the warning in all of their post-9/11 reporting and the 9/11 Commission has never mentioned anything about the warning either. In 2005, Miller will spend 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal a source and then leave the New York Times after widespread criticism about her reporting. [Columbia Journalism Review, 9/2005; AlterNet, 5/18/2006; Editor & Publisher, 5/18/2006]
Dr. Basil al-Sa’ati. [Source: CBS News]The Iraqi defector known as Curveball (see November 4, 2007), who is providing German and US intelligence analysts with fascinating but fallacious stories of his involvement with what he claims is a secret Iraqi mobile biological weapons laboratory (see November 1999), provides the names of real Iraqis with whom he claims to have worked, further convincing the analysts of his veracity. One name he cites is that of nuclear scientist Dr. Basil al-Sa’ati, whom he claims was one of the mobile bioweapons program’s senior officials. In late 2007, long after Curveball has been proven to be a complete fabricator, a reporter asks al-Sa’ati, “[Curveball] told German intelligence that you personally were fully involved in the project to use [a laboratory site at] Djerf al Nadaf for mobile biological weapons.” Al-Sa’ati’s reply: “Big lie.” Had anything of that nature gone on there, he will say, he would “definitely” have known about it. “It was… really seed purification” and not a bioweapons facility, al-Sa’ati will say. Al-Sa’ati is equally dismissive with the Germans. If Curveball were involved in something so secret, al-Sa’ati asks the Germans, why did Saddam Hussein let him emigrate in 1999? Curveball had not known of al-Sa’ati’s emigration and subsequent availability to Western intelligence agencies, and becomes less cooperative and more reticent. Doubts about Curveball’s veracity began to grow among the Germans. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) obtains a few samples of the 7075-T6 aluminum tubes that were seized by the CIA and Jordanian secret service (see July 2001). IAEA scientists examine the tubes and initially are quite skeptical that the Iraqis intended to use them as rotors in a gas centrifuge. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003]
In July 2001, NSA director Michael Hayden tells a reporter that the NSA does not monitor any US citizens without court warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). “We don’t do anything willy-nilly,” Hayden says. “We’re a foreign intelligence agency. We try to collect information that is of value to American decision-makers, to protect American values, America—and American lives. To suggest that we’re out there, on our own, renegade, pulling in random communications, is—is simply wrong. So everything we do is for a targeted foreign intelligence purpose. With regard to the—the question of industrial espionage, no. Period. Dot. We don’t do that.” When asked how Americans could verify that, Hayden says that they should simply trust the NSA to police and monitor itself, along with oversight from the White House and from Congress. However, it will later come to light that the NSA began illegally monitoring US citizens from the start of the Bush administration (see Spring 2001). A former NSA official will later dispute Hayden’s account. “What do you expect him to say?” the official says. “He’s got to deny it. I agree. We weren’t targeting specific people, which is what the President’s executive order does. However, we did keep tabs on some Americans we caught if there was an interest [by the White House.] That’s not legal. And I am very upset that I played a part in it.” [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006] Hayden also denies persistent allegations from European government officials that the agency has engaged in economic espionage to help American companies against European competitors (see April 4, 2001). In March 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Barry Steinhardt says that “since there is no real check on [the NSA], there is no way to know” if they are following the law. Steinhardt says that Congress is the only real check on possible NSA abuses, but it has consistently failed to exercise any sort of aggressive oversight on the agency. [CNN, 3/31/2001]
Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working on the investigation into the USS Cole bombing, submits a third request to the CIA for information about travel by al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia (see Late November 2000 and April 2001). Whereas in previous requests to the CIA he had only asked for information about a possible meeting somewhere in Southeast Asia, he has now developed a much clearer understanding of the relationship between al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash and the Cole conspirators, and correctly suspects some operatives met in Malaysia in January 2000. He asks the CIA about this and about a trip by bin Attash to Bangkok to meet another two members of the Cole bombing team (see January 13, 2000). The CIA actually monitored the meeting Soufan suspects took place in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and considered it so important that the CIA director and other top officials were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000), but the CIA does not respond to his inquiry. FBI managers are also aware of some of this information, including the existence of an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia at the time Soufan suspects one took place, but they apparently do not tell Soufan either (see January 6, 2000). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] Author Lawrence Wright will later say: “The FBI’s investigating the death of 17 American sailors and they’re asking the CIA for information that would solve the crime. And the CIA is refusing, essentially obstructing justice.” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]
Retired Admiral Dan Murphy, a former deputy director of the CIA, indicates to businessman William Hamilton that there is a connection between the PROMIS database and search program and the Main Core database. Hamilton is a former NSA official who helped develop PROMIS, but is now involved in a series of disputes with the government over money he says it owes his company, Inslaw. Main Core is a database that is said to collect sensitive information, including about US persons. The specific type of connection is not certain and Murphy does not specifically mention Main Core, but says that the NSA’s use of PROMIS involves something “so seriously wrong that money alone cannot cure the problem.” Hamilton will later say, “I believe in retrospect that Murphy was alluding to Main Core.” This is one of three times officials will tell Hamilton about the link (see Spring 1992 and 1995). [Salon, 7/23/2008]
In February 2002, it will be reported on the ABC News program Nightline that in July 2001, “Jordanian intelligence picked up an… alarming threat. ABC News has learned Jordan told US officials al-Qaeda was planning an attack on American soil.” [ABC News, 2/19/2002] It has been reported elsewhere that in late summer 2001, Jordan warns the US that aircraft will be used in a major attack inside the US, but it is not known if that is a separate warning or the same as this one (see Late Summer 2001). Also in late July, Jordan will offer the US to send its elite troops to Afghanistan to attack al-Qaeda, an offer the US turns down (see July 24, 2001). Also in July 2001, Jordan briefly detains and interrogates Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the Hamburg cell with three of the 9/11 hijackers (see July 2001). Zammar appears to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot around this time (see August 2001).
Ali Mohamed, from a late 1980s US Army video. [Source: US Army]The State Department reported in May 2001, “[Ali Mohamed’s] sentencing date has been tentatively set for July 2001.” [Washington File, 5/15/2001] But in fact, his sentencing date never comes, or least is never publicly revealed. The Raleigh News and Observer notes in October 2001, “Defense lawyers and many other observers believe that Mohamed, who has not yet been sentenced, is now cooperating with the United States, though the government has never confirmed this. When he is sentenced, he could receive as little as 25 years under his plea agreement.” [Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001] The San Francisco Chronicle similarly notes shortly after 9/11 that Mohamed “has never been sentenced, and defense lawyers and security experts believe he had begun giving evidence about bin Laden to the government in hopes of winning his release from prison.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21/2001] At the end of December 2001, the Associated Press reports that Mohamed’s sentencing “has been postponed indefinitely.” [Associated Press, 12/31/2001] Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent and the State Department’s director of counterterrorism during the elder Bush’s administration, speculates, “He was an active source for the FBI, a double agent.” Further, Johnson believes that “The reason he didn’t testify was so they wouldn’t have to face uncomfortable statements on the FBI. They are more interested in covering their ass.” [Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001] There are a flurry of articles about Mohamed in the months after 9/11, but then his story will fade. The 9/11 Commission will mention him only twice in their 2004 final report, and don’t bring up the possibility of him being a double agent, or even his collaboration with the CIA and FBI. They merely note his role in the 1998 embassy bombings and his training of some of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. He will be described as “a former Egyptian army officer who had moved to the United States in the mid-1980s, enlisted in the US Army, and became an instructor at Fort Bragg.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 67, 472] In 2006, his wife will reveal that he is still imprisoned and still has not been sentenced (see March 2006).
In the summer of 2001, the team officially concludes that the Sudan government no longer has any terrorist ties. However, the US does not take Sudan off its official list of terrorist states (and as of 2007 Sudan has yet to be taken off the list). A few weeks before 9/11, the US team finally agrees to examine Sudan’s files on al-Qaeda. The US has repeatedly been offered the files and turned them down (see March 8, 1996-April 1996, April 5, 1997, and May 2000), but by now the bulk of the files are six years old and date back to when bin Laden lived in Sudan. It is not entirely certain if the files are handed over before 9/11, but one account specifies that the files are handed over in July 2001. Vanity Fair will later note that in any case, “Events suggest that by then it was too late.” [Observer, 9/30/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002; Miniter, 2003, pp. 148]
In meetings and telephone calls, CIA officials inform administration officials that experts at the Department of Energy do not believe that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq are intended for use in a gas centrifuge. According to one senior administration official, who is briefed by the CIA at least six times on the tubes, by late 2001, he is aware that there are differing views on the tubes. “To the best of my knowledge, he never hid anything from me,” the official later recalls, referring to his counterpart at WINPAC. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]
According to statements by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds in 2004 and 2005, in July or August 2001, an unnamed FBI field agent discovers foreign documentation revealing “certain information regarding blueprints, pictures, and building material for skyscrapers being sent overseas. It also reveal[s] certain illegal activities in obtaining visas from certain embassies in the Middle East, through network contacts and bribery.” The document is in a foreign language and apparently the agent isn’t given an adequate translation of it before 9/11. Approximately one month after 9/11, the agent will suspect the original translation is insufficient and will ask the FBI Washington Field Office to retranslate it. The significant information mentioned above will finally be revealed, but FBI translation unit supervisor Mike Feghali will decide not to send this information back to the field agent. Instead, he will send a note stating that the translation was reviewed and the original translation was accurate. The field agent will never receive the accurate translation. This is all according to Edmonds’s letter. Edmonds will claim Feghali “has participated in certain criminal activities and security breaches, and [engaged] in covering up failures and criminal conducts within the department.” While the mainstream media will not report on this incident, in January 2005 an internal government report will determine that most of Edmonds’s allegations have been verified and none of them could be refuted. [Edmonds, 8/1/2004; Anti-War (.com), 8/22/2005]
Representatives of the FBI warn members of the New York Police Department (NYPD) that a serious terrorist attack is likely. Late one Friday this month, NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Esposito holds a meeting, which the FBI representatives come to. The FBI representatives reveal that there is a lot of “chatter” going on and a major terrorist attack is likely to occur. “They didn’t know when or where, but indications were that it would be overseas,” author Will Merrill will write. The matter is considered serious enough that a meeting has been called “in New York City late on a Friday afternoon” to discuss it, Merrill will note. [Merrill, 2011, pp. 155]
The FBI’s Counterterrorism Division issues a warning of possible al-Qaeda attacks to law enforcement agencies called “Potential Anti-US Attacks.” It states: “[T]here are threats to be worried about overseas. While we cannot foresee attacks domestically, we cannot rule them out.” It further states, “[T]he FBI has no information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States.” It asks law enforcement agencies to “exercise vigilance” and “report suspicious activities” to the FBI. Two weeks later, acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard has a conference call with all field office heads mentioning the heightened threat (see July 19, 2001). However, FBI personnel later fail to recall any heightened sense of threat from summer 2001. Only those in the New York field office take any action or will recall this later. [CNN, 3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
The NSA monitors calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and one or more operatives involved in a plot to attack the US embassy in Paris. The communications hub in Yemen is run by Ahmed al-Hada, father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is also involved in the US embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998), the USS Cole bombing (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The Paris plot is apparently foiled based on this information, although the details are sketchy. [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] The name of the operative or operatives who talk to the communications hub in Yemen is unknown. One candidate is Djamel Beghal, who will be arrested on July 28 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) based on a tip-off issued by the CIA to partner agencies on July 3 (see July 3, 2001). Another is Nizar Trabelsi, who will be arrested on September 13, although Trabelsi may be arrested based on information gleaned from Beghal. Both Beghal (see Spring 1998) and Trabelsi (see September 13, 2001) are connected to a plot to destroy an airliner with a shoe bomb, but this is not stopped (see December 22, 2001).
This is one of only two dates that Bush’s national security leadership discusses terrorism. (The other discussion occurs on September 4.) Apparently, the topic is only mentioned in passing and is not the focus of the meeting. This group, made up of the national security adviser, CIA director, defense secretary, secretary of state, Joint Chiefs of staff chairman and others, met around 100 times before 9/11 to discuss a variety of topics, but apparently rarely terrorism. The White House “aggressively defended the level of attention [to terrorism], given only scattered hints of al-Qaeda activity.” This lack of discussion stands in sharp contrast to the Clinton administration and public comments by the Bush administration. [Time, 8/12/2002] Bush said in February 2001, “I will put a high priority on detecting and responding to terrorism on our soil.” A few months earlier, Tenet told Congress, “The threat from terrorism is real, it is immediate, and it is evolving” (see February 7, 2001). [Associated Press, 6/28/2002]
US intelligence learns that Osama bin Laden has recently promised colleagues that an attack is near. This warning is first revealed in CIA Director George Tenet’s 2007 book. He will not explain how this was known except that it was “learned as a result of intelligence.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 149 Sources: George J. Tenet]
CIA Director Tenet makes an urgent special request to 20 friendly foreign intelligence services, asking for the arrests of anyone on a list of known al-Qaeda operatives. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] Also in late June, the CIA orders all its station chiefs overseas to share information on al-Qaeda with their host governments and to push for immediate disruptions of al-Qaeda cells. Vice President Cheney asks Saudi
Crown Prince Abdullah for help on July 5, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke makes appeals to other foreign officials. As a result, several terrorist operatives are detained by foreign governments. According to a later analysis by the 9/11 Commission, this possibly disrupts operations in the Persian Gulf and Italy (see June 13, 2001) and perhaps averts attacks against two or three US embassies. For instance, al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is detained by the French government in July and gives up information about a plot to attack the US embassy in France (see July 24 or 28, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 534] Perhaps as part of Tenet’s request for help, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, is detained in Jordan in July 2001 and then let go (see July 2001).
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar departs Saudi Arabia, flying to the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] According to the 9/11 Commission, Almihdhar has a passport containing an indicator of Islamic extremism (see June 1, 2001). Such indicators are used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007), so the Saudis presumably register his departure.
The American Hospital in Dubai. [Source: American Hospital]Bin Laden, America’s most wanted criminal with a $5 million bounty on his head, supposedly receives lifesaving treatment for renal failure from American specialist Dr. Terry Callaway at the American hospital in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He is possibly accompanied by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri (who is said to be bin Laden’s personal physician as well as al-Qaeda’s second-in-command), plus several bodyguards. Callaway supposedly treated bin Laden in 1996 and 1998, also in Dubai. Callaway later refuses to answer any questions on this matter. [Le Figaro (Paris), 10/31/2001; Agence France-Presse, 11/1/2001; London Times, 11/1/2001] During his stay, bin Laden is visited by “several members of his family and Saudi personalities,” including Prince Turki al-Faisal, then head of Saudi intelligence. [Guardian, 11/1/2001] On July 12, bin Laden reportedly meets with CIA agent Larry Mitchell in the hospital. Mitchell apparently lives in Dubai as an Arab specialist under the cover of being a consular agent. The CIA, the Dubai hospital, and even bin Laden deny the story. The two news organizations that broke the story, Le Figaro and Radio France International, stand by their reporting. [Le Figaro (Paris), 10/31/2001; Radio France International, 11/1/2001] The explosive story is widely reported in Europe, but there are only two, small wire service stories on it in the US. [United Press International, 11/1/2001; Reuters, 11/10/2001] The Guardian claims that the story originated from French intelligence, “which is keen to reveal the ambiguous role of the CIA, and to restrain Washington from extending the war to Iraq and elsewhere.” The Guardian adds that during his stay bin Laden is also visited by a second CIA officer. [Guardian, 11/1/2001] In 2003, reporter Richard Labeviere will provide additional details of what he claims happened in a book entitled “The Corridors of Terror.” He claims he learned about the meeting from a contact in the Dubai hospital. He claims the event was confirmed in detail by a Gulf prince who presented himself as an adviser to the Emir of Bahrain. This prince claimed the meeting was arranged by Prince Turki al-Faisal. The prince said, “By organizing this meeting…Turki thought he could start direct negotiations between [bin Laden] and the CIA on one fundamental point: that bin Laden and his supporters end their hostilities against American interests.” In exchange, the CIA and Saudis would allow bin Laden to return to Saudi Arabia and live freely there. The meeting is said to be a failure. [Reuters, 11/14/2003] On July 15, Larry Mitchell reportedly returns to CIA headquarters to report on his meeting with bin Laden. [Radio France International, 11/1/2001] French counterterrorism expert Antoine Sfeir says the story of this meeting has been verified and is not surprising: It “is nothing extraordinary. Bin Laden maintained contacts with the CIA up to 1998. These contacts have not ceased since bin Laden settled in Afghanistan. Up to the last moment, CIA agents hoped that bin Laden would return to the fold of the US, as was the case before 1989.” [Le Figaro (Paris), 11/1/2001] A CIA spokesman calls the entire account of bin Laden’s stay at Dubai “sheer fantasy.” [Reuters, 11/14/2003]
The CIA briefs Attorney General Ashcroft on the al-Qaeda threat. Several senior CIA Counterterrorist Center officials warn him that a significant attack is imminent, preparations for multiple attacks are in the late stages or already complete, and that little additional warning can be expected. He is told the attack is more likely to occur overseas than in the US. He was also briefed by the CIA on the al-Qaeda threat on May 15, 2001. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258-259, 534; Tenet, 2007, pp. 150] CIA Director Tenet will later claim in a book that at the end of the briefing, Ashcroft turned to some FBI personnel and asked them, “Why are they telling me this? Why am I not hearing this from you?” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 150] However, in fact, the FBI did brief Ashcroft for an hour an the al-Qaeda threat one week earlier (see June 28, 2001). One week later, the FBI will brief him again about the al-Qaeada threat and he will reportedly reply, “I do not want to hear about this anymore” (see July 12, 2001). By the end of July, he will stop flying commercial aircraft in the US (see July 26, 2001).
At the request of National Security Adviser Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the Counterterrorism Security Group, attended by officials from a dozen federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FAA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, Customs, the CIA, and the FBI. The CIA and FBI give briefings on the growing al-Qaeda threat. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258] Then Clarke later recalls saying, “You’ve just heard that CIA thinks al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us. So do I. You heard CIA say it would probably be in Israel or Saudi Arabia. Maybe. But maybe it will be here. Just because there is no evidence that says that it will be here, does not mean it will be overseas. They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 236] Two attendees later recall Clarke stating that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” One who attended the meeting later calls the evidence that “something spectacular” is being planned by al-Qaeda “very gripping.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256] Clarke directs every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. However, there is very poor follow up to the meeting and the attendees don’t share the warnings with their home agencies (see Shortly After July 5, 2001). By early August, all of these emergency measures are no longer in effect. [CNN, 3/2002; Washington Post, 5/17/2002]
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, US Coast Guard, US Customs Service, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, US Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In 2002, Newsweek will report: “The White House acknowledged for the first time, [President] Bush was privately beginning to worry about the stream of terror warnings he was hearing that summer, most of them aimed at US targets abroad. On July 5, five days before the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001), Bush directed [Condoleezza] Rice to figure out what was going on domestically.” [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] In 2004, President Bush will explain why he requested this: “[T]he reason I did is because there had been a lot of threat intelligence from overseas. And part of it had to do with the Genoa [Italy] G8 conference that I was going to attend.” [US President, 4/19/2004] Though he does not mention it, the chief security concern at the late July 2001 conference he mentions is intelligence that al-Qaeda plans to fly an airplane into the conference. This threat is so widely reported before the conference (with some reports before July 5 (see June 13, 2001 and Mid-July 2001) that the attack is called off (see July 20-22, 2001). For instance, in late June, Time magazine mentioned a German intelligence report of an Osama bin Laden plot “to fly remote-controlled model aircraft packed with Semtex into the conference hall and blow the leaders of the industrialized world to smithereens”
(see June 20, 2001). Bush will later claim that this request is specifically for the later-famous August 6, 2001 briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001), although the CIA analysts who draft it will deny this (see July 13, 2004). [US President, 4/19/2004]
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer assigned to the FBI, sends an e-mail to managers at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying there is a potential connection between recent warnings of an attack against US interests and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). He notes “how bad things look in Malaysia” and points out that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar may be connected to the radicals who attacked the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). He recommends that the Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit be re-examined for potential connections to the current warnings of an attack. The e-mail ends, “all the indicators are of a massively bad infrastructure being readily completed with just one purpose in mind.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 ] This is one of a series of e-mails sent around this time by Wilshire to Alec Station about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see July 13, 2001 and July 23, 2001). Presumably, one of the recipients at CIA headquarters is Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, as he apparently receives at least one of the e-mails (see July 13, 2001).
The movements of John O’Neill, the FBI manager responsible for tracking Osama bin Laden, appear to mirror those of the 9/11 hijackers and their associates while they are in Spain. Associates of the hijackers gather in Granada, in southern Spain, at the beginning of July (see July 6, 2001 and Shortly After). O’Neill arrives in Spain with some friends on July 5 and stays in Marbella until at least July 8. For at least part of the time in Marbella he is accompanied by Mark Rossini, an FBI agent currently detailed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who translates for O’Neill in Spain and whose friend lets O’Neill use his beach house. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 340-2; Wright, 2006, pp. 316-7, 344-5] (Note: Marbella and Granada are both in the southern Spanish province of Andalusia, but are about 120 miles apart.) Lead hijacker Mohamed Atta then arrives in Madrid on July 8, leaving on July 9. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 244] O’Neill and Rossini arrive in Madrid on July 9 and O’Neill gives a speech to the Spanish Police Foundation there on July 10. [Spanish Police Foundation, 7/10/2001; Weiss, 2003, pp. 340-2] After leaving Madrid, Atta travels to Catalonia, where he meets Ramzi bin al-Shibh and possibly other associates (see July 8-19, 2001). The authors of The Cell, one of whom—John Miller—was a close friend of O’Neill’s, will say O’Neill also visits the same part of Catalonia to make a speech at some point on his trip to Spain (note: it is unclear whether this is just a garbled account of his speech in Madrid, or whether he made two speeches). They will also say that he and Atta even stay at the same hotel, the Casablanca Playa in the small town of Salou, but at different times. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 289-90, 293] O’Neill leaves Spain on July 16, so he and his girlfriend Valerie James would probably be in the Salou area at around the same time as Atta, bin al-Shibh, and their associates. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 340-2] The overlap between the 9/11 operatives on the one hand and O’Neill and Rossini on the other is usually ignored in media accounts, but the episode in Salou is mentioned in The Cell, which indicates it is a mere coincidence. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 289-90]
On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264] The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 4/18/2004] Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 236-37] The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Customs Service, Nawaf Alhazmi, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorism and Security Group, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, Ken Williams, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The CIA warns the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) that al-Qaeda members “believe the upcoming attack will be ‘spectacular,’ qualitatively different from anything they have done to date.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who leads the CSG, similarly warned the CSG of a “spectacular” al-Qaeda attack the day before (see July 5, 2001).
Sir Stephen Lander. [Source: Public domain]According to an officially authorized book on the MI5 published in 2009, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, warns top British leaders that a surge in the number of reports of threat information is “sufficient to conclude that [Osama bin Laden] and those that share his agenda are currently well advanced in operational planning for a number of major attacks on Western interests.” Similar MI5 warnings about an imminent attack will continue up until 9/11, including one put out on the morning of 9/11. However, apparently none of these suggest a major attack in the US or an attack using hijacked airplanes. MI6 is Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and presumably most information about al-Qaeda and attack threats would come from it and not MI5. In fact, MI5 appears to be much less aware of al-Qaeda at this time. Sir Stephen Lander, director general of MI5 from 1996 to 2002, will later say that MI5 was “slow to get going” on the al-Qaeda threat because it was preoccupied with the IRA, and after 9/11 it had a “major set to, sitting around a board room table working out how to move on.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2009] This warning appears similar, but not identical, to a warning 10 days later that is an analysis involving all British intelligence agencies (see July 16, 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke sends National Security Adviser Rice an e-mail message “outlining a number of steps agreed on” at the Counterterrorism Security Group meeting the day before (see July 5, 2001), “including efforts to examine the threat of weapons of mass destruction and possible attacks in Latin America. One senior administration official [says] Mr. Clarke [writes] that several agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon, [have] been directed to develop what the official [says are] ‘detailed response plans in the event of three to five simultaneous attacks.’” However, no response or follow-up action has been pointed out. [New York Times, 4/4/2004]
Police officer Dave Agar in South Hackensack, New Jersey, is searching the parking lots of cheap motels, looking for suspicious cars. He submits the license plate number of a 1988 Toyota parked outside the Jade East motel to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a computer database frequently used by every level of law enforcement. He discovers that Nawaf Alhazmi owns the car. The computer record shows no outstanding warrants for Alhazmi (though it does give other information, including his address in San Diego). Agar makes a record of his search and continues his patrol. It is later discovered that Abdulaziz Alomari registered a room in the Jade East motel from July 6-13, and Khalid Almihdhar stayed most of that week with Alhazmi at the nearby Congress Inn. It is also discovered that Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and two or three other men had dinner together at a local diner. Police speculate the hijackers were holding a meeting to discuss their plot. One officer later says, “You wonder what would have happened if the check had turned up something on Alhazmi. We certainly would have brought him in for questioning.” [Bergen Record, 7/11/2002; Bergen Record, 5/18/2004] In late August, an FBI agent will look for Alhazmi and Almihdhar in the New York City area, but he will fail to check NCIC or car registration records that would have revealed the record of Agar’s search mentioning Alhazmi’s name (see September 5, 2001 and September 4-5, 2001).
At the same time as Mohamed Atta and one of his associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, meet in the north of Spain to finalize the details of the 9/11 plot (see July 8-19, 2001), other al-Qaeda operatives hold a parallel meeting in Granada, in the south of the country. Spanish authorities are monitoring some of these operatives, at least, and overhear their discussions. On July 6, the Spanish intercept a call from Mamoun Darkazanli, an associate of Atta’s from Germany, to Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Spain, in which Darkazanli says that he has arrived in Granada. Yarkas tells Darkazanli that he has arrived in the city on July 10. They are joined by Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni and possibly Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a relative of Allouni’s wife and associate of Atta and Darkazanli from Germany. The Spanish later overhear a conversation in which Yarkas discusses Zammar’s movements at this time. Spanish authorities will later doubt that these four operatives actually meet Atta and bin al-Shibh in Spain, but will suspect a connection between the two meetings, especially as Yarkas seems to have made preparations for the other meeting (see Before July 8, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003; Miles, 2005, pp. 305-313]
European operatives connected to al-Qaeda appear to be making preparations for a summit between lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Spain to finalize the details of the 9/11 plot (see July 8-19, 2001). As these European operatives are known to Spanish authorities, the preparations are monitored. For example, a conversation between operatives Barakat Yarkas and Amer el-Azizi is overheard. However, Spanish authorities do not pass this information on to their German counterparts. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] El-Azizi is also overheard talking to an Algerian, possibly Mohammed Belfatmi, based in Tarragona, where Atta stays for part of the time he is in Spain. [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] In one recorded conversation between Yarkas and another militant, Yarkas says that “Amer”—presumably a reference to Amer al-Azizi—is handling the arrangements for a meeting. [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004] Police will later find el-Azizi’s address book; it contains the names of three contacts in the small town of Reus, where bin al-Shibh landed when he flew in from Germany. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004] These European operatives hold a parallel meeting elsewhere in Spain (see July 6, 2001 and Shortly After) and some may also meet with Atta and bin al-Shibh (see July 8-19, 2001). El-Azizi’s arrest will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence after 9/11 (see October 2001 and Shortly After November 21, 2001) and he will go on to be involved in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).
About a month after al-Qaeda prisoner Ahmed Ressam told US interrogators new details of al-Qaeda plans to attack the US (see May 30, 2001), he conveys similar information during a public trial. As the Los Angeles Times reports at the time, “Testifying in the New York trial of an accused accomplice, Ressam said his [al-Qaeda] colleagues are intent on exporting violence to US soil. ‘If one is to carry out an operation, it would be better to hit the biggest enemy. I mean America,’ he told a federal jury. Ressam also identified a number of other Algerian terrorists who had been part of his original attack team [to bomb the Los Angeles airport in 2000], most of whom remain at large.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/8/2001]
Indian Point nuclear power plant. [Source: New York Power Authority]According to the 9/11 Commission, during their meeting in Spain where they discuss the looming attacks (see July 8-19, 2001), 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta tells would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh he has considered targeting a nuclear facility he saw during familiarization flights near New York. This is presumably Indian Point, which is about 30 miles north of NYC. [New York Times, 4/4/2002] Flight 11, which Atta pilots on 9/11, passes directly over Indian Point minutes before hitting the WTC (see 8:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, “the other pilots did not like the idea. They thought a nuclear target would be difficult because the airspace around it was restricted, making reconnaissance flights impossible and increasing the likelihood that any plane would be shot down before impact.… Nor would a nuclear facility have particular symbolic value.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 245] Also, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 “mastermind,” supposedly later tells his US interrogators he originally planned ten hijackings, with the additional targets including nuclear power plants. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 154] In 2002, Mohammed will reportedly tell an Al Jazeera reporter he’d thought of hitting a couple of nuclear facilities on 9/11, but decided not to, “for fear it would go out of control.”(see April, June, or August 2002) Although the 9/11 hijackers had dismissed the idea, in January 2002 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will send a memo to power plants around the US, based upon information from the FBI, warning that al-Qaeda has planned a second airline attack, which would involve flying a commercial aircraft into a nuclear plant. [CNN, 1/31/2002] Also that month, in his State of the Union speech, President Bush will say US soldiers in Afghanistan have discovered diagrams of American nuclear power plants there. [US President, 2/4/2002]
Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab promises some “very big news” to his fighters and this statement is communicated to the CIA. The CIA then forwards the warning to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice together with several similar pieces of intelligence, saying it is evidence that an al-Qaeda attack is imminent (see July 10, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151] The FBI is already aware that Ibn Khattab and Osama bin Laden, who have a long relationship (see 1986-March 19, 2002), may be planning a joint attack against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). One of the operatives, Zacarias Moussaoui, will be arrested a month later (see August 16, 2001), but a search warrant for his belongings will not be granted (see August 16, 2001, August 22, 2001 and August 28, 2001).
Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: US Department of State]German authorities notify their Spanish counterparts of a trip by Ramzi bin al-Shibh to Spain, where he meets an associate, lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta (see July 8-19, 2001). Presumably, the notification is before or soon after the trip, but the original news report merely says, “Despite the fact that the German authorities informed Spain of Ramzi’s trip, the meeting in which the 11 September attacks were finalized was not detected.” Several of bin al-Shibh’s German associates are known to have been under surveillance around this time (see 1996, November 1, 1998-February 2001, and May 22, 2000), and, if the article if correct, this indicates that bin al-Shibh’s movements are also being monitored by German intelligence. Spanish authorities are monitoring some operatives who may interact with Atta and bin al-Shibh in Spain (see Before July 8, 2001 and July 8-19, 2001), but the Spanish apparently do not conduct surveillance of the two men. [BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 12/2/2004]
The CIA receives several pieces of intelligence over a 24-hour period, all of which predict an imminent attack. They include:
Ibn Khattab, a Chechen radical connected to Osama bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002), promises his troops “very big news” (see (July 9, 2001));
Islamic extremists are traveling to Afghanistan in greater numbers;
There have been significant departures of extremist families from Yemen;
There are indications of threats against US interests in Lebanon, Morocco, and Mauritania.
This information will be promptly communicated to CIA Director George Tenet (see July 10, 2001) and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see July 10, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151]
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