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The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry had been frustrated in its attempts to speak with Abdussattar Shaikh (see October 5, 2002), the FBI informant who was a landlord to two of the 9/11 hijackers (see Mid-May-December 2000; May 10-Mid-December 2000). On this day, a senior FBI official sends a letter to Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) and Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL), the co-chairs of the Inquiry. In explaining why the FBI has been uncooperative and not allowed the informant to testify, the letter says, “the Administration would not sanction a staff interview with the source, nor did the Administration agree to allow the FBI to serve a subpoena or a notice of deposition on the source.” Graham later will comment, “We were seeing in writing what we had suspected for some time: the White House was directing the cover-up.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 166]
US officials claim that captured would-be hijacker Ramzi bin al-Shibh has said that Zacarias Moussaoui met 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in Afghanistan during the winter of 2000-01 and that KSM gave Moussaoui the names of US contacts. [Washington Post, 11/20/2002] Bin al-Shibh and KSM agreed Moussaoui should be nothing more than a back-up figure in the 9/11 plot because he could not keep a secret and was too volatile and untrustworthy. Supposedly, bin al-Shibh wired Moussaoui money intended for other terrorist activities, not 9/11. [USA Today, 11/20/2002] There have been suggestions that the US may move Moussaoui’s case from a civilian court to a military tribunal, which would prevent bin al-Shibh from testifying, but the issue remains undecided. [USA Today, 11/20/2002]
An Afghan detainee dies of hypothermia while being brutalized by CIA interrogators at a secret prison north of Kabul code-named the “Salt Pit” (see After October 2001). The detainee, whose name is Gul Rahman, is considered uncooperative (see November 2002). [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005; Associated Press, 3/28/2010] He had originally been arrested in Pakistan, and then brought to Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] An inexperienced junior CIA case officer named Matthew Zirbel, who is in charge of the Salt Pit, orders Rahman to be stripped semi-naked, chained to the concrete floor, and left overnight without blankets. [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005; Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009, pp. 29 ] The incident will later be confirmed by four government officials. Afghan guards paid by the CIA and working under agency supervision take Rahman to an abandoned warehouse, drag him around on the concrete floor, causing bruising and lacerations, before chaining him in his cell. When night falls, the temperature plummets. Rahman is found in the morning, frozen to death. A CIA medic quickly autopsies him and states that “hypothermia” is the cause of death, and guards bury the body in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces. The man’s family is not notified, and his remains are never returned for a proper burial. The man is not listed on any registry of captives, not even as a so-called “ghost detainee.” One government official says simply, “He just disappeared from the face of the earth.” Zirbel will later be promoted. [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005] Zirbel’s supervisor, the CIA chief of station in Afghanistan known only as Paul P., will go on to play a role in incidents of detainee abuse in Iraq, although details about this are unknown. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009; Harper's, 3/28/2010] Colleagues later describe Zirbel as “bright… eager, [and] full of energy,” and say that he was placed in charge of the facility because “there were not enough senior-level volunteers,” according to one senior intelligence officer. “It’s not a job just anyone would want. More senior people said, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ There was a real notable absence of high-ranking people” in Afghanistan. Moreover, the officer will add: “[T]he CIA did not have a deep cadre of people who knew how to run prisons. It was a new discipline. There’s a lot of room to get in trouble.” The CIA will brief the chairmen and vice chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the death, but at least one official will say the briefing is incomplete. Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will ask the committee chairman, Pat Roberts (R-KS), to investigate Rahman’s death, but Roberts will refuse. No one is sure if Rahman had any real connection to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. “He was probably associated with people who were associated with al-Qaeda,” one US government official will say. [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005]
Assef Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence. [Source: Agence France-Presse]German intelligence officials are able to interview Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg with some of the 9/11 hijackers, while he is being secretly held in a Syrian prison. Zammar was born and raised in Syria but later became a German citizen. He was arrested in Morocco in late 2001 and sent by the US to Syria for torture and interrogation (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001).
Secret Deal between Syria and Germany - In July 2002, German officials met with Syrian officials at the German Federal Chancellery in Berlin. The Syrians were led by Assef Shawkat, a trusted associate and relative of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Germans included the heads of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA). The Syrians wanted the Germans to call off a German legal case that had charged two Syrians, one of them an employee at the Syrian embassy, with espionage. The Syrians also wanted Germany to call off an investigation into President Assad’s uncle, Faisal Sammak, for storing explosives at a diplomatic residence, which resulted in a 1983 bombing in Berlin that killed one person. The Germans in return wanted the Syrians to disband their network of spies in Germany, and they wanted access to Zammar. The Germans and Syrians struck a deal based on these demands. Shortly thereafter, German prosecutors dropped the charges against the two Syrians accused of espionage. In return, German officials are allowed to meet with Zammar as long as the meeting and all information from it remain secret.
Meeting with Zammar - On November 20, 2002, six German intelligence officials, including those from the BND and BKA, plus those from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), go to Damascus, Syria, to see Zammar. The prison is notorious for frequently using torture, and the German officials cannot miss that Zammar has been ill-treated and tortured. In fact, Zammar used to weigh about 300 pounds, and he has lost around 100 pounds. Zammar speaks with surprising candor, perhaps feeling confident that the Germans will never be able to use his confession in any criminal case because he has been so clearly tortured by the Syrians. Zammar admits that he attended a militant training camp in Afghanistan in 1991. He attended another Afghan camp in 1994, where he learned how to use poison and various weapons. In the summer of 1995, he fought with the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs. In September 2000, he says he brought money to Afghanistan for al-Qaeda and even had a face-to-face meeting with Osama bin Laden (see September-October 2000).
Zammar's Link to the 9/11 Plotters - Zammar claims that he met 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg in 1996, and met hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh soon thereafter. He met hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in 1998, and had more contact with him. Zammar claims he helped Atta, bin al-Shibh, Alshehhi, and hijacker Ziad Jarrah get to Afghanistan in late 1999. However, when they returned, he only heard a general account of their training and he was not told anything about the 9/11 plot. Zammar had a sense that something big was happening, because in early September 2001, many of the members of the Hamburg cell left Germany for Afghanistan around the same time. For instance, when cell member Said Bahaji left Germany (see September 3-5, 2001), Zammar and some other friends (including Mounir El Motassadeq and Abdelghani Mzoudi) accompanied him to the airport to say goodbye. The German officials realize that Zammar may not be as honest about his knowledge of the 9/11 plot as he is with other details, but they are fairly certain from their intelligence investigation that he supported the hijackers in a general way without having detailed foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005] However, in 2003 it will emerge that another al-Qaeda operative told investigators that Zammar told him in August 2001 to leave Germany very soon because something big was about to happen (see August 2001). So Zammar may not have been honest on his knowledge of the 9/11 plot. [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2003]
Intelligence Cannot Be Used - The German officials show Zammar a series of photographs of suspected German militants and ask him to identify them. He does identify and discuss some of them, including German businessman Mamoun Darkazanli. Discussions with Zammar continue for three days. However, none of his confession will subsequently be used in any court cases. Der Spiegel will later comment, “The six officials [who questioned Zammar] and their agencies know full well that no court operating under the rule of law would ever accept an interrogation conducted in a Damascus prison notorious for its torture practices.”
Secret Deal Falls Apart - German officials plan to return to Syria and question Zammar some more. However, this never happens because the Syrians renege on their part of the deal, after they fail to cut back on their spying efforts in Germany. One anonymous German official will later say, “The [deal] was an attempt, but we now know that it was a mistake.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005]
Entity Tags: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Shu’bat al-Mukhabarat al-‘Askariyya, Osama bin Laden, Ziad Jarrah, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Mounir El Motassadeq, Bundeskriminalamt Germany, Al-Qaeda, Assef Shawkat, Bashar Assad, Abdelghani Mzoudi, Mohamed Atta, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Marwan Alshehhi, Mamoun Darkazanli, Faisal Sammak, Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, James Pavitt, informs the agency’s inspector general, John Helgerson, that the CIA Counterterrorist Center has established a program to detain and interrogate terrorists at foreign sites. At the same time, Pavitt also informs Helgerson that he has just learned of an apparently controversial incident and sent a team to investigate it. It appears that the incident triggered the notification to the inspector general about the program. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1 ] The incident is the killing of detainee Gul Rahman at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see After October 2001 and November 20, 2002). [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] The detention and interrogation program has been in operation since March at the latest, as high-value detainee Abu Zubaida was arrested and then taken to a CIA black site at that time (see March 28, 2002 and April - June 2002). However, it is unclear whether Helgerson was aware of the program prior to being informed by Pavitt.
CIA Assistant Deputy Director for Operations (ADDO) Stephen Kappes coaches a CIA officer in the field on what to write in a cable about the death of a detainee at the agency’s Salt Pit prison. The detainee, Gul Rahman, had been doused with water and left in the cold, later being found dead (see November 20, 2002). Reporter Jeff Stein will say that Kappes coaches the “base chief” over the cable, so presumably this means the officer responsible for the prison. [Washingtonian, 3/25/2010] This officer’s full name is not known, but his last name is Zirbel. [Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009 ] According to two officials who read a report by the CIA’s inspector general on the killing, Kappes coaches Zirbel on how to deal with the incident. “The ADDO’s direction to the field officer anticipated that something worse had occurred and so gave him directions on how to report the situation in his cable,” one of the officials will say. “The ADDO basically told the officer, ‘Don’t put something in the report that can’t be proved or that you are going to have trouble explaining.’ In essence, the officer was told: Be careful what you put in your cable because the investigators are coming out there and they will pick your cable apart, and any discrepancies will be difficult to explain.” As a result, the official will say, Zirbel’s cable is “minimalist in its reporting” on what happened to Rahman. “It seems to me the ADDO should have been telling him, ‘Report the truth, don’t hold anything back, there’s an investigative team coming out, be honest and forthright. But that was not the message that was given to the chief of base by the ADDO.” CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano will later deny this, calling this account “pathetic,” but will not say exactly what is wrong with it. [Washingtonian, 3/25/2010]
The CIA officer known only as Paul P., who was chief of station in Afghanistan at the time a subordinate caused a detainee to freeze to death, is promoted multiple times. The death occurred in late November 2002, when an officer named Matthew Zirbel had the detainee, Gul Rahman, doused in water and left with few clothes in the cold at the Salt Pit prison (see November 20, 2002). The station chief was involved in the death and an investigation by the CIA’s inspector general will examine his actions. Nevertheless, according to former officials speaking in 2010, Paul P. “has been promoted at least three times.” [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] The officer will be referred to as “Mr. P” in a post by Harper’s journalist Scott Horton. Horton refers to the Zirbel as “Mr. Z,” indicating that Paul P.‘s real surname may actually begin with the letter P, although this is not certain. [Harper's, 3/28/2010] His first name will be revealed by the Associated Press in 2011. [Associated Press, 2/9/2011] Richard Blee had been appointed station chief in Afghanistan in December 2001 (see December 9, 2001), but would appear to have left the position by this time.
According to a later investigation by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director for Nonproliferation informs US State Department officials that France is in possession of intelligence suggesting that Iraq made an unsuccessful attempt to purchase uranium from Niger. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The US reportedly learns that this assessment (see March 4, 2003) is based on the forged documents. However, according to French intelligence official Alain Chouet, by this time, French intelligence has already dismissed the intelligence and communicated this to Langley (see Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002).
The CIA’s office of the inspector general begins an investigation of the killing of detainee Gul Rahman at the agency’s Salt Pit black site in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002). The investigation begins after the agency’s inspector general, John Helgerson, is notified of the incident by management (see Shortly After November 20, 2002). It is unclear whether the inspector general issues a separate report on this incident or whether his office’s conclusions about it are contained in a general report on the effectiveness of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program (see May 7, 2004). Whatever the case, the inspector general’s conclusions focus on two agency officials, an officer named Matthew Zirbel, who caused Rahman’s death, and his boss, the CIA’s station chief in Afghanistan, known only as Paul P. The investigation finds that Zirbel displayed poor judgement in leaving Rahman to die, but that he made repeated requests for guidance that were largely ignored. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010]
Newsweek reports that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar may have received money from Saudi Arabia’s royal family through two Saudis, Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. Newsweek bases its report on information leaked from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October. [Newsweek, 11/22/2002; Newsweek, 11/22/2002; New York Times, 11/23/2002; Washington Post, 11/23/2003] Al-Bayoumi is in Saudi Arabia by this time. Basnan was deported to Saudi Arabia just five days earlier. Saudi officials and Princess Haifa immediately deny any connections to Islamic militants. [Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002] Newsweek reports that while the money trail “could be perfectly innocent… it is nonetheless intriguing—and could ultimately expose the Saudi government to some of the blame for 9/11…” [Newsweek, 11/22/2002] Some Saudi newspapers, which usually reflect government thinking, claim the leak is blackmail to pressure Saudi Arabia into supporting war with Iraq. [MSNBC, 11/27/2002] Senior US government officials claim the FBI and CIA failed to aggressively pursue leads that might have linked the two hijackers to Saudi Arabia. This causes a bitter dispute between FBI and CIA officials and the intelligence panel investigating the 9/11 attacks. [New York Times, 11/23/2002] A number of senators, including Richard Shelby (R-AL), John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Bob Graham (D-FL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Charles Schumer (D-NY), express concern about the Bush administration’s action (or non-action) regarding the Saudi royal family and its possible role in funding Islamic militants. [Reuters, 11/24/2002; New York Times, 11/25/2002] Lieberman says, “I think it’s time for the president to blow the whistle and remember what he said after September 11—you’re either with us or you’re with the al-Qaeda.” [ABC News, 11/25/2002] FBI officials strongly deny any deliberate connection between these two men and the Saudi government or the hijackers [Time, 11/24/2002] , but later even more connections between them and both entities are revealed. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Entity Tags: Joseph Biden, Joseph Lieberman, Omar al-Bayoumi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Saudi Arabia, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama Basnan, Richard Shelby
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The new commander at the Guantanamo detention facility, General Geoffrey Miller, receives a “voco”—a vocal command—to begin aggressively interrogating suspected “20th hijacker” Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003). This is well before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gives written authorization for these techniques to be used (see November 27, 2002 and December 2, 2002), but after the request had been submitted for approval (see October 11, 2002). Considering Miller’s rank, it seems unlikely that anyone lower in the chain of command than Rumsfeld would have issued the order, and Rumsfeld is unlikely to make such a “voco” without the support of Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes. The interrogation log of al-Khatani for November 23 indicates the immediate effect of the “voco”: “The detainee arrives at the interrogation booth. His hood is removed and he is bolted to the floor.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
The US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in Marseilles, France issues a report stating that there is reportedly a large quantity of uranium being held in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin bound for Iraq. The source of the report is a phone call that was received by the NCIS from an individual describing himself as a “West African businessman.” The man claimed to be the person responsible for coordinating the transaction and said there were 20 barrels of Niger yellowcake at the warehouse that had been sold to Iraq by the president of Niger. The man leaves his name and telephone number with the NCIS. When the CIA catches wind of the report, it contacts French intelligence as well as the country’s internal security agency, the Directorate of Territorial Security (DST). French intelligence then sends a team to Africa to check the warehouse and other sites. (This investigation is possibly the same as the one that takes place after Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address (see After (9:30 pm) January 28, 2003).) The French find nothing. “They both gave assurances from the French government that the material sitting in the port was under French control and wasn’t going anywhere else,” a former CIA officer later tells the Los Angeles Times. The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) never attempts to contact the businessman. A CIA official later tells Senate investigators that the agency saw no reason to contact him. In fact, “no one even thought to do that,” the official says. The Department of Homeland Security also decides against contacting the businessman after a DHS team sent to the warehouse on December 17, 2002 (see December 17, 2002) finds nothing but bales of cotton. [Los Angeles Times, 2/17/2004; US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59] As some observers later note, the information provided by this source corresponds exactly to the information contained within three of the forged Niger documents, suggesting that this individual must have been in some way linked to those documents. [ERiposte, 3/3/2006]
Secretary of State Colin Powell is asked a number of questions about Pakistan’s involvement with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and says that he believes Pakistani assurances it is not assisting North Korea. Powell first says: “[I]n my conversations with [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf in the recent months, I have made it clear to him that any, any sort of contact between Pakistan and North Korea we believe would be improper, inappropriate, and would have consequences. And he has assured me on more than one occasion that there are no further contacts and he guarantees that there are no contacts of the kind that were referred to in [a recent New York Times] article.” Powell then says that Musharraf “understands the seriousness of this issue,” but in conversations with Musharraf, Powell “reinforce[s] the point and there are laws that apply and we will obey the law.” However, when asked about a specific allegation of cooperation between Pakistan and North Korea, he says he has not “chased it down” and cannot comment. [US Department of State, 11/25/2002] However, the CIA has intelligence showing Pakistan’s assistance to North Korea is continuing. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will later comment: “It [Powell’s response] was a mirror of the nonsensical relationship between [former Pakistani dictator] Zia ul-Haq and [former Secretary of State] George Schultz in the late 1980s, when Pakistan’s president had offered repeated denials that were accepted for the record by the secretary of state—although in private the CIA had unequivocal intelligence showing the opposite.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 339]
In the wake of news that two Saudis living in San Diego, California, may have helped two of the 9/11 hijackers, reports surface that the US has a secret, short list of wealthy individuals who are the alleged key financiers of al-Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups. The Washington Post claims there are nine names on the list: seven Saudis, plus one Egyptian, and one Pakistani. [Washington Post, 11/26/2002] ABC News claims the list consists of 12 names, all Saudis, and says they were financing al-Qaeda through accounts in Cyprus, Switzerland, and Malaysia, among other countries. [ABC News, 11/25/2002] They also claim the Saudi government has a copy of the list. US officials privately say all the people listed have close personal and business ties with the Saudi royal family. [ABC News, 11/26/2002] A secret report by French investigator Jean-Charles Brisard names seven prominent Saudi financiers of terror; the number matches the seven Saudis mentioned in the Washington Post article, though it’s not known if all the names are the same. The Saudis mentioned by Brisard include Yassin al-Qadi, Adel Batterjee, and Wael Hamza Julaidan (who has had his assets frozen by the US.) [US Department of State, 9/6/2002] Brisard says al-Qaeda has received between $300 million and $500 million over the last ten years from wealthy businessmen and bankers. He claims that the combined fortunes of these men equal about 20 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP (gross domestic product). [Brisard, 12/19/2002 ; Los Angeles Times, 12/24/2002] However, Brisard’s study has been mistakenly described as a United Nations report. While he submitted the study to the UN, the UN didn’t request it. [Money Laundering Alert, 10/2003] It is also reported that a National Security Council task force recommends that the US demand that Saudi Arabia crack down on al-Qaeda’s financiers within 90 days of receiving evidence of misdeeds and if they do not, the US should take unilateral action to bring the suspects to justice. However, the US government denies this report and calls Saudi Arabia a “good partner in the war on terrorism.” [Washington Post, 11/26/2002] Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says: “I think the fact that many of the hijackers came from that nation [Saudi Arabia] cannot and should not be read as an indictment of the country.” [Radio Free Europe, 11/27/2002]
James T. Hill. [Source: Defense Department]Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes sends Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an “action memo” to approve a set of interrogation tactics for use. The techniques are to be used at the discretion of General James T. Hill, commander of the US Southern Command, and are those previously classified in Categories I and II, and the “mild, non-injurious contact” techniques from Category III that were suggested by the Guantanamo legal staff (see October 25, 2002). The mildest techniques, Category I, can be used by interrogators at will and include yelling and mild forms of deception. Category II techniques are to be approved by an “interrogator group director,” and include the use of stress positions for up to four hours; use of falsified documents; isolation of a detainee for up to thirty days; sensory deprivation and hooding; twenty-hour interrogations; removal of hygiene and religious items; enforced removal of clothing (stripping); forced grooming, including the shaving of beards; and playing on detainees’ phobias, such as a fear of dogs, to induce stress and break resistance. With regard to the remaining harsh techniques in Category III—physical contact, death threats, and use of wet towels (waterboarding)—Haynes writes that they “may be legally available [but] as a matter of policy, a blanket approval… is not warranted at this time.” Haynes mentions having discussed the matter with “the deputy, Doug Feith and General Myers,” who, he believes, join him in the recommendation. He adds, “Our armed forces are trained to a standard of interrogation that reflects a tradition of restraint.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/19/2004] Rumsfeld will sign the so-called “Haynes Memo” (see December 2, 2002), and add the following handwritten comment: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Destruction at the Paradise Hotel, Mombasa, Kenya. [Source: Karel Princloo/ Associated Press]Three suicide bombers detonate their explosives outside a resort hotel in Mombasa, Kenya. Militants also fire shoulder-launched missiles unsuccessfully at a passenger jet. [New York Times, 11/30/2002] The death toll reaches 16. [CNN, 12/1/2002] Al-Qaeda purportedly claims responsibility a few days later. [CNN, 12/2/2002]
The authenticity of a new audio tape purportedly made by bin Laden, in which he praises recent attacks in Bali, Kuwait, Yemen and Moscow (see November 12, 2002), is disputed by Swiss voice analysts. US officials believe the voice is “almost certainly” bin Laden, but the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence in Switzerland, one of the world’s leading voice-recognition institutes, is 95 percent certain the tape is a forgery. [BBC, 11/13/2002; BBC, 11/18/2002; BBC, 11/29/2002; Toronto Star, 12/16/2002] Two weeks after it was broadcast, a British newspaper publishes the complete text of a “letter to the American people,” purportedly written by bin Laden. [Observer, 11/25/2002] However, “diplomats [are] skeptical about the authenticity of the document.” [Guardian, 10/15/2002] The institute will not continue to analyse bin Laden’s speeches (see February 12, 2003).
The Pentagon informs the FBI that it will again take over interrogations of Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani, believing that the use of aggressive techniques, which are about to be authorized by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 27, 2002), will be more successful. [New York Times, 6/21/2004] However, the first tactic used against al-Khatani is a subtle one. According to the detention logs of al-Khatani, or “Detainee 063,” his interrogators suggest that he has been spared by Allah to reveal the true meaning of the Koran and to help bring down Osama bin Laden. During a routine medical check, a sergeant whispers to al-Khatani: “What is God telling you right now? Your 19 friends died in a fireball and you weren’t with them. Was that God’s choice? Is it God’s will that you stay alive to tell us about his message?” Al-Khatani reacts violently to the exhortation, throwing his head back and butting the sergeant in the eye. Two MPs wrestle him to the ground, and as al-Khatani thrashes and tries to spit on the sergeant, he crouches down next to the prisoner and says: “Go ahead and spit on me. It won’t change anything. You’re still here. I’m still talking to you and you won’t leave until you’ve given God’s message.” [Time, 6/12/2005]
The CIA has been interrogating two British residents, Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, in Gambia after the British intelligence agency MI5 falsely told the CIA the two of them were dangerous radical militants. In fact, they were informants working for MI5, and MI5 appears to have used pressure from the CIA as a means to try to get them to resume being informants. But after being interrogated for about a month, they are still unwilling to cooperate. The CIA informs MI5 that the two men will soon be renditioned to Bagram, Afghanistan, to undergo more interrogation. This rendition breaches international law, since the two of them have not been charged with any crime. But MI5 does nothing to help them. [Observer, 7/29/2007] It sends a telegram to the CIA, stating, “[T]his is to confirm that in relation to the Islamists currently in detention in the Gambia, [Britain] would not seek to extend consular protection to non-British nationals.” MI5 also does not inform the rest of the British government about what is happening to the two men. [Channel 4 News (London), 7/30/2007] In Bagram, they will face further pressure to resume their informant work (see December 8, 2002-March 2003).
Robert Wright, the FBI agent in charge of some groundbreaking investigations into charity fronts before 9/11, has been suspended and under investigation since at least early 2001 (see August 2000 and January-March 2001). However, at this time, his suspension is cleared and he is allowed to work as an FBI agent again. But he is specifically prohibited from working on topics he was investigating before, such as BMI and Yassin al-Qadi. He is not even allowed access to his own files from before his suspension. Wright will later be fired and then reinstated, but it does not appear he is ever able to continue his charity front investigations (see April 30, 2005-October 19, 2005). [Katz, 2003, pp. 186]
In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind will report that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He gives him the alias “Ali.” He claims that many within al-Qaeda like Ali thought the 9/11 attacks were a mistake, and that as a result US intelligence began “working a few potential informants.” He claims that by early 2003, Ali’s reports over the previous six months “had been almost always correct, including information that led to several captures.” Ali also warned of a new chemical bomb al-Qaeda has developed and revealed the name of the top al-Qaeda operative in Saudi Arabia (see February-Late March 2003). But Suskind will give no further details about Ali or what becomes of him, and no details about the other “potential informants” that he hints at. However, he will comment, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 216-218]
Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: Uli Deck / Agence France-Presse]Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key member of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg cell, is allegedly flown to Jordan and tortured there. Bin al-Shibh was arrested in Pakistan on September 11, 2002, and held by US forces (see September 11, 2002). According to a 2008 report by the watchdog group Human Rights Watch, the US takes bin al-Shibh to the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, and then flies him to Jordan. A former detainee in a secret prison run by Jordanian intelligence will later tell Human Rights Watch that he was held in a cell next to bin al-Shibh in late 2002. He says he was able to briefly talk to bin al-Shibh, and bin al-Shibh told him that he had been tortured while in Jordanian custody. He said he had suffered electric shocks, forced nakedness, sleep deprivation, and being made to sit on sticks and bottles in sexually humiliating ways. [Human Rights Watch, 4/8/2008] The Washington Post will similarly report in late 2007, “Although hard evidence is elusive, some former inmates have reported being detained in the same wing as Ramzi Bin al-Shibh… said Abdulkareem al-Shureidah, an Amman lawyer. “He was detained in Jordanian jails, definitely.” [Washington Post, 12/1/2007] Bin al-Shibh will be transferred out of CIA custody into the Guantanamo prison in 2006, but exactly where he was held between 2002 and 2006 remains unclear (see September 2-3, 2006).
Mohammed al-Khatani, the alleged would-be “20th 9/11 hijacker,” reveals crucial information about Osama bin Laden’s courier, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. US intelligence already knows some details about Ahmed, based on interrogations of other prisoners, but they only know him by his alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti and they don’t yet know how important a courier he is. Around this time, al-Khatani faces harsh interrogation techniques that even a senior Bush administration official will later say meet the legal definition of torture (see January 14, 2009). Al-Khatani gives the name “Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti” (with two A’s in Ahmed). He says that Ahmed is a “senior al-Qaeda facilitator” and a “courier” who worked for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and others. When al-Khatani was preparing to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, Ahmed gave him computer training in Karachi, Pakistan, “for his mission to the United States,” on KSM’s orders, indicating that Ahmed had some level of foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He also says that Ahmed was seen in the Tora Bora mountains in late 2001, and it is possible Ahmed was one of the people with bin Laden in Tora Bora before bin Laden disappeared. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
After several CIA reports downplay intelligence provided to Washington by Israeli intelligence officials, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and other neoconservatives working in the Pentagon begin meeting personally with Israeli officials to hear their intelligence. The CIA’s reports had found that conclusions made by Israeli intelligence were often skewed by its biases against the Arab world. [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
Abdur Rahim, a baker from Khost City, Afghanistan, is arrested outside Khost and sent to the Bagram US air base. Abdur Rahim says he was hooded and chained to the ceiling for “seven or eight days,” after which his hands turned black. He was later forced to crouch and hold his hands out in front of him for long periods, which caused intense pain in his shoulders. When he tried to move, he says, “they were coming and hitting me and saying ‘Don’t move!’” In December, he is transferred to Guantanamo Bay. “There were some soldiers that were very good with us,” he will later tell the New York Times. “But there was one soldier, he was a very bad guy. He was stopping the water for our commode. At nighttime, they would throw large rocks back and forth, which hit the metal walkway between the cells and made a loud noise. They did it to keep us awake.…. After I left Cuba, I had mental problems. I cannot talk to people for a long period of time. I work just to survive. But I’m not scared of anyone in this world. I’m just scared of God.” [New York Times, 9/17/2004]
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes press “for looser interrogation rules and [win] approval for them from the administration’s civilian lawyers….” Lawyers with the Army Judge Advocate General’s office are opposed to the new rules. [USA Today, 5/13/2004; Los Angeles Times, 5/13/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
The 9/11 Commission initially pays very little attention to material from the NSA about al-Qaeda, as it is focusing on the CIA, FBI, and other agencies. Colonel Lorry Fenner, a former air force intelligence officer assigned to the commission’s team reviewing the structure of the intelligence community, finds this surprising. Fenner, who had previously worked closely with the NSA, is “dumfounded” when she learns nobody from the commission is making the short trip to the NSA to review its material on 9/11. The NSA tracked al-Qaeda communications for a long time before 9/11, including numerous calls between the hijackers and other al-Qaeda operatives (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), but the 9/11 Commission apparently does not realize or seem to care how important the material is. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “[F]or the Commission’s staff, [the NSA’s Maryland headquarters at] Fort Meade might as well have been Kabul, it seemed so distant.” One reason is that some people at the commission do not really understand what the NSA does, and also, according to Shenon, “[For executive director Philip] Zelikow and other staff on the commission, it was just more interesting—sexier—to concentrate on the CIA.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-88, 155-6]
Pakistan’s tribal region, shown in various colors, while the rest of Pakistan is in green. FATA stands for Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the bureaucratic name for the area. [Source: Public domain via Wikipedia]Thousands of al-Qaeda-linked militants have been regrouping in the Pakistan tribal region of South Waziristan (see Late May 2002 and June 2002). By late 2002, these forces begin regularly attacking US outposts, also known as firebases, just across the border in Afghanistan. In December 2002, the US is forced to abandon the Lawara firebase after phosphorus rockets fired on the base burn US Special Forces vehicles. US military officials begin to complain that the Pakistani government’s Frontier Corps is not only turning a blind eye to these attacks, but is actually helping al-Qaeda forces cross the border and providing covering fire for their attacks. US forces are not allowed to pursue al-Qaeda forces across the Pakistan border (see Early 2002 and After). In January 2003, US commander Lieutenant General Dan McNeill publicly speaks out about the situation despite orders from his superiors not to. He says, “US forces acknowledge the internationally recognized boundaries of Afghanistan, but may pursue attackers who attempted to escape into Pakistan to evade capture or retaliation.” Around the same time, the US media begins to report that the Pakistani government is allowing militants to attack US positions across the border (see December 2002-February 2003). Pakistan comes under increasing pressure to do something, but takes no action. Confident of their position, militants begin killing tribal elders who they suspect are not loyal to them, further cementing their control and causing many to flee. Some fleeing locals claim that the Pakistani ISI is frequently meeting with al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders there, such as Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, and apparently supporting them. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 440] The Pakistani army commander in the region, Lieutenant General Ali Jan Orakzai, is considered a close friend of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. It is believed he intensely hates the US and NATO, and has sympathy for the Taliban. He will later call them a “national liberation movement.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 277, 384] The Pakistani army will finally launch its first limited attack against al-Qaeda in October 2003 (see October 2, 2003).
An aerial view of the AT&T Easylink Service building in Bridgeton, Missouri, where the NSA allegedly has secret facilities. [Source: USGS via Microsoft]On behalf of the National Security Agency (NSA), AT&T constructs a secret, highly secured room in its network operations center in Bridgeton, Missouri, used to conduct secret government wiretapping operations. This is a larger and more elaborate “data mining” center than the one AT&T has constructed in San Francisco (see January 2003). Salon’s Kim Zetter will later write that the Bridgeton facility “had the earmarks of a National Security Agency operation,” including a sophisticated “mantrap” entrance using retinal and fingerprint scanners. Sometime in early 2003, AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) discusses the Bridgeton facility with a senior AT&T manager, whom he will only identify as “Morgan.” The manager tells Klein that he considers the Bridgeton facility “creepy,” very secretive and with access restricted to only a few personnel. Morgan tells Klein that the secure room at Bridgeton features a logo on the door, which Klein will describe as “the eye-on-the-pyramid logo which is on the back of the dollar bill—and that got my attention because I knew that was for awhile the logo of the Total Awareness Program” (TIA-see Mid-January 2002, March 2002 and November 9, 2002). Klein notes that the logo “became such a laughingstock that they [the US government] withdrew it.” However, neither Klein nor Morgan find the NSA secure room at Bridgeton amusing. In June 2006, two AT&T workers will tell Zetter that the 100 or so employees who work in the room are “monitoring network traffic” for “a government agency,” later determined to be the NSA. Only government officials or AT&T employees with top-secret security clearance are admitted to the room, which is secured with a biometric “mantrap” or highly sophisticated double door, secured with retinal and fingerprint scanners. The few AT&T employees allowed into the room have undergone exhaustive security clearance procedures. “It was very hush-hush,” one of the AT&T workers will recall. “We were told there was going to be some government personnel working in that room. We were told: ‘Do not try to speak to them. Do not hamper their work. Do not impede anything that they’re doing.’” (Neither of Zetter’s sources is Klein, who by the time Zetter’s article is published in 2006, will have made his concerns about the NSA and AT&T public.) The Bridgeton facility is the central “command center” for AT&T’s management of all routers and circuits carrying domestic and international Internet traffic. Hence, it is the ideal location for conducting surveillance or collecting data. AT&T controls about a third of all bandwidth carrying Internet traffic to and from homes and businesses throughout the US. The two employees, who both will leave AT&T to work with other telecommunications firms, will say they cannot be sure what kinds of activities actually take place within the secret room. The allegations follow those made by Klein, who after his retirement (see May 2004) will submit an affidavit stating his knowledge of other, similar facilities in San Francisco and other West Coast switching centers, whose construction and operations were overseen by the NSA (see January 16, 2004 and January 2003); the two AT&T employees say that the orders for the San Francisco facility came from Bridgeton. NSA expert Matthew Aid will say of the Bridgeton facility, “I’m not a betting man, but if I had to plunk $100 down, I’d say it’s safe that it’s NSA.” Aid will say the Bridgeton facility is most likely part of “what is obviously a much larger operation, or series of interrelated operations” combining foreign intelligence gathering with domestic eavesdropping and data collection. Former high-level NSA intelligence officer Russell Tice will say bluntly: “You’re talking about a backbone for computer communications, and that’s NSA.… Whatever is happening there with the security you’re talking about is a whole lot more closely held than what’s going on with the Klein case.” The kind of vetting that the Bridgeton AT&T employees underwent points to the NSA, both Aid and Tice will say; one of the two AT&T employees who will reveal the existence of the Bridgeton facility will add, “Although they work for AT&T, they’re actually doing a job for the government.” Aid will add that, while it is possible that the Bridgeton facility is actually a center for legal FBI operations, it is unlikely due to the stringent security safeguards in place: “The FBI, which is probably the least technical agency in the US government, doesn’t use mantraps. But virtually every area of the NSA’s buildings that contain sensitive operations require you to go through a mantrap with retinal and fingerprint scanners. All of the sensitive offices in NSA buildings have them.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer will add that when the FBI wants information from a telecom such as AT&T, it would merely show up at the firm with a warrant and have a wiretap placed. And both the NSA and FBI can legally, with warrants, tap into communications data using existing technological infrastructure, without the need for such sophisticated surveillance and data-mining facilities as the ones in Bridgeton and San Francisco. Both AT&T and the NSA will refuse to comment on the facilities in Bridgeton, citing national security concerns. [Salon, 6/21/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 28-30]
Entity Tags: Terrorist Surveillance Program, National Security Agency, Russell Tice, Matthew Aid, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kim Zetter, Mark Klein, AT&T, Jameel Jaffer, “Morgan” (senior AT&T manager), American Civil Liberties Union
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
CIA’s WINPAC unit hires a private contractor to spin the aluminum tubes to determine whether or not they are suitable for use as rotors in a nuclear centrifuge. Centrifuge rotors spin as fast as 90,000 revolutions per minute. The contractor tests the tubes and determines that they are not strong enough to withstand spinning at such high speed. WINPAC then orders that the test data be reexamined, and then trumpets the new data as proof that the tubes purchased by Iraq were indeed destined to be used in a nuclear centrifuge. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 165]
Nabil al-Marabh is serving an eight-month prison sentence for illegally entering the US. A Jordanian in prison with al-Marabh earlier in 2002 informs against him, claiming that al-Marabh tells him many details of his terrorism ties. The informant, who shows “a highly detailed knowledge of his former cell-mate’s associations and movements” [Globe and Mail, 6/4/2004] , claims that al-Marabh:
admitted he sent money to a former roommate, Raed Hijazi, who is later convicted of trying to blow up a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), and that he aided Hijazi’s flight from authorities. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
planned to die a martyr by stealing a gasoline truck, driving it into either the Lincoln or Holland tunnels in New York City, turning it sideways, opening its fuel valves and having an al-Qaeda operative shoot a flare to ignite a massive explosion. The plan was cancelled when Hijazi was arrested in Jordan in October 2000. [Toronto Sun, 10/16/2001; Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
trained on rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at militant camps in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
boasted about getting drunk with two 9/11 hijackers. [Globe and Mail, 6/4/2004]
asked his uncle to hide an important data CD from Canadian police. [Globe and Mail, 6/4/2004]
claimed he took instructions from a mysterious figure in Chicago known as “al Mosul” which means “boss” in Arabic. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
acknowledged he distributed as much as $200,000 a month to training camps in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004] FBI agents are able to confirm portions of the informant’s claims. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, after being denied permission to indict al-Marabh, uses the informant’s information to press again for an indictment. But the Justice Department continues to refuse to allow an indictment, and al-Marabh will eventually be deported to Syria (see January-2002-December 2002). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
The Special Access Program, or SAP, (see Late 2001-Early 2002) authorized by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld giving blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate high-value targets, has taken off and is apparently faring well. “It was an active program,” an intelligence source later explains to Seymour Hersh. “As this monster begins to take life, there’s joy in the world. The monster is doing well—real well.” Those who run the program, according to him, see themselves as “masters of the universe in terms of intelligence.” By the end of 2002, terrorist suspects are being interrogated in secret detention facilities in such places as Pakistan, Thailand, and Singapore. [Guardian, 9/13/2004]
CIA official Margaret Henoch. [Source: CBS News]Doubts as to the veracity and reliability of the information provided about Iraq’s secret bioweapons program by the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball” are growing among German intelligence analysts (see February 2001), and among some CIA analysts and officials as well, who are receiving summations of Curveball’s assertions from their German counterparts. Central group chief Margaret Henoch is one of those who questions Curveball’s reliability. Henoch later recalls in a CBS report revealing Curveball’s true identity (see November 4, 2007), “I said, ‘You know, I don’t know who this guy is. There’s no proof that he is who he is. There’s no proof that any of this ever happened. And, from my perspective, I just don’t think we should trust this.’” When the top CIA analyst working with Curveball’s information tries to prove his identity by showing Henoch a picture of a man in a hazmat (hazardous materials) suit, she recalls responding, “‘How do you know that was him if he’s completely covered? ‘Cause it could be me.’ And, as God as my witness, she looked at me like a pig looking at a wristwatch. And I thought it was over. And, when I went back, I sort of said to my boss, ‘Well, I’m such a genius.’” Henoch is mistaken in believing that Curveball’s reliability had been holed. She later recalls, “[I]t was whack-a-mole. I mean, he just popped right back up.” Her superiors want Curveball to be credible, and are prepared to overlook the inconsistencies and unverifiable claims he is making. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
Assistant Attorney General William Moschella informs the ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees of the administration’s use of potentially unconstitutional data mining and electronic surveillance programs after the 9/11 attacks. Moschella tells the lawmakers, “The president determined that it was necessary following September 11 to create an early-warning detection system” to prevent more attacks. One such program is the Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) initiative (see After September 11, 2001). Moschella echoes the claims of National Security Agency director Michael Hayden and other administration officials, saying that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to obtain warrants to conduct domestic eavesdropping or wiretapping, “could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early-warning detection system.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006]
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002). Moschella informs the lawmakers of none of this.
After examining more than 200 sites, UN weapons inspectors say that despite unfettered access to all Iraqi facilities, they have found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction or any programs aimed at developing such weapons. Several of the suspected weapons sites have been visited multiple times. Inspectors say that they have exhausted the leads provided by US intelligence and complain that Washington resists requests to provide them with more information. [BBC, 12/26/2001; BBC, 12/31/2001; Los Angeles Times, 12/31/2001; Guardian, 1/3/2002; Agence France-Presse, 12/29/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 12/30/2002; Independent, 1/1/2003] The San Francisco Chronicle reports: “UN spokesmen in Baghdad admit they have largely exhausted their list of possible weapons sites and must make repeat visits to stay busy. They have asked the United States to provide intelligence to help identify new sites. Although the Bush administration recently said it would share some secrets with the United Nations, it appears to have turned over little so far.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/30/2002] And an unnamed weapons inspector tells the Los Angeles Times: “We haven’t found an iota of concealed material yet. Even private facilities which are not part of their state-run military industrial complex open up for us—like magic.… We can’t look for something which we don’t know about. If the United States wants us to find something, they should open their intelligence file and share it with us so that we know where to go for it.…. By being silent, we may create the false illusion that we did uncover something.… But I must say that if we were to publish a report now, we would have zilch to put in it.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/31/2001] The London Observer will report in early January, “Some of the inspectors are understood to be convinced that their mission has become a ‘set-up job’ and America will attack Iraq regardless of what they find.” [Observer, 1/5/2002]
President Bush meets with his cabinet-level advisers to review progress with counterterrorism efforts. According to author James Risen, one participant in the meeting will later recall that “several senior officials, including [CIA Director] Tenet, [National Security Adviser] Rice, and [Deputy Defense Secretary] Wolfowitz, voiced concerns about the ability of al-Qaeda-style terrorists to recruit and gain support on a widespread basis in the Islamic world. Did the United States have a strategy to counter the growth potential of Islamic extremism? ‘The president dismissed them, saying that victory in Iraq would take care of that. After he said that, people just kind of sat down,’ the participant recalled.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 169-170]
Alan Foley, the director of the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC—see Shortly after February 12, 2002), calls his senior production managers into his office. He tells the gathered officers, who control the output of WINPAC’s analysts, “If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so.” According to Peter Eisner and Knut Royce, authors of The Italian Letter, “The directive was not quite an order to cook the books, but it was a strong suggestion that cherry-picking and slanting not only would be tolerated, but might even be rewarded.” Eisner and Royce will call WINPAC “sycophantic” supporters of the Bush plan to invade Iraq. Reporter Laura Rozen will call WINPAC “a secret cheerleading faction inside the CIA for the administration’s most stretched Iraq intelligence claims.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 376-377]
Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, writes to the State Department and White House to warn senior Bush administration officials that he believes the Iraq-Niger documents are forgeries (see January 12, 2003 and February 17, 2003) and should not be cited as evidence that Iraq is pursuing WMD (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). ElBaradei will later say he never received a reply despite repeated follow-up calls to the White House, the State Department, and the National Security Council. State Department officials will later say they do not know if Secretary of State Colin Powell ever saw the letter. [Truthout (.org), 1/27/2006]
According to a report by the CIA’s inspector general, a cable sent this month reports that a detainee is left shackled and naked in a cold room. He is apparently left like this until he demonstrates co-operation, although it is unclear how long this takes. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 84-85 ]
The Associated Press reports that suicide squads are being trained in Pakistan by al-Qaeda operatives to hit targets in Afghanistan. The bombers’ families are being promised $50,000. The Pakistani government denies the presence of any such camps. “But privately, some officials in Pakistan’s intelligence community and Interior Ministry say they believe there is such bomb training and that it is protected by Pakistani militants and Taliban sympathizers in the Pakistan military.” [Associated Press, 12/12/2002] Al-Qaeda is mostly based in the tribal region of South Waziristan, launching border attacks form there with the assistance from Pakistan’s ISI and the Frontier Corps (see December 2002-February 2003). In February 2003, the Wall Street Journal claims, “Western diplomats in Islamabad and Kabul, Afghan officials, and US army officers [in Afghanistan] now strongly believe that elements of Pakistan’s intelligence services and its religious parties are allowing the Taliban to regroup on the Pakistani side of the border. US officers say 90 percent of attacks they face are coming from groups based in Pakistan. Simply put, Pakistan’s strategy appears to be to continue hunting down non-Afghan members of al-Qaeda hiding in Pakistan, so a level of cooperation with the US continues, while at the same time allowing the Pashtun Taliban and others to maintain their presence in Pakistan. The US has not raised this issue publicly, fearing that it would destabilize [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf’s government.… [W]hile promising support to [Afghan leader Hamid Karzai], Pakistan is undermining him and the effort to erase terrorism from Afghanistan. American silence is only encouraging Pakistan’s Islamic parties, who now govern the North West Frontier Province, to extend an even greater helping hand to Afghan and Pakistani extremists. The Pakistani army has willingly played into their hands, rigging last October’s general elections so that the Islamic parties were unprecedently successful, releasing from jail leaders of banned terrorist groups, and encouraging them to mount pro-Iraq demonstrations. All this is part of a larger power play where Gen. Musharraf can claim to the Americans that he needs greater US support because he is threatened by fundamentalists. This is a game that every Pakistani regime since the 1980s has played with Washington, and it has always worked.” [Wall Street Journal, 2/11/2003]
David Brant, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), learns disturbing information about detainees in US custody being abused at the Guantanamo detention facility. Brant is in charge of a team of NCIS agents working with the FBI at Guantanamo, called the Criminal Investigative Task Force. The task force’s job is to obtain incriminating information from the detainees for use in future trials or tribunals. Brant, an experienced law enforcement officer, finds what his task force agents tell him about interrogations at Guantanamo troubling. According to his agents, who have examined the interrogation logs, the military intelligence interrogators seem poorly trained and frustrated by their lack of success. Brant learns that the interrogators are engaging in ever-escalating levels of physical and psychological abuse, using tactics that Brant will later describe as “repugnant.” Much of his information comes from NCIS psychologist Michael Gelles, who has access to the Army’s top-secret interrogation logs at Guantanamo. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Gelles learned of the torture techniques being used at Guantanamo while reading through those logs for an internal study. He is taken aback at what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a meticulously bureaucratic, minute-by-minute account of physical torments and degradation being inflicted on prisoners by American servicemen and women.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 178] Brant will later recall that Gelles “is phenomenal at unlocking the minds of everyone from child abusers to terrorists.” Therefore, when Gelles tells Brant that he finds the logs “shocking,” Brant takes it seriously. One of the most horrific cases is that of Mohamed al-Khatani (see December 17, 2002). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Brant says that NCIS will pull its interrogators out of Guantanamo if the abuses continue, and goes to the Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, for help (see December 17-18, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 178]
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says during a press briefing: “I will say this is something that the president has said publicly, that Iraq did, in fact, seek to buy these tubes for the purpose of producing, not as Iraq now claims conventional forces, but for the purpose of trying to produce nuclear weapons. And so it’s, on the one hand, mildly encouraging that Iraq would now admit to what it’s been doing. But on the other hand, a lie is still a lie, because these—they sought to produce these for the purpose of production of nuclear weapons, not conventional.” He also states that the evidence of WMD is that Saddam Hussein will claim there are no WMD and that proves there are WMD because Hussein is a liar. “Saddam Hussein does not exactly have a track record of telling the world the truth. So he, on December 8th, has to indicate whether or not he has weapons. Let’s see what he says. If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.” When asked how he knows Iraq has WMD, Fleischer says, “We have intelligence information about what Saddam Hussein possesses… It’s no secret. We’ve said many times—you’ve heard the President say repeatedly that he has chemical and biological weapons, and he has missiles that can reach an access of 150 kilometers, all three of which are violations of his sworn commitments to the United Nations.” [White House, 12/2/2002]
An enhanced photo of the variola virus, which causes smallpox. [Source: University College London]New York Times reporter Judith Miller reports that the CIA is investigating an anonymous report that Iraq has obtained a virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist. According to the anonymous informant, the smallpox may have come from Nelja N. Maltseva, a virologist who worked for over 30 years at the Research Institute for Viral Preparations in Moscow before her death in 2001. The CIA has briefed President Bush about the investigation, though, as Miller notes, “The attempt to verify the information is continuing.” Maltseva visited Iraq in 1972 and 1973, according to intelligence officials, and may have visited as recently as 1990. The facility where she worked housed what Russia has claimed was its entire national collection of some 120 strains of smallpox. Miller writes, “[S]ome experts fear that she may have provided the Iraqis with a version that could be resistant to vaccines and could be more easily transmitted as a biological weapon.” In response, the White House may decide that 500,000 military personnel and another 500,000 civilian medical workers should be vaccinated against smallpox, a disease officially eradicated in 1980. The White House says that despite promises made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia has not cooperated with US requests for information about its smallpox strains. “There is information we would like the Russians to share as a partner of ours,” says William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “Because if there are strains that present a unique problem with respect to vaccines and treatment, it is in the interests of all freedom-loving people to have as much information as possible.” Recently declassified Soviet-era records show that in 1971, Maltseva was sent to Aralsk, a port city in what was then the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, to help stop an epidemic of smallpox. That outbreak was possibly the result of open-air tests of a Soviet smallpox strain. Some scientists worry that Maltseva may have shared the Aralsk strain with Iraqi scientists in 1990, according to administration sources. David Kelly, a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, says there was a “resurgence of interest” in smallpox vaccine in Iraq in 1990, “but we have never known why.” Both Maltseva’s daughter and her deputy in the Moscow laboratory deny that Maltseva ever went to Iraq. [New York Times, 12/3/2002]
Demetrius Perricos, the Greek head of the UN team searching Iraq for
chemical and biological weapons, criticizes the US’s efforts to influence the inspections. He says: “The people who sent us here are the international community, the United Nations. We’re not serving the US. We’re not serving [Britain]. We’re not serving any individual nation.” He also questions why the Bush administration is refusing to share its intelligence with the inspectors. He explains: “What we’re getting and what President Bush may be getting is very different, to put it mildly.” [London Times, 12/6/2002]
FBI agents raid Ptech offices. [Source: ABC News]Federal agents search the offices of Ptech, Inc., a Boston computer software company, looking for evidence of links to Osama bin Laden. A senior Ptech official confirms that Yassin al-Qadi, one of 12 Saudi businessmen on a secret CIA list suspected of funneling millions of dollars to al-Qaeda, was an investor in the company, beginning in 1994. Ptech appears to have connections to other potential terrorist financiers (see 1994). In particular, there seem to be many ties between Ptech and BMI Inc., a New Jersey-based company whose list of investors has been called a “who’s who of designated terrorists and Islamic extremists” (see 1986-October 1999). [Newsweek, 12/6/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] A former FBI counterterrorism official states, “For someone like [al-Qadi] to be involved in a capacity, in an organization, a company that has access to classified information, that has access to government open or classified computer systems, would be of grave concern.” [WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] On the day after the raid, US authorities will claim that Ptech’s software has been scrutinized and poses no danger. But security expert John Pike comments, “When you look at all of the different military security agencies that they have as customers, it’s very difficult to imagine how they would not be encountering sensitive information, classified information.” [National Public Radio, 12/8/2002] The search into Ptech is part of Operation Greenquest, which has served 114 search warrants in the past 14 months involving suspected terrorist financing. Fifty arrests have been made and $27.4 million seized. [Forbes, 12/6/2002] However, the raid appears to have been largely for show. Ptech was notified by US officials in November that they were being investigated, and they were told in advance exactly when the raid would take place (see May-December 5, 2002). Top officials in the US government appear to have made up their minds before the results of the raid can even be examined. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer comments on the Ptech raid only hours after it ends: “The one thing I can share with you is that the products that were supplied by this company to the government all fell in the nonclassified area. None of it involved any classified products used by the government. The material has been reviewed by the appropriate government agencies, and they have detected absolutely nothing in their reports to the White House that would lead to any concern about any of the products purchased from this company.” [White House, 12/6/2002] The fact that the raid takes place at all appears to be due to the persistence of Operation Greenquest investigators, who are engaged at this time in a bureaucratic battle with other investigators over who will control US government investigations into terrorist financing (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003). Greenquest will lose this battle early in 2003 and get shut down (see May 13-June 30, 2003). In his 2003 book Black Ice, author Dan Verton will call Ptech an “innocent” casualty of Operation Greenquest’s “scorched-earth” tactics. [Verton, 2003, pp. 223] No charges will be brought against Ptech, and the company will continue fulfilling sensitive government contracts under a new name (see May 14, 2004).
The CIA transfers detained al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from a CIA prison in Thailand to a similar black site in Poland. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
UNMOVIC weapons inspection leader Hans Blix calls on the US to share its secret intelligence with inspectors. “Of course we would like to have as much information from any member state as to evidence they may have on weapons of mass destruction, and, in particular, sites,” he says. “Because we are inspectors, we can go to sites. They may be listening to what’s going on and they may have lots of other sources of information. But we can go to the sites legitimately and legally.” The New York Times notes: “On one hand, administration officials are pressing him to work faster and send out more inspectors to more places to undermine Baghdad’s ability to conceal any hidden programs. At the same time, Washington has been holding back its intelligence, waiting to see what Iraq will say in its declaration.” [New York Times, 12/7/2002]
At least two CIA interrogators blow cigar smoke in the face of al-Qaeda detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. One interrogator will later admit doing this to the CIA’s inspector general, but will say he smoked the cigars to “cover the stench” in the room and to help him remain alert late at night. He will add that he would not do it again, because of “perceived criticism.” Another interrogator will also admit smoking cigars in two sessions with al-Nashiri, again apparently to cover up the smell. However, he will say he did not deliberately force smoke into al-Nashiri’s face. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 43 ] At this time al-Nashiri is apparently being held at a CIA base in Poland. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
The Guardian of London reports that according to unnamed sources in New York and London, “the US and Britain lack ‘killer’ intelligence that will prove conclusively that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.” The article quotes one source as saying, “If we had intelligence that there is a piece of weaponry at this map reference, we would tell the inspectors and they would be there like a shot.” [Guardian, 12/10/2002]
An Army memorandum released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006) will refer to the “SERE INTERROGATION SOP” (standard operating procedure) for Guantanamo. SERE refers to “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape,” a classified military program originally designed to teach US soldiers how to resist torture, and subsequently “reverse-engineered” for use in subjecting US prisoners to harsh interrogation and torture (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). The memo, which is heavily redacted, shows that torture techniques used in SERE training may have been authorized in a memo to military personnel at Guantanamo. [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the failed search for hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar before 9/11, is interviewed by the Congressional Inquiry and comments on some of the failures. When asked about the failure to watchlist Nawaf Alhazmi based on a cable telling CIA headquarters he had arrived in the US and was a terrorist (see March 5, 2000 and March 6, 2000 and After), Wilshire says: “It’s very difficult to understand what happened with [the] cable when it came in. I don’t know exactly why it was missed. It would appear that it was missed.” Commenting on a meeting in June 2001 where the CIA failed to tell the FBI what it knew about Almihdhar and Alhazmi despite showing them photographs of the two hijackers (see June 11, 2001), Wilshire says: “[E]very place that something could have gone wrong in this over a year and a half, it went wrong. All the processes that had been put in place, all the safeguards, everything else, they failed at every possible opportunity. Nothing went right.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 147, 151 ]
CIA Director Tenet says in a speech, “The Saudis are [providing] increasingly important support to our counterterrorism efforts, from making arrests to sharing debriefing results.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] Several terrorist suspects have been sent to Saudi Arabia for interrogation as part of a special rendition program. But US officials often “remain closely involved” with the questioning (see 1993).
Syafrie Syamsuddin. [Source: Kuantanutama.com]The International Crisis Group (ICG), an international think tank, publishes a report that identifies a “curious link” between the al-Qaeda affiliate group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the Indonesian military, the TNI. [International Crisis Group, 12/11/2002] PBS Frontline will later say that Sidney Jones, the author of the report, “is widely considered to know more about terrorism in Indonesia than anyone.” [PBS Frontline, 4/2007] The ICG says the connection is “strong enough to raise the question of how much the TNI knew about Jemaah Islamiah” before the October 2002 Bali bombings. The report outs Fauzi Hasbi, a long-time JI leader, as an Indonesian government mole. It says that Hasbi has maintained links with Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin since the late 1970s. “Hasbi maintains regular communication with Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin to this day and is known to be close to the National Intelligence Agency head Hendropriyono.” Furthermore, an army intelligence officer interviewed by ICG had Hasbi’s number programmed into his cell phone, and actually called Hasbi and spoke to him while in the presence of the ICG investigator. And remarkably, Hasbi himself has claimed that he has treated Hambali, a top JI and al-Qaeda leader believed to have masterminded the 2002 Bali bombings, like a son. Hasbi and Hambali lived next door to each other in a small Malaysian village until late 2000 (see April 1991-Late 2000). [International Crisis Group, 12/11/2002; Age (Melbourne), 12/12/2002] Hasbi is killed in mysterious circumstances two months later (see 1979-February 22, 2003).
In discussing the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 9/11, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the committee chairman, says he is “surprised at the evidence that there were foreign governments involved in facilitating the activities of at least some of the [9/11] terrorists in the United States.… To me that is an extremely significant issue and most of that information is classified, I think overly classified. I believe the American people should know the extent of the challenge that we face in terms of foreign government involvement. I think there is very compelling evidence that at least some of the terrorists were assisted not just in financing—although that was part of it—by a sovereign foreign government and that we have been derelict in our duty to track that down.… It will become public at some point when it’s turned over to the archives, but that’s 20 or 30 years from now.” [PBS, 12/11/2002] In March 2003, Newsweek says its sources indicate Graham is speaking about Saudi Arabia, and that leads pointing in this direction have been pursued. Graham also says that the report contains far more miscues than have been publicly revealed. “There’s been a cover-up of this,” he says. [Newsweek, 3/1/2003]
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) releases a report saying that satellite photos indicate that Iran is constructing two nuclear facilities (see August 2002). The report says the first facility, near Arak, is a heavy-water production facility, which raises concerns that Iran might be constructing a nuclear reactor moderated by heavy water. Lending further suspicion to the purpose behind the heavy-water facility is the fact that the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear reactor does not use heavy water. Additionally, ISIS reports, Iran’s existing research reactors do not consume enough heavy water to warrant the need for a heavy-water plant. The report also says that Iran appears to be building a uranium enrichment plant, possibly using gas centrifuge technology, at a site called Natanz, 25 miles southeast of the city of Kashan. [Institute for Science and International Security, 12/12/2002; Nuclear Threat Initiative, 12/13/2002] The following day, Iran’s UN Ambassador Javad Zarif tells CNN that his country is not developing nuclear weapons. “No. Absolutely not,” Zarif says in response to a question on whether Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program. “Iran is a member of the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty. We have safeguard agreements with the IAEA. Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction do not have a place in our defense doctrine. We have stated that clearly. And we have shown it.” [CNN, 12/13/2002]
Barton Gellman. [Source: Publicity photo via Washington Post]On December 12, 2002, the Washington Post publishes a front-page story by reporter Barton Gellman entitled “US Suspects Al-Qaeda Got Nerve Agent From Iraqis.” It states: “The Bush administration has received a credible report that Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda took possession of a chemical weapon in Iraq last month or late in October, according to two officials with firsthand knowledge of the report and its source. They said government analysts suspect that the transaction involved the nerve agent VX and that a courier managed to smuggle it overland through Turkey.” [Washington Post, 12/12/2002] The story proves so controversial that the Post’s ombudsman Michael Getler writes a column about in on December 22. Getler notes that, “[B]eginning with the second paragraph, which started out, ‘If the report proves true…’ the story contains an extraordinary array of flashing yellow lights.” He asks, “[W]hat, after all, is the use of this story that practically begs you not to put much credence in it? Why was it so prominently displayed, and why not wait until there was more certainty about the intelligence?” However, he says the Post stands by publishing the story. [Washington Post, 12/12/2002] Slate will comment in 2004, “[T]he Gellman scoop withered on the vine.… nobody advanced or refuted the story—not even Gellman.” Gellman will later admit that he should have run a follow-up story, if only to point out that no confirming evidence had come out. [Slate, 4/28/2004] He will later admit the story was incorrect. But he will continue to defend the story, claiming that “it was news even though it was clear that it was possible this report would turn out to be false.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]
CIA inspector general John Helgerson, who is investigating some aspects of the CIA’s performance before 9/11, recuses himself from part of the investigation concerning alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). According to the report’s executive summary, the reason for the recusal is a “conflict of interest,” although the precise nature of this conflict is unknown. This part of the investigation is handled by two deputy inspectors general. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xiii ] Some of the senior positions held by Helgerson at the CIA are known; there appears to be an approximately five-year period between 1993 and 1998 when Helgerson’s positions are mostly unknown. [Helgerson, 1996; Central Intelligence Agency, 5/22/1996; Central Intelligence Agency, 8/3/2001; Washington Post, 5/14/2006; Washington Post, 5/14/2006; Ignet(.gov), 5/17/2007 ] The statement about the conflict of interest appears to indicate that Helgerson must have been involved in activities related to KSM in the mid-1990s, but this is not certain.
When the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry finishes its final report (see December 11, 2002), it asks the CIA’s office of inspector general (OIG) to review its findings and to perform any additional investigations that are required. The purpose of this is to determine whether any CIA employees deserve awards for outstanding services, or whether some should be held accountable for not performing their responsibilities satisfactorily. But these are the only 9/11-related issues the OIG investigates. It does not perform a full review of the CIA’s performance before 9/11, and does not specifically focus on systemic issues. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. v-vi ]
Bruce Ivins working as a Red Cross volunteer in 2003. [Source: Associated Press]During a several day search of a pond near Frederick, Maryland, by FBI investigators for clues to the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), Scientist Bruce Ivins is there with the investigators, working as a Red Cross volunteer. Ivins will commit suicide in 2008 after coming under scrutiny as the FBI’s main suspect in the anthrax attacks (see July 29, 2008). The pond search is highly publicized at the time, and is an unsuccessful effort to find evidence connecting the attacks to Steven Hatfill, the FBI’s main suspect at the time (see December 12-17, 2002). The pond is near USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory where Ivins works and Hatfill used to work. As a Red Cross volunteer, Ivins serves coffee, donuts, and snacks to FBI agents and other investigators in a military tent. He is eventually removed after officials realize he is an anthrax researcher who could compromise the investigation. Apparently, Ivins is a regular Red Cross volunteer at the time. Miriam Fleming, another Red Cross volunteer working at the pond search, will later recall that Ivins “was kind of goofy, but he was always in a good mood. He seemed so normal.” [New York Times, 8/7/2008]
The top two dozen US government officials meet for a year-end review of counterterrorism efforts. Counterterrorism “tsar” Gen. John Gordon chairs the meeting. At one point, President Bush turns to Deputy Treasury Secretary Kenneth Dam and asks him, “Ken, where are we on terror finances?” Dam replies, “Mr. President, the majority of the funders for al-Qaeda are Saudis.” Dan gave all the meeting participants a one-page memo listing the fifteen or so top al-Qaeda funders, and almost all of them are Saudis. According to journalist Ron Suskind’s account, “Bush looked at Dam, perplexed, as though he either hadn’t read the handout in front of him, or was somehow surprised—though this was all but common knowledge.” Bush then asks how this is known and is told it is based on CIA intelligence. Bush then ends the meeting a few minutes later without any further comments or plan for action about terrorism financing. Apparently, he takes no significant action on the issue in the following months, either. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 184-186]
The CIA’s inspector general, which is reviewing some aspects of the CIA’s performance with respect to 9/11, examines the agency’s analysis of Osama bin Laden-related matters before the attacks and finds it was wanting. The executive summary of the inspector general’s report will state that the US intelligence community’s understanding of al-Qaeda “was hampered by insufficient analytic focus, particularly regarding strategic analysis.” The inspector general also asks three former senior analysts to review what was produced about bin Laden. They find that there were some shortcomings, and that some important elements, such as discussions of the implications of information, were ignored. In addition they find there was:
No comprehensive strategic assessment of al-Qaeda by any unit at the CIA;
No comprehensive report focused on bin Laden after 1993;
No examination of the possible use of planes as weapons;
Limited analytic focus on the US as a target;
No comprehensive analysis putting the increased threat reporting in the summer of 2001 into context;
Not much strategic analysis in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, where the analytical unit focused on current and tactical issues.
In addition, the National Intelligence Council produced its last terrorist threat assessment before 9/11 in 1995, although it was updated in 1997. Work on a new assessment began in early 2001, but was not completed by 9/11. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xvii-xviii ]
CIA employees who have been applying “enhanced interrogation techniques” to al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri decide that he is now “compliant.” The techniques, including waterboarding, have been used on al-Nashiri for around a month (see (November 2002)). At this point, the agency regards him to be ready to be “debriefed”—a CIA term for part of an interrogation conducted by a more knowledgeable officer who does not use the enhanced techniques, or not to such an extent. Following this decision, the Counterterrorist Center at CIA headquarters sends out a senior operations officer to question al-Nashiri. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 36, 41 ] This officer will later become known to the public as “Albert.” [Associated Press, 9/7/2010] Al-Nashiri is currently being held at CIA black site in Poland (see December 5, 2002).
A CIA official known as a “debriefer” who has come out to question al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at a secret CIA black site in Poland says that al-Nashiri is withholding information during interrogations. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 41 ; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] Al-Nashiri had previously been tortured by the agency (see (November 2002)), but the torture stopped when interrogators decided he was “compliant” (see Mid-December 2002). However, due to the decision that al-Nashiri is withholding information, some of the agency’s harsh techniques, including hooding and shackling, are now reinstated. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 41 ] According to a former CIA official who will talk to the Associated Press in 2010, the conclusion reached by the debriefer, who will later become known to the public as “Albert,” is disputed. Based on this official’s account, the Associated Press will report that there are “heated arguments at CIA headquarters” over what to do with al-Nashiri, but that in the end the abuse starts again. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
Richard Ben-Veniste. [Source: C-SPAN]The 10 members of the new 9/11 Commission are appointed by this date, and are: Republicans Thomas Kean (chairman), Slade Gorton, James Thompson, Fred Fielding, and John Lehman, and Democrats Lee Hamilton (vice chairman), Max Cleland, Tim Roemer, Richard Ben-Veniste, and Jamie Gorelick. [Chicago Tribune, 12/12/2002; Associated Press, 12/16/2002; New York Times, 12/17/2002] Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and John McCain (R-AZ) had a say in the choice of one of the Republican positions. They and many 9/11 victims’ relatives wanted former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH), who co-wrote an acclaimed report about terrorism before 9/11 (see January 31, 2001). But, possibly under pressure from the White House, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-MS) blocked Rudman’s appointment and chose John Lehman instead. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/12/2002; Associated Press, 12/13/2002; Reuters, 12/16/2002; Shenon, 2008, pp. 55-56] It will slowly emerge over the next several months that at least six of the 10 commissioners have ties to the airline industry. [CBS News, 3/5/2003] Henry Kissinger (see December 13, 2002) and his replacement Thomas Kean (see December 16, 2002) both caused controversy when they were named. In addition, the other nine members of the Commission are later shown to all have potential conflicts of interest. Republican commissioners:
Fred Fielding also works for a law firm lobbying for Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. [Associated Press, 2/14/2003; CBS News, 3/5/2003]
Slade Gorton has close ties to Boeing, which built all the planes destroyed on 9/11, and his law firm represents several major airlines, including Delta Air Lines. [Associated Press, 12/12/2002; CBS News, 3/5/2003]
John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy, has large investments in Ball Corp., which has many US military contracts. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
James Thompson, former Illinois governor, is the head of a law firm that lobbies for American Airlines and has previously represented United Airlines. [Associated Press, 1/31/2003; CBS News, 3/5/2003] Democratic commissioners:
Richard Ben-Veniste represents Boeing and United Airlines. [CBS News, 3/5/2003] He also has other curious connections, according to a 2001 book on CIA ties to drug running written by Daniel Hopsicker, which has an entire chapter called “Who is Richard Ben-Veniste?” Lawyer Ben-Veniste, Hopsicker says, “has made a career of defending political crooks, specializing in cases that involve drugs and politics.” He has been referred to in print as a “Mob lawyer,” and was a long-time lawyer for Barry Seal, one of the most famous drug dealers in US history who is also alleged to have had CIA connections. [Hopsicker, 2001, pp. 325-30]
Max Cleland, former US senator, has received $300,000 from the airline industry. [CBS News, 3/5/2003]
James Gorelick is a director of United Technologies, one of the Pentagon’s biggest defense contractors and a supplier of engines to airline manufacturers. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
Lee Hamilton sits on many advisory boards, including those to the CIA, the president’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the US Army. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
Tim Roemer represents Boeing and Lockheed Martin. [CBS News, 3/5/2003]
Entity Tags: American Airlines, Fred F. Fielding, Jamie Gorelick, 9/11 Commission, James Thompson, John McCain, John Lehman, Trent Lott, Richard Shelby, Lee Hamilton, Richard Ben-Veniste, United Airlines, Warren Rudman, Slade Gorton, Tim Roemer, Max Cleland
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The Department of Homeland Security sends a team to investigate claims (see November 25, 2002) that there are several tons of uranium sitting in a Benin warehouse awaiting shipment to Iraq. According to a later Senate investigation, they see “only what appear[s] to be bales of cotton in the warehouse.” The agency publishes its finds in a report on February 10, 2003. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59]
David Brant, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), learns of the horrific abuse of a Saudi detainee, Mohamed al-Khatani (sometimes spelled “al-Qahtani”—see February 11, 2008), currently detained at Guantanamo Bay. Al-Khatani is one of several terror suspects dubbed the “missing 20th hijacker”; according to the FBI, al-Khatani was supposed to be on board the hijacked aircraft that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on 9/11 (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Al-Khatani was apprehended in Afghanistan a few months after the terrorist attacks. He is one of the examples of prisoner abuse (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003) that Brant takes to Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora (see December 17-18, 2002). In 2006, Brant will say that he believes the Army’s interrogation of al-Khatani was unlawful. If any NCIS agent had engaged in such abuse, he will say, “we would have relieved, removed, and taken internal disciplinary action against the individual—let alone whether outside charges would have been brought.” Brant fears that such extreme methods will taint the cases to be brought against the detainees and undermine any efforts to prosecute them in military or civilian courts. Confessions elicited by such tactics are unreliable. And, Brant will say, “it just ain’t right.” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
Analysts with CIA’s WINPAC unit send a paper to the National Security Council noting two omissions in Iraq’s December 7 declaration (see December 7, 2002). The paper, written in response to an order from Undersecretary of State John Bolton, says that Iraq’s declaration failed to explain its procurement of aluminum tubes and “does not acknowledge efforts to procure uranium from Niger, one of the points addressed in British dossier (see September 24, 2002).” [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 163]
David Brant, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), approaches Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora about the abuse of detainees in US custody at Guantanamo, abuse perhaps authorized at a “high level” in Washington. Brant is in charge of a team of NCIS agents working with the FBI at Guantanamo, called the Criminal Investigative Task Force. The task force’s job is to obtain incriminating information from the detainees for use in future trials or tribunals.
Troubling Information - Brant has learned troubling information about the interrogations at Guantanamo (see Early December, 2002). Brant had never discussed anything so sensitive with Mora before, and later recalls, “I wasn’t sure how he would react.” Brant had already discussed the allegations of abuse with Army officials, since they have command authority over the detainees, and to Air Force officials as well, but goes to Mora after deciding that no one in either branch seems to care. He is not hopeful that Mora will feel any differently.
Worried about Abuse - Brant goes to Mora because, he will recall, he didn’t want his investigators to “in any way observe, condone, or participate in any level of physical or in-depth psychological abuse. No slapping, deprivation of water, heat, dogs, psychological abuse. It was pretty basic, black and white to me.… I didn’t know or care what the rules were that had been set by the Department of Defense at that point. We were going to do what was morally, ethically, and legally permissible.” Brant had ordered his task force members to “stand clear and report” any abusive tactics that they might witness.
Mora 'Rocked' - Brant is not disappointed in Mora’s reactions. A military official who works closely with Brant will later recall that the news “rocked” Mora. The official will add that Mora “was visionary about this,” adding, “He quickly grasped the fact that these techniques in the hands of people with this little training spelled disaster.” Brant asks if Mora wants to hear more about the situation; Mora will write in a 2004 memo (see July 7, 2004), “I responded that I felt I had to.”
Second Meeting - Brant meets with Mora the next day, and shows Mora part of the transcript of the [Mohamed al-Khatani] interrogations. Mora is shocked when Brant tells him that the abuse was not “rogue activity,” but apparently sanctioned by the highest levels in the Bush administration. Mora will write in his memo, “I was under the opinion that the interrogation activities described would be unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” Mora will recall in a 2006 interview: “I was appalled by the whole thing. It was clearly abusive, and it was clearly contrary to everything we were ever taught about American values.” Shocked, Mora will learn more from his counterpart in the Army (see December 18, 2002), and determine that the abusive practices need to be terminated.
Meeting with Pentagon Lawyer - He will bring his concerns to the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, and will leave that meeting hopeful that Haynes will put an end to the extreme measures being used at Guantanamo (see December 20, 2002). But when Mora returns from Christmas vacation, he will learn that Haynes has done nothing. Mora will continue to argue against the torture of detainees (see Early January, 2003). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora, concerned about information he has learned about detainee abuse at Guantanamo (see December 17-18, 2002), calls his friend Steven Morello, the Army’s general counsel, and asks if he knows anything about the subject. Morello replies: “I know a lot about it. Come on down.”
'The Package' - In Morello’s office, Mora views what he calls “the package”—a collection of secret military documents that outline the origins of the coercive interrogation policies at Guantanamo. It begins with a request to use more aggressive interrogation tactics at Guantanamo (see October 11, 2002). Weeks later, the new head of the detention facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, pushes senior Pentagon officials for more leeway in interrogations. On December 2, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave his approval for the use of several more intensive interrogation tactics, including the use of “hooding,” “exploitation of phobias,” “stress positions,” “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli,” and other coercive methods forbidden from use by the Army Field Manual (see December 2, 2002). Rumsfeld does withhold his approval on the use of some methods such as waterboarding.
'Ashen-faced' - Morello tells Mora, “we tried to stop it,” but was told not to ask questions. A participant in the meeting recalls that Mora was “ashen-faced” when he read the package. According to Mora’s memo, Morello, “with a furtive air,” says: “Look at this. Don’t tell anyone where you got it.” Mora later says, “I was astounded that the secretary of defense would get within 100 miles of this issue.” (Morello will later deny showing Mora a copy of the memo.) Mora is similarly unimpressed by another document in the package, a legal analysis by Army lawyer Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which he says will lead to the use of illegal torture by interrogators.
'Force Drift' - Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist Michael Gelles (see Early December, 2002) joins the meeting, and tells Mora that the Guantanamo interrogators are under intense pressure to achieve results. He tells Mora about the phenomenon of “force drift,” where interrogators using coercion begin to believe that if some force achieves results, then more force achieves better results. Mora determines to take action to bring the abuse to a close (see December 20, 2002). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Dr. August Hanning. [Source: Der Spiegel]CIA Director George Tenet makes an urgent request to the chief of German intelligence, Dr. August Hanning. Tenet is scheduled to meet with President Bush in three days to discuss the case for invading Iraq. Tenet wants to cement his case by allowing the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball” to appear on television and tell his story; failing that, Tenet wants the Germans to allow an American expert to debrief Curveball (later revealed as a fabricator named Rafid Ahmed Alwan—see November 4, 2007) and then himself appear on television with his findings. Two days later, Hanning rejects Tenet’s requests. Hanning calls Curveball’s information “plausible and believable,” but adds that “attempts to verify the information have been unsuccessful.” Therefore, all of Curveball’s reports “must be considered unconfirmed.” However, Hanning would allow Curveball’s information to be used, if Tenet still desired to use that unconfirmed information, if the source is protected. In November 2007, Tenet denies ever seeing Hanning’s letter. The CIA’s former European division chief, Tyler Drumheller, believes Tenet is lying. “He needs to talk to his special assistants if he didn’t see it. And the fact is, he had very good special assistants. I’m sure they showed it to him. And I’m sure it was just, it wasn’t what they wanted to see,” Drumheller says. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
Ghassan Elashi holds a press conference and denies any connection to terrorist funding. [Source: Associated Press]Mousa Abu Marzouk, his wife, and five brothers (Ghassan Elashi, Bayan Elashi, Hazim Elashi, Basman Elashi, and Ihsan Elashi) are charged with conspiracy, money laundering, dealing in the property of a designated terrorist, illegal export, and making false statements. The brothers are arrested in Texas, but Marzouk and his wife are living in Syria and remain free. Marzouk is considered a top leader of Hamas. FBI agent Robert Wright had been investigating Marzouk and the brothers since the late 1990s. Wright is set to appear on ABC News on December 19, 2002, to complain that the FBI had failed to prosecute Marzouk for years. As the New York Post notes, “That got results: A day before the show aired, Attorney General Ashcroft announced he would indict Marzouk.” [BBC, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/18/2002; Washington Post, 12/19/2002; New York Post, 7/14/2004] FBI agent John Vincent, who worked closely with Wright, comments, “From within the FBI, [Wright] and I tried to get the FBI to use existing criminal laws to attack the infrastructure of terrorist organizations within the United States, but to no avail. It took an appearance [on television] by [Wright] and I to propel them into making arrests that they could have made as early as 1993.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] ABC News similarly notes, “Marzouk was in US custody in 1997 and under criminal investigation then for much the same crimes cited today.” [ABC News, 12/18/2002] Ghassan Elashi was the vice president of InfoCom Corporation, which was raided on September 5, 2001 (see September 5-8, 2001). He was also chairman of Holy Land Foundation, which was shut down in December 2001. InfoCom and Holy Land were based in the same Texas office park and shared many of the same employees. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; CBS News, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/23/2002] Holy Land raised $13 million in 2000 and claimed to be the largest Muslim charity in the US. The government charges that Hamas members met with Ghassan Elsashi and other Holy Land officials in 1993 to discuss raising money for the families of suicide bombers (see October 1993). Wright had begun an investigation into Holy Land that same year, but he faced obstacles from higher-ups and eventually his investigation was shut down. [CBS News, 12/18/2002; New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2004, the five Elashi brothers will be convicted of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws. In 2005, three of the brothers, Ghassan, Basman, and Bayan Elashi, will be found guilty of supporting Hamas by giving money to Mazouk through 2001. [BBC, 7/8/2004; Associated Press, 4/13/2005] In July 2004, Ghassan Elashi will be charged again, along with four other former Holy Land officials. Two other Holy Land officials will also charged but not arrested, since they had recently left the country. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will state: “I wonder why this prosecution has taken so long. I think until recently we have not put the resources needed into tracking groups that finance terrorism, and the fact that they didn’t get 24-hour surveillance on these two who escaped is galling and perplexing.” [New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2007, this court case will result in a mistrial, and be cast as a major setback for the Justice Department (see October 19, 2007).
A senior British security source suggests to the London Independent that US officials are “talking up” the evidence they say they have against Iraq. “We know [of] material which is unaccounted for,” says the source. “But we have not got a definite site, a grid reference, where we can say Saddam is hiding it. If the US administration does indeed have that kind of specifics, it has not been passed on to us. The main problem is known to us all. After all, it was Paul Wolfowitz the hawkish deputy US Defense Secretary who said, ‘Iraq isn’t a country where we’ve had human intelligence for years.’” [Independent, 12/20/2002]
The State Department publishes a fact sheet titled “Illustrative Examples of Omissions From the Iraqi Declaration to the United Nations Security Council,” which states that in its December 2002 declaration (see December 7, 2002) to the UN, Iraq “ignores [its] efforts to procure uranium from Niger.” [US Department of State, 12/19/2002; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Associated Press, 7/13/2003] Secretary of State Colin Powell rejects the UN dossier, in part because it does not account for the Nigerien uranium (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001) and aluminum tubes (see Between April 2001 and September 2002) Iraq is supposedly using to make nuclear weapons. [Unger, 2007, pp. 268] But at this time, there is no evidence that Iraq had in fact sought to obtain uranium from Niger. Prior to the fact sheet’s publication, the CIA had warned the State Department about this and recommended that the phrase be removed—advice the State Department chose to ignore. [Associated Press, 6/12/2003] Throughout the rest of December, almost every statement the US goverment makes on Iraq will include references to the Nigerien uranium deal. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Powell will all state publicly that Iraq had been caught trying to buy uranium from Niger. [Unger, 2007, pp. 268]
Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, has learned that possibly illegal interrogation techniques are being used against Guantanamo Bay detainees (see December 17-18, 2002). After getting the authorization of Gordon England, the secretary of the Navy, Mora meets with the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, in Haynes’s Pentagon office.
Meeting with Pentagon Counsel - In 2006, Mora will recall telling Haynes in the meeting that whatever its intent, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to allow extreme interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002) is “torture.” Haynes replies, “No, it isn’t.” Mora asks Haynes to reconsider his opinions. For example, what does “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli” mean? Detention in a completely dark cell? For how long? Until he goes blind? And what does the phrase “exploitation of phobias” entail? Could it mean holding a detainee in a coffin? Threatening him with dogs, or rats? Can an interrogator drive a detainee insane? Mora notes that at the bottom of Rumsfeld’s memo, he asks why a detainee can be forced to stand for no longer than four hours a day when he himself often stands “for 8-10 hours a day.” While Rumsfeld may have intended to be humorous, Mora notes that Rumsfeld’s comment could be used as a defense argument in future terrorist trials. (In 2006, Lawrence Wilkerson will say of Rumsfeld’s comment: “It said, ‘Carte blanche, guys.’ That’s what started them down the slope. You’ll have My Lais then. Once you pull this thread, the whole fabric unravels.”) Mora leaves the office hoping that Haynes will come around to his point of view and convince Rumsfeld to withdraw the memo. He will be sharply disappointed (see July 7, 2004). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006] He later calls the interrogation practices “unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 179]
Haynes Close to Cheney's Office - Mora may not be aware that in meeting with Haynes, he is also in effect engaging the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Haynes is a protege of Cheney’s neoconservative chief of staff, David Addington. Haynes worked as Addington’s special assistant when Addington served under then-Defense Secretary Cheney in 1989, and Addington promoted Haynes to the office of general counsel of the Army. When George W. Bush took office in 2001, Haynes was awarded the position of the Pentagon’s general counsel. Addington has played key roles in almost all of the administration’s legal arguments in favor of extreme interrogation techniques and detainee policies. One former government lawyer will describe Addington as “the Octopus” because his hands seem to reach into every legal issue. Many of Haynes’s colleagues know that information moves rapidly between Haynes’s and Cheney’s offices. While not a hardline neoconservative like Addington and many other Cheney staffers, Haynes is, as one former Pentagon colleague will call him, “pliant” to serving the agenda of the vice president. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
A White House meeting in March 2003. From left to right: Cheney, Tenet, and Bush. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin meet in the White House with President George Bush and Bush’s top advisers for a “dress rehearsal” ahead of a public presentation that will accuse Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction. Bush is disappointed with Tenet and McLauglin’s presentation, which is based on communications intercepts, satellite photos, diagrams, and other intelligence. “Nice try,” one official will later recall Bush saying. “I don’t think this quite—it’s not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from.” Bush reportedly says to Tenet. “I’ve been told all this intelligence about having WMD, and this is the best we’ve got?” According to a White House leak to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, Tenet responds, “It’s a slam dunk case,” Bush then reportedly asks, “George, how confident are you?” To which the intelligence head responds, “Don’t worry, it’s a slam dunk.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2004; PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006 Sources: Carl W. Ford, Jr.] But this account is later disputed by Tenet. According to Tenet, he told the president that he could provide more intelligence to strengthen the public case. It would be easy—“a slam dunk.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 359-367; CBS News, 4/29/2007]
Simon Dodge, an Iraq nuclear analyst from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), sends an email to a DOE analyst indicating his surprise that INR’s well-known alternative views on both the aluminum tubes and the uranium information were not included in a paper recently put together by the CIA’s WINPAC unit (see December 17, 2002). The DOE analyst replies in an e-mail, commenting, “It is most disturbing that WINPAC is essentially directing foreign policy in this matter. There are some very strong points to be made in respect to Iraq’s arrogant non-compliance with UN sanctions. However, when individuals attempt to convert those ‘strong statements’ into the ‘knock out’ punch, the administration will ultimately look foolish—i.e. the tubes and Niger!” [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 163-164]
UN weapons inspectors interview Sabah Abdel-Nour, a British-trained specialist in materials technology who is working as a professor at Baghdad’s University of Technology. He later tells reporters that he answered all of the inspectors’ questions, had nothing to hide, and had no reason to leave the country. “I told them everything we know clearly and in detail… I don’t have anything to say outside the country more than what I said here.” It is the first publicly acknowledged interview with an Iraqi scientist. [New York Times, 12/25/2002]
Mohammed Asghar [Source: CBC]A member of a document-forging and smuggling ring is arrested in Canada in late October 2002. The suspect, Michael Hamdani, tells authorities about a cell of 19 terrorists seeking false passports from a Pakistani smuggling ring in order to gain entry to the US, with five successfully infiltrating the country via Canada on Christmas Eve. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] He tells the FBI that he had been offered a large sum of money to assist with the smuggling of the five men into the US. He admits that he was part of the smuggling and counterfeit document ring; officials also believe that Hamdani has links to terrorist groups. [Washington Post, 1/3/2003] As a result, on December 27, 2002, the FBI issues an all-points bulletin that launches a massive effort by law enforcement officials who fear terrorist attacks over the holiday period. The bulletin is approved by President Bush, who says publicly, “We need to know why they have been smuggled into the country and what they’re doing in the country.” The FBI posts pictures of five of the men on its website, warning that the provided names and ages could be fictitious. They also raid six locations in Brooklyn and Queens. These pictures lead to numerous calls and sightings of the men from around the country. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] During the course of the investigation, an unsubstantiated report surfaces; the FBI learns from a Middle East source that terrorists are planning eight diversionary explosions in New York harbor on New Year’s Eve, to be followed by one large-scale genuine attack. The target is identified as the US Secret Service office in Manhattan. The New York Police Department alerts the US Coast Guard, which closes the harbor to pleasure craft and scrambles a 100-person Maritime Safety and Security Team. This team patrols the harbor with boats mounted with heavy machine guns and carrying tactical officers armed with automatic weapons. No other evidence ever emerges to support the FBI’s source. [Time, 1/5/2003] The man pictured as Mustafa Khan Owasi in one of the FBI photos is found a few days later in Pakistan. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] He says he had once tried to get a false visa in order to travel to Britain, but had been caught in the United Arab Emirates and returned to his home in Lahore, Pakistan. His real name is Mohammed Asghar and he works as a jeweler. He says he suspects the forgers that he provided his information to in order to receive the false visa may have used his identity to create papers for someone else. Investigators begin to doubt the veracity of Hamdani’s claims. [CBC News, 1/2/2003] US experts also find that the polygraph exam of Hamdani administered by Canadian authorities was seriously flawed. The assumption that this polygraph exam was accurate was one of the main motives in issuing the alert. Officials also fail to find any link between Hamdani and al-Qaeda, or any other radical militant organization. No links are discovered between the identities in the passports and extremist groups. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] The FBI realizes that the infiltration story had been fabricated by Hamdani and retracts the terror alert on New Year’s Day. [Time, 1/5/2003] The retraction of the terror alert leads to criticism of the FBI. Michael Greenberger, a former Justice Department official who heads the University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security, says, “There is going to be a sort of ‘crying wolf’ scenario… When they put these out, there should be a more thorough explanation to the American public about what they’re doing.” The FBI defends its handling of the situation, saying that it reacted appropriately to the possibility of a real threat and noting that some of Hamdani’s information on the smuggling ring was accurate and led to ten (non-terrorism related) arrests. [Washington Post, 1/8/2003] Hamdani was already facing fraud charges in Canada after the raid that led to his arrest discovered fake passports, Pakistani driving licenses, immigration documents, and counterfeit traveler’s checks. He also had outstanding fraud warrants from the FBI in New York and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The FBI believes that Hamdani fabricated the story to avoid extradition to Canada. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] One investigator says, “You wouldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him.” [Time, 1/5/2003]
A CIA official known as a “debriefer” attempts to intimidate al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a handgun and a power drill. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ] The official, who will later become known as “Albert,” had come to interrogate al-Nashiri at an agency black site in Poland after al-Nashiri had been tortured (see (November 2002)), but recently decided that al-Nashiri was still withholding information (see Mid-December 2002). [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Mayer, 2008, pp. 225; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] Albert gets approval for the plan to use the gun from his supervisor, known only as “Mike,” although Mike does not clear the plan with CIA headquarters. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010] Albert takes an unloaded semi-automatic handgun into al-Nashiri’s cell. He racks it once or twice, simulating the loading of a bullet into the chamber, close to al-Nashiri’s ear. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ] After again receiving consent from Mike, around the same day Albert takes a power drill into the cell. While al-Nashiri is naked and hooded, he revs the drill to frighten al-Nashiri, but does not touch him with it. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] This abuse will be reported to CIA headquarters (see January 2003), but the Justice Department will decline to prosecute Albert (see September 11, 2003), and the result of the CIA inspector general’s investigation of the matter is unknown (see October 29, 2003).
The US military responds to recent media stories about the torture and abuse of suspected al-Qaeda detainees in Afghanistan by denying that any such treatment takes place. Recent articles in the Washington Post have claimed that detainees held at Bagram Air Force Base were subjected to “stress and duress” techniques (see December 26, 2002). These techniques include “stress positions,” where detainees are shackled or strapped into painful positions and kept there for hours, and sleep deprivation. US military spokesman Major Steve Clutter denies the allegations. “The article was false on several points, the first being that there is no CIA detention facility on Bagram; there is a facility run by the US Army,” he says (see October 2001). “However, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that persons under control of the US Army have been mistreated. The United States Army is treating enemy combatants under government control, humanely, and in conditions that are generally better than they were experiencing before we placed them under our control” (see December 2001 and After, Late 2002, January 2002, March 15, 2002, April-May 2002, April-May 2002, Late May 2002, June 4, 2002-early August 2002, June 5, 2002, July 2002, August 22, 2002, November 30-December 3, 2002, Late 2002-February 2004, Late 2002 - March 15, 2004, December 2002, December 2002, December 1, 2002, December 5-9, 2002, December 8, 2002-March 2003, and December 10, 2002). Clutter also denies that detainees have been subjected to “rendition”—being turned over to foreign governments who routinely torture prisoners. Instead, he says, most prisoners held at Bagram were released after being interrogated in a process overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross. “I would like to point out that persons under US government control who come to Bagram are not automatically deemed to be terrorists or enemy combatants,” Clutter says. “When they arrive, they go through an interview process to determine whether they are enemy combatants or have information that can help us prevent terrorist attacks against Americans or attacks against US forces. If they are deemed to be enemy combatants or pose a danger, they become detainees. If they are not, they are ultimately released.” [Agence France-Presse, 12/29/2002]
Joe Webber. [Source: US Customs]Joe Webber, running the Houston office of the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, starts investigating a man believed to be raising money for Islamic militants. The suspect is in direct contact with people who are known to be associated with Osama bin Laden. Webber has good cooperation with the local FBI office, federal prosecutors in Houston, and Justice Department officials in Washington. However, he claims that FBI headquarters officials tell him point blank that he will not be allowed to conduct his investigation. After many months of delays from the FBI, friends from within the bureau tell him that headquarters will not allow the investigation to proceed because it is being run by Customs and not by the FBI. Webber is so upset that he eventually becomes a whistleblower. Sen. Charles Grassley and other politicians support his case and say there are other instances where the FBI impedes investigations because of turf battles. Asked if the FBI would put a turf battle above national security, Webber says, “That’s absolutely my impression. You would think, in a post-9/11 environment, that an event like that wouldn’t occur. But it did.” [MSNBC, 6/3/2005]
Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin and Robert Walpole, the agency’s national intelligence officer for nuclear weapons, share an early draft of a rebuttal to Iraq’s December 7 declaration (see December 7, 2002) with National Security Council staffers. The White House intends to use the report as the basis for Colin Powell’s upcoming speech before the UN Security Council. But the NSC staffers find it lacking in detail, and the White House tells McLaughlin and Walpole to keep working on it. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 175]
A CIA officer who is interrogating al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri threatens to harm al-Nashiri’s mother and family. The officer tells al-Nashiri that if he does not talk, “We could get your mother in here,” and, “We can bring your family in here.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ] At this time al-Nashiri is apparently being held at a CIA base in Poland. The officer will later become known as “Albert.” [Associated Press, 9/7/2010] Albert, who also threatens al-Nashiri with a gun and power drill around the same time (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003), apparently wants al-Nashiri to infer, for what the CIA’s inspector general will call “psychological reasons,” that he may not be a US official. Instead, al-Nashiri is to believe that he comes from an Arabic country. Al-Nashiri would infer this because of Albert’s Arab accent. According to the inspector general, this is because it is “widely believed in Middle East circles” that interrogation by officials of this Arabic country involves “sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainee.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42-43 ] The name of the Arabic country is not known, although Albert is of Egyptian descent. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010] Albert will admit not identifying himself as a US official to al-Nashiri, but say that he neither claimed to be an official of this Arabic country nor threatened his family. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42-43 ]
Army investigators discover that 62 percent of its gas masks and 90 percent of its chem/bio detectors—which alert soldiers to the presence of chemical or biological toxins—are defective. Nevertheless, the Bush administration continues to prepare for war with Iraq, a country believed to have a large and dangerous stock of chemical and biological weapons. Tens of thousands of US soldiers will be issued defective chem/bio suits, many with holes or ripped seams. Retired Army Colonel David Hackworth will later recall: “When the Pentagon tried to trace down these bad suits, they couldn’t find them at all. So a trooper out in the… middle of a desert is putting on a suit, [and] he doesn’t know if he’s got a good one or a bad one. It’s, it’s kind of like Russian roulette.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 57]
An internal audit shows that the cutting-edge electronic surveillance system, DCSNet (see 1997-August 2007 and After), is unacceptably vulnerable to hacking and exploitation. The audit finds numerous security vulnerabilities, including the allowing of multiple and shared logins, a lack of firewall and antivirus software, and Windows-based vulnerabilities surrounding the operating system’s administrative functions. Steven Bellovin, a computer science professor and surveillance expert, says the risks from insiders are particularly worrisome. “The underlying problem isn’t so much the weaknesses here, as the FBI attitude towards security,” he says. The FBI assumes “the threat is from the outside, not the inside,” and believes that “to the extent that inside threats exist, they can be controlled by process rather than technology.” He considers the entire system at risk both from insiders and hackers from outside. “Any time something is tappable there is a risk,” Bellovin says. “I’m not saying, ‘Don’t do wiretaps,’ but when you start designing a system to be wiretappable, you start to create a new vulnerability. A wiretap is, by definition, a vulnerability from the point of the third party. The question is, can you control it?” [Wired News, 8/29/2007]
Said Berraj will be considered closely involved in the Madrid train bombings plot (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and frequently runs errands for Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of about three masterminds of the bombings. He was briefly arrested in Turkey in 2000 while meeting with several of the other bombers (see October 10, 2000). In 2003, he regularly meets with Spanish intelligence agents. It is not clear if or when he stops meeting with them. And up until the bombings he also works for a security company owned by a former policeman. He flees Spain two days before the bombing. He has yet to be found. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] A different informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, will later testify under oath as a protected witness that he accidentally sees Fakhet and Berrai meeting with his handlers in 2003, suggesting that Fakhet is an informant as well (see Shortly After October 2003).
According to a later report by the BBC, Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), is “seen with [al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Junaid Babar] in Leeds in 2003.” The BBC will not name Babar for “legal reasons,” but the description they give (“he is a United States citizen from a Pakistani family from New York who traveled to Pakistan immediately after the 9/11 attacks”) matches Babar exactly. It is believed that US intelligence began monitoring Babar in late 2001 after he proclaimed his desire to kill Americans in several video interviews (see Early November 2001-April 10, 2004). The BBC will not clarify just who sees Babar and Khan together. In 2003, British intelligence is honing in on a fertilizer bomb plot that Babar is involved in, and Khan is connected to some of the plotters. For instance, sometime in early 2003 British intelligence discovers calls between one of the main alleged plotters and a “Siddique Khan” (see Shortly Before July 2003). [BBC, 10/25/2005]
A CIA prison in Thailand closes at some time this year. [Washington Post, 11/2/2005] The prison’s location is not known with certainty, although a Vietnam War-era base at Udron was used by the agency for counterterrorist purposes around this time. [Weiner, 2007, pp. 297] The prison was built in March 2002 (see March 2002) and the best-known high-value detainee previously held there was militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002 and Mid-April-May 2002).
A CIA supervisor involved in the abuse of detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri leaves the agency. The supervisor, known only as “Mike,” had been in charge of a CIA black site in Poland to which al-Nashiri had been transferred at the end of 2002. Another CIA officer, known only as “Albert,” had consulted with Mike before threatening al-Nashiri with a gun and drill (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). Mike will later teach and work in the private sector. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
The CIA makes a fake video of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, although the video is apparently never used. The video shows bin Laden and some associates of his sitting around a campfire, swigging bottles of liquor and talking about having had sex with boys, according to a former CIA official. The actors are drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” the official will say. The timing of this effort is unclear, although it is apparently linked to discussions about making similar videos, including one of a fake Saddam Hussein having sex with a boy, prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion (see Before March 20, 2003). According to another former officer, the projects grind to a halt as nobody can come to an agreement on them. In particular, they are opposed by Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who keeps “throwing darts at it.” The officer will say that the ideas are ridiculous and, “They came from people whose careers were spent in Latin America or East Asia,” and do not understand the cultural nuances of the region. “Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East—nobody cares,” a third former official will say. “Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.” After the CIA abandons the projects, they are apparently revived by the military. “The military took them over,” one former official will say. “They had assets in psy-war down at Ft. Bragg,” at the Army’s Special Warfare Center. The projects will be revealed in the Washington Post in 2010. [Washington Post, 5/25/2010]
French special forces soldiers later interviewed for a documentary film will claim that they had Osama bin Laden in their sights once in 2003 and once in 2004 but were never given the go-ahead to fire from their US superiors. One French soldier says, “In 2003 and 2004 we had bin Laden in our sights. The sniper said ‘I have bin Laden’.” It then reportedly takes two hours for the request to shoot to reach US officers who could authorize it, but the French soldier says, “There was a hesitation in command,” and the authorization never came. Four French soldiers are interviewed who back up this claim, but a French military spokesperson denies it. France has roughly 200 elite troops operating under US command near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan at the time. [Reuters, 12/19/2006; CBC News, 12/22/2006]
Mark Rossini. [Source: Fox News]Two FBI agents who were involved in a pre-911 failure, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, are reportedly “eager” to provide testimony to the 9/11 Commission about that failure. However, the Commission does not issue them with a subpoena or otherwise interview them about the matter. Miller and Rossini were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11, and helped block a cable to the FBI that said 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] The Commission will cite the transcript of an interview of Miller by the Justice Department’s inspector general in its final report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502] However, in the interview Miller falsely claims that he remembers nothing of the incident (see (February 12, 2004)). The Commission’s final report will also cite an interview it apparently conducted with Miller in December 2003, although this is in an endnote to a paragraph on terrorist financing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 185, 504] As the blocked cable is not discovered by investigators until February 2004 (see Early February 2004), Miller is presumably not asked about it at the interview.
National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger. [Source: New York Times]The CIA meets three White House officials to discuss what to do with videotapes it has made of detainee interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). The CIA wants to destroy the tapes, so it briefs the officials on them and asks their advice. The officials are:
Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel until early 2005, when he will become attorney general;
David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney;
John Bellinger, senior lawyer at the National Security Council;
There are conflicting accounts of the advice the lawyers give the CIA. One source will say there was “vigorous sentiment” among some unnamed top White House officials to destroy the tapes. They apparently want to destroy the tapes in 2005 because they could be damaging in the light of the Abu Ghraib scandal (see April 28, 2004). Other sources will say nobody at the White House advocates destroying the tapes. However, it seems none of the lawyers gives a direct order to preserve the tapes or says their destruction would be illegal. [New York Times, 12/19/2007] A source familiar with Bellinger’s account will say, “The clear recommendation of Bellinger and the others was against destruction of the tapes… The recommendation in 2003 from the White House was that the tapes should not be destroyed.” [Associated Press, 12/20/2007] When CIA Director Michael Hayden informs legislators of these discussions in late 2007, he will say that upon being informed high-ranking CIA officials are demanding the tapes be destroyed, the lawyers “consistently counseled caution.” The Washington Post will comment: “The ambiguity in the phrasing of Hayden’s account left unresolved key questions about the White House’s role. While his account suggests an ambivalent White House view toward the tapes, other intelligence officials recalled White House officials being more emphatic at the first meeting that the videos should not be destroyed. Also unexplained is why the issue was discussed at the White House without apparent resolution for more than a year.” [Washington Post, 12/20/2007] Another White House official, Harriet Miers, is also consulted around this time and is said to advise against the tapes’ destruction (see Between 2003-Late 2005). [New York Times, 12/19/2007] When it is revealed that these officials were consulted, Law professor Jonathan Turley will comment: “[T]his is a very significant development, because it shows that this was not just some rogue operator at the CIA that destroyed evidence being sought by Congress and the courts. It shows that this was a planned destruction, that there were meetings and those meetings extended all the way to the White House, and included Alberto Gonzalez, who would soon become attorney general and Harriet Miers, who would become White House counsel. That’s a hair’s breath away from the president himself.” [CNN, 12/19/2007]
According to NBC News, at some point in early 2003, the US learns about an al-Qaeda target in Yemen, and US officials want to strike the target with a Predator missile. However, due to the Iraq war there are no Predators available and the target gets away. [MSNBC, 7/29/2003]
Mark Garlasco. [Source: Canal+]The Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] concludes early in 2003 that the intelligence being provided by dissidents supplied by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) is of little value. The New York Times reports that an internal DIA study has found that “dissidents invented or exaggerated their credentials as people with direct knowledge of the Iraqi government and its suspected unconventional weapons program.” [New York Times, 9/29/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003] The study also reveals that more than $1 million was paid to Chalabi’s group for information about Saddam Hussein’s alleged banned weapons programs. [New York Times, 9/29/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003] Unnamed officials interviewed by the Times say the defectors were considered by the Defense Intelligence Agency to be dubious sources from the start. It is believed that the dissidents’ motivation for talking has been money and their opposition to Saddam Hussein. But the Times’ sources “would not speculate on whether the defectors had knowingly provided false information and, if so, what their motivation might have been.” [New York Times, 9/29/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003] Similarly, Mark Garlasco of the DIA will tell PBS Frontline in 2006, that the “INC was constantly shoving crap at us. They were providing information that they thought we wanted to hear. They were feeding the beast [referring to the Office of Special Plans and those within the administration who wanted to go to war with Iraq].” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] The bureau chief of Knight Ridder Newspapers, John Walcott, will later say of Chalabi, “Chalabi’s motives were always perfectly clear in this and understandable. He was an Iraqi. He didn’t want his country run by a thug and a murderer, a mass murderer, and a crook. And everything he said had to be looked at in that light, and scrutinized in that light. And why anyone would give him a free pass, or anyone else a free pass for that matter, on a matter as important as going to war, is beyond me.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
According to the Sunday Herald, in early 2003, British officials believe that Haroon Rashid Aswat has been killed in Afghanistan, because his passport has been recovered from the body of a young man fighting for the Taliban there. The Herald will later claim that days later in the headquarters of the British intelligence agency MI5, officers there “were in no doubt that Aswat’s death had eliminated a major terrorist threat to [Britain]. Laid out before the group were highly classified photographs and papers from his file, revealing the activities, friends, and acquaintances of a young man who was increasingly becoming a headache for Britain’s security services. It was early in 2003, but in the previous few years, the file on Aswat had burgeoned.” [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005] Aswat apparently will be monitored in February 2004 meeting with suspected bomb plotters in London, but he will not be arrested (see February 2004). In June 2005, US intelligence will learn that Aswat is living in South Africa, but British authorities will prevent the US from renditioning him there (see Early June 2005). In July 2005, he will be implicated by many media outlets as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see Late June-July 7, 2005). Counterterrorism expert John Loftus will also claim that Aswat had been a long-time asset for the British intelligence agency MI6 and had been trying to prevent other parts of the British government (presumably including MI5) from arresting him (see July 29, 2005). [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005]
In early 2003, the Treasury Department draws up a list of 300 individuals, charities, and corporations in Southeast Asia believed to be funding al-Qaeda and its suspected Indonesian affiliate Jemaah Islamiya. “Due to inter-agency politics, the list [is] winnowed down to 18 individuals and 10 companies.” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] Later, the number of suspected financiers is narrowed down even further, and on September 5, 2003, only 10 individuals, all connected to Jemaah Islamiya, have their assets frozen. [Associated Press, 9/5/2003] The assets of Jemaah Islamiya itself were frozen shortly after the October 2002 Bali bombings was blamed on the group (see October 12, 2002), though ties between the group and al-Qaeda were first publicly reported in January 2002. [Associated Press, 1/18/2002; United Press International, 1/25/2003] Hambali, a notorious leader of both al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asia operations and Jemaah Islamiya, only had his assets frozen in January 2003, even though he was publicly mentioned as a major figure as far back as January 2001. [New Straits Times, 1/25/2001; Associated Press, 1/18/2002]
Six alleged members of the fertilizer bomb plot: Salahuddin Amin, Anthony Garcia, Waheed Mahmood, Momin Khawaja, Jawad Akbar, and Omar Khyam. [Source: Metropolitan Police/ CP Jonathan Hayward]In early 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 is tracking a suspected al-Qaeda leader living in Britain known as Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”) (see March 2003 and After), and they see him repeatedly meeting with a Pakistani-Briton named Omar Khyam. Quayyum is believed to be an aide to al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. [BBC, 5/1/2007] By around March or April 2003, investigators begin monitoring Khyam, and soon discover he is a ringleader in a fertilizer bomb plot on unknown targets in Britain. [BBC, 4/30/2007]
Surveillance Intensifies - By the beginning of February 2004, surveillance intensifies. Thousands of hours of audio are recorded on dozens of suspects. The investigation soon focuses on a smaller group of Khyam’s close associates who are originally from Pakistan and had attended training camps in mountainous regions of Pakistan in recent years. Most of these men have links to Al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist group formed by radical London imam Omar Bakri Mohammed. The plotters are monitored discussing various targets, including nightclubs, pubs, and a network of underground high-pressure gas pipelines. In February 2004, MI5 intercepts a phone conversation between Khyam talking to his associate Salahuddin Amin, in Pakistan, about the quantities of different ingredients needed to construct a fertilizer bomb. An al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan had encouraged Amin to bomb targets in Britain.
Fertilizer Found and Replaced - Later in February, employees at a self storage depot in London call police after discovering a large amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer being stored and suspecting it might be used for a bomb. Investigators discover the fertilizer belongs to Khyam and his group, and has been stored there since November 2003. The fertilizer is covertly replaced with an inert substance so a bomb cannot be successfully made from it.
Arrests Made - Investigators discover that Khyam is planning to fly to Pakistan on April 6, and the decision is made to arrest the suspects before he leaves the country. On March 29, a bomb plotter named Momin Khawaja is arrested where he is living in Canada. Weapons and a half-built detonator are found in his house. The next day, Khyam and seventeen others are arrested in England (see March 29, 2004 and After). Aluminum powder, a key bomb ingredient, is found in a shed owned by Khyam. Amin, still living in Pakistan, turns himself in to authorities there a few days later. Another key member of the group, Mohammed Junaid Babar, is not arrested and flies to the US on April 6. But he is arrested there four days later and quickly agrees to reveal all he knows and testify against the others (see April 10, 2004).
Five Convicted in Trial - The suspects will be put on trial in 2006 and Babar will be the star prosecution witness. Five people, including Khyam, will be sentenced to life in prison in 2007. Trials against Khawaja in Canada and Amin in Pakistan have yet to be decided. Curiously, Quayyum, who has been alleged to the mastermind of the plot and the key al-Qaeda link, is never arrested or even questioned, and continues to live openly in Britain (see March 2003 and After). [Guardian, 5/1/2007]
Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar produces a high-level report on the potential challenges US forces will experience in post-Hussein Iraq. Pillar’s paper argues that imposing democracy on Iraq will not be easy. He warns that the country may fracture along ethnic and religious lines and explode into violence. He also says that the US will not be able to finance reconstruction with Iraq’s oil revenue. The report is sent to the office of CIA Director George Tenet and forwarded to the White House and Pentagon. An administration official tells him that his paper is “too negative.” “You guys just don’t see the possibilities,” Pillar later recalls the official saying. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 198]
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