What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XIX.

The “planes operation” called for a large group of “muscle hijackers” to seize the cockpits of airliners in flight, then bar to door to any rebellious passengers while the smaller number of pilots flew the planes into buildings.

The “muscle hijackers” all obtained new passports in their home countries, then during September, October, and November 2000, obtained visas to enter the United States. (p. 340.) The muscle hijackers were back in Afghanistan from late 2000/early 2001 until Spring 2001. In Afghanistan they were given advanced training on terrorism, much—but not all–of which dealt with seizing control of an airplane in flight. (pp. 341-342.)

In April, May, and June 2001 the muscle hijackers began being moved toward the United States. (pp. 341-342.) In early July 2001 Midhar, the original hijacker who had bailed out for a time, returned to the United States. (p. 344.) Upon arrival in the United States, most of the muscle hijackers were brought to Florida. They seem to have spent their time going to gyms to work out. Thus, the muscle hijackers were in the United States from April through August 2001 at the longest. Three to five months for something to go wrong for al Qaeda; three to five months for the US government to notice something odd about twenty foreigners.

During Spring and Summer 2001 the pilots made several reconnaissance flights. Some of these were across the United States in the same type of planes they would command during the final attack; others were in small aircraft along the “Hudson Corridor” air route that passes Manhattan. (pp. 352-353.) They also did a lot of practice flying in small planes.

In June 2001 UBL pressed KSM to attack in June or July 2001, possibly to coincide with a visit to Washington by Ariel Sharon, but KSM resisted this pressure. (p. 360.) Instead, in July 2001 the “planes operation” had to be postponed until September 2001 because of another glitch (probably the uncertainty over one of the pilits, Zaid Jarrah). (p. 360.) Jarrah differed from the other hijackers in a number of ways and he also resented the domineering Atta; by July 2001 the conflict between the two men aroused concern that Jarrah might back out of the operation. (pp. 352-353.) In late July 2001 Jarrah returned to Germany with a one-way ticket purchased by his girl-friend in Germany.

In early July 2001 Mohammad Atta and Ramzi Binalshibh met in Spain to confer on last details. Atta was trying to co-ordinate four transcontinental air flights that would be departing almost simultaneously from East Coast cities. Moreover, Atta was aware that national leaders were usually on vacation in August and therefore out of Washington, DC. He wanted to delay the attack until early September. (p. 356.) NB: Atta wanted to kill a lot of members of Congress.

On 10 July 2001 Zacarias Moussaoui arranged to take renewed flight training in Egan, Minnesota, with the course scheduled to run from 13 to 20 August 2001. In late July 2001 Binalshibh wire transferred $15,000 to Moussaoui. (p. 354.) On 10 August 2001 Moussaoui left Oklahoma for Minnesota; on 13 August 2001 he began his simulator training, but aroused the suspicion of his instructors; several days later he was arrested by the INS. (pp. 354-355.)

Then things began to move forward for the operation. In the first half of August 2001 Jarrah returned to the United States to assume his place as one of the pilots. Moussaoui was now irrelevant. Between 29 June and 17 September 2000 Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, another nephew of KSM wire-transferred $114,500 in five tranches. (p. 324.) Between 25 August and 5 September 2001 all the plane tickets were purchased. (p. 357.) The attack would come on 11 September 2001.


What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XVIII.

The 9/11 Commission believes that UBL had arranged for someone in the United States to receive Hazmi and Midhar, the first two al Qaeda agents to arrive in the United States. Who were the contacts?

One likely candidate was Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi consul in Los Angeles and an imam at the King Fahd mosque there who is believed to have been an extremist. However, there is no concrete proof. (pp. 313-314.)

The most likely candidate was Mohdar Abdullah, a Yemeni whom jailhouse snitches subsequently claimed had boasted about having foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. (p. 316.) Abdullah drove the two men from Los Angeles to San Diego, served as a translator, helped them get California driver’s licenses, helped them sign up for languages classes and flying lessons, and introduced them to his circle of friends. (pp. 318-319.) Abdullah seems to have helped Hazmi get a job at a gas station where Abdullah worked. (p. 322.)

A third possibility is Yazeed al Salmi, who only came to the United States in July or August 2000. On 5 September 2000 Hazmi deposited $1,900 of al Salmi’s travelers cheques in his own bank account and withdrew the same amount of cash; al Salmi then lived in the same apartment with Hazmi until about October, when he moved in with Abdullah. (p. 322.)

Hazmi and Midhar arrived in Los Angeles on 15 January 2000; by the end of May 2000 they had abandoned the effort to learn to fly. They could not learn English, so they could not take flying lessons. Indeed, Midhar had become homesick and flew back to Yemen to visit his family in early June 2000. Hamzi hung around the mosque, then got a part-time job in a gas station.

The plot did not seem to be going forward. Nevertheless, KSM and OBL were not easily deterred.

A group of Muslim students living in Hamburg, Germany, had become radicalized by some means that still is not clear. In late 1999, fired by a desire to join in “jihad,” four of the group had left Germany for Afghanistan. Here they were recruited by al Qaeda. The intent was to use them for the “planes operation,” but they were not told exactly what their mission would be at this time. By late January 2000 they were back in Hamburg trying to get visas for the United States; in March 2000 Mohammed Atta, the alpha dog in the group, began contacting US flight schools. (pp. 231-245.) The first three of these pilot-candidates arrived in Newark between 29 May and 27 June 2000. They soon settled in Florida, where they signed up for flying lessons. By December 2000 all three had obtained pilot’s licenses and had begun simulator training for flying very large jets. (p. 328.)

Ramzi Binalshibh, the fourth pilot, could not obtain a visa for the US in May and June 2000, so al Qaeda hunted around for a replacement.

One obvious candidate turned out to be Hani Hanjour, a Saudi with an FAA pilot’s license who was discovered to be training in one of the al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in Spring 2000. Between June and 8 December 2000 Hanjour was prepped for his mission, then sent to the United States by way of San Diego. (pp. 326-327.)

For a time, they thought that Zacarias Moussaoui also might serve. He was sent to the United States by KSM in October 2000. (pp. 325-326.) From February to late May 2001 Moussaoui took flying lessons in Norman, Oklahoma, then stopped. (p. 355.)

Between January and October 2000, al Qaeda sent seven candidate-pilots for the “planes operation” to the United States. All entered the country without hindrance.

What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XIV.

“Soon after the Cole attack and for the remainder of the Clinton administration, analysts stopped distributing written reports about who was responsible.” (p. 279.) In the 25 November 2000 memo from Clarke and Berger to President Clinton, the National Security Advisor described the presumption of Bin Laden’s role as an “unproven assumption.” (p. 281.) On 21 December 2000 a CIA briefing said that there was strong circumstantial evidence of al Qaeda involvement in the attack, but nothing concrete. (p. 281.) Clinton and Berger have said subsequently that the president could not take the country to war or deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban or risk killing a bunch of civilians on the basis of such foggy judgments. George Tenet has said that he didn’t realize that the White House was waiting on a definite judgment from the CIA. Clarke suspects that the White House “didn’t really want to know” who was responsible because they wanted to concentrate on a last minute push for peace in the Middle East. (p. 282.) NB: The sort of thing that would get Clinton a Nobel Peace Prize and rehabilitate his “legacy” after the Lewinsky scandal. Tenet obviously playing along.


The Election of November 2000 didn’t do political comity or policy implementation any good. Of course, I haven’t seen that anyone asked Al Gore what he thought of Richard Clark or his stance on terrorism. I suppose it could have been him reading to a class of schoolchildren.

Between the election of 7 November 2000 and the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling much of the attention of the nation focused on the political and legal struggles attending the disputed presidential election. Moreover, the long struggle cut by half the normal transition period between administrations. (p. 285.)


The Bush Administration brought little change to the personnel involved in counterterrorism policy: Tenet remained DCI, Cofer Black remained head of the Counterterrorism Center, Louis Freeh remained Director of the FBI until June 2001, Dale Watson remained FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, Hugh Shelton remained Chairman of the JCS, and Clarke remained National Counterterrorism Coordinator. (p. 289.)

However, gaps existed. Brian Sheridan, the Clinton administration’s assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, departed on 20 January 2001 and was not replaced before 11 September 2001. (p. 300.) John Ashcroft, the new Attorney General, knew little, if anything, about terrorism and was more committed to the traditional law enforcement targets of drugs and organized crime. (pp. 302-303.)

In foreign policy the new Republican administration wanted to concentrate on “China, missile defense, the collapse of the Middle East peace process, and the Persian Gulf.” (p. 288.) In defense policy, the leaders wanted to concentrate on a new military strategy and force structure for the 21st century. (p. 300.)

On 29 December 2000 the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center put out a forward-looking memorandum on dealing with Afghanistan-based terrorism. Clarke adopted some of the CIA’s idea in his own memo early in the new year. The plan recommended a long-term effort (3-5 years) for dealing with al Qaeda; proposed to support both the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks as a way of eroding Taliban support for al Qaeda; recommended more Predator flights once the weather improved in March 2001; and contemplated military action. (pp. 284-285.)  None of this aimed at scorching snakes right this instant.