U.S. Counterterrorism Failed on 9/11, and Why the Bush Administration
Can't Fix It, Part Two
September 27, 2002
By Mark G. Levey
In the summer of 2001, the standing policy of U.S. counterterrorism
was to avoid ruffling the feathers of the Saudis by not probing
too deeply into the money trail that led from wealthy Gulf
bankers to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. This hands-off
policy was pursued despite the known involvement of al Qaeda
in a string of terrorist attacks against American targets
beginning in 1993, both inside the U.S. and abroad, which
had already resulted in hundreds of deaths. The policy persisted
while a number of young Middle Eastern men were observed by
U.S. intelligence at meetings with terrorist leaders. For
some as yet unexplained reason, they were allowed to enter
the U.S. to attend flight training, even though most did not
have proper visas for such training or had previously violated
their immigration status. Yet, despite the obvious indicators
of an impending terrorist attack involving airplanes, there
was no heightened alert ordered for U.S. air defense. There
are several possible explanations for this seemingly bizarre
Were these apparent lapses in judgment due to dereliction
of duty by commanders compounded by a sheer, massive and pervasive
incompetence on the part of U.S. counter-terrorism?
Was the hands-off approach taken, alternately, due to political
expediency, and a desire not to offend Middle Eastern "allies"
holding the oil weapon, some with close ties to the White
House and the Republican Party?
Or, was it part of the strategy of an elaborate sting operation
by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence that somehow went
terribly wrong because of misjudgment and dereliction of duty
at the top?
Or, perhaps (still to horrible to contemplate), was some
more sinister agenda motivating these actions?
Whatever the motive (or motives), the decisions made by the
U.S. command authority, irrefutably, were defective if the
purpose of American counter-terrorism operations before 9/11
was to protect America from catastrophic attack. If one believes
the Administration and its apologists, an incredibly long
chain of errors by intelligence middle managers and subordinates
in the field resulted in a so-called intelligence failure.
As Senator Richard Shelby suggested, "a failure of great dimension"
but lacking any specific motive behind it? What is missing
are the details about the defining decisions made at or near
the top of the chain of command that allowed the 9/11 hijackers
to enter the country in 1999 and 2000 and then proceed apparently
unimpeded for many months in completing their mission.
Beyond intent and motive, there were systemic problems behind
the 9/11 catastrophe that are not being publicly discussed
because they go to the methods, sources and policies of U.S.
First among these institutional maladies of intelligence
is the over-reliance upon agents recruited within foreign
target groups who are cultivated either for their information
(double-agents) or as agents provocateur who rise within and
lead targeted groups into self-destructive acts of spectacular
violence. Agents provocateur, in particular, are dangerously
unreliable, often pursing their own agenda. In the end, after
carrying out terrorist outrages, an alarmingly high percentage
turn on their putative handlers in order to court a new sponsor
The second major failing of American intelligence, law enforcement,
and the military is the privatization of the intelligence
gathering, analysis and policymaking processes. With the end
of the Cold War, U.S. intelligence attempted a new mission
of economic warfare, and followed a strategic agenda in large
part set for it by private U.S. corporate interests, particularly
oil companies protecting these high-risk operations in the
Middle East and Central Asia may be a principal motive that
resulted in catastrophic losses of American lives.
Only in court can we expect to hear precisely when, where,
why and how they these defining decisions were made, and the
exact identity of who made them. The general outlines are
clear, and part of a well-established public record upon which
this we can understand the events and motives that led up
The key investigative premise that needs to be followed up
the chain of command and collaterally is Qui bono - who benefited
politically, financially, and emotionally from the 9/11 attack?
What are the foreseeable outcomes of the war in the Middle
East that has been detonated by 9/11, and who could have taken
advantage of them?
It is granted up front that there are many questions unanswered.
There remain many, many details that need to filled in before
one can determine the intent of U.S. officials. Questions
to be asked (it certainly has not been answered by the government
in any satisfactory way that makes sense) include:
Why were Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, the two principal
hijackers, allowed in 2000 to enter the country to attend
flight training without proper visas while their roommate
in Hamburg, Germany was refused a visa on four separate occasions?
Why were Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi allowed to enter
the U.S. even though the CIA knew they had attended an al
Qaeda planning session in Malaysia on January 5-8, 2000, where
they had met with the suspected mastermind of the Cole attack?
How is it that hundreds of thousands of dollars were wired
internationally among these same people, often in their own
names, and this apparently set off no alarm bells? Once let
in, why did the FBI lose track of them?
Despite the known ties, why didn't the FBI arrest Atta and
Al-Shehhi during the three weeks after Zakarias Massaouai,
the so-called 20th hijacker, was taken into FBI custody at
a Minnesota flight school?
Why did the CIA wait (it is claimed) until mid-July, 2001
-- after Almidhar had successfully reentered the US on July
4 from a trip to the Middle East -- to verbally inform its
liaison at the FBI of the meeting that Almidhar had 18 months
earlier with the planner of the Cole attack in Malaysia? (Washington
Post, A8, September 21, 2002)
Why did the CIA wait until August 23 to send "cables to the
State Department, the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization
Service, requesting that four bin Ladin related individuals',
including Almidhar and Alhazmi, be put on the watch list."
Why even after these wires went out, was the request of the
"FBI office in New York, then the center of terrorism probes
at the bureau" to conduct a full-scale nationwide search for
the four suspects denied by Washington? (Id.)
Given the repeated hijacking warnings issued, why wasn't
the Department of Defense informed and instructed to raise
the alert status of Continental U.S. air defense? Why, as
well it must be asked, once the FAA alerted the Pentagon of
the deviation from flight path, were not Air Force fighters
launched in time to intercept four hijacked aircraft before
they reached targets known to have been of interest to al
Qaeda in the New York and Washington, DC areas?
Tragically, there is more reason than not to conclude that
a day in open court when these questions might be fully answered
may never come because of the politics of post-9/11 America,
the institutional dynamics of the U.S. justice system, and
the formidable (and expanding) immunities to prosecution that
shield U.S. officials and their agents.
Nevertheless, there is today sufficient evidence today to
make a case by a preponderance of the evidence of 3,000 counts
of negligent homicide by U.S. officials. It is up to the American
people to make up their own minds about assigning guilt and