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Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US was the President's Daily Brief given to U.S. President George W. Bush on August 6, 2001. The President's Daily Brief (PDB) is a brief of important classified information on national security collected by various U.S. intelligence agencies given to the president and a select group of senior officials. The brief warned of terrorism threats from Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda over a month before the September 11, 2001 attacks.[1]

Contents

Text and declassification

The PDB was declassified and approved for release on April 10, 2004, for the 9/11 Commission, and later reported on in the 9/11 Commission Report. The Report stated in Chapter 8 ("The System was Blinking Red"), Section 1 ("The Summer of Threat"):

Because the amount of reporting is so voluminous, only a select fraction can be chosen for briefing the president and senior officials. During 2001, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet was briefed regularly regarding threats and other operational information relating to Usama Bin Ladin. He in turn met daily with President Bush, who was briefed by the CIA through what is known as the President's Daily Brief (PDB). Each PDB consists of a series of six to eight relatively short articles or briefs covering a broad array of topics; CIA staff decides which subjects are the most important on any given day. There were more than 40 intelligence articles in the PDBs from January 20 to September 10, 2001, that related to Bin Ladin. The PDB is considered highly sensitive and is distributed to only a handful of high-level officials...

During the spring and summer of 2001, President Bush had on several occasions asked his briefers whether any of the threats pointed to the United States. Reflecting on these questions, the CIA decided to write a briefing article summarizing its understanding of this danger. Two CIA analysts involved in preparing this briefing article believed it represented an opportunity to communicate their view that the threat of a Bin Ladin attack in the United States remained both current and serious. The result was an article in the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." It was the 36th PDB item briefed so far that year that related to Bin Ladin or al Qaeda, and the first devoted to the possibility of an attack in the United States.

The President told us the August 6 report was historical in nature. President Bush said the article told him that al Qaeda was dangerous, which he said he had known since he had become President. The President said Bin Ladin had long been talking about his desire to attack America. He recalled some operational data on the FBI, and remembered thinking it was heartening that 70 investigations were under way. As best he could recollect, Rice had mentioned that the Yemenis' surveillance of a federal building in New York had been looked into in May and June, but there was no actionable intelligence.

He did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so. He said that if his advisers had told him there was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. That never happened.

Although the following day's SEIB repeated the title of this PDB, it did not contain the reference to aircraft hijackings, the alert in New York, the alleged casing of buildings in New York, the threat phoned in to the embassy, or the fact that the FBI had approximately 70 ongoing bin Ladin-related investigations. No CSG or other NSC meeting was held to discuss the possible threat of a strike in the United States as a result of this report.

The following is the text of an item from the Presidential Daily Brief received by President George W. Bush on August 6, 2001. Redacted material is indicated by brackets.

Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Bin Ladin since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Ladin implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and "bring the fighting to America."
After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, Bin Ladin told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a [--] service.
An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told an [--] service at the same time that Bin Ladin was planning to exploit the operative's access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of Bin Ladin's first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself, but that Bin Ladin lieutenant Abu Zubaydah encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaydah was planning his own US attack.
Ressam says Bin Ladin was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
Although Bin Ladin has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Ladin associates surveilled our Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993, and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
Al-Qa'ida members--including some who are US citizens--have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks. Two al-Qua' da members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens, and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s.
A clandestine source said in 1998 that a Bin Ladin cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.
We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [--] service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" 'Umar 'Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists.
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our Embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of Bin Ladin supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.

Late in the month, a foreign service reported that Abu Zubaydah was considering mounting terrorist attacks in the United States, after postponing possible operations in Europe. No targets, timing, or method of attack were provided.

We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al Qaeda attack in the United States. DCI Tenet visited President Bush in Crawford, Texas, on August 17 and participated in PDB briefings of the President between August 31 (after the President had returned to Washington) and September 10. But Tenet does not recall any discussions with the President of the domestic threat during this period.

Most of the intelligence community recognized in the summer of 2001 that the number and severity of threat reports were unprecedented. Many officials told us that they knew something terrible was planned, and they were desperate to stop it. Despite their large number, the threats received contained few specifics regarding time, place, method, or target. Most suggested that attacks were planned against targets overseas; others indicated threats against unspecified "U.S. interests." We cannot say for certain whether these reports, as dramatic as they were, related to the 9/11 attacks.

Redactions

At the Eurocrypt conference of cryptographers in May 2004 in Interlaken, Switzerland, David Naccache (the director of one of Gemplus S.A.'s information security labs) and Claire Whelan (a computer science graduate student at Dublin City University) analyzed the PDB. They determined with high confidence the redacted word in the sentence

"An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told an [redacted] service at the same time that Bin Ladin was planning to exploit the operative's access to the US to mount a terrorist strike"

was "Egyptian."[2]

Discussion

Some arguments have focused on clear warnings in this letter, specifically that:

  • the title was Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US
  • a large attack was planned
  • the attack would be on United States soil
  • target cities of attacks included New York City and Washington, D.C.
  • the World Trade Center bombing was explicitly mentioned
  • hijacked plane missions were anticipated
  • people living in, or traveling to, the United States were involved
  • recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York was witnessed.

However, those arguing that warnings were not clear will note that:

  • specific buildings were unknown
  • specific dates were unknown
  • specific airlines, flights, or planes were unknown
  • the World Trade Center was mentioned in the context of following a 1993 example, not as a definite future target
  • plane hijacking was mentioned in the context of freeing Shaykh Rahman, implying a hostage situation, not using the planes themselves as missiles.
  • the Bin Laden supporters in the U.S. were thought to be planning attacks with explosives, as in all previous bombings by Al-Qaida
  • the use of planes as missiles, while discussed before, had not been attempted by Al-Qaida
  • Washington, D.C. was not attacked on 9/11. The Pentagon is in Virginia. It is only speculation that the fourth plane (Flight 93)was targeted for Washington D.C.
  • The World Trade Center was not a Federal Building in New York City. It was owned by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and was leased to Silverstein Properties at that time of the attack

Possibly new revelations include the belief that Bin Laden operatives were trying to recruit young U.S. nationals for their operations, the statement by the White House that attempts at future attacks were expected (based on past attacks), and that Washington, D.C., and New York were specifically mentioned.

While specific hijacking times, and dates, and targets were unknown, critics charge that the administration did not take possible actions such as increased airport screening, and reinforcing cockpit doors, that may have minimized the lethality of the September 11 attacks, or even prevented them. The administration and its defenders respond that the memo did not give any new information about the threat that would warrant taking additional measures, since the fact that Bin Laden and other terrorists had wanted to strike inside the United States had been well-known for over 20 years.

It cannot be determined from the photocopy of the document whether any text referencing attachments to it were covered with white-out as opposed to marked over with black ink. The document reveals ample space between the last sentence and the page footer, and the last sentence which gives a broad sweep of then current investigations could be an introduction to greater detail contained in any attachments. Notice that the document shows only one "bullet" or em-dash to indicate the first of several indented sections, but no other sections appear on the page.

References

  1. ^ http://www.cnn.com/2004/images/04/10/whitehouse.pdf
  2. ^ Markoff, John. "Illuminating Blacked-Out Words." 10 May 2004. New York Times. [1]

External links

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