NEWSWEEK: The Informant Who Lived With the Hijackers


Richard Moore

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Date: Mon, 09 Sep 2002 23:12:53 -0700
From: "Butler Crittenden, Ph.D." <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Fw: Exclusive: The Informant Who Lived With the Hijackers
To: Adam Heilbrun <•••@••.•••>

Exclusive: The Informant Who Lived With the Hijackers  
NEWSWEEK has learned that one of the bureau's
informants had a close relationship with two of the
By Michael Isikoff

  Sept. 16 issue -  At first, FBI director Bob Mueller
insisted there was nothing the bureau could have done
to penetrate the 9-11 plot. That account has been
modified over time-and now may change again. NEWSWEEK
has learned that one of the bureau's informants had a
close relationship with two of the hijackers: he was
their roommate.

THE CONNECTION, JUST discovered by congressional
investigators, has stunned some top counterterrorism
officials and raised new concerns about the
information-sharing among U.S. law-enforcement and
intelligence agencies. The two hijackers, Khalid
Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, were hardly unknown to the
intelligence community. The CIA was first alerted to
them in January 2000, when the two Saudi nationals
showed up at a Qaeda "summit" in Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia. FBI officials have argued internally for
months that if the CIA had more quickly passed along
everything it knew about the two men, the bureau could
have hunted them down more aggressively.

But both agencies can share in the blame. Upon leaving
Malaysia, Almihdhar and Alhazmi went to San Diego,
where they took flight-school lessons. In September
2000, the two moved into the home of a Muslim man who
had befriended them at the local Islamic Center. The
landlord regularly prayed with them and even helped one
open a bank account. He was also, sources tell
NEWSWEEK, a "tested" undercover "asset" who had been
working closely with the FBI office in San Diego on
terrorism cases related to Hamas. A senior
law-enforcement official told NEWSWEEK the informant
never provided the bureau with the names of his two
houseguests from Saudi Arabia. Nor does the FBI have
any reason to believe the informant was concealing
their identities. (He could not be reached for
comment.) But the FBI concedes that a San Diego case
agent appears to have been at least aware that Saudi
visitors were renting rooms in the informant's house.
(On one occasion, a source says, the case agent called
up the informant and was told he couldn't talk because
"Khalid"-a reference to Almihdhar-was in the room.) I.
C. Smith, a former top FBI counterintelligence
official, says the case agent should have been keeping
closer tabs on who his informant was fraternizing
with-if only to seek out the houseguests as possible
informants. "They should have been asking, ‘Who are
these guys? What are they doing here?' This strikes me
as a lack of investigative curiosity." About six weeks
after moving into the house, Almihdhar left town,
explaining to the landlord he was heading back to Saudi
Arabia to see his daughter. Alhazmi moved out at the
end of 2000.

In the meantime, the CIA was gathering more information
about just how potentially dangerous both men were. A
few months after the October 2000 bombing of the USS
Cole in Yemen, CIA analysts discovered -in their
Malaysia file that one of the chief suspects in the
Cole attack- Tawfiq bin Attash-was present at the
"summit" and had been photographed with Almihdhar and
Alhazmi. But it wasn't until Aug. 23, 2001, that the
CIA sent out an urgent cable to U.S. border and
law-enforcement agencies identifying the two men as
"possible" terrorists. By then it was too late. The
bureau did not realize the San Diego connection until a
few days after 9-11, when the informant heard the names
of the Pentagon hijackers and called his case agent. "I
know those guys," the informant purportedly said,
referring to Almihdhar and Alhazmi. "They were my

But the belated discovery has unsettled some members of
the joint House and Senate intelligence committees
investigating the 9-11 attacks. The panel is
tentatively due to begin public hearings as early as
Sept. 18, racing to its end-of-the-year deadline. But
some members are now worried that they won't get to the
bottom of what really happened by then. Support for
legislation creating a special blue-ribbon
investigative panel, similar to probes conducted after
Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination, is
increasing. Only then, some members say, will the
public learn whether more 9-11 secrets are buried in
the government's files.

 -with Jamie Reno

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