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Dave Frasca of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) denies a request from the Minneapolis FBI field office to seek a criminal warrant to search the belongings of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested on August 15 as part of an intelligence investigation (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). Minneapolis agents believe they had uncovered sufficient evidence that Moussaoui is involved in a criminal conspiracy, and want to obtain a criminal search warrant instead of a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But because they originally opened an intelligence investigation, they cannot go directly to the local US attorney’s office for the warrant. In order to begin a parallel criminal investigation, they must first obtain permission from the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) so they can pass the information over the “wall.” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] Harry Samit, a Minneapolis FBI agent on the Moussaoui case, calls Dave Frasca, the head of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, to discuss the request. Samit tells Frasca that they have already completed the paperwork for a criminal investigation, but, according to Samit, Frasca says, “You will not open it, you will not open a criminal case.” Frasca says that argument for probable cause in seeking a criminal warrant is “shaky” and notes that if they fail to obtain a criminal warrant, they will be unable to obtain a warrant under FISA. Samit, who has only been with the FBI since 1999, defers to his superior, and writes on the paperwork, “Not opened per instructions of Dave Frasca.” Samit then tells his Chief Division Counsel, Coleen Rowley, about the conversation, and she also advises him that it would be better to apply for a warrant under FISA. When the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) interviews Frasca after 9/11, he will claim he never spoke to Samit about this matter, and that the conversation was with Chris Briese, one of Samit’s superiors. However, Briese will deny this and the OIG will conclude that the conversation was between Samit and Frasca. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 128-132 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ] To get a FISA search warrant for Moussaoui’s belongings the FBI must now show there is probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] A criminal warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings will be granted only after the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001).
Rita Flack, an intelligence operations specialist with the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, is looking for evidence of ties between Zacarias Moussaoui and a foreign power so the agency can obtain a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 21, 2001). On this day, she comes across the Phoenix memo written by FBI agent Ken Williams (see July 10, 2001) which observed that an unusual number of Islamic radicals are taking aviation training in the US. In the memo, Williams suggested that bin Laden may be coordinating the flight training as part of preparations for a terrorist attack. Flack prints the Phoenix memo. She will later tell the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General that it is her usual practice to read the documents she prints, but she will not recall actually reading the Phoenix memo. She will also say she did not give the memo to anyone else, including colleague Mike Maltbie or the Minneapolis FBI field office. Nor did she discuss it with anyone, she says. After 9/11, she will say that there was nothing in the memo that would have bolstered Moussaoui’s connection to a foreign power, although this will be disputed by three National Security Law Unit attorneys (see August 22-28, 2001). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will state: “We believe she should have at least recognized the relevance of the [memo] and the potential relationship of its theories to the Moussaoui case… We think [Flack] should have brought the Phoenix [memo] to someone’s attention.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 145-6, 217-8 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ] The Senate Judiciary Committee will also later say, “The [Phoenix memo] contained information that was material to the decision whether or not to seek a FISA warrant in the Moussaoui case.” [US Congress, 2/2003]
The FBI’s Minneapolis field office drafts an application for a FISA warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings and sends it to the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters. From there, the application is sent to four attorneys at the FBI’s national security law unit (NSLU), as it needs to be legally cleared by them before being submitted to the FISA court. All four attorneys are doubtful that the application contains enough evidence to secure a warrant. Although they are aware that Moussaoui is connected to Chechen rebels, they do not believe the FISA court will consider the Chechen rebels to be a foreign power. Moreover, they do not think the connection between the Chechens and Osama bin Laden is strong enough to make Moussaoui an agent of al-Qaeda. However, the attorneys are not given the relevant documentation. For example, they are not informed that the FBI was warned in April that the Chechen rebel leader and bin Laden were planning an attack against the US (see Before April 13, 2001). Nor are they provided with a copy of the Phoenix memo, in which Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams correctly theorized that bin Laden was sending agents to the US to train in flight schools (see July 10, 2001). Attorney Sherry Sabol will later say that she asked RFU agents Mike Maltbie and Rita Flack whether there was any evidence of people being sent to the US for flight training. Flack, who read the Phoenix memo five days before (see August 22, 2001), said no. Maltbie will later say he does not recall this, and Flack will deny it. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 139-160 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later criticize Flack for failing to inform the attorneys of the memo. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 208 ] Sabol, fellow NSLU attorney Tom Ainora, and another attorney whose name is unknown will say that they would have taken actions to support the application if they had known about the Phoenix memo. However, they do not believe that material from the Phoenix memo would have been enough to secure the FISA warrant. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 146-8, 158-160, 208 ]
Dina Corsi, an FBI agent in the bureau’s bin Laden unit, informs her boss, bin Laden unit supervisor Rodney Middleton, that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 303 ] Middleton will later recall his reaction to the news as an “‘Oh sh_t’ moment.” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 52 ] He reviews the information Corsi presents to him and agrees with her that an intelligence investigation should be opened in New York to find Almihdhar. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 303 ]
FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, who has discovered 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the country (see August 21-22, 2001), contacts the FBI’s New York field office to give it a heads up that information about Almihdhar will soon be passed to it, and it will be asked to search for him. Corsi does not usually call in advance of sending notification, but she thinks that the situation is urgent in this case, as they need to locate Almihdhar, who is watchlisted at this time (see August 23, 2001), before he leaves the US. However, when she sends written notification (see August 28, 2001), it only has “routine” precedence, the lowest level. When asked about the discrepancy after 9/11, Corsi will say that this case was “no bigger” than any other case. I-49 squad supervisor Jack Cloonan and another FBI supervisor will later also say they recognized there was some urgency to the Almihdhar investigation, but the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will comment: “Yet, the FBI in New York did not treat it like an urgent matter.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 303-5, 354 ]
Two agents from the Oklahoma City FBI office visit Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui’s training there earlier in the year. One of these agents had visited the same school in September 1999 to learn more about Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda agent who trained there in 1993. Apparently, this agent forgets the connection when he visits the school to look into Moussaoui. He later admits he should have connected the two cases. [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322] The staff director of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry later states, “No one will ever know whether a greater focus on the connection between these events would have led to the unraveling of the September 11 plot.” [New York Daily News, 9/25/2002] The Oklahoma City office also does not connect Moussaoui to a memo that had come from its office in May 1998 warning that “large numbers of Middle Eastern males” were receiving flight training in Oklahoma and could be planning terrorist attacks (see May 15, 1998). Furthermore, Moussaoui’s Oklahoma roommate Hussein al-Attas is also under suspicion at this time (see August 16, 2001). One of the people who attempted to post bond for al-Attas, William Webb, had previously been the subject of an extensive investigation by the same Oklahoma City FBI office. Webb is a member of the extremist group the Muslim Brotherhood and is also Vice President of Overseas Operations and Recruiting for the Palestinian group Fatah. Further, Webb is connected to Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who has frequent ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers and is suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot (see March 2001 and After). Al-Awlaki was the subject of an FBI counterterrorism inquiry the year before (see June 1999-March 2000). These connections are also not noticed. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134-5 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters tells Greg Jones of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office that obtaining a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Act (FISA) for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings could “take a few months” because there are “hundreds of these FISA requests.” (FISA warrants can actually be obtained in a matter of hours if needed, and can even be approved retroactively) Maltbie tells Jones that the situation is not an emergency, as he believes an act of terrorism is not imminent in this case, but that Minneapolis can write a letterhead memorandum for FBI headquarters about the case. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 48, 53, 148-9 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ]
After the CIA sends the FBI information it thinks is sufficient for a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001), the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) sends the same information to a CIA representative to the FBI and asks him to help arrange a search warrant. The representative is not named, but it may be Tom Wilshire (see May 2001), a CIA officer assigned to the FBI who requests information about Moussaoui on this day (see August 24, 2001). The CTC officer writes: “No one in the FBI seems to have latched on to this. Perhaps you can educate them on Moussaoui. This may be all they need to open a FISA on Moussaoui.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 202]
Mike Maltbie, a supervisory special agent with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters, writes to Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager stationed with the FBI, about the case of Zacarias Moussaoui and Hussein al-Attas (see August 24, 2001). He tells Wilshire what actions the FBI has taken on the case and concludes by saying, “Please bear in mind that there is no indication that either of these two had plans for nefarious activity as was apparently indicated in an earlier communication.” The word “no” is underlined. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 151 ] However, the FBI’s field office in Minneapolis suspects Moussaoui is part of a wider plot to hijack airliners and Maltbie is aware of their concerns (see August 15-20, 2001).
The Panther Motel. [Source: Chris Zuppa / St. Petersburg Times]9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi and a reportedly unidentified man stay at the Panther Motel in Deerfield Beach, Florida. During their stay, the manager, Richard Surma, observes that the two men have covered two paintings with towels, apparently for religious reasons, and are frequently visited by a third individual, who is also unidentified. When they leave on September 9, Surma finds several items left behind in a dumpster: a box cutter, aeronautical maps of the East Coast, martial arts books, and a tote bag from a flying school. [Boston Globe, 9/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001 ; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/30/2001; U.S.D.C Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006, pp. 3 ] According to a timeline compiled by the Texas Service Center of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Alshehhi is accompanied by fellow 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta when he checks out of the Panther Motel. [Immigration and Naturalization Service, 5/27/2002]
Harry Samit and Greg Jones, agents at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office investigating Zacarias Moussaoui, are having some problems with Mike Maltbie, a supervisory special agent at FBI headquarters’ Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) (see August 20-September 11, 2001). They ask their boss to call RFU head Dave Frasca to “find out what [Maltbie]‘s problem [is].” Jones and his boss place the call. According to Jones, when the call starts, Frasca is “immediately defensive” and asks Maltbie to join the call. Jones’ notes indicate that he asks what is going to happen if “they won’t let us go criminal” and there is not enough information for a warrant under FISA. Jones asks what will happen if Moussaoui cannot be connected to a known group. The answer recorded in his notes is “That isn’t something for you to worry about.” However, Frasca will state he never said this. Maltbie’s performance—the original reason for the call—is apparently not discussed. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 155-8 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ]
FBI agents at the bureau’s Minneapolis field office have been arguing with the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) over whether there is sufficient evidence to secure a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 20-September 11, 2001). The tensions surface in a call between Minneapolis agent Greg Jones and Supervisory Special Agent Mike Maltbie. This is a partial reconstruction of the conversation based on Jones’ notes: Maltbie: “What you have done is couched [the request] in such a way that people get spun up.” Jones: “Good. We want to make sure he doesn’t get control of an airplane and crash it into the [World Trade Center] or something like that.” Maltbie: “[T]hat’ not going to happen. We don’t know he’s a terrorist. You don’t have enough to show he is a terrorist. You have a guy interested in this type of aircraft—that is it.” Jones also asks whether the warrant request has been shown to Section Chief Michael Rolince yet, and Maltbie replies it has not. [US Congress, 10/17/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 153-5 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ] Another Minneapolis agent, Harry Samit, also contacts Maltbie and expresses his frustration with RFU’s position that they do not have enough evidence. In an interview with the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General he recalls telling Maltbie: “… if you’re not going to advance this the FISA route, or if you don’t believe we have enough for a FISA, I shudder to think—and that’s all I got out. And [Maltbie]
cut me off and said, ‘You will not question the unit chief and you will not question me. We’ve been through a lot. We know what’s going on. You will not question us.’ And that could be the mantra for FBI supervisors.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 155 ]
The NSA’s representative to the FBI asks the NSA for permission to pass intelligence information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to FBI criminal agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole and permission is granted the same day, but FBI headquarters does not forward this information to the Cole investigators. The request is made on behalf of FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, but Corsi does not want the agents to launch a criminal investigation to find Almihdhar in the US—she believes the information will be useful to them because of Almihdhar’s connection to the Cole bombing. The information identifies Almihdhar as an “Islamic extremist” and says that he traveled to Kuala Lumpur, where he met an associate named Nawaf (see January 5-8, 2000). This links Almihdhar to the Cole bombing because the FBI thinks one of the bombers, Fahad al-Quso, may have traveled to Kuala Lumpur at the same time as Almihdhar. Although the 9/11 Commission will say that Corsi “had permission to share the information” with the Cole investigators, she apparently does not do so, even though it is clear from conversations they have around this time that they want it (see August 28, 2001, and August 28, 2001, August 28-29, 2001, and August 29, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 271, 539; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 276-7, 283, 286, 294, 304 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalism Unit (RFU), and Michael Rolince, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS), have at least two brief conversations about the Zacarias Moussaoui case. Moussaoui, suspected of having ties to Islamic militants, was arrested in mid-August (see August 16, 2001). Though it is not known what Frasca and Rolince talk about, it is possible their discussions concern complaints from the Minneapolis field office about how RFU is handling the case (see August 27, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission, there is no evidence that this discussion ever reaches Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson or Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard. If this is true, the FBI’s handling of the case is remarkably different than the approach taken in the CIA, where Director George Tenet is briefed repeatedly on the matter (see August 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275; Associated Press, 3/21/2006] A warning that Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab were planning a joint operation against the US was sent to Rolince earlier in the year (see Before April 13, 2001) and the FBI is aware that Moussaoui had recruited for the Chechen rebels (see August 22, 2001). Rolince will be involved in preparations for Moussaoui’s deportation to France shortly before 9/11 (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)).
The FBI’s Minneapolis field office has submitted a memorandum to the Radical Fundamental Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 23-27, 2001). Before it is submitted, RFU agent Mike Maltbie makes several alterations to the memo. In particular, he deletes a key section saying that a CIA officer had described Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab, to whom Moussaoui was connected, as an associate of bin Laden. He deletes this even though the FBI was recently warned that bin Laden and Ibn Khattab may be working together on attacks against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). However, Minneapolis FBI agent Greg Jones objects in a lengthy e-mail that “we are setting this up for failure if we don’t have the foreign power connection firmly established for the initial review.” Jones also complains about other changes made by Maltbie, including:
Maltbie changes a statement about Moussaoui “preparing himself to fight” to one saying he and an associate “train together in defensive tactics.”
Maltbie changes the sentence, “Moussaoui was unable to give a convincing explanation for his paying $8300 for 747-400 training,” to “Moussaoui would give an explanation for his paying $8300 in cash for 747-700 flight simulation training.”
Maltbie changes a statement that Moussaoui has no convincing explanation for the large sums of money he had to “Moussaoui would not explain the large sums of money known to have been in his possession.”
Maltbie responds by saying that they will attempt to put something together for the foreign power requirement and by changing some, but not all of the sections Jones complains about. However, Minneapolis is still unhappy and the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will state that after Jones’ complaints are taken into consideration the memo is only “slightly less persuasive.” The key section about Chechnya is not reinstated, but Moussaoui’s links to Chechnya are discussed at the relevant meeting with an attorney about the request (see August 28, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 161-4, 209-211 ]
Maria Siscar-Simpson’s apartment at the Delray Beach Racquet Club. [Source: Chris Zuppa/St. Petersburg Times]Two 9/11 hijackers, Ahmed Alhaznawi and Ahmed Alnami, who are living in a Delray Beach, Florida, condominium, forcefully try to enter the apartment of a neighbor living below them. They say a towel has dropped from their balcony to hers and insist on entering to retrieve it. The apartment’s tenant, Maria Siscar-Simpson, is frightened and refuses to let them in. According to her account, a handyman shouts the men away, but they come back three more times. After Siscar-Simpson later tells her story to the FBI, agents will suggest the towel, which appears to have fallen on her roof, not her balcony, may have contained clothing with something important to the two future hijackers’ mission, perhaps a confirmation number for their 9/11 flights (Alnami’s flight was booked the previous day—see August 25-September 5, 2001). The bureau will later find evidence that the men lower themselves on guy wires to retrieve the towel this evening. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/1/2002]
Mike Maltbie and Rita Flack of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) forward a request for a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 21, 2001) to National Security Law Unit chief Spike Bowman. The request was submitted by the Minneapolis field office (see August 22-28, 2001), which has been trying to obtain a warrant for some time. Earlier in the day, Maltbie edited the request, removing information connecting Moussaoui to al-Qaeda through a rebel group in Chechnya (see August 28, 2001). RFU chief Dave Frasca was to attend the meeting, but is called away at the last minute. According to Bowman, who is already very familiar with the facts in this case, Maltbie is adamant that there is not enough evidence to issue the warrant. Bowman agrees, saying that the evidence fails to implicate Moussaoui as an agent of a foreign power. The FBI thus abandons the effort to obtain a FISA warrant and begins planning his deportation (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 164-6, 168 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ]
Steve Bongardt, an FBI criminal agent investigating the bombing of the USS Cole, receives an e-mail from FBI headquarters asking the FBI’s New York office to start looking for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar under an intelligence investigation, but is forced to delete it following an argument with headquarters. The e-mail was not addressed to Bongardt, but forwarded to him by a supervisor, possibly in error. However, Bongardt calls Dina Corsi, the headquarters agent who wrote the e-mail, and expresses his surprise at the information contained in it, saying: “Dina, you got to be kidding me! Almihdhar is in the country?” He tells her the search should be conducted as a criminal investigation, not an intelligence investigation. Corsi incorrectly replies that the “wall” prevents the search from being carried out by criminal agents (see Early 1980s and July 19, 1995), as the investigation requires intelligence from the NSA that criminal agents cannot have, and she forces Bongardt to delete the e-mail from his computer (see August 29, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 271; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 304 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 353]
FBI New York agent Steve Bongardt, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, and acting FBI Osama bin Laden unit head Rod Middleton, who is Corsi’s supervisor, discuss whether the search for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar should be an intelligence or criminal investigation. Bongardt argues that the search should be a criminal investigation because of Almihdhar’s connection to the bombing of the USS Cole and because more agents could be assigned to a criminal investigation. (Note: the office only has one rookie intelligence agent available.) He also says a criminal investigation would have better tools, such as grand jury subpoenas, which are faster and easier to obtain than the tools in an intelligence investigation. Corsi and Middleton say that the “wall” prevents the intelligence information necessary for the case being shared with criminal investigators, so the search must be an intelligence investigation. (Note: Corsi and Middleton are wrong (see August 29, 2001).) Bongardt is unhappy with this and requests an opinion from the Justice Department’s national security law unit (see August 28-29, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 307 ]
FBI headquarters agents Dina Corsi and Rod Middleton contact Justice Department lawyer Sherry Sabol to ask her opinion on the search for 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, but Sabol will later say that Corsi misrepresents her advice to other agents. Corsi contacts Sabol, an attorney at the national security law unit, to ask her about legal restrictions on the search for Almihdhar, because of an argument she has had with New York agent Steve Bongardt about whether the search should be an intelligence or criminal investigation (see August 28, 2001 and August 28, 2001). Corsi will later tell Bongardt that Sabol told her that the information needed for the investigation cannot be passed on to criminal agents at the FBI, only intelligence agents, and that if Almihdhar is located, a criminal agent cannot be present at an interview. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 307-8 ] Corsi’s understanding of the issue is wrong, and the “wall,” which restricted the passage of some intelligence information to criminal agents at the FBI, does not prevent the information in question being shared with criminal agents (see August 29, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will comment that Corsi “appears to have misunderstood the complex rules that could apply to the situation.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 271] In addition, Sabol will later insist that her advice was very different than what Corsi claims it is. She will deny saying a criminal agent could not interview Almihdhar, arguing that she would not have given such inaccurate advice. She will also say the caveat on the intelligence information from the NSA would not have stopped criminal agents getting involved and, in any case, the NSA would have waived the caveat if asked. (Note: the NSA did so at Corsi’s request just one day earlier (see August 27-28, 2001), but presumably Corsi does not tell Sabol this.) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 271] Larry Parkinson, the FBI’s general counsel at this time, will later say there was no legal bar to a criminal agent being present at an interview and that he would be shocked if Sabol had actually told Corsi this. [9/11 Commission, 2/24/2004] Furthermore, Corsi apparently does not tell Sabol that Almihdhar is in the US illegally. The illegal entry is a crime and means criminal FBI agents can search for him (see August 29, 2001).
Entity Tags: Steve Bongardt, Sherry Sabol, Usama bin Laden Unit (FBI), Larry Parkinson, Khalid Almihdhar, Dina Corsi, FBI Headquarters, FBI New York Field Office, National Security Law Unit, Rod Middleton
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters learns of a translated conversation (see August 17, 2001) between Zacarias Moussaoui’s roommate, Hussein al-Attas, and an imam from a mosque in Norman, Oklahoma, in which the imam had said, “I heard you guys wanted to go on jihad.” On this day, the FBI also learns about al-Attas’s will, which states that “death is near” and that “those who participate in jihad can expect to see God.” After receiving the information, RFU chief Dave Frasca replies in an e-mail, “The will is interesting. The jihad comment doesn’t concern me by itself in that this word can mean many things in various [M]uslim cultures and is frequently taken out of context.” However, a top Justice Department attorney who submits applications for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), will later say that “he would have tied bells and whistles” to the jihad comment in a FISA application. A later investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will conclude that the comment was “significant” and “should have been given greater weight in considering whether there was probable cause to believe Moussaoui was connected to a terrorist group.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134, 167-8, 201 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ]
President Bush says, “We recognize it’s a dangerous world. I know this nation still has enemies, and we cannot expect them to be idle. And that’s why security is my first responsibility. And I will not permit any course that leaves America undefended.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
Although the FBI is aware that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar lied in an application for a visa on which he entered the US the previous month (see July 4, 2001), it does not fully realize that this means his entry into the US was illegal. If the FBI realized this, it would be able to open a criminal investigation to locate Almihdhar, instead of an intelligence investigation. The New York office, which conducts the search for him, would have preferred a criminal investigation, as more agents could have worked on it, possibly allowing the office to locate Almihdhar before and stop 9/11. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will remark after 9/11: “Thus, there was a clear basis to charge Almihdhar criminally with false statements or visa fraud. Significantly, this information had been provided to the FBI without the restrictive caveats placed on NSA reports and other intelligence information. As a result, if Almihdhar had been found, he could have been arrested and charged with a criminal violation based on the false statements on his visa application. However, the FBI did not seem to notice this when deciding whether to use criminal or intelligence resources to locate Almihdhar.” Almihdhar’s passport also lacks an expiry date and he is a terrorist posing as a tourist (see July 4, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 351 ]
Harry Samit, an agent at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, drafts a memo to the FAA summarizing the facts of the Zacarias Moussaoui case. In it, he writes, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui, [his roommate Hussein] al-Attas, and others not yet known were engaged in preparing to seize a Boeing 747-400 in commission of a terrorist act. As Moussaoui denied requests for consent to search his belongings and was arrested before sufficient evidence of criminal activity was revealed, it is not known how far advanced were his plans to do so.” He also mentions Moussaoui’s physical and marital arts training and expresses concern that France, where Moussaoui will soon be deported, may not be able to hold him or his property for long. But Mike Maltbie of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) instructs the Minneapolis field office not to send the memo because he is also drafting a memo on the Moussaoui case that will be sent to the FAA and other agencies. However Maltbie’s memo lacks a threat assessment and does not mention Minneapolis’ suspicions that Moussaoui might be planning a terrorist act involving a hijacked airplane. The memo does not result in any FAA action. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 174-7 ; Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2006] A meeting between Samit and a Minneapolis FAA officer will also fail to produce any FAA action (see September 4, 2001).
According to author Lawrence Wright, on this day there is a conference call between FBI field agent Steve Bongardt, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, and a CIA supervisor at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who tells Bongardt to stand down in the search for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Corsi and Bongardt have been arguing over whether the search for Almihdhar in the US should be a criminal or intelligence investigation (see August 28, 2001 and August 28, 2001), and the CIA supervisor apparently sides with Corsi, saying the search should be an intelligence investigation, and so Bongardt, a criminal agent, cannot be involved in it. Bongardt is angry with this and remarks, “If this guy [Almihdhar] is in the country, it’s not because he’s going to f___ing Disneyland!” [Wright, 2006, pp. 353-4] However, there will be no mention of this conversation in the 9/11 Commission Report or the Justice Department’s report into the FBI’s performance before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 271; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 306-7 ] According to the Justice Department report, there is a similar conference call between Bongardt, Corsi, and her supervisor at the FBI around this time (see August 28, 2001). It is possible Wright is confusing the supervisor of the CIA’s bin Laden unit with the supervisor of the FBI’s bin Laden unit, meaning that the CIA supervisor is not involved in this argument.
The information sent by the French included a photocopy of this page of Moussaoui’s French passport. [Source: FBI]French authorities provide the FBI’s representative in Paris with additional information about Zacarias Moussaoui, and he forwards this information to the FBI’s Minneapolis field office and headquarters (see August 22, 2001 and Late 1999-Late 2000). The French say that according to an acquaintance of the suspected militant, Moussaoui is a radical Islamic fundamentalist who is potentially very dangerous. They warn that Moussaoui, who was radicalized at London’s Finsbury Park mosque, is devoted to Wahabbism, the Saudi Arabian sect of Islam that is adhered to by bin Laden (see 1994), and has traveled to Kuwait, Turkey, and Afghanistan (see 1995-1998). According to the French, the acquaintance also revealed that Moussaoui is a “strategist” and described him as “a cold stubborn man, capable of nurturing a plan over several months, or even years and of committing himself to this task in all elements of his life.” The French also tell the FBI that they would be willing to have Moussaoui deported back to France. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 169-170 ; Associated Press, 3/20/2006] Describing the French report to the FBI, a French justice official later says that France “gave the FBI ‘everything we had’” on Moussaoui, “enough to make you want to check this guy out every way you can. Anyone paying attention would have seen he was not only operational in the militant Islamist world but had some autonomy and authority as well.” [Time, 5/27/2002] And the French interior minister will similarly state, “We did not hold back any information.” [ABC News, 9/5/2002] “Even a neophyte working in some remote corner of Florida, would have understood the threat based on what was sent,” one senior French investigator later explains. [Time, 8/12/2002] The FBI decides (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)) to deport Moussaoui back to France. At a meeting in Paris several days later (see September 5-6, 2001), French authorities will again warn their US counterparts about Moussaoui and his connections.
A CIA officer involved in the Moussaoui case contacts a fellow CIA officer assigned to the FBI and complains about the FBI’s inability to obtain a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings, which contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). The officer writes: “Please excuse my obvious frustration in this case. I am highly concerned that this is not paid the amount of attention it deserves. I do not want to be responsible when [Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas] surface again as members of a suicide terrorist op… I want an answer from a named FBI group chief [note: presumably Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit] for the record on these questions… several of which I have been asking since a week and a half ago. It is critical that the paper trail is established and clear. If this guy is let go, two years from now he will be talking to a control tower while aiming a 747 at the White House.” One of these two CIA officers may be Tom Wilshire, who is involved in the Moussaoui case (see August 24, 2001). CIA director George Tenet will write, “This comment was particularly prescient because we later learned after 9/11 that Moussaoui had in fact asked Osama bin Laden for permission to be able to attack the White House.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 203] Greg Jones, an FBI agent involved in the case, makes a similar prediction, but guesses that the target will be the World Trade Center, not the White House (see August 27, 2001).
The FBI’s Oklahoma City field office again fails to provide help with the Moussaoui investigation. They had been asked by colleagues in Minneapolis to investigate El Hadj Ndiaye, an associate of Moussaoui who knew Moussaoui wanted to go on jihad (see August 17, 2001). However, instead of interviewing the list of people Minneapolis wanted them to talk to, they just speak to one person. On September 6, Minneapolis agent Harry Samit notes that the interviewee seems to be close to Ndaiye and that he would “be willing to throw the Bureau off the trail” because of this closeness. The same field office had previously failed to make connections related to another lead in the investigation (see August 23, 2001). Samit also expresses his disappointment at their performance: “Oklahoma City continues to fall short of expectations… Anyway, we know for future reference how weak they are.” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
A decade-old Air National Guard (ANG) operation aimed at interdicting drug-smuggling aircraft in the Gulf of Mexico is terminated. Operation Coronet Nighthawk relied on ANG units flying unarmed F-16s based on the island of Curacao, to identify suspected drug-flights visually and relay that information to law enforcement agencies. The operation was generally considered successful in reducing air-based smuggling, but in August the Air Force announces that the interdiction mission will be turned over to aircraft that “can participate in the actual law enforcement activity.” [Code One Magazine, 4/2000; National Guard Magazine, 10/2001; Air Power History, 2008]
Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), struggles to maintain funding for a plan to defend against a cruise missile attack by terrorists. Arnold has long been worried by the US’s vulnerability to an airborne attack by terrorists (see 1999 and February 2000). But, as he will later recount, not everyone shares his concern. He will say: “Just two weeks before September 11, 2001, I had met with Vice Admiral Martin Mayer, the deputy commander in chief of Joint Forces Command located in Norfolk, Virginia. He had informed me that he intended to kill all funding for a plan my command had been working on for two years, that would defend against a cruise missile attack by terrorists. While I convinced Admiral Mayer to continue his funding support, he told me in front of my chief of staff, Colonel Alan Scott; Navy Captain David Stewart, the lead on the project; and my executive officer, Lt. Col. Kelley Duckett, that our concern about Osama bin Laden as a possible threat to America was unfounded and that, to repeat, ‘If everyone would just turn off CNN, there wouldn’t be a threat from Osama bin Laden.’” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 289]
According to Paul Dragomir, the manager of the Longshore Motel in Hollywood, Florida, two individuals who may be Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah rent a room in his motel. They sign in using apparent aliases, claiming to be computer engineers from Iran, and say they are down from Canada to find jobs. However, they leave the motel after a few hours because of a dispute over Internet access, which the motel cannot provide on a 24-hour basis. The Washington Post will write: “The need to be online at any moment suggests they were looking for Web pages or messages that would signal phases of the operation, experts say. Dragomir said he refunded their $175 in cash and they left. ‘They got very angry. One of the guys said, You don’t understand. We are here on a mission.’” [Washington Post, 10/5/2001] While the Post’s account will say that the motel manager recognizes Atta and Jarrah, other press accounts differ. According to the Chicago Tribune, Dragomir “said he was uncertain whether the pair had any connection to the Sept. 11 events, except for general physical descriptions.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/18/2001] And according to Wired Magazine, Dragomir “suggested that they were closely linked to the 19 hijackers, but that they were not among those men.” [Wired, 9/20/2001]
Following the resignation of Prince Turki al-Faisal as head of the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (GIP) (see August 31, 2001), the CIA becomes nervous about its protection of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, according to investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento. A CIA officer will tell the two reporters that the CIA protected the two hijackers in the US because they were working for the GIP, and the CIA did not realize they were loyal to Osama bin Laden, not the regime in Riyadh (see August 6, 2003). After Turki is replaced, the CIA apparently thinks: “Had Turki been forced out by more radical elements in the Saudi royal family? Had he quietly warned the CIA that he suspected the GIP’s assurances about the penetration of al-Qaeda were not as reliable as thought previously? Had al-Qaeda penetrated GIP?” This is said to be the reason the CIA allows the passage of more intelligence related to the two men to the FBI around this time (see August 30, 2001). [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 193] However, the 9/11 Commission will not say Almihdhar and Alhazmi were assets of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency or that they were protected by the CIA. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will not say they were protected by the CIA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]
John Magaw. [Source: Public domain]About a week before 9/11, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Joe Allbaugh replaces the agency’s acting deputy director, John Magaw, a veteran federal law enforcement agent and experienced counterterrorism official, with Michael Brown, a close friend of his and a long-time political associate with no previous experience in emergency management. [Baker, 2009, pp. 484] Magaw is a former director of the US Secret Service and of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). In December 1999, Magaw was appointed at FEMA to coordinate the agency’s domestic terrorism efforts. [Market Wire, 12/1999] Allbaugh nominated Michael Brown as the agency’s general counsel upon taking office in January. Brown previously worked as a lawyer for a horse racing association. He has no experience in disaster management (See March 1, 2003). According to Russ Baker, an independent investigative journalist and author of Family of Secrets, a Bush family expose: “One day, Mr. Allbaugh came in and said, ‘I know you’ve got these other things to do. I’m going to ask Mr. Brown to be deputy,’ recalled Magaw who promptly returned to the subordinate position assigned him by Clinton. The timing was remarkable. Just a week before September 11, 2001, Allbaugh replaced a key anti-terrorism official with a crony who had close to zero relevant experience.” [Baker, 2009, pp. 484]
Binyam Mohamed, a young Ethiopian with British citizenry, is in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. He later tells a journalist that he wants nothing more than to leave for London before the West can retaliate against al-Qaeda and the Taliban (see May-September, 2001). But Mohamed is unable to leave before the US-led coalition launches its attacks in November. According to Mohamed, he is caught among the tide of refugees, and in early 2002 makes his way across the Afghan-Pakistan border and into the city of Karachi. On April 3, he books a flight to London, but officials turn him away, saying his passport looks wrong (Mohamed entered the region using a friend’s passport). On April 9, he tries again to book a flight with the same passport, and is detained by Pakistani authorities. This is the beginning of almost seven years of incarceration, interrogation, and torture (see February 24, 2009). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009] Apparently some of the details of Mohamed’s recollections will differ from the recounting of his story as later told by his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith.
Around this date, American Airlines sends out an internal memo warning its employees to be on the lookout for impostors after one of its crews had uniforms and ID badges stolen in Rome, Italy, in April. [Reuters, 9/14/2001; Boston Globe, 9/18/2001] On April 6, a pilot and a flight attendant staying at a hotel in Rome had their rooms broken into. Several items, including identifications, a key card granting access to any American Airlines facility in the world, documents, the pilot’s wallet, an American Airlines uniform jacket and tie, along with documents and two passports, were stolen when thieves got a safe out of the hotel undetected. [CNN, 9/13/2001] It will later be reported that two of the hijackers on Flight 11 on 9/11 used these stolen IDs to board the plane. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/16/2001] On 9/11, a man will be arrested with four Yemeni passports (all using different names) and two Lufthansa crew uniforms (see September 11, 2001). [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/22/2001] It will also be reported that when Mohamed Atta takes a flight from Portland, Maine, to Boston on the morning of 9/11, his bags are not transferred to Flight 11 and remain in Boston. Later, airline uniforms are found inside his bags (see (7:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001] Boston’s Logan International Airport has repeatedly been fined for failing to run background checks on its employees, and for many other serious violations. [CNN, 10/12/2001]
FBI headquarters dispatches a memo to the entire US intelligence community summarizing what has been learned about Zacarias Moussaoui. The memo, written by Mike Maltbie, an agent in the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU), reports that the FBI has become suspicious of Moussaoui because he took flight simulation training for a 747 jet, a course normally taken by airline pilots. Moussaoui, who has no flying experience, paid cash for the training, the memo also notes. It also says that Moussaoui has radical Islamic fundamentalist beliefs and has been linked to Chechen militants. However, the memo does not include a threat assessment or indicate that some FBI investigators believe Moussaoui is part of a yet unknown plot to hijack an airplane and use it in a terrorist attack. As a later congressional inquiry will report, the memo fails to “recommend that the addressees take any action or look for any additional indicators of a terrorist attack, nor [does] it provide any analysis of a possible hijacking threat or provide any specific warnings.” [US Congress, 9/24/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 175-6 ] Several days earlier, Maltbie blocked the release of a memo from the FBI’s Minneapolis field office that was addressed to the FAA and did contain a threat assessment (see August 29-September 4, 2001). When the FAA receives the FBI memo, it decides not to issue a security alert to the nation’s airports in response. An FAA representative later explains to the New York Post, “[Moussaoui] was in jail and there was no evidence he was connected to other people.” [New York Post, 5/21/2002] The FBI memo contrasts sharply with an internal CIA warning sent out on August 24. That memo, which was based on less information, warned that Moussaoui might be “involved in a larger plot to target airlines traveling from Europe to the US” (see August 24, 2001). [US Congress, 9/18/2002] It turns out that prior to this time, al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam had started cooperating with investigators. He had trained with Moussaoui in Afghanistan and will willingly share this information after 9/11. The FBI dispatch, with its notable lack of urgency and details, fails to prompt the agents in Seattle holding Ressam to question him about Moussaoui. Had the connection between these two men been learned before 9/11, presumably the search warrant for Moussaoui would have been approved and the 9/11 plot might have unraveled (see Late August-Early September 2001). [Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002]
Patrick Philbin. [Source: Daylife (.com)]Patrick Philbin joins the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Philbin is an old friend and colleague of the OLC’s John Yoo; both graduated from Yale and both clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Philbin has no experience in the legalities surrounding national security issues; he spent the 1990s working for a corporate law firm helping telecommunications companies sue the Federal Communications Commission. Philbin joins the OLC with the expectation of working solely with administrative law. But after the 9/11 attacks, he will be asked to help Yoo handle the unexpected raft of national security issues. His first real work in the area of national security will be his finding (see November 6, 2001) that the president has untrammeled power to order the establishment of military commissions (see Late October 2001 and November 13, 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 136]
A bizarre love letter to Jennifer Lopez is received by The Sun, a tabloid newspaper with offices in Florida. The letter contains an empty can of chewing tobacco, a small detergent carton, a cigar tube with a cheap cigar, a cheap Star of David charm, and a folded handwritten letter to Jennifer Lopez with a pile of what looks like talcum powder in the middle of it. The writer describes his love for Lopez and asks her to marry him. The letter is handled both by Ernesto Blanco, who later contracts anthrax, and Bob Stevens, who later dies of anthrax. It is unknown what the return address is or what date the letter is postmarked, since its importance is only realized after it has been thrown away and people start getting sick. As a result, the FBI is never able to analyze it. [Newsweek, 10/8/2001; National Inquirer, 10/31/2001] However, others exposed to the letter, including Bobby Bender, the person who actually opens it, do not get sick later. [National Inquirer, 10/31/2001] Furthermore, the floor where the letter is opened and passed around will later turn out to be the least infected floor of the building, suggesting that the letter contained no real anthrax. But while the mail room in the basement is the most heavily infected part of the building, no other letter will be found that caused the infections there. [Center for Disease Control, 10/2002]
A portion of Khalid Almihdhar’s New York identification card. The address is a Ramada Inn hotel, which was owned by Marriott at the time.
[Source: 9/11 Commission]The FBI’s New York office technically began an investigation to locate 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar on August 29, but in fact the one inexperienced agent assigned to the search, Robert Fuller, is busy for several days and only begins the search at this time (see August 29, 2001). Within a day, Fuller identifies connections between Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and widens the search to look for both of them. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004; New York Observer, 11/28/2004] The FBI will later claim that it searches aggressively. An internal review shortly after 9/11 will find that “everything was done that could have been done” to find them. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] However, FBI agents familiar with the search will later describe it as unhurried and routine. A report by the Office of the Inspector General completed in late 2004 will conclude, “[T]he FBI assigned few resources to the investigation and little urgency was given to the investigation.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004] In conducting his search, Fuller takes the following steps on September 4-5:
He requests that Almihdhar’s name bed added to the INS watch list, called LOOKOUT. He describes Almihdhar as a potential witness in a terrorist investigation. He later claims that he identifies him only as a witness, not a potential terrorist, to prevent overzealous immigration officials from overreacting. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He contacts the Customs Service and verifies that Almihdhar has been placed on its watch list. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He requests a local criminal history check on Almihdhar and Alhazmi through the New York City Police Department. The request turns up nothing. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He will claim that he requests a criminal history check in the NCIC, which is a computer database frequently used by every level of law enforcement. However, the Bergen Record will report that he “never performed one of the most basic tasks of a police manhunt. He never ran Almihdhar or Alhazmi through the NCIC computer. That simple act would have alerted local cops to look for the suspected terrorists.” At least four separate incidents involving Alhazmi were recorded in the NCIC database (see September 5, 2001). [Bergen Record, 7/11/2002; Bergen Record, 5/18/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He requests a credit check. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He requests that a national motor vehicle index be searched. However, a July 2001 police query on Alhazmi’s car that is in that index is not found (see September 5, 2001).
On September 5, Fuller and another agent contact the Marriott hotels in New York City, since Almihdhar had indicated when he entered the US in July 2001 that his destination was a Marriott hotel in New York. Later this same day he is told Almihdhar had never registered as a guest at any of the six Marriott hotels there. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He will claim that he conducts a search in the ChoicePoint database, a commerical databases on personal information about US citizens. He will claim he searches the database and fails to find any information on them, but the chairman of ChoicePoint will later confirm the database did have information on the hijackers before 9/11, but the FBI did not ask to search the database until shortly after 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 539; US Department of Justice, 11/2004; New York Observer, 11/28/2004]
There are additional searches he could make that he apparently fails to do. For instance, he apparently fails to check car registration databases. Alhazmi did own a car (see March 25, 2000), and the 9/11 Commission will note: “A search on [his] car registration would have unearthed a license check by the South Hackensack Police Department that would have led to information placing Alhazmi in the [greater New York City] area and placing Almihdhar at a local hotel for a week in early July 2001. The hijackers actively used the New Jersey bank accounts, through ATM, debit card, and cash transactions, until September 10.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 539]
Additionally, even though the two were known to have previously entered the US through Los Angeles, drivers’ license records in California are not checked.
He also fails to check national credit card and bank account databases.
All of these would have had positive results. Alhazmi’s name was even in the 2000-2001 San Diego phone book, listing the address where he and Almihdhar may have been living up to as late as September 9, 2001 (see Early September 2001). [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Newsweek, 6/2/2002] There appears to be no further mention of any further work on this search after September 5, except for one request to the Los Angeles FBI office made on September 10 (see September 10, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will note: “We believe that if more resources had been applied and a significantly different approach taken, Alhazmi and Almihdhar might have been found. They had used their true names in the United States. Still, the investigators would have needed luck as well as skill to find them prior to September 11.… Many FBI witnesses have suggested that even if [they] had been found, there was nothing the agents could have done except follow [them] onto the planes. We believe this is incorrect. Both Alhazmi and Almihdhar could have been held for immigration violations or as material witnesses in the Cole bombing case. Investigation or interrogation of them, and investigation of their travel and financial activities, could have yielded evidence of connections to other participants in the 9/11 plot. The simple fact of their detention could have derailed the plan. In any case, the opportunity did not arise.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 272]
The Department of Energy’s nuclear bomb squad, known as the Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST), is in Europe for an exercise called Jackal Cave. [Richelson, 2009, pp. 178; National Security Archive, 1/23/2009] The unit was created in 1975 following a extortionist’s threat to detonate a nuclear device in Boston if not paid a ransom. Since then, the group has been responsible for evaluating nuclear threats and, if the threat is judged credible, by searching for and disabling a nuclear device. [Time, 1/8/1996] This is the NEST’s first foreign deployment since 1998. Jackal Cave is a large exercise involving 500 personnel and 62 aircraft. The CIA and a special operations force are also involved in locating a mock nuclear device, which NEST would then disable. [National Security Archive, 1/23/2009] The exercise is canceled after the 9/11 attacks and the search team repatriated in the following days (see also October 11, 2001). [Swindon Advertiser, 8/30/2001; BBC News, 9/13/2001] All Department of Energy participants and equimpment are returned to the US within five days of the attacks. [Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, 2003 ]
A car rented by some of the 9/11 hijackers is recorded several times on surveillance cameras going in and out of the parking lot at Boston’s Logan Airport in the days before the attacks, and is finally left at the parking lot on the morning of September 11 (see (6:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The car is a white Mitsubishi sedan that has been leased from an Alamo franchise in Springfield, Massachusetts. It is found after the attacks, on the evening of September 11, and contains a “ramp pass” enabling access to restricted areas of Logan Airport. Time magazine will speculate that “someone was reconnoitering with accomplices who worked on the planes, who could plant weapons onboard.” [USA Today, 9/13/2001; Washington Post, 9/14/2001; Boston Globe, 9/17/2001; Time, 9/24/2001]
Robert Fuller, a rookie FBI agent at the bureau’s New York field office, contacts Dina Corsi, an agent in the bin Laden unit at FBI headquarters, about the search for Khalid Almihdhar. Fuller, who has been tasked to look for Almihdhar in the US, proposes that the FBI try to obtain additional data on Almihdhar, such as a credit card number from Saudi Airlines, with which Almihdhar flew to the US (see July 4, 2001). However, according to Fuller, Corsi tells him that it would not be prudent to do so. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 65 ] As a result, Fuller does not do the credit check (see September 4-5, 2001). It is not known why Corsi advises this.
Two unnamed investors buy a large number of shares of Stratesec, a company that provides airport security systems and which also has a contract to help provide security at the World Trade Center (see October 1996). Stratesec’s stock will increase in value from $0.75 per share on 9/11 to $1.49 per share when the market reopens on September 17. The value of the unnamed investors’ 56,000 shares will rise by over $50,000 in the weeks following the attacks. The purchase will draw the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission after 9/11, when it reviews possible profiteering by individuals with foreknowledge of the attacks. However, the FBI will find no evidence of a terrorist link and so decide not to pursue an investigation of the trades (see also July 22, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 8/18/2003, pp. 4-5 ]
Former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO), one of the two co-chairs of a comprehensive, bipartisan report on terrorism released in January 2001, meets with National Security Adviser Rice to see if the Bush administration is implementing the report’s recommendations. He later claims to give her a grave warning. He recalls to tone of her response: “She didn’t seem to feel a terrible sense of urgency. Her response was simply ‘I’ll talk to the vice president about it.‘… Even at this late date, nothing was being done inside the White House.” [Salon, 4/2/2004]
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, seeks to transfer $600 million to counterterrorism from the missile defense program to fill budgetary gaps. However, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sends a letter on this day saying he would urge Bush to veto the measure. Levin nonetheless pushes the measure through the next day on a party-line vote. It’s unclear if a veto would have followed. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; New York Times, 4/4/2004]
Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of President Bush, issues a new executive order authorizing the Florida National Guard to order its membership on active duty in response to acts of terrorism. The new order (EO 2001-261) states that the National Guard may now be called upon to assist law enforcement activities at Florida ports “[b]ased on the potential massive damage to life and property that may result from an act of terrorism at a Florida port.” This new order replaces an earlier one (EO 2001-17) issued on January 19, 2001, and which was not to expire until June 30, 2003, that is identical except for the new terrorism clause. [State of Florida, 9/7/2001]
The future of “continental air sovereignty” over America is in doubt. Discussions at the Air Force’s highest levels call for the dismantling of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US and its command and control structure. [Filson, 2003, pp. 149] Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region, will later add that “the secretary of the Air Force, James G. Roche, stated that he and the then chief of staff of the Air Force, General John Jumper, had decided to withdraw funding for air defense, and they had made that decision on September 7, 2001.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 289] Earlier in the summer of 2001, “a reduction in air defenses had been gaining currency in recent months among task forces assigned by [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld to put together recommendations for a reassessment of the military” (see Summer 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001]
’The President’s Man: A Line in the Sand.’ [Source: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment]A made-for-television film made by Chuck Norris for CBS Television is delivered to the network. Originally entitled The President’s Man: Ground Zero, the film stars Norris as Joshua McCord, a “Mission Impossible”-type special agent that the president of the United States likes to call upon when the FBI or CIA are not up to the task. McCord and his crew have just returned from West Africa, where they blew up Saddam Husein’s nuclear supplies, when they receive another urgent mission from the White House. This time a group of young Muslim terrorists has smuggled a small nuclear bomb into the US. The group is directed by a shadowy sheikh hiding deep underground below an ancient fort in Afghanistan. The sheikh threatens to blow up an American city unless the US releases terrorists captured after a previous attack. McCord’s mission: grab the sheikh from his lair, then find the bomb before it is too late. [New York Times, 2001; Glenn Beck, 3/3/2009] According to Norris, CBS will refuse to show the film. He will say: “CBS got so scared of it, they said… ‘[W]e can’t release this.… [I]t’s too prophetic.’” The film will later be released on video under the title The President’s Man: A Line in the Sand. [Glenn Beck, 3/3/2009]
The air traffic control tower at Logan Airport. [Source: Public Domain]Several unidentified Middle Eastern men try unsuccessfully to get a tour of the air traffic control tower at Boston’s Logan Airport, while, later in the day, a Middle Eastern man is able to enter the tower and look around. In the first incident, around late morning or early afternoon, four or five Middle Eastern men approach an air traffic controller in the parking area while he is on a cigarette break. The controller will later describe two of the men as “approximately 38 to 42 years of age,” while the others are “approximately 30 to 34 years of age.” (Mohamed Atta, the oldest of the 9/11 hijackers, is 33 years old at the time of the attacks.) One of the older men has a mustache, and all of them are dressed casually. The men ask the controller to let them have a tour of the control tower, but he refuses. After a brief conversation, he gives the men a phone number to call if they want a tour. Later on this day, during the evening, a Middle Eastern man who introduces himself as a pilot is able to enter and tour the tower. The man is able to get to the tower’s 19th floor, even though access to that floor is restricted. Officials later surmise that he waited in one of the elevators until an employee on the 19th floor called for it, and then the employee went down after the Middle Eastern man got off. The man enters a room where some controllers are on break. When the controllers ask the man what he is doing, he says he is a pilot who wants a tour of the tower cab. An unnamed source will later describe: “He showed some ID, said he was a pilot, and because it was not a busy time, they said OK. It is not that unusual for a pilot to get a tour.” The man heads up the stairs to the tower cab where he spends about 15 minutes and engages the controllers there in conversation. He says he lives in Haverhill and has family in Afghanistan, and then leaves on his own. The two incidents on this day will be recalled as suspicious after the 9/11 attacks, but the identity of the Middle Eastern men will not be established. [Boston Globe, 9/16/2001; Boston Globe, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2003]
President Bush’s first budget calls for $13.6 billion on counterterrorism programs, compared with $12.8 billion in President Clinton’s last budget and $2 billion ten years earlier. However, there are gaps between what military commanders say they need to combat terrorism and what they are slated to receive. These gaps are still unresolved on September 11. [Knight Ridder, 9/27/2001; Washington Post, 1/20/2002; Time, 8/12/2002]
Attorney General John Ashcroft rejects a proposed $58 million increase in financing for the FBI’s counterterrorism programs. The money would have paid for 149 new counterterrorism field agents, 200 additional analysts and 54 additional translators. On the same day, he sends a request for budget increases to the White House. It covers 68 programs—but none of them relate to counterterrorism. He also sends a memorandum to his heads of departments, stating his seven priorities—none of them relate to counterterrorism. [Guardian, 5/21/2002; New York Times, 6/1/2002; New York Times, 6/2/2002] He further proposes cutting a program that gives state and local counterterrorism grants for equipment like radios and preparedness training from $109 million to $44 million. Yet Ashcroft stopped flying public airplanes in July due to an as yet undisclosed terrorist threat (see July 26, 2001), and in a July speech he proclaimed, “Our No. 1 priority is the prevention of terrorist attacks.” [New York Times, 2/28/2002]
The domestic terrorism task force announced by President Bush and Vice President Cheney in May 2001 is just gearing up. Cheney appointed Admiral Steve Abbot to lead the task force in June, but he does not receive his White House security pass until now. Abbot has only hired two staffers and been working full time for a few days prior to 9/11. The task force was to have reported to Congress by October 1, 2001, a date they could not have met. [New York Times, 12/27/2001; Congressional Quarterly, 4/15/2004]
The FBI conducts a training exercise based on the scenario of an aircraft hijacking at Washington Dulles International Airport, the airport from which American Airlines Flight 77—the third plane to be hijacked—will take off on 9/11 (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The FBI exercise is based around a “traditional” hijacking that involves hostages being taken by the hijackers, according to Dana Pitts, an airport operations manager for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Members of the Dulles Airport staff provide some “operational support” during the exercise. Further details, including the date when the exercise is held, are unstated. [9/11 Commission, 10/16/2003 ] The FBI is the agency that has jurisdiction if a hijacking or hostage-taking incident occurs on an aircraft that is still on the ground. [Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, 5/6/2000 ; NPR, 9/20/2001]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice arrives at her office at the White House. [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xi] Rice will later recall that today is intended to be “a normal day, foreign visitors, several meetings.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Usually she or her deputy, Stephen Hadley, goes along on presidential trips to handle any national security questions that might come up, so one of them would have gone with President Bush the previous day for his two-day trip to Florida (see September 10, 2001). [Dallas Morning News, 9/9/2001; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xi] But, as Rice will later recall, Bush’s trip is “such a short trip that we decided not to do that.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] In their place, they have sent Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room. [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xi]
An unnamed gate agent at Logan Airport in Boston calls Donald Bennett, the crew chief for Flight 11, and asks him if the two suitcases of a passenger who has just boarded the plane have arrived from US Airways. Bennett replies that the suitcases, which belong to lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, have arrived, but Flight 11’s baggage compartment has already been locked for departure, so they will not be loaded. Atta flew from Portland to Boston on a Colgan Air flight operated for US Airways (see (6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). American Airlines baggage expediter Philip Depasquale will later claim that bags from US Airways are always late, and so this problem is a common occurrence. The luggage is turned over to Depasquale to have it sent to Los Angeles on another flight. According to Salvatore Misuraca, a ramp service manager for American Airlines at Logan Airport, gate agents do not usually call about a bag unless the passenger that owns it has specifically asked about it, to ensure that their bags have been put on their flight. Atta’s luggage will remain at Logan Airport and be found after the attacks, revealing important clues (see September 11-13, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2/10/2004]
The daily threat briefing at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) includes no indication of any increase in the terrorist threat level. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stuart, an intelligence officer working in the NEADS battle cab, will tell the 9/11 Commission that for his threat briefing today, there is “‘zero’ intelligence available concerning any increase in the terrorist threat level.” He will say that a briefing two days ago, on September 9, similarly “contained nothing on the terrorist threat.” Stuart will say the last briefing at NEADS that mentioned the threat posed by Osama bin Laden was on July 14, “as part of the increased threat warning during summer 2001.” [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/20/2004] NEADS, which is based in Rome, New York, will be responsible for coordinating the US military’s response to the hijackings later this morning (see 8:45 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Shenon, 2008, pp. 203]
Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency (NSA), is in his office at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, meeting with his senior staff. His executive assistant, Cindy Farkus, comes in and informs him of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. He later says, “The immediate image I had was a light plane, off course, bad flying.” He is able to see the initial CNN reports showing the WTC on a muted television in his office. Nevertheless, he continues with his meeting. Immediately after the second attack occurs, Farkus again comes into Hayden’s office to inform him of it. Saying that “One plane’s an accident, two planes is an attack,” Hayden immediately adjourns his meeting and requests that the agency’s top security officials be summoned to his office. Author James Bamford, who is an expert on the NSA, later comments that this is “not the way it was supposed to be. NSA was not supposed to find out about an airborne attack on America from CNN, after millions of other Americans had already witnessed it. It was supposed to find out first, from its own ultrasecret warning center, and then pass the information on to the White House and the strategic military forces” (see (8:48 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 18, 20 and 33]
Within the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland is a little-known unit called the Defense Special Missile and Astronautics Center (DEFSMAC). According to author James Bamford, who is an expert on the NSA, the center’s purpose is “to serve as the nation’s chief warning bell for a planned attack on America. It serves as the focal point for ‘all-source’ intelligence—listening posts, early-warning satellites, human agents, and seismic detectors.” According to one former NSA official, DEFSMAC “has all the inputs from all the assets, and is a warning activity. They probably have a better feel for any worldwide threat to this country from missiles, aircraft, or overt military activities, better and more timely, at instant fingertip availability, than any group in the United States.” If they received indications that an attack was imminent, DEFSMAC officials could “immediately send out near-real-time and in-depth, all-source intelligence alerts to almost 200 ‘customers,’ including the White House Situation Room, the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, the [Defense Intelligence Agency] Alert Center, and listening posts around the world.” Its analysts could be “closely monitoring all intercepts flooding in; examining the latest overhead photography; and analyzing data from early-warning satellites 22,300 miles above the equator. DEFSMAC would then flash the intelligence to the US Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, and other emergency command centers.” But on this morning, as Bamford will conclude, “DEFSMAC learned of the massive airborne attacks after the fact—not from America’s multibillion-dollar spy satellites or its worldwide network of advanced listening posts, or its army of human spies, but from a dusty, off-the-shelf TV set.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 33-35] The NSA had in fact intercepted numerous calls between some of the hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen, beginning in early 2000 and ending just weeks before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It also intercepted two messages in Arabic on September 10, stating, “The match is about to begin,” and “Tomorrow is zero hour,” but these are supposedly not translated until September 12 (see September 10, 2001). [Washington Post, 6/20/2002] The NSA even intercepted a series of communications between 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta beginning in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), continuing to a message where KSM gives Atta the final go-ahead for the attacks on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). Michael Hayden, the director of the NSA, will later claim that the “NSA had no [indications] that al-Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington… or even that it was planning an attack on US soil” (see October 17, 2002). [National Journal, 6/19/2006]
Scott Fry. [Source: NATO]Vice Admiral Scott Fry, a top official at the Pentagon with important responsibilities, goes to a dental appointment and only becomes involved with the response to the attacks after the second crash in New York. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 4-6] Fry is the director of operations of the Joint Staff, a post he has held since 1998. [US Department of Defense, 9/23/1998; Stars and Stripes, 10/4/2001] In this position, he is responsible for running the National Military Command Center (NMCC)—“the Pentagon’s highly secure nerve center”—and the Executive Support Center (ESC)—a suite of rooms at the Pentagon “where the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior officials would meet to discuss urgent matters.” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 5-6] He is due to leave shortly for Italy, where he is to take up an important Navy command. [Department of Defense, 9/4/2001; Stars and Stripes, 10/4/2001; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 4-5] Fry is anxious to go to the dentist before leaving for Italy. As he is about to leave his office for a 9:00 a.m. appointment, his executive assistant draws his attention to the television coverage of the first attack in New York. Reportedly believing the crash was “probably just a freak accident,” instead of heading to the NMCC or the ESC, Fry continues to the clinic (which is presumably within the Pentagon), and is in the dentist’s chair when the second attack occurs. His assistant then calls him on his cell phone to alert him to this. Fry reportedly concludes: “One airplane hitting a skyscraper, that was damned suspicious. But two… there was no doubt about it. It had to be a terrorist attack.” He promptly cancels his appointment and hurries to the NMCC. From there, he goes upstairs to the ESC, where a group is already assembling (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). In the ESC, a “video teleconference link could connect them to the White House, the State Department, the CIA, and military commanders throughout the world.” There, Fry discusses events in New York with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s aide Stephen Cambone. But, reportedly, what the men know is “not much, except what they could see on TV.” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 4-6] Only a few months previously, on June 1, 2001, a new Defense Department directive on dealing with domestic hijackings was issued under Fry’s signature (see June 1, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 ]
Karl Rove, Andrew Card, and Dan Bartlett.
[Source: White House, US Office Pristina, Kosovo, White House]President Bush’s motorcade has arrived at Booker Elementary School and Bush enters the school with his entourage. The beepers of politicians’ aides are going off with news of the first WTC crash as Bush arrives. According to one account, Bush learns of the crash when adviser Karl Rove takes Bush aside in a school corridor and tells him about the calamity. According to this account, Rove says the cause of the crash was unclear. Bush replies, “What a horrible accident!” Bush also suggests the pilot may have had a heart attack. This account is recalled by photographer Eric Draper, who was standing nearby at the time. [Daily Mail, 9/8/2002] Dan Bartlett, White House Communications Director, also says he is there when Bush is told: “[Bush] being a former pilot, had kind of the same reaction, going, was it bad weather? And I said no, apparently not.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] One account states that Rove tells Bush the WTC has been hit by a large commercial airliner. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] However, Bush later remembers Rove saying it appeared to be an accident involving a small, twin-engine plane. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] In a third version of the story, Bush later recalls that he first learns of the crash from chief of Staff Andrew Card, who says, “‘Here’s what you’re going to be doing; you’re going to meet so-and-so, such-and-such.’ And Andy Card says, ‘By the way, an aircraft flew into the World Trade Center.’” [Washington Times, 10/7/2002] “From the demeanor of the president, grinning at the children, it appeared that the enormity of what he had been told was taking a while to sink in,” according to a reporter standing nearby at the time. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Daily Mail, 9/8/2002]
Data recovery experts later looking at 32 hard drives salvaged from the 9/11 attacks discover a surge in credit card transactions from the World Trade Center in the hours before and during the attacks. Unusually large sums of money are rushed through computers even as the disaster unfolds. Investigators later say: “There is a suspicion that some people had advance knowledge of the approximate time of the plane crashes in order to move out amounts exceeding $100 million. They thought that the records of their transactions could not be traced after the mainframes were destroyed.” The data recovery effort is led by the German company Convar. Convar will not disclose the identity of its clients. [Reuters, 12/17/2001; Reuters, 12/19/2001; IDG News Service, 12/20/2001]
Mark Loizeaux. [Source: Dan Gross / Washington Technology]Immediately after seeing the attacks on the the World Trade Center on television, Mark Loizeaux, the president of leading building demolition firm Controlled Demolition Inc (CDI), tries to contact government officials to warn them that the Twin Towers will probably collapse. [US News and World Report, 6/22/2003; New Scientist, 7/24/2004] Loizeaux will later recall his initial reaction to the crashes in New York. After the first tower is hit, he will say, “I told Doug [Loizeaux, his brother] immediately that the tower was coming down, and when the second tower was hit, that it would follow.” According to US News and World Report, “Horrified, the Loizeaux brothers watched first responders streaming into the doomed towers and tried frantically, and unsuccessfully, to phone in warnings.” [US News and World Report, 6/22/2003] Mark Loizeaux will recall, “I still had some cell phone numbers, so when the second plane hit I said, ‘Start calling all the cell phones, tell them that the building is going to come down.’” However: “It was frenetic, nobody could get through even with speed dialling.… Of course, building number 7, where the emergency management headquarters was, was on fire. I’d been in that office two months before.” Loizeaux then phones a couple of people on the National Research Council committee involved in assessing the impact of explosives. They ask him, “What do you think this is, that they’re going to fail, that they’re both going to fail?” Loizeaux will recall: “The expression around was they’re going to pancake down, almost vertically. And they did. It was the only way they could fail. It was inevitable.” [New Scientist, 7/24/2004] Soon after the attacks, Loizeaux, as a recognized expert, will be called upon to comment on the fall of the WTC towers. [Construction (.com), 9/13/2001] In addition, his firm will be involved with the clearing of Ground Zero. (It was also tasked with bringing down the remnants of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City after its partial destruction in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and 7:01 a.m. May 23, 1995).) [Construction (.com), 10/1/2001]
Frank Brogan. [Source: Publicity photo]The Secret Service later tells the 9/11 Commission that while he is in the holding room at the Booker Elementary School (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), they are “anxious to move the president to a safer location, but did not think it imperative for him to run out the door.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] Yet according to Philip Melanson, who is an expert on the Secret Service, “With an unfolding terrorist attack, the procedure should have been to get the president to the closest secure location as quickly as possible, which clearly is not a school.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Bush himself later recalls that at this time, “[T]he Secret Service and the Mil Aide [military aide] was in the process of getting information about where the president ought to go. One thing for certain, I needed to get out of where I was.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 93] Yet he does not immediately leave the school, and will remain there to give a brief statement in its library (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to Frank Brogan, the lieutenant governor of Florida, who is also in the holding room at this time, the Secret Service tries to get the president to return to Air Force One immediately. But Bush refuses, saying he is “committed to staying on the ground long enough to write a statement about what was happening, read it to the nation and lead a moment of silence for the victims.” [UP Online, 9/18/2003] Bush himself later says that while he is in the holding room, “I didn’t spend that much time about my own safety because I knew others were worried about that. What I was interested in is making sure that the response mechanism that was under my control was sharp and ready to go. And that meant defense, for starters.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 93] Yet he reportedly will not make any decisions about the response to the attacks until after 9:55 a.m. (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission later claims that, while Bush is in the holding room, “No one in the traveling party had any information… that other aircraft were hijacked or missing. Staff was in contact with the White House Situation Room, but as far as we could determine, no one with the president was in contact with the Pentagon.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-41] In contrast to the Secret Service’s inaction in removing Bush from the school, Vice President Dick Cheney is reportedly “seized by the arms, legs and his belt and physically carried” out of his office by Secret Service agents around this time, in order to get him to the bunker below the White House. Cheney himself says the agents “hoisted me up and moved me very rapidly down the hallway, down some stairs” (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC, 9/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]
At the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, Michael Hayden, the agency’s director, orders the evacuation of all nonessential personnel from the NSA complex. His two reasons for this, he later says, are “just pure safety,” and to protect the people who work at the agency by sending “them home on the dispersal plan.” In a 2007 speech, he will state that he gave this order at 9:30 a.m. But in the account of author James Bamford, around the time Hayden gives the order he hears “some early reports about the explosion at the Pentagon.” Yet the attack on the Pentagon does not occur until 9:37 (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). The reason for this discrepancy is unclear. Hayden’s evacuation order is announced over loudspeakers throughout the NSA, and many of the 16,000 employees there leave. After hearing for sure that the Pentagon has been struck and that one or more hijacked aircraft is heading toward Washington, Hayden orders the three to four thousand remaining essential personnel to immediately evacuate the agency’s three tall towers and relocate to the low-rise Ops 1 Building. However, as Hayden later says, “[W]e really couldn’t afford to move the counterterrorism shop” where experts and linguists who track terrorists’ foreign communications work, even though it is located near the top of one of the NSA’s high-rise buildings. Maureen Baginski, the NSA’s director of signals intelligence, goes up there shortly after the time of the Pentagon attack to calm down the workers who, according to Hayden, are “emotionally shattered.” [US Congress, 10/17/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 52-54; National Journal, 6/19/2006; Central Intelligence Agency, 5/4/2007] At 9:53, analysts in the counterterrorism office will pick up and quickly translate a phone call from a bin Laden operative in Afghanistan, apparently referring to the attacks (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001).
An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center plane, with the call signal “Venus 77,” is launched from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, in response to the Pentagon attack, and is initially directed toward Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska. Shortly after taking off, the plane’s pilot asks to change his destination to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. He is cleared to do so and turns west. At 9:47, the pilot will ask to turn back east and hold south of Washington. The plane will settle into a holding pattern over Richmond, Virginia, possibly waiting there to receive a decision on where to fly the president. This incident, which is recorded on air traffic control tapes, will first come to light in 2009, in the book The Ground Truth by John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission. According to Farmer, Venus 77 is the “mystery plane” seen over Washington around this time (see (9:41 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206-207, 372] However, journalist and author Dan Verton will write that an E-4B took off from “an airfield outside of the nation’s capital” slightly earlier on, apparently just before the time of the Pentagon attack (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to Verton, it was due to participate in “a previously scheduled Defense Department exercise.” [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144] Whether that aircraft was Venus 77, described by Farmer, is unclear.
According to a fireman’s account, firefighting efforts at the Pentagon are hampered by smoke and small explosions coming out of a construction trailer near the impact site. On the morning of 9/11, Russell “Rusty” Dodge, Jr., an assistant chief with the Fort Belvoir Fire Department, is at Fort Meyer, about a mile from the Pentagon, for a training exercise (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). He is one of the first to arrive on the scene. He tries to put out the fires, but a construction trailer is a serious obstacle. He will later recall, “[T]hat trailer was the main producer of smoke on the outside of the building….” The trailer “was producing some severe fires and subsequent mini explosions due to highly flammable chemicals in it…. Luckily the chemical containers were caged. Otherwise the fires would have been worse.” [MDW News Service, 10/4/2001]
Space view of New York on 9/11/01 [Source: NASA]The commander of the International Space Station, Frank Culbertson, is informed of the 9/11 attacks by NASA’s ground control. The station is orbiting the earth at a distance of about 300 miles. In addition to Culbertson, the station is manned by two Russian cosmonauts, Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin. Culbertson quickly determines that the station will soon fly over New England. He positions himself with video and photographic equipment to record what he can see from space. One of his pictures, apparently taken after the collapse of both towers, shows a plume of smoke rising tens of miles into the sky. Vladimir Dezhurov will later take part in a televised debate during which he will apparently express skepticism about the US government’s version of the attacks (see September 12, 2008). [National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 9/12/2001; CNN, 10/15/2001; New York Times, 11/27/2001; Guardian, 9/11/2002]
David Addington. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]According to an in-depth examination by the Washington Post, within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney begins working to secure additional powers for the White House. Cheney had plans in place to begin acquiring these powers for the executive branch before the attacks, but had not begun to execute them.
Gathering the Team - David Addington, Cheney’s general counsel and legal adviser, had been walking home after having to leave the now-evacuated Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He receives a message from the White House telling him to turn around, because the vice president needs him. After Addington joins Cheney in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the East Wing of the White House, the pair reportedly begin “contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?” Later in the day, Addington connects by secure video with Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, who is in the White House Situation Room. John Yoo, the deputy chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, is also patched in from the Justice Department’s command center. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales joins them later. This forms the core legal team that Cheney will oversee after the terrorist attacks. Associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson will later recall: “Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales were really a triumvirate. [Yoo] was a supporting player.” Addington dominates the group. Gonzales is there primarily because of his relationship with President Bush. He is not, Yoo will later recall, “a law-of-war expert and [doesn’t] have very developed views.” Along with these allies, Cheney will provide what the Washington Post calls “the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon,” which will free the president to fight the war on terror, “as he saw fit.”
Drafting the AUMF - The team begins drafting the document that will become the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see October 10, 2002) passed by Congress for the assault on Afghanistan. In the words of the group, the president is authorized “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
Extraordinarily Broad Language - The language is extraordinarily broad; Yoo will later explain that they chose such sweeping language because “this war was so different, you can’t predict what might come up.” The AUMF draft is the first of numerous attempts to secure broad powers for the presidency, most justified by the 9/11 attacks. The Washington Post will later report, “In fact, the triumvirate knew very well what would come next: the interception—without a warrant—of communications to and from the United States” (see September 25, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Bill Wright. [Source: WTAE-TV]Bill Wright is piloting a small plane when an air traffic controller asks him to look around outside his window, according to his later claims. Wright sees Flight 93 three miles away—close enough that he can see the United Airlines colors. Air traffic control asks him the plane’s altitude, and then commands him to get away from the plane and land immediately. Wright sees the plane rock back and forth three or four times before he flies from the area. He will later say, “That’s one of the first things that went through my mind when they told us to get as far away from it as fast as we could—that either they were expecting it to blow up or they were going to shoot it down, but that’s pure speculation.” [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/19/2001] According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center tells FAA headquarters that a nearby plane has seen Flight 93 “waving his wings.” The Commission will say, “The aircraft had witnessed the radical gyrations in what we believe was the hijackers’ effort to defeat the passenger assault.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] This presumably is a reference to Wright.
Vice President Cheney reportedly calls President Bush and tells him of a threat to Air Force One and that it will take 40-90 minutes to get a protective fighter escort in place. Later, many will express doubt about the existence of this threat. For instance, Representative Martin Meehan (D-MA) says, “I don’t buy the notion Air Force One was a target. That’s just PR, that’s just spin.” [Washington Times, 10/8/2002] A later account will call the threat “completely untrue,” and say Cheney probably made the story up. A well-informed, anonymous Washington official says, “It did two things for [Cheney]. It reinforced his argument that the president should stay out of town, and it gave George W. an excellent reason for doing so.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] In 2004, the Wall Street Journal will investigate the alleged threat and report two differing accounts of this episode, one from White House spokesman Dan Bartlett, and the other from the office of Vice-President Cheney.
No Actual Threat - Bartlett will say there had not been any actual threat, but that word of a threat results from confusion in the White House bunker, as multiple conversations go on simultaneously. Many of these exchanges apparently relate to rumors that turn out to be false, such as reports of attacks on the president’s ranch in Texas and the State Department. Bartlett will say, “Somebody was using the word ‘angel,’ [a code word for Air Force One and] that got interpreted as a threat based on the word ‘angel.’”
Cheney's Account Changes - The vice president’s office will say it still could not rule out that a threat to Air Force One actually had been made. Cheney initially says word of the threat had been passed to him by Secret Service agents, but two former senior Secret Service agents on duty that day will deny their agency played any role in receiving or passing on the threat. An official in Cheney’s office will then say that Cheney was mistaken and that he had received word of the threat from “a uniformed military person” manning the underground bunker. Apparently, nobody knows the identity of this person. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 ]
The seismic record at Palisades, NY, 34 km north of the World Trade Center. [Source: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory] (click image to enlarge)According to a seismographical study conducted by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, five distinct shocks occur at the World Trade Center site. They occur at 11:01 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 11:29 a.m., 12:07 p.m., and 12:10 p.m. According to the study, the five resulting seismic signals “may have been generated by additional collapses.” [Earth Institute at Columbia University, 11/16/2001; Kim et al., 11/20/2001 ]
An engineer at the World Trade Center site correctly predicts that WTC Building 7 is going to collapse. Deputy Chief Peter Hayden of the New York Fire Department will later recall: “We had our special operations people set up surveying instruments to monitor, and see if there was any movement of, [WTC 7]. We were concerned of the possibility of collapse of the building. And we had a discussion with one particular engineer there, and we asked him, if we allowed it to burn could we anticipate a collapse, and if so, how soon?” The engineer apparently predicts correctly that WTC 7 will collapse and also the time it will take before it comes down. As Hayden will continue: “And it turned out that he was pretty much right on the money, that he said, ‘In its current state, you have about five hours.’” Hayden will not reveal the name of this engineer. [BBC, 7/6/2008] WTC 7 will collapse at about 5:20 p.m. (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001), indicating that the engineer makes his prediction around midday or shortly after. [CNN, 9/12/2001]
The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency informs military leaders in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that al-Qaeda is responsible for the morning’s attacks. General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later describe: “At noon, Vice Admiral Tom Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, confirmed what everybody at the conference table had already surmised: The attacks had undoubtedly come from al-Qaeda.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 156] Later in the day, Wilson will inform General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of a single piece of intelligence that had suggested a terrorist attack may have been imminent (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]
Just hours after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, neoconservative writer and former CIA asset Michael Ledeen writes an op-ed at the National Review’s website attacking the more moderate “realists” in the Bush administration. Ledeen urges someone in the White House to remind President Bush that “we are still living with the consequences of Desert Storm [referencing the decision not to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 1991—see February 1991-1992 and September 1998] when his father and his father’s advisers—most notably Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft—advised against finishing the job and liberating Iraq.” Ledeen is clearly implying that Iraq is responsible for the attacks, and that Bush should “correct” his father’s mistake by invading Iraq. [Unger, 2007, pp. 215]
The FBI’s Minneapolis office asks for permission to interview Zacarias Moussaoui a few hours after the end of the 9/11 attacks, but permission is denied, apparently on the grounds that there is no emergency. On 9/11, the office’s counsel, Coleen Rowley, seeks permission from the Acting US Attorney to question Moussaoui about whether al-Qaeda has any further plans to hijack airliners or otherwise attack the US. The next day she asks again; this time the request is sent to the Justice Department. Such questioning would not usually be permitted, but Rowley argues that it should be allowed under a public safety exception. However, permission is denied and Rowley is told that the emergency is over so the public safety exception does not apply. Rowley will later comment: “We were so flabbergasted about the fact we were told no public safety emergency existed just hours after the attacks that my boss advised me to document it in a memo which became the first document in the legal subfile of the FBI’s ‘Penttbom’ case.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2007] Some sources will suggest that Moussaoui was to be part of a second wave of attacks (see September 5, 2002). He is also an associate of shoe bomber Richard Reid, who will attempt to blow up an airliner later this year (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000 and December 22, 2001).
The FAA announces that there will be no commercial air traffic in the United States for at least a day. According to CNN, the FAA says this operating status will remain until noon on September 12, “at the earliest.” [CNN, 9/12/2001; CBS News, 2002, pp. 15]
A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; White House, 10/24/2001] It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 ]
Plane Reportedly Transmitting Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” [White House, 11/14/2001]
Plane on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it is found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR) will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), and told, “We just talked to the airline, and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” [White House, 11/14/2001]
President Decides to Leave Offutt after Concerns Resolved - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001) after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), and Arnold listens in. After he learns that the plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush replies, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88] Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001] Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005] The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
Van Harp. [Source: US Department of Defense]Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s Washington, DC, field office, is away from the capital in South Carolina for his summer vacation, and has to be flown back to Washington in an FBI plane to help respond to the terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C45, C47; 9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 ] Harp took command of the Washington field office (WFO) as its new assistant director in charge in July this year. [Washington Post, 4/18/2003; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010] But on this day he is in Hilton Head, South Carolina, on vacation with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He learned of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center when his secretary, Donna Cummings, paged him shortly after the attack occurred. Harp then called Cummings and she told him what had happened. He switched on the television in time to see the second plane crashing into the WTC, and had known then that he needed to return to Washington.
FBI Granted Permission to Send Plane to Collect Harp - Because all planes have been grounded across the US (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the FBI initially arranged for state troopers in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to drive Harp back to Washington. But the bureau was then able to get special permission from the FAA to send an aircraft to fly Harp home. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 424; Washington Post, 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C47] The FBI therefore sent one of its aircraft to collect Harp from Hilton Head Airport. The small, single-engine plane received clearance to take off from Manassas Regional Airport, 30 miles west of Washington, at around 2:30 p.m. The time when it lands in Hilton Head is unstated, as is the time when it lands back at the Manassas airport. From the Manassas airport, Harp drives to an FBI command post at Washington Dulles International Airport and then arrives at the WFO sometime later in the afternoon. He will stay at the field office until 2:20 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 424; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-2, S-41 ]
Three of Office's Four Leaders Absent - The WFO is the second largest of the FBI’s 56 field offices in terms of staffing. It comprises 657 agents and 650 professional support staff. Serving under Harp, three special agents in charge (SACs) direct the office’s administrative and technical, criminal investigations, and national security divisions. However, of the WFO’s four senior leaders, only SAC Arthur Eberhart, the head of the administrative and technical division, was present at the office when the terrorist attacks took place. SAC Ellen Knowlton, who headed the criminal investigative division, was recently reassigned to FBI headquarters, and so her position is currently vacant. SAC Timothy Bereznay was only recently appointed to head the national security division, and so he has not yet reported to the WFO. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C3, C45; 9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/6/2006] The WFO will be one of the key FBI offices involved in the fight against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks. [Washington Post, 4/18/2003]
United Airlines Flight 8811 takes off from San Francisco, California, to transport a group of FBI agents to Washington, DC. The Boeing 757 is carrying 75 FBI agents and 14,000 pounds of equipment across the US. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 279] The agents are members of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) and its Hostage Rescue Team, which is operated by the CIRG, who arrived in California the previous day for a week of field training (see September 10, 2001) and were therefore stranded away from Washington when the terrorist attacks occurred this morning (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). After learning that the FBI had essential personnel wanting to return to Washington, United Airlines offered to provide an aircraft and crew to fly them home (see (3:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2001; Darling, 2010, pp. 73-76] Flight 8811 has received approval to take off from NORAD headquarters. It is one of the first non-military aircraft to be permitted to take off since NORAD implemented a limited version of a plan called “SCATANA,” which gave the military control over US airspace (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After taking off, the plane’s pilot, Captain Barry Nance, is cleared “direct” across the country. As he flies to Washington, Nance hears just three other aircraft over the radio, all of them military fighter jets. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 279] Flight 8811 will reach Washington just after midnight and land at Reagan National Airport. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 282; Lynn Spencer, 2008]
Donald Rumsfeld (center) with, left to right, Secretary of the Army Tom White, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton, and Senators John Warner (R-VI) and Carl Levin (D-MI). [Source: Bob Houlihan / US Navy]At a press briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld takes Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) to task for the Democrats’ opposition to increased defense spending. After answering questions about the terrorist attacks and assuring the nation that “the Pentagon is functioning,” Rumsfeld suddenly turns to Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and says: “Senator Levin, you and other Democrats in Congress have voiced fear that you simply don’t have enough money for the large increase in defense that the Pentagon is seeking, especially for missile defense, and you fear that you’ll have to dip into the Social Security funds to pay for it. Does this sort of thing convince you that an emergency exists in this country to increase defense spending, to dip into Social Security, if necessary, to pay for defense spending—increase defense spending?” Levin replies: “One thing where the committee was unanimous on, among many, many other things, was that the—we authorized the full request of the president, including the $18 billion. So I would say that Democrats and Republicans have seen the need for the request.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
Donald Rumsfeld speaking at his 6:42 p.m. news briefing. Behind the secretary of defense, left to right, are Thomas White, Henry Shelton, John Warner, and Carl Levin. [Source: Bob Houlihan/US Navy]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and four other senior officials give a news briefing at the Pentagon, which is broadcast live around the world, to reassure the public that the US government is still functioning and the nation is strong, and during the briefing Rumsfeld says that, despite the devastating attack there, the Pentagon will reopen the following day. [Government Executive, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 34; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 436] Joining Rumsfeld in the Pentagon press room to give the briefing are Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the committee’s ranking minority member, respectively; General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has returned to the US after his flight to Europe was aborted (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001); and Secretary of the Army Thomas White, who has come to the Pentagon from the alternate command location. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 145] Levin and Warner called Rumsfeld earlier in the day, promising him their wholehearted support, and he had suggested they come over to the Pentagon. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 228]
Officials Addressing Millions of Americans - As Rumsfeld and the four other men stood outside the press room before the briefing, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke informed them, “Gentlemen, you are about to address 320 million Americans who have witnessed an unspeakable tragedy today.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 34]
Pentagon 'Will Be in Business Tomorrow' - Rumsfeld begins the briefing, reading out a statement he has written by hand. He says, “This is a tragic day for our country,” and adds, “We have taken a series of measures to prevent further attacks and to determine who is responsible.” After summarizing some of the Defense Department’s actions throughout the day, Rumsfeld gives reassurance that the Pentagon is still up and running, pointing out that “the briefing here is taking place in the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s functioning,” and, he adds, “It will be in business tomorrow.” Shelton calls the day’s terrorist attacks “an outrageous act of barbaric terrorism carried out by fanatics,” and states, “I have no intentions of discussing today what comes next, but make no mistake about it, your armed forces are ready.”
'No Information' that Military Shot Down Any Aircraft - Rumsfeld takes a number of questions from reporters, but refuses to speculate about any uncertain information. When asked: “What about Osama bin Laden? Do you suspect him as the prime suspect in this?” Rumsfeld answers, “It’s not the time for discussions like that.” One reporter says, “[T]here were rumors earlier in the day that the plane which crashed in Pennsylvania had been brought down by the United States, either shot down or in some other manner,” to which Rumsfeld responds, “We have absolutely no information that any US aircraft shot down any other aircraft today.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Clarke, 2006, pp. 230-231]
Briefing Would Be a 'Powerful Statement' - The briefing has come about because Clarke felt earlier on that Rumsfeld should do a media briefing today and that, despite the objections of others, it should be conducted at the Pentagon, as this would be “the most powerful statement we could deliver that we were open for business.” Rumsfeld agreed with Clarke’s suggestion to hold such a briefing. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 229-230] Shelton will later recall that the feedback the briefing generates “by far surpassed any other I have ever received. The nation was obviously shaken and looking for reassurance that their government was still functioning.” [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 436]
On the evening after the 9/11 attacks, some White House personnel, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff, are given the anti-anthrax drug Cipro, and told to take it regularly. [Associated Press, 10/24/2001] An unnamed “high government official” also advises some reporters to take Cipro shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). Judicial Watch will later sue the Bush administration to release documents showing who knew what and when, and why presidential staff were protected while senators, congresspeople, and others were not. [Associated Press, 6/9/2002]
Bush addresses the nation from the White House.
[Source: White House]From the White House Oval Office, President Bush gives a seven-minute address to the nation on live television. [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 31] He says, “I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice.” In what will later be called the Bush Doctrine, he states, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” [US President, 9/17/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Washington Post reporter Dan Balz will later comment that this “those who harbor them” statement “set the tone for where the administration was going both with Afghanistan and, I think, with Iraq.” Bush’s speechwriter at the time, David Frum, will later say: “When he laid down those principles, I don’t know whether he foresaw all of their implications, how far they would take him. I don’t know if he understood fully and foresaw fully the true radicalism of what he had just said.” Neoconservatives see hope that the words could lead to an invasion of Iraq. Author and former National Security Council staffer Kenneth Pollack will comment, “It does seem very clear that after September 11th, this group seized upon the events of September 11th to resurrect their policy of trying to go after Saddam Hussein and a regime change in Iraq.” [PBS Frontline, 2/20/2003] Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived back from Peru too late to influence the content of this pivotal speech (see (Between 7:40 p.m. and 8:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
The FBI dramatically escalates its warrantless wiretaps of US citizens, most without the proper paperwork or oversight. The public will not learn of the FBI wiretapping program until October 2005, when classified documents will be made available to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), an advocacy group that will sue the Justice Department for records relating to the Patriot Act. According to those documents, which are heavily redacted, the FBI conducts clandestine surveillance on some US residents for 18 months and even longer. The FBI will also internally investigate at least 287 violations of its use of secret surveillance against US citizens. One target will be kept under surveillance for over five years, including a 15-month stretch where the FBI fails to notify Justice Department lawyers after the subject moves from New York to Detroit. According to an FBI investigation, that delay is a violation of department guidelines and will prevent the department “from exercising its responsibility for oversight and approval of an ongoing foreign counterintelligence investigation of a US person.” Other cases involve agents obtaining e-mails after warrants expire, seizing bank records without authorization, and conducting improper “unconsented physical search(es).” EPIC’s general counsel, David Sobel, will say in October 2005 that the classified documents indicate possible misconduct by the FBI in counterintelligence investigations, and highlight the need for greater congressional oversight of clandestine surveillance within the United States. “We’re seeing what might be the tip of the iceberg at the FBI and across the intelligence community,” Sobel will say. “It indicates that the existing mechanisms do not appear adequate to prevent abuses or to ensure the public that abuses that are identified are treated seriously and remedied.” The FBI will counter by insisting that all of the infractions are minor, mostly what it calls administrative errors, and that any information obtained improperly is quarantined and eventually destroyed. One senior FBI official will say, “Every investigator wants to make sure that their investigation is handled appropriately, because they’re not going to be allowed to keep information that they didn’t have the proper authority to obtain. But that is a relatively uncommon occurrence. The vast majority of the potential [violations] reported have to do with administrative timelines and time frames for renewing orders.” Catherine Lotrionte, the counsel for the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which is tasked with overseeing the FBI’s domestic surveillance operations, will refuse to disclose any details of any of the FBI violations, saying most of its work is classified and covered by executive privilege. The surveillance operations are conducted under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978), whose threshold for such surveillance is lower than for criminal warrants. In 2004 alone, over 1,700 new cases will be opened by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. [Washington Post, 10/24/2005] Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) tells the Associated Press that the US government has been monitoring Osama bin Laden’s communications electronically, and overheard two bin Laden aides celebrating the successful terrorist attack: “They have an intercept of some information that included people associated with bin Laden who acknowledged a couple of targets were hit.” [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; ABC News, 9/12/2001] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly denounces the report, not as untrue, but as an unauthorized release of classified information. [Department of Defense, 9/12/2001]
In the months following 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney spends large portions of his time in what are referred to as “secure and undisclosed” locations. [CNN, 3/1/2002] He is accompanied to these locations by those considered his “essential staff.” This includes his chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Libby’s assistant, Jennifer Mayfield; Cheney’s personal secretary, Debbie Heiden; his personal aide, Brian McCormack; one of his military aides; and either his counsel, David Addington, or his staff secretary, Neil Patel.
Staff Ordered to Maintain Secrecy - Cheney’s personnel are ordered not to mention the vice president’s name or title on the phone; his schedule is to go out only over secure fax or classified e-mail; and all members of his staff must always keep a packed bag ready at the office. According to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, the “secure undisclosed location” the vice president goes to is usually Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, although there are other locations. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 349]
Maintaining the 'Continuity of Government' - Cheney explains to PBS the reasoning behind his going to these locations: “[W]ith the possibility that the White House or the Capitol or other facilities here [in Washington] could be targeted in a terrorist attack… it’s not a good practice for the president and I to spend a lot of time together.… [I]t’s important from the standpoint of our responsibility to maintain the continuity of government to always see to it that nobody—no adversary or enemy would have the capacity of, in effect, decapitating the federal government by taking out the president and the vice president and other senior management, senior leadership.” [PBS, 10/12/2001] Yet, despite the supposed danger, he still goes ahead with a pre-planned pheasant-hunting trip in early November (see (November 4-5, 2001)). Cheney’s time at the “secure and undisclosed” locations is part of “shadow government” procedures that are implemented following the 9/11 attacks (see (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 3/1/2002] In interviews, he never mentions that he had similarly gone away to undisclosed locations on a regular basis throughout the 1980s, during a series of Continuity of Government exercises (see 1981-1992). [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-139 and 296; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]
Neoconservative academic and author Laurie Mylroie, who has argued that Saddam Hussein was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see October 2000), publishes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal blaming Hussein for the 9/11 bombings. Though Mylroie has been thoroughly discredited (one former journalist, Peter Bergen, will call her a “crackpot”—see December 2003), and though US intelligence analysts are already telling journalists and White House officials that Iraq had nothing to do with the bombings, Mylroie’s assertions receive major coverage from many US and British media outlets. In a follow-up interview on CBS News, she says, “In my view, yesterday’s events were the latest in Saddam’s war against the United States.” Author Craig Unger later notes that Mylroie’s baseless charges may be considered harmless eccentricity except for two things:
Her claims perfectly parallel the policy aims of her neoconservative colleagues and associates in the White House; and
while few Americans have ever heard of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, and few find it credible that such devastation could be wrought by a small group of cave-dwelling fanatics, Saddam Hussein is a familiar name to most Americans, “a villain,” Unger will write, “straight out of central casting.” Mylroie’s specious claims will help fix the blame for 9/11 in Americans’ minds directly on Hussein and Iraq, Unger will claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 215-216]
RaptureReady logo. [Source: RaptureReady (.com)]In the days after the 9/11 attacks, RaptureReady.com, a web site devoted to the study and predictions of Biblical “end times,” hits a new high of 182 on its “Rapture Index.” The site calls this measure the “Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity.” A score of 145 is labeled “Fasten Your Seat Belts.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 218]
A JBECC unit. [Source: Air Force]The US Air Force turns to a new type of device to improve NORAD’s air surveillance capabilities for the East Coast. The new system, called the Joint Based Expeditionary Connectivity Center, or JBECC, is a sophisticated mobile radar command center. It is housed inside a Humvee. Once the vehicle is parked, a tent can be expanded to allow additional screens and communication equipment to be laid out and used. Brown International, the Alabama-based company behind it, received an urgent call from an Air Force commander on the evening of 9/11, requesting the new system. A cargo plane was sent to pick it up immediately. [Associated Press, 11/29/2004] On September 12, the JBECC prototype is deployed to Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia. It links the CONR (NORAD’s Continental US Region) Air Operations Center into AWACS and other East Coast radars. [Filson, 2003, pp. 143] The principal innovation of the JBECC is that it allows the merging of military and civilian radar data on one screen. Now, the military can see civilian radar returns and transponder information without having to call the FAA. Reportedly, during the 9/11 attacks, the military’s inability to see the FAA’s data hampered its response to the hijackings. Terry Beane, the president of Brown International, will later explain: “A military radar will see there is something there but doesn’t know what it is. On 9/11, they were having to literally talk on the phone to each other. The problem was they didn’t know which planes were OK and which ones weren’t because they didn’t have all that integrated.” [Associated Press, 11/29/2004] The JBECC is also superior at tracking low-level aircraft like cruise missiles, something that has always been difficult for ground-based radar because of the earth’s curvature. It was successfully tested prior to 9/11 during the Amalgam Virgo 01 air defense exercise in June 2001 (see June 1-2, 2001). [Jane's Defense Weekly, 5/4/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] The JBECC will later be deployed during important national security events such as the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and the 2004 G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia. [Associated Press, 11/29/2004]
Prominent conservative and former Reagan administration official William Bennett tells CNN that, in light of the 9/11 attacks, the US is locked in “a struggle between good and evil.” Congress must immediately declare war on what he calls “militant Islam,” with “overwhelming force.” Bennett says the US must target Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and China as targets for attack. In 2003, fellow conservative Pat Buchanan will write: “Not, however, Afghanistan, the sanctuary of Osama [bin Laden]‘s terrorists. How did Bennett know which nations must be smashed before he had any idea who attacked us?” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
The Wall Street Journal editorial page reacts to the 9/11 attacks by advocating that the US attack “terrorist camps in Syria, Sudan, Libya, and Algeria, and perhaps even in parts of Egypt.” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Regarding President Bush’s decision not to return to Washington immediately after the 9/11 attacks, historian Robert Dallek tells a USA Today reporter: “Frankly, President Bush made an initial mistake. The president’s place is back in Washington” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 10:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley adds, “If I were Bush, I’d be in the White House right now, saying, ‘We took a hit at the Pentagon and had a disaster in New York, but the government of the United States is unscathed by this and we’re going to march forward.’” When Dallek’s words appear in print, White House political adviser Karl Rove calls Dallek to inform him that Bush did not return to Washington right away because of security threats to the White House (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Air Force One (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Rove provides no substantiation for his claims, and media critic Eric Alterman later asks, “If you think Air Force One is to be attacked (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), why go up in Air Force One?” Looking back on Dallek’s assessment, New York Times columnist Frank Rich later writes, “September 11 was the first time since the British set fire to the White House in 1814 that a president abandoned the capital for security reasons.” [USA Today, 9/12/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 24-25]
The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), Germany’s federal anticrime agency, obtains a DNA sample for one of the 9/11 hijackers, alleged Flight 93 pilot Ziad Jarrah, after a search of the home of his girlfriend, Aysel Senguen. After the BKA sends the sample to the FBI, the bureau matches it with the DNA profile of one of four sets of unknown human remains recovered from the site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed. According to an FBI report provided to the 9/11 Commission, presumably sometime between 2003 and 2004, no relatives of the alleged 9/11 hijackers provide the bureau with DNA samples for comparison. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2003]
FAA personnel are too busy after 9/11 to complete an after-action report on the agency’s response to the terrorist attacks. Mike Morse, an FAA national security coordination staffer, will later tell the 9/11 Commission: “No comprehensive after-action report was ever completed by the FAA. Everyone was working day and night on emergency measures. The potential for other attacks was real.” The official initially tasked with writing the report is Larry Bruno, the FAA’s security regulatory manager. But, according to Morse, Bruno finds it “impossible because people could not make time to cooperate.” Willie Gripper, the deputy director of civil aviation security operations at FAA headquarters, then tasks Morse with the assignment, but Morse says that accomplishing the task will require that higher level officials make it a priority. An attempt is made to complete a report around March or April 2002, but the creation of the Transportation Security Administration is underway at the time, and so it is “increasingly difficult to get all of the [FAA] principals in one place to discuss what happened and generate ‘lessons learned,’” according to Morse. [9/11 Commission, 9/15/2003, pp. 10 ; 9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004, pp. 5-6 ]
Michael Scheuer, former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), returns to the unit to serve as an adviser, but is not allowed to debrief detainees. Scheuer, who was fired from the unit in 1999 (see June 1999), remains with Alec Station until 2004, when he resigns from the CIA and authors Imperial Hubris, a book critical of the CIA and the US government’s fight against terrorism in general. He had finished his first book, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, before 9/11, and it is released in 2002. He will later complain that he is given a job title but no official duties. Other CIA officers seek out his services, but these requests are blocked, apparently by James Pavitt, the Deputy Director of Operations. Scheuer comments: “The CIA knew that Through Our Enemies’ Eyes was respected by Islamists and that, as the author, I would be an effective debriefer. Mr. Pavitt, however, put burying my career above using me to elicit information to defend America.” [Scheuer, 2005, pp. 264; Scheuer, 2006, pp. xvii]
After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration seizes the new opportunities to expand the power of the presidency that present themselves as part of the government’s response to the attacks (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Bush-Cheney legal team, largely driven by Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff (see January 21, 2001), aggressively pushes for new opportunities to expand executive branch authorities.
'Bravado,' 'Close-Minded Group of Like-Minded People' - A senior White House official later tells author and reporter Charlie Savage of the “pervasive post-9/11 sense of masculine bravado and one-upmanship when it came to executive power.” In Savage’s words, and quoting the official, “a ‘closed group of like-minded people’ were almost in competition with one another, he said, to see who could offer the farthest-reaching claims of what a president could do. In contrast, those government lawyers who were perceived as less passionate about presidential power were derided as ‘soft’ and were often simply cut out of the process” (see also September 25, 2001).
Suspicion of Oversight - “The lawyers for the administration felt a tremendous amount of time pressure, and there was a lot of secrecy,” the official will say. “These things were being done in small groups. There was a great deal of suspicion of the people who normally act as a check inside the executive branch, such as the State Department, which had the reputation of being less aggressive on executive power. This process of faster, smaller groups fed on itself and built a dynamic of trying to show who was tougher on executive power.”
Addington and Yoo: Outsized Influence - While nominally the leaders of the White House legal team are Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, neither has as much influence as lawyers and staffers ostensibly of lower rank than themselves. Ashcroft is a vociferous supporter of the administration’s anti-terrorism policies, but is not a member of Bush’s inner circle and sometimes disagrees with the White House’s legal moves. Neither Ashcroft nor Gonzales have prior experience dealing with the legal issues surrounding executive power and national security. Two of the driving forces behind the White House’s push for more presidential power are Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, and an obscure deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), John Yoo. Because of a dispute between Ashcroft and the Bush inner circle over who should lead the OLC, there is no official chief of the OLC until November 2002, leaving Yoo and his fellows free to be as aggressive as they like on expanding presidential power and handling the war on terrorism. When the OLC chief, law professor Jay Bybee, finally arrives, he, like Ashcroft and Gonzales, finds himself hampered by his lack of knowledge of the law as it pertains to national security. Savage will later write, “When he finally started work, Bybee let deputies continue to spearhead the review of matters related to the war on terrorism.” Yoo is only a deputy assistant attorney general, but he has “signing power”—the ability to make his opinion legally binding—and is rarely reviewed by his peers because much of his work is classified. [Savage, 2007, pp. 76-78] As for Addington, Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say that he was the leader of the small but highly influential group of lawyers “who had these incredible theories and would stand behind their principles [Cheney, Bush, and others], whispering in their ears about these theories, telling them they have these powers, that the Constitution backs these powers, that these powers are ‘inherent’ and blessed by God and if they are not exercised, the nation will fall. He’d never crack a smile. His intensity and emotions and passion for these theories are extraordinary.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 84]
Congress explicitly refuses to grant the Bush administration the authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps and surveillance operations against US citizens in its resolution authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, will write in December 2005 (after his ouster from Congress in November 2004) that the White House and the Justice Department will claim, falsely, that the AUMF grants the right for the NSA to conduct such a program (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Instead, Daschle will write, the NSA merely usurps the authority, with the president’s approval, to conduct such an extralegal surveillance program (see December 21-22, 2005). [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Administration Efforts to Rewrite AUMF - In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Daschle will observe that the AUMF authorizes Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. But, Daschle will write, “Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States and’ after ‘appropriate force’ in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas—where we all understood he wanted authority to act—but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.”
No Vote for Domestic Surveillance - Daschle will also write that the White House attempted to add draft language to the AUMF resolution that would give the administration new and sweeping authority to use force to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States,” even against nations and organizations not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney will claim that the AUMF “granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that’s what we’ve done.” But Daschle will write that Cheney is mistaken. “As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel’s office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.” On September 12, six days before the September 18 AUMF vote, Bush officials demand that Congress authorize the use of military force to, in their words, “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” But Congress refuses, feeling that the request is “too broad and ill defined.” Instead, on September 14, Congress choses to use language that authorizes Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. Daschle later writes, “With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.… The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration’s request for an unprecedented grant of authority.” Instead, Daschle will write, the administration simply takes the authority anyway, and will argue in hindsight that the AUMF actually gives the administration the right to wiretap US citizens. However, Daschle will write, “at the time, the administration clearly felt they [didn’t have the authority] or it wouldn’t have tried to insert the additional language.”
Breeding 'Fear and Suspicion' - He concludes, “[T]here are right and wrong ways to defeat terrorists, and that is a distinction this administration has never seemed to accept. Instead of employing tactics that preserve Americans’ freedoms and inspire the faith and confidence of the American people, the White House seems to have chosen methods that can only breed fear and suspicion. If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate [detailing the breadth and apparent illegality of the NSA program], the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. For that reason, the president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions, Congress should fully investigate these actions and the president’s justification for them, and the administration should cooperate fully with that investigation. In the meantime, if the president believes the current legal architecture of our country is insufficient for the fight against terrorism, he should propose changes to our laws in the light of day. That is how a great democracy operates. And that is how this great democracy will defeat terrorism.” [Washington Post, 12/23/2005]
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA expands surveillance operations, relying on its own authorities; some sources indicate this includes a massive domestic data mining and call tracking program, and some contend that it is illegal. In a 2006 public briefing, NSA Director Michael Hayden will say, “In the days after 9/11, NSA was using its authorities and its judgment to appropriately respond to the most catastrophic attack on the homeland in the history of the nation.” Following an October 1 briefing by Hayden to the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden on October 11, saying, “[Y]ou indicated that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance” (see October 11, 2001). Some evidence indicates NSA domestic surveillance began even before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
No Connection to Bush-Authorized Warrantless Domestic Call Monitoring - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will clearly distinguish between the expansion he initiates under his own authorities, and the warrantless monitoring of calls with one end outside the US authorized later by President Bush (see October 4, 2001), saying, “[E]xcept that they involved NSA, these [Hayden-authorized] programs were not related… to the authorization that the president has recently spoken about.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
'Stellar Wind' Is Name of Hayden-Authorized Program - In 2012 interviews, former NSA official William Binney will indicate that “Stellar Wind” is the name of the surveillance program initiated by Hayden. [Wired News, 2/15/2012; Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012] Some sources will refer to the Bush-authorized eavesdropping as being part of the Stellar Wind program. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Differing Views on Authority for Surveillance - In his 2006 briefing, Hayden will say the Fourth Amendment only protects Americans against “unreasonable search and seizure,” and that 9/11 changed what was to be considered “reasonable.” Specifically, if communications are believed to have “[i]nherent foreign intelligence value,” interception of these communications is reasonable. In addition to referring to Hayden’s “view of [his] authorities” as “expansive,” Pelosi’s letter will give another indication that the NSA’s new standard is significantly broader than it was previously, stating, “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest.” Hayden will publicly clarify in 2006 that the authority for the NSA’s operational expansion exists under an Executive Order issued by President Reagan, saying, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” And, he will say, “I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities” (see October 1, 2001). In her October 11 letter, Pelosi will also write of having concerns about the program that haven’t been resolved due to restrictions on information-sharing with Congress imposed by Bush (see October 11, 2001). Binney, who pioneered the development of certain NSA data mining and surveillance technologies, will come to believe that what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional; he will first take his concerns to Congress (see Before October 31, 2001) and then resign on October 31 (see October 31, 2001). [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Surveillance Involves Domestic Communications - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will not say the NSA is only targeting foreign communications under his post-9/11 authorization. Rather, the context of his remarks will indicate he is referring to domestic communications. More specifically, Hayden will state: “If the US person information isn’t relevant, the data is suppressed. It’s a technical term we use; we call it ‘minimized.’ The individual is not even mentioned. Or if he or she is, he or she is referred to as ‘US Person Number One’ or ‘US Person Number Two.’ Now, inherent intelligence value. If the US person is actually the named terrorist, well, that could be a different matter.” Hayden will also reveal that information is being passed to the FBI, an investigative agency with a primarily domestic jurisdiction, saying, “[A]s another part of our adjustment, we also turned on the spigot of NSA reporting to FBI in, frankly, an unprecedented way.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006] One of Pelosi’s statements in her letter to Hayden may indicate an aspect of the domestic component: “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest,” she will write. [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006] In a 2011 interview with Jane Mayer published in the New Yorker, Binney will say the NSA was obtaining “billing records on US citizens” and “putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country.” [New Yorker, 5/23/2011] And in a 2012 Wired article, NSA expert James Bamford will write that Binney “explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.” Binney’s account is supported by other sources (see October 2001). [Wired News, 2/15/2012]
Surveillance Program Is Massive - Bamford, citing Binney, will write: “Stellar Wind… included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” It is unclear exactly when this level of surveillance began. According to whistleblower AT&T employee Mark Klein, construction of secret rooms splitting communications traffic does not begin until Fall 2002 (see Fall 2002). Bamford will write that Binney says, “[T]he taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct ‘deep packet inspection,’ examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.” [Wired News, 2/15/2012] Also, Binney’s remark to Jane Mayer that the NSA was “putting pen registers on everyone in the country” indicates the broad scope of the program. [New Yorker, 5/23/2011]
Nizar Trabelsi. [Source: Daily Telegraph]Nizar Trabelsi, an al-Qaeda operative involved in numerous plots, is arrested in Brussels, Belgium. Police find machine pistols, chemical formulas for making bombs, detailed maps of the US embassy in Paris, and a business suit—it appears Trabelsi intended to walk into the embassy with the suit covering a suicide bomb vest and then detonate the explosives. The arrest is apparently due to information gleaned from Djamel Begham, a top al-Qaeda operative arrested in July (see July 24 or 28, 2001). Two of the plots Trabelsi is said to be involved in, an attack on a NATO base in Belgium and the attack on the US embassy in Paris, are thwarted. Trabelsi will later be found guilty in Belgium of planning the attack on the base (see September 30, 2003). [CNN, 10/3/2001] However, a third plot in which Trabelsi is involved—a plot to blow up two transatlantic airliners—is not thwarted. The plot is to be carried out by two al-Qaeda operatives who are in contact with Trabelsi around this time, Saajid Badat and Richard Reid. Reid returned to Europe from Asia in July or August (see July 2001), after which he stayed in Belgium with Trabelsi, who also found him work in hotel kitchens. Badat is also in contact with Trabelsi using phone cards, and analysis of them will help lead to his arrest some time later. The plot will fail when Badat backs out (see (December 14, 2001)) and Reid is unable to detonate the explosives before he is overpowered by fellow passengers and crew (see December 22, 2001). It is unclear why this third plot is not stopped as well after Trabelsi’s arrest. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 229-231] However, his arrest does lead to more arrests in Spain 13 days later (see September 26, 2001).
Mohamed el-Atriss produced fake ID cards for the 9/11 hijackers. [Source: Associated Press]Mohamed el-Atriss, who supplied some of the hijackers with fake IDs (see (July-August 2001)), is visited by FBI agents and begins to help them with their inquiries. [Washington Post, 2/5/2003; Newark Star-Ledger, 10/20/2003] El-Atriss turns over his files to the FBI and, according to his lawyer, promises to “keep his eyes and ears open” for other Islamic militants. He tells the FBI he did not know the hijackers’ intentions when he sold them the ID cards. [Bergen Record, 9/11/2006] He is interviewed extensively by federal authorities over the next few months and successfully passes a lie detector test confirming he did not know they intended to hijack a plane. [Newark Star-Ledger, 10/20/2003] However, authorities plant an electronic surveillance device inside a printer he orders, to monitor who he is making documents for. [Bergen Record, 9/11/2006] El-Atriss’ usefulness suffers a setback when a local sheriff raids his business and arrests him in 2002 (see July 31, 2002), apparently without the FBI’s approval (see July 31, 2002 and After).
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