pageok
pageok
pageok
[Amy Zegart (guest-blogging), September 11, 2007 at 11:53am] Trackbacks
9/11: My Top 5 Most Depressing Findings.

Many thanks, Eugene, for inviting me to blog about the ghosts of intel failures past, present, and future.

I thought I'd kick off by sharing my top 5 depressing findings about 9/11 from my new book -- all confirmed by unclassified government documents or at least two government sources.

1. The FBI failed to find 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi 19 days before 9/11 even though they were hiding in plain sight. On the night of 9/11, an FBI search of public records found al-Mihdhar's correct San Diego address within hours. Unbeknownst to the Bureau, both terrorists had lived with an FBI informant in San Diego, made contact with several targets of FBI counterterrorism investigations, and used their real names on everything from credit cards to telephone listings.

2. Just weeks before 9/11, the FBI's own highly classified counterterrorism review gave failing grades to every single one of the Bureau's 56 U.S. field offices. (The report was considered so embarrassing, only a handful of copies were ever made).

3. A January 2002 internal FBI review found that 66% of the FBI's 1,200 analysts (the people who "connect the dots") were unqualified to do their jobs.

4. Twenty months before 9/11, the CIA got wind that al Qaeda operatives might be gathering in Malaysia for a planning meeting -- what one intelligence official described to me as "the al Qaeda convention." Two of the participants turned out to be 9/11 hijackers. The CIA established surveillance, but lost track of them as soon as the meeting disbanded. Management was so hosed up that one CIA official believed, and kept telling his bosses, that the terrorists were being monitored 5 days after they had disappeared into the Streets of Bangkok.

5. The CIA and FBI missed a total of 23 opportunities to potentially disrupt the 9/11 plot.

More later....

Charlie Martel (mail):
All very depressing, but three things should not be ignored. First, the President was warned a month before 9/11 that Al Qaeda 1) was planning to attack the US, 2) that Washington and lower Manhattan were likely targets and 3) that those planning the attacks could emulate the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. This warning was later untruthfully described as a "historical document" by the administration rather than the prediction that it was.

Second, in the months prior to the warning, high level national security officials tried many times without success to get the administration to prioritize the Al Qaeda threat.

Third, nothing meaningful was done by the President and the administration to respond to these threats. The President and his national security team had sufficient warning of a large Al Qaeda attack to take much more preventive action than was taken. If this had been done, many of the FBI/CIA shortcomings the poster describes could have been corrected, the critical information shared, and the dots connected. To be fair, no one can say for certain that 9/11 could have been prevented had the administration done more in response to these warnings. But it is beyond argument that the administration did not do enough.

Primary responsibility for coordinating national security and responding to warnings of terrorist attacks lies with the President, not mid-level law enforcement and intelligence officials. What is most scandalous about our government's pre-9/11 handling of information pertinent to the attack is that the President and his national security staff had more than enough warning of the attacks to ramp up a comprehensive effort to find out what the FBI and CIA knew and to synthesize this into protective efforts that might have prevented the attacks.

They didn't.
9.11.2007 1:23pm
Gaius Marius:
Absolutely unforgiveable and unpardonable sins.
9.11.2007 1:29pm
Seth Eagelfeld (mail) (www):
Certainly I've worried about things such as this too, but I have to wonder if we're not engaging in the historian's fallacy (specifically on things like point 5). I mean, six-years and a day ago we would've been rather disbelieving if someone had told us out-right what was going to happen. "Inconceivable" is a pretty good adjective for describing that day's events. I don't wish to defend incompetence, but I do think as more time passes we need to try to maintain perspective.
Also, I think the bureaucratic failures, if nothing else, proved that the all-seeing "Big-Brother" antagonist who appears in most conspiracy-theories is largely a myth. Or just very ineffective.
9.11.2007 1:30pm
cirby (mail):
Martel:
You left out the part where that prediction had been made on a semi-annual basis since the FIRST attack on the WTC towers - and before. I wrote a paper for a college class in Emergency Administration back in 1990 or so, covering future disaster scenarios, and one of the ones I mentioned was a terroristic attack on a skyscraper (though not using jets). My teacher forwarded it to the local FEMA folks, and I got back some good reviews on it from them - and a note that they had been considering this sort of threat since the 1970s.

You also kinda slid by the part that, if they had heeded the warnings, it would have done ZERO good, since they were either expecting a regular hijacking (take hostages and make demands) or a ground-based bombing attack, like the first WTC bombing.

If the government had made the obvious moves in shutting down the plot, we'd have had a mass movement from the usual suspects to protest the "unlawful" detention of a bunch of innocent folks who hadn't done anything wrong except be "Islamic while flying."

And actually, the primary responsibility for anti-terror enforcement was, at the time, in the hands of the FBI, not the President.
9.11.2007 1:32pm
GV:
So let me get this straight. The government's pre-9/11 tools to fight terrorism were sufficient to stop the attacks. Those tools were just wielded by incompetent people, so the attack was not thwarted.

To rememdy that problem, we have given the government more tools -- tool that are not only expensive, but provide our oh-so-trustworthy government more opportunity to abuse its power. I suppose we can thank our small government friends for this.
9.11.2007 1:35pm
Virginia:
Charlie Martel, which "President" and "Administration" are you referring to? That would be President Clinton, whose administration did virtually nothing about al Qaeda for eight years, right?
9.11.2007 1:43pm
GV:
I guess it all depends on what you mean by "virtually," Virigina. I guess, among other things, creating a task force that was specifically assigned to al Qaeda is "doing nothing."
9.11.2007 1:47pm
Wallace:
If a government sniper had taken out one of the 9/11 conspirators a year earlier, what would the title of this post be? "Innocent Saudi citizen assassaninated in Indonesia for no reason.

Hindsight is 20/20. We could have avoided Pearl Harbor and the Fort Sumter if we only knew then what we know now. The FBI and CIA are made of men, not angels. Our knowledge and methods will be fallible. Deal with it.
9.11.2007 1:48pm
Brian K (mail):
You also kinda slid by the part that, if they had heeded the warnings, it would have done ZERO good, since they were either expecting a regular hijacking (take hostages and make demands)

and here I thought the terrorists had to hijack the plan to fly them into buildings. i had no idea they could make airplanes fly into buildings just by thinking happy thoughts.
9.11.2007 2:00pm
x (mail):
Twenty months before 9/11..

More commonly known as January, *2000* but that might make it too easy to figure out who was president then.
9.11.2007 2:16pm
badger (mail):
Do you think that the failure of the FBI to commit proper personnel and resources to counter-terrorism might have something to do with the fact that John Ashcroft had removed counter-terrorism as a top priority of the department, as opposed to


"...reducing gun violence and drug trafficking; helping states with anticrime programs; reducing racial discrimination; securing the nation's borders and cutting the immigration backlog; reducing overcrowding and drug use in prisons; securing the rights of victims of crime and strengthening internal financial and computer systems."


link
9.11.2007 2:21pm
Smokey:
Yo, Amy-

Who's yer optometrist? I wanna get me a pair a them glasses like you got that gives 20/20 hindsight.
9.11.2007 2:23pm
Truth Seeker:
I want to know what information Sandy Berger destroyed. It must have been something immense if he was willing to commit a felony over it. And what reward did the Clintons offer him???
9.11.2007 2:30pm
Virginia:
I guess it all depends on what you mean by "virtually," Virigina. I guess, among other things, creating a task force that was specifically assigned to al Qaeda is "doing nothing."

That's right, I would classify creating a task force as doing nothing.
9.11.2007 2:30pm
DJR:
Funny how many knee jerk defenses of Bush appear after a post that doesn't mention Bush at all.
9.11.2007 2:43pm
Roundhead (mail) (www):
there is no reason not to be bipartisan about this - both the Clinton and Bush governments dropped the ball on 9/11.

On the other hand, there is little reason to say that any government, of either party, would not have overlooked the supposed 'warning signs' that might have prevented 9/11.

If for example, the FBI had `picked up' one or more of the conspirators in the attacks, would have they have charged him with? conspiracy? What good evidence did the authorities have that the 19 planned to carry out attacks in the manner that they did?

From what I understand, the details of the plot were scarcely articulated at all in any documents, text, anything (which gives fuel, by the way, to conspiracy theories).

And, if the authorities DID manage to collect enough evidence against any of the conspirators, what are the chances that they would even been able to convict them? There is no question, either, that the Usual Suspects - ie. the hard left and the Islam Lobby - would be raised a ruckus about how `innocent Saudi students targetted by Islamophobia' were being railroaded for their alleged involvement in a `far-fetched plot to run airplanes into skyscrapers!!!!' how ludicrous...

In fact, we have many people (perhaps those who have posted here) who deny that there is a terrorist war against the United States and the Western world, even now, after 9/11.

thanks
9.11.2007 2:43pm
Gaius Marius:
We the People of these United States do not pay Trillions of dollars annually to the Federal Government in exchange for fallible knowledge and methods.
9.11.2007 2:45pm
CEB:
Roundhead,

Exactly. And I would add that if the 9-11 plot had somehow been foiled, in all likelihood we would be observing a different anniversary on a different day of a different terrorist attack.
9.11.2007 3:08pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Yes we do...
9.11.2007 3:14pm
cirby (mail):
Brian K:


and here I thought the terrorists had to hijack the plan to fly them into buildings. i had no idea they could make airplanes fly into buildings just by thinking happy thoughts.


That's not how people were thinking, up until about 9 AM six years ago.

Like I said, the "standard model" of hijackings was hijack, demand, and ransom (or just blow up or crash the plane). Flying them into buildings was NOT part of the planned scenario at the time. The expectation was that an attack on a building was going to be from the ground (like the first WTC attack), not a suicidal run by multiple planes.

Sure, the threat had been made before (and always by people who didn't know how to even fly the planes), but not carried out. Considering the number of hijackings over the years, planning on the events of 9/11 would have been pretty far off the "normal" mark - and much of the political opposition would have been making snide remarks about how "people don't fly planes into buildings- they hijack them for a reason."
9.11.2007 3:15pm
Zacharias (mail):
While it's disappointing that the Bill of Rights no longer avails to protect us, it is comforting to realize that our freedom in Amerika continues to be assured by the incompetence of the FBI to snoop on us.
9.11.2007 3:15pm
Lugo:
All very depressing, but three things should not be ignored. First, the President was warned a month before 9/11 that Al Qaeda 1) was planning to attack the US, 2) that Washington and lower Manhattan were likely targets and 3) that those planning the attacks could emulate the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. This warning was later untruthfully described as a "historical document" by the administration rather than the prediction that it was.

What we should not ignore is that as a "prediction", this "warning" was totally worthless. The mid-2001 intelligence brief had no information about al Qaeda more recent than 1998, and lacked ANY specific information on which the President could take useful action (e.g. specific persons, specific dates, specific airlines, specific flights). The brief does NOT say that Osama wanted to emulate the 1993 bombings by attacking the WTC again - it says he wanted to follow the examples of the 1993 attacks by "bringing the fighting to America" (i.e. Osama said he wanted to attack somewhere in America, he did not say he wanted to attack the WTC). Hijacking was only mentioned in the context of doing so to gain the release of "the Blind Sheikh", not using the planes themselves as missiles.

In short, to cite this brief as evidence that the President fell down on the job is simply stupid.
9.11.2007 3:24pm
Steve:
The mid-2001 intelligence brief had no information about al Qaeda more recent than 1998, and lacked ANY specific information on which the President could take useful action (e.g. specific persons, specific dates, specific airlines, specific flights).

I never understood this argument that there's nothing the President can do unless someone tells him the exact time and place. I'm surprised to find that there are people who buy it.

It seems to me that if the President believes something big is about to happen, there's lots he can do. He can put everyone on full alert and encourage them to use heightened scrutiny. He can convene a meeting of the department heads, or of the people from the various departments most active in anti-terrorism efforts, and encourage them to share what they've got and make sure everything is followed up on.

I don't think the Clinton Administration did enough, in the final analysis, but I think they took terrorism seriously. I haven't seen much evidence, on the other hand, that the Bush Administration took terrorism seriously at all up until 9/11. The marginalizing of Richard Clarke is perhaps the best evidence of this.
9.11.2007 3:30pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
All very depressing, but three things should not be ignored. First, the President was warned a month before 9/11 that Al Qaeda 1) was planning to attack the US, 2) that Washington and lower Manhattan were likely targets and 3) that those planning the attacks could emulate the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. This warning was later untruthfully described as a "historical document" by the administration rather than the prediction that it was.
This is drastic partisan spin which completely misrepresents the PDB. It was indeed a historical document; virtually all information about Bin Laden was from 1998.

1) Of course Bin Laden was "planning" to attack the U.S. That was pretty obvious, since it had been done once before in the U.S. and several times outside the U.S. So what? Here's a hint: Bin Laden is still "planning" to attack the U.S. Does that information provide any useful guidance to you?

2) It doesn't say "Washington and lower Manhattan were likely targets," except in the most generic sense. It says that in 1998, Bin Laden had wanted to retaliate in Washington for the missile attacks, and it says that there was "recent surveillance of federal buildings in NY."

3) It doesn't say anything about "emulating" the 1993 WTC attacks; it says "follow the example of" them by bringing the fight to America. And it said that in 1998.

The memo had no usable information in it whatsoever. To the extent that there were specifics in the memo, they were wrong; there were no attacks with explosives. There were no Muslim-American youth in NY engaging in attacks. There was no hijacking for the purpose of freeing the blind sheikh, and the memo described that as unconfirmed anyway.
9.11.2007 3:39pm
Bill R:
CJR, interestingly, your comment is the first to use the word "Bush". None of the prior posts seem to be "knee jerk defenses" of Bush - at most there are observations that prior administrations had not done a perfect job. Pointing out a systemic problem is hardly defending one of the administrations which also had that problem.
9.11.2007 3:47pm
RL:
#2 and #3 scare me the most, because there is little reason to think that things have improved at the FBI.
9.11.2007 3:50pm
abu hamza:
Dear Amy Zegart &interested others: what do you think of the claim made by those 2 french journalists in "Forbidden Truth: Secret Diplomacy Between the U.S. and the Taliban and the FAiled Hunt for Bin Ladin"? specifically, that book says that in approximately April of 2001, a US diplomat or some other high US official made kind of a thinly veiled threat of war against the taliban leaders, like "we will give you a carpet of gold if you accept our proposal, or we will carpet bomb you if you decline." And the book suggests that that secret diplomatic message, ultimatuum, what have you, WAS NOT communicated to the CIA, FBI, etc., and if it had been, maybe it would have brought these "unconnected dots" into a sharper focus. What do you think? To me if this really happened it should be #6 on your list.


re: virginia &other's comments about clinton. yes, I believe Clinton did not take al quaeda seriously enough, so lots of blame lies there. but don't the congressional republicans who were chasing after the monica lewinsky scandal &others deserve some blame? the man was distracted by these irrelevant, meaningless events, and was even impeached over it, while there was a gathering threat overseas and even among us. imagine the outcry if clinton had taken action against obama while he was in sudan or afganistan. wag the dog and all that.
9.11.2007 4:06pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Anyone else already tired of zacharias' trolling?
9.11.2007 4:08pm
Bill R:
In the absence of perfect intelligence, some form of prevention may have prevented the 9/11 attack. Specifically, the current airport security measures are partially aimed at preventing a repeat attack. Whether one thinks current security measures are necessary or sufficient, it seems likely they would have caught some of the hijackers and perhaps prevented at least some of the hijackings since, if I recall correctly, the best conclusion is that they hand carried their "weapons" onto the planes.

The question I have is "Would the American public have accepted these measures if they had been instituted on August 11, 2001?". Given that even now there is substantial controversy over the current measures, I suspect that the answer is that the public would have been vehemently opposed to current measures before 9/11 and would have, by popular pressure, put a stop to most of them.

I also suspect that increased "upstream" surveillance and intelligence activity that seem to be accepted by most (perhaps, unfortunately) today would not have been accepted on August 11, 2001.
9.11.2007 4:10pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
What's disturbing is that so many, including the above comments, think that government, especially centralized government should have all the answers.

What was needed was a way for the agents in the Phoenix office of the FBI to communicate with the Minneapolis office of the FBI. What is needed is distributed knowledge, not centralized knowledge. By having more people talking about what is happening, in advance or during, the more likely someone is to connect the dots.
9.11.2007 4:11pm
GatoRat:
Had federal regulations required that airplane cockpit doors be locked during flight and not opened under any circumstance, 9/11 wouldn't have happened.

Interestingly, this is not hindsight. I expressed great concern in the late 90s about this after being on several flights where the cockpit door was left open during part, or in one case all, of the flight (though I was more concerned about nut cases charging into the cockpit than hijackers.)

As for the other stuff; if we had perfect analytical ability, we could prevent lots of shit from happening. Despite knowing my kids rather well, even I can't predict all the crap they will do (and if I can predict it, I'm not always accurate on the when or the how.)
9.11.2007 4:27pm
Rich (mail):
Anybody thinking that either the Bush or Clinton administrations did much about terrorism pre 9/11 has really not been paying attention. Read the 9/11 report. There just was not that much pressure from outside Washington to "do something" about terrorism. The "alphabet agencies" are no different than any other beauracracy. What makes anyone think they would act any differently than the FDA or FCC or any other? Even now the Marines are at war and America is at the mall. We just don't want to know about it.
9.11.2007 4:33pm
JohnThompson (mail):
Funny how the very FIRST post to appear is a knee-jerk attack on Bush though the post didn't mention him at all....
9.11.2007 4:38pm
K Parker (mail):
Daniel Chapman,

First of all, it's probably better to just not take the bait; but heck yes it's wearying. I just wish Mr. Z. could emigrate to a genuine police state so he could learn what they're really like.
9.11.2007 4:43pm
abu hamza:
gatorat: who did you complain to about the open cockpit doors?

a fanatic is one who won't change his mind or change the subject, so sorry. but I also remember from that book "Forbidden Truth: ..." it mentions that the very first international arrest warrant for osama bin ladin was from .... guess which country? the U.S., right, against whom bin Ladin had attacked our embassies, and tried to sink a battle ship? no. not the U.S. We never did. The first int'l arrest warrant for OBL was from Libya, for OBL's role in killing some German tourists.

What were the 23 other missed opportunities?
9.11.2007 4:54pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I don't know about "catching" the 9-11 buttheads. They had boxcutters. It's been said those were legal at the time. Hell, I used to carry one because, among other things, one type isn't much bigger than a stick of gum.

And I think one of the aircraft had managed to secure the cockpit but they terrs started cutting on the stews until the screams caused the pilot to try to go back.

Anyway, the point is, on Sept 10, a great many people wouldn't have put up with what we now have. And, as has been pointed out repeatedly, if we caught them before they actually put blade to throat, we'd have looked pretty silly. Having nothing to go on. Many libs and others would have laughed about somebody reading too much Tom Clancy (Executive Orders).
9.11.2007 4:55pm
The General:
did any of those 1,200 unqualified FBI analysts get fired for their failures? Doubtful. thank the gov't unions for keeping incompetent people in place.
9.11.2007 5:13pm
Lloyd George:
Allegations that the Clinton administration was inattentive to the threat posed by al Qaeda are simply untrue. While Clinton may have dropped the ball on actions in Afghanistan (I don't know, supposedly the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the insertion of special forces against Osama back then which reduced Clinton to the impotent firing of cruise missiles at tents and goats there, but that's a story for another day), in 1999 and 2000, the administration made a strong focus on terror here in the United States. Has anyone forgotten the Millennium plot of 2000? Supposedly Al Gore headed a task force that was dedicated to disrupting terror plots in the United States. Richard Clarke was part of this. I vaguely remember some threats around that time. Does anyone remember this?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000_millennium_attack_plots
9.11.2007 5:13pm
Deoxy (mail):
Last I checked, attempts to carry handguns on to planes in carryon baggage still succeed far more often than they fail. That was as of a few months ago.

Knowing someone who actually works airport security, I can quite authoritatively say that it is still an utter joke. It would be funny if it weren't so depressing.

And actually, Clinton's inaction on terrorsism in general and Bin Laden in particularly highlighted by the following passage, written Clinton's last day in office, about his last speech:

"His [Clinton's] second point, and a long one it was, was that global poverty "requires more than compassion." I think a deconstruction of this thought is: It requires programs, i.e., liberal programs. In other words: When Osama bin Laden and his henchmen blow up an American city, it won't be my fault, it will be President Bush's."

Oh, and link - no I'm not making it up.

People were pointing out what a lousy job he did with trrorism while he was still in office.

I honestly wish Bush had done more about terrorism than he did, that he had somehow done the right thing to stop 9/11; we all do. (One thing he did do, though too late, was to triple the counter-terrorism budget allocation. Yup, doin' nothin...) But Clinton actually had more than one easy opportunity to take Bin Laden into custody (including having him OFFERED to us once), yet he gets a pass?

No, we don't need to get into this. I don't bring it up, generally speaking. It doesn't help. There's plenty of fault to go around, on both sides of the aisle.

But I will defend truth from lies when lies are spouted.
9.11.2007 5:13pm
Deoxy (mail):
"Has anyone forgotten the Millennium plot of 2000?"

You mean the one that was foiled by an attentive border agent who was part of the absolutely normal and routine border patrol? Oh, yes, we remember. It always gets brought up to "defend" Clinton (hint: it only works on those who don't know anything about the facts involved).
9.11.2007 5:15pm
Temp Guest (mail):
A quick point about the FBI's 1,200 "unqualified analysts". I'm willing to bet that the FBI's definition of competence required Special Agent status which has absolutely nothing to do with competency, but everything to do with the dysfunctional structure of the FBI and attempts to gain more agency funding. Anyone who has dealt with the FBI in a significant way or for a significant amount of time will know what I'm talking about.
9.11.2007 5:18pm
Charlie Martel (mail):
My intention was simply to point out that, though certainly law enforcement and intelligence got a lot of things wrong, they also got many things right. One thing they got right was raising the threat of imminent Al Qaeda attacks to the President and high level national security advisors. This is significant since those officials have the unique capacity to organize and coordinate across governmental agencies and the military.

Critiques of the FBI and CIA, like the original post, tend to ignore this. High level administrative failure to act is part of went wrong.

As to the PDB, it described in general terms an imminent threat sufficient to pay attention to air security, attacks on Washington, New York, and prominent government landmarks.

It is certainly not knee jerk partisanship to carefully examine how the President and his administration handled the information they had. As to the "who could have known" arguments in defense of the administration, it is correct that it would have taken foresight, wisdom, judgment and political courage to have acted in response to the PDB. However, those are traits I expect the President to have.
9.11.2007 5:28pm
Morat (mail):
Ah, yes, the "Clinton was just as bad" argument.

A moot point. In the end, the buck stops at the President's desk.

Clinton was not President when 9/11 hit -- George Bush was. And I've seen nothing to date to indicate he took the threat seriously before, and little to think he took it all that seriously after.

I mean, let's face it -- his number one prioty after 9/11 was Iraq. Only glaring proof of Al-Qaeda involvement forced him into Afghanistan first, and he switched focus to Iraq as soon as possible.

"The Buck Stops Here" should apply to any President.
9.11.2007 5:31pm
Still waiting ...:
Ahhhh, yes. I found #3 very telling and, ironically, humorous. I received a job offer from the FBI in January 2006 and they still haven't been able to bring me on board. It claims budget issues are prolonging the start date. It may be true considering the USG is operating under a CR, however, it says a lot about where our national security priorities lie.
9.11.2007 5:40pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
Assuming the Fed Gov is that incompetent at security and defense, it begs the question: why aren't we utterly overrun with terrrorists and criminals of all stripes? Shouldn't the country be going down in flames right now under a crushing wave of hhuge attacks?
9.11.2007 5:42pm
Still waiting ...:
In response to The General:
did any of those 1,200 unqualified FBI analysts get fired for their failures? Doubtful. thank the gov't unions for keeping incompetent people in place.

The FBI is an excepted service agency. I fully understand your point, but I don't believe your assertion applies in this case.
9.11.2007 5:47pm
Roundhead (mail) (www):
Morat -

Clinton wasn't "just as bad" - he was far worse. He let a problem fester for several years, and doing very little about it.

On the other hand, there is no evidence (except that coming from science-fiction author Richard Clarke) that the Bush Younger government was "obsessed" about Iraq.

It was the Bush government who ordered a comprehensive report on the threat of Islamic-fascist terrorism when it entered office in Jan 01, after years of Clinton doing nothing about it, except lob a couple of missiles into empty base camps, all of it for domestic consumption in the midst of Monicagate. Clinton, lying as usual, has been going around recently saying that he ordered OBL assissinated - he did no such thing.

(That said, Bush the Younger was lackadaisical as well).

But this is really what is moot (and as I stated before): even if the authorities had caught one or more of the conspirators that eventually carried out the attacks on NY and DC, would have they have charged them with? NOt learning how to land airplanes at flight schools? Flying while Arab? It was a Clinton government official (who sat on the 9/11 commission) who put in the order that a civil rights investigation would be implemented if airline personnel removed any more than four `race' minority individuals from any flight (although, of course, Arabs are Caucasion). Each terrorist team except one consisted of five peole.

In the atmosphere of Sept. 10, 2001, there would have been no case against them, and besides (to repeat myself) the Usual Suspects of the Islam Lobby and the hard left (ie. the mainstream left) would have had a field day with the Bush government if any arrests had taken place - as they do now when anti-terrorism arrests are made (vide the HLF trial in Texas at this time).

thanks
9.11.2007 5:49pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Two of the 9-11 highjackers got their green cards early in 2002. The immigration office involved was unable to see the problem. I mean, once it was brought to their attention. Procedures had been followed.
9.11.2007 5:50pm
PersonFromPorlock:

[I]t begs the question: why aren't we utterly overrun with terrrorists and criminals of all stripes?

Maybe we're more fortunate in our enemies than in our defenders?
9.11.2007 5:59pm
Siona Sthrunch (mail):
Poster writes: "The CIA and FBI missed a total of 23 opportunities to potentially disrupt the 9/11 plot."

I have two comments.

First, it is not clear to me that there is a difference between an "opportunity to disrupt" a plot and an opportunity "to potentially disrupt" a plot. Isn't potentiality inherent in opportunity?

Second, the split infinitive is grating. Although the rule against split infinitives has been relaxed where the split is helpful for sense or flow, in this case the split is awkward, pleonastic, and semantically confusing.

Thus, the phrasing appears to me to evince an imprecision of thought and language that is not conducive to apprehension of terrorists.
9.11.2007 6:03pm
Siona Sthrunch (mail):
I take issue with Al Maviva's use of the phrase "begs the question," in the phrase "[I]t begs the question: why aren't we utterly overrun with terrrorists and criminals of all stripes?" This use was also quoted by PersonFromPorlock.

I recognize that language and grammar are fluid and evolving, but "begging the question" is not so much a linguistic as a philosophical and rhetorical construct. Thus, to misuse that phrase is not merely an etymological problem, as would be the case with demotic usages of words like "enormity," "disinterested," or "loose." Rather, it bespeaks a lack of appreciation for philosophical and logical precision.

I don't mean to pick on Al Maviva - this particular trope is regrettably common. But I think that a post about an attack arguably based on a clash of cultures and philosophies should be especially scrupulous about history and language.
9.11.2007 6:15pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Still Waiting made the point/response that FBI agents aren't in unions much more politely than I would have had he/she not posted first.
9.11.2007 6:45pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
"It was the Bush government who ordered a comprehensive report on the threat of Islamic-fascist terrorism when it entered office in Jan 01, after years of Clinton doing nothing about it, except lob a couple of missiles into empty base camps, all of it for domestic consumption in the midst of Monicagate. Clinton, lying as usual, has been going around recently saying that he ordered OBL assissinated - he did no such thing.
"

This is my understanding as well -- that Bush HAD ordered a comprehensive report on our anti-terrorism efforts as a basic first step in revamping the approach, and that a draft of the report was on Rice's desk on Sept. 10. So it's not that the administration didn't do anything, it's that they didn't anticipate the urgency. Back to you, Intelligence Community ...

- Alaska Jack
9.11.2007 6:56pm
TJIT (mail):
It is disappointing to see this thread turn into a partisan whistling match.

The FBI had a number of problems for a number of years. I believe Robert Mueller was famous for not having a computer. They have numerous problems with evidence and keeping track of it and getting usable information from the field offices to headquarters and through the bureaucracy once it got to Washington.

And the problems continue

For $500 Million, Can We At Least Expect The New FBI Computers To Work?

Charlie Martel knee jerk response to turn the issue into a partisan whistling match illustrates why the problems continue and why they are unlikely to get fixed.

Everybody goes to the ramparts and starts pointing fingers instead of taking a look at the FBI's problems and what it will take to fix it.
9.11.2007 7:06pm
Shelby (mail):
For $500 Million, Can We At Least Expect The New FBI Computers To Work?

Of course not. For $10 million yes, and for $50 million probably, but certainly not for $500 million.
9.11.2007 7:23pm
O. Hutchins (mail):

Clinton wasn't "just as bad" - he was far worse. He let a problem fester for several years, and doing very little about it.


If Clinton was so bad, why didn't Bush move immediately to address the problems that they clearly must have seen?
9.11.2007 7:25pm
Enoch:
As to the PDB, it described in general terms an imminent threat sufficient to pay attention to air security, attacks on Washington, New York, and prominent government landmarks.

It simply was not actionable. "Pay attention to air security"? There is nothing in the PDB that tells you to do anything more than you're already doing. "Watch out for an attack on Washington or New York"? From who? When? How? The PDB does not provide ANY useful information on which to act.

It is certainly not knee jerk partisanship to carefully examine how the President and his administration handled the information they had. As to the "who could have known" arguments in defense of the administration, it is correct that it would have taken foresight, wisdom, judgment and political courage to have acted in response to the PDB. However, those are traits I expect the President to have.

Since the PDB tells you nothing, the PDB would have required psychic powers to act on effectively. You may expect the President to have psychic powers, but this is not a realistic expectation.
9.11.2007 9:14pm
srp (mail):
I was one of those people who thought that terrorism wasn't that big a deal pre-9/11, that it should be dealt with as a law enforcement matter, and so on. That was a big mistake, although I'd like to believe an understandable one, and one that was shared by many (most?) national security experts. In that atmosphere, as many posters have noted, drastic action to fight al Qaeda would have been extrememly unpopular and difficult to implement.

What puzzles me is how even after this mistaken impression has been revealed to be wrong, so many people still cling to it.
9.11.2007 9:36pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Another elephant that seems to have been missed here, and for political reasons, by the 9/11 commission, was the Gorelick "Wall" (i.e. how can we expect the 9/11 Commission to point this out, when the architect of this Wall was on the Commission). It was still in place on 9/11/01, despite the change in Administrations and appeared to have made communications within the FBI and between the FBI and the CIA about possible terrorism problematic.

In defense of the Reno/Gorelick DoJ and its "Wall", I do question whether the Ashcroft DoJ would have torn it down, if it had been given the time to do so. IMHO, the departing AG is much more likely to have done so than his immediate predecessor (absent the 9/11 attacks).
9.11.2007 9:40pm
Jows (mail):

"The Buck Stops Here" should apply to any President.


You really don't seem to mind the fact that the buck was passed up the chain to the highest office in the country. You seem more concerned with which president was in office than why the president has to personally do the jobs of the FBI CIA NSA Secret Service and all the other security and defense departments in America.
9.11.2007 9:44pm
Brian K (mail):
Cirby,

That's not how people were thinking, up until about 9 AM six years ago.

It doesn't matter. there are two ways to deal with a (potential) hijacking situation: 1) try to prevent it from happening in the first place or 2) try to resolve it with minimal loss of life after the hijacking occurs. This alone makes your original statement false.

if they had heeded the warnings, it would have done ZERO good, since they were either expecting a regular hijacking (take hostages and make demands) or a ground-based bombing attack
Any action taken to prevent a "regular" hijacking would have also had a chance of preventing one of the airplanes on 9/11 from being hijacked. So had the headed the warnings, say by stepping up screening for certain flights, it could have done a whole lot of good even if they were hijacking the planes for a different reason than we thought they were.
9.11.2007 9:55pm
Brian K (mail):
Oh, and link - no I'm not making it up.

you're right. you didn't make it up...but someone else did. honestly, how can you use the WSJ editorial pages as valid source for honest unbiased information? it's someone's OPINION, not fact. that is why it is called an editorial.
9.11.2007 10:09pm
JasonB (mail):
Remember, back during the days of the Cold War, when the CIA was an elite organization with agents spread across the world working to bring down communists and prop up our allies?

And yet, by the time 9/11 rolled around, the CIA is populated by utterly incompetent bureaucrats more interested in their pensions than in national security.

I wonder what could have possibly happened between the end of the Cold War and beginning of the War on Terror.

(Yes, I know this is hyperbole; it's still illustrative of the problem.)
9.11.2007 10:18pm
autolykos:
I get a kick out of the people who think an intelligence briefing that notes that Washington and New York are likely targets yields useful information.

"What, America's political capital and financial capital/largest city are likely targets of a terrorist attack?!?! You don't say?!?!"
9.11.2007 11:04pm
Waldensian (mail):

Anyone else already tired of zacharias' trolling?

I'm trying to decide if the "Amerika" bit is more annoying than JYLD's "Says the Dog" signature. A very tough call. I mean kall.
9.11.2007 11:06pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Shelby has Post of the Day.

The problem with general warnings is that they lead you to try to do too much - when the target and the method are not narrowed down, it's hard to maintain a true high alert over every vulnerability. The problem with specific warnings is that you seldom get them, at least not in time to be useful.

The infamous August PDB on Osama was a very general warning.

The missed opportunities to stop the 9/11 plot reveal a thoroughly disfunctional intelligence-sharing system. The buck stops with the President to fix it, but it's a matter that he has to delegate to others in large part (even if he's the best information systems software designer in the world).

Nick
9.11.2007 11:28pm
sbron:
"In the absence of perfect intelligence, some form of prevention may have prevented the 9/11 attack."

The obvious form of prevention would have been to refuse
to issue visas to the hijackers in the first place.
The problem is that both the libertarian right and
ethnocentric left believe that everyone in the world
has a "right" to enter the U.S.

But what special skills did the hijackers possess that
warranted their admission? What did they have to offer
the United States except hatred, misogyny and intolerance?
The fact that Saudi travel agencies were allowed to issue
visas without consular interviews, and that several
of the terrorsits were admitted with incomplete and
sketchy visa applications was inexcusable.

If we are going to have high levels of immigration, can
we not at least demand thorough consular interviews
and scrutiny of visa applicants? Should we not be
especially careful about admitting those from nations
hostile to America and its values and subject such
immigrants to especially thorough examination?
9.11.2007 11:59pm
srp (mail):
JasonB: I'm reading Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner. It has all kinds of newly declassified and discovered documents (such as internal reviews that were kept secret from even Eisenhower and his successors) and makes a strong case that the CIA was ineffective all through the Cold War, too. At least for intelligence gathering (they had mixed success with covert actions aimed at regime change).
9.12.2007 1:23am
Lev:
Just an observation.


Two of the 9-11 highjackers got their green cards early in 2002.


This is incorrect. They were given visa extensions of student visas.

Many people do not understand that a green card is not a student visa, a work visa, or, really, any other kind of visas.

To work in the US, one does not need a green card, one needs a work visa.

A green card is an award of permanent residence status.
9.12.2007 1:39am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Lev. Thanks for the correction. My other point, of course, stands.
9.12.2007 9:25am
Brian G (mail) (www):
Not to mention the August 2001 memo that said "bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States" was a clear indication that 19 hijackers planned to hijack four planes and crash them into 4 different targets a month later. I still cannot believe Bush read that memo and did nothing to prevent 9/11.
9.12.2007 6:03pm
Steve B. (mail):
Assuming the Fed Gov is that incompetent at security and defense, ... why aren't we utterly overrun with terrorists and criminals of all stripes? Shouldn't the country be going down in flames right now under a crushing wave of huge attacks?

One reason, I think, is that we've given the terrorists a much easier target: 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and however-many in Afghanistan. I mean, if your goal is to kill Americans, and you have a choice between (a) forging documents, getting a visa, traveling to the U.S., going to flight school, hijacking a plane, and giving your life for the cause, or (b) lobbing IED's at U.S. military as they drive down the streets of your home town (or a town where you fit in inconspicuously), which are you going to choose?

Which means, of course, that as soon as most of the troops are withdrawn from Iraq, there's likely to be another terrorist attack in the U.S. (there being far more Arabs-who-hate-America today than there were on Sept. 10, 2001).

It's even possible that somebody in the Bush administration has made this calculation, and that's the real reason they're keeping the troops in Iraq -- not because the troops are doing any good there, but because they're attracting attackers who might otherwise be here. Withdrawing some troops next summer, shortly before the election, makes perfect political sense: either there won't be an attack, and the Republicans will get credit for bringing the troops home, or there will be an attack early in the new President's term, and that President will get the blame, or there will be an attack shortly after the troop withdrawal, and Bush's refusal to reduce troop levels even earlier will be vindicated.
9.12.2007 11:29pm