AHMED SHAH MASSOUD retained a Washington lobbyist as the Bush administration took office. He wanted someone who could arrange meetings on Capitol Hill for his Panjshiri advisers. He wrote a letter to Vice President Cheney urging the new administration to reexamine its alliance with Pakistan. He traveled secretly to Russia and Iran to shore up supply arrangements. In Moscow, the tycoon-ruled capital of his former communist enemy, Massoud met quietly with Russian defense officials worried about bin Laden’s drive into Chechnya and Central Asia. In the Panjshir, Massoud welcomed European visitors worried about his ability to hold his ground. A sympathetic Belgian politician invited him to travel in early April to Strasbourg, France, the seat of the European parliament, to deliver a speech about the al Qaeda threat. Massoud accepted. With the loss of his headquarters in Taloqan, his military prospects looked grave. He told his advisers and visitors that he knew he could not defeat the Taliban on the Afghan battlefield, not so long as they were funded by bin Laden and reinforced from Pakistani madrassas. He sought to build a new political and military coalition within Afghanistan and without that could squeeze the Taliban and break their grip on ordinary Afghans. For this, sooner or later, he would require the support of the United States, he said.1
His CIA liaison had slackened, but his intelligence aides still spoke and exchanged messages frequently with Langley. That spring they passed word that Massoud was headed to France. Gary Schroen from the Near East Division and Rich, the chief of the bin Laden unit, said they would fly to Paris.2
Massoud’s reputation—his myth—depended on his tenacious refusal to leave Afghan territory even in the darkest hours. At midlife he allowed himself and his family many more comforts than he had known in the Panjshir during the early 1980s, but only to the extent that cities like Tehran or Dushanbe could provide them. Many of his senior advisers, such as Abdullah, circulated regularly in European and American cities. Massoud did not follow. His political strength among Afghans rested on his claim to be the most stalwart, consistent fighter on Afghan soil, a claim that had the virtue of truth. Yet Massoud had been educated at Kabul’s lycée. He retained his French. At forty-nine, Paris in April was his well-chosen indulgence.
At the hotel Schroen discovered to his amusement that he had been officially registered as part of Massoud’s Afghan delegation. Massoud Khalili, the aide to the commander who had accompanied Schroen on his maiden flight to Kabul in 1996, had made his arrangements. He innocently included his CIA friend on the delegation’s official list. But Schroen had been “declared” or openly identified as a CIA officer to the French intelligence services. They surely were monitoring the guest lists and bugging the rooms. Now the French, so often irritating to the CIA’s Near East Division, would have even more reason than usual to wonder what the CIA was up to with Massoud.3
They met in a sizable group. Massoud’s back was plaguing him, and he did not look well. A streak of gray now ran through his hair. He had not slowed much; he still worked through the night and flew off jubilantly on reckless helicopter reconnaissance missions in the Panjshir. But he was an aging lion, regal but stiffening.
The Americans wanted to reassure him that even though there had been no recent CIA visits to the Panjshir, the agency was still going to keep up its regular payments of several hundred thousand dollars each, in accordance with their intelligence sharing deal. The CIA also wanted to know how Massoud felt about his military position as the spring fighting season approached in Afghanistan. Would he be able to hang in there?
Massoud said that he could. He believed he could defend his lines in the northeast of Afghanistan, but that was about all. Counterattacks against the Taliban were becoming more difficult as his resources frayed. A drive on Kabul remained out of the question. The United States government had to do something, Massoud told the CIA officers quietly, or eventually he was going to crumble. The Americans told him that they would keep trying. There was a new administration in Washington, as they all knew. It would take time for the Cabinet to settle in and educate itself, but this was a natural opportunity to review policy.4
Massoud doubted they had time. “If President Bush doesn’t help us,” he told a press conference in Strasbourg a few days later, “then these terrorists will damage the United States and Europe very soon—and it will be too late.”5
Massoud believed that the Taliban were seeking to destroy him or force him into exile. Then al Qaeda would attempt to link up with Islamist militants in remote areas of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, to press forward into Central Asia, burnishing bin Laden’s mystique as a conquerer of lost Islamic lands. Massoud’s clanking helicopters, patchwork supply lines, and Panjshiri volunteers could not stop this juggernaut. He could only rebound, he believed that spring, if outside powers put enough pressure on Pakistan and the conservative Persian Gulf kingdoms to cut off or severely pinch the Taliban’s supplies. Since Massoud could not strike these supply lines militarily, he had to attack them through politics. This is what had brought him to the European parliament. It was also why he pushed his aides to lobby the U.S. Congress that spring.6
At the same time Massoud hoped to exploit the Taliban’s weaknesses inside Afghanistan. He called this part of his strategy “the new return.” For a year now Massoud had been stitching a revived shura, or governing council, that united Taliban opponents from every major Afghan ethnic group and every major region. From Quetta, Pakistan, Hamid Karzai organized among the Kandahar area’s Durrani tribes. Ismail Khan had entered western Afghanistan from Iran and was leading an uprising near Herat. Karim Khalili, the country’s most prominent Shiite leader, had returned from exile to Bamian province to work against the Taliban. Haji Qadir, a former Pashtun warlord-politician in Jalalabad, had slipped into Kunar province to lead a local rebellion. Aburrashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord, had come back to Afghanistan from exile and fought behind Taliban lines in the rough northern mountains.7
Many of Massoud’s “new return” partners had been part of the failed mujahedin government in Kabul during the early 1990s, before the Taliban rose. Many had been discredited by their violent infighting during that earlier period. Yet they had all come back to Afghanistan. They had agreed, at least on paper, to share power and abide by common, quasi-democratic principles linked by Massoud’s vision and charisma.
It baffled Massoud that the United States, in the midst of a life-and-death struggle against al Qaeda, as he was, could not see the political and military potential of the diverse anti-Taliban alliance he was forging on Afghan soil. That spring Massoud invited his new Washington advocate, Otilie English, a lobbyist who had worked for the Committee for a Free Afghanistan during the 1980s, to meet with him in northern Afghanistan. With his chief CIA liaison, Amrullah Saleh, providing translation, Massoud recorded a videotaped seminar for English about the changing landscape inside Afghanistan, al Qaeda’s strengths and weaknesses, foreign involvement in the war, and his own strategy. Massoud and his aides hoped English would use the commander’s ideas to change minds in Congress or the State Department.
The Taliban’s “extreme actions now have cracked the Pashtuns,” Massoud told her. “An average Pashtun mullah is asking—he knows the history and simply has a question: Why are there no schools? Why is there no education for women? Why are women not allowed to work?” The Taliban’s religious tenets had been imported from Pakistan and applied inflexibly, Massoud said. Traditional Afghan religious leaders at the village level had now begun to challenge these decrees.8
The Arabs and the Pakistani Taliban were the key to the war’s outcome, he continued. “It is a totally separate story whether Osama is a popular figure outside Afghanistan or not, but inside Afghanistan, actually, he is not,” Massoud told English. “For myself, for my colleagues, and for us totally, he is a criminal. He is a person who has committed crimes against our people. Perhaps in the past there was some type of respect for Arabs. People would consider them as Muslims. They had come as guests. But now they are seen as criminals. They are seen as tyrants. They are seen as cruel. Similarly, the reaction is the same against the Pakistani Taliban.” As a result, resentment was gathering against Taliban rule “from the bottom” of Afghan society, from “the grass roots, theulama,” or religious leaders.
“How do we counter them?” Massoud asked. He outlined a strategy of local military pressure and global political appeals. While his allies seeded small revolts around Afghanistan, Massoud would publicize their cause worldwide as one of “popular consensus and general elections and democracy.” The Taliban and bin Laden “are pushing to establish their caliphate, and what they call their emirate. This is a total contradiction to what we want.” Massoud insisted that he was not trying to revive the failed Kabul government of the early 1990s. “Everything should be shared,” he told his lobbyist. “These are our slogans—what we believe in. We believe in a moderate Islam, and of course, they believe in extremism.”
His visitors asked what Massoud wanted from the United States. “First, political support,” he answered. “Let us reopen our embassy” in Washington. “This is issue one.” Second, he needed “humanitarian assistance” that was not “wasted in Pakistan and for administration costs and in the U.N. system.” He needed food and medical aid on the ground in northern Afghanistan to support his followers and his loose collection of rebel allies. “And, of course, financial assistance.” With cash he could purchase most of the military supplies he needed from the Russians. But he was not getting enough by way of direct donations. Finally, he hinted to English about the tensions in his liaison with the CIA. “Our intelligence structure is preoccupied with tactical information that we need. That is our priority,” he said. “We do not see any problem to working directly against the terrorists. But we have very, very limited resources.”9
On her way back to Washington, English met with a CIA officer in Uzbekistan. She explained the message she would be carrying to Congress and the Bush administration.
“I hope you’re successful,” the CIA man said.
She was surprised. Her lobbying office had shaky relations with the agency. “Really? Do you mean that?”
“Yeah. I’ve been writing the same thing that you’re saying, and I’ve been writing it for months, and I’m getting no response. I’ve been writing it for years, and I’ve been getting no response.”10
Peter Tomsen, the former U.S. ambassador to the Afghan resistance, arrived in Dushanbe in June. Tomsen had retired from the foreign service. He now lectured and published articles denouncing Pakistani intelligence and the Taliban. Hamid Karzai and Abdul Haq tracked him down at a vacation villa in Tuscany that spring. They urged him to travel to Tajikistan to meet with Massoud and join their global political campaign. Tomsen agreed—if the meeting would develop a real political strategy. Ten years before, Tomsen had championed a “commanders’ shura” with a central role for Massoud, a blend of military pressure and political appeals similar to Massoud’s current plan. At the time, the CIA had opposed Tomsen, preferring to work with Pakistani intelligence. Now Tomsen revived his ideas, encouraged by Karzai and Abdul Haq, and he crafted a confidential strategy paper for Massoud.
Tomsen stayed in touch with former colleagues from his years in government service, but he found the CIA more secretive than ever. Over the years Tomsen had concluded that America’s failed policies in Afghanistan flowed in part from the compartmented, top secret isolation in which the CIA always sought to work. The agency saw the president as its client. By keeping the State Department and other policy makers at a distance, it preserved a certain freedom to operate. But when the agency was wrong—the Bay of Pigs, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—there was little check on its analysis. Conversely, when it was on the right track—as with Massoud in the late 1990s—it often had trouble finding allies in political Washington.11
At his house in Dushanbe, Massoud lamented to Tomsen that the rebellions by his scattered allies around Afghanistan were making limited progress. Supplies were inadequate. The Karzais were under severe pressure around Kandahar and in Pakistan. “Dostum was of the opinion that, with his return, all Uzbeks would take up guns and start an uprising,” Massoud told Tomsen. But this had not happened. “I personally don’t believe that the collapse of the Taliban is that imminent.”
Massoud said he wanted to build the broadest possible anti-Taliban coalition. For that he was willing to drop old grievances and link his Northern Alliance with the exiled King Zahir Shah in Rome. Massoud appealed to Tomsen to bring the king into his alliance. “Talk to Zahir Shah,” he urged. “Tell him that I accept him as head of state.”
This grand Pashtun-Tajik alliance might finally persuade the American government to change its policy. “There are two shortcuts to stop the war,” Massoud told Tomsen and Abdul Haq that spring afternoon. “One is military. The other is American pressure on Pakistan.”12
“I’M TIRED OF SWATTING FLIES,” President Bush told Condoleezza Rice in the Oval Office that spring after another in a series of briefings about al Qaeda threats. “I want to play offense.”13
Chaired by Stephen Hadley, the deputies committee held its first meeting on bin Laden and Afghanistan on April 30. “There will be more attacks,” CIA briefing slides warned. Al Qaeda was the “most dangerous group we face.” They reviewed options left over from the last Clinton Cabinet session on the subject, conducted more than four months earlier. Richard Armitage set the outline for a new policy direction. He said that the destruction of al Qaeda should be the number one American objective in South Asia, a higher priority even than nuclear weapons control. The goal Armitage outlined, as he recalled it, was “not just to roll back al Qaeda, but to go after and eliminate them.” The deputies asked the CIA to dust off its plan for large-scale covert aid to Massoud so that the shopping list and military objectives could be refined, integrated with other policy goals, and presented to the full Cabinet.14
The deputies also endorsed continued testing of an armed Predator, although there were many questions yet to be resolved about exactly how missiles would be fired if the drone was sent to Afghanistan. They asked the Pentagon yet again to develop contingency military plans to attack al Qaeda targets.
Paul Wolfowitz, Bush’s influential deputy defense secretary, had concluded by now that “war against al Qaeda is something different from going after individual acts of terrorism.” This was a change from how terrorism had been managed the last time the Republicans held power.Wolfowitz could see, as he recalled it, that “it really does involve all the elements of national power, that it’s not just something for the intelligence community alone.” As to the regional questions, he concluded it was impossible to destroy al Qaeda “without recognizing the role that the government of Afghanistan is playing.”15
The deputies’ decision to make bin Laden their top priority marked a change from the Clinton years when the president and his aides often listed terrorism second or third in their private talks with Musharraf and others. Yet the White House committee, slow to begin, now had to sort out many of the same old questions about Pakistan that had vexed Clinton. The country seemed extraordinarily dangerous. Wolfowitz concluded, as he recalled it, that “you can’t go after the government of Afghanistan without recognizing the problems in your relationship, particularly with Pakistan, but with other neighboring countries” as well. By April State Department diplomats believed Pakistan simply did not intend to cut off aid to the Taliban. Would the United States try once again to issue diplomatic ultimatums to Islamabad? What if Pakistan failed to respond?16 Above all, how could they attempt to destroy al Qaeda, which had insinuated itself with the Pakistani military and intelligence service, without undermining Pakistan?
The deputies decided to slow down and review these questions before they delivered any new covert arms or money to Massoud or his fledgling anti-Taliban alliance. In a late May meeting, Rice asked Tenet, Black, and Clarke about “taking the offensive” against al Qaeda. Reflecting Khalilzad’s view, Rice did not want to rely exclusively on the Northern Alliance. Clarke again urged unsuccessfully that some money be funnelled to Massoud right away, to keep him in action. Meanwhile, the administration’s publicly stated policy about Afghanistan remained unaltered. As he laid out budget priorities to the Senate two weeks after the deputies meeting on al Qaeda, Colin Powell mentioned Afghanistan only once, to ask for $7 million. The money would be used, he said, to promote regional energy cooperation and to attack child prostitution.17
THE CIA’S THREAT reporting about bin Laden surged that spring to levels the Counterterrorist Center had rarely seen. Tenet thought the threat intelligence from intercepts and human agents was as frightening as he had ever witnessed. Cofer Black said later that he became convinced in the spring that al Qaeda was about to strike hard. He could not tell where, but it seemed to him that the Arabian peninsula and Israel were the most likely targets. Intercepts of suspected al Qaeda members kept referring to multiple and spectacular attacks, some of which seemed to be in the late planning stages. He told Rice in late May that the threat was a “7” on a scale of ten, close to but not as intense as the “8” he felt during the Millennium. “What worries me,” Black’s deputy told a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee on June 4, “is that we’re on the verge of more attacks that are larger and more deadly.” These might include weapons of mass destruction. There were lots of ominous sports metaphors in the fragmentary intercept reports. The score was going to be 200 to nothing. The Olympics were coming.18
Between May and July the National Security Agency reported at least 33 different intercepts indicating a possible imminent al Qaeda attack. Classified threat warnings about terrorist strikes ricocheted through the government’s secure message systems nearly every day. The FBI issued 216 secret, internal threat warnings between January 1 and September 10, 2001, of which 6 mentioned possible attacks against airports or airlines. The State Department issued 9 separate warnings during the same period to embassies and citizens abroad, including 5 that highlighted a general threat to Americans all over the world. The Federal Aviation Administration issued 15 notices of possible terrorist threats against American airlines.19
Bin Laden taunted them openly. He met near the Pakistan border in early June with Bakr Atiani, a reporter for a Saudi-owned satellite television network. “They said there would be attacks against American and Israeli facilities within the next several weeks,” Atiani recalled of his interview with bin Laden and his Arab aides. “It was absolutely clear that they had brought me there to hear this message.” He could sense that bin Laden was confident. “He smiled. . . . It felt like bin Laden had his own Arab kingdom in southern Afghanistan.” Following a mechanical ritual, State Department diplomats met Taliban representatives in Pakistan on June 26 and warned they would be held directly responsible if bin Laden attacked.20
A one-hundred-minute bin Laden recruitment video surfaced simultaneously in Kuwait City. “Blood, blood, and destruction, destruction,” bin Laden crowed as the tape concluded. “We give you the good news that the forces of Islam are coming.”21
“I want a way to bring this guy down,” Bush told his advisers in the White House that month as he reviewed the threat reports. But when Rice met with Pakistan’s foreign minister in late June, she only repeated the stale warning that Pakistan would ultimately be judged by the behavior of its allies. Clarke wrote a week later to urge that Bush officials think now about how much pressure they would put on Pakistan after the next al Qaeda attack, and then implement that policy immediately. His recommendation was ignored. Bush wrote Musharraf about the danger of terrorism a few weeks later, but his letter did not depart from past entreaties.22
The presidential policy document that would recast government-wide strategy against al Qaeda moved slowly through White House channels. When the final integrated plan—including tentative provisions for covert aid to Massoud—was ready for the full Cabinet to consider, it took almost two months to find a meeting date that was convenient for everyone who wanted to attend.
The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center reported ominously that key operatives in bin Laden’s network had begun to disappear. Others seemed to be preparing for martyrdom. “Sunni extremists associated with Al Qaeda are most likely to attempt spectacular attacks resulting in numerous casualties,” warned a classified threat advisory issued in June by the Intelligence Community Counterterrorism Board. It mentioned Italy, Israel, and the Arabian peninsula as the most likely targets. A leader of the FBI’s counterterrorism team declared he was “98 percent certain” that bin Laden would strike overseas. A later review found this was the “clear majority view” among intelligence analysts. Another advisory concluded that “al Qaeda is prepared to mount one or more terrorist attacks at any time.” There were some reports that the attack was aimed at U.S. soil. An intelligence alert in early June said that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was recruiting volunteers to undertake missions in the United States, where they would “establish contact with colleagues already living there.” In July the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center reported that it had interviewed a source who had recently returned from Afghanistan. The source had reported, “Everyone is talking about an impending attack.”23
The CIA prepared a briefing paper on July 10 for senior Bush administration officials: “Based on a review of all-source reporting over the last five months, we believe that [bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against U.S. and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.”24
Tenet brought huge wall charts to the White House in mid-July to show Condi Rice the web of threats and the al Qaeda members they were tracking from Pakistan to the Middle East. Tenet called spy chiefs in about twenty friendly countries to plead for help. Vice President Cheney called Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Tenet said later that “the system was blinking red” and that Bush’s cabinet understood the urgency.25 Yet the threat reports remained, as they often had been since 1998, vague and elusive. They were also part of a much wider tapestry of intelligence reporting that was routinely circulated to Cabinet-level officials. In June, only 18 out of 298 classified Senior Executive Intelligence Briefs sent to Bush administration officials referred to bin Laden or al Qaeda.26
Urged on by Tenet and Black, CIA stations worldwide collaborated that spring and summer with local police and intelligence services to arrest al Qaeda associates and interrogate them. The objective was “to drive up bin Laden’s security concerns and lead his organization to delay or cancel its attacks,” as Tenet recalled it. They recovered rockets and explosives in Jordan, broke up a group planning to hit American buildings in Yemen, learned of plans for various other small-scale attacks, and acquired many new names of suspects for American border watch lists. They chased reports of a bin Laden team supposedly trying to smuggle explosives into the United States from Canada. They picked up a report about a plot to crash a plane into the U.S. embassy in Nairobi or destroy it with car bombs. But they could not get a convincing handle on the big, spectacular attacks that the NSA’s telephone intercept fragments showed were on the way. They considered whether al Qaeda was feeding them disinformation through these intercepts, but they concluded that the plots were authentic. They just could not get a line on the perpetrators.27
Officers in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center felt a rising sense of fatalism that summer. They worked long hours, exchanging Arabic translations across their office partitions, frequently “with a panic-stricken look” in their eyes, as one of the center’s officers recalled. For every bin Laden operative they caught, another fifty were getting through their net, they feared. “We’re going to miss stuff,” they told one another, as this officer remembered it. “We are missing stuff. We can’t keep up.” CIA leaders such as deputy director John McLaughin said later that some Bush Administration officials, who had not experienced prior surges of threat and panic, voiced frustrating skepticism about the validity of the threat intelligence, wondering aloud if it were disinformation. Hadley told Tenet in July that Paul Wolfowitz had doubts about the threat reports. One veteran CIA officer at the Counterterrorist Center said later that he so feared a disaster he considered resigning and going public.28
Some recipients of their classified reports felt equally frustrated. The CIA’s unremitting flow of threat information remained in many cases nonspecific, speculative, or based on sources known to be unreliable. The Counterterrorist Center circulated a classified threat report that summer titled “Threat of Impending Al Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely.” Tenet agreed that the CIA’s reporting was “maddeningly short on actionable details,” as he put it later. Worst of all, the most ominous reporting that summer, which hinted at a large attack, “was also most vague.”29
BIN LADEN DETERMINED TO STRIKE IN U.S. was the headline on the President’s Daily Brief presented to Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6. The report addressed questions Bush had asked about domestic threats and included the possibility that bin Laden operatives would seek to hijack airplanes. The hijacking threat, mentioned twice, was one of several possibilities outlined. There was no specific information about when or where such an attack might occur. Tenet said the intelligence indicated that al Qaeda might have delayed a major attack.30
“We are going to be struck soon,” Cofer Black told the Pentagon’s classified annual conference on counterterrorism nine days later. “Many Americans are going to die, and it could be in the U.S.”31
In mid-July Tenet ordered the Counterterrorist Center to search all its files for any lead or name that might take them toward bin Laden’s biggest and most active plots. He wanted to find “linkages among the reports as well as links to past terrorist threats and tactics,” as he recalled it.32 CIA and FBI officers dug back through the surveillance images and cables generated in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000. For the first time he saw that Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who had been photographed and tracked during that operation, had unrestricted visa access to the United States, had probably entered the country, and might still be resident. Yet neither man had ever been placed on a watch list.
The CIA apparently did not formally notify the FBI about this alarming discovery. Only the New York field office received a routine request to search for Mihdhar. Investigators later could find no evidence that anyone briefed Clarke, Bush’s cabinet, or the president about the missing suspects.33
BY NOW THE TWO MEN were living in cheap motels in Laurel and College Park, Maryland, a dozen miles or so from the White House.
All nineteen of the attackers had safely entered the United States by mid-July. Fifteen were Saudi Arabians, including al-Mihdhar and al-Hazma. Two others were from the United Arab Emirates. Mohammed Atta was the only Egyptian, Ziad Jarrah the only Lebanese. The leaders among the group, those with pilot training, included the members of the Hamburg cell who had traveled from Germany to Kandahar late in 1999 and then applied successfully to American flight schools. Early in 2001 the conspirators trained as pilots were joined in the United States by their muscle, Saudi recruits with no flight training, who arrived in Florida and New Jersey between April 23, 2001, and June 29, 2001, then settled into short-term apartments and motels to await the go signal. The late-arriving Saudis mainly came from the restive southwest of the kingdom. A few of them had been to college, while others had no higher education. Some had histories of depression or alcoholism. Some had never displayed much religious zealotry before a sudden exposure to radical ideas changed their outlooks dramatically. Nearly all of the supporting hijackers visited Afghanistan for the first time in 1999 or 2000, as Mohammed Atef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed began to organize the final version of their suicide airliner hijacking plan. Most of the Saudi muscle, George Tenet said later, “probably were told little more than that they were headed for a suicide mission in the United States.”34
They lived openly and attracted little attention. They did not hold jobs. They moved frequently. Two and possibly as many as six of them passed American border posts carrying passports that showed signs of fraud or suspicious background, yet in only one case did a Customs and Immigration officer foil entry, unaware of the Saudi’s intentions as he ordered his deportation. Among the plotters there were tensions, accusations, and apparent changes of heart as the launch date approached. Jarrah and Atta clashed as the former operated on his own and spent time with his girlfriend; a one-way ticket Jarrah bought to see her in Germany during the summer of 2001 suggests that he may have decided to drop out of the plot, but was talked back in. The two Saudi volunteers surveilled by the CIA in Malaysia had lived openly in southern California since early 2000. One of them, Nawaf al-Hazmi, was listed in the phone book, opened a local bank account, and even reported an attempted street robbery to police in suburban Fairfax, Virginia, on May 1, 2001, although he later decided not to press charges. The two Saudi veterans of the plot shirked their English and piloting studies and aggravated their colleagues. In Pakistan Khalid Sheikh Mohammed fretted like a harried mid-level corporate manager, pressured repeatedly by bin Laden to speed up the date of the attack, but unable to keep his front-line suicide pilots fully on track. He protected Atta from bin Laden’s hectoring about timing and targets and tried to give the Egyptian the space and resources he needed to bring the project to completion. Atta selected early September after determining Congress would be in session. Although bin Laden continued to lobby for the White House as a target, Atta still favored the Capitol, believing it would be easier to strike; the evidence suggests the decision may have remained unresolved until the very end.35
The hijackers’ money came from al Qaeda contacts living in the United Arab Emirates. One of these, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Mohammed’s nephew, used Western Union and less formal currency exchange offices in Dubai and other Persian Gulf cities to send $119,500 to Mohammed Atta and others in his group while they attended school in Florida and elsewhere. A second money source, Mustafa Alhawsawi, a brother of one hijacker, sent them $18,000 via Western Union. He also received by return transfer all the group’s leftover funds—about $42,000—when the hijackers wound up their affairs in late August 2001 and prepared to die.
Alhawsawi arranged to place the surplus funds on his Standard Chartered Bank Visa Card. Then he boarded a flight from the United Arab Emirates to Karachi, Pakistan, and disappeared.36
MASSOUD DISPATCHED his foreign policy adviser, Abdullah, to Washington in August. Their Northern Alliance lobbyist, Otilie English, scratched together a few appointments on Capitol Hill. It was difficult to get anyone’s attention. They had to compete with Pakistan’s well-heeled, high-paid professional lobbyists and advocates, such as the former congressman Charlie Wilson, who had raised so much money for Pakistan’s government in Congress during the anti-Soviet jihad. Abdullah and English tried to link their lobbying effort with Hamid Karzai and his brother, Qayum, to show that Massoud was fighting the Taliban with multiethnic allies. But the members they met with could barely manage politeness. Guns or financial aid were out of the question. Some barely knew who Osama bin Laden was. With the Democrats they tried to press the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan, but even that seemed to be a dying cause now that the Clintons were gone. Both Massoud’s group and the Karzais were “so disappointed, so demoralized” after a week of meetings on the Hill and at the State Department, Karzai’s lobbyist recalled.37
“You’re basically asking for the overthrow of the Taliban,” an incredulous midlevel State Department officer told Qayum Karzai in one meeting that August. “I’m not sure if our government is prepared to do that.”38
Abdullah bristled as he listened yet again to arguments about “moderate and nonmoderate Taliban. . . . It was ridiculous.” But he also picked up encouraging hints from the White House and senior officials at State, including Richard Haas, director of policy planning. They invited Abdullah back in September. He sensed there might be a change of approach coming, but he could not be sure.39
While Abdullah was in Washington, an email arrived from Hamid Karzai in Pakistan. Karzai had been served with an expulsion order by Pakistani intelligence, and he reported that he could no longer delay its execution. He had to be out of the country by the end of September 2001 or he risked arrest.
The ISI had been monitoring Massoud’s anti-Taliban campaign. Its Afghan bureau was determined to oppose any effort to foment rebellion against Mullah Omar from Pakistani soil.
Hamid Karzai was agitated. He wanted to slip inside Afghanistan to join Dostum, Ismail Khan, and the others fighting in alliance with Massoud. But he wasn’t sure where to go, and he could not win military support from the Americans. He wondered what Massoud would advise.
Abdullah and Qayum Karzai huddled in a Starbucks off Dupont Circle to talk about Hamid’s options. They were afraid that ISI was monitoring his communications and might already know of his plan to enter Afghanistan. That made his situation all the more dangerous. It had been just two years since the assassination of Hamid’s father on a Quetta street.40
“Look, I no longer have a place to stay in Pakistan,” Hamid Karzai told Massoud when he raised him a few days later on a satellite phone.41 Should he try to cross secretly from Pakistan to Kandahar, despite the risks of encountering Taliban forces or bin Laden’s Arab radicals? Or should he fly first to Dushanbe, enter Afghanistan from the north, and then hope that Massoud’s men could help him reach a mountainous Afghan province from where Karzai could challenge the Taliban?
Massoud felt strongly that Karzai should head around to the north. He would be most welcome in Northern Alliance country. He should not try to drive directly for Kandahar, as Karzai recalled Massoud’s advice. The ground for nationwide war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, Massoud said, had not yet been prepared.42