Able Danger Blog

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Another Reason 9/11 Could Have Been Stopped

While it is not clear if the book mentions Able Danger, Rory O'Connor has a review of "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright and an interview with the author. The book hits bookstores tomorrow and I'll definitely be picking up a copy. If nothing else, it makes crystal clear the type of bureaucratic issues and infighting that let 9/11 ever happen in the first place. Those familiar with the story of Able Danger will not be shocked to hear this:

How to explain this astonishing failure? One theory has it that the CIA may have been trying to turn the two Al Qaeda members into double agents as a means of infiltrating the terror group. "Half the guys in the Bureau think CIA was trying to turn them to get inside Al Qaeda," Wright told me. "It's never been proven, but it's extremely suggestive that this was a failed CIA operation to recruit them." If so, that would at least explain why, when FBI Cole investigator Ali Soufran repeatedly queried the CIA about the meeting in Malaysia -- attended not only by the Cole bombers but also by the two 9/11 hijackers -- the information about al-Mihdhar and al-Hamzi was withheld.

And what of the other, egregious and repeated intelligence failures that resulted in the worst terror attacks ever on US soil? Were they also due to bureaucratic bungling and turf wars, as some have suggested? Were they instead the result of a bi-partisan attempt to cover-up ongoing intelligence failures dating back several administrations? Or, as some have suggested, was the intelligence community simply drowning in the tsunami of pre-attack "threat assessments" and warnings that were flooding in during the months leading up to 9/11?

"What is the explanation?" Wright asks rhetorically. "Turf wars? A bipartisan cover-up? Drowning in threats? Can I choose 'All of the above?'"

Wright cites a post-attack report on the CIA failures by the Department of Justice's Inspector General. "There are lots of reasons to release the report, and lots of culpability there," he says. "The CIA failed in its moral and legal obligations. Yet the report is still secret."

Nor is the National Security Agency blameless, says Wright. "NSA also has lots of complicity," he says. "The agency had crucial information that it did not share with the FBI either." The NSA, for example, had been monitoring Al Qaeda telephone calls after the US embassy bombings to a number in Yemen. "That number was called by Osama bin Ladin both before and after the embassy bombings. Khaled al-Mihdhar was the son-in-law of the guy whose phone it was. He called there from California eight times! Had the NSA shared its information, the FBI could have mapped the entire global Al Qaeda network."

In conclusion, Wright says he believes that "All the clues were there, but the pieces were in different people's hands and were never put together." More disturbingly, he believes that we are no safer today than we were five years ago.

"So many in the US intelligence community are demoralized and drifting away," he reports. "Moreover, the reorganization of our intelligence hierarchy has done nothing to make the situation better. Instead, it's only muddied things further. The lines of responsibility are not at all clear. Who's responsible? Who's in charge? It's only gotten worse since 9/11."