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In chapter 2, we described the growth of a new kind of terrorism, and a 
new terrorist organization — especially from 1988 to 1998, -when Usama Bin 
Ladin declared war and organized the bombing of two U.S. embassies. In this 
chapter, we trace the parallel evolution of government efforts to counter ter- 
rorism by Islamic extremists against the United States. 

We mention many personalities in this report. As in any study of the U.S. 
government, some of the most important characters are institutions. We will 
introduce various agencies, and how they adapted to a new kind of terrorism. 


At 18 minutes after noon on February 26, 1993, a huge bomb went off beneath 
the two towers of the World Trade Center. This was not a suicide attack. The 
terrorists parked a truck bomb with a timing device on Level B-2 of the under- 
ground garage, then departed. The ensuing explosion opened a hole seven sto- 
ries up. Six people died. More than a thousand were injured. An FBI agent at 
the scene described the relatively low number of fatalities as a miracle. 1 

President Bill Clinton ordered his National Security Council to coordinate 
the response. Government agencies swung into action to find the culprits. The 
Counterterrorist Center located at the CIA combed its files and queried 
sources around the world. The National Security Agency (NSA), the huge 
Defense Department signals collection agency, ramped up its communications 
intercept network and searched its databases for clues. 2 The New York Field 
Office of the FBI took control of the local investigation and, in the end, set a 
pattern for future management of terrorist incidents. 

Four features of this episode have significance for the story of 9/11. 


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First, the bombing signaled a new terrorist challenge, one whose rage and 
malice had no limit. RamziYousef, the Sunni extremist -who planted the bomb, 
said later that he had hoped to kill 250,000 people. 3 

Second, the FBI and the Justice Department did excellent work investigat- 
ing the bombing. Within days, the FBI identified a truck remnant as part of a 
Ryder rental van reported stolen in Jersey City the day before the bombing. 4 

Mohammed Salameh, who had rented the truck and reported it stolen, kept 
calling the rental office to get back his $400 deposit. The FBI arrested him there 
on March 4, 1993. In short order, the Bureau had several plotters in custody, 
including Nidal Ayyad, an engineer who had acquired chemicals for the bomb, 
and Mahmoud Abouhalima, who had helped mix the chemicals. 5 

The FBI identified another conspirator, Ahmad Ajaj, who had been arrested 
by immigration authorities at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Sep- 
tember 1992 and charged with document fraud. His traveling companion was 
RamziYousef, who had also entered with fraudulent documents but claimed 
political asylum and was admitted. It quickly became clear that Yousef had been 
a central player in the attack. He had fled to Pakistan immediately after the 
bombing and would remain at large for nearly two years. 6 

The arrests of Salameh, Abouhalima, and Ayyad led the FBI to the Farouq 
mosque in Brooklyn, where a central figure was Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, 
an extremist Sunni Muslim cleric who had moved to the United States from 
Egypt in 1990. In speeches and writings, the sightless Rahman, often called the 
"Blind Sheikh," preached the message of Sayyid Qutb's Milestones, characteriz- 
ing the United States as the oppressor of Muslims worldwide and asserting that 
it was their religious duty to fight against God's enemies. An FBI informant 
learned of a plan to bomb major New York landmarks, including the Holland 
and Lincoln tunnels. Disrupting this "landmarks plot," the FBI in June 1993 
arrested Rahman and various confederates. 7 

As a result of the investigations and arrests, the U.S. Attorney for the South- 
ern District of New York prosecuted and convicted multiple individuals, 
including Ajaj, Salameh, Ayyad, Abouhalima, the Blind Sheikh, and Ramzi 
Yousef, for crimes related to the World Trade Center bombing and other plots. 

An unfortunate consequence of this superb investigative and prosecutorial 
effort was that it created an impression that the law enforcement system was 
well-equipped to cope with terrorism. Neither President Clinton, his princi- 
pal advisers, the Congress, nor the news media felt prompted, until later, to press 
the question of whether the procedures that put the Blind Sheikh and Ramzi 
Yousef behind bars would really protect Americans against the new virus of 
which these individuals were just the first symptoms. 8 

Third, the successful use of the legal system to address the first World Trade 
Center bombing had the side effect of obscuring the need to examine the char- 
acter and extent of the new threat facing the United States. The trials did not 
bring the Bin Ladin network to the attention of the public and policymakers. 

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The FBI assembled, and the U.S. Attorney's office put forward, some evi- 
dence showing that the men in the dock were not the only plotters. Materials 
taken from Ajaj indicated that the plot or plots were hatched at or near the 
Khaldan camp, a terrorist training camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. 
Ajaj had left Texas in April 1992 to go there to learn how to construct bombs. 
He had met Ramzi Yousef in Pakistan, where they discussed bombing targets 
in the United States and assembled a "terrorist kit" that included bomb-mak- 
ing manuals, operations guidance, videotapes advocating terrorist action 
against the United States, and false identification documents. 9 

Yousef was captured in Pakistan following the discovery by police in the 
Philippines in January 1995 of the Manila air plot, which envisioned placing 
bombs on board a dozen trans-Pacific airliners and setting them off simultane- 
ously. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — Yousef s uncle, then located in Qatar — was 
a fellow plotter ofYousef s in the Manila air plot and had also wired him some 
money prior to the Trade Center bombing. The U.S. Attorney obtained an 
indictment against KSM in January 1996, but an official in the government of 
Qatar probably warned him about it. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed evaded cap- 
ture (and stayed at large to play a central part in the 9/11 attacks). 10 

The law enforcement process is concerned with proving the guilt of per- 
sons apprehended and charged. Investigators and prosecutors could not pres- 
ent all the evidence of possible involvement of individuals other than those 
charged, although they continued to pursue such investigations, planning or 
hoping for later prosecutions. The process was meant, by its nature, to mark for 
the public the events as finished — case solvedjustice done. It was not designed 
to ask if the events might be harbingers of worse to come. Nor did it allow for 
aggregating and analyzing facts to see if they could provide clues to terrorist 
tactics more generally — methods of entry and finance, and mode of operation 
inside the United States. 

Fourth, although the bombing heightened awareness of a new terrorist dan- 
ger, successful prosecutions contributed to widespread underestimation of the 
threat. The government's attorneys stressed the seriousness of the crimes, and 
put forward evidence ofYousef s technical ingenuity. Yet the public image that 
persisted was not of clever Yousef but of stupid Salameh going back again and 
again to reclaim his $400 truck rental deposit. 


Legal processes were the primary method for responding to these early mani- 
festations of a new type of terrorism. Our overview of U.S. capabilities for deal- 
ing with it thus begins with the nation's vast complex of law enforcement 

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The Justice Department and the FBI 

At the federal level, much law enforcement activity is concentrated in the 
Department of Justice. For countering terrorism, the dominant agency under 
Justice is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI does not have a general 
grant of authority but instead works under specific statutory authorizations. 
Most of its work is done in local offices called field offices. There are 56 of 
them, each covering a specified geographic area, and each quite separate from 
all others. Prior to 9/11, the special agent in charge was in general free to set 
his or her offices priorities and assign personnel accordingly. 11 

The offices priorities were driven by two primary concerns. First, perform- 
ance in the Bureau was generally measured against statistics such as numbers 
of arrests, indictments, prosecutions, and convictions. Counterterrorism and 
counterintelligence work, often involving lengthy intelligence investigations 
that might never have positive or quantifiable results, was not career-enhanc- 
ing. Most agents who reached management ranks had little counterterrorism 
experience. Second, priorities were driven at the local level by the field offices, 
whose concerns centered on traditional crimes such as white-collar offenses 
and those pertaining to drugs and gangs. Individual field offices made choices 
to serve local priorities, not national priorities. 12 

The Bureau also operates under an "office of origin" system. To avoid dupli- 
cation and possible conflicts, the FBI designates a single office to be in charge 
of an entire investigation. Because the New York Field Office indicted Bin 
Ladin prior to the East Africa bombings, it became the office of origin for all 
Bin Ladin cases, including the East Africa bombings and later the attack on the 
USS Cole. Most of the FBI's institutional knowledge on Bin Ladin and al Qaeda 
resided there.This office worked closely with the U.S. Attorney for the South- 
ern District of New York to identify, arrest, prosecute, and convict many of the 
perpetrators of the attacks and plots. Field offices other than the specified office 
of origin were often reluctant to spend much energy on matters over which 
they had no control and for which they received no credit. 13 

The FBI's domestic intelligence gathering dates from the 1930s. With World 
War II looming, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered FBI Director J. Edgar 
Hoover to investigate foreign and foreign-inspired subversion — Communist, 
Nazi, and Japanese. Hoover added investigation of possible espionage, sabotage, 
or subversion to the duties of field offices. After the war, foreign intelligence 
duties were assigned to the newly established Central Intelligence Agency. 
Hoover jealously guarded the FBI's domestic portfolio against all rivals. 
Hoover felt he was accountable only to the president, and the FBI's domestic 
intelligence activities kept growing. In the 1960s, the FBI was receiving signif- 
icant assistance within the United States from the CIA and from Army Intel- 
ligence. The legal basis for some of this assistance was dubious. 

Decades of encouragement to perform as a domestic intelligence agency 
abruptly ended in the 1970s. Two years after Hoover's death in 1972, congres- 

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sional and news media investigations of the Watergate scandals of the Nixon 
administration expanded into general investigations of foreign and domestic 
intelligence by the Church and Pike committees. 14 They disclosed domestic 
intelligence efforts, which included a covert action program that operated from 
1956 to 1971 against domestic organizations and, eventually, domestic dissi- 
dents. The FBI had spied on a wide range of political figures, especially indi- 
viduals whom Hoover wanted to discredit (notably the Reverend Martin 
Luther King, Jr.), and had authorized unlawful wiretaps and surveillance. The 
shock registered in public opinion polls, where the percentage of Americans 
declaring a "highly favorable" view of the FBI dropped from 84 percent to 37 
percent. The FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division was dissolved. 15 

In 1976, Attorney General Edward Levi adopted domestic security guide- 
lines to regulate intelligence collection in the United States and to deflect calls 
for even stronger regulation. In 1983, Attorney General William French Smith 
revised the Levi guidelines to encourage closer investigation of potential ter- 
rorism. He also loosened the rules governing authorization for investigations 
and their duration. Still, his guidelines, like Levi's, took account of the reality 
that suspicion of "terrorism," like suspicion of "subversion," could lead to mak- 
ing individuals targets for investigation more because of their beliefs than 
because of their acts. Smiths guidelines also took account of the reality that 
potential terrorists were often members of extremist religious organizations and 
that investigation of terrorism could cross the line separating state and 
church. 16 

In 1986, Congress authorized the FBI to investigate terrorist attacks against 
Americans that occur outside the United States. Three years later, it added 
authority for the FBI to make arrests abroad without consent from the host 
country. Meanwhile, a task force headed by Vice President George H.W Bush 
had endorsed a concept already urged by Director of Central Intelligence 
William Casey — a Counterterrorist Center, where the FBI, the CIA, and other 
organizations could work together on international terrorism. While it was dis- 
tinctly a CIA entity, the FBI detailed officials to work at the Center and 
obtained leads that helped in the capture of persons wanted for trial in the 
United States. 

The strengths that the FBI brought to counterterrorism were nowhere more 
brilliantly on display than in the case of Pan American Flight 103, bound from 
London to New York, which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 
1988, killing 270 people. Initial evidence pointed to the government of Syria 
and, later, Iran. The Counterterrorist Center reserved judgment on the perpe- 
trators of the attack. Meanwhile, FBI technicians, working with U.K. security 
services, gathered and analyzed the widely scattered fragments of the airliner. 
In 1991, with the help of the Counterterrorist Center, they identified one small 
fragment as part of a timing device — to the technicians, as distinctive as DNA. 
It was a Libyan device. Together with other evidence, the FBI put together a 

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case pointing conclusively to the Libyan government. Eventually Libya 
acknowledged its responsibility. 17 Pan Am 103 became a cautionary tale 
against rushing to judgment in attributing responsibility for a terrorist act. It 
also showed again how — given a case to solve — the FBI remained capable of 
extraordinary investigative success. 

FBI Organization and Priorities 

In 1993, President Clinton chose Louis Freeh as the Director of the Bureau. 
Freeh, who would remain Director until June 2001, believed that the FBI's 
work should be done primarily by the field offices. To emphasize this view he 
cut headquarters staff and decentralized operations. The special agents in charge 
gained power, influence, and independence. 18 

Freeh recognized terrorism as a major threat. He increased the number of 
legal attache offices abroad, focusing in particular on the Middle East. He also 
urged agents not to wait for terrorist acts to occur before taking action. In his 
first budget request to Congress after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, 
he stated that "merely solving this type of crime is not enough; it is equally 
important that the FBI thwart terrorism before such acts can be perpetrated." 
Within headquarters, he created a Counterterrorism Division that would com- 
plement the Counterterrorist Center at the CIA and arranged for exchanges 
of senior FBI and CIA counterterrorism officials. He pressed for more coop- 
eration between legal attaches and CIA stations abroad. 19 

Freeh s efforts did not, however, translate into a significant shift of resources 
to counterterrorism. FBI, Justice, and Office of Management and Budget offi- 
cials said that FBI leadership seemed unwilling to shift resources to terrorism 
from other areas such as violent crime and drug enforcement; other FBI offi- 
cials blamed Congress and the OMB for a lack of political will and failure to 
understand the FBI's counterterrorism resource needs. In addition, Freeh did 
not impose his views on the field offices. With a few notable exceptions, the 
field offices did not apply significant resources to terrorism and often repro- 
grammed funds for other priorities. 20 

In 1998, the FBI issued a five-year strategic plan led by its deputy director, 
Robert "Bear" Bryant. For the first time, the FBI designated national and eco- 
nomic security, including counterterrorism, as its top priority. Dale Watson, who 
would later become the head of the new Counterterrorism Division, said that 
after the East Africa bombings, "the light came on" that cultural change had to 
occur within the FBI. The plan mandated a stronger intelligence collection effort. 
It called for a nationwide automated system to facilitate information collection, 
analysis, and dissemination. It envisioned the creation of a professional intelligence 
cadre of experienced and trained agents and analysts. If successfully implemented, 
this would have been a major step toward addressing terrorism systematically, 
rather than as individual unrelated cases. But the plan did not succeed. 21 

First, the plan did not obtain the necessary human resources. Despite des- 

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ignating "national and economic security" as its top priority in 1998, the 
FBI did not shift human resources accordingly. Although the FBI's counter- 
terrorism budget tripled during the mid-1990s, FBI counterterrorism 
spending remained fairly constant between fiscal years 1998 and 2001. In 
2000, there were still twice as many agents devoted to drug enforcement as 
to counterterrorism. 22 

Second, the new division intended to strengthen the FBI's strategic analy- 
sis capability faltered. It received insufficient resources and faced resistance from 
senior managers in the FBI's operational divisions. The new division was sup- 
posed to identify trends in terrorist activity, determine what the FBI did not 
know, and ultimately drive collection efforts. However, the FBI had little appre- 
ciation for the role of analysis. Analysts continued to be used primarily in a tac- 
tical fashion — providing support for existing cases. Compounding the problem 
was the FBI's tradition of hiring analysts from within instead of recruiting indi- 
viduals with the relevant educational background and expertise. 23 

Moreover, analysts had difficulty getting access to the FBI and intelligence 
community information they were expected to analyze. The poor state of the 
FBI's information systems meant that such access depended in large part on an 
analyst's personal relationships with individuals in the operational units or 
squads where the information resided. For all of these reasons, prior to 9/11 
relatively few strategic analytic reports about counterterrorism had been com- 
pleted. Indeed, the FBI had never completed an assessment of the overall ter- 
rorist threat to the U.S. homeland. 24 

Third, the FBI did not have an effective intelligence collection effort. Col- 
lection of intelligence from human sources was limited, and agents were inad- 
equately trained. Only three days of a 16-week agents' course were devoted to 
counterintelligence and counterterrorism, and most subsequent training was 
received on the job. The FBI did not have an adequate mechanism for validat- 
ing source reporting, nor did it have a system for adequately tracking and shar- 
ing source reporting, either internally or externally. The FBI did not dedicate 
sufficient resources to the surveillance and translation needs of counter- 
terrorism agents. It lacked sufficient translators proficient in Arabic and other 
key languages, resulting in a significant backlog of untranslated intercepts. 25 

Finally, the FBI's information systems were woefully inadequate. The FBI 
lacked the ability to know what it knew: there was no effective mechanism for 
capturing or sharing its institutional knowledge. FBI agents did create records of 
interviews and other investigative efforts, but there were no reports officers to 
condense the information into meaningful intelligence that could be retrieved 
and disseminated. 26 

In 1999, the FBI created separate Counterterrorism and Counterintelli- 
gence divisions. Dale Watson, the first head of the new Counterterrorism Divi- 
sion, recognized the urgent need to increase the FBI's counterterrorism 
capability. His plan, called MAXCAP 05, was unveiled in 2000: it set the goal 

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of bringing the Bureau to its "maximum feasible capacity" in counterterror- 
ism by 2005. Field executives told Watson that they did not have the analysts, 
linguists, or technically trained experts to carry out the strategy. In a report pro- 
vided to Director Robert Mueller in September 2001, one year after Watson 
presented his plan to field executives, almost every FBI field office was assessed 
to be operating below "maximum capacity."The report stated that "the goal to 
'prevent terrorism' requires a dramatic shift in emphasis from a reactive capa- 
bility to highly functioning intelligence capability which provides not only 
leads and operational support, but clear strategic analysis and direction." 27 

Legal Constraints on the FBI and "the Wall" 

The FBI had different tools for law enforcement and intelligence. 28 For crim- 
inal matters, it could apply for and use traditional criminal warrants. For intel- 
ligence matters involving international terrorism, however, the rules were 
different. For many years the attorney general could authorize surveillance of 
foreign powers and agents of foreign powers without any court review, but in 
1978 Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. 29 This law reg- 
ulated intelligence collection directed at foreign powers and agents of foreign 
powers in the United States. In addition to requiring court review of proposed 
surveillance (and later, physical searches), the 1978 act was interpreted by the 
courts to require that a search be approved only if its "primary purpose" was 
to obtain foreign intelligence information. In other words, the authorities of 
the FISA law could not be used to circumvent traditional criminal warrant 
requirements. The Justice Department interpreted these rulings as saying that 
criminal prosecutors could be briefed on FISA information but could not 
direct or control its collection. 30 

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Justice prosecutors had informal 
arrangements for obtaining information gathered in the FISA process, the 
understanding being that they would not improperly exploit that process for 
their criminal cases. Whether the FBI shared with prosecutors information 
pertinent to possible criminal investigations was left solely to the judgment of 
the FBI. 31 

But the prosecution of Aldrich Ames for espionage in 1994 revived con- 
cerns about the prosecutors' role in intelligence investigations. The Department 
of Justice's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) is responsible for 
reviewing and presenting all FISA applications to the FISA Court. It worried 
that because of the numerous prior consultations between FBI agents and pros- 
ecutors, the judge might rule that the FISA warrants had been misused. If that 
had happened, Ames might have escaped conviction. Richard Scruggs, the act- 
ing head of OIPR, complained to Attorney General Janet Reno about the lack 
of information-sharing controls. On his own, he began imposing information- 
sharing procedures for FISA material. The Office of Intelligence Policy and 
Review became the gatekeeper for the flow of FISA information to criminal 
prosecutors. 32 

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In July 1995, Attorney General Reno issued formal procedures aimed at 
managing information sharing between Justice Department prosecutors and 
the FBI. They were developed in a working group led by the Justice Depart- 
ment's Executive Office of National Security, overseen by Deputy Attorney 
General Jamie Gorelick. 33 These procedures — while requiring the sharing of 
intelligence information with prosecutors — regulated the manner in which 
such information could be shared from the intelligence side of the house to 
the criminal side. 

These procedures were almost immediately misunderstood and misapplied. 
As a result, there was far less information sharing and coordination between 
the FBI and the Criminal Division in practice than was allowed under the 
department's procedures. Over time the procedures came to be referred to as 
"the wall." The term "the wall" is misleading, however, because several factors 
led to a series of barriers to information sharing that developed. 34 

The Office of Intelligence Policy and Review became the sole gatekeeper 
for passing information to the Criminal Division. Though Attorney General 
Reno's procedures did not include such a provision, the Office assumed the 
role anyway, arguing that its position reflected the concerns of Judge Royce 
Lamberth, then chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The 
Office threatened that if it could not regulate the flow of information to crim- 
inal prosecutors, it would no longer present the FBI's warrant requests to the 
FISA Court. The information flow withered. 35 

The 1995 procedures dealt only with sharing between agents and criminal 
prosecutors, not between two kinds of FBI agents, those working on intelli- 
gence matters and those working on criminal matters. But pressure from the 
Office of Intelligence Policy Review, FBI leadership, and the FISA Court built 
barriers between agents — even agents serving on the same squads. FBI Deputy 
Director Bryant reinforced the Office's caution by informing agents that too 
much information sharing could be a career stopper. Agents in the field began 
to believe — incorrectly — that no FISA information could be shared with 
agents working on criminal investigations. 36 

This perception evolved into the still more exaggerated belief that the FBI 
could not share any intelligence information with criminal investigators, even 
if no FISA procedures had been used. Thus, relevant information from the 
National Security Agency and the CIA often failed to make its way to crimi- 
nal investigators. Separate reviews in 1999, 2000, and 2001 concluded inde- 
pendently that information sharing was not occurring, and that the intent of 
the 1995 procedures was ignored routinely. 37 We will describe some of the 
unfortunate consequences of these accumulated institutional beliefs and prac- 
tices in chapter 8. 

There were other legal limitations. Both prosecutors and FBI agents argued 
that they were barred by court rules from sharing grand jury information, even 
though the prohibition applied only to that small fraction that had been pre- 
sented to a grand jury, and even that prohibition had exceptions. But as inter- 

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preted by FBI field offices, this prohibition could conceivably apply to much 
of the information unearthed in an investigation. There were also restrictions, 
arising from executive order, on the commingling of domestic information 
with foreign intelligence. Finally the NSA began putting caveats on its Bin 
Ladin— related reports that required prior approval before sharing their contents 
with criminal investigators and prosecutors. These developments further 
blocked the arteries of information sharing. 38 

Other Law Enforcement Agencies 

The Justice Department is much more than the FBI. It also has a U.S. Marshals 
Service, almost 4,000 strong on 9/11 and especially expert in tracking fugi- 
tives, with much local police knowledge. The department's Drug Enforcement 
Administration had, as of 2001, more than 4,500 agents. 39 There were a num- 
ber of occasions when DEA agents were able to introduce sources to the FBI 
or CIA for counterterrorism use. 

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), with its 9,000 Border 
Patrol agents, 4,500 inspectors, and 2,000 immigration special agents, had per- 
haps the greatest potential to develop an expanded role in counterterrorism. 
However, the INS was focused on the formidable challenges posed by illegal 
entry over the southwest border, criminal aliens, and a growing backlog in the 
applications for naturalizing immigrants. The White House, the Justice Depart- 
ment, and above all the Congress reinforced these concerns. In addition, when 
Doris Meissner became INS Commissioner in 1993, she found an agency seri- 
ously hampered by outdated technology and insufficient human resources. Bor- 
der Patrol agents were still using manual typewriters; inspectors at ports of entry 
were using a paper watchlist; the asylum and other benefits systems did not 
effectively deter fraudulent applicants. 40 

Commissioner Meissner responded in 1993 to the World Trade Center 
bombing by providing seed money to the State Department's Consular Affairs 
Bureau to automate its terrorist watchlist, used by consular officers and border 
inspectors. The INS assigned an individual in a new "lookout" unit to work 
with the State Department in watchlisting suspected terrorists and with the 
intelligence community and the FBI in determining how to deal with them 
when they appeared at ports of entry. By 1998, 97 suspected terrorists had been 
denied admission at U.S. ports of entry because of the watchlist. 41 

How to conduct deportation cases against aliens who were suspected ter- 
rorists caused significant debate. The INS had immigration law expertise and 
authority to bring the cases, but the FBI possessed the classified information 
sometimes needed as evidence, and information-sharing conflicts resulted. 
New laws in 1996 authorized the use of classified evidence in removal hear- 
ings, but the INS removed only a handful of the aliens with links to terrorist 
activity (none identified as associated with al Qaeda) using classified evidence. 42 

Midlevel INS employees proposed comprehensive counterterrorism pro- 

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posals to management in 1986, 1995, and 1997. No action was taken on them. 
In 1997, a National Security Unit was set up to handle alerts, track potential 
terrorist cases for possible immigration enforcement action, and work with the 
rest of the Justice Department. It focused on the FBI's priorities of Hezbollah 
and Hamas, and began to examine how immigration laws could be brought to 
bear on terrorism. For instance, it sought unsuccessfully to require that CIA 
security checks be completed before naturalization applications were 
approved. 43 Policy questions, such as whether resident alien status should be 
revoked upon the person's conviction of a terrorist crime, were not addressed. 

Congress, with the support of the Clinton administration, doubled the num- 
ber of Border Patrol agents required along the border with Mexico to one 
agent every quarter mile by 1999. It rejected efforts to bring additional 
resources to bear in the north. The border with Canada had one agent for every 
13.25 miles. Despite examples of terrorists entering from Canada, awareness of 
terrorist activity in Canada and its more lenient immigration laws, and an 
inspector general's report recommending that the Border Patrol develop a 
northern border strategy, the only positive step was that the number of Border 
Patrol agents was not cut any further. 44 

Inspectors at the ports of entry were not asked to focus on terrorists. Inspec- 
tors told us they were not even aware that when they checked the names of 
incoming passengers against the automated watchlist, they were checking in 
part for terrorists. In general, border inspectors also did not have the informa- 
tion they needed to make fact-based determinations of admissibility. The INS 
initiated but failed to bring to completion two efforts that would have pro- 
vided inspectors with information relevant to counterterrorism — a proposed 
system to track foreign student visa compliance and a program to establish a way 
of tracking travelers' entry to and exit from the United States. 45 

In 1996, a new law enabled the INS to enter into agreements with state and 
local law enforcement agencies through which the INS provided training and 
the local agencies exercised immigration enforcement authority. Terrorist 
watchlists were not available to them. Mayors in cities with large immigrant 
populations sometimes imposed limits on city employee cooperation with fed- 
eral immigration agents. A large population lives outside the legal framework. 
Fraudulent documents could be easily obtained. Congress kept the number of 
INS agents static in the face of the overwhelming problem. 46 

The chief vehicle for INS and for state and local participation in law 
enforcement was the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), first tried out in New 
York City in 1980 in response to a spate of incidents involving domestic ter- 
rorist organizations. This task force was managed by the New York Field Office 
of the FBI, and its existence provided an opportunity to exchange information 
and, as happened after the first World Trade Center bombing, to enlist local offi- 
cers, as well as other agency representatives, as partners in the FBI investiga- 
tion. The FBI expanded the number of JTTFs throughout the 1990s, and by 

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9/11 there were 34. While useful, the JTTFs had limitations. They set priori- 
ties in accordance with regional and field office concerns, and most were not 
fully staffed. Many state and local entities believed they had little to gain from 
having a full-time representative on a JTTF. 47 

Other federal law enforcement resources, also not seriously enlisted for 
counterterrorism, were to be found in the Treasury Department. 

Treasury housed the Secret Service, the Customs Service, and the Bureau 
of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Given the Secret Service's mission to pro- 
tect the president and other high officials, its agents did become involved with 
those of the FBI whenever terrorist assassination plots were rumored. 

The Customs Service deployed agents at all points of entry into the 
United States. Its agents worked alongside INS agents, and the two groups 
sometimes cooperated. In the winter of 1999—2000, as will be detailed in 
chapter 6, questioning by an especially alert Customs inspector led to the 
arrest of an al Qaeda terrorist whose apparent mission was to bomb Los 
Angeles International Airport. 

The Bureau of Alcohol,Tobacco, and Firearms was used on occasion by the 
FBI as a resource.The ATF's laboratories and analysis were critical to the inves- 
tigation of the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the April 
1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. 48 

Before 9/11, with the exception of one portion of the FBI, very little of the 
sprawling U.S. law enforcement community was engaged in countering ter- 
rorism. Moreover, law enforcement could be effective only after specific indi- 
viduals were identified, a plot had formed, or an attack had already occurred. 
Responsible individuals had to be located, apprehended, and transported back 
to a U.S. court for prosecution. As FBI agents emphasized to us, the FBI and 
the Justice Department do not have cruise missiles. They declare war by indict- 
ing someone. They took on the lead role in addressing terrorism because they 
were asked to do so. 49 


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) within the Department of Trans- 
portation had been vested by Congress with the sometimes conflicting man- 
date of regulating the safety and security of U.S. civil aviation while also 
promoting the civil aviation industry. The FAA had a security mission to pro- 
tect the users of commercial air transportation against terrorism and other 
criminal acts. In the years before 9/1 1, the FAA perceived sabotage as a greater 
threat to aviation than hijacking. First, no domestic hijacking had occurred in 
a decade. Second, the commercial aviation system was perceived as more vul- 
nerable to explosives than to weapons such as firearms. Finally, explosives were 

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perceived as deadlier than hijacking and therefore of greater consequence. In 
1996, a presidential commission on aviation safety and security chaired by Vice 
President Al Gore reinforced the prevailing concern about sabotage and explo- 
sives on aircraft. The Gore Commission also flagged, as a new danger, the pos- 
sibility of attack by surface-to-air missiles. Its 1997 final report did not discuss 
the possibility of suicide hijackings. 50 

The FAA set and enforced aviation security rules, which airlines and air- 
ports were required to implement. The rules were supposed to produce a "lay- 
ered" system of defense. This meant that the failure of any one layer of security 
would not be fatal, because additional layers would provide backup security. 
But each layer relevant to hijackings — intelligence, passenger prescreening, 
checkpoint screening, and onboard security — was seriously flawed prior to 
9/11. Taken together, they did not stop any of the 9/11 hijackers from getting 
on board four different aircraft at three different airports. 51 

The FAA's policy was to use intelligence to identify both specific plots and 
general threats to civil aviation security, so that the agency could develop and 
deploy appropriate countermeasures. The FAA's 40-person intelligence unit 
was supposed to receive a broad range of intelligence data from the FBI, CIA, 
and other agencies so that it could make assessments about the threat to avia- 
tion. But the large volume of data contained little pertaining to the presence 
and activities of terrorists in the United States. For example, information on 
the FBI's effort in 1998 to assess the potential use of flight training by terror- 
ists and the Phoenix electronic communication of 2001 warning of radical 
Middle Easterners attending flight school were not passed to FAA headquar- 
ters. Several top FAA intelligence officials called the domestic threat picture a 
serious blind spot. 52 

Moreover, the FAA's intelligence unit did not receive much attention from 
the agency's leadership. Neither Administrator Jane Garvey nor her deputy rou- 
tinely reviewed daily intelligence, and what they did see was screened for them. 
She was unaware of a great amount of hijacking threat information from her 
own intelligence unit, which, in turn, was not deeply involved in the agency's 
policymaking process. Historically, decisive security action took place only after 
a disaster had occurred or a specific plot had been discovered. 53 

The next aviation security layer was passenger prescreening. The FAA 
directed air carriers not to fly individuals known to pose a "direct" threat to 
civil aviation. But as of 9/11, the FAA's "no-fly" list contained the names of 
just 12 terrorist suspects (including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh 
Mohammed), even though government watchlists contained the names of 
many thousands of known and suspected terrorists. This astonishing mismatch 
existed despite the Gore Commission's having called on the FBI and CIA four 
years earlier to provide terrorist watchlists to improve prescreening. The long- 
time chief of the FAA's civil aviation security division testified that he was not 
even aware of the State Department'sTIPOFF list of known and suspected ter- 

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rorists (some 60,000 before 9/11) until he heard it mentioned during the 
Commission's January 26, 2004, public hearing. The FAA had access to some 
TIPOFF data, but apparently found it too difficult to use. 54 

The second part of prescreening called on the air carriers to implement an 
FAA-approved computerized algorithm (known as CAPPS, for Computer 
Assisted Passenger Prescreening System) designed to identify passengers whose 
profile suggested they might pose more than a minimal risk to aircraft. 
Although the algorithm included hijacker profile data, at that time only pas- 
sengers checking bags were eligible to be selected by CAPPS for additional 
scrutiny. Selection entailed only having one's checked baggage screened for 
explosives or held off the airplane until one had boarded. Primarily because of 
concern regarding potential discrimination and the impact on passenger 
throughput, "selectees" were no longer required to undergo extraordinary 
screening of their carry-on baggage as had been the case before the system was 
computerized in 1997. 55 This policy change also reflected the perception that 
nonsuicide sabotage was the primary threat to civil aviation. 

Checkpoint screening was considered the most important and obvious layer 
of security. Walk-through metal detectors and X-ray machines operated by 
trained screeners were employed to stop prohibited items. Numerous govern- 
ment reports indicated that checkpoints performed poorly, often failing to 
detect even obvious FAA test items. Many deadly and dangerous items did not 
set off metal detectors, or were hard to distinguish in an X-ray machine from 
innocent everyday items. 56 

While FAA rules did not expressly prohibit knives with blades under 4 
inches long, the airlines' checkpoint operations guide (which was developed in 
cooperation with the FAA), explicitly permitted them. The FAA's basis for this 
policy was (1) the agency did not consider such items to be menacing, (2) most 
local laws did not prohibit individuals from carrying such knives, and (3) such 
knives would have been difficult to detect unless the sensitivity of metal detec- 
tors had been greatly increased. A proposal to ban knives altogether in 1993 
had been rejected because small cutting implements were difficult to detect and 
the number of innocent "alarms" would have increased significantly, exacer- 
bating congestion problems at checkpoints. 57 

Several years prior to 9/11, an FAA requirement for screeners to conduct 
"continuous" and "random" hand searches of carry-on luggage at checkpoints 
had been replaced by explosive trace detection or had simply become ignored 
by the air carriers. Therefore, secondary screening of individuals and their 
carry-on bags to identify weapons (other than bombs) was nonexistent, except 
for passengers who triggered the metal detectors. Even when small knives were 
detected by secondary screening, they were usually returned to the traveler. 
Reportedly, the 9/11 hijackers were instructed to use items that would be 
undetectable by airport checkpoints. 58 

In the pre-9/11 security system, the air carriers played a major role. As the 

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Inspector General of the Department ofTransportation told us, there were great 
pressures from the air carriers to control security costs and to "limit the impact 
of security requirements on aviation operations, so that the industry could con- 
centrate on its primary mission of moving passengers and aircraft. . . . [T]hose 
counterpressures in turn manifested themselves as significant weaknesses in 
security." A longtime FAA security official described the air carriers' approach 
to security regulation as "decry, deny and delay" and told us that while "the air 
carriers had seen the enlightened hand of self-interest with respect to safety, 
they hadn't seen it in the security arena." 59 

The final layer, security on board commercial aircraft, was not designed to 
counter suicide hijackings. The FAA-approved "Common Strategy" had been 
elaborated over decades of experience with scores of hijackings, beginning in 
the 1960s. It taught flight crews that the best way to deal with hijackers was to 
accommodate their demands, get the plane to land safely, and then let law 
enforcement or the military handle the situation. According to the FAA, the 
record had shown that the longer a hijacking persisted, the more likely it was 
to end peacefully. The strategy operated on the fundamental assumption that 
hijackers issue negotiable demands (most often for asylum or the release of pris- 
oners) and that, as one FAA official put it, "suicide wasn't in the game plan" of 
hijackers. FAA training material provided no guidance for flight crews should 
violence occur. 60 

This prevailing Common Strategy of cooperation and nonconfrontation 
meant that even a hardened cockpit door would have made little difference in 
a hijacking. As the chairman of the Security Committee of the Air Line Pilots 
Association observed when proposals were made in early 2001 to install rein- 
forced cockpit doors in commercial aircraft, "Even if you make a vault out of 
the door, if they have a noose around my flight attendant's neck, I'm going to 
open the door." Prior to 9/11, FAA regulations mandated that cockpit doors 
permit ready access into and out of the cockpit in the event of an emergency. 
Even so, rules implemented in the 1960s required air crews to keep the cock- 
pit door closed and locked in flight.This requirement was not always observed 
or vigorously enforced. 61 

As for law enforcement, there were only 33 armed and trained federal air 
marshals as of 9/11. They were not deployed on U.S. domestic flights, except 
when in transit to provide security on international departures. This policy 
reflected the FAA's view that domestic hijacking was in check — a view held 
confidently as no terrorist had hijacked a U.S. commercial aircraft anywhere in 
the world since 1986. 62 

In the absence of any recent aviation security incident and without "spe- 
cific and credible" evidence of a plot directed at civil aviation, the FAA's lead- 
ership focused elsewhere, including on operational concerns and the 
ever-present issue of safety. FAA Administrator Garvey recalled that "every day 
in 2001 was like the day before Thanksgiving." Heeding calls for improved air 

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service, Congress concentrated its efforts on a "passenger bill of rights," to 
improve capacity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction in the aviation system. 
There was no focus on terrorism. 63 


The National Security Act of 1947 created the position of Director of Central 
Intelligence (DCI). Independent from the departments of Defense, State, Justice, 
and other policy departments, the DCI heads the U.S. intelligence community and 
provides intelligence to federal entities. 

The sole element of the intelligence community independent from a cab- 
inet agency is the CIA. As an independent agency, it collects, analyzes, and dis- 
seminates intelligence from all sources. The CIA's number one customer is the 
president of the United States, who also has the authority to direct it to con- 
duct covert operations. 64 Although covert actions represent a very small frac- 
tion of the Agency's entire budget, these operations have at times been 
controversial and over time have dominated the public's perception of the CIA. 

The DCI is confirmed by the Senate but is not technically a member of the 
president's cabinet. The director's power under federal law over the loose, con- 
federated "intelligence community" is limited. 65 He or she states the commu- 
nity's priorities and coordinates development of intelligence agency budget 
requests for submission to Congress. 

This responsibility gives many the false impression that the DCI has line 
authority over the heads of these agencies and has the power to shift resources 
within these budgets as the need arises. Neither is true. In fact, the DCI's real 
authority has been directly proportional to his personal closeness to the presi- 
dent, which has waxed and waned over the years, and to others in government, 
especially the secretary of defense. 

Intelligence agencies under the Department of Defense account for 
approximately 80 percent of all U.S. spending for intelligence, including some 
that supports a national customer base and some that supports specific Defense 
Department or military service needs. 66 As they are housed in the Defense 
Department, these agencies are keenly attentive to the military's strategic and 
tactical requirements. 

One of the intelligence agencies in Defense with a national customer base 
is the National Security Agency, which intercepts and analyzes foreign com- 
munications and breaks codes. The NSA also creates codes and ciphers to pro- 
tect government information. Another is the recently renamed National 
Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which provides and analyzes imagery 
and produces a wide array of products, including maps, navigation tools, and 
surveillance intelligence. A third such agency in Defense is the National 
Reconnaissance Office. It develops, procures, launches, and maintains in orbit 

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information-gathering satellites that serve other government agencies. 

The Defense Intelligence Agency supports the secretary of defense, Joint 
Chiefs of Staff, and military field commanders. It does some collection through 
human sources as well as some technical intelligence collection. The Army, 
Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have their own intelligence components 
that collect information, help them decide what weapons to acquire, and serve 
the tactical intelligence needs of their respective services. 

In addition to those from the Department of Defense, other elements in the 
intelligence community include the national security parts of the FBI; the 
Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the State Department; the intelligence 
component of the Treasury Department; the Energy Department's Office of 
Intelligence and Counterintelligence, the former of which, through leverag- 
ing the expertise of the national laboratory system, has special competence in 
nuclear weapons; the Office of Intelligence of the Coast Guard; and, today, the 
Directorate of Intelligence Analysis and Infrastructure Protection in the 
Department of Homeland Security. 

The National Security Agency 

The National Security Agency's intercepts of terrorist communications often 
set off alarms elsewhere in the government. Often, too, its intercepts are con- 
clusive elements in the analyst's jigsaw puzzle. NSA engineers build technical 
systems to break ciphers and to make sense of today s complex signals environ- 
ment. Its analysts listen to conversations between foreigners not meant for 
them. They also perform "traffic analysis" — studying technical communications 
systems and codes as well as foreign organizational structures, including those 
of terrorist organizations. 

Cold War adversaries used very hierarchical, familiar, and predictable mili- 
tary command and control methods. With globalization and the telecommu- 
nications revolution, and with loosely affiliated but networked adversaries using 
commercial devices and encryption, the technical impediments to signals col- 
lection grew at a geometric rate. At the same time, the end of the Cold War 
and the resultant cuts in national security funding forced intelligence agencies 
to cut systems and seek economies of scale. Modern adversaries are skilled users 
of communications technologies. The NSA's challenges, and its opportunities, 
increased exponentially in "volume, variety, and velocity." 67 

The law requires the NSA to not deliberately collect data on U.S. citizens 
or on persons in the United States without a warrant based on foreign intelli- 
gence requirements. Also, the NSA was supposed to let the FBI know of any 
indication of crime, espionage, or "terrorist enterprise" so that the FBI could 
obtain the appropriate warrant. Later in this story, we will learn that while the 
NSA had the technical capability to report on communications with suspected 
terrorist facilities in the Middle East, the NSA did not seek FISA Court war- 
rants to collect communications between individuals in the United States and 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 88 


foreign countries, because it believed that this was an FBI role. It also did not 
want to be viewed as targeting persons in the United States and possibly vio- 
lating laws that governed NSA's collection of foreign intelligence. 68 

An almost obsessive protection of sources and methods by the NSA, and its 
focus on foreign intelligence, and its avoidance of anything domestic would, as 
will be seen, be important elements in the story of 9/11. 

Technology as an Intelligence Asset and Liability 

The application of newly developed scientific technology to the mission of U.S. 
war fighters and national security decisionmakers is one of the great success sto- 
ries of the twentieth century. It did not happen by accident. Recent wars have 
been waged and won decisively by brave men and women using advanced tech- 
nology that was developed, authorized, and paid for by conscientious and dili- 
gent executive and legislative branch leaders many years earlier. 

The challenge of technology, however, is a daunting one. It is expensive, 
sometimes fails, and often can create problems as well as solve them. Some of 
the advanced technologies that gave us insight into the closed-off territories 
of the Soviet Union during the Cold War are of limited use in identifying and 
tracking individual terrorists. 

Terrorists, in turn, have benefited from this same rapid development of com- 
munication technologies. They simply could buy off the shelf and harvest the 
products of a $3 trillion a year telecommunications industry.They could acquire 
without great expense communication devices that were varied, global, 
instantaneous, complex, and encrypted. 

The emergence of the World Wide Web has given terrorists a much easier 
means of acquiring information and exercising command and control over 
their operations. The operational leader of the 9/11 conspiracy, MohamedAtta, 
went online from Hamburg, Germany, to research U.S. flight schools. Targets 
of intelligence collection have become more sophisticated. These changes have 
made surveillance and threat warning more difficult. 

Despite the problems that technology creates, Americans' love affair with it 
leads them to also regard it as the solution. But technology produces its best 
results when an organization has the doctrine, structure, and incentives to 
exploit it. For example, even the best information technology will not improve 
information sharing so long as the intelligence agencies' personnel and secu- 
rity systems reward protecting information rather than disseminating it. 

The CIA 

The CIA is a descendant of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which Pres- 
ident Roosevelt created early in World War II after having first thought the FBI 
might take that role. The father of the OSS was William J. "Wild Bill" Dono- 
van, a Wall Street lawyer. He recruited into the OSS others like himself- — well 
traveled, well connected, well-to-do professional men and women. 69 

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An innovation of Donovan's, whose legacy remains part of U.S. intelligence 
today, was the establishment of a Research and Analysis Branch. There large 
numbers of scholars from U.S. universities pored over accounts from spies, com- 
munications intercepted by the armed forces, transcripts of radio broadcasts, 
and publications of all types, and prepared reports on economic, political, and 
social conditions in foreign theaters of operation. 

At the end ofWorld War II, to Donovans disappointment, President Harry 
Truman dissolved the Office of Strategic Services. Four months later, the Pres- 
ident directed that "all Federal foreign intelligence activities be planned, devel- 
oped and coordinated so as to assure the most effective accomplishment of the 
intelligence mission related to the national security," under a National Intelli- 
gence Authority consisting of the secretaries of State, War, and the Navy, and a 
personal representative of the president. This body was to be assisted by a Cen- 
tral Intelligence Group, made up of persons detailed from the departments of 
each of the members and headed by a Director of Central Intelligence. 70 

Subsequently, President Truman agreed to the National Security Act of 
1947, which, among other things, established the Central Intelligence Agency, 
under the Director of Central Intelligence. Lobbying by the FBI, combined 
with fears of creating a U.S. Gestapo, 71 led to the FBI's being assigned respon- 
sibility for internal security functions and counterespionage. The CIA was 
specifically accorded "no police, subpoena, or law enforcement powers or 
internal security functions." 72 This structure built in tensions between the CIA 
and the Defense Department's intelligence agencies, and between the CIA and 
the FBI. 

Clandestine and Covert Action. With this history, the CIA brought to the 
era of 9/11 many attributes of an elite organization, viewing itself as serving on 
the nation's front lines to engage America's enemies. Officers in its Clandestine 
Service, under what became the Directorate of Operations, fanned out into sta- 
tions abroad. Each chief of station was a very important person in the organi- 
zation, given the additional title of the DCI's representative in that country. He 
(occasionally she) was governed by an operating directive that listed operational 
priorities issued by the relevant regional division of the Directorate, constrained 
by centrally determined allocations of resources. 

Because the conduct of espionage was a high-risk activity, decisions on the 
clandestine targeting, recruitment, handling, and termination of secret sources 
and the dissemination of collected information required Washington's approval 
and action. But in this decentralized system, analogous in some ways to the cul- 
ture of the FBI field offices in the United States, everyone in the Directorate 
of Operations presumed that it was the job of headquarters to support the field, 
rather than manage field activities. 

In the 1960s, the CIA suffered exposure of its botched effort to land Cuban 
exiles at the Bay of Pigs. TheVietnam War brought on more criticism. A promi- 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 90 


nent feature of the Watergate era was investigations of the CIA by committees 
headed by Frank Church in the Senate and Otis Pike in the House.They pub- 
lished evidence that the CIA had secretly planned to assassinate Fidel Castro 
and other foreign leaders. The President had not taken plain responsibility for 
these judgments. CIA officials had taken most of the blame, saying they had 
done so in order to preserve the Presidents "plausible deniability." 73 

After the Watergate era, Congress established oversight committees to 
ensure that the CIA did not undertake covert action contrary to basic Amer- 
ican law. Case officers in the CIA's Clandestine Service interpreted legislation, 
such as the Hughes- Ryan Amendment requiring that the president approve and 
report to Congress any covert action, as sending a message to them that covert 
action often leads to trouble and can severely damage one's career. Controver- 
sies surrounding Central American covert action programs in the mid-1980s 
led to the indictment of several senior officers of the Clandestine Service. Dur- 
ing the 1990s, tension sometimes arose, as it did in the effort against al Qaeda, 
between policymakers who wanted the CIA to undertake more aggressive 
covert action and wary CIA leaders who counseled prudence and making sure 
that the legal basis and presidential authorization for their actions were unde- 
niably clear. 

The Clandestine Service felt the impact of the post— Cold War peace divi- 
dend, with cuts beginning in 1992. As the number of officers declined and 
overseas facilities were closed, the DCI and his managers responded to devel- 
oping crises in the Balkans or in Africa by "surging," or taking officers from 
across the service to use on the immediate problem. In many cases the surge 
officers had little familiarity with the new issues. Inevitably, some parts of the 
world and some collection targets were not fully covered, or not covered at all. 
This strategy also placed great emphasis on close relations with foreign liaison 
services, whose help was needed to gain information that the United States 
itself did not have the capacity to collect. 

The nadir for the Clandestine Service was in 1995, when only 25 trainees 
became new officers. 74 In 1998, the DCI was able to persuade the administra- 
tion and the Congress to endorse a long-range rebuilding program. It takes five 
to seven years of training, language study, and experience to bring a recruit up 
to full performance. 75 

Analysis. The CIA's Directorate of Intelligence retained some of its original 
character of a university gone to war. Its men and women tended to judge one 
another by the quantity and quality of their publications (in this case, classified 
publications). Apart from their own peers, they looked for approval and guid- 
ance to policymakers. During the 1990s and today, particular value is attached 
to having a contribution included in one of the classified daily "newspapers" — 
the Senior Executive Intelligence Brief — or, better still, selected for inclusion 
in the President's Daily Brief 76 

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The CIA had been created to wage the Cold War. Its steady focus on one 
or two primary adversaries, decade after decade, had at least one positive effect: 
it created an environment in which managers and analysts could safely invest 
time and resources in basic research, detailed and reflective. Payoffs might not 
be immediate. But when they wrote their estimates, even in brief papers, they 
could draw on a deep base of knowledge. 

When the Cold War ended, those investments could not easily be reallo- 
cated to new enemies. The cultural effects ran even deeper. In a more fluid 
international environment with uncertain, changing goals and interests, intel- 
ligence managers no longer felt they could afford such a patient, strategic 
approach to long-term accumulation of intellectual capital. A university cul- 
ture with its versions of books and articles was giving way to the culture of the 

During the 1990s, the rise of round-the-clock news shows and the Internet 
reinforced pressure on analysts to pass along fresh reports to policymakers at an 
ever-faster pace, trying to add context or supplement what their customers were 
receiving from the media. Weaknesses in all-source and strategic analysis were 
highlighted by a panel, chaired by Admiral David Jeremiah, that critiqued the 
intelligence community's failure to foresee the nuclear weapons tests by India 
and Pakistan in 1998, as well as by a 1999 panel, chaired by Donald Rumsfeld, 
that discussed the community's limited ability to assess the ballistic missile threat 
to the United States. Both reports called attention to the dispersal of effort on 
too many priorities, the declining attention to the craft of strategic analysis, and 
security rules that prevented adequate sharing of information. Another ColdWar 
craft had been an elaborate set of methods for warning against surprise attack, 
but that too had faded in analyzing new dangers like terrorism. 77 

Security. Another set of experiences that would affect the capacity of the CIA 
to cope with the new terrorism traced back to the early ColdWar, when the 
Agency developed a concern, bordering on paranoia, about penetration by the 
Soviet KGB. James Jesus Angleton, who headed counterintelligence in the CIA 
until the early 1970s, became obsessed with the belief that the Agency harbored 
one or more Soviet "moles." Although the pendulum swung back after Angle- 
ton's forced retirement, it did not go very far. Instances of actual Soviet pene- 
tration kept apprehensions high. 78 Then, in the early 1990s, came the Aldrich 
Ames espionage case, which intensely embarrassed the CIA. Though obviously 
unreliable, Ames had been protected and promoted by fellow officers while he 
paid his bills by selling to the Soviet Union the names of U.S. operatives and 
agents, a number of whom died as a result. 

The concern about security vastly complicated information sharing. Infor- 
mation was compartmented in order to protect it against exposure to skilled and 
technologically sophisticated adversaries. There were therefore numerous 
restrictions on handling information and a deep suspicion about sending infor- 

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mation over newfangled electronic systems, like email, to other agencies of the 
U.S. government. 79 

Security concerns also increased the difficulty of recruiting officers quali- 
fied for counterterrorism.Very few American colleges or universities offered 
programs in Middle Eastern languages or Islamic studies. The total number of 
undergraduate degrees granted in Arabic in all U.S. colleges and universities in 
2002 was six. 80 Many who had traveled much outside the United States could 
expect a very long wait for initial clearance. Anyone who was foreign-born or 
had numerous relatives abroad was well-advised not even to apply. With budg- 
ets for the CIA shrinking after the end of the Cold War, it was not surprising 
that, with some notable exceptions, new hires in the Clandestine Service 
tended to have qualifications similar to those of serving officers: that is, they 
were suited for traditional agent recruitment or for exploiting liaison relation- 
ships with foreign services but were not equipped to seek or use assets inside 
the terrorist network. 

Early Counterterrorism Efforts 

In the 1970s and 1980s, terrorism had been tied to regional conflicts, mainly 
in the Middle East.The majority of terrorist groups either were sponsored by 
governments or, like the Palestine Liberation Organization, were militants try- 
ing to create governments. 

In the mid-1980s, on the basis of a report from a task force headed by Vice 
President George Bush and after terrorist attacks at airports in Rome and 
Athens, the DCI created a Counterterrorist Center to unify activities across the 
Directorate of Operations and the Directorate of Intelligence. The Countert- 
errorist Center had representation from the FBI and other agencies. In the for- 
mal table of organization it reported to the DCI, but in fact most of the Centers 
chiefs belonged to the Clandestine Service and usually looked for guidance to 
the head of the Directorate of Operations. 81 

The Center stimulated and coordinated collection of information by CIA 
stations, compiled the results, and passed selected reports to appropriate stations, 
the Directorate of Intelligence analysts, other parts of the intelligence commu- 
nity, or to policymakers. The Center protected its bureaucratic turf.The Direc- 
tor of Central Intelligence had once had a national intelligence officer for 
terrorism to coordinate analysis; that office was abolished in the late 1980s and 
its duties absorbed in part by the Counterterrorist Center. Though analysts 
assigned to the Center produced a large number of papers, the focus was sup- 
port to operations. A CIA inspector general's report in 1994 criticized the Cen- 
ter's capacity to provide warning of terrorist attacks. 82 

Subsequent chapters will raise the issue of whether, despite tremendous tal- 
ent, energy, and dedication, the intelligence community failed to do enough in 
coping with the challenge from Bin Ladin and al Qaeda. Confronted with such 
questions, managers in the intelligence community often responded that they 
had meager resources with which to work. 83 

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Cuts in national security expenditures at the end of the Cold War led to 
budget cuts in the national foreign intelligence program from fiscal years 1990 
to 1996 and essentially fiat budgets from fiscal years 1996 to 2000 (except for 
the so-called Gingrich supplemental to the FY1999 budget and two later, 
smaller supplementals). These cuts compounded the difficulties of the intelli- 
gence agencies. Policymakers were asking them to move into the digitized 
future to fight against computer-to-computer communications and modern 
communication systems, while maintaining capability against older systems, 
such as high-frequency radios and ultra-high- and very-high-frequency (line 
of sight) systems that work like old-style television antennas. Also, demand for 
imagery increased dramatically following the success of the 1991 Gulf War. 
Both these developments, in turn, placed a premium on planning the next gen- 
eration of satellite systems, the cost of which put great pressure on the rest of 
the intelligence budget. As a result, intelligence agencies experienced staff 
reductions, affecting both operators and analysts. 84 

Yet at least for the CIA, part of the burden in tackling terrorism arose from 
the background we have described: an organization capable of attracting 
extraordinarily motivated people but institutionally averse to risk, with its 
capacity for covert action atrophied, predisposed to restrict the distribution of 
information, having difficulty assimilating new types of personnel, and accus- 
tomed to presenting descriptive reportage of the latest intelligence. The CIA, 
to put it another way, needed significant change in order to get maximum effect 
in counterterrorism. President Clinton appointed George Tenet as DCI in 
1997, and by all accounts terrorism was a priority for him. But Tenet's own 
assessment, when questioned by the Commission, was that in 2004, the CIA's 
clandestine service was still at least five years away from being fully ready to 
play its counterterrorism role. 85 And while Tenet was clearly the leader of the 
CIA, the intelligence community's confederated structure left open the ques- 
tion of who really was in charge of the entire U.S. intelligence effort. 


The State Department 

The Commission asked Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in 2004 
why the State Department had so long pursued what seemed, and ultimately 
proved, to be a hopeless effort to persuade the Taliban regime in Afghanistan 
to deport Bin Ladin. Armitage replied: "We do what the State Department 
does, we don't go out and fly bombers, we don't do things like that[;] . . . we 
do our part in these things." 86 

Fifty years earlier, the person in Armitage's position would not have spoken 
of the Department of State as having such a limited role. Until the late 1950s, 
the department dominated the processes of advising the president and Con- 

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gress on U.S. relations with the rest of the world.The National Security Coun- 
cil -was created in 1947 largely as a result of lobbying from the Pentagon for a 
forum where the military could object if they thought the State Department 
was setting national objectives that the United States did not have the where- 
withal to pursue. 

The State Department retained primacy until the 1960s, when the 
Kennedy and Johnson administrations turned instead to Robert McNamara's 
Defense Department, where a mini— state department was created to analyze 
foreign policy issues. President Richard Nixon then concentrated policy plan- 
ning and policy coordination in a powerful National Security Council staff, 
overseen by Henry Kissinger. 

In later years, individual secretaries of state were important figures, but the 
department's role continued to erode. State came into the 1990s overmatched 
by the resources of other departments and with little support for its budget 
either in the Congress or in the presidents Office of Management and Bud- 

Like the FBI and the CIA's Directorate of Operations, the State Department 
had a tradition of emphasizing service in the field over service in Washington. 
Even ambassadors, however, often found host governments not only making 
connections with the U.S. government through their own missions in Wash- 
ington, but working through the CIA station or a Defense attache. Increasingly, 
the embassies themselves were overshadowed by powerful regional command- 
ers in chief reporting to the Pentagon. 87 


In the 1960s and 1970s, the State Department managed counterterrorism pol- 
icy. It was the official channel for communication with the governments pre- 
sumed to be behind the terrorists. Moreover, since terrorist incidents of this 
period usually ended in negotiations, an ambassador or other embassy official 
was the logical person to represent U.S. interests. 

Keeping U.S. diplomatic efforts against terrorism coherent was a recurring 
challenge. In 1976, at the direction of Congress, the department elevated its 
coordinator for combating terrorism to the rank equivalent to an assistant sec- 
retary of state. As an "ambassador at large," this official sought to increase the 
visibility of counterterrorism matters within the department and to help inte- 
grate U.S. policy implementation among government agencies. The prolonged 
crisis of 1979— 1981, when 53 Americans were held hostage at the U.S. embassy 
in Tehran, ended the State Department leadership in counterterrorism. Presi- 
dent Carter's assertive national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, took 
charge, and the coordination function remained thereafter in the White House. 

President Reagan's second secretary of state, George Shultz, advocated active 
U.S. efforts to combat terrorism, often recommending the use of military force. 
Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger opposed Shultz, who made little head- 

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way against Weinberger, or even within his own department. Though Shultz 
elevated the status and visibility of counterterrorism coordination by appoint- 
ing as coordinator first L. Paul Bremer and then Robert Oakley, both senior 
career ambassadors of high standing in the Foreign Service, the department 
continued to be dominated by regional bureaus for which terrorism was not a 
first-order concern. 

Secretaries of state after Shultz took less personal interest in the problem. 
Only congressional opposition prevented President Clinton's first secretary of 
state, Warren Christopher, from merging terrorism into a new bureau that 
would have also dealt with narcotics and crime.The coordinator under Secre- 
tary Madeleine Albright told the Commission that his job was seen as a minor 
one within the department. 88 Although the description of his status has been 
disputed, and Secretary Albright strongly supported the August 1998 strikes 
against Bin Ladin, the role played by the Department of State in counterter- 
rorism was often cautionary before 9/11. This was a reflection of the reality 
that counterterrorism priorities nested within broader foreign policy aims of 
the U.S. government. 

State Department consular officers around the world, it should not be for- 
gotten, were constantly challenged by the problem of terrorism, for they han- 
dled visas for travel to the United States. After it was discovered that Abdel 
Rahman, the Blind Sheikh, had come and gone almost at will, State initiated 
significant reforms to its watchlist and visa-processing policies. In 1993, Con- 
gress passed legislation allowing State to retain visa-processing fees for border 
security; those fees were then used by the department to fully automate the 
terrorist watchlist. By the late 1990s, State had created a worldwide, real-time 
electronic database of visa, law enforcement, and watchlist information, the core 
of the post-9/11 border screening systems. Still, as will be seen later, the sys- 
tem had many holes. 89 

The Department of Defense 

The Department of Defense is the behemoth among federal agencies. With an 
annual budget larger than the gross domestic product of Russia, it is an empire. 
The Defense Department is part civilian, part mihtary.The civilian secretary of 
defense has ultimate control, under the president. Among the uniformed mil- 
itary, the top official is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is sup- 
ported by a Joint Staff divided into standard military staff compartments — J-2 
(intelligence), J-3 (operations), and so on. 

Because of the necessary and demanding focus on the differing mission of 
each service, and their long and proud traditions, the Army, Navy, Air Force, 
and Marine Corps have often fought ferociously over roles and missions in war 
fighting and over budgets and posts of leadership. Two developments dimin- 
ished this competition. 

The first was the passage by Congress in 1986 of the Goldwater-Nichols 

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Act, which, among other things, mandated that promotion to high rank 
required some period of duty with a different service or with a joint (i.e., 
multiservice) command. This had strong and immediate effects, loosening the 
loyalties of senior officers to their separate services and causing them to think 
more broadly about the military establishment as a whole. 90 However, it also 
may have lessened the diversity of military advice and options presented to the 
president. The Goldwater-Nichols example is seen by some as having lessons 
applicable to lessening competition and increasing cooperation in other parts 
of the federal bureaucracy, particularly the law enforcement and intelligence 

The second, related development was a significant transfer of planning and 
command responsibilities from the service chiefs and their staffs to the joint 
and unified commands outside of Washington, especially those for Strategic 
Forces and for four regions: Europe, the Pacific, the Center, and the South. Posts 
in these commands became prized assignments for ambitious officers, and the 
voices of their five commanders in chief became as influential as those of the 
service chiefs. 


The Pentagon first became concerned about terrorism as a result of hostage 
taking in the 1970s. In June 1976, Palestinian terrorists seized an Air France 
plane and landed it at Entebbe in Uganda, holding 105 Israelis and other Jews 
as hostages. A special Israeli commando force stormed the plane, killed all the 
terrorists, and rescued all but one of the hostages. In October 1977, aWest Ger- 
man special force dealt similarly with a Lufthansa plane sitting on a tarmac in 
Mogadishu: every terrorist was killed, and every hostage brought back safely. 
The White House, members of Congress, and the news media asked the Pen- 
tagon whether the United States was prepared for similar action. The answer 
was no. The Army immediately set about creating the Delta Force, one of 
whose missions was hostage rescue. 

The first test for the new force did not go well. It came in April 1980 dur- 
ing the Iranian hostage crisis, when Navy helicopters with Marine pilots flew 
to a site known as Desert One, some 200 miles southeast of Tehran, to ren- 
dezvous with Air Force planes carrying Delta Force commandos and fresh fuel. 
Mild sandstorms disabled three of the helicopters, and the commander ordered 
the mission aborted. But foul-ups on the ground resulted in the loss of eight 
aircraft, five airmen, and three marines. Remembered as "Desert One," this fail- 
ure remained vivid for members of the armed forces. It also contributed to the 
later Goldwater-Nichols reforms. 

In 1983 came Hezbollah's massacre of the Marines in Beirut. President Rea- 
gan quickly withdrew U.S. forces from Lebanon — a reversal later routinely 
cited by jihadists as evidence of U.S. weakness. A detailed investigation pro- 
duced a list of new procedures that would become customary for forces 

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deployed abroad.They involved a number of defensive measures, including cau- 
tion not only about strange cars and trucks but also about unknown aircraft 
overhead. "Force protection" became a significant claim on the time and 
resources of the Department of Defense. 

A decade later, the military establishment had another experience that 
evoked both Desert One and the withdrawal from Beirut. The first President 
Bush had authorized the use of U.S. military forces to ensure humanitarian 
relief in war-torn Somalia. Tribal factions interfered with the supply missions. 
By the autumn of 1993, U.S. commanders concluded that the main source of 
trouble was a warlord, Mohammed Farrah Aidid. An Army special force 
launched a raid on Mogadishu to capture him. In the course of a long night, 
two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down, 73 Americans were wounded, 
18 were killed, and the world's television screens showed images of an Amer- 
ican corpse dragged through the streets by exultant Somalis. Under pressure 
from Congress, President Clinton soon ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces. 
"Black Hawk down" joined "Desert One" as a symbol among Americans in 
uniform, code phrases used to evoke the risks of daring exploits without max- 
imum preparation, overwhelming force, and a well-defined mission. 

In 1995—1996, the Defense Department began to invest effort in planning 
how to handle the possibility of a domestic terrorist incident involving 
weapons of mass destruction (WMD).The idea of a domestic command for 
homeland defense began to be discussed in 1997, and in 1999 the Joint Chiefs 
developed a concept for the establishment of a domestic Unified Command. 
Congress killed the idea. Instead, the Department established the Joint Forces 
Command, located at Norfolk, Virginia, making it responsible for military 
response to domestic emergencies, both natural and man-made. 91 

Pursuant to the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Domestic Preparedness Program, 
the Defense Department began in 1997 to train first responders in 120 of the 
nation s largest cities. As a key part of its efforts, Defense created National Guard 
WMD Civil Support Teams to respond in the event of a WMD terrorist inci- 
dent. A total of 32 such National Guard teams were authorized by fiscal year 
2001. Under the command of state governors, they provided support to civil- 
ian agencies to assess the nature of the attack, offer medical and technical advice, 
and coordinate state and local responses. 92 

The Department of Defense, like the Department of State, had a coordina- 
tor who represented the department on the interagency committee concerned 
with counterterrorism. By the end of President Clinton's first term, this offi- 
cial had become the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and 
low-intensity conflict. 93 

The experience of the 1980s had suggested to the military establishment 
that if it were to have a role in counterterrorism, it would be a traditional mil- 
itary role — to act against state sponsors of terrorism. And the military had what 
seemed an excellent example of how to do it. In 1986, a bomb went off at a 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 98 


disco in Berlin, killing two American soldiers. Intelligence clearly linked the 
bombing to Libya's Colonel Muammar Qadhafi. President Reagan ordered air 
strikes against Libya.The operation was not cost free: the United States lost two 
planes. Evidence accumulated later, including the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 
103, clearly showed that the operation did not curb Qadhafi's interest in ter- 
rorism. However, it was seen at the time as a success. The lesson then taken from 
Libya was that terrorism could be stopped by the use of U.S. air power that 
inflicted pain on the authors or sponsors of terrorist acts. 

This lesson was applied, using Tomahawk missiles, early in the Clinton 
administration. George H. W. Bush was scheduled to visit Kuwait to be hon- 
ored for his rescue of that country in the Gulf War of 1991. Kuwaiti security 
services warned Washington that Iraqi agents were planning to assassinate the 
former president. President Clinton not only ordered precautions to protect 
Bush but asked about options for a reprisal against Iraq. The Pentagon proposed 
12 targets for Tomahawk missiles. Debate in the White House and at the CIA 
about possible collateral damage pared the list down to three, then to one — 
Iraqi intelligence headquarters in central Baghdad. The attack was made at 
night, to minimize civilian casualties. Twenty- three missiles were fired. Other 
than one civilian casualty, the operation seemed completely successful: the 
intelligence headquarters was demolished. No further intelligence came in 
about terrorist acts planned by Iraq. 94 

The 1986 attack in Libya and the 1993 attack on Iraq symbolized for the 
military establishment effective use of military power for counterterrorism — 
limited retaliation with air power, aimed at deterrence. What remained was the 
hard question of how deterrence could be effective when the adversary was a 
loose transnational network. 


Because coping with terrorism was not (and is not) the sole province of any 
component of the U.S. government, some coordinating mechanism is neces- 
sary. When terrorism was not a prominent issue, the State Department could 
perform this role. When the Iranian hostage crisis developed, this procedure 
went by the board: National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski took charge 
of crisis management. 

The Reagan administration continued and formalized the practice of hav- 
ing presidential staff coordinate counterterrorism. After the killing of the 
marines in Beirut, President Reagan signed National Security Directive 138, 
calling for a "shift . . . from passive to active defense measures" and reprogram- 
ming or adding new resources to effect the shift. It directed the State Depart- 
ment "to intensify efforts to achieve cooperation of other governments" and 
the CIA to "intensify use of liaison and other intelligence capabilities and also 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 99 


to develop plans and capability to preempt groups and individuals planning 
strikes against U.S. interests." 95 

Speaking to the American Bar Association in July 1985, the President char- 
acterized terrorism as "an act of war" and declared: "There can be no place on 
earth left where it is safe for these monsters to rest, to train, or practice their 
cruel and deadly skills. We must act together, or unilaterally, if necessary to 
ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary — anywhere." 96 The air strikes against 
Libya were one manifestation of this strategy. 

Through most of President Reagan's second term, the coordination of 
counterterrorism was overseen by a high-level interagency committee chaired 
by the deputy national security adviser. But the Reagan administration closed 
with a major scandal that cast a cloud over the notion that the White House 
should guide counterterrorism. 

President Reagan was concerned because Hezbollah was taking Americans 
hostage and periodically killing them. He was also constrained by a bill he 
signed into law that made it illegal to ship military aid to anticommunist Con- 
tra guerrillas in Nicaragua, whom he strongly supported. His national security 
adviser, Robert McFarlane, and McFarlane s deputy, Admiral John Poindexter, 
thought the hostage problem might be solved and the U.S. position in the Mid- 
dle East improved if the United States quietly negotiated with Iran about 
exchanging hostages for modest quantities of arms. Shultz and Weinberger, 
united for once, opposed McFarlane and Poindexter. 

A staffer for McFarlane and Poindexter, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver 
North, developed a scheme to trade U.S. arms for hostages and divert the pro- 
ceeds to the Contras to get around U.S. law. He may have had encouragement 
from Director of Central Intelligence William Casey. 97 

When the facts were revealed in 1986 and 1987, it appeared to be the 1970s 
all over again: a massive abuse of covert action. Now, instead of stories about 
poisoned cigars and Mafia hit men, Americans heard testimony about a secret 
visit to Tehran by McFarlane, using an assumed name and bearing a chocolate 
cake decorated with icing depicting a key. An investigation by a special coun- 
sel resulted in the indictment of McFarlane, Poindexter, North, and ten oth- 
ers, including several high-ranking officers from the CIA's Clandestine 
Service. The investigations spotlighted the importance of accountability and 
official responsibility for faithful execution of laws. For the story of 9/11, the 
significance of the Iran-Contra affair was that it made parts of the bureaucracy 
reflexively skeptical about any operating directive from the White House. 98 

As the national security advisor's function expanded, the procedures and 
structure of the advisor's staff, conventionally called the National Security 
Council staff, became more formal. The advisor developed recommendations 
for presidential directives, differently labeled by each president. For President 
Clinton, they were to be Presidential Decision Directives; for President George 
W. Bush, National Security Policy Directives. These documents and many oth- 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page IOC 


ers requiring approval by the president worked their way through interagency 
committees usually composed of departmental representatives at the assistant 
secretary level or just below it. The NSC staffhad senior directors who would 
sit on these interagency committees, often as chair, to facilitate agreement and 
to represent the wider interests of the national security advisor. 

When President Clinton took office, he decided right away to coordinate 
counterterrorism from the White House. On January 25, 1993, Mir Amal 
Kansi, an Islamic extremist from Pakistan, shot and killed two CIA employees 
at the main highway entrance to CIA headquarters in Virginia. (Kansi drove 
away and was captured abroad much later.) Only a month afterward came the 
World Trade Center bombing and, a few weeks after that, the Iraqi plot against 
former President Bush. 

President Clinton's first national security advisor, Anthony Lake, had 
retained from the Bush administration the staffer who dealt with crime, nar- 
cotics, and terrorism (a portfolio often known as "drugs and thugs"), the vet- 
eran civil servant Richard Clarke. President Clinton and Lake turned to Clarke 
to do the staff work for them in coordinating counterterrorism. Before long, 
he would chair a midlevel interagency committee eventually titled the Coun- 
terterrorism Security Group (CSG).We will later tell of Clarke's evolution as 
adviser on and, in time, manager of the U.S. counterterrorist effort. 

When explaining the missile strike against Iraq provoked by the plot to kill 
President Bush, President Clinton stated: "From the first days of our Revolu- 
tion,America's security has depended on the clarity of the message: Don't tread 
on us. A firm and commensurate response was essential to protect our sover- 
eignty, to send a message to those who engage in state-sponsored terrorism, to 
deter further violence against our people, and to affirm the expectation of civ- 
ilized behavior among nations." 99 

In his State of the Union message in January 1995, President Clinton prom- 
ised "comprehensive legislation to strengthen our hand in combating terror- 
ists, whether they strike at home or abroad." In February, he sent Congress 
proposals to extend federal criminal jurisdiction, to make it easier to deport 
terrorists, and to act against terrorist fund-raising. In early May, he submitted a 
bundle of strong amendments. The interval had seen the news from Tokyo in 
March that a doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, had released sarin nerve gas in a 
subway, killing 12 and injuring thousands. The sect had extensive properties and 
laboratories in Japan and offices worldwide, including one in New York. Nei- 
ther the FBI nor the CIA had ever heard of it. In April had come the bomb- 
ing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City; immediate suspicions 
that it had been the work of Islamists turned out to be wrong, and the bombers 
proved to be American antigovernment extremists named Timothy McVeigh 
and Terry Nichols. President Clinton proposed to amend his earlier proposals 
by increasing wiretap and electronic surveillance authority for the FBI, requir- 
ing that explosives carry traceable taggants, and providing substantial new 
money not only for the FBI and CIA but also for local police. 100 

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President Clinton issued a classified directive in June 1995, Presidential 
Decision Directive 39, which said that the United States should "deter, defeat 
and respond vigorously to all terrorist attacks on our territory and against our 
citizens."The directive called terrorism both a matter of national security and 
a crime, and it assigned responsibilities to various agencies. Alarmed by the inci- 
dent in Tokyo, President Clinton made it the very highest priority for his own 
staff and for all agencies to prepare to detect and respond to terrorism that 
involved chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. 101 

During 1995 and 1996, President Clinton devoted considerable time to 
seeking cooperation from other nations in denying sanctuary to terrorists. He 
proposed significantly larger budgets for the FBI, with much of the increase 
designated for counterterrorism. For the CIA, he essentially stopped cutting 
allocations and supported requests for supplemental funds for counterterror- 
ism. 102 

When announcing his new national security team after being reelected in 
1996, President Clinton mentioned terrorism first in a list of several challenges 
facing the country. 103 In 1998, after Bin Ladin's fatwa and other alarms, Pres- 
ident Clinton accepted a proposal from his national security advisor, Samuel 
"Sandy" Berger, and gave Clarke a new position as national coordinator for 
security, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism. He issued two Presi- 
dential Decision Directives, numbers 62 and 63, that built on the assignments 
to agencies that had been made in Presidential Decision Directive 39; laid out 
ten program areas for counterterrorism; and enhanced, at least on paper, 
Clarke's authority to police these assignments. Because of concerns especially 
on the part of Attorney General Reno, this new authority was defined in pre- 
cise and limiting language. Clarke was only to "provide advice" regarding budg- 
ets and to "coordinate the development of interagency agreed guidelines" for 
action. 104 

Clarke also was awarded a seat on the cabinet-level Principals Committee 
when it met on his issues — a highly unusual step for aWhite House staffer. His 
interagency body, the CSG, ordinarily reported to the Deputies Committee of 
subcabinet officials, unless Berger asked them to report directly to the princi- 
pals. The complementary directive, number 63, defined the elements of the 
nation's critical infrastructure and considered ways to protect it. Taken 
together, the two directives basically left the Justice Department and the FBI 
in charge at home and left terrorism abroad to the CIA, the State Department, 
and other agencies, under Clarke's and Berger's coordinating hands. 

Explaining the new arrangement and his concerns in another commence- 
ment speech, this time at the Naval Academy, in May 1998, the President said: 

First, we will use our new integrated approach to intensify the fight against 
all forms of terrorism: to capture terrorists, no matter where they hide; to 
work with other nations to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries overseas; to 
respond rapidly and effectively to protect Americans from terrorism at 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 10 



home and abroad. Second, we will launch a comprehensive plan to detect, 
deter, and defend against attacks on our critical infrastructures, our power 
systems, water supplies, police, fire, and medical services, air traffic con- 
trol, financial services, telephone systems, and computer networks. . . . 
Third, we will undertake a concerted effort to prevent the spread and use 
of biological weapons and to protect our people in the event these terri- 
ble weapons are ever unleashed by a rogue state, a terrorist group, or an 
international criminal organization. . . . Finally, we must do more to pro- 
tect our civilian population from biological weapons. 105 

Clearly, the President's concern about terrorism had steadily risen. That 
heightened worry would become even more obvious early in 1999, when 
he addressed the National Academy of Sciences and presented his most 
somber account yet of what could happen if the United States were hit, 
unprepared, by terrorists wielding either weapons of mass destruction or 
potent cyberweapons. 


Since the beginning of the Republic, few debates have been as hotly contested 
as the one over executive versus legislative powers. At the Constitutional Con- 
vention, the founders sought to create a strong executive but check its powers. 
They left those powers sufficiently ambiguous so that room was left for Con- 
gress and the president to struggle over the direction of the nation's security 
and foreign policies. 

The most serious question has centered on whether or not the president 
needs congressional authorization to wage war. The current status of that 
debate seems to have settled into a recognition that a president can deploy mil- 
itary forces for small and limited operations, but needs at least congressional 
support if not explicit authorization for large and more open-ended military 

This calculus becomes important in this story as both President Clinton and 
President Bush chose not to seek a declaration of war on Bin Ladin after he 
had declared and begun to wage war on us, a declaration that they did not 
acknowledge publicly. Not until after 9/11 was a congressional authorization 

The most substantial change in national security oversight in Congress took 
place following World War II. The Congressional Reorganization Act of 1946 
created the modern Armed Services committees that have become so power- 
ful today. One especially noteworthy innovation was the creation of the Joint 
House-Senate Atomic Energy Committee, which is credited by many with the 
development of our nuclear deterrent capability and was also criticized for 
wielding too much power relative to the executive branch. 

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Ironically, this committee was eliminated in the 1970s as Congress was 
undertaking the next most important reform of oversight in response to the 
Church and Pike investigations into abuses of power. In 1977, the House and 
Senate created select committees to exercise oversight of the executive 
branch's conduct of intelligence operations. 

The Intelligence Committees 

The House and Senate select committees on intelligence share some impor- 
tant characteristics. They have limited authorities. They do not have exclusive 
authority over intelligence agencies. Appropriations are ultimately determined 
by the Appropriations committees. The Armed Services committees exercise 
jurisdiction over the intelligence agencies within the Department of Defense 
(and, in the case of the Senate, over the Central Intelligence Agency). One con- 
sequence is that the rise and fall of intelligence budgets are tied directly to 
trends in defense spending. 

The president is required by law to ensure the congressional Intelligence 
committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities 
of the United States. The committees allow the CIA to some extent to with- 
hold information in order to protect sources, methods, and operations.The CIA 
must bring presidentially authorized covert action Findings and Memoranda 
of Notification to the Intelligence committees, and it must detail its failures. 
The committees conduct their most important work in closed hearings or 
briefings in which security over classified material can be maintained. 

Members of the Intelligence committees serve for a limited time, a restric- 
tion imposed by each chamber. Many members believe these limits prevent 
committee members from developing the necessary expertise to conduct effec- 
tive oversight. 

Secrecy, while necessary, can also harm oversight. The overall budget of the 
intelligence community is classified, as are most of its activities. Thus, the Intel- 
ligence committees cannot take advantage of democracy's best oversight 
mechanism: public disclosure. This makes them significantly different from 
other congressional oversight committees, which are often spurred into action 
by the work of investigative journalists and watchdog organizations. 

Adjusting to the Post— Cold War Era 

The unexpected and rapid end of the ColdWar in 1991 created trauma in the 
foreign policy and national security community both in and out of govern- 
ment.While some criticized the intelligence community for failing to forecast 
the collapse of the Soviet Union (and used this argument to propose drastic 
cuts in intelligence agencies), most recognized that the good news of being 
relieved of the substantial burden of maintaining a security structure to meet 
the Soviet challenge was accompanied by the bad news of increased insecurity. 
In many directions, the community faced threats and intelligence challenges 
that it was largely unprepared to meet. 

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So did the intelligence oversight committees. New digitized technologies, 
and the demand for imagery and continued capability against older systems, 
meant the need to spend more on satellite systems at the expense of human 
efforts. In addition, denial and deception became more effective as targets 
learned from public sources what our intelligence agencies were doing. There 
were comprehensive reform proposals of the intelligence community, such as 
those offered by Senators Boren and McCurdy. That said, Congress still took 
too little action to address institutional weaknesses. 106 

With the Cold War over, and the intelligence community roiled by the Ames 
spy scandal, a presidential commission chaired first by former secretary of 
defense Les Aspin and later by former secretary of defense Harold Brown exam- 
ined the intelligence community's future. After it issued recommendations 
addressing the DCI's lack of personnel and budget authority over the intelli- 
gence community, the Intelligence committees in 1996 introduced implement- 
ing legislation to remedy these problems. 

The Department of Defense and its congressional authorizing committees 
rose in opposition to the proposed changes. The President and DCI did not 
actively support these changes. Relatively small changes made in 1996 gave the 
DCI consultative authority and created a new deputy for management and 
assistant DCIs for collection and analysis. These reforms occurred only after the 
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence took the unprecedented step of 
threatening to bring down the defense authorization bill. Indeed, rather than 
increasing the DCI's authorities over national intelligence, the 1990s witnessed 
movement in the opposite direction through, for example, the transfer of the 
CIA's imaging analysis capability to the new imagery and mapping agency cre- 
ated within the Department of Defense. 

Congress Adjusts 

Congress as a whole, like the executive branch, adjusted slowly to the rise of 
transnational terrorism as a threat to national security. In particular, the grow- 
ing threat and capabilities of Bin Ladin were not understood in Congress. As the 
most representative branch of the federal government, Congress closely tracks 
trends in what public opinion and the electorate identify as key issues. In the 
years before September 11, terrorism seldom registered as important. To the 
extent that terrorism did break through and engage the attention of the Con- 
gress as a whole, it would briefly command attention after a specific incident, 
and then return to a lower rung on the public policy agenda. 

Several points about Congress are worth noting. First, Congress always has 
a strong orientation toward domestic affairs. It usually takes on foreign policy 
and national security issues after threats are identified and articulated by the 
administration. In the absence of such a detailed — and repeated — articulation, 
national security tends not to rise very high on the list of congressional prior- 
ities. Presidents are selective in their use of political capital for international issues. 

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In the decade before 9/11, presidential discussion of and congressional and 
public attention to foreign affairs and national security were dominated by 
other issues — among them, Haiti, Bosnia, Russia, China, Somalia, Kosovo, 
NATO enlargement, the Middle East peace process, missile defense, and glob- 
alization. Terrorism infrequently took center stage; and when it did, the con- 
text was often terrorists' tactics — a chemical, biological, nuclear, or computer 
threat — not terrorist organizations. 107 

Second, Congress tends to follow the overall lead of the president on budget 
issues with respect to national security matters. There are often sharp arguments 
about individual programs and internal priorities, but by and large the overall 
funding authorized and appropriated by the Congress comes out close to the 
president's request. This tendency was certainly illustrated by the downward 
trends in spending on defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs in the first part 
of the 1990s. The White House, to be sure, read the political signals coming 
from Capitol Hill, but the Congress largely acceded to the executive branch's 
funding requests. In the second half of the decade, Congress appropriated some 
98 percent of what the administration requested for intelligence programs. Apart 
from the Gingrich supplemental of $1.5 billion for overall intelligence pro- 
grams in fiscal year 1999, the key decisions on overall allocation of resources 
for national security issues in the decade before 9/11 — including counterter- 
rorism funding — were made in the president's Office of Management and Bud- 
get. 108 

Third, Congress did not reorganize itself after the end of the Cold War to 
address new threats. Recommendations by the Joint Committee on the Orga- 
nization of Congress were implemented, in part, in the House of Representa- 
tives after the 1994 elections, but there was no reorganization of national 
security functions. The Senate undertook no appreciable changes. Traditional 
issues — foreign policy, defense, intelligence — continued to be handled by 
committees whose structure remained largely unaltered, while issues such as 
transnational terrorism fell between the cracks. Terrorism came under the juris- 
diction of at least 14 different committees in the House alone, and budget and 
oversight functions in the House and Senate concerning terrorism were also 
splintered badly among committees. Little effort was made to consider an inte- 
grated policy toward terrorism, which might range from identifying the threat 
to addressing vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure; and the piecemeal 
approach in the Congress contributed to the problems of the executive branch 
in formulating such a policy. 109 

Fourth, the oversight function of Congress has diminished over time. In 
recent years, traditional review of the administration of programs and the 
implementation of laws has been replaced by "a focus on personal investiga- 
tions, possible scandals, and issues designed to generate media attention." The 
unglamorous but essential work of oversight has been neglected, and few mem- 
bers past or present believe it is performed well. DCI Tenet told us: "We ran 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 10 



from threat to threat to threat. . . . [Tjhere was not a system in place to say, 'You 
got to go back and do this and this and this.'" Not just the DCI but the entire 
executive branch needed help from Congress in addressing the questions of 
counterterrorism strategy and policy, looking past day-to-day concerns. Mem- 
bers of Congress, however, also found their time spent on such everyday mat- 
ters, or in looking back to investigate mistakes, and often missed the big 
questions — as did the executive branch. Staff tended as well to focus on 
parochial considerations, seeking to add or cut funding for individual (often 
small) programs, instead of emphasizing comprehensive oversight projects. 110 

Fifth, on certain issues, other priorities pointed Congress in a direction that 
was unhelpful in meeting the threats that were emerging in the months lead- 
ing up to 9/11. Committees with oversight responsibility for aviation focused 
overwhelmingly on airport congestion and the economic health of the airlines, 
not aviation security. Committees with responsibility for the INS focused on 
the Southwest border, not on terrorists. Justice Department officials told us that 
committees with responsibility for the FBI tightly restricted appropriations for 
improvements in information technology, in part because of concerns about 
the FBI's ability to manage such projects. Committees responsible for South 
Asia spent the decade of the 1990s imposing sanctions on Pakistan, leaving pres- 
idents with little leverage to alter Pakistan's policies before 9/11. Committees 
with responsibility for the Defense Department paid little heed to developing 
military responses to terrorism and stymied intelligence reform. All commit- 
tees found themselves swamped in the minutiae of the budget process, with lit- 
tle time for consideration of longer-term questions, or what many members 
past and present told us was the proper conduct of oversight. 111 

Each of these trends contributed to what can only be described as Con- 
gress's slowness and inadequacy in treating the issue of terrorism in the years 
before 9/11. The legislative branch adjusted little and did not restructure itself 
to address changing threats. 112 Its attention to terrorism was episodic and splin- 
tered across several committees. Congress gave little guidance to executive 
branch agencies, did not reform them in any significant way, and did not sys- 
tematically perform oversight to identify, address, and attempt to resolve the 
many problems in national security and domestic agencies that became appar- 
ent in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Although individual representatives and senators took significant steps, the 
overall level of attention in the Congress to the terrorist threat was low. We 
examined the number of hearings on terrorism from January 1998 to Septem- 
ber 2001. The Senate Armed Services Committee held nine — four related to 
the attack on the USS Cole. The House Armed Services Committee also held 
nine, six of them by a special oversight panel on terrorism. The Senate Foreign 
Relations Committee and its House counterpart both held four. The Senate 
Select Committee on Intelligence, in addition to its annual worldwide threat 
hearing, held eight; its House counterpart held perhaps two exclusively 

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devoted to counterterrorism, plus the briefings by its terrorist working group. 
The Senate and House intelligence panels did not raise public and congressional 
attention on Bin Ladin and al Qaeda prior to the joint inquiry into the attacks 
of September 11, perhaps in part because of the classified nature of their work. 
Yet in the context of committees that each hold scores of hearings every year 
on issues in their jurisdiction, this list is not impressive. Terrorism was a sec- 
ond- or third-order priority within the committees of Congress responsible 
for national security. 113 

In fact, Congress had a distinct tendency to push questions of emerging 
national security threats off its own plate, leaving them for others to consider. 
Congress asked outside commissions to do the work that arguably was at the 
heart of its own oversight responsibilities. 114 Beginning in 1999, the reports of 
these commissions made scores of recommendations to address terrorism and 
homeland security but drew little attention from Congress. Most of their 
impact came after 9/11.