Index

Unclassified Version of
Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet's Testimony before the 
Joint Inquiry into Terrorist Attacks Against the United States

18 June 2002


Note:

1.  The Joint Inquiry members asked that the highly classified testimony DCI Tenet presented to them June 18 be modified to make it unclassified so that it could be released publicly.  To that end, intelligence sources and methods and all other classified text have been replaced with unclassified text.  The thrust of the Director's statement remains intact.

2.  The numbers following names in the text—e.g., "(#14)"—are keyed to the photos in the accompanying graphic, which is offered in both JPG and PDF formats.


Before Director Mueller and I focus on the 9/11 plot, as you've asked us to do Mr. Chairman, I would like to begin with some remarks on the context in which the attacks occurred.  There are two key points: 

We first locked onto Bin Laden in the period from 1991 to 1996 when he was in Sudan.

There were three broad phases in that struggle before 9/11 and I want to set the stage for the 9/11 plot by telling you about them:

Thus, even before September 2001, we knew that we faced a foe that is committed, resilient and has operational depth.  The Intelligence Community was already at war with al-Qaida. 

We had, in fact, considered ourselves at war with al-Qa'ida since 1998.  By 1998, key elements of CIA's strategy were emphatically offensive rather than defensive.  And in the spring of 1999, we put in place a new strategic operational plan whose central focus was to gain intelligence on Bin Ladin through penetrations of his organization.  This strategy structured our counterterrorist activity for the years leading up to the events of September 11. 

Now, with that as a backdrop, let me begin by characterizing the 9/11 plot in broad terms. 

Start with what we know today of the professionalism of the plot.  The 11 September operation was conducted carefully, patiently, and with evident understanding of how to operate in the United States. 

I mentioned the plot was tightly compartmented.  For intelligence work, breaking into the compartment is key to gaining the precise details of a plot.  We never achieved this success for the 9/11 plot.  We now have several indications of this compartmentation.

My third characterization of the plot was to call it resilient.  This was not a fragile plot that would have collapsed had the US government been able to achieve a few successes.  In fact, the plot went forward despite several real blows.

Keep these characterizations in mind as Director Mueller and I walk you through the details of the plot.  Also keep in mind that the 9/11 investigation is ongoing, and we expect to know even more in the future than we present to you here today. 

Let me start with what we knew before the 9-11 attacks:

Malaysia

A major question surrounding the 9/11 investigation is how the United States government was able to identify two of the hijackers as al-Qa'ida but not uncover the plot they were part of.  To explain how the intelligence case against Nawaf al-Hazmi (#14) and Khalid al-Mihdhar (#12) developed, I'll walk you through the case.

The Malaysia meeting took on greater significance in December 2000 when the investigation of the October 2000 USS Cole bombing linked some of Kahlid al-Mihdhar's Malaysia connections with Cole bombing suspects.  We further confirmed the suspected link between al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi and an individual thought to be one of the chief planners of the Cole attack, via a joint FBI-CIA HUMINT asset.  This was the first time that CIA could definitively place al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar with a known al-Qa'ida operative.

In August 2001, because CIA had become increasingly concerned about a major attack in the United States, we reviewed all of our relevant holdings.  During that review, it was determined that al-Mihdhar (#12) and al-Hazmi (#14) had entered the US on 15 January 2000, that al-Mihdhar had left the US on 10 June 2000 and returned on 4 July 2001, and that there was no record of al-Hazmi leaving the country.  On 23 August 2001, CIA sent a Central Intelligence Report to the Department of State, FBI, INS, and other US Government agencies requesting that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar be entered into VISA/VIPER, TIPOFF, and TECS [Treasury Enforcement Communication System].  The message said that CIA recommends that the two men be watchlisted immediately and denied entry into the US.

The fact that earlier we did not recommend al-Hazmi (#14) and al-Mihdhar (#12) for watchlisting is not attributable to a single point of failure.  There were opportunities, both in the field and at Headquarters, to act on developing information.  The fact that this did not happen—aside from questions of CTC workload, particularly around the period of the disrupted Millennium plots—pointed out that a whole new system, rather than a fix at a single point in the system, was needed. 

What we know of the plot now

 We have assembled a body of details that give a pretty clear picture of the plot.  Several things allowed us to assemble large amounts of information after the attacks that were not available before the attack. 

The operation fell into three general stages: conceptualization, preparation, and execution

Conceptualization

We now believe that a common thread runs between the first attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993 and the 11 September attacks.  We also know that a high-ranking al-Qa'ida member was either the mastermind or one of the key planners of the 11 September operation.

Mukhtar was not the only Bin Ladin associate to consider how to use commercial airliners in terrorist attacks. 

Bin Ladin's determination to strike America at home increased with the issuance of the February 1998 fatwa targeting all Americans, both military and civilian.  The ideas about destroying commercial airliners that had been circulating in al-Qa'ida leadership circles for several years appear to have been revived after that fatwa.

In December 1999, the plot moved from conceptualization to preparation, with the arrival in Afghanistan of three young Arab men from Hamburg, Germany who would become pilot-hijackers on 11 September.

Preparation

The men selected to carry out the 11 September attacks largely fall into three overall categories:

The Hamburg Cell

The men from Hamburg were Muhammad Atta (#1), Marwan al-Shehhi (#6), and Ziad Jarrah (#16), on whom the US held no derogatory information prior to 11 September 2001.

Muhammad Atta (#1), an educated middle-class Egyptian, arrived in Hamburg in 1992.

Future hijacker-pilot Marwan al-Shehhi (#6), came to Germany from the United Arab Emirates in April 1996 on a UAE military scholarship.

Ziad Jarrah (#16), like Atta, came from a middle-class family. 

A common acquaintance of members of Atta's circle was German-Syrian Muhammad Heydar Zammar, a known al-Qa'ida associate in Hamburg who was detained after 11 September. 

Atta's (#1) relationship with his roommate, Yemeni Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, may also have been crucial in focusing the Islamist beliefs of the Hamburg circle on al-Qa'ida.  Since 11 September, we have received a variety of reports identifying Bin al-Shibh as an important al-Qa'ida operative and we suspect that, unlike the three Hamburg pilots, he may have been associated with al-Qa'ida even before moving to Germany in 1995.      

The al-Qa'ida Veterans

We now know that two of the hijackers had been involved with al-Qa'ida for several years before 11 September 2001. 

The Young Saudis

The young Saudi men who made up the bulk of the support hijackers became involved with al-Qa'ida in the late 1990s, we have learned since 11 September.

As part of their commitment to militant Islam, these young Saudis traveled to Afghanistan to train in the camps of their exiled countryman Usama Bin Ladin. 

Saudi Hani Hanjur (#11), the fourth pilot, is similar to the other young Saudi hijackers in some ways, yet stands out because of:

Hani Hanjur (#11) expressed an early wish to participate in a jihad conflict, but did not appear to experience a sudden increase in his religious fervor until 1992.  That year, he returned to Saudi Arabia after four-and-a-half months in the US "a different man," according to one of his brothers who spoke to the Western media. Hanjur reportedly now wore a full beard, cut his past social ties, and spent most of his time reading books on religion and airplanes.  In April 1996, Hanjur returned to the US.     

The Hamburg pilots traveled to Afghanistan in late 1999 at which time they were likely selected for and briefed on the 11 September plot.

Since 11 September we have also obtained information on which al-Qa'ida leaders were involved in planning the attacks during this crucial late-1999 period in Afghanistan.

When they left Afghanistan at the end of 1999 and early 2000, the Hamburg hijackers immediately began to prepare for their mission

Al-Shehhi (#6), Atta (#1), and Jarrah (#16) entered the US on different dates in May and June 2000, from three different European cities, possibly to mislead authorities as to their common purpose.

While the Hamburg pilots were wrapping up their training in Afghanistan and returning to Germany in late 1999 and early 2000, halfway around the world the al-Qa'ida veterans, Nawaf al-Hazmi (#14) and Khalid al-Mihdhar (#12), prepared to enter the US. 

As you may have already noticed, the inclusion of al-Hazmi (#14) and al-Mihdhar (#12) in the plot seems to violate one of the conspiracy's most successful tactics: the use of untainted operatives.  Unlike the other hijackers, al-Hazmi (#14) and al-Mihdhar (#12) had years of involvement with al-Qa'ida—to such an extent that they had already come to our attention before 11 September.  Without the inclusion of al-Hazmi (#14) and al-Mihdhar (#12) in the plot, we would have had none of the hijackers who died on 11 September in our sights prior to the attacks.  We speculate that this difference may be explained by the possibility that the two men originally entered the US to carry out a different terrorist operation prior to being folded into the 9/11 plot.  I'll briefly outline the factors, other than their long track record with al-Qa'ida, that have led us to consider this possibility.

As mentioned earlier, it appears that at least one other member of the Hamburg cell—and possibly two—intended to participate in the 11 September attacks as a pilot. 

The entry of the future pilots into the US also launched the financing of the plot in earnest.  The financial transactions that supported the attacks in many ways reflected the overall nature of the operation, relying on ostensibly legitimate activities carried out inside the US over the course of nearly two years.  Key characteristics of the financial support operation included:

As training for the pilot-hijackers proceeded in the US through the latter half of 2000, al-Qa'ida leaders turned their attention to bringing into the plot the young men who would support the pilots

On 3 January 2001, Atta (#1) flew from Tampa, Florida to Madrid, Spain.  No details have yet emerged on the week he spent in Spain, although it may have been to meet with another al-Qa'ida operative to pass along an update on the pilots' training progress and receive information on the supporting hijackers who would begin arriving in the US in the spring.  On 10 January, Atta returned to the US, flying from Madrid to Miami.     

Atta (#1) was not the only pilot to travel outside the US during the period when he was attaining and honing his flying skills. 

As you may have read in the press, Atta (#1) allegedly traveled outside the US in early April 2001 to meet with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, we are still working to confirm or deny this allegation.

Khalid al-Mihdhar (#12) returned to the US on 4 July 2001 after nearly a year out of the country.  He had spent the past year traveling between Yemen and Afghanistan, with occasional trips to Saudi Arabia.

In July 2001, Atta (#1) returned to Spain. On 7 July, he flew from Miami to Zurich, then on to Madrid.     

Conclusion

By 5 August 2001, all of the hijackers are in the United States to stay.  Before I turn to Director Mueller to describe what the plotters did in the United States, let me conclude with a few points:

The lessons of 11 September have not just been learned, but acted on.

Ongoing security enhancements and the development of new leads, investigations and human sources, have made it harder for identical attacks to take place.  However, al-Qa'ida is known for changing its tactics, and a determined group of terrorists, using a slightly different approach, could succeed if they used much of the resilient tradecraft employed by the 11 September hijackers.


Source: http://www.odci.gov/cia/public_affairs/speeches/dci_testimony_06182002.html

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