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With help from the US, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a German and Syrian citizen believed to be a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell with three of the 9/11 hijackers, is taken in secret to Syria. He had been arrested while visiting Morocco (see October 27-November 2001). When the German government learns of the arrest and transfer, it strongly protests the move. After his arrival in Syria, according to a former fellow prisoner, Zammar is tortured in the Far’ Falastin, or “Palestine Branch,” detention center in Damascus. [Daily Telegraph, 6/20/2002; Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 6/2004] The center is run by military intelligence and reportedly is a place “where many prisoners remain held incommunicado.” [Washington Post, 1/31/2003] His Syrian interrogators are reportedly provided with questions from their US counterparts. [Human Rights Watch, 6/2004] This is alleged by Murhaf Jouejati, Adjunct Professor at George Washington University, who tells the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that, “Although US officials have not been able to interrogate Zammar, Americans have submitted questions to the Syrians.” [911 Commission, 7/9/2003] In the “Palestine Branch” prison, Zammar is locked up in cell number thirteen. According to Amnesty International, the cell measures 185 cm long, 90 cm wide and less than two meters high. Zammar is said to be about six feet tall and now “skeletal” in appearance. [Amnesty International, 10/8/2004]
Agus Dwikarna. [Source: Christian Science Monitor]In October 2000, Agus Dwikarna, an Indonesian militant linked to al-Qaeda, helps establish the paramilitary organization Laskar Jundullah. It is modeled after Laskar Jihad, another paramilitary organization formed earlier (see January 1999-July 2001), except Laskar Jihad draws its recruits from the Indonesian island of Java whereas Laskar Jundullah draws its recruits from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Laskar Jundullah gathers about 2,000 recruits to central Sulawesi. Mostly using bats and machetes, they support local Muslims in violent conflicts with Christians near the town of Poso, which have been occurring off and on since 1998, with heavy casualties on both sides. [Human Rights Watch, 12/2002; Conboy, 2003, pp. 223-224] In the second half of 2001, some al-Qaeda linked figures begin helping Dwikarna and Laskar Jundullah:
Omar al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti, who is said to be a key go-between for al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah. Al-Faruq and Dwikarna hosted al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri when he visited Indonesia in 2000 (see June 2000).
Syeh Hussein, a.k.a. Rashid, a Saudi. He is al-Faruq’s handler and is said to have access to Osama bin Laden. He is posing as a representative of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation. Dwikarna is also posing as an Al Haramain employee (see June 2000). [Conboy, 2003, pp. 223-224]
Reda Seyam, a.k.a. Abu Daud, an Egyptian. He had fought with al-Qaeda in Bosnia in the early 1990s and also has links to key al-Qaeda figures, including having met directly with bin Laden. He had worked for the Twaik Group, said to be a front for the Saudi intelligence agency, and is in Indonesia working for Rawasin Media Productions, which is also said to be a Saudi intelligence front (see 1995-1998). [Conboy, 2003, pp. 223-224; Chicago Tribune, 3/31/2004]
On December 1, 2001, al-Faruq, Hussein, and Seyam meet with fifty Laskar Jundullah recruits near the town of Poso, in central Sulawesi. They present the recruits with weapons, including high quality M-16s and Uzis (which are very unavailable in Indonesia except from military or overseas sources). Near midnight, the group goes to Sepe, a small Christian village near Poso. They attack the village, burning about two hundred houses and killing an unknown number of people. The attack is filmed using night vision equipment. [Conboy, 2003, pp. 223-224] There are allegations that some Indonesian military units take part in the attack. Since 90% of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, most Indonesian soldiers are Muslim as well. Human Rights Watch will later comment, “there is evidence that [Indonesian] soldiers did engage the attackers in a fight [at Sepe], as three soldiers from Infantry Battalion 711 from Palu were reported in critical condition.” Around this time, Laskar Jundullah forces attack about seven other Christian villages in the region. There are reports the Indonesian military sometimes joins these attacks and at other times fails to help the attacked villages. These attacks are little noticed outside of Indonesia, and the involvement of al-Qaeda-linked figures will not be publicly revealed until later. But there is pressure within Indonesia for the government to do something. More military units are bought in several days after the Sepe attack, and they largely quell the violence. [Human Rights Watch, 12/2002] Around December 4, six suspicious foreign men, believed to be Islamist militants, are detained in the area and then let go. [BBC, 12/4/2001] Later that month, Laskar Jundullah is implicated in a bombing of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the city of Ujung Pandang, in southern Sulawesi. The group plans further attacks, but it is divided by internal squabbles. Dwikarna, who was not present in the Sepe attack, is upset at the others for recklessly filming themselves in the attack and then planning to use the footage for propaganda purposes. Seyam will be arrested in Indonesia late 2002 and footage of the Sepe attack apparently will be found with him. Dwikarna will be arrested in 2002 as well. His group, and the violence in Sulawesi, will generally come to an end that same year. [Human Rights Watch, 12/2002; Conboy, 2003, pp. 223-224]
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is allegedly first linked to the 9/11 plot around this time. According to an unnamed US counterterrorism official speaking to a reporter in June 2002 (see June 4, 2002), when KSM is first publicly identified as the 9/11 mastermind, “within three months” of 9/11, the FBI learns that KSM was involved in some financial transactions related to the funding of the 9/11 attacks. [Associated Press, 6/4/2002] KSM is also connected to the 9/11 hijackers in another way in November 2001 (see (November 2001)).
British national Tarek Dergoul and two Pakistani friends, who arrived in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001) to purchase houses, stay in the Afghan town of Jalalabad. That night, the house where they are sleeping is bombed, and Dergoul’s friends are killed in the blast. Dergoul goes outside when another bomb explodes nearby, wounding him with shrapnel. He then lies among the ruins, unable to walk, for at least a week. His left arm, hit with shrapnel, is severely damaged and a large part will later be amputated. At night the cold is so severe that his toes turn black from frostbite. Eventually, troops loyal to the Northern Alliance find him, treat him well and take him to a hospital where he undegoes three operations. But after five weeks, someone decides to make a profit on him. Dergoul is taken to an airfield, where a US helicopter arrives to pick him up. His captors are paid the standard fee of $5,000, according to Dergoul. From there, he is flown to the US air base at Bagram. [Observer, 5/16/2004]
In early September 2001, an Egyptian militant named Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed moves from Germany to Spain. By December, Spanish officials open an investigation about him after noticing he is in frequent contact with other Islamist militants. One month later, Spanish investigators notify German officials that they have Ahmed under surveillance and request information about his background. Ahmed apparently is aware he is under surveillance and tries to keep a low profile. [Washington Post, 11/14/2004] But through him, investigators led by judge Baltasar Garzon begin monitoring other militants he meets. In May 2002, they start tapping the phones of Fouad el Morabit and Basel Ghalyoun. In June, they realize Ahmed is in contact with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, who has already been under surveillance since 2000 (see October 19, 2001). They also learn at some point that he is in contact with the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah. Investigators lose track of el Morabit a near the end of 2002 when he changes phones. They also lose track of Ghalyoun aroun the same time because his conversations apparently are not interesting enough. Ahmed also moves to France. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/31/2005] However, in early 2003, investigators begin monitoring an apartment where all the suspects mentioned live or meet (see January 4, 2003). All of them will later be accused of being key players in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).
According to US military officials, the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu are used as prison ships to hold captives suspected of terrorist activities, including “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh (see December 14, 2001). Both vessels are operating in the Indian Ocean. The use of US naval vessels as prison ships is kept extremely secret; the press will not learn of the incidents for years, and even then, details will be sketchy. Questioned in 2004 about the use of US military ships as “floating prisons” (see June 2, 2008), Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem will say: “I don’t know the specifics. Central command determines for either medical considerations, for the protection of those individuals, for the isolation in the sense of not having forces that would try to come get somebody out of a detention center, for a security aspect, and obviously an interest to continue interrogation.” The US may also use ships in and around the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, to hold prisoners indefinitely and “off the books.” And the US may use its ships for what is called “extraordinary rendition”—the secret transportation of prisoners to foreign countries where they can be interrogated and tortured in ways proscribed by US law. US and British officials will repeatedly deny the use of Diego Garcia in any such “floating incarcerations” or renditions. [Guardian, 6/2/2008] One reason for the use of naval vessels as prison ships may be necessity: the US is capturing scores of prisoners in Afghanistan, but the first detainee facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will not open until January 2002 (see January 11, 2002).
Shortly after the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), suspicions focus on USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, as one of the few places where people would have the skills to make the anthrax. In December 2001, one USAMRIID scientist raises the issue of possible anthrax contamination in the lab. Another USAMRIID scientist, Bruce Ivins, takes it upon himself to investigate. He discovers traces of anthrax near his desk, which is away from the lab facilities where he and others work with anthrax and other dangerous substances. He swabs the area clean and decontaminates it. Then he delays filing a report about this for three months. The FBI is suspicious of this, and begins to consider Ivins as a possible suspect. But in sworn statements to the Army in May 2002, Ivins says he avoided filing a report because he did not want to cause an uproar in the facility with people worrying that they were contaminated. He also suggests that a sloppy lab technician could have spread anthrax from secured work spaces to unsecured ones including the desk area. The Army finishes a 300-plus page report that same month. The report concludes the anthrax contamination was accidental and not potentially deadly, and no discipline is recommended against anyone. But after Ivins’s death in 2008, the unnamed officer who wrote the report will say: “Of course I think [Ivins’s cleaning of the area] was a cover-up.… He was trying to clean up the material” used in the anthrax letters. The report is made available to the FBI, but it is unknown if the FBI makes use of it at the time. By this time, the FBI is more interested in investigating former USAMRIID scientist Steven Hatfill and they put aside their concerns about Ivins. Instead, Ivins remains deeply involved in assisting the FBI’s anthrax investigation (see April 2002). [ABC News, 8/1/2008; Los Angeles Times, 8/15/2008]
Senior State Department official and former CIA analyst Flynt Leverett proposes a new, pragmatic approach to the war on terror. He believes that Middle Eastern terrorism is more tactical than religious: for example, since Syria wants to reclaim the Golan Heights and lacks the military ability to wrest that territory from Israel, it relies on “asymmetrical methods,” including terror attacks, to work for its aims. If one accepts this viewpoint, Leverett argues, one accepts that nations like Syria are not locked in fanatical mindsets, and can be negotiated with. Leverett, with the support of senior State Department official Richard Haass, advises his boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, to draw up a “road map” to peace for the problem nations of the region—if a nation expels its terrorist groups and stops trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, the US will remove that nation from its list of terror sponsors and open a new era of cooperation with that nation. Powell takes the idea to a “Deputies Meeting” at the White House. The meeting includes Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy director of the CIA, a representative from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The neoconservatives—Hadley, Wolfowitz, Cheney’s representative—hate the idea, calling it a reward for bad behavior. Sponsors of terrorism should stop because it is the moral thing to do, they say, and until that happens, the US will not encourage their actions. After leaving the meeting, Hadley writes up a memo that comes to be known as “Hadley’s Rules.” They are simple: if a nation such as Iran or Syria offers assistance on a specific item or issue, the US will take it, but will give nothing and promise nothing in return, and the US will not attempt to build on that offer. Leverett believes Hadley’s memo is preposterous, sacrificing a chance at real progress for striking poses of moral purity. Shortly thereafter, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice offers him a position as senior director of Mideast affairs at the National Security Council; Leverett takes the job with the understanding that the Bush administration must begin real negotiations with Israel and Palestine. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, Flynt Leverett, Office of the Vice President, US Department of State, National Security Council, Richard Haass, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Groups of reporters watch US bombing in the Tora Bora region. [Source: CNN]Only about three dozen US soldiers take part in the Tora Bora ground offensive (see December 5-17, 2001). Author Peter Bergen will later comment, “If Fox and CNN could arrange for their crews to cover Tora Bora it is puzzling that the US military could not put more boots on the ground to find the man who was the intellectual author of the 9/11 attacks. Sadly, there were probably more American journalists at the battle of Tora Bora than there were US troops.” [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004]
Chicago FBI special agent Joel Robertz contacts FBI contract linguist Sibel Edmonds and asks her to review more than 40 wiretaps, some of which are several years old. The wiretaps include what Sibel believes are references to large scale drug shipments and other crimes. The targets of these recordings are individuals at Chicago’s Turkish Consulate and the American-Turkish Consulate, as well as members of the American-Turkish Council and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations. She also finds evidence of attempts to bribe members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, during the late 1990s (see Late 1990s-Early 2001). [Anti-War (.com), 8/15/2005; Vanity Fair, 9/2005]
Abu Qatada. [Source: Public domain]Al-Qaeda religious leader Abu Qatada disappears, despite being under surveillance in Britain. He has been “described by some justice officials as the spiritual leader and possible puppet master of al-Qaeda’s European networks.” [Time, 7/7/2002] He supposedly escapes from his house, which the police are monitoring, in a minivan with his heavily pregnant wife and four children. [London Times, 10/25/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 108] Qatada had already been sentenced to death in abstentia in Jordan, and is wanted at the time by the US, Spain, France, and Algeria as well. [Guardian, 2/14/2002] In October 2001, the media had strongly suggested that Qatada would soon be arrested for his known roles in al-Qaeda plots, but no such arrest occurred. [London Times, 10/21/2001] In November, while Qatada was still living openly in Britain, a Spanish judge expressed disbelief that Qatada hadn’t been arrested already, as he has previously been connected to a Spanish al-Qaeda cell that may have met with Mohamed Atta in July 2001. [Observer, 11/25/2001] Time magazine will later claim that just before new anti-terrorism laws go into effect in Britain, Abu Qatada and his family are secretly moved to a safe house by the British government, where he is lodged, fed, and clothed by the government. “The deal is that Abu Qatada is deprived of contact with extremists in London and Europe but can’t be arrested or expelled because no one officially knows where he is,” says a source, whose claims were corroborated by French authorities. The British reportedly do this to avoid a “hot potato” trial. [Time, 7/7/2002] A British official rejects these assertions: “We wouldn’t give an awful lot of credence [to the story].” [Guardian, 7/8/2002] Some French officials tell the press that Qatada was allowed to disappear because he is actually a British intelligence agent. [Observer, 2/24/2002] It appears that Qatada held secret meetings with British intelligence in 1996 and 1997, and the British were under the impression that he was informing on al-Qaeda (though there is disagreement if he was misleading them or not) (see June 1996-February 1997). Qatada will be arrested in London on October 23, 2002 (see October 23, 2002).
Wisam Ahmed, a young Jordanian who runs a clothes shop, traveled to Pakistan with his wife and newborn child for an annual religious pilgrimage in August 2001. As they are leaving for home, his bus is stopped at a checkpoint in Iran. Ahmed is forcibly removed because, as he later says, “they associated [my] headdress with al-Qaeda and must have overlooked the fact that it was also my national dress.” Through a process that will remain unexplained, the Iranian government turns Ahmed over to the US. In March 2002, Ahmed is immured in an Afghan prison he will call the “Dark Prison.” He will describe “unimaginable conditions that cannot be tolerated in a civilized society,” and spends 77 days there in a room that “was so dark that we couldn’t distinguish nights and days. There was no window, and we didn’t see the sun once during the whole time.” He is then moved to “Prison Number Three,” where the food is so bad he loses a significant amount of weight, and then transferred to Bagram Air Force Base for a 40-day stint, where the torture truly begins. According to his later statements, Ahmed is threatened by attack dogs, forced to watch torture videos, and intimidated in other ways. He later recalls: “[T]hey used to start up an electric saw and while they were sawing we would hear cries of agony. I thought they would cut me into pieces sooner or later.” He is later transferred to Guantanamo, where he will remain. [Future of Freedom Foundation, 4/27/2009]
Matthew Edmonds sitting in the kitchen where he and his wife Sibel claim their encounter with the Dickersons took place. [Source: Canal+]FBI translator Sibel Edmonds receives a call from co-worker Melek Can Dickerson, whom she barely knows. Dickerson says she and her husband Major Douglas Dickerson are in the area and would like to stop by for a visit. [Vanity Fair, 9/2005] Douglas is a US Air Force major who procures weapons from the US for various Central Asian and Middle Eastern governments. [Anti-War (.com), 8/15/2005] “I’m in the area with my husband and I’d love you to meet him. Is it OK if we come by?” Edmonds recalls Dickerson saying. When the couple arrives, Douglas Dickerson encourages Edmonds and her husband Matthew Edmonds to join the American-Turkish Council (ATC) and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA). Joining the organizations would get them tied in with a network of high-level people, including officials at the Turkish Embassy. When Sibel’s husband Michael suggests that there are probably strict eligibility requirements for becoming a member of this organization, Douglas says to Sibel, “All you have to do is tell them who you work for and what you do and you will get in very quickly.” Sibel attempts to steer the conversation toward another topic. As part of her job at the FBI, some of the wiretapped conversations she translates involve the very same people the Dickersons are describing as “high-level friends.” She is concerned that the ultimate goal of the Dickersons’ offer is to get Sibel involved in espionage and to help shield those groups from FBI surveillance. [Washington Post, 6/19/2002; CBS News, 10/25/2002; New York Observer, 1/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 9/2005] Major Dickerson brings up the name of a wealthy Turkish man living in nearby McLean, Virginia, who is involved with the ATC and has access to US military information. Sibel Edmonds is surprised because she recognizes his name from an investigation she is working on and knows that he is the target of an FBI counterintelligence operation. The Dickersons intimate that they are so close to this man that they shop for him and his wife. [Sperry, 2005, pp. 163] “They wanted to sell me for the information I could provide,” she later explains in an interview. They promised her she would receive enough to “live a very comfortable life wherever we wanted. We would never have to work again.” [Anti-War (.com), 7/1/2004]
The Observer publishes an article entitled, “Secret US Plan for Iraq War.” It states that the US is planning to remove Saddam Hussein from power by giving armed support to Iraqi opposition forces. It also says that President Bush has ordered the CIA and US military to prepare plans for a military operation that could start “within months.” The plan calls for “a combined operation with US bombers targeting key military installations while US forces assist opposition groups in the north and south of the country in a stage-managed uprising,” and one version of the plan would have US forces fighting on the ground. The trigger for the attack would be Iraq refusing to allow UN inspectors back in. The article notes that justification for a war based on alleged Iraqi links to the 9/11 attacks is fading, but US officials believe they can make a case based on Iraqi possession of WMDs instead. One European military source who recently returned from General Tommy Franks’s headquarters in Florida says: “The Americans are walking on water. They think they can do anything at the moment.” [Observer, 12/2/2001] The claim that the US is planning a “stage-managed uprising” will later be borne out. Right around this time, some CIA planners come up with a plan code-named Anabasis to create an uprising in Iraq (see Late November 2001 or December 2001).
The US Special Forces officer who questioned John Walker Lindh the day before ties his hands with rope and puts a hood over his head. Lindh is then driven back to Mazar-i-Sharif, where he is taken into a school building. For the next two to three days, Lindh will be kept blindfolded and bound in custody of the US military. He asks for the time of day, explaining that he needs to know for religious reasons. But he is told to shut up. US soldiers frequently call him “sh_tbag,” or “sh_thead.” He is fed military rations twice a day, which he feels is insufficient given his state of malnourishment. Requests for more food and more medical attention are refused. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] Throughout the week at the school, Lindh expresses concern about his bullet wound, which appears to be festering. On the first two days, he is visited twice by a Red Cross worker, who on December 3 gives him the opportunity to dictate a letter to his parents. It is faxed eight days later. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] For the rest of his incarceration at Mazar-i-Sharif, the Red Cross workers are prevented from seeing Lindh. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
On December 3, 2001, New York Times reporter Judith Miller telephones officials with the Holy Land Foundation charity in Texas and asks them to comment about what she says is a government raid on the charity planned for the next day. Then in a December 4, 2001, New York Times article, Miller writes that President Bush is about to announce that the US is freezing the assets of Holy Land and two other financial groups, all for supporting Hamas. US officials will later argue that Miller’s phone call and article “increased the likelihood that the foundation destroyed or hid records before a hastily organized raid by agents that day.” Later in the month, a similar incident occurs. On December 13, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon telephones officials at the Global Relief Foundation in Illinois and asks them to comment about an imminent government crackdown on that charity. The FBI learns that some Global Relief employees may be destroying documents. US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had been investigating the charities. He had been wiretapping Global Relief and another charity in hopes of learning evidence of criminal activity, but after the leak he changes plans and carries out a hastily arranged raid on the charity the next day (see December 14, 2001). Fitzgerald later seeks records from the New York Times to find out who in the Bush administration leaked information about the upcoming raids to Miller and Shenon. However, in 2005 Fitzgerald will lose the case. It is still not known who leaked the information to the New York Times nor what their motives were. Ironically, Fitzgerald will succeed in forcing Miller to reveal information about her sources in another extremely similar legal case in 2005 involving the leaking of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. [New York Times, 12/4/2001; New York Times, 12/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/10/2004; Washington Post, 2/25/2005] The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that in addition to the above cases, “press leaks plagued almost every [raid on Muslim charities] that took place in the United States” after 9/11. [Washington Post, 9/10/2004]
The House International Relations Committee drafts House Joint Resolution 75, which states that if Iraq refuses to allow UN inspectors to investigate freely in Iraq, the refusal will constitute an “act of aggression against the United States.” The bill is sponsored by Representatives Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Porter Goss (R-FL), and Henry Hyde (R-IL). A different version of this resolution is passed by the House on December 20 (see December 20, 2001). [WorldNetDaily, 12/11/2001; Library of Congress, 1/15/2006]
Around the third day at the school (see December 2-5, 2001), probably on December 5, accused terrorist John Walker Lindh, unaware of the fact that a lawyer has been hired for him, is interrogated by two military officers. The questioning goes on for two or three days in sessions lasting several hours at a time. Again no Miranda warnings are given (see December 2, 2001). [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ] There is some discussion, however, among military personnel about whether Lindh should be advised of his right against self-incrimination. An Army intelligence officer is advised that instructions have come from “higher headquarters” for interrogators to coordinate Lindh’s interrogation with military lawyers. The intelligence officer asks to be faxed a Miranda form, but, according to the documents, “he never [gets] it.” The officer, however, adds that he is “in the business of collecting [intelligence] information, not in the business of Mirandizing.” After the first hour of interrogation, according to the documents, the interrogator provides the admiral in charge of Mazar-i-Sharif with a summary of what the interrogators have so far collected. The admiral tells him that the secretary of Defense’s counsel has authorized him to “take the gloves off” and ask whatever he wants. The unnamed counsel in question may well have been Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes. The initial responses Lindh gives to his interrogators are, according to the documents, cabled to Washington every hour. [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2004] After the interrogations are ended, Lindh is told his conditions will improve. From then on, he is given a third meal a day and no longer held at gunpoint 24 hours a day. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
Vice President Cheney says in an interview on Meet the Press, “Well, what we now have that’s developed [recently]… was that report that’s been pretty well confirmed, that [Mohamed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don’t know at this point. But that’s clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.” [Washington Post, 12/9/2001] The CIA already believes the reports of Atta visiting Prague are incorrect (see December 2001).
On October 3, 2001, Ayaad Assaad was questioned by the FBI because a letter written by an unnamed former colleague of his said he was a potential biological terrorist who could attack the US (see October 3, 2001). Just days later, the anthrax attacks became publicly known, and there is speculation that the letter may have been an attempt to frame Assaad for the attacks. Assaad worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory where many believe the anthrax used in the attacks originated. Before Assaad left USAMRIID in 1997, some of his colleagues in an informal group called the Camel Club harassed him due to his Middle Eastern background (even though he is Christian and a US citizen—see 1991-1992). In the early 1990s, some members of the Camel Club were found to be working on unauthorized projects at USAMRIID even after no longer being employed there, at a time when anthrax and other deadly germs went missing from the lab (see Early 1992). On December 4, 2001, a military spokesman says that FBI investigators are seeking to question current and former USAMRIID employees. However, on December 9, the Hartford Courant reports that most of the members of the (apparently defunct) Camel Club say they have yet to be questioned by the FBI. An FBI spokesman also says that the FBI is not tracking the source of the anonymous letter blaming Assaad. [Hartford Courant, 12/9/2001] Don Foster is a professor and linguistic analyst helping with the FBI’s anthrax investigation. Foster will only find out about the letter after the Courant publishes their December 9 article. He will also discover that many others in the FBI’s investigation know nothing of it, either. For instance, top FBI profiler and threat-assessment expert James Fitzgerald, who hired Foster to work on the investigation, has never heard of it. Foster will later comment, “What, I wondered, has the anthrax task force been doing?” [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] The FBI will not question some of Assaad’s co-workers until 2004 (see February 11-March 17, 2004), and will not question him again until 2004 as well, even though officials say off the record that the Assaad letter remains intriguing (see May 11, 2004).
Manucher Ghorbanifar. [Source: Ted Thai / Getty Images]The Bush administration sends two defense officials, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, to meet with Iranians in Rome in response to an Iranian government offer to provide information relevant to the war on terrorism. The offer had been backchanneled by the Iranians to the White House through Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms trader and a central person in the Iran-Contra affair, who contacted another Iran-Contra figure, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute. Ledeen passed the information on to his friends in the Defense Department who then relayed the offer to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Hadley, who expressed no reservations about the proposed meeting, informed CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. According to officials interviewed by the New York Times, the United States Embassy in Rome was not notified of the planned meeting as required by standard interagency procedures. Neither the US embassy nor the CIA station chief in Rome learns of the three-day meeting until after it happens (see December 12, 2001). When they do catch wind of the meeting, they notify CIA and State Department headquarters in Washington which complain to the administration about how the meetings were arranged. [Newsday, 8/9/2003; Washington Post, 8/9/2003; New York Times, 12/7/2003] In addition to Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, Franklin, and Rhode, the meeting is attended by Nicolo Pollari, head of SISMI, and Antonio Martino, Italy’s minister of defense. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004]
Destabilizing the Iraqi Government - According to the Boston Globe, either at this meeting, a similar one in June (see June 2002), or both, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar discuss ways to destabilize the Iranian government, possibly using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a US-designated terrorist group, as a US proxy. [Boston Globe, 8/31/2004] The meetings are suspected of being an attempt by what investigative reporters Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Gastris will later call “a rogue faction at the Pentagon… trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime-change’ agenda.” The fact that MEK members attend the meetings adds weight to the claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 234-235]
Italian Intelligence on Iraq-Niger Allegations - Additionally, according to an unnamed SISMI source, Pollari speaks with Ledeen about intelligence his agency has collected (see October 15, 2001) suggesting that Iraq made a deal with Niger to purchase several tons of uranium. SISMI already sent a report to Washington on the matter in mid-October (see October 15, 2001). Reportedly, Pollari has also approached CIA Station Chief Jeff Castelli about the report, but Castelli has since indicated he is not interested in the information. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]
Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Paul Gastris, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, Larry Franklin, Nicolo Pollari, Harold Rhode, Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, George J. Tenet, Antonio Martino
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown. [Source: National Geographic]Richard Blee, head of the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and a former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is made chief of the CIA’s new station in Kabul. Blee replaces Gary Berntsen, who had effectively led the CIA’s war effort against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Berntsen is unhappy with being replaced, saying: “It felt as though someone had just thrown a bucket of cold water in my face. I couldn’t believe they were doing this in the middle of the most important battle of the war.” The battle of Tora Bora begins around this time and, although the US thinks it has Osama bin Laden cornered there, he somehow manages to escape (see November 16, 2001, November 26, 2001 and Early December 2001).
Replacement Decision Is Not Well Received - Berntsen’s staff members are also unhappy with the decision, and slap their hands over their heads and groan when they find out about it. They tell Berntsen, “No disrespect to Rich, but when you leave, we leave.” Berntsen will attribute Blee’s selection to his closeness to CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and will also hint that Blee strongly desired the job. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 296-7, 306] Berntsen pushed hard for US troops to be deployed to catch bin Laden (see Late October-Early December 2001), but it is not known whether Blee is in favor of using US troops or not. Blee will also instigate the transfer of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi from the FBI to Egypt shortly after arriving; this is the first such transfer of a major figure after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001).
Blee's Replacement - Blee is apparently replaced as chief of the Sunni Extremist Group by someone known only as Hendrik V. (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)). Hendrik V. will later be replaced by an official known as “Marty M.” before March 2003. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 232, 251] That is almost certainly Marty Martin, someone said to lead the search for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004 (see (Shortly After October 29, 2004)).
According to a later report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pentagon officials conceal potentially life-saving intelligence gleaned from Iranian agents. The report will find that in 2001, the officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, fail to pass along information gained from Iranian agents to US intelligence agencies, including reports that Iran has sent “hit squads” to Afghanistan to kill Americans. The findings will be based on information from highly unreliable sources: Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar and former Pentagon official Michael Ledeen, both of whom have often provided false or questionable information gathered from questionable sources (see April 3, 2005). In a series of meetings authorized by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see December 9, 2001, December 12, 2001, June 2002, July 2002, and June 2003), two Pentagon officials, including one who reported to then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith (see September 2002), meet with Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, and other Iranians. Hadley does not fully brief CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage about the meetings. The head of the DIA is briefed on the meeting but is not authorized to keep a written summary of it or to discuss it on the orders of then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. For his part, Ledeen will say he twice briefed the US ambassador to Italy about the meetings. “Any time the CIA wanted to find out what was going on all they had to do was ask,” he will say. Though the report will admit that the sources of the intelligence are unreliable, it will still criticize the Pentagon for failing to allow what it calls “potentially useful and actionable intelligence” to be shared with intelligence agencies. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 ]
Ayaad Assaad. [Source: Public domain]In mid-October 2001, the FBI hires professor Don Foster to help with the anthrax attacks investigation because he is an expert at discovering the authors of unknown texts by an analysis of word usage. He has already helped the FBI with many cases. In early December 2001, he reads a newspaper article about a letter mailed shortly before the anthrax attacks became publicly known that accuses former USAMRIID scientist Ayaad Assaad of planning to launch a biological attack on the US (see October 3, 2001). FBI investigators are largely ignorant of this letter, even though the FBI already strongly suspects that the anthrax used in the attacks came from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory (see December 9, 2001). Foster asks for and receives a copy of the letter, known as the Quantico letter because it was mailed to a government office in Quantico, Virginia. He looks through documents written by about 40 USAMRIID employees and finds “writings by a female officer that looked like a perfect match.” He writes a report to the FBI about this, but the FBI fails to follow through, as the Quantico letter has already been declared irrelevant even though few FBI investigators are even aware of it yet. Foster will write of his experience with the letter in a September 2003 article in Vanity Fair. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] Apparently, this will lead to a renewed interest in the letter. The FBI will finally question Assaad about the letter in 2004, and will express their knowledge of Foster’s Vanity Fair article when they talk to him. [Associated Press, 5/16/2004] However, it is unknown if the woman Foster identified is ever questioned. The FBI does show particular interest in questioning one person about the letter in early 2004, but that person is a man (see February 11-March 17, 2004).
At some point between the middle of 2001 and February 2002, the CIA appoints a new chief of the Sunni Extremist Group, the part of the Counterterrorist Center that is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit. Presumably this occurs in December 2001, when the group’s former head, Richard Blee, is made chief of station in Afghanistan (see December 9, 2001). However, this is not entirely certain. A 2011 book by FBI agent Ali Soufan will refer to the new group chief as “Alvin,” although this is apparently an alias. A 2007 book by former CIA Director George Tenet will refer to the chief as “Hendrik V.,” apparently a version of his real name. Hendrik V. will have been replaced as SEG chief by another official, Marty Martin, by March 2003. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 232, 251; Soufan, 2011, pp. 376,548] Hendrik V. previously served at the CIA station in Jordan, where he ignored crucial evidence during the investigation of the Millennium Plot in 1999 (see Late December 1999).
Tom Ridge, Director of Homeland Security, warns that terrorist strikes “could happen within the next few weeks.” Ridge states that “the quantity and level of threats… have reached a threshold where we should once again place the public on general alert.” He describes the terrorists as “shadow soldiers… a shadow enemy.” [MotherJones, 12/3/2001] Richard Reid does attempt to blow up an airplane with a shoe-bomb later in the month (see December 22, 2001).
The newly-installed US ambassador to Italy, Mel Sembler, learns during the course of a private dinner with Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen and Italian defense minister Antonio Martino about the secret backchannel meeting they attended three days before (see December 9, 2001) with US defense officials, former Iran-Contra figures, and Iranian government officials. After the dinner, Sembler immediately contacts Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, to find out if he knows about the meeting. But the station chief says he was also unaware of the meeting. “Soon both Sembler and the Rome station chief were sending anxious queries back to the State Department and CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., respectively, raising alarms on both sides of the Potomac” since all US government contact with foreign government intelligence agencies is supposed to be overseen by the CIA. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004] Old State Department hands are horrified to learn of Ledeen’s involvement with the Iraq-Niger fabrications. Bad enough that Elliott Abrams was brought into the administration (see November 2002-December 2002), they say, but with Ledeen and his associate [Iranian arms dealer Manucher] Ghorbanifar making an appearance, it seems to these State Department veterans that the days of Reagan-era “cowboy diplomacy” are back in full swing. “One of the truly remarkable elements of the neocon story is their addiction to Ghorbanifar,” a State Department official will say in 2007. “It is part of their ‘we are smarter, you are stupid’ attitude.” Author Craig Unger will note, “The key players in Iran-Contra were back in business.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 234-235]
Two stills from Carl Cameron’s Fox News report on potential Israeli spying in the US. [Source: Fox News]Fox News reports: “Investigators within the DEA, INS, and FBI have all told Fox News that to pursue or even suggest Israeli spying… is considered career suicide.… A highly placed investigator says there are ‘tie-ins’ between the spy ring and 9/11. However, when asked for details, he flatly refuses to describe them, saying, ‘evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.’” The report also reveals that Amdocs, an Israeli company, is recording virtually every phone call in the US and could be passing information on to the Israeli government (similar claims were first raised in 2000 [Insight, 5/29/2000] ). Fox News suggests that the position of this company might impede the 9/11 investigation. [Fox News, 12/12/2001]
The man in the picture on the left is supposed to be bin Laden in October 2001. The picture on the right is undisputendly bin Laden in December [Source: Reuters]Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), some commentators question its authenticity, as a number of strange facts about the video soon emerge. For example, all previous videos had been made with the consent of bin Laden, and usually released to the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera. This video was supposedly recorded without his knowledge, found in a house in Afghanistan, and then passed to the CIA by an unknown person or group. Experts point out that it would be possible to fake such a video. So many people doubt the video’s authenticity that President Bush soon makes a statement, saying it was “preposterous for anybody to think this tape was doctored. Those who contend it’s a farce or a fake are hoping for the best about an evil man.” [Guardian, 12/15/2001] Some commentators will suggest that the person thought to be bin Laden is not actually the al-Qaeda leader. For example, arabist Kevin Barrett will say that the person in the video is “at least 40 or 50 pounds heavier, and his facial features [are] obviously different.” [Capital Times (Madison), 2/14/2006] The man said to be bin Laden also makes some questionable statements in the video:
“I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building…” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The jet fuel spilled from the planes burned up about 10 minutes after impact (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001), the towers’ structure did not melt (see September 12, 2001-February 2002), and the towers were not made of iron, but steel. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] Bin Laden had studied civil engineering at university and had experience as a construction contractor. [Burke, 2004, pp. 47; Laden, 2005, pp. xii-xiii] It is unclear why he would think the towers were made of iron.
“We did not reveal the operation to [the brothers who conducted the operation] until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] All the hijackers purchased tickets for the 9/11 flights about two weeks in advance (see August 25-September 5, 2001). The six plot leaders had flight training (see July 6-December 19, 2000, (June 28-December 2000), January-February 2001, and May 5 and 10, 2000), and some of the other 13 are thought to have assisted with target surveillance and casing flights (see May 24-August 14, 2001, August 1, 2001, June 2001 and August 2001).
“Those who were trained to fly didn’t know the others. One group of people did not know the other group.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The opposite is true: the pilots intermingled with the muscle and the teams for the various planes mixed (see April 23-June 29, 2001, April 12-September 7, 2001, and June 27-August 23, 2001).
There are reports that bin Laden had from four to ten look-alike doubles at the time. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2001; London Times, 11/19/2001]
US intelligence had been investigating the US-based Global Relief Foundation (GRF) long before 9/11 for links to al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups (see 1997-Late Spring 2001 and March 2000).The plan is to shut down a number of GRF’s overseas offices while continuing to monitor the GRF’s main office in Illinois and see how that office reacts to the overseas shutdowns. But on December 13, 2001, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon calls the Illinois office one day before the planned raids and asks them to comment about an imminent crack down on the charity (see December 3-14, 2001). The FBI quickly decides that the GRF is destroying documents after the tip-off, and they hastily arrange a raid on the Illinois office and the overseas offices the next day. Since the GRF and the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) are considered to be closely linked, the BIF US office is raided and shut down at the same time, and the houses of GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade and BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout are searched. GRF fund-raiser Rabih Haddad is detained on the basis of overstaying a visa while Arnaout remains free in the US. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 ] October 18, 2002, the Treasury Department will officially designate GRF a terrorism financier. It will do the same to BIF on November 19, 2002. The UN also soon lists both groups as linked to al-Qaeda. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 ] Haddad will be imprisoned for 19 months and then deported for the immigration violation. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]
On December 14, 2001, it is first reported that 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah was stopped and questioned at Dubai airport (see January 30-31, 2000); a controversy follows on when the US was told about this and what was done about it.
Initial Account - The story of Jarrah being detained at Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), first appears in the Chicago Tribune on December 14. This initial report says that Jarrah was stopped because he was on a US watch list. US officials refuse to comment on the matter. (Note that this report and most other early accounts place the incident on January 30, 2001 (see January 31, 2000 and After), but this appears to be incorrect and later reports say it happened exactly one year earlier, on January 30, 2000.) [Associated Press, 12/14/2001]
Did the US Tell the UAE to Stop Jarrah? - Jane Corbin reports the same story for the BBC in December 2001 and then repeats it in a book. Once again, US officials refuse to comment on the story. In her account, UAE officials claim Jarrah was stopped based on a tip-off from the US. A UAE source tells Corbin: “It was at the request of the Americans and it was specifically because of Jarrah’s links with Islamic extremists, his contacts with terrorist organizations. That was the extent of what we were told.” [BBC, 12/12/2001; Corbin, 2003] One day after the BBC report, a US official carefully states that the FBI was not aware before 9/11 that another US agency thought Jarrah was linked to any terrorist group. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/13/2001]
CNN Revives the Story, Has More Sources - In August 2002, CNN also reports that Jarrah was stopped because he was on a US watch list. It claims this information comes not only from UAE sources, but from other governments in the Middle East and Europe. It also still refers to the incorrect January 31, 2001 date. For the first time, a CIA spokesperson comments on the matter and says the CIA never knew anything about Jarrah before 9/11 and had nothing to do with his questioning in Dubai. [CNN, 8/1/2002]
Denials Are Helped by Confusion over Date - Regarding the denials by US authorities, author Terry McDermott point outs: “It is worth noting, however, that when the initial reports of the Jarrah interview [came out,] the Americans publicly denied they had ever been informed of it. As it happened, Corbin had the wrong date for the event, so the American services might have been technically correct in denying any knowledge of it. They later repeated that denial several times when other reports repeated the inaccurate date.” Based on information from his UAE sources, McDermott concludes that the stop occurred and that the US was informed of it at the time. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 294-5]
FBI Memo Confirms US Was Notified - In February 2004, the Chicago Tribune claims it discovered a 2002 FBI memo that discusses the incident. The memo clearly states that the incident “was reported to the US government” at the time. This account uses the January 30, 2000 date, and all later accounts do so as well. [Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004]
9/11 Commission Downplays Incident - In July 2004, the 9/11 Commission calls the incident a “minor problem” and relegates it to an endnote in its final report on the 9/11 attacks. It does not mention anything about the US being informed about Jarrah’s brief detention at the time it happened. In this account, Jarrah was not on a US watch list, but he raised suspicion because of an overlay of the Koran in his passport and because he was carrying religious tapes and books. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 496]
Vanity Fair Adds New Details - A November 2004 Vanity Fair article adds some new details. In this account, UAE officials were first suspicious of Jarrah because of a page of the Koran stuck in his passport, then they searched his luggage and found it full of jihadist propaganda videos. Six months earlier, the CIA had asked immigration throughout the region to question anyone who might have been to a training camp in Afghanistan, which gave the UAE even more reason to question him. Jarrah was asked about his time in Afghanistan and revealed that he intended to go to flight school in the US, but he was let go. The UAE told the CIA about all this, but German officials say the CIA failed to pass the information on to German intelligence. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
German and More FBI Documents Also Confirm US Was Involved - McDermott has access to German intelligence files in writing his book published in 2005. He says that German documents show that the UAE did contact the US about Jarrah while he was still being held. But the US had not told the Germans what was discussed about him. Other FBI documents confirming the incident are also obtained by McDermott, but they indicate the questioning was routine. UAE officials insist to McDermott this is absolutely untrue. McDermott suggests that the CIA may not have told the FBI much about the incident. He also says that while UAE officials were holding Jarrah, US officials told them to let Jarrah go because the US would track him (see January 30-31, 2000). [McDermott, 2005, pp. 294]
Continued Denials - In September 2005, US officials continue to maintain they were not notified about the stop until after 9/11. [Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005] Original reporting on the incident will not occur much in the years after then.
Finally, John Walker Lindh has the bullet in his leg (see November 25, 2001) surgically removed. Lindh’s government prosecutors later claim the military “provided him the very same medical treatment provided to wounded United States military personnel.” However, as one commentator will observe: “It is difficult to believe that the United States military would delay for more than two weeks surgery to remove a bullet from a leg from one of its own soldiers or sailors.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 12/15/2001; World Socialist Web Site, 4/1/2002]
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri escape from the Tora Bora battle north to a remote province in Afghanistan. In the years just after the Tora Bora battle, the conventional wisdom will be that bin Laden escapes across the nearby border into Pakistan. A 2006 book by Ron Suskind will be the first to publicly make the argument that bin Laden actually stays in Afghanistan and heads to even more remote regions north of Tora Bora, starting around December 15, 2001 (see December 15, 2001). After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that this ‘go north’ theory has become the new conventional wisdom. According to the Washington Post: “US interrogators later learned from Guantanamo detainees that bin Laden had actually taken a more daring route, to the north toward Jalalabad, right past the approaching US and British Special Forces and their Afghan allies. After resting there, he proceeded on horseback on a several days’ journey into Konar province, in Afghanistan’s far northeast.” An unnamed US official will tell the Post: “It’s still unclear who bribed who and who talked to who, [but] bin Laden got out. Knowing the land, knowing the people who could direct you, he was able to get out to Konar [and into valleys] that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Al-Zawahiri takes the same route, perhaps traveling with bin Laden. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri will stay in Konar for months before finally moving to Pakistan (see Late December 2001-Late 2002).
The FBI claims the anthrax letters were sent from the middle mailbox of these three mailboxes on Nassau Street, Princeton. [Source: Richard Smith]In mid-October 2001, investigators mistakenly believe that the anthrax letters were mailed from somewhere in West Trenton, New Jersey and are said to have narrowed down the location of the mailbox to a one square mile radius. [New York Times, 10/19/2001] But around December 2001, contamination at a New Jersey postal processing center indicates that the letters in the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) had been mailed on one of a limited number of routes near Princeton, New Jersey. However, seven months pass before FBI investigators test hundreds of mailboxes and identify the mailbox where the letters were mailed from. Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), whose congressional district includes the area where the letters were mailed from, will later say that he was surprised by how slow and shoddy the investigation was. He will point out, “Within two days they could have dispatched 50 people to wipe all those mailboxes.” He will also say that he was surprised when anthrax was found in his Congressional office in October 2001, but investigators never returned to conduct systematic testing to trace the path of the anthrax spores. [New York Times, 8/4/2008] The FBI tests about 600 mailboxes for several weeks and finds and removes the right one in early August. It is located in Princeton, New Jersey, on the corner of Nassau and Bank Streets and opposite the Princeton University campus. [New York Times, 8/14/2002] However, there are doubts that the right mailbox was identified (see August 14, 2002).
Czech Police Chief Jiri Kolar says that there is no evidence that 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta met an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in April (see April 8, 2001). He also says—contradicting earlier reports—that there is no documentary evidence that Atta traveled to Prague at all in 2001. Additionally, an unnamed Czech intelligence official tells the newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes, that that the person who had met with al-Ani on April 2001 near Prague was not Atta. Another person with the same name had arrived in Prague in 2001 but he “didn’t have the same identity card number.” Furthermore, “There was a great difference in their ages, their nationalities didn’t match, basically nothing—it was someone else,” the source says. It is also reported that a man named Hassan, described as a businessman and a long-time member of Prague’s Arab community, claims to have been a close friend of al-Ani. Hassan says that he believes the Czechs had mistaken another man for Atta, a used car dealer from Nuremberg by the name of Saleh, who often visited Prague to meet al-Ani and and who sold him at least one car. “I have sat with the two of them at least twice. The double is an Iraqi who has met with the consul. If someone saw a photo of Atta he might easily mistake the two,” Hassan says. [New York Times, 12/16/2001; Associated Press, 12/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/18/2001 Sources: Hassan, Jiri Kolar, Unnamed Czech intelligence officials, Unnamed Interior Ministry official] Responding to the report, Gabriela Bartikova, spokeswoman for the Czech Minister of Interior, says that the Czech intelligence agency still believes that Mohamed Atta and al-Ani, the consul and second secretary of the Iraqi embassy met in April 2001. She says, “Minister Gross had the information from BIS (the Czech Republic’s Intelligence Agency), and BIS guarantees the information. So we stick by that information.” At about the same time, US officials tell the Associated Press they also still believe the meeting had transpired. [Associated Press, 12/16/2001]
US intelligence and Pentagon officials admit having lost track of Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area in the Northwest of Afghanistan. “The chatter stopped,” says John Stufflebeem. According to commanders of the Northern Alliance, as many as 500 al-Qaeda members might still be at large. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/18/2001] The same day, Rumsfeld says he has heard that there were 30 or 31 persons being held in custody around Tora Bora as of December 16. It is unclear whether any high-ranking al-Qaeda members are among them. Meanwhile, a detention center is being built at Kandahar. [Associated Press, 12/17/2001]
On December 17, 2001, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer speaks of the anthrax attacks investigation and says that it is “increasingly looking like it was a domestic source.” On January 13, 2002, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge similarly states, “the primary direction of the investigation is turned inward.” [Salon, 2/8/2002] This is confirmation of earlier reports that the investigation is focusing on the profile of a disgruntled American scientist acting alone (see November 10, 2001).
The Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism holds a hearing on the global reach of al-Qaeda and hears testimony from several intelligence community officers. One of them is Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer on loan to the FBI who was involved in several pre-9/11 failures (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001). Wilshire is described as the deputy chief of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section. In his opening remarks, Wilshire describes the “worldwide jihad movement,” which is “considered to be legitimate by many of our allies in terms of defense of Islam,” as a “multibillion effort” active in, for example, Chechnya, Bosnia, and the Philippines. Although some of the “tributaries” to the movement are “somehow legitimate,” al-Qaeda is “one of the most significant off-shoots,” and views the US as “the stabilising mechanism that allows the regimes that [Osama] bin Laden views to be corrupt [such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia] and to stay in power.” Wilshire also says that one of bin Laden’s goals was to provoke a “land war in Afghanistan,” although he perhaps did not anticipate it taking its current form. He discusses how al-Qaeda has changed over the years, the bayat oath of loyalty to bin Laden, and numbers of operatives: he puts the organization’s “elite” in the hundreds, but says it also has “small thousands” fighting in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya, as well as “thousands” more around the world, although perhaps “their skill level is not as high.” He also discusses a recently released videotape in which a man thought to be bin Laden said the “muscle” hijackers did not know they were on a suicide mission until the last minute (see Mid-November 2001), and calls bin Laden “very charismatic.” Wilshire adds that radical Islamists have looked at the possibility of setting up training camps in the US, but that it is easier for them to have introductory training in Europe, which was the case of a group of British citizens arrested in Yemen (see December 23, 1998). Finally, he says that al-Qaeda is linked to Abu Sayyaf, which is not just a local Filipino group and falls under “outside influence.” [US Congress. Senate. Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism, 12/18/2001]
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, captured by Pakistani forces six weeks earlier (see November 11, 2001), is handed over to US authorities at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Two FBI agents from New York are tasked with interrogating him. One of the agents, Russell Fincher, spends more than 80 hours with al-Libi discussing religion and prayer in an effort to establish a close bond. It works, and al-Libi opens up to Fincher, giving him information about Zacarias Moussaoui and the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 120] But despite this progress, he will soon be transferred to Egypt and tortured there into making some false confessions (see January 2002 and After).
The Asia Times reports that Osama bin Laden has sought refuge in Iran and is being sheltered by members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). The report—citing Pakistani jihadi who fought in Afghanistan, journalists, and intelligence sources—says bin Laden crossed into Iran from Afghanistan around the time of the surrender of Kandahar (see November 25, 2001). [Asia Times, 12/19/2001] This report will later be shown to wildly clash with more reliable evidence placing bin Laden in Tora Bora near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at this time instead.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits interrogations of individuals, who were captured when the al-Qaeda stronghold near Tora Bora fell two days before, have not yielded timely information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. “Most of what I’ve seen seems to be second-hand reports—that we’re not talking to people who are at least telling us that they met with bin Laden or they talked with bin Laden,” he says. “I think one guy claims that he saw bin Laden from several hundred yards away. It’s that quality of information.” He added: “It was a pretty confused situation.” [Associated Press, 12/19/2001]
Yazid Sufaat. [Source: FBI]Yazid Sufaat is arrested in Malaysia. Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns a condominum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where a January 2000 al-Qaeda summit was held (see January 5-8, 2000). He also graduated in 1987 from a California university with a degree in biological sciences. According to interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Hambali, and other captured prisoners, Sufaat was given the lead in developing chemical and biological weapons for al-Qaeda, but he apparently had been unable to buy the kind of anthrax he wanted for an attack. Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed Atta, and other al-Qaeda operatives appeared to have had an interest in crop dusters before 9/11. It has been suggested that this interest served to further Sufaat’s biological weapons plot. This would especially make sense in the case of Moussaoui, since he stayed with Sufaat in Sufaat’s Malaysia apartment for two months in late 2000 (see September-October 2000). The US will only be able to directly interview Sufaat on one brief occasion, in November 2002. [Washington Post, 3/28/2003; CNN, 10/10/2003; Chicago Tribune, 12/7/2003] Sufaat will be released in 2008. The Malaysian government will never try or charge him (see December 4, 2008).
Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), a German TV show checks the translation provided by the Pentagon and finds it is flawed. According to Professor Gernot Rotter, scholar of Islamic and Arabic Studies at the University of Hamburg, “This tape is of such poor quality that many passages are unintelligible. And those that are intelligible have often been taken out of context, so that you can’t use that as evidence. The American translators who listened to the tape and transcribed it obviously added things that they wanted to hear in many places.” For example, the sentence translated by Pentagon contractors as “We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy,” is said to be wrong, and the words “in advance” were apparently not said by bin Laden. The sentence “We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day” is also said to be wrong and the word “previous” is not said by bin Laden. In addition, the sentence “We asked each of them to go to America” is said to be a mistranslation; it should have been “They were required to go to America.” [Monitor-TV (Germany), 12/20/2001]
The Red Fort in Delhi, India, shortly after being attacked in 2000. [Source: BBC]The US officially blocks the assets of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a Pakistani militant group, and Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), a Pakistani charity front. [White House, 12/20/2001] LeT has frequently attacked targets in India with the tacit support of the Pakistani government. For instance, LeT took credit for an attack on the Red Fort in Delhi in 2000 that killed three people. [BBC, 3/17/2006] But the US fails to mention Pakistani government support for LeT, particularly long-time support by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is now president of Pakistan (see 1993-1994). The Pakistani government officially bans LeT one month later. But the group changes its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa and continues operating, though less openly than before. It is said to be closely linked to al-Qaeda. The US action comes just days after LeT was implicated in an attack on the Indian parliament (see December 13, 2001). [Asia Times, 6/4/2004] India will blame the group for major attacks in 2003 and 2005 that each kill about 60 people. [BBC, 3/17/2006] UTN was founded by Pakistani nuclear scientists (see 2000). The CIA was aware before 9/11 that UTN had proposed selling a nuclear weapon to Libya (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), and that two UTN scientists met with Osama bin Laden (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), so it is not known why the US waited until now to act against it.
Zaab Sethna of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) arranges for Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri to be interviewed by Judith Miller of the New York Times. Miller, who has known Chalabi for about eight years (see May 1, 2003), immediately flies out to Bangkok for the interview. Her story is published on December 20, just three days after Haideri told his story to a CIA agent who subjected him to a polygraph and determined Haideri’s story was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). Miller’s front-page article, titled “An Iraqi defector tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites,” reports: “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer, said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.” If verified, Miller notes, “his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so.” Sethna also contacts freelance journalist Paul Moran. Moran is a former employee of the INC and has been employed for years by the Rendon Group, a firm specializing in “perception management” and which helped develop the INC (see May 1991). Moran’s on-camera interview with Haideri is broadcast worldwide by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; SBS Dateline, 7/23/2003; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004; Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005] Reporter Jonathan Landay will later say that he and others were skeptical from the outset: “There were some red flags that the New York Times story threw out immediately, which caught our eye, immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd—the enemy of Saddam—had been allowed into his most top secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.” Landay’s partner Warren Strobel will add, “The first rule of being an intelligence agent, or a journalist, and they’re really not that different, is you’re skeptical of defectors, because they have a reason to exaggerate. They want to increase their value to you. They probably want something from you. Doesn’t mean they’re lying, but you should be—journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right? And I’m afraid the New York Times reporter in that case and a lot of other reporters were just not skeptical of what these defectors were saying. Nor was the administration…” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
House Joint Resolution 75 is passed by the House and sent to the Senate where it is referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. It is not as strongly worded as the initial draft (see December 4, 2001), which included a provision stating that the refusal to admit inspectors would constitute an “act of aggression against the United States.” The final version instead reads: “Iraq’s refusal to allow United Nations weapons inspectors immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access to facilities and documents covered by United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 and other relevant resolutions presents a mounting threat to the United States, its friends and allies, and international peace and security.” The bill is sponsored by Representatives Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Porter Goss (R-FL) and Henry Hyde (R-IL). [Library of Congress, 1/15/2006] This bill will die in the Senate. The congressional bill that conditionally authorizes Bush to take military action against Iraq is not passed until October 11, 2002 (see October 8 and 11, 2002).
CIA officer Richard Blee, who is now chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, objects to the FBI interviewing high-ranking al-Qaeda detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The FBI obtained access to al-Libi after he was handed over to the US, and is obtaining some information from him about Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, who will be prosecuted in the US (see December 19, 2001). However, according to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “for some reason, the CIA chief of station in Kabul is taking issue with our approach.” [American Prospect, 6/19/2005] CIA Director George Tenet learns of Blee’s complaints and insists that al-Libi be turned over to the CIA (see January-April 2002), which promptly puts him on a plane to Egypt (see January 2002 and After), where he is tortured and makes false statements (see February 2002). Blee was in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on 9/11 and has only recently become chief of its Kabul station. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 59-60, 297] The FBI, which has long experience interviewing suspects, will continue in its attempts to use rapport-building techniques (see Late March through Early June, 2002), whereas the CIA will employ harsher techniques, despite not having much experience with interviews (see Mid-April 2002).
Two bipartisan pairs of senators introduce legislation to create independent 9/11 commissions. Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) propose to create a 14-member, bipartisan commission with subpoena power. At the same time, Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) and Charles Grassley (R-IN) propose to create a 12-member board of inquiry with subpoena power. White House spokeswoman Anne Womack is noncommittal about the proposals, saying, “We look forward to reviewing them. Right now, the president is focused on fighting the war on terrorism.” [New York Times, 12/21/2001]
Richard Reid’s shoe bomb.
[Source: NEFA Foundation]British citizen Richard Reid is arrested for trying to blow up a Miami-bound jet using explosives hidden in his shoe. [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] Reid fails in his attempt to destroy the American Airlines jet because he is unable to detonate the explosives—he cannot get the fuse to light using matches, despite using up six of them before he is overpowered by the stewards and passengers. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Had Reid used a cheap disposable plastic cigarette lighter to ignite the fuse of his bomb, rather than a match that did not burn for long enough, forensic experts are sure there was enough plastic explosive in his boot to puncture the fuselage of Flight 63 and bring down the aircraft.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 215-217, 236] The attack is supposed to be one of two simultaneous attacks, but Reid’s partner, Saajit Badat, backs out shortly before the bombing (see (December 14, 2001)). Reid will later plead guilty to all charges, and declare himself a follower of Osama bin Laden. [CBS News, 10/4/2002] He may have ties to Pakistan. [Washington Post, 3/31/2002] It is later believed that Reid and others in the shoe bomb plot reported directly to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). [CNN, 1/30/2003] It has been suggested that KSM has ties to the ISI, and that Reid is a follower of Ali Gilani, a religious leader believed to be working with the ISI (see January 6, 2002).
The New York Times reports, “Shortly after the first anthrax victim died in October, the Bush administration began an intense effort to explore any possible link between Iraq and the attacks and continued to do so even after scientists determined that the lethal germ was an American strain, scientists and government officials said.” However, the effort eventually fizzled out when no evidence was found to back up the claim. A top federal scientist involved in the investigation says, “I know there are a number of people who would love an excuse to get after Iraq.” An unnamed senior intelligence official says: “We looked for any shred of evidence that would bear on this [Iraq connection], or any foreign source. It’s just not there.” As a result of this Iraq focus, only recently have FBI investigators concentrated on suspects within the US. The anthrax used in the attacks was from the Ames strain, which is a strain most commonly used in US bioweapons programs. Initial evidence strongly suggested that the Iraqi government was never able to obtain the Ames strain, but investigators nonetheless spent a considerable amount of time looking into the issue. Investigators promoted the idea that the anthrax spores were coated with bentonite, an additive supposedly used by Iraqi scientists. But the anthrax used in the attacks actually did not have bentonite coating. The Times notes that investigators say they are not close to identifying any suspect, and, “Some senior Bush administration officials have begun to worry privately that the case might take decades to solve…” [New York Times, 12/22/2001]
The Guardian reports that many in Afghanistan intelligence say former top Taliban officials are living openly in villas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least four top leaders who had been caught have been simply released. Yet another leader, wanted by the US for harboring al-Qaeda operatives at his compound, is able to escape a very loose house arrest in mid-December. Two soldiers were checking on him once a day. One intelligence source claims to know the exact location of many, and says they could be rounded up within hours. A former Taliban minister now working with the Northern Alliance also claims: “Some are living in luxury in fine houses, they are not hiding in holes. They could be in jail by tonight if the political will existed.” The US claims it is working hard to find and catch these leaders. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; Guardian, 12/24/2001] However, it will later be revealed that the US is aware of these Taliban living in Pakistan but will not seriously press Pakistan about them until 2006 (see 2002-2006).
A Jordanian suspected of involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) and 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995) is arrested but apparently only charged with minor offenses. Hadi Yousef Alghoul had been arrested in the Philippines in March 1995 and accused of involvement in the Bojinka plot there. (see April 1, 1995-Early 1996). He apparently is the cousin of bomber Ramzi Yousef. [Ressa, 2003, pp. 25] On December 26, 2001, he is arrested in the Philippines again. He is found with nearly 300 sticks of dynamite and other bomb making materials. A police colonel says Alghoul had been under surveillance for years. [CNN, 12/28/2001; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] Police say he is one of the United States’ 25 most wanted terrorists with a $25 million reward for his arrest in connection with the 1993 WTC bombing. His “fingerprints perfectly matched those of a terrorist tagged in the World Trade Center bombing.” He is also wanted for plotting the assassination of Americans. [Manila Bulletin, 1/6/2002] Yet despite all these accusations, he is not extradited to the US as other Bojinka suspects were, and he is merely charged in 2002 with the illegal possession of explosive devices. There have been no further news accounts about him. [Manila Sun-Star, 11/16/2002]
Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals Patrick Philbin and John Yoo send a memorandum to Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes offering the legal opinion that US courts do not have jurisdiction to review the detention of foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Therefore detentions of persons there cannot be challenged in a US court of law. The memo is endorsed by the Department of Defense and White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales. [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] The memo addresses “the question whether a federal district court would properly have jurisdiction to entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of an alien detained at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” The conclusion of Philbin and Yoo is that it cannot, based primarily on their interpretation of a decision by the US Supreme Court in the 1950 Eisentrager case, in which the Supreme Court determined that no habeas petition should be honored if the prisoners concerned are seized, tried, and held in territory that is outside of the sovereignty of the US and outside the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the US. Both conditions apply to Guantanamo according to Philbin and Yoo. Approvingly, they quote the US Attorney General in 1929, who stated that Guantanamo is “a mere governmental outpost beyond our borders.” A number of cases, quoted by the authors, “demonstrate that the United States has consistently taken the position that [Guantanamo Bay] remains foreign territory, not subject to US sovereignty.” Guantanamo is indeed land leased from the state of Cuba, and therefore in terms of legal possession and formal sovereignty still part of Cuba. But Philbin and Yoo acknowledge a problem with the other condition: namely that the territory is outside the US’s jurisdiction. They claim with certainty that Guantanamo “is also outside the ‘territorial jurisdiction of any court of the United States.’” However, the Supreme Court should not have made a distinction between jurisdiction and sovereignty here; the wording of the decision is really, Philbin and Yoo believe, an inaccurate reflection of its intent: “an arguable imprecision in the Supreme Court’s language.” For that reason, they call for caution. “A non-frivolous argument might be constructed, however, that [Guantanamo Bay], while not be part of sovereign territory of the United States, is within the territorial jurisdiction of a federal court.” [US Department of Justice, 12/28/2001 ]
Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman. [Source: Malaysian Government]Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman is arrested in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. [Utusan Malaysia, 1/5/2002]
Links to Al-Qaeda Summit - Sajuli, believed to be an operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, did not attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), but he took some of the attendees around Kuala Lumpur. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] According to the later Guantanamo file of summit attendee Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said), one of the attendees Sajuli escorted around town was 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Sajuli also helped arrange al-Taizi’s transportation at the end of the summit. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008] Sajuli’s arrest is part of a wave of over a dozen arrests in Malaysia that also gets Yazid Sufaat, one of the summit attendees (see December 19, 2001). [Utusan Malaysia, 1/5/2002]
Held without Charge or Trial - Malaysian law allows for suspects to be held without charge or trial for up to two years, and this can be extended for additional two year periods. In early 2004, it will be announced that Sajuli’s detention will be extended for another two years. [Human Rights Watch, 2/26/2004] However, apparently will be released before that two year period is up, because there will be no further news of his detention.
The new Afghan Interior Minister Younis Qanooni claims that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan: “Undoubtedly they (ISI) knew what was going on.” He claims that the ISI is still supporting bin Laden even if Pakistani President Musharraf isn’t. [BBC, 12/30/2001]
In late November 2001, State Department officials write a paper suggesting that the US has an opportunity to work with Iran to fight al-Qaeda. The CIA seconds the idea, and is willing to exchange information and coordinate border sweeps with Iran. However, neoconservatives led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argue that the US cannot engage with Iran and other officially declared state sponsors of terrorism. In late December 2001, at a meeting of deputy cabinet officials, it is decided that the US will accept tactical information about terrorists from countries on the state sponsors list but offer nothing in return. This policy is called the “Hadley Rules” after Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who chairs the meeting. One month later, President Bush publicly lists Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil,” greatly reducing Iran’s cooperation regarding al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] However, the policy appears to be largely focused on Iran, as the US continues working with countries on the state sponsors list like Sudan and Syria against al-Qaeda (see June 13, 2002 and Early 2002-January 2003).
The US strikes a secret deal with Pakistan, allowing a US operation in Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. This will be reported by the Guardian shortly after bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The Guardian will claim this account is “according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.” The deal is struck between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and US President George W. Bush shortly after bin Laden escapes the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in December 2001 (see December 15, 2001). At the time, it is widely believed bin Laden escaped into Pakistan. The deal allows the US to conduct their own raids inside Pakistan if the target is bin Laden, al-Qaeda deputy head Ayman al-Zawahiri, or whoever the number three al-Qaeda leader is. Afterwards, Pakistan would vigorously protest, but this would just be to mollify public opinion. An unnamed senior Pakistani official will later say that the deal is reaffirmed in early 2008, when Musharraf’s grip on power is slipping. (Musharraf will resign in August 2008 (see August 18, 2008).) This same Pakistani official will say of the May 2011 US Special Forces raid that kills bin Laden in Pakistan, “As far as our American friends are concerned, they have just implemented the agreement.” [Guardian, 5/9/2011]
Jesselyn Radack. [Source: Whistleblower (.org)]Justice Department legal ethics adviser Jesselyn Radack is subjected to intensive harassment and scrutiny by her employer after she consulted with a Criminal Division lawyer over the John Walker Lindh (“American Taliban”) case (see December 7, 2001).
Suddenly Fired - After Radack contradicts the department’s story on Lindh and his supposed failure to request legal counsel, she is suddenly fired when an unscheduled performance evaluation gives her poor ratings. Less than a year before, her performance evaluation had earned her a promotion and a merit bonus.
Leaks E-Mails to Reporter, Lindh Case Derailed - When she learns that the Justice Department has failed to turn over a number of e-mails concerning Lindh to a federal judge as requested, Radack turns over the e-mails to reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek. “I wasn’t in my mind saying, ‘Gee, I want to be a whistle-blower,’” she will later say. “I was just trying to correct the wrong, just trying to set something straight.” The resulting article prompts questions about the Justice Department’s honesty in discussing the Lindh case, and prompts a surprising turn of events: the department announces that it will end the Lindh case rather than hold an evidence-suppression hearing that would have probed the facts surrounding his interrogations. The government drops the worst of the charges against Lindh, and he pleads guilty to lesser charges (see July 15, 2002) and October 4, 2002).
Unspecified Allegations of 'Criminal' Behavior, Secret Reports Alleging Unfitness - As for Radack, even though the e-mails she released are not classified and she has broken no laws in making them public, the Bush administration wanted that information kept secret. She loses her job at a private law firm after the administration informs the firm that she is a “criminal” who cannot be trusted. She is subjected to a yearlong criminal investigation by the Justice Department; no charges are ever filed. “My attorneys asked what I was being investigated for and never got an answer,” Radack will later say. “There is no law against leaking. This was nonclassified stuff. I think they were just trying to get me to slip into making a false statement. Beyond that, it never seemed like they were really going to bring charges. This was just to harass me.” The administration files a secret report with the bar associations in the states she is licensed to practice law, alleging that she is unfit to practice law and recommending “discipline” against her. Because the report is secret, Radack finds it difficult to challenge the unspecified charges. (Most of the complaints against her will eventually be dismissed.)
No-Fly List - And Radack is placed on the administration’s “no-fly” list, ostensibly reserved for suspected terrorists and other criminals, forcing her to endure intensive and invasive searches every time she attempts to board an airplane.
Making an Example - In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will note that Radack gained no protection from the various whistleblower protection laws on the books, mostly because those laws have no enforcement mechanisms and rely “on the willingness of high-ranking executive branch officials to obey a statute.” Savage will observe: “The whistleblower laws did nothing to help Radack when the Bush-Cheney administration decided to make an example of her, sending a clear warning to other officials who might be inclined to bring secret executive branch wrongdoing to light. And Radack would not be the last.” [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 6/2003; Savage, 2007, pp. 107-110]
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri hide out in a remote province in Afghanistan for most of 2002. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that they no longer believe the conventional account that he and al-Zawahiri left the Tora Bora battle by escaping into nearby Pakistan. Instead, the two of them headed north into Konar, a remote Afghanistan province, around December 15, 2001 (see (December 15, 2001)). According to one unnamed US official, they stay in mountain valleys “that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Their exact location during this time is unknown. Some Guantanamo prisoners will later tell interrogators that the two leaders stay in Konar for up to 10 months. But even bin Laden’s closest followers don’t know exactly where he or al-Zawahiri have gone in Konar. One US intelligence official will later say: “It became clear that [bin Laden] was not meeting with [his followers] face to face.… People we would capture had not seen him.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Exactly how, when, or where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri go after Konar will not be revealed. But there will be reports that bin Laden moves to the village of Chak Shah Mohammad in northwest Pakistan in 2003 (see 2003-Late 2005).
Pentagon ‘Nuclear Posture Review.’ [Source: Federation of American Scientists]White House guidance and the Defense Department’s 2001 “Nuclear Posture Review” (NPR) together lead to the creation of a new set of nuclear strike options—OPLAN 8044 Revision 03—against nations that may plan to acquire weapons of mass destruction. These strike options are secretly presented to certain members of Congress. The new nuclear strike options will not be revealed until November 2007, when the Federation of American Scientists receives a partially declassified document from the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) that details the strike plans. The planning for the new strike options began shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and the US Strategic Command created scenarios for attacking countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea; the plan will take effect on March 1, 2003, just weeks before the US invasion of Iraq. Until the documents become publicly available in 2007, Bush administration and Pentagon officials will insist that not only has the US not changed its nuclear policy, it has actually decreased the role of nuclear weapons in its strategic planning (see March 10, 2002, March 9, 2002, and October 9, 2007). Those disavowals will be proven false. Instead, according to the STRATCOM document, one of the first options delineated in the NPR is the use of these newly created nuclear strike options. The significance of the NPR’s new options is in the fact that before now, such scenarios have not been included in the national strategic plans, and “on-the-shelf” plans for nuclear bombing and missile strikes against “rogue” states have not been available. Although the details of the strikes remain classified, it is evident that the planning for these strikes goes far deeper than simple retaliation, but includes, in the words of scientist Hans Kristensen: “actual nuclear warfighting intended to annihilate a wide range of facilities in order to deprive the states the ability to launch and fight with WMD. The new plan formally broadened strategic nuclear targeting from two adversaries (Russia and China) to a total of seven.” [Defense, 1/8/2002 ; Federation of American Scientists, 11/5/2007]
The FBI and Defense Department begin paying ChoicePoint, a private data-collection company, for access to its data-searching system. Neither agency is legally permitted to keep database records on US citizens, but they are effectively able to circumvent this law by contracting the task to ChoicePoint. Both agencies have steadily expanded their relationship with the company. Exactly what kind of data is being accessed and the legality of doing so remain murky. [Government Executive, 11/11/2005]
In 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that al-Qaeda leader Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) traveled to Iraq this year in an attempt to meet with Saddam Hussein. This is according to debriefings after the 2003 Iraq war. But Hussein refused to meet him and directed that he should leave Iraq because he could cause a problem for the country. Al-Walid made a similar attempt to meet with Hussein in 1998, and was similarly rebuffed (see March-June 1998). The Senate report will conclude that, despite many alleged meetings, these two attempted meetings by Al-Walid and an actual meeting between bin Laden and an Iraqi agent in 1995 (see Early 1995) were the only attempted contacts between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda before the Iraq war. [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ]
In Los Angeles, local CIA and FBI stations increase efforts to obtain intelligence from the local Iranian exile community. According to officials, Iranian businessmen and expatriates who travel frequently between the States and Iran are viewed as potential sources of intelligence on Iran’s internal opposition and the country’s nuclear program. Iranian-Americans interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 2005 will acknowledge having supplied the CIA and FBI with information. [Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2005]
Vice President Dick Cheney asks that his daily intelligence briefer from the CIA be replaced. An unnamed former CIA official later explains to Vanity Fair magazine: “One briefer annoyed Cheney and he asked that she be replaced. He asked for a new briefer. That sent a chill through the whole process. It sent out the message to the analysts, ‘Be careful with some of this stuff. Be careful what you say.’” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 242-244]
Senior CIA officials, including James Pavitt, the deputy director of operations of the CIA, ask CIA Director George Tenet to relay concerns to the White House that invading Iraq will undermine US counterterrorism efforts. They warn that it will divert attention and resources away from the ongoing fight against al-Qaeda, at a time when the United States’ counterterrorism efforts seem to be having a decisive impact. One former aide to Tenet tells author James Risen, “A lot of people went to George to tell him that Iraq would hurt the war on terrorism, but I never heard him express an opinion about war in Iraq. He would just come back from the White House and say they are going to do it.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
The CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq, headed by career officer Valerie Plame Wilson, sends approximately 30 Iraqi-American civilians back to Iraq to interrogate family members who are weapons scientists. The agency hopes that the operation will help close some gaps in the agency’s Iraq intelligence. The plan was devised by Charlie Allen, the CIA’s assistant director for collection. The operation produces a very accurate picture of Iraq’s weapons programs, though the CIA does not realize this at the time. Every single one of family members (see, e.g., May 2002-September 2002) participating in the program return from Iraq with the same information—that Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs have long since been abandoned. The program is short-lived. It is shut down by officials in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations who are reportedly jealous of Charlie Allen’s incursions onto its operational turf. The program’s results are buried and never distributed to other bodies within the intelligence community. [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 12-14]
A 2005 Spanish police report will detail that Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, considered one of the masterminds of the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), is closely monitored with court authorization in 2002. The report will quote Lina Kalaji, a translator for Spanish intelligence (UCI) who translates Fakhet’s Arabic conversations. The report will note she repeatedly warned her superiors he “was a very dangerous man and could be preparing some violent action.” But according to the report, after several months she was told by a superior, Rafael Gome Menor, that the surveillance was to be discontinued. She said this was a very bad mistake. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/29/2005] An informant will report on Fakhet until 2003 (see September 2002-October 2003), and one of Fakhet’s top aides is also an informant (see 2003). There are claims that Fakhet himself is an informant (see 2003). Lina Kalaji’s brother is Ayman Maussili Kalaji, a police officer suspected of a role in the bombings plot (see May 16, 2005).
In 1994, several key members of the Bojinka plot, which would have killed thousands if successful (see January 6, 1995), formed a front company called Konsonjaya as part of the plot (see June 1994). Konsonjaya was a trading company that ostensibly exported Malaysian palm oil to Afghanistan and also traded in honey from Sudan and Yemen. All these countries have been important nodes in al-Qaeda’s network. The Philippine government was already wiretapping calls to the Konsonjaya offices before the Bojinka plot was foiled (see 1994), and definitively linked the company to the plot by the spring of 1995 (see Spring 1995). As late as 1998, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was using Konsonjaya as cover in his international travels (see June 1998). By 1999, the FBI had realized the importance of Konsonjaya to the Bojinka plot, and had linked al-Qaeda leader Hambali to it (see May 23, 1999). [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ] In February 2002, Rodolfo Mendoza, the former head of Philippine counter-terrorism who led that country’s Bojinka investigation, will say, “According to my analysis, Konsonjaya was the nerve center not only for business but also for operational supervision [of the Bojinka plot].… The most critical question now is, ‘Where are the other former directors of Konsonjaya?’” [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002] Konsonjaya’s eight-person board of directors was made up of:
Amein Mohammed (Managing Director). His real name is Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari. He appears to have been heavily involved in the Bojinka plot. However, he has intelligence connections in the Philippines and remains the head of another front connected to Bojinka until November 2002. Then he is implicated in an October 2002 bombing and deported (see 1995 and After, February 15, 1999, and October 8-November 8, 2002). His current whereabouts are unknown.
Amein Alsanani (also Managing Director).
Annamalai N. L. Sundrasan (Secretary).
Wali Khan Amin Shah. He is one of the main Bojinka plotters and will later be sentenced to life in prison in the US for his role in that plot (see September 5, 1996).
Medhat Abdul Salam Shabana. Company records show Shabana is from Afghanistan.
Riduan bin Isumuddin (Hambali). He is arrested in Thailand in 2003 and taken into US custody (see August 12, 2003). He is believed to have roles in the 9/11 attacks, the 2002 Bali bombings, and other attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ]
Noralwizah Lee Binti Abdullah (Hambali’s wife). She is arrested with Hambali and immediately extradited to Malaysia. Two months later, the Malaysian government will place her in indefinite detention, where she apparently remains. A Malaysian official will say: “She was more than a wife to Hambali. She was a trusted aide who handled funds of the Jemaah Islamiyah [militant group].” [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ; Sydney Morning Herald, 8/16/2003; Associated Press, 10/16/2003]
Hemeid H. Alghamdi. He is described in company records as a thirty-year-old Saudi from Jeddah. [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ]
Cosain Ramos (a.k.a. Abu Ali) is also connected to Konsonjaya, but apparently he used an alias so it is not clear which name matches his. He will be arrested in the Philippines in 2002 after being linked to the 2000 Christmas Eve bombings in Indonesia (see December 24-30, 2000 and Shortly Before December 24, 2000). But bizarrely, not only is he not charged, but he is given the job of janitor at the Philippines’s highest security prison and then helps a key al-Qaeda leader escape in 2003 (see July 14, 2003).
The Los Angeles Times reports in February 2002 that the whereabouts of most of the Konsonjaya board of directors remains unknown. [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002] But strangely, investigators seemingly remain uninterested in investigating Konsonjaya’s links. In October 2002, Sundrasan, the company’s secretary as well as one of the directors, will contact a Malaysian newspaper and tell them some details about the company, including that Amin Shah opened many bank accounts in the company’s name and that the company never really conducted any business. But he will also say that no investigators, journalists, or officials have ever questioned him about the company. [Malay Mail, 10/24/2002]
Entity Tags: Amein Alsanani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Cosain Ramos, Hambali, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Annamalai N. L. Sundrasan, Noralwizah Lee Binti Abdullah, Konsonjaya, Rodolfo Mendoza, Hemeid H. Alghamdi, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, Medhat Abdul Salam Shabana
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Twice in 2002, the US passes requests to Iran to deliver al-Qaeda suspects to the the Afghan government. Iran transfers two of the suspects and seeks more information about others. Iran, in turn, asks the US to question four Taliban prisoners held at the US-run Guantanamo prison. The four men are suspects in the 1998 killing of nine Iranian diplomats in Kabul, Afghanistan. But in late 2001, the Bush administration decided on a policy of accepting help with counterterrorism efforts from officially declared state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, but not giving any help back (see Late December 2001). As a result, the Iranian request is denied. Counterterrorism “tsar” Wayne Downing will later comment, “I sided with the [CIA] guys on that. I was willing to make a deal with the devil if we could clip somebody important off or stop an attack.” The Washington Post will report, “Some believe important opportunities were lost.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
An unnamed senior CIA operative will later allege in a lawsuit that in 2002, his superiors instructed him to falsify his reporting on weapons of mass destruction because it was “contrary” to “official CIA dogma” and “the politically mandated conclusion.” When the operative refuses to change his reporting, the “management” of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division orders that he “remove himself from any further ‘handling’” of the unnamed asset, who the CIA regards as “a highly respected human asset.” The operative will also allege that CIA managers retaliated in response to his refusal to obey their orders. [Washington Post, 12/9/2004]
Blackwater wins a no-bid contract worth $5.4 million from the CIA. The nature of the contract is unknown, but it is reportedly obtained after Blackwater head Eric Prince telephones the CIA’s Executive Director A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard. [Harper's, 9/12/2006]
At some time in 2002, the the private military corporation Blackwater wins a classified contract to provide security for the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan. The circumstances and details of the contract are unknown, although this is only one of several contracts Blackwater and the CIA conclude after 9/11 (see, for example 2002 and 2004). [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
In an attempt to find Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, CIA intelligence analysts construct a composite profile of what an ideal courier for bin Laden would look like. Then they match this with what they know about bin Laden’s couriers. One US official will later say, “It was like doing the profile of a serial killer.” One courier, whose apparent real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, fits the profile very closely. However, at this time, US intelligence only knows him by his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti (see Early 2002).
He is a Pakistani Pashtun, and speaks Pashto. Most Taliban leaders are Pashtun and speak Pashto.
He speaks fluent Arabic, since he grew up in the Persian Gulf. This enables him to speak to bin Laden supporters from many countries in the Muslim world.
He is a trusted aide of al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi.
He had been a part of al-Qaeda for many years prior to 9/11.
He is adept at the use of computers.
He is fiercely loyal to bin Laden. For instance, according to multiple prisoners at Guantanamo, he was last seen next to bin Laden when bin Laden fled the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001.
An unnamed US official will later say that Ahmed emerged as the most ideal courier for bin Laden, and thus, the best way to get to bin Laden. “He fit all the needs. He was high on the short list,” the official will say. As a result, the search for Ahmed is intensified. More prisoners in US custody are asked what they know about him. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
Qualid Benomrane’s 2001 tax driver license. [Source: FBI]The FBI interviews Qualid Benomrane, an Arabic-speaking taxi driver who had done chauffeur work for the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. Benomrane is shown pictures of young Arab men and asked if he recognizes any of them. He quickly picks hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar out of the line-up. After realizing they were 9/11 hijackers, he denies knowing them. The FBI asks him about his ties to Fahad al Thumairy, an official at the Saudi consulate suspected of a link with those two hijackers. Benomrane says that al Thumairy introduced him to two young Saudi men who had just arrived in the US and needed help. Benomrane drove them to places in Los Angeles and San Diego, including Sea World, a theme park in San Diego. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] (Curiously, these two hijackers bought season passes to Sea World.) [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] 9/11 Commission staffers will later conclude it is highly likely that the two men were Alhazmi and Almihdhar, despite Benomrane’s later denial. This would mean al Thumairy knew the two hijackers. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] However, the 9/11 Commission will fail to mention anything about this in their final report.
US embassies are approached by a number of individuals claiming to have information about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs. But in every case, the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq—the division that has been tasked with following these leads—determines that the would-be informant is a fabricator. The agency suspects that these individuals are being sent to them by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 14-15]
Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, later says that the issue of fugitive Taliban leaders living in Pakistan was repeatedly raised with senior Pakistani intelligence officials in 2002. “The results were just not there. And it was quite clear to me that it wasn’t just bad luck.” [New York Times, 8/12/2007] For instance, in December 2001 the Guardian reported that many Taliban leaders are living openly in large villas in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001). But Grenier decides that Pakistan will not act on the Taliban and urges them to focus on arresting al-Qaeda operatives instead. “From our perspective at the time, the Taliban was a spent force. We were very much focused on al-Qaeda and didn’t want to distract the Pakistanis from that.” Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Afghanistan, US military officials, and some Bush administration officials periodically argue that the Taliban are crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and killing US soldiers and aid workers (see August 18, 2005 and June 18, 2005). But it is not until some time in 2006 that President Bush strenuously presses Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf about acting on the Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Even then, Bush reportedly tells his aides that he worries the ties between the Pakistani ISI and the Taliban continue and no serious action will be taken despite Musharraf’s assurances. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Helaluddin Helal, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister in 2002 and 2003, later claims that he becomes convinced at this time that Pakistani ISI officers are protecting bin Laden. He says that he passes intelligence reports on the location of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but nothing is done in response. “We would tell them we had information that al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders were living in specific areas. The Pakistanis would say no, you’re wrong, but we will go and check. And then they would come back and say those leaders are not living there. [The Pakistanis] were going to these places and moving the al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/9/2007] Some al-Qaeda leaders are captured during this time, but there are also reports that Taliban leaders are living openly in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001 and 2002-2006).
In late 2001 or early 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld creates Operation Copper Green, which is a “special access program” with “blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate ‘high value’ targets.” especially al-Qaeda leaders (see Late 2001-Early 2002). According to a Pentagon counterterrorism consultant involved in the operation, the authorizations are “very calibrated” and vague in order to minimize political risk. “The CIA never got the exact language it wanted.” According to a high-level CIA official involved in the operation, the White House would hint to the CIA that the CIA should operate outside official guidelines to do what it wants to do. The CIA will later deny this, but CIA Director George Tenet will later acknowledge that there had been a struggle “to get clear guidance” in terms of how far to go during detainee interrogations. Slowly, official authorizations are expanded, and according to journalist Seymour Hersh, they turn “several nations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia into free-fire zones with regard to high-value targets.” But Copper Green has top-level secrecy and runs outside normal bureaucracies and rules. According to Hersh, “In special cases, the task forces could bypass the chain of command and deal directly with Rumsfeld’s office.” One CIA officer tells Hersh that the task-force teams “had full authority to whack—to go in and conduct ‘executive action,’” meaning political assassination. The officer adds, “It was surrealistic what these guys were doing. They were running around the world without clearing their operations with the ambassador or the chief of station.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007] Another former intelligence official tells Hersh, “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’” [Guardian, 9/13/2004] The above-mentioned high-level CIA official will claim, “The dirt and secrets are in the back channel. All this open business—sitting in staff meetings, etc…, etc…—is the Potemkin Village stuff.” Over time, people with reservations about the program get weeded out. The official claims that by 2006, “the good guys… are gone.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
An unnamed CIA case officer with the agency’s Directorate of Operations (DO) will later say with regard to Iraq’s alleged arsenal of WMD: “Where I was working, I never saw anything—no one else there did either.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 333]
Adel al-Nusairi, a Saudi Arabian police officer, is captured in Afghanistan and eventually sent to the US detention facility at Guantanamo. Al-Nusairi will recall that he is interrogated for hours on end, but only after being injected with some form of drug. “I’d fall asleep” after the shots, he will tell his attorney, Anant Raut, in 2005. After he is awakened, he is interrogated in marathon questioning sessions, where, he later claims, he gives false information in order to be left alone. “I was completely gone,” he will recall. “I said, ‘Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I’m a member of al-Qaeda, I will.’” After years of captivity, al-Nusairi is eventually returned to Saudi Arabia without being charged with a crime; he never learns what kind of drugs he was subjected to while in US custody. He believes he was given drugs in order to coerce him into making statements that would implicate him in terrorist activity. Raut will later recall: “They thought he was hiding something. He was injected in the arm with something that made him tired—that made his brain cloudy. When he would try to read the Koran, his brain would not focus. He had unusual lethargy and would drool on himself.” Al-Nusairi will recall one interrogation session in an ice-cold room where he is so cold and desperate for sleep that he signs a confession testifying to his involvement in al-Qaeda. According to al-Nusairi, the interrogator watched him sign his name, and “then he smiled and turned off the air conditioner. And I went to sleep.” Al-Nusairi is held for three years more until he is abruptly returned to Saudi custody and released. Raut will later muse, “He signed the statement, and they declared him an enemy combatant, yet they released him anyway with no explanation.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
Hayatullah Khan. [Source: Public domain]In the wake of the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in January 2002 (see January 31, 2002), Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will write, “Some Pakistani journalists suspected that hard-line elements in one of the [Pakistani] intelligence agencies may have encouraged militants to carry out the kidnapping of a Western journalist in order to discourage reporters from delving to deeply into extremist groups.” Rashid frequently writes for the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Daily Telegraph and is considered a regional expert. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 153]
In November 2001, Daily Telegraph journalist Christina Lamb was expelled from Pakistan after investigating the links between the ISI and the Taliban (see November 10, 2001).
Suspicions that the ISI is intimidating inquisitive journalists are strengthened in December 2003 when two French journalists working for the magazine L’Express are arrested and put on trial for visa violations after visiting the border town of Quetta to investigate how the Taliban is regrouping in Pakistan. Their Pakistani fixer is charged with sedition and conspiracy. These arrests are seen as a blunt warning to journalists to avoid Quetta, where most Taliban leaders are living.
In May 2004, journalists working for Newsweek and the New Yorker are arrested and held for several weeks after entering North Waziristan, where al-Qaeda is regrouping. This is considered a similar warning to avoid Waziristan. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 426]
Two local journalists are killed by unknown assailants in Pakistan’s tribal region in 2005, causing many other journalists to avoid the region. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 275]
On December 1, 2005, the US kills al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza Rabia in Waziristan with a missile fired from a Predator drone (see December 1, 2005). Pakistan does not want it to be known that they are allowing the US to launch such attacks in their territory, but a local journalist named Hayatullah Khan takes photographs of pieces of the missile, which are then shown all over the world. Several days later, Khan disappears. When his body is eventually discovered, it has military handcuffs, torture marks, and five bullet wounds in the head. His family accuses the ISI of torturing and then killing him. The government promises an investigation into his murder, but does not actually conduct one. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 275]
In 2006, British and NATO forces take over from US forces in the southern regions of Afghanistan where Taliban resistance is the strongest. The British discover that between 2002 and 2005, the US had not monitored Taliban activity in the southern provinces or across the border in Quetta, Pakistan, where most of the Taliban leadership resides. NATO officers describe the intelligence about the Taliban in these regions as “appalling.” Most Predators were withdrawn from Afghanistan around April 2002 (see April 2002) and satellites and others communications interception equipment was moved to Iraq around the same time (see May 2002). One US general based in Afghanistan privately admits to a reporter that NATO will pay the price for the lack of surveillance in those regions. This general says the Iraq war has taken up resources and the US concentrated what resources they had left in the region on areas where they thought al-Qaeda leaders were, giving little attention to regions only occupied by the Taliban. As a result, at the end of 2005, NATO intelligence estimates that the Taliban have only 2,000 fighters. But Taliban offensives in 2006 show this number to be a dramatic underestimate. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 359]
Hasib Hussain. [Source: Metropolitan Police]Three of the suicide bombers in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) have families from Pakistan, and two of them, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, make multiple trips to Pakistan and attend militant training camps there (see July 2001, Late 2003, July-September 2003, and November 18, 2004-February 8, 2005). The third ethnically Pakistani bomber, Hasib Hussain, does go to Pakistan, but exactly when, how many times, and what for remains murky. It is undisputed that he travels there some time in 2002. According to some friends, he visits a madrassa (Islamic boarding school) there, but according to other friends, he only visits relatives. His 2002 trip also takes him to Saudi Arabia, where he goes on the religious haj to Mecca. When he comes back to Britain he is noticeably more religiously observant, growing a beard and starting to wear robes. Friends say he also starts openly supporting Islamist militancy. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/17/2005; BBC, 5/11/2006] It will be widely reported just after the 7/7 bombings that he returns to Pakistan on July 15, 2004. However, it will later be determined that the passport record is of someone else with the same name who does go to Pakistan on that date. [BBC, 7/21/2005] But Hussain’s parents say that he is gone for about four months in the middle of 2004, so he could be in Pakistan after all, or in some other unknown destination. [Washington Post, 7/19/2005]
The CIA begins to build “black stations” around the world.
Size of Network - There are around 12 such stations, which are based in front companies. About half of them are located in Europe, including one in Portugal, partly because of the comfortable living conditions and ease of travel. The program costs hundreds of millions of dollars as the stations have to rent office space, hire staff to answer phones, and pay for cars and other props, as well as creating fictitious client lists and resumes that can withstand sustained scrutiny. The black stations differ from normal CIA stations, which are based at US embassies and staffed with officers posing as officials of other US agencies, because their staff pose as employees of investment banks, consulting firms, or other fictitious enterprises with no apparent ties to the US government. Whereas the CIA had previously used one- or two-person consulting firms as vehicles for nonofficial cover, the new black stations are companies employing six to nine officers, plus support staff. Due to the size of the stations, they not only have experienced officers, but also relatively inexperienced ones, who are rotated in and out in much the same way they would be in standard embassy assignments.
Reasoning behind Stations - One reason for setting up the network is that embassy-based stations are not as useful against the CIA’s new adversaries as they were against the KGB and its proxies, which were also based in embassies. As a government official will later comment, “Terrorists and weapons proliferators aren’t going to be on the diplomatic cocktail circuit.” In addition, the Bush administration orders the CIA to expand its overseas operation by 50 percent, Congress pressures it to alter its approach to designing cover, and it gets extra funding for the nonofficial cover program—the black stations are a way of dealing with all these three aspects. Further, the CIA has a lot of recruits after 9/11, but no open overseas positions to put them in. Some of the new hires are discouraged by this and leave, and the agency hopes the black stations will encourage people to stay.
Method of Use - The plan is to use the stations solely as bases. Officers are forbidden from conducting operations in the country where their company is located. Instead, they are expected to adopt second and sometimes third aliases before traveling to their targets. The companies then remain intact to serve as vessels for the next crop of officers, who will have different targets. Therefore, if an operation goes wrong, the locals will only identify a single agent, but will not be able to trace him back to a black station because he is using a second alias. For example, the officers at the black station in Portugal are to travel to North Africa for missions.
Later Curtailed - The program will be significantly curtailed some years later (see Between Late 2005 and February 2008). [Los Angeles Times, 2/17/2008]
Undated vacation photograph of Said Bahaji. From left to right: Bahaji’s sister Maryam, his German mother Annaliese, Bahaji, and his Moroccan father Abdullah. [Source: Public domain via the Wall Street Journal]Hamburg Al-Qaeda cell member Said Bahaji works with al-Qaeda and lives in the tribal region of Pakistan, but he maintains some contact with relatives in Germany. However, intelligence agencies are unable to arrest or kill him by tracing these contacts. Some captured militants later claim they saw Bahaji in training camps in Afghanistan in the months after 9/11 (see for instance September 10, 2001). They say that his leg was wounded in fighting with US forces there, and he now goes by the alias Abu Zuhair. In April 2002, Bahaji sends a letter to his mother Anneliese insisting on his innocence in the 9/11 attacks. German officials see this as a whitewash however, especially since he fled Germany to Pakistan a few days before the attacks (see September 3-5, 2001), showing foreknowledge by doing so. He continues to periodically contact family members in Germany with e-mails or phone calls. For instance, he sends his wife Neshe in Germany an e-mail in March 2004. Over time, the contacts between Bahaji and his wife grow contentious. He wants her and their young son to join him in the remote regions of Pakistan, but they are unable to work this out. In March 2006, they divorce via e-mail. Bahaji is later seen with a new wife from Spain, and new children. In 2009, Bahaji’s mother will say her last contact from her son came in a 2007 phone call (see 2007). Details of Bahaji’s other communications will not be made public until August 2011. According to Der Spiegel, Bahaji’s communications with people in Germany have been “agonizing for investigators who were chasing Bahaji, but never managed to localize him in time.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/29/2011]
Mark Rossini, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA before 9/11, becomes a key briefer at an important daily CIA meeting. According to CIA Director George Tenet, the meeting is one of “the most significant keys to our accomplishments against the terrorists” after 9/11, and its aim is for all stakeholders in counterterrorism at the agency to come together and discuss recent events and steps the agency will take. Although Rossini is not initially involved in the meetings, which start after 9/11 and run for three years, he later becomes one of the first briefers, presumably some time in 2002 or 2003. Tenet will say Rossini “was affectionately called ‘The Voice,’ because his deep baritone imparted a special sense of urgency.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 230-231] Before 9/11, Rossini became aware that the CIA had withheld information from the FBI about one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar. Rossini protested against this once, but then let the matter drop (see January 6, 2000). He later lied to investigators about what happened (see (February 12, 2004)).
Bruce Hardcastle, the Defense Intelligence Agency officer assigned to Bill Luti, provides Luti’s office, the Office of Special Plans, with intelligence briefings. But his reports are not utilized by Luti or his colleagues, because they do not support neoconservatives’ assumptions about Iraq’s weapon capabilities and terrorist activities. [Salon, 3/10/2004 Sources: Paul O’Neill]
Senior US military officials later concede that many of the interrogators initially sent to Guantanamo prison are poorly prepared. Almost none of them have any background in terrorism, al-Qaeda, or other relevant subjects, and many have never questioned a real prisoner before. One even is a reservist who had been managing a donut store. Interrogators often ask the same simple questions over and over again, such as “Do you know bin Laden?” Many interpreters are hired by private contractors and have no intelligence experience. Superiors responsible for military operations in Latin America with no experience with al-Qaeda often rewrite reports on prisoners. Army intelligence officer Lt. Col. Anthony Christino III will later recall, “At the beginning, the process was broken everywhere. The quality of the screening, the quality of the interrogations and the quality of the analysis were all very poor. Efforts were made to improve things, but after decades of neglect of human intelligence skills, it can’t be fixed in a few years.” [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
Most of Task Force 5’s members are called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq. In early 2002, there were roughly 150 Task Force 5 commandos in Afghanistan. After the massive transfer, Task Force 5’s numbers dip to as low as 30 men. Task Force 5 is a top-secret elite group that includes CIA paramilitary units and military “special mission units,” or SMUs. One of the SMUs is the former Delta Force. The name of the other unit, which specializes in human and technical intelligence operations, is not known. The Washington Post will later note, “These elite forces, along with the battlefield intelligence technology of Predator and Global Hawk drone aircraft, were the scarcest tools of the hunt for jihadists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.” According to Flynt Leverett, a career CIA analyst assigned to the State Deparmtent, “There is a direct consequence for us having taken these guys out prematurely. There were people on the staff level raising questions about what that meant for getting al-Qaeda, for creating an Afghan security and intelligence service [to help combat jihadists]. Those questions didn’t get above staff level, because clearly there had been a strategic decision taken.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] In 2003, Task Force 5 will be disbanded and then merged into the new Task Force 121, which is to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan. [New York Times, 11/7/2003]
When al-Qaeda operative Ramzi bin al-Shbih is captured in Karachi, Pakistan, in September 2002 (see September 11, 2002), a sign-in book is found with names and passport numbers. US investigators discover that one of Osama bin Laden’s wives and two of his sons had signed in, and their passports had been issued in their real bin Laden names by Sudan in early 2002, through the Sudanese Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. President Bush is briefed on this, and US intelligence figures suspect that high-ranking Sudanese leaders must have approved the passports and are playing a double game of supporting bin Laden and the US at the same time. The Sudanese government suggests that the officials involved may have been paid off. In a show of good faith, they provide vigorous assistance on several other CIA initiatives. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 165-166]
Bruce Riedel. [Source: Brookings Institute]Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert at the CIA, will say in 2007 shortly after retiring, “There hasn’t been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002. What we’re doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero.” Other intelligence officials interviewed by Newsweek will agree that since that time US intelligence has never had a better than 50 percent certainty about his location. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] An anonymous former CIA official will similarly tell the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that not only does the US have no idea where bin Laden is, but since 2002 the US has not even had information that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified (see May 20, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke. [Source: Department of Defense]While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” [Washington Post, 4/21/2008] Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. [Truthout (.org), 4/28/2008] Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. [Democracy Now!, 4/22/2008]
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Paul Vallely, Thomas G. McInerney, William S. Cohen, Wayne Downing, US Department of Defense, William Nash, William Kristol, New York Times, Joseph Ralston, Kenneth Allard, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Brent T. Krueger, Barry McCaffrey, ABC News, CNN, Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, David Barstow, Don Meyer, Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, NBC, Jeffrey McCausland, Fox News, Donald Rumsfeld, James Marks, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
American al-Qaeda member Jose Padilla (see September-October 2000) and an unidentified associate approach an al-Qaeda operations chief to propose detonating a nuclear bomb in the US. The plan is considered too far-fetched, and the idea of a radioactive “dirty bomb” is floated instead. Al-Qaeda leaders consider Padilla an incompetent who has virtually no chance of pulling off such an attack (see Mid-April 2002). [Associated Press, 6/2004]
Ali Soufan, an experienced FBI interrogator with an extensive knowledge of both Arab culture and al-Qaeda (see Late December 1999, Late October-Late November 2000, November 11, 2000, Early December 2000, and Late March through Early June, 2002), goes to Guantanamo to conduct training on non-coercive interrogation methods for the interrogators stationed there. Soufan says that not only are these methods the most effective, but they are critical to maintaining the US image in the Middle East and elsewhere. “The whole world is watching what we do here,” Soufan says. “We’re going to win or lose this war depending on how we do this.” According to Robert McFadden, a US naval criminal investigator who worked with Soufan on the USS Cole investigation, the interrogators from law enforcement nod in agreement, while the military intelligence officers just sit and look at Soufan “with blank stares.” McFadden will later recall: “It’s like they were thinking, ‘This is bullcrap.’ Their attitude was, ‘You guys are cops; we don’t have time for this.’” [Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
The CIA first learns that Osama bin Laden has a trusted courier who uses the alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. CIA Director Leon Panetta will later state, “The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country.” US intelligence won’t learn the courier’s real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed until years later. When they do, this will be the vital clue that leads them to bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Washington Post, 5/12/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
Sometime in early 2002, President Bush signs a secret executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap phone conversations and read e-mails to and from US citizens. The order extends an operation set into motion at least as early as October 2001 to begin wiretapping US citizens’ phones in a response to the 9/11 attacks. When the program is revealed by the US media in late 2005 (see December 15, 2005), Bush and his officials will say the program is completely legal, though it ignores the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that requires the government to obtain court-issued warrants to mount surveillance against US citizens. They will insist that only those suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda are monitored, and only when those individuals make or receive international communications. [New York Times, 12/15/2005; Washington Post, 12/22/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] Bush’s order authorizes the NSA to monitor international telephone conversations and international e-mails of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of US citizens without court warrants, in an effort to track what officials call “dirty numbers” linked to al-Qaeda. When the program is finally revealed by the New York Times over three years later (see December 15, 2005), officials will say that the NSA still seeks warrants to monitor domestic communications. But there is little evidence of this (see, for example, Spring 2001). The presidential order is a radical shift in US surveillance and intelligence-gathering policies, and a major realignment for the NSA, which is mandated to only conduct surveillance abroad. Some officials believe that the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping crosses constitutional limits on legal searches. “This is really a sea change,” a former senior official who specializes in national security law will say in December 2005. “It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the NSA only does foreign searches.” [New York Times, 12/15/2005] Some sources indicate that NSA domestic surveillance activities, such as data-mining, the use of information concerning US persons intercepted in foreign call monitoring, and possibly direct surveillance of US persons, took place prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
By early 2002, Syria emerges as one of the CIA’s most effective intelligence sources on al-Qaeda. Syria is one of seven countries on a State Department list of sponsors of terrorism. It has been on that list since 1979, mostly because of its support for Hezbollah combating Israel. But Syria is also an opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda has many connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, especially its Syrian branch. According to journalist Seymour Hersh in New Yorker magazine, “The Syrians had compiled hundreds of files on al-Qaeda, including dossiers on the men who participated—and others who wanted to participate—in the September 11th attacks. Syria also penetrated al-Qaeda cells throughout the Middle East and in Arab exile communities throughout Europe.” It appears Syrian intelligence may even have penetrated the Hamburg cell tied to the 9/11 plot, as hijacker Mohamed Atta and other cell members, such as Mohammed Haydar Zammar, occasionally worked at a German firm called Tatex Trading, which was infiltrated by Syrian intelligence (see September 10, 2002-June 2003). For a time, the Syrians give much of what they know to the CIA and FBI. A former State Department official says, “Up through January of 2003, the cooperation was top-notch. Then we were going to do Iraq, and some people in the [Bush] administration got heavy-handed. They wanted Syria to get involved in operational stuff having nothing to do with al-Qaeda and everything to do with Iraq. It was something Washington wanted from the Syrians, and they didn’t want to do it.” Hersh reports, “The collapse of the liaison relationship has left many CIA operatives especially frustrated. ‘The guys are unbelievably pissed that we’re blowing this away,’ a former high-level intelligence official told me. ‘There was a great channel… The Syrians were a lot more willing to help us, but they’—[Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld and his colleagues—“want to go in [Syria after the Iraq war].’” [New Yorker, 7/18/2003]
Claire Fraser-Liggett. [Source: University of Maryland]In late 2001, the FBI decides to try to decode the entire DNA sequence of the anthrax genome in an attempt to generate new leads for its anthrax attacks investigation. There are about five million units in the genome. The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), a leader in decoding microbe genomes, is given this task. TIGR director Claire Fraser-Liggett forms a small team of scientists. By early 2002, this TIGR team completes the genome. Then they compare the anthrax used in the letter sent to the Sun tabloid to a sample of the same strain, the Ames strain, maintained at Porton Down, the British biological weapons facility. The team finds several differences between the samples, raising the possibility that they could learn exactly which laboratory the anthrax used in the attacks came from. The team then looks at the original Ames strain, taken from a dead cow in Texas in 1981, to attempt to see how the anthrax in the letter evolved from the original. By late 2002, this task is finished but investigators are disappointed to learn that there are almost no noticeable differences between the original Ames strain and the anthrax used in the attacks. [New York Times, 8/20/2008]
In late December 1999, Rita Katz, working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, gave a presentation in the White House to members of the National Security Council (NSC) about a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper cell based in Anaheim, California (see December 25, 1999). The NSC forwarded the information her team gleaned from public sources to the FBI. Katz later repeatedly asked a contact she had with the NSC named Peter what happened to the lead she gave them. Peter replied that he assumed the FBI was just sitting on the material. [Katz, 2003, pp. 180] Around January 2002, Katz is contacted by an FBI agent in California who is looking for investigative leads on al-Qaeda in California. Katz forwards him all her information she gave in her White House presentation back in 1999. According to Katz, the agent looks over the material and says it is “very strong… I want to go all the way with this investigation.” Then the agent registers his investigation with the FBI so other agents with leads could contact him. A few days later, he calls Katz and says that he has been taken off the case because it falls into the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Anaheim office. Apparently that office does nothing with the lead. In 1999, Katz suggested the cell included Khalil Deek, arrested in late 1999 for involvement in a millennium bomb plot in Jordan (see December 11, 1999), his brother Tawfiq Deek, Hisham Diab, and Khalid Ashour. [Katz, 2003, pp. 186-187] ABC News will later report that Diab continued to live in Anaheim until June 2001, when he apparently moved to Afghanistan to stay with top al-Qaeda leaders. [ABC News, 12/23/2004] Khalil Deek is mysteriously released in Jordan around the same time (see May 2001); it will later be alleged that he was a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). By late 1999, Ashour had requested asylum in the US. Katz will later note that he “could have been easily located, investigated, and if necessary, denied asylum and deported.” But as of 2003, Katz claims Ashour still lives in the US. [Katz, 2003, pp. 187] Tawfiq Deek apparently continues to live in Anaheim as well, where he works for the state’s Department of Toxic Substance Control as a chemical engineer. He denies all terrorism ties, though he confirms that he was an active member of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which the FBI has called a Hamas front group. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005] Another associate of the above group, Adam Gadahn, will emerge in Afghanistan in 2004 as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman (see Spring 2004).
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