A recently released document shows that CIA Director George Tenet misled the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry about the intelligence community’s knowledge of the 9/11 hijackers. He claimed that a 1999 communications intercept of a conversation between one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash only showed an “indirect link” between al-Qaeda, Almihdhar and fellow hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, who was mentioned in the conversation.
Describing the communications intercept that led the CIA to monitor a summit of top al-Qaeda leaders in Malaysia, Tenet said, “We had learned in late 1999 that two suspect Bin Ladin operatives, “Nawaf” and “Khaled,” were planning to meet in Malaysia. At that point we only knew of their first names, and only suspected that they might be Bin Ladin operatives because of an indirect link between them and Al-Qaida and Egyptian Islamic Jihad operatives.”
However, as was recently highlighted by author James Bamford, Almihdhar was actually at al-Qaeda’s main operations centre in Sana’a, Yemen, when the call was made, and the CIA and NSA were aware of his location. This was certainly more than an “indirect link” to al-Qaeda. The NSA, which passed the intercept to the CIA, had been monitoring calls involving the two men and al-Qaeda leader Khalid bin Attash since early in the year, at least. The Yemen operations centre fell under NSA surveillance soon after it was established in 1996, possibly as a result of the many calls Osama bin Laden made to it.
The remarks were made in Tenet’s prepared statement to a closed session of the inquiry, which was recently made available by the National Archives. I received it from a reader, Kyle Hence, who went to the archives.
The Congressional Inquiry found out some additional details about the electronic surveillance of the hijackers by the NSA, but its short section on this was heavily redacted. The 9/11 Commission only contained a few brief mentions of the surveillance.
Tenet also remarked, “The subsequent operation to learn more involved eight stations and bases and a half-dozen liaison services.” The fact that the monitoring operation involved eight CIA facilities and six foreign services was first revealed in August 2003 by the German publication Stern in an article by Oliver Schrom and Dirk Laabs, so presumably the statement was sent to Germany and leaked there. Some of the alleged hijackers lived there for a time in the mid-1990s. I have also received indications some of the statements from the closed hearings were sent to one other European country.
Tenet’s prepared statement can be found here.
More documents are coming and will be posted as they arrive.