Al Qaeda tied to intercepted phone calls- Arabic heard on September 10


Tomorrow is zero hour' in Arabic heard on September 10
Thu Jun 20 15:03:48 2002


Congressional and other sources told CNN Wednesday that in one communication
intercepted by the National Security Agency, a person said, "The match begins tomorrow."

Al Qaeda tied to intercepted phone calls
Tomorrow is zero hour' in Arabic heard on September 10

June 20, 2002 Posted: 11:41 AM EDT (1541 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Messages
intercepted by U.S. intelligence one day
before the September 11 attacks came
from telephone conversations between
people in Afghanistan and Saudi
Arabia, sources said Thursday.

Knowledgeable sources say that in two
separate communications, people in
Afghanistan believed connected to al
Qaeda appeared to be notifying others in
Saudi Arabia that major attacks were
imminent against the United States.

Congressional and other sources told CNN
Wednesday that in one communication
intercepted by the National Security
Agency, a person said, "The match begins tomorrow."

In another intercept that same day, a different person said, "Tomorrow is zero
hour." To this day, officials say, they do not know for sure the identities of the two
persons originating the communications from Afghanistan.

The conversations were in Arabic, but officials are
not sure who was talking.

The communications were not translated until
September 12, one day after the attacks, but U.S.
officials say the information would have been
translated on September 12 even if the attacks had not occurred the day before,
given the high level of interest in al Qaeda's activities.

The NSA, which is the nation's eavesdropping intelligence agency, intercepts
millions of communications each day and must prioritize which intercepts to

The translated messages were provided to CNN by several congressional sources,
and they were discussed at a joint House-Senate intelligence committee meeting

One lawmaker said Wednesday that the intercepts were "the subject of a lot of
discussion" during Tuesday's session with three top U.S. intelligence officials.

NSA Director Michael Hayden, FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director
George Tenet have testified before the joint panel investigating September 11.

According to the lawmaker, Hayden was asked why it took the NSA two days to
translate the intercepts. His response was that the agency collects a lot of
information every day and it would be nearly impossible to translate all of it in a
timely manner.

"They get tons and tons of information," this lawmaker said. "I don't think people
realize how much information our government collects."

Some U.S. officials said that the messages lacked specifics -- such as who was
behind them or what might happen -- and, as such, there was nothing to act on.

CNN has previously reported that the NSA had intercepted some messages shortly
before September 11, but the language has not been revealed until now.

Following the CNN report on Wednesday, lawmakers on the joint intelligence panel
were admonished not to talk with the media about the NSA intercepts, according to
Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Illinois.

Lawmakers said Tuesday's session with Tenet, Mueller and Hayden had focused on
lapses at the CIA, FBI and NSA. Those discussions included the NSA intercepts
and many questions about why two September 11 hijackers who attended an al
Qaeda meeting in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000 were never placed on a terrorist
watch list.

One lawmaker said the three witnesses seemed genuinely upset that their agencies
had information that they simply "didn't put together" about the September 11 plot.

"I think people like Tenet, Mueller and Hayden feel very, very badly that they've let
our government down and let the people down," the lawmaker said.

On Wednesday, the focus turned to the future -- the "big picture" as one member
put it -- and ways to prevent another attack.

"What do we specifically need? For example, why aren't the [Immigration and
Naturalization Service] fingerprint records coordinated with the FBI's fingerprint
records?" the member told CNN. "We've been talking about this for several years
but it is not yet done. So we're getting into some very specific things -- what more
needs to be done, what resources do you need to get it done."

"The goal is looking backward to look forward," said Rep. Jane Harman,
D-California. "No blame game is productive."

"We want to look for answers to fix this system rather than dwelling on their
problems," added Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Indiana. "Let's fix the cracks that the
snakes crawl through."

The joint committee had planned to hold public hearings beginning next week, but
those plans are in serious doubt now.

An official decision on whether to move ahead with public hearings next week is
expected Thursday. But several members said it was unlikely they would be ready
by then.

"We're not ready," said LaHood. "We don't want to look like we're flying by the
seats of our pants."

Another complicating factor: whether the committee can talk in public about
documents that relate to the criminal trial of accused September 11 conspirator,
Zacarias Moussaoui. A judge hearing that ongoing case has placed some documents
under seal.

-- CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor, CNN Congressional
Correspondent Kate Snow and CNN Capitol Hill Producer Dana Bash contributed to
this report.
NSA has issued the following Press Releases during 2002:   


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