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Complete 911 Timeline

Government Denials that It Was Warned

Project: Complete 911 Timeline
Open-Content project managed by matt, Derek, Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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The Washington Post reports, “Several US officials said there was no warning in the days before the attacks that a major operation was in the works. ‘In terms of specific warning that something of this nature was to occur, no,’ one official said.” (Eggen and Loeb 9/11/2001) An anonymous “senior US official” tells ABC News, “There were no warnings regarding time or place. There are always generic threats now but there was nothing to indicate anything specific of this nature. In fact, in recent weeks, we were not in all that high a period of threat warning.” (Ruppe 9/12/2001)

Secretary of State Colin Powell states, “In the first 24 hours of analysis, I have not seen any evidence that there was a specific signal that we missed.… In this case, we did not have intelligence of anything of this scope or magnitude.” (Aita 9/12/2001)

The government’s initial response to the 9/11 attacks is that it had no evidence whatsoever that bin Laden planned an attack in the US. “There was a ton of stuff, but it all pointed to an attack abroad,” says one official. Furthermore, in the 24 hours after the attack, investigators would have been searching through “mountains of information.” However, “the vast electronic ‘take’ on bin Laden, said officials who requested anonymity, contained no hints of a pending terror campaign in the United States itself, no orders to subordinates, no electronic fund transfers, no reports from underlings on their surveillance of the airports in Boston, Newark, and Washington.” (Walcott and Strobel 9/12/2001)

FBI Director Robert Mueller.
FBI Director Robert Mueller. [Source: FBI]FBI Director Mueller describes reports that several of the hijackers had received flight training in the US as “news, quite obviously,” adding, “If we had understood that to be the case, we would have—perhaps one could have averted this.” It will later be discovered that contrary to Mueller’s claims, the FBI had interviewed various flight school staffs about Middle Eastern militants on numerous occasions, from 1996 until a few weeks before 9/11. (Cullen and Ranalli 9/18/2001; Fainaru and Grimaldi 9/23/2001) Three days later, he says, “There were no warning signs that I’m aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country.” (US Department of Justice 9/17/2001) Slate magazine will contrast this with numerous other contradictory statements and articles, and will award Mueller the “Whopper of the Week.” (Noah 5/17/2002)

Vice President Cheney acknowledges that US intelligence officials received threat information during the summer of 2001 “that a big operation was planned” by terrorists, possibly striking the US. But he also says, “No specific threat involving really a domestic operation or involving what happened, obviously—the cities, airliner and so forth.” (Aita 9/12/2001)

President Bush says, “Never (in) anybody’s thought processes… about how to protect America did we ever think that the evil doers would fly not one but four commercial aircraft into precious US targets… never.” (US President 9/24/2001) A month later, Paul Pillar, the former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will say, “The idea of commandeering an aircraft and crashing it into the ground and causing high casualties, sure we’ve thought of it.” (Braun et al. 10/14/2001)

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey claims that before 9/11, “No one could imagine someone being willing to commit suicide, being willing to use an airplane as a lethal weapon.” (CNN 9/25/2001)

Gen. Richard Myers, acting Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman on 9/11, says of 9/11, “You hate to admit it, but we hadn’t thought about this.” He was promoted from Vice-Chairman to Chairman three days after 9/11. (Rhem 10/23/2001)

According to former CIA officer Robert Baer, a high-ranking CIA official tells a reporter off-the-record that, “when the dust finally clears, Americans will see that September 11 was a triumph for the intelligence community, not a failure.” It is unclear why the CIA officer thinks this and the reporter who tells Baer this story is not named. However, Baer comments that if that is what the CIA thinks, “I’m scared to death of what lies ahead.” (Baer 2002, pp. xxiii)

CIA Director George Tenet tells a Senate hearing that there was no 9/11 intelligence failure. When asked about the CIA record on 9/11, he says, “We are proud of that record.” He also states that the 9/11 plot was “in the heads of three or four people” and thus nearly impossible to prevent. (Nichols and Slavin 2/7/2002)

FBI Director Robert Mueller states, “[T]here was nothing the agency could have done to anticipate and prevent the [9/11] attacks.” (US Congress 9/18/2002)

The New York Post has a banner headline on May 16, 2002.The New York Post has a banner headline on May 16, 2002. [Source: New York Post]The Bush administration is embarrassed when the CBS Evening News reveals that President Bush had been warned about al-Qaeda domestic attacks in August 2001 (see August 6, 2001). (Sanger 5/15/2002; Eggen and Miller 5/16/2002) CBS’s David Martin reports: “The president’s daily intelligence brief is delivered to the president each morning, often by the director of central intelligence himself. In the weeks before 9/11 it warned that an attack by Osama bin Laden could involve the hijacking of a US aircraft.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 113) Bush had repeatedly said that he had “no warning” of any kind. Press secretary Ari Fleischer states unequivocally that while Bush had been warned of possible hijackings, “[t]he president did not—not—receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers.” (Sanger 5/15/2002; Eggen and Miller 5/16/2002) “Until the attack took place, I think it’s fair to say that no one envisioned that as a possibility.” (Miklaszewski 9/18/2002) Fleischer claims the August memo was titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike the US,” but the real title is soon found to end with “Strike in US” (Woodward and Eggen 5/18/2002) The Guardian will state a few days later, “[T]he memo left little doubt that the hijacked airliners were intended for use as missiles and that intended targets were to be inside the US.” It further states that, “now, as the columnist Joe Conason points out in the current edition of the New York Observer, ‘conspiracy’ begins to take over from ‘incompetence’ as a likely explanation for the failure to heed—and then inform the public about—warnings that might have averted the worst disaster in the nation’s history.” (Vulliamy 5/19/2002) Current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will point out in 2008: “The [CBS] report left much open to question. Was it suggesting that the president had received info that should have led him to act? Was it just a possible warning sign, like many others that may have gone unheeded? Or was it something else, possibly a nonspecific bit of intelligence from years earlier?” McClellan will write that the uncertainty “mattered little to Democratic leaders in Congress. They saw an opportunity to attack the president’s strong suit—his leadership in the war on terrorism—and cut into his enormous popularity ahead of the midterm elections that coming November.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 113)

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice holds a press conference to respond to the public leak (see May 15, 2002) of the title of President Bush’s August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001).
Presidential Daily Brief - She asserts: “It was an analytic report that talked about [Osama bin Laden]‘s methods of operation, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, in 1998.… I want to reiterate, it was not a warning. There was no specific time, place, or method mentioned.” (White House 5/16/2002) In April 2004, Rice will testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission and repeatedly assert that it was “a historical memo… not threat reporting” (see April 8, 2004).
Comment by Philip Shenon - Author Philip Shenon will later comment, “She failed to mention, as would later be clear, that the PDB focused entirely on the possibility that al-Qaeda intended to strike within the United States; it cited relatively recent FBI reports of possible terrorist surveillance of government buildings in New York.” After rereading the transcript of the press conference, Shenon will call it a “remarkable document,” because “To many of the Commission’s staff, it offered proof of how, to Condoleezza Rice, everything is semantics. A threat is not a threat, a warning is not a warning, unless she says it is. The word historical appeared to have an especially broad definition to Rice. To her, a warning that was a few weeks or months old was of relatively little value because it was ‘historical.’”
Aircraft as Weapons - Rice also says, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon—that they would try to use an airplane as a missile.” However, various government agencies were well aware of the concept of planes as missiles, including the FBI (see August 27, 2001), the Defense Department (see April 17-26, 2001), and the White House itself (see June 20, 2001). Shenon will point out that this news conference occurs eight months after the attacks, yet Rice is “suggesting that in all that time, no one had bothered to tell her [of these reports].” (Shenon 2008, pp. 213, 237-239)

National Security Adviser Rice tries to explain what Bush knew and when in her May 16, 2002 press conference.National Security Adviser Rice tries to explain what Bush knew and when in her May 16, 2002 press conference. [Source: CNN]National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice states, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile,” adding that “even in retrospect” there was “nothing” to suggest that. (White House 5/16/2002) Contradicting Rice’s claims, former CIA Deputy Director John Gannon acknowledges that such a scenario has long been taken seriously by US intelligence: “If you ask anybody could terrorists convert a plane into a missile? [N]obody would have ruled that out.” Rice also states, “The overwhelming bulk of the evidence was that this was an attack that was likely to take place overseas.” (MSNBC 5/17/2002) Slate awards Rice the “Whopper of the Week” when the title of Bush’s August 6 briefing is revealed: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” (Noah 5/23/2002) Rice later will concede that “somebody did imagine it” but will say she did not know about such intelligence until well after this conference. (Associated Press 9/21/2002)

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says he is “gravely concerned” to learn that President Bush “received a warning in August about the threat of hijackers,” referring to a CBS News report revealing that Bush had been warned about a possible hijacking over a month before the 9/11 attacks (see August 6, 2001). Daschle calls on the White House to provide the classified briefing to Congressional investigators. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says, using the language of Watergate investigators, “I think what we have to do now is find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, when they knew it, and, most importantly, what was done about it at the time.” White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that, as objectionable as the White House finds these statements, “the Democrat who most aroused the ire of the White House and Republicans was New York’s Democratic senator, Hillary Clinton.” Clinton takes the floor of the Senate and says, “We learn today something we might have learned at least eight months ago: that President Bush had been informed last year, before September 11, of a possible al-Qaeda plot to hijack a US airliner.” She displays a New York Post headline that reads, “BUSH KNEW” (see May 15, 2002) and “9/11 BOMBSHELL.” “The president knew what?” Clinton asks. McClellan will write that he and his White House colleagues are “incensed” at Clinton’s rhetoric: “To us, such grandstanding appeared to be a return to the ugly partisan warfare that had come to define Washington and its culture during the 1990s. Politics as war, the innuendo of scandal, and the egregious implication that the president had deliberately neglected the country’s safety—it was all in service of the November election results. All the familiar elements were there. The story and the partisan accusations that followed provided great controversy for the media to cover.” (In this passage, McClellan fails to note that White House political guru Karl Rove had, months before, advised Bush and Republican candidates to use the war to attack Democrats in the November 2002 elections—see January 2002). McClellan will complain that Clinton “had not even bothered to call [the White House] to find out more about the facts behind the headlines before delivering her speech,” and will note: “To us, the disingenuous way the leaders rushed to create a damning story line about the president and his administration crossed a line. Republicans objected vehemently and aggressively in a counteroffensive led by the White House,” with Vice President Dick Cheney calling the Democrats’ questions “incendiary” (see May 16, 2002) and Bush declaring, “Had we any inkling, whatsoever, that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America.” Bush adds: “And I’m confident that President Clinton would have done the same thing (see September 7, 2003). Any president would have.” McClellan will call Bush’s statement “a gesture toward the rapidly vanishing spirit of bipartisanship.” He will write that Democrats did not, by themselves, break the bipartisanship that had supposedly reigned before CBS broke the news of the August 6 briefing: “Democrats were responding in part to perceived efforts by Republicans seeking political advantage from the president’s aggressive efforts to wage war against Islamist terrorists,” and will note that in 1998, Republicans accused President Clinton of “wagging the dog”—launching military strikes against Iraq to distract the nation from the Monica Lewinsky scandal (see December 16-19, 1998). (McClellan 2008, pp. 117-118)

President Bush says of 9/11 in a speech, “Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people.” (US President 5/20/2002)

For the first time, Bush concedes that his intelligence agencies had problems: “In terms of whether or not the FBI and the CIA were communicating properly, I think it is clear that they weren’t.” (Doran 6/5/2002) However, in an address to the nation three days later, President Bush still maintains, “Based on everything I’ve seen, I do not believe anyone could have prevented the horror of September the 11th.” (Alcorn 6/8/2002) Days earlier, Newsweek reported that the FBI had prepared a detailed chart showing how agents could have uncovered the 9/11 plot if the CIA had told them what it knew about the hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar sooner. (FBI Director Mueller denies the existence of such a chart. (Pincus 6/3/2002) ) One FBI official says, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together.” (Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002) Attorney General Ashcroft also says it is unlikely better intelligence could have stopped the attacks. (Pincus 6/3/2002)

FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. His testimony will be made public in September 2002. (Lumpkin 9/26/2002)
Mueller Says Hijackers Operated Alone - Mueller claims that with the possible exception of Zacarias Moussaoui, “[t]o this day we have found no one in the United States except the actual hijackers who knew of the [9/11] plot and we have found nothing they did while in the United States that triggered a specific response about them.” He also claims, “As far as we know, they contacted no known terrorist sympathizers in the United States.” (US Congress 9/26/2002)
Mueller Contradicted by 9/11 Inquiry - The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will conclude near the end of 2002 that some hijackers had contact inside the US with individuals known to the FBI, and the hijackers “were not as isolated during their time in the United States as has been previously suggested.” (Miller 12/12/2002)
Mueller Contradicted by FBI Report - Also, a classified FBI report from November 2001 asserted that the hijackers had a “web of contacts” in the US and abroad who “were known from [Osama bin Laden]-related activities or training” (see November 2001). (Sperry 2005, pp. 67-68)
Muller: 'No Slip-Ups' - Mueller also claims: “While here, the hijackers effectively operated without suspicion, triggering nothing that alerted law enforcement and doing nothing that exposed them to domestic coverage.… There were no slip-ups. Discipline never broke down. They gave no hint to those around them what they were about.” (US Congress 9/26/2002)

In an interview with CBS, FBI Director Robert Mueller states, “I can tell you there are things I wish we had done differently. That there are things we should have followed up on. But the bottom line is I do not believe that we would have been able to prevent 9/11.” Speaking about the Zacarias Moussaoui case, he says, “That took us several months, to follow that lead, and it also required the full support of the German authorities, and it would have been very, I think impossible to have followed that particular lead in the days between the time in which Moussaoui was detained and September 11th.” (CBS News 9/25/2002) This negativism is in sharp contrast to a previous statement he made on May 21, 2002 (see May 21, 2002), as well as the opinion of many rank and file FBI officers, some of whom have made a chart showing how all the hijackers could have been caught if certain leads had been followed. (Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002) Mueller’s opinion on the Moussaoui case is contradicted by many, including FBI agents working on that case. (Time 5/21/2002) The media also does not agree. For instance the Independent suggested information on Moussaoui’s computer “might have been enough to expose the Hamburg cell, which investigators believe was the key planning unit for 11 September.” (Burrell, Gumbel, and Sengupta 12/11/2001)

Testifying before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, former FBI Director Louis Freeh says, “I am aware of nothing that to me demonstrates that the FBI and the intelligence community had the type of information or tactical intelligence which could have prevented September 11th. In terms of the FBI’s capability to identify, investigate and prevent the nineteen hijackers from carrying out their attacks, the facts so far on the public record do not support the conclusion that these tragic events could have been prevented by the FBI and intelligence community acting by themselves.” (US Congress 10/8/2002)

CIA Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt says he is convinced that all the intelligence the CIA had on September 11, 2001, could not have prevented the 9/11 attacks. “It was not as some have suggested, a simple matter of connecting the dots,” he claims. (Zakaria 1/23/2003)

At a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, President Bush refers to the 9/11 attacks, saying, “Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to strike America, to attack us, I would have used every resource, every asset, every power of this government to protect the American people.” He also suggests that his predecessor, Democrat Bill Clinton, was more to blame for the attacks than he was, as the 9/11 Commission is looking at “eight months of my administration and the eight years of the previous administration.” This speech comes one day after his former counterterrorism “tsar,” Richard Clarke, had given damaging high-profile testimony to the Commission (see March 24, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will comment that Bush “was apparently hoping that his audience would forget that the August 6 [Presidential Daily Brief item (see August 6, 2001)] had warned specifically that planes might be hijacked by al-Qaeda within the United States.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 289)

President Bush talks about the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) he was given on August 6, 2001, entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” He claims, “There was nothing in this report to me that said, ‘Oh, by the way, we’ve got intelligence that says something is about to happen in America.‘… There was nothing in there that said, you know, ‘There is an imminent attack.’ That wasn’t what the report said. The report was kind of a history of Osama’s intentions.” (Associated Press 4/12/2004) He adds, “[T]he PDB was no indication of a terrorist threat. There was not a time and place of an attack. It said Osama bin Laden had designs on America. Well, I knew that. What I wanted to know was, is there anything specifically going to take place in America that we needed to react to.… I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into. But that PDB said nothing about an attack on America. It talked about intentions, about somebody who hated America—well, we knew that.… Had I known there was going to be an attack on America, I would have moved mountains to stop the attack.” (US President 4/19/2004) The complete text of the PDB was released the day before Bush’s comments and in fact the PDB does very clearly discuss an imminent attack on the US. For instance, it says that FBI information “indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” And it discusses a call to a US “embassy in the UAE in May [2001] saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives” (see August 6, 2001).

In a press conference, President Bush states, “We knew he [Osama bin Laden] had designs on us, we knew he hated us. But there was nobody in our government, and I don’t think [in] the prior government, that could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale.” (Borger 4/15/2004) He also says, “Had I any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country.” (Lichtblau 4/18/2004; US President 4/19/2004) Bush made similar comments two days earlier (see April 11, 2004). In July 2004, he will claim even more generally, “Had we had any inkling whatsoever that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America.” (Cohen and Orr 7/22/2004)

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says the US would have stopped 9/11, but “We lacked the intelligence that might have prevented it.” He blames the lack of “a source inside the group of people that had planned and executed those attacks.… Had we had a source inside there, we undoubtedly would have been able to stop it. We did not.” (Newsday 6/4/2004)

James Pavitt.
James Pavitt. [Source: Publicity photo]James Pavitt, the CIA’s Deputy Director of Operations, states, “Given what we now know, in all the hindsight of the year 2004, I still do not believe we could have stopped the [9/11] attacks.” (Jehl 10/27/2004) Pavitt is said to be heavily criticized in a still-classified CIA report about that agency’s failures to stop the 9/11 attacks (see January 7, 2005).

Michael Rolince, head of counterintelligence at the FBI’s Washington office, says of the 9/11 hijackers, “These guys were pros. For us to have done anything, these guys had to make a mistake. And they didn’t. Could we have generated enough information-ever-to keep them off those planes? I doubt it.” (Zeman et al. 11/2004) In 2002, an FBI agent called this kind of argument “the Superman scenario.” The notion that the hijackers made no mistakes had been discredited well before Rolince’s comments (see April 2002).

Mary Galligan.Mary Galligan. [Source: FBI]Mary Galligan, the head of the FBI’s 9/11 investigation, says that the 9/11 attacks were virtually unstoppable. Galligan was the head of the FBI’s domestic terror squad in the summer of 2001, and then headed PENTTBOM, the FBI’s 9/11 investigation from just after the 9/11 attacks until early 2004 (see June 14, 2004). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 7/1/2010) She says: “If I had [9/11 hijacker Mohamed] Atta—say, we got a call from a next-door neighbor, and we sent a guy out there—he’s not gonna give us the plan, so the agent is gonna come back to me and say, ‘Mary, he’s nothing.’ And what could I do? Nothing. Or let’s assume we learned the hijackers’ names in 2000. We would have surveilled them and listened to their conversations. But we know now they didn’t even know the plan at that time. If we approached them, they would have left the country. Would bin Laden then have sent more people? Yes.” (Zeman et al. 11/2004) Galligan’s comment that the hijackers didn’t know the plan for 9/11 is contradicted by much evidence. For instance, in March 2001, most of them recorded videos in which they pledged to die martyrs in the US, and some of these videos were made public in 2002 and 2003 (see (December 2000-March 2001)).

Secretary of State Rice says that she does not recall the meeting on July 10, 2001, when CIA Director Tenet and other officials briefed her about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 10, 2001). “What I am quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States, and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible.” (Gearan 10/2/2006) Rice says she has no recollection of what she variously calls “the supposed meeting” and “the emergency so-called meeting.” (Mitchell 10/1/2006; Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) The Washington Post comments that “Rice added to the confusion… by strongly suggesting that the meeting may never have occurred at all—even though administration officials had conceded for several days that it had.” Hours after Rice’s latest denial, the State Department confirms that documents show Rice did attend such a meeting on that date. However, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack then says, “The briefing was a summary of the threat reporting from the previous weeks. There was nothing new.” The Washington Post notes that when it was pointed out to McCormack that Rice asked for the briefing to be shown to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft (see July 11-17, 2001), “McCormack was unable to explain why Rice felt the briefing should be repeated if it did not include new material.” (Eggen and Wright 10/3/2006)


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