“Monitoring The Emir”, The NSA & Osama Bin Laden
During the summer of 1996, Ziyad Khaleel was to purchase a satellite phone for a “friend”. The request came from Khaled al-Fawwaz, a notable Saudi who was appointed to head the London based office which promoted constructive reform in Saudi Arabia. Khaleel, a Virginia native, looked on computers and checked phone books to search for a store that sold high quality satellite phones, Khaleel, said to use the credit card of a fellow Saudi, named Saad al-Fagih. Al-Fagih, a Muslim Saudi national and former surgeon who heads the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia is not unknown to most within the Kingdom. Khaleel would end up finding a Long Island, New York business, O’Gara Satellite Networks. There Khaleel would end up purchasing for $7,000 dollars, a “Compact M” satellite phone, which was also about the size of a laptop computer. The number assigned to the phone, 873 682 505 331, was then constructed into the mainline. The phone was officially active. It was then mailed to Khaled al-Fawwaz who was visiting Missouri. The satellite phone was then mailed to Tora Bora, Afghanistan.
U.S intelligence had all along began monitoring the transaction, even from the very beginning. The FBI had known that Khaleel purchased the phone from O’Gara Satellite Networks. The phone was then tapped thru NSA decryption by the time it began it’s use in Afghanistan. The phone belonged to a very important man who was just becoming known to most every single intelligence agency in the world….the man would be Osama Bin Laden.
Bin Laden began using the phone almost immediately. According to prosecution in the trial of Wadih el-Hage, the calls went to many high profile Al Qaeda numbers and also to al-Fawwaz.
More than 200 calls were placed to a Yemen home owned by Ahmed al-Hada
100 calls each were placed to Sudan and to Iran.
Around 60 calls each were placed to Saudi Arabia, to Pakistan and to Baku, Azerbaijan.
16 calls to Kenya.
4 of those calls went to Wadih el-Hage home in Nairobi, Kenya.
6 of these calls went to various locations in the United States.
4 calls to Malaysia.
But it was the number from the Yemen home in the city of Sana’a which caught NSA analysts attention. Why was this number the most frequently called by Bin Laden? Who was Bin Laden speaking to? What were these calls about? the agency decides to “red flag” this number based out of Yemen. It was traced to the owner, Ahmed al-Hada, to which authorizes learned was a close associate to Osama Bin Laden, from his participation during the Soviet-Afghan War, which saw al-Hada fight alongside Bin Laden during the course of the conflict.
The number, 967–1–200578, wasn’t publicly known until another Al Qaeda operative, Mohamed Daoud al-Owhali, was arrested for his participation in the 1998 U.S Embassy bombing in Kenya. Thru the trial of al-Owhali the number went public as per the trial transcripts in 1998. The number nevertheless was still in use even after the September 11 2001 attacks.
Just months after being expelled from the Sudan, Bin Laden had declared his first fatwa against the United States. The title “Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holiest Sites” was decreed by Bin Laden on August 23rd 1996 in it his showed his dissatisfaction for the Saudi Kingdom’s decision to have “kuffar” (non-believers) to stay in the country, more so that it was the United States military. One statement made by Bin Laden showed how much he held such vitriol:
“Muslims burn with anger at America. For its own good, America should leave [Saudi Arabia.] … There is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land. … The presence of the USA Crusader military forces on land, sea and air of the states of the Islamic Gulf is the greatest danger threatening the largest oil reserve in the world. The existence of these forces in the area will provoke the people of the country and induces aggression on their religion, feelings and prides and pushes them to take up armed struggle against the invaders occupying the land. … Due to the imbalance of power between our armed forces and the enemy forces, a suitable means of fighting must be adopted, i.e. using fast-moving, light forces that work under complete secrecy. In other words, to initiate a guerrilla war, where the sons of the nation, and not the military forces, take part in it.”
The fatwa decree was sent to most Saudi based media offices in Europe, but it was the London Arabic newspaper, Al Quds Al-Arabi, whom first published the declaration. Meanwhile the NSA continued to monitor the Bin Laden satellite phone as well as building a satellite cable near Madagascar, to start monitoring the Yemen home. Although the NSA states it started tapping the Yemen home in 1998, some within the CIA and FBI believe it started monitoring the phone line as soon as they found out about the Yemen hub in 1996. What made Bin Laden’s satellite phone easy to track and listen to, was that the satellite phone was not encrypted. NSA voice interceptor operators and linguists translate, transcribe, and write summaries of the calls all without any encryption methods. The phone was basically a treasure trove of information for the Intelligence Community. Michael Scheuer, Chief of CIA’s counter-terrorism center, Alec Station, stated the sheer importance which came from the monitoring of the phone:
“Bin Laden’s satellite phone is a “godsend,” because it gave us an idea, not only of where he was in Afghanistan, but where al-Qaeda, as an organization, was established, because there were calls to various places in the world.”
The CIA Alec Station begins also to monitor the Yemen Hub, and begin tapping the house and also begin human intelligence (HUMINT). Michael Scheuer, learns of this “communications conduit” through a CIA officer detailed to the NSA and stationed overseas. The NSA officer is not publicly known however the CIA begins to press the NSA to release cables regarding incoming calls, since the CIA has no access to the calls made and received of the Yemen Hub. Scheuer was give the run around, and the NSA refused to share these cables, the agency was afraid if being compromised by other agencies if they shared any details regarding their monitoring Bin Laden’s satellite phone and the monitoring of the Yemen Hub. Scheuer was not deterred in the least. In December 1996, Scheuer would directly visit Deputy Director of the NSA, Barbara McNamara, and implored her to share the other half of the cables with the CIA. His persistent nature was enough for McNamara, she would end up threatening legal action against the Counter-terrorism Center if they compromised the NSA’s monitoring operation. Scheuer was asked to relent, and they began to construct their own listening post.
February 8, 1998 a group calling itself, The World Islamic Front issues a statement, read by Osama Bin Laden. The group made up the following members:
Shaykh Usamah Bin-Muhammad Bin-Ladin
Ayman al-Zawahiri, amir of the Jihad Group in Egypt
Abu-Yasir Rifa’i Ahmad Taha, Egyptian Islamic Group
Shaykh Mir Hamzah, secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan
Fazlur Rahman, amir of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh
The fatwa was more pronounced and far more generalized than the one issued in 1996. This time the fatwa declared that U.S and Israeli citizens were now “fair game” for reprisals.
“ The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, “and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,” and “fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.”
The issuing of the declaration was now advocating “total war”, a war that was being monitored from the shadows by the intelligence agencies.
The NSA began monitoring calls between two high level Al Qaeda operatives, Mohammed Atef (Al Qaeda Military Commander) and Wadih el-Hage (Bin Laden’s personal financier) between the months of January-February. What is being said in these calls and the many thousands before and after, are not shared with any investigative agency to date. el-Hage travels to Islamabad, Pakistan in February and contacts Kenyan operatives there. The calls also monitor el-Hage giving the address of the hotel in Peshawar where he is staying. On February 7, he calls Kenyan cell member Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. Alec Station would employ FBI agents to the center, the data from the virtual station however is hardly shared with the competing agency. Dan Coleman from the I-49 unit in New York, has received information from Alec Station, shared to FBI agents about where Wadih el-Hage is currently staying in Nairobi,Kenya.
The staff at the counter-terrorism unit believe Wadih el-Hage could be a valuable asset, they deploy Dan Coleman, two CIA agents, and a Kenyan police officer to forcibly enter El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya, with a search warrant. They take his computer, and find a slew of incriminating evidence after decryption including an a letter by el-Hage to an East Africa operations cell, the talk was about a global caliphate:
“The second matter is that I would recommend to the good and wise supreme command which I implore to God to keep safe to work hard to return the caliphate to earth and fight the forces of atheism and dictators who wreaked havoc on earth. We, the East Africa cell members, do not want to know about the operations plans since we are just implementers. We trust our command and appreciate their work and know that they have a lot of problems. But my advise here is for the practical part only since we started the project for “ree-establishing the Moslem state” is a collective effort and not an individual one; we are all part of it.”
The acknowledgement of “war against America” based on Bin Laden’s fatwa in 1996:
“As you know, the decision to declare war on America was taken and we only know about it from t[h]e news media and we should have known about that decision (and the decision only) and not the plans so that we could take the necessary precautions and to prevent ca[us]ing any complications or failure in your plans due to our ignorance of them.”
However, more profound, was after this investigation, el-Hage would move back to the United States on August 23rd 1997, in which he testifies before a Grand Jury and is allowed to leave free of any charges.
With the FBI monitoring al-Fawwaz, they now have the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA) “on the radar screen” because Khaleel is one of IARA’s eight regional US directors. Khaleel is also being monitored, as he continues to purchase minutes for Bin Laden’s satellite phone which continues til 1998.
August 5th, 1998, the NSA picks up two calls from Khalid al-Mihdhar, a known Al Qaeda operative, the calls are to his father in law, Ahmed al-Hada in Yemen. Another call to Bin Laden’s home is from al-Fawwaz, he is told by someone using Bin Laden’s phone regarding a plan to bomb two U.S Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. On August 7th 1998, two U.S Embassies are bombed by suicide martyrs in trucks packed with explosives. However, if the NSA was monitoring the satellite phone of Osama Bin Laden as well as the CIA and NSA monitoring the Yemen Hub…how did they miss this crucial operation, surely they were talking about this over the phone lines?
According to John Miller in his book “The Cell” published in 2002:
“What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… No one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.”
The book also reiterates that the intelligence agencies involved with monitoring Al Qaeda, had to have known what was about to transpire:
“Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.”
Mohamed Daoud al-Owhali, who by his own admission backed out of the truck which exploded before the security gate at the Nairobi, Kenya building. al-Owhali however suffered severe burns to his back as the truck detonated. He went to Nairobi hospital where doctors tending to his wounds noticed the distinct marks due to powder burns from an explosives. There al-Owhali was interviewed by Kenya authorities, he was arrested on suspicion of being involved with the bombing of the embassy. The FBI was notified of al-Owhali arrest, and sent John Anticev from the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit, I-49 led by John O’Neill. There Anticev would interview privately with al-Owhali, after some pleasant chat the conversation was focused on al-Owhali’s participation with the attacks. Anticev would also retrieve a number from al-Owhali, the number was supposed to be called during and after the attacks. According to al-Owhali it was the base of operations for all calls thru-ought the world.
According to an LA Times report from August 28,1998:
“In his confession, al Owhali also said he had attended conferences and meetings with bin Laden, as well as a press conference bin Laden held in May in Khost, Afghanistan. Al Owhali said he was aware bin Laden had issued an edict described as a “fatwa,” or religious order, urging Muslims to kill Americans, the affidavit said.”
The number, 967–1–200578, was the number to the Al Qaeda Yemen Hub owned by Ahmed al-Hada. This information would later be addressed in al-Owhali’s trial in 1998. With the number now in the public record, it continued to be used by Al Qaeda while being seemingly unaware that now anyone willing to do some slight research and uncover this information now would know the number to Al Qaeda’s secret base of operations. Meanwhile the NSA, CIA would continue to monitor the Yemen Hub without being compromised. Shortly after the attacks, the United States and Saudi Arabia jointly offered a reward of $15 million for the capture of Bin Laden.
It would learned after the 9/11 attacks that future 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Salem al-Hazmi had some level of participation in the attacks of the U.S Embassy's. The warnings were there according to Kenyan authoress but federal and global intelligence agencies denied they knew about the details of the attacks, even going as far as suggesting the pre-warnings were “overblown” suggesting that they still undermined Al Qaeda’s capabilities, which would of course contradict those form the I-49 Unit at the FBI and Alec Station of the CIA. Wadih el-Hage would soon also be arrested for his role in the Embassy bombings and found to be guilty, he received a full life sentence, where his wife, April el-Hage, vehemently showed her vitriol for the State Department’s prosecuting her husband on flimsy evidence relating to the attacks. April would also go on to state that it was the U.S Government who gave people like Wadih el-Hage, the full approval to war against the Soviets.
“That was a U.S.-backed war. The U.S. encouraged and supported it. They said it was totally legitimate for us Muslims to go there.
I didn’t see the memo about when we were supposed to stop, did you?”
Prudence Bushnell, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya at the time of the bombings, wrote in a 1999 cable filed in the civil case:
“Let me be blunt. Last year, when this mission raised the vulnerability of the previous embassy building, we received informal feedback that ‘some’ in Washington thought we were ‘overreacting.’
Bushnell would author a book about the bombings and the intelligence failures that went unanswered. “Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience:
My Story of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings”. The book would question why thousands of injured Kenyans did not receive medical compensation from the American government, and why the CIA and FBI refused to share critical intelligence that might have prevented the tragedy. On September 24,1998, British authorities would arrest Khalid al-Fawwaz along with 6 others, suspected of being involved with the East Africa Embassy Bombings from a covert intelligence operation code-named “Operation Challenge”. The men were also suspected of being involved with Al-Jihad, al-Fawwaz was later convicted for being involved in the attacks and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2015.
The NSA however would lose the track on Bin Laden’s satellite phone. According to White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, it was the media who reported the story that the NSA were listening in on Bin Laden’s calls.
“One of the worst cases was the reporting on the U.S. ability to listen to Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in the late ’90s. Because of that reporting, he stopped using that phone, and the country lost valuable intelligence.
However this turned out not to be the case. According to CIA officials it was from an August 17th 1998, Washington Post story that triggered Bin Laden’s decision to stop using his satellite phone. The story was from Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counter-terrorism official, who would be quoted as saying:
“I do not have current access to intelligence collection techniques, nor am I aware of the specific nature of any intelligence information the U.S. intelligence community has on Bin Laden’s alleged responsibility,”
CIA officials would later state had Bin Laden not been aware of the story reported by the Washington Post, he would have still used the phone.
Meanwhile, Alec Station would undertake integral changes to it’s command structure, starting with the demotion of its former chief, Michael Scheuer, who would become too insular even toward his superiors. On June 26 1999….Richard Blee would become the new chief, with Cofer Black the new Counter-terrorism Director, the decisions came from George Tenet the director of the CIA. Just one year prior, Tenet would openly declare war on Al Qaeda after the fatwa issued by Bin Laden.
With Black, the CTC had a real clandestine type official who was willing to get his hands “dirty”. Black would outline a comprehensive operation on how to plan and execute Bin Laden. By September, the “plan”, as it was so aptly named, called for the covert operation to sublet covert teams into Afghanistan and monitor from a short distance the Bin Laden Khalden training camp. The plan was outlined this way:
“They sought to surround Afghanistan with secure covert bases for CIA operations — as many bases as they could arrange. Then they would mount operations from each of the platforms, trying to move inside Afghanistan and as close to bin Laden as they could to recruit agents and to attempt capture operations. Black wanted recruitment's and he wanted to develop commando or paramilitary strike teams made up of officers and men who could “blend” into the region’s Muslim populations.”
On December 29,1999 Jordan authorities arrested Ziyad Khaleel, he immediately cooperates with the investigators. They also find out he had been helping Hamas, thru the the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). Using a portion of the funding which came from charity (zakat). The FBI also links him to the more notable Islamic mosque, the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in a charity front with ties to both bin Laden and the CIA. Once in custody, Khaleel cooperates with the FBI and is said to provide “crucial evidence about bin Laden’s US operations.” But he is quickly released.
Meanwhile United Press International reporter, Richard Sale, would publish a report about the enormous amount of meta-data the NSA had collected over the many years monitoring Al Qaeda thru-ought the world.
“The United States has scored notable successes in an information war against the organization of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden. US hackers have gone into foreign bank accounts and deleted or transferred money and jammed or blocked the group’s cell or satellite phones.”
At around this time General Peter Schoonmaker and General Hugh Shelton would begin a joint-military operation meant to use technological means to collect meta-data for the Department of Defense, similar to Alec Station of the CIA. It was code-named, Able Danger, led by a team of 5 of the military’s top logistics and tech savvy minds. It would collect thousands and thousands of data, accumulating to 3 Terabytes, showing 2 cells operating inside the United States. Omar Abdel Rahman Cell (Brooklyn) and one cell led by Mohammed Atta (Hamburg Cell). The operation was not supported by CIA’s Alec Station. However after the 9/11 attacks, the information, as well as the operation was never mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Final Report. Chris Kojm, a 9/11 Commission Staffer, would tell a staffer of Congressman Curt Weldon, whom was investigating the matter of Lt.Col. Anthony Shaffer (Able Danger team), that the Able Danger operation was not something the 9/11 Commission was interested in because it didn’t “fit with the story we wanted to tell.”
The NSA in 1999, would also learn for the first time of the name, Nawaf al-Hazmi thru a call they were monitoring from the Yemen Hub. This information is never shared with any other agency. The NSA would later go on to say that it wasn’t necessary to share this information with anyone, as it didn’t meet with NSA guidelines to share personal data with any investigative agency. They also learn of the name, Khalid al-Mihdhar, this information however was shared with Alec Station, but do not tell them of his close connection to Nawaf al-Hazmi. Meanwhile The NSA intercepts more calls involving Khalid al-Mihdhar, who is at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, with his family. The identity of the person he is talking to and the content of the intercepts is so sensitive that the whole passage regarding these communications is redacted in the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report. The NSA would begin to collect more sensitive data between 1999–2001, yet most of the information was never shared amongst the CIA and FBI. The 9/11 Commission would also hardly interview NSA Director Michael Hayden, regarding why they never shared this data to anyone else. Who knows what the NSA had transcribed with the thousands of calls made to the Yemen home of Ahmed al-Hada between 1996–2001.
Just days later after finding out al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar’s names. A series of calls made on December 29,1999 is heard by the NSA. These calls would reveal that several men were to attend a very high level meeting with notable high ranking Al Qaeda leaders from around the world. Future 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi, and Salem al-Hazmi are to attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000. This information would be shared with the CIA’s Alec Station and it’s CTC unit. The FBI’s I-49 Unit as well as the regional NYC field office are also informed about the revelation uncovered by the NSA. The reason enough for sharing this information was simple….the NSA wanted these agencies to photograph and collect as much data as possible about who these men were and looked like, so they can be shared with the NSA. Although Khalid al-Mihdhar’s full name was mentioned in one call, the NSA only passes on his first name.
The Al Qaeda meeting would be fully monitored by the CIA and Malaysia authorities. The meeting was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia between January 5–8th 2000. Yazid Sufaat would hold the meeting in his condominium, he is also a remember of Jemma Islammiyah, a terrorist cell located in Malaysia. The meeting would hold many luminaries of the Islamic terrorism world including:
Khalid Sheikh Muhammed
Ridduan Isamuddin (Hambali) (Jeddah Islammiyah)
Ramzi bin al-Shibh
Tawfiq Bin Attash (Khallad)
Abu Bara al-Taizi
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri
The Malaysian Secret Service would monitor the location of the meeting by taking a number of photographs of the men coming in and out of the residence. At the request of the CIA, they ask the Malaysian Secret Service to then pass the information on to the U.S. The CIA would be the only agency to have photographs of the men attending the meeting. They would not be initially shared with the FBI. It wasn’t until hours after the attacks in NYC would the CIA show a photograph of “Khallad” to FBI agent Ali Soufan and give his name as well. By then it was much too late. The information to stop many of these terrorist attacks would also come into question from the Joint House Inquiry Into the 9/11 Attacks. Carl Levin, a Committee member would berate CIA Director George Tenet for not sharing information with the FBI regarding Nawaf al-Hazmi dual entry visa as well as Khalid al-Mihdhar. To which Tenet had denied not sharing information but didn’t think the information Alec Station had was properly vetted. Tenet, unknown to the Joint Inquiry would commit perjury, regarding how no one read the cables about al-Hazmi having a US Visa. FBI agent assigned to Alec Station disagrees.
Doug Miller, also an FBI officer assigned to Alec Station, had read the cable regarding al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar’s passport and US Visa. Miller drafted a cable, warning the FBI headquarters about both men now available to enter the United States, that they both were Al Qaeda operatives who were also involved with the U.S Embassy Attacks in 1998. The cable was intercepted by Alec Station liaison officer, Michael Anne Casey, who would go to Tom Wilshire, Deputy Director of Alec Station. He would inform Casey to put a hold on sending. When Rossini saw the cable was on hold “per Wilshire”, he went straight to Casey and asked why the cable had not been sent. Rossini would later tell Frontline PBS:
“This was not a matter for the FBI. The next al-Qaeda attack is going to happen in Southeast Asia and their visas for America are just a diversion. You are not to tell the FBI about it. When and if we want the FBI to know about it, we will.’”
“ Rossini recalled going to Miller’s cubicle right after his conversation with Casey. “He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.… We were both stunned and could not understand why the FBI was not going to be told about this.”
Both Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi entered the United States after their meeting in Malaysia on January 15th 2001. The NSA continued to monitor the calls of both men. Even intercepting the calls while they were in Malaysia. Before he left for the Al Qaeda Summit Meeting, al-Mihdhar would stop over in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he spent the night on January 4th 2000. The CIA had followed al-Mihdhar when he left from his home in Yemen, and managed to break into his hotel suite where he was staying and photographed his passport, which gave them his full name, birth information and passport number for the first time, and alerted them that he held an entry visa to the United States. The CIA officers then left the room, leaving everything in the condition they found it in. They immediately sent this information to Alec Station.
The intelligence warnings thru-ought the 2001 period were continuous. Countries like Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Israel, Canada, Saudi Arabia gave warnings, even though most of it was vaguely transcribed intelligence. Minneapolis and Arizona FBI field offices would warn their superiors that an “unusually high” number of Arab males have been training at flight schools in their respective cities. Their FBI superiors brushed off these warnings as nothing more than exaggerated discrepancies. Meanwhile inside the United States, Israeli Mossad managed to monitor the movements of the Hamburg Cell, Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah thru-ought the East Coast, with Saudi GID officers managing Khalid al-Mihdhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Hani Hanjour out in the West Coast. The CIA’s Alec Station Chief, Richard Blee would tell White House officials in a debriefing in 2000, that they had “lost track” of al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi after they left the Malaysia Al Qaeda Summit Meeting…..however the NSA had not.
The NSA had managed to locate the phone of Khalid al-Mihdhar while in Bangkok,Thailand on January 8th 2000. This information was never shared with any agency. Again, it seemed that the NSA had always been in constant contact with members of the Yemen Hub, while the CIA was just steps behind, and the FBI kept in the dark. While 9/11 Commissioner Philip Zelikow states that the NSA would not have the technological capabilities to decipher the calls made out of the Yemen Hub, Intelligence historian Matthew Aid, states that is far from the case. In an interview with ProPublica in 2013:
“Back in 2001 NSA was routinely tracking the identity of both sides of a telephone call.”
However what the NSA had known since 1992 was far more sensational, massive in its totality and rather damning to the agency…..the meta-data collected by the NSA, the thousands of phone calls monitored from the Bin Laden satellite phone to the Yemen Hub….it was absolutely enormous. The absence of sharing this remarkably important data with anyone outside the agency could be seen as criminal negligence, and could also be seen as being culpable of “complicity” to a high degree.
According to Thomas Drake, former NSA senior executive, in his interview with Barbara Koeppel (The Nation) in 2013:
Barbara Koeppel: What did you tell the Saxby Chambliss Congressional subcommittee and the Congressional Joint Inquiry?
Thomas Drake: I can’t say fully, because it’s classified. But I showed that NSA knew a great deal about the 9/11 threats and Al Qaeda, electronically tracking various people and organizations for years — since its role is to collect intelligence. The problem is, it wasn’t sharing all of the data. If it had, other parts of government could have acted on it, and more than likely, NSA could have stopped, I say stopped 9/11. Later, it could have located Al Qaeda — at the very time the U.S. was scouring Afghanistan.
It’s true that there were systemic failures throughout the intelligence system, but NSA was a critical piece of it. I gave both committees prima facie evidence, with documents. One was an early 2001 NSA internal, detailed multi-year study of Al Qaeda and sympathetic groups’ movements that revealed what NSA knew, could have done, and should have done. It was astonishingly well-analyzed current intelligence. Soon after 9/11, some NSA analysts called me about it. Why? Because they were pulling their hair out, knowing they had this information and they couldn’t get NSA leadership to share the report with the rest of the intelligence community — even though it’s mandatory! It was actionable information. Remember the time period — we were in the early part of the war in Afghanistan. People needed to act on it, to unravel Al Qaeda networks.
But NSA leaders deliberately decided not to disseminate it. So the analysis — about what it knew before and after 9/11 — got buried very deeply, because it would really have made them look bad.
In fact, after the analysts called me to complain, I told my superior, Maureen Baginski, Director of Signals Intelligence (called SIGINT), who was the number-three person at NSA. But instead of acting on it, she got mad at me. She said, “Tom, I wish you’d never brought this to my attention.”
Barbara Koeppel: Why?
Thomas Drake: Because she no longer had plausible deniability.
After the September 11th 2001 attacks….the foreign agencies of Israel and Saudi Arabia were also unchecked by the State Department, who had no idea they were even here, or from the FBI. It was the FBI who had to manage the “after effects” and even allowed many of the Israeli operatives who were using moving companies located in New York City, New Jersey and Florida to monitor the hijackers, to be deported, without any follow up investigation. The Saudi’s were left to leave the country. Many of them high ranking officials known to many within the State Department. Two congressional inquiries, 9/11 Commission and Joint House Inquiry, would never even mention the foreign agencies from Saudi Arabia and Israel in their final reports, nor would they even mention about Able Danger, or what Thomas Drake had mentioned to them in closed door sessions.
The obvious question is….How much did the National Security Agency uncover since 1996? Unless the public has access to that transcribed data we will be left to our imagination.
It gave rise to conspiracy theories, who have come under daunting public scrutiny, over the next 20 years, some that still exist to this day. About how the Intelligence Agencies were seemingly allowing Al Qaeda operatives to travel freely and conduct operations worldwide without interference. From the Khobar Towers bombing, U.S Embassy Bombings, to the 9/11 attacks….that these incidents were allowed to happen.
Can you blame some of them?