Pentagon Generals Cancel Travel Plans
On September 10, 2001
http://www.newsweek.com/id/75993 - link to full original article
Note: As the quote is not easy to find on the Newsweek website at the link above, we include the full article here. The statement about the Pentagon generals cancelling travel plans the day before 9/11, as mentioned in the 9/11 summaries is highlighted in bold face for your viewing ease.
'We've Hit the Targets'
That message, allegedly sent by Osama bin Laden's men, makes him
suspect No. 1. Can he be stopped at last?
By Michael Hirsh
Sept. 13 issue – At the time it seemed an empty boast, if a chilling
one. On Feb. 7, 1995, Ramzi Yousef, considered the mastermind of the 1993
World Trade Center bombing, was being escorted in shackles back to New
York City. The FBI had just seized Yousef in Pakistan, and agents felt
they could crow a little. An FBI SWAT commando pulled up his captive's
blindfold and nudged him as they flew in a helicopter over mid-Manhattan,
pointing to the World Trade Center's lights glowing in the clear night.
"Look down there," he told Yousef. "They're still standing." Yousef
replied, "They wouldn't be if I had enough money and explosives."
RECALLS LEWIS SCHILIRO, a former head of the FBI's New York field
office, "He was as cold as ice." Today Ramzi Yousef is safely in prison,
as are five of his confederates from the failed 1993 attempt. But Yousef's
passion for killing Americans is flourishing in a loose network of tiny
Islamic fundamentalist terror groups spread around the world. And the main
suspect in the worst foreign attack on the continental United States is
the chief impresario and financier of that network, Osama bin Laden, the
gaunt, bearded Saudi exile who in February 1998 declared all Americans to
be legitimate targets of jihad, or holy war. Bin Laden has nursed a
fervent hatred of the United States since its troops landed on Saudi soil
to fight the gulf war, and he has haunted the worst nightmares of U.S.
security officials for years. The scion of a wealthy Saudi magnate, he was
linked to the 1998 twin U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa and the explosion
aboard the USS Cole in Yemen last year. But until last Tuesday, bin Laden
had not succeeded in shedding blood on American soil.
By the end of America's day of horror, U.S. intelligence officials
said, most people inside the federal government were almost certain–about
90 percent certain, the consensus had it–that bin Laden and his global
organization, Al Qaeda (The Base), were behind the attacks. One key
reason: shortly after the suicide attacks, a source with access to
intelligence told NEWSWEEK, U.S. intelligence picked up communications
among bin Laden associates relaying a message: "We've hit the targets."
On Wednesday, the FBI detained several people whom they are now
describing as "material witnesses" in Boston and south Florida.
Authorities also said they had identified the two or three terrorists who
hijacked each plane. The suspects were said to have entered the country
from all over the world, and some had been living in the United States for
up to a year. Early leads suggest the team had domestic support networks
rooted in the Boston area, but some of the bombers may have come from
Canada, which also harbored the terrorist cell that planned the millennium
bombing in Los Angeles. A British intelligence source told NEWSWEEK that
"two brothers, working on United Arab Emirates passports, one of them a
trained pilot, have been placed at the Boston airport."
Even so, investigators had only just begun to ferret out the full
dimensions of the plot. "We're in Oklahoma mode now," said one FBI
counterterrorism agent, referring to the frenzy of police work that
followed the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He added: "This is a rubble pile
that makes Oklahoma City look like a sandbox." New FBI chief Robert
Mueller, on only his second week of work, conducted a 6 p.m. conference
call with special agents in charge of all the 56 field offices. He
announced that Washington would take control of the biggest investigation
in the agency's history and appointed veteran deputy director Tom Pickard
to run it. FBI officials said they knew this probe was different from
anything else they'd ever done. "This is not going to be a classic
forensic investigation," said the counterterrorism agent. "You're not
looking for a traditional bomb 'signature' like the rear axle of the Ryder
truck. The bomb signature is a plane in the sky." In other words, there
may be little forensic evidence to investigate.
SEARCHING FOR LINKS
For the moment the link to bin Laden and Ramzi Yousef appeared to
be largely circumstantial. Investigators believe that radical Egyptian
organizations were directly behind the suicide attacks. One, Al Gamaa al
Islamiya, was run by Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Muslim cleric who
is serving a prison term in Minnesota for allegedly conspiring with World
Trade Center bombing suspects to blow up other New York landmarks. Bin
Laden recently has turned complaints about Abdel-Rahman's imprisonment and
treatment by U.S. authorities into a crusade, committing his followers to
freeing the religious leader. U.S. officials have identified Ayman
al-Zawahiri, the head of another Egyptian militant group that supports the
sheik, as deputy leader of Al Qaeda. Abdel-Rahman is kept in solitary
confinement, and a month ago U.S. authorities seized his radio.
Bush called last Tuesday's searing experience a demonstration of American
fortitude. In truth it was a stunning display of America's
vulnerability–now and well into the future.
The fast fingering of bin Laden also did not mask the fact that,
like the rest of the country, U.S. officials were in a state of shock over
what may go down as the most massive failure of military and intelligence
readiness in the nation's history. Bush called last Tuesday's searing
experience a demonstration of American fortitude. In truth it was a
stunning display of America's vulnerability–now and well into the future.
Always before, U.S. experts tended to dismiss the idea that terrorists
could combine both suicidal fervor and technical skill and sophistication.
The 1993 World Trade Center attack, in which conspirators exploded a
bomb-laden van in the basement, was seen as just another ragged effort;
afterward the terrorists gave themselves away when one was stupid enough
to try to get his deposit back on the rental van. Similarly, when an
Algerian terrorist was arrested crossing the border from Canada just
before Y2K, his obvious nervousness gave him away to an alert Customs
By contrast, last Tuesday's coordinated assault on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon was as sophisticated a terror attack as U.S.
investigators have seen. A chief mystery was how the culprits might have
found four apparently trained pilots to fly suicide missions. One
frightening prospect is that bin Laden is winning educated Arab elites to
his cause, especially as the Palestinian intifada inflames the Arab world.
The FBI has picked up previous hints of high-level help: in 1995 Abdul
Hakim Murad, a Pakistani, was accused along with Yousef of a plot to bomb
11 U.S. airliners in a single "day of rage" against the United States.
Murad, a commercial pilot, allegedly told investigators that he had been
trained as a kamikaze pilot.
WAS THERE HELP?
Just as scary, the new attacks also suggested that the terrorists
had an extensive domestic support network–confederates on the ground who
helped them gather intelligence on the targets and possibly provided
shelter and logistical support.
Could the bombers have been stopped? NEWSWEEK has learned that
while U.S. intelligence received no specific warning, the state of alert
had been high during the past two weeks, and a particularly urgent warning
may have been received the night before the attacks, causing some top
Pentagon brass to cancel a trip. Why that same information was not
available to the 266 people who died aboard the four hijacked commercial
aircraft may become a hot topic on the Hill. In testimony to the
Intelligence Committee earlier this year, CIA Director George Tenet said
bin Laden posed the most immediate terrorist threat to Americans around
the world and was capable of "multiple attacks with little or no warning."
"There is a giant accountability issue starting today," says former
Afghanistan CIA station chief Milt Bearden, "and in the midst of
legitimate accountability there will be a lot of scapegoating. They're
going to start looking for the modern-day equivalent of General Short and
Admiral Kimmel [the armed-forces commanders at Pearl Harbor], and they're
going to find them."
The deeper problem for counterterrorism experts is that bin
Laden's network is so diffuse and diverse–a patchwork of renegade
Algerian, Palestinian, Egyptian and other cells–and that foreign
governments, including friendly ones, move slowly to crack down on people
they know are his supporters. Only last February, a few weeks before
Tenet's testimony, a NEWSWEEK reporter sat down in a London coffee shop
with Yasser el-Sirri, one of bin Laden's alleged associates. El-Sirri
cheerfully boasted that the Egyptian government had sentenced him to death
for crimes of terrorism. Attempts to snatch or kill bin Laden have been
frustrated by the difficulty of getting precise information on where he is
in the mountains of Afghanistan, not to mention a U.S. presidential order
barring assassination. Though U.S. intelligence had wiretaps on bin
Laden's key lieutenants before the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings,
they were unable to pick up enough information to prevent them.
TESTING U.S. INTELLIGENCE
Some counterterrorism operatives now speculate that intelligence
picked up by U.S. agencies about possible terrorist attacks on Americans
last June may actually have been leaked by operatives associated with bin
Laden. Now it appears the terrorists "may have been testing where and how
we picked up information–and what were the things we missed," says a U.S.
investigator based in the Persian Gulf. "They saw where we reacted, and
presumably also where we didn't react." Were they casing American airports
to see if extra precautions went into effect? "They not only know how to
plan, but they know how to test," said this source, "and they know,
obviously, where the gaps are."
Among the worst of those gaps is the ramshackle state of security
checks at U.S. airports. The ability of unknown bombers to exploit these
soft spots–and to do it so jarringly, ripping a hole in the heart of
America's financial and military power–could itself have serious
consequences. For it demonstrates that it can be done again. In fact,
terrorism experts say that for years their worst fear has been that a
suicide bomber would hit inside U.S. borders. "If someone really wants to
kill himself in order to blow up a building here, there is no level of
sustainable security in this country that could prevent it," says one
official. "We just aren't equipped to handle it. It is beyond us
psychologically. And the citizens of this country are not willing to
tolerate the lack of freedom that this level of security would mean."
That could now change, as part of a tectonic shift in America's
sense of vulnerability. "This shows that you can have mass-destruction
terrorism without weapons of mass destruction," says Gideon Rose, a terror
expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. And that even a missile
defense won't help. "We're going to have to enact laws that some people
from the far left and the far right won't like," adds a senior
intelligence source. He points to Britain's sweeping new law that, as he
puts it, extends the draconian security measures–including surveillance
and holding people on mere suspicion–already used in troubled Northern
Ireland. He adds: "We have to understand that national security will have
to take some precedence over what we have seen as the right to privacy."
Sen. Jon Kyl, a member of the Intelligence Committee, says he's
been pushing for years for more intelligence money and less red tape–and
for dropping concerns about recruiting human-rights violators as
infiltrators into terror groups. "My first reaction was that my knees were
weak," he said. "But frankly, my second reaction was that all of the
things we've been saying we have to do–maybe through this disaster they'll
get more attention." No doubt they will.
With Mark Hosenball, Daniel Klaidman and Donatella Lorch in Washington and
Peg Tyre, Christopher Dickey and Andrew Nagorski in New York
A New Date of Infamy
1 of 9
1. A New Date of Infamy
2. Bush's Test of a Lifetime
3. Suspect #1: Can He Be Stopped?
4. An Icon Destroyed
5. A Capital Under Siege
6. New York Voices
7. How the Hijackers Did It
8. Next Chapter: Day of Agony
9. Return to America Under Attack Front
© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.
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Pentagon Generals Cancel Travel Plans September 10, 2001 - Day Before 9/11