by Andrew Buncombe
Friday, February 11, 2005
Washington – Federal officials were repeatedly warned in the months before the 11 September 2001 terror attacks that Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’ida were planning aircraft hijackings and suicide attacks, according to a new report that the Bush administration has been suppressing.
Critics say the new information undermines the government’s claim that intelligence about al-Qa’ida’s ambitions was “historical” in nature.
The independent commission investigating the attacks on New York and Washington concluded that while officials at the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) did receive warnings, they were “lulled into a false sense of security”. As a result, “intelligence that indicated a real and growing threat leading up to 9/11 did not stimulate significant increases in security procedures”.
The report, withheld from the public for months, says the FAA was primarily focused on the likelihood of an incident overseas. However, in spring 2001, it warned US airports that if “the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable”.
Kristin Bretweiser, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center, said yesterday the newly released details undermined testimony from Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser, who told the commission that information about al-Qa’ida’s threats seen by the administration was “historical in nature”.
She told The Independent: “There were 52 threats that were mentioned. These were present threats – they were not historical. There were steps that could have been taken. Marshals could have been put on planes that spring. Condoleezza Rice’s testimony is undermined.” To the consternation of members of the commission who published the original report last year, the administration has been blocking the release of the latest information. An unclassified copy of this additional appendix was passed to the National Archives two weeks ago with large portions blacked out.
The latest pages note that of the FAA’s 105 daily intelligence summaries between 1 April 2001 and 10 September 2001, 52 of them mentioned Osama bin Laden, al-Qa’ida, or both. The report also concludes that officials did not expand the use of in-flight air marshals or tighten airport screening for weapons. It said FAA officials were more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays and easing air carriers’ financial problems than thwarting a terrorist attack.
Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the FAA, said the agency received intelligence from other agencies, which it passed on to airlines and airports. “[But] we had no specific information about means or methods that would have enabled us to tailor any countermeasures,” she said. “We were spending $100m a year to deploy explosive detection equipment.”
The commission’s report, issued last summer, detailed missed opportunities that, had law enforcement agencies acted differently, may have provided a chance to prevent the attacks. It also listed recommendations to prevent further attacks. It said the administrations of George Bush and Bill Clinton could have done more to stand up to al-Qa’ida.
But the details, first obtained by The New York Times, are the strongest evidence yet of the widespread warnings and officials’ failure to take action. They also support claims by whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator, who said she saw evidence that showed officials were aware of the al-Qa’ida threat before 9/11.