Op-ed Submission to the Wall Street Journal
May 11, 2004
What is a Citizen to Do?
How could 19 middle-eastern men simultaneously hijack 4 commercial
airplanes in two hours, crash them into the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon and murder 3000 innocent people?
With the billions spent each year on defense and intelligence, why did
our nation do so little in a defensive posture to mitigate the vast
devastation that was brought upon us by these 19 men?
Our research began with every agency and every policy that could
possibly shed some light on why the tragedy of 9/11 was not averted.
With each revelation and each new understanding, our na´vetÚ waned
and the challenges loomed large. The problems were systemic in nature.
Changes were needed everywhere. Agencies, 20 years after the Cold War
had ended, were still operating in a Cold War posture. Terrorists were
not watch-listed. FBI computers were antiquated. Intelligence agents
and supervisors failed to analyze and investigate creatively,
aggressively, and with curiosity. Congress and the Executive Branch
failed to properly share their growing National Security concerns
and garner the will of the nation to fight this new war against
terrorism. The media was more prone to cover scandal than terrorism.
Our research revealed that numerous indicators throughout our intelligence
history illustrated the use, or intended use of planes as missiles. We found
field reports, case files and studies, eye witness testimony, intelligence
community threat matrices, and Department of Defense mock drills all addressing
the "planes as missiles" idea.
In fact, during the summer of 2001, President Bush attended the G-8
summit in Genoa,Italy where specific protections were put into place
to ward against an air attack. Moreover, FBI agents testified in the
Embassy bombing trial in NYC during the spring of 2001 that al-Qaeda
was interested in suicide hijackers flying planes into buildings—buildings
like the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Finally, we learned that
the Olympic games in Atlanta and Salt Lake City had included aerial
attacks in their security protocols.
Indeed, most haunting is what we found out about Al-Qaeda and their
attempt to attack Atlanta, Georgia during the summer Olympics. Because
of the heightened protection and alert status during the Atlanta Games,
al-Qaeda got "spooked" and called off their planned attack. And thus
began the "what ifs?"
What if the pre-9/11 national security apparatus', agencies and institutions
had matched themselves with similar alert levels? What if the 19 hijackers on
9/11 noticed that same type of vigilant security, gotten spooked themselves
and delayed their attack by days or even months? More potently, would such
a delay have given enough time to our Intelligence Community to discover
and/or minimize the damage of the plot?
Could the FBI have had enough time to receive the FISA warrant on
Zaccharias Moussaoui? Afterall, the FBI had enough information to
meet probable cause for a FISA warrant because French intelligence
in August 2001 had handed over a huge file on Moussaoui linking him
to terrorist groups. Moreover, given the fact that Moussaoui was
attending the same flight school that the FBI had investigated since
1998 because of the many known middle-eastern terrorists training
there, maybe the FBI could have applied for and received a simple
Perhaps, the internal decision in May 2001 by FISA Court Chief Judge
Royce C. Lamberth that had a "chilling effect" on all FBI surveillance
and wiretapping of terrorist organizations-including Al-Qaeda cells in
the US, during the spring and summer 2001 could have been lifted or at
the very least tempered?
Or maybe the hijackers could have been watch-listed and forbidden
to fly on commercial flights? What if the airline pilots were told
that hijackers were capable of flying commercial airliners and to
not allow anyone into the cockpit-whether or not they were in uniform?
What if airport security was told to be on the lookout for possible
terrorist suspects and/or contraband such as gas masks, mace, pepper
spray, guns and/or knives?
Could the NSA have translated the phone conversations or intercepts
of the hijackers, Bin Laden, Bin Laden family members, and other
Al-Qaeda operatives that they had in their possession throughout
the summer and early fall of 2001? Could the NSA have acted on
and/or communicated this information to the FBI, CIA, and National
Security Council in time?
Perhaps, FBI Agent David Frasca may have had the time to read the
Phoenix memorandum and the Moussaoui information both of which
were on his desk by August 2001 and put the two files together?
Could the FBI have had the time to find two of the hijackers, Al-Midhar
and Al-hazmi, who were already under investigation for two years by CIA
after CIA had conducted surveillance on a terrorist meeting in Malaysia
in January 2000? After all, Al-Midhar and Al-Hazmi were living in San
Diego, listed in the phone book, had bank accounts in their own names,
trained at flight schools and resided with a known FBI informant?
Could CIA have found Marwan Al-Shehi? He was Mohammed Atta's roommate
and visited the same flight school that Moussaoui was arrested at by the
FBI. CIA had the name "Marwan" and a phone number given to them by the
German government. Could they have had the time to follow-up with this information?
Could our National Security Council's Principals who first met on September 4,
2001 had more time to hold a second meeting where they could have discussed the
threat spikes and foreign government warnings from Russia, Israel, Germany, and
Egypt that Al-Qaeda was planning an imminent and spectacular attack on the
domestic US? Would our NSC Principals have had the time to harden our homeland
Could NORAD have placed fighter jets on shorter alert status, so that our air
defense did not arrive too late like it did on 9/11? Perhaps, with over an
hour's worth of notice before the attack on the Pentagon, the F-16's could
have arrived on time to protect our Department of Defense.
Could we learn from this tragedy so that it would not be repeated? Could
our fellow citizens be willing to shed sunlight onto the inadequacies of our
government's ability to defend itself against terrorism? Could our elected
officials cease the diversionary tactics of "mudslinging" and "name-calling" long enough to allow the facts to be revealed, examined, and fixed? Could
the media no longer fall prey to sensational stories and feed the public
information that truly informs and educates them about our nation's ability
to fight terrorism?
Democracy cannot prosper on blind-faith. To work effectively,
democracy's foundation -the people, must be well informed. And, in
order to be more informed, more responsive, and more prepared for the
challenges ahead, we must continue to ask questions to our leaders;
that is our duty as responsible citizens. It is why the 9/11 Independent
Commission's investigative work, public hearings, public Final Report
and public Recommendations are so vital.
The only way elected officials, agencies and institutions can be held
accountable and responsible is if we, the American people, stay vigilant
and informed. Before 9/11, the will of the nation to fight terrorism was
not present. Post 9/11, the will of this nation exists to confront the
battle of terrorism.
But fighting terrorism is not simply an offensive strategy. It is a
combined and cumulative process. We need the intelligence agencies to
investigate more creatively and aggressively. We need our judicial
process to permit the fair and just prosecution of terrorists. We
need our foreign policy to issue sanctions to all countries that
sponsor terrorism, even if that means our foreign economic dependency
suffers. We need our Treasury Department to have the resources to dry
up money lines that fund terrorist organizations. We need big business
interests to yield to the common good.
Our elected officials who take an oath of office to lead, protect,
and serve need to be held responsible and accountable. They must have
the courage and curiosity to ask questions, to have established and
reliable plans and back-up plans, to demand action, reforms and to
welcome personal responsibility.
Most importantly, our elected officials need to remember that they
are serving at the will of the people. As our public stewards, it
should not be the sanctity of their own political well-being that
most consumes their actions and decisions. More correctly, it
should be the safety, security and well-being of the people that
they serve that should pre-occupy their time.
In a post-9/11 world, it is the responsible preservation of
all life that must transcend politics.
Lorie Van Auken