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This article is a subsection of Joint Enquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Part One Section III full text
A. Factual FindingsEdit
In reviewing the documents, interview reports, and witness testimony gathered during this Inquiry, the Joint Inquiry has sought to determine what information was available to the Intelligence Community prior to September 11, 2001 that was relevant to the attacks that occurred on that day. The record that has been established through this Inquiry leads to the following factual findings and conclusions.
While the Intelligence Community had amassed a great deal of valuable intelligence regarding Usama Bin Ladin and his terrorist activities, none of it identified the time, place, and specific nature of the attacks that were planned for September 11, 2001. Nonetheless, the Community did have information that was clearly relevant to the September 11 attacks, particularly when considered for its collective significance.
This Inquiry has uncovered no intelligence information in the possession of the Intelligence Community prior to the attacks of September 11 that, if fully considered, would have provided specific, advance warning of the details of those attacks. The task of the Inquiry was not, however, limited to a search for the legendary, and often absent, “smoking gun.” The facts surrounding the September 11 attacks demonstrate the importance of strengthening the Intelligence Community’s ability to detect and prevent terrorist attacks in what appears to be the more common, but also far more difficult, scenario. Within the huge volume of intelligence reporting that was available prior to September 11, there were various threads and pieces of information that, at least in retrospect, are both relevant and significant. The degree to which the Community was or was not able to build on that information to discern the bigger picture successfully is a critical part of the context for the September 11 attacks and is addressed in the findings that follow.
During the spring and summer of 2001, the Intelligence Community experienced a significant increase in information indicating that Bin Ladin and al-Qa’ida intended to strike against U.S. interests in the very near future.
The National Security Agency (NSA), for example, reported at least 33 communications indicating a possible, imminent terrorist attack in 2001. Senior U.S. Government officials were advised by the Intelligence Community on June 28 and July 10, 2001, that the attacks were expected, among other things, to “have dramatic consequences on governments or cause major casualties” and that “[a]ttack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.”
Some Community personnel described the increase in threat reporting as unprecedented, at least in their own experience. The Intelligence Community advised senior policymakers of the likelihood of an attack but, given the non-specific nature of the reporting, could not identify when, where, and how an attack would take place. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in his testimony, described his recollection of the threat and the U.S. Government’s response:
We issued between January and September nine warnings, five of them
global, because of the threat information we were receiving from the intelligence agencies in the summer, when [DCI] George Tenet was around town literally pounding on desks saying, something is happening, this is an unprecedented level of threat information. He didn’t know where it was going to happen, but he knew that it was coming.
Beginning in 1998 and continuing into the summer of 2001, the Intelligence Community received a modest, but relatively steady, stream of intelligence reporting that indicated the possibility of terrorist attacks within the United States. Nonetheless, testimony and interviews confirm that it was the general view of the Intelligence Community, in the spring and summer of 2001, that the threatened Bin Ladin attacks would most likely occur against U.S. interests overseas, despite indications of plans and intentions to attack in the domestic United States.
Communications intercepts, the arrests of suspected terrorists in the Middle East and Europe and a credible report of a plan to attack a U.S. Embassy in the Middle East shaped the Community’s thinking about where an attack was likely to occur. While former FBI Director Louis Freeh testified that the FBI was “intensely focused” on terrorist targets within the United States, the FBI’s Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism testified that in 2001 he thought there was a high probability – “98 percent” – that the attack would be overseas. The latter was the clear majority view, despite the fact that the Intelligence Community had information suggesting that Bin Ladin had planned, and was capable of, conducting attacks within the domestic United States.
This stream of reporting began as early as 1998 and continued during the time of heightened threat levels in 2001. For example, the Community received reporting in May 2001 that Bin Ladin supporters were planning to infiltrate the United States to conduct terrorist operations and, in late summer 2001, that an al-Qa’ida associate was considering mounting terrorist attacks within the United States.
[Of particular interest to the Joint Inquiry was whether and to what extent the President received threat-specific warnings during this period. The Joint Inquiry was advised by a representative of the Intelligence Community that, in August 2001, a closely held intelligence report for senior government officials included information that Bin Ladin had wanted to conduct attacks in the United States since 1997. The information included discussion of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam in December 1999 at the U.S.-Canadian border and the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. It mentioned that members of al-Qa’ida, including some U.S. citizens, had resided in or traveled to the United States for years and that the group apparently maintained a support structure here. The report cited uncorroborated information obtained and disseminated in 1998 that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack airplanes to gain the release of U.S.-held extremists; FBI judgments about patterns of activity consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks; as well as information acquired in May 2001 that indicated a group of Bin Ladin supporters was planning attacks in the United States with explosives].
From at least 1994, and continuing into the summer of 2001, the Intelligence Community received information indicating that terrorists were contemplating, among other means of attack, the use of aircraft as weapons. This information did not stimulate any specific Intelligence Community assessment of, or collective U.S. Government reaction to, this form of threat.
While the credibility of the sources was sometimes questionable and the information often sketchy, the Inquiry confirmed that the Intelligence Community did receive intelligence reporting concerning the potential use of aircraft as weapons.
For example, the Community received information in 1998 about a Bin Ladin operation that would involve flying an explosive- laden aircraft into a U.S. airport and, in summer 2001, about a plot to bomb a U.S. embassy from an airplane or crash an airplane into it. The FBI and CIA were also aware that convicted terrorist Abdul Hakim Murad and several others had discussed the possibility of crashing an airplane into CIA Headquarters as part of “the Bojinka Plot” in the Philippines, discussed later in this report. Some, but apparently not all, of these reports were disseminated within the Intelligence Community and to other agencies].
The Transportation Security Administration, for example, advised the Committees that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had not received three of these reports, that two others were received by the FAA but through State Department cables, and that one report was received by the FAA, but only after September 11, 2001. Many policymakers and U.S. Government officials apparently remained unaware of this kind of potential threat and the Intelligence Community did not produce any specific assessments of the likelihood that terrorists would in fact use airplanes as weapons.For example, former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testified before these Committees that: I don’t recall being presented with any specific threat information about an attack of this nature [the use of aircraft as weapons] or any alert highlighting this threat or indicating it was any more likely than any other. That testimony is consistent with the views publicly expressed by the current National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice , shortly after the September 11 attacks.
Similarly, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz testified that he had not been made aware of this type of potential threat: I don’t recall any warning of the possibility of a mass casualty attack using civilian airliners or any information that would have led us to contemplate the possibility of our shooting down a civilian airliner. Even within the Intelligence Community, the possibility of using aircraft as weapons was apparently not widely known. At the FBI, for instance, the FBI Phoenix field office agent who wrote the so-called “Phoenix memo ” testified that he was aware of the plot to crash a plane into CIA Headquarters, but not the other reports of terrorist groups considering the use of aircraft as weapons. The Chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division also confirmed, in an Joint Inquiry interview, that he was not aware of such reports.
Although relevant information that is significant in retrospect regarding the attacks was available to the Intelligence Community prior to September 11, 2001, the Community too often failed to focus on that information and consider and appreciate its collective significance in terms of a probable terrorist attack. Neither did the Intelligence Community demonstrate sufficient initiative in coming to grips
with the new transnational threats. Some significant pieces of information in the vast stream of data being collected were overlooked, some were not recognized as potentially significant at the time and therefore not disseminated, and some required additional action on the part of foreign governments before a direct connection to the hijackers could have been established. For all those reasons, the Intelligence Community failed to capitalize fully on available, and potentially important, information. The sub-findings below identify each category of this information.
Terrorist Communications in 1999Edit
5.a. [During 1999, the National Security Agency obtained a number of communications – none of which included specific detail regarding the time, place or nature of the September 11 attacks -- connecting individuals to terrorism who were identified, after September 11, 2001, as participants in the attacks that occurred on that day].
Discussion: [In early 1999, the National Security Agency (NSA) analyzed communications involving a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East that had previously been linked to al-Qa’ida activities directed against U.S. interests. Information obtained [ ] included, among other things, the full name of future hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi . Beyond the fact that the communications involved a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East, the communications did not, in NSA’s view at the time, feature any other terrorist-related information. The information was not published because the individuals mentioned in the communications were unknown to NSA, and, according to NSA, the information did not meet NSA’s reporting thresholds. NSA has explained that these thresholds are flexible, sometimes changing daily, and consist of several factors, including: the priority of the intelligence requirement; the apparent intelligence value of the information; the level of customer interest in the topic; the current situation; and the volume of intercept to be analyzed and reported].
[During the summer of 1999, NSA analyzed additional communications involving a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East that included the name of Khaled . At about the same time, the name Khallad also came to NSA’s attention. This information did not meet NSA’s reporting thresholds and thus was not disseminated].
[In late 1999, NSA analyzed communications involving a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East that included the names of Khaled and Nawaf . At this time, NSA did not associate the latter individual with the Nawaf al-Hazmi it had learned about in early 1999. Later, the two individuals [ ] were determined to be Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, now known to be two of the September 11 hijackers. . This information was passed to the CIA as well as the FBI in late 1999. In early 2000, NSA also [ ] passed additional information about Khalid to the CIA, FBI, FAA, the Departments of State, Treasury, Transportation, and Justice, and others in the U.S. Government].
Malaysia Meeting and Travel of al-Qa’ida Operatives to the United StatesEdit
5.b. The Intelligence Community acquired additional, and highly significant, information regarding Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi in early 2000. Critical parts of the information concerning al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi lay dormant within the Intelligence Community for as long as eighteen months, at the very time when plans for the September 11 attacks were proceeding. The CIA missed repeated opportunities to act based on the information in its possession that these two Bin Ladin-associated terrorists were traveling to the United States, and to add their names to watchlists.
Discussion: [By early January 2000 , CIA knew al-Mihdhar’s full name and that it was likely Nawaf’s last name was al-Hazmi, knew that they had attended what was believed to be a gathering of al-Qa’ida associates in Malaysia, was aware that they had been traveling together, and had documents indicating that al-Mihdhar held a U.S. B-1B- 2 multiple entry visa that would allow him to travel to and from the United States until April 6, 2000 . CIA arranged surveillance of the meeting and the DCI was kept informed as the operation progressed].
Despite having all this information, and despite the republication of CTC guidance regarding watchlisting procedures in December 1999 (see Appendix, “CTC Watchlisting Guidance – December 1999”), CIA did not add the names of these two individuals to the State Department, INS, and U.S. Customs Service watchlists that are used to deny individuals entry into the United States. The weight of the record also
suggests that, despite providing the FBI with other, less critical, information about the Malaysia meeting , the CIA did not advise the FBI about al-Mihdhar’s U.S. visa and the very real possibility that he would travel to the United States. The CIA stated its belief that the visa information was sent to the FBI and produced a cable indicating that this had been done.*
The FBI, for its part, had no record the visa information was received. Although the facts of the Malaysia meeting were included in several briefings for senior FBI officials, including FBI Director Louis Freeh , no record could be found that the visa information was part of these briefings.
[On March 5, 2000, CIA Headquarters received a cable from an overseas CIA station indicating that Nawaf al-Hazmi had traveled to Los Angeles, California on January 15, 2000 . The following day, March 6 , CIA Headquarters received a message from another CIA station noting its “interest” in the first cable’s “information that a member of this group had traveled to the U.S.” The CIA did not act on either message, again did not watchlist al-Hazmi or al-Mihdhar, and, again, did not advise the FBI of their possible presence in the United States. In 2000, these same two individuals had numerous contacts with an active FBI counterterrorism informant while they were living in San Diego, California].
On January 4, 2001 , CIA acquired information that Khallad, a principal planner in the bombing of USS Cole , had, along with al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, attended the January 2000 meeting in Malaysia . Again, the CIA did not watchlist these two individuals. At the time, al-Mihdhar was abroad, but al-Hazmi was still in the United States. FBI Director Robert Mueller testified to the Joint Inquiry that: “al-Mihdhar’s role in the September 11 plot . . . before his re-entry into the United States may well have been that of the coordinator and organizer of . . . the non-pilot hijackers.” In May 2001, the CIA provided FBI Headquarters with photographs taken in Malaysia, including one of al-Mihdhar, for purposes of identifying another Cole bombing
In interviews, CIA personnel could not confirm that the visa information had in fact been provided to the FBI.suspect. Although the CIA told FBI Headquarters about the Malaysia meeting and about al-Mihdhar’s travel in Southeast Asia at that time, the CIA did not advise the FBI about al-Mihdhar’s or al-Hazmi’s possible travel to the United States. Again, the CIA did not watchlist the two individuals. While CIA personnel were working closely with the FBI in support of the USS Cole bombing investigation, the importance and urgency of information tying suspected terrorists to the domestic United States apparently never registered with them. CIA Director Tenet testified that CIA personnel: . . . in their focus on the [USS Cole] investigation, did not recognize the implications of the information about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar that
On June 11, 2001, FBI Headquarters and CIA personnel met with the New York FBI field office agents who were handling the USS Cole investigation. The New York agents were shown the Malaysia photographs, but were not given copies. Although al- Mihdhar’s name was mentioned, the New York agents’ requests for more information about al-Mihdhar and the circumstances surrounding the photographs were refused, according to one of the field office agents. The FBI Headquarters analyst recalls that she said at the meeting that she would try to get the information the agents had requested. In Joint Inquiry hearing testimony, one of the New York FBI agents who was present described his recollection of the meeting:
When these photos were shown to us, we had information at the time that one of the suspects had actually traveled to the same region of the world that this might have taken place, so we pressed the individuals there for more information regarding the meeting. So we pressed them for information. [A]t the end of the meeting – some of them say it was because I was able to get the name out of the analyst, but at the end of that day we knew the name Khalid al-Mihdhar but nothing else. The context of the meeting was that we continued to press them two or three times on information regarding, “Why were you looking at this guy? You couldn’t have been following everybody around the Millennium. What was the reason behind this?
And we were told that that information – as I recall, we were told that that information could not be passed and that they would try to do it in the days and weeks to come. That meeting – I wouldn’t say it was very contentious, but we were not very happy, the New York agents at the time were not very happy that certain information couldn’t be shared with us.
triggered a CIA review of its cables regarding the Malaysia meeting, a task that,
Again, in that meeting, the CIA had missed yet another opportunity to advise the FBI about al-Mihdhar’s visa and possible travel to the United States and, again, the CIA took no action to watchlist these individuals. Just two days later, al-Mihdhar obtained a new U.S. visa and, on July 4, 2001, he re-entered the United States. It was not until mid July 2001, that a concerned CIA officer assigned to the FBI
ironically, fell to an FBI analyst assigned to the CTC. Working with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FBI analyst determined that both al-Mihdhar and al- Hazmi had entered the United States. As a result of that effort, on August 23, 2001, the CIA finally notified the FBI and requested of the State Department that the two individuals should be watchlisted.
Even then, there was less than an all-out effort to locate what amounted to two Bin Ladin-associated terrorists in the United States during a period when the terrorist threat level had escalated to a peak level. For example, neither CIA, FBI, nor State Department informed the FAA. On August 21, 2001, coincidentally, FAA had issued a Security Directive, entitled “Threat to U.S. Aircraft Operators.” That Directive alerted commercial airlines that nine named terrorism-associated individuals – none of whom were connected to the 19 hijackers -- were planning commercial air travel and should receive additional security scrutiny if they attempted to board an aircraft. The Directive was updated on August 24 and August 28, 2001. Had FAA been advised of the presence of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar in the United States, a similar directive could have been issued, subjecting the two, their luggage and any carry-on items to detailed, FAA-directed searches.
Further, only the FBI’s New York field office received a request from FBI Headquarters to conduct a search for the two prior to September 11, 2001. The Headquarters written instruction to the New York field office only identified al-Mihdhar in its subject line. Nawaf al-Hazmi was mentioned in the text, and it is not clear whether it was intended that he be a subject of the search as well. It was not until September 11, 2001 that the Los Angeles FBI field office was asked to conduct a search. Other FBI offices with potentially useful informants, such as San Diego, were not notified prior to September 11.
A New York FBI field office agent testified that he urged FBI Headquarters on [[ August 28, 2001]] to allow New York field office criminal agents to participate in thesearch with FBI intelligence agents, given the limited resources that are often applied to
because of concerns about the perceived “wall” between criminal and intelligence matters. Looking back, the New York FBI agent testified about his hope that the Intelligence Community would overcome this kind of restriction in the future:
…after everything happened and we had ramped up where thousands of FBI agents all over the world were trying to find somebody, I thought to myself – and I don’t necessarily know how to do it, but we’ve got to be
able to get there – when we find out a Khalid al-Mihdhar is in the country, intelligence, criminal, or whatever, we’ve got to be able to get to the level we were at September 12, the afternoon of September 11. We’ve got to be able to get there before September 11, not September 12.
Joint Inquiry witnesses testified that other federal agencies with potentially valuable information databases were never asked to assist in FBI’s search.
[Terrorist Communications in Spring 2000]Edit
5.c. [In January 2000, after the meeting of al-Qa’ida operatives in Malaysia, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi entered the United States [ ]. Thereafter, the Intelligence Community obtained information indicating that an individual named “Khaled” at an unknown location had contacted a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East. The Intelligence Community reported some of this information, but did not report all of it. Some of it was not reported because it was deemed not terrorist-related. It was not until after September 11, 2001 that the Intelligence Community determined that these contacts had been made from future hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar while he was living within the domestic United States]. Discussion: [While the Intelligence Community had information regarding these communications, it did not determine the location from which they had been made [ ] [ ]. After September 11, the FBI determined from domestic toll records that it was in fact the hijacker Khalid al- Mihdhar who had made these communications and that he had done so from within the United States. The Intelligence Community did not identify what was critically important [page 18] information in terms of the domestic threat to the United States: the fact that the communications were between individuals within the United States and suspected terrorist facilities overseas. That kind of information could have provided crucial investigative leads to law enforcement agencies engaged in domestic counterterrorist efforts].
[Two Hijackers Had Numerous Contacts with an Active FBI Informant]Edit
5.d. [This Joint Inquiry confirmed that these same two future hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, had numerous contacts with a long time FBI counterterrorism informant in California and that a third future hijacker, Hani Hanjour, apparently had more limited contact with the same informant. In mid- to late-2000, the CIA already had information indicating that al-Mihdhar had a multiple entry U.S. visa and that al-Hazmi had in fact traveled to Los Angeles, but the two had not been watchlisted and information suggesting that two suspected terrorists could well be in the United States had not yet been given to the FBI. The San Diego FBI field office, which handled the informant in question, did not receive that information or any of the other intelligence information pertaining to al- Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, prior to September 11, 2001. As a result, the FBI missed the opportunity to task a uniquely well-positioned informant -- who denies having any advance knowledge of the plot --- to collect information about the hijackers and their plans within the United States.] Discussion: [Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar had numerous contacts with a long-time FBI counterterrorism informant while they were living in San Diego, California. There are several indications that hijacker Hani Hanjour may have had more limited contact with the same informant in December 2000.] [During the summer of 2000, the informant advised the FBI handling agent that the informant had contacts with two individuals named “Nawaf” and “Khalid”. The informant described meeting these individuals. The informant described the two to the FBI agent as Saudi Muslim youths who were legally in the United States to visit and attend school. The FBI agent did not, at the time, consider these individuals to be of interest to the [page 19] FBI. While the agent says he asked the informant for the individuals’ last names, the informant never provided that information and the FBI agent did not press for the names because he had no reason to think they were significant until after September 11, 2001.] [ ] [During one of their last contacts, al-Hazmi advised the informant that he was moving to Arizona to attend flight training, but the informant did not advise the FBI of this information until after the September 11 attacks]. [When the FBI’s San Diego field office determined after the attacks that a longtime FBI counterterrorism informant had had numerous contacts in 2000 with two of the September 11 hijackers, personnel there were immediately suspicious about whether the informant was involved in the plot. Subsequently, however, all of the field office personnel, including senior managers and various case agents, concluded that the informant was unwitting of, and had no role in, the September 11 plot]. [Several questions remain, however, with regard to the informant’s credibility. First, while there are several indications suggesting that future hijacker Hani Hanjour had contact with the informant in December 2000, the informant has repeatedly advised the FBI that the informant does not recognize photos of Hanjour. Second, the informant told the FBI that the hijackers did nothing to arouse the informant’s suspicion, but the informant also acknowledged that al-Hazmi had contacts with at least four individuals the informant knew were of interest to the FBI and about whom the informant had previously reported to the FBI. Third, the informant has made numerous inconsistent statements to the FBI during the course of interviews after September 11, 2001. Fourth, the informant’s responses during an FBI polygraph examination to very specific questions about the informant’s advance knowledge of the September 11 plot were judged by the FBI to be “inconclusive,” although the FBI asserts that this type of result is not unusual for such individuals in such circumstances]. [Finally, there is also information which conflicts with the information provided by the informant concerning the dates of contacts with the hijackers. The Joint Inquiry, for example, brought to the FBI’s attention information that is inconsistent with the date of initial contact as provided by the informant. In its November 18, 2002 written response to the Joint Inquiry, the FBI has acknowledged that there are “significant inconsistencies” in the informant’s statements about these contacts. The FBI investigation regarding this issue is continuing]. [The Administration has to date objected to the Inquiry’s efforts to interview the informant in order to attempt to resolve those inconsistencies. The Administration also would not agree to allow the FBI to serve a Committee subpoena and deposition notice on the informant. Instead, written interrogatories from the Joint Inquiry were, at the suggestion of the FBI, provided to the informant. Through an attorney, the informant has declined to respond to those interrogatories and has indicated that, if subpoenaed, the informant would request a grant of immunity prior to testifying]. [The FBI agent who was responsible for the informant testified before the Joint Inquiry that, had he had access to the intelligence information on al-Mihdhar’s and al- Hazmi’s significance at the time they were in San Diego: It would have made a huge difference. We would have immediately opened [ ] investigations. We had the predicate for a [ ] investigation if we had that information.…[W]e would immediately go out and canvas the sources and try to find out where these people were. If we locate them, which we probably would have since they were very close – they were nearby – we would have initiated investigations immediately.…We would have done everything. We would have used all available investigative techniques. We would have given them the full court press. [Page 21] We would…have done everything – physical surveillance, technical surveillance and other assets. [Whether, as the agent testified he believes, that kind of investigative work would have occurred and would have then uncovered the hijackers’ future plans will necessarily remain speculation. What is clear, however, is that the informant’s contacts with the hijackers, had they been capitalized on, would have given the San Diego FBI field office perhaps the Intelligence Community’s best chance to unravel the September 11 plot. Given the CIA’s failure to disseminate, in a timely manner, intelligence information on the significance and location of al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, that chance, unfortunately, never materialized].
The Phoenix Electronic CommunicationEdit
5.e. On July 10, 2001, an FBI Phoenix field office agent sent an “Electronic Communication” to four individuals in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) and two individuals in the Usama Bin Ladin Unit (UBLU) at FBI Headquarters, and to two agents on International Terrorism squads in the FBI New York field office. In the communication, the agent expressed his concerns, based on his first-hand knowledge, that there was a coordinated effort underway by Bin Ladin to send students to the United States for civil aviation-related training. He noted that there was an “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” in this type of training in Arizona and expressed his suspicion that this was an effort to establish a cadre of individuals in civil aviation who would conduct future terrorist activity. The Phoenix agent’s communication requested that FBI Headquarters consider implementing four recommendations: • accumulate a list of civil aviation universities/colleges around the country; • establish liaison with these schools; •discuss the theories contained in the Phoenix EC with the Intelligence Community; and • consider seeking authority to obtain visa information concerning individuals seeking to attend flight schools. However, the FBI Headquarters personnel did not take the action requested by the Phoenix field office agent prior to September 11, 2001. The Phoenix communication generated little or no interest at either FBI Headquarters or the FBI’s New York field office. [Page 22] Discussion: Before the Joint Inquiry, the Phoenix agent who authored the Phoenix communication testified that: What I wanted was an analytical product. I wanted this discussed with the Intelligence Community. I wanted to see if my hunches were correct. He noted, however, that he also knew that this type of analytical product took a back seat to operational matters at the FBI: But, I am also a realist. I understand that the people at FBI Headquarters are terribly overworked and understaffed, and they have been for years. And at the time that I am a sending this in, having worked this stuff for 13 years, and watched the unit in action over the years, I knew that this was going to be at the bottom of the pile, so to speak, because they were TOP SECRET 20 TOP SECRET dealing with real-time threats, real-timer issues trying to render fugitives back to the United States from overseas for justice. And again, it is a resource issue. The Phoenix agent was correct, and his communication did fall to the bottom of the pile. He sent the communication to four individuals in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit, two individuals in the Usama Bin Ladin Unit, and two agents on International terrorism squads in the New York field office. Only three of the eight addressees recall reading the communication prior to September 11, 2001. Neither of the two Intelligence Operations Specialists who reviewed it at FBI Headquarters undertook a comprehensive national analysis of the theories it set forth. Nor did they send the communication to the FBI’s analytic unit or the Intelligence Community, as requested by the Phoenix agent. Instead, it was forwarded to the Portland FBI field office, not primarily because of concerns about flight school theories, but rather because that field office had a possible investigative interest in one of the individuals who were named in the communication. Similarly, the New York field office personnel who reviewed the communication said they found it to be speculative and not particularly significant. That office had been one of the recipients of a 1999 FBI Headquarters request to track Islamic flight students in its area of jurisdiction. [Page 23] The Chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit testified that he did not see the communication prior to September 11, 2001. In his testimony before the Joint Inquiry, FBI Director Mueller acknowledged that: “the Phoenix [communication] should have been disseminated to all field offices and to our sister agencies, and it should have triggered a broader analytical approach.” After September 11, the FBI discovered that [ ],* one of the individuals who was identified in the Phoenix communication, was an associate of hijacker Hani
- The identities of several individuals whose activities are discussed in this report have been deleted by the
Joint Inquiry. While the FBI has provided the Joint Inquiry with these names and those names are contained in the classified version of this final report, the Joint Inquiry has decided to delete them from this unclassified version due to the as yet unresolved nature of much of the information regarding their activities. Hanjour. [This individual] left the United States in April 2000 and returned in June 2001, remaining in the United States for approximately one month. The FBI now speculates that [the individual] may have returned to the United States either to evaluate Hanjour's flying skills, or to provide Hanjour with his final training on the flight simulator before the September 11 attacks. [The individual] was an experienced flight instructor who was certified to fly Boeing 737s. The FBI also has determined since September 11, 2001 that another individual mentioned in the Phoenix communication – [ ] -- is also connected to the al-Qa'ida network. [ ] was arrested at an al-Qa'ida safehouse in Pakistan in 2002 along with [ ], one of the most prominent al-Qa'ida facilitators.
The FBI Investigation of Zacarias MoussaouiEdit
5.f. In August 2001, the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, in conjunction with the INS, detained Zacarias Moussaoui, a French national who had enrolled in flight training in Minnesota. FBI agents there also suspected that Moussaoui was involved in a hijacking plot. FBI Headquarters attorneys determined that there was not probable cause to obtain a court order to search Moussaoui’s belongings under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). However, personnel at FBI Headquarters, including the Radical Fundamentalist Unit and the National Security Law Unit, as well as agents in the Minneapolis field office, misunderstood the legal standard for obtaining an order under FISA. As a result, FBI Minneapolis field office personnel wasted valuable investigative resources trying to connect the Chechen rebels to al-Qa’ida. Finally, no one at the FBI apparently connected the Moussaoui investigation with the heightened threat environment [page 24] in the summer of 2001, the Phoenix communication, or the entry of al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi into the United States. Discussion: On February 23, 2001, Moussaoui entered the United States at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, traveling on a French passport that allowed him to stay in the country without a visa for 90 days, until May 22, 2001. On August 11, 2001, Moussaoui and his roommate arrived in Eagan, Minnesota to begin classes at Pan Am, a flight school that offered training on a Boeing 747 flight simulator used by professional pilots. According to FBI documents, on August 15, an employee at Pan Am called the FBI’s Minneapolis field office because he and other employees were suspicious of Moussaoui, who met none of the usual qualifications for Pan Am students. The FBI’s Minneapolis field office opened an international terrorism investigation and determined that, since Moussaoui had been authorized to stay in the United States only until May 22, 2001, he was no longer in proper legal status. On the same day the Minneapolis field office learned about Moussaoui, it asked both the CIA and the FBI’s legal attaché in Paris for any information about Moussaoui and informed FBI Headquarters of the investigation. The FBI Headquarters agent who was responsible for the contact suggested that the Minneapolis field office put Moussaoui under surveillance. However, a Minneapolis field office supervisory agent testified to the Joint Inquiry that: . . . .[m]y background in the criminal arena suggests that when a violation occurs and you can stop further or potential criminal activity, you act on that. So that is exactly what I instructed the agents to do. . . . Because I didn’t want him to get any additional time on a flight simulator that would allow him to have the knowledge that we could no longer take back from him to operate an aircraft. INS agents took Moussaoui into custody on August 16 because his authority to stay in the United States had expired. Moussaoui declined to consent to a search of his belongings. On Saturday, August 18, the Minneapolis field office sent a detailed memorandum to an agent in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI Headquarters describing the investigation. [Page 25] The memorandum stated that Moussaoui had two knives, padded gloves and shin guards in his possession when he was arrested; had told his roommate that “true Muslims must prepare themselves to fight;” and had begun exercise and martial arts training. In addition, the memorandum stated that the Minneapolis field office believed that Moussaoui and his roommate were part of a larger international radical fundamentalist group. Based on Moussaoui’s “possession of weapons and his preparation through physical training for violent confrontation,” the Minneapolis filed office stated it had reason to believe that Moussaoui, his roommate, “and others yet unknown,” were conspiring to seize control of an airplane. TOP SECRET 23 TOP SECRET The Minneapolis field office agent testified to the Inquiry that Minneapolis agents decided not to try to obtain a criminal search warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings as that might prejudice any subsequent efforts to get a court order for a physical search under FISA. The FBI field office agent contacted the CTC, which then advised CIA stations abroad about Moussaoui and asked them in an August 25 cable to provide any relevant information they might have. Based on information provided by the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, that cable described Moussaoui and his roommate as “suspect 747 airline attackers” and a “suspect airline suicide attacker,” who might be “involved in a larger plot to target airlines traveling from Europe to the U.S…..” On August 21, 2001, the Minneapolis field office agent sent an e-mail to the RFU supervisory agent at FBI Headquarters stating: “[It is] imperative that the [U.S. Secret Service] be apprised of this threat potential indicated by the evidence.…If [Moussaoui] seizes an aircraft flying from Heathrow to NYC, it will have the fuel on board to reach DC.” In an interview, the FBI Headquarters agent to whom the message was addressed said that he told the Minneapolis field office agent that he was working on a notification to the entire Intelligence Community and the Secret Service about the threat presented by Moussaoui. The RFU supervisory agent did send a teletype message to the Intelligence Community and other U.S. Government agencies, including the FAA, on September 4, 2001. That message reported the FBI’s interviews of Moussaoui and his roommate, as well as other information the FBI had obtained. The teletype, however, merely described [page 26] the steps in the investigation and did not place Moussaoui’s actions in the context of the increased level of terrorist threats during the summer of 2001. Nor did it provide its recipients with any analysis of Moussaoui’s actions or plans, or information about what type of threat he may have presented. [On August 22, the FBI legal attache’s office in Paris provided a report to the RFU and the Minneapolis field office that contained information [ ]. The FBI’s receipt of this information began a series of discussions between the Minneapolis field office and FBI Headquarters focusing on whether the Chechen rebels were a “recognized” foreign power for purposes of obtaining approval to search Moussaoui’s belongings under FISA. The Minneapolis field office agent testified to the Joint Inquiry that he had had no training in FISA, but that he believed, based on advice from FBI Headquarters, that “we needed to identify a – and the term that was thrown around was ‘recognized foreign power’ and so that was our operational theory.” As the FBI’s Deputy General Counsel has testified, however, this was incorrect. The FBI may obtain a search warrant under FISA for an agent of any international terrorist group, including the Chechen rebels. Because of this misunderstanding, the Minneapolis field office expended valuable time and effort trying to establish a connection between the Chechen rebels and al-Qa’ida, which it believed was a “recognized” foreign power]. The FBI Headquarters supervisory agent briefed the FBI’s Deputy General Counsel, who testified that he agreed with the Headquarters agent that there was insufficient information to show that Moussaoui was an agent of a foreign power. The FBI’s focus shifted to arranging for Moussaoui’s deportation to France on September 17, 2001, at which point French officials would search his belongings and provide the results to the FBI. Although the FBI was no longer considering a search warrant under FISA, no one revisited the idea of attempting to obtain a criminal search warrant. [Page 27] Thus, during the summer of 2001 -- a time when the Intelligence Community was on the highest state of alert, disparate parts of the FBI had information about Zacarias Moussaoui – a suspected suicide hijacker, a Phoenix field office agent’s suspicions about radical fundamentalists engaging in flight training, and the entry into the United States of Nawaf al- Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who would become two of the September 11 hijackers. The FBI field office agents in Minneapolis who were investigating Moussaoui knew nothing about the Phoenix communication or al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. The Phoenix field office agent had never heard about Moussaoui or the two future hijackers. The FBI agents in New York who were informed on August 23, 2001 that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar had entered the United States knew nothing about the other events of that summer. And, finally, the Chief of the RFU at FBI Headquarters, which had handled both the Moussaoui investigation and the Phoenix communication, acknowledged in testimony to the Joint Inquiry on September 24, 2001, that no one at FBI Headquarters connected those events. [The indictment against Moussaoui, which was filed on December 11, 2001, alleges that Moussaoui possessed a number of items on August 16, 2001. On that day, which is when FBI and INS agents first interviewed him, the INS took Moussaoui’s possessions for safekeeping. Absent search authority, however, the possessions were not examined at that time. As it turned out, according to the indictment, Moussaoui’s possessions included letters indicating that Moussaoui was a marketing consultant in the United States for Infocus Tech. The letters had been signed by Yazid Sufaat, whom the Intelligence Community was aware was the owner of the Malaysian condominium in which the January 2000 al-Qa’ida meeting attended by hijackers al- Mihdhar and al-Hazmi had been held. The indictment also alleges that Moussaoui possessed a notebook listing two German telephone numbers and the name “Ahad Sabet,” which, the indictment states, was used by Ramzi Bin al-Shibh to send funds to Moussaoui. Bin al-Shibh, who was apprehended in Pakistan in September 2002, is named in the indictment as a supporting conspirator].
Hijackers In Contact With Persons of FBI Investigative Interest in the United StatesEdit
5.g. The Joint Inquiry confirmed that at least some of the hijackers were not as isolated during their time in the United States as has been previously suggested. Rather, they maintained a number of contacts both in the United [page 28] States and abroad during this time period. Some of those contacts were with individuals who were known to the FBI, through either past or, at the time, ongoing FBI inquiries and investigations. Although it is not known to what extent any of these contacts in the United States were aware of the plot, it is now clear that they did provide at least some of the hijackers with substantial assistance while they were living in this country. Discussion: The Intelligence Community had information indicating the potential existence of an al-Qa’ida support network in the United States prior to the attacks, and this was consistent with al-Qai’da’s modus operandi in previous attacks. The FBI had, to some degree, focused sources and investigative work on radical Islamic extremists within the United States prior to September 11. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testified that, during his time in office, the FBI view had been that “al-Qa’ida had limited capacity to operate in the United States and any presence here was under surveillance.” [Ironically, this Inquiry has confirmed that at least some of the hijackers operated, without detection, within the scope of the FBI’s coverage of radical Islamic extremists. Hani Hanjour, Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Nawaf al-Hazmi, and Khalid al- Mihdhar may have had contact with a total of 14 people who had come to the FBI’s attention during counterterrorism or counterintelligence investigations prior to September 11, 2001. Four of those 14 were the focus of active FBI investigations during the time that the hijackers were in the United States. In fact, as noted earlier, two future hijackers had numerous contacts with an active FBI counterterrorism informant while in the United States. Despite their proximity to FBI targets and at least one FBI source, the future hijackers successfully eluded FBI attention]. Several examples illustrate not only the reliance of the hijackers on the potential support networks, but also the ease with which they operated despite the FBI’s pre- September 11 domestic coverage. Shortly after their arrival in the United States, future hijackers Khalid Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al-Hazmi moved to San Diego at the suggestion of Omar al-Bayoumi, who had previously been the focus of an FBI counterterrorism [ ] inquiry. In San Diego, they stayed at al-Bayoumi’s apartment for several days until he was able to find them an apartment. He then co-signed their lease, paid [page 29] their security deposit and first month’s rent, arranged a party to welcome them to the San Diego community, and tasked another individual to help them become acclimated to the United States. [ ]. The second individual served as their translator, helped them obtain bank accounts and drivers’ licenses, and assisted them in locating flight schools. [Other individuals in San Diego also provided the two hijackers with similar types of assistance. A manager of a local gas station, who was at the time being investigated by the FBI, hired al-Hazmi to work for him briefly, after receiving a call from a mutual friend at the mosque. In addition, a local imam, who was the subject of an FBI counterterrorism inquiry for part of the time that the future hijackers were in San Diego, served as their spiritual advisor when they were living in San Diego. Finally, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar also maintained a number of other contacts in the local Islamic community during their time in San Diego, some of whom were also known to the FBI through counterterrorist inquiries and investigations]. Future hijacker Hani Hanjour also may have received flight-related assistance from [an individual], who, was also known to the FBI and was, in fact, included among the individuals discussed in the Phoenix communication. As noted earlier, [this individual] left the United States in April 2000, and returned in June 2001, remaining in the United States for approximately one month. [The individual] was an associate of Hanjour’s and the FBI now speculates that [the individual] may have returned to the United States either to evaluate Hanjour’s flying skills, or to provide Hanjour his final training on the Cessna simulator before the attacks. This individual was an experienced flight instructor and was certified to fly Boeing 737s. When some of the future hijackers relocated to the East Coast, it appears that they received assistance similar to that provided to them on the West Coast. Al-Hazmi and al- Mihdhar’s spiritual advisor relocated to the East Coast, and, when Hanjour and al-Hazmi arrived at his mosque, one of the mosque’s members helped them find an apartment in the area. After approximately a month, this same individual drove Hanjour and al- [page 30] Hazmi, along with two other hijackers, to Connecticut, and then to Paterson, New Jersey. From the hotel in Connecticut where they stayed for two nights, a total of 75 calls were made in attempts to locate apartments, flight schools, and car rental agencies for the future hijackers. The hijackers were also in contact with a number of other people during their time on the East Coast. [The fact that these future hijackers could rely on this type of support within the United States is consistent with other information that was available to the Intelligence Community prior to September 11, 2001. That information also points to the existence of an al-Qa’ida support network within the United States. An August 2001 Intelligence Community publication for senior U.S. government policy officials (called a “SEIB”), for example, indicated that al-Qa’ida members, including some U.S. citizens, have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure in the United States. The FBI Phoenix field office agent who authored the Phoenix communication also testified that, based on his experience, he had developed an “investigative theory” that indicated that this kind of support network had been in place in Arizona for some time]. [Finally, an early summer 2001 Intelligence Community report stated that Khalid Shaykh Mohammed – the senior al-Qa’ida official who has been identified as the mastermind of the September 11 attacks -- was recruiting individuals to travel to the United States and engage in planning terrorist-related activity there. According to the [ ] report, these individuals would be “expected to establish contact with colleagues already living there.” This information was disseminated [ ] to all Intelligence Community agencies and the [ ], military commanders, and components within the Departments of Treasury and Justice]. [A September 12, 2001 FBI interview [ ] also suggests the existence of an al-Qa’ida support network within the United States. In that interview, an individual with al-Qa’ida connections recalled that a senior al-Qa’ida operative had discussed [page 31] “using multiple cells operating independently in the United States that could execute ten operations simultaneously or in sequence that would produce a big impact on the United States.” When queried by the FBI, the individual indicated that the senior operative had the necessary people positioned in the United States to carry out such a plan, noting that the senior operative has many contacts in the United States].
Hijackers’ Associates in GermanyEdit
5.h. [Since 1995, the CIA had been aware of a radical Islamic presence in Germany, including individuals with connections to Usama Bin Ladin. Prior to September 11, 2001, the CIA had unsuccessfully sought additional information on individuals who have now been identified as associates of some of the hijackers]. Discussion: [CIA and FBI counterterrorism operations and investigations prior to September 11, 2001 repeatedly produced intelligence relating to two individuals in Hamburg, Germany – Mamoun Darkazanli, a suspected logistician in Bin Ladin’s network, and Mohammed Zammar, a suspected recruiter for al- Qa’ida. The CIA had been seeking more information about Darkazanli. [ ]. After September 11, 2001, it was determined that these same two individuals had been associates in Hamburg of hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah, as well as other individuals, such as Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who are now believed to have been involved in the September 11 plot. In fact, the FBI now believes that Zammar recruited Atta, al-Shehhi, and Jarrah into Al Qaeda, and encouraged their participation in the September 11 attacks. [Page 32]
Khalid Shaykh MohammadEdit
5.i. Prior to September 11, the Intelligence Community had information linking Khalid Shaykh Mohammed (KSM), now recognized by the Intelligence Community as the mastermind of the attacks, to Bin Ladin, to terrorist plans to use aircraft as weapons, and to terrorist activity in the United States. The Intelligence Community, however, relegated KSM to rendition target status following his 1996 indictment in connection with the Bojinka Plot and, as a result, focused primarily on his location, rather than his activities and place in the al-Qa’ida hierarchy. The Community also did not recognize the significance of reporting in June 2001 concerning KSM’s active role in sending terrorists to the United States, or the facilitation of their activities upon arriving in the United States. Collection efforts were not targeted on information about KSM that might have helped better understand al-Qa’ida’s plans and intentions, and KSM’s role in the September 11 attacks was a surprise to the Intelligence Community. Discussion: [According to information obtained by the Intelligence Community from several sources after September 11, 2001, Khalid Shaykh Mohammed (KSM) -- also known as “Mukhtar” (Arabic for “The Brain”) -- masterminded the September 11 attacks. The information indicates that KSM presented a plan to Usama Bin Ladin to mount an attack using small rental aircraft filled with explosives. Usama Bin Ladin reportedly suggested using even larger planes. Thus, the idea of hijacking commercial airliners took hold. TOP SECRET 30 TOP SECRET Thereafter, KSM reportedly instructed and trained the hijackers for their mission, including directing them to undergo pilot training]. KSM came to the attention of the Intelligence Community as a terrorist in early 1995 when he was linked to Ramzi Yousef’s “Bojinka Plot” in the Philippines. One portion of that plot involved the idea of crashing an airplane into CIA Headquarters. Through additional intelligence and investigative efforts in 1995, KSM was also connected to the first World Trade Center bombing. He was indicted by a U.S. grand jury in January 1996. The indictment was kept under seal until 1998 while the FBI and CIA attempted to locate him and arrange to take him into custody. Subsequently, indications were received that he might have been involved in the East Africa U.S. Embassy bombings. [In June 2001, [ ] disseminated a report to all Intelligence Community agencies, [ ], military commanders, and components in the Treasury and Justice [page 33] Departments emphasizing KSM’s ties to Bin Ladin as well as his continuing travel to the United States. The report explained that KSM appears to be one of Bin Ladin’s most trusted lieutenants and was active in recruiting people to travel outside Afghanistan, including to the United States, on behalf of Bin Ladin. According to the report, he traveled frequently to the United States, including as recently as May 2001, and routinely told others that he could arrange their entry into the United States as well. Reportedly, these individuals were expected to establish contact with colleagues already there. The clear implication of his comments, according to the report, was that they would be engaged in planning terroristrelated activities]. Although this particular report was sent from the CIA to the FBI, neither agency apparently recognized the significance of a Bin Ladin lieutenant sending terrorists to the United States and asking them to establish contacts with colleagues already there. CTC questioned this report at the time and commented: “We doubt the real [KSM] would do this…because if it is [KSM], we have both a significant threat and an opportunity to pick him up.” Neither the CIA nor the FBI has been able to confirm whether KSM had in fact been traveling to the United States or sending recruits here prior to September 11.
[Terrorist Communications in September 2001]Edit
TOP SECRET 31 TOP SECRET 5.j. [In the period from September 8 to September 10, 2001 NSA intercepted, but did not translate or disseminate until after September 11, some communications that indicated possible impending terrorist activity]. Discussion: [In early September 2001, NSA intercepted [ ] communications involving [ ]. The communications discussed events that were to occur in the near term and appeared to be related to terrorism. In the first communication, [ ] [ ] asked whether [ ]. [ ] responded that [ ] [ ]. [Page 34] [Another communication, between [ ] and an unknown person [ ], was a discussion of whether [ ]. [ ]. NSA did not disseminate reports regarding the communications until September 12 and 13, 2001]. Two additional communications that indicated imminent terrorist activity were intercepted by NSA on September 10, 2001. The communications contained conversations between unknown individuals located abroad. NSA Director Hayden described the content of those communications in his testimony before the Joint Inquiry: In the hours just prior to the attacks, NSA did obtain two pieces of information suggesting that individuals with terrorist connections believed something significant would happen on September 11. These communications were, however, not translated into English and disseminated by NSA until September 12, 2001. It remains uncertain whether any of the September [ ] conversations referred directly to the attacks of September 11. Like the intelligence reporting described earlier, these intercepts did not provide any indication of where or what terrorist activities might occur.
B. CONCLUSION – FACTUAL FINDINGSEdit
In short, for a variety of reasons, the Intelligence Community failed to capitalize on both the individual and collective significance of available information that appears relevant to the events of September 11. As a result, the Community missed opportunities to disrupt the September 11 plot by denying entry to or detaining would-be hijackers; to at least try to unravel the plot through surveillance and other investigative work within the United States; [page 35] and, finally, to generate a heightened state of alert and thus harden the homeland against attack. No one will ever know what might have happened had more connections been drawn between these disparate pieces of information. We will never definitively know to what extent the Community would have been able and willing to exploit fully all the opportunities that may have emerged. The important point is that the Intelligence Community, for a variety of reasons, did not bring together and fully appreciate a range of information that could have greatly enhanced its chances of uncovering and preventing Usama Bin Ladin’s plan to attack the United States on September 11, 2001.
C. SYSTEMIC FINDINGSEdit
D. RELATED FINDINGSEdit
During the course of this Joint Inquiry, testimony and information were received that pertained to several issues involving broader, policy questions that reach beyond the boundaries of the Intelligence Community. In the three areas described below, the Inquiry finds that policy issues were relevant to our examination of the events of September 11. [Page 124] TOP SECRET 117 TOP SECRET 17. Finding: Despite intelligence reporting from 1998 through the summer of 2001 indicating that Usama Bin Ladin’s terrorist network intended to strike inside the United States, the United States Government did not undertake a comprehensive effort to implement defensive measures in the United States. Discussion: As noted earlier, the Joint Inquiry has established that the Intelligence Community acquired and disseminated from 1998 through the summer of 2001 intelligence reports indicating in broad terms that Usama Bin Ladin’s network intended to carry out terrorist attacks inside the United States. This information encompassed, for example, indications of plots for attacks within the United States that would include: • attacks on civil aviation; • assassinations of U.S. public officials; • use of high explosives; • attacks on Washington, D.C., New York City, and cities on the West Coast; • crashing aircraft into buildings as weapons; and • using weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence that was acquired and shared by the Intelligence Community was not specific as to time and place, but should have been sufficient to prompt action to insure a heightened sense of alert and implementation of additional defensive measures. Such actions could have included: strengthened civil aviation security measures; increased attention to watchlisting suspected terrorists so as to keep them out of the United States; greater collaboration with state and local law enforcement authorities concerning the scope and nature of the potential threat; a sustained national effort to inform and alert the American public to the growing danger; and improved capabilities to deal with the consequences of attacks involving mass destruction and casualties. The U.S. Government did take some steps in regard to detecting and preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction, but did not pursue a broad program of additional domestic defensive measures or public awareness. [Page 125] TOP SECRET 118 TOP SECRET Both the DCI and the FBI Director discussed the important role that defensive measures could have played. According to the DCI’s ’s testimony, looking back at the September 11 attacks: . . . since now we understand and possibly have understood the basis of the history of specific reporting with regard to specific targets, and the context was we raced from threat period to threat period, from target to target, and once we resolved them we never thought about the fact that the security that was protecting, whether it's a plane or an infrastructure or a bridge, is poor to begin and somebody will come back to the same target that they've planned against. Unless they see a security profile and a deterrent posture that's different, there's nothing to stop them from doing that, because essentially we all believed that it would never happen here. That's the point. . . . . . . . I posit a theory that we were so busy overseas in terms of what we were doing at the time that, you know, they were looking here the whole time and steadily planning in terms of what they were doing. So they were operating on two fronts. FBI Director Mueller added: I think you can look at what happened September 11 and I think both of us would say there are things we did right and things we missed and did wrong. But you look at it from the perspective of could we have prevented these individuals, identified these individuals and prevented them from undertaking this multi-plane undertaking, and I guess I would say I think it's speculation, but in looking at each of the areas that we could have done better, I'm not certain you get to the point where we stop these individuals. On the other hand, looking at the concept of hijacking planes and taking them over, as a country one could look back and say with reports of hijackings over a period of time, perhaps we as a country should have looked at changing the way we protect our planes, which means doing what we are doing now in terms of hardening the cockpit, understanding that the threat of a hijacking is not for a person to hijack a plane and get it to the ground, utilizing the passengers as hostages, but the concept of using a plane as a weapon. Had we, as a country, reached the position where the attacks were such and the possibilities such that we would change what we did in our airline industry to harden cockpits and train pilots to resist being taken over, that's another avenue that I think might have made a difference. But that's speculation. TOP SECRET 119 TOP SECRET 18. Finding: Between 1996 and September 2001, the counterterrorism strategy adopted by the U. S. Government did not succeed in eliminating Afghanistan as a sanctuary and training ground for Usama Bin Ladin’s terrorist network. A range of instruments was used to counter al-Qa’ida, with law enforcement often emerging [pge 126] as a leading tool because other means were deemed not to be feasible or failed to produce results. Although numerous successful prosecutions were generated, law enforcement efforts were not adequate by themselves to target or eliminate Bin Ladin’s sanctuary. While the United States persisted in observing the rule of law and accepted norms of international behavior, Bin Ladin and al-Qa’ida recognized no rules and thrived in the safehaven provided by Afghanistan. Discussion: Between 1996 and September 2001, the United States worked with dozens of cooperating foreign governments to disrupt al-Qa’ida activities, arrest and interrogate operatives, and otherwise prevent terrorist attacks. Throughout that period of time, however, Afghanistan was largely a terrorist “safe haven.” In its Afghan sanctuary, al-Qa’ida built a network for planning attacks, training and vetting recruits, indoctrinating potential radicals, and creating a terrorist army with little interference from the United States. Some CIA analysts and operators have told the Joint Inquiry that they recognized as early as 1997 or 1998 that, as long as the Taliban continued to grant Bin Ladin’s terrorist organization sanctuary in Afghanistan, it would continue to train a large cadre of Islamic extremists and generate numerous terrorist operations. In 1999, senior officials at the CIA and the State Department began to focus on the Taliban as an integral part of the terrorist problem. In 1999 and 2000, the State Department worked with the United Nations Security Council to obtain resolutions rebuking the Taliban for harboring Bin Ladin and allowing terrorist training. The Defense Department began to focus on this issue in late 2000, after the USS Cole bombing. A State Department demarche to Taliban representatives in Pakistan, on June 26, 2001, specifically noted the threats to Americans emanating from Afghanistan and stated that the United States would hold the Taliban regime directly responsible for any actions taken by terrorists harbored by the Taliban. Former National Security Advisor Berger noted in a statement to the Joint Inquiry that “In fact, there was a concerted military, economic, and diplomatic pressure on the Afghanistan and the Taliban….” Mr. Berger also explained that Saudi Arabia and TOP SECRET 120 TOP SECRET Pakistan were pressed to cut support for the Taliban and that covert and military measures were taken to disrupt al-Qa’ida activities in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the [page 127] Joint Inquiry found that none of these actions were effective in hindering terrorist training or al-Qa’ida’s ability to operate from Afghanistan. [Despite the Intelligence Community’s growing recognition that Afghanistan was churning out thousands of radicals, the U.S. government did not integrate all the instruments of national power and policy – diplomatic, intelligence, economic, and military – to address this problem. [ ]. Prior to September 11, military force was used only in the August 20, 1998 cruise missile strikes on targets in Afghanistan and the Sudan. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testified to the Joint Inquiry that massive military strikes on Afghanistan would have had little public or Congressional support before September 11, 2001. Moreover, as Mr. Berger noted to the Joint Inquiry, a lack of intelligence on which to base action hindered efforts to use military force in Afghanistan]. Permitting the sanctuary in Afghanistan to exist for as long as it did allowed Bin Ladin’s key operatives to meet, plan operations, train recruits, identify particularly capable recruits or those with specialized skills, and ensure that al-Qa’ida’s masterminds remained beyond the reach of international justice. In his testimony before the Joint Committee on October 17, 2002, the DCI responded to a question about what he would do differently prior to September 11, 2001, saying: [H]indsight is perfect, we should have taken down that sanctuary a lot sooner. The circumstances at the time may have not warranted, the regional situation may have been different, and after [September] 11 all I can tell you is we let a sanctuary fester, we let him build capability. And there may have been lots of good reasons why in hindsight it couldn't have been done earlier or sooner. I am not challenging it, because hindsight is always perfect, but we let him operate with impunity for a long time without putting the full force and muscle of the United States against it. As an adjunct to covert and military efforts to eliminate Bin Ladin’s sanctuary in Afghanistan, the United States Government relied heavily on law enforcement to counter TOP SECRET 121 TOP SECRET [page 128] terrorism. The origins of this emphasis on prosecutions can be traced back to the 1980s, when Congress and President Reagan gave the FBI an important role in countering international terrorism, including events overseas. More recently, the successful prosecutions of individuals involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the plot to attack New York City landmarks, and the 1998 bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa added to the emphasis on law enforcement as a counterterrorism measure. Senior Department of Justice officials, including former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Mary Jo White, who prosecuted many of the most important cases against al-Qa’ida, point out that they saw their efforts as an adjunct to other means of fighting terrorism. Prosecutions do have several advantages in the fight against terrorism. As Ms. White noted to the Joint Inquiry, prosecutions take terrorists off the street. She acknowledged that this does not shut down an entire group, but some bombs do not go off as a result of the arrests. In addition, critical intelligence often comes from the investigative process, as individual terrorists confess or reveal associates through their personal effects and communications. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh pointed out to the Joint Inquiry, “you can’t divorce arrest from prevention.” Ms. White also contends that the prosecutions may deter some, though admittedly not all, individuals from using violence. Finally, the threat of a jail sentence often induces terrorists to cooperate with investigators and provide information. Heavy reliance on law enforcement had limits, however. As Paul Pillar, National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and Asia, explained to the Joint Inquiry, it is easier to arrest underlings than masterminds. Those who organize and plan attacks, particularly the ultimate decision makers who authorize them, are often thousands of miles away when an attack is carried out. In addition, the deterrent effect of imprisonment is often minimal, particularly for highly motivated terrorists such as those in al-Qa’ida. Moreover, law enforcement is time-consuming. The CIA and the FBI expended considerable resources supporting investigations in Africa and in Yemen regarding the Embassies and USS Cole attacks, a drain on scarce manpower and resources that could TOP SECRET 122 TOP SECRET [page 129] have been used to gather information and disrupt future attacks. Further, there were no established mechanisms for law enforcement officials to share foreign intelligence developed in these investigations with the Intelligence Community, and they did not always recognize it, prior to September 11. Finally, law enforcement standards of evidence are high, and meeting these standards often requires unattainable intelligence or the compromise of sensitive intelligence sources or methods. At times, law enforcement and intelligence have competing interests. The former head of the FBI’s International Terrorism Division noted to the Joint Inquiry that Attorney General Janet Reno leaned toward closing down Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act-based collection activities if they seemed to hinder criminal cases. Ms. White, however, said that the need for intelligence was balanced with the effort to arrest and prosecute terrorists. The reliance on law enforcement when individuals can operate from a hostile country such as the Taliban’s Afghanistan appears particularly ineffective, as the masterminds are often beyond the reach of justice. One FBI agent, in a Joint inquiry interview, scorned the idea of using the Bureau to take the lead in countering al-Qa’ida. He noted that the FBI can only arrest and support prosecution and cannot shut down training camps in hostile countries. He added that, “[it] is like telling the FBI after Pearl Harbor, ‘go to Tokyo and arrest the Emperor.’” In his opinion, a military solution was necessary because, “[t]he Southern District [of New York] doesn’t have any cruise missiles.” As the DCI testified to the Joint Inquiry on June 19, 2002: The fact that you went into the sanctuary and took it down is the single most important thing that occurred [after September 11], because they no longer operated with impunity in terms of their training and financing and all the things they were doing. And that opportunistically has changed the game. So the policy question I would answer first is, the longer you wait when you see this kind of thing, the longer you wait to intervene, the longer you wait to allow evidence to manifest behavior, I guarantee you will be surprised and hurt. 19. Finding: Prior to September 11, the Intelligence Community and the U.S. Government labored to prevent attacks by Usama Bin Ladin and his terrorist TOP SECRET 123 TOP SECRET [page 130] network against the United States, but largely without the benefit of an alert, mobilized and committed American public. Despite intelligence information on the immediacy of the threat level in the spring and summer of 2001, the assumption prevailed in the U.S. Government that attacks of the magnitude of September 11 could not happen here. As a result, there was insufficient effort to alert the American public to the reality and gravity of the threat. Discussion: The record of this Joint Inquiry indicates that, prior to September 11, 2001, the U.S. Intelligence Community was involved in fighting a “war” against Bin Ladin largely without the benefit of what some would call its most potent weapon in that effort: an alert and committed American public. Senior levels of the Intelligence Community, as well as senior U.S. Government policymakers, were aware of the danger posed by Bin Ladin. Information that was shared with senior U.S. Government officials, but was not made available to the American public because of its national security classification, was explicit about the gravity and immediacy of the threat posed by Bin Ladin. For example: • In December 1998, as noted earlier, the DCI wrote: “We must now enter a new phase in our effort against Bin Ladin…We are at war…I want no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside CIA or the [Intelligence] Community.” • A classified document signed by the President in December 1998 read in part: “The Intelligence Community has strong indications that Bin Ladin intends to conduct or sponsor attacks inside the United States”; and • A classified document signed by the President in July 1999 characterized a February 1998 statement by Bin Ladin statement as a “de facto declaration of war” on the United States. In addition, numerous classified intelligence reports were produced and disseminated by the Intelligence Community prior to September 11, based upon information obtained from a variety of sources, about possible terrorist attacks being planned by Usama Bin Ladin’s terrorist network. Some of this information was summarized and released, in declassified form, in the Joint Inquiry’s September 18, 2002 hearing, including: [page 131] • In June 1998, the Intelligence Community obtained information from several sources that Usama Bin Ladin was considering attacks in the United States, including against Washington, D. C. and New York; TOP SECRET 124 TOP SECRET • In August 1998, the Intelligence Community obtained information that a group of unidentified Arabs planned to crash an explosive-laden plane from a foreign country into the World Trade Center; • In September 1998, the Intelligence Community obtained information that Usama Bin Ladin’s next operation could possibly involve flying an aircraft loaded with explosives into a U.S. airport; • In October 1998, the Intelligence Community obtained information that al- Qa’ida was trying to establish an operative cell within the United States, and that there might be an effort underway to recruit U.S. citizen- Islamists and U.S.-based expatriates from the Middle East and North Africa; • In September 1999, the Intelligence Community obtained information that Usama Bin Ladin and others were planning a terrorist act in the United States, possibly against specific landmarks in California and New York City; and • In late 1999, the Intelligence Community obtained information regarding the Bin Ladin network’s possible plans to attack targets in Washington, D. C. and New York City during the New Year’s Millennium celebrations. There is little indication of any sustained and successful national effort to mobilize public awareness about the gravity and immediacy of the threat prior to September 11, however. Specifically citing speeches by President Clinton at the United Nations in 1995 and at George Washington University in1996 regarding the fight against terrorism, former national Security Advisor Sandy Berger told the Inquiry that the President: “continuously attempted to raise public awareness of the terrorist threat, as a central challenge to our country and our future, [and] including in every State of the Union address for eight years.” Clearly, there were Presidential remarks regarding terrorism in the years before September 11, 2001, including references to the threat that Bin Ladin’s network posed to the interests of the United States. There were also periodic statements and references to [page 132] the threat from terrorism and Bin Ladin in Congressional testimony and elsewhere by both the DCI and the FBI Director. In an interview, Richard Clarke, the former National Counterterrorism Coordinator under President Clinton, pointed to background briefings to the press by his office immediately after the Millennium crisis in January-February 2000 and the TOP SECRET 125 TOP SECRET Administration’s cooperation with the New York Times in December 2000 and with CBS’s 60 Minutes on stories about terrorism as efforts to inform the American people of the growing terrorist threat. These efforts were, however, largely sporadic and, given the classified nature of intelligence, limited in terms of the specifics that could be shared with the public about the immediacy and gravity of the threat. They were not sufficient to mobilize and sustain heightened public awareness about the danger of a domestic attack. By comparison to what has occurred since September 11, the American public was not focused on and was not on heightened alert regarding Bin Ladin, his fatwa against the United States, and the immediate likelihood of a terrorist attack on American soil. In the aftermath of September 11, two incidents illustrate the difference that an alerted American public can, and does, make: • On September 11, 2001, passengers aboard Flight 93, aware that two aircraft had been flown into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, attempted to retake control of their hijacked aircraft and, it is widely believed, saved further loss of life and destruction; and • On December 22, 2001, an alert flight attendant on board an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami noticed passenger Richard Reid attempting to light a fuse in his shoe. Reid was subsequently subdued by a number of passengers and has pleaded guilty to charges of attempting to blow up the aircraft. [Page 133] Kristen Breitweiser, speaking on behalf of the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks, reminded the Joint Inquiry of the importance of an alert and involved American public in the war against terrorism. In her testimony, she emphasized the potential importance of information that was not shared with the public before September 11, 2001: One thing remains clear from history. Our intelligence agencies were acutely aware of an impending domestic risk posed by Al Qaeda. A TOP SECRET 126 TOP SECRET question that remains unclear is how many lives could have been saved had this information been made more public. . . . . How many victims may have taken notice of these Middle Eastern men while they were boarding their plane? Could these men have been stopped? Going further, how many vigilant employees would have chosen to immediately flee Tower 2 after they witnessed the blazing inferno in Tower 1, if only they had known that an Al Qaeda terrorist attack was imminent? Could the devastation of September 11 been diminished in any degree had the government’s information been made public in the summer of 2001? 20. Finding: Located in Part Four Entitled “Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters.” TOP SECRET 127
- National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice stated in a May 16, 2002 press briefing that, on August 6, 2001, the