Published in The People’s Civic Record, a monthly, Wilmington, NC based progressive magazine.
“There were no warning signs that I’m aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country.”
– FBI Director Robert Mueller, September 17, 2001
“I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center … All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking.”
– National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, May, 2002
Were there no warning signs that FBI Director Robert Mueller was aware of? Could National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice not have known that crashing an airplane into a building was a possibility?
In June 1994, a report commissioned by the Pentagon concluded that religious terrorists could hijack commercial airliners and crash them into the Pentagon or the White House. A September 1999 Library of Congress report concluded that “suicide bombers” could “crash-land an aircraft…into the Pentagon, the CIA or the White House.”
Should a FBI Director or a National Security Adviser be aware of these reports?
In December 1994, Algerian terrorists hijacked an Air France jetliner, planning to crash it into the Eiffel Tower, a French SWAT team stormed the plane on the ground and foiled the plot. In January 1995, police in the Philippines discovered a bomb factory run by Islamist terrorists. One suspect confessed that he learned to fly at U.S. flight schools and revealed plans to crash a plane into the CIA headquarters. “Murad’s idea is that he will board an American commercial aircraft pretending to be an ordinary passenger, then he will hijack said aircraft, control its cockpit and dive it at the CIA headquarters,” the report stated, “there will be no bomb or any explosive that he will use in its execution. It is a suicidal mission that he is very much willing to execute.” In 1998, at the conspirators’ trial for the African-embassies bombing, al-Qaeda witnesses testified that bin Laden was sending agents for flight school training.
Should a FBI Director or a National Security Adviser be aware of these trials?
In the previous article in this series, I looked at some of the roadblocks and stonewalling by the Bush administration regarding the investigations into the events leading up to the attack on 9-11. Much of the information about what was known beforehand has been classified as secret by our government for legitimate security reasons or to protect sources. Whether every single document that is classified as such represents some security for us, or a cover up for failures, is up for debate, depending on the level of trust each individual places on this administration.
Putting the classified information aside, the volume of information available to the public is fairly enormous and includes many conflicting and convoluted stories and relationships, along with many strange coincidences and unheeded warnings. Many of these stories and relationships are interrelated and fall into more than one category. A full review of every story and relationship would take up several large volumes. Coincidences may mean something or they may just be coincidences. Warnings may, or may not have, risen to a level to have foreseen these specific attacks or to have prevented them from occurring. Additionally, how much of this available information is relevant or meaningful is also up for debate, but it should not be dismissed out-of-hand without some consideration. Even a very superficial review of the known information is highly intriguing and raises many questions. Unless these questions are addressed in a straightforward, nonpartisan manner, they may leave us at risk for another 9-11. If we are genuinely concerned about preventing a future occurrence of this event, we should not fear an investigation into its causes and we should be eager to discover all of them – no matter where they lead or who might be to blame.
WHAT IS KNOWN
After Bush was sworn in as President of the United States, Bush’s national-security aides were warned of an al-Qaeda presence in the U.S.. In national security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s handover briefing, the bin Laden threat was covered in detail and she was warned, “You will be spending more time on this issue than on any other.” [Washington Post, 1-20-02, Time, 8-4-02, Newsweek, 8-4-02] Shortly afterwards, CIA Director George Tenet warned Congress in open testimony that bin Laden and al-Qaeda were “the most immediate and serious threat” to the U.S. and its citizens. [AP, 2-7-01, Sunday Herald, 9-23-01] A few days later, Vice President Cheney was informed in a briefing that bin Laden’s involvement in the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole had been conclusively proven. [Washington Post, 1-20-02]
So by mid-February, the Bush administration had been put on notice that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization was a serious threat to the U.S. and that their involvement in the USS Cole bombing had been proven. By this time they had also received a final report by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, a bipartisan congressional commission. The report took 2 1/2 years to complete and made 50 recommendations on combating terrorism in the United States.[Salon, 9-12-01]
The Bush administration ignored all the recommendations in the report, decided not to retaliate for the Cole bombing, told the U.S. intelligence agencies to “back off” investigating the bin Laden family and Saudi royals [BBC, 11-6-01] and discontinued the deployment of cruise missile submarines and gunships near Afghanistan’s borders that had begun under President Clinton [Washington Post, 1-20-02].
The Bush administration had twice threatened the Taliban that they would be held responsible for any al-Qaeda attack and it appears that one reason they did not respond to the Cole bombing was because they were in the midst of negotiations with the Taliban for a pipeline through Afghanistan at this time. [Washington Post, 1-20-02] As far as “backing off” the bin Laden family and Saudi royals, it should be noted that the Saudis have been handled with kid gloves by this administration all along. For instance, even though the majority of the hijackers on 9-11 were from Saudi Arabia, since 9-11, new immigration restrictions have been placed on many Middle Eastern countries, but not Saudi Arabia.
In the Spring, a report which provided “a listing of all bin Laden’s bases, his government contacts and foreign advisers,” his whereabouts and details of his al-Qaeda network was presented to the UN security council by the Russian Permanent Mission. [Jane’s Intelligence Review, 10-5-01]
In May, Bush made Vice President Cheney head of the new Office of National Preparedness. The purpose of this office was to oversee a coordination of federal programs to respond to domestic attacks. Cheney said at the time that “one of our biggest threats” could include “a terrorist organization overseas.” [New York Times, 7-8-02]
In early June, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) conducted a planning exercise involving the hypothetical scenario of a cruise missile attack from a barge off the East Coast. Bin Laden was pictured on the cover of the exercise proposal. [American Forces Press Service, 6-4-02] Also, at this time, the CIA was warned by German intelligence that terrorists were planning to hijack commercial aircraft to use as weapons to attack “American and Israeli symbols that stand out.” [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 9-11-01, Washington Post, 9-14-01, Fox News, 5-17-02]
On June 3, Bush’s national security leadership met – one of only two times they met before 9-11 to discuss terrorism. [Time 8-4-02] (This should be contrasted with the fact that Clinton’s Counter Terrorism Security Group met 2-3 times a week between 1998 and 2000.) [New York Times, 12-30-01]
On June 23, Reuters reported that “Followers of exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden are planning a major attack on U.S. and Israeli interests in the next two weeks.” The reporter had interviewed bin Laden two days earlier and had come to the conclusion that “There is a major state of mobilization among the Osama bin Laden forces. It seems that there is a race of who will strike first. Will it be the United States or Osama bin Laden?” [Reuters, 6-23-01, Pravda, 6-26-01] On June 28, in a written briefing, CIA Director George Tenet warned Condoleezza Rice that “it is highly likely that a significant al-Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks.” [Washington Post, 5-17-02] Also, around this time, Richard Clarke, White House National Coordinator for Counterterrorism, gave a warning to the FAA to implement increased security measures because of an impending attack. [New Yorker, 1-14-02]
Between January and September the FAA issued at least 15 memos to the aviation industry warning of possibly imminent hijackings or bomb attacks on airliners or airport terminals inside the United States. Two of the warnings named Osama bin Laden as a suspect. [CNN, 3-02, CNN, 5-17-02]
Between February and July, in the trial of four men charged with the 1998 embassy bombings, testimony was given that bin Laden operatives had received pilot training in Texas and Oklahoma. Detailed information about a pilot training scheme was revealed, but no action was taken. [Washington Post, 9-20-01]
Between March and September, in over 20 meetings between envoys of the Taliban and middle-ranking State Department officials, the handing over of bin Laden was discussed. The Taliban offered to hand him over to a third country, but the officials refused to accept that option and insisted that he be turned over to the U.S.. [Washington Post, 10-29-01]
By the summer, “the chatter level went way off the charts” regarding intelligence monitoring of terrorist groups around this time and remained high until 9-11. Some officials later described the summer alerts as “the most urgent in decades.” [Los Angeles Times, 5-18-02, Senate Intelligence Committee, 9-18-02]
In early July, a briefing to senior U.S. government officials said, “Based on a review of all-source reporting over the last five months, we believe that [bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.” [ Senate Intelligence Committee, 9-18-02, Washington Post, 9-19-02] At this time, Diane Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said to CNN, “Intelligence staff tell me that there is a major probability of a terrorist incident within the next three months.” She argued that both the White House and Congress needed to put more money and resources into intelligence and counterterrorism measures. [CNN 3-02]
On July 5, in a White House meeting, counterterrorism officials warned the FBI, FAA, INS and others that a major attack on the United States was coming soon and informed Bush that attacks during the summer were possible. [Time, 8-4-02] The National Security Council group met the next day to discuss intelligence and potential attacks overseas. Nonessential travel by counterterror staff was suspended. [CNN,3-02, Washington Post, 5-17-02] Later, after receiving an unspecified “threat assessment” from the FBI, John Ashcroft stopped taking commercial flights. [CBS News, 7-26-01]
On July 10, The FBI’s Phoenix office warned that an unusual number of Middle Eastern men were enrolling in U.S. flight schools and speculated they may be part of an Osama bin Laden plot. The report was sent to FBI headquarters, but officials put off taking action. [New York Times, 5-20-02, Fortune, 5-22-02] Later, Vice President Cheney said that the memo should have never been made public. [CNN, 5-20-02]
In mid-July, Bush was warned about a possible al-Qaeda attack at the G-8 summit. One threat that was relayed by the Egyptian government to U.S. Intelligence was that Muslim terrorists could crash a plane into a building. [New York Times, 9-26-01, BBC 7-18-01, Los Angeles Times, 9-27-01]
Also in mid-July, FBI counterterrorism expert, John O’Neill complained privately that the White House was obstructing his bin Laden investigation. He said that the main obstacles to investigate Islamic terrorism were US oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia. He said that, “All the answers, everything needed to dismantle Osama bin Laden’s organization, can be found in Saudi Arabia.” He believed that one reason for the obstruction was that the White House was still hoping for a pipeline deal with the Taliban. [CNN, 1-8-02, CNN, 1-9-02, Irish Times, 11-19-01, Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth, released 11-11-01]
On July 21, A meeting was held in a Berlin hotel between American, Pakistani, and Russian officials. It was the third meeting of its kind called “brainstorming in Afghanistan.” Taliban representatives boycotted this meeting but had sat in on previous ones, nevertheless, Pakistani intelligence relayed information from the meeting to them. During the meeting, former U.S. State Department official Lee Coldren passed on a message from Bush administration officials. Commenting about the meeting later, he said, “I think there was some discussion of the fact that the United States was so disgusted with the Taliban that they might be considering some military action.” There are differing accounts of what happened, but Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik said he was told by American officials that military action to overthrow the Taliban was scheduled to “take place before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the Middle of October at the latest.” One reported threat was that the Taliban could choose between “carpets of bombs (a war) or carpets of gold (a pipeline).” Americans officials who attended denied that there was any talk about a pipeline during this meeting. [Salon, 8-16-02, Guardian, 9-22-01, Guardian, 9-26-01, BBC, 9-18-01, Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth, released 11-11-01]
Late in July, Wakil Ahmed Muttawkil, the Taliban Foreign Minister, learned of an imminent attack by bin Laden on targets inside the U.S. that will be “huge” and kill thousands. He sent an emissary to the U.S. consul general and another U.S. official to warn them. He also sent the message to the political wing of the UN. [Independent, 9-7-02, Reuters, 9-7-02]
Early in August, a plot to attack the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, either by bomb from a plane or by crashing a plane into it was discovered by U.S. intelligence. The people discussing this plot were reportedly acting on instructions from bin Laden. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 9-18-02] It was also about this time that the CIA warned the White House, Pentagon, and Department of State that bin Laden was intent on launching a terrorist attack soon, possibly inside the U.S.. [Sunday Herald, 9-23-01] On August 4, Bush left for a month’s vacation on his ranch in Crawford, Texas [ABC, 8-3-01, Washington Post, 8-7-01, Salon, 8-29-01] at which point, he had spent 42% of his first eight months in office vacationing either on the ranch, at the family compound in Maine, or at Camp David [Washington Post, 8-7-01].
On August 6, at his Crawford ranch, the president was told about possible attacks, including that bin Laden may hijack airplanes.
The CIA gave Bush an analytic report on al-Qaeda during his daily briefing, focusing on terrorist attacks inside the U.S.. The report was titled: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” [Newsweek, 5-27-02, New York Times, 5-15-02, Die Zeit, 10-1-02] and included a warning from Britain that specifically indicated al-Qaeda might attempt multiple airplane hijackings [Sunday Herald, 5-19-02]. After receiving the report, Bush left work early and spent the rest of the day fishing. [New York Times, 5-25-02]
On August 17, French-born Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested in Minnesota after suspicious flight-school trainers tipped off the FBI. [Time, 5-27-02] One of the agents wrote a warning that Moussaoui may be planning to “fly something into the World Trade Center.” [Newsweek, 5-20-02] On August 27, French authorities notified the U.S. that Moussaoui was a suspected Islamic extremist. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 10-17-02, Time, 5-27-02, Time, 8-4-02, ABC News, 9-5-02] Repeated efforts to obtain a search warrant for his laptop and personal effects failed because FBI headquarters “almost inexplicably, [threw] up roadblocks,” according to Minneapolis FBI agent Coleen Rowley. [Time 5-21-02, Time, 5-27-02] The Minneapolis agents became so desperate that they tried to get help from the CIA, but were reprimanded for their efforts. The supervisor for the FBI’s Minnesota office was accused of trying to get people “spun up” about Moussaoui by a RFU (Radical Fundamentalist Unit) agent at FBI headquarters. The supervisor responded that he was trying to get people “spun up” to make sure Moussaoui “does not take control of a plane and fly it into the World Trade Center.” The RFU agent edited the request from the Minnesota office before passing it along, removing implications Moussaoui was connected to al Qaeda, and the request was denied. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 10-17-02] Rowley said that some agents in the office were openly joking that there had to be spies or moles…working for Osama bin Laden blocking their requests. Those agents who blocked their requests were later promoted. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5-28-02, Time, 5-21-02]
In late August, counterterrorism expert John O’Neill quit the FBI because of repeated obstruction of his investigations into al Qaeda and recent power plays against him. [New Yorker, 1-14-02] Two days later, when he began his new job as head of security at the World Trade Center, a friend commented, “Well, that will be an easy job. They’re not going to bomb that place again.” O’Neill responded, “Well actually they’ve always wanted to finish that job. I think they’re going to try again.” On September 10th he moved into his new office on the 34th floor of the North Tower. That evening, he confided to his colleague Jerry Hauer, “We’re due for something big. I don’t like the way things are lining up in Afghanistan.” O’Neill was killed in the attack the next day. [New Yorker, 1-14-02, PBS Frontline, 10-3-02]
On September 4, Bush’s Cabinet advisers held their second meeting to discuss terrorism. [Washington Post, 5-17-02]
On September 9, Donald Rumsfeld threatened the Senate that he would encourage a veto if they proceed with a plan to move $600 million from defense to counterterrorism. [Time 8-4-02]
All during the final days leading up to 9-11, there had been a sharp increase in the short selling of stocks of American and United airlines in the New York Stock Exchange. [Reuters, 9-20-01, San Francisco Chronicle, 9-22-01] These put options were not reflected in trades of stocks in other airlines and they increased in the days approaching 9-11. One analyst said, “I saw put-call numbers higher than I’ve ever seen in 10 years following the markets, particularly the options markets.” [AP, 9-18-01, San Francisco Chronicle, 9-19-01] By September 10, “Alarm bells were sounding over unusual trading in the U.S. stock market” all during the afternoon, as reported by CBS News. For intelligence gathering, the CIA and other intelligence agencies monitor stock trading in real time using programs such as Promis. [CBS, 9-19-01]. Evidently, the heavy trading of American and United stocks did not set off enough alarm bells for the CIA to act. Also, two NSA intercepted messages in Arabic, one saying “The match is about to begin,” and the other saying “Tomorrow is the zero hour” were claimed not to have been translated in time. [Reuters, 9-9-02, ABC News, 6-7-02, Reuters, 6-17-02]
On September 10th several “ironic” and “coincidental” events occurred….
Senator Feinstein asked for a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney about draft legislation on counterterrorism and national defense that she had sent to him on July 20, his chief of staff told her they needed six months to prepare for it. She said she worried that they didn’t have six months. [Newsweek, 5-27-02]
Attorney General John Ashcroft rejected a proposed $58 million increase in financing for programs relating to counterterrorism, he sent a request for budget increase to the White House which didn’t include any new money requests for counterterrorism, and he sent a memo to his department heads listing his seven priorities – none of which related to counterterrorism, yet Ashcroft had stopped taking commercial flights in July because of terrorist threats, and he had told a Senate committee in May that counterterrorism was his “highest priority.” [New York Times, 6-1-02, Guardian, 5-21-02]
NORAD was supposedly at its highest state of readiness, as it was conducting its semi-annual exercises known as “Vigilant Guardian.” [Newhouse News, 1-25-02, Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6-3-02, ABC News, 9-11-02, ABC News 9-14-02, Ottawa Citizen, 9-11-02, Code One Magazine, 1-02]
Pentagon brass suddenly cancelled a trip for the next day because of security concerns. [Newsweek, 9-13-01, Newsweek, 9-17-01]
The CIA were planning a simulation drill to test emergency response. The drill was to start the next morning at 9:00 am. In an advertisement for the “homeland security” event was this sentence, “On the morning of September 11th 2001, Mr. [John] Fulton and his team at the CIA will run a pre-planned simulation to explore the emergency response issues that would be created if a plane were to strike a building.” [National Law Enforcement Security Institute, 8-02, AP, 8-21-02]
A CIA plan to attack al-Qaeda in Afghanistan – with support for the Northern Alliance, including a U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan – was put on Bush’s desk, awaiting his approval and signature when he returned from Florida. [Time, Newsweek, MSNBC, 5-16-02, Los Angeles Times, 5-18-02]
On September 11, terrorists attacked.
WHAT IS UNKNOWN
Is it conceivable that Rice and Mueller had no idea that such an attack was possible? Why were the initial 50 recommendations by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century ignored and would any of them have stopped the attacks had they not been? Apparently, the Taliban were interested in getting rid of bin Laden, but were concerned about how it would look to turn him over to us. Was it so unreasonable to suggest turning him over to a third party? They also evidently tried to warn us about an attack. Why wasn’t this warning taken seriously? Was there sufficient evidence to connect the dots with all these warnings and take preventable action? What information caused the suspension of nonessential travel by National Security Council counterterror staff, John Ashcroft to stop taking commercial flights, and Pentagon brass to suddenly cancel a trip, but which didn’t reach the level of a public warning? What was contained in the CIA report, given to Bush at his ranch, titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”? What did Bush know and when did he know it? Did the administration act competently to the threat or did a desire to get a pipeline through Afghanistan cause them to take their eye off the ball? Who was obstructing O’Neill’s investigation and why? Is our oil dependence preventing us from dealing with the Saudis as we should? Did we threaten the Taliban over a pipeline deal? How was Bush expecting to get approval for a plan to launch a military invasion of Afghanistan without the attack against us? What reasons would he have given? These questions and many others need to be openly addressed.
It is interesting to note that Enron, one of Bush’s biggest contributors, desperately needed a pipeline deal through Afghanistan to make its biggest project, the Dabhol power plant, profitable and to avoid bankruptcy. Enron sat in on the Energy Task Force meetings, which occurred several months prior to 9-11 and which Cheney refuses to divulge any information about. It would be very interesting to find out what was discussed at these meetings. There now will be a pipeline built through Afghanistan, Enron has reformed into a pipeline building business, and it looks like they may be able to complete their project in Dabhol.
It actually may be possible to guess what was discussed and suggested by the oil company representatives which attended at the secret Energy Task Force meetings by looking at a report that was submitted to Cheney in April, 2001. The report, called “Strategic Energy Policy Challenges For The 21st Century” was commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations and James Baker, former Secretary of State under President Reagan and was linked to a “veritable who’s who of U.S. hawks, oilmen, and corporate bigwigs,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The report made the argument that there is a need of U.S. “military intervention” in Iraq to secure its oil supply and possibly infers a pipeline through Afghanistan where it said that the U.S. should “Investigate whether any changes to U.S. policy would quickly facilitate higher exports of oil from the Caspian Basin region…the exports from some oil discoveries could be hastened if a secure, economical export route could be identified swiftly.” [Emphasis mine] Later, when the results of the Task Force meetings were announced in Cheney’s national energy plan, it contained the suggestion that the U.S. could no longer depend on traditional sources and would have to obtain supplies from the Caspian regions and that the U.S. would have to overcome foreign resistance to the current limitations of American energy companies.
It is also interesting to note that many of the main players involved in the Bush administration either have connections to the oil business and/or the Project for a New American Century, who released a report a year before the attack on 9-11 called “Rebuilding Americas Defenses,” which became the basis of our National Security Strategy and proposed everything we are currently engaged in, including the removal of Saddam Hussein because; “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” It also lamented that the climate in America was such that there was no hope of obtaining their objectives without “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”
The odds of all these events being a coincidence would be impossible to calculate.
Some have suggested that investigating what happened will somehow weaken our resolve to adequately respond to future threats. This seems to be how the Bush administration sees it. Despite public pronouncements, there is a seeming lack of interest in aiding an investigation and general reluctance to fully cooperate. Some have suggested that that investigating might undermine our need or desire to play the role of the totally innocent victim, which may have resulted from a strong identification with the actual victims from overexposure to the event by the media directly after 9-11. Still others have suggested that there are those with something to hide, either because the evidence will prove incompetence or complicity. It is exceedingly important that these suggestions especially are adequately addressed as they will undermine faith in this administration and this country, at home and abroad, and likely fuel conspiracy theorists forever.
Note: While I have acquired much of this information over time, I wish to thank the people at the Center for Cooperative Research for allowing me to paraphrase some material from their extensive database for this article.