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.