WASHINGTON (AP) - Intelligence agencies failed
to anticipate terrorists flying planes into buildings despite a
dozen clues in the years before the Sept. 11 attacks that Osama bin
Laden or others might use aircraft as bombs, a congressional
investigator told lawmakers Wednesday as they began public hearings
into the attacks.
Just a month before the attacks, intelligence agencies were told
of a possible bin Laden plot to hit the U.S. Embassy in Kenya or
crash a plane into it.
The preliminary report by Eleanor Hill, staff director of the
joint House and Senate intelligence committee investigation of the
terrorist strike, showed authorities had many more warnings about
possible attacks than were previously disclosed.
The reports were generally vague and uncorroborated. None
specifically predicted the Sept. 11 attacks. But collectively the
reports "reiterated a consistent and critically important theme:
Osama bin Laden's intent to launch terrorist attacks inside the
United States," Hill said.
Despite that, authorities didn't alert the public and did little
to "harden the homeland" against an assault, she said. Agencies
believed any attack was more likely to take place overseas.
Just two months before the attacks, a briefing for senior
government officials said that, based on a review of intelligence
over five months, "we believe that (bin Laden) will launch a
significant terrorist attack against U.S. and/or Israeli interests
in the coming weeks."
"The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass
casualties against U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations
have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning," it
Hill read most of her 30-page report to House and Senate members
sitting together in what is believed to be the first joint
investigation by standing congressional committees. The committees
have been meeting behind closed doors since June to examine
intelligence failures leading up to the attacks and recommend
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the report revealed "far too
many breakdowns in the intelligence gathering and processing
"Given the events and signals of the preceding decade, the
intelligence community could have and in my judgment should have
anticipated an attack on U.S. soil on the scale of 9/11," he
Pressed by Rep. Ray Lahood, R-Ill., about whether agencies had
enough information to have prevented the attacks, Hill said it was
possible, but there were no guarantees.
Details of intelligence about terrorist use of airplanes could
embarrass the White House. After questions were raised in the spring
about what President Bush knew about terrorist threats before Sept.
11, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the threats were
vague and uncorroborated.
"I don't think anybody could have predicted ... that they would
try to use an airplane as a missile," Rice said then. "Had this
president known a plane would be used as a missile, he would have
acted on it."
Hill outlined 12 examples of intelligence information on the
possible terrorist use of airplanes as weapons, beginning in 1994
and ending with the Nairobi plot in August 2001.
In August 1998, U.S. intelligence learned that a "group of
unidentified Arabs planned to fly an explosive-laden plane from a
foreign country into the World Trade Center," says the report. The
report was given to the Federal Aviation Administration and FBI,
which took little action. The group may now be linked to bin Laden,
the report says.
Other intelligence suggested that bin Laden supporters might fly
an explosives-laden plane into a U.S. airport, or conduct a plot
involving aircraft at New York and Washington, the report said.
While generally aware of the possibility of these kinds of
attacks "the intelligence community did not produce any specific
assessments of the likelihood that terrorists would use airplanes as
weapons," the report said.
The FBI on Wednesday underscored the need for continued vigilance
by law enforcement agencies, confirming that it sent a routine
reminder to police around the country in the last day or so. The
reminder said that al-Qaida might consider the use of aircraft in
another act of terrorism against the United States and could rely on
non-Arabic individuals to do so.
Hill also said that between May and July 2001, the National
Security Agency reported at least 33 communications indicating a
possible, imminent terrorist attack. Asked why intelligence agencies
didn't do more about the terrorist threats, Hill said they have
complained about a lack of resources and the massive amount of
intelligence they were receiving. "They were overwhelmed by almost a
flood of information," she said.
Senior CIA officials noted Hill's report also recognized their
efforts to report on the immediacy of the threat from bin Laden
before Sept. 11 and did not look to assign blame on U.S.
Hill stressed the investigation is continuing and a future report
will deal with what was known about the 19 hijackers before the
She also noted that CIA Director George J. Tenet has declined to
declassify information on two issues looked at by the inquiry:
References to intelligence agencies supplying information to the
White House, and details of an al-Qaida leader involved in the
attacks. That leader is believed to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the
Hill said the White House and Tenet believe "the president's
knowledge of intelligence information relevant to this inquiry
remains classified" even when the information itself is
Also Wednesday, two spouses of Sept. 11 victims urged the
committees to fix intelligence shortcomings that allowed the
"Our loved ones paid the ultimate price for the worst American
intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor," said Stephen Push, whose
wife died aboard the plane that crashed into the