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January 26, 2004
CIA and FBI Missed Clues to 9/11 Hijackers: Panel

The LA Times reports that the federal 9/11 commission has concluded that the CIA and FBI missed opportunities to recognize the hijackers as a threat:

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 plot, obtained a visa to come to the United States just weeks before the attacks despite being under a federal terrorism indictment, a report by the federal commission investigating the attacks revealed Monday.

As many as eight of the hijackers entered the United States with doctored passports that contained "clues to their association" with al-Qaida that should have been caught by immigration authorities, commission investigators said. The newly disclosed findings challenge previous claims by top CIA and FBI officials that the hijackers' records and paperwork were so clean that they could not have aroused suspicion.

The commissioners heard testimony all day on improvements made to the security system of the US, including technological as well as procedural changes of the sort needed to snag terrorists before they can enter the US. However, the commissioners aren't convinced:

But commissioners and investigators on the panel voiced concern that certain agencies had not come to grips with the magnitude of the problems that allowed al-Qaida operatives to slip past a host of security systems and checks. "We are not sure that these problems have been addressed," said Philip Zelikow, executive director of the commission, referring in particular to failures to put al-Qaida operatives on federal watch lists. "We are not sure they are even adequately acknowledged as a problem."

The article goes on to list several incidents and connections between Khalid Mohammed, Mohammed Atta, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and other well-known players in al-Qaeda and 9/11. However, the theme from all of these seem to be just enough complacency previous to the attacks to allow them to succeed. For instance, the suspected 20th hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was denied entry because the screener who blocked his entry acted on his instincts when al-Qahtani's story at entry didn't add up. Evidence shows that Atta was at the airport at the same time and likely was there to meet him; Atta made a phone call from a pay phone to a number associated with the 9/11 attacks when al-Qahtani was unsuccessful in getting through security.

It's hard to know how this will affect the current political climate. While it will certainly reflect poorly on both agencies, it's been an accepted fact that the nation as a whole was unprepared for this scale of attack. It dovetails nicely with David Kay's assertion that the WMD assumption was based on intelligence failures as well. Presidential candidates may try to make some hay from this, but it's unlikely to resonate outside of the tinfoil-hat brigades of both parties, assuming this will be the extent of the foul-ups exposed. Read the entire article. It will be interesting to see the full report once complete.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 26, 2004 9:46 PM

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