How the FBI Failed America on 9/11
And learned nothing from the experience.
“That attack, that siege was criminal behavior, plain and simple and this behavior that we, the FBI view as domestic terrorism. It’s got no place in our democracy and tolerating it would make a mockery of our nation's rule of law.”
That was FBI director Christopher Wray, in his first testimony to Congress after the January 6 riot. The “domestic terrorism” description invites a look back at the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history, perpetrated from within the country. With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 coming up in September, and al Qaeda again calling for the murder of Americans, the nation might wonder why the mighty Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to prevent the massive attack that claimed 3,000 lives and inflicted suffering that endures to this day.
“September 11, 2001, was a day of unprecedented shock and suffering in the history of the United States,” proclaimed The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. “The nation was unprepared,” notes the 2004 report, including an agency that should have been the best prepared, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Trouble was, as the report notes, the FBI could not share any intelligence with criminal investigators, even if no FISA procedures had been used. So relevant information “often failed to make its way to criminal investigators.” In similar style, the intelligence unit of the Federal Aviation Administration failed to receive the “broad range of intelligence data” from the FBI, CIA and other agencies.
FBI assessments of “the potential use of flight training by terrorists” and warnings of “radical Middle Easterners attending flight school,” were not passed on to FAA headquarters. FAA administrators called it a “serious blind spot.”
According to The 911 Commission Report, the FBI did not produce the kind of intelligence reports other agencies disseminated, and its usual practice was to withhold reports and say little about investigations. FBI field offices “never used the information to gain a systematic or strategic understanding of the nature and extent of al Qaeda fundraising.”
In the spring of 2001 reports of potential attacks on U.S. facilities, personnel and interests increased dramatically. On April 13, The FBI sent a message on Sunni extremism to all field offices, but did not suggest a domestic threat.
In May 2001, reports warned of possible attacks by the bin Laden network in London, Boston and New York. According to the report, FBI counterterrorism boss Dale Watson had only two people looking at threats from bin Laden.
In July 2001, an FBI agent in Phoenix sent a memo to FBI headquarters about the possibility of bin Laden’s efforts to send students to U.S. aviation schools. “His recommendations were not acted on,” the report explains, and no managers saw his memo before 9/11. On July 4, two days after a CIA-FBI meeting in New York, terrorist Khalid Mihdhar, new U.S. visa in hand, flew to that city. According to the report, “no one was looking for him.”
Terrorist Zacarias Mouassoui had no qualifications for flight training on Pan Am’s Boeing 747 simulators. Mouassaoui was prevented from further training but FBI headquarters believed there was “insufficient cause” to search his laptop computer. An FBI agent in Minneapolis said he was “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing it into the World Trade Center.” Officials at FBI headquarters said that was not going to happen and they did not know if Mouassaoi was a terrorist.
As the report reveals, terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (KSM), wanted to hijack 10 airplanes with targets on both coasts, including CIA and FBI headquarters and the tallest building in California. KSM and Osama bin Laden were doubtless delighted with what they got on September 11, 2001.
“The domestic agencies never mobilized in response to the threat,” The 9/11 Commission Report concludes. “They didn’t have a plan,” and “the public was not warned.” The FBI Inspector General contributed to the report, so FBI incompetence was doubtless worse than indicated. No word about any FBI bosses losing their jobs over the failure, and the FBI appears to have learned little or nothing about Islamic terrorism.
In 2009, American-born Muslim Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was communicating with al Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki about killing Americans. The FBI was monitoring the communications but dropped the investigation and did nothing to stop Hasan from murdering 13 American soldiers and wounding more than 30 others, at Fort Hood, Texas, on November 5, 2009. See the testimony in Lessons from Fort Hood for details.
The FBI failed to stop Islamic terrorists Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik from murdering 14 people in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2019. The FBI believed Omar Mateen was not a threat, and did nothing to stop the Islamic State supporter from murdering 49 people in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016. That year, the FBI was busy with other operations.
The FBI launched the Midyear Exam operation to keep Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. The FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane operation targeted candidate and President Trump. As Julie Kelly recalls, the FBI framed Gen. Michael Flynn, misled the FISA court, doctored correspondence, and used a fake dossier against President Trump and his allies. In the style of the Soviet KGB, politicians point out the man and the FBI creates the crime.
Like Robert Mueller and James Comey, Christopher Wray was never an FBI agent and has no record of preventing terrorism. Wray has reverted to the policy of the composite character David Garrow charted in Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. He purged the FBI of material on Islamic terrorism and targeted people dedicated to bourgeois trifles such as the Constitution, limited government, and individual rights.
With these Americans targeted and Islamic jihadists ignored, the FBI will have no more success at stopping actual terrorism than they did before September 11, 2001. Twenty years later, conditions favor the jihadists.
“It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country,” explains 9/11 and Terrorist Travel: Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. With Biden opening up the border, terrorists will not even need the visas they so easily procured before 9/11.
The latest issue of al Qaeda’s online magazine, titled “Praise and Guidance,” urges “attacks against the American enemy, whether inside its homeland, which is preferred, or outside.” For the best success, “try to always choose a location where it is hard for those gathered to find shelter, hide, or escape. Do this to ensure that the largest number of people are killed.”
* * *