Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Spy Factory

“NSA had all the information that it needed to stop the hijackers.”
James Bradford

We threatened to tell the truth again on February 3, when PBS aired a program, produced by NOVA, on how the NSA acted in the run-up to 9/11.

At the end of 1996, Al Qaeda purchased a satellite phone in New York for Osama bin Laden. The NSA knew about the existence of that phone and they recorded the conversations conducted over that phone. Almost immediately, NSA discovered that bin Laden was using that phone to call a house in Yemen. NSA discovered that Al Qaeda was using that house as a sort of communications hub. Its operatives from around the world would call that house to relay information. Osama bin Laden would call that house and provide instructions which would then get transmitted to Al Qaeda operatives worldwide.

“Osama bin Laden’s Inmarsat telephone was really a godsend,” said Michael Scheuer. “It gave us an idea, not only of where he was in Afghanistan, but where Al Qaeda, as an organization, was established, because there were calls to various places in the world.”

From 1996 to 1999, Scheuer served as the head of Alec Station, a CIA unit responsible for tracking the movements of Osama bin Laden. According to NOVA, NSA provided CIA with summaries of the bin Laden phone calls but refused to hand over the actual transcripts of those calls. Scheuer wanted the transcripts.

“Over time, if you read enough of these conversations, you first get clued in to the fact that maybe ‘bottle of milk’ doesn’t mean ‘bottle of milk,’” said Scheuer. “And if you follow it long enough, you develop a sense of what they’re really talking about. But it's not possible to do unless you have the verbatim transcript.”

Scheuer asked the NSA for the transcripts but the NSA refused to provide them. To gain access to the transcripts, Scheuer persuaded the CIA to build its own ground station. But the CIA did not have a satellite, and so Scheuer could only get half of the conversations.

At the end of 1999, the NSA recorded a call to the Yemen house in which Al Qaeda told two of its members, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, to fly to Malaysia for a terrorist summit.

“This is the phone call that sets in motion the 9/11 attacks,” said NOVA.

In less than two years, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi would hijack American Airlines Flight 77 and ram the plane into the Pentagon.

“After picking up this critical call, NSA passed on their first names to the FBI and the CIA but not their last names,” said James Bamford. “Nawaf’s last name had been in the NSA’s database for over a year, because of his association with bin Laden’s operations center in Yemen, but apparently the NSA never looked it up.”

Somehow, the CIA was able to identify Khalid al-Mihdhar and they had the government of Dubai make a copy of his passport when he traveled through their country. CIA examined his passport and discovered that he had a valid U.S. visa. After al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi reached Malaysia, the government there conducted surveillance on the two of them, upon request from the CIA.

At that time, Alec Station had two FBI agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, working the case. Knowing that al-Mihdhar had an American passport, after the meeting in Malaysia, the FBI agents wanted to tell their bosses at the FBI that two Al Qaeda terrorists may soon travel to America. However, the CIA would not allow it.

“This is one of the most astonishing parts of the story,” said James Bamford. “The CIA had FBI operatives working within their bin Laden unit, but when the FBI operatives found out that one, and possibly two, of the terrorists had visas to the United States, were heading for the United States, the CIA wouldn’t let them tell their headquarters that they were coming. Only the FBI could have put out alerts to stop Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi if they tried to enter the United States.”

Somehow, the CIA managed to lose track of al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi as they traveled through Thailand. On January 15, 2000, the two terrorists flew to Los Angeles. They would soon move to San Diego and acquire driver’s licenses using their real names. A known Al Qaeda finance chief would wire them money which they would pick up at a local bank.

According to the Frank Blanco, the former Executive Director of the NSA, the NSA had a catastrophic failure on January 24.

“NSA was brain-dead,” said Blanco. “It took probably three to four, maybe even five days to bring everything back up the way it was.”

While living in San Diego, the 9/11 hijackers would call the Yemen house many times. But according to NOVA, NSA refused to pass on that information to any other agency.

“Incredibly, the NSA never informed the FBI that these calls were coming from the United States, and we may never know why,” said James Bamford. “No one from NSA will discuss it, and the 9/11 Commission never investigated it.”

On June 10, Khalid al-Mihdhar flew from Los Angeles to Yemen to see his newborn son. He would live in the Al Qaeda communications house in Yemen for over a year, during which time he would apply for a new U.S. visa. Incredibly, our government granted his request.

Right before 9/11, the hijackers stayed at a motel in Laurel, Maryland.

“This town happens to be right next door to NSA’s headquarters,” said James Bradford.

In fact, the motel is located a mere two miles from NSA headquarters.

Now let’s do a recap called, “How many ways can our government fuck up an investigation?”
  1. NSA had been monitoring the Al Qaeda communications hub in Yemen since 1996 but our government never bothered to use the information gained from that operation to dismantle the organization.
  2. Apparently, our excuse for not dismantling Al Qaeda is that the NSA never bothered to hand over the transcripts of the bin Laden phone calls to the CIA. This, despite the fact that Al Qaeda killed hundreds of people in the Embassy Bombings in Africa and seventeen soldiers aboard the USS Cole. You would think our government, with all the knowledge it had of the inner working of Al Qaeda, would have done something more to destroy that organization.
  3. We were monitoring the Al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia but somehow we lost the terrorists when they moved to Thailand.
  4. Two FBI agents knew the identities of two of the hijackers but the CIA prevented them from telling anyone else in the FBI about them.
  5. Rather than trying to save American lives and tell their bosses of what they had learned, those two FBI agents just sat on the information. Apparently, they were worried more about their jobs than about the lives of the American people.
  6. The two Al Qaeda terrorists travel to America, get driver’s licenses using their real names, which our government knows, and no one stops them. The FBI claims they didn’t know who these guys were and the NSA…well, I’m not sure what the hell they claim.
  7. Perhaps the NSA blames their failings on a massive system failure about a week after the hijackers arrived in America. Perhaps this is their excuse for not discovering that the hijackers had moved to San Diego.
  8. A known Al Qaeda finance chief wires money to a bank in San Diego. The two hijackers pick up the money. No one in our government stops this.
  9. While living in San Diego, the hijackers call the Yemen house repeatedly. But apparently, nothing is done about this. NSA must have known about these calls, but apparently, they did nothing about it.
  10. After leaving America, Khalid al-Mihdhar lives in Yemen for a while. He applies for a new U.S. visa and our government gives it to him.
  11. Right before the attacks, the hijackers lived in a motel located a mere two miles away from NSA headquarters. I’m sure the NSA will claim that they had no knowledge of their presence there and I’m sure our government will claim that they did nothing either with or to the hijackers while they lived there.
Remembering that Osama bin Laden worked with the CIA during the 80s in Afghanistan in the fight against the Soviets, which explanation is more likely, that our government is a bunch of bumbling fools who couldn’t stop their former asset whom they’ve been monitoring since 1996, or that our government is a bunch of heartless idiots who decided to kill thousands of Americans so that they could advance their own dipshit agenda?

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