History Commons Groups

August 21, 2011

The NSA & 9/11: Failure to Exploit the US-Yemen Hub & Beyond: Just one of the Legacies of 9/11

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline — kevinfenton @ 2:21 pm
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This article was originally posted at Boiling Frogs Post:

Two of the terrorist hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, communicated while they were in the United States to other members of al Qaeda who were overseas. But we didn’t know they were here, until it was too late.

The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after September the 11th helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities. The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time.

-President Bush, December 17, 2005

In the aftermath of 9/11, reams of newsprint were given over to discussing the CIA and FBI failures before the attacks; the agency had some of the hijackers under surveillance and allegedly lost them, the bureau was unable even to inform its own acting director of the Zacarias Moussaoui case. However, the USA’s largest and most powerful intelligence agency, the National Security Agency, got a free ride. There was no outcry over its failings, no embarrassing Congressional hearings for its director. Yet, as we will see, the NSA’s performance before 9/11 was shocking.

It is unclear when the NSA first intercepted a call by one of the nineteen hijackers. Reporting indicates it began listening in on telephone calls to the home of Pentagon hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s wife some time around late 1996. However, although Almihdhar certainly did stay there later, it is unclear whether he lived there at that time. The house, in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, was a key target for the US intelligence community as it was Osama bin Laden’s communication hub, run by Almihdhar’s father-in-law Ahmed al-Hada.

Carry on reading here.

June 18, 2010

New FOIA Request: NSA’s 9/11 Retrospective

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline — kevinfenton @ 11:26 am
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I have filed a new FOIA request. It is for the NSA’s 9/11 retrospective, which collected communications intercepts relevant to the 9/11 plot. The request is also for the addendum to the retrospective, which was the subject of an earlier blog post.

The NSA has previously turned down a couple of FOIA requests and I don’t expect much, but if you don’t take a shot, you don’t score a goal.

A list of successful FOIA requests can be found here and unsuccessful ones here.

February 15, 2010

Miscellaneous: Pre-9/11 Intelligence Community, Total Information Awareness

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline — kevinfenton @ 7:38 am
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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.

And lastly:

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 13, 2010

July 2001 Communication between KSM and Bin al-Shibh Intercepted, Later Obtained by Moussaoui Prosecutors

A July 2001 telephone call between alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and 9/11 coordinator Ramzi bin al-Shibh was intercepted, apparently by the NSA. Prosecutors and FBI agents working on the Zacarias Moussaoui case later obtained detailed information about the call, and shared it with the 9/11 Commission.


December 15, 2009

NSA Deputy Director: What Al-Qaeda Meeting?

The most senior NSA official interviewed by the 9/11 Commission with a memo of interview in the recently released batch is undoubtedly Barbara McNamara. She joined the agency in 1963 and held a series of senior management positions, culminating in being deputy director from 1997 to 2000, before being put out to pasture as the NSA’s representative to London.

This is quite the most remarkable passage of the memo:

She does not recall being personally [asked] to provide about transcripts or raw data for [counterterrorism]. NSA has analysts posted across the community. But sharing of raw data is not done routinely by NSA unless they get a specific request for a specific item. She said that she does not remember people asking for raw data, but if they wanted it NSA would have provided it, particularly if they were called by the [CIA Director] or [Deputy CIA Director] or [Assistant CIA Director for Collection].

This was flatly contradicted by Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the CIA’s Alec Station.


December 4, 2009

NSA Drafted ‘Retrospective’ on 9/11 Failings after Attacks

The National Security Agency drafted a “9/11 Retrospective” following the 2001 attacks, according to a document recently released by the National Archives.

Although an unclassified version of the Justice Department inspector general’s report into the FBI’s performance before 9/11 was published in full in 2006 and the executive summary of a parallel report by the CIA inspector general was released in 2007, this is the first known mention of any NSA review about its failings before the attacks.


November 28, 2009

9/11 Commission Documents about the NSA (updated 6 December 2009)

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline,Document Collection — kevinfenton @ 2:05 am
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This post lists documents drafted by the 9/11 Commission about its investigation of the NSA. The documents have been posted at the 9/11 Document Archive at Scribd. I am reading through them gradually and highlighting interesting information. This post will be updated continuously.


August 22, 2009

FBI Document Shows Cole Bombers Called Yemen Hub

One of the more interesting things I have found going through the 9/11 Commission files is this extract, taken from an FBI summary of its investigation into the 9/11 attacks:

UBL can be directly connected to the attack on the USS Cole in October 12, 2000 (ADENBOM 265A-NY-277013). The 200578 telephone number which was originally identified as significant through the KENBOM/TANBOM investigation was also used during the planning of the attack on USS Cole. FBI investigators have learned the 200578 telephone number is subscribed to by AHMED AL-HADDA, whose daughter is married to KHALID AL-MIHDHAR (Flight 77). The ADENBOM investigation has also linked ALMIHDHAR to both NAWAF AL-HAZMI (Flight 77) and KHALLAD, now identified as TAWFIQ MOHAMED BIN SALEH BIN ROSHAYED BIN ATTASH.


February 10, 2009

Bamford Answers One Question: What NSA IG Report?

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline — kevinfenton @ 10:26 am
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A couple of weeks ago I submitted several questions to James Bamford, who was doing a public Q and A to mark the showing of a PBS Nova documentary he had helped make about an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen, the hiding of two of the 9/11 hijackers from the FBI by the CIA and the warrantless wiretapping controversy.


January 28, 2009

Tenet Misled Congressional Inquiry about NSA Surveillance of Hijackers

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.


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