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UQ Wire: September 11 Should Have Been Stopped

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Unanswered Questions : Thinking for ourselves.

September 11 Should Have Been Stopped

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 25 March 2004


"No one anticipated the kinds of strikes that took place in New York and at the Pentagon."
- 'The 9/11 Debate,' Washington Post editorial, 03-24-04

That line from the Washington Post has been repeated ad nauseam by other newspapers, and across radio and television. It has achieved the status of bedrock conventional wisdom, of something axiomatic. These statements are a paraphrase of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who said on May 17th, 2002, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile - a hijacked airplane as a missile."

This kind of thinking elevates the attacks to something mythical, a magic trick, an act of God that no mere mortal could possibly have interfered with or anticipated. In fact, it was an operation planned for years by men who left clear tracks. As such, it could have been stopped. It should have been stopped. Saying so, however, interferes with the cultivation of a national attitude of vengeful victimhood, an attitude the Bush administration is actively promoting for its own benefit and political protection. Surely we were victims of terrorism on September 11, but was this unavoidable? Are the Washington Post, Condoleezza Rice and others correct in stating that no one anticipated these kinds of attacks?

The facts say no.

Ramzi Yousef was one of the planners and participants in the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Yousef's right-hand man, Abdul Hakim Murad, was captured and interrogated in 1995. During that interrogation, Murad described a detailed plot to hijack airplanes and use them as weapons of terrorism. The primary plan was to commandeer eleven commercial planes and blow them up over the Pacific Ocean. The secondary plan was to hijack several planes, which would be flown into CIA headquarters, the World Trade Center, the Sears Tower, the White House and a variety of other targets.

Ramzi Yousef eluded capture until his final apprehension in Pakistan. During his 1997 trial, the plot described by Murad resurfaced. FBI agents testified in the Yousef trial that, "The plan targeted not only the CIA, but other U.S. government buildings in Washington, including the Pentagon."

In 1993, the same year as the first World Trade Center attack, a $150,000 study was undertaken by the Pentagon to investigate the possibility of airplanes being used as bombs. A draft document of this was circulated throughout the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The circulation of the report was timely.

In 1994, a disgruntled Federal Express employee invaded the cockpit of a DC10 with the intention of crashing it into a company building. Again in 1994, a pilot crashed a small airplane into a tree on the White House grounds, narrowly missing the building itself. Also in 1994, an Air France flight was hijacked by members of a terrorist organization called the Armed Islamic Group, who intended to crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower.

The 1993 Pentagon report was followed up in September 1999 by a report titled 'The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism.' This report was prepared for the American intelligence community by the Federal Research Division, an adjunct of the Library of Congress. The report stated, "Suicide bombers belonging to Al Qaida's martyrdom battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA, or the White House."

Abdul Hakim Murad described plans to use hijacked commercial airplanes as weapons in 1995. Ramzi Yousef's trial further exposed the existence of these plans in 1997. Two reports prepared by the American government, one from 1993 and another from 1999, further detailed again the existence and danger of these plots. The Federal Express employee's hijacking attempt in 1994, the attempted airplane attack on the White House in 1994, and the hijacking of the Air France flight in 1994 by terrorists intending to fly the plane into the Eiffel Tower, provided a glaring underscore to the data.

No one anticipated the use of airplanes as weapons before September 11? Given the facts, the claim from Condoleezza Rice, carried forward to today by the mainstream media, seems impossible to believe.

We come, next, to priorities.

A mission statement from the internal FBI Strategic Plan, dated 5/8/98, describes the FBI's Tier One priority as 'counterterrorism.' The FBI, under the Clinton administration, was making counterterrorism its highest priority. The official annual budget goals memo from Attorney General Janet Reno to department heads, dated 4/6/00, detailed how counterterrorism was her top priority for the Department of Justice. In the second paragraph, she states, "In the near term as well as the future, cybercrime and counterterrrorism are going to be the most challenging threats in the criminal justice area. Nowhere is the need for an up-to-date human and technical infrastructure more critical."

Contrast this with the official annual budget goals memo from Attorney General Ashcroft, dated 5/10/01, which directly compares to the 4/6/00 Reno memo. Out of seven strategic goals described, not one mentions counterterrorism. An internal draft of the Department of Justice's plans to revamp the official Department of Justice Strategic Plan, dated 8/9/01, describes Ashcroft's new priorities for the Department of Justice. The areas Ashcroft wished to focus on were highlighted in yellow. Specifically highlighted by Ashcroft were domestic violent crime and drug trafficking prevention. Item 1.3, entitled "Combat terrorist activities by developing maximum intelligence and investigative capability," was not highlighted.

There is the internal FBI budget request for 2003 to the Department of Justice, dated late August 2001. This was not the FBI's total budget request, but was instead restricted only to the areas where the FBI specifically requested increases over the previous year's budget. In this request, the FBI specifically asked for, among other things, 54 translators to translate backlog of intelligence gathered, 248 counterterrorism agents and support staff , and 200 professional intelligence researchers. The FBI had repeatedly stated that it had a serious backlog of intelligence data it has gathered, but could not process the data because they did not have the staff to analyze or translate it into usable information. Again, this was August 2001.

The official Department of Justice budget request from Attorney General Ashcroft to OMB Director Mitch Daniels is dated September 10, 2001. This document specifically highlights only the programs slated for above-baseline increases or below-baseline cuts. Ashcroft outlined the programs he was trying to cut. Comparing this document to the FBI's request to the Department of Justice request described above, it is clear that Ashcroft ignored the FBI's anti-terrorism requests. Specifically, Ashcroft was planning to ignore the FBI's specific requests for more translators, counterintelligence agents and researchers. It additionally shows Ashcroft was trying to cut funding for counterterrorism efforts, grants and other homeland defense programs before the 9/11 attacks.

The difference in priorities is clear. The Clinton administration was focusing on terrorism and al Qaeda as its highest priority. This focus was dramatically reversed by senior officials within the Bush administration. The idea that no one could have anticipated the kinds of attacks which came on September 11 comes into sharper focus. It isn't that "no one" could have anticipated the threat. It is the Bush administration itself that could never have anticipated the threat, because they were paying little attention to the existence of these threats.

Then, of course, there were the warnings.

FBI agents in Phoenix issued warnings in the summer of 2001 about suspicious Arab men receiving aviation training in American flight schools. The warning was never followed up. An agent in the Arizona field office commented in his case notes that Zacarias Moussaoui, arrested in August after suspicious activity at one of these flight schools, seemed like a man capable of flying airplanes into the World Trade Center.

Newspapers in Germany, France, Russia and London reported in the months before September 11th a blizzard of warnings delivered to the Bush administration from all points on the compass. The German intelligence service, BND, warned American and Israeli agencies that terrorists were planning to hijack commercial aircraft and use them as weapons to attack important American targets. Egypt warned of a similar plot to use airplanes to attack Bush during the G-8 summit in Genoa in June of 2001. This warning was taken so seriously that anti-aircraft missiles were deployed around Columbus Airport in Italy.

In August of 2001, Russian intelligence services notified the CIA that 25 terrorist pilots had been trained for suicide missions, and Putin himself confirmed that this warning was delivered "in the strongest possible terms" specifically regarding threats to airports and government buildings. In that same month, the Israeli security agency Mossad issued a warning to both the FBI and CIA that up to 200 bin Laden followers were planning a major assault on America, aimed at vulnerable targets. The Los Angeles Times later confirmed via unnamed U.S. officials that the Mossad warnings had been received.

On August 6, 2001, George W. Bush received his Presidential Daily Briefing. According to reports, the briefing described active plots to attack the United States by Osama bin Laden. The word "hijacking" appeared in that briefing. Shortly after this briefing, George W. Bush departed to Texas for a month-long vacation.

Richard Clarke, former Director of Counter-Terrorism for the National Security Council, has worked on the terrorist threat for the Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, and Bush Jr. administrations, amassing a peerless resume in the field. He is now a central figure in the commission investigating the September 11 attacks. Clarke has laid bare an ugly truth: The administration of George W. Bush did not consider terrorism or the threat of al Qaeda to be a priority prior to the attacks.

Clarke, along with former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who as a member of the National Security Council was privy to military strategy meetings, indicate that the Bush administration was obsessed with an invasion of Iraq from the day it arrived in Washington. This obsession continued even after the attacks, despite the fact that the entire intelligence community flatly declared that Iraq was not involved.

The attacks of September 11 were not mythical, not a magic trick, not an act of God that no mere mortal could possibly have interfered with or anticipated. The warnings, the data, stretch back all the way to 1993. The Bush administration came into power and absorbed a barrage of warnings about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told Condoleezza Rice that al Qaeda terrorism would be the single most important problem the Bush administration would deal with while in office, and handed her a huge file on the matter. Rice has admitted that she did not read that file until after the attacks of September 11 had taken place.

Of course the Bush administration could never have anticipated an attack like the one that took place on September 11. They weren't paying attention to the threat. Had they done so, the attack could have been stopped. Final proof of this can be found in the events of December 31, 1999. Al Qaeda planned, and put into motion, simultaneous attacks against the national airports in Washington DC and Los Angeles, the Amman Raddison Hotel in Jordan, several holy sites in Israel, and the USS The Sullivans at dock in Yemen. In scope, scale and import, these attacks would have matched the catastrophe of September 11. Each and every single one of these attacks, which ranged from one side of the planet to the other, were foiled by the efforts of the Clinton administration. They were able to stop these attacks because of one simple reason: They were paying attention to the threat.

September 11 could have been stopped. September 11 should have been stopped. The "No one could have anticipated this" excuse is dangerous nonsense.


William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'


STANDARD DISCLAIMER FROM UQ.ORG: does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in the above article. We present this in the interests of research -for the relevant information we believe it contains. We hope that the reader finds in it inspiration to work with us further, in helping to build bridges between our various investigative communities, towards a greater, common understanding of the unanswered questions which now lie before us.

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