Washington, Jun 20: Al-Qaeda had training camps in Pakistan and its operatives had successfully evaded security at a New York airport in a test-run for Osama bin Laden’s plan to hijack a US airplane five years later, according to declassified CIA documents released on Tuesday.
Nearly 100 top CIA documents recently declassified, which were released by the National Security Archive today, provide the first of its kind insight and information into the documents related to al-Qaeda and 9/11.
According to these documents, al-Qaeda had training camps in Pakistan and it planned to hit the plane of the then US President, Bill Clinton, when he visited the country in February 2000.
A previously undisclosed raw intelligence report that became the basis for the December 4, 1998, President’s Daily Brief notes, five years before the actual attack, said that al-Qaeda operatives had successfully evaded security at a New York airport in a test-run for bin Laden’s plan to hijack a US airplane.
CIA analytical reports also provide interesting insights into al-Qaeda’s evolving political strategies.
“In our view, the hijackers were carefully selected with an eye to their operational and political value. For instance, the large number of Saudi nationals was most likely chosen not only because of the ease with which Saudi nationals could get US visas but also because Bin Ladin could send a message to the Saudi Royal family,” the report said.
These reports on early attempts to apprehend bin Laden detail the beginning of the US Predator drone programme in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“First Predator mission over Afghanistan, September 7, 2000.”
“Twice in the fall of 2000, the Predator observed an individual most likely to be Bin Ladin; however we had no way at the time to react to this information,” the report said. American UAVs did not have sufficient weapons capabilities at the time the CIA likely spotted bin Laden in 2000 to fire on the suspect using the UAV, it said.
Several of these documents also note al-Qaeda’s ties to Pakistan before September 11.
“Osama (Bin Ladin)’s Islamic Army considered the Pakistan/Afghanistan area one region. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan serve as a regional base and training centre for Islamic Army activities supporting Islamic insurgencies in Tajikistan, the Kashmir region and Chechnya,” the report said. “The Islamic Army had a camp in Pakistan...purpose of the camp was to train and recruit new members, mostly from Pakistan,” it added.
While, “UBL elements in Pakistan reportedly plan to attack POTUS (US President Clinton’s) plane with missiles if he visits Pakistan.”
The document collection details repeated CIA warnings of the bin Laden terrorist threat prior to September 11, NSA said in a statement.
According to a January 7, 2000, Top Secret briefing to the Director of Central Intelligence, disruption operations against the Millennium plot “bought time .... weeks... months....but no more than one year” before al-Qaeda would strike.
“A UBL attack against US interests could occur at any time or any place. It is unlikely that the CIA will have prior warning about the time or place.” the document dated August 3, 1999, said.
By September 2001, CIA counter terrorism officials knew a plot was developing but couldn’t provide policymakers with details.