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Full text of "The 9/11 Commission report [electronic resource] : final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States"

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THE 9/11 

COMMISSION 

REPORT 



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CONTENTS 



List of Illustrations and Tables ix 
Member List xi 
Staff List xiii—xiv 
Preface xv 

1. "WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 1 

1.1 Inside the Four Flights 1 

1.2 Improvising a Homeland Defense 14 

1.3 National Crisis Management 35 

2. THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 47 

2.1 A Declaration ofWar 47 

2.2 Bin Ladin's Appeal in the Islamic World 48 

2.3 The Rise of Bin Ladin and al Qaeda (1988-1992) 55 

2.4 Building an Organization, Declaring 

War on the United States (1992-1996) 59 

2.5 Al Qaeda's Renewal in Afghanistan (1996-1998) 63 

3. COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 71 

3.1 From the Old Terrorism to the New: 

The First World Trade Center Bombing 71 

3.2 Adaptation — and Nonadaptation — 

in the La^w Enforcement Community 73 

3.3 . . . and in the Federal Aviation Administration 82 

3.4 . . . and in the Intelligence Community 86 



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3.5 . . . and in the State Department and the Defense Department 93 

3.6 . . . and in the White House 98 

3.7 . . . and in the Congress 102 

4. RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 108 

4.1 Before the Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania 108 

4.2 Crisis: August 1998 115 

4.3 Diplomacy 121 

4.4 Covert Action 126 

4.5 Searching for Fresh Options 134 

5. AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 145 

5.1 Terrorist Entrepreneurs 145 

5.2 The "Planes Operation" 153 

5.3 The Hamburg Contingent 160 

5.4 A Money Trail? 169 

6. FROM THREAT TO THREAT 174 

6.1 The Millennium Crisis 174 

6.2 Post-Crisis Reflection: Agenda for 2000 182 

6.3 The Attack on the USS Cole 190 

6.4 Change and Continuity 198 

6.5 The New Administration's Approach 203 

7. THE ATTACK LOOMS 215 

7.1 First Arrivals in California 215 

7.2 The 9/11 Pilots in the United States 223 

7.3 Assembling the Teams 231 

7.4 Final Strategies and Tactics 241 

8. "THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 254 

8.1 The Summer of Threat 254 

8.2 Late Leads — Mihdhar, Moussaoui, and KSM 266 

9. HEROISM AND HORROR 278 

9.1 Preparedness as of September 11 278 

9.2 September 11,2001 285 

9.3 Emergency Response at the Pentagon 311 

9.4 Analysis 315 



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B 



10. WARTIME 325 

10.1 Immediate Responses at Home 326 

10.2 Planning for War 330 

10.3 "Phase Two" and the Question of Iraq 334 

11. FORESIGHT— AND HINDSIGHT 339 

11.1 Imagination 339 

11.2 Policy 348 

11.3 Capabilities 350 

11.4 Management 353 

12. WHAT TO DO? A GLOBAL STRATEGY 361 

12.1 Reflecting on a Generational Challenge 361 

12.2 Attack Terrorists and Their Organizations 365 

12.3 Prevent the Continued Growth of Islamist Terrorism 374 

12.4 Protect against and Prepare for Terrorist Attacks 383 

13. HOW TO DO IT? A DIFFERENT WAY OF 

ORGANIZING THE GOVERNMENT 399 

13.1 Unity of Eflibrt across the Foreign-Domestic Divide 400 

13.2 Unity of Eflibrt in the Intelligence Community 407 

13.3 Unity of Eflibrt in Sharing Information 416 

13.4 Unity of Eflibrt in the Congress 419 

13.5 Organizing America's Defenses in the United States 423 

Appendix A: Common Abbreviations 429 
Appendix B: Table of Names 431 
Appendix C: Commission Hearings 439 
Notes 449 



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^ 



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?■ 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 
AND TABLES 



p. 15 FAA Air Traffic Control Centers 

p. 15 Reporting structure, Northeast Air Defense Sector 

p. 32—33 Flight paths and timelines 

49 Usama Bin Ladin 

p. 64 Map of Afghanistan 

p. 148 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 

p. 238-239 The 9/11 hijackers 

p. 279 The World Trade Center Complex as of 9/11 

p. 284 The World Trade Center radio repeater system 

p. 288 The World Trade Center North Tower stairwell with deviations 

p. 312 The Twin Towers following the impact of American Airlines 

Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 

p. 313 The Pentagon after being struck by American Airlines Flight 77 

p. 313 American AirHnes Flight 93 crash site, ShanksvUle, Pennsylvania 

p. 413 Unity of effort in managing intelligence 



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aONQNTfc, 






COMMISSION 
MEMBERS 



.-^r>/^— 7^ 



Thomas H. Kean 

CHAIR 

Richard Ben-Veniste 



Lee H. Hamilton 

VICE CHAIR 





Bob Kerrey 



Fred E Fielding 



John F Lehman 



Jamie S. Gorelick Timothy j. Roemer 



Slade Gorton 




James R. Thorny/son 



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^> 



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e 



COMMISSION 
STAFF 



Philip Zelikow, Executive Director 

Christopher A. Kojm, Deputy Executive Director 

Daniel Marcus, General Counsel 



Joanne M.AccoUa 
Staff Assistant 
Alexis Albion 
Professional Staff Member 
Scott Fi.AUanJr. 
Counsel 

John A. Azzarello 
Counsel 

Caroline Barnes 
Professional Staff Member 
Warren Bass 
Professional Staff Member 
Ann M. Bennett 
Information Control Officer 
Mark S. Bittinger 
Professional Staff Member 
Madeleine Blot 
Counsel 

Antwion M. Blount 
Systems Engineer 
Sam Brinkley 
Professional Staff Member 
Geoffrey Scott Brown 
Research Assistant 
Daniel Byman 
Professional Staff Member 
Dianna Campagna 
Manager of Operations 



Samuel M.W. Caspersen 
Counsel 

Melissa A. Coffey 
StaffAssistant 
Lance Cole 
Consultant 

Marquittia L. Coleman 
StaffAssistant 
Marco A. Cordero 
Professional Staff Member 
Rajesh De 
Counsel 

George W. Delgrosso 
Investigator 

Gerald L. Dillingham 
Professional Staff Member 
Thomas E. Dowling 
Professional Staff Member 
Steven M. Dunne 
Deputy General Counsel 
Thomas R. Eldridge 
Counsel 
Alice Falk 
Editor 

John J. Farmer, Jr. 
Senior Counsel &Team Leader 
Alvin S. Felzenberg 
Deputy for Communications 



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l^ 



COMMISSION STAFF 



Lorry M. Fenner 
Professional Staff Member 
Susan Ginsburg 
Senior Counsel & Team Leader 
T. Graham Giusti 
Security Officer 
Nicole Marie Grandrimo 
Professional Staff Member 
Douglas N. Greenburg 
Counsel 

Barbara A. Grewe 
Senior Counsel, Special Projects 
Elinore Flynn Hartz 
Family Liaison 
Leonard R. Hawley 
Professional Staff Member 
L. Christine Healey 
Senior Counsel & Team Leader 
Karen Heitkotter 
Executive Secretary 
Walter T.Hempel II 
Professional Staff Member 
C. Michael Hurley 
Senior Counsel & Team Leader 
Dana J. Hyde 
Counsel 

John W. Ivicic 
Security Officer 
Michael N.Jacobson 
Counsel 

Hunter W. Janierson 
Intern 

Bonnie D.Jenkins 
Counsel 

Reginald F.Johnson 
Staff Assistant 
R. William Johnstone 
Professional Staff Member 
Stephanie L. Kaplan 
Special Assistant & Managing Editor 
Miles L. Kara, Sr. 
Professional Staff Member 
Janice L. Kephart 
Counsel 
Hyon Kim 
Counsel 

Katarzyna Kozaczuk 
Financial Assistant 
Gordon Nathaniel Lederman 
Counsel 



Daniel J. Leopold 
Staff Assistant 
Sarah Webb Linden 
Professional Staff Member 
Douglas J. MacEachin 
Professional Staff Member & Team Leader 
Ernest R. May 
Senior Adviser 
Joseph McBride 
Intern 

James Miller 
Professional Staff Member 
Kelly Moore 
Professional Staff Member 
Charles M. Pereira 
Professional Staff Member 
John Raidt 
Professional Staff Member 
John Roth 

Senior Counsel & Team Leader 
Peter Rundlet 
Counsel 

Lloyd D. Salvetti 
Professional Staff Member 
Kevin J. Scheid 

Professional Staff Member &Team Leader 
Kevin ShaefFer 
Professional Staff Member 
Tracy J. ShycofF 

Deputy for Administration & Finance 
Dietrich L. Snell 
Senior Counsel & Team Leader 
Jonathan DeWees Stull 
Communications Assistant 
Lisa Marie Sullivan 
Staff Assistant 
Quinn John Tamm, Jr. 
Professional Staff Member 
Catharine S.Taylor 
Staff Assistant 
Yoel To bin 
Counsel 

Emily Landis Walker 
Professional Staff Member & Family Liaison 
Garth Wermter 
Senior IT Consultant 
Serena B.Wille 
Counsel 
Peter Yerkes 
Public Affairs Assistant 



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PREFACE 



We present the narrative of this report and the recommendations 
that flow from it to the President of the United States, the United States 
Congress, and the American people for their consideration. Ten 
Commissioners — five Republicans and five Democrats chosen by elected 
leaders from our nation's capital at a time of great partisan division — have 
come together to present this report without dissent. 

We have come together with a unity of purpose because our nation 
demands it. September 11, 2001, was a day of unprecedented shock and suf- 
fering in the history of the United States. The nation was unprepared. How 
did this happen, and how can we avoid such tragedy again? 

To answer these questions, the Congress and the President created the 
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (Public 
Law 107-306, November 27, 2002). 

Our mandate was sweeping. The law directed us to investigate "facts and 
circumstances relating to the terrorist attacks of September 1 1, 2001," includ- 
ing those relating to intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, diplo- 
macy, immigration issues and border control, the flow of assets to terrorist 
organizations, commercial aviation, the role of congressional oversight and 
resource allocation, and other areas determined relevant by the Commission. 

In pursuing our mandate, we have reviewed more than 2.5 million pages 
of documents and interviewed more than 1,200 individuals in ten countries. 
This included nearly every senior official from the current and previous 
administrations who had responsibility for topics covered in our mandate. 

We have sought to be independent, impartial, thorough, and nonpartisan. 
From the outset, we have been committed to share as much of our investi- 
gation as we can with the American people. To that end, we held 19 days of 
hearings and took public testimony from 160 witnesses. 



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B 



xvi PREFACE 

Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to 
provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11 and to 
identify lessons learned. 

We learned about an enemy who is sophisticated, patient, disciplined, 
and lethal. The enemy rallies broad support in the Arab and Muslim world 
by demanding redress of political grievances, but its hostility toward us and 
our values is limitless. Its purpose is to rid the world of religious and polit- 
ical pluralism, the plebiscite, and equal rights for women. It makes no dis- 
tinction between military and civilian targets. Collateral damage is not in its 
lexicon. 

We learned that the institutions charged with protecting our borders, 
civil aviation, and national security did not understand how grave this threat 
could be, and did not adjust their policies, plans, and practices to deter or 
defeat it.We learned of fault lines within our government — between foreign 
and domestic intelligence, and between and within agencies. We learned of 
the pervasive problems of managing and sharing information across a large 
and unwieldy government that had been built in a different era to confront 
different dangers. 

At the outset of our work, we said we were looking backward in order 
to look forward. We hope that the terrible losses chronicled in this report 
can create something positive — an America that is safer, stronger, and wiser. 
That September day, we came together as a nation. The test before us is to 
sustain that unity of purpose and meet the challenges now confronting us. 

We need to design a balanced strategy for the long haul, to attack terror- 
ists and prevent their ranks from swelling while at the same time protecting 
our country against future attacks. We have been forced to think about the 
way our government is organized. The massive departments and agencies 
that prevailed in the great struggles of the twentieth century must work 
together in new ways, so that all the instruments of national power can be 
combined. Congress needs dramatic change as well to strengthen oversight 
and focus accountability. 

As we complete our final report, we want to begin by thanking our fel- 
low Commissioners, whose dedication to this task has been profound. We 
have reasoned together over every page, and the report has benefited from 
this remarkable dialogue. We want to express our considerable respect for 
the intellect and judgment of our colleagues, as well as our great affection 
for them. 

We want to thank the Commission staff. The dedicated professional staff, 
headed by Philip Zelikow, has contributed innumerable hours to the com- 
pletion of this report, setting aside other important endeavors to take on this 



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e 



PREFACE xvii 

all-consuming assignment. They have conducted the exacting investigative 
work upon which the Commission has built. They have given good advice, 
and faithfully carried out our guidance. They have been superb. 

We thank the Congress and the President. Executive branch agencies 
have searched records and produced a multitude of documents for us. We 
thank officials, past and present, who were generous with their time and 
provided us with insight. The PENTTBOM team at the FBI, the 
Director's Review Group at the CIA, and Inspectors General at the 
Department of Justice and the CIA provided great assistance. We owe a 
huge debt to their investigative labors, painstaking attention to detail, and 
readiness to share what they have learned. We have built on the work of 
several previous Commissions, and we thank the Congressional Joint 
Inquiry, whose fine work helped us get started. We thank the City of New 
York for assistance with documents and witnesses, and the Government 
Printing Office and WW Norton & Company for helping to get this 
report to the broad public. 

We conclude this list of thanks by coming full circle: We thank the fam- 
ilies of 9/11, whose persistence and dedication helped create the 
Commission. They have been with us each step of the way, as partners and 
witnesses. They know better than any of us the importance of the work we 
have undertaken. 

We want to note what we have done, and not done. We have endeavored 
to provide the most complete account we can of the events of September 
11, what happened and why. This final report is only a summary of what we 
have done, citing only a fraction of the sources we have consulted. But in 
an event of this scale, touching so many issues and organizations, we are 
conscious of our limits. We have not interviewed every knowledgeable per- 
son or found every relevant piece of paper. New information inevitably will 
come to light. We present this report as a foundation for a better under- 
standing of a landmark in the history of our nation. 

We have listened to scores of overwhelming personal tragedies and 
astounding acts of heroism and bravery. We have examined the staggering 
impact of the events of 9/11 on the American people and their amazing 
resilience and courage as they fought back. We have admired their determi- 
nation to do their best to prevent another tragedy while preparing to 
respond if it becomes necessary. We emerge from this investigation with 
enormous sympathy for the victims and their loved ones, and with 
enhanced respect for the American people. We recognize the formidable 
challenges that lie ahead. 

We also approach the task of recommendations with humility. We have 



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xviii PREFACE 

made a limited number of them. We decided consciously to focus on rec- 
ommendations we believe to be most important, whose implementation 
can make the greatest difference. We came into this process with strong 
opinions about what would work. All of us have had to pause, reflect, and 
sometimes change our minds as we studied these problems and considered 
the views of others. We hope our report will encourage our fellow citizens 
to study, reflect — and act. 

Thomas H. Kean 

CHAIR 



Lee H. Hamilton 

VICE CHAIR 



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B 



THE 9/11 

COMMISSION 

REPORT 



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1 



"WE HAVE 
SOME PLANES" 



Tuesday, September ii, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in 
the eastern United States. Millions of men and women readied themselves for 
work. Some made their way to the Twin To^vers, the signature structures of the 
World Trade Center complex in Ne^vYork City. Others went to Arlington,Vir- 
ginia, to the Pentagon. Across the Potomac River, the United States Congress 
was back in session. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, people began to 
line up for a White House tour. In Sarasota, Florida, President George W Bush 
went for an early morning run. 

For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been 
better for a safe and pleasant journey. Among the travelers were Mohamed Atta 
and Abdul Aziz al Omari, who arrived at the airport in Portland, Maine. 



1.1 INSIDE THE FOUR FLIGHTS 

Boarding the Flights 

Boston: American 11 and United 175. Atta and Omari boarded a 6:00 A.M. 

flight from Portland to Boston's Logan International Airport. ^ 

When he checked in for his flight to Boston, Atta was selected by a com- 
puterized prescreening system known as CAPPS (Computer Assisted Passen- 
ger Prescreening System), created to identify passengers who should be 
subject to special security measures. Under security rules in place at the time, 
the only consequence of Atta s selection by CAPPS was that his checked bags 
were held off the plane until it was confirmed that he had boarded the air- 
craft. This did not hinder Atta 's plans. ^ 

Atta and Omari arrived in Boston at 6:45. Seven minutes later, Atta appar- 
ently took a call from Marwan al Shehhi, a longtime colleague who was at 
another terminal at Logan Airport. They spoke for three minutes. ^ It would be 
their final conversation. 



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2 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Between 6:45 and 7:40, Atta and Oniari, along ^vith Satani al Suqanii,Wail 
al Shehri, and Waleed al Shehri, checked in and boarded American Airlines 
Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles. The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:45. '^ 

In another Logan terminal, Shehhi, joined by Fayez Banihammad, Mohand 
al Shehri, Ahmed al Ghanidi, and Haniza al Ghamdi, checked in for United 
Airlines Flight 175, also bound for Los Angeles. A couple of Shehhi's colleagues 
were obviously unused to travel; according to the United ticket agent, they had 
trouble understanding the standard security questions, and she had to go over 
them slowly until they gave the routine, reassuring answers. ^ Their flight was 
scheduled to depart at 8:00. 

The security checkpoints through which passengers, including Atta and his 
colleagues, gained access to the American 1 1 gate were operated by Globe 
Security under a contract with American Airlines. In a different terminal, the 
single checkpoint through which passengers for United 175 passed was con- 
trolled by United Airlines, which had contracted with Huntleigh USA to per- 
form the screening. 6 

In passing through these checkpoints, each of the hijackers would have been 
screened by a ^valk-through metal detector calibrated to detect items with at 
least the metal content of a .22-caliber handgun. Anyone who might have set 
off that detector would have been screened with a hand wand — a procedure 
requiring the screener to identify the metal item or items that caused the alarm. 
In addition, an X-ray machine would have screened the hijackers' carry-on 
belongings. The screening was in place to identify and confiscate ^veapons and 
other items prohibited from being carried onto a commercial flight.^ None of 
the checkpoint supervisors recalled the hijackers or reported anything suspi- 
cious regarding their screening. ^ 

While Atta had been selected by CAPPS in Portland, three members of his 
hijacking team — Suqami,Wail al Shehri, and Waleed al Shehri — ^vere selected 
in Boston.Their selection affected only the handling of their checked bags, not 
their screening at the checkpoint. All five men cleared the checkpoint and 
made their way to the gate for American 11. Atta, Omari, and Suqami took 
their seats in business class (seats 8D, 8G, and lOB, respectively). The Shehri 
brothers had adjacent seats in row 2 (Wail in 2A,Waleed in 2B), in the first- 
class cabin. They boarded American 11 between 7:31 and 7:40. The aircraft 
pushed back from the gate at 7:40. ' 

Shehhi and his team, none of whom had been selected by CAPPS, boarded 
United 175 between 7:23 and 7:28 (Banihammad in 2A, Shehri in 2B, Shehhi 
in 6C, Hamza al Ghanidi in 9C, and Ahmed al Ghanidi in 9D). Their aircraft 
pushed back from the gate just before 8:00. i" 

Washington Dulles: American 77. Hundreds of miles southwest of Boston, 
at Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., 
five more men were preparing to take their early morning flight. At 7: 15, a pair 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 3 

of them, Khalid al Mihdhar and Majed Moqed, checked in at the American 
Airhnes ticket counter for Fhght 77, bound for Los Angeles. Within the next 
20 minutes, they would be follo\ved by Hani Hanjour and t^vo brothers, Nawaf 
al Hazmi and Salem al Hazmi. ' * 

Hani Hanjour, Khalid al Mihdhar, and Majed Moqed were flagged by 
CAPPS.The Hazmi brothers ^vere also selected for extra scrutiny by the air- 
line's customer service representative at the check-in counter. He did so 
because one of the brothers did not have photo identification nor could he 
understand English, and because the agent found both of the passengers to 
be suspicious. The only consequence of their selection was that their checked 
bags were held off the plane until it was confirmed that they had boarded 
the aircraft. 12 

AU five hijackers passed through the Main Terminal's west security screen- 
ing checkpoint; United Airlines, which was the responsible air carrier, had 
contracted out the work to Argenbright Security.^^ "phe checkpoint featured 
closed-circuit television that recorded all passengers, including the hijackers, 
as they were screened. At 7:18, Mihdhar and Moqed entered the security 
checkpoint. 

Mihdhar and Moqed placed their carry-on bags on the belt of the X-ray 
machine and proceeded through the first metal detector. Both set off the alarm, 
and they were directed to a second metal detector. Mihdhar did not trigger the 
alarm and ^vas permitted through the checkpoint. After Moqed set it off, a 
screener wanded him. He passed this inspection, i'* 

About 20 minutes later, at 7:35, another passenger for Flight 77, Hani Han- 
jour, placed two carry-on bags on the X-ray belt in the Main Terminal's west 
checkpoint, and proceeded, without alarm, through the metal detector. A short 
time later, Nawaf and Salem al Hazmi entered the same checkpoint. Salem al 
Hazmi cleared the metal detector and was permitted through; Nawaf al Hazmi 
set off the alarms for both the first and second metal detectors and was then 
hand-wanded before being passed. In addition, his over-the-shoulder carry-on 
bag was swiped by an explosive trace detector and then passed. The video 
footage indicates that he was carrying an unidentified item in his back pocket, 
clipped to its rim.i^ 

When the local civil aviation security office of the Federal Aviation Admin- 
istration (FAA) later investigated these security screening operations, the 
screeners recalled nothing out of the ordinary. They could not recall that any 
of the passengers they screened ^vere CAPPS selectees. We asked a screening 
expert to revie^v the videotape of the hand-^vanding, and he found the qual- 
ity of the screener's work to have been "marginal at best." The screener should 
have "resolved" what set ofi" the alarm; and in the case of both Moqed and 
Hazmi, it was clear that he did not.i<^ 

At 7:50, Majed Moqed and Khalid al Mihdhar boarded the flight and were 
seated in 12A and 12B in coach. Hani Hanjour, assigned to seat IB (first class). 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 4 



4 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

soon followed. The Hazmi brothers, sitting in 5E and 5F, joined Hanjour in the 
first-class cabin. ^^ 

Newark: United 93. Between 7:03 and 7:39, Saeed al Ghanidi, Ahmed al 
Nami, Ahmad al Haznawi, and Ziad Jarrah checked in at the United Airlines 
ticket counter for Flight 93, going to Los Angeles. Two checked bags; two did 
not. Hazna-wi was selected by CAPPS. His checked bag was screened for explo- 
sives and then loaded on the plane. i^ 

The four men passed through the security checkpoint, o^vned by United 
Airlines and operated under contract by Argenbright Security. Like the check- 
points in Boston, it lacked closed-circuit television surveillance so there is no 
documentary evidence to indicate when the hijackers passed through the 
checkpoint, ^vhat alarms may have been triggered, or ^vhat security procedures 
were administered.The FAA interviewed the screeners later; none recalled any- 
thing unusual or suspicious.!^ 

The four men boarded the plane between 7:39 and 7:48. All four had seats 
in the first-class cabin; their plane had no business-class section. Jarrah was in 
seat IB, closest to the cockpit; Nami ^vas in 3C, Ghamdi in 3D, and Haznawi 
in 6B.20 

The 19 men were aboard four transcontinental flights. -^ They ^vere plan- 
ning to hijack these planes and turn them into large guided missiles, loaded 
with up to 1 1,400 gallons of jet fuel. By 8:00 A.M. on the morning ofTuesday, 
September 1 1, 2001, they had defeated all the security layers that Americas civil 
aviation security system then had in place to prevent a hijacking. 

The Hijacking of American 11 

American Airlines Flight 1 1 provided nonstop service from Boston to Los 
Angeles. On September 11, Captain John Ogonowski and First Officer 
Thomas McGuinness piloted the Boeing 767. It carried its full capacity of nine 
flight attendants. Eighty-one passengers boarded the flight with them (includ- 
ing the five terrorists). -2 

The plane took off at 7:59. Just before 8:14, it had climbed to 26,000 feet, 
not quite its initial assigned cruising altitude of 29,000 feet.AU communications 
and flight profile data ^vere normal. About this time the "Fasten Seatbelt" sign 
would usually have been turned off and the flight attendants would have begun 
preparing for cabin service.-^ 

At that same time, American 1 1 had its last routine communication with 
the ground when it acknowledged navigational instructions from the FAA's 
air traffic control (ATC) center in Boston. Sixteen seconds after that transnns- 
sion, ATC instructed the aircraft's pilots to climb to 35,000 feet. That message 
and aU subsequent attempts to contact the flight were not acknowledged. 
From this and other evidence, we believe the hijacking began at 8:14 or 
shortly thereafter.24 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 5 

Reports from t^vo flight attendants in the coach cabin, Betty Ong and 
Madehne "Amy" S\¥eeney, tell us most of what we know about ho\¥ the 
hijacking happened. As it began, some of the hijackers — most likely Wail al 
Shehri andWaleed al Shehri, \¥ho -were seated in row 2 in first class — stabbed 
the two unarmed flight attendants who would have been preparing for cabin 
service. 25 

We do not know exactly how the hijackers gained access to the cockpit; 
FAA rules required that the doors remain closed and locked during flight. Ong 
speculated that they had "jammed their way" in. Perhaps the terrorists stabbed 
the flight attendants to get a cockpit key, to force one of them to open the cock- 
pit door, or to lure the captain or first officer out of the cockpit. Or the flight 
attendants may just have been in their way-'^ 

At the same time or shortly thereafter, Atta — the only terrorist on board 
trained to fly a jet — \vould have moved to the cockpit from his business-class 
seat, possibly accompanied by Omari.As this was happening, passenger Daniel 
Lewin, who ^vas seated in the row just behind Atta and Omari, was stabbed by 
one of the hijackers — ^probably Satam al Suqami, who was seated directly 
behind Le^vin. Lewin had served four years as an officer in the Israeli military. 
He may have made an attempt to stop the hijackers in front of him, not real- 
izing that another ^vas sitting behind him.-^ 

The hijackers quickly gained control and sprayed Mace, pepper spray, or 
some other irritant in the first-class cabin, in order to force the passengers and 
flight attendants toward the rear of the plane. They claimed they had a bomb.^s 

About five minutes after the hijacking began, Betty Ong contacted the 
American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Gary, North Carolina, 
via an AT&T airphone to report an emergency aboard the flight. This was the 
first of several occasions on 9/11 when flight attendants took action outside 
the scope of their training, \vhich emphasized that in a hijacking, they were to 
communicate with the cockpit crew. The emergency call lasted approximately 
25 minutes, as Ong calmly and professionally relayed information about events 
taking place aboard the airplane to authorities on the ground.-' 

At 8:19, Ong reported: "The cockpit is not answering, somebody's stabbed 
in business class — and 1 think there's Mace — that ^ve can't breathe — 1 don't 
know, 1 think ^ve're getting hijacked." She then told of the stabbings of the two 
flight attendants. 30 

At 8:21, one of the American employees receiving Ong's call in North Car- 
olina, Nydia Gonzalez, alerted the American Airlines operations center in Fort 
Worth, Texas, reaching Craig Marquis, the manager on duty. Marquis soon real- 
ized this was an emergency and instructed the airline's dispatcher responsible 
for the flight to contact the cockpit. At 8:23, the dispatcher tried unsuccessfully 
to contact the aircraft. Six minutes later, the air traffic control specialist in Amer- 
ican's operations center contacted the FAA's Boston Air Traffic Control Center 
about the flight. The center was already aware of the problem.^i 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 6 



6 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Boston Center knew of a problem on the flight in part because just before 
8:25 the hijackers had attempted to communicate with the passengers. The 
microphone was keyed, and immediately one of the hijackers said, "Nobody 
move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you'll endanger 
yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet." Air traffic controllers heard the trans- 
mission; Ong did not.The hijackers probably did not kno^v how to operate the 
cockpit radio communication system correctly, and thus inadvertently broad- 
cast their message over the air traffic control channel instead of the cabin 
public-address channel. Also at 8:25, and again at 8:29, Amy Sweeney got 
through to the American Flight Services Office in Boston but was cut off after 
she reported someone was hurt aboard the flight. Three minutes later, Sweeney 
was reconnected to the office and began relaying updates to the manager, 
Michael Woodward. ^- 

At 8:26, Ong reported that the plane \vas "flying erratically." A minute later, 
Flight 11 turned south. American also began getting identifications of the 
hijackers, as Ong and then Sweeney passed on some of the seat numbers of 
those who had gained unauthorized access to the cockpit. ^3 

Sweeney calmly reported on her line that the plane had been hijacked; a 
man in first class had his throat slashed; two flight attendants had been 
stabbed — one was seriously hurt and was on oxygen while the other's wounds 
seemed minor; a doctor had been requested; the flight attendants \vere unable 
to contact the cockpit; and there was a bomb in the cockpit. S^veeney told 
Woodward that she and Ong ^vere trying to relay as much information as they 
could to people on the ground.^"* 

At 8:38, Ong told Gonzalez that the plane was flying erratically again. 
Around this time S^veeney toldWoodward that the hijackers were Middle East- 
erners, naming three of their seat numbers. One spoke very little English and 
one spoke excellent English. The hijackers had gained entry to the cockpit, and 
she did not know how.The aircraft was in a rapid descent.^^ 

At 8:41, Sweeney toldWoodward that passengers in coach were under the 
impression that there was a routine medical emergency in first class. Other 
flight attendants were busy at duties such as getting medical supplies while Ong 
and Sweeney ^vere reporting the events. 36 

At 8:41, in American's operations center, a colleague told Marquis that the 
air traffic controllers declared Flight 11a hijacking and "think he's [American 
11] headed to^vard Kennedy [airport in New York City]. They 're moving every- 
body out of the way. They seem to have him on a primary radar. They seem to 
think that he is descending."^^ 

At 8:44, Gonzalez reported losing phone contact with Ong. About this 
same time Sweeney reported to Wood^vard, "Something is wrong. We are in a 
rapid descent . . . we are all over the place."Woodward asked S^veeney to look 
out the window to see if she could determine ^vhere they were. S^veeney 
responded: "We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 7 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 7 

too low." Seconds later she said, "Oh my God we are way too lo^v." The phone 
call ended. 38 

At 8:46:40, American 11 crashed into the North To\¥er of the World Trade 
Center in Ne\¥York City.^' All on board, along with an unkno\¥n number of 
people in the tower, were killed instantly. 

The Hijacking of United 175 

United Airlines Flight 175 was scheduled to depart for Los Angeles at 8:00. Cap- 
tain Victor Saracini and First Officer Michael Horrocks piloted the Boeing 767, 
■which had seven flight attendants. Fifty-six passengers boarded the flight. '^o 

United 175 pushed back from its gate at 7:58 and departed Logan Airport 
at 8: 14. By 8:33, it had reached its assigned cruising altitude of 31,000 feet. The 
flight attendants would have begun their cabin service.'*' 

The flight had taken off just as American 1 1 was being hijacked, and at 8:42 
the United 175 flight crew completed their report on a "suspicious transmis- 
sion" overheard from another plane (which turned out to have been Flight 11) 
just after takeoff This was United 175's last communication with the ground.''^ 

The hijackers attacked sometime between 8:42 and 8:46. They used knives 
(as reported by two passengers and a flight attendant). Mace (reported by one 
passenger), and the threat of a bomb (reported by the same passenger). They 
stabbed members of the flight crew (reported by a flight attendant and one pas- 
senger). Both pilots had been killed (reported by one flight attendant).The eye- 
witness accounts came from calls made from the rear of the plane, from 
passengers originally seated further forward in the cabin, a sign that passengers 
and perhaps crew had been moved to the back of the aircraft. Given similari- 
ties to American 11 in hijacker seating and in eyewitness reports of tactics and 
weapons, as well as the contact between the presumed team leaders, Atta and 
Shehhi, we believe the tactics ^vere similar on both flights. ^^ 

The first operational evidence that something was abnormal on United 
175 came at 8:47, when the aircraft changed beacon codes t^vice within a 
minute. At 8:51, the flight deviated from its assigned altitude, and a minute 
later New York air traffic controllers began repeatedly and unsuccessfully try- 
ing to contact it.^^ 

At 8:52, in Easton, Connecticut, a man named Lee Hanson received a 
phone call from his son Peter, a passenger on United 175. His son told him: 
"1 think they've taken over the cockpit — An attendant has been stabbed — 
and someone else up front may have been killed. The plane is making 
strange moves. Call United Airlines — Tell them it's Flight 175, Boston to LA." 
Lee Hanson then called the Easton Police Department and relayed what he 
had heard.'^s 

Also at 8:52, a male flight attendant called a United office in San Francisco, 
reaching Marc Policastro.The flight attendant reported that the flight had been 
hijacked, both pilots had been killed, a flight attendant had been stabbed, and 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 8 



8 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

the hijackers were probably flying the plane. The call lasted about two minutes, 
after which Policastro and a colleague tried unsuccessfliUy to contact the 
flight. 46 

At 8:58, the flight took a heading toward New York City.'*^ 
At 8:59, Flight 175 passenger Brian David Sweeney tried to call his wife, 
Julie. He left a message on their home answering machine that the plane had 
been hijacked. He then called his mother, Louise Sweeney, told her the flight 
had been hijacked, and added that the passengers were thinking about storm- 
ing the cockpit to take control of the plane away from the hijackers. '^^ 
At 9:00, Lee Hanson received a second call from his son Peter: 

It's getting bad. Dad — A ste^vardess was stabbed — They seem to have 
knives and Mace — They said they have a bomb — It's getting very bad 
on the plane — Passengers are throwing up and getting sick — The 
plane is making jerky movements — I don't think the pilot is flying the 
plane — I think ^ve are going do^vn — I think they intend to go to 
Chicago or someplace and fly into a building — Don't \vorry. Dad — 
If it happens, it'll be very fast — My God, my God.^^ 

The call ended abruptly. Lee Hanson had heard a ^voman scream just before 
it cut ofli". He turned on a television, and in her home so did Louise S^veeney. 
Both then saw the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center.^o 

At 9:03: 11, United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World 
Trade Center.^i All on board, along ^vith an unkno\vn number of people in 
the tower, were killed instantly. 

The Hijacking of American 77 

American Airlines Flight 77 was scheduled to depart from Washington Dulles 
for Los Angeles at 8:10. The aircraft was a Boeing 757 piloted by Captain 
Charles F. Burlingame and First Officer David Charlebois. There were four 
flight attendants. On September 11, the flight carried 58 passengers. 52 

American 77 pushed back from its gate at 8:09 and took off at 8:20. At 8:46, 
the flight reached its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. Cabin service 
would have begun. At 8:51, American 77 transmitted its last routine radio com- 
munication. The hijacking began bet^veen 8:51 and 8:54. As on American 11 
and United 175, the hijackers used knives (reported by one passenger) and 
moved all the passengers (and possibly crew) to the rear of the aircraft (reported 
by one flight attendant and one passenger). Unlike the earlier flights, the Flight 
77 hijackers were reported by a passenger to have box cutters. Finally, a pas- 
senger reported that an announcement had been made by the "pilot" that the 
plane had been hijacked. Neither of the firsthand accounts mentioned any stab- 
bings or the threat or use of either a bomb or Mace, though both ^vitnesses began 
the flight in the first-class cabin. ^3 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 9 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 9 

At 8:54, the aircraft deviated from its assigned course, turning south. Two 
minutes later the transponder was turned off and even primary radar contact 
with the aircraft was lost. The Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center repeat- 
edly tried and failed to contact the aircraft. American Airlines dispatchers also 
tried, without success. ^^ 

At 9:00, American Airlines Executive Vice President Gerard Arpey learned 
that communications had been lost with American 77. This was now the sec- 
ond American aircraft in trouble. He ordered all American Airlines flights in 
the Northeast that had not taken off to remain on the ground. Shortly before 
9:10, suspecting that American 77 had been hijacked, American headquarters 
concluded that the second aircraft to hit the World Trade Center might have 
been Flight 77. After learning that United Airlines was missing a plane,Amer- 
ican Airlines headquarters extended the ground stop nationwide. '5 

At 9:12, Renee May called her mother, Nancy May, in Las Vegas. She said 
her flight was being hijacked by six individuals who had moved them to the 
rear of the plane. She asked her mother to alert American Airlines. Nancy May 
and her husband promptly did so.'* 

At some point between 9:16 and 9:26, Barbara Olson called her husband, 
Ted Olson, the solicitor general of the United States. She reported that the 
flight had been hijacked, and the hijackers had knives and box cutters. She fur- 
ther indicated that the hijackers were not aware of her phone call, and that they 
had put all the passengers in the back of the plane. About a minute into the 
conversation, the call was cut off. Solicitor General Olson tried unsuccessfully 
to reach Attorney General John Ashcro ft. ^7 

Shortly after the first call, Barbara Olson reached her husband again. She 
reported that the pilot had announced that the flight had been hijacked, and 
she asked her husband what she should tell the captain to do. Ted Olson asked 
for her location and she replied that the aircraft was then flying over houses. 
Another passenger told her they were traveling northeast. The Solicitor Gen- 
eral then informed his wife of the two previous hijackings and crashes. She did 
not display signs of panic and did not indicate any awareness of an impending 
crash. At that point, the second call was cut off^^ 

At 9:29, the autopilot on American 77 was disengaged; the aircraft was at 
7,000 feet and approximately 38 miles west of the Pentagon. ^9 At 9:32, con- 
trollers at the Dulles Terminal Radar Approach Control "observed a primary 
radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed." This was later deter- 
mined to have been Flight 77. 

At 9:34, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport advised the Secret Ser- 
vice of an unknown aircraft heading in the direction of the White House.Amer- 
ican 77 was then 5 miles west-southwest of the Pentagon and began a 
330-degree turn. At the end of the turn, it was descending through 2,200 feet, 
pointed toward the Pentagon and downtown Washington.The hijacker pilot then 
advanced the throttles to maximum power and dove toward the Pentagon. <^o 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 10 



10 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

At 9:37:46, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, travel- 
ing at approximately 530 miles per hour.^i All on board, as well as many civil- 
ian and military personnel in the building, were killed. 

The Battle for United 93 

At 8:42, United Airlines Flight 93 took ofFfrom Newark (New Jersey) Liberty 
International Airport bound for San Francisco.The aircraft was piloted by Cap- 
tain Jason Dahl and First Officer Leroy Homer, and there ^vere five flight atten- 
dants. Thirty-seven passengers, including the hijackers, boarded the plane. 
Scheduled to depart the gate at 8:00, the Boeing 757 s takeoff was delayed 
because of the airport's typically heavy morning traffic. 6- 

The hijackers had planned to take flights scheduled to depart at 7:45 (Amer- 
ican 11), 8:00 (United 175 and United 93), and 8:10 (American 77). Three of 
the flights had actually taken off ^vithin 10 to 15 minutes of their planned 
departure times. United 93 would ordinarily have taken off about 15 minutes 
after pulling away from the gate. When it left the ground at 8:42, the flight was 
running more than 25 minutes \iA&P^ 

As United 93 left Newark, the flight s crew members ^vere unaware of the 
hijacking of American 11. Around 9:00, the FAA, American, and United were 
facing the staggering realization of apparent multiple hijackings. At 9:03, they 
would see another aircraft strike the World Trade Center. Crisis managers at 
the FAA and the airlines did not yet act to warn other aircraft.*^ At the same 
time, Boston Center realized that a message transmitted just before 8:25 by the 
hijacker pilot of American 11 included the phrase, "We have some planes."*^ 

No one at the FAA or the airlines that day had ever dealt with multiple 
hijackings. Such a plot had not been carried out anywhere in the world in more 
than 30 years, and never in the United States. As ne^vs of the hijackings filtered 
through the FAA and the airlines, it does not seem to have occurred to their 
leadership that they needed to alert other aircraft in the air that they too might 
be at risk.'^'^ 

United 175 was hijacked between 8:42 and 8:46, and awareness of that 
hijacking began to spread after 8:51. American 77 was hijacked between 8:51 
and 8:54. By 9:00, FAA and airline officials began to comprehend that attack- 
ers ^vere going after multiple aircraft. American Airlines' nationwide ground 
stop between 9:05 and 9:10 was followed by a United Airlines ground stop. 
FAA controllers at Boston Center, ^vhich had tracked the first t^vo hijackings, 
requested at 9:07 that Herndon Command Center "get messages to airborne 
aircraft to increase security for the cockpit." There is no evidence that Hern- 
don took such action. Boston Center immediately began speculating about 
other aircraft that might be in danger, leading them to worry about a transcon- 
tinental flight — Delta 1989 — that in fact was not hijacked. At 9:19, the FAA's 
New England regional office called Herndon and asked that Cleveland Cen- 
ter advise Delta 1989 to use extra cockpit security. i^^ 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 11 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 11 

Several FAA air traffic control officials told us it was the air carriers' respon- 
sibility to notify their planes of security problems. One senior FAA air traffic 
control manager said that it \vas simply not the FAA's place to order the air- 
lines \vhat to tell their pilots.''^ We believe such statements do not reflect an 
adequate appreciation of the FAA's responsibility for the safety and security of 
civil aviation. 

The airlines bore responsibility, too. They were facing an escalating number 
of conflicting and, for the most part, erroneous reports about other flights, as 
well as a continuing lack of vital information from the FAA about the hijacked 
flights. We found no evidence, ho\vever, that American Airlines sent any cock- 
pit warnings to its aircraft on 9/11. United's first decisive action to notify its 
airborne aircraft to take defensive action did not come until 9:19, when a 
United flight dispatcher, Ed Ballinger, took the initiative to begin transmitting 
warnings to his 16 transcontinental flights: "Beware any cockpit intrusion — 
Two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center." One of the flights that received 
the warning \vas United 93. Because Ballinger was still responsible for his 
other flights as \vell as Flight 175, his warning message was not transmitted to 
Flight 93 until 9:23.69 

By all accounts, the first 46 minutes of Flight 93's cross-country trip pro- 
ceeded routinely. Radio communications from the plane were normal. Head- 
ing, speed, and altitude ran according to plan. At 9:24, Ballinger's warning to 
United 93 \vas received in the cockpit. Within t^vo minutes, at 9:26, the pilot, 
Jason Dahl, responded with a note of puzzlement: "Ed, confirm latest mssg 
plz — -Jason."^o 

The hijackers attacked at 9:28. While traveling 35,000 feet above eastern 
Ohio, United 93 suddenly dropped 700 feet. Eleven seconds into the descent, 
the FAA's air traffic control center in Cleveland received the first of two radio 
transmissions from the aircraft. During the first broadcast, the captain or first 
officer could be heard declaring "Mayday" amid the sounds of a physical strug- 
gle in the cockpit. The second radio transmission, 35 seconds later, indicated 
that the fight was continuing. The captain or first officer could be heard shout- 
ing: "Hey get out of here — get out of here — get out of here."^i 

On the morning of 9/11, there were only 37 passengers on United 93 — 33 
in addition to the 4 hijackers. This was below the norm for Tuesday mornings 
during the summer of 2001. But there is no evidence that the hijackers manip- 
ulated passenger levels or purchased additional seats to facilitate their operation. ^^ 

The terrorists who hijacked three other commercial flights on 9/11 oper- 
ated in five-man teams. They initiated their cockpit takeover within 30 min- 
utes of takeoff On Flight 93, ho\vever, the takeover took place 46 minutes after 
takeoff and there were only four hijackers. The operative likely intended to 
round out the team for this flight, Mohamed al Kahtani, had been refused entry 
by a suspicious immigration inspector at Florida's Orlando International Air- 
port in August. ^3 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 12 



12 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Because several passengers on United 93 described three hijackers on the 
plane, not four, some have ^vondered whether one of the hijackers had been 
able to use the cockpit jump seat from the outset of the flight. FAA rules allow 
use of this seat by documented and approved individuals, usually air carrier or 
FAA personnel. We have found no evidence indicating that one of the hijack- 
ers, or anyone else, sat there on this flight. All the hijackers had assigned seats 
in first class, and they seem to have used them. We believe it is more likely that 
Jarrah, the crucial pilot-trained member of their team, remained seated and 
inconspicuous until after the cockpit was seized; and once inside, he ^vould not 
have been visible to the passengers. ^'^ 

At 9:32, a hijacker, probably Jarrah, made or attempted to make the follow- 
ing announcement to the passengers of Flight 93: "Ladies and Gentlemen: Here 
the captain, please sit do^vn keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. 
So, sit." The flight data recorder (also recovered) indicates that Jarrah then 
instructed the plane s autopilot to turn the aircraft around and head east.^^ 

The cockpit voice recorder data indicate that a woman, most likely a flight 
attendant, was being held captive in the cockpit. She struggled with one of the 
hijackers who killed or otherwise silenced \i<ixJ^ 

Shortly thereafter, the passengers and flight crew began a series of calls from 
GTE airphones and cellular phones. These calls between family, friends, and 
colleagues took place until the end of the flight and provided those on the 
ground with firsthand accounts. They enabled the passengers to gain critical 
information, including the news that two aircraft had slammed into the World 
Trade C enter. ^^ 

At 9:39, the FAA's Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center overheard 
a second announcement indicating that there \vas a bomb on board, that the 
plane was returning to the airport, and that they should remain seated.^* While 
it apparently was not heard by the passengers, this announcement, like those on 
Flight 11 and Flight 77, was intended to deceive them.Jarrah, like Atta earlier, 
may have inadvertently broadcast the message because he did not know how 
to operate the radio and the intercom. To our knowledge none of them had 
ever flown an actual airliner before. 

At least two callers from the flight reported that the hijackers knew that pas- 
sengers ^vere making calls but did not seem to care. It is quite possible Jarrah 
knew of the success of the assault on the World Trade Center. He could have 
learned of this from messages being sent by United Airlines to the cockpits of 
its transcontinental flights, including Flight 93, warning of cockpit intrusion 
and telling of the New York attacks. But even ^vithout them, he would cer- 
tainly have understood that the attacks on the World Trade Center would 
already have unfolded, given Flight 93 s tardy departure from Newark. If Jar- 
rah did know that the passengers were making calls, it might not have occurred 
to him that they \vere certain to learn what had happened in New York, thereby 
defeating his attempts at deception.^' 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 13 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 13 

At least ten passengers and two cre^v members shared vital information ^vith 
family, friends, colleagues, or others on the ground. All understood the plane 
had been hijacked. They said the hijackers wielded knives and claimed to have 
a bomb.The hijackers ^vere wearing red bandanas, and they forced the passen- 
gers to the back of the aircraft. ^o 

Callers reported that a passenger had been stabbed and that two people ^vere 
lying on the floor of the cabin, injured or dead — ^possibly the captain and first 
officer. One caller reported that a flight attendant had been killed. ^i 

One of the callers from United 93 also reported that he thought the hijack- 
ers might possess a gun. But none of the other callers reported the presence of 
a firearm. One recipient of a call from the aircraft recounted specifically ask- 
ing her caller whether the hijackers had guns. The passenger replied that he did 
not see one. No evidence of firearms or of their identifiable remains ^vas found 
at the aircraft's crash site, and the cockpit voice recorder gives no indication of 
a gun being fired or mentioned at any time.We believe that if the hijackers had 
possessed a gun, they would have used it in the flight s last minutes as the pas- 
sengers fought back. 82 

Passengers on three flights reported the hijackers' claim of having a bomb. 
The FBI told us they found no trace of explosives at the crash sites. One of 
the passengers who mentioned a bomb expressed his belief that it was not real. 
Lacking any evidence that the hijackers attempted to smuggle such illegal 
items past the security screening checkpoints, ^ve believe the bombs ^vere 
probably fake.83 

During at least five of the passengers' phone calls, information \vas shared 
about the attacks that had occurred earlier that morning at the World Trade 
Center. Five calls described the intent of passengers and surviving crew mem- 
bers to revolt against the hijackers. According to one call, they voted on 
whether to rush the terrorists in an attempt to retake the plane. They decided, 
and acted. 8^* 

At 9:57, the passenger assault began. Several passengers had terminated 
phone calls with loved ones in order to join the revolt. One of the callers 
ended her message as follows: "Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to 
go. Bye."85 

The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger assault 
muffled by the intervening cockpit door. Some family members ^vho listened 
to the recording report that they can hear the voice of a loved one among the 
din. We cannot identify ^vhose voices can be heard. But the assault was sus- 
tained. ^^ 

In response, Jarrah immediately began to roll the airplane to the left and 
right, attempting to knock the passengers off balance. At 9:58:57, Jarrah told 
another hijacker in the cockpit to block the door. Jarrah continued to roll the 
airplane sharply left and right, but the assault continued. At 9:59:52, Jarrah 
changed tactics and pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 14 



14 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

the assault. The recorder captured the sounds of loud thumps, crashes, shouts, 
and breaking glasses and plates. At 1 0:00:03, Jarrah stabilized the airplane.s^ 

Five seconds later, Jarrah asked, "Is that it? Shall -we finish it ofl?" A hijacker 
responded, "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off." The sounds of 
fighting continued outside the cockpit. Again, Jarrah pitched the nose of the 
aircraft up and down. At 10:00:26, a passenger in the background said, "In the 
cockpit. If we don't we'll die!" Sixteen seconds later, a passenger yelled, "Roll 
it!"Jarrah stopped the violent maneuvers at about 10:01:00 and said, "Allah is 
the greatest! AUah is the greatest!" He then asked another hijacker in the cock- 
pit,"ls that it? I mean, shall we put it down?" to which the other replied, "Yes, 
put it in it, and pull it do^vn."^8 

The passengers continued their assault and at 10:02:23, a hijacker said,"Pull 
it do^vn! Pull it do^vn!"The hijackers remained at the controls but must have 
judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them. The air- 
plane headed down; the control ^vheel was turned hard to the right. The air- 
plane rolled onto its back, and one of the hijackers began shouting "Allah is 
the greatest. AUah is the greatest." With the sounds of the passenger counter- 
attack continuing, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Penn- 
sylvania, at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes' flying time from 
Washington, D.C.S" 

Jarrah's objective was to crash his airliner into symbols of the American 
Republic, the Capitol or the White House. He was defeated by the alerted, 
unarmed passengers of United 93. 



1.2 IMPROVISING A HOMELAND DEFENSE 

The FAA and NORAD 

On 9/11, the defense of U.S. airspace depended on close interaction between 
two federal agencies: the FAA and the North American Aerospace Defense 
Command (NORAD). The most recent hijacking that involved U.S. air traf- 
fic controllers, FAA management, and military coordination had occurred in 
1993.'° In order to understand ho\v the two agencies interacted eight years 
later, we will review their missions, command and control structures, and work- 
ing relationship on the morning of 9/11. 

FAA Mission and Structure. As of September 11, 2001, the FAA was man- 
dated by law to regulate the safety and security of civil aviation. From an air 
trafiic controller's perspective, that meant maintaining a safe distance between 
airborne aircraft.'^ 

Many controllers work at the FAA's 22 Air Route Traffic Control Centers. 
They are grouped under regional offices and coordinate closely with the 
national Air Traffic Control System Command Center, located in Herndon, 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 15 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 



15 




FAA Air Traffic Control Centers 




Continental Aerospace 
Command Region (CONR) 



^. ^.. 



Reporting structure, Northeast Air Defense Sector 

Graphics courtesy of ESRI 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 16 



16 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Virginia, which oversees daily traffic flow ^vichin the entire airspace system. 
FAA headquarters is ultimately responsible for the management of the 
National Airspace System. The Operations Center located at FAA headquarters 
receives notifications of incidents, including accidents and hijackings. '^ 

FAA Control Centers often receive information and make operational deci- 
sions independently of one another. On 9/11, the four hijacked aircraft were 
monitored mainly by the centers in Boston, New York, Cleveland, and Indi- 
anapolis. Each center thus had part of the knowledge of what was going on 
across the system.What Boston knew was not necessarily known by centers in 
New York, Cleveland, or Indianapolis, or for that matter by the Command 
Center in Herndon or by FAA headquarters in Washington. 

Controllers track airliners such as the four aircraft hijacked on 9/1 1 primar- 
ily by watching the data from a signal emitted by each aircraft's transponder 
equipment. Those four planes, like all aircraft traveling above 10,000 feet, were 
required to emit a unique transponder signal while in flight.'-' 

On 9/11, the terrorists turned off the transponders on three of the four 
hijacked aircraft. With its transponder off, it is possible, though more difficult, 
to track an aircraft by its primary radar returns. But unlike transponder data, 
primary radar returns do not show the aircraft's identity and altitude. Con- 
trollers at centers rely so heavily on transponder signals that they usually do not 
display primary radar returns on their radar scopes. But they can change the 
configuration of their scopes so they can see primary radar returns.They did this 
on 9/11 when the transponder signals for three of the aircraft disappeared.'^ 

Before 9/11, it was not unheard of for a commercial aircraft to deviate 
slightly from its course, or for an FAA controller to lose radio contact with a 
pilot for a short period of time. A controller could also briefly lose a commer- 
cial aircraft's transponder signal, although this happened much less frequently. 
However, the simultaneous loss of radio and transponder signal would be a rare 
and alarming occurrence, and would normally indicate a catastrophic system 
failure or an aircraft crash. In all of these instances, the job of the controller was 
to reach out to the aircraft, the parent company of the aircraft, and other planes 
in the vicinity in an attempt to reestablish communications and set the aircraft 
back on course. Alarm bells would not start ringing until these efforts — ^which 
could take five minutes or more — ^were tried and had failed.'^ 

NORAD Mission and Structure. NORAD is a binational command estab- 
lished in 1958 between the United States and Canada. Its mission was, and is, 
to defend the airspace of North America and protect the continent. That mis- 
sion does not distinguish between internal and external threats; but because 
NORAD was created to counter the Soviet threat, it came to define its job as 
defending against external attacks. 'i^ 

The threat of Soviet bombers diminished significantly as the Cold War 
ended, and the number of NORAD alert sites was reduced from its Cold War 
high of 26. Some within the Pentagon argued in the 1990s that the alert sites 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 17 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 17 

should be eliminated entirely. In an effort to preserve their mission, members 
of the air defense community advocated the importance of air sovereignty 
against emerging "asymmetric threats" to the United States: drug smuggling, 
"non-state and state-sponsored terrorists," and the proliferation of ^veapons of 
mass destruction and ballistic missile technology. ^^ 

NORAD perceived the dominant threat to be from cruise missiles. Other 
threats were identified during the late 1990s, including terrorists' use of aircraft 
as weapons. Exercises were conducted to counter this threat, but they were not 
based on actual intelligence. In most instances, the main concern was the use 
of such aircraft to deliver weapons of mass destruction. 

Prior to 9/11, it ^vas understood that an order to shoot do\vn a commer- 
cial aircraft would have to be issued by the National Command Authority (a 
phrase used to describe the president and secretary of defense). Exercise plan- 
ners also assumed that the aircraft would originate from outside the United 
States, aIlo^ving time to identify the target and scramble interceptors. The threat 
of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States — and using 
them as guided missiles — was not recognized by NORAD before 9/1 1.'^ 

Notwithstanding the identification of these emerging threats, by 9/11 there 
were only seven alert sites left in the United States, each with two fighter air- 
craft on alert. This led some NORAD commanders to worry that NORAD 
was not postured adequately to protect the United States. '' 

In the United States, NORAD is divided into three sectors. On 9/11, all 
the hijacked aircraft were in NOPJVD's Northeast Air Defense Sector (also 
known as NEADS), ^vhich is based in Rome, New York. That morning 
NEADS could call on two alert sites, each with one pair of ready fighters: Otis 
Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Langley Air Force 
Base in Hanipton,Virginia.ioo Other facilities, not on "alert," would need time 
to arm the fighters and organize crews. 

NEADS reported to the Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR) 
headquarters, in Panama City, Florida, which in turn reported to NORAD 
headquarters, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

Interagency Collaboration. The FAA and NORAD had developed proto- 
cols for ^vorking together in the event of a hijacking. As they existed on 9/11, 
the protocols for the FAA to obtain military assistance from NORAD 
required multiple levels of notification and approval at the highest levels of gov- 
ernment. ^'^i 

FAA guidance to controllers on hijack procedures assumed that the aircraft 
pilot would notify the controller via radio or by "squa^vking" a transponder code 
of"7500" — the universal code for a hijack in progress. Controllers would notify 
their supervisors, who in turn would inform management all the way up to FAA 
headquarters in Washington. Headquarters had a hijack coordinator, who was the 
director of the FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security or his or her designate.102 

If a hijack was confirmed, procedures called for the hijack coordinator on 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page IE 



18 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

duty Co contact the Pentagon s National Military Command Center (NMCC) 
and to ask for a military escort aircraft to follo\¥ the flight, report anything 
unusual, and aid search and rescue in the event of an emergency. The NMCC 
would then seek approval from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to pro- 
vide military assistance. If approval was given, the orders would be transmitted 
down NORAD's chain of command. '^^ 

The NMCC would keep the FAA hijack coordinator up to date and help 
the FAA centers coordinate directly with the military. NORAD would receive 
tracking information for the hijacked aircraft either from joint use radar or from 
the relevant FAA air traffic control facility. Every attempt would be made to 
have the hijacked aircraft squawk 7500 to help NORAD track it.^O"* 

The protocols did not contemplate an intercept. They assumed the fighter 
escort would be discreet, "vectored to a position five miles directly behind the 
hijacked aircraft," where it could perform its mission to monitor the aircraft's 
flight path. 105 

In sum, the protocols in place on 9/11 for the FAA and NORAD to 
respond to a hijacking presumed that 

• the hijacked aircraft would be readily identifiable and would not 
attempt to disappear; 

• there would be time to address the problem through the appropriate 
FAA and NORAD chains of command; and 

• the hijacking would take the traditional form: that is, it would not 
be a suicide hijacking designed to convert the aircraft into a guided 
missile. 

On the morning of 9/ 11, the existing protocol was unsuited in every respect 
for what was about to happen. 

American Airlines Flight 11 

FAA Awareness. Although the Boston Center air traffic controller realized at 
an early stage that there was something wrong with American 1 1 , he did not 
immediately interpret the plane's failure to respond as a sign that it had been 
hijacked. At 8:14, when the flight failed to heed his instruction to climb to 
35,000 feet, the controller repeatedly tried to raise the flight. He reached out 
to the pilot on the emergency frequency. Though there was no response, he 
kept trying to contact the aircraft, i^*^ 

At 8:21, American 11 turned off its transponder, immediately degrading the 
information available about the aircraft. The controller told his supervisor that 
he thought something was seriously wrong with the plane, although neither 
suspected a hijacking. The supervisor instructed the controller to follow stan- 
dard procedures for handling a "no radio" aircraft. ^"^ 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 19 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 19 

The controller checked to see if American Airlines could establish commu- 
nication with American 11. He became even more concerned as its route 
changed, moving into another sector's airspace. Controllers immediately began 
to move aircraft out of its path, and asked other aircraft in the vicinity to look 
for American 11.^''^ 

At 8:24:38, the following transmission came from American 11: 

American 11: We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you'll be okay. 
We are returning to the airport. 

The controller only heard something unintelligible; he did not hear the spe- 
cific words "we have some planes." The next transmission came seconds later: 

American 1 1 : Nobody move. Everything ^vill be okay. If you try to make 
any moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet. lO' 

The controller told us that he then knew it was a hijacking. He alerted his 
supervisor, who assigned another controller to assist him. He redoubled his 
efforts to ascertain the flight's altitude. Because the controller didn't understand 
the initial transmission, the manager of Boston Center instructed his quality 
assurance specialist to "pull the tape" of the radio transmission, listen to it 
closely, and report back.^^o 

Between 8:25 and 8:32, in accordance with the FAA protocol, Boston Cen- 
ter managers started notifying their chain of command that American 1 1 had 
been hijacked. At 8:28, Boston Center called the Command Center in Herndon 
to advise that it believed American 1 1 had been hijacked and was heading toward 
Ne^vYork Center's airspace. 

By this time, American 11 had taken a dramatic turn to the south. At 8:32, 
the Command Center passed ^vord of a possible hijacking to the Operations 
Center at FAA headquarters. The duty officer replied that security personnel 
at headquarters had just begun discussing the apparent hijack on a conference 
call with the New England regional office. FAA headquarters began to follow 
the hijack protocol but did not contact the NMCC to request a fighter 
escort, m 

The Herndon Command Center immediately established a teleconfer- 
ence between Boston, New York, and Cleveland Centers so that Boston 
Center could help the others understand what was happening, i'- 

At 8:34, the Boston Center controller received a third transmission from 
American 11: 

American 11: Nobody move please. We are going back to the airport. 
Don't try to make any stupid moves. i^^ 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 20 



20 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

In the succeeding minutes, controllers were attempting to ascertain the alti- 
tude of the southbound flight, ii"* 

Military Notification and Response. Boston Center did not follow the 
protocol in seeking military assistance through the prescribed chain of com- 
mand. In addition to notifications within the FAA, Boston Center took the ini- 
tiative, at 8:34, to contact the military through the FAA's Cape Cod facility. 
The center also tried to contact a former alert site in Atlantic City, una^vare it 
had been phased out. At 8:37:52, Boston Center reached NEADS. This was 
the first notification received by the military — at any level — that American 1 1 
had been hijacked: ii^ 

FAA: Hi. Boston Center TMU [Traffic Management Unit], we have a 
problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards Ne^vYork, 
and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s 
or something up there, help us out. 

NEADS: Is this real-world or exercise? 

FAA: No, this is not an exercise, not a test.^^'^ 

NEADS ordered to battle stations the two F-15 alert aircraft at Otis Air 
Force Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts, 153 miles away from New York City. 
The air defense of America began with this calL'^^ 

At NEADS, the report of the hijacking ^vas relayed immediately to Battle 
Commander Colonel Robert Marr. After ordering the Otis fighters to battle 
stations. Colonel Marr phoned Major General Larry Arnold, commanding 
general of the First Air Force and NORAD s Continental Region. Marr sought 
authorization to scramble the Otis fighters. General Arnold later recalled 
instructing Marr to "go ahead and scramble them, and ^ve'll get authorities 
later." General Arnold then called NORAD headquarters to report, i''^ 

F-15 fighters were scrambled at 8:46 from Otis Air Force Base. But NEADS 
did not know where to send the alert fighter aircraft, and the officer directing 
the fighters pressed for more information: "I don't know where I'm scrambling 
these guys to. I need a direction, a destination." Because the hijackers had 
turned off the plane's transponder, NEADS personnel spent the next minutes 
searching their radar scopes for the primary radar return. American 1 1 struck 
the North Tower at 8:46. Shortly after 8:50, ^vhile NEADS personnel were still 
trying to locate the flight, word reached them that a plane had hit the World 
Trade Center. 'i' 

Radar data show the Otis fighters were airborne at 8:53. Lacking a target, 
they were vectored toward military-controUed airspace off the Long Island 
coast. To avoid New York area air traffic and uncertain about what to do, the 
fighters ^vere brought down to military airspace to "hold as needed." From 9:09 
to 9:13, the Otis fighters stayed in this holding pattern. i^o 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 21 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 21 

In summary, NEADS received notice of the hijacking nine minutes before 
it struck the North Tower. That nine minutes' notice before impact was the 
most the mihtary ^vould receive of any of the four hijackings, i^i 

United Airlines Flight 175 

FAA Awareness. One of the last transmissions from United Airlines Flight 
175 is, in retrospect, chilling. By 8:40, controllers at the FAA s Ne^vYork Cen- 
ter were seeking information on American 11. At approximately 8:42, shortly 
after entering New York Centers airspace, the pilot of United 175 broke in 
with the following transmission: 

UAL 175: New York UAL 175 heavy 

FAA: UAL 175 go ahead. 

UAL 175: Yeah. We figured we'd wait to go to your center. Ah, ^ve heard 
a suspicious transmission on our departure out of Boston, ah, ^vith 
someone, ah, it sounded like someone keyed the mikes and said ah 
everyone ah stay in your seats. 

FAA: Oh, okay. I'll pass that along over here.^-- 

Minutes later, United 175 turned southwest ^vithout clearance from air traf- 
fic control. At 8:47, seconds after the impact of American 11, United 175's 
transponder code changed, and then changed again. These changes were not 
noticed for several minutes, however, because the same New York Center con- 
troller was assigned to both American 11 and United 175. The controller knew 
American 1 1 ^vas hijacked; he ^vas focused on searching for it after the aircraft 
disappeared at 8:46.^23 

At 8:48, ^vhile the controller was still trying to locate American 1 1 , a New 
York Center manager provided the following report on a Command Center 
teleconference about American 1 1 : 

Manager, New York Center: Okay. This is New York Center. We're 
watching the airplane. I also had conversation with American Air- 
lines, and they've told us that they believe that one of their stew- 
ardesses was stabbed and that there are people in the cockpit that 
have control of the aircraft, and that's all the information they have 
right now. 124 

The Ne^v York Center controller and manager were unaware that American 
1 1 had already crashed. 

At 8:51, the controller noticed the transponder change from United 175 and 
tried to contact the aircraft.There was no response. Beginning at 8:52, the con- 
troller made repeated attempts to reach the crew of United 175. Still no 
response. The controller checked his radio equipment and contacted another 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 22 



22 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

controller at 8:53, saying that "^ve may have a hijack" and that he could not 
find the aircraft. i-^ 

Another commercial aircraft in the vicinity then radioed in with "reports 
over the radio of a commuter plane hitting the World Trade Center." The con- 
troller spent the next several minutes handing off the other flights on his scope 
to other controllers and moving aircraft out of the way of the unidentified air- 
craft (believed to be United 175) as it moved south\vest and then turned 
northeast toward New York City.^-'^ 

At about 8:55, the controller in charge notified a Ne^vYork Center man- 
ager that she believed United 175 had also been hijacked. The manager tried 
to notify the regional managers and ^vas told that they were discussing a 
hijacked aircraft (presumably American 1 1) and refused to be disturbed.At 8:58, 
the New York Center controller searching for United 175 told another New 
York controller "we might have a hijack over here, two of them."i-^ 

Between 9:01 and 9:02, a manager from New York Center told the Com- 
mand Center in Herndon: 

Manager, New York Center: We have several situations going on here. It's 
escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us. . . . 
We're, we're involved ^vith something else, ^ve have other aircraft that 
may have a similar situation going on here.'^s 

The "other aircraft" referred to by New York Center was United 175. Evi- 
dence indicates that this conversation was the only notice received by either 
FAA headquarters or the Herndon Command Center prior to the second crash 
that there had been a second hijacking. 

While the Command Center was told about this "other aircraft" at 9:01, 
New York Center contacted New York terminal approach control and asked 
for help in locating United 175. 

Terminal: I got somebody ^vho keeps coasting but it looks like he's going 
into one of the small airports down there. 

Center: Hold on a second. I'm trying to bring him up here and get 
you — There he is right there. Hold on. 

Terminal: Got him just out of 9,500 — 9,000 no\v. 

Center: Do you kno^v who he is? 

Terminal: We're just, we just ^ve don't know who he is. We're just pick- 
ing him up no^v. 

Center (at 9:02): Alright. Heads up man, it looks like another one com- 
ing in.i-' 

The controllers observed the plane in a rapid descent; the radar data termi- 
nated over Lower Manhattan. At 9:03, United 175 crashed into the South 

To-wer.i-"^ 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 23 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 23 

Meanwhile, a manager from Boston Center reported that they had deci- 
phered what they had heard in one of the first hijacker transmissions from 
American 11: 

Boston Center: Hey . . . you still there? 

New England Region: Yes, I am. 

Boston Center: ... as far as the tape, Bobby seemed to think the guy 
said that"^ve have planes." No^v, I don't kno\v if it was because it was 
the accent, or if there's more than one, but I'm gonna, I'm gonna 
reconfirm that for you, and I'll get back to you real quick. Okay? 

New England Region: Appreciate it. 

Unidentified Female Voice: They have what? 

Boston Center: Planes, as in plural. 

Boston Center: It sounds like, we're talking to Ne\v York, that there's 
another one aimed at the World Trade Center. 

New England Region: There's another aircraft? 

Boston Center: A second one just hit the Trade Center. 

New England Region: Okay. Yeah, ^ve gotta get — we gotta alert the 
military real quick on this.i^i 

Boston Center immediately advised the New England Region that it was 
going to stop all departures at airports under its control. At 9:05, Boston Cen- 
ter confirmed for both the FAA Command Center and the New England 
Region that the hijackers aboard American 11 said "we have planer." At the 
same time. New York Center declared "ATC zero" — meaning that aircraft ^vere 
not permitted to depart from, arrive at, or travel through New York Center's 
airspace until further notice. i^- 

Within minutes of the second impact, Boston Center instructed its con- 
trollers to inform all aircraft in its airspace of the events in Ne^vYork and to 
advise aircraft to heighten cockpit security. Boston Center asked the Herndon 
Command Center to issue a similar cockpit security alert nationwide.We have 
found no evidence to suggest that the Command Center acted on this request 
or issued any type of cockpit security alert. 1^3 

Military Notification and Response. The first indication that the 
NO RAD air defenders had of the second hijacked aircraft, United 175, came 
in a phone call from New York Center to NEADS at 9:03. The notice came at 
about the time the plane was hitting the South Tower, i^"* 

By 9:08, the mission cre\v commander at NEADS learned of the second 
explosion at the World Trade Center and decided against holding the fighters 
in military airspace away from Manhattan: 

Mission Crew Commander, NEADS: This is ^vhat I foresee that ^ve 
probably need to do. We need to talk to FAA. We need to tell 'em if 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 24 



24 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

this stuff is gonna keep on going, we need to take those fighters, put 
'em over Manhattan. That s best thing, that's the best play right no^v. 
So coordinate with the FAA.Tell 'em if there's more out there, which 
we don't kno\¥, let's get 'em over Manhattan. At least ^ve got some kind 
of play. 135 

The FAA cleared the airspace. Radar data show that at 9:13, when the Otis 
fighters were about 115 miles away from the city, the fighters exited their hold- 
ing pattern and set a course direct for Manhattan. They arrived at 9:25 and 
established a combat air patrol (CAP) over the city. 1^6 

Because the Otis fighters had expended a great deal of fuel in flying first to 
military airspace and then to New York, the battle commanders were con- 
cerned about refueling. NEADS considered scrambling alert fighters from Lan- 
gley Air Force Base in Virginia to New York, to provide backup. The Langley 
fighters were placed on battle stations at 9:09.1-'^ NORAD had no indication 
that any other plane had been hijacked. 

American Airlines Flight 77 

FAA Awareness. American 77 began deviating from its flight plan at 8:54, 
with a slight turn toward the south. Two minutes later, it disappeared completely 
from radar at Indianapolis Center, which \vas controlling the flight.^^^ 

The controller tracking American 77 told us he noticed the aircraft turn- 
ing to the southwest, and then sa^v the data disappear. The controller looked 
for primary radar returns. He searched along the plane's projected flight path 
and the airspace to the southwest where it had started to turn. No primary tar- 
gets appeared. He tried the radios, first calling the aircraft directly, then the air- 
line. Again there was nothing. At this point, the Indianapolis controller had no 
knowledge of the situation in Ne^vYork. He did not know that other aircraft 
had been hijacked. He believed American 77 had experienced serious electri- 
cal or mechanical failure, or both, and was gone. '^^ 

Shortly after 9:00, Indianapolis Center started notifying other agencies that 
American 77 ^vas missing and had possibly crashed. At 9:08, Indianapolis Cen- 
ter asked Air Force Search and Rescue at Langley Air Force Base to look for a 
downed aircraft. The center also contacted the West Virginia State Police and 
asked \vhether any reports of a do^vned aircraft had been received. At 9:09, it 
reported the loss of contact to the FAA regional center, which passed this infor- 
mation to FAA headquarters at 9:24. i'*" 

By 9:20, Indianapolis Center learned that there ^vere other hijacked aircraft, 
and began to doubt its initial assumption that American 77 had crashed. A dis- 
cussion of this concern bet\veen the manager at Indianapolis and the Com- 
mand Center in Herndon prompted it to notify some FAA field facilities that 
American 77 was lost. By 9:21, the Command Center, some FAA field facili- 
ties, and American Airlines had started to search for American 77. They feared 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 25 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 25 

it had been hijacked. At 9:25, the Command Center advised FAA headquar- 
ters of the situation, i'*! 

The failure to find a primary radar return for American 77 led us to inves- 
tigate this issue further. Radar reconstructions performed after 9/11 reveal that 
FAA radar equipment tracked the flight from the moment its transponder was 
turned off at 8:56. But for 8 minutes and 13 seconds, between 8:56 and 9:05, 
this primary radar information on American 77 was not displayed to controllers 
at Indianapolis Center. ^''^xhe reasons are technical, arising from the ^vay the 
software processed radar information, as well as from poor primary radar cov- 
erage where American 77 was flying. 

According to the radar reconstruction, American 77 reemerged as a primary 
target on Indianapolis Center radar scopes at 9:05, east of its last known posi- 
tion.The target remained in Indianapolis Center's airspace for another six min- 
utes, then crossed into the western portion ofWashington Center's airspace at 
9: 10. As Indianapolis Center continued searching for the aircraft, two managers 
and the controller responsible for American 77 looked to the west and south- 
west along the flight's projected path, not east — where the aircraft was now 
heading. Managers did not instruct other controllers at Indianapolis Center to 
turn on their primary radar coverage to join in the search for American 11 }^^ 

In sum, Indianapolis Center never sa^v Flight 77 turn around. By the time 
it reappeared in primary radar coverage, controllers had either stopped look- 
ing for the aircraft because they thought it had crashed or ^vere looking toward 
the west. Although the Command Center learned Flight 77 was missing, nei- 
ther it nor FAA headquarters issued an all points bulletin to surrounding cen- 
ters to search for primary radar targets. American 77 traveled undetected for 
36 minutes on a course heading due east for Washington, D.C.i'^'' 

By 9:25, FAA's Herndon Command Center and FAA headquarters knew 
two aircraft had crashed into theWorldTrade Center.They knew American 77 
was lost. At least some FAA officials in Boston Center and the New England 
Region knew that a hijacker on board American 11 had said "we have some 
planes." Concerns over the safety of other aircraft began to mount. A manager at 
the Herndon Command Center asked FAA headquarters if they \vanted to order 
a "nationwide ground stop." While this was being discussed by executives at FAA 
headquarters, the Command Center ordered one at 9:25. i'*' 

The Command Center kept looking for American 77. At 9:21, it advised the 
Dulles terminal control facility, and Dulles urged its controllers to look for pri- 
mary targets. At 9:32, they found one. Several of the Dulles controllers 
"observed a primary radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed" and 
notified Reagan National Airport. FAA personnel at both Reagan National and 
DuUes airports notified the Secret Service. The aircraft's identity or type was 
unknown. 1'*'^ 

Reagan National controllers then vectored an unarmed National Guard C- 
130H cargo aircraft, which had just taken off en route to Minnesota, to iden- 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 26 



26 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

tify and follo^v the suspicious aircraft. The C-130H pilot spotted it, identified 
it as a Boeing 757, attempted to follow its path, and at 9:38, seconds after 
impact, reported to the control tower: "looks like that aircraft crashed into the 
Pentagon sir.''^'*^ 

Military Notification and Response. NORAD heard nothing about the 
search for American 77. Instead, the NEADS air defenders heard renewed 
reports about a plane that no longer existed: American 11. 
At 9:21, NEADS received a report from the FAA: 

FAA: Military, Boston Center. 1 just had a report that American 11 is still 

in the air, and it's on its way towards — heading towards Washington. 
NEADS: Okay. American 11 is still in the air? 
FAA: Yes. 

NEADS: On its ^vay to^vards Washington? 
FAA: That was another — it was evidently another aircraft that hit the 

tower. That's the latest report we have. 
NEADS: Okay 
FAA: I'm going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume 

he's somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further 

south. 
NEADS: Okay. So American 11 isn't the hijack at all then, right? 
FAA: No, he is a hijack. 
NEADS: He — ^American 11 is a hijack? 
FAA: Yes. 

NEADS: And he's heading into Washington? 
FAA: Yes. This could be a third aircraft, i'*^ 

The mention of a "third aircraft" was not a reference to American 77. There 
was confusion at that moment in the FAA. Two planes had struck the World 
Trade Center, and Boston Center had heard from FAA headquarters in Wash- 
ington that American 1 1 was still airborne. We have been unable to identify the 
source of this mistaken FAA information. 

The NEADS technician who took this call from the FAA immediately 
passed the word to the mission crew commander, who reported to the 
NEADS battle commander: 

Mission Crew Commander, NEADS: Okay, uh, American Airlines is 
still airborne. Eleven, the first guy, he's heading towards Washington. 
Okay? 1 think we need to scramble Langley right no^v. And I'm gonna 
take the fighters from Otis, try to chase this guy down if 1 can find 
him. 149 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 27 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 27 

After consulting with NEADS command, the cre\¥ commander issued the 
order at 9:23: "Okay . . . scramble Langley. Head them to\¥ards the Washington 
area. . . . [I]f they're there then we'll run on them. . . .These guys are smart." 
That order was processed and transmitted to Langley Air Force Base at 9:24. 
Radar data show the Langley fighters airborne at 9:30. NEADS decided to 
keep the Otis fighters over Ne\¥ York. The heading of the Langley fighters was 
adjusted to send them to the Baltimore area. The mission crew commander 
explained to us that the purpose was to position the Langley fighters between 
the reported southbound American 11 and the nation's capital, i^o 

At the suggestion of the Boston Center's military liaison, NEADS contacted 
the FAA's Washington Center to ask about American 11. In the course of the 
conversation, a Washington Center manager informed NEADS: "We're look- 
ing — we also lost American 77."The time ^vas 9:34.i5iThis was the first notice 
to the military that American 77 \vas missing, and it had come by chance. If 
NEADS had not placed that call, the NEADS air defenders would have 
received no information whatsoever that the flight was even missing, although 
the FAA had been searching for it. No one at FAA headquarters ever asked for 
military assistance with American 77. 

At 9:36, the FAA's Boston Center called NEADS and relayed the discovery 
about an unidentified aircraft closing in on Washington: "Latest report. Aircraft 
VFR [visual flight rules] sbi miles southeast of the White House. . . . Six, south- 
west. Six, south^vest of the White House, deviating away." This startling news 
prompted the mission crew commander at NEADS to take immediate control 
of the airspace to clear a flight path for the Langley fighters: "Okay, we're going 
to turn it . . . crank it up. . . . Run them to the White House." He then discov- 
ered, to his surprise, that the Langley fighters were not headed north toward 
the Baltimore area as instructed, but east over the ocean."I don't care how many 
windows you break," he said. "Damn it. . . . Okay. Push them back."^^^ 

The Langley fighters were heading east, not north, for three reasons. First, 
unlike a normal scramble order, this order did not include a distance to the tar- 
get or the target's location. Second, a "generic" flight plan — ^prepared to get the 
aircraft airborne and out of local airspace quickly — incorrectly led the Lang- 
ley fighters to believe they ^vere ordered to fly due east (090) for 60 miles. Third, 
the lead pilot and local FAA controller incorrectly assumed the flight plan 
instruction to go "090 for 60" superseded the original scramble order. 1^3 

After the 9:36 call to NEADS about the unidentified aircraft a few miles 
from the White House, the Langley fighters \vere ordered to Washington, DC. 
Controllers at NEADS located an unknown primary radar track, but "it kind 
of faded" over Washington. The time was 9:38. The Pentagon had been struck 
by American 77 at 9:37:46. The Langley fighters were about 150 miles away.i54 

Right after the Pentagon ^vas hit, NEADS learned of another possible 
hijacked aircraft. It was an aircraft that in fact had not been hijacked at all. After 
the second World Trade Center crash, Boston Center managers recognized that 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 28 



28 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

both aircraft were transcontinental 767 jetliners that had departed Logan Air- 
port. Remembering the "we have some planes" remark, Boston Center 
guessed that Delta 1989 might also be hijacked. Boston Center called NEADS 
at 9:41 and identified Delta 1989, a 767 jet that had left Logan Airport for Las 
Vegas, as a possible hijack. NEADS ^varned the FAA's Cleveland Center to 
watch Delta 1989. The Command Center and FAA headquarters watched it 
too. During the course of the morning, there were multiple erroneous reports 
of hijacked aircraft. The report of American 11 heading south was the first; 
Delta 1989 was the second. 155 

NEADS never lost track of Delta 1989, and even ordered fighter aircraft 
from Ohio and Michigan to intercept it. The flight never turned off its 
transponder. NEADS soon learned that the aircraft was not hijacked, and 
tracked Delta 1989 as it reversed course over Toledo, headed east, and landed 
in Cleveland. 156 But another aircraft was heading toward Washington, an air- 
craft about which NORAD had heard nothing: United 93. 

United Airlines Flight 93 

FAA Awareness. At 9:27, after having been in the air for 45 minutes. United 
93 acknowledged a transmission from the Cleveland Center controUer.This was 
the last normal contact the FAA had with the flight. 157 

Less than a minute later, the Cleveland controller and the pilots of aircraft 
in the vicinity heard "a radio transmission of unintelligible sounds of possible 
screaming or a struggle from an unknown origin." 15^ 

The controller responded, seconds later: "Somebody call Cleveland?" This 
was followed by a second radio transmission, with sounds of screaming. The 
Cleveland Center controllers began to try to identify the possible source of the 
transnnssions, and noticed that United 93 had descended some 700 feet. The 
controller attempted again to raise United 93 several times, with no response. 
At 9:30, the controller began to poll the other flights on his frequency to deter- 
mine if they had heard the screaming; several said they had. 15' 

At 9:32, a third radio transmission came over the frequency: "Keep remain- 
ing sitting. We have a bomb on board." The controller understood, but chose 
to respond: "Calling Cleveland Center, you're unreadable. Say again, slowly." 
He notified his supervisor, who passed the notice up the chain of command. 
By 9:34, ^vord of the hijacking had reached FAA headquarters, i^o 

FAA headquarters had by this time established an open line of communi- 
cation with the Command Center at Herndon and instructed it to poll all its 
centers about suspect aircraft.The Command Center executed the request and, 
a minute later, Cleveland Center reported that "United 93 may have a bomb 
on board." At 9:34, the Command Center relayed the information concerning 
United 93 to FAA headquarters. At approximately 9:36, Cleveland advised the 
Command Center that it ^vas still tracking United 93 and specifically inquired 
whether someone had requested the military to launch fighter aircraft to inter- 
cept the aircraft. Cleveland even told the Command Center it was prepared to 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 29 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 29 

contact a nearby military base to make the request. The Command Center told 
Cleveland that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command had 
to make the decision to seek military assistance and were working on the issue, i^i 

Between 9:34 and 9:38, the Cleveland controller observed United 93 climb- 
ing to 40,700 feet and immediately moved several aircraft out its way.The con- 
troller continued to try to contact United 93, and asked whether the pilot could 
confirm that he had been hijacked. "^^ There was no response. 

Then, at 9:39, a fourth radio transmission was heard from United 93: 

Ziad Jarrah: Uh, this is the captain. Would like you all to remain seated. 
There is a bomb on board and are going back to the airport, and to 
have our demands [unintelligible]. Please remain quiet. 

The controller responded: "United 93, understand you have a bomb on 
board. Go ahead." The flight did not respond. i*-* 

From 9:34 to 10:08, a Command Center facility manager provided frequent 
updates to Acting Deputy Administrator Monte Belger and other executives at 
FAA headquarters as United 93 headed toward Washington, D.C. At 9:41, 
Cleveland Center lost United 93 s transponder signal. The controller located 
it on primary radar, matched its position with visual sightings from other air- 
craft, and tracked the flight as it turned east, then south. i*'* 

At 9:42, the Command Center learned from news reports that a plane had 
struck the Pentagon.The Command Center's national operations manager, Ben 
Sliney, ordered all FAA facilities to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest 
airport. This was an unprecedented order. The air trafHc control system han- 
dled it with great skill, as about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft 
soon landed without incident, ii^^ 

At 9:46 the Command Center updated FAA headquarters that United 93 
was now "twenty-nine minutes out ofWashington, D.C." 

At 9:49, 13 minutes after Cleveland Center had asked about getting mili- 
tary help, the Command Center suggested that someone at headquarters should 
decide whether to request military assistance: 

FAA Headquarters: They're pulling Jeff away to go talk about United 

93. 
Command Center: Uh, do ^ve want to think, uh, about scrambling 

aircraft? 
FAA Headquarters: Oh, God, 1 don't know. 
Command Center: Uh, that's a decision somebody's gonna have to 

make probably in the next ten minutes. 
FAA Headquarters: Uh, ya know everybody just left the rooni.^'^'^ 

At 9:53, FAA headquarters informed the Command Center that the deputy 
director for air traffic services was talking to Monte Belger about scrambling 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 30 



30 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

aircraft. Then the Command Center informed headquarters that controllers 
had lost track of United 93 over the Pittsburgh area. Within seconds, the Com- 
mand Center received a visual report from another aircraft, and informed head- 
quarters that the aircraft was 20 miles northwest of Johnsto^vn. United 93 was 
spotted by another aircraft, and, at 10:01, the Command Center advised FAA 
headquarters that one of the aircraft had seen United 93 "waving his wings." 
The aircraft had witnessed the hijackers' efforts to defeat the passengers' coun- 
terattack. i<57 

United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03:11, 125 miles from Washington, 
D.C. The precise crash time has been the subject of some dispute.The 10:03:11 
impact time is supported by previous National Transportation Safety Board 
analysis and by evidence from the Commission staff"'s analysis of radar, the flight 
data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, infrared satellite data, and air traffic 
control transmissions. 1*8 

Five minutes later, the Command Center forwarded this update to head- 
quarters: 

Command Center: O.K. Uh, there is now on that United 93. 

FAA Headquarters: Yes. 

Command Center: There is a report of black smoke in the last position 
1 gave you, fifteen miles south of Johnstown. 

FAA Headquarters: From the airplane or from the ground? 

Command Center: Uh, they're speculating it's from the aircraft. 

FAA Headquarters: Okay. 

Command Center: Uh, ^vho, it hit the ground. That's ^vhat they're spec- 
ulating, that's speculation only.^'^'' 

The aircraft that spotted the "black smoke" was the same unarmed Air 
National Guard cargo plane that had seen American 77 crash into the Penta- 
gon 27 minutes earlier. It had resumed its flight to Minnesota and saw the 
smoke from the crash of United 93, less than two minutes after the plane went 
down. At 10:17, the Command Center advised headquarters of its conclusion 
that United 93 had indeed crashed, i^o 

Despite the discussions about military assistance, no one from FAA head- 
quarters requested military assistance regarding United 93. Nor did any man- 
ager at FAA headquarters pass any of the information it had about United 93 
to the military. 

Military Notification and Response. NEADS first received a call about 
United 93 from the military liaison at Cleveland Center at 10:07. Unaware that 
the aircraft had already crashed, Cleveland passed to NEADS the aircraft's last 
known latitude and longitude. NEADS was never able to locate United 93 on 
radar because it was already in the ground.^^i 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 31 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 31 

At the same time, the NEADS mission crew commander was deahng with 
the arrival of the Langley fighters overWashington,D.C., sorting out ^vhat their 
orders ^vere with respect to potential targets. Shortly after 10:10, and having 
no knowledge either that United 93 had been heading toward Washington or 
that it had crashed, he explicitly instructed the Langley fighters: "negative — 
negative clearance to shoot" aircraft over the nation's capitaU^^ 

The news of a reported bomb on board United 93 spread quickly at 
NEADS. The air defenders searched for United 93's primary radar return and 
tried to locate other fighters to scramble. NEADS called Washington Center 
to report: 

NEADS: 1 also want to give you a heads-up,Washington. 

FAA (DC): Go ahead. 

NEADS: United nine three, have you got information on that yet? 

FAA: Yeah, he's do^vn. 

NEADS: He's down? 

FAA: Yes. 

NEADS: When did he land? 'Cause we have got confirmation — 

FAA: He did not land. 

NEADS: Oh, he's down? Down? 

FAA: Yes. Somewhere up northeast of Camp David. 

NEADS: Northeast of Camp David. 

FAA: That's the last report. They don't know exactly ^vhere.^^3 

The time of notification of the crash of United 93 was 10:15. i^'* The 
NEADS air defenders never located the flight or followed it on their radar 
scopes. The flight had already crashed by the time they learned it was hijacked. 

Clarifying the Record 

The defense of U.S. airspace on 9/11 was not conducted in accord with pre- 
existing training and protocols. It was improvised by civilians who had never 
handled a hijacked aircraft that attempted to disappear, and by a military unpre- 
pared for the transformation of commercial aircraft into weapons of mass 
destruction. As it turned out, the NEADS air defenders had nine minutes' 
notice on the first hijacked plane, no advance notice on the second, no advance 
notice on the third, and no advance notice on the fourth. 

We do not believe that the true picture of that morning reflects discredit on 
the operational personnel at NEADS or FAA facilities. NEADS commanders 
and ofiicers actively sought out information, and made the best judgments they 
could on the basis of what they knew. Individual FAA controllers, facility man- 
agers, and Command Center managers thought outside the box in recommend- 
ing a nation\vide alert, in ground-stopping local traffic, and, ultimately, in 
deciding to land all aircraft and executing that unprecedented order flawlessly. 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 32 



32 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 



American Airlines Flight 11 

(AA 11) 

Boston to Los Angelas 



United Airlines Flight 175 

(UA 175) 

Boston to Los Angelas 




7:59 


Takeoff 


8 


14 


8:14 


Last routine radio 


8 


42 




communication; likely takeover 


8 


42 


8:19 


Flight attendant notifies AA of 


8 


47 




hijacking 


8 


52 


8:21 


Transponder is turned off 




8:23 


AA attempts to contact the 
cockpit 


8:54 


8:25 


Boston Center aware of 
hijacking 


8:55 


8:38 


Boston Center notifies NEADS 
of hijacking 


9:03 


8:46 


NEADS scrambles Otis fighter 
jets in search of AA 11 


9:15 


8:46:40 


AA 1 1 crashes into 1 WTC 
(North Tower) 




8:53 


Otis fighter jets airborne 


9:20 


9:16 


AA headquarters aware that 
Flight 1 1 has crashed into 
WTC 




9:21 


Boston Center advises NEADS 
that AA 1 1 is airborne heading 
for Washington 




9:24 


NEADS scrambles Langley 
fighter jets in search of 






AAll 







Takeoff 

Last radio communication 
-8:46 Likely takeover 

Transponder code changes 

Fhght attendant notifies UA of 

hijacking 

UA attempts to contact the 

cockpit 

New York Center suspects 

hijacking 
:11 Flight 175 crashes into 2 WTC 

(South Tower) 

New York Center advises 

NEADS that UA 175 was the 

second aircraft crashed into 

WTC 

UA headquarters aware that 

Flight 1 75 had crashed into 

WTC 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 33 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 



33 



American Airlines Flight 77 

(AA 77) 

Washington, D.C., to Los Angelas 



United Airlines Flight 93 

(UA 93) 

Newark to San Francisco 




8:20 
8:51 



Takeoff 

Last routine radio 

communication 



8:51-8:54 Likely takeover 



8:54 

8:56 
9:05 

9:25 

9:32 



9:34 



9:37:46 



10:30 



Flight 77 makes unauthorized 
turn to south 
Transponder is turned off 
AA headquarters aware that 
Flight 77 is hijacked 
Herndon Command Center 
orders nationwide ground stop 
Dulles tower observes radar of 
fast-moving aircraft (later 
identified as AA 77) 
FAA advises NEADS that 
AA 77 is missing 
AA 77 crashes into the 
Pentagon 

AA headquarters confirms 
Flight 77 crash into Pentagon 



8:42 
9:24 



9:27 

9:28 
9:34 



9:36 

9:41 
9:57 
10:03: 

10:07 

10:15 



11 



Takeoff 

Flight 93 receives warning 
from UA about possible 
cockpit intrusion 
Last routine radio 
communication 
Likely takeover 
Herndon Command Center 
advises FAA headquarters that 
UA 93 is hijacked 
Flight attendant notifies UA of 
hijacking; UA attempts to 
contact the cockpit 
Transponder is turned off 
Passenger revolt begins 
Flight 93 crashes in field in 
Shanksville, PA 
Cleveland Center advises 
NEADS of UA 93 hijacking 
UA headquarters aware that 
Flight 93 has crashed in PA; 
Washington Center advises 
NEADS that Flight 93 has 
crashed in PA 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 34 



34 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

More than the actual events, inaccurate government accounts of those events 
made it appear that the niihtary was notified in time to respond to two of the 
hijackings, raising questions about the adequacy of the response.Those accounts 
had the effect of deflecting questions about the military s capacity to obtain 
timely and accurate information from its o^vn sources. In addition, they over- 
stated the FAA's ability to provide the military ^vith timely and useful informa- 
tion that morning. 

In public testimony before this Commission in May 2003, NORAD offi- 
cials stated that at 9:16, NEADS received hijack notification of United 93 from 
the FAA.i^'xhis statement was incorrect.There ^vas no hijack to report at 9:16. 
United 93 was proceeding normally at that time. 

In this same public testimony, NORAD officials stated that at 9:24, 
NEADS received notification of the hijacking of American 77. ^^'^ This state- 
ment was also incorrect. The notice NEADS received at 9:24 was that Amer- 
ican 1 1 had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington, 
DC. 177 

In their testimony and in other public accounts, NORAD officials also 
stated that the Langley fighters were scrambled to respond to the notifications 
about American 77,1^8 United 93, or both. These statements ^vere incorrect as 
well. The fighters were scrambled because of the report that American 11 was 
heading south, as is clear not just from taped conversations at NEADS but also 
from taped conversations at FAA centers; contemporaneous logs compiled at 
NEADS, Continental Region headquarters, and NORAD; and other records. 
Yet this response to a phantom aircraft was not recounted in a single public 
timeline or statement issued by the FAA or Department of Defense. The inac- 
curate accounts created the impression that the Langley scramble was a logical 
response to an actual hijacked aircraft. 

In fact, not only was the scramble prompted by the mistaken information 
about American 11, but NEADS never received notice that American 77 was 
hijacked. It was notified at 9:34 that American 77 was lost. Then, minutes later, 
NEADS was told that an unkno^vn plane was 6 miles south^vest of the White 
House. Only then did the already scrambled airplanes start moving directly 
toward Washington, DC. 

Thus the military did not have 14 minutes to respond to American 77, as 
testimony to the Commission in May 2003 suggested. It had at most one or 
two minutes to react to the unidentified plane approaching Washington, and 
the fighters were in the wrong place to be able to help.They had been respond- 
ing to a report about an aircraft that did not exist. 

Nor did the military have 47 minutes to respond to United 93, as would be 
implied by the account that it received notice of the flight's hijacking at 9:16. 
By the time the military learned about the flight, it had crashed. 

We now turn to the role of national leadership in the events that morning. 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 35 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 35 

1.3 NATIONAL CRISIS MANAGEMENT 

When American 1 1 struck the Wo rid Trade Center at 8:46, no one in the White 
House or travehng \¥ith the President knew that it had been hijacked. While 
that information circulated within the FAA, we found no evidence that the 
hijacking was reported to any other agency in Washington before 8:46. ^^^ 

Most federal agencies learned about the crash in New York from CNN. ^^^ 
Within the FAA, the administrator, Jane Garvey, and her acting deputy, Monte 
Belger, had not been told of a confirmed hijacking before they learned from 
television that a plane had crashed, i^i Others in the agency were aware of it, 
as we explained earlier in this chapter. 

Inside the National Military Command Center, the deputy director of oper- 
ations and his assistant began notifying senior Pentagon officials of the inci- 
dent. At about 9:00, the senior NMCC operations officer reached out to the 
FAA operations center for information. Although the NMCC was advised of 
the hijacking of American 11, the scrambling of jets was not discussed.i82 

In Sarasota, Florida, the presidential motorcade was arriving at the Emma 
E. Booker Elementary School, where President Bush was to read to a class and 
talk about education. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told us he was 
standing with the President outside the classroom when Senior Advisor to the 
President Karl Rove first informed them that a small, t^vin-engine plane had 
crashed into the World Trade Center.The President's reaction was that the inci- 
dent must have been caused by pilot error. ^^^ 

At 8:55, before entering the classroom, the President spoke to National 
Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who was at the White House. She recalled 
first telling the President it was a twin-engine aircraft — and then a commer- 
cial aircraft — that had struck the World Trade Center, adding "that's all we know 
right now, Mr. President."i84 

At the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney had just sat down for a 
meeting ^vhen his assistant told him to turn on his television because a plane 
had struck the North Tower of theWorldTrade Center. The Vice President was 
wondering "ho\v the hell could a plane hit theWorldTrade Center" when he 
sa^v the second aircraft strike the South Tower.i^^ 

Elsewhere in the White House, a series of 9:00 meetings was about to begin. 
In the absence of information that the crash \vas anything other than an acci- 
dent, the White House staff monitored the ne^vs as they went ahead with their 
regular schedules, ^^e 

The Agencies Confer 

When they learned a second plane had struck the World Trade Center, nearly 
everyone in the White House told us, they immediately knew it was not an 
accident. The Secret Service initiated a number of security enhancements 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 36 



36 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

around the White House complex. The officials who issued these orders did 
not know that there ^vere additional hijacked aircraft, or that one such aircraft 
was en route to Washington. These measures were precautionary steps taken 
because of the strikes in Ne-wYork.^^^ 

The FAA and White House Teleconferences. The FAA, the White House, 
and the Defense Department each initiated a multiagency teleconference 
before 9:30. Because none of these teleconferences — at least before 10:00 — 
included the right officials from both the FAA and Defense Department, none 
succeeded in meaningfully coordinating the military and FAA response to the 
hijackings. 

At about 9:20, security personnel at FAA headquarters set up a hijacking 
teleconference -with several agencies, including the Defense Department. The 
NMCC officer who participated told us that the call was monitored only peri- 
odically because the information was sporadic, it \vas of little value, and there were 
other important tasks. The FAA manager of the teleconference also remem- 
bered that the military participated only briefly before the Pentagon was hit. 
Both individuals agreed that the teleconference played no role in coordinating 
a response to the attacks of 9/ 11. Acting Deputy Administrator Belger was frus- 
trated to learn later in the morning that the military had not been on the call.^^^ 

At the White House, the video teleconference was conducted from the Sit- 
uation Room by Richard Clarke, a special assistant to the president long 
involved in counterterrorism. Logs indicate that it began at 9:25 and included 
the CIA; the FBI; the departments of State, Justice, and Defense; the FAA; and 
the White House shelter. The FAA and CIA joined at 9:40. The first topic 
addressed in the White House video teleconference — at about 9:40 — was the 
physical security of the President, the White House, and federal agencies. 
Immediately thereafter it was reported that a plane had hit the Pentagon. We 
found no evidence that video teleconference participants had any prior infor- 
mation that American 77 had been hijacked and was heading directly toward 
Washington. Indeed, it is not clear to us that the video teleconference was fully 
under way before 9:37, when the Pentagon was struck. ^^^ 

Garvey, Belger, and other senior officials from FAA headquarters partici- 
pated in this video teleconference at various times. We do not know who from 
Defense participated, but \ve know that in the first hour none of the person- 
nel involved in managing the crisis did. And none of the information conveyed 
in the White House video teleconference, at least in the first hour, ^vas being 
passed to the NMCC. As one witness recalled, "[It] \vas almost like there were 
parallel decisionmaking processes going on; one was a voice conference 
orchestrated by the NMCC . . . and then there was the [White House video 
teleconference]. . . . [I]n my mind they were competing venues for command 
and control and decisionmaking." 1'° 

At 10:03, the conference received reports of more missing aircraft, "2 pos- 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 37 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 37 

sibly 3 aloft," and learned of a combat air patrol over Washington. There was 
discussion of the need for rules of engagement. Clarke reported that they were 
asking the President for authority to shoot down aircraft. Confirmation of that 
authority came at 10:25, but the commands -were already being conveyed in 
more direct contacts ^vith the Pentagon. ^'^ 

The Pentagon Teleconferences. Inside the National Military Command 
Center, the deputy director for operations immediately thought the second 
strike was a terrorist attack. The job of the NMCC in such an emergency is to 
gather the relevant parties and establish the chain of command between the 
National Command Authority — the president and the secretary of defense — 
and those who need to carry out their orders, i'- 

On the morning of September 11, Secretary Rumsfeld was having break- 
fast at the Pentagon with a group of members of Congress. He then returned 
to his office for his daily intelligence briefing. The Secretary was informed of 
the second strike in Ne^vYork during the briefing; he resumed the briefing 
while awaiting more information. After the Pentagon was struck. Secretary 
Rumsfeld went to the parking lot to assist ^vith rescue efforts. ^'^ 

Inside the NMCC, the deputy director for operations called for an all- 
purpose "significant event" conference. It began at 9:29, with a brief recap: two 
aircraft had struck the World Trade Center, there was a confirmed hijacking of 
American 1 1 , and Otis fighters had been scrambled.The FAA ^vas asked to pro- 
vide an update, but the line was silent because the FAA had not been added to 
the call. A minute later, the deputy director stated that it had just been confirmed 
that American 11 was stiU airborne and heading toward D.C. He directed the 
transition to an air threat conference call. NORAD confirmed that American 
1 1 was airborne and heading toward Washington, relaying the erroneous FAA 
information already mentioned.The call then ended, at about 9:34. i'** 

It resumed at 9:37 as an air threat conference call,* which lasted more than 
eight hours. The President,Vice President, Secretary of Defense,Vice Chairman 
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen 
Hadley all participated in this teleconference at various times, as did military 
personnel from the White House underground shelter and the President's mil- 
itary aide on Air Force One.i'^ 

Operators ^vorked feverishly to include the FAA, but they had equipment 
problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers. NORAD asked three 
times before 10:03 to confirm the presence of the FAA in the teleconference. 
The FAA representative who finally joined the call at 10:17 had no fannliar- 
ity with or responsibility for hijackings, no access to decisionmakers, and none 
of the information available to senior FAA officials. ^'^ 



* All times given for this conference call are estnnates, \vliich we and the Department of Defense believe to 
be accurate ^vithin a + 3 minute margin of error. 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 38 



38 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

We found no evidence that, at this critical time, NORAD's top command- 
ers, in Florida or Cheyenne Mountain, coordinated -with their counterparts at 
FAA headquarters to improve awareness and organize a common response. 
Lower-level officials improvised — for example, the FAA's Boston Center 
bypassed the chain of command and directly contacted NEADS after the first 
hijacking. But the highest-level Defense Department officials relied on the 
NMCC's air threat conference, in which the FAA did not participate for the 
first 48 minutes. 197 

At 9:39, the NMCC's deputy director for operations, a military officer, 
opened the call from the Pentagon, which had just been hit. He began: "An air 
attack against North America may be in progress. NORAD, what's the situa- 
tion?" NORAD said it had conflicting reports. Its latest information was "of a 
possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK en route to Washington DC." 
The NMCC reported a crash into the mall side of the Pentagon and requested 
that the Secretary of Defense be added to the conference.!'^ 

At 9:44, NORAD briefed the conference on the possible hijacking of Delta 
1989. Two minutes later, staff reported that they were stiU trying to locate Sec- 
retary Rumsfeld and Vice Chairman Myers. The Vice Chairman joined the 
conference shortly before 10:00; the Secretary, shortly before 10:30. The Chair- 
man was out of the country, i^' 

At 9:48, a representative from the White House shelter asked if there were 
any indications of another hijacked aircraft. The deputy director for operations 
mentioned the Delta ffight and concluded that "that would be the fourth pos- 
sible hijack." At 9:49, the commander of NORAD directed all air sovereignty 
aircraft to battle stations, fuUy armed.-oo 

At 9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Mil- 
itary Office joined the conference and stated he had just talked to Deputy 
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.The White House requested (1) the 
implementation of continuity of government measures, (2) fighter escorts for 
Air Force One, and (3) a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, DC.-'^'i 

By 10:03, when United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, there had been no 
mention of its hijacking and the FAA had not yet been added to the tele- 
conference. 202 

The President and the Vice President 

The President was seated in a classroom when, at 9:05, Andrew Card whispered 
to him: "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack." The 
President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see 
an excited reaction at a moment of crisis. The press was standing behind the 
children; he saw their phones and pagers start to ring. The President felt he 
should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was 
happening. 203 

The President remained in the classroom for another five to seven minutes, 



Finall-4.4pp ll\llaA 9:12 AM Page 39 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 39 

while the children continued reading. He then returned to a holding room 
shortly before 9: 15, -where he ^vas briefed by staff and saw television coverage. 
He next spoke to Vice President Cheney, Dr. Rice, New York Governor George 
Pataki, and FBI Director Robert Mueller. He decided to make a brief state- 
ment from the school before leaving for the airport. The Secret Service told us 
they were anxious to move the President to a safer location, but did not think 
it imperative for him to run out the door.204 

Between 9:15 and 9:30, the staff was busy arranging a return to Washington, 
while the President consulted his senior advisers about his remarks. No one in 
the traveling party had any information during this time that other aircraft were 
hijacked or missing. Staff was in contact with the White House Situation Room, 
but as far as ^ve could determine, no one with the President was in contact with 
the Pentagon.The focus was on the President's statement to the nation.The only 
decision made during this time was to return to Washington.-'^'^ 

The President's motorcade departed at 9:35, and arrived at the airport 
between 9:42 and 9:45. During the ride the President learned about the attack 
on the Pentagon. He boarded the aircraft, asked the Secret Service about the 
safety of his family, and called the Vice President. According to notes of the 
call, at about 9:45 the President told the Vice President: "Sounds like we have 
a minor war going on here, I heard about the Pentagon. We're at ^var . . . some- 
body's going to pay."-0* 

About this time. Card, the lead Secret Service agent, the President's military 
aide, and the pilot were conferring on a possible destination for Air Force One. 
The Secret Service agent felt strongly that the situation in Washington was too 
unstable for the President to return there, and Card agreed. The President 
strongly wanted to return to Washington and only grudgingly agreed to go 
else^vhere.The issue was still undecided ^vhen the President conferred with the 
Vice President at about the time Air Force One was taking off. The Vice Pres- 
ident recalled urging the President not to return to Washington. Air Force One 
departed at about 9:54 without any fixed destination. The objective \vas to get 
up in the air — as fast and as high as possible — and then decide where to go.-"^ 

At 9:33, the tower supervisor at Reagan National Airport picked up a 
hotline to the Secret Service and told the Service's operations center that 
"an aircraft [is] coming at you and not talking with us." This was the first 
specific report to the Secret Service of a direct threat to the White House. 
No move was made to evacuate the Vice President at this time. As the offi- 
cer who took the call explained, "[I was] about to push the alert button 
when the tower advised that the aircraft was turning south and approach- 
ing Reagan National Airport.''-^^ 

American 77 began turning south, away from the White House, at 9:34. It 
continued heading south for roughly a minute, before turning west and begin- 
ning to circle back. This news prompted the Secret Service to order the imme- 
diate evacuation of the Vice President just before 9:36. Agents propelled him 



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40 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

out of his chair and told him he had to get to the bunker. The Vice President 
entered the underground tunnel leading to the shelter at 9:37.209 

Once inside,Vice President Cheney and the agents paused in an area of the 
tunnel that had a secure phone, a bench, and television. The Vice President 
asked to speak to the President, but it took time for the call to be connected. 
He learned in the tunnel that the Pentagon had been hit, and he sa\¥ televi- 
sion coverage of smoke coming from the building. -1° 

The Secret Service logged Mrs. Cheney's arrival at the White House at 9:52, 
and she joined her husband in the tunnel. According to contemporaneous 
notes, at 9:55 theVice President ^vas still on the phone \vith the President advis- 
ing that three planes were missing and one had hit the Pentagon. We believe 
this is the same call in which the Vice President urged the President not to 
return to Washington. After the call ended, Mrs. Cheney and the Vice Presi- 
dent moved from the tunnel to the shelter conference room.-^i 

United 93 and the Shootdown Order 

On the morning of 9/11, the President and Vice President stayed in contact 
not by an open line of communication but through a series of calls. The Pres- 
ident told us he was frustrated with the poor communications that morning. 
He could not reach key officials, including Secretary Rumsfeld, for a period of 
time.The line to the White House shelter conference room — and the Vice Pres- 
ident — kept cutting off.-^- 

The Vice President remembered placing a call to the President just after 
entering the shelter conference room. There is conflicting evidence about 
when the Vice President arrived in the shelter conference room.We have con- 
cluded, from the available evidence, that the Vice President arrived in the room 
shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58. TheVice President recalled being told,just 
after his arrival, that the Air Force was trying to establish a combat air patrol 
over Washington. -13 

TheVice President stated that he called the President to discuss the rules of 
engagement for the CAP. He recalled feeling that it did no good to establish 
the CAP unless the pilots had instructions on whether they were authorized 
to shoot if the plane would not divert. He said the President signed off on that 
concept. The President said he remembered such a conversation, and that it 
reminded him of ^vhen he had been an interceptor pilot.The President empha- 
sized to us that he had authorized the shootdown of hijacked aircraft.-^^ 

The Vice President's military aide told us he believed the Vice President 
spoke to the President just after entering the conference room, but he did not 
hear what they said. Rice, who entered the room shortly after theVice Presi- 
dent and sat next to him, remembered hearing him inform the President, "Sir, 
the CAPs are up. Sir, they're going to want to know what to do." Then she 
recalled hearing him say, "Yes sir." She believed this conversation occurred a 
few minutes, perhaps five, after they entered the conference room.-^^ 

We believe this call would have taken place sometime before 10:10 to 10:15. 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 41 

Among the sources that reflect other important events of that morning, there 
is no documentary evidence for this call, but the relevant sources are incom- 
plete. Others nearby ^vho ^vere taking notes, such as the Vice Presidents chief 
of staff. Scooter Libby, ^vho sat next to him, and Mrs. Cheney, did not note a 
call between the President andVice President immediately after the Vice Pres- 
ident entered the conference room.-'* 

At 10:02, the communicators in the shelter began receiving reports from 
the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft — ^presumably hijacked — heading 
toward Washington. That aircraft ^vas United 93. The Secret Service was get- 
ting this information directly from the FAA.The FAA may have been track- 
ing the progress of United 93 on a display that showed its projected path to 
Washington, not its actual radar return.Thus, the Secret Service ^vas relying on 
projections and was not aware the plane was already down in Pennsylvania.- '^ 

At some time between 10:10 and 10:15, a military aide told the Vice Pres- 
ident and others that the aircraft was 80 miles out. Vice President Cheney was 
asked for authority to engage the aircraft. ^is His reaction was described by 
Scooter Libby as quick and decisive, "in about the time it takes a batter to 
decide to swing." The Vice President authorized fighter aircraft to engage the 
inbound plane. He told us he based this authorization on his earlier conversa- 
tion with the President. The military aide returned a few minutes later, proba- 
bly between 10:12 and 10:18, and said the aircraft ^vas 60 miles out. He again 
asked for authorization to engage. The Vice President again said yes.-^^ 

At the conference room table was White House Deputy Chief of Staff 
Joshua Bolten. Bolten \vatched the exchanges and, after what he called "a quiet 
moment," suggested that theVice President get in touch ^vith the President and 
confirm the engage order. Bolten told us he \vanted to make sure the Presi- 
dent \vas told that the Vice President had executed the order. He said he had 
not heard any prior discussion on the subject ^vith the President. --° 

TheVice President was logged calling the President at 10:18 for a two- 
minute conversation that obtained the confirmation. On Air Force One, the 
President's press secretary was taking notes; Ari Fleischer recorded that at 
10:20, the President told him that he had authorized a shootdown of aircraft 
if necessary.-2i 

Minutes ^vent by and word arrived of an aircraft down in Pennsylvania. 
Those in the shelter wondered if the aircraft had been shot down pursuant to 
this authorization.222 

At approximately 10:30, the shelter started receiving reports of another 
hijacked plane, this time only 5 to 10 miles out. Believing they had only a 
minute or two, theVice President again communicated the authorization to 
"engage or "take out" the aircraft. At 10:33, Hadley told the air threat confer- 
ence call: "1 need to get ^vord to Dick Myers that our reports are there's an 
inbound aircraft flying low 5 miles out. TheVice President's guidance \vas we 
need to take them out."--^ 

Once again, there was no immediate information about the fate of the 



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42 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

inbound aircraft. In the apt description of one ^vitness,"It drops below the radar 
screen and it's just continually hovering in your imagination; you don't know 
where it is or what happens to it." Eventually, the shelter received word that 
the alleged hijacker 5 miles away had been a medevac helicopter.--^ 

Transmission of the Authorization from the White House 
to the Pilots 

The NMCC learned of United 93's hijacking at about 10:03. At this time the 
FAA had no contact with the military at the level of national command. The 
NMCC learned about United 93 from the White House. It, in turn, was 
informed by the Secret Service's contacts with the FAA.--5 

NORAD had no information either. At 10:07, its representative on the air 
threat conference call stated that NORAD had "no indication of a hijack head- 
ing to DC at this tinie."--*^ 

Repeatedly between 10:14 and 10:19, a lieutenant colonel at the White 
House relayed to the NMCC that the Vice President had confirmed fighters 
were cleared to engage inbound aircraft if they could verify that the aircraft 
was hijacked.227 

The commander of NORAD, General Ralph Eberhart, was en route to the 
NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, ^vhen the 
shootdown order \vas communicated on the air threat conference call. He told 
us that by the time he arrived, the order had already been passed down 
NO RAD 's chain of command. ^28 

It is not clear how the shootdown order was communicated within 
NORAD. But we know that at 10:31, General Larry Arnold instructed his staff 
to broadcast the following over a NORAD instant messaging system: "10:31 
Vice president has cleared to us to intercept tracks of interest and shoot them 
down if they do not respond per [General Arnold]."--' 

In upstate Ne^v York, NEADS personnel first learned of the shootdown 
order from this message: 

Floor Leadership: You need to read this. . . .The Region Commander 

has declared that we can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to 

our direction. Copy that? 
Controllers: Copy that, sir. 
Floor Leadership: So if you're trying to divert somebody and he won't 

divert — 
Controllers: DO [Director of Operations] is saying no. 
Floor Leadership: No? It came over the chat. . . .You got a conflict on 

that direction? 
Controllers: Right now no, but — 
Floor Leadership: Okay? Okay, you read that from the Vice President, 

right? Vice President has cleared. Vice President has cleared us to 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 43 

intercept traffic and shoot them do^vn if they do not respond per 
[General Arnold]. 230 

In interviews -with us, NEADS personnel expressed considerable confusion 
over the nature and effect of the order. 

The NEADS commander told us he did not pass along the order because 
he was unaware of its ramifications. Both the mission commander and the sen- 
ior weapons director indicated they did not pass the order to the fighters cir- 
cling Washington and New York because they were unsure how the pilots 
would, or should, proceed with this guidance. In short, while leaders in 
Washington believed that the fighters above them had been instructed to "take 
out" hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the pilots were to "ID 
type and tail."^^! 

In most cases, the chain of command authorizing the use of force runs from 
the president to the secretary of defense and from the secretary to the combat- 
ant commander. The President apparently spoke to Secretary Rumsfeld for the 
first time that morning shortly after 10:00. No one can recall the content of this 
conversation, but it was a brief call in which the subject of shootdown author- 
ity was not discussed. -32 

At 10:39, the Vice President updated the Secretary on the air threat 
conference: 

Vice President: There's been at least three instances here where we've 
had reports of aircraft approaching Washington — a couple were con- 
firmed hijack. And, pursuant to the President's instructions I gave 
authorization for them to be taken out. Hello? 

SecDef: Yes, I understand. Who did you give that direction to? 

Vice President: It was passed from here through the [operations] cen- 
ter at the White House, from the [shelter]. 

SecDef: OK, let me ask the question here. Has that directive been trans- 
mitted to the aircraft? 

Vice President: Yes, it has. 

SecDef: So we've got a couple of aircraft up there that have those 
instructions at this present time? 

Vice President: That is correct. And it's my understanding they've 
already taken a couple of aircraft out. 

SecDef: We can't confirm that. We're told that one aircraft is down but 
we do not have a pilot report that did it. 233 

As this exchange shows, Secretary Rumsfeld was not in the NMCC when 
the shootdown order was first conveyed. He went from the parking lot to his 
office (where he spoke to the President), then to the Executive Support Cen- 
ter, where he participated in the White House video teleconference. He moved 



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44 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

to the NMCC shortly before 10:30, in order to join Vice Chairman Myers. 
Secretary Rumsfeld told us he was just gaining situational awareness ^vhen he 
spoke with the Vice President at 10:39. His primary concern \vas ensuring that 
the pilots had a clear understanding of their rules of engagement.-^"* 

The Vice President was mistaken in his belief that shootdown authorization 
had been passed to the pilots flying at NORAD's direction. By 10:45 there was, 
however, another set of fighters circling Washington that had entirely different 
rules of engagement. These fighters, part of the 11 3th Wing of the District of 
Columbia Air National Guard, launched out of Andrews Air Force Base in 
Maryland in response to information passed to them by the Secret Service. The 
first of the Andrews fighters was airborne at 10:38.-^5 

General David Wherley — the commander of the 1 13th Wing — reached out 
to the Secret Service after hearing secondhand reports that it wanted fighters 
airborne. A Secret Service agent had a phone in each ear, one connected to 
Wherley and the other to a fellow agent at the White House, relaying instruc- 
tions that the White House agent said he was getting from the Vice President. 
The guidance for Wherley was to send up the aircraft, with orders to protect 
the White House and take out any aircraft that threatened the Capitol. Gen- 
eral Wherley translated this in military terms to flying "weapons free" — that is, 
the decision to shoot rests in the cockpit, or in this case in the cockpit of the 
lead pilot. He passed these instructions to the pilots that launched at 10:42 and 
afterward.--** 

Thus, while the fighter pilots under NORAD direction who had scram- 
bled out of Langley never received any type of engagement order, the Andrews 
pilots were operating weapons free — a permissive rule of engagement. The 
President and the Vice President indicated to us they had not been aware that 
fighters had been scrambled out of Andrews, at the request of the Secret Ser- 
vice and outside the military chain of command. -^^ There is no evidence that 
NORAD headquarters or military officials in the NMCC knew — during the 
morning of September 11 — that the Andrews planes were airborne and oper- 
ating under different rules of engagement. 

What If? 

NORAD officials have maintained consistently that had the passengers not 
caused United 93 to crash, the military would have prevented it from reach- 
ing Washington, DC. That conclusion is based on a version of events that we 
now know is incorrect. The Langley fighters were not scrambled in response 
to United 93; NORAD did not have 47 minutes to intercept the flight; 
NORAD did not even know the plane was hijacked until after it had crashed. 
It is appropriate, therefore, to reconsider whether United 93 would have been 
intercepted. 

Had it not crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03, we estimate that United 93 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 45 

could not have reachedWashington any earlier than 10:13, and probably would 
have arrived before 10:23. There was only one set of fighters circling Washing- 
ton during that time frame — the Langley F- 16s. They were armed and under 
NORAD's control. After NEADS learned of the hijacking at 10:07, NORAD 
would have had from 6 to 16 minutes to locate the flight, receive authoriza- 
tion to shoot it down, and communicate the order to the pilots, who (in the 
same span) would have had to authenticate the order, intercept the flight, and 
execute the order. 238 

At that point in time, the Langley pilots did not know the threat they were 
facing, did not kno^v where United 93 ^vas located, and did not have shoot- 
down authorization. 

First, the Langley pilots were never briefed about the reason they were 
scrambled. As the lead pilot explained,"l reverted to the Russian threat. . . . I'm 
thinking cruise missile threat from the sea. You know you look do\vn and see 
the Pentagon burning and 1 thought the bastards snuck one by us. . . . [Y]ou 
couldn't see any airplanes, and no one told us anything."The pilots knew their 
mission was to divert aircraft, but did not know that the threat came from 
hijacked airliners. ^39 

Second, NEADS did not have accurate information on the location of 
United 93. Presumably FAA would have provided such information, but we 
do not know how long that would have taken, nor how long it ^vould have 
taken NEADS to locate the target. 

Third, NEADS needed orders to pass to the pilots. At 10:10, the pilots over 
Washington were emphatically told, "negative clearance to shoot." Shootdown 
authority \vas first communicated to NEADS at 10:31. It is possible that 
NORAD commanders would have ordered a shootdown in the absence of the 
authorization communicated by the Vice President, but given the gravity of the 
decision to shoot down a commercial airliner, and NORAD's caution that a 
mistake not be made, we vie\v this possibility as unlikely-^" 

NORAD officials have maintained that they would have intercepted and 
shot down United 93. We are not so sure. We are sure that the nation owes a 
debt to the passengers of United 93. Their actions saved the lives of countless 
others, and may have saved either the Capitol or the White House from 
destruction. 

The details of \vhat happened on the morning of September 11 are com- 
plex, but they play out a simple theme. NORAD and the FAA ^vere unpre- 
pared for the type of attacks launched against the United States on September 
11, 2001. They struggled, under difficult circumstances, to improvise a home- 
land defense against an unprecedented challenge they had never before 
encountered and had never trained to meet. 

At 10:02 that morning, an assistant to the mission crew commander at 
NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector in Rome, Ne^v York, was working 



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46 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 



with his colleagues on the floor of the command center. In a brief moment of 
reflection, he was recorded remarking that "This is a new type of \var."2'H 

He was, and is, right. But the conflict did not begin on 9/11. It had been 
publicly declared years earlier, most notably in a declaration faxed early in 1998 
to an Arabic-language newspaper in London. Few Americans had noticed it. 
The fax had been sent from thousands of miles a^vay by the followers of a Saudi 
exile gathered in one of the most remote and impoverished countries on earth. 



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THE FOUNDATION OF 
THE NEW TERRORISM 



2.1 A DECLARATION OF WAR 

In February 1998, the 40-year-old Saudi exile Usama Bin Ladin and a fugitive 
Egyptian physician, Aynian al Za^vahiri, arranged from their Afghan headquar- 
ters for an Arabic newspaper in London to publish ^vhat they termed a fat\va 
issued in the name of a "World Islamic Front." A fatwa is normally an inter- 
pretation of Islamic la^v by a respected Islamic authority, but neither Bin Ladin, 
Za\vahiri, nor the three others who signed this statement were scholars of 
Islamic la^w. Claiming that America had declared war against God and his mes- 
senger, they called for the murder of any American, anywhere on earth, as the 
"individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it 
is possible to do it."' 

Three months later, when interviewed in Afghanistan by ABC-TV, Bin 
Ladin enlarged on these themes.- He claimed it was more important for Mus- 
lims to kill Americans than to kill other infidels. "It is far better for anyone to 
kill a single American soldier than to squander his efforts on other activities," 
he said. Asked whether he approved of terrorism and of attacks on civilians, he 
replied: "We believe that the worst thieves in the world today and the worst 
terrorists are the Americans. Nothing could stop you except perhaps retalia- 
tion in kind. We do not have to differentiate between military or civilian. As 
far as we are concerned, they are all targets." 



Note: Islaink names often do not foilow the Western practice of the consistent use of surnames. Given tile variety of names we 
mention, we chose to refer to individuals by the last word in the names by which they are known: Nawaf al Hazmi as Hazmi, 
for instance, omitting the article "al" that would be part of their name in their own societies. We generally make an exception for 
the more familiar English usage of "Bin" as part of a last name, as in Bin Ladin. Further, there is no universally accepted way 
to transliterate Arabic words and names into English. We have relied on a mix of common sense, the sound of the name in Ara- 
bic, and common usage in source materials, the press, or government documents. When we quote from a source document, tve use 
its transliteration, e.g., "al Qida" instead of al Qaeda. 



47 



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48 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Though novel for its open endorsement of indiscriminate kUhng, Bin 
Ladin's 1998 declaration was only the latest in the long series of his public and 
private calls since 1992 that singled out the United States for attack. 

In August 1996, Bin Ladin had issued his own self-styled fatwa calling on 
Muslims to drive American soldiers out of Saudi Arabia. The long, disjointed 
document condemned the Saudi monarchy for allowing the presence of an 
army of infidels in a land with the sites most sacred to Islam, and celebrated 
recent suicide bombings of American military facilities in the Kingdom. It 
praised the 1983 suicide bombing in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. Marines, the 
1992 bombing in Aden, and especially the 1993 firefight in Somalia after which 
the United States "left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat 
and your dead with you."^ 

Bin Ladin said in his ABC interview that he and his followers had been 
preparing in Somalia for another long struggle, like that against the Soviets in 
Afghanistan, but "the United States rushed out of Somalia in shame and dis- 
grace." Citing the Soviet army's withdrawal from Afghanistan as proof that a 
ragged army of dedicated Muslims could overcome a superpower, he told the 
interviewer: "We are certain that we shall — ^with the grace of Allah — prevail 
over the Americans." He went on to warn that "If the present injustice contin- 
ues . . . , it will inevitably move the battle to American soil."** 

Plans to attack the United States were developed with unwavering single- 
mindedness throughout the 1990s. Bin Ladin saw himself as called "to follow 
in the footsteps of the Messenger and to communicate his message to all 
nations,"^ and to serve as the rallying point and organizer of a new kind of war 
to destroy America and bring the world to Islam. 



2.2 BIN LADIN'S APPEAL IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD 

It is the story of eccentric and violent ideas sprouting in the fertile ground 
of political and social turmoil. It is the story of an organization poised to seize 
its historical moment. How did Bin Ladin — with his call for the indiscrimi- 
nate killing of Americans — win thousands of followers and some degree of 
approval from millions more? 

The history, culture, and body of beliefs from which Bin Ladin has shaped 
and spread his message are largely unknown to many Americans. Seizing on 
symbols of Islam's past greatness, he promises to restore pride to people who 
consider themselves the victims of successive foreign masters. He uses cultural 
and religious allusions to the holy Qur'an and some of its interpreters. He 
appeals to people disoriented by cyclonic change as they confront modernity 
and globalization. His rhetoric selectively draws from multiple sources — Islam, 
history, and the region's political and economic malaise. He also stresses griev- 
ances against the United States widely shared in the Muslim world. He 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 



49 




Usama Bin Ladin at a neivi conference in Afghanistan in 1 



inveighed against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of 
Islam's holiest sites. He spoke of the suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of 
sanctions imposed after the Gulf War, and he protested U.S. support of Israel. 



Islam 

Islam (a word that literally means "surrender to the will of God") arose in Ara- 
bia ^vith what Muslims believe are a series of revelations to the Prophet 
Mohammed from the one and only God, the God of Abraham and of Jesus. 
These revelations, conveyed by the angel Gabriel, are recorded in the Qur'an. 
Muslims believe that these revelations, given to the greatest and last of a chain 
of prophets stretching from Abraham through Jesus, complete God's message 
to humanity. The Hadith, which recount Mohammed's sayings and deeds as 
recorded by his contemporaries, are another fundamental source. A third key 
element is the Sharia, the code of la^v derived from the Qur'an and the Hadith. 
Islam is divided into two main branches, Sunni and Shia. Soon after the 



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50 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Prophet's death, the question of choosing a new leader, or caliph, for the Mus- 
hni community, or Ummah, arose. Initially, his successors could be drawn from 
the Prophet s contemporaries, but with time, this was no longer possible.Those 
who became the Shia held that any leader of the Ummah must be a direct 
descendant of the Prophet; those who became the Sunni argued that lineal 
descent was not required if the candidate met other standards of faith and 
knowledge. After bloody struggles, the Sunni became (and remain) the major- 
ity sect. (The Shia are dominant in Iran.) The Caliphate — the institutionalized 
leadership of the Ummah — thus was a Sunni institution that continued until 
1924, first under Arab and eventually under Ottoman Turkish control. 

Many Muslims look back at the century after the revelations to the Prophet 
Mohammed as a golden age. Its memory is strongest among the Arabs. What 
happened then — the spread of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula throughout 
the Middle East, North Africa, and even into Europe ^vithin less than a cen- 
tury — seemed, and seems, miraculous.*^ Nostalgia for Islam's past glory remains 
a powerful force. 

Islam is both a faith and a code of conduct for all aspects of life. For many 
Muslims, a good government would be one guided by the moral principles of 
their faith. This does not necessarily translate into a desire for clerical rule and 
the abolition of a secular state. It does mean that some Muslims tend to be 
uncomfortable with distinctions between religion and state, though Muslim 
rulers throughout history have readily separated the two. 

To extremists, however, such divisions, as well as the existence of parliaments 
and legislation, only prove these rulers to be false Muslims usurping God's 
authority over all aspects of life. Periodically, the Islamic world has seen surges 
of what, for want of a better term, is often labeled "fundamentalism."^ 
Denouncing ^vay^vardness among the faithful, some clerics have appealed for 
a return to observance of the literal teachings of the Qur'an and Hadith. One 
scholar from the fourteenth century from whom Bin Ladin selectively quotes, 
Ibn Taimiyyah, condemned both corrupt rulers and the clerics who failed to 
criticize them. He urged Muslims to read the Qur'an and the Hadith for them- 
selves, not to depend solely on learned interpreters like himself but to hold one 
another to account for the quality of their observance.^ 

The extreme Islamist version of history blames the decline from Islam's 
golden age on the rulers and people who turned a^vay from the true path of 
their religion, thereby leaving Islam vulnerable to encroaching foreign powers 
eager to steal their land, wealth, and even their souls. 

Bin Ladin 's Worldview 

Despite his claims to universal leadership. Bin Ladin offers an extreme view of 
Islamic history designed to appeal mainly to Arabs and Sunnis. He draws on 
fundamentalists ^vho blame the eventual destruction of the Caliphate on lead- 
ers who abandoned the pure path of religious devotion.'' He repeatedly calls 
on his followers to embrace martyrdom since "the walls of oppression and 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 51 

humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets."io For those 
yearning for a lost sense of order in an older, more tranquil -world, he offers his 
"Caliphate" as an imagined alternative to today's uncertainty. For others, he 
offers simplistic conspiracies to explain their ^vorld. 

Bin Ladin also relies heavily on the Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb. A mem- 
ber of the Muslim Brotherhood^i executed in 1966 on charges of attempting 
to overthrow the government, Qutb mixed Islamic scholarship with a very 
superficial acquaintance with Western history and thought. Sent by the Egypt- 
ian government to study in the United States in the late 1940s, Qutb returned 
with an enormous loathing of Western society and history. He dismissed West- 
ern achievements as entirely material, arguing that Western society possesses 
"nothing that will satisfy its o^vn conscience and justify its existence.''^- 

Three basic themes emerge from Qutb's writings. First, he claimed that the 
world was beset with barbarism, licentiousness, and unbelief (a condition he 
called iahiliyya, the religious term for the period of ignorance prior to the rev- 
elations given to the Prophet Mohammed). Qutb argued that humans can 
choose only between Islam and jahiliyya. Second, he warned that more peo- 
ple, including Muslims, were attracted to jahiliyya and its material comforts 
than to his view of Islam; jahiliyya could therefore triumph over Islam. Third, 
no middle ground exists in what Qutb conceived as a struggle between God 
and Satan. All Muslims — as he defined them — therefore must take up arms in 
this fight. Any Muslim ^vho rejects his ideas is just one more nonbeliever wor- 
thy of destruction. 13 

Bin Ladin shares Qutb's stark view, permitting him and his followers to 
rationalize even unprovoked mass murder as righteous defense of an embattled 
faith. Many Americans have ^vondered,"Why do 'they' hate us?" Some also ask, 
"What can we do to stop these attacks?" 

Bin Ladin and al Qaeda have given ans^vers to both these questions. To the 
first, they say that America had attacked Islam; America is responsible for all 
conflicts involving Muslims. Thus Americans are blamed ^vhen Israelis fight 
with Palestinians, when Russians fight ^vith Chechens, ^vhen Indians fight with 
Kashmiri Muslims, and when the Philippine government fights ethnic Mus- 
lims in its southern islands. America is also held responsible for the governments 
of Muslim countries, derided by al Qaeda as "your agents." Bin Ladin has stated 
flatly,"Our fight against these governments is not separate from our fight against 
you."^'' These charges found a ready audience among millions of Arabs and 
Muslims angry at the United States because of issues ranging from Iraq to Pales- 
tine to America's support for their countries' repressive rulers. 

Bin Ladin's grievance with the United States may have started in reaction 
to specific U.S. policies but it quickly became far deeper. To the second ques- 
tion, what America could do, al Qaeda's answer was that America should aban- 
don the Middle East, convert to Islam, and end the immorality and godlessness 
of its society and culture:"It is saddening to tell you that you are the ^vorst civ- 
ilization witnessed by the history of mankind." If the United States did not 



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52 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

comply, it \vould be at war with the Islamic nation, a nation that al Qaeda's 
leaders said "desires death more than you desire life."i5 

History and Political Context 

Fe^v fundamentalist movements in the Islamic world gained lasting political 
power. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, fundamentalists helped artic- 
ulate anticolonial grievances but played little role in the overwhelmingly sec- 
ular struggles for independence after World War I. Western-educated lawyers, 
soldiers, and officials led most independence movements, and clerical influence 
and traditional culture were seen as obstacles to national progress. 

After gaining independence from Western po^vers following World War II, 
the Arab Middle East follo^ved an arc from initial pride and optimism to today's 
mix of indifference, cynicism, and despair. In several countries, a dynastic state 
already existed or was quickly established under a paramount tribal family. 
Monarchies in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Jordan still sur- 
vive today. Those in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen were eventually overthrown 
by secular nationalist revolutionaries. 

The secular regimes promised a glowing future, often tied to sweeping ide- 
ologies (such as those promoted by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's 
Arab Socialism or the Ba'ath Party of Syria and Iraq) that called for a single, 
secular Arab state. However, what emerged were almost invariably autocratic 
regimes that were usually unwilling to tolerate any opposition — even in coun- 
tries, such as Egypt, that had a parliamentary tradition. Over time, their poli- 
cies — repression, re\vards, emigration, and the displacement of popular anger 
onto scapegoats (generally foreign) — were shaped by the desire to cling to 
power. 

The bankruptcy of secular, autocratic nationalism ^vas evident across the 
Muslim world by the late 1970s. At the same time, these regimes had closed off 
nearly all paths for peaceful opposition, forcing their critics to choose silence, 
exile, or violent opposition. Iran's 1979 revolution s^vept a Shia theocracy into 
power. Its success encouraged Sunni fundamentalists elsewhere. 

In the 1980s, awash in sudden oil wealth, Saudi Arabia competed with Shia 
Iran to promote its Sunni fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, Wahhab ism. 
The Saudi government, always conscious of its duties as the custodian of Islam's 
holiest places, joined with wealthy Arabs from the Kingdom and other states 
bordering the Persian Gulf in donating money to build mosques and religious 
schools that could preach and teach their interpretation of Islamic doctrine. 

In this competition for legitimacy, secular regimes had no alternative to 
offer. Instead, in a number of cases their rulers sought to buy off local Islamist 
movements by ceding control of many social and educational issues. Embold- 
ened rather than satisfied, the Islamists continued to push for power — a trend 
especially clear in Egypt. Confronted with a violent Islamist movement that 
killed President Anwar Sadat in 1981, the Egyptian government combined 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 53 

harsh repression of Islamic niihtants with harassment of moderate Islamic schol- 
ars and authors, driving many into exile. In Pakistan, a military regime sought 
to justify its seizure of power by a pious public stance and an embrace of 
unprecedented Islamist influence on education and society. 

These experiments in political Islam faltered during the 1990s: the Iranian 
revolution lost momentum, prestige, and public support, and Pakistan's rulers 
found that most of its population had little enthusiasm for fundamentalist Islam. 
Islamist revival movements gained followers across the Muslim world, but failed 
to secure political power except in Iran and Sudan. In Algeria, where in 1991 
Islamists seemed almost certain to win power through the ballot box, the mili- 
tary preempted their victory, triggering a brutal civil war that continues today. 
Opponents of today s rulers have few, if any, ways to participate in the existing 
political system. They are thus a ready audience for calls to Muslims to purify 
their society, reject unwelcome modernization, and adhere strictly to the Sharia. 

Social and Economic Malaise 

In the 1970s and early 1980s, an unprecedented flood of wealth led the then 
largely unmodernized oil states to attempt to shortcut decades of development. 
They funded huge infrastructure projects, vastly expanded education, and cre- 
ated subsidized social welfare programs. These programs established a wide- 
spread feeling of entitlement without a corresponding sense of social 
obligations. By the late 1980s, diminishing oil revenues, the economic drain 
from many unprofitable development projects, and population gro^vth made 
these entitlement programs unsustainable.The resulting cutbacks created enor- 
mous resentment among recipients who had come to see government largesse 
as their right. This resentment was further stoked by public understanding of 
how much oil income had gone straight into the pockets of the rulers, their 
friends, and their helpers. 

Unlike the oil states (or Afghanistan, ^vhere real economic development has 
barely begun), the other Arab nations and Pakistan once had seemed headed 
toward balanced modernization. The established commercial, financial, and 
industrial sectors in these states, supported by an entrepreneurial spirit and 
widespread understanding of free enterprise, augured well. But unprofitable 
heavy industry, state monopolies, and opaque bureaucracies slowly stifled 
growth. More importantly, these state-centered regimes placed their highest 
priority on preserving the elite's grip on national wealth. Unwilling to foster 
dynamic economies that could create jobs attractive to educated young men, 
the countries became economically stagnant and reliant on the safety valve of 
worker emigration either to the Arab oil states or to the West. Furthermore, 
the repression and isolation of women in many Muslim countries have not only 
seriously limited individual opportunity but also crippled overall economic 
productivity. 1'^ 

By the 1990s, high birthrates and declining rates of infant mortality had 



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54 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

produced a common problem throughout the Mushm world: a large, steadily 
increasing population of young men -without any reasonable expectation of 
suitable or steady employment — a sure prescription for social turbulence. Many 
of these young men, such as the enormous number trained only in religious 
schools, lacked the skills needed by their societies. Far more acquired valuable 
skills but lived in stagnant economies that could not generate satisfying jobs. 

Millions, pursuing secular as well as religious studies, were products of edu- 
cational systems that generally devoted little if any attention to the rest of the 
world's thought, history, and culture. The secular education reflected a strong 
cultural preference for technical fields over the humanities and social sciences. 
Many of these young men, even if able to study abroad, lacked the perspective 
and skills needed to understand a different culture. 

Frustrated in their search for a decent living, unable to benefit from an edu- 
cation often obtained at the cost of great family sacrifice, and blocked from 
starting families of their own, some of these young men were easy targets for 
radicalization. 

Bin Ladin's Historical Opportunity 

Most Muslims prefer a peaceful and inclusive vision of their faith, not the 
violent sectarianism of Bin Ladin.Among Arabs, Bin Ladin's followers are com- 
monly nicknamed takjiri, or "those who define other Muslims as unbelievers," 
because of their readiness to demonize and murder those with whom they dis- 
agree. Beyond the theology lies the simple human fact that most Muslims, like 
most other human beings, are repelled by mass murder and barbarism what- 
ever their justification. 

"All Americans must recognize that the face of terror is not the true face of 
Islam," President Bush observed. "Islam is a faith that brings comfort to a bil- 
lion people around the world. It's a faith that has made brothers and sisters of 
every race. It's a faith based upon love, not hate." ^^ Yet as political, social, and 
economic problems created flammable societies. Bin Ladin used Islam's most 
extreme, fundamentalist traditions as his match. All these elements — including 
religion — combined in an explosive compound. 

Other extremists had, and have, foUowings of their own. But in appealing 
to societies full of discontent. Bin Ladin remained credible as other leaders and 
symbols faded. He could stand as a symbol of resistance — above all, resistance 
to the West and to America. He could present himself and his allies as victori- 
ous warriors in the one great successful experience for Islamic militancy in the 
1980s: the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation. 

By 1998, Bin Ladin had a distinctive appeal, as he focused on attacking 
America. He argued that other extremists, who aimed at local rulers or Israel, 
did not go far enough. They had not taken on what he called "the head of the 
snake." 18 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 55 

Finally, Bin Ladin had another advantage: a substantial, worldwide organi- 
zation. By the time he issued his February 1998 declaration of war. Bin Ladin 
had nurtured that organization for nearly ten years. He could attract, train, and 
use recruits for ever more ambitious attacks, rallying new adherents with each 
demonstration that his was the movement of the future. 



2.3 THE RISE OF BIN LADIN AND AL QAEDA (1988-1992) 

A decade of conflict in Afghanistan, from 1979 to 1989, gave Islamist extrem- 
ists a rallying point and training field. A Communist government in Afghanistan 
gained power in 1978 but ^vas unable to establish enduring control. At the end 
of 1979, the Soviet government sent in military units to ensure that the coun- 
try would remain securely under Mosco^vs influence. The response ^vas an 
Afghan national resistance movement that defeated Soviet forces. ^^ 

Young Muslims from around the world flocked to Afghanistan to join as vol- 
unteers in what was seen as a "holy war" — -jihad — against an invader.The largest 
numbers came from the Middle East. Some were Saudis, and among them was 
Usania Bin Ladin. 

Twenty-three ^vhen he arrived in Afghanistan in 1980, Bin Ladin was the 
seventeenth of 57 children of a Saudi construction magnate. Six feet five and 
thin. Bin Ladin appeared to be ungainly but was in fact quite athletic, skilled 
as a horseman, runner, climber, and soccer player. He had attended Abdul Aziz 
University in Saudi Arabia. By some accounts, he had been interested there in 
religious studies, inspired by tape recordings of fiery sermons by Abdullah 
Azzam, a Palestinian and a disciple of Qutb. Bin Ladin was conspicuous among 
the volunteers not because he sho\ved evidence of religious learning but 
because he had access to some of his family's huge fortune. Though he took 
part in at least one actual battle, he became known chiefly as a person who gen- 
erously helped fund the anti-Soviet jihad. -^ 

Bin Ladin understood better than most of the volunteers the extent to 
which the continuation and eventual success of the jihad in Afghanistan 
depended on an increasingly complex, almost ^vorldwide organization. This 
organization included a financial support network that came to be known as 
the "Golden Chain," put together mainly by financiers in Saudi Arabia and the 
Persian Gulf states. Donations flowed through charities or other nongovern- 
mental organizations (NGOs). Bin Ladin and the "Afghan Arabs" drew largely 
on funds raised by this net^vork, ^vhose agents roamed world markets to buy 
arms and supplies for the mujahideen, or "holy warriors."-' 

Mosques, schools, and boardinghouses served as recruiting stations in many 
parts of the world, including the United States. Some were set up by Islamic 
extremists or their financial backers. Bin Ladin had an important part in this 



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56 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

activity. He and the cleric Azzani had joined in creating a "Bureau of Services" 
(Mektab al Khidmat, or MAK), which channeled recruits into Afghanistan. -^ 

The international environment for Bin Ladin's efforts ^vas ideal. Saudi Ara- 
bia and the United States supplied billions of dollars worth of secret assistance 
to rebel groups in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet occupation. This assistance 
was funneled through Pakistan: the Pakistani military intelligence service (Inter- 
Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISID), helped train the rebels and dis- 
tribute the arms. But Bin Ladin and his comrades had their own sources of 
support and training, and they received little or no assistance from the 
United States.23 

April 1988 brought victory for the Afghan jihad. Moscow declared it would 
pull its military forces out of Afghanistan within the next nine months. As the 
Soviets began their ^vithdrawal, the jihad's leaders debated what to do next. 

Bin Ladin and Azzani agreed that the organization successfully created for 
Afghanistan should not be allowed to dissolve.They established what they called 
a base or foundation (al Qaeda) as a potential general headquarters for future 
jihad.^"* Though Azzam had been considered number one in the MAK, by 
August 1988 Bin Ladin was clearly the leader {emir) of al Qaeda. This organi- 
zation's structure included as its operating arms an intelligence component, a 
military committee, a financial committee, a political committee, and a com- 
mittee in charge of media affairs and propaganda. It also had an Advisory Coun- 
cil (Shura) made up of Bin Ladin's inner circle. ^5 

Bin Ladin's assumption of the helm of al Qaeda was evidence of his grow- 
ing self-confidence and ambition. He soon made clear his desire for unchal- 
lenged control and for preparing the mujahideen to fight anywhere in the 
world. Azzam, by contrast, favored continuing to fight in Afghanistan until it 
had a true Islamist government. And, as a Palestinian, he saw Israel as the top 
priority for the next stage. -<^ 

Whether the dispute was about power, personal differences, or strategy, it 
ended on November 24, 1989, when a remotely controlled car bomb killed 
Azzam and both of his sons. The killers were assumed to be rival Egyptians. 
The outcome left Bin Ladin indisputably in charge of what remained of the 
MAK and al Qaeda. 2^ 

Through writers like Qutb, and the presence of Egyptian Islamist teachers 
in the Saudi educational system. Islamists already had a strong intellectual influ- 
ence on Bin Ladin and his al Qaeda colleagues. By the late 1980s, the Egypt- 
ian Islamist movement — badly battered in the government crackdown 
following President Sadat's assassination — was centered in two major organiza- 
tions: the Islamic Group and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. A spiritual guide for 
both, but especially the Islamic Group, was the so-called Blind Sheikh, Omar 
Abdel Rahman. His preaching had inspired the assassination of Sadat. After 
being in and out of Egyptian prisons during the 1980s, Abdel Rahman found 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 57 

refuge in the United States. From his headquarters in Jersey City, he distrib- 
uted messages calhng for the murder of unbehevers.-^ 

The most important Egyptian in Bin Ladin s circle was a surgeon, Ayman al 
Zawahiri, who led a strong faction of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Many of his fol- 
lowers became important members in the ne\v organization, and his o^vn close 
ties -with Bin Ladin led many to think of him as the deputy head of al Qaeda. He 
would in fact become Bin Ladin s deputy some years later, when they merged their 
organizations.-' 

Bin Ladin Moves to Sudan 

By the fall of 1989, Bin Ladin had sufficient stature among Islamic extremists 
that a Sudanese political leader, Hassan al Turabi, urged him to transplant his 
whole organization to Sudan. Turabi headed the National Islamic Front in a 
coalition that had recently seized power in Khartoum.^o Bin Ladin agreed to 
help Turabi in an ongoing war against African Christian separatists in southern 
Sudan and also to do some road building. Turabi in return would let Bin Ladin 
use Sudan as a base for worldwide business operations and for preparations for 
jihad.31 While agents of Bin Ladin began to buy property in Sudan in 1990,32 
Bin Ladin himself moved from Afghanistan back to Saudi Arabia. 

In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Bin Ladin, whose efforts in 
Afghanistan had earned him celebrity and respect, proposed to the Saudi 
monarchy that he summon mujahideen for a jihad to retake Kuwait. He was 
rebuffed, and the Saudis joined the U.S. -led coalition. After the Saudis agreed 
to allow U.S. armed forces to be based in the Kingdom, Bin Ladin and a num- 
ber of Islamic clerics began to publicly denounce the arrangement. The Saudi 
government exiled the clerics and undertook to silence Bin Ladin by, among 
other things, taking a^vay his passport. With help from a dissident member of 
the royal family, he managed to get out of the country under the pretext of 
attending an Islamic gathering in Pakistan in April 1991.^3 By 1994, the Saudi 
government ^vould freeze his financial assets and revoke his citizenship. -''* He no 
longer had a country he could call his own. 

Bin Ladin moved to Sudan in 1991 and set up a large and complex set of 
intertwined business and terrorist enterprises. In time, the former would 
encompass numerous companies and a global network of bank accounts and 
nongovernmental institutions. Fulfilling his bargain ^vith Turabi, Bin Ladin used 
his construction company to buUd a new highway from Khartoum to Port 
Sudan on the Red Sea coast. Meanwhile, al Qaeda finance officers and top oper- 
atives used their positions in Bin Ladin 's businesses to acquire weapons, explo- 
sives, and technical equipment for terrorist purposes. One founding member, 
Abu Hajer al Iraqi, used his position as head of a Bin Ladin investment com- 
pany to carry out procurement trips from western Europe to the Far East. Two 
others, Wadi al Hage and Mubarak Douri, who had become acquainted inTuc- 



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58 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

son, Arizona, in the late 1980s, went as far afield as China, Malaysia, the Philip- 
pines, and the former Soviet states of Ukraine and Belarus. ^5 

Bin Ladin's impressive array of offices covertly provided financial and other 
support for terrorist activities. The network included a major business enter- 
prise in Cyprus; a "services" branch in Zagreb; an office of the Benevolence 
International Foundation in Sarajevo, which supported the Bosnian Muslims 
in their conflict with Serbia and Croatia; and an NGO in Baku, Azerbaijan, 
that was employed as well by Egyptian Islamic Jihad both as a source and con- 
duit for finances and as a support center for the Muslim rebels in Chechnya. 
He also made use of the already-established Third World Relief Agency 
(TWRA) headquartered in Vienna, whose branch office locations included 
Zagreb and Budapest. (Bin Ladin later set up an NGO in Nairobi as a cover 
for operatives there.)^* 

Bin Ladin now had a vision of himself as head of an international jihad con- 
federation. In Sudan, he established an "Islamic Army Shura" that was to serve 
as the coordinating body for the consortium of terrorist groups with which he 
was forging alliances. It was composed of his own al Qaeda Shura together with 
leaders or representatives of terrorist organizations that were still independent. 
In building this Islamic army, he enlisted groups from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jor- 
dan, Lebanon, Iraq, Oman, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Somalia, and 
Eritrea. Al Qaeda also established cooperative but less formal relationships with 
other extremist groups fi'om these same countries; from the African states of 
Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Uganda; and from the Southeast Asian states 
of Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Bin Ladin maintained connec- 
tions in the Bosnian conflict as well. ^^ The groundwork for a true global ter- 
rorist network was being laid. 

Bin Ladin also provided equipment and training assistance to the Moro 
Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines and also to a newly forming Philip- 
pine group that called itself the Abu Sayyaf Brigade, after one of the major 
Afghan jihadist commanders. ^8 Al Qaeda helped Jemaah Islamiya (JI), a nas- 
cent organization headed by Indonesian Islamists with cells scattered across 
Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. It also aided a Pakistani 
group engaged in insurrectionist attacks in Kashmir. In mid- 1991, Bin Ladin 
dispatched a band of supporters to the northern Afghanistan border to assist 
the Tajikistan Islamists in the ethnic conflicts that had been boiling there even 
before the Central Asian departments of the Soviet Union became indepen- 
dent states. 3^ 

This pattern of expansion through building alliances extended to the 
United States. A Muslim organization called al Khifa had numerous branch 
oflices, the largest of which was in the Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. In the mid- 
1980s, it had been set up as one of the first outposts of Azzam and Bin Ladin's 
MAK.40 Other cities with branches of al Khifa included Atlanta, Boston, 
Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Tucson.'*! p^ Khifa recruited American Muslims to 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 59 

fight in Afghanistan; some of them ^vould participate in terrorist actions in the 
United States in the early 1990s and in al Qaeda operations else\¥here, includ- 
ing the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa. 



2.4 BUILDING AN ORGANIZATION, DECLARING WAR 
ON THE UNITED STATES (1992-1996) 

Bin Ladin began delivering diatribes against the United States before he left 
Saudi Arabia. He continued to do so after he arrived in Sudan. In early 1992, 
the al Qaeda leadership issued a fatwa calling for jihad against the Western 
"occupation" of Islamic lands. Specifically singling out U.S. forces for attack, 
the language resembled that ^vhich would appear in Bin Ladin's public fat^va 
in August 1996. In ensuing weeks, Bin Ladin delivered an often-repeated lec- 
ture on the need to cut off "the head of the snake." "*- 

By this time. Bin Ladin was well-known and a senior figure among Islamist 
extremists, especially those in Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and the 
Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. StiU, he was just one among many diverse 
terrorist barons. Some of Bin Ladin's close comrades were more peers than sub- 
ordinates. For example, Usama Asmurai, also kno\vn as Wall Khan, worked with 
Bin Ladin in the early 1980s and helped him in the Philippines and in Tajik- 
istan. The Egyptian spiritual guide based in New Jersey, the Blind Sheikh, 
whom Bin Ladin admired, was also in the network. Among sympathetic peers 
in Afghanistan \vere a few of the warlords still fighting for power and Abu 
Zubaydah, \vho helped operate a popular terrorist training camp near the bor- 
der with Pakistan. There were also rootless but experienced operatives, such as 
RamziYousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who — though not necessarily 
formal members of someone else's organization — \vere traveling around the 
world and joining in projects that were supported by or linked to Bin Ladin, 
the Blind Sheikh, or their associates. ^^^ 

In now analyzing the terrorist programs carried out by members of this net- 
work, it would be misleading to apply the label "al Qaeda operations" too often 
in these early years. Yet it would also be nusleading to ignore the significance 
of these connections. And in this network. Bin Ladin's agenda stood out. While 
his allied Islamist groups were focused on local battles, such as those in Egypt, 
Algeria, Bosnia, or Chechnya, Bin Ladin concentrated on attacking the "far 
enemy" — the United States. 

Attacks Known and Suspected 

After U.S. troops deployed to Somalia in late 1992, al Qaeda leaders formu- 
lated a fatwa demanding their eviction. In December, bombs exploded at two 
hotels in Aden where U.S. troops routinely stopped en route to Somalia, killing 
two, but no Americans. The perpetrators are reported to have belonged to a 



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60 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

group from southernYemen headed by aYemeni member of Bin Ladin's Islamic 
Army Shura; some in the group had trained at an al Qaeda camp in Sudan.'*'* 

Al Qaeda leaders set up a Nairobi cell and used it to send weapons and train- 
ers to the Somali ^varlords battling U.S. forces, an operation directly supervised 
by al Qaeda 's military leader.'*^ Scores of trainers flowed to Somalia over the 
ensuing months, including most of the senior members and weapons training 
experts of al Qaeda's military committee.These trainers were later heard boast- 
ing that their assistance led to the October 1993 shootdown of two U.S. Black 
Hawk helicopters by members of a Somali militia group and to the subsequent 
withdrawal of U.S. forces in early 1994. '^^ 

In November 1995, a car bomb exploded outside a Saudi-U.S. joint facil- 
ity in Riyadh for training the Saudi National Guard. Five Americans and two 
officials from India were killed. The Saudi government arrested four perpetra- 
tors, who admitted being inspired by Bin Ladin.They were promptly executed. 
Though nothing proves that Bin La din ordered this attack, U.S. intelligence sub- 
sequently learned that al Qaeda leaders had decided a year earlier to attack a 
U.S. target in Saudi Arabia, and had shipped explosives to the peninsula for this 
purpose. Some of Bin Ladin's associates later took credit.''^ 

In June 1996, an enormous truck bomb detonated in the Khobar Towers 
residential complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that housed U.S. Air Force per- 
sonnel. Nineteen Americans were killed, and 372 were wounded. The opera- 
tion was carried out principally, perhaps exclusively, by Saudi Hezbollah, an 
organization that had received support from the government of Iran. While the 
evidence of Iranian involvement is strong, there are also signs that al Qaeda 
played some role, as yet unknown.'*^ 

In this period, other prominent attacks in which Bin Ladin's involvement is 
at best cloudy are the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, a plot that 
same year to destroy landmarks in New York, and the 1995 Manila air plot to 
blow up a dozen U.S. airliners over the Pacific. Details on these plots appear in 
chapter 3. 

Another scheme revealed that Bin Ladin sought the capability to kill on a 
mass scale. His business aides received word that a Sudanese military officer who 
had been a member of the previous government cabinet was offering to sell 
weapons-grade uranium. After a number of contacts were made through inter- 
mediaries, the officer set the price at $1.5 million, which did not deter Bin 
Ladin. Al Qaeda representatives asked to inspect the uranium and were shown 
a cylinder about 3 feet long, and one thought he could pronounce it genuine. 
Al Qaeda apparently purchased the cylinder, then discovered it to be bogus. ^' 
But while the effort failed, it shows what Bin Ladin and his associates hoped 
to do. One of the al Qaeda representatives explained his mission: "it's easy to 
kill more people with uranium."^" 

Bin Ladin seemed willing to include in the confederation terrorists from 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 61 

almost every corner of the Muslim world. His vision mirrored that of Sudan's 
Islamist leader, Turabi, who convened a series of meetings under the label Pop- 
ular Arab and Islamic Conference around the time of Bin La din's arrival in that 
country. Delegations of violent Islamist extremists came from all the groups 
represented in Bin Ladin's Islamic Army Shura. Representatives also came from 
organizations such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and 
Hezbollah. 51 

Turabi sought to persuade Shiites and Sunnis to put aside their divisions and 
join against the common enemy. In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan 
between al Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to coop- 
erate in providing support — even if only training — for actions carried out pri- 
marily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al Qaeda 
operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the 
fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for 
further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. Bin Ladin 
reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such 
as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983. The relation- 
ship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not 
necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist opera- 
tions. As will be described in chapter 7, al Qaeda contacts with Iran continued 
in ensuing years. '2 

Bin Ladin was also \villing to explore possibilities for cooperation \vith Iraq, 
even though Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, had never had an Islamist 
agenda — save for his opportunistic pose as a defender of the faithful against 
"Crusaders" during the Gulf War of 1991. Moreover, Bin Ladin had in fact 
been sponsoring anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan, and sought to attract 
them into his Islamic army. 53 

To protect his own ties \vith Iraq,Turabi reportedly brokered an agreement 
that Bin Ladin ^vould stop supporting activities against Saddam. Bin Ladin 
apparently honored this pledge, at least for a time, although he continued to 
aid a group of Islamist extremists operating in part of Iraq (Kurdistan) outside 
of Baghdad's control. In the late 1990s, these extremist groups suffered major 
defeats by Kurdish forces. In 2001, with Bin Ladin's help they re-formed into 
an organization called Ansar al Islam. There are indications that by then the Iraqi 
regime tolerated and may even have helped Ansar al Islam against the common 
Kurdish enemy. 5"* 

With the Sudanese regime acting as intermediary. Bin Ladin himself met 
with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995. 
Bin Ladin is said to have asked for space to establish training camps, as well as 
assistance in procuring weapons, but there is no evidence that Iraq responded 
to this request. 55 As described below, the ensuing years sa^v additional efforts to 
establish connections. 



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62 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Sudan Becomes a Doubtful Haven 

Not until 1998 did al Qaeda undertake a major terrorist operation of its own, 
in large part because Bin Ladin lost his base in Sudan. Ever since the Islamist 
regime came to power in Khartoum, the United States and other Western gov- 
ernments had pressed it to stop providing a haven for terrorist organizations. 
Other governments in the region, such as those of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and 
even Libya, which were targets of some of these groups, added their o\vn pres- 
sure. At the same time, the Sudanese regime began to change. Though Turabi 
had been its inspirational leader. General Omar al Bashir, president since 1989, 
had never been entirely under his thumb. Thus as outside pressures mounted, 
Bashir's supporters began to displace those ofTurabi. 

The attempted assassination in Ethiopia of Egyptian President Hosni 
Mubarak in June 1995 appears to have been a tipping point. The would-be 
killers, who came from the Egyptian Islamic Group, had been sheltered in 
Sudan and helped by Bin Ladin. 5* When the Sudanese refused to hand over 
three individuals identified as involved in the assassination plot, the UN Secu- 
rity Council passed a resolution criticizing their inaction and eventually sanc- 
tioned Khartoum in April 1996. ^^ 

A clear signal to Bin Ladin that his days in Sudan were numbered came when 
the government advised him that it intended to yield to Libya's demands to stop 
giving sanctuary to its enemies. Bin Ladin had to tell the Libyans ^vho had been 
part of his Islamic army that he could no longer protect them and that they had 
to leave the country. Outraged, several Libyan members of al Qaeda and the 
Islamic Army Shura renounced all connections \vith him.^s 

Bin Ladin also began to have serious money problems. International pres- 
sure on Sudan, together ^vith strains in the ^vorld economy, hurt Sudan's cur- 
rency. Some of Bin Ladin's companies ran short of funds. As Sudanese 
authorities became less obliging, normal costs of doing business increased. Saudi 
pressures on the Bin Ladin family also probably took some toll. In any case. Bin 
Ladin found it necessary both to cut back his spending and to control his out- 
lays more closely. He appointed a ne^v financial manager, whom his followers saw 
as miserly. 59 

Money problems proved costly to Bin Ladin in other ways. Jamal Ahmed al 
Fadl, a Sudanese-born Arab, had spent time in the United States and had been 
recruited for the Afghan \var through the Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. He had 
joined al Qaeda and taken the oath of fealty to Bin Ladin, serving as one of his 
business agents. Then Bin Ladin discovered that Fadl had skimmed about 
$110,000, and he asked for restitution. Fadl resented receiving a salary of only 
$500 a month ^vhile some of the Egyptians in al Qaeda were given $1,200 a 
month. He defected and became a star informant for the United States. Also 
testifying about al Qaeda in a U.S. court was L'Houssaine Kherchtou, who told 
of breaking with Bin Ladin because of Bin Ladin's professed inability to pro- 
vide him ^vith money when his \vife needed a caesarian section. *o 

In February 1996, Sudanese officials began approaching officials from the 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 63 

United States and other governments, asking what actions of theirs might ease 
foreign pressure. In secret meetings with Saudi officials, Sudan offered to expel 
Bin Ladin to Saudi Arabia and asked the Saudis to pardon him. U.S. officials 
became aware of these secret discussions, certainly by March. Saudi officials 
apparently wanted Bin Ladin expelled from Sudan. They had already revoked 
his citizenship, however, and would not tolerate his presence in their country. 
And Bin Ladin may have no longer felt safe in Sudan, ^vhere he had already 
escaped at least one assassination attempt that he believed to have been the 
work of the Egyptian or Saudi regimes, or both. In any case, on May 19, 1996, 
Bin Ladin left Sudan — significantly weakened, despite his ambitions and orga- 
nizational skills. He returned to Afghanistan. *i 



2.5 AL QAEDA'S RENEWAL IN AFGHANISTAN 

(1996-1998) 

Bin Ladin flew on a leased aircraft from Khartoum to Jalalabad, with a refuel- 
ing stopover in the United Arab Emirates.*^- He was accompanied by family 
members and bodyguards, as well as by al Qaeda members who had been close 
associates since his organization's 1988 founding in Afghanistan. Dozens of 
additional militants arrived on later flights. ^^ 

Though Bin Ladin s destination was Afghanistan, Pakistan was the nation 
that held the key to his ability to use Afghanistan as a base from which to revive 
his ambitious enterprise for war against the United States. 

For the first quarter century of its existence as a nation, Pakistan's identity 
had derived from Islam, but its politics had been decidedly secular. The army 
was — and remains — the country's strongest and most respected institution, and 
the army had been and continues to be preoccupied with its rivalry with India, 
especially over the disputed territory of Kashmir. 

From the 1970s onward, religion had become an increasingly powerful force 
in Pakistani politics. After a coup in 1977, military leaders turned to Islamist 
groups for support, and fundamentalists became more prominent. South Asia 
had an indigenous form of Islamic fundamentalism, ^vhich had developed in 
the nineteenth century at a school in the Indian village of Deoband.'^'* The 
influence of the Wahhabi school of Islam had also grown, nurtured by Saudi- 
funded institutions. Moreover, the fighting in Afghanistan made Pakistan home 
to an enormous — and generaUy unwelcome — population of Afghan refugees; 
and since the badly strained Pakistani education system could not accommo- 
date the refugees, the government increasingly let privately funded religious 
schools serve as a cost-free alternative. Over time, these schools produced large 
numbers of half-educated young men with no marketable skills but with deeply 
held Islamic views. '^^ 

Pakistan's rulers found these multitudes of ardent young Afghans a source 



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64 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 




Base 80?987AI (C00362) 6-( 



of potential trouble at home but potentially useful abroad. Those ^vho joined 
the Taliban movement, espousing a ruthless version of Islamic law, perhaps 
could bring order in chaotic Afghanistan and make it a cooperative ally. They 
thus might give Pakistan greater security on one of the several borders where 
Pakistani military officers hoped for what they called "strategic depth."^* 

It is unlikely that Bin Ladin could have returned to Afghanistan had Pak- 
istan disapproved. The Pakistani military intelligence service probably had 
advance knowledge of his coming, and its officers may have facilitated his travel. 
During his entire time in Sudan, he had maintained guesthouses and training 
camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These were part of a larger network used 
by diverse organizations for recruiting and training fighters for Islamic insur- 
gencies in such places as Tajikistan, Kashmir, and Chechnya. Pakistani intelli- 
gence officers reportedly introduced Bin Ladin to Taliban leaders in Kandahar, 
their main base of power, to aid his reassertion of control over camps near 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 65 

Kho^vst, out of an apparent hope that he would now expand the camps and 
make them available for training Kashmiri militants. <^^ 

Yet Bin Ladin was in his weakest position since his early days in the war 
against the Soviet Union. The Sudanese government had canceled the registra- 
tion of the main business enterprises he had set up there and then put some of 
them up for public sale. According to a senior al Qaeda detainee, the govern- 
ment of Sudan seized everything Bin Ladin had possessed there.'^^ 

He also lost the head of his military committee, Abu Ubaidah al Banshiri, one 
of the most capable and popular leaders of al Qaeda. While most of the group's 
key figures had accompanied Bin Ladin to Afghanistan, Banshiri had remained 
in Kenya to oversee the training and weapons shipments of the cell set up some 
four years earlier. He died in a ferryboat accident on Lake Victoria just a few 
days after Bin Ladin arrived in Jalalabad, leaving Bin Ladin with a need to 
replace him not only in the Shura but also as supervisor of the cells and 
prospective operations in East Africa. "^^ He had to make other adjustments as 
well, for some al Qaeda members viewed Bin Ladin 's return to Afghanistan as 
occasion to go off in their own directions. Some maintained collaborative rela- 
tionships with al Qaeda, but many disengaged entirely. ^^ 

For a time, it may not have been clear to Bin Ladin that the Taliban would 
be his best bet as an ally. When he arrived in Afghanistan, they controlled much 
of the country, but key centers, including Kabul, were still held by rival ^var- 
lords. Bin Ladin went initially to Jalalabad, probably because it ^vas in an area 
controlled by a provincial council of Islamic leaders who were not major con- 
tenders for national power. He found lodgings withYounis Khalis, the head of 
one of the main mujahideen factions. Bin Ladin apparently kept his options 
open, maintaining contacts with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who, though an 
Islamic extremist, was also one of the Taliban's most militant opponents. But 
after September 1996, when first Jalalabad and then Kabul fell to the Taliban, 
Bin Ladin cemented his ties ^vith them.^^ 

That process did not always go smoothly. Bin Ladin, no longer constrained 
by the Sudanese, clearly thought that he had new freedom to publish his appeals 
for jihad. At about the time when the Taliban \vere making their final drive 
toward Jalalabad and Kabul,Bin Ladin issued hisAugust 1996 fatw^a, saying that 
"We . . . have been prevented from addressing the Muslims," but expressing 
relief that "by the grace of Allah, a safe base here is no\v available in the high 
Hindu Kush mountains in Khurasan." But theTaliban, like the Sudanese, would 
eventually hear ^varnings, including from the Saudi monarchy.^- 

Though Bin Ladin had promised Taliban leaders that he would be circum- 
spect, he broke this promise almost immediately, giving an inflammatory inter- 
view to CNN in March 1997. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar promptly 
"invited" Bin Ladin to move to Kandahar, ostensibly in the interests of Bin 
Ladin 's o^vn security but more likely to situate him where he might be easier 
to control.^3 



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66 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

There is also evidence that around this time Bin Ladin sent out a number 
of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperation. None are reported 
to have received a significant response. According to one report, Saddam Hus- 
sein's efforts at this time to rebuild relations with the Saudis and other Middle 
Eastern regimes led him to stay clear of Bin Ladin. ^'^ 

In mid-1 998, the situation reversed; it ^vas Iraq that reportedly took the ini- 
tiative. In March 1998, after Bin Ladin 's public fatwa against the United States, 
two al Qaeda members reportedly ^vent to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelli- 
gence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with 
the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps 
both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin 's Egypt- 
ian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was 
under intensifying U.S. pressure, ^vhich culminated in a series of large air 
attacks in December.^^ 

Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have 
occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. 
According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq. 
Bin Ladin declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan 
remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe 
friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides' hatred of 
the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the ear- 
lier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor 
have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in devel- 
oping or carrying out any attacks against the United States. ^i^ 

Bin Ladin eventually enjoyed a strong financial position in Afghanistan, 
thanks to Saudi and other financiers associated with the Golden Chain. 
Through his relationship with Mullah Omar — and the monetary and other 
benefits that it brought the Taliban — Bin Ladin ^vas able to circumvent restric- 
tions; Mullah Omar ^vould stand by him even when otherTaliban leaders raised 
objections. Bin Ladin appeared to have in Afghanistan a freedom of move- 
ment that he had lacked in Sudan. Al Qaeda members could travel freely \vithin 
the country, enter and exit it without visas or any immigration procedures, pur- 
chase and import vehicles and ^veapons, and enjoy the use of official Afghan 
Ministry of Defense license plates. Al Qaeda also used the Afghan state-owned 
Ariana Airlines to courier money into the country^^ 

The Taliban seemed to open the doors to all who wanted to come to 
Afghanistan to train in the camps.The alliance with theTaliban provided al Qaeda 
a sanctuary in ^vhich to train and indoctrinate fighters and terrorists, import 
weapons, forge ties with other jihad groups and leaders, and plot and staff ter- 
rorist schemes. While Bin Ladin maintained his o\vn al Qaeda guesthouses and 
camps for vetting and training recruits, he also provided support to and bene- 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 67 

fited from the broad infrastructure of such facilities in Afghanistan made avail- 
able to the global net\¥ork of Islamist movements. U.S. intelligence estimates 
put the total number of fighters who underwent instruction in Bin Ladin— sup- 
ported camps in Afghanistan from 1996 through 9/11 at 10,000 to 20,000.^8 

In addition to training fighters and special operators, this larger network of 
guesthouses and camps provided a mechanism by which al Qaeda could screen 
and vet candidates for induction into its own organization. Thousands flowed 
through the camps, but no more than a few hundred seem to have become 
al Qaeda members. From the time of its founding, al Qaeda had employed 
training and indoctrination to identify "worthy" candidates.^' 

Al Qaeda continued meanwhile to collaborate closely with the many Mid- 
dle Eastern groups — in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, 
Somalia, and elsewhere — ^with which it had been linked when Bin Ladin was 
in Sudan. It also reinforced its London base and its other offices around Europe, 
the Balkans, and the Caucasus. Bin Ladin bolstered his links to extremists in 
South and Southeast Asia, including the Malaysian-Indonesian JI and several 
Pakistani groups engaged in the Kashmir conflict. 8° 

The February 1998 fatwa thus seems to have been a kind of public launch 
of a renewed and stronger al Qaeda, after a year and a half of work. Having 
rebuilt his fund-raising network. Bin Ladin had again become the rich man of 
the jihad movement. He had maintained or restored many of his links with ter- 
rorists elsewhere in the world. And he had strengthened the internal ties in his 
own organization. 

The inner core of al Qaeda continued to be a hierarchical top-down group 
with defined positions, tasks, and salaries. Most but not all in this core swore 
fealty (or hayai) to Bin Ladin. Other operatives were committed to Bin Ladin 
or to his goals and would take assignments for him, but they did not swear 
bayat and maintained, or tried to maintain, some autonomy. A looser circle of 
adherents might give money to al Qaeda or train in its camps but remained 
essentially independent. Nevertheless, they constituted a potential resource for 
al Qaeda. 81 

Now effectively merged with Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad,^- al Qaeda 
promised to become the general headquarters for international terrorism, with- 
out the need for the Islamic Army Shura. Bin Ladin was prepared to pick up 
where he had left off in Sudan. He was ready to strike at "the head of the snake." 

Al Qaeda's role in organizing terrorist operations had also changed. Before 
the move to Afghanistan, it had concentrated on providing funds, training, and 
weapons for actions carried out by members of allied groups. The attacks on 
the U.S. embassies in East Africa in the summer of 1998 would take a differ- 
ent form — planned, directed, and executed by al Qaeda, under the direct super- 
vision of Bin Ladin and his chief aides. 



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68 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

The Embassy Bombings 

As early as December 1993, a team of al Qaeda operatives had begun casing 
targets in Nairobi for future attacks. It \vas led by Ali Mohamed, a former 
Egyptian army officer \vlio had moved to the United States in the mid-1980s, 
enlisted in the U.S. Army, and became an instructor at Fort Bragg. He had pro- 
vided guidance and training to extremists at the Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, 
including some who were subsequently convicted in the February 1993 attack 
on the World Trade Center. The casing team also included a computer expert 
whose write-ups were reviewed by al Qaeda leaders. ^^ 

The team set up a makeshift laboratory for developing their surveillance 
photographs in an apartment in Nairobi where the various al Qaeda opera- 
tives and leaders based in or traveling to the Kenya cell sometimes met. Ban- 
shiri, al Qaeda 's military committee chief, continued to be the operational 
commander of the cell; but because he was constantly on the move, Bin Ladin 
had dispatched another operative, Khaled al Fawwaz, to serve as the on-site 
manager. The technical surveillance and communications equipment 
employed for these casing missions included state-of-the-art video cameras 
obtained from China and from dealers in Germany. The casing team also 
reconnoitered targets in Djibouti.^'* 

As early as January 1994, Bin Ladin received the surveillance reports, com- 
plete with diagrams prepared by the team's computer specialist. He, his top mil- 
itary committee members — ^Banshiri and his deputy, Abu Hafs al Masri (also 
known as Mohammed Atef) — and a number of other al Qaeda leaders 
reviewed the reports. Agreeing that the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was an easy 
target because a car bomb could be parked close by, they began to form a plan. 
Al Qaeda had begun developing the tactical expertise for such attacks months 
earlier, when some of its operatives — top military committee members and sev- 
eral operatives who were involved with the Kenya cell among them — were sent 
to Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon.^^ 

The cell in Kenya experienced a series of disruptions that may in part 
account for the relatively long delay before the attack was actually carried out. 
The difficulties Bin Ladin began to encounter in Sudan in 1995, his move to 
Afghanistan in 1996, and the months spent establishing ties with the Taliban 
may also have played a role, as did Banshiri's accidental drowning. 

In August 1997, the Kenya cell panicked. The London Daily Telegraph 
reported that Madani alTayyib, formerly head of al Qaeda's finance committee, 
had turned himself over to the Saudi government. The article said (incorrectly) 
that the Saudis were sharing Tayyib's information with the U.S. and British 
authorities. 86 At almost the same time, cell members learned that U.S. and 
Kenyan agents had searched the Kenya residence of Wadi al Hage, who had 
become the new on-site manager in Nairobi, and that Hage's telephone was 
being tapped. Hage was a U.S. citizen who had worked with Bin Ladin in Afgha- 



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THE FOUNDATION OF THE NEW TERRORISM 69 

nistan in the 1980s, and in 1992 he went to Sudan to become one of al Qaeda's 
major financial operatives. When Hage returned to the United States to appear 
before a grand jury investigating Bin Ladin, the job of cell manager \vas taken 
over by Harun Fazul, a Kenyan citizen ^vho had been in Bin Ladin's advance 
team to Sudan back in 1990. Harun faxed a report on the "security situation" 
to several sites, \varning that "the crew members in East Africa is \sic\ in grave 
danger" in part because "America kno^vs . . . that the followers of [Bin Ladin] 
. . . carried out the operations to hit Americans in Somalia." The report pro- 
vided instructions for avoiding further exposure.^^ 

On February 23, 1998, Bin Ladin issued his public fat^va.The language had 
been in negotiation for some time, as part of the merger under way between 
Bin Ladin's organization and Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Less than a 
month after the publication of the fatwa, the teams that were to carry out the 
embassy attacks were being pulled together in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The 
timing and content of their instructions indicate that the decision to launch 
the attacks had been made by the time the fatwa was issued.** 

The next four months were spent setting up the teams in Nairobi and Dar 
es Salaam. Members of the cells rented residences, and purchased bomb-mak- 
ing materials and transport vehicles. At least one additional explosives expert 
was brought in to assist in putting the weapons together. In Nairobi, a hotel 
room was rented to put up some of the operatives. The suicide trucks were 
purchased shortly before the attack date.*' 

While this was taking place, Bin Ladin continued to push his public mes- 
sage. On May 7, the deputy head of al Qaeda's military committee, 
Mohammed Atef, faxed to Bin Ladin's London office a new fat\va issued by a 
group of sheikhs located in Afghanistan. A week later, it appeared in A\ Quds 
alArabi, the same Arabic-language newspaper in London that had first published 
Bin Ladin's February fatwa, and it conveyed the same message — the duty of 
Muslims to carry out holy war against the enemies of Islam and to expel the 
Americans from the Gulf region.Two weeks after that. Bin Ladin gave a video- 
taped interview to ABC News with the same slogans, adding that "we do not 
differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians; they are 
all targets in this fatwa.'"^'^ 

By August 1, members of the cells not directly involved in the attacks had 
mostly departed from East Africa. The remaining operatives prepared and 
assembled the bombs, and acquired the delivery vehicles. On August 4, they 
made one last casing run at the embassy in Nairobi. By the evening of August 6, 
all but the delivery teams and one or two persons assigned to remove the evi- 
dence trail had left East Africa. Back in Afghanistan, Bin Ladin and the al Qaeda 
leadership had left Kandahar for the countryside, expecting U.S. retaliation. 
Declarations taking credit for the attacks had already been faxed to the joint 
al Qaeda— Egyptian Islamic Jihad office in Baku, with instructions to stand by 



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70 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

for orders to "instantly" transmit them to Al Quds alAmbi. One proclaimed "the 
formation of the Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places," and t\¥o 
others — one for each embassy — announced that the attack had been carried 
out by a "company" of a "battalion" of this "Islamic Army."'i 

On the morning of August 7, the bomb-laden trucks drove into the 
embassies roughly five minutes apart — about 10:35 A.M. in Nairobi and 10:39 
A.M. in Dar es Salaam. Shortly afterward, a phone call was placed from Baku 
to London. The previously prepared messages were then faxed to London.'- 

The attack on the U.S. embassy in Nairobi destroyed the embassy and killed 
12 Americans and 201 others, almost all Kenyans. About 5,000 people were 
injured. The attack on the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam killed 1 1 more peo- 
ple, none of them Americans. Intervie^ved later about the deaths of the Africans, 
Bin Ladin answered that "when it becomes apparent that it would be impos- 
sible to repel these Americans without assaulting them, even if this involved 
the killing of Muslims, this is permissible under Islam." Asked if he had indeed 
masterminded these bombings, Bin Ladin said that the World Islamic Front for 
jihad against "Jews and Crusaders" had issued a "crystal clear" fatwa. If the insti- 
gation for jihad against the Je^vs and the Americans to liberate the holy places 
"is considered a crime," he said,"let history be a witness that I am a criminal."^^ 



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3 



COUNTERTERRORISM 
EVOLVES 



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 ^var 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. 



3.1 FROM THE OLD TERRORISM TO THE NEW: 
THE FIRST WORLD TRADE CENTER BOMBING 

At 18 minutes after noon on February 26, 1993, a huge bomb ^vent 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 ^vere injured. An FBI agent at 
the scene described the relatively low number of fatalities as a miracle. ^ 

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. ^ 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. 



71 



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72 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

First, the bombing signaled a ne^v 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.^ 

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.'* 

Mohammed Salameh, ^vho 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, ^vho had helped mix the chemicals. ^ 

The FBI identified another conspirator, Ahmad Ajaj,^vho had been arrested 
by immigration authorities at John F Kennedy International Airport in Sep- 
tember 1992 and charged ^vith 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.* 

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 ^vritings, 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.^ 

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 Ranizi 
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 ne^vs media felt prompted, until later, to press 
the question of whether the procedures that put the Blind Sheikh and Ranizi 
Yousef behind bars ^vould really protect Americans against the new virus of 
which these individuals were just the first symptoms. ^ 

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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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 73 

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 RamziYousef in Pakistan, ^vhere 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.'' 

Yousef was captured in Pakistan follo^ving 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 ^vired 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). 1° 

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 solved,justice 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 ^videspread 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. 



3.2 ADAPTATION— AND NONADAPTATION— IN THE 
LAW ENFORCEMENT COMMUNITY 

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 
agencies. 



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74 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

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. ii 

The office s 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. i- 

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. ^^ 

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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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 75 

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. ^^ 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 poUs, 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. ^^ 

In 1976, Attorney General Edw^ard 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. Smith's 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.''' 

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. Mean^vhile, 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 ^vanted for trial in the 
United States. 

The strengths that the FBI brought to counterterrorism were no^vhere more 
brilliantly on display than in the case of Pan American Flight 103, bound from 
London to New York, \vhich 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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76 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

case pointing conclusively to the Libyan government. Eventually Libya 
acknowledged its responsibility, i^ Pan Am 103 became a cautionary tale 
against rushing to judgment in attributing responsibility for a terrorist act. It 
also showed again ho^v — 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. ^^ 

Freeh recognized terrorism as a major threat. He increased the number of 
legal attache ofliices 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 ^vould 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. ^^ 

Freeh s efforts did not, however, translate into a significant shift of resources 
to counterterrorism. FBI, Justice, and Oflice 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 ^vill 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. -O 

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 Afi^ica 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 nation^vide 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 tow^ard addressing terrorism systematically, 
rather than as individual unrelated cases. But the plan did not succeed.-^ 

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



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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 77 

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. -- 

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. -^ 

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 ^vere 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 \vas 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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78 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

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 oflSce ^vas assessed 
to be operating belo^v "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."^^ 

Legal Constraints on the FBI and "the Wall" 

The FBI had different tools for law enforcement and intelligence.^^ For crim- 
inal matters, it could apply for and use traditional criminal ^varrants. For intel- 
ligence matters involving international terrorism, however, the rules were 
difTerent. 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.-^ 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 ^vas 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. ^o 

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 \vorried 
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 
Revie^v became the gatekeeper for the flow of FISA information to criminal 
prosecutors. 3- 



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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 79 

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 ^vorking group led by the Justice Depart- 
ment's Executive Office of National Security, overseen by Deputy Attorney 
General Jamie Gorelick.^^ These procedures — while requiring the sharing of 
intelligence information with prosecutors — regulated the manner in ^vhich 
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, ho^vever, because several factors 
led to a series of barriers to information sharing that developed. ^^ 

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.^^ 

The 1995 procedures dealt only with sharing between agents and criminal 
prosecutors, not bet^veen t^vo kinds of FBI agents, those working on intelli- 
gence matters and those ^vorking 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 ^vith 
agents working on criminal investigations.-'*^ 

This perception evolved into the still more exaggerated belief that the FBI 
could not share any intelligence information ^vith 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.^^ 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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80 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

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. ^8 

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. ^^ 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 stiU 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. '^o 

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. '^i 

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. ^^^ 

Midlevel INS employees proposed comprehensive counterterrorism pro- 



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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 81 

posals to management in 1986, 1995, and 1997. No action ^vas 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 ^vith the 
rest of the Justice Department. It focused on the FBI's priorities of Hezbollah 
and Hamas, and began to examine how immigration la^vs 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. '*3 Policy questions, such as ^vhether 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 ^vas not cut any further.'''* 

Inspectors at the ports of entry were not asked to focus on terrorists. Inspec- 
tors told us they ^vere not even a^vare that ^vhen they checked the names of 
incoming passengers against the automated watchlist, they \vere 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.'*^ 

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 \vith 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. '''^ 

The chief vehicle for INS and for state and local participation in law 
enforcement \vas the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), first tried out in Ne^v 
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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82 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

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 
fuUy staffed. Many state and local entities believed they had little to gain from 
having a full-time representative on a JTTF.'*^ 

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 Services mission to pro- 
tect the president and other high ofEcials, its agents did become involved ^vith 
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 t^vo groups 
sometimes cooperated. In the winter of 1999—2000, as ^vill 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 ^vere 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.'*^ 

Before 9/11, with the exception of one portion of the FBI, very little of the 
sprawling U.S. law enforcement community ^vas 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.^'' 



3.3 . . .AND IN THE FEDERAL AVIATION 
ADMINISTRATION 

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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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 83 

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. 5" 

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 diflierent airports, ^i 

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 eflibrt 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 ofliicials 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'sTlPOFF list of known and suspected ter- 



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84 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

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.^"* 

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 ^vere 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" ^vere no longer required to undergo extraordinary 
screening of their carry-on baggage as had been the case before the system was 
computerized in 1997. ^^ 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. ^7 

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) ^vas nonexistent, except 
for passengers ^vho 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. ^8 

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



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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 85 

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. . . . [TJhose 
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." ^9 

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. <^o 

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. *i 

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.*^- 

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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86 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

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. "^^ 



3.4 . . .AND IN THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY 

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. "^^ 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.'^s f^g 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. '^^ 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 ^vith a national customer base 
is the National Security Agency, ^vhich 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 Ofiice. It develops, procures, launches, and maintains in orbit 



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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 87 

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 ^veapons 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 ^veapons; 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 ^vell 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 gre^v 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."'^^ 

The law requires the NSA to not deliberately collect data on U.S. citizens 
or on persons in the United States without a ^varrant based on foreign intelli- 
gence requirements. Also, the NSA \vas 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 ^var- 
rants to collect communications between individuals in the United States and 



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88 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

foreign countries, because it believed that this ^vas 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. *8 

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, ho\vever, is a daunting one. It is expensive, 
sometimes fails, and often can create problems as \vell 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 ^varning 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 ^vill 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),^vhich 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.<^' 



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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 89 

An innovation of Donovan's, ^vhose 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. ^° 

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,^! 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."^^ 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 requiredWashington's approval 
and action. But in this decentralized system, analogous in some ^vays 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. The Vietnam War brought on more criticism. A promi- 



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90 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

nent feature of the Watergate era ^vas investigations of the CIA by committees 
headed by Frank Church in the Senate and Otis Pike in the House.They pub- 
hshed 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."^^ 

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 ^vho 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 ne\v officers. ^'^ 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. ^5 

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 Briefs* 



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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 91 

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 
newsroom. 

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 eflibrt 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.^^ 

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.JamesJesus Angleton, who headed counterintelligence in the CIA 
until the early 1 970s, 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. ^'^ 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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92 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

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

Security concerns also increased the difficulty of recruiting officers quali- 
fied for counterterrorism.Very fe^v 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, \vith some notable exceptions, ne^v 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 Center's 
chiefs belonged to the Clandestine Service and usually looked for guidance to 
the head of the Directorate of Operations. ^^ 

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. 8- 

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.*^ 



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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 93 

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 flat 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. 8"* 

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 DCl 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. 



3.5 . . .AND IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT AND THE 
DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 

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.''^^ 

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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94 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

gress on U.S. relations -with the rest of the world.The National Security Coun- 
cil ^vas 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 po^verful 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- 
get. 

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 overshado^ved by po\verful regional command- 
ers in chief reporting to the Pentagon. ^^ 

Counterterrorism 

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 \vithin 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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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 95 

way against Weinberger, or even ^vichin his o^vn department. Though Shultz 
elevated the status and visibihty 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 ^vas 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 ^vas seen as a minor 
one within the department. ^^ 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 ^vatchlist 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. StiU, as will be seen later, the sys- 
tem had many holes. ^' 

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 military.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, ^vho 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 \var 
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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96 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Act, which, among other things, mandated that promotion to high rank 
required some period of duty \¥ith 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.'"^ 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 
communities. 

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. 

Counterterrorism 

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, a West Ger- 
man special force dealt similarly with a Lufthansa plane sitting on a tarmac in 
Mogadishu: every terrorist ^vas 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 ^vas hostage rescue. 

The first test for the new force did not go ^vell. It came in April 1980 dur- 
ing the Iranian hostage crisis, when Navy helicopters \vith Marine pilots flew 
to a site known as Desert One, some 200 miles southeast of Tehran, to ren- 
dezvous ^vith 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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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 97 

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 ^vithdrawal 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 ^vere 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 do^vn" 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 ^vell-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. 'i 

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. '2 

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.'-' 

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 



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98 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

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.Tlie operation ^vas 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. Ho\vever, 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 ^varned 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 do^vn 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.'''* 

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 efliective when the adversary was a 
loose transnational net^vork. 



3.6 . . .AND IN THE WHITE HOUSE 

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 ne^v 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 



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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 99 

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

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."''^ 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.'^ 

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. ^* 

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- 



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100 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

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 ^vider 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 ^vho 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."'^ 

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 ^vorld^vide, 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 \vork 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. '"'^ 



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^> 



COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 101 

President Clinton issued a classified directive in June 1995, Presidential 
Decision Directive 39, ^vhich 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. lo^ 

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. ^^^ Jn 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, ^ve wiU use our ne^v 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 



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^-^ 



102 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

home and abroad. Second, ^ve ^vill launch a comprehensive plan to detect, 
deter, and defend against attacks on our critical infrastructures, our po^ver 
systems, water supplies, police, fire, and medical services, air trafHc con- 
trol, financial services, telephone systems, and computer networks. . . . 
Third, ^ve will undertake a concerted eflibrt 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. i"' 

Clearly, the President's concern about terrorism had steadily risen. That 
heightened worry ^vould 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. 



3.7 . . .AND IN THE CONGRESS 

Since the beginning of the Republic, fe^v 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 sufliiciently 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 
operations. 

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 ^var on us, a declaration that they did not 
acknowledge publicly. Not until after 9/11 was a congressional authorization 
sought. 

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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^-^ 



COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 103 

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 \vithin 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 ^vith- 
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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104 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

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 \vere 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 ^veaknesses.lo* 

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 do^vn 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 ^vhole, it ^vould 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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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 105 

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 ^vhen it did, the con- 
text was often terrorists' tactics — a chemical, biological, nuclear, or computer 
threat — not terrorist organizations. 1°^ 

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 conies out close to the 
president's request. This tendency ^vas 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 ^vere implemented, in part, in the House of Representa- 
tives after the 1994 elections, but there ^vas 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, ^vhile 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. i'^''' 

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 



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106 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

from threat to threat to threat. . . . [T]here 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. 11° 

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 South^vest 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 1 990s 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 ^vas the proper conduct of oversight, m 

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, i^- Its attention to terrorism ^vas 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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COUNTERTERRORISM EVOLVES 107 

devoted to counterterrorisni, plus the briefings by its terrorist working group. 
The Senate and House inteUigence 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. ^^^ 

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 ^vas at the 
heart of its own oversight responsibilities, i^^* 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. 



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4 



RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S 
INITIAL ASSAULTS 



4.1 BEFORE THE BOMBINGS IN KENYA 
AND TANZANIA 

Although the 1995 National Intelligence Estimate had -warned of a ne^w type 
of terrorism, many ofHcials continued to think of terrorists as agents of states 
(Saudi Hezbollah acting for Iran against Khobar Towers) or as domestic crim- 
inals (Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City). As ^ve pointed out in chapter 3, 
the White House is not a natural locus for program management. Hence, gov- 
ernment efforts to cope -with terrorism were essentially the work of individ- 
ual agencies. 

President Bill Clinton's counterterrorism Presidential Decision Directives 
in 1995 (no. 39) and May 1998 (no. 62) reiterated that terrorism was a national 
security problem, not just a law enforcement issue.They reinforced the author- 
ity of the National Security Council (NSC) to coordinate domestic as well as 
foreign counterterrorism efforts, through Richard Clarke and his interagency 
Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG). Spotlighting new concerns about 
unconventional attacks, these directives assigned tasks to lead agencies but did 
not differentiate types of terrorist threats. Thus, while Clarke might prod or push 
agencies to act, what actually happened was usually decided at the State Depart- 
ment, the Pentagon, the CIA, or the Justice Department. The efforts of these 
agencies were sometimes energetic and sometimes effective.Terrorist plots were 
disrupted and individual terrorists were captured. But the United States did not, 
before 9/11, adopt as a clear strategic objective the elimination of al Qaeda. 

Early Efforts against Bin Ladin 

Until 1996, hardly anyone in the U.S. government understood that Usama Bin 
Ladin was an inspirer and organizer of the new terrorism. In 1993, the CIA 
noted that he had paid for the training of some Egyptian terrorists in Sudan. 
The State Department detected his money in aid to the Yemeni terrorists who 

108 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 109 

set a bomb in an attempt to kill U.S. troops in Aden in 1992. State Department 
sources even saw suspicious links -with Omar Abdel Rahman, the "Blind 
Sheikh" in the Ne^v York area, commenting that Bin Ladin seemed "commit- 
ted to financing 'Jihads' against 'anti Islamic' regimes worldwide." After the 
department designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993, it put Bin 
Ladin on its TIPOFF watchlist, a move that might have prevented his getting 
a visa had he tried to enter the United States. As late as 1997, however, even 
the CIA's Counterterrorist Center continued to describe him as an "extrem- 
ist financier."! 

In 1996, the CIA set up a special unit of a dozen officers to analyze intelli- 
gence on and plan operations against Bin Ladin. David Cohen, the head of the 
CIA's Directorate of Operations, wanted to test the idea of having a "virtual 
station" — a station based at headquarters but collecting and operating against 
a subject much as stations in the field focus on a country. Taking his cue from 
National Security Advisor Anthony Lake,^vho expressed special interest in ter- 
rorist finance, Cohen formed his virtual station as a terrorist financial links unit. 
He had trouble getting any Directorate of Operations officer to run it; he finally 
recruited a former analyst who ^vas then running the Islamic Extremist Branch 
of the Counterterrorist Center.This officer, ^vho was especially knowledgeable 
about Afghanistan, had noticed a recent stream of reports about Bin Ladin and 
something called al Qaeda, and suggested to Cohen that the station focus on 
this one individual. Cohen agreed. Thus was born the Bin Ladin unit.^ 

In May 1996, Bin Ladin left Sudan for Afghanistan. A few months later, as 
the Bin Ladin unit was gearing up, Jamal Ahmed al Fadl walked into a U.S. 
embassy in Africa, established his bona fides as a former senior employee of Bin 
Ladin, and provided a major breakthrough of intelligence on the creation, char- 
acter, direction, and intentions of al Qaeda. Corroborating evidence came from 
another walk-in source at a different U.S. embassy. More confirmation was sup- 
plied later that year by intelligence and other sources, including material gath- 
ered by FBI agents and Kenyan police from an al Qaeda cell in Nairobi.^ 

By 1997, officers in the Bin Ladin unit recognized that Bin Ladin ^vas more 
than just a financier.They learned that al Qaeda had a military committee that 
was planning operations against U.S. interests worldwide and was actively try- 
ing to obtain nuclear material. Analysts assigned to the station looked at the 
information it had gathered and "found connections everywhere," including 
links to the attacks on U.S. troops in Aden and Somalia in 1992 and 1993 and 
to the Manila air plot in the Philippines in 1994-1995. '* 

The Bin Ladin station ^vas already working on plans for offensive opera- 
tions against Bin Ladin. These plans were directed at both physical assets and 
sources of finance. In the end, plans to identify and attack Bin Ladin 's money 
sources did not go forward. ^ 

In late 1995, ^vhen Bin Ladin ^vas still in Sudan, the State Department and 
the CIA learned that Sudanese officials were discussing with the Saudi gov- 



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110 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

ernment the possibility of expelling Bin Ladin. U.S. AnibassadorTiniothy Car- 
ney encouraged the Sudanese to pursue this course. The Saudis, ho\¥ever, did 
not want Bin Ladin, giving as their reason their revocation of his citizenship. <^ 

Sudan's minister of defense, Fatih Erwa, has claimed that Sudan offered to 
hand Bin Ladin over to the United States. The Commission has found no cred- 
ible evidence that this was so. Ambassador Carney had instructions only to push 
the Sudanese to expel Bin Ladin. Ambassador Carney had no legal basis to ask 
for more from the Sudanese since, at the time, there was no indictment out- 
standing.^ 

The chief of the Bin Ladin station, whom ^ve \vill call "Mike," saw Bin 
Ladin 's move to Afghanistan as a stroke of luck. Though the CIA had virtually 
abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviet \vithdrawal, case officers had reestab- 
lished old contacts while tracking do^vn Mir Amal Kansi, the Pakistani gun- 
man who had murdered t\vo CIA employees in January 1993. These contacts 
contributed to intelligence about Bin Ladin 's local movements, business activ- 
ities, and security and living arrangements, and helped provide evidence that 
he was spending large amounts of money to help the Taliban. The chief of the 
Counterterrorist Center, ^vhom we will call "Jeff," told Director George Tenet 
that the CIA's intelligence assets were "near to providing real-time informa- 
tion about Bin Ladin 's activities and travels in Afghanistan." One of the con- 
tacts was a group associated with particular tribes among Afghanistan's ethnic 
Pashtun community* 

By the fall of 1997, the Bin Ladin unit had roughed out a plan for these 
Afghan tribals to capture Bin Ladin and hand him over for trial either in the 
United States or in an Arab country. In early 1998, the cabinet-level Principals 
Committee apparently gave the concept its blessing.^ 

On their own separate track, getting information but not direction from the 
CIA, the FBI's New York Field Office and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern 
District of New York were preparing to ask a grand jury to indict Bin Ladin. 
The Counterterrorist Center kne^v that this ^vas happening. ^'^ The eventual 
charge, conspiring to attack U.S. defense installations, was finally issued from 
the grand jury in June 1998 — as a sealed indictment. The indictment was pub- 
licly disclosed in November of that year. 

When Bin Ladin moved to Afghanistan in May 1996, he became a subject 
of interest to the State Department's South Asia bureau. At the time, as one 
diplomat told us. South Asia was seen in the department and the government 
generally as a low priority. In 1997, as Madeleine Albright ^vas beginning her 
tenure as secretary of state, an NSC policy review concluded that the United 
States should pay more attention not just to India but also to Pakistan and 
Afghanistan.il With regard to Afghanistan, another diplomat said, the United 
States at the time had "no policy.''^^ 

In the State Department, concerns about India-Pakistan tensions often 
crowded out attention to Afghanistan or Bin Ladin. Aware of instability and 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 1 1 1 

gro^ving Islamic extremism in Pakistan, State Department officials worried most 
about an arms race and possible war between Pakistan and India. After May 1998, 
when both countries surprised the United States by testing nuclear weapons, 
these dangers became daily first-order concerns of the State Departments^ 

In Afghanistan, the State Department tried to end the civil war that had con- 
tinued since the Soviets' withdrawal. The South Asia bureau believed it might 
have a carrot for Afghanistan's warring factions in a project by the Union Oil 
Company of California (UNOCAL) to build a pipeline across the country. 
While there was probably never much chance of the pipeline actually being 
built, the Afghan desk hoped that the prospect of shared pipeline profits might 
lure faction leaders to a conference table. U.S. diplomats did not favor the Tal- 
iban over the rival factions. Despite growing concerns, U.S. diplomats were 
willing at the time, as one official said, to "give the Taliban a chance."''* 

Though Secretary Albright made no secret of thinking the Taliban "despi- 
cable," the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, led a del- 
egation to South Asia — including Afghanistan — in April 1998. No U.S. official 
of such rank had been to Kabul in decades. Ambassador Richardson went pri- 
marily to urge negotiations to end the civil ^var. In view of Bin Ladin's recent 
public call for all Muslims to kill Americans, Richardson asked the Taliban to 
expel Bin Ladin. They answered that they did not know his whereabouts. In 
any case, the Taliban said, Bin Ladin was not a threat to the United States.*^ 

In sum, in late 1997 and the spring of 1998, the lead U.S. agencies each pur- 
sued their own efforts against Bin Ladin.The CIA's Counterterrorist Center was 
developing a plan to capture and remove him ffom Afghanistan. Parts of the Jus- 
tice Department ^vere moving toward indicting Bin Ladin, making possible a 
criminal trial in a New York court. Meanwhile, the State Department was focused 
more on lessening Indo-Pakistani nuclear tensions, ending the Afghan civil war, 
and ameliorating the Taliban's human rights abuses than on driving out Bin 
Ladin. Another key actor. Marine General Anthony Zinni, the commander in 
chief of the U.S. Central Command, shared the State Department's view'* 

The CIA Develops a Capture Plan 

Initially, the DCI's Counterterrorist Center and its Bin Ladin unit considered 
a plan to ambush Bin Ladin when he traveled bet^veen Kandahar, the Taliban 
capital where he sometimes stayed the night, and his primary residence at the 
time,Tarnak Farms. After the Afghan tribals reported that they had tried such 
an ambush and failed, the Center gave up on it, despite suspicions that the trib- 
als' story might be fiction. Thereafter, the capture plan focused on a nighttime 
raid onTarnak Farms. i^ 

A compound of about 80 concrete or mud-brick buildings surrounded by 
a 10-foot wall,Tarnak Farms was located in an isolated desert area on the out- 
skirts of the Kandahar airport. CIA officers were able to map the entire site, 
identifying the houses that belonged to Bin Ladin's wives and the one where 



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112 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Bin Ladin himself \vas most likely to sleep. Working with the tribals, they drew 
up plans for the raid. They ran t^vo complete rehearsals in the United States 
during the fall of 1997.18 

By early 1998, planners at the Counterterrorist Center were ready to come 
back to the White House to seek formal approval. Tenet apparently walked 
National Security Advisor Sandy Berger through the basic plan on February 13. 
One group of tribals would subdue the guards, enter Tarnak Farms stealthily, 
grab Bin Ladin, take him to a desert site outside Kandahar, and turn him over 
to a second group.This second group of tribals would take him to a desert land- 
ing zone already tested in the 1997 Kansi capture. From there, a CIA plane 
would take him to New York, an Arab capital, or wherever he ^vas to be 
arraigned. Briefing papers prepared by the Counterterrorist Center ackno^vl- 
edged that hitches might develop. People might be kiUed, and Bin Ladin's sup- 
porters might retaliate, perhaps taking U.S. citizens in Kandahar hostage. But the 
briefing papers also noted that there was risk in not acting. "Sooner or later," 
they said, "Bin Ladin will attack U.S. interests, perhaps using WMD [weapons 
of mass destruction]."!' 

Clarke's Counterterrorism Security Group revie^ved the capture plan for 
Berger. Noting that the plan ^vas in a "very early stage of development," the 
NSC staff then told the CIA planners to go ahead and, among other things, 
start drafting any legal documents that might be required to authorize the 
covert action. The CSG apparently stressed that the raid should target Bin Ladin 
himself, not the \vhole compound.^o 

The CIA planners conducted their third complete rehearsal in March, and 
they again briefed the CSG. Clarke wrote Berger on March 7 that he saw the 
operation as "somewhat embryonic" and the CIA as "months away from doing 
anything."2i 

"Mike" thought the capture plan was "the perfect operation." It required 
minimum infrastructure. The plan had now been modified so that the tribals 
would keep Bin Ladin in a hiding place for up to a month before turning him 
over to the United States — thereby increasing the chances of keeping the U.S. 
hand out of sight. "Mike" trusted the information from the Afghan network; 
it had been corroborated by other means, he told us. The lead CIA officer in 
the field, Gary Schroen, also had confidence in the tribals. In a May 6 cable to 
CIA headquarters, he pronounced their planning "almost as professional and 
detailed ... as would be done by any U.S. military special operations element." 
He and the other officers who had worked through the plan with the tribals 
judged it "about as good as it can be." (By that, Schroen explained, he meant 
that the chance of capturing or killing Bin Ladin was about 40 percent.) 
Although the tribals thought they could pull off the raid, if the operation were 
approved by headquarters and the policymakers, Schroen wrote there was 
going to be a point ^vhen "we step back and keep our fingers crossed that the 
[tribals] prove as good (and as lucky) as they think they wiU be."22 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 113 

Military officers revie^ved the capture plan and, according to "Mike," 
"found no sho\¥stoppers."The commander of Delta Force felt "uncomfortable" 
with having the tribals hold Bin Ladin captive for so long, and the commander 
of Joint Special Operations Forces, Lieutenant General Michael Canavan, was 
worried about the safety of the tribals inside Tarnak Farms. General Canavan 
said he had actually thought the operation too complicated for the CIA — "out 
of their league" — and an effort to get results "on the cheap." But a senior Joint 
Staff officer described the plan as "generally, not too much different than we 
might have come up with ourselves." No one in the Pentagon, so far as we 
know, advised the CIA or the White House not to proceed. ^3 

In Washington, Berger expressed doubt about the dependability of the trib- 
als. In his meeting with Tenet, Berger focused most, ho^vever, on the question 
of what was to be done with Bin Ladin if he were actually captured. He ^vor- 
ried that the hard evidence against Bin Ladin was still skimpy and that there 
was a danger of snatching him and bringing him to the United States only to 
see him acquitted. ^^ 

On May 18, CIA's managers reviewed a draft Memorandum of Notifica- 
tion (MON), a legal document authorizing the capture operation. A 1986 pres- 
idential finding had authorized worldwide covert action against terrorism and 
probably provided adequate authority. But mindful of the old "rogue elephant" 
charge, senior CIA managers may have wanted something on paper to show 
that they were not acting on their own. 

Discussion of this memorandum brought to the surface an unease about 
paramilitary covert action that had become ingrained, at least among some CIA 
senior managers. James Pavitt, the assistant head of the Directorate of Opera- 
tions, expressed concern that people might get killed; it appears he thought the 
operation had at least a slight flavor of a plan for an assassination. Moreover, he 
calculated that it would cost several million dollars. He ^vas not prepared to take 
that money "out of hide," and he did not want to go to all the necessary con- 
gressional committees to get special money. Despite Pavitt 's misgivings, the CIA 
leadership cleared the draft memorandum and sent it on to the National Secu- 
rity Council.-^ 

Counterterrorist Center officers briefed Attorney General Janet Reno and 
FBI Director Louis Freeh, telling them that the operation had about a 30 per- 
cent chance of success. The Center's chief, "Jeff,"joined John O'Neill, the head 
of the FBI's New York Field Office, in briefing Mary Jo White, the U.S. Attor- 
ney for the Southern District of New York, and her staff. Though "Jeff" also 
used the 30 percent success figure, he warned that someone ^vould surely be 
killed in the operation. White's impression from the New York briefing was that 
the chances of capturing Bin Ladin alive were nil.-'^ 

From May 20 to 24, the CIA ran a final, graded rehearsal of the operation, 
spread over three time zones, even bringing in personnel from the region. The 
FBI also participated. The rehearsal went well. The Counterterrorist Center 



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114 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

planned to brief cabinet-level principals and their deputies the follo^ving week, 
giving June 23 as the date for the raid, with Bin Ladin to be brought out of 
Afghanistan no later than July 23.-^ 

On May 20, Director Tenet discussed the high risk of the operation with 
Berger and his deputies, warning that people might be killed, including Bin 
Ladin. Success was to be defined as the exfiltration of Bin Ladin out of 
Afghanistan.28 A meeting of principals was scheduled for May 29 to decide 
whether the operation should go ahead. 

The principals did not meet. On May 29, "Jeff" informed "Mike" that he 
had just met with Tenet, Pavitt, and the chief of the Directorate's Near Eastern 
Division. The decision was made not to go ahead with the operation. "Mike" 
cabled the field that he had been directed to "stand down on the operation for 
the time being." He had been told, he wrote, that cabinet-level officials thought 
the risk of civilian casualties — "collateral damage" — was too high. They were 
concerned about the tribals' safety, and had worried that "the purpose and 
nature of the operation would be subject to unavoidable misinterpretation and 
misrepresentation — and probably recriminations — in the event that Bin Ladin, 
despite our best intentions and efforts, did not survive."^^ 

Impressions vary as to who actually decided not to proceed with the oper- 
ation. Clarke told us that the CSG saw the plan as flawed. He was said to have 
described it to a colleague on the NSC staff as "half-assed" and predicted that 
the principals would not approve it. "Jeff" thought the decision had been 
made at the cabinet level. Pavitt thought that it was Berger's doing, though 
perhaps on Tenet's advice. Tenet told us that given the recommendation of 
his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to "turn off" the opera- 
tion. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back. Berger's rec- 
ollection was similar. He said the plan was never presented to the White 
House for a decision. ^o 

The CIA's senior management clearly did not think the plan would work. 
Tenet's deputy director of operations wrote to Berger a few weeks later that the 
CIA assessed the tribals' ability to capture Bin Ladin and deliver him to U.S. 
officials as low. But working-level CIA officers were disappointed. Before it was 
canceled, Schroen described it as the "best plan we are going to come up with 
to capture [Bin Ladin] while he is in Afghanistan and bring him to justice."3i 
No capture plan before 9/11 ever again attained the same level of detail and 
preparation. The tribals' reported readiness to act diminished. And Bin Ladin 's 
security precautions and defenses became more elaborate and formidable. 

At this time, 9/11 was more than three years away. It was the duty of Tenet 
and the CIA leadership to balance the risks of inaction against jeopardizing the 
lives of their operatives and agents. And they had reason to worry about fail- 
ure: millions of dollars down the drain; a shoot-out that could be seen as an 
assassination; and, if there were repercussions in Pakistan, perhaps a coup. The 
decisions of the U.S. government in May 1998 were made, as Berger has put 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 115 

it, from the vantage point of the driver looking through a muddy windshield 
moving forward, not through a clean rearvie^v mirror. ^2 

Looking for Other Options 

The Counterterrorist Center continued to track Bin Ladin and to contemplate 
covert action. The most hopeful possibility seemed now to lie in diplomacy — 
but not diplomacy managed by the Department of State, which focused pri- 
marily on India-Pakistan nuclear tensions during the summer of 1998. The CIA 
learned in the spring of 1998 that the Saudi government had quietly disrupted 
Bin Ladin cells in its country that were planning to attack U.S. forces ^vith 
shoulder-fired missiles. They had arrested scores of individuals, with no pub- 
licity. When thanking the Saudis, Director Tenet took advantage of the open- 
ing to ask them to help against Bin Ladin. The response was encouraging 
enough that President Clinton made Tenet his informal personal representa- 
tive to work with the Saudis on terrorism, and Tenet visited Riyadh in May 
and again in early June.33 

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, who had taken charge from the ailing King 
Fahd, promised Tenet an all-out secret effort to persuade the Taliban to expel 
Bin Ladin so that he could be sent to the United States or to another country 
for trial. The Kingdoms emissary would be its intelligence chief. Prince Turki 
bin Faisal.Vice President Al Gore later added his thanks to those ofTenet, both 
making clear that they spoke with President Clinton's blessing. Tenet reported 
that it was imperative to get an indictment against Bin Ladin. The Ne^vYork 
grand jury issued its sealed indictment a few days later, on June 10. Tenet also 
recommended that no action be taken on other U.S. options, such as the covert 
action plan.^^ 

Prince Turki followed up in meetings during the summer ^vith Mullah 
Omar and other Taliban leaders. Apparently employing a mixture of possible 
incentives and threats, Turki received a commitment that Bin Ladin would be 
expelled, but MuUah Omar did not make good on this promise. -'^ 

On August 5, Clarke chaired a CSG meeting on Bin Ladin. In the discus- 
sion of what might be done, the note taker wrote,"there ^vas a dearth of bright 
ideas around the table, despite a consensus that the [government] ought to pur- 
sue every avenue it can to address the problem."^^ 



4.2 CRISIS: AUGUST 1998 

On August 7, 1998, National Security Advisor Berger ^voke President Clinton 
with a phone call at 5:35 A.M. to tell him of the almost simultaneous bomb- 
ings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam,Tanzania. Sus- 
picion quickly focused on Bin Ladin. Unusually good intelligence, chiefly from 



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116 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

the yearlong monitoring of al Qaeda s cell in Nairobi, soon firmly fixed respon- 
sibility on him and his associates. ^^ 

Debate about what to do settled very soon on one option: Tomahawk cruise 
missiles. Months earlier, after cancellation of the covert capture operation, 
Clarke had prodded the Pentagon to explore possibilities for military action. 
On June 2, General Hugh Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 
had directed General Zinni at Central Command to develop a plan, which he 
had submitted during the first week of July. Zinni's planners surely considered 
the two previous times the United States had used force to respond to terror- 
ism, the 1986 strike on Libya and the 1993 strike against Iraq. They proposed 
firing Tomahawks against eight terrorist camps in Afghanistan, including Bin 
Ladin's compound atTarnak Farms. ^^ After the embassy attacks, the Pentagon 
offered this plan to the White House. 

The day after the embassy bombings,Tenet brought to a principals meeting 
intelligence that terrorist leaders \vere expected to gather at a camp near 
Khowst, Afghanistan, to plan future attacks. According to Berger, Tenet said that 
several hundred would attend, including Bin Ladin.The CIA described the area 
as efliectively a military cantonment, away from civilian population centers and 
overwhelmingly populated by jihadists. Clarke remembered sitting next to 
Tenet in a White House meeting, asking Tenet "You thinking ^vhat I'm think- 
ing?" and his nodding "yes."^' The principals quickly reached a consensus on 
attacking the gathering. The strike's purpose was to kill Bin Ladin and his chief 
lieutenants. '^o 

Berger put in place a tightly compartmented process designed to keep all 
planning secret. On August 11, General Zinni received orders to prepare 
detailed plans for strikes against the sites in Afghanistan. The Pentagon briefed 
President Clinton about these plans on August 12 and 14. Though the princi- 
pals hoped that the missiles would hit Bin Ladin, NSC stafli" recommended the 
strike whether or not there was firm evidence that the commanders were at 
the facilities. '^i 

Considerable debate went to the question of whether to strike targets out- 
side of Afghanistan, including two facilities in Sudan. One was a tannery 
believed to belong to Bin Ladin.The other was al Shifa, a Khartoum pharma- 
ceutical plant, which intelligence reports said was manufacturing a precursor 
ingredient for nerve gas with Bin Ladin's financial support. The argument for 
hitting the tannery was that it could hurt Bin Ladin financially. The argument 
for hitting al Shifa \vas that it would lessen the chance of Bin Ladin's having 
nerve gas for a later attack. ^^^ 

Ever since March 1995, American officials had had in the backs of their 
minds Aum Shinrikyo's release of sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway. Presi- 
dent Clinton himself had expressed great concern about chemical and biolog- 
ical terrorism in the United States. Bin Ladin had reportedly been heard to 
speak ofwanting a "Hiroshima" and at least 10,000 casualties.The CIA reported 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 117 

that a soil sample from the vicinity of the al Shifa plant had tested positive for 
EMPTA, a precursor chemical forVX, a nerve gas ^vhose lone use was for mass 
killing. Two days before the embassy bombings, Clarke's staff wrote that Bin 
Ladin"has invested in and almost certainly has access toVX produced at a plant 
in Sudan."''^ Senior State Department officials believed that they had received 
a similar verdict independently, though they and Clarke's staff ^vere probably 
relying on the same report. Mary McCarthy, the NSC senior director respon- 
sible for intelligence programs, initially cautioned Berger that the "bottom line" 
was that "we will need much better intelligence on this facility before we seri- 
ously consider any options." She added that the link between Bin Ladin and al 
Shifa was "rather uncertain at this point." Berger has told us that he thought 
about what might happen if the decision went against hitting al Shifa, and nerve 
gas was used in a New York subway two weeks later.^'* 

By the early hours of the morning of August 20, President Clinton and all 
his principal advisers had agreed to strike Bin Ladin camps in Afghanistan near 
Khowst, as well as hitting al Shifa. The President took the Sudanese tannery off 
the target list because he sa\v little point in killing uninvolved people without 
doing significant harm to Bin Ladin. The principal ^vith the most qualms 
regarding al Shifa was Attorney General Reno. She expressed concern about 
attacking two Muslim countries at the same time. Looking back, she said that 
she felt the "premise kept shifting." '^^ 

Later on August 20, Navy vessels in the Arabian Sea fired their cruise nfis- 
siles. Though most of them hit their intended targets, neither Bin Ladin nor 
any other terrorist leader \vas killed. Berger told us that an after-action review 
by Director Tenet concluded that the strikes had killed 20—30 people in the 
camps but probably missed Bin Ladin by a few hours. Since the missiles headed 
for Afghanistan had had to cross Pakistan, the Vice Chairman of the Joint 
Chiefs was sent to meet with Pakistan's army chief of staff to assure him the 
missiles were not coming from India. Officials in Washington speculated that 
one or another Pakistani official might have sent a warning to the Taliban or 
Bin Ladin.46 

The air strikes marked the climax of an intense 48-hour period in which 
Berger notified congressional leaders, the principals called their foreign coun- 
terparts, and President Clinton flew back from his vacation on Martha's Vine- 
yard to address the nation from the Oval Office. The President spoke to the 
congressional leadership from Air Force One, and he called British Prime Min- 
ister Tony Blair, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and Egyptian President 
Hosni Mubarak from the White House."*^ House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott initially supported the President. The next 
month, Gingrich's office dismissed the cruise missile attacks as "pinpricks."48 

At the time. President Clinton was embroiled in the Lewinsky scandal, which 
continued to consume public attention for the rest of that year and the first 
months of 1999. As it happened, a popular 1997 movie, Wag the Dog, features a 



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118 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

president who fakes a -war to distract public attention from a domestic scandal. 
Some Republicans in Congress raised questions about the timing of the strikes. 
Berger was particularly rankled by an editorial in the Economist that said that 
only the future would tell \vhether the U.S. missile strikes had "created 10,000 
ne^v fanatics where there would have been none."'*^ 

Much public commentary turned immediately to scalding criticism that 
the action was too aggressive. The Sudanese denied that al Shifa produced 
nerve gas, and they allowed journalists to visit what was left of a seemingly 
harmless facility. President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Berger, Tenet, and 
Clarke insisted to us that their judgment was right, pointing to the soil sam- 
ple evidence. No independent evidence has emerged to corroborate the CIA's 
assessment. 50 

Everyone involved in the decision had, of course, been aware of President 
Clintons problems. He told them to ignore them. Berger recalled the Presi- 
dent saying to him "that they were going to get crap either way, so they should 
do the right thing."5i All his aides testified to us that they based their advice 
solely on national security considerations. We have found no reason to ques- 
tion their statements. 

The failure of the strikes, the "wag the dog" slur, the intense partisanship of 
the period, and the nature of the al Shifa evidence likely had a cumulative effect 
on future decisions about the use of force against Bin Ladin. Berger told us that 
he did not feel any sense of constraint. 5- 

The period after the August 1998 embassy bombings was critical in shap- 
ing U.S. policy toward Bin Ladin. Although more Americans had been killed 
in the 1996 Khobar Towers attack, and many more in Beirut in 1983, the over- 
all loss of life rivaled the worst attacks in memory. More ominous, perhaps, was 
the demonstration of an operational capability to coordinate two nearly simul- 
taneous attacks on U.S. embassies in different countries. 

Despite the availability of information that al Qaeda was a global network, 
in 1998 policymakers knew little about the organization. The reams of new 
information that the CIA's Bin Ladin unit had been developing since 1996 had 
not been pulled together and synthesized for the rest of the government. 
Indeed, analysts in the unit felt that they were viewed as alarmists even within 
the CIA. A National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism in 1997 had only 
briefly mentioned Bin Ladin, and no subsequent national estimate would 
authoritatively evaluate the terrorism danger until after 9/11. Policymakers 
knew there was a dangerous individual, Usama Bin Ladin, whom they had been 
trying to capture and bring to trial. Documents at the time referred to Bin 
Ladin "and his associates" or Bin Ladin and his "network." They did not empha- 
size the existence of a structured worldwide organization gearing up to train 
thousands of potential terrorists. ^3 

In the critical days and weeks after the August 1998 attacks, senior policy- 
makers in the Clinton administration had to reevaluate the threat posed by Bin 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 1 19 

Ladin.Was this just a ne\¥ and especially venomous version of the ordinary ter- 
rorist threat America had lived with for decades, or was it radically new, pos- 
ing a danger beyond any yet experienced? 

Even after the embassy attacks, Bin Ladin had been responsible for the deaths 
of fewer than 50 Americans, most of them overseas. An NSC staffer working 
for Richard Clarke told us the threat \vas seen as one that could cause hun- 
dreds of casualties, not thousands. ^^ Even officials ^vho acknowledge a vital 
threat intellectually may not be ready to act on such beliefs at great cost or at 
high risk. 

Therefore, the government experts ^vho believed that Bin Ladin and his net- 
work posed such a novel danger needed a ^vay to win broad support for their 
views, or at least spotlight the areas of dispute.The Presidential Daily Brief and 
the similar, more widely circulated daily reports for high officials — consisting 
mainly of brief reports of intelligence "news" \vithout much analysis or con- 
text — did not provide such a vehicle. The national intelligence estimate has 
often played this role, and is sometimes controversial for this very reason. It 
played no role in judging the threat posed by al Qaeda, either in 1998 or later. 

In the late summer and fall of 1998, the U.S. government also was worrying 
about the deployment of military power in t\vo other ongoing conflicts. After 
years of war in the Balkans, the United States had finally committed itself to sig- 
nificant military intervention in 1995— 1996. Already maintaining a NATO-led 
peacekeeping force in Bosnia, U.S. officials were beginning to consider major 
combat operations against Serbia to protect Muslim civilians in Kosovo from 
ethnic cleansing. Air strikes were threatened in October 1998; a full-scale NATO 
bombing campaign against Serbia was launched in March 1999. ^^ 

In addition, the Clinton administration was facing the possibility of major 
combat operations against Iraq. Since 1996, the UN inspections regime had 
been increasingly obstructed by Saddam Hussein.The United States was threat- 
ening to attack unless unfettered inspections could resume. The Clinton 
administration eventually launched a large-scale set of air strikes against Iraq, 
Operation Desert Fox, in December 1998. These military commitments 
became the context in which the Clinton administration had to consider open- 
ing another front of military engagement against a new terrorist threat based 
in Afghanistan. 

A Follow-On Campaign? 

Clarke hoped the August 1998 missile strikes would mark the beginning of a 
sustained campaign against Bin Ladin. Clarke was, as he later admitted, 
"obsessed" with Bin Ladin, and the embassy bombings gave him new scope for 
pursuing his obsession. Terrorism had moved high up among the President's 
concerns, and Clarke's position had elevated accordingly.The CSG, unlike most 
standing interagency committees, did not have to report through the Deputies 
Committee. Although such a reporting relationship had been prescribed in 



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120 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

the May 1998 presidential directive (after expressions of concern by Attor- 
ney General Reno, among others), that directive contained an exception that 
permitted the CSG to report directly to the principals if Berger so elected. 
In practice, the CSG often reported not even to the full Principals Commit- 
tee but instead to the so-called Small Group formed by Berger, consisting 
only of those principals cleared to know about the most sensitive issues con- 
nected with counterterrorism activities concerning Bin Ladin or the Kho- 
bar Towers investigation. 56 

For this inner cabinet, Clarke drew up what he called "Political-Military 
Plan Delenda."The Latin delenda, niezning that something "must be destroyed," 
evoked the famous Roman vow to destroy its rival, Carthage. The overall goal 
of Clarke's paper \vas to "immediately eliminate any significant threat to Amer- 
icans" from the "Bin Ladin net^vork."57 The paper called for diplomacy to deny 
Bin Ladin sanctuary; covert action to disrupt terrorist activities, but above all 
to capture Bin Ladin and his deputies and bring them to trial; efforts to dry up 
Bin Ladin's money supply; and preparation for follow-on military action. The 
status of the document was and remained uncertain. It ^vas never formally 
adopted by the principals, and participants in the Small Group now have little 
or no recollection of it. It did, however, guide Clarke's efforts. 

The military component of Clarke's plan was its most fully articulated ele- 
ment. He envisioned an ongoing campaign of strikes against Bin Ladin's bases 
in Afghanistan or else^vhere, ^vhenever target information was ripe. Acknowl- 
edging that individual targets might not have much value, he cautioned Berger 
not to expect ever again to have an assembly of terrorist leaders in his sights. 
But he argued that rolling attacks might persuade the Taliban to hand over Bin 
Ladin and, in any case, \vould show that the action in August ^vas not a "one- 
off" event. It would sho^v that the United States was committed to a relentless 
effort to take down Bin Ladin's network. ^^ 

Members of the Small Group found themselves unpersuaded of the merits 
of rolling attacks. Defense Secretary William Cohen told us Bin Ladin's train- 
ing camps were primitive, built ^vith "rope ladders"; General Shelton called 
them "jungle gym" camps. Neither thought them worthwhile targets for very 
expensive missiles. President Clinton and Berger also worried about the Econ- 
omist's point — that attacks that missed Bin Ladin could enhance his stature and 
win him new recruits. After the United States launched air attacks against Iraq 
at the end of 1998 and against Serbia in 1999, in each case provoking world- 
wide criticism. Deputy National Security Advisor James Steinberg added the 
argument that attacks in Afghanistan offered "little benefit, lots of blo^vback 
against [a] bomb-happy U.S."^' 

During the last week of August 1998, officials began considering possible 
follow-on strikes. According to Clarke, President Clinton was inclined to 
launch further strikes sooner rather than later. On August 27, Under Secretary 
of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe advised Secretary Cohen that the avail- 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 121 

able targets were not promising. The experience of the previous week, he 
wrote, "has only confirmed the importance of defining a clearly articulated 
rationale for military action" that was effective as well as justified. But Slocombe 
worried that simply striking some of these available targets did not add up to 
an effective strategy. '^^ 

Defense officials at a lower level, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for 
Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, tried to meet Slocombe's 
objections. They developed a plan that, unlike Clarke's, called not for particu- 
lar strikes but instead for a broad change in national strategy and in the insti- 
tutional approach of the Department of Defense, implying a possible need for 
large-scale operations across the whole spectrum of U.S. military capabilities. 
It urged the department to become a lead agency in driving a national coun- 
terterrorism strategy forward, to "champion a national effort to take up the 
gauntlet that international terrorists have thrown at our feet." The authors 
expressed concern that "we have not fundamentally altered our philosophy or 
our approach" even though the terrorist threat had grown. They outlined an 
eight-part strategy "to be more proactive and aggressive." The future, they 
warned, might bring "horrific attacks," in ^vhich case "we will have no choice 
nor, unfortunately, will ^ve have a plan." The assistant secretary, Allen Holmes, 
took the paper to Slocombe's chief deputy, Jan Lodal, but it went no further. 
Its lead author recalls being told by Holmes that Lodal thought it was too 
aggressive. Holmes cannot recall what was said, and Lodal cannot remember 
the episode or the paper at all.<^i 



4.3 DIPLOMACY 

After the August missile strikes, diplomatic options to press the Taliban seemed 
no more promising than military options. The United States had issued a for- 
mal warning to the Taliban, and also to Sudan, that they would be held directly 
responsible for any attacks on Americans, wherever they occurred, carried out 
by the Bin Ladin network as long as they continued to provide sanctuary to 

it.62 

For a brief moment, it had seemed as if the August strikes might have 
shocked the Taliban into thinking of giving up Bin Ladin. On August 22, the 
reclusive Mullah Omar told a working-level State Department official that the 
strikes were counterproductive but added that he would be open to a dialogue 
with the United States on Bin Ladin 's presence in Afghanistan. ^^ Meeting in 
Islamabad with William Milam, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Taliban dele- 
gates said it \vas against their culture to expel someone seeking sanctuary but 
asked what would happen to Bin Ladin should he be sent to Saudi Arabia. 6"* 

Yet in September 1998, when the Saudi emissary. Prince Turki, asked Mul- 
lah Omar whether he would keep his earlier promise to expel Bin Ladin, the 



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122 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Taliban leader said no. Both sides shouted at each other, ^vith Mullah Omar 
denouncing the Saudi government. Riyadh then suspended its diplomatic rela- 
tions -with the Taliban regime. (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab 
Emirates ^vere the only countries that recognized the Taliban as the legitimate 
government of Afghanistan.) Crown Prince Abdullah told President Clinton 
and Vice President Gore about this when he visited Washington in late Sep- 
tember. His account confirmed reports that the U.S. government had received 
indep endently. ^^ 

Other efforts with the Saudi government centered on improving intelli- 
gence sharing and permitting U.S. agents to interrogate prisoners in Saudi cus- 
tody. The history of such cooperation in 1997 and 1998 had been strained. i^*^ 
Several officials told us, in particular, that the United States could not get direct 
access to an important al Qaeda financial ofliicial, Madani al Tayyib, who had 
been detained by the Saudi government in 1997.*^Though U.S. officials repeat- 
edly raised the issue, the Saudis provided limited information. In his Septem- 
ber 1998 meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah, Vice President Gore, while 
thanking the Saudi government for their responsiveness, renewed the request 
for direct U.S. access toTayyib.^^^The United States never obtained this access. 

An NSC staff^led working group on terrorist finances asked the CIA in 
November 1998 to push again for access to Tayyib and to see "if it is possible 
to elaborate further on the ties between Usama bin Ladin and prominent indi- 
viduals in Saudi Arabia, including especially the Bin Ladin family."'^' One result 
was two NSC-led interagency trips to Persian Gulf states in 1999 and 2000. 
During these trips the NSC, Treasury, and intelligence representatives spoke 
with Saudi officials, and later interviewed members of the Bin Ladin family, 
about Usama's inheritance. The Saudis and the Bin Ladin family eventually 
helped in this particular effort and U.S. officials ultimately learned that Bin 
Ladin was not financing al Qaeda out of a personal inheritance.^'^ But Clarke 
was frustrated about how little the Agency knew, complaining to Berger that 
four years after "we first asked CIA to track down [Bin Ladin] s finances" and 
two years after the creation of the CIA's Bin Ladin unit, the Agency said it could 
only guess at how much aid Bin Ladin gave to terrorist groups, what were the 
main sources of his budget, or how he moved his money.^i 

The other diplomatic route to get at Bin Ladin in Afghanistan ran through 
Islamabad. In the summer before the embassy bombings, the State Department 
had been heavily focused on rising tensions between India and Pakistan and 
did not aggressively challenge Pakistan on Afghanistan and Bin Ladin. But State 
Department counterterrorism officials wanted a stronger position; the depart- 
ment's acting counterterrorism coordinator advised Secretary Albright to des- 
ignate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, noting that despite high-level 
Pakistani assurances, the country's military intelligence service continued 
"activities in support of international terrorism" by supporting attacks on civil- 
ian targets in Kashmir.This recommendation was opposed by the State Depart- 
ment's South Asia bureau, which was concerned that it would damage already 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 123 

sensitive relations with Pakistan in the ^vake of the May 1998 nuclear tests by 
both Pakistan and India. Secretary Albright rejected the recommendation on 
August 5, 1998, just t\¥o days before the embassy bombings.^- She told us that, 
in general, putting the Pakistanis on the terrorist list ^vould eliminate any influ- 
ence the United States had over theni.^^ In October, an NSC counterterror- 
ism oflicial noted that Pakistan's pro-Taliban military intelligence service had 
been training Kashmiri jihadists in one of the camps hit by U.S. missiles, lead- 
ing to the death of Pakistanis.^'' 

After flying to Nairobi and bringing home the coflins of the American dead, 
Secretary Albright increased the department's focus on counterterrorism. 
According to Ambassador Milam, the bombings were a "wake-up call," and he 
soon found himself spending 45 to 50 percent of his time working the Tal- 
iban—Bin Ladin portfolio. ^^ But Pakistan's military intelligence service, known 
as the ISID (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate), was theTaliban's primary 
patron, which made progress diflicult. 

Additional pressure on the Pakistanis — beyond demands to press the Taliban 
on Bin Ladin — seemed unattractive to most oflicials of the State Department. 
Congressional sanctions punishing Pakistan for possessing nuclear arms pre- 
vented the administration from offering incentives to Islamabad.^* In the words 
of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Washington's Pakistan policy was 
"stick-heavy." Talbott felt that the only remaining sticks were additional sanc- 
tions that would have bankrupted the Pakistanis, a dangerous move that could 
have brought "total chaos" to a nuclear-armed country with a significant num- 
ber of Islamic radicals. ^^ 

The Saudi government, which had a long and close relationship with Pak- 
istan and provided it oil on generous terms, was already pressing Sharif with 
regard to the Taliban and Bin Ladin. A senior State Department official con- 
cluded that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah put "a tremendous amount of 
heat" on the Pakistani prime minister during the prince's October 1998 visit 
to Pakistan. ^'^ 

The State Department urged President Clinton to engage the Pakistanis. 
Accepting this advice, President Clinton invited Sharif to Washington, where 
they talked mostly about India but also discussed Bin Ladin. After Sharif went 
home, the President called him and raised the Bin Ladin subject again. This 
effort elicited from Sharif a promise to talk with the Taliban.^' 

Mullah Omar's position showed no sign of softening. One intelligence 
report passed to Berger by the NSC staff quoted Bin Ladin as saying that Mul- 
lah Omar had given him a completely free hand to act in any country, though 
asking that he not claim responsibility for attacks in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. 
Bin Ladin was described as grabbing his beard and saying emotionally, "By 
Allah, by God, the Americans wiU still be amazed. The so-called United States 
will suflier the same fate as the Russians. Their state will collapse, too."^" 

Debate in the State Department intensified after December 1998, when 
Michael Sheehan became counterterrorism coordinator. A onetime special 



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124 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

forces officer, he had worked with Albright when she was ambassador to the 
United Nations and had served on the NSC staff with Clarke. He shared 
Clarke's obsession with terrorism, and had little hesitation about locking horns 
with the regional bureaus. Through every available channel, he repeated the 
earlier warning to the Taliban of the possible dire consequences — including 
military strikes — if Bin Ladin remained their guest and conducted additional 
attacks. Within the department, he argued for designating the Taliban regime a 
state sponsor of terrorism. This ^vas technically difficult to do, for calling it a 
state would be tantamount to diplomatic recognition, which the United States 
had thus far withheld. But Sheehan urged the use of any available \veapon 
against the Taliban. He told us that he thought he was regarded in the depart- 
ment as "a one-note Johnny nutcase."*' 

In early 1999, the State Department's counterterrorism office proposed a 
comprehensive diplomatic strategy for all states involved in the Afghanistan 
problem, including Pakistan. It specified both carrots and hard-hitting sticks — 
among them, certifying Pakistan as uncooperative on terrorism. Albright said 
the original carrots and sticks listed in a decision paper for principals may not 
have been used as "described on paper" but added that they were used in other 
ways or in varying degrees. But the paper's author. Ambassador Sheehan, was 
frustrated and complained to us that the original plan "had been watered down 
to the point that nothing ^vas then done with it."*- 

The cautiousness of the South Asia bureau ^vas reinforced when, in May 
1999, Pakistani troops ^vere discovered to have infiltrated into an especially 
mountainous area of Kashmir. A limited war began between India and Pak- 
istan, euphemistically called the "Kargil crisis," as India tried to drive the Pak- 
istani forces out. Patience ^vith Pakistan was wearing thin, inside both the State 
Department and the NSC. Bruce Riedel, the NSC staff member responsible 
for Pakistan, wrote Berger that Islamabad was "behaving as a rogue state in two 
areas — backing Taliban/UBL terror and provoking war ^vith India."*-* 

Discussion \vithin the Clinton administration on Afghanistan then concen- 
trated on two main alternatives. The first, championed by Riedel and Assistant 
Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, was to undertake a major diplomatic effort 
to end the Afghan civil war and install a national unity government. The sec- 
ond, favored by Sheehan, Clarke, and the CIA, called for labeling the Taliban a 
terrorist group and ultimately funneling secret aid to its chief foe, the North- 
ern Alliance. This dispute \vould go back and forth throughout 1999 and ulti- 
mately become entangled with debate about enlisting the Northern Alliance 
as an ally for covert action.*^ 

Another diplomatic option may have been available: nurturing Afghan exile 
groups as a possible moderate governing alternative to the Taliban. In late 1999, 
Washington provided some support for talks among the leaders of exile Afghan 
groups, including the ousted Rome-based King Zahir Shah and Hamid 
Karzai, about bolstering anti- Taliban forces inside Afghanistan and linking the 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 125 

Northern Alliance -with Pashtun groups. One U.S. diplomat later told us that 
the exile groups were not ready to move forward and that coordinating frac- 
tious groups residing in Bonn, Rome, and Cyprus proved extremely difficult.^^ 

Frustrated by the Taliban's resistance, two senior State Department officials 
suggested asking the Saudis to offer the Taliban $250 million for Bin Ladin. 
Clarke opposed having the United States facilitate a "huge grant to a regime 
as heinous as the Taliban" and suggested that the idea might not seem attrac- 
tive to either Secretary Albright or First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton — both 
critics of the Taliban's record on women's rights. 8* The proposal seems to have 
quietly died. 

Within the State Department, some officials delayed Sheehan and Clarke's 
push either to designate Taliban-controlled Afghanistan as a state sponsor of ter- 
rorism or to designate the regime as a foreign terrorist organization (thereby 
avoiding the issue of whether to recognize theTaliban as Afghanistan's govern- 
ment). Sheehan and Clarke prevailed in July 1999, when President Clinton 
issued an executive order effectively declaring theTaliban regime a state spon- 
sor of terrorism.87 In October, a UN Security Council Resolution champi- 
oned by the United States added economic and travel sanctions. ^^ 

With UN sanctions set to come into effect in November, Clarke wrote 
Berger that "the Taliban appear to be up to something."^^ Mullah Omar had 
shuffled his "cabinet" and hinted at Bin Ladin 's possible departure. Clarke's staff 
thought his most likely destination would be Somalia; Chechnya seemed less 
appealing with Russia on the offensive. Clarke commented that Iraq and Libya 
had previously discussed hosting Bin Ladin, though he and his staff had their 
doubts that Bin Ladin would trust secular Arab dictators such as Saddam Hus- 
sein or Muammar Qadhafi. Clarke also raised the "remote possibility" of 
Yemen, which offered vast uncontrolled spaces. In November, the CSG dis- 
cussed whether the sanctions had rattled the Taliban, who seemed "to be look- 
ing for a face-saving way out of the Bin Ladin issue."''^ 

In fact none of the outside pressure had any visible effect on Mullah Omar, 
who was unconcerned about commerce with the outside world. Omar had vir- 
tually no diplomatic contact with the West, since he refused to meet with non- 
Muslims. The United States learned that at the end of 1999, theTaliban Council 
of Ministers unanimously reaffirmed that their regime would stick by Bin 
Ladin. Relations between Bin Ladin and theTaliban leadership were sometimes 
tense, but the foundation was deep and personal.''^ Indeed, Mullah Omar had 
executed at least one subordinate who opposed his pro— Bin Ladin policy. ''- 

The United States would try tougher sanctions in 2000. Working with Rus- 
sia (a country involved in an ongoing campaign against Chechen separatists, 
some of whom received support from Bin Ladin), the United States persuaded 
the United Nations to adopt Security Council Resolution 1333, which 
included an embargo on arms shipments to theTaliban, in December 2000. ^^ 
The aim of the resolution was to hit theTaliban where it was most sensitive — 



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126 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

on the battlefield against the Northern Alliance — and criminalize giving them 
arms and providing military "advisers," which Pakistan had been doing. ''^ Yet 
the passage of the resolution had no visible effect on Omar, nor did it halt the 
flow of Pakistani military assistance to the Taliban. '^ 

U.S. authorities had continued to try to get cooperation from Pakistan in 
pressing the Taliban to stop sheltering Bin Ladin. President Clinton contacted 
Sharif again in June 1999, partly to discuss the crisis \vith India but also to urge 
Sharif, "in the strongest way I can," to persuade the Taliban to expel Bin 
Ladin.^'^The President suggested that Pakistan use its control over oil supplies 
to the Taliban and over Afghan imports through Karachi. Sharif suggested 
instead that Pakistani forces might try to capture Bin Ladin themselves. 
Though no one in Washington thought this was likely to happen. President 
Clinton gave the idea his blessing.'^ 

The President met with Sharif in Washington in early July. Though the 
meeting's main purpose \vas to seal the Pakistani prime minister's decision to 
withdraw from the Kargil confrontation in Kashmir, President Clinton com- 
plained about Pakistan's failure to take effective action with respect to the Tal- 
iban and Bin Ladin. Sharif came back to his earlier proposal and won approval 
for LJ.S. assistance in training a Pakistani special forces team for an operation 
against Bin Ladin. Then, in October 1999, Sharif was deposed by General Per- 
vez Musharraf, and the plan was terminated.''^ 

At first, the Clinton administration hoped that Musharraf's coup might cre- 
ate an opening for action on Bin Ladin. A career military oflicer, Musharraf 
was thought to have the political strength to confront and influence the Pak- 
istani military intelligence service, which supported the Taliban. Berger spec- 
ulated that the ne\v government might use Bin Ladin to buy concessions from 
Washington, but neither side ever developed such an initiative.^'' 

By late 1999, more than a year after the embassy bombings, diplomacy \vith 
Pakistan, like the efforts with the Taliban, had, according to Under Secretary 
of State Thomas Pickering, "borne little fruit."!"'^' 



4.4 COVERT ACTION 

As part of the response to the embassy bombings. President Clinton signed a 
Memorandum of Notification authorizing the CIA to let its tribal assets use 
force to capture Bin Ladin and his associates. CIA officers told the tribals that 
the plan to capture Bin Ladin, which had been "turned off" three months ear- 
lier, was back on.The memorandum also authorized the CIA to attack Bin Ladin 
in other ^vays. Also, an executive order froze financial holdings that could be 
linked to Bin Ladin. 'O' 

The counterterrorism staff at CIA thought it was gaining a better under- 
standing of Bin Ladin and his network. In preparation for briefing the Senate 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 127 

Select Committee on Intelligence on September 2,Tenet -was told that the intel- 
ligence community knew more about Bin Ladin's network"than about any other 
top tier terrorist organization."iO- 

The CIA was using this kno^vledge to disrupt a number of Bin Ladin— asso- 
ciated cells. Working with Albanian authorities, CIA operatives had raided an al 
Qaeda forgery operation and another terrorist cell in Tirana. These operations 
may have disrupted a planned attack on the U.S. embassy in Tirana, and did lead 
to the rendition of a number of al Qaeda— related terrorist operatives. After the 
embassy bombings, there were arrests in Azerbaijan, Italy, and Britain. Several 
terrorists were sent to an Arab country. The CIA described working with FBI 
operatives to prevent a planned attack on the U.S. embassy in Uganda, and a 
number of suspects were arrested. On September 16, Abu Hajer, one of Bin 
Ladin's deputies in Sudan and the head of his computer operations and weapons 
procurement, was arrested in Germany. He was the most important Bin Ladin 
lieutenant captured thus far. Clarke commented to Berger with satisfaction that 
August and September had brought the "greatest number of terrorist arrests in 
a short period of time that we have ever arranged/facilitated." ^^^ 

Given the President's August Memorandum of Notification, the CIA had 
already been working on new plans for using the Afghan tribals to capture Bin 
Ladin. During September and October, the tribals claimed to have tried at least 
four times to ambush Bin Ladin. Senior CIA officials doubted whether any of 
these ambush attempts had actually occurred. But the tribals did seem to have 
success in reporting where Bin Ladin was.^O"* 

This information was more useful than it had been in the past; since the 
August missile strikes. Bin Ladin had taken to moving his sleeping place fre- 
quently and unpredictably and had added new bodyguards. Worst of all, al 
Qaeda 's senior leadership had stopped using a particular means of communi- 
cation almost immediately after a leak to the Washington Times. "^^ This made it 
much more difficult for the National Security Agency to intercept his conver- 
sations. But since the tribals seemed to know where Bin Ladin was or would 
be, an alternative to capturing Bin Ladin would be to mark his location and 
call in another round of missile strikes. 

On November 3, the Small Group met to discuss these problems, among 
other topics. Preparing Director Tenet for a Small Group meeting in mid- 
November, the Counterterrorist Center stressed,"At this point we cannot pre- 
dict when or if a capture operation will be executed by our assets."io<^ 

U.S. counterterrorism officials also worried about possible domestic attacks. 
Several intelligence reports, some of dubious sourcing, mentioned Washington 
as a possible target. On October 26, Clarke's CSG took the unusual step of 
holding a meeting dedicated to trying "to evaluate the threat of a terrorist attack 
in the United States by the Usama bin Ladin network."io^The CSG members 
were "urged to be as creative as possible in their thinking" about preventing a 
Bin Ladin attack on U.S. territory. Participants noted that while the FBI had 



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THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 



been given additional resources for such efforts, both it and the CIA were hav- 
ing problems exploiting leads by tracing U.S. telephone numbers and translat- 
ing documents obtained in cell disruptions abroad. The Justice Department 
reported that the current guidelines from the Attorney General gave sufficient 
legal authority for domestic investigation and surveillance. 'o^ 

Though intelligence gave no clear indication of ^vhat might be afoot, some 
intelligence reports mentioned chemical ^veapons, pointing toward ^vork at a 
camp in southern Afghanistan called Derunta. On November 4, 1998, the U.S. 
Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York unsealed its indict- 
ment of Bin Ladin, charging him with conspiracy to attack U.S. defense instal- 
lations. The indictment also charged that al Qaeda had allied itself with Sudan, 
Iran, and Hezbollah. The original sealed indictment had added that al Qaeda 
had "reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda 
would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specif- 
ically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively 
with the Government of Iraq."io' This passage led Clarke, who for years had 
read intelligence reports on Iraqi-Sudanese cooperation on chemical ^veapons, 
to speculate to Berger that a large Iraqi presence at chemical facilities in Khar- 
toum was "probably a direct result of the Iraq— Al Qida agreement." Clarke 
added thatVX precursor traces found near al Shifa were the "exact formula 
used by Iraq." i^'^' This language about al Qaeda s "understanding" \vith Iraq had 
been dropped, ho^vever, ^vhen a superseding indictment was filed in Novem- 
ber 1998.111 

On Friday, December 4, 1998, the CIA included an article in the Presiden- 
tial Daily Brief describing intelligence, received from a friendly government, 
about a threatened hijacking in the United States. This article was declassified 
at our request. 

The same day, Clarke convened a meeting of his CSG to discuss both the 



The joWowing is the text of an item from the Presidential Daily Brief received by 
President William J. Clinton on December 4, i998. Redacted material is indicated 
in brackets. 

SUBJECT: Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other 
Attacks 

1. Reporting [ — ] suggests Bin Ladin and his allies are preparing for 
attacks in the US, including an aircraft hijacking to obtain the release of 
Shaykh 'Uniar 'Abd al- Rahman, RamziYousef, and Muhammad Sadiq 
'Awda. One source quoted a senior member of the Gama'at al-Islamiyya 
(IG) saying that, as of late October, the IG had completed planning for 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 



129 



an operation in the US on behalf of Bin Ladin, but that the operation 
was on hold. A senior Bin Ladin operative from Saudi Arabia was to visit 
IG counterparts in the US soon thereafter to discuss options — ^perhaps 
including an aircraft hijacking. 

• IG leader Islanibuli in late September was planning to hijack a 
US airliner during the "next couple of weeks" to free 'Abd al- 
Rahman and the other prisoners, according to what may be a 
different source. 

• The same source late last month said that Bin Ladin might 
implement plans to hijack US aircraft before the beginning of 
Ramadan on 20 December and that two members of the oper- 
ational team had evaded security checks during a recent trial 
run at an unidentified Ne\vYork airport. [ — ] 

2. Some members of the Bin Ladin net\vork have received hijack train- 
ing, according to various sources, but no group directly tied to Bin Ladin s 
al-Qa'ida organization has ever carried out an aircraft hijacking. Bin Ladin 
could be weighing other types of operations against US aircraft. Accord- 
ing to [ — ] the IG in October obtained SA-7 missiles and intended to 
move them from Yemen into Saudi Arabia to shoot do\vn an Egyptian 
plane or, if unsuccessful, a US military or civilian aircraft. 

• A [ — ] in October told us that unspecified "extremist elements" 
in Yemen had acquired SA-7s. [ — ] 

3. [ — ] indicate the Bin Ladin organization or its allies are moving closer 
to implementing anti-US attacks at unspecified locations, but ^ve do not 
know whether they are related to attacks on aircraft. A Bin Ladin asso- 
ciate in Sudan late last month told a colleague in Kandahar that he had 
shipped a group of containers to Afghanistan. Bin Ladin associates also 
talked about the movement of containers to Afghanistan before the East 
Africa bombings. 

• In other [ — ] Bin Ladin associates last month discussed picking 
up a package in Malaysia. One told his colleague in Malaysia 
that "they" were in the "ninth month [of pregnancy]." 

• An alleged Bin Ladin supporter in Yemen late last month 
remarked to his mother that he planned to work in "com- 
merce" from abroad and said his impending "marriage," ^vhich 
would take place soon, would be a"surprise.""Commerce"and 
"marriage" often are code^vords for terrorist attacks. [ — ] 



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130 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

hijacking concern and the antiaircraft missile threat. To address the hijack- 
ing \¥arning, the group agreed that New York airports should go to maxi- 
mum security starting that weekend. They agreed to boost security at other 
East coast airports. The CIA agreed to distribute versions of the report to 
the FBI and FAA to pass to the New York Police Department and the air- 
lines. The FAA issued a security directive on December 8, ^vith specific 
requirements for more intensive air carrier screening of passengers and more 
oversight of the screening process, at all three New York City area airports. 112 

The intelligence community could learn little about the source of the infor- 
mation. Later in December and again in early January 1999, more information 
arrived from the same source, reporting that the planned hijacking had been 
stalled because two of the operatives, who were sketchily described, had been 
arrested near Washington, DC. or New York. After investigation, the FBI could 
find no information to support the hijack threat; nor could it verify any arrests 
like those described in the report. The FAA alert at the New York area airports 
ended onjanuary 31, 1999.113 

On December 17, the day after the United States and Britain began their 
Desert Fox bombing campaign against Iraq, the Small Group convened to dis- 
cuss intelligence suggesting imminent Bin Ladin attacks on the U.S. embassies 
in Qatar and Ethiopia. The next day. Director Tenet sent a memo to the Pres- 
ident, the cabinet, and senior officials throughout the government describing 
reports that Bin Ladin planned to attack U.S. targets very soon, possibly over 
the next few days, before Ramadan celebrations began. Tenet said he was 
"greatly concerned."!^'* 

With alarms sounding, members of the Small Group considered ideas about 
how to respond to or prevent such attacks. Generals Shelton and Zinni came 
up with military options. Special Operations Forces were later told that they 
might be ordered to attempt very high-risk in-and-out raids either in Khar- 
toum, to capture a senior Bin Ladin operative known as Abu Hafs the Mauri- 
tanian — ^vho appeared to be engineering some of the plots — or in Kandahar, 
to capture Bin Ladin himself. Shelton told us that such operations are not risk 
free, invoking the memory of the 1993 "Black Hawk down" fiasco in 
Mogadishu. 115 

The CIA reported on December 18 that Bin Ladin might be traveling to 
Kandahar and could be targeted there with cruise missiles. Vessels with Tom- 
ahawk cruise missiles were on station in the Arabian Sea, and could fire within 
a few hours of receiving target data.H'^ 

On December 20, intelligence indicated Bin Ladin would be spending the 
night at the Haji Habash house, part of the governor's residence in Kanda- 
har.The chief of the Bin Ladin unit, "Mike," told us that he promptly briefed 
Tenet and his deputy, John Gordon. From the field, the CIA's Gary Schroen 
advised: "Hit him tonight — we may not get another chance." An urgent tele- 
conference of principals was arranged, n^ 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 131 

The principals considered a cruise missile strike to try to kill Bin Ladin. One 
issue they discussed ^vas the potential collateral damage — the number of inno- 
cent bystanders who would be killed or wounded. General Zinni predicted a 
number well over 200 and was concerned about damage to a nearby mosque. 
The senior intelligence officer on the Joint Staff apparently made a different 
calculation, estimating half as much collateral damage and not predicting dam- 
age to the mosque. By the end of the meeting, the principals decided against 
recommending to the President that he order a strike. A few weeks later, in Jan- 
uary 1999, Clarke -wrote that the principals had thought the intelligence only 
half reliable and had worried about killing or injuring perhaps 300 people. 
Tenet said he remembered doubts about the reliability of the source and con- 
cern about hitting the nearby mosque. "Mike" remembered Tenet telling him 
that the military was concerned that a fe^v hours had passed since the last sight- 
ing of Bin Ladin and that this persuaded everyone that the chance of failure 
was too great. 118 

Some lo^ver-level officials were angry. "Mike" reported to Schroen that he 
had been unable to sleep after this decision. "I'm sure ^ve'll regret not acting 
last night," he wrote, criticizing the principals for "worrying that some stray 
shrapnel might hit the Habash mosque and 'offend' Muslims." He commented 
that they had not sho^vn comparable sensitivity ^vhen deciding to bomb Mus- 
lims in Iraq. The principals, he said, were "obsessed" with trying to get oth- 
ers — Saudis, Pakistanis, Afghan tribals — to "do what we won't do." Schroen was 
disappointed too. "We should have done it last night," he wrote. "We may well 
come to regret the decision not to go ahead.''^^' The Joint Staff's deputy direc- 
tor for operations agreed, even though he told us that later intelligence 
appeared to show that Bin Ladin had left his quarters before the strike would 
have occurred. Missing Bin Ladin, he said, "would have caused us a hell of a 
problem, but it ^vas a shot we should have taken, and we ^vould have had to 
pay the price." '^o 

The principals began considering other, more aggressive covert alternatives 
using the tribals. CIA officers suggested that the tribals would prefer to try a 
raid rather than a roadside ambush because they would have better control, it 
would be less dangerous, and it played more to their skills and experience. But 
everyone knew that if the tribals were to conduct such a raid, guns would be 
blazing. The current Memorandum of Notification instructed the CIA to cap- 
ture Bin Ladin and to use lethal force only in self-defense.Work now began on 
a new memorandum that would give the tribals more latitude. The intention 
was to say that they could use lethal force if the attempted capture seemed 
impossible to complete successfully. '-^ 

Early drafts of this highly sensitive document emphasized that it authorized 
only a capture operation.The tribals were to be paid only if they captured Bin 
Ladin, not if they killed him. Officials throughout the government approved 
this draft. But on December 21, the day after principals decided not to launch 



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132 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

the cruise missile strike against Kandahar, the CIA's leaders urged strengthen- 
ing the language to allo^v the tribals to be paid whether Bin Ladin -was cap- 
tured or killed. Berger and Tenet then worked together to take this line of 
thought even further. ^-^ 

They finally agreed, as Berger reported to President Clinton, that an 
extraordinary step was necessary. The new memorandum would allo\¥ the 
killing of Bin Ladin if the CIA and the tribals judged that capture was not fea- 
sible (a judgment it already seemed clear they had reached). The Justice 
Department lawyer who worked on the draft told us that what was envisioned 
was a group of tribals assaulting a location, leading to a shoot-out. Bin Ladin 
and others would be captured if possible, but probably would be killed. The 
administration's position was that under the law of armed conflict, killing a 
person who posed an imminent threat to the United States would be an act 
of self-defense, not an assassination. On Christmas Eve 1998, Berger sent a final 
draft to President Clinton, with an explanatory memo. The President 
approved the document. '^3 

Because the White House considered this operation highly sensitive, only a 
tiny number of people knew about this Memorandum of Notification. Berger 
arranged for the NSC's legal adviser to inform Albright, Cohen, Shelton, and 
Reno. None was allowed to keep a copy. Congressional leaders were briefed, as 
required by law. Attorney General Reno had sent a letter to the President 
expressing her concern: she warned of possible retaliation, including the tar- 
geting of U.S. ofliicials. She did not pose any legal objection. A copy of the final 
document, along with the carefully crafted instructions that were to be sent to 
the tribals, was given to Tenet. 1^4 

A message from Tenet to CIA field agents directed them to communicate 
to the tribals the instructions authorized by the President: the United States 
preferred that Bin Ladin and his lieutenants be captured, but if a successful cap- 
ture operation was not feasible, the tribals were permitted to kill them. The 
instructions added that the tribals must avoid killing others unnecessarily and 
must not kill or abuse Bin Ladin or his lieutenants if they surrendered. Finally, 
the tribals would not be paid if this set of requirements was not met.^-^ 

The field officer passed these instructions to the tribals word for word. But 
he prefaced the directions with a message:"Froni the American President down 
to the average man in the street, we want him [Bin Ladin] stopped." If the trib- 
als captured Bin Ladin, the officer assured them that he would receive a fair 
trial under U.S. law and be treated humanely. The CIA oflScer reported that 
the tribals said they "fully understand the contents, implications and the spirit 
of the message" and that that their response was, "We will try our best to cap- 
ture Bin Ladin alive and will have no intention of killing or harming him on 
purpose." The tribals explained that they wanted to prove that their standards 
of behavior were more civilized than those of Bin Ladin and his band of ter- 
rorists. In an additional note addressed to Schroen, the tribals noted that if they 
were to adopt Bin Ladin 's ethics, "we would have finished the job long before," 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 133 

but they had been limited by their abilities and "by our beliefs and laws we 
have to respect." 1^6 

Schroen and "Mike" -were impressed by the tribals' reaction. Schroen cabled 
that the tribals Avere not in it for the money but as an investment in the future 
of Afghanistan. "Mike" agreed that the tribals' reluctance to kill was not a 
"showstopper." "From our view," he wrote, "that seems in character and fair 
enough."i27 

Policymakers in the Clinton administration, including the President and his 
national security advisor, told us that the President's intent regarding covert 
action against Bin Ladin was clear: he wanted him dead. This intent was never 
well communicated or understood within the CIA. Tenet told the Commis- 
sion that except in one specific case (discussed later), the CIA was authorized 
to kill Bin Ladin only in the context of a capture operation. CIA senior man- 
agers, operators, and lawyers confirmed this understanding. "We al^vays talked 
about how much easier it would have been to kill him," a former chief of the 
Bin Ladin unit said. 128 

In February 1999, another draft Memorandum of Notification went to Pres- 
ident Clinton. It asked him to allow the CIA to give exactly the same guidance 
to the Northern Alliance as had just been given to the tribals: they could kill 
Bin Ladin if a successful capture operation was not feasible. On this occasion, 
however. President Clinton crossed out key language he had approved in 
December and inserted more ambiguous language. No one we interviewed 
could shed light on ^vhy the President did this. President Clinton told the Com- 
mission that he had no recollection of why he rewrote the language. 1^9 

Later in 1999, when legal authority was needed for enlisting still other col- 
laborators and for covering a wider set of contingencies, the lawyers returned 
to the language used in August 1998, ^vhich authorized force only in the con- 
text of a capture operation. Given the closely held character of the document 
approved in December 1998, and the subsequent return to the earlier language, 
it is possible to understand how the former White House officials and the CIA 
oflScials might disagree as to ^vhether the CIA ^vas ever authorized by the Pres- 
ident to kiU Bin Ladin. "o 

The dispute turned out to be some^vhat academic, as the limits of available 
legal authority were not tested. Clarke commented to Berger that "despite 
'expanded' authority for CIA's sources to engage in direct action, they have 
sho\vn no inclination to do so." He added that it was his impression that the 
CIA thought the tribals unlikely to act against Bin Ladin and hence relying on 
them was "unrealistic." '^^ Events seemed to bear him out, since the tribals did 
not stage an attack on Bin Ladin or his associates during 1999. 

The tribals remained active collectors of intelligence, ho\vever, providing 
good but not predictive information about Bin Ladin 's whereabouts. The CIA 
also tried to improve its intelligence reporting on Bin Ladin by what Tenet's 
assistant director for collection, the indefatigable Charles Allen, called an "all- 
out, all-agency, seven-days-a-week" effort. i-'^ The effort might have had an 



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134 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

effect. On January 12, 1999, Clarke ^vrote Berger that the CIA's confidence in 
the tribals' reporting had increased. It was no^v higher than it had been on 
December 20.133 

In February 1999, Allen proposed flying a U-2 mission over Afghanistan to 
build a baseline of intelligence outside the areas ^vhere the tribals had cover- 
age. Clarke was nervous about such a mission because he continued to fear that 
Bin Ladin might leave for someplace less accessible. He wrote Deputy National 
Security Advisor Donald Kerrick that one reliable source reported Bin Ladin 's 
having met with Iraqi officials, who "may have offered him asylum." Other 
intelligence sources said that some Taliban leaders, though not Mullah Omar, 
had urged Bin Ladin to go to Iraq. If Bin Ladin actually moved to Iraq, wrote 
Clarke, his network would be at Saddam Hussein s service, and it would be "vir- 
tually impossible" to find him. Better to get Bin Ladin in Afghanistan, Clarke 
declared. 134 Berger suggested sending one U-2 flight, but Clarke opposed even 
this. It would require Pakistani approval, he wrote; and "Pak[istan's] 
intelligence service] is in bed with" Bin Ladin and would warn him that the 
United States was getting ready for a bombing campaign: "Armed with that 
knowledge, old wily Usama will likely boogie to Baghdad."i35'j'hough told also 
by Bruce Riedel of the NSC staff that Saddam Hussein wanted Bin Ladin in 
Baghdad, Berger conditionally authorized a single U-2 flight. Allen meanwhile 
had found other ways of getting the information he wanted. So the U-2 flight 
never occurred. ^36 



4.5 SEARCHING FOR FRESH OPTIONS 

"Boots on the Ground?" 

Starting on the day the August 1998 strikes were launched. General Shelton 
had issued a planning order to prepare follow-on strikes and think beyond just 
using cruise missiles. '37 The initial strikes had been called Operation Infinite 
Reach. The follow-on plans were given the code name Operation Infinite 
Resolve. 

At the time, any actual military action in Afghanistan would have been car- 
ried out by General Zinni's Central Command. This command was therefore 
the locus for most military planning. Zinni was even less enthusiastic than 
Cohen and Shelton about follow-on cruise missile strikes. He knew that the 
Tomahawks did not always hit their targets. After the August 20 strikes. Presi- 
dent Clinton had had to call Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif to apologize for 
a wayward missile that had killed several people in a Pakistani village. Sharif 
had been understanding, while commenting on American "overkill."i38 

Zinni feared that Bin Ladin would in the future locate himself in cities, 
where U.S. missiles could kill thousands of Afghans. He worried also lest Pak- 
istani authorities not get adequate warning, think the missiles came from India, 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 135 

and do something that everyone -would later regret. Discussing potential reper- 
cussions in the region of his military responsibility, Zinni said, "It was easy to 
take the shot from Washington and walk away from it. We had to live there."!-'' 

Zinni's distinct preference would have been to build up counterterrorism 
capabilities in neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan. But he told us that 
he could not drum up much interest in or money for such a purpose from 
Washington, partly, he thought, because these countries had dictatorial govern- 
ments. I'^o 

After the decision — in which fear of collateral damage ^vas an important fac- 
tor — not to use cruise missiles against Kandahar in December 1998, Shelton 
and officers in the Pentagon developed plans for using an AC-130 gunship 
instead of cruise missile strikes. Designed specifically for the special forces, the 
version of the AC-130 known as"Spooky" can fly in fast or from high altitude, 
undetected by radar; guided to its zone by extraordinarily complex electron- 
ics, it is capable of rapidly firing precision-guided 25, 40, and 105 mm projec- 
tiles. Because this system could target more precisely than a salvo of cruise 
missiles, it had a much lo\ver risk of causing collateral damage. After giving 
Clarke a briefing and being encouraged to proceed, Shelton formally directed 
Zinni and General Peter Schoomaker, ^vho headed the Special Operations 
Command, to develop plans for an AC-130 mission against Bin Ladin's head- 
quarters and infrastructure in Afghanistan. The Joint Staff prepared a decision 
paper for deployment of the Special Operations aircraft. ^^^ 

Though Berger and Clarke continued to indicate interest in this option, the 
AC- 130s were never deployed. Clarke wrote at the time that Zinni opposed 
their use, and John Maher, the Joint Stafii"'s deputy director of operations, agreed 
that this was Zinni's position. Zinni himself does not recall blocking the option. 
He told us that he understood the Special Operations Command had never 
thought the intelligence good enough to justify actually movingAC-130s into 
position. Schoomaker says, on the contrary, that he thought the AC-130 option 
feasible. i« 

The most likely explanation for the two generals' differing recollections is 
that both of them thought serious preparation for any such operations would 
require a long-term redeployment of Special Operations forces to the Middle 
East or South Asia. The AC- 130s would need bases because the aircraft's unre- 
fueled range was only a little over 2,000 miles. They needed search-and-rescue 
backup, which \vould have still less range. Thus an AC-130 deployment had to 
be embedded in a wider political and military concept involving Pakistan or 
other neighboring countries to address issues relating to basing and overflight. 
No one ever put such an initiative on the table. Zinni therefore cautioned about 
simply ordering up AC-130 deployments for a quick strike; Schoomaker 
planned for what he sa\v as a practical strike option; and the underlying issues 
were not fully engaged. The Joint Stafli" decision paper was never turned into 
an interagency policy paper. 



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136 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

The same ^vas true for the option of using ground units from the Special 
Operations Command. Within the command, some officers — such as 
Schoomaker — ^wanted the mission of "putting boots on the ground" to get at 
Bin Ladin and al Qaeda. At the time. Special Operations ^vas designated as a 
"supporting command," not a "supported command": that is, it supported a 
theater commander and did not prepare its own plans for dealing with al 
Qaeda. Schoomaker proposed to Shelton and Cohen that Special Operations 
become a supported command, but the proposal was not adopted. Had it been 
accepted, he says, he Avould have taken on the al Qaeda mission instead of defer- 
ring to Zinni. Lieutenant General William Boykin, the current deputy under 
secretary of defense for intelligence and a founding member of Delta Force, 
told us that "opportunities \vere missed because of an un\villingness to take risks 
and a lack of vision and understanding." ^'^^ 

President Clinton relied on the advice of General Shelton, ^vho informed 
him that ^vithout intelligence on Bin Ladin's location, a commando raid's 
chance of failure was high. Shelton told President Clinton he would go for- 
ward with "boots on the ground" if the President ordered him to do so; how- 
ever, he had to ensure that the President \vas completely aware of the large 
logistical problems inherent in a military operation, i'*'* 

The Special Operations plans ^vere apparently conceived as another quick 
strike option — an option to insert forces after the United States received 
actionable intelligence. President Clinton told the Commission that "if we had 
had really good intelligence about . . . where [Usama Bin Ladin] was, 1 would 
have done it." Zinni and Schoomaker did make preparations for possible very 
high risk in-and-out operations to capture or kill terrorists. Cohen told the 
Commission that the notion of putting military personnel on the ground with- 
out some reasonable certitude that Bin Ladin was in a particular location would 
have resulted in the mission's failure and the loss of life in a fruitless effort. ^^^ 
None of these officials ^vas aware of the ambitious plan developed months ear- 
lier by lower-level Defense officials. 

In our interviews, some military officers repeatedly invoked the analogy of 
Desert One and the failed 1980 hostage rescue mission in Iran. ^^^ They were 
dubious about a quick strike approach to using Special Operations Forces, 
which they thought complicated and risky. Such efforts would have required 
bases in the region, but all the options were unappealing. Pro-Taliban elements 
of Pakistan's military might warn Bin Ladin or his associates of pending oper- 
ations. With nearby basing options limited, an alternative was to fly from ships 
in the Arabian Sea or from land bases in the Persian Gulf, as was done after 
9/11. Such operations would then have to be supported from long distances, 
overflying the airspace of nations that might not have been supportive or a\vare 
of U.S. efforts.147 

However, if these hurdles were addressed, and if the military could then 
operate regularly in the region for a long period, perhaps clandestinely, it might 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 137 

attempt to gather intelligence and wait for an opportunity. One Special Oper- 
ations commander said his vie\¥ of actionable intelligence ^vas that if you "give 
me the action, I will give you the intelligence." i'*^ But this course would still 
be risky, in light both of the difficulties already mentioned and of the danger 
that U.S. operations might fail disastrously. We have found no evidence that such 
a long-term political-military approach for using Special Operations Forces in 
the region was proposed to or analyzed by the Small Group, even though such 
capability had been honed for at least a decade within the Defense Depart- 
ment. 

Therefore the debate looked to some like bold proposals from civilians 
meeting hypercaution from the military. Clarke saw it this ^vay. Of the military, 
he said to us, "They were very, very, very reluctant." ''*' But from another per- 
spective, poorly informed proposals for bold action were pitted against expe- 
rienced professional judgment. That was how Secretary of Defense Cohen 
viewed it. He said to us: "I would have to place my judgment call in terms of, 
do I believe that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, former commander of Spe- 
cial Forces command, is in a better position to make a judgment on the feasi- 
bility of this than, perhaps, Mr. Clarke?"i50 

Beyond a large-scale political-military commitment to build up a covert or 
clandestine capability using American personnel on the ground, either military 
or CIA, there was a still larger option that could have been considered — invad- 
ing Afghanistan itself. Every official ^ve questioned about the possibility of an 
invasion of Afghanistan said that it was almost unthinkable, absent a provoca- 
tion such as 9/11 , because of poor prospects for cooperation from Pakistan and 
other nations and because they believed the public would not support it. Cruise 
missiles ^vere and would remain the only military option on the table. 

The Desert Camp, February 1999 

Early in 1999, the CIA received reporting that Bin Ladin was spending much 
of his time at one of several camps in the Afghan desert south of Kandahar. At 
the beginning of February, Bin Ladin \vas reportedly located in the vicinity of 
the Sheikh Ali camp, a desert hunting camp being used by visitors from a Gulf 
state. Public sources have stated that these visitors were from the United Arab 
Emirates. 151 

Reporting from the CIA's assets provided a detailed description of the hunt- 
ing camp, including its size, location, resources, and security, as well as of Bin 
Ladin 's smaller, adjacent camp. ^ 5- Because this was not in an urban area, mis- 
siles launched against it would have less risk of causing collateral damage. On 
February 8, the military began to ready itself for a possible strike. 1^3 The next 
day, national technical intelligence confirmed the location and description of 
the larger camp and showed the nearby presence of an official aircraft of the 
United Arab Emirates. But the location of Bin Ladin 's quarters could not be 
pinned down so precisely. i54Xhe CIA did its best to answer a host of questions 



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138 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

about the larger camp and its residents and about Bin Ladin's daily schedule 
and routines to support military contingency planning. According to report- 
ing from the tribals, Bin Ladin regularly went from his adjacent camp to the 
larger camp where he visited the Emiratis; the tribals expected him to be at the 
hunting camp for such a visit at least until midniorning on February IIJ^^ 
Clarke ^vrote to Berger's deputy on February 10 that the military was then 
doing targeting work to hit the main camp with cruise missiles and should be 
in position to strike the following morning. 1^6 Speaker of the House Dennis 
Hastert appears to have been briefed on the situation. 1^7 

No strike ^vas launched. By February 12 Bin Ladin had apparently moved 
on, and the immediate strike plans became moot. 1^8 According to CIA and 
Defense ofEcials, policymakers were concerned about the danger that a strike 
would kiU an Emirati prince or other senior officials ^vho might be ^vith Bin 
Ladin or close by. Clarke told us the strike was called ofli" after consultations with 
Director Tenet because the intelligence ^vas dubious, and it seemed to Clarke 
as if the CIA was presenting an option to attack America's best counterterror- 
ism ally in the Gulf. The lead CIA official in the field, Gary Schroen, felt that 
the intelligence reporting in this case was very reliable; the Bin Ladin unit chief, 
"Mike," agreed. Schroen believes today that this was a lost opportunity to kill 
Bin Ladin before 9/11.159 

Even after Bin Ladin's departure from the area, CIA officers hoped he might 
return, seeing the camp as a magnet that could dra^v him for as long as it was 
still set up.The military maintained readiness for another strike opportunity. ii^" 
On March 7, 1999, Clarke called a UAE official to express his concerns about 
possible associations bet^veen Emirati officials and Bin Ladin. Clarke later wrote 
in a memorandum of this conversation that the call had been approved at an 
interagency meeting and cleared ^vith the CIA. ^^^ When the former Bin Ladin 
unit chief found out about Clarke's call, he questioned CIA officials, who 
denied having given such a clearance. i*^- Imagery confirmed that less than a 
week after Clarke's phone call the camp ^vas hurriedly dismantled, and the site 
was deserted. 1 1^3 CIA officers, including Deputy Director for Operations 
Pavitt, were irate. "Mike" thought the dismantling of the camp erased a possi- 
ble site for targeting Bin Ladin. ^'^'^ 

The United Arab Emirates was becoming both a valued counterterrorism 
ally of the United States and a persistent counterterrorism problem. From 1999 
through early 2001, the United States, and President Clinton personally, pressed 
the UAE, one of the Taliban's only travel and financial outlets to the outside 
world, to break off its ties and enforce sanctions, especially those relating to 
flights to and from Afghanistan. I'^^'phese efforts achieved little before 9/11. 

In July 1999, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hamdan bin Zayid 
threatened to break relations ^vith the Taliban over Bin Ladin.^i^* The Taliban 
did not take him seriously, ho\vever. Bin Zayid later told an American diplo- 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 139 

mat that the UAE valued its relations with theXaliban because the Afghan rad- 
icals offered a counterbalance to "Iranian dangers" in the region, but he also 
noted that the UAE did not want to upset the United States. ^'^^ 

Looking for New Partners 

Although not all CIA officers had lost faith in the tribals' capabilities — many 
judged them to be good reporters — few believed they would carry out an 
ambush of Bin Ladin.The chief of the Counterterrorist Center compared rely- 
ing on the tribals to playing the lottery. i'^^ He and his associates, supported by 
Clarke, pressed for developing a partnership with the Northern Alliance, even 
though doing so might bring the United States squarely behind one side in 
Afghanistan's long-running civil war. 

The Northern Alliance was dominated by Tajiks and drew its strength 
mainly from the northern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. In contrast, Taliban 
members came principally from Afghanistan's most numerous ethnic group, the 
Pashtuns, who are concentrated in the southern part of the country, extending 
into the North- West Frontier and Baluchistan provinces of Pakistan, i*' 

Because of the Taliban's behavior and its association with Pakistan, the 
Northern Alliance had been able at various times to obtain assistance from 
Russia, Iran, and India. The alliance's leader was Afghanistan's most renowned 
military commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud. Reflective and charismatic, he had 
been one of the true heroes of the \var against the Soviets. But his bands had 
been charged ^vith more than one massacre, and the Northern Alliance was 
widely thought to finance itself in part through trade in heroin. Nor had Mas- 
soud shown much aptitude for governing except as a ruthless warlord. Never- 
theless, Tenet told us Massoud seemed the most interesting possible new ally 
against Bin Ladin.^^o 

In February 1999, Tenet sought President Clinton's authorization to enlist 
Massoud and his forces as partners. In response to this request, the President 
signed the Memorandum of Notification whose language he personally 
altered. Tenet says he saw no significance in the President's changes. So far as 
he was concerned, it was the language of August 1998, expressing a preference 
for capture but accepting the possibility that Bin Ladin could not be brought 
out alive. "We were plowing the same ground," Tenet said.^^i 

CIA officers described Massoud's reaction when he heard that the United 
States wanted him to capture and not kill Bin Ladin. One characterized Mas- 
soud's body language as "a wince." Schroen recalled Massoud's response as "You 
guys are crazy — you haven't changed a bit." In Schroen's opinion, the capture 
proviso inhibited Massoud and his forces from going after Bin Ladin but did 
not completely stop them.i^^xhe idea, however, ^vas a long shot. Bin Ladin's 
usual base of activity was near Kandahar, far from the front lines ofTaliban oper- 
ations against the Northern Alliance. 



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140 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Kandahar, May 1999 

It was in Kandahar that perhaps the last, and most likely the best, opportunity 
arose for targeting Bin Ladin with cruise missiles before 9/11. In May 1999, 
CIA assets in Afghanistan reported on Bin Ladin 's location in and around Kan- 
dahar over the course of five days and nights. The reporting was very detailed 
and came from several sources. If this intelligence was not "actionable," 
working-level officials said at the time and today, it was hard for them to imag- 
ine how any intelligence on Bin Ladin in Afghanistan would meet the stan- 
dard. Communications were good, and the cruise missiles were ready."This was 
in our strike zone," a senior military officer said. "It was a fat pitch, a home 
run." He expected the missiles to fly When the decision came back that they 
should stand do^vn, not shoot, the officer said, "we all just slumped." He told 
us he knew of no one at the Pentagon or the CIA who thought it was a bad 
gamble. Bin Ladin "should have been a dead man" that night, he said. '^^ 

Working-level CIA officials agreed. While there was a conflicting intelli- 
gence report about Bin Ladin s whereabouts, the experts discounted it. At the 
time, CIA working-level officials were told by their managers that the strikes 
were not ordered because the military doubted the intelligence and ^vorried 
about collateral damage. Replying to a frustrated colleague in the field, the Bin 
Ladin unit chief wrote: "having a chance to get [Bin Ladin] three times in 36 
hours and foregoing the chance each time has made me a bit angry. . . . [T]he 
DCI finds himself alone at the table, \vith the other princip[als] basically say- 
ing 'we'll go along with your decision Mr. Director,' and implicitly saying that 
the Agency will hang alone if the attack doesn't get Bin Ladin." i^"* But the mil- 
itary officer quoted earlier recalled that the Pentagon had been ^villing to act. 
He told us that Clarke informed him and others that Tenet assessed the chance 
of the intelligence being accurate as 50—50. This officer believed that Tenet's 
assessment was the key to the decision. ^^^ 

Tenet told us he does not remember any details about this episode, except 
that the intelligence came from a single uncorroborated source and that there 
was a risk of collateral damage. The story is further complicated by Tenet's 
absence from the critical principals meeting on this strike (he was apparently 
out of town); his deputy, John Gordon, was representing the CIA. Gordon 
recalled having presented the intelligence in a positive light, ^vith appropriate 
caveats, but stating that this intelligence was about as good as it could get.^^*^ 

Berger remembered only that in all such cases, the call had been Tenet's. 
Berger felt sure that Tenet was eager to get Bin Ladin. In his view. Tenet did 
his job responsibly. "George would call and say, 'We just don't have it,'" Berger 
said. 177 

The decision not to strike in May 1999 may now seem hard to understand. 
In fairness, we note two points: First, in December 1998, the principals' ^vari- 
ness about ordering a strike appears to have been vindicated: Bin Ladin left his 
room unexpectedly, and if a strike had been ordered he would not have been 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 141 

hit. Second, the administration, and the CIA in particular, was in the midst of 
intense scrutiny and criticism in May 1999 because faulty intelligence hadjust 
led the United States to mistakenly bomb the Chinese embassy in Belgrade 
during the NATO ^var against Serbia. This episode may have made officials 
more cautious than might otherwise have been the case.^^^ 

From May 1999 until September 2001, policymakers did not again actively 
consider a missile strike against Bin Ladin.^^'The principals did give some fur- 
ther consideration in 1999 to more general strikes, reviving Clarke's "Delenda" 
notion of hitting camps and infrastructure to disrupt al Qaeda's organization. 
In the first months of 1999, the Joint Staffhad developed broader target lists to 
undertake a "focused campaign" against the infrastructure of Bin Ladin's net- 
work and to hit Taliban government sites as well. General Shelton told us that 
the Taliban targets were "easier" to hit and more substantially^' 

Part of the context for considering broader strikes in the summer of 1999 
was renewed worry about Bin Ladin's ambitions to acquire weapons of mass 
destruction. In May and June, the U.S. government received a flurry of omi- 
nous reports, including more information about chemical weapons training or 
development at the Derunta camp and possible attempts to amass nuclear mate- 
rial at Herat. 181 

By late June, U.S. and other intelligence services had concluded that al 
Qaeda was in pre-attack mode, perhaps again involving Abu Hafs the Mauri- 
tanian. On June 25, at Clarke's request, Berger convened the Small Group in 
his office to discuss the alert. Bin Ladin's WMD programs, and his location. 
"Should we pre-empt by attacking UBL facilities?" Clarke urged Berger to ask 
his colleagues. 182 

In his hand^vritten notes on the meeting paper, Berger jotted down the pres- 
ence of 7 to 11 fannlies in theTarnak Farms facility, which could mean 60—65 
casualties. Berger noted the possible "slight impact" on Bin Ladin and added, 
"if he responds, we're blamed." 1*3 xhe NSC staff raised the option of waiting 
until after a terrorist attack, and then retaliating, including possible strikes on 
the Taliban. But Clarke observed that Bin Ladin \vould probably empty his 
camps after an attack. 1^4 

The military route seemed to have reached a dead end. In December 1999, 
Clarke urged Berger to ask the principals to ask themselves: "Why have there 
been no real options lately for direct US military action?"i85 There are no notes 
recording whether the question was discussed or, if it ^vas, how it was answered. 

Reports of possible attacks by Bin Ladin kept coming in throughout 1999. 
They included a threat to blow up the FBI building in Washington, D.C. In 
September, the CSG revie\ved a possible threat to a flight out of Los Angeles 
or NewYork. 186 These warnings came amid dozens of others that flooded in. 

With military and diplomatic options practically exhausted by the sum- 
mer of 1999, the U.S. government seemed to be back where it had been in 
the summer of 1998 — relying on the CIA to find some other option. That 



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142 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

picture also seemed discouraging. Several disruptions and renditions aimed 
against the broader al Qaeda network had succeeded. i*^ But covert action 
efforts in Afghanistan had not been fruitful. 

In niid-1999, new leaders arrived at the Counterterrorist Center and the 
Bin Ladin unit. The ne\v director of CTC, replacing "Jeff" was Cofer Black. 
The new head of the section that included the Bin Ladin unit was "Richard." 
Black, "Richard," and their colleagues began working on a ne\v operational 
strategy for attacking al Qaeda; their starting point was to get better intelli- 
gence, relying more on the CIA's own sources and less on the tribals.^^^ 

In July 1999, President Clinton authorized the CIA to work with several 
governments to capture Bin Ladin, and extended the scope of efforts to Bin 
Ladin 's principal lieutenants. The President reportedly also authorized a covert 
action under carefully limited circumstances which, if successful, would have 
resulted in Bin Ladin 's death. ^^^ Attorney General Reno again expressed con- 
cerns on policy grounds. She ^vas worried about the danger of retaliation. The 
CIA also developed the short-lived effort to work with a Pakistani team that 
we discussed earlier, and an initiative to work with Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks 
needed basic equipment and training. No action could be expected before 
March 2000, at the earliest.i^o 

In fall 1999, DCI Tenet unveiled the CIA's new Bin Ladin strategy. It was 
called, simply, "the Plan."The Plan proposed continuing disruption and rendi- 
tion operations worldwide. It announced a program for hiring and training bet- 
ter officers with counterterrorism skills, recruiting more assets, and trying to 
penetrate al Qaeda 's ranks. The Plan aimed to close gaps in technical intelli- 
gence collection (signal and imagery) as well. In addition, the CIA would 
increase contacts ^vith the Northern Alliance rebels fighting the Taliban. ^'^ 

With a new operational strategy, the CIA evaluated its capture options. None 
scored high marks. The CIA had no confidence in the Pakistani effort. In the 
event that Bin Ladin traveled to the Kandahar region in southern Afghanistan, 
the tribal network there \vas unlikely to attack a heavily guarded Bin Ladin; the 
Counterterrorist Center rated the chance of success at less than 10 percent. To 
the northwest, the Uzbeks might be ready for a cross-border sortie in six 
months; their chance of success was also rated at less than 10 percent. ^''^ 

In the northeast were Massoud's Northern Alliance forces — ^perhaps the 
CIA's best option. In late October, a group of officers from the Counterter- 
rorist Center fle^v into the Panjshir Valley to meet up with Massoud, a haz- 
ardous journey in rickety helicopters that would be repeated several times in 
the future. Massoud appeared committed to helping the United States collect 
intelligence on Bin La din's activities and whereabouts and agreed to try to cap- 
ture him if the opportunity arose. The Bin Ladin unit \vas satisfied that its 
reporting on Bin Ladin would no\v have a second source. But it also knew that 
Massoud would act against Bin Ladin only if his o^vn interests and those of the 



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RESPONSES TO AL QAEDA'S INITIAL ASSAULTS 143 

United States intersected. By early December, the CIA rated this possibility at 
less than 15 percent, i'-* 

Finally, the CIA considered the possibility of putting U.S. personnel on the 
ground in Afghanistan. The CIA had been discussing this option with Special 
Operations Command and found enthusiasm on the working level but reluc- 
tance at higher levels. CIA saw a 95 percent chance of Special Operations 
Command forces capturing Bin Ladin if deployed — but less than a 5 percent 
chance of such a deployment. Sending CIA officers into Afghanistan was to be 
considered "if the gain clearly out\veighs the risk" — but at this time no such 
gains presented themselves to ^varrant the risk.i'^ 

As mentioned earlier, such a protracted deployment of U.S. Special Opera- 
tions Forces into Afghanistan, perhaps as part of a team joined to a deployment 
of the CIA's o^vn officers, would have required a major policy initiative (prob- 
ably combined with efforts to secure the support of at least one or two neigh- 
boring countries) to make a long-term commitment, establish a durable 
presence on the ground, and be prepared to accept the associated risks and 
costs. Such a military plan was never developed for interagency consideration 
before 9/ 11. As 1999 came to a close, the CIA had a new strategic plan in place 
for capturing Bin Ladin, but no option was rated as having more than a 1 5 per- 
cent chance of achieving that objective. 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE 
AMERICAN HOMELAND 

5.1 TERRORIST ENTREPRENEURS 

By early 1999, al Qaeda ^vas already a potent adversary of the United States. 
Bin Ladin and his chief of operations, Abu Hafs al Masri, also kno^vn as 
Mohammed Atef, occupied undisputed leadership positions atop al Qaeda's 
organizational structure. Within this structure, al Qaeda's -world-wide terrorist 
operations relied heavily on the ideas and ^vork of enterprising and strong- 
wiUed field commanders who enjoyed considerable autonomy. To understand 
how the organization actually worked and to introduce the origins of the 9/11 
plot, we briefly examine three of these subordinate commanders: Khalid Sheikh 
Mohammed (KSM), Riduan Isamuddin (better known as Hambali), and Abd 
al Rahim al Nashiri. We ^vill devote the most attention to Khalid Sheikh 
Mohammed, the chief manager of the "planes operation." 

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 

No one exemplifies the model of the terrorist entrepreneur more clearly than 
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks. KSM 
followed a rather tortuous path to his eventual membership in al Qaeda. i 
Highly educated and equally comfortable in a government office or a terror- 
ist safehouse, KSM applied his imagination, technical aptitude, and managerial 
skills to hatching and planning an extraordinary array of terrorist schemes. 
These ideas included conventional car bombing, political assassination, aircraft 
bombing, hijacking, reservoir poisoning, and, ultimately, the use of aircraft as 
missiles guided by suicide operatives. 

Like his nephew RamziYousef (three years KSM's junior), KSM grew up 
in Kuwait but traces his ethnic lineage to the Baluchistan region straddling Iran 
and Pakistan. Raised in a religious family, KSM claims to have joined the Mus- 
lim Brotherhood at age 16 and to have become enamored of violent jihad at 
youth camps in the desert. In 1983, following his graduation from secondary 

145 



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THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 



Detainee Interrogation Reports 

Chapters 5 and 7 rely heavily on information obtained from captured al 
Qaeda members. A number of these "detainees" have firsthand knowl- 
edge of the 9/11 plot. 

Assessing the truth of statements by these witnesses — sworn enemies 
of the United States — is challenging. Our access to them has been 
limited to the review of intelligence reports based on communications 
received from the locations where the actual interrogations take place. 
We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no con- 
trol over ^vhether, when, or how questions of particular interest would 
be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we 
could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambigui- 
ties in the reporting. We were told that our requests might disrupt the 
sensitive interrogation process. 

We have nonetheless decided to include information from captured 
9/11 conspirators and al Qaeda members in our report. We have evalu- 
ated their statements carefully and have attempted to corroborate them 
with documents and statements of others. In this report, we indicate 
where such statements provide the foundation for our narrative. We have 
been authorized to identify by name only ten detainees whose custody 
has been confirmed officially by the U.S. government." 



school, KSM left Kuwait to enroll at Chowan College, a small Baptist school 
in Murfreesboro, North Carolina. After a semester at Cho\van, KSM transferred 
to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, 
which he attended with Yousef 's brother, another future al Qaeda member. 
KSM earned a degree in mechanical engineering in December 1986.^ 

Although he apparently did not attract attention for extreme Islamist beliefs 
or activities while in the United States, KSM plunged into the anti-Soviet 
Afghan jihad soon after graduating from college. Visiting Pakistan for the first 
time in early 1987, he traveled to Peshawar, where his brother Zahid introduced 
him to the famous Afghan mujahid Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, head of the Hizbul- 
Ittihad El-Islami (Islamic Union Party). Sayyaf became KSM's mentor and pro- 
vided KSM with military training at Sayyaf 's Sada camp. KSM claims he then 
fought the Soviets and remained at the front for three months before being 
summoned to perform administrative duties for Abdullah Azzani. KSM next 
took a job ^vorking for an electronics firm that catered to the communications 
needs of Afghan groups, where he learned about drills used to excavate caves 
in Afghanistan. '^ 

Between 1988 and 1992, KSM helped run a nongovernmental organization 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 147 

(NGO) in Peshawar and Jalalabad; sponsored by Sayyaf, it ^vas designed to aid 
young Afghan mujahideen. In 1992, KSM spent some time fighting alongside 
the mujahideen in Bosnia and supporting that effort ^vith financial donations. 
After returning briefly to Pakistan, he moved his family to Qatar at the sug- 
gestion of the former minister of Islamic affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Abdallah bin 
Khalid bin Hamad alThani. KSM took a position in Qatar as project engineer 
with the Qatari Ministry of Electricity and Water. Although he engaged in 
extensive international travel during his tenure at the ministry — much of it in 
fiirtherance of terrorist activity — KSM would hold his position there until early 
1996, when he fled to Pakistan to avoid capture by U.S. authorities. ^ 

KSM first came to the attention of U.S. law enforcement as a result of his 
cameo role in the first World Trade Center bombing. According to KSM, he 
learned of RamziYousef s intention to launch an attack inside the United States 
in 1991 or 1 992, when Yousef^vas receiving explosives training in Afghanistan. 
During the fall of 1992, while Yousef was building the bomb he would use in 
that attack, KSM and Yousef had numerous telephone conversations during 
which Yousef discussed his progress and sought additional funding. On 
November 3, 1992, KSM wired $660 from Qatar to the bank account of 
Yousef's co-conspirator, Mohammed Salameh. KSM does not appear to have 
contributed any more substantially to this operation.* 

Yousef's instant notoriety as the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Cen- 
ter bombing inspired KSM to become involved in planning attacks against the 
United States. By his own account, KSM's animus to\vard the United States 
stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his vio- 
lent disagreement ^vith U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel. In 1994, KSM 
accompanied Yousef to the Philippines, and the two of them began planning 
what is now kno^vn as the Manila air or"Bojinka" plot — the intended bomb- 
ing of 12 U.S. commercial jumbo jets over the Pacific during a t^vo-day span. 
This marked the first time KSM took part in the actual planning of a terrorist 
operation. While sharing an apartment in Manila during the summer of 1994, 
he and Yousef acquired chemicals and other materials necessary to construct 
bombs and timers. They also cased target flights to Hong Kong and Seoul that 
would have onward legs to the United States. During this same period, KSM 
and Yousef also developed plans to assassinate President Clinton during his 
November 1994 trip to Manila, and to bomb U.S. -bound cargo carriers by 
smuggling jackets containing nitrocellulose on board. ^ 

KSM left the Philippines in September 1994 and met up with Yousef in 
Karachi following their casing flights. There they enlisted Wall Khan Amin 
Shah, also known as Usama Asmurai, in the Manila air plot. During the fall of 
1994,Yousef returned to Manila and successfully tested the digital watch timer 
he had invented, bombing a movie theater and a Philippine Airlines flight en 
route to Tokyo. The plot unraveled after the Philippine authorities discovered 
Yousef's bomb-making operation in Manila; but by that time, KSM was safely 



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THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 




Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/1 i plot, at the time of his 
capture in 2003 



back at his government job in Qatar. Yousef attempted to follow through on 
the cargo carriers plan, but he ^vas arrested in Islamabad by Pakistani authori- 
ties on February 7, 1995, after an accomplice turned him in.* 

KSM continued to travel among the ^vorldwide jihadist community after 
Yousef s arrest, visiting the Sudan,Yemen, Malaysia, and Brazil in 1995. No clear 
evidence connects him to terrorist activities in those locations. While in Sudan, 
he reportedly failed in his attempt to meet with Bin Ladin. But KSM did see 
Atef, who gave him a contact in Brazil. In January 1996, well a^vare that U.S. 
authorities ^vere chasing him, he left Qatar for good and fled to Afghanistan, 
where he renewed his relationship with Rasul Sayyaf 

Just as KSM was reestablishing himself in Afghanistan in niid-1996. Bin 
Ladin and his colleagues were also completing their migration from Sudan. 
Through Atef, KSM arranged a meeting ^vith Bin Ladin inTora Bora, a moun- 
tainous redoubt from the Afghan war days. At the meeting, KSM presented the 
al Qaeda leader with a menu of ideas for terrorist operations. According to 
KSM, this meeting ^vas the first time he had seen Bin Ladin since 1989. 
Although they had fought together in 1987, Bin Ladin and KSM did not yet 
enjoy an especially close working relationship. Indeed, KSM has acknowledged 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 149 

that Bin Ladin likely agreed to meet ^vith him because of the reno^vn of his 
nephew, Yousef. 1° 

At the meeting, KSM briefed Bin Ladin and Atef on the first World Trade 
Center bombing, the Manila air plot, the cargo carriers plan, and other activi- 
ties pursued by KSM and his colleagues in the Philippines. KSM also presented 
a proposal for an operation that would involve training pilots who ^vould crash 
planes into buildings in the United States. This proposal eventually would 
become the 9/11 operation. ^^ 

KSM knew that the successful staging of such an attack would require per- 
sonnel, money, and logistical support that only an extensive and well-funded 
organization like al Qaeda could provide. He thought the operation might 
appeal to Bin Ladin, who had a long record of denouncing the United States. ^^ 

From KSM's perspective. Bin Ladin was in the process of consolidating his 
new position in Afghanistan \vhile hearing out others' ideas, and had not yet 
settled on an agenda for future anti-U.S. operations. At the meeting. Bin Ladin 
listened to KSM's ideas ^vithout much comment, but did ask KSM formally to 
join al Qaeda and move his family to Afghanistan. ^^ 

KSM declined. He preferred to remain independent and retain the option 
of working ^vith other mujahideen groups still operating in Afghanistan, 
including the group led by his old mentor, Sayyaf. Sayyaf was close to Ahmed 
Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance. Therefore ^vorking \vith 
him might be a problem for KSM because Bin Ladin ^vas building ties to the 
rival Taliban. 

After meeting with Bin Ladin, KSM says he journeyed onward to India, 
Indonesia, and Malaysia, where he met with Jemaah Islamiah's Hambali. Ham- 
bali was an Indonesian veteran of the Afghan war looking to expand the jihad 
into Southeast Asia. In Iran, KSM rejoined his family and arranged to move 
them to Karachi; he claims to have relocated by January 1997. i'* 

After settling his family in Karachi, KSM tried to join the mujahid leader Ibn 
al Khattab in Chechnya. Unable to travel through Azerbaijan, KSM returned to 
Karachi and then to Afghanistan to renew contacts with Bin Ladin and his col- 
leagues. Though KSM may not have been a member of al Qaeda at this time, he 
admits traveling frequently between Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1 997 and the first 
half of 1998, visiting Bin Ladin and cultivating relationships with his lieutenants, 
Atef and Sayf al Adl, by assisting them with computer and media projects.^^ 

According to KSM, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi 
and Dar es Salaam marked a watershed in the evolution of the 9/11 plot. 
KSM claims these bombings convinced him that Bin Ladin was truly com- 
mitted to attacking the United States. He continued to make himself useful, 
collecting news articles and helping other al Qaeda members with their out- 
dated computer equipment. Bin Ladin, apparently at Atef's urging, finally 
decided to give KSM the green light for the 9/11 operation sometime in late 
1998 or early 1999. i* 



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150 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

KSM then accepted Bin Ladin's standing invitation to move to Kandahar 
and work directly with al Qaeda. In addition to supervising the planning and 
preparations for the 9/11 operation, KSM worked with and eventually led al 
Qaeda 's media committee. But KSM states he refused to swear a formal oath 
of allegiance to Bin Ladin, thereby retaining a last vestige of his cherished 
autonomyJ^ 

At this point, late 1998 to early 1999, planning for the 9/11 operation began 
in earnest. Yet while the 9/11 project occupied the bulk of KSM s attention, 
he continued to consider other possibilities for terrorist attacks. For example, 
he sent al Qaeda operative Issa al Britani to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to learn 
about the jihad in Southeast Asia from Hambali.Thereafter, KSM claims, at Bin 
Ladin's direction in early 2001, he sent Britani to the United States to case 
potential economic and "Jewish" targets in New York City. Furthermore, dur- 
ing the summer of 2001, KSM approached Bin Ladin with the idea of recruit- 
ing a Saudi Arabian air force pilot to commandeer a Saudi fighter jet and attack 
the Israeli city of Eilat. Bin Ladin reportedly liked this proposal, but he 
instructed KSM to concentrate on the 9/11 operation first. Similarly, KSM's 
proposals to Atef around this same time for attacks in Thailand, Singapore, 
Indonesia, and the Maldives were never executed, although Hambali's Jemaah 
Islamiah operatives did some casing of possible targets. '* 

KSM appears to have been popular among the al Qaeda rank and file. He 
was reportedly regarded as an efliective leader, especially after the 9/11 attacks. 
Co-workers describe him as an intelligent, efficient, and even-tempered man- 
ager who approached his projects with a single-minded dedication that he 
expected his colleagues to share. Al Qaeda associate Abu Zubaydah has 
expressed more qualified admiration for KSM's innate creativity, emphasiz- 
ing instead his ability to incorporate the improvements suggested by others. 
Nashiri has been similarly measured, observing that although KSM floated 
many general ideas for attacks, he rarely conceived a specific operation him- 
self. ^^ Perhaps these estimates reflect a touch of jealousy; in any case, KSM 
was plainly a capable coordinator, having had years to hone his skills and build 
relationships. 

Hambali 

Al Qaeda 's success in fostering terrorism in Southeast Asia stems largely from 
its close relationship with Jemaah Islamiah (JI). In that relationship, Hambali 
became the key coordinator. Born and educated in Indonesia, Hambali moved 
to Malaysia in the early 1980s to find work. There he claims to have become 
a follower of the Islamist extremist teachings of various clerics, including one 
named Abdullah Sungkar. Sungkar first inspired Hambali to share the vision of 
establishing a radical Islamist regime in Southeast Asia, then furthered Ham- 
bali's instruction in jihad by sending him to Afghanistan in 1986. After under- 
going training at Rasul Sayyaf's Sada camp (where KSM would later train), 
Hambali fought against the Soviets; he eventually returned to Malaysia after 18 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 1 5 1 

months in Afghanistan. By 1998, Hanibali would assume responsibility for the 
Malaysia/Singapore region ^vithin Sungkar's ne^vly formed terrorist organiza- 
tion, the JI. 20 

Also by 1998, Sungkar and JI spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir had accepted 
Bin Ladin's offer to ally JI with al Qaeda in waging war against Christians and 
Jews. 21 Hanibali met ^vith KSM in Karachi to arrange for JI members to receive 
training in Afghanistan at al Qaeda 's camps. In addition to his close -working 
relationship with KSM, Hambali soon began dealing with Atef as well. Al 
Qaeda began funding JI's increasingly ambitious terrorist plans, which Atef and 
KSM sought to expand. Under this arrangement, JI ^vould perform the nec- 
essary casing activities and locate bomb-making materials and other supplies. 
Al Qaeda would underwrite operations, provide bomb-making expertise, and 
deliver suicide operatives. -- 

The al Qaeda— JI partnership yielded a number of proposals that would marry 
al Qaeda's financial and technical strengths with JI's access to materials and local 
operatives. Here, Hambali played the critical role of coordinator, as he distrib- 
uted al Qaeda funds earmarked for the joint operations. In one especially notable 
example, Atef turned to Hambali when al Qaeda needed a scientist to take over 
its biological weapons program. Hanibali obliged by introducing a U.S.- 
educated JI member, Yazid Sufaat, to Ayman al Zawahiri in Kandahar. In 2001, 
Sufaat would spend several months attempting to cultivate anthrax for al Qaeda 
in a laboratory he helped set up near the Kandahar airport.-^ 

Hambali did not originally orient JI's operations toward attacking the 
United States, but his involvement ^vith al Qaeda appears to have inspired him 
to pursue American targets. KSM, in his post-capture interrogations, has taken 
credit for this shift, claiming to have urged the JI operations chief to concen- 
trate on attacks designed to hurt the U.S. economy. -'^ Hanibali's ne^vfound 
interest in striking against the United States manifested itself in a spate of ter- 
rorist plans. Fortunately, none came to fruition. 

In addition to staging actual terrorist attacks in partnership ^vith 
al Qaeda, Hambali and JI assisted al Qaeda operatives passing through Kuala 
Lumpur. One important occasion was in December 1999^anuary 2000. Ham- 
bali accommodated KSM's requests to help several veterans whom KSM had 
just finished training in Karachi. They included Tawfiq bin Attash, also known 
as KhaUad, who later would help bomb the USS Cole, and future 9/11 hijack- 
ers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar. Hanibali arranged lodging for them 
and helped them purchase airline tickets for their onward travel. Later that year, 
Hanibali and his crew ^vould provide accommodations and other assistance 
(including information on flight schools and help in acquiring ammonium 
nitrate) for Zacarias Moussaoui, an al Qaeda operative sent to Malaysia by Atef 
and KSM.25 

Hanibali used Bin Ladin's Afghan facilities as a training ground for JI 
recruits. Though he had a close relationship with Atef and KSM, he maintained 
JI's institutional independence from al Qaeda. Hambali insists that he did not 



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152 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

discuss operations with Bin Ladin or swear allegiance to him, having already 
given such a pledge of loyalty to Bashir, Sungkar's successor as Jl leader. Thus, 
like any powerful bureaucrat defending his domain, Hambali objected when al 
Qaeda leadership tried to assign Jl members to terrorist projects without noti- 
fying him.-^ 

Abd al Rahim al Nashiri 

KSM and Hambali both decided to join forces ^vith al Qaeda because their 
terrorist aspirations required the money and manpower that only a robust 
organization like al Qaeda could supply. On the other hand, Abd al Rahim al 
Nashiri — the mastermind of the Cole bombing and the eventual head of al 
Qaeda operations in the Arabian Peninsula — appears to have originally been 
recruited to his career as a terrorist by Bin Ladin himself. 

Having already participated in the Afghan jihad, Nashiri accompanied a 
group of some 30 mujahideen in pursuit of jihad in Tajikistan in 1996. When 
serious fighting failed to materialize, the group traveled to Jalalabad and 
encountered Bin Ladin, who had recently returned from Sudan. Bin Ladin 
addressed them at length, urging the group to join him in a "jihad against the 
Americans." Although all were urged to s^vear loyalty to Bin Ladin, many, 
including Nashiri, found the notion distasteful and refused. After several days 
of indoctrination that included a barrage of news clippings and television doc- 
umentaries, Nashiri left Afghanistan, first returning to his native Saudi Arabia 
and then visiting his home in Yemen. There, he says, the idea for his first ter- 
rorist operation took shape as he noticed many U.S. and other foreign ships 
plying the waters along the southwest coast ofYemen.-^ 

Nashiri returned to Afghanistan, probably in 1997, primarily to check on rel- 
atives fighting there and also to learn about the Taliban. He again encountered 
Bin Ladin, still recruiting for "the coming battle with the United States." Nashiri 
pursued a more conventional military jihad, joining the Taliban forces in their 
fight against Ahmed Massoud s Northern Alliance and shuttling back and forth 
between the front and Kandahar, ^vhere he would see Bin Ladin and meet with 
other mujahideen. During this period, Nashiri also led a plot to smuggle four 
Russian-made antitank missiles into SaudiArabia from Yemen in early 1998 and 
helped an embassy bombing operative obtain aYemeni passport. 28 

At some point, Nashiri joined al Qaeda. His cousin, Jihad Mohammad Ali 
al Makki, also known as Azzani, was a suicide bomber for the Nairobi attack. 
Nashiri traveled between Yemen and Afghanistan. In late 1998, Nashiri pro- 
posed mounting an attack against a U.S. vessel. Bin Ladin approved. He directed 
Nashiri to start the planning and send operatives to Yemen, and he later pro- 
vided money. 29 

Nashiri reported directly to Bin Ladin, the only other person who, accord- 
ing to Nashiri, knew all the details of the operation. When Nashiri had diffi- 
culty finding U.S. naval vessels to attack along the western coast ofYemen, Bin 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 153 

Ladin reportedly instructed him to case the Port of Aden, on the southern 
coast, instead. 30 The eventual result ^vas an attempted attack on the USS The 
Sullivans in January 2000 and the successful attack, in October 2000, on the 
USS Cole. 

Nashiri's success brought him instant status within al Qaeda. He later was 
recognized as the chief of al Qaeda operations in and around the Arabian 
Peninsula. While Nashiri continued to consult Bin Ladin on the planning of 
subsequent terrorist projects, he retained discretion in selecting operatives and 
devising attacks. In the two years between the Cole bombing and Nashiri's cap- 
ture, he would supervise several more proposed operations for al Qaeda. The 
October 6, 2002, bombing of the French tanker Limburg in the Gulf of Aden 
also was Nashiri's handiwork. Although Bin Ladin urged Nashiri to continue 
plotting strikes against U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf, Nashiri maintains that 
he actually delayed one of these projects because of security concerns. ^^ Those 
concerns, it seems, were well placed, as Nashiri's November 2002 capture in 
the United Arab Emirates finally ended his career as a terrorist. 

5.2 THE "PLANES OPERATION" 

According to KSM, he started to think about attacking the United States after 
Yousef returned to Pakistan following the 1993 WorldTrade Center bombing. 
LikeYousef, KSM reasoned he could best influence U.S. policy by targeting the 
country's economy. KSM and Yousef reportedly brainstormed together about 
what drove the U.S. economy. New York, which KSM considered the eco- 
nomic capital of the United States, therefore became the primary target. For 
similar reasons, California also became a target for KSM.32 

KSM claims that the earlier bombing of the WorldTrade Center taught him 
that bombs and explosives could be problematic, and that he needed to grad- 
uate to a more novel form of attack. He maintains that he and Yousef began 
thinking about using aircraft as weapons ^vhile ^vorking on the Manila 
air/Bojinka plot, and speculated about striking the World Trade Center and 
CIA headquarters as early as 1995.33 

Certainly KSM ^vas not alone in contemplating new kinds of terrorist oper- 
ations. A study reportedly conducted by Atef, while he and Bin Ladin were still 
in Sudan, concluded that traditional terrorist hijacking operations did not fit 
the needs of al Qaeda, because such hijackings ^vere used to negotiate the 
release of prisoners rather than to inflict mass casualties. The study is said to 
have considered the feasibility of hijacking planes and blowing them up in 
flight, paralleling the Bojinka concept. Such a study, if it actually existed, yields 
significant insight into the thinking of al Qaeda's leaders: (1) they rejected 
hijackings aimed at gaining the release of imprisoned comrades as too com- 
plex, because al Qaeda had no friendly countries in which to land a plane and 



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154 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

then negotiate; (2) they considered the bombing of commercial flights in 
midair — as carried out against Pan Am Fhght 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland — 
a promising means to inflict massive casualties; and (3) they did not yet con- 
sider using hijacked aircraft as weapons against other targets. ^^ 

KSM has insisted to his interrogators that he always contemplated hijack- 
ing and crashing large commercial aircraft. Indeed, KSM describes a grandiose 
original plan: a total often aircraft to be hijacked, nine of which would crash 
into targets on both coasts — they included those eventually hit on September 
1 1 plus CIA and FBI headquarters, nuclear power plants, and the tallest build- 
ings in California and the state of Washington. KSM himself ^vas to land the 
tenth plane at a U.S. airport and, after killing all adult male passengers on board 
and alerting the media, deliver a speech excoriating U.S. support for Israel, the 
Philippines, and repressive governments in the Arab world. Beyond KSM's 
rationalizations about targeting the U.S. economy, this vision gives a better 
glimpse of his true ambitions. This is theater, a spectacle of destruction ^vith 
KSM as the self-cast star — the superterrorist.^^ 

KSM concedes that this proposal received a lukewarm response from al 
Qaeda leaders skeptical of its scale and complexity. Although Bin Ladin listened 
to KSM's proposal, he was not convinced that it ^vas practical. As mentioned 
earlier. Bin Ladin ^vas receiving numerous ideas for potential operations — 
KSM's proposal to attack U.S. targets with commercial airplanes was only one 
of many. 3<^ 

KSM presents himself as an entrepreneur seeking venture capital and peo- 
ple. He simply wanted al Qaeda to supply the money and operatives needed 
for the attack while retaining his independence. It is easy to question such a 
statement. Money is one thing; supplying a cadre of trained operatives willing 
to die is much more. Thus, although KSM contends he would have been just 
as likely to consider working with any comparable terrorist organization, he 
gives no indication of what other groups he thought could supply such excep- 
tional commodities. 37 

KSM acknowledges formally joining al Qaeda, in late 1998 or 1999, and 
states that soon afterward. Bin Ladin also made the decision to support his pro- 
posal to attack the United States using commercial airplanes as ^veapons. 
Though KSM speculates about how Bin Ladin came to share his preoccupa- 
tion with attacking America, Bin Ladin in fact had long been an opponent of 
the United States. KSM thinks that Atef may have persuaded Bin Ladin to 
approve this specific proposal. Atef 's role in the entire operation is unquestion- 
ably very significant but tends to fade into the background, in part because Atef 
himself is not available to describe it. He ^vas killed in November 2001 by an 
American air strike in Afghanistan, ^s 

Bin Ladin summoned KSM to Kandahar in March or April 1999 to tell him 
that al Qaeda would support his proposal. The plot was now referred to within 
al Qaeda as the "planes operation.''^^ 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 155 

The Plan Evolves 

Bin Ladin reportedly discussed the planes operation -with KSM and Atef in a 
series of meetings in the spring of 1999 at the al Matar complex near Kanda- 
har. KSM's original concept of using one of the hijacked planes to make a media 
statement was scrapped, but Bin Ladin considered the basic idea feasible. Bin 
Ladin, Atef, and KSM developed an initial list of targets. These included the 
White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center. 
According to KSM, Bin Ladin wanted to destroy the White House and the Pen- 
tagon, KSM wanted to strike the World Trade Center, and all of them wanted 
to hit the Capitol. No one else was involved in the initial selection of targets. '^o 

Bin Ladin also soon selected four individuals to serve as suicide operatives: 
Khalid al Mihdhar, Nawaf al Hazmi, Khallad, and Abu Bara al Yemeni. During 
the al Matar meetings. Bin Ladin told KSM that Mihdhar and Hazmi ^vere so 
eager to participate in an operation against the United States that they had 
already obtained U.S. visas. KSM states that they had done so on their o^vn after 
the suicide of their friend Azzam (Nashiri's cousin) in carrying out the Nairobi 
bombing. KSM had not met them. His only guidance from Bin Ladin ^vas that 
the two should eventually go to the United States for pilot training. '^i 

Hazmi and Mihdhar were Saudi nationals, born in Mecca. Like the others 
in this initial group of selectees, they ^vere already experienced mujahideen. 
They had traveled together to fight in Bosnia in a group that journeyed to the 
Balkans in 1995. By the time Hazmi and Mihdhar were assigned to the planes 
operation in early 1999, they had visited Afghanistan on several occasions. 4- 

KhaUad was another veteran mujahid, like much of his family. His father had 
been expelled from Yemen because of his extremist views. KhaUad had grown 
up in Saudi Arabia, where his father knew Bin Ladin, Abdullah Azzam, and 
Omar Abdel Rahman (the "Blind Sheikh"). Khallad departed for Afghanistan 
in 1994 at the age of 15. Three years later, he lost his lo^ver right leg in a bat- 
tle with the Northern Alliance, a battle in which one of his brothers died. After 
this experience, he pledged allegiance to Bin Ladin — whom he had first met 
as a child in Jeddah — and volunteered to become a suicide operative.'*^ 

When Khallad applied for a U.S. visa, however, his application was denied. 
Earlier in 1999, Bin Ladin had sent Khallad to Yemen to help Nashiri obtain 
explosives for the planned ship-bombing and to obtain a visa to visit the United 
States, so that he could participate in an operation there. Khallad applied under 
another name, using the cover story that he would be visiting a medical clinic 
to obtain a new prosthesis for his leg. Another al Qaeda operative gave Khal- 
lad the name of a person living in the United States whom Khallad could use 
as a point of contact on a visa application. Khallad contacted this individual to 
help him get an appointment at a U.S. clinic. While Khallad was waiting for 
the letter from the clinic confirming the appointment, however, he was 
arrested by Yemeni authorities. The arrest resulted from mistaken identity: Khal- 
lad was driving the car of another conspirator in the ship-bombing plot who 
was wanted by the Yemeni authorities. '*'* 



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156 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Khallad was released sometime during the summer of 1999, after his father 
and Bin Ladin intervened on his behalf. Khallad learned later that the al Qaeda 
leader, apparently concerned that Khallad might reveal Nashiri's operation 
while under interrogation, had contacted a Yemeni official to demand Khal- 
lad's release, suggesting that Bin Ladin would not confront the Yemenis if they 
did not confront him. This account has been corroborated by others. Giving 
up on acquiring a U.S. visa and concerned that the United States might learn 
of his ties to al Qaeda, Khallad returned to Afghanistan.'^s 

Travel issues thus played a part in al Qaeda's operational planning from the 
very start. During the spring and summer of 1999, KSM realized that Khallad 
and Abu Bara, both of ^vhonl were Yemenis, would not be able to obtain U.S. 
visas as easily as Saudi operatives like Mihdhar and Hazmi. Although Khallad 
had been unable to acquire a U.S. visa, KSM still wanted him and Abu Bara, as 
well as another Yemeni operative from Bin Ladin s security detail, to partici- 
pate in the planes operation.Yet because individuals with Saudi passports could 
travel much more easily than Yemeni, particularly to the United States, there 
were fewer martyrdom opportunities for Yemenis. To overcome this problem, 
KSM decided to split the planes operation into two components. '^'^ 

The first part of the planes operation — crashing hijacked aircraft into U.S. 
targets — ^would remain as planned, with Mihdhar and Hazmi playing key roles. 
The second part, however, would now embrace the idea of using suicide oper- 
atives to blow up planes, a refinement of KSM's old Manila air plot.The oper- 
atives would hijack U.S. -flagged commercial planes flying Pacific routes across 
East Asia and destroy them in midair, possibly with shoe bombs, instead of fly- 
ing them into targets. (An alternate scenario apparently involved flying planes 
into U.S. targets in Japan, Singapore, or Korea.) This part of the operation has 
been confirmed by Khallad, who said that they contemplated hijacking several 
planes, probably originating in Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, or 
Malaysia, and using Yemenis who would not need pilot training because they 
would simply down the planes. All the planes hijacked in the United States and 
East Asia were to be crashed or exploded at about the same time to maximize 
the attack s psychological impact.'*^ 

Training and Deployment to Kuala Lumpur 

In the fall of 1999, the four operatives selected by Bin Ladin for the planes oper- 
ation were chosen to attend an elite training course at al Qaeda's Mes Aynak 
camp in Afghanistan. Bin Ladin personally selected the veteran fighters who 
received this training, and several of them were destined for important opera- 
tions. One example is Ibrahim alThawar, or Nibras, who would participate in 
the October 12, 2000, suicide attack on the USS Co/e. According to KSM, this 
training was not given specifically in preparation for the planes operation or 
any other particular al Qaeda venture. Although KSM claims not to have been 
involved with the training or to have met with the future 9/11 hijackers at Mes 



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^^ 



AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 157 

Aynak, he says he did visit the camp ^vhile travehng from Kandahar to Kabul 
with Bin Ladin and others. ^8 

The Mes Aynak training camp was located in an abandoned Russian cop- 
per mine near Kabul. The camp opened in 1999, after the United States had 
destroyed the training camp near Khowst ^vith cruise missiles in August 1998, 
and before the Taliban granted al Qaeda permission to open the al Faruq camp 
in Kandahar.Thus, for a brief period in 1999, Mes Aynak \vas the only al Qaeda 
camp operating in Afghanistan. It offered a full range of instruction, including 
an advanced commando course taught by senior al Qaeda member Sayf al Adl. 
Bin Ladin paid particular attention to the 1999 training session. When Salah al 
Din, the trainer for the session, complained about the number of trainees and 
said that no more than 20 could be handled at once. Bin Ladin insisted that 
everyone he had selected receive the training. '^^ 

The special training session at Mes Aynak ^vas rigorous and spared no 
expense. The course focused on physical fitness, firearms, close quarters com- 
bat, shooting from a motorcycle, and night operations. Although the subjects 
taught differed httle from those offered at other camps, the course placed 
extraordinary physical and mental demands on its participants, who received 
the best food and other amenities to enhance their strength and morale, ^o 

Upon completing the advanced training at Mes Aynak, Hazmi, Khallad, and 
Abu Bara went to Karachi, Pakistan. There KSM instructed them on Western 
culture and travel. Much of his activity in mid- 1999 had revolved around the 
collection of training and informational materials for the participants in the 
planes operation. For instance, he collected Western aviation magazines; tele- 
phone directories for American cities such as San Diego and Long Beach, Cal- 
ifornia; brochures for schools; and airline timetables, and he conducted 
Internet searches on U.S. flight schools. He also purchased flight simulator soft- 
ware and a few movies depicting hijackings. To house his students, KSM rented 
a safehouse in Karachi ^vith money provided by Bin Ladin. ^^ 

In early December 1999, Khallad and Abu Bara arrived in Karachi. Hazmi 
joined them there a few days later. On his ^vay to Karachi, Hazmi spent a night 
in Quetta at a safehouse ^vhere, according to KSM, an Egyptian named 
Mohamed Atta simultaneously stayed on his way to Afghanistan for jihad 
training. 52 

Mihdhar did not attend the training in Karachi with the others. KSM says 
that he never met ^vith Mihdhar in 1999 but assumed that Bin Ladin and Atef 
had briefed Mihdhar on the planes operation and had excused him from the 
Karachi training. '^ 

The course in Karachi apparently lasted about one or two weeks. According 
to KSM, he taught the three operatives basic English words and phrases. He 
showed them how to read phone books, interpret airline timetables, use the Inter- 
net, use code words in communications, make travel reservations, and rent an 
apartment. Khallad adds that the training involved using flight simulator com- 



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158 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

puter games, viewing movies that featured hijackings, and reading flight sched- 
ules to determine which flights ^vould be in the air at the same time in diflierent 
parts of the world.They used the game software to increase their familiarity with 
aircraft models and functions, and to highlight gaps in cabin security. While in 
Karachi, they also discussed ho^v to case flights in Southeast Asia. KSM told them 
to watch the cabin doors at takeofli"and landing, to observe whether the captain 
went to the lavatory during the flight, and to note whether the flight attendants 
brought food into the cockpit. KSM, KhaUad, and Hazmi also visited travel agen- 
cies to learn the visa requirements for Asian countries. 5^* 

The four trainees traveled to Kuala Lumpur: KhaUad, Abu Bara, and Hazmi 
came from Karachi; Mihdhar traveled from Yemen. As discussed in chapter 6, 
U.S. intelligence ^vould analyze communications associated with Mihdhar, 
whom they identified during this travel, and Hazmi, whom they could have 
identified but did not.^^ 

According to KSM, the four operatives were aware that they had volun- 
teered for a suicide operation, either in the United States or in Asia. With dif- 
ferent roles, they had different tasks. Hazmi and Mihdhar were sent to Kuala 
Lumpur before proceeding to their final destination — the United States. 
According to KSM, they ^vere to use Yemeni documents to fly to Malaysia, then 
proceed to the United States using their Saudi passports to conceal their prior 
travels to and from Pakistan. KSM had doctored Hazmi's Saudi passport so it 
would appear as if Hazmi had traveled to Kuala Lumpur from Saudi Arabia via 
Dubai. KhaUad and Abu Bara went to Kuala Lumpur to study airport security 
and conduct casing flights. According to KhaUad, he and Abu Bara departed for 
Malaysia in mid-December 1999. Hazmi joined them about ten days later after 
briefly returning to Afghanistan to attend to some passport issues. '6 

KhaUad had originally scheduled his trip in order to receive a new prosthe- 
sis at a Kuala Lumpur clinic called Endolite, and Bin Ladin suggested that he 
use the opportunity to case flights as well. According to KhaUad, Malaysia was 
an ideal destination because its government did not require citizens of Saudi 
Arabia or other Gulf states to have a visa. Malaysian security was reputed to be 
lax when it came to Islamist jihadists. Also, other mujahideen wounded in com- 
bat had reportedly received treatment at the Endolite clinic and successfully 
concealed the origins of their injuries. KhaUad said he got the money for the 
prosthesis from his father. Bin Ladin, and another al Qaeda coUeague.^^ 

According to KhaUad, when he and Abu Bara arrived in Kuala Lumpur they 
contacted Hanibali to let him know where they were staying, since he was to 
be kept informed of al Qaeda activities in Southeast Asia. Hambali picked up 
KhaUad and Abu Bara and brought them to his home, enlisting the help of a 
colleague who spoke better Arabic. Hambali then took them to the clinic. ^8 

On December 31, KhaUad flew from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok; the next 
day, he flew to Hong Kong aboard a U.S. airliner. He flew in first class, which 
he realized ^vas a mistake because this seating assignment on that flight did not 
afford him a view of the cockpit. He claims to have done what he could to case 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 1 59 

the flight, testing security by carrying a box cutter in his toiletries kit onto the 
flight to Hong Kong. Khallad returned to Bangkok the follo^ving day. At the 
airport, the security officials searched his carry-on bag and even opened the toi- 
letries kit, but just glanced at the contents and let him pass. On this flight, Khal- 
lad waited until most of the first-class passengers were dozing, then got up and 
removed the kit from his carry-on. None of the flight attendants took notice. ^^ 

After completing his casing mission, Khallad returned to Kuala Lumpur. 
Hazmi arrived in Kuala Lumpur soon thereafter and may even have stayed 
briefly with Khallad and Abu Bara at Endolite. Mihdhar arrived on January 5, 
probably one day after Hazmi. All four operatives stayed at the apartment of 
Yazid Sufaat, the Malaysian JI member who made his home available at Ham- 
bali's request. According to Khallad, he and Hazmi spoke about the possibility 
of hijacking planes and crashing them or holding passengers as hostages, but 
only speculatively. Khallad admits being aware at the time that Hazmi and 
Mihdhar ^vere involved in an operation involving planes in the United States 
but denies knowing details of the plan.i^o 

While in Kuala Lumpur, Khallad wanted to go to Singapore to meet Nibras 
and Fahd al Quso, two of the operatives in Nashiri's ship-bombing operation. 
An attempt to execute that plan by attacking the USS The SuUivans had failed 
just a few days earlier. Nibras and Quso ^vere bringing Khallad money from 
Yemen, but ^vere stopped in Bangkok because they lacked visas to continue on 
to Singapore. Also unable to enter Singapore, Khallad moved the meeting to 
Bangkok. Hazmi and Mihdhar decided to go there as well, reportedly because 
they thought it would enhance their cover as tourists to have passport stamps 
from a popular tourist destination such as Thailand. With Hambali's help, the 
three obtained tickets for a flight to Bangkok and left Kuala Lumpur together. 
Abu Bara did not have a visa permitting him to return to Pakistan, so he trav- 
eled toYemen instead. '^^ 

In Bangkok, Khallad took Hazmi and Mihdhar to one hotel, then went to 
another hotel for his meeting on the maritime attack plan. Hazmi and Mihd- 
har soon moved to that same hotel, but Khallad insists that the t\vo sets of oper- 
atives never met with each other or anyone else. After conferring with the 
ship-bombing operatives, Khallad returned to Karachi and then to Kandahar, 
where he reported on his casing mission to Bin Ladin.i^- 

Bin Ladin canceled the East Asia part of the planes operation in the spring 
of 2000. He evidently decided it would be too difficult to coordinate this attack 
with the operation in the United States. As for Hazmi and Mihdhar, they had 
left Bangkok a few days before Khallad and arrived in Los Angeles on January 
15,2000.63 

Meanwhile, the next group of al Qaeda operatives destined for the planes 
operation had just surfaced in Afghanistan. As Hazmi and Mihdhar were 
deploying from Asia to the United States, al Qaeda s leadership was recruiting 
and training four Western-educated men who had recently arrived in Kanda- 
har.Though they hailed from four different countries — ^Egypt, the United Arab 



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160 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Emirates, Lebanon, and Yemen — they had formed a close-knit group as stu- 
dents in Hamburg, Germany. The new recruits had come to Afghanistan aspir- 
ing to ^vage jihad in Chechnya. But al Qaeda quickly recognized their 
potential and enlisted them in its anti-U.S. jihad. 

5.3 THE HAMBURG CONTINGENT 

Although Bin Ladin, Atef, and KSM initially contemplated using established al 
Qaeda members to execute the planes operation, the late 1999 arrival in Kan- 
dahar of four aspiring jihadists from Germany suddenly presented a more 
attractive alternative. The Hamburg group shared the anti-U.S. fervor of the 
other candidates for the operation, but added the enormous advantages of flu- 
ency in English and familiarity ^vith life in the West, based on years that each 
member of the group had spent living in Germany. Not surprisingly, 
Mohamed Atta, Ramzi Binalshibh, Marwan al Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah would 
all become key players in the 9/11 conspiracy. 

Mohamed Atta 

Mohamed Atta \vas born on September 1, 1968, in Kafr el Sheikh, Egypt, to a 
middle-class family headed by his father, an attorney. After graduating from 
Cairo University with a degree in architectural engineering in 1990, Atta 
worked as an urban planner in Cairo for a couple of years. In the fall of 1991, 
he asked a German family he had met in Cairo to help him continue his edu- 
cation in Germany. They suggested he come to Hamburg and invited him to 
live with them there, at least initially. After completing a course in German, Atta 
traveled to Germany for the first time in July 1992. He resided briefly in 
Stuttgart and then, in the fall of 1992, moved to Hamburg to live with his host 
family. After enrolling at the University of Hamburg, he promptly transferred 
into the city engineering and planning course at the Technical University of 
Hamburg-Harburg, where he would remain registered as a student until the fall 
of 1999. He appears to have applied himself fairly seriously to his studies (at least 
in comparison to his jihadist friends) and actually received his degree shortly 
before traveling to Afghanistan. In school, Atta came across as very intelligent 
and reasonably pleasant, with an excellent command of the German language.'^'* 
When Atta arrived in Germany, he appeared religious, but not fanatically 
so. This would change, especially as his tendency to assert leadership became 
increasingly pronounced. According to Binalshibh, as early as 1995 Atta sought 
to organize a Muslim student association in Hamburg. In the fall of 1997, he 
joined a working group at the Quds mosque in Hamburg, a group designed 
to bridge the gap between Muslims and Christians. Atta proved a poor bridge, 
however, because of his abrasive and increasingly dogmatic personality. But 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 161 

among those who shared his behefs, Atta stood out as a decisionmaker. Atta's 
friends during this period remember him as charismatic, inteUigent, and per- 
suasive, albeit intolerant of dissent. "^^ 

In his interactions with other students, Atta voiced virulently anti-Semitic 
and anti-American opinions, ranging from condemnations of \vhat he 
described as a global Jewish movement centered in New York City that sup- 
posedly controlled the financial world and the media, to polemics against gov- 
ernments of the Arab world. To him, Saddam Hussein was an American stooge 
set up to give Washington an excuse to intervene in the Middle East. Within 
his circle, Atta advocated violent jihad. He reportedly asked one individual close 
to the group if he ^vas "ready to fight for [his] belief" and dismissed him as too 
weak for jihad when the person declined. On a visit home to Egypt in 1998, 
Atta met one of his college friends. According to this friend, Atta 
had changed a great deal, had grown a beard, and had "obviously adopted fun- 
damentalism" by that iimefi^ 



Ramzi Binalshibh 

Ramzi Binalshibh was born on May 1, 1972,inGhaylBawazir,Yemen.There does 
not seem to be anything remarkable about his faniUy or early background. A friend 
who knew Binalshibh in Yemen remembers him as "religious, but not too reli- 
gious." From 1987 to 1995, Binalshibh worked as a clerk for the International 
Bank ofYemen. He first attempted to leave Yemen in 1995, ^vhen he applied for 
a U.S. visa. After his application was rejected, he went to Germany and applied 
for asylum under the name Ramzi Omar, claiming to be a Sudanese citizen seek- 
ing asylum. While his asylum petition was pending, Binalshibh lived in Hamburg 
and associated with individuals from several mosques there. In 1997, after his 
asylum application was denied, Binalshibh went home to Yemen but returned to 
Germany shortly thereafter under his true name, this time registering as a student 
in Hamburg. Binalshibh continually had academic problems, failing tests and cut- 
ting classes; he was expelled from one school in September 1998.1^^ 

According to Binalshibh, he and Atta first met at a mosque in Hamburg in 
1995. The two men became close friends and became identified ^vith their 
shared extremist outlook. Like Atta, by the late 1990s Binalshibh was decrying 
what he perceived to be a "Jewish world conspiracy." He proclaimed that the 
highest duty of every Muslim was to pursue jihad, and that the highest honor 
was to die during the jihad. Despite his rhetoric, however, Binalshibh presented 
a more amiable figure than the austere Atta, and was known within the com- 
munity as being sociable, extroverted, polite, and adventuresome. "^^ 

In 1998, Binalshibh and Atta began sharing an apartment in the Harburg sec- 
tion of Hamburg, together with a young student from the United Arab Emi- 
rates named Marwan al Shehhi.*' 



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162 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Marvvan al Shehhi 

Marwan al Shehhi was born on May 9, 1978, in Ras al Khainiah, the United 
Arab Emirates. His father, who died in 1997, was a prayer leader at the local 
mosque. After graduating from high school in 1995, Shehhi joined the Emi- 
rati military and received half a year of basic training before gaining admis- 
sion to a military scholarship program that would fund his continued study in 
Germany. ^0 

Shehhi first entered Germany in April 1996. After sharing an apartment in 
Bonn for two months with three other scholarship students, Shehhi moved in 
with a German family, with whom he resided for several months before mov- 
ing into his own apartment. During this period, he came across as very reli- 
gious, praying five times a day. Friends also remember him as convivial and "a 
regular guy," wearing Western clothes and occasionally renting cars for trips to 
Berlin, France, and the Netherlands. ^^ 

As a student, Shehhi \vas less than a success. Upon completing a course in 
German, he enrolled at the University of Bonn in a program for technical, 
mathematical, and scientific studies. In June 1997, he requested a leave from his 
studies, citing the need to attend to unspecified "problems" in his home coun- 
try. Although the university denied his request, Shehhi left anyway, and conse- 
quently ^vas compelled to repeat the first semester of his studies. In addition to 
having academic difficulties at this time, Shehhi appeared to become more 
extreme in the practice of his faith; for example, he specifically avoided restau- 
rants that cooked with or served alcohol. In late 1997, he applied for permis- 
sion to complete his course work in Hamburg, a request apparently motivated 
by his desire to join Atta and Binalshibh.Just how and when the three of them 
first met remains unclear, although they seemed to know each other already 
when Shehhi relocated to Hamburg in early 1998. Atta and Binalshibh moved 
into his apartment in April.^^ 

The transfer to Hamburg did not help Shehhi's academic progress; he was 
directed by the scholarship program administrators at the Emirati embassy to 
repeat his second semester starting in August 1998, but back in Bonn. Shehhi 
initially flouted this directive, however, and did not reenroU at the University 
of Bonn until the following January, barely passing his course there. By the end 
of July 1999, he had returned to Hamburg, applying to study shipbuilding at 
the Technical University and, more significantly, residing once again with Atta 
and Binalshibh, in an apartment at 54 Marienstrasse.^^ 

After Shehhi moved in with Atta and Binalshibh, his evolution toward 
Islamic fundamentalism became more pronounced. A fello^v Emirati student 
who came to Hamburg to visit Shehhi noticed he no longer lived as comfort- 
ably as before. Shehhi now occupied an old apartment with a roommate, had 
no television, and wore inexpensive clothes. When asked why he ^vas living so 
frugally, Shehhi responded that he was living the way the Prophet had lived.^'* 
Similarly, when someone asked why he and Atta never laughed, Shehhi 
retorted, "How can you laugh when people are dying in Palestine?"^^ 



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^^ 



AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 1 63 

"ZAaA Jarrah 

Born on May 11, 1975, in Mazraa, Lebanon, Ziad Jarrah came from an afflu- 
ent family and attended private. Christian schools. Like Atta, Binalshibh, and 
Shehhi, Jarrah aspired to pursue higher education in Germany. In April 1996, 
he and a cousin enrolled at a junior college in Greifs^vald, in northeastern Ger- 
many. There Jarrah met and became intimate ^vith Aysel Senguen, the daugh- 
ter of Turkish immigrants, \¥ho \¥as preparing to study dentistry^'^ 

Even with the benefit of hindsight, Jarrah hardly seems a likely candidate 
for becoming an Islamic extremist. Far from displaying radical beliefs when he 
first moved to Germany, he arrived with a reputation for knowing where to 
find the best discos and beaches in Beirut, and in Greifswald was known to 
enjoy student parties and drinking beer. Although he continued to share an 
apartment in Greifswald with his cousin, Jarrah was mostly at Senguen's apart- 
ment. Witnesses interviewed by German authorities after 9/1 1, however, recall 
that Jarrah started showing signs of radicalization as early as the end of 1996. 
After returning fi^om a trip home to Lebanon, Jarrah started living more strictly 
according to the Koran. He read brochures in Arabic about jihad, held forth to 
friends on the subject of holy war, and professed disaffection with his previous 
life and a desire not to leave the world "in a natural way"^^ 

In September 1997, Jarrah abruptly switched his intended course of study 
from dentistry to aircraft engineering — at the Technical University of 
Haniburg-Harburg. His motivation for this decision remains unclear. The 
rationale he expressed to Senguen — that he had been interested in aviation 
since playing with toy airplanes as a child — rings somewhat hollow. In any 
event, Jarrah appears already to have had Hamburg contacts by this time, some 
of whom may have played a role in steering him toward Islamic extremism. ^^ 

Following his move to Hamburg that fall, he began visiting Senguen in 
Greifswald on weekends, until she moved to the German city of Bochum one 
year later to enroll in dental school. Around the same time, he began speaking 
increasingly about religion, and his visits to Senguen became less and less fre- 
quent. He began criticizing her for not being religious enough and for dress- 
ing too provocatively. He grew a fuU beard and started praying regularly. He 
refused to introduce her to his Hamburg friends because, he told her, they were 
religious Muslims and her refusal to become more observant embarrassed him. 
At some point in 1999, Jarrah told Senguen that he was planning to wage a 
jihad because there was no greater honor than to die for Allah. Although Jar- 
rah's transformation generated numerous quarrels, their breakups invariably 
were followed by reconciliation.^^ 

Forming a Cell 

In Hamburg, Jarrah had a succession of living accommodations, but he appar- 
ently never resided with his future co-conspirators. It is not clear how and 
when he became part of Atta 's circle. He became particularly friendly with 
Binalshibh after meeting him at the Quds mosque in Hamburg, which Jarrah 



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164 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

began attending regularly in late 1997. The worshippers at this mosque featured 
an outspoken, flamboyant Islamist named Mohammed Haydar Zanimar. A 
well-known figure in the Muslim community (and to German and U.S. intel- 
ligence agencies by the late 1990s), Zammar had fought in Afghanistan and rel- 
ished any opportunity to extol the virtues of violent jihad. Indeed, a witness 
has reported hearing Zammar press Binalshibh to fulfill his duty to wage jihad. 
Moreover, after 9/11, Zammar reportedly took credit for influencing 
not just Binalshibh but the rest of the Hamburg group. In 1998, Zammar 
encouraged them to participate in jihad and even convinced them to go to 
Afghanis tan.80 

Owing to Zammar s persuasion or some other source of inspiration, Atta, 
Binalshibh, Shehhi, and Jarrah eventually prepared themselves to translate their 
extremist beliefs into action. By late 1999, they ^vere ready to abandon their 
student lives in Germany in favor of violent jihad. This final stage in their evo- 
lution toward embracing Islamist extremism did not entirely escape the notice 
of the people around them. The foursome became core members of a group 
of radical Muslims, often hosting sessions at their Marienstrasse apartment that 
involved extremely anti-American discussions. Meeting three to four times a 
week, the group became something of a "sect" whose members, according to 
one participant in the meetings, tended to deal only ^vith each other.^' Atta's 
rent checks for the apartment provide evidence of the importance that the 
apartment assumed as a center for the group, as he would write on them the 
notation "Dar el Ansar," or "house of the follo^vers."8- 

In addition to Atta, Binalshibh, Shehhi, and Jarrah, the group included other 
extremists, some of whom also would attend al Qaeda training camps and, in 
some instances, would help the 9/11 hijackers as they executed the plot: 

• Said Bahaji, son of a Moroccan immigrant, was the only German cit- 
izen in the group. Educated in Morocco, Bahaji returned to Germany 
to study electrical engineering at the Technical University of 
Hamburg-Harburg. He spent five months in the German army 
before obtaining a medical discharge, and lived with Atta and Binal- 
shibh at 54 Marienstrasse for eight months between November 1998 
and July 1999. Described as an insecure follo^ver with no personality 
and with limited kno^vledge of Islam, Bahaji nonetheless professed his 
readiness to engage in violence. Atta and Binalshibh used Bahaji's com- 
puter for Internet research, as evidenced by documents and diskettes 
seized by German authorities after 9/1 1.^-* 

• Zakariya Essabar, a Moroccan citizen, moved to Germany in Febru- 
ary 1997 and to Hamburg in 1998, where he studied medical tech- 
nology. Soon after moving to Hamburg, Essabar met Binalshibh and 
the others through a Turkish mosque. Essabar turned extremist fairly 
suddenly, probably in 1999, and reportedly pressured one acquain- 
tance ^vith physical force to become more religious, grow a beard, and 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 165 

compel his wife to convert to Islam. Essabar s parents were said to have 
made repeated but unsuccessful efforts to s^vay him from this lifestyle. 
Shortly before the 9/11 attacks, he would travel to Afghanistan to 
communicate the date for the attacks to the al Qaeda leadership. ^^^ 

• Mounir el Motassadeq, another Moroccan, came to Germany in 1993, 
moving to Hamburg two years later to study electrical engineering at 
the Technical University.A witness has recalled Motassadeq saying that 
he would kill his entire family if his religious beliefs demanded it. One 
of Motassadeq's roommates recalls him referring to Hitler as a "good 
man" and organizing film sessions that included speeches by Bin 
Ladin. Motassadeq would help conceal the Hamburg group's trip to 
Afghanistan in late 1999. ^5 

• Abdelghani Mzoudi, also a Moroccan, arrived in Germany in the 
summer of 1993, after completing university courses in physics and 
chemistry. Mzoudi studied in Dortmund, Bochum, and Muenster 
before moving to Hamburg in 1995. Mzoudi described himself as a 
weak Muslim when he was home in Morocco, but much more devout 
when he ^vas back in Hamburg. In April 1996, Mzoudi and Motas- 
sadeq witnessed the execution of Atta's wills'^ 

During the course of 1999,Atta and his group became ever more extreme 
and secretive, speaking only in Arabic to conceal the content of their conver- 
sations. 8'' When the four core members of the Hamburg cell left Germany to 
journey to Afghanistan late that year, it seems unlikely that they already knew 
about the planes operation; no evidence connects them to al Qaeda before that 
time. Witnesses have attested, however, that their pronouncements reflected 
ample predisposition toward taking some action against the United States. ^^ j^ 
short, they fit the bill for Bin Ladin, Atef, and KSM. 

Going to Afghanistan 

The available evidence indicates that in 1999,Atta, Binalshibh, Shehhi, andjar- 
rah decided to fight in Chechnya against the Russians. According to Binal- 
shibh, a chance meeting on a train in Germany caused the group to travel to 
Afghanistan instead. An individual named Khalid al Masri approached Binal- 
shibh and Shehhi (because they ^vere Arabs with beards, Binalshibh thinks) and 
struck up a conversation about jihad in Chechnya. When they later called Masri 
and expressed interest in going to Chechnya, he told them to contact Abu 
Musab in Duisburg, Germany. Abu Musab turned out to be Mohamedou 
Ould Slahi, a significant al Qaeda operative who, even then, was \vell known 
to U.S. and German intelligence, though neither government apparently knew 
he was operating in Germany in late 1999. When telephoned by Binalshibh 
and Shehhi, Slahi reportedly invited these promising recruits to come see him 
in Duisburg. 8' 

Binalshibh, Shehhi, and Jarrah made the trip. When they arrived, Slahi 



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166 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

explained that it \vas difficult to get to Chechnya at that time because many 
travelers were being detained in Georgia. He recommended they go to 
Afghanistan instead, where they could train for jihad before traveling onward 
to Chechnya. Slahi instructed them to obtain Pakistani visas and then return 
to him for further directions on how to reach Afghanistan. Although Atta did 
not attend the meeting, he joined in the plan with the other three. After obtain- 
ing the necessary visas, they received Slahi s final instructions on how to travel 
to Karachi and then Quetta, where they were to contact someone named Umar 
al Masri at the Taliban office.'" 

Following Slahi's advice, Atta and Jarrah left Hamburg during the last week 
of November 1999, bound for Karachi. Shehhi left for Afghanistan around the 
same time; Binalshibh, about two weeks later. Binalshibh remembers that when 
he arrived at the Taliban office in Quetta, there was no one named Umar al 
Masri. The name, apparently, was simply a code; a group of Afghans from the 
office promptly escorted him to Kandahar. There Binalshibh rejoined Atta and 
Jarrah, who said they already had pledged loyalty to Bin Ladin and urged him 
to do the same. They also informed him that Shehhi had pledged as well and 
had already left for the United Arab Emirates to prepare for the mission. Binal- 
shibh soon met privately with Bin Ladin, accepted the al Qaeda leader's invi- 
tation to work under him, and added his own pledge to those of his Hamburg 
colleagues. By this time, Binalshibh claims, he assumed he was volunteering for 
a martyrdom operation.'^ 

Atta, Jarrah, and Binalshibh then met with Atef, who told them they were 
about to undertake a highly secret mission. As Binalshibh tells it, Atef 
instructed the three to return to Germany and enroll in flight training. Atta — 
whom Bin Ladin chose to lead the group — met with Bin Ladin several times 
to receive additional instructions, including a preliminary list of approved tar- 
gets: the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the U.S. Capitol.'- The new 
recruits also learned that an individual named Rabia al Makki (Nawaf al 
Hazmi) ^vould be part of the operation.'-* 

In retrospect, the speed with which Atta, Shehhi, Jarrah, and Binalshibh 
became core members of the 9/11 plot — with Atta designated its operational 
leader — is remarkable.They had not yet met ^vith KSM when all this occurred. 
It is clear, then, that Bin Ladin and Atef ^vere very much in charge of the oper- 
ation. That these candidates were selected so quickly — before comprehensive 
testing in the training camps or in operations — demonstrates that Bin Ladin 
and Atef probably already understood the deficiencies of their initial team, 
Hazmi and Mihdhar.The new recruits from Germany possessed an ideal com- 
bination of technical skill and knowledge that the original 9/11 operatives, vet- 
eran fighters though they were, lacked. Bin Ladin and Atef wasted no time in 
assigning the Hamburg group to the most ambitious operation yet planned by 
al Qaeda. 

Bin Ladin and Atef also plainly judged that Atta was best suited to be the 



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^^ 



AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 1 67 

tactical commander of the operation. Such a quick and critical judgment invites 
speculation about whether they had already taken Atta's measure at some ear- 
lier meeting. To be sure, some gaps do appear in the record of Atta's known 
whereabouts during the preceding years. One such gap is February— March 
1998, a period for which there is no evidence of his presence in Germany and 
when he conceivably could have been in Afghanistan.'"* Yet to date, neither 
KSM, Binalshibh, nor any other al Qaeda figure interrogated about the 9/11 
plot has claimed that Atta or any other member of the Hamburg group trav- 
eled to Afghanistan before the trip in late 1999. 

While the four core Hamburg cell members were in Afghanistan, their asso- 
ciates back in Hamburg handled their affairs so that their trip could be kept 
secret. Motassadeq appears to have done the most. He terminated Shehhi's 
apartment lease, telling the landlord that Shehhi had returned to the UAE for 
family reasons, and used a power of attorney to pay bills from Shehhi's bank 
account. '5 Motassadeq also assisted Jarrah, offering to look after Aysel Senguen 
in Jarrah's absence. Said Bahaji attended to similar routine matters for Atta and 
Binalshibh, thereby helping them remain abroad without drawing attention to 
their absence.'* 

Preparing for the Operation 

In early 2000, Atta, Jarrah, and Binalshibh returned to Hamburg. Jarrah arrived 
first, on January 31, 2000.'^ According to Binalshibh, he and Atta left Kanda- 
har together and proceeded first to Karachi, where they met KSM and were 
instructed by him on security and on living in the United States. Shehhi appar- 
ently had already met with KSM before returning to the UAE. Atta returned 
to Hamburg in late February, and Binalshibh arrived shortly thereafter. She- 
hhi's travels took him to the UAE (where he acquired a new passport and a 
U.S. visa), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and one or more other destinations. Shehhi 
also returned to Germany, possibly sometime in March. '^ 

After leaving Afghanistan, the hijackers made clear efforts to avoid appear- 
ing radical. Once back in Hamburg, they distanced themselves from conspic- 
uous extremists like Zammar, whom they knew attracted unwanted attention 
from the authorities.'' They also changed their appearance and behavior. Atta 
wore Western clothing, shaved his beard, and no longer attended extremist 
mosques. Jarrah also no longer ^vore a full beard and, according to Senguen, 
acted much more the way he had ^vhen she first met him. And ^vhen Shehhi, 
while still in the UAE in January 2000, held a belated wedding celebration (he 
actually had been married in 1999), a friend of his was surprised to see that he 
had shaved off his beard and was acting like his old self again.*'"' 

But Jarrah's apparent efforts to appear less radical did not completely con- 
ceal his transformation from his Lebanese family, which grew increasingly con- 
cerned about his fanaticism. Soon after Jarrah returned to Germany, his father 
asked Jarrah's cousin — a close companion from boyhood — to intercede. The 



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168 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

cousin's ensuing effort to persuade Jarrah to depart from "the path he ^vas tak- 
ing" proved unavaihng.^oi Yet Jarrah clearly differed from the other hijackers 
in that he maintained much closer contact with his family and continued his 
intimate relationship ^vith Senguen. These ties may well have caused him to 
harbor some doubts about going through with the plot, even as late as the sum- 
mer of 2001, as discussed in chapter 7. 

After leaving Afghanistan, the four began researching flight schools and avi- 
ation training. In early January 2000, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali — a nephe^v of KSM 
living in the UAE who would become an important facilitator in the plot — 
used Shehhi's credit card to order a Boeing 747-400 flight simulator program 
and a Boeing 767 flight deck video, together with attendant literature; Ali had 
all these items shipped to his employer's address. Jarrah soon decided that the 
schools in Germany ^vere not acceptable and that he would have to learn to 
fly in the United States. Binalshibh also researched flight schools in Europe, 
and in the Netherlands he met a flight school director who recommended 
flight schools in the United States because they were less expensive and 
required shorter training periods. 102 

In March 2000, Atta emailed 31 different U.S. flight schools on behalf of a 
small group of men from various Arab countries studying in Germany who, 
while lacking prior training, were interested in learning to fly in the United 
States. Atta requested information about the cost of the training, potential 
financing, and accommodations. '"^ 

Before seeking visas to enter the United States, Atta, Shehhi, and Jarrah 
obtained new passports, each claiming that his old passport had been lost. Pre- 
sumably they were concerned that the Pakistani visas in their old passports 
would raise suspicions about possible travel to Afghanistan. Shehhi obtained his 
visa on January 18, 2000; Atta, on May 18; and Jarrah, on May 25. lO'* Binal- 
shibh's visa request was rejected, however, as \vere his three subsequent appli- 
cations. ^'^^ Binalshibh proved unable to obtain a visa, a victim of the 
generalized suspicion that visa applicants from Yemen — especially young men 
applying in another country (Binalshibh first applied in Berlin) — might join 
the ranks of undocumented aliens seeking work in the United States. Before 
9/11, security concerns were not a major factor in visa issuance unless the 
applicant already was on a terrorist ^vatchlist, and none of these four men was. 
Concerns that Binalshibh intended to immigrate to the United States doomed 
his chances to participate firsthand in the 9/11 attacks. Although Binalshibh 
had to remain behind, he would provide critical assistance from abroad to his 
co-conspirators. 

Once again, the need for travel documents dictated al Qaeda's plans. 

Travel 

It should by now be apparent how significant travel was in the planning under- 
taken by a terrorist organization as far-flung as al Qaeda.The story of the plot 
includes references to dozens of international trips. Operations required travel. 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 1 69 

as did basic communications and the movement of money. Where electronic 
communications were regarded as insecure, al Qaeda rehed even more heavily 
on couriers. 

KSM and Abu Zubaydah each played key roles in facilitating travel for al 
Qaeda operatives. In addition, al Qaeda had an office of passports and host 
country issues under its security committee. The office was located at the 
Kandahar airport and was managed by Atef. The committee altered papers, 
including passports, visas, and identification cards. 1°^ 

Moreover, certain al Qaeda members were charged with organizing pass- 
port collection schemes to keep the pipeline of fraudulent documents flow- 
ing. To this end, al Qaeda required jihadists to turn in their passports before 
going to the front lines in Afghanistan. If they were killed, their passports were 
recycled for use. ^^'^ The operational nnssion training course taught operatives 
how to forge documents. Certain passport alteration methods, which included 
substituting photos and erasing and adding travel cachets, were also taught. 
Manuals demonstrating the technique for "cleaning" visas were reportedly cir- 
culated among operatives. Mohamed Atta and Zakariya Essabar were reported 
to have been trained in passport alteration, los 

The purpose of all this training was t^vofold: to develop an institutional 
capacity for document forgery and to enable operatives to make necessary 
adjustments in the field. It was well-known, for example, that if a Saudi trav- 
eled to Afghanistan via Pakistan, then on his return to Saudi Arabia his pass- 
port, bearing a Pakistani stamp, \vould be confiscated. So operatives either 
erased the Pakistani visas from their passports or traveled through Iran, \vhich 
did not stamp visas directly into passports. 1°' 



5.4 A MONEY TRAIL? 

Bin Ladin and his aides did not need a very large sum to finance their planned 
attack on America. The 9/11 plotters eventually spent somewhere between 
$400,000 and $500,000 to plan and conduct their attack. Consistent with the 
importance of the project, al Qaeda funded the plotters. KSM provided his 
operatives with nearly aU the money they needed to travel to the United States, 
train, and live. The plotters' tradecraft was not especially sophisticated, but it 
was good enough. They moved, stored, and spent their money in ordinary ^vays, 
easily defeating the detection mechanisms in place at the time.iif'The origin 
of the funds remains unknown, although we have a general idea of how al 
Qaeda financed itself during the period leading up to 9/11. 

General Financing 

As we explained in chapter 2, Bin Ladin did not fund al Qaeda through a 
personal fortune and a net\vork of businesses in Sudan. Instead, al Qaeda 
relied primarily on a fund-raising net^vork developed over time. The CIA 



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170 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

no^v estimates that it cost al Qaeda about $30 million per year to sustain its 
activities before 9/11 and that this money -was raised almost entirely through 
donations, m 

For many years, the United States thought Bin Ladin financed al Qaeda 's 
expenses through a vast personal inheritance. Bin Ladin purportedly inherited 
approximately $300 million when his father died, and was rumored to have had 
access to these funds to wage jihad while in Sudan and Afghanistan and to 
secure his leadership position in al Qaeda. In early 2000, the U.S. government 
discovered a different reality: roughly from 1970 through 1994, Bin Ladin 
received about $1 million per year — a significant sum, to be sure, but not a 
$300 million fortune that could be used to fund jihad.i^^ Then, as part of a 
Saudi government crackdown early in the 1990s, the Bin Ladin family was 
forced to find a buyer for Usama's share of the family company in 1994. The 
Saudi government subsequently froze the proceeds of the sale. This action had 
the effect of divesting Bin Ladin of what otherwise might indeed have been a 
large fortune. ^^^ 

Nor were Bin Ladin 's assets in Sudan a source of money for al Qaeda. When 
Bin Ladin lived in Sudan from 1991 to 1996, he owned a number of businesses 
and other assets. These could not have provided significant income, as most 
were small or not economically viable. When Bin Ladin left in 1996, it appears 
that the Sudanese government expropriated all his assets: he left Sudan with 
practically nothing. When Bin Ladin arrived in Afghanistan, he relied on the 
Taliban until he was able to reinvigorate his fund-raising efforts by drawing on 
ties to wealthy Saudi individuals that he had established during the Afghan war 
in the igSOs."'* 

Al Qaeda appears to have relied on a core group of financial facilitators 
who raised money from a variety of donors and other fund-raisers, primarily 
in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia.^'^ Some individual 
donors surely knew, and others did not, the ultimate destination of their dona- 
tions. Al Qaeda and its friends took advantage of Islam's strong calls for char- 
itable giving, zakat.These financial facilitators also appeared to rely heavily on 
certain imams at mosques who were willing to divert zakat donations to al 
Qaeda 's cause, i^'^ 

Al Qaeda also collected money from employees of corrupt charities, ii^ It 
took two approaches to using charities for fund-raising. One was to rely on al 
Qaeda sympathizers in specific foreign branch offices of large, international 
charities — ^particularly those with lax external oversight and ineffective inter- 
nal controls, such as the Saudi-based al Haramain Islannc Foundation. ^^^ 
Smaller charities in various parts of the globe were funded by these large Gulf 
charities and had employees who would siphon the money to al Qaeda. ii' 

In addition, entire charities, such as the al Wafa organization, may have wit- 
tingly participated in funneling money to al Qaeda. In those cases, al Qaeda 
operatives controlled the entire organization, including access to bank 



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^^ 



AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 171 

accounts. 1-0 Charities were a source of money and also provided significant 
cover, which enabled operatives to travel undetected under the guise of work- 
ing for a humanitarian organization. 

It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially 
supported al Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have con- 
tained al Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al Qaeda's fund- 
raising activities. 121 Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source 
of al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi govern- 
ment as an institution or senior Saudi ofHcials individually funded the organ- 
ization. (This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with 
significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda. )i-- 

Still, al Qaeda found fertile fund-raising ground in Saudi Arabia, where 
extreme religious views are common and charitable giving was both essential 
to the culture and subject to very limited oversight. ^-^ Al Qaeda also sought 
money from wealthy donors in other Gulf states. 

Al Qaeda frequently moved the money it raised by hatvala, an informal and 
ancient trust-based system for transferring funds. ^24 in some ways, al Qaeda had 
no choice after its move to Afghanistan in 1996: first, the banking system there 
was antiquated and undependable; and second, formal banking was risky due 
to the scrutiny that al Qaeda received after the August 1998 East Africa embassy 
bombings, including UN resolutions against it and the Taliban. ^^s Bin Ladin 
relied on the established hawala networks operating in Pakistan, in Dubai, and 
throughout the Middle East to transfer funds efficiently. Hawaladars associated 
with al Qaeda may have used banks to move and store money, as did various 
al Qaeda fund-raisers and operatives outside of Afghanistan, but there is little 
evidence that Bin Ladin or core al Qaeda members used banks while in 
Afghanistan. 126 

Before 9/1 1, al Qaeda spent funds as quickly as it received them. Actual ter- 
rorist operations represented a relatively small part of al Qaeda's estimated $30 
million annual operating budget. Al Qaeda funded salaries for jihadists, train- 
ing camps, airfields, vehicles, arms, and the development of training manuals. 
Bin Ladin provided approximately $10— $20 million per year to the Taliban in 
return for safe haven. Bin Ladin also may have used money to create alliances 
with other terrorist organizations, although it is unlikely that al Qaeda was 
funding an overall jihad program. Rather, Bin Ladin selectively provided start- 
up funds to new groups or money for specific terrorist operations. 127 

Al Qaeda has been alleged to have used a variety of illegitimate means, par- 
ticularly drug trafficking and conflict diamonds, to finance itself. While the drug 
trade was a source of income for the Taliban, it did not serve the same purpose 
for al Qaeda, and there is no reliable evidence that Bin Ladin was involved in 
or made his money through drug trafficking. 12^ Similarly, we have seen no per- 
suasive evidence that al Qaeda funded itself by trading in African conflict dia- 
monds. 12' There also have been claims that al Qaeda financed itself through 



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172 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

manipulation of the stock market based on its advance knowledge of the 9/11 
attacks. Exhaustive investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission, 
FBI, and other agencies have uncovered no evidence that anyone ^vith advance 
knowledge of the attacks profited through securities transactions J-''' 

To date, the U.S. government has not been able to determine the origin of 
the money used for the 9/11 attacks. Ultimately the question is of little prac- 
tical significance. Al Qaeda had many avenues of funding. If a particular fund- 
ing source had dried up, al Qaeda could have easily tapped a different source 
or diverted funds from another project to fund an operation that cost 
$400,000-1500,000 over nearly two years. 

The Funding of the 9/11 Plot 

As noted above, the 9/11 plotters spent somewhere between $400,000 and 
$500,000 to plan and conduct their attack. The available evidence indicates that 
the 19 operatives were funded by al Qaeda, either through wire transfers or cash 
provided by KSM, which they carried into the United States or deposited in for- 
eign accounts and accessed fi^om this country. Our investigation has uncovered 
no credible evidence that any person in the United States gave the hijackers sub- 
stantial financial assistance. Similarly, we have seen no evidence that any foreign 
government — or foreign government official — supplied any funding. i^i 

We have found no evidence that the Hamburg cell members (Atta, Shehhi, 
Jarrah, and Binalshibh) received funds from al Qaeda before late 1999. It 
appears they supported themselves. KSM, Binalshibh, and another plot facili- 
tator, Mustafa al Hawsawi, each received money, in some cases perhaps as much 
as $10,000, to perform their roles in the plot. 1^2 

After the Hamburg recruits joined the 9/11 conspiracy, al Qaeda began giv- 
ing them money. Our kno^vledge of the funding during this period, before the 
operatives entered the United States, remains murky. According to KSM, the 
Hamburg cell members each received $5,000 to pay for their return to Ger- 
many from Afghanistan after they had been selected to join the plot, and they 
received additional funds for travel from Germany to the United States. Finan- 
cial transactions of the plotters are discussed in more detail in chapter 7. 

Requirements for a Successful Attack 

As some of the core operatives prepared to leave for the United States, al 
Qaeda 's leaders could have reflected on what they needed to be able to do in 
order to organize and conduct a complex international terrorist operation to 
inflict catastrophic harm. We believe such a list of requirements would have 
included 

• leaders able to evaluate, approve, and supervise the planning and direc- 
tion of the operation; 

• communications sufficient to enable planning and direction of the 
operatives and those who would be helping them; 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 1 73 

• a personnel system that could recruit candidates, vet them, indoctri- 
nate them, and give them necessary training; 

• an intelligence effort to gather required information and form assess- 
ments of enemy strengths and weaknesses; 

• the ability to move people; and 

• the ability to raise and move the necessary money. 

The information ^ve have presented about the development of 
the planes operation shows how, by the spring and summer of 2000, al Qaeda 
was able to meet these requirements. 

By late May 2000, two operatives assigned to the planes operation were 
already in the United States. Three of the four Hamburg cell members would 
soon arrive. 



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6 

FROM THREAT 
TO THREAT 



In chapters 3 and 4 \¥e described how the U.S. government adjusted its 
existing agencies and capacities to address the emerging threat from Usama Bin 
Ladin and his associates. After the August 1 998 bombings of the American 
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, President Bill Clinton and his chief aides 
explored ways of getting Bin Ladin expelled from Afghanistan or possibly cap- 
turing or even killing him. Although disruption efforts around the world had 
achieved some successes, the core of Bin Ladin's organization remained intact. 

President Clinton was deeply concerned about Bin Ladin. He and his 
national security advisor, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, ensured they had a special 
daily pipeline of reports feeding them the latest updates on Bin Ladin's 
reported location. 1 In public. President Clinton spoke repeatedly about the 
threat of terrorism, referring to terrorist training camps but saying little about 
Bin Ladin and nothing about al Qaeda. He explained to us that this was delib- 
erate — intended to avoid enhancing Bin Ladin's stature by giving him unnec- 
essary publicity. His speeches focused especially on the danger of nonstate actors 
and of chemical and biological weapons. ^ 

As the millennium approached, the most publicized worries ^vere not 
about terrorism but about computer breakdowns — theY2K scare. Some gov- 
ernment officials were concerned that terrorists would take advantage of such 
breakdo^vns.3 



6.1 THE MILLENNIUM CRISIS 

"Bodies Will Pile Up in Sacks" 

On November 30, 1999, Jordanian intelligence intercepted a telephone call 
between Abu Zubaydah, a longtime ally of Bin Ladin, and Khadr Abu Hoshar, 
a Palestinian extremist. Abu Zubaydah said, "The time for training is over." 
Suspecting that this was a signal for Abu Hoshar to commence a terrorist 

174 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 175 

operation, Jordanian police arrested Abu Hoshar and 15 others and informed 
Washington. '^ 

One of the 16, Raed Hijazi, had been born in California to Palestinian 
parents; after spending his childhood in the Middle East, he had returned to 
northern California, taken refuge in extremist Islamist beliefs, and then made 
his way to Abu Zubaydah's Khaldan camp in Afghanistan, ^vhere he learned the 
fundamentals of guerrilla warfare. He and his younger brother had been 
recruited by Abu Hoshar into a loosely knit plot to attack Jewish and Ameri- 
can targets in Jordan. ^ 

After late 1996, ^vhen Abu Hoshar was arrested and jailed, Hijazi moved 
back to the United States, ^vorked as a cabdriver in Boston, and sent money 
back to his fellow plotters. After Abu Hoshar 's release, Hijazi shuttled between 
Boston and Jordan gathering money and supplies. With Abu Hoshar, he 
recruited in Turkey and Syria as well asjordan; with Abu Zubaydah's assistance, 
Abu Hoshar sent these recruits to Afghanistan for training.* 

In late 1998, Hijazi and Abu Hoshar had settled on a plan. They would first 
attack four targets: the SAS Radisson Hotel in do^vnto■wn Amman, the border 
crossings from Jordan into Israel, and two Christian holy sites, at a time \vhen all 
these locations were likely to be thronged with American and other tourists. 
Next, they "would target a local airport and other religious and cultural sites. Hijazi 
and Abu Hoshar cased the intended targets and sent reports to Abu Zubaydah, 
who approved their plan. Finally, back in Amman from Boston, Hijazi gradually 
accumulated bomb-making materials, including sulfuric acid and 5,200 pounds 
of nitric acid, ^vhich were then stored in an enormous subbasement dug by the 
plotters over a period of two months underneath a rented house.^ 

In early 1999, Hijazi and Abu Hoshar contacted Khalil Deek, an American 
citizen and an associate of Abu Zubaydah who lived in Pesha^var, Pakistan, and 
who, ^vith Afghanistan-based extremists, had created an electronic version of a 
terrorist manual, the Encyclopedia of Jihad. They obtained a CD-ROM of this 
encyclopedia from Deek.^ In June, with help from Deek, Abu Hoshar arranged 
with Abu Zubaydah for Hijazi and three others to go to Afghanistan for added 
training in handling explosives. In late November 1999, Hijazi reportedly swore 
before Abu Zubaydah the bayat to Bin Ladin, committing himself to do any- 
thing Bin Ladin ordered. He then departed for Jordan and was at a ^vaypoint 
in Syria when Abu Zubaydah sent Abu Hoshar the message that prompted Jor- 
danian authorities to roll up the whole cell.' 

After the arrests of Abu Hoshar and 15 others, the Jordanians tracked Deek 
to Peshawar, persuaded Pakistan to extradite him, and added him to their catch. 
Searches in Amman found the rented house and, among other things, 7 1 drums 
of acids, several forged Saudi passports, detonators, and Deck's Encyclopedia. Six 
of the accomplices ^vere sentenced to death. In custody, Hijazi's younger 
brother said that the group's motto had been "The season is coming, and bod- 
ies will pile up in sacks."io 



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176 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Diplomacy and Disruption 

On December 4, as news came in about the discoveries in Jordan, National 
Security Council (NSC) Counterterrorism Coordinator Richard Clarke 
wrote Berger,"If George s [Tenets] story about a planned series of UBL attacks 
at the Millennium is true, we -will need to make some decisions NOW He 
told us he held several conversations with President Clinton during the crisis. 
He suggested threatening reprisals against the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 
event of any attacks on U.S. interests, anywhere, by Bin Ladin. He further 
proposed to Berger that a strike be made during the last week of 1999 against 
al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan — a proposal not adopted, ii 

Warned by the CIA that the disrupted Jordanian plot was probably part of 
a larger series of attacks intended for the millennium, some possibly involving 
chemical ^veapons, the Principals Committee met on the night of Decem- 
ber 8 and decided to task Clarke's Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) to 
develop plans to deter and disrupt al Qaeda plots. ^^ 

Michael Sheehan, the State Department member of the CSG, communi- 
cated warnings to the Taliban that they would be held responsible for future 
al Qaeda attacks. "Mike was not diplomatic," Clarke reported to Berger. With 
virtually no evidence of a Taliban response, a new approach was made to Pak- 
istan. '^ General Anthony Zinni, the commander of Central Command 
(CENTCOM), was designated as the President's special envoy and sent to ask 
General Musharraf to "take whatever action you deem necessary to resolve the 
Bin Laden problem at the earliest possible time." But Zinni came back empty- 
handed. As Ambassador William Milam reported from Islamabad, Musharraf 
was "un^villing to take the political heat at home."!'* 

The CIA worked hard ^vith foreign security services to detain or at least 
keep an eye on suspected Bin Ladin associates. Tenet spoke to 20 of his foreign 
counterparts. Disruption and arrest operations were mounted against terrorists 
in eight countries. ^^ In mid-December, President Clinton signed a Memoran- 
dum of Notification (MON) giving the CIA broader authority to use foreign 
proxies to detain Bin Ladin lieutenants, without having to transfer them to U.S. 
custody. The authority was to capture, not kiU, though lethal force might be 
used if necessary. i<5 Tenet \vould later send a message to all CIA personnel over- 
seas, saying, "The threat could not be more real. . . . Do whatever is necessary 
to disrupt UBL's plans. . . .The American people are counting on you and me 
to take every appropriate step to protect them during this period." The State 
Department issued a worldwide threat advisory to its posts overseas. ^^ 

Then, on December 14, an Algerian jihadist was caught bringing a load of 
explosives into the United States. 

Ressam's Arrest 

Ahmed Ressam, 23, had illegally immigrated to Canada in 1994. Using a fal- 
sified passport and a bogus story about persecution in Algeria, Ressam entered 



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^^ 



FROM THREAT TO THREAT 



177 



Montreal and claimed political asylum. For the next few years he supported 
himself \¥ith petty crime. Recruited by an alumnus of Abu Zubaydah's Khal- 
dan canip,Ressam trained in Afghanistan in 1998, learning, among other things, 
ho\¥ to place cyanide near the air intake of a building to achieve maximum 
lethality at minimum personal risk. Having joined other Algerians in planning 
a possible attack on a U.S. airport or consulate, Ressam left Afghanistan in early 
1999 carrying precursor chemicals for explosives disguised in toiletry bottles, 
a notebook containing bomb assembly instructions, and $12,000. Back in 
Canada, he went about procuring weapons, chemicals, and false papers, i* 

In early summer 1999, having learned that not all of his colleagues could get 
the travel documents to enter Canada, Ressam decided to carry out the plan 
alone. By the end of the summer he had chosen three Los Angeles— area airports 
as potential targets, ultimately fixing on Los Angeles International (LAX) as the 
largest and easiest to operate in surreptitiously. He bought or stole chemicals and 
equipment for his bomb, obtaining advice from three Algerian friends, all of 
whom were wanted by authorities in France for their roles in past terrorist attacks 
there. Ressam also acquired new confederates. He promised to help a New 
York— based partner, Abdelghani Meskini, get training in Afghanistan if Meskini 
would help him maneuver in the United States. i' 

In December 1999, Ressam began his final preparations. He called an 
Afghanistan-based facilitator to inquire into whether Bin Ladin \vanted to take 
credit for the attack, but he did not get a reply. He spent a week in Vancouver 
preparing the explosive components with a close friend. The chemicals were 
so caustic that the men kept their windows open, despite the freezing temper- 
atures outside, and sucked on cough drops to soothe their irritated throats.^o 
While in Vancouver, Ressam also rented a Chrysler sedan for his travel into the 
United States, and packed the explosives in the trunks spare tire well.-i 

On December 14, 1999, Ressam drove his rental car onto the ferry from 
Victoria, Canada, to Port Angeles, Washington. Ressam planned to drive to 
Seattle and meet Meskini, ^vith whom he ^vould travel to Los Angeles and case 



A Case Study In Terrorist Travel 

Following a familiar terrorist pattern, Ressam and his associates used 
fraudulent passports and immigration fraud to travel. In Ressam's case, this 
involved flying from France to Montreal using a photo-substituted 
French passport under a false name. Under questioning, Ressam admit- 
ted the passport \vas fraudulent and claimed political asylum. He was 
released pending a hearing, which he failed to attend. His political asy- 
lum claim ^vas denied. He was arrested again, released again, and given 
another hearing date. Again, he did not show. He was arrested four times 



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178 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 



for thievery, usually from tourists, but was neither jailed nor deported. He 
also supported himself by selling stolen documents to a friend who was 
a document broker for Islamist terrorists. -2 

Ressam eventually obtained a genuine Canadian passport through a 
document vendor who stole a blank baptismal certificate from a 
Catholic church. With this document he was able to obtain a Canadian 
passport under the name of Benni Antoine Noris.This enabled him to 
travel to Pakistan, and from there to Afghanistan for his training, and 
then return to Canada. Impressed, Abu Zubaydah asked Ressam to get 
more genuine Canadian passports and to send them to him for other 
terrorists to use.23 

Another conspirator, Abdelghani Meskini, used a stolen identity to 
travel to Seattle on December 11, 1999, at the request of Mokhtar 
Haouari, another conspirator. Haouari provided fraudulent passports and 
visas to assist Ressam and Meskini's planned getaway from the United 
States to Algeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. 2"* One of Meskini's associ- 
ates, Abdel Hakim Tizegha, also filed a claim for political asylum. He was 
released pending a hearing, which was adjourned and rescheduled five 
times. His claim was finally denied two years after his initial filing. His 
attorney appealed the decision, andTizegha was allowed to remain in the 
country pending the appeal. Nine months later, his attorney notified the 
court that he could not locate his client. A ^varrant of deportation ^vas 
issued.25 



LAX. They planned to detonate the bomb on or around January 1, 2000. At 
the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) preinspection station in Vic- 
toria, Ressam presented officials ^vith his genuine but fraudulently obtained 
Canadian passport, from which he had torn the Afghanistan entry and exit 
stamps. The INS agent on duty ran the passport through a variety of databases 
but, since it was not in Ressam's name, he did not pick up the pending Cana- 
dian arrest warrants. After a cursory examination of Ressam's car, the INS 
agents allowed Ressam to board the ferry^s 

Late in the afternoon of December 14, Ressam arrived in Port Angeles. He 
waited for all the other cars to depart the ferry, assuming (incorrectly) that the 
last car off would draw less scrutiny. Customs officers assigned to the port, 
noticing Ressam's nervousness, referred him to secondary inspection. When 
asked for additional identification, Ressam handed the Customs agent a Price 
Costco membership card in the same false name as his passport. As that agent 
began an initial pat-do\vn, Ressam panicked and tried to run away.^^ 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 1 79 

Inspectors examining Ressani s rental car found the explosives concealed in 
the spare tire ^vell, but at first they assumed the ^vhite po^vder and viscous liq- 
uid were drug-related — until an inspector pried apart and identified one of the 
four timing devices concealed within black boxes. Ressam ^vas placed under 
arrest. Investigators guessed his target was in Seattle.They did not learn about 
the Los Angeles airport planning until they reexamined evidence seized in 
Montreal in 2000; they obtained further details when Ressam began cooper- 
ating in May 2001.28 

Emergency Cooperation 

After the disruption of the plot in Amman, it had not escaped notice in Wash- 
ington that Hijazi had lived in California and driven a cab in Boston and that 
Deek was a naturalized U.S. citizen who, as Berger reminded President Clin- 
ton, had been in touch with extremists in the United States as well as abroad. ^^ 
Before Ressam's arrest, Berger saw no need to raise a public alarm at home — 
although the FBI put all field offices on alert. ^o 

Now, following Ressam's arrest, the FBI asked for an unprecedented num- 
ber of special ^viretaps. Both Berger and Tenet told us that their impression was 
that more Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) ^viretap requests were 
processed during the millennium alert than ever before. -*! 

The next day, ^vriting about Ressam's arrest and links to a cell in Mon- 
treal, Berger informed the President that the FBI would advise police in the 
United States to step up activities but would still try to avoid undue public 
alarm by stressing that the government had no specific information about 
planned attacks. ^2 

At a December 22 meeting of the Small Group of principals, FBI Director 
Louis Freeh briefed officials from the NSC staff", CIA, and Justice on ^viretaps 
and investigations inside the United States, including a Brooklyn entity tied to 
the Ressani arrest, a seemingly unreliable foreign report of possible attacks on 
seven U.S. cities, two Algerians detained on the Canadian border, and searches 
in Montreal related to a jihadist cell. The Justice Department released a state- 
ment on the alert the same day.33 

Clarke's stafli"warned,"Forei]gM terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks 
in the US are likely"^'^ Clarke asked Berger to try to make sure that the domes- 
tic agencies remained alert."Is there a threat to civilian aircraft?" he wrote. Clarke 
also asked the principals in late December to discuss a foreign security service 
report about a Bin Ladin plan to put bombs on transatlantic flights. ^^ 

The CSG met daily. Berger said that the principals met constantly.^* Later, 
when asked what made her decide to ask Ressam to step out of his vehicle, 
Diana Dean, a Customs inspector who referred Ressam to secondary inspec- 
tion, testified that it was her "training and experience." ^^ It appears that the 
heightened sense of alert at the national level played no role in Ressam's 
detention. 



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180 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

There ^vas a mounting sense of public alarm. The earlier Jordanian arrests 
had been covered in the press, and Ressam's arrest was featured on net^vork 
evening news broadcasts throughout the Christmas season. ^8 

The FBI was more communicative during the millennium crisis than it had 
ever been.The senior FBI official for counterterrorism, Dale Watson, was a regu- 
lar member of the CSG, and Clarke had good relations both with him and with 
some of the FBI agents handling al Qaeda— related investigations, including John 
O 'NeiU in Ne^vYork. As a rule, however, neither Watson nor these agents brought 
much information to the group. The FBI simply did not produce the kind of 
intelligence reports that other agencies routinely wrote and disseminated. As law 
enforcement officers. Bureau agents tended to write up only witness interviews. 
Written case analysis usually occurred only in memoranda to supervisors 
requesting authority to initiate or expand an investigation.-'' 

But during the millennium alert, with its direct links into the United States 
from Hijazi, Deek, and Ressam, FBI officials were briefing in person about 
ongoing investigations, not relying on the dissemination of written reports. 
Berger told us that it was hard for FBI officials to hold back information in 
front of a cabinet-rank group. After the alert, according to Berger and mem- 
bers of the NSC staff, the FBI returned to its normal practice of withholding 
written reports and saying little about investigations or ^vitness interviews, tak- 
ing the position that any information related to pending investigations might 
be presented to a grand jury and hence could not be disclosed under then- 
prevailing federal la\v.'*'^ 

The terrorist plots that were broken up at the end of 1999 display the vari- 
ety of operations that might be attributed, ho^vever indirectly, to al Qaeda. The 
Jordanian cell was a loose affiliate; we now know that it sought approval and 
training from Afghanistan, and at least one key member swore loyalty to Bin 
Ladin. But the cell's plans and preparations ^vere autonomous. Ressam's ties to 
al Qaeda were even looser. Though he had been recruited, trained, and pre- 
pared in a network affiliated with the organization and its allies, Ressam's own 
plans were, nonetheless, essentially independent. 

Al Qaeda, and Bin Ladin himself, did have at least one operation of their 
very own in mind for the millennium period. In chapter 5 we introduced an 
al Qaeda operative named Nashiri. Working with Bin Ladin, he was develop- 
ing a plan to attack a ship near Yemen. On January 3, an attempt \vas made to 
attack a U.S. warship in Aden, the USS The Sullwans.Tiie attempt failed when 
the small boat, overloaded with explosives, sank. The operatives salvaged their 
equipment without the attempt becoming known, and they put off their plans 
for another day. 

Al Qaeda 's "planes operation" was also coming along. In January 2000, the 
United States caught a glimpse of its preparations. 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 181 

A Lost Trail in Southeast Asia 

In late 1999, the National Security Agency (NSA) analyzed communications 
associated ^vitll a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East, indicating that 
several members of "an operational cadre" were planning to travel to Kuala 
Lumpur in early January 2000. Initially, only the first names of three were 
known — "Na^vaf,""Salem," and"Khalid." NSA analysts surmised correctly that 
Salem \vas Nawaf s younger brother Seeing links not only with al Qaeda but 
specifically ^vith the 1998 embassy bombings, a CIA desk officer guessed that 
"something more nefarious [was] afoot."4i 

In chapter 5, we discussed the dispatch of two operatives to the United States 
for their part in the planes operation — Na^vaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihd- 
har.Two more, Khallad and Abu Bara, went to Southeast Asia to case flights for 
the part of the operation that ^vas supposed to unfold there.'*^ All made their 
way to Southeast Asia from Afghanistan and Pakistan, except for Mihdhar, who 
traveled from Yemen. '*-' 

Though Na^vaf's trail was temporarily lost, the CIA soon identified "Khalid" 
as Khalid al Mihdhar. '*'* He was located leaving Yemen and tracked until he 
arrived in Kuala Lumpur on January 5, 2000.'*5 Other Arabs, unidentified at the 
time, were watched as they gathered with him in the Malaysian capital. '^'^ 

On January 8, the surveillance teams reported that three of the Arabs had 
suddenly left Kuala Lumpur on a short flight to Bangkok. '^^ They identified 
one as Mihdhar. They later learned that one of his companions was named 
Alhazmi, although it was not yet kno\vn that he was "Nawaf."The only iden- 
tifier available for the third person was part of a name — Salahsae.'*^ In 
Bangkok, CIA ofliicers received the information too late to track the three men 
as they came in, and the travelers disappeared into the streets of Bangkok. '*'' 

The Counterterrorist Center (CTC) had briefed the CIA leadership on the 
gathering in Kuala Lumpur, and the information had been passed on to Berger 
and the NSC staff and to Director Freeh and others at the FBI (though the 
FBI noted that the CIA had the lead and would let the FBI know if a domes- 
tic angle arose). The head of the Bin Ladin unit kept providing updates, unaware 
at first even that the Arabs had left Kuala Lumpur, let alone that their trail had 
been lost in Bangkok, ^o When this bad news arrived, the names were put on a 
Thai \vatchlist so that Thai authorities could inform the United States if any 
of them departed from Thailand, ^i 

Several weeks later, CIA officers in Kuala Lumpur prodded colleagues in 
Bangkok for additional information regarding the three travelers. ^2 In early 
March 2000, Bangkok reported that Nawaf al Hazmi, now identified for the 
first time with his full name, had departed on January 15 on a United Airlines 
flight to Los Angeles. As for Khalid al Mihdhar, there ^vas no report of his 
departure even though he had accompanied Hazmi on the United flight to Los 
Angeles. 53 No one outside of the Counterterrorist Center was told any of this. 
The CIA did not try to register Mihdhar or Hazmi with the State Department's 



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182 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

TIPOFF ^vatchlist — either in January, ^vhen ^vord arrived of Mihdhar's visa, or 
in March, when word came that Haznii, too, had had a U.S. visa and a ticket 
to Los Angeles. 5"* 

None of this information — about Mihdhar's U.S. visa or Hazmi's travel to 
the United States — went to the FBI, and nothing more was done to track any 
of the three until January 2001, when the investigation of another bombing, 
that of the USS Cole, reignited interest in Khallad. We will return to that story 
in chapter 8. 



6.2 POST-CRISIS REFLECTION: AGENDA FOR 2000 

After the millennium alert, elements of the U.S. government reviewed their 
performance. The CIA's leadership was told that while a number of plots had 
been disrupted, the millennium might be only the "kick-off" for a period of 
extended attacks. 55 Clarke wrote Berger on January 1 1 , 2000, that the CIA, the 
FBI, Justice, and the NSC staff had come to two main conclusions. First, U.S. 
disruption efforts thus far had "not put too much of a dent" in Bin Ladin's net- 
work. If the United States wanted to "roll back" the threat, disruption would 
have to proceed at "a markedly different tempo." Second,"sleeper cells" and "a 
variety of terrorist groups" had turned up at home. 5^ As one of Clarke's staff 
noted, only a "chance discovery" by U.S. Customs had prevented a possible 
attack. 57 Berger gave his approval for the NSC staff to commence an "after- 
action review," anticipating new budget requests. He also asked DCI Tenet to 
review the CIA's counterterrorism strategy and come up with a plan for"where 
we go from here."58 

The NSC staff advised Berger that the United States had only been "nib- 
bling at the edges" of Bin Ladin's network and that more terror attacks were a 
question not of "if "but rather of "when"and"where."5''The Principals Com- 
mittee met on March 10, 2000, to review possible new moves. The principals 
ended up agreeing that the government should take three major steps. First, 
more money should go to the CIA to accelerate its efforts to "seriously attrit" 
al Qaeda. Second, there should be a crackdown on foreign terrorist organiza- 
tions in the United States. Third, immigration law enforcement should be 
strengthened, and the INS should tighten controls on the Canadian border 
(including stepping up U.S. -Canada cooperation). The principals endorsed the 
proposed programs; some, like expanding the number of Joint Terrorism Task 
Forces, moved forward, and others, like creating a centralized translation unit 
for domestic intelligence intercepts in Arabic and other languages, did not.^o 

Pressing Pakistan 

While this process moved along, diplomacy continued its rounds. Direct pres- 
sure on the Taliban had proved unsuccessful. As one NSC staff note put it. 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 1 83 

"Under the Taliban, Afghanistan is not so much a state sponsor of terrorism 
as it is a state sponsored by terrorists."*^! jj^ early 2000, the United States began 
a high-level effort to persuade Pakistan to use its influence over the Taliban. 

In January 2000, Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth and the State 
Department's counterterrorism coordinator, Michael Sheehan, met with Gen- 
eral Musharraf in Islamabad, dangling before him the possibility of a presidential 
visit in March as a reward for Pakistani cooperation. Such a visit was coveted by 
Musharraf, partly as a sign of his governments legitimacy. He told the two envoys 
that he would meet with MuUah Omar and press him on Bin Ladin.They left, 
however, reporting to Washington that Pakistan was unlikely in fact to do any- 
thing, "given what it sees as the benefits of Taliban control of Afghanistan."'^^ 

President Clinton was scheduled to travel to India. The State Department 
felt that he should not visit India without also visiting Pakistan. The Secret Ser- 
vice and the CIA, however, warned in the strongest terms that visiting Pakistan 
would risk the President's life. Counterterrorism ofliicials also argued that Pak- 
istan had not done enough to merit a presidential visit. But President Clinton 
insisted on including Pakistan in the itinerary for his trip to South Asia.*-* His 
one-day stopover on March 25, 2000, was the first time a U.S. president had 
been there since 1969. At his meeting with Musharraf and others. President 
Clinton concentrated on tensions between Pakistan and India and the dangers 
of nuclear proliferation, but also discussed Bin Ladin. President Clinton told us 
that when he pulled Musharraf aside for a brief, one-on-one meeting, he 
pleaded with the general for help regarding Bin Ladin."I offered him the moon 
when I went to see him, in terms of better relations with the United States, if 
he'd help us get Bin Ladin and deal with another issue or two."'^'* 

The U.S. effort continued. Early in May, President Clinton urged Mushar- 
raf to carry through on his promise to visit Afghanistan and press Mullah Omar 
to expel Bin Ladin. <^5 At the end of the month. Under Secretary of State 
Thomas Pickering followed up with a trip to the region. '^'^ In June, DCI Tenet 
traveled to Pakistan with the same general message.*^^ By September, the United 
States was becoming openly critical of Pakistan for supporting a Taliban mili- 
tary offensive aimed at completing the conquest of Afghanistan. <^8 

In December, taking a step proposed by the State Department some months 
earlier, the United States led a campaign for new UN sanctions, which resulted 
in UN Security Council Resolution 1333, again calling for Bin Ladin 's expul- 
sion and forbidding any country to provide the Taliban with arms or military 
assistance.*^ This, too, had little if any effect. The Taliban did not expel Bin 
Ladin. Pakistani arms continued to flow across the border. 

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told us, "We did not have a strong 
hand to play with the Pakistanis. Because of the sanctions required by U.S. law, 
we had few carrots to offer."^" Congress had blocked most economic and mil- 
itary aid to Pakistan because of that country's nuclear arms program and 
Musharraf's coup. Sheehan was critical of Musharraf, telling us that the Pak- 
istani leader "blew a chance to remake Pakistan."^' 



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184 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Building New Capabilities: The CIA 

The after-action revie\¥ had treated the CIA as the lead agency for any offen- 
sive against al Qaeda, and the principals, at their March 10 meeting, had 
endorsed strengthening the CIA's capability for that role. To the CTC, that 
meant proceeding with "the Plan," ^vhich it had put forward half a year 
earlier — hiring and training more case officers and building up the capabilities 
of foreign security services that provided intelligence via liaison. On occasion, 
as in Jordan in December 1999, these liaison services took direct action against 
al Qaeda cells. ^2 

In the CTC and higher up, the CIA's managers believed that they desper- 
ately needed funds just to continue their current counterterrorism effort, for 
they reckoned that the millennium alert had already used up all of the Cen- 
ter's funds for the current fiscal year; the Bin Ladin unit had spent 140 percent 
of its allocation. Tenet told us he met with Berger to discuss funding for coun- 
terterrorism just two days after the principals' meeting. ^^ 

While Clarke strongly favored giving the CIA more money for counter- 
terrorism, he differed sharply \vith the CIA's managers about where it should 
come from. They insisted that the CIA had been shortchanged ever since the 
end of the Cold War. Their ability to perform any mission, counterterrorism 
included, they argued, depended on preserving ^vhat they had, restoring ^vhat 
they had lost since the beginning of the 1990s, and building from there — \vith 
across-the-board recruitment and training of new case officers, and the 
reopening of closed stations. To finance the counterterrorism effort,Tenet had 
gone to congressional leaders after the 1998 embassy bombings and persuaded 
them to give the CIA a special supplemental appropriation. Now, in the after- 
math of the millennium alert,Tenet ^vanted a boost in overall funds for the CIA 
and another supplemental appropriation specifically for counterterrorism. ^'^ 

To Clarke, this seemed evidence that the CIA's leadership did not give suffi- 
cient priority to the battle against Bin Ladin and al Qaeda. He told us that James 
Pavitt, the head of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, "said if there's going 
to be money spent on going after Bin Ladin, it should be given to him. . . . My 
view was that he had had a lot of money to do it and a long time to do it, and I 
didn't want to put more good money after bad."^^ The CIA had a very different 
attitude: Pavitt told us that while the CIA's Bin Ladin unit did "extraordinary and 
commendable work," his chief of station in London "\vas just as much part of 
the al Qaeda struggle as an officer sitting in [the Bin Ladin unit]."^'^ 

The dispute had large managerial implications, for Clarke had found allies 
in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).They had supplied him ^vith 
the figures he used to argue that CIA spending on counterterrorism from its 
baseline budget had shown almost no increase.^^ 

Berger met twice with Tenet in April to try to resolve the dispute. The 
Deputies Committee met later in the month to revie^v fiscal year 2000 and 
2001 budget priorities and offsets for the CIA and other agencies. In the end, 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 1 85 

Tenet obtained a modest supplemental appropriation, which funded counter- 
terrorism without requiring much reprogramming of baseline funds. But the 
CIA still believed that it remained underfunded for counterterrorism.^s 

Terrorist Financing 

The second major point on which the principals had agreed on March 10 was 
the need to crack down on terrorist organizations and curtail their fund-raising. 

The embassy bombings of 1998 had focused attention on al Qaeda's 
finances. One result had been the creation of an NSC-led interagency com- 
mittee on terrorist financing. On its recommendation, the President had des- 
ignated Bin Ladin and al Qaeda as subject to sanctions under the International 
Emergency Economic Po^vers Act. This gave the Treasury Department's Office 
of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) the ability to search for and freeze any Bin 
Ladin or al Qaeda assets that reached the U.S. financial system. But since OFAC 
had little information to go on, few funds were frozen.^' 

In July 1999, the President applied the same designation to theTaliban for 
harboring Bin Ladin. Here, OFAC had more success. It blocked more than $34 
million in Taliban assets held in U.S. banks. Another $215 million in gold and 
$2 million in demand deposits, all belonging to the Afghan central bank and 
held by the Federal Reserve Bank of Ne^v York, were also frozen. ^o After Octo- 
ber 1999, when the State Department formally designated al Qaeda a "foreign 
terrorist organization," it became the duty of U.S. banks to block its transac- 
tions and seize its funds. ^^ Neither this designation nor UN sanctions had much 
additional practical effect; the sanctions were easily circumvented, and there 
were no multilateral mechanisms to ensure that other countries' financial sys- 
tems were not used as conduits for terrorist funding. ^2 

Attacking the funds of an institution, even the Taliban, was easier than find- 
ing and seizing the funds of a clandestine world^vide organization like al Qaeda. 
Although the CIA's Bin Ladin unit had originally been inspired by the idea of 
studying terrorist financial links, few personnel assigned to it had any experi- 
ence in financial investigations. Any terrorist-financing intelligence appeared 
to have been collected collaterally, as a consequence of gathering other intel- 
ligence.This attitude may have stemmed in large part from the chief of this unit, 
who did not believe that simply following the money from point A to point B 
revealed much about the terrorists' plans and intentions. As a result, the CIA 
placed little emphasis on terrorist financing. ^3 

Nevertheless, the CIA obtained a general understanding of ho^v al Qaeda 
raised money. It knew relatively early, for example, about the loose afliiliation 
of financial institutions, businesses, and wealthy individuals ^vho supported 
extremist Islamic activities. S"* Much of the early reporting on al Qaeda's finan- 
cial situation and its structure came from Jamal Ahmed al Fadl, whom we have 
mentioned earlier in the report. ^^ After the 1998 embassy bombings, the U.S. 
government tried to develop a clearer picture of Bin Ladin 's finances. A U.S. 



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186 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

interagency group traveled to Saudi Arabia t^vice, in 1999 and 2000, to get 
information from the Saudis about their understanding of those finances. The 
group eventually concluded that the oft-repeated assertion that Bin Ladin was 
funding al Qaeda from his personal fortune was in fact not true. 

The officials developed a new theory: al Qaeda was getting its money else- 
where, and the United States needed to focus on other sources of funding, such 
as charities, wealthy donors, and financial facilitators. Ultimately, although the 
intelligence community devoted more resources to the issue and produced 
somewhat more intelligence,^* it remained difficult to distinguish al Qaeda's 
financial transactions among the vast sums moving in the international finan- 
cial system. The CIA was not able to find or disrupt al Qaeda's money flows. ^^ 

The NSC staff thought that one possible solution to these weaknesses in the 
intelligence community was to create an all-source terrorist-financing intelli- 
gence analysis center. Clarke pushed for the funding of such a center at Trea- 
sury, but neither Treasury nor the CIA was ^villing to commit the resources.^8 

Within the United States, various FBI field offices gathered intelligence on 
organizations suspected of raising funds for al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. 
By 9/11, FBI agents understood that there were extremist organizations oper- 
ating within the United States supporting a global jihadist movement and ^vith 
substantial connections to al Qaeda. The FBI operated a web of informants, 
conducted electronic surveillance, and had opened significant investigations in 
a number of field offices, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Diego, 
and Minneapolis. On a national level, however, the FBI never used the infor- 
mation to gain a systematic or strategic understanding of the nature and extent 
of al Qaeda fundraising.^' 

Treasury regulators, as well as U.S. financial institutions, ^vere generally 
focused on finding and deterring or disrupting the vast flows of U.S. currency 
generated by drug trafficking and high-level international fraud. Large-scale 
scandals, such as the use of the Bank of New York by Russian money launder- 
ers to move millions of dollars out of Russia, captured the attention of the 
Department of the Treasury and of Congress. 'o Before 9/11, Treasury did not 
consider terrorist financing important enough to mention in its national strat- 
egy for money laundering.'' 

Border Security 

The third point on which the principals had agreed on March 10 was the need 
for attention to America's porous borders and the weak enforcement of immi- 
gration laws. Drawing on ideas from government officials, Clarke's working 
group developed a menu of proposals to bolster border security. Some 
reworked or reiterated previous presidential directives.'- They included 

• creating an interagency center to target illegal entry and human 
traffickers; 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 1 87 

• imposing tighter controls on student visas;''^ 

• taking legal action to prevent terrorists from coming into the United 
States and to remove those already here, detaining them while await- 
ing removal proceedings;''* 

• further increasing the number of immigration agents to FBI Joint Ter- 
rorism Task Forces to help investigate immigration charges against 
individuals suspected of terrorism;'^ 

• activating a special court to enable the use of classified evidence in 
immigration-related national security cases;'* and 

• both implementing new security measures for U.S. passports and 
working with the United Nations and foreign governments to raise 
global security standards for travel documents.'^ 

Clarke's working group compiled new proposals as well, such as 

• undertaking a Joint Perimeter Defense program with Canada to estab- 
lish cooperative intelligence and law enforcement programs, leading 
to joint operations based on shared visa and immigration data and 
joint border patrols; 

• staffing land border crossings 24/7 and equipping them with video 
cameras, physical barriers, and means to detect weapons of mass 
destruction (WMD); and 

• addressing the problem of migrants — ^possibly including terrorists — 
who destroy their travel documents so they cannot be returned to 
their countries of origin. '^ 

These proposals were praiseworthy in principle. In practice, however, they 
required action by weak, chronically underfunded executive agencies and pow- 
erful congressional committees, which were more responsive to well-organ- 
ized interest groups than to executive branch interagency committees. The 
changes sought by the principals in March 2000 were only beginning to occur 
before 9/11. 

"Afghan Eyes" 

In early March 2000, when President Clinton received an update on U.S. covert 
action efforts against Bin Ladin, he wrote in the memo's margin that the United 
States could surely do better. Military officers in the Joint Staff told us that they 
shared this sense of frustration. Clarke used the President's comment to push 
the CSG to brainstorm new ideas, including aid to the Northern Alliance.'' 

Back in December 1999, Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud 
had offered to stage a rocket attack against Bin Ladin's Derunta training com- 
plex. Officers at the CIA had worried that giving him a green light might cross 
the line into violation of the assassination ban. Hence, Massoud was told not 



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188 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

to take any such action without exphcit U.S. authorization. loo In the spring of 
2000, after the CIA had sent out officers to explore possible closer relation- 
ships with both the Uzbeks and the Northern Alliance, discussions took place 
inWashington between U.S. officials and delegates sent by Massoud.^o^ 

The Americans agreed that Massoud should get some modest technical help 
so he could work on U.S. priorities — collecting intelligence on and possibly 
acting against al Qaeda. But Massoud wanted the United States both to become 
his ally in trying to overthrow the Taliban and to recognize that they \vere fight- 
ing common enemies. Clarke and Cofer Black, the head of the Counterter- 
rorist Center, ^vanted to take this next step. Proposals to help the Northern 
Alliance had been debated in the U.S. government since 1999 and, as we men- 
tioned in chapter 4, the U.S. government as a whole had been wary of endors- 
ing them, largely because of the Northern Alliance's checkered history, its 
limited base of popular support in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's objections. 102 

CIA officials also began pressing proposals to use their ties with the 
Northern Alliance to get American agents on the ground in Afghanistan for 
an extended period, setting up their own base for covert intelligence col- 
lection and activity in the Panj shir Valley and lessening reliance on foreign 
proxies. "There's no substitute for face-to-face," one officer told us.^O-* But 
the CIA's institutional capacity for such direct action was weak, especially if 
it was not working jointly with the U.S. military. The idea was turned down 
as too risky. lO'* 

In the meantime, the CIA continued to work with its tribal assets in south- 
ern Afghanistan. In early August, the tribals reported an attempt to ambush Bin 
Ladin's convoy as he traveled on the road between Kabul and Kandahar city — 
their first such reported interdiction attempt in more than a year and a half. 
But it was not a success. According to the tribals' own account, when they 
approached one of the vehicles, they quickly determined that women and chil- 
dren were inside and called off the ambush. Conveying this information to the 
NSC staff, the CIA noted that they had no independent corroboration for this 
incident, but that the tribals had acted within the terms of the CIA's authori- 
ties in Afghanistan. 105 

In 2000, plans continued to be developed for potential military operations 
in Afghanistan. Navy vessels that could launch missiles into Afghanistan were 
still on call in the north Arabian Sea.^o* In the summer, the military refined its 
list of strikes and Special Operations possibilities to a set of 13 options within 
the Operation Infinite Resolve plan. '^^ Yet planning efforts continued to be 
limited by the same operational and policy concerns encountered in 1998 and 
1999. Although the intelligence community sometimes knew where Bin Ladin 
was, it had been unable to provide intelligence considered sufficiently reliable 
to launch a strike. Above all, the United States did not have American eyes on 
the target. As one military officer put it, we had our hand on the door, but we 
couldn't open the door and walk in.^'^^ 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 1 89 

At some point during this period, President Clinton expressed his frustra- 
tion with the lack of military options to take out Bin Ladin and the al Qaeda 
leadership, remarking to General Hugh Shelton,"You know, it \vould scare the 
shit out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappeUed out of heli- 
copters into the middle of their canip."!"' Although Shelton told the Commis- 
sion he did not remember the statement, President Clinton recalled this remark 
as "one of the many things I said." The President added, however, that he real- 
ized nothing Avould be accomplished if he lashed out in anger. Secretary of 
Defense William Cohen thought that the President might have been making 
a hypothetical statement. Regardless, he said, the question remained how to get 
the "ninjas" into and out of the theater of operations, iio As discussed in chap- 
ter 4, plans of this kind \vere never carried out before 9/11. 

In late 1999 or early 2000, the Joint Staff's director of operations,Vice Admi- 
ral Scott Fry, directed his chief information operations officer. Brigadier Gen- 
eral Scott Gration, to develop innovative ways to get better intelligence on Bin 
Ladin 's whereabouts. Gration and his team worked on a number of different 
ideas aimed at getting reliable American eyes on Bin Ladin in a way that would 
reduce the lag time between sighting and striking, m 

One option was to use a small, unmanned U.S. Air Force drone called the 
Predator, which could survey the territory below and send back video footage. 
Another option — eventually dismissed as impractical — \vas to place a power- 
ful long-range telescope on a mountain within range of one of Bin Ladin 's 
training camps. Both proposals were discussed ^vith General Shelton, the chair- 
man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then briefed to Clarke's office at the White 
House as the CSG \vas searching for new ideas. In the spring of 2000, Clarke 
brought in the CIA's assistant director for collection, Charles Allen, to work 
together ^vith Fry on a joint CIA-Pentagon effort that Clarke dubbed "Afghan 
Eyes."ii- After much argument between the CIA and the Defense Department 
about who should pay for the program, the White House eventually imposed 
a cost-sharing agreement. The CIA agreed to pay for Predator operations as a 
60-day "proof of concept" trial run.^^^ 

The Small Group backed Afghan Eyes at the end of June 2000. By nnd-July, 
testing was completed and the equipment ^vas ready, but legal issues were still 
being ironed out. ii'^ By August 11, the principals had agreed to deploy the 
Predator. 115 xhe NSC staff considered how to use the information the drones 
would be relaying from Afghanistan. Clarke's deputy, Roger Cressey, wrote to 
Berger that emergency CSG and Principals Committee meetings might be 
needed to act on video coming in from the Predator if it proved able to lock 
in Bin Ladin 's location. In the memo's margin, Berger wrote that before con- 
sidering action,"l will ^vant more than verified location: we ^vill need, at least, 
data on patter n of movements to provide some assurance he ^vill remain in 
place." President Clinton was kept up to date.^i*^ 

On September 7, the Predator flew for the first time over Afghanistan. When 



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190 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Clarke saw video taken during the trial flight, he described the imagery to 
Berger as "truly astonishing," and he argued immediately for more flights seek- 
ing to find Bin Ladin and target him for cruise missile or air attack. Even if Bin 
Ladin \vere not found, Clarke said. Predator missions might identify additional 
worthwhile targets, such as other al Qaeda leaders or stocks of chemical or bio- 
logical weapons J 1^ 

Clarke was not alone in his enthusiasm. He had backing from Cofer Black 
and Charles Allen at the CIA. Ten out of 15 trial missions of the Predator over 
Afghanistan ^vere rated successful. On the first flight, a Predator saw a security 
detail around a tall man in a white robe at Bin Ladin'sTarnak Farms compound 
outside Kandahar. After a second sighting of the "man in white" at the com- 
pound on September 28, intelligence community analysts determined that he 
w^as probably Bin Ladin. ^^^ 

During at least one trial mission, the Taliban spotted the Predator and scram- 
bled MiG fighters to try, \vithout success, to intercept it. Berger \vorried that a 
Predator might be shot down, and warned Clarke that a shootdown would be a 
"bonanza" for Bin Ladin and the Taliban. ^^^ 

Still, Clarke was optimistic about Predator — as well as progress with dis- 
ruptions of al Qaeda cells elsewhere. Berger was more cautious, praising the 
NSC staff's performance but observing that this was no time for compla- 
cency. "Unfortunately," he ^vrote, "the light at the end of the tunnel is 
another tunnel." ^^o 



6.3 THE ATTACK ON THE USS COLE 

Early in chapter 5 we introduced, along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, two 
other men ^vho became operational coordinators for al Qaeda: Khallad and 
Nashiri. As ^ve explained, both were involved during 1998 and 1999 in prepar- 
ing to attack a ship off the coast of Yemen with a boatload of explosives. They 
had originally targeted a commercial vessel, specifically an oil tanker, but Bin 
Ladin urged them to look for a U.S. warship instead. Injanuary 2000, their team 
had attempted to attack a warship in the port of Aden, but the attempt failed 
when the suicide boat sank. More than nine months later, on October 12, 2000, 
al Qaeda operatives in a small boat laden with explosives attacked a U.S. Navy 
destroyer, the USS Co/e. The blast ripped a hole in the side of the Cole, killing 
17 members of the ship's crew and wounding at least 40.^21 

The plot, we no^v know, ^vas a full-fledged al Qaeda operation, supervised 
directly by Bin Ladin. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected 
the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives 
and equipment. Nashiri ^vas the field commander and managed the operation 
in Yemen. Khallad helped in Yemen until he ^vas arrested in a case of mistaken 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 191 

identity and freed -with Bin Ladin's help, as we also mentioned earlier. Local 
al Qaeda coordinators included Jamal al Badawi and Fahd al Quso, who was 
supposed to film the attack from a nearby apartment. The two suicide opera- 
tives chosen were Hassan al Khamri and Ibrahim al Thawar, also kno\¥n as 
Nibras. Nibras and Quso delivered money to Khallad in Bangkok during Khal- 
lad's January 2000 trip to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. ^-^ 

In September 2000, Bin Ladin reportedly told Nashiri that he \vanted to 
replace Khamri and Nibras. Nashiri was angry and disagreed, telling others he 
would go to Afghanistan and explain to Bin Ladin that the new operatives were 
already trained and ready to conduct the attack. Prior to departing, Nashiri gave 
Nibras and Khamri instructions to execute the attack on the next U.S. warship 
that entered the port of Aden. ^-^ 

While Nashiri was in Afghanistan, Nibras and Khamri sa^w their chance. 
They piloted the explosives-laden boat alongside the USS Cole, made friendly 
gestures to cre\v members, and detonated the bomb. Quso did not arrive at the 
apartment in time to film the attack. 1^4 

Back in Afghanistan, Bin Ladin anticipated U.S. military retaliation. He 
ordered the evacuation of al Qaeda s Kandahar airport compound and fled — 
first to the desert area near Kabul, then to Kho^vst and Jalalabad, and eventu- 
ally back to Kandahar. In Kandahar, he rotated between five to six residences, 
spending one night at each residence. In addition, he sent his senior advisor, 
Mohammed Atef, to a different part of Kandahar and his deputy, Ayman al 
Zawahiri, to Kabul so that all three could not be killed in one attack. ^-^ 

There was no American strike. In February 2001, a source reported that an 
individual \vhom he identified as the big instructor (probably a reference to 
Bin Ladin) complained frequently that the United States had not yet attacked. 
According to the source. Bin Ladin wanted the United States to attack, and if 
it did not he would launch something bigger. i-<^ 

The attack on the USS Cole galvanized al Qaeda's recruitment efforts. Fol- 
lowing the attack. Bin Ladin instructed the media committee, then headed by 
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to produce a propaganda video that included a 
reenactnient of the attack along ^vith images of the al Qaeda training camps 
and training methods; it also highlighted Muslim suffering in Palestine, Kash- 
mir, Indonesia, and Chechnya. Al Qaeda's image was very important to Bin 
Ladin, and the video \vas widely disseminated. Portions were aired on Al 
Jazeera, CNN, and other television outlets. It ^vas also disseminated among 
many young men in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and caused many extremists to 
travel to Afghanistan for training and jihad. Al Qaeda members considered the 
video an effective tool in their struggle for preeminence among other Islamist 
and jihadist movements. ^27 



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192 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Investigating the Attack 

Teams from the FBI, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the CIA 
were immediately sent to Yemen to investigate the attack. With difficulty, Bar- 
bara Bodine, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, tried to persuade the Yemeni gov- 
ernment to accept these visitors and allow them to carry arms, though the 
Yemenis balked at letting Americans openly carry long guns (rifles, shotguns, 
automatic weapons). Meanwhile, Bodine and the leader of the FBI team, John 
O'Neill, clashed repeatedly — to the point that after O'Neill had been rotated 
out of Yemen but ^vanted to return, Bodine refused the request. Despite the 
initial tension, the Yemeni and American investigations proceeded. Within a few 
weeks, the outline of the story began to emerge, i^s 

On the day of the Cole attack, a list of suspects was assembled that included 
al Qaeda's affiliate Egyptian Islamic Jihad. U.S. counterterrorism officials told 
us they immediately assumed that al Qaeda \vas responsible. But as Deputy DCI 
John McLaughlin explained to us, it w^as not enough for the attack to smell, 
look, and taste like an al Qaeda operation. To make a case, the CIA needed not 
just a guess but a link to someone known to be an al Qaeda operative, i-' 

Within the first weeks after the attack, theYenienis found and arrested both 
Badawi and Quso, but did not let the FBI team participate in the interroga- 
tions. The CIA described initial Yemeni support after the Cole as "slow and 
inadequate." President Clinton, Secretary Albright, and DCI Tenet all inter- 
vened to help. Because the information ^vas secondhand, the U.S. team could 
not make its own assessment of its reliability, i^" 

On November 11, theYenienis provided the FBI with new information 
from the interrogations of Badawi and Quso, including descriptions of indi- 
viduals from ^vhom the detainees had received operational direction. One of 
them ^vas Khallad, who was described as having lost his leg. The detainees 
said that Khallad helped direct the Cole operation from Afghanistan or Pak- 
istan. The Yemenis (correctly) judged that the man described as Khallad was 
Ta^vfiq bin Attash.^^^ 

An FBI special agent recognized the name Khallad and connected this news 
with information from an important al Qaeda source who had been meeting 
regularly with CIA and FBI officers. The source had called Khallad Bin Ladin's 
"run boy," and described him as having lost one leg in an explosives accident 
at a training camp a few years earlier. To confirm the identification, the FBI 
agent asked the Yemenis for their photo of Khallad. The Yemenis provided the 
photo on November 22, reaffirming their view that Khallad had been an inter- 
mediary between the plotters and Bin Ladin. (In a meeting with U.S. officials 
a few weeks later, on December 16, the source identified Khallad from the 
Yemeni photograph.) ^32 

U.S. intelligence agencies had already connected Khallad to al Qaeda terror- 
ist operations, including the 1998 embassy bombings. By this time theYeme- 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 193 

nis also had identified Nashiri, whose hnks to al Qaeda and the 1998 embassy 
bombings were even more well-kno\¥n.i-'3 

In other ^vords, the Yemenis provided strong evidence connecting the Cole 
attack to al Qaeda during the second half of November, identifying individ- 
ual operatives ^vhom the United States knew were part of al Qaeda. During 
December the United States was able to corroborate this evidence. But the 
United States did not have evidence about Bin Ladin's personal involvement 
in the attacks until Nashiri and Khallad were captured in 2002 and 2003. 

Considering a Response 

The Cole attack prompted renewed consideration of what could be done about 
al Qaeda. According to Clarke, Berger upbraided DCI Tenet so sharply after the 
Cole attack — repeatedly demanding to know ^vhy the United States had to put 
up with such attacks — that Tenet \valked out of a meeting of the principals, i-*"* 

The CIA got some additional covert action authorities, adding several other 
individuals to the coverage of the July 1999 Memorandum of Notification that 
allowed the United States to develop capture operations against al Qaeda lead- 
ers in a variety of places and circumstances. Tenet developed additional 
options, such as strengthening relationships with the Northern Alliance and the 
Uzbeks and slowing recent al Qaeda— related activities in Lebanon. ^^^ 

On the diplomatic track, Berger agreed on October 30, 2000, to let the State 
Department make another approach to Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul 
Jalil about expelling Bin Ladin. The national security advisor ordered that the 
U.S. message "be stern and foreboding." This warning was similar to those issued 
in 1998 and 1999. Meanwhile, the administration was ^vorking with Russia on 
nev^' UN sanctions against Mullah Omar's regime. 1^6 

President Clinton told us that before he could launch further attacks on al 
Qaeda in Afghanistan, or deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban threatening strikes 
if they did not immediately expel Bin Ladin, the CIA or the FBI had to be sure 
enough that they would "be ^villing to stand up in public and say, we believe 
that he [Bin Ladin] did this." He said he was very frustrated that he could not 
get a definitive enough answer to do something about the Cole attack. i-*^ Sim- 
ilarly, Berger recalled that to go to war, a president needs to be able to say that 
his senior intelligence and la\v enforcement officers have concluded who is 
responsible. He recalled that the intelligence agencies had strong suspicions, but 
had reached "no conclusion by the time ^ve left office that it was al Qaeda."!-'^ 

Our only sources for what intelligence officials thought at the time are 
what they said in informal briefings. Soon after the Cole attack and for the 
remainder of the Clinton administration, analysts stopped distributing writ- 
ten reports about who was responsible. The topic was obviously sensitive, and 
both Ambassador Bodine in Yemen and CIA analysts in Washington presumed 
that the government did not ^vant reports circulating around the agencies that 



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194 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

might become public, impeding law enforcement actions or backing the Pres- 
ident into a corner. 13'' 

Instead the White House and other principals relied on informal updates as 
more evidence came in. Though Clarke worried that the CIA might be equiv- 
ocating in assigning responsibility to al Qaeda, he ^vrote Berger on November 
7 that the analysts had described their case by saying that "it has web feet, flies, 
and quacks." On November 10, CIA analysts briefed the Small Group of prin- 
cipals on their preliminary findings that the attack was carried out by a cell of 
Yemeni residents with some ties to the transnational mujahideen network. 
According to the briefing, these residents likely had some support from al 
Qaeda. But the information on outside sponsorship, support, and direction of 
the operation ^vas inconclusive.The next day, Berger and Clarke told President 
Clinton that ^vhile the investigation ^vas continuing, it was becoming increas- 
ingly clear that al Qaeda had planned and directed the bombing. ^^^ 

In mid-November, as the evidence of al Qaeda involvement mounted, 
Berger asked General Shelton to reevaluate military plans to act quickly against 
Bin Ladin. General Shelton tasked General Tommy Franks, the new com- 
mander of CENTCOM, to look again at the options. Shelton wanted to 
demonstrate that the military was imaginative and knowledgeable enough to 
move on an array of options, and to show the complexity of the operations. 
He briefed Berger on the "Infinite Resolve" strike options developed since 
1998, which the Joint Staff and CENTCOM had refined during the summer 
into a list of 13 possibilities or combinations. CENTCOM added a new 
"phased campaign" concept for wider-ranging strikes, including attacks against 
the Taliban. For the first time, these strikes envisioned an air campaign against 
Afghanistan of indefinite duration. Military planners did not include contin- 
gency planning for an invasion of Afghanistan. The concept ^vas briefed to 
Deputy National Security Advisor Donald Kerrick on December 20, and to 
other officials. I'll 

On November 25, Berger and Clarke wrote President Clinton that 
although the FBI and CIA investigations had not reached a formal conclu- 
sion, they believed the investigations would soon conclude that the attack had 
been carried out by a large cell ^vhose senior members belonged to al Qaeda. 
Most of those involved had trained in Bin Ladin— operated camps in 
Afghanistan, Berger continued. So far. Bin Ladin had not been tied person- 
ally to the attack and nobody had heard him directly order it, but two intel- 
ligence reports suggested that he was involved. When discussing possible 
responses, though, Berger referred to the premise — al Qaeda responsibility — 
as an"unproven assumption." I'l- 

In the same November 25 memo, Berger informed President Clinton about 
a closely held idea: a last-chance ultimatum for the Taliban. Clarke was devel- 
oping the idea with specific demands: immediate extradition of Bin Ladin and 
his lieutenants to a legitimate government for trial, observable closure of aU ter- 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 195 

rorist facilities in Afghanistan, and expulsion of all terrorists from Afghanistan 
within 90 days. Noncompliance -would mean U.S. "force directed at the Tal- 
iban itself" and U.S. efforts to ensure that the Taliban would never defeat the 
Northern Alliance. No such ultimatum was issued. ^^^^ 

Nearly a month later, on December 21, the CIA made another presentation 
to the Small Group of principals on the investigative team's findings. The CIA's 
briefing slides said that their "preliminary judgment" was that Bin Ladin's al 
Qaeda group "supported the attack" on the Cole, based on strong circumstan- 
tial evidence tying key perpetrators of the attack to al Qaeda. The CIA listed 
the key suspects, including Nashiri. In addition, the CIA detailed the timeline 
of the operation, from the mid-1999 preparations, to the failed attack on the 
USS The SuUivans on January 3, 2000, through a meeting held by the opera- 
tives the day before the attack. ''*'* 

The slides said that so far the CIA had "no definitive answer on [the] cru- 
cial question of outside direction of the attack — ho^v and by whom."The CIA 
noted that the Yemenis claimed that Khallad helped direct the operation from 
Afghanistan or Pakistan, possibly as Bin Ladin's intermediary, but that it had 
not seen the Yemeni evidence. Ho^vever, the CIA knew from both human 
sources and signals intelligence that Khallad was tied to al Qaeda. The prepared 
briefing concluded that while some reporting about al Qaeda 's role might have 
merit, those reports offered few specifics. Intelligence gave some ambiguous 
indicators of al Qaeda direction of the attack. ^^^^ 

This, President Clinton and Berger told us, was not the conclusion they 
needed in order to go to war or deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban threaten- 
ing war. The election and change of power ^vas not the issue. President Clin- 
ton added. There was enough time. If the agencies had given him a definitive 
answer, he said, he would have sought a UN Security Council ultimatum and 
given the Taliban one, t^vo, or three days before taking further action against 
both al Qaeda and the Taliban. But he did not think it would be responsible 
for a president to launch an invasion of another country just based on a "pre- 
liminary judgment." i'*'^ 

Other advisers have echoed this concern. Some of Secretary Albright's 
advisers warned her at the time to be sure the evidence conclusively linked Bin 
Ladin to the Cole before considering any response, especially a military one, 
because such action might inflame the Islamic world and increase support for 
the Taliban. Defense Secretary Cohen told us it would not have been prudent 
to risk killing civilians based only on an assumption that al Qaeda ^vas respon- 
sible. General Shelton added that there was an outstanding question as to who 
was responsible and ^vhat the targets \vere.i'^^ 

Clarke recalled that while the Pentagon and the State Department had reser- 
vations about retaliation, the issue never came to a head because the FBI and 
the CIA never reached a firm conclusion. He thought they -were "holding 
back." He said he did not know why, but his impression was that Tenet and 



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196 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Reno possibly thought the White House "didn't really ^vant to know," since 
the principals' discussions by November suggested that there \¥as not much 
White House interest in conducting further military operations against 
Afghanistan in the administration's last weeks. He thought that, instead. Presi- 
dent Clinton, Berger, and Secretary Albright ^vere concentrating on a last- 
minute push for a peace agreement bet\¥een the Palestinians and the Israelis J^^ 

Some of Clarke's fellow counterterrorism officials, such as the State Depart- 
ment's Sheehan and the FBI's Watson, shared his disappointment that no mil- 
itary response occurred at the time. Clarke recently recalled that an angry 
Sheehan asked rhetorically of Defense officials: "Does al Qaeda have to attack 
the Pentagon to get their attention?" i'*' 

On the question of evidence. Tenet told us he was surprised to hear that the 
White House was awaiting a conclusion from him on responsibility for the Cole 
attack before taking action against al Qaeda. He did not recall Berger or anyone 
else telling him that they were waiting for the magic words from the CIA and the 
FBI. Nor did he remember having any discussions with Berger or the President 
about retaliation. Tenet told us he believed that it was up to him to present the 
case. Then it was up to the principals to decide if the case was good enough to 
justify using force. He believed he laid out what was knowable relatively early in 
the investigation, and that this evidence never really changed until after 9/11.15° 

A CIA official told us that the CIA's analysts chose the term "preliminary 
judgment" because of their notion of how an intelligence standard of proof 
differed from a legal standard. Because the attack was the subject of a crim- 
inal investigation, they told us, the term preliminary was used to avoid lock- 
ing the government in with statements that might later be obtained by 
defense lawyers in a future court case. At the time, Clarke was aware of the 
problem of distinguishing between an intelligence case and a law enforce- 
ment case. Asking U.S. law enforcement officials to concur with an 
intelligence-based case before their investigation had been concluded "could 
give rise to charges that the administration had acted before final culpability 
had been determined." ^^^ 

There was no interagency consideration of just what military action might 
have looked like in practice — either the Pentagon's new "phased campaign" 
concept or a prolonged air campaign in Afghanistan. Defense officials, such as 
Under Secretary Walter Slocombe and Vice Admiral Fry, told us the military 
response options were still limited. Bin Ladin continued to be elusive.They felt, 
just as they had for the past two years, that hitting inexpensive and rudimen- 
tary training camps with costly missiles would not do much good and might 
even help al Qaeda if the strikes failed to kill Bin Ladin. 1^2 

In late 2000, the CIA and the NSC staff began thinking about the coun- 
terterrorism policy agenda they would present to the new administration. The 
Counterterrorist Center put down its best ideas for the future, assuming it was 
free of any prior policy or financial constraints. The paper was therefore infor- 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 197 

mally referred to as the "Blue Sky" memo; it was sent to Clarke on December 
29. The memo proposed 

• A major effort to support the Northern Alliance through intelligence 
sharing and increased funding so that it could stave off the Taliban 
army and tie do^vn al Qaeda fighters. This effort ^vas not intended to 
remove the Taliban from po^ver, a goal that was judged impractical and 
too expensive for the CIA alone to attain. 

• Increased support to the Uzbeks to strengthen their ability to fight 
terrorism and assist the United States in doing so. 

• Assistance to anti-Taliban groups and proxies who might be encour- 
aged to passively resist the Taliban. 

The CIA memo noted that there was "no single 'silver bullet' available to 
deal with the gro\ving problems in Afghanistan." A niultifaceted strategy would 
be needed to produce change. 1^3 

No action was taken on these ideas in the fe^v remaining weeks of the Clin- 
ton administration. Berger did not recall seeing or being briefed on the Blue 
Sky memo. Nor \vas the memo discussed during the transition with incoming 
top Bush administration officials. Tenet and his deputy told us they pressed these 
ideas as options after the new team took office.i54 

As the Clinton administration dre\v to a close, Clarke and his staff devel- 
oped a policy paper of their own, the first such comprehensive effort since the 
Delenda plan of 1998. The resulting paper, entitled "Strategy for Eliminating 
the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al Qida: Status and Prospects," 
revie\ved the threat and the record to date, incorporated the CIA's new ideas 
from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options. 

Clarke and his staff proposed a goal to "roll back" al Qaeda over a period 
of three to five years. Over time, the policy should try to weaken and elimi- 
nate the network's infrastructure in order to reduce it to a "rump group" like 
other formerly feared but now largely defunct terrorist organizations of the 
1980s. "Continued anti-al Qida operations at the current level will prevent 
some attacks," Clarke's office wrote, "but ^vill not seriously attrit their ability 
to plan and conduct attacks." The paper backed covert aid to the Northern 
Alliance, covert aid to Uzbekistan, and renewed Predator flights in March 
2001. A sentence called for military action to destroy al Qaeda comniand-and- 
control targets and infrastructure andTaliban military and command assets. The 
paper also expressed concern about the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the 
United States. 1^5 



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198 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

6.4 CHANGE AND CONTINUITY 

On November 7, 2000, American voters \vent to the polls in what turned out 
to be one of the closest presidential contests in U.S. history — an election cam- 
paign during which there was a notable absence of serious discussion of the 
al Qaeda threat or terrorism. Election night became a 36-day legal fight. Until 
the Supreme Court's 5—4 ruling on December 12 andVice President Al Gore's 
concession, no one knew ^vhether Gore or his Republican opponent, Texas 
Governor George W! Bush, would become president in 2001. 

The dispute over the election and the 36-day delay cut in half the normal 
transition period. Given that a presidential election in the United States brings 
wholesale change in personnel, this loss of time hampered the new adminis- 
tration in identifying, recruiting, clearing, and obtaining Senate confirmation 
of key appointees. 

From the Old to the New 

The principal figures on Bush's White House staff would be National Security 
Advisor Condoleezza Rice, ^vho had been a member of the NSC staff in the 
administration of George H.W! Bush; Rice's deputy, Stephen Hadley, who had 
been an assistant secretary of defense under the first Bush; and Chief of Staff 
Andre^v Card, ^vho had served that same administration as deputy chief of staff, 
then secretary of transportation. For secretary of state. Bush chose General 
Colin Po^vell, ^vho had been national security advisor for President Ronald 
Reagan and then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For secretary of defense 
he selected Donald Rumsfeld, a former member of Congress, White House 
chief of staff, and, under President Gerald Ford, already once secretary of 
defense. Bush decided fairly soon to keep Tenet as Director of Central Intelli- 
gence. Louis Freeh, who had statutory ten-year tenure, ^vould remain director 
of the FBI until his voluntary retirement in the summer of 2001. 

Bush and his principal advisers had all received briefings on terrorism, 
including Bin Ladin. In early September 2000, Acting Deputy Director of Cen- 
tral Intelligence John McLaughlin led a team to Bush's ranch in Cra^vford, 
Texas, and gave him a wide-ranging, four-hour review of sensitive informa- 
tion. Ben Bonk, deputy chief of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, used one 
of the four hours to deal with terrorism. To highlight the danger of terrorists 
obtaining chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear ^veapons, Bonk brought 
along a mock-up suitcase to evoke the way the Auni Shinrikyo doomsday 
cult had spread deadly sarin nerve agent on the Tokyo subway in 1995. Bonk 
told Bush that Americans would die from terrorism during the next four 
years. 1 5"^ During the long contest after election day, the CIA set up an office in 
Crawford to pass intelligence to Bush and some of his key advisers. 1^7 Tenet, 
accompanied by his deputy director for operations, James Pavitt, briefed 
President-elect Bush at Blair House during the transition. President Bush told 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 199 

us he asked Tenet -whether the CIA could kill Bin Ladin, andXenet replied that 
killing Bin Ladin -would have an effect but -would not end the threat. President 
Bush told us Tenet said to him that the CIA had all the authority it needed. 1^8 

In December, Bush met \vith Clinton for a two-hour, one-on-one discus- 
sion of national security and foreign policy challenges. Clinton recalled saying 
to Bush, "I think you will find that by far your biggest threat is Bin Ladin and 
the al Qaeda." Clinton told us that he also said,"One of the great regrets of my 
presidency is that I didn't get him [Bin Ladin] for you, because I tried to."i59 
Bush told the Commission that he felt sure President Clinton had mentioned 
terrorism, but did not remember much being said about al Qaeda. Bush recalled 
that Clinton had emphasized other issues such as North Korea and the Israeli- 
Palestinian peace process. ^^'^ 

In early January, Clarke briefed Rice on terrorism. He gave similar presen- 
tations — describing al Qaeda as both an adaptable global net^vork of jihadist 
organizations and a lethal core terrorist organization — to Vice President— elect 
Cheney, Hadley, and Secretary of State— designate Powell. One line in the brief- 
ing slides said that al Qaeda had sleeper cells in more than 40 countries, includ- 
ing the United States. I'^i Berger told us that he made a point of dropping in 
on Clarke's briefing of Rice to emphasize the importance of the issue. Later 
the same day, Berger met with Rice. He says that he told her the Bush admin- 
istration \vould spend more time on terrorism in general and al Qaeda in par- 
ticular than on anything else. Rice's recollection was that Berger told her she 
would be surprised at how much more time she was going to spend on ter- 
rorism than she expected, but that the bulk of their conversation dealt ^vith the 
faltering Middle East peace process and North Korea. Clarke said that the new 
team, having been out of government for eight years, had a steep learning curve 
to understand al Qaeda and the ne^v transnational terrorist threat. ^'^^ 

Organizing a New Administration 

During the short transition, Rice and Hadley concentrated on staffing and 
organizing the NSC'^^Their policy priorities differed from those of the Clin- 
ton administration. Those priorities included China, missile defense, the col- 
lapse of the Middle East peace process, and the Persian Gulf^'^'* Generally aware 
that terrorism had changed since the first Bush administration, they paid par- 
ticular attention to the question of how counterterrorism policy should be 
coordinated. Rice had asked University of Virginia history professor Philip 
Zelikow to advise her on the transition. 1*^5 Hadley and Zelikow asked Clarke 
and his deputy, Roger Cressey, for a special briefing on the terrorist threat and 
how Clarke 'sTransnationalThreats Directorate and Counterterrorism Security 
Group functioned. i<^* 

In the NSC during the first Bush administration, many tough issues were 
addressed at the level of the Deputies Committee. Issues did not go to the prin- 
cipals unless the deputies had been unable to resolve them. Presidential Deci- 



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200 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

sion Directive 62 of the Clinton administration had said specifically that 
Clarke's Counterterrorism Security Group should report through the Deputies 
Committee or, at Berger's discretion, directly to the principals. Berger had in 
practice allo\¥ed Clarke's group to fijnction as a parallel deputies committee, 
reporting directly to those members of the Principals Committee who sat on 
the special Small Group. There, Clarke himself sat as a de facto principal. 

Rice decided to change the special structure that had been built to coordi- 
nate counterterrorism policy. It was important to sound policymaking, she felt, 
that Clarke's interagency committee — like all others — report to the principals 
through the deputies.!*^ 

Rice made an initial decision to hold over both Clarke and his entire coun- 
terterrorism staff, a decision that she called rare for a new administration. She 
decided also that Clarke should retain the title of national counterterrorism 
coordinator, although he \vould no longer be a de facto member of the Prin- 
cipals Committee on his issues. The decision to keep Clarke, Rice said, \vas "not 
uncontroversial," since he was known as someone ^vho "broke china," but she 
and Hadley wanted an experienced crisis manager. No one else from Berger's 
staffhad Clarke's detailed knowledge of the levers of government. '^^^ 

Clarke \vas disappointed at what he perceived as a demotion. He also \vor- 
ried that reporting through the Deputies Committee ^vould slow decisionmak- 
ing on counterterrorism. 1*^^ 

The result, amid all the changes accompanying the transition, was signifi- 
cant continuity in counterterrorism policy. Clarke and his Counterterrorism 
Security Group would continue to manage coordination. Tenet remained 
Director of Central Intelligence and kept the same chief subordinates, includ- 
ing Black and his stafli^at the Counterterrorist Center. Shelton remained chair- 
man of the Joint Chiefs, with the Joint Stafli" largely the same. At the FBI, 
Director Freeh and Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson 
remained. Working-level counterterrorism officials at the State Department and 
the Pentagon stayed on, as is typically the case. The changes were at the cabi- 
net and subcabinet level and in the CSG's reporting arrangements. At the sub- 
cabinet level, there were significant delays in the confirmation of key officials, 
particularly at the Defense Department. 

The procedures of the Bush administration ^vere to be at once more formal 
and less formal than its predecessor's. President Clinton, a voracious reader, 
received his daily intelligence briefings in writing. He often scra\vled questions 
and comments in the margins, eliciting ^vritten responses. The new president, 
by contrast, reinstated the practice of face-to-face briefings from the DCI. Pres- 
ident Bush and Tenet met in the Oval Office at 8:00 A.M., with Vice President 
Cheney, Rice, and Card usually also present. The President and the DCI both 
told us that these daily sessions provided a useful opportunity for exchanges on 
intelligence issues. '^o 

The President talked with Rice every day, and she in turn talked by phone 
at least daily with Powell and Rumsfeld. As a result, the President often felt less 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 201 

need for formal meetings. If, however, he decided that an event or an issue called 
for action. Rice would typically call on Hadley to have the Deputies Commit- 
tee develop and review options. The President said that this process often tried 
his patience but that he understood the necessity for coordination. '^^ 

Early Decisions 

Within the first few days after Bush's inauguration, Clarke approached Rice in 
an effort to get her — and the new President — to give terrorism very high pri- 
ority and to act on the agenda that he had pushed during the last few months 
of the previous administration. After Rice requested that all senior staff iden- 
tify desirable major policy reviews or initiatives, Clarke submitted an elaborate 
memorandum on January 25, 2001. He attached to it his 1998 Delenda Plan 
and the December 2000 strategy paper. "We urgently need ... a Principals level 
review on the al Qida network," Clarke wrote. '^^ 

He wanted the Principals Committee to decide whether al Qaeda was "a 
first order threat" or a more modest worry being overblown by "chicken lit- 
tle" alarmists. Alluding to the transition briefing that he had prepared for Rice, 
Clarke wrote that al Qaeda "is not some narrow, little terrorist issue that needs 
to be included in broader regional policy." Two key decisions that had been 
deferred, he noted, concerned covert aid to keep the Northern Alliance alive 
when fighting began again in Afghanistan in the spring, and covert aid to the 
Uzbeks. Clarke also suggested that decisions should be made soon on messages 
to the Taliban and Pakistan over the al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan, on pos- 
sible new money for CIA operations, and on "when and how ... to respond 
to the attack on the USS Cole."i^3 

The national security advisor did not respond directly to Clarke's memo- 
randum. No Principals Committee meeting on al Qaeda was held until Sep- 
tember 4, 2001 (although the Principals Committee met frequently on other 
subjects, such as the Middle East peace process, Russia, and the Persian 
Gulf).^^'* But Rice and Hadley began to address the issues Clarke had listed. 
What to do or say about the Cole had been an obvious question since inaugu- 
ration day. When the attack occurred, 25 days before the election, candidate 
Bush had said to CNN, "I hope that we can gather enough intelligence to fig- 
ure out who did the act and take the necessary action. There must be a conse- 
quence."!^^ Since the Clinton administration had not responded militarily, 
what was the Bush administration to do? 

Onjanuary 25,Tenet briefed the President on the Cole investigation.The writ- 
ten briefing repeated for top officials of the new administration what the CIA 
had told the Clinton White House in November.This included the "preliminary 
judgment" that al Qaeda was responsible, with the caveat that no evidence had 
yet been found that Bin Ladin himself ordered the attack. Tenet told us he had 
no recollection of a conversation with the President about this briefing.^^'^ 

In his January 25 memo, Clarke had advised Rice that the government 
should respond to the Cole attack, but "should take advantage of the policy that 



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202 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

'we will respond at a time, place and manner of our own choosing' and not be 
forced into knee-jerk responses." ^^^ Before Vice President Cheney visited the 
CIA in mid-February, Clarke sent him a memo — outside the usual White 
House document-management system — suggesting that he ask CIA officials 
"what additional information is needed before CIA can definitively conclude 
that al-Qida was responsible" for the Cole}''^ In March 2001, the CIA's brief- 
ing slides for Rice were still describing the CIA's "preliminary judgment" that 
a "strong circumstantial case" could be made against al Qaeda but noting that 
the CIA continued to lack "conclusive information on external command and 
control" of the attack.!^' Clarke and his aides continued to provide Rice and 
Hadley with evidence reinforcing the case against al Qaeda and urging action. '^o 

The President explained to us that he had been concerned lest an ineffec- 
tual air strike just serve to give Bin Ladin a propaganda advantage. He said he 
had not been told about Clinton administration warnings to the Taliban. The 
President told us that he had concluded that the United States must use ground 
forces for a job like this.i^i 

Rice told us that there was never a formal, recorded decision not to retali- 
ate specifically for the Cole attack. Exchanges with the President, between the 
President and Tenet, and between herself and Powell and Rumsfeld had pro- 
duced a consensus that"tit-for-tat" responses were likely to be counterproduc- 
tive. This had been the case, she thought, with the cruise missile strikes of 
August 1998. The new team at the Pentagon did not push for action. On the 
contrary, Rumsfeld thought that too much time had passed and his deputy, Paul 
Wolfowitz, thought that the Cole attack was "stale." Hadley said that in the end, 
the administration's real response to the Cole would be a new, more aggressive 
strategy against al Qaeda. 1^2 

The administration decided to propose to Congress a substantial increase in 
counterterrorism funding for national security agencies, including the CIA and 
the FBI. This included a 27 percent increase in counterterrorism funding for 
the CIA. 183 

Starting a Review 

In early March, the administration postponed action on proposals for increas- 
ing aid to the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks. Rice noted at the time that 
a more wide-ranging examination of policy toward Afghanistan was needed 
first. She wanted the review very soon.i*^ 

Rice and others recalled the President saying, "I'm tired of swatting at 
flies."i85 The President reportedly also said, "I'm tired of playing defense. I want 
to play offense. I want to take the fight to the terrorists." ^^'^ President Bush 
explained to us that he had become impatient. He apparently had heard propos- 
als for rolling back al Qaeda but felt that catching terrorists one by one or even 
cell by cell was not an approach likely to succeed in the long run. At the same 
time, he said, he understood that policy had to be developed slowly so that diplo- 
macy and financial and military measures could mesh with one another. 1^7 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 203 

Hadley convened an informal Deputies Committee meeting on March 7, 
when some of the deputies had not yet been confirmed. For the first time, 
Clarke's various proposals — for aid to the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks 
and for Predator missions — went before the group that, in the Bush NSC, 
would do most of the policy work. Though they made no decisions on these 
specific proposals, Hadley apparently concluded that there should be a presi- 
dential national security policy directive (NSPD) on terrorism. ^ 88 

Clarke would later express irritation about the deputies' insistence that a 
strategy for coping with al Qaeda be framed within the context of a regional 
policy. He doubted that the benefits \vould compensate for the time lost. The 
administration had in fact proceeded ^vith Principals Committee meetings on 
topics including Iraq and Sudan without prior contextual review, and Clarke 
favored moving ahead similarly with a narrow counterterrorism agenda. '*' But 
the President's senior advisers sa\v the al Qaeda problem as part of a puzzle that 
could not be assembled without filling in the pieces for Afghanistan and Pak- 
istan. Rice deferred a Principals Committee meeting on al Qaeda until the 
deputies had developed a new pohcy for their consideration. 

The full Deputies Committee discussed al Qaeda on April 30. CIA brief- 
ing slides described al Qaeda as the "most dangerous group we face," citing its 
"leadership, experience, resources, safe haven in Afghanistan, [and] focus on 
attacking U.S."The slides ^varned, "There \vill be more attacks.''^'^ 

At the meeting, the deputies endorsed covert aid to Uzbekistan. Regard- 
ing the Northern Alliance, they "agreed to make no major commitment at 
this time." Washington \vould first consider options for aiding other anti- 
Taliban groups. I'l Meanwhile, the administration would "initiate a compre- 
hensive review of U.S. policy on Pakistan" and explore policy options on 
Afghanistan, "including the option of supporting regime change."i^2 
Working-level officials were also to consider new steps on terrorist financing 
and America's perennially troubled public diplomacy efforts in the Muslim 
world, where NSC staff warned that "^ve have by and large ceded the court 
of public opinion" to al Qaeda. 

While Clarke remained concerned about the pace of the policy review, he 
now saw a greater possibility of persuading the deputies to recognize the 
changed nature of terrorism. ^'^ "phe process of fleshing out that strategy was 
under way. 



6.5 THE NEW ADMINISTRATION'S APPROACH 

The Bush administration in its first months faced many problems other than 
terrorism. They included the collapse of the Middle East peace process and, in 
April, a crisis over a U.S. "spy plane" brought down in Chinese territory. The 
new administration also focused heavily on Russia, a new nuclear strategy that 
allowed missile defenses, Europe, Mexico, and the Persian Gulf. 



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204 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

In the spring, reporting on terrorism surged dramatically. In chapter 8, we 
will explore this reporting and the ways agencies responded. These increasingly 
alarming reports, briefed to the President and top officials, became part of the 
context in which the new administration weighed its options for policy on 
al Qaeda. 

Except for a fe\¥ reports that the CSG considered and apparently judged 
to be unreliable, none of these pointed specifically to possible al Qaeda 
action inside the United States — although the CSG continued to be con- 
cerned about the domestic threat. The mosaic of threat intelligence came 
from the Counterterrorist Center, which collected only abroad. Its reports 
were not supplemented by reports from the FBI. Clarke had expressed con- 
cern about an al Qaeda presence in the United States, and he worried about 
an attack on the White House by "HizboUah, Hamas, al Qida and other ter- 
rorist organizations."'^'^ 

In May, President Bush announced that Vice President Cheney would him- 
self lead an effort looking at preparations for managing a possible attack by 
weapons of mass destruction and at more general problems of national pre- 
paredness. The next fe^v months were mainly spent organizing the effort and 
bringing an admiral from the Sixth Fleet back to Washington to manage it. The 
Vice President's task force was just getting under way when the 9/11 attack 
occurred. 1''^ 

On May 29, at Tenet's request. Rice and Tenet converted their usual weekly 
meeting into a broader discussion on al Qaeda; participants included Clarke, 
CTC chief Cofer Black, and "Richard," a group chief with authority over the 
Bin Ladin unit. Rice asked about "taking the offensive" and whether any 
approach could be made to influence Bin Ladin or the Taliban. Clarke and 
Black replied that the CIA's ongoing disruption activities ivere "taking the 
offensive" and that Bin Ladin could not be deterred. A wide-ranging discus- 
sion then ensued about "breaking the back" of Bin Ladin 's organization. ''* 

Tenet emphasized the ambitious plans for covert action that the CIA had 
developed in December 2000. In discussing the draft authorities for this pro- 
gram in March, CIA officials had pointed out that the spending level envisioned 
for these plans was larger than the CIA's entire current budget for counterter- 
rorism covert action. It would be a niultiyear program, requiring such levels of 
spending for about five years. '^^ 

The CIA official, "Richard," told us that Rice "got it." He said she agreed 
with his conclusions about what needed to be done, although he complained 
to us that the policy process did not follow through quickly enough. ''* Clarke 
and Black were asked to develop a range of options for attacking Bin Ladin 's 
organization, from the least to most ambitious, i^'' 

Rice and Hadley asked Clarke and his staff to draw up the new presiden- 
tial directive. On June 7, Hadley circulated the first draft, describing it as "an 
admittedly ambitious" program for confronting al Qaeda. -0° The draft 
NSPD's goal was to "eliminate the al Qida network of terrorist groups as a 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 205 

threat to the United States and to friendly governments." It called for a multi- 
year effort involving diplomacy, covert action, economic measures, law 
enforcement, public diplomacy, and if necessary military efforts. The State 
Department was to work with other governments to end all al Qaeda sanctu- 
aries, and also to work with the Treasury Department to disrupt terrorist 
financing. The CIA was to develop an expanded covert action program includ- 
ing significant additional funding and aid to anti- Taliban groups. The draft also 
tasked OMB with ensuring that sufficient funds to support this program were 
found in U.S. budgets from fiscal years 2002 to 2006.201 

Rice viewed this draft directive as the embodiment of a comprehensive new 
strategy employing all instruments of national power to eliminate the al Qaeda 
threat. Clarke, however, regarded the new draft as essentially similar to the pro- 
posal he had developed in December 2000 and put forward to the new admin- 
istration in January 2001.202 jj^ May or June, Clarke asked to be moved from 
his counterterrorism portfolio to a new set of responsibilities for cybersecu- 
rity. He told us that he was frustrated with his role and with an administration 
that he considered not "serious about al Qaeda."203 If Clarke was frustrated, he 
never expressed it to her, Rice told us. 20^1 

Diplomacy in Blind Alleys 

Afghanistan. The new administration had already begun exploring possible 
diplomatic options, retracing many of the paths traveled by its predecessors. U.S. 
envoys again pressed the Taliban to turn Bin Ladin "over to a country where 
he could face justice" and repeated, yet again, the warning that the Taliban 
would be held responsible for any al Qaeda attacks on U.S. interests.205 The 
Taliban's representatives repeated their old arguments. Deputy Secretary of 
State Richard Armitage told us that while U.S. diplomats were becoming more 
active on Afghanistan through the spring and summer of 2001, "it would be 
wrong for anyone to characterize this as a dramatic shift from the previous 
administration."206 

In deputies meetings at the end of June,Tenet was tasked to assess the prospects 
for Taliban cooperation with the United States on al Qaeda. The NSC staff was 
tasked to flesh out options for dealing with the Taliban. Revisiting these issues 
tried the patience of some of the officials who felt they had already been down 
these roads and who found the NSC's procedures slow. "We weren't going fast 
enough," Armitage told us. Clarke kept arguing that moves against the Taliban 
and al Qaeda should not have to wait months for a larger review of U.S. pol- 
icy in South Asia. "For the government," Hadley said to us, "we moved it along 
as fast as we could move it along."207 

As all hope in moving the Taliban faded, debate revived about giving covert 
assistance to the regime's opponents. Clarke and the CIA's Cofer Black 
renewed the push to aid the Northern Alliance. Clarke suggested starting with 
modest aid, just enough to keep the Northern Alliance in the fight and tie 
down al Qaeda terrorists, without aiming to overthrow the Taliban. 208 



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206 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Rice, Hadley, and the NSC staff member for Afghanistan, Zalniay Khalilzad, 
told us they opposed giving aid to the Northern Alliance alone.They argued that 
the program needed to have a big part for Pashtun opponents of theTaliban.They 
also thought the program should be conducted on a larger scale than had been 
suggested. Clarke concurred with the idea of a larger program, but he warned that 
delay risked the Northern Alliance s final defeat at the hands of the Taliban.-^'' 

During the spring, the CIA, at the NSC's request, had developed draft legal 
authorities — a presidential finding — to undertake a large-scale program of 
covert assistance to the Taliban's foes. The draft authorities expressly stated that 
the goal of the assistance was not to overthrow the Taliban. But even this pro- 
gram would be very costly. This \vas the context for earlier conversations, ^vhen 
in March Tenet stressed the need to consider the impact of such a large pro- 
gram on the political situation in the region and in May Tenet talked to Rice 
about the need for a multiyear financial commitment. -1° 

By July, the deputies were moving toward agreement that some last effort 
should be made to convince theTaliban to shift position and then, if that failed, 
the administration \vould move on the significantly enlarged covert action pro- 
gram. As the draft presidential directive was circulated in July, the State Depart- 
ment sent the deputies a lengthy historical review of U.S. efforts to engage the 
Taliban about Bin Ladin from 1996 on. "These talks have been fruitless," the 
State Department concluded.-^^ 

Arguments in the summer brought to the surface the more fundamental 
issue of whether the U.S. covert action program should seek to overthrow the 
regime, intervening decisively in the civil war in order to change Afghanistan's 
government. By the end of a deputies meeting on September 10, officials for- 
mally agreed on a three-phase strategy. First an envoy ^vould give the Taliban a 
last chance. If this failed, continuing diplomatic pressure would be combined 
with the planned covert action program encouraging anti- Taliban Afghans of 
all major ethnic groups to stalemate theTaliban in the civil war and attack al 
Qaeda bases, while the United States developed an international coalition to 
undermine the regime. In phase three, if theTaliban 's policy still did not change, 
the deputies agreed that the United States ^vould try covert action to topple 
the Taliban's leadership from within.212 

The deputies agreed to revise the al Qaeda presidential directive, then being 
finalized for presidential approval, in order to add this strategy to it. Armitage 
explained to us that after months of continuing the previous administration's 
policy, he and Powell ^vere bringing the State Department to a policy of over- 
throwing theTaliban. From his point of vie^v, once the United States made the 
commitment to arm the Northern Alliance, even covertly, it was taking action 
to initiate regime change, and it should give those opponents the strength to 
achieve complete victory.2i3 

Pakistan. The Bush administration immediately encountered the dilemmas 
that arose from the varied objectives the United States was trying to accom- 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 207 

plish in its relationship with Pakistan. In February 2001, President Bush wrote 
General Musharraf on a number of matters. He emphasized that Bin Ladin and 
al Qaeda were "a direct threat to the United States and its interests that must 
be addressed." He urged Musharraf to use his influence with the Taliban on 
Bin Ladin and al Qaeda. -''* Po\¥ell and Arniitage revie\¥ed the possibility of 
acquiring more carrots to dangle in front of Pakistan. Given the generally neg- 
ative view of Pakistan on Capitol Hill, the idea of lifting sanctions may have 
seemed far-fetched, but perhaps no more so than the idea of persuading 
Musharraf to antagonize the Islamists in his own government and nation.-i^ 

On June 18, Rice met with the visiting Pakistani foreign minister, Abdul 
Sattar. She "really let him have it" about al Qaeda, she told us. 216 Other evi- 
dence corroborates her account. But, as she was upbraiding Sattar, Rice 
recalled thinking that the Pakistani diplomat seemed to have heard it all before. 
Sattar urged senior U.S. policymakers to engage the Taliban, arguing that such 
a course would take time but would produce results. In late June, the deputies 
agreed to review U.S. objectives. Clarke urged Hadley to split off all other issues 
in U.S. -Pakistani relations and just focus on demanding that Pakistan move vig- 
orously against terrorism — to push the Pakistanis to do before an al Qaeda attack 
what Washington would demand that they do after. He had made similar 
requests in the Clinton administration; he had no more success with Rice than 
he had with Berger.-'^ 

On August 4, President Bush wrote President Musharraf to request his sup- 
port in dealing with terrorism and to urge Pakistan to engage actively against 
al Qaeda. The new administration was again registering its concerns, just as its 
predecessor had, but it was still searching for new incentives to open up diplo- 
matic possibilities. For its part, Pakistan had done little. Assistant Secretary of 
State Christina Rocca described the administrations plan to break this logjam 
as a move from "half engagement" to "enhanced engagement." The adminis- 
tration was not ready to confront Islamabad and threaten to rupture relations. 
Deputy Secretary Arniitage told us that before 9/11, the envisioned new 
approach to Pakistan had not yet been attempted. -^^ 

Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration did not develop new diplomatic ini- 
tiatives on al Qaeda with the Saudi government before 9/11. Vice President 
Cheney called Crown Prince Abdullah on July 5, 2001, to seek Saudi help in 
preventing threatened attacks on American facilities in the Kingdom. Secre- 
tary of State Powell met with the crown prince twice before 9/11. They dis- 
cussed topics like Iraq, not al Qaeda. U.S. -Saudi relations in the summer of 2001 
were marked by sometimes heated disagreements about ongoing Israeli- 
Palestinian violence, not about Bin Ladin. 21' 

Military Plans 

The confirmation of the Pentagons new leadership was a lengthy process. 
Deputy Secretary Wo Ifowitz was confirmed in March 2001 and Under Secre- 



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208 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

tary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith in July. Though the new officials were 
briefed about terrorism and some of the earlier planning, including that for 
Operation Infinite Resolve, they were focused, as Secretary Rumsfeld told us, 
on creating a t^venty-first-century military-^o 

At the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shelton did not recall much interest by 
the new administration in military options against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He 
could not recall any specific guidance on the topic from the secretary. Brian 
Sheridan — the outgoing assistant secretary of defense for special operations and 
low-intensity conflict (SOLIC), the key counterterrorism policy office in the 
Pentagon — never briefed Rumsfeld. He departed on January 20; he had not 
been replaced by 9/11.221 

Rumsfeld noted to us his own interest in terrorism, which came up often 
in his regular meetings with Tenet. He thought that the Defense Department, 
before 9/1 1, was not organized adequately or prepared to deal with new threats 
like terrorism. But his time was consumed with getting new officials in place 
and working on the foundation documents of a new defense policy, the quad- 
rennial defense review, the defense planning guidance, and the existing contin- 
gency plans. He did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that 
engaged his attention before 9/11, other than the development of the Preda- 
tor unmanned aircraft system. 222 

The commander of Central Command, General Franks, told us that he did 
not regard the existing plans as serious. To him a real military plan to address 
al Qaeda would need to go all the way, following through the details of a full 
campaign (including the political-military issues of where operations would be 
based) and securing the rights to fly over neighboring countries. 223 

The draft presidential directive circulated in June 2001 began its discussion 
of the military by reiterating the Defense Departments lead role in protecting 
its forces abroad. The draft included a section directing Secretary Rumsfeld to 
"develop contingency plans" to attack both al Qaeda and Taliban targets in 
Afghanistan. The new section did not specifically order planning for the use of 
ground troops, or clarify how this guidance differed from the existing Infinite 
Resolve plans. 224 

Hadley told us that by circulating this section, a draft Annex B to the direc- 
tive, the White House was putting the Pentagon on notice that it would need 
to produce new military plans to address this probleni.225 "The military 
didn't particularly want this mission," Rice told us. 226 

With this directive still awaiting President Bush's signature. Secretary 
Rumsfeld did not order his subordinates to begin preparing any new military 
plans against either al Qaeda or the Taliban before 9/11. 

President Bush told us that before 9/11, he had not seen good options for 
special military operations against Bin Ladin. Suitable bases in neighboring 
countries were not available and, even if the U.S. forces were sent in, it was 
not clear where they would go to find Bin Ladin.227 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 209 

President Bush told us that before 9/11 there was an appetite in the gov- 
ernment for killing Bin Ladin, not for -war. Looking back in 2004, he equated 
the presidential directive with a readiness to invade Afghanistan. The problem, 
he said, would have been how to do that if there had not been another attack 
on America. To many people, he said, it would have seemed like an ultimate 
act of unilateralism. But he said that he was prepared to take that on.--^ 

Domestic Change and Continuity 

During the transition. Bush had chosen John Ashcroft, a former senator from 
Missouri, as his attorney general. On his arrival at the Justice Department, 
Ashcroft told us, he faced a number of problems spotlighting the need for 
reform at the FBI. 229 

In February, Clarke briefed Attorney General Ashcroft on his directorate's 
issues. He reported that at the time, the attorney general acknowledged a 
"steep learning curve," and asked about the progress of the Cole investiga- 
tion. 230 Neither Ashcroft nor his predecessors received the President's Daily 
Brief. His oflSce did receive the daily intelligence report for senior officials 
that, during the spring and summer of 2001, was carrying much of the same 
threat information. 

The FBI was struggling to build up its institutional capabilities to do more 
against terrorism, relying on a strategy called MAXCAP 05 that had been 
unveiled in the summer of 2000. The FBI's assistant director for counterterror- 
ism. Dale Watson, told us that he felt the new Justice Department leadership 
was not supportive of the strategy. Watson had the sense that the Justice Depart- 
ment wanted the FBI to get back to the investigative basics: guns, drugs, and 
civil rights. The new administration did seek an 8 percent increase in overall 
FBI funding in its initial budget proposal for fiscal year 2002, including the 
largest proposed percentage increase in the FBI's counterterrorism program 
since fiscal year 1997. The additional funds included the FBI's support of the 
2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah (a onetime increase), enhanced 
security at FBI facilities, and improvements to the FBI's WMD incident 
response capability.2-'i 

In May, the Justice Department began shaping plans for building a budget 
for fiscal year 2003, the process that would usually culminate in an administra- 
tion proposal at the beginning of 2002. On May 9, the attorney general testi- 
fied at a congressional hearing concerning federal efforts to combat terrorism. 
He said that "one of the nation's most fundamental responsibilities is to pro- 
tect its citizens . . . from terrorist attacks." The budget guidance issued the next 
day, however, highlighted gun crimes, narcotics trafficking, and civil rights as 
priorities. Watson told us that he almost fell out of his chair when he saw this 
memo, because it did not mention counterterrorism. Longtime FBI Director 
Louis Freeh left in June 2001, after announcing the indictment in the Khobar 
Towers case that he had worked so long to obtain.Thomas Pickard was the act- 



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210 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

ing director during the summer. Freeh's successor, Robert Mueller, took office 
just before 9/11.232 

The Justice Department prepared a draft fiscal year 2003 budget that main- 
tained but did not increase the funding level for counterterrorism in its pend- 
ing fiscal year 2002 proposal. Pickard appealed for more counterterrorism 
enhancements, an appeal the attorney general denied on September 10.233 

Ashcroft had also inherited an ongoing debate on ^vhether and how to 
modify the 1995 procedures governing intelligence sharing between the FBI 
and the Justice Department's Criminal Division. But in August 2001,Ashcroft's 
deputy, Larry Thompson, issued a memorandum reaffirming the 1995 proce- 
dures \vith the clarification that evidence of "any federal felony" ^vas to be 
immediately reported by the FBI to the Criminal Division. The 1995 proce- 
dures remained in effect until after 9/11.234 

Covert Action and the Predator 

In March 2001, Rice asked the CIA to prepare a new series of authorities 
for covert action in Afghanistan. Rice's recollection was that the idea had 
come from Clarke and the NSC senior director for intelligence, Mary 
McCarthy, and had been linked to the proposal for aid to the Northern 
Alliance and the Uzbeks. Rice described the draft document as providing 
for "consolidation plus," superseding the various Clinton administration 
documents. In fact, the CIA drafted two documents. One ^vas a finding that 
did concern aid to opponents of the Taliban regime; the other was a draft 
Memorandum of Notification, which included more open-ended language 
authorizing possible lethal action in a variety of situations. Tenet delivered 
both to Hadley on March 28. The CIA's notes for Tenet advised him that 
"in response to the NSC request for drafts that will help the policymakers 
review their options, each of the documents has been crafted to provide the 
Agency with the broadest possible discretion permissible under the la^v." At 
the meeting, Tenet argued for deciding on a policy before deciding on the 
legal authorities to implement it. Hadley accepted this argument, and the 
draft MON was put on hold.235 

As the policy review moved forward, the planned covert action program 
for Afghanistan was included in the draft presidential directive, as part of an 
"Annex A" on intelligence activities to "eliminate the al Qaeda threat."236 
The main debate during the summer of 2001 concentrated on the one new 
mechanism for a lethal attack on Bin Ladin — an armed version of the Preda- 
tor drone. 

In the first months of the new administration, questions concerning the 
Predator became more and more a central focus of dispute. Clarke favored 
resuming Predator flights over Afghanistan as soon as weather permitted, hop- 
ing that they still might provide the elusive "actionable intelligence" to target 
Bin Ladin with cruise missiles. Learning that the Air Force was thinking of 



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^^ 



FROM THREAT TO THREAT 211 

equipping Predators with ^varheads, Clarke became even more enthusiastic 
about redeployment. -3^ 

The CTC chief, Cofer Black, argued against deploying the Predator for 
reconnaissance purposes. He recalled that the Taliban had spotted a Predator in 
the fall of 2000 and scrambled their MiG fighters. Black wanted to wait until 
the armed version \vas ready. "I do not believe the possible recon value out- 
weighs the risk of possible program termination when the stakes are raised by 
the Taliban parading a charred Predator in front of CNN," he ^vrote. Military 
officers in the Joint Staff shared this concern.--'^ There is some dispute as to 
whether or not the Deputies Committee endorsed resuming reconnaissance 
flights at its April 30, 2001 , meeting. In any event. Rice and Hadley ultimately 
went along with the CIA and the Pentagon, holding off on reconnaissance 
flights until the armed Predator was ready.-^^ 

The CIA's senior management sa^v problems with the armed Predator as 
well, problems that Clarke and even Black and Allen ^vere inclined to mini- 
mize. One (which also applied to reconnaissance flights) was money. A Preda- 
tor cost about $3 million. If the CIA flew Predators for its own reconnaissance 
or covert action purposes, it might be able to borrow them from the Air Force, 
but it was not clear that the Air Force would bear the cost if a vehicle ^vent 
down. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wo Ifowitz took the position that the CIA 
should have to pay for it; the CIA disagreed. -'*° 

Second, Tenet in particular questioned whether he, as Director of Central 
Intelligence, should operate an armed Predator. "This was new ground," he told 
us. Tenet ticked off key questions: What is the chain of command? Who takes 
the shot? Are America's leaders comfortable with the CIA doing this, going 
outside of normal military command and control? Charlie Allen told us that 
when these questions ^vere discussed at the CIA, he and the Agency's execu- 
tive director, A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard, had said that either one of them would 
be happy to pull the trigger, but Tenet ^vas appalled, telling them that they had 
no authority to do it, nor did he.-"*' 

Third, the Hellfire warhead carried by the Predator needed work. It had 
been built to hit tanks, not people. It needed to be designed to explode in a 
different way, and even then had to be targeted with extreme precision. In the 
configuration planned by the Air Force through mid-2001, the Predator's mis- 
sile would not be able to hit a moving vehicle. -'*- 

White House officials had seen the Predator video of the "man in white." 
On July 11, Hadley tried to hurry along preparation of the armed system. He 
directed McLaughlin, Wolfowitz, and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Richard 
Myers to deploy Predators capable of being armed no later than September 1. 
He also directed that they have cost-sharing arrangements in place by August 
1 . Rice told us that this attempt by Hadley to dictate a solution had failed and 
that she eventually had to intervene herself.-'*^ 

On August 1, the Deputies Committee met again to discuss the armed 



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212 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Predator. They concluded that it -was legal for the CIA to kill Bin Ladin or one 
of his deputies with the Predator. Such strikes -would be acts of self-defense that 
would not violate the ban on assassinations in Executive Order 12333. The big 
issues — who would pay for what, ^vho would authorize strikes, and ^vho would 
pull the trigger — were left for the principals to settle. The Defense Department 
representatives did not take positions on these issues. -'^'^ 

The CIA's McLaughlin had also been reticent. When Hadley circulated a 
memorandum attempting to prod the deputies to reach agreement, McLaugh- 
lin sent it back with a handwritten comment on the cost-sharing: "we ques- 
tion whether it is advisable to make such an investment before the decision is 
taken on flying an armed Predator." For Clarke, this came close to being a final 
straw. He angrily asked Rice to call Tenet. "Either al Qida is a threat ^vorth act- 
ing against or it is not," Clarke wrote. "CIA leadership has to decide ^vhich it 
is and cease these bi-polar mood swings."-'*^ 

These debates, though, had little impact in advancing or delaying efforts to 
make the Predator ready for combat. Those were in the hands of military offi- 
cers and engineers. General John Jumper had commanded U.S. air forces in 
Europe and seen Predators used for reconnaissance in the Balkans. He started 
the program to develop an armed version and, after returning in 2000 to head 
the Air Combat Command, took direct charge of it. 

There were numerous technical problems, especially ^vith the Hellfire mis- 
siles. The Air Force tests conducted during the spring \vere inadequate, so 
missile testing needed to continue and modifications needed to be made 
during the summer. Even then, Jumper told us, problems \vith the equipment 
persisted. Nevertheless, the Air Force was moving at an extraordinary pace. "In 
the modern era, since the 1980s," Jumper said to us,"I would be shocked if you 
found anything that went faster than this."246 

September 2001 

The Principals Committee had its first meeting on al Qaeda on September 4. 
On the day of the meeting, Clarke sent Rice an impassioned personal note. He 
criticized U.S. counterterrorism efforts past and present. The "real question" 
before the principals, he wrote, was "are we serious about dealing with the 
al Qida threat? . . . Is al Qida a big deal? . . . Decision makers should imagine them- 
selves on a future day when the CSG has not succeeded in stopping al Qida attacks and 
hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including^ the US," Clarke wrote. 
"What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier? That 
future day could happen at any time."-'*^ 

Clarke then turned to the Cole. " The fact that the USS Cole was attacked dur- 
ing the last Administration does not absolve us of responding for the attack" he wrote. 
"Many in al Qida and the Taliban may have drawn the wrong lesson from the 
Cole: that they can kill Americans without there being a US response, ^vith- 
out there being a price. . . . One might have thought that with a $250m hole 



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FROM THREAT TO THREAT 213 

in a destroyer and 17 dead sailors, the Pentagon might have \vanted to respond. 
Instead, they have often talked about the fact that there is 'nothing worth hit- 
ting in Afghanistan' and said 'the cruise missiles cost more than the jungle gyms 
and mud huts' at terrorist camps." Clarke could not understand "tc/jy we con- 
tinue to allow the existence of large scale al Qida bases where we know people are being 
trained to kill Americans."^'^^ 

Turning to the CIA, Clarke warned that its bureaucracy, which was "mas- 
terful at passive aggressive behavior," would resist funding the new national 
security presidential directive, leaving it a "hollow shell of words without 
deeds."The CIA would insist its other priorities were more important. Invok- 
ing President Bush's own language, Clarke wrote," You are left with a modest effort 
to swat flies, to try to prevent specific al Qida attacks by using [intelligence] to 
detect them and friendly governments' police and intelligence officers to stop 
them. You are left waitingfor the big attack, with lots of casualties, after which some 
major US retaliation will be in order[.]"2'*9 

Rice told us she took Clarke's memo as a warning not to get dragged down 
by bureaucratic inertia. -^o While his arguments have force, we also take 
Clarke's jeremiad as something more. After nine years on the NSC staff and 
more than three years as the president's national coordinator, he had often failed 
to persuade these agencies to adopt his views, or to persuade his superiors to 
set an agenda of the sort he wanted or that the whole government could sup- 
port. 

Meanwhile, another counterterrorism veteran, Cofer Black, was preparing 
his boss for the principals meeting. He advised Tenet that the draft presidential 
directive envisioned an ambitious covert action program, but that the author- 
ities for it had not yet been approved and the funding still had not been found. 
If the CIA was reluctant to use the Predator, Black did not mention it. He 
wanted "a timely decision from the Principals," adding that the window for 
missions within 2001 was a short one. The principals would have to decide 
whether Rice,Tenet, Rumsfeld, or someone else would give the order to fire.-^^ 

At the September 4 meeting, the principals approved the draft presidential 
directive with little discussion. ^52 Rice told us that she had, at some point, told 
President Bush that she and his other advisers thought it would take three years 
or so for their al Qaeda strategy to work.253 They then discussed the armed 
Predator. 

Hadley portrayed the Predator as a useful tool, although perhaps not for 
immediate use. Rice, who had been advised by her staff that the armed Preda- 
tor was not ready for deployment, commented about the potential for using 
the armed Predator in the spring of 2002.254 

The State Department supported the armed Predator, although Secretary 
Powell was not convinced that Bin Ladin was as easy to target as had been sug- 
gested. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was skittish, cautioning about the impli- 
cations of trying to kiU an individual.^ss 



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214 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

The Defense Department favored strong action. Deputy Secretary Wol- 
fowitz questioned the United States' ability to dehver Bin Ladin and bring him 
to justice. He favored going after Bin Ladin as part of a larger air strike, simi- 
lar to what had been done in the 1986 U.S. strike against Libya. General Myers 
emphasized the Predator's value for surveillance, perhaps enabling broader air 
strikes that would go beyond Bin Ladin to attack al Qaeda's training infrastruc- 
ture. 256 

The principals also discussed which agency — CIA or Defense — should have 
the authority to fire a missile from the armed Predator.-'^ 

At the end. Rice summarized the meeting's conclusions. The armed Preda- 
tor capability was needed but not ready. The Predator would be available for 
the mihtary to consider along with its other options. The CIA should consider 
flying reconnaissance-only missions. The principals — including the previously 
reluctant Tenet — thought that such reconnaissance flights ^vere a good idea, 
combined \vith other efforts to get actionable intelligence. Tenet deferred an 
answer on the additional reconnaissance flights, conferred with his staff after 
the meeting, and then directed the CIA to press ahead with them.^ss 

A few days later, a final version of the draft presidential directive was circu- 
lated, incorporating two minor changes made by the principals. ^59 

On September 9, dramatic news arrived from Afghanistan. The leader of the 
Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud, had granted an interview in his bun- 
galo\v near the Tajikistan border ^vith t^vo men ^vhonl the Northern Alliance 
leader had been told were Arab journalists. The supposed reporter and camera- 
man — actually al Qaeda assassins — then set ofli^a bomb, riddling Massoud's chest 
with shrapnel. He died minutes later. 

On September 10, Hadley gathered the deputies to finalize their three- 
phase, multiyear plan to pressure and perhaps ultimately topple theTaliban lead- 
ership.260 

That same day, Hadley instructed DCI Tenet to have the CIA prepare new 
draft legal authorities for the "broad covert action program" envisioned by the 
draft presidential directive. Hadley also directedTenet to prepare a separate sec- 
tion "authorizing a broad range of other covert activities, including authority 
to capture or to use lethal force" against al Qaeda command-and-control ele- 
ments. This section would supersede the Clinton-era documents. Hadley 
wanted the authorities to be flexible and broad enough "to cover any additional 
UBL-related covert actions conteniplated."-<^i 

Funding still needed to be located. The military component remained 
unclear. Pakistan remained uncooperative. The domestic policy institutions 
were largely uninvolved. But the pieces were coming together for an integrated 
policy dealing ^vith al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Pakistan. 



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7 
THE ATTACK LOOMS 



7.1 FIRST ARRIVALS IN CALIFORNIA 

In chapter 5 we described the Southeast Asia travels of Nawaf al Hazmi, Khahd 
al Mihdhar, and others in January 2000 on the first part of the "planes opera- 
tion." In that chapter ^ve also described ho\¥ Mihdhar was spotted in Kuala 
Lumpur early in January 2000, along with associates who were not identified, 
and then was lost to sight when the group passed through Bangkok. On Jan- 
uary 15, Haznii and Mihdhar arrived in Los Angeles. They spent about two 
weeks there before moving on to San Diego. ^ 

Two Weeks in Los Angeles 

Why Haznii and Mihdhar came to California, we do not know for certain. 
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the organizer of the planes operation, 
explains that California was a convenient point of entry from Asia and had the 
added benefit of being far away from the intended target area.- 

Hazmi and Mihdhar were ill-prepared for a mission in the United States. 
Their only qualifications for this plot were their devotion to Usama Bin Ladin, 
their veteran service, and their ability to get valid LJ.S. visas. Neither had spent 
any substantial time in the West, and neither spoke much, if any, English. ^ 

It would therefore be plausible that they or KSM would have tried to iden- 
tify, in advance, a friendly contact for them in the United States. In detention, 
KSM denies that al Qaeda had any agents in Southern California. We do not 
credit this denial. '^ We believe it is unlikely that Haznii and Mihdhar — neither 
of whom, in contrast to the Hamburg group, had any prior exposure to life in 
the West — ^would have come to the United States without arranging to receive 
assistance from one or more individuals informed in advance of their arrival. ^ 

KSM says that though he told others involved in the conspiracy to stay away 
from mosques and to avoid establishing personal contacts, he made an excep- 
tion in this case and instructed Haznii and Mihdhar to pose as newly arrived 

215 



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216 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Saudi students and seek assistance at local mosques. He counted on their break- 
ing off any such relationships once they moved to the East Coast. <^ Our inabil- 
ity to ascertain the activities of Hazmi and Mihdhar during their first two weeks 
in the United States may reflect al Qaeda tradecraft designed to protect the 
identity of anyone \vho may have assisted them during that period. 

Hazmi and Mihdhar were directed to enroU in English-language classes upon 
arriving in Southern California, so that they could begin pilot training as soon 
as possible. KSM claims to have steered the two to San Diego on the basis of his 
own research, which supposedly included thumbing through a San Diego phone 
book acquired at a Karachi flea market. Contradicting himself, he also says that, 
as instructed, they attempted to enroll in three language schools in Los Angeles.^ 

After the pair cleared Immigration and Customs at Los Angeles International 
Airport, we do not know where they went.^They appear to have obtained assis- 
tance from the Muslim community, specifically the community surrounding the 
King Fahd mosque in Culver City, one of the most prominent mosques in 
Southern California. 

It is fairly certain that Hazmi and Mihdhar spent time at the King Fahd 
mosque and made some acquaintances there. One witness interviewed by the 
FBI after the September 11 attacks has said he first met the hijackers at the 
mosque in early 2000. Furthermore, one of the people who ^vould befriend 
them — a man named Mohdar Abdullah — recalled a trip ^vith Hazmi and 
Mihdhar to Los Angeles in June when, on their arrival, the three went to the 
King Fahd mosque. There Hazmi and Mihdhar greeted various individuals 
whom they appeared to have met previously, including a man named "Khal- 
1am." In Abdullah's telling, when Khallam visited the al Qaeda operatives at 
their motel that evening, Abdullah was asked to leave the room so that Hazmi, 
Mihdhar, and Khallam could meet in private. The identity of Khallam and his 
purpose in meeting \vith Hazmi and Mihdhar remain unknown.' 

To understand what Hazmi and Mihdhar did in their first ^veeks in the 
United States, evidently staying in Los Angeles, ^ve have investigated whether 
anyone associated with the King Fahd mosque assisted them. This subject has 
received substantial attention in the media. Some have speculated that Fahad 
alThumairy — an imam at the mosque and an accredited diplomat at the Saudi 
Arabian consulate from 1996 until 2003 — may have played a role in helping 
the hijackers establish themselves on their arrival in Los Angeles. This specula- 
tion is based, at least in part, onThumairy's reported leadership of an extrem- 
ist faction at the mosque. '^ 

A ^vell-known figure at the King Fahd mosque and within the Los Ange- 
les Muslim community, Thumairy was reputed to be an Islamic fundamental- 
ist and a strict adherent to orthodox Wahhabi doctrine. Some Muslims 
concerned about his preaching have said he "injected non-Islamic themes into 
his guidance/prayers at the [King Fahd] Mosque" and had followers "support- 
ive of the events of September 11, 2001."ii Thumairy appears to have associ- 



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^^ 



THE ATTACK LOOMS 217 

ated with a particularly radical faction within the community of local worship- 
pers, and had a network of contacts in other cities in the United States. After 
9/ll,Thuniairy's conduct was a subject of internal debate among some Saudi 
ofEcials. He apparently lost his position at the King Fahd mosque, possibly 
because of his immoderate reputation. On May 6, 2003,Thumairy attempted 
to reenter the United States from Saudi Arabia but was refused entry, based on 
a determination by the State Department that he might be connected ^vith ter- 
rorist activity. 12 

When interviewed by both the FBI and the Commission staff, Thuniairy 
has denied preaching anti-Western sermons, much less promoting violent jihad. 
More to the point, he claimed not to recognize either Haznii or Mihdhar. Both 
denials are somewhat suspect. (He likewise denied knowing Omar al Bay- 
oumi — a man from San Diego ^ve will discuss shortly — even though witnesses 
and telephone records establish that the two men had contact with each other. 
SimilarlyThumairy's claim not to know Mohdar Abdullah is belied by Abdul- 
lah's contrary assertion.) On the other hand,Thumairy undoubtedly met ^vith 
and provided religious counseling to countless individuals during his tenure at 
the King Fahd mosque, so he might not remember t^vo transients like Hazmi 
and Mihdhar several years later. ^^ 

The circumstantial evidence makes Thumairy a logical person to consider 
as a possible contact for Hazmi and Mihdhar. Yet, after exploring the available 
leads, we have not found evidence that Thumairy provided assistance to the 
two operatives. 14 

We do not pick up their trail until February 1, 2000, \vhen they encoun- 
tered Omar al Bayoumi and Caysan Bin Don at a halal food restaurant on 
Venice Boulevard in Culver City, a few blocks away from the King Fahd 
mosque. Bayoumi and Bin Don have both told us that they had driven up from 
San Diego earlier that day so that Bayoumi could address a visa issue and col- 
lect some papers from the Saudi consulate. Bayoumi heard Hazmi and Mih- 
dhar speaking in ^vhat he recognized to be Gulf Arabic and struck up a 
conversation. Since Bin Don kne\v only a little Arabic, he had to rely heavily 
on Bayoumi to translate for him.i^ 

Mihdhar and Hazmi said they ^vere students from Saudi Arabia \vho had 
just arrived in the United States to study English. They said they were living 
in an apartment near the restaurant but did not specify the address. They did 
not like Los Angeles and were having a hard time, especially because they did 
not know anyone. Bayoumi told them how pleasant San Diego was and offered 
to help them settle there. The t^vo pairs then left the restaurant and went their 
separate ways.^i^ 

Bayoumi and Bin Don have been interviewed many times about the Feb- 
ruary 1 , 2000, lunch. For the most part, their respective accounts corroborate 
each other. Ho^vever, Bayoumi has said that he and Bin Don attempted to visit 
the King Fahd mosque after lunch but could not find it. Bin Don, on the other 



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218 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

hand, recalls visiting the mosque t^vice that day for prayers, both before and 
after the meal. Bin Don's recollection is spotty and inconsistent. Bayoumi s ver- 
sion can be challenged as well, since the mosque is close to the restaurant and 
Bayoumi had visited it, and the surrounding area, on multiple occasions, includ- 
ing twice within six weeks of February l.We do not know whether the lunch 
encounter occurred by chance or design. We know about it because Bayoumi 
told law enforcement that it happened.!^ 

Bayoumi, then 42 years old, was in the United States as a business student, 
supported by a private contractor for the Saudi CivilAviation Authority, where 
Bayoumi had worked for over 20 years. i* The object of considerable media 
speculation follo^ving 9/11, he lives now in Saudi Arabia, ^vell aware of his 
notoriety. Both ^ve and the FBI have interviewed him and investigated evi- 
dence about him. 

Bayoumi is a devout Muslim, obliging and gregarious. He spent much of 
his spare time involved in religious study and helping run a mosque in El 
Cajon, about 15 miles from San Diego. It is certainly possible that he has dis- 
sembled about some aspects of his story, perhaps to counter suspicion. On the 
other hand, ^ve have seen no credible evidence that he believed in violent 
extremism or knowingly aided extremist groups, i' Our investigators who have 
dealt directly with him and studied his background find him to be an unlikely 
candidate for clandestine involvement with Islamist extremists. 

The Move to San Diego 

By February 4, Hazmi and Mihdhar had come to San Diego from Los Ange- 
les, possibly driven by Mohdar Abdullah. Abdullah, a Yemeni university student 
in his early 20s, is fluent in both Arabic and English, and ^vas perfectly suited to 
assist the hijackers in pursuing their mission. -O 

After 9/11, Abdullah ^vas interviewed many times by the FBI. He admitted 
knowing of Hazmi and Mihdhar's extremist leanings and Mihdhar's involve- 
ment with the Islamic Army of Aden (a group with ties to al Qaeda) back in 
Yemen. Abdullah clearly ^vas sympathetic to those extremist views. During a 
post-9/11 search of his possessions, the FBI found a notebook (belonging to 
someone else) with references to planes falling from the sky, mass killing, and 
hijacking. Further, when detained as a material witness follo^ving the 9/11 
attacks, Abdullah expressed hatred for the U.S. government and "stated that the 
U.S. brought 'this' on themselves."-! 

When intervie^ved by the FBI after 9/11, Abdullah denied having advance 
knowledge of attacks. In May 2004, however, \ve learned of reports about 
Abdullah bragging to fellow inmates at a California prison in September- 
October 2003 that he had known Hazmi and Mihdhar were planning a ter- 
rorist attack. The stories attributed to Abdullah are not entirely consistent with 
each other. Specifically, according to one inmate, Abdullah claimed an 
unnamed individual had notified him that Hazmi and Mihdhar would be arriv- 



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THE ATTACK LOOMS 219 

ing in Los Angeles with plans to carry out an attack. Abdullah allegedly told 
the same inmate that he had driven the t\¥o al Qaeda operatives from Los Ange- 
les to San Diego, but did not say when this occurred. We have been unable to 
corroborate this account.22 

Another inmate has recalled Abdullah claiming he first heard about the 
hijackers' terrorist plans after they arrived in San Diego, when they told him 
they planned to fly an airplane into a building and invited him to join them 
on the plane. According to this inmate, Abdullah also claimed to have found 
out about the 9/11 attacks three weeks in advance, a claim that appears to dove- 
tail with evidence that Abdullah may have received a phone call from Hazmi 
around that time, that he stopped making calls from his telephone after August 
25, 2001, and that, according to his friends, he started acting strangely.23 

Although boasts among prison inmates often tend to be unreliable, this evi- 
dence is obviously important. To date, neither we nor the FBI have been able 
to verify Abdullah's alleged jailhouse statements, despite investigative efforts. 

We thus do not know when or how Hazmi and Mihdhar first came to San 
Diego. We do know that on February 4, they went to the Islamic Center of 
San Diego to find Omar al Bayoumi and take him up on his offer of help. Bay- 
oumi obliged by not only locating an apartment but also helping them fill out 
the lease application, co-signing the lease and, when the real estate agent refused 
to take cash for a deposit, helping them open a bank account (which they did 
with a $9,900 deposit); he then provided a certified check from his own 
account for which the al Qaeda operatives reimbursed him on the spot for the 
deposit. Neither then nor later did Bayoumi give money to either Hazmi or 
Mihdhar, who had received money from KSM.-'' 

Hazmi and Mihdhar moved in with no furniture and practically no posses- 
sions. Soon after the move, Bayoumi used their apartment for a party attended 
by some 20 male members of the Muslim community. At Bayoumi's request, 
Bin Don videotaped the gathering with Bayoumi's video camera. Hazmi and 
Mihdhar did not mingle with the other guests and reportedly spent most of 
the party by themselves off camera, in a back room.^s 

Hazmi and Mihdhar immediately started looking for a different place to stay. 
Based on their comment to Bayoumi about the first apartment being expen- 
sive, one might infer that they wanted to save money.They may also have been 
reconsidering the wisdom of living so close to the video camera— wielding Bay- 
oumi, who Hazmi seemed to think ^vas some sort of Saudi spy. Just over a week 
after moving in, Hazmi and Mihdhar filed a 30-day notice of intention to 
vacate. Bayoumi apparently loaned them his cell phone to help them check out 
possibilities for new accommodations. 2* 

Their initial effort to move turned out poorly. An acquaintance arranged 
with his landlord to have Mihdhar take over his apartment. Mihdhar put down 
a $650 deposit and signed a lease for the apartment effective March 1. Several 
weeks later, Mihdhar sought a refund of his deposit, claiming he no longer 



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220 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

intended to move in because the apartment ^vas too messy. When the landlord 
refused to refund the deposit, Mihdhar became belligerent. The landlord 
remembers him "ranting and raving" as if he ^vere "psychotic."-^ 

Hazmi and Mihdhar finally found a room to rent in the home of an indi- 
vidual they had met at a mosque in San Diego. According to the homeowner, 
the future hijackers moved in on May 10, 2000. Mihdhar moved out after only 
about a month. On June 9, he left San Diego to return to Yemen. Hazmi, on 
the other hand, stayed at this house for the rest of his time in California, until 
mid-December; he would then leave for Arizona with a newly arrived 9/11 
hijacker-pilot, Hani Hanjour.^s 

While in San Diego, Hazmi and Mihdhar played the part of recently arrived 
foreign students. They continued to reach out to members of the Muslim com- 
munity for help. At least initially, they found well-meaning ne^v acquaintances 
at the Islamic Center of San Diego, \vhich was only a stones thro^v from the 
apartment where they first lived. For example, \vhen they purchased a used car 
(with cash), they bought it from a man who lived across the street from the 
Islamic Center and who let them use his address in registering the vehicle, an 
accommodation "to help a fellow Muslim brother." Similarly, in April, when 
their cash supply may have been d^vindling, Hazmi persuaded the administra- 
tor of the Islamic Center to let him use the administrators bank account to 
receive a $5,000 ^vire transfer from someone in Dubai, in the United Arab Emi- 
rates (this was KSM's nephew,Ah Abdul Aziz Ali). 29 

Hazmi and Mihdhar visited other mosques as well, miKing comfortably as 
devout worshippers. During the operatives' critical first weeks in San Diego, 
Mohdar Abdullah helped them. Translating between English and Arabic, he 
assisted them in obtaining California drivers licenses and ^vith applying to lan- 
guage and flight schools. Abdullah also introduced them to his circle of friends; 
he shared an apartment with some of those friends near the Rabat mosque in 
La Mesa, a few miles from the hijackers' residence.^" 

Abdullah has emerged as a key associate of Hazmi and Mihdhar in San 
Diego. Detained after 9/11 (first as a material witness, then on immigration 
charges), he was deported to Yemen on May 21, 2004, after the U.S. Attorney 
for the Southern District of California declined to prosecute him on charges 
arising out of his alleged jailhouse admissions concerning the 9/11 operatives. 
The Department of Justice declined to delay his removal pending further inves- 
tigation of this new information. ^^ 

Other friends of Abdullah also translated for Hazmi and Mihdhar and helped 
them adjust to life in San Diego. Some held extremist beliefs or ^vere well 
acquainted ^vith known extremists. For example, immediately after 9/11, 
Osama A\vadallah, a Yemeni whose telephone number was found in Hazmi's 
Toyota at Washington Dulles International Airport, was found to possess pho- 
tos, videos, and articles relating to Bin Ladin. A^vadallah also had lived in a house 
where copies of Bin Ladin's fatwas and other similar materials were distributed 



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^^ 



THE ATTACK LOOMS 221 

to the residents. Omar Bakarbashat, a Saudi, also met Haznii and Mihdhar at 
the Rabat mosque. He admitted helping Hazmi to learn English and taking 
over the operatives' first apartment in San Diego after they moved out. Bakar- 
bashat apparently had downloaded stridently anti- American Web pages to his 
computer's hard drive. -'- 

Another potentially significant San Diego contact for Hazmi and Mihdhar 
was Anwar Aulaqi, an imam at the Rabat mosque. Born in New Mexico and 
thus a U.S. citizen, Aulaqi grew up in Yemen and studied in the United States 
on a Yemeni government scholarship. We do not know how or when Hazmi 
and Mihdhar first met Aulaqi. The operatives may even have met or at least 
talked to him the same day they first moved to San Diego. Hazmi and Mih- 
dhar reportedly respected Aulaqi as a religious figure and developed a close rela- 
tionship with him. 3 3 

When interviewed after 9/11, Aulaqi said he did not recognize Hazmi's 
name but did identify his picture. Although Aulaqi admitted meeting with 
Hazmi several times, he claimed not to remember any specifics of what they 
discussed. He described Hazmi as a soft-spoken Saudi student who used to 
appear at the mosque with a companion but who did not have a large circle 
of friends. 3^* 

Aulaqi left San Diego in mid-2000, and by early 2001 had relocated to Vir- 
ginia. As we will discuss later, Haznii eventually showed up at Aulaqi's mosque 
in Virginia, an appearance that may not have been coincidental. We have been 
unable to learn enough about Aulaqi's relationship with Hazmi and Mihdhar 
to reach a conclusion. ^^ 

In sum, although the evidence is thin as to specific motivations, our overall 
impression is that soon after arriving in California, Hazmi and Mihdhar sought 
out and found a group of young and ideologically like-minded Muslims with 
roots in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, individuals mainly associated with Mohdar 
Abdullah and the Rabat mosque. The al Qaeda operatives lived openly in San 
Diego under their true names, listing Haznii in the telephone directory. They 
managed to avoid attracting much attention. 

Flight Training Fails; Mihdhar Bails Out 

Hazmi and Mihdhar came to the United States to learn English, take flying 
lessons, and become pilots as quickly as possible. They turned out, however, to 
have no aptitude for English. Even with help and tutoring from Mohdar Abdul- 
lah and other bilingual friends, Hazmi and Mihdhar's efforts to learn proved 
futile. This lack of language skills in turn became an insurmountable barrier to 
learning how to fly. 3* 

A pilot they consulted at one school, the Sorbi Flying Club in San Diego, 
spoke Arabic. He explained to them that their flight instruction would begin 
with small planes. Hazmi and Mihdhar emphasized their interest in learning to 
fly jets, Boeing aircraft in particular, and asked where they might enroll to train 



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222 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

on jets right away. Convinced that the two were either joking or dreaming, the 
pilot responded that no such school existed. Other instructors who worked 
with Hazmi and Mihdhar remember them as poor students who focused on 
learning to control the aircraft in flight but took no interest in takeoffs or land- 
ings. By the end of May 2000, Hazmi and Mihdhar had given up on learning 
how to fly.-*^ 

Mihdhar's mind seems to have been with his family back in Yemen, as evi- 
denced by calls he made from the apartment telephone. When news of the birth 
of his first child arrived, he could stand life in California no longer. In late May 
and early June of 2000, he closed his bank account, transferred the car regis- 
tration to Hazmi, and arranged his return to Yemen. According to KSM, Mih- 
dhar was bored in San Diego and foresaw no problem in coming back to the 
United States since he had not overstayed his visa. Hazmi and Mohdar Abdul- 
lah accompanied him to Los Angeles on June 9. After visiting the King Fahd 
mosque one last time with his friends, Mihdhar left the country the follow- 
ing day. 3 8 

KSM kept in fairly close touch with his operatives, using a variety of meth- 
ods. When Bin Ladin called KSM back from Pakistan to Afghanistan in the 
spring of 2000, KSM asked Khallad (whom we introduced in chapter 5) to 
maintain email contact with Hazmi in the United States. Mihdhar's decision 
to strand Hazmi in San Diego enraged KSM, who had not authorized the 
departure and feared it would compromise the plan. KSM attempted to drop 
Mihdhar from the planes operation and would have done so, he says, had he 
not been overruled by Bin Ladin. ^9 

Following Mihdhar's departure, Hazmi grew lonely and worried that he 
would have trouble managing by himself. He prayed with his housemate each 
morning at 5:00 A.M. and attended services at the Islamic Center. He borrowed 
his housemate's computer for Internet access, following news coverage of fight- 
ing in Chechnya and Bosnia. With his housemate's help, Hazmi also used the 
Internet to search for a wife (after obtaining KSM's approval to marry). This 
search did not succeed. Although he developed a close relationship with his 
housemate, Hazmi preferred not to use the house telephone, continuing the 
practice he and Mihdhar had adopted of going outside to make phone calls. ''o 

After Mihdhar left, other students moved into the house. One of these, 
Yazeed al Salmi, stands out. In July 2000, Salmi purchased $4,000 in traveler's 
checks at a bank in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. On September 5, Hazmi deposited 
$1,900 of the traveler's checks into his bank account, after withdrawing the 
same amount in cash. It is possible that Hazmi was simply cashing the traveler's 
checks for a friend. We do not know; Salmi claims not to remember the trans- 
action.After 9/11, Salmi reportedly confided to Mohdar AbduUah that he had 
previously known terrorist pilot Hani Hanj our. After living in the same house 
with Hazmi for about a month. Salmi moved to the La Mesa apartment shared 
by AbduUah and others. '^i 



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THE ATTACK LOOMS 223 

By the fall of 2000, Hazmi no longer even pretended to study English or 
take flying lessons. A^vare that his co-conspirators in Afghanistan and Pakistan 
would be sending him a ne\¥ colleague shortly, he bided his time and worked 
for a few weeks at a gas station in La Mesa where some of his friends, includ- 
ing Abdullah, were employed. On one occasion, Hazmi told a fellow employee 
that he ^vas planning to find a better job, and let slip a prediction that he -would 
become famous. '*- 

On December 8, 2000, Hani Hanjour arrived in San Diego, having traveled 
fi-om Dubai via Paris and Cincinnati. Hazmi likely picked up Hanjour at the 
airport.We do not know where Hanjour stayed; a few days later, both men left 
San Diego. Before departing, they visited the gas station in La Mesa, where 
Hazmi reportedly introduced Hanjour as a "long time friend from Saudi Ara- 
bia." Hazmi told his housemate that he and his friend "Hani" were headed for 
San Jose to take flying lessons and told his friends that he would stay in touch. 
Hazmi promised to return to San Diego soon, and he and Hanjour drove off^^ 

Hazmi did not sever all contact with his friends in San Diego. According to 
Abdullah, after Hazmi left San Diego in December 2000, he telephoned Abdul- 
lah twice: in December 2000 or January 2001, Hazmi said he was in San Fran- 
cisco and would be attending flight school there; about two weeks later, he said 
he was attending flight school in Arizona. Some evidence, which we will dis- 
cuss later, indicates that Hazmi contacted Abdullah again, in August 2001. In 
addition, during the month following Hazmi's departure from San Diego, he 
emailed his housemate three times, including a January 2001 email that Hazmi 
signed "Smer," an apparent attempt to conceal his identity that struck the 
housemate as strange at the time. Hazmi also telephoned his housemate that 
he and his friend had decided to take flight lessons in Arizona, and that Mih- 
dhar was now back in Yemen. That was their last contact. When the housemate 
emailed Hazmi in February and March of 2001 to find out how he was far- 
ing, Hazmi did not reply. ^'^ 

The housemate who rented the room to Hazmi and Mihdhar during 2000 
is an apparently law-abiding citizen with long-standing, friendly contacts 
among local police and FBI personnel. He did not see anything unusual enough 
in the behavior of Hazmi or Mihdhar to prompt him to report to his law 
enforcement contacts. Nor did those contacts ask him for information about 
his tenants/housemates. 



7.2 THE 9/11 PILOTS IN THE UNITED STATES 

The Hamburg Pilots Arrive in the United States 

In the early summer of 2000, the Hamburg group arrived in the United States 
to begin flight training. Marwan al Shehhi came on May 29, arriving in Newark 
on a flight from Brussels. He went to New York City and waited there for 



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224 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Mohanied Acta to join him. On June 2,Atta traveled to the Czech Repubhc 
by bus from Germany and then flew fi^om Prague to Newark the next day. 
According to Ramzi Binalshibh, Atta did not meet with anyone in Prague; he 
simply believed it would contribute to operational security to fly out of Prague 
rather than Hamburg, the departure point for much of his previous interna- 
tional travel.'*^ 

Atta and Shehhi had not settled on where they would obtain their flight 
training. In contrast, Ziad Jarrah had already arranged to attend the Florida 
Flight Training Center (FFTC) in Venice, Florida. Jarrah arrived in Newark on 
June 27 and then flew to Venice. He immediately began the private pilot pro- 
gram at FFTC, intending to get a multi-engine license. Jarrah moved in ^vith 
some of the flight instructors affiliated with his school and bought a car.^* 

While Jarrah quickly settled into training in Florida, Atta and Shehhi kept 
searching for a flight school. After visiting the Airman Flight School in Nor- 
man, Oklahoma (where Zacarias Moussaoui would enroll several months later 
and where another al Qaeda operative, Ihab Ali, had taken lessons in the mid- 
1990s), Atta started flight instruction at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida, 
and both Atta and Shehhi subsequently enrolled in the Accelerated Pilot Pro- 
gram at that school. By the end of July, both of them took solo flights, and by 
mid-August they passed the private pilot airman test. They trained through the 
summer at Huflinan, ^vhile Jarrah continued his training at FFTC.'*^ 

The Hamburg operatives paid for their flight training primarily with funds 
wired from Dubai by KSM's nephew,Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. Between June 29 and 
September 17, 2000, Ali sent Shehhi and Atta a total of $114,500 in five trans- 
fers ranging from $5,000 to $70,000. Ali relied on the unremarkable nature of 
his transactions, which were essentially invisible amid the billions of dollars 
flowing daily across the globe.'^^ Ali ^vas not required to provide identification 
in sending this money and the aliases he used were not questioned."*' 

In mid-Septeniber,Atta and Shehhi applied to change their immigration sta- 
tus from tourist to student, stating their intention to study at Huffman until 
September 1, 2001. In late September, they decided to enroll at Jones Aviation 
in Sarasota, Florida, about 20 miles north ofVenice. According to the instruc- 
tor at Jones, the two were aggressive, rude, and sometimes even fought ^vith 
him to take over the controls during their training flights. In early October, 
they took the Stage I exam for instruments rating at Jones Aviation and failed. 
Very upset, they said they \vere in a hurry because jobs awaited them at home. 
Atta and Shehhi then returned to Huffman. ^^ 

In the meantime, Jarrah obtained a single-engine private pilot certificate in 
early August. Having reached that milestone, he departed on the first of five 
foreign trips he would take after first entering the United States. In October, 
he flew back to Germany to visit his girlfriend, Aysel Senguen.The two trav- 
eled to Paris before Jarrah returned to Florida on October 29. His relationship 
with her remained close throughout his time in the United States. In addition 



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THE ATTACK LOOMS 225 

to his trips, Jarrah made hundreds of phone calls to her and communicated fre- 
quently by email. 51 

Jarrah was supposed to be joined at FFTC by Ramzi Binalshibh, who even 
sent the school a deposit. But Binalshibh could not obtain a U.S. visa. His first 
applications in May and June 2000 were denied because he lacked established 
ties in Germany ensuring his return from a trip to the United States. In Sep- 
tember, he went home to Yemen to apply for a visa from there, but was denied 
on grounds that he also lacked sufficient ties to Yemen. In October, he tried 
one last time, in Berlin, applying for a student visa to attend "aviation language 
school," but the prior denials ^vere noted and this application was denied as 
well, as incomplete. 52 

Unable to participate directly in the operation, Binalshibh instead took on 
the role of coordinating between KSM and the operatives in the United States. 
Apart from sending a total of about $10,000 in ^vire transfers to Atta and Sheh- 
hi during the summer of 2000, one of Binalshibh's first tasks in his new role as 
plot coordinator ^vas to assist another possible pilot, Zacarias Moussaoui.53 

In the fall of 2000, KSM had sent Moussaoui to Malaysia for flight training, 
but Moussaoui did not find a school he liked. He worked instead on other ter- 
rorist schemes, such as buying four tons of ammonium nitrate for bombs to be 
planted on cargo planes flying to the United States. When KSM found out, he 
recalled Moussaoui back to Pakistan and directed him to go to the United 
States for flight training. In early October, Moussaoui went to London. When 
Binalshibh visited London in December, he stayed at the same 16-room dor- 
mitory where Moussaoui was still residing. From London, Moussaoui sent 
inquiries to the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma. ^^i 

Confronting training or travel problems with Hazmi, Mihdhar, Binalshibh, 
and Moussaoui, al Qaeda was looking for another possible pilot candidate. A 
new recruit with just the right background conveniently presented himself in 
Afghanistan. 

The Fourth Pilot: Hani Hanjour 

Hani Hanjour, fromTa'if, Saudi Arabia, first came to the United States in 1991 
to study at the Center for English as a Second Language at the University of 
Arizona. He seems to have been a rigorously observant Muslim. According to 
his older brother, Hani Hanjour went to Afghanistan for the first time in the 
late 1980s, as a teenager, to participate in the jihad and, because the Soviets had 
already withdrawn, ^vorked for a relief agency there.^s 

In 1996, Hanjour returned to the United States to pursue flight training, 
after being rejected by a Saudi flight school. He checked out flight schools in 
Florida, California, and Arizona; and he briefly started at a couple of them 
before returning to Saudi Arabia. In 1997, he returned to Florida and then, 
along with two friends, went back to Arizona and began his flight training there 
in earnest. After about three months, Hanjour was able to obtain his private 



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226 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

pilot's license. Several more months of training yielded him a commercial pilot 
certificate, issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in April 1999. 
He then returned to Saudi Arabia. ^6 

Hanjour reportedly applied to the civil aviation school in Jeddah after 
returning home, but was rejected. He stayed home for a while and then told 
his family he was going to the United Arab Emirates to work for an airline. 
Where Hanjour actually traveled during this time period is unknown. It is pos- 
sible he went to the training camps in Afghanistan. ^^ 

The fact that Hanjour spent so much time in Arizona may be significant. A 
number of important al Qaeda figures attended the University of Arizona in 
Tucson or lived in Tucson in the 1980s and early 1990s. ^^ Some of Hanjour's 
known Arizona associates from the time of his flight training in the late 1990s 
have also raised suspicion. ^^ FBI investigators have speculated that al Qaeda may 
have directed other extremist Muslims in the Phoenix area to enroll in avia- 
tion training. It is clear that when Hanjour lived in Arizona in the 1990s, he 
associated with several individuals holding extremist beliefs who have been the 
subject of counterterrorism investigations. Some of them trained with Han- 
jour to be pilots. Others had apparent connections to al Qaeda, including train- 
ing in Afghanistan. 1^0 

By the spring of 2000, Hanjour was back in Afghanistan. According to KSM, 
Hanjour was sent to him in Karachi for inclusion in the plot after Hanjour was 
identified in al Qaeda 's al Faruq camp as a trained pilot, on the basis of back- 
ground information he had provided. Hanjour had been at a camp in 
Afghanistan for a few weeks when Bin Ladin or Atef apparently realized that 
he was a trained pilot; he was told to report to KSM, who then trained Han- 
jour for a few days in the use of code words. "^i 

On June 20, Hanjour returned home to Saudi Arabia. He obtained a U.S. 
student visa on September 25 and told his family he was returning to his job 
in the UAE. Hanjour did go to the UAE, but to meet facilitator Ali Abdul 
Aziz Ali. 62 

Ali opened a bank account in Dubai for Hanjour and providing the initial 
funds for his trip. On December 8, Hanjour traveled to San Diego. His supposed 
destination was an English as a second language program in Oakland, Califor- 
nia, which he had scheduled before leaving Saudi Arabia but never attended. 
Instead, as mentioned earlier, he joined Nawaf al Hazmi in San Diego.*-* 

Hazmi and Hanjour left San Diego almost immediately and drove to Ari- 
zona. Settling in Mesa, Hanjour began refresher training at his old school, Ari- 
zona Aviation. He wanted to train on multi-engine planes, but had difficulties 
because his English was not good enough. The instructor advised him to dis- 
continue but Hanjour said he could not go home without completing the 
training. In early 2001, he started training on a Boeing 737 simulator at Pan 
Am International Flight Academy in Mesa. An instructor there found his work 
well below standard and discouraged him from continuing. Again, Hanjour per- 



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THE ATTACK LOOMS 227 

severed; he completed the initial training by the end of March 2001. At that 
point, Hanjour and Haznii vacated their apartment and started driving east, 
anticipating the arrival of the "muscle hijackers" — the operatives who would 
storm the cockpits and control the passengers. By as early as April 4, Hanjour 
and Hazmi had arrived in Falls Church, Virginia. '^'^ 

The three pilots in Florida continued with their training. Atta and Shehhi 
finished up at Huffman and earned their instrument certificates from the FAA 
in November. In mid-December 2000, they passed their commercial pilot tests 
and received their licenses. They then began training to fly large jets on a flight 
simulator. At about the same time, Jarrah began simulator training, also in 
Florida but at a different center. By the end of 2000, less than six months after 
their arrival, the three pilots on the East Coast ^vere simulating flights on large 
jets. ''5 

Travels In Early 2001 

Jarrah, Atta, and Shehhi, having progressed in their training, all took foreign 
trips during the holiday period of 2000— 2001. Jarrah flew through Germany 
to get home to Beirut. A few weeks later, he returned to Florida via Germany, 
with Aysel Senguen. She stayed ^vith him in Florida for ten days, even accom- 
panying him to a flight training session. We do not know ^vhether Atta or al 
Qaeda leaders knew about Jarrah 's trips and Senguen s visit. The other opera- 
tives had broken off regular contact with their families. At the end of January 
2001, Jarrah again flew to Beirut, to visit his sick father. After staying there for 
several weeks, Jarrah visited Senguen in Germany for a few days before return- 
ing to the United States at the end of February.*'^ 

While Jarrah took his personal trips, Atta traveled to Germany in early Jan- 
uary 2001 for a progress meeting ^vith Ramzi Binalshibh. Binalshibh says Atta 
told him to report to the al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan that the three 
Hamburg pilots had completed their flight training and were awaiting orders. 
Atta also disclosed that a fourth pilot, Hanjour, had joined Hazmi. Upon 
returning to Florida, Atta wired Binalshibh travel money. Binalshibh proceeded 
to Afghanistan, made his report, and spent the next several months there and 
in Pakistan. "^^ 

When Atta returned to Florida, Shehhi left for Morocco, traveling to 
Casablanca in mid-January Shehhi's family, concerned about not having heard 
from him, reported him missing to the UAE government. The UAE embassy 
in turn contacted the Hamburg police and a UAE representative tried to find 
him in Germany, visiting mosques and Shehhi's last address in Hamburg. After 
learning that his family was looking for him, Shehhi telephoned them on Jan- 
uary 20 and said he was still living and studying in Hamburg. The UAE gov- 
ernment then told the Hamburg police they could call off the search, i^^ 

Atta and Shehhi both encountered some difficulty reentering the United 
States, on January 10 and January 18, respectively. Because neither presented a 



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228 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 



Atta's Alleged Trip to Prague 

Mohanied Atta is known to have been in Prague on two occasions: in 
December 1994, when he stayed one night at a transit hotel, and in June 
2000, when he was en route to the United States. On the latter occa- 
sion, he arrived by bus from Germany, on June 2, and departed for 
Newark the following day'^'' 

The allegation that Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in 
Prague in April 2001 originates from the reporting of a single source of 
the Czech intelligence service. Shortly after 9/11, the source reported 
having seen Atta meet with Ahmad KhalU Ibrahim Samir al Ani, an Iraqi 
diplomat, at the Iraqi Embassy in Prague onApril 9, 2001, at 11:00 A.M. 
This information was passed to CIA headquarters. 

The U.S. legal attache ("Legat") in Prague, the representative of the 
FBI, met with the Czech service s source. After the meeting, the assess- 
ment of the Legat and the Czech officers present was that they were 70 
percent sure that the source was sincere and believed his own story of 
the meeting. Subsequently, the Czech intelligence service publicly stated 
that there was a 70 percent probability that the meeting bet^veen Atta 
and Ani had taken place. The Czech Interior Minister also made several 
statements to the press about his belief that the meeting had occurred, 
and the story \vas \videly reported. 

The FBI has gathered evidence indicating that Atta was in Virginia 
Beach on April 4 (as evidenced by a bank surveillance camera photo), 
and in Coral Springs, Florida onApril 11, where he and Shehhi leased 
an apartment. OnApril 6, 9, 10, and 1 1, Atta's cellular telephone was used 
numerous times to call various lodging establishments in Florida from 
cell sites within Florida. We cannot confirm that he placed those calls. 
But there are no U.S. records indicating that Atta departed the country 
during this period. Czech officials have reviewed their flight and bor- 
der records as well for any indication that Atta was in the Czech Repub- 
lic in April 2001, including records of anyone crossing the border who 
even looked Arab. They have also reviewed pictures from the area near 
the Iraqi embassy and have not discovered photos of anyone ^vho looked 
like Atta. No evidence has been found that Atta was in the Czech 
Republic in April 2001. 

According to the Czech government, Ani, the Iraqi officer alleged to 
have met with Atta, was about 70 miles a^vay from Prague on April 8—9 
and did not return until the afternoon of the ninth, while the source ^vas 
firm that the sighting occurred at 11:00 A.M. When questioned about 
the reported April 2001 meeting, Ani — now in custody — has denied ever 



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THE ATTACK LOOMS 



229 



meeting or having any contact ^vith Atta. Ani says that shortly after 9/11, 
he became concerned that press stories about the alleged meeting might 
hurt his career. Hoping to clear his name, Ani asked his superiors to 
approach the Czech government about refuting the allegation. He also 
denies knowing of any other Iraqi official having contact with Atta. 

These findings cannot absolutely rule out the possibility that Atta was 
in Prague on April 9, 2001. He could have used an alias to travel and a 
passport under that alias, but this would be an exception to his practice 
of using his true name while traveling (as he did in January and would 
in July when he took his next overseas trip). The FBI and CIA have 
uncovered no evidence that Atta held any fraudulent passports. 

KSM and Binalshibh both deny that an Atta-Ani meeting occurred. 
There was no reason for such a meeting, especially considering the risk 
it \vould pose to the operation. By April 2001, all four pilots had com- 
pleted most of their training, and the muscle hijackers were about to begin 
entering the United States. 

The available evidence does not support the original Czech report of 
an Atta-Ani meeting. ^o 



student visa, both of them had to persuade INS inspectors that they should be 
admitted so that they could continue their flight training. Neither operative 
had any problem clearing Customs. ^^ 

After returning to Florida from their trips, Atta and Shehhi visited Georgia, 
staying briefly in Norcross and Decatur, and renting a single-engine plane to 
fly with an instructor in LawrenceviUe. By February 19, Atta and Shehhi were 
in Virginia. They rented a mailbox in Virginia Beach, cashed a check, and then 
promptly returned to Georgia, staying in Stone Mountain. We have found no 
explanation for these travels. In mid-March, Jarrah was in Georgia as ^vell, stay- 
ing in Decatur. There is no evidence that the three pilots met, although Jarrah 
and Atta apparently spoke on the phone. At the end of the month, Jarrah left 
the United States again and visited Senguen in Germany for t\vo weeks. In 
early April, Atta and Shehhi returned to Virginia Beach and closed the mail- 
box they had opened in February.^- 

By the time Atta and Shehhi returned to Virginia Beach from their travels 
in Georgia, Hazmi and Hanjour had also arrived in Virginia, in Falls Church. 
They made their ^vay to a large mosque there, the Dar al Hijra mosque, some- 
time in early April. ^3 

As ^ve mentioned earlier, one of the imams at this mosque was the same 
Anwar Aulaqi with whom Hazmi had spent time at the Rabat mosque in San 
Diego. Aulaqi had moved to Virginia in January 2001. He remembers Hazmi 



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230 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

from San Diego but has denied having any contact -with Haznii or Hanjour in 
Virginia.^"* 

At the Dar al Hijra mosque, Hazmi and Hanjour met a Jordanian named 
Eyad al Rababah. Rababah says he had gone to the mosque to speak to the 
imam, Aulaqi, about finding -work. At the conclusion of services, which nor- 
mally had 400 to 500 attendees, Rababah says he happened to meet Hazmi 
and Hanjour. They were looking for an apartment; Rababah referred them to 
a friend who had one to rent. Haznii and Hanjour moved into the apartment, 
which was in Alexandria.^^ 

Some FBI investigators doubt Rababah's story. Some agents suspect that 
Aulaqi may have tasked Rababah to help Hazmi and Hanjour. We share that 
suspicion, given the remarkable coincidence of Aulaqi's prior relationship ^vith 
Hazmi. As noted above, the Commission was unable to locate and interview 
Aulaqi. Rababah has been deported to Jordan, having been convicted after 9/11 
in a fraudulent driver's license scheme.^* 

Rababah, ^vho had lived in Connecticut, Ne^v York, and Ne^v Jersey, told 
investigators that he had recommended Paterson, New Jersey, as a place \vith 
an Arabic-speaking community where Haznii and Hanjour might ^vant to set- 
tle. They asked for his help in getting them an apartment in Paterson. Rababah 
tried without success. He says he then suggested that Haznii and Hanjour travel 
with him to Connecticut where they could look for a place to live.^^ 

On May 8, Rababah went to Hazmi and Hanjour's apartment to pick them 
up for the trip to Connecticut. There he says he found them \vith new room- 
mates — Ahmed al Ghamdi and Majed Moqed. These two men had been sent 
to America to serve as muscle hijackers and had arrived at Dulles Airport on 
May 2. Rababah drove Hanjour to Fairfield, Connecticut, followed by Haznii, 
who had Moqed and Ghamdi in his car. After a short stay in Connecticut, 
where they apparently called area flight schools and real estate agents, 
Rababah drove the four to Paterson to have dinner and show them around. 
He says that they returned ^vith him to Fairfield that night, and that he never 
saw them again.^^ 

Within a few weeks, Hanjour, Hazmi, and several other operatives moved 
to Paterson and rented a one-room apartment. When their landlord later 
paid a visit, he found six men living there — Nawaf al Haznii, now joined by 
his younger brother Salem, Hanjour, Moqed, probably Ahmed al Ghamdi, 
and Abdul Aziz al Oniari; Hazmi 's old friend Khalid al Mihdhar would soon 
join theni.^' 

Atta and Shehhi had already returned to Florida. On April 1 1 , they moved 
into an apartment in Coral Springs. Atta stayed in Florida, awaiting the arrival 
of the first muscle hijackers. '^o 

Shehhi, on the other hand, bought a ticket to Cairo and flew there from 
Miami on April 18. We do not kno^v much more about Shehhi's reason for 
traveling to Egypt in April than we know about his January trip to Morocco. 



Final 5-7. 5pp 7/17/04 11:46 AM Page 



^^ 



THE ATTACK LOOMS 231 

Shehhi did meet with Atta's father, ^vho stated in a post-9/11 intervie\v that 
Shehhi just -wanted to pick up Atta's international driver's license and some 
money.This story is not credible. Atta already had the license with him and pre- 
sented it during a traffic stop on April 26 while Shehhi was still abroad. Sheh- 
hi spent about t^vo ^veeks in Egypt, obviously more time than would have been 
needed just to meet with Atta's father. Shehhi could have traveled elsewhere 
during this time, but no records indicating additional travel have been discov- 
ered.81 

Shehhi returned to Miami on May 2. That day, Atta and Jarrah were 
together, about 30 miles to the north, visiting a Department of MotorVehicles 
office in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, to get Florida driver's licenses. Back in Vir- 
ginia, Hazmi and Hanjour were about to leave for Connecticut and New Jer- 
sey. As the summer approached, the lead operatives were settled in Florida and 
New Jersey, waiting for the rest of their contingent to join theni.^- 



7.3 ASSEMBLING THE TEAMS 

During the summer and early autumn of 2000, Bin Ladin and senior al Qaeda 
leaders in Afghanistan started selecting the muscle hijackers — the operatives 
who would storm the cockpits and control the passengers. Despite the phrase 
widely used to describe them, the so-called muscle hijackers were not at all 
physically imposing; most were between 5' 5" and 5' 7" in height. ^^ 

Recruitment and Selection for 9/11 

Twelve of the 13 muscle hijackers (excluding Nawaf al Hazmi and Mihdhar) 
came from Saudi Arabia: Satam al Suqami,Wail al Shehri, Waleed al Shehri, 
Abdul Aziz al Omari, Ahmed al Ghamdi, Hamza al Ghanidi, Mohand al 
Shehri, Majed Moqed, Salem al Hazmi, Saeed al Ghamdi, Ahmad al Haznawi, 
and Ahmed al Nami. The remaining recruit, Fayez Banihammad, came from 
the LJAE. He appears to have played a unique role among the muscle hijack- 
ers because of his work with one of the plot's financial facilitators, Mustafa al 
Hawsawi.S'* 

Saudi authorities interviewed the relatives of these men and have briefed us 
on what they found. The muscle hijackers came from a variety of educational 
and societal backgrounds. All were between 20 and 28 years old; most were 
unemployed with no more than a high school education and were unmarried.^^ 

Four of them — Ahmed al Ghamdi, Saeed al Ghamdi, Hamza al Ghanidi, 
and Ahmad al Haznawi — came from a cluster of three towns in the al Bahah 
region, an isolated and underdeveloped area of Saudi Arabia, and shared the 
same tribal affiliation. None had a university degree. Their travel patterns and 
information from family members suggest that the four may have been in con- 
tact with each other as early as the fall of 1999.86 



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232 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Five more — ^Wail al Shehri,Waleed al Shehri, Abdul Aziz al Omari, Mohand 
al Shehri, and Ahmed al Nanii — came from Asir Province, a poor region in 
southwestern Saudi Arabia that borders Yemen; this weakly policed area is 
sometimes called "the wild frontier." Wail andWaleed al Shehri were brothers. 
All five in this group had begun university studies. Omari had graduated ^vith 
honors from high school, had attained a degree from the Imam Muhammad 
Ibn Saud Islamic University, was married, and had a daughter. 8^ 

The three remaining muscle hijackers from Saudi Arabia were Satam al 
Suqami, Majed Moqed, and Salem al Hazmi. Suqami came from Riyadh. 
Moqed hailed from a small town called Annakhil, west of Medina. Suqami had 
very little education, and Moqed had dropped out of university. Neither 
Suqami nor Moqed appears to have had ties to the other, or to any of the other 
operatives, before getting involved with extremists, probably by 1999. ^^ 

Salem al Hazmi, a younger brother of Nawaf, was born in Mecca. Salem's 
family recalled him as a quarrelsome teenager. His brother Nawaf probably rec- 
ommended him for recruitment into al Qaeda. One al Qaeda member who 
knew them says that Nawaf pleaded with Bin Ladin to allow Salem to partic- 
ipate in the 9/11 operation.^' 

Detainees have offered varying reasons for the use of so many Saudi oper- 
atives. Binalshibh argues that al Qaeda ^vanted to send a message to the gov- 
ernment of Saudi Arabia about its relationship with the United States. Several 
other al Qaeda figures, however, have stated that ethnicity generally was not a 
factor in the selection of operatives unless it ^vas important for security or oper- 
ational reasons. '0 

KSM, for instance, denies that Saudis were chosen for the 9/11 plot to drive 
a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and stresses practical rea- 
sons for considering ethnic background when selecting operatives. He says that 
so many \vere Saudi because Saudis comprised the largest portion of the pool 
of recruits in the al Qaeda training camps. KSM estimates that in any given 
camp, 70 percent of the mujahideen were Saudi, 20 percent were Yemeni, and 
10 percent ^vere from elsewhere. Although Saudi and Yemeni trainees were 
most often willing to volunteer for suicide operations, prior to 9/11 it was eas- 
ier for Saudi operatives to get into the United States. '^ 

Most of the Saudi muscle hijackers developed their ties to extremists two 
or three years before the attacks. Their families often did not consider these 
young men religious zealots. Some were perceived as devout, others as lacking 
in faith. For instance, although Ahmed al Ghamdi, Hamza al Ghanidi, and Saeed 
al Ghamdi attended prayer services regularly and Omari often served as an 
imam at his mosque in Saudi Arabia, Suqami and Salem al Hazmi appeared 
unconcerned ^vith religion and, contrary to Islamic law, \vere known to drink 
alcohol.92 

Like many other al Qaeda operatives, the Saudis \vho eventually became 
the muscle hijackers ^vere targeted for recruitment outside Afghanistan — 
probably in Saudi Arabia itself. Al Qaeda recruiters, certain clerics, and — in a 



Final 5-7. 5pp l/ll/OA 11:46 AM Page 



THE ATTACK LOOMS 233 

few cases — family members probably all played a role in spotting potential 
candidates. Several of the muscle hijackers seem to have been recruited 
through contacts at local universities and mosques. '^ 

According to the head of one of the training camps in Afghanistan, some 
were chosen by unnamed Saudi sheikhs who had contacts with al Qaeda. 
Omari, for example, is believed to have been a student of a radical Saudi cleric 
named Sulayman al Alwan. His mosque, which is located in al Qassim 
Province, is known among more moderate clerics as a "terrorist factory." The 
province is at the very heart of the strict Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia. 
Saeed al Ghanidi and Mohand al Shehri also spent time in al Qassim, both 
breaking with their families. According to his father, Mohand al Shehri's fre- 
quent visits to this area resulted in his failing exams at his university in Riyadh. 
Saeed al Ghamdi transferred to a university in al Qassim, but he soon stopped 
talking to his family and dropped out of school \vithout informing theni.^'* 

The majority of these Saudi recruits began to break with their families in 
late 1999 and early 2000. According to relatives, some recruits began to make 
arrangements for extended absences. Others exhibited marked changes in 
behavior before disappearing. Salem al Hazmi's father recounted that Salem — 
who had had problems with alcohol and petty theft — stopped drinking and 
started attending mosque regularly three months before he disappeared. '^ 

Several family members remembered that their relatives had expressed a 
desire to participate in jihad, particularly in Chechnya. None had mentioned 
going to Afghanistan. These statements might be true or cover stories. The four 
recruits from the al Ghamdi tribe, for example, all told their families that they 
were going to Chechnya. Only t^vo — Ahmed al Ghamdi and Saeed al 
Ghamdi — had documentation suggesting travel to a Russian republic. ""^ 

Some aspiring Saudi mujahideen, intending to go to Chechnya, encoun- 
tered difficulties along the way and diverted to Afghanistan. In 1999, Ibn al 
Khattab — the primary commander of Arab nationals in Chechnya — reportedly 
had started turning away most foreign mujahideen because of their inexperi- 
ence and inability to adjust to the local conditions. KSM states that several of 
the 9/11 muscle hijackers faced problems traveling to Chechnya and so went 
to Afghanistan, where they were drawn into al Qaeda. '^ 

Khallad has offered a more detailed story of how such diversions occurred. 
According to him, a number of Saudi mujahideen who tried to go to Chech- 
nya in 1999 to fight the Russians were stopped at the Turkish-Georgian bor- 
der. Upon arriving in Turkey, they received phone calls at guesthouses in places 
such as Istanbul and Ankara, informing them that the route to Chechnya via 
Georgia had been closed. These Saudis then decided to travel to Afghanistan, 
where they could train and wait to make another attempt to enter Chechnya 
during the summer of 2000. While training at al Qaeda camps, a dozen of them 
heard Bin Ladin's speeches, volunteered to become suicide operatives, and 
eventually were selected as muscle hijackers for the planes operation. Khallad 
says he met a number of them at the Kandahar airport, where they were help- 



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234 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

ing Co provide extra security. He encouraged Bin Ladin to use them. Khallad 
claims to have been closest with Saeed al Ghamdi, ^vhom he convinced to 
become a martyr and whom he asked to recruit a friend, Ahmed al Ghamdi, 
to the same cause. Although Khallad claims not to recall everyone from this 
group who ^vas later chosen for the 9/11 operation, he says they also included 
Suqami,Waleed and Wail al Shehri, Omari, Nanii, Hamza al Ghamdi, Salem al 
Hazmi, and Moqed.''^ 

According to KSM, operatives volunteered for suicide operations and, for 
the most part, were not pressured to martyr themselves. Upon arriving in 
Afghanistan, a recruit ^vould fill out an application \vith standard questions, such 
as. What brought you to Afghanistan? How did you travel here? Ho\v did you 
hear about us? What attracted you to the cause? What is your educational back- 
ground? Where have you worked before? Applications were valuable for deter- 
mining the potential of ne^v arrivals, for filtering out potential spies from 
among them, and for identifying recruits ^vith special skills. For instance, as 
pointed out earlier, Hani Hanjour noted his pilot training. Prospective opera- 
tives also were asked whether they were prepared to serve as suicide operatives; 
those who answered in the affirmative were interviewed by senior al Qaeda 
lieutenant Muhammad Atef 

KSM claims that the most important quality for any al Qaeda operative 
was willingness to martyr himself. Khallad agrees, and claims that this criterion 
had preeminence in selecting the planes operation participants. The second 
most important criterion ^vas demonstrable patience, Khallad says, because the 
planning for such attacks could take years, loo 

Khallad claims it did not matter whether the hijackers had fought in jihad 
previously, since he believes that U.S. authorities ^vere not looking for such 
operatives before 9/11. But KSM asserts that young mujahideen ^vith clean 
records were chosen to avoid raising alerts during travel. The al Qaeda train- 
ing camp head mentioned above adds that operatives ^vith no prior involve- 
ment in activities likely to be kno^vn to international security agencies were 
purposefully selected for the 9/11 attacks. loi 

Most of the muscle hijackers first underwent basic training similar to that 
given other al Qaeda recruits. This included training in firearms, heavy 
weapons, explosives, and topography. Recruits learned discipline and military 
life.They ^vere subjected to artificial stresses to measure their psychological fit- 
ness and comnntment to jihad.At least seven of the Saudi muscle hijackers took 
this basic training regime at the al Faruq camp near Kandahar. This particular 
camp appears to have been the preferred location for vetting and training 
the potential muscle hijackers because of its proximity to Bin Ladin and 
senior al Qaeda leadership.Two others — Suqami and Moqed — trained at Khal- 
dan, another large basic training facility located near Kabul, where Mihdhar had 
trained in the mid-1990s.i02 

By the time operatives for the planes operation were picked in mid-2000, 
some of them had been training in Afghanistan for months, others were just 



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THE ATTACK LOOMS 235 

arriving for the first time, and still others may have been returning after prior 
visits to the camps. According to KSM, Bin Ladin would travel to the camps 
to deliver lectures and meet the trainees personally. If Bin Ladin believed a 
trainee held promise for a special operation, that trainee would be invited to 
the al Qaeda leader's compound atTarnak Farms for further meetings. ^^^ 

KSM claims that Bin Ladin could assess ne^v trainees very quickly, in about 
ten minutes, and that many of the 9/11 hijackers were selected in this manner. 
Bin Ladin, assisted by Atef, personally chose all the future muscle hijackers for 
the planes operation, primarily between the summer of 2000 and April 2001. 
Upon choosing a trainee, Bin Ladin would ask him to swear loyalty for a sui- 
cide operation. After the selection and oath-s^vearing, the operative would be 
sent to KSM for training and the filming of a martyrdom video, a function 
KSM supervised as head of al Qaeda 's media committee, i^'"* 

KSM sent the muscle hijacker recruits on to Saudi Arabia to obtain U.S. 
visas. He gave them money (about $2,000 each) and instructed them to return 
to Afghanistan for more training after obtaining the visas. At this early stage, 
the operatives were not told details about the operation. The majority of the 
Saudi muscle hijackers obtained U.S. visas in Jeddah or Riyadh between Sep- 
tember and November of 2000.^05 

KSM told potential hijackers to acquire ne^v "clean" passports in their home 
countries before applying for a U.S. visa. This was to avoid raising suspicion 
about previous travel to countries where al Qaeda operated. Fourteen of the 
19 hijackers, including nine Saudi muscle hijackers, obtained new passports. 
Some of these passports were then likely doctored by the al Qaeda passport 
division in Kandahar, ^vhich would add or erase entry and exit stamps to cre- 
ate "false trails" in the passports. io<^ 

In addition to the operatives who eventually participated in the 9/11 attacks 
as muscle hijackers. Bin Ladin apparently selected at least nine other Saudis 
who, for various reasons, did not end up taking part in the operation: 
Mohamed Mani Ahmad al Kahtani, Khalid Saeed Ahmad al Zahrani, Ali Abd 
al Rahman al Faqasi al Ghamdi, Saeed al Baluchi, Qutaybah al Najdi, Zuhair 
al Thubaiti, Saeed AbduUah Saeed al Ghamdi, Saud al Rashid, and Mushabib 
al Hamlan. A tenth individual, a Tunisian with Canadian citizenship named 
Abderraouf Jdey, may have been a candidate to participate in 9/1 1, or he may 
have been a candidate for a later attack. These candidate hijackers either backed 
out, had trouble obtaining needed travel documents, or were removed from the 
operation by the al Qaeda leadership. Khallad believes KSM wanted between 
four and sbc operatives per plane. KSM states that al Qaeda had originally 
planned to use 25 or 26 hijackers but ended up \vith only the 19.^0^ 

Final Training and Deployment to the United States 

Having acquired U.S. visas in Saudi Arabia, the muscle hijackers returned to 
Afghanistan for special training in late 2000 to early 2001. The training report- 
edly ^vas conducted at the al Matar complex by Abu Turab al Jordani, one of 



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236 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

only a handful of al Qaeda operatives who, according to KSM, was aware of 
the full details of the planned planes operation. Abu Turab taught the opera- 
tives how to conduct hijackings, disarm air marshals, and handle explosives. He 
also trained them in bodybuilding and provided them with a few basic Eng- 
lish words and phrases. '"^ 

According to KSM, Abu Turab even had the trainees butcher a sheep and a 
camel with a knife to prepare to use knives during the hijackings. The recruits 
learned to focus on storming the cockpit at the earliest opportunity when the 
doors first opened, and to worry about seizing control over the rest of the plane 
later. The operatives were taught about other kinds of attack as well, such as 
truck bombing, so that they would not be able to disclose the exact nature of 
their operation if they were caught. According to KSM, the muscle did not 
learn the full details — including the plan to hijack planes and fly them into 
buildings — before reaching the United States. 1°' 

After training in Afghanistan, the operatives went to a safehouse maintained 
by KSM in Karachi and stayed there temporarily before being deployed to the 
United States via the UAE.The safehouse was run by al Qaeda operative Abd 
al Rahim Ghulum Rabbani, also known as Abu Rahmah, a close associate of 
KSM who assisted him for three years by finding apartments and lending logis- 
tical support to operatives KSM would send. 

According to an al Qaeda facilitator, operatives were brought to the safe- 
house by a trusted Pakistani al Qaeda courier named Abdullah Sindhi, who 
also worked for KSM. The future hijackers usually arrived in groups of two 
or three, staying at the safe house for as long as two weeks. The facilitator has 
identified each operative whom he assisted at KSM's direction in the spring 
of 2001. Before the operatives left Pakistan, each of them received $10,000 
from KSM for future expenses. i^o 

From Pakistan, the operatives transited through the UAE en route to the 
United States. In the Emirates they were assisted primarily by al Qaeda oper- 
atives Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa al Hawsawi. Ali apparently assisted nine 
future hijackers between April and June 2001 as they came through Dubai. He 
helped them with plane tickets, traveler's checks, and hotel reservations; he also 
taught them about everyday aspects of life in the West, such as purchasing 
clothes and ordering food. Dubai, a modern city with easy access to a major 
airport, travel agencies, hotels, and Western commercial establishments, was an 
ideal transit point, m 

Ali reportedly assumed the operatives he was helping were involved in a big 
operation in the United States, he did not know the details. i^- When he asked 
KSM to send him an assistant, KSM dispatched Hawsawi, who had worked on 
al Qaeda's media committee in Kandahar. Hawsawi helped send the last four 
operatives (other than Mihdhar) to the United States from the UAE. Hawsawi 
would consult with Atta about the hijackers' travel schedules to the United 
States and later check with Atta to confirm that each had arrived. Hawsawi told 



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THE ATTACK LOOMS 237 

the muscle hijackers that they would be met by Atta at the airport. Hawsawi 
also facilitated some of the operation's financing. ^^^ 

The muscle hijackers began arriving in the United States in late April 2001. 
In most cases, they traveled in pairs on tourist visas and entered the United 
States in Orlando or Miami, Florida; Washington, D.C.; or New York. Those 
arriving in Florida were assisted by Atta and Shehhi, while Hazmi and Han- 
jour took care of the rest. By the end of June, 14 of the 15 muscle hijackers 
had crossed the Atlantic, ii"* 

The muscle hijackers supplied an infusion of funds, which they carried as a 
mixture of cash and traveler's checks purchased in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 
Seven muscle hijackers are known to have purchased a total of nearly $50,000 
in traveler's checks that were used in the United States. Moreover, substantial 
deposits into operatives' U.S. bank accounts immediately followed the entry of 
other muscle hijackers, indicating that those newcomers brought money \vith 
them as well. In addition, muscle hijacker Banihammad came to the United 
States after opening bank accounts in the UAE into \vhich were deposited the 
equivalent of approximately $30,000 on June 25, 2001. After his June 27 arrival 
in the United States, Banihammad made Visa and ATM ^vithdrawals from his 
UAE accounts.! 15 

The hijackers made extensive use of banks in the United States, choosing 
both branches of major international banks and smaller regional banks. All of 
the hijackers opened accounts in their own name, and used passports and other 
identification documents that appeared valid on their face. Contrary to numer- 
ous published reports, there is no evidence the hijackers ever used false Social 
Security numbers to open any bank accounts. While the hijackers were not 
experts on the use of the U.S. financial system, nothing they did would have 
led the banks to suspect criminal behavior, let alone a terrorist plot to comnut 
mass murder. 11* 

The last muscle hijacker to arrive was Khalid al Mihdhar. As mentioned ear- 
lier, he had abandoned Hazmi in San Diego in June 2000 and returned to his 
family in Yemen. Mihdhar reportedly stayed in Yemen for about a month before 
KhaUad persuaded him to return to Afghanistan. Mihdhar complained about 
life in the United States. He met with KSM, who remained annoyed at his deci- 
sion to go AWOL. But KSM's desire to drop him from the operation yielded 
to Bin Ladin's insistence to keep him.n^ 

By late 2000, Mihdhar was in Mecca, staying with a cousin until February 
2001, when he went home to visit his family before returning to Afghanistan. 
In June 2001, Mihdhar returned once more to Mecca to stay with his cousin 
for another month. Mihdhar said that Bin Ladin ^vas planning five attacks on 
the United States. Before leaving, Mihdhar asked his cousin to ^vatch over his 
home and family because of a job he had to do.n* 

On July 4, 2001, Mihdhar left Saudi Arabia to return to the United States, 
arriving at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York. Mihdhar gave 



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238 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 






American Airlines 
Flight 11 

Left to right, 
Mohamed Atta, pilot; 
Waleed al Shehri, 
Wail al Shehri, 
Satam al Suqami, 
Abdulaziz al Omari, 
hijackers 






United Airlines 
Flight 175 

Left to right, 
Manfan al Shehhi, 
pilot; Fayez Baniham- 
mad, Ahmed al 
Ghamdi, Harnza al 
Ghamdi, Mohand al 
Shehri, hijackers 



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AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND 



239 






American Airlines 
Flight 77 

Left to right, 
Hani Hanjour, pilot; 
Najfof al Hazrni, 
Khalid al Mihdhar, 
Majed Moqed, Salem 
al Hazmi, hijackers 





United Airlines 
Flight 93 

Left to right, 
Ziad Jarrah pilot; 
Saeed al Gharndi, 
Ahmad al Haznawi, 
Ahmed al Nami, 
hijackers 



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240 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

his intended address as the Marriott Hotel, New York City, but instead spent 
one night at another New York hotel. He then joined the group of hijackers 
in Paterson, reuniting ^vith Nawaf al Hazmi after more than a year. With two 
months remaining, all 19 hijackers were in the United States and ready to take 
the final steps toward carrying out the attacks. ^^^ 

Assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to al Qaeda 

As we mentioned in chapter 2, -while in Sudan, senior managers in al Qaeda 
maintained contacts \vith Iran and the Iranian-supported worldwide terrorist 
organization Hezbollah, which is based mainly in southern Lebanon and 
Beirut. Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah. 

Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security 
officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Ladin's return to Afghanistan. 
Khallad has said that Iran made a concerted eflibrt to strengthen relations with 
al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed 
because Bin Ladin did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia. Khal- 
lad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to 
facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from 
Afghanistan. For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place 
telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers. Such arrangements were par- 
ticularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda. '-^ 

Our knowledge of the international travels of the al Qaeda operatives 
selected for the 9/11 operation remains fragmentary. But we now have evi- 
dence suggesting that 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi "muscle" operatives traveled into 
or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.^21 

In October 2000, a senior operative of Hezbollah visited Saudi Arabia to 
coordinate activities there. He also planned to assist individuals in Saudi Ara- 
bia in traveling to Iran during November. A top Hezbollah commander and 
Saudi Hezbollah contacts were involved. i-- 

Also in October 2000, two future muscle hijackers, Mohand al Shehri and 
Hamza al Ghamdi, flew from Iran to Kuwait. In November, Ahmed al Ghamdi 
apparently flew to Beirut, traveling — perhaps by coincidence — on the same 
flight as a senior Hezbollah operative. Also in November, Salem al Hazmi appar- 
ently flew from Saudi Arabia to Beirut. 1^3 

In mid-November, we believe, three of the future muscle hijackers. Wail al 
Shehri, Waleed al Shehri, and Ahmed al Nami, all of whom had obtained their 
U.S. visas in late October, traveled in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and 
then onward to Iran. An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative was on the 
same flight that took the future hijackers to Iran. Hezbollah officials in Beirut 
and Iran were expecting the arrival of a group during the same time period. 
The travel of this group was important enough to merit the attention of sen- 
ior figures in Hezbollah, i-'* 

Later in November, two future muscle hijackers, Satam al Suqami and Majed 



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^^ 



THE ATTACK LOOMS 241 

Moqed, fle^v into Iran from Bahrain. In February 2001 , Khalid al Mihdhar may 
have taken a flight fi^om Syria to Iran, and then traveled further within Iran to 
a point near the Afghan border. i-^ 

KSM and Binalshibh have confirmed that several of the 9/11 hijackers (at 
least eight, according to Binalshibh) transited Iran on their way to or from 
Afghanistan, taking advantage of the Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi 
passports. They deny any other reason for the hijackers' travel to Iran. They also 
deny any relationship between the hijackers and Hezbollah. 1^6 

In sum, there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda 
members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were 
future 9/11 hijackers. There also is circumstantial evidence that senior Hezbol- 
lah operatives ^vere closely tracking the travel of some of these future muscle 
hijackers into Iran in November 2000. Ho^vever, we cannot rule out the pos- 
sibility of a remarkable coincidence — that is, that Hezbollah was actually focus- 
ing on some other group of individuals traveling from Saudi Arabia during this 
same time fi^ame, rather than the future hijackers. ^27 

We have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah \vas aware of the plan- 
ning for what later became the 9/11 attack. At the time of their travel through 
Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the spe- 
cific details of their future operation. 

After 9/11, Iran and Hezbollah \vished to conceal any past evidence of 
cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda. A senior Hezbol- 
lah official disclaimed any Hezbollah involvement in 9/11.^28 

We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government. 



7.4 FINAL STRATEGIES AND TACTICS 

Final Preparations in the United States 

During the early summer of 2001, Atta, assisted by Shehhi, was busy coordi- 
nating the arrival of most of the muscle hijackers in southern Florida — pick- 
ing them up at the airport, finding them places to stay, and helping them settle 
in the United States. 129 

The majority settled in Florida. Some opened bank accounts, acquired mail- 
boxes, and rented cars. Several also joined local gyms, presumably to stay fit for 
the operation. Upon first arriving, most stayed in hotels and motels; but by mid- 
June, they settled in shared apartments relatively close to one another and 
Atta. 1^0 Though these muscle hijackers did not travel much after arriving in 
the United States, two of them,Waleed al Shehri and Satani al Suqami, took 
unusual trips. 

On May 19, Shehri and Suqami flew from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport, 
the Bahamas, where they had reservations at the Bahamas Princess Resort.The 
two were turned away by Bahamian officials on arrival, however, because they 



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242 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

lacked visas; they returned to Florida that same day. They likely took this trip 
to rene^v Suqami's immigration status, as Suqami's legal stay in the United States 
ended May 21.131 

On July 30, Shehri traveled alone from Fort Lauderdale to Boston. He flew 
to San Francisco the next day, where he stayed one night before returning via 
Las Vegas. While this travel may have been a casing flight — Shehri traveled in 
first class on the same type of aircraft he would help hijack on September 11 
(a Boeing 767) and the trip included a layover in Las Vegas — Shehri was nei- 
ther a pilot nor a plot leader, as were the other hijackers who took surveillance 
flights. 132 

The three Hamburg pilots — Atta, Shehhi, and Jarrah — took the first of their 
cross-country surveillance flights early in the summer. Shehhi flew from New 
York to Las Vegas via San Francisco in late May. Jarrah flew from Baltimore to 
Las Vegas via Los Angeles in early June. Atta flew from Boston to Las Vegas via 
San Francisco at the end of June. Each traveled in first class, on United Airlines. 
For the east-west transcontinental leg, each operative flew on the same type of 
aircraft he would pilot on September 11 (Atta and Shehhi, a Boeing 767; Jar- 
rah, a Boeing 757). 133 Hanjour and Hazmi, as noted below, took similar cross- 
country surveillance flights in August. 

Jarrah and Hanjour also received additional training and practice flights in 
the early summer. A few days before departing on his cross-country test flight, 
Jarrah flew from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia, where he trained at Hort- 
man Aviation and asked to fly the Hudson Corridor, a low-altitude "hallway" 
along the Hudson River that passes New York landmarks like the World Trade 
Center. Heavy traffic in the area can make the corridor a dangerous route for 
an inexperienced pilot. Because Hortman deemed Jarrah unfit to fly solo, he 
could fly this route only with an instructor. 13'* 

Hanjour, too, requested to fly the Hudson Corridor about this same time, 
at Air Fleet Training Systems inTeterboro, New Jersey, where he started receiv- 
ing ground instruction soon after settling in the area with Hazmi. Hanjour flew 
the Hudson Corridor, but his instructor declined a second request because of 
what he considered Hanjour's poor piloting skills. Shortly thereafter, Hanjour 
switched to CaldweU Flight Academy in Fairfield, New Jersey, where he rented 
small aircraft on several occasions during June and July. In one such instance 
on July 20, Hanjour — likely accompanied by Hazmi — rented a plane from 
Caldwell and took a practice flight from Fairfield to Gaithersburg, Maryland, 
a route that would have allowed them to fly near Washington, D.C. Other evi- 
dence suggests that Hanjour may even have returned to Arizona for flight sim- 
ulator training earlier in June. 135 

There is no indication that Atta or Shehhi received any additional flight 
training in June. Both were likely too busy organizing the newly arrived mus- 
cle hijackers and taking their cross-country surveillance flights. Atta, moreover, 
needed to coordinate with his second-in-command, Nawaf al Hazmi. 13* 



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THE ATTACK LOOMS 243 

Although Atta and Haznii appear to have been in Virginia at about the same 
time in early April, they probably did not meet then. Analysis of late April com- 
munications associated with KSM indicates that they had wanted to get 
together in April but could not coordinate the meeting J^^ Atta and Hazmi 
probably first met in the United States only \vhen Haznii traveled round-trip 
from Newark to Miami between June 19 and June 25. 

After he returned to New Jersey, Hazmi s behavior began to closely paral- 
lel that of the other hijackers. He and Hanjour, for instance, soon established 
new bank accounts, acquired a mailbox, rented cars, and started visiting a gym. 
So did the four other hijackers who evidently were staying with them in New 
Jersey. Several also obtained new photo identification, first in New Jersey and 
then at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, where Hazmi and Hanjour 
had obtained such documents months earlier, likely with help from their Jor- 
danian friend, Rababah.^^s 

Atta probably met again with Hazmi in early July. Returning from his ini- 
tial cross-country surveillance flight, Atta flew into New York. Rather than 
return immediately to Florida, he checked into a Ne^v Jersey hotel. He picked 
up tickets to travel to Spain at a travel agency in Paterson on July 4 before 
departing for Fort Lauderdale. Now that the muscle hijackers had arrived, he 
was ready to meet with Ramzi Binalshibh for the last time.'^' 

The Meeting in Spain 

After meeting with Atta in Berlin in January 2001, Binalshibh had spent much 
of the spring of 2001 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, helping move the muscle 
hijackers as they passed through Karachi. During the Berlin meeting, the two 
had agreed to meet later in the year in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the operation 
in person again. In late May, Binalshibh reported directly to Bin Ladin at an 
al Qaeda facility kno^vn as "Compound Six" near Kandahar, i'*" 

Bin Ladin told Binalshibh to instruct Atta and the others to focus on their 
security and that of the operation, and to advise Atta to proceed as planned with 
the targets discussed before Atta left Afghanistan in early 2000 — the World 
Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, and the Capitol. According 
to Binalshibh, Bin Ladin said he preferred the White House over the Capitol, 
asking Binalshibh to confirm that Atta understood this preference. Binalshibh 
says Bin Ladin had given the same message to Waleed al Shehri for conveyance 
to Atta earlier that spring. Binalshibh also received permission to meet Atta in 
Malaysia. Atef provided money for the trip, which KSM would help Binalshibh 
arrange in Karachi. ^'^^ 

In early June, Binalshibh traveled by taxi from Kandahar to Quetta, Pakistan, 
where al Qaeda courier Abu Rahmah took him to KSM. According to Binal- 
shibh, KSM provided a plane ticket to Malaysia and a fraudulent Saudi pass- 
port to use for the trip. KSM told him to ask Atta to select a date for the attacks. 
Binalshibh was to return to Germany and then inform KSM of the date. KSM 



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244 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

also gave Binalshibh the email address of Zacarias Moussaoui for future con- 
tact. Binalshibh then left for Kuala Lumpur. i'*^ 

Binalshibh contacted Atta upon arriving in Malaysia and found a change in 
plan. Atta could not travel because he was too busy helping the new arrivals 
settle in the United States. After remaining in Malaysia for approximately three 
weeks, Binalshibh went to Bangkok for a few days before returning to Ger- 
many. He and Atta agreed to meet later at a location to be determined, i'*-' 

In early July, Atta called Binalshibh to suggest meeting in Madrid, for rea- 
sons Binalshibh claims not to know. He says he preferred Berlin, but that he 
and Atta kne^v too many people in Germany and feared being spotted 
together. Unable to buy a ticket to Madrid at the height of the tourist season, 
Binalshibh booked a seat on a flight to Reus, near Barcelona, the next day. Atta 
was already en route to Madrid, so Binalshibh phoned Shehhi in the United 
States to inform him of the change in itinerary. ''*'* 

Atta arrived in Madrid on July 8. He spent the night in a hotel and made 
three calls from his room, most likely to coordinate with Binalshibh. The next 
day, Atta rented a car and drove to Reus to pick up Binalshibh; the two then 
drove to the nearby town of Cambrils. Hotel records show Atta renting rooms 
in the same area until July 19, when he returned his rental car in Madrid and 
fle^v back to Fort Lauderdale. On July 16, Binalshibh returned to Hamburg, 
using a ticket Atta had purchased for him earlier that day. According to Binal- 
shibh, they did not meet with anyone else while in Spain. ^^^^ 

Binalshibh says he told Atta that Bin Ladin wanted the attacks carried out 
as soon as possible. Bin Ladin, Binalshibh conveyed, was worried about hav- 
ing so many operatives in the United States. Atta replied that he could not yet 
provide a date because he was too busy organizing the arriving hijackers and 
still needed to coordinate the timing of the flights so that the crashes would 
occur simultaneously. Atta said he required about five to six weeks before he 
could provide an attack date. Binalshibh advised Atta that Bin Ladin had 
directed that the other operatives not be informed of the date until the last 
minute. Atta \vas to provide Binalshibh with advance notice of at least a \veek 
or two so that Binalshibh could travel to Afghanistan and report the date per- 
sonally to Bin Ladin. i'*'^ 

As to targets, Atta understood Bin Ladin 's interest in striking the White 
House. Atta said he thought this target too difficult, but had tasked Haznn and 
Hanjour to evaluate its feasibility and was awaiting their ans^ver. Atta said that 
those two operatives had rented small aircraft and flo^vn reconnaissance flights 
near the Pentagon. Atta explained that Hanjour was assigned to attack the Pen- 
tagon, Jarrah the Capitol, and that both Atta and Shehhi would hit the World 
Trade Center. If any pilot could not reach his intended target, he was to crash 
the plane. If Atta could not strike the World Trade Center, he planned to crash 
his aircraft directly into the streets of Ne^v York. Atta told Binalshibh that each 
pilot had volunteered for his assigned target, and that the assignments were sub- 
ject to change. i'*^ 



Final 5-7. 5pp l/ll/OA 11:46 AM Page 



THE ATTACK LOOMS 245 

During the Spain meeting, Atta also mentioned that he had considered tar- 
geting a nuclear facility he had seen during familiarization flights near New 
York — a target they referred to as "electrical engineering." According to Binal- 
shibh, the other pilots did not like the idea.They thought a nuclear target ^vould 
be difficult because the airspace around it \vas restricted, making reconnaissance 
flights impossible and increasing the likelihood that any plane would be shot 
down before impact. Moreover, unlike the approved targets, this alternative had 
not been discussed with senior al Qaeda leaders and therefore did not have the 
requisite blessing. Nor would a nuclear facflity have particular symbolic value. 
Atta did not ask Binalshibh to pass this idea on to Bin Ladin, Atef, or KSM, 
and Binalshibh says he did not mention it to them until after September 11 . i^s 

Binalshibh claims that during their time in Spain, he and Atta also discussed 
how the hijackings would be executed. Atta said he, Shehhi, and Jarrah had 
encountered no problems carrying box cutters on cross-country surveillance 
flights. The best time to storm the cockpit would be about 10—15 minutes after 
takeofli", when the cockpit doors typically were opened for the first time. Atta 
did not believe they ^vould need any other weapons. He had no firm contin- 
gency plan in case the cockpit door was locked. While he mentioned general 
ideas such as using a hostage or claiming to have a bomb, he was confident the 
cockpit doors would be opened and did not consider breaking them down a 
viable idea. Atta told Binalshibh he wanted to select planes departing on long 
flights because they would be full of fuel, and that he wanted to hijack Boeing 
aircraft because he believed them easier to fly than Airbus aircraft, which he 
understood had an autopilot feature that did not allo^v them to be crashed into 
the ground. I'*' 

Finally, Atta confirmed that the muscle hijackers had arrived in the United 
States without incident. They would be divided into teams according to their 
English-speaking ability.That way they could assist each other before the oper- 
ation and each team would be able to command the passengers in English. 
According to Binalshibh, Atta complained that some of the hijackers wanted to 
contact their families to say goodbye, something he had forbidden. Atta, more- 
over, was nervous about his future communications with Binalshibh, whom he 
instructed to obtain new telephones upon returning to Germany. Before Binal- 
shibh left Spain, he gave Atta eight necklaces and eight bracelets that Atta had 
asked him to buy ^vhen he was recently in Bangkok, believing that if the hijack- 
ers were clean shaven and well dressed, others ^vould think them wealthy Saudis 
and give them less notice. ^^^ 

As directed, upon returning from Spain, Binalshibh obtained two new 
phones, one to communicate with Atta and another to communicate ^vith 
KSM and others, such as Zacarias Moussaoui. Binalshibh soon contacted KSM 
and, using code words, reported the results of his meeting with Atta. This 
important exchange occurred in mid-July.i^i 

The conversation covered various topics. For example, Jarrah was to send 
Binalshibh certain personal materials from the hijackers, including copies of their 



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246 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

passports, which Binalshibh in turn would pass along to KSM, probably for sub- 
sequent use in al Qaeda propaganda. 1^2 

The most significant part of the mid-July conversation concerned Jarrah's 
troubled relationship -with Atta. KSM and Binalshibh both ackno^vledge that 
Jarrah chafed under Atta 's authority over him. Binalshibh believes the disagree- 
ment arose in part from Jarrah's family visits. Moreover, Jarrah had been on his 
own for most of his time in the United States because Binalshibh's visa diffi- 
culty had prevented the two of them from training together. Jarrah thus felt 
excluded from the decisionmaking. Binalshibh had to act as a broker between 
Jarrah and Atta. 1^3 

Concerned that Jarrah might withdraw from the operation at this late stage, 
KSM emphasized the importance of Atta and Jarrah's resolving their differ- 
ences. Binalshibh claims that such concern ^vas unwarranted, and in their mid- 
July discussion reassured KSM that Atta and Jarrah ^vould reconcile and be 
ready to move forward in about a month, after Jarrah visited his family. Not- 
ing his concern and the potential for delay, KSM at one point instructed Binal- 
shibh to send"the skirts" to "Sally" — a coded instruction to Binalshibh to send 
funds to Zacarias Moussaoui. While Binalshibh admits KSM did direct him to 
send Moussaoui money during the mid-July conversation, he denies knowing 
exactly \vhy he received this instruction — though he thought the money was 
being provided "within the framework" of the 9/11 operation. ^'4 

KSM may have instructed Binalshibh to send money to Moussaoui in order 
to help prepare Moussaoui as a potential substitute pilot for Jarrah. On July 20, 
2001, Aysel Senguen, Jarrah's girlfriend, purchased a one-\vay ticket for Jarrah 
from Miami to Dusseldorf On Jarrah's previous four trips from the United 
States to see Senguen and his family in Lebanon, he had al^vays traveled with 
a round-trip ticket. When Jarrah departed Miami on July 25, Atta appears to 
have driven him to the airport, another unique circumstance. ^^^ 

Binalshibh picked up Jarrah at the airport in Dusseldorf on July 25. Jarrah 
wanted to see Senguen as soon as possible, so he and Binalshibh arranged to 
meet a few days later.When they did, they had an emotional conversation dur- 
ing which Binalshibh encouraged Jarrah to see the plan through. 1^6 

While Jarrah was in Germany, Binalshibh and Moussaoui ^vere in contact 
to arrange for the transfer of funds. Binalshibh received two wire transfers from 
Hawsa\vi in the UAE totaling $15,000 and, \vithin days, relayed almost aU of 
this money to Moussaoui in t^vo installments. 1^7 

Moussaoui had been taking flight lessons at the Airman Flight School in 
Norman, Oklahoma, since February but stopped in late May. Although at that 
point he had only about 50 hours of flight time and no solo flights to his credit, 
Moussaoui began making inquiries about flight materials and simulator train- 
ing for Boeing 747s. On July 10, he put down a $1,500 deposit for flight sim- 
ulator training at Pan Am International Flight Academy in Eagan, Minnesota, 
and by the end of the month, he had received a simulator schedule to train from 



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^^ 



THE ATTACK LOOMS 247 

August 13 through August 20. Moussaoui also purchased two knives and 
inquired of two manufacturers of GPS equipment whether their products 
could be converted for aeronautical use — activities that closely resembled those 
of the 9/11 hijackers during their final preparations for the attacks J^^ 

On August 10, shortly after getting the money from Binalshibh, Moussaoui 
left Oklahoma ^vith a friend and drove to Minnesota. Three days later, Mous- 
saoui paid the $6,800 balance owed for his flight simulator training at Pan Am 
in cash and began his training. His conduct, however, raised the suspicions of 
his flight instructor. It was unusual for a student with so little training to be 
learning to fly large jets without any intention of obtaining a pilot's license 
or other goal. On August 16, once the instructor reported his suspicion to the 
authorities, Moussaoui was arrested by the INS on immigration charges. ^^^ 

KSM denies ever considering Moussaoui for the planes operation. Instead 
he claims that Moussaoui ^vas slated to participate in a "second wave" of attacks. 
KSM also states that Moussaoui had no contact with Atta, and we are unaware 
of evidence contradicting this assertion, i^o 

Yet KSM has also stated that by the summer of 2001, he was too busy \vith 
the planes operation to continue planning for any second-^vave attacks. More- 
over, he admits that only three potential pilots ^vere ever recruited for the 
alleged second wave, Moussaoui plus two others who, by midsummer of 2001, 
had backed out of the plot.'^^^ We therefore believe that the eflibrt to push 
Moussaoui forward in August 2001 lends credence to the suspicion that he was 
being primed as a possible pilot in the immediate planes operation. 

Binalshibh says he assumed Moussaoui was to take his place as another pilot 
in the 9/11 operation. Recounting a post-9/11 discussion with KSM in Kan- 
dahar, Binalshibh claims KSM mentioned Moussaoui as being part of the 9/11 
operation. Although KSM never referred to Moussaoui by name, Binalshibh 
understood he was speaking of the operative to ^vhom Binalshibh had wired 
money. Binalshibh says KSM did not approve of Moussaoui but believes KSM 
did not remove him from the operation only because Moussaoui had been 
selected and assigned by Bin Ladin himself. ^'^^ 

KSM did not hear about Moussaoui's arrest until after September 11. 
According to Binalshibh, had Bin Ladin and KSM learned prior to 9/11 that 
Moussaoui had been detained, they might have canceled the operation. When 
Binalshibh discussed Moussaoui's arrest with KSM after September 1 1 , KSM 
congratulated himself on not having Moussaoui contact the other operatives, 
which would have compromised the operation. Moussaoui had been in con- 
tact with Binalshibh, of course, but this ^vas not discovered until after 9/11. ^"^a 

As it turned out, Moussaoui was not needed to replace Jarrah. By the time 
Moussaoui was arrested in mid-August, Jarrah had returned to the United 
States from his final trip to Germany, his disagreement ^vith Atta apparently 
resolved. The operatives began their final preparations for the attacks. '^^ 



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248 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Readying the Attacks 

A week after he returned from meeting Binalshibh in Spain, Atta traveled to 
Ne\vark, probably to coordinate with Hazmi and give him additional funds. 
Atta spent a fe^v days in the area before returning to Florida on July 30. The 
month of August was busy, as revealed by a set of contemporaneous Atta- 
Binalshibh communications that were recovered after September ll.^*^' 

On August 3, for example, Atta and Binalshibh discussed several matters, 
such as the best way for the operatives to purchase plane tickets and the assign- 
ment of muscle hijackers to individual teams. Atta and Binalshibh also revis- 
ited the question of whether to target the White House.They discussed targets 
in coded language, pretending to be students discussing various fields of study: 
"architecture" referred to the World Trade Center, "arts" the Pentagon, "law" 
the Capitol, and "politics" the White House. ^^"^ 

Binalshibh reminded Atta that Bin Ladin wanted to target the White House. 
Atta again cautioned that this would be difficult. When Binalshibh persisted, 
Atta agreed to include the White House but suggested they keep the Capitol 
as an alternate target in case the White House proved too difficult. Atta also 
suggested that the attacks ^vould not happen until after the first week in Sep- 
tember, when Congress reconvened.!*^ 

Atta and Binalshibh also discussed "the friend who is coming as a tourist" — 
a cryptic reference to candidate hijacker Mohamed al Kahtani (mentioned 
above), whom Hawsawi ^vas sending the next day as "the last one" to "com- 
plete the group." On August 4, Atta drove to the Orlando airport to meet Kah- 
tani. Upon arrival, however, Kahtani was denied entry by immigration officials 
because he had a one-way ticket and little money, could not speak English, and 
could not adequately explain what he intended to do in the United States. He 
was sent back to Dubai. Hawsa^vi contacted KSM, who told him to help Kah- 
tani return to Pakistan. !<^* 

On August 7, Atta flew from Fort Lauderdale to Newark, probably to coor- 
dinate with Hazmi.Two days later,Ahmed al Ghamdi and Abdul Aziz al Omari, 
who had been living in New Jersey with Hazmi and Hanjour, flew to 
Miami — probably signifying that the four hijacking teams had finally been 
assigned. While Atta was in New Jersey, he, Hazmi, and Hanjour all purchased 
tickets for another set of surveillance flights. Like Shehhi, Jarrah, Atta, and 
Waleed al Shehri before them, Hazmi and Hanjour each flew in first class on 
the same type of aircraft they ^vould hijack on 9/11 (a Boeing 757), and on 
transcontinental flights that connected to Las Vegas. This time, however, Atta 
himself also fle^v directly to Las Vegas, ^vhere all three stayed on August 13—14. 
Beyond Las Vegas 's reputation for welcoming tourists, we have seen no credi- 
ble evidence explaining why, on this occasion and others, the operatives flew 
to or met in Las Vegas, i*' 

Through August, the hijackers kept busy with their gym training and the 
pilots took frequent practice flights on small rented aircraft.The operatives also 



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THE ATTACK LOOMS 249 

began to make purchases suggesting that the planning was coming to an end. 
In mid-August, for example, they bought small knives that may actually have 
been used in the attacks. On August 22, moreover, Jarrah attempted to pur- 
chase four GPS units from a pilot shop in Miami. He was able to buy only one 
unit, \vhich he picked up a few days later when he also purchased three aero- 
nautical charts. 1^0 

Perhaps most significant, however, was the purchase of plane tickets for Sep- 
tember 11. On August 23,Atta again flew to Ne\vark, probably to meet \vith 
Hazmi and select flights. All 19 tickets were booked and purchased between 
August 25 and September S.^^i 

It therefore appears that the attack date was selected by the third week of 
August. This timing is confirmed by Binalshibh, who claims Atta called him 
with the date in mid-August. According to Binalshibh, Atta used a riddle to 
convey the date in code — a message of t^vo branches, a slash, and a lollipop (to 
non-Americans, 11/9 would be interpreted as September 11). Binalshibh says 
he called Atta back to confirm the date before passing it to KSM.^^^ 

KSM apparently received the date from Binalshibh in a message sent 
through Binalshibh s old Hamburg associate, Zakariya Essabar. Both Binalshibh 
and KSM claim that Essabar was not privy to the meaning of the message and 
had no foreknowledge of the attacks. According to Binalshibh, shortly after the 
date was chosen, he advised Essabar and another Hamburg associate. Said 
Bahaji, that if they wanted to go to Afghanistan, now ^vas the time because it 
would soon become more difficult. Essabar made reservations on August 22 
and departed Hamburg for Karachi on August 30; Bahaji purchased his tickets 
on August 20 and departed Hamburg for Karachi on September 3.1^^ 

Binalshibh also made arrangements to leave for Pakistan during early Sep- 
tember, before the attacks, as did Ali and Hawsa\vi, the plot facilitators in the 
UAE. During these final days, Binalshibh and Atta kept in contact by phone, 
email, and instant messaging. Although Atta had forbidden the hijackers to con- 
tact their families, he apparently placed one last call to his own father on Sep- 
tember 9. Atta also asked Binalshibh to contact the family of one hijacker, pass 
along goodbyes from others, and give regards to KSM. Jarrah alone appears to 
have left a written farewell — a sentimental letter to Aysel Senguen. i^'* 

Hazmi, however, may not have been so discreet. He may have telephoned 
his former San Diego companion, Mohdar Abdullah, in lateAugust. Several bits 
of evidence indicate that others in Abdullah's circle may have received word 
that something big would soon happen. As noted earlier, Abdullah's behavior 
reportedly changed noticeably. Prior to September 11, both he andYazeed 
al Salmi suddenly became intent on proceeding with their planned marriages. 
One witness quotes Salmi as commenting after the 9/11 attacks, "1 knew they 
were going to do something, that is why I got married." Moreover, as of August 
2001, lyad Kreiwesh and other employees at the Texaco station where Hazmi 
had worked suddenly were anticipating attention from law enforcement 



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250 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

authorities in the near future. Finally, according to an uncorroborated witness 
account, early on the morning of September 10, Abdullah, Osama A^vadallah, 
Omar Bakarbashat, and others behaved suspiciously at the gas station. Accord- 
ing to the witness, after the group met, Awadallah said "it is finally going to 
happen" as the others celebrated by giving each other high fives. ^^^ 

Dissent within the al Qaeda Leadership 

While tactical preparations for the attack were nearing completion, the entire 
operation was being questioned at the top, as al Qaeda and the Taliban argued 
over strategy for 2001. Our focus has naturally been on the specifics of the 
planes operation. But from the perspective of Bin Ladin and Atef, this opera- 
tion was only one, admittedly key, element of their unfolding plans for the year. 
Living in Afghanistan, interacting constantly with the Taliban, the al Qaeda 
leaders \vould never lose sight of the situation in that country. 

Bin Ladin's consistent priority was to launch a major attack directly against 
the United States. He wanted the planes operation to proceed as soon as pos- 
sible. Mihdhar reportedly told his cousin during the summer of 2001 that Bin 
Ladin was reputed to have remarked, "I ^vill make it happen even if I do it by 
myself'i^'^ 

According to KSM, Bin Ladin had been urging him to advance the date of 
the attacks. In 2000, for instance, KSM remembers Bin Ladin pushing him to 
launch the attacks amid the controversy after then-Israeli opposition party 
leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. KSM claims Bin 
Ladin told him it would be enough for the hijackers simply to down planes 
rather than crash them into specific targets. KSM says he resisted the pressure. i^^ 

KSM claims to have faced similar pressure t^vice more in 2001. According 
to him. Bin Ladin wanted the operation carried out on May 12, 2001, seven 
months to the day after the Cole bombing. KSM adds that the 9/11 attacks had 
originally been envisioned for May 2001. The second time he was urged to 
launch the attacks early was in June or July 2001, supposedly after Bin Ladin 
learned from the media that Sharon would be visiting the White House. On 
both occasions KSM resisted, asserting that the hijacking teams were not ready. 
Bin Ladin pressed particularly strongly for the latter date in two letters stress- 
ing the need to attack early. The second letter reportedly was delivered by Bin 
Ladin's son-in-law, Aws al Madani.i^^ 

Other evidence corroborates KSM's account. For instance, Mihdhar told 
his cousin that the attacks were to happen in May, but were postponed twice, 
first to July, then to September. Moreover, one candidate hijacker remembers 
a general warning being issued in the al Qaeda camps in July or early August, 
just like the ^varnings issued two weeks before the Cole bombing and ten days 
before the eventual 9/11 attacks. During the midsummer alert, al Qaeda 
members dispersed ^vith their families, security was increased, and Bin Ladin 
disappeared for about 30 days, until the alert was canceled.!^' 

While the details of the operation ^vere strictly compartmented, by the time 



Final 5-7. 5pp 7/17/04 11:46 AM Page 



THE ATTACK LOOMS 251 

of the alert, word had begun to spread that an attack against the United States 
was coming. KSM notes that it ^vas generally well known by the summer of 
2001 that he was planning some kind of operation against the United States. 
Many ^vere even aware that he had been preparing operatives to go to the 
United States, leading some to conclude that al Qaeda was planning a near- 
term attack on U.S. soil. Moreover, Bin Ladin had made several remarks that 
summer hinting at an upcoming attack and generating rumors throughout the 
worldwide jihadist community. Bin Ladin routinely told important visitors to 
expect significant attacks against U.S. interests soon and, during a speech at the 
al Faruq camp, exhorted trainees to pray for the success of an attack involving 
20 martyrs. Others have confirmed hearing indications of an impending attack 
and have verified that such ne^vs, albeit without specific details, had spread 
across al Qaeda. i^^' 

Although Bin Ladin's top priority apparently \vas to attack the United 
States, others had a different view. The Taliban leaders put their main empha- 
sis on the year's military offensive against the Northern Alliance, an offensive 
that ordinarily would begin in the late spring or summer.They certainly hoped 
that this year's offensive would finally finish off their old enemies, driving them 
from Afghanistan. From the Taliban's perspective, an attack against the United 
States might be counterproductive. It might draw the Americans into the ^var 
against them, just \vhen final victory seemed within their grasp. ^^^ 

There is evidence that Mullah Omar initially opposed a major al Qaeda 
operation directly against the United States in 2001. Furthermore, by July, ^vith 
word spreading of a coming attack, a schism emerged among the senior lead- 
ership of al Qaeda. Several senior members reportedly agreed with Mullah 
Omar. Those who reportedly sided ^vith Bin Ladin included Atef, Sulayman 
Abu Ghayth, and KSM. But those said to have opposed him were ^veighty fig- 
ures in the organization — including Abu Hafs the Mauritanian, Sheikh Saeed 
al Masri, and Sayf al Adl. One senior al Qaeda operative claims to recall Bin 
Ladin arguing that attacks against the United States needed to be carried out 
immediately to support insurgency in the Israeli-occupied territories and 
protest the presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia. Beyond these rhetorical 
appeals. Bin Ladin also reportedly thought an attack against the United States 
would benefit al Qaeda by attracting more suicide operatives, eliciting greater 
donations, and increasing the number of sympathizers willing to provide logis- 
tical assistance. 1^- 

MuUah Omar is reported to have opposed this course of action for ideo- 
logical reasons rather than out of fear of U.S. retaliation. He is said to have pre- 
ferred for al Qaeda to attack Jews, not necessarily the United States. KSM 
contends that Omar faced pressure from the Pakistani government to keep 
al Qaeda from engaging in operations outside Afghanistan. Al Qaeda 's chief 
financial manager. Sheikh Saeed, argued that al Qaeda should defer to the Tali- 
ban's ^vishes. Another source says that Sheikh Saeed opposed the operation, 
both out of deference to Omar and because he feared the U.S. response to an 



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252 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

attack. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian reportedly even ^vrote Bin Ladin a message 
basing opposition to the attacks on the Qur'an.183 

According to KSM, in late August, when the operation was fully planned, 
Bin Ladin formally notified the al Qaeda Shura Council that a major attack 
against the United States ^vould take place in the coming weeks. When some 
council members objected. Bin Ladin countered that Mullah Omar lacked 
authority to prevent al Qaeda from conducting jihad outside Afghanistan. 
Though most of the Shura Council reportedly disagreed. Bin Ladin persisted. 
The attacks went forward, i^'* 

The story of dissension within al Qaeda regarding the 9/11 attacks is prob- 
ably incomplete. The information on which the account is based comes from 
sources who were not privy to the full scope of al Qaeda and Taliban planning. 
Bin Ladin and Atef, however, probably would have known, at least, that 

• The general Taliban offensive against the Northern Alliance would 
rely on al Qaeda military support. 

• Another significant al Qaeda operation was making progress during 
the summer — a plot to assassinate the Northern Alliance leader, 
Ahmed Shah Massoud.The operatives, disguised as journalists, were 
in Massoud's camp and prepared to kill him sometime in August.Their 
appointment to see him was delayed. ^^^ 

But on September 9, the Massoud assassination took place.The delayed Tal- 
iban offensive against the Northern Alliance was apparently coordinated to 
begin as soon as he was killed, and it got under way on September 10.1^6 

As they deliberated earlier in the year. Bin Ladin and Atef would likely have 
remembered that Mullah Omar was dependent on them for the Massoud assas- 
sination and for vital support in the Taliban military operations. KSM remem- 
bers Atef telling him that al Qaeda had an agreement with the Taliban to 
eliminate Massoud, after which the Taliban would begin an offensive to take 
over Afghanistan. Atef hoped Massoud's death would also appease the Taliban 
when the 9/11 attacks happened. There are also some scant indications that 
Omar may have been reconciled to the 9/11 attacks by the time they 
occurred. 18^ 

Moving to Departure Positions 

In the days just before 9/11, the hijackers returned leftover funds to al Qaeda 
and assembled in their departure cities. They sent the excess funds by wire trans- 
fer to Hawsawi in the UAE, about $26,000 altogether. 1 88 

The hijackers targeting American Airlines Flight 77, to depart from Dulles, 
migrated from New Jersey to Laurel, Maryland, about 20 miles from Washing- 
ton, D.C.They stayed in a motel during the first week in September and spent 



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THE ATTACK LOOMS 253 

time working out at a gym. On the final night before the attacks, they lodged 
at a hotel in Herndon, Virginia, close to the airport. is? 

Further north, the hijackers targeting United Airlines Flight 93, to depart 
from Newark, gathered in that city from their base in Florida on September 7. 
Just after midnight on September 8— 9,Jarrah received a speeding ticket in Mary- 
land as he headed north on 1-95. He joined the rest of his team at their hotel.^'" 

Atta was still busy coordinating the teams. On September 7, he flew from 
Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore, presumably to meet ^vith the Flight 77 team in 
Laurel. On September 9, he flew from Baltimore to Boston. By then, Shehhi 
had arrived there, and Atta was seen ^vith him at his hotel. The next day, Atta 
picked up Omari at another hotel, and the two drove to Portland, Maine, for 
reasons that remain unkno^vn. In the early morning hours of September 11, 
they boarded a commuter flight to Boston to connect to American Airlines 
Flight 1 1 . The two spent their last night pursuing ordinary activities: making 
ATM withdra^vals, eating pizza, and shopping at a convenience store. Their 
three fellow hijackers for Flight 1 1 stayed together in a hotel in Newton, Mass- 
achusetts, just outside of Boston.i'i 

Shehhi and his team targeting United Airlines Flight 175 from Logan Air- 
port spent their last hours at two Boston hotels, i'- The plan that started with 
a proposal by KSM in 1996 had evolved to overcome numerous obstacles. 
Now 19 men waited in nondescript hotel rooms to board four flights the next 
morning. 



Final 8-9. 5pp l/ll/OA 1:24 PM Page 2 



^^ 



8 



'THE SYSTEM WAS 
BLINKING RED" 



8.1 THE SUMMER OF THREAT 

As 2001 began, counterterrorisni officials were receiving frequent but fragmen- 
tary reports about threats. Indeed, there appeared to be possible threats almost 
everywhere the United States had interests — including at home. 

To understand how the escalation in threat reporting was handled in the 
summer of 2001, it is useful to understand ho^v threat information in general 
is collected and conveyed. Information is collected through several methods, 
including signals intelligence and interviews of human sources, and gathered 
into intelligence reports. Depending on the source and nature of the report- 
ing, these reports may be highly classified — and therefore tightly held — or less 
sensitive and widely disseminated to state and local law enforcement agencies. 
Threat reporting must be disseminated, either through individual reports or 
through threat advisories. Such advisories, intended to alert their recipients, 
may address a specific threat or be a general ^varning. 

Because the amount of reporting is so voluminous, only a select fraction can 
be chosen for briefing the president and senior officials. During 2001, Direc- 
tor of Central Intelligence George Tenet was briefed regularly regarding threats 
and other operational information relating to Usama Bin Ladin.i He in turn 
met daily with President Bush, who was briefed by the CIA through what is 
known as the Presidents Daily Brief (PDB). Each PDB consists of a series of 
six to eight relatively short articles or briefs covering a broad array of topics; 
CIA staff decides \vhich subjects are the most important on any given day. 
There were more than 40 intelligence articles in the PDBs from January 20 
to September 10, 2001, that related to Bin Ladin. The PDB is considered 
highly sensitive and is distributed to only a handful of high-level officials. - 

The Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB), distributed to a broader 
group of officials, has a similar format and generally covers the same subjects 
as the PDB. It usually contains less information so as to protect sources and 

254 



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^^ 



"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 255 

methods. Like their predecessors, the Attorney General, the FBI Director, and 
Richard Clarke, the National Security Council (NSC) counterterrorism coor- 
dinator, all received the SEIB, not the PDB.^ Clarke and his staff had extensive 
access to terrorism reporting, but they did not have access to internal, nondis- 
seminated information at the National Security Agency (NSA), CIA, or FBI. 

The Drumbeat Begins 

In the spring of 2001, the level of reporting on terrorist threats and planned 
attacks increased dramatically to its highest level since the millennium alert. At 
the end of March, the intelligence community disseminated a terrorist threat 
advisory, indicating a heightened threat of Sunni extremist terrorist attacks 
against U.S. facilities, personnel, and other interests. '^ 

On March 23, in connection with discussions about possibly reopening 
Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, Clarke ^varned National 
Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that domestic or foreign terrorists might 
use a truck bomb — their "weapon of choice" — on Pennsylvania Avenue. That 
would result, he said, in the destruction of the West Wing and parts of the res- 
idence. ^ He also told her that he thought there were terrorist cells within the 
United States, including al Qaeda. 

The next week. Rice was briefed on the activities of Abu Zubaydah and on 
CIA efforts to locate him. As pointed out in chapter 6, Abu Zubaydah had been 
a major figure in the millennium plots. Over the next fe\v weeks, the CIA repeat- 
edly issued warnings — including calls from DCI Tenet to Clarke — that Abu 
Zubaydah \vas planning an operation in the near future. One report cited a source 
indicating that Abu Zubaydah ^vas planning an attack in a country that CIA ana- 
lysts thought might be Israel, or perhaps Saudi Arabia or India. Clarke relayed 
these reports to Rice.!^ 

In response to these threats, the FBI sent a message to all its field offices on 
April 13, summarizing reporting to date. It asked the offices to task all 
resources, including human sources and electronic databases, for any informa- 
tion pertaining to "current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism." 
It did not suggest that there was a domestic threat.^ 

The interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) that Clarke 
chaired discussed the Abu Zubaydah reports on April 19. The next day, a brief- 
ing to top officials reported "Bin Ladin planning multiple operations." When 
the deputies discussed al Qaeda policy on April 30, they began ^vith a briefing 
on the threat. 8 

In May 2001, the drumbeat of reporting grew louder with reports to top 
officials that "Bin Ladin public profile may presage attack" and "Bin Ladin net- 
work's plans advancing." In early May, a walk-in to the FBI claimed there was 
a plan to launch attacks on London, Boston, and New York. Attorney General 
John Ashcroft was briefed by the CIA on May 1 5 regarding al Qaeda gener- 
ally and the current threat reporting specifically. The next day brought a report 



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^^ 



256 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

that a phone call to a U.S. embassy had ^varned that Bin Ladin supporters were 
planning an attack in the United States using "high explosives." On May 17, 
based on the previous day's report, the first item on the CSG's agenda was 
"UBL: Operation Planned in U.S.'"' The anonymous caller's tip could not be 
corroborated. 

Late May brought reports of a possible hostage plot against Americans abroad 
to force the release of prisoners, including Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the 
"Blind Sheikh," who was serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 plot to 
blow up sites in Ne^vYork City. The reporting noted that operatives might opt 
to hijack an aircraft or storm a U.S. embassy This report led to a Federal Avia- 
tion Administration (FAA) information circular to airlines noting the potential 
for "an airline hijacking to free terrorists incarcerated in the United States." 
Other reporting mentioned that Abu Zubaydah was planning an attack, possi- 
bly against Israel, and expected to carry out several more if things went ^vell. 
On May 24 alone, counterterrorism officials grappled with reports alleging plots 
in Yemen and Italy, as well as a report about a cell in Canada that an anonymous 
caller had claimed might be planning an attack against the United States. lo 

Reports similar to many of these were made available to President Bush in 
morning intelligence briefings with DCI Tenet, usually attended by Vice Pres- 
ident Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Rice. While these briefings 
discussed general threats to attack America and American interests, the specific 
threats mentioned in these briefings were all overseas. 

On May 29, Clarke suggested that Rice ask DCI Tenet what more the 
United States could do to stop Abu Zubaydah from launching"a series of major 
terrorist attacks," probably on Israeli targets, but possibly on U.S. facilities. 
Clarke wrote to Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, "When these attacks 
occur, as they likely ^vill, we will ^vonder ^vhat more we could have done to 
stop them." In May, CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) Chief Cofer Black 
told Rice that the current threat level was a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, as com- 
pared to an 8 during the millennium. ^^ 

High Probability of Near- Term "Spectacular" Attacks 

Threat reports surged in June and July, reaching an even higher peak of urgency. 
The summer threats seemed to be focused on Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bahrain, 
Kuwait, Yemen, and possibly Rome, but the danger could be any^vhere — 
including a possible attack on the G-8 summit in Genoa. A June 12 CIA report 
passing along biographical background information on several terrorists men- 
tioned, in commenting on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that he was recruiting 
people to travel to the United States to meet with colleagues already there so 
that they might conduct terrorist attacks on Bin Ladin 's behalf. On June 22, 
the CIA notified all its station chiefs about intelligence suggesting a possible 
al Qaeda suicide attack on a U.S. target over the next fe^v days. DCI Tenet asked 
that all U.S. ambassadors be briefed. '^ 



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i:> 



"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 257 

That same day, the State Department notified all embassies of the terrorist 
threat and updated its worldwide public warning. In June, the State Depart- 
ment initiated the Visa Express program in Saudi Arabia as a security measure, 
in order to keep long lines of foreigners away from vulnerable embassy spaces. 
The program permitted visa applications to be made through travel agencies, 
instead of directly at the embassy or consulate. ^-^ 

A terrorist threat advisory distributed in late June indicated a high proba- 
bility of near-term "spectacular" terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casu- 
alties. Other reports' titles warned, "Bin Ladin Attacks May be Imminent" and 
"Bin Ladin and Associates Making Near- Term Threats." The latter reported 
multiple attacks planned over the coming days, including a "severe blow" 
against U.S. and Israeli "interests" during the next two weeks. ^^ 

On June 21 , near the height of the threat reporting, U.S. Central Command 
raised the force protection condition level for U.S. troops in six countries to 
the highest possible level. Delta. The U.S. Fifth Fleet moved out of its port in 
Bahrain, and a U.S. Marine Corps exercise in Jordan was halted. U.S. embassies 
in the Persian Gulf conducted an emergency security review, and the embassy 
in Yemen was closed. The CSG had foreign emergency response teams, known 
as FESTs, ready to move on four hours' notice and kept up the terrorism alert 
posture on a "rolling 24 hour basis.''^^ 

On June 25, Clarke warned Rice and Hadley that six separate intelligence 
reports showed al Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack. An Arabic tel- 
evision station reported Bin Ladin 's pleasure \vith al Qaeda leaders who were 
saying that the next weeks "will witness important surprises" and that U.S. and 
Israeli interests will be targeted. Al Qaeda also released a ne^v recruitment and 
fund-raising tape. Clarke wrote that this was all too sophisticated to be merely 
a psychological operation to keep the United States on edge, and the CIA 
agreed. The intelligence reporting consistently described the upcoming attacks 
as occurring on a calamitous level, indicating that they would cause the world 
to be in turmoil and that they would consist of possible multiple — but not nec- 
essarily simultaneous — attacks. ^"^ 

On June 28, Clarke wrote Rice that the pattern of al Qaeda activity indi- 
cating attack planning over the past six weeks "had reached a crescendo." "A 
series of new reports continue to convince me and analysts at State, CIA, DIA 
[Defense Intelligence Agency], and NSA that a major terrorist attack or series 
of attacks is likely in July," he noted. One al Qaeda intelligence report warned 
that something "very, very, very, very" big was about to happen, and most of 
Bin Ladin 's network was reportedly anticipating the attack. In late June, the 
CIA ordered all its station chiefs to share information on al Qaeda with their 
host governments and to push for immediate disruptions of cells. ^^ 

The headline of a June 30 briefing to top officials ^vas stark:"Bin Ladin Plan- 
ning High-Profile Attacks." The report stated that Bin Ladin operatives 
expected near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic pro- 



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258 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

portions. That same day, Saudi Arabia declared its highest level of terror alert. 
Despite evidence of delays possibly caused by heightened U.S. security, the 
planning for attacks was continuing.!^ 

On July 2, the FBI Counterterrorisni Division sent a message to federal 
agencies and state and local law enforcement agencies summarizing informa- 
tion regarding threats from Bin Ladin. It warned that there was an increased 
volume of threat reporting, indicating a potential for attacks against U.S. tar- 
gets abroad from groups "aligned with or sympathetic to Usama Bin Ladin." 
Despite the general warnings, the message further stated, "The FBI has no 
information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States." 
However, it went on to emphasize that the possibility of attack in the United 
States could not be discounted. It also noted that the July 4 holiday might 
heighten the threats. The report asked recipients to "exercise extreme vigilance" 
and "report suspicious activities" to the FBI. It did not suggest specific actions 
that they should take to prevent attacks. ^^ 

Disruption operations against al Qaeda— affiliated cells were launched 
involving 20 countries. Several terrorist operatives were detained by foreign 
governments, possibly disrupting operations in the Gulf and Italy and perhaps 
averting attacks against t^vo or three U.S. embassies. Clarke and others told us 
of a particular concern about possible attacks on the Fourth of July. After it 
passed uneventfully, the CSG decided to maintain the alert. -'^ 

To enlist more international help,Vice President Cheney contacted Saudi 
Crown Prince Abdullah on July 5. Hadley apparently called European coun- 
terparts, while Clarke worked ^vith senior officials in the Gulf. In late July, 
because of threats, Italy closed the airspace over Genoa and mounted antiair- 
craft batteries at the Genoa airport during the G-8 summit, which President 
Bush attended. 21 

At home, the CSG arranged for the CIA to brief intelligence and security 
officials from several domestic agencies. On July 5, representatives from the 
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FAA, the Coast Guard, the 
Secret Service, Customs, the CIA, and the FBI met with Clarke to discuss the 
current threat. Attendees report that they were told not to disseminate the 
threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direc- 
tion to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send 
out advisories to the field. An NSC official recalls a somewhat different empha- 
sis, saying that attendees \vere asked to take the information back to their home 
agencies and "do what you can" with it, subject to classification and distribu- 
tion restrictions. A representative from the INS asked for a summary of the 
information that she could share with field offices. She never received one.22 

That same day, the CIA briefed Attorney General Ashcroft on the al Qaeda 
threat, warning that a significant terrorist attack was imminent. Ashcroft was 
told that preparations for multiple attacks were in late stages or already com- 



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"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 259 

plete and that little additional warning could be expected. The briefing 
addressed only threats outside the United States. ^3 

The next day, the CIA representative told the CSG that al Qaeda members 
believed the upcoming attack \vould be "spectacular," qualitatively diflierent 
fi-om anything they had done to date.-^ 

Apparently as a result of the July 5 meeting with Clarke, the interagency 
committee on federal building security was tasked to examine security meas- 
ures. This committee met on July 9, ^vhen 37 officials from 27 agencies and 
organizations were briefed on the "current threat level" in the United States. 
They \vere told that not only the threat reports from abroad but also the recent 
convictions in the East Africa bombings trial, the conviction of Ahmed 
Ressani, and the just-returned Khobar Towers indictments reinforced the need 
to "exercise extreme vigilance." Attendees were expected to determine 
whether their respective agencies needed enhanced security measures. -^ 

On July 18, 2001, the State Department provided a warning to the public 
regarding possible terrorist attacks in the Arabian Peninsula. -^ 

Acting FBI DirectorThomas Pickard told us he had one of his periodic con- 
ference calls with all special agents in charge on July 19. He said one of the 
items he mentioned was the need, in light of increased threat reporting, to have 
evidence response teams ready to move at a moment's notice, in case of an 
attack. 2'' He did not task field offices to try to determine ^vhether any plots 
were being considered within the United States or to take any action to dis- 
rupt any such plots. 

In mid-July, reporting started to indicate that Bin Ladin's plans had been 
delayed, maybe for as long as two months, but not abandoned. On July 23, the 
lead item for CSG discussion was still the al Qaeda threat, and it included men- 
tion of suspected terrorist travel to the United States. ^^ 

On July 31, an FAA circular appeared alerting the aviation community to 
"reports of possible near-term terrorist operations . . . particularly on the Ara- 
bian Peninsula and/or Israel." It stated that the FAA had no credible evidence 
of specific plans to attack U.S. civil aviation, though it noted that some of the 
"currently active" terrorist groups were known to "plan and train for hijack- 
ings" and were able to build and conceal sophisticated explosive devices in lug- 
gage and consumer products. ^9 

Tenet told us that in his world "the system was blinking red." By late July, 
Tenet said, it could not "get any worse."-'" Not everyone ^vas convinced. Some 
asked whether all these threats might just be deception. On June 30, the SEIB 
contained an article titled "Bin Ladin Threats Are Real." Yet Hadley told Tenet 
in July that Deputy Secretary of Defense PaulWolfowitz questioned the report- 
ing. Perhaps Bin Ladin was trying to study U.S. reactions. Tenet replied that he 
had already addressed the Defense Department's questions on this point; the 
reporting was convincing. To give a sense of his anxiety at the time, one senior 



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260 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

official in the Counterterrorist Center told us that he and a colleague were con- 
sidering resigning in order to go public -with their concerns. ^^ 

The Calm Before the Storm 

On July 27, Clarke informed Rice and Hadley that the spike in intelligence 
about a near-term al Qaeda attack had stopped. He urged keeping readiness 
high during the August vacation period, warning that another report suggested 
an attack had just been postponed for a few months "but wiU still happen."^^ 

On August 1, the FBI issued an advisory that in light of the increased vol- 
ume of threat reporting and the upcoming anniversary of the East Africa 
embassy bombings, increased attention should be paid to security planning. It 
noted that although most of the reporting indicated a potential for attacks on 
U.S. interests abroad, the possibility of an attack in the United States could not 
be discounted. ^-^ 

On August 3, the intelligence community issued an advisory concluding 
that the threat of impending al Qaeda attacks would likely continue indefi- 
nitely. Citing threats in the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan, Israel, and Europe, the 
advisory suggested that al Qaeda ^vas lying in wait and searching for gaps in 
security before moving forward with the planned attacks. ^^^ 

During the spring and summer of 2001, President Bush had on several occa- 
sions asked his briefers whether any of the threats pointed to the United States. 
Reflecting on these questions, the CIA decided to write a briefing article sum- 
marizing its understanding of this danger. Two CIA analysts involved in prepar- 
ing this briefing article believed it represented an opportunity to communicate 
their view that the threat of a Bin Ladin attack in the United States remained 
both current and serious. ^5 The result was an article in the August 6 Presiden- 
tial Daily Brief titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." It was the 36th 
PDB item briefed so far that year that related to Bin Ladin or al Qaeda, and 
the first devoted to the possibility of an attack in the United States. 

The President told us the August 6 report ^vas historical in nature. President 
Bush said the article told him that al Qaeda ^vas dangerous, which he said he 
had known since he had become President. The President said Bin Ladin had 
long been talking about his desire to attack America. He recalled some oper- 
ational data on the FBI, and remembered thinking it was heartening that 70 
investigations were under way. As best he could recollect. Rice had mentioned 
that the Yemenis' surveillance of a federal building in New York had been 
looked into in May and June, but there was no actionable intelligence. 

He did not recall discussing the August 6 report ^vith the Attorney General 
or whether Rice had done so. He said that if his advisers had told him there 
was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. That 
never happened. ^^ 

Although the following day's SEIB repeated the title of this PDB, it did not 
contain the reference to hijackings, the alert in New York, the aUeged casing 



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^^ 



"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 



261 



The following is the text of an item from the Presidential Daily Brief received by 
President George W Bush on August 6, 2001J'' Redacted material is indicated 
by brackets. 

Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US 

Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Bin Ladin 
since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Ladin 
implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers 
would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber RamziYousef 
and "bring the fighting to America." 

After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, Bin 
Ladin told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, accord- 
ing to a [ — ] service. 

An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told an [ — ] service 
at the same time that Bin Ladin was planning to exploit the oper- 
ative's access to the US to mount a terrorist strike. 

The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of Bin 
Ladin 's first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. 

Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived 
the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself, but that Bin 
Ladin lieutenant Abu Zubaydah encouraged him and helped facilitate 
the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaydah was plan- 
ning his own US attack. 

Ressam says Bin Ladin was aware of the Los Angeles operation. 

Although Bin Ladin has not succeeded, his attacks against the US 
Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 demonstrate that he prepares 
operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Ladin 
associates surveilled our Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early 
as 1993, and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings 
were arrested and deported in 1997. 

Al-Qa'ida members — including some who are US citizens — have resided 
in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a 
support structure that could aid attacks. Two al-Qua' da members found 



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262 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 



guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US 
citizens, and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s. 

A clandestine source said in 1998 that a Bin Ladin cell in New York 
was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks. 

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat 
reporting, such as that from a [ — ] service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin 
wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" 
'Umar 'Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists. 

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of 
suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for 
hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of 
federal buildings in New York. 

The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations 
throughout the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related. CIA and 
the FBI are investigating a call to our Embassy in the UAE in May 
saying that a group of Bin Ladin supporters was in the US plan- 
ning attacks with explosives. 



of buildings in New York, the threat phoned in to the embassy, or the fact that 
the FBI had approximately 70 ongoing bin Ladin— related investigations. ^^ No 
CSG or other NSC meeting was held to discuss the possible threat of a strike 
in the United States as a result of this report. 

Late in the month, a foreign service reported that Abu Zubaydah was con- 
sidering mounting terrorist attacks in the United States, after postponing pos- 
sible operations in Europe. No targets, timing, or method of attack were 
provided. 39 

We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 
11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an 
al Qaeda attack in the United States. DCI Tenet visited President Bush in 
Crawford, Texas, on August 17 and participated in PDB briefings of the Pres- 
ident between August 31 (after the President had returned to Washington) and 
September 10. But Tenet does not recall any discussions with the President of 
the domestic threat during this period.^o 

Most of the intelligence community recognized in the summer of 2001 that 
the number and severity of threat reports were unprecedented. Many ofliicials 
told us that they knew something terrible was planned, and they were desper- 
ate to stop it. Despite their large number, the threats received contained few 



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^^ 



"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 263 

specifics regarding time, place, method, or target. Most suggested that attacks 
were planned against targets overseas; others indicated threats against unspeci- 
fied "U.S. interests." We cannot say for certain whether these reports, as dra- 
matic as they ^vere, related to the 9/11 attacks. 

Government Response to the Threats 

National Security Advisor Rice told us that the CSG was the "nerve center" 
for running the crisis, although other senior officials were involved over the 
course of the summer. In addition to his daily meetings with President Bush, 
and weekly meetings to go over other issues \vith Rice,Tenet was speaking reg- 
ularly ^vith Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald 
Rumsfeld. The foreign policy principals routinely talked on the telephone 
every day on a variety of topics. '*i 

Hadley told us that before 9/1 1, he and Rice did not feel they had the job 
of coordinating domestic agencies. They felt that Clarke and the CSG (part of 
the NSC) were the NSC's bridge between foreign and domestic threats. ^^^ 

There was a clear disparity in the levels of response to foreign versus domes- 
tic threats. Numerous actions were taken overseas to disrupt possible attacks — 
enlisting foreign partners to upset terrorist plans, closing embassies, moving 
military assets out of the way of possible harm. Far less was done domestically — 
in part, surely, because to the extent that specifics did exist, they pertained to 
threats overseas. As noted earlier, a threat against the embassy in Yemen quickly 
resulted in its closing. Possible domestic threats were more vague. When reports 
did not specify where the attacks were to take place, officials presumed that they 
would again be overseas, though they did not rule out a target in the United 
States. Each of the FBI threat advisories made this point. ^^^ 

Clarke mentioned to National Security Advisor Rice at least t^vice that al 
Qaeda sleeper cells were likely in the United States. In January 2001, Clarke 
forwarded a strategy paper to Rice warning that al Qaeda had a presence in 
the United States. He noted that t^vo key al Qaeda members in the Jordanian 
cell involved in the millennium plot were naturalized U.S. citizens and that one 
jihadist suspected in the East Africa bombings had "informed the FBI that an 
extensive network of al Qida 'sleeper agents' currently exists in the US." He 
added that Ressam's abortive December 1999 attack revealed al Qaeda sup- 
porters in the United States. '^'^ His analysis, however, was based not on new 
threat reporting but on past experience. 

The September 1 1 attacks fell into the void between the foreign and domes- 
tic threats. The foreign intelligence agencies were watching overseas, alert to 
foreign threats to U.S. interests there. The domestic agencies were waiting for 
evidence of a domestic threat from sleeper cells within the United States. No 
one was looking for a foreign threat to domestic targets. The threat that was 
coming was not from sleeper cells. It was foreign — but from foreigners who 
had infiltrated into the United States. 



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264 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

A second cause of this disparity in response is that domestic agencies did 
not know ^vhat to do, and no one gave them direction. Cressey told us that the 
CSG did not tell the agencies ho\¥ to respond to the threats. He noted that the 
agencies that were operating overseas did not need direction on how to 
respond; they had experience ^vith such threats and had a"playbook." In con- 
trast, the domestic agencies did not have a game plan. Neither the NSC (includ- 
ing the CSG) nor anyone else instructed them to create one.'^s 

This lack of direction was evident in the July 5 meeting with representa- 
tives from the domestic agencies. The briefing focused on overseas threats. The 
domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the 
threat and were not told what was expected of them. Indeed, as noted earlier, 
they were specifically told they could not issue advisories based on the brief- 
ing.'** The domestic agencies' limited response indicates that they did not per- 
ceive a call to action. 

Clarke reflected a different perspective in an email to Rice on September 
15, 2001. He summarized the steps taken by the CSG to alert domestic agen- 
cies to the possibility of an attack in the United States. Clarke concluded that 
domestic agencies, including the FAA, kne^v that the CSG believed a major al 
Qaeda attack was coming and could be in the United States. 

Although the FAA had authority to issue security directives mandating new 
security procedures, none of the fe\v that ^vere released during the summer of 
2001 increased security at checkpoints or on board aircraft. The information 
circulars mostly urged air carriers to "exercise prudence" and be alert. Prior to 
9/11, the FAA did present a CD-ROM to air carriers and airport authorities 
describing the increased threat to civil aviation. The presentation mentioned 
the possibility of suicide hijackings but said that "fortunately, we have no indi- 
cation that any group is currently thinking in that direction." '^^ The FAA con- 
ducted 27 special security briefings for specific air carriers bet^veen May 1, 
2001, and September 11, 2001. Two of these briefings discussed the hijacking 
threat overseas. None discussed the possibility of suicide hijackings or the use 
of aircraft as weapons. No new security measures were instituted. '*8 

Rice told us she understood that the FBI had tasked its 56 U.S. field offices 
to increase surveillance of suspected terrorists and to reach out to informants 
who might have information about terrorist plots. An NSC staff document at 
the time describes such a tasking as having occurred in late June but does not 
indicate whether it ^vas generated by the NSC or the FBI. Other than the pre- 
viously described April 13 communication sent to all FBI field offices, how- 
ever, the FBI could not find any record of having received such a directive.The 
April 13 document asking field offices to gather information on Sunni 
extremism did not mention any possible threat within the United States and 
did not order surveillance of suspected operatives. The NSC did not specify 
what the FBI's directives should contain and did not review what had been 
issued earlier. 49 



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^^ 



"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 265 

Acting FBI Director Pickard told us that in addition to his July 19 confer- 
ence call, he mentioned the heightened terrorist threat in individual calls ^vith 
the special agents in charge of field offices during their annual performance 
revie\v discussions. In speaking -with agents around the country, ^ve found lit- 
tle evidence that any such concerns had reached FBI personnel beyond the 
New York Field Office, ^o 

The head of counterterrorism at the FBI, Dale Watson, said he had many 
discussions about possible attacks with Cofer Black at the CIA. They had 
expected an attack on July 4. Watson said he felt deeply that something was 
going to happen. But he told us the threat information was "nebulous." He 
wished he had kno^vn more. He wished he had had "500 analysts looking at 
Usama Bin Ladin threat information instead of two."^^ 

Attorney General Ashcroft was briefed by the CIA in May and by Pickard 
in early July about the danger. Pickard said he met with Ashcroft once a week 
in late June, through July, and twice in August. There is a dispute regarding 
Ashcrofts interest in Pickard's briefings about the terrorist threat situation. 
Pickard told us that after two such briefings Ashcroft told him that he did not 
want to hear about the threats anymore. Ashcroft denies Pickard's charge. 
Pickard says he continued to present terrorism information during further 
briefings that summer, but nothing further on the "chatter" the U.S. govern- 
ment was receiving. 5- 

The Attorney General told us he asked Pickard ^vhether there was intelli- 
gence about attacks in the United States and that Pickard said no. Pickard said 
he replied that he could not assure Ashcroft that there would be no attacks in 
the United States, although the reports of threats were related to overseas tar- 
gets. Ashcroft said he therefore assumed the FBI ^vas doing what it needed to 
do. He acknowledged that in retrospect, this was a dangerous assumption. He 
did not ask the FBI ^vhat it was doing in response to the threats and did not 
task it to take any specific action. He also did not direct the INS, then still part 
of the Department of Justice, to take any specific action. ^^ 

In sum, the domestic agencies never mobilized in response to the threat. 
They did not have direction, and did not have a plan to institute. The borders 
were not hardened. Transportation systems were not fortified. Electronic sur- 
veillance was not targeted against a domestic threat. ^^ State and local law 
enforcement \vere not marshaled to augment the FBI's efforts. The public was 
not warned. 

The terrorists exploited deep institutional failings within our government. 
The question is whether extra vigilance might have turned up an opportu- 
nity to disrupt the plot. As seen in chapter 7, al Qaeda's operatives made nfis- 
takes. At least two such nnstakes created opportunities during 2001, especially 
in late August. 



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266 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

8.2 LATE LEADS— MIHDHAR,MOUSSAOUI, AND KSM 

In chapter 6 we discussed how intelligence agencies successfully detected some 
of the early travel in the planes operation, picking up the movements of Khalid 
al Mihdhar and identifying him, and seeing his travel converge ^vith someone 
they perhaps could have identified but did not — Nawaf al Hazmi — as well as with 
less easily identifiable people such as Khallad and Abu Bara. These observations 
occurred in December 1999 and January 2000. The trail had been lost in Janu- 
ary 2000 \vithout a clear realization that it had been lost, and without much effort 
to pick it up again. Nor had the CIA placed Mihdhar on the State Department's 
watchlist for suspected terrorists, so that either an embassy or a port of entry 
might take note if Mihdhar showed up again. 

On four occasions in 2001, the CIA, the FBI, or both had apparent oppor- 
tunities to refocus on the significance of Hazmi and Mihdhar and reinvigorate 
the search for them. After reviewing those episodes we ^vill turn to the han- 
dling of the Moussaoui case and some late leads regarding Khalid Sheikh 
Mohammed. 

January 2001: Identification of Khallad 

Almost one year after the original trail had been lost in Bangkok, the FBI and 
the CIA were working on the investigation of the Cole bombing. They learned 
of the link between a captured conspirator and a person called "Khallad."They 
also learned that Khallad was a senior security official for Bin Ladin who had 
helped direct the bombing (we introduced Khallad in chapter 5, and returned 
to his role in the Cole bombing in chapter 6).55 

One of the members of the FBI's investigative team in Yemen realized that 
he had heard of Khallad before, from a joint FBI/CIA source four months ear- 
lier.The FBI agent obtained from a foreign government a photo of the person 
believed to have directed the Cole bombing. It ^vas shown to the source, and 
he confirmed that the man in that photograph ^vas the same Khallad he had 
described. 5'^ 

In December 2000, on the basis of some links associated with Khalid al 
Mihdhar, the CIA's Bin Ladin unit speculated that Khallad and Khalid al Mihd- 
har might be one and the same.^^ 

The CIA asked that a Kuala Lumpur surveillance photo of Mihdhar be 
sho^vn to the joint source who had identified Khallad. In early January 2001, 
two photographs from the Kuala Lumpur meeting were shown to the source. 
One ^vas a known photograph of Mihdhar, the other a photograph of a then 
unkno\vn subject. The source did not recognize Mihdhar. But he indicated he 
was 90 percent certain that the other individual was Khallad. ^^ 

This meant that Khallad and Mihdhar were two different people. It also 
meant that there was a link between Khallad and Mihdhar, making Mihdhar 
seem even more suspicious. ^^ Yet we found no effort by the CIA to renew the 
long-abandoned search for Mihdhar or his travel companions. 



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"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 267 

In addition, we found that the CIA did not notify the FBI of this identifi- 
cation. DCI Tenet and Cofer Black testified before Congress's Joint Inquiry into 
9/11 that the FBI had access to this identification from the beginning. But 
drawing on an extensive record, including documents that were not available 
to the CIA personnel ^vho drafted that testimony, ^ve conclude this was not 
the case.The FBI's primary Cole investigators had no kno^vledge that Khallad 
had been in Kuala Lumpur with Mihdhar and others until after the Septem- 
ber 11 attacks. Because the FBI had not been informed in January 2000 about 
Mihdhar's possession of a U.S. visa, it had not then started looking for him in 
the United States. Because it did not kno^v of the links between Khallad and 
Mihdhar, it did not start looking for him in January 2001. *" 

This incident is an example of ho^v day-to-day gaps in information sharing 
can emerge even when there is mutual good^vill.The information was from a 
joint FBI/CIA source who spoke essentially no English and whose languages 
were not understood by the FBI agent on the scene overseas. Issues of travel 
and security necessarily kept short the amount of time spent with the source. 
As a result, the CIA officer usually did not translate either questions or answers 
for his FBI colleague and friend. "^^ 

For interviews without simultaneous translation, the FBI agent on the scene 
received copies of the reports that the CIA disseminated to other agencies 
regarding the interviews. But he was not given access to the CIA's internal 
operational reports, which contained more detail. It was there — in reporting 
to ^vhich FBI investigators did not have access — that information regarding the 
January 2001 identification of Khallad appeared.The CIA officer does not recall 
this particular identification and thus cannot say why it was not shared ^vith 
his FBI colleague. He might not have understood the possible significance of 
the new identification. "^^ 

In June 2000, Mihdhar left California and returned to Yemen. It is possible 
that if, in January 2001, the CIA had resumed its search for him, placed him 
on the State Department's TIPOFF watchlist, or provided the FBI with the 
information, he might have been found — either before or at the time he 
applied for a new visa in June 2001, or when he returned to the United States 
on July 4. 

Spring 2001: Looking Again at Kuala Lumpur 

By mid-May 2001, as the threat reports were surging, a CIA official detailed 
to the International Terrorism Operations Section at the FBI wondered where 
the attacks might occur. We will call him "John." Recalling the episode about 
the Kuala Lumpur travel of Mihdhar and his associates, "John" searched the 
CIA's databases for information regarding the travel. On May 15, he and an 
official at the CIA reexamined many of the old cables from early 2000, includ- 
ing the information that Mihdhar had a U.S. visa, and that Hazmi had come 
to Los Angeles on January 15, 2000. *3 

The CIA official ^vho reviewed the cables took no action regarding them. 



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268 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

"John," however, began a lengthy exchange with a CIA analyst, ^vhonl we -will 
call "Dave," to figure out what these cables meant. "John" was aware of how 
dangerous Khallad was — at one point calling him a "major league killer." He 
concluded that "something bad was definitely up." Despite the U.S. links evi- 
dent in this traffic, "John" made no effort to determine whether any of these 
individuals was in the United States. He did not raise that possibility with his 
FBI counterpart. He was focused on Malaysia. <^'* 

"John" described the CIA as an agency that tended to play a "zone defense." 
He was worrying solely about Southeast Asia, not the United States. In con- 
trast, he told us, the FBI tends to play "man-to-nian."'^^ 

Desk officers at the CIA's Bin Ladin unit did not have "cases" in the same 
sense as an FBI agent who works an investigation from beginning to end. Thus, 
when the trail went cold after the Kuala Lumpur meeting in January 2000, the 
desk officer moved on to different things. By the time the March 2000 cable 
arrived with information that one of the travelers had flown to Los Angeles, 
the case officer was no longer responsible for follow-up. While several individ- 
uals at the Bin Ladin unit opened the cable when it arrived in March 2000, no 
action was taken, i^* 

The CIA's zone defense concentrated on "where," not "who." Had its infor- 
mation been shared with the FBI, a combination of the CIA's zone defense 
and the FBI's man-to-man approach might have been productive. 

June 2001: The Meeting in New York 

"John's" review of the Kuala Lumpur meeting did set off some more shar- 
ing of information, getting the attention of an FBI analyst whom we will call 
"Jane." "Jane" was assigned to the FBI's Cole investigation. She knew that 
another terrorist involved in that operation, Fahd al Quso, had traveled to 
Bangkok in January 2000 to give money to Khallad.*^ 

"Jane" and the CIA analyst, "Dave," had been working together on Cole- 
related issues. Chasing Quso's trail, "Dave" suggested showing some photo- 
graphs to FBI agents in New York who were working on the Cole case and had 
interviewed Quso.!^* 

"John" gave three Kuala Lumpur surveillance pictures to "Jane" to show to 
the New York agents. She was told that one of the individuals in the photo- 
graphs was someone named Khalid al Mihdhar. She did not know why the 
photographs had been taken or why the Kuala Lumpur travel might be signif- 
icant, and she was not told that someone had identified Khallad in the photo- 
graphs. When "Jane" did some research in a database for intelligence reports, 
Intelink, she found the original NSA reports on the planning for the meeting. 
Because the CIA had not disseminated reports on its tracking of Mihdhar, 
"Jane" did not puU up any information about Mihdhar's U.S. visa or about travel 
to the United States by Hazmi or Mihdhar. ^^ 

"Jane," "Dave," and an FBI analyst who was on detail to the CIA's Bin Ladin 



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"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 269 

unit went to New York on June 11 to meet \¥ith the agents about the Cole case. 
"Jane" brought the surveillance pictures. At some point in the meeting she 
shoAved the photographs to the agents and asked ^vhether they recognized 
Quso in any of them. The agents asked questions about the photographs — 
Why -were they taken? Why -were these people being followed? Where are the 
rest of the photographs?^'^ 

The only information "Jane" had about the meeting — other than the pho- 
tographs — ^were the NSA reports that she had found on Intelink. These reports, 
however, contained caveats that their contents could not be shared with crim- 
inal investigators \vithout the permission of the Justice Department's Office of 
Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR). Therefore "Jane" concluded that she 
could not pass on information from those reports to the agents. This decision 
was potentially significant, because the signals intelligence she did not share 
linked Mihdhar to a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East. The agents 
would have established a link to the suspected facility from their work on the 
embassy bombings case. This link would have made them very interested in 
learning more about Mihdhar.^i The sad irony is that the agents who found 
the source were being kept from obtaining the fruits of their own work. 

"Dave," the CIA analyst, knew more about the Kuala Lumpur meeting. He 
knew that Mihdhar possessed a U.S. visa, that his visa application indicated that 
he intended to travel to Ne^v York, that Hazmi had traveled to Los Angeles, 
and that a source had put Mihdhar in the company of Khallad. No one at the 
meeting asked him what he knew; he did not volunteer anything. He told 
investigators that as a CIA analyst, he was not authorized to answer FBI ques- 
tions regarding CIA information. "Jane" said she assumed that if "Dave" knew 
the answers to questions, he would have volunteered them. The New York 
agents left the meeting without obtaining information that might have started 
them looking for Mihdhar.^- 

Mihdhar had been a weak link in al Qaeda's operational planning. He had 
left the United States in June 2000, a mistake KSM realized could endanger 
the entire plan — for to continue with the operation, Mihdhar would have to 
travel to the United States again. And unlike other operatives, Mihdhar was not 
"clean": he had jihadist connections. It was just such connections that had 
brought him to the attention of U.S. ofliicials. 

Nevertheless, in this case KSM's fears were not realized. Mihdhar received 
a new U.S. visa two days after the CIA-FBI meeting in New York. He flew 
to New York City on July 4. No one was looking for him. 

August 2001: The Search for Mihdhar and Hazmi Begins and Fails 

During the summer of 2001 "John," follo^ving a good instinct but not as part 
of any formal assignment, asked "Mary," an FBI analyst detailed to the CIA's 
Bin Ladin unit, to review all the Kuala Lumpur materials one more time. She 
had been at the New York meeting with "Jane" and "Dave" but had not 



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270 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

looked into the issues yet herself. "John" asked her to do the research in her 
free tinieJ^ 

"Mary" began her -work on July 24. That day, she found the cable reporting 
that Mihdhar had a visa to the United States. A week later, she found the cable 
reporting that Mihdhar 's visa application — what was later discovered to be his 
first application — listed New York as his destination. On August 21, she 
located the March 2000 cable that "noted with interest" that Haznii had flown 
to Los Angeles in January 2000. She immediately grasped the significance of 
this information. ^4 

"Mary" and "Jane" promptly met with an INS representative at FBI head- 
quarters. On August 22, the INS told them that Mihdhar had entered the 
United States on January 15, 2000, and again on July 4, 2001. "Jane" and 
"Mary" also learned that there was no record that Hazmi had left the coun- 
try since January 2000, and they assumed he had left with Mihdhar in June 
2000. They decided that if Mihdhar was in the United States, he should be 
found. ^5 

They divided up the work. "Mary" asked the Bin Ladin unit to draft a cable 
requesting that Mihdhar and Hazmi be put on the TIPOFF watchlist. Both 
Hazmi and Mihdhar were added to this watchlist on August 24. ^^ 

"Jane" took responsibility for the search effort inside the United States. As 
the information indicated that Mihdhar had last arrived in New York, she began 
drafting what is known as a lead for the FBI's New York Field Office. A lead 
relays information from one part of the FBI to another and requests that a par- 
ticular action be taken. She called an agent in New York to give him a "heads- 
up" on the matter, but her draft lead was not sent until August 28. Her email 
told the New York agent that she wanted him to get started as soon as possi- 
ble, but she labeled the lead as "Routine" — a designation that informs the 
receiving office that it has 30 days to respond. ^^ 

The agent who received the lead forwarded it to his squad supervisor. That 
same day, the supervisor forwarded the lead to an intelligence agent to open 
an intelligence case — an agent who thus was behind "the wall" keeping FBI 
inteUigence information from being shared with criminal prosecutors. He also 
sent it to the Cole case agents and an agent who had spent significant time in 
Malaysia searching for another Khalid: Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. ^^ 

The suggested goal of the investigation was to locate Mihdhar, determine 
his contacts and reasons for being in the United States, and possibly conduct 
an interview. Before sending the lead, "Jane" had discussed it with "John," the 
CIA official on detail to the FBI. She had also checked with the acting head 
of the FBI's Bin Ladin unit. The discussion seems to have been limited to 
whether the search should be classified as an intelligence investigation or as a 
criminal one. It appears that no one informed higher levels of management in 
either the FBI or CIA about the case.^' There is no evidence that the lead, or 
the search for these terrorist suspects, was substantively discussed at any level 



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l^ 



"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 271 

above deputy chief of a section within the Counterterrorisni Division at FBI 
headquarters. 

One of the Cole case agents read the lead with interest, and contacted "Jane" 
to obtain more information. "Jane" argued, however, that because the agent was 
designated a "criminal" FBI agent, not an intelligence FBI agent, the wall kept 
him from participating in any search for Mihdhar. In fact, she felt he had to 
destroy his copy of the lead because it contained NSA information from reports 
that included caveats ordering that the information not be shared ^vithout 
OIPR's permission. The agent asked "Jane" to get an opinion from the FBI's 
National Security Law Unit (NSLU) on whether he could open a criminal 
case on Mihdhar. ^o 

"Jane" sent an email to the Cole case agent explaining that according to the 
NSLU, the case could be opened only as an intelligence matter, and that if 
Mihdhar ^vas found, only designated intelligence agents could conduct or even 
be present at any interview. She appears to have misunderstood the complex 
rules that could apply to this situation. ^^ 

The FBI agent angrily responded: 

Whatever has happened to this — someday someone ^vill die — and wall 
or not — the public will not understand why we were not more effective 
and thro\ving every resource we had at certain "problems." 

Let's hope the National Security Law Unit will stand behind their 
decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, UBL, is get- 
ting the most "protection." 

"Jane" replied that she was not making up the rules; she claimed that they 
were in the relevant manual and "ordered by the [FISA] Court and every office 
of the FBI is required to follow them including FBI NY."^^ 

It is now clear that everyone involved was confused about the rules govern- 
ing the sharing and use of information gathered in intelligence channels. 
Because Mihdhar was being sought for his possible connection to or knowl- 
edge of the Cole bombing, he could be investigated or tracked under the exist- 
ing Cole criminal case. No new criminal case was needed for the criminal agent 
to begin searching for Mihdhar. And as NSA had approved the passage of its 
information to the criminal agent, he could have conducted a search using all 
available information. As a result of this confusion, the criminal agents who 
were knowledgeable about al Qaeda and experienced with criminal investiga- 
tive techniques, including finding suspects and possible criminal charges, were 
thus excluded from the search. ^^ 

The search was assigned to one FBI agent, and it was his very first coun- 
terterrorism lead. Because the lead was "routine," he was given 30 days to open 
an intelligence case and make some unspecified efforts to locate Mihdhar. He 
started the process a few days later. He checked local New York databases for 



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'^ 



272 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

criminal record and driver's license information and checked the hotel listed 
on Mihdhar's U.S. entry form. Finally, on September 11, the agent sent a lead 
to Los Angeles, because Mihdhar had initially arrived in Los Angeles in Janu- 
ary 2000.84 

We believe that if more resources had been applied and a significantly dif- 
ferent approach taken, Mihdhar and Haznii might have been found. They had 
used their true names in the United States. Still, the investigators would have 
needed luck as well as skill to find them prior to September 11 even if such 
searches had begun as early as August 23, when the lead was first drafted.^s 

Many FBI witnesses have suggested that even if Mihdhar had been found, 
there ^vas nothing the agents could have done except follow him onto the 
planes. We believe this is incorrect. Both Hazmi and Mihdhar could have been 
held for immigration violations or as material witnesses in the Cole bombing 
case. Investigation or interrogation of them, and investigation of their travel and 
financial activities, could have yielded evidence of connections to other par- 
ticipants in the 9/11 plot. The simple fact of their detention could have derailed 
the plan. In any case, the opportunity did not arise. 

Phoenix Memo 

The Phoenix memo ^vas investigated thoroughly by the Joint Inquiry and the 
Department ofjustice Inspector General.^* We will recap it briefly here. In July 
2001, an FBI agent in the Phoenix field office sent a memo to FBI headquar- 
ters and to two agents on international terrorism squads in the New York Field 
Office, advising of the "possibility of a coordinated effort by Usama Bin Ladin" 
to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation schools.The agent 
based his theory on the "inordinate number of individuals of investigative inter- 
est" attending such schools in Arizona. ^^ 

The agent made four recommendations to FBI headquarters: to compile a 
list of civil aviation schools, establish liaison with those schools, discuss his the- 
ories about Bin Ladin \vith the intelligence community, and seek authority to 
obtain visa information on persons applying to flight schools. His recommen- 
dations were not acted on. His memo was forwarded to one field office. Man- 
agers of the Usama Bin Ladin unit and the Radical Fundamentalist unit at FBI 
headquarters ^vere addressees, but they did not even see the memo until after 
September 11. No managers at headquarters saw the memo before September 
11, and the New York Field Office took no action. ^^ 

As its author told investigators, the Phoenix memo was not an alert about 
suicide pilots. His worry was more about a Pan Am Flight 103 scenario in 
which explosives were placed on an aircraft. The memo's references to aviation 
training were broad, including aeronautical engineering. *' If the memo had been 
distributed in a timely fashion and its recommendations acted on promptly, we 
do not believe it would have uncovered the plot. It might ^vell, however, have 
sensitized the FBI so that it might have taken the Moussaoui matter more seri- 
ously the next month. 



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"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 273 

Zacarias Moussaoui 

On August 15, 2001, the Minneapolis FBI Field Office initiated an intelligence 
investigation on Zacarias Moussaoui. As mentioned in chapter 7, he had entered 
the United States in February 2001, and had begun flight lessons at Airman 
Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma. He resumed his training at the Pan Am 
International Flight Academy in Eagan, Minnesota, starting on August 13. He 
had none of the usual qualifications for flight training on Pan Am s Boeing 747 
flight simulators. He said he did not intend to become a commercial pilot but 
wanted the training as an "ego boosting thing." Moussaoui stood out because, 
with little kno\¥ledge of flying, he wanted to learn how to "take off and land" 
a Boeing 747.90 

The agent in Minneapolis quickly learned that Moussaoui possessed jihadist 
beliefs. Moreover, Moussaoui had 132,000 in a bank account but did not pro- 
vide a plausible explanation for this sum of money. He had traveled to Pakistan 
but became agitated when asked if he had traveled to nearby countries while 
in Pakistan (Pakistan was the customary route to the training camps in 
Afghanistan). He planned to receive martial arts training, and intended to pur- 
chase a global positioning receiver. The agent also noted that Moussaoui 
became extremely agitated whenever he was questioned regarding his religious 
beliefs. The agent concluded that Moussaoui was "an Islamic extremist prepar- 
ing for some future act in furtherance of radical fundamentalist goals." He also 
believed Moussaoui's plan was related to his flight training. 'i 

Moussaoui can be seen as an al Qaeda mistake and a missed opportunity. 
An apparently unreliable operative, he had fallen into the hands of the FBI. As 
discussed in chapter 7, Moussaoui had been in contact with and received 
money from Ramzi Binalshibh. If Moussaoui had been connected to al 
Qaeda, questions should instantly have arisen about a possible al Qaeda plot 
that involved piloting airliners, a possibility that had never been seriously ana- 
lyzed by the intelligence community. 

The FBI agent who handled the case in conjunction with the INS repre- 
sentative on the Minneapolis Joint Terrorism Task Force suspected that Mous- 
saoui might be planning to hijack a plane. Minneapolis and FBI headquarters 
debated whether Moussaoui should be arrested immediately or surveilled to 
obtain additional information. Because it was not clear whether Moussaoui 
could be imprisoned, the FBI case agent decided the most important thing was 
to prevent Moussaoui from obtaining any further training that he could use to 
carry out a potential attack. ^2 

As a French national who had overstayed his visa, Moussaoui could be 
detained immediately The INS arrested Moussaoui on the immigration viola- 
tion. A deportation order was signed on August 17, 2001.93 

The agents in Minnesota were concerned that the U.S. Attorney s Office in 
Minneapolis ^vould find insufficient probable cause of a crime to obtain a crim- 
inal warrant to search Moussaoui's laptop computer.'^ Agents at FBI headquar- 
ters believed there ^vas insufficient probable cause. Minneapolis therefore 



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274 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

sought a special warrant under the Foreign Intelhgence Surveillance Act to 
conduct the search (we introduced FISA in chapter 3). 

To do so, however, the FBI needed to demonstrate probable cause that 
Moussaoui was an agent of a foreign po^ver, a demonstration that \vas not 
required to obtain a criminal warrant but ^vas a statutory requirement for a 
FISA warrant.''^ The case agent did not have sufficient information to connect 
Moussaoui to a "foreign power," so he reached out for help, in the United States 
and overseas. 

The FBI agent's August 18 message requested assistance from the FBI legal 
attache in Paris. Moussaoui had lived in London, so the Minneapolis agent 
sought assistance from the legal attache there as ^vell. By August 24, the Min- 
neapolis agent had also contacted an FBI detailee and a CIA desk officer at the 
Counterterrorist Center about the case.'*^ 

The FBI legal attache s office in Paris first contacted the French government 
on August 16 or 17, shortly after speaking to the Minneapolis case agent on 
the telephone. On August 22 and 27, the French provided information that 
made a connection between Moussaoui and a rebel leader in Chechnya, Ibn al 
Khattab. This set off a spirited debate bet^veen the Minneapolis Field Office, 
FBI headquarters, and the CIA as to whether the Chechen rebels and Khattab 
were sufficiently associated with a terrorist organization to constitute a "for- 
eign power" for purposes of the FISA statute. FBI headquarters did not believe 
this was good enough, and its National Security Law Unit declined to submit 
a FISA application.^^ 

After receiving the written request for assistance, the legal attache in Lon- 
don had promptly forwarded it to his counterparts in the British government, 
hand-delivering the request on August 21. On August 24, the CIA also sent a 
cable to London and Paris regarding "subjects involved in suspicious 747 flight 
training" that described Moussaoui as a possible "suicide hijacker." On August 
28, the CIA sent a request for information to a diflierent service of the British 
government; this communication ^varned that Moussaoui might be expelled 
to Britain by the end of August. The FBI office in London raised the matter 
briefly with British officials as an aside, after a meeting about a more urgent 
matter on September 3, and sent the British service a ^vritten update on Sep- 
tember 5. The case ^vas not handled by the British as a priority amid a large 
number of other terrorist-related inquiries. ^^ 

On September 4, the FBI sent a teletype to the CIA, the FAA, the Customs 
Service, the State Department, the INS, and the Secret Service summarizing 
the kno^vn facts regarding Moussaoui. It did not report the case agent's per- 
sonal assessment that Moussaoui planned to hijack an airplane. It did contain 
the FAA's comment that it was not unusual for Middle Easterners to attend 
flight training schools in the United States. '' 

Although the Minneapolis agents wanted to tell the FAA from the begin- 
ning about Moussaoui, FBI headquarters instructed Minneapolis that it could 



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l^ 



"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 275 

not share the more complete report the case agent had prepared for the FAA. 
The Minneapohs supervisor sent the case agent in person to the local FAA 
office to fill in what he thought -were gaps in the FBI headquarters teletype. 10° 
No FAA actions seem to have been taken in response. 

There was substantial disagreement between Minneapolis agents and FBI 
headquarters as to what Moussaoui ^vas planning to do. In one conversation 
between a Minneapolis supervisor and a headquarters agent, the latter com- 
plained that Minneapolis 's FISA request was couched in a manner intended to 
get people "spun up." The supervisor replied that was precisely his intent. He 
said he ^vas "trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the 
World Trade Center." The headquarters agent replied that this was not going 
to happen and that they did not kno^v if Moussaoui ^vas a terrorist. ^'^^ 

There is no evidence that either FBI Acting Director Pickard or Assistant 
Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson was briefed on the Moussaoui case 
prior to 9/11. Michael Rolince, the FBI assistant director heading the Bureau's 
International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS), recalled being told about 
Moussaoui in two passing hall^vay conversations but only in the context that 
he might be receiving telephone calls from Minneapolis complaining about 
how headquarters was handling the matter. He never received such a call. 
Although the acting special agent in charge of Minneapolis called the ITOS 
supervisors to discuss the Moussaoui case on August 27, he declined to go up 
the chain of command at FBI headquarters and call Rolince. ^O- 

On August 23, DCl Tenet was briefed about the Moussaoui case in a brief- 
ing titled "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly."i"3 Tenet was also told that Mous- 
saoui wanted to learn to fly a 747, paid for his training in cash, ^vas interested 
to learn the doors do not open in flight, and ^vanted to fly a simulated flight 
from London to New York. He was told that the FBI had arrested Moussaoui 
because of a visa overstay and that the CIA ^vas working the case \vith the FBI. 
Tenet told us that no connection to al Qaeda ^vas apparent to him at the time. 
Seeing it as an FBI case, he did not discuss the matter with anyone at the White 
House or the FBI. No connection \vas made between Moussaoui's presence in 
the United States and the threat reporting during the summer of 2001. 1°'* 

On September 1 1 , after the attacks, the FBI office in London renewed their 
appeal for information about Moussaoui. In response to U.S. requests, the 
British government supplied some basic biographical information about 
Moussaoui.The British government informed us that it also immediately tasked 
intelligence collection facilities for information about Moussaoui. On Septem- 
ber 13, the British government received ne^v, sensitive intelligence that Mous- 
saoui had attended an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. It passed this 
intelligence to the United States on the same day. Had this information been 
available in late August 2001, the Moussaoui case ^vould almost certainly have 
received intense, high-level attention. 105 

The FBI also learned after 9/11 that the millennium terrorist Ressam, who 



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276 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

by 2001 was cooperating ^vith investigators, recognized Moussaoui as some- 
one who had been in the Afghan camps. lO'^ As mentioned above, before 9/11 
the FBI agents in Minneapolis had failed to persuade supervisors at headquar- 
ters that there was enough evidence to seek a FISA warrant to search Mous- 
saoui's computer hard drive and belongings. Either the British information or 
the Ressam identification would have broken the logjam. 

A maximum U.S. effort to investigate Moussaoui conceivably could have 
unearthed his connections to Binalshibh. Those connections might have 
brought investigators to the core of the 9/11 plot. The Binalshibh connection 
was recognized shortly after 9/11, though it ^vas not an easy trail to find. Dis- 
covering it ^vould have required quick and very substantial cooperation from 
the German government, ^vhich might ^vell have been difficult to obtain. 

However, publicity about Moussaoui s arrest and a possible hijacking threat 
might have derailed the plot. ^"^ With time, the search for Mihdhar and Hazmi 
and the investigation of Moussaoui might also have led to a breakthrough that 
would have disrupted the plot. 

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 

Another late opportunity was presented by a confluence of information 
regarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed received by the intelligence community 
in the summer of 2001. The possible links between KSM, Moussaoui, and an 
individual only later identified as Ramzi Binalshibh would remain undiscov- 
ered, ho^vever. 

Although we readily equate KSM with al Qaeda today, this was not the case 
before 9/11. KSM, who had been indicted injanuary 1996 for his role in the 
Manila air plot, was seen primarily as another freelance terrorist, associated 
with Ramzi Yousef Because the links between KSM and Bin Ladin or al 
Qaeda were not recognized at the time, responsibility for KSM remained in 
the small Islamic Extremist Branch of the Counterterrorist Center, not in the 
Bin Ladin unit. 

Moreover, because KSM had already been indicted, he became targeted 
for arrest. In 1997, the Counterterrorist Center added a Renditions Branch 
to help find wanted fugitives. Responsibility for KSM was transferred to this 
branch, which gave the CIA a "man-to-man" focus but was not an analyti- 
cal unit. When subsequent information came, more critical for analysis than 
for tracking, no unit had the job of following up on what the information 
might mean. 1 '^8 

For example, in September 2000, a source had reported that an individual 
named Khalid al-Shaykh al-Ballushi was a key lieutenant in al Qaeda. Al- 
Ballushi means "from Baluchistan," and KSM is from Baluchistan. Recogniz- 
ing the possible significance of this information, the Bin Ladin unit sought 
more information. When no information was forthcoming, the Bin Ladin unit 



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"THE SYSTEM WAS BLINKING RED" 277 

dropped the matCer.^o' When additional pieces of the puzzle arrived in the 
spring and summer of 2001, they were not put together. 

The first piece of the puzzle concerned some intriguing information asso- 
ciated with a person known as "Mukhtar" that the CIA had begun analyzing 
in April 2001. The CIA did not kno^v ^vho Mukhtar \vas at the time — only 
that he associated with al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah and that, based on 
the nature of the information, he was evidently involved in planning possible 
terrorist activities, no 

The second piece of the puzzle was some alarming information regarding 
KSM. On June 12, 2001, a CIA report said that "Khaled" was actively recruiting 
people to travel outside Afghanistan, including to the United States ^vhere col- 
leagues were reportedly already in the country to meet them, to carry out 
terrorist-related activities for Bin Ladin. CIA headquarters presumed from the 
details of the reporting that this person \vas Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In July, 
the same source ^vas shown a series of photographs and identified a photograph 
of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the Khaled he had previously discussed, m 

The final piece of the puzzle arrived at the CIA's Bin Ladin unit on August 
28 in a cable reporting that KSM's nickname was Mukhtar. No one made the 
connection to the reports about Mukhtar that had been circulated in the 
spring. This connection might also have underscored concern about the June 
reporting that KSM ^vas recruiting terrorists to travel, including to the United 
States. Only after 9/11 would it be discovered that Muhktar/KSM had com- 
municated \vith a phone that was used by Binalshibh, and that Binalshibh had 
used the same phone to communicate with Moussaoui, as discussed in chap- 
ter 7. As in the Moussaoui situation already described, the links to Binalshibh 
might not have been an easy trail to find and would have required substantial 
cooperation from the German government. But time was short, and running 
out. 112 

Time Runs Out 

As Tenet told us, "the system was blinking red" during the summer of 2001. 
Officials were alerted across the world. Many were doing everything they pos- 
sibly could to respond to the threats. 

Yet no one working on these late leads in the summer of 2001 connected 
the case in his or her in-box to the threat reports agitating senior officials and 
being briefed to the President. Thus, these individual cases did not become 
national priorities. As the CIA supervisor "John" told us, no one looked at the 
bigger picture; no analytic ^vork foresa^v the lightning that could connect the 
thundercloud to the ground. n^ 

We see little evidence that the progress of the plot was disturbed by any gov- 
ernment action. The U.S. government was unable to capitalize on mistakes 
made by al Qaeda. Time ran out. 



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9 

HEROISM AND 
HORROR 

9.1 PREPAREDNESS AS OF SEPTEMBER 11 

Emergency response is a product of preparedness. On the morning of Septem- 
ber 11, 2001, the last best hope for the community of people working in or 
visiting the World Trade Center rested not with national policymakers but ^vith 
private firms and local public servants, especially the first responders: fire, police, 
emergency medical service, and building safety professionals. 

Building Preparedness 

The World Trade Center. The World Trade Center (WTC) complex was 

built for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Construction began 

in 1966, and tenants began to occupy its space in 1970. TheTwin Towers came 

to occupy a unique and symbolic place in the culture of New York City and 

America. 

The WTC actually consisted of seven buildings, including one hotel, spread 
across 16 acres of land. The buildings were connected by an underground mall 
(the concourse). The Twin Towers (1 WTC, or the North Tower, and 2 WTC, 
or the South Tower) were the signature structures, containing 10.4 million 
square feet of office space. Both towers had 110 stories, were about 1,350 feet 
high, and were square; each wall measured 208 feet in length. On any given 
workday, up to 50,000 office workers occupied the towers, and 40,000 people 
passed through the complex. ^ 

Each to^ver contained three central stairwells, which ran essentially from top 
to bottom, and 99 elevators. Generally, elevators originating in the lobby ran 
to "sky lobbies" on higher floors, ^vhere additional elevators carried passengers 
to the tops of the buildings. 2 

Stairwells A and C ran from the 110th floor to the raised mezzanine level 
of the lobby. Stairwell B ran from the 107th floor to level B6, six floors below 
ground, and was accessible from the West Street lobby level, which was one 

278 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 



279 




The WorldTrade Center Complex as of 9/1 i 
Rendering by Marco Crupi 



floor below the mezzanine. All three stairwells ran essentially straight up and 
down, except for t^vo deviations in stairwells A and C where the staircase jut- 
ted out toward the perimeter of the building. On the upper and lower bound- 
aries of these deviations were transfer hallways contained within the stairwell 
proper. Each hallway contained smoke doors to prevent smoke from rising from 
lower to upper portions of the building; they were kept closed but not locked. 
Doors leading from tenant space into the stairwells were never kept locked; 
reentry from the stairwells was generally possible on at least every fourth floor. ^ 
Doors leading to the roof were locked. There was no rooftop evacuation 
plan. The roofs of both the North Tower and the South Tower were sloped 
and cluttered surfaces with radiation hazards, making them impractical for hel- 
icopter landings and as staging areas for civilians. Although the South Tower 
roof had a helipad, it did not meet 1994 Federal Aviation Administration 
guidelines."* 



The 1993 Terrorist Bombing of the WTC and the Port Authority's 
Response. Unlike most of America, New York City and specifically the World 



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280 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Trade Center had been the target of terrorist attacks before 9/1 1. At 12:18 P.M. 
on February 26, 1993, a 1,500-pound bomb stashed in a rental van was deto- 
nated on a parking garage ramp beneath theTwinTo^vers.The explosion killed 
six people, injured about 1,000 more, and exposed vulnerabilities in the World 
Trade Center's and the city's emergency preparedness. ^ 

The towers lost power and communications capability. Generators had to 
be shut down to ensure safety, and elevators stopped. The public-address sys- 
tem and emergency lighting systems failed. The unlit stairwells filled ^vith 
smoke and were so dark as to be impassable. Rescue efforts by the Fire Depart- 
ment of New York (FDNY) were hampered by the inability of its radios to 
function in buildings as large as the Twin Towers. The 911 emergency call sys- 
tem was overwhelmed. The general evacuation of the towers' occupants via the 
stairwells took more than four hours. <^ 

Several small groups of people \vho were physically unable to descend the 
stairs were evacuated from the roof of the South Tower by New York Police 
Department (NYPD) helicopters. At least one person was lifted from the 
North Tower roof by the NYPD in a dangerous helicopter rappel operation — 
15 hours after the bombing. General kno^vledge that these air rescues had 
occurred appears to have left a number of civilians who worked in the Twin 
Towers with the false impression that helicopter rescues were part of the WTC 
evacuation plan and that rescue from the roof \vas a viable, if not favored, option 
for those who worked on upper floors. Although they were considered after 
1993, helicopter evacuations in fact were not incorporated into the WTC fire 
safety plan.^ 

To address the problems encountered during the response to the 1993 
bombing, the Port Authority spent an initial $100 million to make physical, 
structural, and technological improvements to the WTC, as ^vell as to enhance 
its fire safety plan and reorganize and bolster its fire safety and security staffs. ^ 

Substantial enhancements were made to power sources and exits. Fluores- 
cent signs and markings were added in and near stairwells. The Port Authority 
also installed a sophisticated computerized fire alarm system with redundant 
electronics and control panels, and state-of-the-art fire command stations were 
placed in the lobby of each tower.' 

To manage fire emergency preparedness and operations, the Port Authority 
created the dedicated position of fire safety director. The director supervised a 
team of deputy fire safety directors, one of ^vhom ^vas on duty at the fire com- 
mand station in the lobby of each tower at all times. He or she would be respon- 
sible for communicating with building occupants during an emergency. ^'^ 

The Port Authority also sought to prepare civilians better for future emer- 
gencies. Deputy fire safety directors conducted fire drills at least twice a year, 
with advance notice to tenants. "Fire safety teams" were selected from among 
civilian employees on each floor and consisted of a fire ^varden, deputy fire war- 
dens, and searchers. The standard procedure for fire drills was for fire wardens 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 281 

to lead co-workers in their respective areas to the center of the floor, where 
they would use the emergency intercom phone to obtain specific information 
on how to proceed. Some civilians have told us that their evacuation on Sep- 
tember 1 1 was greatly aided by changes and training implemented by the Port 
Authority in response to the 1993 bombing J ' 

But during these drills, civilians were not directed into the stairwells, or pro- 
vided with information about their configuration and about the existence of 
transfer hallways and smoke doors. Neither full nor partial evacuation drills 
were held. Moreover, participation in drills that \vere held varied greatly from 
tenant to tenant. In general, civilians ^vere never told not to evacuate up. The 
standard fire drill announcement advised participants that in the event of an 
actual emergency, they would be directed to descend to at least three floors 
below the fire. Most civilians recall simply being taught to a\vait the instruc- 
tions that would be provided at the time of an emergency Civilians were not 
informed that rooftop evacuations were not part of the evacuation plan, or that 
doors to the roof were kept locked. The Port Authority ackno^vledges that it 
had no protocol for rescuing people trapped above a fire in the towers. '- 

Six weeks before the September 11 attacks, control of theWTC was trans- 
ferred by net lease to a private developer, Silverstein Properties. Select Port 
Authority employees were designated to assist with the transition. Others 
remained on-site but were no longer part of the official chain of command. 
However, on September 11, most Port Authority World Trade Department 
employees — including those not on the designated "transition team" — 
reported to their regular stations to provide assistance throughout the morn- 
ing. Although Silverstein Properties ^vas in charge of theWTC on September 
11, theWTC fire safety plan remained essentially the same.i^ 

Preparedness of First Responders 

On 9/11, the principal first responders were from the Fire Department of New 
York, the New York Police Department, the Port Authority Police Department 
(PAPD), and the Mayors Office of Emergency Management (OEM). 

Port Authority Police Department. On September 11, 2001, the Port 
Authority of Ne^vYork and Ne^v Jersey Police Department consisted of 1,331 
officers, many of whom were trained in fire suppression methods as well as in 
law enforcement. The PAPD was led by a superintendent. There \vas a sepa- 
rate PAPD command for each of the Port Authority's nine facilities, including 
the World Trade Center, i"* 

Most Port Authority police commands used ultra-high-frequency radios. 
Although all the radios were capable of using more than one channel, most 
PAPD officers used one local channel. The local channels ^vere lo^v-wattage 
and worked only in the immediate vicinity of that command. The PAPD also 
had an agency wide channel, but not all commands could access it.i^ 



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282 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

As of September 11, the Port Authority lacked any standard operating pro- 
cedures to govern ho^v officers from multiple commands would respond to and 
then be staged and utilized at a major incident at the WTC. In particular, there 
were no standard operating procedures covering how different commands 
should communicate via radio during such an incident. 

The New York Police Department. The 40,000-officer NYPD was 
headed by a police commissioner, whose duties were not primarily operational 
but who retained operational authority. Much of the NYPD's operational 
activities were run by the chief of department. In the event of a major emer- 
gency, a leading role would be played by the Special Operations Division. This 
division included the Aviation Unit, which provided helicopters for surveys and 
rescues, and the Emergency Service Unit (ESU), which carried out specialized 
rescue missions. The NYPD had specific and detailed standard operating pro- 
cedures for the dispatch of officers to an incident, depending on the incident's 
magnitude. i<^ 

The NYPD precincts were divided into 35 different radio zones, with a cen- 
tral radio dispatcher assigned to each. In addition, there were several radio chan- 
nels for citywide operations. Officers had portable radios with 20 or more 
available channels, so that the user could respond outside his or her precinct. 
ESU teams also had these channels but at an operation would use a separate 
point-to-point channel (which was not monitored by a dispatcher). '^ 

The NYPD also supervised the city's 911 emergency call system. Its 
approximately 1 ,200 operators, radio dispatchers, and supervisors were civil- 
ian employees of the NYPD. They were trained in the rudiments of emer- 
gency response. When a 91 1 call concerned a fire, it was transferred to FDNY 
dispatch. 18 

The Fire Department of New York. The 11,000-member FDNY was 
headed by a fire commissioner who, unlike the police commissioner, lacked 
operational authority. Operations were headed by the chief of department — 
the sole five-star chief. ^^ 

The FDNY was organized in nine separate geographic divisions. Each divi- 
sion was further divided into between four to seven battalions. Each battalion 
contained typically between three and four engine companies and two to four 
ladder companies. In total, the FDNY had 205 engine companies and 133 lad- 
der companies. On-duty ladder companies consisted of a captain or lieutenant 
and five firefighters; on-duty engine companies consisted of a captain or lieu- 
tenant and normally four firefighters. Ladder companies' primary function was 
to conduct rescues; engine companies focused on extinguishing fires. -^ 

The FDNY's Specialized Operations Command (SOC) contained a lim- 
ited number of units that were of particular importance in responding to a 
terrorist attack or other major incident. The department's five rescue compa- 
nies and seven squad companies performed specialized and highly risky res- 
cue operations. 21 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 283 

The logistics of fire operations were directed by Fire Dispatch Operations 
Division, which had a center in each of the five boroughs. All 911 calls concern- 
ing fire emergencies were transferred to FDNY dispatch. -2 

As of September 1 1 , FDNY companies and chiefs responding to a fire used 
analog, point-to-point radios that had six normal operating channels. Typically, 
the companies would operate on the same tactical channel, which chiefs on 
the scene would monitor and use to communicate with the firefighters. Chiefs 
at a fire operation also would use a separate command channel. Because these 
point-to-point radios had weak signal strength, communications on them 
could be heard only by other FDNY personnel in the immediate vicinity. In 
addition, the FDNY had a dispatch frequency for each of the five boroughs; 
these were not point-to-point channels and could be monitored from around 
the city 23 

The FDNY's radios performed poorly during the 1993 WTC bombing for 
two reasons. First, the radios signals often did not succeed in penetrating the 
numerous steel and concrete floors that separated companies attempting to 
communicate; and second, so many different companies were attempting to use 
the same point-to-point channel that communications became unintelligible. 2^* 

The Port Authority installed, at its o\vn expense, a repeater system in 1994 
to greatly enhance FDNY radio communications in the difficult high-rise 
environment of the Twin Towers. The Port Authority recommended leaving 
the repeater system on at all times. The FDNY requested, however, that the 
repeater be turned on only when it was actually needed because the channel 
could cause interference with other FDNY operations in Lower Manhattan. 
The repeater system \vas installed at the Port Authority police desk in 5 WTC, 
to be activated by members of the Port Authority police ^vhen the FDNY units 
responding to the WTC complex so requested. Ho^vever, in the spring of 2000 
the FDNY asked that an activation console for the repeater system be placed 
instead in the lobby fire safety desk of each of the towers, making FDNY per- 
sonnel entirely responsible for its activation. The Port Authority complied. ^5 

Between 1998 and 2000, fewer people died from fires in Ne^vYork City 
than in any three-year period since accurate measurements began in 1946. Fire- 
fighter deaths — a total of 22 during the 1990s — compared favorably with the 
most tranquil periods in the department's history^* 

Office of Emergency Management and Interagency Preparedness. In 

1996, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani created the Mayor's Office of Emergency Man- 
agement, which had three basic functions. First, OEM's Watch Command was 
to monitor the city's key communications channels — including radio frequen- 
cies of FDNY dispatch and the NYPD — and other data. A second purpose of 
the OEM was to improve Ne^vYork City's response to major incidents, includ- 
ing terrorist attacks, by planning and conducting exercises and drills that would 
involve multiple city agencies, particularly the NYPD and FDNY. Third, the 
OEM would play a crucial role in managing the city's overall response to an 



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THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 




The World Trade Center Radio Repeater System 
Rendering by Marco Crupi 



incident. After OEM's Emergency Operations Center was activated, designated 
liaisons from relevant agencies, as well as the mayor and his or her senior staff, 
would respond there. In addition, an OEM field responder would be sent to 
the scene to ensure that the response was coordinated.^^ 

The OEM's headquarters was located at 7 WTC. Some questioned locating 
it both so close to a previous terrorist target and on the 23rd floor of a build- 
ing (difficult to access should elevators become inoperable). There was no 
backup site.-8 

In July 2001, Mayor Giuliani updated a directive titled "Direction and 
Control of Emergencies in the City of New York." Its purpose was to elim- 
inate "potential conflict among responding agencies which may have areas 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 285 

of overlapping expertise and responsibility." The directive sought to accom- 
plish this objective by designating, for different types of emergencies, an 
appropriate agency as "Incident Commander." This Incident Commander 
would be "responsible for the management of the City's response to the 
emergency," while the OEM ^vas "designated the 'On Scene Interagency 
Coordinator.'"-'' 

Nevertheless, the FDNY and NYPD each considered itself operationally 
autonomous. As of September 11, they were not prepared to comprehensively 
coordinate their efforts in responding to a major incident. The OEM had not 
overcome this problem. 



9.2 SEPTEMBER 11,2001 

As we turn to the events of September 11, we are mindful of the unfair per- 
spective afforded by hindsight. Nevertheless, we will try to describe what hap- 
pened in the follo^ving 102 minutes: 

• the 17 minutes from the crash of the hijackedAmerican Airlines Flight 
11 into 1 World Trade Center (the North Tower) at 8:46 until the 
South To^ver was hit 

• the 56 minutes from the crash of the hijacked United Airlines Flight 
175 into 2 World Trade Center (the South Tower) at 9:03 until the 
collapse of the South Tower 

• the 29 minutes from the collapse of the South Tower at 9:59 until the 
collapse of the North Tower at 10:28 

From 8:46 until 9:03 A.M. 

At 8:46:40, the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the upper por- 
tion of the North Tower, cutting through floors 93 to 99. Evidence suggests 
that all three of the building's stairwells became impassable from the 92nd floor 
up. Hundreds of civilians were killed instantly by the impact. Hundreds more 
remained alive but trapped. -"^ 

Civilians, Fire Safety Personnel, and 911 Calls 

North Tower. A jet fuel fireball erupted upon impact and shot down at least 
one bank of elevators. The fireball exploded onto numerous lower floors, includ- 
ing the 77th and 22nd; the West Street lobby level; and the B4 level, four stories 
below ground.The burning jet fuel immediately created thick, black smoke that 
enveloped the upper floors and roof of the North Tower. The roof of the South 
Tower was also engulfed in smoke because of prevailing light winds from the 
northwest. 31 

Within minutes. New York City's 911 system was flooded with eyewit- 



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286 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

ness accounts of the event. Most callers correctly identified the target of the 
attack. Some identified the plane as a commercial airliner.-'^ 

The first response came from private firms and individuals — the people and 
companies in the building. Everything that would happen to them during the 
next few minutes would turn on their circumstances and their preparedness, 
assisted by building personnel on-site. 

Hundreds of civilians trapped on or above the 92nd floor gathered in large 
and small groups, primarily between the 103rd and 106th floors. A large group 
was reported on the 92nd floor, technically belo^v the impact but unable to 
descend. Civilians were also trapped in elevators. Other civilians below the 
impact zone — mostly on floors in the 70s and 80s, but also on at least the 47th 
and 22nd floors — \vere either trapped or waiting for assistance.^^ 

It is unclear when the first full building evacuation order was attempted over 
the public-address system. The deputy fire safety director in the lobby, while 
immediately aware that a major incident had occurred, did not know for 
approximately ten minutes that a commercial jet had directly hit the building. 
Following protocol, he initially gave announcements to those floors that had 
generated computerized alarms, advising those tenants to descend to points of 
safety — at least two floors belo^v the smoke or fire — and to ^vait there for fur- 
ther instructions. The deputy fire safety director has told us that he began 
instructing a full evacuation \vithin about ten minutes of the explosion. But 
the first FDNY chiefs to arrive in the lobby were advised by the Port Author- 
ity fire safety director — who had reported to the lobby although he was no 
longer the designated fire safety director — that the full building evacuation 
announcement had been made ^vithin one minute of the building being hit.-''* 

Because of damage to building systems caused by the impact of the plane, 
public-address announcements ^vere not heard in many locations. For the same 
reason, many civilians may have been unable to use the emergency intercom 
phones, as they had been advised to do in fire drills. Many called 911.^5 

The 911 system was not equipped to handle the enormous volume of calls 
it received. Some callers were unable to connect with 911 operators, receiving 
an "all circuits busy" message. Standard operating procedure was for calls relat- 
ing to fire emergencies to be transferred from 911 operators to FDNY dispatch 
operators in the appropriate borough (in this case, Manhattan). Transfers were 
often plagued by delays and were in some cases unsuccessful. Many calls were 
also prematurely disconnected. 3<5 

The 911 operators and FDNY dispatchers had no information about either 
the location or the magnitude of the impact zone and ^vere therefore unable 
to provide information as fundamental as ^vhether callers were above or below 
the fire. Because the operators were not informed of NYPD Aviation's deter- 
mination of the impossibility of rooftop rescues from the Twin Towers on that 
day, they could not knowledgeably answer when callers asked whether to go 
up or down. In most instances, therefore, the operators and the FDNY dis- 
patchers relied on standard operating procedures for high-rise fires — that civil- 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 287 

ians should stay low, remain where they are, and wait for emergency person- 
nel to reach them. This advice was given to callers from the North To^ver for 
locations both above and below the impact zone. Fire chiefs told us that the 
evacuation of tens of thousands of people from skyscrapers can create many 
new problems, especially for individuals ^vho are disabled or in poor health. 
Many of the injuries after the 1993 bombing occurred during the evacuation. ^^ 

Although the guidance to stay in place may seem understandable in cases 
of conventional high-rise fires, FDNY chiefs in the North Tower lobby deter- 
mined at once that all building occupants should attempt to evacuate imme- 
diately By 8:57, FDNY chiefs had instructed the PAPD and building 
personnel to evacuate the South Tower as well, because of the magnitude of 
the damage caused by the first plane's impact. ^^ 

These critical decisions were not conveyed to 911 operators or to FDNY 
dispatchers. Departing from protocol, a number of operators told callers that 
they could break ^vindows, and several operators advised callers to evacuate if 
they could. 39 Civilians who called the Port Authority police desk located at 5 
WTC ^vere advised to leave if they could.''" 

Most civilians who were not obstructed from proceeding began evacuating 
without waiting for instructions over the intercom system. Some remained to 
wait for help, as advised by 91 1 operators. Others simply continued to work or 
delayed to collect personal items, but in many cases ^vere urged to leave by oth- 
ers. Some Port Authority civilian employees remained on various upper floors 
to help civilians who were trapped and to assist in the evacuation. ■*! 

While evacuating, some civilians had trouble reaching the exits because of 
damage caused by the impact. Some ^vere confused by deviations in the increas- 
ingly crowded stairwells, and impeded by doors that appeared to be locked but 
actually were jammed by debris or shifting that resulted from the impact of the 
plane. Despite these obstacles, the evacuation was relatively calm and orderly. ''- 

Within ten minutes of impact, smoke was beginning to rise to the upper 
floors in debilitating volumes and isolated fires were reported, although there 
were some pockets of refuge. Faced with insufferable heat, smoke, and fire, and 
with no prospect for relief, some jumped or fell from the building.''^ 

South Tower. Many civilians in the South To^ver ^vere initially unaware of 
what had happened in the other tower. Some believed an incident had 
occurred in their building; others were aware that a major explosion had 
occurred on the upper floors of the North Tower. Many people decided to 
leave, and some were advised to do so by fire wardens. In addition, Morgan 
Stanley, which occupied more than 20 floors of the South Tower, evacuated its 
employees by the decision of company security officials. 4"* 

Consistent with protocol, at 8:49 the deputy fire safety director in the South 
Tower told his counterpart in the North Tower that he ^vould wait to hear from 
"the boss from the Fire Department or somebody" before ordering an evacua- 
tion.''^ At about this time, an announcement over the public-address system in 



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THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 




The World Trade Center North Tower Stainuell with Deviation 
Rendering by Marco Crupi 



the South Tower stated that the incident had occurred in the other building and 
advised tenants, generally, that their building was safe and that they should remain 
on or return to their ofSces or floors. A statement from the deputy fire safety 
director informing tenants that the incident had occurred in the other building 
was consistent with protocol; the expanded advice did not correspond to any 
existing written protocol, and did not reflect any instruction known to have been 
given to the deputy fire safety director that day. We do not know the reason for 
the announcement, as both the deputy fire safety director believed to have made 
it and the director of fire safety for the WTC complex perished in the South 
Towers collapse. Clearly, ho^vever, the prospect of another plane hitting the sec- 
ond building was beyond the contemplation of anyone giving advice. According 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 289 

to one of the first fire chiefs to arrive, such a scenario was unimaginable, "beyond 
our consciousness." As a result of the announcement, many civilians remained on 
their floors. Others reversed their evacuation and went back up."**^ 

Similar advice was given in person by security officials in both the ground- 
floor lobby — ^where a group of 20 that had descended by the elevators ^vas per- 
sonally instructed to go back upstairs — and in the upper sky lobby, ^vhere many 
waited for express elevators to take them do^vn. Security officials ^vho gave this 
advice \vere not part of the fire safety staff.^^ 

Several South To\ver occupants called the Port Authority police desk in 5 
WTC. Some were advised to stand by for further instructions; others were 
strongly advised to leave.'*^ 

It is not known whether the order by the FDNY to evacuate the South 
Tower was received by the deputy fire safety director making announcements 
there. Ho\vever, at approximately 9:02 — less than a minute before the building 
was hit — an instruction over the South Tower's public-address system advised 
civilians, generally, that they could begin an orderly evacuation if conditions 
warranted. Like the earlier advice to remain in place, it did not correspond to 
any prewritten emergency instruction.^'' 

FDNY Initial Response 

Mobilization. The FDNY response began within five seconds of the crash. 
By 9:00, many senior FDNY leaders, including 7 of the 1 1 most highly ranked 
chiefs in the department, as well as the Commissioner and many of his deputies 
and assistants, had begun responding from headquarters in Brooklyn. While en 
route over the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chief of Department and the Chief of 
Operations had a clear view of the situation on the upper floors of the North 
Tower.They determined that because of the fire's magnitude and location near 
the top of the building, their nnssion would be primarily one of rescue. They 
called for a fifth alarm, \vhich would bring additional engine and ladder com- 
panies, as well as for two more elite rescue units. The Chief of Department 
arrived at about 9:00; general FDNY Incident Command was transferred to 
his location on the West Side Highway. In all, 22 of the 32 senior chiefs and 
commissioners arrived at the WTC before 10:00.50 

As of 9:00, the units that were dispatched (including senior chiefs respond- 
ing to headquarters) included approximately 235 firefighters. These units con- 
sisted of 21 engine companies, nine ladder companies, four of the department's 
elite rescue teams, the department's single Hazmat team, two of the city's elite 
squad companies, and support staff. In addition, at 8:53 nine Brooklyn units 
were staged on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to await pos- 
sible dispatch orders. 'i 

Operations. A battalion chief and two ladder and two engine companies 
arrived at the North Tower at approximately 8:52. As they entered the lobby, 
they encountered badly burned civilians ^vho had been caught in the path of 



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290 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

the fireball. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the northwest corner of the West 
Street level of the lobby had been blo\¥n out; some large marble tiles had been 
dislodged from the walls; one entire elevator bank was destroyed by the fire- 
ball. Lights ^vere functioning, however, and the air ^vas clear of smoke. ^2 

As the highest-ranking officer on the scene, the battalion chief initially was 
the FDNY incident commander. Minutes later, the on-duty division chief for 
Lower Manhattan arrived and took over. Both chiefs immediately began speak- 
ing with the former fire safety director and other building personnel to learn 
whether building systems \vere working. They ^vere advised that all 99 eleva- 
tors in the North To^ver appeared to be out, and there were no assurances that 
sprinklers or standpipes were working on upper floors. Chiefs also spoke ^vith 
Port Authority police personnel and an OEM representative. ^3 

After conferring with the chiefs in the lobby, one engine and one ladder 
company began climbing stairwell C at about 8:57, with the goal of approach- 
ing the impact zone as scouting units and reporting back to the chiefs in the 
lobby. The radio channel they used was tactical 1. Following FDNY high-rise 
fire protocols, other units did not begin climbing immediately, as the chiefs 
worked to formulate a plan before sending them up. Units began mobilizing 
in the lobby, lining up and a^vaiting their marching orders. 5^* 

Also by approximately 8:57, FDNY chiefs had asked both building person- 
nel and a Port Authority police officer to evacuate the South To\ver, because 
in their judgment the impact of the plane into the North Tower made the entire 
complex unsafe — not because of concerns about a possible second plane.^s 

The FDNY chiefs in the increasingly crowded North Tower lobby were 
confronting critical choices with little to no information.They had ordered units 
up the stairs to report back on conditions, but did not know what the impact 
floors were; they did not kno^v if any stairwells into the impact zone were clear; 
and they did not kno\v whether ^vater for firefighting would be available on 
the upper floors. They also did not know what the fire and impact zone looked 
like from the outside.^* 

They did kno^v that the explosion had been large enough to send down a 
fireball that ble\v out elevators and windows in the lobby and that conditions 
were so dire that some civilians on upper floors ^vere jumping or falling from 
the building. They also kne^v from building personnel that some civilians were 
trapped in elevators and on specific floors. According to Division Chief for 
Lower Manhattan Peter Hayden, "We had a very strong sense we \vould lose 
firefighters and that we ^vere in deep trouble, but ^ve had estimates of 25,000 
to 50,000 civilians, and ^ve had to try to rescue them."^^ 

The chiefs concluded that this would be a rescue operation, not a firefight- 
ing operation. One of the chiefs present explained: 

We realized that, because of the impact of the plane, that there was some 
structural damage to the building, and most likely that the fire suppres- 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 291 

sion systems ^vithin the building ^vere probably damaged and possibly 
inoperable. . . .We knew that at the height of the day there were as many 
as 50,000 people in this building. We had a large volume of fire on the 
upper floors. Each floor was approximately an acre in size. Several floors 
of fire would have been beyond the fire-extinguishing capability of the 
forces that we had on hand. So we determined, very early on, that this 
was going to be strictly a rescue mission. We ^vere going to vacate the 
building, get everybody out, and then we ^vere going to get out.^s 

The specifics of the mission were harder to determine, as they had almost 
no information about the situation 80 or more stories above them. They also 
received advice from senior FDNY chiefs that while the building might even- 
tually suffer a partial collapse on upper floors, such structural failure was not 
imminent. No one anticipated the possibility of a total collapse. ^^ 

Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel were directed to one of four 
triage areas being set up around the perimeter of the WTC. Some entered the 
lobby to respond to specific casualty reports. In addition, many ambulance para- 
medics from private hospitals ^vere rushing to the WTC complex, i^" 

NYPD Initial Response 

Numerous NYPD officers saw the plane strike the North Tower and immedi- 
ately reported it to NYPD communications dispatchers. ^^ 

At 8:58, while en route, the NYPD Chief of Department raised the 
NYPD's mobilization to level 4, thereby sending to the WTC approximately 
22 lieutenants, 100 sergeants, and 800 police officers from all over the city. The 
Chief of Department arrived at Church andVesey at 9:00.'^- 

At 9:01, the NYPD patrol mobilization point was moved to West andVesey 
in order to handle the greater number of patrol officers dispatched in the 
higher-level mobilization. These officers would be stationed around the 
perimeter of the complex to direct the evacuation of civilians. Many were 
diverted on the ^vay to the scene by intervening emergencies related to the 
attack. 63 

At 8:50, the Aviation Unit of the NYPD dispatched two helicopters to the 
WTC to report on conditions and assess the feasibility of a rooftop landing or 
of special rescue operations. En route, the two helicopters communicated \vith 
air traffic controllers at the area's three major airports and informed them of 
the commercial airplane crash at the World Trade Center. The air traffic con- 
trollers had been unaware of the incident. '^'^ 

At 8:56, an NYPD ESU team asked to be picked up at the Wall Street hel- 
iport to initiate rooftop rescues. At 8:58, however, after assessing the North 
Tower roof, a helicopter pilot advised the ESU team that they could not land 
on the roof, because "it is too engulfed in flames and heavy smoke condition."'^^ 

By 9:00, a third NYPD helicopter was responding to the WTC complex. 



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292 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

NYPD helicopters and ESU officers remained on the scene throughout the 
morning, prepared to commence rescue operations on the roof if conditions 
improved. Both FDNY and NYPD protocols called for FDNY personnel to 
be placed in NYPD helicopters in the event of an attempted rooftop rescue at 
a high-rise fire. No FDNY personnel were placed in NYPD helicopters on 
September 11.'^'^ 

The 911 operators and FDNY dispatchers were not advised that rooftop 
rescues were not being undertaken. They thus were not able to communicate 
this fact to callers, some of whom spoke of attempting to climb to the roof*^ 

Two on-duty NYPD officers ^vere on the 20th floor of the North Tower at 
8:46. They climbed to the 29th floor, urging civilians to evacuate, but did not 
locate a group of civilians trapped on the 22nd floor.*^ 

Just before 9:00, an ESU team began to walk from Church andVesey to the 
North Tower lobby, with the goal of climbing toward and setting up a triage 
center on the upper floors for the severely injured. A second ESU team would 
follow them to assist in removing those individuals.*' 

Numerous officers responded in order to help injured civilians and to urge 
those ^vho could ^valk to vacate the area immediately. Putting themselves in 
danger of falling debris, several officers entered the plaza and successfully res- 
cued at least one injured, nonambulatory civilian, and attempted to rescue 
others.^" 

Also by about 9:00, transit officers began shutting down subway stations 
in the vicinity of the World Trade Center and evacuating civilians from those 
stations.^i 

Around the city, the NYPD cleared major thoroughfares for emergency 
vehicles to access the WTC.The NYPD and PAPD coordinated the closing of 
bridges and tunnels into Manhattan.^^ 

PAPD Initial Response 

The Port Authority's on-site commanding police officer was standing in the 
concourse \vhen a fireball erupted out of elevator shafts and exploded onto the 
mall concourse, causing him to dive for cover. The on-duty sergeant initially 
instructed the officers in theWTC Command to meet at the police desk in 5 
WTC. Soon thereafter, he instructed officers arriving from outside commands 
to meet him at the fire safety desk in the North Tower lobby. A fe^v of these 
officers from outside commands were given WTC Command radios. ^^ 

One Port Authority police officer at the WTC immediately began climb- 
ing stairwell C in the North Tower. ^'* Other officers began performing res- 
cue and evacuation operations on the ground floors and in the PATH (Port 
Authority Trans-Hudson) station below the WTC complex. 

Within minutes of impact, Port Authority police officers from the PATH, 
bridges, tunnels, and airport commands began responding to the WTC. The 
PAPD lacked written standard operating procedures for personnel responding 
from outside commands to the WTC during a major incident. In addition, offi- 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 293 

cers from some PAPD commands lacked interoperable radio frequencies. As a 
result, there was no comprehensive coordination of PAPD's overall responseJ^ 

At 9:00, the PAPD commanding officer of the WTC ordered an evacuation 
of all civilians in the World Trade Center complex, because of the magnitude 
of the calamity in the North To\ver. This order was given over WTC police 
radio channel W, which could not be heard by the deputy fire safety director 
in the South TowerJ* 

Also at 9:00, the PAPD Superintendent and Chief of Department arrived 
separately and made their way to the North TowerJ^ 

OEM Initial Response 

By 8:48, officials in OEM headquarters on the 23rd floor of 7 WTC — -just to 
the north of the North Tower — began to activate the Emergency Operations 
Center by calling such agencies as the FDNY, NYPD, Department of Health, 
and the Greater Hospital Association and instructing them to send their des- 
ignated representatives to the OEM. In addition, the Federal Emergency Man- 
agement Agency (FEMA) was called and asked to send at least five federal 
Urban Search and Rescue Teams (such teams are located throughout the 
United States). At approximately 8:50, a senior representative from the OEM 
arrived in the lobby of the North Tower and began to act as the OEM field 
responder to the incident. He soon was joined by several other OEM officials, 
including the OEM Director.^^ 

Summary 

In the 17-minute period between 8:46 and 9:03 A.M. on September 11, New 
York City and the Port Authority of New York and Ne^v Jersey had mobilized 
the largest rescue operation in the city's history. Well over a thousand first 
responders had been deployed, an evacuation had begun, and the critical deci- 
sion that the fire could not be fought had been made. 
Then the second plane hit. 

From 9:03 until 9:59 A.M. 

At 9:03:11, the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 hit 2 WTC (the South 
To^ver) from the south, crashing through the 77th to 85th floors.What had been 
the largest and most complicated rescue operation in city history instantly dou- 
bled in magnitude. The plane banked as it hit the building, leaving portions of 
the building undamaged on impact floors. As a consequence — and in contrast 
to the situation in the North Tower — one of the stairwells (A) initially remained 
passable from at least the 91st floor do^vn, and likely from top to bottom.^' 

Civilians, Fire Safety Personnel, and 911 Calls 

South Tower. At the lower end of the impact, the 78th-floor sky lobby, hun- 
dreds had been waiting to evacuate when the plane hit. Many had attempted 
but failed to squeeze into packed express elevators. Upon impact, many were 



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294 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

killed or severely injured; others were relatively unharmed. We know of at least 
one civilian who seized the initiative and shouted that anyone who could walk 
should walk to the stairs, and anyone \vho could help should help others in 
need of assistance. As a result, at least two small groups of civilians descended 
from that floor. Others remained on the floor to help the injured and move 
victims who were unable to walk to the stairwell to aid their rescue.*" 

Still others remained alive in the impact zone above the 78th floor. Dam- 
age was extensive, and conditions \vere highly precarious. The only survivor 
known to have escaped from the heart of the impact zone described the 81st 
floor — ^where the ^ving of the plane had sliced through his office — as a "dem- 
olition" site in which everything was "broken up" and the smell of jet fuel was 
so strong that it was almost impossible to breathe.This person escaped by means 
of an unlikely rescue, aided by a civilian fire ^varden descending from a higher 
floor, ^vho, critically, had been provided with a flashlight.^^ 

At least four people were able to descend stairwell A from the 81st floor or 
above. One left the 84th floor immediately after the building was hit. Even at 
that point, the stairway was dark, smoky, and difficult to navigate; glow strips 
on the stairs and handrails were a significant help. Several flights down, how- 
ever, the evacuee became confused when he reached a smoke door that caused 
him to believe the stairway had ended. He was able to exit that stairwell and 
switch to another. *- 

Many civilians in and above the impact zone ascended the stairs. One small 
group reversed its descent down stairwell A after being advised by another civil- 
ian that they were approaching a floor "in flames." The only known survivor 
has told us that their intention was to exit the stairwell in search of clearer air. 
At the 91st floor, joined by others from intervening floors, they perceived 
themselves to be trapped in the stairwell and began descending again. By this 
time, the stairwell was "pretty black," intensifying smoke caused many to pass 
out, and fire had ignited in the 82nd-floor transfer hallway.*-* 

Others ascended to attempt to reach the roof but were thwarted by locked 
doors. At approximately 9:30 a "lock release" order — which ^vould unlock all 
areas in the complex controlled by the buildings' computerized security sys- 
tem, including doors leading to the roofs — was transmitted to the Security 
Command Center located on the 22nd floor of the North To^ver. Damage to 
the soft^vare controlling the system, resulting from the impact of the plane, pre- 
vented this order from being executed.*^ 

Others, attempting to descend, were frustrated by jammed or locked doors 
in stairwells or confused by the structure of the stairwell deviations. By the 
lower 70s, however, stairwells A and B were well-lit, and conditions were gen- 
erally normal.*^ 

Some civilians remained on affected floors, and at least one ascended from 
a lower point into the impact zone, to help evacuate colleagues or assist the 
injured. *<^ 

Within 15 minutes after the impact, debilitating smoke had reached at least 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 295 

one location on the 100th floor, and severe smoke conditions were reported 
throughout floors in the 90s and 100s over the course of the following half 
hour. By 9:30, a number of civilians who had failed to reach the roof remained 
on the 105th floor, likely unable to descend because of intensifying smoke in 
the stairwell.There were reports of tremendous smoke on that floor, but at least 
one area remained less affected until shortly before the building collapsed. 
There ^vere several areas between the impact zone and the uppermost floors 
where conditions were better. At least a hundred people remained alive on the 
88th and 89th floors, in some cases calling 911 for direction. ^7 

The 911 system remained plagued by the operators' lack of awareness of 
what was occurring. Just as in the North Tower, callers from below and above 
the impact zone were advised to remain where they ^vere and wait for help. 
The operators were not given any information about the inability to conduct 
rooftop rescues and therefore could not advise callers that they had essentially 
been ruled out. This lack of information, combined ^vith the general advice to 
remain where they were, may have caused civilians above the impact not to 
attempt to descend, although stairwell A may have been passable.*^ 

In addition, the 911 system struggled with the volume of calls and rigid stan- 
dard operating procedures according to which calls conveying crucial informa- 
tion had to wait to be transferred to either EMS or FDNY dispatch.^' According 
to one civilian who was evacuating do^vn stairwell A from the heart of the impact 
zone and who stopped on the 31st floor in order to call 911, 

1 told them when they answered the phone, where I \vas, that I had passed 
somebody on the 44th floor, injured — they need to get a medic and a 
stretcher to this floor, and described the situation in brief, and the per- 
son then asked for my phone number, or something, and they said — they 
put me on hold. "You gotta talk to one of my supervisors" — and sud- 
denly 1 was on hold. And so 1 waited a considerable amount of time. 
Somebody else came back on the phone, 1 repeated the story. And then 
it happened again. 1 was on hold a second time, and needed to repeat the 
story for a third time. But 1 told the third person that 1 am only telling 
you once. 1 am getting out of the building, here are the details, ^vrite it 
down, and do what you should do.'o 

Very few 911 calls ^vere received from floors below the impact, but at least 
one person was advised to remain on the 73rd floor despite the caller's protests 
that oxygen was running out. The last known 911 call from this location came 
at 9:52.91 

Evidence suggests that the public-address system did not continue to func- 
tion after the building was hit. A group of people trapped on the 97th floor, 
however, made repeated references in calls to 911 to having heard "announce- 
ments" to go down the stairs. Evacuation tones were heard in locations both 
above and below the impact zone.^^ 



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296 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

By 9:35, the West Street lobby level of the South Tower was becoming over- 
whelmed by injured people who had descended to the lobby but were having 
difficulty going on. Those who could continue were directed to exit north or 
east through the concourse and then out of the WTC complex.''-' 

By 9:59, at least one person had descended from as high as the 91st floor of 
that tower, and stairwell A was reported to have been almost empty. Stairwell 
B was also reported to have contained only a handful of descending civilians 
at an earlier point in the morning. But just before the tower collapsed, a team 
of NYPD ESU officers encountered a stream of civilians descending an 
unidentified stairwell in the 20s. These civilians may have been descending from 
at or above the impact zone.'''* 

North Tower. In the North Tower, civilians continued their evacuation. On 
the 91st floor, the highest floor with stairway access, all civilians but one were 
uninjured and able to descend. While some complained of smoke, heat, fumes, 
and crowding in the stairwells, conditions were otherwise fairly normal on 
floors below the impact. At least one stairwell was reported to have been "clear 
and bright" from the upper 80s do^vn.^5 

Those who called 911 from floors below the impact were generally advised 
to remain in place. One group trapped on the 83rd floor pleaded repeatedly to 
know whether the fire was above or belo^v them, specifically asking if 91 1 oper- 
ators had any information from the outside or from the news. The callers were 
transferred back and forth several times and advised to stay put. Evidence sug- 
gests that these callers died.'* 

At 8:59, the Port Authority police desk at Newark Airport told a third party 
that a group of Port Authority civilian employees on the 64th floor should 
evacuate. (The third party ^vas not at the WTC, but had been in phone con- 
tact \vith the group on the 64th floor.) At 9: 10, in response to an inquiry from 
the employees themselves, the Port Authority police desk in Jersey City con- 
firmed that employees on the 64th floor should "be careful, stay near the stair- 
wells, and wait for the police to come up." When the third party inquired again 
at 9:31, the police desk at Newark Airport advised that they "absolutely" evac- 
uate. The third party informed the police desk that the employees had previ- 
ously received contrary advice from the FDNY, which could only have come 
via 911. These ^vorkers were not trapped, yet unlike most occupants on the 
upper floors, they had chosen not to descend immediately after impact. They 
eventually began to descend the stairs, but most of them died in the collapse 
of the North To^ver.'^ 

All civilians who reached the lobby were directed by NYPD and PAPD ofli- 
cers into the concourse, where other police officers guided them to exit the 
concourse and complex to the north and east so that they might avoid falling 
debris and victims.'^ 

By 9:55, only a few civilians were descending above the 25th floor in stair- 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 297 

well B; these primarily were injured, handicapped, elderly, or severely over- 
weight civilians, in some cases being assisted by other civilians.'''' 

By 9:59, tenants from the 91st floor had already descended the stairs and 
exited the concourse. Ho^vever, a number of civilians remained in at least stair- 
well C, approaching lo^ver floors. Other evacuees were killed earlier by debris 
falling on the street. '^'^ 

FDNY Response 

Increased Mobilization. Immediately after the second plane hit, the FDNY 

Chief of Department called a second fifth alarm, loi 

By 9: 15, the number of FDNY personnel en route to or present at the scene 
was far greater than the commanding chiefs at the scene had requested. Five 
factors account for this disparity. First, while the second fifth alarm had called 
for 20 engine and 8 ladder companies, in fact 23 engine and 13 ladder com- 
panies were dispatched. Second, several other units self-dispatched. Third, 
because the attacks came so close to the 9:00 shift change, many firefighters 
just going off duty were given permission by company officers to "ride heavy" 
and became part of those on-duty teams, under the leadership of that unit's 
officer. Fourth, many off-duty firefighters responded from firehouses separately 
from the on-duty unit (in some cases when expressly told not to) or from 
home.The arrival of personnel in excess of that dispatched was particularly pro- 
nounced in the department's elite units. Fifth, numerous additional FDNY per- 
sonnel — such as fire marshals and firefighters in administrative positions — who 
lacked a predetermined operating role also reported to the WTC.iO- 

The Repeater System. Almost immediately after the South Tower was hit, 
senior FDNY chiefs in the North To^ver lobby huddled to discuss strategy for 
the operations in the two to\vers. Of particular concern to the chiefs — in light 
of FDNY difficulties in responding to the 1993 bombing — ^was communica- 
tions capability. One of the chiefs recommended testing the repeater channel 
to see if it \vould \vork.iO-' 

Earlier, an FDNY chief had asked building personnel to activate the 
repeater channel, ^vhich would enable greatly-enhanced FDNY portable radio 
communications in the high-rises. One button on the repeater system activa- 
tion console in the North Tower was pressed at 8:54, though it is unclear by 
whom. As a result of this activation, communication became possible between 
FDNY portable radios on the repeater channel. In addition, the repeater's mas- 
ter handset at the fire safety desk could hear communications made by FDNY 
portable radios on the repeater channel. The activation of transmission on the 
master handset required, however, that a second button be pressed. That sec- 
ond button was never activated on the morning of September 11. i""* 

At 9:05, FDNY chiefs tested the WTC complex's repeater system. Because 
the second button had not been activated, the chief on the master handset could 



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298 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

not transmit. He was also apparently unable to hear another chief who was 
attempting to communicate with him from a portable radio, either because of 
a technical problem or because the volume was turned do\¥n on the console 
(the normal setting -when the system was not in use). Because the repeater 
channel seemed inoperable — the master handset appeared unable to transmit 
or receive communications — the chiefs in the North Tower lobby decided not 
to use it.The repeater system ^vas working at least partially, however, on portable 
FDNY radios, and firefighters subsequently used repeater channel 7 in the 
South To^ver. 105 

FDNY North Tower Operations. Command and control decisions were 
affected by the lack of knowledge of what was happening 30, 60, 90, and 100 
floors above. According to one of the chiefs in the lobby, "One of the most 
critical things in a major operation like this is to have information. We didn't 
have a lot of information coming in. We didn't receive any reports of what was 
seen from the [NYPD] helicopters. It was impossible to know how much dam- 
age was done on the upper floors, whether the stairwells were intact or not."io<^ 
According to another chief present, "People watching on TV certainly had 
more knowledge of ^vhat ^vas happening a hundred floors above us than we 
did in the lobby. . . . [WJithout critical information coming in . . . it's very dif- 
ficult to make informed, critical decisions[.]"io^ 

As a result, chiefs in the lobby disagreed over whether anyone at or above 
the impact zone possibly could be rescued, or whether there should be even 
limited firefighting for the purpose of cutting exit routes through fire zones, ^o* 

Many units were simply instructed to ascend toward the unpact zone and 
report back to the lobby via radio. Some units were directed to assist specific 
groups of individuals trapped in elevators or in offices well belo^v the impact 
zone. One FDNY company successfully rescued some civilians who were 
trapped on the 22nd floor as a result of damage caused by the initial fireball. ^^^ 

An attempt ^vas made to track responding units' assignments on a magnetic 
board, but the number of units and individual firefighters arriving in the lobby 
made this an overwhelming task. As the fire companies were not advised to the 
contrary, they followed protocol and kept their radios on tactical channel 1, 
which ^vould be monitored by the chiefs in the lobby. Those battalion chiefs 
who would climb would operate on a separate command channel, which also 
would be monitored by the chiefs in the lobby. ^1° 

Fire companies began to ascend stairwell B at approximately 9:07, laden 
with about 100 pounds of heavy protective clothing, self-contained breathing 
apparatuses, and other equipment (including hoses for engine companies and 
heavy tools for ladder companies). m 

Firefighters found the stairways they entered intact, lit, and clear of smoke. 
Unbeknownst to the lobby command post, one battalion chief in the North 
Tower found a \vorking elevator, which he took to the 16th floor before begin- 
ning to climb. 11- 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 299 

In ascending stairwell B, firefighters were passing a steady and heavy stream 
of descending civilians. Firemen ^vere impressed with the composure and total 
lack of panic shown by almost all civilians. Many civilians were in awe of the 
firefighters and found their mere presence to be calming. ^'^ 

Firefighters periodically stopped on particular floors and searched to ensure 
that no civilians ^vere still on it. In a fe^v instances healthy civilians were found 
on floors, either because they still were collecting personal items or for no 
apparent reason; they \vere told to evacuate immediately. Firefighters deputized 
healthy civilians to be in charge of others who were struggling or injured, i^"* 

Climbing up the stairs with heavy protective clothing and equipment was 
hard work even for physically fit firefighters. As firefighters began to suflier vary- 
ing levels of fatigue, some became separated from others in their unit.i^' 

At 9:32, a senior chief radioed all units in the North Tower to return to the 
lobby, either because of a false report of a third plane approaching or because 
of his judgment about the deteriorating condition of the building. Once the 
rumor of the third plane was debunked, other chiefs continued operations, and 
there is no evidence that any units actuaUy returned to the lobby. At the same 
time, a chief in the lobby was asked to consider the possibility of a rooftop res- 
cue but ^vas unable to reach FDNY dispatch by radio or phone. Out on West 
Street, however, the FDNY Chief of Department had already dismissed any 
rooftop rescue as impossible, i^*^ 

As units climbed higher, their ability to communicate with chiefs on tacti- 
cal 1 became more limited and sporadic, both because of the limited effective- 
ness of FDNY radios in high-rises and because so many units on tactical 1 were 
trying to communicate at once. When attempting to reach a particular unit, 
chiefs in the lobby often heard nothing in response, ii^ 

Just prior to 10:00, in the North To^ver one engine company had climbed 
to the 54th floor, at least t^vo other companies of firefighters had reached the 
sky lobby on the 44th floor, and numerous units ^vere located between the 5th 
and 37th floors. ^^^ 

FDNY South Tower and Marriott Hotel Operations. Immediately after 
the repeater test, a senior chief and a battalion chief commenced operations in 
the South To^ver lobby. Almost at once they were joined by an OEM field 
responder. They were not, however, joined right away by a sizable number of 
fire companies, as units that had been in or en route to the North To^ver lobby 
at 9:03 were not reallocated to the South Tower^^' 

A battalion chief and a ladder company found a working elevator to the 40th 
floor and from there proceeded to climb stairwell B. Another ladder company 
arrived soon thereafter, and began to rescue civilians trapped in an elevator 
between the first and second floors. The senior chief in the lobby expressed 
fi-ustration about the lack of units he initially had at his disposal for South To^ver 
operations. 1-0 

Unlike the commanders in the North Tower, the senior chief in the lobby 



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300 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

and the ascending battalion chief kept their radios on repeater channel 7. For 
the first 15 minutes of the operations, communications among them and the 
ladder company climbing -with the battalion chief -worked ^vell. Upon learn- 
ing from a company security official that the impact zone began at the 78th 
floor, a ladder company transmitted this information, and the battalion chief 
directed an engine company staged on the 40th floor to attempt to find an ele- 
vator to reach that upper level.i-i 

To our knowledge, no FDNY chiefs outside the South To^ver realized that 
the repeater channel was functioning and being used by units in that to^ver. 
The senior chief in the South To^ver lobby was initially unable to communi- 
cate his requests for more units to chiefs either in the North Tower lobby or 
at the outdoor command post J ^2 

From approximately 9:21 on, the ascending battalion chief was unable to 
reach the South Tower lobby command post because the senior chief in the 
lobby had ceased to communicate on repeater channel 7. The vast majority of 
units that entered the South Tower did not communicate on the repeater chan- 
nel. 123 

The first FDNY fatality of the day occurred at approximately 9:30, when 
a civilian landed on and killed a fireman near the intersection of West and Lib- 
erty streets. 124 

By 9:30, chiefs in charge of the South Tower still were in need of additional 
companies. Several factors account for the lag in response. First, only t^vo units 
that had been dispatched to the North To^ver prior to 9:03 reported immedi- 
ately to the South Tower. Second, units were not actually sent until approxi- 
mately five minutes after the FDNY Chief of Department ordered their 
dispatch. Third, those units that had been ordered at 8:53 to stage at the 
Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel — and thus very close to theWTC complex — ^were 
not dispatched after the plane hit the South Tower. Fourth, units parked fur- 
ther north on West Street, then proceeded south on foot and stopped at the 
overall FDNY command post on West Street, where in some cases they were 
told to wait. Fifth, some units responded directly to the North Tower. (Indeed, 
radio communications indicated that in certain cases some firemen believed 
that the South Tower ^vas 1 WTC ^vhen in fact it was 2 WTC.) Sixth, some 
units couldn't find the staging area (at West Street south of Liberty) for the 
South To^ver. Finally, the jumpers and debris that confronted units attempting 
to enter the South To\ver from its main entrance on Liberty Street caused some 
units to search for indirect ways to enter that tower, most often through the 
Marriott Hotel, or simply to remain on West Street. 125 

A chief at the overall outdoor command post was under the impression that 
he was to assist in lobby operations of the South To^ver, and in fact his aide 
already ^vas in that lobby. But because of his lack of familiarity with the WTC 
complex and confusion over \iavj to get to there, he instead ended up in the 
Marriott at about 9:35. Here he came across about 14 units, many of ^vhich 
had been trying to find safe access to the South To^ver. He directed them to 



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^> 



HEROISM AND HORROR 301 

secure the elevators and conduct search-and-rescue operations on the upper 
floors of the Marriott. Four of these companies searched the spa on the hotel's 
top floor — the 22nd floor — for civilians, and found none.i-* 

Feeling satisfied with the scope of the operation in the Marriott, the chief 
in the lobby there directed some units to proceed to what he thought was the 
South Tower. In fact, he pointed them to the North Tower. Three of the FDNY 
companies who had entered the North Tower from the Marriott found a work- 
ing elevator in a bank at the south end of the lobby, which they took to the 
23rd floor. 127 

In response to the shortage of units in the South Tower, at 9:37 an addi- 
tional second alarm was requested by the chief at the West and Liberty streets 
staging area. At this time, the units that earlier had been staged on the Brook- 
lyn side of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel ^vere dispatched to the South Tower; 
some had gone through the tunnel already and had responded to the Marriott, 
not the South Tower.128 

Between 9:45 and 9:58, the ascending battalion chief continued to lead 
FDNY operations on the upper floors of the South To^ver. At 9:50, an FDNY 
ladder company encountered numerous seriously injured civilians on the 70th 
floor. With the assistance of a security guard, at 9:53 a group of civilians trapped 
in an elevator on the 78th-floor sky lobby were found by an FDNY company. 
They were freed from the elevator at 9:58. By that time the battalion chief had 
reached the 78th floor on stairwell A; he reported that it looked open to the 
79th floor, well into the impact zone. He also reported numerous civilian fatal- 
ities in the area. '29 

FDNY Command and Control Outside the Towers. The overall com- 
mand post consisted of senior chiefs, commissioners, the field communications 
van (Field Comm), numerous units that began to arrive after the South Tower 
was hit, and EMS chiefs and personnel. '-'o 

Field Comm's t^vo main functions were to relay information between the 
overall operations command post and FDNY dispatch and to track all units 
operating at the scene on a large magnetic board. Both of these missions were 
severely compromised by the magnitude of the disaster on September 11. 
First, the means of transmitting information were unreliable. For example, 
while FDNY dispatch advised Field Comm that 100 people were reported 
via 911 to be trapped on the 105th floor of the North Tower, and Field 
Comm then attempted to convey that report to chiefs at the outdoor com- 
mand post, this information did not reach the North To^ver lobby. Second, 
Field Comm's ability to keep track of which units \vere operating where was 
limited, because many units reported directly to the North To^ver, the South 
Tower, or the Marriott. Third, eflibrts to track units by listening to tactical 1 
were severely hampered by the number of units using that channel; as many 
people tried to speak at once, their transmissions overlapped and often 
became indecipherable. In the opinion of one of the members of the Field 



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302 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Comni group, tactical 1 simply ^vas not designed to handle the number of 
units operating on it that morning. i^i 

The primary Field Comm van had access to the NYPD's Special Opera- 
tions channel (used by NYPD Aviation), but it was in the garage for repairs on 
September 11. The backup van lacked that capability, i^- 

The Chief of Department, along with civilian commissioners and senior 
EMS chiefs, organized ambulances on West Street to expedite the transport of 
injured civilians to hospitals. ^^^ 

To our knowledge, none of the chiefs present believed that a total collapse 
of either tower was possible. One senior chief did articulate his concern that 
upper floors could begin to collapse in a few hours, and that firefighters thus 
should not ascend above floors in the 60s. That opinion was not conveyed to 
chiefs in the North Tower lobby, and there is no evidence that it was conveyed 
to chiefs in the South Tower lobby either.^-''* 

Although the Chief of Department had general authority over operations, 
tactical decisions remained the province of the lobby commanders. The 
highest-ranking officer in the North Tower was responsible for communicat- 
ing with the Chief of Department. They had two brief conversations. In the 
first, the senior lobby chief gave the Chief of Department a status report and 
confirmed that this was a rescue, not firefighting, operation. In the second con- 
versation, at about 9:45, the Chief of Department suggested that given how the 
North Tower appeared to him, the senior lobby chief might want to consider 
evacuating FDNY personnel. ^^^ 

At 9:46, the Chief of Department called an additional fifth alarm, and at 9:54 
an additional 20 engine and 6 ladder companies were sent to the WTC. As a 
result, more than one-third of all FDNY companies now had been dispatched 
to the WTC. At about 9:57, an EMS paramedic approached the FDNY Chief of 
Department and advised that an engineer in front of 7 WTC had just remarked 
that the Twin Towers in fact were in imminent danger of a total collapse. ^^'^ 

NYPD Response 

Immediately after the second plane hit, the Chief of Department of the NYPD 
ordered a second Level 4 mobilization, bringing the total number of NYPD 
officers responding to close to 2,000.13^ 

The NYPD Chief of Department called for Operation Omega, which 
required the protection of sensitive locations around the city. NYPD headquar- 
ters were secured and all other government buildings were evacuated. ^^^ 

The ESU command post at Church and Vesey streets coordinated all NYPD 
ESU rescue teams. After the South Tower was hit, the ESU officer running this 
command post decided to send one ESU team (each with approximately six 
police oflicers) up each of the Twin Towers' stairweUs. While he continued to 
monitor the citywide SOD channel, which NYPD helicopters were using, he 
also monitored the point-to-point tactical channel that the ESU teams climb- 
ing in the towers would use.'^'' 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 303 

The first NYPD ESU team entered the West Street-level lobby of the North 
Tower and prepared to begin climbing at about 9:15 A.M. They attempted to 
check in ^vith the FDNY chiefs present, but ^vere rebuffed. OEM personnel 
did not intervene. The ESU team began to climb the stairs. Shortly thereafter, 
a second NYPD ESU team entered the South To^ver. The OEM field respon- 
der present ensured that they check in with the FDNY chief in charge of the 
lobby, and it was agreed that the ESU team would ascend and support FDNY 
personnel, i^^o 

A third ESU team subsequently entered the North Tower at its elevated 
mezzanine lobby level and made no eflibrt to check in with the FDNY com- 
mand post. A fourth ESU team entered the South Tower. By 9:59, a fifth ESU 
team was next to 6 WTC and preparing to enter the North To^ver.^^^ 

By approximately 9:50, the lead ESU team had reached the 31st floor, 
observing that there appeared to be no more civilians still descending. This 
ESU team encountered a large group of firefighters and administered oxygen 
to some of them who were exhausted. 142 

At about 9:56, the officer running the ESU command post on Church and 
Vesey streets had a final radio communication ^vith one of the ESU teams in 
the South Tower. The team then stated that it was ascending via stairs, was 
somewhere in the 20s, and was making slow progress because of the numer- 
ous descending civilians crowding the stairwell, i'*-' 

Three plainclothes NYPD officers without radios or protective gear had 
begun ascending either stairwell A or C of the North To^ver.They began check- 
ing every other floor above the 12th for civilians. Only occasionally did they 
find any, and in those fe^v cases they ordered the civilians to evacuate imme- 
diately. While checking floors, they used office phones to call their superiors. 
In one phone call an NYPD chief instructed them to leave the North Tower, 
but they refused to do so. As they climbed higher, they encountered increasing 
smoke and heat. Shortly before 10:00 they arrived on the 54th floor.^^"* 

Throughout this period (9:03 to 9:59), a group of NYPD and Port Author- 
ity police officers, as well as two Secret Service agents, continued to assist civil- 
ians leaving the North To^ver. They were positioned around the mezzanine 
lobby level of the North Tower, directing civilians leaving stairwells A and C 
to evacuate down an escalator to the concourse. The officers instructed those 
civilians who seemed composed to evacuate the complex calnfly but rapidly. 
Other civilians exiting the stairs ^vho ^vere either injured or exhausted collapsed 
at the foot of these stairs; officers then assisted them out of the building.i^^^ 

When civilians reached the concourse, another NYPD officer stationed at 
the bottom of the escalator directed them to exit through the concourse to the 
north and east and then out of the WTC complex. This exit route ensured that 
civilians would not be endangered by falling debris and people on West Street, 
on the plaza between the to\vers, and on Liberty Street. ^'^'^ 

Some officers positioned themselves at the top of a flight of stairs by 5 WTC 
that led do^vn into the concourse, going into the concourse when necessary 



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304 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

to evacuate injured or disoriented civilians. Numerous other NYPD officers 
were stationed throughout the concourse, assisting burned, injured, and disori- 
ented civihans, as well as directing all civilians to exit to the north and east. 
NYPD officers were also in the South Tower lobby to assist in civilian evacu- 
ation. NYPD officers stationed on Vesey Street between West Street and 
Church Street urged civilians not to remain in the area and instead to keep 
walking north, i'*^ 

At 9:06, the NYPD Chief of Department instructed that no units were to 
land on the roof of either tower. At about 9:30, one of the helicopters present 
advised that a rooftop evacuation still would not be possible. One NYPD hel- 
icopter pilot believed one portion of the North Tower roof to be free enough 
of smoke that a hoist could be lowered in order to rescue people, but there was 
no one on the roof. This pilot's helicopter never attempted to hover directly 
over the tower. Another helicopter did attempt to do so, and its pilot stated 
that the severity of the heat from the jet fuel— laden fire in the North Tower 
would have made it impossible to hover low enough for a rescue, because the 
high temperature would have destabilized the helicopter. ^^^^ 

At 9:51, an aviation unit warned units of large pieces of debris hanging from 
the building. Prior to 9:59, no NYPD helicopter pilot predicted that either 
tower would collapse. ^^^^ 

Interaction of 911 Calls and NYPD Operations. At 9:37, a civilian on 
the 106th floor of the South Tower reported to a 911 operator that a lower 
floor — the "90-something floor" — was collapsing. This information was 
conveyed inaccurately by the 911 operator to an NYPD dispatcher. The dis- 
patcher further confused the substance of the 911 call by telling NYPD offi- 
cers at the WTC complex that "the 106th floor is crumbling" at 9:52, 15 
minutes after the 911 call was placed. The NYPD dispatcher conveyed this 
message on the radio frequency used in precincts in the vicinity of the WTC 
and subsequently on the Special Operations Division channel, but not on 
City Wide channel 1.15° 

PAPD Response 

Initial responders from outside PAPD commands proceeded to the police desk 
in 5 WTC or to the fire safety desk in the North Tower lobby. Some officers 
were then assigned to assist in stairwell evacuations; others were assigned to 
expedite evacuation in the plaza, concourse, and PATH station. As information 
was received of civilians trapped above ground-level floors of the North Tower, 
other PAPD officers were instructed to climb to those floors for rescue efforts. 
Still others began climbing toward the impact zone.'^i 

At 9: 1 1 , the PAPD Superintendent and an inspector began walking up stair- 
well B of the North Tower to assess damage near and in the impact zone. The 
PAPD Chief and several other PAPD officers began ascending a stairwell in 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 305 

order to reach the Windo\¥s on the World restaurant on the 106th floor, from 
which calls had been made to the PAPD police desk reporting at least 100 peo- 
ple trapped. 152 

Many PAPD oflicers fi^om different commands responded on their o^vn ini- 
tiative. By 9:30, the PAPD central police desk requested that responding ofli- 
cers meet at West andVesey and a\vait further instructions. In the absence of a 
predetermined command structure to deal with an incident of this magnitude, 
a number of PAPD inspectors, captains, and lieutenants stepped forward at 
around 9:30 to formulate an on-site response plan. They -were hampered by 
not knowing ho^v many officers were responding to the site and -where those 
officers were operating. Many of the oflicers ^vho responded to this command 
post lacked suitable protective equipment to enter the complex. ^^^ 

By 9:58, one PAPD oflicer had reached the 44th-floor sky lobby of the North 
Tow^er. Also in the North Tower, one team of PAPD oflicers was in the mid-20s 
and another was in the lo^ver 20s. Numerous PAPD ofl!icers ^vere also climbing 
in the South Tower, including the PAPD ESU team. Many PAPD oflicers ^vere 
on the ground floors of the complex — some assisting in evacuation, others man- 
ning the PAPD desk in 5 WTC or assisting at lobby command posts. 1^4 

OEM Response 

After the South Tower was hit, OEM senior leadership decided to remain in 
its "bunker" and continue conducting operations, even though all civilians had 
been evacuated from 7 WTC. At approximately 9:30, a senior OEM ofliicial 
ordered the evacuation of the facility, after a Secret Service agent in 7 WTC 
advised him that additional commercial planes were not accounted for. Prior 
to its evacuation, no outside agency liaisons had reached OEM. OEM field 
responders ^vere stationed in each tower's lobby, at the FDNY overall com- 
mand post, and, at least for some period of time, at the NYPD command post 
at Church andVesey^^^ 

Summary 

The emergency response effort escalated with the crash of United 175 into the 
South Tower. With that escalation, communications as well as command and 
control became increasingly critical and increasingly difficult. First responders 
assisted thousands of civilians in evacuating the to^vers, even as incident com- 
manders from responding agencies lacked knowledge of what other agencies 
and, in some cases, their own responders were doing. 

From 9:59 until 10:28 A.M. 

At 9:58:59, the South Tower collapsed in ten seconds, killing all civilians and 
emergency personnel inside, as well a number of individuals — both first 
responders and civilians — in the concourse, in the Marriott, and on neighbor- 
ing streets. The building collapsed into itself, causing a ferocious windstorm and 



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306 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

creating a massive debris cloud. The Marriott hotel suffered significant dam- 
age as a result of the collapse of the South Tower.156 

Civilian Response in the North Tower 

The 911 calls placed from most locations in the North Tower grew increas- 
ingly desperate as time went on. As late as 10:28, people remained alive in some 
locations, including on the 92nd and 79th floors. Below the impact zone, it is 
likely that most civilians who were physically and emotionally capable of 
descending had exited the tower. The civilians \vho were nearing the bottom 
of stairwell C were assisted out of the building by NYPD, FDNY, and PAPD 
personnel. Others, ^vho experienced difficulty evacuating, were being helped 
by first responders on lower floors. ^'7 

FDNY Response 

Immediate Impact of the Collapse of the South Tower. The FDNY 
overall command post and posts in the North Tower lobby, the Marriott lobby, 
and the staging area on West Street south of Liberty all ceased to operate upon 
the collapse of the South Tower, as did EMS staging areas, because of their prox- 
imity to the building. 158 

Those who had been in the North To^ver lobby had no ^vay of knowing 
that the South Tower had suffered a complete collapse. Chiefs who had fled 
from the overall command post on the ^vest side of West Street took shelter in 
the underground parking garage at 2 World Financial Center and were not 
available to influence FDNY operations for the next ten minutes or so.i^s 

When the South Tower collapsed, firefighters on upper floors of the North 
Tower heard a violent roar, and many were knocked off their feet; they saw 
debris coming up the stairs and observed that the power ^vas lost and emer- 
gency lights activated. Nevertheless, those firefighters not standing near win- 
dows facing south had no \vay of kno^ving that the South Tower had collapsed; 
many surnfised that a bomb had exploded, or that the North To^ver had suf- 
fered a partial collapse on its upper floors. 1*° 

We do not know whether the repeater channel continued to function 
after 9:59.161 

Initial Evacuation Instructions and Communications. The South 
Tower's total collapse was immediately communicated on the Manhattan dis- 
patch channel by an FDNY boat on the Hudson River; but to our knowledge, 
no one at the site received this information, because every FDNY command 
post had been abandoned — including the overall command post, which 
included the Field Comm van. Despite his lack of knowledge of what had hap- 
pened to the South Tower, a chief in the process of evacuating the North Tower 
lobby sent out an order within a minute of the collapse: "Command to all units 
inTo^ver 1, evacuate the building." Another chief from the North Tower lobby 
soon followed with an additional evacuation order issued on tactical l.i*^- 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 307 

Evacuation orders did not follow the protocol for giving instructions when 
a building's collapse may be imminent — a protocol that includes constantly 
repeating"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday" — during the 29 minutes between the fall 
of the South To^ver and that of the North Tower. In addition, most of the evac- 
uation instructions did not mention that the South To^ver had collapsed. How- 
ever, at least three firefighters heard evacuation instructions which stated that 
the North Tower ^vas in danger of "imminent collapse." ^i^^ 

FDNY Personnel above the Ground Floors of the North To^ver. Within 

minutes, some firefighters began to hear evacuation orders over tactical 1 . At 
least one chief also gave the evacuation instruction on the command channel 
used only by chiefs in the North To^ver, which \vas much less crowded. i'^'* 

At least two battalion chiefs on upper floors of the North Tower — one on 
the 23rd floor and one on the 35th floor — heard the evacuation instruction on 
the command channel and repeated it to everyone they came across. The chief 
on the 23rd floor apparently aggressively took charge to ensure that all fire- 
fighters on the floors in the immediate area were evacuating. The chief on the 
35th floor also heard a separate radio communication stating that the South 
To^ver had collapsed (which the chief on the 23rd floor may have heard as well). 
He subsequently acted ^vith a sense of urgency, and some firefighters heard the 
evacuation order for the first time ^vhen he repeated it on tactical l.This chief 
also had a bullhorn and traveled to each of the stairwells and shouted the evac- 
uation order: "All FDNY, get the fuck out! "As a result of his eSbrts, many fire- 
fighters who had not been in the process of evacuating began to do so.^^s 

Other firefighters did not receive the evacuation transmissions, for one of 
four reasons: First, some FDNY radios did not pick up the transmission because 
of the difficulties of radio communications in high-rises. Second, the numbers 
trying to use tactical 1 after the South Tower collapsed may have drowned out 
some evacuation instructions. According to one FDNY lieutenant who was 
on the 31st floor of the North Tower at the time, "[Tactical] channel 1 just 
might have been so bogged down that it may have been impossible to get that 
order through."!'^'^ Third, some firefighters in the North To^ver were ofl'-duty 
and did not have radios. Fourth, some firefighters in the North Tower had been 
dispatched to the South Tower and likely were on the different tactical chan- 
nel assigned to that to^ver.l6^ 

FDNY personnel in the North Tower who received the evacuation orders 
did not respond uniformly. Some units — including one whose officer knew 
that the South To^ver had collapsed — either delayed or stopped their evacua- 
tion in order to assist nonambulatory civilians. Some units whose members had 
become separated during the climb attempted to regroup so they could 
descend together. Some units began to evacuate but, according to eyewitnesses, 
did not hurry. At least several firefighters who survived believed that they and 
others would have evacuated more urgently had they known of the South 
Towers complete collapse. Other firefighters continued to sit and rest on floors 



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308 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

while other companies descended past them and reminded them that they were 
supposed to evacuate. Some firefighters were determined not to leave the build- 
ing while other FDNY personnel remained inside and, in one case, convinced 
others to remain with them. In another case, firefighters had successfully 
descended to the lobby, where another firefighter then persuaded them to reas- 
cend in order to look for specific FDNY personnel. '^^ 

Other FDNY personnel did not hear the evacuation order on their radio 
but were advised orally to leave the building by other firefighters and police 
who were themselves evacuating, ^i^' 

By 10:24, approximately five FDNY companies reached the bottom of stair- 
well B and entered the North To^ver lobby. They stood in the lobby for more 
than a minute, not certain what to do, as no chiefs were present. Finally, one 
firefighter — who had earlier seen from a window that the South To^ver had col- 
lapsed — urged that they all leave, as this tower could fall as well. The units then 
proceeded to exit onto West Street. While they were doing so, the North Tower 
began its pancake collapse, killing some of these men.^^o 

Other FDNY Personnel. The Marriott Hotel suffered significant damage in 
the collapse of the South Tower. Those in the lobby ^vere knocked down and 
enveloped in the darkness of a debris cloud. Some were hurt but could walk. 
Others were more severely injured, and some were trapped. Several firefight- 
ers came across a group of about 50 civilians who had been taking shelter in 
the restaurant and assisted them in evacuating. Up above, at the time of the 
South Tower's collapse four companies were descending the stairs single file in 
a line of approximately 20 men. Four survived.i^i 

At the time of the South Tower's collapse, two FDNY companies were either 
at the eastern side of the North Tower lobby, near the mall concourse, or actu- 
ally in the mall concourse, trying to reach the South Tower. Many of these men 
were thro^vn off their feet by the collapse of the South To^ver; they then 
attempted to regroup in the darkness of the debris cloud and evacuate civil- 
ians and themselves, not knowing that the South Tower had collapsed. Several 
of these firefighters subsequently searched the PATH station below the con- 
course — unaware that the PAPD had cleared the area of all civilians by 9:19.1^2 

At about 10:15, the FDNY Chief of Department and the Chief of Safety, 
who had returned to West Street from the parking garage, confirmed that the 
South To^ver had collapsed. The Chief of Department issued a radio order for 
all units to evacuate the North Tower, repeating it about five times. He then 
directed that the FDNY command post be moved further north on West Street 
and told FDNY units in the area to proceed north on West Street toward 
Chambers Street. At approximately 10:25, he radioed for two ladder compa- 
nies to respond to the Marriott, where he was aware that both FDNY person- 
nel and civilians ^vere trapped. ^^^ 

Many chiefs, including several of those who had been in the North Tower 
lobby, did not learn that the South To^ver had collapsed until 30 minutes or 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 309 

more after the event. According to t^vo eyewitnesses, ho\¥ever, one senior 
FDNY chief who knew that the South To\¥er had collapsed strongly expressed 
the opinion that the North Tower \vould not collapse, because unlike the South 
Tower, it had not been hit on a corner J ^'^ 

After the South Tower collapsed, some firefighters on the streets neighbor- 
ing the North Tower remained where they ^vere or came closer to the North 
Tower. Some of these firefighters did not know that the South Tower had col- 
lapsed, but many chose despite that knowledge to remain in an attempt to save 
additional lives. According to one such firefighter, a chief who ^vas preparing 
to mount a search-and-rescue mission in the Marriott, "I would never think 
of myself as a leader of men if I had headed north on West Street after [the] 
South Tower collapsed." Just outside the North Tower on West Street one fire- 
fighter was directing others exiting the building, telling them when no 
jumpers were coming down and it was safe to run out. A senior chief had 
grabbed an NYPD bullhorn and was urging firefighters exiting onto West 
Street to continue running north, well away from the WTC. Three of the most 
senior and respected members of the FDNY were involved in attempting to 
rescue civilians and firefighters from the Marriott. ^^^ 

NYPD Response 

A member of the NYPD Aviation Unit radioed that the South Tower had col- 
lapsed immediately after it happened, and further advised that all people in the 
WTC complex and nearby areas should be evacuated. At 10:04, NYPD avia- 
tion reported that the top 1 5 stories of the North Tower "were glowing red" 
and that they might collapse. At 10:08, a helicopter pilot warned that he did 
not believe the North Tower would last much longer. i^<^ 

Immediately after the South Tower collapsed, many NYPD radio frequen- 
cies became overwhelmed with transmissions relating to injured, trapped, or 
missing officers. As a result, NYPD radio communications became strained on 
most channels. Nevertheless, they remained effective enough for the t^vo clos- 
est NYPD mobilization points to be moved further from the WTC at 10:06.1^^ 

Just like most firefighters, the ESU rescue teams in the North Tower had no 
idea that the South Tower had collapsed. However, by 10:00 the ESU officer 
running the command post at Church andVesey ordered the evacuation of all 
ESU units from the WTC complex. This oflicer, who had observed the South 
To^ver collapse, reported it to ESU units in the North Tower in his evacuation 
instruction. 1^8 

This instruction was clearly heard by the two ESU units already in the 
North Tower and the other ESU unit preparing to enter the tower. The ESU 
team on the 31st floor found the full collapse of the South Tower so unfath- 
omable that they radioed back to the ESU officer at the command post and 
asked him to repeat his communication. He reiterated his urgent message.!^'' 

The ESU team on the 31st floor conferred with the FDNY personnel there 
to ensure that they, too, knew that they had to evacuate, then proceeded down 



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310 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

stairwell B. During the descent, they reported seeing many firefighters who 
were resting and did not seem to be in the process of evacuating. They fijrther 
reported advising these firefighters to evacuate, but said that at times they were 
not ackno^vledged. In the opinion of one of the ESU officers, some of these 
firefighters essentially refused to take orders from cops. At least one firefighter 
who was in the North Tower has supported that assessment, stating that he was 
not going to take an evacuation instruction from a cop that morning. How- 
ever, another firefighter reports that ESU officers ran past him without advis- 
ing him to evacuate. 180 

The ESU team on the 1 1th floor began descending stairwell C after receiv- 
ing the evacuation order. Once near the mezzanine level — ^vhere stairwell C 
ended — this team spread out in chain formation, stretching from several floors 
down to the mezzanine itself. They used their flashlights to provide a path of 
beacons through the darkness and debris for civilians climbing down the stairs. 
Eventually, when no one else appeared to be descending, the ESU team exited 
the North Tower and ran one at a time to 6 WTC, dodging those who still 
were jumping from the upper floors of the North Tower by acting as spotters 
for each other. They remained in the area, conducting additional searches for 
civilians; all but two of them died.^^i 

After surviving the S outh Tower s coUapse, the ESU team that had been prepar- 
ing to enter the North Tower spread into chain formation and created a path for 
civilians (who had exited from the North Tower mezzanine) to evacuate the WTC 
complex by descending the stairs on the north side of 5 and 6 WTC, ^vhich led 
down toVesey Street.They remained at this post until the North Tower collapsed, 
yet all survived. 1^2 

The three plainclothes NYPD officers who had made it up to the 54th floor 
of the North Tower felt the building shake violently at 9:59 as the South Tower 
collapsed (though they did not know the cause). Immediately thereafter, they 
were joined by three firefighters from an FDNY engine company. One of the 
firefighters apparently heard an evacuation order on his radio, but responded 
in a return radio communication, "We're not fucking coming out!" However, 
the firefighters urged the police officers to descend because they lacked the 
protective gear and equipment needed to handle the increasing smoke and 
heat. The police officers reluctantly began descending, checking that the lower 
floors were clear of civilians. They proceeded down stairwell B, poking their 
heads into every floor and briefly looking for civilians. ^^^ 

Other NYPD officers helping evacuees on the mezzanine level of the North 
Tower were enveloped in the debris cloud that resulted from the South Tower's 
collapse. They struggled to regroup in the darkness and to evacuate both them- 
selves and civilians they encountered. At least one of them died in the collapse 
of the North Tower. At least one NYPD officer from this area managed to evac- 
uate out toward 5 WTC, where he teamed up with a Port Authority police 
officer and acted as a spotter in advising the civilians who were still exiting 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 311 

when they could safely run from 1 WTC to 5 WTC and avoid being struck 
by people and debris falling from the upper floors. ^84 

At the time of the collapse of the South To^ver, there were numerous 
NYPD officers in the concourse, some of whom are believed to have died 
there. Those ^vho survived struggled to evacuate themselves in darkness, 
assisting civilians as they exited the concourse in all directions. ^^^ 

Port Authority Response 

The collapse of the South Tower forced the evacuation of the PAPD com- 
mand post on West and Vesey, compelling PAPD officers to move north. 
There is no evidence that PAPD officers without WTC Command radios 
received an evacuation order by radio. Some of these officers in the North 
Tower decided to evacuate, either on their own or in consultation ^vith other 
first responders they came across. Some greatly slowed their own descent in 
order to assist nonambulatory civilians. i** 

After 10:28 A.M. 

The North Tower collapsed at 10:28:25 A.M., killing all civilians alive on upper 
floors, an undetermined number belo^v, and scores of flrst responders. The 
FDNY Chief of Department, the Port Authority Police Department Superin- 
tendent, and many of their senior staff" were killed. Incredibly, twelve flrefight- 
ers, one PAPD officer, and three civilians who were descending stairwell B of 
the North Tower survived its collapse. 1^7 

On September 11, the nation suffered the largest loss of life — 2,973 — on its 
soil as a result of hostile attack in its history. The FDNY sufliered 343 fatalities — 
the largest loss of life of any emergency response agency in history. The PAPD 
suffered 37 fatalities — the largest loss of life of any police force in history. The 
NYPD suffered 23 fatalities — the second largest loss of life of any police force 
in history, exceeded only by the number of PAPD officers lost the same day^^s 

Mayor Giuliani, along with the Police and Fire commissioners and the 
OEM director, moved quickly north and established an emergency operations 
command post at the Police Academy. Over the coming hours, weeks, and 
months, thousands of civilians and city, state, and federal employees devoted 
themselves around the clock to putting Ne^vYork City back on its feet. 1^9 



9.3 EMERGENCY RESPONSE AT THE PENTAGON 

If it had happened on any other day, the disaster at the Pentagon would be 
remembered as a singular challenge and an extraordinary national story. Yet the 
calamity at the World Trade Center that same morning included catastrophic 
damage 1,000 feet above the ground that instantly imperiled tens of thousands 
of people. The two experiences are not comparable. Nonetheless, broader les- 



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312 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 




The Twin Towers following the impact of American Airlines Flight li and 
United Airlines Flight 175 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 



313 




The Pentagon, after being struck by American Airlines Flight 77 




United Airlines Flight 93 crash site, Shanksville, Pennsylvania 



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314 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

sons in integrating niultiagency response efforts are apparent ^vhen ^ve analyze 
the response at the Pentagon. 

The emergency response at the Pentagon represented a mix of local, state, 
and federal jurisdictions and was generally effective. It overcame the inherent 
complications of a response across jurisdictions because the Incident Command 
System, a formalized management structure for emergency response, was in 
place in the National Capital Region on 9/11.1^° 

Because of the nature of the event — a plane crash, fire, and partial building 
coUapse — the Arlington County Fire Department served as incident com- 
mander. Different agencies had different roles. The incident required a major 
rescue, fire, and medical response from Arlington County at the U.S. military's 
headquarters — a facility under the control of the secretary of defense. Since it 
was a terrorist attack, the Department of Justice was the lead federal agency in 
charge (with authority delegated to the FBI for operational response). Addi- 
tionally, the terrorist attack affected the daily operations and emergency 
management requirements of Arlington County and all bordering and sur- 
rounding jurisdictions. I'l 

At 9:37, the west ^vall of the Pentagon ^vas hit by hijacked American Air- 
lines Flight 77, a Boeing 757. The crash caused immediate and catastrophic 
damage. All 64 people aboard the airliner \vere killed, as were 125 people inside 
the Pentagon (70 civilians and 55 military service members). One hundred six 
people were seriously injured and transported to area hospitals. i'- 

While no emergency response is flawless, the response to the 9/11 terror- 
ist attack on the Pentagon ^vas mainly a success for three reasons: first, the strong 
professional relationships and trust established among emergency responders; 
second, the adoption of the Incident Command System; and third, the pursuit 
of a regional approach to response. Many fire and police agencies that 
responded had extensive prior experience working together on regional 
events and training exercises. Indeed, at the time preparations were under way 
at many of these agencies to ensure public safety at the annual meetings of the 
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank scheduled to be held later 
that month in Washington, DC.^'-' 

Local, regional, state, and federal agencies immediately responded to the 
Pentagon attack. In addition to county fire, police, and sheriff's departments, 
the response ^vas assisted by the MetropolitanWashington Airports Authority, 
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Fire Department, Fort Myer Fire 
Department, the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Department of Emergency 
Management, the FBI, FEMA, a National Medical Response Team, the Bureau 
of Alcohol,Tobacco, and Firearms, and numerous military personnel within the 
Military District of Washington, i''^ 

Command was established at 9:41. At the same time, the Arlington County 
Emergency Communications Center contacted the fire departments of Fair- 
fax County, Alexandria, and the District of Columbia to request mutual aid. 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 31 5 

The incident command post provided a clear vie\¥ of and access to the crash 
site, allo^ving the incident commander to assess the situation at all times. i''^ 

At 9:55, the incident commander ordered an evacuation of the Pentagon 
impact area because a partial collapse was imminent; it occurred at 9:57, and 
no first responder was injuredJ^*^ 

At 10:15, the incident commander ordered a full evacuation of the com- 
mand post because of the warning of an approaching hijacked aircraft passed 
along by the FBI. This was the first of three evacuations caused by reports of 
incoming aircraft, and the evacuation order \vas well communicated and well 
coordinated.!'^ 

Several factors facilitated the response to this incident, and distinguish it 
from the far more difficult task in New York. There ^vas a single incident, and 
it \vas not 1,000 feet above ground. The incident site was relatively easy to 
secure and contain, and there ^vere no other buildings in the immediate area. 
There was no collateral damage beyond the Pentagon. ^''8 

Yet the Pentagon response encountered difficulties that echo those expe- 
rienced in New York. As the "Arlington County: After-Action Report" notes, 
there were significant problems with both self-dispatching and communica- 
tions: "Organizations, response units, and individuals proceeding on their own 
initiative directly to an incident site, \vithout the knowledge and permission 
of the host jurisdiction and the Incident Commander, complicate the exer- 
cise of command, increase the risks faced by bonafide responders, and exac- 
erbate the challenge of accountability." With respect to communications, the 
report concludes: "Almost aU aspects of communications continue to be prob- 
lematic, from initial notification to tactical operations. Cellular telephones 
were of little value. . . . Radio channels were initially oversaturated. . . . Pagers 
seemed to be the most reliable means of notification \vhen available and used, 
but most firefighters are not issued pagers." ^'^ 

It is a fair inference, given the difliering situations in New York City and 
Northern Virginia, that the problems in command, control, and communica- 
tions that occurred at both sites \vill likely recur in any emergency of similar 
scale. The task looking forward is to enable first responders to respond in a 
coordinated manner with the greatest possible awareness of the situation. 



9.4 ANALYSIS 

Like the national defense effort described in chapter 1, the emergency 
response to the attacks on 9/11 was necessarily improvised. In New York, the 
FDNY, NYPD, the Port Authority, WTC employees, and the building occu- 
pants themselves did their best to cope with the effects of an unimaginable 
catastrophe — unfolding furiously over a mere 102 minutes — for which they 
were unprepared in terms of both training and mindset. As a result of the 



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316 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

efforts of first responders, assistance from each other, and their own good 
instincts and goodwill, the vast majority of civilians below the impact zone 
were able to evacuate the towers. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has provided a prelim- 
inary estimation that between 16,400 and 18,800 civilians were in the WTC 
complex as of 8:46 A.M. on September 11. At most 2,152 individuals died at 
the WTC complex who were not (1) fire or police first responders, (2) secu- 
rity or fire safety personnel of the WTC or individual companies, (3) volun- 
teer civilians ^vho ran to the WTC after the planes' impact to help others, or 
(4) on the two planes that crashed into the Twin Towers. Out of this total num- 
ber of fatalities, we can account for the workplace location of 2,052 individu- 
als, or 95.35 percent. Of this number, 1,942 or 94.64 percent either ^vorked or 
were supposed to attend a meeting at or above the respective impact zones of 
the Twin Towers; only 110, or 5.36 percent of those who died, worked below 
the impact zone. While a given persons office location at the WTC does not 
definitively indicate where that individual died that morning or whether he or 
she could have evacuated, these data strongly suggest that the evacuation was 
a success for civilians below the impact zone.^oo 

Several factors influenced the evacuation on September 11. It was aided 
greatly by changes made by the Port Authority in response to the 1993 bomb- 
ing and by the training of both Port Authority personnel and civilians after 
that time. Stairwells remained lit near unaffected floors; some tenants relied on 
procedures learned in fire drills to help them to safety; others were guided 
down the stairs by fire safety officials based in the lobby. Because of damage 
caused by the impact of the planes, the capability of the sophisticated building 
systems may have been impaired. Rudimentary improvements, however, such 
as the addition of glow strips to the handrails and stairs, were credited by some 
as the reason for their survival. The general evacuation time for the towers 
dropped from more than four hours in 1993 to under one hour on Septem- 
ber 11 for most civilians who were not trapped or physically incapable of 
enduring a long descent. 

First responders also played a significant role in the success of the evacua- 
tion. Some specific rescues are quantifiable, such as an FDNY company's res- 
cue of civilians trapped on the 22d floor of the North Tower, or the success of 
FDNY, PAPD, and NYPD personnel in carrying nonambulatory civilians out 
of both the North and South Towers. In other instances, intangibles combined 
to reduce \vhat could have been a much higher death total. It is impossible to 
measure how many more civilians who descended to the ground floors would 
have died but for the NYPD and PAPD personnel directing them — ^via safe 
exit routes that avoided jumpers and debris — to leave the complex urgently 
but calmly. It is impossible to measure how many more civilians would have 
died but for the determination of many members of the FDNY, PAPD, and 
NYPD to continue assisting civilians after the South Tower collapsed. It is 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 317 

impossible to measure the calming influence that ascending firefighters had on 
descending civilians or ^vhether but for the firefighters' presence the poor 
behavior of a very few civilians could have caused a dangerous and panicked 
mob flight. But the positive impact of the first responders on the evacuation 
came at a tremendous cost of first responder lives lost.-'" 

Civilian and Private-Sector Challenges 

The "first" first responders on 9/11, as in most catastrophes, were private- 
sector civilians. Because 85 percent of our nation's critical infrastructure is 
controlled not by government but by the private sector, private-sector civil- 
ians are likely to be the first responders in any future catastrophes. For that 
reason, we have assessed the state of private sector and civilian preparedness 
in order to formulate recommendations to address this critical need. Our rec- 
ommendations grow out of the experience of the civilians at the World Trade 
Center on 9/11. 

Lack of Protocol for Rooftop Rescues. Civilians at or above the impact 
zone in the North Tower had the smallest hope of survival. Once the plane 
struck, they were prevented from descending because of damage to or impass- 
able conditions in the building's three stairwells. The only hope for those on 
the upper floors of the North Tower would have been a swift and extensive air 
rescue. Several factors made this impossible. Doors leading to the roof were kept 
locked for security reasons, and damage to software in the security command 
station prevented a lock release order from taking effect. Even if the doors had 
not been locked, structural and radiation hazards made the rooftops unsuitable 
staging areas for a large number of civilians; and even if conditions permitted 
general helicopter evacuations — which was not the case — only several people 
could be lifted at a time. 

TheWTC lacked any plan for evacuation of civilians on upper floors of the 
WTC in the event that all stairwells were impassable below. 

Lack of Comprehensive Evacuation of South Tower Immediately after 
the North Tower Impact. No decision has been criticized more than the 
decision of building personnel not to evacuate the South Tower immediately 
after the North Tower was hit. A firm and prompt evacuation order would likely 
have led many to safety. Even a strictly "advisory" announcement would not 
have dissuaded those who decided for themselves to evacuate. The advice to 
stay in place was understandable, however, when considered in its context. At 
that moment, no one appears to have thought a second plane could hit the 
South Tower. The evacuation of thousands of people was seen as inherently 
dangerous. Additionally, conditions were hazardous in some areas outside the 
towers. 202 

Less understandable, in our view, is the instruction given to some civilians 



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318 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

who had reached the lobby to return to their offices. They could have been 
held in the lobby or perhaps directed through the underground concourse. 

Despite the initial advice given over its public-address system, the South 
Tower was ordered to be evacuated by the FDNY and PAPD within 12 min- 
utes of the North Tower's being hit. If not for a second, unanticipated attack, 
the evacuation presumably ^vould have proceeded. 

Impact of Fire Safety Plan and Fire Drills on Evacuation. Once the 
South To\ver was hit, civilians on upper floors wasted time ascending the stairs 
instead of searching for a clear path down, 'when stairwell A ^vas at least ini- 
tially passable. Although rooftop rescues had not been conclusively ruled out, 
civilians were not informed in fire drills that roof doors were locked, that 
rooftop areas ^vere hazardous, and that no helicopter evacuation plan existed. 
In both to^vers, civilians who were able to reach the stairs and descend were 
also stymied by the deviations in the stairways and by smoke doors. This con- 
fusion delayed the evacuation of some and may have obstructed that of others. 
The Port Authority has acknowledged that in the future, tenants should be 
made aware of what conditions they ^vill encounter during descent. 

Impact of 911 Calls on Evacuation. The NYPD's 911 operators and 
FDNY dispatch ^vere not adequately integrated into the emergency response. 
In several ways, the 911 system was not ready to cope \vith a major disaster. 
These operators and dispatchers were one of the only sources of information 
for individuals at and above the impact zone of the towers. The FDNY ordered 
both towers fuUy evacuated by 8: 57, but this guidance was not conveyed to 91 1 
operators and FDNY dispatchers, who for the next hour often continued to 
advise civilians not to self-evacuate, regardless of whether they ^vere above or 
below the impact zones. Nor were 911 operators or FDNY dispatchers advised 
that rooftop rescues had been ruled out.This failure may have been harmful to 
civilians on the upper floors of the South To^ver ^vho called 911 and were not 
told that their only evacuation hope was to attempt to descend, not to ascend. 
In planning for future disasters, it is important to integrate those taking 911 
calls into the emergency response team and to involve them in providing up- 
to-date information and assistance to the public. 

Preparedness of Individual Civilians. One clear lesson of September 11 
is that individual civilians need to take responsibility for maximizing the prob- 
ability that they will survive, should disaster strike. Clearly, many building occu- 
pants in the World Trade Center did not take preparedness seriously. 
Individuals should know the exact location of every stairwell in their work- 
place. In addition, they should have access at all times to flashlights, which were 
deemed invaluable by some civilians ^vho managed to evacuate the WTC on 
September 11. 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 319 

Challenges Experienced by First Responders 

The Challenge of Incident Command. As noted above, in July 2001, 
Mayor Giuliani updated a directive titled "Direction and Control of Emergen- 
cies in the City of New York." The directive designated, for different types of 
emergencies, an appropriate agency as "Incident Commander"; it would be 
"responsible for the management of the City's response to the emergency." The 
directive also provided that where incidents are "so niultifaceted that no one 
agency immediately stands out as the Incident Commander, OEM wiU assign 
the role of Incident Commander to an agency as the situation demands."203 

To some degree, the Mayor's directive for incident command was followed 
on 9/11 Tt was clear that the lead response agency was the FDNY, and that the 
other responding local, federal, bistate, and state agencies acted in a supporting 
role. There was a tacit understanding that FDNY personnel would have pri- 
mary responsibility for evacuating civilians who were above the ground floors 
of the Twin Towers, while NYPD and PAPD personnel would be in charge of 
evacuating civilians from theWTC complex once they reached ground level. 
The NYPD also greatly assisted responding FDNY units by clearing emer- 
gency lanes to theWTC.^fw 

In addition, coordination occurred at high levels of command. For exam- 
ple, the Mayor and Police Commissioner consulted with the Chief of the 
Department of the FDNY at approximately 9:20. There were other instances 
of coordination at operational levels, and information was shared on an ad hoc 
basis. For example, an NYPD ESU team passed the news of their evacuation 
order to firefighters in the North Tower.^o^ 

It is also clear, however, that the response operations lacked the kind of 
integrated communications and unified command contemplated in the 
directive. These problems existed both within and among individual 
responding agencies. 

Command and Control within First Responder Agencies. For a uni- 
fied incident management system to succeed, each participant must have com- 
mand and control of its own units and adequate internal communications. This 
was not always the case at theWTC on 9/11. 

Understandably lacking experience in responding to events of the magni- 
tude of the World Trade Center attacks, the FDNY as an institution proved 
incapable of coordinating the numbers of units dispatched to different points 
within the 16-acre complex. As a result, numerous units were congregating in 
the undamaged Marriott Hotel and at the overall command post on West Street 
by 9:30, while chiefs in charge of the South Tower still were in desperate need 
of units. With better understanding of the resources already available, additional 
units might not have been dispatched to the South Tower at 9:37. 

The task of accounting for and coordinating the units was rendered diffi- 
cult, if not impossible, by internal communications breakdowns resulting from 



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320 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

the limited capabilities of radios in the high-rise environment of theWTC and 
from confusion over which personnel were assigned to which frequency. Fur- 
thermore, when the South Tower collapsed the overall FDNY command post 
ceased to operate, which compromised the FDNY s ability to understand the 
situation; an FDNY marine unit's immediate radio communication to FDNY 
dispatch that the South Tower had fully collapsed was not conveyed to chiefs 
at the scene. The FDNY's inability to coordinate and account for the different 
radio channels that would be used in an emergency of this scale contributed 
to the early lack of units in the South Tower, whose lobby chief initially could 
not communicate with anyone outside that tower.-O* 

Though almost no one at 9:50 on September 11 was contemplating an 
imminent total collapse of the Twin Towers, many first responders and civilians 
were contemplating the possibility of imminent additional terrorist attacks 
throughout New York City. Had any such attacks occurred, the FDNY's 
response would have been severely compromised by the concentration of so 
many of its off-duty personnel, particularly its elite personnel, at theWTC. 

The Port Authority's response was hampered by the lack of both standard oper- 
ating procedures and radios capable of enabling multiple commands to respond 
in unified fashion to an incident at the WTC. Many officers reporting fiom the 
tunnel and airport commands could not hear instructions being issued over the 
WTC Command frequency. In addition, command and control was complicated 
by senior Port Authority Police officials becoming directly involved in frontline 
rescue operations. 

The NYPD experienced comparatively fewer internal command and con- 
trol and communications issues. Because the department has a history of mobi- 
lizing thousands of officers for major events requiring crowd control, its 
technical radio capability and major incident protocols were more easily 
adapted to an incident of the magnitude of 9/11. In addition, its mission that 
day lay largely outside the towers themselves. Although there were ESU teams 
and a few individual police officers climbing in the towers, the vast majority of 
NYPD personnel were staged outside, assisting with crowd control and evacu- 
ation and securing other sites in the city. The NYPD ESU division had firm 
command and control over its units, in part because there were so few of them 
(in comparison to the number of FDNY companies) and all reported to the 
same ESU command post. It is unclear, however, whether non-ESU NYPD 
officers operating on the ground floors, and in a few cases on upper floors, of 
theWTC were as well coordinated. 

Significant shortcomings within the FDNY's command and control capa- 
bilities were painfully exposed on September 11. To its great credit, the 
department has made a substantial effort in the past three years to address 
these. While significant problems in the command and control of the PAPD 
also were exposed on September 11, it is less clear that the Port Authority 
has adopted new training exercises or major incident protocols to address 
these shortcomings.-'^'^ 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 321 

Lack of Coordination among First Responder Agencies. Any attempt 
to establish a unified command on 9/1 1 \¥ould have been further frustrated by 
the lack of communication and coordination among responding agencies. Cer- 
tainly, the FDNY -was not "responsible for the management of the City's 
response to the emergency," as the Mayor's directive would have required. The 
command posts were in different locations, and OEM headquarters, which 
could have served as a focal point for information sharing, did not play an inte- 
grating role in ensuring that information was shared among agencies on 9/11, 
even prior to its evacuation. There was a lack of comprehensive coordination 
between FDNY, NYPD, and PAPD personnel climbing above the ground 
floors in the Twin Towers. 

Information that was critical to informed decisionmaking was not shared 
among agencies. FDNY chiefs in leadership roles that morning have told us 
that their decision making capability was hampered by a lack of information 
from NYPD aviation. At 9:51 A.M., a helicopter pilot cautioned that "large 
pieces" of the South Tower appeared to be about to fall and could pose a dan- 
ger to those below. Immediately after the tower's collapse, a helicopter pilot 
radioed that news. This transmission was followed by communications at 10:08, 
10:15, and 10:22 that called into question the condition of the North Tower. 
The FDNY chiefs would have benefited greatly had they been able to com- 
municate with personnel in a helicopter. 

The consequence of the lack of real-time intelligence from NYPD aviation 
should not be overstated. Contrary to a widely held misperception, no NYPD 
helicopter predicted the fall of either tower before the South Tower collapsed, 
and no NYPD personnel began to evacuate the WTC complex prior to that 
time. Furthermore, the FDNY, as an institution, was in possession of the knowl- 
edge that the South Tower had collapsed as early as the NYPD, as its fall had 
been immediately reported by an FDNY boat on a dispatch channel. Because 
of internal breakdowns within the department, however, this information was 
not disseminated to FDNY personnel on the scene. 

The FDNY, PAPD, and NYPD did not coordinate their units that were 
searching the WTC complex for civilians. In many cases, redundant searches 
of specific floors and areas were conducted. It is unclear whether fewer first 
responders in the aggregate would have been in the Twin Towers if there had 
been an integrated response, or what impact, if any, redundant searches had on 
the total number of first responder fatalities. 

Whether the lack of coordination between the FDNY and NYPD on Sep- 
tember 11 had a catastrophic effect has been the subject of controversy. We 
believe that there are too many variables for us to responsibly quantify those 
consequences. It is clear that the lack of coordination did not affect adversely 
the evacuation of civilians. It is equally clear, however, that the Incident Com- 
mand System did not function to integrate awareness among agencies or to 
facilitate interagency response, ^os 

If New York and other major cities are to be prepared for future terrorist 



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^^ 



322 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

attacks, different first responder agencies within each city must be fully coordi- 
nated, just as different branches of the U.S. military are. Coordination entails a 
unified command that comprehensively deploys all dispatched police, fire, and 
other first responder resources. 

In May 2004, New York City adopted an emergency response plan that 
expressly contemplates two or more agencies jointly being lead agency when 
responding to a terrorist attack but does not mandate a comprehensive and uni- 
fied incident command that can deploy and monitor all first responder 
resources from one overall command post. In our judgment, this falls short of 
an optimal response plan, \vhich requires clear command and control, common 
training, and the trust that such training creates. The experience of the mili- 
tary suggests that integrated into such a coordinated response should be a uni- 
fied field intelligence unit, which should receive and combine information 
fi-om all first responders — including 911 operators. Such a field intelligence unit 
could be valuable in large and complex incidents. 

Radio Communication Challenges:The Effectiveness and Urgency of 
Evacuation Instructions. As discussed above, the location of the NYPD ESU 
command post was crucial in making possible an urgent evacuation order 
explaining the South Tower's full collapse. Firefighters most certainly would 
have benefited from that information. 

A separate matter is the varied success at conveying evacuation instructions 
to personnel in the North Tower after the South Tower's collapse. The success 
of NYPD ESU instruction is attributable to a combination of (1) the strength 
of the radios, (2) the relatively small numbers of individuals using them, and 
(3) use of the correct channel by all. 

The same three factors ^vorked against successful communication among 
FDNY personnel. First, the radios' effectiveness was drastically reduced in the 
high-rise environment. Second, tactical channel 1 ^vas simply overwhelmed by 
the number of units attempting to communicate on it at 10:00. Third, some 
firefighters were on the wrong channel or simply lacked radios altogether. 

It is impossible to know what difference it made that units in the North 
Tower were not using the repeater channel after 10:00. While the repeater 
channel ^vas at least partially operational before the South Tower collapsed, we 
do not know whether it continued to be operational after 9:59. 

Even ^vithout the repeater channel, at least 24 of the at most 32 companies 
who were dispatched to and actually in the North To^ver received the evacu- 
ation instruction — either via radio or directly from other first responders. Nev- 
ertheless, many of these firefighters died, either because they delayed their 
evacuation to assist civilians, attempted to regroup their units, lacked urgency, 
or some combination of these factors. In addition, many other firefighters not 
dispatched to the North To\ver also died in its collapse. Some had their radios 
on the wrong channel. Others were off-duty and lacked radios. In view of these 



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HEROISM AND HORROR 323 

considerations, we conclude that the technical failure of FDNY radios, while 
a contributing factor, was not the primary cause of the many firefighter fatal- 
ities in the North Tower.^o' 

The FDNY has worked hard in the past several years to address its radio 
deficiencies. To improve radio capability in high-rises, the FDNY has internally 
developed a "post radio" that is small enough for a battalion chief to carry to 
the upper floors and that greatly repeats and enhances radio signal strength. -1° 

The story with respect to Port Authority police officers in the North Tower 
is less complicated; most of them lacked access to the radio channel on ^vhich 
the Port Authority police evacuation order was given. Since September 11, the 
Port Authority has worked hard to integrate the radio systems of their differ- 
ent commands. 



The lesson of 9/11 for civilians and first responders can be stated simply: 
in the new age of terror, they — we — are the primary targets. The losses Amer- 
ica suffered that day demonstrated both the gravity of the terrorist threat and 
the commensurate need to prepare ourselves to meet it. 

The first responders of today live in a ^vorld transformed by the attacks on 
9/11. Because no one believes that every conceivable form of attack can be 
prevented, civilians and first responders ^vill again find themselves on the front 
lines. We must plan for that eventuality. A rededication to preparedness is per- 
haps the best way to honor the memories of those we lost that day. 



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10 
WARTIME 



After the attacks had occurred, while crisis managers were still sorting 
out a number of unnerving false alarms. Air Force One fle^v to Barksdale Air 
Force Base in Louisiana. One of these alarms was of a reported threat against 
Air Force One itself, a threat eventually run down to a misunderstood com- 
munication in the hectic White House Situation Room that morning. ^ 

While the plan at the elementary school had been to return to Washington, 
by the time Air Force One was airborne at 9:55 A.M. the Secret Service, the 
President's advisers, andVice President Cheney were strongly advising against 
it. President Bush reluctantly acceded to this advice and, at about 10:10, Air 
Force One changed course and began heading due west. The immediate objec- 
tive was to find a safe location — not too far a^vay — ^where the President could 
land and speak to the American people.The Secret Service was also interested 
in refueling the aircraft and paring do^vn the size of the traveling party. The 
President's military aide, an Air Force officer, quickly researched the options 
and, sometime around 10:20, identified Barksdale Air Force Base as an appro- 
priate interim destination. - 

When Air Force One landed at Barksdale at about 11:45, personnel from 
the local Secret Service office were still en route to the airfield. The motorcade 
consisted of a military police lead vehicle and a van; the proposed briefing the- 
ater had no phones or electrical outlets. Staff scrambled to prepare another 
room for the President's remarks, while the lead Secret Service agent reviewed 
the security situation with superiors in Washington. The President completed 
his statement, which for security reasons was taped and not broadcast live, and 
the traveling party returned to Air Force One. The next destination was dis- 
cussed: once again the Secret Service recommended against returning to Wash- 
ington, and the Vice President agreed. Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska was 
chosen because of its elaborate command and control facilities, and because it 
could accommodate overnight lodging for 50 persons. The Secret Service 
wanted a place where the President could spend several days, if necessary.^ 

325 



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326 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Air Force One arrived at Offutt at 2:50 P.M. At about 3:15, President Bush 
met with his principal advisers through a secure video teleconference. '^ Rice 
said President Bush began the meeting ^vith the \vords, "We're at war,"^ and 
that Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said the agency was still 
assessing who was responsible, but the early signs all pointed to al Qaeda.<^That 
evening the Deputies Committee returned to the pending presidential direc- 
tive they had labored over during the summer.^ 

The secretary of defense directed the nation's armed forces to Defense Con- 
dition 3, an increased state of military readiness.^ For the first time in history, 
all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States were grounded, strand- 
ing tens of thousands of passengers across the country. Contingency plans for 
the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders had been imple- 
mented.' The Pentagon had been struck; the White House or the Capitol had 
narrowly escaped direct attack. Extraordinary security precautions were put in 
place at the nation's borders and ports. 

In the late afternoon, the President overruled his aides' continuing reluc- 
tance to have him return to Washington and ordered Air Force One back to 
Andre^vs Air Force Base. He was flo^vn by helicopter back to the White House, 
passing over the still-smoldering Pentagon. At 8:30 that evening. President Bush 
addressed the nation from the White House. After emphasizing that the first 
priority \vas to help the injured and protect against any further attacks, he said: 
"We ^vill make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts 
and those who harbor them." He quoted Psalm 23 — "though I \valk through 
the valley of the shadow of death . . ." No American, he said, "will ever forget 
this day." 10 

Following his speech. President Bush met again ^vith his National Security 
Council (NSC), expanded to include Secretary of Transportation Norman 
Mineta and Joseph AUbaugh, the director of the Federal Emergency Manage- 
ment Agency. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had returned from Peru after 
hearing of the attacks, joined the discussion. They reviewed the day's events. ^^ 



10.1 IMMEDIATE RESPONSES AT HOME 

As the urgent domestic issues accumulated,White House Deputy Chief of Staff 
Joshua Bolten chaired a temporary "domestic consequences" group. i- The 
agenda in those first days is worth noting, partly as a checklist for future crisis 
planners. It began with problems of how to help victims and stanch the flow- 
ing losses to the American economy, such as 

• Organizing federal emergency assistance. One question ^vas ^vhat kind 
of public health advice to give about the air quality in Lower Manhat- 
tan in the vicinity of the fallen buildings. ^^ 



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WARTIME 327 

• Compensating victims. They evaluated legislative options, eventually 
setting up a federal compensation fund and defining the powers of a 
special master to run it. 

• Determining federal assistance. On September 13, President Bush 
promised to provide $20 billion for New York City, in addition to the 
$20 billion his budget director had already guessed might be needed 
for the country as a whole. i'* 

• Restoring civil aviation. On the morning of September 13, the 
national airspace reopened for use by airports that met newly impro- 
vised security standards. 

• Reopening the financial markets. After extraordinary emergency 
efforts involving the White House, the Treasury Department, and the 
Securities and Exchange Commission, aided by unprecedented 
cooperation among the usually competitive firms of the financial 
industry, the markets reopened on Monday, September 17.^5 

• Deciding when and how to return border and port security to more 
normal operations. 

• Evaluating legislative proposals to bail out the airline industry and cap 
its liability. 

The very process of reviewing these issues underscored the absence of an 
effective government organization dedicated to assessing vulnerabilities and 
handling problems of protection and preparedness. Though a number of agen- 
cies had some part of the task, none had security as its primary mission. 

By September 14, Vice President Cheney had decided to recommend, at 
least as a first step, a new White House entity to coordinate all the relevant agen- 
cies rather than tackle the challenge of combining them in a new department. 
This new White House entity would be a homeland security adviser and 
Homeland Security Council — ^paralleling the National Security Council sys- 
tem. Vice President Cheney reviewed the proposal with President Bush and 
other advisers. President Bush announced the new post and its first occupant — 
Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge — in his address to a joint session of Con- 
gress on September 20. i* 

Beginning on September 11, Immigration and Naturalization Service 
agents \vorking in cooperation with the FBI began arresting individuals for 
immigration violations whom they encountered while following up leads in 
the FBI's investigation of the 9/11 attacks. Eventually, 768 aliens were arrested 
as "special interest" detainees. Some (such as Zacarias Moussaoui) were actu- 
ally in INS custody before 9/11; most were arrested after. Attorney General 
John Ashcroft told us that he saw his job in directing this effort as "risk mini- 
mization," both to find out ^vho had committed the attacks and to prevent a 
subsequent attack. Ashcroft ordered all special interest immigration hearings 
closed to the public, family members, and press; directed government attorneys 



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328 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

to seek denial of bond until such time as they were "cleared" of terrorist con- 
nections by the FBI and other agencies; and ordered the identity of the 
detainees kept secret. INS attorneys charged ^vith prosecuting the immigration 
violations had trouble getting information about the detainees and any terror- 
ist connections; in the chaos after the attacks, it was very difficult to reach law 
enforcement officials, who were following up on other leads. The clearance 
process approved by the Justice Department was time-consuming, lasting an 
average of about 80 days.i^ 

We have assessed this effort to detain aliens of "special interest." The 
detainees were lawfully held on immigration charges. Records indicate that 531 
were deported, 162 ^vere released on bond, 24 received some kind of immi- 
gration benefits, 12 had their proceedings terminated, and 8 — one of whom 
was Moussaoui — ^were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. 
The inspector general of the Justice Department found significant problems in 
the \vay the 9/11 detainees were treated.^^ In response to a request about the 
counterterrorism benefits of the 9/11 detainee program, the Justice Depart- 
ment cited six individuals on the special interest detainee list, noting that two 
(including Moussaoui) were linked directly to a terrorist organization and that 
it had obtained new leads helpful to the investigation of the 9/11 terrorist 
attacks. 1' A senior al Qaeda detainee has stated that U.S. government efforts 
after the 9/11 attacks to monitor the American homeland, including revie^v of 
Muslims' immigration files and deportation of nonpermanent residents, forced 
al Qaeda to operate less freely in the United States, ^o 

The government's ability to collect intelligence inside the United States, and 
the sharing of such information between the intelligence and la\v enforcement 
communities, ^vas not a priority before 9/11. Guidelines on this subject issued 
in August 2001 by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson essentially reca- 
pitulated prior guidance. However, the attacks of 9/1 1 changed everything. Less 
than one week after September 1 1 , an early version of what was to become the 
Patriot Act (officially, the USA PATRIOT Act) began to take shape.^i A cen- 
tral provision of the proposal \vas the removal of "the wall" on information 
sharing bet^veen the intelligence and law enforcement communities (discussed 
in chapter 3). Ashcroft told us he was determined to take every conceivable 
action, ^vithin the limits of the Constitution, to identify potential terrorists and 
deter additional attacks. -^ The administration developed a proposal that even- 
tually passed both houses of Congress by large majorities and was signed into 
law on October 26. -^ 



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WARTIME 



329 



Flights of Saudi Nationals Leaving the United States 

Three questions have arisen with respect to the departure of Saudi 
nationals from the United States in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: 
(1) Did any flights of Saudi nationals take place before national airspace 
reopened on September 13,2001? (2) Was there any political interven- 
tion to facilitate the departure of Saudi nationals? (3) Did the FBI 
screen Saudi nationals thoroughly before their departure? 

First, we found no evidence that any flights of Saudi nationals, 
domestic or international, took place before the reopening of national 
airspace on the morning of September 13, 2001.24 To (-]^g contrary, 
every flight we have identified occurred after national airspace 
reopened. -5 

Second, we found no evidence of political intervention. We found 
no evidence that anyone at the White House above the level of Richard 
Clarke participated in a decision on the departure of Saudi nationals. 
The issue came up in one of the many video teleconferences of the 
interagency group Clarke chaired, and Clarke said he approved of how 
the FBI was dealing with the matter when it came up for interagency 
discussion at his level. Clarke told us, "I asked the FBI, Dale Watson . . . 
to handle that, to check to see if that was all right with them, to see if 
they wanted access to any of these people, and to get back to me. And 
if they had no objections, it would be fine with me." Clarke added, "I 
have no recollection of clearing it with anybody at the White 
House."26 

Although White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card remembered 
someone telling him about the Saudi request shortly after 9/1 1 , he said 
he had not talked to the Saudis and did not ask anyone to do anything 
about it. The President and Vice President told us they were not aware 
of the issue at all until it surfaced much later in the media. None of the 
officials we interviewed recalled any intervention or direction on this 
matter from any political appointee.-^ 

Third, we believe that the FBI conducted a satisfactory screening of 
Saudi nationals who left the United States on charter flights.-^ The 
Saudi government was advised of and agreed to the FBI's requirements 
that passengers be identified and checked against various databases 
before the flights departed. -'The Federal Aviation Administration rep- 
resentative working in the FBI operations center made sure that the 



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FBI was aware of the flights of Saudi nationals and was able to screen 
the passengers before they were allowed to depart. ^"^ 

The FBI interviewed all persons of interest on these flights prior to 
their departures. They concluded that none of the passengers was con- 
nected to the 9/11 attacks and have since found no evidence to change 
that conclusion. Our own independent review of the Saudi nationals 
involved confirms that no one with known links to terrorism departed 
on these flights. ^^ 



10.2 PLANNING FOR WAR 



By late in the evening of September 1 1 , the President had addressed the nation 
on the terrible events of the day. Vice President Cheney described the Presi- 
dent's mood as somber.32The long day was not yet over. When the larger meet- 
ing that included his domestic department heads broke up, President Bush 
chaired a smaller meeting of top advisers, a group he would later call his "\var 
council."33This group usually includedVice President Cheney, Secretary of State 
Po^veU, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, General Hugh Shelton, Vice 
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (later to become chairman) General Myers, DCl 
Tenet, Attorney General Ashcroft, and FBI Director Robert Mueller. From the 
White House staff^ National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Chief of 
Stafli'Card were part of the core group, often joined by their deputies, Stephen 
Hadley and Joshua Bolten. 

In this restricted National Security Council meeting, the President said it 
was a time for self-defense. The United States ^vould punish not just the per- 
petrators of the attacks, but also those ^vho harbored them. Secretary Powell 
said the United States had to make it clear to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the 
Arab states that the time to act was now. He said we ^vould need to build a 
coalition. The President noted that the attacks provided a great opportunity to 
engage Russia and China. Secretary Rumsfeld urged the President and the 
principals to think broadly about who might have harbored the attackers, 
including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, and Iran. He wondered aloud how 
much evidence the United States ^vould need in order to deal with these coun- 
tries, pointing out that major strikes could take up to 60 days to assemble.^"* 

President Bush chaired two more meetings of the NSC on September 12. 
In the first meeting, he stressed that the United States was at war with a new 
and different kind of enemy.The President tasked principals to go beyond their 
pre-9/11 work and develop a strategy to eliminate terrorists and punish those 
who support them. As they worked on defining the goals and objectives of the 
upcoming campaign, they considered a paper that went beyond al Qaeda to 



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WARTIME 331 

propose the "elimination of terrorism as a threat to our way of hfe," an aim that 
would include pursuing other international terrorist organizations in the Mid- 
dle East.35 

Rice chaired a Principals Committee meeting on September 13 in the Sit- 
uation Room to refine how the fight against al Qaeda would be conducted. 
The principals agreed that the overall message should be that anyone support- 
ing al Qaeda would risk harm. The United States would need to integrate 
diplomacy, financial measures, intelligence, and military actions into an over- 
arching strategy. The principals also focused on Pakistan and what it could do 
to turn the Taliban against al Qaeda. They concluded that if Pakistan decided 
not to help the United States, it too would be at risk.^* 

The same day. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with the 
Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lodhi, and the visiting head 
of Pakistan's military intelligence service, Mahniud Ahmed. Armitage said that 
the United States wanted Pakistan to take seven steps: 

• to stop al Qaeda operatives at its border and end all logistical support 
for Bin Ladin; 

• to give the United States blanket overflight and landing rights for aU 
necessary military and intelligence operations; 

• to provide territorial access to U.S. and allied military intelligence and 
other personnel to conduct operations against al Qaeda; 

• to provide the United States with intelligence information; 

• to continue to publicly condemn the terrorist acts; 

• to cut off all shipments of fuel to the Taliban and stop recruits from 
going to Afghanistan; and, 

• if the evidence implicated bin Ladin and al Qaeda and the Taliban 
continued to harbor them, to break relations with the Taliban 
government. 3^ 

Pakistan made its decision swiftly. That afternoon, Secretary of State Powell 
announced at the beginning of an NSC meeting that Pakistani President 
Musharraf had agreed to every U.S. request for support in the ^var on terror- 
ism. The next day, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad confirmed that Musharraf and 
his top military commanders had agreed to all seven demands. "Pakistan will 
need full US support as it proceeds with us," the embassy noted. "Musharraf 
said the GOP [government of Pakistan] was making substantial concessions in 
allowing use of its territory and that he would pay a domestic price. His stand- 
ing in Pakistan was certain to suffer. To counterbalance that he needed to show 
that Pakistan was benefiting from his decisions."38 

At the September 13 NSC meeting, ^vhen Secretary Po^vell described Pak- 
istan's reply. President Bush led a discussion of an appropriate ultimatum to the 
Taliban. He also ordered Secretary Rumsfeld to develop a military plan against 



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332 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

the Taliban. The President wanted the United States to strike theTahban, step 
back, wait to see if they got the message, and hit them hard if they did not. He 
made clear that the military should focus on targets that \vould influence the 
Taliban's behavior.^' 

President Bush also tasked the State Department, which on the following 
day delivered to the White House a paper titled "Game Plan for a Political- 
Military Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan." The paper took it as a given 
that Bin Ladin ^vould continue to act against the United States even while 
under Taliban control. It therefore detailed specific U.S. demands for the Tal- 
iban: surrender Bin Ladin and his chief lieutenants, including Ayman al 
Zawahiri; tell the United States what the Taliban knew about al Qaeda and its 
operations; close all terrorist camps; free all imprisoned foreigners; and comply 
with all UN Security Council resolutions.^^' 

The State Department proposed delivering an ultimatum to the Taliban: 
produce Bin Ladin and his deputies and shut down al Qaeda camps within 24 
to 48 hours, or the United States wiU use all necessary means to destroy the 
terrorist infrastructure. The State Department did not expect the Taliban to 
comply. Therefore, State and Defense would plan to build an international 
coalition to go into Afghanistan. Both departments would consult with NATO 
and other allies and request intelligence, basing, and other support from coun- 
tries, according to their capabilities and resources. Finally, the plan detailed a 
public U.S. stance: America ^vould use all its resources to eliminate terrorism 
as a threat, punish those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, hold states and other 
actors responsible for providing sanctuary to terrorists, work with a coalition 
to eliminate terrorist groups and networks, and avoid malice to^vard any peo- 
ple, religion, or culture.'*! 

President Bush recalled that he quickly realized that the administration 
would have to invade Afghanistan ^vith ground troops. '*- But the early brief- 
ings to the President and Secretary Rumsfeld on military options were disap- 
pointing. '*-' Tommy Franks, the commanding general of Central Command 
(CENTCOM), told us that the President was dissatisfied. The U.S. military, 
Franks said, did not have an off-the-shelf plan to eliminate the al Qaeda threat 
in Afghanistan. The existing Infinite Resolve options did not, in his view, 
amount to such a plan.^"* 

All these diplomatic and military plans ^vere reviewed over the weekend of 
September 15—16, as President Bush convened his war council at Camp 
David. '*5 Present were Vice President Cheney, Rice, Hadley, Powell, Armitage, 
Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Mueller, Tenet, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wol- 
fowitz, and Cofer Black, chief of the DCI's Counterterrorist Center. 

Tenet described a plan for collecting intelligence and mounting covert oper- 
ations. He proposed inserting CIA teams into Afghanistan to work with Afghan 
warlords who would join the fight against al Qaeda. '^'^ These CIA teams would 
act jointly with the military's Special Operations units. President Bush later 
praised this proposal, saying it had been a turning point in his thinking. ^^ 



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WARTIME 333 

General Shelton briefed the principals on the preliminary plan for 
Afghanistan that the military had put together. It dre\¥ on the Infinite Resolve 
"phased campaign" plan the Pentagon had begun developing in November 
2000 as an addition to the strike options it had been refining since 1998. But 
Shelton added a new element — the possible significant use of ground forces — 
and that is where President Bush reportedly focused his attention.^* 

After hearing from his senior advisers, President Bush discussed with Rice 
the contents of the directives he would issue to set all the plans into motion. 
Rice prepared a paper that President Bush then considered with principals 
on Monday morning, September 17. "The purpose of this meeting," he 
recalled saying, "is to assign tasks for the first wave of the war against terror- 
ism. It starts today."'*' 

In a written set of instructions slightly refined during the morning meet- 
ing. President Bush charged Ashcroft, Mueller, and Tenet to develop a plan for 
homeland defense. President Bush directed Secretary of State Powell to 
deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban along the lines that his department had 
originally proposed. The State Department was also tasked to develop a plan 
to stabilize Pakistan and to be prepared to notify Russia and countries near 
Afghanistan when hostilities were imminent. 'o 

In addition, Bush and his advisers discussed new legal authorities for covert 
action in Afghanistan, including the administration's first Memorandum of 
Notification on Bin Ladin. Shortly thereafter. President Bush authorized broad 
new authorities for the CIA.^i 

President Bush instructed Rumsfeld and Shelton to develop further the 
Camp David military plan to attack the Taliban and al Qaeda if the Taliban 
rejected the ultimatum. The President also tasked Rumsfeld to ensure that 
robust measures to protect American military forces against terrorist attack were 
implemented worldwide. Finally, he directed Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill 
to craft a plan to target al Qaeda 's funding and seize its assets. ^2 NSC staff mem- 
bers had begun leading meetings on terrorist fund-raising by September 18.^^ 

Also by September 18, Powell had contacted 58 of his foreign counterparts 
and received offers of general aid, search-and-rescue equipment and person- 
nel, and medical assistance teams. 54 On the same day. Deputy Secretary of State 
Armitage was called by Mahmud Ahmed regarding a two-day visit to 
Afghanistan during ^vhich the Pakistani intelligence chief had met with Mul- 
lah Omar and conveyed the U.S. demands. Omar's response was "not negative 
on all these points."^^ But the administration knew that theTaliban was unlikely 
to turn over Bin Ladin. ^i^ 

The pre-9/11 draft presidential directive on al Qaeda evolved into a new 
directive. National Security Presidential Directive 9, no^v titled "Defeating the 
Terrorist Threat to the United States." The directive would now extend to a 
global war on terrorism, not just on al Qaeda. It also incorporated the Presi- 
dent's determination not to distinguish bet^veen terrorists and those ^vho har- 
bor them. It included a determination to use military force if necessary to end 



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334 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

al Qaeda s sanctuary in Afghanistan. The ne\v directive — formally signed on 
October 25, after the fighting in Afghanistan had already begun — included new 
material follo\ved by annexes discussing each targeted terrorist group. The old 
draft directive on al Qaeda became, in effect, the first annex. ^^ The United 
States would strive to eliminate all terrorist networks, dry up their financial sup- 
port, and prevent them from acquiring ^veapons of mass destruction. The goal 
was the "elimination of terrorism as a threat to our way of life.''^^ 



10.3 "PHASE TWO" AND THE QUESTION OF IRAQ 

President Bush had wondered immediately after the attack whether Saddam 
Hussein s regime might have had a hand in it. Iraq had been an enemy of the 
United States for 1 1 years, and was the only place in the world where the 
United States was engaged in ongoing combat operations. As a former pilot, 
the President was struck by the apparent sophistication of the operation and 
some of the piloting, especially Hanjour's high-speed dive into the Pentagon. 
He told us he recalled Iraqi support for Palestinian suicide terrorists as well. 
Speculating about other possible states that could be involved, the President 
told us he also thought about Iran.^^ 

Clarke has written that on the evening of September 12, President Bush told 
him and some of his staff to explore possible Iraqi links to 9/11. "See if Sad- 
dam did this," Clarke recalls the President telling them. "See if he's linked in any 
way."*^" While he believed the details of Clarke's account to be incorrect, Presi- 
dent Bush acknowledged that he might well have spoken to Clarke at some 
point, asking him about Iraq.<^i 

Responding to a presidential tasking, Clarke's ofHce sent a memo to Rice 
on September 18, titled "Survey of Intelligence Information on Any Iraq 
Involvement in the September 11 Attacks." Rice's chief staffer on Afghanistan, 
Zalmay Khalilzad, concurred in its conclusion that only some anecdotal evi- 
dence linked Iraq to al Qaeda. The memo found no "compelling case" that Iraq 
had either planned or perpetrated the attacks. It passed along a few foreign 
intelligence reports, including the Czech report alleging an April 2001 Prague 
meeting between Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer (discussed in chapter 7) 
and a Polish report that personnel at the headquarters of Iraqi intelligence in 
Baghdad were told before September 11 to go on the streets to gauge crowd 
reaction to an unspecified event. Arguing that the case for links between Iraq 
and al Qaeda was weak, the memo pointed out that Bin Ladin resented the 
secularism of Saddam Hussein's regime. Finally, the memo said, there was no 
confirmed reporting on Saddam cooperating with Bin Ladin on unconven- 
tional weapons. <^- 

On the afternoon of 9/11, according to contemporaneous notes. Secretary 
Rumsfeld instructed General Myers to obtain quickly as much information as 



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WARTIME 335 

possible.The notes indicate that he also told Myers that he \¥as not simply inter- 
ested in striking empty training sites. He thought the U.S. response should con- 
sider a wide range of options and possibilities. The secretary said his instinct 
was to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time — not only Bin Ladin. Secretary 
Rumsfeld later explained that at the time, he had been considering either one 
of them, or perhaps someone else, as the responsible party. '^^ 

According to Rice, the issue of what, if anything, to do about Iraq was really 
engaged at Camp David. Briefing papers on Iraq, along with many others, were 
in briefing materials for the participants. Rice told us the administration was 
concerned that Iraq would take advantage of the 9/11 attacks. She recalled that 
in the first Camp David session chaired by the President, Rumsfeld asked what 
the administration should do about Iraq. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz made the 
case for striking Iraq during "this round" of the war on terrorism.*^ 

A Defense Department paper for the Camp David briefing book on the 
strategic concept for the war on terrorism specified three priority targets for 
initial action: al Qaeda, theTaliban, and Iraq. It argued that of the three, al Qaeda 
and Iraq posed a strategic threat to the United States. Iraq's long-standing 
involvement in terrorism was cited, along with its interest in weapons of mass 
destruction. <^5 

Secretary Powell recalled that Wolfowitz — not Rumsfeld — argued that Iraq 
was ultimately the source of the terrorist problem and should therefore be 
attacked.**^ Powell said that Wolfowitz ^vas not able to justify his belief that Iraq 
was behind 9/11. "Paul ^vas always of the view that Iraq was a problem that 
had to be dealt ^vith," Powell told us. "And he sa\v this as one way of using this 
event as a ^vay to deal ^vith the Iraq problem." Powell said that President Bush 
did not give Wolfowitz's argument "much weight."'^^ Though continuing to 
worry about Iraq in the follo^ving week, Powell said. President Bush saw 
Afghanistan as the priority.^* 

President Bush told Bob Wood^vard that the decision not to invade Iraq was 
made at the morning session on September 15. Iraq was not even on the table 
during the September 15 afternoon session, which dealt solely with 
Afghanistan. 159 Rice said that when President Bush called her on Sunday, Sep- 
tember 16, he said the focus would be on Afghanistan, although he still wanted 
plans for Iraq should the country take some action or the administration even- 
tually determine that it had been involved in the 9/11 attacks. ^o 

At the September 17 NSC meeting, there was some further discussion of 
"phase t^vo" of the ^var on terrorism. ^^ President Bush ordered the Defense 
Department to be ready to deal with Iraq if Baghdad acted against U.S. inter- 
ests, with plans to include possibly occupying Iraqi oil fields. ^- 

Within the Pentagon, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz continued to press the 
case for dealing with Iraq. Writing to Rumsfeld on September 17 in a memo 
headlined "Preventing More Events," he argued that if there was even a 10 per- 
cent chance that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attack, maximum pri- 



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336 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

ority should be placed on eliminating that threat. Wolfowitz contended that 
the odds ^vere "far more" than 1 in 10, citing Saddam's praise for the attack, his 
long record of involvement in terrorism, and theories that RamziYousef was 
an Iraqi agent and Iraq was behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Cen- 
terJ^ The next day, Wolfowitz renewed the argument, writing to Rumsfeld 
about the interest ofYousef s co-conspirator in the 1995 Manila air plot in 
crashing an explosives-laden plane into CIA headquarters, and about informa- 
tion from a foreign government regarding Iraqis' involvement in the attempted 
hijacking of a Gulf Air flight. Given this background, he wondered why so lit- 
tle thought had been devoted to the danger of suicide pilots, seeing a "failure 
of imagination" and a mind-set that dismissed possibilities. ^'^ 

On September 19, Rumsfeld offered several thoughts for his commanders 
as they worked on their contingency plans. Though he emphasized the world- 
wide nature of the conflict, the references to specific enemies or regions named 
only the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Afghanistan. ^^ Shelton told us the administra- 
tion reviewed all the Pentagon's \var plans and challenged certain assumptions 
underlying them, as any prudent organization or leader should do.^* 

General Tommy Franks, the commanding general of Central Command, 
recalled receiving Rumsfeld's guidance that each regional commander should 
assess ^vhat these plans meant for his area of responsibility. He knew he would 
soon be striking the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. But, he told us, he 
now wondered how that action was connected to what might need to be done 
in Somalia, Yemen, or Iraq.^^ 

On September 20, President Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony 
Blair, and the two leaders discussed the global conflict ahead. When Blair asked 
about Iraq, the President replied that Iraq ^vas not the immediate problem. 
Some members of his administration, he commented, had expressed a differ- 
ent vie^v, but he was the one responsible for making the decisions. ^^ 

Franks told us that he was pushing independently to do more robust plan- 
ning on military responses in Iraq during the summer before 9/11 — a request 
President Bush denied, arguing that the time was not right. (CENTCOM also 
began dusting off plans for a fuU invasion of Iraq during this period, Franks 
said.) The CENTCOM commander told us he renewed his appeal for further 
military planning to respond to Iraqi moves shortly after 9/11, both because 
he personally felt that Iraq and al Qaeda might be engaged in some form of 
collusion and because he worried that Saddam might take advantage of the 
attacks to move against his internal enemies in the northern or southern parts 
of Iraq, where the United States was flying regular missions to enforce Iraqi 
no-fly zones. Franks said that President Bush again turned down the request.^' 



Having issued directives to guide his administration's preparations for 
war, on Thursday, September 20, President Bush addressed the nation before a 
joint session of Congress. "Tonight," he said, "we are a country awakened to 



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WARTIME 337 

danger."80 The President blamed al Qaeda for 9/11 and the 1998 embassy 
bombings and, for the first time, declared that al Qaeda was "responsible for 
bombing the USS Cokr^^ He reiterated the ultimatum that had already been 
conveyed privately. "The Taliban must act, and act immediately," he said. "They 
will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate."^- The President 
added that America's quarrel was not with Islam: "The enemy of America is 
not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is 
a radical net\vork of terrorists, and every government that supports them." 
Other regimes faced hard choices, he pointed out: "Every nation, in every 
region, now has a decision to make: Either you are with us, or you are with the 
terrorists."^-' 

President Bush argued that the new war went beyond Bin Ladin. "Our ^var 
on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there," he said. "It ^vill not 
end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and 
defeated."The President had a message for the Pentagon: "The hour is com- 
ing when America will act, and you wiU make us proud." He also had a mes- 
sage for those outside the United States. "This is civilization's fight," he said. 
"We ask every nation to join us."^'^ 

President Bush approved military plans to attack Afghanistan in meetings 
with Central Command's General Franks and other advisers on September 21 
and October 2. Originally titled "Infinite Justice," the operation's code word 
was changed — to avoid the sensibilities of Muslims ^vho associate the po^ver of 
infinite justice with God alone — to the operational name still used for opera- 
tions in Afghanistan: "Enduring Freedom."*^ 

The plan had four phases. 

• In Phase One, the United States and its allies would move forces into 
the region and arrange to operate from or over neighboring coun- 
tries such as Uzbekistan and Pakistan. This occurred in the weeks fol- 
lowing 9/H, aided by overwhelming international sympathy for the 
United States. 

• In Phase Two, air strikes and Special Operations attacks would hit key 
al Qaeda and Taliban targets. In an innovative joint effort, CIA and 
Special Operations forces would be deployed to work together \vith 
each major Afghan faction opposed to the Taliban. The Phase Two 
strikes and raids began on October 7. The basing arrangements con- 
templated for Phase One were substantially secured — after arduous 
effort — by the end of that month. 

• In Phase Three, the United States ^vould carry out "decisive operations" 
using all elements of national power, including ground troops, to top- 
ple the Taliban regime and eliminate al Qaeda's sanctuary in 
Afghanistan. Mazar-e-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, fell to a coali- 
tion assault by Afghan and U.S. forces on November 9. Four days later 
the Taliban had fled from Kabul. By early December, all major cities 



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338 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

had fallen to the coalition. On December 22, Haniid Karzai, a Pash- 
tun leader from Kandahar, was installed as the chairman of 
Afghanistan's interim administration. Afghanistan had been liberated 
from the rule of the Taliban. 

In December 2001, Afghan forces, -with limited U.S. support, engaged al 
Qaeda elements in a cave complex called Tora Bora. In March 2002, the largest 
engagement of the war was fought, in the mountainous Shah-i-Kot area south 
of Gardez, against a large force of al Qaeda jihadists. The three-week battle was 
substantially successful, and almost all remaining al Qaeda forces took refuge 
in Pakistan's equally mountainous and lightly governed frontier provinces. As 
of July 2004, Bin Ladin and Zawahiri are still believed to be at large. 

• In Phase Four, civilian and military operations turned to the indefinite 
task of what the armed forces call "security and stability operations." 

Within about t^vo months of the start of combat operations, several hun- 
dred CIA operatives and Special Forces soldiers, backed by the striking power 
of U.S. aircraft and a much larger infrastructure of intelligence and support 
efforts, had combined ^vith Afghan militias and a small number of other coali- 
tion soldiers to destroy the Taliban regime and disrupt al Qaeda. They had killed 
or captured about a quarter of the enemy's kno\vn leaders. Mohammed Atef, 
al Qaeda 's military commander and a principal figure in the 9/11 plot, had been 
killed by a U.S. air strike. According to a senior CIA officer who helped devise 
the overall strategy, the CIA provided intelligence, experience, cash, covert 
action capabilities, and entree to tribal allies. In turn, the U.S. military offered 
combat expertise, firepower, logistics, and communications.^* With these ini- 
tial victories won by the middle of 2002, the global conflict against Islamist ter- 
rorism became a different kind of struggle. 



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11 

FORESIGHT— AND HINDSIGHT 



In composing this narrative, we have tried to remember that we write 
with the benefit and the handicap of hindsight. Hindsight can sometimes see 
the past clearly — ^with 20/20 vision. But the path of ^vhat happened is so 
brightly lit that it places everything else more deeply into shadow. Comment- 
ing on Pearl Harbor, Roberta Wo hlstetter found it "much easier after the event 
to sort the relevant from the irrelevant signals. After the event, of course, a sig- 
nal is always crystal clear; we can now see what disaster it was signaling since 
the disaster has occurred. But before the event it is obscure and pregnant ^vith 
conflicting meanings."' 

As time passes, more documents become available, and the bare facts of what 
happened become still clearer. Yet the picture of how those things happened 
becomes harder to reimagine, as that past world, with its preoccupations and 
uncertainty, recedes and the remaining memories of it become colored by what 
happened and what was written about it later. With that caution in mind, we 
asked ourselves, before we judged others, whether the insights that seem appar- 
ent now \vould really have been meaningful at the time, given the limits of what 
people then could reasonably have kno^vn or done. 

We believe the 9/11 attacks revealed four kinds of failures: in imagination, 
policy, capabilities, and management. 



11.1 IMAGINATION 

Historical Perspective 

The 9/11 attack was an event of surpassing disproportion. America had suf- 
fered surprise attacks before — Pearl Harbor is one well-known case, the 1950 
Chinese attack in Korea another. But these \vere attacks by major pow^ers. 

While by no means as threatening as Japans act of war, the 9/11 attack was 
in some ways more devastating. It was carried out by a tiny group of people, 

339 



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340 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

not enough to man a full platoon. Measured on a governmental scale, the 
resources behind it were trivial. The group itself was dispatched by an organi- 
zation based in one of the poorest, most remote, and least industrialized coun- 
tries on earth. This organization recruited a mixture of young fanatics and 
highly educated zealots who could not find suitable places in their home soci- 
eties or were driven from them. 

To understand these events, we attempted to reconstruct some of the con- 
text of the 1990s. Americans celebrated the end of the Cold War \vith a mix- 
ture of relief and satisfaction. The people of the United States hoped to enjoy 
a peace dividend, as U.S. spending on national security was cut following the 
end of the Soviet military threat. 

The United States emerged into the post— Cold War world as the globe's pre- 
eminent military power. But the vacuum created by the sudden demise of the 
Soviet Union created fresh sources of instability and new challenges for the 
United States. President George H.W Bush dealt with the first of these in 1990 
and 1991 when he led an international coalition to reverse Iraq's invasion of 
Kuwait. Other examples of U.S. leaders' handling new threats included the 
removal of nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan; the 
Nunn-Lugar threat reduction program to help contain new nuclear dangers; 
and international involvement in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. 

America stood out as an object for admiration, envy, and blame. This cre- 
ated a kind of cultural asymmetry. To us, Afghanistan seemed very far away. To 
members of al Qaeda, America seemed very close. In a sense, they were more 
globalized than we ^vere. 

Understanding the Danger 

If the government's leaders understood the gravity of the threat they faced and 
understood at the same time that their policies to eliminate it ^vere not likely 
to succeed any time soon, then history's judgment will be harsh. Did they 
understand the gravity of the threat? 

The U.S. government responded vigorously when the attack was on our 
soil. Both RamziYousef, who organized the 1993 bombing of the World Trade 
Center, and Mir Amal Kansi, who in 1993 killed two CIA employees as they 
waited to go to work in LangleyVirginia, were the objects of relentless, uncom- 
promising, and successful efforts to bring them back to the United States to 
stand trial for their crimes. 

Before 9/11, al Qaeda and its afHliates had killed fewer than 50 Americans, 
including the East Africa embassy bombings and the Cole attack. The U.S. gov- 
ernment took the threat seriously, but not in the sense of mustering anything 
like the kind of effort that would be gathered to confront an enemy of the first, 
second, or even third rank. The modest national effort exerted to contain Ser- 
bia and its depredations in the Balkans between 1995 and 1999, for example, 
was orders of magnitude larger than that devoted to al Qaeda. 



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FORESIGHT— AND HINDSIGHT 341 

As best we can determine, neither in 2000 nor in the first eight months of 
2001 did any polling organization in the United States think the subject of ter- 
rorism sufficiently on the minds of the public to -warrant asking a question 
about it in a major national survey. Bin Ladin, al Qaeda, or even terrorism was 
not an important topic in the 2000 presidential campaign. Congress and the 
media called little attention to it. 

If a president wanted to rally the American people to a warlike effort, he 
would need to publicize an assessment of the growing al Qaeda danger. Our 
government could spark a full public discussion of who Usama Bin Ladin was, 
what kind of organization he led, what Bin Ladin or al Qaeda intended, what 
past attacks they had sponsored or encouraged, and what capabilities they were 
bringing together for future assaults. We believe American and international 
public opinion might have been different — and so might the range of options 
for a president — had they been informed of these details. Recent examples of 
such debates include calls to arms against such threats as Serbian ethnic cleans- 
ing, biological attacks, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, global climate 
change, and the HIV /AIDS epidemic. 

While we now know that al Qaeda was formed in 1988, at the end of the 
Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the intelligence community did not describe 
this organization, at least in documents we have seen, until 1999. A National 
Intelligence Estimate distributed in July 1995 predicted future terrorist attacks 
against the United States — and in the United States. It warned that this dan- 
ger would increase over the next several years. It specified as particular points 
of vulnerability the White House, the Capitol, symbols of capitalism such as 
Wall Street, critical infrastructure such as power grids, areas where people con- 
gregate such as sports arenas, and civil aviation generally. It warned that the 
1993 World Trade Center bombing had been intended to kill a lot of people, 
not to achieve any more traditional political goal. 

This 1995 estimate described the greatest danger as "transient groupings of 
individuals" that lacked "strong organization but rather are loose affiliations." 
They operate "outside traditional circles but have access to a worldwide net- 
work of training facilities and safehavens."- This was an excellent summary of 
the emerging danger, based on what was then known. 

In 1996—1997, the intelligence community received new information mak- 
ing clear that Bin Ladin headed his own terrorist group, with its own target- 
ing agenda and operational commanders. Also revealed was the previously 
unknown involvement of Bin Ladin s organization in the 1992 attack on a 
Yemeni hotel quartering U.S. military personnel, the 1993 shootdown of U.S. 
Army Black Hawk helicopters in Somalia, and quite possibly the 1995 Riyadh 
bombing of the American training mission to the Saudi National Guard. 

The 1997 update of the 1995 estimate did not discuss the new intelligence. 
It did state that the terrorist danger depicted in 1995 would persist. In the 
updates summary of key points, the only reference to Bin Ladin was this sen- 



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342 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

tence:"Iran and its surrogates, as well as terrorist financier Usania Bin Ladin and 
his followers, have stepped up their threats and surveillance of US facilities 
abroad in what also may be a portent of possible additional attacks in the United 
States."' Bin Ladin was mentioned in only t^vo other sentences in the sbc-page 
report.The al Qaeda organization was not mentioned. The 1997 update was the 
last national estimate on the terrorism danger completed before 9/11.* 

From 1998 to 2001, a number of very good analytical papers were distrib- 
uted on specific topics. These included Bin Ladin's political philosophy, his 
command of a global network, analysis of information from terrorists captured 
in Jordan in December 1999, al Qaeda s operational style, and the evolving goals 
of the Islamist extremist movement. Many classified articles for morning brief- 
ings were prepared for the highest ofliicials in the government with titles such 
as "Bin Ladin Threatening to Attack US Aircraft [^vith antiaircraft missiles]" 
(June 1998), "Strains Surface Between Taliban and Bin Ladin" (January 1999), 
"Terrorist Threat to US Interests in Caucasus" (June 1999), "Bin Ladin to 
Exploit Looser Security During Holidays" (December 1999), "Bin Ladin Evad- 
ing Sanctions" (March 2000), "Bin Ladin's Interest in Biological, Radiological 
Weapons" (February 2001), "Taliban Holding Firm on Bin Ladin for Now" 
(March 2001), "Terrorist Groups Said Cooperating on US Hostage Plot" (May 
2001), and "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in the US" (August 2001).* 

Despite such reports and a 1999 paper on Bin Ladin's command structure 
for al Qaeda, there were no complete portraits of his strategy or of the extent 
of his organization's involvement in past terrorist attacks. Nor had the intelli- 
gence community provided an authoritative depiction of his organization's 
relationships with other governments, or the scale of the threat his organiza- 
tion posed to the United States. 

Though Deputy DCI John McLaughlin said to us that the cumulative out- 
put of the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) "dramatically eclipsed" any analy- 
sis that could have appeared in a fresh National Intelligence Estimate, he 
conceded that most of the ^vork of the Center's 30- to 40-person analytic 
group dealt \vith collection issues.' In late 2000, DCI George Tenet recognized 
the deficiency of strategic analysis against al Qaeda. To tackle the problem 
within the CTC he appointed a senior manager, who briefed him in March 
2001 on"creating a strategic assessment capability."The CTC established a new 
strategic assessments branch during July 2001. The decision to add about ten 
analysts to this effort was seen as a major bureaucratic victory, but the CTC 
labored to find them. The new chief of this branch reported for duty on Sep- 
tember 10,2001.' 

Whatever the weaknesses in the CIA's portraiture, both Presidents Bill Clin- 
ton and George Bush and their top advisers told us they got the picture — they 
understood Bin Ladin was a danger. But given the character and pace of their 
policy efforts, we do not believe they fully understood just how many people 



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FORESIGHT— AND HINDSIGHT 343 

al Qaeda might kill, and how soon it might do it. At some level that is hard to 
define, we believe the threat had not yet become compelling. 

It is hard no^v to recapture the conventional wisdom before 9/11. For exam- 
ple, a New York Times article in April 1999 sought to debunk claims that Bin 
Ladin was a terrorist leader, with the headline "U.S. Hard Put to Find Proof 
Bin Laden Directed Attacks."* The head of analysis at the CTC until 1999 dis- 
counted the alarms about a catastrophic threat as relating only to the danger of 
chemical, biological, or nuclear attack — and he downplayed even that, writing 
several months before 9/11: "It would be a mistake to redefine counterterror- 
ism as a task of dealing with 'catastrophic,"grand,' or 'super' terrorism, when in 
fact these labels do not represent most of the terrorism that the United States 
is likely to face or most of the costs that terrorism imposes on U.S. interests."' 

Beneath the ackno^vledgnlent that Bin Ladin and al Qaeda presented seri- 
ous dangers, there was uncertainty among senior officials about ^vhether this 
was just a new and especially venomous version of the ordinary terrorist threat 
America had lived ^vith for decades, or was radically new, posing a threat 
beyond any yet experienced. Such differences affect calculations about 
whether or how to go to war. 

Therefore, those government experts who saw Bin Ladin as an unprece- 
dented new danger needed a way to win broad support for their views, or at 
least spotlight the areas of dispute, and perhaps prompt action across the gov- 
ernment.The national estimate has often played this role, and is sometimes con- 
troversial for this very reason.'" Such assessments, which provoke ^videspread 
thought and debate, have a major impact on their recipients, often in a wider 
circle of decisionmakers. The National Intelligence Estimate is noticed in the 
Congress, for example. But, as we have said, none ^vas produced on terrorism 
between 1997 and 9/11. 

By 2001 the government still needed a decision at the highest level as to 
whether al Qaeda was or was not "a first order threat," Richard Clarke wrote 
in his first memo to Condoleezza Rice on January 25, 2001. In his blistering 
protest about foot-dragging in the Pentagon and at the CIA, sent to Rice just 
a week before 9/1 1, he repeated that the "real question" for the principals was 
"are ^ve serious about dealing with the al Qida threat? . . . Is al Qida a big deal?" 

One school of thought, Clarke wrote in this September 4 note, implicitly 
argued that the terrorist network was a nuisance that killed a score of Ameri- 
cans every 18—24 months. If that view ^vas credited, then current policies might 
be proportionate. Another school saw al Qaeda as the "point of the spear of 
radical Islam." But no one forced the argument into the open by calling for a 
national estimate or a broader discussion of the threat. The issue was never 
joined as a collective debate by the U.S. government, including the Congress, 
before 9/11. 

We return to the issue of proportion — and imagination. Even Clarke's note 



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344 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

challenging Rice to imagine the day after an attack posits a strike that kills 
"hundreds" of Americans. He did not -write "thousands." 

Institutionalizing Imagination: 
The Case of Aircraft as Weapons 

Imagination is not a gift usually associated -with bureaucracies. For example, 
before Pearl Harbor the U.S. government had excellent intelligence that a 
Japanese attack \vas coming, especially after peace talks stalemated at the end 
of November 1941. These were days, one historian notes, of "excruciating 
uncertainty." The most likely targets were judged to be in Southeast Asia. An 
attack was coming, "but officials were at a loss to know where the blow would 
fall or what more might be done to prevent it."" In retrospect, available inter- 
cepts pointed to Japanese examination of Hawaii as a possible target. But, 
another historian observes,"in the face of a clear warning, alert measures bowed 
to routine."'- 

It is therefore crucial to find a way of routinizing, even bureaucratizing, the 
exercise of imagination. Doing so requires more than finding an expert who can 
imagine that aircraft could be used as weapons. Indeed, since al Qaeda and other 
groups had already used suicide vehicles, namely truck bombs, the leap to the use 
of other vehicles such as boats (the Cole attack) or planes is not far-fetched. 

Yet these scenarios were slow to work their way into the thinking of avia- 
tion security experts. In 1996, as a result of the TWA Flight 800 crash. Presi- 
dent Clinton created a commission under Vice President Al Gore to report on 
shortcomings in aviation security in the United States. The Gore Commission's 
report, having thoroughly canvassed available expertise in and outside of gov- 
ernment, did not mention suicide hijackings or the use of aircraft as weapons. 
It focused mainly on the danger of placing bombs onto aircraft — the approach 
of the Manila air plot. The Gore Commission did call attention, however, to 
lax screening of passengers and what they carried onto planes. 

In late 1998, reports came in of a possible al Qaeda plan to hijack a plane. 
One, a December 4 Presidential Daily Briefing for President Clinton (reprinted 
in chapter 4), brought the focus back to more traditional hostage taking; it 
reported Bin Ladin's involvement in planning a hijack operation to free prison- 
ers such as the "Blind Sheikh," Omar Abdel Rahman. Had the contents of this 
PDB been brought to the attention of a wider group, including key members 
of Congress, it might have brought much more attention to the need for per- 
manent changes in domestic airport and airline security procedures.'' 

Threat reports also mentioned the possibility of using an aircraft filled with 
explosives. The most prominent of these mentioned a possible plot to fly an 
explosives-laden aircraft into a U.S. city. This report, circulated in September 
1998, originated from a source who had walked into an American consulate 
in East Asia. In August of the same year, the intelligence community had 
received information that a group of Libyans hoped to crash a plane into the 



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FORESIGHT— AND HINDSIGHT 345 

World Trade Center. In neither case could the information be corroborated. 
In addition, an Algerian group hijacked an airliner in 1994, most likely intend- 
ing to blow it up over Paris, but possibly to crash it into the Eiffel To\ver." 

In 1994, a private airplane had crashed onto the south la^vn of the White 
House. In early 1995, Abdul Hakim Murad — RamziYousef s accomplice in the 
Manila airlines bombing plot — told Philippine authorities that he andYousef 
had discussed flying a plane into CIA headquarters."" 

Clarke had been concerned about the danger posed by aircraft since at least 
the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. There he had tried to create an air defense plan 
using assets from the Treasury Department, after the Defense Department 
declined to contribute resources. The Secret Service continued to work on the 
problem of airborne threats to the Washington region. In 1998, Clarke chaired 
an exercise designed to highlight the inadequacy of the solution. This paper 
exercise involved a scenario in which a group of terrorists commandeered a 
Learjet on the ground in Atlanta, loaded it with explosives, and flew it toward 
a target in Washington, DC. Clarke asked officials from the Pentagon, Federal 
Aviation Administration (FAA), and Secret Service \vhat they could do about 
the situation. Officials from the Pentagon said they could scramble aircraft from 
Langley Air Force Base, but they ^vould need to go to the President for rules 
of engagement, and there was no mechanism to do so. There was no clear res- 
olution of the problem at the exercise." 

In late 1999, a great deal of discussion took place in the media about the 
crash off the coast of Massachusetts of EgyptAir Flight 990, a Boeing 767. The 
most plausible explanation that emerged ^vas that one of the pilots had gone 
berserk, seized the controls, and flown the aircraft into the sea. After the 
1999—2000 millennium alerts, when the nation had relaxed, Clarke held a 
meeting of his Counterterrorism Security Group devoted largely to the pos- 
sibility of a possible airplane hijacking by al Qaeda." 

In his testimony, Clarke commented that he thought that warning about the 
possibility of a suicide hijacking would have been just one more speculative 
theory among many, hard to spot since the volume of warnings of "al Qaeda 
threats and other terrorist threats, was in the tens of thousands — probably hun- 
dreds of thousands." "Yet the possibility was imaginable, and imagined. In early 
August 1999, the FAA's Civil Aviation Security intelligence ofliice summarized 
the Bin Ladin hijacking threat. After a solid recitation of all the information 
available on this topic, the paper identified a few principal scenarios, one of 
which was a "suicide hijacking operation." The FAA analysts judged such an 
operation unlikely, because "it does not offer an opportunity for dialogue to 
achieve the key goal of obtaining Rahman and other key captive extremists. 
. . .A suicide hijacking is assessed to be an option of last resort."" 

Analysts could have shed some light on \vhat kind of "opportunity for dia- 
logue" al Qaeda desired."" The CIA did not ^vrite any analytical assessments of 
possible hijacking scenarios. 



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346 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

One prescient pre-9/11 analysis of an aircraft plot was written by a Justice 
Department trial attorney. The attorney had taken an interest, apparently on 
his own initiative, in the legal issues that would be involved in shooting down 
a U.S. aircraft in such a situation.-' 

The North American Aerospace Defense Command imagined the possible 
use of aircraft as weapons, too, and developed exercises to counter such a 
threat — from planes coming to the United States from overseas, perhaps car- 
rying a weapon of mass destruction. None of this speculation was based on 
actual intelligence of such a threat. One idea, intended to test command and 
control plans and NORAD s readiness, postulated a hijacked airliner coming 
from overseas and crashing into the Pentagon. The idea was put aside in the 
early planning of the exercise as too much of a distraction from the main focus 
(war in Korea), and as too unrealistic. As ^ve pointed out in chapter 1, the mil- 
itary planners assumed that since such aircraft would be coming from overseas; 
they would have time to identify the target and scramble interceptors." 

We can therefore establish that at least some government agencies were con- 
cerned about the hijacking danger and had speculated about various scenar- 
ios. The challenge was to flesh out and test those scenarios, then figure out a 
way to turn a scenario into constructive action. 

Since the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941, the intelligence community has 
devoted generations of effort to understanding the problem of forestalling a sur- 
prise attack. Rigorous analytic methods ^vere developed, focused in particular 
on the Soviet Union, and several leading practitioners within the intelligence 
community discussed them \vith us. These methods have been articulated in 
many ways, but almost all seem to have at least four elements in common: (1) 
think about how surprise attacks might be launched; (2) identify telltale indi- 
cators connected to the most dangerous possibilities; (3) where feasible, collect 
intelligence on these indicators; and (4) adopt defenses to deflect the most dan- 
gerous possibilities or at least trigger an earlier warning. 

After the end of the Gulf War, concerns about lack of \varning led to a major 
study conducted for DCI Robert Gates in 1992 that proposed several recom- 
mendations, among them strengthening the national intelligence officer for 
warning.We \vere told that these measures languished under Gates's successors. 
Responsibility for ^varning related to a terrorist attack passed from the national 
intelligence officer for warning to the CTC. An Intelligence Community 
Counterterrorisni Board had the responsibility to issue threat advisories.-^ 

With the important exception of analysis of al Qaeda efforts in chemical, 
biological, radiological, and nuclear \veapons, we did not find evidence that the 
methods to avoid surprise attack that had been so laboriously developed over 
the years were regularly applied. 

Considering what was not done suggests possible ways to institutionalize 
imagination. To return to the four elements of analysis just mentioned: 



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FORESIGHT— AND HINDSIGHT 347 

1. The CTC did not analyze how an aircraft, hijacked or explosives- 
laden, might be used as a ^veapon. It did not perform this kind of 
analysis from the enemy's perspective ("red team" analysis), even 
though suicide terrorism had become a principal tactic of Middle 
Eastern terrorists. If it had done so, ^ve believe such an analysis would 
soon have spotlighted a critical constraint for the terrorists — finding 
a suicide operative able to fly large jet aircraft. They had never done 
so before 9/11. 

2. The CTC did not develop a set of telltale indicators for this method 
of attack. For example, one such indicator might be the discovery of 
possible terrorists pursuing flight training to fly large jet aircraft, or 
seeking to buy advanced flight simulators. 

3. The CTC did not propose, and the intelligence c