History Commons Groups

September 2, 2008

Cole Bombing: Very Partial FOIA Success

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline — kevinfenton @ 2:37 am
Tags: ,

Earlier this year I submitted an FOIA request to the FBI for a document reportedly produced in the Cole bombing investigation. It was a request sent by lead investigator Ali Soufan in July 2001 for information from the CIA about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, where two or three 9/11 hijackers met al-Qaeda leaders. The CIA falsely claimed it knew nothing about the meeting, although it had actually monitored it quite closely and even followed one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, on his way there. Had the CIA not lied to Soufan, 9/11 may well have been prevented. The request and its rejection are covered in this entry.

I recently got something back from the FBI. It was not really what I wanted and I don’t think it is of great importance, but I figured I would post it on the web anyway. Maybe it will mean more to somebody else. The most interesting point is that one of the Cole suspects apparently had a US social security number (see “Page three…” below).

The FOIA request outlined Soufan’s request as follows: “a request submitted in July 2001 by the FBI team investigating the al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole. The request was submitted to the CIA, apparently by FBI New York field office agent Ali Soufan, head of the team investigating the bombing. It was described by author Lawrence Wright in an article entitled The Agent, which appeared in the New Yorker.” The FOIA request then went on to quote what Wright wrote about it.

The FBI sent me 18 pages of documentation, none of which was the request itself, and none of which seemingly has much to do with it. On the other hand, they did clearly relate to the Cole bombing. I will briefly describe what I got, which I broke up into two .pdf files for ease of access.

The first .pdf file contains four screenshots of the FBI’s case files on the Cole bombing that do not say much.

The second .pdf file contains fourteen pages of documents.

The first and fourth pages are about deletions from the FOIA response.

The second is an investigative information services document that says the FBI has assisted a foreign government in identifying a subject.

Page three is a heavily redacted letter dated 27 March 2001. It says that one of the suspects in the bombing has a US social security number. I have no idea who this could be; there is no information indicating a US person was involved in the bombings. Depending on who it is and whether he/she really was involved in the bombing, this could turn out to be significant.

The fifth page is about processing of case files at the FBI, and the sixth is notes scribbled on the back of it.

The seventh and eight are more scribbled notes.

The ninth is an FBI letter dated 23 August 2001, making it potentially interesting as this is when the search for Almihdhar and Alhazmi in the US was getting going. It also mentions the FBI’s New York Field Office, which conducted the search. The letter says the NY office investigated somebody (name redacted), but didn’t turn anything up, and it also talks about information sharing.

Page ten is a translation request form, but it doesn’t say for what.

Page eleven is an FBI letter dated 22 March 2002 asking for a review and sharing of a letter dated 23 August 2001, presumably the one on page nine of the file.

Page twelve is a redacted fax cover sheet.

Finally, pages thirteen and fourteen are a request to close the Cole case from early 2007.

I have other FOIA irons in the fire and am hopeful I will be able to post something more interesting soon.



  1. Mr. kevin fenton,

    I would be very interested in any information in regards to the investigation into the Cole, the FBI, and the CIA. Senators are now reviewing our request for a congressional hearing. One of my question I want answered pertains to your subject matter. Our son was one of the murdered sailors.
    Thank-you for your time.
    Gary G. Swenchonis, Sr.

    Comment by Gary Swenchonis — September 2, 2008 @ 12:22 pm | Reply

  2. I had a similar FOIA failure w the FBI re USS Cole. I asked for the results of the bomb residue analysis tests that were done 48hrs after the bombing. Instead, they sent me 17 pages of largely blacked out bs. No doubt at all that they’re not releasing information after 11yrs. Wuestion is why?

    Comment by Scott Malensek — September 2, 2008 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

  3. Gary and Scott, I will make sure that Kevin sees your posts. Thanks for commenting.

    Comment by Max — September 3, 2008 @ 7:40 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Gary,

    Most of what we have about the Cole can be found here.

    To explain: the History Commons does timelines about certain topics (A. Q. Khan, US Confrontation with Iran, whatever). The 9/11 Timeline has a category for the Cole, as it does for other major al-Qaeda-linked attacks, like the embassy bombings, the 1993 WTC bombing, and so on. The Cole category contains most of what we know about the bombing, although we are snowed under with information and sometimes things take a while to post. The category is a lot of reading; unfortunately, we don’t have a summary of it yet.

    Hope that helps. Any questions, just ask.

    Comment by kevinfenton — September 4, 2008 @ 2:17 am | Reply

  5. Hi Scott,

    that’s odd. The FBI’s accompanying letter said, “The records that you have requested were previously processed under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act for another requester.” Maybe that was you. They both sent us just largely irrelvant bumpf. My request was pretty clear, I just wanted the one document Soufan sent to the CIA, but that didn’t come.

    I might do some more FOIA stuff in a while, maybe I will try for one of the other Cole documents. Any records of the “touch base” meeting or the meeting with the source who identified Khallad in the Yemeni-provided photograph would be interesting.

    Comment by kevinfenton — September 4, 2008 @ 2:24 am | Reply

  6. […] addition was a set of documents pertaining the bombing of the USS Cole, which you can read about here. I got various documents in response to the request, but none of them was the one I wanted and none […]

    Pingback by Successful FOIA Requests: Masterlist (updated) « History Commons Groups — September 5, 2008 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

  7. […] is also a set of documents pertaining to the bombing of the USS Cole, which you can read about here. I got various documents in response to the request, but none of them was the one I wanted and none […]

    Pingback by Successful FOIA Requests: Masterlist (updated) « History Commons Groups — October 24, 2008 @ 8:21 am | Reply

  8. […] is also a set of documents pertaining to the bombing of the USS Cole, which you can read about here. I got various documents in response to the request, but none of them was the one I wanted and none […]

    Pingback by Successful FOIA Requests (Updated, November 2009) « History Commons Groups — November 12, 2009 @ 4:23 am | Reply

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