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Full text of "The 9/11 Commission report [electronic resource] : final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States"

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6 

FROM THREAT 
TO THREAT 



In chapters 3 and 4 \¥e described how the U.S. government adjusted its 
existing agencies and capacities to address the emerging threat from Usama Bin 
Ladin and his associates. After the August 1 998 bombings of the American 
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, President Bill Clinton and his chief aides 
explored ways of getting Bin Ladin expelled from Afghanistan or possibly cap- 
turing or even killing him. Although disruption efforts around the world had 
achieved some successes, the core of Bin Ladin's organization remained intact. 

President Clinton was deeply concerned about Bin Ladin. He and his 
national security advisor, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, ensured they had a special 
daily pipeline of reports feeding them the latest updates on Bin Ladin's 
reported location. 1 In public. President Clinton spoke repeatedly about the 
threat of terrorism, referring to terrorist training camps but saying little about 
Bin Ladin and nothing about al Qaeda. He explained to us that this was delib- 
erate — intended to avoid enhancing Bin Ladin's stature by giving him unnec- 
essary publicity. His speeches focused especially on the danger of nonstate actors 
and of chemical and biological weapons. ^ 

As the millennium approached, the most publicized worries ^vere not 
about terrorism but about computer breakdowns — theY2K scare. Some gov- 
ernment officials were concerned that terrorists would take advantage of such 
breakdo^vns.3 



6.1 THE MILLENNIUM CRISIS 

"Bodies Will Pile Up in Sacks" 

On November 30, 1999, Jordanian intelligence intercepted a telephone call 
between Abu Zubaydah, a longtime ally of Bin Ladin, and Khadr Abu Hoshar, 
a Palestinian extremist. Abu Zubaydah said, "The time for training is over." 
Suspecting that this was a signal for Abu Hoshar to commence a terrorist 

174 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 175 

operation, Jordanian police arrested Abu Hoshar and 15 others and informed 
Washington. '^ 

One of the 16, Raed Hijazi, had been born in California to Palestinian 
parents; after spending his childhood in the Middle East, he had returned to 
northern California, taken refuge in extremist Islamist beliefs, and then made 
his way to Abu Zubaydah's Khaldan camp in Afghanistan, ^vhere he learned the 
fundamentals of guerrilla warfare. He and his younger brother had been 
recruited by Abu Hoshar into a loosely knit plot to attack Jewish and Ameri- 
can targets in Jordan. ^ 

After late 1996, ^vhen Abu Hoshar was arrested and jailed, Hijazi moved 
back to the United States, ^vorked as a cabdriver in Boston, and sent money 
back to his fellow plotters. After Abu Hoshar 's release, Hijazi shuttled between 
Boston and Jordan gathering money and supplies. With Abu Hoshar, he 
recruited in Turkey and Syria as well asjordan; with Abu Zubaydah's assistance, 
Abu Hoshar sent these recruits to Afghanistan for training.* 

In late 1998, Hijazi and Abu Hoshar had settled on a plan. They would first 
attack four targets: the SAS Radisson Hotel in do^vnto■wn Amman, the border 
crossings from Jordan into Israel, and two Christian holy sites, at a time \vhen all 
these locations were likely to be thronged with American and other tourists. 
Next, they "would target a local airport and other religious and cultural sites. Hijazi 
and Abu Hoshar cased the intended targets and sent reports to Abu Zubaydah, 
who approved their plan. Finally, back in Amman from Boston, Hijazi gradually 
accumulated bomb-making materials, including sulfuric acid and 5,200 pounds 
of nitric acid, ^vhich were then stored in an enormous subbasement dug by the 
plotters over a period of two months underneath a rented house.^ 

In early 1999, Hijazi and Abu Hoshar contacted Khalil Deek, an American 
citizen and an associate of Abu Zubaydah who lived in Pesha^var, Pakistan, and 
who, ^vith Afghanistan-based extremists, had created an electronic version of a 
terrorist manual, the Encyclopedia of Jihad. They obtained a CD-ROM of this 
encyclopedia from Deek.^ In June, with help from Deek, Abu Hoshar arranged 
with Abu Zubaydah for Hijazi and three others to go to Afghanistan for added 
training in handling explosives. In late November 1999, Hijazi reportedly swore 
before Abu Zubaydah the bayat to Bin Ladin, committing himself to do any- 
thing Bin Ladin ordered. He then departed for Jordan and was at a ^vaypoint 
in Syria when Abu Zubaydah sent Abu Hoshar the message that prompted Jor- 
danian authorities to roll up the whole cell.' 

After the arrests of Abu Hoshar and 15 others, the Jordanians tracked Deek 
to Peshawar, persuaded Pakistan to extradite him, and added him to their catch. 
Searches in Amman found the rented house and, among other things, 7 1 drums 
of acids, several forged Saudi passports, detonators, and Deck's Encyclopedia. Six 
of the accomplices ^vere sentenced to death. In custody, Hijazi's younger 
brother said that the group's motto had been "The season is coming, and bod- 
ies will pile up in sacks."io 



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176 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Diplomacy and Disruption 

On December 4, as news came in about the discoveries in Jordan, National 
Security Council (NSC) Counterterrorism Coordinator Richard Clarke 
wrote Berger,"If George s [Tenets] story about a planned series of UBL attacks 
at the Millennium is true, we -will need to make some decisions NOW He 
told us he held several conversations with President Clinton during the crisis. 
He suggested threatening reprisals against the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 
event of any attacks on U.S. interests, anywhere, by Bin Ladin. He further 
proposed to Berger that a strike be made during the last week of 1999 against 
al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan — a proposal not adopted, ii 

Warned by the CIA that the disrupted Jordanian plot was probably part of 
a larger series of attacks intended for the millennium, some possibly involving 
chemical ^veapons, the Principals Committee met on the night of Decem- 
ber 8 and decided to task Clarke's Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) to 
develop plans to deter and disrupt al Qaeda plots. ^^ 

Michael Sheehan, the State Department member of the CSG, communi- 
cated warnings to the Taliban that they would be held responsible for future 
al Qaeda attacks. "Mike was not diplomatic," Clarke reported to Berger. With 
virtually no evidence of a Taliban response, a new approach was made to Pak- 
istan. '^ General Anthony Zinni, the commander of Central Command 
(CENTCOM), was designated as the President's special envoy and sent to ask 
General Musharraf to "take whatever action you deem necessary to resolve the 
Bin Laden problem at the earliest possible time." But Zinni came back empty- 
handed. As Ambassador William Milam reported from Islamabad, Musharraf 
was "un^villing to take the political heat at home."!'* 

The CIA worked hard ^vith foreign security services to detain or at least 
keep an eye on suspected Bin Ladin associates. Tenet spoke to 20 of his foreign 
counterparts. Disruption and arrest operations were mounted against terrorists 
in eight countries. ^^ In mid-December, President Clinton signed a Memoran- 
dum of Notification (MON) giving the CIA broader authority to use foreign 
proxies to detain Bin Ladin lieutenants, without having to transfer them to U.S. 
custody. The authority was to capture, not kiU, though lethal force might be 
used if necessary. i<5 Tenet \vould later send a message to all CIA personnel over- 
seas, saying, "The threat could not be more real. . . . Do whatever is necessary 
to disrupt UBL's plans. . . .The American people are counting on you and me 
to take every appropriate step to protect them during this period." The State 
Department issued a worldwide threat advisory to its posts overseas. ^^ 

Then, on December 14, an Algerian jihadist was caught bringing a load of 
explosives into the United States. 

Ressam's Arrest 

Ahmed Ressam, 23, had illegally immigrated to Canada in 1994. Using a fal- 
sified passport and a bogus story about persecution in Algeria, Ressam entered 



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^^ 



FROM THREAT TO THREAT 



177 



Montreal and claimed political asylum. For the next few years he supported 
himself \¥ith petty crime. Recruited by an alumnus of Abu Zubaydah's Khal- 
dan canip,Ressam trained in Afghanistan in 1998, learning, among other things, 
ho\¥ to place cyanide near the air intake of a building to achieve maximum 
lethality at minimum personal risk. Having joined other Algerians in planning 
a possible attack on a U.S. airport or consulate, Ressam left Afghanistan in early 
1999 carrying precursor chemicals for explosives disguised in toiletry bottles, 
a notebook containing bomb assembly instructions, and $12,000. Back in 
Canada, he went about procuring weapons, chemicals, and false papers, i* 

In early summer 1999, having learned that not all of his colleagues could get 
the travel documents to enter Canada, Ressam decided to carry out the plan 
alone. By the end of the summer he had chosen three Los Angeles— area airports 
as potential targets, ultimately fixing on Los Angeles International (LAX) as the 
largest and easiest to operate in surreptitiously. He bought or stole chemicals and 
equipment for his bomb, obtaining advice from three Algerian friends, all of 
whom were wanted by authorities in France for their roles in past terrorist attacks 
there. Ressam also acquired new confederates. He promised to help a New 
York— based partner, Abdelghani Meskini, get training in Afghanistan if Meskini 
would help him maneuver in the United States. i' 

In December 1999, Ressam began his final preparations. He called an 
Afghanistan-based facilitator to inquire into whether Bin Ladin \vanted to take 
credit for the attack, but he did not get a reply. He spent a week in Vancouver 
preparing the explosive components with a close friend. The chemicals were 
so caustic that the men kept their windows open, despite the freezing temper- 
atures outside, and sucked on cough drops to soothe their irritated throats.^o 
While in Vancouver, Ressam also rented a Chrysler sedan for his travel into the 
United States, and packed the explosives in the trunks spare tire well.-i 

On December 14, 1999, Ressam drove his rental car onto the ferry from 
Victoria, Canada, to Port Angeles, Washington. Ressam planned to drive to 
Seattle and meet Meskini, ^vith whom he ^vould travel to Los Angeles and case 



A Case Study In Terrorist Travel 

Following a familiar terrorist pattern, Ressam and his associates used 
fraudulent passports and immigration fraud to travel. In Ressam's case, this 
involved flying from France to Montreal using a photo-substituted 
French passport under a false name. Under questioning, Ressam admit- 
ted the passport \vas fraudulent and claimed political asylum. He was 
released pending a hearing, which he failed to attend. His political asy- 
lum claim ^vas denied. He was arrested again, released again, and given 
another hearing date. Again, he did not show. He was arrested four times 



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178 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 



for thievery, usually from tourists, but was neither jailed nor deported. He 
also supported himself by selling stolen documents to a friend who was 
a document broker for Islamist terrorists. -2 

Ressam eventually obtained a genuine Canadian passport through a 
document vendor who stole a blank baptismal certificate from a 
Catholic church. With this document he was able to obtain a Canadian 
passport under the name of Benni Antoine Noris.This enabled him to 
travel to Pakistan, and from there to Afghanistan for his training, and 
then return to Canada. Impressed, Abu Zubaydah asked Ressam to get 
more genuine Canadian passports and to send them to him for other 
terrorists to use.23 

Another conspirator, Abdelghani Meskini, used a stolen identity to 
travel to Seattle on December 11, 1999, at the request of Mokhtar 
Haouari, another conspirator. Haouari provided fraudulent passports and 
visas to assist Ressam and Meskini's planned getaway from the United 
States to Algeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. 2"* One of Meskini's associ- 
ates, Abdel Hakim Tizegha, also filed a claim for political asylum. He was 
released pending a hearing, which was adjourned and rescheduled five 
times. His claim was finally denied two years after his initial filing. His 
attorney appealed the decision, andTizegha was allowed to remain in the 
country pending the appeal. Nine months later, his attorney notified the 
court that he could not locate his client. A ^varrant of deportation ^vas 
issued.25 



LAX. They planned to detonate the bomb on or around January 1, 2000. At 
the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) preinspection station in Vic- 
toria, Ressam presented officials ^vith his genuine but fraudulently obtained 
Canadian passport, from which he had torn the Afghanistan entry and exit 
stamps. The INS agent on duty ran the passport through a variety of databases 
but, since it was not in Ressam's name, he did not pick up the pending Cana- 
dian arrest warrants. After a cursory examination of Ressam's car, the INS 
agents allowed Ressam to board the ferry^s 

Late in the afternoon of December 14, Ressam arrived in Port Angeles. He 
waited for all the other cars to depart the ferry, assuming (incorrectly) that the 
last car off would draw less scrutiny. Customs officers assigned to the port, 
noticing Ressam's nervousness, referred him to secondary inspection. When 
asked for additional identification, Ressam handed the Customs agent a Price 
Costco membership card in the same false name as his passport. As that agent 
began an initial pat-do\vn, Ressam panicked and tried to run away.^^ 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 1 79 

Inspectors examining Ressani s rental car found the explosives concealed in 
the spare tire ^vell, but at first they assumed the ^vhite po^vder and viscous liq- 
uid were drug-related — until an inspector pried apart and identified one of the 
four timing devices concealed within black boxes. Ressam ^vas placed under 
arrest. Investigators guessed his target was in Seattle.They did not learn about 
the Los Angeles airport planning until they reexamined evidence seized in 
Montreal in 2000; they obtained further details when Ressam began cooper- 
ating in May 2001.28 

Emergency Cooperation 

After the disruption of the plot in Amman, it had not escaped notice in Wash- 
ington that Hijazi had lived in California and driven a cab in Boston and that 
Deek was a naturalized U.S. citizen who, as Berger reminded President Clin- 
ton, had been in touch with extremists in the United States as well as abroad. ^^ 
Before Ressam's arrest, Berger saw no need to raise a public alarm at home — 
although the FBI put all field offices on alert. ^o 

Now, following Ressam's arrest, the FBI asked for an unprecedented num- 
ber of special ^viretaps. Both Berger and Tenet told us that their impression was 
that more Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) ^viretap requests were 
processed during the millennium alert than ever before. -*! 

The next day, ^vriting about Ressam's arrest and links to a cell in Mon- 
treal, Berger informed the President that the FBI would advise police in the 
United States to step up activities but would still try to avoid undue public 
alarm by stressing that the government had no specific information about 
planned attacks. ^2 

At a December 22 meeting of the Small Group of principals, FBI Director 
Louis Freeh briefed officials from the NSC staff", CIA, and Justice on ^viretaps 
and investigations inside the United States, including a Brooklyn entity tied to 
the Ressani arrest, a seemingly unreliable foreign report of possible attacks on 
seven U.S. cities, two Algerians detained on the Canadian border, and searches 
in Montreal related to a jihadist cell. The Justice Department released a state- 
ment on the alert the same day.33 

Clarke's stafli"warned,"Forei]gM terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks 
in the US are likely"^'^ Clarke asked Berger to try to make sure that the domes- 
tic agencies remained alert."Is there a threat to civilian aircraft?" he wrote. Clarke 
also asked the principals in late December to discuss a foreign security service 
report about a Bin Ladin plan to put bombs on transatlantic flights. ^^ 

The CSG met daily. Berger said that the principals met constantly.^* Later, 
when asked what made her decide to ask Ressam to step out of his vehicle, 
Diana Dean, a Customs inspector who referred Ressam to secondary inspec- 
tion, testified that it was her "training and experience." ^^ It appears that the 
heightened sense of alert at the national level played no role in Ressam's 
detention. 



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180 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

There ^vas a mounting sense of public alarm. The earlier Jordanian arrests 
had been covered in the press, and Ressam's arrest was featured on net^vork 
evening news broadcasts throughout the Christmas season. ^8 

The FBI was more communicative during the millennium crisis than it had 
ever been.The senior FBI official for counterterrorism, Dale Watson, was a regu- 
lar member of the CSG, and Clarke had good relations both with him and with 
some of the FBI agents handling al Qaeda— related investigations, including John 
O 'NeiU in Ne^vYork. As a rule, however, neither Watson nor these agents brought 
much information to the group. The FBI simply did not produce the kind of 
intelligence reports that other agencies routinely wrote and disseminated. As law 
enforcement officers. Bureau agents tended to write up only witness interviews. 
Written case analysis usually occurred only in memoranda to supervisors 
requesting authority to initiate or expand an investigation.-'' 

But during the millennium alert, with its direct links into the United States 
from Hijazi, Deek, and Ressam, FBI officials were briefing in person about 
ongoing investigations, not relying on the dissemination of written reports. 
Berger told us that it was hard for FBI officials to hold back information in 
front of a cabinet-rank group. After the alert, according to Berger and mem- 
bers of the NSC staff, the FBI returned to its normal practice of withholding 
written reports and saying little about investigations or ^vitness interviews, tak- 
ing the position that any information related to pending investigations might 
be presented to a grand jury and hence could not be disclosed under then- 
prevailing federal la\v.'*'^ 

The terrorist plots that were broken up at the end of 1999 display the vari- 
ety of operations that might be attributed, ho^vever indirectly, to al Qaeda. The 
Jordanian cell was a loose affiliate; we now know that it sought approval and 
training from Afghanistan, and at least one key member swore loyalty to Bin 
Ladin. But the cell's plans and preparations ^vere autonomous. Ressam's ties to 
al Qaeda were even looser. Though he had been recruited, trained, and pre- 
pared in a network affiliated with the organization and its allies, Ressam's own 
plans were, nonetheless, essentially independent. 

Al Qaeda, and Bin Ladin himself, did have at least one operation of their 
very own in mind for the millennium period. In chapter 5 we introduced an 
al Qaeda operative named Nashiri. Working with Bin Ladin, he was develop- 
ing a plan to attack a ship near Yemen. On January 3, an attempt \vas made to 
attack a U.S. warship in Aden, the USS The Sullwans.Tiie attempt failed when 
the small boat, overloaded with explosives, sank. The operatives salvaged their 
equipment without the attempt becoming known, and they put off their plans 
for another day. 

Al Qaeda 's "planes operation" was also coming along. In January 2000, the 
United States caught a glimpse of its preparations. 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 181 

A Lost Trail in Southeast Asia 

In late 1999, the National Security Agency (NSA) analyzed communications 
associated ^vitll a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East, indicating that 
several members of "an operational cadre" were planning to travel to Kuala 
Lumpur in early January 2000. Initially, only the first names of three were 
known — "Na^vaf,""Salem," and"Khalid." NSA analysts surmised correctly that 
Salem \vas Nawaf s younger brother Seeing links not only with al Qaeda but 
specifically ^vith the 1998 embassy bombings, a CIA desk officer guessed that 
"something more nefarious [was] afoot."4i 

In chapter 5, we discussed the dispatch of two operatives to the United States 
for their part in the planes operation — Na^vaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihd- 
har.Two more, Khallad and Abu Bara, went to Southeast Asia to case flights for 
the part of the operation that ^vas supposed to unfold there.'*^ All made their 
way to Southeast Asia from Afghanistan and Pakistan, except for Mihdhar, who 
traveled from Yemen. '*-' 

Though Na^vaf's trail was temporarily lost, the CIA soon identified "Khalid" 
as Khalid al Mihdhar. '*'* He was located leaving Yemen and tracked until he 
arrived in Kuala Lumpur on January 5, 2000.'*5 Other Arabs, unidentified at the 
time, were watched as they gathered with him in the Malaysian capital. '^'^ 

On January 8, the surveillance teams reported that three of the Arabs had 
suddenly left Kuala Lumpur on a short flight to Bangkok. '^^ They identified 
one as Mihdhar. They later learned that one of his companions was named 
Alhazmi, although it was not yet kno\vn that he was "Nawaf."The only iden- 
tifier available for the third person was part of a name — Salahsae.'*^ In 
Bangkok, CIA ofliicers received the information too late to track the three men 
as they came in, and the travelers disappeared into the streets of Bangkok. '*'' 

The Counterterrorist Center (CTC) had briefed the CIA leadership on the 
gathering in Kuala Lumpur, and the information had been passed on to Berger 
and the NSC staff and to Director Freeh and others at the FBI (though the 
FBI noted that the CIA had the lead and would let the FBI know if a domes- 
tic angle arose). The head of the Bin Ladin unit kept providing updates, unaware 
at first even that the Arabs had left Kuala Lumpur, let alone that their trail had 
been lost in Bangkok, ^o When this bad news arrived, the names were put on a 
Thai \vatchlist so that Thai authorities could inform the United States if any 
of them departed from Thailand, ^i 

Several weeks later, CIA officers in Kuala Lumpur prodded colleagues in 
Bangkok for additional information regarding the three travelers. ^2 In early 
March 2000, Bangkok reported that Nawaf al Hazmi, now identified for the 
first time with his full name, had departed on January 15 on a United Airlines 
flight to Los Angeles. As for Khalid al Mihdhar, there ^vas no report of his 
departure even though he had accompanied Hazmi on the United flight to Los 
Angeles. 53 No one outside of the Counterterrorist Center was told any of this. 
The CIA did not try to register Mihdhar or Hazmi with the State Department's 



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182 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

TIPOFF ^vatchlist — either in January, ^vhen ^vord arrived of Mihdhar's visa, or 
in March, when word came that Haznii, too, had had a U.S. visa and a ticket 
to Los Angeles. 5"* 

None of this information — about Mihdhar's U.S. visa or Hazmi's travel to 
the United States — went to the FBI, and nothing more was done to track any 
of the three until January 2001, when the investigation of another bombing, 
that of the USS Cole, reignited interest in Khallad. We will return to that story 
in chapter 8. 



6.2 POST-CRISIS REFLECTION: AGENDA FOR 2000 

After the millennium alert, elements of the U.S. government reviewed their 
performance. The CIA's leadership was told that while a number of plots had 
been disrupted, the millennium might be only the "kick-off" for a period of 
extended attacks. 55 Clarke wrote Berger on January 1 1 , 2000, that the CIA, the 
FBI, Justice, and the NSC staff had come to two main conclusions. First, U.S. 
disruption efforts thus far had "not put too much of a dent" in Bin Ladin's net- 
work. If the United States wanted to "roll back" the threat, disruption would 
have to proceed at "a markedly different tempo." Second,"sleeper cells" and "a 
variety of terrorist groups" had turned up at home. 5^ As one of Clarke's staff 
noted, only a "chance discovery" by U.S. Customs had prevented a possible 
attack. 57 Berger gave his approval for the NSC staff to commence an "after- 
action review," anticipating new budget requests. He also asked DCI Tenet to 
review the CIA's counterterrorism strategy and come up with a plan for"where 
we go from here."58 

The NSC staff advised Berger that the United States had only been "nib- 
bling at the edges" of Bin Ladin's network and that more terror attacks were a 
question not of "if "but rather of "when"and"where."5''The Principals Com- 
mittee met on March 10, 2000, to review possible new moves. The principals 
ended up agreeing that the government should take three major steps. First, 
more money should go to the CIA to accelerate its efforts to "seriously attrit" 
al Qaeda. Second, there should be a crackdown on foreign terrorist organiza- 
tions in the United States. Third, immigration law enforcement should be 
strengthened, and the INS should tighten controls on the Canadian border 
(including stepping up U.S. -Canada cooperation). The principals endorsed the 
proposed programs; some, like expanding the number of Joint Terrorism Task 
Forces, moved forward, and others, like creating a centralized translation unit 
for domestic intelligence intercepts in Arabic and other languages, did not.^o 

Pressing Pakistan 

While this process moved along, diplomacy continued its rounds. Direct pres- 
sure on the Taliban had proved unsuccessful. As one NSC staff note put it. 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 1 83 

"Under the Taliban, Afghanistan is not so much a state sponsor of terrorism 
as it is a state sponsored by terrorists."*^! jj^ early 2000, the United States began 
a high-level effort to persuade Pakistan to use its influence over the Taliban. 

In January 2000, Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth and the State 
Department's counterterrorism coordinator, Michael Sheehan, met with Gen- 
eral Musharraf in Islamabad, dangling before him the possibility of a presidential 
visit in March as a reward for Pakistani cooperation. Such a visit was coveted by 
Musharraf, partly as a sign of his governments legitimacy. He told the two envoys 
that he would meet with MuUah Omar and press him on Bin Ladin.They left, 
however, reporting to Washington that Pakistan was unlikely in fact to do any- 
thing, "given what it sees as the benefits of Taliban control of Afghanistan."'^^ 

President Clinton was scheduled to travel to India. The State Department 
felt that he should not visit India without also visiting Pakistan. The Secret Ser- 
vice and the CIA, however, warned in the strongest terms that visiting Pakistan 
would risk the President's life. Counterterrorism ofliicials also argued that Pak- 
istan had not done enough to merit a presidential visit. But President Clinton 
insisted on including Pakistan in the itinerary for his trip to South Asia.*-* His 
one-day stopover on March 25, 2000, was the first time a U.S. president had 
been there since 1969. At his meeting with Musharraf and others. President 
Clinton concentrated on tensions between Pakistan and India and the dangers 
of nuclear proliferation, but also discussed Bin Ladin. President Clinton told us 
that when he pulled Musharraf aside for a brief, one-on-one meeting, he 
pleaded with the general for help regarding Bin Ladin."I offered him the moon 
when I went to see him, in terms of better relations with the United States, if 
he'd help us get Bin Ladin and deal with another issue or two."'^'* 

The U.S. effort continued. Early in May, President Clinton urged Mushar- 
raf to carry through on his promise to visit Afghanistan and press Mullah Omar 
to expel Bin Ladin. <^5 At the end of the month. Under Secretary of State 
Thomas Pickering followed up with a trip to the region. '^'^ In June, DCI Tenet 
traveled to Pakistan with the same general message.*^^ By September, the United 
States was becoming openly critical of Pakistan for supporting a Taliban mili- 
tary offensive aimed at completing the conquest of Afghanistan. <^8 

In December, taking a step proposed by the State Department some months 
earlier, the United States led a campaign for new UN sanctions, which resulted 
in UN Security Council Resolution 1333, again calling for Bin Ladin 's expul- 
sion and forbidding any country to provide the Taliban with arms or military 
assistance.*^ This, too, had little if any effect. The Taliban did not expel Bin 
Ladin. Pakistani arms continued to flow across the border. 

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told us, "We did not have a strong 
hand to play with the Pakistanis. Because of the sanctions required by U.S. law, 
we had few carrots to offer."^" Congress had blocked most economic and mil- 
itary aid to Pakistan because of that country's nuclear arms program and 
Musharraf's coup. Sheehan was critical of Musharraf, telling us that the Pak- 
istani leader "blew a chance to remake Pakistan."^' 



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184 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Building New Capabilities: The CIA 

The after-action revie\¥ had treated the CIA as the lead agency for any offen- 
sive against al Qaeda, and the principals, at their March 10 meeting, had 
endorsed strengthening the CIA's capability for that role. To the CTC, that 
meant proceeding with "the Plan," ^vhich it had put forward half a year 
earlier — hiring and training more case officers and building up the capabilities 
of foreign security services that provided intelligence via liaison. On occasion, 
as in Jordan in December 1999, these liaison services took direct action against 
al Qaeda cells. ^2 

In the CTC and higher up, the CIA's managers believed that they desper- 
ately needed funds just to continue their current counterterrorism effort, for 
they reckoned that the millennium alert had already used up all of the Cen- 
ter's funds for the current fiscal year; the Bin Ladin unit had spent 140 percent 
of its allocation. Tenet told us he met with Berger to discuss funding for coun- 
terterrorism just two days after the principals' meeting. ^^ 

While Clarke strongly favored giving the CIA more money for counter- 
terrorism, he differed sharply \vith the CIA's managers about where it should 
come from. They insisted that the CIA had been shortchanged ever since the 
end of the Cold War. Their ability to perform any mission, counterterrorism 
included, they argued, depended on preserving ^vhat they had, restoring ^vhat 
they had lost since the beginning of the 1990s, and building from there — \vith 
across-the-board recruitment and training of new case officers, and the 
reopening of closed stations. To finance the counterterrorism effort,Tenet had 
gone to congressional leaders after the 1998 embassy bombings and persuaded 
them to give the CIA a special supplemental appropriation. Now, in the after- 
math of the millennium alert,Tenet ^vanted a boost in overall funds for the CIA 
and another supplemental appropriation specifically for counterterrorism. ^'^ 

To Clarke, this seemed evidence that the CIA's leadership did not give suffi- 
cient priority to the battle against Bin Ladin and al Qaeda. He told us that James 
Pavitt, the head of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, "said if there's going 
to be money spent on going after Bin Ladin, it should be given to him. . . . My 
view was that he had had a lot of money to do it and a long time to do it, and I 
didn't want to put more good money after bad."^^ The CIA had a very different 
attitude: Pavitt told us that while the CIA's Bin Ladin unit did "extraordinary and 
commendable work," his chief of station in London "\vas just as much part of 
the al Qaeda struggle as an officer sitting in [the Bin Ladin unit]."^'^ 

The dispute had large managerial implications, for Clarke had found allies 
in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).They had supplied him ^vith 
the figures he used to argue that CIA spending on counterterrorism from its 
baseline budget had shown almost no increase.^^ 

Berger met twice with Tenet in April to try to resolve the dispute. The 
Deputies Committee met later in the month to revie^v fiscal year 2000 and 
2001 budget priorities and offsets for the CIA and other agencies. In the end, 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 1 85 

Tenet obtained a modest supplemental appropriation, which funded counter- 
terrorism without requiring much reprogramming of baseline funds. But the 
CIA still believed that it remained underfunded for counterterrorism.^s 

Terrorist Financing 

The second major point on which the principals had agreed on March 10 was 
the need to crack down on terrorist organizations and curtail their fund-raising. 

The embassy bombings of 1998 had focused attention on al Qaeda's 
finances. One result had been the creation of an NSC-led interagency com- 
mittee on terrorist financing. On its recommendation, the President had des- 
ignated Bin Ladin and al Qaeda as subject to sanctions under the International 
Emergency Economic Po^vers Act. This gave the Treasury Department's Office 
of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) the ability to search for and freeze any Bin 
Ladin or al Qaeda assets that reached the U.S. financial system. But since OFAC 
had little information to go on, few funds were frozen.^' 

In July 1999, the President applied the same designation to theTaliban for 
harboring Bin Ladin. Here, OFAC had more success. It blocked more than $34 
million in Taliban assets held in U.S. banks. Another $215 million in gold and 
$2 million in demand deposits, all belonging to the Afghan central bank and 
held by the Federal Reserve Bank of Ne^v York, were also frozen. ^o After Octo- 
ber 1999, when the State Department formally designated al Qaeda a "foreign 
terrorist organization," it became the duty of U.S. banks to block its transac- 
tions and seize its funds. ^^ Neither this designation nor UN sanctions had much 
additional practical effect; the sanctions were easily circumvented, and there 
were no multilateral mechanisms to ensure that other countries' financial sys- 
tems were not used as conduits for terrorist funding. ^2 

Attacking the funds of an institution, even the Taliban, was easier than find- 
ing and seizing the funds of a clandestine world^vide organization like al Qaeda. 
Although the CIA's Bin Ladin unit had originally been inspired by the idea of 
studying terrorist financial links, few personnel assigned to it had any experi- 
ence in financial investigations. Any terrorist-financing intelligence appeared 
to have been collected collaterally, as a consequence of gathering other intel- 
ligence.This attitude may have stemmed in large part from the chief of this unit, 
who did not believe that simply following the money from point A to point B 
revealed much about the terrorists' plans and intentions. As a result, the CIA 
placed little emphasis on terrorist financing. ^3 

Nevertheless, the CIA obtained a general understanding of ho^v al Qaeda 
raised money. It knew relatively early, for example, about the loose afliiliation 
of financial institutions, businesses, and wealthy individuals ^vho supported 
extremist Islamic activities. S"* Much of the early reporting on al Qaeda's finan- 
cial situation and its structure came from Jamal Ahmed al Fadl, whom we have 
mentioned earlier in the report. ^^ After the 1998 embassy bombings, the U.S. 
government tried to develop a clearer picture of Bin Ladin 's finances. A U.S. 



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186 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

interagency group traveled to Saudi Arabia t^vice, in 1999 and 2000, to get 
information from the Saudis about their understanding of those finances. The 
group eventually concluded that the oft-repeated assertion that Bin Ladin was 
funding al Qaeda from his personal fortune was in fact not true. 

The officials developed a new theory: al Qaeda was getting its money else- 
where, and the United States needed to focus on other sources of funding, such 
as charities, wealthy donors, and financial facilitators. Ultimately, although the 
intelligence community devoted more resources to the issue and produced 
somewhat more intelligence,^* it remained difficult to distinguish al Qaeda's 
financial transactions among the vast sums moving in the international finan- 
cial system. The CIA was not able to find or disrupt al Qaeda's money flows. ^^ 

The NSC staff thought that one possible solution to these weaknesses in the 
intelligence community was to create an all-source terrorist-financing intelli- 
gence analysis center. Clarke pushed for the funding of such a center at Trea- 
sury, but neither Treasury nor the CIA was ^villing to commit the resources.^8 

Within the United States, various FBI field offices gathered intelligence on 
organizations suspected of raising funds for al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. 
By 9/11, FBI agents understood that there were extremist organizations oper- 
ating within the United States supporting a global jihadist movement and ^vith 
substantial connections to al Qaeda. The FBI operated a web of informants, 
conducted electronic surveillance, and had opened significant investigations in 
a number of field offices, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Diego, 
and Minneapolis. On a national level, however, the FBI never used the infor- 
mation to gain a systematic or strategic understanding of the nature and extent 
of al Qaeda fundraising.^' 

Treasury regulators, as well as U.S. financial institutions, ^vere generally 
focused on finding and deterring or disrupting the vast flows of U.S. currency 
generated by drug trafficking and high-level international fraud. Large-scale 
scandals, such as the use of the Bank of New York by Russian money launder- 
ers to move millions of dollars out of Russia, captured the attention of the 
Department of the Treasury and of Congress. 'o Before 9/11, Treasury did not 
consider terrorist financing important enough to mention in its national strat- 
egy for money laundering.'' 

Border Security 

The third point on which the principals had agreed on March 10 was the need 
for attention to America's porous borders and the weak enforcement of immi- 
gration laws. Drawing on ideas from government officials, Clarke's working 
group developed a menu of proposals to bolster border security. Some 
reworked or reiterated previous presidential directives.'- They included 

• creating an interagency center to target illegal entry and human 
traffickers; 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 1 87 

• imposing tighter controls on student visas;''^ 

• taking legal action to prevent terrorists from coming into the United 
States and to remove those already here, detaining them while await- 
ing removal proceedings;''* 

• further increasing the number of immigration agents to FBI Joint Ter- 
rorism Task Forces to help investigate immigration charges against 
individuals suspected of terrorism;'^ 

• activating a special court to enable the use of classified evidence in 
immigration-related national security cases;'* and 

• both implementing new security measures for U.S. passports and 
working with the United Nations and foreign governments to raise 
global security standards for travel documents.'^ 

Clarke's working group compiled new proposals as well, such as 

• undertaking a Joint Perimeter Defense program with Canada to estab- 
lish cooperative intelligence and law enforcement programs, leading 
to joint operations based on shared visa and immigration data and 
joint border patrols; 

• staffing land border crossings 24/7 and equipping them with video 
cameras, physical barriers, and means to detect weapons of mass 
destruction (WMD); and 

• addressing the problem of migrants — ^possibly including terrorists — 
who destroy their travel documents so they cannot be returned to 
their countries of origin. '^ 

These proposals were praiseworthy in principle. In practice, however, they 
required action by weak, chronically underfunded executive agencies and pow- 
erful congressional committees, which were more responsive to well-organ- 
ized interest groups than to executive branch interagency committees. The 
changes sought by the principals in March 2000 were only beginning to occur 
before 9/11. 

"Afghan Eyes" 

In early March 2000, when President Clinton received an update on U.S. covert 
action efforts against Bin Ladin, he wrote in the memo's margin that the United 
States could surely do better. Military officers in the Joint Staff told us that they 
shared this sense of frustration. Clarke used the President's comment to push 
the CSG to brainstorm new ideas, including aid to the Northern Alliance.'' 

Back in December 1999, Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud 
had offered to stage a rocket attack against Bin Ladin's Derunta training com- 
plex. Officers at the CIA had worried that giving him a green light might cross 
the line into violation of the assassination ban. Hence, Massoud was told not 



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188 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

to take any such action without exphcit U.S. authorization. loo In the spring of 
2000, after the CIA had sent out officers to explore possible closer relation- 
ships with both the Uzbeks and the Northern Alliance, discussions took place 
inWashington between U.S. officials and delegates sent by Massoud.^o^ 

The Americans agreed that Massoud should get some modest technical help 
so he could work on U.S. priorities — collecting intelligence on and possibly 
acting against al Qaeda. But Massoud wanted the United States both to become 
his ally in trying to overthrow the Taliban and to recognize that they \vere fight- 
ing common enemies. Clarke and Cofer Black, the head of the Counterter- 
rorist Center, ^vanted to take this next step. Proposals to help the Northern 
Alliance had been debated in the U.S. government since 1999 and, as we men- 
tioned in chapter 4, the U.S. government as a whole had been wary of endors- 
ing them, largely because of the Northern Alliance's checkered history, its 
limited base of popular support in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's objections. 102 

CIA officials also began pressing proposals to use their ties with the 
Northern Alliance to get American agents on the ground in Afghanistan for 
an extended period, setting up their own base for covert intelligence col- 
lection and activity in the Panj shir Valley and lessening reliance on foreign 
proxies. "There's no substitute for face-to-face," one officer told us.^O-* But 
the CIA's institutional capacity for such direct action was weak, especially if 
it was not working jointly with the U.S. military. The idea was turned down 
as too risky. lO'* 

In the meantime, the CIA continued to work with its tribal assets in south- 
ern Afghanistan. In early August, the tribals reported an attempt to ambush Bin 
Ladin's convoy as he traveled on the road between Kabul and Kandahar city — 
their first such reported interdiction attempt in more than a year and a half. 
But it was not a success. According to the tribals' own account, when they 
approached one of the vehicles, they quickly determined that women and chil- 
dren were inside and called off the ambush. Conveying this information to the 
NSC staff, the CIA noted that they had no independent corroboration for this 
incident, but that the tribals had acted within the terms of the CIA's authori- 
ties in Afghanistan. 105 

In 2000, plans continued to be developed for potential military operations 
in Afghanistan. Navy vessels that could launch missiles into Afghanistan were 
still on call in the north Arabian Sea.^o* In the summer, the military refined its 
list of strikes and Special Operations possibilities to a set of 13 options within 
the Operation Infinite Resolve plan. '^^ Yet planning efforts continued to be 
limited by the same operational and policy concerns encountered in 1998 and 
1999. Although the intelligence community sometimes knew where Bin Ladin 
was, it had been unable to provide intelligence considered sufficiently reliable 
to launch a strike. Above all, the United States did not have American eyes on 
the target. As one military officer put it, we had our hand on the door, but we 
couldn't open the door and walk in.^'^^ 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 1 89 

At some point during this period, President Clinton expressed his frustra- 
tion with the lack of military options to take out Bin Ladin and the al Qaeda 
leadership, remarking to General Hugh Shelton,"You know, it \vould scare the 
shit out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappeUed out of heli- 
copters into the middle of their canip."!"' Although Shelton told the Commis- 
sion he did not remember the statement, President Clinton recalled this remark 
as "one of the many things I said." The President added, however, that he real- 
ized nothing Avould be accomplished if he lashed out in anger. Secretary of 
Defense William Cohen thought that the President might have been making 
a hypothetical statement. Regardless, he said, the question remained how to get 
the "ninjas" into and out of the theater of operations, iio As discussed in chap- 
ter 4, plans of this kind \vere never carried out before 9/11. 

In late 1999 or early 2000, the Joint Staff's director of operations,Vice Admi- 
ral Scott Fry, directed his chief information operations officer. Brigadier Gen- 
eral Scott Gration, to develop innovative ways to get better intelligence on Bin 
Ladin 's whereabouts. Gration and his team worked on a number of different 
ideas aimed at getting reliable American eyes on Bin Ladin in a way that would 
reduce the lag time between sighting and striking, m 

One option was to use a small, unmanned U.S. Air Force drone called the 
Predator, which could survey the territory below and send back video footage. 
Another option — eventually dismissed as impractical — \vas to place a power- 
ful long-range telescope on a mountain within range of one of Bin Ladin 's 
training camps. Both proposals were discussed ^vith General Shelton, the chair- 
man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then briefed to Clarke's office at the White 
House as the CSG \vas searching for new ideas. In the spring of 2000, Clarke 
brought in the CIA's assistant director for collection, Charles Allen, to work 
together ^vith Fry on a joint CIA-Pentagon effort that Clarke dubbed "Afghan 
Eyes."ii- After much argument between the CIA and the Defense Department 
about who should pay for the program, the White House eventually imposed 
a cost-sharing agreement. The CIA agreed to pay for Predator operations as a 
60-day "proof of concept" trial run.^^^ 

The Small Group backed Afghan Eyes at the end of June 2000. By nnd-July, 
testing was completed and the equipment ^vas ready, but legal issues were still 
being ironed out. ii'^ By August 11, the principals had agreed to deploy the 
Predator. 115 xhe NSC staff considered how to use the information the drones 
would be relaying from Afghanistan. Clarke's deputy, Roger Cressey, wrote to 
Berger that emergency CSG and Principals Committee meetings might be 
needed to act on video coming in from the Predator if it proved able to lock 
in Bin Ladin 's location. In the memo's margin, Berger wrote that before con- 
sidering action,"l will ^vant more than verified location: we ^vill need, at least, 
data on patter n of movements to provide some assurance he ^vill remain in 
place." President Clinton was kept up to date.^i*^ 

On September 7, the Predator flew for the first time over Afghanistan. When 



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190 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Clarke saw video taken during the trial flight, he described the imagery to 
Berger as "truly astonishing," and he argued immediately for more flights seek- 
ing to find Bin Ladin and target him for cruise missile or air attack. Even if Bin 
Ladin \vere not found, Clarke said. Predator missions might identify additional 
worthwhile targets, such as other al Qaeda leaders or stocks of chemical or bio- 
logical weapons J 1^ 

Clarke was not alone in his enthusiasm. He had backing from Cofer Black 
and Charles Allen at the CIA. Ten out of 15 trial missions of the Predator over 
Afghanistan ^vere rated successful. On the first flight, a Predator saw a security 
detail around a tall man in a white robe at Bin Ladin'sTarnak Farms compound 
outside Kandahar. After a second sighting of the "man in white" at the com- 
pound on September 28, intelligence community analysts determined that he 
w^as probably Bin Ladin. ^^^ 

During at least one trial mission, the Taliban spotted the Predator and scram- 
bled MiG fighters to try, \vithout success, to intercept it. Berger \vorried that a 
Predator might be shot down, and warned Clarke that a shootdown would be a 
"bonanza" for Bin Ladin and the Taliban. ^^^ 

Still, Clarke was optimistic about Predator — as well as progress with dis- 
ruptions of al Qaeda cells elsewhere. Berger was more cautious, praising the 
NSC staff's performance but observing that this was no time for compla- 
cency. "Unfortunately," he ^vrote, "the light at the end of the tunnel is 
another tunnel." ^^o 



6.3 THE ATTACK ON THE USS COLE 

Early in chapter 5 we introduced, along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, two 
other men ^vho became operational coordinators for al Qaeda: Khallad and 
Nashiri. As ^ve explained, both were involved during 1998 and 1999 in prepar- 
ing to attack a ship off the coast of Yemen with a boatload of explosives. They 
had originally targeted a commercial vessel, specifically an oil tanker, but Bin 
Ladin urged them to look for a U.S. warship instead. Injanuary 2000, their team 
had attempted to attack a warship in the port of Aden, but the attempt failed 
when the suicide boat sank. More than nine months later, on October 12, 2000, 
al Qaeda operatives in a small boat laden with explosives attacked a U.S. Navy 
destroyer, the USS Co/e. The blast ripped a hole in the side of the Cole, killing 
17 members of the ship's crew and wounding at least 40.^21 

The plot, we no^v know, ^vas a full-fledged al Qaeda operation, supervised 
directly by Bin Ladin. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected 
the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives 
and equipment. Nashiri ^vas the field commander and managed the operation 
in Yemen. Khallad helped in Yemen until he ^vas arrested in a case of mistaken 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 191 

identity and freed -with Bin Ladin's help, as we also mentioned earlier. Local 
al Qaeda coordinators included Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, who was 
supposed to film the attack from a nearby apartment. The two suicide opera- 
tives chosen were Hassan al Khamri and Ibrahim al Thawar, also kno\¥n as 
Nibras. Nibras and Quso delivered money to Khallad in Bangkok during Khal- 
lad's January 2000 trip to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. ^-^ 

In September 2000, Bin Ladin reportedly told Nashiri that he \vanted to 
replace Khamri and Nibras. Nashiri was angry and disagreed, telling others he 
would go to Afghanistan and explain to Bin Ladin that the new operatives were 
already trained and ready to conduct the attack. Prior to departing, Nashiri gave 
Nibras and Khamri instructions to execute the attack on the next U.S. warship 
that entered the port of Aden. ^-^ 

While Nashiri was in Afghanistan, Nibras and Khamri sa^w their chance. 
They piloted the explosives-laden boat alongside the USS Cole, made friendly 
gestures to cre\v members, and detonated the bomb. Quso did not arrive at the 
apartment in time to film the attack. 1^4 

Back in Afghanistan, Bin Ladin anticipated U.S. military retaliation. He 
ordered the evacuation of al Qaeda s Kandahar airport compound and fled — 
first to the desert area near Kabul, then to Kho^vst and Jalalabad, and eventu- 
ally back to Kandahar. In Kandahar, he rotated between five to six residences, 
spending one night at each residence. In addition, he sent his senior advisor, 
Mohammed Atef, to a different part of Kandahar and his deputy, Ayman al 
Zawahiri, to Kabul so that all three could not be killed in one attack. ^-^ 

There was no American strike. In February 2001, a source reported that an 
individual \vhom he identified as the big instructor (probably a reference to 
Bin Ladin) complained frequently that the United States had not yet attacked. 
According to the source. Bin Ladin wanted the United States to attack, and if 
it did not he would launch something bigger. i-<^ 

The attack on the USS Cole galvanized al Qaeda's recruitment efforts. Fol- 
lowing the attack. Bin Ladin instructed the media committee, then headed by 
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to produce a propaganda video that included a 
reenactnient of the attack along ^vith images of the al Qaeda training camps 
and training methods; it also highlighted Muslim suffering in Palestine, Kash- 
mir, Indonesia, and Chechnya. Al Qaeda's image was very important to Bin 
Ladin, and the video \vas widely disseminated. Portions were aired on Al 
Jazeera, CNN, and other television outlets. It ^vas also disseminated among 
many young men in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and caused many extremists to 
travel to Afghanistan for training and jihad. Al Qaeda members considered the 
video an effective tool in their struggle for preeminence among other Islamist 
and jihadist movements. ^27 



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192 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Investigating the Attack 

Teams from the FBI, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the CIA 
were immediately sent to Yemen to investigate the attack. With difficulty, Bar- 
bara Bodine, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, tried to persuade the Yemeni gov- 
ernment to accept these visitors and allow them to carry arms, though the 
Yemenis balked at letting Americans openly carry long guns (rifles, shotguns, 
automatic weapons). Meanwhile, Bodine and the leader of the FBI team, John 
O'Neill, clashed repeatedly — to the point that after O'Neill had been rotated 
out of Yemen but ^vanted to return, Bodine refused the request. Despite the 
initial tension, the Yemeni and American investigations proceeded. Within a few 
weeks, the outline of the story began to emerge, i^s 

On the day of the Cole attack, a list of suspects was assembled that included 
al Qaeda's affiliate Egyptian Islamic Jihad. U.S. counterterrorism officials told 
us they immediately assumed that al Qaeda \vas responsible. But as Deputy DCI 
John McLaughlin explained to us, it w^as not enough for the attack to smell, 
look, and taste like an al Qaeda operation. To make a case, the CIA needed not 
just a guess but a link to someone known to be an al Qaeda operative, i-' 

Within the first weeks after the attack, theYenienis found and arrested both 
Badawi and Quso, but did not let the FBI team participate in the interroga- 
tions. The CIA described initial Yemeni support after the Cole as "slow and 
inadequate." President Clinton, Secretary Albright, and DCI Tenet all inter- 
vened to help. Because the information ^vas secondhand, the U.S. team could 
not make its own assessment of its reliability, i^" 

On November 11, theYenienis provided the FBI with new information 
from the interrogations of Badawi and Quso, including descriptions of indi- 
viduals from ^vhom the detainees had received operational direction. One of 
them ^vas Khallad, who was described as having lost his leg. The detainees 
said that Khallad helped direct the Cole operation from Afghanistan or Pak- 
istan. The Yemenis (correctly) judged that the man described as Khallad was 
Ta^vfiq bin Attash.^^^ 

An FBI special agent recognized the name Khallad and connected this news 
with information from an important al Qaeda source who had been meeting 
regularly with CIA and FBI officers. The source had called Khallad Bin Ladin's 
"run boy," and described him as having lost one leg in an explosives accident 
at a training camp a few years earlier. To confirm the identification, the FBI 
agent asked the Yemenis for their photo of Khallad. The Yemenis provided the 
photo on November 22, reaffirming their view that Khallad had been an inter- 
mediary between the plotters and Bin Ladin. (In a meeting with U.S. officials 
a few weeks later, on December 16, the source identified Khallad from the 
Yemeni photograph.) ^32 

U.S. intelligence agencies had already connected Khallad to al Qaeda terror- 
ist operations, including the 1998 embassy bombings. By this time theYeme- 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 193 

nis also had identified Nashiri, whose hnks to al Qaeda and the 1998 embassy 
bombings were even more well-kno\¥n.i-'3 

In other ^vords, the Yemenis provided strong evidence connecting the Cole 
attack to al Qaeda during the second half of November, identifying individ- 
ual operatives ^vhom the United States knew were part of al Qaeda. During 
December the United States was able to corroborate this evidence. But the 
United States did not have evidence about Bin Ladin's personal involvement 
in the attacks until Nashiri and Khallad were captured in 2002 and 2003. 

Considering a Response 

The Cole attack prompted renewed consideration of what could be done about 
al Qaeda. According to Clarke, Berger upbraided DCI Tenet so sharply after the 
Cole attack — repeatedly demanding to know ^vhy the United States had to put 
up with such attacks — that Tenet \valked out of a meeting of the principals, i-*"* 

The CIA got some additional covert action authorities, adding several other 
individuals to the coverage of the July 1999 Memorandum of Notification that 
allowed the United States to develop capture operations against al Qaeda lead- 
ers in a variety of places and circumstances. Tenet developed additional 
options, such as strengthening relationships with the Northern Alliance and the 
Uzbeks and slowing recent al Qaeda— related activities in Lebanon. ^^^ 

On the diplomatic track, Berger agreed on October 30, 2000, to let the State 
Department make another approach to Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul 
Jalil about expelling Bin Ladin. The national security advisor ordered that the 
U.S. message "be stern and foreboding." This warning was similar to those issued 
in 1998 and 1999. Meanwhile, the administration was ^vorking with Russia on 
nev^' UN sanctions against Mullah Omar's regime. 1^6 

President Clinton told us that before he could launch further attacks on al 
Qaeda in Afghanistan, or deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban threatening strikes 
if they did not immediately expel Bin Ladin, the CIA or the FBI had to be sure 
enough that they would "be ^villing to stand up in public and say, we believe 
that he [Bin Ladin] did this." He said he was very frustrated that he could not 
get a definitive enough answer to do something about the Cole attack. i-*^ Sim- 
ilarly, Berger recalled that to go to war, a president needs to be able to say that 
his senior intelligence and la\v enforcement officers have concluded who is 
responsible. He recalled that the intelligence agencies had strong suspicions, but 
had reached "no conclusion by the time ^ve left office that it was al Qaeda."!-'^ 

Our only sources for what intelligence officials thought at the time are 
what they said in informal briefings. Soon after the Cole attack and for the 
remainder of the Clinton administration, analysts stopped distributing writ- 
ten reports about who was responsible. The topic was obviously sensitive, and 
both Ambassador Bodine in Yemen and CIA analysts in Washington presumed 
that the government did not ^vant reports circulating around the agencies that 



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194 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

might become public, impeding law enforcement actions or backing the Pres- 
ident into a corner. 13'' 

Instead the White House and other principals relied on informal updates as 
more evidence came in. Though Clarke worried that the CIA might be equiv- 
ocating in assigning responsibility to al Qaeda, he ^vrote Berger on November 
7 that the analysts had described their case by saying that "it has web feet, flies, 
and quacks." On November 10, CIA analysts briefed the Small Group of prin- 
cipals on their preliminary findings that the attack was carried out by a cell of 
Yemeni residents with some ties to the transnational mujahideen network. 
According to the briefing, these residents likely had some support from al 
Qaeda. But the information on outside sponsorship, support, and direction of 
the operation ^vas inconclusive.The next day, Berger and Clarke told President 
Clinton that ^vhile the investigation ^vas continuing, it was becoming increas- 
ingly clear that al Qaeda had planned and directed the bombing. ^^^ 

In mid-November, as the evidence of al Qaeda involvement mounted, 
Berger asked General Shelton to reevaluate military plans to act quickly against 
Bin Ladin. General Shelton tasked General Tommy Franks, the new com- 
mander of CENTCOM, to look again at the options. Shelton wanted to 
demonstrate that the military was imaginative and knowledgeable enough to 
move on an array of options, and to show the complexity of the operations. 
He briefed Berger on the "Infinite Resolve" strike options developed since 
1998, which the Joint Staff and CENTCOM had refined during the summer 
into a list of 13 possibilities or combinations. CENTCOM added a new 
"phased campaign" concept for wider-ranging strikes, including attacks against 
the Taliban. For the first time, these strikes envisioned an air campaign against 
Afghanistan of indefinite duration. Military planners did not include contin- 
gency planning for an invasion of Afghanistan. The concept ^vas briefed to 
Deputy National Security Advisor Donald Kerrick on December 20, and to 
other officials. I'll 

On November 25, Berger and Clarke wrote President Clinton that 
although the FBI and CIA investigations had not reached a formal conclu- 
sion, they believed the investigations would soon conclude that the attack had 
been carried out by a large cell ^vhose senior members belonged to al Qaeda. 
Most of those involved had trained in Bin Ladin— operated camps in 
Afghanistan, Berger continued. So far. Bin Ladin had not been tied person- 
ally to the attack and nobody had heard him directly order it, but two intel- 
ligence reports suggested that he was involved. When discussing possible 
responses, though, Berger referred to the premise — al Qaeda responsibility — 
as an"unproven assumption." I'l- 

In the same November 25 memo, Berger informed President Clinton about 
a closely held idea: a last-chance ultimatum for the Taliban. Clarke was devel- 
oping the idea with specific demands: immediate extradition of Bin Ladin and 
his lieutenants to a legitimate government for trial, observable closure of aU ter- 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 195 

rorist facilities in Afghanistan, and expulsion of all terrorists from Afghanistan 
within 90 days. Noncompliance -would mean U.S. "force directed at the Tal- 
iban itself" and U.S. efforts to ensure that the Taliban would never defeat the 
Northern Alliance. No such ultimatum was issued. ^^^^ 

Nearly a month later, on December 21, the CIA made another presentation 
to the Small Group of principals on the investigative team's findings. The CIA's 
briefing slides said that their "preliminary judgment" was that Bin Ladin's al 
Qaeda group "supported the attack" on the Cole, based on strong circumstan- 
tial evidence tying key perpetrators of the attack to al Qaeda. The CIA listed 
the key suspects, including Nashiri. In addition, the CIA detailed the timeline 
of the operation, from the mid-1999 preparations, to the failed attack on the 
USS The SuUivans on January 3, 2000, through a meeting held by the opera- 
tives the day before the attack. ''*'* 

The slides said that so far the CIA had "no definitive answer on [the] cru- 
cial question of outside direction of the attack — ho^v and by whom."The CIA 
noted that the Yemenis claimed that Khallad helped direct the operation from 
Afghanistan or Pakistan, possibly as Bin Ladin's intermediary, but that it had 
not seen the Yemeni evidence. Ho^vever, the CIA knew from both human 
sources and signals intelligence that Khallad was tied to al Qaeda. The prepared 
briefing concluded that while some reporting about al Qaeda 's role might have 
merit, those reports offered few specifics. Intelligence gave some ambiguous 
indicators of al Qaeda direction of the attack. ^^^^ 

This, President Clinton and Berger told us, was not the conclusion they 
needed in order to go to war or deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban threaten- 
ing war. The election and change of power ^vas not the issue. President Clin- 
ton added. There was enough time. If the agencies had given him a definitive 
answer, he said, he would have sought a UN Security Council ultimatum and 
given the Taliban one, t^vo, or three days before taking further action against 
both al Qaeda and the Taliban. But he did not think it would be responsible 
for a president to launch an invasion of another country just based on a "pre- 
liminary judgment." i'*'^ 

Other advisers have echoed this concern. Some of Secretary Albright's 
advisers warned her at the time to be sure the evidence conclusively linked Bin 
Ladin to the Cole before considering any response, especially a military one, 
because such action might inflame the Islamic world and increase support for 
the Taliban. Defense Secretary Cohen told us it would not have been prudent 
to risk killing civilians based only on an assumption that al Qaeda ^vas respon- 
sible. General Shelton added that there was an outstanding question as to who 
was responsible and ^vhat the targets \vere.i'^^ 

Clarke recalled that while the Pentagon and the State Department had reser- 
vations about retaliation, the issue never came to a head because the FBI and 
the CIA never reached a firm conclusion. He thought they -were "holding 
back." He said he did not know why, but his impression was that Tenet and 



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196 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Reno possibly thought the White House "didn't really ^vant to know," since 
the principals' discussions by November suggested that there \¥as not much 
White House interest in conducting further military operations against 
Afghanistan in the administration's last weeks. He thought that, instead. Presi- 
dent Clinton, Berger, and Secretary Albright ^vere concentrating on a last- 
minute push for a peace agreement bet\¥een the Palestinians and the Israelis J^^ 

Some of Clarke's fellow counterterrorism officials, such as the State Depart- 
ment's Sheehan and the FBI's Watson, shared his disappointment that no mil- 
itary response occurred at the time. Clarke recently recalled that an angry 
Sheehan asked rhetorically of Defense officials: "Does al Qaeda have to attack 
the Pentagon to get their attention?" i'*' 

On the question of evidence. Tenet told us he was surprised to hear that the 
White House was awaiting a conclusion from him on responsibility for the Cole 
attack before taking action against al Qaeda. He did not recall Berger or anyone 
else telling him that they were waiting for the magic words from the CIA and the 
FBI. Nor did he remember having any discussions with Berger or the President 
about retaliation. Tenet told us he believed that it was up to him to present the 
case. Then it was up to the principals to decide if the case was good enough to 
justify using force. He believed he laid out what was knowable relatively early in 
the investigation, and that this evidence never really changed until after 9/11.15° 

A CIA official told us that the CIA's analysts chose the term "preliminary 
judgment" because of their notion of how an intelligence standard of proof 
differed from a legal standard. Because the attack was the subject of a crim- 
inal investigation, they told us, the term preliminary was used to avoid lock- 
ing the government in with statements that might later be obtained by 
defense lawyers in a future court case. At the time, Clarke was aware of the 
problem of distinguishing between an intelligence case and a law enforce- 
ment case. Asking U.S. law enforcement officials to concur with an 
intelligence-based case before their investigation had been concluded "could 
give rise to charges that the administration had acted before final culpability 
had been determined." ^^^ 

There was no interagency consideration of just what military action might 
have looked like in practice — either the Pentagon's new "phased campaign" 
concept or a prolonged air campaign in Afghanistan. Defense officials, such as 
Under Secretary Walter Slocombe and Vice Admiral Fry, told us the military 
response options were still limited. Bin Ladin continued to be elusive.They felt, 
just as they had for the past two years, that hitting inexpensive and rudimen- 
tary training camps with costly missiles would not do much good and might 
even help al Qaeda if the strikes failed to kill Bin Ladin. 1^2 

In late 2000, the CIA and the NSC staff began thinking about the coun- 
terterrorism policy agenda they would present to the new administration. The 
Counterterrorist Center put down its best ideas for the future, assuming it was 
free of any prior policy or financial constraints. The paper was therefore infor- 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 197 

mally referred to as the "Blue Sky" memo; it was sent to Clarke on December 
29. The memo proposed 

• A major effort to support the Northern Alliance through intelligence 
sharing and increased funding so that it could stave off the Taliban 
army and tie do^vn al Qaeda fighters. This effort ^vas not intended to 
remove the Taliban from po^ver, a goal that was judged impractical and 
too expensive for the CIA alone to attain. 

• Increased support to the Uzbeks to strengthen their ability to fight 
terrorism and assist the United States in doing so. 

• Assistance to anti-Taliban groups and proxies who might be encour- 
aged to passively resist the Taliban. 

The CIA memo noted that there was "no single 'silver bullet' available to 
deal with the gro\ving problems in Afghanistan." A niultifaceted strategy would 
be needed to produce change. 1^3 

No action was taken on these ideas in the fe^v remaining weeks of the Clin- 
ton administration. Berger did not recall seeing or being briefed on the Blue 
Sky memo. Nor \vas the memo discussed during the transition with incoming 
top Bush administration officials. Tenet and his deputy told us they pressed these 
ideas as options after the new team took office.i54 

As the Clinton administration dre\v to a close, Clarke and his staff devel- 
oped a policy paper of their own, the first such comprehensive effort since the 
Delenda plan of 1998. The resulting paper, entitled "Strategy for Eliminating 
the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al Qida: Status and Prospects," 
revie\ved the threat and the record to date, incorporated the CIA's new ideas 
from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options. 

Clarke and his staff proposed a goal to "roll back" al Qaeda over a period 
of three to five years. Over time, the policy should try to weaken and elimi- 
nate the network's infrastructure in order to reduce it to a "rump group" like 
other formerly feared but now largely defunct terrorist organizations of the 
1980s. "Continued anti-al Qida operations at the current level will prevent 
some attacks," Clarke's office wrote, "but ^vill not seriously attrit their ability 
to plan and conduct attacks." The paper backed covert aid to the Northern 
Alliance, covert aid to Uzbekistan, and renewed Predator flights in March 
2001. A sentence called for military action to destroy al Qaeda comniand-and- 
control targets and infrastructure andTaliban military and command assets. The 
paper also expressed concern about the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the 
United States. 1^5 



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198 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

6.4 CHANGE AND CONTINUITY 

On November 7, 2000, American voters \vent to the polls in what turned out 
to be one of the closest presidential contests in U.S. history — an election cam- 
paign during which there was a notable absence of serious discussion of the 
al Qaeda threat or terrorism. Election night became a 36-day legal fight. Until 
the Supreme Court's 5—4 ruling on December 12 andVice President Al Gore's 
concession, no one knew ^vhether Gore or his Republican opponent, Texas 
Governor George W! Bush, would become president in 2001. 

The dispute over the election and the 36-day delay cut in half the normal 
transition period. Given that a presidential election in the United States brings 
wholesale change in personnel, this loss of time hampered the new adminis- 
tration in identifying, recruiting, clearing, and obtaining Senate confirmation 
of key appointees. 

From the Old to the New 

The principal figures on Bush's White House staff would be National Security 
Advisor Condoleezza Rice, ^vho had been a member of the NSC staff in the 
administration of George H.W! Bush; Rice's deputy, Stephen Hadley, who had 
been an assistant secretary of defense under the first Bush; and Chief of Staff 
Andre^v Card, ^vho had served that same administration as deputy chief of staff, 
then secretary of transportation. For secretary of state. Bush chose General 
Colin Po^vell, ^vho had been national security advisor for President Ronald 
Reagan and then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For secretary of defense 
he selected Donald Rumsfeld, a former member of Congress, White House 
chief of staff, and, under President Gerald Ford, already once secretary of 
defense. Bush decided fairly soon to keep Tenet as Director of Central Intelli- 
gence. Louis Freeh, who had statutory ten-year tenure, ^vould remain director 
of the FBI until his voluntary retirement in the summer of 2001. 

Bush and his principal advisers had all received briefings on terrorism, 
including Bin Ladin. In early September 2000, Acting Deputy Director of Cen- 
tral Intelligence John McLaughlin led a team to Bush's ranch in Cra^vford, 
Texas, and gave him a wide-ranging, four-hour review of sensitive informa- 
tion. Ben Bonk, deputy chief of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, used one 
of the four hours to deal with terrorism. To highlight the danger of terrorists 
obtaining chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear ^veapons, Bonk brought 
along a mock-up suitcase to evoke the way the Auni Shinrikyo doomsday 
cult had spread deadly sarin nerve agent on the Tokyo subway in 1995. Bonk 
told Bush that Americans would die from terrorism during the next four 
years. 1 5"^ During the long contest after election day, the CIA set up an office in 
Crawford to pass intelligence to Bush and some of his key advisers. 1^7 Tenet, 
accompanied by his deputy director for operations, James Pavitt, briefed 
President-elect Bush at Blair House during the transition. President Bush told 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 199 

us he asked Tenet -whether the CIA could kill Bin Ladin, andXenet replied that 
killing Bin Ladin -would have an effect but -would not end the threat. President 
Bush told us Tenet said to him that the CIA had all the authority it needed. 1^8 

In December, Bush met \vith Clinton for a two-hour, one-on-one discus- 
sion of national security and foreign policy challenges. Clinton recalled saying 
to Bush, "I think you will find that by far your biggest threat is Bin Ladin and 
the al Qaeda." Clinton told us that he also said,"One of the great regrets of my 
presidency is that I didn't get him [Bin Ladin] for you, because I tried to."i59 
Bush told the Commission that he felt sure President Clinton had mentioned 
terrorism, but did not remember much being said about al Qaeda. Bush recalled 
that Clinton had emphasized other issues such as North Korea and the Israeli- 
Palestinian peace process. ^^'^ 

In early January, Clarke briefed Rice on terrorism. He gave similar presen- 
tations — describing al Qaeda as both an adaptable global net^vork of jihadist 
organizations and a lethal core terrorist organization — to Vice President— elect 
Cheney, Hadley, and Secretary of State— designate Powell. One line in the brief- 
ing slides said that al Qaeda had sleeper cells in more than 40 countries, includ- 
ing the United States. I'^i Berger told us that he made a point of dropping in 
on Clarke's briefing of Rice to emphasize the importance of the issue. Later 
the same day, Berger met with Rice. He says that he told her the Bush admin- 
istration \vould spend more time on terrorism in general and al Qaeda in par- 
ticular than on anything else. Rice's recollection was that Berger told her she 
would be surprised at how much more time she was going to spend on ter- 
rorism than she expected, but that the bulk of their conversation dealt ^vith the 
faltering Middle East peace process and North Korea. Clarke said that the new 
team, having been out of government for eight years, had a steep learning curve 
to understand al Qaeda and the ne^v transnational terrorist threat. ^'^^ 

Organizing a New Administration 

During the short transition, Rice and Hadley concentrated on staffing and 
organizing the NSC'^^Their policy priorities differed from those of the Clin- 
ton administration. Those priorities included China, missile defense, the col- 
lapse of the Middle East peace process, and the Persian Gulf^'^'* Generally aware 
that terrorism had changed since the first Bush administration, they paid par- 
ticular attention to the question of how counterterrorism policy should be 
coordinated. Rice had asked University of Virginia history professor Philip 
Zelikow to advise her on the transition. 1*^5 Hadley and Zelikow asked Clarke 
and his deputy, Roger Cressey, for a special briefing on the terrorist threat and 
how Clarke 'sTransnationalThreats Directorate and Counterterrorism Security 
Group functioned. i<^* 

In the NSC during the first Bush administration, many tough issues were 
addressed at the level of the Deputies Committee. Issues did not go to the prin- 
cipals unless the deputies had been unable to resolve them. Presidential Deci- 



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200 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

sion Directive 62 of the Clinton administration had said specifically that 
Clarke's Counterterrorism Security Group should report through the Deputies 
Committee or, at Berger's discretion, directly to the principals. Berger had in 
practice allo\¥ed Clarke's group to fijnction as a parallel deputies committee, 
reporting directly to those members of the Principals Committee who sat on 
the special Small Group. There, Clarke himself sat as a de facto principal. 

Rice decided to change the special structure that had been built to coordi- 
nate counterterrorism policy. It was important to sound policymaking, she felt, 
that Clarke's interagency committee — like all others — report to the principals 
through the deputies.!*^ 

Rice made an initial decision to hold over both Clarke and his entire coun- 
terterrorism staff, a decision that she called rare for a new administration. She 
decided also that Clarke should retain the title of national counterterrorism 
coordinator, although he \vould no longer be a de facto member of the Prin- 
cipals Committee on his issues. The decision to keep Clarke, Rice said, \vas "not 
uncontroversial," since he was known as someone ^vho "broke china," but she 
and Hadley wanted an experienced crisis manager. No one else from Berger's 
staffhad Clarke's detailed knowledge of the levers of government. '^^^ 

Clarke \vas disappointed at what he perceived as a demotion. He also \vor- 
ried that reporting through the Deputies Committee ^vould slow decisionmak- 
ing on counterterrorism. 1*^^ 

The result, amid all the changes accompanying the transition, was signifi- 
cant continuity in counterterrorism policy. Clarke and his Counterterrorism 
Security Group would continue to manage coordination. Tenet remained 
Director of Central Intelligence and kept the same chief subordinates, includ- 
ing Black and his stafli^at the Counterterrorist Center. Shelton remained chair- 
man of the Joint Chiefs, with the Joint Stafli" largely the same. At the FBI, 
Director Freeh and Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson 
remained. Working-level counterterrorism officials at the State Department and 
the Pentagon stayed on, as is typically the case. The changes were at the cabi- 
net and subcabinet level and in the CSG's reporting arrangements. At the sub- 
cabinet level, there were significant delays in the confirmation of key officials, 
particularly at the Defense Department. 

The procedures of the Bush administration ^vere to be at once more formal 
and less formal than its predecessor's. President Clinton, a voracious reader, 
received his daily intelligence briefings in writing. He often scra\vled questions 
and comments in the margins, eliciting ^vritten responses. The new president, 
by contrast, reinstated the practice of face-to-face briefings from the DCI. Pres- 
ident Bush and Tenet met in the Oval Office at 8:00 A.M., with Vice President 
Cheney, Rice, and Card usually also present. The President and the DCI both 
told us that these daily sessions provided a useful opportunity for exchanges on 
intelligence issues. '^o 

The President talked with Rice every day, and she in turn talked by phone 
at least daily with Powell and Rumsfeld. As a result, the President often felt less 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 201 

need for formal meetings. If, however, he decided that an event or an issue called 
for action. Rice would typically call on Hadley to have the Deputies Commit- 
tee develop and review options. The President said that this process often tried 
his patience but that he understood the necessity for coordination. '^^ 

Early Decisions 

Within the first few days after Bush's inauguration, Clarke approached Rice in 
an effort to get her — and the new President — to give terrorism very high pri- 
ority and to act on the agenda that he had pushed during the last few months 
of the previous administration. After Rice requested that all senior staff iden- 
tify desirable major policy reviews or initiatives, Clarke submitted an elaborate 
memorandum on January 25, 2001. He attached to it his 1998 Delenda Plan 
and the December 2000 strategy paper. "We urgently need ... a Principals level 
review on the al Qida network," Clarke wrote. '^^ 

He wanted the Principals Committee to decide whether al Qaeda was "a 
first order threat" or a more modest worry being overblown by "chicken lit- 
tle" alarmists. Alluding to the transition briefing that he had prepared for Rice, 
Clarke wrote that al Qaeda "is not some narrow, little terrorist issue that needs 
to be included in broader regional policy." Two key decisions that had been 
deferred, he noted, concerned covert aid to keep the Northern Alliance alive 
when fighting began again in Afghanistan in the spring, and covert aid to the 
Uzbeks. Clarke also suggested that decisions should be made soon on messages 
to the Taliban and Pakistan over the al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan, on pos- 
sible new money for CIA operations, and on "when and how ... to respond 
to the attack on the USS Cole."i^3 

The national security advisor did not respond directly to Clarke's memo- 
randum. No Principals Committee meeting on al Qaeda was held until Sep- 
tember 4, 2001 (although the Principals Committee met frequently on other 
subjects, such as the Middle East peace process, Russia, and the Persian 
Gulf).^^'* But Rice and Hadley began to address the issues Clarke had listed. 
What to do or say about the Cole had been an obvious question since inaugu- 
ration day. When the attack occurred, 25 days before the election, candidate 
Bush had said to CNN, "I hope that we can gather enough intelligence to fig- 
ure out who did the act and take the necessary action. There must be a conse- 
quence."!^^ Since the Clinton administration had not responded militarily, 
what was the Bush administration to do? 

Onjanuary 25,Tenet briefed the President on the Cole investigation.The writ- 
ten briefing repeated for top officials of the new administration what the CIA 
had told the Clinton White House in November.This included the "preliminary 
judgment" that al Qaeda was responsible, with the caveat that no evidence had 
yet been found that Bin Ladin himself ordered the attack. Tenet told us he had 
no recollection of a conversation with the President about this briefing.^^'^ 

In his January 25 memo, Clarke had advised Rice that the government 
should respond to the Cole attack, but "should take advantage of the policy that 



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202 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

'we will respond at a time, place and manner of our own choosing' and not be 
forced into knee-jerk responses." ^^^ Before Vice President Cheney visited the 
CIA in mid-February, Clarke sent him a memo — outside the usual White 
House document-management system — suggesting that he ask CIA officials 
"what additional information is needed before CIA can definitively conclude 
that al-Qida was responsible" for the Cole}''^ In March 2001, the CIA's brief- 
ing slides for Rice were still describing the CIA's "preliminary judgment" that 
a "strong circumstantial case" could be made against al Qaeda but noting that 
the CIA continued to lack "conclusive information on external command and 
control" of the attack.!^' Clarke and his aides continued to provide Rice and 
Hadley with evidence reinforcing the case against al Qaeda and urging action. '^o 

The President explained to us that he had been concerned lest an ineffec- 
tual air strike just serve to give Bin Ladin a propaganda advantage. He said he 
had not been told about Clinton administration warnings to the Taliban. The 
President told us that he had concluded that the United States must use ground 
forces for a job like this.i^i 

Rice told us that there was never a formal, recorded decision not to retali- 
ate specifically for the Cole attack. Exchanges with the President, between the 
President and Tenet, and between herself and Powell and Rumsfeld had pro- 
duced a consensus that"tit-for-tat" responses were likely to be counterproduc- 
tive. This had been the case, she thought, with the cruise missile strikes of 
August 1998. The new team at the Pentagon did not push for action. On the 
contrary, Rumsfeld thought that too much time had passed and his deputy, Paul 
Wolfowitz, thought that the Cole attack was "stale." Hadley said that in the end, 
the administration's real response to the Cole would be a new, more aggressive 
strategy against al Qaeda. 1^2 

The administration decided to propose to Congress a substantial increase in 
counterterrorism funding for national security agencies, including the CIA and 
the FBI. This included a 27 percent increase in counterterrorism funding for 
the CIA. 183 

Starting a Review 

In early March, the administration postponed action on proposals for increas- 
ing aid to the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks. Rice noted at the time that 
a more wide-ranging examination of policy toward Afghanistan was needed 
first. She wanted the review very soon.i*^ 

Rice and others recalled the President saying, "I'm tired of swatting at 
flies."i85 The President reportedly also said, "I'm tired of playing defense. I want 
to play offense. I want to take the fight to the terrorists." ^^'^ President Bush 
explained to us that he had become impatient. He apparently had heard propos- 
als for rolling back al Qaeda but felt that catching terrorists one by one or even 
cell by cell was not an approach likely to succeed in the long run. At the same 
time, he said, he understood that policy had to be developed slowly so that diplo- 
macy and financial and military measures could mesh with one another. 1^7 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 203 

Hadley convened an informal Deputies Committee meeting on March 7, 
when some of the deputies had not yet been confirmed. For the first time, 
Clarke's various proposals — for aid to the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks 
and for Predator missions — went before the group that, in the Bush NSC, 
would do most of the policy work. Though they made no decisions on these 
specific proposals, Hadley apparently concluded that there should be a presi- 
dential national security policy directive (NSPD) on terrorism. ^ 88 

Clarke would later express irritation about the deputies' insistence that a 
strategy for coping with al Qaeda be framed within the context of a regional 
policy. He doubted that the benefits \vould compensate for the time lost. The 
administration had in fact proceeded ^vith Principals Committee meetings on 
topics including Iraq and Sudan without prior contextual review, and Clarke 
favored moving ahead similarly with a narrow counterterrorism agenda. '*' But 
the President's senior advisers sa\v the al Qaeda problem as part of a puzzle that 
could not be assembled without filling in the pieces for Afghanistan and Pak- 
istan. Rice deferred a Principals Committee meeting on al Qaeda until the 
deputies had developed a new pohcy for their consideration. 

The full Deputies Committee discussed al Qaeda on April 30. CIA brief- 
ing slides described al Qaeda as the "most dangerous group we face," citing its 
"leadership, experience, resources, safe haven in Afghanistan, [and] focus on 
attacking U.S."The slides ^varned, "There \vill be more attacks.''^'^ 

At the meeting, the deputies endorsed covert aid to Uzbekistan. Regard- 
ing the Northern Alliance, they "agreed to make no major commitment at 
this time." Washington \vould first consider options for aiding other anti- 
Taliban groups. I'l Meanwhile, the administration would "initiate a compre- 
hensive review of U.S. policy on Pakistan" and explore policy options on 
Afghanistan, "including the option of supporting regime change."i^2 
Working-level officials were also to consider new steps on terrorist financing 
and America's perennially troubled public diplomacy efforts in the Muslim 
world, where NSC staff warned that "^ve have by and large ceded the court 
of public opinion" to al Qaeda. 

While Clarke remained concerned about the pace of the policy review, he 
now saw a greater possibility of persuading the deputies to recognize the 
changed nature of terrorism. ^'^ "phe process of fleshing out that strategy was 
under way. 



6.5 THE NEW ADMINISTRATION'S APPROACH 

The Bush administration in its first months faced many problems other than 
terrorism. They included the collapse of the Middle East peace process and, in 
April, a crisis over a U.S. "spy plane" brought down in Chinese territory. The 
new administration also focused heavily on Russia, a new nuclear strategy that 
allowed missile defenses, Europe, Mexico, and the Persian Gulf. 



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204 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

In the spring, reporting on terrorism surged dramatically. In chapter 8, we 
will explore this reporting and the ways agencies responded. These increasingly 
alarming reports, briefed to the President and top officials, became part of the 
context in which the new administration weighed its options for policy on 
al Qaeda. 

Except for a fe\¥ reports that the CSG considered and apparently judged 
to be unreliable, none of these pointed specifically to possible al Qaeda 
action inside the United States — although the CSG continued to be con- 
cerned about the domestic threat. The mosaic of threat intelligence came 
from the Counterterrorist Center, which collected only abroad. Its reports 
were not supplemented by reports from the FBI. Clarke had expressed con- 
cern about an al Qaeda presence in the United States, and he worried about 
an attack on the White House by "HizboUah, Hamas, al Qida and other ter- 
rorist organizations."'^'^ 

In May, President Bush announced that Vice President Cheney would him- 
self lead an effort looking at preparations for managing a possible attack by 
weapons of mass destruction and at more general problems of national pre- 
paredness. The next fe^v months were mainly spent organizing the effort and 
bringing an admiral from the Sixth Fleet back to Washington to manage it. The 
Vice President's task force was just getting under way when the 9/11 attack 
occurred. 1''^ 

On May 29, at Tenet's request. Rice and Tenet converted their usual weekly 
meeting into a broader discussion on al Qaeda; participants included Clarke, 
CTC chief Cofer Black, and "Richard," a group chief with authority over the 
Bin Ladin unit. Rice asked about "taking the offensive" and whether any 
approach could be made to influence Bin Ladin or the Taliban. Clarke and 
Black replied that the CIA's ongoing disruption activities ivere "taking the 
offensive" and that Bin Ladin could not be deterred. A wide-ranging discus- 
sion then ensued about "breaking the back" of Bin Ladin 's organization. ''* 

Tenet emphasized the ambitious plans for covert action that the CIA had 
developed in December 2000. In discussing the draft authorities for this pro- 
gram in March, CIA officials had pointed out that the spending level envisioned 
for these plans was larger than the CIA's entire current budget for counterter- 
rorism covert action. It would be a niultiyear program, requiring such levels of 
spending for about five years. '^^ 

The CIA official, "Richard," told us that Rice "got it." He said she agreed 
with his conclusions about what needed to be done, although he complained 
to us that the policy process did not follow through quickly enough. ''* Clarke 
and Black were asked to develop a range of options for attacking Bin Ladin 's 
organization, from the least to most ambitious, i^'' 

Rice and Hadley asked Clarke and his staff to draw up the new presiden- 
tial directive. On June 7, Hadley circulated the first draft, describing it as "an 
admittedly ambitious" program for confronting al Qaeda. -0° The draft 
NSPD's goal was to "eliminate the al Qida network of terrorist groups as a 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 205 

threat to the United States and to friendly governments." It called for a multi- 
year effort involving diplomacy, covert action, economic measures, law 
enforcement, public diplomacy, and if necessary military efforts. The State 
Department was to work with other governments to end all al Qaeda sanctu- 
aries, and also to work with the Treasury Department to disrupt terrorist 
financing. The CIA was to develop an expanded covert action program includ- 
ing significant additional funding and aid to anti- Taliban groups. The draft also 
tasked OMB with ensuring that sufficient funds to support this program were 
found in U.S. budgets from fiscal years 2002 to 2006.201 

Rice viewed this draft directive as the embodiment of a comprehensive new 
strategy employing all instruments of national power to eliminate the al Qaeda 
threat. Clarke, however, regarded the new draft as essentially similar to the pro- 
posal he had developed in December 2000 and put forward to the new admin- 
istration in January 2001.202 jj^ May or June, Clarke asked to be moved from 
his counterterrorism portfolio to a new set of responsibilities for cybersecu- 
rity. He told us that he was frustrated with his role and with an administration 
that he considered not "serious about al Qaeda."203 If Clarke was frustrated, he 
never expressed it to her, Rice told us. 20^1 

Diplomacy in Blind Alleys 

Afghanistan. The new administration had already begun exploring possible 
diplomatic options, retracing many of the paths traveled by its predecessors. U.S. 
envoys again pressed the Taliban to turn Bin Ladin "over to a country where 
he could face justice" and repeated, yet again, the warning that the Taliban 
would be held responsible for any al Qaeda attacks on U.S. interests.205 The 
Taliban's representatives repeated their old arguments. Deputy Secretary of 
State Richard Armitage told us that while U.S. diplomats were becoming more 
active on Afghanistan through the spring and summer of 2001, "it would be 
wrong for anyone to characterize this as a dramatic shift from the previous 
administration."206 

In deputies meetings at the end of June,Tenet was tasked to assess the prospects 
for Taliban cooperation with the United States on al Qaeda. The NSC staff was 
tasked to flesh out options for dealing with the Taliban. Revisiting these issues 
tried the patience of some of the officials who felt they had already been down 
these roads and who found the NSC's procedures slow. "We weren't going fast 
enough," Armitage told us. Clarke kept arguing that moves against the Taliban 
and al Qaeda should not have to wait months for a larger review of U.S. pol- 
icy in South Asia. "For the government," Hadley said to us, "we moved it along 
as fast as we could move it along."207 

As all hope in moving the Taliban faded, debate revived about giving covert 
assistance to the regime's opponents. Clarke and the CIA's Cofer Black 
renewed the push to aid the Northern Alliance. Clarke suggested starting with 
modest aid, just enough to keep the Northern Alliance in the fight and tie 
down al Qaeda terrorists, without aiming to overthrow the Taliban. 208 



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206 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Rice, Hadley, and the NSC staff member for Afghanistan, Zalniay Khalilzad, 
told us they opposed giving aid to the Northern Alliance alone.They argued that 
the program needed to have a big part for Pashtun opponents of theTaliban.They 
also thought the program should be conducted on a larger scale than had been 
suggested. Clarke concurred with the idea of a larger program, but he warned that 
delay risked the Northern Alliance s final defeat at the hands of the Taliban.-^'' 

During the spring, the CIA, at the NSC's request, had developed draft legal 
authorities — a presidential finding — to undertake a large-scale program of 
covert assistance to the Taliban's foes. The draft authorities expressly stated that 
the goal of the assistance was not to overthrow the Taliban. But even this pro- 
gram would be very costly. This \vas the context for earlier conversations, ^vhen 
in March Tenet stressed the need to consider the impact of such a large pro- 
gram on the political situation in the region and in May Tenet talked to Rice 
about the need for a multiyear financial commitment. -1° 

By July, the deputies were moving toward agreement that some last effort 
should be made to convince theTaliban to shift position and then, if that failed, 
the administration \vould move on the significantly enlarged covert action pro- 
gram. As the draft presidential directive was circulated in July, the State Depart- 
ment sent the deputies a lengthy historical review of U.S. efforts to engage the 
Taliban about Bin Ladin from 1996 on. "These talks have been fruitless," the 
State Department concluded.-^^ 

Arguments in the summer brought to the surface the more fundamental 
issue of whether the U.S. covert action program should seek to overthrow the 
regime, intervening decisively in the civil war in order to change Afghanistan's 
government. By the end of a deputies meeting on September 10, officials for- 
mally agreed on a three-phase strategy. First an envoy ^vould give the Taliban a 
last chance. If this failed, continuing diplomatic pressure would be combined 
with the planned covert action program encouraging anti- Taliban Afghans of 
all major ethnic groups to stalemate theTaliban in the civil war and attack al 
Qaeda bases, while the United States developed an international coalition to 
undermine the regime. In phase three, if theTaliban 's policy still did not change, 
the deputies agreed that the United States ^vould try covert action to topple 
the Taliban's leadership from within.212 

The deputies agreed to revise the al Qaeda presidential directive, then being 
finalized for presidential approval, in order to add this strategy to it. Armitage 
explained to us that after months of continuing the previous administration's 
policy, he and Powell ^vere bringing the State Department to a policy of over- 
throwing theTaliban. From his point of vie^v, once the United States made the 
commitment to arm the Northern Alliance, even covertly, it was taking action 
to initiate regime change, and it should give those opponents the strength to 
achieve complete victory.2i3 

Pakistan. The Bush administration immediately encountered the dilemmas 
that arose from the varied objectives the United States was trying to accom- 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 207 

plish in its relationship with Pakistan. In February 2001, President Bush wrote 
General Musharraf on a number of matters. He emphasized that Bin Ladin and 
al Qaeda were "a direct threat to the United States and its interests that must 
be addressed." He urged Musharraf to use his influence with the Taliban on 
Bin Ladin and al Qaeda. -''* Po\¥ell and Arniitage revie\¥ed the possibility of 
acquiring more carrots to dangle in front of Pakistan. Given the generally neg- 
ative view of Pakistan on Capitol Hill, the idea of lifting sanctions may have 
seemed far-fetched, but perhaps no more so than the idea of persuading 
Musharraf to antagonize the Islamists in his own government and nation.-i^ 

On June 18, Rice met with the visiting Pakistani foreign minister, Abdul 
Sattar. She "really let him have it" about al Qaeda, she told us. 216 Other evi- 
dence corroborates her account. But, as she was upbraiding Sattar, Rice 
recalled thinking that the Pakistani diplomat seemed to have heard it all before. 
Sattar urged senior U.S. policymakers to engage the Taliban, arguing that such 
a course would take time but would produce results. In late June, the deputies 
agreed to review U.S. objectives. Clarke urged Hadley to split off all other issues 
in U.S. -Pakistani relations and just focus on demanding that Pakistan move vig- 
orously against terrorism — to push the Pakistanis to do before an al Qaeda attack 
what Washington would demand that they do after. He had made similar 
requests in the Clinton administration; he had no more success with Rice than 
he had with Berger.-'^ 

On August 4, President Bush wrote President Musharraf to request his sup- 
port in dealing with terrorism and to urge Pakistan to engage actively against 
al Qaeda. The new administration was again registering its concerns, just as its 
predecessor had, but it was still searching for new incentives to open up diplo- 
matic possibilities. For its part, Pakistan had done little. Assistant Secretary of 
State Christina Rocca described the administrations plan to break this logjam 
as a move from "half engagement" to "enhanced engagement." The adminis- 
tration was not ready to confront Islamabad and threaten to rupture relations. 
Deputy Secretary Arniitage told us that before 9/11, the envisioned new 
approach to Pakistan had not yet been attempted. -^^ 

Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration did not develop new diplomatic ini- 
tiatives on al Qaeda with the Saudi government before 9/11. Vice President 
Cheney called Crown Prince Abdullah on July 5, 2001, to seek Saudi help in 
preventing threatened attacks on American facilities in the Kingdom. Secre- 
tary of State Powell met with the crown prince twice before 9/11. They dis- 
cussed topics like Iraq, not al Qaeda. U.S. -Saudi relations in the summer of 2001 
were marked by sometimes heated disagreements about ongoing Israeli- 
Palestinian violence, not about Bin Ladin. 21' 

Military Plans 

The confirmation of the Pentagons new leadership was a lengthy process. 
Deputy Secretary Wo Ifowitz was confirmed in March 2001 and Under Secre- 



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208 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

tary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith in July. Though the new officials were 
briefed about terrorism and some of the earlier planning, including that for 
Operation Infinite Resolve, they were focused, as Secretary Rumsfeld told us, 
on creating a t^venty-first-century military-^o 

At the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shelton did not recall much interest by 
the new administration in military options against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He 
could not recall any specific guidance on the topic from the secretary. Brian 
Sheridan — the outgoing assistant secretary of defense for special operations and 
low-intensity conflict (SOLIC), the key counterterrorism policy office in the 
Pentagon — never briefed Rumsfeld. He departed on January 20; he had not 
been replaced by 9/11.221 

Rumsfeld noted to us his own interest in terrorism, which came up often 
in his regular meetings with Tenet. He thought that the Defense Department, 
before 9/1 1, was not organized adequately or prepared to deal with new threats 
like terrorism. But his time was consumed with getting new officials in place 
and working on the foundation documents of a new defense policy, the quad- 
rennial defense review, the defense planning guidance, and the existing contin- 
gency plans. He did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that 
engaged his attention before 9/11, other than the development of the Preda- 
tor unmanned aircraft system. 222 

The commander of Central Command, General Franks, told us that he did 
not regard the existing plans as serious. To him a real military plan to address 
al Qaeda would need to go all the way, following through the details of a full 
campaign (including the political-military issues of where operations would be 
based) and securing the rights to fly over neighboring countries. 223 

The draft presidential directive circulated in June 2001 began its discussion 
of the military by reiterating the Defense Departments lead role in protecting 
its forces abroad. The draft included a section directing Secretary Rumsfeld to 
"develop contingency plans" to attack both al Qaeda and Taliban targets in 
Afghanistan. The new section did not specifically order planning for the use of 
ground troops, or clarify how this guidance differed from the existing Infinite 
Resolve plans. 224 

Hadley told us that by circulating this section, a draft Annex B to the direc- 
tive, the White House was putting the Pentagon on notice that it would need 
to produce new military plans to address this probleni.225 "The military 
didn't particularly want this mission," Rice told us. 226 

With this directive still awaiting President Bush's signature. Secretary 
Rumsfeld did not order his subordinates to begin preparing any new military 
plans against either al Qaeda or the Taliban before 9/11. 

President Bush told us that before 9/11, he had not seen good options for 
special military operations against Bin Ladin. Suitable bases in neighboring 
countries were not available and, even if the U.S. forces were sent in, it was 
not clear where they would go to find Bin Ladin.227 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 209 

President Bush told us that before 9/11 there was an appetite in the gov- 
ernment for killing Bin Ladin, not for -war. Looking back in 2004, he equated 
the presidential directive with a readiness to invade Afghanistan. The problem, 
he said, would have been how to do that if there had not been another attack 
on America. To many people, he said, it would have seemed like an ultimate 
act of unilateralism. But he said that he was prepared to take that on.--^ 

Domestic Change and Continuity 

During the transition. Bush had chosen John Ashcroft, a former senator from 
Missouri, as his attorney general. On his arrival at the Justice Department, 
Ashcroft told us, he faced a number of problems spotlighting the need for 
reform at the FBI. 229 

In February, Clarke briefed Attorney General Ashcroft on his directorate's 
issues. He reported that at the time, the attorney general acknowledged a 
"steep learning curve," and asked about the progress of the Cole investiga- 
tion. 230 Neither Ashcroft nor his predecessors received the President's Daily 
Brief. His oflSce did receive the daily intelligence report for senior officials 
that, during the spring and summer of 2001, was carrying much of the same 
threat information. 

The FBI was struggling to build up its institutional capabilities to do more 
against terrorism, relying on a strategy called MAXCAP 05 that had been 
unveiled in the summer of 2000. The FBI's assistant director for counterterror- 
ism. Dale Watson, told us that he felt the new Justice Department leadership 
was not supportive of the strategy. Watson had the sense that the Justice Depart- 
ment wanted the FBI to get back to the investigative basics: guns, drugs, and 
civil rights. The new administration did seek an 8 percent increase in overall 
FBI funding in its initial budget proposal for fiscal year 2002, including the 
largest proposed percentage increase in the FBI's counterterrorism program 
since fiscal year 1997. The additional funds included the FBI's support of the 
2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah (a onetime increase), enhanced 
security at FBI facilities, and improvements to the FBI's WMD incident 
response capability.2-'i 

In May, the Justice Department began shaping plans for building a budget 
for fiscal year 2003, the process that would usually culminate in an administra- 
tion proposal at the beginning of 2002. On May 9, the attorney general testi- 
fied at a congressional hearing concerning federal efforts to combat terrorism. 
He said that "one of the nation's most fundamental responsibilities is to pro- 
tect its citizens . . . from terrorist attacks." The budget guidance issued the next 
day, however, highlighted gun crimes, narcotics trafficking, and civil rights as 
priorities. Watson told us that he almost fell out of his chair when he saw this 
memo, because it did not mention counterterrorism. Longtime FBI Director 
Louis Freeh left in June 2001, after announcing the indictment in the Khobar 
Towers case that he had worked so long to obtain.Thomas Pickard was the act- 



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210 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

ing director during the summer. Freeh's successor, Robert Mueller, took office 
just before 9/11.232 

The Justice Department prepared a draft fiscal year 2003 budget that main- 
tained but did not increase the funding level for counterterrorism in its pend- 
ing fiscal year 2002 proposal. Pickard appealed for more counterterrorism 
enhancements, an appeal the attorney general denied on September 10.233 

Ashcroft had also inherited an ongoing debate on ^vhether and how to 
modify the 1995 procedures governing intelligence sharing between the FBI 
and the Justice Department's Criminal Division. But in August 2001,Ashcroft's 
deputy, Larry Thompson, issued a memorandum reaffirming the 1995 proce- 
dures \vith the clarification that evidence of "any federal felony" ^vas to be 
immediately reported by the FBI to the Criminal Division. The 1995 proce- 
dures remained in effect until after 9/11.234 

Covert Action and the Predator 

In March 2001, Rice asked the CIA to prepare a new series of authorities 
for covert action in Afghanistan. Rice's recollection was that the idea had 
come from Clarke and the NSC senior director for intelligence, Mary 
McCarthy, and had been linked to the proposal for aid to the Northern 
Alliance and the Uzbeks. Rice described the draft document as providing 
for "consolidation plus," superseding the various Clinton administration 
documents. In fact, the CIA drafted two documents. One ^vas a finding that 
did concern aid to opponents of the Taliban regime; the other was a draft 
Memorandum of Notification, which included more open-ended language 
authorizing possible lethal action in a variety of situations. Tenet delivered 
both to Hadley on March 28. The CIA's notes for Tenet advised him that 
"in response to the NSC request for drafts that will help the policymakers 
review their options, each of the documents has been crafted to provide the 
Agency with the broadest possible discretion permissible under the la^v." At 
the meeting, Tenet argued for deciding on a policy before deciding on the 
legal authorities to implement it. Hadley accepted this argument, and the 
draft MON was put on hold.235 

As the policy review moved forward, the planned covert action program 
for Afghanistan was included in the draft presidential directive, as part of an 
"Annex A" on intelligence activities to "eliminate the al Qaeda threat."236 
The main debate during the summer of 2001 concentrated on the one new 
mechanism for a lethal attack on Bin Ladin — an armed version of the Preda- 
tor drone. 

In the first months of the new administration, questions concerning the 
Predator became more and more a central focus of dispute. Clarke favored 
resuming Predator flights over Afghanistan as soon as weather permitted, hop- 
ing that they still might provide the elusive "actionable intelligence" to target 
Bin Ladin with cruise missiles. Learning that the Air Force was thinking of 



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^^ 



FROM THREAT TO THREAT 211 

equipping Predators with ^varheads, Clarke became even more enthusiastic 
about redeployment. -3^ 

The CTC chief, Cofer Black, argued against deploying the Predator for 
reconnaissance purposes. He recalled that the Taliban had spotted a Predator in 
the fall of 2000 and scrambled their MiG fighters. Black wanted to wait until 
the armed version \vas ready. "I do not believe the possible recon value out- 
weighs the risk of possible program termination when the stakes are raised by 
the Taliban parading a charred Predator in front of CNN," he ^vrote. Military 
officers in the Joint Staff shared this concern.--'^ There is some dispute as to 
whether or not the Deputies Committee endorsed resuming reconnaissance 
flights at its April 30, 2001 , meeting. In any event. Rice and Hadley ultimately 
went along with the CIA and the Pentagon, holding off on reconnaissance 
flights until the armed Predator was ready.-^^ 

The CIA's senior management sa^v problems with the armed Predator as 
well, problems that Clarke and even Black and Allen ^vere inclined to mini- 
mize. One (which also applied to reconnaissance flights) was money. A Preda- 
tor cost about $3 million. If the CIA flew Predators for its own reconnaissance 
or covert action purposes, it might be able to borrow them from the Air Force, 
but it was not clear that the Air Force would bear the cost if a vehicle ^vent 
down. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wo Ifowitz took the position that the CIA 
should have to pay for it; the CIA disagreed. -'*° 

Second, Tenet in particular questioned whether he, as Director of Central 
Intelligence, should operate an armed Predator. "This was new ground," he told 
us. Tenet ticked off key questions: What is the chain of command? Who takes 
the shot? Are America's leaders comfortable with the CIA doing this, going 
outside of normal military command and control? Charlie Allen told us that 
when these questions ^vere discussed at the CIA, he and the Agency's execu- 
tive director, A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard, had said that either one of them would 
be happy to pull the trigger, but Tenet ^vas appalled, telling them that they had 
no authority to do it, nor did he.-"*' 

Third, the Hellfire warhead carried by the Predator needed work. It had 
been built to hit tanks, not people. It needed to be designed to explode in a 
different way, and even then had to be targeted with extreme precision. In the 
configuration planned by the Air Force through mid-2001, the Predator's mis- 
sile would not be able to hit a moving vehicle. -'*- 

White House officials had seen the Predator video of the "man in white." 
On July 11, Hadley tried to hurry along preparation of the armed system. He 
directed McLaughlin, Wolfowitz, and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Richard 
Myers to deploy Predators capable of being armed no later than September 1. 
He also directed that they have cost-sharing arrangements in place by August 
1 . Rice told us that this attempt by Hadley to dictate a solution had failed and 
that she eventually had to intervene herself.-'*^ 

On August 1, the Deputies Committee met again to discuss the armed 



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212 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Predator. They concluded that it -was legal for the CIA to kill Bin Ladin or one 
of his deputies with the Predator. Such strikes -would be acts of self-defense that 
would not violate the ban on assassinations in Executive Order 12333. The big 
issues — who would pay for what, ^vho would authorize strikes, and ^vho would 
pull the trigger — were left for the principals to settle. The Defense Department 
representatives did not take positions on these issues. -'^'^ 

The CIA's McLaughlin had also been reticent. When Hadley circulated a 
memorandum attempting to prod the deputies to reach agreement, McLaugh- 
lin sent it back with a handwritten comment on the cost-sharing: "we ques- 
tion whether it is advisable to make such an investment before the decision is 
taken on flying an armed Predator." For Clarke, this came close to being a final 
straw. He angrily asked Rice to call Tenet. "Either al Qida is a threat ^vorth act- 
ing against or it is not," Clarke wrote. "CIA leadership has to decide ^vhich it 
is and cease these bi-polar mood swings."-'*^ 

These debates, though, had little impact in advancing or delaying efforts to 
make the Predator ready for combat. Those were in the hands of military offi- 
cers and engineers. General John Jumper had commanded U.S. air forces in 
Europe and seen Predators used for reconnaissance in the Balkans. He started 
the program to develop an armed version and, after returning in 2000 to head 
the Air Combat Command, took direct charge of it. 

There were numerous technical problems, especially ^vith the Hellfire mis- 
siles. The Air Force tests conducted during the spring \vere inadequate, so 
missile testing needed to continue and modifications needed to be made 
during the summer. Even then, Jumper told us, problems \vith the equipment 
persisted. Nevertheless, the Air Force was moving at an extraordinary pace. "In 
the modern era, since the 1980s," Jumper said to us,"I would be shocked if you 
found anything that went faster than this."246 

September 2001 

The Principals Committee had its first meeting on al Qaeda on September 4. 
On the day of the meeting, Clarke sent Rice an impassioned personal note. He 
criticized U.S. counterterrorism efforts past and present. The "real question" 
before the principals, he wrote, was "are we serious about dealing with the 
al Qida threat? . . . Is al Qida a big deal? . . . Decision makers should imagine them- 
selves on a future day when the CSG has not succeeded in stopping al Qida attacks and 
hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including^ the US," Clarke wrote. 
"What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier? That 
future day could happen at any time."-'*^ 

Clarke then turned to the Cole. " The fact that the USS Cole was attacked dur- 
ing the last Administration does not absolve us of responding for the attack" he wrote. 
"Many in al Qida and the Taliban may have drawn the wrong lesson from the 
Cole: that they can kill Americans without there being a US response, ^vith- 
out there being a price. . . . One might have thought that with a $250m hole 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 213 

in a destroyer and 17 dead sailors, the Pentagon might have \vanted to respond. 
Instead, they have often talked about the fact that there is 'nothing worth hit- 
ting in Afghanistan' and said 'the cruise missiles cost more than the jungle gyms 
and mud huts' at terrorist camps." Clarke could not understand "tc/jy we con- 
tinue to allow the existence of large scale al Qida bases where we know people are being 
trained to kill Americans."^'^^ 

Turning to the CIA, Clarke warned that its bureaucracy, which was "mas- 
terful at passive aggressive behavior," would resist funding the new national 
security presidential directive, leaving it a "hollow shell of words without 
deeds."The CIA would insist its other priorities were more important. Invok- 
ing President Bush's own language, Clarke wrote," You are left with a modest effort 
to swat flies, to try to prevent specific al Qida attacks by using [intelligence] to 
detect them and friendly governments' police and intelligence officers to stop 
them. You are left waitingfor the big attack, with lots of casualties, after which some 
major US retaliation will be in order[.]"2'*9 

Rice told us she took Clarke's memo as a warning not to get dragged down 
by bureaucratic inertia. -^o While his arguments have force, we also take 
Clarke's jeremiad as something more. After nine years on the NSC staff and 
more than three years as the president's national coordinator, he had often failed 
to persuade these agencies to adopt his views, or to persuade his superiors to 
set an agenda of the sort he wanted or that the whole government could sup- 
port. 

Meanwhile, another counterterrorism veteran, Cofer Black, was preparing 
his boss for the principals meeting. He advised Tenet that the draft presidential 
directive envisioned an ambitious covert action program, but that the author- 
ities for it had not yet been approved and the funding still had not been found. 
If the CIA was reluctant to use the Predator, Black did not mention it. He 
wanted "a timely decision from the Principals," adding that the window for 
missions within 2001 was a short one. The principals would have to decide 
whether Rice,Tenet, Rumsfeld, or someone else would give the order to fire.-^^ 

At the September 4 meeting, the principals approved the draft presidential 
directive with little discussion. ^52 Rice told us that she had, at some point, told 
President Bush that she and his other advisers thought it would take three years 
or so for their al Qaeda strategy to work.253 They then discussed the armed 
Predator. 

Hadley portrayed the Predator as a useful tool, although perhaps not for 
immediate use. Rice, who had been advised by her staff that the armed Preda- 
tor was not ready for deployment, commented about the potential for using 
the armed Predator in the spring of 2002.254 

The State Department supported the armed Predator, although Secretary 
Powell was not convinced that Bin Ladin was as easy to target as had been sug- 
gested. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was skittish, cautioning about the impli- 
cations of trying to kiU an individual.^ss 



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214 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

The Defense Department favored strong action. Deputy Secretary Wol- 
fowitz questioned the United States' ability to dehver Bin Ladin and bring him 
to justice. He favored going after Bin Ladin as part of a larger air strike, simi- 
lar to what had been done in the 1986 U.S. strike against Libya. General Myers 
emphasized the Predator's value for surveillance, perhaps enabling broader air 
strikes that would go beyond Bin Ladin to attack al Qaeda's training infrastruc- 
ture. 256 

The principals also discussed which agency — CIA or Defense — should have 
the authority to fire a missile from the armed Predator.-'^ 

At the end. Rice summarized the meeting's conclusions. The armed Preda- 
tor capability was needed but not ready. The Predator would be available for 
the mihtary to consider along with its other options. The CIA should consider 
flying reconnaissance-only missions. The principals — including the previously 
reluctant Tenet — thought that such reconnaissance flights ^vere a good idea, 
combined \vith other efforts to get actionable intelligence. Tenet deferred an 
answer on the additional reconnaissance flights, conferred with his staff after 
the meeting, and then directed the CIA to press ahead with them.^ss 

A few days later, a final version of the draft presidential directive was circu- 
lated, incorporating two minor changes made by the principals. ^59 

On September 9, dramatic news arrived from Afghanistan. The leader of the 
Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud, had granted an interview in his bun- 
galo\v near the Tajikistan border ^vith t^vo men ^vhonl the Northern Alliance 
leader had been told were Arab journalists. The supposed reporter and camera- 
man — actually al Qaeda assassins — then set ofli^a bomb, riddling Massoud's chest 
with shrapnel. He died minutes later. 

On September 10, Hadley gathered the deputies to finalize their three- 
phase, multiyear plan to pressure and perhaps ultimately topple theTaliban lead- 
ership.260 

That same day, Hadley instructed DCI Tenet to have the CIA prepare new 
draft legal authorities for the "broad covert action program" envisioned by the 
draft presidential directive. Hadley also directedTenet to prepare a separate sec- 
tion "authorizing a broad range of other covert activities, including authority 
to capture or to use lethal force" against al Qaeda command-and-control ele- 
ments. This section would supersede the Clinton-era documents. Hadley 
wanted the authorities to be flexible and broad enough "to cover any additional 
UBL-related covert actions conteniplated."-<^i 

Funding still needed to be located. The military component remained 
unclear. Pakistan remained uncooperative. The domestic policy institutions 
were largely uninvolved. But the pieces were coming together for an integrated 
policy dealing ^vith al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Pakistan.