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Report: Sept. 11 preventable if agencies had shared information

By Times Wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 24, 2003

Click here for the complete report

WASHINGTON - The Sept. 11 attacks were preventable, but went undetected because of communications lapses between the FBI and CIA, which failed to share intelligence related to two of the hijackers, a congressional report to be released today has concluded.

The government intercepted conversations by early 1999 indicating that Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhamzi, who were aboard the plane that hit the Pentagon, were connected to a suspected al-Qaida facility in the Middle East, but the National Security Agency did not pass on the information to other agencies, the congressional report concludes.

The NSA interception was the first evidence in American possession that Almihdhar and Alhamzi were connected to each other and to al-Qaida, but some of that information was not brought to the attention of other agencies until early 2002 after Congress began investigating pre-Sept. 11 failures, according to excerpts of the report.

The Associated Press obtained excerpts from officials who had read it after it was declassified.

The report, by a joint committee of the House and Senate intelligence panels, found that for nearly two years before the attacks, the CIA knew about the terror connections of the two men, who in 2000 moved to San Diego, frequenting Muslim circles that had been infiltrated by FBI.

The document criticizes the performance of all the major U.S. terrorism-fighting agencies for missing signs and miscalculating the growing threat of a terror attack on U.S. soil but concludes none had information that "identified the time, place and specific nature of the attacks that were planned for Sept. 11, 2001," and killed more than 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

"Beginning in 1998 and continuing into the summer of 2001, the intelligence community received a modest, but relatively steady, stream of intelligence reporting that indicated the possibility of terrorist attacks within the United States," the report states.

It notes there was repeated information dating to 1994 that Osama bin Laden's network would like to use aircraft as weapons to carry out the attacks and that targets ranged from embassies to airports.

"Nonetheless, testimony and interviews confirm that it was the general view of the intelligence community . . . that the threatened bin Laden attacks would most likely occur against U.S. interests overseas," the report noted.

As for the opportunity to have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks, the report states: "No one will ever know what might have happened had more connections been drawn between these disparate pieces of information."

The report runs about 900 pages in its unclassified form and makes several revelations, including that the CIA had received unconfirmed intelligence before the attacks that suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been in the United States as recently as May 2001.

The report concludes that neither the FBI or CIA acted forcefully enough to collect intelligence from informants in the United States and abroad.

Both agencies say they have worked to overcome their communication failings by creating a joint threat assessment units and by exchanging far more information than in the past.

- Information from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.

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