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A Lost Trail in Southeast Asia
In late 1999, the National Security Agency (NSA) analyzed communications
associated with a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East, indicating that
several members of "an operational cadre" were planning to travel to Kuala
Lumpur in early January 2000. Initially, only the first names of three were
known--"Nawaf,""Salem," and "Khalid." NSA analysts surmised correctly that
Salem was Nawaf 's younger brother. Seeing links not only with al Qaeda but
specifically with the 1998 embassy bombings, a CIA desk officer guessed that
"something more nefarious [was] afoot."
In chapter 5, we discussed the dispatch of two operatives to the United States
for their part in the planes operation--Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihd-
har.Two more, Khallad and Abu Bara, went to Southeast Asia to case flights for
the part of the operation that was supposed to unfold there.
All made their
way to Southeast Asia from Afghanistan and Pakistan, except for Mihdhar, who
traveled from Yemen.
Though Nawaf 's trail was temporarily lost, the CIA soon identified "Khalid"
as Khalid al Mihdhar.
He was located leaving Yemen and tracked until he
arrived in Kuala Lumpur on January 5, 2000.
Other Arabs, unidentified at the
time, were watched as they gathered with him in the Malaysian capital.
On January 8, the surveillance teams reported that three of the Arabs had
suddenly left Kuala Lumpur on a short flight to Bangkok.
They identified
one as Mihdhar. They later learned that one of his companions was named
Alhazmi, although it was not yet known that he was "Nawaf."The only iden-
tifier available for the third person was part of a name--Salahsae.
Bangkok, CIA officers received the information too late to track the three men
as they came in, and the travelers disappeared into the streets of Bangkok.
The Counterterrorist Center (CTC) had briefed the CIA leadership on the
gathering in Kuala Lumpur, and the information had been passed on to Berger
and the NSC staff and to Director Freeh and others at the FBI (though the
FBI noted that the CIA had the lead and would let the FBI know if a domes-
tic angle arose).The head of the Bin Ladin unit kept providing updates, unaware
at first even that the Arabs had left Kuala Lumpur, let alone that their trail had
been lost in Bangkok.
When this bad news arrived, the names were put on a
Thai watchlist so that Thai authorities could inform the United States if any
of them departed from Thailand.
Several weeks later, CIA officers in Kuala Lumpur prodded colleagues in
Bangkok for additional information regarding the three travelers.
In early
March 2000, Bangkok reported that Nawaf al Hazmi, now identified for the
first time with his full name, had departed on January 15 on a United Airlines
flight to Los Angeles. As for Khalid al Mihdhar, there was no report of his
departure even though he had accompanied Hazmi on the United flight to Los
No one outside of the Counterterrorist Center was told any of this.
The CIA did not try to register Mihdhar or Hazmi with the State Department's
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