What the FBI Knew Before 9/11

The independent commission charged with investigating 9/11 is now turning its attention to the FBI and apparent intelligence failures in the months before the attacks.

The commission is hearing testimony today from current and former intelligence officials, including former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Attorney General Janet Reno and current Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The release of the president's daily intelligence briefing from Aug. 6, 2001, has raised new questions about the FBI's handling of the terrorist threat leading up to 9/11. The main question — what was the FBI doing in the summer of 2001?

The Bush administration has said there were 70 investigations conducted by FBI field offices looking for evidence of al Qaeda activity in the United States. But some members of the 9/11 commission said they could find no evidence to support that assertion.

"To date, we have found nobody — nobody at the FBI — who knows anything about a tasking of field offices," commissioner Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said last week.

Sources tell ABCNEWS that senior FBI officials were 95 percent to 98 percent certain that an attack was coming, but did not believe it would occur in the United States.

Why Wasn’t Information Passed On?

Commissioners will want to find out why senior FBI officials were not aware of important information their field agents had developed, including a memo by Phoenix FBI Agent Ken Williams, describing suspected al Qaeda members training at U.S. flight schools.

This raises another question for 9/11 commissioner Richard Ben Veniste. "Why was there not an effort to pulse the FBI, to send a message throughout the FBI, 'Tell us everything that you got'?"

It's expected that the FBI will acknowledge it did not keep track of its own investigations — an admission officials have made before.

"Unfortunately this is an age-old and repeated problem in the FBI, where there is information somewhere in the agency, but it is not adequately shared with other parts of the agency, much less with agencies outside of the FBI," said Michael Bromwich, former Justice Department inspector general.

Commissioners plan to ask whether the FBI got the support it needed from the Bush and Clinton administrations. Agency officials have addressed that question before — during Freeh's testimony before a Senate hearing on Oct. 8, 2002.

"I asked for a total of 1,895 special agents, analysts, linguists and others," Freeh told the committee."The final enacted allocation we received was 76 people over those three years."

And commissioners will surely ask Ashcroft, who as attorney general oversees the FBI, if fighting terrorism was his top priority.

Tom Pickard, the acting FBI director during the summer of 2001, has told the commission Ashcroft rejected a request for additional counterterrorism funding — the day before Sept. 11.

Ashcroft's aides, however, note that at that point, he had already approved the biggest increase in FBI anti-terror spending in five years.

The aides said that when Ashcroft asked specifically if there were any evidence the United States would be attacked, the FBI said there was none.

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...