September 10, 2001 (L): At least two messages in Arabic are intercepted by the NSA. One states "The match is about to begin" (bin Laden apparently uses football metaphors in many messages) and the other states "Tomorrow is zero hour." Later reports [Reuters, 9/9/02] translate the first message as "The match begins tomorrow." They 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 were translated in time, "they gave no clues that authorities could have acted on." [ABC News, 6/7/02, Reuters, 6/19/02] These 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 doesn't tell you tomorrow is the day." [Reuters, 9/9/02] There is a later attempt to explain them away by suggesting they refer to the killing of Afghani opposition leader General Massoud the day before (see September 9, 2001). [Reuters, 10/17/02] Couldn't they at least have issued an urgent security warning?
before September 11, 2001 (C): Though the NSA specializes in intercepting communications, the CIA and FBI intercept as well. After 9/11, CIA and FBI officials discover messages with phrases like, "There is a big thing coming," "They're going to pay the price" and "We're ready to go." Supposedly, most or all of these intercepted messages were not analyzed until after 9/11. [Newsweek, 10/1/01] Does this mean that some of the hijackers or their assistants were under FBI or CIA surveillance before 9/11?
October 17, 2002 (B): NSA Director Michael Hayden testifies before a Congressional inquiry that the "NSA had no [indications] that al-Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington ... or even that it was planning an attack on US soil.'' Before 9/11, the ''NSA had no knowledge . . . that any of the attackers were in the United States.'' Supposedly, a post-9/11 NSA review found no intercepts of calls involving any of the 19 hijackers. [Reuters, 10/17/02, USA Today, 10/18/02] Yet, in the summer of 2001, the NSA intercepted communications between Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and hijacker Atta, when he was in charge of operations in the US. What was said between the two has not been revealed (see Summer 2001). The NSA also intercepted multiple phone calls from Abu Zubaida, bin Laden's chief of operations, to the US in the days before 9/11. But who was called or what was said has not been revealed (Early September 2001 (B)).