the information was not translated until after the attacks because
agency officials were too swamped and overwhelmed with data, sources
told ABCNEWS. This is the first reported intelligence information
that referred specifically to Sept. 11 as a time for the attack.
Part of the problem, sources said, is that the agency, which
coordinates, directs, and engages in specialized activities to
protect U.S. information systems and produce foreign intelligence
information, gets millions of pieces of information, and does not
have enough analysts to search through it all and interpret it.
Unfortunately, the Sept. 11 attacks illustrated that problem.
Some government officials downplayed the significance of this
revelation to ABCNEWS, saying they get specific dates frequently in
their intelligence gathering, and that this information was not
specific as to place or mode of attack.
However, one source told ABCNEWS the information National
Security Agency officials received was the kind of thing that might
have prompted an alert, if it had been known to parts of the law
enforcement and intelligence communities.
Latest Pre-Sept. 11 Failure
The revelation is yet another example of how the U.S.
intelligence apparatus uncovered hints of the Sept. 11 attacks, but
failed to use them.
Sources told ABCNEWS earlier this week that the CIA knew that two
of the Sept. 11 hijackers met with al Qaeda operatives in Malaysia
in January 2000 — more than 18 months before the attacks — but
apparently did not convince the FBI to track them until less than
three weeks before the attacks.
FBI agents were searching for the two suspected hijackers — Nawaf
Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar — in New York on Sept. 10.
And the FBI is still reeling from revelations of missed signals
uncovered by field agents but ignored by headquarters.
An agent in Phoenix warned headquarters to investigate flight
schools nationwide after he uncovered several students he suspected
of links to terrorism. Then agents in Minneapolis tried to get a
national security search warrant to examine the possessions of
Zacarias Moussaoui, who has since been accused as the "20th
hijacker", but were thwarted. Information in his computer and
property included airplane plans and apparent links to terrorists,
sources have said.
Such failures were the focus of hearings on Capitol Hill
Wednesday and Thursday.
Consolidated Agency to Combat Terror
Perhaps in response to the questions surrounding the handling of
pre-Sept. 11 warning signs, President Bush proposed creating a new
Department of Homeland Security that would consolidate functions of
several federal agencies to better combat terror at home. Bush urged
Congress to support the creation of the agency, saying his purpose
was not to increase the size of government but to increase its focus
and effectiveness in the war on terrorism.
Bush's proposal marks a change in approach on combating terrorism
at home. Soon after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, he created the
Office of Homeland Security to coordinate the government's approach
to domestic security and his goal was to avoid turning the office
into a Cabinet position despite calls from lawmakers. One reason
Bush wanted to keep homeland security out of the Cabinet was to
provide some buffer against congressional questioning.
In the end, however, administration sources said, Bush decided a
Cabinet position was the best way to change the government's
approach to defense at home.
Reported by ABCNEWS' Pierre Thomas and Martha
Raddatz in Washington, D.C.