newly released information on september 11 warnings
February 10, 2005
9/11 Report Cites Many Warnings About Hijackings
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 - In the months before the Sept. 11
attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of
intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden
and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed
airline hijackings and suicide operations, according
to a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11
But aviation officials were "lulled into a false sense
of security," and "intelligence that indicated a real
and growing threat leading up to 9/11 did not
stimulate significant increases in security
procedures," the commission report concluded.
The report discloses that the Federal Aviation
Administration, despite being focused on risks of
hijackings overseas, warned airports in the spring of
2001 that if "the intent of the hijacker is not to
exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide
in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would
probably be preferable."
The report takes the F.A.A. to task for failing to
pursue domestic security measures that could
conceivably have altered the events of Sept. 11, 2001,
like toughening airport screening procedures for
weapons or expanding the use of on-flight air
marshals. The report, completed last August, said
officials appeared more concerned with reducing
airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing
airlines' financial woes than deterring a terrorist
The Bush administration has blocked the public release
of the full, classified version of the report for more
than five months, officials said, much to the
frustration of former commission members who say it
provides a critical understanding of the failures of
the civil aviation system. The administration provided
both the classified report and a declassified,
120-page version to the National Archives two weeks
ago and, even with heavy redactions in some areas, the
declassified version provides the firmest evidence to
date about the warnings that aviation officials
received concerning the threat of an attack on
airliners and the failure to take steps to deter it.
Among other things, the report says that leaders of
the F.A.A. received 52 intelligence reports from their
security branch that mentioned Mr. bin Laden or Al
Qaeda from April to Sept. 10, 2001. That represented
half of all the intelligence summaries in that time.
Five of the intelligence reports specifically
mentioned Al Qaeda's training or capability to conduct
hijackings, the report said. Two mentioned suicide
operations, although not connected to aviation, the
A spokeswoman for the F.A.A., the agency that bears
the brunt of the commission's criticism, said
Wednesday that the agency was well aware of the threat
posed by terrorists before Sept. 11 and took
substantive steps to counter it, including the
expanded use of explosives detection units.
"We had a lot of information about threats," said the
spokeswoman, Laura J. Brown. "But we didn't have
specific information about means or methods that would
have enabled us to tailor any countermeasures."
She added: "After 9/11, the F.A..A. and the entire
aviation community took bold steps to improve aviation
security, such as fortifying cockpit doors on 6,000
airplanes, and those steps took hundreds of millions
of dollars to implement."
The report, like previous commission documents, finds
no evidence that the government had specific warning
of a domestic attack and says that the aviation
industry considered the hijacking threat to be more
"The fact that the civil aviation system seems to have
been lulled into a false sense of security is striking
not only because of what happened on 9/11 but also in
light of the intelligence assessments, including those
conducted by the F.A.A.'s own security branch, that
raised alarms about the growing terrorist threat to
civil aviation throughout the 1990's and into the new
century," the report said.
In its previous findings, including a final report
last July that became a best-selling book, the 9/11
commission detailed the harrowing events aboard the
four hijacked flights that crashed on Sept. 11 and the
communications problems between civil aviation and
military officials that hampered the response. But the
new report goes further in revealing the scope and
depth of intelligence collected by federal aviation
officials about the threat of a terrorist attack.
The F.A.A. "had indeed considered the possibility that
terrorists would hijack a plane and use it as a
weapon," and in 2001 it distributed a CD-ROM
presentation to airlines and airports that cited the
possibility of a suicide hijacking, the report said.
Previous commission documents have quoted the CD's
reassurance that "fortunately, we have no indication
that any group is currently thinking in that
Aviation officials amassed so much information about
the growing threat posed by terrorists that they
conducted classified briefings in mid-2001 for
security officials at 19 of the nation's busiest
airports to warn of the threat posed in particular by
Mr. bin Laden, the report said.
Still, the 9/11 commission concluded that aviation
officials did not direct adequate resources or
attention to the problem.
"Throughout 2001, the senior leadership of the F.A.A.
was focused on congestion and delays within the system
and the ever-present issue of safety, but they were
not as focused on security," the report said.
The F.A.A. did not see a need to increase the air
marshal ranks because hijackings were seen as an
overseas threat, and one aviation official told the
commission said that airlines did not want to give up
revenues by providing free seats to marshals.
The F.A.A. also made no concerted effort to expand
their list of terror suspects, which included a dozen
names on Sept. 11, the report said. The former head of
the F.A.A.'s civil aviation security branch said he
was not aware of the government's main watch list,
called Tipoff, which included the names of two
hijackers who were living in the San Diego area, the
Nor was there evidence that a senior F.A.A. working
group on security had ever met in 2001 to discuss "the
high threat period that summer," the report said.
Jane F. Garvey, the F.A.A. administrator at the time,
told the commission "that she was aware of the
heightened threat during the summer of 2001," the
report said. But several other senior agency officials
"were basically unaware of the threat," as were senior
airline operations officials and veteran pilots, the
The classified version of the commission report quotes
extensively from circulars prepared by the F.A.A.
about the threat of terrorism, but many of those
references have been blacked out in the declassified
version, officials said.
Several former commissioners and staff members said
they were upset and disappointed by the
administration's refusal to release the full report
"Our intention was to make as much information
available to the public as soon as possible," said
Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Sept. 11 commission