A narrative nonfiction podcast chronicling the people and events leading up to the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
The System Was Blinking Red
2000 - 2001
While planning 9/11 and running Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden somehow finds time to marry a new bride, and his other wives aren't happy about it. As 9/11 approaches, his family life begins to fall apart, and eventually he is forced to make a choice.
In Washington, George W. Bush is sworn in as president several months after a closely contested election. His government is filled with experienced Republican public servants, particularly on the foreign policy and national security side. What did or didn't they do about Al Qaeda during his first eight months in office?
Meanwhile, as the terrorist chatter increases in the months before the attacks, intelligence and law enforcement officials miss crucial warning signs that don't make sense until after the attacks. Two days before 9/11 and half a world away, Ahmed Shah Massoud, a war hero in the fight against the Soviets and leader of the Northern Alliance, is assassinated by two Al Qaeda operatives posing as journalists.
Less than twenty-four hours before the attacks, all nineteen hijackers are in position, wrapping up loose ends, and waiting.
1992 - 2001
This episode is an in-depth look at the nineteen men who carried out the biggest terrorist attack in history. The story begins with four Muslims who go to Germany to pursue graduate studies and discover radical Islam instead. These four men - Mohammed Atta, Ramzi Binalshibh, Marwan al Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah - come from very different backgrounds, but by late 1999, they all want to fight jihad. Within a year, three of them are in the United States taking flying lessons.
The episode also looks into the 15 "muscle hijackers" who were chosen by Al Qaeda to participate in the attacks. Who were they, how did they become radicalized, and how did they get involved in the 9/11 plot? And who was helping them?
This episode also looks at the Al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur in January of 2000 and asks several questions. How did two known Al Qaeda operatives - both future 9/11 hiijackers - lose the intelligence officers tracking them and make their way to the United States a few days later? Why were they meeting in Los Angeles with a man suspected of being a Saudi intelligence officer? And why was the FBI not notified that they were in the country?
End of the Century
1980 - 2000
This episode is a look at U.S. counterterrorism policy in the intelligence and law enforcement communities during the years leading up to 9/11, culminating with the Millennium Plot. The episode also profiles some of the men and women who were on the terrorism beat, who heard of Osama bin Laden years before he was a household name. The CIA creates a virtual station exclusively dedicated to tracking Osama bin Laden. The episode also looks at contentious issues like whether the wall separating law enforcement from intelligence played a role in the leadup to 9/11, as well as the alleged leak of Osama bin Laden's satellite phone to the media.
Declaration of War
1996 – 2000
Now safely set up in Afghanistan with his family, Osama bin Laden begins a media offensive to promote himself and his message, granting a series of interviews to Arab and Western journalists. The initial reaction among world leaders and the public at large? Crickets.
What does get their attention and puts bin Laden on the global stage is Al Qaeda’s coordinated attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Bill Clinton is forced to respond with military force during a personal and political low point in his presidency.
Meanwhile, Al Qaeda’s attacks continue. Operatives bomb a U.S. Navy vessel during a refueling stop in Yemen, amidst the home stretch of the American presidential election. Why did two administrations fail to retaliate for the USS Cole before 9/11?
This episode includes firsthand accounts from survivors of the Kenya, Tanzania, and USS Cole bombings.
Ramzi and Khalid
1990 – 1997
The assassination of a right-wing rabbi in a New York City hotel offers a hint of the larger threat to come, though its significance is not fully understood at the time. The assassin has ties to a Brooklyn-based cell of jihadists preparing for war, which culminates with the bombing of the World Trade Center.
The lives of Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are examined for the events and forces that drove them to lives of international terrorism, from Kuwait to the United States, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Qatar and the Philippines. For a time, Yousef is the most wanted terrorist in the world, while his uncle KSM is barely on law enforcement’s radar.
Together, they would develop a terrorist plot so ambitious, it would have killed thousands if it had been realized. The two of them would set the bar for Islamic terrorism for the next two decades.
The Sudan Years
1989 – 1996
Battle-hardened Osama bin Laden is a war hero back in Saudi Arabia when Saddam Hussein threatens the peace and stability of the Middle East by invading and occupying Kuwait. He offers the services of his Afghan mujahedeen to the Saudi royal family to force the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.
Much to his dismay and growing anger, the royal family declines his offer and invites the United States and its coalition allies to base their troops in the kingdom in preparation for the conflict ahead.
In 1991, bin Laden and his family leave Saudi Arabia for Sudan, a country that at the time was the Wild West for international terrorism. Bin Laden forms ties with the regime, and establishes a network of businesses, charities, and NGOs with legitimate and illegitimate purposes to keep his fighters employed and his organization ready and capable to carry out its plans.
He continues to develop the Al Qaeda organization in Sudan over the next five years, as it attempts its first attacks against the United States in Yemen and Somalia. After coming under international pressure, Sudan forces bin Laden to leave. He chooses to go to the one place he knew well and where he was still considered a hero.