December 12, 2002
Intelligence agencies bungled chance to head off 9/11, panel says
Inquiry finds critical information ignored
By TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Intelligence agencies mishandled information
that "could have greatly enhanced . . . chances of uncovering and
preventing" the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and their operations
should be overhauled, a congressional panel concluded yesterday.
Among the critical pieces of information overlooked by the
agencies was data that might have led them to two key hijackers
who lived in San Diego, according to the final report of a joint
The CIA, FBI and other agencies "missed opportunities to disrupt
the Sept. 11th plot by denying entry to or detaining would-be
hijackers; to at least try to unravel the plot through surveillance
and other investigative work within the United States; and, finally,
to generate a heightened state of alert and thus harden the
homeland against attack," the report said.
The report stopped short of saying the strikes on the Pentagon
and the World Trade Center could have been averted.
The report recommended that internal watchdogs at the CIA and
other agencies investigate whether anyone should be disciplined
for the lapses, disappointing some lawmakers who were pushing
for stronger accountability.
The House-Senate panel highlighted chronic organizational
problems at the intelligence agencies and made 19 proposals to
improve the collection, analysis and sharing of counterterrorism
One of the key proposals would create a Cabinet-level director of
na tional intelligence to oversee the government's far-flung
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham,
D-Fla, characterized the post as an "admiral of the fleet" who
could help break down barriers between agencies that hamper
He acknowledged the idea had been proposed "a dozen or more
times" without success, however.
Other recommendations of the panel included studying the
creation of a domestic intelligence-gathering agency, developing a
more aggressive government-wide strategy to combat terrorism,
setting up a national center to integrate the government's numerous
terrorist tracking lists, and thoroughly investigating the extent to
which foreign governments are supporting terrorism.
Only a small part of the panel's report was declassified.
Lawmakers said there is much more information that could shed
light on the attacks that they would like to see released,
particularly regarding the possibility that foreign governments
provided financial and other support to the hijackers.
"One of the most important and the least understood aspects of
this tragedy goes to this question: How was it possible that 19
people, most of whom spoke little or no English and had had little
previous experience inside the United States, could have gotten in
the United States, undetected; had been able to hide themselves
. . . and carried out a very sophisticated pattern of planning,
practicing and finally executing the attacks?" Graham said.
"I think there are some possible answers to that question," he
added, saying the CIA and FBI have not released an array of
information requested by the panel.
CIA and FBI spokesmen defended the agencies' actions and their
cooperation with the congressional inquiry.
"The CIA provided hundreds of thousands of pages of information
to the committee and arranged for scores of interviews with
agency officials. The agency cooperated fully," said spokesman
The FBI issued a statement saying it "agrees with the committee
that many of its . . . functions required improvement, but the FBI
has made substantial progress in these areas since Sept. 11th."
The congressional report culminated a 10-month investigation by
the House and Senate intelligence committees. Two of the Sept.
11 hijackers who lived in San Diego for an extended period
before the attacks – Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf Alhazmi – were
the focus of particular scrutiny.
Intelligence officials described the pair as "veterans" of the
al-Qaeda terrorist network who played key organizational roles in
the attacks. They were aboard the airliner that slammed into the
The investigation revealed that the CIA failed to pass on crucial
information about the two men to the FBI and other agencies,
including their probable entry into the United States in January
2000, for more than a year before the attacks.
Congressional investigators also investigated whether Alhazmi and
al-Midhar lived for a while with an FBI informant in San Diego.
Another major focus involved whether the two hijackers received
assistance from two Saudi men who apparently had access to
charitable funds that a Saudi princess gave to the ailing wife of one
of the Saudi men.
Without naming specific hijackers, the report said some of them
maintained contacts in the United States and abroad "with
individuals who were known to the FBI" and who provided the
hijackers "with substantial assistance while they were living in this
In a new wrinkle, the report disclosed that intelligence agencies
received information in the spring of 2000 "that an individual
named 'Khaled' at an unknown location had contacted a
suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East."
Only part of the information was followed up on, the report said,
"It was not until after Sept. 11, 2001, that the intelligence
community determined that these contacts had been made by
(al-Midhar) while he was living within the domestic United States,"
the report said.
The investigation also highlighted the FBI's failure to heed
warnings about Middle Eastern men receiving flight training in
Arizona and to more aggressively investigate Zacarias Moussaoui,
an alleged Sept. 11 conspirator, after his arrest in August 2001.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., demanded accountability for the
failures. He singled out several top officials for criticism, including
former FBI Director Louis Freeh, National Security Agency
Director Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden and, in particular, CIA
Director George Tenet.
"There have been more massive failures in intelligence on his watch
as director of the CIA than any director in the history of the
agency," said Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate
Intelligence Committee, who issued a separate report yesterday.
An independent commission, headed by former Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger, is set to follow up on the panel's work and
explore other issues related to the Sept. 11 attack.