Yeah, nobody was told that the US had had a declaration of war made, by an army that the US government had created to use against the Soviet Union. NH
Hearing Focuses Harsh Light on FBI
By Josh Meyer Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON-Despite a sudden burst of intelligence in the summer of 2001 pointing to an imminent Al Qaeda attack, including indications of a major event within the United States, the FBI (news - web sites) never passed that threat information to its thousands of field agents across the country.
Not even those agents involved in the FBI's 70 ongoing domestic terrorism investigations were told to "shake the trees" in an effort to dislodge information pointing to such an attack, despite bureau concerns about a pattern of "suspicious activity" that suggested terrorists might be planning a domestic hijacking.
The problem appears to go beyond the widely criticized failure of the FBI, the CIA and other agencies to share information and cooperate with one another. In this case, the intelligence warnings apparently reached FBI headquarters but were not passed along to field agents who might have been able to develop more information.
The FBI's failure to alert its agents to the spike in ominous intelligence came to light during Thursday's hearing of the congressionally mandated independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and at the Pentagon (news - web sites).
National security advisor Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites), in testimony before the commission, said the failure to detect the Sept. 11 plot was in large part a result of "structural" weaknesses in the intelligence community, particularly legal and other barriers that prevented the FBI, the CIA and other agencies from sharing information fully.
She acknowledged the existence of such problems inside the FBI too, but asserted that the bureau had done all it could to alert its agents to an impending attack.
That assertion was bluntly challenged by commission member Timothy J. Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana.
"We have done thousands of interviews here at the 9/11 commission. We have gone through literally millions of pieces of paper," Roemer said. "To date, we have found nobody-nobody at the FBI-who knows anything about a tasking of field offices."Nothing went down the chain to the FBI field offices on spiking of information, on knowledge of Al Qaeda in the country," he said.
FBI officials said Thursday and again Friday that they would issue no immediate response to the commissioner's remarks.
But the disclosures by the 9/11 commission suggested that the FBI's failures before the terrorist attacks were worse-and more systemic-than previously acknowledged, despite a steady stream of already embarrassing revelations over the last 2 1/2 years.
The new revelations also underscored how little the American public really knew about the FBI's central role in behind-the-scenes U.S. efforts to uncover and disrupt what was expected to be a "spectacular" Al Qaeda attack in the months before Sept. 11.
What the bureau did or did not do is likely to become much clearer next week.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the commission will place under oath current and former leaders of the FBI and its oversight agency, the Department of Justice (news - web sites).
Several of the 9/11 commissioners said in interviews that more embarrassing disclosures about the FBI would come out in the hearings, and that they planned to interrogate current FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft (news - web sites) and his predecessor, Janet Reno (news - web sites), about their counterterrorism plans and policies.
Those commissioners said they planned to save their most scorching criticism for Louis Freeh, who retired in June 2001 after eight years as President Clinton (news - web sites)'s FBI director and five months under Bush.
Several panelists said their investigation had shown that Freeh's near-total disregard for intelligence-gathering efforts and information sharing spread through the FBI culture, so much so that even the most alarming threats about Al Qaeda activities were not shared with other counterterrorism agencies or with FBI headquarters, other field offices and even within individual offices.
Freeh has consistently refused to comment on the issue.
"Clearly, what we had right up through 9/11 did not function properly. It did not do the job that was expected of it," said commissioner John F. Lehman, secretary of the Navy under President Reagan.
In interviews, Lehman-like commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean and at least one other commissioner-emphasized bureau-wide FBI shortcomings in concluding that they believed the terrorist attacks could have been prevented.
"We're not talking about specific decisions that one person did or didn't do, or if they felt it was urgent or not urgent," Lehman said. "It is because the domestic security system Before 9/11 was not adequate in so many ways."
Congressional investigators, for instance, revealed that the CIA waited 18 months, until Aug. 21, 2001, before asking domestic law enforcement agencies to place two suspected Al Qaeda operatives on a "watch list" that would deny them entry into the U.S. By then, both operatives were in the country and would later become two of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11.
Lehman was also critical of the FBI for failing to gather and analyze domestic intelligence that could have pointed to an Al Qaeda attack.
He stopped short of saying the commission would ultimately single out the FBI for a majority of its criticism when it releases its report July 26. And he declined to say whether the commission would call on the Bush administration to wrest domestic intelligence gathering from the FBI-against its wishes-and give it to the Department of Homeland Security or some new independent agency.
"You're getting ahead of us," Lehman said. "That's what we're going to talk about next week."
During their public session Thursday, the commission's 10 congressionally appointed members criticized a wide array of government agencies for failing to adequately respond to the escalating Al Qaeda threat, both domestically and overseas.
Lehman ticked off a long list of new disclosures about governmental lapses before Sept. 11:
* The U.S. Marshals Service had stopped assigning sky marshals to domestic flights. The Federal Aviation Administration (news - web sites) had for 10 straight years reported-to little effect-that inspection teams testing security systems at U.S. airports were able to penetrate them 80% of the time.
* The Immigration and Naturalization Service cut in half its internal security enforcement budget. And the U.S. government had officially decided-"for political reasons" to allow local police departments to refuse to share information and otherwise cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
* U.S. officials stood by as the Saudi Arabian government spread the seeds of terror by funding schools and mosques in the United States and overseas that spread a violent, anti-U.S. variation of Islam.
* The Saudi government repeatedly refused to give U.S. officials direct access to terrorists in its custody, including the chief financial officer of Al Qaeda and the perpetrators of the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers military housing complex in the city of Dhahran that killed 19 Americans.
A senior Saudi official, Adel Al-Jubeir, disputed Lehman's account.
Rice, for her part, said she had been unaware of most of the other problems Lehman cited until after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But throughout the summer of 2001, Rice said, the White House made the FBI well aware of the huge volume of threat information, most of it indicating an attack overseas.
As the summer wore on, the threats intensified. On Aug. 6, President Bush (news - web sites) was presented with a classified CIA briefing report ominously titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." All the while, Rice told the commissioners, she was given to understand that the FBI was fully mobilized.
"The FBI tasked all 56 of its U.S. field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities," she said.
Rice also said the bureau issued at least three nationwide warnings to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including FBI field offices.
In the past, much attention has focused on the FBI's problems in communicating with the CIA and other agencies. But the new disclosures, and next week's hearings, point toward problems of internal communication.
Roemer said that as part of its investigation, the commission had already interviewed one of next week's witnesses, Thomas J. Pickard, a veteran FBI official who took over as acting director after Freeh retired and until Mueller took over one week before the Sept. 11 attacks
Pickard, Roemer disclosed during the hearing, told the commission he never instructed the field offices to report back with information about suspicious activity.
"And we have talked to the special agents in charge. They don't have any recollection of receiving a notice of threat," Roemer said.
In addition to Roemer, Rice's assertions were challenged by Jamie S. Gorelick, a commission member and former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.
"You indicate in your statement that the FBI tasked its field offices to find out what was going on out there. We have no record of that," Gorelick told Rice. "The Washington field office international terrorism people say they never heard about the threat, they never heard about the warnings ... special agents in charge around the country, Miami in particular, no knowledge of this."
If such efforts had been made, Gorelick said, the FBI might have gleaned valuable information from FBI people on the front lines, such as FBI lawyer Colleen Rowley in Minnesota, who was suspicious of a French-Algerian man named Zacarias Moussaoui, who was detained as he attended flight school without being able to identify who was paying his tuition.
Moussaoui has since been charged as a co-conspirator in the Sept. 11 plot.
Concerns about Moussaoui were never passed along to senior FBI officials in Washington, who also never received a memo by an FBI counterterrorism agent in Phoenix that summer warning of suspicious Arab men taking flight lessons. His request for a bureau-wide investigation into such activity was rejected by FBI headquarters.
"And I personally believe, having heard Colleen Rowley's testimony about her frustrations in the Moussaoui incident, that if someone had really gone out to the agents who were working these issues on the ground and said, 'We are at battle stations. We need to know what's happening out there. Come to us,' she would have broken through barriers to have that happen, because she was knocking on doors and they weren't opening," Gorelick said.
FBI officials, while declining to comment publicly, forcefully objected to the remarks by the two commissioners. In interviews, several of them said that FBI officials from the director's office on down were fully mobilized in the hunt for Al Qaeda operatives.
One FBI official said the bureau had for months braced for the hearings focusing on the FBI. "Around here," the official said of FBI headquarters, "We've been calling it finger-pointing week."