NO FAILURE AT
Conspiracy theorists – or 9/11 skeptics as
they prefer to be called – have pointed to
the failure of the U.S. intelligence community to
prevent the 9/11 attacks from occurring as proof
the whole thing was a plot engineered by the U.S.
In fact, 9/11 skeptics argue there was no 'failure'
at all – that the CIA, FBI and National Security
Agency played a part in 9/11, or at the very least
knew the attack was coming and let it occur anyway.
According to the skeptics 9/11 gave the Bush administration
the justification to clampdown on civil liberties
and invade Afghanistan and Iraq to ensure future
supplies of oil.
THE 9/11 INVESTIGATION
The intelligence community, and the Joint Inquiry
investigation into the failure of intelligence,
paint an entirely different view of events. While
they admit they had an enormous amount of evidence
and information that an attack was in the works
– and even had some of the hijackers and their
helpers under surveillance at various times –
they say this information was lost in the general
mountain of intelligence the various agencies gather
on a regular basis. Moreover, they say information
the FBI, CIA and NSA did collect was not shared
among the agencies. Thus, the intelligence community
says no one managed to piece together all the warning
signs in time. (read more about the Congressional
TURNING A BLIND
A third view, explored by the fifth estate, suggests
something different altogether: that the evidence
pointing to a pending attack was not pursued vigorously
(consciously or unconsciously) simply because much
of it led back to Saudi Arabia. And that Saudi Arabia
holds a special place in the U.S. political, business
and intelligence milieu. It's a country that is
not held to the same standards of accountability
as are other nations. The reason, of course, is
America's enormous dependence on Saudi Arabia
for oil. Remember: 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi
Here are some of the more significant
moments of the intelligence failure that point to
The Bojinka plot is uncovered in the Philippines.
In 1995 Filipino police raid an al Qaeda bomb-making
factory. Among the belongings they find is a laptop
computer, which contains a number of startling terror
plots, including a plan to assassinate the Pope,
and to put terrorists on a dozen American jumbo
jets and blow them up in midair. Another plan was
to dive-bomb a plane into the CIA headquarters.
Two of the men who got away from the raid were Ramzi
Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the
World Trade Center, and Khalid Shaykh Mohammed who
would go on to become the architect of 9/11 itself.
This is probably the first time the idea of using
planes as a weapon comes to the CIA's attention.
Over the next few years, intelligence intercepts
suggest this idea is gathering steam within al Qaeda.
In 1998 the US intelligence community receives information
that a group of unidentified Arabs planned to fly
an explosive-laden plane from a foreign country
into the World Trade Center. In the fall of that
same year, more information was uncovered that bin
Laden's next plot against U.S. involved explosive-laden
aircraft and he was trying to establish a cell within
THE INTERNATIONAL ISLAMIC
in 1996, Valerie Donahue, a special agent with the
FBI in Chicago, investigates a chemical company
that appears to be an investment fraud scheme. The
company is owned in part by the International Islamic
Relief Organization (IIRO), Saudi Arabia's
most powerful charity that is funded by members
of the Saudi royal family. The IIRO is also one
of the biggest distributors of monies to terrorist
groups like al Qaeda. Donahue found that large sums
of money, in excess of $1.2-million, had been transferred
from the IIRO to the Chicago company. Donahue's
report mentions large amounts going to the IIRO
from "an account maintained in the United
States by the embassy of a foreign government, which
has provided IIRO with approximately $400,000."
This foreign embassy is most likely the Saudi embassy,
given the IIRO's close ties to the Saudi government.
Chances are, if the FBI had investigated IIRO at
this time, and its possible ties to the Saudi embassy,
it would have had understood its support of terrorism
within America. At the time, the IIRO had its U.S.
offices in Falls Church, Virginia, a town where
support for the 9/11 hijackers was strong, and where
two of the hijackers stayed in the months leading
up to 9/11.
MUSLIM YOUTH CHARITIES
The FBI open an investigation into the activities
of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), and
two men involved with the organization who are cousins
of Osama bin Laden in 1996. WAMY is also based in
Falls Church, Va. The investigation is dropped after
a few months and only restarted a few days after
9/11. WAMY is known for its support of terrorist
The CIA writes a lengthy report on Islamic charities
that fund terrorism. The IIRO is profiled, noting
that it is "affiliated with the Muslim World
League (MWL), a major international organization
largely financed by the government of Saudi Arabia."
Those connected to the IIRO, the report says, include
Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade
Centre attack, and Osama bin Laden. In fact, many
of the charities listed in the report are connected
to Saudi Arabia.
In July 1996, a truck bomb destroys a U.S. air force
barracks in al-Khobar in Saudi Arabia, killing 19
US air force personnel. In their investigation,
the FBI is soon stonewalled by the Saudi government.
The Clinton administration eventually stops pursuing
the investigation because they don't want
to upset relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran
– the country alleged to have carried out
OSAMA'S EXPULSION FROM SUDAN
After Al-Kobar and under pressure from the U.S.,
the Sudanese government expels Osama bin Laden from
the Sudan, where he has been living for five years.
However, the U.S. decides not to arrest bin Laden
and rejects an offer from the Sudanese government
to provide the CIA with their own intelligence files
on the al Qaeda leader. The Saudis are not interested
in arresting bin Laden either. He is allowed to
travel to Afghanistan in a plane that flies over
(read his interview with
the fifth estate)
CIA field officer Robert Baer quits the Agency in
1997. He has grown disenchanted with his superiors'
lack of interest in keeping an eye on events in
the Middle East. Prior to his departure, Baer checks
the CIA computers and finds no evidence the Agency
is collecting information on Saudi Arabia. While
stationed in the Middle East and Caspian region,
Baer had seen growing evidence of the financial
and ideological support Saudi Arabia was giving
to various radical Muslim groups, in particular
the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the CIA was never
tasked to investigate Saudi Arabia or draw up National
Intelligence Estimates (NIE) – a report that
evaluates the security threat posed by a country.
Baer concludes that oil and other economic interests
– including major defense and aerospace contracts
– have swayed Washington to turn a blind eye
to what the Saudis are doing.
GERMAN PHONE TAP SURVEILLANCE
German intelligence begins to conduct surveillance,
including phone taps, on Arab students studying
in Hamburg in 1998. This German city has a large
Arab and Muslim student attending local technical
colleges. In fact, many of the key 9/11 hijackers
are recruited into the plot while attending schools
in Hamburg, becoming known as the "Hamburg
German wiretaps pick up the name of key players
in the 9/11 plot, including Marwan al-Shehi, the
eventual pilot of Flight 175, the plane that hits
the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
The Germans pass on this information to the CIA.
Later it is learned the Hamburg cell is in contact
with an official from the Saudi embassy in Berlin
and is in phone contact with a number of sheiks
in Saudi Arabia.
FLIGHT SCHOOL TRAINING
As early as 1998 an agent with the FBI's Oklahoma
office informs an agent with the office's
counter-terrorism squad that he's observed
many men of Middle Eastern origin taking flight
school training. The FBI received also reports that
a terrorist organization might be planning to bring
students to the US for flight training.
Much later, a Phoenix, Az.-based
FBI counter-terrorism agent writes a lengthy memo
in which he says it has been noticed that a high
number of Arabs, possibly with connections to al
Qaeda, are taking flying lessons in local flight
schools. His memo is ignored by FBI headquarters.
AL-HAZMI AND AL-MIHDHAR
In April 1999, Nawif al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar
– two of the 9/11 hijackers – obtain
U.S. visas from the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi
Arabia. They then travel back to Afghanistan for
special training. At this time, Al-Hazmi's
name comes up in NSA intercepts connecting him to
a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East.
Both Al-Hazmi and Al-Mihdhar's names come
up in NSA intercepts linked to a safe house in Yemen
used by Al Qaeda as clearing house of information.
This information is passed onto the FBI and CIA
that same year. Al-Mihdhar had a US visa allowing
to come and go as he pleased. These intercepts inform
the CIA of an important al Qaeda meeting to take
place in Malaysia in 2000.
Despite being known to U.S. authorities both Al-Hazmi
and Al-Mindhar are not placed on a government watch
list until August 2001.
A high level planning meeting of Al Qaeda takes
place in an apartment building in Kuala Lumpur in
Malaysia in January of 2000. Among the participants
are Khalid al-Mihdhar, Nawif al-Hazmi and Khalid
Shaykh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attack.
The CIA asks the Malaysian secret police to place
the meeting under surveillance. Many photos and
videotape of the meeting's attendees are taken,
which are passed on to the CIA. The FBI is also
aware of the al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. This
get-together is where it is believed the details
of the 9/11 attack is sketched out.
Shortly after the Malaysia meeting, al-Mihdhar and
al-Hazmi are met my Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national
who works for the Saudi civil aviation authority.
Just prior to picking up the two would-be hijackers,
Al-Bayoumi meets with a member of the Saudi consulate
in LA – a man later connected to terrorist
activity. Al-Bayoumi takes al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi
to San Diego, puts them up in an apartment, signs
a lease, holds a party for them, enrolls them in
flight school and gives them money. Later, the FBI
concludes that al-Bayoumi is likely a Saudi intelligence
agent. Al-Bayoumi also passes on thousands of dollars
to the hijackers that originate from Princess Haifa,
wife of Prince Bandar Saudi ambassador to the US.
Later that year, Al-Hazmi and Al-Mihdhar move into
the home of a local imam in San Diego, Abdussattar
Shaikh. The imam is an FBI informant. In fact, Shaikh
holds meetings with his FBI handler while al-Hazmi
and al-Mihdhar sit in a room next door. Shaikh contends
he was never told what mission the hijackers were
on. His FBI handler, meanwhile, was never informed
by his superiors to look out for al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar.
INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY REPORTS
In February 2000, the Intelligence Community obtained
information that Osama Bin Laden was making plans
to assassinate U.S. intelligence officials, including
the Director of the FBI.
In March 2000, the Intelligence Community obtained
information regarding the types of targets that
operatives in Bin Ladin's network might strike.
The Statue of Liberty was specifically mentioned,
as were skyscrapers, ports, airports, and nuclear
power plants. The intelligence community also obtained
information indicating Bin Ladin was planning attacks
in specific West Coast areas, possibly involving
the assassination of several public officials.
THE USS COLE
The USS Cole, sitting in a harbor off the coast
of Yemen, is attacked by a boat laden with explosives,
killing 17 sailors in October 2000. The FBI arrive
in Yemen to investigate the attack, which they conclude
is an al Qaeda operation. Eventually the U.S. State
Department kicks out the FBI to prevent hurting
relations with Yemen. The FBI again sees evidence
of links to the USS Cole attack with Saudi Arabia
but cannot pursue them.
In early 2001, the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) notices evidence of an Israeli
art student spy ring operating in the U.S. Working
in small groups, the students go door-to-door selling
art. When the DEA interview some of the students,
they discover they are often the sons and daughters
of high officials in the Israeli military and many
have intelligence training.
One of these Israeli cells is located near the home
of Mohammed Atta in Florida during the time that Atta
– the pilot of Flight 11 on 9/11 – is
receiving his flight training. The DEA orders the
students back to Israel. In August of 2001, the Israeli
intelligence agency, Mossad gives the CIA the names
of 200 people they consider to be terrorist threats.
The Mossad were apparently interested in Atta and
his accomplice, Marwan al-Shehi.
In April 2001, the Intelligence Community obtained
information from a source with terrorist connections
who speculated that Bin Ladin would be interested
in commercial pilots as potential terrorists. The
source warned that the United States should not focus
only on embassy bombings, that terrorists sought "spectacular
and traumatic" attacks, and that the first World
Trade Center bombing would be the type of attack that
would be appealing. The source did not mention a timeframe
for any attack. Because the source was offering personal
speculation, the information was not disseminated
within the intelligence community.
MASTERMIND ENTERS THE
The CIA will later determine that they had information
that Khalid Shaykh Mohammed, architect of 9/11 and
al Qaeda's other attacks, was entering the U.S.
as late as May 2001, despite the fact he is a well-known
figure in the terrorist netherworld, his name first
becoming known to the CIA as early as 1995.
In August, President Bush receives a detailed and
lengthy presidential daily briefing from the CIA in
which Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda's aim of
launching an attack against the US is mentioned. To
this day, the Bush White House refuses to release
the contents of this briefing to Congressional inquiries
ZACARIAS MOUSSAOUI ARRESTED
Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested by the FBI for his
suspicious behavior at a flight school in Chicago
just weeks prior to 9/11. He is considered the 20th
hijacker who was sent over from Germany after another
member of the Hamburg cell is denied entry into the
U.S. Two days after Moussaoui's arrest, an FBI
agent in Chicago sends a note to his superiors noting
that Moussaoui seemed to be part of a plot to seize
control of an airplane. The agent asks for permission
to get a warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings.
The FBI headquarters argues against this. Later a
laptop is found among Moussaoui's possessions
which gives details about the 9/11 plot.