Author James Bamford was recently interviewed by Amy Goodman about his new book, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. He talked about some issues that are covered in the 9/11 Timeline’s CIA Hiding Alhazmi and Almihdhar and Yemen hub categories. The interview follows on from an article in the Congressional Quarterly and it is well worth reading the whole thing.
I have some comments on a couple of the aspects Bamford touches on. First, I’d like to say that Bamford is obviously a really good reporter and he’s done a much better job on this than anyone who came before him (for example, Terry McDermott knew about the intercepts between San Diego and Sana’a, but relegated this information to the endnotes). Having said this, as far as I can see at the moment, he’s making a couple of errors and missing some things out.
(1) Main criticism of Bamford. So far, he has only talked about the CIA’s failure to inform the FBI about two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, in January 2000. There were multiple other failures, in March 2000 when a cable came in saying Alhazmi had entered the US, in January 2001 when a source identified al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash as being at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, in the 11 June shouting match, the Moussaoui case, and when Wilshire was told Almihdhar was in the US. If the failure in January was due to a conspiracy, not a dog eating the CIA’s homework—which is what we had previously been led to believe—then it is extremely likely the other failures were also due to a conspiracy to withhold information from the FBI. This protection went on until late August 2001, at the very least. Without it, there is no way on earth that the 9/11 plot could have succeeded. The FBI would simply have arrested some of the plotters as a part of its Cole bombing investigation and put the rest under surveillance (or arrested them for the various other offences they committed – like immigration violations and driving without a licence).
(2) Also, if the CIA was deliberately preventing the FBI from learning of the hijackers, then you can bet that they themselves had the hijackers under surveillance, although possibly through some external organisation. What was that unit? Who was on it? Who ran it? Show me the records. How could they possibly fail to notice all the other hijackers that interacted repeatedly with Almihdhar and Alhazmi? Did they not find the flight training and mass ticket purchase for 9/11 suspicious?
(3) Bamford says the December 1999 intercept about Kuala Lumpur was the first sign of 9/11, but I don’t think so. AFAIK the first sign is detailed on page 155 of the Congressional Inquiry report (two paragraphs beginning “in early 1999″) – this is about an NSA intercept of the hijackers’ calls before December 1999. According to former British intelligence officer John Hughes-Wilson, Almihdhar and Alhazmi were actually talking about hijacking airliners in this intercepted call. I even picked up a hint in the Times that the hijacked airliners were to be used in unconventional ways.
(4) Bamford says that the CIA lost Alhazmi and Almihdhar in Kuala Lumpur, but this is actually supposed to have occurred in Thailand. The problem here is two-fold. First, in Malaysia the CIA had bin Attash under surveillance when he called the hotel where they stayed in Bangkok—making finding them in the city much easier—and the CIA lied about this later. Second, while the Alhazmi, Almihdhar and bin Attash were in Thailand, Alec Station chief Rich B lied to his superiors about the surveillance of them repeatedly-he claimed they were still in Malaysia and under surveillance, when he must have known they were in Thailand.
(5) The 9/11 Commission was aware of the calls between San Diego and Sana’a and did mention them in its report (on page 87-88 two paragraphs beginning “The law requires…” and page 222 two sentences beginning “Mihdhar’s mind seems…”). However, they failed to point out that the NSA intercepted these calls or provide a satisfactory explanation why the NSA did nothing with them. How come?
(6) The FBI had specifically requested that the NSA inform it of all calls between the house in Yemen and the US, but the NSA failed to act on this request, too. Would it be too much to ask for an explanation of this?
(7) The limited hangout excuse that is emerging is that Alec Station was allowing Almihdhar and Alhazmi to operate unchallenged by the FBI so they could wrap up a plot in Malaysia/southeast Asia. This is just completely ludicrous. Malaysia was a base for fundraising for militants, they did not do attacks there, the attacks were always elsewhere in SE Asia, like the Philippines. Plus, al-Qaeda is headquartered in south Asia and the Middle East, why would they need a base in Paterson, New Jersey, to conduct an attack in Malaysia? And, by the way, didn’t the Cole blow up in the middle of all this? Alec Station thought the next attack was going to be in SE Asia, then there was an attack on the Cole in Yemen, demonstrably falsifying this theory, then Alec Station continued to think the next attack was going to be in SE Asia!!?? That makes no sense. And what about justice for the 17 people killed on the Cole? The CIA was protecting an al-Qaeda terrorist co-responsible for the Cole bombing for nearly a year so it could prevent some theoretical attack in Malaysia!? I don’t believe any of this. Here’s a simple question: if the CIA did decide to withhold information about Almihdhar and Alhazmi, then what is the name of the officer who made this decision?