[Paleopsych] 9/11 Report: Exectitve Summary
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Sat Jul 24 22:54:16 UTC 2004
Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the
[Note under "Financing" that the attacks cost $400-500,000 and that the
annual budget of Al Qaeda is estimated to be about $30 million. I say that
any undergraduate engineering class in the United States could have pulled
it off. My biggest fear is a virus that could take large numbers of
computers out of service for a long time. (The Internet itself was happily
designed to be routed around.) But this would require a level of cognitive
ability way ahead of what Moslem nations, with an average IQ of about 90,
could accomplish. The higher IQ nations are far more interested in trading
with the U.S. than in destroying it.
[Relax, folks. Life will go on, even if 100,000 Americans are killed
during another attack. 6,000 Americans die every day.]
Published: July 22, 2004
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
suffering in the history of the United States. The nation was
A NATION TRANSFORMED
At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001, the United States became
a nation transformed.
An airliner traveling at hundreds of miles per hour and carrying some
10,000 gallons of jet fuel plowed into the North Tower of the World
Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. At 9:03, a second airliner hit the
South Tower. Fire and smoke billowed upward. Steel, glass, ash and
bodies fell below.The Twin Towers, where up to 50,000 people worked
each day, both collapsed less than 90 minutes later.
At 9:37 that same morning, a third airliner slammed into the western
face of the Pentagon. At 10:03, a fourth airliner crashed in a field
in southern Pennsylvania. It had been aimed at the United States
Capitol or the White House, and was forced down by heroic passengers
armed with the knowledge that America was under attack.
More than 2,600 people died at the World Trade Center; 125 died at the
Pentagon; 256 died on the four planes. The death toll surpassed that
at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
This immeasurable pain was inflicted by 19 young Arabs acting at the
behest of Islamist extremists headquartered in distant Afghanistan.
Some had been in the United States for more than a year, mixing with
the rest of the population. Though four had training as pilots, most
were not well-educated. Most spoke English poorly, some hardly at all.
In groups of four or five, carrying with them only small knives, box
cutters, and cans of Mace or pepper spray, they had hijacked the four
planes and turned them into deadly guided missiles.
Why did they do this? How was the attack planned and conceived? How
did the U.S. government fail to anticipate and prevent it? What can we
do in the future to prevent similar acts of terrorism?
A SHOCK, NOT A SURPRISE
The 9/11 attacks were a shock, but they should not have come as a
surprise. Islamist extremists had given plenty of warning that they
meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers.
Although Usama Bin Ladin himself would not emerge as a signal threat
until the late 1990s, the threat of Islamist terrorism grew over the
In February 1993, a group led by Ramzi Yousef tried to bring down the
World Trade Center with a truck bomb.They killed six and wounded a
thousand. Plans by Omar Abdel Rahman and others to blow up the Holland
and Lincoln tunnels and other New York City landmarks were frustrated
when the plotters were arrested. In October 1993, Somali tribesmen
shot down U.S. helicopters, killing 18 and wounding 73 in an incident
that came to be known as "Black Hawk down." Years later it would be
learned that those Somali tribesmen had received help from al Qaeda.
In early 1995, police in Manila uncovered a plot by Ramzi Yousef to
blow up a dozen U.S. airliners while they were flying over the
Pacific. In November 1995, a car bomb exploded outside the office of
the U.S. program manager for the Saudi National Guard in Riyadh,
killing five Americans and two others. In June 1996, a truck bomb
demolished the Khobar Towers apartment complex in Dhahran, Saudi
Arabia, killing 19 U.S. servicemen and wounding hundreds.The attack
was carried out primarily by Saudi Hezbollah, an organization that had
received help from the government of Iran.
Until 1997, the U.S. intelligence community viewed Bin Ladin as a
financier of terrorism, not as a terrorist leader. In February 1998,
Usama Bin Ladin and four others issued a self-styled fatwa, publicly
declaring that it was God's decree that every Muslim should try his
utmost to kill any American, military or civilian, anywhere in the
world, because of American "occupation" of Islam's holy places and
aggression against Muslims.
In August 1998, Bin Ladin's group, al Qaeda, carried out
near-simultaneous truck bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi,
Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks killed 224 people,
including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands more.
In December 1999, Jordanian police foiled a plot to bomb hotels and
other sites frequented by American tourists, and a U.S. Customs agent
arrested Ahmed Ressam at the U.S. Canadian border as he was smuggling
in explosives intended for an attack on Los Angeles International
In October 2000, an al Qaeda team in Aden,Yemen, used a motorboat
filled with explosives to blow a hole in the side of a destroyer, the
USS Cole, almost sinking the vessel and killing 17 American sailors.
The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were far
more elaborate, precise and destructive than any of these earlier
assaults. But by September 2001, the executive branch of the U.S.
government, the Congress, the news media and the American public had
received clear warning that Islamist terrorists meant to kill
Americans in high numbers.
WHO IS THE ENEMY?
Who is this enemy that created an organization capable of inflicting
such horrific damage on the United States? We now know that these
attacks were carried out by various groups of Islamist extremists. The
9/11 attack was driven by Usama Bin Ladin.
In the 1980s, young Muslims from around the world went to Afghanistan
to join as volunteers in a jihad (or holy struggle) against the Soviet
Union. A wealthy Saudi, Usama Bin Ladin, was one of them. Following
the defeat of the Soviets in the late 1980s, Bin Ladin and others
formed al Qaeda to mobilize jihads elsewhere.
The history, culture and body of beliefs from which Bin Ladin shapes
and spreads 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.
Bin Ladin also stresses grievances against the United States widely
shared in the Muslim world. He inveighed against the presence of U.S.
troops in Saudi Arabia, which is the home of Islam's holiest sites,
and against other U.S. policies in the Middle East.
Upon this political and ideological foundation, Bin Ladin built over
the course of a decade a dynamic and lethal organization. He built an
infrastructure and organization in Afghanistan that could attract,
train and use recruits against ever more ambitious targets. He rallied
new zealots and new money with each demonstration of al Qaeda's
capability. He had forged a close alliance with the Taliban, a regime
providing sanctuary for al Qaeda.
By September 11, 2001, al Qaeda possessed leaders able to evaluate,
approve and supervise the planning and direction of a major operation;
a personnel system that could recruit candidates, indoctrinate them,
vet them and give them the necessary training; communications
sufficient to enable planning and direction of operatives and those
who would be helping them; an intelligence effort to gather required
information and form assessments of enemy strengths and weaknesses;
the ability to move people great distances; and the ability to raise
and move the money necessary to finance an attack.
1998 TO SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
The August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
established al Qaeda as a potent adversary of the United States.
After launching cruise missile strikes against al Qaeda targets in
Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the embassy bombings, the
Clinton administration applied diplomatic pressure to try to persuade
the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to expel Bin Ladin. The
administration also devised covert operations to use CIA-paid foreign
agents to capture or kill Bin Ladin and his chief lieutenants. These
actions did not stop Bin Ladin or dislodge al Qaeda from its
By late 1998 or early 1999, Bin Ladin and his advisers had agreed on
an idea brought to them by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) called the
"planes operation." It would eventually culminate in the 9/11 attacks.
Bin Ladin and his chief of operations, Mohammed Atef, occupied
undisputed leadership positions atop al Qaeda. Within al Qaeda, they
relied heavily on the ideas and enterprise of strong-willed field
commanders, such as KSM, to carry out worldwide terrorist operations.
KSM claims that his original plot was even grander than those carried
out on 9/11 -- 10 planes would attack targets on both the East and
West coasts of the United States. This plan was modified by Bin Ladin,
KSM said, owing to its scale and complexity. Bin Ladin provided KSM
with four initial operatives for suicide plane attacks within the
United States, and in the fall of 1999 training for the attacks began.
New recruits included four from a cell of expatriate Muslim extremists
who had clustered together in Hamburg, Germany. One became the
tactical commander of the operation in the United States: Mohamed
U.S. intelligence frequently picked up reports of attacks planned by
al Qaeda. Working with foreign security services, the CIA broke up
some al Qaeda cells. The core of Bin Ladin's organization nevertheless
remained intact. In December 1999, news about the arrests of the
terrorist cell in Jordan and the arrest of a terrorist at the
U.S.-Canadian border became part of a "millennium alert." The
government was galvanized, and the public was on alert for any
In January 2000, the intense intelligence effort glimpsed and then
lost sight of two operatives destined for the "planes operation."
Spotted in Kuala Lumpur, the pair were lost passing through Bangkok.
On January 15, 2000, they arrived in Los Angeles.
Because these two al Qaeda operatives had spent little time in the
West and spoke little, if any, English, it is plausible that they or
KSM would have tried to identify, in advance, a friendly contact in
the United States. We explored suspicions about whether these two
operatives had a support network of accomplices in the United States.
The evidence is thin -- simply not there for some cases, more
worrisome in others.
We do know that soon after arriving in California, the two al Qaeda
operatives sought out and found a group of ideologically like-minded
Muslims with roots in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, individuals mainly
associated with a young Yemeni and others who attended a mosque in San
Diego. After a brief stay in Los Angeles about which we know little,
the al Qaeda operatives lived openly in San Diego under their true
names. They managed to avoid attracting much attention.
By the summer of 2000, three of the four Hamburg cell members had
arrived on the East Coast of the United States and had begun pilot
training. In early 2001, a fourth future hijacker pilot, Hani Hanjour,
journeyed to Arizona with another operative, Nawaf al Hazmi, and
conducted his refresher pilot training there. A number of al Qaeda
operatives had spent time in Arizona during the 1980s and early 1990s.
During 2000, President Bill Clinton and his advisers renewed
diplomatic efforts to get Bin Ladin expelled from Afghanistan. They
also renewed secret efforts with some of the Taliban's opponents --
the Northern Alliance -- to get enough intelligence to attack Bin
Ladin directly. Diplomatic efforts centered on the new military
government in Pakistan, and they did not succeed.The efforts with the
Northern Alliance revived an inconclusive and secret debate about
whether the United States should take sides in Afghanistan's civil war
and support the Taliban's enemies. The CIA also produced a plan to
improve intelligence collection on al Qaeda, including the use of a
small, unmanned airplane with a video camera, known as the Predator.
After the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, evidence accumulated
that it had been launched by al Qaeda operatives, but without
confirmation that Bin Ladin had given the order. The Taliban had
earlier been warned that it would be held responsible for another Bin
Ladin attack on the United States. The CIA described its findings as a
"preliminary judgment"; President Clinton and his chief advisers told
us they were waiting for a conclusion before deciding whether to take
military action.The military alternatives remained unappealing to
The transition to the new Bush administration in late 2000 and early
2001 took place with the Cole issue still pending. President George W.
Bush and his chief advisers accepted that al Qaeda was responsible for
the attack on the Cole, but did not like the options available for a
Bin Ladin's inference may well have been that attacks, at least at the
level of the Cole, were risk free. The Bush administration began
developing a new strategy with the stated goal of eliminating the al
Qaeda threat within three to five years.
During the spring and summer of 2001, U.S. intelligence agencies
received a stream of warnings that al Qaeda planned, as one report put
it, "something very, very, very big." Director of Central Intelligence
George Tenet told us, "The system was blinking red."
Although Bin Ladin was determined to strike in the United States, as
President Clinton had been told and President Bush was reminded in a
Presidential Daily Brief article briefed to him in August 2001, the
specific threat information pointed overseas. Numerous precautions
were taken overseas. Domestic agencies were not effectively mobilized.
The threat did not receive national media attention comparable to the
While the United States continued disruption efforts around the world,
its emerging strategy to eliminate the al Qaeda threat was to include
an enlarged covert action program in Afghanistan, as well as
diplomatic strategies for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The process
culminated during the summer of 2001 in a draft presidential directive
and arguments about the Predator aircraft, which was soon to be
deployed with a missile of its own, so that it might be used to
attempt to kill Bin Ladin or his chief lieutenants. At a September 4
meeting, President Bush's chief advisers approved the draft directive
of the strategy and endorsed the concept of arming the Predator. This
directive on the al Qaeda strategy was awaiting President Bush's
signature on September 11, 2001.
Though the "planes operation" was progressing, the plotters had
problems of their own in 2001. Several possible participants dropped
out; others could not gain entry into the United States (including one
denial at a port of entry and visa denials not related to terrorism).
One of the eventual pilots may have considered abandoning the planes
operation. Zacarias Moussaoui, who showed up at a flight training
school in Minnesota, may have been a candidate to replace him.
Some of the vulnerabilities of the plotters become clear in
retrospect. Moussaoui aroused suspicion for seeking fast-track
training on how to pilot large jet airliners. He was arrested on
August 16, 2001, for violations of immigration regulations. In late
August, officials in the intelligence community realized that the
terrorists spotted in Southeast Asia in January 2000 had arrived in
the United States.
These cases did not prompt urgent action. No one working on these late
leads in the summer of 2001 connected them to the high level of threat
reporting. In the words of one official, no analytic work foresaw the
lightning that could connect the thundercloud to the ground.
As final preparations were under way during the summer of 2001,
dissent emerged among al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan over whether to
proceed. The Taliban's chief, Mullah Omar, opposed attacking the
United States. Although facing opposition from many of his senior
lieutenants, Bin Ladin effectively overruled their objections, and the
attacks went forward.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
The day began with the 19 hijackers getting through a security
checkpoint system that they had evidently analyzed and knew how to
defeat. Their success rate in penetrating the system was 19 for
19.They took over the four flights, taking advantage of air crews and
cockpits that were not prepared for the contingency of a suicide
On 9/11, the defense of U.S. air space depended on close interaction
between two federal agencies: the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Existing
protocols on 9/11 were unsuited in every respect for an attack in
which hijacked planes were used as weapons.
What ensued was a hurried attempt to improvise a defense by civilians
who had never handled a hijacked aircraft that attempted to disappear,
and by a military unprepared for the transformation of commercial
aircraft into weapons of mass destruction.
A shootdown authorization was not communicated to the NORAD air
defense sector until 28 minutes after United 93 had crashed in
Pennsylvania. Planes were scrambled, but ineffectively, as they did
not know where to go or what targets they were to intercept. And once
the shootdown order was given, it was not communicated to the pilots.
In short, while leaders in Washington believed that the fighters
circling above them had been instructed to "take out" hostile
aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the pilots were to "ID
type and tail."
Like the national defense, the emergency response on 9/11 was
In New York City, the Fire Department of New York, the New York Police
Department, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the
building employees, and the occupants of the buildings did their best
to cope with the effects of almost unimaginable events unfolding
furiously over 102 minutes. Casualties were nearly 100 percent at and
above the impact zones and were very high among first responders who
stayed in danger as they tried to save lives. Despite weaknesses in
preparations for disaster, failure to achieve unified incident
command, and inadequate communications among responding agencies, all
but approximately one hundred of the thousands of civilians who worked
below the impact zone escaped, often with help from the emergency
At the Pentagon, while there were also problems of command and
control, the emergency response was generally effective. The Incident
Command System, a formalized management structure for emergency
response in place in the National Capital Region, overcame the
inherent complications of a response across local, state, and federal
We write with the benefit and handicap of hindsight. We are mindful of
the danger of being unjust to men and women who made choices in
conditions of uncertainty and in circumstances over which they often
had little control.
Nonetheless, there were specific points of vulnerability in the plot
and opportunities to disrupt it. Operational failures, opportunities
that were not or could not be exploited by the organizations and
systems of that time, included: not watchlisting future hijackers
Hazmi and Mihdhar, not trailing them after they traveled to Bangkok,
and not informing the FBI about one future hijacker's U.S. visa or his
companion's travel to the United States; not sharing information
linking individuals in the Cole attack to Mihdhar; not taking adequate
steps in time to find Mihdhar or Hazmi in the United States; not
linking the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, described as interested in
flight training for the purpose of using an airplane in a terrorist
act, to the heightened indications of attack; not discovering false
statements on visa applications; not recognizing passports manipulated
in a fraudulent manner; not expanding no-fly lists to include names
from terrorist watchlists; not searching airline passengers identified
by the computer-based CAPPS screening system; and not hardening
aircraft cockpit doors or taking other measures to prepare for the
possibility of suicide hijackings.
Since the plotters were flexible and resourceful, we cannot know
whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated them.
What we can say with confidence is that none of the measures adopted
by the U.S. government from 1998 to 2001 disturbed or even delayed the
progress of the al Qaeda plot. Across the government, there were
failures of imagination, policy, capabilities, and management.
The most important failure was one of imagination. We do not believe
leaders understood the gravity of the threat. The terrorist danger
from Bin Ladin and al Qaeda was not a major topic for policy debate
among the public, the media, or in the Congress. Indeed, it barely
came up during the 2000 presidential campaign.
Al Qaeda's new brand of terrorism presented challenges to U.S.
governmental institutions that they were not well-designed to meet.
Though top officials all told us that they understood the danger, we
believe there was uncertainty among them as to whether this was just a
new and especially venomous version of the ordinary terrorist threat
the United States had lived with for decades, or it was indeed
radically new, posing a threat beyond any yet experienced.
As late as September 4, 2001, Richard Clarke, the White House staffer
long responsible for counterterrorism policy coordination, asserted
that the government had not yet made up its mind how to answer the
question: "Is al Qaeda a big deal?"
A week later came the answer.
Terrorism was not the overriding national security concern for the
U.S. government under either the Clinton or the pre-9/11 Bush
The policy challenges were linked to this failure of imagination.
Officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations regarded a full
U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as practically inconceivable before 9/11.
Before 9/11, the United States tried to solve the al Qaeda problem
with the capabilities it had used in the last stages of the Cold War
and its immediate aftermath. These capabilities were insufficient.
Little was done to expand or reform them.
The CIA had minimal capacity to conduct paramilitary operations with
its own personnel, and it did not seek a large-scale expansion of
these capabilities before 9/11. The CIA also needed to improve its
capability to collect intelligence from human agents.
At no point before 9/11 was the Department of Defense fully engaged in
the mission of countering al Qaeda, even though this was perhaps the
most dangerous foreign enemy threatening the United States.
America's homeland defenders faced outward. NORAD itself was barely
able to retain any alert bases at all. Its planning scenarios
occasionally considered the danger of hijacked aircraft being guided
to American targets, but only aircraft that were coming from overseas.
The most serious weaknesses in agency capabilities were in the
domestic arena. The FBI did not have the capability to link the
collective knowledge of agents in the field to national priorities.
Other domestic agencies deferred to the FBI.
FAA capabilities were weak. Any serious examination of the possibility
of a suicide hijacking could have suggested changes to fix glaring
vulnerabilities expanding no-fly lists, searching passengers
identified by the CAPPS screening system, deploying federal air
marshals domestically, hardening cockpit doors, alerting air crews to
a different kind of hijacking possibility than they had been trained
to expect. Yet the FAA did not adjust either its own training or
training with NORAD to take account of threats other than those
experienced in the past.
The missed opportunities to thwart the 9/11 plot were also symptoms of
a broader inability to adapt the way government manages problems to
the new challenges of the twenty-first century. Action officers should
have been able to draw on all available knowledge about al Qaeda in
the government. Management should have ensured that information was
shared and duties were clearly assigned across agencies, and across
the foreign-domestic divide.
There were also broader management issues with respect to how top
leaders set priorities and allocated resources. For instance, on
December 4, 1998, DCI Tenet issued a directive to several CIA
officials and the DDCI for Community Management, stating: "We are at
war. I want no resources or people spared in this effort, either
inside CIA or the Community." The memorandum had little overall effect
on mobilizing the CIA or the intelligence community. This episode
indicates the limitations of the DCI's authority over the direction of
the intelligence community, including agencies within the Department
The U.S. government did not find a way of pooling intelligence and
using it to guide the planning and assignment of responsibilities for
joint operations involving entities as disparate as the CIA, the FBI,
the State Department, the military, and the agencies involved in
Beginning in February 1997, and through September 11, 2001, the U.S.
government tried to use diplomatic pressure to persuade the Taliban
regime in Afghanistan to stop being a sanctuary for al Qaeda, and to
expel Bin Ladin to a country where he could face justice. These
efforts included warnings and sanctions, but they all failed.
The U.S. government also pressed two successive Pakistani governments
to demand that the Taliban cease providing a sanctuary for Bin Ladin
and his organization and, failing that, to cut off their support for
the Taliban. Before 9/11, the United States could not find a mix of
incentives and pressure that would persuade Pakistan to reconsider its
fundamental relationship with the Taliban.
From 1999 through early 2001, the United States pressed the United
Arab Emirates, one of the Taliban's only travel and financial outlets
to the outside world, to break off ties and enforce sanctions,
especially those related to air travel to Afghanistan. These efforts
achieved little before 9/11.
Saudi Arabia has been a problematic ally in combating Islamic
extremism. Before 9/11, the Saudi and U.S. governments did not fully
share intelligence information or develop an adequate joint effort to
track and disrupt the finances of the al Qaeda organization. On the
other hand, government officials of Saudi Arabia at the highest levels
worked closely with top U.S. officials in major initiatives to solve
the Bin Ladin problem with diplomacy.
LACK OF MILITARY OPTIONS
In response to the request of policymakers, the military prepared an
array of limited strike options for attacking Bin Ladin and his
organization from May 1998 onward. When they briefed policymakers, the
military presented both the pros and cons of those strike options and
the associated risks. Policymakers expressed frustration with the
range of options presented.
Following the August 20, 1998, missile strikes on al Qaeda targets in
Afghanistan and Sudan, both senior military officials and policymakers
placed great emphasis on actionable intelligence as the key factor in
recommending or deciding to launch military action against Bin Ladin
and his organization. They did not want to risk significant collateral
damage, and they did not want to miss Bin Ladin and thus make the
United States look weak while making Bin Ladin look strong. On three
specific occasions in 1998-1999, intelligence was deemed credible
enough to warrant planning for possible strikes to kill Bin Ladin. But
in each case the strikes did not go forward, because senior
policymakers did not regard the intelligence as sufficiently
actionable to offset their assessment of the risks.
The Director of Central Intelligence, policymakers, and military
officials expressed frustration with the lack of actionable
intelligence. Some officials inside the Pentagon, including those in
the special forces and the counterterrorism policy office, also
expressed frustration with the lack of military action. The Bush
administration began to develop new policies toward al Qaeda in 2001,
but military plans did not change until after 9/11.
PROBLEMS WITHIN THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY
The intelligence community struggled throughout the 1990s and up to
9/11 to collect intelligence on and analyze the phenomenon of
transnational terrorism. The combination of an overwhelming number of
priorities, flat budgets, an outmoded structure, and bureaucratic
rivalries resulted in an insufficient response to this new challenge.
Many dedicated officers worked day and night for years to piece
together the growing body of evidence on al Qaeda and to understand
the threats. Yet, while there were many reports on Bin Laden and his
growing al Qaeda organization, there was no comprehensive review of
what the intelligence community knew and what it did not know, and
what that meant. There was no National Intelligence Estimate on
terrorism between 1995 and 9/11.
Before 9/11, no agency did more to attack al Qaeda than the CIA. But
there were limits to what the CIA was able to achieve by disrupting
terrorist activities abroad and by using proxies to try to capture Bin
Ladin and his lieutenants in Afghanistan. CIA officers were aware of
To put it simply, covert action was not a silver bullet. It was
important to engage proxies in Afghanistan and to build various
capabilities so that if an opportunity presented itself, the CIA could
act on it. But for more than three years, through both the late
Clinton and early Bush administrations, the CIA relied on proxy
forces, and there was growing frustration within the CIA's
Counterterrorist Center and in the National Security Council staff
with the lack of results. The development of the Predator and the push
to aid the Northern Alliance were products of this frustration.
PROBLEMS IN THE FBI
From the time of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, FBI and
Department of Justice leadership in Washington and New York became
increasingly concerned about the terrorist threat from Islamist
extremists to U.S. interests, both at home and abroad. Throughout the
1990s, the FBI's counterterrorism efforts against international
terrorist organizations included both intelligence and criminal
investigations. The FBI's approach to investigations was
case-specific, decentralized and geared toward prosecution.
Significant FBI resources were devoted to after-the-fact
investigations of major terrorist attacks, resulting in several
The FBI attempted several reform efforts aimed at strengthening its
ability to prevent such attacks, but these reform efforts failed to
implement organization-wide institutional change. On September 11,
2001, the FBI was limited in several areas critical to an effective
preventive counterterrorism strategy.Those working counterterrorism
matters did so despite limited intelligence collection and strategic
analysis capabilities, a limited capacity to share information both
internally and externally, insufficient training, perceived legal
barriers to sharing information, and inadequate resources.
PERMEABLE BORDERS AND IMMIGRATION CONTROLS
There were opportunities for intelligence and law enforcement to
exploit al Qaeda's travel vulnerabilities. Considered collectively,
the 9/11 hijackers included known al Qaeda operatives who could have
been watchlisted; presented passports manipulated in a fraudulent
manner; presented passports with suspicious indicators of extremism;
made detectable false statements on visa applications; made false
statements to border officials to gain entry into the United States;
and violated immigration laws while in the United States.
Neither the State Department's consular officers nor the Immigration
and Naturalization Service's inspectors and agents were ever
considered full partners in a national counterterrorism effort.
Protecting borders was not a national security issue before 9/11.
PERMABLE AVIATION SECURITY
Hijackers studied publicly available materials on the aviation
security system and used items that had less metal content than a
handgun and were most likely permissible. Though two of the hijackers
were on the U.S. TIPOFF terrorist watchlist, the FAA did not use
TIPOFF data.The hijackers had to beat only one layer of securitythe
security checkpoint process. Even though several hijackers were
selected for extra screening by the CAPPS system, this led only to
greater scrutiny of their checked baggage. Once on board, the
hijackers were faced with aircraft personnel who were trained to be
nonconfrontational in the event of a hijacking.
The 9/11 attacks cost somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 to
execute. The operatives spent more than $270,000 in the United States.
Additional expenses included travel to obtain passports and visas,
travel to the United States, expenses incurred by the plot leader and
facilitators outside the United States, and expenses incurred by the
people selected to be hijackers who ultimately did not participate.
The conspiracy made extensive use of banks in the United States. The
hijackers opened accounts in their own names, using passports and
other identification documents. Their transactions were unremarkable
and essentially invisible amid the billions of dollars flowing around
the world every day.
To date, we have not been able to determine the origin of the money
used for the 9/11 attacks.Al Qaeda had many sources of funding and a
pre- 9/11 annual budget estimated at $30 million. If a particular
source of funds had dried up, al Qaeda could easily have found enough
money elsewhere to fund the attack.
AN IMPROVISED HOMELAND DEFENSE
The civilian and military defenders of the nation's airspace, FAA and
NORAD, were unprepared for the attacks launched against them. Given
that lack of preparedness, they attempted and failed to improvise an
effective homeland defense against an unprecedented challenge.
The events of that morning do not reflect discredit on operational
personnel. NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector personnel reached out
for information and made the best judgments they could based on the
information they received. Individual FAA controllers, facility
managers, and command center managers were creative and agile in
recommending a nationwide alert, groundstopping local traffic,
ordering all aircraft nationwide to land, and executing that
unprecedented order flawlessly.
At more senior levels, communication was poor. Senior military and FAA
leaders had no effective communication with each other. The chain of
command did not function well. The President could not reach some
senior officials. The Secretary of Defense did not enter the chain of
command until the morning's key events were over. Air National Guard
units with different rules of engagement were scrambled without the
knowledge of the President, NORAD, or the National Military Command
The civilians, firefighters, police officers, emergency medical
technicians, and emergency management professionals exhibited steady
determination and resolve under horrifying, overwhelming conditions on
9/11. Their actions saved lives and inspired a nation.
Effective decisionmaking in New York was hampered by problems in
command and control and in internal communications. Within the Fire
Department of New York, this was true for several reasons: the
magnitude of the incident was unforeseen; commanders had difficulty
communicating with their units; more units were actually dispatched
than were ordered by the chiefs; some units self-dispatched; and once
units arrived at the World Trade Center, they were neither
comprehensively accounted for nor coordinated. The Port Authority's
response was hampered by the lack both of standard operating
procedures and of radios capable of enabling multiple commands to
respond to an incident in unified fashion.The New York Police
Department, because of its history of mobilizing thousands of officers
for major events requiring crowd control, had a technical radio
capability and protocols more easily adapted to an incident of the
magnitude of 9/11.
The Congress, like the executive branch, responded slowly to the rise
of transnational terrorism as a threat to national security. The
legislative branch adjusted little and did not restructure itself to
address changing threats. Its attention to terrorism was episodic and
splintered across several committees. The Congress gave little
guidance to executive branch agencies on terrorism, did not reform
them in any significant way to meet the threat, and did not
systematically perform robust oversight to identify, address, and
attempt to resolve the many problems in national security and domestic
agencies that became apparent in the aftermath of 9/11.
So long as oversight is undermined by current congressional rules and
resolutions, we believe the American people will not get the security
they want and need. The United States needs a strong, stable, and
capable congressional committee structure to give America's national
intelligence agencies oversight, support, and leadership.
ARE WE SAFER?
Since 9/11, the United States and its allies have killed or captured a
majority of al Qaeda's leadership; toppled the Taliban, which gave al
Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan; and severely damaged the organization.
Yet terrorist attacks continue. Even as we have thwarted attacks,
nearly everyone expects they will come. How can this be?
The problem is that al Qaeda represents an ideological movement, not a
finite group of people. It initiates and inspires, even if it no
longer directs. In this way it has transformed itself into a
decentralized force. Bin Ladin may be limited in his ability to
organize major attacks from his hideouts. Yet killing or capturing
him, while extremely important, would not end terror. His message of
inspiration to a new generation of terrorists would continue.
Because of offensive actions against al Qaeda since 9/11, and
defensive actions to improve homeland security, we believe we are
safer today. But we are not safe. We therefore make the following
recommendations that we believe can make America safer and more
Three years after 9/11, the national debate continues about how to
protect our nation in this new era. We divide our recommendations into
two basic parts: What to do, and how to do it.
WHAT TO DO? A GLOBAL STRATEGY
The enemy is not just "terrorism." It is the threat posed specifically
by Islamist terrorism, by Bin Ladin and others who draw on a long
tradition of extreme intolerance within a minority strain of Islam
that does not distinguish politics from religion, and distorts both.
The enemy is not Islam, the great world faith, but a perversion of
Islam. The enemy goes beyond al Qaeda to include the radical
ideological movement, inspired in part by al Qaeda, that has spawned
other terrorist groups and violence. Thus our strategy must match our
means to two ends: dismantling the al Qaeda network and, in the long
term, prevailing over the ideology that contributes to Islamist
The first phase of our post-9/11 efforts rightly included military
action to topple the Taliban and pursue al Qaeda. This work continues.
But long-term success demands the use of all elements of national
power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement,
economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy, and homeland defense.
If we favor one tool while neglecting others, we leave ourselves
vulnerable and weaken our national effort.
What should Americans expect from their government? The goal seems
unlimited: Defeat terrorism anywhere in the world. But Americans have
also been told to expect the worst: An attack is probably coming; it
may be more devastating still.
Vague goals match an amorphous picture of the enemy. Al Qaeda and
other groups are popularly described as being all over the world,
adaptable, resilient, needing little higher-level organization, and
capable of anything. It is an image of an omnipotent hydra of
destruction. That image lowers expectations of government
It lowers them too far. Our report shows a determined and capable
group of plotters. Yet the group was fragile and occasionally left
vulnerable by the marginal, unstable people often attracted to such
causes. The enemy made mistakes. The U.S. government was not able to
capitalize on them.
No president can promise that a catastrophic attack like that of 9/11
will not happen again. But the American people are entitled to expect
that officials will have realistic objectives, clear guidance, and
effective organization. They are entitled to see standards for
performance so they can judge, with the help of their elected
representatives, whether the objectives are being met.
We propose a strategy with three dimensions: (1) attack terrorists and
their organizations, (2) prevent the continued growth of Islamist
terrorism, and (3) protect against and prepare for terrorist attacks.
ATTACK TERRORISTS AND THEIR ORGANIZATIONS --Root out sanctuaries. The
U.S. government should identify and prioritize actual or potential
terrorist sanctuaries and have realistic country or regional
strategies for each, utilizing every element of national power and
reaching out to countries that can help us.
--Strengthen long-term U.S. and international commitments to the
future of Pakistan and Afghanistan. --Confront problems with Saudi
Arabia in the open and build a relationship beyond oil, a relationship
that both sides can defend to their citizens and includes a shared
commitment to reform. ------
PREVENT THE CONTINUED GROWTH OF ISLAMIST TERRORISM
In October 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked if enough
was being done "to fashion a broad integrated plan to stop the next
generation of terrorists." As part of such a plan, the U.S. government
--Define the message and stand as an example of moral leadership in
the world. To Muslim parents, terrorists like Bin Ladin have nothing
to offer their children but visions of violence and death. America and
its friends have the advantage -- our vision can offer a better
future. --Where Muslim governments, even those who are friends, do not
offer opportunity, respect the rule of law, or tolerate differences,
then the United States needs to stand for a better future.
--Communicate and defend American ideals in the Islamic world, through
much stronger public diplomacy to reach more people, including
students and leaders outside of government. Our efforts here should be
as strong as they were in combating closed societies during the Cold
War. --Offer an agenda of opportunity that includes support for public
education and economic openness. --Develop a comprehensive coalition
strategy against Islamist terrorism, using a flexible contact group of
leading coalition governments and fashioning a common coalition
approach on issues like the treatment of captured terrorists. --Devote
a maximum effort to the parallel task of countering the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction. --Expect less from trying to dry up
terrorist money and more from following the money for intelligence, as
a tool to hunt terrorists, understand their networks, and disrupt
PROTECT AGAINST AND PREPARE FOR TERRORIST ATTACKS --Target terrorist
travel, an intelligence and security strategy that the 9/11 story
showed could be at least as powerful as the effort devoted to
terrorist finance. Address problems of screening people with biometric
identifiers across agencies and governments, including our border and
transportation systems, by designing a comprehensive screening system
that addresses common problems and sets common standards. As standards
spread, this necessary and ambitious effort could dramatically
strengthen the world's ability to intercept individuals who could pose
--Quickly complete a biometric entry-exit screening system, one that
also speeds qualified travelers. --Set standards for the issuance of
birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver's
licenses. --Develop strategies for neglected parts of our
transportation security system. Since 9/11, about 90 percent of the
nation's $5 billion annual investment in transportation security has
gone to aviation, to fight the last war. --In aviation, prevent
arguments about a new computerized profiling system from delaying
vital improvements in the "no-fly" and "automatic selectee" lists.
Also, give priority to the improvement of checkpoint screening.
--Determine, with leadership from the President, guidelines for
gathering and sharing information in the new security systems that are
needed, guidelines that integrate safeguards for privacy and other
essential liberties. --Underscore that as government power necessarily
expands in certain ways, the burden of retaining such powers remains
on the executive to demonstrate the value of such powers and ensure
adequate supervision of how they are used, including a new board to
oversee the implementation of the guidelines needed for gathering and
sharing information in these new security systems. --Base federal
funding for emergency preparedness solely on risks and
vulnerabilities, putting New York City and Washington, D.C., at the
top of the current list. Such assistance should not remain a program
for general revenue sharing or pork-barrel spending. --Make homeland
security funding contingent on the adoption of an incident command
system to strengthen teamwork in a crisis, including a regional
approach. Allocate more radio spectrum and improve connectivity for
public safety communications, and encourage widespread adoption of
newly developed standards for private-sector emergency preparedness
since the private sector controls 85 percent of the nation's critical
HOW TO DO IT? A DIFFERENT WAY OF ORGANIZING GOVERNMENT
The strategy we have recommended is elaborate, even as presented here
very briefly. To implement it will require a government better
organized than the one that exists today, with its national security
institutions designed half a century ago to win the Cold War.
Americans should not settle for incremental, ad hoc adjustments to a
system created a generation ago for a world that no longer exists.
Our detailed recommendations are designed to fit together. Their
purpose is clear: to build unity of effort across the U.S. government.
As one official now serving on the front lines overseas put it to us:
"One fight, one team."
We call for unity of effort in five areas, beginning with unity of
effort on the challenge of counterterrorism itself:
--Unifying strategic intelligence and operational planning against
Islamist terrorists across the foreign-domestic divide with a National
Counterterrorism Center; unifying the intelligence community with a
new National Intelligence Director; --Unifying the many participants
in the counterterrorism effort and their knowledge in a network-based
information sharing system that transcends traditional governmental
boundaries; --Unifying and strengthening congressional oversight to
improve quality and accountability; --Strengthening the FBI and
homeland defenders. ------
UNITY OF EFFORT: A NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER
The 9/11 story teaches the value of integrating strategic intelligence
from all sources into joint operational planning with both dimensions
spanning the foreign-domestic divide.
--In some ways, since 9/11, joint work has gotten better. The effort
of fighting terrorism has flooded over many of the usual agency
boundaries because of its sheer quantity and energy. Attitudes have
changed. But the problems of coordination have multiplied. The Defense
Department alone has three unified commands (SOCOM, CENTCOM, and
NORTHCOM) that deal with terrorism as one of their principal concerns.
--Much of the public commentary about the 9/11 attacks has focused on
"lost opportunities." Though characterized as problems of
"watchlisting," "information sharing," or "connecting the dots," each
of these labels is too narrow. They describe the symptoms, not the
disease. --Breaking the older mold of organization stovepiped purely
in executive agencies, we propose a National Counterterrorism Center
(NCTC) that would borrow the joint, unified command concept adopted in
the 1980s by the American military in a civilian agency, combining the
joint intelligence function alongside the operations work. --The NCTC
would build on the existing Terrorist Threat Integration Center and
would replace it and other terrorism "fusion centers" within the
government. --The NCTC would become the authoritative knowledge bank,
bringing information to bear on common plans. It should task
collection requirements both inside and outside the United States. The
NCTC should perform joint operational planning, assigning lead
responsibilities to existing agencies and letting them direct the
actual execution of the plans. --Placed in the Executive Office of the
President, headed by a Senate-confirmed official (with rank equal to
the deputy head of a cabinet department) who reports to the National
Intelligence Director, the NCTC would track implementation of plans.
It would be able to influence the leadership and the budgets of the
counterterrorism operating arms of the CIA, the FBI, and the
departments of Defense and Homeland Security. --The NCTC should not be
a policymaking body. Its operations and planning should follow the
policy direction of the president and the National Security Council.
UNITY OF EFFORT: A NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR
Since long before 9/11 and continuing to this day the intelligence
community is not organized well for joint intelligence work. It does
not employ common standards and practices in reporting intelligence or
in training experts overseas and at home. The expensive national
capabilities for collecting intelligence have divided management. The
structures are too complex and too secret.
--The community's head -- the Director of Central Intelligence -- has
at least three jobs: running the CIA, coordinating a 15-agency
confederation, and being the intelligence analyst-in-chief to the
president. No one person can do all these things. --A new National
Intelligence Director should be established with two main jobs: (1) to
oversee national intelligence centers that combine experts from all
the collection disciplines against common targets like
counterterrorism or nuclear proliferation; and (2) to oversee the
agencies that contribute to the national intelligence program, a task
that includes setting common standards for personnel and information
technology. --The national intelligence centers would be the unified
commands of the intelligence world -- a long-overdue reform for
intelligence comparable to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols law that
reformed the organization of national defense. The home services --
such as the CIA, DIA, NSA, and FBI -- would organize, train, and equip
the best intelligence professionals in the world, and would handle the
execution of intelligence operations in the field. --This National
Intelligence Director (NID) should be located in the Executive Office
of the President and report directly to the president, yet be
confirmed by the Senate. In addition to overseeing the National
Counterterrorism Center described above (which will include both the
national intelligence center for terrorism and the joint operations
planning effort), the NID should have three deputies: --For foreign
intelligence (a deputy who also would be the head of the CIA) --For
defense intelligence (also the under secretary of defense for
intelligence) --For homeland intelligence (also the executive
assistant director for intelligence at the FBI or the under secretary
of homeland security for information analysis and infrastructure
protection) --The NID should receive a public appropriation for
national intelligence, should have authority to hire and fire his or
her intelligence deputies, and should be able to set common personnel
and information technology policies across the intelligence community.
--The CIA should concentrate on strengthening the collection
capabilities of its clandestine service and the talents of its
analysts, building pride in its core expertise. --Secrecy stifles
oversight, accountability, and information sharing. Unfortunately, all
the current organizational incentives encourage overclassification.
This balance should change; and as a start, open information should be
provided about the overall size of agency intelligence budgets. ------
UNITY OF EFFORT: SHARING INFORMATION
The U.S. government has access to a vast amount of information. But it
has a weak system for processing and using what it has. The system of
"need to know" should be replaced by a system of "need to share."
--The President should lead a government-wide effort to bring the
major national security institutions into the information revolution,
turning a mainframe system into a decentralized network. The obstacles
are not technological. Official after official has urged us to call
attention to problems with the unglamorous "back office" side of
government operations. --But no agency can solve the problems on its
own. To build the network requires an effort that transcends old
divides, solving common legal and policy issues in ways that can help
officials know what they can and cannot do. Again, in tackling
information issues, America needs unity of effort. ------
UNITY OF EFFORT: CONGRESS
Congress took too little action to adjust itself or to restructure the
executive branch to address the emerging terrorist threat.
Congressional oversight for intelligence and counterterrorism is
dysfunctional. Both Congress and the executive need to do more to
minimize national security risks during transitions between
--For intelligence oversight, we propose two options: either a joint
committee on the old model of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy or
a single committee in each house combining authorizing and
appropriating committees. Our central message is the same: The
intelligence committees cannot carry out their oversight function
unless they are made stronger, and thereby have both clear
responsibility and accountability for that oversight. --Congress
should create a single, principal point of oversight and review for
homeland security. There should be one permanent standing committee
for homeland security in each chamber. --We propose reforms to speed
up the nomination, financial reporting, security clearance, and
confirmation process for national security officials at the start of
an administration, and suggest steps to make sure that incoming
administrations have the information they need. ------
UNITY OF EFFORT: ORGANIZING AMERICA'S DEFENSES IN THE UNITED STATES
We have considered several proposals relating to the future of the
domestic intelligence and counterterrorism mission. Adding a new
domestic intelligence agency will not solve America's problems in
collecting and analyzing intelligence within the United States. We do
not recommend creating one.
--We propose the establishment of a specialized and integrated
national security workforce at the FBI, consisting of agents,
analysts, linguists, and surveillance specialists who are recruited,
trained, rewarded, and retained to ensure the development of an
institutional culture imbued with a deep expertise in intelligence and
At several points we asked: Who has the responsibility for defending
us at home? Responsibility for America's national defense is shared by
the Department of Defense, with its new Northern Command, and by the
Department of Homeland Security. They must have a clear delineation of
roles, missions, and authority.
The Department of Defense and its oversight committees should
regularly assess the adequacy of Northern Command's strategies and
planning to defend against military threats to the homeland.
The Department of Homeland Security and its oversight committees
should regularly assess the types of threats the country faces, in
order to determine the adequacy of the government's plans and the
readiness of the government to respond to those threats.
We call on the American people to remember how we all felt on 9/11, to
remember not only the unspeakable horror but how we came together as a
nation -- one nation. Unity of purpose and unity of effort are the way
we will defeat this enemy and make America safer for our children and
We look forward to a national debate on the merits of what we have
recommended, and we will participate vigorously in that debate.
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