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Politics & Policy
Intelligence Agencies Knew of Airplane Terror Threats, Report Says
By Nicholas Kulish
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2002, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
WASHINGTON -- Intelligence agencies were aware of numerous
threats that terrorists might use airplanes as weapons against the U.S.,
despite government claims following Sept. 11 that the World Trade Center
and Pentagon attacks came like bolts from the blue.
More than a year after the four hijackings, the joint House and Senate
intelligence committees held their first public hearing yesterday
into intelligence failures leading up to the attacks, detailing intelligence available before the assault.
Based on the comments of several lawmakers, interest appears to be
growing for the appointment of an independent commission to delve further
into the roots of the attacks and the efforts -- or lack thereof -- to
protect the U.S. beforehand. Meanwhile, the two panels will continue
their probe into what went wrong and whether it could have been avoided.
A 30-page report they released yesterday showed intelligence officials
knew last summer that al Qaeda both hoped to use planes as weapons and
sought to strike a violent blow within the U.S. But the investigation has
yet to yield direct intelligence that would show with any
certainty that the disaster could have been averted.
"From 1994 through as late as August 2001, the intelligence community
had received information indicating that international terrorists had
seriously considered the use of airplanes as a means of carrying out
terrorist attacks," said the report, which was compiled from more
than 400 interviews and after reviewing 400,000 pages of documents.
Much if not all of the report's findings already have been reported,
however, as information filtered out of the closed-door hearings held by
the panels earlier this year.
"These public hearings are part of our search for the truth --
not to point fingers or pin blame," said Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.),
chairman of the Senate intelligence Committee. He added, though,
that more probes are to come.
The top Republican on the Senate panel, Richard Shelby of Alabama, had
harsher words, calling the attacks "an intelligence failure
of unprecedented magnitude." He also questioned whether congressional
investigators had sufficient time or resources to complete a full
accounting of any intelligence failures.
For example, the report detailed examples of intelligence showing
Osama bin Laden intended to carry out a strike inside U.S. borders,
including an August 1998 report that "a group of unidentified Arabs
planned to fly an explosive-laden plane from a foreign country into the
World Trade Center." The Federal Bureau of Investigation relayed the
information to the Federal Aviation Administration, which deemed the plot
unlikely, the report said.
While there were signs of an impending attack, officials say there was
never anything specific enough to act on.
"All of this seems more apparent with the benefit of 20-20
hindsight," said one U.S. intelligence official. At the same
time, the report "certainly points to the CIA and intelligence community
having reported on the seriousness and the immediacy of the threat posed
by bin Laden and al Qaeda," the official said.
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