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Thread: Who Is Margaret Gillespie? With Introduction By Kevin Fenton

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    Who Is Margaret Gillespie? With Introduction By Kevin Fenton

    Who Is Margaret Gillespie? With Introduction By Kevin Fenton

    Thanks to

    Kevin Fenton

    The FBI Agent Who Discovered Two 9/11 Hijackers Were in the US
    Margaret Gillespie was an FBI agent who, while detailed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, was involved in the search for Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in the summer of 2001. She attended the stormy 11 June meeting between the CIA and FBI and, at the suggestion of CIA manager Tom Wilshire, performed a low-key review of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, where the CIA let two of the 9/11 hijackers slip through their fingers in early 2000. Because Wilshire only told her to perform the review in her “free time,” she did not find and realise the significance of CIA cables indicating Almihdhar and Alhazmi had entered the US until 21 August 2001 – even though the review started in May. However, she immediately called the FBI, alerting them they should look for the two, and had Almihdhar, Alhazmi, an alias for their associate Khallad bin Attash, and an Iraqi named Ahmad Hikmat Shakir watchlisted on August 23.

    The CIA had been hiding Almihdhar, Alhazmi and bin Attash from the FBI since January 2000, when Wilshire, who then knew Almihdhar had a US visa and was likely to travel to the US, blocked a report to the FBI informing them of the visa. After 9/11, various interpretations were placed on the CIA’s notification to the FBI that Almihdhar and Alhazmi had entered the US, because the notification was close in time to other events thought to be significant, the departure of John O’Neill from the FBI, the departure of an FBI team investigating the USS Cole bombing to Yemen, the arrival of an alleged warning about the hijackers from Mossad, and the closeness to the 9/11 attacks.

    Five Options
    In my opinion, it is impossible to say for certain why the information about Almihdhar and Alhazmi was passed at this precise time, so I will just lay the possibilities out and indicate which I think is the most likely.

    (1) Notification of Almihdhar and Alhazmi’s entry into the US was delayed because of the personal antipathy of CIA employees to FBI counterterrorism manager John O’Neill. O’Neill resigned from the FBI on 22 August, the very day the FBI was informed of Almihdhar and Alhazmi, and there clearly was a great deal of friction in the relationship between O’Neill and Alec Station.

    (2) Notification was delayed because the CIA wished to keep the news from the FBI team investigating the Cole bombing, in particular lead investigator Ali Soufan, who left for Yemen on 22 August. The CIA clearly did want to keep information about Almihdhar and Alhazmi from Soufan and falsely claimed three times not to know anything about the January 2000 summit in Malaysia when Soufan asked them about it. Soufan and the rest of his team in Yemen appear not to have learned about Almihdhar and Alhazmi before 9/11, but the rump of the team that remained in New York did.

    (3) Notification of Almihdhar and Alhazmi’s entry into the US was passed at this time because of an Israeli warning about Alhazmi and Almihdhar. Mossad is said to have uncovered information about the hijackers and passed it to the CIA, prompting the CIA to give up some of the information it had about the two to the FBI.

    (4) Notification of Almihdhar and Alhazmi’s entry into the US was passed at this time because the CIA, which, in this version, intended for Almihdhar and Alhazmi to perform some sort of attack, knew the attack would be soon and that the FBI did not have enough time to find the hijackers and stop the plot. While it is unlikely that the FBI could have discovered the entire plot and arrested all the actors in the three weeks before 9/11, it certainly could have found some of them and arrested them on other charges – Almihdhar for his part in the Cole bombing, lead hijacker Mohamed Atta for a driving offence, others for immigration violations. This would probably have disrupted the plot to the extent it was cancelled.

    (5) The final option is that it is just a coincidence; Gillespie realised the two had entered the US and notified the FBI immediately. This is supported by some of the circumstances, although questions still remain. First, while wrongdoing – specifically, the CIA hiding Almihdhar and Alhazmi from the FBI – was going on around her, there is no indication she was actually involved in the wrongdoing herself. She seems more of a bystander to it.

    Second, the CIA’s information access records are said to indicate that Gillespie accessed the relevant cables at this time, not before. While it may be theoretically possible to alter or manipulate such records, there is currently no evidence of this. Another possibility that cannot be discounted is that Gillespie was “encouraged" to find the cables at the relevant time by another officer who was part of the plan to hide the two hijackers from the FBI. For example, she may have been told to spend more time on the search of records relating to the Malaysia meeting, or may have been given a pointer as to where to look for the relevant cables.

    Third, when Gillespie found the cables, she immediately called the FBI to give them informal notification, without asking her superiors for permission. When Miller found the cable about Almihdhar’s visa in early 2000 he tried to pass the information to the FBI by a formal report, which was subject to approval by his superior, Wilshire, who instructed the report not be sent. As Gillespie’s notification was informal, it was not subject to approval. Quite possibly, if one of the six CIA officers who withheld the information from the FBI (Wilshire, his boss Rich B, Clark Shannon, an officer identified as “James” in the Justice Department Inspector General’s 9/11 report, and officers in Islamabad and Sana’a) had had the chance, he would have blocked the notification.

    Fourth, as noted above in (4), the FBI’s Cole investigation still had time to find Almihdhar and arrest him, and possibly other hijackers, disrupting the plot. If the purpose of hiding Almihdhar from the FBI was to allow him and his associates to perform an attack, passing the notification at this time was a big risk and could have thwarted the attack. Wilshire, who had by this time gone on loan to the FBI, and an FBI headquarters agent named Dina Corsi had to work very hard to keep resources away from the hunt for Almihdhar, arguing with several field agents, in particular Steve Bongardt of the New York office, who wanted more resources devoted to the search. These arguments exposed Wilshire, who was involved in the Zacarias Moussaoui case at the same time, to a greater risk of discovery. (Note: in late August 2001 Wilshire was aware that (a) a large al-Qaeda attack was drawing near, (b) Almihdhar was a likely participant in such attack, and (c) Almihdhar was in the US. This meant that Wilshire should and probably did realise the forthcoming large attack would be in the US. However, he continued to protect Almihdhar from a proper search by the bureau).

    As I indicated above, there is no way to resolve this conflict for certain, but in my view option (5) – the proximity to the departure of O’Neill from the FBI and the Cole investigators to Yemen, and the alleged warning from Mossad is just a coincidence – is the likeliest explanation.

    End Part I
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Mid-May-September 10, 2001: CIA Officer Obtains More Information about USS Cole Bombing
    CIA officer Tom Wilshire, currently assigned to the FBI, discusses al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with another CIA officer called Clark Shannon, who is assigned to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and wrote a report on the USS Cole bombing (see January 2001). Shannon gives Wilshire a timeline of events related to the Cole attack and they discuss Fahad al-Quso, a member of the bombing team in custody at this point (see Early December 2000), and Khallad bin Attash. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 282] Around this time Wilshire also accesses a March 2000 cable about Nawaf Alhazmi’s travel to the US following the summit (see May 15, 2001). According to Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent on loan to the CIA, Wilshire “had always been interested in the Malaysia summit and he was especially concerned about any potential ties between the USS Cole investigation and the Malaysia summit.” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]

    Mid-May 2001: CIA Assigns Officer to Examine Malaysia Summit in Her Free Time
    CIA manager Tom Wilshire recommends that an officer be assigned to review information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, to see if there are any connections between it and the attack against the USS Cole. The task is assigned to Margaret Gillespie, an agent on loan from the FBI. Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “… but [Wilshire] did not reveal that some of the participants might be in the United States. More important, he conveyed none of the urgency reflected in [an e-mail he sent his superiors around this time]; he told [Gillespie] that she should examine the material in her free time. She didn’t get around to it until the end of July.” Due to the request’s lack of urgency, it takes Gillespie three months to work out what Wilshire already knows—that some of the 9/11 hijackers have entered the US—at which point she immediately alerts the FBI to their presence (see August 21-22, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 297-8 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006]

    Mid-May 2001: CIA Officer Misrepresents Hijacker Alhazmi’s Travel to US in Email Copied to FBI Agent
    In an email sent to a fellow CIA officer Clark Shannon and copied to FBI agent Margaret Gillespie, who is working on the USS Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit, Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer assigned to the FBI, misrepresents the travel of hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and an associate to the US. According to the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, the e-mail says that Alhazmi and an associate traveled from Bangkok to Los Angeles to Hong Kong, indicating they did not remain in the US and left for Hong Kong. However, Alhazmi and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar traveled from Bangkok to Hong Kong and then to Los Angeles. Gillespie and Shannon will subsequently attend a meeting at which this information should be shared, but is not (see June 11, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 282-3, 288, 300]

    (Late May-Early June): FBI Agent at CIA Searches Only One of Two Databases with Information about 9/11 Hijackers
    Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA who has been asked to research the connection between al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit and the bombing of the USS Cole, checks a CIA database and finds some NSA information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and their travel to an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that was monitored by the US. The database she uses is Intelink, which only has information the CIA makes available to other intelligence agencies. However, she does not also examine the CIA’s Hercules database. It is unclear why she does not do so and whether, as an FBI agent, she has access to it. If she did access it, she would have a complete picture of the CIA’s knowledge of Almihdhar and Alhazmi and would know Almihdhar had a US visa and Alhazmi had traveled to the US (see January 2-5, 2000 and March 5, 2000). As Gillespie is only working this line of inquiry in her free time, she does not put together the information contained in the Hercules system until late August (see August 21-22, 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 340, 425]

    May 29, 2001: CIA and FBI Possibly Have Meeting about Cole and Malaysia Summit, but Nobody Will Later Remember Anything about It
    There is some evidence CIA and FBI representatives meet on this day to compare notes about the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, but an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) will not be able to confirm the meeting takes place, as all the participants say they are unable to recall whether they attended the meeting or not. If the meeting actually occurs, it is probably attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent known as “Kathy”, and FBI agent Margaret Gillespie. The topics of discussion may include the state of the Cole investigation and the identification of Khallad bin Attash in photographs of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Despite the poor memories of the potential attendees, the OIG will later find an email from Shannon to Gillespie saying that they met on this date, and Kathy will say that Shannon’s name sounds familiar. However, the OIG will conclude, “We were unable to determine with certainty whether a meeting… took place on May 29.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 285, 296]

    June 11, 2001: FBI and CIA Hold Shouting Match over Information on Al-Qaeda; CIA Still Withholds Information
    The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this. The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and assistant US attorney David Kelley. Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia meeting and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from CIA officer Tom Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001). Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Author Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006] Shannon will later admit that at the time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-292] Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Further, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information ten weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537] Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002]

    July 13, 2001: CIA Manager Says Extra Person to be Allocated to Malaysia Summit Re-evaluation, Unclear If this Happens
    A CIA manager says that an additional intelligence officer, Doug Miller, will be assigned to help an ongoing low-key review of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit when Miller returns from holiday (see January 5-8, 2000 and Mid-May 2001). The statement is made in response to an e-mail by CIA manager Tom Wilshire, who pointed out that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended the summit, meaning it was important (see January 4, 2001). Presumably, the manager that sends this e-mail is Rich B, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Rich B appears to have received the e-mail to which this is a response (see July 13, 2001). The review is currently only being conducted by one intelligence officer, Margaret Gillespie, who is only told to do it in her spare time and whom it takes over three months to find CIA cables indicating two of the 9/11 hijackers have entered the US (see August 21-22, 2001). Miller’s help would certainly benefit the review, as he is already aware one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa, but a cable he drafted to notify the FBI about this was blocked by Wilshire (see January 4-6, 2000). However, there is no mention of Miller actually being given the assignment on his return and no sign he does any work on this. Wilshire also asked that the FBI be officially told bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia, but this information is again withheld (see January 5, 2001 and After) [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298-9]

    Late July 2001: FBI Agent Possibly Confused by Error in CIA Cable, Fails to Tell FBI Hijacker Almihdhar Has US Visa
    An FBI agent assigned to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates a CIA cable that says hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, but fails to disseminate the information to the FBI. It is not clear why the agent, Margaret Gillespie, fails to do this. However, at the same time she locates another CIA cable which mistakenly states that the information about the visa has already been passed to the FBI (see January 4-6, 2000). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 299]

    August 21-22, 2001: FBI Agents Finally Realize Hijacker Almihdhar Is in US
    An FBI agent is detailed to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates CIA cables saying that hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi entered the US in early 2000. The agent, Margaret Gillespie, then checks with the US Customs service and discovers that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar entered the US on July 4, 2001, and there is no record he has left the country. As there is “an imperative to find anyone affiliated with al-Qaeda if they [are] believed to be in the US,” Gillespie immediately contacts Dina Corsi, an FBI agent in its bin Laden unit. Gillespie, who has been working on the USS Cole bombing and Malaysia summit for some time, will later say that when she learns of their arrival in the US “it all clicks for me.” The Justice Department Office of Inspector General will find that Gillespie’s “actions on receipt of the information clearly indicate that she understood the significance of this information when she received it. She took immediate steps to open an intelligence investigation.” Gillespie and Corsi meet with Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the investigation (see August 22, 2001) and Almihdhar and Alhazmi are soon watchlisted (see August 23, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 300-301, 313 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]

    August 23, 2001: Hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar Are Finally Added to Terrorist Watch List
    Thanks to the request of Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst assigned to the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, the CIA sends a cable to the State Department, INS, Customs Service, and FBI requesting that “bin Laden-related individuals” Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, and Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (an alias for Khallad bin Attash) be put on the terrorism watch list. All four individuals had attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia. The cable mostly focuses on Almihdhar, briefly outlining his attendance at the Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000) and his subsequent travel to the US in January 2000 and July 2001. Since March 2000, if not earlier, the CIA has had good reason to believe Alhazmi and Almihdhar were al-Qaeda operatives living in the US, but apparently did nothing and told no other agency about it until now. The hijackers are not located in time, and both die in the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents later state that if they been told about Alhazmi and Almihdhar sooner, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together” given the frequent contact between these two and the other hijackers. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 32-36, 302] However, in what the Washington Post calls a “critical omission,” the FAA, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the FBI’s Financial Review Group are not notified. The two latter organizations have the power to tap into private credit card and bank data, and claim they could have readily found Alhazmi and Almihdhar, given the frequency the two used credit cards. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Furthermore, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. [Newsweek, 3/24/2004] The CIA later claims the request was labeled “immediate,” the second most urgent category (the highest is reserved for things like declarations of war). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. [Los Angeles Times, 10/18/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] The State Department places all four men on the watch list the next day. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] However, this watch list, named TIPOFF, checks their names only if they use international flights. There is another watch list barring suspected terrorists from flying domestically. On 9/11, it contains only 12 names, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures, and some names are added as late as August 28, 2001. But none of these four men are added to this domestic list before 9/11.(see April 24, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]

    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  3. #3
    Kevin Fenton Guest
    Thanks John. I also cross-posted this to 911blogger and HistoryCommons Interactive.

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