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In the evening of March 11, 2004, a group claims responsibility for the Madrid train bombings that took place that morning. The London-based Arabic Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper claims to have been sent a letter from a group called the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades. Abu Hafs is an common alias for al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2001 (see November 15, 2001). The newspaper received similar letters claiming responsibility for previous incidents. However, some of the group’s claims have been patently false. For instance, the group took credit for the August 14, 2003 blackout in the northeastern US that was caused by technical failure. The Guardian comments, “The authenticity of such letters is difficult to establish, and might anyway be an attempt to spread fear and confusion.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 11/18/2003; Guardian, 3/12/2004] The group will soon stop making claims for attacks and slowly fade away. It is unknown if it ever had any real link to al-Qaeda. But in the crucial first hours after the Madrid bombings, the letter begins to shift public opinion to the possibility that al-Qaeda might be responsible.
Massive demonstrations in Madrid on March 12, 2004. [Source: Associated Press]In the early morning of March 12, 2004, a police officer searching through the wreckage of the Madrid trains bombed the day before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) discovers a bag containing 22 pounds of explosives surrounded by nails and screws. Two wires run from a cell phone to a detonator. Police use the memory chip inside the phone to find who the owner of the phone has called recently. They quickly discover a network of Islamist militants, many of them already under surveillance. They hone in on Jamal Zougam, who owns a cell phone shop that is connected to the phone, and who had been under investigation for militant links since 2000 (see 2000-Early March 2004). He will be arrested a day later. But the ruling party has already blamed the bombings on ETA, a Basque separate group (see Evening, March 11, 2004). Interior Minister Angel Acebes had blamed ETA within hours of the attacks (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004), and again he publicly claims that ETA is the prime suspect, even though police are now sure that Islamist militants were behind the bombings instead. He even calls those who suggest otherwise “pathetic” and says their alternative theories are “poisonous”. But news that ETA is not to blame is already leaking to the media. That evening about 11 million Spaniards protest around the country—about one fourth of Spain’s population. They are protesting the violence of the bombings, but also, increasingly, growing evidence of a cover-up that attempts to falsely blame ETA. The New Yorker will later comment, “It was clear that the [national election on March 14] would swing on the question of whether Islamists or ETA terrorists were responsible for the bombings.” [Guardian, 3/15/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004]
On March 12, 2004, just one day after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Spanish police ask for the monitoring of two likely suspects in the bombings to stop. Police ask that wiretaps on the phones of Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”) and Othman El Gnaoui be halted. The reason for this request is unknown. Police have been monitored Ahmidan since at least 2002, and have linked him to a group of suspect Islamist militants (see July 2003 and January 4, 2003). Most of the key Madrid bombers will be linked to this group. Police had asked a witness about Ahmidan less than a week before the bombings (see Evening, March 4, 2004). It is not known how long El Gnaoui has been under surveillance, but he was questioned at a police station five days before the bombings, and Ahmidan had frequently called him in late February when both their phones were tapped (see Evening, March 5, 2004). In the early morning hours of March 12, investigators discovered a phone card belonging to Jamal Zougam that was connected to an unexploded bomb (see March 12, 2004). By 10:00 a.m. investigators begin tracing who Zougam called using that phone card. Several hours later, it is discovered that Zougam called Ahmidan and many of his associates. It is not known which comes first, the discovery of a link between Zougam and Ahmidan, or the request to stop monitoring Ahmidan and El Gnaoui’s phones. But it appears the tapping of their phone does come to a stop and is not restarted for some days after that. Interestingly, the police also request to begin monitoring the phones of Rafa Zouhier. He is an informant who had a role in selling the explosives used in the bombings to Ahmidan (see September 2003-February 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Ahmidan will reportedly blow himself up a month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), while El Gnaoui will eventually be arrested and sentenced to life in prison for a role in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Curiously, someone from within a police station will call El Gnaoui four times several weeks after the bombings and then try to hide this from investigators (see March 27-30, 2004).
After senior Justice Department officials object to the possible illegality of the National Security Agency’s secret domestic surveillance program, and refuse to sign off on its continued use, the program is suspended for several months while Justice Department officials conduct a secret audit of the program. Attorney General John Ashcroft will recertify the program at the end of the month (see Late March, 2004). The suspension is prompted by acting Attorney General James Comey’s refusal to approve the program when it comes up for its regular 45-day review, and a subsequent late-night hospital visit by White House officials Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales to the hospital room of Attorney General John Ashcroft, where they unsuccessfully attempt to pressure Ashcroft, recuperating from surgery, to overrule Comey and approve the program (see March 10-12, 2004). Bush himself has personally reauthorized the program over 30 times since its inception after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002), and reauthorizes it himself after Comey and Ashcroft refuse to give it their approval. This reauthorization prompts a threat of mass resignations by Justice Department officials unless the program is brought under increased oversight. Bush will allow the Justice Department to recommend changes to the program, though those changes have never been made public. The Justice Department audits a selection of cases to see how the NSA is running the program, scrutinizing how NSA officials determine that they have probable cause to wiretap US citizens’ phones and e-mail accounts. The results of that audit have not been made public. When the program was first authorized by Bush’s executive order in early 2002, it was so secret that then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who was active in most of the government’s most highly classified counterterrorism operations, was not given access to the program. That decision, among other elements of the program, led many Justice Department officials to worry that the program was operating outside of the Constitution and without proper oversight. Comey, Thompson’s successor, was eventually given authorization to take part in the program and to review intelligence data produced by it. Justice Department officials say that Comey takes part in overseeing the reforms that are put into place during the current audit. However, those reforms do not restrict the NSA’s authority to independently choose its eavesdropping targets, and NSA shift supervisors have the authority to decide for themselves whether there is enough evidence against a US citizen to warrant a secret wiretap. No one at the Justice Department or in the White House needs to be consulted before a wiretap is put into place. [New York Times, 12/31/2005]
President Bush meets privately with acting Attorney General James Comey to discuss the Justice Department’s refusal to reauthorize the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late September, 2001). (Comey will later refuse to discuss the conversation during testimony before Congress.) After the meeting, Bush meets privately with FBI Director Robert Mueller, Comey’s partner in opposing the program (see March 10-12, 2004). After his meeting, Mueller tells Comey, “[W]e have the president’s direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify its legality.” Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write, “Comey, [Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith, and their colleagues spent the next several weeks making a series of undisclosed changes to the warrantless surveillance program—during which time the original program continued to operate, even though the president had been told it was illegal.” Outside experts will later speculate that Comey and Goldsmith had constrained the program’s scope by imposing stricter controls on who can be monitored without a warrant. Some will decide that the program now monitors only communications specifically suspected to have a connection to al-Qaeda, not the more general “suspected terrorism” communications. They will also speculate that the authorization for the program now relies on Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), not the president’s inherent authority as commander in chief. But, Savage will write, the program still allows wiretapping without a judge’s approval, and therefore is still illegal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 188]
Angel Acebes. [Source: Luis Magan / El Pais]At 4:00 p.m. on March 13, 2004, the day before national elections in Spain, Interior Minister Angel Acebes announces on television that Jamal Zougam and two other Moroccans have been arrested for suspected roles in the Madrid train bombings two days before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). A day earlier, evidence found at one of the bomb sites was linked to Zougam (see March 12, 2004), and he had long been monitored for his Islamist militant links (see 2000-Early March 2004). Nonetheless, Acebes continues to suggest that ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombing instead. The ruling party has staked its reputation on its assertion that ETA is to blame. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] That evening, the national public television station even changes its regular television programming to show a movie about Basque terrorism. [Australian, 11/2/2007] But by now the opposition Socialist Party is publicly accusing the government of lying about the investigation in order to stay in power. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Zougam will later be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the Madrid bombings. [Daily Mail, 11/1/2007]
Youssef Belhadj. [Source: Public domain]At 7:30 p.m., on March 13, 2004, the night before national elections in Spain, an anonymous phone caller tells a Madrid television station that there is a videotape related to the Madrid train bombings two days earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) in a nearby trash can. The video is quickly found. It is not broadcast, but the government releases portions of its text to the media that evening. [Associated Press, 3/13/2004] A man on the tape identifies himself as Abu Dujan al-Afghani, and says he is the military spokesman for the “military wing of Ansar al-Qaeda” (ansar means partisan). [New York Times, 4/12/2004] Dressed in white burial robes and holding a submachine gun, he says: “We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two-and-a-half years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies. This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it.” [BBC, 3/14/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342] Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes has been repeatedly blaming ETA, a Basque separatist group, for the bombings (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004 and March 12, 2004). He holds a press conference shortly after the videotape text is made public and encourages the public to be skeptical about the tape’s authenticity. [Observer, 3/14/2004] But more and more Spaniards doubt the official story. El Mundo, the largest newspaper in Madrid, criticizes “the more than dubious attitude of the government in relation to the lines of investigation.” The BBC publishes a story hours before the election is to begin and notes: “If ETA is to blame it would justify the [ruling Populist Party’s] hard line against the group and separatism in Spain. But if al-Qaeda is to blame, however, it would bring into question Spain’s decision to join the United States and Britain in the war on Iraq, something 90 percent of Spaniards opposed.” [BBC, 3/14/2004] The video actually was made by the bombers. A banner shown in the video is found in a safe house used by the bombers about a month later (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), suggesting the video was shot there. [New York Times, 4/12/2004] The spokesman will later be revealed to be Youssef Belhadj. Belhadj will be arrested in Belgium in 2005, extradited to Spain, and sentenced to prison for a role in the Madrid bombings. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342; MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
It was disclosed in 2003 that the NSA had intercepted several calls between hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001 and Summer 2002-Summer 2004). But in 2004, after revelations that the NSA has been wiretapping inside the US, some media begin to re-examine the circumstances of the hijackers’ calls from the US, as the Bush administration uses the example of these calls as a justification for the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program. [New York Times, 12/16/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; US President, 12/26/2005 ] The calls are thought to be a key aspect of the alleged intelligence failures before 9/11. In late 1998, the FBI had started plotting intercepts of al-Qaeda calls to and from the communications hub on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). According to author Lawrence Wright, “[h]ad a line been drawn from the [communications hub] in Yemen to Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s San Diego apartment, al-Qaeda’s presence in America would have been glaringly obvious.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 343-344] In 2006, former NSA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Senate that if the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program had been active before 9/11, the NSA would have raised the alarm over the presence of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in San Diego. [CNN, 5/19/2006] However, reports in the press suggest otherwise. For example, in one newspaper a senior intelligence official will say that it was not technically possible for the NSA, which had a budget of around $3.6 billion in 2000, to trace the calls. “Neither the contents of the calls nor the physics of the intercepts allowed us to determine that one end of the calls was in the United States,” says the official. [Bamford, 2002, pp. 482; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] But another report flatly contradicts this. “NSA had the technical ability to pick up the actual phone number in the US that the switchboard was calling but didn’t deploy that equipment, fearing they would be accused of domestic spying.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It is unclear why concerns about domestic spying allegations would prevent the NSA from passing the information on to the FBI. Almihdhar and Alhazmi were not US citizens, but foreign nationals who had entered the US illegally claiming to be tourists. In addition, there was a wealth of evidence connecting them to al-Qaeda (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). In any event, the NSA did reportedly disseminate dispatches about some of these US calls (see Spring-Summer 2000). Some FBI officials will later profess not to know what went wrong and why they were not notified of the hijackers’ presence in the US by other agencies. A senior counterterrorism official will say: “I don’t know if they got half the conversation or none of it or hung up or whatever. All I can tell you is we didn’t get anything from it—we being the people at the FBI who could have done something about it. So were they sitting on it? I don’t know.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The US intelligence community, through the CIA, also had access to the phone company’s records for the Yemeni communications hub, which would have shown what numbers were being called in the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002).
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, Bush administration (43), US intelligence, Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties
The CIA sends one of its best officers to Germany to interrogate the Iraqi defector known as Curveball (see November 1999 and November 4, 2007). Until now, both Curveball and German intelligence officials have resisted allowing the US to interview Curveball for themselves, but evidence that Curveball is not who he says he is has already surfaced (see June 2003-Late 2003). The CIA officer, fluent in German and experienced at questioning reluctant sources, quickly determines that Curveball is a fabricator. Each night, the officer files a report summarizing the day’s interrogation session, and then follows up with a phone call to Tyler Drumheller, the head of CIA spying in Europe. “After the first couple of days, he said, ‘This doesn’t sound good,’” Drumheller later recalls. “After the first week, he said, ‘This guy is lying. He’s lying about a bunch of stuff.’” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
Unable to Explain Discrepancy in Statements - One key item was Curveball’s inability to explain the discrepancies between his description of the supposed mobile bioweapons facility at Djerf al Nadaf, in particular why there was a wall blocking what Curveball claimed was a secret entrance to a warehouse where mobile bioweapons trucks entered (see Mid- and Late 2001). Drumheller says in 2007, “[T]he key thing, I think, was the wall. He showed him pictures of the wall.” Curveball retorts, according to Drumheller, “‘You doctored these pictures.’ And [the CIA interrogator] said, ‘No, we didn’t.’” Curveball would have no way of knowing about the wall because it had been built in 1997, two years after he had left Djerf al Nadaf. Drumheller recalls, “… Curveball said, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna say anything else.’” [CBS News, 11/4/2007] Curveball never admits he’s lying. “He never said, ‘You got me,’” according to Drumheller. “He just shrugged, and didn’t say anything. It was all over. We told our guy, ‘You might as well wrap it up and come home.’” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
Reporter: Curveball a Liar and Con Artist - In October 2007, reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, calls Curveball “a twitchy, possibly mentally disturbed drunk who was prone to rapid mood-swings and whose story tended to shift according to what he thought investigators wanted to hear.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
The estranged wife of Mouhannad Almallah goes to the judge in charge of the Madrid train bombings investigation and tells him that her husband had been planning attacks in Madrid. So far Jamal Zougam is the main suspect known to the public, as his arrest was announced three days before (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). She says that her husband knew Zougam and talked about doing business with him in Morocco. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/13/2007] A police officer confirms to the judge that she had already discussed many of these connections with police in January and February 2003. At that time, she named her husband, his brother Moutaz Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Basel Ghalyoun, Amer el-Azizi, Jamal Ahmidan, and others (see February 12, 2003 and January 4, 2003). These men will turn out to be most of the key players in the train bombings. All of them have been under surveillance for over a year at her apartment and elsewhere (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). She tells the judge additional details about the Almallah brothers’ links to Abu Qatada, an imam linked to al-Qaeda (see August 2002). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005] Seemingly, her account, plus all the data collected from monitoring these suspects prior to the bombing, should be enough evidence to arrest the suspects. Strangely, many of the suspects continue to live where they lived before the bombing, and continue to use the same phones as before. For instance, Ahmidan, whom she named, lives at the same residence as before until March 18 (see March 27-30, 2004). But there seems to be no urgent effort to arrest or monitor them, nor are their names or pictures published until March 30. In fact, the apartment where Mouhannad Almallah and his wife lived that was monitored for over a year is not raided until March 24 (see March 24-30, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005]
Rafa Zouhier is an informant working for Spain’s Civil Guard. On March 16 and 17, 2004, he speaks to his handler, known by the alias Victor, and gives him vital leads that help break open the investigation into the Madrid train bombings on March 11 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). He mentions that Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” was a key member of the bomb plot. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 343-348] Then, according to phone transcripts, on March 17, 2004, he calls Victor again and correctly tells him the exact street where Ahmidan lives. Zouhier gives further details about what Ahmidan looks like, his car, his family, and so on. Seemingly, the police have enough information to find Ahmidan, but they do not attempt to go to his house. Nine days later, they will talk to Ahmidan’s wife and find out that he was there on March 17 and all the next day. Then, on the March 19, Ahmidan goes to the farm house he is renting where the bombs were built, which the police have yet to search (see March 18-26, 2004). After that, he goes to an apartment in the nearby town of Leganes, where most of the rest of the suspects are staying. So if police would have pursued the lead and then trailed Ahmidan, they would have been led to nearly all the main suspects. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/3/2006] Police will arrest Zouhier on March 19 for not telling them more about the plot, and sooner. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/9/2007] He will eventually be convicted and sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. [MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a police informant, is questioned about the Madrid train bombings that took place one week before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). The previous day, another informant named Rafa Zouhier spoke to police and named Trashorras, Jamal Ahmidan, and others as key figures in the purchase of the explosives used in the bombings (see March 17, 2004). Trashorras and Zouhier allegedly did not tell their handlers about the explosives purchase before the bombings, so they are both arrested and eventually convicted for roles in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Trashorras confesses much information to the police, including the role of Ahmidan and the fact that the bombs were built in a farm house Ahmidan is renting in the nearby town of Morata. Police already are aware of the house because some of the Madrid bombings suspects were monitored meeting there in 2002 and 2003 (see October 2002-June 2003), but it has not been searched since the bombings. By chance, on March 19, Ahmidan returns to the Morata house and has dinner there with his family. However, police still have not acted on Trashorras’s tip and gone to the house, so they miss Ahmidan. Also on March 19, police publicly announce the arrest of Trashorras, causing Ahmidan to finally go into hiding (see March 19, 2004). He goes to the bombers’ hideout in the town of Leganes, which could have led police to most of the other bombers. Hamid Ahmidan, Jamal Ahmidan’s cousin, answers questions about the house to police on March 21 and reveals that many of the bombers were there just before the bombing. But remarkably, police do not search the house until March 26. By that time, Ahmidan and the other bombers who lived there are no longer there. [El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006; El Mundo (Madrid), 9/18/2006; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/25/2008] Ahmidan and many of the other key bomb suspects allegedly blow themselves up in Leganes in early April (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).
Mohamed Haddad. [Source: Public domain]Days after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), multiple witnesses identify a Moroccan named Mohamed Haddad as one of the bombers. For instance, two witnesses claim to have seen him carrying a backpack on the day of the bombing near one of the bomb sites while in the company of two of the other bombers. Further, Haddad has many links to the other arrested bombers. For instance, he was arrested with two of the other bombers in Turkey in 2000 and then let go (see October 10, 2000). Haddad is arrested in Morocco on March 18, but then is soon released. Strangely, the Moroccan government allows him to continue to live in the Moroccan town of Tetouan, but do not allow him to travel or speak to any journalists. Also, Spanish authorities are not allowed to question him. The Madrid newspaper El Mundo will report on this unusual arrangement in September 2004. In August 2005, El Mundo will report that the situation is essentially unchanged. They will comment, “It has not been explained how the Moroccan police, who had arrested thousands of people for militant ties after the 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003), sometimes on scant evidence, leave a suspect at large who could not even prove where he was on the day of the train bombings.” The newspaper will also note that the Spanish government has not indicted Haddad. The article will conclude by asking, “How can it be a man like Haddad has not yet been charged?” [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/14/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 8/1/2005] El Mundo will conclude that this “would mean that Haddad was an informer of [Moroccan intelligence] in Spain or that he knows things that the Moroccans do not want the Spaniards to know.” [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/19/2005]
After the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), many of the suspected bombers remain in Spain and do not attempt to go into hiding, even though it was publicly announced that one of their associates, Jamal Zougam, was arrested on March 13 (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). For instance, Jamal Ahmidan, a figure linked to the two main groups involved in the bombings - the Islamist militants and the drug dealers who helped procure the explosives - remains with his wife and family. Sometimes he goes to a farm house he is renting in the town of Morata near Madrid, where investigators later determine the bombers built the bombs. Beginning on March 17, Spanish police are given evidence tying Ahmidan to the bombings and details about where he lived (see March 17, 2004). On March 18, a police informant named Emilio Suarez Trashorras is questioned and gives the exact location of Ahmidan’s farm house (see March 18-26, 2004). But rather than go to the house, police decide Trashorras is part of the bombings plot since he did not tell his handlers about selling explosives to Ahmidan. They arrest him and publicly announce his arrest the next day, March 19. Ahmidan’s wife Rosa will later explain that she is watching television with Jamal at the farm house when Trashorras’s arrest is announced. Hours earlier, Jamal had actually gone to the Civil Guard near the farm and reported that some goats he owns had been stolen. He immediately goes into hiding at an apartment in the nearby town of Leganes. Other bombers also find out about the arrest of Trashorras and go into hiding at the Leganes apartment as well. Police will not raid Ahmidan’s farm in Morata until March 26 (see March 18-26, 2004). [El Pais (Spain), 3/8/2007]
Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” from 1998 until October 2001, ignites a public debate by accusing President Bush of doing a poor job fighting al-Qaeda before 9/11. In a prominent 60 Minutes interview, he says: “I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.… I think he’s done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.” He adds: “We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al-Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.” He complains that he was Bush’s chief adviser on terrorism, yet he never got to brief Bush on the subject until after 9/11. [CBS News, 3/21/2004; CBS News, 3/21/2004; Guardian, 3/23/2004; Salon, 3/24/2004] Author Philip Shenon will call the interview “gripping” and comment that Clarke is “made for television.” This is because of his “urgent speaking style” and his “shock of white hair and ghostly pallor,” which makes it look like he has “emerged from years of hiding in sunless back rooms of the West Wing to share the terrible secrets he ha[s] learned.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277] The next day, his book Against All Enemies is released and becomes a bestseller. [Washington Post, 3/22/2004] He testifies before the 9/11 Commission a few days later (see March 24, 2004).
A manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, agrees that the agency can release an innocent German citizen named Khalid el-Masri who has been imprisoned in one of the CIA’s black sites for about two months (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004). The CIA has known el-Masri is innocent for some time, but has not yet got around to releasing him (see (February 2004)). However, the manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, makes his release conditional on the German intelligence services promising to follow him once he is free. She is told that as el-Masri is not a terrorist, but innocent, he cannot be put on a watch list, followed, or monitored when making phone calls. Therefore, she is reluctant to let him go and he remains in prison in Afghanistan. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285]
NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw interviews National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Brokaw criticizes Rice’s refusal to appear publicly before the 9/11 Commission because of “national security concerns” while at the same time appearing on a plethora of news broadcasts to defend the administration’s actions surrounding the 9/11 attacks (see March 30, 2004). Brokaw says: “You’ve been meeting with the Commission in private, but you will not go before this very public meeting, citing separation of powers, executive privilege. But your predecessors have gone before Congress in the past. Even President Ford testified about his pardon of Richard Nixon (see Mid-October 1974). Executive privilege is really a flexible concept. Why not go to the president on this issue that is so profoundly important to America, and say, I should be testifying?” Rice defends her decision not to testify under oath and before the cameras, saying: “I would like nothing better than to be able to testify before the Commission. I have spent more than four hours with the Commission. I’m prepared to go and talk to them again, anywhere, any time, anyplace, privately. But I have to be responsible and to uphold the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. It is a matter of whether the president can count on good confidential advice from his staff.” Brokaw replies: “Dr. Rice, with all due respect, I think a lot of people are watching this tonight saying, well, if she can appear on television, write commentaries, but she won’t appear before the Commission under oath. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.” Rice reiterates that she is defending “a constitutional principle,” and insists, “We’re not hiding anything.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write, “The White House, so often masterly in its TV management, particularly when it came to guarding its 9/11 franchise in an election year, was wildly off its game” during this period. Eventually Rice, unable to defend her refusal to testify in light of her frequent public pronouncements, will agree to testify before the Commission (see April 8, 2004). [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
A video still of Nick Berg being tormented by his captors in Iraq. [Source: Reuters]A video of US citizen Nick Berg being beheaded in Iraq is made public and causes widespread horror and outrage around the world. Berg had been working in Iraq with private companies installing communications towers. On March 24, 2004, he is taken into custody. Berg’s family is sent e-mails confirming that he is in US custody (however, US officials will later claim they were erroneously notified and he was in Iraqi government custody instead). The official reasons for his arrest are “lack of documentation” and “suspicious activities.” Regardless of who is holding him, it is not disputed that he is visited three times by the FBI while being held. On April 5, the Berg family launches an action against the US military for false imprisonment, and the next day Berg is released. Berg stays in a hotel in Baghdad for the next few days, and tells a hotel guest that he had been held in a jail with US soldiers as guards. His family last hears of him on April 9, when he tells them he is going to try to leave Iraq. Then, nearly a month later on May 8, his headless body is found dumped on a Baghdad roadside. Three days after that, on May 11, the video of his beheading is broadcast. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004; National Public Radio, 8/14/2004] The video shows five masked men taunting and then beheading Berg, and one of them claims to be Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Two days later, a CIA official says, “After the intelligence community conducted a technical analysis of the… video, the CIA assesses with high probability that the speaker on the tape is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and that person is shown decapitating American citizen Nicholas Berg.” [BBC, 5/13/2004] However, many doubts about the video and the identity of al-Zarqawi surface:
Berg is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit typically worn by detainees in US custody. At the start of the video, he speaks directly to the camera in a relaxed way. The Sydney Morning Herald will later comment, “It is highly likely that this segment is edited from the interrogation of Berg during his 13 days of custody.”
Then the video cuts to scenes including the five masked men. But their Arabic is heavily accented in Russian, Jordanian, and Egyptian. One says “do it quickly” in Russian. A voice also seems to ask in English, “How will it be done?” Glimpses of their skin look white. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
The masked man identified as al-Zarqawi does not speak with a Jordanian accent even though al-Zarqawi is Jordanian. CNN staff familiar with al-Zarqawi’s voice claim the voice does not sound like his. [CNN, 5/12/2004; Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Berg is then decapitated, but there is very little blood. Dr John Simpson, executive director for surgical affairs at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, says, “I would have thought that all the people in the vicinity would have been covered in blood, in a matter of seconds… if it [the video] was genuine.” Forensic death expert Jon Nordby of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators suggests that the beheading was staged and Berg was already dead. He also suggests that Berg appears to be heavily drugged in earlier parts of the video. [Asia Times, 5/22/2004] The Herald comments, “The scream is wildly out of sync, sounds female, and is obviously dubbed.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Al-Zarqawi is the one shown cutting Berg’s throat with a knife, and uses his right hand to do so. But people who spent time in prison with al-Zarqawi and knew him well claim that he was left handed. [New York Times, 7/13/2004]
The timing of the video also raises suspicions, as it is broadcast just two weeks after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal is exposed, and the shock of the beheadings cause some to claim a moral relativism to justify the US military’s abusive behavior towards detainees. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Strangely, Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui somehow used Berg’s e-mail account years before in Oklahoma (see Autumn 1999). US officials call this “a total coincidence.”
The London Times comments that “The CIA’s insistence that al-Zarqawi was responsible appears based on the scantiest of evidence.… Sound experts have speculated that the voice might have been dubbed on.” Further, “There are discrepancies in the times on the video frames.” [London Times, 5/23/2004]
No autopsy is performed on Berg’s body, nor is there any determination of the time of his death. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
No proper investigation of the circumstances surrounding his death is ever conducted. For instance, the US military will tell Berg’s family that they could find no evidence of Berg’s last days in a Baghdad hotel and that no Westerner stayed in that hotel for weeks. But the Washington Post was able to get a copy of the hotel register with Berg’s name on it, along with the date of his checkout, a list of the things he left in his room, and the exact words he said as he left the hotel. [National Public Radio, 8/14/2004]
It will later be reported that the US military was conducting a propaganda campaign to inflate the importance of al-Zarqawi (see April 10, 2006), but it is unknown if Berg’s death was somehow related to this campaign.
Spanish police raid the apartment of Mouhannad Almallah, an Islamist militant suspected of involvement in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). The apartment is owned by his brother, Moutaz Almallah. Mouhannad is arrested, but Moutaz is not, since he has been living in Britain since 2002 (see August 2002). Police also raid another apartment on Virgen del Coro street in Madrid owned by Moutaz, where several other bombing suspects, Basel Ghalyoun and Fouad el Morabit, have lived.
Years of Surveillance - It is surprising police took so long to raid either apartment, since the Almallah brothers have been suspected militants for many years. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005] Moutaz was considered the closest assistant to Barakas Yarkas, long-time head of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, and it appears he was monitored since 1995 because of his ties to Yarkas (see November 13, 2001). He also is known to have lived with the al-Qaeda-linked imam Abu Qatada in London in 2002 (see August 2002). Curiously, a police officer later suspected of a role in the Madrid bombings sold Moutaz an apartment in 1995 and then remained friends with him (see November 1995). [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005; BBC, 3/24/2005]
Wife's Tips Do Not Lead to Arrests - Mouhannad had been a suspect since 1998, when it was discovered that another member of Yarkas’s cell had filed a false document using Mouhannad’s name. Furthermore, in January 2003 Mouhannad’s estranged wife began informing against him and his militant associates (see February 12, 2003 and January 4, 2003). She exposed the brothers’ connections to many suspect militants, including Jamal Zougam, who was arrested just two days after the Madrid bombings (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). As a result of her tips, police had monitored the Virgen del Coro apartment for a year and were still monitoring it when the Madrid bombings took place (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Mouhannad’s wife spoke to police five days after the bombings, reminding them of the link between Mouhannad and Zougam, so it is unclear why police waited 13 days to raid the Virgen del Coro apartment. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005]
Let Go Despite Confessing Knowledge of Attack Plans - Mouhannad is finally arrested because two witnesses saw Ghalyoun, one of the two militants living in the Virgen del Coro apartment, near the Madrid trains when they were bombed. Mouhannad admits knowing Zougam, the main suspect. He says he had gone to Zougam’s shop to buy a charger for his phone. He says he knows Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, another prime suspect in the Madrid bombings, and that in the summer of 2003 Fakhet had proposed several times to “rob banks and jewelers” to finance an attack in Spain. Fakhet even told him that he wanted to go into police stations and kill as many people as possible. The police are also aware that Mouhannad’s brother Moutaz and Fakhet were in telephone contact until at least a few days before the bombings. Yet incredibly, on March 30, Mouhannad is “provisionally released,” while still be accused of having a link to the bombings. He continues to live openly in Madrid and is not rearrested. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005]
Possible Involvement in Planned New York Attack - In the apartment where Mouhannad had been living, police find a sketch of the Grand Central Station in New York with precise annotations, leading to suspicions that some militants in Spain were planning a New York attack. However, it will take investigators several months to analyze and understand the sketch, as it is on a computer disc and accompanied by highly specialized technical data. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005] He will be rearrested in Madrid on March 18, 2005, two weeks after it is widely reported that possible plans for a New York attack were found in his apartment. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005] In 2006, a Spanish police report will conclude that the Almallah brothers had such important roles in the Madrid bombings that the bombings “possibly would not have occurred” without them. [Reuters, 3/8/2007] Mouhannad will eventually be sentenced to 12 years in prison (see March 18-19, 2005).
National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson engages in rather unusual tactics against former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, in response to Clarke’s recent criticisms of the Bush administration’s lack of preparation for the 9/11 attacks (see March 22, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Wilkinson is abetted by CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer.
'X-Files Stuff' - In the CNN studio, Wilkinson twists a passage from Clarke’s book Against All Enemies, saying: “He’s talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and how bin Laden has some sort of mind control over US officials. This is sort of ‘X-Files’ stuff.” [CNN, 3/30/2004] (The precise quote, as reported by the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, is: “Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed.… It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush.” Krugman writes: “That’s not ‘X-Files stuff’: it’s a literary device, meant to emphasize just how ill conceived our policy is. Mr. Blitzer should be telling Mr. Wilkinson to apologize, not rerunning those comments in his own defense.”) [New York Times, 4/2/2004]
'Weird Aspects in His Life' - For his part, Blitzer later says in a question to CNN’s John King: “What administration officials have been saying since the weekend, basically that Richard Clarke from their vantage point was a disgruntled former government official, angry because he didn’t get a certain promotion. He’s got a hot new book out now that he wants to promote. He wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, they’re also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well, that they don’t know what made this guy come forward and make these accusations against the president.”
CNN Clarification - Blitzer’s use of innuendo (“weird aspects in his life”) from unnamed administration sources causes enough of a backlash that Blitzer issues a “clarification” of his remarks: “I was not referring to anything charged by so-called unnamed White House officials.… I was simply seeking to flesh out what Bush National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson had said on this program two days earlier.… Other than that… White House officials were not talking about Clarke’s personal life in any way.” As author and media critic Frank Rich will point out, Blitzer’s clarification is disingenuous in his implicit denial that his administration sources were anonymous, when in fact they were not. [CNN, 3/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119] (Krugman, who blasted Blitzer in his column, responds to Blitzer’s clarification by writing, “Silly me: I ‘alleged’ that Mr. Blitzer said something because he actually said it, and described ‘so-called unnamed’ officials as unnamed because he didn’t name them.”) [New York Times, 4/2/2004] Blitzer eventually admits that his source was not multiple administration officials, but a single official (whom he refuses to name), and that the “weird aspects” of Clarke’s life were nothing more than his tendency to obsess over terrorist attack scenarios. [CNN, 3/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales works on questions that are to be put later in the day by the 9/11 Commission to former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 24, 2004). Clarke has recently gone public with criticisms of the Bush administration and is being attacked by it (see March 21, 2004, March 22, 2004 and Shortly After, and March 24, 2004). The questions are supplied to two Republican commissioners, Fred Fielding and Jim Thompson, who author Philip Shenon will say “were seen as the administration’s most reliable supporters on the Commission.” Some of these questions may actually be asked at the hearing, and Shenon will add, “During Clarke’s testimony, Fielding and Thompson could be seen standing up from the dais periodically and disappearing to a back room to take phone calls, apparently from the White House.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 280] When the communications between the White House and the commissioners come to light after the hearing, critics will call it unethical interference in the hearings. [Washington Post, 4/1/2004] For example, Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey complains, “To call commissioners and coach them on what they ought to say is a terrible mistake.” [New York Daily News, 4/2/2004] In addition to the questions for the commissioners, according to Shenon, Gonzales is in contact with the office of Senator Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, and Frist is “prepared to rush to the Senate floor to denounce Clarke and question his truthfulness as soon as the hearing was over.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 280] Frist will soon ask “[i]f [Clarke] lied under oath to the United States Congress” in closed testimony in 2002. [Washington Post, 3/27/2004]
Richard Clarke sworn in before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: CBC]Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke testifies before the 9/11 Commission. Due to publicity generated by the publication of his book and a controversial appearance on 60 Minutes (see March 21, 2004), it is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, a “true Washington spectacle” and “one of those moments in the capital when anyone of importance in the city [is] in front of a television set.” Shenon will add, “It was being compared by reporters to the sort of drama that John Dean’s testimony provided in Watergate or Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North’s testimony offered in the Iran-Contra affair.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 281-282]
Clarke Offers Apology - Clarke’s opening statement consists of little more than an apology to the relatives of the 9/11 victims. He says: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you. For that failure, I would ask… for your understanding and forgiveness.” This leads to a moment of silence, then gasps and sobs. Shenon will point out, “It was the first apology that the 9/11 families had heard from anybody of importance in the Bush administration,” adding that it “was the moment of catharsis that many of the wives and husbands and children of the victims had been waiting for.”
Praises Clinton, Criticizes Bush - Under questioning, Clarke praises the Clinton administration, saying, “My impression was that fighting terrorism, in general, and fighting al-Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration—certainly no higher priority.” But he is very critical of the Bush administration, stating, “By invading Iraq… the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.” He says that under Bush before 9/11, terrorism was “an important issue, but not an urgent issue.… [CIA Director] George Tenet and I tried very hard to create a sense of urgency by seeing to it that intelligence reports on the al-Qaeda threat were frequently given to the president and other high-level officials. But although I continue to say it was an urgent problem, I don’t think it was ever treated that way.” He points out that he made proposals to fight al-Qaeda in late January 2001. While the gist of them was implemented after 9/11, he complains, “I didn’t really understand why they couldn’t have been done in February .” He says that with a more robust intelligence and covert action program, “we might have been able to nip [the plot] in the bud.”
Republican Commissioners Ask Tough Questions - However, Clarke faces tough questioning from some of the Republican commissioners. Jim Thompson, who had been in contact with the White House before the hearing (see Morning, March 24, 2004), challenges Clarke over a briefing he gave in 2002 (see August 22, 2002 and March 24, 2004), which, according to Thompson, contradicts what Clarke is saying now. In addition, fellow Republican John Lehman confronts Clarke over what he sees as discrepancies between Clarke’s book and his private interviews with the Commission. Clarke replies that the differences arose because the Commission did not ask him about all the issues he covered in his book, such as his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. He adds that he will not accept any position in any administration formed by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Clarke Approved Saudi Flights - Clarke also clears up a mystery about the departure of Saudi Arabian nationals after the attacks, which has caused some controversy (see September 14-19, 2001), saying that he was the White House official that approved them. He did this after clearing it with the FBI, although he does not know “what degree of review the FBI did over those names.” [Washington Post, 3/24/2004; New York Times, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 282-289]
Testimony 'Arresting' - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later call Clarke’s testimony “arresting.” Rich will write that Clarke’s forceful, confident demeanor—“sonorous voice, secret-agent aura, and vaguely intimidating body language”—serves to brush back antagonistic Republicans such as Lehman and Thompson. Rich will write that the juxtaposition of Clarke’s damning testimony with President Bush’s bizarre comedy routine that same evening (pretending to hunt for Iraqi WMD under the Oval Office furniture—see March 24, 2004) is jarring. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
At a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, President Bush refers to the 9/11 attacks, saying, “Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to strike America, to attack us, I would have used every resource, every asset, every power of this government to protect the American people.” He also suggests that his predecessor, Democrat Bill Clinton, was more to blame for the attacks than he was, as the 9/11 Commission is looking at “eight months of my administration and the eight years of the previous administration.” This speech comes one day after his former counterterrorism “tsar,” Richard Clarke, had given damaging high-profile testimony to the Commission (see March 24, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will comment that Bush “was apparently hoping that his audience would forget that the August 6 [Presidential Daily Brief item (see August 6, 2001)] had warned specifically that planes might be hijacked by al-Qaeda within the United States.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 289]
Police have concluded that Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” is one of the main suspects in the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). On March 25, Ahmidan’s wife Rosa begins fully cooperating with police. Two days later, someone calls her from the the telephone number 629247179. That same day, someone calls a man named Othman El Gnaoui from the same number. El Gnaoui is a close associate of Ahmidan. The same phone number is used to call the mobile phone number of a man named Abdelkader Kounjaa four times three days later. He is the brother of Abdennabi Kounjaa, one of the bombers hiding out with many of the other bombers in an apartment in the town of Leganes by this date (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). The police will later tell the judge in the Madrid bombings trial that the person using this phone to make all these calls was Ahmidan. But in fact, in 2005 the judge will learn from the phone company that the phone number actually belongs to the national police. Ahmidan’s wife Rosa will later say she does not remember who called her, and phone records show the call to her lasted less than a minute. These calls have never been explained, but they suggest the police knew where some of the suspects were hiding, took no action against them, and then tried to cover this up. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/23/2007] Curiously, one day after the bombings, police stopped tapping the phones of Ahmidan and El Gnaoui even though evidence linked Ahmidan to the main suspect in the bombings that same day (see March 12, 2004). El Gnaoui will be arrested on March 30 and sentenced to life in prison for a role in the bombings (see March 30-31, 2004). [MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, lambasted by Bush administration supporters (see March 24, 2004) for his criticism of the administration’s foreign policies (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), counters some of that criticism by noting that when he resigned from the administration a year earlier, he was highly praised by President Bush (see January 31, 2003).
Differing Characterizations from Administration - On Meet the Press, Clarke reads aloud the handwritten note from Bush that lauds his service, telling host Tim Russert: “This is his writing. This is the president of the United States’ writing. And when they’re engaged in character assassination of me, let’s just remember that on January 31, 2003: ‘Dear Dick, you will be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor. You have left a positive mark on our government.’ This is not the normal typewritten letter that everybody gets. This is the president’s handwriting. He thinks I served with distinction and honor. The rest of his staff is out there trying to destroy my professional life, trying to destroy my reputation, because I had the temerity to suggest that a policy issue should be discussed. What is the role of the war on terror vis-a-vis the war in Iraq? Did the war in Iraq really hurt the war on terror? Because I suggest we should have a debate on that, I am now being the victim of a taxpayer-paid—because all these people work for the government—character assassination campaign.”
Never Briefed Bush on Terrorism - Clarke also notes that the letter proves he never briefed Bush on terrorism because he was not allowed to provide such a briefing (see Early January 2001). He tells Russert: “You know, they’re saying now that when I was afforded the opportunity to talk to him about cybersecurity, it was my choice. I could have talked about terrorism or cybersecurity. That’s not true. I asked in January to brief him, the president, on terrorism, to give him the same briefing I had given Vice President Cheney, Colin Powell, and [Condoleezza] Rice. And I was told, ‘You can’t do that briefing, Dick, until after the policy development process.’” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; Salon, 3/29/2004]
Administration Should Declassifiy August 2002 Briefing - Clarke also calls on the administration to declassify “all six hours” of the briefing he gave to top officials in August 2002 about the impending threat of a terrorist attack (see August 22, 2002). The administration has selectively declassified material from that briefing to impugn Clarke’s honesty and integrity. “I would welcome it being declassified,” Clarke says. “But not just a little line here and there—let’s declassify all six hours of my testimony.” He also asks that the administration declassify the strategy reports from 2001 that he authored, and all of his e-mails between January 2001 and September 2001, to prove that the charges laid against him by the administration are false. He calls on the White House to end what he calls the “vicious personal attacks” and “character assassination,” and focus on issues. “The issue is not about me,” he tells a CNN reporter. “The issue is about the president’s performance in the war on terrorism.” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; CNN, 3/28/2004]
A report by the inspector general of the US Army’s Combined/Joint Task Force 180 in Bagram, Afghanistan, finds numerous problems with detainee treatment at Bagram and other facilities. The problems include a lack of training and oversight on acceptable interrogation techniques (see July 2002). According to the report, “Army doctrine simply does not exist” at the base, and detainees are not afforded “with the privileges associated with enemy or prisoner of war status” or the Geneva Conventions. 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]
The Sunday Times publishes details of interrogations of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who is being held by the CIA. The article, written by Christina Lamb, indicates the information is from “transcripts” of his interrogations. It also quotes KSM as making various statements, such as “The original plan [for 9/11] was for a two-pronged attack with five targets on the East Coast of America and five on the West Coast.” The report makes the following claims:
KSM introduced Osama bin Laden to Hambali, leader of the Southeast Asian militant organization Jemaah Islamiyah, who KSM first met during the Soviet-Afghan War in Peshawar, Pakistan. KSM was “impressed” with “Hambali’s connections with the Malaysian government,” and bin Laden and Hambali forged an alliance in 1996.
After 1996, KSM became a “key planner in almost every attack, including the simultaneous bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.”
He was the “chief planner” for 9/11 and planning started very early, before his associate Ramzi Yousef was captured (see February 7, 1995), when they hit upon the idea of using planes to attack the US. The plan for 9/11 initially had two parts, one on the US East Coast and the other on the west, but bin Laden canceled the second half. This part was then spun off into a second, separate plot, to be carried out independently, and one of the operatives to be involved was Zacarias Moussaoui. The first two operatives selected for 9/11 were Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, followed by Mohamed Atta and his associates from Hamburg.
Al-Qaeda was very surprised by the US response to the 9/11 attacks. “Afterwards we never got time to catch our breath, we were immediately on the run,” KSM is quoted as saying. He added that the US campaign seriously disrupted operations.
Britain was the next target after 9/11, because, “Osama declared [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair our principal enemy and London a target.” However, a plot to attack Heathrow Airport never got beyond the planning stage.
KSM also described Hambali’s departure from Afghanistan in November 2001, and said the two kept in touch through Hambali’s brother.
The article points out that “the interrogation transcripts are prefaced with the warning that ‘the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead,’” and also mentions some allegations made against US interrogators, including sleep deprivation, extremes of heat and cold, truth drugs, and the use of Arab interrogators so that detainees thought they were in an Arab camp. [Sunday Times (London), 3/28/2004] When it becomes clear what techniques have been used to obtain information from KSM, doubts will be expressed about the reliability of his information (see June 16, 2004 and August 6, 2007). However, most of this information will appear in the relevant sections of the 9/11 Commission report, which are based on reports produced by CIA interrogators. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] Despite this, some of the information contained in the report seems to be incorrect. For example, Abu Zubaida is described as a member of al-Qaeda’s inner shura council, although it appears he was not that close to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). In addition, KSM is described as the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee, although he will later deny this (see March 10, 2007).
Shehzad Tanweer (left) and Mohammad Sidique Khan (right) monitored at the Toddington Services gas station on February 2, 2004. [Source: Metropolitan Police]On March 29, 2004, 18 men suspected of involvement in an al-Qaeda linked fertilizer bomb plot are arrested in raids across Britain. Five of them, including head bomber Omar Khyam, will later be convicted and sentenced to life in prison for roles in the plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Dozens more have been monitored in recent months as part of Operation Crevice, the effort by the British intelligence agency MI5 to foil the plot. Of those not arrested, 15 are classified as “essential targets” deserving heavy surveillance. An additional 40 are classified as “desirables,” with a lower level of surveillance. Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, future suicide bombers in the 7/7 London bombings, are both placed in the “desirables” group. Khan and Tanweer had been monitored repeatedly meeting and talking on the phone with head bomber Khyam. Khan was overheard saying incriminating things, like how he might hold up a British bank with a shotgun (see February 2-March 23, 2004). Incredibly, he was even recorded discussing how to build a bomb, his desire to leave Britain after the bomb went off, plans to wage jihad (holy war), and plans to attend al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan (see May 13-14, 2006). But within weeks of the arrests of Khyam and the others, MI5 is distracted by another big surveillance operation focusing on Dhiren Barot, who is considered an important al-Qaeda leader living in Britain. As a result, the remaining Operation Crevice suspects are given lower priority and in fact Khan and Tanweer allegedly are not monitored at all. Additionally, even though MI5 knows the exact address where Khan lives, local police forces (which are not distracted by the Barot case) are not told that there are potential terrorism suspects who should be monitored. [London Times, 5/1/2007] Investigators will gather information about Khan’s car registration briefly in early 2005 and will learn his full name if they do not know it already, but it seems this will not lead to any more surveillance (see January 27-February 3, 2005). Apparently, Khan is also linked to Barot in some way, yet he is not arrested at the same time Barot and others are in August 2004, and he and the other 7/7 bombers still are not monitored after that (see August 3, 2004). As of 2007, only one of the 15 “essential targets” will be jailed for terrorism-related activity. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007]
Deputy Attorney General James Comey sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The contents of the memo are kept secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that it is a briefing and summary of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)‘s preliminary conclusions regarding the Terrorist Surveillance Program (see March 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
The Bush administration bows to growing pressure in the wake of former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission (see March 21, 2004) and agrees to allow National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify before the Commission in public and under oath. It also agrees that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney can be interviewed in private by the whole Commission. However, according to the New York Times, “In exchange for her appearance, the [9/11 Commission] agreed not to seek testimony from other White House aides at public hearings, although it can continue to question them in private.” [New York Times, 3/31/2004] There was some debate in the administration over whether Rice would testify or not. As she is national security adviser and there are no allegations of criminal wrongdoing, there are good grounds for Rice refusing to testify under the doctrine of executive privilege, and this argument is made in particular by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s counsel. However, Rice insists that she wants to testify. According to author Philip Shenon, she is “uncharacteristically frantic” over the issue. White House chief of staff Andy Card will say, “Condi desperately wanted to do it.” Shenon will write of the decision, which is made by President Bush: “The political pressure on the White House was too great, and Rice’s persuasive powers with the president were more than a match for Alberto Gonzales’s. Rice was as strong-willed as any member of the White house staff. Gonzales was strong-willed until the president told him otherwise.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 289-292] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The dirty little secret about the uproar over Clarke’s revelations were that many of them had been previously revealed by others, well before he published his book. But as the Bush administration knew better than anyone, perception was all, and perception began with images on television. Clarke had given the charges a human face.” The administration is sending Rice to testify publicly before the Commission, Rich will write, in part because she is the most telegenic of Bush’s top advisers, and has the best chance of “rebranding” the story with her face and testimony. [Rich, 2006, pp. 119]
Entity Tags: White House, Frank Rich, Philip Shenon, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, 9/11 Commission, David S. Addington, Andrew Card
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections
On March 30, 2004, Madrid train bombings suspect Othman El Gnaoui is arrested in Spain (he will later be sentenced to life in prison, see October 31, 2007). The next day, the Spanish government finally issues the first international arrest warrants for the bombings. It also publicly names six of the top suspects and releases photographs of them. The named suspects are: Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Said Berraj, Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”), Abdennabi Kounjaa, and the brothers Rachid Oulad Akcha and Mohammed Oulad Akcha. [CNN, 4/1/2004; CNN, 4/2/2004] Jamal Zougam was arrested on March 13 (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). Over the next weeks, more arrests were made. By the end of March, almost 20 suspects have been arrested. But strangely, there appears to be no effort to arrest the main suspects like the six mentioned above, who generally continued to live openly in Spain after the bombings. However, they were aware of the arrest of their associates and by the end of March most of them have gone into hiding, renting an apartment together in the town of Leganes. [Irujo, 2005; Vidino, 2006, pp. 302] Even by the end of the month, authorities appear uncertain about whom to arrest. For instance, on March 30, Fouad El Morabit is arrested, then released, then arrested again. Then he is released again the next day, only to be arrested yet again later. He will eventually be sentenced to 12 years for a role in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). [CNN, 4/1/2004; CNN, 4/2/2004] Other likely suspects such as Allekema Lamari and Abdelmajid Boucher have not been charged or questioned at all by the end of March. All of this is strange, because Spanish intelligence has been monitoring all of the above mentioned people and their associates for at least a year before the bombings, sometimes more, and their phone numbers and addresses are known. When Zougam was arrested on March 13, investigators found he had called many of those mentioned above in the days before the bombings, which seemingly would have been grounds for their arrest or questioning. Adding to the strange situation, most of these suspects continued to live normal lives for many days after the bombings, which would have made their arrests easy. For instance, Ahmidan continued to live with his wife and children until March 19 (see March 17, 2004). He even continued to use his monitored cell phone, visited bars, and talked to neighbors. [El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006] On April 2, the Madrid bombers apparently will try to bomb another train (see 11:00 a.m., April 2, 2004). One day after that, seven of the bombers, including Fakhet, Ahmidan, Kounjaa, and the Akcha brothers, apparently blow themselves up after a shootout with police (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). Berraj is a government informant despite being listed as a wanted man (see 2003), and will never be charged in the bombings.
Ahmed Chalabi, a member of Iraq’s governing council, meets with the Baghdad station chief for Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and informs him that the US has broken the code used to encrypt Iran’s intelligence communications. Chalabi says that he learned about the code-break from a drunken American official. A frantic exchange of communications takes place between the Iranian agent and Tehran concerning Chalabi’s claim. The US intercepts and decodes all of them, revealing Chalabi’s role. When the story is broken in the press, Chalabi denies having passed classified information to the Iranians. [Newsweek, 5/10/2004; New York Times, 6/2/2004; CBS News, 6/3/2004; News Insight, 6/9/2004]
Future 7/7 London bomber Shehzad Tanweer is questioned by police over a murder in Leeds, but no charges are brought against him. The victim, a mixed-race 16-year-old named Tyrone Clarke, was apparently involved in gang warfare. He was cornered by a group of up to 20 Asian youths, who beat him with baseball bats and metal poles, as well as stabbing him three times. Tanweer was seen with the attackers that evening, but there is no proof he was involved in the actual murder. Four of the youths are later identified and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 273]
An attempted raid is made on al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi in Abbottabad, Pakistan, as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will describe in a 2006 memoir. Pakistani forces have arrested one of al-Libbi’s couriers, and found out from him that al-Libbi has just rented a house in Abbottabad. Pakistani forces raid the house, but al-Libbi is not there. They will later determine he was using three houses in Abbottabad and they raided the wrong one. [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 210-211] Al-Libbi will be captured in Pakistan a year later (see May 2, 2005). Osama bin Laden begins living in Abbottabad around late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006). His trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed already lives there in 2004 (see January 22, 2004-2005). (Note that US forces also attempt to catch al-Libbi in Abbottabad in 2004, but it is unclear if that raid is this one or a different one (see 2004).)
Two senior CIA managers, Counterterrorist Center head Jose Rodriguez and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, are informed that an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri is being held at one of the agency’s black sites in Afghanistan. The news comes about as a result of dissatisfaction on the part of some officers that the agency is holding an innocent man and refusing to release him (see Late March 2004). According to author Jane Mayer, “a lawyer for the [Counterterrorist Center] surreptitiously alert[s] a lawyer for the European division—which ha[s] an interest in [el-]Masri because of his German citizenship—that he [is] innocent. Together the CIA lawyers scheme […] about how to get [el-]Masri released.” A senior European division officer then goes to see Rodriguez, who had heard that el-Masri is, in Mayer’s words, a “tremendous catch.” However, the officer tells him, “It’s the wrong Khalid el-Masri.” (Note: some of the 9/11 hijackers knew a different man of the same name.) Subsequently, Pavitt is also informed of the problem. Mayer will comment, “Yet for months after these senior CIA officers were warned that the agency was holding an innocent man in dire circumstances, the situation continued.” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285]
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) is temporarily released in Egypt, where he was taken by the CIA after being abducted (see Noon February 17, 2003). He makes a series of phone calls to family members and acquaintances in Milan, Italy, saying he was kidnapped, taken by English- and Italian-speaking men, put on a plane with a US flag on it, and held in prison for a year, but is now under house arrest. In one of the calls, Nasr tells his wife: “I was very close to dying. But I don’t think about death anymore.… I am deeply saddened because I wasn’t able to do what I had planned to do in Italy.” He says that he has been tortured—subjected to freezing temperatures and electric shocks, among other forms of abuse (see Late February 2003 or Shortly After). He also warns religious colleagues at the Islamic Cultural Center in Milan that his Egyptian interrogators want to abduct another three people. He is soon rearrested by the Egyptian authorities because of the calls. The calls are recorded by Italian investigators, who have had him under surveillance for some time. [Washington Post, 12/6/2005; GQ, 3/2007 ] Armando Spataro, an Italian prosecutor who had previously worked with the CIA on surveillance of Nasr in Milan, learns of the calls. As the CIA’s practice of rendition is well known, he is unsurprised the agency had played a role in the operation, and also feels Italian intelligence may have been involved. However, the first call the Italians intercept from Nasr in Egypt causes them to try to determine the exact circumstances of the kidnap. According to GQ magazine, Spataro considers the rendition a “national embarrassment” and a “clear violation of Italian sovereignty and law.” [GQ, 3/2007 ] Nasr will be released again in 2007 (see February 11, 2007).
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the failed watchlisting of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and May 15, 2001) and the failure to obtain a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001), is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission. He tells them that nobody in the US intelligence community looked at the bigger picture and no analytic work foresaw the lightning that could connect the thundercloud [i.e. increased reporting that an al-Qaeda attack was imminent] to the ground [i.e. the cases that turned out to be connected to 9/11 such as the search for Almihdhar and Alhazmi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and the Phoenix memo]. The 9/11 Commission will agree with this and write in its final report: “Yet no one working on these late leads in the summer of 2001 connected the case in his or her in-box to the threat reports agitating senior officials and being briefed to the President. Thus, these individual cases did not become national priorities.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277] However, Wilshire was receiving such threat reporting. For example, he received a report that al-Qaeda was planning an Hiroshima-like attack (see Summer 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 340] Wilshire also repeatedly suggested that Khalid Almihdhar may well be involved in the next big attack by al-Qaeda (see July 5, 2001, July 13, 2001, and July 23, 2001). For example, on July 23, 2001 he wrote: “When the next big op is carried out by [bin Laden] hardcore cadre, [al-Qaeda commander] Khallad [bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid Almihdhar should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
US Marines patrolling a Fallujah neighborhood. [Source: Stars and Stripes]The Christian Science Monitor examines the reasons why the Iraqi town of Fallujah is such an intransigent area of resistance to the US occupation (see April 28, 2003 and March 31, 2004). Some Americans, such as Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, blame the recalcitrance on the largely Sunni population of Fallujah and its environs, saying that they long for the return of Saddam Hussein to power. “This was a city that profited immeasurably… under the former regime,” Kimmitt says. “They have a view that somehow the harder they fight, the better chance they have of achieving some sort of restorationist movement.”
Simplistic Explanations Inaccurate - However, Iraqi experts on the region say the truth is far more complex. The area is inhabited by a deeply clannish network of tribes and groups, as is much of the so-called “Sunni Triangle.” To many of these inhabitants, personal honor and vengeance is more important than any possible return of the Hussein regime. The problem began in the days after the initial occupation of the area by the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where, according to some experts knowledgeable about the situation, the residents felt dishonored and disrespected by their occupiers. “You can never forget that in this area retaliation is almost the fundamental element of the tribal system, its focal point,” says Sadoun al-Dulame, a Baghdad-based political scientist who grew up in the area as a member of the Dulame tribe. “This is a revenge culture where insults to people’s honor will always be repaid with violence.” The recent upsurge in violence in the area may also have something to do with the 82nd turning control of the region over to the Marines; area insurgents may be testing the new troops. Experts such as al-Dulame say that if Fallujah residents feel that their interests will be protected by a new government (likely to be dominated by the Sunnis’ ancient rivals, the Shi’a), then violence will lessen. But even the most optimistic estimates say that peace in the region is a year or more away.
Confluence of Factors - According to an analysis by Iraq expert Amatzia Baram, Fallujah has a large population of members of Hussein’s Albu Nasser tribe, and large numbers of ex-Iraqi Army and Iraqi intelligence personnel. Most of the Sunnis in the area are devoutly, rigidly religious, strongly influenced by the Salafy traditions of neighboring Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Other hotbeds of violence such as Tikrit are influenced by Turkey and are less fundamentalist in their religious outlooks. “It’s gone beyond ‘you killed my cousin so I have to kill you,’” says Baram. “It’s about religion.” Worse for the Americans, there is a fundamental difference in the way the two cultures approach war. “If I kill someone from your tribe, I know another member of my tribe will definitely be killed,” Baram says. “But people in Fallujah have learned that when they kill Americans nothing much happens. They learned that the Americans have different values, and this makes killing an American less dangerous than killing someone from another tribe.” Experts such as Nadhim Jissour, another political scientist, say that even after US forces leave the region, Fallujah could still be an axis of resistance to a new Iraqi government. As for current US plans to escalate its presence in the region, these are likely to be less than effective. “If you hit the whole city, you will simply be expanding the circle of your opponents,” says al-Dulame. “There’s not much the Americans should do now but withdraw.” [Christian Science Monitor, 4/2/2004]
The Army issues a classified “Information Paper” entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” that details the status of 62 investigations into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cases documented in the paper include allegations of assaults, physical assaults, mock executions, sexual assaults, threatening to kill an Iraqi child to “send a message to other Iraqis,” stripping detainees, beating them and shocking them with a blasting device, throwing rocks at handcuffed Iraqi children, choking detainees with knots of their scarves, and interrogations at gunpoint. The document will be released to the public by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see May 2, 2006). Of the 62 cases, 26 involve detainee deaths. Some have already gone through courts-martial proceedings. The cases involve allegations from Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Camp Bucca, and other sites in Mosul, Samarra, Baghdad, and Tikrit, and the Orgun-E facility in Afghanistan. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
Two officers in the CIA’s European division hatch a plan to free an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri who has been held at an agency black site since January (see January 23 - March 2004). The plan, which is termed a “reverse rendition,” is basically to take el-Masri out of prison, fly him somewhere, drive him round in circles for a few hours, and then let him go. However, a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is opposed to this plan. The manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, had been the driving force behind el-Masri’s rendition to Afghanistan in the first place and had previously put obstacles in the way of his release (see Late March 2004). Now, she still argues that el-Masri is a terrorist. Author Jane Mayer will comment on why Bikowsky’s opposition carries weight: “She had an unusual amount of clout in the agency. She was smart and tough. And her trump card was that she sometimes personally briefed President Bush.” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285-286] Despite Bikowsky’s opposition, a version of the “reverse rendition” plan will be implemented at the end of May (see May 29, 2004).
Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, served as a government informant from late 2001 to June 2003, informing on a group of the Madrid train bombers, including mastermind Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet (see September 2002-October 2003). At 7:00 a.m. on April 3, 2004, about three weeks after the Madrid train bombing (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Farssaoui is picked up by a police car where he is living in Almeria, Spain, and driven about 350 miles to Madrid. Around noon, he is taken to a meeting of police officers, some of whom he knows from his time as an informant.
Holed Up - He is told that Fakhet and many of the other bombers are holed up in an apartment in the nearby town of Leganes. A police chief named Guillermo Moreno asks him to visit them and find out exactly who is there. But Farssaoui is scared and refuses to go. He points out that he has not seen any of the bombers for almost a year, and if he suddenly shows up without explaining how he knew where they were hiding they will realize he is an informant and probably kill him. He overhears an agent of UCI, the Spanish intelligence agency, speaking about him on the phone, saying, “If this Moor talks, we are f_cked.” Farssaoui, a Moroccan, will reveal this under oath as a protected witness during the trial of the Madrid bombers in 2007. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/7/2007]
Contradiction - This testimony will directly contradict earlier testimony by police inspector Mariano Rayon (one of Farssaoui’s handlers), who will claim the police only learn that the bombers are holed up in the Leganes apartment between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. that day. The police will surround and attack the apartment that evening, killing seven of the bombers inside (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). Farssaoui will say he is very glad he did not go into the apartment, because if he did, “there would be eight dead people,” not just seven. [Libertad Digital, 3/7/2007]
A group of the suspected Madrid train bombers are holed in an apartment in the town of Leganes, near Madrid. Around 7:00 a.m. on April 3, 2004, members of GEO, an elite Spanish police unit, receive orders that they should prepare for a major operation. At about the same time, a government informant is picked up and driven to near the Leganes apartment (see 7:00 a.m.-Noon, April 3, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] There will later be controversy as to just when the authorities discovered the apartment.
The March 2004 Madrid train bombings were not suicide bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and most of the key bombers remain in Spain, holed up in an apartment in the town of Leganes, near Madrid. By April 3, 2004, Spanish police are tipped off about the general location of the apartment from monitoring cell phone calls. Agents from the Spanish intelligence agency, the UCI, arrive near the apartment around 2:00 p.m. The head of the UCI unit on the scene will later say that he is told around this time that the specific floor where the suspects are has been pinpointed through phone intercepts, but he will not recall who tells him this. At about 5:00 p.m., one of the suspected bombers, Abdelmajid Boucher, goes outside to throw away the trash. He spots the plainclothes agents surrounding the house and runs away. The agents pursue him but he gets away. Presumably, he soon calls the other men in the apartment to let them know the police are outside. A gunfight breaks out between the police and the men in the apartment. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007] During the several hours of shooting, the bombers make a series of phone calls to relatives, telling them good-bye. They also allegedly somehow call radical imam Abu Qatada three times, even though he is being held in a maximum security prison in Britain, and get religious approval for their planned suicides (see Between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m., April 3, 2004). When police assault the apartment shortly after 9:00 p.m. that evening, the seven bombers still there are reportedly huddled together and blow themselves up (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 360-361] In late 2005, Boucher will be arrested while traveling through Serbia by train. He will be extradited to Spain and sentenced to 18 years in prison (see October 31, 2007). [Washington Post, 12/1/2005]
By about 6:00 p.m. on April 3, 2004, a group of seven suspects in the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) are trapped in an apartment in the town of Leganes near Madrid and are engaged in a shootout with the police force surrounding them (see 2:00-9:00 p.m., April 3, 2004). This group of Islamist militants is said to be inspired by radical imam Abu Qatada, who has been held in the Belmarsh high security prison in Britain since 2002 (see October 23, 2002). Spanish police will later claim that these suspects call Qatada three times during the shootout, seeking religious authorization to commit suicide since they have been cornered by police. UPI will comment, “Madrid police could not explain how the terrorists could telephone somebody supposedly in a British prison.” They also call people in Indonesia and Tunisia who are said to be linked to suspected terrorists. They receive the permission from Qatada. Then they purify themselves with holy water from Mecca and dress in white funeral shrouds made from the apartment’s curtains. [United Press International, 5/14/2004] The seven suspects allegedly blow themselves up when police start to raid their apartment shortly after 9:00 p.m. (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).
The explosion in the Leganes apartment. [Source: Associated Press]The March 2004 Madrid train bombings were not suicide bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and most of the key bombers remain in Spain, holed up in an apartment in the town of Leganes, near Madrid. The police surrounded them in the early afternoon and a several hour shootout began (see 2:00-9:00 p.m., April 3, 2004). GEO, an elite police unit, arrives around 8:00 p.m. The head of GEO will later testify that he decides to assault the apartment immediately because of reports they have explosives. The entire area has already been evacuated. There reportedly is some shouting back and forth, but no negotiations. One of the bombers reportedly shouts, “Enter, you suckers!” At 9:30, the GEO unit knocks down the door to the apartment with explosives and throws tear gas into the room. But the bombers are reportedly huddled together and blow themselves up. One GEO agent is also killed in the explosion. The bombers killed are: Allekema Lamari, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Abdennabi Kounjaa, Arish Rifaat, Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”), and the brothers Mohammed Oulad Akcha and Rachid Oulad Akcha. Others are believed to have escaped during the shootout. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 360-361; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/22/2007] Lamari, Fakhet, and Ahmidan are thought to have been the top leaders of the plot. [BBC, 3/10/2005] It will later emerge that close associates of both Fakhet and Lamari were government informants (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004), and that Spanish intelligence specifically warned in November 2003 that the two of them were planning an attack in Spain on a significant target (see November 6, 2003). Furthermore, Fakhet himself may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003).
The New York Times reports that the Bush administration has recently spurned a request for 80 more investigators to track and disrupt the global financial networks of US-designated terrorist groups. The IRS requested the increase to their current staff of 150 investigators focused on terrorism, but the Bush administration cut the $12 million item in their final proposal to Congress. The New York Times says the value of the request “seems beyond dispute” and notes that the IRS is severely underfunded in general. [New York Times, 4/4/2004]
Video footage taken from the Leganes apartment. [Source: Spanish Interior Ministry]On April 3, 2004, seven of the key Madrid train bombers reportedly blow themselves up in an apartment in the town of Leganes near Madrid (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), and investigators soon find interesting evidence in the wreckage. A video is found showing three of the bombers wearing masks, holding guns, and making threats. One of them reads a statement in the name of the “Al Mufti Brigades” and “Ansar al-Qaeda” giving Spain one week “to leave Muslim lands.” Failing this, they say, “we will continue our jihad until martyrdom.” Apparently this is in response to the new Socialist government in Spain announcing that it would double its number of troops in Afghanistan while withdrawing troops from Iraq. Evidence will also be found that the group was planning to bomb some local targets, possibly including a Jewish community center. Investigators believe the video was meant to be shown after the group had bombed again. It is unclear exactly who is in the video or when it was made, but the speaker is believed to be Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. [Guardian, 4/9/2004; New York Times, 4/14/2004] Investigators also find various jihadist manuals, including some that give advice on how to resist interrogations. [El Pais (Spain), 2/18/2007]
The 9/11 Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, say that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. Interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kean refers to the list of failures before the attacks, saying, “If we had been able to put those people on the watch list for the airlines, the two who were in this country [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi]; again, if we’d stopped some of these people at the borders, if we had acted earlier on al-Qaeda when al-Qaeda was smaller and just getting started even before bin Laden went to Afghanistan, there were times we could have gotten him, there’s no question.” Hamilton adds: “Well, there’s a lot of ifs. You can string together a whole bunch of ifs. And if things had broken right in all kinds of different ways, as the governor [Kean] has identified, and many more, and, frankly, if you’d had a little luck, it probably could have been prevented.” [NBC, 4/4/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 263]
A 27-year-old Iraqi male dies during his interrogation by US Navy SEALs in Mosul. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later find (see October 24, 2005) that during his confinement, “he was hooded, flex-cuffed, sleep deprived, and subjected to hot and cold environmental conditions, including the use of cold water on his body and hood.” The cause of death is officially “undetermined,” though the autopsy speculates that the prisoner may have died from hypothermia and/or related conditions. Notes from his interrogators say that he “struggled/ interrogated/ died sleeping.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
A little more than a year after the creation of his office, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Steven A. Cambone appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee to provide a description of his office’s role and mission and how the military’s intelligence capabilities will be transformed from a cold war era model to one that can respond quickly to the wide variety of non-state asymmetrical threats to US interests that it expects to encounter in the 21st century. He says the military needs to acquire the capability to competently detect threats; develop a “network-centric environment” in which data can be transferred at very high speeds to all levels of the military; achieve maximum interoperability between its network systems through the adoption of common standards (see July 27, 2001); improve the acquisition and sharing of human intelligence; gain the ability to quickly relay actionable intelligence to soldiers in the field; and achieve the capability of persistent surveillance (“the ability to monitor, track, characterize, report and update at short intervals on specific activities at a fixed location, moving objects such as trains, convoys or military movements, as well as changes occurring to the surface of the earth”). He says that the Pentagon’s Space Based Radar (SBR) “in combination with other complementary space and airborne systems” could bring the US “much closer to realizing persistent surveillance.” The military wants to know “something of intelligence value about everything of interest to us, all the time,” he says. [US Congress, 4/7/2004; New York Times, 11/13/2004]
Mohammed Junaid Babar. [Source: CBS News]On April 10, 20004 a Pakistani-American al-Qaeda operative named Mohammed Junaid Babar is arrested by federal agents in Long Island City, New York. Babar has just flown to the US from Britain four days earlier, after a group of his associates were arrested for planning a fertilizer bomb plot (see March 2003 and After). Babar begins cooperating with the authorities almost immediately. He confesses to:
Participating in the bomb plot.
Meeting senior al-Qaeda leaders in the Pakistani tribal region.
Buying supplies, including night-vision goggles, for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Passing funds to al-Qaeda from supporters in Britain.
Setting up a militant training camp in Pakistan.
Arranging lodging and transportation for recruits attending his camp.
Babar’s arrest is not immediately made public. On June 3, he secretly pleads guilty to charges of supporting a terrorist organization. His arrest is made public on June 11. He faces up to 70 years in prison, but will have his sentenced greatly reduced in return for fully cooperating and testifying against others. Babar grew up in the US, but went to Pakistan shortly after 9/11 to fight with al-Qaeda. He was interviewed on television there several weeks after 9/11 proudly proclaiming his desire to kill Americans, and as a result was put on a US watch list and monitored. He spent the next years traveling between Pakistan and Britain, and was even monitored heading to a secret al-Qaeda summit in Pakistan in March 2004 (see Early November 2001-April 10, 2004 and March 2004). [CNN, 6/11/2004; Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2004]
In early April 2004, an al-Qaeda operative named Mohammed Junaid Babar is arrested in the US and tells the FBI all he knows about his militant associates and activities in return for a lighter sentence (see March 2004). Babar knows the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, Mohammad Sidique Khan. In fact, he and Khan attended an al-Qaeda training camp together in the summer of 2003 (see July-September 2003). However, Babar only knows Khan by his alias “Ibrahim,” as operatives usually use an alias for security purposes. There are conflicting accounts as to what the British intelligence agency MI5 tells the FBI about Khan and what the FBI tells MI5 about him, and why knowledge of him does not stop the 7/7 bombings.
"Trouble" and "Should Be Checked Out" - According to the Independent, Babar tells the FBI some time before the 7/7 bombings that “Ibrahim” is “trouble” and “should be checked out.” He knows that “Ibrahim” has learned how to use weapons and explosives in a training camp and had plans to return to Pakistan to attend another training camp. [Independent, 4/30/2007]
Khan in Database - According to Newsweek, at some point before the 7/7 bombings, British officials send US intelligence agencies a database on about 2,000 people identified as contacts to a group of men arrested in March 2004 as part of a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain. The main plotters were arrested just days before Babar was, and he knows all of them. US officials later tell Newsweek that this database contains “sketchy” information about Khan and another 7/7 bombing suspect. [Newsweek, 6/21/2006]
Not Recognized in Photos - The London Times reports that a batch of surveillance photos are sent to the US to be viewed by Babar. But MI5 judges the quality of the two pictures they have of Khan (a black and white closed-circuit television image and a covertly taken color photo) too poor to be included. However, Scotland Yard does send pictures of Khan, and Babar fails to recognize him. [London Times, 5/1/2007]
Recognized in Photos - However, an Associated Press story claims that Babar does recognize Khan “from a blurred surveillance photograph” and also warns that Khan has sought meetings with al-Qaeda leaders. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007]
Photos Kept from Inquiry - It emerges that an official investigation into the 7/7 bombings by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was only shown one surveillance photo of Khan. However, MI5 in fact had at least six photos of him. [Daily Mail, 5/2/2007]
Photo Identification Still Unresolved - In 2008, Babar will mention in court that he did tell the FBI about “Ibrahim” roughly a year before the July 2005 7/7 bombings. He told the FBI in detail how “Ibrahim” attended a training camp in Pakistan, and even appeared in a video promoting jihad in Britain with his face covered. However, Babar does not mention identifying him (or failing to identify him) in a photograph before the 7/7 bombings. [London Times, 4/19/2008] Khan and Babar were also monitored meeting with each other in England in 2003 (see 2003).
Former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center Cofer Black tells the 9/11 Commission: “[U]nfortunately, when Americans get killed, it would translate into additional resources. It’s a constant track: either you run out, or people die, when people die you get more money.” He says this at the end of his prepared statement in a section dealing with what he says is a lack of funds at the CIA for counterterrorism. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Emilio Suarez Trashorras. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]Spanish government officials announce that the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) were funded largely by drug money. The bombers bought the explosives from a criminal using drugs as payment. The criminal, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, will turn out to also work as a government informant, informing about drug deals (see June 18, 2004)). The bombers also use profits from drug sales to rent an apartment, buy a car, and purchase the cell phones used as detonators in the bombs. No estimate is given as to just how much money the plotters made by selling drugs. But because of these profits the bombers apparently do not need any money from militants overseas. [Associated Press, 4/14/2004] One of the main bombers, Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” was a long time dealer in hashish. [Irujo, 2005] Several months before the bombings, he shot someone in the leg for failing to pay for the drugs he had given them. [New York Times Magazine, 11/25/2007]
In a public interview with the 9/11 Commission, CIA Director George Tenet falsely claims that he had no communication with President Bush during August 2001, a period when the CIA was aware of increasing signs al-Qaeda would attack the US. Tenet actually met Bush at least twice during this period (see August 17 and 31, 2001). The claim is made in a question and answer session with Commissioner Tim Roemer, who asks Tenet about it because of its links to the mid-August arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui and Tenet’s knowledge of this (see August 17 and 31, 2001, August 23, 2001, and September 1-8, 2001).
"I Don't Believe I Do" - When Roemer asks Tenet “when do you see him [Bush] in August?” Tenet replies, “I don’t believe I do.” Roemer asks again and Tenet, who spent days reading documents to be ready for his discussions with the 9/11 Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), says: “He’s in Texas, and I’m either here or on leave for some of that time. So I’m not there.” When asked about whether he spoke to Bush on the phone in August, he says, “we talked to him directly through the spring and early summer almost every day,” but he himself did not speak to Bush in August.
Bombshell - Roemer thinks the admission CIA Director Tenet did not talk to the president for a month during a period of increased threat is a “bombshell,” and is aware that others on the commission believe that Tenet has repeatedly lied to them (see January 22, 2004 and July 2, 2004). However, as Tenet denies there were any such meetings or conversations and Roemer does not know otherwise yet, he cannot pursue the topic and moves on to the question.
Furious - However, Tenet’s statement is quickly discovered to be untrue, and later that day the CIA’s press office calls round Washington informing reporters that Tenet “momentarily forgot” about the two briefings. Roemer is then “furious” with Tenet. He had wanted to withhold judgment on Tenet despite the criticism from the Commission’s staff, but now decides that he can “assume the worst about Tenet’s veracity—and the worst about what had happened in August between him and the president.”
'Hotter than Hades - Roemer is especially skeptical of Tenet’s claim he does not recall that he flew to Texas in the middle of August: “It’s probably 110 degrees down there, hotter than Hades… You make one trip down there the whole month and you can’t remember what motivates you to go down there to talk to the president?” Roemer’s suspicion that Tenet and Bush talked about domestic terrorism will later be supported by a section in a 2007 book by Tenet, which says, “a few weeks after the Aug. 6 PDB [entitled “Bin laden Determined to Strike in US”] was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events.” In the book, Tenet will recall not only flying to Texas, but also being driven around the ranch by Bush and discussing the plants and animals on it with him. [Washington Post, 4/15/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 361-362]
Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi is confronted by the FBI and agrees to a series of voluntary interviews. He admits to training at a militant training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). He admits to having known al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi while living there. He worked in Afghanistan as a sniper in combat and as an instructor at the training camps until 1995. After getting a gunshot wound, he moved to Boston and drove a taxi. Al-Qaeda operatives Nabil al-Marabh, Bassam Kanj, and Raed Hijazi also moved to Boston and worked at the same taxi company (see June 1995-Early 1999). In 1999, he went to Chechnya and fought as a sniper, returning to the US one month before 9/11 (see Mid-August 2001). On June 25, 2004, Elzahabi is charged with lying to the FBI about the extent of his relationship with Hijazi while living in Boston. In addition, it is claimed that in 1995 he sent a large number of field radios to Afghanistan. Some of this equipment was recovered by US soldiers after 9/11. He is charged with lying about shipping these radios. [Boston Globe, 6/26/2004; Fox News, 6/26/2004] In December 2005, he will be indicted for possessing fraudulent immigration documents and faking a marriage to remain in the US. However, he still has not been tried on the earlier charges. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/8/2005]
Radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, head of the British-based extremist group Al-Muhajiroun, says in an interview with a Portuguese magazine that attacks on London are “inevitable,” “because several (attacks) are being prepared by several groups.” He says that one “very well organized” group in London calling itself al-Qaeda Europe “has a great appeal for young Muslims,” adding, “I know that they are ready to launch a big operation.” He does not explicitly endorse an attack within Britain. But asked if a British Muslim is allowed to carry out a “terrorist attempt” in a foreign country, Bakri replies, “That is another story.” He explains: “We don’t make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents. Only between Muslims and unbelievers. And the life of an unbeliever has no value. It has no sanctity.” [Reuters, 4/19/2004] Presumably, British intelligence takes his warnings seriously, because a group of Al-Muhajiroun supporters were arrested earlier in the month while attempting to build a large fertilizer bomb for an attack in Britain (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004).
An Iraqi detainee named Awayed Wanas Jabar dies in US custody in Husaybah. Jabar has his legs tied to the bars of a window and a strap of engineer tape tied tightly around his midsection. According to the preliminary investigation into his death, “His position resembled that of a person who had been crucified.” One Marine later reports that Jabar seemed “exhausted, with his entire bodyweight appearing to be supported by the strap around his midsection.” He remains in that position for at least 90 minutes before the tape is cut. He dies 15 minutes later. No autopsy is conducted, so it is impossible to determine if he died from asphyxia or other causes. The initial medical report will claim Jabar died after falling out of a window. [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/10/2006; University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, 3/26/2009]
Nek Mohammed in front of a microphone during the signing of the peace accord on April 24, 2004. [Source: Tariq Mahmood / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]A Pakistani army offensive against the al-Qaeda safe haven in the tribal region of South Waziristan ends in victory for al-Qaeda and associated militants (see March 18- April 24, 2004). On April 24, 2004, the Pakistani army signs an agreement with the local militants. They are pardoned and given money to pay the debts they claim they owe to al-Qaeda. One young local militant, Nek Mohammed, emerges as a hero for his fighting against the army offensive. Army commander General Safdar Hussein travels to South Waziristan and signs the agreement with Mohammed in front of a large crowd. One Pakistani politician will later tell PBS Frontline: “It was really shocking to see the Pakistan army entering into agreement with al-Qaeda operatives. It was for the first time after September 11th that any state was not only entering into negotiation with al-Qaeda but establishing peace with their help, which is really amazing.” But the agreement quickly breaks down, as Mohammed publicly vows to fight against the US in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army goes on the offensive, blockading the main town of Wana and preventing goods from entering the region. Pakistan also makes a secret deal with the US, allowing them to attack certain targets in Pakistan with missiles fired from Predator drones. On June 18, Mohammed is killed by a missile fired from a Predator after his location was determined from his use of a satellite phone. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 272-274]
Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Source: Toby Melville / Reuters]In proceedings to revoke the British citizenship of leading London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see April 2003), the British government submits evidence linking him to five established terrorist organizations at a tribunal hearing. Abu Hamza, who has informed for the British intelligence services MI5 and Special Branch (see Early 1997), is said to be linked to:
The Islamic Army of Aden, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen;
The Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA);
Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri and then merged into al-Qaeda;
A Kashmiri group later involved in the London bombings; and
Given the nature of the allegations, authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “If the intelligence agencies already had a dossier like this, why was the cleric not in [court], instead of arguing about whether he could hang onto his British passport.” The hearing is adjourned until January 2005 so that Abu Hamza can ask the government to fund his defense. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 285] He will be arrested one month later because of a US extradition request (see May 27, 2004).
Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement appears before the Supreme Court to argue for the administration in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004). Clement argues that the Court has no role in the White House’s decision to hold suspected terrorists designated as “enemy combatants” without trial or charge. During oral arguments, several of the justices ask Clement if the Bush administration considers itself bound by the Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994). Clement replies, “The United States is signatory to conventions that prohibit torture and that sort of thing, and the United States is going to honor its treaty obligations.” He continues: “I wouldn’t want there to be any misunderstanding about this. It’s also the judgment of those involved in this process that the last thing you want to do is torture somebody or do something along those lines.” That evening, CBS’s 60 Minutes II airs the first photos of tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib (see April 28, 2004). [Oral Arguments, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 4/28/2004 ; Savage, 2007, pp. 188-189]
A Supreme Court Justice, during the oral arguments in the cases of Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, asks how the Court can be certain that government interrogators are not abusing detainees. Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement answers that the court will have to “trust the executive to make the kind of quintessential military judgments that are involved in things like that.” [First, 6/2004 ] The government’s legal strategy is so inflexible in part because of Vice President Cheney, who through his lawyer David Addington refuses to allow the Justice Department to budge from its intransigent position. For months, Solicitor General Theodore Olson and his deputy, Clement, have pled for modest shifts in policy that would bolster their arguments in court. Hamdi has languished in a Navy brig for two and a half years without a hearing or a lawyer. British citizen Shafiq Rasul has been held under similar conditions at Guantanamo for even longer (see November 28, 2001 and January 11, 2002-April 30, 2002). Olson says that Cheney’s position—the president has unlimited authority to order the indefinite detention of anyone suspected of terrorist activity without benefit of counsel or any judiciary intervention—would be easier to argue in court if he could “show them that you at least have some system of due process in place” to ensure against wrongful detention, according to a senior Justice Department official familiar with the issue. But Addington wins the argument, overriding Olson and the Justice Department by his arguments that any such retreat would restrict the freedom of future presidents and open the door to further lawsuits. The Supreme Court will find against Cheney in both the Hamdi (see June 28, 2004) and Rasul (see June 28, 2004) cases. Olson will resign as solicitor general 11 days later. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
There were no pictures allowed of the Bush and Cheney joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Here are commissioners Thomas Kean, Fred Fielding, and Lee Hamilton preparing to begin the testimony. [Source: New York Times]President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney appear for three hours of private questioning before the 9/11 Commission. (Former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore met privately and separately with the Commission earlier in the month.) [New York Times, 4/30/2004; Washington Post, 4/30/2004]
Testifying Together, without Oaths or Recordings - The Commission permits Bush and Cheney, accompanied by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to appear together, in private, and not under oath. Author Philip Shenon will comment that most of the commissioners think this is an “obvious effort… to ensure that the accounts of Bush and Cheney did not differ on the events of 9/11.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 342-343] Their testimony is not recorded. Commissioners can take notes, but these are censored by the White House. [Knight Ridder, 3/31/2004; Newsweek, 4/2/2004; New York Times, 4/3/2004]
Questions Similar to Those Asked of Clinton - The Commission draws its questions from a previously-assembled list of questions for Bush and Cheney that Commission members have agreed to ask. According to commissioner Bob Kerrey: “It’s essentially the same set of questions that we asked President Clinton with one exception, which is just what happened on the day of September 11th. What was your strategy before, what was your strategy on September 11, and what allowed the FAA to be so surprised by a hijacking?” [Washington Post, 4/29/2004]
'Three Hours of Softballs' - After Bush starts the meeting with an apology for an attack by Attorney General John Ashcroft on commissioner Jamie Gorelick (see April 13-April 29, 2004), the Democratic commissioners are disarmed. Commissioner Slade Gorton will comment: “They knew exactly how to do this. They had us in the Oval Office, and they really pulled the talons and the teeth out of many of the Democratic questions. Several of my colleagues were not nearly as tough in the White House as they were when we went in that day.” Author Philip Shenon will call it “three hours of softballs.” Some of the toughest questions are asked by Republican John Lehman, who focuses on money allegedly passed by an acquaintance of the Saudi ambassador’s wife to two of the hijackers (see December 4, 1999). Lehman will say that Bush “dodged the questions.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 343-345]
Cheney Says Little - Although the Commission’s Democrats are expecting Bush to defer to the vice president in his responses, reportedly Bush “thoroughly dominate[s] the interview.” Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, will later recall that Cheney only “spoke five percent of the time.” [Draper, 2007, pp. 292] According to four unnamed individuals that are in the room during the meeting, Cheney “barely spoke at all.” [Gellman, 2008, pp. 344] Gorelick will say: “There was no puppeteering by the vice president. He barely said anything.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 344]
Early Departure - Two commissioners, Lee Hamilton and Bob Kerrey, leave the session early for other engagements. They will later say they had not expected the interview to last more than the previously agreed upon two-hour length. [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
'Unalloyed Victory' for Bush - The press’ reaction is so positive that Shenon will call the meeting an “unalloyed victory” for Bush. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 345]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bob Kerrey, Philip Zelikow, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton, Slade Gorton
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The truck stopped in Kings Bay, Georgia. [Source: Kings Bay Periscope]On May 9, two Israelis are arrested after a high-speed chase in Tennessee. They are found with false documents. [WCYB 5 (Bristol, Va), 5/9/2004] On May 27, two others are arrested after trying to enter an Atlanta military base. Explosives are possibly discovered in their van. [Kings Bay Periscope, 5/27/2004]
Retired General Barry McCaffrey, professor of international security studies at West Point, says that the US is “probably holding around 3,000 people [at] Bagram airfield [in Afghanistan, the US military base at] Diego Garcia, Guantanamo, 16 camps throughout Iraq,” and elsewhere. McCaffrey will repeat his claim in December 2004. [Guardian, 6/2/2008]
A US intelligence analyst at Abu Ghraib tells military investigators that, as per a directive from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002), it is “common that the detainees on [military intelligence] hold in [a facility known as the] hard site were initially kept naked and given clothing as an incentive to cooperate with us.” An interrogator tells the investigators that it is “common to see detainees in cells without clothes or naked,” and says it is “one of our approaches.” Enforced nudity is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Coalition Joint Task Force-7, an Army command in Afghanistan, is still operating under rules of interrogation issued by CENTCOM commander General Ricardo Sanchez in September 2003 and rescinded in October 2003 (see October 12, 2003). This information comes from a report issued by Brigadier General Richard Formica (see November 2004) and from documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (see July 10, 2006). The September 2003 rules allowed for the use of attack dogs, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and “environmental manipulation”—subjecting prisoners to extremes of heat and cold. In February 2004, a JTF-7 officer asked in a memo: “Can you verify that this [the September Sanchez memo] is a valid, signed policy? If not, can you send me (or steer me toward) the current policy?” The officer received a reply consisting of another copy of the September memo. On May 16, 2004, unit commanders become aware that the September memo had been superceded by reading news reports. [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/10/2006] According to the Defense Department, the September memo was “erroneously” provided to JTF-7. The Defense Department credits the Formica investigation for finding the error, which, Defense officials say, was “corrected immediately.… In the months between the policy’s creation and the investigation, some interrogations had been conducted using five unapproved interrogation methods, but none had resulted in abuse.” The official will note: “That’s the important point—we found [the error] and looked into it. When we discovered the error, we corrected it immediately.” [Armed Forces Press Service, 6/17/2006]
A second attempted raid is made on al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will describe in a 2006 memoir. In April 2004, Pakistani intelligence discovered al-Libbi was living in Abbottabad, but it raided only one of his three houses there and missed him (see April 2004). Later in 2004, Pakistani intelligence is tipped off that some important al-Qaeda figure is living in a certain Abbottabad house, and someone else important is supposed to meet him there. Al-Libbi is the visitor, but he sends a decoy to check out the situation first. The decoy is shot and killed, al-Libbi doesn’t show, and the al-Qaeda figure living at the house apparently gets away. Musharraf will not mention if it is ever determined who this person is. [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 211] Al-Libbi will be captured in Pakistan a year later (see May 2, 2005). Osama bin Laden begins living in Abbottabad around late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006). His trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed already lives there in 2004 (see January 22, 2004-2005).
CIA Director George Tenet is informed that the agency has wrongly rendered an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri to a black site in Afghanistan and has been holding him there for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Tenet receives this information at a meeting with all the main participants in the case: a bin Laden unit manager named Alfreda Frances Bikowsky who pushed the rendition in the first place; Counterterrorist Center head Jose Rodriguez and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, who have known of the case for some time but done nothing about it (see (April 2004)); and two European Division officers who have a plan to free el-Masri (see (April 2004)). After they all say their piece, Tenet is, according to author Jane Mayer, “stunned.” He says: “Are you telling me we’ve got an innocent guy stuck in prison in Afghanistan? Oh sh_t! Just tell me—please—we haven’t used ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques on him, have we?” The group then discusses what to do, and one suggestion is to let him go with a large quantity of cash. According to two of Mayer’s sources, Pavitt chuckles, “At least the guy will earn more money in five months than he ever could have any other way!” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286] No definitive decision about what to do is taken, and Tenet goes to see National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see (May 2004)).
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warns L. Paul Bremer, the head of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), that it is likely the huge explosives cache at the Al Qaqaa military facility in northern Babil Province has been looted (see May 2003). In October 2004, a senior Bush administration official will admit that securing the facility was not a major priority at the time; officials were far more concerned with the transfer of authority to an Iraqi government (see June 28, 2004). “It’s not an excuse,” says the official. “But a lot of things went by the boards.” In October 2004, the IAEA will inform the US that at least 380 tons of explosives from the Al Qaqaa cache have gone missing (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). [New York Times, 10/25/2004]
CIA Director George Tenet informs National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the agency has been holding an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri at a black site for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Rice’s demeanor during the meeting will be described as “very flat, as always,” and after hearing the story she says slowly, “Okay.” Tenet then explains the plan to conduct a “reverse rendition,” releasing el-Masri with a large amount of cash, but with no explanation to anyone, including the German government. Rice disagrees with the plan. “Your plan won’t work. We have to tell the Germans. We can’t put the president in the position of telling a lie to our allies,” she says. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is also consulted about the matter, and agrees with Rice’s assessment. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, discussing his two trips to Niger in 1999 (see Fall 1999) and 2002 (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) to investigate whether Iraq was attempting to obtain uranium from that nation, says that in 1999 he never discussed the subject of uranium purchases. Wilson, who met with former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki, says: “At that meeting, uranium was not discussed. It would be a tragedy to think that we went to war over a conversation in which uranium was not discussed because the Niger official was sufficiently sophisticated to think that perhaps he might have wanted to discuss uranium at some later date.” He will later tell Senate Intelligence Committee staffers that Mayaki was leery of discussing any trade issues at all because Iraq was under United Nations sanctions. [FactCheck (.org), 7/26/2004]
Top: training camp surveillance photo of Hussain Osman, one of the ‘copycat’ bombers. Bottom: training camp attendee practicing with a stick for a rifle. [Source: Metropolitan Police, Telegraph]On May 2, 2004, an off-duty British policeman named Paul Burke accidentally discovers a militant training camp in the Lake District region of Britain while jogging through the countryside. He sees a man shouting orders to a group of about 20 men as they line up and put backpacks on. The man leading the group is an Islamic preacher named Mohammed Hamid. A surveillance team is brought in and the training is observed and videotaped. Burke sees a similar group of men training at the same spot on May 29, and a surveillance team monitors several more days of weekend training. Muktar Ibrahim, Yassin Omar, Ramzi Mohammed, and Hussain Osman—the four men who will later go on to stage the failed 21/7 London bombings (see July 21, 2005), the attempt to copycat the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005)—are among the trainees who are monitored. They are seen conducting military type maneuvers, including training with mock rifles. MI5 records another weekend of training at the same spot in August. Muktar Ibrahim, the lead 21/7 bomber, is again monitored there. Atilla Ahmet, an imam who took over from Abu Hamza al-Masri as leader of the Finsbury Park mosque after Abu Hamza was jailed for incitement to murder, also sometimes attends the training camp. All four of the 21/7 bombers attend the Finsbury Park mosque, and two of them are photographed there—Ramzi Mohammed in January 2004 and Ibrahim in August 2004. All four are also photographed with Ahmet at some point. Hamid and Ahmet hold meetings together every Friday at Hamid’s house where they encourage new recruits to attend weekend training camps in the New Forest, the Lake District, or Scotland, and paintballing sessions in Berkshire and Kent. Head trainer Hamid and head 21/7 bomber Ibrahim are close to each other and jointly operate a stall selling Islamic literature in Oxford Street in London. In October 2004, both of them are arrested following a disturbance at their stall. Ibrahim is caught after trying to run from police. Hamid resists arrest and reportedly tells police, “I’ve got a bomb and I’m going to blow you all up.” At the police station, Hamid only identifies himself as “Osama bin London,” but a fingerprint check reveals his real name and an extensive criminal record for theft and burglary. However, Ibrahim and Hamid are merely charged and then released. Ibrahim will be stopped in December at a London airport while attempting to fly to Pakistan, and he will be recognized from the training camp surveillance photos, but he will be allowed to take his flight anyway (see December 2004). He will fail to turn up for his court hearing because he is in Pakistan, where he will study bomb making at a training camp. Authorities will not come in contact with him again until after the 21/7 bombings. Hamid will remain free after the 7/7 and 21/7 bombings and will brazenly continue leading the occasional weekend training camps. A bug will finally be placed in his house in September 2005. An undercover agent will pose as a new recruit and attend the training camp in 2006. Hamid will finally be arrested later that year. Hamid, Ahmet, and a number of their associates will be convicted of criminal activity relating to the training camp in 2008. The Telegraph will later comment, “Mohammed Hamid groomed the would-be [21/7] suicide bombers under the noses of watching police [and] security services.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/17/2007; Daily Telegraph, 2/27/2008; Daily Telegraph, 2/27/2008; Guardian, 3/8/2008]
President Bush appears on two Arab television channels, the US-funded Al-Hurra network and the Al-Arabiya satellite channel. The interviews last ten minutes for each station. He says: “People in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent.…must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know.” He adds: “The America that I know has sent troops to Iraq to promote freedom.” [CBS News, 5/5/2004] During the interviews, Bush is not asked to make an apology and nor does he offer one. [BBC, 5/5/2004] Later in the day, White House spokesman Scott McClellan uses the word “sorry” a half-dozen times. “The president is sorry for what occurred and the pain it has caused.” Asked why the president has not apologized himself, McClellan says: “I’m saying it now for him.” [CBS News, 5/5/2004]
An internal FBI e-mail shows that abusive interrogation methods at Guantanamo are endorsed by senior Defense Department (DoD) officials. The e-mail states that “hooding prisoners, threats of violence, and techniques meant to humiliate detainees” have been “approved at high levels w/in DoD.” Another FBI e-mail states that some aggressive interrogation methods considered abusive by some FBI agents were “approved by the deputy secretary of defense,” Paul Wolfowitz. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
Speaking about the Abu Ghraib scandal (see April 28, 2004), President Bush promises a “full investigation.” In an interview with Al Arabiya, he says: “It’s important for people to understand that in a democracy, there will be a full investigation. In other words, we want to know the truth. In our country, when there’s an allegation of abuse… there will be a full investigation, and justice will be delivered.… It’s very important for people and your listeners to understand that in our country, when an issue is brought to our attention on this magnitude, we act. And we act in a way in which leaders are willing to discuss it with the media.… In other words, people want to know the truth. That stands in contrast to dictatorships. A dictator wouldn’t be answering questions about this. A dictator wouldn’t be saying that the system will be investigated and the world will see the results of the investigation.” [White House, 5/5/2004] In April 2009, after significant revelations of Bush torture policies have hit the press (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009), Atlantic columnist Andrew Sullivan will write: “Bush personally authorized every technique revealed at Abu Ghraib. He refused to act upon the International Committee of the Red Cross’s report that found that he had personally authorized the torture of prisoners, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention on Torture and domestic law against cruel and inhuman treatment. A refusal to investigate and prosecute Red Cross allegations of torture is itself a violation of the Geneva Accords.” [Atlantic Monthly, 4/27/2009]
An Army officer writes that, in light of the recently released photos from Abu Ghraib, abusive interrogation techniques such as the application of cold or ice, loud music, sleep deprivation, and confining detainees to a metal box, will “continue to cause us problems, as some interrogation techniques aren’t real defensible given the Abu Ghraib fallout.” The memorandum will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
Attorney Brandon Mayfield [Source: MSNBC]Attorney Brandon Mayfield of Portland, Oregon, is taken into custody by the FBI in connection with the March 11 bomb attacks in Madrid (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). His detention is based on information from Spanish authorities that he had some involvement in the train bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800. FBI sources say Mayfield’s fingerprints were found on a plastic bag with bomb-related material that is being considered as evidence in the train bombing. Sources say he had been under constant surveillance. Mayfield is an Islamic convert. [CNN, 5/7/2004] He is jailed for 14 days as a material witness to a terrorism investigation. The status of “material witness” means that he can be held without charge. The FBI affidavit that led to his arrest claims the fingerprint to be a “100 percent positive” match to the print on the bag. Officials say it is an “absolutely incontrovertible match.” However, Spanish authorities express their doubts about US claims and announce in late May that they have matched the fingerprint to an Algerian, Ouhnane Daoud. Flaws in the US investigation rapidly become apparent. The FBI did not examine the original fingerprint evidence until after the Spanish announcement. Four FBI examiners “concurred that the latent fingerprint had multiple separations; that it was divided by many lines of demarcation possibly caused by creases in the underlying material, multiple touches by one or more fingers, or both,” according to court records. The examiners conclude that the digital copy the FBI was working from was “of no value for identification purposes.” The FBI comes under heavy media criticism for its material witness detainment policy and its use of scant and/or secret evidence. The competence of the investigators is called into question due to the lack of attention paid to the concerns of the Spanish investigators. [Portland Tribune, 5/28/2004] Mayfield is never charged, and the Justice Department later issues a formal apology for the intense and invasive investigation, as well as a $2 million settlement. In an unprecedented element of the settlement, the FBI agrees to destroy communication intercepts from the investigation. Mayfield contends that he was a victim of profiling and strongly criticizes the investigation. He says “I, myself, have dark memories of stifling paranoia, of being monitored, followed, watched, tracked. I’ve been surveilled, followed, targeted primarily because I’ve been an outspoken critic of this administration and doing my job to defend others who can’t defend themselves, to give them their day in court, and mostly for being a Muslim.” [CNN, 11/30/2006] The official apology mentions that, “The FBI has implemented a number of measures in an effort to ensure that what happened to Mr. Mayfield and the Mayfield family does not happen again.” [Washington Post, 11/29/2006]
The CIA’s inspector general completes a lengthy, secret report on the interrogation of detainees in US custody. The report, based on over 100 interviews, a review of the CIA’s videotapes of interrogations (see November 2005), and some 38,000 pages of documents, will remain secret throughout the Bush administration and into the first year of the Obama administration. Some portions will be made public over the years. The report includes evidence that US interrogators used harsh tactics—torture—against detainees who were not withholding information. Officials familiar with the report will say that it concludes some of the techniques used violate the UN Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994). According to a declassified summary of the report later made public, the report finds that “it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks.” The threat of such an imminent attack was cited by the Justice Department in its numerous authorizations of torture. The report prompts CIA general counsel John Rizzo to request new statements from the Justice Department confirming the legality of CIA interrogation methods (see May 10, 2005 and May 30, 2005). [Washington Post, 5/9/2009]
Some time after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s testimony to Congress, where he claimed he knew virtually nothing about the Abu Ghraib incidents (see May 7, 2004), former Defense Policy Board member Kenneth Adelman confronts Rumsfeld. As Adelman will recall: “I said to Rumsfeld, ‘Well, the way you handled Abu Ghraib I thought was abysmal.’ He says, ‘What do you mean?’ I say, ‘It broke in January of—what was that, ‘04? Yeah, ‘04. And you didn’t do jack sh_t till it was revealed in the spring.’ He says, ‘That’s totally unfair. I didn’t have the information.’ I said, ‘What information did you have? You had the information that we had done these—and there were photos. You knew about the photos, didn’t you?’ He says, ‘I didn’t see the photos. I couldn’t get those photos. A lot of stuff happens around here. I don’t follow every story.’ I say, ‘Excuse me, but I thought in one of the testimonies you said you told the president about Abu Ghraib in January. And if it was big enough to tell the president, wasn’t it big enough to do something about?’ He says, ‘Well, I couldn’t get the photos.’ I say, ‘You’re secretary of defense. Somebody in the building who works for you has photos, and for five months you can’t get photos—hello?’” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed in his office by federal prosecutors as part of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Cheney is asked if he knows who, if anyone, in the White House might have leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. He is asked about conversations with his senior aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. He is also asked whether he knows of any concerted effort by White House officials to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Cheney is not questioned under oath, and has not been asked to testify before the grand jury. He is represented by two lawyers, Terrence O’Donnell and Emmet Flood. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; New York Times, 6/5/2004]
Cheney Evades, Refuses to Answer Questions - In October 2009, an FBI interview summary regarding Cheney’s testimony will be released (see October 1, 2009). According to the document, Cheney equivocates or refuses to answer 72 times during his interview, either saying he cannot be certain about the information requested, or that he does not know.
Denies Informing Libby about Plame Wilson's CIA Status - One of the most fundamental questions Cheney is asked is about how Libby learned about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby’s own notes indicate that he learned it from Cheney, and that he had shared his notes with Cheney in late 2003 (see Late September or Early October, 2003), in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to share information with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). But in his testimony, Cheney “cannot recall Scooter Libby telling him how he first heard of Valerie Wilson. It is possible Libby may have learned about Valerie Wilson’s employment from the vice president… but the vice president has no specific recollection of such a conversation.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Cheney testifies that contrary to the evidence, he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby, who informed him that a number of reporters had contacted Libby in July 2003 to say that Plame Wilson had been responsible for arranging her husband’s trip to Niger to investigate the Niger uranium claims. Cheney says that the next time he heard about Plame Wilson and her connection to her husband was when he read Robert Novak’s article outing her as a CIA officer (see July 14, 2003). Cheney is lying; he informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s identity (see (June 12, 2003)).
Denies Knowledge of Wilson Trip to Niger - He also denies knowing that Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was sent to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from that country (see (February 13, 2002) and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and says the CIA never briefed him about Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002). Future testimony will challenge Cheney’s claims, as witnesses will testify that Cheney, Libby, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, the Defense Department, the State Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and President Bush were all given copies of a CIA cable sent to Cheney’s office that debunked the Niger claims (see December 2001, Shortly after February 12, 2002, March 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, March 8, 2002, October 15, 2002, Mid-October 2002, October 18, 2002, January 2003, and March 8, 2003). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006]
Refuses to Answer about WMD NIE - Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, leading the interview, presses Cheney to discuss evidence that shows he pressured Bush to quickly declassify portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD (see October 1, 2002) for the purpose of making the case for invading Iraq. Libby provided selected NIE information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller while simultaneously leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to her (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and other reporters. Cheney refuses to confirm that he discussed anything regarding the NIE with Bush, saying that he could not comment on any private or privileged conversations he may have had with the president. Libby has already testified to the declassification of the NIE, telling prosecutors that he talked to Miller following the “president’s approval relayed to me through the vice president.”
Insists Plame Wilson's Identity Never Used to Discredit Husband - Cheney insists that no one in the White House ever talked about leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the press in an attempt to discredit her husband. There was never any discussion, Cheney says, of “pushing back” on Wilson’s credibility by raising the issue of nepotism, the fact that his wife worked for the CIA, the same agency that dispatched him to Niger to run down the report of an agreement to supply uranium to Iraq. In his own testimony, Libby was far less emphatic, saying “[i]t’s possible” he may have discussed the idea with Cheney. Both men lie in their testimony (see March 9, 2003 and After, May 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11 or 12, 2003, (June 11, 2003), 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (June 12, 2003), June 19 or 20, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Cheney tells prosecutors that he and his office were merely interested in rebutting Wilson’s criticisms of the war effort, and wanted to dispel the notion among some reporters that he had selected Wilson for the Niger trip. In 2006, an attorney close to the case will say: “In his testimony the vice president said that his staff referred media calls about Wilson to the White House press office. He said that was the appropriate venue for responding to statements by Mr. Wilson that he believed were wrong.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006] In June 2009, the Department of Justice will reveal that Cheney and Bush had discussed the leak in a “confidential conversation” and “an apparent communication between the vice president and the president.” [Truthout (.org), 7/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Terrence O’Donnell, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, US Department of Defense, Robert Novak, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Emmet Flood, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Council, Judith Miller, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The FBI re-interviews Ayaad Assaad, who was the target of a letter sent just before the 2001 anthrax attacks that seemed to point to him as being responsible for those attacks (see October 2, 2001). Assaad was interviewed about this shortly after the letter was sent (see October 3, 2001), and this is the second time the FBI has questioned him. The FBI tells him that he is not a suspect but they are interested in where he was when the anthrax letters were mailed. He gives documentation showing that he was in the Washington, DC, area at the time. He is also asked about his knowledge of producing anthrax. Assaad, who has been working at the Environmental Protection Agency since 1997 (see May 9, 1997), is an expert on the toxin ricin, and says he has never handled anthrax. He also says he has never been vaccinated against anthrax. He believes the FBI indeed is not interested in him as a suspect but as someone the anthrax attacker or attackers may have tried to frame. [Associated Press, 5/16/2004] Officially, the government has consistently claimed that the letter had nothing to do with the anthrax attacks and was just a strange coincidence. But CNN reports, “government sources said the interest in Assaad centers on the [anonymous] letter and the theory that whoever mailed it could have also been involved in sending the anthrax letters. ‘It is one of several out there,’ one source said when asked how accepted that theory is. ‘No one has been ruled out.’” [CNN, 5/17/2004] Assaad claims that prior to this interview, he had contacted the FBI four times over the past two and a half years, offering to tell what he knows about his former colleagues who might have sent the letter. But he says he was rebuffed all four times. [Hartford Courant, 5/16/2004]
In a secret agreement with the White House, the 9/11 Commission obtains the right to question at least two top al-Qaeda leaders in US custody. The two men are believed to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, two accused masterminds of the 2001 attacks. [Baltimore Sun, 5/12/2004] The results of the commission’s questioning of these suspects are published in a 9/11 Staff Statement released in June 2004. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] However, in an ironic twist, during a 9/11-related lawsuit hearing held in June, US authorities refuse to acknowledge whether or not they have Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in custody. [Associated Press, 4/23/2004; Associated Press, 6/15/2004] Insurance companies representing 9/11 victims had requested that the US Justice Department serve a summons against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, but a judge rules that the US government does not have to disclose whether it is holding alleged terrorists in custody. [Associated Press, 4/23/2004; Associated Press, 6/15/2004]
General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admits that interrogation techniques used by US guards and interrogators in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison violated the Geneva Conventions. Pace says he is not sure who approved those techniques. Pace, who a week before had blamed lower-ranking soldiers for carrying out the abuses (see May 5, 2004), contradicts Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has insisted that the techniques used on prisoners at Abu Ghraib meet international standards for humane treatment. In a hearing conducted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed (D-RI) asks Pace what he would think if he saw a US Marine in enemy custody, bound, naked, and forced into a painful position with a hood over his head. Would it violate the Geneva standards? Reed asks. “I would describe it as a violation, sir,” Pace replies. Reed notes that just that sort of treatment had previously been authorized by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of US ground forces in Iraq. Pace says he knows of no military guidelines that would allow prisoners to be put in so-called “stress positions,” denied sleep, threatened with dogs, or kept in isolation for weeks on end. Committee Democrats contend with the committee chairman, John Warner (R-VA), who initially attempts to stop discussion of the Abu Ghraib torture allegations and focus only on the issue of the Bush administration’s new request for $25 million in funding for the military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Warner eventually gives way to the Democrats after Ted Kennedy (D-MA) says: “I’ve been in the Senate 42 years, and I have never been denied the opportunity to question any person that’s come before a committee, on what I wanted to ask for it. And I resent it and reject it on a matter of national importance.” The New York Times notes, “Outrage over the prison abuse has been near-universal, but in recent days Republicans have been quicker than Democrats to try to change the subject or insist on limiting release of the new prison photos.” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) says that “[s]ome people are overreacting” to the prison photos and surrounding revelations of abuse. “The people who are against the war are using this to their political ends.” [New York Times, 5/13/2004]
The New York Times learns that FBI Director Robert Mueller has ordered FBI interrogators to stay out of CIA-led interrogations of suspected al-Qaeda members. Mueller, and many FBI officials, believe the CIA’s interrogation tactics are too brutal and violate domestic and international laws. Mueller and other FBI officials have objected to the use of techniques such as waterboarding, as well as forced starvation, forced drugging, and beatings. FBI officials told Mueller that the techniques would be prohibited in criminal cases. Some CIA officers are worried that public outrage over the recent revelations of prisoner abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison might lead to a closer examination of the agency’s treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners. “Some people involved in this have been concerned for quite a while that eventually there would be a new president, or the mood in the country would change, and they would be held accountable,” one says. “Now that’s happening faster than anybody expected.” [BBC, 5/13/2004] In 2008, a Justice Department investigation (see May 20, 2008) will reveal that sometime in mid-2002, the FBI’s then-assistant director for counterterrorism, Pasquale D’Amuro, ordered FBI agents at Guantanamo to stop participating in interrogations and leave the facility. D’Amuro brought the issue to Mueller’s attention; according to the Justice Department report, D’Amuro “stated that his exact words to Mueller were ‘we don’t do that’ and that someday the FBI would be called to testify and he wanted to be able to say that the FBI did not participate in this type of activity.” D’Amuro was concerned that the use of such aggressive interrogation techniques “failed to take into account an ‘end game.’” The report will continue: “D’Amuro stated that even a military tribunal would require some standard for admissibility of evidence. Obtaining information by way of ‘aggressive’ techniques would not only jeopardize the government’s ability to use the information against the detainees, but also might have a negative impact on the agents’ ability to testify in future proceedings.” Mueller agreed with D’Amuro and issued what became a “bright line rule” barring FBI agents from participating in CIA and military interrogations involving such methods. [Newsweek, 5/20/2008]
On May 17, 2004, security officials say that recent intelligence has led to increased concern about the possibility of a major terrorist attack in the US. It is believed that the attack could take place as early as the summer and before November, perhaps in an attempt to affect the outcome of the Presidential election. Potential targets include the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, the G8 economic summit on Sea Island, Georgia, Fourth of July celebrations, the Democratic convention in Boston, the Republican convention in New York, and the Olympics in Greece. However, no specific target, time or date is identified for the possible attack. Sources do state that the assessment is new and is the result of intelligence gathered over time. However, an official with the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on condition of anonymity, states that “We are not aware of any new highly credible intelligence indicating a planned attack in the US this summer. Nothing in the current intelligence is exceptionally specific.” [CNN, 5/25/2004] The next day, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller hold a news conference to warn of a “plane attack inside the United States.” They warn that terrorists are “poised for an immediate attack.” Ashcroft says “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. This disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard.” [CNN, 5/26/2004] The Justice Department asks for assistance in locating seven alleged terrorist operatives and states an increased concern about attacks over the summer. [CBS News, 6/14/2004] It is later revealed the threat actually came from a group that falsely claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Madrid. One expert says that the group is “not really taken seriously by Western intelligence.” These warnings come as the administration is under heavy criticism for failures in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib torture scandal dominates headlines. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] This warning also comes on the heels of other bad news for the Bush administration. During a May 16 interview on Meet the Press, Secretary of State Colin Powell is cut off by an aide while discussing misleading CIA information regarding WMD in Iraq. He admits that “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.” [MSNBC, 6/15/2004] Three days later, Newsweek reports that White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez warned in a January 25, 2002 internal White House memo that US officials could be prosecuted for war crimes due to the unprecedented and unusual methods used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. [Newsweek, 5/19/2004]
Rene Lerner, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Justice Department lawyer Adrien Silas send a memo to Assistant Attorney General William Moschella. The memo will remain classified, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it pertains to the so-called “McCain Amendment,” later known as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005). President Bush will sign the bill into law, but will include a signing statement that states the administration will not follow the law because it impinges on the president’s constitutional authority to conduct military operations (see December 30, 2005). It is unclear whether Bush’s signing statement is influenced by the memo. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]
A Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document shows that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the supreme commanding officer of US forces in Iraq, approved of extreme interrogation methods to be used by military interrogators against detainees. A DIA officer in charge of a team of interrogators states that there is a 35-page order spelling out the rules of engagement that interrogators are supposed to follow, and that they are encouraged to “go to the outer limits to get information from the detainees by people who wanted the information.” When asked to whom the officer is referring, the officer answers, “LTG Sanchez.” The officer states that the expectation coming from “headquarters” is to break the detainees. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
Mohdar Abdullah is quietly deported to Yemen after spending nearly three years in US prisons. Abdullah was arrested shortly after 9/11 and held as a material witness. He was eventually charged with an immigration violation. He pled guilty to lying on an asylum application and then served a six-month sentence. However, he chose to remain imprisoned so he could fight deportation. He is a Yemeni citizen, and the US wanted to deport him to Yemen, but the Yemeni government would not take him. According to his lawyer, Yemen twice refused to admit him and only finally agreed after intense pressure from the US State Department. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/26/2004]
Suspicious Links to 9/11 Hijackers - Officials said in court documents that Abdullah regularly dined and prayed with 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour. Additionally, he helped Alhazmi and Almihdhar adjust to life in the US in a variety of ways, including help with: interpreting, computer use, finding a job, finding a place to live, obtaining Social Security cards, and obtaining driver licenses. He also worked with Alhazmi at a gas station where many other radical Islamists worked, including some who had been investigated by the FBI (see Autumn 2000). [San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/26/2004; San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/2/2004]
9/11 Commission Not Allowed to Interview Him before Deportation - The 9/11 Commission’s work is almost done by the time that Abdullah is deported; its final report will be released two months later. However, the Commission is not allowed to interview Abdullah even though he is being held in a US prison (and not in Guantanamo or some secret overseas prison). 9/11 Commission co-chair Tom Kean will later say, “He should not have been let out of the country when the 9/11 Commission wanted to interview him.” Kean will not comment on why the Commission does not or is not able to interview him before his deportation. [MSNBC, 9/8/2006]
Justice Department Will Not Delay Deportation to Help Investigation - In late 2003, new evidence emerged that Abdullah may have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. But US prosecutors decided not to charge him based on that new evidence, and the Justice Department does not even try to delay his deportation to allow investigators time to pursue the new leads (see September 2003-May 21, 2004).
FBI Will Reopen Investigation into Abdullah - The new evidence suggested that Abdullah may have learned about the 9/11 attack plans as early as the spring of 2000 (see Early 2000). He also seemed to show foreknowledge of the attacks shortly before they occurred (see Late August-September 10, 2001). By October 2004, it will be discovered that he cased the Los Angeles airport with Alhazmi and an unknown man (see June 10, 2000), and this revelation will cause the FBI to reopen its investigation into him—after he is deported (see September 2003-May 21, 2004). In September 2006, it will be reported that the investigation is still continuing. [MSNBC, 9/8/2006]
A heavily redacted e-mail shows that either a military officer or government official is told that three reports of detainee abuse from Iraq are “probably true/valid.” One detainee was “in such poor physical shape from obvious beatings that [name redacted] asked the MPs to note his condition before he proceeded with interrogation.” Another detainee was “in such bad shape… that he was laying down in his own feces.” These cases seem to have occurred in Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper. The e-mail will be released in 2006 (see May 2, 2006). [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
Time magazine reports that “the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) released its annual survey that found, among other things, that far from dealing a blow to al-Qaeda and making the US and its allies safer, the Iraq invasion has in fact substantially strengthened bin Laden’s network and increased the danger of attacks in the West. And the London-based IISS is not some Bush-bashing antiwar think tank; it hosted the president’s keynote address during his embattled visit to the British late last year.” According to the IISS report, “Although half of al-Qaeda’s 30 senior leaders and perhaps 2,000 rank-and-file members have been killed or captured, a rump leadership is still intact and more than 18,000 potential terrorists are still at large, with recruitment accelerating on account of Iraq.” [Time, 5/26/2004]
US officials become discouraged about anti-terrorist co-operation with their British counterparts against leading London-based cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write, “They were sick of handing over information to British agencies about Abu Hamza, only to see him being allowed to continue preaching hatred in front of the cameras.” A senior Justice Department official will say: “We just did not understand what was going on in London. We wondered to ourselves whether he was an MI5 informer, or was there some secret the British were not trusting us with? He seemed untouchable.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 294] The official’s speculation is correct, as Abu Hamza is indeed an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). In the end, the US will give up on waiting for the British to arrest Abu Hamza, and issue a warrant of their own (see May 27, 2004).
The British intelligence service MI5 develops information showing that London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri has significant connections with radical militants, but fails to show this to Home Secretary David Blunkett. Blunkett apparently learns this information after Abu Hamza, who has been an MI5 informer (see Early 1997), is arrested in 2004 (see May 27, 2004). When Blunkett takes office in 2001, as he will later recall, there is an assumption that Abu Hamza “was a bigmouth and was worth tracking but wasn’t at the centre of events.” The security services have a “detailed trail” of networks, personal history, and high-level contacts showing that Abu Hamza is “a real threat and a danger,” but they do not tell Blunkett. He will reportedly be angry when he learns MI5 failed to inform him of the material. What material is provided to Blunkett and what is kept from him is unknown; MI5’s explanation for withholding the information is also unknown. Blunkett will later indicate that action should have been taken against Abu Hamza earlier: “It is clear now—and I think that those close to this would acknowledge it—that there were opportunities for having taken action. By putting the jigsaw together, it is possible for us to realize that this man was a danger becuase he was at the heart of organizing, glorifying, and persuading.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284, 291]
Some British politicians are unhappy over the arrest of leading Islamist radical Abu Hamza al-Masri (see May 27, 2004), for various reasons. The US is clearly aware that Abu Hamza is a very significant Islamist militant, and, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory: “[T]he question that hung uncomfortably in the air in Whitehall that afternoon was why [the British] government and its agencies had not appreciated the danger he posed, and done something about it. The unpalatable answer was that Britain had missed, or had chosen not to take, at least a dozen opportunities to act against Abu Hamza.” The arrest of Abu Hamza, who informed for two of Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), causes “considerable unease” in the cabinet; some ministers think Britain should be grateful to the FBI for “doing Britain’s dirty work,” whereas others think “Britain came out of the affair looking like America’s poodle.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284]
The Sun announces Abu Hamza’s arrest in typically dramatic fashion. [Source: The Sun]Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is finally arrested by British police, who also seize documents, books and numerous audio and video tapes, at his home in London. The arrest is not due to any criminal proceedings in Britain, but because of a warrant for his extradition to the US, where he is wanted for direct personal involvement in terrorist recruitment, fundraising, and kidnapping. Abu Hamza decides to fight the extradition, but is denied bail. Abu Hamza had been at the center of Islamist radicalism in Britain for some time and had previously been arrested and released for his part in a kidnapping (see December 28-29, 1998). He informed for the security services beginning in 1997 (see Early 1997). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146, 289-290]
David Ottaway. [Source: AAAS.org]According to the Oregon branch of the Islamic charitable organization the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Washington Post reporter David Ottaway receives a classified document that is evidence of illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency. The document shows that the NSA illegally intercepted telephone conversations and e-mails between Al Haramain officials in Oregon and Washington, DC. The document, dated May 24, 2004 and marked “Top Secret,” is accidentally provided to Al Haramain by Treasury Department officials that same month; Al Haramain quickly turns the document over to Ottoway, who is researching Islamic groups and individuals labeled as terrorists by the US government and are attempting to prove their innocence. Instead of reporting on the document, Ottaway will return it to the FBI when that organization demands it back in November 2004. In February 2006, Al Haramain will sue the Bush administration for illegally spying on it (see February 28, 2006) as part of its warrantless wiretapping program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005). The Treasury Department has been investigating the charitable organization for possible ties to terrorism, and designated the group as a terrorist organization. The FBI will approach the organization and then Ottaway himself, demanding that all copies of the document be returned and threatening them with prosecution if the contents are revealed. Ottaway will consult with Post editors and lawyers, who will conclude, according to Ottaway, “that it was not relevant to what I was working on at the time.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., will defend the decision, saying, “At the time we had this document, it was before we had any knowledge of the eavesdropping program. Without that knowledge, the document provided no useful information. At the time, all we knew was that this document was not relevant to David’s reporting.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2006]
An Iranian man appears in Turkey with a laptop computer and the phone number of a German intelligence officer. He calls the number, and 24 hours later, CIA analysts are poring over thousands of documents containing information and sketches. The CIA concludes that Iran is trying to retrofit its longest-range missile, the Shahab III, to carry a nuclear payload. The retrofit project is designated Project 1-11, the documents say, and analysts believe that the laptop information confirms their belief that Iran has a viable and active nuclear weapons program. Though the information on the laptop is from 2003 and earlier, it leads to the issuance of a National Intelligence Estimate (see August 2, 2005) that declares “with high confidence” Iran is working on a nuclear bomb, and will give ammunition to the Bush administration’s attempts to pressure Russia, China, and the US’s European allies to sanction Iran if it does not give up its uranium enrichment program. [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Origin of Laptop - The laptop was stolen by the Iranian citizen from an Iranian engineer, who some intelligence sources say may now be dead. The laptop contains designs by a firm called Kimeya Madon for a small facility to produce uranium gas, a substance that could be enriched for fuel or nuclear weapons. The laptop also contains drawings relating to the retrofitting of the Shahab III. The laptop’s information, so extensive that some say it may have been designed by an entire team of engineers, will be given unsubstantiated confirmation from an imprisoned Pakistani arms dealer, who will say that Iran took delivery of several advanced centrifuges that would greatly increase its nuclear knowledge. Although the documents are not verified, US intelligence considers them authentic.
Possible Forgeries - However, analysts admit it is possible that the documents are forgeries, perhaps from internal opponents of the Iranian government, or perhaps from the government itself in an attempt to convince Western intelligence agencies that its nuclear weapons program is still in an embryonic stage. The US denies that the documents were provided through the auspices of any Iranian dissident groups such as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. [New York Times, 11/13/2005; Washington Post, 2/8/2006] The identity of the Iranian “walk-in” may be revealed four years later (see February 2007). By November 2004, administration officials begin to admit that they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 2004 and November 17-18, 2004).
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow in April 2004. [Source: Joe Marquette/European Pressphoto Agency]9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow is investigated by the Justice Department following a complaint by the CIA that he mishandled classified information. Zelikow did not leak information to reporters, but there are suspicions he has included classified information in e-mails with other people on the Commission, including e-mails that were sent overseas. The CIA received notification that Zelikow may have mishandled the information from an unnamed member of the Commission’s staff. Zelikow is not interviewed during the investigation, and will later say that he does not become aware of it until later and that his security clearances will later be renewed. Zelikow will also say that the investigation may be an attempt by the CIA to play “hardball” in a dispute over the declassification of information, and to “criminalize this dispute and target me in the process.” The CIA will deny this, saying that they could have leaked news of the investigation to the press, but did not do so. Some of the Commission’s staff find the investigation to be ironic, because Zelikow fired staffer Dana Lesemann for a less serious breach of the rules for handling classified documents soon after the Commission started. The information is closely held within the 9/11 Commission, and even some commissioners do not learn of the investigation. It is unclear how the investigation concludes and how seriously it is taken at the Justice Department. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 406-410]
Vincent Cannistraro, the former head of the CIA’s counterterrorism office, says that no evidence has ever been found to support a tie between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks. Nor has any evidence shown that any connections exist between Iraq and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). Instead, those ties were postulated for purposes of political manipulation. Cannistraro says: “The policymakers already had conceits they had adopted without reference to current intelligence estimates. And those conceits were: Saddam was evil, a bad man, he had evil intentions, and they were greatly influenced by neoconservative beliefs that Saddam had been involved with the sponsorship of terrorism in the United States since as early as 1993, with the first World Trade Center bombing.… None of this is true, of course, but these were their conceits, and they continue in large measure to be the conceits of a lot of people like Jim Woolsey” (see February 2001). The intelligence and law enforcement communities have a different view: “The FBI did a pretty thorough investigation of the first World Trade Center bombing,” Cannistraro says, “and while it’s true that their policy was to treat terrorism as a law-enforcement problem, nevertheless, they understood how the first World Trade Center bombing was supported… and had linkages back to Osama bin Laden. He was of course, not indicted… because the FBI until recently believed that you prosecuted perpetrators, not the sponsors. In any event they knew there was no Saddam linkage. Laurie Mylroie promoted a lot of this (see Late July or Early August 2001), and people who came in [to the Bush administration], particularly in the Defense Department—[Paul] Wolfowitz and [Douglas] Feith (see June 2001)—were acolytes, promoting her book, The Study of Revenge (see October 2000), particularly in the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002), and the Secretary’s Policy Office (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). In any event, they already had their preconceived notions.… So the intelligence, and I can speak directly to the CIA part of it, the intelligence community’s assessments were never considered adequate.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey Jr. releases a newly declassified Pentagon report that states that al-Qaeda “master planner” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was “very skeptical” about Jose Padilla’s dirty bomb plan when they met in Pakistan in March 2002, and suggested instead that Padilla bomb apartment buildings through conventional means. Padilla tells US interrogators later that he “proposed the dirty-bomb plot only as a way to get out of Pakistan and avoid combat in Afghanistan, yet save face with Abu Zubaida” (see May 8, 2002). He says he also had “no intention of carrying out the apartment-building operation.” Nevertheless, the release of the Pentagon report is apparently intended to draw attention to Padilla’s high-level al-Qaeda connection in an attempt to influence deliberations by the Supreme Court on the Padilla case. [Newsweek, 6/9/2004] Comey and other government officials admit that Padilla’s alleged confession can never be used as evidence in court, because Padilla made the statements without ever being informed of his legal rights. The government had consistently refused to discuss how Padilla was interrogated, claiming that to make that knowledge public would assist al-Qaeda in preparing countermeasures for other operatives who might be captured in the future. Defense lawyers and civil rights experts believe that the government may have used illegal methods in interrogating Padilla. The criminal charges eventually filed against Padilla will make no mention of the allegations of planning to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” or of any plans to blow up apartment buildings. [Newsweek, 2/28/2007] The release of the Pentagon report by the Justice Department is heavily criticized at the time as being an inappropriate interference of the executive with the judiciary branch. [New York Review of Books, 7/15/2004]
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