Chris Whipple writes: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The CIA’s famous Presidential Daily Brief, presented to George W. Bush on August 6, 2001, has always been Exhibit A in the case that his administration shrugged off warnings of an Al Qaeda attack. But months earlier, starting in the spring of 2001, the CIA repeatedly and urgently began to warn the White House that an attack was coming.
By May of 2001, says Cofer Black, then chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, “it was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die.” “There were real plots being manifested,” Cofer’s former boss, George Tenet, told me in his first interview in eight years. “The world felt like it was on the edge of eruption. In this time period of June and July, the threat continues to rise. Terrorists were disappearing [as if in hiding, in preparation for an attack]. Camps were closing. Threat reportings on the rise.” The crisis came to a head on July 10. The critical meeting that took place that day was first reported by Bob Woodward in 2006. Tenet also wrote about it in general terms in his 2007 memoir At the Center of the Storm.
But neither he nor Black has spoken about it publicly in such detail until now — or been so emphatic about how specific and pressing their warnings really were. Over the past eight months, in more than a hundred hours of interviews, my partners Jules and Gedeon Naudet and I talked with Tenet and the 11 other living former CIA directors for The Spymasters, a documentary set to air this month on Showtime.
The drama of failed warnings began when Tenet and Black pitched a plan, in the spring of 2001, called “the Blue Sky paper” to Bush’s new national security team. It called for a covert CIA and military campaign to end the Al Qaeda threat—“getting into the Afghan sanctuary, launching a paramilitary operation, creating a bridge with Uzbekistan.” “And the word back,” says Tenet, “‘was ‘we’re not quite ready to consider this. We don’t want the clock to start ticking.’” (Translation: they did not want a paper trail to show that they’d been warned.) Black, a charismatic ex-operative who had helped the French arrest the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, says the Bush team just didn’t get the new threat: “I think they were mentally stuck back eight years [before]. They were used to terrorists being Euro-lefties—they drink champagne by night, blow things up during the day, how bad can this be? And it was a very difficult sell to communicate the urgency to this.”
That morning of July 10, the head of the agency’s Al Qaeda unit, Richard Blee, burst into Black’s office. “And he says, ‘Chief, this is it. Roof’s fallen in,’” recounts Black. “The information that we had compiled was absolutely compelling. It was multiple-sourced. And it was sort of the last straw.” Black and his deputy rushed to the director’s office to brief Tenet. All agreed an urgent meeting at the White House was needed. Tenet picked up the white phone to Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “I said, ‘Condi, I have to come see you,’” Tenet remembers. “It was one of the rare times in my seven years as director where I said, ‘I have to come see you. We’re comin’ right now. We have to get there.’” [Continue reading…]
‘The attacks will be spectacular’: How the Bush administration ignored this warning from the CIA months before 9/11
The New York Times reports: A still-classified section of the investigation by congressional intelligence committees into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has taken on an almost mythic quality over the past 13 years — 28 pages that examine crucial support given the hijackers and that by all accounts implicate prominent Saudis in financing terrorism.
Now new claims by Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted former member of Al Qaeda, that he had high-level contact with officials of the Saudi Arabian government in the prelude to Sept. 11 have brought renewed attention to the inquiry’s withheld findings, which lawmakers and relatives of those killed in the attacks have tried unsuccessfully to declassify.
“I think it is the right thing to do,” said Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts and an author of a bipartisan resolution encouraging President Obama to declassify the section. “Let’s put it out there.”
White House officials say the administration has undertaken a review on whether to release the pages but has no timetable for when they might be made public. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Times reports: In a revelation missing from the official investigations of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI placed a human source in direct contact with Osama bin Laden in 1993 and ascertained that the al Qaeda leader was looking to finance terrorist attacks in the United States, according to court testimony in a little-noticed employment dispute case.
The information the FBI gleaned back then was so specific that it helped thwart a terrorist plot against a Masonic lodge in Los Angeles, the court records reviewed by The Washington Times show.
“It was the only source I know in the bureau where we had a source right in al Qaeda, directly involved,” Edward J. Curran, a former top official in the FBI’s Los Angeles office, told the court in support of a discrimination lawsuit filed against the bureau by his former agent Bassem Youssef.
Mr. Curran gave the testimony in 2010 to an essentially empty courtroom, and thus it escaped notice from the media or terrorism specialists. The Times was recently alerted to the existence of the testimony while working on a broader report about al Qaeda’s origins.
Members of the Sept. 11 commission, congressional intelligence committees and terrorism analysts told The Times they are floored that the information is just now emerging publicly and that it raises questions about what else Americans might not have been told about the origins of al Qaeda and its early interest in attacking the United States.
“I think it raises a lot of questions about why that information didn’t become public and why the 9/11 Commission or the congressional intelligence committees weren’t told about it,” said former Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, who chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2004 through 2007 when lawmakers dealt with the fallout from the 9/11 Commission’s official report.
“This is just one more of these examples that will go into the conspiracy theorists’ notebooks, who say the authorities are not telling us everything,” Mr. Hoekstra told The Times in an interview last week. “That’s bad for the intelligence community. It’s bad for law enforcement and it’s bad for government.”
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission with former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, said that as far as he can remember, the FBI never told the commission that it had been working a source so close to bin Laden that many years before 9/11.
“I do not recall the FBI advising us of a direct contact with Osama bin Laden,” Mr. Hamilton told The Times in a recent interview. [Continue reading…]
Rory O’Connor and Ray Nowosielski write: A growing number of former government insiders — all responsible officials who served in a number of federal posts — are now on record as doubting ex-CIA director George Tenet’s account of events leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Among them are several special agents of the FBI, the former counterterrorism head in the Clinton and Bush administrations, and the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, who told us the CIA chief had been “obviously not forthcoming” in his testimony and had misled the commissioners.
These doubts about the CIA first emerged among a group of 9/11 victims’ families whose struggle to force the government to investigate the causes of the attacks, we chronicled in our 2006 documentary film “Press for Truth.” At that time, we thought we were done with the subject. But tantalizing information unearthed by the 9/11 Commission’s final report and spotted by the families (Chapter 6, footnote 44) raised a question too important to be put aside:
Did Tenet fail to share intelligence with the White House and the FBI in 2000 and 2001 that could have prevented the attacks? Specifically, did a group in the CIA’s al-Qaida office engage in a domestic covert action operation involving two of the 9/11 hijackers, that — however legitimate the agency’s goals may have been — hindered the type of intelligence-sharing that could have prevented the attacks? And if not, then what would explain seemingly inexplicable actions by CIA employees?
As we sought to clarify how the CIA had handled information about the hijackers before 9/11, we found a half dozen former government insiders who came away from the Sept. 11 tragedy feeling burned by the CIA, particularly by a small group of employees within the agency’s bin Laden unit in 2000 and 2001, then known as Alec Station.
Among them was Gov. Thomas Kean, co-chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which was responsible for investigating 9/11. He agreed to an on-camera interview for our documentary in 2008. He surprised us by voicing many doubts and questions about the CIA’s actions preceding Sept. 11 — and especially about former CIA director George Tenet.
Four years after Tenet testified to the commission, Kean said the CIA director had been “obviously not forthcoming” in some of his testimony. Tenet said under oath that he had not met with President Bush in the month of August 2001, Kean recalled. It was later learned he had done so twice.
Did Tenet misspeak? we asked the New Jersey Republican.
“No, I don’t think he misspoke,” Kean responded. “I think he misled.”
An interview with Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, authors of The Eleventh Day, The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden.
See the earlier report by Jason Leopold that this interview is based upon, Former Counterterrorism Czar Accuses Tenet, Other CIA Officials of Cover-Up.
For 10 years now, a major question about 9/11 has remained unresolved. It was, as 9/11-commission chairmen Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton recalled, “Had the hijackers received any support from foreign governments?” There was information that pointed to the answer, but the commissioners apparently deemed it too disquieting to share in full with the public.
The idea that al-Qaeda had not acted alone was there from the start. “The terrorists do not function in a vacuum,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters the week after 9/11. “I know a lot, and what I have said, as clearly as I know how, is that states are supporting these people.” Pressed to elaborate, Rumsfeld was silent for a long moment. Then, saying it was a sensitive matter, he changed the subject.
Three years later, the commission would consider whether any of three foreign countries in particular might have had a role in the attacks. Two were avowed foes of the United States: Iraq and Iran. The third had long been billed as a close friend: Saudi Arabia.
In its report, the commission stated that it had seen no “evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al-Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”
Iran, the commission found, had long had contacts with al-Qaeda and had allowed its operatives—including a number of the future hijackers—to travel freely through its airports. Though there was no evidence that Iran “was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack,” the commissioners called on the government to investigate further.
This year, in late May, attorneys for bereaved 9/11 family members said there was revealing new testimony from three Iranian defectors. Former senior commission counsel Dietrich Snell was quoted as saying in an affidavit that there was now “convincing evidence the government of Iran provided material support to al-Qaeda in the planning and execution of the 9/11 attack.” That evidence, however, has yet to surface.
As for Saudi Arabia, America’s purported friend, you would have thought from the reaction of the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, that the commission had found nothing dubious in his country’s role. “The clear statements by this independent, bipartisan commission,” he declared, “have debunked the myths that have cast fear and doubt over Saudi Arabia.” Yet no finding in the report categorically exonerated Saudi Arabia.
The commission’s decision as to what to say on the subject had been made amid discord and tension. Late one night in 2004, as last-minute changes to the report were being made, investigators who had worked on the Saudi angle received alarming news. Their team leader, Dietrich Snell, was at the office, closeted with executive director Philip Zelikow, making major changes to their material and removing key elements.
The investigators, Michael Jacobson and Rajesh De, hurried to the office to confront Snell. With lawyerly caution, he said he thought there was insufficient substance to their case against the Saudis. They considered the possibility of resigning, then settled for a compromise. Much of the telling information they had collected would survive in the report, but only in tiny print, hidden in the endnotes.
OK. That’s not exactly the wording of the New York Times‘ headline. It says “Court Filings Assert Iran Had Link to 9/11 Attacks,” so how did I come up with the alternative interpretation?
In a criminal case, if one of the defendants or a key witness is murdered before the trial, it’s fair to assume that if the murderer has a vested interest in the outcome of the trial then they were serving their own interest by making sure the victim could not offer damaging testimony in the trial.
The Times reports on a suit that was first brought in Washington in 2002 and then moved to Manhattan that claims Iran provided assistance to the 9/11 hijackers.
In their court papers, the lawyers assert that Imad Mugniyah, as the military chief of Hezbollah, was a terrorist agent for Iran, and that he traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2000 to help with preparations for the 9/11 attacks.
Imagine if Mugniyah was tried and convicted. The US-Israeli anti-Iran lobby would have a field day! War against Iran would be unavoidable.
Instead, Mugniyah was assassinated in Damascus in 2008 in what is widely believed to have been a Mossad operation. The Israelis apparently wanted to make sure he could never be questioned in court.
The Times says:
The 9/11 commission report said there was “strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of Al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.” The report also said there was circumstantial evidence that senior Hezbollah operatives were closely tracking the travel of some of the hijackers into Iran in November 2000.
But the commission said that it had “found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack,” and that the “topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government.”
The CIA and FBI were also tracking individuals involved in the attacks.
Holy moly! Does that mean that the US, Iran and Israel were jointly behind 9/11?!?!
On the other hand, perhaps it would be more enlightening to know who the hell is paying the lawyers who filed this case in Manhattan.
White House national security adviser James Jones says Americans will feel “a certain shock” when they read an account being released Thursday of the missed clues that could have prevented the alleged Christmas Day bomber from ever boarding the plane.
President Obama “is legitimately and correctly alarmed that things that were available, bits of information that were available, patterns of behavior that were available, were not acted on,” Jones said in an interview Wednesday with USA Today. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — When historians have the leisure to assess the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency, it will be interesting to see to what extent they see it having been shaped more by his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, than by the president himself.
Emanuel is a little man driven to take on big fights — though he backs away from if it becomes apparent that he overestimated his strength. I have a feeling that we’re in for another round, but this time the administration’s target is one that may turn out to have the most vicious bite: the US intelligence community.
Intelligence is a field that seems to have a particular appeal to people possessed by a unique form of idealistic criminality: a conviction that the state’s most indispensable guardians are an elite of patriots who patrol the boundaries of law by exercising the freedom to step outside the law.
In the aftermath of the Christmas bomber, Emanuel (and of course I’m simply guessing in attributing this to him), recognizes that the president is acutely vulnerable to the right’s favorite charge — weak on terrorism — and so has pressed his boss to show no mercy in pointing out the extent of the intelligence failure. Objectively, this should be a perfectly reasonable response, but right now the community (and especially the CIA) must be in crisis.
With an airline almost brought down and a team of operatives getting blown up by an al Qaeda infiltrator, once again, the phrase “American intelligence” sounds like an oxymoron. I would expect that the CIA is currently a cauldron of anger, humiliation and confusion where self-protection is the dominant force.
When the community that feels threatened is also home to the masters of dirty tricks, the people who are nominally in charge of running this country may need to brace themselves for a few lessons on the limits of their own power.
Thomas H. Kean and John Farmer Jr., respectively, the co-chairman and senior counsel of the 9/11 commission, write in a New York Times op-ed:
Despite the best efforts of the 9/11 commission and other intelligence reformers, budgetary authority over intelligence remains unaligned with substantive responsibility. Turf battles persist among intelligence agencies. Power is sought while responsibility is deflected. The drift toward inertia continues.
Government agencies are most likely to succeed when structure matches mission. With its many jurisdictional boundaries and its persistent bureaucratic fault lines, our current system, although greatly improved since 9/11, affords too many opportunities to let information slip, too many occasions for human frailty to assert itself.
The attempted Christmas bombing carries an eerie echo of the failures that led to 9/11 because those fundamental flaws persist. The challenge for President Obama and Congress is to resist superficial sound-bite solutions and undertake the harder task of reinventing our national security system. As the president stated, “The margin for error is slim, and the consequences of failure can be catastrophic.”
If Obama was ready to take on the challenge of reinventing the US national security system — I doubt very much that he is — then he would need to go much further than the Bush administration did.
A good place to start would be with an acknowledgment that secrecy is the enemy of accountability and efficiency.
That the United States has 16 intelligence agencies is not a testament to the sophistication of its security structure but to the institutional greed out of which so many fiefdoms have been created.
In a revelation bound to cast a pall over the 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon will report in a forthcoming book that the panel’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, engaged in “surreptitious” communications with presidential adviser Karl Rove and other Bush administration officials during the commission’s 20-month investigation into the 9/11 attacks.
Shenon, who led The New York Times’ coverage of the 9/11 panel, reveals the Zelikow-Rove connection in a new book entitled The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation, to be published next month by TWELVE books. The Commission is under an embargo until its February 5 publication, but Washington DeCoded managed to purchase a copy of the abridged audio version from a New York bookstore.
In what’s termed an “investigation of the investigation,” Shenon purports to tell the story of the commission from start to finish. The book’s critical revelations, however, revolve almost entirely around the figure of Philip Zelikow, a University of Virginia professor and director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs prior to his service as the commission’s executive director. Shenon delivers a blistering account of Zelikow’s role and leadership, and an implicit criticism of the commissioners for appointing Zelikow in the first place—and then allowing him to stay on after his myriad conflicts-of-interest were revealed under oath. [complete article]