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.)

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

The “planes operation” called for a large group of “muscle hijackers” to seize the cockpits of airliners in flight, then bar to door to any rebellious passengers while the smaller number of pilots flew the planes into buildings.

The “muscle hijackers” all obtained new passports in their home countries, then during September, October, and November 2000, obtained visas to enter the United States. (p. 340.) The muscle hijackers were back in Afghanistan from late 2000/early 2001 until Spring 2001. In Afghanistan they were given advanced training on terrorism, much—but not all–of which dealt with seizing control of an airplane in flight. (pp. 341-342.)

In April, May, and June 2001 the muscle hijackers began being moved toward the United States. (pp. 341-342.) In early July 2001 Midhar, the original hijacker who had bailed out for a time, returned to the United States. (p. 344.) Upon arrival in the United States, most of the muscle hijackers were brought to Florida. They seem to have spent their time going to gyms to work out. Thus, the muscle hijackers were in the United States from April through August 2001 at the longest. Three to five months for something to go wrong for al Qaeda; three to five months for the US government to notice something odd about twenty foreigners.

During Spring and Summer 2001 the pilots made several reconnaissance flights. Some of these were across the United States in the same type of planes they would command during the final attack; others were in small aircraft along the “Hudson Corridor” air route that passes Manhattan. (pp. 352-353.) They also did a lot of practice flying in small planes.

In June 2001 UBL pressed KSM to attack in June or July 2001, possibly to coincide with a visit to Washington by Ariel Sharon, but KSM resisted this pressure. (p. 360.) Instead, in July 2001 the “planes operation” had to be postponed until September 2001 because of another glitch (probably the uncertainty over one of the pilits, Zaid Jarrah). (p. 360.) Jarrah differed from the other hijackers in a number of ways and he also resented the domineering Atta; by July 2001 the conflict between the two men aroused concern that Jarrah might back out of the operation. (pp. 352-353.) In late July 2001 Jarrah returned to Germany with a one-way ticket purchased by his girl-friend in Germany.

In early July 2001 Mohammad Atta and Ramzi Binalshibh met in Spain to confer on last details. Atta was trying to co-ordinate four transcontinental air flights that would be departing almost simultaneously from East Coast cities. Moreover, Atta was aware that national leaders were usually on vacation in August and therefore out of Washington, DC. He wanted to delay the attack until early September. (p. 356.) NB: Atta wanted to kill a lot of members of Congress.

On 10 July 2001 Zacarias Moussaoui arranged to take renewed flight training in Egan, Minnesota, with the course scheduled to run from 13 to 20 August 2001. In late July 2001 Binalshibh wire transferred $15,000 to Moussaoui. (p. 354.) On 10 August 2001 Moussaoui left Oklahoma for Minnesota; on 13 August 2001 he began his simulator training, but aroused the suspicion of his instructors; several days later he was arrested by the INS. (pp. 354-355.)

Then things began to move forward for the operation. In the first half of August 2001 Jarrah returned to the United States to assume his place as one of the pilots. Moussaoui was now irrelevant. Between 29 June and 17 September 2000 Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, another nephew of KSM wire-transferred $114,500 in five tranches. (p. 324.) Between 25 August and 5 September 2001 all the plane tickets were purchased. (p. 357.) The attack would come on 11 September 2001.


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

The 9/11 Commission believes that UBL had arranged for someone in the United States to receive Hazmi and Midhar, the first two al Qaeda agents to arrive in the United States. Who were the contacts?

One likely candidate was Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi consul in Los Angeles and an imam at the King Fahd mosque there who is believed to have been an extremist. However, there is no concrete proof. (pp. 313-314.)

The most likely candidate was Mohdar Abdullah, a Yemeni whom jailhouse snitches subsequently claimed had boasted about having foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. (p. 316.) Abdullah drove the two men from Los Angeles to San Diego, served as a translator, helped them get California driver’s licenses, helped them sign up for languages classes and flying lessons, and introduced them to his circle of friends. (pp. 318-319.) Abdullah seems to have helped Hazmi get a job at a gas station where Abdullah worked. (p. 322.)

A third possibility is Yazeed al Salmi, who only came to the United States in July or August 2000. On 5 September 2000 Hazmi deposited $1,900 of al Salmi’s travelers cheques in his own bank account and withdrew the same amount of cash; al Salmi then lived in the same apartment with Hazmi until about October, when he moved in with Abdullah. (p. 322.)

Hazmi and Midhar arrived in Los Angeles on 15 January 2000; by the end of May 2000 they had abandoned the effort to learn to fly. They could not learn English, so they could not take flying lessons. Indeed, Midhar had become homesick and flew back to Yemen to visit his family in early June 2000. Hamzi hung around the mosque, then got a part-time job in a gas station.

The plot did not seem to be going forward. Nevertheless, KSM and OBL were not easily deterred.

A group of Muslim students living in Hamburg, Germany, had become radicalized by some means that still is not clear. In late 1999, fired by a desire to join in “jihad,” four of the group had left Germany for Afghanistan. Here they were recruited by al Qaeda. The intent was to use them for the “planes operation,” but they were not told exactly what their mission would be at this time. By late January 2000 they were back in Hamburg trying to get visas for the United States; in March 2000 Mohammed Atta, the alpha dog in the group, began contacting US flight schools. (pp. 231-245.) The first three of these pilot-candidates arrived in Newark between 29 May and 27 June 2000. They soon settled in Florida, where they signed up for flying lessons. By December 2000 all three had obtained pilot’s licenses and had begun simulator training for flying very large jets. (p. 328.)

Ramzi Binalshibh, the fourth pilot, could not obtain a visa for the US in May and June 2000, so al Qaeda hunted around for a replacement.

One obvious candidate turned out to be Hani Hanjour, a Saudi with an FAA pilot’s license who was discovered to be training in one of the al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in Spring 2000. Between June and 8 December 2000 Hanjour was prepped for his mission, then sent to the United States by way of San Diego. (pp. 326-327.)

For a time, they thought that Zacarias Moussaoui also might serve. He was sent to the United States by KSM in October 2000. (pp. 325-326.) From February to late May 2001 Moussaoui took flying lessons in Norman, Oklahoma, then stopped. (p. 355.)

Between January and October 2000, al Qaeda sent seven candidate-pilots for the “planes operation” to the United States. All entered the country without hindrance.

What we learned from the Report of the 9/11 Commission XVII.

At the end of June the CIA ordered its station chiefs to contact their liaison with host-nation services and to get disruption operations going. (pp. 370-371.) During July and August 2001 disruption operations were carried out in about twenty countries.

On 5 July 2001Clarke called in the security representatives from a bunch of domestic agencies for a security briefing from the CIA. The briefing was not particularly helpful. (pp. 371-372.) On 6 July 2001 the CIA informed Clarke that al Qaeda sources said that the next attack would be “spectacular” and unlike either the embassy bombings or the attack on the USS Cole. (p. 372.)

Then nothing happened. In mid-July 2001 CIA received reports that Bin Laden had been forced to postpone execution of, but had not abandoned, his operation. (pp. 372-373.) On 27 July 2001 Clarke told Rice that reports had stopped coming in, but that he believed that the attack would still come in the near future. (p. 373.)

On 1 August 2001 the Deputies Committee decided that it was legal for the CIA to kill Bin Laden or his henchmen. (p. 306.) On 4 August 2001 Bush wrote to Musharraf again to ask for his assistance against al Qaeda. (p. 299.) On 6 August 2001 President Bush received a Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) from the CIA which reviewed al Qaeda’s commitment to launch attacks against America and which stated that the FBI was investigating al Qaeda operations in the United States. (pp. 374-376.) Then everyone went on vacation for August.

On 4 September 2001 the Principals Committee met on al Qaeda for the first time. They approved the draft presidential directive on dealing with al Qaeda. (p. 308.) This directive established a new policy of giving the Taliban yet another “last chance,” then coercing them with covert aid to all sorts of anti-Taliban elements within Afghanistan, then working to overthrow them if they still would not play ball. (p. 299.) At the Principals Committee, “Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was skittish, cautioning about the implications of trying to kill an individual.” (p. 309.)

On 9 September 2001 two al Qaeda suicide bombers killed Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance.

On 10 September 2001 the Deputies Committee met to work out the last details of the policy approved by the Principals Committee a week before. (p. 299.) Hadley told Tenet to draft the documents authorizing these actions and also authorizing the use of lethal force against al Qaeda leaders. (p. 310.) The Americans had arrived at the decision for decisive action against al Qaeda: the gloves had come off.

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

“Soon after the Cole attack and for the remainder of the Clinton administration, analysts stopped distributing written reports about who was responsible.” (p. 279.) In the 25 November 2000 memo from Clarke and Berger to President Clinton, the National Security Advisor described the presumption of Bin Laden’s role as an “unproven assumption.” (p. 281.) On 21 December 2000 a CIA briefing said that there was strong circumstantial evidence of al Qaeda involvement in the attack, but nothing concrete. (p. 281.) Clinton and Berger have said subsequently that the president could not take the country to war or deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban or risk killing a bunch of civilians on the basis of such foggy judgments. George Tenet has said that he didn’t realize that the White House was waiting on a definite judgment from the CIA. Clarke suspects that the White House “didn’t really want to know” who was responsible because they wanted to concentrate on a last minute push for peace in the Middle East. (p. 282.) NB: The sort of thing that would get Clinton a Nobel Peace Prize and rehabilitate his “legacy” after the Lewinsky scandal. Tenet obviously playing along.


The Election of November 2000 didn’t do political comity or policy implementation any good. Of course, I haven’t seen that anyone asked Al Gore what he thought of Richard Clark or his stance on terrorism. I suppose it could have been him reading to a class of schoolchildren.

Between the election of 7 November 2000 and the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling much of the attention of the nation focused on the political and legal struggles attending the disputed presidential election. Moreover, the long struggle cut by half the normal transition period between administrations. (p. 285.)


The Bush Administration brought little change to the personnel involved in counterterrorism policy: Tenet remained DCI, Cofer Black remained head of the Counterterrorism Center, Louis Freeh remained Director of the FBI until June 2001, Dale Watson remained FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, Hugh Shelton remained Chairman of the JCS, and Clarke remained National Counterterrorism Coordinator. (p. 289.)

However, gaps existed. Brian Sheridan, the Clinton administration’s assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, departed on 20 January 2001 and was not replaced before 11 September 2001. (p. 300.) John Ashcroft, the new Attorney General, knew little, if anything, about terrorism and was more committed to the traditional law enforcement targets of drugs and organized crime. (pp. 302-303.)

In foreign policy the new Republican administration wanted to concentrate on “China, missile defense, the collapse of the Middle East peace process, and the Persian Gulf.” (p. 288.) In defense policy, the leaders wanted to concentrate on a new military strategy and force structure for the 21st century. (p. 300.)

On 29 December 2000 the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center put out a forward-looking memorandum on dealing with Afghanistan-based terrorism. Clarke adopted some of the CIA’s idea in his own memo early in the new year. The plan recommended a long-term effort (3-5 years) for dealing with al Qaeda; proposed to support both the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks as a way of eroding Taliban support for al Qaeda; recommended more Predator flights once the weather improved in March 2001; and contemplated military action. (pp. 284-285.)  None of this aimed at scorching snakes right this instant.

What we learned from the report of the 911 Commission XII

On 12 October 2000, an al Qaeda team staged a suicide bombing against the American warship, the USS Cole while it was at anchor in the Yemen port of Aden. The attack killed 17 American sailors.

Although the CIA “described initial Yemeni support after the Cole [bombing] as ‘slow and inadequate,’…the Yemenis provided strong evidence connecting the Cole attack to al Qaeda during the second half of November, identifying individual operatives whom the United States knew were part of al Qaeda. During December the United States was able to corroborate this evidence. But the United States did not have evidence about Bin Laden’s personal involvement in the attacks until Nashiri[1] and Khallad[2] were captured in 2002 and 2003.” (p. 278.)

The Yemenis arrested two of the surviving members of the Cole team; extracted from them the names and descriptions of Nashiri, their immediate commander, and Khallad, the liaison who came from Afghanistan; and suggested to the Americans (correctly) that Khallad was actually Tawfiq bin Attash. (p. 277.) Both Nashiri and Khallad were known to the Americans to have been involved in the 1998 embassy bombings, for which al Qaeda had claimed credit, and to be linked to al Qaeda. (p. 278.) An FBI special agent participating in the investigation recognized the name Khallad as someone described by an al Qaeda source as Bin Laden’s “run boy.” In mid-December 2000 the Americans’ al Qaeda source identified a photograph of Khallad obtained from the Yemenis as Bin Laden’s agent. (pp. 277-278.)

Moreover, the 12 October 2000 “attack on the USS Cole galvanized al Qaeda’s recruitment efforts.” [OBL ordered production of a propaganda video that highlighted the attack on the Cole.] “Al Qaeda’s image was very important to Bin Laden, and the video was widely disseminated… and caused many extremists to travel to Afghanistan for training and jihad. Al Qaeda members considered the video an effective tool in their struggle for pre-eminence among other Islamist and jihadist movements.” (p. 276.) [NB: Al Qaeda appeared to be claiming responsibility for the attack. How could the CIA still waver over identifying OBL as the originator of the attack on the Cole?]

In mid-November 2000 Sandy Berger asked Hugh Shelton to review plans for military action against Bin Laden. On 25 November 2000 Berger and Clarke wrote to President Clinton to inform him that the investigation would soon show that the Cole attack had been launched by a terrorist cell whose leaders belonged to al Qaeda and whose members had trained in al Qaeda facilities; the memo also sketched out a “final ultimatum” to the Taliban being pushed by Clarke. (pp. 280-281.)




[1] Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (1965- ). Saudi Arabian. One of the “Arab Afghans” who fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Eventually aligned with Osama bin Laden. Captured by the CIA in 2002. Reportedly “waterboarded” during interrogation. Currently being held at Guantanamo.

[2] Walid Muhammad Salih bin Roshayed bin Attash (1979- ).  Yemeni immigrant to Saudi Arabia.  Another “Arab Afghan.”  Became very close to Osam bin Laden.  Captured in 2003.

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.