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Complete 911 Timeline

Foreign Intelligence Agency Attack Warnings


Open-Content project managed by Paul Thompson


1998: Indonesia Gives US Warning of 9/11 Attack?

Hendropriyono, the Indonesian chief of intelligence, will later claim that, “[we] had intelligence predicting the September 11 attacks three years before it happened but nobody believed us.” He says Indonesian intelligence agents identify bin Laden as the leader of the group plotting the attack and that the US disregards the warning, but otherwise offers no additional details. The Associated Press notes, “Indonesia’s intelligence services are not renowned for their accuracy.” [Associated Press, 7/9/2003]

1999: British Intelligence Warns Al-Qaeda Plans to Use Aircraft, Possibly as Flying Bombs

MI6, the British intelligence agency, gives a secret report to liaison staff at the US embassy in London. The reports states that al-Qaeda has plans to use “commercial aircraft” in “unconventional ways,” “possibly as flying bombs.” [Sunday Times (London), 6/9/2002]

March 1999: Germany Provides CIA Hijacker’s Name and Telephone Number

German intelligence gives the CIA the first name of hijacker Marwan Alshehhi and his telephone number in the United Arab Emirates. The Germans learned the information from surveillance of suspected Islamic militants. They tell the CIA that Alshehhi has been in contact with suspected al-Qaeda members Mohammed Haydar Zammar and Mamoun Darkazanli. He is described as a United Arab Emirates student who has spent some time studying in Germany. [US Congress, 7/24/2003; Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 8/13/2003; New York Times, 2/24/2004] The Germans consider this information “particularly valuable” and ask the CIA to track Alshehhi, but the CIA never responds until after the 9/11 attacks. The CIA decides at the time that this “Marwan” is probably an associate of bin Laden but never track him down. It is not clear why the CIA fails to act, or if they learn his last name before 9/11. [New York Times, 2/24/2004] The Germans monitor other calls between Alshehhi and Zammar, but it isn’t clear if the CIA is also told of these or not (see September 21, 1999).

August 12, 2000: Italian Intelligence Wiretap of al-Qaeda Cell Reveals Massive Aircraft-based Strike

Italian intelligence successfully wiretap the al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy from late 1999 until the summer of 2001. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002] In a wiretapped conversation from this day, suspected Yemeni Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman tells wanted Egyptian Mahmoud Es Sayed about a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft and the sky, a blow that “will be written about in all the newspapers of the world. This will be one of those strikes that will never be forgotten. ... This is a terrifying thing. This is a thing that will spread from south to north, from east to west: The person who came up with this program is a madman from a madhouse, a madman but a genius.” In another conversation, Abdulrahman tells Es Sayed: “I’m studying airplanes. I hope, God willing, that I can bring you a window or a piece of an airplane the next time we see each other.” The comment is followed by laughter. Beginning in October 2000, FBI experts will help Italian police analyze the intercepts and warnings. Neither Italy nor the FBI will understand their meaning until after 9/11, but apparently, the Italians will understand enough to give the US an attack warning in March 2001 (see March 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002; Washington Post, 5/31/2002] The Milan cell “is believed to have created a cottage industry in supplying false passports and other bogus documents.” [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002]

January 24, 2001: Italians Hear of Brothers Going to US for ‘Very, Very Secret’ Plan, Other Clues

On this day, Italian intelligence hears an interesting wiretapped conversation eerily similar to the one from August 12, 2000 (see August 12, 2000). This one occurs between al-Qaeda operatives Mahmoud Es Sayed and Ben Soltane Adel, two members of al-Qaeda’s Milan cell. Adel asks, in reference to fake documents, “Will these work for the brothers who are going to the United States?” Sayed responds angrily, saying “don’t ever say those words again, not even joking! ... If it’s necessary ... whatever place we may be, come up and talk in my ear, because these are very important things. You must know ... that this plan is very, very secret, as if you were protecting the security of the state.” This will be only one of many clues found from the Italian wiretaps and passed on to US intelligence in March 2001 (see March 2001). However, they apparently will not be properly understood until after 9/11. Adel is later arrested and convicted of belonging to a terrorist cell, and Es Sayed will flee to Afghanistan in July 2001. [Guardian, 5/30/2002]

March 2001: Italians Advise US about Al-Qaeda Wiretaps

The Italian government gives the US information about possible attacks based on apartment wiretaps in the Italian city of Milan. [Fox News, 5/17/2002] Presumably, the information includes a discussion between two al-Qaeda agents talking about a “very, very secret” plan to forge documents “for the brothers who are going to the United States” (see August 12, 2000). The warning may also have mentioned a wiretap the previous August involving one of the same people that discussed a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft (see January 24, 2001). Two months later, wiretaps of the same Milan cell will also reveal a plot to attack a summit of world leaders.

June 2001: Germans Warn of Plan to Use Aircraft as Missiles on US and Israeli Symbols

German intelligence warns the CIA, Britain’s intelligence agency, and Israel’s Mossad that Middle Eastern militants are planning to hijack commercial aircraft to use as weapons to attack “American and Israeli symbols, which stand out.” A later article quotes unnamed German intelligence sources who state the information was coming from Echelon surveillance technology, and that British intelligence had access to the same warnings. However, there were other informational sources, including specific information and hints given to, but not reported by, Western and Near Eastern news media six months before 9/11. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/14/2001; Fox News, 5/17/2002]

Summer 2001: Bin Laden Speech Mentions 20 Martyrs in Upcoming Attack; Other Hints of Attack Spread Widely

Word begins to spread within al-Qaeda that an attack against the US is imminent, according to later prison interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Many within al-Qaeda are aware that Mohammed has been preparing operatives to go to the US. Additionally, bin Laden makes several remarks hinting at an upcoming attack, spawning rumors throughout Muslim extremist circles worldwide. For instance, in a recorded speech at the al Faruq training camp in Afghanistan, bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] There are other indications that knowledge of the attacks spreads in Afghanistan. The Daily Telegraph later reports that “the idea of an attack on a skyscraper [is] discussed among [bin Laden’s] supporters in Kabul.” At some unspecified point before 9/11, a neighbor in Kabul sees diagrams showing a skyscraper attack in a house known as a “nerve center” for al-Qaeda activity. [Daily Telegraph, 11/16/2001] US soldiers will later find forged visas, altered passports, listings of Florida flight schools and registration papers for a flight simulator in al-Qaeda houses in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 12/6/2001] A bin Laden bodyguard later will claim that in May 2001 he hears bin Laden tell people in Afghanistan that the US would be hit with an attack, and thousands would die. [Guardian, 11/28/2002]

June 4, 2001: Illegal Afghans Overheard Discussing New York City Hijacking Attack

At some point in 2000, three men claiming to be Afghans but using Pakistani passports entered the Cayman Islands, possibly illegally. [Miami Herald, 9/20/2001] In late 2000, Cayman and British investigators began a yearlong probe of these men, which will last until 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001] They are overheard discussing hijacking attacks in New York City during this period. On this day, they are taken into custody, questioned, and released some time later. This information is forwarded to US intelligence. [Fox News, 5/17/2002] In late August, a letter to a Cayman radio station will allege these same men are agents of bin Laden “organizing a major terrorist act against the US via an airline or airlines.” [Miami Herald, 9/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001]

June 13, 2001: Bin Laden Wants to Assassinate Bush with an Explosives-Filled Airplane

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak later claims that Egyptian intelligence discovers a “communiqué from bin Laden saying he wanted to assassinate President Bush and other G8 heads of state during their summit in Genoa, Italy” on this day. The communiqué specifically mentions this would be done via “an airplane stuffed with explosives.” The US and Italy are sent urgent warnings of this. [New York Times, 9/26/2001] Mubarak will claim that Egyptian intelligence officials informed American intelligence officers between March and May 2001 that an Egyptian agent had penetrated al-Qaeda. Presumably, this explains how Egypt is able to give the US these warnings. [New York Times, 6/4/2002]

Late Summer 2001: Jordan Warns US That Aircraft Will Be Used in Major Attack Inside the US

Jordanian intelligence (the GID) makes a communications intercept deemed so important that King Abdullah’s men relay it to Washington, probably through the CIA station in Amman. To make doubly sure the message gets through it is passed through an Arab intermediary to a German intelligence agent. The message states that a major attack, code named “The Big Wedding,” is planned inside the US and that aircraft will be used. “When it became clear that the information was embarrassing to Bush administration officials and congressmen who at first denied that there had been any such warnings before September 11, senior Jordanian officials backed away from their earlier confirmations.” The Christian Science Monitor will call the story “confidently authenticated” even though Jordan has backed away from it. [International Herald Tribune, 5/21/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 5/23/2002]

July 2001: India Warns US of Possible Terror Attacks

India gives the US general intelligence on possible terror attacks; details are not known. US government officials later will confirm that Indian intelligence had information “that two Islamist radicals with ties to Osama bin Laden were discussing an attack on the White House,” but apparently, this particular information is not included in the July general warning and is not be given to the US until two days after 9/11. [Fox News, 5/17/2002]

July 16, 2001: British Spy Agencies Warn Al-Qaeda Is in The Final Stages of Attack in the West

British spy agencies send a report to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top officials warning that al-Qaeda is in “the final stages” of preparing an attack in the West. The prediction is “based on intelligence gleaned not just from [British intelligence] but also from US agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency,” which cooperate with the British. “The contents of the July 16 warning would have been passed to the Americans, Whitehall sources confirmed.” The report states there is “an acute awareness” that the attack is “a very serious threat.” [London Times, 6/14/2002]

Late July 2001: Taliban Foreign Minister Tries to Warn US & UN of Huge Attack Inside US

Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Muttawakil.Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Muttawakil. [Source: Reuters]Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil learns that bin Laden is planning a “huge attack” on targets inside America. The attack is imminent, and will kill thousands. He learns this from Tahir Yildash, leader of the rebel Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is allied with al-Qaeda at the time. Muttawakil sends an emissary to pass this information on to the US consul general, and another US official, “possibly from the intelligence services,” also attends the meeting. The message is not taken very seriously; one source blames this on “warning fatigue” from too many warnings. In addition, the emissary supposedly is from the Foreign Ministry, but did not say the message came from Muttawakil himself. The emissary then takes the message to the Kabul offices of UNSMA, the political wing of the UN. They also fail to take the warning seriously. [Independent, 9/7/2002; Reuters, 9/7/2002]

Late July 2001: Argentina Relays Warning to the US

Argentina’s Jewish community receives warnings of a major attack against the United States, Argentina, or France from “a foreign intelligence source.” The warning is then relayed to the Argentine security authorities. It is agreed to keep the warning secret in order to avoid panic while reinforcing security at Jewish sites in the country. Says a Jewish leader, “It was a concrete warning that an attack of major proportion would take place, and it came from a reliable intelligence source. And I understand the Americans were told about it.” Argentina has a large Jewish community that has been bombed in the past, and has been an area of al-Qaeda activity. [Forward, 5/31/2002]

Late July 2001: Egypt Warns CIA of 20 Al-Qaeda Operatives in US; Four Training to Fly; CIA Is Not Interested

CBS later reports, in a long story on another topic: “Just days after [Mohamed] Atta return[s] to the US from Spain, Egyptian intelligence in Cairo says it received a report from one of its operatives in Afghanistan that 20 al-Qaeda members had slipped into the US and four of them had received flight training on Cessnas. To the Egyptians, pilots of small planes didn’t sound terribly alarming, but they [pass] on the message to the CIA anyway, fully expecting Washington to request information. The request never [comes].” [CBS News, 10/9/2002] This appears to be just one of several accurate Egyptian warnings from their informants inside al-Qaeda.

August 2001: Moroccan Informant Warns US of Large Scale, Imminent Attack in New York

In 1999, a Moroccan named Hassan Dabou infiltrated al-Qaeda for the Moroccan intelligence agency. He was sent to Afghanistan, posing as an Islamic radical on the run from the Moroccan government. While there, he was able to grow close to bin Laden. He heard bin Laden repeatedly vent his anger at the failure of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 (see February 26, 1993). Bin Laden was “very disappointed” that the towers did not fall. Dabou heard that bin Laden had planned “something spectacular” involving “large scale operations in New York in the summer or fall of 2001.” Moroccan intelligence passed this information to US. Around this time, US intelligence is so interested that they call Dabou to Washington to report on this information in person. Dabout makes the trip in secret, but apparently his cover is blown and he is unable to go back and gather more intelligence. Dabou is still in Washington cooperating with US intelligence agents when 9/11 occurs. After 9/11 he will remain in Washington, get a new identity, and continue to work with US intelligence. [Agence France-Presse, 11/22/2001; International Herald Tribune, 5/21/2002; London Times, 6/12/2002]

August 2001: Russia Warns US of Suicide Pilots

Russian President Vladimir Putin warns the US that suicide pilots are training for attacks on US targets. [Fox News, 5/17/2002] The head of Russian intelligence also later states, “We had clearly warned them” on several occasions, but they “did not pay the necessary attention.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/2001] A Russian newspaper on September 12, 2001, will claim, “Russian Intelligence agents know the organizers and executors of these terrorist attacks. More than that, Moscow warned Washington about preparation to these actions a couple of weeks before they happened.” Interestingly, the article will claim that at least two of the militants were Muslim radicals from Uzbekistan. [Izvestia, 9/12/2001]

August 2001: Persian Gulf Informant Gives Ex-CIA Agent Information About ‘Spectacular Terrorist Operation’

Former CIA agent Robert Baer is advising a prince in a Persian Gulf royal family, when a military associate of this prince passes information to him about a “spectacular terrorist operation” that will take place shortly. He is given a computer record of around 600 secret al-Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The list includes ten names that will be placed on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list after 9/11. He is also given evidence that a Saudi merchant family had funded the USS Cole bombing on October 12, 2000, and that the Yemeni government is covering up information related to that bombing. At the military officer’s request, he offers all this information to the Saudi Arabian government. However, an aide to the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan, refuses to look at the list or to pass the names on (Sultan is later sued for his complicity in the 9/11 plot in August 2002). Baer also passes the information on to a senior CIA official and the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, but there is no response or action. Portions of Baer’s book describing his experience wil be blacked out, having been censored by the CIA. [Baer, 2002, pp. 55-58; Financial Times, 1/12/2002]

Early August 2001: Britain Warns US Again; Specifies Multiple Airplane Hijackings

Britain gives the US another warning about an al-Qaeda attack. The previous British warning on July 16, 2001 (see July 16, 2001), was vague as to method, but this warning specifies multiple airplane hijackings. This warning is said to reach President Bush. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 5/19/2002]

August 8-15, 2001: Israel Reportedly Warns of Major Assault on the US

Ephraim Halevy was head of the Israeli Mossad from 1998 to 2002.Ephraim Halevy was head of the Israeli Mossad from 1998 to 2002. [Source: Associated Press]At some point between these dates, Israel warns the US that an al-Qaeda attack is imminent. [Fox News, 5/17/2002] Reportedly, two high-ranking agents from the Mossad come to Washington and warn the FBI and CIA that from 50 to 200 terrorists have slipped into the US and are planning “a major assault on the United States.” They say indications point to a “large scale target,” and that Americans would be “very vulnerable.” They add there could be Iraqi connections to the al-Qaeda attack. [Daily Telegraph, 9/16/2001; Ottawa Citizen, 9/17/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001] The Los Angeles Times later retracts its story after a CIA spokesperson says, “There was no such warning. Allegations that there was are complete and utter nonsense.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001] Other newspapers do not retract it.

August 23, 2001: Mossad Reportedly Gives CIA List of Terrorist Living in US; at Least Four 9/11 Hijackers Named

According to German newspapers, the Mossad gives the CIA a list of 19 terrorists living in the US and say that they appear to be planning to carry out an attack in the near future. It is unknown if these are the 19 9/11 hijackers or if the number is a coincidence. However, four names on the list are known, and these four will be 9/11 hijackers: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Marwan Alshehhi, and Mohamed Atta. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; BBC, 10/2/2002; Ha'aretz, 10/3/2002] The Mossad appears to have learned about this through its “art student spy ring.” Yet apparently, this warning and list are not treated as particularly urgent by the CIA and the information is not passed on to the FBI. It is unclear whether this warning influenced the decision to add Alhazmi and Almihdhar to a terrorism watch list on this same day, and if so, why only those two. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Israel has denied that there were any Mossad agents in the US. [Ha'aretz, 10/3/2002]

August 29, 2001: Cayman Islands Letter Warns of ‘Major Terrorist Act Against US via an Airline or Airlines’

Three men from either Pakistan or Afghanistan living in the Cayman Islands are briefly arrested in June 2001 for discussing hijacking attacks in New York City (see June 4, 2001). On this day, a Cayman Islands radio station receives an unsigned letter claiming these same three men are agents of bin Laden. The anonymous author warns that they “are organizing a major terrorist act against the US via an airline or airlines.” The letter is forwarded to a Cayman government official but no action is taken until after 9/11. When the Cayman government notifies the US is unknown. Many criminals and/or businesses use the Cayman Islands as a safe, no tax, no-questions-asked haven to keep their money. The author of the letter will meet with the FBI shortly after 9/11, and will claim his information was a “premonition of sorts.” The three men will later be arrested. What has happened to them since their arrest is unclear. [Miami Herald, 9/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001; MSNBC, 9/23/2001]

August 30, 2001-September 4, 2001: Egypt Warns al-Qaeda Is in Advanced Stages of Planning Significant Attack on US

According to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian intelligence warns American officials that bin Laden’s network is in the advanced stages of executing a significant operation against an American target, probably within the US. [Associated Press, 12/7/2001; New York Times, 6/4/2002] He says he learned this information from an agent working inside al-Qaeda. US officials will deny receiving any such warning from Egypt. [ABC News, 6/4/2002]

Late August 2001: French Warning to US Echoes Earlier Israeli Warning

French intelligence gives a general terrorist warning to the US; apparently, its contents echo an Israeli warning from earlier in the month (see August 8-15, 2001). [Fox News, 5/17/2002]

September 4, 2001: Mossad Gives Another Warning of Major, Imminent Attack

“On or around” this day, the Mossad give their “latest” warning to the US of a major, imminent attack by al-Qaeda, according to sources close to Mossad. One former Mossad agent says, “My understanding is that the warning was not specific. No target was identified. But it should have resulted in an increased state of security.” US intelligence claims this never happened. [Sunday Mail, 9/16/2001]

September 7, 2001: Priest Is Told of Plot to Attack US and Britain Using Hijacked Airplanes

Father Jean-Marie Benjamin.Father Jean-Marie Benjamin. [Source: Public domain]At a wedding in Todi, Italy, Father Jean-Marie Benjamin is told of a plot to attack the US and Britain using hijacked airplanes as weapons. He is not told specifics regarding time or place. He immediately passes what he knows to a judge and several politicians. He later will state, “Although I am friendly with many Muslims, I wondered why they were telling me, specifically. I felt it my duty to inform the Italian government.” Benjamin has been called “one of the West’s most knowledgeable experts on the Muslim world.” Two days after 9/11, he will meet with the Italian Foreign Minister on this topic. He will say he learned the attack on Britain failed at the last minute. [Zenit (Vatican), 9/16/2001] An al-Qaeda cell based in nearby Milan, Italy, appears to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000) and (see January 24, 2001). It is not known if the Italian government warns the US government of this latest warning before 9/11.

September 7, 2001: French Give ‘Very Specific Information’ about Possible Attack on US Soil

The French newspaper Le Figaro will report in late 2001 that on this day, “According to Arab diplomatic sources as well as French intelligence, very specific information [is] transmitted to the CIA with respect to terrorist attacks against American interests around the world, including on US soil.” A French intelligence report sent to the US this day “enumerates all the intelligence, and specifies that the order to attack [is] to come from Afghanistan.” [Le Figaro (Paris), 10/31/2001] It will later be revealed that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed gives Mohamed Atta the final go-ahead in a phone call from Afghanistan the day before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001).

Before September 11, 2001: Three Countries Hear bin Laden Tell Wife to Return to Afghanistan; This Warning Sets Off ‘Scramble’ in US and Elsewhere

A month after 9/11, the New York Times will report: “Interpreting intercepted communications, which are cryptic and in code, and sorting through all the rumors present a formidable challenge. One intercept before the Sept. 11 attack was, according to two senior intelligence officials, the first early warning of the assault and it set off a scramble by American and other intelligence agencies. In that call, Mr. bin Laden advised his wife in Syria to come back to Afghanistan. That message, which was intercepted by the intelligence services of more than one country, was passed on to the United States, officials from three countries said.” [New York Times, 10/21/2001] bin Laden apparently makes a similar phone call to his stepmother in Syria on September 9, 2001 (see September 9, 2001).



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