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newly released information on september 11 warnings

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/10/politics/10terror.html?ei=5065&en=0548ca01617f739d&ex=1108616400&partner=MYWAY&pagewanted=print&position= February 10, 2005
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 10, 2005
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      http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/10/politics/10terror.html?ei=5065&en=0548ca01617f739d&ex=1108616400&partner=MYWAY&pagewanted=print&position=

      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
      commission.

      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
      attack.

      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
      report said.

      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
      worrisome overseas.

      "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
      direction."

      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
      report said.

      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
      report said.

      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
      publicly.

      "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
      member.
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