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FROM: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54893-2002Jun3.html

CIA Gave FBI Warning On Hijacker
Agency Told That Almihdhar Attended Malaysia Meeting

By Walter Pincus and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 4, 2002; Page A01

The CIA told the FBI in January 2000 that one of the Sept. 11 hijackers was attending a meeting of suspected terrorists in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and had a type of visa that should have drawn suspicion, a senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday, citing e-mails held by the CIA.

The disclosure contradicts repeated assertions by senior FBI officials that bureau headquarters had no information about Khalid Almihdhar before Aug. 23, 2001, when the CIA issued an urgent cable that he and another hijacker, Nawaf Alhazmi, should be stopped at the U.S. border. Both were already in the country at the time.

FBI officials have said, as recently as yesterday afternoon, that the CIA failed to inform bureau headquarters about Almihdhar and Alhazmi in January 2000, and that the lack of such information had possibly resulted in a missed opportunity to unravel the Sept. 11 plot.

FBI officials declined to comment last night. "Director [Robert S.] Mueller has every desire to let the congressional review process continue, and no desire to engage in finger-pointing," one law enforcement official said.

The bureau's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, created in the wake of Sept. 11, has assembled a chart showing how agents could have uncovered the plot with more information from the CIA about Almihdhar and Alhazmi, who had contact with at least five of their fellow hijackers, sources said.

Although FBI officials stress that the chart was produced with the benefit of hindsight, the exercise nonetheless angered many at Langley after Newsweek revealed its existence in this week's edition.

At the same time, the senior intelligence official disclosed yesterday that the CIA was told by a foreign intelligence service in March 2000 that Alhazmi, who also had attended the Malaysia meeting, had entered the United States. Authorities said previously that the CIA did not know Alhazmi was in the country until August 2001, after it was notified by immigration authorities.

The revelations were the latest episodes in an escalating, if cloaked, public relations fight between the CIA and FBI over missed terror warnings before Sept. 11. They also came on the eve of historic hearings by a joint House-Senate panel into intelligence missteps leading up to the attacks.

The FBI has been the focus of most of the finger-pointing in recent weeks. It has fended off accusations from its own personnel that the bureau ignored and even hampered attempts to investigate suspected terrorists at U.S. flight schools, including Zacarias Moussaoui, indicted as a conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks.

But attention in recent days had switched to the CIA. It acknowledged over the weekend that it had disturbing information about Almihdhar months earlier than it had disclosed and that it could have prevented him from entering the United States before the terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

U.S. officials also revealed yesterday that an informant told the CIA in the spring of 2001 about a French Muslim extremist later identified as Moussaoui, the alleged "20th hijacker." Intelligence officials said the informant only provided an alias at the time and that the CIA did not learn it was Moussaoui until after Sept. 11.

Yesterday's revelations about the FBI, based on e-mails in the possession of the CIA, appeared to switch the focus to the bureau once again. One participant called it a "C.Y.A. fight, meaning Cover Your Agency."

"The questions should not be who knew what and when, but why didn't any of them do anything," said Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism official. "There was definitely a failure to recognize the importance of the information they initially had. And then when they do finally recognize it, they still don't do anything with it."

On Jan. 5, 2000, the day before the Kuala Lumpur meeting, information was sent to CIA stations around the world that Almihdhar was on his way to Malaysia and that his passport contained a U.S. visa that would permit multiple entries, according to a senior intelligence official. A "multiple-entry visa" to the United States is a factor that causes authorities to take a second look at a visa applicant, and could have caused government officials to decline his visa extension.

The CIA message said the information was being passed on to the FBI, the official said.

The next day, the CIA sent the information about Almihdhar to an FBI agent who normally worked in the CIA counterterrorism center but who was working at FBI headquarters on Jan. 6, the official said. That agent, whom he would not name, sent an e-mail back to CIA saying he had briefed the "applicable facts" to another agent at FBI headquarters.

"The notion that we were withholding information from the FBI is absurd," one senior intelligence official said.

The Kuala Lumpur meeting lasted only 24 to 36 hours, sources said. Officials later learned that Almihdhar and Alhazmi entered the United States on Jan. 15, 2000, according to sources.

Two months later, the CIA learned through a routine report from a foreign intelligence service that Alhazmi was in the United States. "No one picked up on that," a senior official said, acknowledging another lapse in the CIA's system.

Both the CIA and the FBI first learned of the Malaysia meeting in late December 1999, when it was mentioned during a cell phone call monitored by the National Security Agency, officials said yesterday.

The Yemeni cell number was used as a switchboard of sorts among Osama bin Laden, his top aides and his fighters. It was first brought to the attention of U.S. authorities by a captured suspect in the East Africa embassy bombings.

The Kuala Lumpur meeting was to take place shortly, and would be attended by Muslim fundamentalists with possible ties to bin Laden, according to the NSA's monitoring of the December 1999 phone call.

Those in attendance, who were videotaped by Malaysia's Special Branch at the request of the United States, were later to be identified as including not only hijackers Almihdhar and Alhazmi but also a one-legged al Qaeda fighter named Tawfiq bin Attash, also known as Khallad, sources said.

But CIA officials have said the importance of the meeting was not known until after the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000. FBI investigators dispatched to Yemen after the bombing identified Khallad in December 2000 as a leading suspect.

There are no audiotapes or transcripts to indicate what was discussed at the Kuala Lumpur summit. Malaysian intelligence officers could only record comings and goings at the condominium that was used as a meeting place, authorities said.

But some U.S. authorities now believe the meeting -- called in the wake of failed al Qaeda plots to detonate bombs in Jordan and the United States during millennial celebrations -- was a regrouping effort. Given those involved, authorities believe there likely were discussions about both the Cole attack and the Sept. 11 plot.


© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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FROM: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54893-2002Jun3.html

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