US government agencies, in particular the FBI, missed many terrorist warnings 1991-2001
including untranslated prison phone conversations, untranslated terror
manuals, unchecked Calif. DMV records, and unchecked credit card
purchases-LA Times article, Oct. 14, 2001:
10/14/2001, "Haunted by Years of Missed Warnings," LA Times,
"As suspected terrorists traversed the U.S. over a decade [1991-2001], signs
pointing to their plans went unheeded until after the attacks were
. They have plotted against America while in
federal custody. And key evidence that pointed to operatives or their
plans was ignored until well after the attacks....
(subhead): "Force the Closure of Their Companies"
"The U.S. government was pretty sure Ahmad Mohammad Ajaj was a terrorist from the moment he stepped foot on U.S. soil.
The 26-year-old Palestinian's suitcases were stuffed with fake
passports, fake IDs and a cheat sheet on how to lie to U.S. immigration
inspectors. And then there were the two handwritten notebooks filled with bomb
recipes, the six bomb-making manuals, the four how-to videotapes
concerning weaponry and the advanced guide to surveillance training.
But all federal prosecutors charged him with after Ajaj flew into New
York's John F. Kennedy International Airport from Pakistan on Sept. 1,
1992, was passport fraud--a crude, photo paste job on a stolen Swedish
passport....Ajaj was sentenced to six months in prison....
Over the next five months Ajaj would speak frequently over a prison
phone with Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who had flown with him to New York.
Yousef left the country Feb. 26, 1993, 12 hours after his bomb killed
six, injured more than a thousand and caused $550 million worth of
damage in the first World Trade Center attack.
Although prison phone calls are taped, no one monitored Ajaj's 20 calls
to Yousef and other conspirators--or tried to translate them from
Arabic--until long after the blast. And no one traced his plane ticket
until after the blast to determine that he and Yousef had sat together
on the first leg of their journey to New York.
The result: No one figured out Ajaj's plot or identified his
co-conspirators until after the attack. Indeed, Ajaj was released from
prison three days after the explosion and only later was rearrested and
sentenced to more than 100 years in prison for his role.
"I think what we've gotten really good at is going back and re-creating
the trail after an incident," said Henry DePippo, who eventually
prosecuted Ajaj for conspiracy in the bombing....
For starters, it would have helped to know just what Ajaj actually had
in his Arabic-language "terrorist kit." But his manuals had not been
"disseminated to the intelligence community for full translation and
exploitation of the information," nine years after they were seized, L.
Paul Bremer III, head of the National Commission on Terrorism, told a
Senate committee in June."
(parag. 8): "Federal authorities also knew that Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the
1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center, later planned to blow up
12 United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines jumbo jets
over the Pacific Ocean. After the plot was uncovered in 1995, a
co-conspirator, Abdul Hakim Murad, told police in the Philippines that
he had hoped to hijack a passenger plane and crash it into CIA
headquarters outside Washington. Murad had attended four U.S. flight
Yet no surveillance was in place to scrutinize aspiring pilots or to
raise a warning flag when the men who would eventually hijack four
jetliners Sept. 11 trained at flight schools around the country.
Agents have been slow to recognize suspects. After the 1993 attack on
the World Trade Center, Abdul Rahman Yasin was held and questioned by
the FBI--and then allowed to leave the country. President Bush last week
named Yasin one of the country's 22 "most wanted" terrorists in
connection with his alleged role in that attack. Another would-be bomber
in that case used prison telephones 20 times to contact fellow
And in February , the U.S. Embassy in London granted a student visa to an
unemployed 33-year-old French Moroccan man, Habib Zacarias Moussaoui,
even though he was on a special French immigration watch list of
suspected Islamic extremists. Moussaoui was detained Aug. 17 on
immigration charges after he allegedly told a Minnesota flight school
that he wanted to learn to steer jumbo jets, but not learn to land them.
Moussaoui remains in FBI custody in New York as a material witness
while investigators try to determine whether he was involved with the
skyjackers or any other terrorist plot....
Bakri Mohammed, a London-based Muslim cleric who had dubbed himself the
"mouth, eyes and ears of Osama bin Laden..." released what he
called Bin Laden's four specific objectives for a holy war against the
"Bring down their airliners," read the instruction.
"Prevent the safe
passage of their ships.
Occupy their embassies.
Force the closure of
their companies and banks."
It is fair to say he has achieved at least some of his goals. It also is
fair to say U.S. authorities had the plotters in their grasp--or in
their sights--in almost every case. Those missed opportunities thus form
the backdrop to the country's current war on terror."...
From last part of article:
"But a routine check of addresses and records from the California
Department of Motor Vehicles would have shown that Almihdhar and Alhazmi
had been living at a series of addresses in and around San Diego.
And a check with credit card companies would have shown that Alhazmi
used a Visa card in his name on the Internet to purchase a ticket on
Flight 77 for Sept. 11. He bought the ticket Aug. 27 and gave an address
in Fort Lee, N.J., according to law enforcement records.
If the FBI had provided the airlines with the two men's names, then the
airlines could have alerted authorities to their travel plans and
prevented them from boarding....
Senior intelligence and law enforcement officials insist they acted appropriately given the scant information they had....
Not everyone agrees. Loch Johnson, a University of Georgia professor of
political science and an expert on terrorism, said the case appears to
be "a double failure: a failure on behalf of the CIA not emphasizing the
importance of tracking these two, and a failure on behalf of the FBI in
light of other bombings.""