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Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi intelligence agent, was captured by US forces in Iraq at some point after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. His arrest was not announced and he was put in a secret CIA prison. It is unknown when he was arrested exactly, but in June 2004, the FBI is allowed to interrogate him. Al-Ani gained notoriety after 9/11 when Bush administration officials claimed he had a meeting with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague, in the Czech Republic (see April 8, 2001). He tells the FBI that he never saw or heard of Atta until Atta’s face appeared in the news shortly after 9/11. [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006, pp. 100 ] The allegations that the meeting took place have been slowly dying despite the efforts of some Bush administration officials to promote them (see September 18, 2001-April 2007). Also in June 2004, the 9/11 Commission publicly asserts that the alleged meeting never took place (see June 16, 2004). Nonetheless, al-Ani is kept in a secret CIA prison until 2006 and then quietly released (see 2006). His denials are kept secret until September 2006 (see September 8-10, 2006).
Lloyd Salvetti. [Source: CIA]9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner, who has been reviewing material the NSA provided to the 9/11 Commission on her own (see January 2004), asks two colleagues to examine information she found in the files indicating some of the 9/11 hijackers traveled through Iran (see January-June 2004). The first is Lloyd Salvetti, the aging head of the CIA’s museum who is on loan to the commission. Fenner asks for his opinion because the review of the NSA information is not her official job at the commission and she is uncomfortable about approaching the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, over the issue, which she feels is important. Salvetti soon finds that Fenner’s fears are “well-founded” and the NSA files are a “gold mine, full of information about al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups dating back to the early 1990s—material that the commission should have read through months earlier.” He also forms the opinion that there may have been some co-operation between al-Qaeda and elements of Hezbollah and Iran on travel issues. Salvetti then asks another commission staffer, former CIA analyst Doug MacEachin, to look over the material. MacEachin is just as alarmed as Fenner and Salvetti and they realize that, even though the commission must issue its final report very soon, something needs to be done. The three inform both Zelikow and NSA director Michael Hayden, and a group of commission staffers soon spend a day at the NSA (see Between July 1 and July 17, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow telephones a CIA analyst who co-wrote a Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” President George Bush received the briefing in August 2001 (see August 6, 2001). The tone of the conversation will be disputed. According to an anonymous Commission staffer who overhears part of the conversation and who talks to author Philip Shenon, Zelikow pressures the analyst to accept the version of the PDB offered by Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and say that it contained historical information and was written in response to a request by President Bush for such briefing. Zelikow is close to Rice (see January 3, 2001) and defends her interests on the Commission (see May-June 2004). However, Zelikow will later deny pressuring the analyst, saying he was merely trying to prepare a summary of what was known about the PDB for the commissioners and that he had little time, so the interview was conducted by telephone. Nevertheless, the call is in violation of several internal Commission rules, including the requirement that significant interviews be conducted in the presence of at least two staff members. Shenon will describe the call as “a private inquiry into the origins of what was, without doubt, the most controversial document in the investigation.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 374-376] Zelikow will try to stop one of the commissioners, Richard Ben-Veniste, from talking to the analyst and a colleague (see Early July 2004).
After many SERE techniques have been authorized for use in interrogations (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002), and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency considers sending SERE trainers to interrogation facilities in Afghanistan, a SERE psychologist warns: “[W]e need to really stress the difference between what instructors do at SERE school (done to INCREASE RESISTANCE capability in students) versus what is taught at interrogator school (done to gather information). What is done by SERE instructors is by definition ineffective interrogator conduct.… Simply stated, SERE school does not train you on how to interrogate, and things you ‘learn’ there by osmosis about interrogation are probably wrong if copied by interrogators.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Greg Thielmann, a former director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s intelligence bureau, compares the aluminum tubes allegations (see Between April 2001 and September 2002 and September 8, 2002) to the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and finds the aluminum tubes allegations an “even more egregrious case of policymakers’ contamination of the intelligence process than the” Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, in the words of former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang. Lang goes on to quote Thielmann as saying: “What was done with the aluminum tubes was far worse than what was done with the uranium from Africa. Because the intelligence community had debated over a period of months, and involved key scientists and engineers in the national laboratories—and foreigners as well—in a long and detailed discussion. The way I would have characterized it, if you had asked me in July 2002, when I turned over the leadership of my office, there was a growing consensus in the intelligence community that this kind of aluminum was not suitable for the nuclear weapons program. So I was really quite shocked to see—I was just retired—the National Intelligence Estimate say that the majority of agencies came to the opposite interpretation, that it was going into the nuclear weapons program.” Anyone in the White House or the National Security Council should have, in Lang’s words, “seen through the subterfuge and drawn the proper conclusion.” Again, Lang quotes Thielmann: “If they had read the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate—see October 1, 2002] in October, it is transparent that there were different views in the intelligence community. They could have read, for example, that the Department of Energy and the State Department INR [intelligence bureau] believed that the aluminum tubes were not going into the nuclear weapons program and instead were going into conventional artillery rockets. And, if one assumes a modicum of intelligence understanding at the [National Security Council], they should know that the agency that is most able to judge on this would be the Department of Energy. They control all the laboratories that actually over the years have enriched uranium and built centrifuges.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
The chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, leaves his position. The official, known only as “Peter,” was appointed to the position a year earlier (see June 2003) and departs upon the completion of his tour. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
In November 2002, as the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry was finishing its investigation, it formally asked for a report by the CIA to determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. [New York Times, 9/14/2004] The CIA report by the agency’s inspector general is completed in June 2004. Newsweek calls the report “hard-hitting” and says it “identifies a host of current and former officials who could be candidates for possible disciplinary procedures imposed by a special CIA Accountability Board.” [Newsweek, 10/24/2004] While the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and 9/11 Commission Reports didn’t single out individuals for blame, this one does, and it is said to find “very senior-level officials responsible. Those who have read the classified report say that it faults about 20 intelligence officials, including former CIA Director George Tenet, his former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and the former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center Cofer Black. Tenet in particular is faulted for focusing too little attention on combating al-Qaeda as a whole in the years prior to 9/11.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/19/2004; Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 10/6/2005] The report is submitted to John McLaughlin, interim acting CIA Director, but he returns it to the inspector general with a request “for more information.” [New York Times, 9/14/2004] It continues to remain completely classified, and even the 9/11 Commissioners (who all have high level security clearances) are not allowed to see it before they complete their own 9/11 investigation. [Newsweek, 10/24/2004] In late September 2004, Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) and Jane Harman (D-CA), chairman and highest ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee respectively, send a letter to the CIA. [New York Times, 10/27/2004] They request that at least their committee, as the oversight committee that originally mandated the creation of the report, be allowed to see the report. But even this committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee are not allowed to see it. One anonymous official who has read the report tells the Los Angeles Times, “It is infuriating that a report which shows that high-level people were not doing their jobs in a satisfactory manner before 9/11 is being suppressed.… The report is potentially very embarrassing for the administration, because it makes it look like they weren’t interested in terrorism before 9/11, or in holding people in the government responsible afterward.” This official says the report has been deliberately stalled, first by John McLaughlin, then by Porter Goss, his replacement as CIA Director. (Ironically, Goss was the co-chairman of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that originally called for the report.) This official further notes that the only legal and legitimate reason the CIA can give for holding back such a report is national security, yet this reason has not been invoked. The official claims that Goss is “basically sitting on the report until after the [November 2004 Presidential] election. No previous director of CIA has ever tried to stop the inspector general from releasing a report to the Congress, in this case a report requested by Congress.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/19/2004; Los Angeles Times, 10/20/2004] One anonymous CIA official says, “Everybody feels it will be better off if this hits the fan after the election.” [Newsweek, 10/24/2004] The previously mentioned official speaking to The Los Angeles Times comments that the successful delay of the report’s release until after the election has “led the management of the CIA to believe it can engage in a cover-up with impunity.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/19/2004] More details of the report are revealed to the media in January 2005.(see January 7, 2005). In October 2005, CIA Director Porter Goss will announce that he is not going to release the report, and also will not convene an accountability board to hold anyone responsible.(see October 10, 2005).
[Source: WAMY]US agents raid the US branch of World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a large Saudi charity. The branch was founded in 1992 by Abdullah Awad bin Laden, a nephew of Osama, and he was still listed as president of the branch in a 2002 business listing. [Weekly Standard, 4/8/2002; Washington Post, 6/2/2004] In 1996, an FBI investigation into WAMY, Abdullah Awad, and his brother Omar, was closed down, apparently for political reasons (see February-September 11, 1996). At least two of the 9/11 hijackers lived about three blocks from WAMY’s office for much of 2001 (see March 2001 and After). A new investigation of WAMY was launched one week after 9/11 (see September 14-19, 2001). All of WAMY’s files and computer files are seized; one person is arrested on immigration charges. The raid appears to have taken place because WAMY came up in a terrorism investigation of the SAAR network (see March 20, 2002), located outside Washington and relatively close to the WAMY office. A federal affidavit alleges that WAMY has ties to Hamas. [Washington Post, 6/2/2004]
An Iraqi detainee in US custody in Tikrit charges that he has been beaten and shocked with a taser. A US military medic examines the prisoner and finds evidence confirming his allegations. The medic states, “Everything he described he had on his body.” Yet the medic gives the detainee Tylenol and clears him for further interrogations. There are no indications that the medic ever reports the abuse. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
The CIA closes a prison known as the Salt Pit near Kabul, Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, the reason for the closure is that the road leading to the prison is unsafe. The facility is relocated to Bagram Air Base. The date of closure is uncertain, although a detainee was still being held there in late May 2004 (see May 29, 2004) and the prison’s closure is reported in November 2005. [Washington Post, 11/2/2005]
An official known only as “Spider” is appointed as the new chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan. Presumably, this occurs around June, when the previous station chief, “Peter,” departs (see June 2004). [Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010] Spider will leave the position at some point, but will be reappointed in 2009 (see Summer 2009).
Citing personal reasons, CIA Director George Tenet announces he will be stepping down in the next month. President Bush praises Tenet’s service, but there is widespread agreement that significant intelligence failures occurred during his tenure, most strikingly 9/11 itself. Sources also suggest that Tenet, originally a Clinton appointee, has been made a convenient scapegoat for Bush administration intelligence failures in Iraq and elsewhere. [CNN, 6/4/2004; Independent, 6/4/2004] Tenet and the Bush administration are expecting harsh criticism from several reports expected to find serious failures in intelligence gathering and analysis related to the 9/11 attacks. Most damaging is an upcoming Senate Intelligence Committee report expected to single out the CIA for errors in its judgments before the Iraq war (see June-November 2004). Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has warned the administration that the report will be so harsh that questions will be raised as to whether senior CIA officials should be held accountable. Tenet will be replaced by Deputy Director John McLaughlin until a replacement is named, and will eventually be replaced by Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004). A friend of Tenet’s, former Deputy Director Richard Kerr, says that Tenet “may have believed that he was hurting the president. He’s an honorable person, and he may have had that as a consideration.” Former Democratic senator David Boren, a close friend and mentor of Tenet’s, says Tenet is not leaving because of criticisms likely to be leveled at either him or the agency: “If criticism either actual or anticipated was a factor, he would have left a long time ago. It’s been months of his desiring to leave.” Bush has asked Tenet to remain in the job several times over the past few months. When Tenet told Bush of his intentions to leave on June 2, Bush asked him to stay through the end of the year. Tenet replied that summer is a natural break point and a good time for him to depart. All the camaraderie and mutual praise between the two men aside, many believe that Tenet is departing in part because he is seen as a possible political liability for Bush. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) says, “I don’t think there are any tears over there” in the White House over Tenet’s departure. Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) believes that Tenet was in some way pushed to leave. “This president has been enamored of George Tenet, and has been reluctant to hold him or anyone else accountable, and that failure was becoming a bigger and bigger liability,” he says. According to Graham, Bush announces Tenet’s resignation for his own political well-being, “under circumstances where he is at the crime scene as short as possible.” Apparently, senior White House officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell learn of Tenet’s resignation just a few moments before it is announced to the press. Two Congressmen who knew last night of the resignation were Goss (R-FL) and John Warner (R-VA), the chairmen of the House Intelligence and Senate Armed Services Committees, respectively. [New York Times, 6/4/2004]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby, Pat Roberts, Richard Kerr, Porter J. Goss, John E. McLaughlin, George W. Bush, John W. Warner, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, David Boren, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation
The Washington Post reveals the existence of a secret August 2002 memo from the Justice Department. This memo advised the White House that torturing al-Qaeda terrorists in captivity “may be justified,” and that international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” conducted in the US war on terrorism (see August 1, 2002). The legal reasoning was later used in a March 2003 report by Pentagon lawyers assessing interrogation rules governing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay (see March 6, 2003). Bush officials say that despite the memo, it has abided by the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties proscribing torture (see February 7, 2002). The incidents at Abu Ghraib, where numerous Iraqi prisoners were tortured, maimed, and sometimes murdered, were not policy, officials say. Human rights organizations and civil libertarians are appalled at the memo. “It is by leaps and bounds the worst thing I’ve seen since this whole Abu Ghraib scandal broke,” says Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. “It appears that what they were contemplating was the commission of war crimes and looking for ways to avoid legal accountability. The effect is to throw out years of military doctrine and standards on interrogations.” A senior Pentagon official says that the Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs) were quick to challenge the Justice Department opinion when it was promoted by the Pentagon. “Every flag JAG lodged complaints,” the official says. A senior military attorney says of the memo: “It’s really unprecedented. For almost 30 years we’ve taught the Geneva Convention one way. Once you start telling people it’s okay to break the law, there’s no telling where they might stop.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] Attorney General John Ashcroft tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he will not discuss the contents of the August 2002 memo, nor turn it over to the committee. “I believe it is essential to the operation of the executive branch that the president has the opportunity to get information from the attorney general that is confidential,” he says. [Washington Post, 6/8/2004]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell learn of the two-year-old Justice Department torture memo (see August 1, 2002) from the Washington Post article revealing its existence (see June 8, 2004). Both confront White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. According to a senior White House official, Rice “very angrily said there would be no more secret opinions on international and national security law,” and threatens to go to President Bush if Gonzales keeps them out of the loop on anything else. Powell admiringly comments, as they are leaving Gonzales’s office, that Rice was “in full Nurse Ratched mode,” a reference to the head nurse of the mental hospital in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Neither of them take their objections to Vice President Cheney, says the official: that would be a much more dangerous course. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Former British official Carne Ross tells the Butler inquiry, which is investigating the British government’s use of intelligence during the lead-up to war with Iraq, that during his tenure as Britain’s key negotiator at the UN “at no time did HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] assess that Iraq’s WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests. On the contrary, it was the commonly-held view among the officials dealing with Iraq that any threat had been effectively contained. I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed).… With the exception of some unaccounted-for Scud missiles, there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material” being stockpiled or produced by Iraq. “There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbors or the UK or the US,” he adds. Ross also says in his testimony that British officials warned their US counterparts that toppling the Iraq government would result in chaos. “At the same time, we would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that ‘regime change’ was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.” The Foreign Office will warn Ross that if he goes public with his testimony he will be charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act. [Independent, 12/15/2006; Independent, 12/15/2006; Guardian, 12/16/2006]
During the annual G-8 economic summit, held in Sea Island, Georgia [2004 G8 Summit, 2004] , President Bush rejects the notion that he approved the use of torture. “The authorization I gave,” the president says, “was that all we did should be in accordance with American law and consistent with our international treaty obligations. That’s the message I gave our people.” He adds, “What I authorized was that we stay within the framework of American law.” And to emphasize his point, he says: “Listen, I’ll say it one more time.… The instructions that were given were to comply with the law. That should reassure you. We are a nation of laws. We follow the law. We have laws on our books. You could go look at those laws and that should reassure you.” [US President, 6/21/2004] During the summit, the foreign ministers of the participating countries are suddenly called to Washington to meet with Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. As Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham will later recall: “Colin suddenly phoned us all up and said, ‘We’re going to the White House this morning.’ Now, this is curious, because normally the heads of government don’t give a damn about foreign ministers. We all popped in a bus and went over and were cordially received by Colin and President Bush. The president sat down to explain that, you know, this terrible news had come out about Abu Ghraib and how disgusting it was. The thrust of his presentation was that this was a terrible aberration; it was un-American conduct. This was not American. [German Foreign Minister] Joschka Fischer was one of the people that said, ‘Mr. President, if the atmosphere at the top is such that it encourages or allows people to believe that they can behave this way, this is going to be a consequence.’ The president’s reaction was: ‘This is un-American. Americans don’t do this. People will realize Americans don’t do this.’ The problem for the United States, and indeed for the free world, is that because of this—Guantanamo, and the ‘torture memos’ from the White House (see November 6-10, 2001 and August 1, 2002), which we were unaware of at that time—people around the world don’t believe that anymore. They say, ‘No, Americans are capable of doing such things and have done them, all the while hypocritically criticizing the human-rights records of others.’” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Al Jafr prison. [Source: Yola Monakhov / Panos Pictures]US News and World Report reports that according to unnamed US and Jordanian intelligence sources, Al Jafr prison, in the southern desert of Jordan, is used as a CIA interrogation center. About 100 detainees have allegedly been processed there, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. “Most stay just a few days before being shipped out to longer-term facilities,” the magazine reports. [US News and World Report, 6/2/2003] The CIA and the Defense Department refuse to confirm or deny the existence of any detention facilities in Jordan controlled by the US. [First, 6/2004 ]
Al-Qaeda operative Musaad Aruchi is arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, by Pakistani paramilitary forces and the CIA. Aruchi is said to be a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and a cousin of 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef. (Another of his nephews, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, was captured in Karachi the year before (see April 29, 2003). CIA telephone and Internet intercepts led investigators to the apartment building where Aruchi lived. Aruchi is in frequent contact with Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who is in touch with al-Qaeda operatives all over the world. Aruchi is flown out of the country in an unmarked CIA plane; there have been no reports on his whereabouts since and he will not be transferred to Guantanamo Bay with other high-ranking prisoners in 2006. Noor Khan is followed and then arrested a month later (see July 13, 2004). [Washington Post, 8/3/2004; Guardian, 8/8/2004]
By 2004, the FBI’s 9/11 investigation is contained in this ten person office. [Source: Washington Post]The Washington Post reports that the FBI’s 9/11 investigation still continues, though at a reduced level. Originally, the investigation, named PENTTBOM, was staffed by about 70 full time FBI agents and analysts. The team now has only about ten members. Some observers complain the FBI has not done enough. Mary Galligan, who headed the investigation until early 2004, emphasizes how much is still unknown about the plot. She says, “There is still information coming in, and we still have so many unanswered questions.” [Washington Post, 6/14/2004]
During a speech before the James Madison Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Florida, Vice President Dick Cheney states that Saddam Hussein “had long-established ties with al-Qaeda.” [Associated Press, 6/14/2004]
Nuradin Mahamoud Abdi. [Source: Associated Press]The Justice Department announces to the press they have thwarted an imminent terror plot to bomb malls in Ohio. A Somali native residing in Ohio is charged with plotting to blow up a Columbus shopping mall. It is alleged that he was part of a group of al-Qaeda operatives. Attorney General John Ashcroft says, “The American heartland was targeted for death and destruction by an al-Qaeda cell which allegedly included a Somali immigrant who will now face justice.” The man, Nuradin Mahamoud Abdi, is alleged to have obtained refugee documentation under false pretenses and to have attended terrorist training camps in Ethiopia. Although authorities would not state how many were involved in the plot, they do name admitted al-Qaeda member Iyman Faris as a co-conspirator (see Mid-March 2003). Faris, serving a 20-year sentence for providing material support to terrorism and conspiracy to provide material support, plead guilty in May 2003 to plotting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and to providing sleeping bags, mobile phones, and cash to al-Qaeda operatives. He later withdrew this plea, but was subsequently convicted. [CBS News, 6/14/2004] Later it is revealed that Abdi had been arrested November 28, 2003, for his connections to terrorism, so there is nothing “imminent” in the case. Court papers filed by the government allege the existence of a plot from March 2000. His indictment isn’t announced until June 15, 2004, and it makes no mention of the shopping mall plot publicly announced the day before. [Cincinnati Post, 6/15/2004] The Justice Department announcement comes as Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry leads President Bush by seven points in early Ohio polls. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
President Bush defends Vice President Dick Cheney’s claim this week that Saddam Hussein had longstanding ties with al-Qaeda. Speaking at a news conference with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Bush asserts that Hussein “had ties to terrorist organizations.” He does not mention al-Qaeda by name. The day before, Cheney claimed that Hussein was “a patron of terrorism” and said “he had long established ties with al-Qaeda” (see June 14, 2004). [Boston Globe, 6/16/2004]
A staff statement by the 9/11 Commission concludes that the alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague never happened. It claims cell phone records and other records show Atta never left Florida during the time in question. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] The same claim is made in the 9/11 Commission’s final report one month later (see July 12, 2004).
The 9/11 Commission releases a new report on how the 9/11 plot developed. Most of their information appears to come from interrogations of prisoners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. In this account, the idea for the attacks appears to have originated with KSM. In mid-1996, he met bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan. He presented several ideas for attacking the US, including a version of the 9/11 plot using ten planes (presumably an update of Operation Bojinka’s second phase plot (see February-Early May 1995)). Bin Laden does not commit himself. In 1999, bin Laden approves a scaled-back version of the idea, and provides four operatives to carry it out: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, and Abu Bara al Taizi. Attash and al Taizi drop out when they fail to get US visas. Alhazmi and Almihdhar prove to be incompetent pilots, but the recruitment of Mohamed Atta and the others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell solves that problem. Bin Laden wants the attacks to take place between May and July 2001, but the attacks are ultimately delayed until September. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] However, information such as these accounts resulting from prisoner interrogations is seriously doubted by some experts, because it appears they only began cooperating after being coerced or tortured. For instance, it is said that KSM was “waterboarded,” a technique in which his head is pushed under water until he nearly drowns. Information gained under such duress often is unreliable. Additionally, there is a serious risk that the prisoners might try to intentionally deceive. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations is called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] The Commission itself expresses worry that KSM could be trying to exaggerate the role of bin Laden in the plot to boost bin Laden’s reputation in the Muslim world. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Most of what these prisoners have said is uncorroborated from other sources. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] In 2007, it will be alleged that as much as 90 percent of KSM’s interrogation could be inaccurate, and that he has recanted some of his confessions (see August 6, 2007).
Vice President Dick Cheney, infuriated by the 9/11 Commission’s intent to report that no serious connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda ever existed (see July 12, 2004) and the media’s acceptance of the same position, decides to launch a media counterattack. His first target is not the Commission itself, but the media, particularly the New York Times, which has just published a front-page article entitled “Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie.” Cheney’s first appearance is on CNBC’s Capital Report. Correspondent Gloria Borger notes, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you… as exercised about something as you seem today.” Cheney leads off by calling the Times reporting “outrageous,” and accuses the newspaper of manufacturing a division between the administration’s claims of a “Qaeda-Iraq tie” and the Commission’s report that no such ties ever existed. “There’s no conflict,” he says. He asserts that “[W]e don’t know” if Iraq was involved in 9/11 and adds that no one has “been able to confirm” or “knock… down” the claim that 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in April of 2001. Reporters who doubt the connection are “lazy,” he says. When Borger notes that Commission investigators have found no evidence to support that allegation, Cheney asserts that he “probably” knows information the 9/11 Commission does not. [CNN, 6/18/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385] A few days later, the Commission says that after asking Cheney for any additional evidence he might have, they stand by their position. Cheney maintains his position as well, but does not turn over any new evidence. [Los Angeles Times, 7/2/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385]
The final text of the 9/11 Commission’s report is drafted in the two months before publication on July 22, 2004. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 274, 296] Although staff members have input into the process, the finished text is subject to vetoes by the ten commissioners, Executive Director Philip Zelikow, and staffer Ernest May, whose main task is the writing of the report. May will later comment, “no language appeared anywhere in the final text unless Zelikow or I or both of us—and all the commissioners—had accepted it.” [New Republic, 5/23/2005] Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton will later write that “there was some concern we not end up with a ‘staff report’—commissioners were determined to review every word, and supply their own comments, corrections, and language for the report.” They will add: “While we did expect there to be a good deal of commissioner editing, we did not anticipate the extent of back-and-forth that took place through June and the first part of July. Commissioners went through the report six or seven times, word by word….” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 274]
Juan Jesus Sanchez Manzano. [Source: PBS]It is revealed that the man accused of supplying the dynamite used in the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) was an informant who had the private telephone number of the head of Spain’s Civil Guard bomb squad. Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a miner with access to explosives, as well as an associate named Rafa Zouhier both regularly informed for the Spanish police, telling them about drug shipments. [New York Times, 4/30/2004; London Times, 6/19/2004] Trashorras began working as an informant after being arrested for drug trafficking in July 2001, while Zouhier became an informant after being released from prison early in February 2002. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 277-288] Shortly after the Madrid bombings, investigators discover that Trashorras’ wife Carmen Toro has a piece of paper with the telephone number of Juan Jesus Sanchez Manzano, head of Tedax, the Civil Guard bomb squad. She and her brother Antonio Toro are also informants (September 2003-February 2004). All four of them were arrested on charges of supplying the explosives for the Madrid bombings (see March 2003 and September 2003-February 2004). [New York Times, 4/30/2004; London Times, 6/19/2004] The London Times later comments, “The revelation has raised fresh concerns in Madrid about links between those held responsible for the March bombings, which killed 190 people, and Spain’s security services, and shortcomings in the police investigation.” [London Times, 6/19/2004] Trashorras will eventually be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombings, Zouhier will also get a ten or more year prison term, and the Toros will be acquitted (see October 31, 2007). [MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
Several 9/11 Commission members, including chairman Thomas Kean and vice-chairman Lee Hamilton, are alarmed at Vice President Dick Cheney’s response to the commission’s claim that no link exists between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see June 17, 2004). They have no desire to go toe-to-toe with an enraged White House over the question. Hamilton privately asks Doug MacEachin, the principal author of that portion of the report, to go back and sift the evidence again to ensure that he missed nothing that might bear out the White House’s arguments. Publicly, Kean and Hamilton are much more resolute. If Cheney has information that he has not shared with the commission, as Cheney has implied, he needs to turn it over promptly. “I would like to see the evidence that Mr. Cheney is talking about,” Hamilton says. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385] No more evidence is found, and the commission ultimately sticks by their conclusions.
After a search of Iraqi paramilitary records indicates a man named Hikmat Shakir Ahmad was a lieutenant colonel in Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen, there is speculation that he is the same person as Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, an alleged Iraqi al-Qaeda operative who met one of the 9/11 hijackers during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), and was captured and inexplicably released after 9/11 (see September 17, 2001). The claim that the two men are the same person is used to bolster the theory that Saddam Hussein was in some way connected to 9/11, but turns out not to be true, as the two of them are found to be in different places at one time, in September 2001. [Knight Ridder, 6/12/2004; Washington Post, 6/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
Vice President Cheney has called the prisoners being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, “the worst of a very bad lot” (see January 27, 2002) and other US officials have suggested that information from them has exposed terrorist cells and foiled attacks. But a lengthy New York Times investigation finds that US “government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided.… In interviews, dozens of high-level military, intelligence and law-enforcement officials in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East said that contrary to the repeated assertions of senior administration officials, none of the detainees at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay ranked as leaders or senior operatives of al-Qaeda. They said only a relative handful—some put the number at about a dozen, others more than two dozen—were sworn al-Qaeda members or other militants able to elucidate the organization’s inner workings.” While some information from the prisoners has been useful to investigators, none of it has stopped any imminent attacks. Information from Guantanamo is considered “only a trickle” compared to what is being learned from prisoners held by the CIA in secret prisons elsewhere. Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, in charge of the task force running the prison, says, “The expectations, I think, may have been too high at the outset. There are those who expected a flow of intelligence that would help us break the most sophisticated terror organization in a matter of months. But that hasn’t happened.” Ironically, although few prisoners have been released, it appears about five have rejoined the Taliban and resumed attacks against US forces. Abdullah Laghmani, the chief of the National Security Directorate in Kandahar, Afghanistan, says, “There are lots of people who were innocent, and they are capturing them, just on anyone’s information. And then they are releasing guilty people.” [New York Times, 6/21/2004] Abdurahman Khadr, a CIA informant posing as a Guantanamo inmate for much of 2003 (see November 10, 2001-Early 2003 and Spring 2003), will later say about the prison: “There’s only, like, a 10 percent of the people that are really dangerous, that should be there. And the rest are people that, you know, don’t have anything to do with it, don’t even- you know, don’t even understand what they’re doing here.” [PBS Frontline, 4/22/2004] The Los Angeles Times reported back in August 2002 that no al-Qaeda leaders are being held at Guantanamo (see August 18, 2002). Some al-Qaeda leaders will be transferred into the prison from secret CIA prisons in September 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006).
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith (see June 17, 2004), Deputy Attorney General Jack Comey, and Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin brief reporters on the OLC’s decision to withdraw the department’s memos authorizing torture (see June 22, 2004). Comey explains that the statements about potential defenses against war crimes charges, and the commander in chief’s power to ignore anti-torture laws and treaties, are nothing more than “broad academic theories” that had never actually been relied upon to formulate policy. The “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) is “under review and will be replaced with analysis limited to the legality of actual al-Qaeda interrogation practices and the torture statutes and other applicable laws.” Goldsmith’s decision to withdraw the memos causes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later term “a final burst of apoplexy among the hard-liners on the Bush-Cheney legal team.” OLC lawyer John Yoo, who authored many of the withdrawn memos, will later write that Goldsmith’s decision set “a terrible precedent” and rendered “Justice Department judgments on the law… just one more political target open to political attack and political negotiations.” Yoo will accuse Goldsmith and Comey of being “too worried about public perceptions” of the department’s work. [Savage, 2007, pp. 190-191]
Attempting to stem the flow of bad publicity and world-wide criticism surrounding the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and similar reports from Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, accompanied by Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell’Orto, give a lengthy press conference to discuss the US’s position on interrogation and torture. Gonzales and Haynes provide reporters with a thick folder of documents, being made public for the first time. Those documents include the so-called “Haynes Memo” (see November 27, 2002), and the list of 18 interrogation techniques approved for use against detainees (see December 2, 2002 and April 16, 2003). Gonzales and Haynes make carefully prepared points: the war against terrorism, and al-Qaeda in particular, is a different kind of war, they say. Terrorism targets civilians and is not limited to battlefield engagements, nor do terrorists observe the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions or any other international rules. The administration has always acted judiciously in its attempt to counter terrorism, even as it moved from a strictly law-enforcement paradigm to one that marshaled “all elements of national power.” Their arguments are as follows:
Always Within the Law - First, the Bush administration has always acted within reason, care, and deliberation, and has always followed the law. In February 2002, President Bush had determined that none of the detainees at Guantanamo should be covered under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). That presidential order is included in the document packet. According to Gonzales and Haynes, that order merely reflected a clear-eyed reading of the actual provision of the conventions, and does not circumvent the law. Another document is the so-called “torture memo” written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see August 1, 2002). Although such legal opinions carry great weight, and though the administration used the “torture memo” for months to guide actions by military and CIA interrogators, Gonzales says that the memo has nothing to do with the actions at Guantanamo. The memo was intended to do little more than explore “the limits of the legal landscape.” Gonzales says that the memo included “irrelevant and unnecessary” material, and was never given to Bush or distributed to soldiers in the field. The memo did not, Gonzales asserts, “reflect the policies that the administration ultimately adopted.” Unfortunately for their story, the facts are quite different. According to several people involved in the Geneva decision, it was never about following the letter of the law, but was designed to give legal cover to a prior decision to use harsh, coercive interrogation. Author and law professor Phillippe Sands will write, “it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall.” Sands interviewed former Defense Department official Douglas Feith about the Geneva issue, and Feith proudly acknowledged that the entire point of the legal machinations was to strip away detainees’ rights under Geneva (see Early 2006).
Harsh Techniques Suggested from Below - Gonzales and Haynes move to the question of where, exactly, the new interrogation techniques came from. Their answer: the former military commander at Guantanamo, Michael E. Dunlavey. Haynes later describes Dunlavey to the Senate Judiciary Committee as “an aggressive major general.” None of the ideas originated in Washington, and anything signed off or approved by White House or Pentagon officials were merely responses to requests from the field. Those requests were prompted by a recalcitrant detainee at Guantanamo, Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had proven resistant to normal interrogation techniques. As the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, and fears of a second attack mounted, Dell’Orto says that Guantanamo field commanders decided “that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” Thusly, a request was processed from Guantanamo through military channels, through Haynes, and ultimately to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who approved 15 of the 18 requested techniques to be used against al-Khatani and, later, against other terror suspects (see September 25, 2002 and December 2, 2002). According to Gonzales, Haynes, and Dell’Orto, Haynes and Rumsfeld were just processing a request from military officers. Again, the evidence contradicts their story. The torture memo came as a result of intense pressure from the offices of Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. It was never some theoretical document or some exercise in hypothesizing, but, Sands will write, “played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantanamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.” Gonzales and Haynes were, with Cheney chief of staff David Addington and Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee (the authors of the torture memo), “a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse,” in Sands’s words. Dunlavey was Rumsfeld’s personal choice to head the interrogations at Guantanamo; he liked the fact that Dunlavey was a “tyrant,” in the words of a former Judge Advocate General official, and had no problem with the decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld had Dunlavey ignore the chain of command and report directly to him, though Dunlavey reported most often to Feith. Additionally, the Yoo/Bybee torture memo was in response to the CIA’s desire to aggressively interrogate another terror suspect not held at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Sands will write, “Gonzales would later contend that this policy memo did ‘not reflect the policies the administration ultimately adopted,’ but in fact it gave carte blanche to all the interrogation techniques later recommended by Haynes and approved by Rumsfeld.” He also cites another Justice Department memo, requested by the CIA and never made public, that spells out the specific techniques in detail. No one at Guantanamo ever saw either of the memos. Sands concludes, “The lawyers in Washington were playing a double game. They wanted maximum pressure applied during interrogations, but didn’t want to be seen as the ones applying it—they wanted distance and deniability. They also wanted legal cover for themselves. A key question is whether Haynes and Rumsfeld had knowledge of the content of these memos before they approved the new interrogation techniques for al-Khatani. If they did, then the administration’s official narrative—that the pressure for new techniques, and the legal support for them, originated on the ground at Guantanamo, from the ‘aggressive major general’ and his staff lawyer—becomes difficult to sustain. More crucially, that knowledge is a link in the causal chain that connects the keyboards of Feith and Yoo to the interrogations of Guantanamo.”
Legal Justifications Also From Below - The legal justification for the new interrogation techniques also originated at Guantanamo, the three assert, and not by anyone in the White House and certainly not by anyone in the Justice Department. The document stack includes a legal analysis by the staff judge advocate at Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which gives legal justifications for all the interrogation techniques. The responsibility lies ultimately with Beaver, the three imply, and not with anyone higher up the chain. Again, the story is severely flawed. Beaver will give extensive interviews to Sands, and paint a very different picture (see Fall 2006). One Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist, Mike Gelles (see December 17-18, 2002), will dispute Gonzales’s contention that the techniques trickled up the chain from lower-level officials at Guantanamo such as Beaver. “That’s not accurate,” he will say. “This was not done by a bunch of people down in Gitmo—no way.” That view is supported by a visit to Guantanamo by several top-ranking administration lawyers, in which Guantanamo personnel are given the “green light” to conduct harsh interrogations of detainees (see September 25, 2002).
No Connection between Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib - Finally, the decisions regarding interrogations at Guantanamo have never had any impact on the interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Gonzales wants to “set the record straight” on that question. The administration has never authorized nor countenanced torture of any kind. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were unauthorized and had nothing to do with administration policies. Much evidence exists to counter this assertion (see December 17-18, 2002). In August 2003, the head of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, visited Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, accompanied by, among others, Diane Beaver (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). They were shocked at the near-lawlessness of the facility, and Miller recommended to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the supreme US commander in Iraq, that many of the same techniques used at Guantanamo be used in Abu Ghraib. Sanchez soon authorized the use of those techniques (see September 14-17, 2003). The serious abuses reported at Abu Ghraib began a month later. Gelles worried, with justification, that the techniques approved for use against al-Khatani would spread to other US detention facilities. Gelles’s “migration theory” was controversial and dangerous, because if found to be accurate, it would tend to implicate those who authorized the Guantanamo interrogation techniques in the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. “Torture memo” author John Yoo called the theory “an exercise in hyperbole and partisan smear.” But Gelles’s theory is supported, not only by the Abu Ghraib abuses, but by an August 2006 Pentagon report that will find that techniques from Guantanamo did indeed migrate into Abu Ghraib, and a report from an investigation by former defense secretary James Schlesinger (see August 24, 2004) that will find “augmented techniques for Guantanamo migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” [White House, 7/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Phillippe Sands, Ricardo S. Sanchez, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, US Department of Defense, William J. Haynes, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michael Gelles, Bush administration (43), Daniel J. Dell’Orto, Mohamed al-Khatani, Diane E. Beaver, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Geneva Conventions, Michael E. Dunlavey, John C. Yoo, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jay S. Bybee, George W. Bush, Geoffrey D. Miller, James R. Schlesinger, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Senator Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC) writes: “Heretofore, the world looked to the United States to do the right thing. No more. The United States has lost its moral authority.” [Truthout (.org), 6/23/2004]
It is reported that the FBI’s Boston office is investigating if there may have been an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Boston and whether it may have had connections to the 9/11 attacks. The Boston FBI had previously denied the existence of any Boston cell, even though they knew before 9/11 that four Boston taxi drivers—Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, and Bassam Kanj—all knew each other well and were all connected to al-Qaeda (see January 2001; Mid-August 2001). But the FBI shows new interest in the possibility after indicting Elzahabi in Minnesota a few days earlier (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). The Boston Globe comments, “The possibility that unknown people in Boston were providing support to terrorists, including the 10 who hijacked the two planes out of Logan Airport, has been the subject of much conjecture among law enforcement officials.” [Boston Globe, 6/27/2004] Unofficially, it seems that even before 9/11, some in the FBI thought that al-Qaeda had cells in Boston. On September 12, 2001, an anonymous long-time Boston FBI agent told the Boston Globe that there were “a lot of terrorist cells in [the Boston] area.… It’s a facilitator for terrorist activity. There have been cells here of bin Laden’s associates. They’re entrenched here.” [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says, “We uncovered plots in December of 1999 that also involved Boston cab drivers around the millennium rollover. I think there is a high probability the Boston FBI missed a major cell there.” [WCVB 5 (Boston), 6/28/2004]
The Associated Press reports that both Republicans and Democrats have expressed outrage that Nabil al-Marabh was deported in January 2004 (see January 2004). Several senators have written letters to Attorney General John Ashcroft, demanding an explanation. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IN) states that the circumstances of al-Marabh’s deportation—who was “at one time No. 27 on the [FBI] list of Most Wanted Terrorists”—are “of deep concern and appear to be a departure from an aggressive, proactive approach to the war on terrorism.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote to Ashcroft, “The odd handling of this case raises questions that deserve answers from the Justice Department.… Why was a suspected terrorist returned to a country that sponsors terrorism? We need to know that the safety of the American people and our strategic goals in countering terrorism are paramount factors when decisions like this are made.” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) says, “It seems that pursuing a military tribunal, a classified criminal trial, or continued immigration proceedings would have made more sense than merely deporting a suspected terrorist.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has also made inquiries into the case. Prosecutors in several US cities sought to bring criminal cases against al-Marabh and a US attorney in Chicago drafted an indictment against him, which he apparently was not allowed to pursue (see January-2002-December 2002). [Associated Press, 6/30/2004] Apparently, no explanation from Ashcroft is ever given. The 9/11 Commission Final Report, released a couple of months later, will fail to mention al-Marabh at all.
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 (see September 2002-October 2003). He continued to work with Spanish authorities, and in July 2004, several months after the Madrid train bombings, he hears about a new Spanish bomb plot. He tells authorities that the plot is being led by a man named Mohamed Achraf, who is leading the effort despite being held in a prison in Switzterland on immigration violations. Achraf’s plan is to blow up the National Justice Building (Audiencia Nacional) in Madrid, using 500 kilos (1,100 lbs) of explosives. He is leading a criminal network and has been raising the money for the explosives through robbery and drug trafficking. He hopes that the bomb will kill judges Baltasar Garzon and Juan del Olmo, who are in charge of investigations against suspected al-Qaeda figures in Spain. He also hopes the destruction of the building will destroy many documents about Islamist militants in Spain. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/21/2004] Beginning on October 18, 2004, Spain arrests about 30 people who they accuse of involvement in the plot. Achraf will be extradited to Spain to stand trial with the others there. As of early 2008, no verdicts have been reached. [BBC, 10/22/2004; BBC, 10/15/2007]
The White House sends a classified memo to the CIA. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Washington Post will later learn that it approves “harsh tactics” by CIA interrogators in questioning suspected terrorists. The memo was requested by CIA Director George Tenet, who asked for legal cover for the torture and harsh interrogation methods employed by CIA interrogators in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Tenet had already asked for, and received, a similar legal authorization a year earlier (see June 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 10/15/2008; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member of the 9/11 Commission, insists that the commission properly interview two CIA analysts who drafted an August 2001 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). Ben-Veniste makes the demand after he learns that Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow interviewed one of the analysts by phone, but allegedly pressured the analyst to back the White House version of events (see June 2004). Initially, Ben-Veniste asks to see transcripts of interviews with the analysts. However, according to author Philip Shenon: “With a condescending tone that reflected his disdain for Ben-Veniste, Zelikow explained matter-of-factly that there weren’t any transcripts…. After months of battles with Zelikow, it was hard for Ben-Veniste to be shocked by almost anything he did. But the staff could see that Ben-Veniste was genuinely startled.” Ben-Veniste’s demand for full interviews is opposed by Zelikow, who says that one of the analysts, known only as Barbara S, has already been interviewed (although it is unclear how much of this interview was focused on the PDB). Zelikow will also say, “The CIA was pleading with us not to do this, since the career people involved in preparing and presenting PDBs would be intimidated, disrupting the sense of confidentiality and candor they considered essential for the PDB process.” However, when they are interviewed, the two analysts seem eager to volunteer the information they have. The commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, who has a record of siding with the Republicans (see Before November 27, 2002 and March 2003-July 2004) fails to back Ben-Veniste before the full commission. Republican Chairman Tom Kean rescues him, pushing through the request for the interviews in the face of opposition from the other Republicans on the commission (see July 13, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 375-377]
In a statement to Congress on July 1, 2004, CIA Director George Tenet doubts that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001. He says, “Although we cannot rule it out, we are increasingly skeptical that such a meeting occurred.” He adds that Atta “would have been unlikely to undertake the substantial risk of contacting any Iraqi official” at such a date. [New York Times, 7/9/2004]
After 9/11 commission staffer Lorry Fenner discovers material apparently related to 9/11 in files made available to the commission by the NSA (see January 2004), a group of commission staff goes to the NSA to have a look at its archives. The group includes Fenner, as well as Lloyd Salvetti and Doug MacEachin, who have already looked at some of the material (see June 2004). The trip is at the weekend just before the commission is to complete its final report, and the group leaves Washington at 7:00 a.m. and stays “virtually all day.” They are given “huge piles of documents” to review. MacEachin will say: “There were stacks and stacks of paper. I was angry I hadn’t seen this before.” This appears to be the only trip made by the 9/11 Commission to the NSA to review documents and many NSA documents go unseen by the Commission. Author Philip Shenon will write: “[What the commission] staff knew… perfectly well, was that the NSA archives almost certainly contained other vital information about al-Qaeda and its history. But there was no time left to search for it. [Executive director Philip] Zelikow would later admit he too was worried that important classified information had never been reviewed at the NSA and elsewhere in the government before the 9/11 commission shut its doors, that critical evidence about bin Laden’s terrorist network sat buried in government files, unread to this day. By July 2004, it was just too late to keep digging.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 373]
The 9/11 Commission arranges for a final interview of CIA Director George Tenet. The Commission’s staff thinks of the interview as a “final test of Tenet’s credibility,” because they believe that both he and other CIA managers have not been telling them the full truth (see Before January 14, 2004 and January 22, 2004). In particular they want to ask him about a memorandum of notification that enabled the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden, but was not acted on (see December 24, 1998).
What Memo? - When the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow says he wants to talk about the memo, Tenet, who spent a long time revising for his sessions with the Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), replies, “What are you referring to?” Zelikow explains about the memo, but Tenet says, “I’m not sure what we’re talking about.” He then says he remembers an early draft of the memo, which did not authorize the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow explains that the draft Tenet is referring to is an early version of the memo, and that a later version, apparently requested by Tenet himself, allowed the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow has not been able to bring the memo with him, because it is so highly classified, and Tenet still does not remember, saying, “Well, as I say, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Disbelief - Author Philip Shenon will write: “Zelikow and [Commission staffer Alexis] Albion looked at each other across the table in disbelief. It was the last straw with Tenet, the final bit of proof they needed to demonstrate that Tenet simply could not tell the truth to the Commission.” Zelikow will later say that he concluded Tenet’s memory lapses were not genuine, but that “George had decided not to share information on any topic unless we already had documentary proof, and then he would add as little as possible to the record.”
False Denial - However, Tenet will deny this was the case, and say he could not remember the authorization to kill bin Laden because he had been on holiday when it was signed and transmitted to Afghanistan. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 359-360] However, the 9/11 Commission will state that this memo was “given to Tenet.” In addition, the 9/11 Commission Report calls the message in which the instructions were communicated to the assets in Afghanistan that were to kill bin Laden “CIA cable, message from the DCI.” DCI stands for director of central intelligence, Tenet’s official job title. Therefore, Tenet very probably did know about it. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485]
Mohammed al-Massari. [Source: David Burges]When asked whether British troops can properly be targeted in Iraq under British law, London-based Islamist Mohammed al-Massari replies, “British soldiers are reasonable targets for Iraqis and those joining the camp of the Iraqis.” Al-Massari, who runs the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights, adds that Prime Minister Tony Blair is a legitimate target: “[The Prime Minister] is not a non-combatant. He is Tony Blair, the commander of the army.” Although it is an offence carrying a 10-year jail term to incite terrorism abroad, no action is apparently taken against al-Massari for these statements. [BBC, 7/3/2004] Al-Massari helped set up a communications link for Osama bin Laden in the mid-1990s (see 1994) and ran a radio station and website that glorified Islamic extremist violence (see (2004 and After)).
Navy General Counsel Alberto J. Mora writes a secret, but unclassified, memo to Vice Admiral Albert Church, who led a Pentagon investigation into abuses at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Mora writes the memo in an attempt to stop what he sees as a disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruel and inhuman treatment of terror suspects. The memo details in chronological fashion Mora’s earlier attempts to speak out against the Bush administration’s decision to circumvent the Geneva Conventions (see January 9, 2002 and January 11, 2002).
Specific Problems - Mora, a veteran of the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and a strong supporter of the “war on terror,” argues that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward US-held terrorist suspects is an implicit invitation to abuse. Mora also writes that the Bush administration’s legal arguments that justify an expansion of executive power in everything from interrogations to warrantless wiretapping are “unlawful,” “dangerous,” and “erroneous” legal theories. Not only are they wrong in granting President Bush the right to authorize torture, he warns that they may leave US personnel open to criminal prosecution. While the administration has argued that it holds to humane, legal standards in interrogation practices (see January 12, 2006), Mora’s memo shows that from the outset of the administration’s “war on terror,” the White House, the Justice Department, and the Defense Department intentionally skirted and at times ignored domestic and international laws surrounding interrogation and detention of prisoners.
Cruelty and Torture - Mora will later recall the mood in the Pentagon: “The mentality was that we lost three thousand Americans [on 9/11], and we could lose a lot more unless something was done. It was believed that some of the Guantanamo detainees had knowledge of other 9/11-like operations that were under way, or would be executed in the future. The gloves had to come off. The US had to get tougher.” But, Mora will say, the authorization of cruel treatment of detainees is as pernicious as any defined torture techniques that have been used. “To my mind, there’s no moral or practical distinction,” he says. “If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America—even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue.… The debate here isn’t only how to protect the country. It’s how to protect our values.” [Mora, 7/7/2004 ; New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
Deforest B. Soaries Jr. [Source: MSNBC]On July 6, John Kerry named John Edwards as his running mate. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] This produced a slight increase in the opinion polls and a media focus on the Kerry campaign. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Two days later, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warns that “Al-Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.” [Department of Homeland Security, 7/8/2004] Officials cite “alarming” intelligence about a possible al-Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall and admit they are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of an attack. Officials point to the recent Madrid train bombings as an attempt by al-Qaeda to influence the political process in a democratic nation (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Intercepted chatter leads one analyst to say, “they want to interfere with the elections.” It is reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze the necessary legal steps that would permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place. [Newsweek, 7/19/2004] The head of the US Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., confirms he has written to Tom Ridge to discuss this prospect. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Soaries notes that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001 was suspended by the State Board of Elections after the attacks, “the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election.” Soaries advises Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress that would grant such power to the DHS. DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says, “We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election.” [Newsweek, 7/19/2004] A top European spy says of the threat, “I am aware of no intelligence, nothing that shows there will be an attack before the US presidential election.” No attack will materialize and no further information on the threat will be presented to the public. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] Ridge will later concede that he had no “precise knowledge” of the attack he warned against, and he never made plans to raise the color-coded threat level. [Rich, 2006, pp. 146]
Mohammed al-Zubaidi, a former Iraqi National Congress (INC) official who worked until April 2003 to prep INC defectors with falsified stories to link the Saddam Hussein regime to the 9/11 attacks (see November 6-8, 2001), admits that the INC intentionally exaggerated information it provided to journalists. (His former boss Ahmed Chalabi has admitted the same; see February 18, 2004). “We all know the defectors had a little information on which they built big stories,” he says. INC officials will respond by calling al-Zubaidi “loony” and “childish.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Pat Roberts during a July 9, 2004 interview on PBS. [Source: PBS]The Senate Intelligence Committee releases the 511-page Senate Report on Iraqi WMD intelligence, formally titled the “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004; CNN, 7/9/2004] All nine Republicans and eight Democrats signed off on the report without dissent, which, as reporter Murray Waas will write, is “a rarity for any such report in Washington, especially during an election year.” [National Journal, 10/27/2005]
Report Redacted by White House - About 20 percent of the report was redacted by the White House before its release, over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Some of the redactions include caveats and warnings about the reliability of key CIA informants, one code-named “Red River” and another code-named “Curveball” (see Mid- and Late 2001). The source called “Red River” failed polygraph tests given to him by CIA officers to assess his reliability, but portions of the report detailing these and other caveats were redacted at the behest of Bush administration officials. [New York Times, 7/12/2004; New York Times, 7/18/2004]
Widespread Failures of US Intelligence - The report identifies multiple, widespread failures by the US intelligence community in its gathering and analysis of intelligence about Iraq WMD, which led to gross misunderstandings and misrepresentations about Iraq’s WMD programs to the American public by government officials. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who has previously attempted to shift blame for the intelligence misrepresentations away from the Bush administration and onto the CIA (see July 11, 2003 and After), says that intelligence used to support the invasion of Iraq was based on assessments that were “unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.” He continues: “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and if left unchecked would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the 18-member panel that created the report, says “bad information” was used to bolster the case for war. “We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now,” he says (see October 10, 2002). “Leading up to September 11, our government didn’t connect the dots. In Iraq, we are even more culpable because the dots themselves never existed.” Numerous assertions in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) were “overstated” or “not supported by the raw intelligence reporting,” including:
Claims that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program;
Claims that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons;
Claims that Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle that could be used to deliver chemical and/or biological weapons payloads onto distant targets;
The so-called “layering effect,” where “assessments were based on previous judgments, without considering the uncertainties of those judgments” (Roberts calls it an “assumption train”);
The failure to explain adequately the uncertainties in the October 2002 NIE to White House officials and Congressional lawmakers;
Reliance on claims by “Curveball,” noting that the use of those claims “demonstrated serious lapses in handling such an important source”;
Use of “overstated, misleading, or incorrect” information in helping then-Secretary of State Colin Powell present the administration’s case to the United Nations in February 2003 (see February 5, 2003); and
The failure of the CIA to share significant intelligence with other agencies. [CNN, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
“One fact is now clear,” Roberts says. “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Well, today we know these assessments were wrong.” [Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004] Rockefeller says the intelligence community failed to “accurately or adequately explain the uncertainties behind the judgments in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to policymakers.” The community’s “intelligence failures” will haunt America’s national security “for generations to come,” he says. “Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower,” he says. “We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
'Group Think' and 'Corporate Culture' - Roberts says the report finds that the “flawed” information used to send the nation to war was the result of “what we call a collective group think, which led analysts and collectors and managers to presume that Iraq had active and growing WMD programs.” He says this “group think caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs.” Roberts blames “group think” and a “broken corporate culture and poor management,” which “cannot be solved by simply adding funding and also personnel.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
Lack of Human Intelligence in Iraq - Perhaps the most troubling finding, Roberts says, is the intelligence community’s near-total lack of human intelligence in Iraq. “Most alarmingly, after 1998 and the exit of the UN inspectors, the CIA had no human intelligence sources inside Iraq who were collecting against the WMD target,” he says. [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
No Connection between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Rockefeller says that the administration’s claims of an alliance between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had no basis in fact: “[N]o evidence existed of Iraq’s complicity or assistance in al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, including 9/11.” The report says that intelligence claims of connections between Iraq and some terrorist activities were accurate, though the contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq from the 1990s “did not add up to an established formal relationship.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
Divided Opinion on Pressure from Bush Administration - Republicans and Democrats on the committee differ as to whether they believe the CIA and other intelligence agencies groomed or distorted their findings as a result of political pressure from the White House. “The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure,” Roberts says. However, Rockefeller notes that the report fails to explain fully the pressures on the intelligence community “when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly. It was clear to all of us in this room who were watching that—and to many others—that they had made up their mind that they were going to go to war.” The analysts were subjected to a “cascade of ominous statements,” Rockefeller says, that may have pushed them to slant their analyses in the direction the White House indicated it wanted. The report finds that Vice President Dick Cheney and others who repeatedly visited intelligence agencies (see 2002-Early 2003) pressured intelligence analysts or officials to present particular findings or change their views. However, the report notes repeated instances of analysts exaggerating what they knew, and leaving out, glossing over, or omitting dissenting views. According to the report, the intelligence community released a misleading public version of the October 2002 NIE (see October 4, 2002) that eliminated caveats and dissenting opinions, thus misrepresenting “their judgments to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004] In an interview the evening after the report’s release, Rockefeller is asked if the report documents “a failure of a system or is this a failure of a bunch of individuals who just did their jobs poorly?” Rockefeller responds: “This is a failure of a system.… It is not fair to simply dump all of this on the Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency does not make the decision, and [former Director] George Tenet does not make the decision to go to war. That decision is made at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.… So we went to war under false pretenses, and I think that is a very serious subject for Americans to think about for our future.” Asked “if the president had known then what he knows now, he would have still taken us to war?” Rockefeller answers: “I can’t answer that question. I just ask—the question I ask is, why isn’t he, and maybe he is, why isn’t he as angry about his decision, so to speak his vote on this, as I am about mine?” [PBS, 7/9/2004]
Supporting the Claim of Iraq's Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - The report states flatly that senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson made the decision to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The CIA has demonstrated that Plame Wilson did not make that decision (see February 19, 2002). However, as well as claiming that Plame Wilson sent Wilson to Niger, it claims that Wilson’s report, far from disproving the assertion of an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium, actually bolstered that assertion. The report states that the question of Iraq’s attempt to buy Nigerien uranium remains “open.” It also says Wilson lied to the Washington Post in June 2004 by claiming that the documents used to support the claim were forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports,” the report states. Wilson told committee members he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to some reporters (see May 2, 2004). The committee did not examine the documents themselves. [Washington Post, 7/10/2009] The committee made similar claims a year before (see June 11, 2003 and July 11, 2003 and After). Progressive reporter and columnist Joshua Micah Marshall disputes the report’s claim that Wilson’s trip to Niger actually helped prove the assertion that Iraq tried to buy Nigerien uranium. The intelligence reports making the assertion are “fruits of the same poison tree” that produced so many other false and misleading claims, Marshall writes, and were based on the assumption that the forged documents were genuine. [Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/10/2004] In 2007, Plame Wilson will write, “What was missing from the [committee] report was just as telling as the distortions it contained. The ‘Additional Views’ section… had concluded” that she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. Yet that was contradicted by a senior CIA official over a year before. Plame Wilson will call the “Additional Views” section “a political smear if there ever was one,” crammed with “distortions and outright lies. Yet it continues to be cited today by Joe’s critics as proof of his lack of credibility.” The Wilsons learn months later that committee Democrats decided not to fight against the attacks on Wilson’s integrity; according to one of the senior Democratic senators on the panel, there was simply too much “incoming” from the Republicans for them to fight every issue. There were “far too many serious substantial disputes” that needed solving, and the Democrats chose to allow the attacks on Wilson to proceed without comment. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 187-190]
Portion of the Report Delayed - Roberts and other Republican majority committee members were successful in blocking Democrats’ attempts to complete the second portion of the report, which delineates the Bush administration’s use of the intelligence findings. That report will not be released until after the November 2004 presidential election. Rockefeller says he feels “genuine frustration… that virtually everything that has to do with the administration” has been “relegated to phase two” and will be discussed at another time. The second part of the committee’s investigation will focus on the “interaction or the pressure or the shaping of intelligence” by the Bush administration, Rockefeller says. “It was clear to all of us that the Bush administration had made up its mind to go to war,” he says, and he believes that such a “predetermination” influenced the intelligence community. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says she hopes a similar House investigation would address some of those issues. However, she notes, she has been stymied by House Republicans in even launching that investigation. “There has not been the cooperation that there apparently has been on the Senate side,” she says. She has just now managed to wangle a meeting with House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL), who is being touted as the next director of the CIA (see September 24, 2004). Harman says, “I would hope we could address [the issues] factually and on a bipartisan basis, but at the moment I don’t have a lot of confidence in it.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004] Roberts’s spokeswoman Sarah Little later says that the committee has not yet decided whether the second portion of the report will be fully classified, declassified, or even if it will hold hearings. [National Journal, 10/27/2005]
Cheney, Roberts Colluded in Interfering with Report - Over a year later, the media will find that Roberts allowed Cheney and members of his staff to interfere with the committee’s investigation and dramatically limit its scope (see October 27, 2005). Rockefeller will say that he made three separate requests for White House documents during the committee’s investigation, but never received the documents he asked for. “The fact is,” Rockefeller will say, “that throughout the Iraq investigation any line of questioning that brought us too close to the White House was thwarted.” Rockefeller’s spokesperson, Wendy Morigi, will say that Rockefeller will “sadly come to the conclusion that the Intelligence Committee is not capable of doing the job of investigating the fundamental question as to whether the administration has misused intelligence to go to war.” [National Journal, 10/30/2005] Plame Wilson will write: “In the coming months, many reliable sources told us that before the report was issued, there was considerable collusion between the vice president’s office and… Roberts on how to craft the report and its content. So much for checks and balances and the separation of powers.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 192]
Entity Tags: Joshua Micah Marshall, Pat Roberts, Murray Waas, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Porter J. Goss, Joseph C. Wilson, Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Central Intelligence Agency, House Intelligence Committee, ’Curveball’, Jane Harman, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Wendy Morigi, Sarah Little, George J. Tenet
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The 9/11 Commission publicly concludes that there was “no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States” and that repeated contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda “do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.” It also again confirms that it does not believe the alleged April 2001 Prague meeting between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani (see 1999) ever took place, a conclusion it had made in a public staff statement the month before (see June 16, 2004). [New York Times, 7/12/2004]
Bush, with Oak Ridge’s Jon Kreykes, looks at nuclear weapons materials turned over by Libya. [Source: Associated Press]In a speech given at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, President Bush defends the decision to invade and occupy Iraq as necessary for the nation’s safety. “Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq,” he tells listeners. “I had a choice to make. Either take the word of a madman, or defend America. Given that choice, I will defend America every time.… We removed a declared enemy of America, who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder, and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them. In the world after September the 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take.” Bush is battling against recent findings by the Senate Intelligence Committee that showed his administration distorted and cherry-picked intelligence reports in its progress towards the invasion (see July 9, 2004). In his speech, Bush attempts to revise the rationale for invading Iraq. While the reasoning for invading was formerly the specter of Iraqi WMD imperiling the Middle East and even the US itself, now Bush asserts that invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the first action of a larger, three-pronged strategy for peace. The strategy is, he says, “defending the peace, protecting the peace, and extending the peace.” He says, “We are defending the peace by taking the fight to the enemy,” in what the Washington Post calls “a subtle reformulation of the idea of ‘preemption’ that has been a centerpiece of his foreign policy since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.” Bush continues: “We have followed this strategy—defending the peace, protecting the peace, and extending the peace—for nearly three years. We have been focused and patient, firm and consistent. [The administration is] protecting the peace by working with friends and allies and international institutions to isolate and confront terrorists and outlaw regimes.” Both Iraq and Afghanistan are the beneficiaries of positive change, he says, as are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Libya. Most importantly, he says, “the American people are safer.” [USA Today, 7/12/2004; White House, 7/12/2004; New York Times, 7/13/2004] Reading about Bush’s speech, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, an expert on Iraqi WMD, is bemused by Bush’s words. In 2007, she will write, “It was as if there were two wars: the one that the administration touted with pride, and the one that everyone else followed on their TVs and that wasn’t going as promised.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 184]
As President Bush attempts to recast the Iraq invasion from being a military strike designed to eliminate the looming threat of Iraqi WMD into a larger strategy of bringing peace to the Middle East (see July 12, 2004), Vice President Dick Cheney adds a second thrust to the assertion by accusing Democrats of “trying to rewrite history for their own political purposes” when they criticize the administration for going to war based on flawed intelligence. Referring to Democratic presidential contenders Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John Edwards (D-NC), who received some of the same intelligence reports the White House did before the war, Cheney says: “Now it seems they’ve both developed a convenient case of campaign amnesia. If the president was right—and he was—then they are simply trying to rewrite history for their own political purposes.” The Kerry campaign retorts that Bush and Cheney “are the ones with amnesia.… It’s as if they’ve forgotten that their go-it-alone foreign policy has made America bear the overwhelming share of casualties and costs in Iraq,” according to a campaign spokesman. [New York Times, 7/13/2004]
The 9/11 Commission interviews two CIA analysts who drafted an August 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). The interview is conducted mainly by commissioners Richard Ben-Veniste and Jim Thompson and follows an internal battle inside the Commission (see June 2004 and Early July 2004). Despite a claim by the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow that the analysts, known only as Barbara S and Dwayne D, were reluctant to answer questions, they are willing and eager to respond to Ben-Veniste.
PDB Item Not 'Historical' - According to author Philip Shenon, the analysts are “confused” and “appalled” by claims by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others at the White House that the PDB item only contained an “historical” overview of domestic terrorism threats. The analysts say that this was not its purpose and that it was supposed to remind President Bush that al-Qaeda remained a dire threat in August 2001 and that a domestic attack was certainly a possibility. For example, the item referred to “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks.” Barbara S says, “That’s not historical,” and adds the threat of a domestic terror attack by al-Qaeda was thought “current and serious” at that time.
Ordered up 'In-House' - In addition, the analysts say that another claim made by the White House, that President Bush specifically ordered the PDB (see April 13, 2004), is false. They state that the PDB item was ordered “in-house” by the CIA in the hope that the White House would pay more attention to the threat. However, President Bush had asked his intelligence briefers about the possibility of a domestic attack by terrorists that summer (see July 5, 2001).
Zelikow Objects to Placement of Material in Final Report - Ben-Veniste insists that the material from the two analysts is placed prominently in the Commission’s final report, although Zelikow objects to this. After negotiations, the relevant paragraph will read as follows: “During the spring and summer of 2001, President Bush had on several occasions asked his briefers whether any of the threats pointed to the United States. Reflecting on these questions, the CIA decided to write a briefing article summarizing its understanding of this danger. Two CIA analysts involved in preparing this briefing article believed it represented an opportunity to communicate their view that the threat of a bin Laden attack in the United States remained both current and serious. The result was an article in the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.’” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 377-379]
While reviewing reports from Iraq, senior CIA case officer and WMD expert Valerie Plame Wilson admits a fellow CIA officer into her office. In 2007, Plame Wilson will recall: “His round face was flushed and his eyes, behind glasses, looked close to tears. I had worked with him for the last two years, through many stressful days, and I had never seen him so emotional or distressed.” After she closes the door, he says tightly, “They twisted my testimony.” Plame Wilson is not sure what he is talking about. ”I recommended Joe for the trip, don’t you remember?” he continues. “I told the committee this, but they didn’t include it in the report.” Plame Wilson realizes that the officer is talking about the recently released report from the intelligence committee on the prewar intelligence used to justify the Iraq invasion (see July 9, 2004), and referring to her husband, Joseph Wilson. She will write: “So when… the reports officer came to my office a day after the [committee] report came out, he confirmed what I had felt to be true—that I had not suggested Joe at all—but was afraid to voice without knowing for sure. He also reminded me of how the phone call to [another CIA officer] had started this chain of events (see February 13, 2002). A wave of apprehension swept over me. I wanted to urge my colleague to come forward again with the truth, but I couldn’t tell him what to do—it would be witness tampering.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 192-193]
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan interrogated. [Source: BBC's "The New Al-Qaeda."]Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a young Pakistani, is arrested in Lahore after six weeks of surveillance by Pakistani authorities in conjunction with US intelligence agencies. The US and Pakistanis learned of Noor Khan after arresting another al-Qaeda suspect, Musaad Aruchi, a month before (see June 12, 2004), and they had been tracking him since then. Noor Khan is taken to a high-security prison by Pakistani authorities, who resisted pressure from the CIA to let them completely handle the operation. [Guardian, 8/8/2004] American intelligence agents find what they later call a “treasure trove” of information in Noor Khan’s computers and documents. [CNN, 8/2/2004] Khan is a communications hub of sorts for al-Qaeda. He is in frequent contact with dozens of other al-Qaeda terrorists around the world and passing messages back and forth from more senior al-Qaeda operatives. Former National Security Council official Gideon Rose will later say, “It is obviously a very serious victory. It is obvious that there is a real find here.” [Guardian, 8/8/2004] Khan, who speaks fluent English, is not just a center for expediting clandestine communications between al-Qaeda leaders and their underlings, but also handles and collates documents, reports, maps, and other information, and sometimes performs his own intelligence-gathering, usually on trips to Britain. [MSNBC, 8/8/2004] Khan’s computer contains detailed surveillance information about five US buildings—the Stock Exchange and Citigroup’s headquarters in New York City, the Prudential building in Newark, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters in Washington—all possible targets for future al-Qaeda attacks, though the information is all from 2000 and 2001. Other sites in New York City and San Francisco are mentioned, and meticulous information about London’s Heathrow Airport is also found. Pakistani intelligence officials believe that the information indicates a “present” threat, and so inform their US counterparts. Later in the month, the Pakistanis convince Khan to “turn,” or become a double agent. Khan will subsequently send e-mails to dozens of operatives all requesting that they contact him immediately (see July 24-25, 2004). [Guardian, 8/8/2004]
Entity Tags: World Bank, Prudential, New York Stock Exchange, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, International Monetary Fund, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, Central Intelligence Agency, Citigroup, Gideon Rose, Heathrow Airport, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for US Central Command (CENTCOM) says that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of torture methods against detainees in US custody (see December 2, 2002) rendered such methods legal for use in Afghanistan. According to the lawyer: “[T]he methodologies approved for [Guantanamo]… would appear to me to be legal interrogation processes. [The secretary of defense] had approved them. The general counsel [Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes] had approved them.… I believe it is fair to say the procedures approved for Guantanamo were legal for Afghanistan.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column a year earlier (see July 14, 2003), regarding the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on the administration’s use of intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq (see July 9, 2004), observes that its “most remarkable aspect… is what its Democratic members did not say.” Novak claims that committee Democrats do not dispute that Iraq tried to discuss purchasing yellowcake uranium from Niger. They did not agree to the report’s conclusion that Plame Wilson suggested her husband, Joseph Wilson, for a fact-finding mission to Niger, a conclusion that is false (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and Mid-July, 2004), but neither did they defend Wilson’s denials of his wife’s involvement. Novak writes: “According to committee sources, Roberts felt Wilson had been such a ‘cause celebre’ for Democrats that they could not face the facts about him.… Now, for Intelligence Committee Democrats, it is as though the Niger question and Joe Wilson have vanished from the earth.” [CNN, 7/15/2004]
After discovering information possibly linking Iran and Hezbollah to travel by the 9/11 hijackers in 2000 and early 2001 (see January-June 2004), the 9/11 Commission becomes worried about the impact the information might have on the current political situation. The material was discovered in NSA files late on in the commission’s investigation, as the commission initially paid little attention to the NSA (see Late 2002-July 2004 and Between July 1 and July 17, 2004). Commission staffers are worried because the information about the Iran links is not conclusive and the reports about it “might raise as many questions as they would answer.” In addition, they are aware that faulty intelligence had contributed to the decision to invade Iraq, and “the Bush administration seem[s] eager to engage in saber rattling with Iran.” However, commission chairman Tom Kean comments on the Iran information in the press and these comments become headline news (see July 16, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 373] The relevant passages in the final report point out that apparent links between travel by the future 9/11 hijackers and Hezbollah officials could be a “coincidence” and that al-Qaeda detainees have stated the only reason for traveling through Iran was because it did not place telltale stamps in passports. In addition, the report says that there is “no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack,” and that the “topic requires further investigation by the US government.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1]
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in a speech to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says that there is proof that Iraqi prisoners, including women and children, were raped and sodomized by US guards while in custody at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. Hersh, who, as evidenced by a video recording of the speech, is struggling with what to say and what not to say, tells the assemblage: “Debating about it, ummm.… Some of the worst things that happened you don’t know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib.… The women were passing messages out saying, ‘Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened,’ and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It’s going to come out.” Hersh continues: “It’s impossible to say to yourself how did we get there? Who are we? Who are these people that sent us there? When I did My Lai [a US military atrocity during the Vietnam War] I was very troubled like anybody in his right mind would be about what happened. I ended up in something I wrote saying in the end I said that the people who did the killing were as much victims as the people they killed because of the scars they had, I can tell you some of the personal stories by some of the people who were in these units witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers, and so we’re dealing with a enormous massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher, and we have to get to it and we will. We will.” In an earlier speech, Hersh noted the photos and videos of “horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run.” [Salon, 7/15/2004] Other stories from Abu Ghraib document the rape and sexual assault of prisoners (see October 7, 2003, October 24, 2003, and January 4, 2004).
Several days after CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s conversation with the junior records officer who confirmed that he was the one to suggest that Plame Wilson’s husband go to Niger (see After July 12, 2004), the officer shows Plame Wilson a crumpled copy of a memo he has written, stating that his Senate testimony had been twisted, and that he, not her, had suggested Joseph Wilson for the Niger trip. Plame Wilson will write, “I was filled with gratitude.” The officer says he had asked his supervisor if he could testify to the Senate a second time and was flatly turned down. Plame Wilson will write: “With the clear wisdom of hindsight, I should have immediately approached the senior management of CPD [the CIA’s counterproliferation division] and asked for their support to correct the report’s omission of the junior CPD’s testimony. I should have aggressively pushed for an investigation into how the report distorted the issue of how and why Joe was selected for the mission to Niger. I should have asked to make a photocopy of my colleague’s memo, and put it into a safety deposit box for safekeeping. I should have asked my former supervisor to clarify his role in Joe’s selection.… But I did none of these things. I was much too passive, feeling boxed in, afraid of repercussions. If I spoke out I would lose my job. If I didn’t, it might doom my marriage. It was a miserable time for me and Joe—both of us existing in separate but connected rooms in hell.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 193-194]
Shortly before the 9/11 Commission is due to release its final report (see July 22, 2004), Commission Chairman Thomas Kean says, “We believe.… that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, [between al-Qaeda and] Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq.” [Time, 7/16/2004] This is based on a review of NSA material performed by one commission staffer (see January-June 2004) and a day trip to NSA headquarters by a group of staffers to examine material there (see Between July 1 and July 17, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 155-7, 370-373] The US media immediately runs prominent stories on the Commission’s evidence regarding Iran and nearly completely ignores evidence regarding Pakistan. The Commission’s final report mentions that around ten of the hijackers passed through Iran in late 2000 and early 2001. At least some Iranian officials turned a blind eye to the passage of al-Qaeda agents, but there was no evidence that the Iranian government had any foreknowledge or involvement in the 9/11 plot (see Mid-July 2004). [Time, 7/16/2004; Reuters, 7/18/2004] In the wake of these findings, President Bush states of Iran, “As to direct connections with September 11, we’re digging into the facts to determine if there was one.” This puts Bush at odds with his own CIA, which has seen no Iran-9/11 ties. [Los Angeles Times, 7/20/2004] Bush has long considered Iran part of his “axis of evil,” and there has been talk of the US attacking or overthrowing the Iranian government. [Reuters, 7/18/2004] Provocative articles appear, such as one in the Daily Telegraph titled, “Now America Accuses Iran of Complicity in World Trade Center Attack.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/18/2004] Yet, while this information on Iran makes front page news in most major newspapers, evidence of a much stronger connection between Pakistan and 9/11 is nearly completely ignored. For instance, only UPI reports on a document suggesting high-level Pakistani involvement in the 9/11 attacks that is revealed this same week. [United Press International, 7/22/2004] Furthermore, the 9/11 Commission’s final report will contain almost nothing on Pakistan’s ties to al-Qaeda, despite evidence given to the Commission that, according to one commissioner speaking to the Los Angeles Times, showed that Pakistan was “up to their eyeballs” in intrigue with al-Qaeda. [Los Angeles Times, 7/16/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]
The FBI closes some high-security laboratory suites at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The FBI apparently is searching for evidence related to the anthrax attacks investigation, although what the target of their search is remains unclear. For several days, investigators shut off access to bacteriology labs in two USAMRIID buildings where anthrax research is done or has been done. Numerous employees at USAMRIID were questioned by the FBI in the first months after the anthrax attacks, but then investigative activity targeting USAMRIID died down. In recent months, the FBI has seized medical records and computer hard drives there. Several days after the search, authorities say it failed to lead to any important breakthrough. The Baltimore Sun notes that USAMRIID’s labs were used extensively after the attacks to study the letters, so if trace amounts of anthrax are found it would very hard to prove if they came from the attacks or the subsequent investigation of the attacks. [Baltimore Sun, 7/21/2004] It will later emerge that the raid takes place at least in part to seize anthrax samples from scientist Bruce Ivins. In April 2002, Ivins had given investigators a sample of anthrax known as RMR-1029 (see April 2002). In early 2004, investigators determined that the sample did not match the anthrax used in the attacks, but other samples of RMR-1029 did (see Early 2004). So Ivins’s flasks of RMR-1029 are seized in the raid. These do show a match with the anthrax used in the attacks, raising questions why the sample Ivins had submitted in 2002 did not. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008] However, it appears the FBI will not begin to seriously focus on Ivins as a suspect until after the head of the FBI’s investigation is replaced in late 2006 (see Autumn 2006).
White House chief of staff Andy Card learns what the 9/11 Commission Report contains before it is published, as the various chapters are sent to the White House for classification review before the publication date. Card then hears back from the review teams. Despite fears about allegations made by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 21, 2004) and a key Presidential Daily Brief item (see August 6, 2001), in the words of author Philip Shenon, Card can see “that the Commission’s final report posed no threat to [President] Bush’s re-election.” This is because the report does not “single out individuals for blame. Certainly not George Bush.” The allegations by Clarke, related in a “he-said, she-said” manner in the report, also do not damage National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 411]
News of a document theft from the National Archives by Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser in the Clinton administration, is leaked to the press. Berger took copies of a document because he thought it might be used against either himself or Clinton, but was caught by archives staffers (see September 2, 2003 and October 2, 2003). He has been under investigation by the Justice Department for several months. The leak comes several days before the 9/11 Commission is due to publish its final report (see July 22, 2004), and the commissioners and their staff assume that that the news is leaked by the White House, because it is “eager to suggest that Berger’s acts had deprived the 9/11 Commission of information that might have embarrassed him and the Clinton administration.” Berger immediately steps down as an adviser to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 413-414]
UPI reports that the 9/11 Commission has been given a document from a high-level, publicly anonymous source claiming that the Pakistani “ISI was fully involved in devising and helping the entire [9/11 plot].” The document blames Gen. Hamid Gul, a former ISI Director, as being a central participant in the plot. It notes that Gul is a self-avowed “admirer” of bin Laden. An anonymous, ranking CIA official says the CIA considers Gul to be “the most dangerous man” in Pakistan. A senior Pakistani political leader says, “I have reason to believe Hamid Gul was Osama bin Laden’s master planner.” The document further suggests that Pakistan’s appearance of fighting al-Qaeda is merely an elaborate charade, and top military and intelligence officials in Pakistan still closely sympathize with bin Laden’s ideology. [United Press International, 7/22/2004] However, the 9/11 Commission final report released a short time later will fail to mention any of this. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]
Bill Gertz, a columnist for the conservative Washington Times, writes that CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity was compromised twice before it was publicly exposed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). If true, neither exposure was made publicly, as Novak’s was. Anonymous government officials told Gertz that Plame Wilson’s identity was disclosed to Russian intelligence agents in the mid-1990s. Her identity was again revealed in what Gertz calls “a more recent inadvertent disclosure,” references identifying Plame Wilson as a CIA official in confidential documents sent by the agency to the US interests section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana. The anonymous officials told Gertz that Cuban officials read the documents and could have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. The officials did not state when the alleged Cuban exposure took place. “The law says that to be covered by the act the intelligence community has to take steps to affirmatively protect someone’s cover,” one official told Gertz. “In this case, the CIA failed to do that.” Another official told Gertz that the compromises before the news column were not publicized and thus should not affect the investigation of Plame Wilson’s exposure. [Washington Times, 7/22/2004]
Larry Mefford. [Source: James Kegley / San Francisco Chronicle]FBI officials maintain that 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar did not have anyone knowingly supporting their al-Qaeda activities when they lived in San Diego in 2000 and 2001.
FBI: Hijackers Had No Witting Support in San Diego - Larry Mefford, who was the FBI’s head of counterterrorism until November 2003, says: “Maybe there’s been something new. But as of the time of my retirement, there was no credible indication that anyone in Southern California helped the two terrorists with knowledge of the 9/11 plot.” And Richard Garcia, head of the FBI in Los Angeles, says, “If there was support, I think it was unwitting.” Garcia says that whatever support the hijackers received was from Muslims innocently helping other Muslims.
9/11 Commission Suggests Otherwise - However, the 9/11 Commission’s final report, published the same day as these comments, suggests otherwise. The report details extensive help the hijackers received, and strongly implies that at least some of their helpers, such as Mohdar Abdullah and Anwar al-Awlaki, were radical Islamists with a similar agenda as the hijackers. For instance, the report comments, “We believe it is unlikely that [Alhazmi] and Almihdhar… would have come to the United States without arranging to receive assistance from one or more individuals informed in advance of their arrival.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/24/2004]
9/11 Congressional Inquiry Also Suggests Otherwise - The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report concluded that at least six 9/11 hijackers received “substantial assistance” from associates in the US, though it is “not known to what extent any of these contacts in the United States were aware of the plot.” The inquiry focused on associates in San Diego, including Abdullah and al-Awlaki (see July 24, 2003). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
What about Abdullah and Al-Awlaki? - In late 2003, new evidence emerged that Abdullah might have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, but he was deported anyway, in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). In late 2004, several months after the comments by Mefford and Garcia, more evidence against him will emerge, causing the FBI to reopen its investigation into him (see September 2003-May 21, 2004). In 2008, US intelligence will finally conclude that al-Awlaki is an al-Qaeda operative (see February 27, 2008), and he will be connected to a number of attacks in the US.
On July 13, 2004, a young Pakistani al-Qaeda operative named Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan was arrested in Pakistan (see July 13, 2004). US intelligence agents find what they later call a “treasure trove” of information in Noor Khan’s computers and documents. [CNN, 8/2/2004] They realize that Khan has served as a communications hub of sorts for al-Qaeda. He is in frequent contact with dozens of other al-Qaeda terrorists around the world and passing messages back and forth from more senior al-Qaeda operatives. Intelligence agents quickly realize that, through Khan, they can penetrate deep into the core of al-Qaeda’s current operations. Around the weekend of July 24-25, the Pakistanis convince Khan to “turn,” or become a double agent. Khan sends e-mails to dozens of activists in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and other countries. He requests that they contact him immediately and reveal where they are. As the emails come back, intelligence agents all over the world go into action to monitor those who have replied to Khan. [Guardian, 8/8/2004] Newsweek later reports that he sends e-mails to at least six contacts in the US, but the results of this are unknown. A senior US intelligence official confirms that Khan contacted people in the US, but believes number is less than six. [MSNBC, 8/8/2004] Some of Khan’s contacts are quickly arrested, including Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian wanted since 1998 for his role in the bombing of the US embassy in his home country (see July 25-29, 2004). [Suskind, 2006] Some communications take time to reach him. He is sometimes sent handwritten notes or computer discs from the mountains where bin Laden and other top leaders are hiding out. These are delivered by secretive relays of couriers who never see each other, using dead drops to avoid being traced. Other messages come from far-flung intermediaries who forward e-mail without knowing what it means, where it is going, or who is sending it. [MSNBC, 8/8/2004] However, on August 1, Bush administration officials leak Noor Khan’s name to the press and the New York Times prints his name one day later. This only gives one week for the sting operation to work. Intelligence officials are crushed the operation has to end before it could expose many more al-Qaeda operatives (see August 2, 2004).
US News and World Report writes, “Since 9/11, the worldwide war on terrorism has stretched those officers [at the CIA] thin, but the Iraq war is now putting them at a breaking point, say insiders.” Longtime CIA officer Jack Devine says, “The notion that you could support a military initiative in Iraq, combat worldwide terrorism, and cover other critical issues was wrong.” About a quarter of the CIA’s overseas staff is said to be in Iraq. One unnamed CIA officer says that CIA stations are “standing empty all over the world where there’s stuff to do. You’re either in Iraq, going to Iraq, or just back.” As a result, the CIA is turning more frequently to private contractors to make up shortfalls, including even in operational work. [US News and World Report, 7/25/2004]
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. [Source: FBI]Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a high-level al-Qaeda operative from Tanzania suspected of participating in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, is captured in Gujrat, Pakistan, after a violent standoff with Pakistani police. [CNN, 8/3/2004] Ghailani’s arrest is publicly announced on July 29, four days later. The announcement by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Faisal Hayat is made in an unusual late-night press conference that takes place just hours before John Kerry accepts the Democratic nomination for president. [Salon, 8/17/2004] Pakistani authorities say the announcement of Ghailani’s arrest was delayed four days because of the need to confirm his identity before making the proclamation. [BBC, 7/30/2004] But former Pakistani official Husain Haqqani later claims the announcement was timed to upstage the Kerry speech. [Salon, 8/17/2004; United States Conference on International Religious Freedom, 6/30/2005] An article in the New Republic published earlier in the month reported that the Bush administration was asking Pakistan to make high-profile arrests of al-Qaeda suspects during the Democratic National Convention in order to redirect US media attention from the nomination of John Kerry (see July 8, 2004). [New Republic, 7/29/2004] John Judis, who co-wrote the article predicting such an arrest, says the day after the arrest is announced, “Well, the latest development pretty much confirms what we wrote in the article, which is that there was pressure for Pakistan to produce a high-value target during the last 10 days of July and to announce that arrest.” He also asks why is it “they announced [the arrest] at all? Because when you have somebody who’s been in hiding since 1998, they have an enormous amount of information and contacts. By announcing this guy’s arrest, what you do is you warn off everybody who’s been associated with him from the last five or six years. You tell them that they better get their act together or they are going to be found. So, there’s some, really a lot of questions of why they announced this thing when they did.… It may be in this case that we—that we, and the Pakistanis got somebody and prematurely announced this person’s arrest in order to have an electoral impact.” [Democracy Now!, 7/30/2004]
The mobile trailer where Combatant Status Review Tribunals are held. [Source: US Navy]At Guantanamo, the first of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (see July 7, 2004) convenes to determine whether the designations of 585 detainees at Guantanamo as unlawful enemy combatants are just. The hearings were ordered by the Supreme Court which ruled in June that detainees have the right to challenge their detention (see June 28, 2004). The hearings, open to only a small number of reporters, are conducted by three military officers. Each hearing will generally take about two hours. The defendants are not required to cooperate or even be present during the hearings. [New York Times, 8/24/2004] The burden of proof during the tribunal hearings lies with the detainees, although they are hardly in a position to make their case. They are not permitted attorneys to represent their case. Instead, each detainee is assigned a “personal representative,” who is a military officer, not a lawyer or advocate. The detainees can be denied information about how, where, and from whom incriminating information about them originates. [New York Times, 8/24/2004] Although the detainees may call witnesses or present evidence, the Los Angeles Times reports that they are rarely permitted to put forward any evidence or offer the testimony of witnesses in their defense. According to the newspaper, their requests are frequently turned down as “irrelevant.” Other evidence is often ruled inadmissible. [Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2004] Government prosecutors, however, are permitted to use a wider range of types of evidence than that which is permissible in a US criminal court. According to the order establishing the tribunals: “The Tribunal is not bound by the rules of evidence such as would apply in a court of law. Instead the Tribunal shall be free to consider any information it deems relevant and helpful to a resolution of the issue before it. At the discretion of the Tribunal, for example, it may consider hearsay evidence, taking into account the reliability of such evidence in the circumstances.” [US Department of Defense, 7/7/2004 ]
London’s Sunday Times interviews the person it calls “a mysterious middleman who was a key figure in the notorious Niger uranium hoax before the Iraq war.” The middleman is information peddler Rocco Martino, though Martino uses the alias “Giacomo” in the interview. He claims to have been an “unwitting dupe” in the passing of forged documents alleging that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Early 2000). Martino confirms that he has worked as a low-level agent for the Italian military intelligence service SISMI, and says that the agency used him to spread the forged Iraq-Niger documents. “I received a call from a former colleague in SISMI,” he says. “I was told a woman in the Niger embassy in Rome had a gift for me. I met her and she gave me documents. Sismi wanted me to pass on the documents but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” Martino is referring to Laura Montini, another SISMI asset (see March 2000). He says he believed the documents were real when he gave them to various intelligence contacts and journalist Elisabetta Burba (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). [London Times, 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004]
FBI agent Mike German quits the FBI and becomes a whistleblower against the bureau. He claims that FBI superiors committed illegal acts to hinder his investigation into terrorism in Florida (see September 2002). He complains, “What’s so frustrating to me is that what I hear the FBI saying every day on TV when I get home, about how it’s remaking itself to fight terrorism, is not the reality of what I saw every day in the field.” He also says, “Opportunities to initiate proactive investigations that might prevent terrorist acts before they occur, which is purported to be the FBI’s number one priority, continue to be lost, yet no one is held accountable.” He cites “a continuing failure in the FBI’s counterterrorism program” which is “not the result of a lack of intelligence, but a lack of action.” [New York Times, 8/2/2004]
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. [Source: BBC]The New York Times reveals the identity of al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. Bush administration officials allegedly revealed his name to the Times in an attempt to defend a controversial US terror alert issued the day before (see August 1, 2004). [Associated Press, 8/10/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] Officials from the Department of Homeland Security apparently gave out the name without revealing that Khan had already been turned and was helping to catch other al-Qaeda operatives. [Daily Times (Lahore), 8/8/2004] A few days later, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice confirms that US officials named Khan to the reporters “on background.” [Boston Globe, 8/10/2004] But some days after that, anonymous Pakistani government sources will claim that Khan’s name was initially leaked by Pakistani officials. [Salon, 8/17/2004] Middle East expert Juan Cole suggests both accounts have merit. In the hours after the August 1 terror alert that was based on information secured from Khan’s computer, reporters scramble to determine the source of the alert. One reporter learns of the Khan arrest from a CIA analyst, though the analyst refuses to give out any names. Cole believes that New York Times reporter David Rohde then acquires Khan’s name from his Pakistani sources and confirms it through US sources at the Department of Homeland Security. [Antiwar.com, 8/19/2004] Khan, an al-Qaeda computer expert, was arrested in Pakistan on July 13 and quickly began cooperating with investigators. He started sending e-mails to other operatives around the world and asked them to report back in. As they replied, investigators began tracing their locations. But Khan’s name is revealed before his computer contacts could be fully exploited. Many al-Qaeda members, including some suspected plotters planning strikes on US targets, escape arrest because of the outing. One Pakistani official says, “Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaeda suspects ran away.” [Associated Press, 8/10/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] Intelligence reports also indicate that the exposure of Khan makes al-Qaeda members more cautious in their electronic communications. Many cells abruptly move their hideouts, causing the US losing track of them. [Salon, 8/9/2004; Village Voice, 8/2/2005] Some are critical about the leak of Khan’s name:
Tim Ripley, a security expert who writes for Jane’s Defense publications, says, “The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse. You have to ask: what are they doing compromising a deep mole within al-Qaeda, when it’s so difficult to get these guys in there in the first place? It goes against all the rules of counterespionage, counterterrorism, running agents, and so forth. It’s not exactly cloak and dagger undercover work if it’s on the front pages every time there’s a development, is it?”
British Home Secretary David Blunkett is openly contemptuous of the White House’s management of the information. “In the United States there is often high-profile commentary followed, as in the current case, by detailed scrutiny, with the potential risk of ridicule. Is it really the job of a senior cabinet minister in charge of counter-terrorism to feed the media? To increase concern? Of course not. This is arrant nonsense.” [Salon, 8/9/2004]
Other high-level British officials are “dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.” They complain that they had to act precipitously in arresting low-level al-Qaeda figures connected to Khan instead of using those suspects to ferret out more senior al-Qaeda figures. These officials are “dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.” [New York Observer, 8/11/2004]
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) writes in a letter to Bush officials, “I respectfully request an explanation [about] who leaked this Mr. Khan’s name, for what reason it was leaked, and whether the British and Pakistani reports that this leak compromised future intelligence activity are accurate.” [Boston Globe, 8/10/2004]
Senator George Allen (R-VA) says, “In this situation, in my view, they should have kept their mouth shut and just said, ‘We have information, trust us’.”
[Inter Press Service, 8/10/2004]
Middle East expert Juan Cole notes that the leak of Khan’s name forced the British to arrest 12 members of an al-Qaeda cell prematurely, allowing others to escape. “[T]his slip is a major screw-up that casts the gravest doubts on the competency of the administration to fight a war on terror. Either the motive was political calculation, or it was sheer stupidity. They don’t deserve to be in power either way.” [Daily Times (Lahore), 8/8/2004]
Salon’s Dale Davis says, “[S]adly, the damage [the Bush administration’s] machinations have caused to the goal of defeating al-Qaeda will be measured in the loss of the young American servicemen and women who carry the burden of their failed policies.” [Salon, 8/13/2004]
Entity Tags: John Loftus, Juan Cole, New York Times, James Ridgeway, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, George W. Bush, Dale Davis, Douglas Jehl, George F. Allen, Tim Ripley, Al-Qaeda, David Rohde, David Blunkett, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Western intelligence officials say that a French intelligence operation to protect Niger’s uranium industry and to prevent weapons proliferation is the inadvertent cause of the forged documents alleging a surreptitious attempt by Iraq to procure uranium from Niger. The operation began in 1999, the officials say. In 2000, French intelligence officials received documents from Italian information peddler Rocco Martino, a source they had used before, that indicated Iraq wanted to expand economic “trade” with Niger. The intelligence officials assumed Iraq wanted to trade for uranium, Niger’s main export. Alarmed, the French asked Martino to provide more information, which, the Financial Times reports, “led to a flourishing ‘market’ in documents.” The next documents Martino provided to the French were forgeries, later exposed as such by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (see March 7, 2003). The US, which used the documents to support President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger in his 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), later disavowed the claim; the British have yet to do so, insisting that they have other evidence showing the truth behind the allegations. Martino recently confirmed that the documents originated from contacts provided to him by Italian intelligence (see Late July, 2004). A Western intelligence official says: “This issue shows how vulnerable intelligence services and the media are to tricksters like Martino. He responded to a legitimate… demand from the French, who needed the information on Niger. And now he is responding to a new demand in the market, which is being dictated by the political importance this issue has in the US. He is shaping his story to that demand.” [Financial Times, 8/2/2004]
Dhiren Barot. [Source: London Metropolitan Police]Dhiren Barot, a Londoner of Indian descent who converted to Islam and fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is arrested along with about a dozen other al-Qaeda suspects by British authorities (see August 3, 2004). Barot, who uses a number of pseudonyms, including Abu Eissa al-Hindi, will be charged with several crimes surrounding his plans to launch attacks against British and US targets. Barot’s plans were discovered in a computer owned by al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was arrested in July 2004 and was helping US intelligence until his outing by US and Pakistani officials on August 2, 2004 (see August 2, 2004). Though Barot is not believed to be a high-level al-Qaeda operative, he has connections to some of al-Qaeda’s most notorious leaders, including bin Laden and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who, according to the 9/11 Commission, dispatched him to “case” targets in New York City in 2001. Under the alias Issa al-Britani, he is known to have been sent to Malaysia in late 1999 or very early 2000 by KSM to meet with Hambali, the head of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah. According to the commission report, Barot may have given Hambali the names of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Barot may have traveled to Malaysia with Khallad bin Attash. Bin Attash is believed to be one of the planners behind the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Barot’s trip to Malaysia came just days before the well-documented January 2000 al-Qaeda summit where early plans for the 9/11 bombings were hatched (see January 5-8, 2000), though US officials do not believe that Barot was present at that meeting. British authorities believe that Barot was part of an al-Qaeda plan to launch a mass terror attack using chemical and/or radioactive weapons. Barot and other suspects arrested were, according to Western officials, in contact with al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, who themselves were communicating with bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders as recently as July 2004. [MSNBC, 8/20/2004] Barot’s plans seem to have focused more actively on British targets, including London’s subway system. In November 2006, Barot will be convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes, and eventually sentenced to thirty years in prison by a British court. [BBC, 11/7/2006; BBC, 5/16/2007]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, USS Cole, Nawaf Alhazmi, Hambali, Dhiren Barot, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Khalid Almihdhar, Jemaah Islamiyah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Kenneth Berry. [Source: Public domain]On August 5, 2004, FBI agents target Dr. Kenneth Berry for a role in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Agents raid his home and former apartment in Wellsville, New York, as well as his parents’ apartment in New Jersey. Agents cordon off streets and search the residences wearing biochemical protective suits. This becomes a highly publicized media spectacle. But Berry is not charged or arrested. The raids are the culmination of an 18-month investigation. For instance, in July, dozens of his associates were interviewed. Berry apparently panics and gets in a fight with his wife and stepchildren. A restraining order prevents him from returning home and he is eventually divorced. He also loses his job. By October 2004, government officials say their investigation has uncovered nothing that would implicate him in the anthrax attacks, but he is not officially cleared of suspicion.
Unusual Background as WMD Expert - Berry is a licensed physician working in a hospital. But in 1997, he formed an organization named Preempt, which promoted training for first responders to protect against a WMD attack. By 1999, Berry had risen in prominence and was meeting with prominent experts and politicians about WMD threats, including some US senators and former CIA Director James Woolsey. He was also working on inventions for systems to detect the release of germ weapons, but none of his inventions are successfully developed. In late 2000, he attended a two-day course on using anthrax and other germs as weapons, taught by bioweapons expert William Patrick. His organization Preempt slowly fizzled in importance, but he continued to consider himself a freelance WMD expert. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]
Investigators Lose Interest, but Name is Never Cleared - The Associated Press will comment in 2008, “investigators seemed to lose interest in Berry quickly,” but he lost his job and his wife in the process. He has never spoken about the experience, but a friend will say, “Since things quieted down, he’s put his life back together again and he’s in a stable environment right now.… As far as I know, he just wants his name cleared as publicly as it was smeared.” [Associated Press, 8/7/2008]
The press reports that according to a Justice Department investigation, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), then the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaked highly classified information to Fox News reporter Carl Cameron regarding al-Qaeda communications in the hours before 9/11 (see June 19, 2002). After Vice President Dick Cheney threatened the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham (D-FL—see June 20, 2002), Graham and then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL) pushed for a Justice Department investigation into the leak. Though the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office conducted a probe, and even empaneled a grand jury, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone, and instead turned Shelby’s name over to the Senate Ethics Committee, which will decline to pursue charges against him. Shelby states that he did not leak any classified information to anyone, and says he has never been informed of any specific allegations. The FBI demanded that 17 senators turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules. One Senate Intelligence Committee staffer told the FBI that Shelby had leaked the information to show the shortcomings of the intelligence community in general and CIA Director George Tenet in particular. Though two senior Justice Department officials, then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and then-criminal division chief Michael Chertoff, refused to approve subpoenas for journalists, Cameron confirmed to FBI investigators that he was a recipient of Shelby’s leak. He also told investigators that he saw Shelby talking with CNN’s Dana Bash; after Shelby’s discussion with Bash, Cameron divulged the information Shelby had leaked to her, and CNN broadcast the story a half-hour after the conversations. Cameron told FBI agents he was irritated that Shelby had shared the same information with a competitor, and added that he delayed broadcasting the story because he wanted to ensure that he was not compromising intelligence sources and methods. Cameron was never subpoenaed and did not testify under oath. Bash refused to cooperate with the investigation. [Washington Post, 8/5/2004; National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, Dana Bash, Carl Cameron, CNN, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Michael Chertoff, Porter J. Goss, Fox News, Richard Shelby, Senate Ethics Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Former president Bill Clinton questions the priorities of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” asking why the administration is issuing groundless terror alerts “[b]ased on four-year-old information” (see August 1, 2004). He asks rhetorically, “Now, who is the threat from? Iraq? Saddam Hussein? No. From bin Laden. And al-Qaeda. How do we know about the threat? Because the Pakistanis found this computer whiz [Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan and got his computer and gave it to us so it could be analyzed (see August 2, 2004). … [W]e basically are dependent on [Pakistan] to find bin Laden…to break in and find the computer people and give it to us because we got all our resources somewhere else in Iraq.” He continues to ask why Bush isn’t focusing on bin Laden: “Why did we put our number one security threat in the hands of the Pakistanis with us playing a supporting role and put all of our military resources into Iraq, which was, I think, at best, our number five security threat[?] After the absence of a peace process in the Middle East, after the conflict between India and Pakistan and all the ties they had to Taliban, after North Korea and their nuclear program. In other words, how did we get to the point where we got 130,000 troops in Iraq and 15,000 in Afghanistan? It’s like saying… Okay, our big problem is bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We now know from the 9/11 Commission, again, that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it. Right? We now know that al-Qaeda is an ongoing continuing threat, even though when I was president we took down over 20 of their cells, they still had enough left to do 9/11, and since then, in the Bush years, they’ve taken down over 20 of their cells. But they’re operating with impunity in that mountainous region going back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan and we have only 15,000 troops in that country.…[W]e would have a better chance of catching them if we had 150,000 troops there rather than 15,000.” Asked if the US could have captured bin Laden in the days and months after 9/11, he replies, “[W]e will never know if we could have gotten him because we didn’t make it a priority….” [Canadian Broadcast Corporation, 8/6/2004]
Daniel Levin, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a draft memo to Deputy Attorney General James Comey. The memo remains secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it details the OLC’s views on a decision to be made by Comey on a classified intelligence collection activity. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]
Hassan Butt. [Source: BBC]An article in the New Statesman examines the “covenant of security”—an apparent long-standing tacit agreement between radical Islamist militants and the British government to leave each other alone. Mohammed Sifaoui is a French-Algerian journalist who managed to infiltrate al-Qaeda cells in both France and Britain. He says that, for many years, militants have used Britain as a safe haven and in return have refrained from attacking inside Britain, but have used this haven to plot attacks on other countries. Sifaoui comments: “The question becomes a moral one. Should the British authorities accept that there are terrorists in their country who kill others abroad? I think that today the British authorities must face their conscience.” Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical London imam and head of the British militant group Al-Muhajiroun, tells the New Statesman that he agrees with Sifaoui’s premise that Britain is a safe haven. He tells a story about the companions of the prophet Mohammed who were given protection and hospitality when traveling to Abyssinia. This resulted in a notion in the Koran of a covenant, whereby a Muslim is not allowed to attack the inhabitants of a country where they find safe refuge. Bakri concludes that it is unlikely British-based Muslims will carry out operations in Britain itself. But Hassan Butt, a former spokesman for Al-Muhajiroun, suggests that there are British militants who are prepared to break their covenant with the British. He warns that “any attack will have to be massive. After one operation everything will close down on us in Britain.” [New Statesman, 8/9/2004] Ironically, several months before this article is published, a group of Al-Muhajiroun supporters were arrested before they could explode a large fertilizer bomb in Britain (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). In early 2005, Bakri will say that the covenant of security with Britain has been broken and will imply that attacks inside Britain are now permissible (see January 17, 2005).
Former Pakistani government official Husain Haqqani says that Pakistan, not the US government, may have originally leaked the news to the international press that Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant for the US and Pakistan, was a double agent (see August 2, 2004). The leak of Khan’s identity ruins his capability to provide information about al-Qaeda and allows senior al-Qaeda operatives to escape arrest. Haqqani writes that there are two possible reasons for Pakistan’s decision to leak such damaging information: either Pakistani officials were eager to demonstrate their success in penetrating al-Qaeda, or, more likely, that Pakistan wanted to curb the inroads being made into al-Qaeda in order to keep the terrorist group safe and functional. A second leak, from Pakistani intelligence officials like the first, fingered US officials for the leak. The US government accepted the responsibility for outing Khan because, Haqqani writes, administration officials were complicit in the leak, and because the Bush administration is involved in a twisted, mutually duplicitous relationship with the Musharraf regime of Pakistan: “ostensibly driven by the mutual desire for security, there is clearly a political element to the relationship related to the survival of both the Bush and the Musharraf governments.” [Salon, 8/17/2004] On August 6, 2004, former President Bill Clinton accused the Bush administration of essentially contracting out US security and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Pakistan in its zeal to wage war in Iraq (see August 6, 2004). One consequence of the decision to subcontract the hunt for members of al-Qaeda to Pakistan is that the terrorists appear to be regrouping and regaining in strength. [Washington Post, 8/14/2004] Haqqani believes that the two have mutual political concerns: while Pakistan cooperates, to a point, in hunting down al-Qaeda members, the government of Pervez Musharraf is more secure. In return, Pakistani officials, known for their reticence, have lately been unusually forthcoming in issuing well-timed reports designed to help Bush’s re-election efforts. For instance, on July 29, just hours before John Kerry’s speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Pakistan’s interior minister, Faisal Hayat, held an unusual late-night press conference announcing the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the man wanted for the 1998 terrorist bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see July 25-29, 2004). [Salon, 8/17/2004]
CIA official Michael Scheuer says that the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, is still effectively less than 30 people strong. Scheuer was head of the unit until 1999 (see June 1999, and he says this was about the size of the unit when he left. Technically, the unit has hundreds of employees, but Scheuer claims this is not really true. He says: “The numbers are big, but it’s a shell game. It’s people they move in for four or five months at a time and then bring in a new bunch. But the hard core of expertise, of experience, of savvy really hasn’t expanded at all since 9/11.” [Guardian, 8/20/2004] There were about 35 to 40 people in the unit at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see Just Before September 11, 2001). The unit will be closed down altogether one year later (see Late 2005).
The 9/11 Commission releases a report on terrorism financing. Its conclusions generally stand in complete contrast to a great body of material reported by the mainstream media, before and after this report. For instance, while the report does mention some terrorism-supporting organizations in great detail, such as the Global Relief Foundation or Al Barakaat, many seemingly important organizations are not mentioned a single time in either this report or the 9/11 Commission Final Report. The Commission fails to ever mention: BMI, Inc., Ptech, Al Taqwa Bank, Holy Land Foundation, InfoCom, International Islamic Relief Organization, Muslim World League, Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) Foundation, Quranic Literacy Institute, and the SAAR network or any entity within it. Additionally, important efforts to track terrorist financing such as Vulgar Betrayal and Operation Greenquest are not mentioned a single time. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 61; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 ] Some select quotes from the report:
“While the drug trade was an important source of income for the Taliban before 9/11, it did not serve the same purpose for al-Qaeda. Although there is some fragmentary reporting alleging that bin Laden may have been an investor, or even had an operational role, in drug trafficking before 9/11, this intelligence cannot be substantiated and the sourcing is probably suspect.” Additionally, there is “no evidence of [al-Qaeda] drug funding after 9/11.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 22-23 ]
“[C]ontrary to some public reports, we have not seen substantial evidence that al-Qaeda shares a fund-raising infrastructure in the United States with Hamas, Hezbollah, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 ]
“The United States is not, and has not been, a substantial source of al-Qaeda funding, but some funds raised in the United States may have made their way to al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. A murky US network of jihadist (holy war) supporters has plainly provided funds to foreign mujaheddin with al-Qaeda links. Still, there is little hard evidence of substantial funds from the United States actually going to al-Qaeda. A CIA expert on al-Qaeda financing believes that any money coming out of the United States for al-Qaeda is ‘minuscule.’” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 ]
The notion “that bin Laden was a financier with a fortune of several hundred million dollars” is an “urban legend.” “[S]ome within the government continued to cite the $300 million figure well after 9/11, and the general public still [incorrectly] gives credence to the notion of a ‘multimillionaire bin Laden.’” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 20, 34 ] (A few months after this report, it will be reported that in 2000 over $250 million passed through a bank account jointly controlled by bin Laden and another man (see 2000).)
“To date, the US government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.… Ultimately the question of the origin of the funds is of little practical significance.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 144 ]
“The US intelligence community has attacked the problem [of terrorist funding] with imagination and vigor” since 9/11. [New York Times, 8/22/2004]
According to the New York Times, the report “largely exonerate[s] the Saudi government and its senior officials of long-standing accusations that they were involved in financing al-Qaeda terrorists.” [New York Times, 8/22/2004] Author Douglas Farah comments on the Commission’s report, “The biggest hole is the complete lack of attention to the role the Muslim Brotherhood has played in the financing of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups. While the ties are extensive on a personal level, they also pervade the financial structure of al-Qaeda.… According to sources who provided classified briefing to the Commission staff, most of the information that was provided was ignored.… [T]he Commission staff simply did not include any information that was at odds with the official line of different agencies.” [Farah, 8/27/2004]
Entity Tags: Muwafaq Foundation, Vulgar Betrayal, Operation Greenquest, Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Quranic Literacy Institute, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Muslim World League, SAAR Foundation, Muslim Brotherhood, Ptech Inc., InfoCom Corporation, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank, 9/11 Commission, BMI Inc., Al Barakaat, Central Intelligence Agency, Douglas Farah, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, International Islamic Relief Organization, Global Relief Foundation, Hamas
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The 9/11 Commission attempts to make a list of all identity documents obtained by the hijackers, but its account, contained mostly in its Terrorist Travel Monograph, may be incomplete:
The Commission says several of the hijackers obtained USA ID cards in the summer of 2001 (see (July-August 2001)), although at least one, and possibly more of the cards is fake, and this is not mentioned by the Commission. According to it, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Abdulaziz Alomari obtained their cards on July 10. However, the Commission gives conflicting dates for Salem Alhazmi, Majed Moqed, and Ahmed Alghamdi. For example, in one place it says Alghamdi got his card in July and in another it says he got it in August. At least one card, that of Khalid Almihdhar, is fake and ID forger Mohamed el-Atriss will be arrested after 9/11 and sentenced to jail for forging IDs for the hijackers (see (July-August 2001) and November 2002-June 2003). The Commission further says that the Alhazmi brothers’ cards were “found in the rubble at the Pentagon,” citing a US Secret Service report. Although an image of a damaged USA ID card belonging to Nawaf Alhazmi will be produced as evidence at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, according to the 9/11 Commission Salem Alhazmi was unable to produce any photo ID when checking in for his flight on 9/11 (see (7:25 a.m.-7:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so it is unclear how his card came to be at the Pentagon. In addition, in the Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph, the mention of Salem Alhazmi’s card in the list of hijackers’ ID will be followed by a reference to an endnote. However, this endnote is missing; [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 27-29, 31-32, 34-44 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]
FBI Director Robert Mueller will later say that the six hijackers who obtained USA ID cards plus Mohamed Atta obtained unspecified identification cards in Paterson, New Jersey (see July 2001). However, it is unclear whether this statement refers to the USA ID cards, or a different set of ID cards not mentioned by the 9/11 Commission;
The Commission will say that Satam Al Suqami did not obtain any ID document in the US, which is why he had to take his passport on his final flight. The passport was found shortly after the plane he was traveling on hit the WTC (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 27-29, 31-32, 34-44 ] However, Florida media reported a man named Satam Al Suqami obtained a Florida ID card on July 3, 2001, around the same time as several other hijackers obtained similar cards; [St. Petersburg Times, 9/16/2001]
Ahmed Alhaznawi had a Florida’s driver’s license and two duplicates. Although the Commission mentions the original license and second duplicate, it does not mention the first one, issued on July 24, 2004. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 28, 32, 33 ]
Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Salem Alhazmi, Majed Moqed, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Satam Al Suqami, 9/11 Commission, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alghamdi, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Britain’s prominent Chatham House think tank warns of a further deterioration of the security situation in Iraq, predicting that the “legacy of the revelations of prisoner abuse will not fade easily and it will not be enough for US and British forces simply to say that they are dealing with this issue internally.” The think tank says that if Iraqis are not afforded a means to seek redress, “the impulse to settle accounts through violence will remain.” [Chatham House, 9/2004 ]
Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, complains, “In the CIA’s core, US-based bin Laden operational unit today there are fewer [operational] officers with substantive expertise on al-Qaeda than there were on 11 September 2001. There has been no systematic effort to groom al-Qaeda expertise among [operational] officers since 11 September… The excellent management team now running operations against al-Qaeda has made repeated, detailed, and on-paper pleas for more officers to work against the al-Qaeda—and have done so for years, not weeks or months—but have been ignored…” [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004]
British terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown from Afghanistan (see January-September 2004) to Guantanamo. In Morocco, Mohamed confessed to a wide array of crimes to avoid torture (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004); as he recalls, after being charged with crimes (see November 4, 2005), his captors now want him to alter his story. He will later say: “They said they were worried I would tell the court that I had only confessed through torture. They said now they needed me to say it freely. We called them the clean team, they wanted to say they had got this stuff from a clean interrogation.” He will recall one instance where he refuses to give his fingerprints; in return, he is beaten by the so-called “Emergency Reaction Force,” a much-feared assault team: “They nearly broke my back. The guy on top was twisting me one way, the guys on my legs the other. They marched me out of the cell to the fingerprint room, still cuffed. I clenched my fists behind me so they couldn’t take prints, so they tried to take them by force. The guy at my head sticks his fingers up my nose and wrenches my head back, jerking it around by the nostrils. Then he put his fingers in my eyes. It felt as if he was trying to gouge them out. Another guy was punching my ribs and another was squeezing my testicles. Finally I couldn’t take it any more. I let them take the prints.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009] In October 2008, all charges against Mohamed will be dropped (see October-December 2008). In late February 2009, Mohamed will be released (see February 22-24, 2009).
The Los Angeles Times reports that US officials claim, “Despite its fervent denials, Israel secretly maintains a large and active intelligence-gathering operation in the United States that has long attempted to recruit US officials as spies and to procure classified documents….” In turn, US agents have long monitored Israeli diplomats and agents in the US. An intelligence official who had recently left government says, “There is a huge, aggressive, ongoing set of Israeli activities directed against the United States.… Anybody who worked in counterintelligence in a professional capacity will tell you the Israelis are among the most aggressive and active countries targeting the United States.… The denials are laughable.” The Times adds, “Current and former officials involved with Israel at the White House, CIA, State Department, and in Congress had similar appraisals, although not all were as harsh in their assessments.” Officials note that Israel is considered a very close ally and is frequently given highly classified information. But it is also noted that US and Israeli intelligence agencies do not completely trust each other. [Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2004]
Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) alleges that the White House has covered up possible Saudi Arabian government connections to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. In an interview to promote his new book entitled Intelligence Matters, he contends that evidence relating to these two hijackers, who lived in San Diego, “present[s] a compelling case that there was Saudi assistance” to the 9/11 plot. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004; Copley News, 9/7/2004] In the words of author Philip Shenon, Graham is “convinced that a number of sympathetic Saudi officials, possibly within the sprawling Islamic Affairs Ministry, had known that al-Qaeda terrorists were entering the United States beginning in 2000 in preparation for some sort of attack,” and that “Saudi officials had directed spies operating in the United States to assist them.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 51] Graham also concludes that President Bush directed the FBI “to restrain and obfuscate” investigations into these ties, possibly to protect US-Saudi relations. The San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “Graham co-chaired the exhaustive Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks and is privy to still-classified information about the probe.” Graham claims that Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan are Saudi intelligence agents. He also claims that the FBI deliberately blocked his inquiry’s attempts to interview Abdussattar Shaikh, the FBI informant who was a landlord to the above-mentioned hijackers (see November 18, 2002). The questions the inquiry wanted to ask Shaikh went unanswered because of FBI maneuvering. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004; Copley News, 9/7/2004]
Damage to the Australian embassy. [Source: Associated Press]A car bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, kills ten people and injures about 200 more. Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), said to be the Southeast Asian arm of al-Qaeda, takes credit for the attack. A year later, a militant on trial for involvement in the attack claims that al-Qaeda funded the operation. [CNN, 9/9/2004; Reuters, 8/2/2005] JI leaders Azhari Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top are said to have masterminded the bombing largely on their own, since the rest of JI is in disarray by this time. [New York Times, 10/7/2005]
During the presentation and discussion of the Schlesinger report (see August 24, 2004) before the House Armed Services Committee, most Republicans, including its chairman, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), say the investigation shows that only a handful of US soldiers were responsible for the abuses. Democrats however, like Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO), disagree. “We must not continue to call this the work of just a few bad apples,” Skelton says. [New York Times, 9/10/2004]
Muslim Brotherhood logo.
[Source: Muslim Brotherhood]The Washington Post reports that “Some federal agents worry that the Muslim Brotherhood has dangerous links to terrorism. But some US diplomats and intelligence officials believe its influence offers an opportunity for political engagement that could help isolate violent jihadists.” The Post describes the Brotherhood as “a sprawling and secretive society with followers in more than 70 countries.… In some nations—Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Sudan—the Brotherhood has fomented Islamic revolution. In the Palestinian territories, the Brotherhood created… Hamas, which has become known for its suicide bombings of Israelis. Yet it is also a sophisticated and diverse organization that appeals to many Muslims worldwide and sometimes advocates peaceful persuasion, not violent revolt. Some of its supporters went on to help found al-Qaeda, while others launched one of the largest college student groups in the United States.” A top FBI counterterrorism official says, “We see some sort of nexus, direct or indirect, to the Brotherhood, in ongoing [terrorism] cases.” A number of people connected to al-Qaeda, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and Mohamed Atta, were members of the Brotherhood. Reportedly, “pockets” of US the government “have quietly advocated that the government reach out to the Brotherhood and its allies.” For instance, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer working with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, says, “Bin Laden-ism can only be gutted by fundamentalists.” But former CIA officer Graham Fuller says, “At high levels of the government, there’s no desire to go in the direction of dialogue. It’s still seen as fairly way out.” [Washington Post, 9/11/2004] In 2005, it will be reported that some Muslim Brotherhood leaders created a plan in 1982 to infiltrate the West with the ultimate goal of subverting it and conquering it (see December 1982).
The New York Times reports on the recent issuance of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq by the US intelligence community. It is the first NIE to be issued since before the invasion (see October 1, 2002). The report was leaked to the Times by unnamed government officials.
Civil War a Strong Possibility - The NIE’s findings are grim. Civil war is a strong possibility, the NIE finds. Even the best-case scenario is an Iraq whose political, economic, and national security stability is tenuous and fragile. One government official says of the report, “There’s a significant amount of pessimism.” This NIE was initiated by the National Intelligence Council under the aegis of then-CIA Director George Tenet, who has since resigned. Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin approved the final report. The NIE stands in contrast to recent pronouncements by White House officials, who have insisted that the situation in Iraq is improving daily.
Critics 'Pessimists and Hand-Wringers' - The day before the NIE was released, White House press secretary Scott McClellan called critics of the occupation “pessimists and hand-wringers” who are being “proven… wrong.” [New York Times, 9/16/2004]
White House Ignores NIE - The NIE was prepared in July 2004 and not circulated until August, indicating that the White House had little use for the document. “It was finished in July, and not circulated by the intelligence community until the end of August,” one senior administration official says. “That’s not exactly what you do with an urgent document.” [New York Times, 9/28/2004]
This NIE Closer to CIA's Own Assessments than Earlier Report - Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar will later say that the agency’s own prewar assessments “foretold a long, difficult, and turbulent transition,” assessments more in line with the current NIE than with the 2002 estimate (see January 2003 and September 28, 2004). “It projected that a Marshall Plan-type effort would be required to restore the Iraqi economy, despite Iraq’s abundant oil resources. It forecast that in a deeply divided Iraqi society, with Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and Shi’ites seeking power commensurate with their majority status, there was a significant chance that the groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it. And it anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks—including by guerrilla warfare—unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam” Hussein. The NIE, and the White House’s blase response to it (see September 21-23, 2004), will deepen the tension and distrust between the White House and the CIA. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 153, 244]
Retired General William Odom, the former head of the NSA under Ronald Reagan, says that President Bush’s Iraq policies are a collective geostrategical disaster. He says: “Bush hasn’t found the WMD. Al-Qaeda, it’s worse, he’s lost on that front.… That he’s going to achieve democracy there? That goal is lost, too.… Right now, the course we’re on, we’re achieving bin Laden’s goals.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 316-317]
Responding to the leaked National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) warning of a possible civil war in Iraq (see September 16, 2004), President Bush dismisses the report, saying the CIA in particular is “just guessing” about conditions in that country. Bush says that the report provides “several scenarios that said, life could be lousy, life could be okay, or life could be better, and they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like.” Two days later, after senior CIA official Paul Pillar and others lambast Bush for his cavalier dismissal of the report, Bush backs away from his original description, calling it “unfortunate” and saying he should have used the word “estimate” rather than “guess.” The entire imbroglio prompts conservative columnist Robert Novak to write that the White House and the CIA “are at war with each other.” [New York Times, 9/28/2004; Roberts, 2008, pp. 153] Novak also blasts Pillar and other intelligence officials for daring to criticize the Bush administration. [New York Times, 9/28/2004]
President Bush, campaigning for reelection, says in a speech, “And as a result of the United States military, Taliban no longer is in existence. And the people of Afghanistan are now free.” [White House, 9/27/2004]
Amjad Farooqi. [Source: Associated Press]Amjad Farooqi, a leader of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, is allegedly shot and killed in Nawabshah, Pakistan, a town 170 miles north of Karachi. Farooqi had been indicted for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 (see January 31, 2002), and was said to have been a mastermind of the two assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in December 2003 (see December 14 and 25, 2003). Farooqi is also believed to have taken part in the hijacking of an Indian airliner in late 1999 (see December 24-31, 1999). He is said to be close to al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi. Farooqi was allegedly tracked by his mobile home to a hideout, which was then surrounded by police. He and two associates were killed after a two-hour gun battle, while three others were arrested. A senior Pakistani official says, “Farooqi’s elimination is a crushing blow to the al-Qaeda network in Pakistan because he was the man who had been providing al-Qaeda terrorists with the manpower to carry out attacks.” [Washington Post, 9/27/2004]
Staged Death? - However, the Asia Times reported in June 2004 that Farooqi had been secretly arrested already and that Musharraf was saving him for a politically opportune time. [Asia Times, 6/5/2004] After the announcement of his death, the Asia Times further report that its sources believe Farooqi indeed was killed, but his death was staged and he had been arrested months before. It is claimed that Pakistani authorities wanted him dead to close investigations into the murder of Daniel Pearl and the assassination attempts against Musharraf. In both cases, there are unanswered questions about the links between al-Qaeda and forces within the Pakistani government. Furthermore, some say the 1999 Indian airline hijacking he was said to have been a part of was planned by al-Qaeda-linked militants working with the Pakistani ISI (see December 24-31, 1999).
Allegedly Overhyped - The Asia Times further claims that while Farooqi was involved in Pearl’s death and the Musharraf assassinations, he was not the “super villain” he was made out to be in the months before his death. They also portray him as a stand-alone operator who worked with al-Qaeda and a number of Pakistani militant groups, but did not directly belong to any one group. [Asia Times, 9/28/2004; Asia Times, 9/29/2004]
Questions Unanswered - One senior Pakistani law-enforcement official says after the announcement of his death, “It was very important to catch Amjad Farooqi alive. Farooqi was the key link between the foot soldiers and those who ordered the murder [of Musharraf].” Another says, “Amjad Farooqi is now dead with the most important secret and we still don’t know for sure the real identity of the Pakistani or al-Qaeda or any other foreign elements who had launched Farooqi into action to remove General Musharraf from the scene.” [Asia Times, 9/30/2004]
Days after the New York Times receives leaked information about the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see September 16, 2004), two more classified intelligence summaries are also leaked to the Times, both supporting the assessment that civil war is increasingly likely in Iraq. The reports date from 2003, and predicted that a US invasion would bolster Islamist radicals and precipitate violent internal conflicts (see January 2003). [New York Times, 9/28/2004; Roberts, 2008, pp. 153]
On a September 30, 2004, presidential debate with John Kerry, President Bush says, “75 percent of known al-Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice.” But there is no evidence to support such a number. He uses this same number in other speeches around this time. In 2003, Bush’s top advisers typically said that more than one-third of the most wanted leaders had been found. Prior to the Republican convention in early September, the White House had claimed that “two-thirds” of the “senior al-Qaeda and associated leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators” had been captured or killed. But while the White House numbers were increasing as the November 2004 presidential election drew closer, the number of top al-Qaeda figures captured or killed remained essentially unchanged - Hassan Ghul was captured in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). In October 2004, the Washington Post learns 28 of the approximately 30 names on a classified and unpublished “high-value targets” list of al-Qaeda leaders. Only 14, or half, are known to be killed or captured. (Other al-Qaeda leaders captured in 2004, such as Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (see July 25-29, 2004), apparently are not considered important enough to be included in the list seen by the Washington Post.) [Washington Post, 10/22/2004; American Prospect, 11/1/2004] In 2008, it will be reported that, of the 37 people the CIA deemed the most important al-Qaeda leaders in 2002, only 15 have been captured or killed. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 280-281]
In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. [New York Times, 10/19/2004] Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004] In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Franks, Peter Bergen, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Gary Berntsen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan, 2004 Elections
Osama bin Laden sends a letter to al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi, and US intelligence will learn about this a year or so later. This is one of the very few pieces of evidence known by US intelligence that suggests bin Laden is alive, after bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001. Al-Libbi has been al-Qaeda’s operational commander since early 2003.
Guantanamo File Account - In April 2011, the non-profit whistleblower group Wikileaks will release the Guantanamo prison assessment file of al-Libbi, dated September 2008. According to this assessment, which is likely based on al-Libbi’s interrogations, al-Libbi receives a letter from bin Laden in October 2004 asking about al-Qaeda’s financial situation in Pakistan and especially Waziristan (part of Pakistan’s tribal region). Al-Libbi also gets a videotape of bin Laden’s speeches. (Note that the first video footage of bin Laden is publicly released in late October 2004 (see October 29, 2004).) Al-Libbi gets the letter and videotape from bin Laden’s courier, who first met up with al-Libbi in July 2003 (see July 2003-Mid-2004). [US Department of Defense, 9/10/2008]
Musharraf's 2006 Book - In a 2006 book, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will similarly mention that al-Libbi “was in contact with Osama through a courier and the last letter he had received from Osama was sometime in December 2004. We have been looking for the couriers intensely.” [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 172] Al-Libbi will be captured in May 2005, and apparently he is interrogated by Pakistan for a few days, and then turned over and interrogated much more by the US (see May 2, 2005). So different interrogations may explain the slightly different months mentioned in each account. Bin Laden’s courier will later be revealed to be Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, and the US effort to track him will eventually lead to bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
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