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September 11 intelligence before the attacks

In aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. by the al-Qaeda terrorist group, a number of investigations with resulting articles and reports were conducted to determine what intelligence may have existed before the attack and whether this information was ignored by authorities.

Clinton era report

In December 1998, the CIA's Counterterrorist Center reported to President Bill Clinton that al-Qaeda was preparing for attacks in the U.S. that might include hijacking aircraft.[1][2]

April 2001 Massoud speech

Another warning came from Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, in April 2001, in a speech before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium where he asked for humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan. Massoud told the parliament that his intelligence agents had gained limited knowledge about a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil being imminent. Massoud was assassinated by al-Qaeda two days before the 9/11 attacks on September 9, 2001.[3]

British intelligence

In the book MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service, Gordon Corera says that Britain's spy chiefs had known a terrorist attack was coming. Later, Richard Dearlove said that "the fact that a large-scale terrorist event occurred was not a surprise," and that "the fear was that it would be an attack against American interests probably not in the mainland". Eliza Manningham-Buller recalled that "we had prior intelligence that summer of Al-Qaeda planning a major attack" but that "we didn't know, nor did the Americans, where it was going to take place."[4]

Nebulous reports had coagulated and then dissipated over the summer; in June 2001, British and American intelligence held one of their joint summits, according to Richard Dearlove "the primary topic of discussion was a major terrorist event," and that a routine meeting "turned into something not routine...there was an increase in chatter [intercepted communications], an increase in indicators." That month, the British passed on details that a senior Al Qaeda figure was planning car-bomb attacks against US targets in Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks, but the attack did not happen. A British report from 6 July 2001 read: 'the most likely location for such an attack on western interests by UBL (Usama Bin Laden) and those that share his agenda is the Gulf States or the wider middle east.' A JIC report that month said that attacks were in their final stage of preparation.[5]

Bush era reports

May 1, 2001

On May 1, 2001, the CIA informed the White House that "a group presently in the United States" was in the process of planning a terrorist attack.[6]

June 29, 2001

The President's Daily Brief on June 29, 2001, stated that "[the United States] is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Osama Bin Laden". The document repeated evidence surrounding the threat, "including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya."[6]

The CIA reiterated that the attacks were anticipated to be near-term and have "dramatic consequences".[6]

July 10, 2001

In July 2001, J. Cofer Black, CIA's couterterrorism chief and George Tenet, CIA's director, met with Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor, to inform her about communications intercepts and other top-secret intelligence showing the increasing likelihood that al-Qaeda would soon attack the United States. Rice listened but was unconvinced, having other priorities on which to focus. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld questioned the information suggesting it was a deception meant to gauge the U.S. response.[7][8]

August 6, 2001

On August 6, 2001, the President's Daily Briefing, entitled Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US warned that bin Laden was planning to exploit his operatives' access to the U.S. to mount a terrorist strike: FBI information... indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country, consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attack.[8] Rice responded to the claims about the briefing in a statement before the 9/11 Commission stating the brief was "not prompted by any specific threat information" and "did not raise the possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles."[9]

See also


  1. ^ Schmidt, Susan (July 18, 2004). "1998 Memo Cited Suspected Hijack Plot by Bin Laden". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 26, 2013.
  2. ^ "Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks". Director of Central Intelligence. December 4, 1998. Archived from the original on October 15, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2013.
  3. ^ Boettcher, Mike (November 6, 2003). "How much did Afghan leader know?". Retrieved September 26, 2013.
  4. ^ Corera, Gordon, MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service, W&N , 2012, ISBN 0753828332, 978-0753828335, p.330
  5. ^ Corera, Gordon, MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service, W&N , 2012, ISBN 0753828332, 978-0753828335, p.330-331
  6. ^ a b c Eichenwald, Kurt (September 12, 2010). "The Deafness Before the Storm". The New York Times. Retrieved September 26, 2013.
  7. ^ "Two Months Before 9/11, an Urgent Warning to Rice". The Washington Post. May 19, 2004. Retrieved September 26, 2013.
  8. ^ a b Blanton, Thomas S. (April 12, 2004). "The President's Daily Brief". National Security Archive. Retrieved September 26, 2013. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  9. ^ "Transcript of Rice's 9/11 commission statement". CNN. May 19, 2004. Retrieved September 26, 2013.

Further reading

  • Boraz, Steven C. (2007-06-01). Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness. Thomas C. Bruneau (ed.). University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292716605.
  • Caraley, Demetrios (August 2002). September 11, Terrorist Attacks, and U.S. Foreign Policy. Academy of Political Science. ISBN 1884853013.
  • Posner, Gerald (2003-09-02). Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11 (1 ed.). Random House. ISBN 0375508791.
  • Posner, Richard A. (2005-09-08). Remaking domestic intelligence. Hoover Press. ISBN 9780817946821.
  • Posner, Richard A. (2005-03-22). Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 074254947X.
  • Intelligence Issues and Developments. Terrance M. Paulson (ed.). Nova Science Pub Inc. May 2008. ISBN 1604564474.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • Twenty-First Century Intelligence. Wesley K. Wark (ed.). Routledge. 2004-12-23. ISBN 0415349702.CS1 maint: others (link)