Privacy SOS

Read on to learn about the many failures enumerated in the 900 page Report of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 by the Joint House and Senate Committee on Intelligence. The report is dated Dec. 11, 2002. After five months of wrangling about which parts could be declassified, it was released on July 24, 2003. 

The Committee reviewed 500,000 pages of relevant documents from the Intelligence Community (the aggregate term for the CIA, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency, intelligence elements of the military, State Department, FBI, and Departments of Treasury and Energy).  Whole pages are blanked out.  But even with these limitations the document offers an astonishing catalogue of intelligence failures – blunders, missed opportunities, turf wars, poor training, simple incompetence, systemic weaknesses.  

After being kept secret for a year, A Review of the FBI’s Handling of Intelligence Information Related to the September 11 Attacks was finally made public on June 9, 2005. This 400 page report, compiled by Justice Department's Inspector General Glenn Fine, documents how the FBI bungled numerous opportunities to move against the 9/11 hijackers.

A 19 page redacted executive summary of a secret report by the CIA’s Inspector General – OIG Report on CIA Accountability with Respect to the 9/11 Attacks – was finally released on August 22, 2007 in response to a Congressional demand. It presents a litany of blunders made by CIA head George Tenet and others, and calls for a special board to assess their “potential accountability.”

Among the failures detailed in these reports:

  • Since 1998 and 2001 there were at least 12 intelligence reports that bin Laden planned to use aircraft as weapons and crash them into buildings in Washington, NYC and the West Coast.  This information was included in the President’s Daily Brief.   FBI head Robert Mueller admitted that given the reports, action could have been taken to harden cockpits and train pilots to resist being taken over.
  • The NSA reported at least 33 communications indicating a possible, imminent terrorist attack in 2001.
  • FBI agents were too poorly trained to use existing FISA powers to investigate potential terrorists.
  • On July 10, 2001 FBI agent Kenneth Williams of Phoenix wrote a memo to FBI headquarters warning of the possibility of men connected to Osama bin Laden training at US flight schools to fly jets, and then hijacking jets.  He recommended that the FBI initiate an investigation of flight schools across the country.  Headquarters decided not to pursue his recommendation.
  • In August 1998 there was an intelligence report that al Qaeda might fly a plane into the World Trade Center.
  • On August 6, 2001 in the daily intelligence briefing, a CIA officer warned President Bush that al-Qaeda might consider hijacking a US airplane.  The FBI – which was supposed to coordinate anti-terrorism efforts – did not back up the claim.
  • On 9/11 the FBI’s international terrorism unit had just one analyst to deal with al Qaeda.  The CIA had 5. 
  • Two hijackers boarded planes unchallenged under their actual names even though the CIA had files on them from early 2000. In August 2001 the CIA passed on this information to the FBI. They were put on a State Department watch list but not on the Federal Aviation Administration watch list at airports.
  • An FBI informant was the roommate of two of the hijackers (Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawal al-Hamzi) in San Diego. Because the informant was not fully trusted by the FBI, his FBI handler did not ask him for information about them.
  • In the weeks before 9/11, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan under the Taliban, told US and UN officials about an impending al Qaeda attack. He was reportedly unhappy about the Taliban’s support of al Qaeda, fearing it would bring US retaliation.

© 2017 ACLU of Massachusetts.