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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Judy Miller got heads up before 9/11

Rory O'Connor and Scott Malone interviewed Judith Miller about pre-9/11 intel. Go read the whole thing:

“But I did manage to have a conversation with a source that [July Fourth] weekend. The person told me that there was some concern about an intercept that had been picked up. The incident that had gotten everyone’s attention was a conversation between two members of Al Qaeda. And they had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the Cole. And one Al Qaeda operative was overheard saying to the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the US will have to respond.’

“And I was obviously floored by that information. I thought it was a very good story: (1) the source was impeccable; (2) the information was specific, tying Al Qaeda operatives to, at least, knowledge of the attack of the Cole; and (3) they were warning that something big was coming, to which the United States would have to respond. This struck me as a major Page One-potential story.

“I remember going back to work in New York the next day and meeting with my editor Stephen Engelberg. I was rather excited, as I usually get about information of this kind, and I said, ‘Steve, I think we have a great story. And the story is that two members of Al Qaeda overheard on an intercept (and I assumed that it was the National Security Agency, because that’s who does these things) were heard complaining about the lack of American response to the Cole, but also… contemplating what would happen the next time, when there was, as they said, the impending major attack that was being planned. They said this was such a big attack that the US would have to respond.’ Then I waited....

As Steve put it to me, ‘You have a great first and second paragraph. What’s your third?”’

What's your third?

How about this?

June 21, 2001 Posted: 10:09 AM EDT (1409 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Osama bin Laden has produced a videotape in which he is directing his followers to prepare for fighting....

"To all the Mujahedeen, your brothers in Palestine are waiting for you, it's time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts most," bin Laden says.

Or maybe this?

June 25, 2001, MONDAY; ALL EDITIONS

BYLINE: AMIR SHAH, The Associated Press

DATELINE: KABUL, Afghanistan

Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have rejected U.S. concerns about the possibility of a terrorist strike by the followers of Osama bin Laden, saying Sunday that the Saudi dissident is under their strict control and cannot use Afghan territory as a base for attacks.

The remarks came a day after the Arabic satellite channel Middle East Broadcasting Corp. reported that followers of Bin Laden, based in Afghanistan, were planning an attack on American and Israeli "interests" within the next few weeks.


Good grief. Anyway, after interviewing Miller, they spoke with Engelberg:

Engelberg told us the same thing. “On September 11th, I was standing on the platform at the 125th Street station,” he remembered ruefully more than four years later. “I was with a friend and we both saw the World Trade Center burning and saw the second one hit. ‘It’s Al-Qaeda!’ I yelled. ‘We had a heads up!’ So yes, I do still have regrets.”


Interesting how that intercept never found it's way into the 9/11 Report, either. Regardless, here is the little noticed Columbia Journalism Review piece Rory and Scott mention from this past November:

In July of 2001, Steve Engelberg, then an editor at The New York Times, looked up to see Judy Miller standing at his desk. As Engelberg recalls, Miller had just learned from a source about an intercepted communication between two Al Qaeda members who were discussing how disappointed they were that the United States had never attempted to retaliate for the bombing of the USS Cole. Not to worry, one of them said, soon they were going to do something so big that the U.S. would have to retaliate.

Miller was naturally excited about the scoop and wanted the Times to go with the story. Engelberg, himself a veteran intelligence reporter, wasn’t so sure. There had been a lot of chatter about potential attacks; how did they know this was anything other than big talk? Who were these guys? What country were they in? How had we gotten the intercept? Miller didn’t have any answers and Engelberg didn’t think they could publish without more context. Miller agreed to try and find out more, but in the end the story never ran.

Today, more than four years after 9/11, Engelberg, now managing editor of The Oregonian in Portland, still thinks about that story. “More than once I’ve wondered what would have happened if we’d run the piece?” he says. “A case can be made that it would have been alarmist and I just couldn’t justify it, but you can’t help but think maybe I made the wrong call.”


Made the wrong call? You think?