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2003: 9/11 Commissioner Becomes Involved in Fraud Scandal, Has Little Time for Commission Edit
Republican 9/11 Commissioner Jim Thompson becomes involved in a scandal surrounding the Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. Black is accused by shareholders and then the US Justice Department of appropriating money—tens of millions of dollars—that should have gone to shareholders for his own use, and of spending it on parties, private jets, and luxury homes. Thompson gets involved in the scandal because he was a director of Black’s company, Hollinger International, and also the chairman of the audit committee there, meaning that Thompson’s role is of great interest to prosecutors. Thompson spends a lot of time trying to extricate himself from the scandal and, according to author Philip Shenon, he “all but disappear[s] from the commission during the first year of the investigation.” This has a bad effect on the commission’s relations with Republicans in the House of Representatives, as Thompson is supposed to function as an unofficial liaison to them. As House Republicans have nobody on the commission who talks to them, they begin to attack it, in particular in April 2004 (see April 13-April 29, 2004). [SHENON, 2008, PP. 91-92]
2003: Lead 7/7 London Bomber Seen with Known Al-Qaeda Operative in Britain Edit
According to a later report by the BBC, Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), is “seen with [al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Junaid Babar] in Leeds in 2003.” The BBC will not name Babar for “legal reasons,” but the description they give (“he is a United States citizen from a Pakistani family from New York who traveled to Pakistan immediately after the 9/11 attacks”) matches Babar exactly. It is believed that US intelligence began monitoring Babar in late 2001 after he proclaimed his desire to kill Americans in several video interviews (see Early November 2001-April 10, 2004). The BBC will not clarify just who sees Babar and Khan together. In 2003, British intelligence is honing in on a fertilizer bomb plot that Babar is involved in, and Khan is connected to some of the plotters. For instance, sometime in early 2003 British intelligence discovers calls between one of the main alleged plotters and a “Siddique Khan” (see Shortly Before July 2003). [BBC, 10/25/2005]
2003: Justice Department Advises CIA Not to Destroy Interrogation Videotapes Edit
Scott Muller. [Source: New York Times] Sometime in 2003, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller raises the idea of destroying videotapes of the interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri during discussions in 2003 with Justice Department lawyers. But the Justice Department lawyers advise against destroying them. It is unknown what the basis for their advice is. Muller similarly approaches White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harriet Miers with the idea and she also advises him against it (see Between 2003-Late 2005). [NEW YORK TIMES, 12/8/2007]
2003: Figure Close to Madrid Bombings Mastermind Is Government Informant Edit
Said Berraj will be considered closely involved in the Madrid train bombings plot (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and frequently runs errands for Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of about three masterminds of the bombings. He was briefly arrested in Turkey in 2000 while meeting with several of the other bombers (see October 10, 2000). In 2003, he regularly meets with Spanish intelligence agents. It is not clear if or when he stops meeting with them. And up until the bombings he also works for a security company owned by a former policeman. He flees Spain two days before the bombing. He has yet to be found. [EL MUNDO (MADRID), 1/15/2007] A different informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, will later testify under oath as a protected witness that he accidentally sees Fakhet and Berrai meeting with his handlers in 2003, suggesting that Fakhet is an informant as well (see Shortly After October 2003).
2003: CIA Lawyers View Videos of Detainee Interrogations Edit
Lawyers from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel examine videos of detainee interrogations made by the CIA the year before (see Spring-Late 2002). Although the videos show practices that are said to amount to torture (see Mid-May 2002 and After, June 16, 2004, Shortly After September 6, 2006, and March 10-April 15, 2007), the lawyers find that they show lawful methods of questioning. The tapes are also examined by the Agency’s Inspector General around this time. [CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, 12/6/2007]
(2003): CIA Produces Video Containing Fake Osama bin Laden Edit
The CIA makes a fake video of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, although the video is apparently never used. The video shows bin Laden and some associates of his sitting around a campfire, swigging bottles of liquor and talking about having had sex with boys, according to a former CIA official. The actors are drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” the official will say. The timing of this effort is unclear, although it is apparently linked to discussions about making similar videos, including one of a fake Saddam Hussein having sex with a boy, prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion (see Before March 20, 2003). According to another former officer, the projects grind to a halt as nobody can come to an agreement on them. In particular, they are opposed by Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who keeps “throwing darts at it.” The officer will say that the ideas are ridiculous and, “They came from people whose careers were spent in Latin America or East Asia,” and do not understand the cultural nuances of the region. “Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East—nobody cares,” a third former official will say. “Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.” After the CIA abandons the projects, they are apparently revived by the military. “The military took them over,” one former official will say. “They had assets in psy-war down at Ft. Bragg,” at the Army’s Special Warfare Center. The projects will be revealed in the Washington Post in 2010. [WASHINGTON POST, 5/25/2010]
2003-2004: Administration Tries to Convince 9/11 Commissioner of Iraqi Ties to Al-Qaeda, but Will not Show All Claimed EvidenceEdit
The Bush administration tries to convince 9/11 commissioner John Lehman that there are ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The attempts take place in a series of meetings at the White House and Pentagon, where Lehman meets with Vice President Dick Cheney, White House chief of staff Andy Card, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Lehman, a prominent Republican, was previously frozen out of politics by the administration due to his ties to John McCain, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination against George W. Bush in 2000. However, the administration officials encourage the meetings when they see Lehman is interested in the alleged connection between Iraq and Osama bin Laden, in the hopes that he will use his position on the 9/11 Commission to draw attention to the allegations. However, the White House says it cannot share all the intelligence it has about the ties, because it is too classified. Nevertheless, Lehman can take it on faith that the intelligence exists. Wolfowitz tells him, “Just wait until you see the evidence we’ve got.” Lehman will later say: “I got that from everybody I talked to: ‘Wait and see, just wait until you see the evidence.’” After it becomes clear to Lehman the alleged links are non-existent, he will comment, “I think they were all drinking their own bathwater.” [SHENON, 2008, PP. 178-180]
2003-2004: US Allegedly Twice Denies French Special Forces Permission to Assassinate Bin Laden French special forces soldiers later interviewed for a documentary film will claim that they had Osama bin Laden in their sights once in 2003 and once in 2004 but were never given the go-ahead to fire from their US superiors. One French soldier says, “In 2003 and 2004 we had bin Laden in our sights. The sniper said ‘I have bin Laden’.” It then reportedly takes two hours for the request to shoot to reach US officers who could authorize it, but the French soldier says, “There was a hesitation in command,” and the authorization never came. Four French soldiers are interviewed who back up this claim, but a French military spokesperson denies it. France has roughly 200 elite troops operating under US command near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan at the time. [REUTERS, 12/19/2006; CBC NEWS, 12/22/2006] Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, French special forces Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan Category Tags: Afghanistan
2003-2004: Key FBI Agents Eager to Testify to 9/11 Commission, but Are Not Subpoenaed Edit
Two FBI agents who were involved in a pre-911 failure, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, are reportedly “eager” to provide testimony to the 9/11 Commission about that failure. However, the Commission does not issue them with a subpoena or otherwise interview them about the matter. Miller and Rossini were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11, and helped block a cable to the FBI that said 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). [CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY, 10/1/2008] The Commission will cite the transcript of an interview of Miller by the Justice Department’s inspector general in its final report. [9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 502] However, in the interview Miller falsely claims that he remembers nothing of the incident (see (February 12, 2004)). The Commission’s final report will also cite an interview it apparently conducted with Miller in December 2003, although this is in an endnote to a paragraph on terrorist financing. [9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 185, 504] As the blocked cable is not discovered by investigators until February 2004 (see Early February 2004), Miller is presumably not asked about it at the interview.
(2003-2004): Three White House Officials Asked about Destruction of CIA Interrogation Tapes, Response Unclear Edit
National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger. [Source: New York Times] The CIA meets three White House officials to discuss what to do with videotapes it has made of detainee interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). The CIA wants to destroy the tapes, so it briefs the officials on them and asks their advice. The officials are:
Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel until early 2005, when he will become attorney general; David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney; John Bellinger, senior lawyer at the National Security Council;
There are conflicting accounts of the advice the lawyers give the CIA. One source will say there was “vigorous sentiment” among some unnamed top White House officials to destroy the tapes. They apparently want to destroy the tapes in 2005 because they could be damaging in the light of the Abu Ghraib scandal (see April 28, 2004). Other sources will say nobody at the White House advocates destroying the tapes. However, it seems none of the lawyers gives a direct order to preserve the tapes or says their destruction would be illegal. [NEW YORK TIMES, 12/19/2007] A source familiar with Bellinger’s account will say, “The clear recommendation of Bellinger and the others was against destruction of the tapes… The recommendation in 2003 from the White House was that the tapes should not be destroyed.” [ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/20/2007] When CIA Director Michael Hayden informs legislators of these discussions in late 2007, he will say that upon being informed high-ranking CIA officials are demanding the tapes be destroyed, the lawyers “consistently counseled caution.” The Washington Post will comment: “The ambiguity in the phrasing of Hayden’s account left unresolved key questions about the White House’s role. While his account suggests an ambivalent White House view toward the tapes, other intelligence officials recalled White House officials being more emphatic at the first meeting that the videos should not be destroyed. Also unexplained is why the issue was discussed at the White House without apparent resolution for more than a year.” [WASHINGTON POST, 12/20/2007] Another White House official, Harriet Miers, is also consulted around this time and is said to advise against the tapes’ destruction (see Between 2003-Late 2005). [NEW YORK TIMES, 12/19/2007] When it is revealed that these officials were consulted, Law professor Jonathan Turley will comment: “[T]his is a very significant development, because it shows that this was not just some rogue operator at the CIA that destroyed evidence being sought by Congress and the courts. It shows that this was a planned destruction, that there were meetings and those meetings extended all the way to the White House, and included Alberto Gonzalez, who would soon become attorney general and Harriet Miers, who would become White House counsel. That’s a hair’s breath away from the president himself.” [CNN, 12/19/2007]
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