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TOPIC: CIA Hiding Alhazmi & Almihdhar

CIA Hiding Alhazmi & Almihdhar 26 Sep 2009 22:19 #346

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Identity of CIA Officer Responsible for pre-9/11 Failures, Tora Bora Escape, Rendition to Torture Revealed


Involvement in Pre-9/11 Failures

One of the best-known pre-9/11 failures was the failure by the CIA in January 2000 to pass on to the FBI the information that one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, had a US visa, and would therefore probably soon arrive in the US. FBI officers detailed to the CIA learned of the information, but one of Blee’s deputies, Tom Wilshire, prevented them from passing it on to the bureau.

While it was wrong of Wilshire to keep information from the bureau, it is perhaps not so unusual for the CIA to withhold information from the FBI. However, Blee’s actions at this time are more bizarre.

The CIA had been monitoring a summit of al-Qaeda leaders in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which began on 5 January. On 8 January three of the summit attendees, Almihdhar, his partner Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, left for Bangkok, and Alec Station received a cable from the field reporting this. The CIA claims that its officers in Bangkok could not pick up the surveillance at the airport and that the three men were lost. The next day Alec Station sent a high-priority NIACT (night action) cable urging the station in Bangkok to find them.

Although the other summit attendees had also dispersed at the same time as the three men who flew to Bangkok, on 12 January Blee claimed to his bosses that the surveillance in Kuala Lumpur was continuing. The 9/11 Commission, suggested that Blee “may not have known that in fact Almihdhar and his companions had dispersed and the tracking was falling apart.” The interview of Blee received high-level attention on the commission. It was led by the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow and two team leaders, Kevin Scheid and Barbara Grewe.

It is unclear how Blee could possibly have been unaware of this, as his unit had previously both received and sent at least one cable stating they had left for Bangkok and he would presumably have asked his subordinates for an update in the four days between the hijackers’ departure from Kuala Lumpur and the 12 January briefing. The commission’s formulation—that Blee “may not have known”—also begs the question: Well, did he know or not? If he did, he withheld key information from his bosses during the high threat period of the millennium alert. If he did not know, it means his subordinates withheld the information from him.

The next day, Bangkok station reported that it could not find the three men. Nevertheless, Blee went back to his superiors on 14 January and told them officials were continuing to track the summit’s attendees, who had now dispersed to various countries. Here, the commission’s report is clear, finding, “there is no evidence of any tracking efforts actually being undertaken by anyone after the Arabs disappeared into Bangkok.”

It is clear the information received by Blee’s superiors was incorrect. Given the improbability of Blee’s subordinates wanting or being able to conceal the real state of affairs from him for nearly a week, it appears that it was Blee that decided to withhold the information from them.

There has been speculation that the reason the information was withheld was to enable the CIA, perhaps using a group of former employees or confederates, to monitor Almihdhar and Alhazmi in the US without having to worry about a competing FBI surveillance team. The above analysis indicates that Blee wanted not only the FBI, but also his own superiors off his back.

The hypothesis that the withholding of the information from the bureau was not sanctioned by the CIA’s management is supported by the behaviour of the agency’s station in Kuala Lumpur. Four local stations performed badly regarding information about Almihdhar in the run-up to 9/11: Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Sana’a and Islamabad. Whereas the performance of the three last-named stations is so shocking—at various times they withheld information they must have known was crucial—that it indicates they were acting in bad faith, the errors by Kuala Lumpur station could be attributed to the usual mistakes that creep into anyone’s performance. In addition, on three separate occasions Kuala Lumpur went the extra mile and tried to move the issue forward. If the withholding of the information from the bureau was approved by the CTC’s leadership, why was Kuala Lumpur not on board with this?

“They’re Coming Here”

As most of the heavy lifting in the efforts to keep information about Almihdhar and Alhazmi from the FBI was done by Wilshire, Blee does not resurface in the story until July 2001.

On 4 July, Almihdhar re-entered the US. The next day, Wilshire, who had by then gone on loan to the FBI, apparently as the deputy chief of its International Terrorism Operations Section, wrote an alarming e-mail. In it he told unnamed Alec Station managers that he thought Almihdhar was linked to the current high level of threat reporting.

Five days after the e-mail, Black briefed Tenet about current threat reporting. The briefing was so alarming that it “literally made my hair stand on end,” Tenet recalled. He then immediately took Blee and Black to the White House, requesting an emergency meeting with National Security Condoleezza Rice so that Blee could brief her on the threat reporting. The meeting was also attended by Clarke and Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, and caused controversy when it was omitted from the 9/11 Commission’s final report, but highlighted in one of Bob Woodward’s books.

There is no indication that Blee mentioned Almihdhar or Malaysia to anybody there, at this time or at any other.

The withholding of the information about Almihdhar in January 2000 and subsequent occasions only makes sense if the hijackers were being followed by people linked to those who were withholding the information, and Blee sits at the centre of that web. It is therefore highly likely that Blee knew all about the hijackers’ entries and residences in the US by this time from following Almihdhar and Alhazmi, but that he withheld this information deliberately. Had he told the people at the meeting of this information, there would have been plenty of time to prevent the attacks—over two months to round the hijackers up.

Three days after the meeting, Wilshire sent another e-mail to the Counterterrorist Center, this time warning that Khallad was a “major-league killer,” pointing out that he had been identified by a CIA mole in al-Qaeda, and saying that it would be a good time to re-examine the Malaysia summit documents to get more information about him. On the same day this e-mail was sent Blee wrote an e-mail to another CIA officer entitled “Identification of Khallad,” so it is highly likely Blee received this e-mail.

Wilshire wrote a third e-mail on 23 July. This time it was very clear:

When the next big op is carried out by [bin Laden’s] hardcore cadre, [Khallad bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid Almihdhar should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].

Blee made the comment that left such an impression on Tenet around this time. Tenet wrote:

magine how I and everyone else in the room reacted during one of my updates in late July when, as we speculated about the kind of attacks we could face, Rich B. suddenly said, with complete conviction, “They’re coming here.” I’ll never forget the silence that followed.

At this time, Blee certainly had reason to make such a comment: he was the government official most responsible for gathering the warning signs in the summer of threat and thus the most highly aware of them. He must have been aware of the hijackers’ presence in the US and was also involved in efforts to keep this presence hidden from both the bureau and his own superiors. Even if he did not figure out that the hijackers were linked to the threat reporting by himself, he must have known this because Wilshire told him so repeatedly and documented this with a clear paper trail.

Even if we suppose that Blee was cut off from the surveillance of the hijackers, Alec Station claims to have realised Almihdhar and Alhazmi were in the US on August 21 and communicated this to the FBI. (Coincidentally, this was one day before Blee’s nemesis FBI manager John O’Neill retired from the bureau and Ali Soufan, a bureau agent who had been asking questions about a possible al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia, went back to Yemen.) At this point Alec Station knew (1) there was going to be a major al-Qaeda attack, (2) Almihdhar was one of the terrorists probably involved in the attack, and (3) Almihdhar was in the US. With this information, it does not take a genius to work out the likely location of the attack was inside the US. Yet the FBI’s search for Almihdhar, overseen by Wilshire, was a catastrophe.

The case against Blee can be summed up like this: some intelligence community employees at and linked to Alec Station deliberately withheld information from the FBI in general and the USS Cole investigators in particular about Almihdhar and Alhazmi. Two of the officials who were involved in one example of this in January 2000, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, have confessed to their part and implicated Wilshire and one of his subordinates. It stretches credulity well beyond breaking point to suggest that the group centred on Blee and Wilshire withheld information deliberately in January 2000, but that its subsequent inability to pass on the same and similar information was due to overwork and understaffing, especially given the most peculiar circumstances in which the information was not passed.

Although it is Wilshire that did most of the work, it is hard to imagine that a deputy unit chief could practice such a deception, leading us to suspect his boss, Blee. This suspicion is greatly enhanced by Blee’s incorrect briefings of his superiors on 12 and 14 January 2000 and his failure to mention to anyone the evident links between the high threat and the Malaysia meeting in numerous discussions in the summer of 2001. In addition, his position as a child of a CIA hero would have given him access to a network of intelligence community professionals. If he did want “off-the-books” surveillance of the two hijackers in San Diego, he would have known who to call.

It is certainly possible to dream up scenarios in which the surveillance of the hijackers inside the US somehow broke down, or to theorise that the hijackers, who were employing a countersurveillance technique when taking flights, were smarter than the people monitoring them. Both these scenarios would clear Blee of the most serious charge of deliberately allowing the attacks. However, neither of these scenarios seem likely at the moment. Perhaps further research will allow them to be either confirmed or ruled out.

Another question to ask is: did Blee benefit from the attacks?

Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars offers us an insight into the debate inside the CIA about what action to take against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. It portrays Blee as an officer most interested in providing increased assistance to Northern Alliance chief Ahmed Shah Massoud, with whom he met repeatedly. However, Blee was frustrated in this by others at the White House and agency, who did not trust Massoud. As we now know, all this changed after 9/11 and the US is still bogged down there along with its allies. In addition, as we will see, it was Blee that got himself appointed head of the CIA arm of the war...

Newly Discovered Document: CIA Station in Yemen Knew of Khallad Identification

... The source’s identification was crucial, as it put Cole mastermind Khallad at an important al-Qaeda meeting that started just two days after the failed attack on the USS The Sullivans, itself a forerunner to the Cole attack. It also clearly linked him to alleged 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who the CIA already knew to have been at the meeting. Although the CIA knew Almihdhar had a US visa and that the FBI should be informed of this, officers at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, deliberately withheld this information from the bureau...
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