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The FBI releases its report on what it calls “Project Megiddo,” an examination of what it calls “the potential for extremist criminal activity in the United States by individuals or domestic groups who attach special significance to the year 2000.” The report is released to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, but not to the public. A statement accompanying the report reads in part: “The threat posed by extremists as a result of perceived events associated with the year 2000 (Y2K) is very real. The volatile mix of apocalyptic religious and [New World Order] conspiracy theories (see February 4, 1999) may produce violent acts aimed at precipitating the end of the world as prophesied in the Bible.” The report is based on nine months of intelligence and data collection by the domestic terrorism unit of the FBI. Soon after its release, the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) will obtain a copy and release it on the Internet. The report’s executive summary notes that “Megiddo,” a hill in northern Israel, is the site of a number of Biblical-era battles, and the Hebrew word “armageddon” derives from a Hebrew phrase meaning “hill of Megiddo.” The Bible’s depiction of “Armageddon” is, the report states, “the assembly point in the apocalyptic setting of God’s final and conclusive battle against evil. The name ‘Megiddo’ is an apt title for a project that analyzes those who believe the year 2000 will usher in the end of the world and who are willing to perpetrate acts of violence to bring that end about.” While much of the media-fueled debate about the upcoming “end of the millennium” focuses on technological issues, such as the anticipated widespread disabling of computer networks and the like, the FBI report focuses more specifically on the religious connotations of the time as viewed by far-right “Christian Identity” (see 1960s and After) and related white supremacist, separatist, and militia organizations. The report, the summary states, “is intended to analyze the potential for extremist criminal activity in the United States by individuals or domestic extremist groups who profess an apocalyptic view of the millennium or attach special significance to the year 2000.” It is difficult to say what groups may pose a threat as 1999 comes to a close, the report states, as it is difficult to anticipate which groups will follow through on their rhetoric and which will not. Moreover, the report notes, many domestic extremist groups are not traditionally structured in a hierarchical fashion; the possibility of “lone wolf” strikes by individuals operating outside a militia or extremist group may in some cases outweigh the likelihood of violent assaults carried out by such groups. The report notes that the worst domestic terrorist event in US history, the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), was carried out by two “lone wolves,” Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. The report finds few indications of what it calls “specific threats to domestic security,” but focuses more on suspicious activities by a variety of militia groups who are arming themselves, stockpiling food, raising money through illegal means, and other actions which may serve as a warning of future violence. Problems caused by “Y2K glitches” such as power outages and computer failures may be interpreted by some extremist groups as the first actions of a government assault on the citizenry, the FBI warns, and may precipitate violent responses. [Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 10/1999; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/20/1999; Washington Post, 10/31/1999] The right-wing news blog WorldNetDaily will accuse the FBI of issuing the report to “set up” militia groups as patsies for the government’s own terrorist activities (see December 9, 1999).
NSA servers used to collect and sift data. [Source: FrancesFarmersRevenge.com]The National Security Agency (see 1952) begins building a massive data-mining system, code-named “Trailblazer,” that is intended to sift through reams of digital communications intercepts and find nuggets of information relevant to national security. The program’s task is huge—to sort through the 2 million bits of data the NSA collects every hour—and one made even more complex by the relatively new types of wireless, Internet, cell phone, and instant messaging communications now becoming ever more commonplace. Trailblazer is strongly embraced by General Michael Hayden, who became the NSA’s director in March 1999. Hayden recognizes from the outset that the NSA is years behind the technological curve, and casts Trailblazer as the future of the agency’s intelligence gathering and sorting. In November 1999, Hayden makes Trailblazer the centerpiece of his “100 Days of Change,” his plan to transform the agency into a leaner, more efficient organization, fast-tracking the program to vault it ahead of other initiatives. “It was going to structure us to handle the digital revolution,” a former intelligence official will recall. But from the outset the program has problems: a meeting between NSA and other government officials in December 1999 is unpromising, and, according to one government oversight official, the program “kicked off with not a real great definition of what it was trying to achieve.” Program managers fail to define standard data formats to allow for the proper sorting of information. After six years, $1.2 billion in expenditures, and endless man-hours of work, the utterly failed program will be recognized as the “biggest boondoggle… in the intelligence community” (see January 2006). [Baltimore Sun, 1/29/2006]
Following a government-wide review of intelligence operations, a major reorganization of the FBI is approved by the Clinton administration. The Bureau’s National Security Division is split into two new divisions, the counterterrorism division and the counterintelligence division. The change is the outcome of an interagency review of US counterintelligence involving the FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Defense. The new counterterrorism division will focus on preventing attacks rather than merely investigating them after the fact. Soon upon taking office, Dale Watson, the new division’s head, will order all field offices to become more engaged in counterterrorism by recruiting informants, hiring more Arabic translators, and establishing a joint terrorism task force with local police departments modeled after the unit created in New York in the 1980s. However, a 2001 evaluation report of these efforts will find them insufficient (see Summer 2001). [New York Times, 6/26/1999; BBC News, 11/12/1999; New York Times, 12/30/2001]
Joseph Farah, the publisher of the right-wing news blog WorldNetDaily, blasts the FBI for issuing its “Project Megiddo” report, which warns of possible domestic terror activities centering on the transition into the “new millennium” at year’s end (see October 20, 1999). Farah calls the report “more than slanderous, bigoted, and inciteful,” and accuses the FBI of “set[ting] up a system of self-fulfilling prophecies that permits the government to scapegoat groups of people who are enticed into committing illegal acts or conspiring about them by agents provocateur.” Farah claims that his assertions are proven by his belief that the federal government carried out the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) to discredit the far right. “Remember this the next time you hear about a so-called ‘terrorist incident,’” Farah concludes. “And, tell your representatives and senators it’s time to rein in the mad bombers and provocateurs in our own government.” [WorldNetDaily, 12/9/1999]
A coalition of pro-government parties unexpectedly wins elections to the Duma, the Russian parliament. The Chechnya War, according to all observers, was the main factor in turning the electorate in the Kremlin’s favor. “The Chechen war—loudly criticized in the West for its brutal bombardments of civilians—has galvanized Russian public opinion and, according to most political experts, turned the national debate away from a search for social stability toward an endorsement for a strong state, headed by a strong leader. That shift in the national mood has been answered by [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin”, says the New York Times. [New York Times, 12/20/1999] In addition, during the campaign, the opposition led by Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, and Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister removed from office by President Yeltsin in early 1999, was pummeled by hostile media reports from pro-Kremlin news organizations, in particular Boris Berezovsky’s ORT television network. [New York Times, 12/15/1999]
In a New Year’s Eve televised speech that stuns Russians, President Boris Yeltsin announces his resignation and nominates Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting president. Yeltsin, who has spent much of the previous months in hospital for a heart condition and alcoholism, begs the Russian people for their forgiveness for his administration’s failings. He also praises Putin as the best man to replace him: “Why hold on to power for another six months, when the country has a strong person, fit to be president, with whom practically all Russians link their hopes for the future today? Why should I stand in his way? Why wait for another six months?” Putin later promises: “There will be no power vacuum even for a moment.” [BBC, 12/31/1999; BBC, 12/31/1999; CNN, 12/31/1999] The BBC’s correspondent later sums up a widespread belief concerning the change-over: “The theory goes that the Family [Yeltsin’s entourage] decided to push Mr. Yeltsin out of office early, in order to make it easier for their chosen successor, Vladimir Putin to take over. Some even believe the Family deliberately started the war in Chechnya, in order to give Mr. Putin a platform, and a cause which would boost his popularity. In return, Mr. Putin would guarantee that the Family has protection from nosy Swiss and Russian investigators.” [BBC, 1/8/2000] In fact, one of Putin’s first acts upon taking over is to sign a decree giving Yeltsin immunity from prosecution. [New York Times, 1/1/2000]
According to a New York Times report, al-Qaeda documents found in Kabul in 2001 will include a list of Florida flight schools taken out of an aviation magazine (see November 2001). The list includes Walkawitz Aviation of Titusville and Phoenix East Aviation of Daytona Beach. The Times reports: “Greg Nardi, the manager of Walkawitz Aviation, said that several Arab students had approached the school in the last year and that the FBI had visited the school on more than five occasions since the Sept. 11 attacks, taking away the records of a number of these Arabs.… He recalled one conversation with an Arab visitor a year ago that seemed particularly strange. The Arab man, with a thick accent, asked him whether it was possible to jump safely out of a jet using a parachute. He also asked how far the parachute would carry him. ‘At the time you just pass it off,’ Mr. Nardi said of the questions. His staff told the prospective student that it would be difficult to open the door of a pressurized jet and that the plane would have to be reconfigured for such an endeavor.” [New York Times, 11/17/2001]
A DEA government document later leaked to the press [Drug Enforcement Agency, 6/2001] suggests that a large Israeli spy ring starts penetrating the US from at least this time, if not earlier. This ring, which will later become popularly known as the “art student spy ring,” is later shown to have unusual connections to the events of 9/11. [Insight, 3/11/2002]
Virtual First Down [Source: Princeton Video Image]Following the publication of a front-page article in the New York Times on the use of fake, digitally-created images in some CBS programs like “The Early Show”, CBS executives call a press conference to defend and explain the practice. While the technology has been used in sports broadcasting for several years now (see 1999 and After), many are troubled by its use in news programs. CBS Television used the technology developed by Princeton Video Image to superimpose a digitally created CBS logo to block out an NBC-sponsored sign in Times Square during its news coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations. Dan Rather, the CBS anchor, calls that “a mistake”. “At the very least we should have pointed out to viewers that we were doing it.” Both NBC and ABC told the New York Times that they had not used the technology in their news broadcasting. But CBS defends the practice. “Anytime there’s an NBC logo up on our network we’ll block it again”, says Leslie Moonves, the president of CBS Television. Andrew Heyward, the president of the news division, acknowledges the potential for abuse or deception: “He said that he understood the argument against the use of the technology—which is widely employed in sports and some entertainment shows—on news programs. The danger is ‘that it looks too real and therefore it’s wrong or potentially wrong,’ he said. ‘I certainly agree it’s potentially subject to abuse.’ He noted that advances in computer-generated techniques had made things like missiles hitting Baghdad and airplanes crashing look so real that it was incumbent on networks to underscore that these were not real images. ‘We’re not sitting here rubbing our hands, saying how can we use this again,’ Mr. Heyward said. ‘We are not in the deception business. We’re in the reality business; we’re in the accuracy business. To the extent that this technology interferes with that core belief we’re not going to do it. We will absolutely take seriously the use of this tool.’” [New York Times, 1/12/2000; New York Times, 1/13/2000; Independent, 1/24/2000; New York Times, 1/27/2000]
Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the 1st Air Force whose mission includes the protection of the continental US against air attacks, tells the Associated Press that he is deeply worried by the possibility of an airborne terrorist attack. He says: “I lie awake worrying. It is one thing to put a truck inside the twin trade towers and blow it up. It is quite another to be able to fly a weapon across our borders. That is an attack, a direct attack, an unambiguous attack from outside our country.” In 1999, a study commissioned by Arnold emphasized the continued importance of the Air Force’s air sovereignty mission and the threat of terrorism (see 1999). [Associated Press, 2/1/2000; Associated Press, 8/2/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 92] As one of the top commanders of NORAD, Arnold will play a pivotal role on the morning of 9/11 (see (8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (10:08 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 42]
Yuri Tkachenko [Source: Terror99.ru]In its February 14-20, 2000, issue, the Russian newsweekly Novaya Gazeta reports that Ryazan police officers insist that the bomb they uncovered and defused was real. On September 22, 1999, a bomb was discovered in the city of Ryazan, about 100 miles south of Moscow. After the chief bomb suspects were discovered to be FSB agents, the government claimed the bomb was a dummy and the incident was a training exercise (see September 22-24, 1999). But the bomb-squad officer, Yuri Tkachenko, is adamant that it was a professionally-prepared, military-style bomb. He defends the accuracy of his sophisticated gas-testing device which identified the explosives as hexogen. The article provokes much comment in Russia but is ignored by the government. [Satter, 2003, pp. 29]
The Lucas Heights nuclear reactor. [Source: BBC]During a raid on a suspected people-smuggling ring in Auckland, New Zealand, police stumble upon evidence of an apparent plot to blow up a nuclear reactor during the upcoming Sydney Olympics (see also September 15-October 1, 2000). A house used by Afghan refugees contains a map of Sydney highlighting a nuclear reactor in the suburb of Lucas Heights and detailing access and exit roads. In another house, police find a notebook with information relating to the counterterrorism tactics used by New Zealand police. [CNN, 8/26/2000; BBC, 8/26/2000; New Zealand Herald, 8/26/2000] The New Zealand Herald reports that some suspects may be linked to Osama bin Laden. [New Zealand Herald, 9/9/2000] However, no one is charged with terror-related crimes and a later report will find that immigration fraud charges against two Afghan refugees have been dropped. [New Zealand Herald, 5/25/2002; New Zealand Herald, 5/27/2002]
The Clinton administration begins a push to fight terrorism financing by introducing a tough anti-money laundering bill. The bill faces tough opposition, mostly from Republicans and lobbyists who enjoy the anonymity of offshore banking, which would be affected by the legislation. Despite passing the House Banking Committee by a vote of 31 to 1 in July 2000, Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) refuses to let the bill come up for a vote in his Senate Banking Committee. [Time, 10/15/2001] Other efforts begun at this time to fight terrorism financing are later stymied by the new Bush administration in February 2001.
Alexander Zdanovich. [Source: Terror99.ru]A team of FSB officials, led by Alexander Zdanovich, agrees to a televised meeting with angry and suspicious residents of Ryazan, hoping to put down rumors of a government provocation and shore up the credibility of the official account. In September 1999 a bomb was found in the basement of a building in Ryazan and the people arrested for planting the bomb were discovered to be FSB agents. The government then claimed the incident was merely a training exercise, but residents suspect the FSB wanted to bomb the building to create a fake terrorist incident (see September 22-24, 1999). Zdavonich apologizes for the inconvenience suffered by Ryazan inhabitants but then suggests the renewed interest in the event is a campaign ploy: “For months, there was no interest and there were no publications. The theme was activated on the eve of the presidential election with the most fantastic details in order to accuse the FSB of planning a real explosion with the death of people. This is actively used in the political struggle.” (The presidential election is only one week away.) A soldier named Alexei Pinyaev has claimed that he worked at a nearby base where hexogen was reportedly kept in sacks marked “sugar” (see Fall 1999). The commander of the base denies that there was any soldier named Pinyaev, but the Novaya Gazeta reporter who had found Pinyaev then shows pictures of him and plays a recording of his interview. The FSB will not let its three agents appear in public or allow journalists to interview them. The broadcast does not allow any discussion of a possible connection between the Ryazan incident and the apartment bombings in Moscow earlier that month (see September 9, 1999 and September 13, 1999). The FSB officials did not have good explanations for the fact that local authorities, including its own FSB office in Ryazan, were not informed of the supposed exercise, or for the lack of medical resources for the thousands of people forced to spend the night outdoors. According to David Satter, a long-time correspondent in Moscow for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times who believes the Ryazan incident was a failed provocation, the broadcast only serves to increase the public’s misgivings. [Satter, 2003, pp. 30, 261-264]
USA Today reports that “Israeli crime groups… dominate distribution” of the drug Ecstasy. [USA Today, 4/19/2000] The DEA also states that most of the Ecstasy sold in the US is “controlled by organized crime figures in Western Europe, Russia, and Israel.” [United Press International, 10/25/2001] According to DEA documents, the Israeli “art student spy ring”
“has been linked to several ongoing DEA [Ecstasy] investigations in Florida, California, Texas, and New York now being closely coordinated by DEA headquarters.” [Insight, 3/11/2002]
Cover of the report of the National Commission on Terrorism. [Source: Diane Publishing Co.]The National Commission on Terrorism releases its report warning the US against the growing threat of terrorism. The bipartisan commission, headed by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, was created by Congress in 1999. Bremer, a career diplomat, has long been involved in counterterrorism policy-making, and served as the ambassador at large for counterterrorism during the Reagan administration. The report starts with a quote from Thomas C. Schelling’s foreword to Roberta Wohlstetter’s book, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, explaining why governments are often ill-prepared for surprise attacks. It says the US faces a more lethal and unpredictable enemy: “Today’s terrorists seek to inflict mass casualties, and they are attempting to do so both overseas and on American soil. They are less dependent on state sponsorship and are, instead, forming loose, transnational affiliations based on religious or ideological affinity and a common hatred of the United States.” The report warns that while the number of terrorist incidents has gone down, the number of casualties per attack has increased. Moreover, religiously motivated groups, such as Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, present a new challenge for intelligence agencies. They are less hierarchical, have a variety of sources of funding and support, and are therefore “more difficult to predict, track, and penetrate.” In response, the US must pursue an aggressive policy to gather intelligence on terrorist groups, sanction countries sponsoring terrorists, and prepare for a catastrophic terrorist attack on the homeland, possibly one involving weapons of mass destruction. The report also calls for monitoring the immigration status of foreign students. [National Commisson on Terrorism, 6/2000; New York Times, 6/4/2000; NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, 6/6/2000; New York Times, 9/12/2001]
FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications. [Source: Public domain]While monitoring foreign terrorists in the US, the FBI listens to calls made by suspects as a part of an operation called Catcher’s Mitt, which is curtailed at this time due to misleading statements by FBI agents. It is never revealed who the targets of the FBI’s surveillance are under this operation, but below are some of the terrorism suspects under investigation in the US at the time:
Imran Mandhai, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan and Adnan El Shukrijumah in Florida. They are plotting a series of attacks there, but Mandhai and Jokhan are brought in for questioning by the FBI and surveillance of them stops in late spring (see November 2000-Spring 2002 and May 2, 2001);
Another Florida cell connected to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The FBI has been investigating it since 1993 (see (October 1993-November 2001));
Al-Qaeda operatives in Denver (see March 2000);
A Boston-based al-Qaeda cell involving Nabil al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi. Cell members provide funding to terrorists, fight abroad, and are involved in document forging (see January 2001, Spring 2001, and Early September 2001);
Fourteen of the hijackers’ associates the FBI investigates before 9/11. The FBI is still investigating four of these people while the hijackers associate with them; [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 169 ]
Hamas operatives such as Mohammed Salah in Chicago. Salah invests money in the US and sends it to the occupied territories to fund attacks (see June 9, 1998).
When problems are found with the applications for the wiretap warrants, an investigation is launched (see Summer-October 2000), and new requirements for warrant applications are put in place (see October 2000). From this time well into 2001, the FBI is forced to shut down wiretaps of al-Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 US embassy bombings and Hamas (see March 2001 and April 2001). One source familiar with the case says that about 10 to 20 al-Qaeda related wiretaps have to be shut down and it becomes more difficult to get permission for new FISA wiretaps. Newsweek notes, “The effect [is] to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most: requests from both Phoenix [with the Ken Williams memo (see July 10, 2001)] and Minneapolis [with Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest] for wiretaps [will be] turned down [by FBI superiors],” (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Robert Wright is an FBI agent who led the Vulgar Betrayal investigation looking into allegations that Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi helped finance the embassy bombings, and other matters. In late 2002, he will claim to discover evidence that some of the FBI intelligence agents who stalled and obstructed his investigation were the same FBI agents who misrepresented the FISA petitions. [Judicial Watch, 9/11/2002]
Entity Tags: Royce Lamberth, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan, Catcher’s Mitt, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Zacarias Moussaoui, Raed Hijazi, Mohammad Salah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Adnan Shukrijumah, Central Intelligence Agency, Nabil al-Marabh, Ken Williams, Imran Mandhai, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
After a successful test, the FAA makes an enhancement to the Global Positioning System (GPS) called Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) available to some aviation users. WAAS improves the accuracy of GPS data by correcting some known measuring errors. “The system demonstrated one to two meters horizontal accuracy and two to three meters vertical accuracy throughout the contiguous United States,” says the FAA. The system will be operated by Raytheon. [Federal Aviation Administration, 8/24/2000] The deployment of WAAS is only one of many technological advances that could lead to pilotless aircraft navigation, including takeoff and landing. Tests have shown that landing by autopilot is possible (see also August 25, 2001). [Spinoff, 1998; Federal Aviation Administration, 8/13/1999; Rockwell Collins, 10/5/1999] WAAS also has non-aviation uses. It will be used during the rescue effort at Ground Zero. “[A]t the World Trade Center, rescue teams used WAAS to survey the site during the recovery program,” according to Avionics Magazine. [Avionics Magazine, 2/1/2002] After 9/11 there will be some speculation that the hijackers used GPS to navigate to their targets (see (September 12-17, 2001)). Some press reports will claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was at the WTC the day before the attacks to gather GPS data (see September 10, 2001).
A confidential Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) document obtained by Wired news says the US Army is prepared to deploy combat troops in US cities in response to disruptions ranging from civil disobedience to a nuclear attack. The 75-page operations manual, created by FEMA in preparation for the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, stresses the importance of preparing for “nuclear, biological, chemical, and civil disturbance events, as well as potential weather-related disaster events.” The document, according to Wired, “says that the US First Army will, if necessary, execute Operation Garden Plot to quell any serious civil disturbances.” Operation Garden Plot was first developed in the late 1960s to deal with potential protests and urban riots (see Winter 1967-1968). According to Wired, the current terrorism plans for the convention include “flying giant C-5 Galaxy cargo planes loaded with military gear into Willow Grove Naval Air Station, about 25 miles outside the city, and assembling troops at three National Guard armories near the downtown protest areas.” The FEMA document states, “The potential occurrence of an event that would reflect negatively on Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or the United States demands that every effort to preclude such an event be taken.” FEMA has a similar plan for the upcoming Democratic National Convention. [Wired News, 8/1/2000]
Texas Governor George W. Bush, the Republican candidate for president, accepts his party’s nomination for president during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. During his speech, he declares his intent to move the United States away from observing “outdated” treaties such as the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia (see May 26, 1972). “Now is the time,” he says, “not to defend outdated treaties, but to defend the American people.” Less than a year after taking office, Bush will unilaterally withdraw the US from the treaty (see December 13, 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 140]
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il invites Clinton administration officials to Pyongyang, offering to sign a treaty banning the production of long-range missiles and the export of all missiles (see October 21, 1994). Secretary of State Madeleine Albright represents the US. Clinton administration officials at the negotiations between Albright and Kim acknowledge that the North Korean is, in reporter Fred Kaplan’s words, “clearly one of the world’s battier leaders,” yet they will recall his negotiations as quite sound. Clinton’s chief negotiator Robert Einhorn will later recall, “He struck me as a very serious, rational guy who knew his issues pretty well.” Albright’s policy coordinator, Wendy Sherman, will agree. “There were 14 unresolved issues, and he sat with the secretary, answering all her questions.” Einhorn will add: “When Albright presented him with the questions, at first he looked a little puzzled, as if he hadn’t known about them. Albright offered to give him time to look them over, but he said, ‘No, no, I can do this.’ He went down the list, one by one, and gave specific explanations. For example, on the question of missile exports, ‘Yes, I mean no exports of missiles of any range.’ And ‘Yes, I mean to ban the export of missile technology, not just the missiles.’ On issues where it was clear he didn’t want to be drawn out yet, he skipped over them. He understood where he wanted to be clear and where he wasn’t going to be.” The negotiations bear no fruit; Clinton chooses to spend the final weeks of his presidency working towards a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, but, as Kaplan will write, “the stage was set for diplomatic progress—and, in the meantime, the [nuclear] fuel rods remained under lock and key.” [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] Those negotiations will be abandoned by the Bush administration (see Mid-January 2001 and March 7, 2001).
Following the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), the Clinton administration discusses what standard of evidence it needs to launch a counter-strike against al-Qaeda, which it suspects of the bombing. Following the bombing of the US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the administration fired a number of cruise missiles at suspected al-Qaeda targets (see August 20, 1998). However, the administration decides it must have evidence that bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s leadership has authority, direction, and control of the attack before initiating a response. CIA Director George Tenet will comment: “This is a high threshold to cross.” Tenet will also say that this threshold was not set by the CIA, but by “policy makers.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 128] Although the bombing is tied to three known leading al-Qaeda operatives, Khallad bin Attash (see November 11, 2000), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000), and Ahmed al-Hada (see November 2000 or After), early on in the investigation, no counterstrike is initiated (see Shortly After October 12, 2000 and Late October 2000). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will express his frustration with the inaction: “[I]n Washington neither CIA nor FBI would state the obvious: al-Qaeda did it. We knew there was a large al-Qaeda cell in Yemen There was also a large cell of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but that group had now announced its complete merger into al-Qaeda, so what difference did it make which group did the attack? [Counterterrorism staff] had worked around the clock piecing together the evidence and had made a very credible case against al-Qaeda. CIA would agree only months later.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 223] The authors of the 2002 book The Cell will later write: “The links to bin Laden were everywhere. Each of the suspects being held in Yemen had admitted training in the Afghan camps run by bin Laden… neither the FBI nor the CIA was ever able to tell the president that they had direct proof that the Cole was a bin Laden-ordered job, though now, in retrospect, it seems terribly obvious. In any case, even if there had been compelling proof that bin Laden was behind the Cole bombing, there was little chance that the Clinton administration would have launched an attack on any Islamic country while he was trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 238]
Imran Mandhai. [Source: crimelibrary (.com)]The FBI in Florida investigates a group of Muslims it suspects of being terrorists, including an apparent associate of Mohamed Atta named Adnan Shukrijumah (see April-May 2001 and May 2, 2001). The investigation starts with the November 2000 Florida arrest of Turkish immigrant Hakki Aksoy, who is found to be in possession of instructions for making a car bomb. An FBI informer named Howard Gilbert enters the Darul Aloom mosque in Pembroke Pines (a town just north of Miami) to check out one of Aksoy’s associates, Imran Mandhai. Gilbert starts plotting with Mandhai and a friend of Mandai’s named Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan. [New Times Broward-Palm Beach, 8/1/2002; Miami New Times, 8/8/2002; USA Today, 6/15/2003] Gilbert is replaced by another FBI informant known as “Mohamed the bomb maker,” who agrees to wear a wire and testify in court. Mohamed and Mandhai drive around South Florida selecting local bomb targets including a National Guard armory, electrical substations, Jewish-owned businesses, the Israeli consulate in Miami, plus Mount Rushmore in the Midwest. Mandhai and Jokhan are unable to buy weapons themselves, but Gilbert, the first informant, had given Mandhai a copy of a bomb-making manual, and Mohamed, the second informant, shows Mandhai the range of guns and explosives he can provide. [Broward Herald, 5/29/2002; FrontPage Magazine, 10/27/2003; US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit: appeal, 7/2/2004 ] The FBI interviews Mandhai and Jokhan in late spring 2001 and they acknowledge they are training for jihad. However, the FBI’s surveillance of them stops shortly after this. The FBI takes no action against them for a year, and then indicts them in May 2002. At the trial they are both found guilty; Mandhai receives twelve years and Jokhan five. It is unclear why the FBI acts in this way, although it is possibly related to a forced curtailment of electronic surveillance that is taking place at this time. In the summer of 2000, the bureau was ordered to shutdown certain wiretaps after an FBI official was found to have been misrepresenting petitions for taps on terror suspects (see Summer 2000-September 11, 2001). Coincidentally, after Gilbert and Mandhai develop a series of courses for potential recruits entitled “Skills Necessary for Jihad” in the spring of 2001, Mandhai prints them at the same Kinko’s copy shop in Hollywood that is used by Mohamed Atta and Hamza Alghamdi to buy their tickets for 9/11 (see August 25-September 5, 2001). [Broward Herald, 5/29/2002; Salon, 12/3/2002; USA Today, 6/15/2003]
Rahim al-Nashiri [Source: AP]After several weeks of investigation, US authorities learn that al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was involved in the plot to attack the USS Cole. Investigators find a second safe house used by the bombing team, and learn it was registered to al-Nashiri under a name variant. Al-Nashiri’s name is dimly familiar to FBI agent Ali Soufan, who remembers that a source said al-Nashiri was planning a seaborne attack against a US vessel in Aden (see After August 7, 1998). The FBI then finds that al-Nashiri rented a car in Aden before the bombing. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “It was another strong link between al-Qaeda and the Cole attack.” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] In addition, one of the bombers detained by Yemeni authorities, Jamal al-Badawi, identifies al-Nashiri as a person who gave instructions for the attack. Al-Badawi also says he thought al-Nashiri was working for bin Laden, but al-Nashiri did not tell al-Badawi this directly. [CNN, 12/13/2000] Although al-Nashiri was the operational manager, he was actually in Afghanistan for a meeting with Osama bin Laden when the opportunity to attack arose and was not physically present at the bombing. Investigators are aware that he is the cousin of one of the bombers of the US embassy in Nairobi, which he facilitated, and a captured embassy bomber identified a photo of him for the FBI two years earlier (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and August 22-25 1998). Al-Nashiri has been known to various intelligence agencies since 1998, at least, and was monitored at the Malaysia summit of top al-Qaeda leaders at the start of the year (see January 5-8, 2000). [CNN, 12/11/2000; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3; Wright, 2006, pp. 318] US investigators also identify another leading suspect in the case, Khallad bin Attash, at around the same time (see January 4, 2001).
The cover of ‘Saddam’s Bombmaker.’ [Source: Simon and Schuster]Former Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidir Hamza publishes a book with reporter Jeff Stein entitled Saddam’s Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda. Two years before, Hamza had tried and failed to get a deal for a book that would show Iraq’s nuclear weapons plans had “fizzled” (see 1998). This book is radically different, telling a dramatic tale of his career as a nuclear bomb-builder and his death-defying escape from Iraq (Hamza defected from Iraq and was brought to the US by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress). Hamza now asserts that Iraq is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. According to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, this is a “vast exaggeration” of the reality of the situation. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
At some point in December 2000 or early 2001, Donald Rumsfeld tells President Elect George W. Bush that the US’ capacity to deter potential aggressors has lessened because the US has not reacted strongly to attacks in the recent past. He tells Bush that, should any attack occur, he will ask him to retaliate forcefully. According to Rumsfeld’s account of this conversation in a January 2002 interview with the Washington Post, Bush promises to do so. Rumsfeld will recall: “I remember talking to him on that subject and expressed my concern that over a period of time in the United States the deterrent had been weakened because we had on a number of occasions seemed to the rest of the world to have been attacked or hit or somebody killed and the immediate reaction was a reflexive pull-back.… I remember talking to the president about that and he agreed strongly with it.… [H]aving been involved as Middle East envoy, and having seen terrorism and how it worked… I left no doubt in his mind but that at that moment where something happened that I would be coming to him to lean forward, not back, and that I wanted him to know that, and he said, just unambiguously, that that is what he would be doing. We had a very clear common understanding.” [Washington Post, 1/9/2002]
US Army Lieutenant General Michael A. Canavan is appointed associate administrator for civil aviation security at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a position that includes being the “hijack coordinator” (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 11/2000] In early 1998, Canavan participated in reviewing a CIA plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He was then the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees the military’s counterterrorism operations and covert missions. He objected to the plan, saying it was too complicated for the CIA and “out of their league.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 113] The plan was later canceled (see 1997-May 29, 1998). It is not known if Canavan’s appointment at the FAA is related to his prior involvement in counterterrorism or to any intelligence that al-Qaeda might target civil aviation. He will leave the post in October 2001, after only 10 months, reportedly after clashing with other FAA officials. [Los Angeles Times, 10/13/2001]
[Source: Publicity photo]A federal panel chaired by former Governor James Gilmore (R-VA) warns President-elect Bush that the US in vulnerable to terrorist attack and urges him to bolster US preparedness within one year. Gilmore states, “The United States has no coherent, functional national strategy for combating terrorism. The terrorist threat is real, and it is serious.” The panel urges the US counterterrorism effort should be consolidated into one new agency. It further argues the US has no clear counterterrorism program and argues for dozens of special changes at all levels of government. Gilmore says, “We are impelled by the stark realization that a terrorist attack on some level inside our borders is inevitable and the United States must be ready.” The panel also calls for improvement in human intelligence instead of a reliance on technology. [Washington Post, 12/15/2000] The 9/11 Commission will later make many of the same recommendations. However, the Commission will barely mention the Gilmore panel in their report, except to note that Congress appointed the panel and failed to follow through on implementing the recommendations. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 107, 479]
Clinton and Bush meeting in the White House on December 19, 2000. [Source: NBC]President Clinton and President-Elect Bush meet for their "exit interview," in a two-hour meeting. [CNN, 12/19/2000] Clinton gives Bush his list of his top five priorities. At the top of the list is dealing with Osama bin Laden. Clinton also discusses the tensions between Pakistan and India, who are threatening each other with nuclear strikes; the crisis in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine; he discusses North Korea; and he discusses Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Bush shakes Clinton’s hand after Clinton wraps up his presentation, and says, "Thanks for your advice, Mr. President, but I think you’ve got your priorities wrong. I’m putting Saddam at the top of the list." [Moore, 3/15/2004, pp. 16-17] Just one day before, CIA Director George Tenet had warned Clinton that al-Qaeda could attack US interests in the next several weeks (see December 18, 2000). In 2003, Clinton will speak about the interview, saying that he recognized Bush felt the biggest security issues facing the US was Iraq and a national missile defense: "I told him that in my opinion, the biggest security problem was Osama bin Laden." [Reuters, 10/16/2003]
Shaha Ali Riza. [Source: World Bank]With Donald Rumsfeld in as Defense Secretary (see December 28, 2000), Vice President Cheney is moving closer to getting a team in place that will allow him to fulfill his dream of the “unitary executive”—the gathering of power into the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. One key piece to Cheney’s plan is to place neoconservative academic Paul Wolfowitz as the head of the CIA. However, Wolfowitz’s personal life is proving troublesome for Cheney’s plans. Wolfowitz’s marriage is crumbling. His wife of over 30 years, Clare, is threatening to go public with her husband’s infidelities. Wolfowitz is having one affair with a staffer at the School of International Studies, and is openly romancing another woman, Shaha Ali Riza, a secular Muslim neoconservative with close ties to Iraqi oppositions groups, including Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Smitten with the idea of a secular Muslim and a secular Jew forming a romantc liaison, Wolfowitz frequently escorts Riza, and not his wife, to neoconservative social events. Many insiders joke about Wolfowitz’s “neoconcubine.” His dalliances, particularly with a Muslim foreign national, raise questions about his ability to obtain the necessary national security clearance he will need to head the CIA. Cheney does not intend to allow questions of security clearances or wronged and vengeful wives to stop him from placing Wolfowitz at the head of the agency, but this time he does not succeed. After Clare Wolfowitz writes a letter to President-elect Bush detailing her husband’s sexual infidelities and possible security vulnerabilities, Wolfowitz is quietly dropped from consideration for the post. Current CIA Director George Tenet, after reassuring Bush that he can work with the new regime, is allowed to keep his position. Author Craig Unger later writes, “If Cheney and the neocons were to have control over the national security apparatus, it would not come from the CIA.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 187-189]
The neoconservative National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP) issues a report calling for the increased reliance upon, and the broad potential use of, nuclear weapons in conflicts by the United States. The NIPP is a think tank headed by Keith Payne, who in 1980 coauthored an article arguing that the US could win a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. (Payne wrote that American casualties would be an “acceptable” twenty million or so.) The NIPP report is written by a group of hardline conservatives and neoconservatives, including veterans of the “Team B” exercises (see November 1976). The report advocates the deployment and potential use of nuclear weapons against an array of potential enemies, from geostrategic opponents such as Russia or China, to “rogue” nations such as Iran, Iraq, or North Korea, to non-national enemies such as an array of terrorist organizations. It argues that “low-yield, precision-guided nuclear weapons” be developed “for possible use against select hardened targets such as underground biological weapons facilities,” weapons later nicknamed “bunker-busters.” Nuclear weapons, the report states, can be used not only as deterrents to other nations’ military aggression, but as a means to achieving political and military objectives even against non-nuclear adversaries. President Bush will put Payne in charge of the nation’s Nuclear Posture Review (see December 31, 2001), and, upon its completion, will name Payne assistant secretary of defense for forces policy, in essence putting him in charge of nuclear force planning. Payne’s thinking will inform later nuclear planning (see January 10, 2003 and March 2005). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 182-183]
A bipartisan commission chaired by former Senator Howard Baker (R-TN) and former Carter administration counsel Lloyd Cutler reports on the state of nuclear nonproliferation programs in Russia and its former Soviet client states. The report is bleak: it finds that Russia alone is in danger of becoming a “virtual ‘Home Depot’” of nuclear weapons and technology for terrorists seeking nuclear WMD. Russia has the equivalent of 80,000 nuclear weapons, mostly in fragments and in different locations, but all befitting the definition of “loose nukes.” “Imagine if such material were successfully stolen and sold to a terrorist like Osama bin Laden,” the report warns. Baker and Cutler recommend that the US triple its annual expenditure on its program to secure the weapons, from $1 billion to $3 billion. The threat of terrorists acquiring Russian nuclear technology is “the most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today.” For various reasons, the report stirs little interest among the members of the incoming Bush administration. Many of the relevant programs, collectively known as cooperative threat reduction efforts, are run through the Pentagon, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has no interest in them. Author J. Peter Scoblic will later point out that the very idea of “cooperative threat reduction” is at odds with the conservative “us-versus-them” ideology. “Paying our former enemy to secure its own weapons so that we will not be threated by them does not constitute a clear, military, zero-sum situation,” Scoblic will write. Indeed, some conservatives, led by House Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), mount an effort to scrap the programs entirely, arguing that they undermine US national security—by funding Russian efforts to secure and destroy so-called “loose nukes,” Hunter and his followers warn, the US is allowing Russia to spend more on its own weapons programs. The Bush administration will respond to the Baker-Cutler report by slashing funding for the cooperative threat reduction programs almost in half, and tripling funding for research into missile defense programs. Scoblic will write, “Rather than focusing on making it harder for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons, the administration was devoting its resources to building defenses against what an intelligence community assessment had determined would be the least likely means by which a nuclear attack would be carried out against the United States.” After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration will request $20 billion in emergency funding for homeland security; as Scoblic will write, “[n]ot a dollar of it was allotted to security upgrades for loose Russian nuclear material, even though the danger had certainly been brought to the president’s attention.” The administration will continue to oppose funding increases for the programs in the future. [Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, Department of Energy, 1/10/2001 ; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 205-206]
A few days before President Bush assumes the presidency, several Clinton administration officials provide incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell and incoming National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice with a briefing about the unresolved negotiations between the US and North Korea concerning North Korean missiles (see October 2000). Powell is clearly interested; Rice is just as clearly not interested. One Clinton official will later recall, “The body language was striking.” He will add: “Powell was leaning forward. Rice was very much leaning backward. Powell thought that what we had been doing formed an interesting basis for progress. He was disabused very quickly.” When Bush publicly announces his intention to abandon any negotiations with North Korea, and in the process publicly insults the leaders of both North and South Korea (see March 7, 2001), it becomes very clear that the US has changed its tone towards North Korea. Powell is another victim of public rebuke; he is forced to retract statements he has made saying the US will continue its negotiations (see March 7, 2001). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]
The US considers mounting an operation to snatch Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan and discusses this with Pakistan, but this operation apparently will not be attempted before 9/11. Pakistan is asked to support the operation, which is to be conducted by US special forces inside Afghanistan, and the matter is discussed by US general Tommy Franks and Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in January 2001. However, the Pakistani government advises the US that such an operation would be counterproductive and would further inflame religious sentiment in the region. [United Press International, 8/17/2001] The plan apparently will be foiled when details about it are leaked to a Pakistani newspaper in August 2001 (see August 17, 2001).
White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke meets with President Bush and others to discuss the administration’s approach to cyber-security and terrorism. Clarke will later express his surprise at the way Bush conducts himself: “We had a couple of meetings with the president, and there were detailed discussions and briefings on cyber-security and often terrorism, and on a classified program. With the cyber-security meeting, he seemed—I was disturbed because he seemed to be trying to impress us, the people who were briefing him. It was as though he wanted these experts, these White House staff guys who had been around for a long time before he got there—didn’t want them buying the rumor that he wasn’t too bright. He was trying—sort of overly trying—to show that he could ask good questions, and kind of yukking it up with [Dick] Cheney. The contrast with having briefed his father [George H. W. Bush] and [Bill] Clinton and [Al] Gore was so marked. And to be told, frankly, early in the administration, by Condi Rice and [her deputy] Steve Hadley, you know, ‘Don’t give the president a lot of long memos, he’s not a big reader’—well, sh_t. I mean, the president of the United States is not a big reader?” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
The NSA asks Qwest, a major US telecommunications firm and a cutting-edge provider of high-tech wireless and Internet connectivity, to reveal information about its customers and their phone calls. Qwest’s CEO, Joe Nacchio, refuses after meeting with NSA officials and deciding that the program is illegal without court orders (see February 27, 2001). The NSA refuses to seek court authorization for its wiretaps and electronic surveillance. The NSA will renew its request from Qwest after the 9/11 attacks, and will also ask the firm to help it track suspected terrorists. Other telecommunications firms such as Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth, will comply with the NSA’s requests (see February 2001 and Beyond).
Fears of a 'Digital Pearl Harbor' - According to a former White House official, the NSA’s primary purpose before 9/11 is to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government agents trying to hack into the government’s computer information systems, particularly those within the Defense Department. Government officials fear a “digital Pearl Harbor” if hackers were ever to seize control of those systems or other key US infrastructures. The former official will say in 2007 that the NSA’s proposal to Qwest is, “Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?” Echelon is the NSA’s enormous signals intelligence (SIGINT) network used by the agency and its counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Britain. Qwest is constructing a high-speed network for phone and Internet traffic, and the NSA wants Qwest to keep records of its customers’ transactions for it. The NSA, another source will say, wants to analyze call, e-mail, and other transmissions’ traffic patters for signs of suspicious activity. The White House official will say that telecom firms such as Qwest “have an enormous amount of intelligence-gathering” capability. They don’t have to target individual customers to “look for wacky behavior,” or “groups communicating with each other in strange patterns.” Such information could augment intelligence that the NSA and other agencies were gathering from other sources, and enable the NSA to collect the information it wants without violating laws prohibiting it and other intelligence agencies from directly gathering data on US citizens.
Ill Will from NSA - Nacchio’s refusal to go along with the NSA’s request garners it some ill will among the US intelligence community, the former White House official will say. Nacchio will contend that because of his refusal, the NSA denied Qwest a lucrative government contract. A former high-level intelligence official will add that other telecom companies had little problem agreeing to the NSA’s requests. Nacchio believes that the NSA’s request is illegal under the Telecommunications Act without court orders; the former White House official will acknowledge that it might violate the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. After 9/11, that law will be amended by the USA Patriot Act to give the government more room to monitor US citizens.
Qwest, Other Telecom Firms Cooperative with Other Agencies - Qwest is apparently less reluctant to share other information with the Pentagon. Qwest began sharing its technology and information as far back as 1997 (see 1997). In May 2001, Commerce Secretary Don Evans will tell the Senate Appropriations Committee that his department helped persuade Qwest to “share proprietory information with the Defense Department to evaluate the vulnerability of its network.” Qwest, which serves the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions of the country, covers the areas that house some of the military’s most important command-and-control facilities, including the US Strategic Command. In the 1990s, Qwest began actively pursuing contracts with the Defense Department to build more modern, private, secure networks for defense and intelligence agencies. [National Journal, 11/2/2007]
Meetings with Bush Officials - In court documents filed in 2006 to challenge his prosecution for insider trading and, in heavily redacted form, released to the public in 2007, Nacchio will indicate that telecom executives met frequently with Bush administration officials before 9/11, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. Many telecom firms are working closely with the government to develop highly classified operations, including joint networks to which the government will have unfettered access. The future director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, works with telecom firms to expand the cooperation between the telecom industry and the federal government. [Salon, 10/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Verizon Communications, AT&T, US Department of Commerce, Senate Appropriations Committee, US Strategic Command, BellSouth, Donald L. Evans, Echelon, Richard A. Clarke, Qwest, Mike McConnell, National Security Agency, Joe Nacchio, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
According to a 2006 lawsuit against three major US telecommunications firms that alleges the companies illegally cooperated with the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program (see May 12, 2006), NSA officials meet with AT&T officials to discuss that firm’s participation. (Days later, NSA officials will also meet with officials from Qwest, who refuse to cooperate—see February 27, 2001). The officials discuss replicating an AT&T network center in Bedminster, New Jersey, to give the agency access to all the global phone and e-mail traffic that runs through it. According to an AT&T engineer’s court statements, the NSA officials want to “listen in” with unfettered access to communications that they believe may have intelligence value, as well as the ability to store those communications for later review. There is no discussion of limiting the monitoring to international communications, the engineer says: “At some point, I started feeling something isn’t right.” Two other AT&T employees will contradict the engineer’s claims, saying that the NSA merely wanted to upgrade its own internal communications. The lawsuit’s legal counsel, Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, will say that internal AT&T documents can verify the engineer’s account. Mayer will say that the engineer sees “decisive evidence that within two weeks of taking office, the Bush administration was planning a comprehensive effort of spying on Americans’ phone usage.” [New York Times, 12/16/2007]
Abu Qatada. [Source: Reuters]British police raid the house of radical London imam Abu Qatada and find the equivalent of $250,000 in cash under his bed. Abu Qatada claims that the money is for the construction of a new mosque. However, $1,174 is in an envelope marked “for the Mujaheddin in Chechnya.” [BBC, 8/11/2005] At the time, Qatada has no money-making job and is living with a wife and four children on government benefits worth $150 a week plus other housing aid. [New York Times, 10/26/2002] Spanish intelligence has known for years that al-Qaeda leader Barakat Yarkas has been frequently traveling to London and giving Qatada money for Chechnya that was raised in Spain (see 1995-February 2001). It is not known it the Spanish shared this intelligence with the British. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will later write, “Jihad supporters have since confirmed that Abu Qatada was known throughout Britain as a conduit for funds destined for the Chechen fighters. Some of that money had been raised—directly and indirectly—in British mosques. There were straightforward appeals for the Chechen struggle, and rather more opaque pleas for charitable donations which were then siphoned off to the militants.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 67-8] Abu Qatada has a relationship with British counterintelligence (see June 1996-February 1997 and Early December 2001).
President Bush hosts British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David. Iraq is on the agenda. Bush and Blair tell reporters that they want to restructure the sanctions on Iraq through the United Nations, using what the White House calls “smart sanctions”—sanctions that are designed to constrain the Iraqi government without harming the Iraqi citizenry. The new sanctions are primarily aimed at tightening controls on “dual-use” goods, items that can be used for both civilian and military purposes, and to keep the regime from getting illicit funds from oil smuggling. Bush says: “A change in sanctions should not in any way, shape, or form, embolden Saddam Hussein. He has got to understand that we are going to watch him carefully and, if we catch him developing weapons of mass destruction, we’ll take the appropriate action. And if we catch him threatening his neighbors we will take the appropriate action.” In 2008, former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “Saddam was viewed more as a ‘problem’ to deal with than a ‘grave and gathering danger’ in the early days. Talk centered on if he was developing WMD, not that he was developing them.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 93-94]
Verizon gives the NSA access from within its facilities. [Source: ReallyNews.com]AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth all cooperate with the NSA in monitoring US citizens’ phone and Internet communications (see October 2001). Qwest, however, refuses to cooperate (see February 27, 2001). Qwest officials are unsure that it is legal to hand over customer information to the government without court warrants. The firm’s refusal to participate in the program leaves a gaping hole in the NSA’s database, with the NSA only getting partial coverage of US citizens in the West and Northwest. Until recently, AT&T and other phone companies have routinely insisted on court warrants before turning over call data to government agencies, protocols growing out of the historical concerns of the Bell Telephone system for customer service and privacy. Gene Kimmelman of the Consumers Union will say in 2006 that such insistence on court warrants was a bedrock principle of the Bell systems. “No court order, no customer information—period.” he says. “That’s how it was for decades.” The Bell system was also concerned with following the law, specifically the Communications Act of 1934, which prohibits telephone companies from giving out such information without court orders. President Bush and other government officials will later say that his 2002 executive order allowing the NSA to wiretap American phones without warrants (see Early 2002) gives the telephone companies legal cover, but many legal experts and civil liberties groups disagree. After 9/11, the NSA approaches the four companies with offers to pay for US citizens’ call histories and for updates, which would allow the agency to track citizens’ phone habits. Three of the four agree to the NSA proposal, but again Qwest does not. An AT&T spokesman will say in May 2006, “We do not comment on matters of national security, except to say that we only assist law enforcement and government agencies charged with protecting national security in strict accordance with the law.” BellSouth will say that the company “does not provide any confidential customer information to the NSA or any governmental agency without proper legal authority.” Verizon will add that the company acts “in full compliance with the law and we are committed to safeguarding our customers’ privacy.” Neither AT&T nor Qwest will comment at all. [USA Today, 5/11/2006] The NSA asks Qwest to install monitoring equipment on its “Class 5” switching facilities, which monitor the most localized calls as well as some international traffic. The NSA claims it will only single out foreigners on Qwest’s network. In 2006, a government official will say that the CEO of Qwest, Joe Nacchio, misunderstood what the agency was asking. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]
Qwest Refuses to Cooperate - In 2006, sources will recall that at the time of the NSA requests, Nacchio is so disturbed by the idea of the NSA wiretapping phones without warrants, and is so unsure of what information would be collected and how it might be used, that he decides the company will not cooperate. The NSA tells Qwest and the other companies that not only would it compile and maintain data on US citizens’ phone habits, but it may well share that information with other US government agencies, including the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the FBI. Indeed, the NSA shares what it calls “product” with other intelligence agencies, and perhaps with other governmental agencies. After Nacchio decides not to comply with the NSA’s request, the agency begins pressuring the firm, accusing it of threatening national security and implying that Qwest might not be eligible for future governmental contracts. When Qwest asks the NSA to take its proposal to the FISA Court (FISC), the agency refuses, making Qwest that much more dubious about the NSA operation, especially when NSA lawyers say they won’t take the proposal to FISC because that court “might not agree with them.” The NSA also refuses to ask for authorization from the attorney general’s office. Nacchio will leave Qwest under fire for allegedly misleading shareholders about the company’s financial prospects, but his successor, Richard Notebaert, continues to refuse to cooperate with the NSA. [USA Today, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 5/11/2006] Interestingly, by 2004 the Federal Communications Commission will list Qwest and Verizon as essentially the same company. [Federal Communications Commission, 12/10/2004]
Other Firms Deny Participation - In May 2006, after USA Today reports on the telecom firms’ participation in the surveillance (see May 11, 2006), both Verizon and BellSouth will deny providing the NSA with data on their customers, though they have previously acknowledged their cooperation (see February 5, 2006). A BellSouth spokesman will say, somewhat ingenuously, “We’re not aware of any database that NSA has, so we’re not aware of our customer information being there at all.” And Verizon conspicuously fails to mention possible data from MCI, the long-distance provider it has recently bought. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will say of the various companies’ participations, “The thing that concerns me is some [companies] said yes and some said no” when asked to participate. “If the government really thought this was legal and necessary, why let some say yes and some say no? It’s either legal and necessary, or it’s not.” [USA Today, 5/16/2006]
Entity Tags: Patrick J. Leahy, Qwest, Richard Notebaert, Verizon Communications, National Security Agency, USA Today, George W. Bush, Joe Nacchio, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, BellSouth, Central Intelligence Agency, AT&T, Consumers Union, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Gene Kimmelman, Federal Communications Commission
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
CIA map showing alleged Iraqi WMD sites. [Source: CIA] (click image to enlarge)CIA director George Tenet testifies to Congress that Iraq possesses no weapons of mass destruction and poses no threat to the United State. He says, “We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since [Operation] Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs, although given its past behavior, this type of activity must be regarded as likely.… We assess that since the suspension of [UN] inspections in December of 1998, Baghdad has had the capability to reinitiate both its [chemical and biological weapons] programs… without an inspection monitoring program, however, it is more difficult to determine if Iraq has done so.” He continues, “Moreover, the automated video monitoring systems installed by the UN at known and suspect WMD facilities in Iraq are still not operating. Having lost this on-the-ground access, it is more difficult for the UN or the US to accurately assess the current state of Iraq’s WMD programs.” Rumsfeld also discusses al-Qaeda, calling it "the most immediate and serious threat" to US interests (see February 7, 2001). [Scoop, 6/27/2003]
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says in an interview, "Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat at the present time." [Scoop, 6/27/2003]
President Bush’s first national security directive, NPSD-1, dramatically reorganizes the National Security Council. The directive redefines “security” as not only the defense of the US and its borders, but also explicitly defines it as “the advancement of United States interests around the globe. National security also depends on America’s opportunity to prosper in the world economy.” The directive removes many senior advisers and staff from the flow of information and centralizes almost all security information directly to Bush through National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see February 13, 2001). [US President, 2/13/2001]
According to a book by Jurgen Roth, described by Newsday as “one of Germany’s top investigative reporters,” on this day 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta applies for a job with Lufthansa Airlines at the Frankfurt, Germany, airport. The security post he applies for would give him access to secure areas of the busy international airport. However, when Lufthansa checks his criminal record they find that in 1995 he had been under investigation for petty drug crimes (see 1995), so his application is turned down. Three days later, an Iranian citizen dropping Atta’s name also applies for the same job, and is also turned down. On March 5, a third man applies, with Atta at his side. He tells Lufthansa that he has been a pilot in the Pakistani Air Force. Apparently both the Iranian and Pakistani are members of an Islamic study group with Atta at the Hamburg university they are all attending. While the name of the Pakistani pilot is not revealed in this account, a Pakistani Air Force pilot named Atif bin Mansour is known to have applied together with Atta for a room for a new Islamic study group in early 1999 (see Late 1998-August 10, 1999). After 9/11, Lufthansa Airlines will say they can neither confirm nor deny this account, because all such records for rejected applicants have been routinely deleted. [Roth, 2001, pp. 9f; Newsday, 1/24/2002] In 2007, it will be reported that French intelligence learned before 9/11 of a meeting in early 2000 in which al-Qaeda planned the hijacking of an airliner departing from Frankfurt, and one of the target airliners considered was Lufthansa (see Early 2000).
A joint US-British air force strike team bombs 20 radar and command centers inside Iraq, enforcing the UN no-fly zones in the largest air strikes within Iraq in two years. While the White House is informed of the strikes by a general from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is livid because he feels he hasn’t been given enough information about the strikes quickly enough. Rumsfeld’s information comes to him, by established law and protocol, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry Shelton; thus it could be hours before Rumsfeld learns of such events. Saying, “I’m the secretary of defense. I’m in the chain of command,” Rumsfeld decides to upend the entire system and ensure that he, not Shelton, will be informed first about any such operations. Rumsfeld presses Shelton for information about the reporting of the air strikes: who had selected those targets and why, who had briefed, who had been briefed, and most importantly, why wasn’t Rumsfeld consulted? CNN had reported air strikes in Baghdad, though the actual bases struck were not in the city itself; it looked for a moment if the US had just declared unilateral war on Iraq. Rumsfeld feels misled and ignored. He is the one in the chain of command, he insists, he is the one reporting to the president, so he should be informed first. Shelton replies that he has to know what’s going on, to know what details to press for and what questions to ask, in order to properly inform the Secretary of Defense, who can then properly inform the president. Rumsfeld insists on being informed before Shelton, and demands a top-to-bottom review of the procedures involving the National Military Command Center (NMCC) and detailed timelines of each incident where Shelton was informed before Rumsfeld. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 22-25]
Paul Bremer, who will be appointed the US administrator of Iraq in 2003, says in a speech that the Bush administration is “paying no attention” to terrorism. Bremer says, “What they will do is stagger along until there’s a major incident and then suddenly say, ‘Oh my God, shouldn’t we be organized to deal with this?’” He speaks shortly after chairing the National Commission on Terrorism, a bipartisan body formed during the Clinton administration. [Associated Press, 4/29/2004; CBS News, 4/30/2004; Associated Press, 5/3/2004]
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]
According to his later testimony, Mustafa Abu Jdai, a 28-year-old Jordanian of Palestinian descent living in Tyler, Texas, answers a job offer posted in a Dallas mosque. He then meets with three Arabic-speaking men who offer to pay him to take flying lessons in Texas, Florida, or Oklahoma. He declines the offer. On September 13, 2001, two days after the 9/11 attacks, Jdai will call the FBI to relate his story. From FBI pictures, he recognizes hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. However, the FBI takes him into custody for overstaying his visa. The FBI says he invented his story and failed a polygraph. Although he is married to an American woman, he will be detained for several months and deported. [Time, 10/28/2001; Washington Post, 11/4/2001; Watch, 8/2002, pp. 16 ]
Royce Lamberth’s letter to John Ashcroft, obtained by the 9/11 Timeline by Freedom of Information Act request. [Source: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court]The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) discovers that an application for a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is misleading. The application is for surveillance of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the supporting affidavit was signed by FBI agent Michael Resnick. The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is already investigating dozens of similar errors in FISA warrants for surveillance of al-Qaeda targets in the US (see Summer 2000-September 11, 2001). The application is misleading because its does not accurately describe the “wall” procedures being followed by several FBI field offices. Wall procedures regulate the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and local US attorneys’ offices. The misleading description is also found in another 14 warrant applications for surveillance of Hamas. The impact of the misleading statements in the Hamas investigations has not been disclosed, but in the al-Qaeda cases the wall was breached because criminal agents had unrestricted access to intelligence information (see Summer-October 2000). Royce Lamberth, Presiding Judge on the FISA Court, writes to Attorney General John Ashcroft saying it will no longer accept any applications where the supporting affidavit is signed by Resnick and asking for an immediate inquiry. [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, 3/9/2001 ; New York Times, 9/19/2001; New York Times, 5/27/2002; Washington Post, 8/23/2002; Arab News, 3/3/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 39 ] The Justice Department’s investigation into the misleading applications finds that “none of [them]… were the result of professional misconduct or poor judgement,” but that “a majority of the errors were the result of systemic flaws.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 40 ] Following the discovery of the errors in the FISA applications, surveillance of al-Qaeda and Hamas targets in the US is curtailed (see April 2001). Resnick remains with the bureau and will become head of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in North Carolina and then chief of the Terrorist Identities Group at the FBI’s National Counter Terrorism Center. [US Congress, 3/30/2006; WCNC, 6/20/2006]
Ben Sliney, a former air traffic controller and FAA manager who has been working as a lawyer in the private sector for many years, is offered the position of national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. The offer is made by Jack Kies, the FAA’s manager of tactical operations. Sliney agrees to return to the FAA but asks to work first as a traffic management specialist at the Command Center, to learn the learn the operational details of the center from the ground up. After six months, Kies will again approach Sliney and offer him the job of national operations manager, and Sliney will accept it. His first day in the post will in fact be September 11. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 1-2]
Susan P. Lindauer. [Source: Justin Lane / European Press Photo Agency]Susan Lindauer, an American woman with possible, if mysterious, ties to US intelligence, warns her brother John and a friend of hers named Parke Godfrey to stay away from New York because terrorist attacks are likely to take place soon. John Lindauer, a music producer in Los Angeles, and Godfrey, a professor of computer science at a Canadian university, will later confirm having received the warnings. The source of Susan Lindauer’s fear is unclear. [New York Times Magazine, 8/29/2004] Lindauer is a journalist and press aide with a somewhat erratic career, according to later press accounts. After brief stints at various newspapers and magazines, she has been working on and off in Washington as a public relations aide for members of Congress. In the early 1990s, she joined an informal discussion group of Congressional aides and intelligence professionals who liked to discuss international politics at a Chinese restaurant on Capitol Hill. A member of the group named Paul A. Hoven, a retired military man who served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, soon introduced her to Dr. Richard C. Fuisz. Fuisz, an unusual, globe-trotting physician-businessman, recruited her, according to Lindauer, to serve as an unofficial back-channel go-between with Libya and Iraq. Dr. Fuize, a psychiatrist by training, was identified by a British newspaper as a top CIA officer in Syria during the 1980s. Fuize, Lindauer will claim, was her CIA handler. Lindauer, who proclaims herself a peace activist, will later say that her only interest in her intelligence work was to facilitate peaceful diplomacy between the United States and Iraq and Libya. After the 9/11 attacks, she will maintain her Iraqi contacts and even travel to Baghdad. In 2003, shortly before the the US invasion of Iraq, Lindauer will write to Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, who happens to be a distant relative of hers, to inform him of diplomatic overtures that Iraqi diplomats in New York have asked her to convey. Card will turn over the letter to the FBI, which will lead to Lindauer’s arrest in March, 2004, for being an unregistered agent for Iraq. [New York Times, 3/12/2004; New York Times, 3/12/2004; Washington Post, 3/12/2004; New York Times Magazine, 8/29/2004] But after several years of a convoluted legal process, prosecutors will withdraw all charges against her in January 2009, after court-appointed experts repeatedly find her to be suffering from paranoia and delusions of grandeur, and therefore unfit for trial. [New York Times, 6/18/2008; New York Times, 9/16/2008; KTUU-2 (Anchorage), 1/17/2009]
Neoconservative journalist Lawrence Kaplan argues that the US must withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972) and immediately begin development of a new missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). “[M]issile defense is about preserving America’s ability to wield power abroad,” Kaplan writes. “It’s not about defense. It’s about offense. And that’s exactly why we need it.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 176]
A map showing the location of the collision, and of the Hainan Island airfield where the crippled EP-3 landed. [Source: Military.com]A US EP-3 Aries II spy plane collides with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea. The fighter crashes, killing the pilot; the EP-3 makes an emergency landing at a Chinese air base on China’s Hainan Island, a landing described as illegal by Chinese officials. 24 American crewmen—including three women and eight code-breakers—are taken into custody by the Chinese. The incident is the Bush administration’s first real foreign-policy crisis. [CNN, 4/2001; BBC, 4/5/2001] The precise location of the US plane is in dispute, with US officials saying that the plane was in international airspace when the collision occurred, and Chinese officials saying that the aircraft was over Chinese airspace. [PBS Frontline, 10/18/2001] Some military experts say that the crash is likely the fault of the Chinese pilot, who may have been engaging in what they call a pattern of “deliberate confrontation over the South China Sea, sending its fighter jets to harass American surveillance planes in international airspace.” [Capitalism Magazine, 4/9/2001] Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, commander of the US Pacific Command, supports the experts’ opinion on the Chinese pilots’ behavior towards US aircraft, telling the press, “I must tell you though that the intercepts by Chinese fighters over the past couple months have become more aggressive to the point we felt they were endangering the safety of Chinese and American aircraft. And we launched a protest at the working level. This is not a big deal, but we went to the Chinese and said, ‘Your aircraft are not intercepting in a professional manner. There is a safety issue here.’ So, this was a pattern of what we considered to be increasingly unsafe behavior.” Aviation expert Jim Eckes concurs: “Aviation protocol demands that the quicker plane take steps to avoid the larger, slower aircraft, which in this case was the EP-3 belonging to the US.” [CNN, 4/2/2001] Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) says that the Chinese pilot who died in the collision, Wang Wei, was known to have challenged US surveillance planes before, but this time Wei—who apparently died when he ejected from his aircraft and was pulled into the EP-3’s propellers—“exceeded his grasp.” The Chinese have a different story: “the immediate cause of the collision was the violation of flight rules by the US plane which made a sudden and big movement to veer towards the Chinese plane,” according to a Defense Ministry spokesman. “The US plane’s nose and left wing rammed the tail of one of the Chinese planes causing it to lose control and plunge into the sea.” Analysts from Jane’s Defense say that two Chinese F8 fighter planes “hemmed in” the larger, slower EP-3 in an attempt to make it change course, and thereby caused the collision; one source reports that one of the Chinese fighters was actually flying directly underneath the EP-3. [BBC, 4/5/2001] The aggressive and dangerous behavior of the Chinese pilots is later confirmed by the account of the collision by the pilot of the EP-3, Lieutenant Shane Osborn, who says, “He was harassing us.…The third time he hit us, is that an accident? I don’t know. Do I think he meant to hit us? No. I don’t think he meant to have his plane cut in two and go under the ocean. But his actions were definitely threatening my crew in a very serious manner and we all saw what happened.” [PBS Frontline, 10/18/2001] Almost immediately after the EP-3 lands, Chinese troops board the plane, ignoring a Pentagon warning to stay off the plane; on April 2, US ambassador to China Joseph Prueher confirms this, saying, “There is little doubt they have been over the airplane.” The EP-3 is filled with highly classified surveillance equipment. The US initially blames China for the crash; the Chinese say the opposite. President Bush’s demands that the plane and crew be returned immediately are ignored [CNN, 4/2001; Reuters, 4/4/2001] on April 2, Prueher says, “To date, we have been granted no access to either the crew or the aircraft,” and calls the lack of access “inexplicable and unacceptable.” [CNN, 4/2/2001] On April 11, the Chinese will return the US crew to American custody, but will retain the plane until July 2001 (see April 11, 2001).
The Bush administration conducts what it calls a policy review of US relations with North Korea (see October 2000, Mid-January 2001, and March 7, 2001). The review is led by neoconservative Robert Joseph, the National Security Council’s nonproliferation director and a harsh opponent of any negotiations with North Korea. The session concludes with an impossible hybrid of new policies: a “resolve” to continue negotiations along with a set of non-negotiable demands for North Korea that Joseph and other Bush officials know that nation will refuse to accept. One example is the demand that North Korea adopt “a less threatening conventional military posture,” even though US commanders in South Korea describe the military balance between North and South as stable. The new policy also demands “improved implementation” of the 1994 Agreed Framework accord (see October 21, 1994), in essence a list of further concessions from North Korea without any concessions in return. Another demand is for “100 percent verification” of any missile deal, a practical impossibility. The policy also seems to imply that the US will no longer honor the Framework’s agreement that the US will not military threaten North Korea. President Bush does promise unspecified “reward[s]” if the North Koreans agree to his demands, but, unsurprisingly, the demands are roundly rejected. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 237]
A surveillance program known as Catcher’s Mitt is curtailed, and ten to twenty al-Qaeda wiretaps, as well as some Hamas wiretaps, are not renewed. This follows the discovery of errors in applications for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) related to both al-Qaeda and Hamas and the introduction of new procedures (see Summer 2000-September 11, 2001, Summer-October 2000, October 2000, and March 2001). [New York Times, 9/19/2001; Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Newsweek, 3/29/2004] In addition, other similar programs such as Able Danger and Monarch Passage are shut down at the same time (see (February-March 2001) and January-March 2001).
While monitoring a plot to blow up Mount Rushmore and carry out other attacks (see November 2000-Spring 2002), the Florida FBI investigates Adnan Shukrijumah, an apparent associate of Mohamed Atta (see May 2, 2001). Imran Mandhai is a leader of the Mount Rushmore plot, and he attends the same mosque in the greater Miami area that Shukrijamah does. Mandhai tries to recruit him for the plot. However, Shukrijumah declines and never says anything incriminating within earshot of undercover surveillance teams or an FBI informer using the alias Mohamed who has gotten close to Mandhai. The FBI investigates Shukrijumah anyway, but only finds that he lied on his green card application regarding a prior arrest. The Florida FBI is apparently unaware of his connection to the 9/11 hijackers. An investigator on the case will tell USA Today, “Shukrijumah sensed what Mandhai did not: that ‘Mohamed’ was an FBI informant.” After 9/11 the FBI will give Mandhai a lie detector test and ask him if he knew any of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks. He says he did not, but his answer is judged to be false, and he confesses he was thinking of Shukrijumah. The FBI is also investigating Shukrijumah over another plot at this time (see (Spring 2001)). Shukrijumah apparently disappears from the Miami area around the time Mandhai and Jokhan are first interviewed by the FBI. He then travels around North America (see July-September 2001). [Miami Herald, 3/31/2003; US News and World Report, 4/7/2003; USA Today, 6/15/2003; ABC News, 9/10/2009] The FBI will later find that Shukrijumah is a top al-Qaeda operative and offer a reward of $5 million for information leading to his capture (see March 21, 2003 and After). [Rewards for Justice, 3/2003] The FBI informant named “Mohamed” is likely Elie Assaad, who will later claim he associates some with Shukrijumah and Atta at a Florida mosque around this time (see Early 2001).
Adnan Shukrijumah. [Source: FBI]The FBI investigates Adnan Shukrijumah, an apparent associate of Mohamed Atta (see 2000-2001 and May 2, 2001), in connection with a South Florida-based Islamic militant group that is plotting to recruit operatives and finance attacks and assassinations in the Middle East (see (October 1993-November 2001)). The group includes Jose Padilla associates Adham Amin Hassoun and Mohammed Hesham Youssef, and is connected to Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and the suspect charity Benevolence International Foundation (see 1988-1989). Shukrijumah keeps his distance from the core plotters and despite FBI wiretaps on the group’s phones, the FBI is unable to establish a firm connection between him and the plans. Shukrijumah is also being investigated over a plot to attack various businesses in Florida and blow up Mount Rushmore around this time (see April-May 2001). The FBI later determines that Shukrijumah is a top al-Qaeda operative and will issue a $5 million reward for his capture (see March 21, 2003 and After). [US News and World Report, 4/7/2003; St. Petersburg Times, 11/23/2003; Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2006]
Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism program, sends a memo to FBI Director Louis Freeh warning that Islamic radicals are planning a “terrorist operation.” The memo states that “Sunni extremists with links to Ibn al Kahhatb, an extremist leader in Chechnya, and to Osama bin Laden [have been involved in] serious operational planning… since late 2000, with an intended culmination in late spring 2001.” Watson says the planning was sparked by the renewal of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000. “[A]ll the players are heavily intertwined,” the memo notes. Additionally, the memo says that “[m]ultiple sources also suggest that [bin Laden’s] organization is planning a terrorist attack against US interests.” The memo is also sent to other FBI officials, such as International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS) chief Michael Rolince, who will later be involved in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui (see Late August 2001 and (August 30-September 10, 2001)) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/2001 ] Based on this report, ITOS sends an e-mail (see April 13, 2001) to all field offices, asking agents to help identify information pertaining to the “current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism.” The e-mail does not mention Ibn Khattab. [Associated Press, 3/21/2006] These plans may be for the 9/11 attacks—at least some of the alleged hijackers are linked to bin Laden (see January 5-8, 2000), and Zacarias Moussaoui is linked to Ibn Khattab (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Some of the hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000). Officials at FBI headquarters will later refuse a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings saying they believe Ibn Khattab is not closely connected to Osama bin Laden and is not hostile to the US (see August 22, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001).
A National Security (NSA) linguist who only allows himself to be identified to the media as “J” warns his superiors at the agency that terrorists may be planning to hijack passenger planes to ram into buildings, and that security measures need to be implemented to prevent this. Instead, J is ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation. (J was given similar treatment in another instance eight years before; see September 11, 1993). J will later claim that NSA officials dismissed his warnings, and instead labeled him as “obsessed” with the idea of a “kamikaze” threat because of time he had spent in Japan. In 2006, J will say that any time his analysis countered conventional wisdom, he was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations. He will eventually develop an irregular heartbeat due to the stress of anticipating further retaliatory, potentially career-damaging psychological evaluations. “I believe it was retaliation, but how do you prove that?” he will ask. J will spend his last decade at NSA with no promotion or raise, and will say that another linguist left the agency during that time out of disgust with what was happening. “Who was going to listen to us? Who could do anything anyway?” he asks in 2006. In 2006, other current and former NSA officials will claim that the NSA routinely uses unfavorable psychological evaluations to retaliate against whistleblowers and those employees who come into conflict with superiors (see January 25-26, 2006). [Cybercast News Service, 1/26/2006] It is not clear whether J’s warnings are related to the 33 other warnings picked up by NSA analysts during this same time period (see May-July 2001.)
According to FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, “Four months before 9/11”, FBI monitoring overhears Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz “discussing with the Turkish ambassador in Washington an arrangement whereby the US would invade Iraq and divide the country.… They were negotiating what Turkey required in exchange for allowing an attack from Turkish soil.” National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, later a critic of the Iraq War, is initially in favor of the plan, but will later drop his support when it becomes clear Turkish demands for control of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq will not be granted. [The American Conservative, 11/1/2009]
President Bush gives a speech at the National Defense University outlining what he calls a “new strategic framework” for the nation’s strategic defense policy. “This afternoon, I want us to think back some 30 years to a far different time in a far different world,” he tells his listeners. “The United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a hostile rivalry.… Our deep differences were expressed in a dangerous military confrontation that resulted in thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at each other on hair-trigger alert. Security of both the United States and the Soviet Union was based on a grim premise: that neither side would fire nuclear weapons at each other, because doing so would mean the end of both nations.” Bush is referring to the concept of “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD, which has driven the policies of the US and the former Soviet Union since the 1950s. “We even went so far as to codify this relationship in a 1972 ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty (see May 26, 1972), based on the doctrine that our very survival would best be insured by leaving both sides completely open and vulnerable to nuclear attack,” he says.
A Different Threat - Times have now changed: “Today, the sun comes up on a vastly different world.… Today’s Russia is not yesterday’s Soviet Union.… Yet, this is still a dangerous world, a less certain, a less predictable one. More nations have nuclear weapons and still more have nuclear aspirations. Many have chemical and biological weapons. Some already have developed… ballistic missile technology.… And a number of these countries are spreading these technologies around the world. Most troubling of all, the list of these countries includes some of the world’s least-responsible states. Unlike the Cold War, today’s most urgent threat stems not from thousands of ballistic missiles in the Soviet hands, but from a small number of missiles in the hands of these states, states for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life.” Bush cites the example of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who, he says, could have forced a very different outcome to the 1991 Gulf War (see January 16, 1991 and After) had he “been able to blackmail with nuclear weapons.” Hussein is an exemplar of today’s hate-driven dictators, Bush asserts: “Like Saddam Hussein, some of today’s tyrants are gripped by an implacable hatred of the United States of America. They hate our friends, they hate our values, they hate democracy and freedom and individual liberty. Many care little for the lives of their own people. In such a world, Cold War deterrence is no longer enough.”
ABM Treaty Now a Hindrance to US Security - “To maintain peace, to protect our own citizens and our own allies and friends, we must seek security based on more than the grim premise that we can destroy those who seek to destroy us,” Bush says. “Today’s world requires a new policy, a broad strategy of active non-proliferation, counter proliferation and defenses.… We need new concepts of deterrence that rely on both offensive and defensive forces. Deterrence can no longer be based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation.… We need a new framework that allows us to build missile defenses to counter the different threats of today’s world. To do so, we must move beyond the constraints of the 30-year-old ABM Treaty. This treaty does not recognize the present, or point us to the future. It enshrines the past. No treaty that prevents us from addressing today’s threats, that prohibits us from pursuing promising technology to defend ourselves, our friends and our allies is in our interests or in the interests of world peace.… We can, and will, change the size, the composition, the character of our nuclear forces in a way that reflects the reality that the Cold War is over.” Bush is heralding his intention of withdrawing from the 1972 ABM Treaty (see December 13, 2001). Bush says of the treaty: “We should leave behind the constraints of an ABM Treaty that perpetuates a relationship based on distrust and mutual vulnerability. This Treaty ignores the fundamental breakthroughs in technology during the last 30 years. It prohibits us from exploring all options for defending against the threats that face us, our allies and other countries. That’s why we should work together to replace this Treaty with a new framework that reflects a clear and clean break from the past, and especially from the adversarial legacy of the Cold War.” [White House, 5/1/2001; CNN, 5/1/2001; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 171-172]
An Old Response to a New Threat - Author J. Peter Scoblic later calls Bush’s rationale “disingenuous.” He explains: “Conservatives had wanted to field missile defenses ever since the Soviet Union had developed ICBMs.… But somewhat paradoxically, following the collapse of the Soviet Union—and with it the likelihood of of a missile attack—conservative calls for missile defense increased” (see September 27, 1994). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 171-172] Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace calls Bush’s proposal “tragically mistaken.” [PBS, 5/1/2001] Senator John Kerry (D-MA), an outspoken opponent of Bush’s foreign policies, says: “This is essentially a satisfy-your-base, political announcement. It serves no other purpose.” [New York Times, 5/1/2001]
Congressional Democrats are highly critical of President Bush’s proposal to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and instead implement a “new strategic framework” for the US’s defense against nuclear weapons (see May 1, 2001). Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says: “Many in the administration… argue that deploying an ineffective defense can still be an effective system simply because it would cause uncertainty in the minds of our adversaries. That position is based on the flawed assumption that a president would be willing to gamble our nation’s security on a bluff, and that no adversary would be willing or able to call such a bluff. Instead of increasing our security, pursuing a strategy that cannot achieve its goal could leave our nation less secure and our world less stable.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), an acknowledged expert on US defense capabilities, says, “To abandon the ABM with the hope to get that [missile defense] capacity somewhere down the line would damage the security interests of the United States.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) notes: “If you can’t shoot down 100 percent of them [nuclear missiles], you haven’t gotten rid of mutually assured destruction. And if you can, you set off an arms race to develop a capacity that can’t be touched by a missile defense system.” Perhaps most disparaging is a comment by Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) who says that the new missile defense systems under consideration are “more appropriate to [film studio] Dreamworks and [film director] Steven Spielberg than to actual implementation.” [Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 5/2/2001]
Senator Pat Roberts. [Source: Publicity photo]Based on concerns that the US is unprepared for a terrorist attack on its soil, the Republican chairmen of three Senate committees—appropriations, armed services and intelligence—arrange three days of hearings to explore how to better coordinate efforts at preventing and responding to terrorist attacks within the United States. Eighteen government officials testify, including CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Before the hearings commence, Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan) tells reporters, “The United States is very likely to suffer, on our soil, an attack by a weapon of mass destruction, by a terrorist group or cell. It should come as no surprise this nation is not prepared for such an attack.” [Washington Post, 5/9/2001; Red Cross, 5/10/2001] In his testimony at the hearings, John Ashcroft warns, “It is clear that American citizens are the target of choice of international terrorists. Americans comprise only about 5 percent of the world’s population. However, according to State Department statistics, during the decade of the 1990s, 36 percent of all worldwide terrorist acts were directed against US interests. Although most of these attacks occurred overseas, international terrorists have shown themselves willing to reach within our borders to carry out their cowardly acts.” [US Congress. Senate. Appropriations Committee, 5/9/2001] Yet in a letter describing the agenda of the new administration that he sends to department heads the day after giving this testimony, Ashcroft does not mention terrorism (see May 10, 2001). [New York Times, 2/28/2002] Also testifying at the hearings, FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh announces he will soon be establishing an Office of National Preparedness to coordinate efforts at responding to terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 5/9/2001] On the day the hearings start, President Bush announces that he is putting Vice President Dick Cheney in charge of overseeing a coordinated effort to address the threat posed to the United States by chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (see May 8, 2001). [White House, 5/8/2001]
According to Kathleen Hensman, a librarian at the Delray Beach, Florida public library, several hijackers use the library’s Internet computers during the summer months. She will remember them because, on one occasion, Marwan Alshehhi asks her about any good restaurants in the city. On another occasion, Mohand Alshehri and another individual keep staring at her while using a terminal. “They wanted to be aware of what I was doing,” she will say. [Washington Post, 9/17/2001 ; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/30/2001; New York Times, 11/23/2001]
Congressman Porter Goss (R-FL), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, later says on the intelligence monitoring of US-designated terrorist groups, “The chatter level [goes] way off the charts” around this time and stays high until 9/11. Given Goss’s history as a CIA operative, presumably he is kept “in the know” to some extent. [Los Angeles Times, 5/18/2002] A later Congressional report will state: “Some individuals within the intelligence community have suggested that the increase in threat reporting was unprecedented, at least in terms of their own experience.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002] Two counterterrorism officials later describe the alerts of this summer as “the most urgent in decades.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
In response to some hijacking incidents abroad, an FAA advisory committee looks at the FAA’s longstanding “preemptive surrender” approach regarding the response to attempted hijackings. [Freedom Daily, 12/7/2005] This policy, called the Common Strategy, teaches “flight crews that the best way to deal with hijackers [is] to accommodate their demands, get the plane to land safely, and then let law enforcement or the military handle the situation,” according to the 9/11 Commission. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 85] Less than three months before 9/11, the FAA advisory committee decides to upgrade the training manuals and official guidance for responding to hijacking attempts. The updated materials are to be available some time in the fall of this year. FAA official Mike Morse says the new scenario prepared for in training “will be one involving a team of hijackers with a higher degree of sophistication and training.” In addition, the scenario will “replicate what we’ve faced in some of the international hijackings abroad in recent years.” [Freedom Daily, 12/7/2005] An exercise to study the new policy will take place during the summer (see Summer 2001).
A Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile. [Source: US Air Force]An armed version of the Predator drone successfully passes a test showing it is ready for use in Afghanistan. The Predator had been used successfully in 2000 to spot bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000), but it was not used in early 2001 while an armed version was prepared (see January 10-25, 2001). A Hellfire missile was successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. [CBS News, 6/25/2003] In early June 2001, a duplicate of the brick house where bin Laden is believed to be living in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is built in Nevada, and destroyed by a Predator missile. The test shows that the missile fired from miles away would have killed anyone in the building, and one participant calls this the long sought after “holy grail” that could kill bin Laden within minutes of finding him. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] But National Security Adviser Rice reportedly wants to use the Predator only after an overall strategy for confronting al-Qaeda is worked out, and no such plan is close to being ready. [Associated Press, 6/22/2003] She and her deputy Steve Hadley decide to delay reconnaissance flights until all the arrangements for using the armed version can be worked out. In July 2001, Hadley directs the military to have armed Predators ready to deploy no later than September 1. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main hold up seems to be bureaucratic. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke repeatedly advocates using the Predator, armed or unarmed. However, infighting between the CIA and the Air Force over who would pay for it and take responsibility delays its use. Clarke later says, “Every time we were ready to use it, the CIA would change its mind.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The issue comes to a head in early September 2001, but even then, a decision to use the Predator is delayed (see September 4, 2001). [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The armed Predator will finally be used in Afghanistan just days after 9/11. [Associated Press, 6/25/2003]
Osama bin Laden is pictured on the cover of the Amalgam Virgo exercise.
[Source: NORAD]The US military conducts Amalgam Virgo 01, a multi-agency live-fly homeland security exercise sponsored by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and involving the hypothetical scenario of a cruise missile being launched by “a rogue [government] or somebody” from a barge off the East Coast. Osama bin Laden is pictured on the cover of the proposal for the exercise. [American Forces Press Service, 6/4/2002; Arkin, 2005, pp. 253; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] The exercise takes place at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Drones simulating cruise missiles are launched from Tyndall, head out to sea, circle a ship as if they are being launched from there, and then head back to land. Air Force F-16s, Navy gunners, and Army missile defense units attempt to find and track the drones. The Coast Guard attempts to catch the ship serving as the dummy launch site. [Tampa Tribune, 6/3/2001] Another scenario in the exercise involves a suicide mission in which a Haitian man with AIDS attempts to deliberately crash a small private plane into NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) at Tyndall AFB. [US Air Force, 2001] The next Amalgam Virgo exercise, scheduled to take place in 2002, will involve two simultaneous commercial aircraft hijackings. Planning for that exercise will begin in July 2001 (see July 2001). [American Forces Press Service, 6/4/2002; USA Today, 4/18/2004]
The FAA takes part in a training exercise based around the hijacking of a Boeing 767, the same kind of aircraft as those that hit the Twin Towers on 9/11. The exercise is conducted as part of efforts to update the strategy for dealing with hijackings. Its participants include the FAA, the FBI’s Miami field office, Miami-Dade County Police Department, a SWAT team, and Varig Airlines, and it utilizes a 767. Further details are unknown, but the hijacking exercise presumably takes place somewhere in the Miami area of Florida. [9/11 Commission, 9/15/2003, pp. 6 ]
The New York Times will later report that, according to senior government officials, “A top secret report warned top officials of the FBI in the months before Sept. 11 that the bureau faced significant terrorist threats from Middle Eastern groups like al-Qaeda but lacked enough resources to meet the threat.” The internal assessment finds that virtually every major FBI field office is undermanned for evaluating and dealing with the threat from groups like al-Qaeda. The report gives detailed recommendations and proposes spending increases to address the problem. [New York Times, 6/1/2002] The report is the result of “MAXCAP 05,” short for maximum feasible capability, an evaluation effort launched by Dale Watson, the head of the new counterterrorism division created in 1999 (see December 1999), to identify the FBI’s weaknesses in counterterrorism and remedy them by 2005. It is presented to Robert Mueller upon his appointment as FBI director in early September. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 78-79; Zegart, 2007, pp. 142] The report will not be made public. [New York Times, 6/27/2007] However, in August 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard meets Attorney General John Ashcroft to ask for supplemental funding for counterterrorism, but his request is turned down. On September 10, 2001, Ashcroft rejects a proposed $58 million increase in FBI counterterrorism funding for the next year’s budget (see September 10, 2001).
Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” [Soufan, 2011, pp. 243]
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-292 ]
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537]
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Entity Tags: Dina Corsi, Khalid Almihdhar, David Kelley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clark Shannon, Margaret Gillespie, Ali Soufan, Steve Bongardt, Central Intelligence Agency, Russell Fincher, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Lawrence Wright
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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 dozen leading politicians, scholars, journalists, and security experts meet at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for an exercise simulating the consequences of a biological terrorist attack, in this case the release of smallpox by terrorists. The participants include: Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), who plays the president of the United States; former presidential adviser David Gergen as the national security advisor; Governor Frank Keating (R-OK), who plays himself; James Woolsey playing the CIA director; and Jerome Hauer as the FEMA director. The exercise, named “Dark Winter,” starts with three states suddenly confronted with an outbreak of smallpox. Americans are no longer vaccinated against this virus because it was eradicated decades ago. Thousands quickly fall ill. The medical system is overwhelmed. Masses start to flee from the infected areas, but are stopped at the borders of neighboring states. Faced with chaos, the exercise ends with the president declaring martial law. Reviewing the exercise, participants and observers agree that the nation is vulnerable to biological terrorism and unprepared for an actual attack. [Time, 9/24/2001; US Medicine, 12/2001; Center for Biosecurity, 2002; O'Toole, Mair, and Inglesby, 4/1/2002] In the days following 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney will watch a video report on the exercise, and, at his urging, the National Security Council will receive a “harrowing” and “gruesome” briefing on September 20, on the possibility of a biological attack. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 3-4] At about the same time as Dark Winter is taking place, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) returns smallpox to the list of reportable diseases. Smallpox had been removed from the list decades ago after worldwide eradication. The agency says it is increasing its surveillance efforts of infectious pathogens that could be used in a biological terrorist attack. [United Press International, 5/31/2001] After the 9/11 attacks, public health officials will deny that the re-listing of smallpox was the result of any specific intelligence warnings. [UPI, 10/22/2001]
At a joint press conference in Genoa, Italy, US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss the necessity of maintaining the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), a treaty from which Bush and many American conservatives wish to withdraw (see May 1, 2001 and June 2001). Putin says, “As far as the ABM Treaty and the issues of offensive arms, I’ve already said we’ve come to the conclusion that [the] two of these issues have to be discussed as a set… one and the other are very closely tied.” Bush, who agrees with his administration’s conservatives, counters that the two nations do not need such treaties because they have “a new relationship based on trust.” Putin responds: “The world is far from having international relations that are built solely on trust, unfortunately. That’s why it is so important today to rely on the existing foundation of treaties and agreements in the arms control and disarmament areas.” Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, dismisses the idea that the Russians could distrust the US as “silly.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 175]
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]
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), both future members of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, appear on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer,” and warn of potential attacks by bin Laden. Feinstein says, “One of the things that has begun to concern me very much as to whether we really have our house in order, intelligence staff have told me that there is a major probability of a terrorist incident within the next three months.” [CNN, 3/2002]
FBI agent Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” [Fortune, 5/22/2002; Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529]
Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. [Associated Press, 5/22/2002] Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.”
(see Summer 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001]
Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” [Fortune, 5/22/2002] , so they can later hijack aircraft. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” [Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. [New York Times, 5/4/2002]
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/10/2001 ; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” [Insight, 5/27/2002] However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002]
Entity Tags: Jennifer Maitner, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fred Stremmel, Ghassan al Sharbi, Hani Hanjour, I-49, Jack Cloonan, Elizabeth Matson, Islamic Army of the Caucasus, David Frasca, Michael Butsch, Al-Muhajiroun, Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Rod Middleton, Osama bin Laden, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Mark Connor, Ken Williams, Abu Zubaida
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Thomas Pickard. [Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation]Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard attempts to brief Attorney General John Ashcroft on the al-Qaeda terrorist threat for a second time (see June 28, 2001), but Ashcroft is uninterested and says he does not want to hear about it, according to Pickard’s later account.
'I Don't Want to Hear about It Anymore' - According to a June 24, 2004 letter from Pickard to the 9/11 Commission, Pickard opens the briefing by discussing “counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters.” Pickard’s letter will go on to say: “The fourth item I discussed was the continuing high level of ‘chatter’ by al-Qaeda members. The AG [attorney general] told me, ‘I don’t want to hear about it anymore, there’s nothing I can do about it.’ For a few seconds, I did not know what to say, then I replied that he should meet with the director of the CIA to get a fuller briefing on the matter.… I resumed my agenda but I was upset about [Ashcroft’s] lack of interest. He did not tell me nor did I learn until April 2004 that the CIA briefed him on the increase in chatter and level of threat on July 5, 2001” (see July 5, 2001 and July 11-17, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] In testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Pickard will affirm that, “at least on two occasions” he briefed Ashcroft on a rising threat level and concerns about an impending attack, which were being reported by the CIA. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will ask Pickard if he has told Commission staff that Ashcroft “did not want to hear about this anymore,” to which Pickard will respond, “That is correct.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004 ] According to Pickard’s later recollection: “Before September 11th, I couldn’t get half an hour on terrorism with Ashcroft. He was only interested in three things: guns, drugs, and civil rights.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 293]
Differing Accounts of What Was Said at the Meeting - According to the 9/11 Commission’s June 3, 2004 record of its interview with Watson, “Pickard told Watson that he was briefing Ashcroft on counterterrorism, and Ashcroft told him that he didn’t want to hear ‘anything about these threats,’ and that ‘nothing ever happened.’” [9/11 Commission, 6/3/2004 ] Author Philip Shenon will write about this meeting in his 2008 book, The Commission, based on interviews with Pickard and “Commission investigators who researched his allegations,” but none of the quotes or representations of fact in Shenon’s text will cite a specific source. Shenon will make reference to Mark Jacobson and Caroline Barnes as being the 9/11 Commission staffers who interviewed Pickard. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 240-248, 433] According to Shenon’s version of the meeting, Ashcroft replies to Pickard: “I don’t want you to ever talk to me about al-Qaeda, about these threats. I don’t want to hear about al-Qaeda anymore.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 247] Ashcroft, in testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission, will dismiss Pickard’s allegation, saying, “I did never speak to him saying that I did not want to hear about terrorism.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004 ] Pickard will respond to Ashcroft’s testimony in his 2004 letter, saying, “What [Ashcroft] stated to the Commission under oath is correct, but they did not ask him, ‘Did he tell me he did not want to hear about the chatter and level of threat?’ which is the conversation to which I testified under oath.” [Pickard, 6/24/2004] The deputy attorney general at the time of the meeting, Larry D. Thompson, and Ashcroft’s chief of staff, David T. Ayres, will sign a letter to the 9/11 Commission on July 12, 2004, in which they say they are responding to Pickard’s allegation that when he briefed Ashcroft “on the al-Qaeda threat prior to September 11, 2001, the attorney general responded that he did not want to hear such information anymore.” The letter will say Thompson and Ayres were present at that and the other regular meetings between Pickard and Ashcroft, and “the attorney general made no such statement in that or any other meeting.” [Ayres, 7/12/2004] The 9/11 Commission Report will conclude, “We cannot resolve this dispute.” [Commission, 2004]
Differing Accounts of Who Was at the Meeting - Pickard’s 2004 letter will state that Ayres is at the meeting, but has left the room prior to that part of the meeting, as he does not have the required level of security clearance. Pickard’s letter indicated that the FBI Assistant Director for Criminal Investigations, Ruben Garcia, is at the meeting and also witnesses the exchange. [Pickard, 6/24/2004] Shenon’s book puts Garcia at the meeting, but does not make reference to Garcia’s account of what is said there. Also, in the notes to Shenon’s book, it will not say that he interviewed Garcia. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 247-248, 433] According to a June 22, 2004 NBC News report: “Commission investigators also tracked down another FBI witness at the meeting that day, Ruben Garcia… Several sources familiar with the investigation say Garcia confirmed to the Commission that Ashcroft did indeed dismiss Pickard’s warnings about al-Qaeda.” Furthermore, “Pickard did brief Ashcroft on terrorism four more times that summer, but sources say the acting FBI director never mentioned the word al-Qaeda again in Ashcroft’s presence—until after Sept. 11.” [MSNBC, 6/22/2004] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, “Ruben Garcia… attended some of Pickard’s briefings of the attorney general but not the one at which Pickard alleges Ashcroft made the statement.” [Commission, 2004, pp. 536n52]
Ashcroft Denies FBI Requests and Appeals, Cuts Counterterrorism Funding - Following the meeting, on July 18, Ashcroft will reject the FBI’s request for an increase in funding for counterterrorism, and instead propose cuts to that division (see July 18, 2001). Pickard will appeal this decision; Ashcroft will reject the appeal on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, John Ashcroft, Mark Jacobson, Thomas Pickard, David Ayres, Dale Watson, 9/11 Commission, Caroline Barnes, Central Intelligence Agency, Philip Shenon, Al-Qaeda, Ruben Garcia
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Department of Energy safety specialist Chris Steele reads a memo that alerts him to the existence of a secret nuclear waste dump at the Los Alamos nuclear facility. The waste is being stored in an unsecured, unprotected steel building on site, and has been on site for five years. A shocked Steele immediately shuts down the nuclear dump, forcing it to be relocated to protected areas. Steele notes that the existence of such a waste dump is a violation of the law and a serious threat to the health and safety of workers, the public, and the environment. Steele recalls that a wildfire burned part of the Los Alamos facility in May 2000; only the fact that the fire did not jump the road across from the waste dump saved it from going up in radioactive flames. [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Attorney General John Ashcroft replies to the FBI’s annual budget proposal. The proposal had asked for a sizable increase for only one area—counterterrorism. However, Ashcroft says that the FBI’s budget for counterterrorism should be cut, not increased. The budgets for some other divisions will also be cut. Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard asks Ashcroft if the FBI can appeal and Ashcroft agrees. Pickard and his top assistants discuss what should be appealed and decide only to appeal the counterterrorism cuts, as they feel that this is “the most important thing,” according to Pickard. The appeal will be denied on September 10 (see September 10, 2001). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 249]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice publicly joins the chorus of Bush administration officials demanding that the US withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972, May 1, 2001 and June 2001). Rice, an expert on the former Soviet Union, describes herself as a former “high priestess of arms control” who has changed her thinking. She says there is no longer a reason to discuss respective numbers of ballistic missiles held by the US and Russia, or, as she says, no further reason to debate “how many warheads could dance on the head of an SS-18.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 7/16/2001; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 184]
The FBI’s New York field office, which specializes in international terrorism, receives Ken Williams’ Phoenix Memo, but only briefly checks the named radicals and does not respond to Williams. In the memo, Williams noted that there is a suspiciously large number of Islamic extremists learning to fly in Arizona. Some of them will turn out to be connected to 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour (see July 10, 2001). Williams sent the memo to FBI headquarters (see July 27, 2001 and after) and the I-49 squad in the New York FBI field office. In New York, the memo is read by FBI agent Jack Cloonan, a member of the I-49 squad. Cloonan believes that the memo has a “glaring deficiency,” as he thinks bin Laden does not have a support operation in Arizona any more. He forms the opinion that William’s theory and conclusions are “faulty.” However, two of the hijackers were in Arizona in early 2001 (see December 12, 2000-March 2001) and some of the people named in the memo will later be linked to bin Laden (see October 1996-Late April 1999). In August 2001, Cloonan will ask, “Who’s going to conduct the thirty thousand interviews? When the f_ck do we have time for this?” Nonetheless, he checks out the eight names mentioned in the memo. He will apparently find nothing, although several individuals associated with the Phoenix cell are Sunni extremists (see November 1999-August 2001). The memo is also read by an analyst and an auditor in New York while they are researching other matters, and Cloonan will tell the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) he may have discussed the memo with some of his colleagues. The OIG’s report will say Cloonan told investigators that “he did not contact Williams or anyone else in Phoenix to discuss the [memo].” However, in a 2006 book author Lawrence Wright, citing an interview with Cloonan, will say that Cloonan spoke to Williams’ supervisor in Phoenix about it. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 77-9 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 350, 426] The I-49 squad possibly forwards the memo to the Alec Station bin Laden unit at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see (July 27, 2001)).
Ratcheting up the anti-Iraq rhetoric in the press, neoconservative Reuel Marc Gerecht writes in the Weekly Standard that the US is a “cowering superpower” for not directly challenging Iraq, and demands that President Bush explain “how we will live with Saddam [Hussein] and his nuclear weapons.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 206]
Gregg Chatterton. [Source: Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post]Pharmacist Gregg Chatterton approaches two men—later identified as 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi—after observing them spending a suspiciously long time in the skin care aisle of his drugstore, Huber Healthmart Drugs in Delray Beach, Florida. “My hands. They’re itching and they’re burning,” says Atta. Chatterton will later recall: “Both [of Atta’s] hands were red from the wrist down. If you filled your sink with bleach and stuck your hands in there for six hours, they would come out red, and that is what they looked like.” Asked the cause of his skin irritation, Atta replies evasively. After recommending a particular lotion, Chatterton is about to turn away when Atta forcefully slaps his hand against the druggist’s chest and says, “My friend, he’s got a cough.” Chatterton gives Alshehhi a bottle of Robitussin. Chatterton will remember the pair when the FBI comes calling a few weeks later. He will say, “When somebody touches you like that, you remember that customer.” According to the St. Petersburg Times, the incident will give rise “to the theory that Atta irritated his hands while handling anthrax” (See also October 14, 2001 and March-April 2002). [Los Angeles Times, 10/13/2001; US News and World Report, 10/28/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 9/1/2002]
[Source: Disney Enterprises/ Publicity photo]Actor James Woods, flying first class on an airplane, notices four Arabic-looking men, the only other people in the first class section. He concludes they are Islamic militants intent on hijacking the plane, acting very strangely (for instance, only talking in whispers). [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] He tells a flight attendant, “I think this plane is going to be hijacked,” adding, “I know how serious it is to say this.” He conveys his worries to the pilots, and they assure him that the cockpit would be locked. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] The flight staff later notifies the FAA about these suspicious individuals. Though the government will not discuss this event, it is highly unlikely that any action is taken regarding the flight staff’s worries [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] Woods will not be interviewed by the FBI until after 9/11. Woods will say the FBI believes that all four men took part in the 9/11 attacks, and the flight he was on was a practice flight for them. [O'Reilly Factor, 2/14/2002] Woods believes one was Khalid Almihdhar and another was Hamza Alghamdi. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] The FBI later will report that this may have been one of a dozen test run flights starting as early as January (see May 24-August 14, 2001). Flight attendants and passengers on other flights later recall men looking like the hijackers who took pictures of the cockpit aboard flights and/or took notes. [Associated Press, 5/29/2002] The FBI has not been able to find any evidence of hijackers on the flight manifest for Woods’ flight. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002]
After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001), the FBI’s Minneapolis field office becomes very concerned that he may be part of a larger operation involving hijacked aircraft and that he represents a real threat to US national security. One of the agents, Harry Samit, will later say that he and his colleagues are “obsessed” with Moussaoui. Samit sends over 70 communications warning about Moussaoui to the following:
The Hezbollah, bin Laden, and Radical Fundamentalist Units at FBI headquarters (see August 20-September 11, 2001);
Another FBI field office (see August 23, 2001);
The CIA (see August 24, 2001);
The FBI’s offices in Paris and London;
The Secret Service;
The Immigration and Naturalization Service; and
Another intelligence agency (possibly the National Security Agency).
While some of these bodies are responsive (see August 22, 2001 and August 24, 2001), Samit and his colleagues in Minnesota are forced to engage in a running battle with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, which obstructs their attempts to obtain a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings. Samit will later accuse the RFU of “criminal negligence” because they were trying to “run out the clock” to deport Moussaoui, instead of prosecuting him. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 101-221 ; USA Today, 3/9/2006; Washington Post, 3/21/2006]
Hussein al-Attas. [Source: Public domain]Hours after Zacarias Moussaoui is taken into custody in Minnesota, his friend and roommate Hussein al-Attas is interviewed by the FBI. The two men had recently driven together to Minnesota from Oklahoma (see August 10-11, 2001).
According to a summary of the interview written at the time, “Al-Attas indicated that Moussaoui believes that it is acceptable to kill civilians who harm Muslims and that he approves of martyrs.”
Al-Attas says Moussaoui talked about holy war every day when they roomed together.
When asked if he had ever heard Moussaoui make a plan to kill those who harm Muslims, “Al-Attas admit[s] that he may have heard him do so, but that because it is not in [al-Attas’] own heart to carry out acts of this nature, he claimed that he kept himself from actually hearing and understanding.”
Al-Attas says Moussaoui holds strong anti-American views and might be willing to act on his beliefs.
Al-Attas describes Moussaoui as so secretive that he refuses to give his full name, identifying himself only as “Shaqil.”
He also says that Moussaoui told him “true” Muslims must prepare themselves to fight and they should understand the suffering of Muslims in places like Palestine and Kosovo.
He mentions that he and Moussaoui are carrying fighting gloves and shin guards to practice martial arts as part of Moussaoui’s philosophy that Muslims should be ready to fight nonbelievers.
He has not heard Moussaoui mention any specific terrorist plot, but says that Moussaoui “is suspicious to me, too.”
FBI agents interview al-Attas again the following day, then charge him with violating the terms of his student visa by working at a mosque in Oklahoma, and arrest him. During the second interview, al-Attas says that Moussaoui follows the teachings of a sheikh whose name he would not disclose to him (see August 17, 2001). The agents contact FBI supervisors in Washington to seek approval to get a warrant to search Moussaoui’s computer. The supervisors are aware of what al-Attas said in the interview, but nevertheless they tell the Minnesota FBI agents that they do not want to attempt to get the warrant because it has not been shown that Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. The New York Times will note that the content of al-Attas’ interview “raise[s] new questions about whether top [FBI] officials… were aggressive enough in responding to that information.” [Washington Post, 1/31/2002; New York Times, 5/24/2002; Associated Press, 3/21/2006] Al-Attas will be arrested shortly after 9/11 and held as a material witness. He will later plead guilty to lying about Moussaoui. He lied in claiming that he did not know Moussaoui’s real name, lied about plans to go with Moussaoui to New York City in late August 2001, lied about Moussaoui’s desire to participate in holy war, and lied about a planned trip to speak to religious scholars who would encourage al-Attas to participate in holy war. He will be sentenced to time served, but will be kept imprisoned until the conclusion of Moussaoui’s trial in 2006 (see March 6-May 4, 2006). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/22/2002; Associated Press, 10/22/2002] It is also later revealed that Moussaoui had recently convinced al-Attas to fight in Chechnya in order to prepare for holy war. [Wall Street Journal, 2/4/2002] Furthermore, the person who attempts to post bond for al-Attas had been the subject of a full-field FBI international terrorism investigation in Oklahoma. This unnamed person was a recruiter for a radical Palestinian group and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] In post-9/11 media accounts, al-Attas is generally portrayed as someone who had been innocently and accidentally caught up with Moussaoui. But it appears that in the weeks before 9/11, US intelligence will consider the possibility that al-Attas may have been plotting with Moussaoui. For instance, a CIA cable that will be sent on August 24 is titled “Subjects Involved in Suspicious 747 Flight Training,” (see August 24, 2001) one that will be sent on August 28 has Moussaoui and al-Attas’ names as the title. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/22/2002; Associated Press, 10/22/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 540]
The FBI fails to inform its own head of the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui. It is unclear how this failure occurs. The highest FBI official to be informed of Moussaoui’s arrest is apparently Michael Rolince, head of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section (see Late August 2001), but it seems he fails to pass the information on. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275] Thomas Pickard, who is acting FBI director at this time, will later blame CIA director George Tenet, who was briefed repeatedly on the case (see August 23, 2001), for not informing him of Moussaoui’s arrest, but Tenet will comment: “I was stunned to hear [Pickard’s comments] suggesting that I had somehow failed to notify him about Moussaoui. Failed to tell him? Hell, it was the FBI’s case, their arrest. I had no idea that the Bureau wasn’t aware of what its own people were doing.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200-201]
Following the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI fails to brief the Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG) chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke at the National Security Council (NSC) on the case. CIA director George Tenet will later say that briefing the CSG on such an arrest is “standard practice.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200] In July 2001, Clarke had told the FBI he wanted to be informed of anything unusual, even if a sparrow fell from a tree (see Shortly After July 5, 2001).
After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested, he consents to be interviewed on the day of the arrest and the next day by FBI agent Harry Samit. However, the interviews only alarm the FBI more, as Moussaoui makes a number of suspicious statements and his answers are extremely evasive: [CNN, 9/28/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
Moussaoui says he does not want the French consul to be informed of his arrest, which makes the FBI think he is a criminal or an Islamic militant;
Although Moussaoui says he works for a British company called NOP, he cannot remember what the letters stand for, neither can he recall his salary, job description, or any details of the business; [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
He says he works as a “marketing consultant” for Infocus Tech, a Southeast Asian technology company, but also fails to provide information about that company; [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
When asked about his $32,000 bank balance, he initially says it is his savings, but then admits it was given to him by friends and associates, most of whose names he cannot remember (see August 17, 2001);
Moussaoui’s passport, which indicates he spent two months in Pakistan shortly before arriving in the US, is new and he tells the FBI his old one was destroyed in the washing machine, which the agents know is a common lie for international criminals.
When Samit asks Moussaoui about his trips to Pakistan and tells Moussaoui his story does not add up and they are suspicious, Moussaoui requests an attorney and the interview ends. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas is also interviewed around this time and makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be linked with a militant group (see August 16, 2001).
INS agent Steve Nordmann. [Source: INS]Immigration and Naturalization Service agent Steve Nordmann, one of the officers who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), presses for a warrant so that law enforcement bodies can search Moussaoui’s computer files. He will later write of his regret that they were not allowed to access Moussaoui’s laptop. More details are not known as Nordmann will die in a motorcycle accident in 2003 and will not testify at Moussaoui’s trial. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 6/28/2003; St. Cloud Times, 9/7/2003] FBI agents also press for a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 21, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001), which contain potentially enough information to prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). However, the warrant is blocked by the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters (see August 20-September 11, 2001).
Zacarias Moussaoui’s roommate, Hussein Al-Attas, reports to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and is arrested when he admits he has worked despite only having a student visa. Al-Attas was with Moussaoui when he was arrested and was questioned the previous day (see August 10-11, 2001, August 16, 2001, and August 16, 2001). Al-Attas also says that Moussaoui follows the teachings of a sheikh, but that Moussaoui has not told him which sheikh because he does not think al-Attas would approve. When asked if the sheikh is Osama bin Laden, al-Attas says he does not think so and only remembers Moussaoui making one reference to bin Laden, when he appeared on television. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 77-9 ]
Zacarias Moussaoui’s roommate, Hussein al-Attas, makes thirteen phone calls from jail to El Hadj Ndiaye, the imam of his local mosque in Norman, Oklahoma looking for assistance in raising money for his bond. Al-Attas was arrested and jailed shortly after Moussaoui was detained (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). Ndiaye reportedly becomes “very upset” when he hears that Moussoaui is going to be deported. According to an FBI translation of one of these conversations, Ndiaye says, “I heard you guys wanted to go on jihad.” Al-Attas responds, “Don’t talk about that now.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134, 167-8, 201 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] The Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters learns of the translated conversation on August 29 (see August 29, 2001), but the RFU chief downplays the significance of the reference to jihad. Two other people involved in posting the bond for al-Attas were the subject of counterterrorism investigations (see August 20, 2001 and August 23, 2001).
Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit contacts Charles Frahm, an FBI agent who is working with the CIA’s bin Laden unit as a deputy chief, to discuss the Moussaoui case. Frahm passes on information to other CIA officers. Frahm will also be contacted by FBI headquarters about the case (see (August 20, 2001)) and will provide information linking the Chechen rebels, to which Moussaoui is connected, to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 201]
Charles Frahm. [Source: Ben Bloker / Stars and Stripes]After the Zacarias Moussaoui case (see August 16, 2001) is transferred from the Iran unit to the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters (see August 20-September 11, 2001), RFU chief Dave Frasca contacts Charles Frahm, an FBI manager detailed to the CIA with responsibility for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. According to Frahm, who has already been contacted by the FBI Minneapolis field office (see August 18, 2001 or Shortly Before), Frasca asks CIA headquarters to quickly share any information it has on Moussaoui with the FBI, but does not send the agency a formal request, even though FBI headquarters continues to coordinate the case with the CIA. In an e-mail sent around August 28, Frahm will indicate that the CIA has still not received a formal request from the bureau. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 123, 154-5, 231-2 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 313] The CIA will tell FBI agent Harry Samit that it thinks there is enough information to firmly link Moussaoui to a terrorist group (see August 24, 2001).
Mike Maltbie, a supervisory agent with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, tells Minneapolis agent Harry Samit, who has arrested Zacarias Moussaoui and wants to search his belongings, that getting an intelligence warrant can be bad for an agent’s career if it gets fouled up. Maltbie comments that he wants to “preserve the existence of his advancement potential.” The Minneapolis field office is in dispute with the RFU over whether a warrant should be granted to search Moussaoui’s belongings, which contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). At a key meeting with an attorney about whether to go forward with the warrant request, Maltbie is adamant that the warrant should not be granted (see August 28, 2001). [Newsday, 3/21/2006]
The FBI Minneapolis field office wishes to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings, which will later be found to contain enough information to potentially stop 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). To do so it must get the approval of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters. However, the RFU throws obstacles in the warrant request’s path:
RFU chief Dave Frasca stops the Minneapolis office from pursuing a criminal warrant (see August 21, 2001);
When French authorities say that Moussaoui is connected to the Chechen rebels, RFU agent Mike Maltbie insists that the FBI representative in Paris go through all telephone directories in France to see how many Zacarias Moussaouis live there (see August 22, 2001);
Maltbie stops Minneapolis from informing the Justice Department’s Criminal Division about the case (see August 22, 2001);
When RFU agent Rita Flack, who is working on the Moussaoui case, reads the Phoenix memo suggesting that bin Laden is sending pilots to the US for training, she apparently does not tell her colleagues about it, even though it was addressed to several of them, including Frasca (see July 10, 2001 and August 22, 2001);
The RFU does not provide the relevant documentation to attorneys consulted about the request. In particular, Flack does not tell them about the Phoenix Memo, even though one of the attorneys will later say she asked Flack if anyone is sending radical Islamists to the US to learn to fly (see August 22-28, 2001);
When Minneapolis learns Moussaoui apparently wants to go on jihad, Frasca is not concerned and says jihad does not necessarily mean holy war. However, a top Justice Department attorney will later say “he would have tied bells and whistles” to this comment in a request for a search warrant had he known this (see August 17, 2001 and August 29, 2001);
Maltbie tells the Minneapolis office that getting a warrant will “take a few months” (see August 24, 2001). He also tells Minneapolis, “We know what’s going on. You will not question us.” (see August 27, 2001);
Maltbie weakens the warrant request by editing it and removing a statement by a CIA officer that Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab was closely connected to Osama bin Laden, despite there being intelligence linking that leader to bin Laden (see August 28, 2001);
In a key meeting with an attorney about the request, Maltbie and Flack, who are submitting the warrant, are adamant that it is not sufficiently supported (see August 28, 2001);
Frasca opposes a plan to put an undercover officer in the jail cell with Moussaoui to find out more information about his connections to Islamic militants (August 29, 2001 and Shortly After);
The RFU does not want a Minneapolis agent to accompany Moussaoui when he is deported (see (August 30-September 10, 2001));
The RFU does not re-consider getting a criminal search warrant after a decision is taken not to seek a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see After August 28, 2001);
Frasca and Maltbie are said to oppose a search warrant after 9/11 (see September 11, 2001).
It is unclear why the RFU opposes the warrant so strongly. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later criticize the RFU staff, but will conclude that they did not intentionally sabotage the warrant application. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 101-222 ] A 2004 book by independent researcher Mike Ruppert will speculate that Frasca is actually a CIA agent. Ruppert suggests that the CIA placed Frasca in the FBI to prevent CIA operations from being compromised by FBI investigations. But he does not provide any direct evidence of ties between Frasca and the CIA (see October 1, 2004). The Minneapolis agents will offer a different interpretation of RFU actions. Coleen Rowley will say, “I feel that certain facts… have, up to now, been omitted, downplayed, glossed over and/or mischaracterized in an effort to avoid or minimize personal and/or institutional embarrassment on the part of the FBI and/or perhaps even for improper political reasons.” She asks, “Why would an FBI agent deliberately sabotage a case? The superiors acted so strangely that some agents in the Minneapolis office openly joked that these higher-ups ‘had to be spies or moles… working for Osama bin Laden.’… Our best real guess, however, is that, in most cases avoidance of all ‘unnecessary’ actions/decisions by FBI [headquarters] managers… has, in recent years, been seen as the safest FBI career course. Numerous high-ranking FBI officials who have made decisions or have taken actions which, in hindsight, turned out to be mistaken or just turned out badly… have seen their careers plummet and end. This has in turn resulted in a climate of fear which has chilled aggressive FBI law enforcement action/decisions.” [Time, 5/21/2002] Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit will agree with explanation, telling the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General that the RFU is guilty of “obstructionism, criminal negligence, and careerism.” [Associated Press, 3/20/2006] Samit will also say that Maltbie even told him he was acting this way to “preserve the existence of his advancement potential” in the FBI. [Newsday, 3/21/2006]
At a meeting attended by Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU), RFU chief Dave Frasca, FBI agent Rita Flack, and an FAA representative who is familiar with the Moussaoui case, a decision is made not to advise the FAA about the Moussaoui investigation at this point because Moussaoui and Al-Attas are presumably in custody. (Al-Attas is bailed out of custody on August 20) [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134, 149-150 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ] Al-Attas is suspected of involvement in terrorism at this point and investigators believe he and Moussaoui may be involved in a plot against the US that involves the hijacking of an airplane (see August 17, 2001 and August 24, 2001). The FBI will eventually warn the FAA, but it will fail to mention that its Minneapolis office believes Moussaoui intends to hijack an airliner (see September 4, 2001).
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