What We Learned From the Report of the 911 Commission X

In the mid- to late-Eighties, Khadr Abu Hoshar, a Palestinian terrorist resident in Jordan, was recruiting young men who had been through the Afghan training camps. In 1996 Abu Hoshar was imprisoned for a time by the Jordanians. By 1998 he had been released and was back to his old tricks. During 1998 he and a group of 15 fellow terrorists worked up an ambitious plan for attacks. During 1999 he got in contact with some Islamic terrorist jihadis in Afghanistan who had some sort of ties to OBL. They were providing technical advice and training to Abu Hoshar’s group. (pp. 252-253.)

Abu Hoshar’s security practices had not improved during his stretch in a Jordanian prison, however, because the Jordanian intelligence service spiked his phone and kept his whole group under observation. On 30 November 1999 the Jordanians intercepted a conversation between Abu Hoshar and Abu Zubaydah, the Afghan with connections to OBL, which seemed to herald an imminent attack. They rolled up all but one of the group, turned the screws on the prisoners until they got a bunch of intelligence in short order, and told the Americans what was up. (pp. 252-253.)

The CIA situated this report in a larger context during the first few days of December 1999 by reporting the possibility of a planned series of attacks by OBL at the “millennium,” some of which might involve weapons of mass destruction. (pp. 253-254.) Various efforts were made to hinder any such attacks by various means: by diplomacy (the Taliban were threatened, the Paks were cozened); by disruption in cooperation with friendly intelligence services; by loosening the leash on CIA operations. (pp. 254-255.) In December 1999 the leader of the Northern Alliance offered to plaster al Qaeda’s training camp at Derunta with rockets. Again, the CIA thought that this would violate a ban on assassinations, so they waved him off. (p. 270-271.)

Canada was awash in terrorists and aspiring terrorists in the late Nineties. Ahmed Ressam, a Moroccan petty criminal who had managed to find refuge in Canada in 1994, was recruited in 1998 by another jihadi then resident in Canada. Ressam spent part of 1998 training an Afghanistan terrorist camp. Here he joined a group of other Algerian jihadis who had been recruited for anti-American terrorist action. Back in Canada in the first half of 1999, Ressam received assistance from three other Algerians who were hiding out in Canada from French authorities, who wanted to talk to them about some stuff that had happened in France. By December 1999 he was in Vancouver, BC, preparing to enter the United States to attack LAX. (p. 255.)

On 14 December 1999 Ressam behaved oddly when attempting to enter the United States at Port Angeles, Washington, and was arrested. (p. 257.) The Ressam arrest coming on top of the report of the Jordanian plot caused great alarm in Washington. The FBI started tapping numerous telephones under FISA warrants. Richard Clarke’s office warned that “Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks in the US are likely.” Clarke also asked Berger rhetorically “Is there a threat to civilian aircraft?” (pp. 258-259.) In late December 1999 the US received a report from a foreign intelligence service that OBL planned to bomb several transatlantic flights. (p. 259.)

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