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1980s and 1990s: Most 9/11 Hijackers Have Middle-Class Backgrounds
After 9/11, some in Western countries will say that one of the root causes of the attacks is poverty and assume that the hijackers must have been poor. However, most of them are middle class and have relatively comfortable upbringings. The editor of Al Watan, a Saudi Arabian daily, will call them “middle-class adventurers” rather than Islamist fundamentalist ideologues. [Boston Globe, 3/3/2002]
- Mohamed Atta grows up in Cairo, Egypt. His father is an attorney, and both Atta and his two sisters attend university. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 10-11]
- Marwan Alshehhi is from Ras al-Khaimah Emirate in the United Arab Emirates. His family is not particularly wealthy, but his father is a muezzin and one of his half-brothers a policeman. He attends university in Germany on an UAE army scholarship (see Spring 1996-December 23, 2000). [McDermott, 2005, pp. 55]
- Ziad Jarrah is from Beirut, Lebanon. His father is a mid-level bureaucrat and his mother, from a well-off family, is a teacher. The family drives a Mercedes and Jarrah attends private Christian schools before going to study in Germany. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 49-50]
- Hani Hanjour is from Taif, near Mecca in Saudi Arabia. His family has a car exporting business and a farm, which he manages for five years in the mid-1990s. [Washington Post, 10/15/2001]
- Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi are from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Their father owns a shop and the family is wealthy. [Arab News, 9/20/2001; Wright, 2006, pp. 378]
- Abdulaziz Alomari is from south-western Saudi Arabia. He is a university graduate (see Late 1990s). He apparently marries and has a child, a daughter, before 9/11. [Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2002; Saudi Information Agency, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 232]
- Mohand Alshehri is from Tanooma in Asir Province, Saudi Arabia. He attends university (see Late 1990s). [Saudi Information Agency, 9/11/2002]
- Hamza Alghamdi is from Baha Province, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 231] He works as a stockboy in a housewares shop. [Boston Globe, 3/3/2002]
- Fayez Ahmed Banihammad is from the United Arab Emirates. He gives his home address as being in Khor Fakkan, a port and enclave of Sharjah Emirate on the country’s east coast. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] The 9/11 Commission will say he works as an immigration officer at one point. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 20 pdf file]
- Maqed Mojed is from Annakhil, near Medina in western Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 232] He attends university (see Late 1990s).
- Ahmed Alhaznawi is from Hera, Baha Province. His father is an imam at the local mosque and he is reported to attend university (see Late 1990s).
- Ahmed Alnami is from Abha, Asir Province. His family is one of government officials and scientists and his father works for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. He attends university (see Late 1990s). [Daily Telegraph, 9/15/2002]
- Wail Alshehi and Waleed Alshehri are from Khamis Mushayt in Asir Province, southwestern Saudi Arabia. Their father is a businessman and builds a mosque as a gift to the town. They both go to college (see Late 1990s). The Alshehris are a military family with three older brothers who hold high rank at the nearby airbase. Their uncle, Major General Faez Alshehri, is the logistical director of Saudi Arabia’s armed forces. [Boston Globe, 3/3/2002] Dr. Ali al-Mosa, a Saudi academic, will later comment: “Most of them were from very rich, top-class Saudi families. The father of the Alshehri boys is one of the richest people in the area and the other families are not far behind him.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 10/5/2002]
The social situation of the families of Satam al Suqami, Ahmed Alghamdi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Khaled Almihdhar is not known. However, Almihdhar is from a distinguished family that traces its lineage back to the prophet Mohammed. [Wright, 2006, pp. 379]
1992-1995: KSM Fights and Fundraises in Bosnia
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) fights and fundraises in Bosnia. The 9/11 Commission will later state, “In 1992, KSM spent some time fighting alongside the mujaheddin in Bosnia and supporting that effort with financial donations.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 147] He reportedly fights with the elite El Mujahid battalion, and gains Bosnian citizenship. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 281] He also works for Egypitska Pomoc, an Egyptian aid group in Zenica, Bosnia, and in 1995 becomes one of its directors. [Playboy, 6/1/2005] KSM mostly lives in Qatar for the next three years (see 1992-1996), but in 1995 he is back fighting in Bosnia as the violence escalates that year. Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, Qatar’s Minister of Religious Affairs, underwrites the costs of the trip. [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 147, 488] This second trip to Bosnia means that KSM fights there at the same time as 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, though it is not known if they meet (see 1993-1999). The FBI will later suspect that KSM helped build a bomb used to blow up a police station in neighboring Croatia while KSM was in the area (see October 20, 1995).
1993-1999: Hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar Fight for Al-Qaeda
Of all the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar have the longest records of involvement with al-Qaeda. CIA Director Tenet calls them al-Qaeda veterans. According to the CIA, Alhazmi first travels to Afghanistan in 1993 as a teenager, then fights in Bosnia with Alhazmi (see 1995). Almihdhar makes his first visit to Afghanistan training camps in 1996, and then fights in Chechnya in 1997. Both swear loyalty to bin Laden around 1998. Alhazmi fights in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance with his brother, Salem Alhazmi. He fights in Chechnya, probably in 1998. [Observer, 9/23/2001; ABC News, 1/9/2002; US Congress, 6/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file] He then returns to Saudi Arabia in early 1999 where he shares information about the 1998 US embassy bombings. However it is not clear what information he disclosed to whom or where he obtained this information. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file] It is possible that some or all of this information came from the NSA, which is intercepting some of Alhazmi’s phone calls at this time (see Early 1999).
1995: Hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar Fight in Bosnia
9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi fight in the Bosnian civil war against the Serbs. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will later say that the two “traveled together to fight in Bosnia in a group that journeyed to the Balkans in 1995,” but will not give any other details. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155] Ramzi bin al-Shibh fights there too, and a witness later recounts traveling to Hamburg from Bosnia with bin al-Shibh in 1996. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 281-282] 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) fights in Bosnia in 1995 as well (see 1992-1995), but it is not known if any of them are ever there together. Under interrogation, KSM will say that in 1999 he did not know Almihdhar. However, doubts will be expressed about the reliability of statements made by KSM in detention, because of the methods used to extract them (see June 16, 2004). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006, pp. 17 pdf file] Alhazmi and Almihdhar will later go on to fight in Chechnya (see 1993-1999).
Mid 1990s: Hijacker Atta Registers in Germany as UAE National Using Name Variant
Although lead hijacker Mohamed Atta is Egyptian and is known to some German acquaintances as such, he registers as a UAE national in Hamburg. This will be confirmed after 9/11 by Hamburg’s interior minister, Olaf Scholz, who will say that his UAE nationality was recorded in the Ausländerzentralregister, a federal data base with personal data of foreign residents and asylum seekers. [BBC, 9/13/2001; New York Times, 9/17/2001; Hamburg Interior Ministry, 9/23/2001] Commenting on this after 9/11, the Observer will say, “In many respects, though, he led not one life, but two. He repeatedly switched names, nationalities and personalities. If… in the US, he was Mohamed Atta, then at the Technical University of Harburg, he was Mohamed el-Amir. For the university authorities, he was an Egyptian, yet for his landlord, as for the US authorities, he was from the United Arab Emirates. And while it is not hard to see Atta, whose face gazes out from the passport photograph released by the FBI, as that of the mass murderer of Manhattan, el-Amir was a shy, considerate man who endeared himself to Western acquaintances.” [Observer, 9/23/2001] It is unclear how or why Atta registered as a UAE national. In addition, throughout most of his time in Germany Atta is registered under a name variant, Mohamed el-Amir, and only registers using his full name after obtaining a new passport (see Late 1999), three weeks before leaving Germany for the US (see June 3, 2000). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]
1996-1997 and After: Bin Laden’s Brother-in-Law Said to Fund Al-Qaeda Linked Group in Yemen
Bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, helps fund a militant group in Yemen that will later take credit for the 2000 USS Cole bombing. The group, the Islamic Army of Aden, is apparently formed in 1996 or 1997, but is not heard from until May 1998, when it issues the first of a series of political statements. The group will kidnap 16 mainly British tourists in December 1998 and four of the tourists will be killed during a shootout with police. The remaining hostages are rescued. [Yemen Gateway, 1/1999] Evidence ties Khalifa to the 1995 Bojinka plot and other violent acts, though he has denied all allegations that he is linked to terrorist groups. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, later claims that not only did Khalifa fund the Islamic Army of Aden, but that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had ties to the group as well. [Wall Street Journal, 9/19/2001] He further notes that Khalifa went on to from the group after being deported from the US in 1995. “He should never have been allowed to leave US custody.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/24/2001] The group praises bin Laden and uses a training camp reportedly established by him in southern Yemen. But the group is more clearly tied to Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, a handless, one-eyed Afghan war veteran living and preaching openly in London. [Washington Post, 9/23/2001]
1996-December 2000: Majority of Hijackers Disappear into Chechnya
A young Ahmed Alnami in Saudi Arabia.A young Ahmed Alnami in Saudi Arabia. [Source: Boston Globe]At least 11 of the 9/11 hijackers travel to Chechnya between 1996 and 2000:
- Nawaf Alhazmi fights in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Afghanistan for several years, starting around 1995. [Observer, 9/23/2001; ABC News, 1/9/2002; US Congress, 6/18/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
- Khalid Almihdhar fights in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Afghanistan for several years, usually with Nawaf Alhazmi. [US Congress, 6/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
- Salem Alhazmi spends time in Chechnya with his brother Nawaf Alhazmi. [ABC News, 1/9/2002] He also possibly fights with his brother in Afghanistan. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
- Ahmed Alhaznawi leaves for Chechnya in 1999 [ABC News, 1/9/2002] , and his family loses contact with him in late 2000. [Arab News, 9/22/2001]
bullet Hamza Alghamdi leaves for Chechnya in early 2000 [Washington Post, 9/25/2001; Independent, 9/27/2001] or sometime around January 2001. He calls home several times until about June 2001, saying he is in Chechnya. [Arab News, 9/18/2001]
- Mohand Alshehri leaves to fight in Chechnya in early 2000. [Arab News, 9/22/2001]
- Ahmed Alnami leaves home in June 2000, and calls home once in June 2001 from an unnamed location. [Arab News, 9/19/2001; Washington Post, 9/25/2001]
bullet Fayez Ahmed Banihammad leaves home in July 2000 saying he wants to participate in a holy war or do relief work. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 9/27/2001] He calls his parents one time since. [Arab News, 9/18/2001]
- Ahmed Alghamdi leaves his studies to fight in Chechnya in 2000, and is last seen by his family in December 2000. He calls his parents for the last time in July 2001, but does not mention being in the US. [Arab News, 9/18/2001; Arab News, 9/20/2001]
- Waleed M. Alshehri disappears with Wail Alshehri in December 2000, after speaking of fighting in Chechnya. [Arab News, 9/18/2001; Washington Post, 9/25/2001]
- Wail Alshehri, who had psychological problems, went with his brother to Mecca to seek help and both disappear, after speaking of fighting in Chechnya. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001]
- Majed Moqed is last seen by a friend in 2000 in Saudi Arabia, after communicating a “plan to visit the United States to learn English.” [Arab News, 9/22/2001] Clearly, there is a pattern: eleven hijackers appear likely to have fought in Chechnya, and two others are known to have gone missing. It is possible that others have similar histories, but this is hard to confirm because “almost nothing [is] known about some.” [New York Times, 9/21/2001] Indeed, a colleague claims that hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah and would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh wanted to fight in Chechnya but were told in early 2000 that they were needed elsewhere. [Washington Post, 10/23/2002; Reuters, 10/29/2002] Reuters has reported, “Western diplomats play down any Chechen involvement by al-Qaeda.” [Reuters, 10/24/2002]
1997: Future Hijackers Supposedly Watchlisted in Saudi Arabia for Failed Gunrunning Plot
Prince Turki al Faisal, Saudi intelligence minister until shortly before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001), will later claim that al-Qaeda attempts to smuggle weapons into Saudi Arabia to mount attacks on police stations. The plot is uncovered and prevented by Saudi intelligence, and two of the unsuccessful gunrunners, future hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, are watchlisted. [Salon, 10/18/2003; Wright, 2006, pp. 266, 310-311, 448] However, Almihdhar and Alhazmi continue to move in and out of Saudi Arabia unchecked and will obtain US visas there in April 1999 (see 1993-1999 and April 3-7, 1999). The US is supposedly informed of Almihdhar and Alhazmi’s al-Qaeda connection by the end of 1999 (see Late 1999). Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an associate of Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000), is implicated in a plot to smuggle four Russian antitank missiles into Saudi Arabia around the same time, although it is unclear whether this is the same plot or a different one. The Saudi authorities uncover this plot and the US is apparently informed of the missile seizure in June 1998. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3, 491]
November 2, 1997-June 20, 2001: Hijackers Obtain US Visas
The 19 hijackers apply and receive a total of 23 visas at five different posts from November 1997 through June 2001. Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almidhar, Saeed Alghamdi and Ahmed Alnami, Saudi citizens, apply twice at Jeddah. Only Hanjour applies for a student visa, others for tourist/business visa. [United States General Accounting Office, 10/21/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 7-45 pdf file]
- The fifteen Saudi hijackers apply for their visas in their home country. Four at the embassy in Riyadh: Hamza Alghamdi (10/17/2000), Mohand Alshehri (10/23/2000), Majed Moqed (11/20/2000) and Satam Al Suqami (11/21/2000). Eleven at the US consulate in Jeddah: Hani Hanjour (11/2/1997 and 9/25/2000), Khalid Almidhar (4/7/1999 and 6/13/2001), Saeed Alghamdi (9/4/2000 and 6/12/2001), and Ahmed Alnami (10/28/2000 and 4/28/2001), Nawaf Alhazmi (4/3/1999), Ahmed Alghamdi (9/3/2000), Wail Alshehri (10/24/2000), Waleed M. Alshehri (10/24/2000), Abdulaziz Alomari (6/18/2001), Salem Alhazmi (6/20/2001), and Ahmed Alhaznawi (11/12/2000).
- Fayez Ahmed Banihammad and Marwan Alshehhi apply in their home country, the United Arab Emirates, respectively at the US embassy in Abu Dhabi on 6/18/2001 and at consulate in Dubai on 1/18/2000.
- Mohamed Atta (Egyptian) and Ziad Jarrah (Lebanese) apply, as third-country national applicants, at the US embassy in Berlin, respectively, on May 18 and 25, 2000.
August 5-16, 1998: Hijacker Almihdhar Calls Al-Qaeda Communications Hub Before and After US Embassy Bombings, FBI Learns of This
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar makes a series of calls to an al-Qaeda communications hub run by his father-in-law, Ahmed al-Hada. A Yemeni police official will later tell Agence France-Presse that Almihdhar “made a number of overseas calls to Ahmed al-Hada, who was then in Sana’a, before, during, and after” the African embassy bombings (see August 7, 1998). Al-Hada is involved in the embassy bombings and the US intelligence community begins joint surveillance of his phone after the bombings (see Late August 1998), although the NSA may already have been monitoring it (see Before August 7, 1998). The calls made by Almihdhar are from overseas and the FBI learns of this, presumably during the investigation into the embassy bombings (see August 5-25, 1998) [Agence France Presse, 2/15/2002] Around this time Almihdhar is also in contact with al-Hada’s son, Samir, who is his brother-in-law, and the Yemen Times will later report that these contacts are monitored. However, it is not clear whether this is just by local authorities in Yemen, or also by US intelligence. [Yemen Times, 2/18/2002] British Prime Minister Tony Blair will later say that one of the 9/11 hijackers, presumably Almihdhar, played a key role in the attacks on the US embassies in East Africa (see October 4, 2001).
August 7, 1998: Al-Qaeda Bombs US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. The attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. The attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. The attack is blamed on al-Qaeda. [PBS Frontline, 2001] The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda fails. [Associated Press, 9/25/1998] In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Miller will write, “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.
Late August 1998: US Intelligence Community Begins Joint Surveillance of Al-Qaeda Communications Hub
The investigation of the East Africa embassy bombings (see August 7, 1998) led to the discovery of the phone number of an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see August 5-25, 1998). The hub is run by an al-Qaeda veteran named Ahmed al-Hada, who is helped by his son Samir and is related to many other al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen and elsewhere. He is also the father in law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, whose wife, Hoda al-Hada, lives at the hub with their children. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; MSNBC, 7/21/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 277, 309, 343, 378] Several of Ahmed al-Hada’s relatives die fighting for al-Qaeda before 9/11, a fact known to US intelligence. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Guardian, 2/15/2006] The NSA may already be aware of the phone number, as they have been intercepting bin Laden’s communications for some time (see November 1996-Late August 1998) and, according to Newsweek, “some” of bin Laden’s 221 calls to Yemen are to this phone number. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; Media Channel, 9/5/2006] The US intelligence community now begins a joint effort to monitor the number. The NSA and CIA jointly plant bugs inside the house, tap the phones, and monitor visitors with spy satellites. [Mirror, 6/9/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] US intelligence also learns that the communications hub is an al-Qaeda “logistics center,” used by agents around the world to communicate with each other and plan attacks. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] The joint effort enables the FBI to map al-Qaeda’s global organization (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and at least three of the hijackers use the number, enabling the NSA to intercept their communications and find out about an important al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999 and January 5-8, 2000 and Early 2000-Summer 2001). It appears al-Qaeda continues to use this phone line until Samir al-Hada dies resisting arrest in early 2002 (see February 13, 2002).
Late 1998-Early 2002: US Intelligence Maps Al-Qaeda Network Using Phone Records; Many Attacks Thwarted
Beginning in the autumn of 1998, the FBI uses the phone records of an al-Qaeda communications hub run by operative Ahmed al-Hada and his son Samir to build a map of al-Qaeda’s global organization. A map showing all the places in the world that have communicated with the hub is posted on the wall of the interagency counterterrorism I-49 squad in New York. The hub’s telephone number was uncovered during the East African embassy bombings investigation (see August 5-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). [Al Ahram, 2/21/2002; MSNBC, 7/21/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] According to FBI agent and I-49 squad member Dan Coleman, al-Hada is “uncle of half the violent jihadists we knew in the country.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] Several of his sons and sons-in-law are al-Qaeda operatives and some die fighting and training with radical Islamists; this is known to US intelligence before 9/11. Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is also a son-in-law of al-Hada. [MSNBC, 2/14/2002; Fox News, 2/14/2002; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The number is monitored by the NSA and over the next three years it mines intelligence that helps authorities foil a series of plots, including planned attacks on the US Embassy in Paris and the US Consulate in Istanbul, along with an attempted airline hijacking in Africa. However, the hub also serves as a planning center for the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which is successful (see October 12, 2000). [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] The CIA, as the primary organization for gathering foreign intelligence, has jurisdiction over conversations on the al-Hada phone. Helped by the NSA, it stakes out the house—tapping the phone, planting bugs, and taking satellite photographs of its visitors. However, the CIA apparently does not provide the FBI with all the relevant information it is obtaining about al-Qaeda’s plans. [Mirror, 6/9/2002; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] For example, the FBI is not informed that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi make calls to the communications hub from the US between spring 2000 and summer 2001 (see Spring-Summer 2000 and Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). The FBI also asks the NSA to pass any calls between the communications hub and the US to the FBI, but the NSA does not do this either. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94]
Early 1999: NSA Monitoring Hears 9/11 Hijacker Names, This Information Is Not Shared with CIA or FBI
As the NSA continues to monitor an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen run by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see Late August 1998), they find references to Almihdhar and the hijacker brothers, Salem and Nawaf Alhazmi. They also learn that Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are long time friends. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] In early 1999, the NSA intercepts communications mentioning the full name “Nawaf Alhazmi.” However, this information is not disseminated to the intelligence community, as it apparently does not meet NSA reporting thresholds. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will say, “Those thresholds vary, depending on the judgement of the NSA analyst who is reviewing the intercept and the subject, location, and content of the intercept.” Another intelligence organisation intercepts the same or similar calls and reports this to the NSA. The Inquiry comments: “NSA’s practice was to review such reports and disseminate those responsive to US intelligence requirements. For an undetermined reason, NSA did not disseminate the […] report.” [Associated Press, 9/25/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] The NSA continues to intercept such calls and finds more information a few months later (see Summer 1999 and Late Summer 1999). Near the end of 1999, there will be additional intercepts that give Khalid Almihdhar’s full name and the first names of the other two (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). But while the NSA will provide some information about these new intercepts to the CIA and other agencies, they will not go back to the earlier intercepts to figure out Nawaf’s full name and close connection to Almihdhar (see December 29, 1999).
April 3-7, 1999: Three 9/11 Hijackers Obtain US Visas
Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, and Khalid Almihdhar obtain US visas through the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are already “al-Qaeda veterans” and battle-hardened killers. Almihdhar’s visa is issued on April 7, and he can thereafter leave and return to the US multiple times until April 6, 2000. [Stern, 8/13/2003] Nawaf Alhazmi gets the same kind of visa; details about Salem are unknown. The CIA claims the hijackers then travel to Afghanistan to participate in “special training” with at least one other suicide bomber on a different mission. The training is led by Khallad bin Attash. The CIA will learn about Almihdhar’s visa in January 2000 (see January 2-5, 2000). The Jeddah Consulate keeps in its records the fact that Nawaf and Alhazmi obtain US visas several days before Almihdhar, but apparently these records are never searched before 9/11. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file]
Summer 1999: NSA Intercepts More of Almihdhar’s Calls
The NSA intercepts more calls (see Early 1999) involving Khalid Almihdhar, who is at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, with his family (see Late August 1998). The identity of the person he is talking to and the content of the intercepts is so sensitive that the whole passage regarding these communications is redacted in the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report. After the redacted passage, the Inquiry comments, “At about the same time, the name [of al-Qaeda leader] Khallad [bin Attash] came to the attention of the NSA for the first time,” so the calls may involve bin Attash in some way. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 155-6 pdf file] Almihdhar is staying at the communications hub at this time and will stay there later as well (see (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000) and Late October 2000-July 4, 2001).
Late Summer 1999: NSA Intercepts Calls Mentioning Almihdhar, Does Not Disseminate Information
The NSA intercepts more calls involving an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 1999 and Summer 1999). The names of Khaled, who turns out to be 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and others are mentioned in the calls. However, the NSA reportedly does not think the intelligence gleaned from the calls is important and does not disseminate it. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 156 pdf file] However, the FBI regarded the hub as a key element in al-Qaeda’s communications network and after 9/11 a senior US counterterrorism official will say, “The NSA was well aware of how hot the number was… and how it was a logistical hub for Al Qaeda.” Several plots are stopped based on information obtained from listening to calls to and from the hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002). [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005]
November 1999: Hijackers Said to Lease Apartment in San Diego, Two Months Before Alleged First Arrival in US
The Washington Post refers to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar when it later reports, “In November 1999, two Saudi Arabian men moved into a ground-floor apartment at the Parkwood Apartments, a town house complex near a busy commercial strip in San Diego.” [Washington Post, 9/30/2001] Alhazmi’s name is on the apartment lease beginning in November 1999. [Washington Post, 10/2001] The Los Angeles Times similarly notes, “A man by [the name Alhazmi] moved to the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego in 1999, according to manager Holly Ratchford.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001] Some reports even have them visiting the US as early as 1996. [Wall Street Journal, 9/17/2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal, 10/26/2001] However, FBI Director Mueller has stated the two hijackers did not arrive in the US until the middle of January 2000, after attending an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). While some news reports mention that the hijackers first arrive in late 1999 [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002] , over time, mentions of the lease beginning in 1999 will slowly fade from media accounts.
Late 1999: 9/11 Hijackers Train with Cole Bomber and Other Militants
A group of al-Qaeda operatives receives advanced training at the Mes Aynak camp in Afghanistan. The large group includes 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see November/December 1999), al-Qaeda commander Khallad bin Attash, would-be 9/11 hijacker Abu Bara al Taizi, USS Cole bomber Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras), an operative who leads a series of suicide bombings in Riyadh in 2003, and another who is involved against the 2002 attack against a ship called the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). According to statements by detainees, the course focuses on physical fitness, firearms, close quarters combat, shooting from a motorcycle, and night operations. Osama bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed apparently visit the camp during the course. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 157; Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 9/6/2006, pp. 12 pdf file] Candidate hijacker Abderraouf Jdey, a Canadian passport holder, may also be present at this training course. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 527]
Late 1999: Saudis Claim to Add Two 9/11 Hijackers to Watch List and Inform CIA
Prince Turki al Faisal, Saudi intelligence minister until shortly before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001), will later claim that around this time its external intelligence agency tells the CIA that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar have been put on a Saudi terror watch list. Saeed Badeeb, Turki’s chief analyst, and Nawaf Obaid, a security consultant to the Saudi government, support Turki’s account though Turki himself will later back away from it after becoming the Saudi ambassador to the US (see August 21, 2005). In 2003, Prince Turki says, “What we told [the CIA] was these people were on our watch list from previous activities of al-Qaeda, in both the  embassy bombings and attempts to smuggle arms into the kingdom in 1997,” (see 1997 and October 4, 2001). However, the CIA strongly denies any such warning, although it begins following Almihdhar and Alhazmi around this time (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000). [Associated Press, 10/16/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003; Wright, 2006, pp. 310-311, 448] The US will not put Almihdhar and Alhazmi on its watch list until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001).
November/December 1999: Almihdhar Returns to Yemen, Falls under US Surveillance
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar returns from Afghanistan to Yemen, where he and his family live at an al-Qaeda communications hub that is being monitored by the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The NSA listens in on calls to his number and finds that he and several al-Qaeda leaders are to meet in Malaysia for a terrorism summit (see December 29, 1999). The reason for his departure to Yemen is unclear, as he has already been selected for the 9/11 operation and his fellow operatives are undergoing training in Afghanistan at this point (see Late 1999 and Early December 1999). Detainees give varying accounts of the reasons for his departure, as well as the exact timing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 157, 493] Whatever the reason for Almihdhar’s travel to Yemen, while he is there al-Qaeda mounts an abortive attack against the USS Sullivans (see January 3, 2000).
December 1999-January 2000: FBI’s New York Office Receives NSA Information on Hijackers’ Travel to Malaysia Summit
The FBI’s New York field office, which specializes in international terrorism and houses the I-49 squad that focuses on Osama bin Laden (see January 1996), receives information from the NSA about a wiretap on the phone of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. The information concerns travel by Almihdhar, fellow alleged hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, and other operatives to an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, Shortly Before December 29, 1999, and January 5-8, 2000), but the office, like the rest of the FBI, is not told Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 4-6, 2000). However, the New York office apparently does not realize it has this information and when investigators become aware of its importance in June 2001 they will conduct a running argument with FBI headquarters and the CIA over whether they can receive it again (see June 11, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 293 pdf file]
Early December 1999: KSM Trains Operatives for Hijackings
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) gives a course lasting one or two weeks for three operatives scheduled to take part in the 9/11 operation. Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallad bin Attash, and abu Bara al Taizi learn how to say basic English words and phrases, read plane timetables and phone books, use the Internet, make travel reservations, rent an apartment, and use code words. In addition, they play flight simulator games, watch hijacking-themed films, and investigate visas for Southeast Asian countries. KSM also tells them what to watch for when casing a flight, for example whether flight attendants bring food into the cockpit. Khalid Almihdhar is apparently not present at the training, since he has just returned to Yemen (see November/December 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 157-8, 493]
Late 1999: Hijacker Almihdhar Has Foreknowledge of Forthcoming Seaborne Attack
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar tells another operative that al-Qaeda is planning a ship-bombing attack. The US will learn this from a detainee interviewed in December 2001. The detainee will say that Almihdhar informed him that al-Qaeda operative Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was the plot’s originator. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 491] Al-Nashiri discussed the ship bombing attack in a telephone call made in late 1998. The call may have been to the al-Qaeda communications hub at which Almihdhar lived and may also have been picked up by the US (see (Mid-August 1998)). Al-Qaeda soon attempts to attack the USS Sullivans in Aden, Yemen, but the plan fails (see January 3, 2000). Almihdhar, who will be accused of participating in the plot to bomb the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000, Early October 2001 and October 4, 2001), travels to Yemen shortly before the attack on the Sullivans (see November/December 1999) and apparently leaves one day after it (see January 2-5, 2000).
December 11, 1999: Watch List Importance Is Stressed but Procedures Are Not Followed
The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center sends a cable reminding all its personnel about various reporting obligations. The cable clearly states that it is important to share information so suspected members of US-designated terrorist groups can be placed on watch lists. The US keeps a number of watch lists; the most important one, TIPOFF, contains about 61,000 names of suspected terrorists by 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2002; Knight Ridder, 1/27/2004] The list is checked whenever someone enters or leaves the US “The threshold for adding a name to TIPOFF is low,” and even a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is connected with a US-designated terrorist group warrants being added to the database. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] Within a month, two future hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, will be identified as al-Qaeda operatives (see December 29, 1999), but the cable’s instructions will not be followed for them. The CIA will initially tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that no such guidelines existed, and CIA Director Tenet will fail to mention the cable in his testimony to the Inquiry. [New York Times, 5/15/2003; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file]
December 29, 1999: NSA Tells CIA about Planned Al-Qaeda Summit Involving Future Hijackers
The NSA, monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002), has listened in on phone calls revealing that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi are to attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. On this day, the NSA shares this information with the CIA’s Alec Station bin Laden unit. Other US intelligence agencies, including FBI headquarters and the FBI’s New York field office, are told as well. Although Khalid Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned in one call, the NSA only passes on his first name. Also, the NSA has already learned from monitoring the Yemen hub that Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi and that he is long-time friends with Almihdhar (see Early 1999). However, they either don’t look this up in their records or don’t pass it on to any other agency. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 239 pdf file; Wright, 2006, pp. 310] An NSA analyst makes a comment that is shared between US intelligence agencies, “Salem may be Nawaf’s younger brother.” This turns out to be correct. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] A CIA officer will later tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that information from the Africa embassy bombings (see August 7, 1998) was reviewed in late 1999 during a worldwide effort to disrupt millennium attack plots (see December 15-31, 1999) and “a kind of tuning fork… buzzed when two [of the hijackers] reportedly planning a trip to [Malaysia] were linked indirectly to what appeared to be a support element… involved with the Africa bombers.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] The fact that they are connected to the Yemen communication hub already indicates some importance within al-Qaeda. It is learned they are connected to the embassy bombings in some way (see October 4, 2001 and Late 1999). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] The NSA report about them on this day is entitled, “Activities of Bin Laden Associates,” showing the clear knowledge of their ties to bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The CIA will track Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000).
Shortly Before December 29, 1999: NSA Monitors 9/11 Hijackers Talking to Each Other about Upcoming Al-Qaeda Summit
The NSA has been monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). According to Vanity Fair, “Amid the storm of pre-millennial ‘chatter,’ the [NSA] intercepted communications among three Arabic men, each of whom bore some connection to the East Africa bombings (see August 7, 1998) and to al-Qaeda.” The men are hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Apparently, the NSA listens in on a phone call between al-Qaeda figure Khallad bin Attash and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is staying at the hub. Attash mentions Almihdhar’s full name, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. He says he wants the three of them to come to an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). The NSA has already heard the names of the three hijackers mentioned repeatedly in 1999 while monitoring the Yemen hub (see Early 1999). Apparently, US intelligence does not yet know bin Attash’s full name or role in al-Qaeda and won’t figure it out until late 2000 (see Early December 2000). [Wright, 2006, pp. 310] At the same time, US officials in Pakistan intercept Nawaf Alhazmi in Karachi calling Almihdhar at the Yemen hub. They learn Nawaf is planning a trip to Malaysia on January 4, 2000. The NSA is also monitoring Nawaf calling his brother Salem (the location of Salem at this time has not been revealed). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 143-144 pdf file; Asia Times, 3/19/2004] The NSA will share details of these calls with the CIA and other agencies on December 29, 1999 (see December 29, 1999) and the CIA will eventually track Almihdhar to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000).
(Early 2000-November 2000): Hani Hanjour Possibly Spends Time in San Diego; 9/11 Commission Says He Visits Afghanistan
Officially, in 2000, hijacker Hani Hanjour is said to enter the US on December 8 (see December 8, 2000). However, some reports suggest he may spend time in San Diego earlier in the year. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002] For example, in the two weeks following 9/11, the FBI will identify him as having lived in San Diego during 2000. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; NBC (San Diego), 9/15/2001; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/21/2001] In 2004, court records relating to a local terror probe will include authorities stating that Hanjour, along with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, had regularly dined and prayed with Mohdar Abdullah, a Yemeni university student in San Diego. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/2/2004] When Alhazmi and Almihdhar attend a San Diego flying school in May 2000 (see April-May 2000), they are accompanied by one or even two men called Hani. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/18/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001] A neighbor of Abdussattar Shaikh, a Muslim leader and also undercover FBI asset living in San Diego, later remembers Shaikh having introduced him to a friend called Hani, who he assumes to have been Hanjour. [Chicago Tribune, 9/30/2001] (Alhazmi and Almihdhar stay with Shaikh during 2000 (see Mid-May-December 2000).) For a short period beginning August 10, another resident at Shaikh’s San Diego house is a Saudi called Yazeed al-Salmi. After 9/11, Al-Salmi will reportedly confide to having known Hanjour and, according to the 9/11 Commission, has “childhood ties” to him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222 and 518] Little else is written about Hanjour’s movements during 2000, but the Washington Post notes that for at least part of the year, he “appears to have been in Saudi Arabia, because it was there that he obtained a student visa to take another English course. He applied in September 2000.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2001] The 9/11 Commission will claim that Hanjour goes to Afghanistan in spring 2000, where he spends time in al-Qaeda’s al Faruq camp. He is then sent to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Karachi, for training in using code words, before returning to Saudi Arabia on June 20. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 226] However, this account will come mainly from written reports of the interrogation of Mohammed, with whom the commission has no direct contact. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 146 and 521] Partly because of the highly coercive interrogation methods used, there will be questions about the reliability of Mohammed’s information. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] According to the 9/11 Commission, the only time Hanjour is in San Diego this year is from December 8-12, before he moves to Arizona. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
January-May 2000: Hijacker Associate Frequently Calls Saudi Government Officials
According to Sen. Bob Graham (D), co-chair of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, during this time Omar al-Bayoumi has an “unusually large number of telephone calls with Saudi government officials in both Los Angeles and Washington.” Graham will note this increased communication corresponds with the arrival of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar into al-Bayoumi’s life. He will see this as evidence of Saudi government involvement in the 9/11 plot. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 168-169]
January-February 2000: Secret Military Unit Identifies Al-Qaeda ‘Brooklyn’ Cell; Mohamed Atta is a Member
A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. According to a former intelligence officer who claims he worked closely with Able Danger, the link to Brooklyn is not based upon any firm evidence, but computer analysis that established patterns in links between the four men. “[T]he software put them all together in Brooklyn.” [New York Times, 8/9/2005; Washington Times, 8/22/2005; Fox News, 8/23/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] However, that does not necessarily imply them being physically present in Brooklyn. A lawyer later representing members of Able Danger states, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” Furthermore, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.” [CNN, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] James D. Smith, a contractor working with the unit, discovers Mohamed Atta’s link to al-Qaeda. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Smith has been using advanced computer software and analysing individuals who are going between mosques. He has made a link between Mohamed Atta and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. [Fox News, 8/28/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] Atta is said to have some unspecified connection to the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment once frequented by Abdul-Rahman, which also contained the notorious Al-Kifah Refugee Center. [Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] Smith obtained Atta’s name and photograph through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. [New York Times, 8/22/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims the photo is not the well-known menacing Florida driver’s license photo of Atta. “This is an older, more grainy photo we had of him. It was not the best picture in the world.” It is said to contain several names or aliases for Atta underneath it. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005] LIWA analysts supporting Able Danger make a chart, which Shaffer describes in a radio interview as, “A chart probably about a 2×3 which had essentially five clusters around the center point which was bin Laden and his leadership.” [Savage Nation, 9/16/2005] The 9/11 Commission later claims that Atta only enters the United States for the first time several months later, in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224] However, investigations in the months after 9/11 find that Mohamed Atta and another of the hijackers rented rooms in Brooklyn around this time (see Spring 2000). Other newspaper accounts have the CIA monitoring Atta starting in January 2000, while he is living in Germany (see January-May 2000). Atta, Alshehhi, Almihdhar, Alhazmi and other hijackers have connections to associates of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001).
January 2-5, 2000: CIA Learns 9/11 Hijacker Almihdhar Has US Visa as He Is Tracked to Al-Qaeda Summit
The CIA is aware that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is staying at a highly monitored al-Qaeda communication hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and is planning to travel to an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. He is closely watched as leaves the hub and flies from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on his way to Malaysia. Agents from eight CIA offices and six friendly foreign intelligence services are all asked to help track him, in the hopes he will lead them to bigger al-Qaeda figures. [Stern, 8/13/2003; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] United Arab Emirates officials secretly make copies of his passport as he is passing through the Dubai airport and immediately report this to the CIA. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Another account suggests CIA agents break into Almihdhar’s Dubai hotel room and photocopy the passport there. Either way, the information is immediately faxed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. [Wright, 2006, pp. 244] The CIA not only learns his full name, but also discovers the vital fact that he has a multiple entry visa to the US that is valid from April 1999 to April 2000. But even though the CIA now knows about this US visa which indicates he plans to go to New York City, they do not place him on a terror watch list and they fail to tell the FBI about the visa. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file]
January 4-6, 2000: CIA Prevents FBI from Learning about Hijacker’s US Visa; Other CIA Agents Are Deliberately Misled about This
The CIA has been tracking Khalid Almihdhar as he travels to Malaysia for the al-Qaeda summit that starts on January 5, 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). The CIA has just received a photocopy of his passport that shows he has a valid visa to travel to the US (see January 2-5, 2000). But they deliberately prevent the FBI from learning about this visa. On January 4, a CIA cable containing the photocopy is sent from the CIA’s Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, office to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. An FBI agent named Doug Miller assigned to the unit sees the cable and drafts a memo requesting the required permission from the CIA to advise the rest of the FBI that one participant in the Malaysia summit would likely be traveling soon to the US. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; Wright, 2006, pp. 244] Miller further writes that Almihdhar’s visa indicates he will be traveling to New York City and that he has been connected to the 1998 embassy bombings (see August 7, 1998 and October 4, 2001) and the monitored al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late 1998-Early 2002). He also writes that photos of Almihdhar have been obtained and will be sent as well. However, a headquarters desk officer tells him that a deputy unit chief, Tom Wilshire, does not want it sent yet, and that, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240 pdf file] Several hours later, this desk officer writes a cable that is distributed only within the CIA. It is sent the next day and claims that Almihdhar’s visa documents were shared with the FBI. This officer will later admit she didn’t personally share the information with the FBI either, and the 9/11 Commission will not be able to find anyone in the CIA who did share it with the FBI. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; Wright, 2006, pp. 310-311] A week later, Miller follows up by sending his rejected memo to Wilshire. Miller asks, “Is this a no go or should I remake it in some way?” He never gets an answer and drops the matter. [Wright, 2006, pp. 311] The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later call the failure to pass the information to the FBI a “significant failure” but will be unable to determine why the information was not passed on. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 250 pdf file] In 2002, CIA Director George Tenet will allude to e-mails he claims prove the information about the visa is passed to the FBI around this time. However, the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and 9/11 Commission fail to find any evidence of these e-mails. The FBI claims it never received any such e-mails. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; ABC News, 5/10/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
January 5, 2000: CIA Warns Other Intelligence Agencies that Almihdhar Has Visa to US, but Lies about FBI Knowledge of This
The CIA had just learned that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar not only is travelling to an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia, but also has a visa to travel to the US (see January 2-5, 2000). Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, sends a cable to a number of friendly intelligence agencies around the world, saying, “We need to continue the effort to identify these travelers and their activities to determine if there is any true threat posed.” The cable also says that Almihdhar’s travel documents have been given to the FBI. But in fact the FBI does not know about the visa, and Alec Station is clearly aware that the FBI does not know (see January 4-6, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file; Wright, 2006, pp. 311] The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that “the weight of available evidence does not support” that the FBI was told about the visa. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file]
January 5, 2000: Malaysian Intelligence Only Videotapes First Day of Al-Qaeda Summit, 9/11 Hijackers Videotaped with Hambali
Acting on the behalf of the CIA, Malaysian intelligence videotapes the attendees of an al-Qaeda summit. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later claim that the attendees were “videotaped by a Malaysian surveillance team on January 5, 2000.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 261] But this is only the first of four days of meetings, all held at the same location (see January 5-8, 2000), and the attendees are secretly photographed on the other days (see January 6-9, 2000). The Los Angeles Times will similarly note that Malaysian intelligence made a single surveillance videotape “that shows men arriving at the meeting, according to a US intelligence official. The tape, he said, has no sound and [isn’t] viewed as very significant at the time.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] The contents of the videotape remain murky, but one account claims Ramzi bin al-Shibh was one of the attendees videotaped at the summit. [Newsweek, 11/26/2001] Further, a US Treasury press release in 2003 will state that “[Hambali] was videotaped in a January 2000 meeting in Malaysia with two of the September 11, 2001 hijackers of AA Flight 77 – Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.” [US Department of the Treasury, 1/24/2003 pdf file] US intelligence officials consider the summit so important that CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, and other high-ranking officials are given daily briefings about it while it is taking place (see January 6-9, 2000). So it is unclear why only the first day would be videotaped and why such video would not be considered more important. Malaysia will give the CIA a copy of the tape about one month after the summit ends (see February 2000). By 1999, the FBI had connected Hambali to the 1995 Bojinka plot and also obtained a photo of him (see May 23, 1999). Yet the CIA will not share this video footage with the FBI nor will they warn Malaysian intelligence about Hambali’s Bojinka plot connection (see Shortly After January 8, 2000).
January 5-6, 2000: CIA Liason with FBI Who Just Learned About Almihdhar’s US Visa Twice Fails to Tell FBI about It
On the night of January 5, 2000, a CIA officer known as “James” who has been assigned to the FBI’s Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC) to deal with problems “in communicating between the CIA and the FBI” briefs an FBI agent who works in the FBI’s bin Laden unit (which is part of the SIOC at that time) about a number of cables he has received regarding the al-Qaeda summit that is just starting in Malaysia and one of the people attending it, hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. The CIA agent writes an e-mail to several other CIA agents and details “exactly” what he briefed this person on. Although the CIA should inform the FBI of a terrorist like Almihdhar having a US visa, he does not mention discussing the visa with the FBI agent, even though he has just seen several CIA cables talking about it. The FBI agent will later say he does not know why James chooses to brief him, as he is not a designated contact point for the CIA. Overnight, another CIA cable comes in to him providing new details about Almihdhar and the Malaysia summit. The next morning, the CIA agent briefs a different FBI agent in the SIOC about these new developments. Again, records indicate he fails to mention anything about Almihdhar’s US visa. This FBI agent will also say he does not know why he was briefed on the matter, as he is not a designated contact point for the CIA. James then sends an e-mail to other CIA agents describing “exactly” what he told both of the FBI agents. One section of his e-mail reads, “Thus far, a lot of suspicious activity has been observed [in Malaysia] but nothing that would indicate evidence of an impending attack or criminal enterprise. [I told the first FBI agent] that as soon as something concrete is developed leading us to the criminal arena or to known FBI cases, we will immediately bring FBI into the loop. Like [the first FBI agent] yesterday, [the second FBI agent] stated that this was a fine approach and thanked me for keeping him in the loop.” Due to the briefings James gives, another CIA officer assigned to the FBI will not bother to brief the FBI on Almihdhar (see January 6, 2000). After 9/11, James will refuse to talk to the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, but will tell the CIA’s inspector general that he has no recollection of these events. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241-247 pdf file; Tenet, 2007, pp. 195]
January 5-8, 2000: Al-Qaeda Summit in Malaysia Discusses 9/11 and Cole Plots; CIA Has Malaysians Monitor It
About a dozen of bin Laden’s trusted followers hold a secret, “top-level al-Qaeda summit” in the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. [CNN, 8/30/2002; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/27/2002] Plans for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 9/11 attacks are discussed. [USA Today, 2/12/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] At the request of the CIA, the Malaysian Secret Service monitors the summit and then passes the information on to the US (see January 6-9, 2000). Attendees of the summit are said to include:
- Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. The CIA and FBI will later miss many opportunities to foil the 9/11 plot through Alhazmi and Almihdhar and the knowledge of their presence at this summit. The CIA already knows many details about these two by the time the summit begins (see January 2-4, 2000), and tracked Almihdhar as he traveled to it (see January 2-5, 2000).
- Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), a top al-Qaeda leader and the alleged “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks. The US has known KSM is an Islamic militant since the exposure of Operation Bojinka in January 1995 (see January 6, 1995), and knows what he looks like. US officials have stated that they only realized the summit was important in the summer of 2001, but the presence of KSM should have proved the its importance. [Los Angeles Times, 2/2/2002] Although the possible presence of KSM at this summit is highly disputed by US officials, one terrorism expert will testify before the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he has access to transcripts of KSM’s interrogations since his capture, and that KSM has admitted leading this summit and told the attendees about a planes as weapons plot targeting the US (see July 9, 2003). [Newsweek, 7/9/2003; New York Post, 7/10/2003] Many other media reports identify him there as well. [Independent, 6/6/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002; CNN, 11/7/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] For instance, according to Newsweek, “Mohammed’s presence would make the intelligence failure of the CIA even greater. It would mean the agency literally watched as the 9/11 scheme was hatched—and had photographs of the attack’s mastermind… doing the plotting.” [Newsweek, 7/9/2003]
- An Indonesian militant known as Hambali, or Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin. [BBC, 8/15/2003] He was heavily involved in the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot (see January 6, 1995 and June 1994). [CNN, 3/14/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] The FBI was aware of who he was and his connections to the Bojinka plot at least by 1999 and identified a photograph of him by that time (see May 23, 1999). He will be arrested by Thai authorities in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003). [CNN, 8/14/2003; CBS News, 8/15/2003] Malaysian officials recognize Hambali from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident. But the US does not tell them of his Bojinka connections so they will not know to arrest him after the summit is over (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002]
- Yazid Sufaat, a Malaysian man who owned the condominium where the summit was held. [New York Times, 1/31/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002] A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through Sufaat’s presence at this summit is later missed in September 2000 (see September-October 2000). Sufaat will travel to Afghanistan in June 2001 and be arrested by Malaysian authorities when he returns to Malaysia in late 2001. [Australian, 12/24/2002] Malaysian officials also recognize Sufaat from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002]
- Fahad Al-Quso, a top al-Qaeda operative. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001] Al-Quso will be arrested by Yemeni authorities in December 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), but the FBI will not given a chance to fully interrogate him before 9/11. He will escape from prison in 2003. [CNN, 5/15/2003]
- Tawfiq bin Attash. Better known by his alias “Khallad.” Bin Attash, a “trusted member of bin Laden’s inner circle,” was in charge of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and served as bin Laden’s personal intermediary at least for the USS Cole attack. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001] He is also thought to be a “mastermind” of that attack. Attash is reportedly planning to be one of the hijackers, but will be unable to get a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] US intelligence had been aware of his identity as early as 1995. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through bin Attash’s presence at this summit will later be missed in January 2001 (see January 4, 2001). Bin Attash had been previously arrested in Yemen for suspected terror ties, but let go (see Summer 1999). [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] He will be captured in Pakistan by the US in April 2003 (see April 29, 2003).
- Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. [Los Angeles Times, 10/10/2001; Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 59] (Note: in the sources al-Nashiri is referred to by two of his aliases: Muhammad Omar al-Harazi and Al Safani). [CNN, 12/11/2000; Central Intelligence Agency, 9/6/2006] Al-Nashiri is one of al-Qaeda’s top field commanders and operates out of Malaysia while 9/11 is being prepared. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 188] He was involved in an arms smuggling plot (see 1997) and the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998), in which his cousin was martyred (see August 7, 1998). He also organized the attack against the USS Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), and will be involved in the attacks against the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). He will be arrested in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002. An al-Qaeda operative had identified a photo of al-Nashiri for the FBI in late 1998 (see August 22-25 1998). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3]
- Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Investigators believe he wanted to be the twentieth hijacker. His presence at the summit may not have been realized until after 9/11, despite the fact that US intelligence had a picture of him next to bin Attash, and had video footage of him. [Newsweek, 11/26/2001; Washington Post, 7/14/2002; Time, 9/15/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; CNN, 11/7/2002] German police have credit card receipts indicating bin al-Shibh is in Malaysia at the same time. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany’s federal anticrime agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, will later say, “There are indications that Ramzi bin al-Shibh was in Kuala Lumpur for the meeting.” [New York Times, 8/24/2002] Another account noting he was photographed at the summit further notes that he entered and left Thailand three times in the first three weeks of January 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 10/17/2001] Anonymous Malaysian officials claim he is there, but US officials deny it. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002] One account says he is recognized at the time of the summit, which makes it hard to understand why he is not tracked back to Germany and the Hamburg cell with Mohamed Atta and other hijackers. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Another opportunity to expose the 9/11 plot through bin al-Shibh’s presence at this summit will be missed in June. It appears bin al-Shibh and Almihdhar are directly involved in the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 (see Around September 15-16 and October 10-21, 2000). [Guardian, 10/15/2001; Washington Post, 7/14/2002; Newsweek, 9/4/2002] So presumably better surveillance or follow-up from this summit could have prevented that attack as well.
- Ahmad Hikmat Shakir. An al-Qaeda agent of Iraqi nationality, he may have attended this summit, according to some documents, but his presence is uncertain. [Associated Press, 10/2/2002; Newsweek, 10/7/2002; Australian, 12/24/2002] After 9/11, he will be linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Bojinka plot. Jordan will arrest him and let him go after the US says they don’t want to take custody of him (see September 17, 2001).
- Salem Alhazmi, 9/11 hijacker and brother of Nawaf Alhazmi. He is possibly at the summit, although very few accounts mention it. [Australian, 12/24/2002] US intelligence intercepts from before the summit indicate that he at least had plans to attend. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file]
- Abu Bara al Taizi. A Yemeni al-Qaeda agent. He is reportedly meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to enter the US due to greater scrutiny for Yemenis. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8]
- Mohamed al-Khatani. A Saudi, he allegedly will confess to attending the summit while being held in the US Guantanamo prison (see July 2002). He apparently will unsuccessfully attempt to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see August 4, 2001). However, al-Khatani will later recant his testimony and say he lied to avoid torture (see October 26, 2006).
- Unnamed members of the Egyptian-based Islamic Jihad are also said to have been at the summit. [Cox News Service, 10/21/2001] Islamic Jihad merged with al-Qaeda in February 1998. [ABC News, 11/17/2001] However, according to the Wall Street Journal, bin Attash and al-Quso are suspected of being Islamic Jihad members at one point, so this may just be a reference to them. [Wall Street Journal, 10/8/2001]
(January 5-8, 2000): CIA Fails to Act on Triangle of Calls Linking Malaysia Summit, Cole Bomber’s House, and 9/11 Hijackers’ Hotel
A series of calls by al-Qaeda operatives, some of whom are under surveillance by the CIA and the Malaysian Special Branch at this time, links three sites involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Even though the CIA is aware of the calls, it will later say it is unable to find the hijackers in Bangkok, the location of one of the call sites. The calls made by the operatives are between the following three locations:
- A payphone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, near an apartment where about a dozen al-Qaeda operatives are holding a summit (see January 5-8, 2000);
- The Washington Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. Al-Qaeda operatives Ibrahim al-Thawar and Fahad al-Quso are staying at the hotel around this time and will go on to be involved in the Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). They are later joined in the hotel by summit attendees Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Khallad bin Attash;
- Al-Quso’s house in Yemen. The calls from the payphone to this location are made by bin Attash.
Although bin Attash and possibly others call the Washington Hotel while they are under surveillance, the CIA will be unable to locate them there during the week they spend in Bangkok, from January 8-15 (see January 8-15, 2000). Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “Although the CIA later denied that it knew anything about the phone, the number was recorded in the Malaysians’ surveillance log, which was given to the agency.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 156-160, 181-2; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] The FBI team investigating the Cole bombing will later learn some of this information before 9/11 and ask the CIA for details. However, the CIA will fail to disclose what it knows about the Malaysia summit or that it looks for the hijackers and associates in Thailand after January 8 (see July 2001).January 6, 2000: CIA Informs FBI Leaders about Al-Qaeda Malaysia Summit but Fails to Mention One Attendee Has US Visa
FBI Director Louis Freeh and other top FBI officials are briefed about the ongoing al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) as part of their regular daily update. They are told the CIA is in the lead and that the CIA promises to let the FBI know if an FBI angle to the case develops. But they also are not told that the CIA just found out one of the participants, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] One FBI official familiar with the case will later complain, “[The CIA] purposely hid [Almihdhar] from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau.… The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened.… They have blood on their hands.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Jack Cloonan, an FBI agent in the I-49 squad that focused on al-Qaeda, later says: “If that information [got] disseminated, would it have had an impact on the events of 9/11? I’m telling you that it would have.” [ABC News, 5/10/2004]
January 6-9, 2000: Malaysia Provides CIA with Information on Al-Qaeda Summit and Attendees
Hazel Evergreen Park, located on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is the condominium complex where the terror summit was held.Hazel Evergreen Park, located on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is the condominium complex where the terror summit was held. [Source: FBI]At the CIA’s request, the Malaysian Secret Service is monitoring an important al-Qaeda summit (see January 5-8, 2000) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and begins passing what it knows to the CIA even before the summit is over. Media accounts are consistent that the operatives at the summit are photographed, and even videotaped on the first day (see January 5, 2000), but there is no wiretapping or other recording of their conversations. [Ottawa Citizen, 9/17/2001; Observer, 10/7/2001; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; CNN, 3/14/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] However, Malaysian officials are not informed what to look for, and focus more on monitoring the local Malaysian and Indonesian hosts who serve as drivers than the visitors attending the summit. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002] One account says that in general, “As the terrorists left the [condominium where the summit was held], the Malaysian police clicked away with their cameras. There was enough material for a whole photo series. The terrorists strolled around town like regular tourists. They casually searched out an Internet cafe and spent many hours in front of the computers, always surreptitiously watched by an observation team.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Authorities find out what hotel Khalid Almihdhar is staying at and he and his associates are photographed there [Newsweek, 9/20/2001; Observer, 10/7/2001] , as well as coming and going from the condominium where the meeting is held. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] On January 7, Khalid Almihdhar and others go shopping, giving Malaysian security ample opportunity to collect information about them. They spend hours at Internet cafes, and after they leave, Malaysian intelligence searches the hard drives of the computers they used. [Australian, 12/24/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003] On January 8, the CIA will be told that an unnamed new person has just joined Almihdhar and the others, and that additional photographs have been taken. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 pdf file] By January 9, all the data and photos the Malaysians have collected are in the hands of the CIA, except for the video footage, which apparently is sent to US intelligence one month later (see February 2000). However, no photos or video and few details from any of this surveillance have been publicly released. It is known that there are photos of:
- Khallad bin Attash with Almihdhar.
- Fahad al-Quso next to Almihdhar.
- Some photos are of Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001; Stern, 8/13/2003]
- Hambali is in some photos, and is immediately recognized by Malaysian intelligence (see Shortly After January 8, 2000).
- Yazid Sufaat also is in some photos, and also is recognized by Malaysian intelligence. [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002]
January 6-9, 2000: Top CIA and Clinton Cabinet Officials Repeatedly Briefed about Al-Qaeda Summit in Malaysia
On January 6, 2000, the CIA office in Malaysia begins passing details from the Malaysian government’s surveillance of the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 6-9, 2000). Cofer Black, head of the CTC, orders that he be continually informed about the meeting. CIA Director Tenet is frequently informed as well. They are given continual updates until the meeting ends on January 8. [Stern, 8/13/2003] National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and other top officials are briefed, but apparently President Clinton is not. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 225-26] However, it appears that the CIA deliberately and repeatedly fails to tell the FBI that one attendee, hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has an active visa to visit the US (see January 5, 2000, January 6, 2000, and January 5-6, 2000). No evidence has been presented suggesting anyone else outside the CIA was told this crucial fact either. The Malaysian summit ended on January 8. According to the 9/11 Commission, “On January 14, the head of the CIA’s al-Qaeda unit again updated his bosses, telling them that officials were continuing to track the suspicious individuals who had now dispersed to various countries.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] Officially, the CIA will later claim to have lost hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar as they left the meeting (see January 8, 2000), however, Almihdhar will later report back to al-Qaeda that he thought he was followed to the US (see Mid-July 2000). It has never been reported if any of the other attendees were monitored after leaving the meeting or not.
January 8, 2000: Al-Qaeda Summit Ends; CIA Still Fails to Add Attendees to Watch List
The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, with al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see January 8, 2000). Other attendees depart to other locales. There have been no media reports that any of the others were followed by intelligence agents. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file] Before the summit started the CIA knew one attendee was named Khalid Almihdhar and that another had the first name Nawaf. At the end of the summit the CIA appears to have learned little more, and still does not know Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi. Around this time, on January 7 and 10, the CIA searches for their names in their databases but get no hits. Yet they don’t ask for a search of the much larger NSA databases, which had vital information on them (see Early 1999). CIA headquarters asks the NSA to put Almihdhar on their watch list so they can pass on more information about him (see Mid-January 2000). However, neither Alhazmi nor Almihdhar are placed on the State Department’s watch list, which would actually prevent them from coming to the US. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] The CIA still fails to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a valid US visa, and in fact seems to go out of their way not to tell the FBI about it (see January 4-6, 2000, January 6, 2000, January 5, 2000, and January 5-6, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; Stern, 8/13/2003]
January 8, 2000: 9/11 Hijackers Slip Surveillance as They Fly to Thailand
The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, traveling under their real names. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash also travels with them and the three sit side by side in the airplane, but bin Attash travels under the false name “Salah Said Mohammed bin Yousaf.” [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] However, the CIA fails to alert anyone that they should be followed. Apparently, no one is Thailand is warned about their arrival until after they have already disappeared into Bangkok. The CIA is told by Malaysian intelligence that Khalid Almihdhar was on the flight, as well as someone with the last name Alhazmi. For the third person, the CIA is given part of bin Attash’s “Salah” alias. But apparently no one puts Nawaf’s first name together with his last name Alhamzi, even though he sat next to the known Khalid Almihdhar and his real full name was on the flight manifest. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] The CIA and Thai authorities will try and fail to find them in Thailand (see January 8-15, 2000).
January 8-15, 2000: CIA Fails to Locate 9/11 Hijackers in Thailand
Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar arrive in Thailand from Malaysia, where they were monitored while attending an al-Qaeda summit there (see January 8, 2000). Khallad bin Attash, who flew there with them, is met in Bangkok by two al-Qaeda operatives, Ibrahim al-Thawar and Fahad al-Quso, who give him $36,000. Some of this money may be passed on to Alhazmi and Almihdhar for their upcoming work in the US. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159] These two men who meet him happen to be plotters of the bombing of the USS Cole later in the year, though US intelligence will not learn about this until long after the Cole bombing. [Wright, 2006, pp. 312] The CIA attempts to find Almihdhar and his companions in Thailand but are unsuccessful because, as one official will later put it, “when they arrived we were unable to mobilize what we needed to mobilize.” On January 13, a CIA official will notify superiors that surveillance of the men is continuing. Additionally, that same day the Thai government puts Almihdhar’s name on a watch list in case he tries to fly out of Bangkok. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 pdf file] But despite being on this watch list, Almihdhar is able to fly to the US two days later, travelling with Nawaf Alhazmi and using his own name (see January 15, 2000). Bin Attash flies undetected to Karachi, Pakistan, on January 20. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] In February, the CIA will reject a request from foreign authorities to give assistance in the search. The CIA will stop what search there is in early March when the Thai government tells the CIA that Almihdhar has already flown to the US (see March 5, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file]
January 10, 2000: NSA Receives CIA Report on Almihdhar, but Does not Disseminate More Information about Him
The CIA sends the NSA some information about hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, including information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), which Almihdhar attended, as well as the name of a person who helped him in Kuala Lumpur, where the summit was held. The NSA is also told Almihdhar’s primary purpose for coming to Malaysia was to meet with other people. The CIA knows Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000), but it is unclear whether the NSA is informed of this. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 156 pdf file] At this time, the NSA has some information about Almihdhar, whose calls it has been intercepting for at least a year (see Early 1999, Summer 1999, Late Summer 1999, and Shortly Before December 29, 1999), that has not been disseminated. In particular, the NSA seems to have overheard something in early 1999 that should have been disseminated, but was not. This new information from the CIA does not cause the NSA to re-examine its material on Almihdhar or disseminate any important information to other US agencies. However, Almihdhar is subsequently put on the NSA watchlist (see Mid-January 2000) and the NSA intercepts calls between his home in Yemen and him in the US (see Spring-Summer 2000), but fails to alert the FBI to his presence in the US (see (Spring 2000)).
Mid-January 2000: CIA Asks NSA to Pass on New Information about Hijacker Almihdhar, but NSA Fails to Do So
Following a request by the CIA, the NSA puts hijacker Khalid Almihdhar on its watch list. This means that the NSA should pass details of any new monitored communications involving him to the CIA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] The CIA is looking for Almihdhar and knows he has a US visa (see January 8-15, 2000), but fails to add him to the State Department’s watch list until 19 months later (see August 23, 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later state: “In mid-January 2000, NSA queried its databases for information concerning Khaled [redacted]. These queries remained active until May 2000, but did not uncover any information.” In fact, the NSA intercepts eight of Almihdhar’s calls from San Diego to Yemen during this time and even gives some details about some of the calls to the FBI (see Spring-Summer 2000). However, they do not tell the CIA everything about them, despite the watch list requirement to provide the information. It is not clear why the NSA failed to share this with the CIA. It is also not known if or when Almihdhar was removed from the NSA watch list before 9/11. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file]
January 15, 2000: 9/11 Hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar Travel to US
A week after attending the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly together from Bangkok, Thailand, to Los Angeles, California. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001] The CIA will later claim that it lost track of them when they arrived in Bangkok and that it did not receive notification from the Thai government that Almihdhar and Alhazmi entered the US until March 2000 (see March 5, 2000). However, Almihdhar will later tell 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that he and Alhazmi think they were watched and followed from Bangkok to Los Angeles by unknown individuals (see Mid-July 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 215]
January 15-Early February 2000: Suspected Advance Man Helps 9/11 Hijackers Settle in San Diego
Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar arrive in Los Angeles and stay there for two weeks. Omar al-Bayoumi, a suspected al-Qaeda advance man and possible Saudi agent, arrives in Los Angeles and visits the Saudi Consulate there. According to Newsweek, “Law-enforcement officials believe al-Bayoumi may [have] a closed-door meeting with Fahad al Thumairy, a member of the consulate’s Islamic and Culture Affairs Section.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003] (In March 2003, al Thumairy is stripped of his diplomatic visa and barred from entry to the US, reportedly because of suspected links to terrorism. [Washington Post, 11/23/2003] ) Later that same day, al-Bayoumi goes to a restaurant and meets Alhazmi and Almihdhar. Al-Bayoumi later claims that this first contact with the hijackers is accidental. However, one FBI source later recalls that before he drives to Los Angeles that day he says he is going “to pick up visitors.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; Newsweek, 7/28/2003] Al-Bayoumi returns to San Diego after inviting the two hijackers to move there; Alhazmi and Almihdhar follow him there shortly thereafter. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] The FBI’s “best source” in San Diego says that al-Bayoumi “must be an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power.” A former top FBI official working on the al-Bayoumi investigation claims: “We firmly believed that he had knowledge [of the 9/11 plot], and that his meeting with them that day was more than coincidence.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003] Al-Bayoumi helps Alhazmi and Almihdhar settle in the US. After meeting them in Los Angeles and after bringing them to San Diego, he finds them a place to live. Al-Bayoumi lives at the Villa Balboa apartments with a wife and children, and the two hijackers move into the Parkwood apartments directly across the street. [Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, UK), 10/21/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] It appears the lease was actually signed by Alhazmi a few months earlier. Al-Bayoumi cosigns the lease and pays $1,500 cash for their first month’s rent and security deposit. Some FBI officials claim the hijackers immediately pay him back, others claim they do not. [Newsweek, 11/24/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] Within days of bringing them from Los Angeles, al-Bayoumi throws a welcoming party that introduces them to the local Muslim community. [Washington Post, 12/29/2001] One associate later says an al-Bayoumi party “was a big deal… it meant that everyone accepted them without question.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/25/2001] He also introduces hijacker Hani Hanjour to the community a short time later. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002] He tasks an acquaintance, Modhar Abdallah, to serve as their translator and help them get driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, information on flight schools, and more [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
Early 2000-Summer 2001: NSA Intercepts Communications between Hijackers in US and Al-Qaeda Communications Hub
The NSA intercepts approximately 14 calls between the hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, who is hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father in law (see August 5-25, 1998).
- The first calls are made by Almihdhar and are intercepted during the spring and summer of 2000 (see Spring-Summer 2000).
- More calls are made by hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001).
- The final call from the US is intercepted just a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)). The NSA intercepted the hijackers’ calls outside the US before this (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and continues to do so in 2000 (see Summer 2000) after Almihdhar returns to Yemen (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)). Some of the calls may only contain non-operational information, as they are between Almihdhar and his wife. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] However, the calls are also used to relay messages to the 9/11 hijackers. [Embassy of Yemen (Washington), 2/13/2002; MSNBC, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005] The CIA is the lead agency monitoring the communications hub. It has planted bugs inside the house and is wiretapping all calls (see Late August 1998). Intercepts of calls to and from the hub are a major plank of the US intelligence community’s effort to fight al-Qaeda. Also involved is the FBI, which is using phone records to plot these calls on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). Some of the calls intercepted by US intelligence come from bin Laden’s satellite phone in Afghanistan (see August 5-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). After 9/11, counterterrorism officials will say that the number was one of the hottest targets being monitored by the NSA and was an “intelligence bonanza.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] Also after 9/11, counterterrorism officials will agree that the failure to follow leads to the US from this number was a huge missed opportunity to stop the plot. For instance, FBI agent Kenneth Maxwell will say: “Two al-Qaeda guys living in California—are you kidding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, a special unit devoted entirely to them.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] The failure to roll up the plot based on these communications intercepts will be discussed following 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and 2004 and After).
February 2000: CIA Obtains Videotape from Al-Qaeda Summit in Malaysia, But Express Little Interest in It
About a month after the Malaysia al-Qaeda summit (see January 5-8, 2000), “The CIA obtain[s] a surveillance videotape” from Malaysian intelligence “that shows men arriving at the meeting, according to a US intelligence official. The tape, he said, has no sound and [isn’t] viewed as very significant at the time.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Apparently, only the first day of the summit was videotaped (see January 5, 2000). Contents of the tape, which might definitively prove who was at the meeting, have never been made public, but the US Treasury will later mentione that Hambali and hijackers Nawaf Alhamzi and Khalid Almihdhar were on the tape. [US Department of the Treasury, 1/24/2003 pdf file] There is no evidence the CIA shares the videotape with any other agency before 9/11.
February 2000: CIA Rejects Foreign Request for Involvement with Almihdhar Due to Own Investigation
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later report that: “[I]n February 2000, CIA rejected a request from foreign authorities to become involved [in the search for and/or monitoring of hijacker Khalid Almihdhar] because CIA was in the middle of an investigation ‘to determine what the subject is up to.’” However, the CIA will later say it has no idea where Almihdhar is at this point (see January 8-15, 2000). The identify of the “foreign authorities” and the nature of the proposed assistance is not known. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 147 pdf file]
February 2000-Early September 2001: San Diego Neighbors to Hijackers See Mysterious Late Night Visits and Car Rides
While Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar live in the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego in early 2000 and then again before 9/11, neighbors note unexplained late night car rides and visits. Time reports that a neighbor, “Nancy Coker, 36, saw them getting into limos late at night, even though the car that neighbors said they drove was a gray Toyota Camry, early ‘90s vintage. ‘A week ago, I was coming home between 12 and 1 a.m. from a club. I saw a limo pick them up. It wasn’t the first time. In this neighborhood you notice stuff like that. In the past couple of months, I have seen this happen at least two or three times.’” Note the comment, “a week ago,” which is further evidence the two are living in the Parkwood Apartments again just before 9/11 (see Early September 2001) [Time, 9/24/2001 Sources: Nancy Coker] Keith Link, a neighbor with a view of one of the apartments, referring to one of these hijackers, says, “People later in the evening would come and pick him up in really fancy nice cars, brand-new Lincolns. Everybody is friendly in this whole complex, except for that guy. Nobody knew him, nobody spoke to him.” Another neighbor, Sharon Flower, says, “I would see this man being picked up or dropped off at all hours of the day or night.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/15/2001 Sources: Keith Link, Sharon Flower] A similar pattern is seen by neighbors when the hijackers live with FBI asset Abdussattar Shaikh in the neighborhood of Lemon Grove in late 2000. Neighbor Dave Eckler later explains, “There was always a series of cars driving up to the house late at night. Sometimes they were nice cars. Sometimes they had darkened windows. They’d stay about 10 minutes.” At the time, Eckler guesses they are selling fake IDs. [Time, 9/24/2001 Sources: Dave Eckler] Neighbor Marna Adair says, “People come and go at all hours. We’ve always thought there was something strange going on there.” Her daughter Denise Adair adds, “We thought it was a little weird, but we never thought this [i.e., the 9/11 attacks].” [Associated Press, 9/16/2001 Sources: Denise Adair, Marna Adair] There has never been any media speculation as to the meaning of these late night rides and official 9/11 investigations have never mentioned the issue.
Early February-Summer 2000: Hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar Live Openly in San Diego
Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar move to San Diego and live there openly. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] Hijacker Hani Hanjour joins them as a roommate in February 2000 but apparently does not stay long. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/18/2001; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/21/2001] The hijackers use their real names on their rental agreement [US Congress, 9/20/2002] , driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, credit cards [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] , car purchase, and bank account. Alhazmi is even listed in the 2000-2001 San Diego phone book. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001; Newsweek, 6/2/2002] Neighbors notice odd behavior: They have no furniture, they are constantly using cell phones on the balcony, constantly playing flight simulator games, keep to themselves, and strange cars and limousines pick them up for short rides in the middle of the night (see February 2000-Early September 2001). [Time, 9/24/2001; Washington Post, 9/30/2001; Time, 10/1/2001]
February 4, 2000: Hijackers Open San Diego Bank Account
Hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi open an account at the Bank of America in San Diego with a $9,900 deposit. The 9/11 Commission will later report, “The $16,000 that [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] said he gave Alhazmi to support his and Almihdhar’s travel and living expenses in the United States is the likely source of their funds.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 135-136 pdf file] The account is closed in early June when Almihdhar returns to the Middle East (see June 10, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222]
Spring 2000: Payments to Suspected Hijacker Associate Increase Significantly
According to leaks from the still-classified part of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, monthly payments to Omar al-Bayoumi increase significantly at this time. Al-Bayoumi has been receiving a salary from the Saudi civil authority of about $500 a month. However, shortly after hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar move to San Diego, al-Bayoumi’s salary increases to about $3,000 to $3,500 a month [New York Times, 7/29/2003] It is not clear whether this pay spike is from his Dallah Avco job, or an additional payment by the Saudi government [New York Times, 7/29/2003; New York Times, 8/2/2003] , but the pay spike appears to be a separate stream of money, because another report indicates his Dallah Avco job started with $3,000 a month payments and remained consistent. [Wall Street Journal, 8/11/2003] It also fits in with his claims to acquaintances at the time that he is receiving a regular government scholarship. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002]
Spring 2000: Hijackers Attend Same Mosque as Terrorism Suspect
A Saudi citizen named Osama Basnan, who had an apparent connection to Eritrean Islamic Jihad in the early 1990s (see May-December 1992), lives across the street from 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and attends the same mosque in San Diego as them. He will later be alleged to have known the two men, but he will deny this. He will, however, admit to knowing one of their associates, Omar al-Bayoumi. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/22/2002; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, 11/28/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 175-7 pdf file; Arab News, 8/5/2003] In early 2000, a US Army program called Able Danger identifies four of the hijackers as members of the so-called “Brooklyn” cell after the program links them to mosques that were visited by associates of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see January-February 2000). The US Army has not disclosed the identities of the sheikh’s associates, but it is possible that Osama Basnan, who is believed to have held a party for the sheikh in 1992 (see April 1998), is one of them.
(Spring 2000): Hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar Talk about Wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya, Alhazmi Praises Bin Laden
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar talk to San Diego acquaintances about the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya, in which they fought, but apparently do not mention the war in Bosnia, which they also fought in (see 1993-1999 and 1995). Alhazmi says that it would be a “big honor” to fight for Islam. He also expresses his admiration for Osama bin Laden and says bin Laden is acting on behalf of all Muslims. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 191] Alhazmi will make similar comments in Virginia to two roommates there (see (Mid April 2001)).
Spring-Summer 2000: NSA Intercepts Communications between Hijacker in US and Al-Qaeda Communications Hub
Around eight calls made by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from San Diego to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, owned by his father-in-law are intercepted by the NSA. At least one of the calls is made from a phone registered to hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in their San Diego apartment; other calls are made from a mobile phone registered to Alhazmi. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16-17, 157 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 pdf file; McDermott, 2005, pp. 296; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] Calls may also be made from the communications hub to the US. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] One of the calls takes place days after they move into their San Diego apartment in February (see January 15-Early February 2000). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Another is on March 20, 2000. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 pdf file] Although NSA analysts pick up his first name, “Khalid,” they do not connect it to his second name, even though the NSA has been intercepting communications to and from the hub involving him throughout 1999 (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and he is on the NSA watch list at this point (see Mid-January 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16, 157 pdf file; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] Some, or perhaps all, of these calls are between Almihdhar and his wife, who lives at the communications hub and gives birth to a daughter in early 2000 while Almihdhar is in the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] However, the NSA analysts suspect that Khalid is part of an “operational cadre.” [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] According to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, the NSA disseminates some of this information to the FBI, CIA, and other agencies, but not all of it, as it apparently does not meet reporting thresholds. It is unclear why it did not meet such thresholds, although some sources suggest he was just talking to his wife. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] Another source suggests operational information was passed on during the calls (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). However, two FBI agents who worked on al-Qaeda cases relating to Yemen, Dan Coleman and Ali Soufan, will later claim that they and other senior counterterrorism officials only learned about these calls after 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “You know, this is the key. The NSA is all over this phone. And everybody, you know, that has any connection with it is drawing links from that phone. Now imagine eight lines from Yemen to San Diego. How obvious would it be that al-Qaeda is in America[?]” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006] The NSA also intercepted various other communications between the hijackers and the communications hub (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).
March 5, 2000: CIA Learn Hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar Have Entered US but Don’t Tell the FBI or Other Agencies
After being prompted by CIA colleagues in Kuala Lumpur, Malayia, to provide information about what happened to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash after they flew from Malaysia to Thailand on January 8, 2000 (see January 8, 2000), the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, drafts a cable saying that Nawaf Alhazmi arrived in the US from Thailand on January 15 (see January 15, 2000). This information was received from Thai intelligence, which watchlisted Almihdhar and Alhazmi after being asked to do so by the CIA (see January 8-15, 2000). Almihdhar’s departure is not reported to the Malaysia CIA station, even though he accompanied Alhazmi on the same United Airlines flight. The 9/11 Commission will later presume this departure information on the two hijackers was obtained by the CIA Bangkok station some time in January, but the commission’s report will not explain why the station waited until March to share this information with anyone else in the CIA. [New York Times, 10/17/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502] According to later testimony of a senior FBI official, the CIA also learns about hijacker Khalid Almihdhar at this time: “In March 2000, the CIA received information concerning the entry of Almihdhar and Alhazmi into the United States.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] The CIA disputes this, however. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file] Later, CIA officials, including CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorism Center Director Cofer Black, will admit that this was one of the missed opportunities to watch list the hijackers. Black will say, “I think that month we watchlisted about 150 people. [The watch listing] should have been done. It wasn’t.” [New York Times, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file] The knowledge that Alhazmi has entered the US will be disseminated throughout the CIA one day later, but not to the FBI or other US intelligence agencies (see March 6, 2000 and After).
March 6, 2000 and After: Numerous CIA Officers Learn Hijacker Is in US; Fail to Inform FBI
After the CIA learns that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000) and hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi has arrived in Los Angeles (see March 5, 2000), operational documents reporting this are accessed by numerous CIA officers, most of whom are in the Counterterrorism Division. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005 pdf file] [US Congress, 9/20/2002] However, it is unclear what is done with this information as CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorism Center Director Cofer Black will later incorrectly testify that nobody read the cable stating Alhazmi had entered the US (see October 17, 2002), so the use to which the information is put is never investigated. In addition, the CIA fails to inform the FBI that the al-Qaeda operative has entered the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 182]
April-May 2000: Alhazmi and Almihdhar Are ‘Dumb and Dumber’ as Pilot Students
On April 10, 2000, Nawaf Alhazmi takes a one hour introductory lesson at the National Air College in San Diego. Eight days later, he receives a $5,000 wire transfer in from Ali Abdul Aziz Ali in the United Arab Emirates. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] In May, Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar arrive at Sorbi’s Flying Club, a small school also in San Diego. They announce that they want to learn to fly Boeing airliners. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001] They are there with someone named “Hani” —presumably hijacker Hani Hanjour—but only the two of them go up in an airplane. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001] Instructor Rick Garza says that the dream to fly big jets is the goal of practically every student who comes to the school, but he notices an unusual lack of any basic understanding of aircraft in these two. When he asks Almihdhar to draw the aircraft, Almihdhar draws the wings on backwards. Both speak English poorly, but Almihdhar in particular seems impossible to communicate with. Rather than following the instructions he was given, he would vaguely reply, “Very good. Very nice.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/30/2001] The two offer extra money to Garza if he will teach them to fly multi-engine Boeing planes, but Garza declines. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001] “I told them they had to learn a lot of other things first… It was like Dumb and Dumber. I mean, they were clueless. It was clear to me they weren’t going to make it as pilots.” [Observer, 10/7/2001 Sources: Rick Garza]
April 16-18, 2000: Hijackers Receive First Wire Transfer from UAE; Almihdhar Suspected of Being Saudi Intelligence Operative
According to the 9/11 Commission, al-Qaeda financial facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali uses the name “Mr. Ali” to make the first wire transfer from abroad to the hijackers in the US. Five thousand dollars is wired from the Wall Street Exchange Center in Dubai to an account of an acquaintance of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in San Diego. The Exchange Center makes a copy of Ali’s work ID and notes his cell phone number and work address, which is helpful to the FBI after 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 220; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 134 pdf file] Ali, who is a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, is also accused of wiring hijacker Marwan Alshhehi $115,000 (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000). Although in a 2007 US military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay he will admit sending this amount to Alshehhi, he will deny sending $5,000 to Alhazmi, saying that his personal information was distributed to “thousands of people from different parts of the world,” so it could have been used by somebody else. Some reports indicate that Saeed Sheikh may also have wired the hijackers some money this year (see Summer 2000). [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2007, pp. 17 pdf file] Although the hijackers have at least one US bank account (see February 4, 2000), they tell the administrator of their local mosque, Adel Rafeea, that they do not have one and ask him to allow the money to be paid into his account. It is unclear why they do this. The administrator will come forward after 9/11 and say that Alhazmi and Almihdhar initially described themselves as Saudi government clerks and needed his help to find an English school. After declining Alhazmi’s request for a loan, he permits his account to be used, but then distances himself from them because he is suspicious of the transfer: it came from the United Arab Emirates, not Saudi Arabia, where Alhazmi said it would come from, and the sender is only identified as “Ali.” This causes him to worry that Almihdhar might be an intelligence agent of the Saudi government. [US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 517; McDermott, 2005, pp. 191]
May 10-Mid-December 2000: FBI Asset Fails to Share Valuable Information on Hijackers
While hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar live in the house of an FBI asset, Abdussattar Shaikh, the asset continues to have contact with his FBI handler. The handler, Steven Butler, later claims that during the summer Shaikh mentions the names “Nawaf” and “Khalid” in passing and that they are renting rooms from him. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file; Associated Press, 7/25/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 220] In early media reports, the two are said to have moved in around September, but the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry implies that Shaikh lied about this, and they moved in much earlier. Alhazmi stays until December; Almihdhar appears to be mostly out of the US after June. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/16/2001; Wall Street Journal, 9/17/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file] On one occasion, Shaikh tells Butler on the phone he cannot talk because Khalid is in the room. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002] Shaikh tells Butler they are good, religious Muslims who are legally in the US to visit and attend school. Butler asks Shaikh for their last names, but Shaikh refuses to provide them. Butler is not told that they are pursuing flight training. Shaikh tells Butler that they are apolitical and have done nothing to arouse suspicion. However, according to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, he later admits that Alhazmi has “contacts with at least four individuals [he] knew were of interest to the FBI and about whom [he] had previously reported to the FBI.” Three of these four people are being actively investigated at the time the hijackers are there. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file] The report mentions Osama Mustafa as one, and Shaikh admits that suspected Saudi agent Omar al-Bayoumi was a friend. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 7/25/2003] Alhazmi and Shaikh remain in contact after Alhazmi leaves San Diego in December. Alhazmi calls Shaikh to tell him he intends to take flying lessons in Arizona and that Almihdhar has returned to Yemen. He also e-mails Shaikh three times; one of the e-mails is signed “Smer,” an apparent attempt to conceal his identity, which Shaikh finds strange. However, Alhazmi does not reply to e-mails Shaikh sends him in February and March of 2001. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223] The FBI later concludes Shaikh is not involved in the 9/11 plot, but they have serious doubts about his credibility. After 9/11 he gives inaccurate information and has an “inconclusive” polygraph examination about his foreknowledge of the 9/11 attack. The FBI will believe he had contact with hijacker Hani Hanjour, but claimed not to recognize him. There are other “significant inconsistencies” in Shaikh’s statements about the hijackers, including when he first met them and later meetings with them. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry later concludes that had the asset’s contacts with the hijackers been capitalized upon, it “would have given the San Diego FBI field office perhaps the US intelligence community’s best chance to unravel the September 11 plot.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file] The FBI later tries to prevent Butler and Shaikh from testifying before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October 2002. Butler ends up testifying, but Shaikh does not. [Washington Post, 10/11/2002]
Mid-May-December 2000: Almihdhar and Alhazmi Receive Late Night Visits at FBI Informer’s House
While living with FBI informer Abdussatar Shaikh (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi receive strange late night visits, as they did in their previous apartment in San Diego. [Associated Press, 9/16/2001] The visits are seen by their neighbors. For instance, one neighbor says, “There was always a series of cars driving up to the house late at night. Sometimes they were nice cars. Sometimes they had darkened windows. They’d stay about 10 minutes.” [Time, 10/1/2001] The two hijackers are also reportedly visited by Mohamed Atta and Hani Hanjour at this time (see Mid-May-December 2000).
Mid-May-December 2000: Atta and Hanjour Reportedly Visit Fellow Hijackers at FBI Informer’s House
While Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are living with FBI informer Abdussattar Shaikh in San Diego (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), they are apparently visited frequently by Mohamed Atta, as well as Hani Hanjour, according to neighbors interviewed after 9/11. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/27/2001; Associated Press, 9/29/2001; Chicago Tribune, 9/30/2001; KGTV 10 (San Diego), 10/11/2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal, 10/26/2001] However, Shaikh will deny Atta’s visits and the FBI will not mention them. [Associated Press, 9/29/2001] Shaikh will also deny having met Hanjour, but the 9/11 Commission will say that it has “little doubt” Shaikh met Hanjour at least once. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 518] The two San Diego-based hijackers also receive a series of mysterious late night visits at this time (see Mid-May-December 2000).
Summer 2000: San Diego Hijackers Meet Atta and Al-Bayoumi
Anonymous government sources later claim that Mohamed Atta visits fellow hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Omar al-Bayoumi. These same sources claim al-Bayoumi is identified after September 11 as an “advance man” for al-Qaeda. [Washington Times, 11/26/2002] Other reports have suggested Atta visited Alhazmi and Almihdhar in San Diego, but the FBI has not confirmed this. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
June 10, 2000: Almihdhar Flies from San Diego to Germany; Return Date Unclear
Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar flies from San Diego to Frankfurt, Germany. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] He is accompanied to the airport by another hijacker, Nawaf Alhazmi, and an associate (see June 10, 2000). Authorities later believe that Almihdhar visits his cousin-in-law Ramzi Bin al-Shibh and other al-Qaeda members in bin al-Shibh’s cell. Since the CIA fails to notify Germany about its suspicions of Almihdhar and bin al-Shibh, both of whom were seen attending the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January, German police fail to monitor them and another chance to uncover the 9/11 plot is missed. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] FBI Director Mueller and the congressional inquiry into 9/11 will claim that Almihdhar does not return to the US for over a year [US Congress, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 9/26/2002] , although it is possible that Almihdhar does return before then. For instance, there are indications Almihdhar attends a flight school in Arizona in early 2001. [Arizona Republic, 9/28/2001]
(Mid-June-Mid-July 2000): Almihdhar Stays in Yemen House Monitored by US Intelligence
When hijacker Khalid Almihdhar leaves the US in June (see June 10, 2000), he flies to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Oman in the Middle East. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] From there he returns to his family’s home in Sana’a, Yemen. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] His wife and children live at an al-Qaeda communications hub that is run by his father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. The hub is being monitored by the NSA and CIA. Phone calls to and from the hub, including ones made by Almihdhar and other hijackers, are intercepted, rooms in the building are bugged, and spy satellites record visitors (see Late August 1998, Late 1998-Early 2002, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Based on information gained from monitoring this house, the CIA and local intelligence services mounted a major operation against Almihdhar, other hijackers, and several more al-Qaeda operatives in December 1999 and January 2000, when they were followed around the Middle East and South Asia and monitored during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, January 2-5, 2000, and January 5-8, 2000). So presumably US intelligence should have been aware of this visit to the hub and who Almihdhar was, but what exactly was known and who may have known it has not been made public.
Summer 2000: NSA Continues to Intercept Calls between Hijackers and Yemen Communications Hub
After hijacker Khaled Almihdhar returns to the Middle East (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)), the NSA continues to intercept his telephone calls to and from an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, where his wife and children live. US intelligence understands that this is one of the most important al-Qaeda hot spots, and has been closely monitoring it since at least late 1998 (see August 5-25, 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). It also intercepts calls between hijacker Salem Alhazmi and the hub, as well as conversations between his brother, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, in the US and the hub (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] The NSA had previously intercepted calls made by the hijackers to and from the communications hub, both when they were in the US and outside it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).
Mid-July 2000: Almihdhar Reports to KSM; Claims He and Alhazmi Were Followed to US
According to a post-9/11 confession obtained from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash persuades hijacker Khalid Almihdhar to return to Afghanistan to meet with KSM. At the meeting, Almihdhar complains about life in the US but says he is confident he will be able to obtain another visa, as he left the US before his first one expired. He also tells Mohammed about the problems he and Nawaf Alhazmi have had enrolling in language schools and says they believe they were monitored when they flew from Bangkok to the US in January 2000 (see January 15, 2000) (it is not clear who may have monitored them). Supposedly, KSM is angry that Almihdhar left the US without permission and wishes to exclude Almihdhar from the mission, but bin Laden himself intervenes and keeps Almihdhar involved. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237, 269; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006, pp. 20-21 pdf file] Doubts have been raised about the reliability of KSM’s confession, as it was obtained using torture (see June 16, 2004). According to author Ron Suskind, at one point interrogators even threaten to hurt KSM’s children, a seven-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl, unless he provides more information. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 230]
(Before September 2000): Army Intelligence Unit Said to Discover Hijackers Renting Rooms at New Jersey Motels
According to an anonymous Able Danger official speaking to the Bergen Record, a US Army intelligence unit tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks worldwide discovers that several of the 9/11 hijackers are taking rooms at motels in New Jersey and meeting together there. The intelligence unit, called Able Danger, which uses high-speed computers to analyze vast amounts of data, notices that Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi take a room at the Wayne Inn (see (Before September 2000-12 Months Later)). After the existence of the Able Danger unit comes to light in 2005, Bergen Record columnist and reporter Mike Kelly says, “The connect-the-dots tracking by the team was so good that it even knew Atta conducted meetings with the three future hijackers. One of those meetings took place at the Wayne Inn. That’s how close all this was—to us and to being solved, if only the information had been passed up the line to FBI agents or even to local cops. This new piece of 9/11 history, revealed only last week by a Pennsylvania congressman and confirmed by two former members of the intelligence team, could turn out to be one of the most explosive revelations since the publication last summer of the 9/11 commission report.” [Bergen Record, 8/14/2005] The other two hijackers said to be present at the meetings, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, periodically live in the town of Paterson, only one mile away from Wayne (see March 2001-September 1, 2001). However, contradicting this account, a lawyer representing members of Able Danger later testifies, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” [CNN, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] Some media accounts have stated that the Able Danger program determined Atta was in the US before 9/11. For instance, Fox News reported in August 2005, “[Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer] is standing by his claim that he told them that the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks had been identified in the summer of 2000 as an al-Qaeda operative living in the United States.” [Fox News, 8/17/2005]
Autumn 2000: Hijackers Live and Work in San Diego; Connected with Other Potential Al-Qaeda Operatives
Hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi works at a gas station while living in San Diego. This is the only apparent instance of any of the hijackers having a job while in the US. He and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar also frequently socialize at the gas station and Alhazmi works there on and off for about a month at some point after Almihdhar has gone overseas. [Washington Post, 12/29/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 11-12, 143-146, 155-157 pdf file] The Texaco gas station, Sam’s Star Mart, is owned by Osama “Sam” Mustafa. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2003] Mustafa was first investigated by the FBI in 1991 after he tells a police officer that the US needs another Pan Am 103 attack and that he could be the one to carry out the attack. He also says all Americans should be killed because of the 1991 Iraq War. In 1994, he was investigated for being a member of the Palestinian organizations PFLP and PLO and for threatening to kill an Israeli intelligence officer living in San Diego. The investigation was closed, but reopened again in 1997 when he was tied to a possible plot in North Carolina. Apparently, it is closed again before 9/11. He also associates with Osama Basnan and others who have contacts with the hijackers. Witnesses later claim he cheers when first told of the 9/11 attacks. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 11-12, 143-146, 155-157 pdf file] The gas station is managed by Ed Salamah. [Washington Post, 12/29/2001; San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2003] In January 2000, the brother of a known al-Qaeda operative is under surveillance and is seen chatting with Salamah. The Los Angeles FBI office is investigating this operative, and it calls Salamah about it. Salamah refuses to come to Los Angeles for an interview, and refuses to give his home address to be interviewed there. Faced with a reluctant witness, the FBI drops the matter. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 11-12, 143-146, 155-157 pdf file; Newsweek, 7/28/2003] The hijackers are living with an FBI asset who is aware of their contact with at least Mustafa, and that asset has given reports about Mustafa to the FBI in the past. However, the asset fails to tell the FBI about their contacts with him. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry strongly implies that Salamah and Mustafa assisted the hijackers with the 9/11 plot, but the FBI appears uninterested in them and maintains that the hijackers received no assistance from anyone. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 11-12, 143-146, 155-157 pdf file]
September 2000: Chart with Hijacker Atta’s Photo Presented by Able Danger at SOCOM Headquarters; Meetings with FBI Cancelled
Members of a US Army intelligence unit tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda have prepared a chart that includes the names and photographs of four future hijackers, who they have identified as members of an al-Qaeda cell based in Brooklyn, New York. The four hijackers in the cell are Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. The members of the intelligence unit, called Able Danger, present their chart at the headquarters of the US military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, Florida, with the recommendation that the FBI should be called in to take out the al-Qaeda cell. Lawyers working for SOCOM argue that anyone with a green card has to be granted the same legal protections as any US citizen, so the information about the al-Qaeda cell cannot be shared with the FBI. The legal team directs them to put yellow stickers over the photographs of Mohamed Atta and the other cell members, to symbolize that they are off limits. [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; Government Security News, 8/2005; New York Times, 8/9/2005; St. Petersburg Times, 8/10/2005; New York Times, 8/17/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer later says that an unnamed two-star general above him is “very adamant” about not looking further at Atta. “I was directed several times [to ignore Atta], to the point where he had to remind me he was a general and I was not… [and] I would essentially be fired.” [Fox News, 8/19/2005] Military leaders at the meeting take the side of the lawyers and prohibit any sharing of information about the al-Qaeda cell. Shaffer believes that the decision to side with the lawyers is made by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert (who had previously expressed distress when Able Danger data was destroyed without his prior notification (see May-June 2000)). He also believes that Gen. Peter Schoomaker, head of SOCOM, is not aware of the decision. [Government Security News, 9/2005]
October 2000: Almihdhar Visits Kuala Lumpur to Discuss Attack on US Interests in Singapore
Faiz abu Baker Bafana, an operative of al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, receives an Arab visitor and they discuss attacks on US interests in Singapore. Bafana knows the Arab as “Bandar,” but this is not his real name and it appears that “Bandar” is an alias for 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Almihdhar again stays in Yazid Sufaat’s apartment and travels to Afghanistan after the meeting. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006] The apartment is also used by Zacarias Moussaoui at around the same time (see September-October 2000), and Almihdhar and several other al-Qaeda commanders had used it for a summit at the start of the year (see January 5-8, 2000). Malaysian intelligence had been monitoring the apartment and passing the results on to the US, but the CIA did not ask for the surveillance to continue and it ended, apparently before this visit. Malaysian Legal Affairs minister Rais Yatim will express puzzlement over the CIA’s lack of interest in the apartment: “We couldn’t fathom it, really. There was no show of concern.” [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] Almihdhar will return to Malaysia to continue the planning for the Singapore attack in the middle of 2001 (see June 2001).
Around October 12, 2000: Hijacker Almihdhar in Yemen, Reportedly Involved in Cole Bombing
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in Yemen when the USS Cole is attacked in Aden harbor there (see October 12, 2000), and is reported to have had a role in the bombing. Almihdhar leaves shortly after the attack, together with al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 209] Bin Attash is quickly identified as one of the masterminds of the operation (see Late October-Late November 2000). Almihdhar will subsequently be accused of participating in the operation by the prime ministers of Yemen and Britain (see Early October 2001 and October 4, 2001). The Cole attack was a repeat of a failed attempt to bomb the USS Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), of which Almihdhar had foreknowledge (see Late 1999). Almihdhar, who trained with the Cole bombers (see Late 1999) and attended an apparent planning session for the operation (see January 5-8, 2000), may also be involved in a later ship-bombing operation in Singapore (see June 2001). Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a close associate of the hijackers, also leaves Yemen around this time and is also suspected of involvement in the bombing (see Around September 15-16 and October 10-21, 2000).
October 12, 2000: USS Cole Bombed by Al-Qaeda
The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. [ABC News, 10/13/2000; Coll, 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191] The Islamic Army of Aden immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). [Guardian, 10/14/2000] The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” [Guardian, 10/13/2001] The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Around September 15-16 and October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 190]
October 14-Late November, 2000: Investigation Into USS Cole Bombing Is Thwarted
The first FBI agents enter Yemen two days after the bombing of the USS Cole in an attempt to discover who was responsible. However, the main part of the team initially gets stuck in Germany because they do not have permission to enter Yemen and they are then unable to accomplish much due to restrictions placed on them and tensions between lead investigator John O’Neill and US Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine. All but about 50 investigators are forced to leave by the end of October. O’Neill’s boss Barry Mawn visits to assess the situation. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 237; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] Mawn will later comment, “It became clear [Bodine] simply hated his guts.” After a ten day investigation, he concludes O’Neill is doing a fine job, tells Bodine that she is O’Neill’s “only detractor,” and refuses her request to recall him. [Wright, 2006, pp. 32] But O’Neill and much of his team are pressured to leave by late November and Bodine will not give him permission to return any time after that. The investigation stalls without his personal relationships to top Yemeni officials. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 237; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002] Increased security threats force the reduced FBI team still in Yemen to withdraw altogether in June 2001. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The prime minister of Yemen at the time later claims (see Early October 2001) that hijacker “Khalid Almihdhar was one of the Cole perpetrators, involved in preparations. He was in Yemen at the time and stayed after the Cole bombing for a while, then he left.” The Sunday Times later notes, “The failure in Yemen may have blocked off lines of investigation that could have led directly to the terrorists preparing for September 11.” [Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002]
Late October 2000-July 4, 2001: Hijacker Almihdhar Travels around Asia
After leaving Yemen following the bombing of the USS Cole (see Around October 12, 2000), 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar travels to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Malaysia (see October 2000 and June 2001), and also back to Yemen. He may also travel to the United Arab Emirates (see June 2001). From late 2000 to February 2001 he stays with his cousin in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, even though he is apparently on the terrorist watch list there (see 1997). He then returns to Yemen, to stay with his family at an al-Qaeda communications hub monitored by US intelligence (see Late August 1998). Following this he goes to Afghanistan, then to the United Arab Emirates, from where he travels to stay with his cousin in Mecca for another month. Before flying to New York (see July 4, 2001), Almihdhar tells his cousin that Osama bin Laden is planning five attacks on the US and asks the cousin to watch over his family, because he has a job to do. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 137 pdf file] After 9/11, there will be speculation that during this period Almihdhar is coordinating the arrival of the other muscle hijackers. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller, this would his explain his stay in Saudi Arabia and his return only after all the other hijackers had arrived. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] However, there is some evidence suggesting that Almihdhar may have visited the US in this time frame, perhaps using a passport in a false name (see June 10, 2000).
December 5, 2000: Hijacker Hanjour Opens Dubai Account
Hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour opens an account with Citibank in Deira, Dubai, with a deposit of $3,000. Hanjour’s movements between September 25, 2000, when he obtained a US visa in Jeddah, and this date are unclear, but he flies to the US three days later (see December 8, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13-14 pdf file] According to the 9/11 Commission, plot facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali gave him the initial $3,000 and later deposits another $5,000 in the account. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 138 pdf file] However, these deposits will not be mentioned at a military hearing to determine Ali’s combat status, although other transactions between Ali and the hijackers will be (see March 30, 2007). [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2007 pdf file] Hanjour uses the money on this account, together with $9,600 that is deposited in his account with the Saudi British Bank, to pay some of his expenses in the US. Hijackers Fayez Ahmed Banihammed (see June 25, 2001), Marwan Alshehhi (see July 1999-November 2000), and possibly Mohamed Atta (see Late October 2001) also have accounts in the UAE through which money is passed to fund the plot. Khalid Almihdhar and Abdulaziz Alomari (see September 7, 2001) also draw on money from Saudi bank accounts. [US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 138 pdf file]
Mid-Late December 2000: CIA Receives Additional Confirmation of Almihdhar’s Al-Qaeda Connection
The CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, writes a cable noting that further connections have been made between hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda. This CIA station is already aware that Almihdhar attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). Due to these additional connections, the CIA believes that there may be a connection between Almihdhar and the USS Cole bombers and that Almihdhar may have met Fahad al-Quso and Khallad bin Attash, two of the operatives involved in the bombing, in Southeast Asia in January 2000 (see January 8-15, 2000 and Early December 2000). The station realizes this is important because bin Attash is linked to Osama bin Laden, but also speculates that bin Attash and Almihdhar may be the same person. The reason given for this speculation is that both Khallad and Almihdhar are in Bangkok, Thailand, at the same time, in the second week of January 2000 (see Mid-Late December 2000). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 269-270 pdf file]
Mid-Late December 2000: Some CIA Officers Speculate Almihdhar May Be Al-Qaeda Leader Bin Attash, FBI Not Informed
Because the CIA thinks hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash are in the same place at the same time—in Bangkok, Thailand, for a meeting with Fahad al-Quso, an operative involved in the attack of the USS Cole, in January 2000—and possibly because of the similarity between Almihdhar’s first name Khalid and bin Attash’s nickname Khallad, some officers apparently theorize that bin Attash and Almihdhar may be the same person. However, the FBI is not informed of this. In order to confirm or refute this theory, the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, asks for surveillance photos of an al-Qaeda summit that Almihdhar attended, intending to show the photos to a source who knows bin Attash and has previously identified him in another photo (see November 22-December 16, 2000 and Early January 2001). However, there is no record of this theory being communicated to the FBI, even though the CIA knows bin Attash was involved in the Cole bombing and the FBI is investigating him (see Late October-Late November 2000). Some CIA cables drafted at this time contain information about bin Attash and information not related to bin Attash; CIA officers are instructed to share the information not related to bin Attash with the FBI, but are not instructed to share the information about bin Attash and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say that if the CIA had told the FBI more about bin Attash around this time, the FBI would have asked for more information about Almihdhar and had a better chance of locating him before 9/11. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 269-270, 278 pdf file]
December 30, 2000: Three 9/11 Hijackers Possibly in Eastern US, Despite Official Claims to the Contrary
Documents obtained by Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi indicate that they are in the New Jersey / New York area at this time, although the cards may be later fakes. All three hijackers obtain USA ID cards whose expiry date is December 30, 2006. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 191-2 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] USAID Systems, the Florida firm that manufactured the system through which the cards were issued, will later tell Time magazine that Almihdhar’s card was issued exactly six years before its expiration date. [Time, 8/29/2005] However, according to the FBI and the 9/11 Commission, Nawaf Alhazmi is in Arizona (see December 12, 2000-March 2001), and Salem Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar are in the Middle East at this time (see June 10, 2000, Late October 2000-July 4, 2001, and April 23-June 29, 2001). Almihdhar’s card later proves to be a forgery, and may therefore not have been issued on this date. The Alhazmi brothers’ cards may also be forgeries (see (July-August 2001))
January 2001: CIA Report on USS Cole Bombing Only Finds Circumstantial Evidence of Bin Laden Link, Fails to Mention Some Connections
The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center completes a report on the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The report, drafted by CIA officer Clark Shannon, finds that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are circumstantially tied to the attack. However, the report fails to mention details known to the CIA involving figures later connected to the 9/11 plot. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later observe, “The report did not mention [hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s] visa, [hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s] travel to the United States or the Khallad [bin Attash] identification from the Kuala Lumpur photographs” (see January 2-5, 2000, March 5, 2000, and January 4, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 283 pdf file]
Early January 2001: CIA Passes Photos of Hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar for Source to Identify
The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center passes a photo of hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and a photo of hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000) to the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan. The station is to show the photos to a source, later referred to as “Omar,” to see if he can identify Khalid Almihdhar or al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash, as Omar has previously identified bin Attash in another photo (see November 22-December 16, 2000). According to cables drafted at this time, the overseas station requested the photo of Almihdhar because it thinks that Almihdhar and bin Attash might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). It is unclear why the photo of Alhazmi is also passed at the same time. The CIA has numerous other photos taken at the Malaysia summit as well as video (see January 5, 2000), but these are not passed. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 269-270 pdf file]
January 4, 2001: Informer Sees Known Al-Qaeda Leader in Malaysia Summit Photos
An overseas CIA officer shows a source known as “Omar,” who provides information on al-Qaeda, photographs of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi taken at the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). Omar has previously identified a photo of al-Qaeda commander Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000) and the officer thinks that bin Attash and Almihdhar might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). Omar says that the photo of Alhazmi, who the CIA apparently do not recognize at this time, actually shows bin Attash. As Omar cannot identify Almihdhar, but says he can identify bin Attash, this indicates Almihdhar and bin Attash are not the same person. The identification causes the CIA to believe that bin Attash attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Although this belief is based on a mistaken identification, it is actually correct, as bin Attash was present at the summit—the CIA has photos of bin Attash there, but fails to show them to Omar. This identification is important because bin Attash is a known bin Laden operative connected to the USS Cole attack and East African embassy bombings. The CIA also knows that Almihdhar and Alhazmi were at the summit, so this could connect them to the Cole attack. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file]
January 5, 2001 and After: CIA Does Not Tell FBI about Identification of Al-Qaeda Leader by Informer, but Allegedly Thinks It Has Done So
After an informer later referred to as “Omar” tells the CIA that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash was at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001), the CIA fails to communicate this information to the FBI, even though it is important for their investigation of the USS Cole bombing and connects 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Cole bombers. Omar is a joint FBI/CIA source, but the FBI assistant legal attaché responsible for him will later say he does not know of this identification and documentation he drafts at this time indicates he is unaware of it. It is unclear why the FBI agent is unaware of the identification, although he does not speak Omar’s language and may have been out of the room making photocopies when Omar identified bin Attash in a photo of the Malaysia summit for his CIA counterpart. The CIA officer who shows the photos will later say he has no independent recollection of any particular meeting with Omar. However, when Omar previously identified a photo of bin Attash provided by Yemeni authorities on December 16, 2000 (see November 22-December 16, 2000), the CIA officer had the source repeat the identification specifically for the benefit of the FBI assistant legal attaché and the cable he drafted about the meeting said this clearly. In addition, the assistant legal attaché will later say that he recalls the specific circumstances of the previous debriefing and will be able to recount them, including the identification of bin Attash in the photograph provided by the Yemenis. The CIA officer drafts three cables about the January 4 meeting; one internal cable provides little detail about the meeting, but says bin Attash was identified in one of the photos, a cable to the general US intelligence community fails to mention the identification of bin Attash, as does a third cable, which is sent to the CIA. However, according to statements made by CIA officials after 9/11, at this time the CIA thinks that the FBI knows that bin Attash has been identified in the photos. For example, Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center Cofer Black will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “[O]ur records establish that the Special Agents from the FBI’s New York Field Office who were investigating the USS Cole attack reviewed the information about the Kuala Lumpur photo in late January 2001.” However, there is no documentary record of information about the second identification placing bin Attash in Kuala Lumpur with the two hijackers being passed to the FBI. In addition, in July 2001 CIA manager Tom Wilshire will suggest passing this information to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), possibly meaning he thinks it is not passed at this time. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 264-278 pdf file]
After January 4, 2001: 9/11 Hijackers Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and Al-Qaeda Leader Not Watchlisted, Despite Connection to Al-Qaeda Malaysia Summit
After an informant identifies a photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash for the CIA, indicating that he was at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001), the CIA fails to place him on the US watch list. The identification links bin Attash, who was involved in the attack on the USS Cole, to 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. The CIA has already been informed that Alhazmi entered the US in March 2000, yet once again they fail to watchlist either Alhazmi or Almihdhar. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will point out, “In January 2001, Khalid Almihdhar was abroad, his visa had expired, and he would have to clear a watch list check before obtaining a new visa to re-enter the United States.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 148-150 pdf file] CNN later notes that at this point the CIA, at the very least, “could have put Alhazmi and Almihdhar and all others who attended the [summit] in Malaysia on a watch list to be kept out of this country. It was not done.” [CNN, 6/4/2002] One of bin Attash’s aliases, Salah Saeed Muhammed bin Yousaf, will be placed on the US watch list on August 23, at the same time as Alhazmi and Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001), but US authorities apparently will not be aware that this is actually one of his aliases at that point. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 152 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 302 pdf file]
Shortly Before February 1, 2001: CIA Bin Laden Unit Asked to ‘Touch Base’ with Cole Investigators about Identification of Al-Qaeda Leader, but Key Information Leading to Two 9/11 Hijackers Is Not Passed
A CIA officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, asks Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, to “touch base” with FBI agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole who are preparing to come to Islamabad to interview a joint FBI/CIA source about the identification of one of the Cole bombers, but the suggested briefing is either never given, or lacks a crucial detail. Alec Station is aware that the source, referred to later as “Omar,” has identified al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash as being present at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001) and that the FBI agents are going to Islamabad specifically to document another identification of bin Attash by Omar (see November 22-December 16, 2000). The cable from Islamabad even notes that Omar is “currently of very high interest to our [FBI] colleagues,” but Alec Station fails to notify the Cole investigators that bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia. This is important because it connects bin Attash to 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who also attended the summit (see January 5-8, 2000). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 275-8 pdf file] The CIA officer will meet the FBI agents in Pakistan, but will also fail to mention the identification of bin Attash at the Malaysia meeting to them (see February 1, 2001).
February 2001 and After: Al-Qaeda Communications Hub in Yemen Is Disclosed in Global Media, but Hijacker Continues to Call It
During the trial of men accused of the 1998 East African embassy bombings, an FBI witness mentions that one of the defendants, Mohamed al-Owhali, told investigators that he had stayed in a Yemen-based al-Qaeda communications hub run by Ahmed al-Hada. He also revealed that he had called the hub before and after the Nairobi bombing. (Note: al-Hada’s surname is transliterated as “al-Hazza” during the trial.) The existence of the communications hub in Yemen is then reported by the US State Department, CNN, the Guardian, and UPI over the next few months. [United Press International, 2/13/2001; US Department of State, 3/7/2001; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; CNN, 5/2/2001; Observer, 8/5/2001] The hub was also previously mentioned at a big trial of Islamic Jihad operatives in Cairo (see 1999). The 9/11 hijackers have been calling the communications hub by phone since early 1999, at least (see, e.g., Early 1999). The calls are being intercepted by the NSA and some of them have originated from within the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Perhaps unaware that the hub’s existence has been disclosed, they will make at least one more call to the hub (see (August 2001)).
February 9-21, 2001: NSA Supposedly Mapped, Disrupted, and Monitored Bin Laden’s Network
In a series of articles for UPI, journalist Richard Sale reveals many details about the NSA’s electronic surveillance of al-Qaeda. “The United States has scored notable successes in an information war against the organization of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden. US hackers have gone into foreign bank accounts and deleted or transferred money and jammed or blocked the group’s cell or satellite phones.” It is also mentioned that “Bin Laden is surrounded by US listening posts.” The articles discuss the extent to which the NSA’s Echelon satellite network is monitoring al-Qaeda, and even seems to make an oblique reference to monitoring the al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen that enabled the NSA to discover valuable information on hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see December 29, 1999). The articles also reveal that since 1995, bin Laden tried to protect his communications with a “full suite of tools,” but “codes were broken.” An expert adds that “you don’t use your highest level of secure communications all the time. It’s too burdensome, and it exposes it to other types of exploitation.” The articles also imply that Echelon is used in illegal ways. An anonymous former senior US intelligence official says, “This isn’t about legality. This is about trying to protect American lives.” [United Press International, 2/9/2001; United Press International, 2/13/2001; United Press International, 2/21/2001] While bin Laden’s communications were certainly thoroughly monitored before 9/11 (see November 1996-Late August 1998), no evidence has come to light since 9/11 that the US was hacking into bank accounts or jamming signals.
March 2001: Hijackers Continue to Associate with Suspicious Imam
Dar al Hijrah mosque.Dar al Hijrah mosque. [Source: Public domain]After living together in Phoenix since December 2000, hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi move to Falls Church, Virginia. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] They live only a few blocks from where two nephews of bin Laden with ties to terrorism go to work (see February-September 11, 1996; June 1, 2004). They continue to live there off and on until around August. They begin attending the Dar al Hijrah mosque. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] When they and Khalid Almihdhar lived in San Diego in early 2000, they attended a mosque there led by the imam Anwar Al Aulaqi. This imam moved to Falls Church in January 2001, and now the hijackers attend his sermons at the Dar al Hijrah mosque. Some later suspect that Aulaqi is part of the 9/11 plot because of their similar moves, and other reasons:
- The FBI says Aulaqi had closed door meetings with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2000 while all three of them were living in San Diego. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
- Police later find the phone number of Aulaqi’s mosque when they search “would-be twentieth hijacker” Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s apartment in Germany. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
- The FBI was investigating Aulaqi for ties to Islamic militant groups in early 2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
- A neighbor of Aulaqi later claims that, in the first week of August 2001, Aulaqi knocks on his door and tells him he is leaving for Kuwait: “He came over before he left and told me that something very big was going to happen, and that he had to be out of the country when it happened.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
- Aulaqi is apparently in the country in late September 2001, and claims not to recognize any of the hijackers. [Copley News, 10/1/2001]
- A week after 9/11, Aulaqi says the hijackers were framed, and suggests Israel was behind 9/11. [Washington Post, 7/23/2003]
- Aulaqi leaves the US in early 2002. [Time, 8/11/2003]
- In December 2002, Aulaqi briefly returns and is temporarily detained as part of the Green Quest money laundering investigation. However, he is let go. [WorldNetDaily, 8/16/2003] By late 2003, the US is looking for him in Yemen. [New Republic, 8/21/2003] The FBI appears to be divided about him, with some thinking he is part of the 9/11 plot and some disagreeing [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; Time, 8/11/2003] The 9/11 Commission later reports that Aulaqi gave substantial help to the two hijackers, that his relationship with them is “suspicious,” and it cannot be discounted that he knew of the plot in advance. [Associated Press, 6/27/2004]
March 2001-September 1, 2001: Hani Hanjour and Other Hijackers Live in Paterson, New Jersey
Hani Hanjour and Salem Alhazmi rent a one-room apartment in Paterson, New Jersey. Hanjour signs the lease. Nawaf Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Mohamed Atta are also seen coming and going by neighbors. One unnamed hijacker has to be told by a neighbor how to screw in a light bulb. [New York Times, 9/27/2001; Washington Post, 9/30/2001; Associated Press, 10/7/2001] The 9/11 Commission’s account of this differs from previous press accounts, and has Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi (instead of his brother Salem) first moving to Paterson in mid-May. Salem Alhazmi, Majed Moqed, Abdulaziz Alomari, Khalid Almihdhar, and probably Ahmed Alghamdi are all seen living there as well during the summer. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 230] Other reports have Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi living periodically in Falls Church, Virginia, over nearly the exact same time period, from March through August 2001 (see March 2001). During this time, Mohamed Atta and other hijackers live in Wayne, New Jersey, a town only one mile from Paterson (see (Before September 2000-12 Months Later)), and Atta purchases a plane ticket to Spain from Apollo Travel in Paterson in early July (see July 8-19, 2001).” [Bergen Record, 9/27/2001; Bergen Record, 9/27/2001; CNN, 10/29/2001; Newsday, 9/19/2002]
April 23-June 29, 2001: Al-Qaeda Muscle Team Arrives in US at This Time or Earlier
This Ahmed Al-Haznawi picture is a photocopy of his 2001 US visa application.This Ahmed Al-Haznawi picture is a photocopy of his 2001 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]The 13 hijackers commonly known as the “muscle” allegedly first arrive in the US. The muscle provides the brute force meant to control the hijacked passengers and protect the pilots. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001] Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, these men “were not physically imposing,” with the majority of them between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 7 tall, “and slender in build.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] According to FBI Director Mueller, they all pass through Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and their travel was probably coordinated from abroad by Khalid Almihdhar. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] However, some information contradicts their official arrival dates:
- April 23: Waleed Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami arrive in Orlando, Florida. Suqami in fact arrived before February 2001. A man named Waleed Alshehri lived with a man named Ahmed Alghamdi in Virginia and Florida between 1997 and 2000. However, it is not clear whether they were the hijackers or just people with the same name (see 1999). [Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001] Alshehri appears quite Americanized in the summer of 2001, frequently talking with an apartment mate about football and baseball, even identifying himself a fan of the Florida Marlins baseball team. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001]
- May 2: Majed Moqed and Ahmed Alghamdi arrive in Washington. Both actually arrived by mid-March 2001. A man named Ahmed Alghamdi lived with a man named Waleed Alshehri in Florida and Virginia between 1997 and 2000. However, it is not clear whether they were the hijackers or just people with the same name (see 1999). [Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001]
- May 28: Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alnami allegedly arrive in Miami, Florida. According to other reports, however, both Mohand Alshehri and Hamza Alghamdi may have arrived by January 2001 (see January or July 28, 2001).
- June 8: Ahmed Alhaznawi and Wail Alshehri arrive in Miami, Florida.
- June 27: Fayez Banihammad and Saeed Alghamdi arrive in Orlando, Florida.
- June 29: Salem Alhazmi and Abdulaziz Alomari allegedly arrive in New York. According to other reports, however, Alhazmi arrived before February 2001. After entering the US (or, perhaps, reentering), the hijackers arriving at Miami and Orlando airports settle in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area along with Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah. The hijackers, arriving in New York and Virginia, settle in the Paterson, New Jersey, area along with Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] Note the FBI’s early conclusion that 11 of these muscle men “did not know they were on a suicide mission.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] CIA Director Tenet’s later claim that they “probably were told little more than that they were headed for a suicide mission inside the United States” [US Congress, 6/18/2002] and reports that they did not know the exact details of the 9/11 plot until shortly before the attack [CBS News, 10/9/2002] are contradicted by video confessions made by all of them in March 2001 (see March 2001).
May 2001: Hijackers Take Advantage of New, Anonymous Visa Express Procedure
The US introduces the “Visa Express” program in Saudi Arabia, which allows any Saudi Arabian to obtain a visa through his or her travel agent instead of appearing at a consulate in person. An official later states, “The issuing officer has no idea whether the person applying for the visa is actually the person in the documents and application.” [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] At the time, warnings of an attack against the US led by the Saudi Osama bin Laden are higher than they had ever been before— “off the charts” as one senator later puts it. [Los Angeles Times, 5/18/2002; US Congress, 9/18/2002] A terrorism conference had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities in al-Qaeda. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 5/19/2002] Five hijackers—Khalid Almihdhar, Abdulaziz Alomari, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Fayez Ahmed Banihammad—use Visa Express over the next month to enter the US. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] Even 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will successfully get a US Visa through this program in July (using a false name but real photograph), despite a posted $2 million reward for his capture. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004] Only three percent of Saudi visa applicants are turned down by US consular officers in fiscal 2000 and 2001. In contrast, about 25 percent of US visa seekers worldwide are rejected. Acceptance is even more difficult for applicants from countries alleged to have ties to terrorism such as Iraq or Iran. [Washington Post, 10/31/2001] The widely criticized program is finally canceled in July 2002.
May 6-September 6, 2001: Some Hijackers Work Out at Gyms, Some Merely Hang Out
The hijackers work out at various gyms, presumably getting in shape for the hijacking. Ziad Jarrah appears to train intensively from May to August, and Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi also take exercising very seriously. [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001; New York Times, 9/23/2001] However, these three are presumably pilots who would need the training the least. For instance, Jarrah’s trainer says, “If he wasn’t one of the pilots, he would have done quite well in thwarting the passengers from attacking.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001] From September 2-6, Flight 77 hijackers Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi show up several times at a Gold’s Gym in Greenbelt, Maryland, signing the register with their real names and paying in cash. According to a Gold’s regional manager, they “seemed not to really know what they were doing” when using the weight machines. [Washington Post, 9/19/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001; Associated Press, 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001] Three others—Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri and Satam al-Suqami— “simply clustered around a small circuit of machines, never asking for help and, according to a trainer, never pushing any weights. ‘You know, I don’t actually remember them ever doing anything… They would just stand around and watch people.’” [New York Times, 9/23/2001] Those three also had a one month membership in Florida—whether they ever actually worked out there is unknown. [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001]
Mid-May-September 10, 2001: CIA Officer Obtains More Information about USS Cole Bombing
CIA officer Tom Wilshire, currently assigned to the FBI, discusses al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with another CIA officer called Clark Shannon, who is assigned to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and wrote a report on the USS Cole bombing (see January 2001). Shannon gives Wilshire a timeline of events related to the Cole attack and they discuss Fahad al-Quso, a member of the bombing team in custody at this point (see Early December 2000), and Khallad bin Attash. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 282 pdf file] Around this time Wilshire also accesses a March 2000 cable about Nawaf Alhazmi’s travel to the US following the summit (see May 15, 2001). According to Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent on loan to the CIA, Wilshire “had always been interested in the Malaysia summit and he was especially concerned about any potential ties between the USS Cole investigation and the Malaysia summit.” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
May 15, 2001: CIA Hides Al-Qaeda Malaysia Summit Information from FBI
Tom Wilshire, a former deputy chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on attachment to the FBI, sends a request to CIA headquarters for the surveillance photos of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Three days later, Wilshire explains the reason for his interest in an e-mail to a CIA analyst: “I’m interested because Khalid Almihdhar’s two companions also were couriers of a sort, who traveled between [the Far East] and Los Angeles at the same time ([H]azmi and [S]alah).” Hazmi refers to hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salah Said is the alias al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash traveled under during the summit. Apparently, Wilshire receives the photos. Toward the end of May, a CIA analyst contacts a specialist working at FBI headquarters about the photographs. The CIA wants the FBI analyst to review the photographs and determine if a person who had carried money to Southeast Asia for bin Attash in January 2000 could be identified. The CIA fails to tell the FBI analyst anything about Almihdhar or Alhazmi. Around the same time, the CIA analyst receives an e-mail mentioning Alhazmi’s travel to the US. These two analysts travel to New York the next month and again the CIA analyst fails to divulge what he knows. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 283 pdf file]
May 24-August 14, 2001: 9/11 Hijackers Make Several Unexplained Trips to Vegas
Several of the 9/11 hijackers make trips to Las Vegas and the west coast over the summer:
- May 24-27: Marwan Alshehhi flies to Vegas (see May 24-27, 2001);
- June 7-10: Ziad Jarrah takes a trip to Vegas (see June 7-10, 2001);
- June 28-July 1: Mohamed Atta takes his first trip to Vegas, flying from Fort Lauderdale to Boston and then, the next day, to Las Vegas via San Francisco with United Airlines. He stays there three nights, then returns to Boston via Denver, and flies to New York the next day;
- July 31-August 1: Waleed Alshehri flies from Fort Lauderdale to Boston and then takes American Airlines flight 195 to San Francisco the next day. After spending a night at the La Quinta Inn, he returns to Miami via Las Vegas; [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 1-2, 16, 18 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 55-7 pdf file]
- August 1: Actor James Woods sees four people he will later suspect are hijackers, including individuals he believes to be Khalid Almihdhar and Hamza Alghamdi, on a transcontinental flight (see August 1, 2001). Abdulaziz Alomari is reported to try to get into the cockpit on a different flight from Vegas on the same day (see August 1, 2001);
- August 13-14: Atta, Hani Hanjour, and Nawaf Alhazmi all fly to Vegas, possibly meeting some other hijackers there (see August 13-14, 2001).
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar also made frequent car trips to Las Vegas from San Diego, where they lived in 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; McDermott, 2005, pp. 192] The reason for these trips is never definitively determined, although there will be speculation the hijackers are casing aircraft similar to those they will hijack on 9/11. The 9/11 Commission will comment, “Beyond Las Vegas’s reputation for welcoming tourists, we have seen no credible evidence explaining why… the operatives flew to or met in Law Vegas.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 242, 248] After 9/11, it will be reported that the hijackers may use these cross-country flights to take pictures of airline cockpits and check out security at boarding gates. During the flights, the hijackers apparently take notes, watch the crews, and even videotape them. There are some reports that two, or perhaps more, of the hijackers sit in “jumpseats” in the pilot’s cabin, a courtesy extended by airlines to other pilots, during the surveillance flights (see Summer 2001) and on the day of 9/11 itself (see November 23, 2001). [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; Associated Press, 5/29/2002] There are reports that the hijackers drink alcohol, gamble, and frequent strip clubs while they are in Las Vegas. For example, according to a dancer named “Samantha,” Marwan Alshehhi stares up at her blankly while she “undulate[s] her hips inches from his face” and only gives her $20, although he is a “light drinker.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/4/2001; Newsweek, 10/15/2001]Late May, 2001: CIA Officer Passes Three Malaysia Summit Photographs to FBI, but Fails to Mention Some Important Details
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer on loan to the FBI, obtains three photographs from the surveillance of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), and passes them to Dina Corsi, an agent with the FBI’s bin Laden unit. Corsi learned of the photographs’ existence following a discussion with CIA officer Clark Shannon. Although Wilshire does not have a “substantive conversation” with Corsi about the photos, he does identify hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in one of them, and says Almihdhar traveled from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and then Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in early January 2000. However, Wilshire omits to mention that Almihdhar has a US visa, his associate hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi has traveled to the US, or another associate, Khallad bin Attash, has been identified in the photos. He also does not say why the photos were taken. Author Lawrence Wright will later say the photos are passed because Wilshire wants to know what the FBI knows. The CIA says it thinks the photos may show Fahad al-Quso, an al-Qaeda operative involved in the USS Cole bombing. Corsi understands that the photos are “not formally passed” to the FBI, but are only for limited use at a forthcoming meeting. Therefore, only limited information about them is provided at the meeting, causing a disagreement (see June 11, 2001). However, Wilshire will later say that Corsi could give the photos to the FBI, but the FBI could not then give them to a foreign government (note: the photos had been provided to a foreign government five months previously, so this restriction is meaningless). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 286-7, 293-4 pdf file; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] Other pictures of the summit are available to the CIA, and even video footage (see February 2000 and Mid-May 2001), but these are not shared with the FBI or widely discussed.
June 2001: Hijacker Almihdhar Said to Receive Money from Plot Facilitator
According to the 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Finance Monograph, Khalid Almihdhar receives $4,900 from plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates. Almihdhar then uses the money to buy traveler’s checks in Saudi Arabia. The commission says, “According to al-Hawsawi’s notebook, al-Hawsawi gave the funds to Almihdhar in the UAE in June 2001.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 137 pdf file] However:
- The section of the 9/11 Commission’s main report that details his travel during this time does not include a trip to the United Arab Emirates; [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237]
- Al-Hawsawi’s substitute for testimony at the trial of Zacarias Moussoaui does not mention this transaction or any meeting with Almihdhar, although it deals with al-Hawsawi’s meetings with four other hijackers and telephone conversations with Mohamed Atta, as well as his dealings with some other al-Qaeda operatives; [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
- No mention of this transaction is made at al-Hawsawi’s Combat Status Review Tribunal hearing, even though it again deals with the assistance provided to four hijackers and conversations with Atta. [US department of Defense, 3/21/2007 pdf file]
June 2001: Hijacker Almihdhar Requests More Information about Planned Attack on US Warship
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar makes another visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to continue planning for an attack on a US warship in Singapore (see October 2000). He asks Faiz abu Baker Bafana, an operative for the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group, for more information about the operation and for a proposed budget. Almihdhar was apparently involved in the attacks on the USS Sullivans and USS Cole in Yemen (see Late 1999 and Around October 12, 2000). Bafana then begins meeting with two other bin Laden operatives to discuss the Singapore operation and an attack that is being planned for Manila. They end up only meeting twice, because by the second meeting Bafana believes he is under surveillance by Malaysian intelligence. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006] JI has been under increased surveillance from the authorities in Southeast Asia since a series of bomb attacks at the end of 2000 (see December 24-30, 2000 and January 2001 and after). Malaysian intelligence also monitored an al-Qaeda summit held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which Almihdhar and JI leader Hambali attended (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 6-9, 2000). If Malaysian intelligence did monitor this meeting, they had an opportunity to recognize Almihdhar from their earlier surveillance of the 2000 al-Qaeda summit, but it is not known if they did so.
June 1, 2001: Hijacker Almihdhar Acquires New Saudi Passport Despite Presence on Saudi Watchlist
Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a new passport in Saudi Arabia, despite being on the terrorist watchlist there due to his part in a failed gunrunning plot (see 1997). The passport contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation and lacks an expiry date. Although the nature of the indicator is not clear, one of the other hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, has an overlay of the Koran in his passport and immigration officials in the United Arab Emirates are said to find this suspicious, so the indicator in Almihdhar’s passport may be similar. Nevertheless, Almihdhar uses it to obtain a US visa (see June 13, 2001) and travels to the US on it (see July 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 496; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24, 27 pdf file]
June 11, 2001: FBI and CIA Hold Shouting Match over Information on Al-Qaeda; CIA Still Withholds Information
The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this. The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and assistant US attorney David Kelley. Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia meeting and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from CIA officer Tom Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001). Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Author Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] Shannon will later admit that at the time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-292 pdf file] Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Further, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information ten weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537] Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002]
June 13, 2001: Hijacker Almihdhar Obtains US Visa Despite Incorrect Passport and Lies on Application, even though US Intelligence Knows He Is an Al-Qaeda Operative
Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a second US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. His passport, which was issued two weeks previously (see June 1, 2001), lacks an expiry date, but contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation. His application form is incomplete, as it lists his occupation as “businessman,” but does not give his employer’s name and address. The application form, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001) meaning he is not interviewed, contains two lies: he says he has never received an American visa or traveled to the US, whereas he received a visa in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999) and traveled to the US on it in 2000 (see January 15, 2000). As Almihdhar’s first visa was also issued by the Jeddah consulate, through which the CIA sent radical Arabs to the US for training during the Soviet-Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989), consular officials could discover he is lying, but information about prior visas issuances is not automatically displayed to them. Eleven of the 14 visas issued to the hijackers in Jeddah are issued by the same consular officer, but it is unclear whether this visa is issued by that officer or another one. By this time several intelligence agencies are aware that Almihdhar is an al-Qaeda operative; for example, the CIA (see January 4-6, 2000), NSA (see December 29, 1999), FBI (see January 5-6, 2000), a US army intelligence program (see January-February 2000), the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate (see 1997), Malaysian Special Branch (see January 5-8, 2000), and an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates (see January 2-5, 2000)). Almihdhar re-enters the US on the visa three weeks later (see July 4, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will find that the series of missteps preceding the issuance of visas to Almihdhar and the other 9/11 hijackers has some “eerie parallels” to the “series of exceptional failures” that led to US visas being issued to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see December 15, 1986-1989 and July 1990). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-27, 33, 49 pdf file]
June 27-August 23, 2001: Hijackers Open Bank Accounts in New Jersey, Information Sufficient to Roll Up Plot
All the hijackers based in New Jersey open at least one bank account there:
- Hani Hanjour opens an account with the Hudson United Bank on June 27, 2001;
- He opens another account with the same bank three days later, when Nawaf Alhazmi also opens one;
- Ahmed Alghamdi, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Majed Moqed open accounts with the Dime Savings Bank on July 9, 2001;
- Khalid Almihdhar opens an account with the Hudson United Bank on July 18, 2001. He closes it on August 31;
- Salem Alhazmi opens an account with the Hudson United Bank on July 21, 2001;
- Abdulaziz Alomari opens an account with the Hudson United Bank on July 26, 2001;
- Khalid Almihdhar opens an account with the First Union National Bank on August 22, 2001 with a $50 deposit. He changes his contact address on September 5;
- Hani Hanjour opens an account with First Union National Bank on August 23, 2001 with a $50 deposit. He then attempts to withdraw $5,000 on September 5 and $4,900 from it on September 7, despite it containing nothing but the original $50. Unable to make the withdrawal, he cashes a $20 check instead. Hanjour closes the account the next day. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] These hijackers will subsequently fly on three of the planes on 9/11. In its Terrorist Financing monograph the 9/11 Commission will note: “Among other things they used the debit cards to pay for hotel rooms—activity that would have enabled the FBI to locate them, had the FBI been able to get the transaction records fast enough. Moreover, Alhazmi used his debit card on August 27 to buy tickets for himself… and fellow Flight 77 hijacker Salem Alhazmi. If the FBI had found either Almihdhar or Nawaf Alhazmi, it could have found the other. They not only shared a common bank but frequently were together when conducting transactions. After locating Almihdhar and Alhazmi, the FBI could have potentially linked them through financial records to the other Flight 77 hijackers… Nawaf Alhazmi and Flight 77 pilot Hani Hanjour had opened separate savings accounts at the same small New Jersey bank at the same time and both gave the same address. On July 9, 2001, the other Flight 77 muscle hijacker, Majed Moqed, opened an account at another small New Jersey bank at the same time as Nawaf Alhazmi, and used the same address. Given timely access to the relevant records and sufficient time to conduct a follow-up investigation, the FBI could have shown that Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, and Salem al Hazmi were connected to potential terrorist operatives Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 58-59, 141 pdf file] The hijackers also open several other bank accounts (see June 28-July 7, 2000).
July 2001: Seven 9/11 Hijackers Allegedly Obtain IDs in New Jersey
FBI Director Robert Mueller will later tell the joint inquiry of Congress that, “In July 2001, Mohamed Atta, Abdulaziz Alomari, Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Majed Moqed purchased personal identification cards at Apollo Travel in Paterson, New Jersey. Atta purchased a Florida identification card, while the others purchased New Jersey identification cards.” [US Congress, 9/26/2002] Although the travel agency’s owner will be interviewed several times after 9/11 and will mention selling plane tickets to Atta and Nawaf Alhazmi, he will never mention selling them ID cards (see June 19-25, 2001 and March 2001-September 1, 2001). [Bergen Record, 9/27/2001; Bergen Record, 9/27/2001; CNN, 10/29/2001; Newsday, 9/19/2002] Neither the 9/11 Commission or any other body will say any hijacker received an ID card from Apollo. However, the Commission will say that a similar group of hijackers obtained similar ID cards around this time (see (July-August 2001)). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 27 pdf file] Some of these cards may have been obtained from Mohamed el-Atriss, who will be sentenced to jail for selling the hijackers false ID (see (July-August 2001) and November 2002-June 2003). El-Atriss will be co-operating with the FBI at the time Mueller makes this statement and will have promised to “keep his eyes and ears open” for other terrorists (see September 13, 2001-Mid 2002).
July 4, 2001: Hijacker Who Should Have Been on Watch List Re-enters US Without Difficulty on Invalid Passport, Lists WTC as Destination
Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar reenters the US. The CIA and FBI have recently been showing interest in him, but have still failed to place him on a watch list of US-designated terrorists. Had he been placed on a watch list by this date, he would have been stopped and possibly detained as he tried to enter the US. He enters on a new US visa obtained in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 13, 2001. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 169 pdf file] His passport is invalid, as it lacks an expiry date. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 27 pdf file] His visa application said that he had not previously been to the US, which is not true (see January 15, 2000), so his entry is illegal. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 351 pdf file] The FBI notes that he returns just days after the last of the hijacker “muscle” has entered the US, and speculates that he returns because his job in bringing them over is finished. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 169 pdf file] He lists the Marriot Hotel in the World Trade Center complex as his destination, but does not stay there that night. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 52 pdf file]
July 5, 2001: CIA Officer Says Malaysia Summit Attendees May Be Linked to Current Threat Reporting
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer assigned to the FBI, sends an e-mail to managers at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying there is a potential connection between recent warnings of an attack against US interests and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). He notes “how bad things look in Malaysia” and points out that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar may be connected to the radicals who attacked the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). He recommends that the Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit be re-examined for potential connections to the current warnings of an attack. The e-mail ends, “all the indicators are of a massively bad infrastructure being readily completed with just one purpose in mind.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file]
(July-August 2001): 9/11 Hijackers Obtain Fake ID
Khalid Almihdhar obtains a fake USA ID card from forger Mohamed el-Atriss. Abdulaziz Alomari also obtains fake ID, an international driver’s license, from el-Atriss, and some of the other hijackers may do as well. [National Public Radio, 8/20/2002; New York Times, 6/25/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 372-3; Bergen Record, 9/11/2006] USA ID cards are not issued by governmental organizations, as are passports and driver’s licenses, for example. They are marketed by the manufacturer as being suitable for frequent customers to small businesses, such as VIP diners at a restaurant, gym members, and visitors to a check cashing store. [Usaidsystems (.com), 7/1/2007] El-Atriss, who is called seven times by Hani Hanjour and also by another unknown hijacker, is an associate of Waleed al-Noor, a co-conspirator in the 1993 ‘Landmarks’ bomb plot (see June 24, 1993), and will be sentenced to six months in jail after 9/11 despite being of assistance to the FBI (see Before September 11, 2001, September 13, 2001-Mid 2002, and November 2002-June 2003). [Associated Press, 7/3/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 372-3; Bergen Record, 9/11/2006] An image of Almihdhar’s card, which gives his address as a hotel where he stayed for two nights after returning to the US a few days before, will be reproduced in the 9/11 Commission’s Terrorism Travel Monograph, but the Commission will fail to point out it was a fake. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 192 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 52 pdf file] Five other hijackers obtain USA ID cards around this time: Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Majed Moqed, and Ahmed Alghamdi. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 27-29, 31-32, 34-44 pdf file] Almihdhar’s card is similar to some of these hijackers’ USA ID cards, indicating they may also be fake, although this is not certain. Nawaf Alhazmi’s USA ID card contains the same hotel address and the same expiry date as Almihdhar’s card. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] Salem Alhazmi’s card contains the same expiry date, indicating it was issued at a time Salem Alhazmi was out of the country (see April 23-June 29, 2001). In addition, the serial numbers are similar: the number of Salem Alhazmi’s card, which was supposedly issued on July 1 or 2, is 3408826-A, whereas the number of Almihdhar’s card, which the 9/11 Commission says was issued eight or nine days later, is 3408825-A. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 192 pdf file; Time, 8/29/2005] The fake document for Alomari is purchased from el-Atriss’ All Service Plus business in Paterson, New Jersey, by fellow hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi. [CBS News, 7/31/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 61 pdf file; Bergen Record, 9/11/2006]
Shortly After July 5, 2001: Warning from Urgent Meeting Is Not Shared within Domestic Agencies
On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264] The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 4/18/2004] Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 236-37] The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).
July 7, 2001: Random Police Check Almost Uncovers Hijacker Meeting Near New York City
Police officer Dave Agar in South Hackensack, New Jersey, is searching the parking lots of cheap motels, looking for suspicious cars. He submits the license plate number of a 1988 Toyota parked outside the Jade East motel to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a computer database frequently used by every level of law enforcement. He discovers that Nawaf Alhazmi owns the car. The computer record shows no outstanding warrants for Alhazmi (though it does give other information, including his address in San Diego). Agar makes a record of his search and continues his patrol. It is later discovered that Abdulaziz Alomari registered a room in the Jade East motel from July 6-13, and Khalid Almihdhar stayed most of that week with Alhazmi at the nearby Congress Inn. It is also discovered that Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and two or three other men had dinner together at a local diner. Police speculate the hijackers were holding a meeting to discuss their plot. One officer later says, “You wonder what would have happened if the check had turned up something on Alhazmi. We certainly would have brought him in for questioning.” [Bergen Record, 7/11/2002; Bergen Record, 5/18/2004] In late August, an FBI agent will look for Alhazmi and Almihdhar in the New York City area, but he will fail to check NCIC or car registration records that would have revealed the record of Agar’s search mentioning Alhazmi’s name (see August 29, 2001).
July 13, 2001: CIA Reexamines Al-Qaeda Malaysia Summit but ‘Major League Killer’ Is Not Put on Watch List
Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager assigned to the FBI who expressed interest two months earlier in surveillance photos from the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), now finds a cable he had been looking for regarding that same summit. The cable, from January 2001, discusses al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash’s presence at the summit. Wilshire explains later that bin Attash’s presence there had been troubling him. He writes an e-mail to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), stating, “[Khallad] is a major league killer, who orchestrated the Cole attack (see October 12, 2000) and possibly the Africa bombings (see August 7, 1998).” Yet Khallad is still not put on a terrorist watch list. Wilshire asks that the FBI be passed this information, but the FBI will not actually be given the information until August 30, a week after it learns hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. An FBI analyst assigned to the CTC is given the task of reviewing all other CIA cables about the Malaysian summit. It takes this analyst until August 21—over five weeks later—to put together that Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa and that Nawaf Alhazmi had traveled to the US. Yet other CIA agents are already very aware of these facts but are not sharing the information. Working with immigration officials, this analyst then learns that Almihdhar entered and left the US in 2000, and entered again on July 4, 2001, and that Alhazmi appears to still be in the US. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file]
July 23, 2001: CIA Officer Says Al-Qaeda Leader’s Associates like Almihdhar Are of ‘Very High Interest’, Mentions Mysterious Almihdhar Connection
Due to a lack of response to a previous request that information about the Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit be passed to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), CIA officer Tom Wilshire e-mails another CIA manager asking about the request’s status. He writes: “When the next big op is carried out by [bin Laden’s] hardcore cadre, [Khallad bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid [Almihdhar] should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” The name of the redacted event or entity is unclear, [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] but one logical possibility is the Cole bombing, since Wilshire registered a concern between Almihdhar and the Cole bombers earlier in the month (see July 5, 2001) and Almihdhar was likely directly involved in the bombing (see Around October 12, 2000).
Late July 2001: FBI Agent Possibly Confused by Error in CIA Cable, Fails to Tell FBI Hijacker Almihdhar Has US Visa
An FBI agent assigned to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates a CIA cable that says hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, but fails to disseminate the information to the FBI. It is not clear why the agent, Margaret Gillespie, fails to do this. However, at the same time she locates another CIA cable which mistakenly states that the information about the visa has already been passed to the FBI (see January 4-6, 2000). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 299 pdf file]
August 2001: Six 9/11 Hijackers Live Near Entrance to NSA
At least six 9/11 hijackers, including all of those who boarded Flight 77, live in Laurel, Maryland, from about this time. They reportedly include Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi. Laurel, Maryland, is home to a Muslim imam named Moataz Al-Hallak who teaches at a local Islamic school and has been linked to bin Laden. He has testified three times before a grand jury investigating bin Laden. NSA expert James Bamford later states, “The terrorist cell that eventually took over the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon ended up living, working, planning and developing all their activities in Laurel, Maryland, which happens to be the home of the NSA. So they were actually living alongside NSA employees as they were plotting all these things.” [Washington Post, 9/19/2001; Radio 4 'Today', 6/21/2002]
(August 2001): NSA Intercepts Another Call to Hijackers in US
The NSA has been intercepting calls between at least two hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by al-Qaeda operative Ahmed al-Hada over an approximately 18-month period before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). According to MSNBC, the final intercepted call comes “only weeks” before 9/11. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Around the same time there is great alarm in the US intelligence community over a communications intercept in Yemen indicating there was going to be a major al-Qaeda attack against US interests (see June 30-July 1, 2001). Further, the investigation of the USS Cole bombing has reignited interest in Almihdhar and Alhazmi on the part of the US intelligence community since at least June 2001 (see June 11, 2001 and July 13, 2001). The two of them are placed on an international no-fly list in late August (see August 23, 2001).
August 1, 2001: Actor Communicates Concerns to Stewardess That Airplane Will Be Hijacked; Warning Forwarded to the FAA
Actor James Woods, flying first class on an airplane, notices four Arabic-looking men, the only other people in the first class section. He concludes they are Islamic militants intent on hijacking the plane, acting very strangely (for instance, only talking in whispers). [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] He tells a flight attendant, “I think this plane is going to be hijacked,” adding, “I know how serious it is to say this.” He conveys his worries to the pilots, and they assure him that the cockpit would be locked. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] The flight staff later notifies the FAA about these suspicious individuals. Though the government will not discuss this event, it is highly unlikely that any action is taken regarding the flight staff’s worries [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] Woods will not be interviewed by the FBI until after 9/11. Woods will say the FBI believes that all four men took part in the 9/11 attacks, and the flight he was on was a practice flight for them. [O'Reilly Factor, 2/14/2002] Woods believes one was Khalid Almihdhar and another was Hamza Alghamdi. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] The FBI later will report that this may have been one of a dozen test run flights starting as early as January (see May 24-August 14, 2001). Flight attendants and passengers on other flights later recall men looking like the hijackers who took pictures of the cockpit aboard flights and/or took notes. [Associated Press, 5/29/2002] The FBI has not been able to find any evidence of hijackers on the flight manifest for Woods’ flight. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002]
August 1-2, 2001: Hijackers Illegally Purchase Virginia Identity Cards
Hijackers Hani Hanjour and Khalid Almihdhar meet Luis Martinez-Flores, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, in a 7-Eleven parking lot in Falls Church, Virginia. Martinez-Flores is paid $100 cash to accompany the two to a local Department of Motor Vehicles office and sign forms attesting to their permanent residence in Virginia. Given new state identity cards, the cards are used the next day to get Virginia identity cards for several (five to seven) additional hijackers, including Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alghamdi, Majed Moqed, and Salem Alhazmi. [Arizona Daily Star, 9/28/2001; Washington Post, 9/30/2001; Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2001]
August 13-14, 2001: 9/11 Hijackers Meet in Las Vegas for Summit
The lead hijackers meet in Las Vegas for a summit a few weeks before 9/11. Investigators will believe that this is the “most crucial planning in the United States,” but will not understand why the hijackers choose Vegas, since they are all living on the East Coast at this time (see March 2001-September 1, 2001 and August 6-September 9, 2001). One senior official will speculate, “Perhaps they figured it would be easy to blend in.” [New York Times, 11/4/2001] At least three of the plot leaders are in Las Vegas at this time. Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi fly from Dulles Airport to Los Angeles on an American Airlines Boeing 757, the same sort of plane they hijack on 9/11, and then continue to Las Vegas. Mohamed Atta also flies to Las Vegas from Washington National Airport. This is his second trip to Vegas, which was also previously visited by some of the other hijackers (see May 24-August 14, 2001). A few weeks earlier, Atta had traveled to Spain, possibly with some of the other hijackers, to finalize the plans for the attack with their associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see July 8-19, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 1, 17, 21 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 57-8 pdf file] Alhazmi will later be recalled by a hotel employee, who will say she ran into him at the Days Inn. According to her later account, he is “cold and abrupt,” in Vegas on “important business,” and will soon be traveling to Los Angeles. He asks for a list of Days Inns in Los Angeles, but does not want a reservation to be made. He also claims to be from Florida, although he is only thought to have spent a week there (see June 19-25, 2001). [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 10/26/2001] A close associate of the hijackers, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, will later say in a 2002 interview that Ziad Jarrah, Marwan Alshehhi, and Khalid Almihdhar are also present in Vegas at this time. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 137] Newsweek calls Vegas an “odd location” and comments: “They stayed in cheap hotels on a dreary stretch of the Strip frequented by dope dealers and $10 street hookers. Perhaps they wished to be fortified for their mission by visiting a shrine to American decadence. Or maybe they just wanted a city that was easy to reach by air from their various cells in Florida, New Jersey and San Diego.” [Newsweek, 10/15/2001]
August 16, 2001: Moussaoui’s Belongings Possess Information Sufficient to Roll Up 9/11 Plot
After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested, the FBI wishes to search his possessions (see August 16, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001). According to a presentation made by FBI agent Aaron Zebley at Moussaoui’s trial, the belongings are sufficient to potentially connect Moussaoui to eleven of the 9/11 hijackers: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Fayez Banihammad, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Hamza Alghamdi, Satam Al Suqami, and Waleed Alshehri. The connections would be made, for example, through Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who spoke with Moussaoui on the telephone and wired him money (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001), and who was linked to three of the hijacker pilots from their time in Germany together (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). Bin al-Shibh also received money from Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, who was connected to hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad (see June 25, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] However, the discovery of these hijackers could potentially have led to the discovery of some or all of the remaining eight plot members, as they were brothers (Wail and Waleed Alshehri, Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi), opened bank accounts together (see May 1-July 18, 2001 and June 27-August 23, 2001), lived together (see March 2001-September 1, 2001), obtained identity documents together (see April 12-September 7, 2001 and August 1-2, 2001), arrived in the US together (see April 23-June 29, 2001), and booked tickets on the same four flights on 9/11 (see August 25-September 5, 2001).
August 16-September 10, 2001: Hijackers Make Series of Deposits to Bank Accounts
Several deposits are made to the hijackers’ accounts. Details are available for some of the deposits for eleven of the nineteen hijackers: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, Hani Hanjour, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmed Alhazmawi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Hamza Alghamdi, Waleed Alshehri, and Satam Al Suqami. Over $40,000 is deposited in their accounts, much in cash. The largest amounts deposited in one day occur on August 24, when $8,000 is split equally between Hamza Alghamdi’s account and a joint account of Atta and Alshehhi, and September 5, when a total of $9,650 is split between Banihammad’s and Hamza Alghamdi’s accounts, and the joint Atta/Alshehhi account. The smallest deposit is $120, paid into Khalid Almihdhar’s First Union National Bank account on September 9. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] Although it is impossible to trace the exact origins of the deposits, possible sources include withdrawals from other hijackers’ bank accounts, cash and traveler’s checks brought in by the hijackers in the spring/early summer (see January 15, 2000-August 2001), car sales, and money distributed by Atta, who reportedly received around $100,000 in early August (see Early August 2001, Summer 2001 and before, and Mid-July – Mid-August 2001).
Before August 22, 2001: Threat Information about ‘Khalid’ Increases Interest in Hijacker Almihdhar
The CIA receives some threat information about a man named “Khalid” and begins to examine data on everybody it knows whose first name is “Khalid”. In an August 22 e-mail FBI agent Dina Corsi writes that this is one of the reasons for the interest in hijacker Khalid Almihdhar at this time: “the reason [the intelligence community] were looking at [Almihdhar] is relatively general—basically they were looking at all individuals using the name Khalid because of some threat information.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 285 pdf file] The identity of the man named Khalid they are looking for is not revealed, however, the there is threat reporting starting in June 2001 concerning someone an informant called Khalid, who is later revealed to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see June 12, 2001).
August 21, 2001: FBI Fails to Ask Al-Qaeda Operative in Custody about Almihdhar
Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA who has just found out hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), suggests asking failed Millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam whether he recognizes Almihdhar, but the proposal is not acted on. Ressam was arrested on his way to bomb Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), but has been co-operating with the US government against al-Qaeda (see May 30, 2001). Gillespie makes the suggestion in an e-mail to Tom Wilshire, a CIA representative to the FBI. It is unclear what Wilshire does with the suggestion, but Ressam is not interviewed. When shown photos of Almihdhar after 9/11, Ressam will not recognize him. The FBI also fails to ask Ressam about Zacarias Moussaoui before 9/11, but Ressam will identity Moussaoui as a person that attended al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 (see Late August-Early September 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275-6, 541]
August 21-22, 2001: FBI Agents Finally Realize Hijacker Almihdhar Is in US
An FBI agent is detailed to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates CIA cables saying that hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi entered the US in early 2000. The agent, Margaret Gillespie, then checks with the US Customs service and discovers that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar entered the US on July 4, 2001, and there is no record he has left the country. As there is “an imperative to find anyone affiliated with al-Qaeda if they [are] believed to be in the US,” Gillespie immediately contacts Dina Corsi, an FBI agent in its bin Laden unit. Gillespie, who has been working on the USS Cole bombing and Malaysia summit for some time, will later say that when she learns of their arrival in the US “it all clicks for me.” The Justice Department Office of Inspector General will find that Gillespie’s “actions on receipt of the information clearly indicate that she understood the significance of this information when she received it. She took immediate steps to open an intelligence investigation.” Gillespie and Corsi meet with Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the investigation (see August 22, 2001) and Almihdhar and Alhazmi are soon watchlisted (see August 23, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 300-301, 313 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
August 22, 2001: CIA Officer Who Already Knows of Almihdhar and Alhazmi’s US Travel Is Informed of it by FBI, Agrees Investigation Should Start
After two FBI agents learn that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi may be in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), they call a meeting with Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer interested in the investigation who is on loan to the FBI. Although all three will later be unable to recall the specifics of the conversation, they agree that it is important to initiate an investigation to locate Almihdhar. However, Wilshire has been aware that Almihdhar has a US visa since January 2000, when he frustrated the passage of such information to the FBI (see January 4-6, 2000). He is also already aware that Alhazmi entered the US in January 2000 (see May 15, 2001) but again does not share this with the FBI. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 301-2 pdf file]
August 22, 2001: Top FBI Al-Qaeda Expert Leaves FBI in Frustration; Misses Important Warnings
Counterterrorism expert John O’Neill retires from the FBI. He says it is partly because of the recent power play against him, but also because of repeated obstruction of his investigations into al-Qaeda. [New Yorker, 1/14/2002] In his last act, he signs papers ordering FBI investigators back to Yemen to resume the USS Cole investigation, now that Barbara Bodine is leaving as ambassador (they arrive a couple days before 9/11). He never hears the CIA warning about hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar sent out just one day later. He also apparently is not told about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui on August 15, 2001 [PBS, 10/3/2002] ; nor does he attend a June meeting when the CIA reveals some of what it knows about Alhazmi and Almihdhar. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] ABC News reporter Chris Isham will later say, “John had heard the alarm bells, too, and we used to talk about it. And he knew that there was a lot of noise out there and that there were a lot of warnings, a lot of red flags, and that it was at a similar level that they were hearing before the millennium, which was an indication that there was something going on. And yet he felt that he was frozen out, that he was not in a capacity to really do anything about it anymore because of his relationship with the FBI. So it was a source of real anguish for him.” [PBS, 10/3/2002]
August 23, 2001: Mossad Reportedly Gives CIA List of Terrorist Living in US; at Least Four 9/11 Hijackers Named
According to German newspapers, the Mossad gives the CIA a list of 19 terrorists living in the US and say that they appear to be planning to carry out an attack in the near future. It is unknown if these are the 19 9/11 hijackers or if the number is a coincidence. However, four names on the list are known, and these four will be 9/11 hijackers: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Marwan Alshehhi, and Mohamed Atta. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; BBC, 10/2/2002; Ha'aretz, 10/3/2002] The Mossad appears to have learned about this through its “art student spy ring.” Yet apparently, this warning and list are not treated as particularly urgent by the CIA and the information is not passed on to the FBI. It is unclear whether this warning influenced the decision to add Alhazmi and Almihdhar to a terrorism watch list on this same day, and if so, why only those two. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Israel has denied that there were any Mossad agents in the US. [Ha'aretz, 10/3/2002]
August 23, 2001: FBI Field Agent Tells FBI Headquarters Search for Almihdhar Should Be Criminal, Not Intelligence Investigation
After being alerted to the fact hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US, FBI agent Craig Donnachie says that the FBI should look for him under a criminal investigation, not an intelligence investigation. Donnachie, an intelligence agent at the FBI’s New York field office, is contacted by headquarters agent Dina Corsi, who says that the search for Almihdhar should be an intelligence investigation because the case is partially based on information from the NSA. Donnachie, however, tells her that the attempt to locate Almihdhar is related to the criminal investigation into the bombing of the USS Cole and would normally be handled as a sub-file of the main investigation, not a separate investigation. The case will later be opened as an intelligence investigation, meaning fewer resources can be devoted to it (see August 29, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 304 pdf file]
August 23, 2001: Hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar Are Finally Added to Terrorist Watch List
Thanks to the request of Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst assigned to the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, the CIA sends a cable to the State Department, INS, Customs Service, and FBI requesting that “bin Laden-related individuals” Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, and Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (an alias for Khallad bin Attash) be put on the terrorism watch list. All four individuals had attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia. The cable mostly focuses on Almihdhar, briefly outlining his attendance at the Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000) and his subsequent travel to the US in January 2000 and July 2001. Since March 2000, if not earlier, the CIA has had good reason to believe Alhazmi and Almihdhar were al-Qaeda operatives living in the US, but apparently did nothing and told no other agency about it until now. The hijackers are not located in time, and both die in the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents later state that if they been told about Alhazmi and Almihdhar sooner, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together” given the frequent contact between these two and the other hijackers. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 32-36, 302] However, in what the Washington Post calls a “critical omission,” the FAA, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the FBI’s Financial Review Group are not notified. The two latter groups have the power to tap into private credit card and bank data, and claim they could have readily found Alhazmi and Almihdhar, given the frequency the two used credit cards. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Furthermore, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. [Newsweek, 3/24/2004] The CIA later claims the request was labeled “immediate,” the second most urgent category (the highest is reserved for things like declarations of war). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. [Los Angeles Times, 10/18/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] The State Department places all four men on the watch list the next day. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] However, this watch list, named TIPOFF, checks their names only if they use international flights. There is another watch list barring suspected terrorists from flying domestically. On 9/11, it contains only 12 names, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures, and some names are added as late as August 28, 2001. But none of these four men are added to this domestic list before 9/11.(see April 24, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]
August 23, 2001: FBI Agent Discusses Opening of Intelligence Investigation with CIA Officer, Notes Almihdhar Has Stronger Link to USS Cole Bombing
FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi writes to Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager detailed to the FBI, and tells him that the search for hijacker Khalid Almihdhar will be conducted as an intelligence investigation (see August 23, 2001 and August 29, 2001). She also says that she is surer now that Almihdhar is connected to the bombing of the USS Cole, writing, “I am still looking at intel, but I think we have more of a definitive connection to the Cole here than we thought.” Even though Corsi thinks Almihdhar is tied to the Cole bombing, she will oppose the search for him being conducted as part of the criminal investigation and insist that it be part of an intelligence investigation (see August 28, 2001 and August 28, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 304 pdf file]
August 23, 2001: FBI Headquarters Gives New York Field Office Heads Up Over Hijacker Almihdhar, but Investigation Is Not Considered Urgent
FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, who has discovered 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 pdf file]
(August 23-September 10, 2001): Flight 77 Hijackers Stay at Valencia Motel
From September 2 (or August 23, according to some reports) until the day before the attacks, five of the hijackers stay in Room 343 at the rundown Valencia Motel in Laurel, Maryland. The five men—Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, and Hani Hanjour—are later identified as the hijackers of Flight 77. Their suite has only one bedroom, with two double beds. Reportedly, they all leave it at 10 each morning and go out for the day in an old Toyota Corolla with California license plates. The motel’s manager later will state that only two men rented the room for one week, paying $308 for it with a credit card, though several long-term motel residents will remember a larger group. [Washington Post, 9/19/2001; Baltimore Sun, 9/20/2001; Chicago Tribune, 9/23/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; Washington City Paper, 9/28/2001; Cox News Service, 10/15/2001] During their time at the motel the five men show up several times at a nearby gym (see May 6-September 6, 2001). However, there are conflicting accounts that Almihdhar, Hanjour, and Nawaf Alhazmi stayed in San Diego until about September 9 (see Early September 2001).
August 22, 2001 or Shortly After: I-49 Squad Learns Almihdhar Is in US, Cole Investigator Appreciates this Is Important
After FBI agent Dina Corsi learns hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), she e-mails a supervisor on the I-49 squad at the FBI’s New York office to inform him. The squad, which specializes in al-Qaeda related terrorism, will later start an unsuccessful search for Almihdhar (see August 29, 2001). Steve Bongardt, deputy head of the USS Cole investigation, calls Corsi and says, “Dina, you got to be kidding me! [Almihdhar’s] in the country.” Bongardt realizes that if Almihdhar is in the US, then he may well have something nefarious in mind. Shortly after (see August 29, 2001) he tells Corsi, “If this guy is in the country, it’s not because he’s going to f***ing Disneyland!” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]
August 25-September 5, 2001: Hijackers Spend Over $30,000 on 9/11 Tickets
All the hijackers book their flights for 9/11, using their apparent real names. The total cost of the tickets is in excess of $30,000:
- August 25: Khalid Almihdhar, who was watchlisted two days previously (see August 23, 2001), and Majed Moqed book tickets for American Airlines flight 77 using the AA.com website. They are collected from the American Airlines ticket counter at Baltimore Washington International Airport on September 5. The tickets were not mailed, because the shipping address did not match the credit card address. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 72, 74 pdf file]
- August 26: Wail Alshehri buys a ticket for American Airlines flight 11 over the phone with his debit card. His brother Waleed buys a ticket for the same flight at the AA.com website using his debit card. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 72 pdf file]
- August 27: Nawaf Alhazmi, who was watchlisted four days before (see August 23, 2001), buys tickets for himself and his brother Salem for American Airlines flight 77 through Travelocity from a Kinkos computer in Laurel, Maryland, using his debit card. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 72 pdf file]
- August 27: Saeed Alghamdi uses his debit card to purchase tickets for United Airlines flight 93 for himself and Ahmed Alnami from the UA.com website. The tickets are not paid for until September 5, 2001, due to a problem with the debit card. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 72 pdf file]
- August 27: Fayez Ahmed Banihammad uses his visa card to purchase tickets for himself and Mohamed Alshehri for United Airlines flight 175 over the telephone. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 72-73 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
- August 28: Mohamed Atta uses his debit card to buy tickets for American Airlines flight 11 for himself and Abdulaziz Alomari from the AA.com website. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
- August 28: Waleed Alshehri purchases a ticket for Satam al-Suqami for American Airlines flight 11 in person from the company’s counter at Fort Lauderdale Airport. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 73 pdf file]
- August 28: Marwan Alshehhi purchases a ticket for United Airlines flight 175 from the company’s counter at Miami International Airport. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 73 pdf file]
- August 29: Hamza Alghamdi books tickets for himself and Ahmed Alghamdi for United Airlines flight 175 from the UA.com website. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
- August 29: Ahmed Alhaznami creates a new e-mail account and Travelocity.com account and uses them to book a ticket for himself on United Airlines flight 93. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 74 pdf file]
- August 30: Ziad Jarrah purchases a ticket for himself for United Airlines flight 93 from the UA website. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
- August 31: Hani Hanjour purchases a ticket for American Airlines flight 77 from ATS Advanced Travel Services in Totowa, New Jersey, paying in cash. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
At least five tickets are one way only. [Los Angeles Times, 9/18/2001] There are numerous connections between the hijackers booked on the four flights by this point:
- Hijackers on different 9/11 flights arrived in the US on the same plane. For example, Salem Alhazmi (Flight 77) arrived with Abdulaziz Alomari (Flight 11), and Fayez Ahmed Banihammad (Flight 175) arrived with Saeed Alghamdi (Flight 93) (see April 23-June 29, 2001);
- Two of the pilots, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, train and live together, and have a joint bank account (see (Mid-July 2000 – Early January 2001), July 6-December 19, 2000, and June 28-July 7, 2000);
- Hijackers from different planes open bank accounts together (see May 1-July 18, 2001 and June 27-August 23, 2001); and
- The hijackers obtain identity documents together (see April 12-September 7, 2001 and August 1-2, 2001).
Six hijackers also provide the same phone number and three use the same address. [Miami Herald, 9/22/2001]August 25-27, 2001: Alhazmi and Almihdhar Buy 9/11 Plane Tickets Despite Presence on Watch List
Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar buys his 9/11 plane ticket on-line using a credit card; hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi does the same two days later (see August 25-September 5, 2001). Both men were put on a terrorist watch list on August 23 (see August 23, 2001), but the watch list only means they will be stopped if trying to enter or leave the US. There is another watch list that applies to domestic flights that some of their associates are on, but they are only placed on the international watch list (see April 24, 2000). Procedures are in place for law enforcement agencies to share watch list information with airlines and airports and such sharing is common, but the FAA and the airlines are not notified about this case, so the purchases raise no red flags. [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001; US Congress, 9/26/2002] An official later states that had the FAA been properly warned, “they should have been picked up in the reservation process.” [Washington Post, 10/2/2002]
August 27, 2001: INS Given Non-Urgent Request to Determine Visa Status of Alhazmi and Almihdhar
The FBI contacts the State Department and the INS to determine the visa status of recently watch listed hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. Almihdhar’s visa obtained in June is revoked the same day; Alhazmi’s visa has already expired and he is in the country illegally. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] However neither agency is asked “to assist in locating the individuals, nor was any other information provided [that] would have indicated either a high priority or imminent danger.” An INS official later states, “if [the INS] had been asked to locate the two suspected terrorists… in late August on an urgent, emergency basis, it would have been able to run those names through its extensive database system and might have been able to locate them.” The State Department says that “it might have been able to locate the two suspected terrorists if it had been asked to do so.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002]
August 27-28, 2001: NSA Approves Passage of Information about Almihdhar to Cole Investigators
The NSA’s representative to the FBI asks the NSA for permission to pass intelligence information about hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to FBI criminal agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole and permission is granted the same day. 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. It is unclear whether the approved information is communicated from the NSA’s representative to the FBI to Corsi, and from Corsi to the Cole agents at this time, as they have discussions on August 28 and 29 that seem to indicate this information has not been received (see August 28, 2001, and August 28, 2001, August 28-29, 2001, and August 29, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 276-7, 283, 286, 294, 304 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
August 28, 2001: USS Cole Investigator Receives Almihdhar Memo, FBI Headquarters Forces Him to Delete It
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 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: “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 him 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 pdf file; Wright, 2006, pp. 353]
August 28, 2001: FBI Headquarters Asks New York Office to Open Intelligence Investigation into Hijacker Almihdhar
FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi asks the FBI’s New York field office to open an intelligence investigation into hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and find him in the US. The documentation mentions Almihdhar’s arrival in the US in July 2001 (see July 4, 2001), his previous travel to the US in January 2000 with Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 15, 2000), his attendance at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), his association with an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), and similarities between his travel and that of Fahad al-Quso, Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras), and Khallad bin Attash (see January 8-15, 2000), operatives involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Corsi does not mention that the CIA knows bin Attash also attended the Malaysia summit, as this information has not officially been passed to the FBI yet. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 304 pdf file]
August 28, 2001: Cole Agent Argues with FBI Headquarters Over Search for Hijacker Almihdhar
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 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 pdf file]
(August 28, 2001): FBI Supervisor Says Search for Almihdhar Should Be Criminal, Not Intelligence Investigation
After learning that FBI headquarters wants the search for hijacker Khalid Almihdhar to be an intelligence investigation, FBI supervisor Jack Cloonan protests, saying a criminal investigation would be more appropriate. Cloonan, an agent on the I-49 al-Qaeda squad at the FBI’s New York office, says that the search should be conducted by criminal agents, as they would have more freedom and resources, due to an existing indictment of Osama bin Laden. Other agents on the squad make the same argument (see August 23, 2001 and August 28, 2001). However, in the end the search will be conducted as an intelligence investigation, but will not find Almihdhar before 9/11 as only one inexperienced agent will be assigned to it (see August 29, 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 353]
August 28-29, 2001: FBI Headquarters Allegedly Misrepresents Attorney’s Advice, Ensuring Search for Hijacker Almihdhar Is Intelligence Investigation
FBI headquarters agents Dina Corsi and Rod Middleton contact Justice Department lawyer Sherry Sabol to ask her opinion on the search for 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 Khalid 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 pdf file] 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] Further, 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).
August 29, 2001: Inexperienced FBI Agent Is Assigned to Search for Almihdhar
The FBI’s New York office opens a full field intelligence investigation to locate Khalid Almihdhar. New York FBI agent Robert Fuller, new to the International Terrorism Squad, is the only one assigned to the task. The New York office had been given a “heads up alert” about Almihdhar on August 23, but the search only begins after the FBI decides on August 28 to conduct an intelligence investigation instead of a criminal investigation (see August 29, 2001). Another agent had labeled the search request “routine”, meaning that Fuller has 30 days to find his target. However, Fuller will be busy with another matter and won’t begin work on finding Almihdhar until September 4 (see September 4, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
August 29, 2001: FBI Does Not Fully Realize Hijacker Almihdhar Entered US Illegally
Although the FBI is aware that 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 pdf file]
August 29, 2001: FBI Wrongly Opens Intelligence Investigation to Find Almihdhar, Despite Protests that ‘Someday Somebody Will Die’ as a Result
The FBI opens an intelligence investigation to find hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, despite protests from the FBI New York field office that FBI headquarters has wrongly insisted on an intelligence investigation, when a criminal investigation would be more appropriate and have a better chance of finding him. The Justice Department’s office of inspector general will later conclude that “the designation of the Almihdhar matter as an intelligence investigation, as opposed to a criminal investigation, undermined the priority of any effort to locate Almihdhar.” Upon learning of the decision, Steve Bongardt, an investigator working on the USS Cole bombing, writes to headquarters agent Dina Corsi to express his frustration. He points out that she is unable to produce any solid documentary evidence to support her view of the “wall”, a mechanism that restricts the passage of some intelligence information to criminal agents at the FBI (see Early 1980s and July 19, 1995), and that her interpretation of the “wall” is at odds with the purpose for which it was established. He adds: “Whatever has happened to this—someday someone will die—and wall or not—the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.’ Let’s hope the [Justice Department’s] National Security Law Unit will stand behind their decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, UBL [bin Laden], is getting the most ‘protection.’” [US Congress, 9/20/2002; New York Times, 9/21/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 307-9 pdf file; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] Both the Justice Department’s office of inspector general and the 9/11 Commission will later back Bongardt and say the investigation should have been a criminal investigation, as the “wall” procedures did not apply. The inspector general will comment that Bongardt “was correct that the wall had been created to deal with the handling of only [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] information and that there was no legal barrier to a criminal agent being present for an interview with Almihdhar if it occurred in the intelligence investigation.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 351 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will remark that Corsi “misunderstood” the wall and that, “Simply put, there was no legal reason why the information [Corsi] possessed could not have been shared with [Bongardt].” It will conclude, “It is now clear that everyone involved was confused about the rules governing the sharing and use of information gathered in intelligence channels. Because Almihdhar was being sought for his possible connection to or knowledge of the Cole bombing, he could be investigated or tracked under the existing Cole criminal case. No new criminal case was needed for the criminal agent to begin searching for [him]. And as the NSA had approved the passage of its information to the criminal agent, he could have conducted a search using all available information. As a result of this confusion, the criminal agents who were knowledgeable about al-Qaeda and experienced with criminal investigative techniques, including finding suspects and possible criminal charges, were thus excluded from the search.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 271, 539]
August 29, 2001: CIA Officer Possibly Tells FBI Agent Search for Hijacker Almihdhar Must Be Intelligence Investigation
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 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 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 is 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 pdf file] According to the Justice Department report, there was 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.
August 31, 2001: US Watch List Calls Almihdhar ‘Armed and Dangerous’
According to the 9/11 Commission, on this day “A new listing for [Khalid] Almihdhar was placed in an INS and Customs lookout database, describing him as ‘armed and dangerous’ and someone who must be referred to secondary inspection.” However, this information will only first appear in a little-noticed Commission staff report released one month after the 9/11 Commission Final Report. It will not be explained who determined Almihdhar to be armed and dangerous or what information this was based on. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 31 pdf file] By September 5, 2001, the lookout database will be inexplicably changed and inspectors will be told not to detain Almihdhar after all (see September 4-5, 2001).
Early September 2001: Accounts Place Three Hijackers on East and West Coasts at the Same Time
The standard accounts place hijackers Hani Hanjour, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Khalid Almihdhar on the East Coast for the entire time in the weeks before the attacks (see (August 23-September 10, 2001)). [New York Times, 9/21/2001; Associated Press, 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; CNN, 9/26/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 9/27/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001; New York Times, 11/6/2001; US Congress, 9/26/2002] However, neighbors at the San Diego apartment complex where the three lived are clear in their assertions that all three were there until days before 9/11. For instance, one article states, “Authorities believe Almihdhar, Hanjour and Alhazmi… moved out a couple of days before the East Coast attacks.” [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 11/1/2001] Ed Murray, a resident at the complex, said that all three “started moving out Saturday night-and Sunday [September 9] they were gone.” [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/14/2001; KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/20/2001] This is the same day that Alhazmi is reportedly seen in an East Coast shopping mall. [CNN, 9/26/2001] As with previous reports, neighbors also see them getting into strange cars late at night. A neighbor interviewed shortly after 9/11 said, “A week ago, I was coming home between 12:00 and 1:00 A.M. from a club. I saw a limo pick them up. It was not the first time. In this neighborhood you notice stuff like that. In the past couple of months, I have seen this happen at least two or three times.” [Time, 9/24/2001] To add to the confusion, there have been reports that investigators think Almihdhar is still alive and the Chicago Tribune says of Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and Hanjour: “The most basic of facts—the very names of the men—are uncertain. The FBI has said each used at least three aliases. ‘It’s not going to be a terrible surprise down the line if these are not their true names,’ said Jeff Thurman, an FBI spokesman in San Diego.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/30/2001]
September 1-8, 2001: Tenet Briefs Bush Six More Times, Fails to Mention Moussaoui, Alhazmi, or Almihdhar
With President Bush back in Washington after a long vacation, CIA Director George Tenet resumes personally delivering the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) to him. Tenet has one meeting with Bush on August 31, 2001, after Bush’s return (see August 17 and 31, 2001), and then briefs him six more times in the first eight days of September. Bush is out of town the next few days, so he is briefed by other CIA personnel. [Agence France-Presse, 4/15/2004] By this time, Tenet has been told about the arrest of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 23, 2001). But there is no evidence he mentions this to Bush before 9/11. Further, on August 23, 2001, the CIA watchlisted 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and began looking for them in the US (see August 23, 2001), but there’s no evidence Tenet or anyone else briefed Bush about this, either.
September 4, 2001: FBI Search for Hijackers Almihdhar and Alhazmi Finally Begins, But the Search Is Incomplete or Faulty
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.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 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 they search 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:
1 – 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]
2 – He contacts the Customs Service and verifies that Almihdhar has been placed on their watch list. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
3 – 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]
4 – He claims 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 reports 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. It also would have told the agent a local cop… had already spotted Alhazmi in [the New Jersey town of] South Hackensack.” [Bergen Record, 7/11/2002; Bergen Record, 5/18/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
5 – He requests a credit check. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
6 – He requests that a national motor vehicle index be searched. However, for some reason, a speeding ticket issued to Alhazmi in April 2001 that should have been in that index is not detected (see April 1, 2001). Nor is a recorded interaction between Alhazmi and local police in Fairfax, Virginia, in May, which could have led investigators to Alhazmi’s East Coast apartment. [Daily Oklahoman, 1/20/2002; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/27/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
7 – 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 that 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]
8 – He claims that he conducts a search in the ChoicePoint database. ChoicePoint is one of several companies maintaining commerical databases on personal information about US citizens. The FBI has a contract to access the ChoicePoint database, but none of the others. Fuller doesn’t find any record on either Alhazmi or Almihdhar. He suggests this is because of variations in the spelling of names. However, the chairman of ChoicePoint will later confirm that although the database did have information on the hijackers before 9/11, the FBI did not ask to search the database until shortly after 9/11. The 9/11 Commission will conclude the database was not searched, and notes, “Searches of readily available databases could have unearthed” their California drivers licenses, car registrations and telephone listings. Thomas Pickard, acting FBI Director at the time this search is made, will later falsely claim in public testimony before the 9/11 Commission that the FBI was not allowed to search the ChoicePoint database before 9/11. [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 have made that he apparently fails to do. For instance, he apparently fails to check car registration databases. Alhazmi did own a car, and the 9/11 Commission notes, “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 or 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 later 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]
September 4-5, 2001: Almihdhar’s Visa Revoked But Inspectors Told Not to Detain Him
On August 31, 2001, Khalid Almihdhar was placed in an INS and Customs lookout database, and described as “armed and dangerous” and someone who must be referred to secondary inspection (see August 31, 2001). On September 4, the State Department revokes Almihdhar’s visa for his “participation in terrorist activities.” On September 5, the INS entered the September 4 notice that Almihdhar’s visa has been revoked into the INS lookout system. However, it is also noted that the State Department has identified Almihdhar as a potential witness in an FBI investigation, and inspectors are told not to detain him. This information will appear in a little-noticed 9/11 Commission staff report released one month after the Commission’s Final Report. It will not be explained why the description of Almihdhar as armed and dangerous and to be referred to secondary inspection has been changed and who made the change. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004 pdf file]
September 5-10, 2001: Last-Minute Money Transfers Between 9/11 Hijackers and United Arab Emirates
The hijackers in the US return money to Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, one of their facilitators in the United Arab Emirates:
- September 4: Hijacker Mohamed Atta sends al-Hawsawi a FedEx package from Florida. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] The package contains hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad’s ATM card and checkbook. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 10 pdf file] The FedEx bill will be found shortly after 9/11 in the trash at the hotel Atta stays at on the night before 9/11 (see September 11-13, 2001);
- September 5: $8,000 is wired from Banihammad’s SunTrust bank account to his bank account in the United Arab Emirates, to which al-Hawsawi has access (see June 25, 2001);
- September 8: Mohamed Atta sends $2,860 to “Mustafa Ahmed” from a Western Union office in Laurel, Maryland;
- September 8: Later that day Atta sends another $5,000 to “Mustafa Ahmed” from another Western Union office in the same town;
- September 9: Hijacker Waleed Alshehri sends $5,000 to “Ahamad Mustafa” from a Western Union office at Logan Airport in Boston;
- September 10: Hijacker Marwan Alshehhi sends $5,400 to “Mustafa Ahmad” from a Western Union office at the Greyhound Bus Station in Boston;
- September 10: Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour use the name “Rawf Al Dog” to send an express mail package from Laurel, Maryland, to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. When the FBI intercepts the package at Dulles Airport after 9/11, they find it contains the debit card and PIN for Khalid Almihdhar’s First Union Bank account, which has a balance of $9,838.31. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 75 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 76 pdf file]
Atta, Alshehhi, and Alshehri also call al-Hawsawi at this time to give him the numbers for the money they are sending. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 10 pdf file] Although al-Hawsawi admits receiving this money in a substitution for testimony at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui in 2006 and again at a Guantanamo Bay hearing (see March 21, 2007), some detainees are apparently subjected to torture, which has led some to doubt the reliability and validity of their statements (see June 16, 2004). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 10 pdf file; US department of Defense, 3/21/2007 pdf file]September 9, 2001: Hijackers Drop Duffle Bag in Front of Mosque
in a motel near a fundamentalist storefront mosque in heavily Pakistani Laurel, Md.” While news accounts do not mention the name of the mosque, the description closely matches the Ayah Dawah mosque. The hijackers drop off some bags, to which the hijackers had affixed a note stating: “gift for the brothers.” According to the 9/11 Commission, the bags contain “fruit, clothing, flight logs, and various other materials.” After 9/11, the FBI will investigate the mosque, asking people if they recognized any of the hijackers. They will determine the imam, Said Rageah, worked part-time raising money for the Global Relief Foundation. Shortly after 9/11, the US will declare this charity a terrorism financier and shut it down. The FBI investigates him for over a year but ultimately cannot find any link to the 9/1 attacks. [Washington Post, 1/6/2002; Newsweek, 9/30/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 53 pdf file] Newsweek asks rhetorically, “Who are these mysterious brothers the hijackers left behind when they immolated themselves on September 11? Was that just the usual endearing term that fellow Muslims use for each other? Or is there a deeper connection?” [Newsweek, 9/30/2002]
September 10, 2001: Los Angeles FBI Office Search Assistance Comes Too Late, San Diego FBI Office Not Contacted at All
FBI agent Robert Fuller began looking for Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar on September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001) . Within one day, he found that Almihdhar had not stayed at the New York City hotel he listed as a destination when he arrived in the US in July 2001. Alhazmi and Almihdhar had traveled to Los Angeles on January 15, 2000. Immigation records indicated that they claimed to be destined for a Sheraton hotel in Los Angeles. On this day, Fuller drafts an investigative lead for the Los Angeles FBI office, asking that office to search Sheraton hotel records concerning any stays by Almihdhar and Alhazmi in early 2000. However, the lead is not transmitted to Los Angeles until the next day, after the 9/11 attacks have begun. The search will also turn up nothing, since neither of them stayed at a Sheraton hotel. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; US Congress, 9/20/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004; New York Observer, 11/28/2004] Both men had been living in nearby San Diego for much of the previous two years. The San Diego FBI office is not notified about the need for a search until September 12, and even then, they are only provided with “sketchy” information. [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001] The FBI handling agent in San Diego is certain they could have been located quickly had they known where to look. The FBI agent running the San Diego office will claim they could have easily found the two hijackers by looking their names up in the phone book (see September 11, 2001). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] There is some evidence from eyewitnesses that a few days before 9/11, Almihdhar and two other hijackers are living in the same San Diego apartment that they had been living in off and on for the past two years, the address that was listed for them in the public phone book (see Early September 2001).
September 10, 2001: Three 9/11 Hijackers Stay at Same Hotel as Senior Saudi Official
Three hijackers, Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi, check into the same hotel as a prominent Saudi government official. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003] Investigators have not found any evidence that the hijackers met with the official, and stress it could be a coincidence. [Daily Telegraph, 3/10/2003] However, one prosecutor working on a related case asserts, “I continue to believe it can’t be a coincidence.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/2/2003] The official, Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen, is interviewed by the FBI shortly after 9/11, but according to testimony from an FBI agent, the interview is cut short when Hussayen “feign[s] a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians [find] nothing wrong with him.” The agent recommends that Hussayen “should not be allowed to leave until a follow-up interview could occur.” However, that “recommendation, for whatever reason, [is] not complied with.” Hussayen returns to Saudi Arabia a few days later, as soon as the US ban on international flights has ended. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003] For most of the 1990s, Hussayen was director of the SAAR Foundation, a Saudi charity that is being investigated for terrorism ties and will be raided in early 2002 (see March 20, 2002). A few months after 9/11 he is named a minister of the Saudi government and put in charge of its two holy mosques. Hussayen had arrived in the US in late August 2001 planning to visit some Saudi-sponsored charities. Many of the charities on his itinerary, including the Global Relief Foundation, Muslim World League, IIRO (International Islamic Relief Organization), IANA (Islamic Assembly of North America), and World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), have since been shut down or investigated for alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003] His nephew, Sami Omar Hussayen, will be indicted in early 2004 for using his computer expertise to assist militant groups, and will be charged with administering a website associated with IANA, an organization which expressly advocated suicide attacks and using airliners as weapons in the months before 9/11. Investigators also will claim the nephew was in contact with important al-Qaeda figures. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1/10/2004] The nephew will be acquitted later in 2004 of the terrorism-related charges. The defense will not dispute that he posted messages advocating suicide bombings, but will argue that he had the Constitutional right to do so. The jury will deadlock on most of the counts. [Washington Post, 6/11/2004] IANA apparently will remain under investigation, as well as the flow of money from the uncle to nephew. [Daily Telegraph, 3/10/2003] The uncle has not been charged with any crime. [Wall Street Journal, 10/2/2003]
Before September 11, 2001: Hijackers Drink Alcohol and Watch Strip Shows, Especially Towards Eve of Attacks
A number of the hijackers apparently drink alcohol heavily in bars and watch strip shows in the US in the months and especially the days leading up to 9/11.
- On September 10, three hijacker associates spend $200 to $300 apiece on lap dances and drinks in the Pink Pony, a Daytona Beach, Florida strip club. While the hijackers had left Florida by this time, Mohamed Atta is reported to have visited the same strip club, and these men appear to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). [Boston Herald, 10/10/2001]
- Marwan Alshehhi and Mohamed Atta are seen entering the Hollywood, Florida, sports bar Shuckums already drunk. They proceed to drink even more hard alcohol there (see September 7, 2001).
- Atta and Alshehhi are seen at Sunrise 251, a bar in Palm Beach, Florida. They spend $1,000 in 45 minutes on Krug and Perrier-Jouet champagne. Atta is with a tall busty brunette in her late twenties; Alshehhi is with a shortish blonde. Both women are known locally as regular companions of high-rollers. [Daily Mail, 9/16/2001]
- A stripper at the Olympic Garden Topless Cabaret in Las Vegas, Nevada, recalls Marwan Alshehhi being “cheap,” paying only $20 for a lap dance. [Cox News Service, 10/16/2001]
- Several hijackers reportedly patronize the Nardone’s Go-Go Bar in Elizabeth, New Jersey. They are even seen there on the weekend before 9/11. [Boston Herald, 10/10/2001; Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2001]
- Majed Moqed visits a porn shop on three occasions, and rents a porn video. The mayor of Paterson, New Jersey, says of the six hijackers who stayed there: “Nobody ever saw them at mosques, but they liked the go-go clubs.” [Newsday, 9/23/2001; Newsweek, 10/15/2001]
- Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar often frequented Cheetah’s, a nude bar in San Diego. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002]
- Hamza Alghamdi watched a porn video on September 10. [Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2001]
University of Florida religion professor Richard Foltz states, “It is incomprehensible that a person could drink and go to a strip bar one night, then kill themselves the next day in the name of Islam… People who would kill themselves for their faith would come from very strict Islamic ideology. Something here does not add up.” [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/16/2001]Before September 11, 2001: Some 9/11 Hijackers Have Same Mailing Address as ‘Blind Sheikh’ and His Associate Did
Some of the 9/11 hijackers rent mailboxes from a company called Sphinx Trading, which was also used by ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and at least one of his associates. The mailboxes are located in Jersey City, New Jersey, four doors down from the mosque where Abdul-Rahman was imam in the early 1990s. El Sayyid Nosair, who assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane and was linked to the Islamic militant cell Abdul-Rahman headed (see November 5, 1990 and December 7, 1991), also had a mailbox there before he was arrested in 1990. Sphinx Trading is owned by Waleed al-Noor, who was named an unindicted co-conspirator at the ‘Landmarks’ bomb plot trial (see June 24, 1993). The hijackers will later obtain fake IDs from al-Noor’s partner, Mohamed el-Atriss. The names of the hijackers who had mailboxes there are never given, but in the summer of 2001 el-Atriss interacts with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour (see (July-August 2001)), at least. [New York Times, 6/25/2003; Newark Star-Ledger, 10/20/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 372-4; Bergen Record, 9/11/2006] An FBI agent will later comment: “The fact that this location was where Almihdhar, in particular, got his bogus credentials, is not only shocking, it makes me angry. The [Joint Terrorist Task Force] in the [New York Office] had this location back in 1991. In the mid-90s they listed al-Noor, the coowner, as a coconspirator, unindicted in the plot to blow up bridges and tunnels. And now we find out that this is the precise location where the most visible of all the hijackers in the US got his ID? Incredible. All the Bureau’s New York Office had to do was sit on that place over the years and they would have broken right into the 9/11 plot.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 373]
(7:15 a.m.-7:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Hijack Suspects Set Off Airport Alarms; Allowed to Board Anyway
Around 7:15 a.m., Flight 77 hijackers Majed Moqed and Khalid Almihdhar check in at the American Airlines ticket counter at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 2-3; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 27 pdf file] The FAA has a computer system in place, called CAPPS, which identifies those passengers most likely requiring additional scrutiny by airport security (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). CAPPS selects both men, but the only consequence is that Moqed’s luggage is not loaded onto Flight 77 until after his boarding is confirmed. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 27-28 pdf file] Dulles Airport has surveillance cameras monitoring its security checkpoints, and video later viewed by the 9/11 Commission shows the two passing through the Main Terminal’s west security screening checkpoint at 7:18 a.m. When they go through, their carry-on bags fail to set off any alarms, but both men set off the alarm when they pass through the first metal detector. They are directed to a second metal detector, where Almihdhar passes, but Moqed fails again. He is subjected to a personal screening with a metal detection hand wand. This time he is cleared and permitted to pass through the checkpoint. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 3] The other three Flight 77 hijackers pass through the security checkpoint about 20 minutes later (see (7:25 a.m.-7:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission later concludes that Almihdhar’s passport was “suspicious” and could have been linked to al-Qaeda, but it does not explain why or how. [Baltimore Sun, 1/27/2004]
(11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Customs Claims to Determine the Names of All 19 Hijackers
Robert Bonner, the head of Customs and Border Protection, later testifies, “We ran passenger manifests through the system used by Customs—two were hits on our watch list of August 2001.” (This is presumably a reference to hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, watch-listed on August 23, 2001.) “And by looking at the Arab names and their seat locations, ticket purchases and other passenger information, it didn’t take a lot to do a rudimentary link analysis. Customs officers were able to ID 19 probable hijackers within 45 minutes. I saw the sheet by 11 a.m. And that analysis did indeed correctly identify the terrorists.” [New York Observer, 2/11/2004] However, Bonner appears to be at least somewhat incorrect: for two days after the attacks (see September 13, 2001-September 14, 2001), the FBI believes there are only 18 hijackers, and the original list contains some erroneous Arab-sounding names on the flight manifests, such as Adnan Bukhari and Ameer Bukhari. [CNN, 9/13/2001] Some hijacker names, including Mohamed Atta’s, were identified on a reservations computer around 8:30 a.m. (see (Before 8:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and Richard Clarke was told some of the names were al-Qaeda around 10:00 a.m. (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001)
September 11, 2001: FBI Agents Able to Quickly Find Alhazmi and Almihdhar Once 9/11 Attacks Are Over
On September 11—after the 9/11 attacks are over—the New York FBI office learns that one of the hijackers was Khalid Almihdhar. One of these FBI agents had attempted to get permission to search for Almihdhar in late August, but was not allowed to do so. He wrote an e-mail on August 28 predicting that “someday someone will die… the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.’”(see August 29, 2001). He later testifies that upon seeing Almihdhar’s name on one of the passenger flight manifests, he angrily yells “This is the same Almihdhar we’ve been talking about for three months!” In an attempt to console him, his boss replies, “We did everything by the book.” Now that this upset agent is allowed to conduct a basic Internet search for Almihdhar that he had been denied permission to conduct before 9/11, he finds the hijacker’s address “within hours.” [Washington Post, 9/21/2002; US Congress, 12/11/2002] The FBI field office in San Diego also had not been notified before 9/11 that Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi had been put on a no-fly watch list on August 24, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). Bill Gore, the FBI agent running the San Diego office on this day, later makes reference to that fact that Alhazmi’s correct phone number and address was listed in the San Diego phone book and says,“How [we] could have found these people when we didn’t know we were looking for them? The first place we would have looked is the phone book…. I submit to you we would have found them.” [US Congress, 12/11/2002]
9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001: Rumsfeld’s Assistant Notes Three 9/11 Hijackers Were Followed
Stephen Cambone, the Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, makes the following note for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld at an emergency policy meeting, “AA 77—3 indiv have been followed since Millennium + Cole. 1 guy is assoc of Cole bomber. 2 entered US in early July (2 of 3 pulled aside and interrogated?).” Although four of the subsequently alleged Flight 77 hijackers were known to the authorities in connection with terrorism before 9/11, it appears that the three referred to here as being followed are Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi, due to their ties to an al-Qaeda Malaysia summit around the Millennium (see January 5-8, 2000) and ties to the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar initially arrived in the US shortly before or after the Millennium plot was due to come to fruition (see November 1999 and January 15, 2000), even entering at Los Angeles Airport (LAX), a target of the plot. If the note is literally correct that some US authorities were following these three since the Millennium, this would contradict the 9/11 Commission’s position that the trail of the three was lost shortly after the Millennium. The comment that one of the hijackers is an associate of a Cole bomber could refer to photos the CIA had before 9/11 identifying Almihdhar standing next to Cole bomber Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000) or photos of him standing next to Cole bomber Khallad bin Attash (see January 4, 2001). The note’s mention that two of them entered the US in July is also accurate, as Salem Alhazmi entered the US on June 29 (see April 23-June 29, 2001) and Khalid re-entered on July 4 (see July 4, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file; US Department of Defense, 2/6/2006 pdf file] Earlier in the day, Cambone took notes for Rumsfeld that indicate Rumsfeld is keen to move against Iraq following the 9/11 attacks, even though he was aware there may be no connection between Iraq and 9/11 (see (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Guardian, 2/24/2006]
September 16-23, 2001: People with Hijacker Names and Identifying Details Are Still Alive
Reports appear in many newspapers suggesting that some of the people the US initially says are 9/11 hijackers are actually still alive and that the actual hijackers may have used stolen identities:
- Hamza Alghamdi: No media outlet has claimed that Hamza Alghamdi is still alive, but his family says the FBI photo “has no resemblance to him at all.” [Arab News, 9/22/2001; Washington Post, 9/25/2001]
- CNN shows a picture of a Saudi pilot called Saeed Alghamdi and claims it is the hijacker of the same name. However, the pilot is alive and working in Tunisia. The FBI listed the hijacker’s possible residence as Delray Beach, Florida, where the pilot trained in 1998, 1999, and 2000, which may be why CNN uses a photograph of the wrong person. The pilot returns to Saudi Arabia to avoid problems and CNN apologises for the error. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/14/2001; Arab News, 9/18/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/23/2001; BBC, 9/23/2001]
- A man named Salem Alhazmi claims he is the alleged hijacker of the same name, but works in a petrochemical plant and had his passport stolen three years ago in Cairo. He says a picture being used in the media is of him. However, he is a different age to the hijacker, 26 not 21, has a different middle name, Ibrahim not Mohamed, and the photos appear to be of different people. In addition, the FBI does not release official pictures of the hijackers until a week after he makes this claim. The father of the other Salem Alhazmi says his son is missing, as is Salem’s brother and fellow hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi. [Washington Post, 9/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001; Guardian, 9/21/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/23/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/27/2001; Saudi Gazette, 9/29/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 191 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]
- A man named Ahmed Alnami is alive and working as an administrative supervisor with Saudi Arabian Airlines in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001] He had never lost his passport and found it “very worrying” that his identity appeared to have been stolen. [Daily Telegraph, 9/23/2001] However, there is another Ahmed Alnami who is ten years younger, and appears to be dead, according to his father. [ABC News, 3/15/2002] Ahmed Alnami’s family says his FBI picture is correct. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001]
- A man called Abdulrahman Alomari is alive and works as a pilot for Saudi Arabian Airlines. [New York Times, 9/16/2001; Independent, 9/17/2001; BBC, 9/23/2001] He was a neighbour of Adnan Bukhari and Amer Kamfar, who are both wrongly suspected of involvement in the 9/11 attacks at the start of the investigation. He moved out of his home in Vero Beach, Florida, shortly before the attacks. [CNN, 9/14/2001] A man called Abdulaziz Alomari is an engineer with Saudi Telecoms. [BBC, 9/23/2001] He claims that his passport was stolen in 1995 while he was living in Denver, Colorado. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001] He says, “They gave my name and my date of birth, but I am not a suicide bomber. I am here. I am alive.” [London Times, 9/20/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/23/2001] The FBI initially gave two possible birthdates for Abdulaziz Alomari. One is apparently that of the engineer, the other of the alleged hijacker. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/14/2001; New Yorker, 5/27/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]
- Mohand Alshehri: The Saudi government has claimed that Mohand Alshehri is alive and that he was not in the US on 9/11, but no more details are known. [Associated Press, 9/29/2001]
- The brothers Waleed M. Alshehri and Wail Alshehri are alive. A Saudi spokesman said, “This is a respectable family. I know his sons, and they’re both alive.” The father is a diplomat who has been stationed in the US and Bombay, India. [Arab News, 9/19/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001] There is a second pair of Saudi brothers named Wail and Waleed M. who may have been the real hijackers. Their father says they have been missing since December 2000. [Arab News, 9/17/2001; ABC News, 3/15/2002] The still-living Waleed M. Alshehri is a pilot with Saudi Airlines, studying in Morocco. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001; Associated Press, 9/22/2001] He acknowledges that he attended flight training school at Dayton Beach in the United States. [BBC, 9/23/2001; Daily Trust (Abuja), 9/24/2001] He was interviewed by US officials in Morocco, and cleared of all charges against him (though apparently the FBI is still using his picture). [Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, 9/21/2001] The still living Waleed Alshehri is also apparently a pilot. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001] He claims that he saw his picture on CNN and recognized it from when he studied flying in Florida. But he also says that he has no brother named Wail. [As-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), 9/22/2001]
- Mohamed Atta’s father says he spoke to his son on the phone on September 12, 2001. [New York Times, 9/19/2001; Chicago Tribune, 9/20/2001]
- Khalid Almihdhar: On September 19, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. distributes a “special alert” to its member banks asking for information about the attackers. The list includes “Al-Midhar, Khalid. Alive.” The Justice Department later calls this a “typo.” [Associated Press, 9/20/2001; Cox News Service, 10/21/2001] The BBC says, “There are suggestions that another suspect, Khalid Almihdhar, may also be alive.” [BBC, 9/23/2001] The Guardian says Almihdhar is believed to be alive, but investigators are looking into three possibilities. Either his name was stolen for a hijacker alias, or he allowed his name to be used so that US officials would think he died, or he died in the crash. [Guardian, 9/21/2001]
- Majed Moqed was last seen by a friend in Saudi Arabia in 2000. This friend claims the FBI picture does not look like Moqed. [Arab News, 9/22/2001]
The Saudi government insists that five of the Saudis mentioned are still alive. [New York Times, 9/21/2001] On September 20, FBI Director Mueller says, “We have several others that are still in question. The investigation is ongoing, and I am not certain as to several of the others.” [Newsday, 9/21/2001] On September 27, after all of these revelations mentioned above are revealed in the media, FBI Director Mueller states, “We are fairly certain of a number of them.” [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001] On September 20, the London Times reported, “Five of the hijackers were using stolen identities, and investigators are studying the possibility that the entire suicide squad consisted of impostors.” [London Times, 9/20/2001] The mainstream media briefly doubted some of the hijackers’ identities. For instance, a story in the Observer on September 23 put the names of hijackers like Saeed Alghamdi in quotation marks. [Observer, 9/23/2001] However, the story will die down after the initial reports, and it is hardly noticed when Mueller states on November 2, 2001, “As I have indicated before, one of the initial responsibilities of that investigation was to determine who the hijackers were. We at this point definitely know the 19 hijackers who were responsible for that catastrophe.” [Office of the Press Secretary, 11/2/2001] A law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, has confirmed that the hijackers’ names released in late September [on 28] are the true identities of all 19 men. The AP story adds that “the names were those listed on the planes’ passenger manifests and investigators were certain that those were the names the hijackers used when they entered the United States.” But the Saudi Institute, an independent human rights watchdog group that has researched the hijackers’ identities, maintains that Abdulaziz Alomari used someone else’s passport. [Associated Press, 11/3/2001; Associated Press, 11/3/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later endorse the hijackers’ names published by the FBI around this time. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 231, 238-9]
September 17-18, 2001: CIA Connects Moussaoui to 9/11 Hijackers through Malaysia Summit Host
The CIA is informed that the possessions of Zacarias Moussaoui, which were searched after 9/11, contain a letter from a company called In Focus Tech (see August 16, 2001). The CIA finds that the company’s manager is Yazid Sufaat, who hosted an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that was attended by hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. Various al-Qaeda commanders were also present at the meeting, which was monitored by the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). CIA director George Tenet will later comment: “and with that the circle closed and things started to come together in a hurry… [T]his was the same Yazid Sufaat whose condo in Kuala Lumpur had been the venue for what turned out to be the first operational meeting in the planning for 9/11—the meeting… that was attended by Almihdhar and Alhazmi.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 204]
October 4, 2001: Blair Says 9/11 Hijacker Played ‘Key Role’ in Embassy Bombings
In a key speech about al-Qaeda’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair says that one of the hijackers played a “key role” in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see August 7, 1998). Though he doesn’t specify which one, he does say the individual was one of the three hijackers who were quickly identified after 9/11 as known al-Qaeda associates (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001) and someone who had also played an important role in the USS Cole attacks (see October 14-Late November, 2000). [UK Prime Minister, 10/4/2001] Blair’s description of this hijacker as being involved in the USS Cole and African Embassy attacks strongly suggests the person he is referring to is Khalid Almihdhar. Almihdhar allegedly had a hand in the Cole attack (see Early October 2001) and had links to one of the captured embassy bombers, Mohamed al-Owhali. Before the Cole attacks, al-Owhali stayed at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen run by Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see February 2001 and After). Additionally, al-Owhali met an al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan by the name of Khalid, although this may have been Khallad (aka Tawfiq bin Attash), or even Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; Guardian, 10/5/2001; CNN, 10/16/2001; Burke, 2004, pp. 174; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Wright, 2006, pp. 309] It is also possible that the person alluded to in Blair’s speech is Nawaf Alhazmi, who also had connections to the embassy bombings (see 1993-1999).
April 25, 2002: Saudi Prince Said to Meet Suspected Hijacker Associate While Visiting Bush
Osama Basnan, an alleged associate of 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, reports his passport stolen to Houston police. [Newsweek, 11/24/2002] This confirms that Basnan is in Houston on the same day that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and Saudi US Ambassador Prince Bandar meet with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, and National Security Adviser Rice at Bush’s ranch in nearby Crawford, Texas. [US-Saudi Arabian Business Council, 4/25/2002] Abdullah’s entourage passes through Houston that week en route to Bush’s ranch. While in Texas, it is believed that Basnan “met with a high Saudi prince who has responsibilities for intelligence matters and is known to bring suitcases full of cash into the United States.” [Newsweek, 11/24/2002; Guardian, 11/25/2002] The still-classified section of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry is said to discuss the possibility of Basnan meeting this figure at this time. [Associated Press, 8/2/2003]
June 4, 2002: Bush Acknowledges Agencies Made Mistakes, Continues to Insist That 9/11 Could Not Have Been Prevented
For the first time, Bush concedes that his intelligence agencies had problems: “In terms of whether or not the FBI and the CIA were communicating properly, I think it is clear that they weren’t.” [London Times, 6/5/2002] However, in an address to the nation three days later, President Bush still maintains, “Based on everything I’ve seen, I do not believe anyone could have prevented the horror of September the 11th.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 6/8/2002] Days earlier, Newsweek reported that the FBI had prepared a detailed chart showing how agents could have uncovered the 9/11 plot if the CIA had told them what it knew about the hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar sooner. (FBI Director Mueller denies the existence of such a chart. [Washington Post, 6/3/2002] ) One FBI official says, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together.” [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] Attorney General Ashcroft also says it is unlikely better intelligence could have stopped the attacks. [Washington Post, 6/3/2002]
Summer 2002-Summer 2004: 9/11 Investigations Glance over Intercepts of Hijackers’ Calls
Both the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and the 9/11 Commission examine the NSA’s intercepts of various calls made by the hijackers to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry refers to several of the calls and gives an idea of the content of some of them. But it does not mention those made by Nawaf Alhazmi and possibly other hijackers from the US after the USS Cole bombing, which are only disclosed later in the media (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001 and 2004 and After). However, this section of the Inquiry report is heavily redacted so most details remain unknown. It states that, although the NSA intercepted the calls and disseminated dispatches about some of them, the NSA did not realize the hijackers were in the US at the time the calls were made. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 11-12, 143-146, 155-157 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission Report contains a briefer section on the intercepts and deals with those which led to the surveillance of the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In addition, it mentions that Almihdhar called his wife from San Diego in the spring of 2000, but fails to mention that his wife lived at an al-Qaeda communications hub and that the calls were intercepted by the NSA (see Spring-Summer 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 222] The Los Angeles Times comments: “The [9/11 Congressional Inquiry] and the Sept. 11 commission that came after it referred indirectly to the calls from Yemen to San Diego. But neither report discloses what the NSA gleaned from the calls, or why they were never disclosed to the FBI.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The publication of the 9/11 Commission report and revelations about domestic surveillance by the NSA will lead to increased media interest in and revelations about the intercepts starting from 2004 (see 2004 and After).
July 31, 2002: Sheriff Raids Business that Supplied 9/11 Hijackers with Fake ID
A business owned by Mohamed el-Atriss, who supplied the 9/11 hijackers with fake IDs (see (July-August 2001)), is raided by the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department. The raids are carried out in a blaze of publicity and are strongly opposed by the US attorney’s office for New Jersey and the FBI, which has a relationship with el-Atriss (see July 31, 2002 and After, September 13, 2001-Mid 2002). [Bergen Record, 8/7/2002] The sheriff is suspicious of el-Atriss and raids his business because, in addition to providing hijackers Abdulaziz Alomari and Khalid Almihdhar with at least two pieces of fake ID, el-Atriss:
- Talked repeatedly on the phone to another hijacker (see (July-August 2001));
- Is an associate of an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 ‘Landmarks’ bomb plot (see Before September 11, 2001);
- Wired $29,000 to the Arab National Bank in Mecca in 2002; [Washington Post, 1/3/2003]
- Made inquiries to a parts manufacturer about navigational systems for commercial jetliners to be shipped to Egypt in 1999; [Newark Star-Ledger, 10/20/2003]
- Downloaded a list of the 9/11 hijackers from the Internet after 9/11, underlined some names, and circled Khalid Almihdar’s. [Newark Star-Ledger, 10/20/2003]
El-Atriss is not present during the raid, having traveled to Egypt a short time before, but later returns to the US and is arrested at JFK airport in New York. [CBS News, 7/31/2002; BBC, 8/21/2002] He will later say that he came back to the US to clear his name after learning of the raid while in Egypt. He will be charged with over two dozen counts of selling false documents. [Newark Star-Ledger, 10/20/2003] Secret evidence will be used against him at the trial. He will plead guilty to one of charges, while the rest will be dropped. (see November 2002-June 2003).
August 2, 2002: CIA Memo Says Evidence of Saudi Government Support for Hijackers Is ‘Incontrovertible’
According to Sen. Bob Graham (D), the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry he co-chairs later will uncover a CIA memo written on this date. The author of the memo writes about hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and concludes that there is “incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists within the Saudi government.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 169] Apparently, this memo will be discussed in the completely censored section of the Inquiry’s final report that deals with foreign government involvement in the 9/11 plot (see August 1-3, 2003). Osama Basnan, one of the key players in a suspected transfer of funds from the Saudi government to these two hijackers, is arrested in the US a few weeks after this memo is written, but he will be deported two months after that (see August 22-November 2002).
August 22-November 2002: Possible Hijacker Associate Is Arrested, Then Deported
Osama Basnan, an alleged associate of 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, and his wife are arrested for visa fraud. [Newsweek, 11/22/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002] One report says he is arrested for allegedly having links to Omar al-Bayoumi. [Arab News, 11/26/2002] On October 22, Basnan and his wife, Majeda Dweikat, admit they used false immigration documents to stay in the US. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 10/22/2002] Possible financial connections between Basnan and al-Bayoumi, Alhazmi and Almihdhar, and the Saudi royal family are known to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (as well as the FBI and CIA) at this time. Remarkably, Basnan is deported to Saudi Arabia on November 17, 2002. His wife is deported to Jordan the same day. [Washington Post, 11/24/2002] Less than a week after the deportations, new media reports make Basnan a widely known suspect. [Newsweek, 11/22/2002]
September 18, 2002: 9/11 Victims’ Relatives Raise Questions About Agencies’ Conduct
Two 9/11 victims’ relatives testify before the Congressional 9/11 inquiry. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband Ronald died at the WTC, asks how the FBI was so quickly able to assemble information on the hijackers. She cites a New York Times article stating that agents descended on flight schools within hours of the attacks. “How did the FBI know where to go a few hours after the attacks?” she asks. “Were any of the hijackers already under surveillance?” [MSNBC, 9/18/2002] She adds, “Our intelligence agencies suffered an utter collapse in their duties and responsibilities leading up to and on September 11th. But their negligence does not stand alone. Agencies like the Port Authority, the City of NY, the FAA, the INS, the Secret Service, NORAD, the Air Force, and the airlines also failed our nation that morning.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002] Stephen Push states, “If the intelligence community had been doing its job, my wife, Lisa Raines, would be alive today.” He cites the government’s failure to place Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi on a terrorist watch list until long after they were photographed meeting with alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Malaysia (see January 6-9, 2000). [MSNBC, 9/18/2002]
October 5, 2002: FBI Refuses to Allow FBI Informant to Testify Before 9/11 Inquiry
The New York Times reports that the FBI is refusing to allow Abdussattar Shaikh, the FBI informant who lived with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in the second half of 2000, to testify before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. The FBI claims the informer would have nothing interesting to say. The Justice Department also wants to learn more about the informant. [New York Times, 10/5/2002] The FBI also tries to prevent Shaikh’s handler Steven Butler from testifying, but Butler does end up testifying before a secret session on October 9, 2002. Shaikh does not testify at all. [Washington Post, 10/11/2002] Butler’s testimony uncovers many curious facts about Shaikh. [New York Times, 11/23/2002; US News and World Report, 11/29/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003; San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2003]
October 9, 2002: FBI Agent Handled Hijackers’ Landlord
San Diego FBI agent Steven Butler reportedly gives “explosive” testimony to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. Butler, recently retired, has been unable to speak to the media, but he was the handler for Abdussattar Shaikh, an FBI asset who rented a room to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. Butler claims he might have uncovered the 9/11 plot if the CIA had provided the FBI with more information earlier about Alhazmi and Almihdhar. [New York Times, 10/22/2002] He says, “It would have made a huge difference.” He suggests they would have quickly found the two hijackers because they were “very, very close.” “We would have immediately opened… investigations. We would have given them the full court press. We would… have done everything—physical surveillance, technical surveillance, and other assets.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2003] Butler discloses that he had been monitoring a flow of Saudi Arabian money that wound up in the hands of two of the 9/11 hijackers, but his supervisors failed to take any action on the warnings. It is not known when Butler started investigating the money flow, or when he warned his supervisors. [US News and World Report, 11/29/2002] The FBI unsuccessfully tries to prevent Butler from testifying. [Washington Post, 10/11/2002] This testimony doesn’t stop the US government from deporting Basnan to Saudi Arabia several weeks later. [Washington Post, 11/24/2002]
October 9, 2002: Handling of 9/11 Hijackers’ Visa Applications Denounced
Visa applications for the 15 Saudi Arabian hijackers are made public, and six separate experts agree: “All of them should have been denied entry [into the US].” Joel Mowbray, who first breaks the story for the conservative National Review, says he is shocked by what he saw: “I really was expecting al-Qaeda to have trained their operatives well, to beat the system. They didn’t have to beat the system, the system was rigged in their favor from the get-go.” A former US consular officer says the visas show a pattern of criminal negligence. Some examples: “Abdulaziz Alomari claimed to be a student but didn’t name a school; claimed to be married but didn’t name a spouse; under nationality and gender, he didn’t list anything.” “Khalid Almihdhar… simply listed ‘Hotel’ as his US destination—no name, no city, no state but no problem getting a visa.” Only one actually gave a US destination, and one stated his destination as “no.” Only Hani Hanjour had a slight delay in acquiring his visa. His first application was flagged because he wrote he wanted to visit for three years when the legal limit is two. When he returned two weeks later, he simply changed the form to read “one year” and was accepted. The experts agree that even allowing for chance, incompetence, and human error, the odds were that only a few should have been approved. [National Review, 10/9/2002; New York Post, 10/9/2002; ABC News, 10/23/2002] In response to the revelation, the State Department says, “The fact is that with 20/20 hindsight, I’m sure one can always find a reason that you might have turned down a visa.” [Nation Review Online, 10/10/2002; State Department, 10/10/2002]
October 21, 2002: 13 Hijackers Were Never Interviewed by US Consular Officials
The General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, releases a report asserting that at least 13 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were never interviewed by US consular officials before being granted visas to enter the US. This contradicts previous assurances from the State Department that 12 of the hijackers had been interviewed. It also found that, for 15 hijackers whose applications could be found, none had filled in the documents properly. Records for four other hijackers (the four non-Saudis, i.e., Ziad Jarrah, Mohamed Atta, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, and Marwan Al Shehhi) could not be checked because they were accidentally destroyed. [National Review Online, 10/21/2002; United States General Accounting Office, 10/21/2002 pdf file; Washington Post, 10/22/2002] The State Department maintains that visa procedures were properly followed. In December 2002, Senators Jon Kyl (R) and Pat Roberts (R) state in a chapter of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that “if State Department personnel had merely followed the law and not granted non-immigrant visas to 15 of the 19 hijackers in Saudi Arabia… 9/11 would not have happened.” [Associated Press, 12/19/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. pp. 653-673 pdf file]
November 22, 2002: Newsweek Reports Saudi Royals Sent Money to Hijackers’ Associates
Newsweek reports that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar may have received money from Saudi Arabia’s royal family through two Saudis, Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. Newsweek bases its report on information leaked from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October. [Newsweek, 11/22/2002; Newsweek, 11/22/2002; New York Times, 11/23/2002; Washington Post, 11/23/2003] Al-Bayoumi is in Saudi Arabia by this time. Basnan was deported to Saudi Arabia just five days earlier. Saudi officials and Princess Haifa immediately deny any connections to Islamic militants. [Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002] Newsweek reports that while the money trail “could be perfectly innocent… it is nonetheless intriguing—and could ultimately expose the Saudi government to some of the blame for 9/11…” [Newsweek, 11/22/2002] Some Saudi newspapers, which usually reflect government thinking, claim the leak is blackmail to pressure Saudi Arabia into supporting war with Iraq. [MSNBC, 11/27/2002] Senior US government officials claim the FBI and CIA failed to aggressively pursue leads that might have linked the two hijackers to Saudi Arabia. This causes a bitter dispute between FBI and CIA officials and the intelligence panel investigating the 9/11 attacks. [New York Times, 11/23/2002] A number of senators, including Richard Shelby (R), John McCain (R), Mitch O’Connell (R), Joe Lieberman (D), Bob Graham (D), Joseph Biden (D), and Charles Schumer (D), express concern about the Bush administration’s action (or non-action) regarding the Saudi royal family and its possible role in funding Islamic militants. [Reuters, 11/24/2002; New York Times, 11/25/2002] Lieberman says, “I think it’s time for the president to blow the whistle and remember what he said after September 11—you’re either with us or you’re with the al-Qaeda.” [ABC News, 11/25/2002] FBI officials strongly deny any deliberate connection between these two men and the Saudi government or the hijackers [Time, 11/24/2002] , but later even more connections between them and both entities are revealed. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
Before December 10, 2002: CIA Officer Involved in Almihdhar and Alhazmi Failures Tells Congressional Inquiry Everything that Could Go Wrong, Did Go Wrong
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the failed search for hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar before 9/11, is interviewed by the Congressional Inquiry and comments on some of the failures. When asked about the failure to watchlist Nawaf Alhazmi based on a cable telling CIA headquarters he had arrived in the US and was a terrorist (see March 5, 2000 and March 6, 2000 and After), Wilshire says: “It’s very difficult to understand what happened with [the] cable when it came in. I don’t know exactly why it was missed. It would appear that it was missed.” Commenting on a meeting in June 2001 where the CIA failed to tell the FBI what it knew about Almihdhar and Alhazmi despite showing them photographs of the two hijackers (see June 11, 2001), Wilshire says: “[E]very place that something could have gone wrong in this over a year and a half, it went wrong. All the processes that had been put in place, all the safeguards, everything else, they failed at every possible opportunity. Nothing went right.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 147, 151 pdf file]
January 10, 2003: Government Employees Responsible for 9/11 Failures Are Promoted
FBI Director Mueller personally awards Marion (Spike) Bowman with a presidential citation and cash bonus of approximately 25 percent of his salary. [Salon, 3/3/2003] Bowman, head of the FBI’s National Security Law Unit and the person who refused to seek a special warrant for a search of Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings before the 9/11 attacks, is among nine recipients of bureau awards for “exceptional performance.” The award comes shortly after a 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report saying Bowman’s unit gave Minneapolis FBI agents “inexcusably confused and inaccurate information” that was “patently false.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/22/2002] Bowman’s unit also blocked an urgent request by FBI agents to begin searching for Khalid Almihdhar after his name was put on a watch list. In early 2000, the FBI acknowledged serious blunders in surveillance Bowman’s unit conducted during sensitive terrorism and espionage investigations, including agents who illegally videotaped suspects, intercepted e-mails without court permission, and recorded the wrong phone conversations. [Associated Press, 1/10/2003] As Senator Charles Grassley (R) and others have pointed out, not only has no one in government been fired or punished for 9/11, but several others have been promoted:
- Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI’s counterterrorism chief in New York City before 9/11, is promoted to the bureau’s top counterterrorism post. [Time, 12/30/2002]
- FBI Supervisory special agent Michael Maltbie, who removed information from the Minnesota FBI’s application to get the search warrant for Moussaoui, is promoted to field supervisor and goes on to head the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI’s Cleveland office. [Salon, 3/3/2003; Newsday, 3/21/2006]
- David Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, is “still at headquarters,” Grassley notes. [Salon, 3/3/2003] The Phoenix memo, which was addressed to Frasca, was received by his unit and warned that al-Qaeda terrorists could be using flight schools inside the US (see July 10, 2001 and July 27, 2001 and after). Two weeks later Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested while training to fly a 747, but Frasca’s unit was unhelpful when local FBI agents wanted to search his belongings—a step that could have prevented 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). “The Phoenix memo was buried; the Moussaoui warrant request was denied.” [Time, 5/27/2002] Even after 9/11, Frasca continued to “[throw] up roadblocks” in the Moussaoui case. [New York Times, 5/27/2002]
- President Bush later names Barbara Bodine the director of Central Iraq shortly after the US conquest of Iraq. Many in government are upset about the appointment because of her blocking of the USS Cole investigation, which some say could have uncovered the 9/11 plot. She failed to admit she was wrong or apologize. [Washington Times, 4/10/2003] However, she is fired after about a month, apparently for doing a poor job.
- An FBI official who tolerates penetration of the translation department by Turkish spies and encourages slow translations just after 9/11 is promoted (see March 22, 2002). [CBS News, 10/25/2002] The CIA has promoted two unnamed top leaders of its unit responsible for tracking al-Qaeda in 2000 even though the unit mistakenly failed to put the two suspected terrorists on the watch list (see August 23, 2001). “The leaders were promoted even though some people in the intelligence community and in Congress say the counterterrorism unit they ran bore some responsibility for waiting until August 2001 to put the suspect pair on the interagency watch list.” CIA Director Tenet has failed to fulfill a promise given to Congress in late 2002 that he would name the CIA officials responsible for 9/11 failures. [New York Times, 5/15/2003]
July 24, 2003: 9/11 Congressional Inquiry Suggests Hijackers Received Considerable Assistance Inside US
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report concludes that at least six hijackers received “substantial assistance” from associates in the US, though it’s “not known to what extent any of these contacts in the United States were aware of the plot.” These hijackers came into contact with at least 14 people who were investigated by the FBI before 9/11, and four of those investigations were active while the hijackers were present. But in June 2002, FBI Director Mueller testified: “While here, the hijackers effectively operated without suspicion, triggering nothing that would have alerted law enforcement and doing nothing that exposed them to domestic coverage. As far as we know, they contacted no known terrorist sympathizers in the United States.” CIA Director Tenet made similar comments at the same time, and another FBI official stated, “[T]here were no contacts with anybody we were looking at inside the United States.” These comments are untrue, because one FBI document from November 2001 uncovered by the Inquiry concludes that the six lead hijackers “maintained a web of contacts both in the United States and abroad. These associates, ranging in degrees of closeness, include friends and associates from universities and flight schools, former roommates, people they knew through mosques and religious activities, and employment contacts. Other contacts provided legal, logistical, or financial assistance, facilitated US entry and flight school enrollment, or were known from [al-Qaeda]-related activities or training.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] The declassified sections of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report show the hijackers have contact with:
- Mamoun Darkazanli, investigated several times starting in 1993 (see 1993; Late 1998); the CIA makes repeated efforts to turn him into an informer (see December 1999).
- Mohammed Haydar Zammar, investigated by Germany since at least 1997 (see 1996), the Germans periodically inform the CIA what they learn.
- Osama Basnan, US intelligence is informed of his connections to Islamic militants several times in early 1990s but fails to investigate (see April 1998).
- Omar al-Bayoumi, investigated in San Diego from 1998-1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).
- Anwar Al Aulaqi, investigated in San Diego from 1999-2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
- Osama “Sam” Mustafa, owner of a San Diego gas station, and investigated beginning in 1991 (see Autumn 2000).
- Ed Salamah, manager of the same gas station, and an uncooperative witness in 2000 (see Autumn 2000).
- An unnamed friend of Hani Hanjour, whom the FBI tries to investigate in 2001.
- An unnamed associate of Marwan Alshehhi, investigated beginning in 1999.
- Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who had contact with Basnan, al-Bayoumi, Aulaqi, Mustafa, and Salamah, “maintained a number of other contacts in the local Islamic community during their time in San Diego, some of whom were also known to the FBI through counterterrorist inquiries and investigations,” but details of these individuals and possible others are still classified. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] None of the above people have been arrested or even publicly charged with any crime associated with terrorism, although Zammar is in prison in Syria.
August 6, 2003: Some Speculate Hijackers Almihdhar and Alhazmi Worked for Saudi Intelligence
After 9/11, an unnamed former CIA officer who worked in Saudi Arabia will tell investigative journalist Joe Trento that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were allowed to operate in the US unchecked (see, e.g., Early February-Summer 2000 and Mid-May-December 2000) because they were agents of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency. “We had been unable to penetrate al-Qaeda. The Saudis claimed that they had done it successfully. Both Alhazmi and Almihdhar were Saudi agents. We thought they had been screened. It turned out the man responsible for recruiting them had been loyal to Osama bin Laden. The truth is bin Laden himself was a Saudi agent at one time. He successfully penetrated Saudi intelligence and created his own operation inside. The CIA relied on the Saudis vetting their own agents. It was a huge mistake. The reason the FBI was not given any information about either man is because they were Saudi assets operating with CIA knowledge in the United States.” [Stories That Matter, 8/6/2003]
March 2004: CIA Finds 9/11 Hijackers Used 364 Aliases and Name Variants
After investigating the 9/11 hijackers, the CIA finds that the 19 operatives used a total of 364 aliases, including different spellings of their own names and noms de guerre. Although some examples are made public, the full list is not disclosed. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 1, 5 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] In contrast to this, many reports emphasize that the hijackers usually used their own names. For example, the 9/11 Commission will say, “The hijackers opened accounts in their own names, using passports and other identification documents.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 22 pdf file] In addition, a Commission staffer will tell UPI: “They did not need fake passports. The plotters all used their own passports to get into the country and once here, used US-issued ID documents whenever possible.” [United Press International, 8/17/2005]
2004 and After: Domestic Wiretapping Revelation Reignites 9/11 Hijacker Phone Call Debate
It was disclosed in 2003 that the NSA had intercepted several calls between hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001 and Summer 2002-Summer 2004). But in 2004, after revelations that the NSA has been wiretapping inside the US, some media begin to re-examine the circumstances of the hijackers’ calls from the US, as the Bush administration uses the example of these calls as a justification for the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program. [New York Times, 12/16/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; US President, 12/26/2005 pdf file] The calls are thought to be a key aspect of the alleged intelligence failures before 9/11. In late 1998, the FBI had started plotting intercepts of al-Qaeda calls to and from the communications hub on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). According to author Lawrence Wright, “[h]ad a line been drawn from the [communications hub] in Yemen to Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s San Diego apartment, al-Qaeda’s presence in America would have been glaringly obvious.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 343-344] In 2006, former NSA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Senate that if the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program had been active before 9/11, the NSA would have raised the alarm over the presence of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in San Diego. [CNN, 5/19/2006] However, reports in the press suggest otherwise. For example, in one newspaper a senior intelligence official will say that it was not technically possible for the NSA, which had a budget of around $3.6 billion in 2000, to trace the calls. “Neither the contents of the calls nor the physics of the intercepts allowed us to determine that one end of the calls was in the United States,” says the official. [Bamford, 2002, pp. 482; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] But another report flatly contradicts this. “NSA had the technical ability to pick up the actual phone number in the US that the switchboard was calling but didn’t deploy that equipment, fearing they would be accused of domestic spying.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It is unclear why concerns about domestic spying allegations would prevent the NSA from passing the information on to the FBI. Almihdhar and Alhazmi were not US citizens, but foreign nationals who had entered the US illegally claiming to be tourists. In addition, there was a wealth of evidence connecting them to al-Qaeda (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). In any event, the NSA did reportedly disseminate dispatches about some of these US calls (see Spring-Summer 2000). Some FBI officials will later profess not to know what went wrong and why they were not notified of the hijackers’ presence in the US by other agencies. A senior counterterrorism official will say: “I don’t know if they got half the conversation or none of it or hung up or whatever. All I can tell you is we didn’t get anything from it—we being the people at the FBI who could have done something about it. So were they sitting on it? I don’t know.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The US intelligence community, through the CIA, also had access to the phone company’s records for the Yemeni communications hub, which would have shown what numbers were being called in the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002).
April 13, 2004: Attorney General Blames ‘Wall’ for 9/11 Failures, but 9/11 Commission Believes He Is Exaggerating
Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly testifies before the 9/11 Commission, claims there was no program to kill Osama bin Laden before 9/11, and blames the “wall” (see July 19, 1995) for the 9/11 attacks. Ashcroft says, “Let me be clear: my thorough review revealed no covert action program to kill bin Laden.” However, the 9/11 Commission has already found a Memorandum of Notification signed by President Clinton in 1998 after the embassy bombings that allowed CIA assets to kill bin Laden, and two commissioners, Fred Fielding and Richard Ben-Veniste, point this out to Ashcroft. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485] The attorney general comments, “The single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the ‘wall’ that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents. Government erected this ‘wall.’ Government buttressed this ‘wall.’ And before September 11, government was blinded by this ‘wall.’” The wall was a set of procedures that regulated the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and prosecutors to ensure that information obtained using warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would not be thrown out from criminal cases (see July 19, 1995). Ashcroft says that the wall impeded the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui and that a “warrant was rejected because FBI officials feared breaching the ‘wall.’” (Note: two applications to search Moussaoui’s belongings were prepared. The first was not submitted because it was thought to be “shaky” (see August 21, 2001). The second warrant application was prepared as a part of an intelligence investigation under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, so it was not affected by the “wall” (see August 28, 2001)). According to Ashcroft, the wall also impeded the search for hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi because criminal investigators were not allowed to join in. However, the 9/11 Commission will find that they could legally have helped, but were prevented from doing so by FBI headquarters (see August 29, 2001). Ashcroft asserts that 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick was responsible for the wall. He cites a document he just declassified that had been written by Gorelick to deal with the two 1993 WTC bombing cases (see March 4, 1995). That document becomes known as the “wall memo.” However, this memo only governed the two WTC cases; all other cases were governed by a different, but similar memo written by Attorney General Janet Reno a few months later (see July 19, 1995). [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004] 9/11 Commission chairmen Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton will say that the “attorney general’s claim was overstated,” and that the two 1995 memos only codified a set of procedures that already existed (see Early 1980s). During questioning, Republican 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gorton points out that Ashcroft’s deputy reaffirmed the procedures in an August 2001 memo that stated, “The 1995 procedures remain in effect today” (see August 6, 2001). [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 194-6]
July 2004: Report on FBI’s 9/11 Failures Is Completed, But Remains Unreleased Until After Presidential Election
In November 2002, as the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry was finishing its investigation, it had formally asked for a report by the Justice Department (which oversees the FBI) to determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. An identical request was made to the CIA (see June-November 2004). [New York Times, 9/14/2004] The Justice Department report, titled “A Review of the FBI’s Handling of Intelligence Information Related to the September 11 Attacks,” is completed this month. [Washington Post, 4/30/2005] It centers on three FBI failures before 9/11: the failure to follow up on the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001), the failure to follow up on FBI agent Ken Williams’ memo (see July 10, 2001) warning about Islamic militants training in US flight schools, and the FBI’s failure to follow up on many leads to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. The report provides some new details about miscommunications, inaction, and other problems. [New York Times, 9/14/2004] The report remains classified. Senior Senate Judiciary Committee members Patrick Leahy (D) and Charles Grassley (R) call for its release. The senators state, “While the needs of national security must be weighed seriously, we fear the designation of information as classified, in some cases, serves to protect the executive branch against embarrassing revelations and full accountability. We hope that is not the case here.” [Washington Times, 7/12/2004; New York Times, 9/14/2004] One problem complicating the issuing of even a declassified version is the possibility that the material would taint the criminal proceedings against Zacarias Moussaoui. In early 2005, the Justice Department inspector general’s office will ask the judge presiding over Moussaoui’s case for permission to release a declassified version of the report. But the judge will turn down the request in April 2005, even after Moussaoui pleads guilty (see April 30, 2005). The report will finally be released in June 2005 without the section on Moussaoui (see June 9, 2005). [New York Times, 2/13/2005]
August 3, 2004: Al-Qaeda Suspect Arrrested in Britain; Suspected of Planning Major Attacks
Dhiren Barot, a Londoner of Indian descent who converted to Islam and fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is arrested along with about a dozen other al-Qaeda suspects by British authorities (see August 3, 2004). Barot, who uses a number of pseudonyms, including Abu Eissa al-Hindi, will be charged with several crimes surrounding his plans to launch attacks against British and US targets. Barot’s plans were discovered in a computer owned by al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was arrested in July 2004 and was helping US intelligence until his outing by US and Pakistani officials on August 2, 2004 (see August 2, 2004). Though Barot is not believed to be a high-level al-Qaeda operative, he has connections to some of al-Qaeda’s most notorious leaders, including bin Laden and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who, according to the 9/11 Commission, dispatched him to “case” targets in New York City in 2001. Under the alias Issa al-Britani, he is known to have been sent to Malaysia in late 1999 or very early 2000 by KSM to meet with Hambali, the head of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah. According to the commission report, Barot may have given Hambali the names of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Barot may have traveled to Malaysia with Khallad bin Attash. Bin Attash is believed to be one of the planners behind the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Barot’s trip to Malaysia came just days before the well-documented January 2000 al-Qaeda summit where early plans for the 9/11 bombings were hatched (see January 5-8, 2000), though US officials do not believe that Barot was present at that meeting. British authorities believe that Barot was part of an al-Qaeda plan to launch a mass terror attack using chemical and/or radioactive weapons. Barot and other suspects arrested were, according to Western officials, in contact with al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, who themselves were communicating with bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders as recently as July 2004. [MSNBC, 8/20/2004] Barot’s plans seem to have focused more actively on British targets, including London’s subway system. In November 2006, Barot will be convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes, and eventually sentenced to thirty years in prison by a British court. [BBC, 11/7/2006; BBC, 5/16/2007]
August 21, 2004: 9/11 Commission Confused Over Hijackers’ ID Documents
The 9/11 Commission attempts to make a list of all identity documents obtained by the hijackers, but its account, contained mostly in its Terrorist Travel Monograph, may be incomplete:
- The Commission says several of the hijackers obtained USA ID cards in the summer of 2001 (see (July-August 2001)), although at least one, and possibly more of the cards is fake, and this is not mentioned by the Commission. According to it, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Abdulaziz Alomari obtained their cards on July 10. However, the Commission gives conflicting dates for Salem Alhazmi, Majed Moqed, and Ahmed Alghamdi. For example, in one place it says Alghamdi got his card in July and in another it says he got it in August. At least one card, that of Khalid Almihdhar, is fake and ID forger Mohamed el-Atriss will be arrested after 9/11 and sentenced to jail for forging IDs for the hijackers (see (July-August 2001) and November 2002-June 2003). The Commission further says that the Alhazmi brothers’ cards were “found in the rubble at the Pentagon,” citing a US Secret Service report. Although an image of a damaged USA ID card belonging to Nawaf Alhazmi will be produced as evidence at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, according to the 9/11 Commission Salem Alhazmi was unable to produce any photo ID when checking in for his flight on 9/11 (see (7:25 a.m.-7:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so it is unclear how his card came to be at the Pentagon. In addition, in the Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph, the mention of Salem Alhazmi’s card in the list of hijackers’ ID will be followed by a reference to an endnote. However, this endnote is missing; [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 27-29, 31-32, 34-44 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]
- FBI Director Robert Mueller will later say that the six hijackers who obtained USA ID cards plus Mohamed Atta obtained unspecified identification cards in Paterson, New Jersey (see July 2001). However, it is unclear whether this statement refers to the USA ID cards, or a different set of ID cards not mentioned by the 9/11 Commission;
- The Commission will say that Satam al-Suqami did not obtain any ID document in the US, which is why he had to take his passport on his final flight. The passport was found shortly after the plane he was traveling on hit the WTC (see September 12, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 27-29, 31-32, 34-44 pdf file] However, Florida media reported a man named Satam al Suqami obtained a Florida ID card on July 3, 2001, around the same time as several other hijackers obtained similar cards; [St. Petersburg Times, 9/16/2001]
- Ahmed Alhaznawi had a Florida’s driver’s license and two duplicates. Although the Commission mentions the original license and second duplicate, it does not mention the first one, issued on July 24, 2004. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 28, 32, 33 pdf file]
September 7, 2004: Senator Bob Graham Claims Cover Up of Saudi Connection to Two 9/11 Hijackers
Senator Bob Graham (D) alleges that the White House has covered up possible Saudi Arabian government connections to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. In an interview to promote his new book entitled “Intelligence Matters,” he contends that evidence relating to these two hijackers who lived in San Diego “present[s] a compelling case that there was Saudi assistance” to the 9/11 plot. He also concludes that President Bush directed the FBI “to restrain and obfuscate” investigations into these ties, possibly to protect US-Saudi relations. The San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “Graham co-chaired the exhaustive congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks and is privy to still-classified information about the probe.” Graham claims that Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan are Saudi intelligence agents. He also claims that the FBI deliberately blocked his inquiry’s attempts to interview Abdussattar Shaikh, the FBI asset who was a landlord to the above-mentioned hijackers (see November 18, 2002). The questions the inquiry wanted to ask Shaikh went unanswered because of FBI maneuvering. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004; Copley News, 9/7/2004]
June 9, 2005: Report on FBI Failures Finally Released
The report by Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn Fine, completed in July 2004, is finally released (see July 2004). It states that the inability to detect the 9/11 hijacking plot amounts to a “significant failure” by the FBI and was caused in large part by “widespread and longstanding deficiencies” in the way the agency handled terrorism and intelligence cases. In one particularly notable finding, the report concluded that the FBI missed at least five chances to detect the presence of two of the suicide hijackers—Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar—after they first entered the United States in early 2000. The report states, “While we do not know what would have happened had the FBI learned sooner or pursued its investigation more aggressively, the FBI lost several important opportunities to find [Alh]azmi and [Alm]ihdhar before the September 11 attacks.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 6/10/2005]
December 17, 2005: Bush Acknowledges Authorizing Warrantless Wiretapping by NSA, Accuses Media of Jeopardizing National Security by Reporting Illegal Surveillance
President Bush acknowledges that he issued a 2002 executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap US citizens’ phones and e-mails without proper warrants, and accuses the New York Times of jeopardizing national security by publishing its December 15 article (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Bush says he was within the law to issue such an order, which many feel shatters fundamental Constitutional guarantees of liberty and privacy, but accuses the Times of breaking the law by publishing the article. Bush tells listeners during his weekly radio address that the executive order is “fully consistent” with his “constitutional responsibilities and authorities.” But, he continues, “Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.” He admits allowing the NSA to “to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations[dq] in a program designed to [dq]detect and prevent terrorist attacks.” Under the law, the NSA must obtain warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, but after Bush’s executive order, it was no longer required to do so. Bush justifies the order by citing the example of two 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who, he says, “communicated while they were in the United States to other members of al-Qaeda who were overseas, but we didn’t know they were here until it was too late.” Because of the unconstitutional wiretapping program, it is “more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time, and the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.” Bush also admits to reauthorizing the program “more than thirty times,” and adds, “I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al-Qaeda and related groups.” [CNN, 12/16/2005]
2006: Some FBI Agents Believe CIA and Saudi Intelligence Attempted to Recruit Hijackers Almihdhar and Alhazmi
After 9/11 there was much discussion about how hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were able to participate in an operation like 9/11, even though they were well known to US intelligence (see, for example, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001 and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001). Based on conversations with FBI agents, author Lawrence Wright speculates on why the CIA withheld information it should have given the FBI: “Some… members of the I-49 squad would later come to believe that the [CIA] was shielding Almihdhar and Alhazmi because it hoped to recruit them… [They] must have seemed like attractive opportunities; however, once they entered the United States they were the province of the FBI. The CIA has no legal authority to operate inside the country, although in fact, the bureau often caught the agency running backdoor operations in the United States… It is also possible, as some FBI investigators suspect, the CIA was running a joint venture with Saudi intelligence in order to get around that restriction. Of course, it is also illegal for foreign intelligence services to operate in the United States, but they do so routinely.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 312-313] This theory offers a possible explanation, for example, of how Almihdhar and Alhazmi managed to move in and out of Saudi Arabia and obtain US visas there even though they were supposedly on the Saudi watch list (see April 3-7, 1999 and 1997), and why a Saudi agent in the US associated with them (see January 15-Early February 2000). Wright points out that “these are only theories” but still notes that “[h]alf the guys in the Bureau think CIA was trying to turn them to get inside al-Qaeda.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 313; Media Channel, 9/5/2006] Wright is not the first to have made such a suggestion. Investigative journalist Joe Trento reported in 2003 that a former US intelligence agent had told him that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were already Saudi Arabian intelligence agents when they entered the US (see August 6, 2003).