Pre-9/11 Acts Led To Alerts
By Dan Eggen and Dana Priest
Washington Post, 3 August, Page 1: Most of the al Qaeda surveillance of five financial institutions that
led to a new terrorism alert Sunday was conducted before the Sept. 11,
2001, attacks and authorities are not sure whether the casing of the
buildings has continued, numerous intelligence and law enforcement
officials said yesterday.
More than half a dozen government
officials interviewed yesterday, who declined to be identified because
classified information is involved, said that most, if not all, of the
information about the buildings seized by authorities in a raid in
Pakistan last week was about three years old, and possibly older.
"There is nothing right now that we're
hearing that is new," said one senior law enforcement official who was
briefed on the alert. "Why did we go to this level? . . . I still don't
One piece of information on one building,
which intelligence officials would not name, appears to have been
updated in a computer file as late as January 2004, according to a
senior intelligence official. But officials could not say yesterday
whether that piece of data was the result of active surveillance by al
Qaeda or came instead from information about the buildings that is
Many administration officials stressed
yesterday that even three-year-old intelligence, when coupled with
other information about al Qaeda's plans to attack the United States,
justified the massive security response in the three cities. Police and
other security teams have been assigned to provide extra protection for
the surveilled buildings, identified as the International Monetary Fund
and World Bank headquarters in Washington; the New York Stock Exchange
and Citigroup Center in New York; and the Prudential Financial building
Intelligence officials said that the
remarkably detailed information about the surveillance -- which
included logs of pedestrian traffic and notes on the types of
explosives that might work best against each target -- was evaluated in
light of general intelligence reports received this summer indicating
that al Qaeda hopes to strike a U.S. target before the November
Several officials also said that much of
the information compiled by terrorist operatives about the buildings in
Washington, New York and Newark was obtained through the Internet or
other "open sources" available to the general public, including some
The characterization of the age of the
intelligence yesterday cast a new light on Homeland Security Secretary
Tom Ridge's announcement Sunday that the terrorism threat alert for the
financial services sectors in the three cities had been raised. Ridge
and other officials stressed Sunday the urgency of acting on the newly
obtained information, but yesterday a range of officials made clear how
dated much of the intelligence was.
One senior intelligence official said the information is still being evaluated.
A number of other buildings were
mentioned in the seized computer files, but only in vague references,
so officials decided not to issue alerts about them, an intelligence
official said. They included the Bank of America building in San
Francisco; the Nasdaq and American Stock Exchange buildings in New
York, as well as two other sites in that city; and an undisclosed
building in Washington and another in New Jersey.
"We chose not to release it because we
decided they weren't anywhere near the same level of danger as the
others," the official said.
and Vice President Cheney said in separate appearances yesterday that
the new alert underscores the continuing threat posed by al Qaeda. At a
news conference announcing his proposed intelligence reforms, Bush said
the alert shows "there's an enemy which hates what we stand for."
"It's serious business," Bush said. "I
mean, we wouldn't be, you know, contacting authorities at the local
level unless something was real."
Employees at announced targets in New
York and New Jersey arrived at work yesterday with a mix of defiance
and jitters. Some said they wanted to send a message that terrorists
could not deter them from living their lives as usual. Others were
visibly shaken by the presence of heavily armed police officers and new
At the New York Stock Exchange, Mayor
Michael R. Bloomberg rang the opening bell. Exchange chief executive
John A. Thain and Sen. Charles E. Schumer
(D-N.Y.) greeted arriving workers. "I wouldn't be surprised if
attendance weren't higher today," Schumer said. "We are winning the war
Much of the information about the
targeted buildings is contained on a laptop computer and computer disks
recovered during recent raids in Pakistan. A senior intelligence
official said the cache also includes about 500 photographs, diagrams
and drawings, some of them digital.
Two senior intelligence officials who
briefed reporters on Sunday said the material showed al Qaeda
operatives had cased the buildings both before and after the Sept. 11
"I think the indications are that this
has been a very longstanding effort on the part of al Qaeda," one
official said Sunday, "that it dates from before 9/11, it continued
after 9/11 and based on what it is that we are concerned about, we know
about in terms of al Qaeda's plans and intentions that it probably
continues even today."
Speaking about the five buildings, one
official said, "I believe that since 9/11 they have been able to
acquire additional information on these targets here in the United
States, yes, I do."
Numerous officials said yesterday,
however, that most of the information was compiled prior to the Sept.
11 attacks and that there are serious doubts about the age of other,
undated files. One senior counterterrorism official said many of the
documents include dates prior to Sept. 11, 2001, but there are no dates
"Most of the information is very dated but
you clearly have targets with enough specificity, and that pushed it
over the edge," the counterterrorism official said. "You've got the
Republican convention coming up, the Olympics, the elections. . . . I
think there was a feeling that we should err on the side of caution
even if it's not clear that anything is new."
One federal law enforcement source said
his understanding from reviewing the reports was that the material
predated Sept. 11 and included photos that can be obtained from
brochures and some actual snapshots. There also were some interior
diagrams that appear to be publicly available.
Other officials also stressed that,
however long ago al Qaeda operatives compiled the surveillance details,
the information was new to U.S. intelligence agencies and was almost
unprecedented in the depth of its details. "All this stuff was fresh to
us," one official said.
At the CIA's
daily 5 p.m. counterterrorism meeting Thursday, the first information
about the detailed al Qaeda surveillance of the five financial
buildings was discussed among senior CIA, FBI and military officials. They decided to launch a number of worldwide
operations, including the deployment of increased law enforcement
around the five buildings.
A senior intelligence official said
translations of the computer documents and other intelligence started
arriving on Friday. "We worked on it late, and through that night," he
said. "We had very specific, credible information, and when we laid it
in on the threat environment we're in," officials decided they had to
"It's not known whether the plot was
active and ongoing," the official added. "It could have been planned
for tomorrow, or it could have been scrapped. Maybe there were other
iterations of it. In this environment, this was seen as pertinent
information to get out to the public. There was discussion over the
weekend, should we wait until Monday?"
Initially, top administration officials
had decided to wait until yesterday to announce the alert, but more
intelligence information was coming in -- both new translations of the
documents, and analysis of other sources' statements -- that deepened
their concern about the information, and persuaded them to move ahead
swiftly. "There was a serious sense of urgency to get it out," the
senior intelligence official said.
On Saturday, officials from the CIA, the
FBI, the Homeland Security and Justice departments, the White House,
and other agencies agreed with Ridge to recommend that the financial
sectors in New York, Washington and North Jersey be placed on orange,
or "high," alert. Ridge made the recommendation to Bush on Sunday
morning, and Bush signed off on it at 10 a.m.
In a signal of how seriously the
administration took the information, officials briefed senior media
executives, including network anchors, before a Sunday news conference
and briefing for reporters.
In New York yesterday, traffic backed up
at tunnels and bridges into the city, Hercules and Atlas police teams
toting rifles and machine guns checked vehicles, police helicopters
crisscrossed the skies, and employees throughout the financial district
stood in long security queues, showing their corporate identifications
and bags to guards.
Around the NYSE in Lower Manhattan, rows of concrete and metal barricades were in place and side streets were blocked off.
In Newark, officials set up concrete
barriers and police teams around the 24-story Prudential building,
where about 1,000 employees work. "I'm a little nervous," analyst Tracy
Swistak, 27, told the Associated Press. "But I'm confident Prudential's
doing everything they can to ensure our safety."
Reports That Led to Terror Alert Were Years Old, Officials Say
By DOUGLAS JEHL and DAVID JOHNSTON
THE OVERVIEW - New York Times, 3 August, Page 1: WASHINGTON,
Aug. 2 - Much of the information that led the authorities to raise the
terror alert at several large financial institutions in the New York
City and Washington areas was three or four years old, intelligence and
law enforcement officials said on Monday. They reported that they had
not yet found concrete evidence that a terrorist plot or preparatory
surveillance operations were still under way.
But the officials continued to regard the information as significant
and troubling because the reconnaissance already conducted has provided
Al Qaeda with the knowledge necessary to carry out attacks against the
sites in Manhattan, Washington and Newark. They said Al Qaeda had often
struck years after its operatives began surveillance of an intended
Taken together with a separate, more general stream of
intelligence, which indicates that Al Qaeda intends to strike in the
United States this year, possibly in New York or Washington, the
officials said even the dated but highly detailed evidence of
surveillance was sufficient to prompt the authorities to undertake a
global effort to track down the unidentified suspects involved in the
"You could say that the bulk of this information is old, but we
know that Al Qaeda collects, collects, collects until they're
comfortable,'' said one senior government official. "Only then do they
carry out an operation. And there are signs that some of this may have
been updated or may be more recent.''
Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser,
said on Monday in an interview on PBS that surveillance reports,
apparently collected by Qaeda operatives had been "gathered in 2000 and
2001.'' But she added that information may have been updated as
recently as January.
The comments of government officials on Monday seemed softer in tone
than the warning issued the day before. On Sunday, officials were
circumspect in discussing when the surveillance of the financial
institutions had occurred, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge
cited the quantity of intelligence from "multiple reporting streams''
that he said was "alarming in both the amount and specificity of the
The officials said on Monday that they were still analyzing computer
records, photos, drawings and other documents, seized last month in
Pakistan, which showed that Qaeda operatives had conducted extensive
"What we've uncovered is a collection operation as opposed to the launching of an attack," a senior American official said.
Still, the official said the new trove of material, which was being
sifted for fresh clues, combined with more recent flows of
intelligence, had demonstrated that Al Qaeda remains active and intent
on attacking the United States.
The concern about the possibility of an attack was apparent on
Monday. Armed guards were positioned at the five targets listed by Mr.
Ridge: the New York Stock Exchange and the Citigroup buildings in
Manhattan, the headquarters of the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund in Washington and Prudential Financial in Newark. The
buildings were subjected to their highest level of security since the
Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, with barricades, rapid-response teams and
bomb-sniffing dogs providing rings of protection.
With intelligence reports specifying a possible truck bombing,
police stopped and searched vehicles in the Wall Street area, while
vans and trucks were banned from bridges and tunnels entering lower
President Bush said the alert issued on Sunday reflected "a serious business.'' He
said at a White House news conference, "We wouldn't be contacting
authorities at the local level unless something was real.''
Despite the new terror warnings, the stock market gained ground,
denting expectations that it would drop with the heightened security
alert. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 39 points.
A sizable part of the information seized in Pakistan described
reconnaissance carried out before the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said.
The documents do not indicate who wrote the detailed descriptions of
security arrangements at the financial buildings or whether the
surveillance was conducted for a current operation or was part of
preparations for a plan that was later set aside.
In a briefing on Sunday, a senior intelligence official said that
the threat to the financial institutions "probably continues even
Federal authorities said on Monday that they had uncovered no
evidence that any of the surveillance activities described in the
documents was currently under way. They said officials in New Jersey
had been mistaken in saying on Sunday that some suspects had been found
with blueprints and may have recently practiced "test runs'' aimed at
the Prudential building in Newark.
Joseph Billy Jr., the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.'s
Newark office, said a diagram of the Prudential building had been found
in Pakistan. "It appears to be from the period around 9/11,'' Mr. Billy
said. "Now we're trying to see whether it goes forward from there.''
Another counterterrorism official in Washington said that it was not
yet clear whether the information pointed to a current plot. "We know
that Al Qaeda routinely cases targets and then puts the plans on a
shelf without doing anything,'' the official said.
The documents were found after Pakistani authorities acting on
information supplied by the Central Intelligence Agency arrested
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an engineer who was found to have served as a
middleman in facilitating Qaeda communications. His capture led the
C.I.A. to laptop computers, CD-ROM's, and other storage devices that
contained copies of communications describing the extensive
Mr. Khan had been essentially unknown to the United States as
recently as May, according to information provided by a Pakistani
intelligence official, who said the C.I.A. had described him to
Pakistani authorities that month only as a shadowy figure identified by
his alias, Abu Talha.
The lack of knowledge about Mr. Khan reflected how hard it has been
for American authorities to penetrate Al Qaeda. He operated
successfully without the government learning of his existence even
after three years of an intensive intelligence war against Qaeda that
has emphasized efforts to intercept the terror network's communications
In pursuing the new leads, intelligence and law enforcement
authorities were working at several different levels, American
officials said, in trying to make sense of what some described as a
"jigsaw puzzle" that included first names, aliases, and temporary email
addresses but little hard identifying material that could lead to
suspects in the United States or overseas.
The scope of the inquiry ranged from "individuals who were
orchestrating it from far-off lands to individuals who were in charge
of different cells, to the actual operating of cells," a senior
intelligence official said. The priority effort to identify people
connected to the surveillance of the financial institutions has been
under way since counterterrorism officials received the new information
from Pakistan beginning Thursday evening, counterterrorism officials
said on Monday.
The information, which officials said was indicative of
preparations for a possible truck- or car-bomb attack, left significant
gaps. It did not clearly describe the suspected plot, indicate when an
attack was to take place nor did it describe the identities of people
As a result, federal and local authorities began an effort to
locate possible suspects who might have carried out the surveillance.
Intelligence officers began interviewing Qaeda detainees asking whether
they knew Mr. Khan or anyone who might have been involved in monitoring
the targeted buildings and allied foreign intelligence services were
asked if they had any information about the suspected plot.
At the same time, federal agents and local police began canvassing
the buildings regarded as likely targets seeking to determine whether
anyone recalled seeing people who appeared to be conducting
surveillance. They sought lists of employees to determine whether
anyone suspicious might have worked at any of the buildings and names
of vendors, searching for anyone who might have visited the buildings
to study security arrangements.
Senior counterterrorism and intelligence officials based in Europe
said the information targeting the five buildings was developed by
Qaeda operatives before Sept. 11, 2001. But a senior European
counterterrorism official cautioned that "some recent information''
indicated that the buildings might remain on a list of Qaeda targets.
"Al Qaeda routinely comes up with ways to hit targets for years at a
time, so it may not mean much that these buildings were first targeted
more than three years ago,'' the official said.