The investigation of the September 11 attack has produced to date only a single instance of an observed liaison between a hijacker and a hostile intelligence service. It was the meeting on April 8, 2001 between Mohamed Atta and Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the second Secretary of the Iraqi Consul in Prague, and an officer in the Iraqi foreign intelligence service. This meeting was "seen" through the surveillance of the Czech counter-intelligence service, BIS. Why did the BIS have surveillance in place that detected this particular meeting?


The Czech surveillance of al-Ani grew out an earlier incident. In December 1998, Jabir Salim, a 43-year-old Iraqi intelligence officer, serving as Iraq's consul in Prague, was compromised in a homosexual scandal. He defected, along with his family, to Britain. In his subsequent debriefings by MI6, he revealed that Baghdad had provided him with $150,000 to organize a car bomb attack on the Prague headquarters of Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Liberty, the American facility in Prague that broadcast in Iraqi.

When the British informed the Czech government of this bomb plot, it caused a furor over the BIS paying too little attention to a dangerous Iraqi intelligence operation in Prague. Consequently, the head of the BIS was fired.

The new head of the BIS, now alerted to the danger of a bomb plot against the Radio Free Europe building, instituted intense surveillance on Salim's replacement, who was none other than Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani. Like Salim, al-Ani was the Iraqi Consul in Prague, which afforded him diplomatic immunity.

The Czech surveillance of al-Ani was therefore a full-court press. It presumably involved not just watching his movements but monitoring communications directed to him through broadband channels, including faxes, emails and cell phone calls. Since the BIS was concerned about a resumption of the planned bomb attack on the American facility, it would pay particular attention to any attempt to set-up a clandestine liaison in Prague with a foreign visitor outside of Embassy compound , which would give al-Ani a better chance to evade routine surveillance of Embassy visitors.

So when Atta arranged the meeting with Al-Ani at a remote location, which involved some prior communications before Atta flew to Prague, the BIS had every reason to surveil the meeting.

According to the Czech interior ministry, which oversaw the BIS, the BIS was not able to pick up the conversation between Atta and al-Ani. Presumably, the BIS did not have either the means or opportunity to install a listening device at this remote location. It was able, however, to establish the identity of the visitor— Mohamed Atta— either though his prior communications or physical tailing of him back to his hotel.

When the BIS informed the Czech government about the al-Ani-Atta meeting, officials assumed (wrongly, as it turned out) that the suspicious liaison might concern another bombing attempt on Radio free Europe. The Czech government greatly increased police protection of the facility in Prague. It also expelled al-Ani from the Czech Republic. Al- Ani departed later that month (April 2001). According to Radio Free Europe officials, the extra security remained at their facility until September. When Atta was identified as one of the perpetrators of the destruction of the World Trade Center did it become clear that they were concerned with the wrong target.

Collateral question:

Since Atta had returned to the US in April, and the suspected target, Radio Free Europe, was of concern to the CIA, the BIS had reason to inform the CIA about the meeting of Atta and al-Ani. Did the BIS provide this information to the CIA or other American intelligence agencies?