May 4, 2007 web capture.
The Secret History of 9/11
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THE SECRET HISTORY OF 9/11: THE WORLD TRADE CENTER ATTACK
September 11th, 2001 dawned bright and clear in New York City as an estimated 50,000 people made their way to work at the World Trade Centre. It was a beautiful day, too, in Boston where American Airlines Flight 11 took off from Logan Airport at 7:59 am. United Airlines Flight 175 took off from the same airport just 15 minutes later.
At that exact moment - 8:14 am - the al-Qaeda hijackers took control of the first plane, American 11. The first notification of the hijacking came from flight attendant, Betty Ong, who phoned in the news to American Airlines at 8:19.
RECORDING: "My name is Betty Ong. I'm No. 3 on Flight 11. - Okay. .And the cockpit is not answering their phone, and there's somebody stabbed in business class. And we can't breathe in business class, somebody has got mace or something. We can't breathe. I don't know, I think we're getting hijacked."
Mohamed Atta piloted hi-jacked flight AA 11 into the World Trade Center.
On September 11th, the United States had a series of protocols for how to handle an airplane hijacking and involve the U.S. military. The system failed at almost every turn. The first failure was that the U.S. military would not hear about this hijacking for eighteen crucial minutes. Civilian air traffic controllers found out about the hijacking when they first heard the voice of al-Qaeda pilot, Mohamed Atta, in control of American 11 at 8:24 am.
RECORDING: "We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you'll be OK. We are returning to the airport. Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet."
At 8:27 am, American 11 made a sharp turn to the south, heading for New York City. It took another ten minutes before air traffic controllers in Boston finally notified the military. The Northeast Air Defence Sector in Rome, New York, happened to be in the middle of an exercise:
BOSTON CENTRE: Hi. Boston Center TMU, we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed toward New York and we need you guys to we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.
MILITARY: Is this real world or exercise?
BOSTON CENTER: No. This is not an exercise, not a test.
U.S. Fighter Pilot
The U.S. military immediately called on the nearest fighter pilots to help out. At Otis Air Force Base in Cape Cod. Timothy Duffy and Daniel Nash were on call. "We got a phone call at 8:37. Gave us a heads-up that there was a possible hijacking," remembers Daniel Nash. Timothy Duffy says, "I had a radio, a brick in my pocket. It said 'Alpha Kilo 1-2 Suit up!' So that was for me and Nasty to go throw on our G-Suits and grab our helmets and harnesses and all that. The horn goes off, lights go off and we start going through the scramble procedures."
It took several key minutes for the pilots to get into their jets. On the tarmac, a supervisor briefed them on the target. Timothy Duffy responded quickly, " He filled me in on where we were as far as the American flight being a 767 on its way to California with a suspected hijacking. He said it looks like the real thing. Go!"
In the next few minutes, hijackers took control of the second plane, United 175, and turned it towards New York City. The Air Traffic Control Command Center in Herndon,Virginia, was still looking for the first hijacked plane. Operations Manager Ben Sliney, remembers the confusion, "While we were trying to locate Flight 11, American 11 - the last report I had was some thirty miles north of New York City - New York Center was asking planes to look for it and couldn't see it. And I figured we'd try to get the people on the ground, the towers in the area, the police departments, anyone we could get to give us information on where this flight was."
Early broadcasts of the north tower burning on CNN.
At 8:46 am, American 11 came in low over New York City and hit the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. The fighter jets from Otis Air Force Base were not even in the air yet. They were only able to take off 7 minutes later. It would take them 32 minutes to reach New York. Pilot Timothy Duffy was in the air, " I headed right down Long Island. Basically, just offset a little bit over the water. I just left it in full after-burn the whole way trying to get there as quick as I could. We had no idea what was going on."
Just 3 minutes after impact, CNN was broadcasting video of the hole in the North Tower. There was speculation it was a small, private aircraft. Ben Sliney doubted the initial reports, "A small plane would bounce off that building. And those buildings are just not in any flight path, and on a clear blue, sparkling sky day, it's inconceivable that someone would run into the building. My eyes are seeing one thing and my brain is saying, well that can't be true."
It was only at 8:55 am that New York Air Traffic Control realized that the second aircraft had been hijacked. They phoned a warning to the air traffic control command centre. Confusion reigned.
NEW YORK COMMAND CENTRE: We have several situations going on here. It's escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us.
NATIONAL COMMAND CENTER: We're, we're involved with something else; we have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.
The responsibility to notify the military of what was going on in the skies on September 11th belonged to FAA headquarters in Washington, DC. "I do know that all the information was being relayed to headquarters and, at least as far as we were concerned, it should have been. We thought it had been given to the military at each juncture," recalls Sliney. As it turned out, precious minutes would go by before anyone called the military about the second hijacked plane. New York air traffic controllers were busy tracking United 175 as it lost altitude and circled New York.
NEW YORK TERMINAL: (voice-over/visuals/text) Got him just out of 9,500 ... 9,000 now.
NEW YORK CENTER: Do you know who he is?
NEW YORK TERMINAL: We're just, we just we don't know who he is. We're just picking him up now.
NEW YORK CENTER: All right. Heads up man, it looks like another one coming in.
Former National Operations Manager U.S. Air Traffic Control Command Center
Sliney explains, " We knew that the aircraft was rapidly approaching New York City from New York Centre, that it was diving and coming fast towards the city. That much we knew. Beyond that, it happened within a minute or two. It was all over."
The military only learned about the second hijacked aircraft at the very moment it crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre at 9:03 am. The nearest jet fighters were still a long way off. "I guess we were probably about sixty or seventy miles out from Manhattan, and that's when they came back and said the second aircraft just hit the World Trade Centre. Obviously, that was a shock to me because I thought there was only one. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was probably better than a hundred miles visibility. So from where we were, you could see everything very, very clearly. You could see both buildings burning," remembers pilot Timothy Duffy.
Officers at the Northeast Air Defence Sector had still not heard from FAA headquarters. At 9:08 am, Mission Crew Commander Kevin Nasypany began improvising the air defence of North America. "There were a lot of things going through my mind whether I was going to have to force an aircraft down was I going to have to shoot it down? My whole goal is to stop what's happening," recalls Nasypany. "People loose track of how much chaos there was. We were in a situation that was just a mess, you know, and we were trying to get our arms around it a little bit," says Duffy.
The chaos on 9/11 was not just in the sky. Some of the worst confusion was around the President.
CONTINUED: THE U.S. GOVERNMENT REACTS
THE SECRET HISTORY OF 9/11: THE U.S. GOVERNMENT REACTS
President Bush after he receives news of the attack on the World Trade Center.Another huge command and control failure on 9/11 was on the political side. The President, of course, was visiting a school in Florida that morning. After hearing about the first crash into the World Trade Centre, he insisted on carrying on with his planned activities. At 9:05 am, his Chief of Staff Andrew Card told him the second plane had hit the second tower that America was under attack. He famously did nothing for almost 7 minutes. He later said he was trying to project an image of calm.
Meanwhile at the White House, there was total confusion. Counterterrorism Director Richard Clarke arrived at the mansion at the same time as news of the second plane hitting. He realized the President was not there and went immediately to the office of the Vice President. "The Vice President asked, what do you thinks going on? I said it's pretty clear to me -- when two buildings get hit simultaneously, more or less simultaneously, by two large aircraft, this is a terrorist attack. Which means it's al-Qaeda because no other terrorist organization has that kind of capability and intent. I also suggested to him it wasn't over. And the President was a thousand miles away."
The President was now in an adjacent classroom with his staff watching the events in New York on television. He was on the phone with the White House. "We asked the President to stay away, not to return to Washington because as far as we were concerned, Washington could be a combat zone and the last thing in the world we wanted was the President to fly into a place that was about to blow up," explains Clarke.
The 9/11 Commission Report - this is the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States
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The story of what went on behind the scenes with the President that day is still filled with mystery and controversy. Bush made his first televised statement to the nation at 9:30 and then his Secret Service bodyguards were supposed to whisk him away to Air Force One. Unfortunately, it turns out that the motorcade sped off in the wrong direction. After several kilometres, the Secret Service had to perform an embarrassing U-turn in order to head for the airfield.
Inside the presidential limousine, there was more chaos. The President was trying to speak to his staff at the White House but all the secure telephone lines were down. The communications system overloaded. Mr. Bush was reduced to trying to contact Washington on a borrowed cell phone but even that didn't work. "The President said to us, you know I could not, for awhile the communication from the White House broke down and I couldn't reach them and they couldn't reach me. That was scary on both sides because the President is the only one who can give certain orders that need to be given," says Kean, chair of the 9/11 Commission.
Mr. Bush expected the communications problem to be solved when he boarded Air Force One in Florida at 9:45 am but the phones there worked only sporadically. Kean recalls, "In the case of any kind of attack in the United States, what you're supposed to do is get the President off the ground, and Air Force One then becomes the command centre. And the President is then safe and is commanding the forces of the United States from the air. The communications didn't work."
Former Senior Advisor
The President's Senior Advisor Karen Hughes, was trying to call him through the White House switchboard. "The operator came back and I remember his voice was kind of shaky and he said - 'Ma'am we cannot reach Air Force One.' And that was a very, very, frightening moment because, of course, I never had that happen before."
On September 11th, not only was the President out of touch the White House was left unprotected. At 9:30 am, two more jet fighters took off from Langley Air Force Base near Washington but due to mistaken communication they were given a flight plan which took them east out over the ocean. They went almost 250 kilometres in the wrong direction. In the White House, Richard Clarke was wondering why there were no jet fighters overhead, "We certainly asked right away for combat air patrol. I would guess that probably the defence department had already requested it. It seemed like it took forever."
Things were about to get worse. Shortly after 9 am, American Airlines realized that another of their planes, Flight 77, was probably hijacked. Again, relaying the news to the U.S. military would be delayed this time by half an hour. Lt .Colonel Steve O'Brien of the Minnesota Air National Guard happened to be in the Washington area that day. He took off from Andrews Air Force Base at 9:30 in a C-130 cargo plane. Unaware of what was going on, he was pointing out the sights of the national capital to his crew. Then, air traffic controllers asked him to look out for the American Airlines plane. In fact, the hijacked aircraft was about to collide with him. "At that time, we had been converging to the point where he had started to roll up into a forty-five degree bank turn and was almost filling up our entire windscreen. It was fairly close. I would say within a half mile or so. Then maybe five, ten seconds later they came back and asked us if we still had him in sight and if we did they'd like us to follow the aircraft. That was strange, because I've never in twenty-something years of flying have I been asked to follow an aircraft, especially a commercial aircraft," says O'Brien.
American Airlines Flight 77 would crash into the Pentagon at 9:37 am. O'Brien witnessed the crash from the air, " We saw the explosion and I knew right away what had happened. The way it hit the Pentagon, it didn't look like it was an accident. I mean most pilots, if they've got an emergency going on in their aircraft, they are going to do everything they can to avoid populated areas, certainly avoid hitting a big building if they can."
AA Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
After the Pentagon was hit, Richard Clarke gave the order to evacuate the White House. "On a given day, there're probably a couple of thousand people in that area and we evacuated all of that very early on. We just told people to leave, get out of the city."
As almost everyone was rushing out of the White House, the President's Senior Advisor Karen Hughes, was on the way in. "I walked in and there was no one there. Everyone that I'd seen had had guns drawn, looking as if they were ready to use them if need be. So I didn't want to surprise anyone. I remember yelling, hello, hello, is anyone here? And two Secret Service agents ran around with their weapons drawn, ran into the foyer and then they, once they realized it was me, took me to meet the Vice President."
After the Pentagon was hit, the Vice President was taken to a bunker deep in the ground under the White House. He ordered emergency measures designed to ensure continuity of the U.S. government in the event of nuclear war. Around Washington, senior government officials were rushed off to bomb shelters and other secure locations in case more planes hit more key decision-making centres.
At 9:42 am, the senior air traffic controller in the U.S. ordered that all planes land immediately at the nearest airport, a high-risk procedure that had never been attempted. "Someone did say are you sure you want to do that, but at that point I knew that's what I wanted to do. I felt we had to do something to change the texture of the whole thing occurring. At least this would separate the good guys from the bad and what was left up there would have the military to deal with," explains Ben Sliney who was in charge of air traffic control.
But the military had no plan to deal with the last hijacked flight on September 11th - United 93.
CONTINUED: UNITED FLIGHT 93
THE SECRET HISTORY OF 9/11: UNITED FLIGHT 93
At 9:23 am on 9/11, an alert flight dispatcher at United Airlines had sent out a text warning to his airline crews: 'Beware any cockpit intrusion-two a/c (aircraft) hit World Trade Center'. The captain of United Airlines Flight 93 was confused by the message and wrote back at 9:28: 'confirm last mssg plz'. Apparently, he did not secure his cockpit, because two minutes later his radio was transmitting the sound of the hijackers attacking.
HIJACKER ON FLIGHT 93: Hey, get out of here. It's the captain. Please sit down. Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: United 93, understand you have a bomb onboard go ahead.
Read the final words from the cockpit of United Flight 93.
Air traffic controllers realized immediately that United 93 had been hijacked but again, incredibly, no one advised the military. United 93 turned and aimed at Washington. Clarke remembers the panic, "One of the aircraft that looked like it was hijacked appeared to be heading on line toward Washington. And so we were being, the meeting was being interrupted every few minutes with word of where that aircraft was and how far out it was and it really did look at one point as though an aircraft was coming straight to the city."
FAA headquarters officials were supposed to notify the military but staff members there were recorded dithering about the hijacked United flight.
FAA HEADQUARTERS: They're pulling Jeff away to talk about United 93.
COMMAND CENTER: Uh, do we want to think about, uh, scrambling aircraft?
FAA HEADQUARTERS: Uh, God, I don't know.
COMMAND CENTER: Uh, that's a decision somebody's gonna have to make probably in the next 10 minutes. FAA HEADQUARTERS: Uh, ya know everybody just left the room.
Apparently, there was only one person at FAA headquarters who was authorized to call in the military. Ben Sliney was told that no one could find that person, "I said something like that's incredible. There's only one person. There must be someone designated or someone who will assume the responsibility of issuing an order, you know. We were becoming frustrated in our attempts to get some information. What was the military response?"
United Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania at 10:03 am. It was brought down by the heroic actions of its passengers who prevented it from slamming into Washington. The military only found out about the hijacked flight after it had already crashed.
MILITARY: United 93, have you got information on that yet?
FAA: Yeah, he's down.
MILITARY: He's down?
MILITARY: When did he land? 'Cause we have got confirmation.
FAA: He did not land.
MILITARY: Oh, he's down? Down?
FAA: Yes. Somewhere up northeast of Camp David.
MILITARY: Northeast of Camp David.
FAA: That's the last report. They don't know exactly where.
In New York, at one minute before 10 o'clock, the unthinkable happened. After the first tower collapsed, Timothy Duffy was asked to fly over and have a close look at the second tower, "So I told them, I'm going to take a look at it from above. So I flew right up over the top of it, just banked the plane up so I could look down and see it. It looked really good to me. I was looking at it straight up and down, no problems, no leaning, or twisted of any kind. I literally was just getting ready to key the mics. As I was looking at the roof -- it was just a perfect square -- it just started getting smaller. And you know for a few seconds, I really didn't know what I was looking at, because I didn't have anything to put it in proper prospective until I saw the plume coming out of the bottom. I realized it was falling away from me."
Vice Chair 9/11 Commission
To this day, it is unclear who was really giving the most critical orders on 9/11. The most controversial question regards the order to shoot down commercial airliners if they were hijacked -- an order which could have killed hundreds more innocent people. The 9/11 commissioners have suggested the President and the Vice President have not been forthcoming about that issue and that the truth has yet to be revealed. The record shows that between 10:10 and 10:15 in the White House bunker, the Vice President was asked if military pilots could shoot down any hijacked aircraft headed for Washington. He immediately gave the order. The problem is that only the President had the authority to do so. Later, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney claimed to the 9/11 Commission that the President actually gave the shoot-down order about 15 minutes earlier, but the White House call records do not support their claim. Lee Hamilton, vice chair of the 9/11 Commission says it wasn't clear who gave the order, "The principals haven't said. The President and the Vice President are the only ones that can clarify that completely. And we just don't know what happened there."
The other astonishing fact about the shoot-down order is that it was never relayed to the fighter pilots who might have carried it out. "No, we never got the order. What we were told is that you can expect to shoot down the next hijack track. It was kind of informational only. There was no order, no authentication, nothing even remotely close to what would be required to fire on a plane," remembers Duffy. "The idea that the President of the United States can give an order and the Air Force doesn't get it, that's serious stuff," says Kean, chair of the 9/11 Commission.
U.S. Fighter Pilot
There is one pilot who received a shoot-down order, but he was not in a position to execute it. Marc Sasseville flies out of Andrews Air Force Base, just a few kilometres from the White House. He received the order not through the proper military channels, but directly from the Secret Service in the White House bunker with the Vice President. Desperate to get some protection over Washington, he took off in the only jet available, which was unarmed. If he encountered a hijacked aircraft, his plan was to ram it with his F-16 and try to eject at the last minute. "Well, I would have one hand on the stick and one hand on the ejection handle and, hopefully, I could play it right to get out after I hit the airplane. Basically, I would try and swing my wing into his and knock the engine pod off, or cut the wing if I could get going fast enough. And I would use my fuselage to do that, but pretty soon after that my aerodynamics capabilities would be destroyed and then, if I could have ejected, I would have."
In Washington, government workers were told to go home. Many employees at the Central Intelligence Agency did not appreciate that order. "When there is a crisis, when an embassy is attacked or whatever, there is rioting, we go out and seek the crisis. We don't run away from it," recalls Schroen.
At the Air Traffic Control Command Center, the staff watched the amazing sight of every single aircraft over the United States landing at the nearest airfield all following the command of Ben Sliney. "There was some four thousand-three hundred or so planes. They were all landed within two hours and twenty minutes. I did not want to hear about another plane either heading towards something or being intercepted, or God forbid, crashing."
In the afternoon, the President landed at the Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska. Because of the communications problem on Air Force One, he was transported to an underground bunker there. Just before 3 pm, Mr. Bush began a teleconference with the White House and the Pentagon. "As soon as he sat down, he said 'I am returning to Washington.' We said no. I think the Vice President first said no, that's not a good idea. He said 'look, I am returning to Washington. I have decided. Air Force One is out there getting re-fuelled. When it's ready, I am coming back. So you got however long that takes to tell me what's going on.'" says Clarke.
Late in the day, when the President finally returned to Washington, he found out about the intelligence failure that lead to 9/11 and he set the United States on a path to war.
CONTINUED: THE AFTERMATH
THE SECRET HISTORY OF 9/11: THE AFTERMATH
When the President arrived back at the White House on September 11th, he was told that the FBI had identified the names of two known al-Qaeda agents Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi on the passenger list of the plane that hit the Pentagon. "The President became aware that night that there had been a mistake involving CIA and FBI and their sharing of information. He had the same attitude that I did, which was outrage. I was flabbergasted, I couldn't imagine that the FBI knew the names of people in this country who were al-Qaeda and yet these people were allowed to get on airplanes under those names, not using false identity. I was just mind boggled. Why hadn't the FBI told the transportation department that they were looking for these people? Why weren't they on the do-not-board list? On 9/11 that wasn't the day or time to spend a lot of effort to try and answer that question," remembers counterterrorism director Richard Clarke.
That same afternoon, Ben Sliney discovered that FAA headquarters had issued a terrorist hijack alert three months earlier. He was shocked, "That highjack alert wasn't transmitted to air traffic control. That highjack alert was transmitted to airlines. And I say with dismay, I think we would have reacted, I believe in my heart we would have reacted so much quicker to that. You would have had 16 thousand sets of ears and eyes and very inquisitive minds looking at everything that could possibly be suspicious with that type of information in our heads."
The 9/11 Commission Report - this is the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States
Note: CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites - links will open in new window
On the evening of September 11th, Richard Clarke drove home through the deserted streets of Washington. He stopped and gazed at the smoldering Pentagon, "It's sort of the kind of hockey game where if the other team scores one goal you've lost the game. And when they launched that attacked on September 11th, we all felt that they had won and we had lost." "It used to be that America felt our oceans protected us, that we were somehow a little less vulnerable to perhaps those types of attacks than other countries across the world. But that day our entire view of America's security changed. And it caused our national security team and the President to reevaluate America's security in light of this very different threat in the world," says Karen Hughes senior advisor to President Bush.
From the beginning of the Bush Administration, Richard Clarke says that he did everything in his power to coax them into action against al-Qaeda without success. In the twenty-four hours following 9/11, the Bush team was ready to go to war.
But Mr. Clarke says they picked the wrong target, "Well, in meetings on September 11th and on September 12th, the defence department officials, including Secretary Rumsfeld, began talking about the need to attack Iraq. I first thought that they were kidding and it became clear that they weren't. Rumsfeld said, well yeah, we could attack Afghanistan but there aren't very many targets to bomb in Afghanistan and they're not worth very much. So we should bomb Iraq where there are much better targets. I thought there's no connection between what just happened and Iraq. That didn't seem to bother them. I said well attacking Iraq actually will make it more difficult for us to get the kinds of support we need in the world particularly in the Muslim world. That didn't seem to bother them. Secretary Powell tried to have a restraining influence on this discussion. Secretary Powell said look the world is not going to understand if we don't go after Afghanistan. That's where the attack of September 11th was launched from. So reluctantly, during the course of the week, the defence department came around to a consensus and the consensus was called Afghanistan first that's what the President approved, an Afghanistan first policy. It was very clear what was second, and what was second was Iraq."
Condoleezza Rice explains that there were no warnings.
There has been a lot of controversy about the Bush Administration's truthfulness about 9/11. Even eight months after the attack, Condoleezza Rice maintained that there had been no warnings, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Centre, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon. That they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."
James Steinberg, former Deputy National Security Advisor disagrees, "One could not, not have known about that. There were known plans to us to fly a plane into the CIA. We certainly knew about other operations in other parts of the world involving flying a plane into a target. So it was on everybody's radar screen and I don't accept the argument somehow that this couldn't have been imagined. It was very much something that people understood was a potential method of attack."
Read more about the 9/11 Commission Report.
Read Richard Clarke's testimony.
From the 1995 Intelligence Estimate, which predicted terrorists would use airplanes as weapons to attack U.S. landmarks, to the hijacking threats that were communicated to the President in August 2001 there were a lot of warnings on the path to 9/11. Many of them came through the counterterrorism chief at the White House. Richard Clarke testified as the star witness before the 9/11 Commission hearings in March 2004. In a statement, Clarke apologized to all the families who lost relatives on 9/11, "Your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you, failed you. And I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter, because we failed."
Kean, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission agrees, "This is a failure of government right down the line. Whether it's the intelligence agencies, whether the immigration people, whether it's the FAA, whether, you name the agency, they all shared here in culpability. There's nobody who worked for the United States government in that period, who doesn't share some part of the responsibility."
Richard Clarke testifies at the 9/11 hearings.
Richard Clarke quit his job as counterterrorism director in the Bush Administration. At the end of his long war against al-Qaeda, he was left with an overwhelming feeling of guilt. "I think everybody involved in the counterterrorism effort prior to September 11th feels guilty that they didn't do more. Or if they don't feel that way, they ought to."
INDEPTH: SEPTEMBER 11
The 9/11 Commission Report: a summary
CBC News Online | July 22, 2004
» Read the full report
The 567-page final report from the 9/11 Commission says the U.S. government "failed to protect the American people" from terrorist attacks mainly because it did not understand the "gravity of the threat."
The report says the government experienced failures of "imagination, policy, capabilities and management."
Commission chairman Tom Kean says the failures took place over many years and through the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Kean adds that "no single individual" bears the blame but he says anyone who was in a senior position within the government during those years "bears some element of responsibility."
Congress established The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States in 2002 to investigate the events and circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York city and Washington D.C. The commission has 10 members - five Democrats and five Republicans - and has spent $15 million US investigating the matter.
During its 20-month investigation, the panel interviewed more than 1,000 people including members of the Clinton and Bush administrations, emergency workers and victims' families.
The Intelligence Community
The report is damning about the lack of action on the part of the FBI and CIA. It says that there were clear warnings that "Islamist terrorists mean to kill Americans in high numbers." The report echoes a congressional 9/11 inquiry by the Senate and House intelligence committees, released July 24, 2003. That report said U.S. intelligence had "failed to capitalize on both the individual and collective significance of available information" and had "missed opportunities to disrupt the September 11 plot by denying entry to or detaining would-be hijackers." The committees said that warnings were ignored by the FBI, CIA and federal government and as far back as the summer of 1998 when the CIA had indications suggesting Osama bin Laden was planning the attacks. In April 2001, the CIA had one report that said al-Qaeda was in the throes of an advanced preparation for a major attack.
The 9/11 commission says both services suffered from having too many priorities, flat budgets, outmoded structures and bureaucratic rivalries.
A top recommendation by the new report says there should be a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) to be overseen by a national intelligence director, who would be able to influence the budget and leadership of the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security Department and Defence Department.
The report says Bin Laden had a "dynamic and lethal organization" by the time of the attacks. Al-Qaeda had a system of leaders who could supervise operations, a recruitment program to indoctrinate and train candidates, ability to move people great distances and to raise and move money necessary to finance an attack.
The report highlights nine operational failures within the U.S.:
Not putting two hijackers on a "watch list" (Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar).
Not sharing information linking individuals on the USS Cole attack in Aden, Yemen, which killed 17 American sailors in 2000, to Mihdhar.
Not taking adequate steps to find Mihdhar or Hazmi in the U.S.
Not linking the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui to heightened indications of an attack. Moussaoui was interested in flight training.
Not uncovering false statements on visa applications.
Not recognizing false passports.
Not expanding no-fly lists to include names from terrorist watch lists.
Not searching airline passengers identified as possible threats through a computer screening system.
Not taking measures to prepare of the possibility of suicide hijackings.
The commission says the threat of an attack is still high, despite efforts by the Bush administration to quell terrorism. The report has many suggestions to combat the threat of terrorism:
Rooting out actual or potential terrorist sanctuaries, places where terrorists can hide.
Strengthen long-term U.S. commitments to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Confront problems with Saudi Arabia in the open and build a relationship beyond oil.
Tolerate differences with Muslim governments, respect the rule of law.
Communicate American ideals in the Islamic world, reach more people such as students and leaders outside of government.
Devote a "maximum of effort" to countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Put more money for intelligence, as a tool to hunt terrorists and to disrupt their networks.
Broaden the use of biometrics to identify people at borders and transportation zones.
Issue standards for when a birth certificate can be issued and other sources of identification such as driver's licenses.
Start allocating more money to other parts of the transportation system, not just airports.
The report reminds people that the enemy is not Islam but a "perversion" of the religion. It says: "al-Qaeda represents an ideological movement, not a finite group of people" and that Bin Laden is an inspiration of a "new generation of terrorists." His capture would not end the bloodshed.
In the end, the government's goals should be to dismantle the al-Qaeda network and in the long run, prevail over the ideology that triggers extremist Islamist movements and, protect and prepare for terrorist attacks.
The commission's vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, called for "a shift in mind-set and organization" within the U.S. intelligence system as well as more unity in Congress and a smoother transition between presidencies.
"The U.S. government has access to vast amounts of information, but it has a weak process, a weak system of processing and using that information," said Hamilton. "The need to share must replace need to know."
The commission urges Americans to remember how they came together after the attacks and says "unity of purpose and unity of effort" are the only ways to combat terrorism.