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  • Top Secret CIA Documents on Osama bin Laden Declassified

    Washington, D.C., June 19, 2012 – The National Security Archive today is posting over 100 recently released CIA documents relating to September 11, Osama bin Laden, and U.S. counterterrorism operations. The newly-declassified records, which the Archive obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, are referred to in footnotes to the 9/11 Commission Report and present an unprecedented public resource for information about September 11.

    The collection includes rarely released CIA emails, raw intelligence cables, analytical summaries, high-level briefing materials, and comprehensive counterterrorism reports that are usually withheld from the public because of their sensitivity. Today’s posting covers a variety of topics of major public interest, including background to al-Qaeda’s planning for the attacks; the origins of the Predator program now in heavy use over Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran; al-Qaeda’s relationship with Pakistan; CIA attempts to warn about the impending threat; and the impact of budget constraints on the U.S. government’s hunt for bin Laden.

    Today’s posting is the result of a series of FOIA requests by National Security Archive staff based on a painstaking review of references in the 9/11 Commission Report.

    The documents released by CIA detail the meticulousness of al-Qaeda’s plot against the United States and CIA attempts to counter the rising terrorist threat. A previously undisclosed raw intelligence report that became the basis for the December 4, 1998, President’s Daily Brief notes that five years before the actual attack, al-Qaeda operatives had successfully evaded security at a New York airport in a test-run for bin Laden’s plan to hijack a U.S. airplane. [1998-12-03]. CIA analytical reports also provide interesting insights into al-Qaeda’s evolving political strategies. “In our view, the hijackers were carefully selected with an eye to their operational and political value. For instance, the large number of Saudi nationals was most likely chosen not only because of the ease with which Saudi nationals could get US visas but also because Bin Ladin could send a message to the Saudi Royal family.” [2003-06-01]

    Reports on early attempts to apprehend bin Laden detail the beginning of the U.S. Predator drone program in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “First Predator mission over Afghanistan [excised] September 7, 2000.” [1] “Twice in the fall of 2000, the Predator observed an individual most likely to be Bin Ladin; however we had no way at the time to react to this information.” [2004-03-19] American UAVs did not have sufficient weapons capabilities at the time the CIA likely spotted bin Laden in 2000 to fire on the suspect using the UAV.

    Al-Qaeda’s ties to Pakistan before September 11 are also noted in several documents. “Usama ((Bin Ladin))’s Islamic Army considered the Pakistan/Afghanistan area one region. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan serve as a regional base and training center for Islamic Army activities supporting Islamic insurgencies in Tajikistan, the Kashmir region and Chechnya. [Excised] The Islamic Army had a camp in Pakistan [Excised] purpose of the camp was to train and recruit new members, mostly from Pakistan.” [1997-07-14] While, “UBL elements in Pakistan reportedly plan to attack POTUS [U.S. President Clinton’s] plane with [excised] missiles if he visits Pakistan.” [2000-02-18]

    Similar to the 9/11 Commission Report, the document collection details repeated CIA warnings of the bin Laden terrorist threat prior to September 11. According to a January 2000 Top Secret briefing to the Director of Central Intelligence, disruption operations against the Millennium plot “bought time… weeks… months… but no more than one year” before al-Qaeda would strike. [2000-01-07] “A UBL attack against U.S. interests could occur at any time or any place. It is unlikely that the CIA will have prior warning about the time or place.” [1999-08-03] By September 2001, CIA counterterrorism officials knew a plot was developing but couldn’t provide policymakers with details. “As of Late August 2001, there were indications that an individual associated with al-Qa’ida was considering mounting terrorist operations in the United States, [Excised]. No further information is currently available in the timing of possible attacks or on the alleged targets in the United States.” [2001-08-24]

    Despite mounting warnings about al-Qaeda, the documents released today illustrate how prior to September 11, CIA counterterrorism units were lacking the funds to aggressively pursue bin Laden. “Budget concerns… CT [counterterrorism] supplemental still at NSC-OMB [National Security Council – Office of Management and Budget] level. Need forward movement on supplemental soonest due to expected early recess due to conventions, campaigning and elections. Due to budgetary constraints… CTC/UBL [Counterterrorism Center/Osama bin Laden Unit] will move from offensive to defensive posture.” [2000-04-05]

    Although the collection is part of a laudable effort by the CIA to provide documents on events related to September 11, many of these materials are heavily redacted, and still only represent one-quarter of the CIA materials cited in the 9/11 Commission Report. Hundreds of cited reports and cables remain classified, including all interrogation materials such as the 47 reports from CIA interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed from March 24, 2003 – June 15, 2004, which are referenced in detail in the 9/11 Report.

    Highlights of the CIA September 11 Document Collection Include:
    The 1998 Raw Intelligence Report on UBL’s Plans to Hijack an Airplane that Became an Item in the December 4, 1998 President’s Daily Brief [1998-12-03].
    The report details how bin Laden was planning “new operations against the United States (U.S.) targets in the near future. Plans to hijack a U.S. aircraft were proceeding well. Two individuals from the relevant operational team in the U.S. had successfully evaded security checks during a trial run at “New York airport [excised].”
    Internal CIA E-mails on Osama bin Laden
    1998-05-05 – “[Title Excised]” “Planning for the UBL Rendition is Going Very Well,” To: Michael F. Scheuer, From: [Excised], Central Intelligence Agency Email. Cited in 9/11 Commission Report as “Capture Op,” “[Gary] Schroen to Mike.” [Chapter 4, Endnote 22 9/11 Commission Report]
    1998-12-20 – “Re: urgent re ubl,” Note For: Michael F. Scheuer, From: [Excised], Central Intelligence Agency Email. Cited in 9/11 Commission Report as “[Gary] Schroen to Mike” [Chapter 4, Endnotes 117, 119 9/11 Commission Report]
    1998-12-21 – “your note,” Note For: [Excised], From: Michael F. Scheuer, Central Intelligence Agency Email. Cited in 9/11 Commission Report as “Mike to [Gary] Schroen,” [Chapter 4, Endnote 119 9/11 Commission Report]
    1999-05-17 – “your note,” From Michael F. Scheuer, To [Excised], Central Intelligence Agency Email. Cited in 9/11 Commission Report as “Mike to [Gary] Schroen” [Chapter 4, Endnote 174 9/11 Commission Report]
    2001-05-15 – “[Excised] Query [Excised].” Central Intelligence Agency Email. Cited in 9/11 Commission Report as “Dave to John.” [Chapter 8, Endnote 72 9/11 Commission Report]
    2001-05-24 – [Title Excised] “Agee (sic) we need to compare notes,” Central Intelligence Agency Email. Cited in 9/11 Commission Report as “Dave to John.” [Chapter 8, Endnote 64 9/11 Commission Report]
    2001-07-13 – “[Excised] Khalad [Excised],” Central Intelligence Agency Email. Cited in 9/11 Commission Report as “Richard to Alan” [Chapter 8, Endnote 64 9/11 Commission Report]
    2001-08-21 – “Re: Khalid Al-Mihdhar,” Memorandum, Central Intelligence Agency Email. Cited in 9/11 Commission Report as “Mary to John.” [Chapter 8, Endnote 106 9/11 Commission Report]
    Two Definitive CIA Reports on the September 11, 2001 Attacks
    2003-06-01 – “11 September: The Plot and the Plotters,” CTC 2003-40044HC, Central Intelligence Agency Intelligence Report.
    [Chapter 5, Endnotes 42, 60, 61, 64, 70, 105, Chapter 7, Endnotes 45, 52, 60, 83, 86, 92, 94, 95, 96, 97, 105 9/11 Commission Report]
    This document is a comprehensive CIA history of the 9/11 attack. Analysis includes notes on al-Qaeda, the evolution of the plot, terrorist techniques, timelines and detailed hijacker profiles.
    2004-03-19 – “DCI Report: The Rise of UBL and Al-Qa’ida and the Intelligence Community Response,” Draft, Central Intelligence Agency Analytic Report. [Chapter 2, Endnote 67]
    This document is a detailed summary of CIA efforts to apprehend Osama bin Laden from 1989-2004. Highlights include:
    Agency notes on bin Laden’s evolution from “terrorist financier” in the early 1990s to a significant threat to U.S. interests by mid-1990.
    Discussions and debates regarding the use of Predator drones as early as 2000. [2]
    Critiques of FBI information systems as impediments to counterterrorism efforts – “A major, ongoing concern is FBI’s own internal dissemination system. CIA officers still often find it necessary to hand-deliver messages to the intended recipient within the FBI. In additional FBI has not perfected its FI reporting system and headquarters-field communications so dissemination of intelligence outside of FBI is still spotty.” And the report confirms suggestions by the 9/11 Commission Report that “the different organizational culture and goals of the FBI and CIA sometimes get in the way of desired results.” (p. 22)
    A group of Afghan trial leaders worked with the CIA on the UBL issue, but “[Excised] judged to be unlikely to successfully attack a heavily guarded Bin Ladin.” “Masood has to be engaged to help in the attempt to capture Bin Ladin, but with the understanding that he would be his own man, never an agent of surrogate of the US government… Even if he agreed to do so, his chances of success against the Taliban were judged to be less than five percent.” (p. 58)

    Note “DIF” written on multiple pages stands for “Denied in Full”
    A Series of CIA Senior Executive Intelligence Briefs (SEIBS) from June-September 2001 Warning of “Imminent” Al-Qaeda Attacks:
    2001-06-23 – “International: Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent [Excised]” Senior Executive Intelligence Brief. [Chapter 8, Endnote 14, See also p. 257 9/11 Commission Report]
    2001-06-25 – “Terrorism: Bin Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats,” Senior Executive Intelligence Brief. [Chapter 8, Endnotes 12, 14]
    2001-06-30 – “Terrorism: Bin Laden Planning High Profile Attacks [Excised],” Senior Executive Intelligence Brief. [Chapter 8, Endnote 12]
    2001-07-02 – “Terrorism: Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delay [Excised],” Senior Executive Intelligence Brief. [Chapter 8, Endnote 18]
    2001-07-13 – “Terrorism: Bin Ladin Plans Delayed but Not Abandoned [Excised],” Senior Executive Intelligence Brief. [Chapter 8, Endnote 28]
    2001-07-25 – “Terrorism: One Bin Ladin Operation Delayed, Others Ongoing [Excised],” Senior Executive Intelligence Brief. [Chapter 8, Endnote 28]
    2001-08-07 – “Terrorism: Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in the US,” Senior Executive Intelligence Brief. [Chapter 8, Endnote 38. Chapter 11, Endnote 5. Page 342]
    Detailed Reports on Al-Qaeda Organization
    “The spike in the network’s activity stems in part from changes in Bin Ladin’s practices. To avoid implicating himself and his Taliban hosts, Bin Ladin over the past two years has allowed cells in his network, al-Qa’ida, to plan attacks more independently of the central leadership and has tried to gain support for his agenda outside the group. – The network also has benefited from a sharp increase in mujahidin recruitment since the resumption of the conflict in Chechnya in 1999, which exposed a new generation of militants to terrorist techniques and extremist ideology through training at al-Qai’da-run camps in Afghanistan. – Violence between Israelis and the Palestinians, moreover is making Sunni extremists more willing to participate in attacks against US or Israeli interests.” 2001-02-06 – “Sunni Terrorist Threat Growing,” Senior Executive Intelligence Brief, The Central Intelligence Agency. [Chapter 8, Endnote 4 9/11 Commission Report]
    Bin Laden’s Attempts to Acquire Weapons of Mass Destruction
    “Bin Ladin and his associates have experimented by crude means to make and deploy biological agents… Bin Ladin has sought to acquire military-grade biological agents or weapons.” 2001-02-14 –”Afghanistan: Bin Ladin’s Interest in Biological and Radiological Weapons,” Central Intelligence Agency Analytical Report [Chapter 11, Endnote 5. 9/11 Commission Report Page 342]
    A Positive CIA Assessment of CIA Counterterrorism Capabilities in August 2001
    In contrast to the findings of the 9/11 Commission Report and a 2004 CIA Office of Inspector General’s review of its pre-9/11 counterterrorism practices, a report completed in August 2001 by the CIA Inspector General gives very positively reviews to CIA counterterrorism practices, the management of information and interagency cooperation. “CTC fulfills inter-agency responsibilities for the DCI by coordinating national intelligence, providing warning, and promoting the effective use of Intelligence Community resources on terrorism issues. The Center has made progress on problems identified at the time of the last inspection in 1994 – specifically its professional relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    Find this story at 19 June 2012

    The Central Intelligence Agency’s 9/11 File

    National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 381

    Posted – June 19, 2012

    Edited by Barbara Elias-Sanborn with Thanks to Archive Senior Fellow Jeffrey T. Richelson

    For more information contact:
    Barbara Elias-Sanborn – 202/994-7000