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How 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

[Read Part 1]

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 matrix:

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. intelligence agencies.

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 of convenience.

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 to 9/11.

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 Œfour bin Ladin related individuals', including Almidhar and Alhazmi, be put on the watch list." (Ibid.)

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 consequences.

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