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THE 9/11
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:25 PM Page i
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List of Illustrations and Tables ix
Member List xi
Staff List xiii­xiv
Preface xv
Inside the Four Flights 1
Improvising a Homeland Defense 14
National Crisis Management 35
A Declaration of War 47
Bin Ladin's Appeal in the Islamic World 48
The Rise of Bin Ladin and al Qaeda (1988­1992) 55
Building an Organization, Declaring
War on the United States (1992­1996) 59
Al Qaeda's Renewal in Afghanistan (1996­1998) 63
From the Old Terrorism to the New:
The First World Trade Center Bombing 71
Adaptation--and Nonadaptation--
. . .
in the Law Enforcement Community 73
. . . and in the Federal Aviation Administration 82
. . . and in the Intelligence Community 86
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:25 PM Page v
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. . . and in the State Department and the Defense Department 93
. . . and in the White House 98
. . . and in the Congress 102
Before the Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania 108
Crisis: August 1998 115
Diplomacy 121
Covert Action 126
Searching for Fresh Options 134
Terrorist Entrepreneurs 145
The "Planes Operation" 153
The Hamburg Contingent 160
A Money Trail? 169
The Millennium Crisis 174
Post-Crisis Reflection: Agenda for 2000 182
The Attack on the USS Cole
Change and Continuity 198
The New Administration's Approach 203
First Arrivals in California 215
The 9/11 Pilots in the United States 223
Assembling the Teams 231
Final Strategies and Tactics 241
The Summer of Threat 254
Late Leads--Mihdhar, Moussaoui, and KSM 266
Preparedness as of September 11 278
September 11, 2001 285
Emergency Response at the Pentagon 311
Analysis 315
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:25 PM Page vi
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10. WARTIME 325
Immediate Responses at Home 326
Planning for War 330
"Phase Two" and the Question of Iraq 334
Imagination 339
Policy 348
Capabilities 350
Management 353
Reflecting on a Generational Challenge 361
Attack Terrorists and Their Organizations 365
Prevent the Continued Growth of Islamist Terrorism 374
Protect against and Prepare for Terrorist Attacks 383
Unity of Effort across the Foreign-Domestic Divide 400
Unity of Effort in the Intelligence Community 407
Unity of Effort in Sharing Information 416
Unity of Effort in the Congress 419
Organizing America's Defenses in the United States 423
Appendix A: Common Abbreviations
Appendix B:Table of Names
Appendix C: Commission Hearings
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:25 PM Page vii
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Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:25 PM Page viii
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p. 15
FAA Air Traffic Control Centers
p. 15
Reporting structure, Northeast Air Defense Sector
p. 32­33
Flight paths and timelines
p. 49
Usama Bin Ladin
p. 64
Map of Afghanistan
p. 148
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
p. 238­239
The 9/11 hijackers
p. 279
The World Trade Center Complex as of 9/11
p. 284
The World Trade Center radio repeater system
p. 288
The World Trade Center North Tower stairwell with deviations
p. 312
The Twin Towers following the impact of American Airlines
Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175
p. 313
The Pentagon after being struck by American Airlines Flight 77
p. 313
American Airlines Flight 93 crash site, Shanksville, Pennsylvania
p. 413
Unity of effort in managing intelligence
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:25 PM Page ix
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Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:25 PM Page x
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Thomas H. Kean
Richard Ben-Veniste
Fred F. Fielding
Jamie S. Gorelick
Slade Gorton
Lee H. Hamilton
vice chair
Bob Kerrey
John F. Lehman
Timothy J. Roemer
James R.Thompson
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:25 PM Page xi
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Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:25 PM Page xii
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Joanne M. Accolla
Staff Assistant
Alexis Albion
Professional Staff Member
Scott H. Allan, Jr.
John A. Azzarello
Caroline Barnes
Professional Staff Member
Warren Bass
Professional Staff Member
Ann M. Bennett
Information Control Officer
Mark S. Bittinger
Professional Staff Member
Madeleine Blot
Antwion M. Blount
Systems Engineer
Sam Brinkley
Professional Staff Member
Geoffrey Scott Brown
Research Assistant
Daniel Byman
Professional Staff Member
Dianna Campagna
Manager of Operations
Samuel M.W. Caspersen
Melissa A. Coffey
Staff Assistant
Lance Cole
Marquittia L. Coleman
Staff Assistant
Marco A. Cordero
Professional Staff Member
Rajesh De
George W. Delgrosso
Gerald L. Dillingham
Professional Staff Member
Thomas E. Dowling
Professional Staff Member
Steven M. Dunne
Deputy General Counsel
Thomas R. Eldridge
Alice Falk
John J. Farmer, Jr.
Senior Counsel & Team Leader
Alvin S. Felzenberg
Deputy for Communications
Philip Zelikow, Executive Director
Christopher A. Kojm, Deputy Executive Director
Daniel Marcus, General Counsel
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:25 PM Page xiii
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Lorry M. Fenner
Professional Staff Member
Susan Ginsburg
Senior Counsel & Team Leader
T. Graham Giusti
Security Officer
Nicole Marie Grandrimo
Professional Staff Member
Douglas N. Greenburg
Barbara A. Grewe
Senior Counsel, Special Projects
Elinore Flynn Hartz
Family Liaison
Leonard R. Hawley
Professional Staff Member
L. Christine Healey
Senior Counsel & Team Leader
Karen Heitkotter
Executive Secretary
Walter T. Hempel II
Professional Staff Member
C. Michael Hurley
Senior Counsel & Team Leader
Dana J. Hyde
John W. Ivicic
Security Officer
Michael N. Jacobson
Hunter W. Jamerson
Bonnie D. Jenkins
Reginald F. Johnson
Staff Assistant
R.William Johnstone
Professional Staff Member
Stephanie L. Kaplan
Special Assistant & Managing Editor
Miles L. Kara, Sr.
Professional Staff Member
Janice L. Kephart
Hyon Kim
Katarzyna Kozaczuk
Financial Assistant
Gordon Nathaniel Lederman
Daniel J. Leopold
Staff Assistant
Sarah Webb Linden
Professional Staff Member
Douglas J. MacEachin
Professional Staff Member & Team Leader
Ernest R. May
Senior Adviser
Joseph McBride
James Miller
Professional Staff Member
Kelly Moore
Professional Staff Member
Charles M. Pereira
Professional Staff Member
John Raidt
Professional Staff Member
John Roth
Senior Counsel & Team Leader
Peter Rundlet
Lloyd D. Salvetti
Professional Staff Member
Kevin J. Scheid
Professional Staff Member & Team Leader
Kevin Shaeffer
Professional Staff Member
Tracy J. Shycoff
Deputy for Administration & Finance
Dietrich L. Snell
Senior Counsel & Team Leader
Jonathan DeWees Stull
Communications Assistant
Lisa Marie Sullivan
Staff Assistant
Quinn John Tamm, Jr.
Professional Staff Member
Catharine S.Taylor
Staff Assistant
Yoel Tobin
Emily Landis Walker
Professional Staff Member & Family Liaison
Garth Wermter
Senior IT Consultant
Serena B.Wille
Peter Yerkes
Public Affairs Assistant
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:26 PM Page xiv
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We p re se nt th e narrat ive of this report and the recommendations
that flow from it to the President of the United States, the United States
Congress, and the American people for their consideration. Ten
Commissioners--five Republicans and five Democrats chosen by elected
leaders from our nation's capital at a time of great partisan division--have
come together to present this report without dissent.
We have come together with a unity of purpose because our nation
demands it. September 11, 2001, was a day of unprecedented shock and suf-
fering in the history of the United States.The nation was unprepared. How
did this happen, and how can we avoid such tragedy again?
To answer these questions, the Congress and the President created the
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (Public
Law 107-306, November 27, 2002).
Our mandate was sweeping.The law directed us to investigate "facts and
circumstances relating to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001," includ-
ing those relating to intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, diplo-
macy, immigration issues and border control, the flow of assets to terrorist
organizations, commercial aviation, the role of congressional oversight and
resource allocation, and other areas determined relevant by the Commission.
In pursuing our mandate, we have reviewed more than 2.5 million pages
of documents and interviewed more than 1,200 individuals in ten countries.
This included nearly every senior official from the current and previous
administrations who had responsibility for topics covered in our mandate.
We have sought to be independent, impartial, thorough, and nonpartisan.
From the outset, we have been committed to share as much of our investi-
gation as we can with the American people.To that end, we held 19 days of
hearings and took public testimony from 160 witnesses.
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:26 PM Page xv
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Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to
provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11 and to
identify lessons learned.
We learned about an enemy who is sophisticated, patient, disciplined,
and lethal.The enemy rallies broad support in the Arab and Muslim world
by demanding redress of political grievances, but its hostility toward us and
our values is limitless. Its purpose is to rid the world of religious and polit-
ical pluralism, the plebiscite, and equal rights for women. It makes no dis-
tinction between military and civilian targets. Collateral damage is not in its
We learned that the institutions charged with protecting our borders,
civil aviation, and national security did not understand how grave this threat
could be, and did not adjust their policies, plans, and practices to deter or
defeat it.We learned of fault lines within our government--between foreign
and domestic intelligence, and between and within agencies.We learned of
the pervasive problems of managing and sharing information across a large
and unwieldy government that had been built in a different era to confront
different dangers.
At the outset of our work, we said we were looking backward in order
to look forward. We hope that the terrible losses chronicled in this report
can create something positive--an America that is safer, stronger, and wiser.
That September day, we came together as a nation. The test before us is to
sustain that unity of purpose and meet the challenges now confronting us.
We need to design a balanced strategy for the long haul, to attack terror-
ists and prevent their ranks from swelling while at the same time protecting
our country against future attacks.We have been forced to think about the
way our government is organized. The massive departments and agencies
that prevailed in the great struggles of the twentieth century must work
together in new ways, so that all the instruments of national power can be
combined. Congress needs dramatic change as well to strengthen oversight
and focus accountability.
As we complete our final report, we want to begin by thanking our fel-
low Commissioners, whose dedication to this task has been profound. We
have reasoned together over every page, and the report has benefited from
this remarkable dialogue. We want to express our considerable respect for
the intellect and judgment of our colleagues, as well as our great affection
for them.
We want to thank the Commission staff.The dedicated professional staff,
headed by Philip Zelikow, has contributed innumerable hours to the com-
pletion of this report, setting aside other important endeavors to take on this
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:26 PM Page xvi
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all-consuming assignment. They have conducted the exacting investigative
work upon which the Commission has built.They have given good advice,
and faithfully carried out our guidance.They have been superb.
We thank the Congress and the President. Executive branch agencies
have searched records and produced a multitude of documents for us. We
thank officials, past and present, who were generous with their time and
provided us with insight. The PENTTBOM team at the FBI, the
Director's Review Group at the CIA, and Inspectors General at the
Department of Justice and the CIA provided great assistance. We owe a
huge debt to their investigative labors, painstaking attention to detail, and
readiness to share what they have learned. We have built on the work of
several previous Commissions, and we thank the Congressional Joint
Inquiry, whose fine work helped us get started.We thank the City of New
York for assistance with documents and witnesses, and the Government
Printing Office and W.W. Norton & Company for helping to get this
report to the broad public.
We conclude this list of thanks by coming full circle:We thank the fam-
ilies of 9/11, whose persistence and dedication helped create the
Commission.They have been with us each step of the way, as partners and
witnesses.They know better than any of us the importance of the work we
have undertaken.
We want to note what we have done, and not done.We have endeavored
to provide the most complete account we can of the events of September
11, what happened and why.This final report is only a summary of what we
have done, citing only a fraction of the sources we have consulted. But in
an event of this scale, touching so many issues and organizations, we are
conscious of our limits.We have not interviewed every knowledgeable per-
son or found every relevant piece of paper. New information inevitably will
come to light. We present this report as a foundation for a better under-
standing of a landmark in the history of our nation.
We have listened to scores of overwhelming personal tragedies and
astounding acts of heroism and bravery. We have examined the staggering
impact of the events of 9/11 on the American people and their amazing
resilience and courage as they fought back.We have admired their determi-
nation to do their best to prevent another tragedy while preparing to
respond if it becomes necessary. We emerge from this investigation with
enormous sympathy for the victims and their loved ones, and with
enhanced respect for the American people. We recognize the formidable
challenges that lie ahead.
We also approach the task of recommendations with humility. We have
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:26 PM Page xvii
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made a limited number of them. We decided consciously to focus on rec-
ommendations we believe to be most important, whose implementation
can make the greatest difference. We came into this process with strong
opinions about what would work. All of us have had to pause, reflect, and
sometimes change our minds as we studied these problems and considered
the views of others.We hope our report will encourage our fellow citizens
to study, reflect--and act.
Thomas H. Kean
Lee H. Hamilton
vice chair
Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:26 PM Page xviii
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THE 9/11
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Final FM.1pp 7/17/04 5:26 PM Page xx
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Tue sday, S e p te m b e r 11, 2 0 01, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in
the eastern United States. Millions of men and women readied themselves for
work. Some made their way to the Twin Towers, the signature structures of the
World Trade Center complex in New York City. Others went to Arlington,Vir-
ginia, to the Pentagon. Across the Potomac River, the United States Congress
was back in session. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, people began to
line up for a White House tour. In Sarasota, Florida, President George W. Bush
went for an early morning run.
For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been
better for a safe and pleasant journey.Among the travelers were Mohamed Atta
and Abdul Aziz al Omari, who arrived at the airport in Portland, Maine.
Boarding the Flights
Boston:American 11 and United 175.
Atta and Omari boarded a 6:00
flight from Portland to Boston's Logan International Airport.
When he checked in for his flight to Boston, Atta was selected by a com-
puterized prescreening system known as CAPPS (Computer Assisted Passen-
ger Prescreening System), created to identify passengers who should be
subject to special security measures. Under security rules in place at the time,
the only consequence of Atta's selection by CAPPS was that his checked bags
were held off the plane until it was confirmed that he had boarded the air-
craft. This did not hinder Atta's plans.
Atta and Omari arrived in Boston at 6:45. Seven minutes later, Atta appar-
ently took a call from Marwan al Shehhi, a longtime colleague who was at
another terminal at Logan Airport.They spoke for three minutes.
It would be
their final conversation.
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 1
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Between 6:45 and 7:40,Atta and Omari, along with Satam al Suqami,Wail
al Shehri, and Waleed al Shehri, checked in and boarded American Airlines
Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles.The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:45.
In another Logan terminal, Shehhi, joined by Fayez Banihammad, Mohand
al Shehri, Ahmed al Ghamdi, and Hamza al Ghamdi, checked in for United
Airlines Flight 175, also bound for Los Angeles.A couple of Shehhi's colleagues
were obviously unused to travel; according to the United ticket agent, they had
trouble understanding the standard security questions, and she had to go over
them slowly until they gave the routine, reassuring answers.
Their flight was
scheduled to depart at 8:00.
The security checkpoints through which passengers, including Atta and his
colleagues, gained access to the American 11 gate were operated by Globe
Security under a contract with American Airlines. In a different terminal, the
single checkpoint through which passengers for United 175 passed was con-
trolled by United Airlines, which had contracted with Huntleigh USA to per-
form the screening.
In passing through these checkpoints, each of the hijackers would have been
screened by a walk-through metal detector calibrated to detect items with at
least the metal content of a .22-caliber handgun. Anyone who might have set
off that detector would have been screened with a hand wand--a procedure
requiring the screener to identify the metal item or items that caused the alarm.
In addition, an X-ray machine would have screened the hijackers' carry-on
belongings.The screening was in place to identify and confiscate weapons and
other items prohibited from being carried onto a commercial flight.
None of
the checkpoint supervisors recalled the hijackers or reported anything suspi-
cious regarding their screening.
While Atta had been selected by CAPPS in Portland, three members of his
hijacking team--Suqami,Wail al Shehri, and Waleed al Shehri--were selected
in Boston.Their selection affected only the handling of their checked bags, not
their screening at the checkpoint. All five men cleared the checkpoint and
made their way to the gate for American 11. Atta, Omari, and Suqami took
their seats in business class (seats 8D, 8G, and 10B, respectively). The Shehri
brothers had adjacent seats in row 2 (Wail in 2A, Waleed in 2B), in the first-
class cabin. They boarded American 11 between 7:31 and 7:40. The aircraft
pushed back from the gate at 7:40.
Shehhi and his team, none of whom had been selected by CAPPS, boarded
United 175 between 7:23 and 7:28 (Banihammad in 2A, Shehri in 2B, Shehhi
in 6C, Hamza al Ghamdi in 9C, and Ahmed al Ghamdi in 9D).Their aircraft
pushed back from the gate just before 8:00.
Washington Dulles: American 77.
Hundreds of miles southwest of Boston,
at Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.,
five more men were preparing to take their early morning flight.At 7:15, a pair
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 2
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of them, Khalid al Mihdhar and Majed Moqed, checked in at the American
Airlines ticket counter for Flight 77, bound for Los Angeles.Within the next
20 minutes, they would be followed by Hani Hanjour and two brothers, Nawaf
al Hazmi and Salem al Hazmi.
Hani Hanjour, Khalid al Mihdhar, and Majed Moqed were flagged by
CAPPS.The Hazmi brothers were also selected for extra scrutiny by the air-
line's customer service representative at the check-in counter. He did so
because one of the brothers did not have photo identification nor could he
understand English, and because the agent found both of the passengers to
be suspicious.The only consequence of their selection was that their checked
bags were held off the plane until it was confirmed that they had boarded
the aircraft.
All five hijackers passed through the Main Terminal's west security screen-
ing checkpoint; United Airlines, which was the responsible air carrier, had
contracted out the work to Argenbright Security.
The checkpoint featured
closed-circuit television that recorded all passengers, including the hijackers,
as they were screened. At 7:18, Mihdhar and Moqed entered the security
Mihdhar and Moqed placed their carry-on bags on the belt of the X-ray
machine and proceeded through the first metal detector. Both set off the alarm,
and they were directed to a second metal detector. Mihdhar did not trigger the
alarm and was permitted through the checkpoint. After Moqed set it off, a
screener wanded him. He passed this inspection.
About 20 minutes later, at 7:35, another passenger for Flight 77, Hani Han-
jour, placed two carry-on bags on the X-ray belt in the Main Terminal's west
checkpoint, and proceeded, without alarm, through the metal detector. A short
time later, Nawaf and Salem al Hazmi entered the same checkpoint. Salem al
Hazmi cleared the metal detector and was permitted through; Nawaf al Hazmi
set off the alarms for both the first and second metal detectors and was then
hand-wanded before being passed. In addition, his over-the-shoulder carry-on
bag was swiped by an explosive trace detector and then passed. The video
footage indicates that he was carrying an unidentified item in his back pocket,
clipped to its rim.
When the local civil aviation security office of the Federal Aviation Admin-
istration (FAA) later investigated these security screening operations, the
screeners recalled nothing out of the ordinary.They could not recall that any
of the passengers they screened were CAPPS selectees. We asked a screening
expert to review the videotape of the hand-wanding, and he found the qual-
ity of the screener's work to have been "marginal at best." The screener should
have "resolved" what set off the alarm; and in the case of both Moqed and
Hazmi, it was clear that he did not.
At 7:50, Majed Moqed and Khalid al Mihdhar boarded the flight and were
seated in 12A and 12B in coach. Hani Hanjour, assigned to seat 1B (first class),
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 3
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soon followed.The Hazmi brothers, sitting in 5E and 5F, joined Hanjour in the
first-class cabin.
Newark: United 93.
Between 7:03 and 7:39, Saeed al Ghamdi, Ahmed al
Nami, Ahmad al Haznawi, and Ziad Jarrah checked in at the United Airlines
ticket counter for Flight 93, going to Los Angeles.Two checked bags; two did
not. Haznawi was selected by CAPPS. His checked bag was screened for explo-
sives and then loaded on the plane.
The four men passed through the security checkpoint, owned by United
Airlines and operated under contract by Argenbright Security. Like the check-
points in Boston, it lacked closed-circuit television surveillance so there is no
documentary evidence to indicate when the hijackers passed through the
checkpoint, what alarms may have been triggered, or what security procedures
were administered.The FAA interviewed the screeners later; none recalled any-
thing unusual or suspicious.
The four men boarded the plane between 7:39 and 7:48. All four had seats
in the first-class cabin; their plane had no business-class section. Jarrah was in
seat 1B, closest to the cockpit; Nami was in 3C, Ghamdi in 3D, and Haznawi
in 6B.
The 19 men were aboard four transcontinental flights.
They were plan-
ning to hijack these planes and turn them into large guided missiles, loaded
with up to 11,400 gallons of jet fuel. By 8:00
. on the morning of Tuesday,
September 11, 2001, they had defeated all the security layers that America's civil
aviation security system then had in place to prevent a hijacking.
The Hijacking of American 11
American Airlines Flight 11 provided nonstop service from Boston to Los
Angeles. On September 11, Captain John Ogonowski and First Officer
Thomas McGuinness piloted the Boeing 767. It carried its full capacity of nine
flight attendants. Eighty-one passengers boarded the flight with them (includ-
ing the five terrorists).
The plane took off at 7:59. Just before 8:14, it had climbed to 26,000 feet,
not quite its initial assigned cruising altitude of 29,000 feet.All communications
and flight profile data were normal. About this time the "Fasten Seatbelt" sign
would usually have been turned off and the flight attendants would have begun
preparing for cabin service.
At that same time, American 11 had its last routine communication with
the ground when it acknowledged navigational instructions from the FAA's
air traffic control (ATC) center in Boston. Sixteen seconds after that transmis-
sion,ATC instructed the aircraft's pilots to climb to 35,000 feet.That message
and all subsequent attempts to contact the flight were not acknowledged.
From this and other evidence, we believe the hijacking began at 8:14 or
shortly thereafter.
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 4
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Reports from two flight attendants in the coach cabin, Betty Ong and
Madeline "Amy" Sweeney, tell us most of what we know about how the
hijacking happened. As it began, some of the hijackers--most likely Wail al
Shehri and Waleed al Shehri, who were seated in row 2 in first class--stabbed
the two unarmed flight attendants who would have been preparing for cabin
We do not know exactly how the hijackers gained access to the cockpit;
FAA rules required that the doors remain closed and locked during flight. Ong
speculated that they had "jammed their way" in. Perhaps the terrorists stabbed
the flight attendants to get a cockpit key, to force one of them to open the cock-
pit door, or to lure the captain or first officer out of the cockpit. Or the flight
attendants may just have been in their way.
At the same time or shortly thereafter, Atta--the only terrorist on board
trained to fly a jet--would have moved to the cockpit from his business-class
seat, possibly accompanied by Omari.As this was happening, passenger Daniel
Lewin, who was seated in the row just behind Atta and Omari, was stabbed by
one of the hijackers--probably Satam al Suqami, who was seated directly
behind Lewin. Lewin had served four years as an officer in the Israeli military.
He may have made an attempt to stop the hijackers in front of him, not real-
izing that another was sitting behind him.
The hijackers quickly gained control and sprayed Mace, pepper spray, or
some other irritant in the first-class cabin, in order to force the passengers and
flight attendants toward the rear of the plane.They claimed they had a bomb.
About five minutes after the hijacking began, Betty Ong contacted the
American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina,
via an AT&T airphone to report an emergency aboard the flight.This was the
first of several occasions on 9/11 when flight attendants took action outside
the scope of their training, which emphasized that in a hijacking, they were to
communicate with the cockpit crew.The emergency call lasted approximately
25 minutes, as Ong calmly and professionally relayed information about events
taking place aboard the airplane to authorities on the ground.
At 8:19, Ong reported:"The cockpit is not answering, somebody's stabbed
in business class--and I think there's Mace--that we can't breathe--I don't
know, I think we're getting hijacked." She then told of the stabbings of the two
flight attendants.
At 8:21, one of the American employees receiving Ong's call in North Car-
olina, Nydia Gonzalez, alerted the American Airlines operations center in Fort
Worth,Texas, reaching Craig Marquis, the manager on duty. Marquis soon real-
ized this was an emergency and instructed the airline's dispatcher responsible
for the flight to contact the cockpit. At 8:23, the dispatcher tried unsuccessfully
to contact the aircraft. Six minutes later, the air traffic control specialist in Amer-
ican's operations center contacted the FAA's Boston Air Traffic Control Center
about the flight. The center was already aware of the problem.
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 5
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Boston Center knew of a problem on the flight in part because just before
8:25 the hijackers had attempted to communicate with the passengers. The
microphone was keyed, and immediately one of the hijackers said, "Nobody
move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you'll endanger
yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet."Air traffic controllers heard the trans-
mission; Ong did not.The hijackers probably did not know how to operate the
cockpit radio communication system correctly, and thus inadvertently broad-
cast their message over the air traffic control channel instead of the cabin
public-address channel. Also at 8:25, and again at 8:29, Amy Sweeney got
through to the American Flight Services Office in Boston but was cut off after
she reported someone was hurt aboard the flight.Three minutes later, Sweeney
was reconnected to the office and began relaying updates to the manager,
Michael Woodward.
At 8:26, Ong reported that the plane was "flying erratically."A minute later,
Flight 11 turned south. American also began getting identifications of the
hijackers, as Ong and then Sweeney passed on some of the seat numbers of
those who had gained unauthorized access to the cockpit.
Sweeney calmly reported on her line that the plane had been hijacked; a
man in first class had his throat slashed; two flight attendants had been
stabbed--one was seriously hurt and was on oxygen while the other's wounds
seemed minor; a doctor had been requested; the flight attendants were unable
to contact the cockpit; and there was a bomb in the cockpit. Sweeney told
Woodward that she and Ong were trying to relay as much information as they
could to people on the ground.
At 8:38, Ong told Gonzalez that the plane was flying erratically again.
Around this time Sweeney told Woodward that the hijackers were Middle East-
erners, naming three of their seat numbers. One spoke very little English and
one spoke excellent English.The hijackers had gained entry to the cockpit, and
she did not know how.The aircraft was in a rapid descent.
At 8:41, Sweeney told Woodward that passengers in coach were under the
impression that there was a routine medical emergency in first class. Other
flight attendants were busy at duties such as getting medical supplies while Ong
and Sweeney were reporting the events.
At 8:41, in American's operations center, a colleague told Marquis that the
air traffic controllers declared Flight 11 a hijacking and "think he's [American
11] headed toward Kennedy [airport in New York City].They're moving every-
body out of the way.They seem to have him on a primary radar.They seem to
think that he is descending."
At 8:44, Gonzalez reported losing phone contact with Ong. About this
same time Sweeney reported to Woodward,"Something is wrong.We are in a
rapid descent . . . we are all over the place."Woodward asked Sweeney to look
out the window to see if she could determine where they were. Sweeney
responded:"We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way
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too low." Seconds later she said,"Oh my God we are way too low." The phone
call ended.
At 8:46:40, American 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade
Center in New York City.
All on board, along with an unknown number of
people in the tower, were killed instantly.
The Hijacking of United 175
United Airlines Flight 175 was scheduled to depart for Los Angeles at 8:00. Cap-
tain Victor Saracini and First Officer Michael Horrocks piloted the Boeing 767,
which had seven flight attendants. Fifty-six passengers boarded the flight.
United 175 pushed back from its gate at 7:58 and departed Logan Airport
at 8:14. By 8:33, it had reached its assigned cruising altitude of 31,000 feet.The
flight attendants would have begun their cabin service.
The flight had taken off just as American 11 was being hijacked, and at 8:42
the United 175 flight crew completed their report on a "suspicious transmis-
sion" overheard from another plane (which turned out to have been Flight 11)
just after takeoff. This was United 175's last communication with the ground.
The hijackers attacked sometime between 8:42 and 8:46.They used knives
(as reported by two passengers and a flight attendant), Mace (reported by one
passenger), and the threat of a bomb (reported by the same passenger). They
stabbed members of the flight crew (reported by a flight attendant and one pas-
senger). Both pilots had been killed (reported by one flight attendant).The eye-
witness accounts came from calls made from the rear of the plane, from
passengers originally seated further forward in the cabin, a sign that passengers
and perhaps crew had been moved to the back of the aircraft. Given similari-
ties to American 11 in hijacker seating and in eyewitness reports of tactics and
weapons, as well as the contact between the presumed team leaders, Atta and
Shehhi, we believe the tactics were similar on both flights.
The first operational evidence that something was abnormal on United
175 came at 8:47, when the aircraft changed beacon codes twice within a
minute. At 8:51, the flight deviated from its assigned altitude, and a minute
later New York air traffic controllers began repeatedly and unsuccessfully try-
ing to contact it.
At 8:52, in Easton, Connecticut, a man named Lee Hanson received a
phone call from his son Peter, a passenger on United 175. His son told him:
"I think they've taken over the cockpit--An attendant has been stabbed--
and someone else up front may have been killed. The plane is making
strange moves. Call United Airlines--Tell them it's Flight 175, Boston to LA."
Lee Hanson then called the Easton Police Department and relayed what he
had heard.
Also at 8:52, a male flight attendant called a United office in San Francisco,
reaching Marc Policastro.The flight attendant reported that the flight had been
hijacked, both pilots had been killed, a flight attendant had been stabbed, and
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the hijackers were probably flying the plane.The call lasted about two minutes,
after which Policastro and a colleague tried unsuccessfully to contact the
At 8:58, the flight took a heading toward New York City.
At 8:59, Flight 175 passenger Brian David Sweeney tried to call his wife,
Julie. He left a message on their home answering machine that the plane had
been hijacked. He then called his mother, Louise Sweeney, told her the flight
had been hijacked, and added that the passengers were thinking about storm-
ing the cockpit to take control of the plane away from the hijackers.
At 9:00, Lee Hanson received a second call from his son Peter:
It's getting bad, Dad--A stewardess was stabbed--They seem to have
knives and Mace--They said they have a bomb--It's getting very bad
on the plane--Passengers are throwing up and getting sick--The
plane is making jerky movements--I don't think the pilot is flying the
plane--I think we are going down--I think they intend to go to
Chicago or someplace and fly into a building--Don't worry, Dad--
If it happens, it'll be very fast--My God, my God.
The call ended abruptly. Lee Hanson had heard a woman scream just before
it cut off. He turned on a television, and in her home so did Louise Sweeney.
Both then saw the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center.
At 9:03:11, United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World
Trade Center.
All on board, along with an unknown number of people in
the tower, were killed instantly.
The Hijacking of American 77
American Airlines Flight 77 was scheduled to depart from Washington Dulles
for Los Angeles at 8:10. The aircraft was a Boeing 757 piloted by Captain
Charles F. Burlingame and First Officer David Charlebois. There were four
flight attendants. On September 11, the flight carried 58 passengers.
American 77 pushed back from its gate at 8:09 and took off at 8:20. At 8:46,
the flight reached its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. Cabin service
would have begun. At 8:51, American 77 transmitted its last routine radio com-
munication.The hijacking began between 8:51 and 8:54. As on American 11
and United 175, the hijackers used knives (reported by one passenger) and
moved all the passengers (and possibly crew) to the rear of the aircraft (reported
by one flight attendant and one passenger). Unlike the earlier flights, the Flight
77 hijackers were reported by a passenger to have box cutters. Finally, a pas-
senger reported that an announcement had been made by the "pilot" that the
plane had been hijacked. Neither of the firsthand accounts mentioned any stab-
bings or the threat or use of either a bomb or Mace,though both witnesses began
the flight in the first-class cabin.
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At 8:54, the aircraft deviated from its assigned course, turning south. Two
minutes later the transponder was turned off and even primary radar contact
with the aircraft was lost.The Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center repeat-
edly tried and failed to contact the aircraft. American Airlines dispatchers also
tried, without success.
At 9:00, American Airlines Executive Vice President Gerard Arpey learned
that communications had been lost with American 77.This was now the sec-
ond American aircraft in trouble. He ordered all American Airlines flights in
the Northeast that had not taken off to remain on the ground. Shortly before
9:10, suspecting that American 77 had been hijacked, American headquarters
concluded that the second aircraft to hit the World Trade Center might have
been Flight 77. After learning that United Airlines was missing a plane,Amer-
ican Airlines headquarters extended the ground stop nationwide.
At 9:12, Renee May called her mother, Nancy May, in Las Vegas. She said
her flight was being hijacked by six individuals who had moved them to the
rear of the plane. She asked her mother to alert American Airlines. Nancy May
and her husband promptly did so.
At some point between 9:16 and 9:26, Barbara Olson called her husband,
Ted Olson, the solicitor general of the United States. She reported that the
flight had been hijacked, and the hijackers had knives and box cutters. She fur-
ther indicated that the hijackers were not aware of her phone call, and that they
had put all the passengers in the back of the plane. About a minute into the
conversation, the call was cut off. Solicitor General Olson tried unsuccessfully
to reach Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Shortly after the first call, Barbara Olson reached her husband again. She
reported that the pilot had announced that the flight had been hijacked, and
she asked her husband what she should tell the captain to do.Ted Olson asked
for her location and she replied that the aircraft was then flying over houses.
Another passenger told her they were traveling northeast.The Solicitor Gen-
eral then informed his wife of the two previous hijackings and crashes. She did
not display signs of panic and did not indicate any awareness of an impending
crash. At that point, the second call was cut off.
At 9:29, the autopilot on American 77 was disengaged; the aircraft was at
7,000 feet and approximately 38 miles west of the Pentagon.
At 9:32, con-
trollers at the Dulles Terminal Radar Approach Control "observed a primary
radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed." This was later deter-
mined to have been Flight 77.
At 9:34,Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport advised the Secret Ser-
vice of an unknown aircraft heading in the direction of the White House.Amer-
ican 77 was then 5 miles west-southwest of the Pentagon and began a
330-degree turn. At the end of the turn, it was descending through 2,200 feet,
pointed toward the Pentagon and downtown Washington.The hijacker pilot then
advanced the throttles to maximum power and dove toward the Pentagon.
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At 9:37:46, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, travel-
ing at approximately 530 miles per hour.
All on board, as well as many civil-
ian and military personnel in the building, were killed.
The Battle for United 93
At 8:42, United Airlines Flight 93 took off from Newark (New Jersey) Liberty
International Airport bound for San Francisco.The aircraft was piloted by Cap-
tain Jason Dahl and First Officer Leroy Homer, and there were five flight atten-
dants. Thirty-seven passengers, including the hijackers, boarded the plane.
Scheduled to depart the gate at 8:00, the Boeing 757's takeoff was delayed
because of the airport's typically heavy morning traffic.
The hijackers had planned to take flights scheduled to depart at 7:45 (Amer-
ican 11), 8:00 (United 175 and United 93), and 8:10 (American 77). Three of
the flights had actually taken off within 10 to 15 minutes of their planned
departure times. United 93 would ordinarily have taken off about 15 minutes
after pulling away from the gate.When it left the ground at 8:42, the flight was
running more than 25 minutes late.
As United 93 left Newark, the flight's crew members were unaware of the
hijacking of American 11.Around 9:00, the FAA,American, and United were
facing the staggering realization of apparent multiple hijackings. At 9:03, they
would see another aircraft strike the World Trade Center. Crisis managers at
the FAA and the airlines did not yet act to warn other aircraft.
At the same
time, Boston Center realized that a message transmitted just before 8:25 by the
hijacker pilot of American 11 included the phrase,"We have some planes."
No one at the FAA or the airlines that day had ever dealt with multiple
hijackings. Such a plot had not been carried out anywhere in the world in more
than 30 years, and never in the United States.As news of the hijackings filtered
through the FAA and the airlines, it does not seem to have occurred to their
leadership that they needed to alert other aircraft in the air that they too might
be at risk.
United 175 was hijacked between 8:42 and 8:46, and awareness of that
hijacking began to spread after 8:51. American 77 was hijacked between 8:51
and 8:54. By 9:00, FAA and airline officials began to comprehend that attack-
ers were going after multiple aircraft. American Airlines' nationwide ground
stop between 9:05 and 9:10 was followed by a United Airlines ground stop.
FAA controllers at Boston Center, which had tracked the first two hijackings,
requested at 9:07 that Herndon Command Center "get messages to airborne
aircraft to increase security for the cockpit."There is no evidence that Hern-
don took such action. Boston Center immediately began speculating about
other aircraft that might be in danger, leading them to worry about a transcon-
tinental flight--Delta 1989--that in fact was not hijacked. At 9:19, the FAA's
New England regional office called Herndon and asked that Cleveland Cen-
ter advise Delta 1989 to use extra cockpit security.
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Several FAA air traffic control officials told us it was the air carriers' respon-
sibility to notify their planes of security problems. One senior FAA air traffic
control manager said that it was simply not the FAA's place to order the air-
lines what to tell their pilots.
We believe such statements do not reflect an
adequate appreciation of the FAA's responsibility for the safety and security of
civil aviation.
The airlines bore responsibility, too.They were facing an escalating number
of conflicting and, for the most part, erroneous reports about other flights, as
well as a continuing lack of vital information from the FAA about the hijacked
flights.We found no evidence, however, that American Airlines sent any cock-
pit warnings to its aircraft on 9/11. United's first decisive action to notify its
airborne aircraft to take defensive action did not come until 9:19, when a
United flight dispatcher, Ed Ballinger, took the initiative to begin transmitting
warnings to his 16 transcontinental flights: "Beware any cockpit intrusion--
Two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center." One of the flights that received
the warning was United 93. Because Ballinger was still responsible for his
other flights as well as Flight 175, his warning message was not transmitted to
Flight 93 until 9:23.
By all accounts, the first 46 minutes of Flight 93's cross-country trip pro-
ceeded routinely. Radio communications from the plane were normal. Head-
ing, speed, and altitude ran according to plan. At 9:24, Ballinger's warning to
United 93 was received in the cockpit.Within two minutes, at 9:26, the pilot,
Jason Dahl, responded with a note of puzzlement: "Ed, confirm latest mssg
The hijackers attacked at 9:28. While traveling 35,000 feet above eastern
Ohio, United 93 suddenly dropped 700 feet. Eleven seconds into the descent,
the FAA's air traffic control center in Cleveland received the first of two radio
transmissions from the aircraft. During the first broadcast, the captain or first
officer could be heard declaring "Mayday" amid the sounds of a physical strug-
gle in the cockpit. The second radio transmission, 35 seconds later, indicated
that the fight was continuing.The captain or first officer could be heard shout-
ing:"Hey get out of here--get out of here--get out of here."
On the morning of 9/11, there were only 37 passengers on United 93--33
in addition to the 4 hijackers.This was below the norm for Tuesday mornings
during the summer of 2001. But there is no evidence that the hijackers manip-
ulated passenger levels or purchased additional seats to facilitate their operation.
The terrorists who hijacked three other commercial flights on 9/11 oper-
ated in five-man teams.They initiated their cockpit takeover within 30 min-
utes of takeoff. On Flight 93, however, the takeover took place 46 minutes after
takeoff and there were only four hijackers. The operative likely intended to
round out the team for this flight, Mohamed al Kahtani, had been refused entry
by a suspicious immigration inspector at Florida's Orlando International Air-
port in August.
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Because several passengers on United 93 described three hijackers on the
plane, not four, some have wondered whether one of the hijackers had been
able to use the cockpit jump seat from the outset of the flight. FAA rules allow
use of this seat by documented and approved individuals, usually air carrier or
FAA personnel.We have found no evidence indicating that one of the hijack-
ers, or anyone else, sat there on this flight. All the hijackers had assigned seats
in first class, and they seem to have used them.We believe it is more likely that
Jarrah, the crucial pilot-trained member of their team, remained seated and
inconspicuous until after the cockpit was seized; and once inside, he would not
have been visible to the passengers.
At 9:32, a hijacker, probably Jarrah, made or attempted to make the follow-
ing announcement to the passengers of Flight 93:"Ladies and Gentlemen: Here
the captain, please sit down keep remaining sitting.We have a bomb on board.
So, sit." The flight data recorder (also recovered) indicates that Jarrah then
instructed the plane's autopilot to turn the aircraft around and head east.
The cockpit voice recorder data indicate that a woman, most likely a flight
attendant, was being held captive in the cockpit. She struggled with one of the
hijackers who killed or otherwise silenced her.
Shortly thereafter, the passengers and flight crew began a series of calls from
GTE airphones and cellular phones. These calls between family, friends, and
colleagues took place until the end of the flight and provided those on the
ground with firsthand accounts. They enabled the passengers to gain critical
information, including the news that two aircraft had slammed into the World
Trade Center.
At 9:39, the FAA's Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center overheard
a second announcement indicating that there was a bomb on board, that the
plane was returning to the airport, and that they should remain seated.
it apparently was not heard by the passengers, this announcement, like those on
Flight 11 and Flight 77, was intended to deceive them. Jarrah, like Atta earlier,
may have inadvertently broadcast the message because he did not know how
to operate the radio and the intercom. To our knowledge none of them had
ever flown an actual airliner before.
At least two callers from the flight reported that the hijackers knew that pas-
sengers were making calls but did not seem to care. It is quite possible Jarrah
knew of the success of the assault on the World Trade Center. He could have
learned of this from messages being sent by United Airlines to the cockpits of
its transcontinental flights, including Flight 93, warning of cockpit intrusion
and telling of the New York attacks. But even without them, he would cer-
tainly have understood that the attacks on the World Trade Center would
already have unfolded, given Flight 93's tardy departure from Newark. If Jar-
rah did know that the passengers were making calls, it might not have occurred
to him that they were certain to learn what had happened in New York, thereby
defeating his attempts at deception.
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At least ten passengers and two crew members shared vital information with
family, friends, colleagues, or others on the ground. All understood the plane
had been hijacked. They said the hijackers wielded knives and claimed to have
a bomb.The hijackers were wearing red bandanas, and they forced the passen-
gers to the back of the aircraft.
Callers reported that a passenger had been stabbed and that two people were
lying on the floor of the cabin, injured or dead--possibly the captain and first
officer. One caller reported that a flight attendant had been killed.
One of the callers from United 93 also reported that he thought the hijack-
ers might possess a gun. But none of the other callers reported the presence of
a firearm. One recipient of a call from the aircraft recounted specifically ask-
ing her caller whether the hijackers had guns.The passenger replied that he did
not see one. No evidence of firearms or of their identifiable remains was found
at the aircraft's crash site, and the cockpit voice recorder gives no indication of
a gun being fired or mentioned at any time.We believe that if the hijackers had
possessed a gun, they would have used it in the flight's last minutes as the pas-
sengers fought back.
Passengers on three flights reported the hijackers' claim of having a bomb.
The FBI told us they found no trace of explosives at the crash sites. One of
the passengers who mentioned a bomb expressed his belief that it was not real.
Lacking any evidence that the hijackers attempted to smuggle such illegal
items past the security screening checkpoints, we believe the bombs were
probably fake.
During at least five of the passengers' phone calls, information was shared
about the attacks that had occurred earlier that morning at the World Trade
Center. Five calls described the intent of passengers and surviving crew mem-
bers to revolt against the hijackers. According to one call, they voted on
whether to rush the terrorists in an attempt to retake the plane. They decided,
and acted.
At 9:57, the passenger assault began. Several passengers had terminated
phone calls with loved ones in order to join the revolt. One of the callers
ended her message as follows:"Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to
go. Bye."
The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger assault
muffled by the intervening cockpit door. Some family members who listened
to the recording report that they can hear the voice of a loved one among the
din. We cannot identify whose voices can be heard. But the assault was sus-
In response, Jarrah immediately began to roll the airplane to the left and
right, attempting to knock the passengers off balance. At 9:58:57, Jarrah told
another hijacker in the cockpit to block the door. Jarrah continued to roll the
airplane sharply left and right, but the assault continued. At 9:59:52, Jarrah
changed tactics and pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt
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the assault.The recorder captured the sounds of loud thumps, crashes, shouts,
and breaking glasses and plates. At 10:00:03, Jarrah stabilized the airplane.
Five seconds later, Jarrah asked,"Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" A hijacker
responded,"No. Not yet.When they all come, we finish it off." The sounds of
fighting continued outside the cockpit. Again, Jarrah pitched the nose of the
aircraft up and down.At 10:00:26, a passenger in the background said,"In the
cockpit. If we don't we'll die!" Sixteen seconds later, a passenger yelled,"Roll
it!" Jarrah stopped the violent maneuvers at about 10:01:00 and said,"Allah is
the greatest! Allah is the greatest!" He then asked another hijacker in the cock-
pit,"Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?" to which the other replied,"Yes,
put it in it, and pull it down."
The passengers continued their assault and at 10:02:23, a hijacker said,"Pull
it down! Pull it down!"The hijackers remained at the controls but must have
judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them.The air-
plane headed down; the control wheel was turned hard to the right.The air-
plane rolled onto its back, and one of the hijackers began shouting "Allah is
the greatest. Allah is the greatest."With the sounds of the passenger counter-
attack continuing, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Penn-
sylvania, at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes' flying time from
Washington, D.C.
Jarrah's objective was to crash his airliner into symbols of the American
Republic, the Capitol or the White House. He was defeated by the alerted,
unarmed passengers of United 93.
On 9/11, the defense of U.S. airspace depended on close interaction between
two federal agencies: the FAA and the North American Aerospace Defense
Command (NORAD).The most recent hijacking that involved U.S. air traf-
fic controllers, FAA management, and military coordination had occurred in
In order to understand how the two agencies interacted eight years
later, we will review their missions, command and control structures, and work-
ing relationship on the morning of 9/11.
FAA Mission and Structure.
As of September 11, 2001, the FAA was man-
dated by law to regulate the safety and security of civil aviation. From an air
traffic controller's perspective, that meant maintaining a safe distance between
airborne aircraft.
Many controllers work at the FAA's 22 Air Route Traffic Control Centers.
They are grouped under regional offices and coordinate closely with the
national Air Traffic Control System Command Center, located in Herndon,
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Air Force
Air Force Base
Northeast Air
Defense Sector
Continental Aerospace
Command Region (CONR)
Indianapolis Center
New York
FAA Air Traffic Control Centers
Reporting structure, Northeast Air Defense Sector
Graphics courtesy of ESRI
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 15
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Virginia, which oversees daily traffic flow within the entire airspace system.
FAA headquarters is ultimately responsible for the management of the
National Airspace System.The Operations Center located at FAA headquarters
receives notifications of incidents, including accidents and hijackings.
FAA Control Centers often receive information and make operational deci-
sions independently of one another. On 9/11, the four hijacked aircraft were
monitored mainly by the centers in Boston, New York, Cleveland, and Indi-
anapolis. Each center thus had part of the knowledge of what was going on
across the system.What Boston knew was not necessarily known by centers in
New York, Cleveland, or Indianapolis, or for that matter by the Command
Center in Herndon or by FAA headquarters in Washington.
Controllers track airliners such as the four aircraft hijacked on 9/11 primar-
ily by watching the data from a signal emitted by each aircraft's transponder
equipment.Those four planes, like all aircraft traveling above 10,000 feet, were
required to emit a unique transponder signal while in flight.
On 9/11, the terrorists turned off the transponders on three of the four
hijacked aircraft.With its transponder off, it is possible, though more difficult,
to track an aircraft by its primary radar returns. But unlike transponder data,
primary radar returns do not show the aircraft's identity and altitude. Con-
trollers at centers rely so heavily on transponder signals that they usually do not
display primary radar returns on their radar scopes. But they can change the
configuration of their scopes so they can see primary radar returns.They did this
on 9/11 when the transponder signals for three of the aircraft disappeared.
Before 9/11, it was not unheard of for a commercial aircraft to deviate
slightly from its course, or for an FAA controller to lose radio contact with a
pilot for a short period of time. A controller could also briefly lose a commer-
cial aircraft's transponder signal, although this happened much less frequently.
However, the simultaneous loss of radio and transponder signal would be a rare
and alarming occurrence, and would normally indicate a catastrophic system
failure or an aircraft crash. In all of these instances, the job of the controller was
to reach out to the aircraft, the parent company of the aircraft, and other planes
in the vicinity in an attempt to reestablish communications and set the aircraft
back on course.Alarm bells would not start ringing until these efforts--which
could take five minutes or more--were tried and had failed.
NORAD Mission and Structure.
NORAD is a binational command estab-
lished in 1958 between the United States and Canada. Its mission was, and is,
to defend the airspace of North America and protect the continent.That mis-
sion does not distinguish between internal and external threats; but because
NORAD was created to counter the Soviet threat, it came to define its job as
defending against external attacks.
The threat of Soviet bombers diminished significantly as the Cold War
ended, and the number of NORAD alert sites was reduced from its Cold War
high of 26. Some within the Pentagon argued in the 1990s that the alert sites
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 16
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should be eliminated entirely. In an effort to preserve their mission, members
of the air defense community advocated the importance of air sovereignty
against emerging "asymmetric threats" to the United States: drug smuggling,
"non-state and state-sponsored terrorists," and the proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction and ballistic missile technology.
NORAD perceived the dominant threat to be from cruise missiles. Other
threats were identified during the late 1990s, including terrorists' use of aircraft
as weapons. Exercises were conducted to counter this threat, but they were not
based on actual intelligence. In most instances, the main concern was the use
of such aircraft to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
Prior to 9/11, it was understood that an order to shoot down a commer-
cial aircraft would have to be issued by the National Command Authority (a
phrase used to describe the president and secretary of defense). Exercise plan-
ners also assumed that the aircraft would originate from outside the United
States, allowing time to identify the target and scramble interceptors.The threat
of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States--and using
them as guided missiles--was not recognized by NORAD before 9/11.
Notwithstanding the identification of these emerging threats, by 9/11 there
were only seven alert sites left in the United States, each with two fighter air-
craft on alert.This led some NORAD commanders to worry that NORAD
was not postured adequately to protect the United States.
In the United States, NORAD is divided into three sectors. On 9/11, all
the hijacked aircraft were in NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector (also
known as NEADS), which is based in Rome, New York. That morning
NEADS could call on two alert sites, each with one pair of ready fighters: Otis
Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Langley Air Force
Base in Hampton,Virginia.
Other facilities, not on "alert," would need time
to arm the fighters and organize crews.
NEADS reported to the Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR)
headquarters, in Panama City, Florida, which in turn reported to NORAD
headquarters, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Interagency Collaboration.
The FAA and NORAD had developed proto-
cols for working together in the event of a hijacking.As they existed on 9/11,
the protocols for the FAA to obtain military assistance from NORAD
required multiple levels of notification and approval at the highest levels of gov-
FAA guidance to controllers on hijack procedures assumed that the aircraft
pilot would notify the controller via radio or by "squawking" a transponder code
of "7500"--the universal code for a hijack in progress. Controllers would notify
their supervisors, who in turn would inform management all the way up to FAA
headquarters in Washington.Headquarters had a hijack coordinator,who was the
director of the FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security or his or her designate.
If a hijack was confirmed, procedures called for the hijack coordinator on
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duty to contact the Pentagon's National Military Command Center (NMCC)
and to ask for a military escort aircraft to follow the flight, report anything
unusual, and aid search and rescue in the event of an emergency.The NMCC
would then seek approval from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to pro-
vide military assistance. If approval was given, the orders would be transmitted
down NORAD's chain of command.
The NMCC would keep the FAA hijack coordinator up to date and help
the FAA centers coordinate directly with the military. NORAD would receive
tracking information for the hijacked aircraft either from joint use radar or from
the relevant FAA air traffic control facility. Every attempt would be made to
have the hijacked aircraft squawk 7500 to help NORAD track it.
The protocols did not contemplate an intercept.They assumed the fighter
escort would be discreet,"vectored to a position five miles directly behind the
hijacked aircraft," where it could perform its mission to monitor the aircraft's
flight path.
In sum, the protocols in place on 9/11 for the FAA and NORAD to
respond to a hijacking presumed that
· the hijacked aircraft would be readily identifiable and would not
attempt to disappear;
· there would be time to address the problem through the appropriate
FAA and NORAD chains of command; and
· the hijacking would take the traditional form: that is, it would not
be a suicide hijacking designed to convert the aircraft into a guided
On the morning of 9/11, the existing protocol was unsuited in every respect
for what was about to happen.
American Airlines Flight 11
FAA Awareness.
Although the Boston Center air traffic controller realized at
an early stage that there was something wrong with American 11, he did not
immediately interpret the plane's failure to respond as a sign that it had been
hijacked. At 8:14, when the flight failed to heed his instruction to climb to
35,000 feet, the controller repeatedly tried to raise the flight. He reached out
to the pilot on the emergency frequency. Though there was no response, he
kept trying to contact the aircraft.
At 8:21,American 11 turned off its transponder, immediately degrading the
information available about the aircraft.The controller told his supervisor that
he thought something was seriously wrong with the plane, although neither
suspected a hijacking.The supervisor instructed the controller to follow stan-
dard procedures for handling a "no radio" aircraft.
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The controller checked to see if American Airlines could establish commu-
nication with American 11. He became even more concerned as its route
changed, moving into another sector's airspace. Controllers immediately began
to move aircraft out of its path, and asked other aircraft in the vicinity to look
for American 11.
At 8:24:38, the following transmission came from American 11:
American 11:
We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you'll be okay.
We are returning to the airport.
The controller only heard something unintelligible; he did not hear the spe-
cific words "we have some planes." The next transmission came seconds later:
American 11:
Nobody move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make
any moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.
The controller told us that he then knew it was a hijacking. He alerted his
supervisor, who assigned another controller to assist him. He redoubled his
efforts to ascertain the flight's altitude. Because the controller didn't understand
the initial transmission, the manager of Boston Center instructed his quality
assurance specialist to "pull the tape" of the radio transmission, listen to it
closely, and report back.
Between 8:25 and 8:32, in accordance with the FAA protocol, Boston Cen-
ter managers started notifying their chain of command that American 11 had
been hijacked.At 8:28, Boston Center called the Command Center in Herndon
to advise that it believed American 11 had been hijacked and was heading toward
New York Center's airspace.
By this time, American 11 had taken a dramatic turn to the south. At 8:32,
the Command Center passed word of a possible hijacking to the Operations
Center at FAA headquarters.The duty officer replied that security personnel
at headquarters had just begun discussing the apparent hijack on a conference
call with the New England regional office. FAA headquarters began to follow
the hijack protocol but did not contact the NMCC to request a fighter
The Herndon Command Center immediately established a teleconfer-
ence between Boston, New York, and Cleveland Centers so that Boston
Center could help the others understand what was happening.
At 8:34, the Boston Center controller received a third transmission from
American 11:
American 11:
Nobody move please.We are going back to the airport.
Don't try to make any stupid moves.
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In the succeeding minutes, controllers were attempting to ascertain the alti-
tude of the southbound flight.
Military Notification and Response.
Boston Center did not follow the
protocol in seeking military assistance through the prescribed chain of com-
mand. In addition to notifications within the FAA, Boston Center took the ini-
tiative, at 8:34, to contact the military through the FAA's Cape Cod facility.
The center also tried to contact a former alert site in Atlantic City, unaware it
had been phased out. At 8:37:52, Boston Center reached NEADS. This was
the first notification received by the military--at any level--that American 11
had been hijacked:
Hi. Boston Center TMU [Traffic Management Unit], we have a
problem here.We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York,
and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s
or something up there, help us out.
Is this real-world or exercise?
No, this is not an exercise, not a test.
NEADS ordered to battle stations the two F-15 alert aircraft at Otis Air
Force Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts, 153 miles away from New York City.
The air defense of America began with this call.
At NEADS, the report of the hijacking was relayed immediately to Battle
Commander Colonel Robert Marr. After ordering the Otis fighters to battle
stations, Colonel Marr phoned Major General Larry Arnold, commanding
general of the First Air Force and NORAD's Continental Region. Marr sought
authorization to scramble the Otis fighters. General Arnold later recalled
instructing Marr to "go ahead and scramble them, and we'll get authorities
later." General Arnold then called NORAD headquarters to report.
F-15 fighters were scrambled at 8:46 from Otis Air Force Base. But NEADS
did not know where to send the alert fighter aircraft, and the officer directing
the fighters pressed for more information:"I don't know where I'm scrambling
these guys to. I need a direction, a destination." Because the hijackers had
turned off the plane's transponder, NEADS personnel spent the next minutes
searching their radar scopes for the primary radar return. American 11 struck
the North Tower at 8:46. Shortly after 8:50, while NEADS personnel were still
trying to locate the flight, word reached them that a plane had hit the World
Trade Center.
Radar data show the Otis fighters were airborne at 8:53. Lacking a target,
they were vectored toward military-controlled airspace off the Long Island
coast.To avoid New York area air traffic and uncertain about what to do, the
fighters were brought down to military airspace to "hold as needed." From 9:09
to 9:13, the Otis fighters stayed in this holding pattern.
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In summary, NEADS received notice of the hijacking nine minutes before
it struck the North Tower. That nine minutes' notice before impact was the
most the military would receive of any of the four hijackings.
United Airlines Flight 175
FAA Awareness.
One of the last transmissions from United Airlines Flight
175 is, in retrospect, chilling. By 8:40, controllers at the FAA's New York Cen-
ter were seeking information on American 11. At approximately 8:42, shortly
after entering New York Center's airspace, the pilot of United 175 broke in
with the following transmission:
UAL 175:
New York UAL 175 heavy.
UAL 175 go ahead.
UAL 175:
Yeah.We figured we'd wait to go to your center.Ah, we heard
a suspicious transmission on our departure out of Boston, ah, with
someone, ah, it sounded like someone keyed the mikes and said ah
everyone ah stay in your seats.
Oh, okay. I'll pass that along over here.
Minutes later, United 175 turned southwest without clearance from air traf-
fic control. At 8:47, seconds after the impact of American 11, United 175's
transponder code changed, and then changed again. These changes were not
noticed for several minutes, however, because the same New York Center con-
troller was assigned to both American 11 and United 175.The controller knew
American 11 was hijacked; he was focused on searching for it after the aircraft
disappeared at 8:46.
At 8:48, while the controller was still trying to locate American 11, a New
York Center manager provided the following report on a Command Center
teleconference about American 11:
Manager, New York Center:
Okay. This is New York Center. We're
watching the airplane. I also had conversation with American Air-
lines, and they've told us that they believe that one of their stew-
ardesses was stabbed and that there are people in the cockpit that
have control of the aircraft, and that's all the information they have
right now.
The New York Center controller and manager were unaware that American
11 had already crashed.
At 8:51, the controller noticed the transponder change from United 175 and
tried to contact the aircraft.There was no response. Beginning at 8:52, the con-
troller made repeated attempts to reach the crew of United 175. Still no
response.The controller checked his radio equipment and contacted another
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controller at 8:53, saying that "we may have a hijack" and that he could not
find the aircraft.
Another commercial aircraft in the vicinity then radioed in with "reports
over the radio of a commuter plane hitting the World Trade Center."The con-
troller spent the next several minutes handing off the other flights on his scope
to other controllers and moving aircraft out of the way of the unidentified air-
craft (believed to be United 175) as it moved southwest and then turned
northeast toward New York City.
At about 8:55, the controller in charge notified a New York Center man-
ager that she believed United 175 had also been hijacked.The manager tried
to notify the regional managers and was told that they were discussing a
hijacked aircraft (presumably American 11) and refused to be disturbed.At 8:58,
the New York Center controller searching for United 175 told another New
York controller "we might have a hijack over here, two of them."
Between 9:01 and 9:02, a manager from New York Center told the Com-
mand Center in Herndon:
Manager, New York Center:
We have several situations going on here. It's
escalating big, big time.We need to get the military involved with us. . . .
We're, we're involved with something else, we have other aircraft that
may have a similar situation going on here.
The "other aircraft" referred to by New York Center was United 175. Evi-
dence indicates that this conversation was the only notice received by either
FAA headquarters or the Herndon Command Center prior to the second crash
that there had been a second hijacking.
While the Command Center was told about this "other aircraft" at 9:01,
New York Center contacted New York terminal approach control and asked
for help in locating United 175.
I got somebody who keeps coasting but it looks like he's going
into one of the small airports down there.
Hold on a second. I'm trying to bring him up here and get
you--There he is right there. Hold on.
Got him just out of 9,500--9,000 now.
Do you know who he is?
We're just, we just we don't know who he is.We're just pick-
ing him up now.
Center (at 9:02):
Alright. Heads up man, it looks like another one com-
ing in.
The controllers observed the plane in a rapid descent; the radar data termi-
nated over Lower Manhattan. At 9:03, United 175 crashed into the South
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Meanwhile, a manager from Boston Center reported that they had deci-
phered what they had heard in one of the first hijacker transmissions from
American 11:
Boston Center:
Hey . . . you still there?
New England Region:
Yes, I am.
Boston Center:
. . . as far as the tape, Bobby seemed to think the guy
said that "we have planes." Now, I don't know if it was because it was
the accent, or if there's more than one, but I'm gonna, I'm gonna
reconfirm that for you, and I'll get back to you real quick. Okay?
New England Region:
Appreciate it.
Unidentified Female Voice:
They have what?
Boston Center:
Planes, as in plural.
Boston Center:
It sounds like, we're talking to New York, that there's
another one aimed at the World Trade Center.
New England Region:
There's another aircraft?
Boston Center:
A second one just hit the Trade Center.
New England Region:
Okay.Yeah, we gotta get--we gotta alert the
military real quick on this.
Boston Center immediately advised the New England Region that it was
going to stop all departures at airports under its control. At 9:05, Boston Cen-
ter confirmed for both the FAA Command Center and the New England
Region that the hijackers aboard American 11 said "we have planes." At the
same time, New York Center declared "ATC zero"--meaning that aircraft were
not permitted to depart from, arrive at, or travel through New York Center's
airspace until further notice.
Within minutes of the second impact, Boston Center instructed its con-
trollers to inform all aircraft in its airspace of the events in New York and to
advise aircraft to heighten cockpit security. Boston Center asked the Herndon
Command Center to issue a similar cockpit security alert nationwide.We have
found no evidence to suggest that the Command Center acted on this request
or issued any type of cockpit security alert.
Military Notification and Response.
The first indication that the
NORAD air defenders had of the second hijacked aircraft, United 175, came
in a phone call from New York Center to NEADS at 9:03.The notice came at
about the time the plane was hitting the South Tower.
By 9:08, the mission crew commander at NEADS learned of the second
explosion at the World Trade Center and decided against holding the fighters
in military airspace away from Manhattan:
Mission Crew Commander, NEADS:
This is what I foresee that we
probably need to do.We need to talk to FAA.We need to tell 'em if
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this stuff is gonna keep on going, we need to take those fighters, put
'em over Manhattan.That's best thing, that's the best play right now.
So coordinate with the FAA.Tell 'em if there's more out there, which
we don't know, let's get 'em over Manhattan.At least we got some kind
of play.
The FAA cleared the airspace. Radar data show that at 9:13, when the Otis
fighters were about 115 miles away from the city, the fighters exited their hold-
ing pattern and set a course direct for Manhattan. They arrived at 9:25 and
established a combat air patrol (CAP) over the city.
Because the Otis fighters had expended a great deal of fuel in flying first to
military airspace and then to New York, the battle commanders were con-
cerned about refueling. NEADS considered scrambling alert fighters from Lan-
gley Air Force Base in Virginia to New York, to provide backup.The Langley
fighters were placed on battle stations at 9:09.
NORAD had no indication
that any other plane had been hijacked.
American Airlines Flight 77
FAA Awareness.
American 77 began deviating from its flight plan at 8:54,
with a slight turn toward the south.Two minutes later, it disappeared completely
from radar at Indianapolis Center, which was controlling the flight.
The controller tracking American 77 told us he noticed the aircraft turn-
ing to the southwest, and then saw the data disappear. The controller looked
for primary radar returns. He searched along the plane's projected flight path
and the airspace to the southwest where it had started to turn. No primary tar-
gets appeared. He tried the radios, first calling the aircraft directly, then the air-
line.Again there was nothing.At this point, the Indianapolis controller had no
knowledge of the situation in New York. He did not know that other aircraft
had been hijacked. He believed American 77 had experienced serious electri-
cal or mechanical failure, or both, and was gone.
Shortly after 9:00, Indianapolis Center started notifying other agencies that
American 77 was missing and had possibly crashed.At 9:08, Indianapolis Cen-
ter asked Air Force Search and Rescue at Langley Air Force Base to look for a
downed aircraft.The center also contacted the West Virginia State Police and
asked whether any reports of a downed aircraft had been received. At 9:09, it
reported the loss of contact to the FAA regional center, which passed this infor-
mation to FAA headquarters at 9:24.
By 9:20, Indianapolis Center learned that there were other hijacked aircraft,
and began to doubt its initial assumption that American 77 had crashed.A dis-
cussion of this concern between the manager at Indianapolis and the Com-
mand Center in Herndon prompted it to notify some FAA field facilities that
American 77 was lost. By 9:21, the Command Center, some FAA field facili-
ties, and American Airlines had started to search for American 77.They feared
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it had been hijacked. At 9:25, the Command Center advised FAA headquar-
ters of the situation.
The failure to find a primary radar return for American 77 led us to inves-
tigate this issue further. Radar reconstructions performed after 9/11 reveal that
FAA radar equipment tracked the flight from the moment its transponder was
turned off at 8:56. But for 8 minutes and 13 seconds, between 8:56 and 9:05,
this primary radar information on American 77 was not displayed to controllers
at Indianapolis Center.
The reasons are technical, arising from the way the
software processed radar information, as well as from poor primary radar cov-
erage where American 77 was flying.
According to the radar reconstruction,American 77 reemerged as a primary
target on Indianapolis Center radar scopes at 9:05, east of its last known posi-
tion.The target remained in Indianapolis Center's airspace for another six min-
utes, then crossed into the western portion of Washington Center's airspace at
9:10.As Indianapolis Center continued searching for the aircraft, two managers
and the controller responsible for American 77 looked to the west and south-
west along the flight's projected path, not east--where the aircraft was now
heading. Managers did not instruct other controllers at Indianapolis Center to
turn on their primary radar coverage to join in the search for American 77.
In sum, Indianapolis Center never saw Flight 77 turn around. By the time
it reappeared in primary radar coverage, controllers had either stopped look-
ing for the aircraft because they thought it had crashed or were looking toward
the west. Although the Command Center learned Flight 77 was missing, nei-
ther it nor FAA headquarters issued an all points bulletin to surrounding cen-
ters to search for primary radar targets. American 77 traveled undetected for
36 minutes on a course heading due east for Washington, D.C.
By 9:25, FAA's Herndon Command Center and FAA headquarters knew
two aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center.They knew American 77
was lost. At least some FAA officials in Boston Center and the New England
Region knew that a hijacker on board American 11 had said "we have some
planes." Concerns over the safety of other aircraft began to mount.A manager at
the Herndon Command Center asked FAA headquarters if they wanted to order
a "nationwide ground stop." While this was being discussed by executives at FAA
headquarters, the Command Center ordered one at 9:25.
The Command Center kept looking for American 77. At 9:21, it advised the
Dulles terminal control facility, and Dulles urged its controllers to look for pri-
mary targets. At 9:32, they found one. Several of the Dulles controllers
"observed a primary radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed" and
notified Reagan National Airport. FAA personnel at both Reagan National and
Dulles airports notified the Secret Service. The aircraft's identity or type was
Reagan National controllers then vectored an unarmed National Guard C-
130H cargo aircraft, which had just taken off en route to Minnesota, to iden-
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tify and follow the suspicious aircraft.The C-130H pilot spotted it, identified
it as a Boeing 757, attempted to follow its path, and at 9:38, seconds after
impact, reported to the control tower:"looks like that aircraft crashed into the
Pentagon sir."
Military Notification and Response.
NORAD heard nothing about the
search for American 77. Instead, the NEADS air defenders heard renewed
reports about a plane that no longer existed: American 11.
At 9:21, NEADS received a report from the FAA:
Military, Boston Center. I just had a report that American 11 is still
in the air, and it's on its way towards--heading towards Washington.
Okay. American 11 is still in the air?
On its way towards Washington?
That was another--it was evidently another aircraft that hit the
tower.That's the latest report we have.
I'm going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume
he's somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further
Okay. So American 11 isn't the hijack at all then, right?
No, he is a hijack.
He--American 11 is a hijack?
And he's heading into Washington?
Yes.This could be a third aircraft.
The mention of a "third aircraft" was not a reference to American 77. There
was confusion at that moment in the FAA. Two planes had struck the World
Trade Center, and Boston Center had heard from FAA headquarters in Wash-
ington that American 11 was still airborne.We have been unable to identify the
source of this mistaken FAA information.
The NEADS technician who took this call from the FAA immediately
passed the word to the mission crew commander, who reported to the
NEADS battle commander:
Mission Crew Commander, NEADS:
Okay, uh, American Airlines is
still airborne. Eleven, the first guy, he's heading towards Washington.
Okay? I think we need to scramble Langley right now.And I'm gonna
take the fighters from Otis, try to chase this guy down if I can find
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After consulting with NEADS command, the crew commander issued the
order at 9:23:"Okay . . . scramble Langley. Head them towards the Washington
area. . . . [I]f they're there then we'll run on them. . . . These guys are smart."
That order was processed and transmitted to Langley Air Force Base at 9:24.
Radar data show the Langley fighters airborne at 9:30. NEADS decided to
keep the Otis fighters over New York.The heading of the Langley fighters was
adjusted to send them to the Baltimore area. The mission crew commander
explained to us that the purpose was to position the Langley fighters between
the reported southbound American 11 and the nation's capital.
At the suggestion of the Boston Center's military liaison, NEADS contacted
the FAA's Washington Center to ask about American 11. In the course of the
conversation, a Washington Center manager informed NEADS:"We're look-
ing--we also lost American 77." The time was 9:34.
This was the first notice
to the military that American 77 was missing, and it had come by chance. If
NEADS had not placed that call, the NEADS air defenders would have
received no information whatsoever that the flight was even missing, although
the FAA had been searching for it. No one at FAA headquarters ever asked for
military assistance with American 77.
At 9:36, the FAA's Boston Center called NEADS and relayed the discovery
about an unidentified aircraft closing in on Washington:"Latest report.Aircraft
VFR [visual flight rules] six miles southeast of the White House. . . . Six, south-
west. Six, southwest of the White House, deviating away." This startling news
prompted the mission crew commander at NEADS to take immediate control
of the airspace to clear a flight path for the Langley fighters:"Okay, we're going
to turn it . . . crank it up. . . . Run them to the White House." He then discov-
ered, to his surprise, that the Langley fighters were not headed north toward
the Baltimore area as instructed, but east over the ocean."I don't care how many
windows you break," he said."Damn it. . . . Okay. Push them back."
The Langley fighters were heading east, not north, for three reasons. First,
unlike a normal scramble order, this order did not include a distance to the tar-
get or the target's location. Second, a "generic" flight plan--prepared to get the
aircraft airborne and out of local airspace quickly--incorrectly led the Lang-
ley fighters to believe they were ordered to fly due east (090) for 60 miles.Third,
the lead pilot and local FAA controller incorrectly assumed the flight plan
instruction to go "090 for 60" superseded the original scramble order.
After the 9:36 call to NEADS about the unidentified aircraft a few miles
from the White House, the Langley fighters were ordered to Washington, D.C.
Controllers at NEADS located an unknown primary radar track, but "it kind
of faded" over Washington.The time was 9:38.The Pentagon had been struck
by American 77 at 9:37:46.The Langley fighters were about 150 miles away.
Right after the Pentagon was hit, NEADS learned of another possible
hijacked aircraft. It was an aircraft that in fact had not been hijacked at all.After
the second World Trade Center crash, Boston Center managers recognized that
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both aircraft were transcontinental 767 jetliners that had departed Logan Air-
port. Remembering the "we have some planes" remark, Boston Center
guessed that Delta 1989 might also be hijacked. Boston Center called NEADS
at 9:41 and identified Delta 1989, a 767 jet that had left Logan Airport for Las
Vegas, as a possible hijack. NEADS warned the FAA's Cleveland Center to
watch Delta 1989. The Command Center and FAA headquarters watched it
too. During the course of the morning, there were multiple erroneous reports
of hijacked aircraft. The report of American 11 heading south was the first;
Delta 1989 was the second.
NEADS never lost track of Delta 1989, and even ordered fighter aircraft
from Ohio and Michigan to intercept it. The flight never turned off its
transponder. NEADS soon learned that the aircraft was not hijacked, and
tracked Delta 1989 as it reversed course over Toledo, headed east, and landed
in Cleveland.
But another aircraft was heading toward Washington, an air-
craft about which NORAD had heard nothing: United 93.
United Airlines Flight 93
FAA Awareness.
At 9:27, after having been in the air for 45 minutes, United
93 acknowledged a transmission from the Cleveland Center controller.This was
the last normal contact the FAA had with the flight.
Less than a minute later, the Cleveland controller and the pilots of aircraft
in the vicinity heard "a radio transmission of unintelligible sounds of possible
screaming or a struggle from an unknown origin."
The controller responded, seconds later: "Somebody call Cleveland?"This
was followed by a second radio transmission, with sounds of screaming. The
Cleveland Center controllers began to try to identify the possible source of the
transmissions, and noticed that United 93 had descended some 700 feet.The
controller attempted again to raise United 93 several times, with no response.
At 9:30, the controller began to poll the other flights on his frequency to deter-
mine if they had heard the screaming; several said they had.
At 9:32, a third radio transmission came over the frequency:"Keep remain-
ing sitting.We have a bomb on board."The controller understood, but chose
to respond: "Calling Cleveland Center, you're unreadable. Say again, slowly."
He notified his supervisor, who passed the notice up the chain of command.
By 9:34, word of the hijacking had reached FAA headquarters.
FAA headquarters had by this time established an open line of communi-
cation with the Command Center at Herndon and instructed it to poll all its
centers about suspect aircraft.The Command Center executed the request and,
a minute later, Cleveland Center reported that "United 93 may have a bomb
on board."At 9:34, the Command Center relayed the information concerning
United 93 to FAA headquarters.At approximately 9:36, Cleveland advised the
Command Center that it was still tracking United 93 and specifically inquired
whether someone had requested the military to launch fighter aircraft to inter-
cept the aircraft. Cleveland even told the Command Center it was prepared to
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contact a nearby military base to make the request.The Command Center told
Cleveland that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command had
to make the decision to seek military assistance and were working on the issue.
Between 9:34 and 9:38, the Cleveland controller observed United 93 climb-
ing to 40,700 feet and immediately moved several aircraft out its way.The con-
troller continued to try to contact United 93, and asked whether the pilot could
confirm that he had been hijacked.
There was no response.
Then, at 9:39, a fourth radio transmission was heard from United 93:
Ziad Jarrah:
Uh, this is the captain.Would like you all to remain seated.
There is a bomb on board and are going back to the airport, and to
have our demands [unintelligible]. Please remain quiet.
The controller responded: "United 93, understand you have a bomb on
board. Go ahead." The flight did not respond.
From 9:34 to 10:08, a Command Center facility manager provided frequent
updates to Acting Deputy Administrator Monte Belger and other executives at
FAA headquarters as United 93 headed toward Washington, D.C. At 9:41,
Cleveland Center lost United 93's transponder signal. The controller located
it on primary radar, matched its position with visual sightings from other air-
craft, and tracked the flight as it turned east, then south.
At 9:42, the Command Center learned from news reports that a plane had
struck the Pentagon.The Command Center's national operations manager, Ben
Sliney, ordered all FAA facilities to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest
airport.This was an unprecedented order.The air traffic control system han-
dled it with great skill, as about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft
soon landed without incident.
At 9:46 the Command Center updated FAA headquarters that United 93
was now "twenty-nine minutes out of Washington, D.C."
At 9:49, 13 minutes after Cleveland Center had asked about getting mili-
tary help, the Command Center suggested that someone at headquarters should
decide whether to request military assistance:
FAA Headquarters:
They're pulling Jeff away to go talk about United
Command Center:
Uh, do we want to think, uh, about scrambling
FAA Headquarters:
Oh, God, I don't know.
Command Center:
Uh, that's a decision somebody's gonna have to
make probably in the next ten minutes.
FAA Headquarters:
Uh, ya know everybody just left the room.
At 9:53, FAA headquarters informed the Command Center that the deputy
director for air traffic services was talking to Monte Belger about scrambling
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aircraft. Then the Command Center informed headquarters that controllers
had lost track of United 93 over the Pittsburgh area.Within seconds, the Com-
mand Center received a visual report from another aircraft, and informed head-
quarters that the aircraft was 20 miles northwest of Johnstown. United 93 was
spotted by another aircraft, and, at 10:01, the Command Center advised FAA
headquarters that one of the aircraft had seen United 93 "waving his wings."
The aircraft had witnessed the hijackers' efforts to defeat the passengers' coun-
United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03:11, 125 miles from Washington,
D.C. The precise crash time has been the subject of some dispute.The 10:03:11
impact time is supported by previous National Transportation Safety Board
analysis and by evidence from the Commission staff 's analysis of radar, the flight
data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, infrared satellite data, and air traffic
control transmissions.
Five minutes later, the Command Center forwarded this update to head-
Command Center:
O.K. Uh, there is now on that United 93.
FAA Headquarters:
Command Center:
There is a report of black smoke in the last position
I gave you, fifteen miles south of Johnstown.
FAA Headquarters:
From the airplane or from the ground?
Command Center:
Uh, they're speculating it's from the aircraft.
FAA Headquarters:
Command Center:
Uh, who, it hit the ground.That's what they're spec-
ulating, that's speculation only.
The aircraft that spotted the "black smoke" was the same unarmed Air
National Guard cargo plane that had seen American 77 crash into the Penta-
gon 27 minutes earlier. It had resumed its flight to Minnesota and saw the
smoke from the crash of United 93, less than two minutes after the plane went
down. At 10:17, the Command Center advised headquarters of its conclusion
that United 93 had indeed crashed.
Despite the discussions about military assistance, no one from FAA head-
quarters requested military assistance regarding United 93. Nor did any man-
ager at FAA headquarters pass any of the information it had about United 93
to the military.
Military Notification and Response.
NEADS first received a call about
United 93 from the military liaison at Cleveland Center at 10:07. Unaware that
the aircraft had already crashed, Cleveland passed to NEADS the aircraft's last
known latitude and longitude. NEADS was never able to locate United 93 on
radar because it was already in the ground.
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 30
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At the same time, the NEADS mission crew commander was dealing with
the arrival of the Langley fighters over Washington, D.C., sorting out what their
orders were with respect to potential targets. Shortly after 10:10, and having
no knowledge either that United 93 had been heading toward Washington or
that it had crashed, he explicitly instructed the Langley fighters: "negative--
negative clearance to shoot" aircraft over the nation's capital.
The news of a reported bomb on board United 93 spread quickly at
NEADS.The air defenders searched for United 93's primary radar return and
tried to locate other fighters to scramble. NEADS called Washington Center
to report:
I also want to give you a heads-up,Washington.
Go ahead.
United nine three, have you got information on that yet?
Yeah, he's down.
He's down?
When did he land? 'Cause we have got confirmation--
He did not land.
Oh, he's down? Down?
Yes. Somewhere up northeast of Camp David.
Northeast of Camp David.
That's the last report.They don't know exactly where.
The time of notification of the crash of United 93 was 10:15.
NEADS air defenders never located the flight or followed it on their radar
scopes.The flight had already crashed by the time they learned it was hijacked.
Clarifying the Record
The defense of U.S. airspace on 9/11 was not conducted in accord with pre-
existing training and protocols. It was improvised by civilians who had never
handled a hijacked aircraft that attempted to disappear, and by a military unpre-
pared for the transformation of commercial aircraft into weapons of mass
destruction. As it turned out, the NEADS air defenders had nine minutes'
notice on the first hijacked plane, no advance notice on the second, no advance
notice on the third, and no advance notice on the fourth.
We do not believe that the true picture of that morning reflects discredit on
the operational personnel at NEADS or FAA facilities. NEADS commanders
and officers actively sought out information, and made the best judgments they
could on the basis of what they knew. Individual FAA controllers, facility man-
agers, and Command Center managers thought outside the box in recommend-
ing a nationwide alert, in ground-stopping local traffic, and, ultimately, in
deciding to land all aircraft and executing that unprecedented order flawlessly.
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 31
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American Airlines Flight 11
(AA 11)
Boston to Los Angeles
United Airlines Flight 175
(UA 175)
Boston to Los Angeles
Last routine radio
communication; likely takeover
Flight attendant notifies AA of
Transponder is turned off
AA attempts to contact the
Boston Center aware of
Boston Center notifies NEADS
of hijacking
NEADS scrambles Otis fighter
jets in search of AA 11
AA 11 crashes into 1 WTC
(North Tower)
Otis fighter jets airborne
AA headquarters aware that
Flight 11 has crashed into
9:21 Boston
advises NEADS
that AA 11 is airborne heading
for Washington
NEADS scrambles Langley
fighter jets in search of
AA 11
Last radio communication
8:42-8:46 Likely takeover
Transponder code changes
Flight attendant notifies UA of
UA attempts to contact the
New York Center suspects
Flight 175 crashes into 2 WTC
(South Tower)
New York Center advises
NEADS that UA 175 was the
second aircraft crashed into
UA headquarters aware that
Flight 175 had crashed into
New York City
New York City
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 32
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American Airlines Flight 77
(AA 77)
Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles
United Airlines Flight 93
(UA 93)
Newark to San Francisco
Last routine radio
8:51-8:54 Likely takeover
Flight 77 makes unauthorized
turn to south
Transponder is turned off
AA headquarters aware that
Flight 77 is hijacked
Herndon Command Center
orders nationwide ground stop
Dulles tower observes radar of
fast-moving aircraft (later
identified as AA 77)
FAA advises NEADS that
AA 77 is missing
AA 77 crashes into the
AA headquarters confirms
Flight 77 crash into Pentagon
Flight 93 receives warning
from UA about possible
cockpit intrusion
Last routine radio
9:28 Likely
Herndon Command Center
advises FAA headquarters that
UA 93 is hijacked
Flight attendant notifies UA of
hijacking; UA attempts to
contact the cockpit
Transponder is turned off
Passenger revolt begins
10:03:11 Flight 93 crashes in field in
Shanksville, PA
Cleveland Center advises
NEADS of UA 93 hijacking
10:15 UA
Flight 93 has crashed in PA;
Washington Center advises
NEADS that Flight 93 has
crashed in PA
Shanksville, PA
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 33
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More than the actual events, inaccurate government accounts of those events
made it appear that the military was notified in time to respond to two of the
hijackings, raising questions about the adequacy of the response.Those accounts
had the effect of deflecting questions about the military's capacity to obtain
timely and accurate information from its own sources. In addition, they over-
stated the FAA's ability to provide the military with timely and useful informa-
tion that morning.
In public testimony before this Commission in May 2003, NORAD offi-
cials stated that at 9:16, NEADS received hijack notification of United 93 from
the FAA.
This statement was incorrect.There was no hijack to report at 9:16.
United 93 was proceeding normally at that time.
In this same public testimony, NORAD officials stated that at 9:24,
NEADS received notification of the hijacking of American 77.
This state-
ment was also incorrect.The notice NEADS received at 9:24 was that Amer-
ican 11 had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington,
In their testimony and in other public accounts, NORAD officials also
stated that the Langley fighters were scrambled to respond to the notifications
about American 77,
United 93, or both.These statements were incorrect as
well.The fighters were scrambled because of the report that American 11 was
heading south, as is clear not just from taped conversations at NEADS but also
from taped conversations at FAA centers; contemporaneous logs compiled at
NEADS, Continental Region headquarters, and NORAD; and other records.
Yet this response to a phantom aircraft was not recounted in a single public
timeline or statement issued by the FAA or Department of Defense.The inac-
curate accounts created the impression that the Langley scramble was a logical
response to an actual hijacked aircraft.
In fact, not only was the scramble prompted by the mistaken information
about American 11, but NEADS never received notice that American 77 was
hijacked. It was notified at 9:34 that American 77 was lost.Then, minutes later,
NEADS was told that an unknown plane was 6 miles southwest of the White
House. Only then did the already scrambled airplanes start moving directly
toward Washington, D.C.
Thus the military did not have 14 minutes to respond to American 77, as
testimony to the Commission in May 2003 suggested. It had at most one or
two minutes to react to the unidentified plane approaching Washington, and
the fighters were in the wrong place to be able to help.They had been respond-
ing to a report about an aircraft that did not exist.
Nor did the military have 47 minutes to respond to United 93, as would be
implied by the account that it received notice of the flight's hijacking at 9:16.
By the time the military learned about the flight, it had crashed.
We now turn to the role of national leadership in the events that morning.
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 34
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When American 11 struck the World Trade Center at 8:46, no one in the White
House or traveling with the President knew that it had been hijacked.While
that information circulated within the FAA, we found no evidence that the
hijacking was reported to any other agency in Washington before 8:46.
Most federal agencies learned about the crash in New York from CNN.
Within the FAA, the administrator, Jane Garvey, and her acting deputy, Monte
Belger, had not been told of a confirmed hijacking before they learned from
television that a plane had crashed.
Others in the agency were aware of it,
as we explained earlier in this chapter.
Inside the National Military Command Center, the deputy director of oper-
ations and his assistant began notifying senior Pentagon officials of the inci-
dent. At about 9:00, the senior NMCC operations officer reached out to the
FAA operations center for information. Although the NMCC was advised of
the hijacking of American 11, the scrambling of jets was not discussed.
In Sarasota, Florida, the presidential motorcade was arriving at the Emma
E. Booker Elementary School, where President Bush was to read to a class and
talk about education.White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told us he was
standing with the President outside the classroom when Senior Advisor to the
President Karl Rove first informed them that a small, twin-engine plane had
crashed into the World Trade Center.The President's reaction was that the inci-
dent must have been caused by pilot error.
At 8:55, before entering the classroom, the President spoke to National
Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who was at the White House. She recalled
first telling the President it was a twin-engine aircraft--and then a commer-
cial aircraft--that had struck the World Trade Center, adding "that's all we know
right now, Mr. President."
At the White House,Vice President Dick Cheney had just sat down for a
meeting when his assistant told him to turn on his television because a plane
had struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The Vice President was
wondering "how the hell could a plane hit the World Trade Center" when he
saw the second aircraft strike the South Tower.
Elsewhere in the White House, a series of 9:00 meetings was about to begin.
In the absence of information that the crash was anything other than an acci-
dent, the White House staff monitored the news as they went ahead with their
regular schedules.
The Agencies Confer
When they learned a second plane had struck the World Trade Center, nearly
everyone in the White House told us, they immediately knew it was not an
accident. The Secret Service initiated a number of security enhancements
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 35
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around the White House complex. The officials who issued these orders did
not know that there were additional hijacked aircraft, or that one such aircraft
was en route to Washington. These measures were precautionary steps taken
because of the strikes in New York.
The FAA and White House Teleconferences.
The FAA, the White House,
and the Defense Department each initiated a multiagency teleconference
before 9:30. Because none of these teleconferences--at least before 10:00--
included the right officials from both the FAA and Defense Department, none
succeeded in meaningfully coordinating the military and FAA response to the
At about 9:20, security personnel at FAA headquarters set up a hijacking
teleconference with several agencies, including the Defense Department.The
NMCC officer who participated told us that the call was monitored only peri-
odically because the information was sporadic,it was of little value,and there were
other important tasks. The FAA manager of the teleconference also remem-
bered that the military participated only briefly before the Pentagon was hit.
Both individuals agreed that the teleconference played no role in coordinating
a response to the attacks of 9/11.Acting Deputy Administrator Belger was frus-
trated to learn later in the morning that the military had not been on the call.
At the White House, the video teleconference was conducted from the Sit-
uation Room by Richard Clarke, a special assistant to the president long
involved in counterterrorism. Logs indicate that it began at 9:25 and included
the CIA; the FBI; the departments of State, Justice, and Defense; the FAA; and
the White House shelter. The FAA and CIA joined at 9:40. The first topic
addressed in the White House video teleconference--at about 9:40--was the
physical security of the President, the White House, and federal agencies.
Immediately thereafter it was reported that a plane had hit the Pentagon.We
found no evidence that video teleconference participants had any prior infor-
mation that American 77 had been hijacked and was heading directly toward
Washington. Indeed, it is not clear to us that the video teleconference was fully
under way before 9:37, when the Pentagon was struck.
Garvey, Belger, and other senior officials from FAA headquarters partici-
pated in this video teleconference at various times.We do not know who from
Defense participated, but we know that in the first hour none of the person-
nel involved in managing the crisis did.And none of the information conveyed
in the White House video teleconference, at least in the first hour, was being
passed to the NMCC.As one witness recalled,"[It] was almost like there were
parallel decisionmaking processes going on; one was a voice conference
orchestrated by the NMCC . . . and then there was the [White House video
teleconference]. . . . [I]n my mind they were competing venues for command
and control and decisionmaking."
At 10:03, the conference received reports of more missing aircraft, "2 pos-
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 36
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sibly 3 aloft," and learned of a combat air patrol over Washington. There was
discussion of the need for rules of engagement. Clarke reported that they were
asking the President for authority to shoot down aircraft. Confirmation of that
authority came at 10:25, but the commands were already being conveyed in
more direct contacts with the Pentagon.
The Pentagon Teleconferences.
Inside the National Military Command
Center, the deputy director for operations immediately thought the second
strike was a terrorist attack.The job of the NMCC in such an emergency is to
gather the relevant parties and establish the chain of command between the
National Command Authority--the president and the secretary of defense--
and those who need to carry out their orders.
On the morning of September 11, Secretary Rumsfeld was having break-
fast at the Pentagon with a group of members of Congress. He then returned
to his office for his daily intelligence briefing.The Secretary was informed of
the second strike in New York during the briefing; he resumed the briefing
while awaiting more information. After the Pentagon was struck, Secretary
Rumsfeld went to the parking lot to assist with rescue efforts.
Inside the NMCC, the deputy director for operations called for an all-
purpose "significant event" conference. It began at 9:29, with a brief recap: two
aircraft had struck the World Trade Center, there was a confirmed hijacking of
American 11, and Otis fighters had been scrambled.The FAA was asked to pro-
vide an update, but the line was silent because the FAA had not been added to
the call.A minute later, the deputy director stated that it had just been confirmed
that American 11 was still airborne and heading toward D.C. He directed the
transition to an air threat conference call. NORAD confirmed that American
11 was airborne and heading toward Washington, relaying the erroneous FAA
information already mentioned.The call then ended, at about 9:34.
It resumed at 9:37 as an air threat conference call,
which lasted more than
eight hours.The President,Vice President, Secretary of Defense,Vice Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen
Hadley all participated in this teleconference at various times, as did military
personnel from the White House underground shelter and the President's mil-
itary aide on Air Force One.
Operators worked feverishly to include the FAA, but they had equipment
problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers. NORAD asked three
times before 10:03 to confirm the presence of the FAA in the teleconference.
The FAA representative who finally joined the call at 10:17 had no familiar-
ity with or responsibility for hijackings, no access to decisionmakers, and none
of the information available to senior FAA officials.
* All times given for this conference call are estimates, which we and the Department of Defense believe to
be accurate within a ± 3 minute margin of error.
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 37
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We found no evidence that, at this critical time, NORAD's top command-
ers, in Florida or Cheyenne Mountain, coordinated with their counterparts at
FAA headquarters to improve awareness and organize a common response.
Lower-level officials improvised--for example, the FAA's Boston Center
bypassed the chain of command and directly contacted NEADS after the first
hijacking. But the highest-level Defense Department officials relied on the
NMCC's air threat conference, in which the FAA did not participate for the
first 48 minutes.
At 9:39, the NMCC's deputy director for operations, a military officer,
opened the call from the Pentagon, which had just been hit. He began:"An air
attack against North America may be in progress. NORAD, what's the situa-
tion?" NORAD said it had conflicting reports. Its latest information was "of a
possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK en route to Washington D.C."
The NMCC reported a crash into the mall side of the Pentagon and requested
that the Secretary of Defense be added to the conference.
At 9:44, NORAD briefed the conference on the possible hijacking of Delta
1989.Two minutes later, staff reported that they were still trying to locate Sec-
retary Rumsfeld and Vice Chairman Myers. The Vice Chairman joined the
conference shortly before 10:00; the Secretary, shortly before 10:30.The Chair-
man was out of the country.
At 9:48, a representative from the White House shelter asked if there were
any indications of another hijacked aircraft.The deputy director for operations
mentioned the Delta flight and concluded that "that would be the fourth pos-
sible hijack." At 9:49, the commander of NORAD directed all air sovereignty
aircraft to battle stations, fully armed.
At 9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Mil-
itary Office joined the conference and stated he had just talked to Deputy
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.The White House requested (1) the
implementation of continuity of government measures, (2) fighter escorts for
Air Force One, and (3) a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, D.C.
By 10:03, when United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, there had been no
mention of its hijacking and the FAA had not yet been added to the tele-
The President and the Vice President
The President was seated in a classroom when, at 9:05,Andrew Card whispered
to him: "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack." The
President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see
an excited reaction at a moment of crisis. The press was standing behind the
children; he saw their phones and pagers start to ring. The President felt he
should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was
The President remained in the classroom for another five to seven minutes,
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 38
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while the children continued reading. He then returned to a holding room
shortly before 9:15, where he was briefed by staff and saw television coverage.
He next spoke to Vice President Cheney, Dr. Rice, New York Governor George
Pataki, and FBI Director Robert Mueller. He decided to make a brief state-
ment from the school before leaving for the airport.The Secret Service told us
they were anxious to move the President to a safer location, but did not think
it imperative for him to run out the door.
Between 9:15 and 9:30, the staff was busy arranging a return to Washington,
while the President consulted his senior advisers about his remarks. No one in
the traveling party had any information during this time that other aircraft were
hijacked or missing. Staff was in contact with the White House Situation Room,
but as far as we could determine, no one with the President was in contact with
the Pentagon.The focus was on the President's statement to the nation.The only
decision made during this time was to return to Washington.
The President's motorcade departed at 9:35, and arrived at the airport
between 9:42 and 9:45. During the ride the President learned about the attack
on the Pentagon. He boarded the aircraft, asked the Secret Service about the
safety of his family, and called the Vice President. According to notes of the
call, at about 9:45 the President told the Vice President:"Sounds like we have
a minor war going on here, I heard about the Pentagon.We're at war . . . some-
body's going to pay."
About this time, Card, the lead Secret Service agent, the President's military
aide, and the pilot were conferring on a possible destination for Air Force One.
The Secret Service agent felt strongly that the situation in Washington was too
unstable for the President to return there, and Card agreed. The President
strongly wanted to return to Washington and only grudgingly agreed to go
elsewhere.The issue was still undecided when the President conferred with the
Vice President at about the time Air Force One was taking off. The Vice Pres-
ident recalled urging the President not to return to Washington.Air Force One
departed at about 9:54 without any fixed destination.The objective was to get
up in the air--as fast and as high as possible--and then decide where to go.
At 9:33, the tower supervisor at Reagan National Airport picked up a
hotline to the Secret Service and told the Service's operations center that
"an aircraft [is] coming at you and not talking with us." This was the first
specific report to the Secret Service of a direct threat to the White House.
No move was made to evacuate the Vice President at this time. As the offi-
cer who took the call explained, "[I was] about to push the alert button
when the tower advised that the aircraft was turning south and approach-
ing Reagan National Airport."
American 77 began turning south, away from the White House, at 9:34. It
continued heading south for roughly a minute, before turning west and begin-
ning to circle back.This news prompted the Secret Service to order the imme-
diate evacuation of the Vice President just before 9:36. Agents propelled him
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 39
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out of his chair and told him he had to get to the bunker.The Vice President
entered the underground tunnel leading to the shelter at 9:37.
Once inside,Vice President Cheney and the agents paused in an area of the
tunnel that had a secure phone, a bench, and television. The Vice President
asked to speak to the President, but it took time for the call to be connected.
He learned in the tunnel that the Pentagon had been hit, and he saw televi-
sion coverage of smoke coming from the building.
The Secret Service logged Mrs. Cheney's arrival at the White House at 9:52,
and she joined her husband in the tunnel. According to contemporaneous
notes, at 9:55 the Vice President was still on the phone with the President advis-
ing that three planes were missing and one had hit the Pentagon. We believe
this is the same call in which the Vice President urged the President not to
return to Washington. After the call ended, Mrs. Cheney and the Vice Presi-
dent moved from the tunnel to the shelter conference room.
United 93 and the Shootdown Order
On the morning of 9/11, the President and Vice President stayed in contact
not by an open line of communication but through a series of calls.The Pres-
ident told us he was frustrated with the poor communications that morning.
He could not reach key officials, including Secretary Rumsfeld, for a period of
time.The line to the White House shelter conference room--and the Vice Pres-
ident--kept cutting off.
The Vice President remembered placing a call to the President just after
entering the shelter conference room. There is conflicting evidence about
when the Vice President arrived in the shelter conference room.We have con-
cluded, from the available evidence, that the Vice President arrived in the room
shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58.The Vice President recalled being told, just
after his arrival, that the Air Force was trying to establish a combat air patrol
over Washington.
The Vice President stated that he called the President to discuss the rules of
engagement for the CAP. He recalled feeling that it did no good to establish
the CAP unless the pilots had instructions on whether they were authorized
to shoot if the plane would not divert. He said the President signed off on that
concept. The President said he remembered such a conversation, and that it
reminded him of when he had been an interceptor pilot.The President empha-
sized to us that he had authorized the shootdown of hijacked aircraft.
The Vice President's military aide told us he believed the Vice President
spoke to the President just after entering the conference room, but he did not
hear what they said. Rice, who entered the room shortly after the Vice Presi-
dent and sat next to him, remembered hearing him inform the President,"Sir,
the CAPs are up. Sir, they're going to want to know what to do." Then she
recalled hearing him say, "Yes sir." She believed this conversation occurred a
few minutes, perhaps five, after they entered the conference room.
We believe this call would have taken place sometime before 10:10 to 10:15.
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 40
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Among the sources that reflect other important events of that morning, there
is no documentary evidence for this call, but the relevant sources are incom-
plete. Others nearby who were taking notes, such as the Vice President's chief
of staff, Scooter Libby, who sat next to him, and Mrs. Cheney, did not note a
call between the President and Vice President immediately after the Vice Pres-
ident entered the conference room.
At 10:02, the communicators in the shelter began receiving reports from
the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft--presumably hijacked--heading
toward Washington.That aircraft was United 93.The Secret Service was get-
ting this information directly from the FAA.The FAA may have been track-
ing the progress of United 93 on a display that showed its projected path to
Washington, not its actual radar return.Thus, the Secret Service was relying on
projections and was not aware the plane was already down in Pennsylvania.
At some time between 10:10 and 10:15, a military aide told the Vice Pres-
ident and others that the aircraft was 80 miles out. Vice President Cheney was
asked for authority to engage the aircraft.
His reaction was described by
Scooter Libby as quick and decisive, "in about the time it takes a batter to
decide to swing." The Vice President authorized fighter aircraft to engage the
inbound plane. He told us he based this authorization on his earlier conversa-
tion with the President.The military aide returned a few minutes later, proba-
bly between 10:12 and 10:18, and said the aircraft was 60 miles out. He again
asked for authorization to engage.The Vice President again said yes.
At the conference room table was White House Deputy Chief of Staff
Joshua Bolten. Bolten watched the exchanges and, after what he called "a quiet
moment," suggested that the Vice President get in touch with the President and
confirm the engage order. Bolten told us he wanted to make sure the Presi-
dent was told that the Vice President had executed the order. He said he had
not heard any prior discussion on the subject with the President.
The Vice President was logged calling the President at 10:18 for a two-
minute conversation that obtained the confirmation. On Air Force One, the
President's press secretary was taking notes; Ari Fleischer recorded that at
10:20, the President told him that he had authorized a shootdown of aircraft
if necessary.
Minutes went by and word arrived of an aircraft down in Pennsylvania.
Those in the shelter wondered if the aircraft had been shot down pursuant to
this authorization.
At approximately 10:30, the shelter started receiving reports of another
hijacked plane, this time only 5 to 10 miles out. Believing they had only a
minute or two, the Vice President again communicated the authorization to
"engage or "take out" the aircraft. At 10:33, Hadley told the air threat confer-
ence call: "I need to get word to Dick Myers that our reports are there's an
inbound aircraft flying low 5 miles out.The Vice President's guidance was we
need to take them out."
Once again, there was no immediate information about the fate of the
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 41
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inbound aircraft. In the apt description of one witness,"It drops below the radar
screen and it's just continually hovering in your imagination; you don't know
where it is or what happens to it." Eventually, the shelter received word that
the alleged hijacker 5 miles away had been a medevac helicopter.
Transmission of the Authorization from the White House
to the Pilots
The NMCC learned of United 93's hijacking at about 10:03.At this time the
FAA had no contact with the military at the level of national command.The
NMCC learned about United 93 from the White House. It, in turn, was
informed by the Secret Service's contacts with the FAA.
NORAD had no information either. At 10:07, its representative on the air
threat conference call stated that NORAD had "no indication of a hijack head-
ing to DC at this time."
Repeatedly between 10:14 and 10:19, a lieutenant colonel at the White
House relayed to the NMCC that the Vice President had confirmed fighters
were cleared to engage inbound aircraft if they could verify that the aircraft
was hijacked.
The commander of NORAD, General Ralph Eberhart, was en route to the
NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, when the
shootdown order was communicated on the air threat conference call. He told
us that by the time he arrived, the order had already been passed down
NORAD's chain of command.
It is not clear how the shootdown order was communicated within
NORAD. But we know that at 10:31, General Larry Arnold instructed his staff
to broadcast the following over a NORAD instant messaging system: "10:31
Vice president has cleared to us to intercept tracks of interest and shoot them
down if they do not respond per [General Arnold]."
In upstate New York, NEADS personnel first learned of the shootdown
order from this message:
Floor Leadership:
You need to read this. . . .The Region Commander
has declared that we can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to
our direction. Copy that?
Copy that, sir.
Floor Leadership:
So if you're trying to divert somebody and he won't
DO [Director of Operations] is saying no.
Floor Leadership:
No? It came over the chat. . . .You got a conflict on
that direction?
Right now no, but--
Floor Leadership:
Okay? Okay, you read that from the Vice President,
right? Vice President has cleared. Vice President has cleared us to
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intercept traffic and shoot them down if they do not respond per
[General Arnold].
In interviews with us, NEADS personnel expressed considerable confusion
over the nature and effect of the order.
The NEADS commander told us he did not pass along the order because
he was unaware of its ramifications. Both the mission commander and the sen-
ior weapons director indicated they did not pass the order to the fighters cir-
cling Washington and New York because they were unsure how the pilots
would, or should, proceed with this guidance. In short, while leaders in
Washington believed that the fighters above them had been instructed to "take
out" hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the pilots were to "ID
type and tail."
In most cases, the chain of command authorizing the use of force runs from
the president to the secretary of defense and from the secretary to the combat-
ant commander.The President apparently spoke to Secretary Rumsfeld for the
first time that morning shortly after 10:00. No one can recall the content of this
conversation, but it was a brief call in which the subject of shootdown author-
ity was not discussed.
At 10:39, the Vice President updated the Secretary on the air threat
Vice President:
There's been at least three instances here where we've
had reports of aircraft approaching Washington--a couple were con-
firmed hijack. And, pursuant to the President's instructions I gave
authorization for them to be taken out. Hello?
Yes, I understand.Who did you give that direction to?
Vice President:
It was passed from here through the [operations] cen-
ter at the White House, from the [shelter].
OK, let me ask the question here. Has that directive been trans-
mitted to the aircraft?
Vice President:
Yes, it has.
So we've got a couple of aircraft up there that have those
instructions at this present time?
Vice President:
That is correct. And it's my understanding they've
already taken a couple of aircraft out.
We can't confirm that.We're told that one aircraft is down but
we do not have a pilot report that did it.
As this exchange shows, Secretary Rumsfeld was not in the NMCC when
the shootdown order was first conveyed. He went from the parking lot to his
office (where he spoke to the President), then to the Executive Support Cen-
ter, where he participated in the White House video teleconference. He moved
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to the NMCC shortly before 10:30, in order to join Vice Chairman Myers.
Secretary Rumsfeld told us he was just gaining situational awareness when he
spoke with the Vice President at 10:39. His primary concern was ensuring that
the pilots had a clear understanding of their rules of engagement.
The Vice President was mistaken in his belief that shootdown authorization
had been passed to the pilots flying at NORAD's direction. By 10:45 there was,
however, another set of fighters circling Washington that had entirely different
rules of engagement.These fighters, part of the 113th Wing of the District of
Columbia Air National Guard, launched out of Andrews Air Force Base in
Maryland in response to information passed to them by the Secret Service.The
first of the Andrews fighters was airborne at 10:38.
General David Wherley--the commander of the 113th Wing--reached out
to the Secret Service after hearing secondhand reports that it wanted fighters
airborne. A Secret Service agent had a phone in each ear, one connected to
Wherley and the other to a fellow agent at the White House, relaying instruc-
tions that the White House agent said he was getting from the Vice President.
The guidance for Wherley was to send up the aircraft, with orders to protect
the White House and take out any aircraft that threatened the Capitol. Gen-
eral Wherley translated this in military terms to flying "weapons free"--that is,
the decision to shoot rests in the cockpit, or in this case in the cockpit of the
lead pilot. He passed these instructions to the pilots that launched at 10:42 and
Thus, while the fighter pilots under NORAD direction who had scram-
bled out of Langley never received any type of engagement order, the Andrews
pilots were operating weapons free--a permissive rule of engagement. The
President and the Vice President indicated to us they had not been aware that
fighters had been scrambled out of Andrews, at the request of the Secret Ser-
vice and outside the military chain of command.
There is no evidence that
NORAD headquarters or military officials in the NMCC knew--during the
morning of September 11--that the Andrews planes were airborne and oper-
ating under different rules of engagement.
What If ?
NORAD officials have maintained consistently that had the passengers not
caused United 93 to crash, the military would have prevented it from reach-
ing Washington, D.C.That conclusion is based on a version of events that we
now know is incorrect.The Langley fighters were not scrambled in response
to United 93; NORAD did not have 47 minutes to intercept the flight;
NORAD did not even know the plane was hijacked until after it had crashed.
It is appropriate, therefore, to reconsider whether United 93 would have been
Had it not crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03, we estimate that United 93
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could not have reached Washington any earlier than 10:13, and probably would
have arrived before 10:23.There was only one set of fighters circling Washing-
ton during that time frame--the Langley F-16s.They were armed and under
NORAD's control.After NEADS learned of the hijacking at 10:07, NORAD
would have had from 6 to 16 minutes to locate the flight, receive authoriza-
tion to shoot it down, and communicate the order to the pilots, who (in the
same span) would have had to authenticate the order, intercept the flight, and
execute the order.
At that point in time, the Langley pilots did not know the threat they were
facing, did not know where United 93 was located, and did not have shoot-
down authorization.
First, the Langley pilots were never briefed about the reason they were
scrambled.As the lead pilot explained,"I reverted to the Russian threat. . . . I'm
thinking cruise missile threat from the sea.You know you look down and see
the Pentagon burning and I thought the bastards snuck one by us. . . . [Y]ou
couldn't see any airplanes, and no one told us anything."The pilots knew their
mission was to divert aircraft, but did not know that the threat came from
hijacked airliners.
Second, NEADS did not have accurate information on the location of
United 93. Presumably FAA would have provided such information, but we
do not know how long that would have taken, nor how long it would have
taken NEADS to locate the target.
Third, NEADS needed orders to pass to the pilots.At 10:10, the pilots over
Washington were emphatically told,"negative clearance to shoot." Shootdown
authority was first communicated to NEADS at 10:31. It is possible that
NORAD commanders would have ordered a shootdown in the absence of the
authorization communicated by the Vice President, but given the gravity of the
decision to shoot down a commercial airliner, and NORAD's caution that a
mistake not be made, we view this possibility as unlikely.
NORAD officials have maintained that they would have intercepted and
shot down United 93.We are not so sure.We are sure that the nation owes a
debt to the passengers of United 93.Their actions saved the lives of countless
others, and may have saved either the Capitol or the White House from
The details of what happened on the morning of September 11 are com-
plex, but they play out a simple theme. NORAD and the FAA were unpre-
pared for the type of attacks launched against the United States on September
11, 2001.They struggled, under difficult circumstances, to improvise a home-
land defense against an unprecedented challenge they had never before
encountered and had never trained to meet.
At 10:02 that morning, an assistant to the mission crew commander at
NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector in Rome, New York, was working
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with his colleagues on the floor of the command center. In a brief moment of
reflection, he was recorded remarking that "This is a new type of war."
He was, and is, right. But the conflict did not begin on 9/11. It had been
publicly declared years earlier, most notably in a declaration faxed early in 1998
to an Arabic-language newspaper in London. Few Americans had noticed it.
The fax had been sent from thousands of miles away by the followers of a Saudi
exile gathered in one of the most remote and impoverished countries on earth.
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In February 1998, the 40-year-old Saudi exile Usama Bin Ladin and a fugitive
Egyptian physician,Ayman al Zawahiri, arranged from their Afghan headquar-
ters for an Arabic newspaper in London to publish what they termed a fatwa
issued in the name of a "World Islamic Front." A fatwa is normally an inter-
pretation of Islamic law by a respected Islamic authority, but neither Bin Ladin,
Zawahiri, nor the three others who signed this statement were scholars of
Islamic law. Claiming that America had declared war against God and his mes-
senger, they called for the murder of any American, anywhere on earth, as the
"individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it
is possible to do it."
Three months later, when interviewed in Afghanistan by ABC-TV, Bin
Ladin enlarged on these themes.
He claimed it was more important for Mus-
lims to kill Americans than to kill other infidels."It is far better for anyone to
kill a single American soldier than to squander his efforts on other activities,"
he said.Asked whether he approved of terrorism and of attacks on civilians, he
replied: "We believe that the worst thieves in the world today and the worst
terrorists are the Americans. Nothing could stop you except perhaps retalia-
tion in kind. We do not have to differentiate between military or civilian. As
far as we are concerned, they are all targets."
Note: Islamic names often do not follow the Western practice of the consistent use of surnames. Given the variety of names we
mention, we chose to refer to individuals by the last word in the names by which they are known: Nawaf al Hazmi as Hazmi,
for instance, omitting the article "al" that would be part of their name in their own societies.We generally make an exception for
the more familiar English usage of "Bin" as part of a last name, as in Bin Ladin. Further, there is no universally accepted way
to transliterate Arabic words and names into English.We have relied on a mix of common sense, the sound of the name in Ara-
bic, and common usage in source materials, the press, or government documents.When we quote from a source document, we use
its transliteration, e.g.,"al Qida" instead of al Qaeda.
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Though novel for its open endorsement of indiscriminate killing, Bin
Ladin's 1998 declaration was only the latest in the long series of his public and
private calls since 1992 that singled out the United States for attack.
In August 1996, Bin Ladin had issued his own self-styled fatwa calling on
Muslims to drive American soldiers out of Saudi Arabia.The long, disjointed
document condemned the Saudi monarchy for allowing the presence of an
army of infidels in a land with the sites most sacred to Islam, and celebrated
recent suicide bombings of American military facilities in the Kingdom. It
praised the 1983 suicide bombing in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. Marines, the
1992 bombing in Aden, and especially the 1993 firefight in Somalia after which
the United States "left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat
and your dead with you."
Bin Ladin said in his ABC interview that he and his followers had been
preparing in Somalia for another long struggle, like that against the Soviets in
Afghanistan, but "the United States rushed out of Somalia in shame and dis-
grace." Citing the Soviet army's withdrawal from Afghanistan as proof that a
ragged army of dedicated Muslims could overcome a superpower, he told the
interviewer: "We are certain that we shall--with the grace of Allah--prevail
over the Americans." He went on to warn that "If the present injustice contin-
ues . . . , it will inevitably move the battle to American soil."
Plans to attack the United States were developed with unwavering single-
mindedness throughout the 1990s. Bin Ladin saw himself as called "to follow
in the footsteps of the Messenger and to communicate his message to all
and to serve as the rallying point and organizer of a new kind of war
to destroy America and bring the world to Islam.
It is the story of eccentric and violent ideas sprouting in the fertile ground
of political and social turmoil. It is the story of an organization poised to seize
its historical moment. How did Bin Ladin--with his call for the indiscrimi-
nate killing of Americans--win thousands of followers and some degree of
approval from millions more?
The history, culture, and body of beliefs from which Bin Ladin has shaped
and spread his message are largely unknown to many Americans. Seizing on
symbols of Islam's past greatness, he promises to restore pride to people who
consider themselves the victims of successive foreign masters. He uses cultural
and religious allusions to the holy Qur'an and some of its interpreters. He
appeals to people disoriented by cyclonic change as they confront modernity
and globalization. His rhetoric selectively draws from multiple sources--Islam,
history, and the region's political and economic malaise. He also stresses griev-
ances against the United States widely shared in the Muslim world. He
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inveighed against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of
Islam's holiest sites. He spoke of the suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of
sanctions imposed after the Gulf War, and he protested U.S. support of Israel.
Islam (a word that literally means "surrender to the will of God") arose in Ara-
bia with what Muslims believe are a series of revelations to the Prophet
Mohammed from the one and only God, the God of Abraham and of Jesus.
These revelations, conveyed by the angel Gabriel, are recorded in the Qur'an.
Muslims believe that these revelations, given to the greatest and last of a chain
of prophets stretching from Abraham through Jesus, complete God's message
to humanity. The Hadith, which recount Mohammed's sayings and deeds as
recorded by his contemporaries, are another fundamental source. A third key
element is the Sharia, the code of law derived from the Qur'an and the Hadith.
Islam is divided into two main branches, Sunni and Shia. Soon after the
Usama Bin Ladin at a news conference in Afghanistan in 1998
©Reuters 2004
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Prophet's death, the question of choosing a new leader, or caliph, for the Mus-
lim community, or Ummah, arose. Initially, his successors could be drawn from
the Prophet's contemporaries, but with time, this was no longer possible.Those
who became the Shia held that any leader of the Ummah must be a direct
descendant of the Prophet; those who became the Sunni argued that lineal
descent was not required if the candidate met other standards of faith and
knowledge.After bloody struggles, the Sunni became (and remain) the major-
ity sect. (The Shia are dominant in Iran.) The Caliphate--the institutionalized
leadership of the Ummah--thus was a Sunni institution that continued until
1924, first under Arab and eventually under Ottoman Turkish control.
Many Muslims look back at the century after the revelations to the Prophet
Mohammed as a golden age. Its memory is strongest among the Arabs.What
happened then--the spread of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula throughout
the Middle East, North Africa, and even into Europe within less than a cen-
tury--seemed, and seems, miraculous.
Nostalgia for Islam's past glory remains
a powerful force.
Islam is both a faith and a code of conduct for all aspects of life. For many
Muslims, a good government would be one guided by the moral principles of
their faith.This does not necessarily translate into a desire for clerical rule and
the abolition of a secular state. It does mean that some Muslims tend to be
uncomfortable with distinctions between religion and state, though Muslim
rulers throughout history have readily separated the two.
To extremists, however, such divisions, as well as the existence of parliaments
and legislation, only prove these rulers to be false Muslims usurping God's
authority over all aspects of life. Periodically, the Islamic world has seen surges
of what, for want of a better term, is often labeled "fundamentalism."
Denouncing waywardness among the faithful, some clerics have appealed for
a return to observance of the literal teachings of the Qur'an and Hadith. One
scholar from the fourteenth century from whom Bin Ladin selectively quotes,
Ibn Taimiyyah, condemned both corrupt rulers and the clerics who failed to
criticize them. He urged Muslims to read the Qur'an and the Hadith for them-
selves, not to depend solely on learned interpreters like himself but to hold one
another to account for the quality of their observance.
The extreme Islamist version of history blames the decline from Islam's
golden age on the rulers and people who turned away from the true path of
their religion, thereby leaving Islam vulnerable to encroaching foreign powers
eager to steal their land, wealth, and even their souls.
Bin Ladin's Worldview
Despite his claims to universal leadership, Bin Ladin offers an extreme view of
Islamic history designed to appeal mainly to Arabs and Sunnis. He draws on
fundamentalists who blame the eventual destruction of the Caliphate on lead-
ers who abandoned the pure path of religious devotion.
He repeatedly calls
on his followers to embrace martyrdom since "the walls of oppression and
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humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets."
For those
yearning for a lost sense of order in an older, more tranquil world, he offers his
"Caliphate" as an imagined alternative to today's uncertainty. For others, he
offers simplistic conspiracies to explain their world.
Bin Ladin also relies heavily on the Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb. A mem-
ber of the Muslim Brotherhood
executed in 1966 on charges of attempting
to overthrow the government, Qutb mixed Islamic scholarship with a very
superficial acquaintance with Western history and thought. Sent by the Egypt-
ian government to study in the United States in the late 1940s, Qutb returned
with an enormous loathing of Western society and history. He dismissed West-
ern achievements as entirely material, arguing that Western society possesses
"nothing that will satisfy its own conscience and justify its existence."
Three basic themes emerge from Qutb's writings. First, he claimed that the
world was beset with barbarism, licentiousness, and unbelief (a condition he
called jahiliyya, the religious term for the period of ignorance prior to the rev-
elations given to the Prophet Mohammed). Qutb argued that humans can
choose only between Islam and jahiliyya. Second, he warned that more peo-
ple, including Muslims, were attracted to jahiliyya and its material comforts
than to his view of Islam; jahiliyya could therefore triumph over Islam.Third,
no middle ground exists in what Qutb conceived as a struggle between God
and Satan. All Muslims--as he defined them--therefore must take up arms in
this fight.Any Muslim who rejects his ideas is just one more nonbeliever wor-
thy of destruction.
Bin Ladin shares Qutb's stark view, permitting him and his followers to
rationalize even unprovoked mass murder as righteous defense of an embattled
faith. Many Americans have wondered,"Why do `they' hate us?" Some also ask,
"What can we do to stop these attacks?"
Bin Ladin and al Qaeda have given answers to both these questions.To the
first, they say that America had attacked Islam; America is responsible for all
conflicts involving Muslims. Thus Americans are blamed when Israelis fight
with Palestinians, when Russians fight with Chechens, when Indians fight with
Kashmiri Muslims, and when the Philippine government fights ethnic Mus-
lims in its southern islands.America is also held responsible for the governments
of Muslim countries, derided by al Qaeda as "your agents." Bin Ladin has stated
flatly,"Our fight against these governments is not separate from our fight against
These charges found a ready audience among millions of Arabs and
Muslims angry at the United States because of issues ranging from Iraq to Pales-
tine to America's support for their countries' repressive rulers.
Bin Ladin's grievance with the United States may have started in reaction
to specific U.S. policies but it quickly became far deeper.To the second ques-
tion, what America could do, al Qaeda's answer was that America should aban-
don the Middle East, convert to Islam, and end the immorality and godlessness
of its society and culture:"It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civ-
ilization witnessed by the history of mankind." If the United States did not
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comply, it would be at war with the Islamic nation, a nation that al Qaeda's
leaders said "desires death more than you desire life."
History and Political Context
Few fundamentalist movements in the Islamic world gained lasting political
power. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, fundamentalists helped artic-
ulate anticolonial grievances but played little role in the overwhelmingly sec-
ular struggles for independence after World War I.Western-educated lawyers,
soldiers, and officials led most independence movements, and clerical influence
and traditional culture were seen as obstacles to national progress.
After gaining independence from Western powers following World War II,
the Arab Middle East followed an arc from initial pride and optimism to today's
mix of indifference, cynicism, and despair. In several countries, a dynastic state
already existed or was quickly established under a paramount tribal family.
Monarchies in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Jordan still sur-
vive today.Those in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen were eventually overthrown
by secular nationalist revolutionaries.
The secular regimes promised a glowing future, often tied to sweeping ide-
ologies (such as those promoted by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's
Arab Socialism or the Ba'ath Party of Syria and Iraq) that called for a single,
secular Arab state. However, what emerged were almost invariably autocratic
regimes that were usually unwilling to tolerate any opposition--even in coun-
tries, such as Egypt, that had a parliamentary tradition. Over time, their poli-
cies--repression, rewards, emigration, and the displacement of popular anger
onto scapegoats (generally foreign)--were shaped by the desire to cling to
The bankruptcy of secular, autocratic nationalism was evident across the
Muslim world by the late 1970s.At the same time, these regimes had closed off
nearly all paths for peaceful opposition, forcing their critics to choose silence,
exile, or violent opposition. Iran's 1979 revolution swept a Shia theocracy into
power. Its success encouraged Sunni fundamentalists elsewhere.
In the 1980s, awash in sudden oil wealth, Saudi Arabia competed with Shia
Iran to promote its Sunni fundamentalist interpretation of Islam,Wahhabism.
The Saudi government, always conscious of its duties as the custodian of Islam's
holiest places, joined with wealthy Arabs from the Kingdom and other states
bordering the Persian Gulf in donating money to build mosques and religious
schools that could preach and teach their interpretation of Islamic doctrine.
In this competition for legitimacy, secular regimes had no alternative to
offer. Instead, in a number of cases their rulers sought to buy off local Islamist
movements by ceding control of many social and educational issues. Embold-
ened rather than satisfied, the Islamists continued to push for power--a trend
especially clear in Egypt. Confronted with a violent Islamist movement that
killed President Anwar Sadat in 1981, the Egyptian government combined
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harsh repression of Islamic militants with harassment of moderate Islamic schol-
ars and authors, driving many into exile. In Pakistan, a military regime sought
to justify its seizure of power by a pious public stance and an embrace of
unprecedented Islamist influence on education and society.
These experiments in political Islam faltered during the 1990s: the Iranian
revolution lost momentum, prestige, and public support, and Pakistan's rulers
found that most of its population had little enthusiasm for fundamentalist Islam.
Islamist revival movements gained followers across the Muslim world, but failed
to secure political power except in Iran and Sudan. In Algeria, where in 1991
Islamists seemed almost certain to win power through the ballot box, the mili-
tary preempted their victory, triggering a brutal civil war that continues today.
Opponents of today's rulers have few, if any, ways to participate in the existing
political system. They are thus a ready audience for calls to Muslims to purify
their society, reject unwelcome modernization, and adhere strictly to the Sharia.
Social and Economic Malaise
In the 1970s and early 1980s, an unprecedented flood of wealth led the then
largely unmodernized oil states to attempt to shortcut decades of development.
They funded huge infrastructure projects, vastly expanded education, and cre-
ated subsidized social welfare programs. These programs established a wide-
spread feeling of entitlement without a corresponding sense of social
obligations. By the late 1980s, diminishing oil revenues, the economic drain
from many unprofitable development projects, and population growth made
these entitlement programs unsustainable.The resulting cutbacks created enor-
mous resentment among recipients who had come to see government largesse
as their right.This resentment was further stoked by public understanding of
how much oil income had gone straight into the pockets of the rulers, their
friends, and their helpers.
Unlike the oil states (or Afghanistan, where real economic development has
barely begun), the other Arab nations and Pakistan once had seemed headed
toward balanced modernization. The established commercial, financial, and
industrial sectors in these states, supported by an entrepreneurial spirit and
widespread understanding of free enterprise, augured well. But unprofitable
heavy industry, state monopolies, and opaque bureaucracies slowly stifled
growth. More importantly, these state-centered regimes placed their highest
priority on preserving the elite's grip on national wealth. Unwilling to foster
dynamic economies that could create jobs attractive to educated young men,
the countries became economically stagnant and reliant on the safety valve of
worker emigration either to the Arab oil states or to the West. Furthermore,
the repression and isolation of women in many Muslim countries have not only
seriously limited individual opportunity but also crippled overall economic
By the 1990s, high birthrates and declining rates of infant mortality had
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produced a common problem throughout the Muslim world: a large, steadily
increasing population of young men without any reasonable expectation of
suitable or steady employment--a sure prescription for social turbulence. Many
of these young men, such as the enormous number trained only in religious
schools, lacked the skills needed by their societies. Far more acquired valuable
skills but lived in stagnant economies that could not generate satisfying jobs.
Millions, pursuing secular as well as religious studies, were products of edu-
cational systems that generally devoted little if any attention to the rest of the
world's thought, history, and culture.The secular education reflected a strong
cultural preference for technical fields over the humanities and social sciences.
Many of these young men, even if able to study abroad, lacked the perspective
and skills needed to understand a different culture.
Frustrated in their search for a decent living, unable to benefit from an edu-
cation often obtained at the cost of great family sacrifice, and blocked from
starting families of their own, some of these young men were easy targets for
Bin Ladin's Historical Opportunity
Most Muslims prefer a peaceful and inclusive vision of their faith, not the
violent sectarianism of Bin Ladin.Among Arabs, Bin Ladin's followers are com-
monly nicknamed takfiri, or "those who define other Muslims as unbelievers,"
because of their readiness to demonize and murder those with whom they dis-
agree. Beyond the theology lies the simple human fact that most Muslims, like
most other human beings, are repelled by mass murder and barbarism what-
ever their justification.
"All Americans must recognize that the face of terror is not the true face of
Islam," President Bush observed. "Islam is a faith that brings comfort to a bil-
lion people around the world. It's a faith that has made brothers and sisters of
every race. It's a faith based upon love, not hate."
Yet as political, social, and
economic problems created flammable societies, Bin Ladin used Islam's most
extreme, fundamentalist traditions as his match.All these elements--including
religion--combined in an explosive compound.
Other extremists had, and have, followings of their own. But in appealing
to societies full of discontent, Bin Ladin remained credible as other leaders and
symbols faded. He could stand as a symbol of resistance--above all, resistance
to the West and to America. He could present himself and his allies as victori-
ous warriors in the one great successful experience for Islamic militancy in the
1980s: the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation.
By 1998, Bin Ladin had a distinctive appeal, as he focused on attacking
America. He argued that other extremists, who aimed at local rulers or Israel,
did not go far enough.They had not taken on what he called "the head of the
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Finally, Bin Ladin had another advantage: a substantial, worldwide organi-
zation. By the time he issued his February 1998 declaration of war, Bin Ladin
had nurtured that organization for nearly ten years. He could attract, train, and
use recruits for ever more ambitious attacks, rallying new adherents with each
demonstration that his was the movement of the future.
A decade of conflict in Afghanistan, from 1979 to 1989, gave Islamist extrem-
ists a rallying point and training field.A Communist government in Afghanistan
gained power in 1978 but was unable to establish enduring control.At the end
of 1979, the Soviet government sent in military units to ensure that the coun-
try would remain securely under Moscow's influence. The response was an
Afghan national resistance movement that defeated Soviet forces.
Young Muslims from around the world flocked to Afghanistan to join as vol-
unteers in what was seen as a "holy war"--jihad--against an invader.The largest
numbers came from the Middle East. Some were Saudis, and among them was
Usama Bin Ladin.
Twenty-three when he arrived in Afghanistan in 1980, Bin Ladin was the
seventeenth of 57 children of a Saudi construction magnate. Six feet five and
thin, Bin Ladin appeared to be ungainly but was in fact quite athletic, skilled
as a horseman, runner, climber, and soccer player. He had attended Abdul Aziz
University in Saudi Arabia. By some accounts, he had been interested there in
religious studies, inspired by tape recordings of fiery sermons by Abdullah
Azzam, a Palestinian and a disciple of Qutb. Bin Ladin was conspicuous among
the volunteers not because he showed evidence of religious learning but
because he had access to some of his family's huge fortune. Though he took
part in at least one actual battle, he became known chiefly as a person who gen-
erously helped fund the anti-Soviet jihad.
Bin Ladin understood better than most of the volunteers the extent to
which the continuation and eventual success of the jihad in Afghanistan
depended on an increasingly complex, almost worldwide organization. This
organization included a financial support network that came to be known as
the "Golden Chain," put together mainly by financiers in Saudi Arabia and the
Persian Gulf states. Donations flowed through charities or other nongovern-
mental organizations (NGOs). Bin Ladin and the "Afghan Arabs" drew largely
on funds raised by this network, whose agents roamed world markets to buy
arms and supplies for the mujahideen, or "holy warriors."
Mosques, schools, and boardinghouses served as recruiting stations in many
parts of the world, including the United States. Some were set up by Islamic
extremists or their financial backers. Bin Ladin had an important part in this
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activity. He and the cleric Azzam had joined in creating a "Bureau of Services"
(Mektab al Khidmat, or MAK), which channeled recruits into Afghanistan.
The international environment for Bin Ladin's efforts was ideal. Saudi Ara-
bia and the United States supplied billions of dollars worth of secret assistance
to rebel groups in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet occupation. This assistance
was funneled through Pakistan:the Pakistani military intelligence service (Inter-
Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISID), helped train the rebels and dis-
tribute the arms. But Bin Ladin and his comrades had their own sources of
support and training, and they received little or no assistance from the
United States.
April 1988 brought victory for the Afghan jihad. Moscow declared it would
pull its military forces out of Afghanistan within the next nine months.As the
Soviets began their withdrawal, the jihad's leaders debated what to do next.
Bin Ladin and Azzam agreed that the organization successfully created for
Afghanistan should not be allowed to dissolve.They established what they called
a base or foundation (al Qaeda) as a potential general headquarters for future
Though Azzam had been considered number one in the MAK, by
August 1988 Bin Ladin was clearly the leader (emir) of al Qaeda.This organi-
zation's structure included as its operating arms an intelligence component, a
military committee, a financial committee, a political committee, and a com-
mittee in charge of media affairs and propaganda. It also had an Advisory Coun-
cil (Shura) made up of Bin Ladin's inner circle.
Bin Ladin's assumption of the helm of al Qaeda was evidence of his grow-
ing self-confidence and ambition. He soon made clear his desire for unchal-
lenged control and for preparing the mujahideen to fight anywhere in the
world. Azzam, by contrast, favored continuing to fight in Afghanistan until it
had a true Islamist government. And, as a Palestinian, he saw Israel as the top
priority for the next stage.
Whether the dispute was about power, personal differences, or strategy, it
ended on November 24, 1989, when a remotely controlled car bomb killed
Azzam and both of his sons. The killers were assumed to be rival Egyptians.
The outcome left Bin Ladin indisputably in charge of what remained of the
MAK and al Qaeda.
Through writers like Qutb, and the presence of Egyptian Islamist teachers
in the Saudi educational system, Islamists already had a strong intellectual influ-
ence on Bin Ladin and his al Qaeda colleagues. By the late 1980s, the Egypt-
ian Islamist movement--badly battered in the government crackdown
following President Sadat's assassination--was centered in two major organiza-
tions: the Islamic Group and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. A spiritual guide for
both, but especially the Islamic Group, was the so-called Blind Sheikh, Omar
Abdel Rahman. His preaching had inspired the assassination of Sadat. After
being in and out of Egyptian prisons during the 1980s, Abdel Rahman found
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refuge in the United States. From his headquarters in Jersey City, he distrib-
uted messages calling for the murder of unbelievers.
The most important Egyptian in Bin Ladin's circle was a surgeon, Ayman al
Zawahiri, who led a strong faction of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Many of his fol-
lowers became important members in the new organization, and his own close
ties with Bin Ladin led many to think of him as the deputy head of al Qaeda. He
would in fact become Bin Ladin's deputy some years later,when they merged their
Bin Ladin Moves to Sudan
By the fall of 1989, Bin Ladin had sufficient stature among Islamic extremists
that a Sudanese political leader, Hassan al Turabi, urged him to transplant his
whole organization to Sudan. Turabi headed the National Islamic Front in a
coalition that had recently seized power in Khartoum.
Bin Ladin agreed to
help Turabi in an ongoing war against African Christian separatists in southern
Sudan and also to do some road building.Turabi in return would let Bin Ladin
use Sudan as a base for worldwide business operations and for preparations for
While agents of Bin Ladin began to buy property in Sudan in 1990,
Bin Ladin himself moved from Afghanistan back to Saudi Arabia.
In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Bin Ladin, whose efforts in
Afghanistan had earned him celebrity and respect, proposed to the Saudi
monarchy that he summon mujahideen for a jihad to retake Kuwait. He was
rebuffed, and the Saudis joined the U.S.-led coalition. After the Saudis agreed
to allow U.S. armed forces to be based in the Kingdom, Bin Ladin and a num-
ber of Islamic clerics began to publicly denounce the arrangement.The Saudi
government exiled the clerics and undertook to silence Bin Ladin by, among
other things, taking away his passport.With help from a dissident member of
the royal family, he managed to get out of the country under the pretext of
attending an Islamic gathering in Pakistan in April 1991.
By 1994, the Saudi
government would freeze his financial assets and revoke his citizenship.
He no
longer had a country he could call his own.
Bin Ladin moved to Sudan in 1991 and set up a large and complex set of
intertwined business and terrorist enterprises. In time, the former would
encompass numerous companies and a global network of bank accounts and
nongovernmental institutions. Fulfilling his bargain with Turabi, Bin Ladin used
his construction company to build a new highway from Khartoum to Port
Sudan on the Red Sea coast. Meanwhile, al Qaeda finance officers and top oper-
atives used their positions in Bin Ladin's businesses to acquire weapons, explo-
sives, and technical equipment for terrorist purposes. One founding member,
Abu Hajer al Iraqi, used his position as head of a Bin Ladin investment com-
pany to carry out procurement trips from western Europe to the Far East.Two
others,Wadi al Hage and Mubarak Douri, who had become acquainted in Tuc-
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son,Arizona, in the late 1980s, went as far afield as China, Malaysia, the Philip-
pines, and the former Soviet states of Ukraine and Belarus.
Bin Ladin's impressive array of offices covertly provided financial and other
support for terrorist activities. The network included a major business enter-
prise in Cyprus; a "services" branch in Zagreb; an office of the Benevolence
International Foundation in Sarajevo, which supported the Bosnian Muslims
in their conflict with Serbia and Croatia; and an NGO in Baku, Azerbaijan,
that was employed as well by Egyptian Islamic Jihad both as a source and con-
duit for finances and as a support center for the Muslim rebels in Chechnya.
He also made use of the already-established Third World Relief Agency
(TWRA) headquartered in Vienna, whose branch office locations included
Zagreb and Budapest. (Bin Ladin later set up an NGO in Nairobi as a cover
for operatives there.)
Bin Ladin now had a vision of himself as head of an international jihad con-
federation. In Sudan, he established an "Islamic Army Shura" that was to serve
as the coordinating body for the consortium of terrorist groups with which he
was forging alliances. It was composed of his own al Qaeda Shura together with
leaders or representatives of terrorist organizations that were still independent.
In building this Islamic army, he enlisted groups from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jor-
dan, Lebanon, Iraq, Oman, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Somalia, and
Eritrea.Al Qaeda also established cooperative but less formal relationships with
other extremist groups from these same countries; from the African states of
Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Uganda; and from the Southeast Asian states
of Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Bin Ladin maintained connec-
tions in the Bosnian conflict as well.
The groundwork for a true global ter-
rorist network was being laid.
Bin Ladin also provided equipment and training assistance to the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines and also to a newly forming Philip-
pine group that called itself the Abu Sayyaf Brigade, after one of the major
Afghan jihadist commanders.
Al Qaeda helped Jemaah Islamiya (JI), a nas-
cent organization headed by Indonesian Islamists with cells scattered across
Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. It also aided a Pakistani
group engaged in insurrectionist attacks in Kashmir. In mid-1991, Bin Ladin
dispatched a band of supporters to the northern Afghanistan border to assist
the Tajikistan Islamists in the ethnic conflicts that had been boiling there even
before the Central Asian departments of the Soviet Union became indepen-
dent states.
This pattern of expansion through building alliances extended to the
United States. A Muslim organization called al Khifa had numerous branch
offices, the largest of which was in the Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. In the mid-
1980s, it had been set up as one of the first outposts of Azzam and Bin Ladin's
Other cities with branches of al Khifa included Atlanta, Boston,
Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Tucson.
Al Khifa recruited American Muslims to
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fight in Afghanistan; some of them would participate in terrorist actions in the
United States in the early 1990s and in al Qaeda operations elsewhere, includ-
ing the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa.
Bin Ladin began delivering diatribes against the United States before he left
Saudi Arabia. He continued to do so after he arrived in Sudan. In early 1992,
the al Qaeda leadership issued a fatwa calling for jihad against the Western
"occupation" of Islamic lands. Specifically singling out U.S. forces for attack,
the language resembled that which would appear in Bin Ladin's public fatwa
in August 1996. In ensuing weeks, Bin Ladin delivered an often-repeated lec-
ture on the need to cut off "the head of the snake."
By this time, Bin Ladin was well-known and a senior figure among Islamist
extremists, especially those in Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Still, he was just one among many diverse
terrorist barons. Some of Bin Ladin's close comrades were more peers than sub-
ordinates. For example, Usama Asmurai, also known as Wali Khan, worked with
Bin Ladin in the early 1980s and helped him in the Philippines and in Tajik-
istan. The Egyptian spiritual guide based in New Jersey, the Blind Sheikh,
whom Bin Ladin admired, was also in the network.Among sympathetic peers
in Afghanistan were a few of the warlords still fighting for power and Abu
Zubaydah, who helped operate a popular terrorist training camp near the bor-
der with Pakistan.There were also rootless but experienced operatives, such as
Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who--though not necessarily
formal members of someone else's organization--were traveling around the
world and joining in projects that were supported by or linked to Bin Ladin,
the Blind Sheikh, or their associates.
In now analyzing the terrorist programs carried out by members of this net-
work, it would be misleading to apply the label "al Qaeda operations" too often
in these early years.Yet it would also be misleading to ignore the significance
of these connections.And in this network, Bin Ladin's agenda stood out.While
his allied Islamist groups were focused on local battles, such as those in Egypt,
Algeria, Bosnia, or Chechnya, Bin Ladin concentrated on attacking the "far
enemy"--the United States.
Attacks Known and Suspected
After U.S. troops deployed to Somalia in late 1992, al Qaeda leaders formu-
lated a fatwa demanding their eviction. In December, bombs exploded at two
hotels in Aden where U.S. troops routinely stopped en route to Somalia, killing
two, but no Americans. The perpetrators are reported to have belonged to a
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group from southern Yemen headed by a Yemeni member of Bin Ladin's Islamic
Army Shura; some in the group had trained at an al Qaeda camp in Sudan.
Al Qaeda leaders set up a Nairobi cell and used it to send weapons and train-
ers to the Somali warlords battling U.S. forces, an operation directly supervised
by al Qaeda's military leader.
Scores of trainers flowed to Somalia over the
ensuing months, including most of the senior members and weapons training
experts of al Qaeda's military committee.These trainers were later heard boast-
ing that their assistance led to the October 1993 shootdown of two U.S. Black
Hawk helicopters by members of a Somali militia group and to the subsequent
withdrawal of U.S. forces in early 1994.
In November 1995, a car bomb exploded outside a Saudi-U.S. joint facil-
ity in Riyadh for training the Saudi National Guard. Five Americans and two
officials from India were killed.The Saudi government arrested four perpetra-
tors, who admitted being inspired by Bin Ladin.They were promptly executed.
Though nothing proves that Bin Ladin ordered this attack, U.S. intelligence sub-
sequently learned that al Qaeda leaders had decided a year earlier to attack a
U.S. target in Saudi Arabia, and had shipped explosives to the peninsula for this
purpose. Some of Bin Ladin's associates later took credit.
In June 1996, an enormous truck bomb detonated in the Khobar Towers
residential complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that housed U.S.Air Force per-
sonnel. Nineteen Americans were killed, and 372 were wounded.The opera-
tion was carried out principally, perhaps exclusively, by Saudi Hezbollah, an
organization that had received support from the government of Iran.While the
evidence of Iranian involvement is strong, there are also signs that al Qaeda
played some role, as yet unknown.
In this period, other prominent attacks in which Bin Ladin's involvement is
at best cloudy are the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, a plot that
same year to destroy landmarks in New York, and the 1995 Manila air plot to
blow up a dozen U.S. airliners over the Pacific. Details on these plots appear in
chapter 3.
Another scheme revealed that Bin Ladin sought the capability to kill on a
mass scale. His business aides received word that a Sudanese military officer who
had been a member of the previous government cabinet was offering to sell
weapons-grade uranium.After a number of contacts were made through inter-
mediaries, the officer set the price at $1.5 million, which did not deter Bin
Ladin.Al Qaeda representatives asked to inspect the uranium and were shown
a cylinder about 3 feet long, and one thought he could pronounce it genuine.
Al Qaeda apparently purchased the cylinder, then discovered it to be bogus.
But while the effort failed, it shows what Bin Ladin and his associates hoped
to do. One of the al Qaeda representatives explained his mission: "it's easy to
kill more people with uranium."
Bin Ladin seemed willing to include in the confederation terrorists from
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almost every corner of the Muslim world. His vision mirrored that of Sudan's
Islamist leader,Turabi, who convened a series of meetings under the label Pop-
ular Arab and Islamic Conference around the time of Bin Ladin's arrival in that
country. Delegations of violent Islamist extremists came from all the groups
represented in Bin Ladin's Islamic Army Shura. Representatives also came from
organizations such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and
Turabi sought to persuade Shiites and Sunnis to put aside their divisions and
join against the common enemy. In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan
between al Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to coop-
erate in providing support--even if only training--for actions carried out pri-
marily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al Qaeda
operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the
fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for
further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. Bin Ladin
reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such
as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983.The relation-
ship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not
necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist opera-
tions.As will be described in chapter 7, al Qaeda contacts with Iran continued
in ensuing years.
Bin Ladin was also willing to explore possibilities for cooperation with Iraq,
even though Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, had never had an Islamist
agenda--save for his opportunistic pose as a defender of the faithful against
"Crusaders" during the Gulf War of 1991. Moreover, Bin Ladin had in fact
been sponsoring anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan, and sought to attract
them into his Islamic army.
To protect his own ties with Iraq,Turabi reportedly brokered an agreement
that Bin Ladin would stop supporting activities against Saddam. Bin Ladin
apparently honored this pledge, at least for a time, although he continued to
aid a group of Islamist extremists operating in part of Iraq (Kurdistan) outside
of Baghdad's control. In the late 1990s, these extremist groups suffered major
defeats by Kurdish forces. In 2001, with Bin Ladin's help they re-formed into
an organization called Ansar al Islam.There are indications that by then the Iraqi
regime tolerated and may even have helped Ansar al Islam against the common
Kurdish enemy.
With the Sudanese regime acting as intermediary, Bin Ladin himself met
with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995.
Bin Ladin is said to have asked for space to establish training camps, as well as
assistance in procuring weapons, but there is no evidence that Iraq responded
to this request.
As described below, the ensuing years saw additional efforts to
establish connections.
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Sudan Becomes a Doubtful Haven
Not until 1998 did al Qaeda undertake a major terrorist operation of its own,
in large part because Bin Ladin lost his base in Sudan. Ever since the Islamist
regime came to power in Khartoum, the United States and other Western gov-
ernments had pressed it to stop providing a haven for terrorist organizations.
Other governments in the region, such as those of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and
even Libya, which were targets of some of these groups, added their own pres-
sure. At the same time, the Sudanese regime began to change.Though Turabi
had been its inspirational leader, General Omar al Bashir, president since 1989,
had never been entirely under his thumb.Thus as outside pressures mounted,
Bashir's supporters began to displace those of Turabi.
The attempted assassination in Ethiopia of Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak in June 1995 appears to have been a tipping point. The would-be
killers, who came from the Egyptian Islamic Group, had been sheltered in
Sudan and helped by Bin Ladin.
When the Sudanese refused to hand over
three individuals identified as involved in the assassination plot, the UN Secu-
rity Council passed a resolution criticizing their inaction and eventually sanc-
tioned Khartoum in April 1996.
A clear signal to Bin Ladin that his days in Sudan were numbered came when
the government advised him that it intended to yield to Libya's demands to stop
giving sanctuary to its enemies. Bin Ladin had to tell the Libyans who had been
part of his Islamic army that he could no longer protect them and that they had
to leave the country. Outraged, several Libyan members of al Qaeda and the
Islamic Army Shura renounced all connections with him.
Bin Ladin also began to have serious money problems. International pres-
sure on Sudan, together with strains in the world economy, hurt Sudan's cur-
rency. Some of Bin Ladin's companies ran short of funds. As Sudanese
authorities became less obliging, normal costs of doing business increased. Saudi
pressures on the Bin Ladin family also probably took some toll. In any case, Bin
Ladin found it necessary both to cut back his spending and to control his out-
lays more closely.He appointed a new financial manager,whom his followers saw
as miserly.
Money problems proved costly to Bin Ladin in other ways. Jamal Ahmed al
Fadl, a Sudanese-born Arab, had spent time in the United States and had been
recruited for the Afghan war through the Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. He had
joined al Qaeda and taken the oath of fealty to Bin Ladin, serving as one of his
business agents. Then Bin Ladin discovered that Fadl had skimmed about
$110,000, and he asked for restitution. Fadl resented receiving a salary of only
$500 a month while some of the Egyptians in al Qaeda were given $1,200 a
month. He defected and became a star informant for the United States. Also
testifying about al Qaeda in a U.S. court was L'Houssaine Kherchtou, who told
of breaking with Bin Ladin because of Bin Ladin's professed inability to pro-
vide him with money when his wife needed a caesarian section.
In February 1996, Sudanese officials began approaching officials from the
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United States and other governments, asking what actions of theirs might ease
foreign pressure. In secret meetings with Saudi officials, Sudan offered to expel
Bin Ladin to Saudi Arabia and asked the Saudis to pardon him. U.S. officials
became aware of these secret discussions, certainly by March. Saudi officials
apparently wanted Bin Ladin expelled from Sudan.They had already revoked
his citizenship, however, and would not tolerate his presence in their country.
And Bin Ladin may have no longer felt safe in Sudan, where he had already
escaped at least one assassination attempt that he believed to have been the
work of the Egyptian or Saudi regimes, or both. In any case, on May 19, 1996,
Bin Ladin left Sudan--significantly weakened, despite his ambitions and orga-
nizational skills. He returned to Afghanistan.
Bin Ladin flew on a leased aircraft from Khartoum to Jalalabad, with a refuel-
ing stopover in the United Arab Emirates.
He was accompanied by family
members and bodyguards, as well as by al Qaeda members who had been close
associates since his organization's 1988 founding in Afghanistan. Dozens of
additional militants arrived on later flights.
Though Bin Ladin's destination was Afghanistan, Pakistan was the nation
that held the key to his ability to use Afghanistan as a base from which to revive
his ambitious enterprise for war against the United States.
For the first quarter century of its existence as a nation, Pakistan's identity
had derived from Islam, but its politics had been decidedly secular.The army
was--and remains--the country's strongest and most respected institution, and
the army had been and continues to be preoccupied with its rivalry with India,
especially over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
From the 1970s onward, religion had become an increasingly powerful force
in Pakistani politics. After a coup in 1977, military leaders turned to Islamist
groups for support, and fundamentalists became more prominent. South Asia
had an indigenous form of Islamic fundamentalism, which had developed in
the nineteenth century at a school in the Indian village of Deoband.
influence of the Wahhabi school of Islam had also grown, nurtured by Saudi-
funded institutions. Moreover, the fighting in Afghanistan made Pakistan home
to an enormous--and generally unwelcome--population of Afghan refugees;
and since the badly strained Pakistani education system could not accommo-
date the refugees, the government increasingly let privately funded religious
schools serve as a cost-free alternative. Over time, these schools produced large
numbers of half-educated young men with no marketable skills but with deeply
held Islamic views.
Pakistan's rulers found these multitudes of ardent young Afghans a source
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of potential trouble at home but potentially useful abroad.Those who joined
the Taliban movement, espousing a ruthless version of Islamic law, perhaps
could bring order in chaotic Afghanistan and make it a cooperative ally.They
thus might give Pakistan greater security on one of the several borders where
Pakistani military officers hoped for what they called "strategic depth."
It is unlikely that Bin Ladin could have returned to Afghanistan had Pak-
istan disapproved. The Pakistani military intelligence service probably had
advance knowledge of his coming, and its officers may have facilitated his travel.
During his entire time in Sudan, he had maintained guesthouses and training
camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.These were part of a larger network used
by diverse organizations for recruiting and training fighters for Islamic insur-
gencies in such places as Tajikistan, Kashmir, and Chechnya. Pakistani intelli-
gence officers reportedly introduced Bin Ladin to Taliban leaders in Kandahar,
their main base of power, to aid his reassertion of control over camps near
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Khowst, out of an apparent hope that he would now expand the camps and
make them available for training Kashmiri militants.
Yet Bin Ladin was in his weakest position since his early days in the war
against the Soviet Union.The Sudanese government had canceled the registra-
tion of the main business enterprises he had set up there and then put some of
them up for public sale. According to a senior al Qaeda detainee, the govern-
ment of Sudan seized everything Bin Ladin had possessed there.
He also lost the head of his military committee,Abu Ubaidah al Banshiri, one
of the most capable and popular leaders of al Qaeda.While most of the group's
key figures had accompanied Bin Ladin to Afghanistan, Banshiri had remained
in Kenya to oversee the training and weapons shipments of the cell set up some
four years earlier. He died in a ferryboat accident on Lake Victoria just a few
days after Bin Ladin arrived in Jalalabad, leaving Bin Ladin with a need to
replace him not only in the Shura but also as supervisor of the cells and
prospective operations in East Africa.
He had to make other adjustments as
well, for some al Qaeda members viewed Bin Ladin's return to Afghanistan as
occasion to go off in their own directions. Some maintained collaborative rela-
tionships with al Qaeda, but many disengaged entirely.
For a time, it may not have been clear to Bin Ladin that the Taliban would
be his best bet as an ally.When he arrived in Afghanistan, they controlled much
of the country, but key centers, including Kabul, were still held by rival war-
lords. Bin Ladin went initially to Jalalabad, probably because it was in an area
controlled by a provincial council of Islamic leaders who were not major con-
tenders for national power. He found lodgings with Younis Khalis, the head of
one of the main mujahideen factions. Bin Ladin apparently kept his options
open, maintaining contacts with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who, though an
Islamic extremist, was also one of the Taliban's most militant opponents. But
after September 1996, when first Jalalabad and then Kabul fell to the Taliban,
Bin Ladin cemented his ties with them.
That process did not always go smoothly. Bin Ladin, no longer constrained
by the Sudanese, clearly thought that he had new freedom to publish his appeals
for jihad. At about the time when the Taliban were making their final drive
toward Jalalabad and Kabul, Bin Ladin issued his August 1996 fatwa, saying that
"We . . . have been prevented from addressing the Muslims," but expressing
relief that "by the grace of Allah, a safe base here is now available in the high
Hindu Kush mountains in Khurasan." But the Taliban, like the Sudanese, would
eventually hear warnings, including from the Saudi monarchy.
Though Bin Ladin had promised Taliban leaders that he would be circum-
spect, he broke this promise almost immediately, giving an inflammatory inter-
view to CNN in March 1997. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar promptly
"invited" Bin Ladin to move to Kandahar, ostensibly in the interests of Bin
Ladin's own security but more likely to situate him where he might be easier
to control.
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There is also evidence that around this time Bin Ladin sent out a number
of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperation. None are reported
to have received a significant response.According to one report, Saddam Hus-
sein's efforts at this time to rebuild relations with the Saudis and other Middle
Eastern regimes led him to stay clear of Bin Ladin.
In mid-1998, the situation reversed; it was Iraq that reportedly took the ini-
tiative. In March 1998, after Bin Ladin's public fatwa against the United States,
two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelli-
gence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with
the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps
both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin's Egypt-
ian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was
under intensifying U.S. pressure, which culminated in a series of large air
attacks in December.
Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have
occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban.
According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq.
Bin Ladin declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan
remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe
friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides' hatred of
the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the ear-
lier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor
have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in devel-
oping or carrying out any attacks against the United States.
Bin Ladin eventually enjoyed a strong financial position in Afghanistan,
thanks to Saudi and other financiers associated with the Golden Chain.
Through his relationship with Mullah Omar--and the monetary and other
benefits that it brought the Taliban--Bin Ladin was able to circumvent restric-
tions; Mullah Omar would stand by him even when other Taliban leaders raised
objections. Bin Ladin appeared to have in Afghanistan a freedom of move-
ment that he had lacked in Sudan.Al Qaeda members could travel freely within
the country, enter and exit it without visas or any immigration procedures, pur-
chase and import vehicles and weapons, and enjoy the use of official Afghan
Ministry of Defense license plates.Al Qaeda also used the Afghan state-owned
Ariana Airlines to courier money into the country.
The Taliban seemed to open the doors to all who wanted to come to
Afghanistan to train in the camps.The alliance with the Taliban provided al Qaeda
a sanctuary in which to train and indoctrinate fighters and terrorists, import
weapons, forge ties with other jihad groups and leaders, and plot and staff ter-
rorist schemes.While Bin Ladin maintained his own al Qaeda guesthouses and
camps for vetting and training recruits, he also provided support to and bene-
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fited from the broad infrastructure of such facilities in Afghanistan made avail-
able to the global network of Islamist movements. U.S. intelligence estimates
put the total number of fighters who underwent instruction in Bin Ladin­sup-
ported camps in Afghanistan from 1996 through 9/11 at 10,000 to 20,000.
In addition to training fighters and special operators, this larger network of
guesthouses and camps provided a mechanism by which al Qaeda could screen
and vet candidates for induction into its own organization.Thousands flowed
through the camps, but no more than a few hundred seem to have become
al Qaeda members. From the time of its founding, al Qaeda had employed
training and indoctrination to identify "worthy" candidates.
Al Qaeda continued meanwhile to collaborate closely with the many Mid-
dle Eastern groups--in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia,
Somalia, and elsewhere--with which it had been linked when Bin Ladin was
in Sudan. It also reinforced its London base and its other offices around Europe,
the Balkans, and the Caucasus. Bin Ladin bolstered his links to extremists in
South and Southeast Asia, including the Malaysian-Indonesian JI and several
Pakistani groups engaged in the Kashmir conflict.
The February 1998 fatwa thus seems to have been a kind of public launch
of a renewed and stronger al Qaeda, after a year and a half of work. Having
rebuilt his fund-raising network, Bin Ladin had again become the rich man of
the jihad movement. He had maintained or restored many of his links with ter-
rorists elsewhere in the world. And he had strengthened the internal ties in his
own organization.
The inner core of al Qaeda continued to be a hierarchical top-down group
with defined positions, tasks, and salaries. Most but not all in this core swore
fealty (or bayat) to Bin Ladin. Other operatives were committed to Bin Ladin
or to his goals and would take assignments for him, but they did not swear
bayat and maintained, or tried to maintain, some autonomy. A looser circle of
adherents might give money to al Qaeda or train in its camps but remained
essentially independent. Nevertheless, they constituted a potential resource for
al Qaeda.
Now effectively merged with Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad,
al Qaeda
promised to become the general headquarters for international terrorism, with-
out the need for the Islamic Army Shura. Bin Ladin was prepared to pick up
where he had left off in Sudan. He was ready to strike at "the head of the snake."
Al Qaeda's role in organizing terrorist operations had also changed. Before
the move to Afghanistan, it had concentrated on providing funds, training, and
weapons for actions carried out by members of allied groups.The attacks on
the U.S. embassies in East Africa in the summer of 1998 would take a differ-
ent form--planned, directed, and executed by al Qaeda, under the direct super-
vision of Bin Ladin and his chief aides.
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The Embassy Bombings
As early as December 1993, a team of al Qaeda operatives had begun casing
targets in Nairobi for future attacks. It was led by Ali Mohamed, a former
Egyptian army officer who had moved to the United States in the mid-1980s,
enlisted in the U.S.Army, and became an instructor at Fort Bragg. He had pro-
vided guidance and training to extremists at the Farouq mosque in Brooklyn,
including some who were subsequently convicted in the February 1993 attack
on the World Trade Center. The casing team also included a computer expert
whose write-ups were reviewed by al Qaeda leaders.
The team set up a makeshift laboratory for developing their surveillance
photographs in an apartment in Nairobi where the various al Qaeda opera-
tives and leaders based in or traveling to the Kenya cell sometimes met. Ban-
shiri, al Qaeda's military committee chief, continued to be the operational
commander of the cell; but because he was constantly on the move, Bin Ladin
had dispatched another operative, Khaled al Fawwaz, to serve as the on-site
manager. The technical surveillance and communications equipment
employed for these casing missions included state-of-the-art video cameras
obtained from China and from dealers in Germany. The casing team also
reconnoitered targets in Djibouti.
As early as January 1994, Bin Ladin received the surveillance reports, com-
plete with diagrams prepared by the team's computer specialist. He, his top mil-
itary committee members--Banshiri and his deputy, Abu Hafs al Masri (also
known as Mohammed Atef)--and a number of other al Qaeda leaders
reviewed the reports. Agreeing that the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was an easy
target because a car bomb could be parked close by, they began to form a plan.
Al Qaeda had begun developing the tactical expertise for such attacks months
earlier, when some of its operatives--top military committee members and sev-
eral operatives who were involved with the Kenya cell among them--were sent
to Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon.
The cell in Kenya experienced a series of disruptions that may in part
account for the relatively long delay before the attack was actually carried out.
The difficulties Bin Ladin began to encounter in Sudan in 1995, his move to
Afghanistan in 1996, and the months spent establishing ties with the Taliban
may also have played a role, as did Banshiri's accidental drowning.
In August 1997, the Kenya cell panicked. The London Daily Telegraph
reported that Madani al Tayyib, formerly head of al Qaeda's finance committee,
had turned himself over to the Saudi government.The article said (incorrectly)
that the Saudis were sharing Tayyib's information with the U.S. and British
At almost the same time, cell members learned that U.S. and
Kenyan agents had searched the Kenya residence of Wadi al Hage, who had
become the new on-site manager in Nairobi, and that Hage's telephone was
being tapped. Hage was a U.S. citizen who had worked with Bin Ladin in Afgha-
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nistan in the 1980s, and in 1992 he went to Sudan to become one of al Qaeda's
major financial operatives.When Hage returned to the United States to appear
before a grand jury investigating Bin Ladin, the job of cell manager was taken
over by Harun Fazul, a Kenyan citizen who had been in Bin Ladin's advance
team to Sudan back in 1990. Harun faxed a report on the "security situation"
to several sites, warning that "the crew members in East Africa is [sic] in grave
danger" in part because "America knows . . . that the followers of [Bin Ladin]
. . . carried out the operations to hit Americans in Somalia." The report pro-
vided instructions for avoiding further exposure.
On February 23, 1998, Bin Ladin issued his public fatwa.The language had
been in negotiation for some time, as part of the merger under way between
Bin Ladin's organization and Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Less than a
month after the publication of the fatwa, the teams that were to carry out the
embassy attacks were being pulled together in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.The
timing and content of their instructions indicate that the decision to launch
the attacks had been made by the time the fatwa was issued.
The next four months were spent setting up the teams in Nairobi and Dar
es Salaam. Members of the cells rented residences, and purchased bomb-mak-
ing materials and transport vehicles. At least one additional explosives expert
was brought in to assist in putting the weapons together. In Nairobi, a hotel
room was rented to put up some of the operatives. The suicide trucks were
purchased shortly before the attack date.
While this was taking place, Bin Ladin continued to push his public mes-
sage. On May 7, the deputy head of al Qaeda's military committee,
Mohammed Atef, faxed to Bin Ladin's London office a new fatwa issued by a
group of sheikhs located in Afghanistan. A week later, it appeared in Al Quds
al Arabi
, the same Arabic-language newspaper in London that had first published
Bin Ladin's February fatwa, and it conveyed the same message--the duty of
Muslims to carry out holy war against the enemies of Islam and to expel the
Americans from the Gulf region.Two weeks after that, Bin Ladin gave a video-
taped interview to ABC News with the same slogans, adding that "we do not
differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians; they are
all targets in this fatwa."
By August 1, members of the cells not directly involved in the attacks had
mostly departed from East Africa. The remaining operatives prepared and
assembled the bombs, and acquired the delivery vehicles. On August 4, they
made one last casing run at the embassy in Nairobi. By the evening of August 6,
all but the delivery teams and one or two persons assigned to remove the evi-
dence trail had left East Africa. Back in Afghanistan, Bin Ladin and the al Qaeda
leadership had left Kandahar for the countryside, expecting U.S. retaliation.
Declarations taking credit for the attacks had already been faxed to the joint
al Qaeda­Egyptian Islamic Jihad office in Baku, with instructions to stand by
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for orders to "instantly" transmit them to Al Quds al Arabi. One proclaimed "the
formation of the Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places," and two
others--one for each embassy--announced that the attack had been carried
out by a "company" of a "battalion" of this "Islamic Army."
On the morning of August 7, the bomb-laden trucks drove into the
embassies roughly five minutes apart--about 10:35
. in Nairobi and 10:39
. in Dar es Salaam. Shortly afterward, a phone call was placed from Baku
to London.The previously prepared messages were then faxed to London.
The attack on the U.S. embassy in Nairobi destroyed the embassy and killed
12 Americans and 201 others, almost all Kenyans. About 5,000 people were
injured.The attack on the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam killed 11 more peo-
ple, none of them Americans. Interviewed later about the deaths of the Africans,
Bin Ladin answered that "when it becomes apparent that it would be impos-
sible to repel these Americans without assaulting them, even if this involved
the killing of Muslims, this is permissible under Islam."Asked if he had indeed
masterminded these bombings, Bin Ladin said that the World Islamic Front for
jihad against "Jews and Crusaders" had issued a "crystal clear" fatwa. If the insti-
gation for jihad against the Jews and the Americans to liberate the holy places
"is considered a crime," he said,"let history be a witness that I am a criminal."
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I n c hap te r 2 , we described the growth of a new kind of terrorism, and a
new terrorist organization--especially from 1988 to 1998, when Usama Bin
Ladin declared war and organized the bombing of two U.S. embassies. In this
chapter, we trace the parallel evolution of government efforts to counter ter-
rorism by Islamic extremists against the United States.
We mention many personalities in this report. As in any study of the U.S.
government, some of the most important characters are institutions. We will
introduce various agencies, and how they adapted to a new kind of terrorism.
At 18 minutes after noon on February 26, 1993, a huge bomb went off beneath
the two towers of the World Trade Center.This was not a suicide attack.The
terrorists parked a truck bomb with a timing device on Level B-2 of the under-
ground garage, then departed.The ensuing explosion opened a hole seven sto-
ries up. Six people died. More than a thousand were injured. An FBI agent at
the scene described the relatively low number of fatalities as a miracle.
President Bill Clinton ordered his National Security Council to coordinate
the response. Government agencies swung into action to find the culprits.The
Counterterrorist Center located at the CIA combed its files and queried
sources around the world. The National Security Agency (NSA), the huge
Defense Department signals collection agency, ramped up its communications
intercept network and searched its databases for clues.
The New York Field
Office of the FBI took control of the local investigation and, in the end, set a
pattern for future management of terrorist incidents.
Four features of this episode have significance for the story of 9/11.
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First, the bombing signaled a new terrorist challenge, one whose rage and
malice had no limit. Ramzi Yousef, the Sunni extremist who planted the bomb,
said later that he had hoped to kill 250,000 people.
Second, the FBI and the Justice Department did excellent work investigat-
ing the bombing.Within days, the FBI identified a truck remnant as part of a
Ryder rental van reported stolen in Jersey City the day before the bombing.
Mohammed Salameh, who had rented the truck and reported it stolen, kept
calling the rental office to get back his $400 deposit.The FBI arrested him there
on March 4, 1993. In short order, the Bureau had several plotters in custody,
including Nidal Ayyad, an engineer who had acquired chemicals for the bomb,
and Mahmoud Abouhalima, who had helped mix the chemicals.
The FBI identified another conspirator, Ahmad Ajaj, who had been arrested
by immigration authorities at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Sep-
tember 1992 and charged with document fraud. His traveling companion was
Ramzi Yousef, who had also entered with fraudulent documents but claimed
political asylum and was admitted. It quickly became clear that Yousef had been
a central player in the attack. He had fled to Pakistan immediately after the
bombing and would remain at large for nearly two years.
The arrests of Salameh, Abouhalima, and Ayyad led the FBI to the Farouq
mosque in Brooklyn, where a central figure was Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman,
an extremist Sunni Muslim cleric who had moved to the United States from
Egypt in 1990. In speeches and writings, the sightless Rahman, often called the
"Blind Sheikh," preached the message of Sayyid Qutb's Milestones, characteriz-
ing the United States as the oppressor of Muslims worldwide and asserting that
it was their religious duty to fight against God's enemies. An FBI informant
learned of a plan to bomb major New York landmarks, including the Holland
and Lincoln tunnels. Disrupting this "landmarks plot," the FBI in June 1993
arrested Rahman and various confederates.
As a result of the investigations and arrests, the U.S.Attorney for the South-
ern District of New York prosecuted and convicted multiple individuals,
including Ajaj, Salameh, Ayyad, Abouhalima, the Blind Sheikh, and Ramzi
Yousef, for crimes related to the World Trade Center bombing and other plots.
An unfortunate consequence of this superb investigative and prosecutorial
effort was that it created an impression that the law enforcement system was
well-equipped to cope with terrorism. Neither President Clinton, his princi-
pal advisers, the Congress, nor the news media felt prompted, until later, to press
the question of whether the procedures that put the Blind Sheikh and Ramzi
Yousef behind bars would really protect Americans against the new virus of
which these individuals were just the first symptoms.
Third, the successful use of the legal system to address the first World Trade
Center bombing had the side effect of obscuring the need to examine the char-
acter and extent of the new threat facing the United States.The trials did not
bring the Bin Ladin network to the attention of the public and policymakers.
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The FBI assembled, and the U.S. Attorney's office put forward, some evi-
dence showing that the men in the dock were not the only plotters. Materials
taken from Ajaj indicated that the plot or plots were hatched at or near the
Khaldan camp, a terrorist training camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Ajaj had left Texas in April 1992 to go there to learn how to construct bombs.
He had met Ramzi Yousef in Pakistan, where they discussed bombing targets
in the United States and assembled a "terrorist kit" that included bomb-mak-
ing manuals, operations guidance, videotapes advocating terrorist action
against the United States, and false identification documents.
Yousef was captured in Pakistan following the discovery by police in the
Philippines in January 1995 of the Manila air plot, which envisioned placing
bombs on board a dozen trans-Pacific airliners and setting them off simultane-
ously. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--Yousef 's uncle, then located in Qatar--was
a fellow plotter of Yousef 's in the Manila air plot and had also wired him some
money prior to the Trade Center bombing. The U.S. Attorney obtained an
indictment against KSM in January 1996, but an official in the government of
Qatar probably warned him about it. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed evaded cap-
ture (and stayed at large to play a central part in the 9/11 attacks).
The law enforcement process is concerned with proving the guilt of per-
sons apprehended and charged. Investigators and prosecutors could not pres-
ent all the evidence of possible involvement of individuals other than those
charged, although they continued to pursue such investigations, planning or
hoping for later prosecutions.The process was meant, by its nature, to mark for
the public the events as finished--case solved, justice done. It was not designed
to ask if the events might be harbingers of worse to come. Nor did it allow for
aggregating and analyzing facts to see if they could provide clues to terrorist
tactics more generally--methods of entry and finance, and mode of operation
inside the United States.
Fourth, although the bombing heightened awareness of a new terrorist dan-
ger, successful prosecutions contributed to widespread underestimation of the
threat.The government's attorneys stressed the seriousness of the crimes, and
put forward evidence of Yousef 's technical ingenuity.Yet the public image that
persisted was not of clever Yousef but of stupid Salameh going back again and
again to reclaim his $400 truck rental deposit.
Legal processes were the primary method for responding to these early mani-
festations of a new type of terrorism. Our overview of U.S. capabilities for deal-
ing with it thus begins with the nation's vast complex of law enforcement
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The Justice Department and the FBI
At the federal level, much law enforcement activity is concentrated in the
Department of Justice. For countering terrorism, the dominant agency under
Justice is the Federal Bureau of Investigation.The FBI does not have a general
grant of authority but instead works under specific statutory authorizations.
Most of its work is done in local offices called field offices. There are 56 of
them, each covering a specified geographic area, and each quite separate from
all others. Prior to 9/11, the special agent in charge was in general free to set
his or her office's priorities and assign personnel accordingly.
The office's priorities were driven by two primary concerns. First, perform-
ance in the Bureau was generally measured against statistics such as numbers
of arrests, indictments, prosecutions, and convictions. Counterterrorism and
counterintelligence work, often involving lengthy intelligence investigations
that might never have positive or quantifiable results, was not career-enhanc-
ing. Most agents who reached management ranks had little counterterrorism
experience. Second, priorities were driven at the local level by the field offices,
whose concerns centered on traditional crimes such as white-collar offenses
and those pertaining to drugs and gangs. Individual field offices made choices
to serve local priorities, not national priorities.
The Bureau also operates under an "office of origin" system.To avoid dupli-
cation and possible conflicts, the FBI designates a single office to be in charge
of an entire investigation. Because the New York Field Office indicted Bin
Ladin prior to the East Africa bombings, it became the office of origin for all
Bin Ladin cases, including the East Africa bombings and later the attack on the
USS Cole. Most of the FBI's institutional knowledge on Bin Ladin and al Qaeda
resided there.This office worked closely with the U.S.Attorney for the South-
ern District of New York to identify, arrest, prosecute, and convict many of the
perpetrators of the attacks and plots. Field offices other than the specified office
of origin were often reluctant to spend much energy on matters over which
they had no control and for which they received no credit.
The FBI's domestic intelligence gathering dates from the 1930s.With World
War II looming, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered FBI Director J. Edgar
Hoover to investigate foreign and foreign-inspired subversion--Communist,
Nazi, and Japanese. Hoover added investigation of possible espionage, sabotage,
or subversion to the duties of field offices. After the war, foreign intelligence
duties were assigned to the newly established Central Intelligence Agency.
Hoover jealously guarded the FBI's domestic portfolio against all rivals.
Hoover felt he was accountable only to the president, and the FBI's domestic
intelligence activities kept growing. In the 1960s, the FBI was receiving signif-
icant assistance within the United States from the CIA and from Army Intel-
ligence.The legal basis for some of this assistance was dubious.
Decades of encouragement to perform as a domestic intelligence agency
abruptly ended in the 1970s.Two years after Hoover's death in 1972, congres-
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sional and news media investigations of the Watergate scandals of the Nixon
administration expanded into general investigations of foreign and domestic
intelligence by the Church and Pike committees.
They disclosed domestic
intelligence efforts, which included a covert action program that operated from
1956 to 1971 against domestic organizations and, eventually, domestic dissi-
dents.The FBI had spied on a wide range of political figures, especially indi-
viduals whom Hoover wanted to discredit (notably the Reverend Martin
Luther King, Jr.), and had authorized unlawful wiretaps and surveillance.The
shock registered in public opinion polls, where the percentage of Americans
declaring a "highly favorable" view of the FBI dropped from 84 percent to 37
percent.The FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division was dissolved.
In 1976, Attorney General Edward Levi adopted domestic security guide-
lines to regulate intelligence collection in the United States and to deflect calls
for even stronger regulation. In 1983,Attorney General William French Smith
revised the Levi guidelines to encourage closer investigation of potential ter-
rorism. He also loosened the rules governing authorization for investigations
and their duration. Still, his guidelines, like Levi's, took account of the reality
that suspicion of "terrorism," like suspicion of "subversion," could lead to mak-
ing individuals targets for investigation more because of their beliefs than
because of their acts. Smith's guidelines also took account of the reality that
potential terrorists were often members of extremist religious organizations and
that investigation of terrorism could cross the line separating state and
In 1986, Congress authorized the FBI to investigate terrorist attacks against
Americans that occur outside the United States. Three years later, it added
authority for the FBI to make arrests abroad without consent from the host
country. Meanwhile, a task force headed by Vice President George H.W. Bush
had endorsed a concept already urged by Director of Central Intelligence
William Casey--a Counterterrorist Center, where the FBI, the CIA, and other
organizations could work together on international terrorism.While it was dis-
tinctly a CIA entity, the FBI detailed officials to work at the Center and
obtained leads that helped in the capture of persons wanted for trial in the
United States.
The strengths that the FBI brought to counterterrorism were nowhere more
brilliantly on display than in the case of Pan American Flight 103, bound from
London to New York, which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December
1988, killing 270 people. Initial evidence pointed to the government of Syria
and, later, Iran.The Counterterrorist Center reserved judgment on the perpe-
trators of the attack. Meanwhile, FBI technicians, working with U.K. security
services, gathered and analyzed the widely scattered fragments of the airliner.
In 1991, with the help of the Counterterrorist Center, they identified one small
fragment as part of a timing device--to the technicians, as distinctive as DNA.
It was a Libyan device.Together with other evidence, the FBI put together a
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case pointing conclusively to the Libyan government. Eventually Libya
acknowledged its responsibility.
Pan Am 103 became a cautionary tale
against rushing to judgment in attributing responsibility for a terrorist act. It
also showed again how--given a case to solve--the FBI remained capable of
extraordinary investigative success.
FBI Organization and Priorities
In 1993, President Clinton chose Louis Freeh as the Director of the Bureau.
Freeh, who would remain Director until June 2001, believed that the FBI's
work should be done primarily by the field offices.To emphasize this view he
cut headquarters staff and decentralized operations.The special agents in charge
gained power, influence, and independence.
Freeh recognized terrorism as a major threat. He increased the number of
legal attaché offices abroad, focusing in particular on the Middle East. He also
urged agents not to wait for terrorist acts to occur before taking action. In his
first budget request to Congress after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing,
he stated that "merely solving this type of crime is not enough; it is equally
important that the FBI thwart terrorism before such acts can be perpetrated."
Within headquarters, he created a Counterterrorism Division that would com-
plement the Counterterrorist Center at the CIA and arranged for exchanges
of senior FBI and CIA counterterrorism officials. He pressed for more coop-
eration between legal attachés and CIA stations abroad.
Freeh's efforts did not, however, translate into a significant shift of resources
to counterterrorism. FBI, Justice, and Office of Management and Budget offi-
cials said that FBI leadership seemed unwilling to shift resources to terrorism
from other areas such as violent crime and drug enforcement; other FBI offi-
cials blamed Congress and the OMB for a lack of political will and failure to
understand the FBI's counterterrorism resource needs. In addition, Freeh did
not impose his views on the field offices. With a few notable exceptions, the
field offices did not apply significant resources to terrorism and often repro-
grammed funds for other priorities.
In 1998, the FBI issued a five-year strategic plan led by its deputy director,
Robert "Bear" Bryant. For the first time, the FBI designated national and eco-
nomic security, including counterterrorism, as its top priority. Dale Watson, who
would later become the head of the new Counterterrorism Division, said that
after the East Africa bombings,"the light came on" that cultural change had to
occur within the FBI.The plan mandated a stronger intelligence collection effort.
It called for a nationwide automated system to facilitate information collection,
analysis,and dissemination.It envisioned the creation of a professional intelligence
cadre of experienced and trained agents and analysts.If successfully implemented,
this would have been a major step toward addressing terrorism systematically,
rather than as individual unrelated cases. But the plan did not succeed.
First, the plan did not obtain the necessary human resources. Despite des-
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ignating "national and economic security" as its top priority in 1998, the
FBI did not shift human resources accordingly.Although the FBI's counter-
terrorism budget tripled during the mid-1990s, FBI counterterrorism
spending remained fairly constant between fiscal years 1998 and 2001. In
2000, there were still twice as many agents devoted to drug enforcement as
to counterterrorism.
Second, the new division intended to strengthen the FBI's strategic analy-
sis capability faltered. It received insufficient resources and faced resistance from
senior managers in the FBI's operational divisions.The new division was sup-
posed to identify trends in terrorist activity, determine what the FBI did not
know, and ultimately drive collection efforts. However, the FBI had little appre-
ciation for the role of analysis.Analysts continued to be used primarily in a tac-
tical fashion--providing support for existing cases. Compounding the problem
was the FBI's tradition of hiring analysts from within instead of recruiting indi-
viduals with the relevant educational background and expertise.
Moreover, analysts had difficulty getting access to the FBI and intelligence
community information they were expected to analyze.The poor state of the
FBI's information systems meant that such access depended in large part on an
analyst's personal relationships with individuals in the operational units or
squads where the information resided. For all of these reasons, prior to 9/11
relatively few strategic analytic reports about counterterrorism had been com-
pleted. Indeed, the FBI had never completed an assessment of the overall ter-
rorist threat to the U.S. homeland.
Third, the FBI did not have an effective intelligence collection effort. Col-
lection of intelligence from human sources was limited, and agents were inad-
equately trained. Only three days of a 16-week agents' course were devoted to
counterintelligence and counterterrorism, and most subsequent training was
received on the job.The FBI did not have an adequate mechanism for validat-
ing source reporting, nor did it have a system for adequately tracking and shar-
ing source reporting, either internally or externally.The FBI did not dedicate
sufficient resources to the surveillance and translation needs of counter-
terrorism agents. It lacked sufficient translators proficient in Arabic and other
key languages, resulting in a significant backlog of untranslated intercepts.
Finally, the FBI's information systems were woefully inadequate. The FBI
lacked the ability to know what it knew: there was no effective mechanism for
capturing or sharing its institutional knowledge. FBI agents did create records of
interviews and other investigative efforts, but there were no reports officers to
condense the information into meaningful intelligence that could be retrieved
and disseminated.
In 1999, the FBI created separate Counterterrorism and Counterintelli-
gence divisions. Dale Watson, the first head of the new Counterterrorism Divi-
sion, recognized the urgent need to increase the FBI's counterterrorism
capability. His plan, called MAXCAP 05, was unveiled in 2000: it set the goal
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of bringing the Bureau to its "maximum feasible capacity" in counterterror-
ism by 2005. Field executives told Watson that they did not have the analysts,
linguists, or technically trained experts to carry out the strategy. In a report pro-
vided to Director Robert Mueller in September 2001, one year after Watson
presented his plan to field executives, almost every FBI field office was assessed
to be operating below "maximum capacity."The report stated that "the goal to
`prevent terrorism' requires a dramatic shift in emphasis from a reactive capa-
bility to highly functioning intelligence capability which provides not only
leads and operational support, but clear strategic analysis and direction."
Legal Constraints on the FBI and "the Wall"
The FBI had different tools for law enforcement and intelligence.
For crim-
inal matters, it could apply for and use traditional criminal warrants. For intel-
ligence matters involving international terrorism, however, the rules were
different. For many years the attorney general could authorize surveillance of
foreign powers and agents of foreign powers without any court review, but in
1978 Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
This law reg-
ulated intelligence collection directed at foreign powers and agents of foreign
powers in the United States. In addition to requiring court review of proposed
surveillance (and later, physical searches), the 1978 act was interpreted by the
courts to require that a search be approved only if its "primary purpose" was
to obtain foreign intelligence information. In other words, the authorities of
the FISA law could not be used to circumvent traditional criminal warrant
requirements.The Justice Department interpreted these rulings as saying that
criminal prosecutors could be briefed on FISA information but could not
direct or control its collection.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Justice prosecutors had informal
arrangements for obtaining information gathered in the FISA process, the
understanding being that they would not improperly exploit that process for
their criminal cases. Whether the FBI shared with prosecutors information
pertinent to possible criminal investigations was left solely to the judgment of
the FBI.
But the prosecution of Aldrich Ames for espionage in 1994 revived con-
cerns about the prosecutors' role in intelligence investigations.The Department
of Justice's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) is responsible for
reviewing and presenting all FISA applications to the FISA Court. It worried
that because of the numerous prior consultations between FBI agents and pros-
ecutors, the judge might rule that the FISA warrants had been misused. If that
had happened,Ames might have escaped conviction. Richard Scruggs, the act-
ing head of OIPR, complained to Attorney General Janet Reno about the lack
of information-sharing controls. On his own, he began imposing information-
sharing procedures for FISA material. The Office of Intelligence Policy and
Review became the gatekeeper for the flow of FISA information to criminal
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In July 1995, Attorney General Reno issued formal procedures aimed at
managing information sharing between Justice Department prosecutors and
the FBI.They were developed in a working group led by the Justice Depart-
ment's Executive Office of National Security, overseen by Deputy Attorney
General Jamie Gorelick.
These procedures--while requiring the sharing of
intelligence information with prosecutors--regulated the manner in which
such information could be shared from the intelligence side of the house to
the criminal side.
These procedures were almost immediately misunderstood and misapplied.
As a result, there was far less information sharing and coordination between
the FBI and the Criminal Division in practice than was allowed under the
department's procedures. Over time the procedures came to be referred to as
"the wall." The term "the wall" is misleading, however, because several factors
led to a series of barriers to information sharing that developed.
The Office of Intelligence Policy and Review became the sole gatekeeper
for passing information to the Criminal Division. Though Attorney General
Reno's procedures did not include such a provision, the Office assumed the
role anyway, arguing that its position reflected the concerns of Judge Royce
Lamberth, then chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.The
Office threatened that if it could not regulate the flow of information to crim-
inal prosecutors, it would no longer present the FBI's warrant requests to the
FISA Court.The information flow withered.
The 1995 procedures dealt only with sharing between agents and criminal
prosecutors, not between two kinds of FBI agents, those working on intelli-
gence matters and those working on criminal matters. But pressure from the
Office of Intelligence Policy Review, FBI leadership, and the FISA Court built
barriers between agents--even agents serving on the same squads. FBI Deputy
Director Bryant reinforced the Office's caution by informing agents that too
much information sharing could be a career stopper.Agents in the field began
to believe--incorrectly--that no FISA information could be shared with
agents working on criminal investigations.
This perception evolved into the still more exaggerated belief that the FBI
could not share any intelligence information with criminal investigators, even
if no FISA procedures had been used. Thus, relevant information from the
National Security Agency and the CIA often failed to make its way to crimi-
nal investigators. Separate reviews in 1999, 2000, and 2001 concluded inde-
pendently that information sharing was not occurring, and that the intent of
the 1995 procedures was ignored routinely.
We will describe some of the
unfortunate consequences of these accumulated institutional beliefs and prac-
tices in chapter 8.
There were other legal limitations. Both prosecutors and FBI agents argued
that they were barred by court rules from sharing grand jury information, even
though the prohibition applied only to that small fraction that had been pre-
sented to a grand jury, and even that prohibition had exceptions. But as inter-
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preted by FBI field offices, this prohibition could conceivably apply to much
of the information unearthed in an investigation.There were also restrictions,
arising from executive order, on the commingling of domestic information
with foreign intelligence. Finally the NSA began putting caveats on its Bin
Ladin­related reports that required prior approval before sharing their contents
with criminal investigators and prosecutors. These developments further
blocked the arteries of information sharing.
Other Law Enforcement Agencies
The Justice Department is much more than the FBI. It also has a U.S. Marshals
Service, almost 4,000 strong on 9/11 and especially expert in tracking fugi-
tives, with much local police knowledge.The department's Drug Enforcement
Administration had, as of 2001, more than 4,500 agents.
There were a num-
ber of occasions when DEA agents were able to introduce sources to the FBI
or CIA for counterterrorism use.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), with its 9,000 Border
Patrol agents, 4,500 inspectors, and 2,000 immigration special agents, had per-
haps the greatest potential to develop an expanded role in counterterrorism.
However, the INS was focused on the formidable challenges posed by illegal
entry over the southwest border, criminal aliens, and a growing backlog in the
applications for naturalizing immigrants.The White House, the Justice Depart-
ment, and above all the Congress reinforced these concerns. In addition, when
Doris Meissner became INS Commissioner in 1993, she found an agency seri-
ously hampered by outdated technology and insufficient human resources. Bor-
der Patrol agents were still using manual typewriters; inspectors at ports of entry
were using a paper watchlist; the asylum and other benefits systems did not
effectively deter fraudulent applicants.
Commissioner Meissner responded in 1993 to the World Trade Center
bombing by providing seed money to the State Department's Consular Affairs
Bureau to automate its terrorist watchlist, used by consular officers and border
inspectors. The INS assigned an individual in a new "lookout" unit to work
with the State Department in watchlisting suspected terrorists and with the
intelligence community and the FBI in determining how to deal with them
when they appeared at ports of entry. By 1998, 97 suspected terrorists had been
denied admission at U.S. ports of entry because of the watchlist.
How to conduct deportation cases against aliens who were suspected ter-
rorists caused significant debate.The INS had immigration law expertise and
authority to bring the cases, but the FBI possessed the classified information
sometimes needed as evidence, and information-sharing conflicts resulted.
New laws in 1996 authorized the use of classified evidence in removal hear-
ings, but the INS removed only a handful of the aliens with links to terrorist
activity (none identified as associated with al Qaeda) using classified evidence.
Midlevel INS employees proposed comprehensive counterterrorism pro-
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posals to management in 1986, 1995, and 1997. No action was taken on them.
In 1997, a National Security Unit was set up to handle alerts, track potential
terrorist cases for possible immigration enforcement action, and work with the
rest of the Justice Department. It focused on the FBI's priorities of Hezbollah
and Hamas, and began to examine how immigration laws could be brought to
bear on terrorism. For instance, it sought unsuccessfully to require that CIA
security checks be completed before naturalization applications were
Policy questions, such as whether resident alien status should be
revoked upon the person's conviction of a terrorist crime, were not addressed.
Congress, with the support of the Clinton administration, doubled the num-
ber of Border Patrol agents required along the border with Mexico to one
agent every quarter mile by 1999. It rejected efforts to bring additional
resources to bear in the north.The border with Canada had one agent for every
13.25 miles. Despite examples of terrorists entering from Canada, awareness of
terrorist activity in Canada and its more lenient immigration laws, and an
inspector general's report recommending that the Border Patrol develop a
northern border strategy, the only positive step was that the number of Border
Patrol agents was not cut any further.
Inspectors at the ports of entry were not asked to focus on terrorists. Inspec-
tors told us they were not even aware that when they checked the names of
incoming passengers against the automated watchlist, they were checking in
part for terrorists. In general, border inspectors also did not have the informa-
tion they needed to make fact-based determinations of admissibility.The INS
initiated but failed to bring to completion two efforts that would have pro-
vided inspectors with information relevant to counterterrorism--a proposed
system to track foreign student visa compliance and a program to establish a way
of tracking travelers' entry to and exit from the United States.
In 1996, a new law enabled the INS to enter into agreements with state and
local law enforcement agencies through which the INS provided training and
the local agencies exercised immigration enforcement authority. Terrorist
watchlists were not available to them. Mayors in cities with large immigrant
populations sometimes imposed limits on city employee cooperation with fed-
eral immigration agents. A large population lives outside the legal framework.
Fraudulent documents could be easily obtained. Congress kept the number of
INS agents static in the face of the overwhelming problem.
The chief vehicle for INS and for state and local participation in law
enforcement was the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), first tried out in New
York City in 1980 in response to a spate of incidents involving domestic ter-
rorist organizations.This task force was managed by the New York Field Office
of the FBI, and its existence provided an opportunity to exchange information
and, as happened after the first World Trade Center bombing, to enlist local offi-
cers, as well as other agency representatives, as partners in the FBI investiga-
tion.The FBI expanded the number of JTTFs throughout the 1990s, and by
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9/11 there were 34.While useful, the JTTFs had limitations.They set priori-
ties in accordance with regional and field office concerns, and most were not
fully staffed. Many state and local entities believed they had little to gain from
having a full-time representative on a JTTF.
Other federal law enforcement resources, also not seriously enlisted for
counterterrorism, were to be found in the Treasury Department.
Treasury housed the Secret Service, the Customs Service, and the Bureau
of Alcohol,Tobacco, and Firearms. Given the Secret Service's mission to pro-
tect the president and other high officials, its agents did become involved with
those of the FBI whenever terrorist assassination plots were rumored.
The Customs Service deployed agents at all points of entry into the
United States. Its agents worked alongside INS agents, and the two groups
sometimes cooperated. In the winter of 1999­2000, as will be detailed in
chapter 6, questioning by an especially alert Customs inspector led to the
arrest of an al Qaeda terrorist whose apparent mission was to bomb Los
Angeles International Airport.
The Bureau of Alcohol,Tobacco, and Firearms was used on occasion by the
FBI as a resource.The ATF's laboratories and analysis were critical to the inves-
tigation of the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the April
1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Before 9/11, with the exception of one portion of the FBI, very little of the
sprawling U.S. law enforcement community was engaged in countering ter-
rorism. Moreover, law enforcement could be effective only after specific indi-
viduals were identified, a plot had formed, or an attack had already occurred.
Responsible individuals had to be located, apprehended, and transported back
to a U.S. court for prosecution. As FBI agents emphasized to us, the FBI and
the Justice Department do not have cruise missiles.They declare war by indict-
ing someone.They took on the lead role in addressing terrorism because they
were asked to do so.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) within the Department of Trans-
portation had been vested by Congress with the sometimes conflicting man-
date of regulating the safety and security of U.S. civil aviation while also
promoting the civil aviation industry.The FAA had a security mission to pro-
tect the users of commercial air transportation against terrorism and other
criminal acts. In the years before 9/11, the FAA perceived sabotage as a greater
threat to aviation than hijacking. First, no domestic hijacking had occurred in
a decade. Second, the commercial aviation system was perceived as more vul-
nerable to explosives than to weapons such as firearms. Finally, explosives were
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perceived as deadlier than hijacking and therefore of greater consequence. In
1996, a presidential commission on aviation safety and security chaired by Vice
President Al Gore reinforced the prevailing concern about sabotage and explo-
sives on aircraft.The Gore Commission also flagged, as a new danger, the pos-
sibility of attack by surface-to-air missiles. Its 1997 final report did not discuss
the possibility of suicide hijackings.
The FAA set and enforced aviation security rules, which airlines and air-
ports were required to implement.The rules were supposed to produce a "lay-
ered" system of defense.This meant that the failure of any one layer of security
would not be fatal, because additional layers would provide backup security.
But each layer relevant to hijackings--intelligence, passenger prescreening,
checkpoint screening, and onboard security--was seriously flawed prior to
9/11.Taken together, they did not stop any of the 9/11 hijackers from getting
on board four different aircraft at three different airports.
The FAA's policy was to use intelligence to identify both specific plots and
general threats to civil aviation security, so that the agency could develop and
deploy appropriate countermeasures. The FAA's 40-person intelligence unit
was supposed to receive a broad range of intelligence data from the FBI, CIA,
and other agencies so that it could make assessments about the threat to avia-
tion. But the large volume of data contained little pertaining to the presence
and activities of terrorists in the United States. For example, information on
the FBI's effort in 1998 to assess the potential use of flight training by terror-
ists and the Phoenix electronic communication of 2001 warning of radical
Middle Easterners attending flight school were not passed to FAA headquar-
ters. Several top FAA intelligence officials called the domestic threat picture a
serious blind spot.
Moreover, the FAA's intelligence unit did not receive much attention from
the agency's leadership. Neither Administrator Jane Garvey nor her deputy rou-
tinely reviewed daily intelligence, and what they did see was screened for them.
She was unaware of a great amount of hijacking threat information from her
own intelligence unit, which, in turn, was not deeply involved in the agency's
policymaking process. Historically, decisive security action took place only after
a disaster had occurred or a specific plot had been discovered.
The next aviation security layer was passenger prescreening. The FAA
directed air carriers not to fly individuals known to pose a "direct" threat to
civil aviation. But as of 9/11, the FAA's "no-fly" list contained the names of
just 12 terrorist suspects (including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed), even though government watchlists contained the names of
many thousands of known and suspected terrorists.This astonishing mismatch
existed despite the Gore Commission's having called on the FBI and CIA four
years earlier to provide terrorist watchlists to improve prescreening.The long-
time chief of the FAA's civil aviation security division testified that he was not
even aware of the State Department's TIPOFF list of known and suspected ter-
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rorists (some 60,000 before 9/11) until he heard it mentioned during the
Commission's January 26, 2004, public hearing.The FAA had access to some
TIPOFF data, but apparently found it too difficult to use.
The second part of prescreening called on the air carriers to implement an
FAA-approved computerized algorithm (known as CAPPS, for Computer
Assisted Passenger Prescreening System) designed to identify passengers whose
profile suggested they might pose more than a minimal risk to aircraft.
Although the algorithm included hijacker profile data, at that time only pas-
sengers checking bags were eligible to be selected by CAPPS for additional
scrutiny. Selection entailed only having one's checked baggage screened for
explosives or held off the airplane until one had boarded. Primarily because of
concern regarding potential discrimination and the impact on passenger
throughput, "selectees" were no longer required to undergo extraordinary
screening of their carry-on baggage as had been the case before the system was
computerized in 1997.
This policy change also reflected the perception that
nonsuicide sabotage was the primary threat to civil aviation.
Checkpoint screening was considered the most important and obvious layer
of security. Walk-through metal detectors and X-ray machines operated by
trained screeners were employed to stop prohibited items. Numerous govern-
ment reports indicated that checkpoints performed poorly, often failing to
detect even obvious FAA test items. Many deadly and dangerous items did not
set off metal detectors, or were hard to distinguish in an X-ray machine from
innocent everyday items.
While FAA rules did not expressly prohibit knives with blades under 4
inches long, the airlines' checkpoint operations guide (which was developed in
cooperation with the FAA), explicitly permitted them.The FAA's basis for this
policy was (1) the agency did not consider such items to be menacing, (2) most
local laws did not prohibit individuals from carrying such knives, and (3) such
knives would have been difficult to detect unless the sensitivity of metal detec-
tors had been greatly increased. A proposal to ban knives altogether in 1993
had been rejected because small cutting implements were difficult to detect and
the number of innocent "alarms" would have increased significantly, exacer-
bating congestion problems at checkpoints.
Several years prior to 9/11, an FAA requirement for screeners to conduct
"continuous" and "random" hand searches of carry-on luggage at checkpoints
had been replaced by explosive trace detection or had simply become ignored
by the air carriers. Therefore, secondary screening of individuals and their
carry-on bags to identify weapons (other than bombs) was nonexistent, except
for passengers who triggered the metal detectors. Even when small knives were
detected by secondary screening, they were usually returned to the traveler.
Reportedly, the 9/11 hijackers were instructed to use items that would be
undetectable by airport checkpoints.
In the pre-9/11 security system, the air carriers played a major role. As the
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Inspector General of the Department of Transportation told us, there were great
pressures from the air carriers to control security costs and to "limit the impact
of security requirements on aviation operations, so that the industry could con-
centrate on its primary mission of moving passengers and aircraft. . . . [T]hose
counterpressures in turn manifested themselves as significant weaknesses in
security."A longtime FAA security official described the air carriers' approach
to security regulation as "decry, deny and delay" and told us that while "the air
carriers had seen the enlightened hand of self-interest with respect to safety,
they hadn't seen it in the security arena."
The final layer, security on board commercial aircraft, was not designed to
counter suicide hijackings.The FAA-approved "Common Strategy" had been
elaborated over decades of experience with scores of hijackings, beginning in
the 1960s. It taught flight crews that the best way to deal with hijackers was to
accommodate their demands, get the plane to land safely, and then let law
enforcement or the military handle the situation. According to the FAA, the
record had shown that the longer a hijacking persisted, the more likely it was
to end peacefully. The strategy operated on the fundamental assumption that
hijackers issue negotiable demands (most often for asylum or the release of pris-
oners) and that, as one FAA official put it,"suicide wasn't in the game plan" of
hijackers. FAA training material provided no guidance for flight crews should
violence occur.
This prevailing Common Strategy of cooperation and nonconfrontation
meant that even a hardened cockpit door would have made little difference in
a hijacking.As the chairman of the Security Committee of the Air Line Pilots
Association observed when proposals were made in early 2001 to install rein-
forced cockpit doors in commercial aircraft,"Even if you make a vault out of
the door, if they have a noose around my flight attendant's neck, I'm going to
open the door." Prior to 9/11, FAA regulations mandated that cockpit doors
permit ready access into and out of the cockpit in the event of an emergency.
Even so, rules implemented in the 1960s required air crews to keep the cock-
pit door closed and locked in flight.This requirement was not always observed
or vigorously enforced.
As for law enforcement, there were only 33 armed and trained federal air
marshals as of 9/11.They were not deployed on U.S. domestic flights, except
when in transit to provide security on international departures. This policy
reflected the FAA's view that domestic hijacking was in check--a view held
confidently as no terrorist had hijacked a U.S. commercial aircraft anywhere in
the world since 1986.
In the absence of any recent aviation security incident and without "spe-
cific and credible" evidence of a plot directed at civil aviation, the FAA's lead-
ership focused elsewhere, including on operational concerns and the
ever-present issue of safety. FAA Administrator Garvey recalled that "every day
in 2001 was like the day before Thanksgiving." Heeding calls for improved air
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service, Congress concentrated its efforts on a "passenger bill of rights," to
improve capacity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction in the aviation system.
There was no focus on terrorism.
The National Security Act of 1947 created the position of Director of Central
Intelligence (DCI). Independent from the departments of Defense, State, Justice,
and other policy departments,the DCI heads the U.S.intelligence community and
provides intelligence to federal entities.
The sole element of the intelligence community independent from a cab-
inet agency is the CIA.As an independent agency, it collects, analyzes, and dis-
seminates intelligence from all sources.The CIA's number one customer is the
president of the United States, who also has the authority to direct it to con-
duct covert operations.
Although covert actions represent a very small frac-
tion of the Agency's entire budget, these operations have at times been
controversial and over time have dominated the public's perception of the CIA.
The DCI is confirmed by the Senate but is not technically a member of the
president's cabinet.The director's power under federal law over the loose, con-
federated "intelligence community" is limited.
He or she states the commu-
nity's priorities and coordinates development of intelligence agency budget
requests for submission to Congress.
This responsibility gives many the false impression that the DCI has line
authority over the heads of these agencies and has the power to shift resources
within these budgets as the need arises. Neither is true. In fact, the DCI's real
authority has been directly proportional to his personal closeness to the presi-
dent, which has waxed and waned over the years, and to others in government,
especially the secretary of defense.
Intelligence agencies under the Department of Defense account for
approximately 80 percent of all U.S. spending for intelligence, including some
that supports a national customer base and some that supports specific Defense
Department or military service needs.
As they are housed in the Defense
Department, these agencies are keenly attentive to the military's strategic and
tactical requirements.
One of the intelligence agencies in Defense with a national customer base
is the National Security Agency, which intercepts and analyzes foreign com-
munications and breaks codes.The NSA also creates codes and ciphers to pro-
tect government information. Another is the recently renamed National
Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which provides and analyzes imagery
and produces a wide array of products, including maps, navigation tools, and
surveillance intelligence. A third such agency in Defense is the National
Reconnaissance Office. It develops, procures, launches, and maintains in orbit
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information-gathering satellites that serve other government agencies.
The Defense Intelligence Agency supports the secretary of defense, Joint
Chiefs of Staff, and military field commanders. It does some collection through
human sources as well as some technical intelligence collection. The Army,
Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have their own intelligence components
that collect information, help them decide what weapons to acquire, and serve
the tactical intelligence needs of their respective services.
In addition to those from the Department of Defense, other elements in the
intelligence community include the national security parts of the FBI; the
Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the State Department; the intelligence
component of the Treasury Department; the Energy Department's Office of
Intelligence and Counterintelligence, the former of which, through leverag-
ing the expertise of the national laboratory system, has special competence in
nuclear weapons; the Office of Intelligence of the Coast Guard; and, today, the
Directorate of Intelligence Analysis and Infrastructure Protection in the
Department of Homeland Security.
The National Security Agency
The National Security Agency's intercepts of terrorist communications often
set off alarms elsewhere in the government. Often, too, its intercepts are con-
clusive elements in the analyst's jigsaw puzzle. NSA engineers build technical
systems to break ciphers and to make sense of today's complex signals environ-
ment. Its analysts listen to conversations between foreigners not meant for
them.They also perform "traffic analysis"--studying technical communications
systems and codes as well as foreign organizational structures, including those
of terrorist organizations.
Cold War adversaries used very hierarchical, familiar, and predictable mili-
tary command and control methods.With globalization and the telecommu-
nications revolution, and with loosely affiliated but networked adversaries using
commercial devices and encryption, the technical impediments to signals col-
lection grew at a geometric rate. At the same time, the end of the Cold War
and the resultant cuts in national security funding forced intelligence agencies
to cut systems and seek economies of scale. Modern adversaries are skilled users
of communications technologies.The NSA's challenges, and its opportunities,
increased exponentially in "volume, variety, and velocity."
The law requires the NSA to not deliberately collect data on U.S. citizens
or on persons in the United States without a warrant based on foreign intelli-
gence requirements. Also, the NSA was supposed to let the FBI know of any
indication of crime, espionage, or "terrorist enterprise" so that the FBI could
obtain the appropriate warrant. Later in this story, we will learn that while the
NSA had the technical capability to report on communications with suspected
terrorist facilities in the Middle East, the NSA did not seek FISA Court war-
rants to collect communications between individuals in the United States and
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foreign countries, because it believed that this was an FBI role. It also did not
want to be viewed as targeting persons in the United States and possibly vio-
lating laws that governed NSA's collection of foreign intelligence.
An almost obsessive protection of sources and methods by the NSA, and its
focus on foreign intelligence, and its avoidance of anything domestic would, as
will be seen, be important elements in the story of 9/11.
Technology as an Intelligence Asset and Liability
The application of newly developed scientific technology to the mission of U.S.
war fighters and national security decisionmakers is one of the great success sto-
ries of the twentieth century. It did not happen by accident. Recent wars have
been waged and won decisively by brave men and women using advanced tech-
nology that was developed, authorized, and paid for by conscientious and dili-
gent executive and legislative branch leaders many years earlier.
The challenge of technology, however, is a daunting one. It is expensive,
sometimes fails, and often can create problems as well as solve them. Some of
the advanced technologies that gave us insight into the closed-off territories
of the Soviet Union during the Cold War are of limited use in identifying and
tracking individual terrorists.
Terrorists, in turn, have benefited from this same rapid development of com-
munication technologies.They simply could buy off the shelf and harvest the
products of a $3 trillion a year telecommunications industry.They could acquire
without great expense communication devices that were varied, global,
instantaneous, complex, and encrypted.
The emergence of the World Wide Web has given terrorists a much easier
means of acquiring information and exercising command and control over
their operations.The operational leader of the 9/11 conspiracy, Mohamed Atta,
went online from Hamburg, Germany, to research U.S. flight schools.Targets
of intelligence collection have become more sophisticated.These changes have
made surveillance and threat warning more difficult.
Despite the problems that technology creates,Americans' love affair with it
leads them to also regard it as the solution. But technology produces its best
results when an organization has the doctrine, structure, and incentives to
exploit it. For example, even the best information technology will not improve
information sharing so long as the intelligence agencies' personnel and secu-
rity systems reward protecting information rather than disseminating it.
The CIA is a descendant of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which Pres-
ident Roosevelt created early in World War II after having first thought the FBI
might take that role.The father of the OSS was William J."Wild Bill" Dono-
van, a Wall Street lawyer. He recruited into the OSS others like himself--well
traveled, well connected, well-to-do professional men and women.
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An innovation of Donovan's, whose legacy remains part of U.S. intelligence
today, was the establishment of a Research and Analysis Branch. There large
numbers of scholars from U.S. universities pored over accounts from spies, com-
munications intercepted by the armed forces, transcripts of radio broadcasts,
and publications of all types, and prepared reports on economic, political, and
social conditions in foreign theaters of operation.
At the end of World War II, to Donovan's disappointment, President Harry
Truman dissolved the Office of Strategic Services. Four months later, the Pres-
ident directed that "all Federal foreign intelligence activities be planned, devel-
oped and coordinated so as to assure the most effective accomplishment of the
intelligence mission related to the national security," under a National Intelli-
gence Authority consisting of the secretaries of State,War, and the Navy, and a
personal representative of the president.This body was to be assisted by a Cen-
tral Intelligence Group, made up of persons detailed from the departments of
each of the members and headed by a Director of Central Intelligence.
Subsequently, President Truman agreed to the National Security Act of
1947, which, among other things, established the Central Intelligence Agency,
under the Director of Central Intelligence. Lobbying by the FBI, combined
with fears of creating a U.S. Gestapo,
led to the FBI's being assigned respon-
sibility for internal security functions and counterespionage. The CIA was
specifically accorded "no police, subpoena, or law enforcement powers or
internal security functions."
This structure built in tensions between the CIA
and the Defense Department's intelligence agencies, and between the CIA and
the FBI.
Clandestine and Covert Action.
With this history, the CIA brought to the
era of 9/11 many attributes of an elite organization, viewing itself as serving on
the nation's front lines to engage America's enemies. Officers in its Clandestine
Service, under what became the Directorate of Operations, fanned out into sta-
tions abroad. Each chief of station was a very important person in the organi-
zation, given the additional title of the DCI's representative in that country. He
(occasionally she) was governed by an operating directive that listed operational
priorities issued by the relevant regional division of the Directorate, constrained
by centrally determined allocations of resources.
Because the conduct of espionage was a high-risk activity, decisions on the
clandestine targeting, recruitment, handling, and termination of secret sources
and the dissemination of collected information required Washington's approval
and action. But in this decentralized system, analogous in some ways to the cul-
ture of the FBI field offices in the United States, everyone in the Directorate
of Operations presumed that it was the job of headquarters to support the field,
rather than manage field activities.
In the 1960s, the CIA suffered exposure of its botched effort to land Cuban
exiles at the Bay of Pigs.The Vietnam War brought on more criticism.A promi-
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nent feature of the Watergate era was investigations of the CIA by committees
headed by Frank Church in the Senate and Otis Pike in the House.They pub-
lished evidence that the CIA had secretly planned to assassinate Fidel Castro
and other foreign leaders.The President had not taken plain responsibility for
these judgments. CIA officials had taken most of the blame, saying they had
done so in order to preserve the President's "plausible deniability."
After the Watergate era, Congress established oversight committees to
ensure that the CIA did not undertake covert action contrary to basic Amer-
ican law. Case officers in the CIA's Clandestine Service interpreted legislation,
such as the Hughes-Ryan Amendment requiring that the president approve and
report to Congress any covert action, as sending a message to them that covert
action often leads to trouble and can severely damage one's career. Controver-
sies surrounding Central American covert action programs in the mid-1980s
led to the indictment of several senior officers of the Clandestine Service. Dur-
ing the 1990s, tension sometimes arose, as it did in the effort against al Qaeda,
between policymakers who wanted the CIA to undertake more aggressive
covert action and wary CIA leaders who counseled prudence and making sure
that the legal basis and presidential authorization for their actions were unde-
niably clear.
The Clandestine Service felt the impact of the post­Cold War peace divi-
dend, with cuts beginning in 1992. As the number of officers declined and
overseas facilities were closed, the DCI and his managers responded to devel-
oping crises in the Balkans or in Africa by "surging," or taking officers from
across the service to use on the immediate problem. In many cases the surge
officers had little familiarity with the new issues. Inevitably, some parts of the
world and some collection targets were not fully covered, or not covered at all.
This strategy also placed great emphasis on close relations with foreign liaison
services, whose help was needed to gain information that the United States
itself did not have the capacity to collect.
The nadir for the Clandestine Service was in 1995, when only 25 trainees
became new officers.
In 1998, the DCI was able to persuade the administra-
tion and the Congress to endorse a long-range rebuilding program. It takes five
to seven years of training, language study, and experience to bring a recruit up
to full performance.
The CIA's Directorate of Intelligence retained some of its original
character of a university gone to war. Its men and women tended to judge one
another by the quantity and quality of their publications (in this case, classified
publications). Apart from their own peers, they looked for approval and guid-
ance to policymakers. During the 1990s and today, particular value is attached
to having a contribution included in one of the classified daily "newspapers"--
the Senior Executive Intelligence Brief--or, better still, selected for inclusion
in the President's Daily Brief.
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The CIA had been created to wage the Cold War. Its steady focus on one
or two primary adversaries, decade after decade, had at least one positive effect:
it created an environment in which managers and analysts could safely invest
time and resources in basic research, detailed and reflective. Payoffs might not
be immediate. But when they wrote their estimates, even in brief papers, they
could draw on a deep base of knowledge.
When the Cold War ended, those investments could not easily be reallo-
cated to new enemies. The cultural effects ran even deeper. In a more fluid
international environment with uncertain, changing goals and interests, intel-
ligence managers no longer felt they could afford such a patient, strategic
approach to long-term accumulation of intellectual capital. A university cul-
ture with its versions of books and articles was giving way to the culture of the
During the 1990s, the rise of round-the-clock news shows and the Internet
reinforced pressure on analysts to pass along fresh reports to policymakers at an
ever-faster pace, trying to add context or supplement what their customers were
receiving from the media.Weaknesses in all-source and strategic analysis were
highlighted by a panel, chaired by Admiral David Jeremiah, that critiqued the
intelligence community's failure to foresee the nuclear weapons tests by India
and Pakistan in 1998, as well as by a 1999 panel, chaired by Donald Rumsfeld,
that discussed the community's limited ability to assess the ballistic missile threat
to the United States. Both reports called attention to the dispersal of effort on
too many priorities, the declining attention to the craft of strategic analysis, and
security rules that prevented adequate sharing of information.Another Cold War
craft had been an elaborate set of methods for warning against surprise attack,
but that too had faded in analyzing new dangers like terrorism.
Another set of experiences that would affect the capacity of the CIA
to cope with the new terrorism traced back to the early Cold War, when the
Agency developed a concern, bordering on paranoia, about penetration by the
Soviet KGB. James Jesus Angleton, who headed counterintelligence in the CIA
until the early 1970s, became obsessed with the belief that the Agency harbored
one or more Soviet "moles."Although the pendulum swung back after Angle-
ton's forced retirement, it did not go very far. Instances of actual Soviet pene-
tration kept apprehensions high.
Then, in the early 1990s, came the Aldrich
Ames espionage case, which intensely embarrassed the CIA.Though obviously
unreliable,Ames had been protected and promoted by fellow officers while he
paid his bills by selling to the Soviet Union the names of U.S. operatives and
agents, a number of whom died as a result.
The concern about security vastly complicated information sharing. Infor-
mation was compartmented in order to protect it against exposure to skilled and
technologically sophisticated adversaries. There were therefore numerous
restrictions on handling information and a deep suspicion about sending infor-
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mation over newfangled electronic systems, like email, to other agencies of the
U.S. government.
Security concerns also increased the difficulty of recruiting officers quali-
fied for counterterrorism.Very few American colleges or universities offered
programs in Middle Eastern languages or Islamic studies.The total number of
undergraduate degrees granted in Arabic in all U.S. colleges and universities in
2002 was six.
Many who had traveled much outside the United States could
expect a very long wait for initial clearance.Anyone who was foreign-born or
had numerous relatives abroad was well-advised not even to apply.With budg-
ets for the CIA shrinking after the end of the Cold War, it was not surprising
that, with some notable exceptions, new hires in the Clandestine Service
tended to have qualifications similar to those of serving officers: that is, they
were suited for traditional agent recruitment or for exploiting liaison relation-
ships with foreign services but were not equipped to seek or use assets inside
the terrorist network.
Early Counterterrorism Efforts
In the 1970s and 1980s, terrorism had been tied to regional conflicts, mainly
in the Middle East.The majority of terrorist groups either were sponsored by
governments or, like the Palestine Liberation Organization, were militants try-
ing to create governments.
In the mid-1980s, on the basis of a report from a task force headed by Vice
President George Bush and after terrorist attacks at airports in Rome and
Athens, the DCI created a Counterterrorist Center to unify activities across the
Directorate of Operations and the Directorate of Intelligence.The Countert-
errorist Center had representation from the FBI and other agencies. In the for-
mal table of organization it reported to the DCI, but in fact most of the Center's
chiefs belonged to the Clandestine Service and usually looked for guidance to
the head of the Directorate of Operations.
The Center stimulated and coordinated collection of information by CIA
stations, compiled the results, and passed selected reports to appropriate stations,
the Directorate of Intelligence analysts, other parts of the intelligence commu-
nity, or to policymakers.The Center protected its bureaucratic turf.The Direc-
tor of Central Intelligence had once had a national intelligence officer for
terrorism to coordinate analysis; that office was abolished in the late 1980s and
its duties absorbed in part by the Counterterrorist Center. Though analysts
assigned to the Center produced a large number of papers, the focus was sup-
port to operations.A CIA inspector general's report in 1994 criticized the Cen-
ter's capacity to provide warning of terrorist attacks.
Subsequent chapters will raise the issue of whether, despite tremendous tal-
ent, energy, and dedication, the intelligence community failed to do enough in
coping with the challenge from Bin Ladin and al Qaeda. Confronted with such
questions, managers in the intelligence community often responded that they
had meager resources with which to work.
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Cuts in national security expenditures at the end of the Cold War led to
budget cuts in the national foreign intelligence program from fiscal years 1990
to 1996 and essentially flat budgets from fiscal years 1996 to 2000 (except for
the so-called Gingrich supplemental to the FY1999 budget and two later,
smaller supplementals).These cuts compounded the difficulties of the intelli-
gence agencies. Policymakers were asking them to move into the digitized
future to fight against computer-to-computer communications and modern
communication systems, while maintaining capability against older systems,
such as high-frequency radios and ultra-high- and very-high-frequency (line
of sight) systems that work like old-style television antennas.Also, demand for
imagery increased dramatically following the success of the 1991 Gulf War.
Both these developments, in turn, placed a premium on planning the next gen-
eration of satellite systems, the cost of which put great pressure on the rest of
the intelligence budget. As a result, intelligence agencies experienced staff
reductions, affecting both operators and analysts.
Yet at least for the CIA, part of the burden in tackling terrorism arose from
the background we have described: an organization capable of attracting
extraordinarily motivated people but institutionally averse to risk, with its
capacity for covert action atrophied, predisposed to restrict the distribution of
information, having difficulty assimilating new types of personnel, and accus-
tomed to presenting descriptive reportage of the latest intelligence.The CIA,
to put it another way, needed significant change in order to get maximum effect
in counterterrorism. President Clinton appointed George Tenet as DCI in
1997, and by all accounts terrorism was a priority for him. But Tenet's own
assessment, when questioned by the Commission, was that in 2004, the CIA's
clandestine service was still at least five years away from being fully ready to
play its counterterrorism role.
And while Tenet was clearly the leader of the
CIA, the intelligence community's confederated structure left open the ques-
tion of who really was in charge of the entire U.S. intelligence effort.
The State Department
The Commission asked Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in 2004
why the State Department had so long pursued what seemed, and ultimately
proved, to be a hopeless effort to persuade the Taliban regime in Afghanistan
to deport Bin Ladin. Armitage replied: "We do what the State Department
does, we don't go out and fly bombers, we don't do things like that[;] . . . we
do our part in these things."
Fifty years earlier, the person in Armitage's position would not have spoken
of the Department of State as having such a limited role. Until the late 1950s,
the department dominated the processes of advising the president and Con-
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gress on U.S. relations with the rest of the world.The National Security Coun-
cil was created in 1947 largely as a result of lobbying from the Pentagon for a
forum where the military could object if they thought the State Department
was setting national objectives that the United States did not have the where-
withal to pursue.
The State Department retained primacy until the 1960s, when the
Kennedy and Johnson administrations turned instead to Robert McNamara's
Defense Department, where a mini­state department was created to analyze
foreign policy issues. President Richard Nixon then concentrated policy plan-
ning and policy coordination in a powerful National Security Council staff,
overseen by Henry Kissinger.
In later years, individual secretaries of state were important figures, but the
department's role continued to erode. State came into the 1990s overmatched
by the resources of other departments and with little support for its budget
either in the Congress or in the president's Office of Management and Bud-
Like the FBI and the CIA's Directorate of Operations, the State Department
had a tradition of emphasizing service in the field over service in Washington.
Even ambassadors, however, often found host governments not only making
connections with the U.S. government through their own missions in Wash-
ington, but working through the CIA station or a Defense attaché. Increasingly,
the embassies themselves were overshadowed by powerful regional command-
ers in chief reporting to the Pentagon.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the State Department managed counterterrorism pol-
icy. It was the official channel for communication with the governments pre-
sumed to be behind the terrorists. Moreover, since terrorist incidents of this
period usually ended in negotiations, an ambassador or other embassy official
was the logical person to represent U.S. interests.
Keeping U.S. diplomatic efforts against terrorism coherent was a recurring
challenge. In 1976, at the direction of Congress, the department elevated its
coordinator for combating terrorism to the rank equivalent to an assistant sec-
retary of state. As an "ambassador at large," this official sought to increase the
visibility of counterterrorism matters within the department and to help inte-
grate U.S. policy implementation among government agencies.The prolonged
crisis of 1979­1981, when 53 Americans were held hostage at the U.S. embassy
in Tehran, ended the State Department leadership in counterterrorism. Presi-
dent Carter's assertive national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, took
charge, and the coordination function remained thereafter in the White House.
President Reagan's second secretary of state, George Shultz, advocated active
U.S. efforts to combat terrorism, often recommending the use of military force.
Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger opposed Shultz, who made little head-
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way against Weinberger, or even within his own department. Though Shultz
elevated the status and visibility of counterterrorism coordination by appoint-
ing as coordinator first L. Paul Bremer and then Robert Oakley, both senior
career ambassadors of high standing in the Foreign Service, the department
continued to be dominated by regional bureaus for which terrorism was not a
first-order concern.
Secretaries of state after Shultz took less personal interest in the problem.
Only congressional opposition prevented President Clinton's first secretary of
state, Warren Christopher, from merging terrorism into a new bureau that
would have also dealt with narcotics and crime.The coordinator under Secre-
tary Madeleine Albright told the Commission that his job was seen as a minor
one within the department.
Although the description of his status has been
disputed, and Secretary Albright strongly supported the August 1998 strikes
against Bin Ladin, the role played by the Department of State in counterter-
rorism was often cautionary before 9/11. This was a reflection of the reality
that counterterrorism priorities nested within broader foreign policy aims of
the U.S. government.
State Department consular officers around the world, it should not be for-
gotten, were constantly challenged by the problem of terrorism, for they han-
dled visas for travel to the United States. After it was discovered that Abdel
Rahman, the Blind Sheikh, had come and gone almost at will, State initiated
significant reforms to its watchlist and visa-processing policies. In 1993, Con-
gress passed legislation allowing State to retain visa-processing fees for border
security; those fees were then used by the department to fully automate the
terrorist watchlist. By the late 1990s, State had created a worldwide, real-time
electronic database of visa, law enforcement, and watchlist information, the core
of the post-9/11 border screening systems. Still, as will be seen later, the sys-
tem had many holes.
The Department of Defense
The Department of Defense is the behemoth among federal agencies.With an
annual budget larger than the gross domestic product of Russia, it is an empire.
The Defense Department is part civilian, part military.The civilian secretary of
defense has ultimate control, under the president. Among the uniformed mil-
itary, the top official is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is sup-
ported by a Joint Staff divided into standard military staff compartments--J-2
(intelligence), J-3 (operations), and so on.
Because of the necessary and demanding focus on the differing mission of
each service, and their long and proud traditions, the Army, Navy, Air Force,
and Marine Corps have often fought ferociously over roles and missions in war
fighting and over budgets and posts of leadership. Two developments dimin-
ished this competition.
The first was the passage by Congress in 1986 of the Goldwater-Nichols
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Act, which, among other things, mandated that promotion to high rank
required some period of duty with a different service or with a joint (i.e.,
multiservice) command.This had strong and immediate effects, loosening the
loyalties of senior officers to their separate services and causing them to think
more broadly about the military establishment as a whole.
However, it also
may have lessened the diversity of military advice and options presented to the
president.The Goldwater-Nichols example is seen by some as having lessons
applicable to lessening competition and increasing cooperation in other parts
of the federal bureaucracy, particularly the law enforcement and intelligence
The second, related development was a significant transfer of planning and
command responsibilities from the service chiefs and their staffs to the joint
and unified commands outside of Washington, especially those for Strategic
Forces and for four regions: Europe, the Pacific, the Center, and the South. Posts
in these commands became prized assignments for ambitious officers, and the
voices of their five commanders in chief became as influential as those of the
service chiefs.
The Pentagon first became concerned about terrorism as a result of hostage
taking in the 1970s. In June 1976, Palestinian terrorists seized an Air France
plane and landed it at Entebbe in Uganda, holding 105 Israelis and other Jews
as hostages. A special Israeli commando force stormed the plane, killed all the
terrorists, and rescued all but one of the hostages. In October 1977, a West Ger-
man special force dealt similarly with a Lufthansa plane sitting on a tarmac in
Mogadishu: every terrorist was killed, and every hostage brought back safely.
The White House, members of Congress, and the news media asked the Pen-
tagon whether the United States was prepared for similar action.The answer
was no. The Army immediately set about creating the Delta Force, one of
whose missions was hostage rescue.
The first test for the new force did not go well. It came in April 1980 dur-
ing the Iranian hostage crisis, when Navy helicopters with Marine pilots flew
to a site known as Desert One, some 200 miles southeast of Tehran, to ren-
dezvous with Air Force planes carrying Delta Force commandos and fresh fuel.
Mild sandstorms disabled three of the helicopters, and the commander ordered
the mission aborted. But foul-ups on the ground resulted in the loss of eight
aircraft, five airmen, and three marines. Remembered as "Desert One," this fail-
ure remained vivid for members of the armed forces. It also contributed to the
later Goldwater-Nichols reforms.
In 1983 came Hezbollah's massacre of the Marines in Beirut. President Rea-
gan quickly withdrew U.S. forces from Lebanon--a reversal later routinely
cited by jihadists as evidence of U.S. weakness. A detailed investigation pro-
duced a list of new procedures that would become customary for forces
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deployed abroad.They involved a number of defensive measures, including cau-
tion not only about strange cars and trucks but also about unknown aircraft
overhead. "Force protection" became a significant claim on the time and
resources of the Department of Defense.
A decade later, the military establishment had another experience that
evoked both Desert One and the withdrawal from Beirut.The first President
Bush had authorized the use of U.S. military forces to ensure humanitarian
relief in war-torn Somalia.Tribal factions interfered with the supply missions.
By the autumn of 1993, U.S. commanders concluded that the main source of
trouble was a warlord, Mohammed Farrah Aidid. An Army special force
launched a raid on Mogadishu to capture him. In the course of a long night,
two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down, 73 Americans were wounded,
18 were killed, and the world's television screens showed images of an Amer-
ican corpse dragged through the streets by exultant Somalis. Under pressure
from Congress, President Clinton soon ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
"Black Hawk down" joined "Desert One" as a symbol among Americans in
uniform, code phrases used to evoke the risks of daring exploits without max-
imum preparation, overwhelming force, and a well-defined mission.
In 1995­1996, the Defense Department began to invest effort in planning
how to handle the possibility of a domestic terrorist incident involving
weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The idea of a domestic command for
homeland defense began to be discussed in 1997, and in 1999 the Joint Chiefs
developed a concept for the establishment of a domestic Unified Command.
Congress killed the idea. Instead, the Department established the Joint Forces
Command, located at Norfolk, Virginia, making it responsible for military
response to domestic emergencies, both natural and man-made.
Pursuant to the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Domestic Preparedness Program,
the Defense Department began in 1997 to train first responders in 120 of the
nation's largest cities.As a key part of its efforts, Defense created National Guard
WMD Civil Support Teams to respond in the event of a WMD terrorist inci-
dent. A total of 32 such National Guard teams were authorized by fiscal year
2001. Under the command of state governors, they provided support to civil-
ian agencies to assess the nature of the attack, offer medical and technical advice,
and coordinate state and local responses.
The Department of Defense, like the Department of State, had a coordina-
tor who represented the department on the interagency committee concerned
with counterterrorism. By the end of President Clinton's first term, this offi-
cial had become the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and
low-intensity conflict.
The experience of the 1980s had suggested to the military establishment
that if it were to have a role in counterterrorism, it would be a traditional mil-
itary role--to act against state sponsors of terrorism.And the military had what
seemed an excellent example of how to do it. In 1986, a bomb went off at a
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disco in Berlin, killing two American soldiers. Intelligence clearly linked the
bombing to Libya's Colonel Muammar Qadhafi. President Reagan ordered air
strikes against Libya.The operation was not cost free: the United States lost two
planes. Evidence accumulated later, including the 1988 bombing of Pan Am
103, clearly showed that the operation did not curb Qadhafi's interest in ter-
rorism. However, it was seen at the time as a success.The lesson then taken from
Libya was that terrorism could be stopped by the use of U.S. air power that
inflicted pain on the authors or sponsors of terrorist acts.
This lesson was applied, using Tomahawk missiles, early in the Clinton
administration. George H.W. Bush was scheduled to visit Kuwait to be hon-
ored for his rescue of that country in the Gulf War of 1991. Kuwaiti security
services warned Washington that Iraqi agents were planning to assassinate the
former president. President Clinton not only ordered precautions to protect
Bush but asked about options for a reprisal against Iraq.The Pentagon proposed
12 targets for Tomahawk missiles. Debate in the White House and at the CIA
about possible collateral damage pared the list down to three, then to one--
Iraqi intelligence headquarters in central Baghdad. The attack was made at
night, to minimize civilian casualties.Twenty-three missiles were fired. Other
than one civilian casualty, the operation seemed completely successful: the
intelligence headquarters was demolished. No further intelligence came in
about terrorist acts planned by Iraq.
The 1986 attack in Libya and the 1993 attack on Iraq symbolized for the
military establishment effective use of military power for counterterrorism--
limited retaliation with air power, aimed at deterrence.What remained was the
hard question of how deterrence could be effective when the adversary was a
loose transnational network.
Because coping with terrorism was not (and is not) the sole province of any
component of the U.S. government, some coordinating mechanism is neces-
sary.When terrorism was not a prominent issue, the State Department could
perform this role. When the Iranian hostage crisis developed, this procedure
went by the board: National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski took charge
of crisis management.
The Reagan administration continued and formalized the practice of hav-
ing presidential staff coordinate counterterrorism. After the killing of the
marines in Beirut, President Reagan signed National Security Directive 138,
calling for a "shift . . . from passive to active defense measures" and reprogram-
ming or adding new resources to effect the shift. It directed the State Depart-
ment "to intensify efforts to achieve cooperation of other governments" and
the CIA to "intensify use of liaison and other intelligence capabilities and also
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to develop plans and capability to preempt groups and individuals planning
strikes against U.S. interests."
Speaking to the American Bar Association in July 1985, the President char-
acterized terrorism as "an act of war" and declared:"There can be no place on
earth left where it is safe for these monsters to rest, to train, or practice their
cruel and deadly skills. We must act together, or unilaterally, if necessary to
ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary--anywhere."
The air strikes against
Libya were one manifestation of this strategy.
Through most of President Reagan's second term, the coordination of
counterterrorism was overseen by a high-level interagency committee chaired
by the deputy national security adviser. But the Reagan administration closed
with a major scandal that cast a cloud over the notion that the White House
should guide counterterrorism.
President Reagan was concerned because Hezbollah was taking Americans
hostage and periodically killing them. He was also constrained by a bill he
signed into law that made it illegal to ship military aid to anticommunist Con-
tra guerrillas in Nicaragua, whom he strongly supported. His national security
adviser, Robert McFarlane, and McFarlane's deputy,Admiral John Poindexter,
thought the hostage problem might be solved and the U.S. position in the Mid-
dle East improved if the United States quietly negotiated with Iran about
exchanging hostages for modest quantities of arms. Shultz and Weinberger,
united for once, opposed McFarlane and Poindexter.
A staffer for McFarlane and Poindexter, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver
North, developed a scheme to trade U.S. arms for hostages and divert the pro-
ceeds to the Contras to get around U.S. law. He may have had encouragement
from Director of Central Intelligence William Casey.
When the facts were revealed in 1986 and 1987, it appeared to be the 1970s
all over again: a massive abuse of covert action. Now, instead of stories about
poisoned cigars and Mafia hit men, Americans heard testimony about a secret
visit to Tehran by McFarlane, using an assumed name and bearing a chocolate
cake decorated with icing depicting a key. An investigation by a special coun-
sel resulted in the indictment of McFarlane, Poindexter, North, and ten oth-
ers, including several high-ranking officers from the CIA's Clandestine
Service. The investigations spotlighted the importance of accountability and
official responsibility for faithful execution of laws. For the story of 9/11, the
significance of the Iran-Contra affair was that it made parts of the bureaucracy
reflexively skeptical about any operating directive from the White House.
As the national security advisor's function expanded, the procedures and
structure of the advisor's staff, conventionally called the National Security
Council staff, became more formal.The advisor developed recommendations
for presidential directives, differently labeled by each president. For President
Clinton, they were to be Presidential Decision Directives; for President George
W. Bush, National Security Policy Directives.These documents and many oth-
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ers requiring approval by the president worked their way through interagency
committees usually composed of departmental representatives at the assistant
secretary level or just below it.The NSC staff had senior directors who would
sit on these interagency committees, often as chair, to facilitate agreement and
to represent the wider interests of the national security advisor.
When President Clinton took office, he decided right away to coordinate
counterterrorism from the White House. On January 25, 1993, Mir Amal
Kansi, an Islamic extremist from Pakistan, shot and killed two CIA employees
at the main highway entrance to CIA headquarters in Virginia. (Kansi drove
away and was captured abroad much later.) Only a month afterward came the
World Trade Center bombing and, a few weeks after that, the Iraqi plot against
former President Bush.
President Clinton's first national security advisor, Anthony Lake, had
retained from the Bush administration the staffer who dealt with crime, nar-
cotics, and terrorism (a portfolio often known as "drugs and thugs"), the vet-
eran civil servant Richard Clarke. President Clinton and Lake turned to Clarke
to do the staff work for them in coordinating counterterrorism. Before long,
he would chair a midlevel interagency committee eventually titled the Coun-
terterrorism Security Group (CSG).We will later tell of Clarke's evolution as
adviser on and, in time, manager of the U.S. counterterrorist effort.
When explaining the missile strike against Iraq provoked by the plot to kill
President Bush, President Clinton stated:"From the first days of our Revolu-
tion,America's security has depended on the clarity of the message: Don't tread
on us. A firm and commensurate response was essential to protect our sover-
eignty, to send a message to those who engage in state-sponsored terrorism, to
deter further violence against our people, and to affirm the expectation of civ-
ilized behavior among nations."
In his State of the Union message in January 1995, President Clinton prom-
ised "comprehensive legislation to strengthen our hand in combating terror-
ists, whether they strike at home or abroad." In February, he sent Congress
proposals to extend federal criminal jurisdiction, to make it easier to deport
terrorists, and to act against terrorist fund-raising. In early May, he submitted a
bundle of strong amendments.The interval had seen the news from Tokyo in
March that a doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, had released sarin nerve gas in a
subway, killing 12 and injuring thousands.The sect had extensive properties and
laboratories in Japan and offices worldwide, including one in New York. Nei-
ther the FBI nor the CIA had ever heard of it. In April had come the bomb-
ing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City; immediate suspicions
that it had been the work of Islamists turned out to be wrong, and the bombers
proved to be American antigovernment extremists named Timothy McVeigh
and Terry Nichols. President Clinton proposed to amend his earlier proposals
by increasing wiretap and electronic surveillance authority for the FBI, requir-
ing that explosives carry traceable taggants, and providing substantial new
money not only for the FBI and CIA but also for local police.
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President Clinton issued a classified directive in June 1995, Presidential
Decision Directive 39, which said that the United States should "deter, defeat
and respond vigorously to all terrorist attacks on our territory and against our
citizens."The directive called terrorism both a matter of national security and
a crime, and it assigned responsibilities to various agencies.Alarmed by the inci-
dent in Tokyo, President Clinton made it the very highest priority for his own
staff and for all agencies to prepare to detect and respond to terrorism that
involved chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.
During 1995 and 1996, President Clinton devoted considerable time to
seeking cooperation from other nations in denying sanctuary to terrorists. He
proposed significantly larger budgets for the FBI, with much of the increase
designated for counterterrorism. For the CIA, he essentially stopped cutting
allocations and supported requests for supplemental funds for counterterror-
When announcing his new national security team after being reelected in
1996, President Clinton mentioned terrorism first in a list of several challenges
facing the country.
In 1998, after Bin Ladin's fatwa and other alarms, Pres-
ident Clinton accepted a proposal from his national security advisor, Samuel
"Sandy" Berger, and gave Clarke a new position as national coordinator for
security, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism. He issued two Presi-
dential Decision Directives, numbers 62 and 63, that built on the assignments
to agencies that had been made in Presidential Decision Directive 39; laid out
ten program areas for counterterrorism; and enhanced, at least on paper,
Clarke's authority to police these assignments. Because of concerns especially
on the part of Attorney General Reno, this new authority was defined in pre-
cise and limiting language. Clarke was only to "provide advice" regarding budg-
ets and to "coordinate the development of interagency agreed guidelines" for
Clarke also was awarded a seat on the cabinet-level Principals Committee
when it met on his issues--a highly unusual step for a White House staffer. His
interagency body, the CSG, ordinarily reported to the Deputies Committee of
subcabinet officials, unless Berger asked them to report directly to the princi-
pals. The complementary directive, number 63, defined the elements of the
nation's critical infrastructure and considered ways to protect it. Taken
together, the two directives basically left the Justice Department and the FBI
in charge at home and left terrorism abroad to the CIA, the State Department,
and other agencies, under Clarke's and Berger's coordinating hands.
Explaining the new arrangement and his concerns in another commence-
ment speech, this time at the Naval Academy, in May 1998, the President said:
First, we will use our new integrated approach to intensify the fight against
all forms of terrorism: to capture terrorists, no matter where they hide; to
work with other nations to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries overseas; to
respond rapidly and effectively to protect Americans from terrorism at
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home and abroad. Second, we will launch a comprehensive plan to detect,
deter, and defend against attacks on our critical infrastructures, our power
systems, water supplies, police, fire, and medical services, air traffic con-
trol, financial services, telephone systems, and computer networks. . . .
Third, we will undertake a concerted effort to prevent the spread and use
of biological weapons and to protect our people in the event these terri-
ble weapons are ever unleashed by a rogue state, a terrorist group, or an
international criminal organization. . . . Finally, we must do more to pro-
tect our civilian population from biological weapons.
Clearly, the President's concern about terrorism had steadily risen. That
heightened worry would become even more obvious early in 1999, when
he addressed the National Academy of Sciences and presented his most
somber account yet of what could happen if the United States were hit,
unprepared, by terrorists wielding either weapons of mass destruction or
potent cyberweapons.
Since the beginning of the Republic, few debates have been as hotly contested
as the one over executive versus legislative powers.At the Constitutional Con-
vention, the founders sought to create a strong executive but check its powers.
They left those powers sufficiently ambiguous so that room was left for Con-
gress and the president to struggle over the direction of the nation's security
and foreign policies.
The most serious question has centered on whether or not the president
needs congressional authorization to wage war. The current status of that
debate seems to have settled into a recognition that a president can deploy mil-
itary forces for small and limited operations, but needs at least congressional
support if not explicit authorization for large and more open-ended military
This calculus becomes important in this story as both President Clinton and
President Bush chose not to seek a declaration of war on Bin Ladin after he
had declared and begun to wage war on us, a declaration that they did not
acknowledge publicly. Not until after 9/11 was a congressional authorization
The most substantial change in national security oversight in Congress took
place following World War II.The Congressional Reorganization Act of 1946
created the modern Armed Services committees that have become so power-
ful today. One especially noteworthy innovation was the creation of the Joint
House-Senate Atomic Energy Committee, which is credited by many with the
development of our nuclear deterrent capability and was also criticized for
wielding too much power relative to the executive branch.
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Ironically, this committee was eliminated in the 1970s as Congress was
undertaking the next most important reform of oversight in response to the
Church and Pike investigations into abuses of power. In 1977, the House and
Senate created select committees to exercise oversight of the executive
branch's conduct of intelligence operations.
The Intelligence Committees
The House and Senate select committees on intelligence share some impor-
tant characteristics.They have limited authorities.They do not have exclusive
authority over intelligence agencies.Appropriations are ultimately determined
by the Appropriations committees. The Armed Services committees exercise
jurisdiction over the intelligence agencies within the Department of Defense
(and, in the case of the Senate, over the Central Intelligence Agency). One con-
sequence is that the rise and fall of intelligence budgets are tied directly to
trends in defense spending.
The president is required by law to ensure the congressional Intelligence
committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities
of the United States.The committees allow the CIA to some extent to with-
hold information in order to protect sources, methods, and operations.The CIA
must bring presidentially authorized covert action Findings and Memoranda
of Notification to the Intelligence committees, and it must detail its failures.
The committees conduct their most important work in closed hearings or
briefings in which security over classified material can be maintained.
Members of the Intelligence committees serve for a limited time, a restric-
tion imposed by each chamber. Many members believe these limits prevent
committee members from developing the necessary expertise to conduct effec-
tive oversight.
Secrecy, while necessary, can also harm oversight.The overall budget of the
intelligence community is classified, as are most of its activities.Thus, the Intel-
ligence committees cannot take advantage of democracy's best oversight
mechanism: public disclosure. This makes them significantly different from
other congressional oversight committees, which are often spurred into action
by the work of investigative journalists and watchdog organizations.
Adjusting to the Post­Cold War Era
The unexpected and rapid end of the Cold War in 1991 created trauma in the
foreign policy and national security community both in and out of govern-
ment.While some criticized the intelligence community for failing to forecast
the collapse of the Soviet Union (and used this argument to propose drastic
cuts in intelligence agencies), most recognized that the good news of being
relieved of the substantial burden of maintaining a security structure to meet
the Soviet challenge was accompanied by the bad news of increased insecurity.
In many directions, the community faced threats and intelligence challenges
that it was largely unprepared to meet.
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So did the intelligence oversight committees. New digitized technologies,
and the demand for imagery and continued capability against older systems,
meant the need to spend more on satellite systems at the expense of human
efforts. In addition, denial and deception became more effective as targets
learned from public sources what our intelligence agencies were doing. There
were comprehensive reform proposals of the intelligence community, such as
those offered by Senators Boren and McCurdy. That said, Congress still took
too little action to address institutional weaknesses.
With the Cold War over, and the intelligence community roiled by the Ames
spy scandal, a presidential commission chaired first by former secretary of
defense Les Aspin and later by former secretary of defense Harold Brown exam-
ined the intelligence community's future. After it issued recommendations
addressing the DCI's lack of personnel and budget authority over the intelli-
gence community, the Intelligence committees in 1996 introduced implement-
ing legislation to remedy these problems.
The Department of Defense and its congressional authorizing committees
rose in opposition to the proposed changes. The President and DCI did not
actively support these changes. Relatively small changes made in 1996 gave the
DCI consultative authority and created a new deputy for management and
assistant DCIs for collection and analysis.These reforms occurred only after the
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence took the unprecedented step of
threatening to bring down the defense authorization bill. Indeed, rather than
increasing the DCI's authorities over national intelligence, the 1990s witnessed
movement in the opposite direction through, for example, the transfer of the
CIA's imaging analysis capability to the new imagery and mapping agency cre-
ated within the Department of Defense.
Congress Adjusts
Congress as a whole, like the executive branch, adjusted slowly to the rise of
transnational terrorism as a threat to national security. In particular, the grow-
ing threat and capabilities of Bin Ladin were not understood in Congress.As the
most representative branch of the federal government, Congress closely tracks
trends in what public opinion and the electorate identify as key issues. In the
years before September 11, terrorism seldom registered as important. To the
extent that terrorism did break through and engage the attention of the Con-
gress as a whole, it would briefly command attention after a specific incident,
and then return to a lower rung on the public policy agenda.
Several points about Congress are worth noting. First, Congress always has
a strong orientation toward domestic affairs. It usually takes on foreign policy
and national security issues after threats are identified and articulated by the
administration. In the absence of such a detailed--and repeated--articulation,
national security tends not to rise very high on the list of congressional prior-
ities. Presidents are selective in their use of political capital for international issues.
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In the decade before 9/11, presidential discussion of and congressional and
public attention to foreign affairs and national security were dominated by
other issues--among them, Haiti, Bosnia, Russia, China, Somalia, Kosovo,
NATO enlargement, the Middle East peace process, missile defense, and glob-
alization.Terrorism infrequently took center stage; and when it did, the con-
text was often terrorists' tactics--a chemical, biological, nuclear, or computer
threat--not terrorist organizations.
Second, Congress tends to follow the overall lead of the president on budget
issues with respect to national security matters.There are often sharp arguments
about individual programs and internal priorities, but by and large the overall
funding authorized and appropriated by the Congress comes out close to the
president's request. This tendency was certainly illustrated by the downward
trends in spending on defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs in the first part
of the 1990s. The White House, to be sure, read the political signals coming
from Capitol Hill, but the Congress largely acceded to the executive branch's
funding requests. In the second half of the decade, Congress appropriated some
98 percent of what the administration requested for intelligence programs.Apart
from the Gingrich supplemental of $1.5 billion for overall intelligence pro-
grams in fiscal year 1999, the key decisions on overall allocation of resources
for national security issues in the decade before 9/11--including counterter-
rorism funding--were made in the president's Office of Management and Bud-
Third, Congress did not reorganize itself after the end of the Cold War to
address new threats. Recommendations by the Joint Committee on the Orga-
nization of Congress were implemented, in part, in the House of Representa-
tives after the 1994 elections, but there was no reorganization of national
security functions.The Senate undertook no appreciable changes.Traditional
issues--foreign policy, defense, intelligence--continued to be handled by
committees whose structure remained largely unaltered, while issues such as
transnational terrorism fell between the cracks.Terrorism came under the juris-
diction of at least 14 different committees in the House alone, and budget and
oversight functions in the House and Senate concerning terrorism were also
splintered badly among committees. Little effort was made to consider an inte-
grated policy toward terrorism, which might range from identifying the threat
to addressing vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure; and the piecemeal
approach in the Congress contributed to the problems of the executive branch
in formulating such a policy.
Fourth, the oversight function of Congress has diminished over time. In
recent years, traditional review of the administration of programs and the
implementation of laws has been replaced by "a focus on personal investiga-
tions, possible scandals, and issues designed to generate media attention."The
unglamorous but essential work of oversight has been neglected, and few mem-
bers past or present believe it is performed well. DCI Tenet told us: "We ran
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from threat to threat to threat. . . . [T]here was not a system in place to say,`You
got to go back and do this and this and this.'" Not just the DCI but the entire
executive branch needed help from Congress in addressing the questions of
counterterrorism strategy and policy, looking past day-to-day concerns. Mem-
bers of Congress, however, also found their time spent on such everyday mat-
ters, or in looking back to investigate mistakes, and often missed the big
questions--as did the executive branch. Staff tended as well to focus on
parochial considerations, seeking to add or cut funding for individual (often
small) programs, instead of emphasizing comprehensive oversight projects.
Fifth, on certain issues, other priorities pointed Congress in a direction that
was unhelpful in meeting the threats that were emerging in the months lead-
ing up to 9/11. Committees with oversight responsibility for aviation focused
overwhelmingly on airport congestion and the economic health of the airlines,
not aviation security. Committees with responsibility for the INS focused on
the Southwest border, not on terrorists. Justice Department officials told us that
committees with responsibility for the FBI tightly restricted appropriations for
improvements in information technology, in part because of concerns about
the FBI's ability to manage such projects. Committees responsible for South
Asia spent the decade of the 1990s imposing sanctions on Pakistan, leaving pres-
idents with little leverage to alter Pakistan's policies before 9/11. Committees
with responsibility for the Defense Department paid little heed to developing
military responses to terrorism and stymied intelligence reform. All commit-
tees found themselves swamped in the minutiae of the budget process, with lit-
tle time for consideration of longer-term questions, or what many members
past and present told us was the proper conduct of oversight.
Each of these trends contributed to what can only be described as Con-
gress's slowness and inadequacy in treating the issue of terrorism in the years
before 9/11.The legislative branch adjusted little and did not restructure itself
to address changing threats.
Its attention to terrorism was episodic and splin-
tered across several committees. Congress gave little guidance to executive
branch agencies, did not reform them in any significant way, and did not sys-
tematically perform oversight to identify, address, and attempt to resolve the
many problems in national security and domestic agencies that became appar-
ent in the aftermath of 9/11.
Although individual representatives and senators took significant steps, the
overall level of attention in the Congress to the terrorist threat was low. We
examined the number of hearings on terrorism from January 1998 to Septem-
ber 2001.The Senate Armed Services Committee held nine--four related to
the attack on the USS Cole. The House Armed Services Committee also held
nine, six of them by a special oversight panel on terrorism.The Senate Foreign
Relations Committee and its House counterpart both held four. The Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence, in addition to its annual worldwide threat
hearing, held eight; its House counterpart held perhaps two exclusively
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devoted to counterterrorism, plus the briefings by its terrorist working group.
The Senate and House intelligence panels did not raise public and congressional
attention on Bin Ladin and al Qaeda prior to the joint inquiry into the attacks
of September 11, perhaps in part because of the classified nature of their work.
Yet in the context of committees that each hold scores of hearings every year
on issues in their jurisdiction, this list is not impressive. Terrorism was a sec-
ond- or third-order priority within the committees of Congress responsible
for national security.
In fact, Congress had a distinct tendency to push questions of emerging
national security threats off its own plate, leaving them for others to consider.
Congress asked outside commissions to do the work that arguably was at the
heart of its own oversight responsibilities.
Beginning in 1999, the reports of
these commissions made scores of recommendations to address terrorism and
homeland security but drew little attention from Congress. Most of their
impact came after 9/11.
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Although the 1995 National Intelligence Estimate had warned of a new type
of terrorism, many officials continued to think of terrorists as agents of states
(Saudi Hezbollah acting for Iran against Khobar Towers) or as domestic crim-
inals (Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City). As we pointed out in chapter 3,
the White House is not a natural locus for program management. Hence, gov-
ernment efforts to cope with terrorism were essentially the work of individ-
ual agencies.
President Bill Clinton's counterterrorism Presidential Decision Directives
in 1995 (no. 39) and May 1998 (no. 62) reiterated that terrorism was a national
security problem, not just a law enforcement issue.They reinforced the author-
ity of the National Security Council (NSC) to coordinate domestic as well as
foreign counterterrorism efforts, through Richard Clarke and his interagency
Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG). Spotlighting new concerns about
unconventional attacks, these directives assigned tasks to lead agencies but did
not differentiate types of terrorist threats.Thus, while Clarke might prod or push
agencies to act, what actually happened was usually decided at the State Depart-
ment, the Pentagon, the CIA, or the Justice Department.The efforts of these
agencies were sometimes energetic and sometimes effective.Terrorist plots were
disrupted and individual terrorists were captured. But the United States did not,
before 9/11, adopt as a clear strategic objective the elimination of al Qaeda.
Early Efforts against Bin Ladin
Until 1996, hardly anyone in the U.S. government understood that Usama Bin
Ladin was an inspirer and organizer of the new terrorism. In 1993, the CIA
noted that he had paid for the training of some Egyptian terrorists in Sudan.
The State Department detected his money in aid to the Yemeni terrorists who
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set a bomb in an attempt to kill U.S. troops in Aden in 1992. State Department
sources even saw suspicious links with Omar Abdel Rahman, the "Blind
Sheikh" in the New York area, commenting that Bin Ladin seemed "commit-
ted to financing `Jihads' against `anti Islamic' regimes worldwide." After the
department designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993, it put Bin
Ladin on its TIPOFF watchlist, a move that might have prevented his getting
a visa had he tried to enter the United States. As late as 1997, however, even
the CIA's Counterterrorist Center continued to describe him as an "extrem-
ist financier."
In 1996, the CIA set up a special unit of a dozen officers to analyze intelli-
gence on and plan operations against Bin Ladin. David Cohen, the head of the
CIA's Directorate of Operations, wanted to test the idea of having a "virtual
station"--a station based at headquarters but collecting and operating against
a subject much as stations in the field focus on a country.Taking his cue from
National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, who expressed special interest in ter-
rorist finance, Cohen formed his virtual station as a terrorist financial links unit.
He had trouble getting any Directorate of Operations officer to run it; he finally
recruited a former analyst who was then running the Islamic Extremist Branch
of the Counterterrorist Center.This officer, who was especially knowledgeable
about Afghanistan, had noticed a recent stream of reports about Bin Ladin and
something called al Qaeda, and suggested to Cohen that the station focus on
this one individual. Cohen agreed.Thus was born the Bin Ladin unit.
In May 1996, Bin Ladin left Sudan for Afghanistan. A few months later, as
the Bin Ladin unit was gearing up, Jamal Ahmed al Fadl walked into a U.S.
embassy in Africa, established his bona fides as a former senior employee of Bin
Ladin, and provided a major breakthrough of intelligence on the creation, char-
acter, direction, and intentions of al Qaeda. Corroborating evidence came from
another walk-in source at a different U.S. embassy. More confirmation was sup-
plied later that year by intelligence and other sources, including material gath-
ered by FBI agents and Kenyan police from an al Qaeda cell in Nairobi.
By 1997, officers in the Bin Ladin unit recognized that Bin Ladin was more
than just a financier.They learned that al Qaeda had a military committee that
was planning operations against U.S. interests worldwide and was actively try-
ing to obtain nuclear material. Analysts assigned to the station looked at the
information it had gathered and "found connections everywhere," including
links to the attacks on U.S. troops in Aden and Somalia in 1992 and 1993 and
to the Manila air plot in the Philippines in 1994­1995.
The Bin Ladin station was already working on plans for offensive opera-
tions against Bin Ladin.These plans were directed at both physical assets and
sources of finance. In the end, plans to identify and attack Bin Ladin's money
sources did not go forward.
In late 1995, when Bin Ladin was still in Sudan, the State Department and
the CIA learned that Sudanese officials were discussing with the Saudi gov-
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ernment the possibility of expelling Bin Ladin. U.S.Ambassador Timothy Car-
ney encouraged the Sudanese to pursue this course.The Saudis, however, did
not want Bin Ladin, giving as their reason their revocation of his citizenship.
Sudan's minister of defense, Fatih Erwa, has claimed that Sudan offered to
hand Bin Ladin over to the United States.The Commission has found no cred-
ible evidence that this was so.Ambassador Carney had instructions only to push
the Sudanese to expel Bin Ladin.Ambassador Carney had no legal basis to ask
for more from the Sudanese since, at the time, there was no indictment out-
The chief of the Bin Ladin station, whom we will call "Mike," saw Bin
Ladin's move to Afghanistan as a stroke of luck.Though the CIA had virtually
abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal, case officers had reestab-
lished old contacts while tracking down Mir Amal Kansi, the Pakistani gun-
man who had murdered two CIA employees in January 1993.These contacts
contributed to intelligence about Bin Ladin's local movements, business activ-
ities, and security and living arrangements, and helped provide evidence that
he was spending large amounts of money to help the Taliban.The chief of the
Counterterrorist Center, whom we will call "Jeff," told Director George Tenet
that the CIA's intelligence assets were "near to providing real-time informa-
tion about Bin Ladin's activities and travels in Afghanistan." One of the con-
tacts was a group associated with particular tribes among Afghanistan's ethnic
Pashtun community.
By the fall of 1997, the Bin Ladin unit had roughed out a plan for these
Afghan tribals to capture Bin Ladin and hand him over for trial either in the
United States or in an Arab country. In early 1998, the cabinet-level Principals
Committee apparently gave the concept its blessing.
On their own separate track, getting information but not direction from the
CIA, the FBI's New York Field Office and the U.S.Attorney for the Southern
District of New York were preparing to ask a grand jury to indict Bin Ladin.
The Counterterrorist Center knew that this was happening.
The eventual
charge, conspiring to attack U.S. defense installations, was finally issued from
the grand jury in June 1998--as a sealed indictment.The indictment was pub-
licly disclosed in November of that year.
When Bin Ladin moved to Afghanistan in May 1996, he became a subject
of interest to the State Department's South Asia bureau. At the time, as one
diplomat told us, South Asia was seen in the department and the government
generally as a low priority. In 1997, as Madeleine Albright was beginning her
tenure as secretary of state, an NSC policy review concluded that the United
States should pay more attention not just to India but also to Pakistan and
With regard to Afghanistan, another diplomat said, the United
States at the time had "no policy."
In the State Department, concerns about India-Pakistan tensions often
crowded out attention to Afghanistan or Bin Ladin. Aware of instability and
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growing Islamic extremism in Pakistan, State Department officials worried most
about an arms race and possible war between Pakistan and India.After May 1998,
when both countries surprised the United States by testing nuclear weapons,
these dangers became daily first-order concerns of the State Department.
In Afghanistan, the State Department tried to end the civil war that had con-
tinued since the Soviets' withdrawal.The South Asia bureau believed it might
have a carrot for Afghanistan's warring factions in a project by the Union Oil
Company of California (UNOCAL) to build a pipeline across the country.
While there was probably never much chance of the pipeline actually being
built, the Afghan desk hoped that the prospect of shared pipeline profits might
lure faction leaders to a conference table. U.S. diplomats did not favor the Tal-
iban over the rival factions. Despite growing concerns, U.S. diplomats were
willing at the time, as one official said, to "give the Taliban a chance."
Though Secretary Albright made no secret of thinking the Taliban "despi-
cable," the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, led a del-
egation to South Asia--including Afghanistan--in April 1998. No U.S. official
of such rank had been to Kabul in decades.Ambassador Richardson went pri-
marily to urge negotiations to end the civil war. In view of Bin Ladin's recent
public call for all Muslims to kill Americans, Richardson asked the Taliban to
expel Bin Ladin. They answered that they did not know his whereabouts. In
any case, the Taliban said, Bin Ladin was not a threat to the United States.
In sum, in late 1997 and the spring of 1998, the lead U.S. agencies each pur-
sued their own efforts against Bin Ladin.The CIA's Counterterrorist Center was
developing a plan to capture and remove him from Afghanistan. Parts of the Jus-
tice Department were moving toward indicting Bin Ladin, making possible a
criminal trial in a New York court.Meanwhile,the State Department was focused
more on lessening Indo-Pakistani nuclear tensions, ending the Afghan civil war,
and ameliorating the Taliban's human rights abuses than on driving out Bin
Ladin. Another key actor, Marine General Anthony Zinni, the commander in
chief of the U.S. Central Command, shared the State Department's view.
The CIA Develops a Capture Plan
Initially, the DCI's Counterterrorist Center and its Bin Ladin unit considered
a plan to ambush Bin Ladin when he traveled between Kandahar, the Taliban
capital where he sometimes stayed the night, and his primary residence at the
time,Tarnak Farms. After the Afghan tribals reported that they had tried such
an ambush and failed, the Center gave up on it, despite suspicions that the trib-
als' story might be fiction.Thereafter, the capture plan focused on a nighttime
raid on Tarnak Farms.
A compound of about 80 concrete or mud-brick buildings surrounded by
a 10-foot wall,Tarnak Farms was located in an isolated desert area on the out-
skirts of the Kandahar airport. CIA officers were able to map the entire site,
identifying the houses that belonged to Bin Ladin's wives and the one where
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Bin Ladin himself was most likely to sleep.Working with the tribals, they drew
up plans for the raid.They ran two complete rehearsals in the United States
during the fall of 1997.
By early 1998, planners at the Counterterrorist Center were ready to come
back to the White House to seek formal approval. Tenet apparently walked
National Security Advisor Sandy Berger through the basic plan on February 13.
One group of tribals would subdue the guards, enter Tarnak Farms stealthily,
grab Bin Ladin, take him to a desert site outside Kandahar, and turn him over
to a second group.This second group of tribals would take him to a desert land-
ing zone already tested in the 1997 Kansi capture. From there, a CIA plane
would take him to New York, an Arab capital, or wherever he was to be
arraigned. Briefing papers prepared by the Counterterrorist Center acknowl-
edged that hitches might develop. People might be killed, and Bin Ladin's sup-
porters might retaliate, perhaps taking U.S. citizens in Kandahar hostage. But the
briefing papers also noted that there was risk in not acting. "Sooner or later,"
they said, "Bin Ladin will attack U.S. interests, perhaps using WMD [weapons
of mass destruction]."
Clarke's Counterterrorism Security Group reviewed the capture plan for
Berger. Noting that the plan was in a "very early stage of development," the
NSC staff then told the CIA planners to go ahead and, among other things,
start drafting any legal documents that might be required to authorize the
covert action.The CSG apparently stressed that the raid should target Bin Ladin
himself, not the whole compound.
The CIA planners conducted their third complete rehearsal in March, and
they again briefed the CSG. Clarke wrote Berger on March 7 that he saw the
operation as "somewhat embryonic" and the CIA as "months away from doing
"Mike" thought the capture plan was "the perfect operation." It required
minimum infrastructure.The plan had now been modified so that the tribals
would keep Bin Ladin in a hiding place for up to a month before turning him
over to the United States--thereby increasing the chances of keeping the U.S.
hand out of sight. "Mike" trusted the information from the Afghan network;
it had been corroborated by other means, he told us.The lead CIA officer in
the field, Gary Schroen, also had confidence in the tribals. In a May 6 cable to
CIA headquarters, he pronounced their planning "almost as professional and
detailed . . . as would be done by any U.S. military special operations element."
He and the other officers who had worked through the plan with the tribals
judged it "about as good as it can be." (By that, Schroen explained, he meant
that the chance of capturing or killing Bin Ladin was about 40 percent.)
Although the tribals thought they could pull off the raid, if the operation were
approved by headquarters and the policymakers, Schroen wrote there was
going to be a point when "we step back and keep our fingers crossed that the
[tribals] prove as good (and as lucky) as they think they will be."
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Military officers reviewed the capture plan and, according to "Mike,"
"found no showstoppers."The commander of Delta Force felt "uncomfortable"
with having the tribals hold Bin Ladin captive for so long, and the commander
of Joint Special Operations Forces, Lieutenant General Michael Canavan, was
worried about the safety of the tribals inside Tarnak Farms. General Canavan
said he had actually thought the operation too complicated for the CIA--"out
of their league"--and an effort to get results "on the cheap." But a senior Joint
Staff officer described the plan as "generally, not too much different than we
might have come up with ourselves." No one in the Pentagon, so far as we
know, advised the CIA or the White House not to proceed.
In Washington, Berger expressed doubt about the dependability of the trib-
als. In his meeting with Tenet, Berger focused most, however, on the question
of what was to be done with Bin Ladin if he were actually captured. He wor-
ried that the hard evidence against Bin Ladin was still skimpy and that there
was a danger of snatching him and bringing him to the United States only to
see him acquitted.
On May 18, CIA's managers reviewed a draft Memorandum of Notifica-
tion (MON), a legal document authorizing the capture operation.A 1986 pres-
idential finding had authorized worldwide covert action against terrorism and
probably provided adequate authority. But mindful of the old "rogue elephant"
charge, senior CIA managers may have wanted something on paper to show
that they were not acting on their own.
Discussion of this memorandum brought to the surface an unease about
paramilitary covert action that had become ingrained, at least among some CIA
senior managers. James Pavitt, the assistant head of the Directorate of Opera-
tions, expressed concern that people might get killed; it appears he thought the
operation had at least a slight flavor of a plan for an assassination. Moreover, he
calculated that it would cost several million dollars. He was not prepared to take
that money "out of hide," and he did not want to go to all the necessary con-
gressional committees to get special money. Despite Pavitt's misgivings, the CIA
leadership cleared the draft memorandum and sent it on to the National Secu-
rity Council.
Counterterrorist Center officers briefed Attorney General Janet Reno and
FBI Director Louis Freeh, telling them that the operation had about a 30 per-
cent chance of success.The Center's chief,"Jeff," joined John O'Neill, the head
of the FBI's New York Field Office, in briefing Mary Jo White, the U.S.Attor-
ney for the Southern District of New York, and her staff. Though "Jeff " also
used the 30 percent success figure, he warned that someone would surely be
killed in the operation.White's impression from the New York briefing was that
the chances of capturing Bin Ladin alive were nil.
From May 20 to 24, the CIA ran a final, graded rehearsal of the operation,
spread over three time zones, even bringing in personnel from the region.The
FBI also participated. The rehearsal went well. The Counterterrorist Center
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planned to brief cabinet-level principals and their deputies the following week,
giving June 23 as the date for the raid, with Bin Ladin to be brought out of
Afghanistan no later than July 23.
On May 20, Director Tenet discussed the high risk of the operation with
Berger and his deputies, warning that people might be killed, including Bin
Ladin. Success was to be defined as the exfiltration of Bin Ladin out of
A meeting of principals was scheduled for May 29 to decide
whether the operation should go ahead.
The principals did not meet. On May 29, "Jeff " informed "Mike" that he
had just met with Tenet, Pavitt, and the chief of the Directorate's Near Eastern
Division.The decision was made not to go ahead with the operation."Mike"
cabled the field that he had been directed to "stand down on the operation for
the time being." He had been told, he wrote, that cabinet-level officials thought
the risk of civilian casualties--"collateral damage"--was too high. They were
concerned about the tribals' safety, and had worried that "the purpose and
nature of the operation would be subject to unavoidable misinterpretation and
misrepresentation--and probably recriminations--in the event that Bin Ladin,
despite our best intentions and efforts, did not survive."
Impressions vary as to who actually decided not to proceed with the oper-
ation. Clarke told us that the CSG saw the plan as flawed. He was said to have
described it to a colleague on the NSC staff as "half-assed" and predicted that
the principals would not approve it. "Jeff " thought the decision had been
made at the cabinet level. Pavitt thought that it was Berger's doing, though
perhaps on Tenet's advice. Tenet told us that given the recommendation of
his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to "turn off " the opera-
tion. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back. Berger's rec-
ollection was similar. He said the plan was never presented to the White
House for a decision.
The CIA's senior management clearly did not think the plan would work.
Tenet's deputy director of operations wrote to Berger a few weeks later that the
CIA assessed the tribals' ability to capture Bin Ladin and deliver him to U.S.
officials as low. But working-level CIA officers were disappointed. Before it was
canceled, Schroen described it as the "best plan we are going to come up with
to capture [Bin Ladin] while he is in Afghanistan and bring him to justice."
No capture plan before 9/11 ever again attained the same level of detail and
preparation.The tribals' reported readiness to act diminished. And Bin Ladin's
security precautions and defenses became more elaborate and formidable.
At this time, 9/11 was more than three years away. It was the duty of Tenet
and the CIA leadership to balance the risks of inaction against jeopardizing the
lives of their operatives and agents. And they had reason to worry about fail-
ure: millions of dollars down the drain; a shoot-out that could be seen as an
assassination; and, if there were repercussions in Pakistan, perhaps a coup.The
decisions of the U.S. government in May 1998 were made, as Berger has put
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it, from the vantage point of the driver looking through a muddy windshield
moving forward, not through a clean rearview mirror.
Looking for Other Options
The Counterterrorist Center continued to track Bin Ladin and to contemplate
covert action.The most hopeful possibility seemed now to lie in diplomacy--
but not diplomacy managed by the Department of State, which focused pri-
marily on India-Pakistan nuclear tensions during the summer of 1998.The CIA
learned in the spring of 1998 that the Saudi government had quietly disrupted
Bin Ladin cells in its country that were planning to attack U.S. forces with
shoulder-fired missiles. They had arrested scores of individuals, with no pub-
licity.When thanking the Saudis, Director Tenet took advantage of the open-
ing to ask them to help against Bin Ladin. The response was encouraging
enough that President Clinton made Tenet his informal personal representa-
tive to work with the Saudis on terrorism, and Tenet visited Riyadh in May
and again in early June.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, who had taken charge from the ailing King
Fahd, promised Tenet an all-out secret effort to persuade the Taliban to expel
Bin Ladin so that he could be sent to the United States or to another country
for trial.The Kingdom's emissary would be its intelligence chief, Prince Turki
bin Faisal.Vice President Al Gore later added his thanks to those of Tenet, both
making clear that they spoke with President Clinton's blessing.Tenet reported
that it was imperative to get an indictment against Bin Ladin.The New York
grand jury issued its sealed indictment a few days later, on June 10.Tenet also
recommended that no action be taken on other U.S. options, such as the covert
action plan.
Prince Turki followed up in meetings during the summer with Mullah
Omar and other Taliban leaders. Apparently employing a mixture of possible
incentives and threats,Turki received a commitment that Bin Ladin would be
expelled, but Mullah Omar did not make good on this promise.
On August 5, Clarke chaired a CSG meeting on Bin Ladin. In the discus-
sion of what might be done, the note taker wrote,"there was a dearth of bright
ideas around the table, despite a consensus that the [government] ought to pur-
sue every avenue it can to address the problem."
On August 7, 1998, National Security Advisor Berger woke President Clinton
with a phone call at 5:35
. to tell him of the almost simultaneous bomb-
ings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam,Tanzania. Sus-
picion quickly focused on Bin Ladin. Unusually good intelligence, chiefly from
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the yearlong monitoring of al Qaeda's cell in Nairobi, soon firmly fixed respon-
sibility on him and his associates.
Debate about what to do settled very soon on one option:Tomahawk cruise
missiles. Months earlier, after cancellation of the covert capture operation,
Clarke had prodded the Pentagon to explore possibilities for military action.
On June 2, General Hugh Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
had directed General Zinni at Central Command to develop a plan, which he
had submitted during the first week of July. Zinni's planners surely considered
the two previous times the United States had used force to respond to terror-
ism, the 1986 strike on Libya and the 1993 strike against Iraq.They proposed
firing Tomahawks against eight terrorist camps in Afghanistan, including Bin
Ladin's compound at Tarnak Farms.
After the embassy attacks, the Pentagon
offered this plan to the White House.
The day after the embassy bombings,Tenet brought to a principals meeting
intelligence that terrorist leaders were expected to gather at a camp near
Khowst,Afghanistan, to plan future attacks. According to Berger,Tenet said that
several hundred would attend, including Bin Ladin.The CIA described the area
as effectively a military cantonment, away from civilian population centers and
overwhelmingly populated by jihadists. Clarke remembered sitting next to
Tenet in a White House meeting, asking Tenet "You thinking what I'm think-
ing?" and his nodding "yes."
The principals quickly reached a consensus on
attacking the gathering.The strike's purpose was to kill Bin Ladin and his chief
Berger put in place a tightly compartmented process designed to keep all
planning secret. On August 11, General Zinni received orders to prepare
detailed plans for strikes against the sites in Afghanistan.The Pentagon briefed
President Clinton about these plans on August 12 and 14.Though the princi-
pals hoped that the missiles would hit Bin Ladin, NSC staff recommended the
strike whether or not there was firm evidence that the commanders were at
the facilities.
Considerable debate went to the question of whether to strike targets out-
side of Afghanistan, including two facilities in Sudan. One was a tannery
believed to belong to Bin Ladin.The other was al Shifa, a Khartoum pharma-
ceutical plant, which intelligence reports said was manufacturing a precursor
ingredient for nerve gas with Bin Ladin's financial support.The argument for
hitting the tannery was that it could hurt Bin Ladin financially. The argument
for hitting al Shifa was that it would lessen the chance of Bin Ladin's having
nerve gas for a later attack.
Ever since March 1995, American officials had had in the backs of their
minds Aum Shinrikyo's release of sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway. Presi-
dent Clinton himself had expressed great concern about chemical and biolog-
ical terrorism in the United States. Bin Ladin had reportedly been heard to
speak of wanting a "Hiroshima" and at least 10,000 casualties.The CIA reported
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that a soil sample from the vicinity of the al Shifa plant had tested positive for
EMPTA, a precursor chemical for VX, a nerve gas whose lone use was for mass
killing. Two days before the embassy bombings, Clarke's staff wrote that Bin
Ladin "has invested in and almost certainly has access to VX produced at a plant
in Sudan."
Senior State Department officials believed that they had received
a similar verdict independently, though they and Clarke's staff were probably
relying on the same report. Mary McCarthy, the NSC senior director respon-
sible for intelligence programs, initially cautioned Berger that the "bottom line"
was that "we will need much better intelligence on this facility before we seri-
ously consider any options." She added that the link between Bin Ladin and al
Shifa was "rather uncertain at this point." Berger has told us that he thought
about what might happen if the decision went against hitting al Shifa, and nerve
gas was used in a New York subway two weeks later.
By the early hours of the morning of August 20, President Clinton and all
his principal advisers had agreed to strike Bin Ladin camps in Afghanistan near
Khowst, as well as hitting al Shifa.The President took the Sudanese tannery off
the target list because he saw little point in killing uninvolved people without
doing significant harm to Bin Ladin. The principal with the most qualms
regarding al Shifa was Attorney General Reno. She expressed concern about
attacking two Muslim countries at the same time. Looking back, she said that
she felt the "premise kept shifting."
Later on August 20, Navy vessels in the Arabian Sea fired their cruise mis-
siles.Though most of them hit their intended targets, neither Bin Ladin nor
any other terrorist leader was killed. Berger told us that an after-action review
by Director Tenet concluded that the strikes had killed 20­30 people in the
camps but probably missed Bin Ladin by a few hours. Since the missiles headed
for Afghanistan had had to cross Pakistan, the Vice Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs was sent to meet with Pakistan's army chief of staff to assure him the
missiles were not coming from India. Officials in Washington speculated that
one or another Pakistani official might have sent a warning to the Taliban or
Bin Ladin.
The air strikes marked the climax of an intense 48-hour period in which
Berger notified congressional leaders, the principals called their foreign coun-
terparts, and President Clinton flew back from his vacation on Martha's Vine-
yard to address the nation from the Oval Office. The President spoke to the
congressional leadership from Air Force One, and he called British Prime Min-
ister Tony Blair, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak from the White House.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich and
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott initially supported the President. The next
month, Gingrich's office dismissed the cruise missile attacks as "pinpricks."
At the time, President Clinton was embroiled in the Lewinsky scandal, which
continued to consume public attention for the rest of that year and the first
months of 1999. As it happened, a popular 1997 movie, Wag the Dog, features a
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president who fakes a war to distract public attention from a domestic scandal.
Some Republicans in Congress raised questions about the timing of the strikes.
Berger was particularly rankled by an editorial in the Economist that said that
only the future would tell whether the U.S. missile strikes had "created 10,000
new fanatics where there would have been none."
Much public commentary turned immediately to scalding criticism that
the action was too aggressive. The Sudanese denied that al Shifa produced
nerve gas, and they allowed journalists to visit what was left of a seemingly
harmless facility. President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Berger, Tenet, and
Clarke insisted to us that their judgment was right, pointing to the soil sam-
ple evidence. No independent evidence has emerged to corroborate the CIA's
Everyone involved in the decision had, of course, been aware of President
Clinton's problems. He told them to ignore them. Berger recalled the Presi-
dent saying to him "that they were going to get crap either way, so they should
do the right thing."
All his aides testified to us that they based their advice
solely on national security considerations.We have found no reason to ques-
tion their statements.
The failure of the strikes, the "wag the dog" slur, the intense partisanship of
the period, and the nature of the al Shifa evidence likely had a cumulative effect
on future decisions about the use of force against Bin Ladin. Berger told us that
he did not feel any sense of constraint.
The period after the August 1998 embassy bombings was critical in shap-
ing U.S. policy toward Bin Ladin. Although more Americans had been killed
in the 1996 Khobar Towers attack, and many more in Beirut in 1983, the over-
all loss of life rivaled the worst attacks in memory. More ominous, perhaps, was
the demonstration of an operational capability to coordinate two nearly simul-
taneous attacks on U.S. embassies in different countries.
Despite the availability of information that al Qaeda was a global network,
in 1998 policymakers knew little about the organization. The reams of new
information that the CIA's Bin Ladin unit had been developing since 1996 had
not been pulled together and synthesized for the rest of the government.
Indeed, analysts in the unit felt that they were viewed as alarmists even within
the CIA. A National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism in 1997 had only
briefly mentioned Bin Ladin, and no subsequent national estimate would
authoritatively evaluate the terrorism danger until after 9/11. Policymakers
knew there was a dangerous individual, Usama Bin Ladin, whom they had been
trying to capture and bring to trial. Documents at the time referred to Bin
Ladin "and his associates" or Bin Ladin and his "network." They did not empha-
size the existence of a structured worldwide organization gearing up to train
thousands of potential terrorists.
In the critical days and weeks after the August 1998 attacks, senior policy-
makers in the Clinton administration had to reevaluate the threat posed by Bin
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Ladin.Was this just a new and especially venomous version of the ordinary ter-
rorist threat America had lived with for decades, or was it radically new, pos-
ing a danger beyond any yet experienced?
Even after the embassy attacks, Bin Ladin had been responsible for the deaths
of fewer than 50 Americans, most of them overseas. An NSC staffer working
for Richard Clarke told us the threat was seen as one that could cause hun-
dreds of casualties, not thousands.
Even officials who acknowledge a vital
threat intellectually may not be ready to act on such beliefs at great cost or at
high risk.
Therefore, the government experts who believed that Bin Ladin and his net-
work posed such a novel danger needed a way to win broad support for their
views, or at least spotlight the areas of dispute.The Presidential Daily Brief and
the similar, more widely circulated daily reports for high officials--consisting
mainly of brief reports of intelligence "news" without much analysis or con-
text--did not provide such a vehicle. The national intelligence estimate has
often played this role, and is sometimes controversial for this very reason. It
played no role in judging the threat posed by al Qaeda, either in 1998 or later.
In the late summer and fall of 1998, the U.S. government also was worrying
about the deployment of military power in two other ongoing conflicts. After
years of war in the Balkans, the United States had finally committed itself to sig-
nificant military intervention in 1995­1996. Already maintaining a NATO-led
peacekeeping force in Bosnia, U.S. officials were beginning to consider major
combat operations against Serbia to protect Muslim civilians in Kosovo from
ethnic cleansing.Air strikes were threatened in October 1998; a full-scale NATO
bombing campaign against Serbia was launched in March 1999.
In addition, the Clinton administration was facing the possibility of major
combat operations against Iraq. Since 1996, the UN inspections regime had
been increasingly obstructed by Saddam Hussein.The United States was threat-
ening to attack unless unfettered inspections could resume. The Clinton
administration eventually launched a large-scale set of air strikes against Iraq,
Operation Desert Fox, in December 1998. These military commitments
became the context in which the Clinton administration had to consider open-
ing another front of military engagement against a new terrorist threat based
in Afghanistan.
A Follow-On Campaign?
Clarke hoped the August 1998 missile strikes would mark the beginning of a
sustained campaign against Bin Ladin. Clarke was, as he later admitted,
"obsessed" with Bin Ladin, and the embassy bombings gave him new scope for
pursuing his obsession. Terrorism had moved high up among the President's
concerns, and Clarke's position had elevated accordingly.The CSG, unlike most
standing interagency committees, did not have to report through the Deputies
Committee. Although such a reporting relationship had been prescribed in
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the May 1998 presidential directive (after expressions of concern by Attor-
ney General Reno, among others), that directive contained an exception that
permitted the CSG to report directly to the principals if Berger so elected.
In practice, the CSG often reported not even to the full Principals Commit-
tee but instead to the so-called Small Group formed by Berger, consisting
only of those principals cleared to know about the most sensitive issues con-
nected with counterterrorism activities concerning Bin Ladin or the Kho-
bar Towers investigation.
For this inner cabinet, Clarke drew up what he called "Political-Military
Plan Delenda."The Latin delenda, meaning that something "must be destroyed,"
evoked the famous Roman vow to destroy its rival, Carthage.The overall goal
of Clarke's paper was to "immediately eliminate any significant threat to Amer-
icans" from the "Bin Ladin network."
The paper called for diplomacy to deny
Bin Ladin sanctuary; covert action to disrupt terrorist activities, but above all
to capture Bin Ladin and his deputies and bring them to trial; efforts to dry up
Bin Ladin's money supply; and preparation for follow-on military action.The
status of the document was and remained uncertain. It was never formally
adopted by the principals, and participants in the Small Group now have little
or no recollection of it. It did, however, guide Clarke's efforts.
The military component of Clarke's plan was its most fully articulated ele-
ment. He envisioned an ongoing campaign of strikes against Bin Ladin's bases
in Afghanistan or elsewhere, whenever target information was ripe. Acknowl-
edging that individual targets might not have much value, he cautioned Berger
not to expect ever again to have an assembly of terrorist leaders in his sights.
But he argued that rolling attacks might persuade the Taliban to hand over Bin
Ladin and, in any case, would show that the action in August was not a "one-
off " event. It would show that the United States was committed to a relentless
effort to take down Bin Ladin's network.
Members of the Small Group found themselves unpersuaded of the merits
of rolling attacks. Defense Secretary William Cohen told us Bin Ladin's train-
ing camps were primitive, built with "rope ladders"; General Shelton called
them "jungle gym" camps. Neither thought them worthwhile targets for very
expensive missiles. President Clinton and Berger also worried about the Econ-
's point--that attacks that missed Bin Ladin could enhance his stature and
win him new recruits. After the United States launched air attacks against Iraq
at the end of 1998 and against Serbia in 1999, in each case provoking world-
wide criticism, Deputy National Security Advisor James Steinberg added the
argument that attacks in Afghanistan offered "little benefit, lots of blowback
against [a] bomb-happy U.S."
During the last week of August 1998, officials began considering possible
follow-on strikes. According to Clarke, President Clinton was inclined to
launch further strikes sooner rather than later. On August 27, Under Secretary
of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe advised Secretary Cohen that the avail-
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able targets were not promising. The experience of the previous week, he
wrote, "has only confirmed the importance of defining a clearly articulated
rationale for military action" that was effective as well as justified. But Slocombe
worried that simply striking some of these available targets did not add up to
an effective strategy.
Defense officials at a lower level, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for
Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, tried to meet Slocombe's
objections.They developed a plan that, unlike Clarke's, called not for particu-
lar strikes but instead for a broad change in national strategy and in the insti-
tutional approach of the Department of Defense, implying a possible need for
large-scale operations across the whole spectrum of U.S. military capabilities.
It urged the department to become a lead agency in driving a national coun-
terterrorism strategy forward, to "champion a national effort to take up the
gauntlet that international terrorists have thrown at our feet." The authors
expressed concern that "we have not fundamentally altered our philosophy or
our approach" even though the terrorist threat had grown. They outlined an
eight-part strategy "to be more proactive and aggressive." The future, they
warned, might bring "horrific attacks," in which case "we will have no choice
nor, unfortunately, will we have a plan."The assistant secretary, Allen Holmes,
took the paper to Slocombe's chief deputy, Jan Lodal, but it went no further.
Its lead author recalls being told by Holmes that Lodal thought it was too
aggressive. Holmes cannot recall what was said, and Lodal cannot remember
the episode or the paper at all.
After the August missile strikes, diplomatic options to press the Taliban seemed
no more promising than military options.The United States had issued a for-
mal warning to the Taliban, and also to Sudan, that they would be held directly
responsible for any attacks on Americans, wherever they occurred, carried out
by the Bin Ladin network as long as they continued to provide sanctuary to
For a brief moment, it had seemed as if the August strikes might have
shocked the Taliban into thinking of giving up Bin Ladin. On August 22, the
reclusive Mullah Omar told a working-level State Department official that the
strikes were counterproductive but added that he would be open to a dialogue
with the United States on Bin Ladin's presence in Afghanistan.
Meeting in
Islamabad with William Milam, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan,Taliban dele-
gates said it was against their culture to expel someone seeking sanctuary but
asked what would happen to Bin Ladin should he be sent to Saudi Arabia.
Yet in September 1998, when the Saudi emissary, Prince Turki, asked Mul-
lah Omar whether he would keep his earlier promise to expel Bin Ladin, the
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Taliban leader said no. Both sides shouted at each other, with Mullah Omar
denouncing the Saudi government. Riyadh then suspended its diplomatic rela-
tions with the Taliban regime. (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab
Emirates were the only countries that recognized the Taliban as the legitimate
government of Afghanistan.) Crown Prince Abdullah told President Clinton
and Vice President Gore about this when he visited Washington in late Sep-
tember. His account confirmed reports that the U.S. government had received
Other efforts with the Saudi government centered on improving intelli-
gence sharing and permitting U.S. agents to interrogate prisoners in Saudi cus-
tody.The history of such cooperation in 1997 and 1998 had been strained.
Several officials told us, in particular, that the United States could not get direct
access to an important al Qaeda financial official, Madani al Tayyib, who had
been detained by the Saudi government in 1997.
Though U.S. officials repeat-
edly raised the issue, the Saudis provided limited information. In his Septem-
ber 1998 meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah,Vice President Gore, while
thanking the Saudi government for their responsiveness, renewed the request
for direct U.S. access to Tayyib.
The United States never obtained this access.
An NSC staff­led working group on terrorist finances asked the CIA in
November 1998 to push again for access to Tayyib and to see "if it is possible
to elaborate further on the ties between Usama bin Ladin and prominent indi-
viduals in Saudi Arabia, including especially the Bin Ladin family."
One result
was two NSC-led interagency trips to Persian Gulf states in 1999 and 2000.
During these trips the NSC, Treasury, and intelligence representatives spoke
with Saudi officials, and later interviewed members of the Bin Ladin family,
about Usama's inheritance. The Saudis and the Bin Ladin family eventually
helped in this particular effort and U.S. officials ultimately learned that Bin
Ladin was not financing al Qaeda out of a personal inheritance.
But Clarke
was frustrated about how little the Agency knew, complaining to Berger that
four years after "we first asked CIA to track down [Bin Ladin]'s finances" and
two years after the creation of the CIA's Bin Ladin unit, the Agency said it could
only guess at how much aid Bin Ladin gave to terrorist groups, what were the
main sources of his budget, or how he moved his money.
The other diplomatic route to get at Bin Ladin in Afghanistan ran through
Islamabad. In the summer before the embassy bombings, the State Department
had been heavily focused on rising tensions between India and Pakistan and
did not aggressively challenge Pakistan on Afghanistan and Bin Ladin. But State
Department counterterrorism officials wanted a stronger position; the depart-
ment's acting counterterrorism coordinator advised Secretary Albright to des-
ignate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, noting that despite high-level
Pakistani assurances, the country's military intelligence service continued
"activities in support of international terrorism" by supporting attacks on civil-
ian targets in Kashmir.This recommendation was opposed by the State Depart-
ment's South Asia bureau, which was concerned that it would damage already
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sensitive relations with Pakistan in the wake of the May 1998 nuclear tests by
both Pakistan and India. Secretary Albright rejected the recommendation on
August 5, 1998, just two days before the embassy bombings.
She told us that,
in general, putting the Pakistanis on the terrorist list would eliminate any influ-
ence the United States had over them.
In October, an NSC counterterror-
ism official noted that Pakistan's pro-Taliban military intelligence service had
been training Kashmiri jihadists in one of the camps hit by U.S. missiles, lead-
ing to the death of Pakistanis.
After flying to Nairobi and bringing home the coffins of the American dead,
Secretary Albright increased the department's focus on counterterrorism.
According to Ambassador Milam, the bombings were a "wake-up call," and he
soon found himself spending 45 to 50 percent of his time working the Tal-
iban­Bin Ladin portfolio.
But Pakistan's military intelligence service, known
as the ISID (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate), was the Taliban's primary
patron, which made progress difficult.
Additional pressure on the Pakistanis--beyond demands to press the Taliban
on Bin Ladin--seemed unattractive to most officials of the State Department.
Congressional sanctions punishing Pakistan for possessing nuclear arms pre-
vented the administration from offering incentives to Islamabad.
In the words
of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott,Washington's Pakistan policy was
"stick-heavy."Talbott felt that the only remaining sticks were additional sanc-
tions that would have bankrupted the Pakistanis, a dangerous move that could
have brought "total chaos" to a nuclear-armed country with a significant num-
ber of Islamic radicals.
The Saudi government, which had a long and close relationship with Pak-
istan and provided it oil on generous terms, was already pressing Sharif with
regard to the Taliban and Bin Ladin. A senior State Department official con-
cluded that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah put "a tremendous amount of
heat" on the Pakistani prime minister during the prince's October 1998 visit
to Pakistan.
The State Department urged President Clinton to engage the Pakistanis.
Accepting this advice, President Clinton invited Sharif to Washington, where
they talked mostly about India but also discussed Bin Ladin.After Sharif went
home, the President called him and raised the Bin Ladin subject again. This
effort elicited from Sharif a promise to talk with the Taliban.
Mullah Omar's position showed no sign of softening. One intelligence
report passed to Berger by the NSC staff quoted Bin Ladin as saying that Mul-
lah Omar had given him a completely free hand to act in any country, though
asking that he not claim responsibility for attacks in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.
Bin Ladin was described as grabbing his beard and saying emotionally, "By
Allah, by God, the Americans will still be amazed.The so-called United States
will suffer the same fate as the Russians.Their state will collapse, too."
Debate in the State Department intensified after December 1998, when
Michael Sheehan became counterterrorism coordinator. A onetime special
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forces officer, he had worked with Albright when she was ambassador to the
United Nations and had served on the NSC staff with Clarke. He shared
Clarke's obsession with terrorism, and had little hesitation about locking horns
with the regional bureaus. Through every available channel, he repeated the
earlier warning to the Taliban of the possible dire consequences--including
military strikes--if Bin Ladin remained their guest and conducted additional
attacks.Within the department, he argued for designating the Taliban regime a
state sponsor of terrorism. This was technically difficult to do, for calling it a
state would be tantamount to diplomatic recognition, which the United States
had thus far withheld. But Sheehan urged the use of any available weapon
against the Taliban. He told us that he thought he was regarded in the depart-
ment as "a one-note Johnny nutcase."
In early 1999, the State Department's counterterrorism office proposed a
comprehensive diplomatic strategy for all states involved in the Afghanistan
problem, including Pakistan. It specified both carrots and hard-hitting sticks--
among them, certifying Pakistan as uncooperative on terrorism. Albright said
the original carrots and sticks listed in a decision paper for principals may not
have been used as "described on paper" but added that they were used in other
ways or in varying degrees. But the paper's author, Ambassador Sheehan, was
frustrated and complained to us that the original plan "had been watered down
to the point that nothing was then done with it."
The cautiousness of the South Asia bureau was reinforced when, in May
1999, Pakistani troops were discovered to have infiltrated into an especially
mountainous area of Kashmir. A limited war began between India and Pak-
istan, euphemistically called the "Kargil crisis," as India tried to drive the Pak-
istani forces out. Patience with Pakistan was wearing thin, inside both the State
Department and the NSC. Bruce Riedel, the NSC staff member responsible
for Pakistan, wrote Berger that Islamabad was "behaving as a rogue state in two
areas--backing Taliban/UBL terror and provoking war with India."
Discussion within the Clinton administration on Afghanistan then concen-
trated on two main alternatives.The first, championed by Riedel and Assistant
Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, was to undertake a major diplomatic effort
to end the Afghan civil war and install a national unity government.The sec-
ond, favored by Sheehan, Clarke, and the CIA, called for labeling the Taliban a
terrorist group and ultimately funneling secret aid to its chief foe, the North-
ern Alliance.This dispute would go back and forth throughout 1999 and ulti-
mately become entangled with debate about enlisting the Northern Alliance
as an ally for covert action.
Another diplomatic option may have been available: nurturing Afghan exile
groups as a possible moderate governing alternative to the Taliban. In late 1999,
Washington provided some support for talks among the leaders of exile Afghan
groups, including the ousted Rome-based King Zahir Shah and Hamid
Karzai, about bolstering anti-Taliban forces inside Afghanistan and linking the
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Northern Alliance with Pashtun groups. One U.S. diplomat later told us that
the exile groups were not ready to move forward and that coordinating frac-
tious groups residing in Bonn, Rome, and Cyprus proved extremely difficult.
Frustrated by the Taliban's resistance, two senior State Department officials
suggested asking the Saudis to offer the Taliban $250 million for Bin Ladin.
Clarke opposed having the United States facilitate a "huge grant to a regime
as heinous as the Taliban" and suggested that the idea might not seem attrac-
tive to either Secretary Albright or First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton--both
critics of the Taliban's record on women's rights.
The proposal seems to have
quietly died.
Within the State Department, some officials delayed Sheehan and Clarke's
push either to designate Taliban-controlled Afghanistan as a state sponsor of ter-
rorism or to designate the regime as a foreign terrorist organization (thereby
avoiding the issue of whether to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's govern-
ment). Sheehan and Clarke prevailed in July 1999, when President Clinton
issued an executive order effectively declaring the Taliban regime a state spon-
sor of terrorism.
In October, a UN Security Council Resolution champi-
oned by the United States added economic and travel sanctions.
With UN sanctions set to come into effect in November, Clarke wrote
Berger that "the Taliban appear to be up to something."
Mullah Omar had
shuffled his "cabinet" and hinted at Bin Ladin's possible departure. Clarke's staff
thought his most likely destination would be Somalia; Chechnya seemed less
appealing with Russia on the offensive. Clarke commented that Iraq and Libya
had previously discussed hosting Bin Ladin, though he and his staff had their
doubts that Bin Ladin would trust secular Arab dictators such as Saddam Hus-
sein or Muammar Qadhafi. Clarke also raised the "remote possibility" of
Yemen, which offered vast uncontrolled spaces. In November, the CSG dis-
cussed whether the sanctions had rattled the Taliban, who seemed "to be look-
ing for a face-saving way out of the Bin Ladin issue."
In fact none of the outside pressure had any visible effect on Mullah Omar,
who was unconcerned about commerce with the outside world. Omar had vir-
tually no diplomatic contact with the West, since he refused to meet with non-
Muslims.The United States learned that at the end of 1999, the Taliban Council
of Ministers unanimously reaffirmed that their regime would stick by Bin
Ladin. Relations between Bin Ladin and the Taliban leadership were sometimes
tense, but the foundation was deep and personal.
Indeed, Mullah Omar had
executed at least one subordinate who opposed his pro­Bin Ladin policy.
The United States would try tougher sanctions in 2000.Working with Rus-
sia (a country involved in an ongoing campaign against Chechen separatists,
some of whom received support from Bin Ladin), the United States persuaded
the United Nations to adopt Security Council Resolution 1333, which
included an embargo on arms shipments to the Taliban, in December 2000.
The aim of the resolution was to hit the Taliban where it was most sensitive--
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on the battlefield against the Northern Alliance--and criminalize giving them
arms and providing military "advisers," which Pakistan had been doing.
the passage of the resolution had no visible effect on Omar, nor did it halt the
flow of Pakistani military assistance to the Taliban.
U.S. authorities had continued to try to get cooperation from Pakistan in
pressing the Taliban to stop sheltering Bin Ladin. President Clinton contacted
Sharif again in June 1999, partly to discuss the crisis with India but also to urge
Sharif, "in the strongest way I can," to persuade the Taliban to expel Bin
The President suggested that Pakistan use its control over oil supplies
to the Taliban and over Afghan imports through Karachi. Sharif suggested
instead that Pakistani forces might try to capture Bin Ladin themselves.
Though no one in Washington thought this was likely to happen, President
Clinton gave the idea his blessing.
The President met with Sharif in Washington in early July. Though the
meeting's main purpose was to seal the Pakistani prime minister's decision to
withdraw from the Kargil confrontation in Kashmir, President Clinton com-
plained about Pakistan's failure to take effective action with respect to the Tal-
iban and Bin Ladin. Sharif came back to his earlier proposal and won approval
for U.S. assistance in training a Pakistani special forces team for an operation
against Bin Ladin. Then, in October 1999, Sharif was deposed by General Per-
vez Musharraf, and the plan was terminated.
At first, the Clinton administration hoped that Musharraf 's coup might cre-
ate an opening for action on Bin Ladin. A career military officer, Musharraf
was thought to have the political strength to confront and influence the Pak-
istani military intelligence service, which supported the Taliban. Berger spec-
ulated that the new government might use Bin Ladin to buy concessions from
Washington, but neither side ever developed such an initiative.
By late 1999, more than a year after the embassy bombings, diplomacy with
Pakistan, like the efforts with the Taliban, had, according to Under Secretary
of State Thomas Pickering,"borne little fruit."
As part of the response to the embassy bombings, President Clinton signed a
Memorandum of Notification authorizing the CIA to let its tribal assets use
force to capture Bin Ladin and his associates. CIA officers told the tribals that
the plan to capture Bin Ladin, which had been "turned off " three months ear-
lier, was back on.The memorandum also authorized the CIA to attack Bin Ladin
in other ways. Also, an executive order froze financial holdings that could be
linked to Bin Ladin.
The counterterrorism staff at CIA thought it was gaining a better under-
standing of Bin Ladin and his network. In preparation for briefing the Senate
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Select Committee on Intelligence on September 2,Tenet was told that the intel-
ligence community knew more about Bin Ladin's network "than about any other
top tier terrorist organization."
The CIA was using this knowledge to disrupt a number of Bin Ladin­asso-
ciated cells.Working with Albanian authorities, CIA operatives had raided an al
Qaeda forgery operation and another terrorist cell in Tirana.These operations
may have disrupted a planned attack on the U.S. embassy in Tirana, and did lead
to the rendition of a number of al Qaeda­related terrorist operatives. After the
embassy bombings, there were arrests in Azerbaijan, Italy, and Britain. Several
terrorists were sent to an Arab country.The CIA described working with FBI
operatives to prevent a planned attack on the U.S. embassy in Uganda, and a
number of suspects were arrested. On September 16, Abu Hajer, one of Bin
Ladin's deputies in Sudan and the head of his computer operations and weapons
procurement, was arrested in Germany. He was the most important Bin Ladin
lieutenant captured thus far. Clarke commented to Berger with satisfaction that
August and September had brought the "greatest number of terrorist arrests in
a short period of time that we have ever arranged/facilitated."
Given the President's August Memorandum of Notification, the CIA had
already been working on new plans for using the Afghan tribals to capture Bin
Ladin. During September and October, the tribals claimed to have tried at least
four times to ambush Bin Ladin. Senior CIA officials doubted whether any of
these ambush attempts had actually occurred. But the tribals did seem to have
success in reporting where Bin Ladin was.
This information was more useful than it had been in the past; since the
August missile strikes, Bin Ladin had taken to moving his sleeping place fre-
quently and unpredictably and had added new bodyguards. Worst of all, al
Qaeda's senior leadership had stopped using a particular means of communi-
cation almost immediately after a leak to the Washington Times.
This made it
much more difficult for the National Security Agency to intercept his conver-
sations. But since the tribals seemed to know where Bin Ladin was or would
be, an alternative to capturing Bin Ladin would be to mark his location and
call in another round of missile strikes.
On November 3, the Small Group met to discuss these problems, among
other topics. Preparing Director Tenet for a Small Group meeting in mid-
November, the Counterterrorist Center stressed,"At this point we cannot pre-
dict when or if a capture operation will be executed by our assets."
U.S. counterterrorism officials also worried about possible domestic attacks.
Several intelligence reports, some of dubious sourcing, mentioned Washington
as a possible target. On October 26, Clarke's CSG took the unusual step of
holding a meeting dedicated to trying "to evaluate the threat of a terrorist attack
in the United States by the Usama bin Ladin network."
The CSG members
were "urged to be as creative as possible in their thinking" about preventing a
Bin Ladin attack on U.S. territory. Participants noted that while the FBI had
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been given additional resources for such efforts, both it and the CIA were hav-
ing problems exploiting leads by tracing U.S. telephone numbers and translat-
ing documents obtained in cell disruptions abroad. The Justice Department
reported that the current guidelines from the Attorney General gave sufficient
legal authority for domestic investigation and surveillance.
Though intelligence gave no clear indication of what might be afoot, some
intelligence reports mentioned chemical weapons, pointing toward work at a
camp in southern Afghanistan called Derunta. On November 4, 1998, the U.S.
Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York unsealed its indict-
ment of Bin Ladin, charging him with conspiracy to attack U.S. defense instal-
lations.The indictment also charged that al Qaeda had allied itself with Sudan,
Iran, and Hezbollah.The original sealed indictment had added that al Qaeda
had "reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda
would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specif-
ically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively
with the Government of Iraq."
This passage led Clarke, who for years had
read intelligence reports on Iraqi-Sudanese cooperation on chemical weapons,
to speculate to Berger that a large Iraqi presence at chemical facilities in Khar-
toum was "probably a direct result of the Iraq­Al Qida agreement." Clarke
added that VX precursor traces found near al Shifa were the "exact formula
used by Iraq."
This language about al Qaeda's "understanding" with Iraq had
been dropped, however, when a superseding indictment was filed in Novem-
ber 1998.
On Friday, December 4, 1998, the CIA included an article in the Presiden-
tial Daily Brief describing intelligence, received from a friendly government,
about a threatened hijacking in the United States.This article was declassified
at our request.
The same day, Clarke convened a meeting of his CSG to discuss both the
The following is the text of an item from the Presidential Daily Brief received by
President William J. Clinton on December 4, 1998. Redacted material is indicated
in brackets.
SUBJECT: Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other
1. Reporting [--] suggests Bin Ladin and his allies are preparing for
attacks in the US, including an aircraft hijacking to obtain the release of
Shaykh `Umar `Abd al-Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, and Muhammad Sadiq
`Awda. One source quoted a senior member of the Gama'at al-Islamiyya
(IG) saying that, as of late October, the IG had completed planning for
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an operation in the US on behalf of Bin Ladin, but that the operation
was on hold.A senior Bin Ladin operative from Saudi Arabia was to visit
IG counterparts in the US soon thereafter to discuss options--perhaps
including an aircraft hijacking.
· IG leader Islambuli in late September was planning to hijack a
US airliner during the "next couple of weeks" to free `Abd al-
Rahman and the other prisoners, according to what may be a
different source.
· The same source late last month said that Bin Ladin might
implement plans to hijack US aircraft before the beginning of
Ramadan on 20 December and that two members of the oper-
ational team had evaded security checks during a recent trial
run at an unidentified New York airport. [--]
2. Some members of the Bin Ladin network have received hijack train-
ing, according to various sources, but no group directly tied to Bin Ladin's
al-Qa'ida organization has ever carried out an aircraft hijacking. Bin Ladin
could be weighing other types of operations against US aircraft.Accord-
ing to [--] the IG in October obtained SA-7 missiles and intended to
move them from Yemen into Saudi Arabia to shoot down an Egyptian
plane or, if unsuccessful, a US military or civilian aircraft.
· A [--] in October told us that unspecified "extremist elements"
in Yemen had acquired SA-7s. [--]
3. [--] indicate the Bin Ladin organization or its allies are moving closer
to implementing anti-US attacks at unspecified locations, but we do not
know whether they are related to attacks on aircraft. A Bin Ladin asso-
ciate in Sudan late last month told a colleague in Kandahar that he had
shipped a group of containers to Afghanistan. Bin Ladin associates also
talked about the movement of containers to Afghanistan before the East
Africa bombings.
· In other [--] Bin Ladin associates last month discussed picking
up a package in Malaysia. One told his colleague in Malaysia
that "they" were in the "ninth month [of pregnancy]."
· An alleged Bin Ladin supporter in Yemen late last month
remarked to his mother that he planned to work in "com-
merce" from abroad and said his impending "marriage," which
would take place soon, would be a "surprise.""Commerce" and
"marriage" often are codewords for terrorist attacks. [--]
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hijacking concern and the antiaircraft missile threat. To address the hijack-
ing warning, the group agreed that New York airports should go to maxi-
mum security starting that weekend.They agreed to boost security at other
East coast airports. The CIA agreed to distribute versions of the report to
the FBI and FAA to pass to the New York Police Department and the air-
lines. The FAA issued a security directive on December 8, with specific
requirements for more intensive air carrier screening of passengers and more
oversight of the screening process, at all three New York City area airports.
The intelligence community could learn little about the source of the infor-
mation. Later in December and again in early January 1999, more information
arrived from the same source, reporting that the planned hijacking had been
stalled because two of the operatives, who were sketchily described, had been
arrested near Washington, D.C. or New York.After investigation, the FBI could
find no information to support the hijack threat; nor could it verify any arrests
like those described in the report.The FAA alert at the New York area airports
ended on January 31, 1999.
On December 17, the day after the United States and Britain began their
Desert Fox bombing campaign against Iraq, the Small Group convened to dis-
cuss intelligence suggesting imminent Bin Ladin attacks on the U.S. embassies
in Qatar and Ethiopia.The next day, Director Tenet sent a memo to the Pres-
ident, the cabinet, and senior officials throughout the government describing
reports that Bin Ladin planned to attack U.S. targets very soon, possibly over
the next few days, before Ramadan celebrations began. Tenet said he was
"greatly concerned."
With alarms sounding, members of the Small Group considered ideas about
how to respond to or prevent such attacks. Generals Shelton and Zinni came
up with military options. Special Operations Forces were later told that they
might be ordered to attempt very high-risk in-and-out raids either in Khar-
toum, to capture a senior Bin Ladin operative known as Abu Hafs the Mauri-
tanian--who appeared to be engineering some of the plots--or in Kandahar,
to capture Bin Ladin himself. Shelton told us that such operations are not risk
free, invoking the memory of the 1993 "Black Hawk down" fiasco in
The CIA reported on December 18 that Bin Ladin might be traveling to
Kandahar and could be targeted there with cruise missiles. Vessels with Tom-
ahawk cruise missiles were on station in the Arabian Sea, and could fire within
a few hours of receiving target data.
On December 20, intelligence indicated Bin Ladin would be spending the
night at the Haji Habash house, part of the governor's residence in Kanda-
har.The chief of the Bin Ladin unit,"Mike," told us that he promptly briefed
Tenet and his deputy, John Gordon. From the field, the CIA's Gary Schroen
advised:"Hit him tonight--we may not get another chance."An urgent tele-
conference of principals was arranged.
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The principals considered a cruise missile strike to try to kill Bin Ladin. One
issue they discussed was the potential collateral damage--the number of inno-
cent bystanders who would be killed or wounded. General Zinni predicted a
number well over 200 and was concerned about damage to a nearby mosque.
The senior intelligence officer on the Joint Staff apparently made a different
calculation, estimating half as much collateral damage and not predicting dam-
age to the mosque. By the end of the meeting, the principals decided against
recommending to the President that he order a strike.A few weeks later, in Jan-
uary 1999, Clarke wrote that the principals had thought the intelligence only
half reliable and had worried about killing or injuring perhaps 300 people.
Tenet said he remembered doubts about the reliability of the source and con-
cern about hitting the nearby mosque."Mike" remembered Tenet telling him
that the military was concerned that a few hours had passed since the last sight-
ing of Bin Ladin and that this persuaded everyone that the chance of failure
was too great.
Some lower-level officials were angry."Mike" reported to Schroen that he
had been unable to sleep after this decision. "I'm sure we'll regret not acting
last night," he wrote, criticizing the principals for "worrying that some stray
shrapnel might hit the Habash mosque and `offend' Muslims." He commented
that they had not shown comparable sensitivity when deciding to bomb Mus-
lims in Iraq. The principals, he said, were "obsessed" with trying to get oth-
ers--Saudis, Pakistanis,Afghan tribals--to "do what we won't do." Schroen was
disappointed too."We should have done it last night," he wrote."We may well
come to regret the decision not to go ahead."
The Joint Staff 's deputy direc-
tor for operations agreed, even though he told us that later intelligence
appeared to show that Bin Ladin had left his quarters before the strike would
have occurred. Missing Bin Ladin, he said, "would have caused us a hell of a
problem, but it was a shot we should have taken, and we would have had to
pay the price."
The principals began considering other, more aggressive covert alternatives
using the tribals. CIA officers suggested that the tribals would prefer to try a
raid rather than a roadside ambush because they would have better control, it
would be less dangerous, and it played more to their skills and experience. But
everyone knew that if the tribals were to conduct such a raid, guns would be
blazing.The current Memorandum of Notification instructed the CIA to cap-
ture Bin Ladin and to use lethal force only in self-defense.Work now began on
a new memorandum that would give the tribals more latitude.The intention
was to say that they could use lethal force if the attempted capture seemed
impossible to complete successfully.
Early drafts of this highly sensitive document emphasized that it authorized
only a capture operation.The tribals were to be paid only if they captured Bin
Ladin, not if they killed him. Officials throughout the government approved
this draft. But on December 21, the day after principals decided not to launch
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the cruise missile strike against Kandahar, the CIA's leaders urged strengthen-
ing the language to allow the tribals to be paid whether Bin Ladin was cap-
tured or killed. Berger and Tenet then worked together to take this line of
thought even further.
They finally agreed, as Berger reported to President Clinton, that an
extraordinary step was necessary. The new memorandum would allow the
killing of Bin Ladin if the CIA and the tribals judged that capture was not fea-
sible (a judgment it already seemed clear they had reached). The Justice
Department lawyer who worked on the draft told us that what was envisioned
was a group of tribals assaulting a location, leading to a shoot-out. Bin Ladin
and others would be captured if possible, but probably would be killed. The
administration's position was that under the law of armed conflict, killing a
person who posed an imminent threat to the United States would be an act
of self-defense, not an assassination. On Christmas Eve 1998, Berger sent a final
draft to President Clinton, with an explanatory memo. The President
approved the document.
Because the White House considered this operation highly sensitive, only a
tiny number of people knew about this Memorandum of Notification. Berger
arranged for the NSC's legal adviser to inform Albright, Cohen, Shelton, and
Reno. None was allowed to keep a copy. Congressional leaders were briefed, as
required by law. Attorney General Reno had sent a letter to the President
expressing her concern: she warned of possible retaliation, including the tar-
geting of U.S. officials. She did not pose any legal objection. A copy of the final
document, along with the carefully crafted instructions that were to be sent to
the tribals, was given to Tenet.
A message from Tenet to CIA field agents directed them to communicate
to the tribals the instructions authorized by the President: the United States
preferred that Bin Ladin and his lieutenants be captured, but if a successful cap-
ture operation was not feasible, the tribals were permitted to kill them. The
instructions added that the tribals must avoid killing others unnecessarily and
must not kill or abuse Bin Ladin or his lieutenants if they surrendered. Finally,
the tribals would not be paid if this set of requirements was not met.
The field officer passed these instructions to the tribals word for word. But
he prefaced the directions with a message:"From the American President down
to the average man in the street, we want him [Bin Ladin] stopped." If the trib-
als captured Bin Ladin, the officer assured them that he would receive a fair
trial under U.S. law and be treated humanely. The CIA officer reported that
the tribals said they "fully understand the contents, implications and the spirit
of the message" and that that their response was,"We will try our best to cap-
ture Bin Ladin alive and will have no intention of killing or harming him on
purpose."The tribals explained that they wanted to prove that their standards
of behavior were more civilized than those of Bin Ladin and his band of ter-
rorists. In an additional note addressed to Schroen, the tribals noted that if they
were to adopt Bin Ladin's ethics,"we would have finished the job long before,"
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but they had been limited by their abilities and "by our beliefs and laws we
have to respect."
Schroen and "Mike" were impressed by the tribals' reaction. Schroen cabled
that the tribals were not in it for the money but as an investment in the future
of Afghanistan. "Mike" agreed that the tribals' reluctance to kill was not a
"showstopper." "From our view," he wrote, "that seems in character and fair
Policymakers in the Clinton administration, including the President and his
national security advisor, told us that the President's intent regarding covert
action against Bin Ladin was clear: he wanted him dead.This intent was never
well communicated or understood within the CIA. Tenet told the Commis-
sion that except in one specific case (discussed later), the CIA was authorized
to kill Bin Ladin only in the context of a capture operation. CIA senior man-
agers, operators, and lawyers confirmed this understanding."We always talked
about how much easier it would have been to kill him," a former chief of the
Bin Ladin unit said.
In February 1999, another draft Memorandum of Notification went to Pres-
ident Clinton. It asked him to allow the CIA to give exactly the same guidance
to the Northern Alliance as had just been given to the tribals: they could kill
Bin Ladin if a successful capture operation was not feasible. On this occasion,
however, President Clinton crossed out key language he had approved in
December and inserted more ambiguous language. No one we interviewed
could shed light on why the President did this. President Clinton told the Com-
mission that he had no recollection of why he rewrote the language.
Later in 1999, when legal authority was needed for enlisting still other col-
laborators and for covering a wider set of contingencies, the lawyers returned
to the language used in August 1998, which authorized force only in the con-
text of a capture operation. Given the closely held character of the document
approved in December 1998, and the subsequent return to the earlier language,
it is possible to understand how the former White House officials and the CIA
officials might disagree as to whether the CIA was ever authorized by the Pres-
ident to kill Bin Ladin.
The dispute turned out to be somewhat academic, as the limits of available
legal authority were not tested. Clarke commented to Berger that "despite
`expanded' authority for CIA's sources to engage in direct action, they have
shown no inclination to do so." He added that it was his impression that the
CIA thought the tribals unlikely to act against Bin Ladin and hence relying on
them was "unrealistic."
Events seemed to bear him out, since the tribals did
not stage an attack on Bin Ladin or his associates during 1999.
The tribals remained active collectors of intelligence, however, providing
good but not predictive information about Bin Ladin's whereabouts.The CIA
also tried to improve its intelligence reporting on Bin Ladin by what Tenet's
assistant director for collection, the indefatigable Charles Allen, called an "all-
out, all-agency, seven-days-a-week" effort.
The effort might have had an
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effect. On January 12, 1999, Clarke wrote Berger that the CIA's confidence in
the tribals' reporting had increased. It was now higher than it had been on
December 20.
In February 1999,Allen proposed flying a U-2 mission over Afghanistan to
build a baseline of intelligence outside the areas where the tribals had cover-
age. Clarke was nervous about such a mission because he continued to fear that
Bin Ladin might leave for someplace less accessible. He wrote Deputy National
Security Advisor Donald Kerrick that one reliable source reported Bin Ladin's
having met with Iraqi officials, who "may have offered him asylum." Other
intelligence sources said that some Taliban leaders, though not Mullah Omar,
had urged Bin Ladin to go to Iraq. If Bin Ladin actually moved to Iraq, wrote
Clarke, his network would be at Saddam Hussein's service, and it would be "vir-
tually impossible" to find him. Better to get Bin Ladin in Afghanistan, Clarke
Berger suggested sending one U-2 flight, but Clarke opposed even
this. It would require Pakistani approval, he wrote; and "Pak[istan's]
intel[ligence service] is in bed with" Bin Ladin and would warn him that the
United States was getting ready for a bombing campaign: "Armed with that
knowledge, old wily Usama will likely boogie to Baghdad."
Though told also
by Bruce Riedel of the NSC staff that Saddam Hussein wanted Bin Ladin in
Baghdad, Berger conditionally authorized a single U-2 flight.Allen meanwhile
had found other ways of getting the information he wanted. So the U-2 flight
never occurred.
"Boots on the Ground?"
Starting on the day the August 1998 strikes were launched, General Shelton
had issued a planning order to prepare follow-on strikes and think beyond just
using cruise missiles.
The initial strikes had been called Operation Infinite
Reach. The follow-on plans were given the code name Operation Infinite
At the time, any actual military action in Afghanistan would have been car-
ried out by General Zinni's Central Command.This command was therefore
the locus for most military planning. Zinni was even less enthusiastic than
Cohen and Shelton about follow-on cruise missile strikes. He knew that the
Tomahawks did not always hit their targets. After the August 20 strikes, Presi-
dent Clinton had had to call Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif to apologize for
a wayward missile that had killed several people in a Pakistani village. Sharif
had been understanding, while commenting on American "overkill."
Zinni feared that Bin Ladin would in the future locate himself in cities,
where U.S. missiles could kill thousands of Afghans. He worried also lest Pak-
istani authorities not get adequate warning, think the missiles came from India,
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and do something that everyone would later regret. Discussing potential reper-
cussions in the region of his military responsibility, Zinni said, "It was easy to
take the shot from Washington and walk away from it.We had to live there."
Zinni's distinct preference would have been to build up counterterrorism
capabilities in neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan. But he told us that
he could not drum up much interest in or money for such a purpose from
Washington, partly, he thought, because these countries had dictatorial govern-
After the decision--in which fear of collateral damage was an important fac-
tor--not to use cruise missiles against Kandahar in December 1998, Shelton
and officers in the Pentagon developed plans for using an AC-130 gunship
instead of cruise missile strikes. Designed specifically for the special forces, the
version of the AC-130 known as "Spooky" can fly in fast or from high altitude,
undetected by radar; guided to its zone by extraordinarily complex electron-
ics, it is capable of rapidly firing precision-guided 25, 40, and 105 mm projec-
tiles. Because this system could target more precisely than a salvo of cruise
missiles, it had a much lower risk of causing collateral damage. After giving
Clarke a briefing and being encouraged to proceed, Shelton formally directed
Zinni and General Peter Schoomaker, who headed the Special Operations
Command, to develop plans for an AC-130 mission against Bin Ladin's head-
quarters and infrastructure in Afghanistan.The Joint Staff prepared a decision
paper for deployment of the Special Operations aircraft.
Though Berger and Clarke continued to indicate interest in this option, the
AC-130s were never deployed. Clarke wrote at the time that Zinni opposed
their use, and John Maher, the Joint Staff 's deputy director of operations, agreed
that this was Zinni's position. Zinni himself does not recall blocking the option.
He told us that he understood the Special Operations Command had never
thought the intelligence good enough to justify actually moving AC-130s into
position. Schoomaker says, on the contrary, that he thought the AC-130 option
The most likely explanation for the two generals' differing recollections is
that both of them thought serious preparation for any such operations would
require a long-term redeployment of Special Operations forces to the Middle
East or South Asia.The AC-130s would need bases because the aircraft's unre-
fueled range was only a little over 2,000 miles.They needed search-and-rescue
backup, which would have still less range.Thus an AC-130 deployment had to
be embedded in a wider political and military concept involving Pakistan or
other neighboring countries to address issues relating to basing and overflight.
No one ever put such an initiative on the table. Zinni therefore cautioned about
simply ordering up AC-130 deployments for a quick strike; Schoomaker
planned for what he saw as a practical strike option; and the underlying issues
were not fully engaged. The Joint Staff decision paper was never turned into
an interagency policy paper.
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The same was true for the option of using ground units from the Special
Operations Command. Within the command, some officers--such as
Schoomaker--wanted the mission of "putting boots on the ground" to get at
Bin Ladin and al Qaeda. At the time, Special Operations was designated as a
"supporting command," not a "supported command": that is, it supported a
theater commander and did not prepare its own plans for dealing with al
Qaeda. Schoomaker proposed to Shelton and Cohen that Special Operations
become a supported command, but the proposal was not adopted. Had it been
accepted, he says, he would have taken on the al Qaeda mission instead of defer-
ring to Zinni. Lieutenant General William Boykin, the current deputy under
secretary of defense for intelligence and a founding member of Delta Force,
told us that "opportunities were missed because of an unwillingness to take risks
and a lack of vision and understanding."
President Clinton relied on the advice of General Shelton, who informed
him that without intelligence on Bin Ladin's location, a commando raid's
chance of failure was high. Shelton told President Clinton he would go for-
ward with "boots on the ground" if the President ordered him to do so; how-
ever, he had to ensure that the President was completely aware of the large
logistical problems inherent in a military operation.
The Special Operations plans were apparently conceived as another quick
strike option--an option to insert forces after the United States received
actionable intelligence. President Clinton told the Commission that "if we had
had really good intelligence about . . . where [Usama Bin Ladin] was, I would
have done it." Zinni and Schoomaker did make preparations for possible very
high risk in-and-out operations to capture or kill terrorists. Cohen told the
Commission that the notion of putting military personnel on the ground with-
out some reasonable certitude that Bin Ladin was in a particular location would
have resulted in the mission's failure and the loss of life in a fruitless effort.
None of these officials was aware of the ambitious plan developed months ear-
lier by lower-level Defense officials.
In our interviews, some military officers repeatedly invoked the analogy of
Desert One and the failed 1980 hostage rescue mission in Iran.
They were
dubious about a quick strike approach to using Special Operations Forces,
which they thought complicated and risky. Such efforts would have required
bases in the region, but all the options were unappealing. Pro-Taliban elements
of Pakistan's military might warn Bin Ladin or his associates of pending oper-
ations.With nearby basing options limited, an alternative was to fly from ships
in the Arabian Sea or from land bases in the Persian Gulf, as was done after
9/11. Such operations would then have to be supported from long distances,
overflying the airspace of nations that might not have been supportive or aware
of U.S. efforts.
However, if these hurdles were addressed, and if the military could then
operate regularly in the region for a long period, perhaps clandestinely, it might
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attempt to gather intelligence and wait for an opportunity. One Special Oper-
ations commander said his view of actionable intelligence was that if you "give
me the action, I will give you the intelligence."
But this course would still
be risky, in light both of the difficulties already mentioned and of the danger
that U.S. operations might fail disastrously.We have found no evidence that such
a long-term political-military approach for using Special Operations Forces in
the region was proposed to or analyzed by the Small Group, even though such
capability had been honed for at least a decade within the Defense Depart-
Therefore the debate looked to some like bold proposals from civilians
meeting hypercaution from the military. Clarke saw it this way. Of the military,
he said to us,"They were very, very, very reluctant."
But from another per-
spective, poorly informed proposals for bold action were pitted against expe-
rienced professional judgment. That was how Secretary of Defense Cohen
viewed it. He said to us:"I would have to place my judgment call in terms of,
do I believe that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, former commander of Spe-
cial Forces command, is in a better position to make a judgment on the feasi-
bility of this than, perhaps, Mr. Clarke?"
Beyond a large-scale political-military commitment to build up a covert or
clandestine capability using American personnel on the ground, either military
or CIA, there was a still larger option that could have been considered--invad-
ing Afghanistan itself. Every official we questioned about the possibility of an
invasion of Afghanistan said that it was almost unthinkable, absent a provoca-
tion such as 9/11, because of poor prospects for cooperation from Pakistan and
other nations and because they believed the public would not support it. Cruise
missiles were and would remain the only military option on the table.
The Desert Camp, February 1999
Early in 1999, the CIA received reporting that Bin Ladin was spending much
of his time at one of several camps in the Afghan desert south of Kandahar.At
the beginning of February, Bin Ladin was reportedly located in the vicinity of
the Sheikh Ali camp, a desert hunting camp being used by visitors from a Gulf
state. Public sources have stated that these visitors were from the United Arab
Reporting from the CIA's assets provided a detailed description of the hunt-
ing camp, including its size, location, resources, and security, as well as of Bin
Ladin's smaller, adjacent camp.
Because this was not in an urban area, mis-
siles launched against it would have less risk of causing collateral damage. On
February 8, the military began to ready itself for a possible strike.
The next
day, national technical intelligence confirmed the location and description of
the larger camp and showed the nearby presence of an official aircraft of the
United Arab Emirates. But the location of Bin Ladin's quarters could not be
pinned down so precisely.
The CIA did its best to answer a host of questions
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 137
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about the larger camp and its residents and about Bin Ladin's daily schedule
and routines to support military contingency planning. According to report-
ing from the tribals, Bin Ladin regularly went from his adjacent camp to the
larger camp where he visited the Emiratis; the tribals expected him to be at the
hunting camp for such a visit at least until midmorning on February 11.
Clarke wrote to Berger's deputy on February 10 that the military was then
doing targeting work to hit the main camp with cruise missiles and should be
in position to strike the following morning.
Speaker of the House Dennis
Hastert appears to have been briefed on the situation.
No strike was launched. By February 12 Bin Ladin had apparently moved
on, and the immediate strike plans became moot.
According to CIA and
Defense officials, policymakers were concerned about the danger that a strike
would kill an Emirati prince or other senior officials who might be with Bin
Ladin or close by. Clarke told us the strike was called off after consultations with
Director Tenet because the intelligence was dubious, and it seemed to Clarke
as if the CIA was presenting an option to attack America's best counterterror-
ism ally in the Gulf.The lead CIA official in the field, Gary Schroen, felt that
the intelligence reporting in this case was very reliable; the Bin Ladin unit chief,
"Mike," agreed. Schroen believes today that this was a lost opportunity to kill
Bin Ladin before 9/11.
Even after Bin Ladin's departure from the area, CIA officers hoped he might
return, seeing the camp as a magnet that could draw him for as long as it was
still set up.The military maintained readiness for another strike opportunity.
On March 7, 1999, Clarke called a UAE official to express his concerns about
possible associations between Emirati officials and Bin Ladin. Clarke later wrote
in a memorandum of this conversation that the call had been approved at an
interagency meeting and cleared with the CIA.
When the former Bin Ladin
unit chief found out about Clarke's call, he questioned CIA officials, who
denied having given such a clearance.
Imagery confirmed that less than a
week after Clarke's phone call the camp was hurriedly dismantled, and the site
was deserted.
CIA officers, including Deputy Director for Operations
Pavitt, were irate."Mike" thought the dismantling of the camp erased a possi-
ble site for targeting Bin Ladin.
The United Arab Emirates was becoming both a valued counterterrorism
ally of the United States and a persistent counterterrorism problem. From 1999
through early 2001, the United States, and President Clinton personally, pressed
the UAE, one of the Taliban's only travel and financial outlets to the outside
world, to break off its ties and enforce sanctions, especially those relating to
flights to and from Afghanistan.
These efforts achieved little before 9/11.
In July 1999, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hamdan bin Zayid
threatened to break relations with the Taliban over Bin Ladin.
The Taliban
did not take him seriously, however. Bin Zayid later told an American diplo-
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mat that the UAE valued its relations with the Taliban because the Afghan rad-
icals offered a counterbalance to "Iranian dangers" in the region, but he also
noted that the UAE did not want to upset the United States.
Looking for New Partners
Although not all CIA officers had lost faith in the tribals' capabilities--many
judged them to be good reporters--few believed they would carry out an
ambush of Bin Ladin.The chief of the Counterterrorist Center compared rely-
ing on the tribals to playing the lottery.
He and his associates, supported by
Clarke, pressed for developing a partnership with the Northern Alliance, even
though doing so might bring the United States squarely behind one side in
Afghanistan's long-running civil war.
The Northern Alliance was dominated by Tajiks and drew its strength
mainly from the northern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. In contrast,Taliban
members came principally from Afghanistan's most numerous ethnic group, the
Pashtuns, who are concentrated in the southern part of the country, extending
into the North-West Frontier and Baluchistan provinces of Pakistan.
Because of the Taliban's behavior and its association with Pakistan, the
Northern Alliance had been able at various times to obtain assistance from
Russia, Iran, and India.The alliance's leader was Afghanistan's most renowned
military commander,Ahmed Shah Massoud. Reflective and charismatic, he had
been one of the true heroes of the war against the Soviets. But his bands had
been charged with more than one massacre, and the Northern Alliance was
widely thought to finance itself in part through trade in heroin. Nor had Mas-
soud shown much aptitude for governing except as a ruthless warlord. Never-
theless, Tenet told us Massoud seemed the most interesting possible new ally
against Bin Ladin.
In February 1999,Tenet sought President Clinton's authorization to enlist
Massoud and his forces as partners. In response to this request, the President
signed the Memorandum of Notification whose language he personally
altered.Tenet says he saw no significance in the President's changes. So far as
he was concerned, it was the language of August 1998, expressing a preference
for capture but accepting the possibility that Bin Ladin could not be brought
out alive."We were plowing the same ground,"Tenet said.
CIA officers described Massoud's reaction when he heard that the United
States wanted him to capture and not kill Bin Ladin. One characterized Mas-
soud's body language as "a wince." Schroen recalled Massoud's response as "You
guys are crazy--you haven't changed a bit." In Schroen's opinion, the capture
proviso inhibited Massoud and his forces from going after Bin Ladin but did
not completely stop them.
The idea, however, was a long shot. Bin Ladin's
usual base of activity was near Kandahar, far from the front lines of Taliban oper-
ations against the Northern Alliance.
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 139
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Kandahar, May 1999
It was in Kandahar that perhaps the last, and most likely the best, opportunity
arose for targeting Bin Ladin with cruise missiles before 9/11. In May 1999,
CIA assets in Afghanistan reported on Bin Ladin's location in and around Kan-
dahar over the course of five days and nights.The reporting was very detailed
and came from several sources. If this intelligence was not "actionable,"
working-level officials said at the time and today, it was hard for them to imag-
ine how any intelligence on Bin Ladin in Afghanistan would meet the stan-
dard. Communications were good, and the cruise missiles were ready."This was
in our strike zone," a senior military officer said. "It was a fat pitch, a home
run." He expected the missiles to fly.When the decision came back that they
should stand down, not shoot, the officer said, "we all just slumped." He told
us he knew of no one at the Pentagon or the CIA who thought it was a bad
gamble. Bin Ladin "should have been a dead man" that night, he said.
Working-level CIA officials agreed. While there was a conflicting intelli-
gence report about Bin Ladin's whereabouts, the experts discounted it. At the
time, CIA working-level officials were told by their managers that the strikes
were not ordered because the military doubted the intelligence and worried
about collateral damage. Replying to a frustrated colleague in the field, the Bin
Ladin unit chief wrote:"having a chance to get [Bin Ladin] three times in 36
hours and foregoing the chance each time has made me a bit angry. . . . [T]he
DCI finds himself alone at the table, with the other princip[als] basically say-
ing `we'll go along with your decision Mr. Director,' and implicitly saying that
the Agency will hang alone if the attack doesn't get Bin Ladin."
But the mil-
itary officer quoted earlier recalled that the Pentagon had been willing to act.
He told us that Clarke informed him and others that Tenet assessed the chance
of the intelligence being accurate as 50­50. This officer believed that Tenet's
assessment was the key to the decision.
Tenet told us he does not remember any details about this episode, except
that the intelligence came from a single uncorroborated source and that there
was a risk of collateral damage. The story is further complicated by Tenet's
absence from the critical principals meeting on this strike (he was apparently
out of town); his deputy, John Gordon, was representing the CIA. Gordon
recalled having presented the intelligence in a positive light, with appropriate
caveats, but stating that this intelligence was about as good as it could get.
Berger remembered only that in all such cases, the call had been Tenet's.
Berger felt sure that Tenet was eager to get Bin Ladin. In his view,Tenet did
his job responsibly."George would call and say,`We just don't have it,'" Berger
The decision not to strike in May 1999 may now seem hard to understand.
In fairness, we note two points: First, in December 1998, the principals' wari-
ness about ordering a strike appears to have been vindicated: Bin Ladin left his
room unexpectedly, and if a strike had been ordered he would not have been
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 140
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hit. Second, the administration, and the CIA in particular, was in the midst of
intense scrutiny and criticism in May 1999 because faulty intelligence had just
led the United States to mistakenly bomb the Chinese embassy in Belgrade
during the NATO war against Serbia. This episode may have made officials
more cautious than might otherwise have been the case.
From May 1999 until September 2001, policymakers did not again actively
consider a missile strike against Bin Ladin.
The principals did give some fur-
ther consideration in 1999 to more general strikes, reviving Clarke's "Delenda"
notion of hitting camps and infrastructure to disrupt al Qaeda's organization.
In the first months of 1999, the Joint Staff had developed broader target lists to
undertake a "focused campaign" against the infrastructure of Bin Ladin's net-
work and to hit Taliban government sites as well. General Shelton told us that
the Taliban targets were "easier" to hit and more substantial.
Part of the context for considering broader strikes in the summer of 1999
was renewed worry about Bin Ladin's ambitions to acquire weapons of mass
destruction. In May and June, the U.S. government received a flurry of omi-
nous reports, including more information about chemical weapons training or
development at the Derunta camp and possible attempts to amass nuclear mate-
rial at Herat.
By late June, U.S. and other intelligence services had concluded that al
Qaeda was in pre-attack mode, perhaps again involving Abu Hafs the Mauri-
tanian. On June 25, at Clarke's request, Berger convened the Small Group in
his office to discuss the alert, Bin Ladin's WMD programs, and his location.
"Should we pre-empt by attacking UBL facilities?" Clarke urged Berger to ask
his colleagues.
In his handwritten notes on the meeting paper, Berger jotted down the pres-
ence of 7 to 11 families in the Tarnak Farms facility, which could mean 60­65
casualties. Berger noted the possible "slight impact" on Bin Ladin and added,
"if he responds, we're blamed."
The NSC staff raised the option of waiting
until after a terrorist attack, and then retaliating, including possible strikes on
the Taliban. But Clarke observed that Bin Ladin would probably empty his
camps after an attack.
The military route seemed to have reached a dead end. In December 1999,
Clarke urged Berger to ask the principals to ask themselves: "Why have there
been no real options lately for direct US military action?"
There are no notes
recording whether the question was discussed or, if it was, how it was answered.
Reports of possible attacks by Bin Ladin kept coming in throughout 1999.
They included a threat to blow up the FBI building in Washington, D.C. In
September, the CSG reviewed a possible threat to a flight out of Los Angeles
or New York.
These warnings came amid dozens of others that flooded in.
With military and diplomatic options practically exhausted by the sum-
mer of 1999, the U.S. government seemed to be back where it had been in
the summer of 1998--relying on the CIA to find some other option. That
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 141
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picture also seemed discouraging. Several disruptions and renditions aimed
against the broader al Qaeda network had succeeded.
But covert action
efforts in Afghanistan had not been fruitful.
In mid-1999, new leaders arrived at the Counterterrorist Center and the
Bin Ladin unit. The new director of CTC, replacing "Jeff," was Cofer Black.
The new head of the section that included the Bin Ladin unit was "Richard."
Black, "Richard," and their colleagues began working on a new operational
strategy for attacking al Qaeda; their starting point was to get better intelli-
gence, relying more on the CIA's own sources and less on the tribals.
In July 1999, President Clinton authorized the CIA to work with several
governments to capture Bin Ladin, and extended the scope of efforts to Bin
Ladin's principal lieutenants.The President reportedly also authorized a covert
action under carefully limited circumstances which, if successful, would have
resulted in Bin Ladin's death.
Attorney General Reno again expressed con-
cerns on policy grounds. She was worried about the danger of retaliation.The
CIA also developed the short-lived effort to work with a Pakistani team that
we discussed earlier, and an initiative to work with Uzbekistan.The Uzbeks
needed basic equipment and training. No action could be expected before
March 2000, at the earliest.
In fall 1999, DCI Tenet unveiled the CIA's new Bin Ladin strategy. It was
called, simply,"the Plan."The Plan proposed continuing disruption and rendi-
tion operations worldwide. It announced a program for hiring and training bet-
ter officers with counterterrorism skills, recruiting more assets, and trying to
penetrate al Qaeda's ranks. The Plan aimed to close gaps in technical intelli-
gence collection (signal and imagery) as well. In addition, the CIA would
increase contacts with the Northern Alliance rebels fighting the Taliban.
With a new operational strategy, the CIA evaluated its capture options. None
scored high marks.The CIA had no confidence in the Pakistani effort. In the
event that Bin Ladin traveled to the Kandahar region in southern Afghanistan,
the tribal network there was unlikely to attack a heavily guarded Bin Ladin; the
Counterterrorist Center rated the chance of success at less than 10 percent.To
the northwest, the Uzbeks might be ready for a cross-border sortie in six
months; their chance of success was also rated at less than 10 percent.
In the northeast were Massoud's Northern Alliance forces--perhaps the
CIA's best option. In late October, a group of officers from the Counterter-
rorist Center flew into the Panjshir Valley to meet up with Massoud, a haz-
ardous journey in rickety helicopters that would be repeated several times in
the future. Massoud appeared committed to helping the United States collect
intelligence on Bin Ladin's activities and whereabouts and agreed to try to cap-
ture him if the opportunity arose. The Bin Ladin unit was satisfied that its
reporting on Bin Ladin would now have a second source. But it also knew that
Massoud would act against Bin Ladin only if his own interests and those of the
Final1-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 142
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United States intersected. By early December, the CIA rated this possibility at
less than 15 percent.
Finally, the CIA considered the possibility of putting U.S. personnel on the
ground in Afghanistan.The CIA had been discussing this option with Special
Operations Command and found enthusiasm on the working level but reluc-
tance at higher levels. CIA saw a 95 percent chance of Special Operations
Command forces capturing Bin Ladin if deployed--but less than a 5 percent
chance of such a deployment. Sending CIA officers into Afghanistan was to be
considered "if the gain clearly outweighs the risk"--but at this time no such
gains presented themselves to warrant the risk.
As mentioned earlier, such a protracted deployment of U.S. Special Opera-
tions Forces into Afghanistan, perhaps as part of a team joined to a deployment
of the CIA's own officers, would have required a major policy initiative (prob-
ably combined with efforts to secure the support of at least one or two neigh-
boring countries) to make a long-term commitment, establish a durable
presence on the ground, and be prepared to accept the associated risks and
costs. Such a military plan was never developed for interagency consideration
before 9/11.As 1999 came to a close, the CIA had a new strategic plan in place
for capturing Bin Ladin, but no option was rated as having more than a 15 per-
cent chance of achieving that objective.
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Final Appen.4pp 7/17/04 4:21 PM Page 448
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By early 1999, al Qaeda was already a potent adversary of the United States.
Bin Ladin and his chief of operations, Abu Hafs al Masri, also known as
Mohammed Atef, occupied undisputed leadership positions atop al Qaeda's
organizational structure. Within this structure, al Qaeda's worldwide terrorist
operations relied heavily on the ideas and work of enterprising and strong-
willed field commanders who enjoyed considerable autonomy.To understand
how the organization actually worked and to introduce the origins of the 9/11
plot, we briefly examine three of these subordinate commanders: Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed (KSM), Riduan Isamuddin (better known as Hambali), and Abd
al Rahim al Nashiri. We will devote the most attention to Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed, the chief manager of the "planes operation."
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
No one exemplifies the model of the terrorist entrepreneur more clearly than
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks. KSM
followed a rather tortuous path to his eventual membership in al Qaeda.
Highly educated and equally comfortable in a government office or a terror-
ist safehouse, KSM applied his imagination, technical aptitude, and managerial
skills to hatching and planning an extraordinary array of terrorist schemes.
These ideas included conventional car bombing, political assassination, aircraft
bombing, hijacking, reservoir poisoning, and, ultimately, the use of aircraft as
missiles guided by suicide operatives.
Like his nephew Ramzi Yousef (three years KSM's junior), KSM grew up
in Kuwait but traces his ethnic lineage to the Baluchistan region straddling Iran
and Pakistan. Raised in a religious family, KSM claims to have joined the Mus-
lim Brotherhood at age 16 and to have become enamored of violent jihad at
youth camps in the desert. In 1983, following his graduation from secondary
Final 5-7.5pp 7/17/04 11:46 AM Page 145
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school, KSM left Kuwait to enroll at Chowan College, a small Baptist school
in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.After a semester at Chowan, KSM transferred
to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro,
which he attended with Yousef 's brother, another future al Qaeda member.
KSM earned a degree in mechanical engineering in December 1986.
Although he apparently did not attract attention for extreme Islamist beliefs
or activities while in the United States, KSM plunged into the anti-Soviet
Afghan jihad soon after graduating from college.Visiting Pakistan for the first
time in early 1987, he traveled to Peshawar, where his brother Zahid introduced
him to the famous Afghan mujahid Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, head of the Hizbul-
Ittihad El-Islami (Islamic Union Party). Sayyaf became KSM's mentor and pro-
vided KSM with military training at Sayyaf 's Sada camp. KSM claims he then
fought the Soviets and remained at the front for three months before being
summoned to perform administrative duties for Abdullah Azzam. KSM next
took a job working for an electronics firm that catered to the communications
needs of Afghan groups, where he learned about drills used to excavate caves
in Afghanistan.
Between 1988 and 1992, KSM helped run a nongovernmental organization
Detainee Interrogation Reports
Chapters 5 and 7 rely heavily on information obtained from captured al
Qaeda members. A number of these "detainees" have firsthand knowl-
edge of the 9/11 plot.
Assessing the truth of statements by these witnesses--sworn enemies
of the United States--is challenging. Our access to them has been
limited to the review of intelligence reports based on communications
received from the locations where the actual interrogations take place.
We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no con-
trol over whether, when, or how questions of particular interest would
be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we
could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambigui-
ties in the reporting.We were told that our requests might disrupt the
sensitive interrogation process.
We have nonetheless decided to include information from captured
9/11 conspirators and al Qaeda members in our report.We have evalu-
ated their statements carefully and have attempted to corroborate them
with documents and statements of others. In this report, we indicate
where such statements provide the foundation for our narrative.We have
been authorized to identify by name only ten detainees whose custody
has been confirmed officially by the U.S. government.
Final 5-7.5pp 7/17/04 11:46 AM Page 146
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(NGO) in Peshawar and Jalalabad; sponsored by Sayyaf, it was designed to aid
young Afghan mujahideen. In 1992, KSM spent some time fighting alongside
the mujahideen in Bosnia and supporting that effort with financial donations.
After returning briefly to Pakistan, he moved his family to Qatar at the sug-
gestion of the former minister of Islamic affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Abdallah bin
Khalid bin Hamad al Thani. KSM took a position in Qatar as project engineer
with the Qatari Ministry of Electricity and Water. Although he engaged in
extensive international travel during his tenure at the ministry--much of it in
furtherance of terrorist activity--KSM would hold his position there until early
1996, when he fled to Pakistan to avoid capture by U.S. authorities.
KSM first came to the attention of U.S. law enforcement as a result of his
cameo role in the first World Trade Center bombing. According to KSM, he
learned of Ramzi Yousef 's intention to launch an attack inside the United States
in 1991 or 1992, when Yousef was receiving explosives training in Afghanistan.
During the fall of 1992, while Yousef was building the bomb he would use in
that attack, KSM and Yousef had numerous telephone conversations during
which Yousef discussed his progress and sought additional funding. On
November 3, 1992, KSM wired $660 from Qatar to the bank account of
Yousef 's co-conspirator, Mohammed Salameh. KSM does not appear to have
contributed any more substantially to this operation.
Yousef 's instant notoriety as the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Cen-
ter bombing inspired KSM to become involved in planning attacks against the
United States. By his own account, KSM's animus toward the United States
stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his vio-
lent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel. In 1994, KSM
accompanied Yousef to the Philippines, and the two of them began planning
what is now known as the Manila air or "Bojinka" plot--the intended bomb-
ing of 12 U.S. commercial jumbo jets over the Pacific during a two-day span.
This marked the first time KSM took part in the actual planning of a terrorist
operation.While sharing an apartment in Manila during the summer of 1994,
he and Yousef acquired chemicals and other materials necessary to construct
bombs and timers.They also cased target flights to Hong Kong and Seoul that
would have onward legs to the United States. During this same period, KSM
and Yousef also developed plans to assassinate President Clinton during his
November 1994 trip to Manila, and to bomb U.S.-bound cargo carriers by
smuggling jackets containing nitrocellulose on board.
KSM left the Philippines in September 1994 and met up with Yousef in
Karachi following their casing flights. There they enlisted Wali Khan Amin
Shah, also known as Usama Asmurai, in the Manila air plot. During the fall of
1994,Yousef returned to Manila and successfully tested the digital watch timer
he had invented, bombing a movie theater and a Philippine Airlines flight en
route to Tokyo.The plot unraveled after the Philippine authorities discovered
Yousef 's bomb-making operation in Manila; but by that time, KSM was safely
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back at his government job in Qatar.Yousef attempted to follow through on
the cargo carriers plan, but he was arrested in Islamabad by Pakistani authori-
ties on February 7, 1995, after an accomplice turned him in.
KSM continued to travel among the worldwide jihadist community after
Yousef 's arrest, visiting the Sudan,Yemen, Malaysia, and Brazil in 1995. No clear
evidence connects him to terrorist activities in those locations.While in Sudan,
he reportedly failed in his attempt to meet with Bin Ladin. But KSM did see
Atef, who gave him a contact in Brazil. In January 1996, well aware that U.S.
authorities were chasing him, he left Qatar for good and fled to Afghanistan,
where he renewed his relationship with Rasul Sayyaf.
Just as KSM was reestablishing himself in Afghanistan in mid-1996, Bin
Ladin and his colleagues were also completing their migration from Sudan.
Through Atef, KSM arranged a meeting with Bin Ladin in Tora Bora, a moun-
tainous redoubt from the Afghan war days.At the meeting, KSM presented the
al Qaeda leader with a menu of ideas for terrorist operations. According to
KSM, this meeting was the first time he had seen Bin Ladin since 1989.
Although they had fought together in 1987, Bin Ladin and KSM did not yet
enjoy an especially close working relationship. Indeed, KSM has acknowledged
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 plot, at the time of his
capture in 2003
Final 5-7.5pp 7/17/04 11:46 AM Page 148
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that Bin Ladin likely agreed to meet with him because of the renown of his
At the meeting, KSM briefed Bin Ladin and Atef on the first World Trade
Center bombing, the Manila air plot, the cargo carriers plan, and other activi-
ties pursued by KSM and his colleagues in the Philippines. KSM also presented
a proposal for an operation that would involve training pilots who would crash
planes into buildings in the United States. This proposal eventually would
become the 9/11 operation.
KSM knew that the successful staging of such an attack would require per-
sonnel, money, and logistical support that only an extensive and well-funded
organization like al Qaeda could provide. He thought the operation might
appeal to Bin Ladin, who had a long record of denouncing the United States.
From KSM's perspective, Bin Ladin was in the process of consolidating his
new position in Afghanistan while hearing out others' ideas, and had not yet
settled on an agenda for future anti-U.S. operations.At the meeting, Bin Ladin
listened to KSM's ideas without much comment, but did ask KSM formally to
join al Qaeda and move his family to Afghanistan.
KSM declined. He preferred to remain independent and retain the option
of working with other mujahideen groups still operating in Afghanistan,
including the group led by his old mentor, Sayyaf. Sayyaf was close to Ahmed
Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance. Therefore working with
him might be a problem for KSM because Bin Ladin was building ties to the
rival Taliban.
After meeting with Bin Ladin, KSM says he journeyed onward to India,
Indonesia, and Malaysia, where he met with Jemaah Islamiah's Hambali. Ham-
bali was an Indonesian veteran of the Afghan war looking to expand the jihad
into Southeast Asia. In Iran, KSM rejoined his family and arranged to move
them to Karachi; he claims to have relocated by January 1997.
After settling his family in Karachi, KSM tried to join the mujahid leader Ibn
al Khattab in Chechnya. Unable to travel through Azerbaijan, KSM returned to
Karachi and then to Afghanistan to renew contacts with Bin Ladin and his col-
leagues.Though KSM may not have been a member of al Qaeda at this time, he
admits traveling frequently between Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1997 and the first
half of 1998, visiting Bin Ladin and cultivating relationships with his lieutenants,
Atef and Sayf al Adl, by assisting them with computer and media projects.
According to KSM, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi
and Dar es Salaam marked a watershed in the evolution of the 9/11 plot.
KSM claims these bombings convinced him that Bin Ladin was truly com-
mitted to attacking the United States. He continued to make himself useful,
collecting news articles and helping other al Qaeda members with their out-
dated computer equipment. Bin Ladin, apparently at Atef 's urging, finally
decided to give KSM the green light for the 9/11 operation sometime in late
1998 or early 1999.
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KSM then accepted Bin Ladin's standing invitation to move to Kandahar
and work directly with al Qaeda. In addition to supervising the planning and
preparations for the 9/11 operation, KSM worked with and eventually led al
Qaeda's media committee. But KSM states he refused to swear a formal oath
of allegiance to Bin Ladin, thereby retaining a last vestige of his cherished
At this point, late 1998 to early 1999, planning for the 9/11 operation began
in earnest.Yet while the 9/11 project occupied the bulk of KSM's attention,
he continued to consider other possibilities for terrorist attacks. For example,
he sent al Qaeda operative Issa al Britani to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to learn
about the jihad in Southeast Asia from Hambali.Thereafter, KSM claims, at Bin
Ladin's direction in early 2001, he sent Britani to the United States to case
potential economic and "Jewish" targets in New York City. Furthermore, dur-
ing the summer of 2001, KSM approached Bin Ladin with the idea of recruit-
ing a Saudi Arabian air force pilot to commandeer a Saudi fighter jet and attack
the Israeli city of Eilat. Bin Ladin reportedly liked this proposal, but he
instructed KSM to concentrate on the 9/11 operation first. Similarly, KSM's
proposals to Atef around this same time for attacks in Thailand, Singapore,
Indonesia, and the Maldives were never executed, although Hambali's Jemaah
Islamiah operatives did some casing of possible targets.
KSM appears to have been popular among the al Qaeda rank and file. He
was reportedly regarded as an effective leader, especially after the 9/11 attacks.
Co-workers describe him as an intelligent, efficient, and even-tempered man-
ager who approached his projects with a single-minded dedication that he
expected his colleagues to share. Al Qaeda associate Abu Zubaydah has
expressed more qualified admiration for KSM's innate creativity, emphasiz-
ing instead his ability to incorporate the improvements suggested by others.
Nashiri has been similarly measured, observing that although KSM floated
many general ideas for attacks, he rarely conceived a specific operation him-
Perhaps these estimates reflect a touch of jealousy; in any case, KSM
was plainly a capable coordinator, having had years to hone his skills and build
Al Qaeda's success in fostering terrorism in Southeast Asia stems largely from
its close relationship with Jemaah Islamiah (JI). In that relationship, Hambali
became the key coordinator. Born and educated in Indonesia, Hambali moved
to Malaysia in the early 1980s to find work.There he claims to have become
a follower of the Islamist extremist teachings of various clerics, including one
named Abdullah Sungkar. Sungkar first inspired Hambali to share the vision of
establishing a radical Islamist regime in Southeast Asia, then furthered Ham-
bali's instruction in jihad by sending him to Afghanistan in 1986.After under-
going training at Rasul Sayyaf 's Sada camp (where KSM would later train),
Hambali fought against the Soviets; he eventually returned to Malaysia after 18
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months in Afghanistan. By 1998, Hambali would assume responsibility for the
Malaysia/Singapore region within Sungkar's newly formed terrorist organiza-
tion, the JI.
Also by 1998, Sungkar and JI spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir had accepted
Bin Ladin's offer to ally JI with al Qaeda in waging war against Christians and
Hambali met with KSM in Karachi to arrange for JI members to receive
training in Afghanistan at al Qaeda's camps. In addition to his close working
relationship with KSM, Hambali soon began dealing with Atef as well. Al
Qaeda began funding JI's increasingly ambitious terrorist plans, which Atef and
KSM sought to expand. Under this arrangement, JI would perform the nec-
essary casing activities and locate bomb-making materials and other supplies.
Al Qaeda would underwrite operations, provide bomb-making expertise, and
deliver suicide operatives.
The al Qaeda­JI partnership yielded a number of proposals that would marry
al Qaeda's financial and technical strengths with JI's access to materials and local
operatives. Here, Hambali played the critical role of coordinator, as he distrib-
uted al Qaeda funds earmarked for the joint operations. In one especially notable
example,Atef turned to Hambali when al Qaeda needed a scientist to take over
its biological weapons program. Hambali obliged by introducing a U.S.-
educated JI member,Yazid Sufaat, to Ayman al Zawahiri in Kandahar. In 2001,
Sufaat would spend several months attempting to cultivate anthrax for al Qaeda
in a laboratory he helped set up near the Kandahar airport.
Hambali did not originally orient JI's operations toward attacking the
United States, but his involvement with al Qaeda appears to have inspired him
to pursue American targets. KSM, in his post-capture interrogations, has taken
credit for this shift, claiming to have urged the JI operations chief to concen-
trate on attacks designed to hurt the U.S. economy.
Hambali's newfound
interest in striking against the United States manifested itself in a spate of ter-
rorist plans. Fortunately, none came to fruition.
In addition to staging actual terrorist attacks in partnership with
al Qaeda, Hambali and JI assisted al Qaeda operatives passing through Kuala
Lumpur. One important occasion was in December 1999­January 2000. Ham-
bali accommodated KSM's requests to help several veterans whom KSM had
just finished training in Karachi.They included Tawfiq bin Attash, also known
as Khallad, who later would help bomb the USS Cole, and future 9/11 hijack-
ers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar. Hambali arranged lodging for them
and helped them purchase airline tickets for their onward travel. Later that year,
Hambali and his crew would provide accommodations and other assistance
(including information on flight schools and help in acquiring ammonium
nitrate) for Zacarias Moussaoui, an al Qaeda operative sent to Malaysia by Atef
and KSM.
Hambali used Bin Ladin's Afghan facilities as a training ground for JI
recruits.Though he had a close relationship with Atef and KSM, he maintained
JI's institutional independence from al Qaeda. Hambali insists that he did not
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discuss operations with Bin Ladin or swear allegiance to him, having already
given such a pledge of loyalty to Bashir, Sungkar's successor as JI leader.Thus,
like any powerful bureaucrat defending his domain, Hambali objected when al
Qaeda leadership tried to assign JI members to terrorist projects without noti-
fying him.
Abd al Rahim al Nashiri
KSM and Hambali both decided to join forces with al Qaeda because their
terrorist aspirations required the money and manpower that only a robust
organization like al Qaeda could supply. On the other hand, Abd al Rahim al
Nashiri--the mastermind of the Cole bombing and the eventual head of al
Qaeda operations in the Arabian Peninsula--appears to have originally been
recruited to his career as a terrorist by Bin Ladin himself.
Having already participated in the Afghan jihad, Nashiri accompanied a
group of some 30 mujahideen in pursuit of jihad in Tajikistan in 1996.When
serious fighting failed to materialize, the group traveled to Jalalabad and
encountered Bin Ladin, who had recently returned from Sudan. Bin Ladin
addressed them at length, urging the group to join him in a "jihad against the
Americans." Although all were urged to swear loyalty to Bin Ladin, many,
including Nashiri, found the notion distasteful and refused. After several days
of indoctrination that included a barrage of news clippings and television doc-
umentaries, Nashiri left Afghanistan, first returning to his native Saudi Arabia
and then visiting his home in Yemen.There, he says, the idea for his first ter-
rorist operation took shape as he noticed many U.S. and other foreign ships
plying the waters along the southwest coast of Yemen.
Nashiri returned to Afghanistan, probably in 1997, primarily to check on rel-
atives fighting there and also to learn about the Taliban. He again encountered
Bin Ladin, still recruiting for "the coming battle with the United States." Nashiri
pursued a more conventional military jihad, joining the Taliban forces in their
fight against Ahmed Massoud's Northern Alliance and shuttling back and forth
between the front and Kandahar, where he would see Bin Ladin and meet with
other mujahideen. During this period, Nashiri also led a plot to smuggle four
Russian-made antitank missiles into Saudi Arabia from Yemen in early 1998 and
helped an embassy bombing operative obtain a Yemeni passport.
At some point, Nashiri joined al Qaeda. His cousin, Jihad Mohammad Ali
al Makki, also known as Azzam, was a suicide bomber for the Nairobi attack.
Nashiri traveled between Yemen and Afghanistan. In late 1998, Nashiri pro-
posed mounting an attack against a U.S. vessel. Bin Ladin approved. He directed
Nashiri to start the planning and send operatives to Yemen, and he later pro-
vided money.
Nashiri reported directly to Bin Ladin, the only other person who, accord-
ing to Nashiri, knew all the details of the operation.When Nashiri had diffi-
culty finding U.S. naval vessels to attack along the western coast of Yemen, Bin
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Ladin reportedly instructed him to case the Port of Aden, on the southern
coast, instead.
The eventual result was an attempted attack on the USS The
Sullivans in January 2000 and the successful attack, in October 2000, on the
USS Cole.
Nashiri's success brought him instant status within al Qaeda. He later was
recognized as the chief of al Qaeda operations in and around the Arabian
Peninsula. While Nashiri continued to consult Bin Ladin on the planning of
subsequent terrorist projects, he retained discretion in selecting operatives and
devising attacks. In the two years between the Cole bombing and Nashiri's cap-
ture, he would supervise several more proposed operations for al Qaeda.The
October 6, 2002, bombing of the French tanker Limburg in the Gulf of Aden
also was Nashiri's handiwork. Although Bin Ladin urged Nashiri to continue
plotting strikes against U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf, Nashiri maintains that
he actually delayed one of these projects because of security concerns.
concerns, it seems, were well placed, as Nashiri's November 2002 capture in
the United Arab Emirates finally ended his career as a terrorist.
According to KSM, he started to think about attacking the United States after
Yousef returned to Pakistan following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Like Yousef, KSM reasoned he could best influence U.S. policy by targeting the
country's economy. KSM and Yousef reportedly brainstormed together about
what drove the U.S. economy. New York, which KSM considered the eco-
nomic capital of the United States, therefore became the primary target. For
similar reasons, California also became a target for KSM.
KSM claims that the earlier bombing of the World Trade Center taught him
that bombs and explosives could be problematic, and that he needed to grad-
uate to a more novel form of attack. He maintains that he and Yousef began
thinking about using aircraft as weapons while working on the Manila
air/Bojinka plot, and speculated about striking the World Trade Center and
CIA headquarters as early as 1995.
Certainly KSM was not alone in contemplating new kinds of terrorist oper-
ations.A study reportedly conducted by Atef, while he and Bin Ladin were still
in Sudan, concluded that traditional terrorist hijacking operations did not fit
the needs of al Qaeda, because such hijackings were used to negotiate the
release of prisoners rather than to inflict mass casualties. The study is said to
have considered the feasibility of hijacking planes and blowing them up in
flight, paralleling the Bojinka concept. Such a study, if it actually existed, yields
significant insight into the thinking of al Qaeda's leaders: (1) they rejected
hijackings aimed at gaining the release of imprisoned comrades as too com-
plex, because al Qaeda had no friendly countries in which to land a plane and
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then negotiate; (2) they considered the bombing of commercial flights in
midair--as carried out against Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland--
a promising means to inflict massive casualties; and (3) they did not yet con-
sider using hijacked aircraft as weapons against other targets.
KSM has insisted to his interrogators that he always contemplated hijack-
ing and crashing large commercial aircraft. Indeed, KSM describes a grandiose
original plan: a total of ten aircraft to be hijacked, nine of which would crash
into targets on both coasts--they included those eventually hit on September
11 plus CIA and FBI headquarters, nuclear power plants, and the tallest build-
ings in California and the state of Washington. KSM himself was to land the
tenth plane at a U.S. airport and, after killing all adult male passengers on board
and alerting the media, deliver a speech excoriating U.S. support for Israel, the
Philippines, and repressive governments in the Arab world. Beyond KSM's
rationalizations about targeting the U.S. economy, this vision gives a better
glimpse of his true ambitions. This is theater, a spectacle of destruction with
KSM as the self-cast star--the superterrorist.
KSM concedes that this proposal received a lukewarm response from al
Qaeda leaders skeptical of its scale and complexity.Although Bin Ladin listened
to KSM's proposal, he was not convinced that it was practical. As mentioned
earlier, Bin Ladin was receiving numerous ideas for potential operations--
KSM's proposal to attack U.S. targets with commercial airplanes was only one
of many.
KSM presents himself as an entrepreneur seeking venture capital and peo-
ple. He simply wanted al Qaeda to supply the money and operatives needed
for the attack while retaining his independence. It is easy to question such a
statement. Money is one thing; supplying a cadre of trained operatives willing
to die is much more.Thus, although KSM contends he would have been just
as likely to consider working with any comparable terrorist organization, he
gives no indication of what other groups he thought could supply such excep-
tional commodities.
KSM acknowledges formally joining al Qaeda, in late 1998 or 1999, and
states that soon afterward, Bin Ladin also made the decision to support his pro-
posal to attack the United States using commercial airplanes as weapons.
Though KSM speculates about how Bin Ladin came to share his preoccupa-
tion with attacking America, Bin Ladin in fact had long been an opponent of
the United States. KSM thinks that Atef may have persuaded Bin Ladin to
approve this specific proposal.Atef 's role in the entire operation is unquestion-
ably very significant but tends to fade into the background, in part because Atef
himself is not available to describe it. He was killed in November 2001 by an
American air strike in Afghanistan.
Bin Ladin summoned KSM to Kandahar in March or April 1999 to tell him
that al Qaeda would support his proposal.The plot was now referred to within
al Qaeda as the "planes operation."
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The Plan Evolves
Bin Ladin reportedly discussed the planes operation with KSM and Atef in a
series of meetings in the spring of 1999 at the al Matar complex near Kanda-
har. KSM's original concept of using one of the hijacked planes to make a media
statement was scrapped, but Bin Ladin considered the basic idea feasible. Bin
Ladin, Atef, and KSM developed an initial list of targets. These included the
White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center.
According to KSM, Bin Ladin wanted to destroy the White House and the Pen-
tagon, KSM wanted to strike the World Trade Center, and all of them wanted
to hit the Capitol. No one else was involved in the initial selection of targets.
Bin Ladin also soon selected four individuals to serve as suicide operatives:
Khalid al Mihdhar, Nawaf al Hazmi, Khallad, and Abu Bara al Yemeni. During
the al Matar meetings, Bin Ladin told KSM that Mihdhar and Hazmi were so
eager to participate in an operation against the United States that they had
already obtained U.S. visas. KSM states that they had done so on their own after
the suicide of their friend Azzam (Nashiri's cousin) in carrying out the Nairobi
bombing. KSM had not met them. His only guidance from Bin Ladin was that
the two should eventually go to the United States for pilot training.
Hazmi and Mihdhar were Saudi nationals, born in Mecca. Like the others
in this initial group of selectees, they were already experienced mujahideen.
They had traveled together to fight in Bosnia in a group that journeyed to the
Balkans in 1995. By the time Hazmi and Mihdhar were assigned to the planes
operation in early 1999, they had visited Afghanistan on several occasions.
Khallad was another veteran mujahid, like much of his family. His father had
been expelled from Yemen because of his extremist views. Khallad had grown
up in Saudi Arabia, where his father knew Bin Ladin, Abdullah Azzam, and
Omar Abdel Rahman (the "Blind Sheikh"). Khallad departed for Afghanistan
in 1994 at the age of 15.Three years later, he lost his lower right leg in a bat-
tle with the Northern Alliance, a battle in which one of his brothers died.After
this experience, he pledged allegiance to Bin Ladin--whom he had first met
as a child in Jeddah--and volunteered to become a suicide operative.
When Khallad applied for a U.S. visa, however, his application was denied.
Earlier in 1999, Bin Ladin had sent Khallad to Yemen to help Nashiri obtain
explosives for the planned ship-bombing and to obtain a visa to visit the United
States, so that he could participate in an operation there. Khallad applied under
another name, using the cover story that he would be visiting a medical clinic
to obtain a new prosthesis for his leg. Another al Qaeda operative gave Khal-
lad the name of a person living in the United States whom Khallad could use
as a point of contact on a visa application. Khallad contacted this individual to
help him get an appointment at a U.S. clinic. While Khallad was waiting for
the letter from the clinic confirming the appointment, however, he was
arrested by Yemeni authorities.The arrest resulted from mistaken identity: Khal-
lad was driving the car of another conspirator in the ship-bombing plot who
was wanted by the Yemeni authorities.
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Khallad was released sometime during the summer of 1999, after his father
and Bin Ladin intervened on his behalf. Khallad learned later that the al Qaeda
leader, apparently concerned that Khallad might reveal Nashiri's operation
while under interrogation, had contacted a Yemeni official to demand Khal-
lad's release, suggesting that Bin Ladin would not confront the Yemenis if they
did not confront him. This account has been corroborated by others. Giving
up on acquiring a U.S. visa and concerned that the United States might learn
of his ties to al Qaeda, Khallad returned to Afghanistan.
Travel issues thus played a part in al Qaeda's operational planning from the
very start. During the spring and summer of 1999, KSM realized that Khallad
and Abu Bara, both of whom were Yemenis, would not be able to obtain U.S.
visas as easily as Saudi operatives like Mihdhar and Hazmi. Although Khallad
had been unable to acquire a U.S. visa, KSM still wanted him and Abu Bara, as
well as another Yemeni operative from Bin Ladin's security detail, to partici-
pate in the planes operation.Yet because individuals with Saudi passports could
travel much more easily than Yemeni, particularly to the United States, there
were fewer martyrdom opportunities for Yemenis.To overcome this problem,
KSM decided to split the planes operation into two components.
The first part of the planes operation--crashing hijacked aircraft into U.S.
targets--would remain as planned, with Mihdhar and Hazmi playing key roles.
The second part, however, would now embrace the idea of using suicide oper-
atives to blow up planes, a refinement of KSM's old Manila air plot.The oper-
atives would hijack U.S.-flagged commercial planes flying Pacific routes across
East Asia and destroy them in midair, possibly with shoe bombs, instead of fly-
ing them into targets. (An alternate scenario apparently involved flying planes
into U.S. targets in Japan, Singapore, or Korea.) This part of the operation has
been confirmed by Khallad, who said that they contemplated hijacking several
planes, probably originating in Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, or
Malaysia, and using Yemenis who would not need pilot training because they
would simply down the planes.All the planes hijacked in the United States and
East Asia were to be crashed or exploded at about the same time to maximize
the attack's psychological impact.
Training and Deployment to Kuala Lumpur
In the fall of 1999, the four operatives selected by Bin Ladin for the planes oper-
ation were chosen to attend an elite training course at al Qaeda's Mes Aynak
camp in Afghanistan. Bin Ladin personally selected the veteran fighters who
received this training, and several of them were destined for important opera-
tions. One example is Ibrahim al Thawar, or Nibras, who would participate in
the October 12, 2000, suicide attack on the USS Cole.According to KSM, this
training was not given specifically in preparation for the planes operation or
any other particular al Qaeda venture. Although KSM claims not to have been
involved with the training or to have met with the future 9/11 hijackers at Mes
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Aynak, he says he did visit the camp while traveling from Kandahar to Kabul
with Bin Ladin and others.
The Mes Aynak training camp was located in an abandoned Russian cop-
per mine near Kabul. The camp opened in 1999, after the United States had
destroyed the training camp near Khowst with cruise missiles in August 1998,
and before the Taliban granted al Qaeda permission to open the al Faruq camp
in Kandahar.Thus, for a brief period in 1999, Mes Aynak was the only al Qaeda
camp operating in Afghanistan. It offered a full range of instruction, including
an advanced commando course taught by senior al Qaeda member Sayf al Adl.
Bin Ladin paid particular attention to the 1999 training session.When Salah al
Din, the trainer for the session, complained about the number of trainees and
said that no more than 20 could be handled at once, Bin Ladin insisted that
everyone he had selected receive the training.
The special training session at Mes Aynak was rigorous and spared no
expense.The course focused on physical fitness, firearms, close quarters com-
bat, shooting from a motorcycle, and night operations. Although the subjects
taught differed little from those offered at other camps, the course placed
extraordinary physical and mental demands on its participants, who received
the best food and other amenities to enhance their strength and morale.
Upon completing the advanced training at Mes Aynak, Hazmi, Khallad, and
Abu Bara went to Karachi, Pakistan.There KSM instructed them on Western
culture and travel. Much of his activity in mid-1999 had revolved around the
collection of training and informational materials for the participants in the
planes operation. For instance, he collected Western aviation magazines; tele-
phone directories for American cities such as San Diego and Long Beach, Cal-
ifornia; brochures for schools; and airline timetables, and he conducted
Internet searches on U.S. flight schools. He also purchased flight simulator soft-
ware and a few movies depicting hijackings.To house his students, KSM rented
a safehouse in Karachi with money provided by Bin Ladin.
In early December 1999, Khallad and Abu Bara arrived in Karachi. Hazmi
joined them there a few days later. On his way to Karachi, Hazmi spent a night
in Quetta at a safehouse where, according to KSM, an Egyptian named
Mohamed Atta simultaneously stayed on his way to Afghanistan for jihad
Mihdhar did not attend the training in Karachi with the others. KSM says
that he never met with Mihdhar in 1999 but assumed that Bin Ladin and Atef
had briefed Mihdhar on the planes operation and had excused him from the
Karachi training.
The course in Karachi apparently lasted about one or two weeks.According
to KSM, he taught the three operatives basic English words and phrases. He
showed them how to read phone books,interpret airline timetables,use the Inter-
net, use code words in communications, make travel reservations, and rent an
apartment. Khallad adds that the training involved using flight simulator com-
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puter games, viewing movies that featured hijackings, and reading flight sched-
ules to determine which flights would be in the air at the same time in different
parts of the world.They used the game software to increase their familiarity with
aircraft models and functions, and to highlight gaps in cabin security.While in
Karachi, they also discussed how to case flights in Southeast Asia. KSM told them
to watch the cabin doors at takeoff and landing, to observe whether the captain
went to the lavatory during the flight, and to note whether the flight attendants
brought food into the cockpit. KSM, Khallad, and Hazmi also visited travel agen-
cies to learn the visa requirements for Asian countries.
The four trainees traveled to Kuala Lumpur: Khallad,Abu Bara, and Hazmi
came from Karachi; Mihdhar traveled from Yemen. As discussed in chapter 6,
U.S. intelligence would analyze communications associated with Mihdhar,
whom they identified during this travel, and Hazmi, whom they could have
identified but did not.
According to KSM, the four operatives were aware that they had volun-
teered for a suicide operation, either in the United States or in Asia.With dif-
ferent roles, they had different tasks. Hazmi and Mihdhar were sent to Kuala
Lumpur before proceeding to their final destination--the United States.
According to KSM, they were to use Yemeni documents to fly to Malaysia, then
proceed to the United States using their Saudi passports to conceal their prior
travels to and from Pakistan. KSM had doctored Hazmi's Saudi passport so it
would appear as if Hazmi had traveled to Kuala Lumpur from Saudi Arabia via
Dubai. Khallad and Abu Bara went to Kuala Lumpur to study airport security
and conduct casing flights.According to Khallad, he and Abu Bara departed for
Malaysia in mid-December 1999. Hazmi joined them about ten days later after
briefly returning to Afghanistan to attend to some passport issues.
Khallad had originally scheduled his trip in order to receive a new prosthe-
sis at a Kuala Lumpur clinic called Endolite, and Bin Ladin suggested that he
use the opportunity to case flights as well.According to Khallad, Malaysia was
an ideal destination because its government did not require citizens of Saudi
Arabia or other Gulf states to have a visa. Malaysian security was reputed to be
lax when it came to Islamist jihadists.Also, other mujahideen wounded in com-
bat had reportedly received treatment at the Endolite clinic and successfully
concealed the origins of their injuries. Khallad said he got the money for the
prosthesis from his father, Bin Ladin, and another al Qaeda colleague.
According to Khallad, when he and Abu Bara arrived in Kuala Lumpur they
contacted Hambali to let him know where they were staying, since he was to
be kept informed of al Qaeda activities in Southeast Asia. Hambali picked up
Khallad and Abu Bara and brought them to his home, enlisting the help of a
colleague who spoke better Arabic. Hambali then took them to the clinic.
On December 31, Khallad flew from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok; the next
day, he flew to Hong Kong aboard a U.S. airliner. He flew in first class, which
he realized was a mistake because this seating assignment on that flight did not
afford him a view of the cockpit. He claims to have done what he could to case
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the flight, testing security by carrying a box cutter in his toiletries kit onto the
flight to Hong Kong. Khallad returned to Bangkok the following day. At the
airport, the security officials searched his carry-on bag and even opened the toi-
letries kit, but just glanced at the contents and let him pass. On this flight, Khal-
lad waited until most of the first-class passengers were dozing, then got up and
removed the kit from his carry-on. None of the flight attendants took notice.
After completing his casing mission, Khallad returned to Kuala Lumpur.
Hazmi arrived in Kuala Lumpur soon thereafter and may even have stayed
briefly with Khallad and Abu Bara at Endolite. Mihdhar arrived on January 5,
probably one day after Hazmi. All four operatives stayed at the apartment of
Yazid Sufaat, the Malaysian JI member who made his home available at Ham-
bali's request. According to Khallad, he and Hazmi spoke about the possibility
of hijacking planes and crashing them or holding passengers as hostages, but
only speculatively. Khallad admits being aware at the time that Hazmi and
Mihdhar were involved in an operation involving planes in the United States
but denies knowing details of the plan.
While in Kuala Lumpur, Khallad wanted to go to Singapore to meet Nibras
and Fahd al Quso, two of the operatives in Nashiri's ship-bombing operation.
An attempt to execute that plan by attacking the USS The Sullivans had failed
just a few days earlier. Nibras and Quso were bringing Khallad money from
Yemen, but were stopped in Bangkok because they lacked visas to continue on
to Singapore. Also unable to enter Singapore, Khallad moved the meeting to
Bangkok. Hazmi and Mihdhar decided to go there as well, reportedly because
they thought it would enhance their cover as tourists to have passport stamps
from a popular tourist destination such as Thailand.With Hambali's help, the
three obtained tickets for a flight to Bangkok and left Kuala Lumpur together.
Abu Bara did not have a visa permitting him to return to Pakistan, so he trav-
eled to Yemen instead.
In Bangkok, Khallad took Hazmi and Mihdhar to one hotel, then went to
another hotel for his meeting on the maritime attack plan. Hazmi and Mihd-
har soon moved to that same hotel, but Khallad insists that the two sets of oper-
atives never met with each other or anyone else. After conferring with the
ship-bombing operatives, Khallad returned to Karachi and then to Kandahar,
where he reported on his casing mission to Bin Ladin.
Bin Ladin canceled the East Asia part of the planes operation in the spring
of 2000. He evidently decided it would be too difficult to coordinate this attack
with the operation in the United States. As for Hazmi and Mihdhar, they had
left Bangkok a few days before Khallad and arrived in Los Angeles on January
15, 2000.
Meanwhile, the next group of al Qaeda operatives destined for the planes
operation had just surfaced in Afghanistan. As Hazmi and Mihdhar were
deploying from Asia to the United States, al Qaeda's leadership was recruiting
and training four Western-educated men who had recently arrived in Kanda-
har.Though they hailed from four different countries--Egypt, the United Arab
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Emirates, Lebanon, and Yemen--they had formed a close-knit group as stu-
dents in Hamburg, Germany.The new recruits had come to Afghanistan aspir-
ing to wage jihad in Chechnya. But al Qaeda quickly recognized their
potential and enlisted them in its anti-U.S. jihad.
Although Bin Ladin,Atef, and KSM initially contemplated using established al
Qaeda members to execute the planes operation, the late 1999 arrival in Kan-
dahar of four aspiring jihadists from Germany suddenly presented a more
attractive alternative. The Hamburg group shared the anti-U.S. fervor of the
other candidates for the operation, but added the enormous advantages of flu-
ency in English and familiarity with life in the West, based on years that each
member of the group had spent living in Germany. Not surprisingly,
Mohamed Atta, Ramzi Binalshibh, Marwan al Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah would
all become key players in the 9/11 conspiracy.
Mohamed Atta
Mohamed Atta was born on September 1, 1968, in Kafr el Sheikh, Egypt, to a
middle-class family headed by his father, an attorney. After graduating from
Cairo University with a degree in architectural engineering in 1990, Atta
worked as an urban planner in Cairo for a couple of years. In the fall of 1991,
he asked a German family he had met in Cairo to help him continue his edu-
cation in Germany.They suggested he come to Hamburg and invited him to
live with them there, at least initially.After completing a course in German,Atta
traveled to Germany for the first time in July 1992. He resided briefly in
Stuttgart and then, in the fall of 1992, moved to Hamburg to live with his host
family. After enrolling at the University of Hamburg, he promptly transferred
into the city engineering and planning course at the Technical University of
Hamburg-Harburg, where he would remain registered as a student until the fall
of 1999. He appears to have applied himself fairly seriously to his studies (at least
in comparison to his jihadist friends) and actually received his degree shortly
before traveling to Afghanistan. In school, Atta came across as very intelligent
and reasonably pleasant, with an excellent command of the German language.
When Atta arrived in Germany, he appeared religious, but not fanatically
so. This would change, especially as his tendency to assert leadership became
increasingly pronounced.According to Binalshibh, as early as 1995 Atta sought
to organize a Muslim student association in Hamburg. In the fall of 1997, he
joined a working group at the Quds mosque in Hamburg, a group designed
to bridge the gap between Muslims and Christians.Atta proved a poor bridge,
however, because of his abrasive and increasingly dogmatic personality. But
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among those who shared his beliefs, Atta stood out as a decisionmaker. Atta's
friends during this period remember him as charismatic, intelligent, and per-
suasive, albeit intolerant of dissent.
In his interactions with other students, Atta voiced virulently anti-Semitic
and anti-American opinions, ranging from condemnations of what he
described as a global Jewish movement centered in New York City that sup-
posedly controlled the financial world and the media, to polemics against gov-
ernments of the Arab world.To him, Saddam Hussein was an American stooge
set up to give Washington an excuse to intervene in the Middle East.Within
his circle,Atta advocated violent jihad. He reportedly asked one individual close
to the group if he was "ready to fight for [his] belief " and dismissed him as too
weak for jihad when the person declined. On a visit home to Egypt in 1998,
Atta met one of his college friends. According to this friend, Atta
had changed a great deal, had grown a beard, and had "obviously adopted fun-
damentalism" by that time.
Ramzi Binalshibh
Ramzi Binalshibh was born on May 1,1972,in Ghayl Bawazir,Yemen.There does
not seem to be anything remarkable about his family or early background.A friend
who knew Binalshibh in Yemen remembers him as "religious, but not too reli-
gious." From 1987 to 1995, Binalshibh worked as a clerk for the International
Bank of Yemen. He first attempted to leave Yemen in 1995, when he applied for
a U.S. visa. After his application was rejected, he went to Germany and applied
for asylum under the name Ramzi Omar, claiming to be a Sudanese citizen seek-
ing asylum.While his asylum petition was pending, Binalshibh lived in Hamburg
and associated with individuals from several mosques there. In 1997, after his
asylum application was denied, Binalshibh went home to Yemen but returned to
Germany shortly thereafter under his true name, this time registering as a student
in Hamburg. Binalshibh continually had academic problems, failing tests and cut-
ting classes; he was expelled from one school in September 1998.
According to Binalshibh, he and Atta first met at a mosque in Hamburg in
1995. The two men became close friends and became identified with their
shared extremist outlook. Like Atta, by the late 1990s Binalshibh was decrying
what he perceived to be a "Jewish world conspiracy." He proclaimed that the
highest duty of every Muslim was to pursue jihad, and that the highest honor
was to die during the jihad. Despite his rhetoric, however, Binalshibh presented
a more amiable figure than the austere Atta, and was known within the com-
munity as being sociable, extroverted, polite, and adventuresome.
In 1998, Binalshibh and Atta began sharing an apartment in the Harburg sec-
tion of Hamburg, together with a young student from the United Arab Emi-
rates named Marwan al Shehhi.
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Marwan al Shehhi
Marwan al Shehhi was born on May 9, 1978, in Ras al Khaimah, the United
Arab Emirates. His father, who died in 1997, was a prayer leader at the local
mosque. After graduating from high school in 1995, Shehhi joined the Emi-
rati military and received half a year of basic training before gaining admis-
sion to a military scholarship program that would fund his continued study in
Shehhi first entered Germany in April 1996. After sharing an apartment in
Bonn for two months with three other scholarship students, Shehhi moved in
with a German family, with whom he resided for several months before mov-
ing into his own apartment. During this period, he came across as very reli-
gious, praying five times a day. Friends also remember him as convivial and "a
regular guy," wearing Western clothes and occasionally renting cars for trips to
Berlin, France, and the Netherlands.
As a student, Shehhi was less than a success. Upon completing a course in
German, he enrolled at the University of Bonn in a program for technical,
mathematical, and scientific studies. In June 1997, he requested a leave from his
studies, citing the need to attend to unspecified "problems" in his home coun-
try.Although the university denied his request, Shehhi left anyway, and conse-
quently was compelled to repeat the first semester of his studies. In addition to
having academic difficulties at this time, Shehhi appeared to become more
extreme in the practice of his faith; for example, he specifically avoided restau-
rants that cooked with or served alcohol. In late 1997, he applied for permis-
sion to complete his course work in Hamburg, a request apparently motivated
by his desire to join Atta and Binalshibh. Just how and when the three of them
first met remains unclear, although they seemed to know each other already
when Shehhi relocated to Hamburg in early 1998.Atta and Binalshibh moved
into his apartment in April.
The transfer to Hamburg did not help Shehhi's academic progress; he was
directed by the scholarship program administrators at the Emirati embassy to
repeat his second semester starting in August 1998, but back in Bonn. Shehhi
initially flouted this directive, however, and did not reenroll at the University
of Bonn until the following January, barely passing his course there. By the end
of July 1999, he had returned to Hamburg, applying to study shipbuilding at
the Technical University and, more significantly, residing once again with Atta
and Binalshibh, in an apartment at 54 Marienstrasse.
After Shehhi moved in with Atta and Binalshibh, his evolution toward
Islamic fundamentalism became more pronounced. A fellow Emirati student
who came to Hamburg to visit Shehhi noticed he no longer lived as comfort-
ably as before. Shehhi now occupied an old apartment with a roommate, had
no television, and wore inexpensive clothes.When asked why he was living so
frugally, Shehhi responded that he was living the way the Prophet had lived.
Similarly, when someone asked why he and Atta never laughed, Shehhi
retorted,"How can you laugh when people are dying in Palestine?"
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Ziad Jarrah
Born on May 11, 1975, in Mazraa, Lebanon, Ziad Jarrah came from an afflu-
ent family and attended private, Christian schools. Like Atta, Binalshibh, and
Shehhi, Jarrah aspired to pursue higher education in Germany. In April 1996,
he and a cousin enrolled at a junior college in Greifswald, in northeastern Ger-
many.There Jarrah met and became intimate with Aysel Senguen, the daugh-
ter of Turkish immigrants, who was preparing to study dentistry.
Even with the benefit of hindsight, Jarrah hardly seems a likely candidate
for becoming an Islamic extremist. Far from displaying radical beliefs when he
first moved to Germany, he arrived with a reputation for knowing where to
find the best discos and beaches in Beirut, and in Greifswald was known to
enjoy student parties and drinking beer. Although he continued to share an
apartment in Greifswald with his cousin, Jarrah was mostly at Senguen's apart-
ment.Witnesses interviewed by German authorities after 9/11, however, recall
that Jarrah started showing signs of radicalization as early as the end of 1996.
After returning from a trip home to Lebanon, Jarrah started living more strictly
according to the Koran. He read brochures in Arabic about jihad, held forth to
friends on the subject of holy war, and professed disaffection with his previous
life and a desire not to leave the world "in a natural way."
In September 1997, Jarrah abruptly switched his intended course of study
from dentistry to aircraft engineering--at the Technical University of
Hamburg-Harburg. His motivation for this decision remains unclear. The
rationale he expressed to Senguen--that he had been interested in aviation
since playing with toy airplanes as a child--rings somewhat hollow. In any
event, Jarrah appears already to have had Hamburg contacts by this time, some
of whom may have played a role in steering him toward Islamic extremism.
Following his move to Hamburg that fall, he began visiting Senguen in
Greifswald on weekends, until she moved to the German city of Bochum one
year later to enroll in dental school.Around the same time, he began speaking
increasingly about religion, and his visits to Senguen became less and less fre-
quent. He began criticizing her for not being religious enough and for dress-
ing too provocatively. He grew a full beard and started praying regularly. He
refused to introduce her to his Hamburg friends because, he told her, they were
religious Muslims and her refusal to become more observant embarrassed him.
At some point in 1999, Jarrah told Senguen that he was planning to wage a
jihad because there was no greater honor than to die for Allah. Although Jar-
rah's transformation generated numerous quarrels, their breakups invariably
were followed by reconciliation.
Forming a Cell
In Hamburg, Jarrah had a succession of living accommodations, but he appar-
ently never resided with his future co-conspirators. It is not clear how and
when he became part of Atta's circle. He became particularly friendly with
Binalshibh after meeting him at the Quds mosque in Hamburg, which Jarrah
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began attending regularly in late 1997.The worshippers at this mosque featured
an outspoken, flamboyant Islamist named Mohammed Haydar Zammar. A
well-known figure in the Muslim community (and to German and U.S. intel-
ligence agencies by the late 1990s), Zammar had fought in Afghanistan and rel-
ished any opportunity to extol the virtues of violent jihad. Indeed, a witness
has reported hearing Zammar press Binalshibh to fulfill his duty to wage jihad.
Moreover, after 9/11, Zammar reportedly took credit for influencing
not just Binalshibh but the rest of the Hamburg group. In 1998, Zammar
encouraged them to participate in jihad and even convinced them to go to
Owing to Zammar's persuasion or some other source of inspiration, Atta,
Binalshibh, Shehhi, and Jarrah eventually prepared themselves to translate their
extremist beliefs into action. By late 1999, they were ready to abandon their
student lives in Germany in favor of violent jihad.This final stage in their evo-
lution toward embracing Islamist extremism did not entirely escape the notice
of the people around them.The foursome became core members of a group
of radical Muslims, often hosting sessions at their Marienstrasse apartment that
involved extremely anti-American discussions. Meeting three to four times a
week, the group became something of a "sect" whose members, according to
one participant in the meetings, tended to deal only with each other.
rent checks for the apartment provide evidence of the importance that the
apartment assumed as a center for the group, as he would write on them the
notation "Dar el Ansar," or "house of the followers."
In addition to Atta, Binalshibh, Shehhi, and Jarrah, the group included other
extremists, some of whom also would attend al Qaeda training camps and, in
some instances, would help the 9/11 hijackers as they executed the plot:
· Said Bahaji, son of a Moroccan immigrant, was the only German cit-
izen in the group. Educated in Morocco, Bahaji returned to Germany
to study electrical engineering at the Technical University of
Hamburg-Harburg. He spent five months in the German army
before obtaining a medical discharge, and lived with Atta and Binal-
shibh at 54 Marienstrasse for eight months between November 1998
and July 1999. Described as an insecure follower with no personality
and with limited knowledge of Islam, Bahaji nonetheless professed his
readiness to engage in violence.Atta and Binalshibh used Bahaji's com-
puter for Internet research, as evidenced by documents and diskettes
seized by German authorities after 9/11.
· Zakariya Essabar, a Moroccan citizen, moved to Germany in Febru-
ary 1997 and to Hamburg in 1998, where he studied medical tech-
nology. Soon after moving to Hamburg, Essabar met Binalshibh and
the others through a Turkish mosque. Essabar turned extremist fairly
suddenly, probably in 1999, and reportedly pressured one acquain-
tance with physical force to become more religious, grow a beard, and
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compel his wife to convert to Islam. Essabar's parents were said to have
made repeated but unsuccessful efforts to sway him from this lifestyle.
Shortly before the 9/11 attacks, he would travel to Afghanistan to
communicate the date for the attacks to the al Qaeda leadership.
· Mounir el Motassadeq, another Moroccan, came to Germany in 1993,
moving to Hamburg two years later to study electrical engineering at
the Technical University.A witness has recalled Motassadeq saying that
he would kill his entire family if his religious beliefs demanded it. One
of Motassadeq's roommates recalls him referring to Hitler as a "good
man" and organizing film sessions that included speeches by Bin
Ladin. Motassadeq would help conceal the Hamburg group's trip to
Afghanistan in late 1999.
· Abdelghani Mzoudi, also a Moroccan, arrived in Germany in the
summer of 1993, after completing university courses in physics and
chemistry. Mzoudi studied in Dortmund, Bochum, and Muenster
before moving to Hamburg in 1995. Mzoudi described himself as a
weak Muslim when he was home in Morocco, but much more devout
when he was back in Hamburg. In April 1996, Mzoudi and Motas-
sadeq witnessed the execution of Atta's will.
During the course of 1999, Atta and his group became ever more extreme
and secretive, speaking only in Arabic to conceal the content of their conver-
When the four core members of the Hamburg cell left Germany to
journey to Afghanistan late that year, it seems unlikely that they already knew
about the planes operation; no evidence connects them to al Qaeda before that
time. Witnesses have attested, however, that their pronouncements reflected
ample predisposition toward taking some action against the United States.
short, they fit the bill for Bin Ladin, Atef, and KSM.
Going to Afghanistan
The available evidence indicates that in 1999,Atta, Binalshibh, Shehhi, and Jar-
rah decided to fight in Chechnya against the Russians. According to Binal-
shibh, a chance meeting on a train in Germany caused the group to travel to
Afghanistan instead. An individual named Khalid al Masri approached Binal-
shibh and Shehhi (because they were Arabs with beards, Binalshibh thinks) and
struck up a conversation about jihad in Chechnya.When they later called Masri
and expressed interest in going to Chechnya, he told them to contact Abu
Musab in Duisburg, Germany. Abu Musab turned out to be Mohamedou
Ould Slahi, a significant al Qaeda operative who, even then, was well known
to U.S. and German intelligence, though neither government apparently knew
he was operating in Germany in late 1999. When telephoned by Binalshibh
and Shehhi, Slahi reportedly invited these promising recruits to come see him
in Duisburg.
Binalshibh, Shehhi, and Jarrah made the trip. When they arrived, Slahi
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explained that it was difficult to get to Chechnya at that time because many
travelers were being detained in Georgia. He recommended they go to
Afghanistan instead, where they could train for jihad before traveling onward
to Chechnya. Slahi instructed them to obtain Pakistani visas and then return
to him for further directions on how to reach Afghanistan. Although Atta did
not attend the meeting, he joined in the plan with the other three.After obtain-
ing the necessary visas, they received Slahi's final instructions on how to travel
to Karachi and then Quetta, where they were to contact someone named Umar
al Masri at the Taliban office.
Following Slahi's advice,Atta and Jarrah left Hamburg during the last week
of November 1999, bound for Karachi. Shehhi left for Afghanistan around the
same time; Binalshibh, about two weeks later. Binalshibh remembers that when
he arrived at the Taliban office in Quetta, there was no one named Umar al
Masri.The name, apparently, was simply a code; a group of Afghans from the
office promptly escorted him to Kandahar.There Binalshibh rejoined Atta and
Jarrah, who said they already had pledged loyalty to Bin Ladin and urged him
to do the same.They also informed him that Shehhi had pledged as well and
had already left for the United Arab Emirates to prepare for the mission. Binal-
shibh soon met privately with Bin Ladin, accepted the al Qaeda leader's invi-
tation to work under him, and added his own pledge to those of his Hamburg
colleagues. By this time, Binalshibh claims, he assumed he was volunteering for
a martyrdom operation.
Atta, Jarrah, and Binalshibh then met with Atef, who told them they were
about to undertake a highly secret mission. As Binalshibh tells it, Atef
instructed the three to return to Germany and enroll in flight training.Atta--
whom Bin Ladin chose to lead the group--met with Bin Ladin several times
to receive additional instructions, including a preliminary list of approved tar-
gets: the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the U.S. Capitol.
The new
recruits also learned that an individual named Rabia al Makki (Nawaf al
Hazmi) would be part of the operation.
In retrospect, the speed with which Atta, Shehhi, Jarrah, and Binalshibh
became core members of the 9/11 plot--with Atta designated its operational
leader--is remarkable.They had not yet met with KSM when all this occurred.
It is clear, then, that Bin Ladin and Atef were very much in charge of the oper-
ation.That these candidates were selected so quickly--before comprehensive
testing in the training camps or in operations--demonstrates that Bin Ladin
and Atef probably already understood the deficiencies of their initial team,
Hazmi and Mihdhar.The new recruits from Germany possessed an ideal com-
bination of technical skill and knowledge that the original 9/11 operatives, vet-
eran fighters though they were, lacked. Bin Ladin and Atef wasted no time in
assigning the Hamburg group to the most ambitious operation yet planned by
al Qaeda.
Bin Ladin and Atef also plainly judged that Atta was best suited to be the
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tactical commander of the operation. Such a quick and critical judgment invites
speculation about whether they had already taken Atta's measure at some ear-
lier meeting. To be sure, some gaps do appear in the record of Atta's known
whereabouts during the preceding years. One such gap is February­March
1998, a period for which there is no evidence of his presence in Germany and
when he conceivably could have been in Afghanistan.
Yet to date, neither
KSM, Binalshibh, nor any other al Qaeda figure interrogated about the 9/11
plot has claimed that Atta or any other member of the Hamburg group trav-
eled to Afghanistan before the trip in late 1999.
While the four core Hamburg cell members were in Afghanistan, their asso-
ciates back in Hamburg handled their affairs so that their trip could be kept
secret. Motassadeq appears to have done the most. He terminated Shehhi's
apartment lease, telling the landlord that Shehhi had returned to the UAE for
family reasons, and used a power of attorney to pay bills from Shehhi's bank
Motassadeq also assisted Jarrah, offering to look after Aysel Senguen
in Jarrah's absence. Said Bahaji attended to similar routine matters for Atta and
Binalshibh, thereby helping them remain abroad without drawing attention to
their absence.
Preparing for the Operation
In early 2000,Atta, Jarrah, and Binalshibh returned to Hamburg. Jarrah arrived
first, on January 31, 2000.
According to Binalshibh, he and Atta left Kanda-
har together and proceeded first to Karachi, where they met KSM and were
instructed by him on security and on living in the United States. Shehhi appar-
ently had already met with KSM before returning to the UAE. Atta returned
to Hamburg in late February, and Binalshibh arrived shortly thereafter. She-
hhi's travels took him to the UAE (where he acquired a new passport and a
U.S. visa), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and one or more other destinations. Shehhi
also returned to Germany, possibly sometime in March.
After leaving Afghanistan, the hijackers made clear efforts to avoid appear-
ing radical. Once back in Hamburg, they distanced themselves from conspic-
uous extremists like Zammar, whom they knew attracted unwanted attention
from the authorities.
They also changed their appearance and behavior. Atta
wore Western clothing, shaved his beard, and no longer attended extremist
mosques. Jarrah also no longer wore a full beard and, according to Senguen,
acted much more the way he had when she first met him. And when Shehhi,
while still in the UAE in January 2000, held a belated wedding celebration (he
actually had been married in 1999), a friend of his was surprised to see that he
had shaved off his beard and was acting like his old self again.
But Jarrah's apparent efforts to appear less radical did not completely con-
ceal his transformation from his Lebanese family, which grew increasingly con-
cerned about his fanaticism. Soon after Jarrah returned to Germany, his father
asked Jarrah's cousin--a close companion from boyhood--to intercede. The
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cousin's ensuing effort to persuade Jarrah to depart from "the path he was tak-
ing" proved unavailing.
Yet Jarrah clearly differed from the other hijackers
in that he maintained much closer contact with his family and continued his
intimate relationship with Senguen. These ties may well have caused him to
harbor some doubts about going through with the plot, even as late as the sum-
mer of 2001, as discussed in chapter 7.
After leaving Afghanistan, the four began researching flight schools and avi-
ation training. In early January 2000, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali--a nephew of KSM
living in the UAE who would become an important facilitator in the plot--
used Shehhi's credit card to order a Boeing 747-400 flight simulator program
and a Boeing 767 flight deck video, together with attendant literature;Ali had
all these items shipped to his employer's address. Jarrah soon decided that the
schools in Germany were not acceptable and that he would have to learn to
fly in the United States. Binalshibh also researched flight schools in Europe,
and in the Netherlands he met a flight school director who recommended
flight schools in the United States because they were less expensive and
required shorter training periods.
In March 2000, Atta emailed 31 different U.S. flight schools on behalf of a
small group of men from various Arab countries studying in Germany who,
while lacking prior training, were interested in learning to fly in the United
States. Atta requested information about the cost of the training, potential
financing, and accommodations.
Before seeking visas to enter the United States, Atta, Shehhi, and Jarrah
obtained new passports, each claiming that his old passport had been lost. Pre-
sumably they were concerned that the Pakistani visas in their old passports
would raise suspicions about possible travel to Afghanistan. Shehhi obtained his
visa on January 18, 2000; Atta, on May 18; and Jarrah, on May 25.
shibh's visa request was rejected, however, as were his three subsequent appli-
Binalshibh proved unable to obtain a visa, a victim of the
generalized suspicion that visa applicants from Yemen--especially young men
applying in another country (Binalshibh first applied in Berlin)--might join
the ranks of undocumented aliens seeking work in the United States. Before
9/11, security concerns were not a major factor in visa issuance unless the
applicant already was on a terrorist watchlist, and none of these four men was.
Concerns that Binalshibh intended to immigrate to the United States doomed
his chances to participate firsthand in the 9/11 attacks. Although Binalshibh
had to remain behind, he would provide critical assistance from abroad to his
Once again, the need for travel documents dictated al Qaeda's plans.
It should by now be apparent how significant travel was in the planning under-
taken by a terrorist organization as far-flung as al Qaeda.The story of the plot
includes references to dozens of international trips. Operations required travel,
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as did basic communications and the movement of money. Where electronic
communications were regarded as insecure, al Qaeda relied even more heavily
on couriers.
KSM and Abu Zubaydah each played key roles in facilitating travel for al
Qaeda operatives. In addition, al Qaeda had an office of passports and host
country issues under its security committee. The office was located at the
Kandahar airport and was managed by Atef. The committee altered papers,
including passports, visas, and identification cards.
Moreover, certain al Qaeda members were charged with organizing pass-
port collection schemes to keep the pipeline of fraudulent documents flow-
ing. To this end, al Qaeda required jihadists to turn in their passports before
going to the front lines in Afghanistan. If they were killed, their passports were
recycled for use.
The operational mission training course taught operatives
how to forge documents. Certain passport alteration methods, which included
substituting photos and erasing and adding travel cachets, were also taught.
Manuals demonstrating the technique for "cleaning" visas were reportedly cir-
culated among operatives. Mohamed Atta and Zakariya Essabar were reported
to have been trained in passport alteration.
The purpose of all this training was twofold: to develop an institutional
capacity for document forgery and to enable operatives to make necessary
adjustments in the field. It was well-known, for example, that if a Saudi trav-
eled to Afghanistan via Pakistan, then on his return to Saudi Arabia his pass-
port, bearing a Pakistani stamp, would be confiscated. So operatives either
erased the Pakistani visas from their passports or traveled through Iran, which
did not stamp visas directly into passports.
Bin Ladin and his aides did not need a very large sum to finance their planned
attack on America. The 9/11 plotters eventually spent somewhere between
$400,000 and $500,000 to plan and conduct their attack. Consistent with the
importance of the project, al Qaeda funded the plotters. KSM provided his
operatives with nearly all the money they needed to travel to the United States,
train, and live. The plotters' tradecraft was not especially sophisticated, but it
was good enough.They moved, stored, and spent their money in ordinary ways,
easily defeating the detection mechanisms in place at the time.
The origin
of the funds remains unknown, although we have a general idea of how al
Qaeda financed itself during the period leading up to 9/11.
General Financing
As we explained in chapter 2, Bin Ladin did not fund al Qaeda through a
personal fortune and a network of businesses in Sudan. Instead, al Qaeda
relied primarily on a fund-raising network developed over time. The CIA
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now estimates that it cost al Qaeda about $30 million per year to sustain its
activities before 9/11 and that this money was raised almost entirely through
For many years, the United States thought Bin Ladin financed al Qaeda's
expenses through a vast personal inheritance. Bin Ladin purportedly inherited
approximately $300 million when his father died, and was rumored to have had
access to these funds to wage jihad while in Sudan and Afghanistan and to
secure his leadership position in al Qaeda. In early 2000, the U.S. government
discovered a different reality: roughly from 1970 through 1994, Bin Ladin
received about $1 million per year--a significant sum, to be sure, but not a
$300 million fortune that could be used to fund jihad.
Then, as part of a
Saudi government crackdown early in the 1990s, the Bin Ladin family was
forced to find a buyer for Usama's share of the family company in 1994.The
Saudi government subsequently froze the proceeds of the sale.This action had
the effect of divesting Bin Ladin of what otherwise might indeed have been a
large fortune.
Nor were Bin Ladin's assets in Sudan a source of money for al Qaeda.When
Bin Ladin lived in Sudan from 1991 to 1996, he owned a number of businesses
and other assets. These could not have provided significant income, as most
were small or not economically viable.When Bin Ladin left in 1996, it appears
that the Sudanese government expropriated all his assets: he left Sudan with
practically nothing. When Bin Ladin arrived in Afghanistan, he relied on the
Taliban until he was able to reinvigorate his fund-raising efforts by drawing on
ties to wealthy Saudi individuals that he had established during the Afghan war
in the 1980s.
Al Qaeda appears to have relied on a core group of financial facilitators
who raised money from a variety of donors and other fund-raisers, primarily
in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia.
Some individual
donors surely knew, and others did not, the ultimate destination of their dona-
tions. Al Qaeda and its friends took advantage of Islam's strong calls for char-
itable giving, zakat.These financial facilitators also appeared to rely heavily on
certain imams at mosques who were willing to divert zakat donations to al
Qaeda's cause.
Al Qaeda also collected money from employees of corrupt charities.
took two approaches to using charities for fund-raising. One was to rely on al
Qaeda sympathizers in specific foreign branch offices of large, international
charities--particularly those with lax external oversight and ineffective inter-
nal controls, such as the Saudi-based al Haramain Islamic Foundation.
Smaller charities in various parts of the globe were funded by these large Gulf
charities and had employees who would siphon the money to al Qaeda.
In addition, entire charities, such as the al Wafa organization, may have wit-
tingly participated in funneling money to al Qaeda. In those cases, al Qaeda
operatives controlled the entire organization, including access to bank
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Charities were a source of money and also provided significant
cover, which enabled operatives to travel undetected under the guise of work-
ing for a humanitarian organization.
It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially
supported al Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have con-
tained al Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al Qaeda's fund-
raising activities.
Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source
of al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi govern-
ment as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organ-
ization. (This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with
significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda.)
Still, al Qaeda found fertile fund-raising ground in Saudi Arabia, where
extreme religious views are common and charitable giving was both essential
to the culture and subject to very limited oversight.
Al Qaeda also sought
money from wealthy donors in other Gulf states.
Al Qaeda frequently moved the money it raised by hawala, an informal and
ancient trust-based system for transferring funds.
In some ways, al Qaeda had
no choice after its move to Afghanistan in 1996: first, the banking system there
was antiquated and undependable; and second, formal banking was risky due
to the scrutiny that al Qaeda received after the August 1998 East Africa embassy
bombings, including UN resolutions against it and the Taliban.
Bin Ladin
relied on the established hawala networks operating in Pakistan, in Dubai, and
throughout the Middle East to transfer funds efficiently. Hawaladars associated
with al Qaeda may have used banks to move and store money, as did various
al Qaeda fund-raisers and operatives outside of Afghanistan, but there is little
evidence that Bin Ladin or core al Qaeda members used banks while in
Before 9/11, al Qaeda spent funds as quickly as it received them.Actual ter-
rorist operations represented a relatively small part of al Qaeda's estimated $30
million annual operating budget. Al Qaeda funded salaries for jihadists, train-
ing camps, airfields, vehicles, arms, and the development of training manuals.
Bin Ladin provided approximately $10­$20 million per year to the Taliban in
return for safe haven. Bin Ladin also may have used money to create alliances
with other terrorist organizations, although it is unlikely that al Qaeda was
funding an overall jihad program. Rather, Bin Ladin selectively provided start-
up funds to new groups or money for specific terrorist operations.
Al Qaeda has been alleged to have used a variety of illegitimate means, par-
ticularly drug trafficking and conflict diamonds, to finance itself.While the drug
trade was a source of income for the Taliban, it did not serve the same purpose
for al Qaeda, and there is no reliable evidence that Bin Ladin was involved in
or made his money through drug trafficking.
Similarly, we have seen no per-
suasive evidence that al Qaeda funded itself by trading in African conflict dia-
There also have been claims that al Qaeda financed itself through
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manipulation of the stock market based on its advance knowledge of the 9/11
attacks. Exhaustive investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission,
FBI, and other agencies have uncovered no evidence that anyone with advance
knowledge of the attacks profited through securities transactions.
To date, the U.S. government has not been able to determine the origin of
the money used for the 9/11 attacks. Ultimately the question is of little prac-
tical significance.Al Qaeda had many avenues of funding. If a particular fund-
ing source had dried up, al Qaeda could have easily tapped a different source
or diverted funds from another project to fund an operation that cost
$400,000­$500,000 over nearly two years.
The Funding of the 9/11 Plot
As noted above, the 9/11 plotters spent somewhere between $400,000 and
$500,000 to plan and conduct their attack.The available evidence indicates that
the 19 operatives were funded by al Qaeda, either through wire transfers or cash
provided by KSM, which they carried into the United States or deposited in for-
eign accounts and accessed from this country. Our investigation has uncovered
no credible evidence that any person in the United States gave the hijackers sub-
stantial financial assistance. Similarly, we have seen no evidence that any foreign
government--or foreign government official--supplied any funding.
We have found no evidence that the Hamburg cell members (Atta, Shehhi,
Jarrah, and Binalshibh) received funds from al Qaeda before late 1999. It
appears they supported themselves. KSM, Binalshibh, and another plot facili-
tator, Mustafa al Hawsawi, each received money, in some cases perhaps as much
as $10,000, to perform their roles in the plot.
After the Hamburg recruits joined the 9/11 conspiracy, al Qaeda began giv-
ing them money. Our knowledge of the funding during this period, before the
operatives entered the United States, remains murky. According to KSM, the
Hamburg cell members each received $5,000 to pay for their return to Ger-
many from Afghanistan after they had been selected to join the plot, and they
received additional funds for travel from Germany to the United States. Finan-
cial transactions of the plotters are discussed in more detail in chapter 7.
Requirements for a Successful Attack
As some of the core operatives prepared to leave for the United States, al
Qaeda's leaders could have reflected on what they needed to be able to do in
order to organize and conduct a complex international terrorist operation to
inflict catastrophic harm. We believe such a list of requirements would have
· leaders able to evaluate, approve, and supervise the planning and direc-
tion of the operation;
· communications sufficient to enable planning and direction of the
operatives and those who would be helping them;
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· a personnel system that could recruit candidates, vet them, indoctri-
nate them, and give them necessary training;
· an intelligence effort to gather required information and form assess-
ments of enemy strengths and weaknesses;
· the ability to move people; and
· the ability to raise and move the necessary money.
The information we have presented about the development of
the planes operation shows how, by the spring and summer of 2000, al Qaeda
was able to meet these requirements.
By late May 2000, two operatives assigned to the planes operation were
already in the United States.Three of the four Hamburg cell members would
soon arrive.
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I n c hap te r s 3 and 4 we described how the U.S. government adjusted its
existing agencies and capacities to address the emerging threat from Usama Bin
Ladin and his associates. After the August 1998 bombings of the American
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, President Bill Clinton and his chief aides
explored ways of getting Bin Ladin expelled from Afghanistan or possibly cap-
turing or even killing him. Although disruption efforts around the world had
achieved some successes, the core of Bin Ladin's organization remained intact.
President Clinton was deeply concerned about Bin Ladin. He and his
national security advisor, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, ensured they had a special
daily pipeline of reports feeding them the latest updates on Bin Ladin's
reported location.
In public, President Clinton spoke repeatedly about the
threat of terrorism, referring to terrorist training camps but saying little about
Bin Ladin and nothing about al Qaeda. He explained to us that this was delib-
erate--intended to avoid enhancing Bin Ladin's stature by giving him unnec-
essary publicity. His speeches focused especially on the danger of nonstate actors
and of chemical and biological weapons.
As the millennium approached, the most publicized worries were not
about terrorism but about computer breakdowns--the Y2K scare. Some gov-
ernment officials were concerned that terrorists would take advantage of such
"Bodies Will Pile Up in Sacks"
On November 30, 1999, Jordanian intelligence intercepted a telephone call
between Abu Zubaydah, a longtime ally of Bin Ladin, and Khadr Abu Hoshar,
a Palestinian extremist. Abu Zubaydah said, "The time for training is over."
Suspecting that this was a signal for Abu Hoshar to commence a terrorist
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operation, Jordanian police arrested Abu Hoshar and 15 others and informed
One of the 16, Raed Hijazi, had been born in California to Palestinian
parents; after spending his childhood in the Middle East, he had returned to
northern California, taken refuge in extremist Islamist beliefs, and then made
his way to Abu Zubaydah's Khaldan camp in Afghanistan, where he learned the
fundamentals of guerrilla warfare. He and his younger brother had been
recruited by Abu Hoshar into a loosely knit plot to attack Jewish and Ameri-
can targets in Jordan.
After late 1996, when Abu Hoshar was arrested and jailed, Hijazi moved
back to the United States, worked as a cabdriver in Boston, and sent money
back to his fellow plotters.After Abu Hoshar's release, Hijazi shuttled between
Boston and Jordan gathering money and supplies. With Abu Hoshar, he
recruited in Turkey and Syria as well as Jordan; with Abu Zubaydah's assistance,
Abu Hoshar sent these recruits to Afghanistan for training.
In late 1998, Hijazi and Abu Hoshar had settled on a plan.They would first
attack four targets: the SAS Radisson Hotel in downtown Amman, the border
crossings from Jordan into Israel, and two Christian holy sites, at a time when all
these locations were likely to be thronged with American and other tourists.
Next,they would target a local airport and other religious and cultural sites.Hijazi
and Abu Hoshar cased the intended targets and sent reports to Abu Zubaydah,
who approved their plan. Finally, back in Amman from Boston, Hijazi gradually
accumulated bomb-making materials, including sulfuric acid and 5,200 pounds
of nitric acid, which were then stored in an enormous subbasement dug by the
plotters over a period of two months underneath a rented house.
In early 1999, Hijazi and Abu Hoshar contacted Khalil Deek, an American
citizen and an associate of Abu Zubaydah who lived in Peshawar, Pakistan, and
who, with Afghanistan-based extremists, had created an electronic version of a
terrorist manual, the Encyclopedia of Jihad. They obtained a CD-ROM of this
encyclopedia from Deek.
In June, with help from Deek,Abu Hoshar arranged
with Abu Zubaydah for Hijazi and three others to go to Afghanistan for added
training in handling explosives. In late November 1999, Hijazi reportedly swore
before Abu Zubaydah the bayat to Bin Ladin, committing himself to do any-
thing Bin Ladin ordered. He then departed for Jordan and was at a waypoint
in Syria when Abu Zubaydah sent Abu Hoshar the message that prompted Jor-
danian authorities to roll up the whole cell.
After the arrests of Abu Hoshar and 15 others, the Jordanians tracked Deek
to Peshawar, persuaded Pakistan to extradite him, and added him to their catch.
Searches in Amman found the rented house and, among other things, 71 drums
of acids, several forged Saudi passports, detonators, and Deek's Encyclopedia. Six
of the accomplices were sentenced to death. In custody, Hijazi's younger
brother said that the group's motto had been "The season is coming, and bod-
ies will pile up in sacks."
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Diplomacy and Disruption
On December 4, as news came in about the discoveries in Jordan, National
Security Council (NSC) Counterterrorism Coordinator Richard Clarke
wrote Berger,"If George's [Tenet's] story about a planned series of UBL attacks
at the Millennium is true, we will need to make some decisions NOW." He
told us he held several conversations with President Clinton during the crisis.
He suggested threatening reprisals against the Taliban in Afghanistan in the
event of any attacks on U.S. interests, anywhere, by Bin Ladin. He further
proposed to Berger that a strike be made during the last week of 1999 against
al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan--a proposal not adopted.
Warned by the CIA that the disrupted Jordanian plot was probably part of
a larger series of attacks intended for the millennium, some possibly involving
chemical weapons, the Principals Committee met on the night of Decem-
ber 8 and decided to task Clarke's Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) to
develop plans to deter and disrupt al Qaeda plots.
Michael Sheehan, the State Department member of the CSG, communi-
cated warnings to the Taliban that they would be held responsible for future
al Qaeda attacks."Mike was not diplomatic," Clarke reported to Berger.With
virtually no evidence of a Taliban response, a new approach was made to Pak-
General Anthony Zinni, the commander of Central Command
(CENTCOM), was designated as the President's special envoy and sent to ask
General Musharraf to "take whatever action you deem necessary to resolve the
Bin Laden problem at the earliest possible time." But Zinni came back empty-
handed. As Ambassador William Milam reported from Islamabad, Musharraf
was "unwilling to take the political heat at home."
The CIA worked hard with foreign security services to detain or at least
keep an eye on suspected Bin Ladin associates.Tenet spoke to 20 of his foreign
counterparts. Disruption and arrest operations were mounted against terrorists
in eight countries.
In mid-December, President Clinton signed a Memoran-
dum of Notification (MON) giving the CIA broader authority to use foreign
proxies to detain Bin Ladin lieutenants, without having to transfer them to U.S.
custody. The authority was to capture, not kill, though lethal force might be
used if necessary.
Tenet would later send a message to all CIA personnel over-
seas, saying, "The threat could not be more real. . . . Do whatever is necessary
to disrupt UBL's plans. . . .The American people are counting on you and me
to take every appropriate step to protect them during this period."The State
Department issued a worldwide threat advisory to its posts overseas.
Then, on December 14, an Algerian jihadist was caught bringing a load of
explosives into the United States.
Ressam's Arrest
Ahmed Ressam, 23, had illegally immigrated to Canada in 1994. Using a fal-
sified passport and a bogus story about persecution in Algeria, Ressam entered
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Montreal and claimed political asylum. For the next few years he supported
himself with petty crime. Recruited by an alumnus of Abu Zubaydah's Khal-
dan camp, Ressam trained in Afghanistan in 1998, learning, among other things,
how to place cyanide near the air intake of a building to achieve maximum
lethality at minimum personal risk. Having joined other Algerians in planning
a possible attack on a U.S. airport or consulate, Ressam left Afghanistan in early
1999 carrying precursor chemicals for explosives disguised in toiletry bottles,
a notebook containing bomb assembly instructions, and $12,000. Back in
Canada, he went about procuring weapons, chemicals, and false papers.
In early summer 1999, having learned that not all of his colleagues could get
the travel documents to enter Canada, Ressam decided to carry out the plan
alone. By the end of the summer he had chosen three Los Angeles­area airports
as potential targets, ultimately fixing on Los Angeles International (LAX) as the
largest and easiest to operate in surreptitiously. He bought or stole chemicals and
equipment for his bomb, obtaining advice from three Algerian friends, all of
whom were wanted by authorities in France for their roles in past terrorist attacks
there. Ressam also acquired new confederates. He promised to help a New
York­based partner,Abdelghani Meskini, get training in Afghanistan if Meskini
would help him maneuver in the United States.
In December 1999, Ressam began his final preparations. He called an
Afghanistan-based facilitator to inquire into whether Bin Ladin wanted to take
credit for the attack, but he did not get a reply. He spent a week in Vancouver
preparing the explosive components with a close friend.The chemicals were
so caustic that the men kept their windows open, despite the freezing temper-
atures outside, and sucked on cough drops to soothe their irritated throats.
While in Vancouver, Ressam also rented a Chrysler sedan for his travel into the
United States, and packed the explosives in the trunk's spare tire well.
On December 14, 1999, Ressam drove his rental car onto the ferry from
Victoria, Canada, to Port Angeles, Washington. Ressam planned to drive to
Seattle and meet Meskini, with whom he would travel to Los Angeles and case
A Case Study in Terrorist Travel
Following a familiar terrorist pattern, Ressam and his associates used
fraudulent passports and immigration fraud to travel. In Ressam's case, this
involved flying from France to Montreal using a photo-substituted
French passport under a false name. Under questioning, Ressam admit-
ted the passport was fraudulent and claimed political asylum. He was
released pending a hearing, which he failed to attend. His political asy-
lum claim was denied. He was arrested again, released again, and given
another hearing date.Again, he did not show. He was arrested four times
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LAX. They planned to detonate the bomb on or around January 1, 2000. At
the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) preinspection station in Vic-
toria, Ressam presented officials with his genuine but fraudulently obtained
Canadian passport, from which he had torn the Afghanistan entry and exit
stamps.The INS agent on duty ran the passport through a variety of databases
but, since it was not in Ressam's name, he did not pick up the pending Cana-
dian arrest warrants. After a cursory examination of Ressam's car, the INS
agents allowed Ressam to board the ferry.
Late in the afternoon of December 14, Ressam arrived in Port Angeles. He
waited for all the other cars to depart the ferry, assuming (incorrectly) that the
last car off would draw less scrutiny. Customs officers assigned to the port,
noticing Ressam's nervousness, referred him to secondary inspection. When
asked for additional identification, Ressam handed the Customs agent a Price
Costco membership card in the same false name as his passport. As that agent
began an initial pat-down, Ressam panicked and tried to run away.
for thievery, usually from tourists, but was neither jailed nor deported. He
also supported himself by selling stolen documents to a friend who was
a document broker for Islamist terrorists.
Ressam eventually obtained a genuine Canadian passport through a
document vendor who stole a blank baptismal certificate from a
Catholic church.With this document he was able to obtain a Canadian
passport under the name of Benni Antoine Noris.This enabled him to
travel to Pakistan, and from there to Afghanistan for his training, and
then return to Canada. Impressed, Abu Zubaydah asked Ressam to get
more genuine Canadian passports and to send them to him for other
terrorists to use.
Another conspirator, Abdelghani Meskini, used a stolen identity to
travel to Seattle on December 11, 1999, at the request of Mokhtar
Haouari, another conspirator. Haouari provided fraudulent passports and
visas to assist Ressam and Meskini's planned getaway from the United
States to Algeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
One of Meskini's associ-
ates,Abdel Hakim Tizegha, also filed a claim for political asylum. He was
released pending a hearing, which was adjourned and rescheduled five
times. His claim was finally denied two years after his initial filing. His
attorney appealed the decision, and Tizegha was allowed to remain in the
country pending the appeal. Nine months later, his attorney notified the
court that he could not locate his client. A warrant of deportation was
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Inspectors examining Ressam's rental car found the explosives concealed in
the spare tire well, but at first they assumed the white powder and viscous liq-
uid were drug-related--until an inspector pried apart and identified one of the
four timing devices concealed within black boxes. Ressam was placed under
arrest. Investigators guessed his target was in Seattle.They did not learn about
the Los Angeles airport planning until they reexamined evidence seized in
Montreal in 2000; they obtained further details when Ressam began cooper-
ating in May 2001.
Emergency Cooperation
After the disruption of the plot in Amman, it had not escaped notice in Wash-
ington that Hijazi had lived in California and driven a cab in Boston and that
Deek was a naturalized U.S. citizen who, as Berger reminded President Clin-
ton, had been in touch with extremists in the United States as well as abroad.
Before Ressam's arrest, Berger saw no need to raise a public alarm at home--
although the FBI put all field offices on alert.
Now, following Ressam's arrest, the FBI asked for an unprecedented num-
ber of special wiretaps. Both Berger and Tenet told us that their impression was
that more Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) wiretap requests were
processed during the millennium alert than ever before.
The next day, writing about Ressam's arrest and links to a cell in Mon-
treal, Berger informed the President that the FBI would advise police in the
United States to step up activities but would still try to avoid undue public
alarm by stressing that the government had no specific information about
planned attacks.
At a December 22 meeting of the Small Group of principals, FBI Director
Louis Freeh briefed officials from the NSC staff, CIA, and Justice on wiretaps
and investigations inside the United States, including a Brooklyn entity tied to
the Ressam arrest, a seemingly unreliable foreign report of possible attacks on
seven U.S. cities, two Algerians detained on the Canadian border, and searches
in Montreal related to a jihadist cell.The Justice Department released a state-
ment on the alert the same day.
Clarke's staff warned,"Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks
in the US are likely."
Clarke asked Berger to try to make sure that the domes-
tic agencies remained alert."Is there a threat to civilian aircraft?" he wrote. Clarke
also asked the principals in late December to discuss a foreign security service
report about a Bin Ladin plan to put bombs on transatlantic flights.
The CSG met daily. Berger said that the principals met constantly.
when asked what made her decide to ask Ressam to step out of his vehicle,
Diana Dean, a Customs inspector who referred Ressam to secondary inspec-
tion, testified that it was her "training and experience."
It appears that the
heightened sense of alert at the national level played no role in Ressam's
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There was a mounting sense of public alarm.The earlier Jordanian arrests
had been covered in the press, and Ressam's arrest was featured on network
evening news broadcasts throughout the Christmas season.
The FBI was more communicative during the millennium crisis than it had
ever been.The senior FBI official for counterterrorism, Dale Watson, was a regu-
lar member of the CSG, and Clarke had good relations both with him and with
some of the FBI agents handling al Qaeda­related investigations, including John
O'Neill in New York.As a rule,however,neither Watson nor these agents brought
much information to the group. The FBI simply did not produce the kind of
intelligence reports that other agencies routinely wrote and disseminated.As law
enforcement officers, Bureau agents tended to write up only witness interviews.
Written case analysis usually occurred only in memoranda to supervisors
requesting authority to initiate or expand an investigation.
But during the millennium alert, with its direct links into the United States
from Hijazi, Deek, and Ressam, FBI officials were briefing in person about
ongoing investigations, not relying on the dissemination of written reports.
Berger told us that it was hard for FBI officials to hold back information in
front of a cabinet-rank group. After the alert, according to Berger and mem-
bers of the NSC staff, the FBI returned to its normal practice of withholding
written reports and saying little about investigations or witness interviews, tak-
ing the position that any information related to pending investigations might
be presented to a grand jury and hence could not be disclosed under then-
prevailing federal law.
The terrorist plots that were broken up at the end of 1999 display the vari-
ety of operations that might be attributed, however indirectly, to al Qaeda.The
Jordanian cell was a loose affiliate; we now know that it sought approval and
training from Afghanistan, and at least one key member swore loyalty to Bin
Ladin. But the cell's plans and preparations were autonomous. Ressam's ties to
al Qaeda were even looser. Though he had been recruited, trained, and pre-
pared in a network affiliated with the organization and its allies, Ressam's own
plans were, nonetheless, essentially independent.
Al Qaeda, and Bin Ladin himself, did have at least one operation of their
very own in mind for the millennium period. In chapter 5 we introduced an
al Qaeda operative named Nashiri.Working with Bin Ladin, he was develop-
ing a plan to attack a ship near Yemen. On January 3, an attempt was made to
attack a U.S. warship in Aden, the USS The Sullivans.The attempt failed when
the small boat, overloaded with explosives, sank.The operatives salvaged their
equipment without the attempt becoming known, and they put off their plans
for another day.
Al Qaeda's "planes operation" was also coming along. In January 2000, the
United States caught a glimpse of its preparations.
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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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TIPOFF watchlist--either in January, when word arrived of Mihdhar's visa, or
in March, when word came that Hazmi, too, had had a U.S. visa and a ticket
to Los Angeles.
None of this information--about Mihdhar's U.S. visa or Hazmi's travel to
the United States--went to the FBI, and nothing more was done to track any
of the three until January 2001, when the investigation of another bombing,
that of the USS Cole, reignited interest in Khallad.We will return to that story
in chapter 8.
After the millennium alert, elements of the U.S. government reviewed their
performance.The CIA's leadership was told that while a number of plots had
been disrupted, the millennium might be only the "kick-off " for a period of
extended attacks.
Clarke wrote Berger on January 11, 2000, that the CIA, the
FBI, Justice, and the NSC staff had come to two main conclusions. First, U.S.
disruption efforts thus far had "not put too much of a dent" in Bin Ladin's net-
work. If the United States wanted to "roll back" the threat, disruption would
have to proceed at "a markedly different tempo." Second,"sleeper cells" and "a
variety of terrorist groups" had turned up at home.
As one of Clarke's staff
noted, only a "chance discovery" by U.S. Customs had prevented a possible
Berger gave his approval for the NSC staff to commence an "after-
action review," anticipating new budget requests. He also asked DCI Tenet to
review the CIA's counterterrorism strategy and come up with a plan for "where
we go from here."
The NSC staff advised Berger that the United States had only been "nib-
bling at the edges" of Bin Ladin's network and that more terror attacks were a
question not of "if " but rather of "when" and "where."
The Principals Com-
mittee met on March 10, 2000, to review possible new moves.The principals
ended up agreeing that the government should take three major steps. First,
more money should go to the CIA to accelerate its efforts to "seriously attrit"
al Qaeda. Second, there should be a crackdown on foreign terrorist organiza-
tions in the United States. Third, immigration law enforcement should be
strengthened, and the INS should tighten controls on the Canadian border
(including stepping up U.S.-Canada cooperation).The principals endorsed the
proposed programs; some, like expanding the number of Joint Terrorism Task
Forces, moved forward, and others, like creating a centralized translation unit
for domestic intelligence intercepts in Arabic and other languages, did not.
Pressing Pakistan
While this process moved along, diplomacy continued its rounds. Direct pres-
sure on the Taliban had proved unsuccessful. As one NSC staff note put it,
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"Under the Taliban, Afghanistan is not so much a state sponsor of terrorism
as it is a state sponsored by terrorists."
In early 2000, the United States began
a high-level effort to persuade Pakistan to use its influence over the Taliban.
In January 2000, Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth and the State
Department's counterterrorism coordinator, Michael Sheehan, met with Gen-
eral Musharraf in Islamabad, dangling before him the possibility of a presidential
visit in March as a reward for Pakistani cooperation. Such a visit was coveted by
Musharraf, partly as a sign of his government's legitimacy. He told the two envoys
that he would meet with Mullah Omar and press him on Bin Ladin.They left,
however, reporting to Washington that Pakistan was unlikely in fact to do any-
thing,"given what it sees as the benefits of Taliban control of Afghanistan."
President Clinton was scheduled to travel to India. The State Department
felt that he should not visit India without also visiting Pakistan.The Secret Ser-
vice and the CIA, however, warned in the strongest terms that visiting Pakistan
would risk the President's life. Counterterrorism officials also argued that Pak-
istan had not done enough to merit a presidential visit. But President Clinton
insisted on including Pakistan in the itinerary for his trip to South Asia.
one-day stopover on March 25, 2000, was the first time a U.S. president had
been there since 1969. At his meeting with Musharraf and others, President
Clinton concentrated on tensions between Pakistan and India and the dangers
of nuclear proliferation, but also discussed Bin Ladin. President Clinton told us
that when he pulled Musharraf aside for a brief, one-on-one meeting, he
pleaded with the general for help regarding Bin Ladin."I offered him the moon
when I went to see him, in terms of better relations with the United States, if
he'd help us get Bin Ladin and deal with another issue or two."
The U.S. effort continued. Early in May, President Clinton urged Mushar-
raf to carry through on his promise to visit Afghanistan and press Mullah Omar
to expel Bin Ladin.
At the end of the month, Under Secretary of State
Thomas Pickering followed up with a trip to the region.
In June, DCI Tenet
traveled to Pakistan with the same general message.
By September, the United
States was becoming openly critical of Pakistan for supporting a Taliban mili-
tary offensive aimed at completing the conquest of Afghanistan.
In December, taking a step proposed by the State Department some months
earlier, the United States led a campaign for new UN sanctions, which resulted
in UN Security Council Resolution 1333, again calling for Bin Ladin's expul-
sion and forbidding any country to provide the Taliban with arms or military
This, too, had little if any effect. The Taliban did not expel Bin
Ladin. Pakistani arms continued to flow across the border.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told us, "We did not have a strong
hand to play with the Pakistanis. Because of the sanctions required by U.S. law,
we had few carrots to offer."
Congress had blocked most economic and mil-
itary aid to Pakistan because of that country's nuclear arms program and
Musharraf 's coup. Sheehan was critical of Musharraf, telling us that the Pak-
istani leader "blew a chance to remake Pakistan."
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Building New Capabilities: The CIA
The after-action review had treated the CIA as the lead agency for any offen-
sive against al Qaeda, and the principals, at their March 10 meeting, had
endorsed strengthening the CIA's capability for that role. To the CTC, that
meant proceeding with "the Plan," which it had put forward half a year
earlier--hiring and training more case officers and building up the capabilities
of foreign security services that provided intelligence via liaison. On occasion,
as in Jordan in December 1999, these liaison services took direct action against
al Qaeda cells.
In the CTC and higher up, the CIA's managers believed that they desper-
ately needed funds just to continue their current counterterrorism effort, for
they reckoned that the millennium alert had already used up all of the Cen-
ter's funds for the current fiscal year; the Bin Ladin unit had spent 140 percent
of its allocation.Tenet told us he met with Berger to discuss funding for coun-
terterrorism just two days after the principals' meeting.
While Clarke strongly favored giving the CIA more money for counter-
terrorism, he differed sharply with the CIA's managers about where it should
come from.They insisted that the CIA had been shortchanged ever since the
end of the Cold War. Their ability to perform any mission, counterterrorism
included, they argued, depended on preserving what they had, restoring what
they had lost since the beginning of the 1990s, and building from there--with
across-the-board recruitment and training of new case officers, and the
reopening of closed stations.To finance the counterterrorism effort,Tenet had
gone to congressional leaders after the 1998 embassy bombings and persuaded
them to give the CIA a special supplemental appropriation. Now, in the after-
math of the millennium alert,Tenet wanted a boost in overall funds for the CIA
and another supplemental appropriation specifically for counterterrorism.
To Clarke, this seemed evidence that the CIA's leadership did not give suffi-
cient priority to the battle against Bin Ladin and al Qaeda. He told us that James
Pavitt, the head of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, "said if there's going
to be money spent on going after Bin Ladin, it should be given to him. . . . My
view was that he had had a lot of money to do it and a long time to do it, and I
didn't want to put more good money after bad."
The CIA had a very different
attitude: Pavitt told us that while the CIA's Bin Ladin unit did "extraordinary and
commendable work," his chief of station in London "was just as much part of
the al Qaeda struggle as an officer sitting in [the Bin Ladin unit]."
The dispute had large managerial implications, for Clarke had found allies
in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).They had supplied him with
the figures he used to argue that CIA spending on counterterrorism from its
baseline budget had shown almost no increase.
Berger met twice with Tenet in April to try to resolve the dispute. The
Deputies Committee met later in the month to review fiscal year 2000 and
2001 budget priorities and offsets for the CIA and other agencies. In the end,
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Tenet obtained a modest supplemental appropriation, which funded counter-
terrorism without requiring much reprogramming of baseline funds. But the
CIA still believed that it remained underfunded for counterterrorism.
Terrorist Financing
The second major point on which the principals had agreed on March 10 was
the need to crack down on terrorist organizations and curtail their fund-raising.
The embassy bombings of 1998 had focused attention on al Qaeda's
finances. One result had been the creation of an NSC-led interagency com-
mittee on terrorist financing. On its recommendation, the President had des-
ignated Bin Ladin and al Qaeda as subject to sanctions under the International
Emergency Economic Powers Act.This gave the Treasury Department's Office
of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) the ability to search for and freeze any Bin
Ladin or al Qaeda assets that reached the U.S. financial system. But since OFAC
had little information to go on, few funds were frozen.
In July 1999, the President applied the same designation to the Taliban for
harboring Bin Ladin. Here, OFAC had more success. It blocked more than $34
million in Taliban assets held in U.S. banks. Another $215 million in gold and
$2 million in demand deposits, all belonging to the Afghan central bank and
held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, were also frozen.
After Octo-
ber 1999, when the State Department formally designated al Qaeda a "foreign
terrorist organization," it became the duty of U.S. banks to block its transac-
tions and seize its funds.
Neither this designation nor UN sanctions had much
additional practical effect; the sanctions were easily circumvented, and there
were no multilateral mechanisms to ensure that other countries' financial sys-
tems were not used as conduits for terrorist funding.
Attacking the funds of an institution, even the Taliban, was easier than find-
ing and seizing the funds of a clandestine worldwide organization like al Qaeda.
Although the CIA's Bin Ladin unit had originally been inspired by the idea of
studying terrorist financial links, few personnel assigned to it had any experi-
ence in financial investigations. Any terrorist-financing intelligence appeared
to have been collected collaterally, as a consequence of gathering other intel-
ligence.This attitude may have stemmed in large part from the chief of this unit,
who did not believe that simply following the money from point A to point B
revealed much about the terrorists' plans and intentions. As a result, the CIA
placed little emphasis on terrorist financing.
Nevertheless, the CIA obtained a general understanding of how al Qaeda
raised money. It knew relatively early, for example, about the loose affiliation
of financial institutions, businesses, and wealthy individuals who supported
extremist Islamic activities.
Much of the early reporting on al Qaeda's finan-
cial situation and its structure came from Jamal Ahmed al Fadl, whom we have
mentioned earlier in the report.
After the 1998 embassy bombings, the U.S.
government tried to develop a clearer picture of Bin Ladin's finances. A U.S.
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interagency group traveled to Saudi Arabia twice, in 1999 and 2000, to get
information from the Saudis about their understanding of those finances.The
group eventually concluded that the oft-repeated assertion that Bin Ladin was
funding al Qaeda from his personal fortune was in fact not true.
The officials developed a new theory: al Qaeda was getting its money else-
where, and the United States needed to focus on other sources of funding, such
as charities, wealthy donors, and financial facilitators. Ultimately, although the
intelligence community devoted more resources to the issue and produced
somewhat more intelligence,
it remained difficult to distinguish al Qaeda's
financial transactions among the vast sums moving in the international finan-
cial system.The CIA was not able to find or disrupt al Qaeda's money flows.
The NSC staff thought that one possible solution to these weaknesses in the
intelligence community was to create an all-source terrorist-financing intelli-
gence analysis center. Clarke pushed for the funding of such a center at Trea-
sury, but neither Treasury nor the CIA was willing to commit the resources.
Within the United States, various FBI field offices gathered intelligence on
organizations suspected of raising funds for al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
By 9/11, FBI agents understood that there were extremist organizations oper-
ating within the United States supporting a global jihadist movement and with
substantial connections to al Qaeda. The FBI operated a web of informants,
conducted electronic surveillance, and had opened significant investigations in
a number of field offices, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Diego,
and Minneapolis. On a national level, however, the FBI never used the infor-
mation to gain a systematic or strategic understanding of the nature and extent
of al Qaeda fundraising.
Treasury regulators, as well as U.S. financial institutions, were generally
focused on finding and deterring or disrupting the vast flows of U.S. currency
generated by drug trafficking and high-level international fraud. Large-scale
scandals, such as the use of the Bank of New York by Russian money launder-
ers to move millions of dollars out of Russia, captured the attention of the
Department of the Treasury and of Congress.
Before 9/11,Treasury did not
consider terrorist financing important enough to mention in its national strat-
egy for money laundering.
Border Security
The third point on which the principals had agreed on March 10 was the need
for attention to America's porous borders and the weak enforcement of immi-
gration laws. Drawing on ideas from government officials, Clarke's working
group developed a menu of proposals to bolster border security. Some
reworked or reiterated previous presidential directives.
They included
· creating an interagency center to target illegal entry and human
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· imposing tighter controls on student visas;
· taking legal action to prevent terrorists from coming into the United
States and to remove those already here, detaining them while await-
ing removal proceedings;
· further increasing the number of immigration agents to FBI Joint Ter-
rorism Task Forces to help investigate immigration charges against
individuals suspected of terrorism;
· activating a special court to enable the use of classified evidence in
immigration-related national security cases;
· both implementing new security measures for U.S. passports and
working with the United Nations and foreign governments to raise
global security standards for travel documents.
Clarke's working group compiled new proposals as well, such as
· undertaking a Joint Perimeter Defense program with Canada to estab-
lish cooperative intelligence and law enforcement programs, leading
to joint operations based on shared visa and immigration data and
joint border patrols;
· staffing land border crossings 24/7 and equipping them with video
cameras, physical barriers, and means to detect weapons of mass
destruction (WMD); and
· addressing the problem of migrants--possibly including terrorists--
who destroy their travel documents so they cannot be returned to
their countries of origin.
These proposals were praiseworthy in principle. In practice, however, they
required action by weak, chronically underfunded executive agencies and pow-
erful congressional committees, which were more responsive to well-organ-
ized interest groups than to executive branch interagency committees. The
changes sought by the principals in March 2000 were only beginning to occur
before 9/11.
"Afghan Eyes"
In early March 2000, when President Clinton received an update on U.S. covert
action efforts against Bin Ladin, he wrote in the memo's margin that the United
States could surely do better. Military officers in the Joint Staff told us that they
shared this sense of frustration. Clarke used the President's comment to push
the CSG to brainstorm new ideas, including aid to the Northern Alliance.
Back in December 1999, Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud
had offered to stage a rocket attack against Bin Ladin's Derunta training com-
plex. Officers at the CIA had worried that giving him a green light might cross
the line into violation of the assassination ban. Hence, Massoud was told not
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to take any such action without explicit U.S. authorization.
In the spring of
2000, after the CIA had sent out officers to explore possible closer relation-
ships with both the Uzbeks and the Northern Alliance, discussions took place
in Washington between U.S. officials and delegates sent by Massoud.
The Americans agreed that Massoud should get some modest technical help
so he could work on U.S. priorities--collecting intelligence on and possibly
acting against al Qaeda. But Massoud wanted the United States both to become
his ally in trying to overthrow the Taliban and to recognize that they were fight-
ing common enemies. Clarke and Cofer Black, the head of the Counterter-
rorist Center, wanted to take this next step. Proposals to help the Northern
Alliance had been debated in the U.S. government since 1999 and, as we men-
tioned in chapter 4, the U.S. government as a whole had been wary of endors-
ing them, largely because of the Northern Alliance's checkered history, its
limited base of popular support in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's objections.
CIA officials also began pressing proposals to use their ties with the
Northern Alliance to get American agents on the ground in Afghanistan for
an extended period, setting up their own base for covert intelligence col-
lection and activity in the Panjshir Valley and lessening reliance on foreign
proxies. "There's no substitute for face-to-face," one officer told us.
the CIA's institutional capacity for such direct action was weak, especially if
it was not working jointly with the U.S. military. The idea was turned down
as too risky.
In the meantime, the CIA continued to work with its tribal assets in south-
ern Afghanistan. In early August, the tribals reported an attempt to ambush Bin
Ladin's convoy as he traveled on the road between Kabul and Kandahar city--
their first such reported interdiction attempt in more than a year and a half.
But it was not a success. According to the tribals' own account, when they
approached one of the vehicles, they quickly determined that women and chil-
dren were inside and called off the ambush. Conveying this information to the
NSC staff, the CIA noted that they had no independent corroboration for this
incident, but that the tribals had acted within the terms of the CIA's authori-
ties in Afghanistan.
In 2000, plans continued to be developed for potential military operations
in Afghanistan. Navy vessels that could launch missiles into Afghanistan were
still on call in the north Arabian Sea.
In the summer, the military refined its
list of strikes and Special Operations possibilities to a set of 13 options within
the Operation Infinite Resolve plan.
Yet planning efforts continued to be
limited by the same operational and policy concerns encountered in 1998 and
1999. Although the intelligence community sometimes knew where Bin Ladin
was, it had been unable to provide intelligence considered sufficiently reliable
to launch a strike.Above all, the United States did not have American eyes on
the target.As one military officer put it, we had our hand on the door, but we
couldn't open the door and walk in.
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At some point during this period, President Clinton expressed his frustra-
tion with the lack of military options to take out Bin Ladin and the al Qaeda
leadership, remarking to General Hugh Shelton,"You know, it would scare the
shit out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of heli-
copters into the middle of their camp."
Although Shelton told the Commis-
sion he did not remember the statement, President Clinton recalled this remark
as "one of the many things I said." The President added, however, that he real-
ized nothing would be accomplished if he lashed out in anger. Secretary of
Defense William Cohen thought that the President might have been making
a hypothetical statement. Regardless, he said, the question remained how to get
the "ninjas" into and out of the theater of operations.
As discussed in chap-
ter 4, plans of this kind were never carried out before 9/11.
In late 1999 or early 2000, the Joint Staff 's director of operations,Vice Admi-
ral Scott Fry, directed his chief information operations officer, Brigadier Gen-
eral Scott Gration, to develop innovative ways to get better intelligence on Bin
Ladin's whereabouts. Gration and his team worked on a number of different
ideas aimed at getting reliable American eyes on Bin Ladin in a way that would
reduce the lag time between sighting and striking.
One option was to use a small, unmanned U.S. Air Force drone called the
Predator, which could survey the territory below and send back video footage.
Another option--eventually dismissed as impractical--was to place a power-
ful long-range telescope on a mountain within range of one of Bin Ladin's
training camps. Both proposals were discussed with General Shelton, the chair-
man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then briefed to Clarke's office at the White
House as the CSG was searching for new ideas. In the spring of 2000, Clarke
brought in the CIA's assistant director for collection, Charles Allen, to work
together with Fry on a joint CIA-Pentagon effort that Clarke dubbed "Afghan
After much argument between the CIA and the Defense Department
about who should pay for the program, the White House eventually imposed
a cost-sharing agreement.The CIA agreed to pay for Predator operations as a
60-day "proof of concept" trial run.
The Small Group backed Afghan Eyes at the end of June 2000. By mid-July,
testing was completed and the equipment was ready, but legal issues were still
being ironed out.
By August 11, the principals had agreed to deploy the
The NSC staff considered how to use the information the drones
would be relaying from Afghanistan. Clarke's deputy, Roger Cressey, wrote to
Berger that emergency CSG and Principals Committee meetings might be
needed to act on video coming in from the Predator if it proved able to lock
in Bin Ladin's location. In the memo's margin, Berger wrote that before con-
sidering action,"I will want more than verified location: we will need, at least,
data on pattern of movements to provide some assurance he will remain in
place." President Clinton was kept up to date.
On September 7, the Predator flew for the first time over Afghanistan.When
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Clarke saw video taken during the trial flight, he described the imagery to
Berger as "truly astonishing," and he argued immediately for more flights seek-
ing to find Bin Ladin and target him for cruise missile or air attack. Even if Bin
Ladin were not found, Clarke said, Predator missions might identify additional
worthwhile targets, such as other al Qaeda leaders or stocks of chemical or bio-
logical weapons.
Clarke was not alone in his enthusiasm. He had backing from Cofer Black
and Charles Allen at the CIA.Ten out of 15 trial missions of the Predator over
Afghanistan were rated successful. On the first flight, a Predator saw a security
detail around a tall man in a white robe at Bin Ladin's Tarnak Farms compound
outside Kandahar. After a second sighting of the "man in white" at the com-
pound on September 28, intelligence community analysts determined that he
was probably Bin Ladin.
During at least one trial mission, the Taliban spotted the Predator and scram-
bled MiG fighters to try, without success, to intercept it. Berger worried that a
Predator might be shot down, and warned Clarke that a shootdown would be a
"bonanza" for Bin Ladin and the Taliban.
Still, Clarke was optimistic about Predator--as well as progress with dis-
ruptions of al Qaeda cells elsewhere. Berger was more cautious, praising the
NSC staff 's performance but observing that this was no time for compla-
cency. "Unfortunately," he wrote, "the light at the end of the tunnel is
another tunnel."
Early in chapter 5 we introduced, along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, two
other men who became operational coordinators for al Qaeda: Khallad and
Nashiri. As we explained, both were involved during 1998 and 1999 in prepar-
ing to attack a ship off the coast of Yemen with a b