Daniel Freedman: What Really Led To 9/11
September 8, 2010

Forbes
By Daniel Freedman

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Every anniversary of 9/11 brings with it stories of how our nation’s system as it stood on Sept. 10, 2001, was unsuited to stopping al Qaeda. The most popular of these stories focus on criticizing the central role the FBI and the law enforcement community played in fighting terrorism pre-9/11, arguing that because “we treated terrorists like criminals” al Qaeda succeeded in striking America. But the real story of why we failed to prevent 9/11, however, is very different.

To understand how the attacks of 9/11 could have been stopped, one needs to start with the investigation into al Qaeda’s bombing of the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000. The subsequent investigation by FBI and NCIS Special Agents–through a combination of intelligent detective work and effective (traditional) interrogations–tracked down many of the al Qaeda perpetrators and gained confessions from them.

One of those al Qaeda terrorists, a Yemeni named Fahd al Quso (tasked with videotaping the bombing), confessed to the interrogators that while preparing for the Cole attack he helped transport $36,000 from Yemen to Bangkok, and gave it to a trusted Osama Bin Laden lieutenant, Khallad bin Attash. The investigators followed this lead and found that after Khallad left Bangkok, he traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. When the FBI asked the CIA if it knew anything about Khallad being in Malaysia, it said it didn’t.

After the attacks of 9/11, the CIA gave the FBI surveillance pictures (that it had since January 2000) of Khallad in Kuala Lumpur at what turned out to be the 9/11 planning meeting. For some reason this information was not shared when requested, nor was the intelligence that Khallad also met Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, two of the eventual 9/11 hijackers, in Bangkok too. After meeting Khallad, the two purchased first-class tickets to Los Angeles–probably using the money Quso brought.

Another piece of information that failed to cross over from the intelligence community was that al Mihdhar was intending to fly to the U.S.–an intelligence operation had found a U.S. visa in his Saudi passport. Then in March 2000, the CIA learned that on Jan. 15, 2000, Hazmi had taken a United Airlines flight to Los Angeles. (The flight manifest was not checked, but it would have shown that Mihdhar was with him.) The Bureau, State Department and INS were not given any of this information–despite legal requirements that such intelligence be shared.

A final opportunity to get Mihdhar came in June 2000 when he traveled from California to Yemen and applied for a new visa to the U.S. He was granted the visa and returned on July 4, 2001. The FBI, State Department and INS had still not been told about him, so he was not stopped on entering the country. It was not until August 2001 that the FBI was finally told that Mihdhar was here.

As the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission) noted, “Mihdhar had been the weak link in al Qaeda’s operational planning, a mistake KSM realized could endanger the entire plan.” But because of the failure to share intelligence, several opportunities to apprehend him and thwart the attacks were missed. The CIA’s own investigation reported a “systematic breakdown” in information sharing (and recommended that an accountability board review the performance of those responsible).

The CIA report states that: “The consequences of the failures to share information and perform proper operational followthrough on these terrorists were potentially significant. Earlier watchlisting of Mihdhar could have prevented his reentry into the United States in July 2001. Informing the FBI and good operational followthrough by CIA and FBI might have resulted in surveillance of both al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. Surveillance, in turn, would have the potential to yield information on flight training, financing, and links to others who were complicit in the 9/11 attacks.”

The failure to stop 9/11 was not because law enforcement was on the forefront of the battle against terrorism or because we treated terrorists like criminals, but because information was not shared as it should have been. If that intelligence would have been shared, the system as it stood before 9/11–where a joint law enforcement, military and intelligence approach was used–would have worked. From actions taken during the last nine years, it’s clear that’s a lesson our government has yet to learn.

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To read the full article please click on the link below:http://www.forbes.com/2010/09/08/september-11-al-qaeda-government-opinions-columnists-daniel-freedman.html

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