Blown Chances, Missed Clues

While White House officials debated going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, 19 terrorists prepared for an attack that would shake a nation

August 4, 2002 (from August 12 issue) (then click on "A 9/11 Timeline" link)


Early January, 2001
During the Clinton-to-Bush transition, White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke briefs Condoleezza Rice on the growing al-Qaeda threat. But the new Bush team is focused on other foreign-policy priorities: missile defense, relations with Russia and China.

January 25, 2001
Clarke presents a plan to his new bosses urging an aggressive five-point program to take the fight to al-Qaeda, calling for air attacks on all training camps in Afghanistan and giving full U.S. support to the Northern Alliance.

February 2001
Hani Hanjour, left, raises suspicions at an Arizona flight school with his poor English and mediocre flight skills. The FAA investigates and finds he is a legitimate student.

February 8, 2001
Mohamed Atta in the U.S. since the previous summer, visits Norfolk, Va. The FBI suspects he was scouting the naval base.

February 23, 2001
Frenchman Zacarias Moussaoui arrives in Chicago from London, en route to a flight school in Oklahoma.

Spring 2001
CIA officers visit Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud in Afghanistan, trading cash and supplies for intelligence on al-Qaeda. Massoud convinces key Alliance warlords living in exile—including Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ismail Khan—to return to Afghanistan for a new campaign.

March 1, 2001
Despite international pleas, the Taliban begin destroying the two giant stone Buddhas of Bamiyan using dynamite, artillery and tanks.

April 6, 2001
Ahmed Ressam, left, is convicted for his role in the millennium plots. He agrees to give information about al-Qaeda in return for a lighter sentence.

May - August 2001
The six leading hijackers—Atta, Ziad Jarrah, Marwan Al-Shehhi, Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi—begin taking cross-country test flights to the West Coast. Afterward they usually meet up in Las Vegas.

May 8, 2001
Bush creates a new Office of National Preparedness for terrorism and promises a government review, led by Dick Cheney, into the consequences of a domestic attack. It never happens.

Late May
Almost 16,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban troops begin massing in northeast Afghanistan for a large offensive against Massoud's Northern Alliance.

May 29, 2001
Four terrorists on trial for the 1998 embassy bombings are convicted.

June 22, 2001
Because of growing al-Qaeda threats, the Pentagon puts all U.S. forces in the Middle East and Europe on the highest state of alert—Force Protection Condition Delta—suspends exercises in Jordan and orders ships from the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain out to sea.

Late June
Bin Laden grants an interview to an Arabic TV station. He says little, offering only pleasantries, while his aides warn that America should expect a new attack in the coming weeks.

June 29, 2001
William Milam, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan, in a meeting with Taliban Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef, warns that the Taliban will be held responsible if bin Laden attacks U.S. targets again.

July 2, 2001
The FBI warns law-enforcement agencies of possible al-Qaeda strikes against overseas targets but also says domestic strikes cannot be ruled out. The next day, CIA Director George Tenet sends a list of al-Qaeda suspects to 20 foreign intelligence agencies and asks for their immediate arrest.

July 4, 2001
Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi re-enter the U.S. The CIA knows the two belong to al-Qaeda but fails to alert INS until Aug. 23.

July 5, 2001
Despite a quiet Fourth of July, the CIA warns Bush that imminent strikes are still possible. He asks Rice to find out what the agencies are doing about al-Qaeda. Clarke holds meetings with CIA, FBI, Pentagon and State officials. He also tells key domestic agencies to be prepared for an attack.

July 8, 2001
Atta travels to Spain and meets with several men, including former roommate Ramzi Binalshibh, who arrives there from Hamburg. Atta returns to Miami July 19. The remaining hijackers, who will control passengers while their partners fly, begin to arrive in Florida.

July 10, 2001
Phoenix, Ariz., FBI agent Kenneth Williams sends headquarters a memo about Middle Eastern students at an Arizona flight school, theorizing al-Qaeda could be trying to infiltrate U.S. aviation. Analysts at headquarters defer action on his concerns. The memo never gets past two mid-level unit chiefs.

July 20-23, 2001
Bush goes to the G-8 summit in Genoa. Antiaircraft missiles and a U.S. warship stand guard. On the last day, he meets with the Pope at his vacation residence because the Vatican is considered a possible target

August 2001
Two al-Qaeda assassins arrive in northern Afghanistan. Posing as Arab journalists, they seek an interview with Ahmed Shah Massoud.

August 6, 2001
Tenet briefs Bush in Crawford, Texas, with an analytic report on al-Qaeda. It is based largely on old intelligence but raises hijackings as a possible threat while also citing other methods. Tenet meets with a group of Senators a few days later and provides them with a similar report.

August 6, 2001
Atta rents the first of three cars in Pompano Beach, Fla. He puts 2,950 miles on the cars in five weeks. He also sets up several frequent-flyer accounts.

August 13, 2001
Moussaoui begins two days of 747 simulator training at a Minneapolis, Minn., flight school. A manager soon reports his suspicious behavior to the FBI. Agents question Moussaoui, and the INS arrests him on Aug. 16.

Late August
Hanjour, Alhazmi and Almihdhar move into a motel in Maryland. Majed Moqed and Salem Alhazmi join them. Hanjour rents a plane three times for test flights over Washington.

September 4, 2001
The Principals' Committee—Cheney, Rice and other top national-security officials—holds its first terrorism meeting. They debate Clarke's plan, decide to implement it in a phased approach and send it to Bush.

September 5, 2001
Hanjour and Moqed are caught on camera visiting an ATM in Maryland for some last-minute cash. Two days later they and their three partners check out of their motel.

September 8, 2001
Over the next three days, Atta, Waleed Alshehri and Al-Shehhi wire $15,000 in unused funds to al-Qaeda financier Mustafa Muhammed Ahmed in the United Arab Emirates. Atta sends money from Maryland before flying to Boston.

September 9, 2001
Al-Shehhi checks out of a Florida motel where he and several other hijackers have been staying. They all fly to Boston. That evening, Alshehri wires $5,215 to Ahmed from Logan Airport. Jarrah is pulled over by police in Maryland for speeding on his way to Newark, N.J.

September 9, 2001
The two al-Qaeda assassins, posing as journalists interviewing Massoud, detonate a bomb, mortally wounding the Northern Alliance commander. Massoud dies while being airlifted to a Tajikistan hospital. Alliance leaders keep his death a secret from the rest of their forces. The troops repel three Taliban offensives over the next three days.

September 9, 2001
Donald Rumsfeld threatens to urge a veto if the Senate proceeds with a plan to divert $600 million from missile defense to counter-terrorism.

September 11, 2001
Ahmed picks up wire transfers, then flies from Dubai to Pakistan. Just before 8 a.m., Atta calls Al-Shehhi from Flight 11 as it sits on a runway. Al-Shehhi is on Flight 175. They confirm the plot is on.


Copyright 2002 Time Inc.

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