What we learned from the report of the 911 Commission XI

Post-Crisis Reflection: Agenda for 2000.

In January, February, and March 2000 the NSC and others reviewed what lessons might be learned from the “millennium crisis.” They concluded that any effort at disrupting al Qaeda operations had to be undertaken in a more determined way henceforth and that domestic security had already been penetrated by “sleeper cells.” Action to deal with these problems was approved in a general way. (pp. 262-263.)

Various American delegations (including one by President Clinton which the security-conscious Secret Service loudly opposed) went to Pakistan in January, March, May, June, and September. The trouble is that the US had noting to offer the Pakistanis as a reward for their co-operation: Congressionally-imposed sanctions prevented the government from offering anything of substance [and apparently the Clinton Administration did not want to brave the wrath of Congress by requesting a revision of relations with Pakistan]. (pp. 263-265.)

Richard Clarke seems to have been so focused on al Qaeda that he could not see the need for CIA assets to deal with other forms of terrorism, still less for a robust general intelligence capability. This led to bitter disputes between Clarke and the CIA leaders, who may have played the terrorism card as a budget ploy without fully appreciating how grave the danger faced by America. (pp. 265-266.)

The executive branch didn’t get very far trying to tighten up border security, especially with regard to Canada.

By the end of 1999 or the start of 2000 the leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud, wanted the US to line up as his ally in the struggle to overthrow the Taliban. Both Cofer Black and Richard Clarke wanted to do then what the US did anyway after 9/11. At the minimum, this would allow the CIA to put its agents into Afghanistan on a long-term basis, rather than relying on hearsay from the Northern Alliance and the “tribals.” The Clinton administration declined to forge such an alliance: the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance represented the minority within Afghanistan and many of its people had very shady pasts. (p. 271.)

Meanwhile, CIA agents in Malaysia took the group of suspects identified by the NSA intercepts under surveillance, but failed to communicate departure information in a timely fashion when some of the men moved on to Bangkok, Thailand. CIA agents in Bangkok not only failed to arrive at the airport in time to tail the arriving suspects, they failed to learn that two of the suspects had left for the United States on 15 January 2000 until March 2000. CIA’s Counterterrorist Center did not inform anyone else–neither the State Department nor the FBI– of the arrival of the two suspects in the United States until January 2001, after the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. (pp. 261-262.) As a result, the first two members of the 9/11 team arrived in Los Angeles on 15 January 2000, at the height of the “millennium crisis.” Although neither one spoke any English and were Arabs, they failed to attract any recorded attention from Customs.

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