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Early 1997: CIA Unit Determines Bin Laden Is Serious Threat, But Cooperation Is Poor Edit
By the start of 1997, Alec Station, the CIA unit created the year before to focus entirely on bin Laden [see 1], is certain that bin Laden is not just a financier but an organizer of terrorist activity.
However, although this information is disseminated in many reports, the unit’s sense of alarm about bin Laden isn’t widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities. Employees in the unit feel their zeal attracts ridicule from their peers. [9/11 COMMISSION, 3/24/2004] Some higher-ups begin to deride the unit as hysterical doomsayers, and refer to the unit as “The Manson Family .”
Michael Scheuer, head of the unit until 1999, has an abrasive style. He and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke do not get along and do not work well together. Scheuer also does not get along with John O’Neill, the FBI’s most knowledgeable agent regarding bin Laden. The FBI and Alec Station rarely share information, and at one point an FBI agent is caught stuffing some of the unit’s files under his shirt to take back to O’Neill. [VANITY FAIR, 11/2004]
Early 1997: Leading Radical Imam Abu Hamza Begins Working with British Security ServicesEdit
London-based imam Abu Hamza al-Masri starts working with two branches of the British security services, the police’s Special Branch and MI5. The relationships continue for several years and there are at least seven meetings between Abu Hamza and MI5 between 1997 and 2000 [see 3]. Based on records of the meetings, authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will describe the relationship as “respectful, polite, and often cooperative.”
One theme in the meetings, which take place at Abu Hamza’s home and the Finsbury Park mosque, is that the security services tell Abu Hamza that they do not want any trouble and ask him to tone down some of his more inflammatory comments. Abu Hamza listens politely, but always replies he is committed to jihad. However, over this period Abu Hamza’s rhetoric changes subtly, and he begins attacking “Zionists,” rather than simply “Jews.” Abu Hamza will later say that he asks security officers if his sermons are inappropriate, and they reply, “No, freedom of speech, you don’t have to worry unless we see blood on the streets.”
Abu Hamza provides the security services with information about the ideology of various extremist factions, as well as “tidbits” of information about others, although in one case he provides specific intelligence that leads to the detention of two terrorist suspects. He also likes to “tell tales” about one of his rival preachers, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, and his Al-Muhajiroun organization.
Sometimes Abu Hamza asks for favors from his handlers. For example, on one occasion he requests the release of some associates after promising that they are not a threat in Britain.
Abu Hamza will tell his aides that he is “beyond the reach of British law,” and will neglect to pay the mosque’s electricity and water bills. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment:
“Increasingly, Abu Hamza acted as if Finsbury Park had divorced itself from Britain and was operating as an independent Muslim state. He contacted extremist groups, offering his services as an ambassador for them in [Britain] and presenting the mosque as a place of guaranteed asylum.”
Early 1997: Four Embassy Bombers Worked for Monitored Charity that Could Be CIA Front Edit
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), one of the key bombers in the 1998 African embassy bombings, works for the charity Mercy International for a time in Kenya. He then joins Help Africa People, a charity front created by Wadih El-Hage, another key embassy bomber. [UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V. USAMA BIN LADEN, ET AL., DAY 20, 3/20/2001]
In 2008, the Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation will post some articles about the African embassy bombings based on declassified documents. One article will reveal that in early 1997, Fazul brought three more al-Qaeda operatives, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, Abdallah Nacha, and Mohamed al-Owhali, into Kenya. All three were also working with Mercy International, but were on temporary loan to Help Africa People.
All of them will go on to play important roles in the embassy bombings. [DAILY NATION, 8/2/2008; DAILY NATION, 8/2/2008] From late 1996 until the embassy bombings, minus a few months near the start of 1998, US intelligence is monitoring two phone numbers at Mercy International’s Kenya office[see 4], so it seems probable that the US would be aware of these men. In 1999, it will be alleged that the US-based Mercy International is actually a CIA front [see 5].
Early 1997: Algerian Informer Hired by French Intelligence in London Edit
The co-operation is initiated by Hassaine, who goes to the French embassy in London and says he has information about the 1995 Paris metro bombings. Hassaine’s French handler, known only as “Jerome,” wants to know the names of everybody at the Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of extremism where Abu Hamza al-Masri is the imam. Hassaine is shown “hundreds and hundreds of photographs,” and the French appear to have photographed “everyone with a beard in London—even if you were an Irishman with a red beard they took your photograph.” Hassaine’s busiest day of the week is Friday, when he has to hear Abu Hamza pray at Finsbury Park mosque, as well as making a mental note of any announcements and collecting a copy of the Algerian militant newsletter Al Ansar. [O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 124, 133-134]
Early 1997-Late 1998: Hijazi Turns Informant for Boston FBI Investigation on Heroin from Afghanistan Edit
Raed Hijazi, an al-Qaeda operative later convicted in Jordan for attempting to blow up hotels there, is living and working in Boston with Nabil al-Marabh. According to an FBI source described in media reports as both “reliable” and “high-level,” Hijazi is approached by FBI agents investigating a drug-trafficking network bringing in white heroin from Afghanistan. According to the source, Hijazi becomes “a willing informant” about the network. The source will claim that Hijazi also provided information about “Arab terrorists and terrorist sympathizers,” but the agents were more interested in the heroin trade. [WCVB 5 (BOSTON), 10/16/2001]
The timing of this is unclear, but it must have occurred between early 1997 and late 1998, the only time Hijazi lived in Boston [see 7]. An FBI spokeswoman will decline to comment on the issue except to say, “Based on the reporting, I would question [Hijazi’s] reliability [as an informant].” [BOSTON HERALD, 10/17/2001]
1997-Late Spring 2001: Investigation into Al-Qaeda Linked-Charity Based in Chicago Hindered by FBI Headquarters Edit
The Global Relief Foundation (GRF) was incorporated in Bridgeview, Illinois, in 1992. The US government will later claim that its founders had previously worked with Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/ Al-Kifah, which was the precursor to al-Qaeda [see 8].
After discovering a series of calls between GRF officials and others with terrorist links, the Chicago office opens a full field investigation in 1997. FBI agents begin physically monitoring the GRF office and searching through its trash. But the Chicago agents are repeatedly obstructed by FBI headquarters, which takes six months to a year to approve routine requests such as searches for GRF’s telephone and bank records. The Chicago agents get more help from foreign countries where the GRF has offices, and largely based on this overseas information, they conclude the GRF is funding terrorism overseas.
They submit a request for a FISA warrant to step up surveillance, but it takes a full year for the warrant to be approved. After getting the approval, they begin electronic surveillance as well. By late 1999, they are convinced that the GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade is a member of both Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and al-Qaeda. For instance, Chehade called a mujaheddin leader closely tied to bin Laden, and there were calls between GRF and Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s former personal secretary and one of the 1998 African embassy bombers.
Searching through GRF’s trash, the agents find evidence that GRF has bought sophisticated military-style handheld radios and sent them to Chechnya. By the start of 2001, the agents are convinced that GRF is funding militant groups, but they are unable to prove where the money is going overseas. They cannot make a formal request for bank records in other countries because they are conducting an intelligence investigation, not a criminal investigation. The Chicago agents want to travel to Europe to meet with officials investigating GRF there, but they are not allowed to go. Their superiors site budget constraints.
In late spring 2001, the FISA warrant is not extended, effectively ending any chance the FBI could act against GRF before 9/11. No reason has been given why the warrant was not extended, but around this time FBI headquarters do not even submit a valid FISA application for GRF put forth by the FBI’s Detroit office [see 10].
The GRF’s offices in the US and overseas will be shut down shortly after 9/11 [see 11]. In 2004, it will be reported that Chehade is still living in the US and has not been charged with any crimes. [METRO TIMES, 3/17/2004]
January 1997: Reporter Sees Radical London Imam Bakri Leading British Training Camp Edit
Ronson’s footage of Omar Bakri Mohammed, left, leading followers in prayer inside the Scout hut. [Source: Jon Ronson] Reporter Jon Ronson is making a documentary about Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical London imam and leader of the militant group Al-Muhajiroun, and is allowed to attend a training camp meeting led by Bakri. Ronson is taken to a well-stocked gym in a Scout hut in a forestry center near Crawley, Britain. There are punchbags, treadmills, and a TV that is showing videos promoting militant action. Ronson watches as Bakri gives a lecture in front of about 30 young men. Bakri tells his audience: “There is a time when a military struggle must take place in [Britain]. Jihad. It’s called conquering. One day, without question, [Britain] is going to be governed by Islam.… You must be ready to defend yourselves militarily.” Ronson, who has a humorous edge to his reporting, calls the place Bakri’s “secret jihad training camp,” not believing that “Bakri’s people were violent or motivated enough to actually initiate a jihad or commit acts of terrorism.” But he will later find he is incorrect. For instance, Omar Khyam will get interested in radical Islam in late 1998, and soon join Al-Muhajiroun. He and other members of the group will be sentenced to life in prison after attempting to build a large fertilizer bomb in 2004 (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [GUARDIAN, 4/30/2007] In late 2000, Bakri will say he has recruited 600 to 700 volunteers for jihad in the last few years (see December 10, 2000). Entity Tags: Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Jon Ronson, Al-Muhajiroun, Omar Khyam Category Tags: Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism, Omar Bakri & Al-Muhajiroun
January 1997: Mystery Informant Confirms Al-Qaeda’s Inner Workings In mid-1996, Jamal al-Fadl will walk into a US embassy in Eritrea, defect from al-Qaeda, and become a key informant for the US about al-Qaeda’s inner workings and leadership (see June 1996-April 1997). The 9/11 Commission’s final report will later mention, “Corroborating evidence [to al-Fadl’s revelations] came from another walk-in source at a different US embassy.” [9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 109] Nothing more has been publicly revealed about this other defector, except for a 9/11 Commission footnote mentioning that the information about his defection comes from a January 1997 CIA cable. [9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 479] This person does not seem to be L’Houssaine Kherchtou, another al-Qaeda defector from around this time, since the 9/11 Commission mentions him by name elsewhere in their final report, and he does not talk to the US until mid-2000 (see Summer 2000). [9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 62] This also does not fit the profile of Essam al Ridi, another al-Qaeda informant, who does not get into contact with US officials until after the embassy bombings in 1998. [RADIO FREE EUROPE, 9/10/2006] The 9/11 Commission also notes that, “More confirmation [about al-Fadl’s revelations] was supplied later that year by intelligence and other sources, including material gathered by FBI agents and Kenyan police from an al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi” (see August 21, 1997). [9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 109] Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, 9/11 Commission Category Tags: Counterterrorism Action Before 9/11, Other Possible Moles or Informants
1997-September 11, 2001: US Knows Swiss Bank Funds Hamas and Top Al-Qaeda Leaders, Yet Considers Bank ‘Low Priority’
The Al Taqwa Bank had offices in this building in Lugano, Italy, on the border with Switzerland. [Source: Keystone] Newsweek will later claim that US investigators “on bin Laden’s trail” had known about the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland and its support for al-Qaeda “for years. But the group’s mazelike structure made it hard to track, and the Feds considered it a low priority.” A senior Treasury official later will tell Congress that US investigators learned in 1997 that Hamas had transferred $60 million into accounts at the Al Taqwa Bank. Also in 1997, US investigators learn the names of many Al Taqwa shareholders. Many of them turn out to be rich and powerful Arabs, including members of the bin Laden family and members of the Kuwaiti royal family (see 1997-December 1999). Newsweek later will claim that, “The US took a harder look at Al Taqwa after the [1998 US] embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Sources say US intelligence tracked telephone contacts between Al Taqwa and members of bin Laden’s inner circle. Al-Qaeda operatives would call Al Taqwa representatives in the Bahamas as they moved around the world. Still, the network’s complex structure made it difficult to prove how money changed hands, and the investigation stalled. Under US pressure, the Bahamian government revoked Al Taqwa’s license [in the spring of 2001]. Treasury officials say the network continued to do business anyway.” [NEWSWEEK, 3/18/2002] The US will declare Al Taqwa a terrorist financier two months after 9/11 (see November 7, 2001). Entity Tags: Hamas, US Department of the Treasury, Al Taqwa Bank, US Congress, Al-Qaeda Category Tags: Al Taqwa Bank, Terrorism Financing
1997-September 1999: FAA Finds Repeated Security Violations at Airport Later Used by Ten Hijackers The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finds at least 136 security violations at Boston’s Logan Airport between 1997 and early 1999. Flights 11 and 175 will depart from Logan on 9/11. Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport, is fined $178,000 for these breaches, which include failing to screen baggage properly and easy access to parked planes. In summer 1999, a teenager is able to climb over the airport’s security fence, walk two miles across the tarmac, board a 747, and fly on it to London. In September 1999, the Boston Globe finds that doors are often left open at the airport, making it possible for potentially anyone to gain access to planes on the ground. [BOSTON GLOBE, 9/12/2001; WASHINGTON POST, 9/12/2001] After 9/11, an analysis by the Boston Globe will conclude that Logan’s security record is “dismal” (see 1991-2000). [BOSTON GLOBE, 9/26/2001] Entity Tags: Massachusetts Port Authority, Logan Airport, Federal Aviation Administration Category Tags: US Air Security
1997-December 1999: FBI and Swiss Fail to Act Against Suspicious Bank and Its Shareholders
Yousuf Abdullah Al-Qaradawi. [Source: Zuma Press/ Newscom] In December 1999, the FBI apparently discovers a list of shareholders in the Al Taqwa Bank that reflects holdings in the bank at that time. The list is later confirmed as authentic by both US and Al Taqwa officials. It contains over 700 names. Youssef Nada, the president of Al Taqwa, will claim that the FBI knew the essential contents of the list in 1997, the same year they learned of other ties between the bank and officially designated terrorist groups (see 1997-September 11, 2001). [SALON, 3/15/2002] Names on the list include:
Yousuf Abdullah Al-Qaradawi, the grand mufti of the United Arab Emirates, and five members of his family. Qaradawi is said to be a high-ranking member of the Muslim Brotherhood and has made statements supporting suicide bombings against Israel (see 1986-October 1999). Huta and Iman bin Laden, sisters of Osama bin Laden. Salon notes that the presence of their names on the list “undermin[es] the bin Laden family’s claim that it separated itself from [Osama’s] terrorist pursuits after he was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1994.” Other bin Laden family members. For instance, Ghalib Mohammad Binladin, a brother of Osama, sues Al Taqwa in 1999 for failing to pay him a claim (the suit is thrown out of court.) [NEWSWEEK, 11/7/2001] Unnamed members of Hamas, which the US declared a terrorist group in 1995. Members of Kuwait’s royal family. Hassan el-Banna, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. (A man with this name founded the Muslim Brotherhood but died in 1949; this may be one of his descendants.) Other names on the list are said to be connected to organizations linked to al-Qaeda. Swiss officials later will admit that they were aware of reports connecting Al Taqwa to terrorist groups, but will claim they never had enough evidence to obtain a search warrant. However, no effective action is taken against the bank or anyone on the list. [SALON, 3/15/2002] The Al Taqwa Bank is said to have amassed $229 million in capital by 1997. In 1995, one of the bank’s directors said that oil-rich Saudi families “are very active” in using the bank. The bank will be shut down after 9/11, when US officials will charge it with funding al-Qaeda and other US-designated terrorist groups (see November 7, 2001). [BOSTON HERALD, 11/8/2001]
Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Iman bin Laden, Hassan el-Banna, Hamas, Al Taqwa Bank, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ghalib Mohammad Binladin, Huta bin Laden, Yousuf Abdullah Al-Qaradawi Category Tags: Saudi Arabia, Terrorism Financing, Al Taqwa Bank, Bin Laden Family
1997-July 2001: Hanjour Associate Wanted for FBI Investigation but Not Put on Watch List Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour begins associating with an unnamed individual who is later mentioned in FBI agent Ken Williams’s famous “Phoenix memo” (see July 10, 2001). Hanjour and this individual train at flight schools in Arizona (see October 1996-December 1997 and 1998). Several flight instructors will later note that the two were associates and may have carpooled together. They are known to share the same airplane on one occasion in 1999, and are at the school together on other occasions. The unnamed individual leaves the US in April 2000. In May 2001, the FBI attempts to investigate this person, but after finding out that he has left the US, it declines to open a formal investigation. The person’s name is not placed on a watch list, so the FBI is unaware that he returns in June and stays in the US for another month. By this time, he is an experienced flight instructor who is certified to fly Boeing 737s. The FBI speculates he may return to evaluate Hanjour’s flying skills or provide final training before 9/11. There is considerable circumstantial evidence placing this person near Hanjour in July 2001. [US CONGRESS, 7/24/2003 ] This unnamed individual may be Lofti Raissi, as several details match him perfectly. For instance, Raissi is a flight instructor who left the US in April 2000, is later accused of having shared an airplane with Hanjour in 1999, and is accused of being with Hanjour in July 2001. [GUARDIAN, 1/31/2002] In addition, according to FBI investigators, Raissi engages in a number of suspicious activities during this period that will justify scrutiny after 9/11. For example, in June 2000, while training at a British flight school, he reportedly asks, “if a plane flies into a building, whether it is the responsibility of the airline or the pilot,” and warns that “America will get theirs.” [9/11 COMMISSION, 1/5/2004] Raissi will be arrested in Britain after 9/11 and accused of training Hanjour and other hijackers how to fly, but the case against him will collapse in April 2002. He will be released, and many of the allegations against him will be withdrawn (see September 21, 2001). No media accounts will report that Raissi was mentioned in the Phoenix memo or wanted for an FBI investigation before 9/11. Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hani Hanjour, Lotfi Raissi Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline Category Tags: Hani Hanjour, Alleged Hijackers' Flight Training, Phoenix Memo
1997-Early 1999: Islamist Militants Increase Power in Chechnya, Leading to Chaos and In-Fighting In 1996, rebel forces in Chechnya outlasted the Russian army and were able to effectively achieve a de facto independence from Russia (see August 1996). Aslan Maskhadov wins presidential elections in early 1997. But in-fighting amongst the victorious Chechen forces begins, and Maskhadov struggles for control against a number of field commanders and local chieftains. In particular, one powerful Chechen warlord named Shamil Basayev quits Maskhadov’s government and joins up with Ibn Khattab, a Saudi who only recently moved to Chechnya and built up his own forces (see February 1995-1996). [WASHINGTON POST, 3/10/2000] Khattab is an Islamist who leads many foreigners fighting in Chechnya as a jihad cause. Basayev, while Chechen, trained in a militant training camp in Pakistan around 1990 and is sympathetic to Khattab’s religious cause. [BBC, 3/20/2000] The Washington Post will later comment: “Islamic extremists figured hardly at all in Chechnya’s first war for independence from Russia, from 1994 to 1996. That was clearly a nationalist movement. But when that war ended with no clear winner, Chechnya lay in ruins, presenting fertile ground for Islamic militants.” [WASHINGTON POST, 9/26/2001] Russia tries to bolster the Maskhadov government by sending it arms and funds and even training its troops. Several assassination attempts are made against him and he is saved twice by an armored limousine Russia provides him with. Kidnappings for ransom become the order of the day. Between 1997 and 1999, more than 1,000 people are kidnapped in Chechnya. [WASHINGTON POST, 3/10/2000] In June 1998, amid growing lawlessness, Maskhadov imposes a state of emergency. But this does not restore order. Radical Islamists led by Basayev and Khattab are growing more popular. In January 1999, Maskhadov gives in to pressure and declares that Sharia (strict Islamic law) will be phased in over three years. But this is not good enough for the Islamists, who announce the formation of a rival body to govern Chechnya according to Sharia immediately, and call on Maskhadov to relinquish the presidency. [BBC, 3/12/2008] Entity Tags: Shamil Basayev, Ibn Khattab, Aslan Maskhadov Category Tags: Islamist Militancy in Chechnya
(1997-2002): State Department Official Allegedly Helps Turkish and Israelis Plant ‘Moles’ in Nuclear Facilities Edit
An unnamed high-ranking State Department official helps a nuclear smuggling ring connected to Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan and Pakistan’s ISI to plant “moles” in US military and academic institutions that handle nuclear technology, according to FBI translator Sibel Edmonds. Edmonds will later leave the FBI, becoming a whistleblower, and say she knows this based on telephone conversations she translated shortly after 9/11. The moles, mostly Ph.D students, are planted by Turkish and Israeli elements in the network, which obtains nuclear technology for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and for re-sale by Khan. Edmonds will later say she thinks there are several transactions of nuclear material every month: “I heard at least three transactions like this over a period of 2½ years. There are almost certainly more.” She will also say that the network appears to obtain information “from every nuclear agency in the United States.” The State Department official apparently arranges security clearance for some of the moles, enabling them to work in sensitive nuclear research facilities, including the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory in New Mexico, which is responsible for the security of the US nuclear deterrent. [SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 1/6/2008] The high-ranking State Department official who is not named by Britain’s Sunday Times is said to be Marc Grossman by both Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story and former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, writing in the American Conservative. [RAW STORY, 1/20/2008; AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE, 1/28/2008; AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE, 11/1/2009] Entity Tags: US Department of State, Sibel Edmonds, Philip Giraldi, Larisa Alexandrovna, Marc Grossman, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Federal Bureau of Investigation Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network Category Tags: Sibel Edmonds, Israel, Pakistani Nukes & Islamic Militancy
After December 1996: CIA Builds Own Listening Post to Obtain Half of Intelligence NSA Already Has, but Refuses to Share The CIA builds a ground station to intercept calls between Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda’s operations centre in Yemen. [ATLANTIC MONTHLY, 12/2004; ANTIWAR, 10/22/2008; PBS, 2/3/2009] According to author James Bamford, the station is “in the Indian Ocean area, I think it was on Madagascar.” [ANTIWAR, 10/22/2008] The NSA is already intercepting the calls, but refuses to share the raw intelligence with the CIA (see February 1996-May 1998 and December 1996), which is why the agency has to build the station. However, the CIA is only able to get half the conversations, because its technology is not as good as the NSA’s. [ATLANTIC MONTHLY, 12/2004; ANTIWAR, 10/22/2008; PBS, 2/3/2009] Bamford will add, “they were only picking up half of the conversations, apparently it was downlink, they weren’t able to get the uplink, you need a satellite.” [ANTIWAR, 10/22/2008] Presumably, Bamford means the CIA is getting the half of the calls featuring the person talking to bin Laden, but cannot hear the Afghan end of the conversation. To get the other half of the Afghanistan-Yemen calls the CIA would need a satellite. [PBS, 2/3/2009] Entity Tags: James Bamford, Michael Scheuer, National Security Agency, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency Category Tags: Remote Surveillance, Yemen Hub
1997-May 29, 1998: US Creates Plan to Capture Bin Laden, but CIA Director Tenet Cancels It
Imagery of bin Laden’s Tarnak Farms compound prepared for the aborted operation. [Source: CBC] In 1997 and early 1998, the US develops a plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. A CIA-owned aircraft is stationed in a nearby country, ready to land on a remote landing strip long enough to pick him up. However, problems with having to hold bin Laden too long in Afghanistan make the operation unlikely. The plan morphs into using a team of Afghan informants to kidnap bin Laden from inside his heavily defended Tarnak Farm complex. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, calls the plan “the perfect operation.” Gary Schroen, the lead CIA officer in the field, agrees, and gives it about a 40 percent chance of succeeding. [CLARKE, 2004, PP. 220-221; WASHINGTON POST, 2/22/2004; VANITY FAIR, 11/2004] The Pentagon also reviews the plan, finding it well crafted. In addition, there is “plausible denialability,” as the US could easily distance itself from the raid. Scheuer will comment, “It was the perfect capture operation becauase even if it went completely wrong and people got killed, there was no evidence of a US hand.” [SHENON, 2008, PP. 192] However, higher-ups at the CIA are skeptical of the plan and worry that innocent civilians might die. The plan is given to CIA Director George Tenet for approval, but he rejects it without showing it to President Clinton. He considers it unlikely to succeed and decides the Afghan allies are too unreliable. [CLARKE, 2004, PP. 220-221; WASHINGTON POST, 2/22/2004; VANITY FAIR, 11/2004] Additionally, earlier in May 1998, the Saudis promised to try to bribe the Taliban and try bin Laden themselves, and apparently Tenet preferred this plan (see May 1998). Scheuer is furious. After 9/11 he will complain, “We had more intelligence against this man and organization than we ever had on any other group we ever called a terrorist group, and definitive and widely varied [intelligence] across all the ends, and I could not understand why they didn’t take the chance.” [VANITY FAIR, 11/2004] There will be later speculation that the airstrip used for these purposes is occupied and will be used as a base of operations early in the post-9/11 Afghan war. [WASHINGTON POST, 12/19/2001] Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Alec Station Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden
1997-Shortly Before September 11, 2001: Jarrah Associates with Suspicious Radical Monitored by German Intelligence
Ziad Jarrah. [Source: Reuters] When traveling with a radical associate known to be monitored by German intelligence, Abdulrahman al-Makhadi (see Late 1996 or After), Ziad Jarrah meets another suspicious Islamic radical. The man, a convert, is known in public accounts only as Marcel K and is the vice president of the Islamic center in North-Rhine Westphalia. In March 2001, the Bundeskriminalamt federal criminal service will begin investigating the center’s president with respect to membership in a terrorist organization. Marcel K is apparently a close confidant of Jarrah, because Jarrah always calls him before taking important decisions, for example when he leaves to train in Afghanistan and when he applies for admission to US flight schools. He will also call Marcel K during his pilot training, for the last time shortly before 9/11. [FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG (FRANKFURT), 2/2/2003] Marcel K will be arrested in a Europe-wide sweep of Islamic militants in February 2003. [DEUTSCHE WELLE (BONN), 2/6/2003; TAGESSPEIGEL, 2/7/2003; NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE, 2/7/2003] It is not known what happens to him after this. Entity Tags: “Marcel K”, Bundeskriminalamt Germany, Ziad Jarrah Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline Category Tags: Ziad Jarrah, Al-Qaeda in Germany, Remote Surveillance, Key Hijacker Events
After December 1996: After CIA Obtains Half of Bin Laden’s Calls Itself, NSA Still Refuses to Provide Other Half The CIA again asks the NSA for part of the transcripts of calls between Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda’s operations center in Yemen. The NSA has been intercepting the calls for some time (see Between May and December 1996), but refuses to share the intelligence with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, in usable form (see December 1996). During the calls, the al-Qaeda operatives talk in a simplistic code, but the NSA apparently does not decrypt the conversations, and only gives Alec Station meaningless summaries of the calls (see February 1996-May 1998). Without the transcripts, Alec Station cannot crack the code and figure out what the operatives are really talking about. As a result, the CIA built a duplicate ground station in the Indian Ocean, and is replicating half of the NSA’s intelligence take on the calls (see After December 1996). However, it cannot obtain the other end of the calls without a satellite. Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer will say, “We would collect it [one end of the calls], translate it, send it to NSA, and ask them for the other half of it, so we could better understand it, but we never got it.” Author James Bamford will comment: “And so the CIA, Mike Scheuer, went back to NSA and said look,… we’re able to get… half the conversations here, but we still need the other half, and NSA still wouldn’t give them the other half. I mean this is absurd, but this is what was going on.” [ANTIWAR, 10/22/2008; PBS, 2/3/2009] Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, James Bamford, Michael Scheuer, National Security Agency Category Tags: Remote Surveillance, Yemen Hub
January 20, 1997: Clinton Re-Inaugurated; Atlanta Rules Applied at This and Other Events Bill Clinton is re-inaugurated as president. An extensive set of security measures to prevent airplanes as weapons crashing into the inauguration is used. These measures, first used at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and thus referred to as the “Atlanta Rules,” include the closing of nearby airspace, the use of intercept helicopters, the basing of armed fighters nearby, and more. This plan will later be used for the 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 50th anniversary celebration in Washington, the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, the 2000 Democratic convention in New York, and the George W. Bush inauguration in 2001. [CLARKE, 2004, PP. 110-11; WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/1/2004] Plans for Permanent Air Defense Unit Rejected - At some point near the end of the Clinton administration, the Secret Service and Customs Service will agree to create a permanent air defense unit to protect Washington. However, these agencies are part of the Treasury Department, and the leadership there will refuse to fund the idea. White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recount: “Treasury nixed the air defense unit, and my attempts within the White House to overrule them came to naught. The idea of aircraft attacking in Washington seemed remote to many people and the risks of shooting down aircraft in a city were thought to be far too high.” The permanent unit will not be created until after 9/11. [CLARKE, 2004, PP. 131; WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/1/2004] Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Secret Service, George W. Bush, Clinton administration, Richard A. Clarke Category Tags: Warning Signs
February-October 1997: Canadian Intelligence Alerted to Bin Laden’s ‘Main Money-Handler’
Mohamed Harkat. [Source: CBC] In February 1997, Mohamed Harkat, an Islamic militant living in Canada who is being monitored by Canadian intelligence (CSIS), contacts a person in Pakistan whom he refers to as Haji Wazir. Harkat asks him about Ibn Khattab, a warlord in Chechnya linked to al-Qaeda, and other people linked to Islamic militancy. Canadian intelligence is monitoring the call. In October 1997, Harkat is interviewed by Canadian intelligence and he tells them he has a banker friend named Haji Wazir and that he has deposited some money in Wazir’s bank. Canadian intelligence will later comment in court documents that Haji Wazir is another name for Pacha Wazir (haji is an honoric for someone who has been on the haj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca), and that Wazir is a “shadowy financial kingpin from the United Arab Emirates.… Wazir was the main money-handler for Osama Bin Laden.” Furthermore, Harkat is involved with terrorist financing for Khattab and al-Qaeda in association with Wazir. [CANADIAN SECURITY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, 2/22/2008 ] Presumably Wazir becomes known to Western intelligence agencies at this time, if he is not known already, but no country will take any action against him until one year after 9/11 (see Late September 2002). Entity Tags: Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Ibn Khattab, Mohamed Harkat, Pacha Wazir, Al-Qaeda Category Tags: Remote Surveillance, Terrorism Financing
February 7-21, 1997: Monitored Calls of Al-Qaeda Operatives in Kenya Indicate One of Them Is Meeting Bin Laden in Afghanistan
Mustafa Fadhil. [Source: FBI] US intelligence is monitoring the phones of an al-Qaeda cell in Kenya (see April 1996 and Late 1996-August 1998), as well as the phones of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Between January 30 and February 3, 1997, al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef calls Wadih El-Hage, the leader of the Kenyan cell, several times. El-Hage then flies to Pakistan and on February 4, he is monitored calling Kenya and gives the address of the hotel in Peshawar where he is staying. On February 7, he calls Kenyan cell member Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) and says he is still in Peshawar, waiting to enter Afghanistan and meet al-Qaeda leaders. [UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V. USAMA BIN LADEN, ET AL., DAY 37, 5/1/2001] Then, later on February 7, Fazul calls cell member Mohammed Saddiq Odeh. According to a snippet of the call discussed in a 2001 trial, Fazul informs Odeh about a meeting between the “director” and the “big boss,” which are references to El-Hage and Osama bin Laden respectively. In another monitored call around this time, Fazul talks to cell member Mustafa Fadhil, and they complain to each other that Odeh is using a phone for personal business that is only meant to be used for al-Qaeda business. Then, on February 21, El-Hage is back in Kenya and talks to Odeh on the phone in another monitored call. [UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V. USAMA BIN LADEN, ET AL., DAY 37, 5/1/2001; UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V. USAMA BIN LADEN, ET AL., DAY 39, 5/3/2001] Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Mustafa Fadhil, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, US intelligence, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden Category Tags: 1998 US Embassy Bombings, Wadih El-Hage, Remote Surveillance
February 12, 1997: Vice President Gore’s Aviation Security Report Released The White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, led by Vice President Al Gore, issues its final report, which highlights the risk of terrorist attacks in the US. The report references Operation Bojinka, the failed plot to bomb twelve American airliners out of the sky over the Pacific Ocean, and calls for increased aviation security. The commission reports that [it] “believes that terrorist attacks on civil aviation are directed at the United States, and that there should be an ongoing federal commitment to reducing the threats that they pose.” [GORE COMMISSION, 2/12/1997] However, the report has little practical effect: “Federal bureaucracy and airline lobbying [slow] and [weaken] a set of safety improvements recommended by a presidential commission—including one that a top airline industry official now says might have prevented the September 11 terror attacks.” [LOS ANGELES TIMES, 10/6/2001] Entity Tags: Al Gore, Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, Operation Bojinka Category Tags: Warning Signs
Febuary 25, 1997: Monitored Fax Links Ali Mohamed and Others in US and Germany to Al-Qaeda Leader In February 1997, Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden’s former personal secretary now living in Kenya and working on an al-Qaeda bomb plot, goes to Afghanistan and visits bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (see February 7-21, 1997). He returns to Kenya with a seven-page report from Atef, al-Qaeda’s military commander, that details al-Qaeda’s new ties to the Taliban. Atef writes: “We wish to put our Muslim friends in the picture of the events, especially that the media portrayed an untrue image about the Taliban movement. Our duty towards the movement is to stand behind it, support it materially and morally.” On February 25, 1997, El-Hage faxes the report to some associates with the suggestion that it be shared with the “brothers in work.” US intelligence is monitoring El-Hage’s phone and learns the contents of the fax and whom it is sent to. The fax is sent to:
Ali Mohamed, the US-al-Qaeda double agent living in California. Mohamed has already been under surveillance since 1993 for his al-Qaeda ties (see Autumn 1993). He will not be arrested until one month after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see September 10, 1998). Ihab Ali Nawawi, an apparent al-Qaeda operative living in Orlando, Florida. It is not known if Nawawi is monitored after this, but communications between him, Mohamed, and El-Hage are discovered in January 1998 (see January 1998). He will not be arrested until May 1999 (see May 18, 1999). Farid Adlouni. He is a civil engineer living in Lake Oswego, Oregon. In 1996 and 1997, El-Hage calls Adlouni in Oregon 72 times, sometimes just before or after meeting with bin Laden. Later in 1997, Adlouni’s home phone and fax numbers will be found in two personal phone directories and one notebook kept by El-Hage (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Records show that El-Hage has extensive dealings with Adlouni, mostly by selling gems El-Hage bought in Africa for a better price in the US. The FBI interviews Adlouni twice in late 1997, but he is not arrested. As of 2002, it will be reported that he continues to live in Oregon and remains a “person of interest” and subject of investigation by the FBI. Other copies of the fax are sent to associates in Germany, but they have not been named. Apparently these contacts do not result in any arrests, as there are no known arrests of al-Qaeda figures in Germany in 1997. [OREGONIAN, 9/13/2002]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Atef, Al-Qaeda, Ali Mohamed, Ihab Ali Nawawi, Taliban, Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, Farid Adlouni Category Tags: Ali Mohamed, Wadih El-Hage, Remote Surveillance, 1998 US Embassy Bombings
March 1997: German Government Investigates Hamburg Al-Qaeda Cell An investigation of al-Qaeda contacts in Hamburg by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence service, begins at least by this time (Germany refuses to disclose additional details). The investigation is called Operation Zartheit, and it was started by a tip about Mohammed Haydar Zammar from Turkish intelligence (see 1996). [NEW YORK TIMES, 1/18/2003] It is later believed that Zammar, a German of Syrian origin, is a part of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. [LOS ANGELES TIMES, 1/14/2003] He later claims he recruited Mohamed Atta and others into the cell [WASHINGTON POST, 6/19/2002] From 1995-2000, he makes frequent trips to Afghanistan. [NEW YORK TIMES, 1/18/2003; STERN, 8/13/2003] German intelligence is aware that he was personally invited to Afghanistan by bin Laden. [FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG (FRANKFURT), 2/2/2003] It is not clear if or when the investigation ends, but it continues until at least September 1999. [ASSOCIATED PRESS, 6/22/2002] Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Barakat Yarkas, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Ansaldo Energia Category Tags: Al-Qaeda in Germany
March 1997: Radical Imam Abu Hamza Becomes Friday Preacher at Leading London Mosque; Soon Takes it Over Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), is given the prestigious Friday sermon spot at the large Finsbury Park mosque in London. He is suggested thanks to his work at a mosque in nearby Luton (see 1996) and at his interviews he manages to charm the mosque’s management committee, which is also pleased by his low financial demands. Abu Qatada Rejected - The committee had also interviewed radical imam Abu Qatada, a well known scholar and author, for the position—Abu Qatada has militant links, but the committee is apparently not aware of them at this time. However, Abu Qatada told the committee that they should be grateful he was willing to take the job, demanding to see the mosque’s accounts and to receive 50 percent of all monies collected there. It is not known what Abu Qatada, an informer for British intelligence (see June 1996-February 1997), wanted to do with the money, but he is apparently a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and is linked to terrorism finance (see 1995-February 2001). Due to the mosque’s financial position, the committee does not offer the job to Abu Qatada. Mosque Already Infiltrated by GIA - A group of Algerian radicals, many of whom are veterans of the Algerian Civil War and are members of the Algerian militant group the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), had already infiltrated the mosque, and the Algerians assist Abu Hamza after his appointment. One leading Algerian radical seen at the mosque is Ali Touchent, a suspected mole for the Algerian intelligence service (see November 1996). Takeover - However, Abu Hamza soon begins to take the mosque away from the moderate trustees and turn it into a hotbed of radicalism. Initially, he claims that money has gone missing from a set of flats the mosque rents to tenants, then says that one of the flats is being used as a brothel and that one of the mosque’s old management team is taking a cut. Thanks to Abu Hamza’s exciting sermons, many more people attend the mosque, and there is not enough room to accommodate all of them in the main prayer hall. Abu Hamza makes money by selling tapes of his sermons, as well as videos of radicals fighting in Chechnya, Algeria, and Bosnia, in a shop he opens at the mosque. [O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 36-43] Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Abu Qatada, Finsbury Park Mosque, Groupe Islamique Armé Category Tags: Abu Hamza Al-Masri, Abu Qatada, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism, Algerian Militant Collusion
March 1997-April 2000: French and British Informer Helps Security Services Track Moussaoui and Shoe Bomber Reid
Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC] Reda Hassaine, an Algerian journalist who informs for a number of intelligence services, including an Algerian service, the French Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), and the British Special Branch and MI5, helps intelligence agencies track Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid. One place Hassaine sees Moussaoui and Reid is the Four Feathers club, where leading Islamist cleric Abu Qatada preaches. [EVENING STANDARD, 1/28/2005; O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 133] Hassaine also sees Moussaoui, Reid, and Spanish al-Qaeda leader Barakat Yarkas at the Finsbury Park mosque in London. The mosque, a hotbed of Islamic extremism headed by Abu Hamza al-Masri, is the center of attention for many intelligence agencies. Hassaine does not realize how important these people will later become at this time, but recognizes their faces when they become famous after 9/11. [O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 133] British intelligence also monitor phone calls between Moussaoui and Reid in 2000 (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000). Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Barakat Yarkas, Zacarias Moussaoui, UK Security Service (MI5), Special Branch (Britain), Abu Hamza al-Masri, Richard C. Reid, Reda Hassaine, Abu Qatada Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline Category Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism, Al-Qaeda in Spain, Abu Qatada, Abu Hamza Al-Masri, Reda Hassaine, 2001 Attempted Shoe Bombing
Spring 1997-April 21, 2000: French and British Informer Studies Radical Recruiting Techniques in London Mosque Reda Hassaine, an informer for French and then British intelligence (see Early 1997, (November 11, 1998), and (May 1999)), watches leading radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri at work in Finsbury Park mosque, where he recruits numerous extremist Muslims to take up arms. Abu Hamza is an informer for the British himself (see Early 1997). Schoolboys - Hassaine will later describe the techniques Abu Hamza used on schoolboys: “They would come to the mosque after they finished school, from 11 years old and upwards, and he would sit them down and first tell them a few funny stories. This was his little madrassa [Islamic boarding school]. Parents were sending their kids to learn about Islam, they didn’t realize they were sending them to be brainwashed. Abu Hamza would talk very slowly to them, telling them about the teachings of the Koran, and the need for violence.” Young Men - Hassaine will say that recruitment proper began with the older novices, who Abu Hamza met in the first-floor prayer room: “This was the heart of the action. It was how the recruitment began. Many of these kids were British Asian boys, and he would talk to them in English. He would talk about Kashmir. His message was always the same: ‘Islam is all about jihad and at the end the reward is paradise. Paradise is held by two swords and you must use one of those to kill in the name of Allah to get to paradise.’” Algeria - Hassaine will add: “When the people were Algerians he would sit with them with coffee and dates and show them the GIA videos, and he would say, ‘Look at your brothers, look what they are doing, they are heroes, most of them are now in paradise and if you go there with them you will have 72 wives. All of this will be for ever, for eternity. This life is very short, you have to think about the big journey.’” Osama bin Laden - Hassaine will also comment: “He used to talk about Yemen and Egypt, but after 1998 all the talk changed, it became all about Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was there, the Taliban were building the Islamic state. This was the beginning of the recruitment of a second generation of people to go to Afghanistan, not to fight this time but to learn how to fight, to train and then go elsewhere to do damage. It all began in the summer of 1998.” [O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 84-85] Under Surveillance - Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will also point out: “Foreign intelligence services knew this selection process was happening within months of Abu Hamza taking over in north London in March 1997. They had their own informants inside.” [O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 79] Entity Tags: Finsbury Park Mosque, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Reda Hassaine Category Tags: Abu Hamza Al-Masri, Reda Hassaine, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism
After March 1997: Algerian Government Mole Told to Focus on Top London Imam Abu Hamza After Abu Hamza al-Masri takes over as the Friday preacher at Finsbury Park Mosque, a mole working for the Algerian government is told to find out everything he can about Abu Hamza. The mole, Reda Hassaine, has been working for the Algerians against the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in London for some time (see Early 1995). The Algerians know that Abu Hamza met with Algerian fighters in Bosnia (see 1995), and is at the top of the GIA’s network of foreign supporters. Hassaine goes to the mosque every day and, as he and Abu Hamza have two mutual acquaintances, he is sometimes able to sit with him and listen to him speak. He does not get to know Abu Hamza well, but hears him constantly talking about jihad, killing, and life after death. [O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 132] Entity Tags: Finsbury Park Mosque, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Reda Hassaine Category Tags: Abu Hamza Al-Masri, Reda Hassaine, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism
(Late 1990s): Radical London Imam Abu Hamza Tells Followers It Is OK to Steal from Non-Muslims Leading Islamist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), gives a lecture entitled “Holding Fast to Allah in the Land of Disbelief” explaining to his followers that they can steal from non-Muslims. The date of the lecture is not known precisely, but it is presumably after Abu Hamza takes over Finsbury Park mosque in early 1997 (see March 1997). Abu Hamza’s basic reasoning is that “the unbelievers cheated us and took it [Muslim wealth] away, but we come to take some of it back.” He says that the lives and wealth of Muslims are more valuable that that of unbelievers, and so are protected. Unbelievers’ wealth is not protected, and so can be taken. “If you can claim it [Muslim wealth] back, then do so,” he says, adding: “It is theft but it is theft from non-protected persons. It is like killing a non-protected person, there is nothing in it; it is not protected blood… We have no concern; the nation has no concern with your acts in these things. The nation of Mohammed has no concern…” In the question and answer session afterwards, Abu Hamza is asked about repayment of a student loan, and replies, “Any debts, you just take it, you just take them all and go.” Shoplifting is also permitted: “You break by force and you take it, this is OK.” However, this does not apply to Muslims who have come to Britain seeking protection, for example from religious persecution, as such people owe the country a debt of gratitude. [O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 70] Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri Category Tags: Abu Hamza Al-Masri, Terrorism Financing, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism
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