THEY TRIED TO WARN US: FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE
WARNINGS BEFORE 9/11
By Paul Thompson
January 30, 2003
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Part 1: 1979 - 2000
Part 2: Jan. 2001 - 9/11
Part 3: Day of 9/11
Part 4: 9/11 - Dec. 2001
Part 5: Jan. 2002 - present
|Day of 9/11
Bush on 9/11
The Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9-11 is now finished, but the findings that have been released fail to mention any warnings from foreign governments. The US mainstream media also has paid little attention to warnings from foreign governments.
Yet there were so many warnings - from both our friends and enemies alike - often specifically suggesting the targets or method of attack. In at least one case, the warnings actually mentioned hijackers by name. This type of communication between intelligence agencies normally occurs in secret, so one can only wonder what additional warnings or details were provided to us that have never been made public.
No US publication has ever put all the various foreign government warnings in one place; even Internet skeptics of Bush have paid scant attention to this issue. Here, for the first time, is such a list of warnings.
First, General Warnings
Warnings the Attack Will Come from the Air
Many warnings specifically mentioned a threat coming from the air.
What Did Israel Know?
But the most remarkable warnings of all come from Israel. The issue of Israeli foreknowledge of 9/11 is highly controversial. The story is too complicated to go into detail here, but a number of respected publications (for instance, Fox News, 12/12/01, Forward, 3/15/02, ABC News, 6/21/02, Salon, 5/7/02, Ha'aretz, 5/14/02, Le Monde, 3/5/02, Reuters, 3/5/02, AP, 3/5/02, AP, 3/9/02, Cox News, 3/5/02, Guardian, 3/6/02, Independent, 3/6/02, New York Post, 3/6/02, Jane's Intelligence Digest, 3/15/02) have written about an Israeli "art student" spy ring operating in the US for several years before 9/11. The name "art student" is used because most of these scores of spies were posing as college art students. There have been suggestions that some of these Israeli spies lived close to some of the 9/11 hijackers. For instance, a US Drug Enforcement Administration report from before 9/11 noted that Israeli spies were living in the retirement community of Hollywood, Florida at 4220 Sheridan Street, which turned out to be only a few hundred feet from lead hijacker Mohamed Atta's residence at 3389 Sheridan Street (see the DEA report, 6/01). Israeli spies appear to have been close to at least ten of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. [Salon, 5/7/02] In fact, Forward, the most widely circulated publication in the US targeting the Jewish audience, has admitted the spy ring existed, and that its purpose was to track Muslim terrorists operating in the US. [Forward, 3/15/02]
Some have claimed that the existence of this spy ring shows that Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks, an argument that is beyond the scope of this essay. But if the mainstream media is to be believed, Israel gave the US several specific warnings of the 9/11 attacks. In the second week of August 2001, two high-ranking agents from the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, came to Washington and warned the CIA and FBI that 50 to 200 al-Qaeda terrorists had slipped into the US and were planning an imminent "major assault on the US" aimed at a "large scale target" [Telegraph, 9/16/01, Los Angeles Times, 9/20/01, Ottawa Citizen, 9/17/01 Fox News, 5/17/02]. Near the end of August, France also gave a warning that was an "echo" of Israel's. [Fox News, 5/17/02]
In October 2002, the story broke in Europe and Israel that on August 23, 2001, the Mossad had given the CIA a list of 19 terrorists living in the US. The Mossad had said that the terrorists appeared to be planning to carry out an attack in the near future. It is unknown if these are the same 19 names as the actual hijackers, or if the number is a coincidence. However, the four names on the list that are known are names of the 9/11 hijackers: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Marwan Alshehhi, and Mohamed Atta. [Die Zeit, 10/1/02, Der Spiegel, 10/1/02, BBC, 10/2/02, Ha'aretz, 10/3/02] These are also probably the four most important of the hijackers (and two of the pilots). From them, there were many connections to the others. The CIA had already been monitoring three of them overseas the year before, and two, Alhazmi and Almihdhar, were put on a watch list the same day the Mossad gave this warning. [AFP, 9/22/01, Berliner Zeitung, 9/24/01, Observer, 9/30/01, New York Times, 9/21/02]
Such detailed warnings of exact names fit in well with the reports that Israeli spies were tracking the hijackers for months before 9/11. Yet, as Jane's Intelligence Digest put it, "It is rather strange that the US media seems to be ignoring what may well be the most explosive story since the 11 September attacks..." [Jane's Intelligence Digest, 3/13/02] The spy ring story did get a little coverage in the US, but more recent stories claiming that Israel knew the exact names of at least some of the hijackers hasn't been reported here at all. Perhaps the story is too controversial for the US media to touch?
Conspicuous in Their Absence
So many countries warned the US: Afghanistan, Argentina, Britain, Cayman Islands, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, and Russia. Yet the two countries in the best position to know about the 9/11 plot - Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - apparently didn't give any warning at all.
The ties between wealthy Saudi figures and al-Qaeda are many, and too complicated to go into here. But it is interesting to notice that, while discussing the resignation of Prince Turki al-Faisal, the head of the Saudi intelligence agency, the Wall Street Journal has speculated that the Saudi Arabian government may have had foreknowledge of 9/11: "The timing of Turki's removal - August 31 - and his Taliban connection raise the question: Did the Saudi regime know that bin Laden was planning his attack against the US? The current view among Saudi-watchers is that this is doubtful, but that the House of Saud might have heard rumors that something was planned, though they did not know what or when.
An interesting and possibly significant detail is that Prince Sultan, the defense minister, was due to visit Japan in early September, but canceled his trip for no apparent reason two days before his planned departure. [Wall Street Journal, 10/22/01] In fact, that same Prince Sultan appears to have rejected a chance to warn the US. In August 2001, a military associate of a Middle Eastern prince passed information to former CIA agent Robert Baer about a "spectacular terrorist operation" to take place shortly. He also gave Baer a computer record of around 600 secret al-Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. But when Baer tried to give this information to Prince Sultan, he was rebuffed. Baer gave the information to the CIA as well, making this apparently yet another ignored warning. [Financial Times, 1/12/02, See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism, Robert Baer, 2/02, pp. 270-271, Breakdown: How America's Intelligence Failures Led to September 11, Bill Gertz, pp. 55-58]
The story of Pakistan's direct involvement in 9/11 is another topic beyond the scope of this essay. One example will suffice. The Wall Street Journal reported in October 2001 that Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, head of the Pakistani intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence, ordered $100,000 be given to Mohamed Atta in the US. The Journal further noted that the FBI had confirmed this information. [Wall Street Journal, 10/10/01] So perhaps it's not surprising that Pakistan wouldn't warn the US what its intelligence chief was up to. But again, this information did reach the US through other means. On July 14, 1999, Randy Glass, a thief turned government informant, was wiretapping a meeting in New York City in which he was trying to sell military equipment to some Pakistanis as part of a sting operation. During the meeting, a Pakistani intelligence agent pointed to the World Trade Center and said to Glass, "Those towers are coming down." Glass recorded this on tape, and passed this and other disturbing evidence to his local congressperson, senator, and others. Senator Bob Graham has admitted his office received such a warning from Glass before 9/11. [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/02]
From this list, one can see there were many warnings specifying the type of attack, a general timeframe, and the location as either New York City or the World Trade Center. And this list only includes warnings from foreign governments, and excludes warnings from the US itself: its own communications intercepts, individuals with foreknowledge, suggestions from similar attacks, and the knowledge of American intelligence agents on the track of al-Qaeda. We know that US intelligence was suffering "warning fatigue" from so many notifications of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack. One would think that, based on these warnings, the US would have dramatically increased its security. One would be wrong.
But in fact, while the US recently had over 100 fighters defending the US, the number was reduced in 1997 to save money. By 9/11 there were supposedly only 14 fighters protecting the entire US, and most of those were focused on drug interdiction. Of the 14, only four were in the greater vicinity of New York or Washington. Supposedly, on 9/11 there was not a single plane on alert within 100 miles of either city. With so many warnings suggesting an imminent attack would come from the air and/or target important, symbolic buildings, why weren't New York, Washington and other probable target areas defended with fighters or antiaircraft batteries? There was an antiaircraft battery permanently stationed on top of the White House, but inexplicably it wasn't used to shoot down Flight 77, which flew low over the White House before making a sharp turn and hitting the Pentagon. [Dallas Morning News, 9/16/01, Newsday, 9/23/01] The US government has not claimed it improved ground security before 9/11 at places like the Pentagon and World Trade Center either.
In case there was a failure of imagination, Italy had just set an example two months before 9/11 on how to respond to a terrorist threat: After receiving a warning that a summit of world leaders in the city of Genoa would be targeted by al-Qaeda, they conspicuously defended the city with increased police, antiaircraft batteries, and constantly flying fighter jets. Apparently the press coverage of the defenses caused al-Qaeda to cancel the attack. President Bush could hardly have failed to notice, since he took the unusual step of sleeping on board a US aircraft carrier during the summit. [BBC, 7/18/01, CNN, 7/18/01, Los Angeles Times, 9/27/01]
One single warning should have been enough to take precautions, but with so many warnings coming in, how can inaction be explained as mere incompetence? Yes, it is often difficult to know which terrorist threats are real, and what information to trust. But if the US couldn't take seriously warnings from close allies like Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and so on, then what were they waiting for? What would they have taken seriously? And where is the outrage, the investigation? As can be seen with the recent Congressional inquiry, the typical US government response has been to ignore these foreign government warnings altogether, or to say they were lies. On October 17, 2002, CIA Director Tenet claimed that the only warnings "where there was a geographic context, either explicit or implicit, appeared to point abroad, especially to the Middle East." [Congressional Intelligence Committee, 10/17/02] On May 16, 2002, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice stated to the press: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile." She added that "even in retrospect" there was "nothing" to suggest that. [White House, 5/16/02] On June 7, 2002, President Bush stated, "Based on everything I've seen, I do not believe anyone could have prevented the horror of September the 11th." [Sydney Morning Herald, 6/8/02]
Either the Bush Administration is lying, or most of America's close allies are. So why hasn't Congress investigated these foreign intelligence claims? Why hasn't a single mainstream media article connected all these dots, or given these warnings the coverage they deserve? Either some people within the US government knew the 9/11 attack would happen and did nothing, or some people within the US government failed to heed advice from a dozen foreign governments and properly defend the US from attack. Perhaps both. These people should be removed from office on the grounds of gross incompetence, or face the legal consequences of aiding and abetting terrorism. It seems clear that there are people who fear an investigation, and that that is why these dots are left unconnected.
Ultimately, we are all in grave danger if these same officials continue to be in charge of protecting us from terrorist attacks.