A month before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, President George W. Bush was presented with an article outlining the current threat level that Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization presented to the United States. This article was offered to the President as part of his Daily Brief, a daily report of significant new intelligence and analysis provided the chief executive and his most senior national security advisers.
The existence of the memo was first made public knowledge in May 2002, when newspapers commented on the document’s alarming title and the fact that it acknowledged that al-Qaeda members were living in the United States. The memo later became the centerpiece of national security adviser Condoleeza Rice’s testimony in front of the 9-11 Commission on April 8, 2004. After Rice insisted that the briefing was mostly “historical information” and that it “did not have warning information in it of the kind that said they are talking about an attack against so forth or so on”, the commission demanded that the document be declassified. Working surprisingly quickly for government bureaucracy, the memo was declassified and released two days later.
“-----“ indicates areas where text has been blacked-out
Declassified and Approved
for Release, 10 April 2004
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Laden implied in U.S. 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 U.S. missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden 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 Laden was planning to exploit the operative's access to the U.S. to mount a terrorist strike.
The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden's first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the U.S. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself, but that Bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaydah encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaydah was planning his own U.S. attack.
Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
Although Bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed 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 Qaeda members, including some who are U.S. citizens, have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks. Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were U.S. citizens, and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s.
A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden 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 Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman and other U.S.-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 U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.
For the President Only
6 August 2001
The “millennium plotting” mentioned in the briefing refers to a December 1999 incident where Algerian native Ahmed Ressam was caught attempting to smuggle nitroglycerin, urea, and sulfate (obvious bomb making materials) into the United States from Canada. Ressam eventually admitted that he was a member of al-Qaeda and was part of a cell that was going to set off a huge bomb at Los Angeles airport. The reporting of this incident was lost in the Y2K hand-wringing that was going on at the time, so it has largely been forgotten by the general public.