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On this date, CIA Director George Tenet and CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black give the White House an urgent al-Qaeda briefing that, if heeded, Black later believes could have stopped bin Laden. Tenet and Black strongly suggest that both an overall strategy and immediate covert or military action against bin Laden are needed (see July 10, 2001). According to a 2006 book by journalist Bob Woodward that is likely paraphrasing Black, one of Woodward’s sources for his book, “Black calculated that if [the White House] had given him $500 million of covert action funds right then and reasonable authorizations from the president to go kill bin Laden, he would have been able to make great strides if not do away with him.… Over the last two years—and as recently as March 2001—the CIA had deployed paramilitary teams five times into Afghanistan to work with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, a loose federation of militias and tribes in the north. The CIA had about 100 sources and subsources operating throughout Afghanistan. Just give him the money and the authority and he might be able to bring bin Laden’s head back in a box.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 77-78; New York Daily News, 9/29/2006]
Anthony Williams. [Source: Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press]The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the National Emergency Management Association co-sponsor a two-day event held in Washington called Preparing the Nation: A National Policy Summit on Domestic Terrorism. Federal officials, state teams of governors’ key policy advisors, and state leaders in law enforcement, public health, fire, and emergency management attend. Speakers include Attorney General John Ashcroft, Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT), and Governor Robert Wise (D-WV). [National Governors Association, 6/25/2001; Red Cross, 7/11/2001; National Governors Association, 7/13/2001] The agenda of the event is structured around a tabletop exercise, based on a hypothetical bioterrorist attack. The scenario involves a neo-nazi terrorist releasing six liters of plague slurry in a fictional city resembling New York, called Gotham. [National Governors Association, 6/25/2001; National Governors Association, 7/10/2001 ; National Governors Association, 7/10/2001, pp. 7 ] In his speech at the event, Anthony Williams, the mayor of the District of Columbia, says it is especially appropriate that the summit is being held in DC, because “our city has been called ground zero for a potential terrorism incident. ‘It’s only a matter of time,’ they say, ‘before Washington, DC is the site of a terrorist attack.’” [National Governors Association, 7/10/2001 ] Assistant FBI Director Dale Watson tells the summit that a significant terrorist attack is likely on US soil (see July 11, 2001). [Reuters, 7/12/2001] In his speech, Ashcroft says, “Our number one priority is the prevention of terrorist attacks” (see July 11, 2001). [National Governors Association, 7/11/2001 ] Charles DeVita, the vice president for global safety and security for the Red Cross, says, “Conferences like these are starting to take place because even the federal government is realizing that [acts of terrorism are a major] threat. It’s not a matter of if, but when this is going to happen.” [Red Cross, 7/11/2001]
FBI agent Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” [Fortune, 5/22/2002; Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529]
Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. [Associated Press, 5/22/2002] Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.”
(see Summer 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001]
Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” [Fortune, 5/22/2002] , so they can later hijack aircraft. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” [Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. [New York Times, 5/4/2002]
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/10/2001 ; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” [Insight, 5/27/2002] However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002]
Entity Tags: Jennifer Maitner, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fred Stremmel, Ghassan al Sharbi, Hani Hanjour, I-49, Jack Cloonan, Elizabeth Matson, Islamic Army of the Caucasus, David Frasca, Michael Butsch, Al-Muhajiroun, Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Rod Middleton, Osama bin Laden, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Mark Connor, Ken Williams, Abu Zubaida
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
On July 10, 2001, Phoenix FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum to FBI headquarters urging a nationwide check on Middle Eastern students at flight schools (see July 10, 2001), but apparently neither Williams nor anyone else actually conducts any kind of check on Phoenix flight schools at this time. Phoenix flight school managers will later claim that the FBI does not ask them for tips on suspicious students before 9/11. A Sawyer School manager apparently had suspicions about some of his students (though he does not mention alleged Flight 77 pilot Hani Hanjour specifically). He later will say that had he known the FBI was concerned that some students might be Islamic militants, “I would have called someone.” Another flight school manager claims he has a good relationship with the FBI and is surprised he is not asked about Williams’s concerns. He will complain, “Should flight schools be clairvoyant?” [New York Times, 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529] In fact, although Hanjour left Arizona in March 2001 and lived on the East Coast after that time, there is evidence he comes back for some flight training in the Phoenix area in June and August 2001, including at the Sawyer School (see Summer 2001). The 9/11 Commission will later note that the evidence of Hanjour training in Phoenix during the summer is not definitive, but “the FBI’s Phoenix office believes it is plausible that Hanjour return[s] to Arizona for additional training.” [New York Times, 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529] It does not appear that Williams or any other FBI official checks flight schools anywhere else in Arizona before 9/11.
CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black and Richard Blee, a manager responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit, meet with CIA Director George Tenet and review the latest intelligence about al-Qaeda. Black lays out a case based on communications intercepts and other intelligence suggesting a growing chance that al-Qaeda will attack the US soon. There is no smoking gun per se, but there is a huge volume of data indicating an attack is coming (see July 9-10, 2001). The case is so compelling—Tenet will later say it “literally made my hair stand on end”—that Tenet decides to brief the White House on it this same day (see July 10, 2001). [Washington Post, 10/1/2006; Tenet, 2007, pp. 151]
Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006]
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-4] Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 153-4]
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).
Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Stephen J. Hadley, White House, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft receive the same CIA briefing about a likely imminent, multiple, and simultaneous al-Qaeda strike that was given to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). In 2006, the State Department will reveal the two were briefed within a week of the White House briefing, at the request of National Security Adviser Rice. One official who helped prepare the briefing later describes it as a “ten on a scale of one to ten” that “connected the dots” to present a stark warning that al-Qaeda is ready to launch a new attack. A Pentagon spokesman says he has no information “about what may or may not have been briefed” to Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld does not answer questions about it. Ashcroft says he was not given any briefing and calls it “disappointing” that he was not briefed. After it is confirmed that Ashcroft was briefed, apparently on July 17, Ashcroft will still claim not to remember the briefing, and will say he only recalls another CIA briefing earlier in the month (see July 5, 2001). Journalist Andrew Cockburn later reports that, “according to several intelligence sources,” Rumsfeld’s reaction to the briefing at the time “was one of vehement dismissal, complete with cutting observations about the CIA falling victim to ‘vast doses of al-Qaeda disinformation’ and ‘mortal doses of gullibility.’” McClatchy Newspapers will comment that these briefings raise “new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don’t remember the warning.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 9] On July 26, 2001, it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying on commercial airlines within the US (see July 26, 2001).
Glyn Ford. [Source: British Labour Party]The European Parliament releases its final report on its findings about the secretive US surveillance program known as Echelon. The report, two years in the making, exhaustively details many of Echelon’s surveillance capabilities, and lists many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world. One of the more interesting sections of the report concerns its apparent use on behalf of US corporations. According to the report, Echelon—operated by the NSA as a highly classified surveillance program ostensibly for tracking terrorist threats and activities by nations hostile to the West—is also being used for corporate and industrial espionage, with information from the program being turned over to US corporations for their financial advantage. The report gives several instances of Echelon’s use by corporations. One is the use of Echelon to “lift… all the faxes and phone calls” between the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Saudi Arabian Airlines; that information was used by two American companies, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, to outflank Airbus and win a $6 billion contract. The report also alleges that the French company Thomson-CSF lost a $1.3 billion satellite deal to Raytheon the same way. Glyn Ford, the MP who commissioned the report, says he doesn’t have a problem with Echelon itself, but in the way it is being used. “Now, you know, if we’re catching the bad guys, we’re completely in favor of that… What we’re concerned about is that some of the good guys in my constituency don’t have jobs because US corporations got an inside track on—on some global deal.” [Washington Post, 11/14/1999; CBS News, 2/27/2000; BBC, 7/6/2000; European Parliament, 7/11/2001] In 1977, the US government began providing Echelon-based intelligence to US corporations (see 1977). In April 2001, New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager testified about Echelon’s use by US allies for corporate and economic purposes (see April 2001), and former CIA director James Woolsey confirmed that US surveillance programs were used to benefit US corporations (see March 2000).
Entity Tags: US Department of Commerce, Thomson-CSF, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Glyn Ford, McDonnell Douglas, Central Intelligence Agency, Boeing Company, Echelon, Airbus, European Parliament, National Security Agency
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
[Source: FBI]At a conference on domestic terrorism held in Washington, DC (see July 10-11, 2001), Assistant FBI Director Dale Watson, the head of the Counterterrorism Division, warns that a significant terrorist attack is likely on US soil. He says, “I’m not a gloom-and-doom-type person. But I will tell you this. [We are] headed for an incident inside the United States.” This quote appears in a Reuters news story about the conference, entitled, “Terrorist Attack on US Soil Predicted.” Apparently paraphasing Watson, the Reuters article reports, “The FBI predicts terrorists will launch a major attack on American interests abroad every year for the next five years and thinks an attack using a weapon of mass destruction is likely at home.” The article also says that the number one threat is “from exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden.” Attorney General John Ashcroft also speaks at the conference about security measures for upcoming public events such as the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City (see July 11, 2001). [National Governors Association, 7/10/2001 ; Reuters, 7/12/2001; Newsday, 4/10/2004]
Edward Needham, an FBI agent in Buffalo, New York, has been investigating a group of eight Yemeni-Americans in the nearby town of Lackawanna after receiving an anonymous letter saying they have been training in Afghanistan (see Early June 2001). In fact, they were, and while there they heard a speech from Osama bin Laden in which he mentioned there were 40 suicide bombers on their way to a very important mission (see (June 2001)). This group will later be known as the “Lackawanna Six” for the six of them who return to the US. Some time around July, Needham interviews Sahim Alwan, who has recently come back from Afghanistan. But Alwan says he had only traveled to Pakistan for religious training. The others who returned also fail to tell any authorities that they have been in Afghanistan or what they learned there. On September 11, 2001, hours after the 9/11 attacks, Needham calls Alwan and asks him if anyone new has come into town. Alwan says no. But in fact, Juma al-Dosari, an al-Qaeda operative who recruited the Lackawanna Six, has recently returned to Lackawanna and Alwan knows where he is staying. Al-Dosari is trying to recruit a second group of young men to go train in Afghanistan. But the training camps are closed down and al-Dosari leaves town before the FBI finds out he is there. He tells friends that he is going to fight for the Taliban. He will be captured in Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo prison soon thereafter. [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 138-139, 148]
Thomas Pickard. [Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation]Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard attempts to brief Attorney General John Ashcroft on the al-Qaeda terrorist threat for a second time (see June 28, 2001), but Ashcroft is uninterested and says he does not want to hear about it, according to Pickard’s later account.
'I Don't Want to Hear about It Anymore' - According to a June 24, 2004 letter from Pickard to the 9/11 Commission, Pickard opens the briefing by discussing “counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters.” Pickard’s letter will go on to say: “The fourth item I discussed was the continuing high level of ‘chatter’ by al-Qaeda members. The AG [attorney general] told me, ‘I don’t want to hear about it anymore, there’s nothing I can do about it.’ For a few seconds, I did not know what to say, then I replied that he should meet with the director of the CIA to get a fuller briefing on the matter.… I resumed my agenda but I was upset about [Ashcroft’s] lack of interest. He did not tell me nor did I learn until April 2004 that the CIA briefed him on the increase in chatter and level of threat on July 5, 2001” (see July 5, 2001 and July 11-17, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] In testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Pickard will affirm that, “at least on two occasions” he briefed Ashcroft on a rising threat level and concerns about an impending attack, which were being reported by the CIA. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will ask Pickard if he has told Commission staff that Ashcroft “did not want to hear about this anymore,” to which Pickard will respond, “That is correct.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004 ] According to Pickard’s later recollection: “Before September 11th, I couldn’t get half an hour on terrorism with Ashcroft. He was only interested in three things: guns, drugs, and civil rights.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 293]
Differing Accounts of What Was Said at the Meeting - According to the 9/11 Commission’s June 3, 2004 record of its interview with Watson, “Pickard told Watson that he was briefing Ashcroft on counterterrorism, and Ashcroft told him that he didn’t want to hear ‘anything about these threats,’ and that ‘nothing ever happened.’” [9/11 Commission, 6/3/2004 ] Author Philip Shenon will write about this meeting in his 2008 book, The Commission, based on interviews with Pickard and “Commission investigators who researched his allegations,” but none of the quotes or representations of fact in Shenon’s text will cite a specific source. Shenon will make reference to Mark Jacobson and Caroline Barnes as being the 9/11 Commission staffers who interviewed Pickard. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 240-248, 433] According to Shenon’s version of the meeting, Ashcroft replies to Pickard: “I don’t want you to ever talk to me about al-Qaeda, about these threats. I don’t want to hear about al-Qaeda anymore.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 247] Ashcroft, in testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission, will dismiss Pickard’s allegation, saying, “I did never speak to him saying that I did not want to hear about terrorism.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004 ] Pickard will respond to Ashcroft’s testimony in his 2004 letter, saying, “What [Ashcroft] stated to the Commission under oath is correct, but they did not ask him, ‘Did he tell me he did not want to hear about the chatter and level of threat?’ which is the conversation to which I testified under oath.” [Pickard, 6/24/2004] The deputy attorney general at the time of the meeting, Larry D. Thompson, and Ashcroft’s chief of staff, David T. Ayres, will sign a letter to the 9/11 Commission on July 12, 2004, in which they say they are responding to Pickard’s allegation that when he briefed Ashcroft “on the al-Qaeda threat prior to September 11, 2001, the attorney general responded that he did not want to hear such information anymore.” The letter will say Thompson and Ayres were present at that and the other regular meetings between Pickard and Ashcroft, and “the attorney general made no such statement in that or any other meeting.” [Ayres, 7/12/2004] The 9/11 Commission Report will conclude, “We cannot resolve this dispute.” [Commission, 2004]
Differing Accounts of Who Was at the Meeting - Pickard’s 2004 letter will state that Ayres is at the meeting, but has left the room prior to that part of the meeting, as he does not have the required level of security clearance. Pickard’s letter indicated that the FBI Assistant Director for Criminal Investigations, Ruben Garcia, is at the meeting and also witnesses the exchange. [Pickard, 6/24/2004] Shenon’s book puts Garcia at the meeting, but does not make reference to Garcia’s account of what is said there. Also, in the notes to Shenon’s book, it will not say that he interviewed Garcia. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 247-248, 433] According to a June 22, 2004 NBC News report: “Commission investigators also tracked down another FBI witness at the meeting that day, Ruben Garcia… Several sources familiar with the investigation say Garcia confirmed to the Commission that Ashcroft did indeed dismiss Pickard’s warnings about al-Qaeda.” Furthermore, “Pickard did brief Ashcroft on terrorism four more times that summer, but sources say the acting FBI director never mentioned the word al-Qaeda again in Ashcroft’s presence—until after Sept. 11.” [MSNBC, 6/22/2004] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, “Ruben Garcia… attended some of Pickard’s briefings of the attorney general but not the one at which Pickard alleges Ashcroft made the statement.” [Commission, 2004, pp. 536n52]
Ashcroft Denies FBI Requests and Appeals, Cuts Counterterrorism Funding - Following the meeting, on July 18, Ashcroft will reject the FBI’s request for an increase in funding for counterterrorism, and instead propose cuts to that division (see July 18, 2001). Pickard will appeal this decision; Ashcroft will reject the appeal on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, John Ashcroft, Mark Jacobson, Thomas Pickard, David Ayres, Dale Watson, 9/11 Commission, Caroline Barnes, Central Intelligence Agency, Philip Shenon, Al-Qaeda, Ruben Garcia
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
On July 12, 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard briefs Attorney General Ashcroft a second time about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 12, 2001). In a later letter to the 9/11 Commission discussing the meeting, Pickard will mention, “I had not told [Ashcroft] about the meeting in Malaysia since I was told by FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson that there was a ‘close hold’ on that info. This means that it was not to be shared with anyone without the explicit approval of the CIA.” During the briefing, Pickard also strongly recommends that Ashcroft be briefed by the CIA to learn details that Pickard feels he is not allowed to reveal. The “meeting in Malaysia” is an obvious reference to the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Louis Freeh, the FBI director at the time of the summit, and other unnamed FBI officials were told some about the summit while it was taking place (see January 6, 2000). It is unknown if Pickard and Watson learned about it at that time, but Pickard’s letter shows they both knew about it by the time of this briefing. It is not known why the CIA placed a “close hold” on any mention of the Malaysian summit so strict that even the attorney general could not be told. Since two of the 9/11 hijackers attended that summit, sharing the information about the summit with other agencies may have helped stop the 9/11 attacks. [Pickard, 6/24/2004]
The Bush administration again denies the CIA expanded authorities to go on the offensive against bin Laden. These authorities would include permission to assassinate bin Laden without making an attempt to capture him alive first. In March 2001, the CIA wanted to give a draft request about this to the Bush administration, but officials weren’t ready so the draft was withdrawn (see Early March 2001). On July 13, three days after a dramatic CIA presentation about a likely upcoming al-Qaeda attack (see July 10, 2001), a meeting of deputy cabinet officials is held to discuss the CIA’s expanded authorities request. However, no decisions are made. Tenet will later comment, “the bureaucracy moved slowly.” The Bush administration will grant these authorities a few days after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 154]
By mid-July 2001, new intelligence indicates that the new al-Qaeda attack has been delayed, maybe for as long as two months, but not abandoned. So on this day, a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden Plans Delayed but Not Abandoned.” On July 25, a similar SEIB will be titled, “One Bin Laden Operation Delayed, Others Ongoing.” The SEIB is usually released one day after the corresponding President Daily Briefing and contains similar content (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush receives this information. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259, 534] After 9/11, it will be discovered that in fact the 9/11 attack was originally planned to take place in the early summer but was delayed (see May-July 2001).
Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager assigned to the FBI who expressed interest two months earlier in surveillance photos from the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), now finds a cable he had been looking for regarding that summit. The cable, from January 2001, discusses al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash’s presence at the summit. Wilshire explains later that bin Attash’s presence there had been troubling him. He writes an e-mail to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), stating, “[Khallad] is a major league killer, who orchestrated the Cole attack (see October 12, 2000) and possibly the Africa bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).” Yet Khallad is still not put on a terrorist watch list. Wilshire asks that the FBI be passed this information, but the FBI will not actually be given the information until August 30, a week after it learns future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 ] Although the CIA managers that receive this e-mail are not named, Richard Blee, in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit and Wilshire’s former boss, appears to be one of the recipients: On the same day Wilshire sends this e-mail, Blee writes his own e-mail entitled “Identification of Khallad,” which is sent to another CIA officer. [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/13/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537] An FBI analyst assigned to the CTC is given the task of reviewing all other CIA cables about the Malaysian summit. It takes this analyst until August 21—over five weeks later—to put together that Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa and that Nawaf Alhazmi had traveled to the US. Yet other CIA agents are already well aware of these facts but are not sharing the information (see August 22, 2001). Working with immigration officials, this analyst then learns that Almihdhar entered and left the US in 2000, and entered again on July 4, 2001, and that Alhazmi appears to still be in the US. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 ]
A CIA manager says that an additional intelligence officer, Doug Miller, will be assigned to help an ongoing low-key review of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit when Miller returns from holiday (see January 5-8, 2000 and Mid-May 2001). The statement is made in response to an e-mail by CIA manager Tom Wilshire, who pointed out that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended the summit, meaning it was important (see January 4, 2001). Presumably, the manager that sends this e-mail is Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Blee appears to have received the e-mail to which this is a response (see July 13, 2001). The review is currently only being conducted by one intelligence officer, Margaret Gillespie, who is only told to do it in her spare time and whom it takes over three months to find CIA cables indicating two of the future 9/11 hijackers have entered the US (see August 21-22, 2001). Miller’s help would certainly benefit the review, as he is already aware one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa, but a cable he drafted to notify the FBI about this was blocked by Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). However, there is no mention of Miller actually being given the assignment on his return and no sign he does any work on this. Wilshire also asked that the FBI be officially told bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia, but this information is again withheld (see January 5, 2001 and After). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298-9 ]
FBI counterterrorism expert John O’Neill privately discusses White House obstruction in his bin Laden investigation. O’Neill says, “The main obstacles to investigate Islamic terrorism were US oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it.” He adds, “All the answers, everything needed to dismantle Osama bin Laden’s organization, can be found in Saudi Arabia.” O’Neill also believes the White House is obstructing his investigation of bin Laden because they are still keeping the idea of a pipeline deal with the Taliban open (see July 21, 2001). [Irish Times, 11/19/2001; Brisard and Dasquie, 2002, pp. xxix; CNN, 1/8/2002; CNN, 1/9/2002]
CIA Director Tenet has a special meeting with National Security Adviser Rice and her aides about al-Qaeda. Says one official at the meeting, “[Tenet] briefed [Rice] that there was going to be a major attack.” Another at the meeting says Tenet displays a huge wall chart showing dozens of threats. Tenet does not rule out a domestic attack but says an overseas attack is more likely. [Time, 8/12/2002]
Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells CIA Director George Tenet that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz questions the significance of the recent surge in al-Qaeda warnings. Wolfowitz apparently suggests that bin Laden may merely be trying to study US reactions to an attack threat. Tenet replies that he has already addressed these questions and that the reporting is convincing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259] Tenet is likely referring to a report delivered to the White House on June 30 entitled “Bin Laden Threats Are Real” (see June 30, 2001) that was prepared to deal with nearly identical doubts from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see Summer 2001). In April 2001, Wolfowitz said in a meeting that the main terrorist threat to the US was from Iraq, not bin Laden (see April 30, 2001).
Shortly after a pivotal al-Qaeda warning given by the CIA to top officials (see July 10, 2001), Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Steve Cambone expresses doubts. He speaks to CIA Director George Tenet, and, as Tenet will later recall, he “asked if I had considered the possibility that al-Qaeda threats were just a grand deception, a clever ploy to tie up our resources and expend our energies on a phantom enemy that lacked both the power and the will to carry the battle to us.” Tenet claims he replied, “No, this is not a deception, and, no, I do not need a second opinion.… We are going to get hit. It’s only a matter of time.” After 9/11, Cambone will reportedly apologize to Tenet for being wrong. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 154] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz raises similar doubts around the same time (see Mid-July 2001), and Tenet believes Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is blocking efforts to develop a strategy to fight bin Laden (see Summer 2001).
British intelligence agencies send a report to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top officials warning that al-Qaeda is in “the final stages” of preparing an attack in the West. The prediction is “based on intelligence gleaned not just from [British intelligence] but also from US agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency,” which cooperate with the British. “The contents of the July 16 warning would have been passed to the Americans, Whitehall sources confirmed.” The report states there is “an acute awareness” that the attack is “a very serious threat.” [London Times, 6/14/2002] This appears to be similar, but not identical, to a warning to British leaders from MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, 10 days earlier (see July 6, 2001).
A Village Voice reporter is told by a New York taxi driver, “You know, I am leaving the country and going home to Egypt sometime in late August or September. I have gotten e-mails from people I know saying that Osama bin Laden has planned big terrorist attacks for New York and Washington for that time. It will not be safe here then.” He does in fact return to Egypt for that time. The FBI, which is not told about this lead until after 9/11, interrogates and then releases him. He claims that many others knew what he knew prior to 9/11. [Village Voice, 9/25/2002]
The FBI issues another warning to domestic law enforcement agencies about threats stemming from the convictions in the millennium bomb plot trial. The FAA also issues a warning to the airlines, telling them to “use the highest level of caution.” [CNN, 3/2002] This is another one of 15 general warnings issued to airlines in 2001 before 9/11 (see January-August 2001), but it is more specific than usual. [CNN, 3/2002; CNN, 5/17/2002] Also on this day, the State Department issues a public warning of a possible terrorist threat in the Saudi Arabia region. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259, 534]
Department of Energy safety specialist Chris Steele reads a memo that alerts him to the existence of a secret nuclear waste dump at the Los Alamos nuclear facility. The waste is being stored in an unsecured, unprotected steel building on site, and has been on site for five years. A shocked Steele immediately shuts down the nuclear dump, forcing it to be relocated to protected areas. Steele notes that the existence of such a waste dump is a violation of the law and a serious threat to the health and safety of workers, the public, and the environment. Steele recalls that a wildfire burned part of the Los Alamos facility in May 2000; only the fact that the fire did not jump the road across from the waste dump saved it from going up in radioactive flames. [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Near the end of his visit to Spain in July 2001 (see July 8-19, 2001), future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta sends a cell phone text message to three friends in Hamburg, Germany. The message reads: “Salam (greetings). This is for you, Abbas, and Mounir. Hasn’t the time come to fear God’s word. Allah. I love you all. Amir.” The message is sent to Said Bahaji, so he is the “you.” “Mounir” is Mounir El Motassadeq. “Abbas” is Abbas Tahir, a Sudanese friend of Ziad Jarrah’s who author Terry McDermott says is one of the Hamburg group. Atta signs the message “Amir” because he is generally known as Mohamed el-Amir in Germany. The information about this message will come from the BKA (German intelligence). It will be unknown if the BKA finds the message before or after 9/11. [McDermott, 2005, pp. xi, 225, 303, 328]
An unknown intelligence agency intercepts a telephone call between alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and his associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/18/2004] In the call, KSM and bin al-Shibh discuss the state of the 9/11 plot, in particular the fact that Ziad Jarrah, one of the proposed pilots, may drop out. They speak in a code, substituting unexceptional words for what they really mean. [9/11 Commission, 3/18/2004] KSM instructs bin al-Shibh to send the “skirts,” meaning money forwarded to bin al-Shibh by an associate of KSM, to “Sally,” meaning Moussaoui. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 246] The reason for this is that “Teresa,” meaning Jarrah, is “late,” i.e. he is wavering and may drop out of the plot, due to possible conflicts with lead hijacker Mohamed Atta about Jarrah’s isolation from the conspiracy. It therefore appears that KSM is thinking of Moussaoui as a replacement for Jarrah. According to a 9/11 Commission memo, KSM says something like, “if there is a divorce, it will cost a lot of money.” Bin al-Shibh then tries to reassure him, saying it will be okay. The conversation also mentions “Danish leather,” an apparent reference to failed “20th hijacker” Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/18/2004] The agency which intercepts this call is never identified to the public, although the NSA is reportedly intercepting such calls to and from KSM at this time (see Summer 2001). The 9/11 Commission will mention the call in a staff statement and its final report, but will not mention that it was intercepted, merely citing detainee interrogations as the source of information about it. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 16-17; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 246, 530]
Anti-aircraft stationed around the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy. [Source: BBC]The G8 summit is held in Genoa, Italy. Acting on previous warnings that al-Qaeda would attempt to kill President Bush and other leaders, Italian authorities surround the summit with anti-aircraft guns. They keep fighter jets in the air and close off local airspace to all planes. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] The warnings are taken so seriously that Bush stays overnight on an aircraft carrier offshore, and other world leaders stay on a luxury ship. [CNN, 7/18/2001] No attack occurs. US officials state that the warnings were “unsubstantiated,” but after 9/11, they will claim success in preventing an attack. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] According to author Philip Shenon, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is involved in discussions about the precautions, and this is the only time she focuses on al-Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001. Shenon will add: “There is no record to show that Rice made any special effort to discuss terrorist threats with Bush. The record suggested, instead, that it was not a matter of special interest to either of them that summer.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 154]
The photograph of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on his 2001 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is granted a visa to enter the US, despite being under a federal terrorism indictment, having a $2 million reward on his head, and being one of only a dozen people in the world on a US domestic no-fly list (see April 24, 2000). There is no evidence that he actually uses his visa to travel to the US. Investigators speculate that he may have considered a trip to shepherd some aspect of the 9/11 plot. He applied for the visa using a Saudi passport and an alias (Abdulrahman al Ghamdi), but the photo he submitted is really of him. He uses the new, controversial Visa Express program that allows Saudis to apply for US visas without having to appear in person at any point during the application process (see May 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004] Just a month earlier, the CIA passed a warning to all US intelligence agencies, certain military commanders, and parts of the Justice and Treasury Departments saying that Mohammed may be attempting to enter the US (see June 12, 2001). However, either this warning isn’t given to immigration officials or else they fail to notice his application. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004]
Due to a lack of response to a previous request that information about the Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit be passed to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), CIA officer Tom Wilshire e-mails another CIA manager asking about the request’s status. The manager’s identity is unknown, but the previous request was received by Richard Blee, a close associate of Wilshire’s who is responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999 and Between Mid-January and July 2000), so presumably he receives this request as well. Wilshire writes: “When the next big op is carried out by [Osama bin Laden’s] hardcore cadre, [Khallad bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid [Almihdhar] should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” The name of the redacted event or entity is unclear. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] However, it could be a mention of Almihdhar’s role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa, since the CIA was aware of that from at least January 2000 (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Or, more likely, it could be a mention of Almihdhar’s role in the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), since Wilshire mentioned earlier in the month that Almihdhar could be linked to the Cole bombers (see July 5, 2001).
King Abdullah II. [Source: David Bohrer/ White House]CIA Director George Tenet will later reveal that on this day, he learns in a briefing that King Abdullah II of Jordan is offering to help the US with troops to defeat bin Laden in a decisive military manner. He offers to send two battalions (roughly between 1,000 and 2,000 soldiers) of “Jordanian Special Forces to go door to door in Afghanistan, if necessary, to deal with al-Qaeda. The offer was a wonderful gesture but would have to have been part of a larger overall strategy in order to succeed. To King Abdullah, bin Laden was the greatest threat in the world to his nation’s security….” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156] There is a claim that al-Qaeda plotted an assassination of King Abdullah II, which was aborted when he learned of the plot in the summer of 2000. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] After 9/11, it will be reported that in July 2001, Jordan warned the US that al-Qaeda was planning an attack inside the US (see July 2001). It will also be reported that in the late summer of 2001, Jordan warned the US of a major al-Qaeda attack inside the US using aircraft. They say it is codenamed “The Big Wedding,” which is al-Qaeda’s codename for the 9/11 attacks (see Late Summer 2001).
[Source: Public domain]High-level al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. Earlier in the month the CIA sent friendly intelligence agencies a list of al-Qaeda agents they wanted to be immediately apprehended, and Beghal was on the list (see July 3, 2001).
Information Obtained - Beghal quickly starts to talk, and tells French investigators about a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris. Crucially, he provides new details about the international-operations role of top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida, whom he had been with a short time before. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002] One European official says Beghal talks about “very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden’s inner circle. [He] mention[s] names, responsibilities and functions—people we weren’t even aware of before. This is important stuff.” [Time, 11/12/2001] One French official says of Beghal’s interrogations, “We shared everything we knew with the Americans.” [Time, 5/19/2002]
Link to 9/11 - The New York Times later will report, “Enough time and work could have led investigators from Mr. Beghal to an address in Hamburg where Mohamed Atta and his cohorts had developed and planned the Sept. 11 attacks.” Beghal had frequently associated with Zacarias Moussaoui. However, although Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001) around the same time that Beghal is revealing the names and details of all his fellow operatives, Beghal is apparently not asked about Moussaoui. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002]
Timing of Arrest - Most media accounts place the arrest on July 28. However, in a 2007 book CIA Director George Tenet will say he received a briefing about the arrest on July 24. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156-157]
Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah seems to leave the US twice on the same day. According to a 2002 FBI document about the 9/11 attacks, Jarrah takes a KLM flight from Atlanta, Georgia, to Amsterdam, Netherlands. But the same document says he also takes a Continental flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Dusseldorf, Germany. The FBI document contains a note from an analyst that merely comments this is “conflicting information.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/19/2002] Jarrah seems to leave the US twice in a short time period on one other occasion (see December 26-28, 2000).
Dan Rather in July 2001 presenting the story about John Ashcroft. [Source: CBS via Banded Artists Productions]CBS News reports that Attorney General Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial airlines due to a threat assessment, but “neither the FBI nor the Justice Department… would identify [to CBS] what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.” [CBS News, 7/26/2001] One newspaper reports, “Ashcroft demonstrated an amazing lack of curiosity when asked if he knew anything about the threat. ‘Frankly, I don’t,’ he told reporters.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 6/3/2002] It is later reported that he stopped flying in July based on threat assessments made on May 8 and June 19. In May 2002, it is claimed the threat assessment had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, but Ashcroft walked out of his office rather than answer questions about it. [Associated Press, 5/16/2002] The San Francisco Chronicle will later conclude, “The FBI obviously knew something was in the wind.… The FBI did advise Ashcroft to stay off commercial aircraft. The rest of us just had to take our chances.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 6/3/2002] CBS’s Dan Rather will later ask of this warning: “Why wasn’t it shared with the public at large?” [Washington Post, 5/27/2002] On July 5, the CIA had warned Ashcroft to expect multiple, imminent al-Qaeda attacks overseas (see July 5, 2001) and on July 12 the FBI warned him about the al-Qaeda threat within the US (see July 12, 2001).
Future 9/11 hijacker Waleed Alshehri books a one-way airplane ticket from San Francisco to Miami, via Las Vegas, at a Florida travel agent office. According to an FBI report about the 9/11 attacks, he is accompanied by an older man in his mid-40s. Days after 9/11, the travel agent who books the flight will be shown photographs of the other hijackers in an attempt to determine who this other man is, but the agent will not recognize any of the hijackers as that man. Apparently, Alshehri does not use the flight, although he does fly from Miami to San Francisco and back a few days later. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/19/2002] Mohamed Atta is believed to be the oldest of the 9/11 hijackers, and is 33 years old by the time of 9/11.
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke informs National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley that the spike in intelligence about a near-term al-Qaeda attack has stopped. However, he urges keeping readiness at a high level during August, when President Bush and many other top US leaders go on vacation. He warns that another recent report suggests that an attack has just been postponed for a few months “but will still happen.” Similarly, on August 3, the CIA sends a cable to the US intelligence community warning that the threat of impending al-Qaeda attacks is likely to continue indefinitely. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 534]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke reports to National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley that the spike in intelligence indicating a near-term attack appears to have ceased, but he urges them to keep readiness high. Intelligence indicates that an attack has been postponed for a few months. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] In early August, CIA Director Tenet also reports that intelligence suggests that whatever terrorist activity might have been originally planned has been delayed. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
The FBI sends a request to the CIA, asking the agency to check for information on eight Islamist radicals mentioned in the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001). However, the CIA apparently does not find any additional information about them. [USA Today, 5/20/2002; Washington Times, 5/23/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 350-1] Had the CIA investigated these men closely they might have turned up ties connecting them to al-Qaeda. For instance, in 2000, two friends of the main target of the Phoenix memo were detained and deported after twice attempting to enter a US airplane cockpit in what may have been practice for the 9/11 attacks. That same year it was learned by US intelligence that one of these men had received explosives and car bombing training in Afghanistan (see November 1999-August 2001). Other ties between the men in the memo go undiscovered; for instance, another person targeted in the memo had trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and will later be arrested with a top al-Qaeda leader (see July 10, 2001). Around this time, the Phoenix memo is sent to FBI headquarters and its I-49 squad in New York (see July 27, 2001 and after and July 27, 2001 or Shortly After). After 9/11, the CIA will say it did not receive the memo and its Office of Inspector General will agree with this. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/28/2005 ] However, in a 2006 book journalist Lawrence Wright will report that the memo was also sent to the CIA’s bin Laden unit. One of the sources Wright cites for this passage is Mark Rossini. Rossini is an FBI agent who at one time worked in the unit’s I-49 squad in New York, but was detailed to the bin Laden station in the summer of 2001. [Wright, 2006, pp. 316, 350, 381, 426 Sources: Mark Rossini]
FBI headquarters. [Source: GlobeXplorer]FBI headquarters receives the Phoenix Memo, but does not act on it. The memo was drafted by Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams and warns that a large number of Islamic extremists are learning to fly in the US. It is dated 17 days earlier, but is not uploaded until this date (see July 10, 2001). Although the memo is addressed to eight specific agents, it is apparently not received by all of them. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say that the memo was not delivered directly to the addressees, but uploaded to a central dispatching point, from where it was assigned to Radical Fundamentalist Unit agent Elizabeth Matson on July 30. Before sending the memo, Williams called both Matson and her colleague Fred Stremmel to talk to them about it. Matson pulls up the memo, which has “routine” precedence, and prints and reads it. However, she thinks it should go to the bin Laden unit. A week later she discusses the matter with bin Laden unit agent Jennifer Maitner and they agree that Maitner will do some research and then they will talk again. Matson will later tell the Office of Inspector General she may have mentioned the memo to her superior, but is not sure. Her superior will say he was not consulted. Maitner discusses the memo with bin Laden unit chief Rod Middleton and also sends it to the FBI’s Portland, Oregon, field office, which was previously interested in one of the men named in the memo. However, she does not do anything else with it before 9/11, apparently due to her high workload. The FBI will later acknowledge the memo did not receive the sufficient or timely analysis that it deserved. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 65-77, 80 ] The memo is also seen by the FBI’s New York field office (see July 27, 2001 or Shortly After), another RFU agent researching the Moussaoui case (see August 22, 2001) and possibly the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see (July 27, 2001)).
An FBI agent assigned to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates a CIA cable that says 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, but fails to disseminate the information to the FBI. It is not clear why the agent, Margaret Gillespie, fails to do this. However, at the same time she locates another CIA cable which mistakenly states that the information about the visa has already been passed to the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 299 ]
The FBI’s New York field office, which specializes in international terrorism, receives Ken Williams’ Phoenix Memo, but only briefly checks the named radicals and does not respond to Williams. In the memo, Williams noted that there is a suspiciously large number of Islamic extremists learning to fly in Arizona. Some of them will turn out to be connected to 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour (see July 10, 2001). Williams sent the memo to FBI headquarters (see July 27, 2001 and after) and the I-49 squad in the New York FBI field office. In New York, the memo is read by FBI agent Jack Cloonan, a member of the I-49 squad. Cloonan believes that the memo has a “glaring deficiency,” as he thinks bin Laden does not have a support operation in Arizona any more. He forms the opinion that William’s theory and conclusions are “faulty.” However, two of the hijackers were in Arizona in early 2001 (see December 12, 2000-March 2001) and some of the people named in the memo will later be linked to bin Laden (see October 1996-Late April 1999). In August 2001, Cloonan will ask, “Who’s going to conduct the thirty thousand interviews? When the f_ck do we have time for this?” Nonetheless, he checks out the eight names mentioned in the memo. He will apparently find nothing, although several individuals associated with the Phoenix cell are Sunni extremists (see November 1999-August 2001). The memo is also read by an analyst and an auditor in New York while they are researching other matters, and Cloonan will tell the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) he may have discussed the memo with some of his colleagues. The OIG’s report will say Cloonan told investigators that “he did not contact Williams or anyone else in Phoenix to discuss the [memo].” However, in a 2006 book author Lawrence Wright, citing an interview with Cloonan, will say that Cloonan spoke to Williams’ supervisor in Phoenix about it. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 77-9 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 350, 426] The I-49 squad possibly forwards the memo to the Alec Station bin Laden unit at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see (July 27, 2001)).
A Western Union money transfer between Ahad Sabet (Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s alias) and Moussaoui in Norman, Oklahoma. [Source: FBI]According to the Justice Department indictment against Zacarias Moussaoui, Moussaoui and 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh are in communication for several days. Moussaoui makes several calls from Norman, Oklahoma, to Dusseldorf, Germany. Then, around July 31 someone using the name “Hashim Abdulrahman” in the United Arab Emirates sends two wire transfers totaling about $15,000 to an “Ahad Sabet” in Hamburg, Germany. Sabet is claimed to be an alias for bin al-Shibh. Then bin al-Shibh, again using the Sabet name, wires about $14,000 to Moussaoui in Oklahoma. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001] Moussaoui immediately moves to Minnesota and begins studying at a flight school there (see August 10-11, 2001). The passport with the name Ahad Sabet that bin al-Shibh used appears to belong to an innocent US doctor who had his passport stolen in Spain several years earlier (see July 7, 1998). [CNN, 8/7/2002]
In his 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will write that on this day, “From Afghanistan came word that the Taliban intelligence chief, Qari Amadullah, was interested in establishing secret contact, outside the country and without Mullah Omar’s knowledge, “to save Afghanistan.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156] However, it is unclear if the offer was acted upon because Tenet has nothing more to say about it. The 9/11 Commission will later report that in July a deep schism developed in the Taliban and even al-Qaeda leadership over the wisdom of going through with the 9/11 attacks. Apparently, even top Taliban leader Mullah Omar was ideologically opposed to the attacks at this time, though he may have changed his mind before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 251-252]
Laurie Mylroie. [Source: Publicity photo]US authorities re-open the files on Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the WTC bombing in 1993, and begin looking into the theory that Yousef may have actually been an Iraqi agent. Presumably this is in response to requests by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz the month before to look into the matter (see June 2001). Yousef was convicted in 1996 (see September 5, 1996) and has been in custody since 1995 (see February 7, 1995). According to the official version of events, Yousef’s real name is Abdul Basit, a 27-year-old Pakistani who until 1989 was a computer student studying in South Wales. In late 2000, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) published Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America arguing in support of the theory that Yousef was actually an Iraqi agent (see October 2000). The book, written by AEI scholar Laurie Mylroie, says that Basit was living with his parents in Kuwait in 1990 when Iraq invaded the country (see November 8, 1990). During the occupation, Iraqis presumably murdered him and his family and then altered police files so Iraqi intelligence could use his identity. [New Republic, 9/13/2001; London Times, 9/22/2001] In February 2001, former CIA Director James Woolsey traveled to Britain in an attempt to find evidence to support this theory (see February 2001). But Mylroie’s theory is debunked by authorities who match the fingerprints of Yousef to those of Basit. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 81]
CIA agent Joe Turner flies to Vienna and meets with IAEA scientists, arguing that the aluminum tubes ordered by Iraq had been intended for use in nuclear centrifuges. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004] But experts at the agency disagree with his conclusions and explain to him why they believe his analysis is wrong. “They pointed out errors in his calculations. They noted design discrepancies,” an unnamed senior US official will later tell the New York Times. [New York Times, 10/3/2004] David Albright, a physicist and former weapons inspector, who now heads the Institute for Science and International Security, similarly explains to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “The view in Vienna in the summer of 2001 was ‘Maybe this guy has a clever idea, but he really is just grabbing at almost straws to prove his case, and when he’s debunked in one model, he then shifts it and tries to make his information fit another centrifuge model.’ And yet whenever you confronted him with the facts or the weaknesses in argument, he always came back with the same answer—‘It’s only for centrifuges.’” When Turner returns to Washington, he tells his superiors at the CIA that the IAEA agrees with his theory. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003] But scientists at the IAEA send a summary of their views on the tubes to the US government on July 27, saying that although the tubes could possibly be used in a gas centrifuge application, they were not directly suited for that purpose. [United Kingdom, 7/14/2004 ; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
CIA Director George Tenet will recall in his 2007 book that “during one of my updates in late July when, as we speculated about the kind of [al-Qaeda] attacks we could face, Rich B. suddenly said, with complete conviction, ‘They’re coming here.’ I’ll never forget the silence that followed.” Rich B. is the alias Tenet uses for Richard Blee, the official who oversees Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at this time (see June 1999 and Between Mid-January and July 2000). It is not known who else is at the meeting. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 158]
Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Muttawakil. [Source: Reuters]Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil learns that bin Laden is planning a “huge attack” on targets inside America. The attack is imminent, and will kill thousands. He learns this from Tahir Yuldashev, top leader of the rebel Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is allied with al-Qaeda at the time. Yuldashev apparently is worried that a large al-Qaeda attack will lead to a US attack on Afghanistan, which would threaten the IMU’s safe haven there. Muttawakil sends an emissary to pass this information on to the US consul general, and another US official, “possibly from the intelligence services,” also attends the meeting. The message is not taken very seriously; one source blames this on “warning fatigue” from too many warnings. In addition, the emissary supposedly is from the Foreign Ministry, but did not say the message came from Muttawakil himself. The emissary then takes the message to the Kabul offices of UNSMA, the political wing of the UN. They also fail to take the warning seriously. [Independent, 9/7/2002; Reuters, 9/7/2002]
CIA Director George Tenet has been alarmed all summer about the rise in attack warnings (see Summer 2001). As Tenet later tells the 9/11 Commission, in his world “the system was blinking red.” By late July,
Tenet believes that the level of alarm could not “get any worse.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259]
CBS later reports, in a long story on another topic: “Just days after [Mohamed] Atta return[s] to the US from Spain, Egyptian intelligence in Cairo says it received a report from one of its operatives in Afghanistan that 20 al-Qaeda members had slipped into the US and four of them had received flight training on Cessnas. To the Egyptians, pilots of small planes didn’t sound terribly alarming, but they [pass] on the message to the CIA anyway, fully expecting Washington to request information. The request never [comes].” [CBS News, 10/9/2002] This appears to be just one of several accurate Egyptian warnings from their informants inside al-Qaeda. Around this time, word of the upcoming 9/11 attacks is spreading widely in the training camps in Afghanistan. For instance, in a recorded speech played at one of the camps, Osama bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001).
Ayman al-Zawahiri. [Source: FBI]The US receives intelligence that bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is receiving medical treatment at a clinic in Sana’a, Yemen. However, the Bush administration rejects a plan to capture him, as officials are not 100 percent sure the patient is al-Zawahiri. Officials later regret the missed opportunity. [ABC News, 2/20/2002] In another account, an anonymous CIA source claims that the “Egyptian intelligence service briefed us that he was in a hospital in Sana’a. We sent a few people over there, and they made a colossal screwup. While our guys were conducting a surveillance of the hospital, the guards caught them with their videocameras.” [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] CIA Director Tenet will touch on this incident in his 2007 book, saying that only that on July 24, 2001, “we had reporting that al-Zawahiri was in Yemen and we were pursuing confirmation and a plan to exfiltrate him to the United States. Although we doubted this information, it was out intention to play this hand out.” He doesn’t mention what happened after that. [Tenet, 2007] Al-Zawahiri also appears to have spent time in Yemen in 1998 (see Spring-Summer 1998).
The FAA issues another alert to US airlines. It mentions “reports of possible near-term terrorist operations… particularly on the Arabian Peninsula and/or Israel.” It states the FAA has no credible evidence of specific plans to attack US civil aviation, but notes that some “currently active” terrorist groups are known to “plan and train for hijackings” and are able to build and conceal sophisticated explosive devices in luggage and consumer products. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259] This alert will expire by 9/11. Note that pilots and flight attendants later claim they were never told about warnings such as these. The airlines also disagree about the content of pre-9/11 warnings generally. [CNN, 3/2002; Ananova, 5/17/2002] For instance, American Airlines states these warnings were “extremely general in nature and did not identify a specific threat or recommend any specific security enhancements.” [Ananova, 5/17/2002 Sources: American Airlines]
[Source: Publicity photo]David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial and the lawyer for FBI agent Robert Wright since September 1999, will later claim that he was warned about an upcoming al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan in May 2001 (see May 2001). After May, Schippers continues to get increasingly precise information about this attack from FBI agents in Chicago and Minnesota, and around July he renews efforts to pass the warning to politicians. He will claim, “I tried to see if I could get a Congressman to go to bat for me and at least bring these people [to Washington] and listen to them. I sent them information and nobody cared. It was always, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ‘We’ll get back to you.’” At the same time he is attempting to pass on this warning, he will claim he is also attempting to pass on the work of reporter Jayna Davis and her theory that Middle Easterners were involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and also Wright’s claim that Hamas operatives were operating freely inside the US (see February-March 2001). The three claims put together seem to lead to a bad response; Schippers later comments, “People thought I was crazy.” Around July 15, he attempts to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft. Conservative activist “Phyllis Schlafly finally apparently made some calls. She called me one day and said, ‘I’ve talked to John Ashcroft, and he’ll call you tomorrow.’” The next day, one of Ashcroft’s underlings in the Justice Department calls him back and says, “We don’t start our investigations with the Attorney General. Let me look into this, and I’ll have somebody get back to you right away.” Schippers will say he never did hear back from anyone in the Justice Department. Perhaps coincidentally, on July 26 it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial aircraft due to an unnamed threat (see July 26, 2001). In late August, his FBI agent sources again confirm that an al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan is imminent. [WorldNetDaily, 10/21/2001; Indianapolis Star, 5/18/2002; Ahmed, 2004, pp. 258-260] In 2003, Wright will say, “In 2000 and in 2001, [Schippers] contacted several US congressmen well before the September 11th attacks. Unfortunately, these congressmen failed to follow through with Mr. Schippers’ request that they investigate my concerns.” It is not clear if Wright was one of the Chicago FBI agents that Schippers claims gave warnings about a Manhattan attack, or if Wright is only referring to Wright’s investigation into funding for Hamas and other groups that Schippers was also warning politicians about (see February-March 2001). [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Department of Justice, Al-Qaeda, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Phyllis Schlafly, John Ashcroft, Hamas, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Schippers, Jayna Davis
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Jordanian intelligence (the GID) makes a communications intercept deemed so important that King Abdullah’s men relay it to Washington, probably through the CIA station in Amman. To make doubly sure the message gets through it is passed through an Arab intermediary to a German intelligence agent. The message states that a major attack, code named “The Big Wedding,” is planned inside the US and that aircraft will be used. “When it became clear that the information was embarrassing to Bush administration officials and congressmen who at first denied that there had been any such warnings before September 11, senior Jordanian officials backed away from their earlier confirmations.” The Christian Science Monitor will call the story “confidently authenticated” even though Jordan has backed away from it. [International Herald Tribune, 5/21/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 5/23/2002] It has been reported elsewhere that in July 2001, Jordan warns the US that al-Qaeda is planning an attack inside the US, but it is unknown if this is referring to the same warning or a separate one (see July 2001).
In late July 2001, the king of Jordan will offer the US to send two battalions of Jordanian special forces to Afghanistan to eliminate al-Qaeda havens there (see July 24, 2001). Also in July 2001, Jordan briefly detains and interrogates Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who is 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).
The CIA sends a message to the FAA asking the FAA to advise corporate security directors of US airlines, “A group of six Pakistanis currently based in La Paz, Bolivia may be planning to conduct a hijacking, or possibly a bombing or an act of sabotage against a commercial airliner. While we have no details of the carrier, the date, or the location of this or these possibly planned action(s), we have learned the group has had discussions in which Canada, England, Malaysia, Cuba, South Africa, Mexico, Atlanta, New York, Madrid, Moscow, and Dubai have come up, and India and Islamabad have been described as possible travel destinations.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002] In late July, the government of Bolivia arrested six Pakistanis, though it is not clear if they are the same six or an additional six. One of them appeared to be related to Mir Aimal Kasi, a militant who killed two CIA employees in front of CIA headquarters in 1993 (see January 25, 1993). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156] The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later note, “While this information was not related to an attack planned by al-Qaeda, it did alert the aviation community to the possibility that a hijacking plot might occur in the US shortly before the September 11 attacks occurred.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002] It has not been reported if the FAA actually passed this message on to the US airlines or not. There have been no reports of any extra security measures taken by the airlines, airports, or the FAA in the month before 9/11 in places such as New York City and Atlanta.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warns the US that suicide pilots are training for attacks on US targets. [Fox News, 5/17/2002] The head of Russian intelligence Nikolai Patrushev also later states, “We had clearly warned them” on several occasions, but they “did not pay the necessary attention.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/2001] A Russian newspaper on September 12, 2001, will claim, “Russian Intelligence agents know the organizers and executors of these terrorist attacks. More than that, Moscow warned Washington about preparation to these actions a couple of weeks before they happened.” Interestingly, the article will claim that at least two of the militants were Muslim radicals from Uzbekistan. [Izvestia, 9/12/2001]
Former CIA agent Robert Baer is advising a prince in a Persian Gulf royal family, when a military associate of this prince passes information to him about a “spectacular terrorist operation” that will take place shortly. He is given a computer record of around 600 secret al-Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The list includes ten names that will be placed on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list after 9/11. He is also given evidence that a Saudi merchant family had funded the USS Cole bombing on October 12, 2000, and that the Yemeni government is covering up information related to that bombing. At the military officer’s request, he offers all this information to the Saudi Arabian government. However, an aide to the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan, refuses to look at the list or to pass the names on (Sultan is later sued for his complicity in the 9/11 plot in August 2002). Baer also passes the information on to a senior CIA official and the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, but there is no response or action. Portions of Baer’s book describing his experience wil be blacked out, having been censored by the CIA. [Baer, 2002, pp. 55-58; Financial Times, 1/12/2002]
US intelligence learns of a plot to either bomb the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, from an airplane or crash an airplane into it. Two people who were reportedly acting on instructions from bin Laden met in October 2000 to discuss this plot. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
David Edger. [Source: Public domain]David Edger, a high-ranking CIA officer who was previously station chief in Berlin, Germany (see May 1997), joins the political science department of the University of Oklahoma at Norman as a visiting scholar.
Appointment Arranged by CIA Director's Mentor - An announcement says that the appointment was arranged by the university’s president David Boren: “David Edger has joined us as a CIA officer in residence. Mr. Edger most recently was stationed at the US Embassy in Berlin as minister-counselor for coordination, where he directed both military and civilian US intelligence programs in Germany. During the two-year assignment, Mr. Edger will teach courses related to the US intelligence community and foreign policy. President David Boren arranged for his participation at OU.” [Newsletter of the Department of Political Science, The University of Oklahoma, 9/2001] David Boren is a former Democratic senator who headed the Senate’s intelligence committee for many years. There, Boren acted as mentor to CIA Director George Tenet, who was a Senate staffer before joining the CIA. They have maintained a close relationship: Boren and Tenet were having breakfast together in Washington on the morning of 9/11 (see (Before 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Involved in Surveillance of Hamburg Cell - Edger’s appointment may have been connected to his previous duties in Germany, where, during the years 1997-2001, he directed CIA surveillance and infiltration attempts against the Hamburg cell of 9/11 hijackers. A 2002 article in a local newspaper makes clear that Edger, or possibly other intelligence officers, had some inside but incomplete foreknowledge of al-Qaeda’s plans: “Up until his appointment with OU six months ago, Edger’s work with the CIA focused on terrorist groups in Germany. One of the three cells he was tracking included some of the people responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He said although officers knew members of the cell and some of what they were doing, they had no idea that they would meet in London and go to different parts of the US, where they would learn to fly planes to crash into the World Trade Center. ‘In that case, we failed,’ Edger said.” (See February 12, 2002.) [Norman Transcript (Oklahoma), 2/12/2002]
Several 9/11 Links to Oklahoma - Numerous 9/11 figures have connections to Oklahoma, and specifically to OU’s campus in Norman, including Zacarias Moussaoui (see Between February 23, 2001 and June 2001, February 23-June 2001, and July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001), his associate Hussein al-Attas (see August 10-11, 2001), Nick Berg (see Autumn 1999), and lead hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi who reportedly sought flight training at the nearby Airman Flight School (see July 2-3, 2000 and August 1, 2001).
Post-9/11 Comments - After 9/11, Edger will make numerous public statements supporting the war on terror and the Iraq War. The Tulsa World will report in October, 2001: “‘Americans are looking for simple assurances, hoping human intelligence can warn of the next attack,’ said Dr. David Edger, a specialist in espionage operations, paramilitary activities and counter-terrorism. ‘Getting that human intelligence is not simple. Great patience is required, and classic spy recruitment does not work in such hostile environments,’ said Edger, who served 39 years in the CIA. ‘The war will last many years, and we will never be sure when it ends,’ Edger predicted.” [Tulsa World (Oklahoma), 10/12/2001; Tulsa World (Oklahoma), 11/9/2001; Tulsa World (Oklahoma), 3/25/2002; Norman Transcript (Oklahoma), 10/11/2006]
The NSA has been intercepting calls between at least two 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by al-Qaeda operative Ahmed al-Hada over an approximately 18-month period before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). According to MSNBC, the final intercepted call comes “only weeks” before 9/11. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Around the same time there is great alarm in the US intelligence community over a communications intercept in Yemen indicating there was going to be a major al-Qaeda attack against US interests (see June 30-July 1, 2001). Further, the investigation of the USS Cole bombing has reignited interest in Almihdhar and Alhazmi on the part of the US intelligence community since at least June 2001 (see June 11, 2001 and July 13, 2001). The two of them are placed on an international no-fly list in late August (see August 23, 2001).
Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra is reportedly arrested by Turkish intelligence in Turkey and then let go. It will later appear that Sakra was an informant for the CIA, Turkish intelligence, and Syrian intelligence before 9/11. He appears to have begun working for the CIA and Turkish intelligence in 2000 (see 2000). Sakra will later claim to have been arrested and quickly released twice by Turkish intelligence. It seems the first time was in 2000 and this was the second time. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] It would make sense that he was released at this time if he was a secret informant for Turkey. It will later come to light that Sakra had some foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks and warned Syrian intelligence about them one day before the attacks (see September 10, 2001). But it is not known if he used this arrest to warn Turkish intelligence and/or the CIA as well.
A neighbor of Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who had frequent contact with future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour in San Diego and/or Virginia (see March 2001 and After), will later claim that, in the first week of August 2001, al-Awlaki knocks on his door and tells him he is leaving for Kuwait. “He came over before he left and told me that something very big was going to happen, and that he had to be out of the country when it happened,” the neighbor says. [Newsweek, 7/28/2003] The neighbor, Lincoln W. Higgie, lives in San Diego, California, and has long been friendly with al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki had already moved to Virginia earlier in the year (see March 2001 and After), but apparently he is briefly stopping by San Diego. Higgie will later recall that he tells al-Awlaki to visit if he is ever in the area. Al-Awlaki replies: “I don’t think you’ll be seeing me. I won’t be coming back to San Diego again. Later on you’ll find out why.” [New York Times, 5/8/2010]
At some time in August 2001, Zacarias Moussaoui calls Naamen Meziche, who is an apparent member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers. Moussaoui is in the US and will be arrested and imprisoned on August 16 (see August 16, 2001). Although it is not specified in news reports, presumably Moussaoui makes the call before his arrest, while he still is able to make calls. Meziche’s phone number is written on a piece of paper among Moussaoui’s belongings. FBI officials will not be allowed to search Moussaoui’s possessions until after 9/11. Presumably, if they had been able to, the call and phone number could have helped point investigators to the Hamburg cell and hijackers. Meziche is the son-in-law of Mohammed Fazazi, the radical imam of the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, regularly attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers (see 1993-Late 2001). He is also said to be a friend of hijacker Mohamed Atta. Meziche’s role in the Hamburg cell will only emerge after he is killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2010 (see October 5, 2010). [Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2010] Before 9/11, German investigators are monitoring some members of the Hamburg cell (see for instance November 1, 1998-February 2001). Had that investigation widened to include Meziche, the call from Moussaoui could have been detected and changed the investigation of Moussaoui in the US.
The CIA has “developed general information a month before the [9/11] attacks that heightened concerns that Osama bin Laden and his followers were increasingly determined to strike on US soil,” the Associated Press will later report. A CIA official will affirm, “There was something specific in early August that said to us that [bin Laden] was determined in striking on US soil.” [Associated Press, 10/3/2001] Further details about this information will remain unknown. However, the October 2001 article mentioning it could be describing an early, incomplete account of the CIA-produced Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” from August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001). The full title of that PDB will be made public in May 2002 (see May 15, 2002), and the full text of it will be made public in April 2004 (see April 11, 2004).
Randy Glass. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]Randy Glass, a former con artist turned government informant, will later claim that he contacts the staff of Senator Bob Graham (D-NY) and Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) at this time, and warns them of a plan to attack the World Trade Center, but his warnings are ignored. [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002] Glass also tells the media at the present time that his recently concluded informant work has “far greater ramifications than have so far been revealed,” and, “potentially, thousands of lives [are] at risk.” [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 8/7/2001] Glass was a key informant in a sting operation involving Pakistani ISI agents who were illegally trying to purchase sophisticated US military weaponry in return for cash and heroin. He will claim that in July 1999, one ISI agent named Rajaa Gulum Abbas pointed to the WTC and said, “Those towers are coming down.” [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002] Most details will apparently remain sealed. For instance Glass will claim that his sealed sentencing document dated June 15, 2001, lists threats against the WTC and Americans but, according to Glass, “[t]he complaints were ordered sanitized by the highest levels of government.” [WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach), 8/5/2002] Florida State Senator Ron Klein, who has dealings with Glass before 9/11, will say he is surprised it took so many months for the US to listen to Glass. “Shame on us,” he will say. [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002] Klein will recall getting a warning from Glass, though he cannot recall if it mentions the WTC specifically. He will say he was told US intelligence agencies would look into it. [WPTV 5 (West Palm Beach), 10/7/2002] Graham will later acknowledge that his office has contact with Glass before 9/11, and is told about a WTC attack, saying, “I was concerned about that and a dozen other pieces of information which emanated from the summer of 2001.” However, Graham will say that he personally is unaware of Glass’s information until after 9/11. [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002] In October 2002, Glass will testify under oath before a private session of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, and tell it that he has “specific evidence, and I can document it.” [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002]
Abdulaziz Alomari. [Source: FBI]9/11 hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari tests airline security while flying across the US. He boards USAir flight 608 from Las Vegas to New York City. Before the flight takes off, he tells a flight attendant that he is a pilot and wants to sit in the jumpseat (a spare seat in the cockpit) to observe the pilots for the whole flight. When asked for his pilot credentials, he says he is just a student pilot. Alomari is allowed in the cockpit, but only for a short while before take-off. The pilots get the impression he doesn’t know much about flying. Half way through the flight, he tries to get back into the cockpit by claiming that he’d lost a valuable pen while in there earlier, but he is not allowed back in. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 296-297] Although this story is not confirmed by other sources, several of the hijackers do fly to and from Las Vegas at this time (see May 24-August 14, 2001 and August 1, 2001). Apparently the hijackers repeatedly attempt to ride on jumpseats in the summer of 2001 and are sometimes successful, sometimes not (see Summer 2001). Some news stories after 9/11 will allege that the hijackers did use jumpseats on 9/11 (see November 23, 2001).
After CIA analyst Joe Turner’s presentation to UN atomic energy scientists (see Late July 2001), one of the scientists calls David Albright, a nuclear physicist who runs the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, and warns him that the “people across the river [i.e., the CIA] are trying to start a war. They are really beating the drum. They want to attack.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 37]
A senior official in the Taliban’s defense ministry tells journalist Hamid Mir that the US will soon invade Afghanistan. Mir will later recall that he is told, “[W]e believe Americans are going to invade Afghanistan and they will do this before October 15, 2001, and justification for this would be either one of two options: Taliban got control of Afghanistan or a big major attack against American interests either inside America or elsewhere in the world.” Mir reports this information before 9/11, presumably in the newspaper in Pakistan that he works for. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 287] Interestingly, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar made a similar prediction to Mir several months before (see April 2001). Also, several weeks earlier, US officials reportedly passed word to Taliban officials in a back channel meeting that the US may soon attack Afghanistan if the Taliban do not cooperate on building an oil and gas pipeline running through the country. According to one participant in the meeting, the US attack would take place “by the middle of October at the latest” (see July 21, 2001).
Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali. [Source: Marco Stepniak / Bild]Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah telephones Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, an imam and an Islamic Jihad leader wanted for murder in Egypt. No details about the call are known except that it lasts 13 minutes. Jarrah also called Ali in November 1999 (see November 7, 1999). Ali was convicted of murder in Egypt in 1996, but he fled to Muenster, Germany, and received political asylum there in October 1999. Also in October 1999, Ali was on a published list of the Egyptian government’s most wanted terrorists (see October 2, 1999), and he is said to be a close associate of al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Jarrah’s two phone calls to Ali will be mentioned in a classified 2002 FBI report about the 9/11 hijackers, but it is unclear how or when the FBI learns about the calls. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/11/2002; Vidino, 2006, pp. 230; Bild, 3/10/2011]
Ali Attended a Monitored Terror Summit in Italy - On August 12, 2000, Ali attended a terrorist summit in Bologna, Italy, that lasted for several days and was monitored by the Italian government (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After). Also attending the summit were Mahmoud Es Sayed, another close associate of al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000) and Yemeni government official Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. On their way to the summit, Es Sayed and Abdulrahman were overheard discussing an attack using aircraft, indicating they have some level of foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000). Also attending the summit was Mohammed Fazazi, the imam of the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, that Jarrah and other members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell regularly attend (see Early 1996 and (April 1, 1999)). Fazazi will be convicted of a role in a bombing in Casablanca, Morocco, in 2003 (see May 16, 2003). The summit was organized by the Islamic Cultural Institute, which is the epicenter of an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, that was heavily monitored by the Italian government at the time (see 2000). [Vidino, 2006, pp. 230] It is not known if the Italian government warned the German government of Ali’s presence at this summit, or if Ali was monitored by anyone in Germany after it.
Asylum Status Later Stripped - Beginning in 2007, the German government will attempt to strip Ali of his asylum status because of his link to Islamic Jihad. He will lose that status in 2011, but is not subsequently deported from Germany. [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 3/9/2011; Bild, 3/10/2011]
The CIA officers who draft a presidential daily briefing (PDB) item given to George Bush on August 6 (see August 6, 2001) ask an FBI agent for additional information and also to review a draft of the memo, but she does not provide all the additional information she could. The 9/11 Commission will refer to the FBI agent as “Jen M,” so she is presumably Jennifer Maitner, an agent with the Osama bin Laden unit at FBI headquarters. The purpose of the memo is to communicate to the president the intelligence community’s view that the threat of attacks by bin Laden is both current and serious. But Maitner fails to add some important information that she has: around the end of July, she was informed of the Phoenix memo, which suggests that an inordinate number of bin Laden-related Arabs are taking flying lessons in the US (see July 10, 2001). She does not link this to the portion of the memo discussing aircraft hijackings. Responsibility for dealing with the Phoenix memo is formally transferred to her on August 7, when she reads the full text. The finished PDB item discusses the possibility bin Laden operatives may hijack an airliner and says that there are “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings.” It is unclear whether the draft PDB item Maitner reviews contains this information. However, if it does, it apparently does not inspire her to take any significant action on the memo before 9/11, such as contacting the agents in Phoenix to notify them of the preparations for hijackings (see July 27, 2001 and after). The PDB will contain an error, saying that the FBI was conducting 70 full field investigations of bin Laden-related individuals (see August 6, 2001), but this error is added after Maitner reviews the draft, so she does not have the opportunity to remove it. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260-2, 535; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 69-77 ]
President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings. [Source: White House]President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002] The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. [Washington Post, 4/10/2004] The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
“We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223] According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. [Washington Post, 5/18/2002]
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001).
Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” [New York Times, 5/25/2002] In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Islamic Jihad, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles International Airport, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, World Trade Center, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Ahmed Ressam, Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
According to journalist and author Ron Suskind, just after a CIA briefer presents President Bush with the later infamous PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001), Bush tells the briefer, “You’ve covered your ass, now.” This account is from Suskind’s 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, which is based largely on anonymous accounts from political insiders. In the book, after describing the presentation of the PDB, Suskind will write: “And, at an eyeball-to-eyeball intelligence briefing during this urgent summer, George W. Bush seems to have made the wrong choice. He looked hard at the panicked CIA briefer. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘You’ve covered your ass, now.’” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 2; Washington Post, 6/20/2006]
The CIA’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) given to President Bush on this day (see August 6, 2001) contains the important line, “The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related.” Bush will state in 2004 that, based on this, “I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into.” National Security Adviser Rice will explain that since the FBI had 70 “full-field investigations under way of cells” in the US, “there was no recommendation [coming from the White House] that we do something about” the large number of warnings coming in. However, the number and content of the FBI investigations appears grossly exaggerated. The FBI later will reveal that the investigations are not limited to al-Qaeda and do not focus on al-Qaeda cells. Many were criminal investigations, which typically are not likely to help prevent future terrorist acts. An FBI spokesman will say the FBI does not know how that number got into Bush’s PDB. The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The 70 full-field investigations number was a generous calculation that included fund-raising investigations. It also counted each individual connected to an investigation as a separate full-field investigation. Many of these investigations should not have been included, such as the one that related to a dead person, four that concerned people who had been in long-term custody, and eight that had been closed well before August 6, 2001.” [Newsday, 4/10/2004; Associated Press, 4/11/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 262, 535]
Bush being briefed at his ranch on August 6, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]On April 29, 2004, President Bush will testify before the 9/11 Commission, but almost no details of what he said will be publicly released. He testifies with Vice President Cheney, in private, not under oath, is not recorded, and the notes that the commissioners take are censored by the White House (see April 29, 2004). However, the 9/11 Commission will release a one paragraph summary of how Bush claims he responded to the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). The Commission recalls, “The President told us the August 6 report was historical in nature. President Bush said the article told him that al-Qaeda was dangerous, which he said he had known since he had become President. The President said bin Laden had long been talking about his desire to attack America. He recalled some operational data on the FBI, and remembered thinking it was heartening that 70 investigations were under way (see August 6, 2001). As best he could recollect, [National Security Adviser] Rice had mentioned that the Yemenis’ surveillance of a federal building in New York had been looked into in May and June, but there was no actionable intelligence (see May 30, 2001). He did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so. He said that if his advisers had told him there was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. That never happened.” The 9/11 Commission will conclude that they could find no evidence of any further discussions or actions taken by Bush and his top advisers in response to the briefing (see Between August 6 and September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260]
CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. [Source: GlobeXplorer]A fire lasting several hours leads to the forced evacuation of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. [Reuters, 8/8/2001] The fire is discovered on August 7 at around 5:45 p.m., in the northeast section of the agency’s older headquarters building, and more than 60 firefighters are involved in putting it out. It was reportedly caused by a workman at the top of an elevator shaft dropping a welder, which ignited wood at the bottom of the shaft. Both the older headquarters building and the agency’s new headquarters building nearby are evacuated. Following this fire, A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard—the executive director of the CIA since March this year—is dismayed to find that plans for an evacuation of the headquarters are patchy, and that some of the fire alarms do not work. In the ensuing month he therefore initiates regular fire drills and equips key agency officials with tiny walkie-talkies, meaning communication will still be possible should cell phones ever go out. Krongard declares that evacuating safely is to be more important than storing classified material, and has the agency’s computer network reprogrammed so an evacuation warning could be flashed on all computer screens. Journalist and author Ronald Kessler will describe the August 7 fire as being “fortuitous,” as little over a month later, on the morning of September 11, CIA Director George Tenet will order the evacuation of the headquarters building due to fears that it might be targeted (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). On that day, Tenet and other top officials will reconvene at an alternate location on the CIA campus, “[f]ollowing procedures laid out by Krongard after the fire.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 3/16/2001; Associated Press, 8/7/2001; Washington Post, 8/8/2001; Kessler, 2003, pp. 222-223]
The 9/11 Commission will later state that after the now famous “bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo is given to President Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), “We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the president and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the United States.” [Newsweek, 4/28/2005] 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later state to CNN,“[B]y the way, there’s a credible case that the president’s own negligence prior to 9/11 at least in part contributed to the disaster in the first place.… [I]n the summer of 2001, the government ignored repeated warnings by the CIA, ignored, and didn’t do anything to harden our border security, didn’t do anything to harden airport country, didn’t do anything to engage local law enforcement, didn’t do anything to round up INS and consular offices and say we have to shut this down, and didn’t warn the American people. The famous presidential daily briefing on August 6, we say in the report that the briefing officers believed that there was a considerable sense of urgency and it was current. So there was a case to be made that wasn’t made.… The president says, if I had only known that 19 Islamic men would come into the United States of America and on the morning of 11 September hijack four American aircraft, fly two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one into an unknown Pennsylvania that crashed in Shanksville, I would have moved heaven and earth. That’s what he said. Mr. President, you don’t need to know that. This is an Islamic Jihadist movement that has been organized since the early 1990s, declared war on the United States twice, in ‘96 and ‘98. You knew they were in the United States. You were warned by the CIA. You knew in July they were inside the United States. You were told again by briefing officers in August that it was a dire threat. And what did you do? Nothing, so far as we could see on the 9/11 Commission.” [CNN, 11/8/2004]
One day after President Bush receives a Presidential Daily Briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” a version of the same material is given to other top government officials. However, this Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) does not contain the most important information from Bush’s briefing. It does not mention that there are 70 FBI investigations into possible al-Qaeda activity, does not mention a May 2001 threat of US-based explosives attacks, and does not mention FBI concerns about recent surveillance of buildings in New York City. The Associated Press will report that this type of memo “goes to scores of Cabinet-agency officials from the assistant secretary level up and does not include raw intelligence or sensitive information about ongoing law enforcement matters” due to fear of media leaks. SEIBs were sent to many more officials during the Clinton administration. The Associated Press will also state that “some who saw the memo said they feared it gave policy-makers and members of the congressional intelligence committees a picture of the domestic threat so stale and incomplete that it didn’t provide the necessary sense of urgency one month before the Sept. 11 attacks.” [Associated Press, 4/13/2004] Attorney General John Ashcroft will later say he does not recall seeing the SEIB before 9/11 (see Between August 7 and September 10, 2001).
On August 7, 2001, a version of the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” given to President Bush the day before is sent to other top US officials (see August 7, 2001). This version, called an SEIB, has the same title as the PDB but contains less classified information. Attorney General John Ashcroft - the head of law enforcement in the US - will later claim that he does not remember seeing this SEIB before 9/11. He will say he was at a conference in Chicago at the time and he does not remember his staff briefing him about it later. In the Clinton administration, the attorney general was a regular recipient of the same PDB given to the president. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Ephraim Halevy was head of the Israeli Mossad from 1998 to 2002. [Source: Associated Press]At some point between these dates, Israel warns the US that an al-Qaeda attack is imminent. [Fox News, 5/17/2002] Reportedly, two high-ranking agents from the Mossad come to Washington and warn the FBI and CIA that from 50 to 200 terrorists have slipped into the US and are planning “a major assault on the United States.” They say indications point to a “large scale target,” and that Americans would be “very vulnerable.” They add there could be Iraqi connections to the al-Qaeda attack. [Daily Telegraph, 9/16/2001; Ottawa Citizen, 9/17/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001] The Los Angeles Times later retracts its story after a CIA spokesperson says, “There was no such warning. Allegations that there was are complete and utter nonsense.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001] Other newspapers do not retract it.
Pan Am International Flight School. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Although some staff at the Pan Am International Flight School became a little suspicious of Zacarias Moussaoui before he arrived (see August 11-15, 2001), within two days of his arrival at the school, Moussaoui’s behaviour makes his assigned instructor Clancy Prevost highly suspicious. This is because:
Moussaoui has only flown for under 60 hours, whereas the second least experienced student Prevost ever had had 10 times as many hours. This lack of experience means Moussaoui does not really understand the instruction; [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
When Moussaoui is asked what his goal is, he tells Prevost he wants to fly a 747 from London to New York, the same goal he gave in his original e-mail to the flight school. [Rake, 5/2005] This raises fears he has plans to hijack such a flight; [US Congress, 10/17/2002]
When Prevost relates a story about a charter flight in the Middle East where getting the doors open was a problem, the story causes Prevost to ask Moussaoui whether he is a Muslim and Moussaoui replies in a strange tone, “I am nothing.” This makes Prevost worry so much that he ends the session, goes back to his motel, and calls the flight school to express his reservations about Moussaoui. He talks to his manager in the morning and says, “We’ll care [about having trained Moussaoui] when there’s a hijacking and he knows how to throw the switches and put them in the right position and all the lawsuits start coming in when they figure out we taught him how to do this”;
Prevost then goes into a supervisors’ meeting and recommends calling the FBI, but becomes even more upset when he is told Moussaoui paid for his training in $100 bills.
As Moussaoui does not learn much during the day, Prevost invites him to observe a simulator session that evening, which Moussaoui does with interest. The following day Prevost meets the FBI, which has now been alerted by the school, and shares his feeling it would be a good idea to do a background check on Moussaoui. The FBI subsequently arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] Some claims later made about Moussaoui in the media may be inaccurate:
He is said to mostly practice flying in the air, not taking off or landing. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/21/2001; New York Times, 2/8/2002; Slate, 5/21/2002; New York Times, 5/22/2002] However, he is arrested after ground instruction and never flies the simulator, so it is unclear how this could happen. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] 9/11 Congressional Inquiry staff director Eleanor Hill will also later say that the reports saying he only wanted to pilot a plane in the air are untrue. [US Congress, 9/24/2002] In addition, the 9/11 Commission will comment, “Contrary to popular belief, Moussaoui did not say he was not interested in learning how to take off or land”; [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
It will be reported that he appears not to understand French, despite being from France, and does not specify the Middle Eastern country he says he comes from. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/21/2001; Washington Post, 1/2/2002] However, at the trial Prevost will recall that Moussaoui spoke good French and that Moussaoui told him he had both French and Moroccan passports. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
Prevost will later receive a controversial $5 million reward from the US Department of State’s Reward for Justice program. [Newsweek, 1/30/2008]
Two apparent associates of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete) and Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb), purchase tickets to fly to Pakistan on September 3, 2001. They will be joined on that flight by cell member Said Bahaji (see September 3-5, 2001). All three will disappear into Afghanistan thereafter. It is later discovered that Ahmed had been in e-mail contact with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003] Note that these purchases occur one day before Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest in Minnesota, suggesting the date for the 9/11 attacks was set before his arrest (see August 16, 2001).
Abdul Haq, a famous Afghan leader of the mujaheddin, returns to Peshawar, Pakistan, from the US. Having failed to gain US support, except for that of some private individuals such as former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Haq begins organizing subversive operations in Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/2/2001] He is later killed entering Afghanistan in October 2001, after his position is reportedly betrayed to the Taliban by the ISI.
The FBI’s Minneapolis field office tells the CIA that Zacarias Moussaoui will be arrested the next day (see August 16, 2001). The information is communicated to a CIA field office, which then informs the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters. The CTC searches for information on Moussaoui, but does not find anything. The CIA has information on Moussaoui at this point, but the information is related to one of Moussaoui’s aliases and the CIA apparently does not understand that the alias is used by Moussaoui (see April 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200-201]
[Source: US State Department]Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, says in a speech to the Department of Defense’s annual Convention of Counterterrorism, “We are going to be struck soon, many Americans are going to die, and it could be in the US.” Black later complains that top leaders are unwilling to act at this time unless they are given “such things as the attack is coming within the next few days and here is what they are going to hit.” [US Congress, 9/26/2002]
Immediately after learning of Zacarias Moussaoui’s suspicious behavior, Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit, one of the agents who arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), suspects he is preparing to hijack an airliner. He writes to a colleague, “That’s pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan.” [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/4/2006] Interviews with Moussaoui after his arrest will reinforce the Minneapolis FBI’s suspicions that he is involved in a wider terrorist plot against airliners (see August 16-17, 2001). And after interviewing Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas as well (see August 16, 2001), Samit is unequivocally “convinced… a hundred percent that Moussaoui [is] a bad actor, [is] probably a professional mujaheddin and this [is] not a joyride, that he [is] completely bent on the use of this aircraft for destructive purposes.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 114-5, 120-2 ] In the main initial memo from Samit to other FBI units, Samit describes Moussaoui as “extremely evasive” and “extremely agitated.” Samit also writes that Moussaoui appeared to by lying when he denied he had weapons training. Samit says, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui is an Islamic extremist preparing for some future act in furtherance of radical fundamentalist goals.” Samit expresses his belief Moussaoui is planning something with a 747-400. He is aware Moussaoui’s plan probably involves co-conspirators and writes “Moussaoui, al-Attas, and others yet unknown are conspiring to commit violations of [Federal anti-terrorism statutes],” and “there is reason to believe that Moussaoui and al-Attas are part of a larger international radical fundamentalist group.” Samit even suspects Moussaoui of two of the offenses he will eventually be charged with and plead guilty to (see April 22, 2005). The e-mail accompanying the main memo concludes, “[p]lease let me know a soon as [the Department] gives the go-ahead. We’re all counting on you!” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 120-2 ; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006]
In a 2007 book about the “Lackawanna Six” entitled The Jihad Next Door, author Dina Temple-Raston will write that al-Qaeda “shuttered the training camps in August 2001, leaving little sign of the encampments that once dotted the Pakistan-Afghan border.” After 9/11, the camps are not reopened. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 130] One article shortly after 9/11 suggests that bin Laden moves his training camps in Afghanistan “in the days before the attacks.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16/2001] Presumably the CIA notices. CIA Director George Tenet will later claim a group of men from an allied intelligence agency penetrated the camps not long before 9/11 (see Early September 2001), satellites are monitoring Afghanistan from the sky, and the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). FBI agent Jack Cloonan will also later say, “There were agents run into the camps” (see Before September 11, 2001).
Three Qatari men—Meshal Al Hajri, Fhad Abdulla, and Ali Al Fehaid—behave curiously in the weeks before 9/11, leading to later suspicions that they could have had some link to the 9/11 attacks.
Suspicious Behavior - The men fly from London to New York on August 15, 2001, and travel around the East Coast together. They visit the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, the White House, and various parts of Virginia, but it is unclear if they are simply tourists or are conducting surveillance on potential targets. On August 24, they fly from Washington to Los Angeles and check into a single room at a hotel near the airport. They pay with cash and are booked to leave on September 10, which they do. They spend about a week traveling within California with a United Arab Emirates man named Mohamed Al Mansoori. The hotel staff grow suspicious of the men because they notice pilot uniforms, laptops, and cardboard boxes addressed to Syria, Afghanistan, and Jordan in their room. This may not be that unusual, since pilots frequently stay at the hotel due to its proximity to the airport. But, according to a later US government document, the men also “had a smashed cellular phone in the room and a cellular phone attached by wire to a computer. The room also contained pin feed computer paper print outs with headers listing pilot names, airlines, flight numbers, and flight times.” Suspicions are further aroused because on the last few days of their stay, the men request that their room should not be cleaned. The staff are not alarmed enough to alert police, however. The men are scheduled to board American Airlines Flight 144 on September 10, from Los Angeles to Washington. This flight will be reassigned Flight 77 the next day and will crash into the Pentagon in the 9/11 attacks. However, the men do not take the flight, but instead fly directly from Los Angeles to London on a British Airways flight the same day, and then back to Doha, Qatar. [Daily Telegraph, 2/1/2011]
Link to 'Convicted Terrorist'? - In 2010, the names of the three men and Mansoori will appear in a State Department cable suggesting that they are still being investigated for a possible role in the 9/11 attacks (see February 11, 2010). The cable will state, “A subsequent FBI investigation revealed that the men’s plane tickets were paid for and their hotel reservations in Los Angeles, CA, were made by a convicted terrorist.” This is likely a reference to Fahed Alhajri, a Qatari who lived in Chesapeake, Virginia. News reports in 2002 will call Alhajri a suspected terrorist because of some items found in his possession when he is arrested as part of a visa fraud scheme that same year. For instance, he has photos of Osama bin Laden and the World Trade Center in his apartment, as well as a datebook with only one entry, written on 9/11 with the cryptic words, “Trackd the World Trade Center or the Pentagon Trackd for the Plane.” According to these news reports, he paid for the Los Angeles hotel room and plane fare of his brother Meshal Alhajri and two friends. Alhajri is one of the three Qatari men, and the friends presumably are the other two. But Fahed Alhajri cannot be called a “convicted terrorist,” because in 2003 he is convicted of visa fraud, not terrorism, and then he is deported. [New York Times, 5/10/2002; MSNBC, 2/2/2011]
Terrorists or Tourists? - The names of the three men will be included on an FBI list of over 300 people wanted for questioning in connection with the 9/11 attacks that is accidentally made public in late 2001 (see October 3, 2001). However, they never are questioned by the FBI, apparently because they left the US the day before 9/11 and never came back. Mansoori’s name is not on that list, but he will remain in the US, and he will be questioned by the FBI as part of a years-long investigation into his activities. The FBI will never come up with enough evidence to charge him, but he will be deported several years after 9/11. One US official will say, “I don’t think people were in love with him,” implying the FBI continued to have suspicions about him. In 2011, the 2010 cable mentioning the men will be made public, and The Telegraph will write: “It is not known whether the FBI believe that the men were simply assisting the hijackers or were a fifth cell who pulled out at the final moment. Alternatively, they may have been planning an attack on the West Coast of America or even London which was abandoned or went wrong.” But there is also the possibility they may simply have been tourists. [Daily Telegraph, 2/1/2011; MSNBC, 2/2/2011]
Some time before 9/11, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed learns that two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan in mid-August 2001. Bin Laden revealed to the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, that he had acquired nuclear material and wanted their help to turn it into a weapon (see Mid-August 2001). ISI Director Mahmood is said to have learned about this through military contacts, as several Pakistani generals sit on the board of directors of a charity run by the two scientists that assists the Taliban. For instance, Hamid Gul, a former director of the ISI, is the charity’s honorary patron and was in Afghanistan at the time of the meeting. However, the ISI does not warn the US or take any action against the scientists or their charity. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 310-311]
Entity Tags: Mahmood Ahmed, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Hamid Gul, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, 9/11 Timeline
Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi moves to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Elzahabi has a long association with al-Qaeda, and has just returned from Chechnya where he fought as a sniper (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). His “name was known to the FBI well before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to law enforcement officials who declined to be identified. He also was on a list of possible or suspected terrorists” circulated to foreign airlines and banks shortly after 9/11. [Fox News, 6/26/2004; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 6/30/2004] In fact, Canadian intelligence began investigating him for suspected militant ties in 1997, and the Boston FBI began investigating him in 1999, but lost track of him when he left the US later that year (see 1997 and 1999). He was connected to al-Qaeda operatives Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, and Bassam Kanj. He worked as a Boston taxi driver with them (see June 1995-Early 1999), and also fought with them in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). Fox News will later note that Elzahabi has a “potential link to Zacarias Moussaoui” since Moussaoui moved to Minneapolis in early August 2001 and is arrested on August 15, but no firm connection between the two has been shown. It has not been reported exactly when Elzahabi arrives in Minneapolis, but he applies for a commercial driver’s license on August 23, 2001. He is fingerprinted for a criminal background check at that time, which presumably would alert the FBI that he is living in Minneapolis if they do not know already. But it is not known if Minneapolis FBI agents, desperately trying to get a warrant for Moussaoui, are told about Elzahabi before 9/11. In January 2002, the FBI will run his name through a database. Despite the FBI’s knowledge of his al-Qaeda ties, he is cleared to get the license. This allows him to haul hazardous materials. His friend and al-Qaeda operative Nabil al-Marabh received a similar license the year before (see August 2000-January 2001). Elzahabi will apply for a license allowing him to carry general freight in September 2003 and he will get insurance clearance to start work in April 2004. However, he will be arrested by FBI that same month (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). [Fox News, 6/26/2004; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 6/30/2004]
A chart of Bruce Ivins’s night hours in 2000 and 2001. [Source: FBI]After keeping relatively consistent work hours for most of 2001, from mid-August through October 2001, scientist Bruce Ivins spends much more time working in the evenings and on the weekends. Security logs show him sometimes working in the B3 biosecurity chamber where the RMR-1029 anthrax spores that investigators will later believe are used in the 2001 anthrax attacks are kept. Sometimes he works past midnight and when no other researchers are there. Ivins will be asked about this surge of after-hours work in 2005 (see March 31, 2005). He will tell investigators that he was working late to escape troubles at home. The FBI will later find this explanation unconvincing and will suggest Ivins put together the anthrax attacks during these hours. [Washington Post, 8/7/2008] A Guardian article will later skeptically note, “[O]ddly enough, Ivins’ late-night hours began to spike in August of that same year, well before the 9/11 attacks, when the rest of the world, including even George Bush, was largely oblivious to threats of Muslim extremist-inspired terror… But still, perhaps it’s just a coincidence that both Ivins and Bin Laden had [terrorism] in mind in August of that year…” [Guardian, 8/11/2008]
Hussein al-Attas. [Source: Public domain]Hours after Zacarias Moussaoui is taken into custody in Minnesota, his friend and roommate Hussein al-Attas is interviewed by the FBI. The two men had recently driven together to Minnesota from Oklahoma (see August 10-11, 2001).
According to a summary of the interview written at the time, “Al-Attas indicated that Moussaoui believes that it is acceptable to kill civilians who harm Muslims and that he approves of martyrs.”
Al-Attas says Moussaoui talked about holy war every day when they roomed together.
When asked if he had ever heard Moussaoui make a plan to kill those who harm Muslims, “Al-Attas admit[s] that he may have heard him do so, but that because it is not in [al-Attas’] own heart to carry out acts of this nature, he claimed that he kept himself from actually hearing and understanding.”
Al-Attas says Moussaoui holds strong anti-American views and might be willing to act on his beliefs.
Al-Attas describes Moussaoui as so secretive that he refuses to give his full name, identifying himself only as “Shaqil.”
He also says that Moussaoui told him “true” Muslims must prepare themselves to fight and they should understand the suffering of Muslims in places like Palestine and Kosovo.
He mentions that he and Moussaoui are carrying fighting gloves and shin guards to practice martial arts as part of Moussaoui’s philosophy that Muslims should be ready to fight nonbelievers.
He has not heard Moussaoui mention any specific terrorist plot, but says that Moussaoui “is suspicious to me, too.”
FBI agents interview al-Attas again the following day, then charge him with violating the terms of his student visa by working at a mosque in Oklahoma, and arrest him. During the second interview, al-Attas says that Moussaoui follows the teachings of a sheikh whose name he would not disclose to him (see August 17, 2001). The agents contact FBI supervisors in Washington to seek approval to get a warrant to search Moussaoui’s computer. The supervisors are aware of what al-Attas said in the interview, but nevertheless they tell the Minnesota FBI agents that they do not want to attempt to get the warrant because it has not been shown that Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. The New York Times will note that the content of al-Attas’ interview “raise[s] new questions about whether top [FBI] officials… were aggressive enough in responding to that information.” [Washington Post, 1/31/2002; New York Times, 5/24/2002; Associated Press, 3/21/2006] Al-Attas will be arrested shortly after 9/11 and held as a material witness. He will later plead guilty to lying about Moussaoui. He lied in claiming that he did not know Moussaoui’s real name, lied about plans to go with Moussaoui to New York City in late August 2001, lied about Moussaoui’s desire to participate in holy war, and lied about a planned trip to speak to religious scholars who would encourage al-Attas to participate in holy war. He will be sentenced to time served, but will be kept imprisoned until the conclusion of Moussaoui’s trial in 2006 (see March 6-May 4, 2006). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/22/2002; Associated Press, 10/22/2002] It is also later revealed that Moussaoui had recently convinced al-Attas to fight in Chechnya in order to prepare for holy war. [Wall Street Journal, 2/4/2002] Furthermore, the person who attempts to post bond for al-Attas had been the subject of a full-field FBI international terrorism investigation in Oklahoma. This unnamed person was a recruiter for a radical Palestinian group and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] In post-9/11 media accounts, al-Attas is generally portrayed as someone who had been innocently and accidentally caught up with Moussaoui. But it appears that in the weeks before 9/11, US intelligence will consider the possibility that al-Attas may have been plotting with Moussaoui. For instance, a CIA cable that will be sent on August 24 is titled “Subjects Involved in Suspicious 747 Flight Training,” (see August 24, 2001) one that will be sent on August 28 has Moussaoui and al-Attas’ names as the title. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/22/2002; Associated Press, 10/22/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 540]
Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest. [Source: FBI]After being warned that Zacarias Moussaoui has raised suspicions at flight school (see August 11-15, 2001 and August 13-15, 2001), the FBI learns they can arrest him because he is in the US illegally. Four agents, Harry Samit, John Weess, Dave Rapp (all FBI) and Steve Nordmann (INS), drive to the Residence Inn, where Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas are staying. At the hotel Samit speaks on the phone to Joe Manarang from FBI headquarters; Manarang appeals for them to take the “cautious route” and not arrest Moussaoui. However, Samit refuses, as he has already notified the hotel clerk of their interest. Moussaoui is arrested around 4:00 p.m. on an immigration violation. At first Moussaoui shows the agents some documents, but then he becomes upset at missing his flight training. The FBI confiscates his belongings, including a computer laptop, but Moussaoui refuses permission for the belongings to be searched. A search of Moussaoui’s person yields a dagger with a two-inch blade, and another knife with a three-inch blade belonging to Moussoaui is found in the car. He also has boxing gloves and shin guards, and the arresting agents note he has prepared “through physical training for violent confrontation.” Al-Attas allows the agents to search his belongings and they believe al-Attas is in the US legally, so he is not arrested. However, al-Attas tells the FBI that Moussaoui is a radical religious Muslim and later makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be a terrorist (see August 16, 2001). [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006] Al-Attas is arrested the next day (see August 17, 2001).
A letter that Zacarias Moussaoui had in his possession when he was arrested. It is signed by Yazid Sufaat, whose apartment was used for a 9/11 planning meeting in January 2000 that was monitored by the authorities. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division] (click image to enlarge)After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested, the FBI wishes to search his possessions (see August 16, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001). According to a presentation made by FBI agent Aaron Zebley at Moussaoui’s trial, the belongings are sufficient to potentially connect Moussaoui to eleven of the 9/11 hijackers: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Fayez Banihammad, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Hamza Alghamdi, Satam Al Suqami, and Waleed Alshehri. The connections would be made, for example, through Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who spoke with Moussaoui on the telephone and wired him money (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001), and who was linked to three of the hijacker pilots from their time in Germany together (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). Bin al-Shibh also received money from Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, who was connected to hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad (see June 25, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] Moussaoui’s notebook contained two recognizable control numbers for the Western Union wire transfers from bin al-Shibh and, according to McClatchy newspapers, a check on these numbers “would probably have uncovered other wires in the preceding days” to bin al-Shibh from al-Hawsawi. [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/11/2007] The discovery of the eleven hijackers could potentially have led to the discovery of some or all of the remaining eight plot members, as they were brothers (Wail and Waleed Alshehri, Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi), opened bank accounts together (see May 1-July 18, 2001 and June 27-August 23, 2001), lived together (see March 2001-September 1, 2001), obtained identity documents together (see April 12-September 7, 2001 and August 1-2, 2001), arrived in the US together (see April 23-June 29, 2001), and booked tickets on the same four flights on 9/11 (see August 25-September 5, 2001).
Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, Waleed Alshehri, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ziad Jarrah, Wail Alshehri, Mohand Alshehri, Nawaf Alhazmi, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Mohamed Atta, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Abdulaziz Alomari, Hani Hanjour, Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alnami, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The FBI fails to inform its own head of the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui. It is unclear how this failure occurs. The highest FBI official to be informed of Moussaoui’s arrest is apparently Michael Rolince, head of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section (see Late August 2001), but it seems he fails to pass the information on. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275] Thomas Pickard, who is acting FBI director at this time, will later blame CIA director George Tenet, who was briefed repeatedly on the case (see August 23, 2001), for not informing him of Moussaoui’s arrest, but Tenet will comment: “I was stunned to hear [Pickard’s comments] suggesting that I had somehow failed to notify him about Moussaoui. Failed to tell him? Hell, it was the FBI’s case, their arrest. I had no idea that the Bureau wasn’t aware of what its own people were doing.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200-201]
Following the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI fails to brief the Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG) chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke at the National Security Council (NSC) on the case. CIA director George Tenet will later say that briefing the CSG on such an arrest is “standard practice.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200] In July 2001, Clarke had told the FBI he wanted to be informed of anything unusual, even if a sparrow fell from a tree (see Shortly After July 5, 2001).
After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested, he consents to be interviewed on the day of the arrest and the next day by FBI agent Harry Samit. However, the interviews only alarm the FBI more, as Moussaoui makes a number of suspicious statements and his answers are extremely evasive: [CNN, 9/28/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
Moussaoui says he does not want the French consul to be informed of his arrest, which makes the FBI think he is a criminal or an Islamic militant;
Although Moussaoui says he works for a British company called NOP, he cannot remember what the letters stand for, neither can he recall his salary, job description, or any details of the business; [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
He says he works as a “marketing consultant” for Infocus Tech, a Southeast Asian technology company, but also fails to provide information about that company; [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
When asked about his $32,000 bank balance, he initially says it is his savings, but then admits it was given to him by friends and associates, most of whose names he cannot remember (see August 17, 2001);
Moussaoui’s passport, which indicates he spent two months in Pakistan shortly before arriving in the US, is new and he tells the FBI his old one was destroyed in the washing machine, which the agents know is a common lie for international criminals.
When Samit asks Moussaoui about his trips to Pakistan and tells Moussaoui his story does not add up and they are suspicious, Moussaoui requests an attorney and the interview ends. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas is also interviewed around this time and makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be linked with a militant group (see August 16, 2001).
INS agent Steve Nordmann. [Source: INS]Immigration and Naturalization Service agent Steve Nordmann, one of the officers who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), presses for a warrant so that law enforcement bodies can search Moussaoui’s computer files. He will later write of his regret that they were not allowed to access Moussaoui’s laptop. More details are not known as Nordmann will die in a motorcycle accident in 2003 and will not testify at Moussaoui’s trial. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 6/28/2003; St. Cloud Times, 9/7/2003] FBI agents also press for a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 21, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001), which contain potentially enough information to prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). However, the warrant is blocked by the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters (see August 20-September 11, 2001).
Zacarias Moussaoui’s roommate, Hussein al-Attas, makes thirteen phone calls from jail to El Hadj Ndiaye, the imam of his local mosque in Norman, Oklahoma looking for assistance in raising money for his bond. Al-Attas was arrested and jailed shortly after Moussaoui was detained (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). Ndiaye reportedly becomes “very upset” when he hears that Moussoaui is going to be deported. According to an FBI translation of one of these conversations, Ndiaye says, “I heard you guys wanted to go on jihad.” Al-Attas responds, “Don’t talk about that now.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134, 167-8, 201 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] The Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters learns of the translated conversation on August 29 (see August 29, 2001), but the RFU chief downplays the significance of the reference to jihad. Two other people involved in posting the bond for al-Attas were the subject of counterterrorism investigations (see August 20, 2001 and August 23, 2001).
A US plan to snatch Osama bin Laden inside Afghanistan (see January 19, 2001) is revealed in the Pakistan press, after the US asks Pakistan for assistance with the plot. An article that runs in the Pakistan newspaper The News also says that the US and Pakistan have discussed a sting operation in Afghanistan using US special forces, but that Pakistan has advised Washington against it. After a UN resolution tightening sanctions against the Taliban, General Tommy Franks, commander-in-chief of US Central Command, discussed the plan with his Pakistani counterparts and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during a visit to Islamabad in January 2001 (see January 19, 2001). [United Press International, 8/17/2001] There is some suggestion that the operation is attempted, but only partially successful, after 9/11 (see (September 26, 2001)).
Towards the end of an interview with the FBI (see August 16-17, 2001), Zacarias Moussaoui discloses the name of one of his associates, Atif Ahmed. Moussaoui tells the FBI that Ahmed provided him with some money and that he associated with Ahmed’s brother in Pakistan. However, he cannot remember any details, such as Ahmed’s address or employment. The FBI’s Minneapolis field office immediately sends a lead to its legal attaché in London, asking him to follow up. However, information about Ahmed does not arrive in the US until “months later,” possibly November 2001, when Ahmed is arrested in Britain (see Mid-November 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] Moussaoui will later say that Ahmed is a spy working for the British, but the FBI and British authorities will deny this (see July 25, 2002).
CIA records show that CIA Director George Tenet briefed President Bush twice in August—once in Crawford, Texas, on August 17, and once in Washington, on August 31. [Washington Post, 4/15/2004] In Tenet’s 2007 book, he will briefly mention that “A few weeks after the August 6 PDB [titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US’ (see August 6, 2001)] was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events. That was my first visit to the ranch.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145] Later asked about what he told Bush at this meeting, Tenet will only say, “I held nothing back from the president. He understood our concerns about threats. He understood what we were doing around the world at the time.” [MSNBC, 5/7/2007] By the time of the second briefing, Tenet has been briefed about Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest (see August 23, 2001), but, apparently, he fails to tell Bush about it. [Washington Post, 4/15/2004] In April 2004, Tenet will testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission that he had no direct communication with President Bush during the month of August. [New York Times, 4/15/2004] This is quickly discovered to be untrue. A CIA spokesperson will then claim, “He momentarily forgot [about the briefings]” (see April 14, 2004). [Washington Post, 4/15/2004] Tenet will personally brief Bush six more times before 9/11 and will still apparently fail to mention Moussaoui to him (see September 1-8, 2001).
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