More than a year before 911, CIA officials prevented an FBI agent working with the CIA from passing vital information to his agency on two suspected Al Qaeda members — men who later would become September 11 hijackers.
The agent wanted to warn his FBI bosses about a meeting in Malaysia where Al Qaeda suspects Khalid Al Midhar and Nawaf Al Hazmi met with suspects in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.
After the meeting, CIA officials learned Al Midhar and Al Hazmi had visas to enter the U.S.
"The failure to communicate that info to the FBI, which would have been potentially able to act on it, is a very serious failure," said Michael Bromwich, former Justice Department Inspector General. He now oversees internal investigations, compliance and monitoring practices for a private consulting firm.
The CIA says the FBI agent was told not to send the memo because the FBI had already been given all the information. The FBI says that is not true.
"If that information [got] disseminated, would it have had an impact on the events of 9/11?" asked Jack Cloonan, an ABCNEWS consultant who previously worked as an FBI agent assigned to pursue members of Al Qaeda. "I'm telling you that it would have," he said.
Information from the Malaysia meeting could have been used to begin tracking Al Midhar and Al Hazmi — who both came to the U.S. in January 2000 and began flight training in San Diego.
Al Midhar and Al Hazmi could have been placed on a terrorism watch list and U.S. customs and border officials might have spotted them. There were not put on the watch list until August 2001.
Al Midhar left the U.S and came back just two months before the 9-11 attacks … no questions asked. He arrived at JFK Airport in New York, using his own name. Then he disappeared until September 11, 2001.
Michael Bromwich described the missed opportunity as "Frustrating, troubling, tragic."
"I think the failure of our government to work in the way we hoped it would is a deep set back in our confidence that our government can protect us," he said.