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Context of 'September 7, 2001: CENTCOM Commander Franks Says He Fears a Terrorist Attack on the World Trade Center'

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Army General Tommy Franks raises concerns that al-Qaeda will attack Western facilities in the Middle East using planes loaded with explosives. (Franks 2004, pp. 235-236; Taylor 10/9/2004) As commander in chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), Franks is in charge of US military operations in an area covering 25 nations in North Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. (CNN 10/24/2001; ABC News 1/7/2006) “Through the spring of 2001 and into the summer, protecting our deployed troops from terrorists remained an ever-present concern,” he will later write. During the summer, CENTCOM intelligence officers work with the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, “collecting and analyzing persistent but unspecific indications of planned terrorist activity in the Middle East.” On several occasions, Franks increases CENTCOM’s force protection posture—the “Threatcon”—“but never as a result of a specific threat” (see June 21, 2001). “Something was brewing, but the best minds at the CIA and the National Security Agency could not pin down the threats with any degree of certainty,” he will comment. “Where would we see a terrorist act… and when?” As he reads “the increasingly alarming reports of potential attacks on Western facilities in the region,” it occurs to Franks that al-Qaeda might carry out suicide attacks using aircraft. “Al-Qaeda had used cars, trucks, and boats as suicide bombs,” he will write. “What about small planes loaded with high explosives?” He sends a note—first to the US embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and then to the other US embassies within CENTCOM’s area of responsibility—in which he asks the ambassadors to pass on his concerns to their hosts. He tells them, “We should work to tune the host nations in the region in to this type of threat.” (Franks 2004, pp. 235-236)

Army General Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), warns that the United States must prepare for an “asymmetric” attack resembling the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941 that led America to enter World War II. In a speech to the Operations Security Professionals Society, Franks says, “The asymmetric threat is serious and deserves our focused thought and preparation.” (“Asymmetric warfare threats,” according to the Washington Times, “include efforts by weaker powers to defeat stronger ones using attacks that can include weapons of mass destruction, the use of computer-based information warfare, and terrorism.”) Franks continues, “The point is to avoid another Pearl Harbor-like event by recognizing the threat and preparing to meet this growing challenge.” He says the US military will address how to deal with asymmetric threats in its ongoing defense transformation efforts. (Gertz and Scarborough 6/22/2001) The 9/11 attacks, which occur less than three months after Franks issues this warning, will be described as an example of “asymmetric” warfare, like what Franks is referring to. (BBC 2/9/2004; Russett, Starr, and Kinsella 2009, pp. 12; van Baarda and Verweij 2009, pp. ix; Dixit 3/9/2010) They will also be frequently compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor in the days after they occur. (James 9/12/2001; Nakao and Ness 9/14/2001) As commander in chief of CENTCOM, Franks is in charge of US military operations in a region that goes from North Africa, across the Arabian Peninsula, to Central Asia and Afghanistan. After 9/11, he will become “one of three men running the Bush administration’s military campaign against Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization,” ABC News will report. (CNN 10/24/2001; ABC News 1/7/2006) He will lead the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (Iqbal 8/17/2004)

MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, the location of CENTCOM headquarters.MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, the location of CENTCOM headquarters. [Source: Jason Robertson / US Air Force]Army General Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), says his biggest fear is that terrorists will attack the World Trade Center. Franks gives a presentation to the CENTCOM intelligence staff at the command’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida, about what he thinks the major threats facing the US in the Middle East and Central Asia are. When he finishes, a young sergeant asks him, “General, what keeps you awake at night?” According to Computerworld magazine, Franks replies, “The thought of one tower of the World Trade Center collapsing into the other tower, killing thousands of people.” But in his memoir, published in 2004, Franks will write that he answers, “A terrorist attack against the World Trade Center in New York—that’s what keeps me awake at night.” Franks, according to his own recollections, then elaborates, saying, “If international terrorists were to strike a major blow against America, I fear the specter of the nation’s military operating as combatants within our borders for the first time since the 1860s.” Therefore, he continues, “the thing that keeps me awake at night… is the possible use of our armed forces against American citizens.” Military personnel, he says, are “not police officers, sheriffs, or the FBI,” and so if they “were ever required to act in that capacity during a major emergency like an attack on the World Trade Center, the effect on America could be devastating.” He concludes by saying, “Martial law would not sit well in a free and open society.” (Verton 10/21/2003; Franks 2004, pp. 236-237) As CENTCOM commander, Franks is in charge of US military operations in an area covering 25 nations in North Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. (CNN 10/24/2001; ABC News 1/7/2006) He will lead the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (Iqbal 8/17/2004)


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