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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; Globe and Mail, 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]

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, Al-Qaeda, US Embassy in Riyadh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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. [Washington Times, 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; Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 3/9/2010] They will also be frequently compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor in the days after they occur. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; San Francisco Chronicle, 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. [United Press International, 8/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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.” [Computerworld, 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. [United Press International, 8/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, US Central Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), which encompasses the area of Afghanistan, issues an order instructing that the Geneva Conventions are to be applied to all captured individuals. [Wallach, 9/29/2004]

Entity Tags: US Central Command

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

General Tommy Franks, the head of US Central Command, visits Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas and briefs him on the progress of his Iraq war plan. Bush requested an updated plan from the Defense Department on November 21 (see November 21, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/17/2004 Sources: Top officials interviewed by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward]

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

General Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who is on a visit to US Central Command: “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq.” [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/26/2004] (In his memoirs, Graham quotes Franks as saying that “military and intelligence personnel are being re-deployed to prepare for an action in Iraq.”) [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 125; Knight Ridder, 6/18/2005] Franks will deny making the comment. [Knight Ridder, 6/18/2005] The New Yorker magazine will also report on a redeployment of resources to Iraq at this time (see Early March 2002). [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] In 2009, Graham will tell a Vanity Fair reporter: “In February of ‘02, I had a visit at Central Command, in Tampa, and the purpose was to get a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan. At the end of the briefing, the commanding officer, Tommy Franks, asked me to go into his office for a private meeting, and he told me that we were no longer fighting a war in Afghanistan and, among other things, that some of the key personnel, particularly some Special Operations units and some equipment, specifically the Predator unmanned drone, were being withdrawn in order to get ready for a war in Iraq. That was my first indication that war in Iraq was as serious a possibility as it was, and that it was in competition with Afghanistan for materiel. We didn’t have the resources to do both successfully and simultaneously.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, War in Afghanistan

Military planners in the US’s Central Command (CENTCOM) finalize their plans for invading Iraq. “[T]he end state for this operation is regime change [with] an acceptable provisional/permanent government in place,” the plans read. However, the plans do not tell how the goal of an acceptable, permanent government will be achieved. They do not even address what US troops should do once they reach Baghdad. Public policy professor Alasdair Roberts will later write that there are what he will call two main reasons for “CENTCOM’s neglect.” One, “occupation and reconstruction [are] not a core function for the military” (see May 14, 2004). The military has no real component for performing such tasks, and most military commanders have little interest in the subject, Roberts will write. Two, other government agencies, most notably the State Department, have responsibility for this subject. CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks tells subordinates that once Saddam Hussein is overthrown, the State Department will take the lead in directing the occupation and reconstruction. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 125]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Alasdair Roberts, US Central Command, Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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