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USAMRIID. [Source: Skip Lawrence / Frederick News-Post]Scientists working with the FBI have been trying to identify unique genetic markers in the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks so that other anthrax samples can be compared to it (see Early 2003-2005). By early 2004, their work is not done, but they have been able to identify two unique genetic markers (eventually they will identify four). The investigators begin comparing anthrax samples based on these two markers. Preliminary results strongly suggest the anthrax came from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008] As a result, USAMRIID laboratories are raided to get more samples (see July 16, 2004). Some early results point suspicion at USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins (see Early 2004).
In early 2004, the head of the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan, known only as “Peter,” reports a revival of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces near the border of Pakistan. He proposes a spring intelligence push in the Pakistani tribal regions of South Waziristan and Kunar. Since 2002, al-Qaeda has mainly been regrouping in Waziristan, and many speculate that Osama bin Laden may be hiding there (see August 2002). Peter estimates that 24 field officers and five station officers would be needed for the new push. However, CIA headquarters replies that it does not have the resources to make the surge, presumably due to commitments in Iraq. Peter is rotated out of his post a short time later. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Rep. Curt Weldon.
[Source: House of Representatives]Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) is not yet familiar with Able Danger, though he will help bring information about the program to light in 2005. However, he is familiar with the closely related Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) program, having had dealings with it before 9/11. He says he is frustrated at the apparent lack of understanding about programs like LIWA based on the lines of questioning at public 9/11 Commission hearings in early 2004, so, “On at least four occasions, I personally tried to brief the 9/11 Commissioners on: NOAH [Weldon’s pre-9/11 suggestion to have a National Operations and Analysis Hub]; integrative data collaboration capabilities; my frustration with intelligence stovepipes; and al-Qaeda analysis. However, I was never able to achieve more than a five-minute telephone conversation with Commissioner Thomas Kean. On March 24, 2004, I also had my Chief of Staff personally hand deliver a document about LIWA, along [with] questions for George Tenet to the Commission, but neither was ever used.” [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] He says: “The next week, they sent a staffer over to pick up some additional materials about the NIWA, about the concept, and about information I had briefed them on. They never followed up and invited me to come in and meet with them. So they can’t say that I didn’t try.” [Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005]
The White House and the Justice Department are at odds over the legality of the National Security Agency’s “data mining” program, which involves the NSA combing through enormous electronic databases containing personal information about millions of US citizens, ostensibly for anti-terrorism purposes and often without court warrants (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and Early 2002). Such data mining by the NSA potentially threatens citizens’ constitutional right to privacy. This clash between the White House and the Justice Department is one of the reasons that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card will try to pressure Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft is recuperating from surgery, to reauthorize the NSA program over the objections of Deputy Attorney General James Comey. That attempt to force reauthorization over Justice Department complaints will result in the protest resignations of Ashcroft, Comey, and other Justice officials (see March 10-12, 2004). In 2007, Gonzales will deny that any such attempt to pressure Ashcroft to overrule Comey ever happened (see July 24, 2007), and will deny that there was any such dispute between the White House and Justice Department over the NSA program. Those denials will lead to calls to investigate Gonzales for perjury (see May 16, 2007). In late 2005, President Bush will admit, after the New York Times reveals the existence of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), that the program indeed exists, but will not acknowledge the data mining. Several current and former administration officials, interviewed by reporters in 2007, refuse to go into detail about the dispute between the White House and Justice Department, but say that it involves other issues along with the data mining. They will also refuse to explain what modifications to the surveillance program Bush will authorize to mollify Justice Department officials. Bush and his officials, including Gonzales, who will ascend to the position of attorney general in 2005, will repeatedly insist that he has the authority, both under the Constitution and under Congress’s authorization to use military force against terrorists passed after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), to bypass the requirements for court warrants to monitor US citizens. Critics will say that such surveillance is illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [New York Times, 7/29/2007]
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).
Nabil al-Marabh. [Source: Associated Press]After Nabil al-Marabh’s eight-month prison sentence was completed in 2003, he remained in a Chicago prison awaiting deportation. However, deportation proceedings were put on hold because federal prosecutors lodged a material witness warrant against him. When the warrant is dropped, al-Marabh is cleared to be deported to Syria. [Associated Press, 1/29/2003; Associated Press, 6/3/2004] In late 2002, the US government argued that there was no evidence al-Marabh had ever been involved in any terrorist activity or connected to any terrorist organization (see September 3, 2002). However, in al-Marabh’s deportation hearing, the judge rules that he “does present a danger to national security,” is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism,” and has a “propensity to lie.” A footnote in his 2003 deportation ruling states, “The FBI has been unable to rule out the possibility that al-Marabh has engaged in terrorist activity or will do so if he is not removed from the United States.” He is deported nonetheless, and prosecutors from two US cities are not allowed to indict him. Both Democratic and Republican Senators will later express bafflement and complain about this deportation (see June 30, 2004). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
Hy Rothstein. [Source: Center on Terrorism and Irregular Warfare]In late 2002, the Defense Department asks retired Army Colonel Hy Rothstein, a leading military expert in unconventional warfare, to examine the planning and execution of the war in Afghanistan. Rothstein travels to Afghanistan and interviews dozens of military personnel at all levels. The New Yorker calls his report, completed this month, “a devastating critique of the [Bush] administration’s strategy.” While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has described the US military to be mostly reliant upon unconventional forces, Rothstein sees a reliance on heavy aerial bombing that results in large numbers of civilian casualties. He sees a poor effort at winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, and many mistakes such as allying with corrupt, drug-dealing warlords who oppress the population. One military expert calls the US strategy “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” When Rothstein presents his conclusions to Rumsfeld, he is told to dampen his criticisms before the report can be published. He refuses to do so, and so the report is left sitting in bureaucratic limbo. Many other officials privately agree with the report’s conclusions. One former senior intelligence officer says, “The reason they’re petrified is that it’s true, and they didn’t want to see it in writing.” [New Yorker, 4/5/2004]
The FBI begins compiling a database of information about US citizens (see October 25, 2005). The database, ordered by Attorney General John Ashcroft, uses as one of its primary sources information gleaned through so-called “National Security Letters,” or NSLs, which are documents ordering US citizens to reveal private information about their clients, relatives, or employees. Ashcroft overrides a 1995 guideline that mandates the destruction of such information obtained through NSLs if it proves “not relevant to the purposes for which it was collected.” Ashcroft orders the FBI to compile the information in its database, and even tells the agency that it can freely share that information with other government agencies if it desires. Ashcroft also orders the FBI to develop “data mining” technology to probe for “hidden links” among the citizens in its growing cache of electronic data. The FBI complies, using the same technology used by the CIA, which itself is barred from keeping such files on US citizens. Ashcroft extends the mandate even further, allowing the FBI to compile consumer data from private data-collection firms such as ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, though Ashcroft’s predecessors had ruled that compiling such data would violate citizens’ constitutional rights to privacy. Soon, FBI field offices will have access to ChoicePoiint databases in their squad rooms. Adding this commercially provided data to the NSL-based data gleaned by the FBI, and the FBI will soon have a wealth of data on hundreds of thousands of US citizens never accused of a crime. Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, and many others, strenuously object to the practice, but their concerns are largely ignored. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
Members of the 9/11 Commission’s team focusing on counterterrorism issues are appalled at a rewrite of a report by executive director Philip Zelikow. Zelikow rewrote the report, about the history of US efforts to contain al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, to imply that direct links exist between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004). Staffer Scott Allan, who wrote the original report, thinks that if the report is allowed to stand, it will become an important propaganda tool for the White House and its neoconservative backers in justifying the Iraq war, with headlines trumpeting the commission’s “discovery” of evidence linking al-Qaeda and Iraq. Many of Allan’s colleagues are equally disturbed, especially senior staffer Les Hawley. Hawley, a retired colonel, is a veteran of the military and civilian bureaucracies in Washington, and was a senior official in the State Department under Bill Clinton. Hawley, Allan, and the rest of the team directly challenge Zelikow’s rewrite. In author Philip Shenon’s words: “It would be remembered as an all-important showdown for the staff, the moment where they would make it clear that Zelikow could take his partisanship only so far. The staff would not allow him to trade on their credibility to promote the goals of the Bush White House—not in these interim reports, nor in the commission’s final report later that year.” The staff soon confronts Zelikow on the issue (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration, Les Hawley, US Department of State, Scott Allan, Philip Zelikow
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline
After 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow rewrites a staff report to allege links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004), the staff confront Zelikow over the rewrite (see January 2004). The meeting between Zelikow and the staffers becomes somewhat heated, but Zelikow capitulates in the end, replacing the allegations of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda with far more neutral language, and agreeing to let the entire issue lay until a later staff report. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The staff suspected that Zelikow realized at the meeting that he had been caught in a clear-cut act of helping his friends in the Bush White House—that he had tried to twist the wording of the report to serve the needs of the Bush administration and its stumbling military campaign. Zelikow said later it was nothing of the sort.” Zelikow will deny allegations that he is a “White House mole,” and insist that all he wanted to do was help the commission keep “an open mind” on the subject. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
The 9/11 Commission’s teams of investigators are asked to present interim staff reports to be read in the public hearings. Each report summarizes the staff’s findings regarding the subject of the day’s testimony. The reports help frame the questions for the day’s witnesses, and provide the basis for some of the chapters of the final report, so they are quite important and closely reported in the media. The commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, almost always rewrites the reports. Zelikow is smarting from the rounds of public criticism he has suffered for his apparent close ties to the Bush administration (see November 1997-August 1998, January 3, 2001, September 20, 2002, and March 21, 2004), and decides that he alone should read each staff report in the hearings—in essence, presenting himself as the public face of the commission and hopefully garnering some positive press coverage. That idea falls flat when angry staffers complain to the commissioners. But Zelikow continues to rewrite the reports, often improving on the language and wording, and sometimes rewriting reports to insert information that staffers find unsupportable (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
Kevin Scheid. [Source: Abledangerblog(.com)]After finding that nobody else on the 9/11 Commission is interested in what the NSA knew about al-Qaeda in general and the 9/11 plot in particular (see Late 2002-July 2004 and Late 2003), commission staffer Lorry Fenner decides to try to read through a portion of the material herself. Fenner is “astonished” that nobody from the commission’s team investigating the 9/11 plot is reading the material, and thinks about asking her boss, Kevin Scheid, to tell the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow that somebody should read the material. However, Scheid resists a confrontation with Zelikow, and Fenner does not want to go over her boss’s head and talk to Zelikow herself. Therefore, although she has other duties on the commission, she starts to read through the material herself. There are tens of thousands of pages of NSA documents about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and, according to author Philip Shenon, “It would take several days of reading to get through even a small portion of it.” Fenner spends “two or three hours” on “several days” between January and June in the reading room, and some colleagues help her towards the end (see June 2004 and Between July 1 and July 17, 2004), but most of the information will go unread by the 9/11 Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 156-7, 370]
In 2004, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill) visits Pakistan to find out why the US Rewards for Justice program has generated so little information regarding al-Qaeda’s leadership. In the early 1990s, the program was effective in helping to catch al-Qaeda bomber Ramzi Yousef after a $2 million reward was announced for him and a huge number of matchboxes with his picture and the reward information on it were distributed in countries where he was likely to be (see April 2, 1993). The program has $25 million rewards for al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and lesser rewards for other al-Qaeda leaders. Kirk discovers that the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan has effectively shut down the reward program. There is no radio or television advertising. A bin Laden matchbook campaign had begun in 2000 (see February 16, 2000), but the embassy has stopped giving away matchbooks with photos of bin Laden and other leaders. Kirk will later say: “We were at zero. I couldn’t believe it.” Embassy officials tell Kirk they are busy with other issues, such as assisting US troops in Afghanistan. Kirk proposes a congressional bill that would increase funding for the rewards program to advertise, extend the program to target drug kingpins (especially those who fund al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and make other reforms and improvements. But apparently the bill does not pass and the problem is not fixed. In 2008, Kirk will complain, “[T]he key thing about the Rewards for Justice program is that no one in a rural area—anywhere—knows about it.” Former CIA officer Arthur Keller will also say in 2008 that there are people in Pakistan and elsewhere with information who would be open to informing. “They’d love to have a $25 million bounty, and they aren’t supportive of Osama. But they don’t necessarily trust the US. Who do you report it to? The local police chief?… They’re not sure who to turn to or who to trust.” [US Congress, House, 2/12/2004; Washington Post, 5/17/2008] In 2006, the program will conduct a large advertising blitz in the US, seemingly one of the most unlikely places to figure leaders such as bin Laden (see December 2006).
In a letter to Representative John Conyers (D-MI), the CIA confirms that Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA employment status is “classified information.” [Nation, 3/16/2007]
New information shows that Saddam Hussein was not captured (see December 14, 2003) by US forces through the auspices of an informant, as previously reported (see December 17, 2003), but was apparently captured by Kurdish paramilitary forces and turned over to the US. The day of Hussein’s capture, Kurdish media reported that a “special intelligence unit led by Mr. Kosrat Rassul” had captured Hussein. The source of the reports was Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Iranian news services picked up and expanded on the reports. The next day, a member of Iraq’s Governing Council, Dr. Mahmoud Othman, confirmed the Kurdish claims, as did other independent observers. Subsequent Arab news reports indicated that Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, the so-called informant, actually drugged Hussein and told US forces where to find him. But this story, too, is quickly disputed, with experts believing that Kurdish forces intervened, first acting as negotiators for the US, then bypassing the al-Muslit family and seizing Hussein on their own. Once the Kurds had Hussein, they negotiated with the US to stage his “capture.” It is likely that Hussein was drugged, but by the Kurds and not by al-Muslit. One photo of US troops in front of Hussein’s “spider hole” features ripe dates and drying sausage in the background, which usually exist only in late summer, not December as was the announced date of Hussein’s capture.
'Dragnet' - In July, the US Army captured Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Muslit, identified as “one of Saddam Hussein’s closest bodyguards and collaborators.” The al-Muslit family was apparently helping to hide and protect Hussein; later, one of the family members, Mohammed al-Muslit, was identified as the informant who gave up Hussein’s location to US interrogators. In August, another al-Muslit family member, later identified as Adnan al-Muslit’s brother, was arrested by Iraqi police and given over to US forces. The brother was picked up as part of a larger “dragnet” for anyone with possible knowledge of Hussein’s whereabouts.
Allegations, Speculations of Torture - Many were taken into US custody and interrogated. Amnesty International raised questions as to whether some of the detainees might have been tortured; the human rights organization alleged circumstances that “would amount to torture as defined by UN standards.” [Asia Times, 4/17/2004]
The CIA appoints a new chief of its large station in Baghdad, Iraq. The officer, whose name is unknown, will serve there for a year (see December 2004). [Harper's, 5/18/2006] A former CIA officer will comment that the station chief previously served in Kosovo and “rose rather meteorically” there. [Los Angeles Times, 2/20/2004]
9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner. [Source: Public domain]9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner, who is reading through NSA material related to al-Qaeda on her own initiative (see January 2004), finds material possibly linking Iran and Hezbollah to al-Qaeda. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 157, 370-1] The material indicates that between eight and ten of the future hijackers traveled between Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and other destinations via Iran. For example, in November 2000, one of the hijackers, Ahmed Alghamdi, took the same flight as a senior Hezbollah official (see November 2000), although the 9/11 Commission report will say this may be a “coincidence.” An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative took the same flight as another three of the hijackers in November 2000, and Hezbollah officials were expecting an undefined group to arrive at the same time. However, the hijackers’ families will say they were in Saudi Arabia at this time (see Mid-November, 2000). Based on information such as this, the commission will conclude that Iran helped al-Qaeda operatives transit Iran by not stamping their passports, but that neither it nor Hezbollah had any knowledge of the 9/11 plot. Under interrogation, detainees Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh say that some of the hijackers did transit Iran, but that they had no assistance from the Iranian authorities. However, such statements were apparently made after they were tortured, bringing their reliability into question (see June 16, 2004 and August 6, 2007). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1] The NSA intelligence reports the information about Iranian and Hezbollah is based on were mostly drafted between October and December 2001, so it is possible that the NSA was monitoring Hezbollah in 2000 and then matched up travel by that organization’s operatives with the 9/11 hijackers’ travel, ascertained from airlines, for example, after 9/11. One of the reports, entitled “operative’s claimed identification of photos of two Sept. 11 hijackers,” is dated August 9, 2002. It is unclear who the operative is or how he allegedly came into contact with the alleged 9/11 hijackers. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529]
After 15 months of brutal torture in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), British terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown to Afghanistan by the CIA.
Shock at Brutal Treatment - Even the hardened CIA agents in Afghanistan are shocked by the treatment meted out by the Moroccans, who, among other treatments, had repeatedly slashed and lacerated Mohamed’s genitals with scalpels and knives. Mohamed will later recall: “When I got to Kabul a female agent started taking close-up pictures of my genitals. She was shocked. When they removed my diaper she could see blood was still oozing from the cuts on my penis. For the first two weeks they had me on antibiotics and they took pictures of my genitals every day. They told me, ‘This is not for us. It’s for Washington.’ They wanted to be sure it was healing.”
'The Dark Prison' - But the initial shock gives way to a new session of brutality at the hands of his American captors. Mohamed will later call his Afghani detention facility “the dark prison,” and recall it as one of the lowest points of his life. In Morocco, Mohamed confessed to anything he was asked—being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb,” being a confidant of 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, having met Osama bin Laden dozens of times—in order to, he says, avoid further torture. Now the Americans want him to be a prosecution witness against high-ranking al-Qaeda already in US custody. But Mohammed knows nothing of these people or their crimes, he will later say. The tortures with scalpels are not repeated, but Mohamed will recall seemingly endless ordeals of being shackled by the wrists to his door frame, often in complete darkness, and in one memorable instance, being subjected to a rap CD being played in his cell at ear-shatteringly loud volumes for an entire month without stop. “It’s a miracle my brain is still intact,” he will later say. In September, he is transferred to Guantanamo (see September 2004 and After). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
CIA Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt convenes an accountability board to review the poor performance of the CIA’s personnel in Iraq. It is unclear exactly whose performance the board reviews, when the board is convened, or what conclusions it reaches. However, it may well be convened shortly after the firing of Baghdad station chief Gerry Meyer in late 2003 (see (Late December 2003)), possibly due to the deaths of two detainees. [McClatchy, 8/25/2009]
German intelligence sources claim that the CIA misinformed them about an alleged terror plot due to take place at a Hamburg hospital on December 30, 2003, and allegedly fear that the information was planted. According to information provided to TV 2 Nettavisen, a German TV station, German intelligence has yet to find any evidence for the plot, which is alleged to be the work of the radical Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam. A German intelligence officer known only as Vahldiecker says, “We have not found any proof that the terror alarm was genuine, but we haven’t found any evidence that states it was not. It is of course possible that it was fake, but we do not know that for certain yet.… It is possible that [the CIA] gave us the wrong information, but it is not likely that they did it on purpose.” However, German intelligence has indicated that it believes the information was planted on purpose and is surprised at the handling of the case and the leaks to the media; the story appeared on Der Spiegel Online within hours of the CIA tip. [Information Clearing House, 1/7/2004]
A male Iraqi dies while being interrogated by American officials, probably from the CIA. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (see October 24, 2005), the male, detained in the city of Al Asad, is “standing, shackled to the top of a door frame with a gag in his mouth at the time he died.” The cause of death is asphyxia and blunt force injuries—in essence, being beaten to death while choking on a gag. The ACLU believes the Iraqi’s name was Abdul Jaleel. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
In interviews with the 9/11 Commission, unnamed deputies for CIA director George Tenet repeatedly claim that, before 9/11, they were never given a clear instruction to assassinate Osama bin Laden. This is false, as President Bill Clinton issued such an order following the 1998 embassy bombings (see December 24, 1998). According to author Philip Shenon, the deputies tell the commission “again and again” that they had not been given clear orders to assassinate bin Laden, but “that the CIA had instead been given a confusing set of presidential orders that allowed for bin Laden’s capture, but not his death.” Officers at the CIA apparently blamed this on “overly cautious” lawyers at the White House and Justice Department. The commission learns the deputies’ claims are false from Clinton’s former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in January 2004 (see January 14, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 253-4]
The 9/11 Commission first learns that the US had a program to assassinate Osama bin Laden before 9/11 (see December 24, 1998). The program, which is disclosed to the commission’s staff by former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, was a response to the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The commission was not previously aware of the order and when Berger tells them about it they are confused, because the CIA has been telling them there was no such order for months. When the commission tells Berger what the CIA has said, he assures them that there is an explicit document, a memorandum of notification concerning Afghanistan, that gives the CIA the authority to kill bin Laden, not just capture him. It is unclear why CIA managers repeatedly told the commission there was no such order (see Before January 14, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 253-254]
The Washington Post reports, “A growing number of [9/11 Commission] members [have] concluded that the panel needs more time to prepare a thorough and credible accounting of missteps leading to the terrorist attacks.” As a result, the commission is asking Congress to vote on approving a several month extension to finish their report. “But the White House and leading Republicans have informed the panel that they oppose any delay, which raises the possibility that Sept. 11-related controversies could emerge during the heat of the presidential campaign.” [Washington Post, 1/19/2004] The White House will reverse its stance a month later (see February 5, 2004).
CIA Director George Tenet spends a lot of time reading material about the CIA’s performance in the run-up to 9/11 before interviews with the 9/11 Commission. Author Philip Shenon will point out that Tenet sets aside so much time despite the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the problems this is causing.
'Cram Sessions' - “Tenet insisted on all-day, almost all-night cram sessions to prepare himself for the interview with the 9/11 Commission,” Shenon will write. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “He spent an enormous amount of time mastering an enormous amount of material.” The cram sessions are held at the weekend and until late on week nights, and cover the work done by Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, as well as the failed plans to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
CIA's Achilles' Heel - Shenon will also comment: “Tenet wanted specifically to master what had happened in Kuala Lumpur in 2000 with [9/11 hijackers] Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar and why the CIA had apparently failed for so long to alert anyone that the two hijackers had later entered the United States from Asia. Like almost everyone else at the agency, Tenet seemed to understand that the CIA’s failure to watch-list the pair after their arrival in California was the agency’s Achilles’ heel—one horrendous blunder that could sink the CIA.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 257]
Still Cannot Remember - Despite the cramming, Tenet apparently has problems remembering facts that could cast the CIA in a bad light (see January 22, 2004, April 14, 2004, and July 2, 2004).
A group of 10 ex-CIA officials are working with members of Congress to push for a Congressional inquiry into the leak of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert agency status. The former officials want to know if Plame Wilson’s exposure compromised US national security. Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson and nine other former CIA analysts and case officers send a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other senior Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives. The officers call on Congress to act “for the good of the country,” and say it is time to “send an unambiguous message that the intelligence officers tasked with collecting or analyzing intelligence must never be turned into political punching bags.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she agrees with the thrust of the letter, and supports efforts by Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) to force the House to open such a probe. Holt and other Democrats have introduced a resolution that, if approved, would request that the Bush administration forward all documents related to the Plame Wilson investigation to Congress. It is unlikely that House Republicans will allow the resolution to be brought to a vote. “The Department of Justice investigation has the full support of Congress and should be vigorously pursued, but it is not enough,” Holt says. [United Press International, 1/22/2004; Associated Press, 1/23/2004; Chicago Sun-Times, 1/23/2004]
Following the arrest of German national Khalid el-Masri in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004), a dispute breaks out at CIA headquarters over what to do with him. Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, argues that el-Masri should be rendered to Afghanistan. Author Jane Mayer will describe Bikowsky as a “tall, pale-skinned, spiky-haired redhead who wore bright red lipstick” and indicate she is a former Soviet analyst who had been at Alec Station during the pre-9/11 failures. Mayer will add that she “was particularly controversial among many of her male colleagues for her ferociousness,” and, that she was “reviled by some male colleagues for what they regarded as her aggression.” Lacking proof against el-Masri, Bikowsky argues that the man in custody is probably a terrorist and should be taken to a black site. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 35, 273, 282-283] A former CIA officer will say: “She didn’t really know. She just had a hunch.” [Washington Post, 12/4/2005] Mayer will attribute Bikowsky’s determination to having been part of the unit when it failed before 9/11. Other officers suggest they should wait to see whether el-Masri’s passport, suspected of being a forgery, is genuine or not, and point out there is no evidence he was anything but a tourist on holiday when he was arrested. However, Bikowsky does not trust the Germans, apparently thinking them soft on terrorism, and does not want to wait. Another problem is that these discussions occur during the holiday period and, by the time the CIA’s station in Germany looks at the paperwork, el-Masri is already on his way to Afghanistan (see January 23 - March 2004). [Mayer, 2008, pp. 282-283] Bikowsky will also make a sight-seeing trip to see alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed waterboarded (see After March 7, 2003), will be considered for the position of deputy station chief in Baghdad (see (March 23, 2007)), and may be interviewed by the CIA’s inspector general during its investigation into torture (see July 16, 2003).
Satellite imagery of Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2004 and 2011. [Source: U.S. Defense Department]Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed moves to Abbottabad, Pakistan, and buys up land there that will be used for a hideout for bin Laden. Ahmed, who is using a variety of aliases, moves to the town with his brother Abrar, who is also assisting bin Laden. A Pakistani government official will later say that a plot of land in Abbottabad is bought by a man named Mohammad Arshad on January 22, 2004. A forged national identity card and incorrect address is used. In fact, “Mohammad Arshad” is one of the aliases used by Ahmed. That, along with the related name “Arshad Khan,” is the name Abbottabad neighbors will know him by in future years. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] Property records obtained by the Associated Press show that “Arshad” buys two more plots of land in November 2004. The seller will later say that he does not meet Arshad in person, but deals with him through a middle man. A doctor sells another plot of land to “Arshad” in 2005. This doctor will later say that he does meet “Arshad” in person during the transaction. The plots are combined so a walled compound can be built that is much larger than other homes in the neighborhood. The doctor will occasionally see “Arshad” after that, and at one point the doctor will be cryptically told by him that the land he sold is now very valuable. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011] Locals will later say that construction on the compound begins in 2005. By late 2005 or the start of 2006, the construction is done and bin Laden will move into the compound with some of his family (see Late 2005-Early 2006). The courier Ahmed (who uses the named “Arshad”), his brother, and their families will live there too. [New York Times, 5/3/2011; Associated Press, 5/4/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Technology Review, a magazine published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, runs an article by Professor Richard Muller arguing that audio messages apparently released by Osama bin Laden may be fakes. According to Muller, the US’s counterterrorism efforts are still going strong, making it hard for al-Qaeda to operate. Therefore, “its sympathizers desperately need encouragement from their charismatic leader,” which is why the organization is making fake audio tapes. Video tapes would be more convincing proof of bin Laden’s continued existence, but are harder to fake and therefore not forthcoming. Bin Laden is either dead or injured, and unable to make recordings, Muller argues, and adds that although voice recognition, a technique used by the US government to identify the voice on the audio tapes, is a “rapidly developing technology,” it can have problems with the poor quality tapes the man thought to be bin Laden is releasing. Therefore, the tapes may be cut and pasted excerpts of past recordings, or, more likely, made by one of bin Laden’s children, such as his son Saad, reportedly an al-Qaeda member. [Technology Review, 1/23/2004]
David Kay quits his job as head of the Iraq Survey Group. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] He is being replaced by former senior UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, who recently said that the chances of Iraq being found to possess chemical or biological weapons is “close to nil.” Kay gives no reason for his resignation, but sources in Washington say he is resigning for both personal reasons and because of his disillusionment with the weapons search. Kay says he does not believe Iraq possesses any major stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons, and he does not believe it has had any such weapons since the 1991 Gulf War. “I don’t think they existed,” he says. “What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War and I don’t think there was a large-scale production program in the 90s. I think we have found probably 85 percent of what we’re going to find.” [BBC, 1/24/2004] He adds: “I think they gradually reduced stockpiles throughout the 1990s. Somewhere in the mid-1990s, the large chemical overhang of existing stockpiles was eliminated.” [New York Times, 1/25/2009] In 2005, Kay will say: “My view was that the best evidence that I had seen was Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out we were all wrong, and that is most disturbing. If the intelligence community had said there were no weapons there, would the policymakers have decided for other reasons, regime change, human rights, whatever, to go to war? All you can say is we’ll never know, because in fact the system said, apparently, it’s a slam dunk, there are weapons there.” [CNN, 8/18/2005]
Misled by Internal Duplicity of Iraqi Scientists, Failure of Fundamental Intelligence Gathering and Analysis - Kay says that the CIA and other US intelligence agencies were misled by duplicitous Iraqi scientists, who, in the words of New York Times reporter James Risen, “had presented ambitious but fanciful weapons programs to [Saddam] Hussein and had then used the money for other purposes,” and by the agencies’ failure to realize that Iraq had essentially abandoned its WMD programs after the 1991 war; what remained of the Gulf War-era WMD stockpiles was destroyed by US and British air strikes in 1998 (see December 16-19, 1998). According to Kay, Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Hussein and present fantastic plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability was quickly turned into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in Hussein’s autocratic police state. “The whole thing shifted from directed programs to a corrupted process,” Kay says. “The regime was no longer in control; it was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programs.” Kay adds that in his view the errors committed by the intelligence agencies were so grave that he recommends those agencies revamp their intelligence collection and analysis efforts. Analysts have come to him, he says, “almost in tears, saying they felt so badly that we weren’t finding what they had thought we were going to find—I have had analysts apologizing for reaching the conclusions that they did.” The biggest problem US agencies had, Kay says, was their near-total lack of human intelligence sources in Iraq since the UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn in 1998. [New York Times, 1/25/2009]
'Rudimentary' Nuclear Weapons Program - Iraq did try to restart its moribund nuclear weapons program in 2000 and 2001, Kay says, but that plan never got beyond the earliest stages. He calls it “rudimentary at best,” and says it would have taken years to get underway. “There was a restart of the nuclear program,” he notes. “But the surprising thing is that if you compare it to what we now know about Iran and Libya, the Iraqi program was never as advanced.”
No Evidence of Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - Kay says that his team found no evidence that Iraq ever tried to obtain enriched uranium from Niger, as has frequently been alleged (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “We found nothing on Niger,” he says. [New York Times, 1/25/2009]
Democrats: Proof that Administration 'Exaggerated ... Threat' - Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says of Kay’s resignation: “It increasingly appears that our intelligence was wrong about Iraq’s weapons, and the administration compounded that mistake by exaggerating the nuclear threat and Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda. As a result, the United States is paying a very heavy price.” Rockefeller’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, Jane Harman (D-CA), says Kay’s comments indicate a massive intelligence failure and cannot be ignored. [BBC, 1/24/2004]
Asked to Delay Resignation until after State of Union Address - In 2005, Kay will reveal that he was asked by CIA Director George Tenet to hold off on his resignation. According to Kay, Tenet told him: “If you resign now, it will appear that we don’t know what we’re doing. That the wheels are coming off.” Kay will say, “I was asked to not go public with my resignation until after the president’s State of the Union address which—this is Washington and in general—I’ve been around long enough so I know in January you don’t try to get bad news out before the president gives his State of the Union address.” Kay does not say exactly when Tenet asked him to delay his resignation. [CNN, 8/18/2005]
Al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul is caught at the Iraq-Iran border. Details are sketchy, both about the arrest and Ghul himself, who has never been publicly mentioned before. Several days later, President Bush will say: “[L]ast week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. [He] reported directly to [9/11 mastermind] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.… He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2004] Ghul had been living in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government refused to arrest him, apparently because he was linked to a Pakistani military group supported by Pakistani intelligence (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). Pakistan is reportedly furious when it is told he has been arrested in Iraq. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011] US officials point to his arrest as proof that al-Qaeda is heavily involved in the resistance in Iraq. One official says that Ghul was “definitely in Iraq to promote an al-Qaeda, Islamic extremist agenda.” [Fox News, 1/24/2004] The 9/11 Commission will later claim: “Hassan Ghul was an important al-Qaeda travel facilitator who worked with [al-Qaeda leader] Abu Zubaida assisting Arab fighters traveling to Afghanistan. In 1999, Ghul and Zubaida opened a safe house under the cover of an import/export business in Islamabad [Pakistan]. In addition, at Zubaida’s request, Ghul also successfully raised money in Saudi Arabia.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 64 ] But despite acknowledgment from Bush that Ghul is in US custody, Ghul subsequently completely disappears, becoming a “ghost detainee.” Apparently, he will provide vital intelligence during US interrogation (see Shortly After January 23, 2004). The US will eventually transfer Ghul to Pakistani custody (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan will release him, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
The FBI’s on-scene commander in Baghdad sends an e-mail to senior FBI officials at FBI headquarters in Washington, discussing the allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. The e-mail advises the senior officials not to investigate the allegations. “We need to maintain good will and relations with those operating the prison,” it reads. “Our involvement in the investigation of the alleged abuse might harm our liaison.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. [Source: Public domain]The Los Angeles Times reports that Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, leader of the Pakistani militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), is living and operating openly in Pakistan. He lives with his family in the city of Rawalpindi and urges his followers to fight the US. Khalil was a signatory to Osama bin Laden’s February 1998 fatwa [religious edict] that encouraged attacks on Americans and Jews anywhere in the world (see February 22, 1998). In late 1998, Khalil said, “We will hit back at [the Americans] everywhere in the world, wherever we find them. We have started a holy war against the US and they will hardly find a tree to take shelter beneath it.” The Pakistani government banned HUM in January 2002 (see Shortly After January 12-March 2002), but the group simply changed its name to Jamiat ul-Ansar and continued to operate. Then it was banned again in November 2003 (see November 2003). The Times reports that HUM is openly defying the most recent ban. HUM publishes a monthly magazine that urges volunteers to fight the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a recent issue published since the most recent ban, Khalil calls on followers to “sacrifice our life, property and heart” in order to help create one Muslim nation that will control the whole world. The magazine continues to appear on newsstands in Pakistan and gives announcements for upcoming HUM meetings and events, despite the group supposedly being banned.
Government Takes No Action - The Pakistani government claims not to know where Khalil is, even though his magazine publishes his contact information (Times reporters attempting to find him for an interview were detained and roughed up by his supporters.) Government officials also claim that Khalil and HUM are doing nothing illegal, even though HUM’s magazine makes clear fund-raising appeals in each issue, and Pakistani law clearly specifies that banned groups are not allowed to fund-raise. Officials also say that they don’t know where the leaders of other banned militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba are, but these leaders make frequent public appearances and documents obtain by the Times show the ISI intelligence agency is closely monitoring them. Militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar has not been arrested even though his group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, was recently implicated in the attempted assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see December 14 and 25, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 1/25/2004]
Link to California Suspect - In 2005, a Pakistani immigrant to the US named Umer Hayat will be arrested in California on terrorism charges. He will allegedly confess to having toured training camps in Pakistan run by Khalil, who is a family friend. He will only serve a short time for making false statements to the FBI, but his son Hamid Hayat will be sentenced to 24 years in prison on similar charges (see June 3, 2005). [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2005]
The lurid tale of Iraq’s readiness to deploy WMD within 45 minutes, a claim used to great effect by both British and American officials to justify the war with Iraq (see September 28, 2002 and December 7, 2003), is shown to be false (see October 13, 2004)). Both the source, supposed Iraqi military official Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh, and Iraqi government official Iyad Allawi, who turned over al-Dabbagh’s raw intelligence to US and British agents, now say they bear no responsibility for the claims. Nick Theros, Allawi’s Washington representative, says the information was raw intelligence from a single source: “We were passing it on in good faith. It was for the intelligence services to verify it.” Middle East expert Juan Cole says that Allawi and al-Dabbagh “passed to British intelligence and to Con Coughlin at the Telegraph a series of patently false reports that bolstered the case for war against Iraq but which were wholly unfounded. (Coughlin is either gullible or disingenuous.)” [Newsweek, 1/12/2004; Juan Cole, 1/27/2004; Guardian, 1/27/2004] Theros now says al-Dabbagh’s information was a “crock of sh_t,” and adds, “Clearly we have not found WMD.” [Newsweek, 1/12/2004; Guardian, 1/27/2004]
Former CIA Director George Tenet privately testifies before the 9/11 Commission. He provides a detailed account of an urgent al-Qaeda warning he gave to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). According to three former senior intelligence officials, Tenet displays the slides from the PowerPoint presentation he gave the White House and even offers to testify about it in public. According to the three former officials, the hearing is attended by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow, and some staff members. When Tenet testifies before the 9/11 Commission in public later in the year, he will not mention this meeting. The 9/11 Commission will neglect to include Tenet’s warning to the White House in its July 2004 final report. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Portions of a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony will be leaked to reporters in 2006. According to the transcript, Tenet’s testimony included a detailed summary of the briefing he had with CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black on July 10 (see July 10, 2001). The transcript also reveals that he told the commission that Black’s briefing had prompted him to request an urgent meeting with Rice about it. This closely matches the account in Woodward’s 2006 book that first widely publicized the July meeting (see September 29, 2006). [Washington Post, 10/3/2006] Shortly after Woodward’s book is published, the 9/11 Commission staff will deny knowing that the July meeting took place. Zelikow and Ben-Veniste, who attended Tenet’s testimony, will say they are unable to find any reference to it in their files. But after the transcript is leaked, Ben-Veniste will suddenly remember details of the testimony (see September 30-October 3, 2006) and will say that Tenet did not indicate that he left his meeting with Rice with the impression he had been ignored, as Tenet has alleged. [New York Times, 10/2/2006] Woodward’s book will describe why Black, who also privately testified before the 9/11 Commission, felt the commission did not mention the July meeting in their final report: “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork about the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about. It was what happened in investigations. There were questions they wanted to ask, and questions they didn’t want to ask.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 78]
David Kay tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iraq Survey Group has failed to find any evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. “Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong,” he says in his opening remarks, before revealing that the inspection teams found no weapons of mass destruction. “I believe that the effort that has been directed to this point has been sufficiently intense that it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons there,” he says. [CNN, 1/28/2003; Guardian, 1/29/2003; US Congress, 1/28/2004 ]
Hussein Deceived Own Generals - Kay says that apparently even Iraq’s own military commanders believed, falsely, that their military possessed chemical or biological weapons that were ready to be deployed. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) asks Kay: “I believe at one point you noted that even [Saddam Hussein’s] own military officers believed that they had [WMD]. In other words, they would think—” Kay interjects, ”—that someone else had them.” Sessions asks for an explanation, and Kay says: “Well, in interviewing the Republican Guard generals and Special Republican Guard generals and asking about their capabilities and having them, the assurance was they didn’t personally have them and hadn’t seen them, but the units on their right or left had them. And as you worked the way around the circle of those defending Baghdad, which is the immediate area of concern, you have got this very strange phenomena of, ‘No, I didn’t have them, I haven’t seen them, but look to my right and left.’ That was an intentional ambiguity.” [CNN, 1/28/2003; Guardian, 1/29/2003; US Congress, 1/28/2004 ; Wilson, 2007, pp. 154-155]
Trying to Have It Both Ways - In 2007, current CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see April 2001 and After) will write, “In retrospect, it appears that Saddam Hussein wanted it both ways: to convince certain audiences that Iraq had WMD, while simultaneously working to convince others that it had abandoned all its illegal programs.” In May 2006, Foreign Affairs magazine will note that Iraq’s former Defense Minister, Ali Hassan Majeed (also known as “Chemical Ali”), knew Iraq possessed no WMDs before the US invasion, but also knew that many of his colleagues “never stopped believing that the weapons still existed. Even at the highest echelon of the regime, when it came to WMD there was always some element of doubt about the truth.” The Foreign Affairs article notes that during a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council some time before the invasion, Hussein was asked if Iraq indeed possessed such weapons. He said Iraq did not, but refused to countenance any attempt to persuade others outside of the council of the truth. The reason for this deception, Hussein said, was that if Israel believed Iraq had such weapons, it would be less likely to attack Iraq. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 154-155] Kay has just resigned as the head of the Iraq Survey Group (see January 23, 2004).
David Kay, former head of the Iraq Survey Group, meets with President Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card. The day before (see January 28, 2004), Kay had told Congress, “We were almost all wrong” about intelligence on Iraq’s presumed arsenal of illegal weapons. Bush wants to know what went wrong, but shows no anger. “The president accepted it,” Kay later recalls. “There was no sign of disappointment from Bush. He was at peace with his decision to go to war. I don’t think he ever lost ten minutes of sleep over the failure to find WMDs.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 349]
Other 9/11 Commission reports are heavily based on detainee interrogations. The red underlines are endnotes based on the interrogation of Abu Zubaida in the 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph. [Source: Public domain via Wikipedia] (click image to enlarge)Following unsuccessful attempts by the 9/11 Commission to get direct access to high-value detainees on which some sections of its report will be based (see Summer 2003 and November 5, 2003-January 2004), the Commission decides to add a disclaimer to its report at the beginning of Chapter 5, the first of two that describe the development of the 9/11 plot. The disclaimer, entitled “Detainee Interrogation Reports,” reads: “Chapters 5 and 7 rely heavily on information obtained from captured al-Qaeda members. A number of these ‘detainees’ have firsthand knowledge of the 9/11 plot. Assessing the truth of statements by these witnesses—sworn enemies of the United States—is challenging. Our access to them has been limited to the review of intelligence reports based on communications received from the locations where the actual interrogations take place. We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no control over whether, when, or how questions of particular interest would be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambiguities in the reporting. We were told that our requests might disrupt the sensitive interrogation process. We have nonetheless decided to include information from captured 9/11 conspirators and al-Qaeda members in our report. We have evaluated their statements carefully and have attempted to corroborate them with documents and statements of others. In this report, we indicate where such statements provide the foundation for our narrative. We have been authorized to identify by name only ten detainees whose custody has been confirmed officially by the US government.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 146] Most of the endnotes to the report indicate the sources of information contained in the main body of the text. Of the 132 endnotes for Chapter 5, 83 of them cite detainee interrogations as a source of information contained in the report. Of the 192 endnotes for Chapter 7, 89 cite interrogations. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 488-499, 513-533] The interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is mentioned as a source 211 times. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] He was repeatedly waterboarded and tortured (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003) and it will later be reported that up to 90 percent of the information obtained from his interrogations may be unreliable (see August 6, 2007). Interestingly, the 9/11 Commission sometimes seems to prefer KSM’s testimony over other sources. For instance, in 2003 the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry reported that the CIA learned in 1996 that KSM and bin Laden traveled together to a foreign country in 1995, suggesting close ties between them (see 1996). But the 9/11 Commission will ignore this and instead claim, based on KSM’s interrogation, that KSM and bin Laden had no contact between 1989 and late 1996. [US Congress, 7/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 148-148, 489] The interrogations of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash are used as a source 74 times, 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh, 68 times, al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 14 times, al-Qaeda leader Hambali, 13 times, and
and a generic “interrogation[s] of detainee” is used as a source 57 times. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] Most of these detainees are said to be tortured (see May 2002-2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). Although the CIA videotaped some of the interrogations, it does not pass the videos to the 9/11 Commission (see Summer 2003-January 2004). Slate magazine will later say that these detainees’ accounts are “woven into the commission’s narrative, and nowhere does the 9/11 report delve into interrogation tactics or make any recommendations about the government’s continuing or future practices. That wasn’t the commission’s mandate. Still, one wonders where video evidence—or the knowledge that such evidence was being withheld—might have led it.” [Slate, 12/10/2007]
The CIA’s inspector general conducts an internal investigation of the treatment of CIA detainees in Afghanistan. As part of that investigation, the use of drugs on detainees is raised. When the inspector interviews the commanding officer of a secret detention facility in eastern Afghanistan shared by US military and intelligence teams, the inspector asks if the “OGA”—an acronym standing for “other government agency” and used to refer to the CIA—had been able to “practice their TTP [tactics, techniques and procedures] at your facility.” The commander replies, “No, they can’t use drugs or prolonged sensory deprivation in our facility.” It is unclear whether the commander is referring to interrogations. A senior US official will say in 2008 that the commander’s mention of drugs was either a mistake or a reference to am agency other than the CIA. [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
A surveillance photo of Momin Khawaja (in grey sweater) and unidentified man on February 20, 2004. [Source: Public domain via the Globe and Mail]According to a joint Canadian and British report sent to Pakistani authorities in September 2005, Mohammed Junaid Babar, Momin Khawaja, and Haroon Rashid Aswat meet in London in February 2004. Babar and Khawaja are both members of a British fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004), but Khawaja is living in Canada and making occasional trips to Britain to meet the other plotters there, and Babar is based in Pakistan and also occasionally coming to Britain. By this time, the British intelligence agency MI5 has learned of the plot and is intensely monitoring all the major plotters, including Khawaja. US intelligence has apparently been monitoring Babar since late 2001 (see Early November 2001-April 10, 2004), and Newsweek will state he is definitely being monitored by February 2004 (see March 2004). [Daily Times (Lahore), 9/7/2005; Globe and Mail, 7/4/2008] Newsweek will later confirm, “Aswat is believed to have had connections to some of the suspects in the fertilizer plot,” and his name is given to the US as part of a list of people suspected of involvement in the plot. [Newsweek, 7/20/2005; Newsweek, 7/25/2005] He is the most interesting figure in this meeting. The US has wanted him since at least 2002 for his role in attempting to set up a militant training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). It will later be widely reported that he is the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) and may even simultaneously be an informant for British intelligence. Babar, Khawaja, and other major figures in the fertilizer plot will be arrested at the end of March 2004 (see March 29, 2004 and After and April 10, 2004), but Aswat curiously is not arrested, even though British intelligence had compiled a large dossier on him and considered him a “major terrorist threat” by 2003 (see Early 2003).
An Army dog handler at Abu Ghraib tells military investigators that, as per the directive from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002), “[S]omeone from [military intelligence] gave me a list of cells, for me to go see, and pretty much have my dog bark at them.… Having the dogs bark at detainees was psychologically breaking them down for interrogation purposes.” Using attack dogs to threaten or harm prisoners is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Two government officials testify that they asked conservative columnist Robert Novak not to publish the name of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson in his column (see Before July 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003). The officials’ names are not made public. Testifying before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see January 2004), the officials say that before Novak printed his column, they warned him that by publishing her name and CIA affiliation, he risked jeopardizing her ability to engage in covert work, damaging ongoing intelligence operations, and hurting sensitive overseas intelligence assets. Novak has claimed that CIA officials told him that Plame Wilson was nothing more than an analyst, and, as reporter Murray Waas writes, “the only potential consequences of her exposure as a CIA officer would be that she might be inconvenienced in her foreign travels.” The statements of the two government officials contradict Novak’s version of events, and the two officials call his characterizations false and misleading. According to the officials, Novak was told that Plame Wilson’s work for the CIA “went much further than her being an analyst,” and that publishing her name would be “hurtful,” could stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize her overseas sources. “When [Novak] says that he was not told that he was ‘endangering’ someone, that statement might be technically true,” says one of the officials. “Nobody directly told him that she was going to be physically hurt. But that was implicit in that he was told what she did for a living.” The other official says: “At best, he is parsing words. At worst, he is lying to his readers and the public. Journalists should not lie, I would think.” Notes from one of the officials from his conversation with Novak bolster the officials’ testimony. The officials also contradict Novak’s claim that CIA officials told him Plame Wilson was part of the agency decision to send her husband to Niger to investigate the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations (see July 6, 2003). One of them says that the CIA at first refused to comment, and later told Novak that Plame Wilson played no part in the selection of her husband (see February 13, 2002). “He was told it just wasn’t true—period,” the official testifies. “But he just went with the story anyway. He just didn’t seemed to care very much whether the information was true or not.” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004]
Hassan Ghul, an al-Qaeda leader captured in Iraq in January 2004 (see January 23, 2004), tells interrogators that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti is a trusted courier who is close to Osama bin Laden. Abu Ahmed is an alias; his real name apparently is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but at this point US intelligence only knows him by his alias.
Ghul's Mysterious Captivity and Interrogation - Ghul apparently is held in a secret CIA prison for the first couple of years of his imprisonment. The conditions of his interrogation during this time are unknown, but presumably they are very harsh and many may call them torture, based on how other prominent prisoners are treated in secret CIA prisons around this time. Officials will later claim that Ghul is “quite cooperative” and the use of any harsh techniques on him would have been brief. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011] However, a prisoner who is kept in a cell next to Ghul’s will later testify in Britain that Ghul told him the CIA transferred him to Morocco at some point. It is not known if this is true, or what may have happened to Ghul in Morocco, but some prisoners are transferred to countries like Morocco so that harsh torture techniques that the CIA is not approved to use can be used on them by other intelligence agencies. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011]
Ghul's Apparently Honest Account - Ghul reportedly tells his interrogators that Ahmed is a trusted courier who is close to bin Laden. He also says that Ahmed has been close to al-Qaeda top operational heads Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi. This is in contrast to the claims of other prisoners, including KSM, who have already said that Ahmed is either dead or unimportant. As a result, US intelligence analysts grow increasingly convinced that Ahmed is an important figure who could lead to bin Laden. Ghul adds that Ahmed has not been seen in a while. Analysts take this as another clue that Ahmed could be with bin Laden. Ghul either does not know Ahmed’s real name or does not tell it to his interrogators. In the wake of Ghul’s comments, KSM is asked again about Ahmed, and KSM sticks to his story that Ahmed is not important. [New York Times, 5/3/2011]
'Linchpin' in Search - Tracking Ahmed will eventually lead US intelligence to bin Laden (see Summer 2009 and July 2010). An unnamed US official will later say, “Hassan Ghul was the linchpin” in the hunt for bin Laden. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
A CIA officer who blocked notification to the FBI that Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa makes a number of false statements about the blocking in an interview with the Justice’s Department’s office of inspector general. The officer, Michael Anne Casey, was working at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, in 2000. She blocked a cable drafted by an FBI agent on loan to Alec Station named Doug Miller telling the FBI about Almihdhar (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), but then drafted a cable falsely stating the information had been passed (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and insisted to Miller’s colleague Mark Rossini that the FBI not be informed the next day (see January 6, 2000). Instead of telling the inspector general why she blocked the initial cable and then drafted the cable with the false statement, Casey claims that she has no recollection of Miller’s cable, any discussions about putting it on hold, or why it was not sent. She also claims the language of the cable suggests somebody else told her the information about Almihdhar’s visa had been passed to the FBI, but cannot recall who this was. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 242-243 ; Bamford, 2008, pp. 19-20] The exact date of this interview is not known, although the inspector general discovered Miller’s cable in early February (see Early February 2004) and Miller and Rossini are interviewed around this time. Both men also falsely claim not to recall anything about the cable (see (February 12, 2004)).
A CIA review of the passport of Khalid el-Masri determines that it is genuine, not a forgery. El-Masri had been arrested in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004) and rendered to Afghanistan, where he is being tortured (see January 23 - March 2004), partly because the CIA thought he was traveling on a false German passport. However, the news that the passport is legitimate does not inspire the CIA to release him, as a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, still wants him held. A former colleague will say that this is because of a “gut feeling” the manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, has and because she “can’t admit a mistake.” Another former colleague will say, “She just looked into her crystal ball and it said that he was bad.” Although it is clear by now that there was no problem with el-Masri’s passport and that he is not an associate of the 9/11 hijackers (note: the hijackers knew a different man with the same name), Bikowsky insists el-Masri “had phone calls to people who were bad. Or to people who knew people who were bad.” Some other CIA officers are unhappy with this state of affairs. One CIA official comes in every morning and asks, “Is that guy still locked up in the Salt Pit?” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 284-285]
The 9/11 Commission’s cursory review of NSA material related to the attacks and al-Qaeda in general does not find any reports about NSA intercepts of communications between the hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Neither does it find any reports about calls intercepted by the NSA between alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and lead hijacker Mohamed Atta (see Summer 2001 and September 10, 2001). Author Philip Shenon will write about the commission’s review of the NSA files in a 2008 book and will discuss what Commission staffers found there, but will not mention these intercepts, some of which were mentioned in declassified portions of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004). The review is only conducted by a few staffers (see January 2004, June 2004, and Between July 1 and July 17, 2004) and is not comprehensive, so it is unclear whether the NSA does not provide the reports to the 9/11 Commission, or the commission simply fails to find them in the large number of files the NSA made available to it. However, the staffers do find material possibly linking some of the hijackers to Iran and Hezbollah (see January-June 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-8, 155-7, 370-3] In its final report, the commission will make passing references to some of the calls the NSA intercepted without pointing out that the NSA actually intercepted them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 87-88, 222] However, the endnotes that indicate the sources of these sections will not contain any references to NSA reports, but instead refer to an interview with NSA Director Michael Hayden and an FBI timeline of the hijackers’ activities. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 477, 518]
Following its failure to get direct access to high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees (see October 2003 and November 5, 2003-January 2004), the 9/11 Commission has the CIA ask the detainees more questions about how the plot developed. This is a second round of questions from the Commission, which was dissatisfied with the answers produced by the first round. According to CIA and 9/11 Commission staffers, as well as an MSNBC analysis in 2008, this second round is “specifically to answer new questions from the Commission.” Analysis of the 9/11 Commission report indicates this second round includes more than 30 separate interrogation sessions. Based on the number of references attributed to each of the sessions, they appear to have been “lengthy.” The Commission is aware that the detainees are being harshly treated (see Late 2003-2004), but it is unclear whether they are further tortured during these additional sessions. The CIA is still using some or all of its “enhanced techniques” at this time (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005). [MSNBC, 1/30/2008]
The Justice Department’s inspector general, which is reviewing the FBI’s performance before 9/11, finds a reference to a key document it was not previously aware of. The document is a draft cable written by Doug Miller, an FBI agent who was loaned to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11. The draft cable stated that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa, but its sending to the FBI had been blocked by a female CIA officer known only as “Michael” and Alec Station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). The CIA inspector general had previously passed on numerous documents relevant to the review by the Justice Department’s inspector general, but had failed to pass this one on, although the two inspectors general had been working together since at least mid-2003. The Justice Department inspector general finds a reference to the draft cable in a list of CIA documents accessed by FBI employees assigned to the CIA. As a result of this discovery, the Justice Department inspector general has to re-interview several witnesses (see (February 12, 2004)) and the completion of his report is delayed. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 227 ]
Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will claim in a 2008 book that in early 2004, the 9/11 Commissioners indicate that they intend to name a junior CIA officer as the only official to be identified for a pre-9/11 failure. However, Scheuer writes: “A group of senior CIA officers… let it be known that if that officer was named, information about the pre-9/11 negligence of several very senior US officials would find its way into the media. The commissioners dropped the issue.” [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 273] The name of the junior officer is not known, but some possibilities include:
Tom Wilshire (referred to as “John” in the final 9/11 Commission report), who withheld information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, May 15, 2001, Mid-May 2001, Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001);
Clark Shannon (“Dave”), one of his associates who also failed to inform the FBI about Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see June 11, 2001);
Richard Blee (“Richard”), Wilshire’s boss, who apparently failed to pass on information about Almihdhar to his superiors (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
The names of the CIA officers who threaten the Commission are not known, nor are the details of the alleged negligence by the senior officials.
On February 2, 2004, the deadly toxin ricin is detected on an automatic mail sorter in the Senate office building mailroom that serves the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Subsequent tests confirm the substance is ricin. No one gets ill. Some buildings are closed, but Senate business continues as usual. It is presumed that the ricin arrived in a letter, but the letter is not found, leaving few clues. [CNN, 2/4/2004] About two months later, it is reported that laboratories are continuing to analyze the ricin in an attempt to determine where it came from, but no suspects or likely motives have been identified. In October 2004, two letters were intercepted in South Carolina and Tennessee containing real ricin. Letters were found with the ricin objecting to new rules for truckers. One letter was intended to go to the Department of Transportation and another to the White House. But it is unknown if there is any connection between those letters and the ricin in Frist’s office, although Frist represents Tennessee. It is also unknown if there is any connection to the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). According to the Associated Press, “Unlike anthrax spores, ricin requires little scientific training to engineer and is not nearly as dangerous to handle.” [Associated Press, 3/31/2005]
A surveillance photo of Shehzad Tanweer (second to the left), Mohammad Sidique Khan (far right), and Omar Khyam (center), taken in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant on February 28, 2004. [Source: Metropolitan Police]By the beginning of February 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 has learned about an al-Qaeda linked fertilizer bomb plot meant for an unknown target or targets in Britain, and has begun closely monitoring all of the main suspects. The head bomber in the plot, Omar Khyam, is seen on several occasions with two of the 7/7 London suicide bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer:
On February 2, Khyam is seen in a car with Khan and Tanweer. Khyam is dropped off at his residence in the town of Crawley. The other two are still monitored as Khan drives away. They are covertly photographed when they stop at a gas station in Toddington. Khan is also photographed at a Burger King. They arrive at West Yorkshire and the car is parked outside Khan’s family house. His precise address is written down. A check reveals the car is registered to Khan’s wife. In June 2004, MI5 will check the car’s registration again and find out it has been re-registered in the name of “Siddeque Khan.” [BBC, 4/30/2007]
On February 21, Khan is not seen directly, but his same car that was trailed on February 2 is seen parked outside a house in Crawley where a key four-and-a-half hour meeting is held preparing the fertilizer bomb plot. Khan and Tanweer probably attend the meeting, but there are technical problems with the surveillance so the meeting is not recorded.
At some point also on February 21, Khan and Khyam are recorded while Khyam is driving his car. Khan asks Khyam, “Are you really a terrorist?” Khyam replies, “They are working with us.” Khan then asks, “You are serious, you are basically…?” And Khyam replies, “I am not a terrorist, they are working through us.” Finally, Khan tells Khyam: “Who are? There is no one higher than you.” Later in the conversation, Khan says he is debating whether or not to say goodbye to his baby before going to Pakistan again. Khyam tells him: “I do not even live in Crawley any more. I moved out because in the next month they are going to be raiding big time all over the UK.” This is curious, because the next month there will be police raids, which result in the arrest of the group of bomb plotters based in the town of Crawley, including Khyam (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] Khan and Khyam discuss attending training camps in Pakistan. Khan asks, “How long to the training camp?” Khyam replies, “You’ll be going to the tribal areas, stay with families, you’ll be with Arab brothers, Chechen brothers, you’ll be told our operation later.” [Channel 4 News (London), 5/1/2007]
On February 28, 2004, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer are monitored as Khan drives them around builders’ merchants as part of a fraud scheme the three of them are working on together. At one point, Khan says, “I’m going to tap HSBC [the British bank], if not I’ll just go with a balaclava and a shotgun.” Khan then drives them to another secret meeting, this one held at a shop in Wellingborough. The meeting is attended by the three of them and about seven others; it is unknown if it is recorded. As the three drive back from the meeting, Khan appears to be trying to lose a tail since he doubles back and takes other evasive maneuvers.
On March 21, Khan and Khyam are seen driving together. This time they are in a different car loaned to Khan by an auto shop, since the one used earlier was wrecked in a crash.
On March 23, 2004, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer meet again. They drive to an Islamic bookshop and spend the afternoon there. They also go to the the apartment of another key suspect in the fertilizer bomb plot. Returning to Khyam’s residence, they discuss passports and raising funds from banks using fraudulent methods. Khan again discusses going to Pakistan with Tanweer. Khyam by this time has plans to flee Britain in early April. Although they do not say so explicitly, an informant named Mohammed Junaid Babar will later reveal that Khyam was planning to attend training camps in Pakistan with Khan and others. Several times, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer are seen talking outside, which would suggest discussions about particularly sensitive matters. But only the inside of Khyam’s house is bugged and these outside talks are not recorded. Khan and Tanweer leave shortly before midnight.
Khyam’s phone is also being monitored, and Khan is in regular phone contact with him. But is it unknown how many calls are made or what is said. British intelligence will claim that that no overt references about bombings are made. [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] But the Sunday Times will claim this is untrue, and that Khan was recorded discussing the building of a bomb and then his desire to leave Britain because there would be a lot of police activity after the bomb went off. He also is involved in “late-stage discussions” of the fertilizer bomb plot (see May 13-14, 2006). [Sunday Times (London), 5/14/2006] Furthermore, he is heard to pledge to carry out violence against non-Muslims. A tracking device is also placed on Khan’s car, although what becomes of this is unclear. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007] Photographs are sometimes taken of Khan and/or Tanweer. For instance, at some point Khan is photographed coming out of an Internet cafe. But despite all this evidence, investigators apparently conclude that Khan and Tanweer are “concerned with the fraudulent raising of funds rather than acts of terrorism.” They are not properly monitored (see March 29, 2004 and After). Khan and Tanweer apparently attend militant training camps in Pakistan later that year before blowing themselves up in 2005. Khyam is arrested on March 30, and is later sentenced to life in prison (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] In early 2005, investigators will finally look into details about the car Khan drove and the loaner car given to him by the auto shop, and they will learn his full name and address (if they don’t know it already). But apparently this will not result in any more surveillance of him (see January 27-February 3, 2005).
Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon renews permission to wiretap the phones of Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, considered to be one of about three masterminds of the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) that will occur one month later. Interestingly, in the application for renewal, Fakhet is linked to the Casablanca bombings of May 2003 (see May 16, 2003). His brother-in-law Mustapha Maymouni was arrested in Morocco and is being imprisoned there for a role in the bombings at this time (see Late May-June 19, 2003). Fakhet is also linked in the application to Zouhaier ben Mohamed Nagaaoui, a Tunisian believed to be on the Spanish island of Ibiza and preparing for a suicide attack on a ship, following instructions from al-Qaeda. Nagaaoui is also said to be linked to the Casablanca bombings. Further, he has links to a number of Islamist militant groups and had undergone weapons and explosives training. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/30/2005] Around the same time, Garzon also renews the wiretapping of some other Madrid bombers such as Jamal Zougam. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004] It is not known what later becomes of Nagaaoui.
The US learns that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former al-Qaeda camp commander, was allegedly tortured in Egypt, where he was rendered by the CIA (see January 2002 and After). Although CIA Director George Tenet will describe al-Libi’s handling by the Egyptians as “further debriefing,” after being returned to US custody, al-Libi tells CIA officers he was tortured and these claims are documented in a series of cables sent to CIA headquarters on February 4 and 5. These cables are the final proof, many believe, that the US is illegally “outsourcing” torture to other countries, against suspects who have not been convicted or even charged with a crime. After being tortured by his Egyptian captors (see November 11, 2001), al-Libi was returned to US custody on November 22, 2003. The February 5 cable reads, in part, that al-Libi was told by the Egyptians that “the next topic was al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq…. This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” The Egyptians didn’t like al-Libi’s response, and locked him in a 20 inch by 20 inch box for 17 hours—effectively burying him alive. The Egyptians released him and gave him one more change to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not give the proper response, he was knocked to the ground and beaten. The CIA debriefers send this information straight to Washington (see February 14, 2004), thus informing the CIA that not only was this key piece of evidence about the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda false, but it was obtained by extreme, US-sanctioned torture. Although stories and witness accounts about torture in such US-allied countries as Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and Uzbekistan have long been known, this is the first time such torture has been detailed in an official US government document. It will be almost a year before the Bush administration will confirm the CIA’s rendition program (see March 11, 2002), and even then it will begin a litany of reassurances that the US does not torture, nor does it hand over prisoners to countries that torture. The CIA cables will be declassified in September 2006, and roundly ignored by the mainstream media. And as of late 2007, al-Libi will still be a “ghost prisoner” whose whereabouts and circumstances are considered a US state secret. [ABC News, 11/6/2007]
In January 2004, the White House announced that it opposed giving the 9/11 Commission more time to complete its work (see January 19, 2004). But on this day, CNN reports, “After resisting the idea for months, the White House announced… its support for a request from the commission investigating the September 11, 2001 attacks for more time to complete its work.” 9/11 victims’ relatives and some politicians had been pressuring the White House to support the deadline extension. [CNN, 2/5/2004]
Former Vice President Al Gore gives a keynote address to a conference at the New School of New York City on the topic, “The Politics of Fear.” [Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, 2/2004] In his address, Gore notes the success that the Bush administration has had in preying on the fears of the American public. “Fear was activated on September 11 in all of us to a greater or lesser degree,” he says. “And because it was difficult to modulate or to change in particular specifics, it was exploitable for a variety of purposes unrelated to the initial cause of the fear. When the president of the United States stood before the people of this nation—in the same speech in which he used the forged document (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)—he asked the nation to ‘imagine’ how fearful it would feel if Saddam Hussein gave a nuclear weapon to terrorists who then exploded it in our country. Because the nation had been subjected to the fearful, tragic, cruel attack of 9/11, when our president asked us to imagine with him a new fear, it was easy enough to bypass the reasoning process, and short-circuit the normal discourse that takes place in a healthy democracy with a give-and-take among people who could say, ‘Wait a minute, Mr. President. Where’s your evidence? There is no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.’ At one point, President Bush actually said, ‘You can’t distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden’ (see September 25, 2002). He actually said that.” Gore says that for a time even he had trusted Bush to do the right thing, but Bush had abused the trust he and the American people had in him. In 2006, author and former White House counsel John Dean will write in conjunction with Gore’s address: “In short, fear takes reasoning out of the decision-making process, which our history has shown us often enough can have dangerous and long-lasting consequences. If Americans cannot engage in analytical thinking as a result of Republicans’ using fear for their own political purposes, we are all in serious trouble.” [Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, 2/2004; Dean, 2006, pp. 178-179]
President Bush gives a rare interview to a television show, NBC’s Meet the Press. Bush holds the interview, conducted by Tim Russert, in the Oval Office. [CNN, 2/9/2004]
Admits Iraq Had No WMD - Bush concedes that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, but defends his decision to invade it, saying, “Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I’m not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman.” He admits, “I expected to find the weapons.” He continues, “I’m sitting behind this desk, making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid.” And Iraq “had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum.” But even without proof of Iraqi WMD, Bush says the stakes were so high that “it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent.” Inaction in Iraq “would have emboldened Saddam Hussein. He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time.” Bush seems surprised when Russert asks if American soldiers had in fact been welcomed as “liberators” in Iraq, as some in his administration had predicted. “I think we are welcomed in Iraq,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure, given the tone of your questions, we’re not.” Resistance there is not surprising, Bush says, because “there are people who desperately want to stop the advance of freedom and democracy.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 202-203]
'War of Choice or War of Necessity?' - Russert continues to ask about the choice to invade Iraq, and at one point asks Bush whether it was a “war of choice or a war of necessity?” Bush responds: “That’s an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It’s a war of necessity. In my judgment, we had no choice, when we look at the intelligence I looked at, that says the man was a threat.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Bush asks him about the question after the interview, and that Bush was “puzzled” by the question. “This, too, puzzled me,” McClellan will write. “Surely this distinction between a necessary, unavoidable war and a war that the United States could have avoided but chose to wage, was an obvious one that Bush must have thought about a lot in the months before the invasion. Evidently it wasn’t obvious to the president, nor did his national security team make sure it was. He set the policy early on and then his team focused his attention on how to sell it. It strikes me today as an indication of his lack of inquisitiveness and his detrimental resistance to reflection, something his advisers needed to compensate for better than they did. Most objective observers today would say that in 2003 there was no urgent need to address the threat posed by Saddam with a large-scale invasion, and therefore the war was not necessary. But this is a question President Bush seems not to want to grapple with.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 202-203]
Bush Says Congress Saw Same Intelligence He Did - Asked whether Congress would have authorized the invasion (see October 10, 2002) if he had explained that, while Iraq may not have possessed WMD, Hussein should be removed because he was a threat to his people, Bush replies, “I went to Congress with the same intelligence Congress saw—the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had.” Two of Bush’s presidential rivals dispute Bush’s assertion. Senator John Edwards (D-NC) says Bush’s statement that Congress saw the same intelligence information as he did is a “big leap.” Edwards adds: “I’m not certain that’s true. I know the president of the United States receives a different set of information than we receive on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he receives more information, which he should.” And front-runner Senator John Kerry (D-MA) accuses Bush of backpedaling on the messages he gave Americans to justify going to war. “George Bush needs to take responsibility for his actions and set the record straight,” he says. “That’s the very least that Americans should be able to expect. Either he believed Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, or he didn’t. Americans need to be able to trust their president, and they deserve the truth.” [New York Times, 2/8/2004; NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Confident of Winning Re-Election - Bush tells Russert that he is confident he will win re-election: “I don’t intend to lose.… I know exactly where I want to lead the country. I have shown the American people I can lead.… I want to lead this world to more peace and freedom.” [New York Times, 2/8/2004; NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Defends Economic Policies - Bush defends his economic policies, and says that even though under his watch the US has run up a $521 billion deficit and lost 2.2 million jobs, his administration’s policies are more restrained and fiscally sound than those of his predecessor. “I have been the president during a time of tremendous stress on our economy and made the decisions necessary to lead that would enhance recovery,” he says. “The stock market started to decline in March of 2000. That was the first sign that things were troubled. The recession started upon my arrival.” Conservative critics of his administration’s spending, including the Heritage Foundation and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, are “wrong,” he says. “If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined. The other thing that I think it’s important for people who watch the expenditures side of the equation is to understand we are at war… and any time you commit your troops into harm’s way, they must have the best equipment, the best training, and the best possible pay.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Dexter Filkins. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times publishes a front page story blaming Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for many troubles in the Iraq war. However, it will later be revealed that the contents in the article were a hoax or exaggeration by a US military propaganda operation. The article, written by Dexter Filkins, claims that in January 2004, US forces in Iraq intercepted a letter written by al-Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qaeda, claiming that the best way to defeat the US in Iraq is to, in essence, begin a “sectarian war” in that country. The letter reportedly states that al-Qaeda, a Sunni network, should attack the Shi’a population of Iraq: “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis.” In the letter, al-Zarqawi boasts of his role in many suicide bombings in Iraq. The article also notes that this letter would “constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts between extremists in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 2/9/2004; Independent, 2/11/2008] US General Mark Kimmitt says later the same day: “We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously.… It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society.” The story is quickly published around the world. [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Reporter Skeptical; Article Does Not Reflect Doubts - Filkins will later say he was skeptical about the document’s authenticity when he wrote the story and remains skeptical of it. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] However, the article and follow up articles in the New York Times cast no doubt on the letter’s authenticity, except for one sentence in the original article mentioning the possibility the letter could have been “written by some other insurgent.”
Skepticism from Other News Outlets - However, some scattered accounts elsewhere at the time are more critical. For instance, a few days later, Newsweek writes: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from al-Zarqawi? We don’t.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006] In the letter, al-Zarqawi says that if success does not come soon: “We can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like what has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation!” Counterpunch notes this and skeptically comments, “If you were Karl Rove, you couldn’t design a better scenario to validate the administration’s slant on the war than this.” It is also noted that this article follows a dubious pattern of New York Times reporting on Iraq: “cultivate a ‘highly placed inside source,’ take whatever this person says and report it verbatim on the front page above the fold.” [CounterPunch, 2/26/2004]
Systematic Propaganda Campaign - Later in 2004, the Telegraph will report, “Senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax” and that the US is systematically buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerates al-Zarqawi’s role in Iraq (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, a number of classified documents will be leaked to the Washington Post, showing the US military has a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of al-Zarqawi in Iraq (see April 10, 2006). One document mentions the “selective leak” of this letter to Filkins as part of this campaign. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
Media Unquestioning in its Acceptance - Editor and Publisher will later examine the media coverage of this letter, and note that most publications reported on it unquestioningly, “So clearly, the leak to Filkins worked.” Ironically, Reuters at the time quotes an “amazed” US official who says, “We couldn’t make this up if we tried.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006]
Joseph DiGenova. [Source: Life magazine]Former US Attorney Joseph DiGenova says that it will be almost impossible to prove that the person or persons who leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to reporters violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The leaker or leakers would have had to have received the information in their official capacity, got the information from someone with official clearance, and done so in defiance of agency efforts to keep the employee’s name a secret, DiGenova says. For someone to overhear the name of a covert agent and relate it to someone else is not a violation, he adds. Moreover, he claims that Plame Wilson’s CIA status was well known. “A lot of people knew that [Plame Wilson] worked for the CIA,” he tells a Fox News reporter. “People outside of the government knew that she worked at the agency. They did not know probably, that she worked in WMD—weapons of mass destruction—and was doing undercover work. But in order for it to be a crime, you must know that is what she did.” [Fox News, 2/11/2004] Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status (see Fall 1992 - 1996) has been described as highly classified and known to only a few (see September 30, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and January 2004), and her exposure as a serious breach of national security (see Before July 14, 2003, July 14, 2003, October 3, 2003 and October 11, 2003).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he cannot remember anyone making the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the claim over six months before the US-British invasion of Iraq (see September 24, 2002). The claim was later revealed to have come from a single, anonymous, unverified source (see August 16, 2003 and December 7, 2003). Some British newspapers ran banner headlines saying that the claim meant British troops in Cyprus could be attacked with Iraqi WMD within 45 minutes. Rumsfeld tells reporters at a Pentagon briefing, “I don’t remember the statement being made, to be perfectly honest.” [Department of Defense, 2/10/2004; BBC, 2/11/2004] General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who accompanies Rumsfeld in the press conference, adds, “I don’t remember the statement, either.” [Department of Defense, 2/10/2004]
Sibel Edmonds testifies before the 9/11 Commission in a specially constructed “bug-proof” secure room for three and a half hours, describing in detail problems she witnessed while working as an FBI linguist (see, e.g., September 20, 2001 and After,
(After September 14, 2001-October 2001),
Early October 2001,
(Late October 2001),
(November 2001), and
December 2, 2001). A month later, she tells the Independent: “I gave [the commission] details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily.… There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used but not specifically about how they would be used and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks. There were other cities that were mentioned. Major cities with skyscrapers (see April 2001).” [Independent, 4/2/2004] In its final report (see July 22, 2004), the 9/11 Commission will make no mention of the problems Edmonds witnessed with the FBI’s translation unit, save for a single footnote. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Edmonds, 8/1/2004] One month earlier, a reporter had asked one of the Democratic commissioners about the Edmonds case, and he replied, “It sounds like it’s too deep in the weeds for us to consider, we’re looking at broader issues.” [New York Observer, 1/22/2004]
On February 11, 2004, the FBI interviews at least one scientist from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in connection with the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The name of the person interviewed is not known, but he is asked whether he wrote an anonymous letter to the FBI that possibly set up scientist Ayaad Assaad as a patsy for the attacks just before they occurred (see October 3, 2001). Assaad worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, until 1997, and has worked at the EPA since then. The unnamed scientist says that he had nothing to do with the letter. It appears this person is possibly subjected to a polygraph test after this, but if so the results are not known. [Hartford Courant, 2/17/2004] On March 17, 14 additional EPA employees are interviewed about the letter. The interviews are said to focus on trying to find out who wrote it. [Washington Times, 3/30/2004]
Two FBI agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, falsely claim they have no memory of the blocking of a key cable about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in an interview with the Justice Department’s office of inspector general. Miller drafted the cable, which was to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa, while he and Rossini were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. However, it was blocked by the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, and another CIA officer known only as “Michael” (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Miller and Rossini remember the events, but falsely tell the Justice Department inspector general they cannot recall them.
Pressure Not to Disclose Information - Sources close to the inspector general’s probe will say, “There was pressure on people not to disclose what really happened.” Rossini, in particular, is said to feel threatened that the CIA would have him prosecuted for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act if he said what really happened inside Alec Station. They are questioned at the same time, and together with a CIA officer who will be described as “sympathetic,” although it is unclear why. CIA officials are also in the room during the questioning, although it is unclear why this is allowed. When they are shown contemporary documents, according to the Congressional Quarterly, “the FBI agents suddenly couldn’t remember details about who said what, or who reported what, to whom, about the presence of two al-Qaeda agents in the US prior to the 9/11 attacks.” The inspector general investigators are suspicious. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
'They Asserted that They Recalled Nothing' - Nevertheless, neither Rossini nor Miller are severely criticized by the inspector general’s final report. It simply notes: “When we interviewed all of the individuals involved about the [cable] they asserted that they recalled nothing about it. [Miller] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall being aware of the information about Almihdhar, did not recall drafting the [cable], did not recall whether he drafted the [cable] on his own initiative or at the direction of his supervisor, and did not recall any discussions about the reasons for delaying completion and dissemination of the [cable]. [Rossini] said he did not recall reviewing any of the cable traffic or any information regarding Alhazmi and Almihdhar. Eric [a senior FBI agent on loan to Alec Station] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall the [cable].” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241, 355-357 ]
Later Admit What Really Happened - At some point, Miller and Rossini tell an internal FBI investigation what really happened, including Wilshire’s order to withhold the information from the FBI. However, very little is known about this probe (see After September 11, 2001). [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Rossini will be interviewed for a 2006 book by Lawrence Wright and will recall some of the circumstances of the blocking of the cable, including that a CIA officer told Miller, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 311, 423] Both Miller and Rossini will later talk to author James Bamford about the incident for a 2008 book. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] The exact date of this interview of Miller and Rossini is unknown. However, an endnote to the 9/11 Commission Report will say that Miller is interviewed by the inspector general on February 12, 2004, so it may occur on this day. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
An Army memorandum records an interview of a US interrogator stationed at the Orgun-E Military Intelligence Detention Facility in Afghanistan. According to the interrogator, “standard operating procedure” with detainees includes extended sleep deprivation, stress positions, and withholding food. The interrogator also refers to standard practices of “OGA” officials (OGA means “other goverment agency” and is a reference to the CIA), who drug prisoners and subject them to lengthy sensory deprivation. Another memo records the use of what interrogators call “fear up harsh” techniques, which include “disrespect for the Koran,” insults, subjecting prisoners to blinding lights, and exposing them to extremely loud music for prolonged periods. The memoranda will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
Aerial view of Los Alamos test site. [Source: DefenseTech.org]Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years, spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government. In a Vanity Fair article, Levernier reveals what he shows to be critical weaknesses in security for US nuclear plants. Levernier’s special focus was the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and nine other major nuclear facilities. The Los Alamos facility is the US’s main storage plant for processing plutonium and obsolete (but still effective) nuclear weapons. Levernier’s main concern was terrorist attacks. Levernier’s procedure was to, once a year, stage a mock terrorist attack using US military commandos to assault Los Alamos and the other nuclear weapons facilities, with both sides using harmless laser weapons to simulate live fire. Levernier’s squads were ordered to penetrate a given weapons facility, capture its plutonium or highly enriched uranium, and escape. The facilities’ security forces were tasked to repel the mock attacks.
Multiple Failures - Levernier is going public with the results of his staged attacks, and the results are, in the words of Vanity Fair reporter Mark Hertsgaard, “alarming.” Some facilities failed every single test. Los Alamos fell victim to the mock attacks over 50 percent of the time, with Levernier’s commandos getting in and out with the goods without firing a shot—they never encountered a guard. And this came when security forces were told months in advance exactly what day the assaults would take place. Levernier calls the nuclear facilities’ security nothing more than “smoke and mirrors.… On paper, it looks good, but in reality, it’s not. There are lots of shiny gates and guards and razor wire out front. But go around back and there are gaping holes in the fence, the sensors don’t work, and it just ain’t as impressive as it appears.” The Los Alamos facility houses 2.7 metric tons of plutonium and 3.2 metric tons of highly enriched uranium; experts say that a crude nuclear device could be created using just 11 pounds of plutonium or 45 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Arjun Makhijani, the head of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, says the most dangerous problem exposed by Levernier is the possibility of terrorists stealing plutonium from Los Alamos. It would be a relatively simple matter to construct a so-called “dirty bomb” that could devastate an American city. Even a terrorist attack that set off a “plutonium fire” could result in hundreds of cancer deaths and leave hundreds of square miles uninhabitable.
Involuntary Whistleblower - Levernier is not comfortable about being a whistleblower, and until now has never spoken to the press or Congress about his experiences. He finds himself coming forward now because, after spending six years trying unsuccessfully to persuade his bosses at the DOE to address the problems, they refused to even acknowledge that a problem existed. Shortly before he spoke to Hertsgaard, he was fired for a minor infraction and stripped of his security clearance, two years before he was due to retire with a full pension. He has filed a lawsuit against the DOE, charging that he was illegally gagged and improperly fired. He is speaking out, he says, in the hopes of helping prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack against the US that is entirely preventable. Levonier asserts that the Bush administration is doing little more than talking tough about nuclear security (see February 15, 2004). [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) tells US interrogators that Abdul Hakim Murad, along with KSM a key conspirator in the Bojinka plot, only had a small role in the operation, according to the 9/11 Commission. The Commission will cite four intelligence reports, drafted on February 19 (two), February 24, and April 2, 2004, as the source of this claim. According to KSM, Murad’s only role in the plot was to courier $3,000 from Dubai to Manila. However, other evidence indicates Murad was much more significantly involved in the plot (see Before January 6, 1995 and January 6, 1995). The Commission will comment, “This aspect of KSM’s account is not credible, as it conflicts not just with Murad’s own confession [note: this may be unreliable as Murad was tortured (see After January 6, 1995)] but also with physical evidence tying Murad to the very core of the plot, and with KSM’s own statements elsewhere that Murad was involved in planning and executing the operation.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 489]
Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi diplomat the 9/11 Commission thinks is tied to an associate of two 9/11 hijackers named Omar al-Bayoumi, is interviewed by the Commission and lies about these connections. The Commission’s staff thinks that al Thumairy was, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a middleman of some sort for [9/11 hijackers] Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar,” and they have compiled a long dossier on him, mostly based on evidence that staffer Mike Jacobson found in FBI files. According to Shenon, the evidence suggests al Thumairy “had orchestrated help for the hijackers through a network of Saudi and other Arab expatriates living throughout Southern California and led by… al-Bayoumi.” When al Thumairy is interviewed by Raj De and other Commission investigators in Riyadh—in the presence of Saudi government minders—he initially claims, “I do not know this man al-Bayoumi.” However, the investigators have witnesses who say al Thumairy and al-Bayoumi know each other, have records of phone calls between the two men (see December 1998-December 2000 and January-May 2000), and al-Bayoumi has admitted knowing al Thumairy, although they allegedly spoke “solely on religious matters.” De cuts off al Thumairy’s denial, telling him: “Your phone records tell a different story. We have your phone records.” Although al-Bayoumi still professes ignorance, De explains they have the phone records from the FBI, at which point al Thumairy realizes his difficulty and says, “I have contact with a lot of people.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309-311]
The Congressional Record reports that Richard Blee, the manager in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on 9/11 (see August 22-September 10, 2001), has been nominated to a State Department rank. In a list of State Department nominations, it states that he and several dozen other people are proposed “to be consular officers and/or secretaries of the diplomatic service of the United States of America, as indicated for appointment as foreign service officers of class three, consular officer and secretary in the diplomatic service of the United States of America.” The listing gives his address as the District of Columbia. [US Congress, 2/23/2004, pp. 48 ]
CIA Director George Tenet tells Congress regarding an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi government agent in Prague, “We can’t prove that one way or another.” [New York Times, 7/9/2004]
New York Times reporter Judith Miller is interviewed for an article in the New York Review of Books. Miller wrote a series of stories promoting intelligence that would justify an invasion of Iraq; all the content of these stories were later found to be false. Miller says: “The fact that the United States so far hasn’t found WMD in Iraq is deeply disturbing. It raises real questions about how good our intelligence was. To beat up on the messenger is to miss the point.” She says that as an investigative reporter dealing with intelligence: “[M]y job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Michael Massing, author of the New York Review of Books’ story, will comment, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
Jamal Ahmidan is a member of the Islamist militant cell who has arranged to buy the explosives for the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). He is also a drug dealer, and is purchasing the explosives from Emilio Suarez Trashorras and some others who are generally both drug dealers and government informants. His phone is being monitored by Spanish intelligence. On February 28, he calls Othman El Gnaoui, another member of the militant cell, and says that he will need a van to transport something. The next day, Ahmidan is in the Spanish region of Asturias to help pick up the over 100 kilograms of explosives used in the bombings. He drives a stolen white Toyota Corolla and travels with a Renault Kangoo van and a Volkswagen Golf. Trashorras and Mohammed Oulad Akcha (another member of the militant cell) drive the other vehicles. The three vehicles drive the explosives to Madrid in what will later be popularly dubbed the “caravan of death.” Ahmidan makes about 15 calls on his monitored phone during the several hour journey, many of them to El Gnaoui. While he does not explicitly talk on the phone about moving explosives, he does make clear to El Gnaoui that he and two other vehicles are moving something to Madrid. He is stopped for speeding along the way by police, but the trunk of his car is not checked. He gives the police officer a false identification. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/23/2004]
Al-Qaeda has released a series of video messages featuring Adam Gadahn. This one is from September 2, 2006. [Source: Public domain / Wikipedia]The Washington Post will report in May 2004, “US officials have continued investigating [Khalil] Deek’s whereabouts, a fact that is made clear since [his name has recently] appeared on US terrorist lookout lists.” Deek is a naturalized US citizen whom authorities believe was a member of an al-Qaeda cell in Anaheim, California for most of the 1990s. He was arrested in Jordan for masterminding an al-Qaeda millennium bomb plot there (see December 11, 1999). Then he was let go, apparently with US approval (see May 2001). US intelligence has a record dating back to the late 1980s of investigating Deek for a variety of criminal activities but taking no action against him (see Late 1980s, March 1993-1996, December 14-25, 1999, November 30, 1999, May 2000, December 15-31, 1999). It is not known why Deek is finally watchlisted at this time, though it is likely connected to wide publicity about Adam Gadahn. Gadahn, a Caucasian American also known as “Azzam the American,” was a member of Deek’s Anaheim cell in the mid-1990s. He moved to Afghanistan where he has since become well-known as a top al-Qaeda media spokesman. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz, who investigated Deek for the US government in the late 1990s, says it’s “a mystery” law enforcement officials have not arrested or even charged Deek as a terrorist. [Orange County Weekly, 6/17/2004] A US newspaper reporter who closely followed Deek’s career will comment that Deek seemingly “couldn’t get arrested to save his life.” [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek has not been hard from since. There will be unconfirmed reports that he was killed somewhere in Pakistan in early 2005, but his body has not been found. [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]
Thomas Tamm. [Source: Newsweek]Thomas Tamm, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor with a high-level security clearance, is finishing up a yearlong post with the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. As his stint is coming to a close, Tamm learns of the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) program that is electronically eavesdropping on American citizens—domestic wiretapping. He later learns that “the program,” as it is referred to by those few who know of it at all, is called “Stellar Wind.”
Concealment from FISA Judges - Tamm learns that the NSA program is being hidden from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, a panel of federal judges who by law must approve and supervise such surveillance for intelligence purposes. OIPR lawyers ask the FISA Court for permission to implement national-security wiretaps. But, Tamm learns, some wiretaps—signed only by Attorney General John Ashcroft—are going to the chief FISA Court judge and not the other ten judges on the FISA panel. The “AG-only” requests are extraordinarily secretive, and involve information gleaned from what is only referred to as “the program”—Stellar Wind. Only a very few White House and US intelligence officials know the name and the nature of “the program.” Stellar Wind involves domestic wiretaps on telephones and computer e-mail accounts derived from, but not necessarily linked to, information secured from captured al-Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas. With the voluntary cooperation of American telecommunications companies (see 1997-August 2007 and After, February 2001, February 2001, and February 2001 and Beyond), the NSA program also collects vast amounts of personal data about US citizens’ phone and e-mail communications. The program also collects an enormous amount of financial information from the Treasury Department (see February 28, 2006), all collected as part of the NSA’s “data mining” efforts (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001).
Program Is 'Probably Illegal,' Says DOJ Official - Tamm, suspicious about the unusual requests, asks his supervisors about the program, and is told to drop the subject. “[N]o one wanted to talk about it,” he will recall. Tamm asks one of his supervisors, Lisa Farabee, “Do you know what the program is?” Farabee replies: “Don’t even go there.… I assume what they are doing is illegal.” Tamm is horrified. His first thought, he will later recall, is, “I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” Tamm soon finds out from deputy OIPR counsel Mark Bradley that the chief FISA judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, is raising unwanted questions about the warrant requests (see 2004 and 2005), and “the AG-only cases are being shut down.” Bradley adds, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted.”
Request for Guidance Turned Down - For weeks, Tamm agonizes over what to do. He seeks guidance from a former colleague, Sandra Wilkinson, who now works on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two have coffee in the Senate cafeteria, and Tamm asks Wilkinson to ask if anyone on the committee knows anything about “the program.” Weeks go by without a response, and Tamm sends Wilkinson an e-mail from his OIPR computer—an e-mail that will later alert the FBI to Tamm’s interest in Stellar Wind. During a second conversation, Wilkinson refuses to give Tamm any information. “Well, you know, then,” he replies, “I think my only option is to go to the press.”
Contacting the New York Times - Tamm finally decides to contact the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who has written several stories on the Justice Department that impressed Tamm. By this point he has transferred out of OIPR and back into a Justice Department office that would allow him to return to the courtroom. Tamm calls Lichtblau from a pay phone near the US District Courthouse in Washington. “My whole body was shaking,” he will recall. He identifies himself only as “Mark” (his middle name), and arranges to meet Lichtblau at a bookstore near the Justice Department. (In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau describes Tamm as “a walk-in” source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence community.” Lichtblau will describe Tamm as wary and “maddeningly vague,” but as they continue to meet—usually in bookstores and coffee shops in the Capitol District—Tamm’s “credibility and his bona fides became clear and his angst appears sincere. Eighteen months later, after finally overriding a request and warning from President Bush not to print the story (see December 6, 2005), the Times reports on the existence of the NSA program (see December 15, 2005). [Ars Technica, 12/16/2008; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Mark Bradley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Lichtblau, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Lisa Farabee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Tamm, Sandra Wilkinson, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, New York Times, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A senior UN official reports that conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated significantly in nearly every respect. According to Lakhdar Brahima, UN special envoy to Afghanistan, the situation “is reminiscent to what was witnessed after the establishment of the mujaheddin government in 1992.” Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a member of the Wahhabi sect of Islam who opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, along with several other warlords accused of atrocities in the mid-1990s, have returned to power and are effectively ruling the country, Brahima says. Several hold key positions within the government. They “continue to maintain their own private armies and… are reaping vast amounts of money from Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade…” The US, while claming to support Afghan President Karzai, is relying on these warlords to “help” hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda factions, although the success rate is abysmal, and much of the intelligence provided by the warlords is faulty. The Taliban has begun to regroup, and now essentially controls much of the southern and eastern regions of the country. [Foreign Affairs, 5/2004]
Faisal Gill. [Source: Salon]It is discovered that the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence division policy director has disturbing associations with known radical militants. Faisal Gill, a White House political appointee with close ties to powerful Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist and no background in intelligence, failed to disclose on security clearance documents that he had worked with Abdurahman Alamoudi, a lobbyist with suspected terrorist ties. This is a potential felony. Jailed at the time, Alamoudi will be sentenced to 23 years in prison later in the year for plotting with Libyan agents to kill the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia (see October 15, 2004). Gill is briefly removed from his job when his incorrect disclosures are discovered, but it is ultimately decided that he can keep his job. Salon notes that “Gill has access to top-secret information on the vulnerability of America’s seaports, aviation facilities, and nuclear power plants to terrorist attacks.” Gill previously worked in an organization tied to both Alamoudi and Norquist. One anonymous official says, “There’s an overall denial in the administration that the agenda being pushed by Norquist might be a problem. It’s so absurd that a Grover Norquist person could even be close to something like this. That’s really what’s so insidious.” Another official complains, “Who is Abdurahman Alamoudi? We really don’t know. So how can we say there is not a problem with his former aide?” [Salon, 6/22/2004]
After investigating the 9/11 hijackers, the CIA finds that the 19 operatives used a total of 364 aliases, including different spellings of their own names and noms de guerre. Although some examples are made public, the full list is not disclosed. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 1, 5 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] However, an FBI timeline of hijacker movements made public in 2008 will mention some of the aliases. For example:
Hani Hanjour and Ahmed Alghamdi rent a New Jersey apartment using the names Hany Saleh and Ahmed Saleh. (Saleh is Hanjour’s middle name.) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 144, 205 ]
Fayez Ahmed Banihammad uses the aliases Abu Dhabi Banihammad and Fayey Rashid Ahmed. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 167, 174 ]
Nawaf Alhazmi uses the aliases Nawaf Alharbi and Nawaf Alzmi Alhazmi. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 60 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 248 ]
Mohamed Atta frequently likes to use variants of the name El Sayed, for instance calling himself Awaid Elsayed and even Hamburg Elsayed. Marwan Alshehhi also uses the Elsayed alias. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 125, 126 ]
When Majed Moqed flies into the US on May 2, 2001, the name Mashaanmoged Mayed is on the flight manifest. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 139 ]
In contrast to this, many reports emphasize that the hijackers usually used their own names. For example, the 9/11 Commission will say, “The hijackers opened accounts in their own names, using passports and other identification documents.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 22 ] In addition, a Commission staffer will tell UPI: “They did not need fake passports. The plotters all used their own passports to get into the country and once here, used US-issued ID documents whenever possible.” [United Press International, 8/17/2005]
Entity Tags: Wail Alshehri, Mohand Alshehri, Mohamed Atta, Nawaf Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, Satam Al Suqami, Marwan Alshehhi, Salem Alhazmi, Ziad Jarrah, Waleed Alshehri, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmed Alhaznawi, 9/11 Commission, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alghamdi, Hani Hanjour, Hamza Alghamdi, Central Intelligence Agency, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Ahmed Alnami
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
John Cole. [Source: Canal+]John Cole, an FBI agent who has supported whistleblower Sibel Edmonds inside the FBI, is forced out of his position. Cole will later say that this is because of the support he offered her. After Cole read Edmonds’ file, he decided her allegations were accurate: “I thought that I could be of some assistance to her, because I knew she was doing the right thing. I knew because she was right.” According to Cole, her allegations were confirmed by others at the FBI, “They were telling me that Sibel Edmonds was a 100 percent accurate, that management knew that she was correct.” However, Cole is subjected to a long bout of harassment. After years of good reports, his appraisal only says his work in one area is “minimally acceptable,” and he is investigated by the Office of Professional Responsibility for allegedly lying on a background check and disclosing classified information without authorization. Finally, he is demoted to menial tasks such as photocopying, causing him to resign. [Vanity Fair, 9/2005; Congressional Quarterly, 1/26/2007]
In late 2001, a Pakistani named Abdullah Mahsud was arrested in northern Afghanistan and transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. He apparently concealed his true identity while there, and is released in March 2004. He returns to Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal region where he was born, and quickly becomes an important Taliban leader. The US Defense Department belatedly realizes he has been associated with the Taliban since he was a teenager, and calls him an “al-Qaeda-linked facilitator.” He earns a fearsome reputation by orchestrating attacks and kidnappings, starting later in 2004. His forces will sign a peace deal with the Pakistani government in early 2005 that effectively gives them control over South Waziristan (see February 7, 2005). Mahsud will be killed on July 24, 2007, just days after a peace deal between the Pakistani government and Waziristan militants collapses (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He reportedly blows himself up with a grenade while surrounded by Pakistani security forces in a town in Baluchistan province about 30 miles from the Afghan border that is also near Waziristan. A Pakistani official will say: “This is a big blow to the Pakistani Taliban. He was one of the most important commanders that the Taliban had in Waziristan.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2007]
In March 2004, al-Qaeda apparently holds what Time magazine calls a “terrorist summit” in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan. Time says the meeting is a “gathering of terrorism’s elite” who come from all over the world to attend. Attendees include:
Dhiren Barot, an al-Qaeda leader living in Britain.
Adnan Shukrijumah, an Arab Guyanese bombmaker and commercial pilot who apparently met 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and has been on public wanted lists since 2003.
Mohammed Junaid Babar, a Pakistani-American living in Britain. He arrives with money and supplies.
Abu Faraj al-Libbi, al-Qaeda leader living somewhere in Pakistan.
Two other unnamed attendees are believed to have surveilled targets in New York City and elsewhere with Barot in 2001 (see May 30, 2001). [Time, 8/8/2004; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005]
Other attendees have not been named. The meeting is said to be a “subject of obsession for authorities” in the US and Pakistan. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says, “The personalities involved, the operations, the fact that a major explosives expert came here and went back, all this was extremely significant.” Officials worry that it may have been a planning meeting for a major attack in the West. [Time, 8/8/2004] Babar is arrested one month later in the US and immediately agrees to become an informant and reveal all he knows (see April 10, 2004). But US intelligence had been monitoring Babar since late 2001 (see Early November 2001-April 10, 2004), and Newsweek will later claim that “Babar was tracked flying off [in early 2004] to South Waziristan in Pakistan, where he attended [the] terror summit…” It is unknown if the summit itself is monitored, however. [Newsweek, 1/24/2005] Regardless on when the US learned about it, no known additional pressure on Pakistan to do something about al-Qaeda in Waziristan results. In fact, in late April the Pakistani government ends one month of fighting with militants in Waziristan and signs a peace treaty with them (see April 24-June 18, 2004).
A new interrogation policy is approved for US personnel regarding prisoners detained in Iraqi facilities such as Abu Ghraib. The policy will remain classified as late as mid-2009, but the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) will release excerpts from it. The policy warns that interrogators “should consider the fact that some interrogation techniques are viewed as inhumane or otherwise inconsistent with international law before applying each technique. These techniques are labeled with a [CAUTION].” Among the techniques labeled as such are a technique involving power tools, stress positions, and the presence of military working dogs, all potential violations of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, formerly the deputy director of the CIA, head of the National Security Agency, and the former director of naval intelligence, says: “There was no tie between Iraq and 9/11, even though some people tried to postulate one.… Iraq did support terror in Israel, but I know of no instance in which Iraq funded direct, deliberate terrorist attacks on the United States.” [Texas Monthly, 3/2004; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Gouled Hassan Dourad. [Source: US Defense Department]Alleged “high value” al-Qaeda leader Gouled Hassan Dourad is captured. Dourad is captured by Djibouti government forces in his house in Djibouti. He is turned over to US custody at an unknown date and held as a ghost prisoner in the CIA’s secret prison system. On September 4, 2006, he will be transferred to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, and will be officially declared a “high value” prisoner (see September 2-3, 2006).
Who Is Dourad? - Very little is publicly known about Dourad or why he is deemed an important militant leader. Virtually nothing has appeared about him in the media either before or after his capture. But his 2008 Guantanamo file will detail his history. According to that file, Dourad is a Somali who is an admitted member of both al-Qaeda’s East Africa branch and Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (AIAI), an Islamist militant group based in Somalia that was blacklisted by the US shortly after 9/11. In 1993, he was granted asylum in Sweden, and lived there for nearly three years. In 1996, he trained in al-Qaeda linked training camps in Afghanistan. Returning to East Africa, he fought against Ethiopian forces for several years. Dourad grew more involved with al-Qaeda and took part in various plots. When he is caught, he allegedly is in the final stages of planning an operation against US military bases and various embassies in Djibouti. He does not seem to have been in frequent contact with many top al-Qaeda leaders, but it is claimed he worked closely with Abu Talha al-Sudani, a leader of al-Qaeda operations in East Africa. [US Department of Defense, 9/19/2008] Note that the Guantanamo files of prisoners often contain dubious information, and in some cases information that was extracted by torture (see April 24, 2011).
On the night of March 4, 2004, members of Spain’s Civil Guard go to an unnamed witness in Madrid and ask him about Emilio Suarez Trashorras and Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino.” The Madrid bombings conducted seven days later are said to involve two groups. One group is made up of Islamist radicals under heavy surveillance and the other group is made up of criminals and drug dealers who sell the explosives to this group. Ahmidan from the first group and Trashorras for the second are the main intermediaries. This witness is asked extensively about his car, a white Toyota Corolla. In late February, Ahmidan used a stolen white Toyota Corolla with a similar registration to help move the explosives from the region of Asturias to Madrid. He was briefly stopped for speeding by police on his way to Madrid and gave an alias instead of his real name (see February 28-29, 2004). The Toyota was also used by Trashorras in Asturias and he was fined while driving it three times. This suggests police had some knowledge about the explosives deal before the bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Trashorras is a government informant, but it will later be claimed that he did not inform his handlers about the explosives deal before the bombings, and he will be sentenced to life in prison (see October 31, 2007). Ahmidan will reportedly blow himself up with other key bombers about a month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).
Jamal Zougam, an Islamist militant living in Spain, calls Barakat Yarkas, the head of the al-Qaeda cell in Madrid. Yarkas is in prison at the time, and has been there since November 2001 for an alleged role in the 9/11 attacks (see November 13, 2001). Zougam’s call is monitored, and in fact he has been monitored since 2000 for his links to Yarkas and others (see 2000-Early March 2004). Zougam will later say that he was aware he was being monitored, especially since he knew his house was raided in 2001. The Madrid newspaper El Mundo will later comment that the call makes no sense, especially since it takes place just six days before the Madrid train bombings (see October 31, 2007): “It’s like lighting a luminous sign.” It also has not been explained why the imprisoned Yarkas was even allowed to speak to Zougam on the phone. It is not known what they discuss. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] Zougam will later be sentenced to life in prison for a role in the Madrid bombings (see October 31, 2007).
Near midnight on March 5, 2004, Othman El Gnaoui spends some time in a Madrid police station. He is considered one of the key Madrid bombers and will later be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombings. What he is doing in the station is not clear as police will not discuss it later. But his phone is being monitored at the time, and transcripts of calls will later reveal him calling family from inside the station who are wondering where he is at such a late hour. He tells his wife that he had some trouble with identification papers while riding his motorcycle. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] But there are some curious coincidences. Just the day before, an unnamed witness was asked about Jamal Ahmidan and Emilio Suarez Trashorras (see Evening, March 4, 2004). In late February 2004, El Gnaoui bought explosives from Trashorras and others. On February 29, Ahmidan called him at least five times as he helped drive the explosives from the region of Asturias to Madrid. Both Ahmidan and El Gnaoui’s phones were being monitored at the time. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Also curiously, one day after the bombings, police will stop monitoring the phones of Ahmidan and El Gnaoui (see March 12, 2004).
In an apparent act of political retaliation, Vice President Dick Cheney blocks the promotion of a Justice Department official who raised concerns about the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Patrick Philbin, a senior Justice Department counsel, provided much of the research used by Deputy Attorney General James Comey in Comey’s own refusal to approve the wiretapping program (see March 9, 2004 and March 10-12, 2004). Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales had replaced Ashcroft as attorney general when Philbin’s name came up for promotion. After Cheney warns Gonzales that he will oppose Philbin’s promotion, Gonzales decides not to promote Philbin to the position of deputy solicitor general. In May 2007, Comey will testify before Congress, “I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter. The attorney general chose not to pursue it.…It was my understanding that the vice president’s office blocked that appointment” (see May 15, 2007). Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) says in 2007 of Cheney’s opposition to Philbin’s promotion, and Cheney’s attempts to pressure Justice Department officials to back the wiretapping program, “…White House hands guided Justice Department business. The vice president’s fingerprints are all over the effort to strong-arm Justice on the NSA program.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Comey will resign in 2005 and give a farewell speech in which he will say that some Justice Department officials paid a price for their commitment to doing what’s right. When asked in his 2007 testimony what he referred to, Comey will answer, “I had in mind one particular senior staffer of mine who had been in the hospital room with me and had been blocked from promotion, I believed as a result of this particular matter.” Comey is speaking of Philbin, who would have likely been promoted to solicitor general in Bush’s second term. Instead, Philbin resigns from the Justice Department and enters private practice. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007]
Chuck Rosenberg. [Source: Associated Press / Charles Dharapak]Vice President Dick Cheney challenges objections to the White House’s secret, warrantless surveillance program (see Early 2002) by Justice Department officials. Cheney makes his objections during a meeting attended by high-level White House and Justice Department officials, but this does not come to light until a 2007 testimony by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see May 15, 2007). [Washington Post, 6/7/2007] (Comey will step down from his post in mid-2005.) [Law.com, 4/21/2005] The White House meetings take place one day before White House officials journey to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to try to force Ashcroft to give his approval for the NSA-managed surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft will refuse to give his approval. Cheney’s key role in leading what the Washington Post calls “a fierce internal battle over the legality of the warrantless surveillance program” is not known until Comey’s 2007 testimony. The White House meeting, held to discuss Justice Department objections to the NSA program, is attended by Cheney, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington, and others. Comey will testify that at the time, eight Justice Department officials are prepared to resign if the White House doesn’t back down on forcing the department to sign off on the program. Those officials include FBI director Robert Mueller, US attorney Chuck Rosenberg of the northern Virginia district, and Office of Legal Counsel head Jack Goldsmith. [Washington Post, 6/7/2007]
In 2006, the Madrid newspaper El Mundo will report that, according to their analysis, 34 out of the 40 people allegedly involved in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004) were under surveillance before the bombings. It reports 24 out of the 29 people arrested after the bombing, the seven who blew themselves up just after the bombing, and three of the four who fled Spain were under surveillance. Additionally, some of them are actually government informants before the bombing, though exactly how many remains murky. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/24/2006]
Said Berraj is considered closely involved in the plot, and runs errands for Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of about three masterminds of the bombing. He was briefly arrested in Turkey in 2000 while meeting with several of the other bombers (see October 10, 2000). Berraj flees Spain two days before the bombing. He has yet to be found. But in 2003, he regularly meets with Spanish intelligence agents (see 2003). And up until the bombings he also works for a security company owned by a former policeman. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007]
Fakhet may also be an informant. A different informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, who is not part of the plot but informed on many of the plotters for two years (see September 2002-October 2003), will later claim under oath as a protected witness that he saw Fakhet and Berraj meeting with the same handlers who handled him, and at the same meeting place he used. Fakhet will be killed about one month after the bombing (see Shortly After October 2003).
Mohamed Afalah also is an informant for Spanish intelligence. He is the driver, bodyguard, and confidante of Allekema Lamari, who the Spanish government calls the “emir” of the bombings. Afalah flees Spain on April 3 and also has not been found. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] Curiously, some reports will later claim that he blows himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq in May 2005. [Guardian, 6/16/2005]
There are allegations that Amer el-Azizi, who appears to be the bombers’ main al-Qaeda link (see Before March 11, 2004), is an informant. He appears to have been tipped off to a police raid by Spanish intelligence in late 2001 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).
Mohamed Haddad, who eyewitnesses say may have been bringing one of the bombs to the train, may be an informant. He reportedly lives openly in Morocco after the bombings under curious conditions (for instance, he is not allowed to speak to reporters), but is not wanted by the Spanish authorities despite considerable evidence against him (see Shortly After March 18, 2004).
Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a miner with access to explosives, buys the explosives for the bombings. He is an informant, but nonetheless will be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombings (see June 18, 2004).
Carmen Toro, wife of Trashorras. She allegedly helps sell the explosives used in the bombings, even though she is a police informant at the time (see September 2003-February 2004). She will be arrested but acquitted.
Antonio Toro, brother of Carmen Toro. He also allegedly helps sell the explosives despite being an informant (see March 2003 and September 2003-February 2004). He also will be arrested but acquitted.
Rafa Zouhier also is an informant. He works with Trashorras to get the explosives. He will be sentenced to a lengthy prison term for his role in the bombings (see June 18, 2004).
Additionally, other informants who will not be arrested for being part of the plot follow the plotters. These include Safwan Sabagh, who constantly trails plot leader Allekema Lamari, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Smail Latrech, and Rabia Gaya (see 2002-March 10, 2004).
In some cases different government departments have their own investigations and informants and are not always sharing information with other departments. Some suspects are being followed by two or more departments, such as the Spanish police, Civil Guard, and the Spanish intelligence agency, the CNI. The El Mundo article will conclude, “Undoubtedly, the lack of coordination was a real factor and critical in allowing the terrorists to carry out their plans. However, that does not explain everything.” [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/24/2006] In November 2003, Spanish intelligence actually warns in a report that Lamari and Fakhet are leading a new attack in Spain on a significant target, but no apparent action is taken in response (see November 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Rabia Gaya, Rafa Zouhier, Said Berraj, Mohamed Haddad, Safwan Sabagh, Mohamed Afalah, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Smail Latrech, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Allekema Lamari, Amer el-Azizi, Antonio Toro, Carmen Toro, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Many of the Madrid train bombers have their phones tapped for months before the March 2004 train bombing (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Some of them have been monitored for years (one, Moutaz Almallah, was under surveillance for nine years (see November 1995). While snippets from some phone calls will be made public after the bombings (see February 28-29, 2004), the content of the vast majority of these calls remain unknown. One example hints at what some of these calls might contain. Rosa Ahmidan, the wife of bomber Jamal Ahmidan, begins fully cooperating with the authorities after being interviewed for the first time on March 25, 2004 (see March 27-30, 2004). She will later say that in April she gets a phone bill from one land line used by her husband. The bill is for around 1,000 euros. It shows Jamal Ahmidan made many calls to Afghanistan, London, and the Netherlands. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/25/2008]
Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, leader of the Britain-based Al-Muhajiroun militant group, is interviewed. He says, “I believe Britain is harboring most of the Islamic opposition leaders of the Muslim world.… Because the British elites are very clever, they are not stupid like the Americans. Remember these people used to rule half of the world.… The British are not like the French and the Germans, they don’t slap you in the face, they stab you in the back. They want to buy some of these Islamic groups.” Asked if there ever has been “a secret deal between some Islamists and British security whereby radical Muslims would be left alone as long as they did not threaten British national security,” Bakri replies: “I believe all the people referred to as ‘moderate’ Muslims have at one time or another struck deals with the British government. But the British have been unable to corrupt radical groups” like Bakri’s group. He then defines moderate Muslims as “The Muslim Brotherhood in [Britain], UK Islamic Mission, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Iranian opposition groups, [and] the so-called [Iranian] Ahlul Bait groups.” Bakri also says, “I think everything I say and do is monitored.” He admits to being questioned by British intelligence “on at least 16 occasions,” but denies helping them. He says that the authorities have attempted to penetrate his organization, “as the British are desperate to buy intelligence.” Speaking about British intelligence agencies, he says: “their understanding of Islam is poor. But I believe the really clever people are the elites in this country, as they know how to divide Muslims.” [Spotlight on Terror, 3/23/2004] Bakri’s comments will take on new meaning when it is later revealed that he was an active informant for British intelligence (see Spring 2005-Early 2007).
Vice President Dick Cheney gives the Congressional leaders known as the “Gang of Eight”—the House speaker and House minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees—their first briefing on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). The Democratic leaders at the meeting are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA), and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Daschle (D-SD) later recalls the meeting as superficial. Cheney “talked like it was something routine,” Daschle will say. “We really had no idea what it was about.” Unbeknownst to many of the Congressional leaders, White House and Justice Department leaders are locked in a sharp dispute over whether or not the program is legal and should be continued; Cheney is preparing to send White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to persuade the gravely ill, heavily sedated Ashcroft to overrule acting Attorney General James Comey and reauthorize the program (see March 10-12, 2004). The briefing is designed to give the appearance of Congressional approval for the program. While most Republicans in the briefing give at least tacit approval of the program, some Democrats, as Daschle will recall, expressed “a lot of concerns” over the program’s apparent violation of fundamental Congressional rights. Pelosi later recalls that she “made clear my disagreement with what the White House was asking.” But administration officials such as Gonzales will later say (see July 24, 2007) that the eight Congressional leaders are in “consensus” in supporting the program, a characterization that is patently false (see July 25, 2007). Gonzales will also later testify that today’s briefing does not cover the NSA wiretapping program, later dubbed the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP), another apparent falsehood contradicted by Democratic senators such as Rockefeller and Russ Feingold, as well as testimony and notes on the hospital room visit made by FBI Director Robert Mueller and a memo from John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. Many feel that Gonzales is using the moniker “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” not in use until December 2005, to play what reporter Michael Isikoff calls “verbal parsing” and “a semantic game”—since the NSA wiretapping program is not known by this name at the time of the Congressional briefing, Gonzales will imply that the briefing wasn’t about that program. [Newsweek, 8/6/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 88]
Cheney, Gonzales: Democrats on Board with Illegal Program - In Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, a 2008 book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman, Gonzales will claim there is a “consensus in the room” among Democrats and Republicans alike, and according to Gellman’s reporting on Gonzales, “four Democrats and four Republicans, duly informed that the Justice Department had ruled something unlawful, said the White House should do it anyway.” Cheney will confirm this allegation during a December 2008 appearance on Fox News. [Klein, 2009, pp. 88]
Domestic Surveillance Began before 9/11? - Cheney fails to inform the lawmakers that the wiretapping program may have begun well before the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency, Robert S. Mueller III, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Tom Daschle, US Department of Justice, Russell D. Feingold, Nancy Pelosi, John Negroponte, John D. Rockefeller, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Jane Harman, James B. Comey Jr., “Gang of Eight”, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney General John Ashcroft is visited by a squad of top White House and Justice Department officials just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for severe, acute pancreatis, and is still recuperating in intensive care. The White House officials attempt to persuade the barely lucid Ashcroft to give his formal approval for the secret National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping surveillance program (see Early 2002), which requires the Justice Department to periodically review and approve it. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007]
Comey, Goldsmith Rush to Head Off Aides - Deputy Attorney General James Comey testifies to the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee over three years later (see May 15, 2007). Comey will recall that he and Ashcroft had decided not to recertify the surveillance program due to their concerns over its legality and its lack of oversight. On March 9, Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital with severe pancreatis. As per Justice Department procedures, Comey became acting attorney general for the duration of Ashcroft’s incapacity. The next night, just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for the removal of his gallbladder, Comey receives an urgent phone call from Ashcroft’s aide, David Ayres, who himself has just spoken with Ashcroft’s wife Janet. Ayres tells Comey that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card are en route to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on the program recertification. A furious Comey telephones FBI director Robert Mueller, and the two, accompanied by aides, race separately through the Washington, DC streets with sirens wailing to reach Ashcroft’s hospital room; they beat Gonzales and Card to the room by a matter of minutes. “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey will testify, and will add that to him, Ashcroft appears “pretty bad off.” En route, Mueller instructs the security detail protecting Ashcroft not to allow Card or Gonzales to eject Comey from the hospital room. Card and Gonzales enter just minutes later. [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007] “And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey will testify. “They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there—to seek his approval for a matter.” [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007] Gonzales is holding an envelope containing an executive order from Bush. He tells Ashcroft that he needs to sign off on the order, thereby giving the wiretapping program Justice Department authorization to continue unabated. Comey will testify that Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. [Ashcroft then adds] ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’” pointing at Comey. Gonzales and Card leave the room without ever acknowledging Comey’s presence. “I was angry,” Comey will recall. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007] “That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something I forget,” Comey will testify. [PBS, 5/16/2007] Goldsmith is also in the room; like Comey, Goldsmith receives a phone call alerting him to Gonzales’s and Card’s visit, and like Comey, Goldsmith races through the Washington streets to arrive at Ashcroft’s room minutes before Gonzales and Card arrive. He, too, is astonished at the brazen, callous approach taken by the two White House officials against Ashcroft, who he describes as laying in his darkened hospital room, with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires protruding from his body. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith later recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.” As Gonzales and Card leave the room, Goldsmith will recall, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] After Gonzales and Card leave the room, Comey asks Mueller to instruct the security detail not to let any more visitors into the room, except for family, without Mueller’s approval, apparently in order to keep Gonzales and Card from attempting to return. [US Department of Justice, 8/14/2007]
Cheney or Bush Behind Visit? - The hospital visit is sparked by at least two events: a meeting of White House officials a day earlier, where Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to push reluctant Justice Department officials to approve the surveillance program (see March 9, 2004), and Comey’s own refusal to certify the legality of the surveillance, as noted above. [Washington Post, 6/7/2007] Some believe that the timing of the incident shows that Cheney is the one who ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft’s hospital room; Comey personally informed Cheney of his decision not to give his approval to the program. Speculation about Cheney’s ordering of the visit cannot be confirmed, [National Journal, 7/7/2007; National Journal, 8/16/2007] though the New York Times states flatly in an op-ed that “Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and [Card] to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] Three years later, Goldsmith will tell Congress that he believes Bush himself authorized the visit (see October 2, 2007).
Meeting in the White House - Minutes after the incident in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Card orders Comey to appear at a late-night meeting at the White House; Comey refuses to go alone, and pulls Solicitor General Theodore Olson from a dinner party to act as a witness to the meeting. “Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. After the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present,” Comey will testify. “[Card] replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’ And I said again, ‘After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness. And I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States.’” On March 11, after an al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid kills over 200 people (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004, Bush recertifies the program without the approval of the Justice Department. Comey responds by drafting a letter of resignation, effective March 12. “I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis,” he will testify. “I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey is not the only one threatening to resign; he is joined by Ashcroft, Mueller, Ayres, Goldsmith, Justice Department official Patrick Philbin, and others, who all intend to resign en masse if Bush signs off on the surveillance program without Justice Department support. But Ayres persuades Comey to delay his resignation; in Comey’s words, Ayres “asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me.” Instead of resigning on March 12, Bush meets separately with Comey and Mueller, and promises to make changes in the program (see March 12-Mid-2004). Those changes have never been disclosed, though some changes are later found to be the creation of a secret review court to oversee the surveillance court, and the clarification of what exactly constitutes “probable cause” for surveillance. Comey will testify,…“Director Mueller came to me and said that, ‘The president told me that the Department of Justice should get this where it wants to be—to do what the department thinks is right.’ And I took that mandate and set about to do that, and I accomplished that.” [Newsweek, 1/9/2006; National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; New York Times, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Goldsmith recalls his surprise when Congress later approves the program and brings it somewhat under the supervision of the FISA court. “I was sure the government was going to melt down,” Goldsmith says in 2007. “No one anticipated they were going to reverse themselves.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Did Gonzales Break the Law? - It is also possible that Gonzales and Card may have broken the law in discussing classified information in a public venue. “Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace,” says law professor Neal Katyal, a national security adviser under Bill Clinton. “The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power. And the NSA program is particularly sensitive. One government official familiar with the program notes, “Since it’s that program, it may involve cryptographic information,” some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community. The law governing disclosure of classified information is quite strict, and numerous government and military officials have been investigated for potential violations in the past. “It’s the one you worry about,” says the government official. Katyal says that if Gonzales did indeed break the law, the Justice Department cannot run any investigation into the matter: “The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations.” Many others are dismayed and confused by the contradictions between the absolute secrecy surrounding the program, and Gonzales’s and Card’s willingness to openly discuss it in such an insecure location, and in front of witnesses not cleared to hear details about the program—including Ashcroft’s wife, who is present in the room while the officials seek her husband’s signature. Former NSA general counsel Elizabeth Parker says not enough is known about the meeting to be sure whether or not the law was broken. “Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don’t divulge highly classified information,” she says. “The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can’t allow it to be discussed in a Congressional setting, even a closed Congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens.”
'Horrible' Judgment - John Martin, who oversaw Justice’s counterintelligence division for 26 years, calls Gonzales’s and Card’s attempt to override Comey’s authority as acting attorney general as more than just “bad judgment.” Martin calls their judgement “horrible…they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey’s actions were heroic under the circumstances.” [Time, 5/17/2007]
Snow Dismisses Concerns - In May 2007, after Comey’s testimony to the Senate hits the media, White House press secretary Tony Snow dismisses any concerns about the inappropriateness of Gonzales’s and Card’s pressuring of Ashcroft in his hospital room, and skips over the fact that Comey, not Ashcroft, had the final authority of the Attorney General at the time. “Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?” Snow will say of Ashcroft. “Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had. But the fact is that there were strong protections in there, this program has saved lives and it’s vital for national security and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way.” Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) has a different take on the incident: “What happened in that hospital room crystallized Mr. Gonzales’ view about the rule of law: that he holds it in minimum low regard.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. [Time, 5/17/2007]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Elizabeth Parker, Janet Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Martin, David Ayres, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, US Department of Justice, Charles Schumer, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Tony Snow, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick F. Philbin, Neal Katyal
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it clarifies the OLC’s advice on classified foreign intelligence activities. Goldsmith sends another classified memo on the same topic to Deputy Attorney General James Comey the next day, a followup memo to Comey three days later, and a followup to Gonzales the day after that. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
At around 7:00 a.m., Luis Garrudo Fernandez, a doorman for an apartment building in the town of Alcala de Henares, near Madrid, see three men behaving strangely near a white Renault Kangoo van parked near the local train station. The next day, he will tell the press, “When I saw them I thought they might be armed robbers or something like that… They were all covered up around their heads and necks, and it wasn’t even cold.” He gets close to one of them who is hurrying off towards the station. “All I could see was that he was wearing a white scarf around his neck and something covering the top of his head. You could only really see his eyes.” The others go to the back of the van and take out three big black rucksacks. Fernandez is unable to determine their ethnicity since he cannot see their faces clearly, but he suspects they are foreigners. Forty minutes later, bombs explode on four trains; the trains had started their journeys at the Alcala station (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Fernandez soon tells a neighbor about the strange men. At 10:50 a.m., the neighbor calls the police. What the police find in the van will be the first lead in determining who is behind the train bombings. Fernandez claims the police soon come and inspect the van.
Immediately Told - He says they immediately tell him that they found bomb detonators and a cassette inside. The cassette contains exhortations from the Koran, but Fernandez will not remember them telling him anything about the cassette having an Arabic link. He is then driven to the police station, and on the way there a policeman tells him that he does not believe ETA, the Basque separatist group, is responsible. That evening at about 7:00 p.m., he is asked to look at a series of photographs of Arab suspects.
Contradictory Claim - However, this claim is later contradicted by a police report. While it is not denied that Fernandez gave the initial tip, the report says the van is not searched until about 3:30 p.m., after it has been moved to a different part of town. Eduardo Blanco, the police chief in Alcala de Henares, will later testify in support of the police report and will say that he is not told until that evening that detonators and an Arab cassette have been found in the vehicle. [Guardian, 3/13/2004; Daily Telegraph, 3/15/2004; Expatica, 7/6/2004; London Times, 7/7/2004] The discrepancy is important in determining just how quickly investigators begin to suspect Islamist militants and not ETA are behind the bombing.
Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain. [Source: Rafa Roa/ Cover/ Corbis] (click image to enlarge)At about 7:40 a.m., four trains are bombed in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and injuring about 1,800 more. These are not suicide bombings, but were set by cell phone timers. Basque separatists are initially blamed, but evidence later points to people loosely associated with al-Qaeda. It will later be reported that 34 out of the 40 main people suspected or arrested for involvement in the bombings were under surveillance in Spain prior to the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Most of the bombers had never been to any training camps. In 2006, Spanish investigators will announce that the bombings were inspired by al-Qaeda, but not ordered or funded by al-Qaeda’s leadership. Specifically, the bombers are said to have been inspired by a speech allegedly given by Osama bin Laden in October 2003 (see October 19, 2003). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/9/2006] However, there will also be evidence against this that will not be refuted. For instance, the investigators will claim that all the key participants are either dead or in jail, but a number of them remain free overseas. For example, Amer el-Azizi is implicated in the Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004), and he has links to well-known al-Qaeda figures such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)), Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Before July 8, 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui (see Before August 16, 2001). In late 2002 or early 2003, el-Azizi is said to have met with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the key bombers, to discuss a bombing. He reportedly gave Fakhet permission to stage a bombing in the name of al-Qaeda, but it is unclear if he gave any funding or other assistance. [Associated Press, 4/10/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004] There are suggestions that el-Azizi was protected by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), so the government may not be eager to highlight his involvement. Fakhet, considered one of the three masterminds of the bombings, may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Many of the other plotters also appear to have been informants, and almost all the plotters were under surveillance before the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say later in the month: “If we catch [bin Laden] this summer, which I expect, it’s two years too late. Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq… al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells that are operating autonomously like the cells that operated in Madrid recently.” [USA Today, 3/28/2004] It will be noted that the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and the Madrid train bombings are separated by a total of 911 days. [MSNBC, 3/19/2004; Bloomberg, 4/22/2005]
The white van, impounded in a police parking lot. [Source: Libertad Digital]At 10:50 a.m. on March 11, 2004, Madrid police receive an eyewitness tip pointing them to a white van (see 7:00 a.m., March 11, 2004) left at one of the train stations that had been bombed about three hours earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). One investigator will later say: “At the beginning, we didn’t pay too much attention to it. Then we saw that the license plate didn’t correspond to the van.” [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Police determine that the van was stolen several days before. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] At about 2:00 p.m., police take the van away. Accounts conflict as to whether the van is searched that morning before it is moved or that afternoon after the move (see 7:00 a.m., March 11, 2004). [Guardian, 3/13/2004] Regardless, when it is searched investigators find a plastic bag containing bomb detonators. They also find a cassette tape containing recitations of the Koran. Investigators had immediately suspected ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombings, and in fact at 1:30 p.m. Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes publicly blames ETA for the bombings. But based on the evidence in the van they begin to suspect Islamist militants were behind it instead. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Vidino, 2006, pp. 294] That evening, traces of the explosive Goma-2 are also found in the van. This will further point the investigation away from the ETA, since that group has never been known to use that type of explosive (see (8:00 a.m.-Evening) March 11, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004]
Shortly after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), a police officer finds an unexploded bomb in a backpack under a seat on one of the trains. He moves to a clear spot away from the train and calls the bomb squad. But just as the squad is approaching, the bomb explodes. No one is hurt, and this gives the bomb experts a chance to smell the air to roughly determine what type of explosive was used. [El Pais, 3/24/2004] Word begins to spread within the Spanish government that Titadyne was the type of explosive used in the bombings. Titadyne is the manufactured form of a dynamite normally used by ETA, a Basque separatist group. ETA has a long history of bombings in Spain, and in recent months some ETA members had been caught with Titadyne. So these early reports heavily influence officials as they begin to make public statements blaming ETA for the bombings. However, the bombs are actually made of Goma-2, not Titadyne. The Madrid newspaper El Mundo will later comment, “No expert police, and fewer explosives deactivation specialists, could confuse Titadyne with Goma-2. The odors that cause both substances are as different as a banana and a pear.… The error in transmitting the report can only be intentional.” However, it is unclear where the claim that Titadyne was used came from. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] Police chief Agustin Diaz de Mera is one person who is given a report during the day claiming that Titadyne was used. In 2007, testifying in the Madrid bombings trial, he will cite police confidentiality and refuse to name the source of the report. He will be fined $1,300 for his refusal to answer the question. [Associated Press, 3/28/2007] That evening, traces of Goma-2 are found in a suspicious stolen van linked to the bombers (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004). Late that night, an exploded bomb will be found on one of the bombed trains, and investigators will quickly determine it is made of Goma-2 (see March 12, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] But the government will continue to point blame at the ETA (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). That same evening, an official from the Spanish prime minister’s office calls foreign journalists based in Madrid and tells them that ETA is responsible. One reason given is that Titadyne was used. [El Pais, 3/24/2004]
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