Friday, July 27, 2012

the last book I ever read (Man Hunt, excerpt five)

from Man Hunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden--From 9/11 to Abbottabad by Peter L. Bergen:

Hanging over the veteran members of the team was the knowledge that some of their number could have done more to avert the 9/11 attacks. Certainly the general perception among the public was that there had been some kind of intelligence failure at the CIA. In fact, the intelligence community had done a thorough job of warning the Bush administration of the likelihood of some sort of large-scale anti-American attack during the spring and summer of 2001, as demonstrated by the titles and dates of reports the Agency generated for policymakers: "Bin Ladin Planning Multiple Operations," April 20; "Bin Ladin Public Profile May Presage Attack," May 3; "Bin Ladin's Network's Plans Advancing," May 26; "Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent," June 23; "Bin Ladin Threats Are Real," June 30; "Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays," July 2; "Bin Ladin Plans Delayed but Not Abandoned," July 13; and "Threat of Impending al-Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely," on August 3. Of course, the CIA did not predict the time and place of al-Qaeda's looming attack, but that kind of precise warning information happens more often in movies than in real life. If there was a fault, it was the failure among key national security officials in the Bush administration to take the CIA's warning seriously enough.

But if there had not been an intelligence failure at the CIA, there had been a major bureaucratic failure, though it became clear only in the years after 9/11. Members of the Agency had failed to "watch-list" two suspected al-Qaeda terrorists, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, whom the CIA had been tracking since they attended a terrorist summit meeting in Malaysia on January 5, 2000. The failure to watch-list the two al-Qaeda suspects with the Department of State meant that they were able to enter the United States under their real names with ease. Ten days after the Malaysian terror summit, on January 15, 2000, Hazmi and Mihdhar flew into Los Angeles. The Agency also did not alert the FBI about the identities of the suspected terrorists, so that the Bureau could look for them once they were inside the United States. An investigation by the CIA inspector general--published in unclassified form in 2007--found that this was not the oversight of a couple of Agency employees, but that a large number of CIA officers and analysts had dropped the ball. "Some fifty to sixty" Agency employees read cables about the two al-Qaeda suspects without taking any action. Some of those officers knew that one of the al-Qaeda suspects had a visa for the United States, and by March 2001 some knew that the other suspect had flown to Los Angeles.

The soon-to-be hijackers would not have been difficult to find in California if their names had been known to law enforcement. Under their real names they rented an apartment, obtained driver's licenses, opened bank accounts, purchased a bar, and took flight lessons at a local school. Mihdhar even listed his name in the local phone directory. It was only on August 24, 2001, as a result of questions raised by a CIA officer on assignment at the FBI, that the two al-Qaeda suspects were watch-listed and their names communicated to the Bureau. Even then the FBI sent out only a "routine" notice requesting an investigation of Mihdhar. A month later Hazmi and Mihdhar were two of the "muscle" hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77 that plunged into the Pentagon, killed 189 people.

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