were no alerts, no increased security, no warnings. An ABCNEWS
investigation of the failure of intelligence on Sept. 11 has found a
trail of missed signals, missed opportunities, and warnings ignored.
There were warnings about the possibility of an airborne
terrorist attack on U.S. targets as early as 1994, when terrorism
expert Marvin Cetron underlined the threat in a report to the
"We saw Osama bin Laden. We spelled it out and we said the United
States was very vulnerable," Cetron told ABCNEWS. "You could make a
left turn at the Washington Monument and take out the White House.
And you could make a right turn and take out the Pentagon."
Cetron said he warned the Pentagon that two events earlier that
year — the crash-landing of a small airplane at the White House by
an apparently unstable man, and French authorities' storming of a
hijacked airliner that Algerian terrorists had planned to fly into
the Eiffel Tower — made an airborne terrorist attack on the United
States a very real possibility. "We knew that was going happen and
we were scared," he told ABCNEWS.
But Cetron said Pentagon officials told him to delete the warning
from the report. "I said, 'It's unclassified, everything is
available,' and they said, 'We don't want it released because you
can't handle a crisis before it becomes a crisis, and no one is
going to believe it anyhow,' " Cetron said. Even with the warnings
of an airborne attack deleted, the report was not released to the
Aversion to Risk
Four years later, in 1998, U.S. authorities faced a terrorist
crisis with the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania. The United States accused bin Laden of involvement, and
Congress and the Clinton administration commissioned two new reports
Both of the reports rang alarm bells, but little was done.
The reports noted that the United States had virtually no human
intelligence sources inside groups like bin Laden's al Qaeda.
"We found that over the years both the overseas intelligence
community, and at home the FBI had developed a risk aversion," said
Paul Bremer, chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism, which
released its report in 2000.
An aversion to risk meant that the CIA failed to penetrate al
Qaeda with a single agent, according to U.S. intelligence sources.
The reports criticized Clinton administration guidelines
restricting U.S. intelligence agencies from hiring informants with
questionable human rights records.
"You don't get too many monks or nuns to get information for the
CIA," said former Sen. Warren Rudman, who co-chaired the U.S.
Commission on National Security, which submitted its report to
Congress in three parts, beginning in June 2000. "There are some
pretty rotten people, some of them with pretty bad records. But if
they had the information that would protect our national security,
we damn well should have used them."
Critics say the United States was too dependent on satellites and
other high-tech means to gather intelligence on bin Laden's network,
and that there was a shortage of people to translate and analyze the
vast amounts of data.
For example, ABCNEWS has learned that shortly before Sept. 11,
NSA intercepts detected multiple phone calls from Abu Zubaida, bin
Laden's chief of operations, to the United States. The intercepts
were never passed on.
"We do have a joint antiterrorism center, and that is a failure
of information consolidation and analysis," said Rudman. "It
obviously (a) wasn't consolidated and (b) wasn't analyzed. I mean,
those are serious shortcomings."
After the Fact
All three reports recognized the shortcomings and made
recommendations including closer monitoring of student visas, the
creation of a homeland security office, the freezing of financial
assets that supported terrorism, and more coordination between the
CIA and the FBI on intelligence.
But, the reports' authors say, their recommendations went largely
Bremer said that no action was taken on any of his commission's
recommendations — until the attacks on the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon: "Interestingly, since Sept. 11 almost every one of our
recommendations has either been enacted by the executive branch or
been put into law by Congress, which suggests that we probably had a
pretty good menu of things to do before Sept. 11."