Bin Laden Room, FBI and CIA Efforts to Capture Him - link to full original article


Note: As this article is quite long, we include it in full here with 9/11 summary statements highlighted in bold face.



                  The target: In 1998, President Clinton signed a "lethal

                  finding" which, in effect, gave the CIA permission to kill

                  Osama bin Laden in a covert operation


                  The Road to Sept. 11


                  For a decade, America's been fighting a losing secret war

                  against terror. A NEWSWEEK investigation into the missed clues

                  and missteps




          Oct. 1 issue —  He was more than a little suspicious. At the Airman

      Flight School in Norman, Okla., the stocky aspiring pilot with the heavy

      French accent acted oddly. He was abrupt and argumentative, refusing to

      pay the whole $4,995 fee up front (he shelled out $2,500 in cash instead).

      He had been dodgy in his e-mails. "E is not secure," explained Zacarias

      Moussaoui, 33, who preferred to use his Internet alias, "zuluman

      tangotango." A poor flier, he suddenly quit in mid-May, before showing up

      at another flight school in Eagan, Minn.


               AT PAN AM FLYING ACADEMY, he acknowledged that the biggest plane

      he'd ever flown was a single-engine Cessna. But he asked to be trained on

      a 747 flight simulator. He wanted to concentrate only on the midair turns,

      not the takeoffs and landings. It was all too fishy to one of the

      instructors, who tipped off the Feds. Incarcerated because his visa had

      expired, Moussaoui was sitting in the Sherburne County Jail when some

      other pilot trainees drove their hijacked airliners into the World Trade

      Center and the Pentagon.

              It's not that the U.S. government was asleep. America's open

      borders make tracking terrorists a daunting exercise. NEWSWEEK has learned

      that the FBI has privately estimated that more than 1,000 individuals—most

      of them foreign nationals—with suspected terrorist ties are currently

      living in the United States. "The American people would be surprised to

      learn how many of these people there are," says a top U.S. official.

      Moussaoui almost exactly fits the profile of the suicide hijackers, but he

      may or may not have been part of the plot. After Moussaoui's arrest on

      Aug. 17, U.S. immigration authorities dutifully notified the French (he

      was a passport holder), who responded 10 days later that Moussaoui was a

      suspected terrorist who had allegedly traveled to Osama bin Laden's

      training camps in Afghanistan. Ten days may seem like a leisurely pace for

      investigators racing against time to foil terrorist plots, but in the real

      world of international cooperation, 10 days "c'est rapide," a French

      official told NEWSWEEK. Fast but, in the new age of terror, not fast



             As officials at the CIA and FBI sift through intelligence reports,

      they are berating themselves for missing warning signs on the road to

      Sept. 11. Those reports include intercepted messages with phrases like

      "There is a big thing coming," "They're going to pay the price" and "We're

      ready to go." Unfortunately, many of those messages, intercepted before

      the attack, did not reach the desks of intelligence analysts until

      afterward. In the bureaucracy of spying, 24-hour or 48-hour time lags are

      not unusual. None of the intercepted traffic mentioned the Pentagon or the

      World Trade Center. Some hinted at a target somewhere on the Pacific Rim.

      Nonetheless, an intelligence official told NEWSWEEK: "A lot of people feel

      guilty and think of what they could have done."



              All across the world last week, intelligence services were

      scrambling to catch the terrorists before they struck again. The scale of

      the roundup was breathtaking: in Yemen, a viper's nest of terror,

      authorities hauled in "dozens" of suspected bin Laden followers. In

      Germany, police were searching for a pair of men believed to be directly

      involved in the hijacking plot. In France, more than half a dozen were

      being held for questioning, while in Britain, Belgium and the

      Netherlands—and Peru and Paraguay—police raided suspected terror hideouts.

      In the United States, where the FBI has launched the greatest manhunt in

      history, authorities detained about 90 people. Most of them were being

      held for minor immigration charges, but investigators were looking for

      mass murderers. The gumshoes swept up pieces of chilling evidence, like

      two box cutters stuffed into the seat of a Sept. 11 flight out of

      Boston—another hijacking target? Boston was jittery over threats of an

      attack last Saturday. An Arab in a bar was overheard to say that blood

      would flow in Boston on Sept. 22, and U.S. intelligence intercepted a

      conversation between Algerian diplomats talking about "the upcoming Boston

      tea party on Sept. 22." It turned out that some women really were holding

      a tea party that day. Some federal officials were spooked when manuals

      describing crop-duster equipment—to spray deadly germs?—were found among

      Moussaoui's possessions. But a top U.S. official told NEWSWEEK, "I'm not

      getting into the bunker and putting on a gas mask. We're used to seeing

      these threats." (Nonetheless, crop-dusters were barred from flying near



               The vast dragnet was heartening, unless one considers that after

      two American embassies were bombed in 1998, a similar crackdown swept up a

      hundred potential suspects from Europe to the Middle East to Latin

      America—and bin Laden's men were still able to regroup to launch far more

      devastating attacks. Catching foot soldiers and lieutenants will not be

      enough to stop even greater cataclysms. Last week the authorities were

      searching for a single man who might have triggered the assault on

      Washington and New York. In past attacks by bin Laden's Qaeda

      organization, "sleeper" agents have burrowed into the target country to

      await their orders. FBI officials now believe that the mastermind was

      Mohamed Atta, the intense Egyptian who apparently piloted the first plane,

      American Airlines Flight 11, into the North Tower of the World Trade

      Center. ("Did he ever learn to fly?" Atta's father, Mohamed al-Amir Atta,

      said to NEWSWEEK. "Never. He never even had a kite. My daughter, who is a

      doctor, used to get him medicine before every journey, to make him combat

      the cramps and vomiting he feels every time he gets on a plane.") Though

      intelligence officials believe they have spotted the operation's

      paymaster, identified to NEWSWEEK as Mustafa Ahmed, in the United Arab

      Emirates, Atta was the one hijacker who appeared to have the most contacts

      with conspirators on other aircraft prior to the attacks, and he was the

      one who left a last testament. According to a top government source, it

      included this prayer: "Be prepared to meet your God. Be ready for this

      moment." Atta's role "doesn't fit the usual pattern," said one official.

      "It looks like the ringleader went down with the plane."

      He has no throne, no armies, not even any real territory, aside from the

      rocky wastes of Afghanistan. But he has the power to make men willingly go

      to their deaths for the sole purpose of indiscriminately killing

      Americans—men, women and children.


              The ultimate ringleader may be somewhere in the mountains of

      Afghanistan, hiding from U.S. bombs and commandos—but also no doubt

      plotting his next atrocity. In history's long list of villains, bin Laden

      will find a special place. He has no throne, no armies, not even any real

      territory, aside from the rocky wastes of Afghanistan. But he has the

      power to make men willingly go to their deaths for the sole purpose of

      indiscriminately killing Americans—men, women and children. He is an

      unusual combination in the annals of hate, at once mystical and

      fanatical—and deliberate and efficient. Now he has stirred America's wrath

      and may soon see America's vengeance. But the slow business of mopping up

      the poison spread by bin Laden through the Islamic world was almost

      pitifully underscored after the attack by a plea from FBI Director Robert

      Mueller. The nation's top G-man said the FBI was looking for more Arabic

      speakers. A reasonable request, but perhaps a little late in the game.

      It's hard to know your enemy when you can't even speak his language.

              For most Americans, life was instantly and forever changed on

      Sept. 11, 2001. But the terror war that led up to the attack had been

      simmering, and sometimes boiling over, for more than 10 years. It can be

      recalled as a tedious bureaucratic struggle—all those reports on "Homeland

      Defense" piling up unread on the shelves of congressmen, droning

      government officials trying to fatten their budgets with scare stories

      relegated to the back pages of the newspaper. Or it can be relived—as it

      truly was—as a race to the Gates of Hell. Before the world finds out what

      horrors lie beyond, it's worthwhile retracing a decadelong trail of terror

      to see how America stumbled.


              The enemy has clearly learned from experience. In December 1994,

      the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), an Algerian-based terrorist band that would

      go on to play a prominent role in bin Laden's global army, hijacked an Air

      France Airbus with 171 passengers aboard. The plan: to plunge into the

      Eiffel Tower. The problem: none of the hijackers could fly. The Air France

      pilot landed instead in Marseilles, where French police stormed the plane.

      It was not too long afterward that the first terrorists began quietly

      enrolling in flight schools in Florida.



              The United States has been a little slower on the uptake. Money

      has not really been the obstacle. The counterterrorism budget jumped from

      $2 billion to $12 billion over a decade. The United States spends $30

      billion a year gathering intelligence. Nor has bin Laden been in any way

      ignored. For the past five years, analysts have been working through the

      night in a chamber, deep in the bowels of CIA headquarters, known as the

      Bin Laden Room. Some experts argued that the CIA was too focused on bin

      Laden—that, in an effort to put a face on faceless terror, the gaunt

      guerrilla fighter had been elevated to the role of international bogeyman,

      to the neglect of shadowy others who did the real killing. Now, as the

      Washington blame game escalates—along with the cries for

      revenge—intelligence officials are cautioning that terror cells, clannish

      and secretive, are extremely difficult to penetrate; that for every snake

      beheaded two more will crawl out of the swamp; that swamps can never be

      drained in land that drips with the blood of martyrs; that even the most

      persuasive interrogations may not crack a suspect who is willing to die.

              All true. But the inability of the government to even guess that

      19 suicidal terrorists might turn four jetliners into guided missiles

      aimed at national icons was more than a failure of intelligence. It was a

      failure of imagination. The United States is so strong, the American

      people seemed so secure, that the concept of Homeland Defense seemed

      abstract, almost foreign, the sort of thing tiny island nations worried

      about. Terrorists were regarded by most people as criminals, wicked and

      frightening, but not as mortal enemies of the state. There was a kind of

      collective denial, an unwillingness to see how monstrous the threat of

      Islamic extremism could be.


             In part, that may be because the government of the United States

      helped create it. In the 1980s, the CIA secretly backed the mujahedin, the

      Islamic freedom fighters rebelling against the Soviet occupation of

      Afghanistan. Arming and training the "Mooj" was one of the most successful

      covert actions ever mounted by the CIA. It turned the tide against the

      Soviet invaders. But there is a word used by old CIA hands to describe

      covert actions that backfire: "blowback." In the coming weeks, if and when

      American Special Forces helicopters try to land in the mountains of

      Afghanistan to flush out bin Laden, they risk being shot down by Stinger

      surface-to-air missiles provided to the Afghan rebels by the CIA. Such an

      awful case of blowback would be a mere coda to a long and twisted tragedy

      of unanticipated consequences. The tale begins more than 10 years ago,

      when the veterans of the Mooj's holy war against the Soviets began

      arriving in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.

              Bonded by combat, full of religious zeal, the diaspora of young

      Arab men willing to die for Allah congregated at the Al-Kifah Refugee

      Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., a dreary inner-city building that doubled as a

      recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the

      mujahedin. The dominant figures at the center in the late '80s were a

      gloomy New York City engineer named El Sayyid Nosair, who took Prozac for

      his blues, and his sidekick, Mahmud Abouhalima, who had been a human

      minesweeper in the Afghan war (his only tool was a thin reed, which he

      used as a crude probe). The new immigrants were filled not with gratitude

      toward their new nation, but by implacable hatred toward America, symbol

      of Western modernity that threatened to engulf Muslim fundamentalism in a

      tide of blue jeans and Hollywood videos. Half a world away, people who

      understood the ferocity of Islamic extremism could see the coming storm.

      In the late '80s, Pakistan's then head of state, Benazir Bhutto, told the

      first President George Bush, "You are creating a Frankenstein." But the

      warnings never quite filtered down to the cops and G-men on the streets of

      New York.

              The international jihad arrived in America on the rainy night of

      Nov. 5, 1990, when Nosair walked into a crowded ballroom at the New York

      Marriott on 49th Street and shot and killed Rabbi Meir Kahane, a mindless

      hater who wanted to rid Israel of "Arab dogs" ("Every Jew a .22" was a

      Kahane slogan). The escape plan was amateur hour: Nosair's buddy

      Abouhalima was supposed to drive the getaway car, a taxicab, but the

      overexcited Nosair jumped in the wrong cab and was apprehended.

      More from NEWSWEEK's reporting on the March 1993 World Trade Center

      bombing: The Hunt Begins


              With a room full of witnesses and a smoking gun, the case against

      Nosair should have been a lay-down. But the New York police bungled the

      evidence, and Nosair got off with a gun rap. At that moment, Nosair and

      Abouhalima may have had an epiphany: back home in Egypt, suspected

      terrorists are dragged in and tortured. In America, they can hire a good

      lawyer and beat the system. The New York City police hardly noticed any

      grander scheme. A search of Nosair's apartment turned up instructions for

      building bombs and photos of targets—including the Empire State Building

      and the World Trade Center. The police never bothered to inventory most of

      the evidence, nor were the documents translated—that is, until a van with

      a 1,500-pound bomb blew up in the underground garage of the World Trade

      Center on Feb. 26, 1993. The (first) World Trade Center bombing, which

      killed six people and injured more than 1,000, might have been a powerful

      warning, especially when investigators discovered that the plotters had

      meant to topple the towers and packed the truck bomb with cyanide (in an

      effort to create a crude chemical weapon). But the cyanide was harmlessly

      burned up in the blast, the buildings didn't fall and the bombers seemed

      to be hapless. One of them went back to get his security deposit from the

      truck rental.


             The plotters were quickly exposed as disciples of Sheik Omar

      Abdel-Rahman, the "Blind Sheik" who ranted against the infidels from a

      run-down mosque in Jersey City. The Blind Sheik's shady past should have

      been of great interest to the Feds—he had been linked to the plot to

      assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. But the sheik had

      slipped into the United States with the protection of the CIA, which saw

      the revered cleric as a valuable recruiting agent for the Mooj.

      Investigators trying to track down the Blind Sheik "had zero cooperation

      from the intelligence community, zero," recalled a federal investigator in

      New York.



              One World Trade Center plotter who did attract attention from the

      Feds was Ramzi Yousef. Operating under a dozen aliases, Yousef was a

      frightening new figure, seemingly stateless and sinister, a global

      avenging angel. Though he talked to Iraqi intelligence and stayed in a

      safe house that was later linked to bin Laden, Yousef at the time appeared

      to be a kind of terror freelancer. Yousef's luck ran out when the

      apartment of an old childhood friend, Abdul Hakim Murad, burst into

      flames. Plotting with Yousef, Murad had been at work making bombs to

      assassinate the pope and blow up no fewer than 11 U.S. airliners. Murad's

      arrest in January 1995 led investigators to capture Yousef in Pakistan,

      where he was hiding out. Murad and Yousef were a duo sent by the Devil:

      Murad had taken pilot lessons, and the two talked about flying a plane

      filled with explosives into the CIA headquarters or a nuclear facility. At

      the time, FBI officials thought the plans were grandiose and farfetched.

      Now they look like blueprints.


              The capture of Yousef was regarded as a stirring victory in the

      war against terrorism, which was just then gearing up in Washington. But

      Yousef's arrest illustrates the difficulties of cracking terrorism even

      when a prize suspect is caught. At his sentencing, Yousef declared, "Yes,

      I am a terrorist, and I am proud of it." He has never cooperated with

      authorities. Instead, he spent his days chatting about movies with his

      fellow inmates in a federal maximum-security prison, Unabomber Ted

      Kaczynski and, until he was executed, the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy


              By the mid-'90s, counterterror experts at the FBI and CIA had

      begun to focus on Osama bin Laden, the son of a Saudi billionaire who had

      joined the Mooj in Afghanistan and become a hero as a battlefield

      commander. Bin Laden was said to be bitter because the Saudi royal family

      had rebuffed his offer to rally freedom fighters to protect the kingdom

      against the threat of Saddam Hussein after the Iraqi strongman invaded

      Kuwait in 1990. Instead, the Saudi rulers chose to be defended by the

      armed forces of the United States. To bin Laden, corrupt princes were

      welcoming infidels to desecrate holy ground. Bin Laden devoted himself to

      expelling America, not just from Saudi Arabia, but—as his messianic

      madness grew—from Islam, indeed all the world.


              Tony Lake, President Bill Clinton's national-security adviser,

      does not recall one single defining moment when bin Laden became Public

      Enemy No. 1. It was increasingly clear to intelligence analysts that

      extremists all over the Middle East viewed bin Laden as a modern-day

      Saladin, the Islamic warrior who drove out the Crusaders a millennium ago.

      Setting up a sort of Terror Central of spiritual, financial and logistical

      support—Al Qaeda (the Base)—bin Laden went public, in 1996 telling every

      Muslim that their duty was to kill Americans (at first the fatwa was

      limited to U.S. soldiers, then broadened in 1998 to all Americans). From

      his home in Sudan, bin Laden seemed to be inspiring and helping to fund a

      broad if shadowy network of terrorist cells. On the rationale that no

      nation should be allowed to harbor terrorists, the State Department in the

      mid-'90s pressured the government of Sudan to kick out bin Laden. In

      retrospect, that may have been a mistake. At least in Sudan, it was easier

      to keep an eye on bin Laden's activities. Instead, he vanished into the

      mountains of Afghanistan, where he would be welcomed by extremist Taliban

      rulers and enabled to set up training bases for terrorists. These

      camps—crude collections of mud huts—appear to have provided a sort of Iron

      John bonding experience for thousands of aspiring martyrs who came for a

      course of brainwashing and bombmaking.

              With the cold war over, the Mafia in retreat and the drug war

      unwinnable, the CIA and FBI were eager to have a new foe to fight. The two

      agencies established a Counter Terrorism Center in a bland, windowless

      warren of offices on the ground floor of CIA headquarters at Langley, Va.

      Historical rivals, the spies and G-men were finally learning to work

      together. But they didn't necessarily share secrets with the alphabet soup

      of other enforcement and intelligence agencies, like Customs and the

      Immigration and Naturalization Service, and they remained aloof from the

      Pentagon. And no amount of good will or money could bridge a fundamental

      divide between intelligence and law enforcement. Spies prefer to watch and

      wait; cops want to get their man. At the White House, a bright

      national-security staffer, Richard Clarke, tried to play counterterror

      coordinator, but he was given about as much real clout as the toothless

      "czars" sent out to fight the war on drugs. There was no central figure

      high in the administration to knock heads, demand performance and make

      sure everyone was on the same page. Lake now regrets that he did not try

      harder to create one. At the time, Clinton's national-security adviser was

      too preoccupied with U.S. involvement in Bosnia to do battle with fiefdoms

      in the intelligence community. "Bosnia was easier than changing the

      bureaucracy," Lake told NEWSWEEK.



              An empire builder with a messianic streak of his own, FBI Director

      Louis Freeh was eager to throw G-men at the terrorist threat all over the

      world. When a truck bomb blew up the Khobar Towers, a U.S. military

      barracks in Saudi Arabia, Freeh made a personal quest of bringing the

      bombers to justice. As Freeh left office last summer, a grand jury in New

      York was about to indict several conspirators behind the bombing. But,

      safely secluded in Iran, the suspects will probably never stand trial. The

      Khobar Towers investigation shows the limits of treating terrorism as a

      crime. It also reveals some of the difficulties of working with foreign

      intelligence services that don't share the same values (or rules) as

      Americans. Freeh's gumshoes got a feel for Saudi justice when they asked

      to interview some suspects seized in an earlier bombing attack against a

      U.S.-run military compound in Riyadh. Before the FBI could ask any

      questions, the suspects were beheaded. An attempt by the FBI to play the

      role of Good Cop to the Saudis' Bad Cop was thwarted by American

      sensitivities. After the bombing, FBI agents managed to corner Hani

      al-Sayegh, a key suspect in Canada. Cooperate with us, the gumshoes

      threatened, or we'll send you back to Saudi Arabia, where a sword awaits.

      No fool, the suspect hired an American lawyer. The State Department was

      convinced that sending the man back to Saudi Arabia would violate

      international laws banning torture. Their leverage gone, the Feds were

      unable to make the suspect talk.

              The CIA did have some luck in working with foreign security

      services to roll up terror networks. In 1997 and 1998, the agency

      collaborated with the Egyptians—whose security service is particularly

      ruthless—to root out cells of bin Laden's men from their hiding places in

      Albania. But just as the spooks were congratulating themselves, another

      bin Laden cell struck in a carefully coordinated, long-planned attack.

      Within minutes of each other, truck bombs blew up the U.S. embassies in

      Tanzania and Kenya, killing more than 220. The failure of intelligence in

      the August 1998 embassy bombings is a case study in the difficulty of

      penetrating bin Laden's network.


              For some of the time that bin Laden's men were plotting to blow up

      the two embassies, U.S. intelligence was tapping their phones. According

      to Justice Department documents, the spooks tapped five telephone numbers

      used by bin Laden's men living in Kenya in 1996 and '97. But the plotters

      did not give themselves away. Bin Laden uses couriers to communicate with

      his agents face to face. His Qaeda organization is also technologically

      sophisticated, sometimes embedding coded messages in innocuous-seeming Web

      sites. Intelligence experts have worried for some time that the

      supersecret-code breakers at the National Security Agency are going deaf,

      overwhelmed by the sheer volume of telecommunications and encryption

      software that any consumer can buy at a computer store.

              If high-tech espionage won't do the job, say the experts, then the

      CIA needs more human spies. It has become rote to say that in order to

      crack secretive terrorist cells the CIA needs to hire more Arabic-speaking

      case officers who can in turn recruit deep-penetration agents—HUMINT

      (human intelligence) in spy jargon. Actually, the CIA had a sometime

      informer among the embassy bombers. Ali Mohamed was a former Egyptian Army

      officer who enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., in

      the early 1980s to lecture U.S. Special Forces on Islamic terrorism. In

      his free time, he was a double agent. On the weekends he visited the

      Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, where he stayed with none other than

      El Sayyid Nosair, the man who struck the first blow in the holy war by

      murdering Rabbi Kahane. Ali Mohamed went to Afghanistan to fight with the

      Mooj, but after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he flipped back,

      telling the Feds about bin Laden's connection to some of the bombers. He

      described how the Islamic terrorist used "sleepers" who live normal lives

      for years and then are activated for operations. What he did not tell the

      spooks was that he was helping plan to bomb the U.S. embassies in Africa.

      Only after he had pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 1999 did he disclose

      that he had personally met with bin Laden about the plot. He described how

      bin Laden, looking at a photo of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, "pointed to

      where the truck could go as a suicide bomber."

              The story of Ali Mohamed suggests that the calls by some

      politicians for more and better informants may be easier to preach than

      practice. The CIA's skills in the dark arts of running agents have

      atrophied over the years. The agency was purged of some of its best spy

      handlers after the 1975 Church Committee investigation exposed some

      harebrained agency plots, like hiring the Mafia to poison Fidel Castro.

      During the Reagan years, the agency was beefed up, but a series of

      scandals in the late '80s and the '90s once more sapped its esprit.

      America's spies were once proud to engage in "morally hazardous duty,"

      said Carleton Swift, the CIA's Baghdad station chief in the late 1950s.

      "Now the CIA has become a standard government bureaucracy instead of a

      bunch of special guys."

              A number of lawmakers are calling to, in effect, unleash the CIA.

      They want to do away with rules that restrict the agency from hiring

      agents and informers with a record of crimes or abusing human rights.

      Actually, case officers in the field can still hire sleazy or dangerous

      characters by asking permission from their bosses in Langley. "We almost

      never turn them down," said one high-ranking official. But that answer may

      gloss over a more significant point—that case officers, made cautious by

      scandal, no longer dare to launch operations that could get them hauled

      before a congressional inquisition.



              The weaknesses of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, once called

      "the Department of Dirty Tricks," can be overstated. When the CIA

      suspected that the Sudanese government was helping bin Laden obtain

      chemical weapons, a CIA agent was able to obtain soil samples outside the

      Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant that showed traces of EMPTA—a precursor

      chemical used in deadly VX gas. The evidence was used to justify a

      cruise-missile attack on the factory in retaliation for the embassy

      bombings. At the same time, 70 cruise missiles rained down on a bin Laden

      training camp in Afghanistan.

              The Clinton administration was later mocked for this showy but

      meaningless response. Clinton's credibility was not high: he was accused

      of trying to divert attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In classic

      American fashion, the owner of the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan hired a

      top Washington lobbying firm to heap scorn on the notion that his plant

      was being used for chemical weapons. But Clinton's national-security

      adviser at the time, Sandy Berger, still "swears by" the evidence, and

      insists that the cruise missiles aimed at bin Laden's training camps

      missed bin Laden and his top advisers by only a few hours.

              The Clinton administration never stopped trying to kill bin Laden.

      Although a 1976 executive order bans assassinations of foreign leaders,

      there is no prohibition on killing terrorists—or, for that matter, from

      killing a head of state in time of war. In 1998, President Clinton signed

      a "lethal finding," in effect holding the CIA harmless if bin Laden was

      killed in a covert operation. The agency tried for at least two years to

      hunt down bin Laden, working with Afghan rebels opposed to the Taliban

      regime. These rebels once fired a bazooka at bin Laden's convoy but hit

      the wrong vehicle. "There were a few points when the pulse quickened, when

      we thought we were close," recalled Berger.

              By the final year of the Clinton administration, top officials

      were very worried about the terrorist threat. Berger says he lay awake at

      night, wondering if his phone would ring with news of another attack.

      Administration officials were routinely trooping up to Capitol Hill to

      sound warnings. CIA Director George Tenet raised the specter of bin Laden

      so many times that some lawmakers suspected he was just trying to scare

      them into coughing up more money for intelligence. The Clinton Cassandras

      emphasized the growing risk that terrorists would obtain weapons of mass

      destruction—chemical, biological or nuclear. But the threat was not deemed

      to be imminent. Bin Laden was generally believed to be aiming at "soft"

      targets in the Middle East and Europe, like another embassy. The experts

      said that a few bin Laden lieutenants were probably operating in the

      United States, but no one seriously expected a major attack, at least

      right away.

              The millennium plots should have been a wakeup call. Shortly

      before the 2000 New Year, an obscure Algerian refugee named Ahmed Ressam

      was caught by a wary U.S. Customs inspector trying to slip into the United

      States from Canada with the makings of a bomb. Ressam was a storm trooper

      in what may have been a much bigger plot to attack the Los Angeles airport

      and possibly other targets with a high symbolic value. A petty criminal

      who lived by credit-card fraud and stealing laptop computers, Ressam was

      part of a dangerous terrorist organization—GIA, the same group that

      hijacked the Air France jet in 1994 and tried, but failed, to plunge it

      into the Eiffel Tower. A particularly vicious group that staged a series

      of rush-hour subway bombings in Paris in the mid-'90s, GIA is a planet in

      Al Qaeda's solar system. Ressam later told investigators that he had just

      returned from one of bin Laden's Afghan training camps, where he learned

      such skills as feeding poison gas through the air vents of office

      buildings. Some of Ressam's confederates in the millennium plots were

      never picked up and are still at large. The Canadian Security Intelligence

      Service is believed to have fat files on the GIA, but like many secret

      services, the CSIS does not share its secrets readily with other services,

      at home or abroad. Some U.S. investigators believe that bin Laden was

      using Canada as a safe base for assaults on the United States. U.S. border

      authorities now believe that several of the suicide hijackers came across

      the border via a ferry from Nova Scotia in the days before the attack on

      the World Trade Center.

              In hindsight, the Ressam case offered clues to another bin Laden

      trademark: the ability of Al Qaeda-trained operatives to hide their

      tracks. While renting buildings in Vancouver, Ressam and his confederates

      frequently changed the names on the leases, apparently to lay a confusing

      paper trail. A kind of terrorist's how-to manual ("Military Studies in the

      Jihad Against the Tyrants") found at the home of a bin Laden associate in

      England last year instructs operatives to deflect suspicion by shaving

      beards, avoiding mosques and refraining from traditional Islamic

      greetings. Intelligence officials now suspect that bin Laden used all

      manner of feints and bluffs to throw investigators off the trail of the

      suicide hijackers. Decoy terrorist teams and disinformation kept the CIA

      frantically guessing about an attack somewhere in the Middle East, Asia or

      Europe all last summer. Embassies were shuttered, warships were sent to

      sea, troops were put on the highest state of alert in the Persian Gulf.

      The Threat Committee of national-security specialists that meets twice a

      week in the White House complex to monitor alerts sent out so many

      warnings that they began to blur together. One plot seemed particularly

      concrete and menacing. At the end of July, authorities picked up an

      alleged bin Laden lieutenant named Djamel Begal in Dubai. He began

      singing—a little too fast, perhaps—about a plan to bomb the American

      Embassy in Paris. Was the threat real—or a diversion?

              The United States is heavily dependent on foreign intelligence

      services to roll up terror networks in their own countries. But typically,

      intelligence services prefer to keep an eye on suspected terrorists rather

      than prosecute them.

              To persuade a foreign government to turn over information on a

      terrorist suspect, much less arrest him, requires heavy doses of

      diplomacy. The task is not made easier if different branches of the

      American government squabble with each other. Last October, the USS Cole,

      a destroyer making a refueling stop in the Yemeni port of Aden, was nearly

      sunk by suicide bombers in a small boat. (An earlier attempt, against a

      different American warship docking in Yemen, fizzled when the suicide

      boat, overloaded with explosives, sank as it was leaving the dock. Bin

      Laden, nothing if not persistent, apparently ordered his hit men to try

      again.) FBI investigators immediately rushed to the scene, where they were

      coolly received by the Yemeni government. The G-men became apprehensive

      about their own security and demanded that they be allowed to carry

      assault rifles. The U.S. ambassador, Barbara Bodine, who regarded the FBI

      men as heavy-handed and undiplomatic, refused. After an awkward standoff

      between the G-men and embassy security officials in the embassy compound,

      the entire FBI team left the country—for three months. They did not return

      until just recently.

      Top: Mohammad Atta's flight instructor says he liked to practice turns

      Bottom: Suspect Marwan Alshehhi took pilot classes in Venice, Florida

               It now appears that the same men who masterminded the Cole

      bombing may be tied to the devastating Sept. 11 assault on the United

      States. Since January 2000 the CIA has been aware of a man named Tawfiq

      bin Atash, better known in terrorist circles by his nom de guerre

      "Khallad." A Yemeni-born former freedom fighter in Afghanistan, Khallad

      assumed control of bin Laden's bodyguards and became a kind of capo in Al

      Qaeda. According to intelligence sources, Khallad helped coordinate the

      attack on the Cole. These same sources tell NEWSWEEK that in December

      1999, Khallad was photographed by the Malaysian security service (which

      was working with the CIA to track terrorists) at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

      There, Khallad met with several bin Laden operatives. One was Fahad

      al-Quso, who, it later turned out, was assigned to videotape the suicide

      attack on the Cole (not all of Al Qaeda's men are James Bond: al-Quso

      botched the job when he overslept). Another was Khalid al-Midhar, who was

      traveling with an associate, Nawaf al-Hazmi, on a trip arranged by an

      organization known to U.S. intelligence as a "logistical center" and "base

      of support" for Al Qaeda.

              Those two names—al-Midhar and al-Hazmi—would resonate with

      intelligence officials on Sept. 11. Both men were listed among the

      hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, the airliner that dive-bombed

      the Pentagon. Indeed, when one intelligence official saw the names on the

      list of suspects, he uttered an expletive. Just three weeks earlier, on

      Aug. 21, the CIA asked the INS to keep a watch out for al-Midhar. The INS

      reported that the man was already in the country; his only declared

      address was "Marriott Hotel" in New York. The CIA sent the FBI to find

      al-Midhar and his associate. The gumshoes were still looking on Sept. 11.



              At least one other name from the list of hijackers had shown up in

      the files of Western intelligence services: Mohamed Atta. He is an

      intriguing figure, both because of his role as the apparent senior man

      among the suicide hijackers, and because his background offers some

      disturbing clues about the high quality of bin Laden's recruits. The

      stereotype of an Islamic suicide bomber is that of a young man or teenage

      boy who has no job, no education, no prospects and no hope. He has been

      gulled into believing that if he straps a few sticks of dynamite around

      his waist and presses a button, he will stroll through the Gates of

      Paradise, where he will be bedded by virgins. Atta in no way matches that

      pathetic creature. He did not come from a poor or desperate fundamentalist

      family. His father, Mohamed, described himself to NEWSWEEK as "one of the

      most important lawyers in Cairo." The Atta family has a vacation home on

      the Mediterranean coast. Their Cairo apartment, with a sweeping view of

      downtown, is filled with ornate furniture and decorated with paintings of

      flamingos and women in head scarves.

              If anything, Atta seemed like a prodigy of Western modernism. His

      two sisters are university professors with Ph.D.s. Atta won a bachelor's

      degree in Cairo in 1990 and went to Germany for graduate work in urban


              His thesis adviser in Hamburg, where he studied at the Technical

      University, called Atta "a dear human being." Only in retrospect does it

      appear ominous that in his thesis dedication he wrote "my life and my

      death belong to Allah, master of all worlds." Atta went to bars and rented

      videos ("Ace Ventura," "Storm of the Century"), but he also grew a beard

      and began to dress more in Islamic style. He spoke often of Egypt's

      "humiliation" by the West. While polite, he also could be haughty. He

      scorned women, refusing to shake their hands.

              That was the only worry of Atta's proud father. "I started

      reminding him to get married," Atta senior recounted to NEWSWEEK, as he

      chain-smoked cigarettes ("American blend"). "Many times I asked him to

      marry a woman of any nationality—Turkish, German, Syrian—because he did

      not have a girlfriend like his colleagues. But he insisted he would marry

      an Egyptian. He was never touching woman, so how can he live?" In October

      1999, "we found him a bride who was nice and delicate, the daughter of a

      former ambassador," said Atta senior. But Atta junior said he had to go

      back to Germany to finish his Ph.D. Actually, he was going to Florida to

      enroll in flight school.

              During his years as a student in Hamburg, Atta would disappear for

      long periods of time—possibly, to meet with his handlers. U.S.

      intelligence believes that Atta met in Europe this year with a midlevel

      Iraqi intelligence official. The report immediately raised the question of

      Saddam Hussein's possible role in the Sept. 11 atrocity, but intelligence

      officials cautioned against reading too much into the link. Atta was in

      close communication with his superiors. On Sept. 4, one week before the

      bombing, he sent a package from a Kinko's in Hollywood, Fla., to a man

      named Mustafa Ahmed in the United Arab Emirates. "We don't know for sure

      what was in the package," said a senior U.S. official. "But Mustafa could

      be the key to bin Laden's finances. We're taking a hard look at him."

      (Several of the hijackers also wired money to Ahmed.) There are

      indications that Atta prepared very carefully for the attack, casing the

      airport in Boston and flying coast to coast on airliners. He may have had

      a backup plan: NEWSWEEK has learned that Atta had round-trip reservations

      between Baltimore and San Francisco in mid-October.

              Atta's father refuses to accept his son's role as a suicide

      bomber. "It's impossible my son would participate in this attack," he

      said, claiming that he was a victim of a plot by Israeli intelligence to

      provoke the United States against Islam. "The Mossad kidnapped my son,"

      said Atta. "He is the easiest person to kidnap, very surrendering, no

      physical power, no money for bodyguards. They used his name and

      identity... Then they killed him. This was done by the Mossad, using

      American pilots." Atta's rant was wild and sad—yet it was matched by the

      vituperations of the virulently anti-American Egyptian press, which spun

      fantastic plots featuring Mossad agents as the villains.

              Atta appears to have been inseparable from another hijacker,

      Marwan al-Shehhi, up to the moment they parted ways at Logan airport on

      the morning of Sept. 11. The FBI believes that al-Shehhi piloted the

      second jetliner, United Airlines Flight 175, into the South Tower of the

      World Trade Center. Al-Shehhi and Atta roomed together in Florida and were

      tossed out of Jones Flying Service School for unprofessional behavior.

      (Instructors complained about their "attitude.") They signed up together

      for a one-month membership at a gym, the Delray Beach Health Club. They

      went to Las Vegas, where the FBI believes that several hijackers kept

      girlfriends. They ate American, but told the employees at Hungry Howie's

      to hold the ham when they ordered their favorite pizza, a pie with all the

      toppings called "The Works."

              As investigators piece together the lives of the hijackers,

      details that once seemed innocuous now loom large. Ziad Samir Jarrahi, a

      Lebanese man, took martial-arts lessons at a Dania, Fla., gym. "What he

      wanted to study was street-fighting tactics—how to gain control over

      somebody with your hands, how to incapacitate someone with your hands,"

      gym owner Bert Rodriguez told NEWSWEEK. Did Jarrahi use those tactics in

      the last, desperate struggle in the cockpit of Flight 93, which crashed in

      a field outside Pittsburgh? Top law-enforcement officials reported that

      the voice recorder from Flight 93 picked up sounds of Arab and American

      voices shouting as the plane went down. Some very brave passengers stormed

      the cockpit in a last-ditch effort to seize control of the plane. Did they

      encounter Jarrahi and his newly honed fighting skills?



              The available evidence suggests a death match. When the hijackers

      struck, at about 9:35 a.m., air-traffic controllers listening in on the

      frequency between the cockpit and the control center in Cleveland could

      hear screams, then a gap of 40 seconds with no sound, then more screams.

      Then, sources say, a nearly unintelligible voice said something like "Bomb

      onboard." The controllers tried to raise the captain but received no

      response. Then radar showed the plane turning sharply—toward Washington,

      D.C. A voice in thickly accented English said, "This is your captain.

      There is a bomb onboard. We are returning to the airport."

              In the passenger cabin, there was bloodshed and fear. At least one

      passenger was dead, probably with his throat slashed. In the back of the

      plane, however, five men, all burly athletes, were plotting a rush at the

      hijackers. "We're going to do something," Todd Beamer told a GTE operator

      over the air phone. "I know I'm not going to get out of this." He asked

      the operator to say the Lord's Prayer with him. "Are you ready, guys?" he

      asked. "Let's roll." The cockpit voice recorder picked up someone,

      apparently a hijacker, screaming "Get out of here! Get out of here!" Then

      grunting, screaming and scuffling. Then silence.

              Such stories of heroic struggle will be—and should be—told and

      retold in the years to come. But now investigators are groping with

      uncertainty, asking: Who else is still out there? And will they strike

      again? A congressional delegation to CIA headquarters last week reported

      that mattresses were strewn on the floors. The race is still on, round the

      clock. Some investigators were trying to follow the money. They learned

      that in the week before the Sept. 11 attack, the hijackers began sending

      small amounts of money back to their paymasters in the Middle East. "They

      were sending in their change," an intelligence source told NEWSWEEK. "They

      were going to a place where they wouldn't need money." The hijackers

      apparently didn't need all that much to begin with: law enforcement

      estimates that the entire plot, flight lessons and all, cost as little as

      $200,000. That is 10 times more than was spent on the first World Trade

      Center bombing, but still a low-enough sum so the money could be moved in

      small denominations among trusted agents. Still, Al Qaeda is reputed to be

      expert at money laundering. Last week the pressure was on banks all over

      the world to open up their books (and on the banking lobby in the United

      States to drop its opposition to new laws that would make it easier for

      investigators to follow the money). The trail is likely to lead in some

      diplomatically awkward directions. Moderate Arab regimes are said to try

      to buy off terrorists. Much of bin Laden's money has come from wealthy

      Saudis who ostensibly give to Islamic charities. Some of those charities

      resemble the "widows and orphans" funds the Irish Republican Army uses to

      finance its bomb making.

              The money trail led investigators last week to a suspect whose

      background and motives could be the stuff of nightmares. Nabil al-Marabh,

      a former Boston taxi driver of Kuwaiti descent, is suspected of funneling

      thousands of dollars in wire transfer through Fleet Bank to the Middle

      East. The money was allegedly sent to a former Boston cabby implicated in

      a terrorist plot in Jordan that was foiled at the time of the millennium

      celebrations. At the same time, investigators say, al-Marabh may have

      exchanged phone calls with at least two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

      Al-Marabh, who like a number of terrorists seems to have used Canada as a

      sometime sanctuary, was hard to track down. Canadian authorities first

      informed U.S. Customs about al-Marabh in July, and investigators opened a

      money-laundering probe. Last week the FBI raided an apartment in Detroit,

      where al-Marabh had been living. They found instead three men who had once

      worked as caterers at the Detroit airport (and kept their airport ID

      badges). In the apartment was a diagram of an airport runway and a day

      planner filled with notations in Arabic about "the American base in

      Turkey," the "American foreign minister" and the name of an airport in

      Jordan. The FBI arrested the men, but al-Marabh was at the time getting a

      duplicate driver's license at the state department of motor vehicles.

              Not just any license. Al-Marabh's license would permit him to

      drive an 18-wheel truck containing hazardous materials. As it turned out,

      two of his housemates had also been going to school to learn how to drive

      large trucks. Carrying what, exactly? And heading where?



      This story was written by Evan Thomas with reporting from Mark Hosenball,

      Michael Isikoff, Eleanor Clift and Daniel Klaidman in Washington, Peg Tyre

      in New York, Christopher Dickey in Paris, Andrew Murr, Joseph Contreras

      and John Lantigua in Florida, Karen Breslau in San Francisco, Sarah Downey

      in Minneapolis, Stefan Theil in Hamburg, Tom Masland in Dubai and Alan

      Zarembo in Cairo



            Cover: The 10-Year Hunt for bin Laden

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