Profile: Ali Soufan
Ali Soufan was a participant or observer in the following events:
Tayyib al-Madani (a.k.a. Abu Fadel) turns himself in to the Saudi government. He handled the distribution of al-Qaeda’s finances and ran some of Osama bin Laden’s businesses in Sudan. It is said that he had to approve every al-Qaeda expenditure of more than $1,000. [Risen, 2006, pp. 181] Tayyib is close to bin Laden and is married to bin Laden’s niece. FBI agent Ali Soufan will later say that Tayyib had lost a leg many years earlier, fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviets. In constant pain since his amputation, he went to London to seek treatment. Eventually, he turns himself in to the Saudis in London in the hope that they can help with his medical problems. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 45-46] The Saudi government gives the US some limited information it learns from questioning Tayyib. The US presses the Saudi government for direct access to him to learn more, but the Saudis will not allow it (see September-November 1998). In August 1997, the Daily Telegraph will publicly reveal that Tayyib has turned himself in. The article suggests that he may have been working as a Saudi double agent for some time before defecting. US sources will say that Saudis have shared information that some money has been sent from bin Laden bank accounts in Pakistan and Afghanistan to individuals in London, Detroit, Brooklyn, and Jersey City in New Jersey. The article will note that Tayyib’s “information is thought to have been the reason a federal grand jury has been secretly convened in New York to examine the financing of terrorism in America.” It is unclear what becomes of the individuals being sent the money, but the article will suggest that the recent arrest of two Palestinians planning an attack in New York City is connected to Tayyib’s revelations (see July 31, 1997). [Daily Telegraph, 8/2/1997]
Ali Soufan. [Source: CBS News]Ali Soufan joins the FBI. Soufan is a US citizen and recently graduated from a US university, but he is a Muslim who was born and raised in Lebanon and speaks fluent Arabic, making him particularly suited to understanding Islamist militant threats. Soufan is assigned to the FBI’s New York office, which happens to be the office taking the lead in cases involving Osama bin Laden. Initially, Soufan is assigned to Mafia cases. But he has had a long-standing interest in bin Laden, and after reading in an Arabic newspaper about bin Laden’s fatwa (religious edict) against the US in February 1998 (see February 22, 1998), he will write an FBI memo explaining the fatwa’s significance. This will get him increasingly involved in counterterrorism cases, and shortly after the East African embassy bombings in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), he will be assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). He will begin working with FBI bin Laden expert John O’Neill and the counterterrorism I-49 squad, which is increasingly focusing on bin Laden. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 1-16]
The US tries to get direct access to al-Qaeda financial chief Tayyib al-Madani, who is being held by the Saudi government, but the Saudis will not allow it. Tayyib turned himself in to the Saudi government in May 1997 (see May 1997). In August 1998, shortly after the US embassy bombings in East Africa, Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, said that the US learned “a lot of intelligence” from the Saudi information about Tayyib regarding how Osama bin Laden “keeps his money, how he transfers it from one bank to another, what are the front companies [he uses].” [USA Today, 8/21/1998] However, FBI agent Ali Soufan will later say the Saudis never give any information from Tayyib to the FBI, although Soufan acknowledges there are claims that they later do give some information to the CIA. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 50] The US presses the Saudi government for direct access to Tayyib to learn more, but the Saudis do not allow it. In September 1998, Vice President Al Gore raises the issue with Crown Prince Abdullah. In November 1998, a National Security Council working group on terrorist finances asks the CIA to push again to get access to Tayyib, and to see “if it is possible to elaborate further on the ties between Osama bin Laden and prominent individuals in Saudi Arabia, including especially the bin Laden family.” But the US does not gain direct access to Tayyib. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14, 121; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 39 ; Risen, 2006, pp. 181]
The FBI is told that three arrested Islamist militants working for Osama bin Laden are about to be released from prison in the UK. But the FBI works quickly and prevents their release. Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, and Adel Abdel Bary had been arrested in London on September 23, 1998, not long after the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Al-Fawwaz is an al-Qaeda operative while Eidarous and Bary are Islamic Jihad operatives, but all three of them ran the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), a bin Laden front in London (see September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999). The three of them had been arrested for a role in the embassy bombings, but in July 1999, a British judge says there is not enough evidence to keep them imprisoned. FBI agents Ali Soufan, Dan Coleman, Jack Cloonan, and US attorneys Patrick Fitzgerald and Ken Karas work quickly and put together a request to have the three men extradited to the US to stand trial there. (The US already had requested al-Fawwaz’s extradition shortly after his arrest in September (see September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999).) As a result, the three men are rearrested on July 12, 1999, apparently without ever being released, and a long battle to extradite them begins. [New York Times, 7/13/1999; Soufan, 2011, pp. 97-104]
A CIA officer whose first name is “Albert” drafts a series of incorrect cables about a plan by Islamist militants to carry out attacks in Jordan around the millennium (see December 15-31, 1999). One cable alleges that the group of terrorists, some of whom are al-Qaeda operatives, is backed by Iran. Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working against the plotters in Jordan, sends a series of parallel cables back to Washington, and his and Albert’s superiors notice the discrepancies. An investigation into who is correct ensues, and Soufan is proved right. In all, 12 cables drafted by Albert have to be withdrawn. Soufan will say that Albert’s problem was that he had a “tendency to jump to conclusions without facts.” The link to Iran was because some of the plotters had trained in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, an area controlled by Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ; Soufan, 2011, pp. 138-139] After 9/11, Albert will be involved in the rendition of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi to Egypt, where he falsely confesses to a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq (see January 2002 and After).
During the investigation of the Millennium plots to attack targets in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), the local intelligence service gives the chief of the CIA station in Amman a box of evidence to examine. However, the station chief, apparently called “Hendrik V.,” ignores the box; he dumps it in a corner of his office and fails to inform his FBI colleagues of it. A few days later, FBI agent Ali Souofan is in Hendrik V.‘s office and asks what is in the box. Hendrik V. replies that it is just “junk” the Jordanians gave him. Soufan starts to go through the box and finds key evidence, such as a map of the proposed bomb sites. The evidence is then returned to the Jordanians, so they can start following the leads. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “Soufan’s success embarrassed the CIA.” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ; Soufan, 2011, pp. 139-140] Hendrik V. will later be promoted to run the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)).
Mary Deborah Doran. [Source: Havecamerawilltravel.com]Al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash possibly flies to the US around this time. In 2011, former FBI agent Ali Soufan will write in a book that in late 2003, he and some other FBI officials plus some CIA officials briefed the 9/11 Commission about al-Qaeda. In the course of that briefing, an FBI official named Mary Deborah Doran said, “[W]e found that Salah bin Saeed bin Yousef—this is the alias Khallad [bin Attash] traveled under—was listed as having traveled to LAX [Los Angeles Airport] during the millennium.” A CIA analyst present denies that bin Attash ever went to the US. Doran replied, “You may be right, but if he wasn’t there, why is his alias on the flight manifest?” Apparently, the CIA analyst has no response to this. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 303] This is all that is publicly known, since even though this information is presented to the 9/11 Commission, the Commission never even mentions bin Attash going to the US as a possibility in its final report.
When Exactly Could This Occur? - If bin Attash does go to Los Angeles, it is unclear exactly when this takes place. Bin Attash appears to be busy in Malaysia for most of late December 1999, recovering from surgery there (see Mid-December 1999). Then he makes a series of test flights from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok to Hong Kong and back from December 31, 1999 to January 2, 2000 (see December 31, 1999-January 2, 2000). One logical possibility is that he continues these test flights to the US and back from January 2 to 5, returning to Malaysia in time for the al-Qaeda summit he attends there from January 5 to 8 (see January 5-8, 2000). After the summit, it is known he goes to Bangkok, Thailand, and stays there until he flies to Karachi, Pakistan, on January 20 (see January 8, 2000 and January 20, 2000). But it is also possible he could fly to Los Angeles and back during his time in Thailand, since many of his days there are not accounted for. Future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khallad Almihdhar attend the Malaysia summit with bin Attash and then fly to Los Angeles on January 15 (see January 15, 2000) and start living in California, so it could be that bin Attash goes to Los Angeles to prepare the way for the two hijackers, or to help them start living there.
If He Goes to the US, Does the CIA Know? - Since the CIA knows bin Attash is using the Salah bin Saeed bin Yousef alias for all his plane flights around this time, and flies with Alhazmi and Almihdhar to Thailand using this alias on January 8, and Alhazmi and Almihdhar fly to Los Angeles one week later, it would be logical for the agency to check if bin Attash ever goes to the US under that name as well. But it is unknown if the CIA checks for this information before 9/11.
The inside cover of the training manual found in Manchester, depicting a knife plunging through the Earth. [Source: FBI]British authorities raid the Manchester home of Anas al-Liby. Remarkably, al-Liby was a top al-Qaeda leader who nonetheless had been allowed to live in Britain (see Late 1995-May 2000); some speculate his treatment was connected to a joint al-Qaeda-British plot to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see 1996). [Observer, 9/22/2001] The raid may have been conducted as part of an investigation into al-Liby’s role in the 1998 embassy bombings. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001] Al-Liby is arrested and then let go for lack of evidence (see May 2000). But shortly after he is let go, investigators searching through his possessions find “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants,” a 180-page al-Qaeda training manual written in Arabic. FBI agent Ali Soufan, who speaks Arabic, is the first to discover the manual. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 113-114] The manual appears to have been written in the late 1980’s by double agent Ali Mohamed. He wrote the manual, and many others, by cobbling together information from his personal experiences and stolen US training guides (see November 5, 1990). Others have since updated it as different versions spread widely. “The FBI does not know if any of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the manual… However, many of their tactics come straight from Mohamed’s lessons, such as how to blend in as law-abiding citizens in a Western society.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001] George Andrew, deputy head of anti-terrorism for the FBI’s New York City office, later will claim that after studying the manual, the FBI suspect that al-Qaeda operatives are attempting to infiltrate US society. But the FBI think they are not yet ready to strike. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001] The existence of the manual is made public in a US trial in April 2001. [New York Times, 4/5/2001]
The front of the Manchester manual, deceptively covered with flowers. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda leader Anas al-Liby is arrested in Manchester, England, and then let go. According to Ali Soufan, an FBI agent from 1997 to 2005, the I-49 squad, a mix of FBI agents and US attorneys, uncovers evidence that al-Liby is living in Manchester. FBI agent John O’Neill assembles a team, including Soufan, to go there. Soufan will later say that they are met by local police, and he tells them: “Anas al-Liby is a senior al-Qaeda operative. He’s a computer expert and was part of the team that did surveillance on the embassy in Nairobi [that resulted in the 1998 bombing there (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998)]. This is potentially a big win for us.” Al-Liby is caught in his residence and taken to a local police station. However, he denies any involvement in terrorism. According to Soufan, al-Liby is smart and careful, and no incriminating documents or computer files can be quickly found in his residence. O’Neill wants him held until his possessions can be searched more thoroughly, but he is immediately released. Al-Liby evades a team sent to follow him, and skips the country. Not long afterwards, Soufan, who speaks Arabic, discovers a terrorist training manual written in Arabic in al-Liby’s possessions (see May 2000). In a book he writes that is published in 2011, Soufan curiously will not mention the timing of this arrest, even though timing is given to most other events discussed in the book. But the arrest is placed between events that occur in late 1999 and early 2000. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 113-114] In April 2001, the New York Times will first report on the manual, and will mention that it was discovered in a raid in Manchester in May 2000. [New York Times, 4/5/2001] Shortly after 9/11, it will be revealed that the raid was of al-Liby’s residence. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001; Observer, 9/22/2001] In 2002, it will be reported that al-Liby was not at home during the raid, and then escaped the country. Furthermore, al-Liby has been living openly in Britain since 1995, apparently as part of a political deal after he had taken part in a plot with the British intelligence agency MI6 to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see Late 1995-May 2000 and 1996). [Observer, 11/10/2002] The embarrassing fact that al-Liby is actually arrested and then released will not be revealed until September 2011, in Soufan’s book. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 113-114] The US will later post a $25 million reward for al-Liby, and his death or arrest will never be confirmed. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002]
Fahad al-Quso, a Yemeni and known associate of Osama bin Laden, turns himself in to the Yemeni government after some of his relatives are questioned in the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] He admits that he and one of the two Cole suicide bombers went to Bangkok, Thailand, and gave several thousand dollars to a man known as Khallad, who is identified as one of the masterminds of the Cole bombing. He says the money is to buy a new artificial leg for the one-legged Khallad. The transcript of the interrogation is given to the FBI a month later. FBI agent Ali Soufan sees the transcript and remembers a source he recruited in Afghanistan who spoke of a one-legged man named Khallad who is close to bin Laden. Khallad is his nickname; his real name is Tawfiq bin Attash. A mug shot of bin Attash is sent to this source, who makes a positive identification. Soufan wonders why money was being sent away from the Cole plotters and away from Yemen prior to a major planned attack and speculates that it may mean another al-Qaeda operation is being planned elsewhere. Soufan asks the CIA for information about Khallad and this other attack, which turns out to be 9/11, but the CIA withholds the information (see Late November 2000). Al-Quso will later reveal more to the FBI, leading to more missed opportunities (see Early December 2000). [Wright, 2006, pp. 328-329]
Rahim al-Nashiri [Source: AP]After several weeks of investigation, US authorities learn that al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was involved in the plot to attack the USS Cole. Investigators find a second safe house used by the bombing team, and learn it was registered to al-Nashiri under a name variant. Al-Nashiri’s name is dimly familiar to FBI agent Ali Soufan, who remembers that a source said al-Nashiri was planning a seaborne attack against a US vessel in Aden (see After August 7, 1998). The FBI then finds that al-Nashiri rented a car in Aden before the bombing. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “It was another strong link between al-Qaeda and the Cole attack.” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] In addition, one of the bombers detained by Yemeni authorities, Jamal al-Badawi, identifies al-Nashiri as a person who gave instructions for the attack. Al-Badawi also says he thought al-Nashiri was working for bin Laden, but al-Nashiri did not tell al-Badawi this directly. [CNN, 12/13/2000] Although al-Nashiri was the operational manager, he was actually in Afghanistan for a meeting with Osama bin Laden when the opportunity to attack arose and was not physically present at the bombing. Investigators are aware that he is the cousin of one of the bombers of the US embassy in Nairobi, which he facilitated, and a captured embassy bomber identified a photo of him for the FBI two years earlier (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and August 22-25 1998). Al-Nashiri has been known to various intelligence agencies since 1998, at least, and was monitored at the Malaysia summit of top al-Qaeda leaders at the start of the year (see January 5-8, 2000). [CNN, 12/11/2000; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3; Wright, 2006, pp. 318] US investigators also identify another leading suspect in the case, Khallad bin Attash, at around the same time (see January 4, 2001).
Jamal Badawi. [Source: Rewards for Justice]Based on information from interviews of suspects detained during the USS Cole bombings (see Late October-Late November 2000), the FBI finds that one of the lead bombers was Khallad bin Attash, an operative also involved in the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The detained men, Jamal al-Badawi and Fahad al-Quso, say that they recently traveled to Afghanistan and met bin Attash there. Al-Badawi also says bin Attash helped purchase a boat used in the Cole bombing. The head of the FBI’s investigation, Ali Soufan, is startled by this news, as an informer has already provided information on bin Attash, describing him as one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants. Although the FBI wants to interview the two detained men to obtain more information, the Yemeni authorities refuse at this point, saying they have both sworn on the Koran they were not involved in the attack, so they must be innocent. Limited access to al-Quso will be granted to the FBI later, but the Yemeni authorities will indicate to him that he is still under their protection (see Early December 2000). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Based on information obtained during the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000), the FBI asks the CIA for information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash and a possible al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia in early 2000, but the CIA withholds the information. The request is sent by FBI Director Louis Freeh on behalf of agent Ali Soufan, who is working on the Cole investigation. Soufan began to suspect such a meeting may have taken place when he learned that two of the operatives involved in the bombing had taken money out of Yemen to give to bin Attash in Thailand before the attack (see January 13, 2000), making him think the money may have been intended for a bigger plot. The CIA is highly aware of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), which was considered so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). The CIA has photos of bin Attash and al-Quso attending the meeting (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After), which took place only a few days before al-Quso’s meeting with bin Attash in Thailand. Yet the CIA does not respond to Soufan’s clearly stated request. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “The fact that the CIA withheld information about the mastermind of the Cole bombing and the meeting in Malaysia, when directly asked by the FBI, amount[s] to obstruction of justice in the death of seventeen American sailors [who were killed in the Cole bombing].” Although he was not told one of the 9/11 hijackers had a US visa, Freeh was briefed on the Malaysia summit when it took place (see January 6, 2000), but apparently he does not tell Soufan what he knows, and Soufan remains unaware that any kind of al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia even occurred. [Wright, 2006, pp. 328-9; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Khallad bin Attash. [Source: FBI]After talks that last some time, Yemeni authorities agree to provide the FBI team investigating the USS Cole bombing with passport photos of suspects in the attack, including al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. The photos are provided to lead investigators John O’Neill and Ali Soufan, and Soufan immediately sends bin Attash’s photo to the CIA and to an FBI colleague in Islamabad, Pakistan. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] The FBI colleague is Michael Dorris. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 117] The CIA agent is known only as “Chris.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537] Chris shows the photo to a source, and the source, known only as “Omar,” confirms that the man in the photo is bin Attash. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “This suggested strongly that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole attack.” However, this does not motivate the US to retaliate against al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 12, 2000). Around this time, the FBI also learns that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another al-Qaeda operative involved in the embassy bombings, had a hand in the Cole attack as well (see November-December 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Fahad al-Quso. [Source: FBI]In late October 2000, al-Qaeda operative Fahad al-Quso was interrogated by authorities in Yemen, and FBI agent Ali Soufan was able to use that information to discover the identity of one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, Khallad bin Attash (see Late October-Late November 2000). In early December, while most FBI investigators are having to leave Yemen, Soufan is given the chance to interrogate al-Quso directly. Soufan gets al-Quso to admit that he had met with bin Attash and one of the Cole suicide bombers in Bangkok, Thailand, in January 2000 (see January 13, 2000). Al-Quso admits he gave bin Attash $36,000 and not the $5,000 for medical expenses that al-Quso had claimed when talking to the Yemenis the month before. Al-Quso says they stayed in the Washington Hotel in Bangkok, so Soufan checks telephone records to verify his account. Soufan finds records of phone calls between the hotel and al-Quso’s house in Yemen. They also find calls to both places from a pay phone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The phone happens to be directly outside the condominium where an al-Qaeda summit was taking place a few days before al-Quso went to Bangkok (see January 5-8, 2000). Soufan asks the CIA for information about bin Attash, but the CIA wrongly claims it knows nothing, and doesn’t even tell Soufan of the Malaysia summit that it had closely monitored (see Late November 2000). [New York Times, 4/11/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331] Meanwhile, FBI head investigator John O’Neill correctly believes that al-Quso is still holding back important information (at the very least, al-Quso is still hiding his participation in the Malaysia summit). However, O’Neill had been kicked out of Yemen by his superiors a week or two before (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and without his influential presence the Yemeni government will not allow any more interrogations. After 9/11, al-Quso will finally admit to meeting with Alhazmi and Almihdhar. One investigator calls the missed opportunity of exposing the 9/11 plot through al-Quso’s connections “mind-boggling.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] In April 2003, al-Quso will escape from a Yemeni prison (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). [Associated Press, 4/11/2003]
Two FBI agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole interview a source, referred to later as “Omar,” who previously identified a photo of one of the bombers as al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000). However, a CIA officer present at the interview, known only as “Chris,” fails to add a crucial detail. The interview, which apparently takes place in Pakistan, is held to document the previous identification by Omar of bin Attash, who led the attack on the Cole, based on a photograph provided by Yemeni authorities. Chris is also aware that Omar has identified bin Attash in a surveillance photo taken of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 4, 2001). The identification of bin Attash in the photo taken at the summit is important because it connects bin Attash to future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who were also at the summit, and because it casts light on bin Attash’s interaction with the other Cole bombers. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say it believes “that had the FBI known about the identification of [bin Attash] in the Kuala Lumpur photographs, they would likely have sought information about the other participants in the meeting, including Almihdhar and Alhazmi, which could have increased the FBI’s chances of locating them before the September 11 attacks.” Chris had previously failed to notify the FBI of the identification of bin Attash in the Malaysia summit photo (see January 5, 2001 and After), as had the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see Shortly Before February 1, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 275-8 ] Omar is usually handled by Cole case agents Ali Soufan and Steve Bongardt. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 120] Presumably, one of them is the lead FBI agent at this interview, although it is not clear which.
Ali Soufan in Afghanistan after 9/11. [Source: FBI]Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing of the USS Cole, again requests information from the CIA about leads turned up by the investigation. He made a similar request in late 2000, but got no reply (see Late November 2000). After learning that some of the bombers made calls between one of their houses in Yemen, the Washington Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, where some of them stayed, and a payphone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see (January 5-8, 2000) and Early December 2000), Soufan sends an official teletype with the request for information and also a photo of al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash. The CIA is well aware that there was an al-Qaeda summit at a condominium near the payphone in Kuala Lumpur (see January 5-8, 2000), and in fact considered it so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). [New York Times, 4/11/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] The CIA even has photos from the Malaysia summit of al-Quso standing next to hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and other photos of bin Attash standing next to Almihdhar. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ] However, the CIA does not share any of what they know with Soufan, and Soufan continues to remain unaware the Malaysia summit even took place. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “If the CIA had responded to Soufan by supplying him with the intelligence he requested, the FBI would have learned of the Malaysia summit and of the connection to Almihdhar and Alhazmi. The bureau would have learned—as the [CIA] already knew—that the al-Qaeda operatives were in America and had been there for more than a year. Because there was a preexisting indictment for bin Laden in New York, and Almihdhar and Alhazmi were his associates, the bureau already had the authority to follow the suspects, wiretap their apartment, intercept their communications, clone their computer, investigate their contacts—all the essential steps that might have prevented 9/11.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331]
Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” [Soufan, 2011, pp. 243]
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-292 ]
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537]
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Entity Tags: Dina Corsi, Khalid Almihdhar, David Kelley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clark Shannon, Margaret Gillespie, Ali Soufan, Steve Bongardt, Central Intelligence Agency, Russell Fincher, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Lawrence Wright
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working on the investigation into the USS Cole bombing, submits a third request to the CIA for information about travel by al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia (see Late November 2000 and April 2001). Whereas in previous requests to the CIA he had only asked for information about a possible meeting somewhere in Southeast Asia, he has now developed a much clearer understanding of the relationship between al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash and the Cole conspirators, and correctly suspects some operatives met in Malaysia in January 2000. He asks the CIA about this and about a trip by bin Attash to Bangkok to meet another two members of the Cole bombing team (see January 13, 2000). The CIA actually monitored the meeting Soufan suspects took place in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and considered it so important that the CIA director and other top officials were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000), but the CIA does not respond to his inquiry. FBI managers are also aware of some of this information, including the existence of an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia at the time Soufan suspects one took place, but they apparently do not tell Soufan either (see January 6, 2000). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] Author Lawrence Wright will later say: “The FBI’s investigating the death of 17 American sailors and they’re asking the CIA for information that would solve the crime. And the CIA is refusing, essentially obstructing justice.” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]
An FBI team returns to Yemen to re-commence its investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The team, headed by FBI agent Ali Soufan and sent by retiring FBI manager John O’Neill on his last day with the FBI (see August 22, 2001), had been pulled out of Yemen in June, due to possible threats against it (see June 17, 2001). On the same day as Soufan leaves, the CIA finally tells the FBI some of what it knows about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and their attendance at an al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see August 21-22, 2001 and August 23, 2001). Soufan had requested information about the Malaysia summit from the CIA three times (see Late November 2000, April 2001 and July 2001), but the CIA had repeatedly failed to respond to his requests. While in Yemen, Soufan appears not to be aware of the new information provided to the FBI, and learns about the Malaysia summit shortly after the 9/11 attacks (see January 5-8, 2000 and September 12-Late September, 2001). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Newsweek will report in 2006, “The intelligence community generally agrees that the number of true A-list al-Qaeda operatives out there around the time of 9/11 was no more than about 1,000, perhaps as few as 500, most in and around Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 6/28/2006] John Arquilla, a Special Operations expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, makes a higher end estimate, claiming “there were probably 3,000 core al-Qaeda operatives” around the time of 9/11. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] US intelligence will later conclude that about 20,000 people passed through al-Qaeda training camps from 1996 to 9/11, and many of them will keep some level of affiliation with the group. However, only about 180 operatives have pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden by 9/11. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will say, “Al-Qaeda is an elite organization that takes very few members.” [New York Times, 9/10/2002; US News and World Report, 6/2/2003] Ali Soufan, an FBI agent focusing on al-Qaeda before 9/11, will later claim that at the time of 9/11, al-Qaeda had about 400 members. [Soufan, 2011, pp. xxiii] Author Terry McDermott will later comment: “Over 20-plus years, tens of thousands of men went through the Afghan training camps. In the same period, nearly a dozen attacks attributed to Islamic fundamentalists occurred around the world. But most of these men and most of these attacks had little, other than overlapping intent, to do with al-Qaeda. Most were independent groups running independent, often local, operations. In the attacks that were instigated by al-Qaeda, the same handful of people were involved in virtually every one. Even foot soldiers were recycled to new operations. The organization was so small that almost everybody in it at one time or another had personal interactions with top leadership.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 194, 201-202]
Abu Jandal. [Source: CNN]On the day of 9/11, FBI agent Ali Soufan happened to be in Yemen, working on the recently revived USS Cole bombing investigation there. For nearly a year, the CIA had hidden all information about the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia from Soufan (see Late October-Late November 2000 and Early December 2000). On September 12, 2001, he receives from the CIA a packet of information containing a complete report about the Malaysia summit and three surveillance photos from it. According to author Lawrence Wright, “When Soufan realized that the [CIA] and some people in the [FBI] had known for more than a year and a half that two of the hijackers [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi] were in the [US], he ran into the bathroom and retched.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 362-367] A full list of the FBI officials who knew of the Malaysia summit is not known. However, in the summer of 2001 head of counterterrorism Dale Watson and acting Director Thomas Pickard were aware of it, but did not tell other officials on the CIA’s instructions (see July 12, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] Using the new information, Soufan interrogates Fahad al-Quso, an al-Qaeda operative who was involved with the Malaysia summit although he may not have actually attended it (see January 5-6, 2000). Al-Quso is living freely in Yemen but is pressured into talking to Soufan by the Yemeni government. After a few days, al-Quso admits to recognizing 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi, whom he met in Kandahar, Afghanistan, near the end of 1999. Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, happens to be in custody in Yemen as well. After some more days, Jandal tells Soufan everything he knows about al-Qaeda. He recognizes photos of Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, Khalid Almihdhar, and four other 9/11 hijackers, from when they were in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. [Wright, 2006, pp. 362-367]
Ali Soufan, an experienced FBI interrogator with an extensive knowledge of both Arab culture and al-Qaeda (see Late December 1999, Late October-Late November 2000, November 11, 2000, Early December 2000, and Late March through Early June, 2002), goes to Guantanamo to conduct training on non-coercive interrogation methods for the interrogators stationed there. Soufan says that not only are these methods the most effective, but they are critical to maintaining the US image in the Middle East and elsewhere. “The whole world is watching what we do here,” Soufan says. “We’re going to win or lose this war depending on how we do this.” According to Robert McFadden, a US naval criminal investigator who worked with Soufan on the USS Cole investigation, the interrogators from law enforcement nod in agreement, while the military intelligence officers just sit and look at Soufan “with blank stares.” McFadden will later recall: “It’s like they were thinking, ‘This is bullcrap.’ Their attitude was, ‘You guys are cops; we don’t have time for this.’” [Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
FBI senior interrogator and al-Qaeda expert Ali Soufan, in conjunction with FBI agent Steve Gaudin, interrogate suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while Zubaida is under guard in a secret CIA prison in Thailand. A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived, so Soufan and Gaudin who have been nursing his wounds are initially leading his questioning using its typical rapport-building techniques. “We kept him alive,” Soufan will later recall. “It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.” At the beginning, Zubaida denies even his identity, calling himself “Daoud;” Soufan, who has pored over the FBI’s files on Zubaida, stuns him by calling him “Hani,” the nickname his mother called him. Soufan and Gaudin, with CIA officials present, elicit what he will later call “important actionable intelligence” from Zubaida. To help get him to talk, the agents bring in a box of audiotapes and claim they contain recordings of his phone conversations. He begins to confess.
Zubaida Reveals KSM Is 9/11 Mastermind - Zubaida tells Soufan that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and confirms that Mohammed’s alias is “Mukhtar,” a vital fact US intelligence discovered shortly before 9/11 (see August 28, 2001). Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of terror suspects; Zubaida points at Mohammed’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11” (see April 2002). Zubaida also tells Soufan about American al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see March 2002 and Mid-April 2002). In 2009, Soufan will write of his interrogations of Zubaida (see April 22, 2009): “This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.” When the CIA begins subjecting Zubaida to “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see Mid-April 2002), Soufan will note that they learn nothing from using those tactics “that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions… The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007; Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Standing Up to the CIA - The CIA interrogation team members, which includes several private contractors, want to begin using “harsh interrogation tactics” on Zubaida almost as soon as they arrive. The techniques they have in mind include nakedness, exposure to freezing temperatures, and loud music. Soufan objects. He yells at one contractor (whom other sources will later identify as psychologist James Mitchell—see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), telling him that what he is doing is wrong, ineffective, and an offense to American values. “I asked [the contractor] if he’d ever interrogated anyone, and he said no,” Soufan will later say. But, Mitchell retorts that his inexperience does not matter. “Science is science,” he says. “This is a behavioral issue.” Instead, Mitchell says, Soufan is the inexperienced one. As Soufan will later recall, “He told me he’s a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works.” During the interrogation process, Soufan finds a dark wooden “confinement box” that the contractor has built for Zubaida. Soufan will later recall that it looked “like a coffin.” (Other sources later say that Mitchell had the box constructed for a “mock burial.”) An enraged Soufan calls Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism. “I swear to God,” he shouts, “I’m going to arrest these guys!” Soufan challenges one CIA official over the agency’s legal authority to torture Zubaida, saying, “We’re the United States of America, and we don’t do that kind of thing.” But the official counters with the assertion that the agency has received approval from the “highest levels” in Washington to use such techniques. The official even shows Soufan a document that the official claims was approved by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. It is unclear what document the official is referring to.
Ordered Home - In Washington, D’Amuro is disturbed by Soufan’s reports, and tells FBI director Robert Mueller, “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this.” Mueller orders Soufan and then Gaudin to return to the US, and later forbids the FBI from taking part in CIA interrogations (see May 13, 2004). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Disputed Claims of Effectiveness - The New York Times will later note that officials aligned with the FBI tend to think the FBI’s techniques were effective while officials aligned with the CIA tend to think the CIA’s techniques were more effective. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] In 2007, former CIA officer John Kiriakou will make the opposite claim, that FBI techniques were slow and ineffective and CIA techniques were immediately effective. However, Kiriakou led the team that captured Zubaida in Pakistan and does not appear to have traveled with him to Thailand (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 ]
Press Investigation Finds that FBI Interrogations Effective - In 2007, Vanity Fair will conclude a 10 month investigation comprising 70 interviews, and conclude that the FBI techniques were effective. The writers will later note, “America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely.” CIA Director George Tenet reportedly is infuriated that the FBI and not the CIA obtained the information and he demands that the CIA team get there immediately. But once the CIA team arrives, they immediately put a stop to the rapport building techniques and instead begin implementing a controversial “psychic demolition” using legally questionable interrogation techniques. Zubaida immediately stops cooperating (see Mid-April 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]
Entity Tags: Steve Gaudin, Vanity Fair, Robert S. Mueller III, James Elmer Mitchell, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, John Kiriakou, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pasquale D’Amuro
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
FBI agents are able to get prisoner Abu Zubaida to confess that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Zubaida, captured in Pakistan in March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), is considered a high-ranking prisoner, although there is controversy over just how important he was to al-Qaeda (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agents Ali Soufan and Steve Gaudin have been interrogating Zubaida using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while he is being held in a secret CIA prison in Thailand (see Late March through Early June, 2002). A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived. Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of high priority suspects; Zubaida points at KSM’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11.” Shortly before 9/11, US intelligence had learned that the alias “Mukhtar” was frequently used by KSM (see August 28, 2001), but this is important confirmation. The more stunning revelation is that KSM is “the one behind 9/11.” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009] Zubaida proceeds to lay out more details of the 9/11 plot, although exactly what and how much he says is unknown. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] It is unclear how much US intelligence knew about KSM’s role in the 9/11 attacks prior to this, although at least some was known (see (December 2001)).
In an interview, a key 9/11 Commission staffer, Doug MacEachin, reportedly agrees with an important witness, FBI agent Ali Soufan, that the CIA deliberately withheld from the bureau the knowledge that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit and was therefore linked to 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 301-302] However, the Commission’s final report will call the non-passage of this intelligence “an example of how day-to-day gaps in intelligence sharing can emerge even when there is mutual goodwill.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 267] This interview appears to be the second time the Commission talks to Soufan, which is on September 15, 2003. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 507; Soufan, 2011, pp. 297-302] Soufan discusses the case of “Omar,” a joint FBI-CIA source inside al-Qaeda. At an interview of Omar in January 2001 the CIA learned that bin Attash had attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in early 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 4, 2001). However, it then failed to share this with the FBI (see January 5, 2001 and After). Soufan tells the Commission’s staff: “This shows that the CIA knew the significance of Malaysia, Khallad, and Almihdhar but actively went out of their way to withhold the information from us. It’s not a case of just not passing on information. This is information the FBI representative working with the source should have been told about. It was a legal requirement. Instead we were deliberately kept out of the loop.” A staffer responds that the CIA claims it shared the information, and Soufan asks whether the Commission checked the “regular cables” between the field and CIA headquarters. After the staffer says they have, Soufan asks whether the Commission has checked the “operational traffic,” and MacEachin responds, “That must be it.” Other staffers are initially puzzled by McEachin’s comment, but he explains it to them. Soufan will comment: “Operational traffic refers to cables sent during an operation. The officer will list procedures, leaving a record in case something goes wrong or something needs to be referred to. Because these cables are strictly procedural and not related to intelligence, they would not be sent to the FBI. If someone wanted to hide something from the FBI, that’s where he would put it. Because Doug had worked for the CIA, he knew what operational cables were, while other members of the team might not have.” The Commission later finds that the information about bin Attash was in an operational cable. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 301-302] The reason for the discrepancy between MacEachin’s attitude in the interview of Soufan and the Commission’s final report is unknown.
Ali Soufan. [Source: CBS News]Ali Soufan resigns from the FBI. As an Arabic-speaking Muslim who joined the FBI long before 9/11 (see November 1997), Soufan has become one of the FBI’s best interrogators and experts on al-Qaeda. However, in a 2011 book, he will claim that he grew increasingly frustrated due to the CIA’s opposition to his work. “It was… clear that some high-level people at the time were specifically targeting me—I was told that by more than a few FBI executives and CIA colleagues,” he will write. “Ever since I had been interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, I was a marked man.” In 2004, Soufan gave information to the 9/11 Commission that made the CIA look bad. He will claim there were instances when the FBI wanted him to go overseas as part of an investigation but the CIA tried to prevent him from doing so. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 515-517, 522-523]
A front-page Washington Post story reveals that, eight years after al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole just off the coast of Yemen and killed 17 US soldiers (see October 12, 2000), “all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials.”
Two Key Suspects Keep Slipping from Yemeni Prisons - For instance, Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni and key organizer of the bombing, broke out of Yemeni prisons twice and then was secretly released in 2007 (see April 11, 2003-March 2004, February 3, 2006 and October 17-29, 2007). The Yemeni government jailed him again after the US threatened to cut aid to the country, but apparently he continues to freely come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded the right to perform random inspections to make sure he stays jailed. Another key Cole suspect, Fahad al-Quso, also escaped from a Yemeni prison and then was secretly released in 2007 (see May 2007). Yemen has refused to extradite al-Badawi and al-Quso to the US, where they have been indicted for the Cole bombing. FBI Director Robert Mueller flew to Yemen in April 2008 to personally appeal to Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh to extradite the two men. However, Saleh has refused, citing a constitutional ban on extraditing its citizens. Other Cole suspects have been freed after short prison terms in Yemen, and at least two went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.
US Unwilling to Try Two Suspects in Its Custody - Two more key suspects, Khallad bin Attash and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were captured by US forces and have been transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. Al-Nashiri is considered the mastermind of the Cole bombing, but the US made the decision not to indict either of them because pending criminal charges could have forced the CIA or the Pentagon to give up custody of the men. Al-Quso, bin Attash, and al-Nashiri all attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 attacks were discussed (see January 5-8, 2000).
'The Forgotten Attack' - A week after the Cole bombing, President Bill Clinton vowed to hunt down the plotters and promised, “Justice will prevail.” But less than a month after the bombing, George W. Bush was elected president. Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who helped oversee the White House’s response to the Cole bombing, says, “During the first part of the Bush administration, no one was willing to take ownership of this. It didn’t happen on their watch. It was the forgotten attack.”
'Back to Square One' - Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing, complains,
“After we worked day and night to bring justice to the victims and prove that these Qaeda operatives were responsible, we’re back to square one. Do they have laws over there or not? It’s really frustrating what’s happening.” The Post comments, “Basic questions remain about which individuals and countries played a role in the assault on the Cole.”
Possible Government Complicity - One anonymous senior Yemeni official tells the Post that al-Badawi and other al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. For instance, in 2006, an al-Qaeda suicide attack in Yemen came just days before elections there, and Saleh tried to link one of the figures involved to the opposition party, helping Saleh win reelection (see September 15, 2006). Furthermore, there is evidence that figures within the Yemeni government were involved in the Cole bombing (see After October 12, 2000), and that the government also protected key bombers such as al-Nashiri in the months before and after the bombings (see April 2000 and Shortly After October 12, 2000).
Bush Unwilling to Meet with Victims' Relatives - Relatives of the soldiers killed in the bombing have attempted to meet with President Bush to press for more action, to no avail. John P. Clodtfelter Jr., whose son died on the Cole, says, “I was just flat told that he wouldn’t meet with us. Before him, President Clinton promised we’d go out and get these people, and of course we never did. I’m sorry, but it’s just like the lives of American servicemen aren’t that important.” [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
Entity Tags: John P. Clodtfelter Jr., Ali Soufan, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Fahad al-Quso, Jamal al-Badawi, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Yemen, Khallad bin Attash, Roger Cressey, Robert S. Mueller III, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Ali Soufan, an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005, writes an op-ed for the New York Times about his experiences as a US interrogator. Soufan, who was one of the initial interrogators of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see Late March through Early June, 2002), says he has remained silent for seven years “about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding.” Until now, he has spoken only in closed government hearings, “as these matters were classified.” But now that the Justice Department has released several memos on interrogation (see April 16, 2009), he can publicly speak out about the memos. “I’ve kept my mouth shut about all this for seven years,” Soufan says. “I was in the middle of this, and it’s not true that these techniques were effective. We were able to get the information about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a couple of days. We didn’t have to do any of this [torture]. We could have done this the right way.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009] In early 2002, Soufan trained Guantanamo interrogators in the use of non-coercive interrogation techniques; a colleague recalls the military intelligence officials in the session being resistant to the ideas Soufan proposed (see Early 2002). [Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
'False Premises' Underpinning Use of Torture - Soufan says the memos are based on what he calls “false premises.” One is the August 2002 memo granting retroactive authorization to use harsh interrogation methods on Zubaida on the grounds that previous methods had been ineffective (see August 1, 2002). Soufan asserts that his questioning of Zubaida had indeed been productive (contradicting earlier CIA claims—see December 10, 2007), and that he used “traditional interrogation methods” to elicit “important actionable intelligence” from the suspected operative. The harsh methods later used on Zubaida produced nothing that traditional methods could not have produced, Soufan says; moreover, those harsh techniques—torture—often “backfired” on the interrogators. Many of the methods used on detainees such as Zubaida remain classified, Soufan writes: “The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.”
False Claims 'Proving' Usefulness of Torture - Some claim that Zubaida gave up information leading to the capture of suspected terrorists Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Jose Padilla. “This is false,” Soufan writes. “The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.”
Restoring the 'Chinese Wall' - Because of the use of torture by the CIA, the two agencies will once again be separated by what Soufan calls “the so-called Chinese wall between the CIA and FBI, similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks.” Since the FBI refused to torture suspects in its custody, “our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An FBI colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.”
Targeted Investigations - Soufan writes that any investigations into the use of torture by the CIA should not seek to punish the interrogators who carried out the government’s policies. “That would be a mistake,” he writes. “Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective, and harmful to our national security.” Soufan goes farther, adding, “It’s worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not CIA officers, who requested the use of these techniques.” The CIA itself must not be targeted for retribution, Soufan writes, as “[t]he agency is essential to our national security.” Instead, “[w]e must ensure that the mistakes behind the use of these techniques are never repeated.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
In the days and hours after the US Special Forces raid that kills Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout (see May 2, 2011), some US officials question whether anyone within the Pakistani government knew that bin Laden was hiding there.
John Brennan, the White House’s top counterterrorism adviser, says that bin Laden’s presence in the Abbottabad compound “raises questions” about what some Pakistani officials might have known. He adds that while Pakistani officials “seem surprised” to hear that bin Laden was hiding there, he wonders how “a compound of that size in that area” could exist without arousing suspicions.
Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who was investigating al-Qaeda well before 9/11, notes that Abbottabad is heavily populated by current and former Pakistani military officers. He says, “There’s no way he could have been sitting there without the knowledge of some people in the ISI and the Pakistani military.”
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) similarly comments, “The ability of Osama bin Laden to live in a compound so close to Pakistan’s capital is astounding—and we need to understand who knew his location, when they knew it, and whether Pakistani officials were helping to protect him.” [MSNBC, 5/2/2011]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says that she is troubled by the possibility that the Pakistani government may be engaging in “duplicitous behavior” with the US. “It would be very difficult [for bin Laden] to live there for up to five or six years and no one know [he’s] there. I would have a hard time believing that they did not know,” she says. As chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. [Time, 5/3/2011]
An anonymous senior Obama administration official says, “It’s hard to believe that [General Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani and [Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha actually knew that bin Laden was there.” Kayani is the head of the Pakistani army and Pasha is the head of the ISI. “[But] there are degrees of knowing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we find out that someone close to Pasha knew.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011]
Richard Clarke, the US counterterrorism “tsar” on 9/11, says, “I think there’s a real possibility that we’ll find that there were former members of the Pakistani military and military intelligence who were sympathizers with al-Qaeda and with various other terrorist groups, and that they were running their own sort of renegade support system for al-Qaeda.” [ABC News, 5/7/2011]
About one month after bin Laden’s death, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) says he believes elements of the ISI and Pakistan’s military protected bin Laden. He says this is based on “information I’ve seen.” As chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, he is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. He adds that he has not seen any evidence that top Pakistani civilian or military leaders were involved in hiding bin Laden. [New York Times, 6/14/2011]
Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD) says that some members of the ISI or Pakistan’s military were involved in hiding bin Laden. As the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, he also is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
However, most US officials are hesitant to openly accuse Pakistan, for political reasons. The New York Times reports, “One [unnamed] senior administration official privately acknowledged that the administration sees its relationship with Pakistan as too crucial to risk a wholesale break, even if it turned out that past or present Pakistani intelligence officials did know about bin Laden’s whereabouts.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011] Pakistani officials deny that the Pakistani government had any knowledge that bin Laden was living at the compound. [MSNBC, 5/2/2011]
Entity Tags: C.A. Ruppersberger, Dianne Feinstein, Ali Soufan, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, Osama bin Laden, Frank R. Lautenberg, John O. Brennan, Mike Rogers, Pakistan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
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