There’s no better example of how things have changed since 9/11 than the latest terrorist threat warning tonight. Before September 11th we, the American people, never heard such a warning. Spokesmen for Department of Homeland Security stated that there has been a “specific, credible but unconfirmed” threat against the United States. President Obama was briefed about the threat early this morning. Now, in the post-9/11 era, we know that Al Qaeda likes these important dates. Everybody in Homeland Security is keenly aware that Al Qaeda would like to try to attack inside the United States on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
I would like to take you to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in early January of 2000. Through various means, the intelligence community became aware of a high-level terrorist/Al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar (together these terrorists retrained passengers on Flight 77 which was thrown into the Pentagon) were two of the participants of this meeting. The NSA and the CIA were already aware of the existence of both men. Both participated in the holy war in Bosnia. Both pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden sometime in 1998. For reasons that I’ve never been able to understand, our intelligence services allowed the Malaysian intelligence service to monitor this meeting. The Malaysian intelligence service was unable to place a listening device in the meeting. We were able to get pictures that were relayed to us from the Malaysian intelligence service. It is now known that the bombing of the USS Cole was discussed at this Malaysian meeting. Had we had a listening device in the meeting, it is possible that we could have thwarted that terrorist plot. It is also reasonable to assume that the attacks of 9/11 were also discussed, although I have not been able to collaborate this in any of my reading.
So the CIA has this information on al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. Somehow, when this meeting in Kuala Lumpur breaks up, the US intelligence service loses all track of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. It’s never been clearly explained what the CIA did with the photographs of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. It is clear that the CIA knew that they were terrorists. But the CIA did not alert the Immigration and Naturalization Service (responsible for border security at that time) and they did not alert the State Department, who had the largest active list of terrorist suspects. As far as I can tell, they didn’t share this information with anyone. Furthermore, one would figure that the CIA, after finding out that they missed out on this once-in-a-lifetime terrorist summit, would have gotten some agents over to Kuala Lumpur to watch the condominium where the meetings had taken place. Had they done so, they would’ve found Zacharias Moussaoui, who was arrested prior to the 9/11 attacks and was thought to be the 20th hijacker.
In late January of 2000, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar turn up in Los Angeles. More on this later.
We have been told that a lot of the errors that occurred before 9/11 have been fixed. We have been told that there is increased communication between our security agencies. So, with 9/11 looming, I truly hope that they have fixed these things.
Check out NYT’s special section on 9/11. Very nice.