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Dave Frasca, who will later go on to play a key role in the FBI’s failure to get a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings before 9/11 (see August 21, 2001 and August 29, 2001), is promoted from his job at the FBI’s Newark, New Jersey, field office to the position of special supervisory agent at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. There, Frasca works at the International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS), but not at the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU), which he will head during the Moussaoui case and which deals with Sunni Muslim suspects not linked closely to Osama bin Laden. It is unclear which unit he does work for at ITOS, but the other four units there besides the RFU include groups focusing on bin Laden as well as Hizbollah and related entities. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 14-15, 108, 123 ]
Ali Mohamed applies for a US security clearance, so he can become a security guard with a Santa Clara defense contractor. His application fails to mention ever traveling to Pakistan or Afghanistan. Defense Department officials conduct a background check on him and interview him three times. Mohamed claims, “I have never belonged to a terrorist organization, but I have been approached by organizations that could be called terrorist.” These kinds of comments contradict what he has already told the FBI in interviews. [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001] He never gets the required clearance, but somehow gets the job anyway. He works with Burns Security as a guard protecting a Northrop-Grumman factory in Sunnyvale, California. The factory makes triggers for the Trident missile. He has access to a computer inside the factory, but the computer is protected with a password so it is unknown if he gained access to the sensitive, classified information on it. [Lance, 2006, pp. 207-208]
After the Yemen civil war in 1994, in which militants helped North Yemen defeat its southern counterpart, there is an effort to absorb extremists into the mainstream (see After July 1994). However, some foreign intelligence services complain that this allows radicals to operate freely in Yemen. Nabil ad-Din, a former officer in Egypt’s state security will later say that “there were always problems” with Yemeni security officials because “they shared the same values of the people they were supposed to be arresting.” US officials will say that although some senior officers in the local Political Security Organization (PSO) take antiterrorism seriously, the organization as a whole tends to see Islamists as useful allies against domestic opponents. In addition, an Italian intelligence report will later state that the PSO even provides “logistical and intelligence assistance” to Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who frequently visits Yemen (see Mid-1990s-Spring 1998). [Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002]
Wali Khan Amin Shah, a conspirator in the Bojinka plot that was recently broken up by Philippine police (see January 6, 1995), escapes from prison just two days after he was arrested (see January 11, 1995). The circumstances of the escape are not known in detail. Based on interviews with counterterrorism officials, the New York Times will only write that Shah “somehow escaped from jail.” [New York Times, 12/13/1995; Ressa, 2003, pp. 43] Shah was one of only two conspirators seized around this time (see January 7-11, 1995), and was being held illegally. At the Bojinka trial in New York in 1996, a Philippine police official will admit that Shah was detained without having been properly arrested, advised of his rights, or arraigned before a judge, all of which is required by Philippine law. The official, Alex Paul Monteagudo, will also admit that a search of Shah’s apartment was conducted without a warrant and the items seized there were not subjected to forensic analysis. [New York Times, 8/1/1996]
Anti-government extremist Charles Ray Polk is indicted by a federal grand jury for plotting to blow up the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Texas. When Polk was arrested, he was trying to buy plastic explosives to add to an enormous arsenal he had already amassed. Polk will be convicted and sentenced to 21 years in federal prison, though an appeals court will shave five years from his term. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; Anti-Defamation League, 2011]
Saboteurs derail an Amtrak passenger train, the Sunset Limited, near Hyder, Arizona. A rail joint bar supporting a section of track over a 30-foot ravine is removed; sensors should have triggered an alarm, but the saboteurs wired the track so that the signal remained green and the crew would not be warned. Amtrak employee Mitchell Bates is killed and 78 others are injured in the resulting wreck. An anti-government message, signed by the “Sons of Gestapo,” is left behind. The letter, titled “Indictment of the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms] and FBI,” begins with a poem referencing the Branch Davidian siege (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993), and concludes: “Who is policing the ATF, FBI, state troopers, county sheriffs, and local police? What federal law enforcement agency investigates each and every choke hold killing committed by a police officer? Each and every beating of a drunk wether [sic] or not a passerby videotapes it? Each and every shooting of a police officer’s wife who knows too much about drug kickbacks? Each and every killing at Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992)? The Gestapo accounts to no one. This is not Nazi Germany. All these people had rights. It is time for an independent federal agency to police the law enforcement agencies and other government employees. Sons of the Gestapo SOG.” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio terms the derailment a “domestic terrorism” incident. Joe Roy of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Klanwatch says his organization has no information on the “Sons of Gestapo.” Roy tells a reporter that it could be a local group, or “this could be Fred the farmer who’s mad at Amtrak for cutting across his land.… It very well could be some disgruntled individual who’s trying to blame it on the militias.” [CNN, 10/10/1995; New York Times, 10/11/1995; Associated Press, 10/14/1995; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001] President Clinton says he is “profoundly outraged” by the attack and promises the government will “get to the bottom” of it and punish those responsible. [CNN, 10/10/1995] However, the perpetrators are never caught. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Entity Tags: Joe Roy, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Mitchell Bates, Joe Arpaio, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Amtrak, Southern Poverty Law Center, Sons of Gestapo, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Oklahoma Constitutional Militia leader Willie Ray Lampley, his wife, and another man are arrested as they prepare explosives to bomb numerous targets, including the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. The three, along with a fourth suspect later arrested, will be convicted and sentenced to terms of up to 11 years. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
InfraGard logo. [Source: Progressive.org]Twenty-three thousand executives and employees of various private firms work with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The group, called InfraGard, receives secret warnings of terrorist threats well in advance of public notification, and sometimes before elected officials. In return, InfraGard provides information to the government. InfraGard is a quiet quasi-governmental entity which wields an unknown, but extensive, amount of power and influence. Michael Hershman, the chairman of the advisory board of the InfraGard National Members Alliance (INMA) and the CEO of an international consulting firm, calls InfraGard “a child of the FBI.” The organization started in Cleveland in 1996, when business members cooperated with the FBI to investigate cyber-threats. The FBI then “cloned it,” according to Phyllis Schneck, chairman of the board of directors of the INMA. Schneck is one of the biggest proponents of InfraGard. As of February 2008, 86 chapters of InfraGard exist in each of the 50 states, operating under the supervision of local FBI agents. “We are the owners, operators, and experts of our critical infrastructure, from the CEO of a large company in agriculture or high finance to the guy who turns the valve at the water utility,” says Schneck. According to the InfraGard website, “At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector. InfraGard chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.” After the 9/11 attacks, InfraGard experiences explosive growth—from 1,700 members in November 2001 to 23,682 members in January 2008. 350 members of the Fortune 500 have members in InfraGard. Prospective members are sponsored by existing members, then vetted by the FBI. The organization accepts members from agriculture, banking and finance, and chemical industry, defense, energy, food, information and telecommunications, law enforcement, public health, and transportation industries.
Controlled Exposure - InfraGard’s inner workings are not available to the general public; its communications with the FBI and DHS are not accessible through the Freedom of Information Act under the “trade secrets” exemption. And InfraGard carefully controls its exposure and contact with the media. According to the InfraGard website: “The interests of InfraGard must be protected whenever presented to non-InfraGard members. During interviews with members of the press, controlling the image of InfraGard being presented can be difficult. Proper preparation for the interview will minimize the risk of embarrassment.… The InfraGard leadership and the local FBI representative should review the submitted questions, agree on the predilection of the answers, and identify the appropriate interviewee.… Tailor answers to the expected audience.… Questions concerning sensitive information should be avoided.”
Advance Warning from the FBI - InfraGard members receive quick alerts on any potential terrorist threat or a possible disruption of US infrastructure. Its website boasts that its members can “[g]ain access to an FBI secure communication network complete with VPN encrypted website, webmail, listservs, message boards, and much more.” Hershman says members receive “almost daily updates” on threats “emanating from both domestic sources and overseas.” Schneck adds, “We get very easy access to secure information that only goes to InfraGard members. People are happy to be in the know.” Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, an InfraGard member passed along an FBI warning about a potential threat to California’s bridges to then-Governor Gray Davis, who had not yet heard anything from the FBI (see November 1, 2001). In return, InfraGard members cooperate with FBI and DHS operations. Schneck says: “InfraGard members have contributed to about 100 FBI cases. What InfraGard brings you is reach into the regional and local communities. We are a 22,000-member vetted body of subject-matter experts that reaches across seventeen matrixes. All the different stovepipes can connect with InfraGard.” The relationships between the FBI and InfraGard members are key, she says. “If you had to call 1-800-FBI, you probably wouldn’t bother,” she says. “But if you knew Joe from a local meeting you had with him over a donut, you might call them. Either to give or to get. We want everyone to have a little black book.” InfraGard members have phone numbers for DHS, the FBI, and to report cyber-threats. InfraGard members who call in “will be listened to,” she says; “your call [will] go through when others will not.” The American Civil Liberties Union, who has warned about the potential dangers of Infragard to constitutional liberties (see August 2004), retorts, “The FBI should not be creating a privileged class of Americans who get special treatment. There’s no ‘business class’ in law enforcement. If there’s information the FBI can share with 22,000 corporate bigwigs, why don’t they just share it with the public? That’s who their real ‘special relationship’ is supposed to be with. Secrecy is not a party favor to be given out to friends.… This bears a disturbing resemblance to the FBI’s handing out ‘goodies’ to corporations in return for folding them into its domestic surveillance machinery.”
Preparing for Emergencies, Martial Law - InfraGard members are “very much looped into our readiness capability,” says a DHS spokeswoman. Not only does DHS “provide speakers” and do “joint presentations” with the FBI, but “[w]e also train alongside them, and they have participated in readiness exercises.” InfraGard members are involved with the Bush administration’s “National Continuity Policy,” which mandates that DHS coordinate with “private sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure, as appropriate, in order to provide for the delivery of essential services during an emergency.” InfraGard members participate in “national emergency preparation drills,” Schneck says, sometimes by the hundreds. InfraGard members are drilling in preparation for martial law, members say. One business owner recently attended a meeting conducted by FBI and DHS officials. He recalls, “The meeting started off innocuously enough, with the speakers talking about corporate espionage. From there, it just progressed. All of a sudden we were knee deep in what was expected of us when martial law is declared. We were expected to share all our resources, but in return we’d be given specific benefits.” In the event of martial law being declared, Infragard members will have the ability to travel in restricted areas and to evacuate citizens. But they will have other abilities and duties as well. InfraGard members, says the business owner, will be authorized to “shoot to kill” if necessary to maintain order and “protect our portion of the infrastructure. [I]f we had to use deadly force to protect it, we couldn’t be prosecuted.… We were assured that if we were forced to kill someone to protect our infrastructure, there would be no repercussions. It gave me goose bumps. It chilled me to the bone.” Other InfraGard members deny that they have ever been told such; Schneck says InfraGard members will have no civil patrol or law enforcement responsibilities. The FBI calls such assertions “ridiculous.” But the business owner’s story has been corroborated by other InfraGard members. “There have been discussions like that, that I’ve heard of and participated in,” says Christine Moerke, an InfraGard member from Wisconsin. [InfraGard, 2008; Progressive, 2/7/2008]
Jack Cloonan. [Source: PBS]The Justice Department directs an existing unit called Squad I-49 to begin building a legal case against bin Laden. This unit is unusual because it combines prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, who have been working on bin Laden related cases, with the FBI’s New York office, which was the FBI branch office that dealt the most with bin Laden -related intelligence. Patrick Fitzgerald effectively directs I-49 as the lead prosecutor. FBI agent Dan Coleman becomes a key member while simultaneously representing the FBI at Alec Station, the CIA’s new bin Laden unit (February 1996) where he has access to the CIA’s vast informational database. [Lance, 2006, pp. 218-219] The other initial members of I-49 are: Louis Napoli, John Anticev, Mike Anticev, Richard Karniewicz, Jack Cloonan, Carl Summerlin, Kevin Cruise, Mary Deborah Doran, and supervisor Tom Lang. All are FBI agents except for Napoli and Summerlin, a New York police detective and a New York state trooper, respectively. The unit will end up working closely with FBI agent John O’Neill, who heads the New York FBI office. Unlike the CIA’s Alec Station, which is focused solely on bin Laden, I-49 has to work on other Middle East -related issues. For much of the next year or so, most members will work on the July 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, because it crashed near New York and is suspected to have been carried out by Middle Eastern militants (July 17, 1996-September 1996). However, in years to come, I-49 will grow considerably and focus more on bin Laden. [Wright, 2006, pp. 240-241] After 9/11, the “wall” between intelligence collection and criminal prosecution will often be cited for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. But as author Peter Lance will later note, “Little more than ten months after the issuance of Jamie Gorelick’s ‘wall memo,’ Fitzgerald and company were apparently disregarding her mandate that criminal investigation should be segregated from intelligence threat prevention. Squad I-49… was actively working both jobs.” Thanks to Coleman’s involvement in both I-49 and the CIA’s Alec Station, I-49 effectively avoids the so-called “wall” problem. [Lance, 2006, pp. 220]
Entity Tags: Mike Anticev, Tom Lang, US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Kevin Cruise, Dan Coleman, Carl Summerlin, Alec Station, Louis Napoli, Mary Deborah Doran, John Anticev, Jack Cloonan, I-49, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
After 9/11, there will be media accounts suggesting some of the 9/11 hijackers trained at US military bases (see September 15-17, 2001). According to these accounts, four of the hijackers trained at Pensacola Naval Air Station, a base that trains many foreign nationals. One neighbor will claim that Ahmed Alghamdi lived in Pensacola until about August 2000. This neighbor will claim that Alghamdi appeared to be part of a group of Arab men who often gathered at the Fountains apartment complex near the University of West Florida. She will recount, “People would come and knock on the doors. We might see three or four, and they were always men. It was always in the evening. The traffic in and out, although it was sporadic, was constant every evening. They would go and knock, and then it would be a little while and someone would look out the window to see who it was, like they were being very cautious. Not your normal coming to the door and opening it.” [New York Times, 9/15/2001] It is not known when Alghamdi is first seen in Pensacola. However, he uses the address of a housing facility for foreign military trainees located inside the base on drivers’ licenses issued in 1996 and 1998. Saeed Alghamdi and Ahmed Alnami also list the same address as Ahmed Alghamdi on their drivers license and car registrations between 1996 and 1998. Other records connect Hamza Alghamdi to that same address. However, the Pensacola News Journal reports that “The news articles caution that there are slight discrepancies between the FBI list of suspected hijackers and the military training records, either in the spellings of their names or in their birth dates. They also raise the possibility that the hijackers stole the identities of military trainees.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2001; Pensacola News Journal, 9/17/2001] It is unclear if these people were the 9/11 hijackers or just others with similar names. The US military has never definitively denied that they were the hijackers, and the media lost interest in the story a couple of weeks after 9/11.
Sheila E. Witnall, the secretary of the Air Force, declassifies all Air Force accident reports prior to January 25, 1956. The declassification includes the 1948 crash of the B-29 bomber that killed nine of 13 crew members during a secret “Project Banshee” mission (see October 6, 1948). The formerly classified reports had been at the heart of the case of US v Reynolds (see March 9, 1953) that sparked the so-called “state secrets” privilege. Four years after the declassification, the daughter of one of the slain civilians on board, Judy Palya Loether, finds the accident report on the Internet; the discovery spurs her to begin looking into the circumstances of her father’s death, and ultimately will result in a second lawsuit being filed on behalf of the families of the slain crewmen (see February 26, 2003). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 205-208]
John Yoo, the general counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, writes a book-length article for the California Law Review. Yoo’s article argues that under the Constitution, the president has far greater powers during wartime than is generally recognized. Basically, Yoo writes, Congress can only do two things to restrain a wartime president: restrict spending and impeach the president. The federal courts have no power over the president whatsoever. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. xx]
Two armed Freemen man a patrol outpost on their besieged ranch. The US flag is flown upside down to indicate distress. [Source: Idaho Observer]Undercover FBI agents arrest the leader of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), LeRoy Schweitzer, and two of his colleagues, Daniel E. Petersen Jr. and Lavon T. Hanson, on the “Justus Township” ranch (see September 28, 1995 and After). Schweitzer and Peterson go out in the early morning to inspect the site of a ham radio antenna they were having set up to facilitate communications; the site is on the ranch, but some distance from the main compound. The two are responding to a request from the chief of the installation crew to inspect the antenna. When they arrive, they learn that the installation crew is actually composed of FBI agents. Though Schweitzer and Petersen are heavily armed, they do not resist arrest. Hanson is also arrested without incident. Federal agents then surround the ranch with over 100 agents. Six Freemen voluntarily leave the compound; 20 or more heavily armed Freemen remain inside the ranch, along with several children, and a standoff between the Freemen and the FBI begins. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] A lawyer who visited a Freemen residence in the fall of 1995 recalls seeing guns such as AR-15 assault rifles, shotguns, and hunting rifles in every corner, and gas masks hanging from the doors. Authorities believe that the Freemen ensconsced in the ranch house have those weapons and more besides. [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]
Tactics Very Different from Ruby Ridge, Waco - US Attorney Sherry Matteucci says that federal authorities are seeking eight other people who are not in custody in the Freeman case, including Rodney Skurdal, who has been at large since a warrant for his arrest was issued in March 1995. Skurdal is the de facto leader of the Freemen holed up inside the ranch. The FBI says it is going to great lengths to ensure that this standoff does not end badly, as previous confrontations have in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). “The FBI has gone to great pains to ensure that there is no armed confrontation, no siege, no armed perimeter, and no use of military assault-type tactics or equipment,” says Attorney General Janet Reno. “The FBI is trying to negotiate a peaceful solution.” The FBI says the confrontation is not a “siege,” as two of the three roads leading out of the Freeman compound are not blocked. Matteucci says authorities believe there are women and children among the besieged Freemen, but will not speculate as to the Freemen’s numbers or composition. FBI Director Louis Freeh decides at the outset not to use overt military tactics, as was done at both Ruby Ridge and Waco. Agents and law enforcement officials on the scene do not wear camouflage or black uniforms, but civilian clothes, and no armored personnel carriers are brought in. The FBI’s quasi-military Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is heavily supplemented by trained negotiators and “profilers.” Instead of snipers, the FBI installs video surveillance cameras on a microwave tower leading into the farm, as well as extensive audio surveillance equipment. No perimeter is established, only roads leading into the ranch are blocked, and many people are allowed to drive in and out of the farm after being stopped and questioned by FBI or law enforcement agents. (Days after the arrests, the Freemen themselves will block the county road in front of their farm with a barbed wire barricade.) The HRT does not manage the standoff, as it did in Waco; instead, the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group is in charge. The FBI agent in charge is Robert “Bear” Bryant, an assistant FBI director who in 1988 participated in the Marion, Utah, siege of a group of armed religious zealots that ended peacefully. Local police block media access to the farm, allegedly fearing violence against journalists. The FBI and the various law enforcement agencies establish an operations center at the Jordan county fairgrounds, with vehicles, command post trailers, and even an airstrip. The FBI sets up a dedicated telephone line into the farm for family members, and cuts the other phone lines. Jim Pate of Soldier of Fortune magazine, who met the Freemen leaders last year, warns that the confrontation could easily become violent. Lynn Davis of the Montana Human Rights Network agrees. “They haven’t shot anybody, but they’ve held people at gunpoint,” she says. “They’ve threatened. I’ve had two calls in the past week threatening my life, my children. Phone calls to both my home and office.” [CNN, 3/28/1996; Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]
'Sad, Middle-Aged Men' - Nick Murnion, the Garfield County attorney and a lifelong resident of Jordan, says of the Freemen, “It’s like they’re brainwashed.” The Freemen represent maybe one percent of the town, Murnion says, but “they are causing misery for the whole county.” A Jordan resident who asks to remain anonymous says: “We’re tore up about it. A lot of us have family out there.” She says that the Freemen have rejected everyone who does not share their beliefs, even family members. “If we’re not with them, we’re against them,” she says. [Washington Post, 4/1996] Matthew Sisler, the lawyer who visited the Freemen last year, has a somewhat different view. When he saw the group of heavily armed men, he says he did not fear them: “What we saw was a bunch of sad, middle-aged men who had lost their homes, who had not paid loans back or taxes, and wanted someone to blame.” [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]
Entity Tags: Nick Murnion, Sherry Matteucci, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Robert (“Bear”) Bryant, Matthew Sisler, Montana Freemen, Louis J. Freeh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Critical Incident Response Group, Daniel Petersen, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lynn Davis, Jim Pate, LeRoy Schweitzer, Lavon T. Hanson, Janet Reno
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
“Patriot Movement” and other anti-government activists join Klansmen and neo-Nazis at “Jubilation ‘96,” a gathering at Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The affair is hosted by leaders of the racist, anti-Semitic “Christian Identity” movement (see 1960s and After) and attended by over 500 people. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Anti-government activist Ray Hamblin is charged with illegal possession of explosives after authorities find 460 pounds of the high explosive Tovex, 746 pounds of ANFO blasting agent, and 15 homemade hand grenades on his property in Hood River, Oregon. Hamblin will be sentenced to almost four years in federal prison. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
President Clinton signs the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which the New York Times calls “broad legislation that provides new tools and penalties for federal law-enforcement officials to use in fighting terrorism.” The Clinton administration proposed the bill in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). In many ways, the original bill will be mirrored by the USA Patriot Act six years later (see October 26, 2001). Civil libertarians on both the left and right opposed the legislation. Political analyst Michael Freeman called the proposal one of the “worst assaults on civil liberties in decades,” and the Houston Chronicle called it a “frightening” and “grievous” assault on domestic freedoms. Many Republicans opposed the bill, and forced a compromise that removed increased wiretap authority and lower standards for lawsuits against sellers of guns used in crimes. CNN called the version that finally passed the Republican-controlled Congress a “watered-down version of the White House’s proposal. The Clinton administration has been critical of the bill, calling it too weak. The original House bill, passed last month, had deleted many of the Senate’s anti-terrorism provisions because of lawmakers’ concerns about increasing federal law enforcement powers. Some of those provisions were restored in the compromise bill.” [CNN, 4/18/1996; New York Times, 4/25/1996; Roberts, 2008, pp. 35] An unusual coalition of gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) led the opposition to the law. [New York Times, 4/17/1996] By the time Congress passed the bill, it had been, in the words of FBI Director Louis Freeh, “stripped… of just about every meaningful provision.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 35] The law makes it illegal in the US to provide “material support” to any organization banned by the State Department. [Guardian, 9/10/2001]
Two leaders of the Militia-at-Large of the Republic of Georgia, Robert Edward Starr III and William James McCranie Jr., are charged with manufacturing shrapnel bombs for distribution to militia members. Later in the year, they will be sentenced on explosive charges to terms of up to eight years. Another Militia-at-Large member, accused of training a team to assassinate politicians, will be convicted of conspiracy. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Twelve members of an Arizona militia group called the Viper Team are arrested on federal conspiracy, weapons, and explosive charges after allegedly surveiling government buildings as potential targets. Ten members will plead guilty to various charges, drawing sentences of up to nine years in prison. One is ultimately acquitted of explosives charges while a mistrial will be declared on conspiracy charges against him. The last defendant will be convicted for conspiracy and sentenced to almost six years. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Washington State Militia leader John Pitner and seven others are arrested on weapons and explosives charges in connection with a plot to build pipe bombs for a confrontation with the federal government. Pitner and four others will be convicted on weapons charges, while conspiracy charges against all eight will end in a mistrial. Pitner will later be retried on that charge, convicted, and sentenced to four years in prison. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Stuart Adelmann, using the alias Brian Stuart Von Adelmann, Ph.D., uses a counterfeit Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license to order three different types of radioactive materials. Adelmann is arrested and charged with engaging in prohibited transactions involving nuclear materials. He will plead guilty and will be sentenced to five years in federal prison. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009]
Over 300 people attend what is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the largest Patriot gathering ever held in Washington, DC.” The meeting, far from the rural areas where the Patriot movement (see February 1992) is strongest, is billed as a “Rally for the Bill of Rights.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Charles Barbee, Robert Berry, and Jay Merrell are charged with robbing and bombing banks, a newspaper office, and a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Spokane, Washington, area. The three are self-described “Phineas Priests,” members of the Christian Identity movement (see 1960s and After and 1990) who claim to have been called by God to launch violent attacks. The three will be convicted and sentenced to life in prison. A fourth “priest,” Brian Ratigan, will be arrested separately and sentenced to 55 years in jail. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Seven members of the West Virginia Mountaineer Militia are arrested in a plot to blow up the FBI’s national fingerprint records center in that state. In 1998, leader Floyd “Ray” Looker will be sentenced to 18 years in prison. Two other defendants are later sentenced on explosives charges and a third will draw a year in prison for providing blueprints of the FBI facility to Looker, who then sold them to a government informant. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Guy Philippe serves as police chief in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas. According to Human Rights Watch, “dozens of suspected gang members… [are] summarily executed, mainly by police under the command of Inspector Berthony Bazile, Philippe’s deputy.” Philippe will later deny the allegation in an interview with the Miami Herald. [Human Rights Watch, 2/27/2004; Miami Herald, 2/28/2004]
USAMRIID logo. [Source: US Army]Steven Hatfill, later suspected of being behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), has a two-year contract working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, at Fort Detrick, Maryland. He has access to the most restricted Biosafety Level 4 laboratories, where scientists handle viruses in biohazard suits tethered to air supplies. There’s no evidence of him specifically working with anthrax at this time or any other time, however. His contract holds little meaning after February, when he had started working full time somewhere else. [Weekly Standard, 9/16/2002; Washington Post, 9/14/2003] It is later reported that the strain of anthrax used in the attacks could be no older than September 1999. [New York Times, 6/23/2002] While at USAMRIID, Hatfill also works on virology in a different building than where anthrax is studied, so the odds of Hatfill getting access to the type of anthrax used in the attacks at USAMRIID seems extremely small. [Weekly Standard, 9/16/2002] Although he is a relatively inexperienced scientist, he begins giving public and private lectures about the dangers of biological terrorist attacks, and gets some media coverage as a quoted bioweapons expert. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]
The White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, led by Vice President Al Gore, issues its final report, which highlights the risk of terrorist attacks in the US. The report references Operation Bojinka, the failed plot to bomb twelve American airliners out of the sky over the Pacific Ocean, and calls for increased aviation security. The commission reports that [it] “believes that terrorist attacks on civil aviation are directed at the United States, and that there should be an ongoing federal commitment to reducing the threats that they pose.” [Gore Commission, 2/12/1997] However, the report has little practical effect: “Federal bureaucracy and airline lobbying [slow] and [weaken] a set of safety improvements recommended by a presidential commission—including one that a top airline industry official now says might have prevented the September 11 terror attacks.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2001]
A cache of explosives stored in a tree near Yuba City, California, explodes. Police arrest Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994) supporter William Robert Goehler in conjunction with the blast. Investigators looking into the explosion later arrest two of Goehler’s associates, one of them a militia leader, after finding 500 pounds of petrogel explosives—enough to level three city blocks—in a motor home parked outside their residence. Six others are later arrested on related charges. Goehler, who has previously been convicted of rape, burglary, and assault, will be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. An associate will be sentenced to three years. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
A five-day standoff between police and “Republic of Texas” common-law separatists ends, with one separatist killed in a gun battle with police officers. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Chevie Kehoe. [Source: Eye on Hate (.com)]Cheyne Kehoe surrenders to federal authorities and tells them where his fugitive brother, Chevie Kehoe, is hiding. Both men were raised as members of the white separatist, overtly racist “Christian Identity” tradition (see 1960s and After) by their parents; the brothers’ father, a Vietnam veteran who hated the government, gave them their first training with weapons. Chevie Kehoe will later recall his father telling them, “If they’re not white then they don’t have the right to exist.” Chevie Kehoe became fascinated with the story of slain white supremacist Robert Jay Mathews, the founder of The Order (see Late September 1983 and December 8, 1984); he, his brother Cheyne, and a few friends formed a small supremacist group they called the Aryan People’s Republic. The Kehoe brothers became notorious in February 1997 after they had a shootout with Ohio Highway Patrol officers and escaped on foot; the videotape of the shootout became a sensation on the national news circuit. Both the Kehoes were suspected of torturing and murdering Arkansas gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy, and his daughter Sarah, after Chevie Kehoe had robbed him in early 1996. The Kehoes spent some time hiding from authorities at the Oklahoma white supremacist compound of Elohim City (see 1973 and After), where at least one of them had received weapons training and the Kehoe family often lived for periods of time. Cheyne Kehoe is convicted of assault and attempted murder in the Ohio shootout, and receives 24 years in prison; Chevie Kehoe pleads guilty and receives 20 years. Chevie Kehoe and Daniel Lee, a member of the Kehoes’ Aryan People’s Republic, are later indicted for the Arkansas murder and a variety of charges based on their plots to attack federal officials; Kehoe will be sentenced to life in prison and Lee will be sentenced to death. [Anti-Defamation League, 8/9/2002; Nicole Nichols, 2003] Investigations later show that the Kehoe brothers had ties of some nature with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the Aryan Republican Army (ARA—see 1992 - 1995).
Mir Aimal Kasi, an Islamic militant who killed two CIA officers and wounded another three in 1993 (see January 25, 1993), is arrested in Pakistan by a joint US-Pakistani team.
Betrayal - The capture is a result of reward money offered for information about him. After the shooting, Kasi hid in Pakistan, where he was protected by a local tribal leader. However, the leader decides he would like the reward money, and sends an emissary to the US consulate in Karachi, where he speaks to the FBI and provides evidence the leader can deliver Kasi. Pakistan’s ISI agrees to help and the three agencies send representatives to the town of Dera Ghazi Khan. [Coll, 2004, pp. 374-5; Associated Press, 12/27/2005] The town is in the Punjab, in central Pakistan. [Columbia Encyclopaedia, 2007] The tribal leader lures Kasi there and he is captured by the joint team, then rendered to the US.
Tenet's Reaction - CIA Director George Tenet calls hundreds of the agency’s staff together to celebrate the operation, declaring, “No terrorist should sleep soundly as long as this agency exists,” and encouraging employees to “have a cocktail before noon.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 374-5; Associated Press, 12/27/2005]
Reason for Rendition - National Security Council official Daniel Benjamin will explain why Kasi and Bojinka plotter Ramzi Yousef (see February 7, 1995) are not extradited in the normal manner, but rendered: “Both were apprehended in Pakistan, whose leaders decided that the nation would rather not have those two—folk heroes to some—sitting in jail, awaiting extradition. Pakistan’s leaders feared that cooperating with the United States would be dangerously unpopular, so they wanted the suspects out of the country quickly.” [Washington Post, 10/21/2007]
Tourists in Luxor, Egypt, cower as militants begin firing on them. [Source: BBC]Fifty-eight foreign tourists are killed in Luxor, Egypt. Six radical militants attack an ancient Egyptian temple with machine guns before finally being killed by Egyptian police. The attack is the peak of a campaign to destroy the Egyptian tourism industry that had begun five years before. Thirty-four foreigners and 1,200 Egyptians were killed in the previous attacks. Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group) takes credit for the attack. This group was founded in the late 1970s by Sheik Omar Abdul-Rahman. The militants are ultimately hoping to destabilize the Egyptian economy and overthrow the government. However, the attacks backfire, alienating many Egyptians. This will be the last serious militant attack in Egypt before 9/11. [New York Times, 11/18/1997; New York Times, 11/18/1997; Los Angeles Times, 10/26/2001] The Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad is also thought to be involved. In 1999, Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s second in command, will be convicted in absentia for his role in this attack and other attacks. [BBC, 9/27/2004] Also in 1999, the Egyptian government will claim it has determined that bin Laden helped finance the attack. [BBC, 5/13/1999]
As a part of co-operation with Egyptian authorities against Islamic militancy, the CIA funds what is supposed to be a program to train Egyptian special operations forces in counterterrorism arrests. However, according to US ambassador to Egypt Edward Walker, a problem emerges: there are “too many people that die[…] while fleeing” their arrest. Author Stephen Grey will comment, “It was more of a hit squad than an arrest squad.” The funding for the program is cut off in 1998, because, according to Walker, “It got to be a little too obvious and the Agency got very nervous about this.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 126-127]
Following an investigation of extremists linked to the Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, Italy, arrests are made, but most of the suspects are eventually released. The mosque was a logistics base for radical Muslims fighting in Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995 and Late 1993-1994) and has been under investigation for some time. However, according to the Chicago Tribune: “[T]he criminal case appears to [founder] on the vagaries of the Italian justice system. Because of limitations on jailing people charged with crimes committed outside Italy, most of the suspects [will be] released and [vanish].” [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] People connected to the mosque will go on to be connected to numerous plots, such as the failed millennium attacks and 9/11 (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).
Paul Nenninger. [Source: KRCU]The US Secret Service runs training exercises that involve computer simulations of planes crashing into the White House, in order to test security there. [Nenninger, 2005, pp. 175]
Plane Crash Scenarios Test White House Security - Secret Service agent Paul Nenninger has, since 1997, been assigned to the Secret Service’s James J. Rowley Training Center in Beltsville, Maryland, where he serves as program manager in charge of the Security and Incident Modeling Lab (SIMLAB). [Nenninger, 2005, pp. 299] In a 2005 book, he will write that from 1998 up until the time of the 9/11 attacks, the Rowley Training Center is “crashing planes into the White House… on a simulation program provided by the military.” This is done “to test the security responses of the various agencies that interact to provide security and support to the White House.” [Nenninger, 2005, pp. 175] The plane crash scenarios are perhaps inspired by an incident in 1994, when a suicidal pilot crashed a Cessna into the White House grounds (see September 11, 1994). Time magazine reported at the time that “security officials have long feared in private [that] the White House is vulnerable to sneak attack from the air.” [Time, 9/26/1994; New York Times, 10/3/2001]
Exercises Held Based on 'Terrorist Attacks on the White House' - Nenninger will not state whether the simulated plane crashes are imagined to be part of a terrorist attack. However, he will comment that simulations “allow you to practice scenarios that can be attempted by a terrorist or other deranged individual.” [Nenninger, 2005, pp. 177-178] And in May 2001, Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill testifies that the Secret Service “holds interagency tabletop exercises in preparation for terrorist attacks on the White House.” However, it is unclear if he is referring to the same exercises as those described by Nenninger. [US Department of the Treasury, 5/8/2001]
Secret Service Uses Advanced Analytical Software - For the simulations, the Secret Service has what Nenninger will describe as “a very good piece of analytical software” called the Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation (JCATS). This program was developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. It was released by LLNL in 1998 and distributed to the Secret Service by the Joint Warfighting Center at Fort Monroe, Virginia. [Science and Technology Review, 9/2000; Nenninger, 2005, pp. 176] JCATS can handle things like “alarms” and “FAA radar” in the simulations, according to Nenninger. The computer simulations are particularly popular with the Secret Service’s special operations units, which request “more and more time in SIMLAB.” [Nenninger, 2005, pp. 184-185]
Colleague Says 'You Know All about That' in Response to Attack on WTC - On the morning of September 11, 2001, Nenninger is at the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, for a board meeting. When he and the others there for the meeting learn that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center, another Secret Service agent in the room points at Nenninger and, referring to the computer simulations he has been involved with, comments, “You know all about that.” [Nenninger, 2005, pp. 175]
Richard Clarke, the chair of the White House’s Counterterrorism Security Group, updates the US Continuity of Government (COG) program. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger has become aware that terrorism and domestic preparedness are now major issues. He suggests the idea of a “national coordinator” for counterterrorism, and that this post should be codified by a new Presidential Decision Directive (PDD). Clarke therefore drafts three new directives. The third, tentatively titled “PDD-Z,” updates the COG program. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 166-167] This program, which dates back to the cold war, was originally designed to ensure the US government would continue to function in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004] Clarke will later say it “had been allowed to fall apart when the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack had gone away.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 167] He will explain: “We thought that individual buildings in Washington, and indeed perhaps all of Washington, could still come under attack, only it might not be from the former Soviet Union.… It might be with a terrorist walking a weapon into our city.” [CBS, 9/11/2001] Therefore, “If terrorists could attack Washington, particularly with weapons of mass destruction, we needed to have a robust system of command and control, with plans to devolve authority and capabilities to officials outside Washington.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 167] President Clinton will sign “PDD-Z” on October 21, 1998, as PDD-67, “Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations” (see October 21, 1998). The two other directives drafted by Clarke will become PDD-62 (see May 22, 1998) and PDD-63. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 170; Washington Post, 6/4/2006] By February 1999, according to the New York Times, Clarke will have written at least four classified presidential directives on terrorism, which “expand the government’s counterterrorism cadres into the $11 billion-a-year enterprise he now coordinates.” [New York Times, 2/1/1999] Clarke is a regular participant in secret COG exercises (see (1984-2004)), and will activate the COG plan for the first time on the day of 9/11 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Mohamed al-Owhali is arrested and immediately begins confessing his role in the recent al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. He reveals to the FBI what an FBI agent will later call “blue-chip” information. [CNN, 1/19/2001] He reveals to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and others that when he was told by a handler in Afghanistan that he would take part in an operation in Kenya, he insisted “I want to attack inside the US” instead. But his handler tells him that the Kenya attack is important because it will keep the US distracted while the real attack is being prepared. Al-Owhali futher explains to his interrogators, “We have a plan to attack the US, but we’re not ready yet. We need to hit you outside the country in a couple of places so you won’t see what is going on inside. The big attack is coming. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” [USA Today, 8/29/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 278-279] Presumably, al-Owhali is also the suspect at this time who “inform[s] the FBI that an extensive network of al-Qaeda ‘sleeper agents’ currently exists in the US.” It is known that counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke passes on this information to Condoleezza Rice when she begins her position as National Security Adviser in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001), but other details about this warning are not known. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] Al-Owhali also reveals the telephone number of a key al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998) and warns that an al-Qaeda attack is Yemen is being planned (see Mid-August 1998). [CNN, 1/19/2001]
President Clinton issues Presidential Decision Directive 67 (PDD-67), which updates the US Continuity of Government (COG) program in line with the emerging threat posed by terrorists. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 166-167 and 170; Washington Post, 6/4/2006] PDD-67, “Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations,” requires agencies to plan for governmental continuity if the US is hit by a major terrorist attack. [Knight Ridder, 11/17/1999; Federation of American Scientists, 12/12/2000] The directive is classified and there is no White House fact sheet summarizing its contents. [Federation of American Scientists, 12/12/2000; US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 4/22/2004] But according to Energy Department documents, the new COG plan “could be triggered by an event worse than what’s expected from the Y2K problem and comparable to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.” [Knight Ridder, 11/17/1999] According to the Washington Post, the result of PDD-67 will be that “every single government department and agency [is] directed to see to it that they could resume critical functions within 12 hours of a warning, and keep their operations running at emergency facilities for up to 30 days.” [Washington Post, 6/4/2006] The directive puts the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—which is responsible for planning for and responding to disasters—in charge of the COG program. [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 4/28/2005, pp. 4 ] Within FEMA, the Office of National Security Affairs will specifically be responsible for COG activities. [Larson and Peters, 2001, pp. 103] FEMA’s responsibilities will include providing guidance for agencies to develop their continuity plans (see July 26, 1999), and the coordination of interagency exercises. [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 4/28/2005, pp. 4 ] Richard Clarke, who has now been appointed counterterrorism “tsar” (see May 22, 1998), drafted PDD-67 earlier in the year (see Early 1998). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 166-167] The COG plan will be activated for the first time on the morning of 9/11 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 4/25/2004]
A classified report discusses responses to an anthrax attack through the mail. The report, precipitated by a series of false anthrax mailings, is written by William Patrick, inventor of the US anthrax weaponization process, under a CIA contract. [New York Times, 12/3/2001] The report was commissioned by Steven Hatfill, a good friend of Patrick. [Baltimore Sun, 6/27/2002] The report describes what the US military could do and what a terrorist might be able to achieve. [New York Times, 12/3/2001] The similarities between what the report predicts and the anthrax attacks that eventually happen after 9/11 are startling (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The BBC later suggests the “possibility that there was a secret CIA project to investigate methods of sending anthrax through the mail which went madly out of control” and that the anthrax attacker knew of this study or took part in it. The CIA and William Patrick will deny the existence of this report, even though copies have been leaked to the media. [BBC, 3/14/2002; Baltimore Sun, 6/27/2002]
Nearly 100 hard-line militia and white separatists gather for advanced paramilitary training at the North Carolina property of former Special Forces member John Roberts, head of the Militia of East Tennessee. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issues a circular that provides guidance for government agencies to develop plans for continuity of government operations in the event of an emergency, including a terrorist attack. The circular, FPC 65, goes out to the heads of federal departments and agencies, senior policy officials, and emergency planners. It confirms FEMA’s coordinating role in the nation’s Continuity of Government (COG) program, and contains criteria for agencies to develop their continuity plans. It states that an agency’s continuity of operations (COOP) capability “Must be maintained at a high level of readiness”; “Must be capable of implementation both with and without warning”; “Must be operational no later than 12 hours after activation”; “Must maintain sustained operations for up to 30 days”; and “Should take maximum advantage of existing agency field infrastructures.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 7/26/1999; US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 4/22/2004] Presidential Decision Directive 67 (PDD-67), issued in October 1998 (see October 21, 1998), required agencies to prepare plans to allow the government to continue functioning in the event of a major terrorist attack on the US, and had placed FEMA in charge of the COG program. [Knight Ridder, 11/17/1999; Washington Post, 6/4/2006] The COG plan detailed in that directive will be activated for the first time on the morning of 9/11 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 4/25/2004]
Agents from Oklahoma City FBI office visit the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma to investigate Ihab Ali Nawawi, who has been identified as bin Laden’s former personal pilot in a recent trial. The agents learned that Nawawi received his commercial pilot’s license at the school 1993, then traveled to another school in Oklahoma City to qualify for a rating to fly small business aircraft. He is later named as an unindicted coconspirator in the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Kenya. The trial witness who gave this information, Essam al Ridi, also attended flight school in the US, then bought a plane and flew it to Afghanistan for bin Laden to use (see Early 1993). [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001; CNN, 10/16/2001; Washington Post, 5/19/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002] When Nawawi was arrested in May 1999, he was working as a taxi driver in Orlando, Florida (see May 18, 1999). Investigators discover recent ties between him and high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, and suspect he was a “sleeper” agent. [St. Petersburg Times, 10/28/2001] However, the FBI agent visiting the school is not given most background details about him. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] It is not known if these investigators are aware of a terrorist flight school warning given by the Oklahoma City FBI office in 1998. Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi later visit the Airman school in July 2000 but ultimately will decide to train in Florida instead. [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001] Al-Qaeda agent Zacarias Moussaoui will take flight lessons at Airman in February 2001 (see February 23-June 2001). One of the FBI agents sent to visit the school at this time visits it again in August 2001 asking about Moussaoui, but he will fail to make a connection between the two visits (see August 23, 2001).
The Guryanov Street bombing. [Source: NTV/Terror.ru]A powerful explosion levels the central portion of a block-long Moscow apartment building shortly after midnight, killing 94 people. The building is located on Guryanov Street in a working-class suburb, far from the heart of Moscow. Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, who has a degree in chemistry, identifies the probable explosive as hexagen, also called RDX. He says the attack was probably carried out by Chechen terrorists: “Visual signs suggest that it was a terrorist act similar to the one carried out in Buinaksk” (see September 4, 1999). Interfax reports that an anonymous caller declared that the explosion is “our response to air strikes against peaceful villages in Chechnya and Dagestan.” [New York Times, 9/10/1999; Moscow Times, 9/10/1999; BBC, 8/10/2000] Another Moscow apartment building is bombed on September 13, killing over 100 (see September 13, 1999). Later in the month, explosives will be found in an apartment building in the nearby city of Ryazan. The Russian government will initially declare it a foiled bombing until the suspects arrested turn out to be FSB agents. The government will then claim it was merely a training exercise (see September 22-24, 1999). This will lead some to suspect that all three apartment bomb incidents this month were false flag attacks by the FSB (see March 6, 2002, December 30, 2003 and January 2004).
The Kashirskoye Street bombing. [Source: AP/Terror99.ru]A powerful early-morning blast levels an apartment building on Kashirskoye Street, Moscow, killing 118 people. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov blame Chechen terrorists. [New York Times, 9/13/1999; BBC, 9/13/1999] Another Moscow apartment building was bombed on September 9, killing nearly 100 (see September 9, 1999). Later in the month, explosives will be found in an apartment building in the nearby city of Ryazan. The Russian government will initially declare it a foiled bombing until the suspects arrested turn out to be FSB agents. The government will then claim it was merely a training exercise (see September 22-24, 1999). This will lead some to suspect that all three apartment bomb incidents this month were false flag attacks by the FSB (see March 6, 2002, December 30, 2003 and January 2004).
Apartment building in Volgondosk after blast [Source: BBC]A huge truck bomb outside an apartment block in Volgodonsk, Southern Russia, shears off the front of the building, killing 17 people. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declares, “We must stamp out this vermin.” Putin has blamed Chechen separatists for previous attacks. [BBC, 9/16/1999]
Ryazan bomb detonator. [Source: Cryptome.org]On the evening of September 22, 1999, several residents of an apartment block in Ryazan, a city about a hundred miles south of Moscow, observe three strangers at the entrance of their building. The two young men and a woman are carrying large sacks into the basement. The residents notice that the car’s plate has been partially covered with paper, although they can still see a Moscow license plate number underneath. They decide to call the local police. After several bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow earlier in the month (see September 9, 1999 and September 13, 1999), their vigilance is understandable. When the police arrive, around 9:00 p.m., they uncover what appears to be huge bomb: three sacks of sugar filled with a granular powder, connected to a detonator and a timing device set for 5:30 a.m. The bomb squad uses a gas testing device to confirm that it is explosive material: it appears to be hexagen, the military explosive that is believed to have been used to blow up two Moscow blocks. The residents are evacuated. Then the bomb carted away and turned over to the FSB. (In an apparent oversight, the FSB fails to collect the detonator, which is photographed by the local police.) The following morning, September 23, the government announces that a terrorist attack has been averted. They praise the vigilance of the local people and the Ryazan police. Police comb the city and find the suspects’ car. A telephone operator for long-distance calls reports that she overheard a suspicious conversation: the caller said there were too many police to leave town undetected and was told, “Split up and each of you make your own way out.” To the police’s astonishment, the number called belongs to the FSB. Later this day, the massive manhunt succeeds: the suspects are arrested. But the police are again stunned when the suspects present FSB credentials. On Moscow’s orders, they are quietly released. On September 24, the government reverses itself and now says the bomb was a dummy and the whole operation an exercise to test local vigilance. The official announcement is met with disbelief and anger. Ryazan residents, thousands of whom have had to spend the previous night outdoors, are outraged; local authorities protest that they were not informed. However, the suspicion of a government provocation is not widely expressed and press coverage fades after a few days. It is only several months later that an investigation by the independent weekly Novaya Gazeta re-ignites the controversy (see February 20, 2000 and Fall 1999). The government’s explanations will fail to convince skeptics (see March 23, 2000). The Ryazan incident later becomes the main reason for suspecting the government of having orchestrated previous bombings. The controversy is then widely reported in the international press. [BBC, 9/24/1999; Moscow Times, 9/24/1999; CNN, 9/24/1999; Baltimore Sun, 1/14/2000; Los Angeles Times, 1/15/2000; Moscow Times, 1/18/2000; Independent, 1/27/2000; Observer, 3/12/2000; Newsweek, 4/3/2000; Insight, 4/17/2000; National Review Online, 4/30/2002; Le Monde (Paris), 11/17/2002; Satter, 2003; Moscow Times, 9/24/2004]
Ahmed Ressam. [Source: Public domain]The CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 205, 211] The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism [Washington Post, 4/2/2000; Associated Press, 6/28/2002] All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. [Newsweek, 3/31/2004]
Diana Dean. [Source: Seattle Times]Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam is arrested in Port Angeles, Washington, attempting to enter the US with components of explosive devices. One hundred and thirty pounds of bomb-making chemicals and detonator components are found inside his rental car. He subsequently admits he planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999. [New York Times, 12/30/2001] Alert border patrol agent Diana Dean stops him; she and other agents nationwide had been warned recently to look for suspicious activity. Ressam’s bombing would have been part of a wave of attacks against US targets over the New Year’s weekend (see December 15-31, 1999). He is later connected to al-Qaeda and convicted. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]
From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. [Time, 2/7/2000; CNN, 1/16/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 298]
Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/2001]
Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). [CNN, 3/6/2002]
Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [Newsweek (International), 3/13/2000]
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).
Judy Palya Loether. [Source: SecrecyFilm (.com)]Judy Palya Loether, the daughter of a civilian engineer killed in a 1948 plane crash while on a secret government mission (see October 6, 1948), reads over the voluminous reports of the accident that claimed her father’s life. The reports, now declassified (see January 1996), had been at the heart of a landmark lawsuit that gave judicial recognition to the government’s “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953). Loether is shocked to find that the reports contain nothing that could be construed as military or tactical secrets of any kind, though for decades the government has insisted that they could not be revealed, even to a judge (see October 18, 1948, July 26, 1950, August 7-8, 1950, September 21, 1950, and October 19, 1951). What they do contain is a compendium of witness statements and expert findings that indicate a number of mistakes and errors led to the crash. Loether begins contacting the families of the widows who had filed the original lawsuit against the government (seeJune 21, 1949) to share her findings. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 210-211] Loether is confused and angered over the contents of the reports, and the government’s response to the lawsuit. She cannot understand why the government pressed so hard to keep the reports classified, knowing that they contained no sensitive information about the secret missile program, and is particularly troubled by the fact that at least two senior government officials signed affidavits affirming the reports’ inclusion of such information while knowing that the reports contained nothing of the sort. She wonders if government officials had perhaps decided to lie about the reports in order to establish some sort of state secrets privilege. In September 2002, lawyers Wilson Brown and Jeff Almeida, retained by Loether and others who lost family members in the crash, come to the same conclusion. As Almeida will say to Brown: “I’ve read this report. There’s nothing in there.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 219] As time goes on, Loether and her colleagues files a second lawsuit seeking to overturn the first Supreme Court verdict (see February 26, 2003).
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger chairs a Cabinet-level meeting to review the wave of attempted terror attacks around the millennium. There are counterterrorism reports that disruption efforts “have not put too much of a dent” into bin Laden’s overseas network, and that it is feared “sleeper cells” of al-Qaeda operatives have taken root in the US. It is recommended that the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service should begin “high tempo, ongoing operations to arrest, detain, and deport potential sleeper cells in the United States.” Some ideas, like expanding the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the US, are adopted. Others, like a centralized translation unit for domestic intercepts, are not. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] In July 2004, it is revealed that the Justice Department is investigating Berger for taking classified documents relating to this review effort out of a secure reading room in 2003. Most of the documents are returned, but a few apparently are lost. [Associated Press, 7/20/2004; Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
Immediately after an investigation by Atif Amin of British customs and Alwari Essam of the police in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, finds that Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan is shipping centrifuge components to Libya (see Late March 2000), Essam’s superiors impose heavy restrictions on the inquiry. There is a “widespread commotion” at police headquarters when they arrive back from conducting a key interview and they are confronted by a group of police officers. The two men are split up and Essam receives a 40-minute talk from his police bosses and Dubai’s internal security service telling him that what he and Amin have been doing has to stop. He is accused of helping Amin “reveal A. Q. Khan in Dubai,” and asked why Amin wants to know where Khan stays in Dubai. The security service even suggests that Amin is really an MI6 agent plotting to assassinate the Pakistani. New limitations are imposed on their inquiry:
They cannot conduct interviews in the field, but witnesses and suspects have to be invited to police headquarters, and may decline to come. Amin will be allowed to submit questions, but will not be allowed to perform the interviews himself. However, if the interviews are to be used in a British court case, Amin has to perform them himself under British rules of law;
If Atif wants materials or records, he cannot go and get them himself, but must ask the Dubai police to do so;
In addition, Amin must give the Dubai police all the documents he has collected during the investigation, including those from the British section of the inquiry.
Amin is understandably angry at the restrictions, which will make it impossible to conduct a meaningful inquiry, but, as there is little he can do at this time, he decides to continue and try to get the restrictions lifted. He asks the Dubai police to get him a file containing documents about shipments from Khan front companies in Pakistan to Libya, but, when the file arrives, the Libyan documents have been removed and the file is noticeably thinner. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 187-9]
Niaz Khan. [Source: NBC News]Niaz Khan, a British citizen originally from Pakistan, is recruited into an al-Qaeda plot.
Khan's Story - In early 2000 he is flown to Lahore, Pakistan, and then trains in a compound there for a week with others on how to hijack passenger airplanes. He trains in a mock cockpit of a 767 aircraft (an airplane type used on 9/11). He is taught hijacking techniques, including how to smuggle guns and other weapons through airport security and how to get into a cockpit. In April 2000 he flies to the US and is told to meet with a contact. He will later recall, “They said I would live there for a while and meet some other people and we would hijack a plane from JFK and fly it into a building.” [London Times, 5/9/2004] His al-Qaeda contact in the US is only known by the alias “Babu Khan.” It is unknown who this really is (assuming Khan’s story is completely correct). [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] After 9/11, he will have “no doubt” this is the 9/11 plot. However, Khan slips away and gambles away the money given to him by al-Qaeda. Afraid he will be killed for betraying al-Qaeda, he turns himself in to the FBI.
The FBI Checks Out Khan - For three weeks, FBI counterterrorism agents in Newark, New Jersey, will interview Khan. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004; Observer, 6/6/2004] One FBI agent will later recall: “We were incredulous. Flying a plane into a building sounded crazy but we polygraphed him and he passed.” [London Times, 5/9/2004] Later in 2004, Khan will say he was only involved in a plot to hijack an airplane, not crash it into a building. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] However, he had earlier clearly talked to the media about flying a plane into a building, and FBI officials had also referred to his case as flying a plane into a building.
FBI Agents Told to Forget about Khan's Case - A former FBI official will say the FBI agents believe Khan and aggressively try to follow every lead in the case, but word comes from FBI headquarters saying, “Return him to London and forget about it.” He is returned to Britain and handed over to British authorities. However, the British only interview him for about two hours, and then release him (see (May 2000)). He is surprised that authorities never ask for his help in identifying where he was trained in Pakistan, even after 9/11. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004] Khan’s case will be mentioned in the 2002 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report. It describes a “walk-in” who told the FBI he “was to meet five or six persons,” some of them pilots, who would take over a plane and fly it to Afghanistan, or blow the plane up. The report will add that the he passed a lie-detector test. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; MSNBC, 6/3/2004]
The initial trial of militants accused of being involved in the 1999 Millennium Plot (see November 30, 1999) ends with convictions for most of the defendants, as 22 of the 28 accused are found guilty, with six acquittals and six death sentences. [New York Times, 1/15/2001; Associated Press, 12/16/2002] At the start of the trial, only 15 of the accused are present, the rest being tried in absentia. One is Algerian and another is Iraqi, although most are Jordanians of Palestinian origin. [Independent, 4/21/2000] The defendants include:
Abu Qatada, a senior militant cleric based in London, is sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. He has already been convicted in another case in Jordan (see (April 1999)), but years later will not have been extradited from Britain. He is an informer for the British security services (see June 1996-February 1997). [Associated Press, 4/15/2005]
Raed Hijazi, a radical with US connections and an FBI informer (see Early 1997-Late 1998), is one of those sentenced to death. [New York Times, 1/15/2001] However, after a number of appeals, his sentence will be reduced to 20 years in prison in 2004. [Amnesty International, 10/12/2004] In addition to Hijazi and Abu Qatada, the plot involved another two informers, Luai Sakra and Khalil Deek (see November 30, 1999), but these two are not put on trial. The involvement of four known informants could help explain why the plot was broken up.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is also tried for the plot, although he is not present at the trial (see 2001). [Washington Post, 10/3/2004]
Alleged militants Khader Abu Hoshar and Usama Husni are also tried and initially convicted.
Legal proceedings associated with some of the accused will grind on for years, with the case going back and forth with an appeal court, which twice finds that some of the convictions are covered by an amnesty. [Jordan Times, 2/16/2005]
TIPOFF is a US no-fly list of individuals who should be detained if they attempt to leave or enter the US. There are about 60,000 names on this list by 9/11 (see December 11, 1999). Apparently there had been no prohibition of travel inside the US, but on this day an FAA security directive puts six names on a newly created domestic no-fly list. All six are said to be associates of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, including his uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). On August 28, 2001, six more names will be added to this list. Apparently all 12 names are associated with al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremist groups. 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later note the discrepancy of the 60,000-name list with the 12-name list and comment, “seems to me, particularly with what was going on at the time, that some effort would have been made to make—to produce a larger list than [only 12 names].” [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] The FAA’s chief of security in 2001, Cathal Flynn, will later say that he was “unaware of the TIPOFF list” until after the September 11 attacks. 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gorton will say that this admission is “stunning, just unbeleivable,” and an “example of absolute incompetence” at the FAA. Other FAA officials will say they are aware of the larger list, but do not make much use of it. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 115] On the day of 9/11, two of the 9/11 hijackers will be on the 60,000-name TIPOFF list but not the 12-name domestic list, so airport security does not know to stop them from boarding the planes they hijack that day (see August 23, 2001).
The prime minister of Haiti says that Guy Philippe and others are planning to overthrow the Aristide government. Philippe and the other plotters flee across the Dominican border before they can be arrested. [Human Rights Watch, 2/27/2004; Miami Herald, 2/28/2004]
The NSA completes a report for the incoming Bush administration entitled “Transition 2000” that tells how the NSA is planning to improve its intelligence gathering. More importantly, it tells incoming White House officials that in the process of improving its intelligence gathering, some US citizens will inevitably be targeted for surveillance, though, according to a former NSA official, analysts were supposed to “delete the name of the” citizen being surveilled. Such inadvertent surveillance of US citizens took place even during the Clinton administration, says that former official, but the citizens’ names were always deleted from the transcripts of the communications intercepts. The law expressly prohibits the NSA from spying on US citizens, US corporations, or even permanent US residents. (With the permission of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the NSA can spy on diplomats and foreigners inside US borders.) An NSA official will tell the Boston Globe in October 2001, “If, in the course of surveillance, NSA analysts learn that it involves a US citizen or company, they are dumping that information right then and there.” However, once President Bush takes office in January 2001, that practice will undergo a radical change (see Spring 2001). [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006] In the same transition report, agency officials say that the NSA must become a “powerful, permanent presence” on the commercial communications networks, a goal they admit will raise legal and privacy issues. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]
Richard Reeves. [Source: Real Clear Politics.com]In his biography of former President Nixon, columnist and historian Richard Reeves sums up the isolation and duplicity that characterized the eight years of the Nixon presidency, particularly the second term after the controversy of the Watergate conspiracy became front-page news. Reeves writes: “Deceived and confused egos… eventually undermined the president.So many layers of lies were needed to protect the secrecy that no one, including the president himself, knew what the truth was anymore. No one inside the White House knew whom or what to believe. There was a chaos of lies at the top. The rings of deception built around the president, [Henry] Kissinger, [H. R.] Haldeman, and [John] Ehrlichman to protect themselves against ‘The Establishment’ as Nixon imagined it, gradually isolated his Cabinet and much of his staff. Colleagues became distrusted parts of the hated bureaucracy, enemies who must be kept away by bodyguards of lies. In the beginning, the idea was to make the president’s world secure from outsiders; in the end, even the insiders themselves could no longer penetrate to reality. There are many lines in the many lies of Nixon’s Oval Office tapes, but two that weave and twist through the plots are attempts to cover up past lies while trying to unravel them at the same time… It comes as no surprise then to learn that all the principals were spying on each other, stealing each other’s papers, tapping each other’s telephones, bugging their own offices. It was hard to keep track of the deceptions, even for the deceivers.… In the end, no one knew whether anyone was telling the truth, the whole truth, or any truth at all.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 15-16]
Donald Kerrick. [Source: White House]Clinton and Bush staff overlap for several months while new Bush appointees are appointed and confirmed. Clinton holdovers seem more concerned about al-Qaeda than the new Bush staffers. For instance, according to a colleague, Sandy Berger, Clinton’s National Security Adviser, had become “totally preoccupied” with fears of a domestic terror attack. [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Brian Sheridan, Clinton’s outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, is astonished when his offers during the transition to bring the new military leadership up to speed on terrorism are brushed aside. “I offered to brief anyone, any time on any topic. Never took it up.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/30/2004] Army Lieutenant General Donald Kerrick, Deputy National Security Adviser and manager of Clinton’s NSC (National Security Council) staff, still remains at the NSC nearly four months after Bush takes office. He later notes that while Clinton’s advisers met “nearly weekly” on terrorism by the end of his term, he does not detect the same kind of focus with the new Bush advisers: “That’s not being derogatory. It’s just a fact. I didn’t detect any activity but what [Clinton holdover Richard] Clarke and the CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] were doing.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Kerrick submits a memo to the new people at the NSC, warning, “We are going to be struck again.” He says, “They never responded. It was not high on their priority list. I was never invited to one meeting. They never asked me to do anything. They were not focusing. They didn’t see terrorism as the big megaissue that the Clinton administration saw it as.” Kerrick adds, “They were gambling nothing would happen.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/30/2004] Bush’s first Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Henry Shelton, later says terrorism was relegated “to the back burner” until 9/11. [Washington Post, 10/2/2002]
Dave Frasca, who will later play a key role in the FBI’s failure to get a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings before 9/11 (see August 21, 2001 and August 29, 2001), is promoted to chief of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit at the bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section. Frasca had previously worked counterterrorism issues for the FBI’s Miami office (see 1998). The Radical Fundamentalist Unit deals with Sunni Muslim terrorist suspects not directly linked to Osama bin Laden. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 123 ]
Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow. [Source: Public domain]National Security Adviser Rice decides this day to retain Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” for the Clinton administration, and his staff. However, she downgrades his official position as National Coordinator for Counterterrorism. While he is still known as the counterterrorism “tsar,” he has less power and now reports to deputy secretaries instead of attending Cabinet-level meetings. He no longer is able to send memos directly to the president, or easily interact with Cabinet-level officials. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 227-30; Guardian, 3/25/2004] Clarke will not be able to meet with President Bush even a single time before 9/11 to discuss al-Qaeda (see January 25, 2001-September 10, 2001). In 2004, Rice will reveal that the person she tasks with considering changes to Clarke and his staff is Philip Zelikow, the future Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. Zelikow recuses himself from those parts of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation directly relating to his role in this and other matters. However, 9/11 victims’ relatives are not satisfied. For instance, one relative says, “Zelikow has conflicts. I’m not sure that his recusal is sufficient. His fingerprints are all over that decision [to demote Clarke].” [United Press International, 4/9/2004]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s plan to deal with al-Qaeda is given to National Security Adviser Rice on this day. It includes a warning that al-Qaeda cells already exist in the US. The plan was outlined in a document he prepared in December 2000 (see January 25, 2001), which stated that US intelligence believes there are al-Qaeda “sleeper cells” in the US and that they’re not just a potential problem but “a major threat in being.” Clarke noted in the document that two key al-Qaeda members involved in the Millennium plot were naturalized US citizens (presumably a reference to Raed Hijazi and Khalil Deek) and that one suspect in the 1998 embassy bombings had “informed the FBI that an extensive network of al-Qaeda ‘sleeper agents’ currently exists in the US” (see August 12-25, 1998). It also said that Ahmed Ressam’s attempted December 1999 attack revealed al-Qaeda supporters in the US (see December 15-31, 1999). Finally, the Clarke warned that more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 535]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a comprehensive plan to deal with al-Qaeda within days of President Bush’s inauguration (see January 25, 2001). He wants to meet with Bush directly to discuss it with him, but he is unable to do so before 9/11. Clarke will later recall, “I asked for a meeting with the president several times beginning, in fact, before [National Security Adviser] Rice even took office in the transition briefing. I said I have given this briefing to the vice president, I’ve given it to the secretary of state, I’ve given it now to you, I would like to give it to the president. And what I was told was I could brief the president on terrorism after the policy development process had been completed.” He does have one meeting with Bush before 9/11, but only to discuss cyber security because Clarke is planning to quit his current job to focus on that issue instead (see June 2001). When asked why he didn’t bring up al-Qaeda at that meeting, Clarke will reply, “Because I had been told by Dr. Rice and her deputy that this was a briefing on countering the cyber threats and not on al-Qaeda and that I would have my opportunity on al-Qaeda if I just held on, eventually they would get to it, probably in September.” [ABC News, 4/8/2004] The Bush administration had downgraded Clarke’s position in early January 2001 and he was no longer able to send memos directly to the president as he could during the Clinton administration (see January 3, 2001).
The BlackBerry 850. [Source: Research In Motion]White House staffers are prohibited from using BlackBerry e-mail pagers, but this rule will hinder them on September 11, when phone systems suffer serious problems but BlackBerrys work normally. At some point after George W. Bush takes over as president (see January 20, 2001) but before September 11, the new administration makes “a judgment call… that people in the White House could not use a BlackBerry,” according to Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations. The BlackBerry is a handheld device used mainly for sending and receiving short e-mail messages. [New York Times, 9/20/2001; PC World, 12/9/2008] The decision against using BlackBerrys is reportedly made for security reasons. “The security agencies had decided they were too vulnerable,” Hagin will later say. [IT Business Edge, 2/12/2009]
White House Staffers Have Trouble Communicating on 9/11 - However, on September 11, while BlackBerrys continue to work normally, many people will have difficulty making phone calls. [New York Times, 9/20/2001] White House staffers will be badly affected by the communication problems. Hagin will describe: “On September 11, 2001, when we had so much trouble in the executive branch communicating during the emergency, when commercial phones and cell phones went down to a large extent because the system overloaded, there was a lot of difficulty at the White House because the president was in Florida, I was in New York City, and everyone else was in Washington. With everyone spread so thinly, we had trouble figuring out who was okay, the status of things, and so on.” [Computerworld, 2/3/2009]
Rove Is the Only White House Staff Member with a BlackBerry - Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, will be the only member of the White House staff with a BlackBerry on September 11. Rove will write that, while he is traveling with the president on Air Force One that day, because all the phones are tied up, several other White House staff members “took turns using my BlackBerry to queue up e-mails to their families that would be sent when we passed over a cell network.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 257-258; Hill, 3/17/2010]
BlackBerrys Permitted after 9/11 - The White House will reverse its decision to prohibit BlackBerrys after September 11. According to Hagin, “In the weeks that followed [9/11], when talking to some of our friends on [Capitol Hill], we found that they had stayed in pretty good touch through BlackBerry technology.” Therefore, Hagin will say: “I made the decision that we couldn’t operate without [BlackBerrys]. We bought 200, then 400, and finally about 600.” [PC World, 12/9/2008; Computerworld, 2/3/2009]
BlackBerry Works Well on 9/11 due to Simplicity of Its Network - The reason why, unlike phones, BlackBerrys work as usual on September 11, according to the New York Times, is that instead of relying on “cellular telephone systems or the local telephone network, which were damaged and inundated with traffic, the BlackBerry functions on a data system that held up remarkably well. The network not only escaped damage but also avoided bottlenecks because of its relative simplicity.” The BlackBerry network “in a way resembles the on-ramp of a freeway. It transmits data in small packets of information that can simply wait for a small amount of space on the system to be freed up to be sent or received.” [New York Times, 9/20/2001]
In a series of articles for UPI, journalist Richard Sale reveals many details about the NSA’s electronic surveillance of al-Qaeda. “The United States has scored notable successes in an information war against the organization of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden. US hackers have gone into foreign bank accounts and deleted or transferred money and jammed or blocked the group’s cell or satellite phones.” It is also mentioned that “Bin Laden is surrounded by US listening posts.” The articles discuss the extent to which the NSA’s Echelon satellite network is monitoring al-Qaeda, and even seems to make an oblique reference to monitoring the al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen that enabled the NSA to discover valuable information on hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see December 29, 1999). The articles also reveal that since 1995, bin Laden tried to protect his communications with a “full suite of tools,” but “codes were broken.” An expert adds that “you don’t use your highest level of secure communications all the time. It’s too burdensome, and it exposes it to other types of exploitation.” The articles also imply that Echelon is used in illegal ways. An anonymous former senior US intelligence official says, “This isn’t about legality. This is about trying to protect American lives.” [United Press International, 2/9/2001; United Press International, 2/13/2001; United Press International, 2/21/2001] While bin Laden’s communications were certainly thoroughly monitored before 9/11 (see November 1996-Late August 1998), no evidence has come to light since 9/11 that the US was hacking into bank accounts or jamming signals.
President Bush issues a little-noticed directive that dramatically changes the way information flows among top Bush administration officials. It states that attendees of National Security Council (NSC) meetings shall continue to include the president, vice president, secretary of state, treasury secretary, defense secretary, CIA director, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and assistant to the president for national security affairs. However, other officials, including the “heads of other executive departments and agencies, as well as other senior officials” are excluded from the automatic right to attend NSC meetings. Instead, they “shall be invited to attend meetings of the NSC when appropriate.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is given a pivotal position. In addition to attending all NSC meetings, she is responsible for determining the agenda of all the meetings. The directive also states, “The existing system of Interagency Working Groups is abolished.” Instead, Rice will coordinate a series of eleven new interagency coordination committees within the NSC. She is designated the executive secretary of all eleven committees, meaning that she will schedule the meetings and determine agendas. She is made chairperson of six of the committees, including “Counter-Terrorism and National Preparedness,” “Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence,” and “Records Access and Information Security.” Professor Margie Burns will later ask rhetorically, “How could the White House ever have thought that abolishing the interagency work groups was a good idea, if security was the objective? Why was so much responsibility placed on the shoulders of one person, Condoleezza Rice, whose [only] previous experience had been at Stanford University and Chevron?” [US President, 2/13/2001; Chronicles Magazine, 1/2004]
Joseph Nacchio. [Source: publicity photo via Business Week]Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio meets with NSA officials in Fort Meade, Maryland, to discuss two topics of mutual interest: a $100 million infrastructure upgrade that Qwest, one of the US’s largest telecommunications firms, can perform for the agency, and another topic that remains classified. (The meeting will be revealed in heavily redacted court documents released six years later—see October 12, 2007). Observers believe the discussion is about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program of US citizens, which the government will conceal for years (see December 15, 2005), and which the Bush administration will insist did not come about until after the 9/11 attacks (see December 17, 2005). Nacchio meets with NSA officials to discuss the agency’s “Groundbreaker” project (see February 2001), which the NSA will later claim is merely a modernization and upgrade of its technological infrastructure. A June 2006 lawsuit against AT&T over that firm’s cooperation with the NSA alleges that “Groundbreaker” is part of a secret domestic surveillance operation. According to the court documents, Nacchio and the NSA are unable to agree on an unrevealed topic of discussion; after that disagreement, the NSA will withdraw its “Groundbreaker” contract from consideration for Qwest. Nacchio, according to the documents, believes that the unrevealed topic of discussion involves illegal and inappropriate actions. He asks the agency officials whether “a warrant or other legal process had been secured.” The NSA officials, according to the documents, have a “disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process,” leading Nacchio to conclude that “the requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act.” When Nacchio refuses to cooperate with the NSA, the agency withdraws its offer of the “Groundbreaker” contract. [Raw Story, 10/12/2007; Marketwatch, 10/13/2007] James F.X. Payne, the former chief of Qwest’s government business unit, will later tell investigators, “There was a feeling also that the NSA acted as agents for other government agencies.” [National Journal, 11/2/2007] In 2007, the New York Times will reveal that Qwest refuses to give the NSA access to its most localized communications switches, carrying largely domestic phone calls. The arrangement would have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order. [New York Times, 12/16/2007] The NSA has more success with other companies—and has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Qwest as well (see February 2001).
The National Security Agency (NSA) engages in apparently illegal surveillance of US citizens beginning shortly after the inauguration of George W. Bush as president. This will not be revealed to the public until media reports in January 2006, a month after the press revealed that the NSA had engaged in similar illegal wiretaps and surveillance of American citizens after the 9/11 attacks, using those attacks as justification for the surveillance (see December 15, 2005). The former NSA and counterterrorism officials who reveal the pre-9/11 spying will claim that the wiretaps, e-mail monitoring, and Internet surveillance were all “inadvertent,” as NSA computers “unintentionally” intercepted US citizens’ international phone calls and e-mails when the computers flagged keywords. NSA protocol demands that such “inadvertent” surveillance end as soon as NSA analysts realize they are spying on those citizens, and the names of the monitored citizens are supposed to be deleted from the NSA databases. Instead, the NSA is instructed to continue monitoring some citizens that are characterized as “of interest” to White House officials. Those officials include President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, say the former NSA and counterterrorism officials. In December 2000, the NSA told the incoming Bush administration that some US citizens are being inadvertently targeted for surveillance, but the names of the citizens are deleted because the law expressly prohibits the NSA from spying on US citizens, US corporations, or even permanent US residents (see December 2000). However, once Bush takes office in January 2001, that practice undergoes a radical change. In the first few months of the administration, President Bush assigns Vice President Cheney to make himself more of a presence at the various US intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, NSA, and DIA. Cheney, along with other officials at the State and Defense Departments, begins making repeated requests to the NSA to reveal the identities of those Americans which had previously been deleted, so that administration officials can more fully understand the context and scope of the intelligence. Such requests are technically legal. But Cheney goes well beyond the law when he requests, as he frequently does, that the NSA continue monitoring specific Americans already caught up in the NSA’s wiretaps and electronic surveillance. A former White House counterterrorism official will later claim that Cheney advised Bush of what he was learning from the NSA. “What’s really disturbing is that some of those people the vice president was curious about were people who worked at the White House or the State Department,” says another former counterterrorism official. “There was a real feeling of paranoia that permeated from the vice president’s office and I don’t think it had anything to do with the threat of terrorism. I can’t say what was contained in those taps that piqued his interest. I just don’t know.” [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006]
CIA Director George Tenet testifies before Congress, saying, “I consider it likely that over the next year or so there will be an attempted terrorist attack against US interests.” He also says, “We will generally not have specific time and place warning of terrorist attacks.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145] Apparently this is in private Congressional session because a search of the Lexis Nexus article database turns up no media mentions of these quotes until they are mentioned in Tenet’s 2007 book.
President Bush, after having trouble making a telephone call, instructs Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, to fix the problem and ensure that he is able to make calls at any time, but the issue will not have resolved by September 11, when Bush experiences significant communication problems. While he is being driven through Washington, DC, in his limousine, Bush tries to make a phone call but is unable to get a signal and hears only static. When he arrives at the White House, he calls Hagin over to discuss the problem. [National Journal, 4/11/2011] Hagin is a little known but influential member of the White House staff who, according to Politico, “manages everything around the president and the presidency except politics and policy.” [Politico, 7/3/2008; Washington Post, 7/4/2008] Bush tells him the president should be able to call anyone at any time. “He essentially said to me, ‘We need to fix this and fix it quickly,’” Hagin will later recall. Bush adds, “What would we do if something really serious happened and this didn’t work?” [National Journal, 4/11/2011] Presumably as part of Hagin’s effort to resolve the problem, in the spring of 2001, the White House commissions the Department of Defense to study a communications upgrade. [ABC News, 12/20/2006] However, Hagin’s task will not have been completed by September 11. On that day, Bush and other senior government officials will experience serious communication problems (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001; (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001; and (9:34 a.m.-11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 4/11/2011] But the 9/11 attacks, according to the Associated Press, “spurred on the effort to modernize White House communications.” Hagin subsequently “took the White House’s cell phone technology digital, upgraded the systems in the president’s cars, and moved staffers to the BlackBerry wireless communicator, while not freeing them from carrying pagers as well.” [Associated Press, 8/22/2003] According to Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, “[T]he fix to the presidential communications was one of the first things that was done after 9/11.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
The cover of the DEA report, as depicted on television. [Source: Fox News]The Office of National Drug Control Policy issues a National Security Alert describing “apparent attempts by Israeli nationals to learn about government personnel and office layouts.” This later becomes known through a leaked DEA document called “Suspicious Activities Involving Israeli Art Students at DEA Facilities.” A crackdown ensues and by June, around 120 Israelis are apprehended. More are apprehended later. [Drug Enforcement Agency, 6/2001]
Mary Schneider, a veteran Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) employee in Orlando, Florida, writes to Attorney General John Ashcroft to warn that a ring of corrupt INS officers is taking bribes from illegal Moroccan and Egyptian immigrants. She is concerned some of these illegal aliens let into the country could have ties to terrorist organizations, and calls for an investigation. Schneider started complaining to her supervisors in 1998 and claims she was retaliated against by management. In May 1999, she wrote to the FBI’s anti-terrorism joint task force in New York to warn of the possible terrorist ties of some of the illegal immigrants allowed into the country by her office. She says some of them could be linked to Ihab Ali Nawawi, an Orlando taxi driver arrested in 1999 for his ties to Osama bin Laden (see May 18, 1999). It is not known what actions, if any, were taken as a result of her warnings. [New Times Broward-Palm Beach, 11/8/2001]
A poor photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s US driver’s license. [Source: FBI]9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi is stopped by an Oklahoma police officer for speeding. He is stopped while traveling east on interstate highway 40, near Clinton, Oklahoma. It is likely he is with Hani Hanjour and the two are driving across the US, because they moved out of an apartment in Arizona the day before and will be seen in Virginia several days later (see December 12, 2000-March 2001 and March 2001 and After). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 131-132 ; Daily Oklahoman, 1/20/2002] Alhazmi’s license information is run through a computer to determine whether there are any warrants for his arrest. There are none, so he is issued a ticket and sent on his way. He is driving the Toyota Corolla that he bought in San Diego the year before (see March 25, 2000). The CIA has known that Alhazmi is an al-Qaeda operative possibly living in the US since March 2000, but has failed to share this knowledge with other agencies. [Daily Oklahoman, 1/20/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002] Police do not check his immigration status, which would require a call to an Law Enforcement Support Center hotline. Had such a call been made, it would have revealed he had been in the US illegally since January 2001. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; GovExec, 3/16/2004] This incident is added to the NCIC, a widely used nationwide police database (see September 5, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 131 ]
In 2005 (see February 10, 2005), it will be revealed that of the FAA’s 105 daily intelligence summaries between these dates, 52 mention bin Laden, al-Qaeda, or both. Most of the mentions are “in regard to overseas threats.” None of the warnings specifically predict something similar to the 9/11 attacks, but five of them mention al-Qaeda’s training for hijackings and two reports concern suicide operations unconnected to aviation. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] One of the warnings mentions air defense measures being taken in Genoa, Italy, for the July 2001 G-8 summit to protect from a possible air attack by terrorists (see July 20-22, 2001). However, the New Jersey Star-Ledger is virtually the only newspaper in the US to report this fact. [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005] Despite all these warnings, the FAA fails to take any extra security measures. They do not expand the use of in-flight air marshals or tighten airport screening for weapons. A proposed rule to improve passenger screening and other security measures ordered by Congress in 1996 has held up and is still not in effect by 9/11. The 9/11 Commission’s report on these FAA warnings released in 2005 (see February 10, 2005) will conclude that FAA officials were more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing air carriers’ financial problems than preventing a hijacking. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] The FAA also makes no effort to expand its list of terror suspects, which includes only a dozen names by 9/11 (see April 24, 2000). The former head of the FAA’s civil aviation security branch later says he wasn’t even aware of TIPOFF, the government’s main watch list, which included the names of two 9/11 hijackers before 9/11. Nor is there any evidence that a senior FAA working group responsible for security ever meets in 2001 to discuss “the high threat period that summer.” [New York Times, 2/10/2005]
A day after Chinese president Jiang Zemin demands that the US apologize for the crash of a US spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet that cost the life of the Chinese pilot (see March 31, 2001), Secretary of State Colin Powell expresses US “regret” over the death of pilot Wang Wei. The Pentagon claims that the crew of the American EP-3 managed to destroy much of the most sensitive surveillance equipment on the plane before it crash-landed on China’s Hainan Island, but, notes GlobalSecurity’s John Pike, “This airplane is basically just stuffed with electronics. Short of blowing up the airplane, there’s unavoidably a limit as to what they could destroy.” Chinese authorities say they will continue to detain the 24 crew members while they investigate the incident, and demand that the US halt all of its surveillance flights near Chinese territory. “We cannot understand why the United States often sent its planes to make surveillance flights in areas so close to China,” Jiang says. “And this time, in violation of international law and practice, the US plane bumped into our plane, invaded the Chinese territorial airspace and landed at our airport.” The next day, China’s Foreign Ministry says that Powell’s expression of regret is not enough; it again demands a full US apology and says that its officials will only meet with US officials to discuss the incident when Washington takes what it calls a “cooperative approach.” Bush reiterates Powell’s expression of regret over the death of Wei, and says though he does not want the incident to jeopardize Sino-American relations, the crew of the spy plane should be returned immediately. [CNN, 4/2001; Reuters, 4/4/2001]
9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi is mugged outside of his apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, by an “unknown black male.” He files a police report about this and gives his correct name and local address. He reports that he had seen his alleged assailant outside of his apartment almost every day for the previous two weeks. This information in inputted into the NCIC, a widely used nationwide police database. In August 2001, Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar will be watchlisted and an FBI agent will begin looking for them in the US (see September 4-5, 2001). But, as one news report will later note, the agent “never perform[s] one of the most basic tasks of a police manhunt. He never [runs] Almihdhar or Alhazmi through the NCIC computer” (see September 5, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 139 ] A police officer takes a statement from Alhazmi in his apartment, but Alhazmi signs a release indicating he does not want the incident investigated. [US Congress, 9/26/2002; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/27/2002] He has been in the country illegally since January 2001. [US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Ahmed Alghamdi praised Osama bin Laden to a US immigration official. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]9/11 hijackers Majed Moqed and Ahmed Alghamdi arrive in Washington, DC, on the same flight from London. Alghamdi tells the immigration inspector that Osama bin Laden is a good Muslim and that the media distorts facts about him, but is nevertheless allowed into the country. This incident will not be mentioned in the main 9/11 Commission Report or the Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph, but is mentioned in an FBI timeline of hijacker movements that the 9/11 Commission will frequently use as a source. Both Alghamdi and Moqed declare over $10,000 in cash, but the customs inspector who processes Alghamdi does not fill out the documentation required when a person brings in more than $10,000. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 139 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 528; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 22 ] Shortly after 9/11, the New York Times, Washington Post, and other newspapers will report that by the spring of 2001, US customs was investigating Alghamdi and two other future 9/11 hijackers for their connections to known al-Qaeda operatives (see Spring 2001). One British newspaper will note that Alghamdi should have been “instantly ‘red-flagged’ by British intelligence” as he passed through London on his way to the US because of a warning about his links to al-Qaeda (see April 22-June 27, 2001). It will not be explained how Alghamdi is able to pass through Britain and US customs, even as he is openly praising bin Laden. Majed Moqed apparently is not stopped while passing through customs. However the FBI will later note that he uses the alias Mashaanmoged Mayed on the flight manifest before returning to the Moqed name when passing through customs. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 139 ]
Vice President Dick Cheney on television, May 8, 2001. [Source: CNN]In a brief statement, President Bush announces that Vice President Dick Cheney will oversee a “coordinated national effort” aimed at integrating the government’s plans for responding to the use of a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapon within the United States. Bush declares, “Should our efforts to reduce the threat to our country from weapons of mass destruction be less than fully successful, prudence dictates that the United States be fully prepared to deal effectively with the consequences of such a weapon being used here on our soil.” Bush says a new agency within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known as the Office of National Preparedness, will be “responsible for implementing the results of those parts of the national effort overseen by Vice President Cheney that deal with consequence management.” The Office of National Preparedness appears to be a reincarnation of FEMA’s old National Preparedness Directorate (NPD), which was disbanded by the Clinton administration in 1993 (see January 1993-October 1994). During the 1980s and early 1990s, the NPD secretly spent billions of dollars preparing for nuclear war and other national emergencies as part of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see February 1993, 1982-1991, and April 1, 1979-Present). [Cox News Service, 2/22/1993] Under the Bush administration, the Office of National Preparedness (ONP) will apparently take over where the National Preparedness Directorate left off. According to Bush, the ONP “will coordinate all Federal programs dealing with weapons of mass destruction consequence management within the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies.” Cheney, who played a central role in the COG program during the Reagan administration (see 1981-1992 and 1980s), informs CNN, “[O]ne of our biggest threats as a nation” could be “domestic terrorism, but it may also be a terrorist organization overseas or even another state using weapons of mass destruction against the US.… [W]e need to look at this whole area, oftentimes referred to as homeland defense.” According to FEMA, the ONP will be up and running as early as the summer of 2001. President Bush says he “will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.” [CNN, 5/8/2001; White House, 5/8/2001; New York Times, 7/8/2002] Cheney is meant to head a group that will draft a national terrorism response plan by October 1. [Chicago Sun-Times, 5/5/2001; Insight on the News, 6/18/2001] But, according to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, “Neither Cheney’s review nor Bush’s took place.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) later implies that Bush assigned this specific role to Cheney in order to prevent Congress from enacting counterterrorism legislation proposed by a bipartisan commission he had co-chaired in January (see January 31, 2001). [Salon, 4/2/2004; Salon, 4/6/2004] In July, two senators will send draft counterterrorism legislation to Cheney’s office, but a day before 9/11, they are told it might be another six months before he gets to it (see September 10, 2001). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Cheney’s “National Preparedness Review” is just beginning to hire staff a few days before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). [Congressional Quarterly, 4/15/2004]
Attorney General John Ashcroft sends a letter to department heads telling them the Justice Department’s new agenda. He cites seven goals, but counterterrorism is not one of them. Yet just one day earlier, he testified before Congress and said of counterterrorism, “The Department of Justice has no higher priority.” [New York Times, 2/28/2002] Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, will later recall nearly falling out of his chair when he sees counterterrorism not mentioned as a goal. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004] Watson goes to see FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard and asks him, “Did you see this?” in what author Philip Shenon will describe as a “disgusted tone.” Pickard finds it hard to believe that Ashcroft’s office had accidentally left terrorism off the list, due to the focus on it elsewhere in the government. “If he didn’t think about it, his staff should have,” Pickard will recall thinking. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 246] In August, a strategic plan will be distributed, listing the same seven goals and 36 objectives. Thirteen objectives are highlighted, but the single objective relating to counterterrorism is not highlighted. [New York Times, 2/28/2002]
Two Yemeni men are detained after guards see them taking photos at 26 Federal Plaza in New York City. They are questioned by INS agents and let go. A few days later, their confiscated film is developed, showing photos of security checkpoints, police posts, and surveillance cameras of federal buildings, including the FBI’s counterterrorism office. The two men are later interviewed by the FBI and determined not to be a threat. However, they had taken the pictures on behalf of a third person said to be living in Indiana. By the time the FBI looks for him, he has fled the country and his documentation is found to be based on a false alias. In 2004, the identity of the third man reportedly still will be unknown. The famous briefing given to President George W. Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), will mention the incident, warning that the FBI is investigating “suspicious activity in this country consistent with the preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” When Bush’s August 6 briefing will be released in 2004, a White House fact sheet will fail to mention the still missing third man. [New York Post, 7/1/2001; New York Post, 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 5/16/2004] In 2004, it will be reported that Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Issa al-Hindi or Issa al-Britani), an alleged al-Qaeda operative in British custody, was sent to the US in early 2001 by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to case potential targets in New York City. He headed a three-man team that surveyed the New York Stock Exchange and other buildings. While there are obvious similarities between the two Yemeni man with an unknown boss and Barot with two helpers, it is not known if the two cases are related. [New York Times, 8/7/2004]
During a regularly scheduled weekly meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, CIA official Richard Blee describes a “truly frightening” list of warning signs of an upcoming terrorist attack. He says that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is working on attack plans. CIA leaders John McLaughlin and Cofer Black are also present at this meeting, as is counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Mary McCarthy, a CIA officer serving as National Security Council senior director. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145] Just the day before, Clarke suggested that Tenet and Rice discuss what could be done to stop Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks,” so presumably this discussion is in response to that (see May 29, 2001). Tenet will later recall: “Some intelligence suggested that [Zubaida’s] plans were ready to be executed; others suggested they would not be ready for six months. The primary target appeared to be in Israel, but other US assets around the world were at risk.” Rice asks about taking the offensive against al-Qaeda and asks how bad the threat is. Black estimates it to be a seven on a one-to-10 scale, with the millennium threat at the start of 2000 ranking an eight in comparison. Clarke tells her that adequate warning notices have been issued to the appropriate US entities. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145-146]
A police officer with the Mountain View Police Department in California uncovers a pattern of suspicious electronic probing of the computer systems of public utilities and government offices in the San Francisco Bay area. He notifies the FBI’s computer intrusion squad. The investigation reveals that the intruders are operating from the Middle East and South Asia. They are targeting the computer systems used to control the physical infrastructure of water systems and power plants throughout the US, suggesting a plan for a cyber attack. For many experts who have long warned against cyber terrorism or warfare, the “Mountain View case” as it is called, should be seen as a wake-up call for the government as well as the private sector (see 1996-2008). In a later interview, Richard Clarke, the national presidential adviser on cyberspace security from 2001 to 2003, will say: “The bottom line on the Mountain View case is the ease with which people can do virtual reconnaissance from overseas on our physical infrastructure and our cyber infrastructure.… We were lucky… that there were good people watching.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2002] Despite fears that al-Qaeda may be behind the intrusions (see 2002), the identity of the hackers will not be established. In 2003, Ron Dick, who was the head of the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) at the time, will say that the “case is still pending.… We never were… able to tie it back to any terrorist organizations.” [PBS Frontline, 3/18/2003]
The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that in spite of an unprecedented attack threat in the months before 9/11, US “domestic agencies never mobilized in response to the threat. They did not have direction, and did not have a plan to institute. The borders were not hardened. Transportation systems were not fortified. Electronic surveillance was not targeted against a domestic threat. State and local law enforcement were not marshaled to augment the FBI’s efforts. The public was not warned.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 265]
Sahim Alwan. [Source: PBS]The FBI’s Buffalo, New York, field office receives an anonymous, handwritten letter from someone in the Yemeni community of Lackawanna, near Buffalo. The letter says that a group has traveled to “meet bin Laden and stay in his camp for training.” The person who wrote it adds, “I can not give you my name because I fear for my life.” It says that “two terrorists” have been recruiting in Lackawanna, and that eight men have gone to train in Afghanistan, and four more are planning to go later. It gives the names of the men. In fact, all eight of the men named are currently in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. This group will later be dubbed the “Lackawanna Six,” for the six of them that eventually return to the US (see September 13, 2002). The letter is assigned to FBI agent Edward Needham, the only Buffalo agent at this time working on counterterrorism. He runs the names through criminal databases and finds that many of them have criminal records for drug dealing and cigarette smuggling. He is skeptical that drug dealers would fight for al-Qaeda, but he sends the letter up the chain of command and formally opens an investigation on June 15. Three of them—Faysal Galab, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher—are stopped on June 27 when they arrive in New York on a flight back from Pakistan, because Needham put their names on an FBI watch list. But they are merely questioned for two hours and released. He keeps occasional tabs on the men as they return from Afghanistan over the next months, but does not learn they actually were in an al-Qaeda training camp until after 9/11. [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 124-125, 129]
A warrant is issued for the arrest of Mohamed Atta in the state of Florida. On April 26, Atta had been stopped in a random inspection near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and given a citation for having no driver’s license (see April 26, 2001). He failed to show up for his May 28 court hearing, resulting in the arrest warrant. After this, Atta will fly all over the US using his real name, and even flies to Spain and back in July (see July 8-19, 2001), but is never stopped or questioned. The police apparently never try to find him. [Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 11/12/2001] Atta will be stopped for speeding in July, but apparently his arrest warrant will not have been added to the police database by then (see July 5, 2001). Three other future 9/11 hijackers are also stopped for speeding in the US (see April 1, 2001, August 1, 2001, and September 9, 2001). Curiously, on the day of 9/11, a woman claiming to be Atta’s wife will go to a Florida courthouse and attempt to clear this from Atta’s record, but Atta does not have a wife (see September 11, 2001).
The INS extends future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s permitted stay in the US, 11 months after he filed a late application to extend it (see July 12-27, 2000). The INS should not grant the extension due to the late filing, but does so anyway. It is unclear why it has taken 11 months to process the application. The approval retroactively extends Alhazmi’s stay for six months, from the date it originally expired until January 14, 2001. While his unlawful US presence after July 14, 2000 is retroactively legalized, Alhazmi’s presence after January 14, 2001 remains unlawful, and no other applications for extensions will be filed. [Immigration and Naturalization Service, 2002; INS email, 3/20/2002; Immigration and Naturalization Service, 5/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 12, 25 ] An INS report will note, “The application shouldn’t have been approved because it was filed 13 days late.” However, an official, whose name will be redacted, will write in an INS e-mail: “Per [redacted]. This is a common occurrence that is within the adjudicator’s discretion to forgive a late filing, if it is brief and the applicant has a good story.… How do you suppose the press may spin this, and more importantly, how will the INS defend itself?” [Immigration and Naturalization Service, 2002; INS email, 3/20/2002] Alhazmi never receives notification of the extension, as the notice will be returned as undeliverable on March 25, 2002. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25 ] His passport contains an indicator of Islamist extremism used to track terrorists by the Saudi authorities (see March 21, 1999). The 9/11 Commission will comment that this extension is “[y]et another opportunity to spot the suspicious indicator,” but US authorities fail to do so. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 12 ] The precise state of US knowledge about the indicator at this time is unknown (see Around February 1993). The CIA will learn of it no later than 2003, but will still not inform immigration officials then (see February 14, 2003).
A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah. [Source: CBC]On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh is arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada in the back of a tractor-trailer, carrying a forged Canadian passport and a bogus social insurance card. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] The New York Times will note that, “American officials had plenty of reason to believe that he was up to no good. Nine months earlier, he had been identified to American intelligence agents as one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in the United States. American customs agents knew about money he had transferred to an associate of Osama bin Laden in the Middle East. And the Boston police had issued a warrant for his arrest after he violated probation for stabbing a friend with a knife. But [US officials] simply let him go.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001] The US turns him back to the Canadians. He is held for two weeks, then released on bail despite evidence linking him to militants (see Shortly Before July 11, 2001). During his two-week detention in a Canadian prison, al-Marabh boasts to other prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI. When one prisoner asks him why, his reply is “because I’m special.” After 9/11, these prisoners will be puzzled that the FBI has not tried to interview them on what they know about al-Marabh. Al-Marabh will fail to show up for a Canadian deportation hearing in August and for a court date in September. It appears he quickly sneaks back into the US instead. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] Al-Marabh’s Boston landlord will later be asked if he thought al-Marabh could have been a terrorist. The landlord will reply, “He was too stupid, number one, to be a terrorist. Because terrorists today are very intelligent people. But he might be used by some smarter or intelligent sources, who use people like that.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In July, just after he is released on bail in Canada, the Boston police will go to his former Boston address with a warrant for his March arrest, but he will not be there. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] Also at some point in July, Canadian authorities inform US Customs about some dubious financial transactions involving al-Marabh, and apparently the information is used in a Customs money-laundering probe (see Spring 2001). [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] One prominent former Canadian intelligence official will say that whether a more detailed look at al-Marabh at this time could have stopped the 9/11 attacks is an “intriguing question.… It becomes ever more intriguing as evidence seeps in.” [Ottawa Citizen, 10/29/2001]
Shortly after being appointed acting FBI director, Thomas Pickard gives his first briefing to Attorney General John Ashcroft. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Ruben Garcia, the FBI’s Assistant Director for Criminal Investigations, also attend the briefing. Pickard sends an agenda in advance, and terrorism is the first item on it, as the CIA is reporting there is an increased risk of attacks. During the briefing, Ashcroft suggests he does not know much about al-Qaeda, so Pickard fills him in. “I told him about al-Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden, a little history about the World Trade Center bombing and East Africa,” Pickard will later say. Pickard also talks about increase in “chatter” by al-Qaeda operatives, and says this could be a sign of an upcoming attack. The speculation is it would take place in Southeast Asia or the Middle East, but other locales could not be ruled out. His terrorism briefing lasts about an hour. Although Ashcroft listens to Pickard’s explanation, he asks few questions about terrorism. He shows more interest in other items on the agenda, such as ending delays on background checks for gun buyers, which interests him because of his relationship with the National Rifle Association. [Pickard, 6/24/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 246-247]
Retired Admiral Dan Murphy, a former deputy director of the CIA, indicates to businessman William Hamilton that there is a connection between the PROMIS database and search program and the Main Core database. Hamilton is a former NSA official who helped develop PROMIS, but is now involved in a series of disputes with the government over money he says it owes his company, Inslaw. Main Core is a database that is said to collect sensitive information, including about US persons. The specific type of connection is not certain and Murphy does not specifically mention Main Core, but says that the NSA’s use of PROMIS involves something “so seriously wrong that money alone cannot cure the problem.” Hamilton will later say, “I believe in retrospect that Murphy was alluding to Main Core.” This is one of three times officials will tell Hamilton about the link (see Spring 1992 and 1995). [Salon, 7/23/2008]
The FBI’s Counterterrorism Division issues a warning of possible al-Qaeda attacks to law enforcement agencies called “Potential Anti-US Attacks.” It states: “[T]here are threats to be worried about overseas. While we cannot foresee attacks domestically, we cannot rule them out.” It further states, “[T]he FBI has no information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States.” It asks law enforcement agencies to “exercise vigilance” and “report suspicious activities” to the FBI. Two weeks later, acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard has a conference call with all field office heads mentioning the heightened threat (see July 19, 2001). However, FBI personnel later fail to recall any heightened sense of threat from summer 2001. Only those in the New York field office take any action or will recall this later. [CNN, 3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
At the request of National Security Adviser Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the Counterterrorism Security Group, attended by officials from a dozen federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FAA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, Customs, the CIA, and the FBI. The CIA and FBI give briefings on the growing al-Qaeda threat. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258] Then Clarke later recalls saying, “You’ve just heard that CIA thinks al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us. So do I. You heard CIA say it would probably be in Israel or Saudi Arabia. Maybe. But maybe it will be here. Just because there is no evidence that says that it will be here, does not mean it will be overseas. They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 236] Two attendees later recall Clarke stating that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” One who attended the meeting later calls the evidence that “something spectacular” is being planned by al-Qaeda “very gripping.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256] Clarke directs every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. However, there is very poor follow up to the meeting and the attendees don’t share the warnings with their home agencies (see Shortly After July 5, 2001). By early August, all of these emergency measures are no longer in effect. [CNN, 3/2002; Washington Post, 5/17/2002]
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, US Coast Guard, US Customs Service, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, US Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264] The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 4/18/2004] Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 236-37] The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Customs Service, Nawaf Alhazmi, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorism and Security Group, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, Ken Williams, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke sends National Security Adviser Rice an e-mail message “outlining a number of steps agreed on” at the Counterterrorism Security Group meeting the day before (see July 5, 2001), “including efforts to examine the threat of weapons of mass destruction and possible attacks in Latin America. One senior administration official [says] Mr. Clarke [writes] that several agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon, [have] been directed to develop what the official [says are] ‘detailed response plans in the event of three to five simultaneous attacks.’” However, no response or follow-up action has been pointed out. [New York Times, 4/4/2004]
Police officer Dave Agar in South Hackensack, New Jersey, is searching the parking lots of cheap motels, looking for suspicious cars. He submits the license plate number of a 1988 Toyota parked outside the Jade East motel to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a computer database frequently used by every level of law enforcement. He discovers that Nawaf Alhazmi owns the car. The computer record shows no outstanding warrants for Alhazmi (though it does give other information, including his address in San Diego). Agar makes a record of his search and continues his patrol. It is later discovered that Abdulaziz Alomari registered a room in the Jade East motel from July 6-13, and Khalid Almihdhar stayed most of that week with Alhazmi at the nearby Congress Inn. It is also discovered that Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and two or three other men had dinner together at a local diner. Police speculate the hijackers were holding a meeting to discuss their plot. One officer later says, “You wonder what would have happened if the check had turned up something on Alhazmi. We certainly would have brought him in for questioning.” [Bergen Record, 7/11/2002; Bergen Record, 5/18/2004] In late August, an FBI agent will look for Alhazmi and Almihdhar in the New York City area, but he will fail to check NCIC or car registration records that would have revealed the record of Agar’s search mentioning Alhazmi’s name (see September 5, 2001 and September 4-5, 2001).
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