Article 6 of 200
Intelligence Agencies Knew of
Airplane Terror Threats, Report Says
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2002, Dow Jones & Company,
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
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
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.