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Profile: National Security Agency

 
  

Positions that National Security Agency has held:



 

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National Security Agency actively participated in the following events:

 
  

1996: Saudi Regime Goes "to the Dark Side"      Complete 911 Timeline

       The Saudi Arabian government, which allegedly initiated payments to al-Qaeda in 1991 (see Summer 1991), increases its payments in 1996, becoming al-Qaeda's largest financial backer. It also gives money to other extremist groups throughout Asia, vastly increasing al-Qaeda's capabilities. [New Yorker, 10/16/01] Presumably, two meetings in early summer bring about the change. Says one US official, “[19]96 is the key year. ... Bin Laden hooked up to all the bad guys—it's like the Grand Alliance—and had a capability for conducting large-scale operations.” The Saudi regime, he says, had “gone to the dark side.” Electronic intercepts by the NSA “depict a regime increasingly corrupt, alienated from the country's religious rank and file, and so weakened and frightened that it has brokered its future by channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to protection money to fundamentalist groups that wish to overthrow it.” US officials later privately complain “that the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, is refusing to confront this reality, even in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks.” [New Yorker, 10/16/01]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Clinton administration, National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia
          

Late August 1998: Captured Al-Qaeda Operatives Leads US to Safe House Phone Number      Complete 911 Timeline

       An al-Qaeda operative involved in the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi is captured and interrogated by the FBI. The FBI learns the telephone number of a safe house in Yemen, owned by bin Laden associate Ahmed al-Hada, hijacker Khalid Almihdhar's father-in-law [Die Zeit, 10/1/02; Newsweek, 6/2/02] US intelligence also learns that the safe house is an al-Qaeda “logistics center,” used by agents around the world to communicate with each other and plan attacks. [Newsweek, 6/2/02] It is later revealed that bin Laden called the safe house dozens of times from 1996 to 1998 (the two years he had a traced satellite phone). [Sunday Times, 3/24/02; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/02] The NSA and CIA jointly plant bugs inside the house, tap the phones, and monitor visitors with spy satellites. [Mirror, 6/9/02] The NSA later records Khalid Almihdhar and other hijackers calling this house, including calls from the US. In late 1999, the phone line will lead the CIA to an important al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. [Newsweek, 6/2/02] It appears al-Qaeda continues to use this phone line until the safe house is raided by the Yemeni government in February 2002. [CBS News, 2/13/02]
People and organizations involved: Ahmed al-Hada, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar, al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, National Security Agency
          

1999: Joint CIA-NSA Project Taps into al-Qaeda's Tactical Radios      Complete 911 Timeline

       A joint project team run by the CIA and NSA slips into Afghanistan and places listening devices within range of al-Qaeda's tactical radios. [Washington Post, 12/19/01]
People and organizations involved: National Security Agency, al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency
          

December 1999: US Intelligence Learns of Planned al-Qaeda Meeting Involving Future Hijackers      Complete 911 Timeline

       A Yemeni safe house telephone monitored by the FBI and CIA reveals that there will be an important al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), and that a “Khalid,” a “Nawaf,” and a “Salem” will attend. One intelligence agent notes at the time, “Salem may be Nawaf's younger brother.” It turns out they are brothers—and the future hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi. US intelligence is already referring to both of them as “terrorist operatives” because the safe house is known to be such a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity. Their last names are not yet known to the CIA, even though the NSA has learned Nawaf's last name. However, Khalid Almihdhar is at the safe house at the time, and as he travels to Malaysia, he is watched and followed. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03]
People and organizations involved: Salem Alhazmi, National Security Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, al-Qaeda
          

January 8, 2000: Al-Qaeda Summit Ends; CIA Fails to Add Attendees to Watch List      Complete 911 Timeline

       The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, traveling under their real names. al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash also travels with them and the three sit side by side in the airplane, but bin Attash travels under the false name “Salah Said.” [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03; Associated Press, 9/20/02] The CIA knows that a “Nawaf” has attended the meeting, but does not know his last name. Shortly afterwards, the CIA is told of this airplane flight, and the fact that the person sitting next to Almihdhar on the plane is named “Nawaf Alhazmi.” CIA Headquarters asks the NSA to put Almihdhar on their watch list. [9/11 Commission Report, 1/26/04] However, neither Alhazmi nor Almihdhar are placed on a terror watch list. The CIA still fails to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a valid US visa, and fails to give them Alhazmi's last name. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03; Stern, 8/13/03] The CIA searches for the names in their databases but get no “hits.” Yet they don't search the much larger NSA databases, which had vital information on them. [9/11 Commission Report, 1/26/04]
People and organizations involved: al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Tawifiq ("Khallad") bin Attash
          

Spring-Summer 2000: NSA Intercepts Calls Made by Hijacker Almihdhar in US, Fails to Trace Location      Complete 911 Timeline

       Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, while living in San Diego, telephones an al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen owned by his father-in-law (note that the facility is not named, but references in the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report are consistent with other mentions of this safe house). This safe house has been closely monitored since 1998, as even bin Laden himself makes calls to it. The NSA intercepts these calls but doesn't realize the “Khalid” calling the safe house is calling from the US (This is only determined by an analysis of phone toll records obtained after 9/11.) The NSA had been aware of a “Khalid,” “Nawaf Alhazmi,” and his brother “Salem” having communications with this safe house in 1999. In summer 2000 there are additional communications to the safe house from “Khalid” and “Salem,” but again the NSA does not realize the meaning or importance of these calls. There may have been more communications—the section of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry dealing with these calls is heavily censored. Some, but not all, of the information about certain calls is passed on to the FBI and CIA. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 7/24/03]
People and organizations involved: al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Salem Alhazmi, Osama bin Laden, Khalid Almihdhar, National Security Agency
          

Late January 2001: US Intelligence Told to Back Off from bin Laden and Saudis      Complete 911 Timeline

       The BBC later reports, “After the elections, [US intelligence] agencies [are] told to ‘back off’ investigating the bin Ladens and Saudi royals, and that anger[s] agents.” This follows previous orders to abandon an investigation of bin Laden relatives in 1996 (see September 11, 1996), and difficulties in investigating Saudi royalty. [BBC, 11/6/01] An unnamed “top-level CIA operative” says there is a “major policy shift” at the National Security Agency at this time. Bin Laden could still be investigated, but agents could not look too closely at how he got his money. One specific CIA investigation hampered by this new policy is an investigation in Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan and his Khan Laboratories. Khan is considered the “father” of Pakistan's nuclear weapons capability. But since the funding for this nuclear program gets traced back to Saudi Arabia, restrictions are placed on the inquiry. [Palast, 2002, pp 99-100] Presumably another investigation canceled is an investigation by the Chicago FBI into ties between Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi and the US embassy bombings in August 1998 (see October 1998), because during this month an FBI agent is told that the case is being closed and that “it's just better to let sleeping dogs lie.” Reporter Greg Palast notes that President Clinton was already hindering investigations by protecting Saudi interests. However, as he puts it, “Where Clinton said, ‘Go slow,’ Bush policymakers said, ‘No go.’ The difference is between closing one eye and closing them both.” [Palast, 2002, pp 102]
People and organizations involved: Abdul Qadeer Khan, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, William Jefferson ("Bill") Clinton, Bin Laden Family, Osama bin Laden, Yassin al-Qadi
          

February 13, 2001: NSA Breaks al-Qaeda's Secret Codes      Complete 911 Timeline

       UPI, while covering a trial of bin Laden's al-Qaeda followers, reports that the NSA has broken bin Laden's encrypted communications. US officials confirm “codes were broken.” Presumably, this happened some time earlier and the codes have been changed by this time. [UPI, 2/13/01]
People and organizations involved: National Security Agency, al-Qaeda
          

May-July 2001: NSA Picks Up Word of ‘Imminent Terrorist Attacks’      Complete 911 Timeline

       Over a two-month period, the NSA reports that “at least 33 communications indicating a possible, imminent terrorist attack.” None of these reports provide any specific information on where, when, or how an attack might occur. These reports are widely disseminated to other intelligence agencies. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 9/18/02; MSNBC, 9/18/02] National Security Adviser Rice later reads what she calls “chatter that was picked up in [2001s] spring and summer. ‘Unbelievable news coming in weeks,’ said one. ‘A big event ... there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar.’ ‘There will be attacks in the near future.’ ” [Washington Post, 4/8/04 (C)] The NSA director later claims that all of the warnings were red herrings. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 10/17/02 (B)]
People and organizations involved: National Security Agency, Condoleezza Rice
          

Summer 2001: NSA Fails to Share Intercepted Information About Calls Between Atta and Mohammed      Complete 911 Timeline

       Around this time, the NSA intercepts telephone conversations between Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Mohamed Atta, but apparently does not share the information with any other agencies. The FBI has a $2 million reward for Mohammed at the time, while Atta is in charge of operations inside the US. [Knight Ridder, 6/6/02; Independent, 6/6/02] The NSA either fails to translate these messages in a timely fashion or fails to understand the significance of what was translated. [Knight Ridder, 6/6/02]
People and organizations involved: National Security Agency, Mohamed Atta, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
          

August 2001: Six Hijackers Live Near Entrance to NSA      Complete 911 Timeline

       At least six 9/11 hijackers, including all of those who boarded Flight 77, live in Laurel, Maryland, from about this time. They reportedly include Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi. Laurel, Maryland, is home to a Muslim cleric named Moataz Al-Hallak who teaches at a local Islamic school and has been linked to bin Laden. He has testified three times before a grand jury investigating bin Laden. NSA expert James Bamford later states, “The terrorist cell that eventually took over the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon ended up living, working, planning and developing all their activities in Laurel, Maryland, which happens to be the home of the NSA. So they were actually living alongside NSA employees as they were plotting all these things.” [BBC, 6/21/02; Washington Post, 9/19/01]
People and organizations involved: Moataz Al-Hallak, Osama bin Laden, Pentagon, National Security Agency, James Bamford, Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, William Safire
          

Early September 2001: NSA Intercepts Phone Calls from bin Laden's Chief of Operations to the US      Complete 911 Timeline

       The NSA intercepts “multiple phone calls from Abu Zubaida, bin Laden's chief of operations, to the United States.” The timing and information contained in these intercepted phone calls has not been disclosed. [ABC News, 2/18/02]
People and organizations involved: Abu Zubaida, National Security Agency
          

September 10, 2001: NSA Intercepts: The Match Is About to Begin and Tomorrow Is Zero Hour      Complete 911 Timeline

       At least two messages in Arabic are intercepted by the NSA. One states “The match is about to begin” and the other states “Tomorrow is zero hour.” Later reports translate the first message as “The match begins tomorrow.” [Reuters, 9/9/02] The messages were sent between someone in Saudi Arabia and someone in Afghanistan. The NSA claims that they weren't translated until September 12, and that even if they had been translated in time, “they gave no clues that authorities could have acted on.” [ABC News, 6/7/02; Reuters, 6/19/02] These messages turn out to be only two of about 30 pre-9/11 communications from suspected al-Qaeda operatives or other militants referring to an imminent event. An anonymous official says of these messages, including the “Tomorrow is zero hour” message, “You can't dismiss any of them, but it does not tell you tomorrow is the day.” [Reuters, 9/9/02] There is a later attempt to explain the messages away by suggesting they refer to the killing of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massoud the day before. [Reuters, 10/17/02]
People and organizations involved: National Security Agency, al-Qaeda, Ahmed Shah Massoud
          

Before September 11, 2001: Congressman Says US Intelligence Not Interested in Informant Who Could Pinpoint bin Laden's Location      Complete 911 Timeline

       Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R), who claims to have made many secret trips into Afghanistan and to have fought with the mujahedeen, later describes to Congress a missed opportunity to capture bin Laden. He claims that “a few years” before 9/11, he is contacted by someone he knows and trusts from the 1980s Afghan war, who claims he could pinpoint bin Laden's location. Rohrabacher passes this information to the CIA, but the informant isn't contacted. After some weeks, Rohrabacher uses his influence to set up a meeting with agents in the CIA, NSA, and FBI. Yet even then, the informant is not contacted, until weeks later, and then only in a “disinterested” way. Rohrabacher concludes, “that our intelligence services knew about the location of bin Laden several times but were not permitted to attack him ... because of decisions made by people higher up.” [Speech to the House of Representatives, 9/17/01]
People and organizations involved: Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Dana Rohrabacher, US Congress
          

9:53 a.m.: NSA Intercepts al-Qaeda Phone Call Predicting Fourth Attack      Complete 911 Timeline

       The National Security Agency (NSA) reportedly intercepts a phone call from one of bin Laden's operatives in Afghanistan to a phone number in the Republic of Georgia. The caller says he has “heard good news” and that another target is still to come (presumably, the target Flight 93 is intended to hit). [CBS News, 9/4/02] Since the 9/11 crisis began, NSA translators have been told to focus on Middle Eastern intercepts and translate them as they are received instead of oldest first, as is the usual practice. This call is translated in the next hour or two, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld hears about it just after noon. [Bamford, 2004, pp 54; CBS News, 9/4/02]
People and organizations involved: National Security Agency, Donald Rumsfeld, al-Qaeda
          

October 27, 2001: Officials Furious over NSA Lack of Cooperation      Complete 911 Timeline

       Furious government intelligence officials accuse the NSA of destroying data pertinent to the 9/11 investigation. They claim that possible leads are not being followed because of the NSA's lack of cooperation. [Boston Globe, 10/27/01]
People and organizations involved: National Security Agency
          

October 17, 2002: None Punished at Agencies for 9/11 Failures      Complete 911 Timeline

       The directors of the US's three most famous intelligence agencies, the CIA, FBI and NSA, testify before a Congressional inquiry on 9/11. [9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 10/17/02 (B); 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 10/17/02] All three say no individual at their agencies has been punished or fired for any of missteps connected to 9/11. This does not satisfy several on the inquiry, including Senator Carl Levin (D), who says “People have to be held accountable.” [Washington Post, 10/18/02]
People and organizations involved: Carl Levin, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency
          

'Passive' participant in the following events:

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