I have filed a new FOIA request, this time for a CIA memo drafted by former agency Director George Tenet on December 4, 1998 in the follow-up to the East African Embassy Bombings. It was entitled “Usama bin Laden” and concerns CIA operations against al-Qaeda. It was sent to several leading CIA officials and his deputy for intelligence community management. Apparently on page 2, it states: “We are at war. I want no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside the CIA or the Community.” The directive has been mentioned repeatedly in numerous accounts, including the 9/11 Commission’s report and Tenet’s own book, At the Center of the Storm.
August 18, 2010
July 20, 2010
For some time we have known that the CIA passed on to the FBI general information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, which was attended by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, as well as other al-Qaeda leaders, in January 2000. However, with the exception of FBI Director Louis Freeh and the two lower-level officials identified only as “Bob” and “Ted” in the Justice Department inspector general’s report into the bureau’s performance before 9/11, we did not know who at the FBI learned of it.
Now, thanks to a letter from senior FBI official Thomas Pickard that 9/11 researcher Erik Larson found in the National Archives, we can add two names to the list. Unsurprisingly, they are Pickard himself, at the time of the Malaysia summit deputy director, but acting director in the summer of 2001, and Dale Watson, head of the counterterrorism at the FBI from 1999 to 2001.
Pickard’s letter, which deals primarily with Attorney General John Ashcroft’s lack of interest in terrorism at a meeting with Pickard on 12 July 2001, is extremely surprising. It has this to say about Malaysia: “I had not told the AG [Ashcroft] about the meeting in Malaysia since I was told by FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson that there was a ‘close hold’ on that info. This means that it was not to be shared with anyone without the explicit approval of the CIA. I then strongly suggested that the AG meet with [CIA Director] George Tenet to get a full briefing on the matter.”
Although the FBI was told of the meeting’s occurrence in January 2000, the CIA withheld from it key details, such as the fact that Almihdhar had a US visa, meaning that the summit appeared substantially less significant to the bureau than it really was. Indeed, although we now fully appreciate the summit as a unique meeting of al-Qaeda leaders, the CIA subsequently claimed that before 9/11 it did not grasp the full import of the summit, at which 9/11 and the USS Cole bombing in Yemen were evidently discussed.
The first two questions we need to ask are simple: What did Pickard and Watson know about the summit and when did they know it? Did they learn of it in January 2000, or later?
We know now that the CIA, in addition to deliberately withholding information about the summit at the time, continued to withhold it when Ali Soufan, the bureau’s case agent on the Cole bombing investigation, deduced that there had been an al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia in January 2000 that was linked to the Cole bombing. He sent three requests to the CIA for information it might have, but the agency repeatedly claimed it knew nothing. The letter makes it clear that, in addition to the CIA, both Pickard and Watson had some of the information about Malaysia that Soufan was seeking. However, they withheld it from Soufan, evidently on the CIA’s instructions. Had Soufan been given the information he requested, his investigation would have led to Almihdhar and Alhazmi, who could have been detained and/or deported, derailing the 9/11 plot. Therefore, we need to ask what Watson and Pickard did to get the information to Soufan. One would certainly expect them to move heaven and earth to assist such an important investigation. By withholding the information in effect they sabotaged one of the bureau’s most important cases.
Finally, we need to know why Pickard thought the Malaysia summit was important in the summer of 2001. Based on the little information he is known to have had about the meeting, he may well have linked it to the Cole bombing, as it came just after a previous failed ship-bombing attempt in Yemen. But why would he link it to the threat reporting in the summer of 2001?
June 15, 2010
The identify of the chief of the CIA base in Khost who was killed by a suicide bomber at the turn of the year has been revealed. Her name was Jennifer Lynne Matthews, and it was disclosed at the start of the month following a ceremony at CIA headquarters. There was some speculation from myself and others at the time of the bombing that she may have been one of the CIA officers called “Michelle” and “Redheaded CIA Manager” around here (who may actually be the same person). Maybe the disclosure of the name will help us clear this up.
March 18, 2010
The CIA withheld information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit from the FBI because one of the peripheral attendees, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, was gay and the CIA used this as leverage in a failed attempt to recruit him, according to a new story in the New York Observer.
February 15, 2010
These are just some interesting quotes I found in a 9/11 Commission proposal for reforming the intelligence community:
Currently, as various current and former OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] and CMS [CIA’s Community Management Staff] officials confirm, neither the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] nor the staff of the Secretary of Defense get access to detailed budget execution information from the defense intelligence agencies [i.e. NSA, DIA and others]. It is not clear how this remarkable arrangement evolved, but logic suggests that each staff neutralized the other and the agencies cultivated autonomy in the ensuing void.
Under Title 10, the military departments’ and defense agencies’ acquisition programs are under the direction and authority of senior acquisition executives, who in turn are to report to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition. The Service Chiefs, Service Secretaries, and defense agency directors are not in the chain of command when it comes to managing acquisition programs. Yet, the directors of the defense intelligence agencies have operated as though they had been delegated acquisition management authority by the Secretary of Defense, and all parties have essentially ignored the law.
On the other side, opponents of data mining are equally determined to prevent any use of this technology, under any circumstances. This group, too, for its own reasons also strongly opposes any attempt to develop policy and guidelines to safeguard privacy during data mining operations because any step down what they see as a slippery slope leads inexorably to Big Brother. Thus far, these opponents of data mining have won the day in public battles over the Total Information Awareness program; both chambers of Congress voted by very wide margins across the political spectrum to prohibit the operational use of the program’s technology. However, other ambitious data mining programs exist that either have not come to the attention of opponents or have found other means to survive.
February 5, 2010
There is a story going round the press and the internet that militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida was waterboarded 83 times by the CIA in August 2002. However, this story is not true, as I will show.
January 23, 2010
One thing that has been puzzling me for some time is the reorganisation that took place at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center in the first part of 2000. We know that at some time between January and July 2000 Alec Station was merged into a larger group that was formed at this time. We know this because it says so in the DoJ IG report, on page 231-232. We can now figure out the name of this group.
January 8, 2010
There is some interesting information coming out of the attack on the CIA drone intelligence base in Afghanistan at the end of last year. The most important figure there seems to have been the base chief.
January 7, 2010
As I continue to digest the recent Vanity Fair piece on Blackwater owner Erik Prince by estranged CIA lawyer Adam Ciralsky, I cannot but help recall the Imam Rapito affair. A while back there was a great article about the case in GQ by Matthew Cole. Maybe this is significant, about the behaviour of the CIA team in Milan:
At least two others decided to use the trip for romantic encounters in rooms at some of Milan’s swankier hotels, like the Sheraton Diana Majestic and the Principe di Savoia, on the CIA’s dime. One team member, believed to be a freelance contractor, used his real name when checking in to hotels.
It says “believed to be a freelance contractor.” However, it is clear from the Vanity Fair piece that Prince was helping with the programme even before it was formally outsourced to Blackwater in 2004. For example, he kindly let the relevant officers hone their assassination techniques at his house.
I can’t help wondering whether the contractor really was freelance, or whether he was from Blackwater. Cole is said to be writing a book about the case, so maybe he will now find out more for that.
December 18, 2009
I recently had the misfortune to read Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11 by Amy Zegart. I have to say it is the very worst book I have ever read abut 9/11. It was even worse than this one, which, as you can appreciate, is difficult, and it was way, way worse than this one, this one and this FBI press release. I haven’t read this one yet, and I anticipate it will be a lot, lot worse even than Zegart’s attempt, but you never know.
Basically, Zegart takes the 9/11 Commission’s no-fault thesis to the nth degree by claiming the whole thing was systemic failure and holding no individual accountable for his or her failures.