When the decade of the 1990’s began, the intelligence community were just beginning to know of the name, Osama Bin Laden. However, they won’t know the specifics of his group, Al Qaeda, until a short while later. The NSA had began monitoring Osama Bin Laden’s satellite phone in the very early period of the 1990’s, however, it is not known exactly what year exactly but it’s assumed either in 1992 or 1993 with the CIA monitoring Bin Laden in 1991. The FBI also began their own investigation into the Saudi, noticing Bin Laden’s name in files given to them from the CIA & NSA in 1995. Bin Laden was using a satellite phone, which was being monitored by the NSA, when he finally discontinues use of it in 1998. In January 1996, the Justice Department creates Squad I-49 a unit composed of prosecutors of the Southern District of New York and FBI agents in the NY office dedicated in monitoring the financial and logistical nature of Al Qaeda.
The unit is led by Louis Napoli, John Anticev, Jack Cloonan, John O’Neill, Carl Summerlin, Kevin Cruise and Tom Lang. Just a month later the Central Intelligence Agency begins its own unit dedicated to tracking Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda cell. David Cohen, head of the CIA’s Counter-terrorism center in 1996, wanted to implement a virtual station modeled on the Agency’s overseas stations and act as one station sharing the data collected in the region. Cohen had a hard time however figuring out who would run their station and found the perfect candidate at the time. Someone who could speak Farsi, Arabic and understood the nature of the Sunni-Shia divide and the al-Qaeda cell. There was one name who stood out in his experience with Islamic Fundamentalism, Michael Scheuer.
The Station opened officially at the very end of January 1996. The station would open as a unique group which would have personnel consisting of the FBI, CIA, NSA and the DIA. Formerly titled the Bin Laden Issue Station it was code-named Alec Station, named after Michael Scheuer’s son. CIA chief George Tenet in 1996 would claim that the unit’s mission was to track intelligence regarding Bin Laden and run operations against him while disrupting his finances. About 10 to 15 individuals are assigned to the unit initially. The CIA begins to monitor the home of Ahmed al-Hada in Yemen and also tap the house.
Meanwhile the NSA taps the phone and home of al-Hada (father in law to Khalid al-Mihdhar) at around this time in 1997–97. Although the NSA wont confirm or deny that they had tapped the home in 1996, the knew about the number from Bin Laden’s satellite phone as he called this number repeatedly. Scheuer would begin to ask the NSA if they could share information cables in which they only had one part of, the receiving calls were only known to the NSA.
However the NSA would be reluctant in sharing these cables with the CIA. Scheuer would take his complaints to NSA deputy director Barbara McNamara, and McNamara would deny Scheuer’s request even so far as threatening him with legal action if he were to compromise the NSA’s tapped line. This would cause a complex issue, since it is the CIA who was in charge of the operation involving the monitoring of Al-Hada’s home. The NSA would ultimately win out for now. In late 1997 Richard Clarke, head of the Counter-terrorism center, has numerous “disagreements” with Michael Scheuer. One former CIA insider will later say, “I can say that, among individuals that I tend to trust, Clarke was regarded as more serious about terrorism in the 1990’s than just about anybody else in the US government, but he was a truly painful individual to work with.”
Also Scheuer and the Alec Station Unit do not get along with some of the FBI agents assigned to it, Mark Rossini and Doug Miller particularly, this was evidently due to the fact that it was John O’Neill’s men as O’Neill had a reputation of being very aggressive and boisterous regarding his investigations into Al Qaeda. Scheuer will claim that the FBI never shares information with the Alec Station unit.
By 1999, CIA director George Tenet decides to declare war on Osama Bin Laden, after Bin Laden’s fatwa in 1998 where he declares all Muslims to “kill Americans wherever you find them”. Tenet also constructs a new strategy regarding Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. Tenet orders the Counter-terrorism center headed by Richard Clarke to begin a review of the CIA’s strategy….by spring 1999 in order to enact his strategy he demotes Scheuer and inserts Richard Blee as head of the Alec Station Unit. With Cofer Black director of the CTC. Tenet’s new strategy would be titled “The Plan “ According to author Steve Coll (Ghost Wars) the plan was outlined as such:
“Cofer Black and his new bin Laden unit wanted to “project” into Afghanistan, to “penetrate” bin Laden’s sanctuaries. They described their plan as military officers might. 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 get to recruit agents and to attempt capture operations.”
Immediately Cofer Black instituted a clandestine operation titled “Jawbreaker-5”. A operation involving The Special Operations Command capturing Bin Laden in Afghanistan and bringing him back to the United States while using Ahmad Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance as the proxy army to force the Taliban’s hand. The plan however had a less than 5% chance of succeeding and it thus it never was deployed. Meanwhile Blee and the Alec Station employees basically consisting of women such as Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Michael Anne Casey, and Jennifer Lynne Matthews began becoming more seclusive towards their FBI counter parts. Deciding not not indulge their inquires regarding data collected on Bin laden and the Hamburg Cell which are now becoming more evident to NSA wiretaps and cia human intelligence.
The CTC begins learning of a large scale terrorist operation in 1999. In November and December 1999, Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah and Nawaf al-Hazmi visited Afghanistan, where they were selected for the “planes operation” that was to become known as 9/11. The NSA who were monitoring the telephone al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen, have revealed from their taps that hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi, and Salem al-Hazmi are to attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000.
The NSA shares this information with the CIA’s Alec Station. Other US intelligence agencies, including FBI headquarters and the FBI’s New York field office, are told as well. The NSA connects the trio to Bin Laden, and an NSA report about them on this day is entitled, “Activities of Bin Laden Associates,” showing the clear knowledge of their ties to bin Laden. January 2–5th 2000, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi are engaged with other high profile Al Qaeda operatives in the Al Qaeda Summit Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The CIA from 8 different offices are all asked to track Khalid al-Mihdhar in hopes he will lead them to bigger Al Qaeda figures. After the meeting, Khalid al-Mihdhar stays at a hotel in Dubai. The CIA agents break into his room and makes copies of his passport by taking pictures of it and photocopying it. This information is immediately faxed to Alec Station. The CIA not only learns his full name, but also discovers the vital fact that he has a multiple entry visa to the US that is valid from April 1999 to April 2000. But even though the CIA now knows about this US visa which indicates he plans to go to New York City, they do not place him on a terror watch list and they fail to tell the FBI about the visa.
The Malaysian authorities who were also monitoring the al-Qaeda meeting sends its information to Alec Station. The material includes reports on the attendees’ movements and actions and photographs. A video recording made of the attendees on the first day will also be sent, but not until February. However, no audio recording is made. Even thou this information is absolutely pertinent, Richard Blee will not draft a report on it to alert the intelligence community.
However Blee realizes the importance of the information and holds briefings with Sandy Berger, National Security Adviser and FBI director Louis Freeh. This would also give Al Qaeda operatives Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi the time to travel undetected in Thailand in January. Meanwhile FBI agents in the Alec Station, Mark Rossini and Doug Miller view the ever important cable regarding Khalid al-Mihdhar’s US multi entry VISA. Doug Miller would draft a cable which claims of the importance of al-Qaeda coming into the United States. However his cable meant for his NYC FBI field office was intercepted by Deputy director of Alec Station Tim Wilshire.
The draft cable mentions the tap on al-Mihdhar’s phone, his planned travel to Malaysia, and the links between his phone and the 1998 East African embassy bombings. It also says that the CIA has obtained photographs of al-Mihdhar and these will be sent separately. Miller asks the FBI for feedback resulting from an FBI investigation. Under Wilshire’s direction, Casey would write on the draft itself “Hold off on sending”.
Mark Rossini, would find out the cable was not sent back to FBI headquarters and take his stern complaints to Michael Anne Casey, who in turn would admonish Rossini with the following explanation..
‘Look, the next attack is going to happen in Southeast Asia — it’s not the bureau’s jurisdiction. When we want the FBI to know about it, we’ll let them know. But the next bin Laden attack’s going to happen in Southeast Asia.’
Rossini still presenting his case that the operative were coming to the United States was met with Casey;s adamant refusal….Rossini cannot legally pass this information because he did not have the permission of his superiors at Alec Station. Because of Blee’s ignorance in not drafting a report regarding the Malaysia Meeting….the Alec Station unit lose track of both Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi while they were in Thailand. By January 15th 2000….Alec Station would end monitoring operations linked to the Summit Meeting in Malaysia. It is also stated that on January 15th by the 9/11 Commission, that Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi entered the United States. However this would be false.
Both men had entered the United States earlier. Both men had arrived inside the U.S by January 13th. Information which is heavily redacted shows that a cab driver named Qualid Benomarene had driven both men to the Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. A room had been rented from (redacted) on his credit card between January 13–16. They used aliases, Said Abdullah and Said Abdallah. These men were Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.
Qualid Benomrane is classified in the Joint Inquiry and is not mentioned in the 9/11 Commision, he is however mentioned in footnotes regarding his FBI interview. Benomrane was shown to look at a series of photographs, he was shown all 19 pictures out of 30 pictures mixed in and pointed out two men he said he drive to the hotel. Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. he would later retract this admission and denied ever meeting them. Fahad al-Thumary an imam at King Fahd mosque would task Qualid Benomrane to drive two Saudis and never speak about them to anyone. Mueller then quashed the investigation, and the FBI deported Benomrane to Tunisia.
During the 9/11 Commission Dieter Snell a member of the Commission states before the panel that much is unknown where al-Hazmi and al-Midhhar stood before the first two weeks at their arrival at LAX airport. However the FBI did know. Thumairy stood just blocks away from King Fahd mosque and just blocks from the restaurant where Omary al-Bayoumi met the two men as well. The FBI redacted reports show that two men did stay at the Hilton Hotel which proves that both men al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were using aliases and that the credit card belonging to (classified) proves Benomrane’s story to lead FBI investigators.
The CIA however would remain moot regarding this, since Blee would conveniently lose track of al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. The damage was done, the CIA would not inform the FBI regarding the two men until a principals meeting in august 21, 2001. Just weeks before the 9/11 attacks. Blee would relate the information to Richard Clarke suggesting that the two operatives were living in Los Angeles. Blee also did not share the information that they had multi-entry visas. The FBI rushed to find the duo, but to no avail…they were long gone from Los Angeles, as they were now living in New York. A Presidential Daily Brief report entitled “Bin Laden to strike inside the US” was given to the President, George W. Bush on August 6th 2001…not by tenet, but by a CIA briefer.
The report warned of a large scale attack is imminent inside the US….information which also had the brief intelligence from Ali Mohamed and Jamal al-Fadl…..showed that Bin Laden wanted to use planes as weapons. The report did not entail which targets were to be selected. The CIA manages to finally put Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi on watch lists in late August 2001. weeks previously, a memo from FBI agent Ken Williams out of Phoenix, AZ commonly known as the Phoenix Memo, is shown to FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Williams tries repeatedly to warn Mueller that a unusually high number of Arab males in Phoenix and Scottsdale are enlisting in numerous Flight schools. And warned of an attack using planes. After the 9/11 attacks, Michael Scheuer is tasked back to Alec Station as an adviser. Mark Rossini and Doug Miller, the two FBI agents who tried to warn FBI HQ about Khalid al-Mihdhar’s multi-entry visas, give testimony to the FBI Inspector General which were investigating the failings of 9/11 internally. They tell the investigating agent the truth, that they were ordered by Alec Station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, and another CIA officer (Michael Anne Casey) to withhold the cable from the FBI.
However even after the FBI inquiry was finished, no punishments would befall anyone form Alec Station…even after two Congressional inquiries (9/11 Commission & Joint House Inquiry). However the public can witness where CIA Director, George Tenet, would commit perjury under questioning from Carl Levin during the Joint Inquiry on 2003.
Levin: “Do you know why was not notified of the fact that an Al Qaeda operative (Nawaf al-Hazmi) now was known in March of 2000 to have entered the United States. Why did the CIA not specifically notify the FBI at that point.”
Tenet: “Sir, we weren’t aware of it when it came into headquarters we couldn’t have notified them. Nobody read that cable in the March 2000 time-frame.”
Levin: “So the cable that said Hazmi had entered the United States came to your headquarters nobody read it.”
Tenet: “Yes sir, it was an information only cable from the field and nobody read that information only cable.”
Levin: “Should it have been read?”
Tenet: “Yes of course in hindsight.”
Levin: “Should it have been read at the time?”
Tenet: “Of course…”
Levin: “My question to you is, do you know who should have read it?”
Tenet: (short pause) “I don’t know that sir, but i’ll can…”
Levin: “Was somebody responsible to have read it”
Tenet: “Well there are a group of people….somebody should have read it yes sir.”
These decisions made from high level CIA operatives inside Alec Station would have future consequences that will be felt by future generations for all of human history.