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Profile: Ken Williams

 
  

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Ken Williams actively participated in the following events:

 
  

1994-September 2001: Evidence of Al-Qaeda Connections in Arizona Obtained by Local Agents Repeatedly Ignored by FBI Headquarters      Complete 911 Timeline

       By 1990, Arizona became one of the main centers in the US for radical Muslims, and it remains so throughout this period. However, terrorism remains a low priority for the Phoenix, Arizona, FBI office. Around 1990, al-Qaeda operative Hani Hanjour moves to Arizona for the first time and he spends much of the next decade in the state. The FBI apparently remains oblivious of Hanjour, though one FBI informant claims that by 1998 they “knew everything about the guy.” [New York Times, 6/19/02] In 1994, the Phoenix FBI office uncovers startling evidence connecting Arizona to radical Muslim militants. The office videotapes two men trying to recruit a Phoenix FBI informant to be a suicide bomber. One of the men is linked to al-Qaeda leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [Los Angeles Times, 5/26/02; New York Times, 6/19/02] In 1998, the office's international terrorism squad investigates a possible Middle Eastern extremist taking flight lessons at a Phoenix airport. FBI agent Ken Williams initiates an investigation into the possibility of Islamic militants learning to fly aircraft, but he has no easy way to query a central FBI database about similar cases. Because of this and other FBI communication problems, he remains unaware of most US intelligence reports about the potential use of airplanes as weapons, as well as other, specific FBI warnings issued in 1998 and 1999 concerning Islamic militants training at US flight schools. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03]
People and organizations involved: William Safire, Ken Williams, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman
          

Summer 1998: One of Bin Laden's Four Holy War Goals is to Bring Down US Airliners      Complete 911 Timeline

      
Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed.
Bin Laden sends a fax from Afghanistan to Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, a London-based Muslim cleric who dubs himself the “mouth, eyes, and ears of Osama bin Laden.” Bakri publicly releases what he calls bin Laden's four specific objectives for a holy war against the US. The instruction reads, “Bring down their airliners. Prevent the safe passage of their ships. Occupy their embassies. Force the closure of their companies and banks.” Noting this, the Los Angeles Times wryly comments that “Bin Laden hasn't been shy about sharing his game plan.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/01] In 2001, FBI agent Ken Williams will grow concerned about some Middle Eastern students training in Arizona flight schools. He links several of them to Al-Muhajiroun, an extremist group founded by Bakri. Williams quotes several fatwas (calls to action) from Bakri in his July 2001 memo (see July 10, 2001). However, he apparently isn't aware of this particular call to action. These students linked to Bakri's group apparently have no connection to any of the 9/11 hijackers. In another interview before 9/11, Bakri will boast of recruiting “kamikaze bombers ready to die for Palestine.” (see Early September 2001) [Associated Press, 5/23/02]
People and organizations involved: Al-Muhajiroun, Osama bin Laden, Ken Williams, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed
          

1999: FBI Learns of Militant Group's Plans to Send Students to US for Aviation Training; Investigation Opportunity Bungled      Complete 911 Timeline

       The FBI receives reports that a militant organization is planning to send students to the US for aviation training. The organization's name remains classified, but apparently it is a different organization than one mentioned in a very similar warning the year before. The purpose of this training is unknown, but the organization viewed the plan as “particularly important” and it approved open-ended funding for it. The Counterterrorism Section at FBI headquarters issues a notice instructing 24 field offices to pay close attention to Islamic students from the target country engaged in aviation training. Ken Williams's squad at the Phoenix FBI office receives this notice, although Williams does not recall reading it. Williams will later write a memo on this very topic in July 2001. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry later concludes, “There is no indication that field offices conducted any investigation after receiving the communication.” [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03 (B)] However, an analyst at FBI headquarters conducts a study and determines that each year there are about 600 Middle Eastern students attending the slightly over 1,000 US flight schools. [New York Times, 5/4/02; 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03 (B)] In November 2000, a notice will be issued to the field offices, stating that it has uncovered no indication that the militant group is recruiting students. Apparently, Williams will not see this notice either. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03 (B)]
People and organizations involved: Ken Williams, Federal Bureau of Investigation
          

April 17, 2000: Arizona FBI Agent Initiates Investigation into Flight School Students, but Faces Delays      Complete 911 Timeline

       Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams gets a tip that makes him suspicious that some flight students might be Islamic militants. [New York Times, 6/19/02] It appears that flight school student Zacaria Soubra is seen at a shooting range with a known jihad veteran. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/01 (C)] On this day, Williams starts a formal investigation into Soubra. [Arizona Republic, 7/24/03] Soubra is the main focus of Williams's later memo. But Williams's work is greatly slowed because of internal politics and personal disputes. When he finally returns to this case in December 2000, he and all the other agents on the international-terrorism squad are diverted to work on a high-profile arson case. Says James Hauswirth, another Arizona agent, “[Williams] fought it. Why take your best terrorism investigator and put him on an arson case? He didn't have a choice.” The arson case is finally solved in June 2001 and Williams once again returns to the issue of Islamic militant flight school students. His memo comes out one month later instead of some time in 2000. Hauswirth writes a letter to FBI Director Mueller in late 2001, complaining, “[Terrorism] has always been the lowest priority in the division; it still is the lowest priority in the division.” Others concur that the Arizona FBI placed a low priority on terrorism cases. [Los Angeles Times, 5/26/02; New York Times, 6/19/02]
People and organizations involved: James Hauswirth, Robert S. Mueller III, Zacaria Soubra, Ken Williams
          

July 5, 2001: Clarke Warns of Something Really Spectacular; FAA and FBI Respond Poorly      Complete 911 Timeline

       At the request of National Security Adviser Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the Counterterrorism and Security Group, attended by officials from a dozen federal agencies. They discuss intelligence regarding terrorism threats and potential attacks on US installations overseas. Two attendees recall Clarke stating that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon.” One who attended the meeting later calls the evidence that “something spectacular” is being planned by al-Qaeda “very gripping.” [Time, 8/4/02; Washington Post, 5/17/02] Clarke directs every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. By early August, all of these emergency measures are no longer in effect. [CNN, 3/02; Washington Post, 5/17/02] The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don't reflect the level of urgent emergency expressed by Clarke, Tenet, and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA's daily briefings in this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 4/18/04] Clarke says rhetorically that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attends the meeting and promises a redoubling of efforts. However, just five days later, when FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US, the FBI fails to share this information with any other agency. [Washington Post, 5/17/02; Clarke, 2004, pp 236-37] The FBI also fails to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 15, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 24, 2001).
People and organizations involved: Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Ken Williams, Richard A. Clarke, al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George Tenet, Andrew Card, Zacarias Moussaoui, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Condoleezza Rice, Counterterrorism and Security Group
          

July 10, 2001: FBI Agent Sends Memo Warning That Inordinate Number of Muslim Extremists Are Learning to Fly in Arizona      Complete 911 Timeline

      
FBI agent Ken Williams.
Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” [Fortune, 5/22/02; Arizona Republic, 7/24/03] The memo is based on an investigation Williams had initiated in 2000, but had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations. In the memo, Williams does the following:
Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. [Die Zeit, 10/1/02] Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001, is not mentioned in the memo, but one of his acquaintances is. Another person on the list is later arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03; Washington Post, 7/25/03 (C)]
Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. [Die Zeit, 10/1/02]
Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. [Die Zeit, 10/1/02; 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03]
Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03] He discovered that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. [San Jose Mercury News, 5/23/02] Potentially this is the same member of the list mentioned above who is later captured with Abu Zubaida.
Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. [San Jose Mercury News, 5/23/02] This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. [Associated Press, 5/22/02] Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical, but he is later cleared of any ties to terrorism. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/01 (C)] Though Williams doesn't include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998 the leader of Al-Muhajiroun publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda's four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.” (see Summer 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/01 (C)]
Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” [Fortune, 5/22/02] , so they can later hijack aircraft. [Die Zeit, 10/1/02]
Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities/colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix's suspicions.” [Arizona Republic, 7/24/03] (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. [New York Times, 5/4/02] The memo is emailed to six people at FBI headquarters in the bin Laden and Radical Fundamentalist Units, and to two people in the FBI New York field office. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03] He also shares some concerns with the CIA. [San Jose Mercury News, 5/23/02] One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” [Insight, 5/27/02] However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” [Die Zeit, 10/1/02; 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03] Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” [San Jose Mercury News, 5/23/02]
People and organizations involved: Al-Muhajiroun, Islamic Army of the Caucasus, Abu Zubaida, Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, William Safire, Ken Williams, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden
          

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