Eleanor Hill, staff director for the joint House-Senate inquiry into alleged intelligence failures ahead of the Sept. 11 attacks, released a 30-page statement Wednesday that found information on possible terrorist strikes continued to filter through the nation’s intelligence system in the months directly before the attacks.
Some of that information specifically mentioned potential attacks by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network — the group the U.S. blames for the Sept. 11 strikes that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
But, Hill’s statement said, details were spotty and sources were often questionable.
“They generally did not contain specific information as to where, when and how a terrorist attack might occur and generally are not corroborated by further information,” Hill’s statement said.
Hill’s report details a July 2001 briefing for senior government officials that said a review of five months of intelligence information indicated “that [Bin Laden] will launch a significant attack against U.S. and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks… The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests.”
“Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning,” it said.
Hill’s report also said the National Security Agency, which monitors communications worldwide, reported at least 33 communications between May and July 2001 suggesting a “possible, imminent terrorist attack.”
Such intelligence information dated back as far as 1998, Hill’s report said, citing intelligence information in the fall of 1998 saying bin Laden’s “next operation could possibly involve flying an aircraft loaded with explosives into a U.S. airport and detonating it” and a separate dispatch warned of a bin Laden plot involving aircraft in the New York City and Washington, D.C. areas.
A joint Congressional hearing on the possible intelligence failures heard testimony Tuesday from members of Sept. 11 victims’ groups urging the investigation into what the government knew before the attacks continue.
“Our intelligence agencies suffered an utter collapse in their duties and responsibilities leading up to and on September 11th,” Kristen Breitweiser, founder of the September 11th Advocates group told the committee. “And it goes without saying that the examination of the intelligence agencies by this committee does not detract, discount or dismantle the need for a more thorough examination of all of these other culpable parties.”
Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said the investigation was a “search for the truth, not to point fingers or to pin blame.”
But Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he thought the Sept. 11 attacks indicated a gap in U.S. intelligence efforts.
“We know now that our inability to detect and prevent the Sept. 11 attacks was an intelligence failure of unprecedented magnitude,” he said. “Some people who couldn’t seem to utter the words ‘intelligence failure’ are now convinced of it.”