Foreknowledge and failure: what was once unthinkable is now considered obvious: The federal government had advance warning of the September 11th suicide hijack plot and failed to prevent it. (Cover Story: Terrorism).
In a memo written and hand-delivered to FBI Director Robert Mueller in May, whistleblower Coleen Rowley, chief attorney for the Minneapolis FBI office, described how the Bureau's headquarters worked to "deliberately sabotage" the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, a suspected conspirator in the September 11th attack. According to Rowley, "HQ personnel never disclosed to the Minneapolis agents that the Phoenix division had, only approximately three weeks earlier, warned of al-Qaeda operatives in flight schools seeking flight training for terrorist purposes!"
"Why would an FBI agent(s) deliberately sabotage a case?" wrote Rowley. After seeing their investigative efforts collide with roadblocks set up by FBI headquarters, frustrated field agents in Minneapolis bitterly joked that key officials in Washington "had to be spies or moles ... working for Osama bin Laden."
When THE NEW AMERICAN first examined the case for prior knowledge of the attack, there was little if any appetite on the part of the American public to examine the issues we raised. (See "Could We Have Prevented the Attacks?" and "Did We Know What Was Coming?" in our issues for November 5, 2001, and March 11, 2002.) Thanks to a series of dramatic disclosures, capped by Rowley's breathtaking memo, what was deemed unthinkable mere weeks ago is now considered obvious: Washington had detailed advance warning of the suicide hijack plot -- and failed to prevent it.
The Long Train of Errors
In our March 11th report, we concluded: "[T]he feds knew no later than June  that an attack from bin Laden was coming. By August it had identified several key co-conspirators, and had one in custody." One active counter-intelligence agent told us that detailed information about the planned attack "came from some of [the Bureau's] most experienced guys.... In some cases, these field agents predicted, almost precisely, what happened on September 11th. So we were all holding our breath hoping that the situation would be remedied."
We described the case of bin Laden operative Hani Hanjour, who had come to the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) while studying at the Pan Am International Flight Academy in Phoenix. Concerned about Hanjour's inability to speak English, the international language of aviation, flight school officials contacted the FAA. After sending an observer to Hanjour's class, the FAA intervened -- by insisting that the flight school find an Arabic translator to help the terrorist understand his training.
Our cover story also pointed out that FBI agents in Minnesota asked for, but did not receive, a national security warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui's residence. Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, was arrested while training at a flight school in Eagan, Minnesota. He had prompted misgivings on the part of his instructor by his evasiveness, belligerence, and complete unsuitability to be a pilot -- and for peculiar comments suggesting that he intended to use a jumbo jet as a bomb. His instructor called the FBI, warning that Moussaoui "wants training on a 747. A 747 fully loaded with fuel could be used as a weapon!"
Federal officials collected these substantial clues following pointed warnings that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network planned a spectacular attack on America. In our March 11th cover story we recalled Attorney General John Ashcroft's warning last June that "Americans are a high-priority target for terrorists." This roughly coincided with a remarkably detailed warning issued to airline industry personnel on June 23rd that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network posed an immediate threat to American civilian aviation.
These warnings came in the wake of a June 21st story carried by the Arabic-language MBC satellite television network in which a reporter who had interviewed bin Laden predicted: "a severe blow is expected against U.S. and Israeli interests worldwide. There is a major state of mobilization among the Osama bin Laden forces. It seems that there is a race of who will strike first. Will it be the United States or Osama bin Laden?"
Subsequent disclosures have validated our earlier reports -- and added some critical details:
* While on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on August 6th, President Bush received a CIA briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." That report predicted an attempt by al-Qaeda terrorists to hijack civilian jetliners to "bring the fight to America...."
* In July 2001, Kenneth Williams, a highly regarded 1.1-year veteran of the FBI's counter-terrorism division stationed in Phoenix, sent a memo to headquarters urging an investigation to determine if al-Qaeda operatives were studying at U.S. flight schools. Hani Hanjour, the al-Qaeda terrorist believed to have piloted American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, had studied at the Pan Am Flight School in Phoenix, where he had come to the attention of the FAA.
* In its May 15th story, the New York Times noted that Zacarias Moussaoui "had told the school's instructors that he wanted to train on a flight simulator trip from Heathrow Airport in London to Kennedy Airport in New York. Based on that information, one [FBI] agent speculated in an internal meeting last August that ... Moussaoui might have intended to crash a plane into the [World] Trade Center...."
* The Wall Street Journal reported on May 20th: "A week before the September 11th attack, investigators told the Federal Aviation Administration that student-pilot Zacarias Moussaoui had been arrested and was under investigation as a potential terrorist with a particular interest in flying Boeing 747s. But the agency decided against warning U.S. airlines to increase security." "Nothing [the FBI] told us was evidence that there was an imminent threat and as a result we issued no bulletins to the airlines or airports," explained FAA spokesman Scott Brenner. "All we knew was he was in jail. As a result of him being in jail, we did not think a threat was imminent."
* In a May 16th White House briefing, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice also insisted that the administration's foreknowledge was not specific: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile...."
In fact, an eerily prescient 1999 Library of Congress report on terrorism predicted that terrorists would make precisely that use of hijacked aircraft. Entitled The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist, and Why?, the report predicted: "Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives ... into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House. [al-Qaeda terrorist] Ramzi Yousef had planned to do this against the CIA headquarters." This would be done, the report speculated, in retaliation for the August 1998 cruise missile attack on al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan (timed to coincide with Monica Lewinsky's Grand Jury testimony). The report predicted that "al Qaida's retaliation [may take the form of] bombing one or more U.S. airliners with time-bombs. Yousef was planning simultaneous bombings of 11 U.S. airliners prior to his capture. Whatever form an attack may take, bi n Laden will most likely retaliate in a spectacular way..."
* With the newest revelations, media interest has been renewed in "Project Bojinka," an al-Qaeda plot to use jetliners as terrorist missiles. Philippine authorities discovered the existence of Project Bojinka in 1995. The FBI was fully briefed on Project Bojinka, as well as a December 1994 plot by Algerian terrorists to use a hijacked jetliner to attack the Eiffel Tower. The May 27th issue of Newsweek notes that a June 1994 "Pentagon-commissioned report conclude[d] that religious terrorists could hijack commercial airliners and crash them into the Pentagon or the White House." (Indeed, that same month saw publication of Tom Clancy's novel Debt of Honor, which concludes with a kamikaze strike on the U.S. Capitol building using a jumbo jet.)
As public outrage grew over these disclosures, Vice President Cheney insisted that "there wasn't anything out there that would have allowed us to predict what was going to happen" on September 11th. Speaking on the May 19th edition of NBC's "Meet the Press," Mr. Cheney expressed "a deep sense of anger that anyone would suggest that the president of the United States had advance knowledge that he failed to act on. I thought it was beyond the pale."
In a peculiar way, the vice president has a point. It is unreasonable to believe that the president "failed to act on" the detailed warnings he received. In fact, evidence exists that the administration took extraordinary precautions to deal with the threat of terrorism -- on behalf of high-ranking government officials.
A CBS story filed on June 26, 2001 described how Attorney General John Ashcroft, acting on a recommendation from his security detail, "was traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines." When the network inquired about the policy, the Justice Department "cited what it called a 'threat assessment' by the FBI, and said Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term."
So even though the Americans who boarded the four doomed airliners on September 11th had been kept in the dark about the terrorist threat, the feds had already taken steps to keep Attorney General Ashcroft out of harm's way.
Stephen Push, whose wife died when terrorists plunged Flight 77 into the Pentagon, put the matter succinctly: "My wife, had she known, would not have taken that flight." Push's comments were offered in reaction to the news that the president had received warnings in August of a bin Laden plot to hijack American airliners. Continued Push: "It's shameful that they know as much as they did and didn't warn anyone." That is, they didn't warn anyone outside the privileged confines of the executive branch.
Extraordinary security measures deployed during the July 2001 G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, also underscore the Bush administration's awareness of a potential threat from bin Laden's suicide-bombers. The administration acted to protect itself and its partners among the international elite. In recent years, G-8 summits, like meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, have been besieged by "anti-globalization" protests - malodorous Marxist mobs whose actual purpose is to advance global socialism in the guise of opposing global capitalism. (See "Globalization's False Opposition" in our May 20th issue.) While security personnel in Genoa did make provisions for the leftist rent-a-mob, their larger concern was the possibility of a bin Laden strike.
The London Guardian reported on July 11th that "Italy has installed a missile defense system at Genoa's airport to deter airborne attacks during next week's G-8 summit.... A land-based battery of rockets with a range of nine miles and an altitude of 5,000 feet has been positioned...." With the missile battery in place, "unidentified planes, helicopters and balloons risk being shot down should they drift too close to the heads of state," warned the report.
Prior to the summit, Time magazine reported that "European security services are preparing to counter a Bin Laden attempt to assassinate President Bush at next month's G8 summit in Genoa, Italy. According to German intelligence sources, the plot involved Bin Laden paying German neo-Nazis to fly remote controlled-model aircraft packed with Semtex into the conference hall and blow the leaders of the industrialized world to smithereens." The plot was reportedly disclosed during interrogation of bin Laden-connected Islamic militants arrested in Milan and Frankfurt shortly before the summit.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini confirmed the terrorism warning, but offered a slightly different account of the alleged plot. In comments reported by the Italian news agency ANSA following 9-11, Fini recalled that "there was the possibility of an attack against the U.S. president using an airliner. That's why we closed the airspace and installed the missiles. Those who made cracks should now think a little."
This disclosure should provoke the following thought: In the months leading up to Black Tuesday, the Bush administration undertook extraordinary measures to protect its highest officials from precisely the kind of attack that claimed the lives of thousands of civilians on that terrible morning.
Six days after 9-11, FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters that "there were no warning signs that I'm aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country." In fact, the FBI, as we have seen, was given specific warnings about precisely the type of attack that took place on September 11th. In post-September 11th testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director George Tenet claimed that the Agency had known "in broad terms" that terrorists might be planning major operations in the United States, but he insisted that the reports lacked "texture" -- meaning enough specific information -- to stop what happened. But the Agency knew enough to warn National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on June 28th that a "significant al-Qaeda attack" in the near future was "highly likely" -- and to refine that warning into a prediction of a U.S. civilian aviation hijacking in the August 6th briefing for President Bush.
Given the extent of prior knowledge, why hasn't anyone been held responsible? Shouldn't CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and other high-profile figures in the intelligence community resign, as a matter of principle? And shouldn't Congress conduct in-depth inquests regarding the consummate failure of our "national security" establishment to protect our
"Look at all of the investigations that have been held to examine the Enron collapse, a financial thing," Kathy Ashton, whose 21-year-old son Tommy was among the victims killed at the World Trade Center, commented to Newsweek. "Why, eight months later, are we not investigating the mass murder of 3,000 human beings on American soil by an enemy of the United States that was enabled to carry out this mass murder because many agencies in this country dropped the ball?"
Retired undercover agent Michael Levine knows the labyrinth of federal law-enforcement from the inside. For 25 years, Levine served as a "deep cover" specialist for four federal agencies, eventually becoming the most highly decorated undercover agent in the history of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Levine told THE NEW AMERICAN: "What happened last September is something that land a lot of my friends and contacts in federal law enforcement had seen coming -- and it's going to happen again, unless people are held responsible and the problems are fixed."
"Four years ago, on my 'Expert Witness' radio program, I brought together four of America's top covert operatives -- with a combined total of more than 100 years, frontline, international experience with CIA, FBI and DEA -- who had tried to warn America that there was 'massive ineptitude' in our nation's frontline defenses in the war on terrorism," Levine recalled to THE NEW AMERICAN. "The specific conclusion of our discussion was that unless Congress took immediate action America was vulnerable to terrorist acts that would 'defy the imagination.' The problems we discussed in that program -- such as a lack of qualified law enforcement personnel capable of handling human intelligence, a refusal by the FBI to share its intelligence with state and local police departments, and an emphasis on public relations over sound police work -- persist to this day."
Levine emphasized that if the FBI had been required to notify local police about the leads it had gathered before 9-11, "it is possible that the whole thing could have been prevented." Rather than deferring to the primary role of local police in criminal investigations, however, the national security establishment has reacted to Black Tuesday by absorbing even greater powers and devouring an even larger portion of the federal budget -- while carefully insulating its most prominent bureaucratic officials from hostile scrutiny. "Neither Congress nor the media is willing to hurt any of the bureaucratic egos in the FBI or CIA," Levine commented to THE NEW AMERICAN.
"But unless there's a thorough shake-up and the system is entirely cleaned out, we're going to get clobbered again -- and this time it may involve nuclear weapons."
On this point, Levine agrees with the federal officials he criticizes. In addition to the wave of disclosures of prior knowledge, Bush administration officials, including Vice President Cheney and FBI Director Mueller, warned the public that further terrorist attacks -- including Hamas-style suicide bombings -- are "inevitable." The unspoken but unmistakable message of these warnings is that our federal protectors are too busy defending us against the next attack to assess -- and hold officials responsible for -- the mistakes that led to the last one.
Governments benefit from a peculiar form of "moral hazard": They actually stand to benefit when they fail to carry out their sole legitimate function -- namely, to protect their citizens from murderous foreign aggression. Presiding over such disasters, ruling elites typically react: "We've failed -- so give us more power." Indeed, by piling up evidence of the pre-9-11 intelligence failure, The Powers That Be are depicting the national security system as suffering from inadequate powers and excessive decentralization. The remedy they prescribe is simple: Centralize law enforcement and intelligence in the interest of combating terrorism, and give it even more extensive powers.
Typical of this approach is S. 2452, the "National Homeland Security and Combating Terrorism Act of 2002," which would elevate the Office of Homeland Security to Cabinet status. In addition to exercising powers previously wielded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Cabinet-level "Homeland Security Czar" would "integrate the elements and goals of the [national counter-terrorism] Strategy into the strategies and plans of Federal, State, and local departments and agencies This would effectively make the head of Homeland Security an American "Interior Minister" -- the director of a nationalized police force.
Newsweek essayist Fareed Zakaria, former editor of the Council on Foreign Relations journal Foreign Affairs, offers another version of the emerging party line: What is needed, he opined in the May 27th issue, is "a domestic CIA": "We need a domestic intelligence capability. Every major power in the world has one.... Britain's M.I. 5 and France's Renseignements Generaux can tap phones at will.... In an age of terrorism, when the enemy will often be operating inside America, we can't remain blindfolded."
But the "blindfold" Zakaria refers to is, in a sense, a self-inflicted liability. As THE NEW AMERICAN has warned repeatedly, decades of agitation by radicals and subversive organizations climaxed in the mid-1970s with the abolition of federal, state, and local investigative organs that had carried out our counter-terrorism efforts. Prior to that, our nation was blessed with an effective, multi-layered, and constitutionally sound counter-terrorism apparatus.
Congressional investigative committees gathered evidence on international and domestic terrorist organizations, and conducted valuable security probes of the military and executive branch. With the assistance of the FBI -- which under Director J. Edgar Hoover was primarily an investigative body, rather than an embryonic national police force -- state and municipal police agencies maintained intelligence units that scrutinized subversive groups. And prior to the disastrous immigration reform law of 1965, the federal government took seriously its responsibility to protect the integrity of our borders.
Centralized law enforcement agencies invariably become tools of a ruling elite, protecting the regime rather than the public's rights and property. The intelligence "failure" that presaged 9-11 illustrates this principle at work: Given detailed warnings of impending terrorism, the national security establishment saw to the safety of the ruling elite, while leaving the public in the dark.
Giving new, unaccountable powers to the same federal government that failed us so spectacularly would be not only unwise and counterproductive, it would dishonor the memory of the Americans who died because of our government's delinquency. Citizens across our nation should demand that Congress -- not a make-work "bipartisan commission" -- conduct a genuine inquiry into prior knowledge. It should use its subpoena powers where necessary, and it shouldn't be afraid to ruin careers. We must also make it clear that we will not countenance any effort to reward Washington's culpable negligence by creating a "domestic CIA" or appointing an "Interior Minister."
RELATED ARTICLE: Rowley Memo Rebukes FBI HQ
William Norman Grigg
In her May 21st memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller, FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley took issue with Mueller's proposed reforms of the agency. "Your plans for an FBI Headquarters 'Super Squad' simply fly in the face of an honest appraisal of the FBI's pre-September 11th failures," protests Rowley. The "Super Squad" would be an elite task force deployed to terrorism "hot spots" across the nation. Its findings would be collected and analyzed by a new centralized Office of Intelligence, which would include 25 CIA analysts and would be headed by a CIA official. But as Rowley points out, this arrangement assumes that the Bureau's field agents, rather than headquarters, botched the pre-9-11 probe.
"The Phoenix, Minneapolis and Paris Legal Attache offices reacted remarkably [well], exhibiting keen perception and prioritization skills regarding the terrorist threats they uncovered or were made aware of pre-September 11th," she writes. "The same cannot be said for the FBI Headquarters' bureaucracy and you want to expand that?! Should we put the counterterrorism unit chief and SSA [Senior Special Agent] who previously handled the Moussaoui matter in charge of the new 'Super Squad'?"
While there is obviously a great need for "more and better intelligence and intelligence management," Rowley continues, "you should think carefully about how much gate keeping power should be entrusted with any HQ entity. If we are indeed in a war,' shouldn't the Generals be on the battlefield instead of sitting in a spot removed from the action while still attempting to call the shots?"
This portion of Rowley's memo underscores the desperate need to restore the multi-layered, decentralized, constitutional system of counter-terrorism and counter-subversion organs that existed until recently. Under that system, investigative bodies -- the FBI, the Subversive Activities Control Board, the Justice Department's Internal Security Division, and the House and Senate internal Security Committees -- would gather intelligence on potentially dangerous individuals, movements, and groups, and disseminate that information to state and local police agencies. Municipal police departments in major cities also maintained their own intelligence units.
Under the U.S. Constitution, noted James Madison in The Federalist, No. 45, each state reserves the power to deal with all matters that "concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the state." In 1945, liberal Supreme Court Justice William 0. Douglas wrote: "Our national government is one of delegated powers alone. Under our federal system the administration of criminal justice rests with the states except as Congress, acting within the scope of those delegated powers, has created offenses against the United States." A dissenting opinion in the same case noted that "to have provided for the national government to take over the administration of criminal justice from the states ... would have constituted a break with the past overnight."
That "break with the past" happened incrementally. Invoking a dishonest judicial theory called "incorporation," the High Court expanded federal police powers, while placing handcuffs on state and local law enforcement. At the same time, subversive legal activist groups such as the National Lawyers Guild (a Communist front, according to a congressional committee) and the ACLU agitated to abolish federal intelligence-gathering agencies. By the mid-1970s, many of those agencies were gone; the FBI's counter-terrorism capacity was destroyed; and counter-terrorism efforts by local police departments were effectively handcuffed.
The Rowley memo examines the incompetence and careerism that afflicts the FBI's highest levels. But her most telling observation was her recollection of bitter jokes made by Minneapolis FBI agents that "the key FBI HQ personnel had to be spies or moles, like Robert Hansen [sic], who were actually working for Osama bin Laden to have so undercut Minneapolis' effort." While said in jest, there is legitimate cause for concern that the FBI, CIA, and State Department have been seriously compromised. One immediate priority for any inquiry into-the 9-11 intelligence failure should be full top-down security checks of all U.S. military and security personnel, with a special focus on FBI headquarters personnel.
Congress should also take steps to reverse FBI and CIA mergers with the police and intelligence organs of such terrorist-sponsor states as Russia and China. Since 1994, the FBI has had an agreement with Russia permitting agents of the FSB -- the renamed Soviet KGB -- to train at the Bureau's Quantico academy. This intimate association between our nation's lead counter-terrorism agency and the world's foremost sponsor of international terrorism goes a long way toward explaining why our nation was left so vulnerable last September.
Congress has the means to rebuild our counter-terrorism capacity -- but only if an informed electorate pressures it to do so. Rather than being demoralized by the most recent wave of scandalous disclosures, the American public should demand that our elected representatives -- not the tainted FBI bureaucracy, or a "Blue-Ribbon Commission" staffed with establishment hacks -- purge the FBI, and then proceed with restoring a constitutionally sound internal security system.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Grigg, William Norman|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||Jun 17, 2002|
|Previous Article:||UN court subpoenas reporter. (Insider Report).|
|Next Article:||Court of injustice: while intoning platitudes about ending impunity and advancing the rule of law, advocates of the UN's new ICC are actually...|