9/11 Commission Report/Chapter 6
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6 FROM THREAT TO THREAT 174 In chapters 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 capturing 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.1 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 deliberate— intended to avoid enhancing Bin Ladin’s stature by giving him unnecessary publicity. His speeches focused especially on the danger of nonstate actors and of chemical and biological weapons.2 As the millennium approached, the most publicized worries were not about terrorism but about computer breakdowns—the Y2K scare. Some government officials were concerned that terrorists would take advantage of such breakdowns.3 6.1 THE MILLENNIUM CRISIS “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 FROM THREAT TO THREAT 175 operation, Jordanian police arrested Abu Hoshar and 15 others and informed Washington.4 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 American targets in Jordan.5 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.6 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.7 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.8 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 anything 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 Jordanian authorities to roll up the whole cell.9 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 bodies will pile up in sacks.”10 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.11 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 December 8 and decided to task Clarke’s Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) to develop plans to deter and disrupt al Qaeda plots.12 Michael Sheehan, the State Department member of the CSG, communicated 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 Pakistan. 13 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 emptyhanded. As Ambassador William Milam reported from Islamabad, Musharraf was “unwilling to take the political heat at home.”14 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.15 In mid-December,President Clinton signed a Memorandum 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.16Tenet would later send a message to all CIA personnel overseas, 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.17 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 falsified passport and a bogus story about persecution in Algeria, Ressam entered 176 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT Montreal and claimed political asylum. For the next few years he supported himself with petty crime. Recruited by an alumnus of Abu Zubaydah’s Khaldan 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.18 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 Angeles–area 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 York–based partner,Abdelghani Meskini, get training in Afghanistan if Meskini would help him maneuver in the United States.19 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 temperatures outside, and sucked on cough drops to soothe their irritated throats.20 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.21 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 FROM THREAT TO THREAT 177 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 admitted the passport was fraudulent and claimed political asylum. He was released pending a hearing, which he failed to attend. His political asylum claim was denied. He was arrested again, released again, and given another hearing date.Again, he did not show. He was arrested four times LAX.They planned to detonate the bomb on or around January 1, 2000. At the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) preinspection station in Victoria, 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 Canadian arrest warrants. After a cursory examination of Ressam’s car, the INS agents allowed Ressam to board the ferry.26 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.27 178 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 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.22 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.23 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.24 One of Meskini’s associates, 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 issued.25 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 liquid 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 cooperating in May 2001.28 Emergency Cooperation After the disruption of the plot in Amman, it had not escaped notice in Washington 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 Clinton, had been in touch with extremists in the United States as well as abroad.29 Before Ressam’s arrest, Berger saw no need to raise a public alarm at home— although the FBI put all field offices on alert.30 Now, following Ressam’s arrest, the FBI asked for an unprecedented number 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.31 The next day, writing about Ressam’s arrest and links to a cell in Montreal, 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.32 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 statement on the alert the same day.33 Clarke’s staff warned,“Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks in the US are likely.”34 Clarke asked Berger to try to make sure that the domestic 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.35 The CSG met daily. Berger said that the principals met constantly.36 Later, 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 inspection, testified that it was her “training and experience.”37 It appears that the heightened sense of alert at the national level played no role in Ressam’s detention. FROM THREAT TO THREAT 179 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.38 The FBI was more communicative during the millennium crisis than it had ever been.The senior FBI official for counterterrorism, Dale Watson,was a regular member of the CSG, and Clarke had good relations both with him and with some of the FBI agents handling al Qaeda–related 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.39 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 members of the NSC staff, the FBI returned to its normal practice of withholding written reports and saying little about investigations or witness interviews, taking the position that any information related to pending investigations might be presented to a grand jury and hence could not be disclosed under thenprevailing federal law.40 The terrorist plots that were broken up at the end of 1999 display the variety 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 prepared 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 developing 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. 180 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 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.”41 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 Mihdhar. 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.42 All made their way to Southeast Asia from Afghanistan and Pakistan, except for Mihdhar,who traveled from Yemen.43 Though Nawaf ’s trail was temporarily lost, the CIA soon identified “Khalid” as Khalid al Mihdhar.44 He was located leaving Yemen and tracked until he arrived in Kuala Lumpur on January 5, 2000.45 Other Arabs, unidentified at the time,were watched as they gathered with him in the Malaysian capital.46 On January 8, the surveillance teams reported that three of the Arabs had suddenly left Kuala Lumpur on a short flight to Bangkok.47 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 identifier available for the third person was part of a name—Salahsae.48 In 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.49 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 domestic 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.50 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.51 Several weeks later, CIA officers in Kuala Lumpur prodded colleagues in Bangkok for additional information regarding the three travelers.52 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 Angeles.53 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 FROM THREAT TO THREAT 181 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.54 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. 6.2 POST-CRISIS REFLECTION:AGENDA FOR 2000 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.55 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 network. 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.56 As one of Clarke’s staff noted, only a “chance discovery” by U.S. Customs had prevented a possible attack.57 Berger gave his approval for the NSC staff to commence an “afteraction 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.”58 The NSC staff advised Berger that the United States had only been “nibbling 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.”59The Principals Committee 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 organizations 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.60 Pressing Pakistan While this process moved along, diplomacy continued its rounds. Direct pressure on the Taliban had proved unsuccessful. As one NSC staff note put it, 182 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT “Under the Taliban, Afghanistan is not so much a state sponsor of terrorism as it is a state sponsored by terrorists.”61 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 General 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 anything,“ given what it sees as the benefits of Taliban control of Afghanistan.”62 President Clinton was scheduled to travel to India.The State Department felt that he should not visit India without also visiting Pakistan.The Secret Service and the CIA,however,warned in the strongest terms that visiting Pakistan would risk the President’s life. Counterterrorism officials also argued that Pakistan 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.63 His 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.”64 The U.S. effort continued. Early in May, President Clinton urged Musharraf to carry through on his promise to visit Afghanistan and press Mullah Omar to expel Bin Ladin.65 At the end of the month, Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering followed up with a trip to the region.66 In June, DCI Tenet traveled to Pakistan with the same general message.67 By September,the United States was becoming openly critical of Pakistan for supporting a Taliban military offensive aimed at completing the conquest of Afghanistan.68 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 expulsion and forbidding any country to provide the Taliban with arms or military assistance.69 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.”70 Congress had blocked most economic and military aid to Pakistan because of that country’s nuclear arms program and Musharraf ’s coup. Sheehan was critical of Musharraf, telling us that the Pakistani leader “blew a chance to remake Pakistan.”71 FROM THREAT TO THREAT 183 Building New Capabilities:The CIA The after-action review had treated the CIA as the lead agency for any offensive 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.72 In the CTC and higher up, the CIA’s managers believed that they desperately needed funds just to continue their current counterterrorism effort, for they reckoned that the millennium alert had already used up all of the Center’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 counterterrorism just two days after the principals’ meeting.73 While Clarke strongly favored giving the CIA more money for counterterrorism, 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 aftermath of the millennium alert,Tenet wanted a boost in overall funds for the CIA and another supplemental appropriation specifically for counterterrorism.74 To Clarke, this seemed evidence that the CIA’s leadership did not give sufficient 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.”75 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].”76 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.77 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, 184 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT Tenet obtained a modest supplemental appropriation, which funded counterterrorism without requiring much reprogramming of baseline funds. But the CIA still believed that it remained underfunded for counterterrorism.78 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 committee on terrorist financing. On its recommendation, the President had designated 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.79 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.80 After October 1999, when the State Department formally designated al Qaeda a “foreign terrorist organization,” it became the duty of U.S. banks to block its transactions and seize its funds.81 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 systems were not used as conduits for terrorist funding.82 Attacking the funds of an institution, even the Taliban,was easier than finding 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 experience in financial investigations. Any terrorist-financing intelligence appeared to have been collected collaterally, as a consequence of gathering other intelligence. 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.83 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.84 Much of the early reporting on al Qaeda’s financial situation and its structure came from Jamal Ahmed al Fadl,whom we have mentioned earlier in the report.85 After the 1998 embassy bombings, the U.S. government tried to develop a clearer picture of Bin Ladin’s finances.A U.S. FROM THREAT TO THREAT 185 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 elsewhere, 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,86 it remained difficult to distinguish al Qaeda’s financial transactions among the vast sums moving in the international financial system.The CIA was not able to find or disrupt al Qaeda’s money flows.87 The NSC staff thought that one possible solution to these weaknesses in the intelligence community was to create an all-source terrorist-financing intelligence analysis center. Clarke pushed for the funding of such a center at Treasury, but neither Treasury nor the CIA was willing to commit the resources.88 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 operating 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 information to gain a systematic or strategic understanding of the nature and extent of al Qaeda fundraising.89 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 launderers to move millions of dollars out of Russia, captured the attention of the Department of the Treasury and of Congress.90 Before 9/11,Treasury did not consider terrorist financing important enough to mention in its national strategy for money laundering.91 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 immigration 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.92 They included • creating an interagency center to target illegal entry and human traffickers; 186 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT • imposing tighter controls on student visas;93 • taking legal action to prevent terrorists from coming into the United States and to remove those already here, detaining them while awaiting removal proceedings;94 • further increasing the number of immigration agents to FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces to help investigate immigration charges against individuals suspected of terrorism;95 • activating a special court to enable the use of classified evidence in immigration-related national security cases;96 and • 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.97 Clarke’s working group compiled new proposals as well, such as • undertaking a Joint Perimeter Defense program with Canada to establish 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.98 These proposals were praiseworthy in principle. In practice, however, they required action by weak, chronically underfunded executive agencies and powerful congressional committees, which were more responsive to well-organized 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.99 Back in December 1999, Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud had offered to stage a rocket attack against Bin Ladin’s Derunta training complex. 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 FROM THREAT TO THREAT 187 to take any such action without explicit U.S. authorization.100 In the spring of 2000, after the CIA had sent out officers to explore possible closer relationships with both the Uzbeks and the Northern Alliance, discussions took place in Washington between U.S. officials and delegates sent by Massoud.101 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 fighting common enemies. Clarke and Cofer Black, the head of the Counterterrorist 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 mentioned in chapter 4, the U.S. government as a whole had been wary of endorsing them, largely because of the Northern Alliance’s checkered history, its limited base of popular support in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s objections.102 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 collection and activity in the Panjshir Valley and lessening reliance on foreign proxies.“There’s no substitute for face-to-face,” one officer told us.103 But 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.104 In the meantime, the CIA continued to work with its tribal assets in southern 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 children 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 authorities in Afghanistan.105 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.106 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.107Yet 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.108 188 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT At some point during this period, President Clinton expressed his frustration 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 helicopters into the middle of their camp.”109 Although Shelton told the Commission 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 realized 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.110 As discussed in chapter 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 Admiral Scott Fry, directed his chief information operations officer, Brigadier General 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.111 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 powerful long-range telescope on a mountain within range of one of Bin Ladin’s training camps. Both proposals were discussed with General Shelton, the chairman 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 Eyes.”112 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.113 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.114 By August 11, the principals had agreed to deploy the Predator.115 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 considering 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.116 On September 7,the Predator flew for the first time over Afghanistan.When FROM THREAT TO THREAT 189 Clarke saw video taken during the trial flight, he described the imagery to Berger as “truly astonishing,” and he argued immediately for more flights seeking 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 biological weapons.117 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 compound on September 28, intelligence community analysts determined that he was probably Bin Ladin.118 During at least one trial mission, the Taliban spotted the Predator and scrambled 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.119 Still, Clarke was optimistic about Predator—as well as progress with disruptions of al Qaeda cells elsewhere. Berger was more cautious, praising the NSC staff ’s performance but observing that this was no time for complacency. “Unfortunately,” he wrote, “the light at the end of the tunnel is another tunnel.”120 6.3 THE ATTACK ON THE USS COLE 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 preparing to attack a ship off the coast of Yemen with a boatload of explosives.They had originally targeted a commercial vessel, specifically an oil tanker, but Bin Ladin urged them to look for a U.S.warship instead. In January 2000, their team had attempted to attack a warship in the port of Aden, but the attempt failed when the suicide boat sank.More than nine months later,on October 12,2000, al Qaeda operatives in a small boat laden with explosives attacked a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Cole.The blast ripped a hole in the side of the Cole, killing 17 members of the ship’s crew and wounding at least 40.121 The plot, we now know, was a full-fledged al Qaeda operation, supervised directly by Bin Ladin. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.Nashiri was the field commander and managed the operation in Yemen. Khallad helped in Yemen until he was arrested in a case of mistaken 190 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT identity and freed with Bin Ladin’s help, as we also mentioned earlier. Local al Qaeda coordinators included Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, who was supposed to film the attack from a nearby apartment.The two suicide operatives chosen were Hassan al Khamri and Ibrahim al Thawar, also known as Nibras. Nibras and Quso delivered money to Khallad in Bangkok during Khallad’s January 2000 trip to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.122 In September 2000, Bin Ladin reportedly told Nashiri that he wanted to replace Khamri and Nibras. Nashiri was angry and disagreed, telling others he would go to Afghanistan and explain to Bin Ladin that the new operatives were already trained and ready to conduct the attack.Prior to departing,Nashiri gave Nibras and Khamri instructions to execute the attack on the next U.S.warship that entered the port of Aden.123 While Nashiri was in Afghanistan, Nibras and Khamri saw their chance. They piloted the explosives-laden boat alongside the USS Cole, made friendly gestures to crew members, and detonated the bomb. Quso did not arrive at the apartment in time to film the attack.124 Back in Afghanistan, Bin Ladin anticipated U.S. military retaliation. He ordered the evacuation of al Qaeda’s Kandahar airport compound and fled— first to the desert area near Kabul, then to Khowst and Jalalabad, and eventually back to Kandahar. In Kandahar, he rotated between five to six residences, spending one night at each residence. In addition, he sent his senior advisor, Mohammed Atef, to a different part of Kandahar and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, to Kabul so that all three could not be killed in one attack.125 There was no American strike. In February 2001, a source reported that an individual whom he identified as the big instructor (probably a reference to Bin Ladin) complained frequently that the United States had not yet attacked. According to the source, Bin Ladin wanted the United States to attack, and if it did not he would launch something bigger.126 The attack on the USS Cole galvanized al Qaeda’s recruitment efforts. Following the attack, Bin Ladin instructed the media committee, then headed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to produce a propaganda video that included a reenactment of the attack along with images of the al Qaeda training camps and training methods; it also highlighted Muslim suffering in Palestine, Kashmir, Indonesia, and Chechnya. Al Qaeda’s image was very important to Bin Ladin, and the video was widely disseminated. Portions were aired on Al Jazeera, CNN, and other television outlets. It was also disseminated among many young men in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and caused many extremists to travel to Afghanistan for training and jihad.Al Qaeda members considered the video an effective tool in their struggle for preeminence among other Islamist and jihadist movements.127 FROM THREAT TO THREAT 191 Investigating the Attack Teams from the FBI, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the CIA were immediately sent to Yemen to investigate the attack.With difficulty, Barbara Bodine, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, tried to persuade the Yemeni government to accept these visitors and allow them to carry arms, though the Yemenis balked at letting Americans openly carry long guns (rifles, shotguns, automatic weapons). Meanwhile, Bodine and the leader of the FBI team, John O’Neill, clashed repeatedly—to the point that after O’Neill had been rotated out of Yemen but wanted to return, Bodine refused the request. Despite the initial tension, theYemeni and American investigations proceeded.Within a few weeks, the outline of the story began to emerge.128 On the day of the Cole attack, a list of suspects was assembled that included al Qaeda’s affiliate Egyptian Islamic Jihad. U.S. counterterrorism officials told us they immediately assumed that al Qaeda was responsible.But as Deputy DCI John McLaughlin explained to us, it was not enough for the attack to smell, look, and taste like an al Qaeda operation.To make a case, the CIA needed not just a guess but a link to someone known to be an al Qaeda operative.129 Within the first weeks after the attack, the Yemenis found and arrested both Badawi and Quso, but did not let the FBI team participate in the interrogations. The CIA described initial Yemeni support after the Cole as “slow and inadequate.” President Clinton, Secretary Albright, and DCI Tenet all intervened to help. Because the information was secondhand, the U.S. team could not make its own assessment of its reliability.130 On November 11, the Yemenis provided the FBI with new information from the interrogations of Badawi and Quso, including descriptions of individuals from whom the detainees had received operational direction. One of them was Khallad, who was described as having lost his leg. The detainees said that Khallad helped direct the Cole operation from Afghanistan or Pakistan. The Yemenis (correctly) judged that the man described as Khallad was Tawfiq bin Attash.131 An FBI special agent recognized the name Khallad and connected this news with information from an important al Qaeda source who had been meeting regularly with CIA and FBI officers.The source had called Khallad Bin Ladin’s “run boy,” and described him as having lost one leg in an explosives accident at a training camp a few years earlier.To confirm the identification, the FBI agent asked the Yemenis for their photo of Khallad.The Yemenis provided the photo on November 22, reaffirming their view that Khallad had been an intermediary between the plotters and Bin Ladin. (In a meeting with U.S. officials a few weeks later, on December 16, the source identified Khallad from the Yemeni photograph.)132 U.S. intelligence agencies had already connected Khallad to al Qaeda terrorist operations, including the 1998 embassy bombings. By this time the Yeme- 192 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT nis also had identified Nashiri, whose links to al Qaeda and the 1998 embassy bombings were even more well-known.133 In other words, the Yemenis provided strong evidence connecting the Cole attack to al Qaeda during the second half of November, identifying individual operatives whom the United States knew were part of al Qaeda. During December the United States was able to corroborate this evidence. But the United States did not have evidence about Bin Ladin’s personal involvement in the attacks until Nashiri and Khallad were captured in 2002 and 2003. Considering a Response The Cole attack prompted renewed consideration of what could be done about al Qaeda. According to Clarke,Berger upbraided DCITenet so sharply after the Cole attack—repeatedly demanding to know why the United States had to put up with such attacks—that Tenet walked out of a meeting of the principals.134 The CIA got some additional covert action authorities, adding several other individuals to the coverage of the July 1999 Memorandum of Notification that allowed the United States to develop capture operations against al Qaeda leaders in a variety of places and circumstances. Tenet developed additional options, such as strengthening relationships with the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks and slowing recent al Qaeda–related activities in Lebanon.135 On the diplomatic track, Berger agreed on October 30, 2000, to let the State Department make another approach to Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Jalil about expelling Bin Ladin.The national security advisor ordered that the U.S.message “be stern and foreboding.” This warning was similar to those issued in 1998 and 1999. Meanwhile, the administration was working with Russia on new UN sanctions against Mullah Omar’s regime.136 President Clinton told us that before he could launch further attacks on al Qaeda in Afghanistan, or deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban threatening strikes if they did not immediately expel Bin Ladin, the CIA or the FBI had to be sure enough that they would “be willing to stand up in public and say, we believe that he [Bin Ladin] did this.” He said he was very frustrated that he could not get a definitive enough answer to do something about the Cole attack.137 Similarly, Berger recalled that to go to war, a president needs to be able to say that his senior intelligence and law enforcement officers have concluded who is responsible.He recalled that the intelligence agencies had strong suspicions,but had reached “no conclusion by the time we left office that it was al Qaeda.”138 Our only sources for what intelligence officials thought at the time are what they said in informal briefings. Soon after the Cole attack and for the remainder of the Clinton administration, analysts stopped distributing written reports about who was responsible.The topic was obviously sensitive, and both Ambassador Bodine in Yemen and CIA analysts in Washington presumed that the government did not want reports circulating around the agencies that FROM THREAT TO THREAT 193 might become public, impeding law enforcement actions or backing the President into a corner.139 Instead the White House and other principals relied on informal updates as more evidence came in.Though Clarke worried that the CIA might be equivocating in assigning responsibility to al Qaeda, he wrote Berger on November 7 that the analysts had described their case by saying that “it has web feet, flies, and quacks.”On November 10, CIA analysts briefed the Small Group of principals on their preliminary findings that the attack was carried out by a cell of Yemeni residents with some ties to the transnational mujahideen network. According to the briefing, these residents likely had some support from al Qaeda. But the information on outside sponsorship, support, and direction of the operation was inconclusive.The next day, Berger and Clarke told President Clinton that while the investigation was continuing, it was becoming increasingly clear that al Qaeda had planned and directed the bombing.140 In mid-November, as the evidence of al Qaeda involvement mounted, Berger asked General Shelton to reevaluate military plans to act quickly against Bin Ladin. General Shelton tasked General Tommy Franks, the new commander of CENTCOM, to look again at the options. Shelton wanted to demonstrate that the military was imaginative and knowledgeable enough to move on an array of options, and to show the complexity of the operations. He briefed Berger on the “Infinite Resolve” strike options developed since 1998, which the Joint Staff and CENTCOM had refined during the summer into a list of 13 possibilities or combinations. CENTCOM added a new “phased campaign”concept for wider-ranging strikes, including attacks against the Taliban. For the first time, these strikes envisioned an air campaign against Afghanistan of indefinite duration. Military planners did not include contingency planning for an invasion of Afghanistan. The concept was briefed to Deputy National Security Advisor Donald Kerrick on December 20, and to other officials.141 On November 25, Berger and Clarke wrote President Clinton that although the FBI and CIA investigations had not reached a formal conclusion, they believed the investigations would soon conclude that the attack had been carried out by a large cell whose senior members belonged to al Qaeda. Most of those involved had trained in Bin Ladin–operated camps in Afghanistan, Berger continued. So far, Bin Ladin had not been tied personally to the attack and nobody had heard him directly order it, but two intelligence reports suggested that he was involved. When discussing possible responses, though, Berger referred to the premise—al Qaeda responsibility— as an “unproven assumption.”142 In the same November 25 memo, Berger informed President Clinton about a closely held idea: a last-chance ultimatum for the Taliban. Clarke was developing the idea with specific demands: immediate extradition of Bin Ladin and his lieutenants to a legitimate government for trial, observable closure of all ter- 194 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT rorist facilities in Afghanistan, and expulsion of all terrorists from Afghanistan within 90 days. Noncompliance would mean U.S. “force directed at the Taliban itself ” and U.S. efforts to ensure that the Taliban would never defeat the Northern Alliance. No such ultimatum was issued.143 Nearly a month later, on December 21, the CIA made another presentation to the Small Group of principals on the investigative team’s findings.The CIA’s briefing slides said that their “preliminary judgment” was that Bin Ladin’s al Qaeda group “supported the attack” on the Cole, based on strong circumstantial evidence tying key perpetrators of the attack to al Qaeda.The CIA listed the key suspects, including Nashiri. In addition, the CIA detailed the timeline of the operation, from the mid-1999 preparations, to the failed attack on the USS The Sullivans on January 3, 2000, through a meeting held by the operatives the day before the attack.144 The slides said that so far the CIA had “no definitive answer on [the] crucial question of outside direction of the attack—how and by whom.”The CIA noted that the Yemenis claimed that Khallad helped direct the operation from Afghanistan or Pakistan, possibly as Bin Ladin’s intermediary, but that it had not seen the Yemeni evidence. However, the CIA knew from both human sources and signals intelligence that Khallad was tied to al Qaeda.The prepared briefing concluded that while some reporting about al Qaeda’s role might have merit, those reports offered few specifics. Intelligence gave some ambiguous indicators of al Qaeda direction of the attack.145 This, President Clinton and Berger told us, was not the conclusion they needed in order to go to war or deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban threatening war.The election and change of power was not the issue, President Clinton added.There was enough time. If the agencies had given him a definitive answer, he said, he would have sought a UN Security Council ultimatum and given the Taliban one, two, or three days before taking further action against both al Qaeda and the Taliban. But he did not think it would be responsible for a president to launch an invasion of another country just based on a “preliminary judgment.”146 Other advisers have echoed this concern. Some of Secretary Albright’s advisers warned her at the time to be sure the evidence conclusively linked Bin Ladin to the Cole before considering any response, especially a military one, because such action might inflame the Islamic world and increase support for the Taliban. Defense Secretary Cohen told us it would not have been prudent to risk killing civilians based only on an assumption that al Qaeda was responsible. General Shelton added that there was an outstanding question as to who was responsible and what the targets were.147 Clarke recalled that while the Pentagon and the State Department had reservations about retaliation, the issue never came to a head because the FBI and the CIA never reached a firm conclusion. He thought they were “holding back.” He said he did not know why, but his impression was that Tenet and FROM THREAT TO THREAT 195 Reno possibly thought the White House “didn’t really want to know,” since the principals’ discussions by November suggested that there was not much White House interest in conducting further military operations against Afghanistan in the administration’s last weeks. He thought that, instead, President Clinton, Berger, and Secretary Albright were concentrating on a lastminute push for a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis.148 Some of Clarke’s fellow counterterrorism officials, such as the State Department’s Sheehan and the FBI’s Watson, shared his disappointment that no military response occurred at the time. Clarke recently recalled that an angry Sheehan asked rhetorically of Defense officials:“Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon to get their attention?”149 On the question of evidence,Tenet told us he was surprised to hear that the White House was awaiting a conclusion from him on responsibility for the Cole attack before taking action against al Qaeda. He did not recall Berger or anyone else telling him that they were waiting for the magic words from the CIA and the FBI. Nor did he remember having any discussions with Berger or the President about retaliation.Tenet told us he believed that it was up to him to present the case.Then it was up to the principals to decide if the case was good enough to justify using force. He believed he laid out what was knowable relatively early in the investigation, and that this evidence never really changed until after 9/11.150 A CIA official told us that the CIA’s analysts chose the term “preliminary judgment” because of their notion of how an intelligence standard of proof differed from a legal standard. Because the attack was the subject of a criminal investigation, they told us, the term preliminary was used to avoid locking the government in with statements that might later be obtained by defense lawyers in a future court case. At the time, Clarke was aware of the problem of distinguishing between an intelligence case and a law enforcement case. Asking U.S. law enforcement officials to concur with an intelligence-based case before their investigation had been concluded “could give rise to charges that the administration had acted before final culpability had been determined.”151 There was no interagency consideration of just what military action might have looked like in practice—either the Pentagon’s new “phased campaign” concept or a prolonged air campaign in Afghanistan. Defense officials, such as Under Secretary Walter Slocombe and Vice Admiral Fry, told us the military response options were still limited. Bin Ladin continued to be elusive.They felt, just as they had for the past two years, that hitting inexpensive and rudimentary training camps with costly missiles would not do much good and might even help al Qaeda if the strikes failed to kill Bin Ladin.152 In late 2000, the CIA and the NSC staff began thinking about the counterterrorism policy agenda they would present to the new administration.The Counterterrorist Center put down its best ideas for the future, assuming it was free of any prior policy or financial constraints.The paper was therefore infor- 196 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT mally referred to as the “Blue Sky” memo; it was sent to Clarke on December 29.The memo proposed • A major effort to support the Northern Alliance through intelligence sharing and increased funding so that it could stave off the Taliban army and tie down al Qaeda fighters.This effort was not intended to remove the Taliban from power, a goal that was judged impractical and too expensive for the CIA alone to attain. • Increased support to the Uzbeks to strengthen their ability to fight terrorism and assist the United States in doing so. • Assistance to anti-Taliban groups and proxies who might be encouraged to passively resist the Taliban. The CIA memo noted that there was “no single ‘silver bullet’ available to deal with the growing problems in Afghanistan.”A multifaceted strategy would be needed to produce change.153 No action was taken on these ideas in the few remaining weeks of the Clinton administration. Berger did not recall seeing or being briefed on the Blue Sky memo. Nor was the memo discussed during the transition with incoming top Bush administration officials.Tenet and his deputy told us they pressed these ideas as options after the new team took office.154 As the Clinton administration drew to a close, Clarke and his staff developed a policy paper of their own, the first such comprehensive effort since the Delenda plan of 1998.The resulting paper, entitled “Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al Qida: Status and Prospects,” reviewed the threat and the record to date, incorporated the CIA’s new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options. Clarke and his staff proposed a goal to “roll back” al Qaeda over a period of three to five years. Over time, the policy should try to weaken and eliminate the network’s infrastructure in order to reduce it to a “rump group” like other formerly feared but now largely defunct terrorist organizations of the 1980s. “Continued anti-al Qida operations at the current level will prevent some attacks,” Clarke’s office wrote,“but will not seriously attrit their ability to plan and conduct attacks.” The paper backed covert aid to the Northern Alliance, covert aid to Uzbekistan, and renewed Predator flights in March 2001. A sentence called for military action to destroy al Qaeda command-andcontrol targets and infrastructure and Taliban military and command assets.The paper also expressed concern about the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the United States.155 FROM THREAT TO THREAT 197 6.4 CHANGE AND CONTINUITY On November 7, 2000,American voters went to the polls in what turned out to be one of the closest presidential contests in U.S. history—an election campaign during which there was a notable absence of serious discussion of the al Qaeda threat or terrorism. Election night became a 36-day legal fight. Until the Supreme Court’s 5–4 ruling on December 12 and Vice President Al Gore’s concession, no one knew whether Gore or his Republican opponent,Texas Governor George W. Bush,would become president in 2001. The dispute over the election and the 36-day delay cut in half the normal transition period. Given that a presidential election in the United States brings wholesale change in personnel, this loss of time hampered the new administration in identifying, recruiting, clearing, and obtaining Senate confirmation of key appointees. From the Old to the New The principal figures on Bush’s White House staff would be National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who had been a member of the NSC staff in the administration of George H.W. Bush; Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley, who had been an assistant secretary of defense under the first Bush; and Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who had served that same administration as deputy chief of staff, then secretary of transportation. For secretary of state, Bush chose General Colin Powell, who had been national security advisor for President Ronald Reagan and then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For secretary of defense he selected Donald Rumsfeld, a former member of Congress, White House chief of staff, and, under President Gerald Ford, already once secretary of defense. Bush decided fairly soon to keep Tenet as Director of Central Intelligence. Louis Freeh, who had statutory ten-year tenure,would remain director of the FBI until his voluntary retirement in the summer of 2001. Bush and his principal advisers had all received briefings on terrorism, including Bin Ladin. In early September 2000, Acting Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin led a team to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, and gave him a wide-ranging, four-hour review of sensitive information. Ben Bonk, deputy chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, used one of the four hours to deal with terrorism.To highlight the danger of terrorists obtaining chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons, Bonk brought along a mock-up suitcase to evoke the way the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult had spread deadly sarin nerve agent on the Tokyo subway in 1995. Bonk told Bush that Americans would die from terrorism during the next four years.156 During the long contest after election day, the CIA set up an office in Crawford to pass intelligence to Bush and some of his key advisers.157 Tenet, accompanied by his deputy director for operations, James Pavitt, briefed President-elect Bush at Blair House during the transition. President Bush told 198 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT us he asked Tenet whether the CIA could kill Bin Ladin, and Tenet replied that killing Bin Ladin would have an effect but would not end the threat. President Bush told us Tenet said to him that the CIA had all the authority it needed.158 In December, Bush met with Clinton for a two-hour, one-on-one discussion of national security and foreign policy challenges. Clinton recalled saying to Bush,“I think you will find that by far your biggest threat is Bin Ladin and the al Qaeda.” Clinton told us that he also said,“One of the great regrets of my presidency is that I didn’t get him [Bin Ladin] for you, because I tried to.”159 Bush told the Commission that he felt sure President Clinton had mentioned terrorism,but did not remember much being said about al Qaeda. Bush recalled that Clinton had emphasized other issues such as North Korea and the Israeli- Palestinian peace process.160 In early January, Clarke briefed Rice on terrorism. He gave similar presentations— describing al Qaeda as both an adaptable global network of jihadist organizations and a lethal core terrorist organization—to Vice President–elect Cheney,Hadley, and Secretary of State–designate Powell. One line in the briefing slides said that al Qaeda had sleeper cells in more than 40 countries, including the United States.161 Berger told us that he made a point of dropping in on Clarke’s briefing of Rice to emphasize the importance of the issue. Later the same day, Berger met with Rice. He says that he told her the Bush administration would spend more time on terrorism in general and al Qaeda in particular than on anything else. Rice’s recollection was that Berger told her she would be surprised at how much more time she was going to spend on terrorism than she expected,but that the bulk of their conversation dealt with the faltering Middle East peace process and North Korea. Clarke said that the new team,having been out of government for eight years, had a steep learning curve to understand al Qaeda and the new transnational terrorist threat.162 Organizing a New Administration During the short transition, Rice and Hadley concentrated on staffing and organizing the NSC.163 Their policy priorities differed from those of the Clinton administration.Those priorities included China, missile defense, the collapse of the Middle East peace process, and the Persian Gulf.164 Generally aware that terrorism had changed since the first Bush administration, they paid particular attention to the question of how counterterrorism policy should be coordinated. Rice had asked University of Virginia history professor Philip Zelikow to advise her on the transition.165 Hadley and Zelikow asked Clarke and his deputy,Roger Cressey, for a special briefing on the terrorist threat and how Clarke’s Transnational Threats Directorate and Counterterrorism Security Group functioned.166 In the NSC during the first Bush administration, many tough issues were addressed at the level of the Deputies Committee. Issues did not go to the principals unless the deputies had been unable to resolve them. Presidential Deci- FROM THREAT TO THREAT 199 sion Directive 62 of the Clinton administration had said specifically that Clarke’s Counterterrorism Security Group should report through the Deputies Committee or, at Berger’s discretion, directly to the principals. Berger had in practice allowed Clarke’s group to function as a parallel deputies committee, reporting directly to those members of the Principals Committee who sat on the special Small Group.There, Clarke himself sat as a de facto principal. Rice decided to change the special structure that had been built to coordinate counterterrorism policy. It was important to sound policymaking, she felt, that Clarke’s interagency committee—like all others—report to the principals through the deputies.167 Rice made an initial decision to hold over both Clarke and his entire counterterrorism staff, a decision that she called rare for a new administration. She decided also that Clarke should retain the title of national counterterrorism coordinator, although he would no longer be a de facto member of the Principals Committee on his issues.The decision to keep Clarke, Rice said,was “not uncontroversial,” since he was known as someone who “broke china,” but she and Hadley wanted an experienced crisis manager. No one else from Berger’s staff had Clarke’s detailed knowledge of the levers of government. 168 Clarke was disappointed at what he perceived as a demotion. He also worried that reporting through the Deputies Committee would slow decisionmaking on counterterrorism.169 The result, amid all the changes accompanying the transition, was significant continuity in counterterrorism policy. Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group would continue to manage coordination. Tenet remained Director of Central Intelligence and kept the same chief subordinates, including Black and his staff at the Counterterrorist Center. Shelton remained chairman of the Joint Chiefs, with the Joint Staff largely the same. At the FBI, Director Freeh and Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson remained.Working-level counterterrorism officials at the State Department and the Pentagon stayed on, as is typically the case.The changes were at the cabinet and subcabinet level and in the CSG’s reporting arrangements.At the subcabinet level, there were significant delays in the confirmation of key officials, particularly at the Defense Department. The procedures of the Bush administration were to be at once more formal and less formal than its predecessor’s. President Clinton, a voracious reader, received his daily intelligence briefings in writing. He often scrawled questions and comments in the margins, eliciting written responses.The new president, by contrast, reinstated the practice of face-to-face briefings from the DCI.President Bush and Tenet met in the Oval Office at 8:00 A.M., with Vice President Cheney, Rice, and Card usually also present.The President and the DCI both told us that these daily sessions provided a useful opportunity for exchanges on intelligence issues.170 The President talked with Rice every day, and she in turn talked by phone at least daily with Powell and Rumsfeld.As a result, the President often felt less 200 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT need for formal meetings.If,however, he decided that an event or an issue called for action, Rice would typically call on Hadley to have the Deputies Committee develop and review options.The President said that this process often tried his patience but that he understood the necessity for coordination.171 Early Decisions Within the first few days after Bush’s inauguration, Clarke approached Rice in an effort to get her—and the new President—to give terrorism very high priority and to act on the agenda that he had pushed during the last few months of the previous administration. After Rice requested that all senior staff identify desirable major policy reviews or initiatives, Clarke submitted an elaborate memorandum on January 25, 2001. He attached to it his 1998 Delenda Plan and the December 2000 strategy paper.“We urgently need . . . a Principals level review on the al Qida network,” Clarke wrote.172 He wanted the Principals Committee to decide whether al Qaeda was “a first order threat” or a more modest worry being overblown by “chicken little” alarmists. Alluding to the transition briefing that he had prepared for Rice, Clarke wrote that al Qaeda “is not some narrow, little terrorist issue that needs to be included in broader regional policy.”Two key decisions that had been deferred, he noted, concerned covert aid to keep the Northern Alliance alive when fighting began again in Afghanistan in the spring, and covert aid to the Uzbeks. Clarke also suggested that decisions should be made soon on messages to the Taliban and Pakistan over the al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan, on possible new money for CIA operations, and on “when and how . . . to respond to the attack on the USS Cole.”173 The national security advisor did not respond directly to Clarke’s memorandum. No Principals Committee meeting on al Qaeda was held until September 4, 2001 (although the Principals Committee met frequently on other subjects, such as the Middle East peace process, Russia, and the Persian Gulf ).174 But Rice and Hadley began to address the issues Clarke had listed. What to do or say about the Cole had been an obvious question since inauguration day. When the attack occurred, 25 days before the election, candidate Bush had said to CNN,“I hope that we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action.There must be a consequence.” 175 Since the Clinton administration had not responded militarily, what was the Bush administration to do? On January 25,Tenet briefed the President on the Cole investigation.The written briefing repeated for top officials of the new administration what the CIA had told the Clinton White House in November.This included the “preliminary judgment” that al Qaeda was responsible, with the caveat that no evidence had yet been found that Bin Ladin himself ordered the attack.Tenet told us he had no recollection of a conversation with the President about this briefing.176 In his January 25 memo, Clarke had advised Rice that the government should respond to the Cole attack,but “should take advantage of the policy that FROM THREAT TO THREAT 201 ‘we will respond at a time, place and manner of our own choosing’ and not be forced into knee-jerk responses.”177 Before Vice President Cheney visited the CIA in mid-February, Clarke sent him a memo—outside the usual White House document-management system—suggesting that he ask CIA officials “what additional information is needed before CIA can definitively conclude that al-Qida was responsible” for the Cole.178 In March 2001, the CIA’s briefing slides for Rice were still describing the CIA’s “preliminary judgment” that a “strong circumstantial case” could be made against al Qaeda but noting that the CIA continued to lack “conclusive information on external command and control” of the attack.179 Clarke and his aides continued to provide Rice and Hadley with evidence reinforcing the case against al Qaeda and urging action.180 The President explained to us that he had been concerned lest an ineffectual air strike just serve to give Bin Ladin a propaganda advantage. He said he had not been told about Clinton administration warnings to the Taliban.The President told us that he had concluded that the United States must use ground forces for a job like this.181 Rice told us that there was never a formal, recorded decision not to retaliate specifically for the Cole attack. Exchanges with the President, between the President and Tenet, and between herself and Powell and Rumsfeld had produced a consensus that “tit-for-tat” responses were likely to be counterproductive. This had been the case, she thought, with the cruise missile strikes of August 1998.The new team at the Pentagon did not push for action. On the contrary, Rumsfeld thought that too much time had passed and his deputy,Paul Wolfowitz, thought that the Cole attack was “stale.”Hadley said that in the end, the administration’s real response to the Cole would be a new, more aggressive strategy against al Qaeda.182 The administration decided to propose to Congress a substantial increase in counterterrorism funding for national security agencies, including the CIA and the FBI.This included a 27 percent increase in counterterrorism funding for the CIA.183 Starting a Review In early March, the administration postponed action on proposals for increasing aid to the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks. Rice noted at the time that a more wide-ranging examination of policy toward Afghanistan was needed first. She wanted the review very soon.184 Rice and others recalled the President saying, “I’m tired of swatting at flies.”185 The President reportedly also said,“I’m tired of playing defense. I want to play offense. I want to take the fight to the terrorists.”186 President Bush explained to us that he had become impatient. He apparently had heard proposals for rolling back al Qaeda but felt that catching terrorists one by one or even cell by cell was not an approach likely to succeed in the long run. At the same time, he said,he understood that policy had to be developed slowly so that diplomacy and financial and military measures could mesh with one another.187 202 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT Hadley convened an informal Deputies Committee meeting on March 7, when some of the deputies had not yet been confirmed. For the first time, Clarke’s various proposals—for aid to the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks and for Predator missions—went before the group that, in the Bush NSC, would do most of the policy work.Though they made no decisions on these specific proposals, Hadley apparently concluded that there should be a presidential national security policy directive (NSPD) on terrorism.188 Clarke would later express irritation about the deputies’ insistence that a strategy for coping with al Qaeda be framed within the context of a regional policy. He doubted that the benefits would compensate for the time lost.The administration had in fact proceeded with Principals Committee meetings on topics including Iraq and Sudan without prior contextual review, and Clarke favored moving ahead similarly with a narrow counterterrorism agenda.189 But the President’s senior advisers saw the al Qaeda problem as part of a puzzle that could not be assembled without filling in the pieces for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rice deferred a Principals Committee meeting on al Qaeda until the deputies had developed a new policy for their consideration. The full Deputies Committee discussed al Qaeda on April 30. CIA briefing slides described al Qaeda as the “most dangerous group we face,” citing its “leadership, experience, resources, safe haven in Afghanistan, [and] focus on attacking U.S.”The slides warned,“There will be more attacks.”190 At the meeting, the deputies endorsed covert aid to Uzbekistan. Regarding the Northern Alliance, they “agreed to make no major commitment at this time.”Washington would first consider options for aiding other anti- Taliban groups.191 Meanwhile, the administration would “initiate a comprehensive review of U.S. policy on Pakistan” and explore policy options on Afghanistan, “including the option of supporting regime change.”192 Working-level officials were also to consider new steps on terrorist financing and America’s perennially troubled public diplomacy efforts in the Muslim world, where NSC staff warned that “we have by and large ceded the court of public opinion” to al Qaeda. While Clarke remained concerned about the pace of the policy review, he now saw a greater possibility of persuading the deputies to recognize the changed nature of terrorism.193 The process of fleshing out that strategy was under way. 6.5 THE NEW ADMINISTRATION’S APPROACH The Bush administration in its first months faced many problems other than terrorism.They included the collapse of the Middle East peace process and, in April, a crisis over a U.S.“spy plane” brought down in Chinese territory. The new administration also focused heavily on Russia, a new nuclear strategy that allowed missile defenses, Europe, Mexico, and the Persian Gulf. FROM THREAT TO THREAT 203 In the spring, reporting on terrorism surged dramatically. In chapter 8, we will explore this reporting and the ways agencies responded.These increasingly alarming reports, briefed to the President and top officials, became part of the context in which the new administration weighed its options for policy on al Qaeda. Except for a few reports that the CSG considered and apparently judged to be unreliable, none of these pointed specifically to possible al Qaeda action inside the United States—although the CSG continued to be concerned about the domestic threat. The mosaic of threat intelligence came from the Counterterrorist Center, which collected only abroad. Its reports were not supplemented by reports from the FBI. Clarke had expressed concern about an al Qaeda presence in the United States, and he worried about an attack on the White House by “Hizbollah, Hamas, al Qida and other terrorist organizations.”194 In May, President Bush announced that Vice President Cheney would himself lead an effort looking at preparations for managing a possible attack by weapons of mass destruction and at more general problems of national preparedness. The next few months were mainly spent organizing the effort and bringing an admiral from the Sixth Fleet back to Washington to manage it.The Vice President’s task force was just getting under way when the 9/11 attack occurred.195 On May 29, at Tenet’s request, Rice and Tenet converted their usual weekly meeting into a broader discussion on al Qaeda; participants included Clarke, CTC chief Cofer Black, and “Richard,” a group chief with authority over the Bin Ladin unit. Rice asked about “taking the offensive” and whether any approach could be made to influence Bin Ladin or the Taliban. Clarke and Black replied that the CIA’s ongoing disruption activities were “taking the offensive” and that Bin Ladin could not be deterred. A wide-ranging discussion then ensued about “breaking the back” of Bin Ladin’s organization.196 Tenet emphasized the ambitious plans for covert action that the CIA had developed in December 2000. In discussing the draft authorities for this program in March, CIA officials had pointed out that the spending level envisioned for these plans was larger than the CIA’s entire current budget for counterterrorism covert action. It would be a multiyear program, requiring such levels of spending for about five years.197 The CIA official,“Richard,” told us that Rice “got it.” He said she agreed with his conclusions about what needed to be done, although he complained to us that the policy process did not follow through quickly enough.198 Clarke and Black were asked to develop a range of options for attacking Bin Ladin’s organization, from the least to most ambitious.199 Rice and Hadley asked Clarke and his staff to draw up the new presidential directive. On June 7, Hadley circulated the first draft, describing it as “an admittedly ambitious” program for confronting al Qaeda.200 The draft NSPD’s goal was to “eliminate the al Qida network of terrorist groups as a 204 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT threat to the United States and to friendly governments.” It called for a multiyear effort involving diplomacy, covert action, economic measures, law enforcement, public diplomacy, and if necessary military efforts. The State Department was to work with other governments to end all al Qaeda sanctuaries, and also to work with the Treasury Department to disrupt terrorist financing.The CIA was to develop an expanded covert action program including significant additional funding and aid to anti-Taliban groups.The draft also tasked OMB with ensuring that sufficient funds to support this program were found in U.S. budgets from fiscal years 2002 to 2006.201 Rice viewed this draft directive as the embodiment of a comprehensive new strategy employing all instruments of national power to eliminate the al Qaeda threat. Clarke, however, regarded the new draft as essentially similar to the proposal he had developed in December 2000 and put forward to the new administration in January 2001.202 In May or June, Clarke asked to be moved from his counterterrorism portfolio to a new set of responsibilities for cybersecurity. He told us that he was frustrated with his role and with an administration that he considered not “serious about al Qaeda.”203 If Clarke was frustrated, he never expressed it to her, Rice told us.204 Diplomacy in Blind Alleys Afghanistan. The new administration had already begun exploring possible diplomatic options, retracing many of the paths traveled by its predecessors.U.S. envoys again pressed the Taliban to turn Bin Ladin “over to a country where he could face justice” and repeated, yet again, the warning that the Taliban would be held responsible for any al Qaeda attacks on U.S. interests.205 The Taliban’s representatives repeated their old arguments. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told us that while U.S. diplomats were becoming more active on Afghanistan through the spring and summer of 2001, “it would be wrong for anyone to characterize this as a dramatic shift from the previous administration.”206 In deputies meetings at the end of June,Tenet was tasked to assess the prospects for Taliban cooperation with the United States on al Qaeda.The NSC staff was tasked to flesh out options for dealing with the Taliban. Revisiting these issues tried the patience of some of the officials who felt they had already been down these roads and who found the NSC’s procedures slow.“We weren’t going fast enough,”Armitage told us. Clarke kept arguing that moves against the Taliban and al Qaeda should not have to wait months for a larger review of U.S. policy in South Asia.“For the government,” Hadley said to us,“we moved it along as fast as we could move it along.”207 As all hope in moving the Taliban faded, debate revived about giving covert assistance to the regime’s opponents. Clarke and the CIA’s Cofer Black renewed the push to aid the Northern Alliance. Clarke suggested starting with modest aid, just enough to keep the Northern Alliance in the fight and tie down al Qaeda terrorists, without aiming to overthrow the Taliban.208 FROM THREAT TO THREAT 205 Rice, Hadley, and the NSC staff member for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told us they opposed giving aid to the Northern Alliance alone.They argued that the program needed to have a big part for Pashtun opponents of the Taliban.They also thought the program should be conducted on a larger scale than had been suggested.Clarke concurred with the idea of a larger program,but he warned that delay risked the Northern Alliance’s final defeat at the hands of the Taliban.209 During the spring, the CIA, at the NSC’s request, had developed draft legal authorities—a presidential finding—to undertake a large-scale program of covert assistance to the Taliban’s foes.The draft authorities expressly stated that the goal of the assistance was not to overthrow the Taliban. But even this program would be very costly. This was the context for earlier conversations,when in March Tenet stressed the need to consider the impact of such a large program on the political situation in the region and in May Tenet talked to Rice about the need for a multiyear financial commitment.210 By July, the deputies were moving toward agreement that some last effort should be made to convince the Taliban to shift position and then, if that failed, the administration would move on the significantly enlarged covert action program. As the draft presidential directive was circulated in July, the State Department sent the deputies a lengthy historical review of U.S. efforts to engage the Taliban about Bin Ladin from 1996 on.“These talks have been fruitless,” the State Department concluded.211 Arguments in the summer brought to the surface the more fundamental issue of whether the U.S. covert action program should seek to overthrow the regime, intervening decisively in the civil war in order to change Afghanistan’s government. By the end of a deputies meeting on September 10, officials formally agreed on a three-phase strategy. First an envoy would give the Taliban a last chance. If this failed, continuing diplomatic pressure would be combined with the planned covert action program encouraging anti-Taliban Afghans of all major ethnic groups to stalemate the Taliban in the civil war and attack al Qaeda bases, while the United States developed an international coalition to undermine the regime. In phase three, if the Taliban’s policy still did not change, the deputies agreed that the United States would try covert action to topple the Taliban’s leadership from within.212 The deputies agreed to revise the al Qaeda presidential directive, then being finalized for presidential approval, in order to add this strategy to it.Armitage explained to us that after months of continuing the previous administration’s policy, he and Powell were bringing the State Department to a policy of overthrowing the Taliban. From his point of view, once the United States made the commitment to arm the Northern Alliance, even covertly, it was taking action to initiate regime change, and it should give those opponents the strength to achieve complete victory.213 Pakistan. The Bush administration immediately encountered the dilemmas that arose from the varied objectives the United States was trying to accom- 206 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT plish in its relationship with Pakistan. In February 2001, President Bush wrote General Musharraf on a number of matters. He emphasized that Bin Ladin and al Qaeda were “a direct threat to the United States and its interests that must be addressed.” He urged Musharraf to use his influence with the Taliban on Bin Ladin and al Qaeda.214 Powell and Armitage reviewed the possibility of acquiring more carrots to dangle in front of Pakistan. Given the generally negative view of Pakistan on Capitol Hill, the idea of lifting sanctions may have seemed far-fetched, but perhaps no more so than the idea of persuading Musharraf to antagonize the Islamists in his own government and nation.215 On June 18, Rice met with the visiting Pakistani foreign minister, Abdul Sattar. She “really let him have it” about al Qaeda, she told us.216 Other evidence corroborates her account. But, as she was upbraiding Sattar, Rice recalled thinking that the Pakistani diplomat seemed to have heard it all before. Sattar urged senior U.S. policymakers to engage the Taliban, arguing that such a course would take time but would produce results. In late June, the deputies agreed to review U.S. objectives.Clarke urged Hadley to split off all other issues in U.S.-Pakistani relations and just focus on demanding that Pakistan move vigorously against terrorism—to push the Pakistanis to do before an al Qaeda attack what Washington would demand that they do after. He had made similar requests in the Clinton administration; he had no more success with Rice than he had with Berger.217 On August 4, President Bush wrote President Musharraf to request his support in dealing with terrorism and to urge Pakistan to engage actively against al Qaeda.The new administration was again registering its concerns, just as its predecessor had, but it was still searching for new incentives to open up diplomatic possibilities. For its part, Pakistan had done little. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca described the administration’s plan to break this logjam as a move from “half engagement” to “enhanced engagement.”The administration was not ready to confront Islamabad and threaten to rupture relations. Deputy Secretary Armitage told us that before 9/11, the envisioned new approach to Pakistan had not yet been attempted.218 Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration did not develop new diplomatic initiatives on al Qaeda with the Saudi government before 9/11.Vice President Cheney called Crown Prince Abdullah on July 5, 2001, to seek Saudi help in preventing threatened attacks on American facilities in the Kingdom. Secretary of State Powell met with the crown prince twice before 9/11.They discussed topics like Iraq, not al Qaeda.U.S.-Saudi relations in the summer of 2001 were marked by sometimes heated disagreements about ongoing Israeli- Palestinian violence, not about Bin Ladin.219 Military Plans The confirmation of the Pentagon’s new leadership was a lengthy process. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz was confirmed in March 2001 and Under Secre- FROM THREAT TO THREAT 207 tary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith in July. Though the new officials were briefed about terrorism and some of the earlier planning, including that for Operation Infinite Resolve, they were focused, as Secretary Rumsfeld told us, on creating a twenty-first-century military.220 At the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shelton did not recall much interest by the new administration in military options against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.He could not recall any specific guidance on the topic from the secretary. Brian Sheridan—the outgoing assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict (SOLIC), the key counterterrorism policy office in the Pentagon—never briefed Rumsfeld. He departed on January 20; he had not been replaced by 9/11.221 Rumsfeld noted to us his own interest in terrorism, which came up often in his regular meetings with Tenet. He thought that the Defense Department, before 9/11,was not organized adequately or prepared to deal with new threats like terrorism. But his time was consumed with getting new officials in place and working on the foundation documents of a new defense policy, the quadrennial defense review, the defense planning guidance, and the existing contingency plans. He did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that engaged his attention before 9/11, other than the development of the Predator unmanned aircraft system.222 The commander of Central Command, General Franks, told us that he did not regard the existing plans as serious.To him a real military plan to address al Qaeda would need to go all the way, following through the details of a full campaign (including the political-military issues of where operations would be based) and securing the rights to fly over neighboring countries.223 The draft presidential directive circulated in June 2001 began its discussion of the military by reiterating the Defense Department’s lead role in protecting its forces abroad.The draft included a section directing Secretary Rumsfeld to “develop contingency plans” to attack both al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan.The new section did not specifically order planning for the use of ground troops, or clarify how this guidance differed from the existing Infinite Resolve plans.224 Hadley told us that by circulating this section, a draft Annex B to the directive, the White House was putting the Pentagon on notice that it would need to produce new military plans to address this problem.225 “The military didn’t particularly want this mission,” Rice told us.226 With this directive still awaiting President Bush’s signature, Secretary Rumsfeld did not order his subordinates to begin preparing any new military plans against either al Qaeda or the Taliban before 9/11. President Bush told us that before 9/11, he had not seen good options for special military operations against Bin Ladin. Suitable bases in neighboring countries were not available and, even if the U.S. forces were sent in, it was not clear where they would go to find Bin Ladin.227 208 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT President Bush told us that before 9/11 there was an appetite in the government for killing Bin Ladin, not for war. Looking back in 2004, he equated the presidential directive with a readiness to invade Afghanistan.The problem, he said,would have been how to do that if there had not been another attack on America.To many people, he said, it would have seemed like an ultimate act of unilateralism. But he said that he was prepared to take that on.228 Domestic Change and Continuity During the transition, Bush had chosen John Ashcroft, a former senator from Missouri, as his attorney general. On his arrival at the Justice Department, Ashcroft told us, he faced a number of problems spotlighting the need for reform at the FBI.229 In February, Clarke briefed Attorney General Ashcroft on his directorate’s issues. He reported that at the time, the attorney general acknowledged a “steep learning curve,” and asked about the progress of the Cole investigation. 230 Neither Ashcroft nor his predecessors received the President’s Daily Brief. His office did receive the daily intelligence report for senior officials that, during the spring and summer of 2001, was carrying much of the same threat information. The FBI was struggling to build up its institutional capabilities to do more against terrorism, relying on a strategy called MAXCAP 05 that had been unveiled in the summer of 2000.The FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism, Dale Watson, told us that he felt the new Justice Department leadership was not supportive of the strategy.Watson had the sense that the Justice Department wanted the FBI to get back to the investigative basics: guns, drugs, and civil rights.The new administration did seek an 8 percent increase in overall FBI funding in its initial budget proposal for fiscal year 2002, including the largest proposed percentage increase in the FBI’s counterterrorism program since fiscal year 1997.The additional funds included the FBI’s support of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah (a onetime increase), enhanced security at FBI facilities, and improvements to the FBI’s WMD incident response capability.231 In May, the Justice Department began shaping plans for building a budget for fiscal year 2003, the process that would usually culminate in an administration proposal at the beginning of 2002. On May 9, the attorney general testified at a congressional hearing concerning federal efforts to combat terrorism. He said that “one of the nation’s most fundamental responsibilities is to protect its citizens . . . from terrorist attacks.” The budget guidance issued the next day, however, highlighted gun crimes, narcotics trafficking, and civil rights as priorities.Watson told us that he almost fell out of his chair when he saw this memo, because it did not mention counterterrorism. Longtime FBI Director Louis Freeh left in June 2001, after announcing the indictment in the Khobar Towers case that he had worked so long to obtain.Thomas Pickard was the act- FROM THREAT TO THREAT 209 ing director during the summer. Freeh’s successor, Robert Mueller, took office just before 9/11.232 The Justice Department prepared a draft fiscal year 2003 budget that maintained but did not increase the funding level for counterterrorism in its pending fiscal year 2002 proposal. Pickard appealed for more counterterrorism enhancements, an appeal the attorney general denied on September 10.233 Ashcroft had also inherited an ongoing debate on whether and how to modify the 1995 procedures governing intelligence sharing between the FBI and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. But in August 2001,Ashcroft’s deputy, Larry Thompson, issued a memorandum reaffirming the 1995 procedures with the clarification that evidence of “any federal felony” was to be immediately reported by the FBI to the Criminal Division.The 1995 procedures remained in effect until after 9/11.234 Covert Action and the Predator In March 2001, Rice asked the CIA to prepare a new series of authorities for covert action in Afghanistan. Rice’s recollection was that the idea had come from Clarke and the NSC senior director for intelligence, Mary McCarthy, and had been linked to the proposal for aid to the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks. Rice described the draft document as providing for “consolidation plus,” superseding the various Clinton administration documents. In fact, the CIA drafted two documents. One was a finding that did concern aid to opponents of the Taliban regime; the other was a draft Memorandum of Notification, which included more open-ended language authorizing possible lethal action in a variety of situations.Tenet delivered both to Hadley on March 28. The CIA’s notes for Tenet advised him that “in response to the NSC request for drafts that will help the policymakers review their options, each of the documents has been crafted to provide the Agency with the broadest possible discretion permissible under the law.”At the meeting,Tenet argued for deciding on a policy before deciding on the legal authorities to implement it. Hadley accepted this argument, and the draft MON was put on hold.235 As the policy review moved forward, the planned covert action program for Afghanistan was included in the draft presidential directive, as part of an “Annex A” on intelligence activities to “eliminate the al Qaeda threat.”236 The main debate during the summer of 2001 concentrated on the one new mechanism for a lethal attack on Bin Ladin—an armed version of the Predator drone. In the first months of the new administration, questions concerning the Predator became more and more a central focus of dispute. Clarke favored resuming Predator flights over Afghanistan as soon as weather permitted, hoping that they still might provide the elusive “actionable intelligence” to target Bin Ladin with cruise missiles. Learning that the Air Force was thinking of 210 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT equipping Predators with warheads, Clarke became even more enthusiastic about redeployment.237 The CTC chief, Cofer Black, argued against deploying the Predator for reconnaissance purposes. He recalled that the Taliban had spotted a Predator in the fall of 2000 and scrambled their MiG fighters. Black wanted to wait until the armed version was ready. “I do not believe the possible recon value outweighs the risk of possible program termination when the stakes are raised by the Taliban parading a charred Predator in front of CNN,” he wrote. Military officers in the Joint Staff shared this concern.238 There is some dispute as to whether or not the Deputies Committee endorsed resuming reconnaissance flights at its April 30, 2001, meeting. In any event, Rice and Hadley ultimately went along with the CIA and the Pentagon, holding off on reconnaissance flights until the armed Predator was ready.239 The CIA’s senior management saw problems with the armed Predator as well, problems that Clarke and even Black and Allen were inclined to minimize. One (which also applied to reconnaissance flights) was money.A Predator cost about $3 million. If the CIA flew Predators for its own reconnaissance or covert action purposes, it might be able to borrow them from the Air Force, but it was not clear that the Air Force would bear the cost if a vehicle went down. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz took the position that the CIA should have to pay for it; the CIA disagreed.240 Second,Tenet in particular questioned whether he, as Director of Central Intelligence, should operate an armed Predator.“This was new ground,”he told us.Tenet ticked off key questions:What is the chain of command? Who takes the shot? Are America’s leaders comfortable with the CIA doing this, going outside of normal military command and control? Charlie Allen told us that when these questions were discussed at the CIA, he and the Agency’s executive director,A. B.“Buzzy” Krongard, had said that either one of them would be happy to pull the trigger, but Tenet was appalled, telling them that they had no authority to do it, nor did he.241 Third, the Hellfire warhead carried by the Predator needed work. It had been built to hit tanks, not people. It needed to be designed to explode in a different way, and even then had to be targeted with extreme precision. In the configuration planned by the Air Force through mid-2001, the Predator’s missile would not be able to hit a moving vehicle.242 White House officials had seen the Predator video of the “man in white.” On July 11, Hadley tried to hurry along preparation of the armed system. He directed McLaughlin,Wolfowitz, and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Richard Myers to deploy Predators capable of being armed no later than September 1. He also directed that they have cost-sharing arrangements in place by August 1. Rice told us that this attempt by Hadley to dictate a solution had failed and that she eventually had to intervene herself.243 On August 1, the Deputies Committee met again to discuss the armed FROM THREAT TO THREAT 211 Predator.They concluded that it was legal for the CIA to kill Bin Ladin or one of his deputies with the Predator. Such strikes would be acts of self-defense that would not violate the ban on assassinations in Executive Order 12333.The big issues—who would pay for what,who would authorize strikes,and who would pull the trigger—were left for the principals to settle.The Defense Department representatives did not take positions on these issues.244 The CIA’s McLaughlin had also been reticent.When Hadley circulated a memorandum attempting to prod the deputies to reach agreement,McLaughlin sent it back with a handwritten comment on the cost-sharing:“we question whether it is advisable to make such an investment before the decision is taken on flying an armed Predator.” For Clarke, this came close to being a final straw. He angrily asked Rice to call Tenet.“Either al Qida is a threat worth acting against or it is not,” Clarke wrote.“CIA leadership has to decide which it is and cease these bi-polar mood swings.”245 These debates, though, had little impact in advancing or delaying efforts to make the Predator ready for combat.Those were in the hands of military officers and engineers. General John Jumper had commanded U.S. air forces in Europe and seen Predators used for reconnaissance in the Balkans. He started the program to develop an armed version and, after returning in 2000 to head the Air Combat Command, took direct charge of it. There were numerous technical problems, especially with the Hellfire missiles. The Air Force tests conducted during the spring were inadequate, so missile testing needed to continue and modifications needed to be made during the summer. Even then, Jumper told us, problems with the equipment persisted.Nevertheless, the Air Force was moving at an extraordinary pace.“In the modern era, since the 1980s,” Jumper said to us,“I would be shocked if you found anything that went faster than this.”246 September 2001 The Principals Committee had its first meeting on al Qaeda on September 4. On the day of the meeting, Clarke sent Rice an impassioned personal note.He criticized U.S. counterterrorism efforts past and present.The “real question” before the principals, he wrote, was “are we serious about dealing with the al Qida threat? . . . Is al Qida a big deal? . . . Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the CSG has not succeeded in stopping al Qida attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US,” Clarke wrote. “What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier? That future day could happen at any time.”247 Clarke then turned to the Cole.“The fact that the USS Cole was attacked during the last Administration does not absolve us of responding for the attack,” he wrote. “Many in al Qida and the Taliban may have drawn the wrong lesson from the Cole: that they can kill Americans without there being a US response, without there being a price. . . . One might have thought that with a $250m hole 212 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT in a destroyer and 17 dead sailors, the Pentagon might have wanted to respond. Instead, they have often talked about the fact that there is ‘nothing worth hitting in Afghanistan’ and said ‘the cruise missiles cost more than the jungle gyms and mud huts’ at terrorist camps.” Clarke could not understand “why we continue to allow the existence of large scale al Qida bases where we know people are being trained to kill Americans.”248 Turning to the CIA, Clarke warned that its bureaucracy, which was “masterful at passive aggressive behavior,” would resist funding the new national security presidential directive, leaving it a “hollow shell of words without deeds.”The CIA would insist its other priorities were more important. Invoking President Bush’s own language, Clarke wrote,“You are left with a modest effort to swat flies, to try to prevent specific al Qida attacks by using [intelligence] to detect them and friendly governments’ police and intelligence officers to stop them.You are left waiting for the big attack, with lots of casualties, after which some major US retaliation will be in order[.]”249 Rice told us she took Clarke’s memo as a warning not to get dragged down by bureaucratic inertia.250 While his arguments have force, we also take Clarke’s jeremiad as something more. After nine years on the NSC staff and more than three years as the president’s national coordinator, he had often failed to persuade these agencies to adopt his views, or to persuade his superiors to set an agenda of the sort he wanted or that the whole government could support. Meanwhile, another counterterrorism veteran, Cofer Black, was preparing his boss for the principals meeting. He advised Tenet that the draft presidential directive envisioned an ambitious covert action program, but that the authorities for it had not yet been approved and the funding still had not been found. If the CIA was reluctant to use the Predator, Black did not mention it. He wanted “a timely decision from the Principals,” adding that the window for missions within 2001 was a short one. The principals would have to decide whether Rice,Tenet,Rumsfeld,or someone else would give the order to fire.251 At the September 4 meeting, the principals approved the draft presidential directive with little discussion.252 Rice told us that she had, at some point, told President Bush that she and his other advisers thought it would take three years or so for their al Qaeda strategy to work.253 They then discussed the armed Predator. Hadley portrayed the Predator as a useful tool, although perhaps not for immediate use. Rice, who had been advised by her staff that the armed Predator was not ready for deployment, commented about the potential for using the armed Predator in the spring of 2002.254 The State Department supported the armed Predator, although Secretary Powell was not convinced that Bin Ladin was as easy to target as had been suggested. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was skittish, cautioning about the implications of trying to kill an individual.255 FROM THREAT TO THREAT 213 The Defense Department favored strong action. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz questioned the United States’ ability to deliver Bin Ladin and bring him to justice. He favored going after Bin Ladin as part of a larger air strike, similar to what had been done in the 1986 U.S. strike against Libya.General Myers emphasized the Predator’s value for surveillance, perhaps enabling broader air strikes that would go beyond Bin Ladin to attack al Qaeda’s training infrastructure. 256 The principals also discussed which agency—CIA or Defense—should have the authority to fire a missile from the armed Predator.257 At the end, Rice summarized the meeting’s conclusions.The armed Predator capability was needed but not ready.The Predator would be available for the military to consider along with its other options.The CIA should consider flying reconnaissance-only missions.The principals—including the previously reluctant Tenet—thought that such reconnaissance flights were a good idea, combined with other efforts to get actionable intelligence.Tenet deferred an answer on the additional reconnaissance flights, conferred with his staff after the meeting, and then directed the CIA to press ahead with them.258 A few days later, a final version of the draft presidential directive was circulated, incorporating two minor changes made by the principals.259 On September 9, dramatic news arrived from Afghanistan.The leader of the Northern Alliance,Ahmed Shah Massoud,had granted an interview in his bungalow near the Tajikistan border with two men whom the Northern Alliance leader had been told were Arab journalists.The supposed reporter and cameraman— actually al Qaeda assassins—then set off a bomb, riddling Massoud’s chest with shrapnel. He died minutes later. On September 10, Hadley gathered the deputies to finalize their threephase, multiyear plan to pressure and perhaps ultimately topple the Taliban leadership. 260 That same day, Hadley instructed DCI Tenet to have the CIA prepare new draft legal authorities for the “broad covert action program” envisioned by the draft presidential directive. Hadley also directed Tenet to prepare a separate section “authorizing a broad range of other covert activities, including authority to capture or to use lethal force” against al Qaeda command-and-control elements. This section would supersede the Clinton-era documents. Hadley wanted the authorities to be flexible and broad enough “to cover any additional UBL-related covert actions contemplated.”261 Funding still needed to be located. The military component remained unclear. Pakistan remained uncooperative. The domestic policy institutions were largely uninvolved. But the pieces were coming together for an integrated policy dealing with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Pakistan. 214 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 7 THE ATTACK LOOMS 215 7.1 FIRST ARRIVALS IN CALIFORNIA In chapter 5 we described the Southeast Asia travels of Nawaf al Hazmi, Khalid al Mihdhar, and others in January 2000 on the first part of the “planes operation.” In that chapter we also described how Mihdhar was spotted in Kuala Lumpur early in January 2000, along with associates who were not identified, and then was lost to sight when the group passed through Bangkok. On January 15, Hazmi and Mihdhar arrived in Los Angeles.They spent about two weeks there before moving on to San Diego.1 Two Weeks in Los Angeles Why Hazmi and Mihdhar came to California, we do not know for certain. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the organizer of the planes operation, explains that California was a convenient point of entry from Asia and had the added benefit of being far away from the intended target area.2 Hazmi and Mihdhar were ill-prepared for a mission in the United States. Their only qualifications for this plot were their devotion to Usama Bin Ladin, their veteran service, and their ability to get valid U.S. visas. Neither had spent any substantial time in the West, and neither spoke much, if any, English.3 It would therefore be plausible that they or KSM would have tried to identify, in advance, a friendly contact for them in the United States. In detention, KSM denies that al Qaeda had any agents in Southern California.We do not credit this denial.4We believe it is unlikely that Hazmi and Mihdhar—neither of whom, in contrast to the Hamburg group, had any prior exposure to life in the West—would have come to the United States without arranging to receive assistance from one or more individuals informed in advance of their arrival.5 KSM says that though he told others involved in the conspiracy to stay away from mosques and to avoid establishing personal contacts, he made an exception in this case and instructed Hazmi and Mihdhar to pose as newly arrived Saudi students and seek assistance at local mosques.He counted on their breaking off any such relationships once they moved to the East Coast.6 Our inability to ascertain the activities of Hazmi and Mihdhar during their first two weeks in the United States may reflect al Qaeda tradecraft designed to protect the identity of anyone who may have assisted them during that period. Hazmi and Mihdhar were directed to enroll in English-language classes upon arriving in Southern California, so that they could begin pilot training as soon as possible. KSM claims to have steered the two to San Diego on the basis of his own research,which supposedly included thumbing through a San Diego phone book acquired at a Karachi flea market. Contradicting himself, he also says that, as instructed, they attempted to enroll in three language schools in Los Angeles.7 After the pair cleared Immigration and Customs at Los Angeles International Airport,we do not know where they went.8They appear to have obtained assistance from the Muslim community,specifically the community surrounding the King Fahd mosque in Culver City, one of the most prominent mosques in Southern California. It is fairly certain that Hazmi and Mihdhar spent time at the King Fahd mosque and made some acquaintances there. One witness interviewed by the FBI after the September 11 attacks has said he first met the hijackers at the mosque in early 2000. Furthermore, one of the people who would befriend them—a man named Mohdar Abdullah—recalled a trip with Hazmi and Mihdhar to Los Angeles in June when, on their arrival, the three went to the King Fahd mosque. There Hazmi and Mihdhar greeted various individuals whom they appeared to have met previously, including a man named “Khallam.” In Abdullah’s telling, when Khallam visited the al Qaeda operatives at their motel that evening,Abdullah was asked to leave the room so that Hazmi, Mihdhar, and Khallam could meet in private.The identity of Khallam and his purpose in meeting with Hazmi and Mihdhar remain unknown.9 To understand what Hazmi and Mihdhar did in their first weeks in the United States, evidently staying in Los Angeles, we have investigated whether anyone associated with the King Fahd mosque assisted them.This subject has received substantial attention in the media. Some have speculated that Fahad al Thumairy—an imam at the mosque and an accredited diplomat at the Saudi Arabian consulate from 1996 until 2003—may have played a role in helping the hijackers establish themselves on their arrival in Los Angeles.This speculation is based, at least in part, on Thumairy’s reported leadership of an extremist faction at the mosque.10 A well-known figure at the King Fahd mosque and within the Los Angeles Muslim community,Thumairy was reputed to be an Islamic fundamentalist and a strict adherent to orthodox Wahhabi doctrine. Some Muslims concerned about his preaching have said he “injected non-Islamic themes into his guidance/prayers at the [King Fahd] Mosque” and had followers “supportive of the events of September 11, 2001.”11 Thumairy appears to have associ- 216 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT ated with a particularly radical faction within the community of local worshippers, and had a network of contacts in other cities in the United States. After 9/11,Thumairy’s conduct was a subject of internal debate among some Saudi officials. He apparently lost his position at the King Fahd mosque, possibly because of his immoderate reputation. On May 6, 2003,Thumairy attempted to reenter the United States from Saudi Arabia but was refused entry, based on a determination by the State Department that he might be connected with terrorist activity.12 When interviewed by both the FBI and the Commission staff,Thumairy has denied preaching anti-Western sermons,much less promoting violent jihad. More to the point, he claimed not to recognize either Hazmi or Mihdhar.Both denials are somewhat suspect. (He likewise denied knowing Omar al Bayoumi— a man from San Diego we will discuss shortly—even though witnesses and telephone records establish that the two men had contact with each other. Similarly,Thumairy’s claim not to know Mohdar Abdullah is belied by Abdullah’s contrary assertion.) On the other hand,Thumairy undoubtedly met with and provided religious counseling to countless individuals during his tenure at the King Fahd mosque, so he might not remember two transients like Hazmi and Mihdhar several years later.13 The circumstantial evidence makes Thumairy a logical person to consider as a possible contact for Hazmi and Mihdhar.Yet, after exploring the available leads, we have not found evidence that Thumairy provided assistance to the two operatives.14 We do not pick up their trail until February 1, 2000, when they encountered Omar al Bayoumi and Caysan Bin Don at a halal food restaurant on Venice Boulevard in Culver City, a few blocks away from the King Fahd mosque.Bayoumi and Bin Don have both told us that they had driven up from San Diego earlier that day so that Bayoumi could address a visa issue and collect some papers from the Saudi consulate. Bayoumi heard Hazmi and Mihdhar speaking in what he recognized to be Gulf Arabic and struck up a conversation. Since Bin Don knew only a little Arabic, he had to rely heavily on Bayoumi to translate for him.15 Mihdhar and Hazmi said they were students from Saudi Arabia who had just arrived in the United States to study English.They said they were living in an apartment near the restaurant but did not specify the address.They did not like Los Angeles and were having a hard time, especially because they did not know anyone.Bayoumi told them how pleasant San Diego was and offered to help them settle there.The two pairs then left the restaurant and went their separate ways.16 Bayoumi and Bin Don have been interviewed many times about the February 1, 2000, lunch. For the most part, their respective accounts corroborate each other.However, Bayoumi has said that he and Bin Don attempted to visit the King Fahd mosque after lunch but could not find it. Bin Don, on the other THE ATTACK LOOMS 217 hand, recalls visiting the mosque twice that day for prayers, both before and after the meal.Bin Don’s recollection is spotty and inconsistent.Bayoumi’s version can be challenged as well, since the mosque is close to the restaurant and Bayoumi had visited it, and the surrounding area,on multiple occasions, including twice within six weeks of February 1.We do not know whether the lunch encounter occurred by chance or design.We know about it because Bayoumi told law enforcement that it happened.17 Bayoumi, then 42 years old,was in the United States as a business student, supported by a private contractor for the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority,where Bayoumi had worked for over 20 years.18 The object of considerable media speculation following 9/11, he lives now in Saudi Arabia, well aware of his notoriety. Both we and the FBI have interviewed him and investigated evidence about him. Bayoumi is a devout Muslim, obliging and gregarious. He spent much of his spare time involved in religious study and helping run a mosque in El Cajon, about 15 miles from San Diego. It is certainly possible that he has dissembled about some aspects of his story, perhaps to counter suspicion. On the other hand, we have seen no credible evidence that he believed in violent extremism or knowingly aided extremist groups.19 Our investigators who have dealt directly with him and studied his background find him to be an unlikely candidate for clandestine involvement with Islamist extremists. The Move to San Diego By February 4, Hazmi and Mihdhar had come to San Diego from Los Angeles, possibly driven by Mohdar Abdullah.Abdullah, a Yemeni university student in his early 20s, is fluent in both Arabic and English, and was perfectly suited to assist the hijackers in pursuing their mission.20 After 9/11,Abdullah was interviewed many times by the FBI. He admitted knowing of Hazmi and Mihdhar’s extremist leanings and Mihdhar’s involvement with the Islamic Army of Aden (a group with ties to al Qaeda) back in Yemen. Abdullah clearly was sympathetic to those extremist views. During a post-9/11 search of his possessions, the FBI found a notebook (belonging to someone else) with references to planes falling from the sky, mass killing, and hijacking. Further, when detained as a material witness following the 9/11 attacks,Abdullah expressed hatred for the U.S. government and “stated that the U.S. brought ‘this’ on themselves.”21 When interviewed by the FBI after 9/11,Abdullah denied having advance knowledge of attacks. In May 2004, however, we learned of reports about Abdullah bragging to fellow inmates at a California prison in September– October 2003 that he had known Hazmi and Mihdhar were planning a terrorist attack.The stories attributed to Abdullah are not entirely consistent with each other. Specifically, according to one inmate, Abdullah claimed an unnamed individual had notified him that Hazmi and Mihdhar would be arriv- 218 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT ing in Los Angeles with plans to carry out an attack. Abdullah allegedly told the same inmate that he had driven the two al Qaeda operatives from Los Angeles to San Diego, but did not say when this occurred.We have been unable to corroborate this account.22 Another inmate has recalled Abdullah claiming he first heard about the hijackers’ terrorist plans after they arrived in San Diego, when they told him they planned to fly an airplane into a building and invited him to join them on the plane. According to this inmate, Abdullah also claimed to have found out about the 9/11 attacks three weeks in advance, a claim that appears to dovetail with evidence that Abdullah may have received a phone call from Hazmi around that time, that he stopped making calls from his telephone after August 25, 2001, and that, according to his friends, he started acting strangely.23 Although boasts among prison inmates often tend to be unreliable, this evidence is obviously important.To date, neither we nor the FBI have been able to verify Abdullah’s alleged jailhouse statements, despite investigative efforts. We thus do not know when or how Hazmi and Mihdhar first came to San Diego.We do know that on February 4, they went to the Islamic Center of San Diego to find Omar al Bayoumi and take him up on his offer of help.Bayoumi obliged by not only locating an apartment but also helping them fill out the lease application, co-signing the lease and,when the real estate agent refused to take cash for a deposit, helping them open a bank account (which they did with a $9,900 deposit); he then provided a certified check from his own account for which the al Qaeda operatives reimbursed him on the spot for the deposit. Neither then nor later did Bayoumi give money to either Hazmi or Mihdhar, who had received money from KSM.24 Hazmi and Mihdhar moved in with no furniture and practically no possessions. Soon after the move,Bayoumi used their apartment for a party attended by some 20 male members of the Muslim community. At Bayoumi’s request, Bin Don videotaped the gathering with Bayoumi’s video camera. Hazmi and Mihdhar did not mingle with the other guests and reportedly spent most of the party by themselves off camera, in a back room.25 Hazmi and Mihdhar immediately started looking for a different place to stay. Based on their comment to Bayoumi about the first apartment being expensive, one might infer that they wanted to save money.They may also have been reconsidering the wisdom of living so close to the video camera–wielding Bayoumi, who Hazmi seemed to think was some sort of Saudi spy. Just over a week after moving in, Hazmi and Mihdhar filed a 30-day notice of intention to vacate.Bayoumi apparently loaned them his cell phone to help them check out possibilities for new accommodations.26 Their initial effort to move turned out poorly. An acquaintance arranged with his landlord to have Mihdhar take over his apartment. Mihdhar put down a $650 deposit and signed a lease for the apartment effective March 1. Several weeks later, Mihdhar sought a refund of his deposit, claiming he no longer THE ATTACK LOOMS 219 intended to move in because the apartment was too messy.When the landlord refused to refund the deposit, Mihdhar became belligerent. The landlord remembers him “ranting and raving” as if he were “psychotic.”27 Hazmi and Mihdhar finally found a room to rent in the home of an individual they had met at a mosque in San Diego.According to the homeowner, the future hijackers moved in on May 10, 2000. Mihdhar moved out after only about a month. On June 9, he left San Diego to return to Yemen. Hazmi, on the other hand, stayed at this house for the rest of his time in California, until mid-December; he would then leave for Arizona with a newly arrived 9/11 hijacker-pilot, Hani Hanjour.28 While in San Diego, Hazmi and Mihdhar played the part of recently arrived foreign students.They continued to reach out to members of the Muslim community for help.At least initially, they found well-meaning new acquaintances at the Islamic Center of San Diego, which was only a stone’s throw from the apartment where they first lived. For example, when they purchased a used car (with cash), they bought it from a man who lived across the street from the Islamic Center and who let them use his address in registering the vehicle, an accommodation “to help a fellow Muslim brother.” Similarly, in April, when their cash supply may have been dwindling, Hazmi persuaded the administrator of the Islamic Center to let him use the administrator’s bank account to receive a $5,000 wire transfer from someone in Dubai,in the United Arab Emirates (this was KSM’s nephew, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali).29 Hazmi and Mihdhar visited other mosques as well, mixing comfortably as devout worshippers. During the operatives’ critical first weeks in San Diego, Mohdar Abdullah helped them.Translating between English and Arabic, he assisted them in obtaining California driver’s licenses and with applying to language and flight schools.Abdullah also introduced them to his circle of friends; he shared an apartment with some of those friends near the Rabat mosque in La Mesa, a few miles from the hijackers’ residence.30 Abdullah has emerged as a key associate of Hazmi and Mihdhar in San Diego. Detained after 9/11 (first as a material witness, then on immigration charges), he was deported to Yemen on May 21, 2004, after the U.S.Attorney for the Southern District of California declined to prosecute him on charges arising out of his alleged jailhouse admissions concerning the 9/11 operatives. The Department of Justice declined to delay his removal pending further investigation of this new information.31 Other friends of Abdullah also translated for Hazmi and Mihdhar and helped them adjust to life in San Diego. Some held extremist beliefs or were well acquainted with known extremists. For example, immediately after 9/11, Osama Awadallah, a Yemeni whose telephone number was found in Hazmi’s Toyota at Washington Dulles International Airport,was found to possess photos, videos, and articles relating to Bin Ladin.Awadallah also had lived in a house where copies of Bin Ladin’s fatwas and other similar materials were distributed 220 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT to the residents. Omar Bakarbashat, a Saudi, also met Hazmi and Mihdhar at the Rabat mosque. He admitted helping Hazmi to learn English and taking over the operatives’ first apartment in San Diego after they moved out. Bakarbashat apparently had downloaded stridently anti-American Web pages to his computer’s hard drive.32 Another potentially significant San Diego contact for Hazmi and Mihdhar was Anwar Aulaqi, an imam at the Rabat mosque. Born in New Mexico and thus a U.S. citizen,Aulaqi grew up in Yemen and studied in the United States on a Yemeni government scholarship.We do not know how or when Hazmi and Mihdhar first met Aulaqi. The operatives may even have met or at least talked to him the same day they first moved to San Diego. Hazmi and Mihdhar reportedly respected Aulaqi as a religious figure and developed a close relationship with him.33 When interviewed after 9/11, Aulaqi said he did not recognize Hazmi’s name but did identify his picture. Although Aulaqi admitted meeting with Hazmi several times, he claimed not to remember any specifics of what they discussed. He described Hazmi as a soft-spoken Saudi student who used to appear at the mosque with a companion but who did not have a large circle of friends.34 Aulaqi left San Diego in mid-2000, and by early 2001 had relocated to Virginia. As we will discuss later, Hazmi eventually showed up at Aulaqi’s mosque in Virginia, an appearance that may not have been coincidental.We have been unable to learn enough about Aulaqi’s relationship with Hazmi and Mihdhar to reach a conclusion.35 In sum, although the evidence is thin as to specific motivations, our overall impression is that soon after arriving in California, Hazmi and Mihdhar sought out and found a group of young and ideologically like-minded Muslims with roots in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, individuals mainly associated with Mohdar Abdullah and the Rabat mosque.The al Qaeda operatives lived openly in San Diego under their true names, listing Hazmi in the telephone directory.They managed to avoid attracting much attention. Flight Training Fails; Mihdhar Bails Out Hazmi and Mihdhar came to the United States to learn English, take flying lessons, and become pilots as quickly as possible.They turned out, however, to have no aptitude for English.Even with help and tutoring from Mohdar Abdullah and other bilingual friends, Hazmi and Mihdhar’s efforts to learn proved futile.This lack of language skills in turn became an insurmountable barrier to learning how to fly.36 A pilot they consulted at one school, the Sorbi Flying Club in San Diego, spoke Arabic. He explained to them that their flight instruction would begin with small planes. Hazmi and Mihdhar emphasized their interest in learning to fly jets, Boeing aircraft in particular, and asked where they might enroll to train THE ATTACK LOOMS 221 on jets right away.Convinced that the two were either joking or dreaming, the pilot responded that no such school existed. Other instructors who worked with Hazmi and Mihdhar remember them as poor students who focused on learning to control the aircraft in flight but took no interest in takeoffs or landings. By the end of May 2000, Hazmi and Mihdhar had given up on learning how to fly.37 Mihdhar’s mind seems to have been with his family back in Yemen, as evidenced by calls he made from the apartment telephone.When news of the birth of his first child arrived, he could stand life in California no longer. In late May and early June of 2000, he closed his bank account, transferred the car registration to Hazmi, and arranged his return to Yemen.According to KSM, Mihdhar was bored in San Diego and foresaw no problem in coming back to the United States since he had not overstayed his visa. Hazmi and Mohdar Abdullah accompanied him to Los Angeles on June 9. After visiting the King Fahd mosque one last time with his friends, Mihdhar left the country the following day.38 KSM kept in fairly close touch with his operatives, using a variety of methods. When Bin Ladin called KSM back from Pakistan to Afghanistan in the spring of 2000, KSM asked Khallad (whom we introduced in chapter 5) to maintain email contact with Hazmi in the United States. Mihdhar’s decision to strand Hazmi in San Diego enraged KSM, who had not authorized the departure and feared it would compromise the plan. KSM attempted to drop Mihdhar from the planes operation and would have done so, he says, had he not been overruled by Bin Ladin.39 Following Mihdhar’s departure, Hazmi grew lonely and worried that he would have trouble managing by himself. He prayed with his housemate each morning at 5:00 A.M. and attended services at the Islamic Center.He borrowed his housemate’s computer for Internet access, following news coverage of fighting in Chechnya and Bosnia.With his housemate’s help, Hazmi also used the Internet to search for a wife (after obtaining KSM’s approval to marry).This search did not succeed. Although he developed a close relationship with his housemate, Hazmi preferred not to use the house telephone, continuing the practice he and Mihdhar had adopted of going outside to make phone calls.40 After Mihdhar left, other students moved into the house. One of these, Yazeed al Salmi, stands out. In July 2000, Salmi purchased $4,000 in traveler’s checks at a bank in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. On September 5, Hazmi deposited $1,900 of the traveler’s checks into his bank account, after withdrawing the same amount in cash. It is possible that Hazmi was simply cashing the traveler’s checks for a friend.We do not know; Salmi claims not to remember the transaction. After 9/11, Salmi reportedly confided to Mohdar Abdullah that he had previously known terrorist pilot Hani Hanjour.After living in the same house with Hazmi for about a month, Salmi moved to the La Mesa apartment shared by Abdullah and others.41 222 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT By the fall of 2000, Hazmi no longer even pretended to study English or take flying lessons.Aware that his co-conspirators in Afghanistan and Pakistan would be sending him a new colleague shortly, he bided his time and worked for a few weeks at a gas station in La Mesa where some of his friends, including Abdullah,were employed. On one occasion, Hazmi told a fellow employee that he was planning to find a better job, and let slip a prediction that he would become famous.42 On December 8, 2000, Hani Hanjour arrived in San Diego, having traveled from Dubai via Paris and Cincinnati. Hazmi likely picked up Hanjour at the airport.We do not know where Hanjour stayed; a few days later, both men left San Diego. Before departing, they visited the gas station in La Mesa, where Hazmi reportedly introduced Hanjour as a “long time friend from Saudi Arabia.” Hazmi told his housemate that he and his friend “Hani”were headed for San Jose to take flying lessons and told his friends that he would stay in touch. Hazmi promised to return to San Diego soon, and he and Hanjour drove off.43 Hazmi did not sever all contact with his friends in San Diego.According to Abdullah,after Hazmi left San Diego in December 2000, he telephoned Abdullah twice: in December 2000 or January 2001, Hazmi said he was in San Francisco and would be attending flight school there; about two weeks later, he said he was attending flight school in Arizona. Some evidence, which we will discuss later, indicates that Hazmi contacted Abdullah again, in August 2001. In addition, during the month following Hazmi’s departure from San Diego, he emailed his housemate three times, including a January 2001 email that Hazmi signed “Smer,” an apparent attempt to conceal his identity that struck the housemate as strange at the time. Hazmi also telephoned his housemate that he and his friend had decided to take flight lessons in Arizona, and that Mihdhar was now back in Yemen.That was their last contact.When the housemate emailed Hazmi in February and March of 2001 to find out how he was faring, Hazmi did not reply. 44 The housemate who rented the room to Hazmi and Mihdhar during 2000 is an apparently law-abiding citizen with long-standing, friendly contacts among local police and FBI personnel. He did not see anything unusual enough in the behavior of Hazmi or Mihdhar to prompt him to report to his law enforcement contacts. Nor did those contacts ask him for information about his tenants/housemates. 7.2 THE 9/11 PILOTS IN THE UNITED STATES The Hamburg Pilots Arrive in the United States In the early summer of 2000, the Hamburg group arrived in the United States to begin flight training.Marwan al Shehhi came on May 29, arriving in Newark on a flight from Brussels. He went to New York City and waited there for THE ATTACK LOOMS 223 Mohamed Atta to join him. On June 2, Atta traveled to the Czech Republic by bus from Germany and then flew from Prague to Newark the next day. According to Ramzi Binalshibh,Atta did not meet with anyone in Prague; he simply believed it would contribute to operational security to fly out of Prague rather than Hamburg, the departure point for much of his previous international travel.45 Atta and Shehhi had not settled on where they would obtain their flight training. In contrast, Ziad Jarrah had already arranged to attend the Florida Flight Training Center (FFTC) in Venice, Florida. Jarrah arrived in Newark on June 27 and then flew to Venice. He immediately began the private pilot program at FFTC, intending to get a multi-engine license. Jarrah moved in with some of the flight instructors affiliated with his school and bought a car.46 While Jarrah quickly settled into training in Florida, Atta and Shehhi kept searching for a flight school. After visiting the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma (where Zacarias Moussaoui would enroll several months later and where another al Qaeda operative, Ihab Ali, had taken lessons in the mid- 1990s), Atta started flight instruction at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida, and both Atta and Shehhi subsequently enrolled in the Accelerated Pilot Program at that school. By the end of July, both of them took solo flights, and by mid-August they passed the private pilot airman test.They trained through the summer at Huffman, while Jarrah continued his training at FFTC.47 The Hamburg operatives paid for their flight training primarily with funds wired from Dubai by KSM’s nephew,Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. Between June 29 and September 17, 2000,Ali sent Shehhi and Atta a total of $114,500 in five transfers ranging from $5,000 to $70,000.Ali relied on the unremarkable nature of his transactions, which were essentially invisible amid the billions of dollars flowing daily across the globe.48 Ali was not required to provide identification in sending this money and the aliases he used were not questioned.49 In mid-September,Atta and Shehhi applied to change their immigration status from tourist to student, stating their intention to study at Huffman until September 1, 2001. In late September, they decided to enroll at Jones Aviation in Sarasota, Florida, about 20 miles north of Venice.According to the instructor at Jones, the two were aggressive, rude, and sometimes even fought with him to take over the controls during their training flights. In early October, they took the Stage I exam for instruments rating at Jones Aviation and failed. Very upset, they said they were in a hurry because jobs awaited them at home. Atta and Shehhi then returned to Huffman.50 In the meantime, Jarrah obtained a single-engine private pilot certificate in early August. Having reached that milestone, he departed on the first of five foreign trips he would take after first entering the United States. In October, he flew back to Germany to visit his girlfriend,Aysel Senguen.The two traveled to Paris before Jarrah returned to Florida on October 29. His relationship with her remained close throughout his time in the United States. In addition 224 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT to his trips, Jarrah made hundreds of phone calls to her and communicated frequently by email.51 Jarrah was supposed to be joined at FFTC by Ramzi Binalshibh, who even sent the school a deposit. But Binalshibh could not obtain a U.S. visa. His first applications in May and June 2000 were denied because he lacked established ties in Germany ensuring his return from a trip to the United States. In September, he went home to Yemen to apply for a visa from there, but was denied on grounds that he also lacked sufficient ties to Yemen. In October, he tried one last time, in Berlin, applying for a student visa to attend “aviation language school,” but the prior denials were noted and this application was denied as well, as incomplete.52 Unable to participate directly in the operation, Binalshibh instead took on the role of coordinating between KSM and the operatives in the United States. Apart from sending a total of about $10,000 in wire transfers to Atta and Shehhi during the summer of 2000, one of Binalshibh’s first tasks in his new role as plot coordinator was to assist another possible pilot, Zacarias Moussaoui.53 In the fall of 2000, KSM had sent Moussaoui to Malaysia for flight training, but Moussaoui did not find a school he liked.He worked instead on other terrorist schemes, such as buying four tons of ammonium nitrate for bombs to be planted on cargo planes flying to the United States.When KSM found out, he recalled Moussaoui back to Pakistan and directed him to go to the United States for flight training. In early October, Moussaoui went to London.When Binalshibh visited London in December, he stayed at the same 16-room dormitory where Moussaoui was still residing. From London, Moussaoui sent inquiries to the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma.54 Confronting training or travel problems with Hazmi, Mihdhar, Binalshibh, and Moussaoui, al Qaeda was looking for another possible pilot candidate.A new recruit with just the right background conveniently presented himself in Afghanistan. The Fourth Pilot: Hani Hanjour Hani Hanjour, from Ta’if, Saudi Arabia, first came to the United States in 1991 to study at the Center for English as a Second Language at the University of Arizona. He seems to have been a rigorously observant Muslim.According to his older brother, Hani Hanjour went to Afghanistan for the first time in the late 1980s, as a teenager, to participate in the jihad and, because the Soviets had already withdrawn,worked for a relief agency there.55 In 1996, Hanjour returned to the United States to pursue flight training, after being rejected by a Saudi flight school. He checked out flight schools in Florida, California, and Arizona; and he briefly started at a couple of them before returning to Saudi Arabia. In 1997, he returned to Florida and then, along with two friends,went back to Arizona and began his flight training there in earnest. After about three months, Hanjour was able to obtain his private THE ATTACK LOOMS 225 pilot’s license. Several more months of training yielded him a commercial pilot certificate, issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in April 1999. He then returned to Saudi Arabia.56 Hanjour reportedly applied to the civil aviation school in Jeddah after returning home, but was rejected. He stayed home for a while and then told his family he was going to the United Arab Emirates to work for an airline. Where Hanjour actually traveled during this time period is unknown.It is possible he went to the training camps in Afghanistan.57 The fact that Hanjour spent so much time in Arizona may be significant.A number of important al Qaeda figures attended the University of Arizona in Tucson or lived in Tucson in the 1980s and early 1990s.58 Some of Hanjour’s known Arizona associates from the time of his flight training in the late 1990s have also raised suspicion.59 FBI investigators have speculated that al Qaeda may have directed other extremist Muslims in the Phoenix area to enroll in aviation training. It is clear that when Hanjour lived in Arizona in the 1990s, he associated with several individuals holding extremist beliefs who have been the subject of counterterrorism investigations. Some of them trained with Hanjour to be pilots.Others had apparent connections to al Qaeda, including training in Afghanistan.60 By the spring of 2000,Hanjour was back in Afghanistan.According to KSM, Hanjour was sent to him in Karachi for inclusion in the plot after Hanjour was identified in al Qaeda’s al Faruq camp as a trained pilot, on the basis of background information he had provided. Hanjour had been at a camp in Afghanistan for a few weeks when Bin Ladin or Atef apparently realized that he was a trained pilot; he was told to report to KSM, who then trained Hanjour for a few days in the use of code words.61 On June 20, Hanjour returned home to Saudi Arabia. He obtained a U.S. student visa on September 25 and told his family he was returning to his job in the UAE. Hanjour did go to the UAE, but to meet facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.62 Ali opened a bank account in Dubai for Hanjour and providing the initial funds for his trip.On December 8,Hanjour traveled to San Diego.His supposed destination was an English as a second language program in Oakland, California, which he had scheduled before leaving Saudi Arabia but never attended. Instead, as mentioned earlier, he joined Nawaf al Hazmi in San Diego.63 Hazmi and Hanjour left San Diego almost immediately and drove to Arizona. Settling in Mesa, Hanjour began refresher training at his old school,Arizona Aviation. He wanted to train on multi-engine planes, but had difficulties because his English was not good enough.The instructor advised him to discontinue but Hanjour said he could not go home without completing the training. In early 2001, he started training on a Boeing 737 simulator at Pan Am International Flight Academy in Mesa.An instructor there found his work well below standard and discouraged him from continuing.Again,Hanjour per- 226 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT severed; he completed the initial training by the end of March 2001. At that point, Hanjour and Hazmi vacated their apartment and started driving east, anticipating the arrival of the “muscle hijackers”—the operatives who would storm the cockpits and control the passengers. By as early as April 4, Hanjour and Hazmi had arrived in Falls Church,Virginia.64 The three pilots in Florida continued with their training. Atta and Shehhi finished up at Huffman and earned their instrument certificates from the FAA in November. In mid-December 2000, they passed their commercial pilot tests and received their licenses.They then began training to fly large jets on a flight simulator. At about the same time, Jarrah began simulator training, also in Florida but at a different center. By the end of 2000, less than six months after their arrival, the three pilots on the East Coast were simulating flights on large jets.65 Travels in Early 2001 Jarrah, Atta, and Shehhi, having progressed in their training, all took foreign trips during the holiday period of 2000–2001. Jarrah flew through Germany to get home to Beirut.A few weeks later, he returned to Florida via Germany, with Aysel Senguen. She stayed with him in Florida for ten days, even accompanying him to a flight training session.We do not know whether Atta or al Qaeda leaders knew about Jarrah’s trips and Senguen’s visit.The other operatives had broken off regular contact with their families. At the end of January 2001, Jarrah again flew to Beirut, to visit his sick father.After staying there for several weeks, Jarrah visited Senguen in Germany for a few days before returning to the United States at the end of February.66 While Jarrah took his personal trips,Atta traveled to Germany in early January 2001 for a progress meeting with Ramzi Binalshibh. Binalshibh says Atta told him to report to the al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan that the three Hamburg pilots had completed their flight training and were awaiting orders. Atta also disclosed that a fourth pilot, Hanjour, had joined Hazmi. Upon returning to Florida,Atta wired Binalshibh travel money. Binalshibh proceeded to Afghanistan, made his report, and spent the next several months there and in Pakistan.67 When Atta returned to Florida, Shehhi left for Morocco, traveling to Casablanca in mid-January. Shehhi’s family, concerned about not having heard from him, reported him missing to the UAE government.The UAE embassy in turn contacted the Hamburg police and a UAE representative tried to find him in Germany, visiting mosques and Shehhi’s last address in Hamburg.After learning that his family was looking for him, Shehhi telephoned them on January 20 and said he was still living and studying in Hamburg.The UAE government then told the Hamburg police they could call off the search.68 Atta and Shehhi both encountered some difficulty reentering the United States, on January 10 and January 18, respectively. Because neither presented a THE ATTACK LOOMS 227 228 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT Atta’s Alleged Trip to Prague Mohamed Atta is known to have been in Prague on two occasions: in December 1994, when he stayed one night at a transit hotel, and in June 2000, when he was en route to the United States. On the latter occasion, he arrived by bus from Germany, on June 2, and departed for Newark the following day.69 The allegation that Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April 2001 originates from the reporting of a single source of the Czech intelligence service. Shortly after 9/11, the source reported having seen Atta meet with Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al Ani, an Iraqi diplomat, at the Iraqi Embassy in Prague on April 9, 2001, at 11:00 A.M. This information was passed to CIA headquarters. The U.S. legal attaché (“Legat”) in Prague, the representative of the FBI, met with the Czech service’s source. After the meeting, the assessment of the Legat and the Czech officers present was that they were 70 percent sure that the source was sincere and believed his own story of the meeting. Subsequently, the Czech intelligence service publicly stated that there was a 70 percent probability that the meeting between Atta and Ani had taken place.The Czech Interior Minister also made several statements to the press about his belief that the meeting had occurred, and the story was widely reported. The FBI has gathered evidence indicating that Atta was in Virginia Beach on April 4 (as evidenced by a bank surveillance camera photo), and in Coral Springs, Florida on April 11, where he and Shehhi leased an apartment.On April 6, 9, 10, and 11,Atta’s cellular telephone was used numerous times to call various lodging establishments in Florida from cell sites within Florida.We cannot confirm that he placed those calls. But there are no U.S. records indicating that Atta departed the country during this period. Czech officials have reviewed their flight and border records as well for any indication that Atta was in the Czech Republic in April 2001, including records of anyone crossing the border who even looked Arab.They have also reviewed pictures from the area near the Iraqi embassy and have not discovered photos of anyone who looked like Atta. No evidence has been found that Atta was in the Czech Republic in April 2001. According to the Czech government,Ani, the Iraqi officer alleged to have met with Atta,was about 70 miles away from Prague on April 8–9 and did not return until the afternoon of the ninth, while the source was firm that the sighting occurred at 11:00 A.M.When questioned about the reported April 2001 meeting,Ani—now in custody—has denied ever student visa, both of them had to persuade INS inspectors that they should be admitted so that they could continue their flight training. Neither operative had any problem clearing Customs.71 After returning to Florida from their trips,Atta and Shehhi visited Georgia, staying briefly in Norcross and Decatur, and renting a single-engine plane to fly with an instructor in Lawrenceville. By February 19,Atta and Shehhi were in Virginia.They rented a mailbox in Virginia Beach, cashed a check, and then promptly returned to Georgia, staying in Stone Mountain.We have found no explanation for these travels. In mid-March, Jarrah was in Georgia as well, staying in Decatur.There is no evidence that the three pilots met, although Jarrah and Atta apparently spoke on the phone. At the end of the month, Jarrah left the United States again and visited Senguen in Germany for two weeks. In early April, Atta and Shehhi returned to Virginia Beach and closed the mailbox they had opened in February.72 By the time Atta and Shehhi returned to Virginia Beach from their travels in Georgia, Hazmi and Hanjour had also arrived in Virginia, in Falls Church. They made their way to a large mosque there, the Dar al Hijra mosque, sometime in early April.73 As we mentioned earlier, one of the imams at this mosque was the same Anwar Aulaqi with whom Hazmi had spent time at the Rabat mosque in San Diego. Aulaqi had moved to Virginia in January 2001. He remembers Hazmi THE ATTACK LOOMS 229 meeting or having any contact with Atta.Ani says that shortly after 9/11, he became concerned that press stories about the alleged meeting might hurt his career. Hoping to clear his name, Ani asked his superiors to approach the Czech government about refuting the allegation. He also denies knowing of any other Iraqi official having contact with Atta. These findings cannot absolutely rule out the possibility that Atta was in Prague on April 9, 2001. He could have used an alias to travel and a passport under that alias, but this would be an exception to his practice of using his true name while traveling (as he did in January and would in July when he took his next overseas trip). The FBI and CIA have uncovered no evidence that Atta held any fraudulent passports. KSM and Binalshibh both deny that an Atta-Ani meeting occurred. There was no reason for such a meeting, especially considering the risk it would pose to the operation. By April 2001, all four pilots had completed most of their training,and the muscle hijackers were about to begin entering the United States. The available evidence does not support the original Czech report of an Atta-Ani meeting.70 from San Diego but has denied having any contact with Hazmi or Hanjour in Virginia.74 At the Dar al Hijra mosque, Hazmi and Hanjour met a Jordanian named Eyad al Rababah. Rababah says he had gone to the mosque to speak to the imam, Aulaqi, about finding work. At the conclusion of services, which normally had 400 to 500 attendees, Rababah says he happened to meet Hazmi and Hanjour.They were looking for an apartment; Rababah referred them to a friend who had one to rent. Hazmi and Hanjour moved into the apartment, which was in Alexandria.75 Some FBI investigators doubt Rababah’s story. Some agents suspect that Aulaqi may have tasked Rababah to help Hazmi and Hanjour.We share that suspicion, given the remarkable coincidence of Aulaqi’s prior relationship with Hazmi. As noted above, the Commission was unable to locate and interview Aulaqi.Rababah has been deported to Jordan,having been convicted after 9/11 in a fraudulent driver’s license scheme.76 Rababah, who had lived in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, told investigators that he had recommended Paterson, New Jersey, as a place with an Arabic-speaking community where Hazmi and Hanjour might want to settle. They asked for his help in getting them an apartment in Paterson. Rababah tried without success. He says he then suggested that Hazmi and Hanjour travel with him to Connecticut where they could look for a place to live.77 On May 8,Rababah went to Hazmi and Hanjour’s apartment to pick them up for the trip to Connecticut.There he says he found them with new roommates— Ahmed al Ghamdi and Majed Moqed.These two men had been sent to America to serve as muscle hijackers and had arrived at Dulles Airport on May 2. Rababah drove Hanjour to Fairfield, Connecticut, followed by Hazmi, who had Moqed and Ghamdi in his car. After a short stay in Connecticut, where they apparently called area flight schools and real estate agents, Rababah drove the four to Paterson to have dinner and show them around. He says that they returned with him to Fairfield that night, and that he never saw them again.78 Within a few weeks, Hanjour, Hazmi, and several other operatives moved to Paterson and rented a one-room apartment. When their landlord later paid a visit, he found six men living there—Nawaf al Hazmi, now joined by his younger brother Salem, Hanjour, Moqed, probably Ahmed al Ghamdi, and Abdul Aziz al Omari; Hazmi’s old friend Khalid al Mihdhar would soon join them.79 Atta and Shehhi had already returned to Florida. On April 11, they moved into an apartment in Coral Springs.Atta stayed in Florida, awaiting the arrival of the first muscle hijackers.80 Shehhi, on the other hand, bought a ticket to Cairo and flew there from Miami on April 18.We do not know much more about Shehhi’s reason for traveling to Egypt in April than we know about his January trip to Morocco. 230 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT Shehhi did meet with Atta’s father, who stated in a post-9/11 interview that Shehhi just wanted to pick up Atta’s international driver’s license and some money.This story is not credible.Atta already had the license with him and presented it during a traffic stop on April 26 while Shehhi was still abroad. Shehhi spent about two weeks in Egypt,obviously more time than would have been needed just to meet with Atta’s father. Shehhi could have traveled elsewhere during this time, but no records indicating additional travel have been discovered. 81 Shehhi returned to Miami on May 2. That day, Atta and Jarrah were together, about 30 miles to the north, visiting a Department of Motor Vehicles office in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, to get Florida driver’s licenses. Back in Virginia, Hazmi and Hanjour were about to leave for Connecticut and New Jersey. As the summer approached, the lead operatives were settled in Florida and New Jersey,waiting for the rest of their contingent to join them.82 7.3 ASSEMBLING THE TEAMS During the summer and early autumn of 2000, Bin Ladin and senior al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan started selecting the muscle hijackers—the operatives who would storm the cockpits and control the passengers. Despite the phrase widely used to describe them, the so-called muscle hijackers were not at all physically imposing; most were between 5' 5" and 5' 7" in height.83 Recruitment and Selection for 9/11 Twelve of the 13 muscle hijackers (excluding Nawaf al Hazmi and Mihdhar) came from Saudi Arabia: Satam al Suqami,Wail al Shehri,Waleed al Shehri, Abdul Aziz al Omari, Ahmed al Ghamdi, Hamza al Ghamdi, Mohand al Shehri, Majed Moqed, Salem al Hazmi, Saeed al Ghamdi,Ahmad al Haznawi, and Ahmed al Nami.The remaining recruit, Fayez Banihammad, came from the UAE. He appears to have played a unique role among the muscle hijackers because of his work with one of the plot’s financial facilitators, Mustafa al Hawsawi.84 Saudi authorities interviewed the relatives of these men and have briefed us on what they found.The muscle hijackers came from a variety of educational and societal backgrounds. All were between 20 and 28 years old; most were unemployed with no more than a high school education and were unmarried.85 Four of them—Ahmed al Ghamdi, Saeed al Ghamdi, Hamza al Ghamdi, and Ahmad al Haznawi—came from a cluster of three towns in the al Bahah region, an isolated and underdeveloped area of Saudi Arabia, and shared the same tribal affiliation. None had a university degree.Their travel patterns and information from family members suggest that the four may have been in contact with each other as early as the fall of 1999.86 THE ATTACK LOOMS 231 Five more—Wail al Shehri,Waleed al Shehri,Abdul Aziz al Omari,Mohand al Shehri, and Ahmed al Nami—came from Asir Province, a poor region in southwestern Saudi Arabia that borders Yemen; this weakly policed area is sometimes called “the wild frontier.”Wail and Waleed al Shehri were brothers. All five in this group had begun university studies. Omari had graduated with honors from high school, had attained a degree from the Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University,was married, and had a daughter.87 The three remaining muscle hijackers from Saudi Arabia were Satam al Suqami, Majed Moqed, and Salem al Hazmi. Suqami came from Riyadh. Moqed hailed from a small town called Annakhil,west of Medina. Suqami had very little education, and Moqed had dropped out of university. Neither Suqami nor Moqed appears to have had ties to the other, or to any of the other operatives, before getting involved with extremists, probably by 1999.88 Salem al Hazmi, a younger brother of Nawaf, was born in Mecca. Salem’s family recalled him as a quarrelsome teenager. His brother Nawaf probably recommended him for recruitment into al Qaeda. One al Qaeda member who knew them says that Nawaf pleaded with Bin Ladin to allow Salem to participate in the 9/11 operation.89 Detainees have offered varying reasons for the use of so many Saudi operatives. Binalshibh argues that al Qaeda wanted to send a message to the government of Saudi Arabia about its relationship with the United States. Several other al Qaeda figures, however, have stated that ethnicity generally was not a factor in the selection of operatives unless it was important for security or operational reasons.90 KSM,for instance, denies that Saudis were chosen for the 9/11 plot to drive a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and stresses practical reasons for considering ethnic background when selecting operatives. He says that so many were Saudi because Saudis comprised the largest portion of the pool of recruits in the al Qaeda training camps. KSM estimates that in any given camp, 70 percent of the mujahideen were Saudi, 20 percent were Yemeni, and 10 percent were from elsewhere. Although Saudi and Yemeni trainees were most often willing to volunteer for suicide operations, prior to 9/11 it was easier for Saudi operatives to get into the United States.91 Most of the Saudi muscle hijackers developed their ties to extremists two or three years before the attacks. Their families often did not consider these young men religious zealots. Some were perceived as devout, others as lacking in faith.For instance, although Ahmed al Ghamdi,Hamza al Ghamdi,and Saeed al Ghamdi attended prayer services regularly and Omari often served as an imam at his mosque in Saudi Arabia, Suqami and Salem al Hazmi appeared unconcerned with religion and, contrary to Islamic law,were known to drink alcohol.92 Like many other al Qaeda operatives, the Saudis who eventually became the muscle hijackers were targeted for recruitment outside Afghanistan— probably in Saudi Arabia itself.Al Qaeda recruiters, certain clerics, and—in a 232 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT few cases—family members probably all played a role in spotting potential candidates. Several of the muscle hijackers seem to have been recruited through contacts at local universities and mosques.93 According to the head of one of the training camps in Afghanistan, some were chosen by unnamed Saudi sheikhs who had contacts with al Qaeda. Omari, for example, is believed to have been a student of a radical Saudi cleric named Sulayman al Alwan. His mosque, which is located in al Qassim Province, is known among more moderate clerics as a “terrorist factory.”The province is at the very heart of the strict Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia. Saeed al Ghamdi and Mohand al Shehri also spent time in al Qassim, both breaking with their families. According to his father,Mohand al Shehri’s frequent visits to this area resulted in his failing exams at his university in Riyadh. Saeed al Ghamdi transferred to a university in al Qassim, but he soon stopped talking to his family and dropped out of school without informing them.94 The majority of these Saudi recruits began to break with their families in late 1999 and early 2000.According to relatives, some recruits began to make arrangements for extended absences. Others exhibited marked changes in behavior before disappearing. Salem al Hazmi’s father recounted that Salem— who had had problems with alcohol and petty theft—stopped drinking and started attending mosque regularly three months before he disappeared.95 Several family members remembered that their relatives had expressed a desire to participate in jihad, particularly in Chechnya. None had mentioned going to Afghanistan.These statements might be true or cover stories.The four recruits from the al Ghamdi tribe, for example, all told their families that they were going to Chechnya. Only two—Ahmed al Ghamdi and Saeed al Ghamdi—had documentation suggesting travel to a Russian republic.96 Some aspiring Saudi mujahideen, intending to go to Chechnya, encountered difficulties along the way and diverted to Afghanistan. In 1999, Ibn al Khattab—the primary commander of Arab nationals in Chechnya—reportedly had started turning away most foreign mujahideen because of their inexperience and inability to adjust to the local conditions. KSM states that several of the 9/11 muscle hijackers faced problems traveling to Chechnya and so went to Afghanistan, where they were drawn into al Qaeda.97 Khallad has offered a more detailed story of how such diversions occurred. According to him, a number of Saudi mujahideen who tried to go to Chechnya in 1999 to fight the Russians were stopped at the Turkish-Georgian border. Upon arriving in Turkey, they received phone calls at guesthouses in places such as Istanbul and Ankara, informing them that the route to Chechnya via Georgia had been closed.These Saudis then decided to travel to Afghanistan, where they could train and wait to make another attempt to enter Chechnya during the summer of 2000.While training at al Qaeda camps, a dozen of them heard Bin Ladin’s speeches, volunteered to become suicide operatives, and eventually were selected as muscle hijackers for the planes operation. Khallad says he met a number of them at the Kandahar airport, where they were help- THE ATTACK LOOMS 233 ing to provide extra security. He encouraged Bin Ladin to use them. Khallad claims to have been closest with Saeed al Ghamdi, whom he convinced to become a martyr and whom he asked to recruit a friend, Ahmed al Ghamdi, to the same cause. Although Khallad claims not to recall everyone from this group who was later chosen for the 9/11 operation, he says they also included Suqami,Waleed and Wail al Shehri, Omari, Nami, Hamza al Ghamdi, Salem al Hazmi, and Moqed.98 According to KSM, operatives volunteered for suicide operations and, for the most part, were not pressured to martyr themselves. Upon arriving in Afghanistan, a recruit would fill out an application with standard questions,such as,What brought you to Afghanistan? How did you travel here? How did you hear about us? What attracted you to the cause? What is your educational background? Where have you worked before? Applications were valuable for determining the potential of new arrivals, for filtering out potential spies from among them, and for identifying recruits with special skills. For instance, as pointed out earlier, Hani Hanjour noted his pilot training. Prospective operatives also were asked whether they were prepared to serve as suicide operatives; those who answered in the affirmative were interviewed by senior al Qaeda lieutenant Muhammad Atef.99 KSM claims that the most important quality for any al Qaeda operative was willingness to martyr himself. Khallad agrees, and claims that this criterion had preeminence in selecting the planes operation participants. The second most important criterion was demonstrable patience, Khallad says, because the planning for such attacks could take years.100 Khallad claims it did not matter whether the hijackers had fought in jihad previously, since he believes that U.S. authorities were not looking for such operatives before 9/11. But KSM asserts that young mujahideen with clean records were chosen to avoid raising alerts during travel.The al Qaeda training camp head mentioned above adds that operatives with no prior involvement in activities likely to be known to international security agencies were purposefully selected for the 9/11 attacks.101 Most of the muscle hijackers first underwent basic training similar to that given other al Qaeda recruits. This included training in firearms, heavy weapons, explosives, and topography. Recruits learned discipline and military life.They were subjected to artificial stresses to measure their psychological fitness and commitment to jihad.At least seven of the Saudi muscle hijackers took this basic training regime at the al Faruq camp near Kandahar.This particular camp appears to have been the preferred location for vetting and training the potential muscle hijackers because of its proximity to Bin Ladin and senior al Qaeda leadership.Two others—Suqami and Moqed—trained at Khaldan, another large basic training facility located near Kabul,where Mihdhar had trained in the mid-1990s.102 By the time operatives for the planes operation were picked in mid-2000, some of them had been training in Afghanistan for months, others were just 234 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT arriving for the first time, and still others may have been returning after prior visits to the camps. According to KSM, Bin Ladin would travel to the camps to deliver lectures and meet the trainees personally. If Bin Ladin believed a trainee held promise for a special operation, that trainee would be invited to the al Qaeda leader’s compound at Tarnak Farms for further meetings.103 KSM claims that Bin Ladin could assess new trainees very quickly, in about ten minutes, and that many of the 9/11 hijackers were selected in this manner. Bin Ladin, assisted by Atef, personally chose all the future muscle hijackers for the planes operation, primarily between the summer of 2000 and April 2001. Upon choosing a trainee, Bin Ladin would ask him to swear loyalty for a suicide operation. After the selection and oath-swearing, the operative would be sent to KSM for training and the filming of a martyrdom video, a function KSM supervised as head of al Qaeda’s media committee.104 KSM sent the muscle hijacker recruits on to Saudi Arabia to obtain U.S. visas. He gave them money (about $2,000 each) and instructed them to return to Afghanistan for more training after obtaining the visas. At this early stage, the operatives were not told details about the operation.The majority of the Saudi muscle hijackers obtained U.S. visas in Jeddah or Riyadh between September and November of 2000.105 KSM told potential hijackers to acquire new “clean” passports in their home countries before applying for a U.S. visa.This was to avoid raising suspicion about previous travel to countries where al Qaeda operated. Fourteen of the 19 hijackers, including nine Saudi muscle hijackers, obtained new passports. Some of these passports were then likely doctored by the al Qaeda passport division in Kandahar, which would add or erase entry and exit stamps to create “false trails” in the passports.106 In addition to the operatives who eventually participated in the 9/11 attacks as muscle hijackers, Bin Ladin apparently selected at least nine other Saudis who, for various reasons, did not end up taking part in the operation: Mohamed Mani Ahmad al Kahtani, Khalid Saeed Ahmad al Zahrani, Ali Abd al Rahman al Faqasi al Ghamdi, Saeed al Baluchi, Qutaybah al Najdi, Zuhair al Thubaiti, Saeed Abdullah Saeed al Ghamdi, Saud al Rashid, and Mushabib al Hamlan. A tenth individual, a Tunisian with Canadian citizenship named Abderraouf Jdey, may have been a candidate to participate in 9/11, or he may have been a candidate for a later attack.These candidate hijackers either backed out, had trouble obtaining needed travel documents,or were removed from the operation by the al Qaeda leadership. Khallad believes KSM wanted between four and six operatives per plane. KSM states that al Qaeda had originally planned to use 25 or 26 hijackers but ended up with only the 19.107 Final Training and Deployment to the United States Having acquired U.S. visas in Saudi Arabia, the muscle hijackers returned to Afghanistan for special training in late 2000 to early 2001.The training reportedly was conducted at the al Matar complex by Abu Turab al Jordani, one of THE ATTACK LOOMS 235 only a handful of al Qaeda operatives who, according to KSM, was aware of the full details of the planned planes operation.Abu Turab taught the operatives how to conduct hijackings, disarm air marshals, and handle explosives.He also trained them in bodybuilding and provided them with a few basic English words and phrases.108 According to KSM,Abu Turab even had the trainees butcher a sheep and a camel with a knife to prepare to use knives during the hijackings.The recruits learned to focus on storming the cockpit at the earliest opportunity when the doors first opened, and to worry about seizing control over the rest of the plane later. The operatives were taught about other kinds of attack as well, such as truck bombing, so that they would not be able to disclose the exact nature of their operation if they were caught. According to KSM, the muscle did not learn the full details—including the plan to hijack planes and fly them into buildings—before reaching the United States.109 After training in Afghanistan, the operatives went to a safehouse maintained by KSM in Karachi and stayed there temporarily before being deployed to the United States via the UAE.The safehouse was run by al Qaeda operative Abd al Rahim Ghulum Rabbani, also known as Abu Rahmah, a close associate of KSM who assisted him for three years by finding apartments and lending logistical support to operatives KSM would send. According to an al Qaeda facilitator, operatives were brought to the safehouse by a trusted Pakistani al Qaeda courier named Abdullah Sindhi, who also worked for KSM.The future hijackers usually arrived in groups of two or three, staying at the safe house for as long as two weeks.The facilitator has identified each operative whom he assisted at KSM’s direction in the spring of 2001. Before the operatives left Pakistan, each of them received $10,000 from KSM for future expenses.110 From Pakistan, the operatives transited through the UAE en route to the United States. In the Emirates they were assisted primarily by al Qaeda operatives Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa al Hawsawi. Ali apparently assisted nine future hijackers between April and June 2001 as they came through Dubai.He helped them with plane tickets, traveler’s checks, and hotel reservations; he also taught them about everyday aspects of life in the West, such as purchasing clothes and ordering food. Dubai, a modern city with easy access to a major airport, travel agencies, hotels, and Western commercial establishments,was an ideal transit point.111 Ali reportedly assumed the operatives he was helping were involved in a big operation in the United States, he did not know the details.112 When he asked KSM to send him an assistant, KSM dispatched Hawsawi, who had worked on al Qaeda’s media committee in Kandahar. Hawsawi helped send the last four operatives (other than Mihdhar) to the United States from the UAE.Hawsawi would consult with Atta about the hijackers’ travel schedules to the United States and later check with Atta to confirm that each had arrived.Hawsawi told 236 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT the muscle hijackers that they would be met by Atta at the airport. Hawsawi also facilitated some of the operation’s financing.113 The muscle hijackers began arriving in the United States in late April 2001. In most cases, they traveled in pairs on tourist visas and entered the United States in Orlando or Miami, Florida;Washington, D.C.; or New York.Those arriving in Florida were assisted by Atta and Shehhi, while Hazmi and Hanjour took care of the rest. By the end of June, 14 of the 15 muscle hijackers had crossed the Atlantic.114 The muscle hijackers supplied an infusion of funds, which they carried as a mixture of cash and traveler’s checks purchased in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Seven muscle hijackers are known to have purchased a total of nearly $50,000 in traveler’s checks that were used in the United States. Moreover, substantial deposits into operatives’U.S. bank accounts immediately followed the entry of other muscle hijackers, indicating that those newcomers brought money with them as well. In addition, muscle hijacker Banihammad came to the United States after opening bank accounts in the UAE into which were deposited the equivalent of approximately $30,000 on June 25, 2001.After his June 27 arrival in the United States, Banihammad made Visa and ATM withdrawals from his UAE accounts.115 The hijackers made extensive use of banks in the United States, choosing both branches of major international banks and smaller regional banks. All of the hijackers opened accounts in their own name, and used passports and other identification documents that appeared valid on their face.Contrary to numerous published reports, there is no evidence the hijackers ever used false Social Security numbers to open any bank accounts. While the hijackers were not experts on the use of the U.S. financial system, nothing they did would have led the banks to suspect criminal behavior, let alone a terrorist plot to commit mass murder.116 The last muscle hijacker to arrive was Khalid al Mihdhar.As mentioned earlier, he had abandoned Hazmi in San Diego in June 2000 and returned to his family in Yemen.Mihdhar reportedly stayed in Yemen for about a month before Khallad persuaded him to return to Afghanistan. Mihdhar complained about life in the United States.He met with KSM,who remained annoyed at his decision to go AWOL. But KSM’s desire to drop him from the operation yielded to Bin Ladin’s insistence to keep him.117 By late 2000, Mihdhar was in Mecca, staying with a cousin until February 2001, when he went home to visit his family before returning to Afghanistan. In June 2001, Mihdhar returned once more to Mecca to stay with his cousin for another month. Mihdhar said that Bin Ladin was planning five attacks on the United States. Before leaving, Mihdhar asked his cousin to watch over his home and family because of a job he had to do.118 On July 4, 2001, Mihdhar left Saudi Arabia to return to the United States, arriving at John F.Kennedy International Airport in New York. Mihdhar gave THE ATTACK LOOMS 237 238 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT American Airlines Flight 11 Left to right, Mohamed Atta, pilot; Waleed al Shehri, Wail al Shehri, Satam al Suqami, Abdulaziz al Omari, hijackers United Airlines Flight 175 Left to right, Marwan al Shehhi, pilot; Fayez Banihammad, Ahmed al Ghamdi, Hamza al Ghamdi, Mohand al Shehri, hijackers AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 239 American Airlines Flight 77 Left to right, Hani Hanjour, pilot; Nawaf al Hazmi, Khalid al Mihdhar, Majed Moqed, Salem al Hazmi, hijackers United Airlines Flight 93 Left to right, Ziad Jarrah pilot; Saeed al Ghamdi, Ahmad al Haznawi, Ahmed al Nami, hijackers his intended address as the Marriott Hotel, New York City, but instead spent one night at another New York hotel. He then joined the group of hijackers in Paterson, reuniting with Nawaf al Hazmi after more than a year.With two months remaining, all 19 hijackers were in the United States and ready to take the final steps toward carrying out the attacks.119 Assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to al Qaeda As we mentioned in chapter 2, while in Sudan, senior managers in al Qaeda maintained contacts with Iran and the Iranian-supported worldwide terrorist organization Hezbollah, which is based mainly in southern Lebanon and Beirut.Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah. Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Ladin’s return to Afghanistan. Khallad has said that Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because Bin Ladin did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan.For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda.120 Our knowledge of the international travels of the al Qaeda operatives selected for the 9/11 operation remains fragmentary. But we now have evidence suggesting that 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi “muscle” operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.121 In October 2000, a senior operative of Hezbollah visited Saudi Arabia to coordinate activities there. He also planned to assist individuals in Saudi Arabia in traveling to Iran during November.A top Hezbollah commander and Saudi Hezbollah contacts were involved.122 Also in October 2000, two future muscle hijackers, Mohand al Shehri and Hamza al Ghamdi, flew from Iran to Kuwait.In November, Ahmed al Ghamdi apparently flew to Beirut, traveling—perhaps by coincidence—on the same flight as a senior Hezbollah operative.Also in November,Salem al Hazmi apparently flew from Saudi Arabia to Beirut.123 In mid-November, we believe, three of the future muscle hijackers,Wail al Shehri,Waleed al Shehri, and Ahmed al Nami, all of whom had obtained their U.S. visas in late October, traveled in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran. An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative was on the same flight that took the future hijackers to Iran. Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran were expecting the arrival of a group during the same time period. The travel of this group was important enough to merit the attention of senior figures in Hezbollah.124 Later in November, two future muscle hijackers,Satam al Suqami and Majed 240 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT Moqed,flew into Iran from Bahrain. In February 2001, Khalid al Mihdhar may have taken a flight from Syria to Iran, and then traveled further within Iran to a point near the Afghan border.125 KSM and Binalshibh have confirmed that several of the 9/11 hijackers (at least eight, according to Binalshibh) transited Iran on their way to or from Afghanistan, taking advantage of the Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports.They deny any other reason for the hijackers’ travel to Iran.They also deny any relationship between the hijackers and Hezbollah.126 In sum, there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.There also is circumstantial evidence that senior Hezbollah operatives were closely tracking the travel of some of these future muscle hijackers into Iran in November 2000. However,we cannot rule out the possibility of a remarkable coincidence—that is, that Hezbollah was actually focusing on some other group of individuals traveling from Saudi Arabia during this same time frame, rather than the future hijackers.127 We have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation. After 9/11, Iran and Hezbollah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda.A senior Hezbollah official disclaimed any Hezbollah involvement in 9/11.128 We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government. 7.4 FINAL STRATEGIES AND TACTICS Final Preparations in the United States During the early summer of 2001, Atta, assisted by Shehhi, was busy coordinating the arrival of most of the muscle hijackers in southern Florida—picking them up at the airport, finding them places to stay, and helping them settle in the United States.129 The majority settled in Florida.Some opened bank accounts,acquired mailboxes, and rented cars. Several also joined local gyms, presumably to stay fit for the operation.Upon first arriving, most stayed in hotels and motels;but by mid- June, they settled in shared apartments relatively close to one another and Atta.130 Though these muscle hijackers did not travel much after arriving in the United States, two of them,Waleed al Shehri and Satam al Suqami, took unusual trips. On May 19, Shehri and Suqami flew from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport, the Bahamas,where they had reservations at the Bahamas Princess Resort.The two were turned away by Bahamian officials on arrival, however, because they THE ATTACK LOOMS 241 lacked visas; they returned to Florida that same day. They likely took this trip to renew Suqami’s immigration status, as Suqami’s legal stay in the United States ended May 21.131 On July 30, Shehri traveled alone from Fort Lauderdale to Boston.He flew to San Francisco the next day, where he stayed one night before returning via Las Vegas.While this travel may have been a casing flight—Shehri traveled in first class on the same type of aircraft he would help hijack on September 11 (a Boeing 767) and the trip included a layover in Las Vegas—Shehri was neither a pilot nor a plot leader, as were the other hijackers who took surveillance flights.132 The three Hamburg pilots—Atta, Shehhi, and Jarrah—took the first of their cross-country surveillance flights early in the summer. Shehhi flew from New York to Las Vegas via San Francisco in late May. Jarrah flew from Baltimore to Las Vegas via Los Angeles in early June.Atta flew from Boston to Las Vegas via San Francisco at the end of June. Each traveled in first class, on United Airlines. For the east-west transcontinental leg, each operative flew on the same type of aircraft he would pilot on September 11 (Atta and Shehhi, a Boeing 767; Jarrah, a Boeing 757).133 Hanjour and Hazmi, as noted below, took similar crosscountry surveillance flights in August. Jarrah and Hanjour also received additional training and practice flights in the early summer.A few days before departing on his cross-country test flight, Jarrah flew from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia, where he trained at Hortman Aviation and asked to fly the Hudson Corridor, a low-altitude “hallway” along the Hudson River that passes New York landmarks like the World Trade Center. Heavy traffic in the area can make the corridor a dangerous route for an inexperienced pilot. Because Hortman deemed Jarrah unfit to fly solo, he could fly this route only with an instructor.134 Hanjour, too, requested to fly the Hudson Corridor about this same time, at Air Fleet Training Systems in Teterboro,New Jersey, where he started receiving ground instruction soon after settling in the area with Hazmi. Hanjour flew the Hudson Corridor, but his instructor declined a second request because of what he considered Hanjour’s poor piloting skills. Shortly thereafter, Hanjour switched to Caldwell Flight Academy in Fairfield,New Jersey,where he rented small aircraft on several occasions during June and July. In one such instance on July 20, Hanjour—likely accompanied by Hazmi—rented a plane from Caldwell and took a practice flight from Fairfield to Gaithersburg, Maryland, a route that would have allowed them to fly near Washington,D.C. Other evidence suggests that Hanjour may even have returned to Arizona for flight simulator training earlier in June.135 There is no indication that Atta or Shehhi received any additional flight training in June. Both were likely too busy organizing the newly arrived muscle hijackers and taking their cross-country surveillance flights.Atta,moreover, needed to coordinate with his second-in-command, Nawaf al Hazmi.136 242 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT Although Atta and Hazmi appear to have been in Virginia at about the same time in early April, they probably did not meet then.Analysis of late April communications associated with KSM indicates that they had wanted to get together in April but could not coordinate the meeting.137 Atta and Hazmi probably first met in the United States only when Hazmi traveled round-trip from Newark to Miami between June 19 and June 25. After he returned to New Jersey,Hazmi’s behavior began to closely parallel that of the other hijackers. He and Hanjour, for instance, soon established new bank accounts, acquired a mailbox, rented cars, and started visiting a gym. So did the four other hijackers who evidently were staying with them in New Jersey. Several also obtained new photo identification, first in New Jersey and then at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, where Hazmi and Hanjour had obtained such documents months earlier, likely with help from their Jordanian friend, Rababah.138 Atta probably met again with Hazmi in early July. Returning from his initial cross-country surveillance flight, Atta flew into New York. Rather than return immediately to Florida, he checked into a New Jersey hotel. He picked up tickets to travel to Spain at a travel agency in Paterson on July 4 before departing for Fort Lauderdale.Now that the muscle hijackers had arrived, he was ready to meet with Ramzi Binalshibh for the last time.139 The Meeting in Spain After meeting with Atta in Berlin in January 2001, Binalshibh had spent much of the spring of 2001 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, helping move the muscle hijackers as they passed through Karachi. During the Berlin meeting, the two had agreed to meet later in the year in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the operation in person again. In late May, Binalshibh reported directly to Bin Ladin at an al Qaeda facility known as “Compound Six” near Kandahar.140 Bin Ladin told Binalshibh to instruct Atta and the others to focus on their security and that of the operation, and to advise Atta to proceed as planned with the targets discussed before Atta left Afghanistan in early 2000—the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, and the Capitol. According to Binalshibh, Bin Ladin said he preferred the White House over the Capitol, asking Binalshibh to confirm that Atta understood this preference. Binalshibh says Bin Ladin had given the same message to Waleed al Shehri for conveyance to Atta earlier that spring. Binalshibh also received permission to meet Atta in Malaysia.Atef provided money for the trip,which KSM would help Binalshibh arrange in Karachi.141 In early June, Binalshibh traveled by taxi from Kandahar to Quetta,Pakistan, where al Qaeda courier Abu Rahmah took him to KSM.According to Binalshibh, KSM provided a plane ticket to Malaysia and a fraudulent Saudi passport to use for the trip. KSM told him to ask Atta to select a date for the attacks. Binalshibh was to return to Germany and then inform KSM of the date.KSM THE ATTACK LOOMS 243 also gave Binalshibh the email address of Zacarias Moussaoui for future contact. Binalshibh then left for Kuala Lumpur.142 Binalshibh contacted Atta upon arriving in Malaysia and found a change in plan. Atta could not travel because he was too busy helping the new arrivals settle in the United States.After remaining in Malaysia for approximately three weeks, Binalshibh went to Bangkok for a few days before returning to Germany. He and Atta agreed to meet later at a location to be determined.143 In early July, Atta called Binalshibh to suggest meeting in Madrid, for reasons Binalshibh claims not to know. He says he preferred Berlin, but that he and Atta knew too many people in Germany and feared being spotted together. Unable to buy a ticket to Madrid at the height of the tourist season, Binalshibh booked a seat on a flight to Reus, near Barcelona, the next day.Atta was already en route to Madrid, so Binalshibh phoned Shehhi in the United States to inform him of the change in itinerary.144 Atta arrived in Madrid on July 8. He spent the night in a hotel and made three calls from his room, most likely to coordinate with Binalshibh.The next day, Atta rented a car and drove to Reus to pick up Binalshibh; the two then drove to the nearby town of Cambrils. Hotel records show Atta renting rooms in the same area until July 19, when he returned his rental car in Madrid and flew back to Fort Lauderdale. On July 16, Binalshibh returned to Hamburg, using a ticket Atta had purchased for him earlier that day.According to Binalshibh, they did not meet with anyone else while in Spain.145 Binalshibh says he told Atta that Bin Ladin wanted the attacks carried out as soon as possible. Bin Ladin, Binalshibh conveyed, was worried about having so many operatives in the United States.Atta replied that he could not yet provide a date because he was too busy organizing the arriving hijackers and still needed to coordinate the timing of the flights so that the crashes would occur simultaneously. Atta said he required about five to six weeks before he could provide an attack date. Binalshibh advised Atta that Bin Ladin had directed that the other operatives not be informed of the date until the last minute.Atta was to provide Binalshibh with advance notice of at least a week or two so that Binalshibh could travel to Afghanistan and report the date personally to Bin Ladin.146 As to targets, Atta understood Bin Ladin’s interest in striking the White House.Atta said he thought this target too difficult, but had tasked Hazmi and Hanjour to evaluate its feasibility and was awaiting their answer. Atta said that those two operatives had rented small aircraft and flown reconnaissance flights near the Pentagon.Atta explained that Hanjour was assigned to attack the Pentagon, Jarrah the Capitol, and that both Atta and Shehhi would hit the World Trade Center. If any pilot could not reach his intended target, he was to crash the plane. If Atta could not strike the World Trade Center, he planned to crash his aircraft directly into the streets of New York.Atta told Binalshibh that each pilot had volunteered for his assigned target, and that the assignments were subject to change.147 244 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT During the Spain meeting,Atta also mentioned that he had considered targeting a nuclear facility he had seen during familiarization flights near New York—a target they referred to as “electrical engineering.”According to Binalshibh, the other pilots did not like the idea.They thought a nuclear target would be difficult because the airspace around it was restricted,making reconnaissance flights impossible and increasing the likelihood that any plane would be shot down before impact.Moreover, unlike the approved targets, this alternative had not been discussed with senior al Qaeda leaders and therefore did not have the requisite blessing. Nor would a nuclear facility have particular symbolic value. Atta did not ask Binalshibh to pass this idea on to Bin Ladin, Atef, or KSM, and Binalshibh says he did not mention it to them until after September 11.148 Binalshibh claims that during their time in Spain, he and Atta also discussed how the hijackings would be executed. Atta said he, Shehhi, and Jarrah had encountered no problems carrying box cutters on cross-country surveillance flights.The best time to storm the cockpit would be about 10–15 minutes after takeoff, when the cockpit doors typically were opened for the first time. Atta did not believe they would need any other weapons. He had no firm contingency plan in case the cockpit door was locked.While he mentioned general ideas such as using a hostage or claiming to have a bomb, he was confident the cockpit doors would be opened and did not consider breaking them down a viable idea. Atta told Binalshibh he wanted to select planes departing on long flights because they would be full of fuel, and that he wanted to hijack Boeing aircraft because he believed them easier to fly than Airbus aircraft, which he understood had an autopilot feature that did not allow them to be crashed into the ground.149 Finally, Atta confirmed that the muscle hijackers had arrived in the United States without incident.They would be divided into teams according to their English-speaking ability.That way they could assist each other before the operation and each team would be able to command the passengers in English. According to Binalshibh,Atta complained that some of the hijackers wanted to contact their families to say goodbye, something he had forbidden.Atta, moreover, was nervous about his future communications with Binalshibh, whom he instructed to obtain new telephones upon returning to Germany. Before Binalshibh left Spain, he gave Atta eight necklaces and eight bracelets that Atta had asked him to buy when he was recently in Bangkok, believing that if the hijackers were clean shaven and well dressed, others would think them wealthy Saudis and give them less notice.150 As directed, upon returning from Spain, Binalshibh obtained two new phones, one to communicate with Atta and another to communicate with KSM and others, such as Zacarias Moussaoui. Binalshibh soon contacted KSM and, using code words, reported the results of his meeting with Atta. This important exchange occurred in mid-July.151 The conversation covered various topics. For example, Jarrah was to send Binalshibh certain personal materials from the hijackers,including copies of their THE ATTACK LOOMS 245 passports, which Binalshibh in turn would pass along to KSM,probably for subsequent use in al Qaeda propaganda.152 The most significant part of the mid-July conversation concerned Jarrah’s troubled relationship with Atta. KSM and Binalshibh both acknowledge that Jarrah chafed under Atta’s authority over him. Binalshibh believes the disagreement arose in part from Jarrah’s family visits. Moreover, Jarrah had been on his own for most of his time in the United States because Binalshibh’s visa difficulty had prevented the two of them from training together. Jarrah thus felt excluded from the decisionmaking. Binalshibh had to act as a broker between Jarrah and Atta.153 Concerned that Jarrah might withdraw from the operation at this late stage, KSM emphasized the importance of Atta and Jarrah’s resolving their differences. Binalshibh claims that such concern was unwarranted, and in their mid- July discussion reassured KSM that Atta and Jarrah would reconcile and be ready to move forward in about a month, after Jarrah visited his family. Noting his concern and the potential for delay, KSM at one point instructed Binalshibh to send “the skirts” to “Sally”—a coded instruction to Binalshibh to send funds to Zacarias Moussaoui.While Binalshibh admits KSM did direct him to send Moussaoui money during the mid-July conversation, he denies knowing exactly why he received this instruction—though he thought the money was being provided “within the framework” of the 9/11 operation.154 KSM may have instructed Binalshibh to send money to Moussaoui in order to help prepare Moussaoui as a potential substitute pilot for Jarrah. On July 20, 2001,Aysel Senguen, Jarrah’s girlfriend, purchased a one-way ticket for Jarrah from Miami to Dusseldorf. On Jarrah’s previous four trips from the United States to see Senguen and his family in Lebanon, he had always traveled with a round-trip ticket.When Jarrah departed Miami on July 25, Atta appears to have driven him to the airport, another unique circumstance.155 Binalshibh picked up Jarrah at the airport in Dusseldorf on July 25. Jarrah wanted to see Senguen as soon as possible, so he and Binalshibh arranged to meet a few days later.When they did, they had an emotional conversation during which Binalshibh encouraged Jarrah to see the plan through.156 While Jarrah was in Germany, Binalshibh and Moussaoui were in contact to arrange for the transfer of funds. Binalshibh received two wire transfers from Hawsawi in the UAE totaling $15,000 and, within days, relayed almost all of this money to Moussaoui in two installments.157 Moussaoui had been taking flight lessons at the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, since February but stopped in late May.Although at that point he had only about 50 hours of flight time and no solo flights to his credit, Moussaoui began making inquiries about flight materials and simulator training for Boeing 747s. On July 10, he put down a $1,500 deposit for flight simulator training at Pan Am International Flight Academy in Eagan, Minnesota, and by the end of the month, he had received a simulator schedule to train from 246 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT August 13 through August 20. Moussaoui also purchased two knives and inquired of two manufacturers of GPS equipment whether their products could be converted for aeronautical use—activities that closely resembled those of the 9/11 hijackers during their final preparations for the attacks.158 On August 10, shortly after getting the money from Binalshibh, Moussaoui left Oklahoma with a friend and drove to Minnesota.Three days later, Moussaoui paid the $6,800 balance owed for his flight simulator training at Pan Am in cash and began his training. His conduct, however, raised the suspicions of his flight instructor. It was unusual for a student with so little training to be learning to fly large jets without any intention of obtaining a pilot’s license or other goal. On August 16, once the instructor reported his suspicion to the authorities, Moussaoui was arrested by the INS on immigration charges.159 KSM denies ever considering Moussaoui for the planes operation. Instead he claims that Moussaoui was slated to participate in a “second wave” of attacks. KSM also states that Moussaoui had no contact with Atta, and we are unaware of evidence contradicting this assertion.160 Yet KSM has also stated that by the summer of 2001, he was too busy with the planes operation to continue planning for any second-wave attacks.Moreover, he admits that only three potential pilots were ever recruited for the alleged second wave, Moussaoui plus two others who, by midsummer of 2001, had backed out of the plot.161 We therefore believe that the effort to push Moussaoui forward in August 2001 lends credence to the suspicion that he was being primed as a possible pilot in the immediate planes operation. Binalshibh says he assumed Moussaoui was to take his place as another pilot in the 9/11 operation. Recounting a post-9/11 discussion with KSM in Kandahar, Binalshibh claims KSM mentioned Moussaoui as being part of the 9/11 operation. Although KSM never referred to Moussaoui by name, Binalshibh understood he was speaking of the operative to whom Binalshibh had wired money. Binalshibh says KSM did not approve of Moussaoui but believes KSM did not remove him from the operation only because Moussaoui had been selected and assigned by Bin Ladin himself.162 KSM did not hear about Moussaoui’s arrest until after September 11. According to Binalshibh, had Bin Ladin and KSM learned prior to 9/11 that Moussaoui had been detained, they might have canceled the operation.When Binalshibh discussed Moussaoui’s arrest with KSM after September 11, KSM congratulated himself on not having Moussaoui contact the other operatives, which would have compromised the operation. Moussaoui had been in contact with Binalshibh, of course, but this was not discovered until after 9/11.163 As it turned out, Moussaoui was not needed to replace Jarrah. By the time Moussaoui was arrested in mid-August, Jarrah had returned to the United States from his final trip to Germany, his disagreement with Atta apparently resolved.The operatives began their final preparations for the attacks.164 THE ATTACK LOOMS 247 Readying the Attacks A week after he returned from meeting Binalshibh in Spain, Atta traveled to Newark, probably to coordinate with Hazmi and give him additional funds. Atta spent a few days in the area before returning to Florida on July 30.The month of August was busy, as revealed by a set of contemporaneous Atta- Binalshibh communications that were recovered after September 11.165 On August 3, for example, Atta and Binalshibh discussed several matters, such as the best way for the operatives to purchase plane tickets and the assignment of muscle hijackers to individual teams. Atta and Binalshibh also revisited the question of whether to target the White House.They discussed targets in coded language, pretending to be students discussing various fields of study: “architecture” referred to the World Trade Center, “arts” the Pentagon, “law” the Capitol, and “politics” the White House.166 Binalshibh reminded Atta that Bin Ladin wanted to target the White House. Atta again cautioned that this would be difficult.When Binalshibh persisted, Atta agreed to include the White House but suggested they keep the Capitol as an alternate target in case the White House proved too difficult. Atta also suggested that the attacks would not happen until after the first week in September, when Congress reconvened.167 Atta and Binalshibh also discussed “the friend who is coming as a tourist”— a cryptic reference to candidate hijacker Mohamed al Kahtani (mentioned above), whom Hawsawi was sending the next day as “the last one” to “complete the group.”On August 4,Atta drove to the Orlando airport to meet Kahtani. Upon arrival, however, Kahtani was denied entry by immigration officials because he had a one-way ticket and little money, could not speak English, and could not adequately explain what he intended to do in the United States.He was sent back to Dubai.Hawsawi contacted KSM, who told him to help Kahtani return to Pakistan.168 On August 7,Atta flew from Fort Lauderdale to Newark, probably to coordinate with Hazmi.Two days later,Ahmed al Ghamdi and Abdul Aziz al Omari, who had been living in New Jersey with Hazmi and Hanjour, flew to Miami—probably signifying that the four hijacking teams had finally been assigned.While Atta was in New Jersey, he, Hazmi, and Hanjour all purchased tickets for another set of surveillance flights. Like Shehhi, Jarrah, Atta, and Waleed al Shehri before them, Hazmi and Hanjour each flew in first class on the same type of aircraft they would hijack on 9/11 (a Boeing 757), and on transcontinental flights that connected to Las Vegas. This time, however, Atta himself also flew directly to Las Vegas, where all three stayed on August 13–14. Beyond Las Vegas’s reputation for welcoming tourists, we have seen no credible evidence explaining why, on this occasion and others, the operatives flew to or met in Las Vegas.169 Through August, the hijackers kept busy with their gym training and the pilots took frequent practice flights on small rented aircraft.The operatives also 248 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT began to make purchases suggesting that the planning was coming to an end. In mid-August, for example, they bought small knives that may actually have been used in the attacks. On August 22, moreover, Jarrah attempted to purchase four GPS units from a pilot shop in Miami.He was able to buy only one unit, which he picked up a few days later when he also purchased three aeronautical charts.170 Perhaps most significant,however,was the purchase of plane tickets for September 11. On August 23, Atta again flew to Newark, probably to meet with Hazmi and select flights. All 19 tickets were booked and purchased between August 25 and September 5.171 It therefore appears that the attack date was selected by the third week of August. This timing is confirmed by Binalshibh, who claims Atta called him with the date in mid-August. According to Binalshibh, Atta used a riddle to convey the date in code—a message of two branches, a slash, and a lollipop (to non-Americans, 11/9 would be interpreted as September 11). Binalshibh says he called Atta back to confirm the date before passing it to KSM.172 KSM apparently received the date from Binalshibh in a message sent through Binalshibh’s old Hamburg associate,Zakariya Essabar. Both Binalshibh and KSM claim that Essabar was not privy to the meaning of the message and had no foreknowledge of the attacks.According to Binalshibh, shortly after the date was chosen, he advised Essabar and another Hamburg associate, Said Bahaji, that if they wanted to go to Afghanistan, now was the time because it would soon become more difficult. Essabar made reservations on August 22 and departed Hamburg for Karachi on August 30; Bahaji purchased his tickets on August 20 and departed Hamburg for Karachi on September 3.173 Binalshibh also made arrangements to leave for Pakistan during early September, before the attacks, as did Ali and Hawsawi, the plot facilitators in the UAE. During these final days, Binalshibh and Atta kept in contact by phone, email, and instant messaging.Although Atta had forbidden the hijackers to contact their families, he apparently placed one last call to his own father on September 9. Atta also asked Binalshibh to contact the family of one hijacker, pass along goodbyes from others, and give regards to KSM. Jarrah alone appears to have left a written farewell—a sentimental letter to Aysel Senguen.174 Hazmi, however, may not have been so discreet. He may have telephoned his former San Diego companion,Mohdar Abdullah, in late August.Several bits of evidence indicate that others in Abdullah’s circle may have received word that something big would soon happen. As noted earlier, Abdullah’s behavior reportedly changed noticeably. Prior to September 11, both he and Yazeed al Salmi suddenly became intent on proceeding with their planned marriages. One witness quotes Salmi as commenting after the 9/11 attacks,“I knew they were going to do something, that is why I got married.”Moreover, as of August 2001, Iyad Kreiwesh and other employees at the Texaco station where Hazmi had worked suddenly were anticipating attention from law enforcement THE ATTACK LOOMS 249 authorities in the near future. Finally, according to an uncorroborated witness account, early on the morning of September 10,Abdullah, Osama Awadallah, Omar Bakarbashat, and others behaved suspiciously at the gas station.According to the witness, after the group met,Awadallah said “it is finally going to happen” as the others celebrated by giving each other high fives.175 Dissent within the al Qaeda Leadership While tactical preparations for the attack were nearing completion, the entire operation was being questioned at the top, as al Qaeda and the Taliban argued over strategy for 2001. Our focus has naturally been on the specifics of the planes operation. But from the perspective of Bin Ladin and Atef, this operation was only one, admittedly key, element of their unfolding plans for the year. Living in Afghanistan, interacting constantly with the Taliban, the al Qaeda leaders would never lose sight of the situation in that country. Bin Ladin’s consistent priority was to launch a major attack directly against the United States. He wanted the planes operation to proceed as soon as possible. Mihdhar reportedly told his cousin during the summer of 2001 that Bin Ladin was reputed to have remarked,“I will make it happen even if I do it by myself.”176 According to KSM, Bin Ladin had been urging him to advance the date of the attacks. In 2000, for instance, KSM remembers Bin Ladin pushing him to launch the attacks amid the controversy after then-Israeli opposition party leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. KSM claims Bin Ladin told him it would be enough for the hijackers simply to down planes rather than crash them into specific targets.KSM says he resisted the pressure.177 KSM claims to have faced similar pressure twice more in 2001.According to him, Bin Ladin wanted the operation carried out on May 12, 2001, seven months to the day after the Cole bombing. KSM adds that the 9/11 attacks had originally been envisioned for May 2001. The second time he was urged to launch the attacks early was in June or July 2001, supposedly after Bin Ladin learned from the media that Sharon would be visiting the White House. On both occasions KSM resisted, asserting that the hijacking teams were not ready. Bin Ladin pressed particularly strongly for the latter date in two letters stressing the need to attack early.The second letter reportedly was delivered by Bin Ladin’s son-in-law,Aws al Madani.178 Other evidence corroborates KSM’s account. For instance, Mihdhar told his cousin that the attacks were to happen in May, but were postponed twice, first to July, then to September.Moreover, one candidate hijacker remembers a general warning being issued in the al Qaeda camps in July or early August, just like the warnings issued two weeks before the Cole bombing and ten days before the eventual 9/11 attacks. During the midsummer alert, al Qaeda members dispersed with their families, security was increased, and Bin Ladin disappeared for about 30 days, until the alert was canceled.179 While the details of the operation were strictly compartmented,by the time 250 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT of the alert,word had begun to spread that an attack against the United States was coming. KSM notes that it was generally well known by the summer of 2001 that he was planning some kind of operation against the United States. Many were even aware that he had been preparing operatives to go to the United States, leading some to conclude that al Qaeda was planning a nearterm attack on U.S. soil. Moreover, Bin Ladin had made several remarks that summer hinting at an upcoming attack and generating rumors throughout the worldwide jihadist community. Bin Ladin routinely told important visitors to expect significant attacks against U.S. interests soon and, during a speech at the al Faruq camp, exhorted trainees to pray for the success of an attack involving 20 martyrs. Others have confirmed hearing indications of an impending attack and have verified that such news, albeit without specific details, had spread across al Qaeda.180 Although Bin Ladin’s top priority apparently was to attack the United States, others had a different view.The Taliban leaders put their main emphasis on the year’s military offensive against the Northern Alliance, an offensive that ordinarily would begin in the late spring or summer.They certainly hoped that this year’s offensive would finally finish off their old enemies, driving them from Afghanistan. From the Taliban’s perspective, an attack against the United States might be counterproductive. It might draw the Americans into the war against them, just when final victory seemed within their grasp.181 There is evidence that Mullah Omar initially opposed a major al Qaeda operation directly against the United States in 2001. Furthermore,by July, with word spreading of a coming attack, a schism emerged among the senior leadership of al Qaeda. Several senior members reportedly agreed with Mullah Omar.Those who reportedly sided with Bin Ladin included Atef, Sulayman Abu Ghayth, and KSM. But those said to have opposed him were weighty figures in the organization—including Abu Hafs the Mauritanian, Sheikh Saeed al Masri, and Sayf al Adl. One senior al Qaeda operative claims to recall Bin Ladin arguing that attacks against the United States needed to be carried out immediately to support insurgency in the Israeli-occupied territories and protest the presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia. Beyond these rhetorical appeals, Bin Ladin also reportedly thought an attack against the United States would benefit al Qaeda by attracting more suicide operatives, eliciting greater donations, and increasing the number of sympathizers willing to provide logistical assistance.182 Mullah Omar is reported to have opposed this course of action for ideological reasons rather than out of fear of U.S. retaliation. He is said to have preferred for al Qaeda to attack Jews, not necessarily the United States. KSM contends that Omar faced pressure from the Pakistani government to keep al Qaeda from engaging in operations outside Afghanistan. Al Qaeda’s chief financial manager, Sheikh Saeed, argued that al Qaeda should defer to the Taliban’s wishes. Another source says that Sheikh Saeed opposed the operation, both out of deference to Omar and because he feared the U.S. response to an THE ATTACK LOOMS 251 attack.Abu Hafs the Mauritanian reportedly even wrote Bin Ladin a message basing opposition to the attacks on the Qur’an.183 According to KSM, in late August, when the operation was fully planned, Bin Ladin formally notified the al Qaeda Shura Council that a major attack against the United States would take place in the coming weeks.When some council members objected, Bin Ladin countered that Mullah Omar lacked authority to prevent al Qaeda from conducting jihad outside Afghanistan. Though most of the Shura Council reportedly disagreed, Bin Ladin persisted. The attacks went forward.184 The story of dissension within al Qaeda regarding the 9/11 attacks is probably incomplete.The information on which the account is based comes from sources who were not privy to the full scope of al Qaeda and Taliban planning. Bin Ladin and Atef, however, probably would have known, at least, that • The general Taliban offensive against the Northern Alliance would rely on al Qaeda military support. • Another significant al Qaeda operation was making progress during the summer—a plot to assassinate the Northern Alliance leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud.The operatives, disguised as journalists, were in Massoud’s camp and prepared to kill him sometime in August.Their appointment to see him was delayed.185 But on September 9, the Massoud assassination took place.The delayed Taliban offensive against the Northern Alliance was apparently coordinated to begin as soon as he was killed, and it got under way on September 10.186 As they deliberated earlier in the year, Bin Ladin and Atef would likely have remembered that Mullah Omar was dependent on them for the Massoud assassination and for vital support in the Taliban military operations. KSM remembers Atef telling him that al Qaeda had an agreement with the Taliban to eliminate Massoud, after which the Taliban would begin an offensive to take over Afghanistan. Atef hoped Massoud’s death would also appease the Taliban when the 9/11 attacks happened. There are also some scant indications that Omar may have been reconciled to the 9/11 attacks by the time they occurred.187 Moving to Departure Positions In the days just before 9/11, the hijackers returned leftover funds to al Qaeda and assembled in their departure cities.They sent the excess funds by wire transfer to Hawsawi in the UAE, about $26,000 altogether.188 The hijackers targeting American Airlines Flight 77, to depart from Dulles, migrated from New Jersey to Laurel, Maryland, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C.They stayed in a motel during the first week in September and spent 252 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT time working out at a gym. On the final night before the attacks, they lodged at a hotel in Herndon,Virginia, close to the airport.189 Further north, the hijackers targeting United Airlines Flight 93, to depart from Newark, gathered in that city from their base in Florida on September 7. Just after midnight on September 8–9,Jarrah received a speeding ticket in Maryland as he headed north on I-95. He joined the rest of his team at their hotel.190 Atta was still busy coordinating the teams. On September 7, he flew from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore, presumably to meet with the Flight 77 team in Laurel. On September 9, he flew from Baltimore to Boston. By then, Shehhi had arrived there, and Atta was seen with him at his hotel.The next day, Atta picked up Omari at another hotel, and the two drove to Portland, Maine, for reasons that remain unknown. In the early morning hours of September 11, they boarded a commuter flight to Boston to connect to American Airlines Flight 11.The two spent their last night pursuing ordinary activities: making ATM withdrawals, eating pizza, and shopping at a convenience store. Their three fellow hijackers for Flight 11 stayed together in a hotel in Newton, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.191 Shehhi and his team targeting United Airlines Flight 175 from Logan Airport spent their last hours at two Boston hotels.192 The plan that started with a proposal by KSM in 1996 had evolved to overcome numerous obstacles. Now 19 men waited in nondescript hotel rooms to board four flights the next morning.