Date: October 13, 2001
Source: World Mag
Abstract: Muted to a pale disk, the morning sun glimmers behind
a thin fog that hangs over Montgomery Field, a general aviation hub in the
heart of San Diego. On a normal day, the cacophony of man-made flight would
fill the air here: Cessna propellers gurgling to life; sleek Beech twin-engine
commuters buzzing across the tarmac; the reverse-thrust of small jets landing
to dispense overnight packages and busy executives.
Today, though, a lone Cessna 182 cracks the quiet, its propeller kicking clouds of red dust past a sea-green hangar and across the deserted runways. Since Sept. 11, general aviation traffic here has plunged by about 75 percent. Although 19 terrorists on that day slammed jumbo jetliners with full fuel tanks into American landmarks thousands of miles away, some people at Montgomery Field saw evil up close.
Two of the 9/11 suicide hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, took flying lessons here in May 2000. But the pair didn't want to learn to fly small planes, according to their instructor, Rick Garza. Instead, they yearned to leap straight into the driver's seats of Boeing passenger jets. "It's not happening," Mr. Garza told them, and gave them six lessons apiece in a single-engine plane. Alhazmi and al-Midhar flunked out of pilot school, but not out of jihad. And the ease with which they and other 9/11 terrorists acquired American flight training, coupled with the exposed-throat nature of U.S. general aviation, raises new questions about the next terrorist weapon of choice.
For years, homeland-defense experts have focused on four major categories of potential terrorist threats: chemical, biological, nuclear, and cyber attacks. This left Islamic extremists to exploit the security weakness of commercial aviation while experts focused on other, more high-tech threats. As a result, commercial air security is now drum-tight. But general aviation security isn't, and that raises a question: Could death soon rain from the sky again? More than 345,000 general aviation aircraft are registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. That includes helicopters, small aircraft, private jets-pretty much everything except commercial airliners. Approximately seven in 10 of the 170,000 flights that crisscross the nation daily are flown by pilots who don't file flight plans, and who aren't required to check in with air traffic control (ATC) except to obtain takeoff or landing clearance.
Many operate from fields with no control tower at all: Pilots activate navigational aids and airport lighting via radio signals. That means more than 100,000 general aviation aircraft fly unmonitored over American cities every day. Asked whether a terrorist could conceivably pack a light plane or small jet with explosives, take off legally (or undetected), and fly unmonitored to destroy a target of choice, pilot and Arizona State University professor Danny Peterson said yes. "The threat is certainly there," said Mr. Peterson, a former military base security expert who teaches a class called Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction. "I used to live in Victorville, [Calif.,] and fly to Catalina Island," he said. "I'd fly near Disneyland and Anaheim Stadium and wonder why someone hasn't done that before." The Department of Transportation recognizes the potential threat of small aircraft to targets of opportunity. Earlier this month, the agency grounded all U.S. crop-dusters to prevent possible bio-terror strikes. And, until last week, Ronald Reagan National Airport remained closed to all air traffic. Federal law-enforcement agencies were concerned about the airport's proximity to plum terrorist targets, such as the Pentagon and the White House, which are just seconds from the departure end of Reagan National's runways.
In 1994, Frank Eugene Corder, 38, of Perry Point, Md., crashed a small plane onto the White House's South Lawn. Federal officials have considered a permanent ban on general aviation at Reagan National. Although federal and local law-enforcement agencies have buttoned up security at other airports that host commercial passenger traffic, the same is not true of general aviation fields. "There is absolutely zero security there," said Jim Thompson, an aviation attorney and licensed pilot who flies a Cessna Citation-a small jet often used for corporate travel-owned by his law firm. Mr. Thompson said that before Sept. 11, he and other flight crew used to leave the Citation parked overnight with the doors open because of high temperatures at some airfields in the Southeast.
Such fields provided no security personnel or even full-time airport employees to keep an eye out for thieves. Since the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Thompson's firm has tightened security to ensure no one steals the company jet. But a terrorist might not need to go to the trouble of stealing a plane. Asked to peg the most exploitable weakness in general aviation, Mr. Thompson cited the ease of simply renting one. "You could go right over here to [the airport], show a valid FAA medical certificate, a pilot's license, and a logbook showing current flight hours," he said. "Give 'em 50 bucks and you've got yourself a plane you can then use to crash into a building or throw lethal chemicals out the window."
An estimated 20,000 new pilots earn licenses each year in the United States, according to the FAA. A sobering question: How many terrorists who did not die on Sept. 11 have earned theirs in recent years? But neither Mr. Thompson and nor Arizona State University's Mr. Peterson believe a light plane such as a Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee would pack enough wallop to interest a serious terrorist. On the other hand, a larger corporate jet might. Some major firms own and maintain fleet aircraft, such as Leer and Gulfstream jets, and even 50-passenger Airbus jetliners, and park them at poorly secured general aviation airports.
"It's a lot easier to hijack something like that," Mr. Peterson told WORLD. Without flight attendants to warn of a hijacker's takeover of a cabin, without cockpit/cabin intercom systems, and without much of what Mr. Thompson calls "standup fighting room," a terrorist could easily commandeer what would in effect be a piloted missile loaded with enough jet fuel to cause significant damage. Still, while the destructive power of a light plane, or even a larger corporate jet, cannot match the architectural demolition power of a Boeing 757 or 767, what about the impact of such a craft on a large gathering of people? Islamic terrorists have declared themselves at least as interested in exacting high "infidel" body counts as they are in the symbolic significance of buildings toppled. Many large cities are home to airports that lie in close proximity to venues where large groups gather. Montgomery Field, for example, is located on Aero Drive off Interstate 15, about 2 miles from 70,000-seat Qualcomm Stadium. That's not a far hop for a determined terrorist aiming to wipe out a few thousand American football fans on a Sunday afternoon.
A pilot could take off under visual flight rules (VFR), request to fly south along the interstate, veer west over the Qualcomm parking lot, and nosedive into the crowd. Controllers would deny a request for such a flight today, because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has quashed all VFR flights in "Class B" airspace, a type generally surrounding airports in heavily populated urban areas, and the type in which Montgomery Field is situated. But the restriction is probably temporary. As of last week, the FAA had lifted VFR flight strictures across the nation, Class B airspace excepted, according to FAA Flight Service Station Supervisor Orrin Kelso.
The FAA's Class B exception is meant to protect populous areas from any rogue VFR terrorists who might soon attempt a 9/11 follow-on attack. The idea is that aircraft operating in such airspace must be radar-identified, receive an ATC clearance, and enter a discrete numeric code that shows up on air traffic controllers' radar screens and simplifies flight tracking. But even the requirement to contact ATC can't deter a pilot determined to fly wherever he wants. In 1999, the pilot of a multi-engine Beech aircraft reported spotting what appeared to be a Pitts Special airplane performing aerobatic loops over Dallas, Texas. According to an FAA incident report, the Pitts Special was operating without ATC clearance in Class B airspace. Meanwhile, general aviation may also provide opportunity for terrorist strikes on U.S. military assets. At Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, for example, which shares the southern half of its airport traffic area with Montgomery Field, lost civilian pilots fly over (and have even landed on) military runways several times each year.
In 1999, at Key Field, an Air Force Reserve base in Meridian, Miss., a Cessna Centurion breached airport airspace and nearly collided with a military aircraft operating near the runways. Such aircraft are presumed lost and never challenged. A "lost" terrorist could easily crash his general aviation aircraft into a military aircraft parking area and destroy millions of dollars worth of tactical aircraft. Despite the number of ways terrorists could further exploit American aviation, experts like Mr. Peterson believe terrorists are more likely to release biological agents in any new attack than they are to crash more planes. Still, he admits his "likelihood" formula has changed since Sept. 11. "What was the likelihood of the WTC attack?" he asks rhetorically: "Up until three weeks ago, I would've said extremely small" (World Mag, 2001).
Of The Hijackers Plotted And Studied In San Diego
Date: May 2, 2011
Source: UT San Diego
Abstract: Two of the men who carried out Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 terror attack lived in Clairemont and Lemon Grove in 2000, blending into the community by attending mosques, studying English and mingling with young Muslim men.
Nawaf Alhazmi and Kahlid al-Midhar also were taking flying lessons at Montgomery Field in preparation for the day they would commandeer a jet and fly it into the Pentagon.
The two Saudi Arabians apparently used valid visas when they entered the country. For most of 2000, Alhazmi and al-Midhar lived in the Parkwood Apartments on Mount Ada Road in Clairemont. (The apartments have since been converted to condominiums and been renamed Blossom Walk.)
Alhazmi and al-Midhar also took several lessons in May 2000 at Sorbi’s Flying Club at Montgomery Field.
Later that year, the pair rented rooms in the Lemon Grove home of prominent Muslim leader Abdussattar Shaikh before moving to Arizona and then Virginia. Afterward, Shaikh said he was horrified to learn that his former renters were among the hijackers.
The two terrorists used their own names in the community, obtained driver’s licenses, and Alhazmi was listed in the phone book. Authorities said another Saudi, Omar al-Bayoumi, helped them get settled in San Diego County and may have helped pay their living expenses. Al-Bayoumi left the United States about two months before the hijackings. He was arrested in London after 9/11, but later released.
In August 2001, Al-Midhar and Alhazmi were placed on the federal government’s terrorist watch list. At that time, the list typically wasn’t used to launch efforts to round up suspects who were already in the United States.
The FBI later was accused in government reports of failing to notice suspects who were living in plain sight, and of failing to work sources who would have known of the hijackers’ presence. Bill Gore, who was head of the San Diego FBI office on Sept. 11, 2001, and other officials have said the FBI didn’t know the two were suspected because it did not receive any such information from the CIA.
“How were we supposed to find them when we didn’t know we were looking for them?” Gore said in 2005, in response to a U.S. Justice Department report on the matter. Gore, who retired from the FBI, is now San Diego County’s sheriff.In the past decade, the federal government has sought to improve communication between law enforcement agencies (UT San Diego, 2011).
Title: San Diego Officials React To Al-Qaeda Railway Threat
Date: May 6, 2011
Source: Fox News 5
Abstract: Intelligence officials said Thursday that U.S. railways may be the next target for Al-Qaeda, but San Diego law enforcement officials say they are not worried.
Department of Homeland Security issued a warning Thursday following the transcription of a note found in Osama Bin Laden's Pakistan compound indicating a potential attack on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
San Diego FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth said he is not overly concerned.
"We do not have any information which indicates that we have an imminent threat to the rail sector here in San Diego or Imperial counties," he said. "These bulletins are sent out on a regular basis out of an abundance of caution to provide situation awareness so authorities know what to look for and what activity may be suspicious."
The DHS message was prompted by notes discovered in the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where bin Laden was killed. According to U.S. officials, the handwritten notes, which were contained in a book, weren't addressed to any particular operative. They were described as "ramblings" and "aspirational" by one Obama administration official. It isn't clear if bin Laden or someone else wrote them.
The notes talked about "attacking America during symbolic times and using mass transit," one administration official said.
"If there's a specific threat toward the City of San Diego, a verified threat, then we are immediately notified and will take the appropriate actions," said San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne. "Right now there isn't one. There is no need to panic."
FOX-5 talked to some rail riders Thursday hours after the DHS issued its warning.
"Anything can happen right now, you just have to do what you do, have a blessing from God and say 'here I go,'" said Alicia Barker, who frequently rides the Amtrak to visit her daughter in Los Angeles.
"I think culturally we've been prone to think that it's going to happen on a plane, but why not a train?" said Adam Boone. "Even so, I still don't think about that."
Foxworth said often times members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force or other agents are on modes of mass transit without the public ever knowing it. He said if there ends up being a real threat to San Diego, JTTF along with FBI and SDPD would take the necessary actions to keep the city safe.
"The strength of the JTTF is the intelligence sharing, it's the collection of information of all the agencies looking at what potential threats are here," said Foxworth.
"It's not something that should stop people from enjoying themselves and doing what they normally do, there's absolutely no information specific to San Diego," Lansdowne said (Fox News 5, 2011).
Diego Officials Urge Vigilance As 9/11 Anniversary Nears
Date: August 25, 2011
Source: LA Times
Abstract: Reporting from San Diego -- With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching, San Diego political and law enforcement officials launched a campaign Wednesday to warn residents to look for signs of terrorist planning.
"Al Qaeda and others have always had a fascination with significant dates in history," Keith Slotter, special agent in charge of the San Diego office of the FBI, told a news conference.
Public service announcements are scheduled for local television stations warning residents to be on the alert and to contact police if they see anything suspicious.
A locally produced six-minute video titled "The Eight Signs of Terrorism" is posted on a county government website: http://www.ReadySanDiego.org.
San Diego's proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border and the presence of numerous military bases require an extra level of vigilance, said San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a former police chief.
The eight warning signs were compiled by the San Diego Joint Terrorism Task Force and the federal Department of Homeland Security. The department has begun a national campaign, "If You See Something, Say Something."
Among the signs of possible terrorism: People appearing to watch potential targets to gain information and people impersonating law enforcement officers or letter carriers.
Other signs include people using cash for large purchases; people buying large quantities of products such as fertilizer, weapons or uniforms; and people appearing to rehearse an attack or moving equipment or supplies into position.
"When in doubt, call law enforcement," San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said. "We'll handle it.... We're not targeting any particular group, we're looking at suspicious activity regardless of who is doing it."
San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne recalled the police and firefighters who dashed into the second building of the Twin Towers when it was struck by a plane.
"Remember what happened on 9/11 and show that level of courage," he said.
Three of the hijackers who flew a plane into the Pentagon had lived in San Diego. Two of the three had taken flying lessons in San Diego.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, there was criticism about lack of coordination and sharing of information between federal and local law enforcement and U.S. intelligence agencies.
Without directly mentioning that criticism, officials at Wednesday's news conference said that coordination has improved."We've never been more prepared," Lansdowne said (LA Times, 2011).
Questions Linger Over San Diego 9/11 Hijackers’ Ties To Saudi Government
Date: September 7, 2011
Abstract: The decision to send hijackers Khalid Al-Midhar and Nawaf Al-Hazmi to San Diego was supposedly made in Karachi, Pakistan. That’s where one of the 9/11 architects, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, said he found a San Diego phone book at a local flea market. After thumbing through it, he claimed he sent the two 20-something men to the city.
Al-Hazmi and Al-Midhar arrived here in February of 2000.
“The hijackers lived very openly here in San Diego," San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said.
Gore was the FBI special agent in charge of the local bureau when the attacks occurred.
“They were not hiding," he said. "They were going to school. They were listed in the phone book. They had insurance for their car. They had drivers’ licenses.”
Al-Midhar and Al-Hazmi flew the American Airlines jet into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Investigators say as preparation, the men took lessons at Sorbi’s Flying Club in San Diego.
Retired professor Abdusattar Shaikh unwittingly rented rooms in his Lemon Grove home to the two hijackers. He described them 10 years ago as simple desert men or Bedouins. They ate and slept on the floor. They prayed regularly at the Islamic Center of San Diego and at a mosque in La Mesa.
“They were home most of the time, reading the Koran listening to the Arabic cassettes," Shaikh said back then.
But former Sen. Graham, who co-chaired the Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, said the hijackers led a less than pious lifestyle outside the mosque and home.
“Well, they drank," the Florida Democrat said. "They went to nightclubs, strip clubs and at one point, Al-Hazmi wanted to marry one of the strippers but that was finally quashed.”
What we don’t yet know about the hijackers, according to Graham, is who financed their mission.
Graham said a Saudi man named Omar Al Bayoumi helped the two hijackers find apartments in San Diego and introduced them to other Muslims in the area. Graham said before Al Bayoumi helped the men, he received $465 per month from a Saudi government contractor. Afterward, his monthly allowance jumped to $3,700.
“The interpretation we gave to it was that Bayoumi was a conduit of financing for the two hijackers while they were in San Diego," Graham said. "That wasn’t the end of it. It turned out that that amount of money was not sufficient to support the somewhat elaborate lifestyle of Al-Hazmi and Al-Midhar.”
Graham believed the funding source was Saudi government officials. He says his staff tried to interview Shaikh, who had rented rooms to Al-Hazmi and Al-Midhar.
“He was an informant for the FBI, as a paid asset," Graham said. "His principle responsibility was monitoring Saudi youth living in the San Diego community as to whether they were contemplating any actions that would be detrimental to the United States."
The former senator said his staffers were never able to to interview him.
“He was taken into protective custody immediately after 9/11 and held for the better part of four years, at the end of which he was given a $100,000 payment and discharged of his responsibilities," Graham said. "He was withheld from us and in my own opinion, it was purposeful so that we would not get access to whatever information he had.”
That information might link the Saudi government to the hijackers, according to Graham.
Sheriff Gore, the FBI's lead agent here at the time, said he was not in a position to know if attempts to interview Shaikh were blocked by senior officials at the FBI or in the Bush administration. But he added it’s not as if Shaikh was never scrutinized.
“We thoroughly investigated, interviewed Dr. Shaikh on multiple occasions," Gore said. "And there was not one piece of information. The evidence wasn’t there. The decision of whether or not to talk to Sen. Graham was Dr. Shaikh’s decision and he had a lawyer and chose not to talk to them.”
The local FBI, under Gore, was scrutinized as well in the 9/11 investigations. The Justice Department’s Inspector General said in 2005 that “the time that Al-Hazmi and Al-Midhar spent in San Diego (in the months before 9/11) was an opportunity during which the FBI could have obtained information about them but did not.”
The Inspector General cited the hijackers' ties to two people known to the FBI -- Al-Bayoumi and former FBI informant Shaikh.
“I don’t know why the hijackers would have drawn any scrutiny when they weren’t wanted for anything they were in the country legally at the time," Gore responded. "I don’t know why they would have drawn scrutiny except they were Muslims."
Gore said the CIA knew at least three months before the attacks that Al-Midhar and Al-Hazmi had connections to Al Qaeda and were in the U.S. It the spy agency had informed the FBI about the two men, local agents could have helped find them, Gore said.”Had we gotten that in a timely fashion in late 2001, they were long gone from San Diego but we could have maybe traced back where they came from," Gore said. "That’s all pretty clear with 2020 hindsight” (KPBS, 2011).
Terrorist Cell Was Embedded Deeply In San Diego
Date: September 10, 2011
Source: North County Times
Abstract: On Sept. 11, 2001, when a second jet crashed into the World Trade Center, it became shockingly clear that what might have been a tragic accident was in fact a terrorist attack on the United States.
As San Diego County residents joined the world to watch the horrific spectacle, almost nobody knew how closely linked the terrorist plot was to San Diego, and how close law enforcement agents here came to preventing 9/11.
Not only did three of the suicide hijackers live in San Diego and several more allegedly visit as they planned the attacks, but there were also many others in the region who assisted the terrorists. Some of these supporters had connections to the Saudi government, and some were never detained or properly investigated. None was ever convicted of any crimes related to 9/11, and most have since left the country.
The following are just some of the many links between San Diego and 9/11, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials, and the report of a joint congressional committee investigation into how the nation's intelligence agencies performed before and after the attack.
Three of the 19 suicide hijackers ---- Khalid al-Mihdhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Hani Hanjour ---- lived in San Diego, and several more were said to have visited, according to local residents.
Before arriving in San Diego, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi had been identified by the CIA as al-Qaida operatives who had attended a terror summit in Malaysia just before coming to the United States. But as Newsweek reported, the CIA inexplicably didn't share this information with the FBI or any other federal agencies.
Picked by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohamed to be among the first of the 19 hijackers to enter the U.S., al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi lived high-profile lives here, worshipping at the San Diego Islamic Center, taking flight lessons at Montgomery Field, frequenting local strip clubs, obtaining bank accounts and credit cards and signing rental agreements using their real names. Al-Hazmi's name, address and home phone number even appeared in the 2000-01 San Diego phone book.
Alleged Advance Man
In early 2000, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi entered the country through Los Angeles International Airport with little knowledge of the English language, but they evidently had a plan and a support system in place. The two terrorists, who were later joined by Hanjour, were brought to San Diego from Los Angeles by an enigmatic Saudi national named Omar al-Bayoumi, who had lived in the U.S. since the early '90s.
Al-Bayoumi, who'd worked for the Saudi government in civil aviation (a part of the Saudi defense department), was thought by many locals to be a spy who reported to the Saudi royals on the activities of Saudi-born students living in San Diego County. A gregarious presence in San Diego's Muslim community, he often carried a video camera and called himself a student, but he was never seen holding a textbook, nor was he ever enrolled in any local colleges.
As Newsweek reported, on the same day in early 2000 that al-Bayoumi visited the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles for a private meeting, he went to a restaurant and ended up at a table next to al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. He told authorities later it was a chance meeting in which he and the two al-Qaida operatives struck up a friendly conversation, and he asked them whether they wanted to move to San Diego.
Al-Bayoumi set the two terrorists up in an apartment in Clairemont near the San Diego Islamic Center mosque, and he paid $1,500 to cover their first two months of rent.
When asked after the attack in 2001 about al-Bayoumi's possible role in 9/11, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, who was then the local head of the FBI, told Newsweek the local investigation had found no evidence that al-Bayoumi was involved in the attack.
Later, a former top FBI official told Newsweek, "We firmly believed that (al-Bayoumi) had knowledge (of the 9/11 plot)."
After 9/11, al-Bayoumi was detained by New Scotland Yard while living in the U.K. but was released a week later and allowed to return to Saudi Arabia. Gore said the FBI sent agents to London to interview him.
Newsweek reported that classified sections of the Congressional 9/11 Inquiry indicated that the Saudi Embassy in London pushed for al-Bayoumi's release.
Local Saudis Tied to
Hijackers, Saudi Royals
Another San Diego Saudi who befriended the hijackers (and knew al-Bayoumi) was Osama Basnan. As Newsweek reported at the time, he received monthly checks for several years totaling as much as $73,000 from the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, and his wife, Princess Haifa Faisal.
The checks were sent because Basnan's wife, Majeda Dweikat, reportedly needed thyroid surgery. She then signed many of the checks over to Basnan's friend, Manal Bajadr, who was al-Bayoumi's wife. This money allegedly made its way into the hands of San Diego-based hijackers al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, according to the congressional report.
At a post-9/11 gathering in San Diego, Basnan allegedly called the attack "a wonderful, glorious day" and celebrated the hijackers' "heroism." Basnan and his wife, Dweikat, admitted they had used false immigration documents to stay in the United States, and were arrested. Despite all this, Basnan was ultimately allowed to return to Saudi Arabia, and Dweikat was deported to Jordan.
Mystery Man Funded a
During a one-week visit to San Diego, yet another mysterious Saudi, Saad al-Habeeb, purchased a building in El Cajon with a $450,000 cashier's check for use as a mosque and community center for San Diego's Kurd Muslims.
His motivation for this gift was never explained, but it was given on the condition that al-Bayoumi be set up as the building's maintenance manager and given a private office at the mosque, with a phone and a computer. But leaders of the Kurd mosque said at the time that al-Bayoumi was never seen in that building, and al-Habeeb disappeared.
Student Allegedly Knew
about 9/11 Plan
The hijackers made friends quickly thanks to al-Bayoumi, who threw a party introducing them to many in the local community. Among the hijackers' friends was Mohdar Abdullah, a student at Grossmont College at the time who told authorities that al-Bayoumi had asked him to help the future hijackers learn English and get driver's licenses.
When interviewed by the FBI, Abdullah denied knowing about the operatives' terrorist plans. But while he was incarcerated, Abdullah allegedly told fellow inmates that he had advance knowledge of the 9/11 mission.
And according to federal court records made public in 2002, a spiral notebook seized from Abdullah's car a week after the terrorist attacks contained references to "hijacking," "mass killings" and "burning flesh falling from the sky."
Abdullah, who tried to get married and stay in the U.S. after 9/11, was ultimately deported on immigration violations.
Local Imam Counseled
Hijackers, Became Jihadist
Al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi also had a close but clandestine relationship with Anwar Awlaki, who at the time was a cleric at a small mosque in La Mesa, where he and the hijackers would hold regular private meetings. Awlaki, who had attended San Diego State University and characterized himself as a moderate who condemned 9/11, was investigated by local FBI agents several years earlier for his connections to Hamas and with planners of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, but nothing came of that investigation.
Awlaki, who had twice been arrested in San Diego for soliciting prostitutes in 1996 and 1997, lied to reporters when he said he didn't know al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. On Feb. 4, 2000, the day that al-Bayoumi helped the hijackers find an apartment in Clairemont, four calls took place between Awlaki's phone and al-Bayoumi's phone, according to the Congressional 9/11 Inquiry. The nature of those phone calls is not known.
Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, left San Diego to run a mosque on the East Coast and was followed there by the San Diego hijackers. Awlaki has since become arguably the most dangerous anti-American jihadist in the world.
From December 2008 to June 2009, at least 18 emails passed between Awlaki and Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspect in the November 2009 killing of 13 at Fort Hood, Texas. After the killing spree, Awlaki said of Hasan, "What he did was heroic and great ... I ask every Muslim in the U.S. Army to follow suit."
Failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad reportedly told law enforcement officials that he was a "fan and a follower" of Awlaki, as was the Christmas Day "underpants bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who claimed the airliner attack over Detroit on behalf of the Yemen-based al-Qaida.
Awlaki is now believed to be in Yemen. The Obama administration last year authorized his assassination, a rare move against an American citizen.
FBI Informant Housed
Abdussattar Shaikh, a co-founder of the Islamic Center of San Diego and a local Muslim leader who was called "The FBI's best chance to uncover September 11th before it happened" by the Joint Congressional 9/11 Intelligence Committee, housed al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi in his East County home. Shaikh helped al-Hazmi open a bank account and place an online personal ad seeking a wife. Although Shaikh repeatedly denied being an FBI informant to reporters, he was in fact a longtime asset to the bureau here.
Shaikh's FBI contact in San Diego, Steven Butler, who has since left the bureau, told the 9/11 Commission that if Shaikh had told him the names of the two men staying at his home and that they were taking flying lessons, and if the CIA had shared with the FBI the fact that al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were al-Qaida operatives, the terrorists would have been immediately detained and questioned and the dominoes of the 9/11 plot might have been toppled.
Shaikh insists to this day that he had no idea what the men who lived in his home were planning. But his neighbors say they saw several other hijackers visiting Shaikh's home (they identified them from photos that ran in newspapers and magazines after 9/11). And during the Congressional 9/11 inquiry, the FBI conceded that the hijackers may have known Shaikh months earlier than Shaikh admitted, and that there were significant inconsistencies in Shaikh's statements about his contacts with persons of interest to the bureau.
Shaikh also claimed not to have known the hijacker Hanjour, but a neighbor of Shaikh's told the Chicago Tribune that Shaikh introduced him to a friend called Hani, whom the neighbor later reasonably assumed to be Hanjour.In 2009, community leaders, including representatives from the Sheriff's Department and San Diego State University, honored Shaikh, who still lives in the area, for his 50 years of service promoting religious tolerance (North County Times, 2011).
Diego-Area 9/11 Memorial Vandalized On Anniversary Of Attacks
Date: September 12, 2012
Source: Fox News
Abstract: A 9/11 memorial in the San Diego-area community of Pacific Beach was vandalized on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
The memorial sculpture, dedicated to first responders who died during the 2001 attacks, stands in front of a fire station and consists of two polished aluminum replicas of the World Trade Center towers. Engraved on the memorial are the names of the 430 police, firefighters and paramedics who died when the buildings collapsed after terrorists flew hi-jacked planes into them. Between the towers is a 250-pound section of a steel I-beam from the World Trade Center.
Firefighters told Fox 5 San Diego they heard the sound of the replica towers being knocked over at about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. One of them said it sounded like someone had thrown a manhole cover.
"More than likely, this was intentional," San Diego Fire Capt. Bill Degrenier told Fox 5. "The crews on duty heard the tower go down. They gave chase, but the people got away."
The firefighters saw a woman and two men standing near the damaged memorial, but they weren't able to see them well enough to provide a useful description, according to Fox 5.
One of the local department's own sculpted the memorial, Degrenier said.
"The firefighter who crafted this, Tim Swanson from this station, he's on vacation, and he doesn't know about it yet. He's going to be pretty crushed. He put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this, " Degrenier said.
For now, they've brought the memorial inside the firehouse, where it will be repaired when Swanson returns."I'm sure it's going to get welded back into place and it will stand as a proud memorial to the people who died in New York that day," Degrenier said (Fox News, 2012).
Is San Diego Key In Anti-Terror Fight?
Date: January 24, 2012
Source: ABC News
Abstract: San Diego may not seem like a counter-terrorism hot spot, but look closer and you'll find U.S. Coast Guard helicopters buzzing overhead and scientists developing a device that analyzes the facial expressions of airline passengers before they board.
When the local office of U.S. Homeland Security opens up in March, only the city of New York will have more personnel than San Diego, where various agencies, research labs and universities will be part of the fight against terrorism.
San Diego may seem like a vulnerable terrorist target, since it is home to 100,000 Marines and sailors and 700 Coast Guardsmen stationed on the city's seven military bases. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, the city took steps to stop terror.
The Coast Guard assigned a dozen armed sea marshals to randomly examine commercial boats and cruise ships before they enter San Diego Bay. During the Super Bowl this Sunday, U.S. Customs aircraft will patrol the skies and help sort, intercept and track any suspect aircraft approaching the temporary flight restriction airspace during the big game. But even on normal days, Coast Guard helicopters buzz regularly overhead.
"A helicopter flying at 1,000 feet and see a lot further than we can, and they're a great asset," Coast Guard Lt. John Bitterman said. The city — which is on an ocean, near a desert, and minutes from the border of a foreign country — is also close to the San Onofre nuclear power plant, and one of several cities that some of the Sept. 11 terrorists called home.
Terrorists Lived Here
"After 9/11, we dedicated a lot more resources to counter-terrorism," said FBI agent Bill Gore, who is based in San Diego.
Federal authorities previously identified three hijackers with San Diego connections: Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour were on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, according to the FBI. After the attacks, authorities also arrested four people from San Diego as material witnesses and charged three of them with various crimes. The fourth was released.
Meanwhile, San Diego scientists are working on ways to try to stop terrorists in their tracks. Behind the walls of San Diego universities, researchers are developing a first-in-the-nation oral drug to treat smallpox, and "smart dust" — silicon crystals that change color from green to red when they're exposed to deadly gas. San Diego's international airport is, so far, the only one testing a unique machine that detects not just weapons, but chemical explosives, hidden in luggage.
In a few years, it is possible that you will find a one-of-a-kind airport detector, now under development at the University of California at San Diego and the Salk Institute. It records facial expressions of passengers, before they board a plane, and is designed to show us how inappropriate facial expressions might uncover potential terrorists.
Detecting a Guilty Face
Terry Sejnowski, of the Salk Institute, demonstrated the device for Good Morning America at the San Diego International Airport.
"Why is it that you bought a one-way ticket this morning with cash?" he asked ABCNEWS' Robin Roberts. She reacted with a surprised expression.
"Oh, look at that!" Sejnowski said. "You clearly weren't expecting the question. You were surprised, which is normal. I don't see any fear here. The computer would have recognized this is a normal expression."
It's not a lie
"It only tells you what the subject is feeling. It can't tell you why the subject felt it," Sejnowski said. If Roberts had given an expression of disgust when she was asked the question that would have been a normal reaction to the expression, too. Terrorists are trained to keep cool under pressure, but the system is sensitive enough to counter-act that.
"It's true — if you're a good actor, you can defeat any system — however, under pressure, even the best actors cannot prevent micro-expressions," Sejnowski said. "You might not even notice it, but the computer would be able to pick it up and thereby flag that this is an inappropriate reaction — even if they were highly trained."If the device does spot troubled passengers in a terminal, they'd be red flagged and stopped before boarding a plane, he said. The project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is years away from being approved and set up in airports (ABC News, 2012).
Diego Anti-Terror Center’s Spending Questioned By Senate
Date: October 3, 2012
Abstract: A U.S. Senate report released Wednesday found questionable purchases at a state-operated anti-terrorism center in San Diego, including 55 flat-screen televisions that authorities defended as necessary for watching the news.
The criticism of the purchases at the so-called "fusion center" in San Diego was contained in a report that found massive spending leading to few results in a nationwide anti-terror program established after the 2001 terror attacks.
The San Diego Law Enforcement Coordination Center is one of four regional interagency information-sharing centers created in California. The others are in Orange County, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Officials in San Diego spent $25,000 on surveillance equipment, including two "shirt-button cameras," according to the report's review of five such centers scattered around the nation. Much of the high-tech equipment was so complicated that the devices were exchanged for equipment that was easier to use, including cameras hidden in hats and water bottles.
They were purchased "despite the fact that federal guidelines for fusion center key capabilities do not include covert or surreptitious intelligence gathering," the report says, although it notes the purchases were allowed under federal guidelines.
A former director of the San Diego center lost his job after spending nearly $75,000 on the flat-screen televisions.
The TVs were supposed to be used for an intelligence training program that was never purchased. Instead, they were used to display calendars and for what officials initially described as "open-source monitoring."
When the Senate subcommittee asked for a definition, officials said they meant "watching the news." They told the subcommittee they viewed the television purchase as "a huge mistake."
The San Diego center also spent nearly $200,000 on 116 computers and monitors, although it had only 80 employees assigned by various law enforcement agencies to work at the center. The officials said some of the equipment was used by law enforcement officers in other locations to access information from the fusion center.
Mike Dayton, undersecretary of the California Emergency Management Agency, said his staff will examine the report.
The agency funds the fusion centers with federal money and oversees the California State Threat Assessment Center in Sacramento that coordinates them. It also serves as the liaison between the centers and the federal government.
"We want to make
sure the money is spent wisely and efficiently for the purposes of protecting Californians,"
Dayton said (KPBS,