What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXVI.

Second, there were restrictions on the sharing of information.

The Watergate-era investigations of government abuses of power led to the adoption (1976, 1983) of highly-restrictive rules for domestic intelligence gathering.

In addition, in 1978 Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that controlled domestic intelligence gathering directed against a foreign power, usually by the FBI. The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) took charge of presenting applications for a FISA warrant to the FISA court. The Justice Department’s initial interpretation of the law limited co-operation between criminal prosecutors and the FBI agents gathering FISA information, but in 1994-1995 the Clinton Administration’s Justice Department (acting head of OIPR Richard Scruggs, Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick) further tightened restrictions on contact between the FBI and prosecutors in national security cases. (p. 115.)

“These [1995] procedures were almost immediately misunderstood and misapplied.” (p. 115.) OIPR then bullied the FBI and Criminal Division prosecutors into compliance with this “misunderstanding” of what the procedures actually required. Reviews of these issues in 1999, 2000, and 2001 all concluded that the 1995 procedures were being misapplied to the detriment of national security, but no one did anything to correct the problem. (p. 116.) [NB: Neither Attorney General Janet Reno nor Gorelick tried to correct what the 9/11 Report later characterized as a “misunderstanding.”]

As a result, FBI agents working on intelligence matters communicated but little with both prosecutors and with FBI agents working on criminal matters, although they did pick up lots of useful information from their contacts with the NSA and the CIA. FBI counterintelligence became a sort of black hole in the Justice Department. (p. 116.)

Third, there was a sort of autism prevalent in the FBI. “The FBI simply did not produce the kind of intelligence reports that other agencies routinely wrote and disseminated. As law enforcement officers, Bureau agents tended to write up only witness interviews. Written cases analysis usually occurred only in memoranda to supervisors requesting authority to initiate or expand an investigation.” (p. 259.)

Fourth, Louis Freeh did not communicate with President Clinton. (p. 513.) [NB: I don’t know if this is a reflection of the on-going investigations of Clinton? Somebody needed to give up in the scandals for the good of the country.]

Other Law Enforcement Agencies. “Before 9/11, with the exception of one portion of the FBI [essentially the New York City field office], very little of the sprawling U.S. law enforcement community was engaged in countering terrorism.” (p. 120.) The Department of Justice has the U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency; the Treasury Department has the Secret Service, the Customs Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was swamped trying to deal with the flood of both legal aliens (requiring naturalization) and illegal aliens (flooding in over the southern border). The INS was woefully under-funded relative to its responsibilities. Although the INS attempted to respond to terrorism after the 1993 WTC bombing, “might have been” horror stories abound. (pp. 118-120.)

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What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXV.

What Went Wrong?

The truck bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993 had several noteworthy features. First, it heralded the arrival of a new sort of terrorism intended to create massive casualties among American civilians. Second, the American government responded in a devastating fashion through its law enforcement agencies. Third, the successful law enforcement response led American officials to both underestimate the new danger facing the country and to over-estimate the ability of the government to respond to that danger. (pp. 105-107.)

 

Adaptation—and Non-adaptation—in the Law Enforcement Community.

Superficially, it appeared that the FBI was taking strong action against terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1986 Congress authorized the FBI to investigate anti-American terrorism abroad; in 1989 Congress authorized the FBI to arrest people abroad without the consent of the host country. (pp. 109-111.) Louis Freeh (Director of the FBI, 1993-2001) established a Counterterrorism Division in the FBI, created a five year plan for counterterrorism (1998), multiplied the number of “legal attaches” abroad and urged them to co-operate with the local CIA stations.

The reality was very different. First, the FBI grants a lot of autonomy to each of its 56 Special Agents in Charge (SACs) to run their field offices; assesses performance on the basis of conventional crime statistics; rewards the “office of origin” for success in operations that involve more than one field office; and promotes on the basis of performance. Hence, FBI agents had powerful disincentives to investigate terrorism or espionage, or to co-operate with an investigation in a different field office. (pp. 108-109.)

The tendency toward local autonomy was strongly reinforced by Louis Freeh’s tenure as Director of the FBI (1993-2001). Moreover, Freeh never forced the re-allocation of budget resources to s upport counterterrorism and never forced the field offices to actually direct their efforts toward combating terrorism. This showed up in the hiring and deployment of analysts, the allocation of agents to intelligence and counterterrorism work, and the failure to create an effective system of information processing and communication with regard to terrorism. (pp. 111-114.)

What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXIV.

At about 9:45 the President told the Vice President that “We’re at war… somebody’s going to pay.” (p. 61.) According to Richard Clarke, on the evening of 12 September 2001 President Bush told him to “See if Saddam did this. See if he’s linked in any way.” (p. 478.)

 

In a Principals meeting on 13 September 2001 the group “concluded that if Pakistan decided not to help [deal with al Qaeda and the Taliban], it too would be at risk.” Richard Armitage then gave the ambassador from Pakistan and the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service a list of American requirements that same day. (p. 473.) Pakistan immediately (that same day) agreed with the American requests. (p. 474.)

 

On 9/11 the Chairman of the Joint-Chiefs, General Hugh Shelton, was out of the country. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld therefore worked closely with the Vice Chairman, General Richard Myers. (p. 59.) On the afternoon of 9/11, Rumsfeld told Myers that his instinct was to attack Saddam Hussein as well as Bin Laden. Rumsfeld explained to the Commission investigators that he considered it possible that either one of them was responsible for the attack. (pp. 478-479.)  In a conference of leading officials late on 11 September 2001, “Secretary Rumsfeld urged the President and the principals to think broadly about who might have harbored the attackers, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, and Iran. He wondered aloud how much evidence the United States would need in order to deal with these countries, pointing out that major strikes could take up to 60 days to assemble.” (p. 472.) NB: Decide who you are going to hit, get the preparations going, then turn to looking for evidence so that you can act as soon as you lay the evidence out in the court of international public opinion.

Between 12 and 14 September 2001 the Defense Department prepared a paper for inclusion in the briefing book for the Camp David meeting. This paper argued that al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Iraq formed the most pressing targets in the war on terrorism. Iraq was linked to support for terrorism and to the quest for WMDs. (p. 479.)

On the week-end of 15-16 September 2001 Bush brought his war council to Camp David. According to Condaleeza Rice, at the first session Rumsfeld asked what should be done about Iraq and Wolfowitz argued in favor of hitting Iraq during “this round” of the war on terrorism. (p. 478.)   According to Colin Powell, “Paul [Wolfowitz] was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with. And he saw this as one way of using this event as a way to deal with the Iraq problem.” (Quoted, p. 479.) Wolfowitz’s views did not prevail in the discussion. President Bush subsequently told Bob Woodward that the council decided against attacking Iraq in the first session on the morning of 15 September 2110. (pp. 479-480.)

Wolfowitz is not a guy to take “No” for an answer. On 17 September 2001 he sent Rusmfeld a memo in which he reviewed Saddam Hussein’s record of supporting terrorism and the theories that Ramzi Yousef had been an Iranian agent. He concluded by arguing that Saddam Hussein should be eliminated even if there was only a ten percent chance of Iraq’s involvement in the attacks. (p. 480.) On 18 September 2001 Wolfowitz sent Rumsfeld another memo or a note adding the information that Ramzi Yousef’s co-conspirator in the Manila plot had also talked about crashing a plane into CIA headquarters. (p. 480.)

On 18 September 2001 Clarke sent to Rice a memo on a “Survey of Intelligence Information on Any Iraqi Involvement in the September 11 Attacks.” Clarke found no compelling evidence of Iraqi involvement and several reasons why Iraq and al Qaeda would not cooperate. (p. 478.)

What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXIII.

The first thing to say is that the suddenness of the attacks overwhelmed all concerned, both in the air and on the ground. The seizures of the planes took place between 15 and 45 minutes after take-off. The planes crashed between 20 and 45 minutes after seizure. The attackers were eager to get it done. The planes were seized over the course of about an hour and a quarter. People on the ground became aware that hijackings underway over the course of an hour and thirteen minutes. (Even before being informed of the fourth hijacking, FAA’s Command Center ordered a nationwide “ground stop.” That is, everyone was ordered to get their planes on the ground as soon as possible and no more flights were allowed to take off.) The planes crashed over the course of an hour and seventeen minutes. This prevented an effective response.

What would have constituted an “effective response”? Shooting down the first three planes before they hit their targets. Fomenting revolts by cell-phone on the first three planes on the grounds that “you’re all going to die anyway.”

The second thing to say is that there was some confusion on the ground. Thus, AA 11 hit the World Trade Center at 8:46 AM. At 9:16 was AA HQ aware that AA 11 had hit the WTC.

At 9:20, FAA HQ informed the Boston Air Traffic Control (ATC) Center that AA 11 was still airborne. At 9:21, Boston ATC Center informed North American Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that AA 11 was still airborne and headed for Washington. Thus, between 8:56 and 9:05, a radar glitch left Indianapolis ATC Center blind to real position of AA 77. Indianapolis ATC assumed that the plane had crashed. Meanwhile, by 9:05, AA HQ had become aware that AA 77 had been hijacked. Between 9:05 and 9:10, AA 77 reappeared on Indianapolis radar headed east. However, observers had stopped looking for it because it was believed to have crashed and they did not notice it. It flew east for another 36 minutes undetected. Thus, only at 9:34 did the FAA informally—almost accidentally–advise NEADS that AA 77 was missing. At 9:36 NEADS was informed that there is a fast-moving, unidentified aircraft in-bound toward Washington. At 9:37 AA 77 hit the Pentagon.

The American Air Traffic Control system is not a battlefield management system. It does something else.

The third thing to say is that the federal bureaucracy appears to promote people based on their ability to follow established procedures, with a bias toward not getting people riled up. In the case of AA 11, the first plane seized, between 8:25 and 8:32 the Boston ATC Center notified the chain of command above that a plane had been hijacked. At 8:32, the FAA Command Center, Herndon, VA, informed FAA HQ of the hijacking. However, FAA HQ did not inform National Military Command Center (NMCC) as protocol required. On the other hand, between 8:34 and 8:38, the Boston ATC Center by-passed the established protocol and directly contacted NEADS. By 8:38, Boston ATC notified NEADS of hijacking.

Between 8:38 and 8:46, NEADS obtained approval from the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) to scramble the fighters. At 8:46, NEADS ordered fighter jets from Otis AFB to “scramble” (get in the air ASAP). This was the same moment that AA 11 hit the WTC North Tower. By 8:53, the NEAD jets from Otis were airborne.

There is a certain resemblance between the Boston ATC people bypassing procedure to directly contact NEADS and the improvised manhunt for al Qaeda terrorists already in the United States conducted in Summer 2001 by junior officers at CIA and FBI. Never buck anything up the line because someone will say “No.”

What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXII.

Back in the 1990s both the FBI and the Federal Aviation Authority became concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks on US airlines. The chief concern of the security officials was that someone might buy a ticket, check luggage containing a time-bomb, and then not board the flight (allowing some anxious college student traveling stand-by to heave a sigh of relief and rush to take the seat suddenly made available). To address this problem, a Computer-Assisted-Passenger-Pre-Screening (CAPPS) system was created. The system cross-checked names of passengers against security “watch lists.” If a passenger name appeared on a “watch list,” the passenger’s checked luggage was held off the plane until the passenger had actually boarded the plane and could be screened for explosives. No supplementary examination of the passenger took place.

CAPPS formed the chief line of defense for the airlines on 11 September 2001.

Airlines and government security officials did not anticipate either suicide bombings or hijackers turning the planes themselves into cruise missiles. Was there any basis for anticipating such acts?

A dozen airliners were hijacked in the 1960s; 42 were hijacked in the 1970s; 24 were hijacked in the 1980s; 16 had been hijacked in the 1990s; and 6 were hijacked in 2000 or early 2001. It would have been easy to assume that this problem was well on its way to being controlled. Occasionally–once in 1987, once in 1988, and twice in 1994–there had been failed attempts to seize an airliner to use as a cruise missile against a building. In 1991 Shamil Besaev, a leader of the Chechen opposition to Russia, had hijacked a jet.

In 1983 Hezbollah suicide bombers had attacked the American embassy, and the U.S. Marine and French barracks in Beirut. About fifty other suicide attacks followed.

Between 1987 and 2000 the Tamil Tigers carried out many perhaps as many as 175 suicide bombings.

Between July 1989 and December 2000 Hamas and Palestinian Jihad had carried out 28 suicide attacks directed against Israel. The attacks had killed 170 people. Between January and August 2001, Hamas and Palestinian Jihad had conducted 26 suicide attacks directed against Israel. The attacks had killed 52 people. So, a sudden spike in suicide attacks.

In Summer 2000, Chechen suicide attacks on Russian troops took place in the North Caucasus region. These were ordered by Shamil Basaev.

Most pertinently, Al Qaeda had used suicide bombers to attack the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 and the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000.

That amounts to a lot of disparate pieces of the jig-saw puzzle to put together.

Boston: American 11 and United 175. In Portland, Maine, boarding his connecting flight to Logan Airport, Mohamed Atta had been identified by CAPPS as subject to special security precautions: his checked luggage was held aside until it was confirmed that he had boarded the plane. (p. 4.) At Logan, three other members of his team were identified by CAPPS and the same restriction on loading luggage was applied. (p. 5.)

Washington Dulles: American 77. Three members of the hijacking team were selected by CAPPS; two others were picked out by a suspicious counter agent. All five had their checked luggage held off the plane until it was confirmed that they had boarded the plane. (pp. 5-6.)

Newark: United 93. One of the hijacking team members was selected by CAPPS. His checked bag was checked for explosives, then loaded on the plane when none were detected. (p. 7.)

What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXI.

The rising concern about terrorist attacks in Spring 2001 intersected a knowledge of Midhar’s travels in southeast Asia on the part of a CIA officer, called “John” by the Commission. On 15 May 2001 and in conjunction with a CIA superior, “John” milled through a lot of cables from early 2000 to discover what had become of Midhar. He figured out that Midhar had been in touch with Khallad, that Khallad was a “major league killer,” and that Midhar had come to the US over a year before.

The CIA superior dropped the issue at this point, but “John” contacted a CIA analyst, called “Dave” by the Commission, for help in analyzing what the cables might mean. “Dave” was involved in the investigation of the bombing of the Cole; one of his associates in this project was an FBI analyst, called “Jane” by the Commission.

“Dave” seems to have shared the concerns of “John” about Khallad with “Jane.” “Jane,” in turn, knew that Khallad had been in touch with Fahd al Quso, who had been interviewed by FBI agents from New York. “Dave” set up a meeting between himself, “Jane,” an FBI analyst detailed to the CIA’s Bin Ladin unit, called “Mary” by the Commission, and the agents. “John” gave “Dave” copies of the photos identified by the joint FBI/CIA source in Yemen as Midhar and Khallad to show to the FBI agents. The meeting, on 11 June 2001, was a disaster in the sense that “Jane” believed that she was not allowed to reveal any information about the reason the photos were taken (subjects linked to Middle Eastern terrorism) and “Dave” was barred from revealing CIA information to outsiders. (pp. 384-387.)

Undeterred when he learned of these failures to communicate, “John” persuaded “Mary” to review all the material herself. However, “John” had no authority to make this a real assignment, so he cozened her into doing it in her “spare time.” “Mary” agreed, but had no “spare time” until 24 July 2001.

In little snatches of time between 24 July and 22 August 2001 “Mary” discovered that the known jihadist Midhar had obtained a visa to come to the United States in January 2000, that he had listed New York as his destination, that the CIA had reported that Hazmi, another known jihadist, was flown to Los Angeles in January 2000, and that Midhar had come to the United States in January 2000, then left in June 2000, then re-entered the country on 4 July 2001. “Mary” and “Jane” conferred. “Mary” then got the CIA’s Bin Ladin unit to request that Midhar and Hazmi be placed on the State Department’s watchlist so that they would be spotted if they passed through Customs (24 August 2001).

“Jane” talked over the issues with “John” in an effort to decide whether the search for Midhari and Hazmi should be treated as an intelligence matter or as a criminal matter. This may have delayed the message being sent until 28 August 2001.

“Jane” asked the New York field office of the FBI to try to find Midhar and Hamzi if they were still in the United States; the agent bucked the request up the line to his supervisor; the supervisor immediately kicked it to an “intelligence” FBI agent (on one side of the “wall”), to the Cole investigators (on the other side of the “wall”), and to an FBI agent who had been hunting KSM (just in case it made a useful connection). (pp. 387-388.) NB: “It appears that no one informed the higher levels of management in either the FBI or CIA about the case.” (p. 389.) See what happened with the hijackings.

The Cole agents tried to follow up with “Jane” through direct communications in order to obtain more information, but she invoked the rules barring contact between “intelligence” and “criminal” investigators. This enraged the Cole investigators, who were obviously trying to by-pass the regulations in what is probably common practice, because it shut them out of the investigation.

The hunt for Midhar then fell to a single, greenhorn counter-intelligence agent in the New York field office. Unsurprisingly, he failed to catch up with them before 11 September 2001. (pp. 390-31.)

 

What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XX.

The FBI had treated the USS Cole bombing in August 2000 as a criminal case and had sent agents to Yemen to conduct the investigation. Here they had the assistance of the CIA. A joint FBI/CIA source described someone named “Khallad,” who had directed the bombing. Four months later (December 2000), another conspirator being interrogated mentioned knowing a man named Khallad, who was a senior agent of OBL. The same FBI agent seems to have been informed of both conversations and made the connection. He got a photo of the man believed to have directed the Cole attack and had the person identified by the captured conspirator as Khallad. This established a connection between the Cole attack and OBL.

Kicking the issue around in December 2000, the CIA’s Bin Ladin unit wondered if “Khallad” was Khalid al Midhar. In January 2001 a surveillance photo of Midhar taken in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000 was shown to the source who had identified “Khallad” as the leader of the Cole attack. The source denied that Midhar was “Khallad”; instead, “Khallad” was the other man in the photo. This meant that Midhar was in touch with an important subordinate of OBL and that Midhar had been in the United States for a year.

However, the FBI agent present for this interview spoke no foreign languages and had to depend on the accompanying CIA agent to conduct the interview.   The FBI agent merely received a report from which the identification of Khallad with Midhar had been omitted. Thus, in January 2000 the CIA had failed to inform the FBI that Midhar, a suspected terrorist, had departed from Bangkok for Los Angeles; in January 2001 the CIA failed to inform the FBI that Midhar had links to Islamic terrorists implicated in major terrorist attacks against the United States. (pp. 382- 384.)