Suicide Scenario Was Nothing New
U.S. officials had heard of possible attacks similar to 9/11
May 17, 2002
Before Sept. 11, the White House says, scant thought was given to the notion terrorists would use hijacked planes as missiles. But the possibility that al-Qaida might try such a strategy was raised numerous times after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993.
U.S. intelligence reports last August raised the possibility that Osama bin
Laden and his associates might consider hijacking airplanes. The White House
acknowledged this week that the information had been included in Bushs
presidential daily briefing, provided by the CIA.
Even as she acknowledged a heightened sense of concern among top officials
that al-Qaida might plan an attack, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice
insisted Thursday the focus was not on a suicide mission.
I dont think anybody could have predicted that these people would
take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, 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, she said. All of this reporting
about hijacking was about traditional hijacking.
Though it is classified as top-secret, the presidential daily briefing is circulated
to several senior officials in the executive branch.
And though the August reports were apparently vague on the details of any possible
hijacking, a 1999 report from Library of Congress researchers speculated on
the likelihood of terrorist attacks using new and unconventional methods. They
suggested that al-Qaida might try and crash-land an aircraft packed with
high explosives ... into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence
Agency, or the White House.
Those chosen for the task, the report said, would likely come from al-Qaidas
martyrdom battalions, which it said were composed of human
bombs being trained to carry out spectacular terrorist operations.
It did not give details on the size of the battalions but quoted terrorism expert Yossef Bodansky that bin Ladens Afghanistan-trained forces numbered about 10,000.
The report Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why was written by Rex Hudson for the National Intelligence Council, a CIA-affiliated government panel that ties together numerous government and private-sector intelligence efforts.
Other possible report scenarios attributed to al-Qaida included the use of
a building-buster bomb at a federal building similar to those used
by rebels in Chechnya.
The report urged the government to consider potential new forms of terror strikes, and cited the first World Trade Center blast, which killed six, as an example.
The WTC bombing illustrated how terrorists with technological sophistication
are increasingly being recruited to carry out lethal terrorist bombing attacks,
the authors wrote. The WTC bombing may also have been a harbinger of more
destructive attacks of international terrorism in the United States.
The report quotes a broad range of possibilities, going so far as to suggest
bin Laden might have purchased a suitcase-sized nuclear device from Chechen
rebels. Much of the al-Qaida material in the report was cited from Bodanskys
1999 book, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America.
At a White House news briefing Friday, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed
the reports salience: It is not a piece of intelligence information
suggesting that we had information about a specific plan.
It was not the only report by the intelligence community to suggest such a
possibility. FBI Director Robert Mueller testified to a Senate panel last week
about a memo from the bureaus Minneapolis field office on terror suspect
Zacarias Moussaoui, who currently faces trial for allegedly conspiring with
the 19 hijackers who carried out the three Sept. 11 attacks. According to Muellers
testimony, one field agent described Moussaoui, who had hoped to pay a Minnesota
flight school to train on a 747 simulator, as being that type of person
that could fly something into the World Trade Center.
Similarly, though less specifically, Arizona field agents wrote a memo last
July, detailing suspicions about Middle Eastern students at the Prescott, Ariz.,
branch of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
The FBI has released just one paragraph of the Phoenix memo, which suggested
that FBI headquarters alert all field offices to the flight-school suspicions,
circulate the suspicions throughout the intelligence community and try to obtain
visa information from the State Department on foreign nationals attending U.S.
Did we discern from that that there was a plot that would have led us
to September 11? No. Could we have? I rather doubt it, Mueller told the
Senate Judiciary Committee on May 8. But should we have done more in terms
of the Phoenix EC [electronic communication]? Yes.
In another case, terror suspect Abdul Hakim Murad told Philippine police in 1995 of a possible plot to hijack and crash a commercial jetliner. Murad was later arrested as part of a plot to blow up 11 commercial jets over the Pacific Ocean. He once roomed in Manila with Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing as well as the Pacific airplane plot.
According to the Philippine officials debriefing, which was obtained by NBC News, Murad, who was trained as a commercial pilot, said he would board any American commercial aircraft pretending to be an ordinary passenger. Then, he will hijack said aircraft, control its cockpit and dive it at the CIA headquarters. There will be no bomb or explosive that he will use in its execution. It is simply a suicide mission that he is very much willing to execute.
Filipino officials quickly told U.S. officials, including the CIA and FBI,
of Murads alleged plans. CIA agents investigated Murad and even searched
the Philippines apartment he shared with Yousef. Murad was trained as a pilot
in Dubai, but also attended flight schools in Texas, New York and North Carolina.
He received a commercial license in 1992.
Former CIA Deputy Director John Gannon, who was chairman of the National Intelligence
Council when the report was written, told The Associated Press that the plane-as-weapon
scenario had long been considered in U.S. intelligence circles: If you
ask anybody could terrorists convert a plane into a missile? nobody
would have ruled that out.
But he also questioned any criticism that the administration should have foreseen
an attack of the magnitude of Sept. 11. The alerts last summer may have been
of concern, but the president wasnt given actionable intelligence,
Written by MSNBCs Jon Bonné. NBCs Robert Windrem and Tammy
Kupperman, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2002 MSNBC
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