By Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA had
information about three of the Sept. 11 hijackers at least 20 months
before the attacks occurred but failed to pass the information on to
other agencies, a congressional investigator said on Friday.
The CIA and FBI had no information
linking 16 of the 19 hijackers to terrorism or terrorist groups
before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America and they may have been
picked for that reason, Eleanor Hill, staff director of the joint
inquiry into Sept. 11 attacks, said in testimony at a hearing of the
House of Representatives and Senate intelligence committees.
The other three hijackers, all of whom
were on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, did come to the
attention of intelligence agencies before Sept. 11. They were Saudi
citizens Khalid al-Mihdhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi and his brother Salim
planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon
near Washington and a Pennsylvania field, killing about 3,000
people. The United States has blamed Osama bin Laden and his al
Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi attended a
meeting of suspected associates of bin Laden's network in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia from Jan. 5 to 8, 2000, she said.
Also at that meeting was Khallad
bin-Atash, "a key operative in Osama bin Laden's terrorist network,"
and it was held at a condominium owned by Yazid Sufaat who in
October 2000 signed letters identifying Zacarias Moussaoui as a
representative of his company, Hill said.
Moussaoui is the only person charged in
the United States in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Although it was not known what was
discussed at the Malaysia meeting, the CIA believed it to be a
gathering of al Qaeda associates," Hill said. Al-Mihdhar and
al-Hazmi then went to another Southeast Asian country, she
CIA DID NOT KNOW WHAT NSA KNEW
By the time the suspected hijackers
entered Malaysia, the CIA knew al-Mihdhar's name, passport number,
and birth information, and that he had a U.S. multiple-entry visa
issued in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that expired on April 6, 2000, Hill
The CIA did not know that the National
Security Agency, which eavesdrops on global communications, had
information associating Nawaf al-Hazmi with bin Laden's network
because the NSA did not immediately disseminate it, she said.
One of the main criticisms of the
intelligence agencies has been that they did not adequately share
information within their agencies or with each other.
The names of al-Mihdhar and Nawaf
al-Hazmi could have been added to the State Department, Immigration
and Naturalization Service, and U.S. Customs watch lists, denying
them entry into the United States, but they were not, Hill
A CIA communication in early January 2000
said al-Mihdhar's travel documents including his multiple-entry visa
for the United States were shared with the FBI for investigation,
but no one at the FBI recalls receiving them, she said.
The CIA continued to be interested in
al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi after they left Malaysia with help from
In March 2000, CIA headquarters received
information from an overseas CIA station that Nawaf al-Hazmi had
entered the United States through Los Angeles International Airport
on Jan. 15, 2000.
"The CIA did not act on this
information," Hill said. Nor did it consider the possibility that
because Nawaf al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar had been together in Malaysia
there was a probability they would travel further together.
Al-Mihdhar traveled with al-Hazmi to the United States on Jan. 15,
2000, she said.
Although the two had already entered the
United States, sharing the information with the FBI and other
agencies could have prompted an investigation to find them and keep
their activities in the United States under watch, Hill said.
"Unfortunately, none of these things
happened," she said. "The failure to watchlist al-Mihdhar and
al-Hazmi or, at a minimum, to advise the FBI of their travel to the
United States, is perhaps even more puzzling because it occurred
shortly after the peak of intelligence community alertness to
possible millennium-related terrorist attacks," Hill said.