What Really Happened The 9/11 Fact File

Part 5


Why didn't the CIA share its information on the terrorists with the FBI?

Ramzi bin al-Shibh in custody in Pakistan.
REUTERS

Ramzi bin al-Shibh in custody in Pakistan.

In its report, the 9/11 Commission cited 10 opportunities to track down bin Laden and his cohorts before September 11. With hindsight, these were the 10 mistakes that enabled the attacks.

In January 2000, for instance, the CIA failed to inform the FBI that Chalid al-Midhar, one of the budding hijackers, had a valid U.S. visa, the report said. In March 2000, it failed to pass on information that Nawaf al-Hamsi, one of the hijackers in the plane that hit the Pentagon, had flown to Los Angeles on January 15, 2000. In January 2001, the CIA failed to tell the FBI that Chalid, aka Taufik al-Atasch, one of the terrorists behind the attack on the USS Cole, had met Midhar and Hamsi in Kuala Lumpur. The two intelligence services worked in parallel - independently of and seemingly at odds with each other. After the 9/11 Commission's report had been released, its chairman Thomas Kean stated that neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush had been "well served" by the CIA.

In 1995, the U.S. Justice Department had tried to regulate the flow of information between agents and investigators, a practice that became known as "the Wall." The CIA didn't inform the FBI because it didn't want to endanger "sensitive sources." As a result, a memo headlined "Islamic Extremists Learn to Fly" landed on the desk of CIA director George Tenet, and no one at the agency understood its significance.

The CIA and FBI, former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told the 9/11 Commission, had competed with each other and rarely cooperated. Her term was "systemic failure."

Why didn't U.S. air defense systems work on September 11?

The U.S. air defense network operates under the aegis of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). At the end of the Cold War, the number of planes available to NORAD was reduced. On September 11, 2001, seven response centers were operating, each with two combat-ready interceptors.

All four hijacked planes fell under the jurisdiction of the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) which was based in Rome, New York. Commanders could therefore call upon just two response centers and only four mission-ready fighter planes.

Emergency management entails a long bureaucratic chain of command. The prevailing assumptions were that any hijacked planes would be easy to locate, that there would be enough time to analyze the situation, and that hijackers would issue demands and thus be willing to negotiate.

Because the air traffic controllers didn't completely understand the first radio communication from AA 11 and because news of the hijacking worked its way up the air traffic control system hierarchy so slowly, valuable minutes were lost. It was only after an air traffic controller in Boston heard a third radio communication at 8:34 a.m. ("Nobody move, please. We're going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves."), that the military was alerted. But officials placed their first call to Atlantic City, whose response center had been defunct for some time. As a result, military commanders at NEADS did not learn that flight AA 11 had been hijacked until 8:37 a.m. - 9 minutes before it sliced into the North Tower.

The air defense unit only learned by chance about flight AA 77, which smashed into the Pentagon, when an employee at the national air traffic control center casually mentioned that they had also lost track of that flight.

By then, it was 9:34 a.m. When three fighters took off from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, they headed east. Five years later, no one has been able to explain why. In fact, when the plane struck the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., the Langley aircraft were 150 miles from Washington.

The 9/11 Commission Report said that the defense of U.S. air space was not performed in compliance with the existing procedures: "What ensued was a hurried attempt to improvise a defense by civilians who had never handled a hijacked aircraft that attempted to disappear, and by a military unprepared for the transformation of commercial aircraft into weapons of mass destruction."

Did investors speculate on the attacks?

A few days after 9/11, there were indications that advance notice may have existed of the attacks. Some investors seem to have been expecting oil and gold prices to rise, and also purchased "put" options on stock of reinsurers for both American and United airlines (investors buying put options profit if the value of the stock falls). One buyer pocketed nearly $5 million on 4,744 puts on United stock purchased just four days before the attacks.

A closer look at the trading reveals that this was normal speculation. Both airlines had themselves churned out enough bad news to make investors pessimistic about their stock prices. On September 7, American Airlines issued a profit warning. On September 10, Goldman Sachs announced that it was again lowering its earnings forecast for AA. According to the Commission, the ostensibly suspicious purchase that same day of 4,516 put options was primarily due to a recommendation made in an investors' newsletter on September 9.

Apart from that finding, the profits made provide the strongest argument against any insider dealing. If someone did in fact have advance knowledge of the attacks, why did he or she invest such a small sum?

Was the White House under threat?

Exactly where the hijackers on flight UA 93 were heading remains a mystery. The most likely targets, however, would have been the White House and the Capitol, both in Washington, D.C. Abu Zubayda, an al Qaeda leader captured in March 2002 in Pakistan, has said the plane was slated to attack the White House. But investigators consider him an unreliable source.

Given its relatively small size, the White House would be difficult to hit from the air. Officials therefore consider the Capitol Building the more likely target. Given the plane's delayed takeoff from Newark, both the White House and the Capitol had already been evacuated by the time the plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

In February 2006, President Bush announced that al Qaeda had attempted to crash an airliner at the beginning of 2002 into Los Angeles' Library Tower, the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi.

Why didn't the NTSB investigate the cause of the crash?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an autonomous body that investigates all accidents involving civilian aircraft in the United States. It issues reports that attempt to determine the causality behind every accident.

But the NTSB has not figured in the alphabet soup of investigative committees, and skeptics blame the many unanswered questions on its continued exclusion - in their view, evidence of a cover-up. Had the NTSB completed an investigation, they argue, there would be no doubts as to whether flight UA 93 really did crash or was in fact shot down in Pennsylvania.

There is, however, a simple reason why the NTSB was not asked to investigate: When the U.S. Justice Department has reason to believe that an accident is attributable to criminal activity, responsibility may be delegated to another agency - in this case, the FBI.

How were the chief planners Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Chalid Sheikh Mohammed captured?

The most detailed account appears in the work of Ron Suskind, whose book The One Percent Doctrine apparently relied on information provided by senior CIA officials, including former director George Tenet. Mohammed's hideout near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad was actually disclosed by an al Qaeda operative who walked into the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad at the end of February. During a meeting, he told Tenet that he didn't care about the $25 million reward; nor was he motivated by the offer of a new identity and new home in the United States. "I want my children free of these madmen who destroy our religion and kill innocent people." He then reportedly asked Tenet whether President Bush knew what he had done. "I told him," the CIA director is quoted as saying. Suskind writes that bin al-Shibh was captured as a result of his meeting with al-Jazeera reporter Jusri Fuda. The CIA was apparently given details about the meeting not by Fuda, but by the emir of Qatar, whose family helps finance the news channel. It was, in Tenet's words, an "unbelievable gift." Tenet promised the emir that bin al-Shibh would not be seized until al-Jazeera had broadcast the interview. The emir was willing to take in stride suspicions that the broadcast had put the CIA on bin al-Shibh's trail, but nobody was to learn that he had effectively initiated the arrest by revealing internal newsroom information.

How was information obtained from bin al-Shibh and Mohammed?

Evidently, both were brutally tortured in secret CIA prisons aka "Black Sites." The methods included near-drowning, sleep deprivation, being left to stand in freezing rooms, and repeated death threats. In Mohammed's case, the CIA brass reportedly authorized any form of torture that would make him talk. Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Suskind has noted that the U.S. intelligence agency even threatened to harm Mohammed's seven-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter if he didn't talk. Reportedly, a similarly dire fate awaited bin al-Shibh. The CIA was keen to circulate fake documents demonstrating that the Yemeni was cooperating voluntarily - and even on the CIA's payroll. The idea was to incite al Qaeda supporters to exact revenge on his family.

Will the planners of the 9/11 attacks face trial in the United States?

Possible, but unlikely. Chalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh apparently provided information only under duress, rendering their statements inadmissible in a court of law. In addition, the U.S. government would likely be sensitive to exposing its endorsement of torture. Nevertheless, during Zacarias Moussaoui's trial in May, U.S. prosecutor David Novak stated that other trials would follow, but that the two main plotters were still being interrogated: "They're going to face justice." Within U.S. government circles, there is a growing debate as to how the suspected mass murderers could be brought to trial - to remind Americans of al Qaeda's horrific attacks.

Why do doubts surround the official investigations into the events of 9/11?

For one thing, several major inquiries in the past have only revealed partial truths. Beyond this, major historic events always provide scope for speculation. President John F. Kennedy, assassinated by a lone gunman? Impossible! There must be more to it. The 9/11 attacks on the United States? Allegedly perpetrated by a bunch of Arabs with box cutters and rudimentary flight training. According to this logic, President Bush and Vice President Cheney exposed America to attack in order to justify the war plans they were hatching. They had missiles fired at the Pentagon, arranged for the World Trade Center to be dynamited, and ordered UA 93 to be shot down. Beyond the fact that most conspiracy theories aren't backed up by the evidence, simple logic can also be used to debunk them. To pull off such a staggering operation, an army of the complicit would be required: pilots, demolition experts, soldiers and air traffic controllers. With so many coconspirators, one of them surely would have talked by now.

DOMINIK CZIESCHE, HAUKE GOOS, BERNHARD HÜBNER, ANSBERT KNEIP, GEORG MASCOLO

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