Did Tenet Hide Key 9/11 Info?

August 16, 2011
By Ray McGovern
(Thanks to Mr. McGovern for permission to reprint)

Bulletin for those of you who get your information only from the New York Times, the Washington Post and other outlets of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM): Former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke has accused ex-CIA Director George Tenet of denying him and others access to intelligence that could have thwarted the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11.

Deliberately withholding critical intelligence from those who need it, and can act on it, is — at the least — gross dereliction of duty.

The more so if keeping the White House promptly and fully informed is at the top of your job jar, as it was for Director of Central Intelligence Tenet. And yet that is precisely the charge Clarke has leveled at the former DCI.

In an interview aired on Aug. 11 on a local PBS affiliate in Colorado, Clarke charges that Tenet and two other senior CIA officials, Cofer Black and Richard Blee, deliberately withheld information about two of the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77 — al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. The two had entered the United States more than a year before the 9/11 attacks.

Clarke adds that the CIA then covered it all up by keeping relevant information away from Congress and the 9/11 Commission.

Lying by senior officials is bad enough, and there is now plenty of evidence that former CIA Director George Tenet and his closest agency associates are serial offenders. Think for a minute about the falsehoods spread regarding Iraq’s non-existent WMD stockpiles.

But withholding intelligence on two of the 9/11 hijackers would have been particularly unconscionable — the epitome of malfeasance, not just misfeasance.

That’s why Richard Clarke’s conclusion that he should have received information from CIA about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, “unless somebody intervened to stop the normal automatic distribution” amounts, in my view, to a criminal charge, given the eventual role of the two in hijacking on 9/11 of AA-77, the plane that struck the Pentagon.

Tenet has denied that the information on the two hijackers was “intentionally withheld” from Clarke, and he has enlisted the other two former CIA operatives, Cofer Black (more recently a senior official of Blackwater) and Richard Blee (an even more shadowy figure), to concur in saying, Not us; we didn’t withhold.

Whom to believe? To me, it’s a no-brainer. One would have to have been born yesterday to regard the “George is right” testimony from Black and Blee as corroborative.

Tenet’s Dubious Credibility

Tenet is the same fellow who provided the “slam dunk” on the existence of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, as well as the “artist renderings” of equally non-existent mobile laboratories for developing biological warfare agents, based on unconfirmed information from the impostor code-named  (appropriately) “Curveball.”

It was Tenet who, under orders from President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, ordered up and disseminated a fraudulent National Intelligence Estimate on WMD in Iraq, the purpose of which was to deceive our elected representatives out of their constitutional prerogative to authorize war. No small lies.

After a five-year investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chairman Jay Rockefeller described the intelligence adduced under Tenet to “justify” attacking Iraq as “uncorroborated, contradicted, and non-existent.”

Good enough to win Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom, though. The corruption of intelligence worked just fine for the purposes of Bush and Cheney, thank you very much.

It is a actually a matter of record that Tenet lies a lot — on occasion, demonstrating what I would call chutzpah on steroids. Recall, for example, Tenet in April 2007 snarling at Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes” — five times, in five consecutive sentences — “We do not torture people.”

Under Oath

Tenet has lied about 9/11, too. The joint statement from Tenet, Black and Blee – orchestrated by former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow – concludes: “We testified under oath about what we did, what we knew and what we didn’t know. We stand by that testimony.”

Almost made me laugh … almost.

In his sworn testimony to the 9/11 Commission on April 14, 2004, Tenet said he had not spoken to Bush — even on the telephone — during the entire month of August 2001.

But Tenet did fly down to see the President in Crawford — not once, but twice during August 2001, and briefed Bush again in Washington on the 31st.

After the TV cameras at the 9/11 Commission hearing were shut off, Bill Harlow phoned the commission staff to say, Oops, sorry, Tenet misspoke. Even then, Harlow admitted only to Tenet’s Aug. 17 visit to Crawford (and to the briefing on the 31st).

How do we know Tenet was again in Crawford, on Aug. 24? From a White House press release quoting President Bush to that effect — information somehow completely missed by our vigilant Fawning Corporate Media.

Funny, too, how Tenet could have forgotten his first visit to Crawford on Aug. 17. In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet waxes eloquent about the “president graciously driving me around the spread in his pickup and me trying to make small talk about the flora and the fauna.” But the visit was not limited to small talk.

In his book Tenet writes: “A few weeks after the August 6 PDB was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events.” The Aug. 6, 2001, President’s Daily Brief contained the article “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US.”

According to Ron Suskind’s The One-Percent Doctrine, the president reacted by telling the CIA briefer, “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.”

If, as Tenet says in his memoir, it was the Aug. 6, 2001, PDB that prompted his visit on Aug. 17, what might have brought him back on Aug. 24? I believe the answer can be found in court documents released at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the fledgling pilot in Minnesota interested in learning to steer a plane but indifferent as to how to land it.

Those documents show that on Aug. 23, 2001, Tenet was given an alarming briefing focusing on Moussaoui, titled “Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly.” Tenet was told that Moussaoui was training to fly a 747 and, among other suspicion-arousing data, had paid for the training in cash.

It is an open question — if a key one — whether Tenet told Bush about the two hijackers, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, while keeping that key information from the person who most needed it — White House counter-terrorist czar Richard Clarke. Clarke finds the only plausible explanation in his surmise that Tenet was personally responsible.

Clarke says: “For me to this day, it is inexplicable, when I had every other detail about everything related to terrorism, that the director didn’t tell me, that the director of the counterterrorism center didn’t tell me, that the other 48 people inside CIA that knew about it never mentioned it to me or anyone in my staff in a period of over 12 months.”

Enter Harlow

But Tenet’s aide-de-camp Bill Harlow has branded Clarke’s statements “absurd and patently false.” The statement Harlow shepherded for Tenet, Black and Blee adds “reckless and profoundly wrong … baseless … belied by the record … unworthy of serious consideration.”

And Harlow never lies? Right.

I’m reminded of Harlow’s reaction to Newsweek’s publication on Feb. 24, 2003, of the intelligence information provided by Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel when he defected to Jordan in 1995. Kamel brought with him a treasure trove of documents and unique knowledge of Iraq’s putative “weapons of mass destruction.”

Most significantly, he told his U.S. debriefers there were no WMD in Iraq. He knew, since he was in charge of the chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs for almost a decade, and he ordered what weapons existed destroyed before the U.N. inspectors could discover them after the war in 1991.

In his words: “I ordered the destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons — biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed.”

He told the U.S. much more, and the information that could be checked out was confirmed. But Kamel’s information didn’t fit with the Bush administration’s propaganda regarding its certainty that Iraq did have WMD stockpiles and was defying United Nations demands that the WMD be destroyed.

Those pushing the Iraq War juggernaut in early 2003 almost had a conniption when Newsweek acquired a transcript of Kamel’s debriefing and published this potentially explosive story barely three weeks before the invasion.

Newsweek noted gingerly that this information “raises questions about whether the WMD stockpiles attributed to Iraq still exist.” It was the kind of impeccably sourced documentary evidence after which intelligence analysts and lawyers lust.

But this was not at all what Bush, Cheney, and — by sycophantic extension — Tenet wanted Newsweekreaders, or the rest of us, to learn less than a month before the U.S./U.K. attack on Iraq ostensibly to find and destroy those non-existent weapons.

Bill Harlow to the rescue:  he told the FCM in no uncertain terms that the Newsweek story was, “incorrect, bogus, wrong, untrue.” And the media cheerleaders for war breathed a sigh of relief, saying, Gosh, thanks for telling us, and then dropped the story like a hot potato.

By all indications, Harlow is still able to work his fraudulent magic on the FCM, which has virtually ignored this major Clarke v. Tenet story since it broke several days ago.

If Harlow says it’s not true … and hurls still more pejorative adjectives in a crude attempt to discredit the very serious charge Clarke has made … well, I guess we’ll have to leave it there, as the FCM is so fond of saying.

No matter Clarke’s well-deserved reputation for honesty and professionalism — and Tenet’s for the opposite. And so it goes.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. As a CIA analyst, he served under seven presidents and nine CIA directors; he is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

 

Former Counterterrorism Czar Accuses Tenet, Other CIA Officials of Cover-Up

Thursday 11 August 2011
by: Jason Leopold, Truthout |
(Note from CheneyWatch.org: Support Truthout today with a financial contribution. Great journalism deserves your support)

Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar, speaks to filmmakers John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski about crucial intelligence involving two 9/11 hijackers he believes ex-CIA Director George Tenet and others concealed.

With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 just a month away, the intelligence failures leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have started to attract fresh scrutiny from former counterterrorism officials, who have called into question the veracity of the official government narrative that concluded who knew what and when.

Indeed, recently Truthout published an exclusive report based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and an interview with a former high-ranking counterterrorism official that showed how a little-known military intelligence unit, unbeknownst to the various investigative bodies probing the terrorist attacks, was ordered by senior government officials to stop tracking Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s movements prior to 9/11.

And now, in a stunning new interview made available to Truthout that is scheduled to air on a local PBS affiliate in Colorado tonight, former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, for the first time, levels explosive allegations against three former top CIA officials – George Tenet, Cofer Black and Richard Blee – accusing them of knowingly withholding intelligence from the Bush and Clinton White House, the FBI, Immigration and the State and Defense Departments about two of the 9/11 hijackers who had entered the United States more than a year before the attacks. Moreover, Clarke says the former CIA officials likely engaged in a cover-up by withholding key details about two of the hijackers from the 9/11 Commission.

“They’ve been able to get through a joint House investigation committee and get through the 9/11 Commission and this has never come out,” Clarke said about Blee, Tenet and Black. “They got away with it.”

Clarke, who now runs the security firm Good Harbor Consulting, was the chief counterterrorism adviser for the Clinton and Bush administrations, who famously testified before the 9/11 Commission probing the terrorist attacks that “your government failed you.”

In October 2009, he spoke to John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, who have been working on a documentary about Blee and the secrecy surrounding his role in the intelligence failures leading up to 9/11, which is set to air on the tenth anniversary of the attacks. Duffy and  Nowosielski, whose previous film, “Press For Truth,” followed four 9/11 widows as they lobbied the Bush White House to convene an independent commission to probe the attacks, have also launched a new transparency web site,SecrecyKills.com, set to go live this evening with a campaign aimed at further unmasking Blee.

Clarke did not respond to questions about whether he still stood behind the comments he made about Tenet, Black, Blee nearly two years ago, which he admits he doesn’t have evidence to back up. But Nowosielski told Truthout he spoke to Clarke last week to inform him that Tenet, Black and Blee had issued a joint statement that was highly critical of his charges, and Clarke told  Nowosielski he has not changed his position.

Clarke asserts in the 13-minute interview that Tenet, the former CIA director; Black, who headed the agency’s Counterterrorist Center; and Blee, a top aide to Tenet who led the CIA’s Bin Laden Issues Station, also known as Alec Station, whose true identity was revealed for the first time two years ago, are to blame for the government’s failure to capture Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 with three other terrorists and flew the jetliner directly into the Pentagon killing 189 people.

 

“George Tenet followed all of the information about al-Qaeda in microscopic detail,” Clarke told Duffy and  Nowosielski. “He read raw intelligence reports before analysts in the counterterrorism center did and he would pick up the phone and call me at 7:30 in the morning and talk about them.”

But Tenet, who was awarded the Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2004, did not share what Clarke says he knew about the al-Hazmi and the al-Mihdhar case.

 

In early January 2000, CIA analysts were informed by the National Security Agency that al-Hamzi and al-Mihdhar were heading to a meeting of other al-Qaeda associates in Malaysia, their travel arranged by Osama bin Laden’s Yemen operations center. The CIA surveilled the meeting and took photographs of the men.

From Malaysia, al-Hazmi, al-Mihdhar and Walid bin Attash, the alleged mastermind behind the USS Cole bombing, traveled to Thailand, which the CIA reported to Alec Station in a cable. Al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar then boarded a flight bound for Los Angeles, arriving in the city on January 15, 2000.

The CIA had claimed, according to the 9/11 Commission report, that they lost track of all three men in Thailand. Despite being aware that the terrorists had already obtained tourist visas, the agency still failed to notify the FBI and State Department for inclusion on the latter’s terrorist watch list. Remarkably, Mihdhar left Southern California for Yemen in June 2000 and, using a new passport, returned to the US undetected on July 4, 2001.

Clarke suggests that if the CIA had shared intelligence about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar with him, the FBI, and others, then perhaps the attack on the Pentagon could have been thwarted. As he noted in his book, “Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters,” the 9/11 Commission never fleshed out the rationale behind the CIA’s failure to share crucial intelligence information about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar with other officials and government agencies.

“As jaded and cynical as I am about government failures, I still find this one mind-boggling and inexplicable,” Clarke wrote. “The 9/11 Commission report does not tell us very much about how or why it happened and their explanations, while they could be correct, strain credulity and leave many questions unanswered.”

“Failure to Communicate”

One of the CIA officials who had been monitoring the Malaysia meeting was a young al-Qaeda analyst named Jennifer Matthews, who had been working with the Bin Laden Issues Station since its inception in 1996. Another analyst, who worked closely with Matthews, was a red-headed woman who, in recent years, has been at the center of a scandal involving the torture and wrongful rendition of at least one detainee. She has since been promoted and continues to work for the CIA on al-Qaeda-related issues. An agency spokesman requested that Truthout not print her name because her identity is classified.

In his recently published book, “Triple Agent,” Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick wrote that former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson probed “CIA missteps that had allowed” al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar “to enter the United States undetected.”

“Helgerson concluded that the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center had failed to respond to a series of cabled warnings in 2000 about” al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar “who later became part of the September 11 plot …,” Warrick wrote. “The cables were seen by as many as sixty CIA employees, yet the two operatives’ names were never passed along to the FBI, which might have assigned agents to track them down or shared with the State Department, which could have flagged their named on its watch list. In theory, the arrest of the either man could have led investigators to the other hijackers and the eventual unraveling of the 9/11 plot.

“Helgerson’s report named individual managers who it said bore the greatest responsibility for failing to ensure that vital information was passed to the FBI. The report, never released in full, also recommended that some of the managers be reviewed for possible disciplinary action … Jennifer Matthews was on that list.”

Matthews, who Warrick also says led the agency’s search for the first high-value detainee, Abu Zubaydah, and who was also present at the CIA black site prison in Thailand when Zubaydah was waterboarded after he was captured in March 2002, was among seven CIA officers killed in Khost, Afghanistan, in a December 2009 suicide bombing  at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan, which Matthews was chief of.

“A High-Level Decision”

Although Helgerson’s report recommended Matthews be disciplined, Clarke does not believe she or the dozens of other CIA analysts bear the ultimate responsibility for failing to inform the US government for 18 months that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were in the US.

“It’s not as I originally thought, which was that one lonely CIA analyst got this information and didn’t somehow recognize the significance of it,” Clarke said during the interview. “No, fifty, 5-0, CIA personnel knew about this. Among the fifty people in CIA who knew these guys were in the country was the CIA director.”

Still, Clarke said his position as National Coordinator for Security and Information meant he should have received a briefing from CIA about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, explaining “unless somebody intervened to stop the normal automatic distribution I would automatically get it.”

“For me to this day, it is inexplicable why when I had every other detail about everything related to terrorism that the director didn’t tell me, that the director of the counterterrorism center didn’t tell me, that the other 48 people inside CIA that knew about it never mentioned it to me or anyone in my staff in a period of over 12 months … We therefore conclude that there was a high-level decision inside CIA ordering people not to share that information,” Clarke said.

How high level?

“I would think it would have to be made by the director,” Clarke said. “You gotta understand my relationship with [Tenet], we were close friends, he called me several times a day, we shared the most trivial of information with each other, there was not a lack of information sharing, [CIA] told us everything except this.”

So, what happened? Why did the CIA fail to share its intelligence about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar with Clarke and other government officials? Clarke believes the CIA may have attempted to “flip” al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, but ultimately failed.

That’s an allegation that surfaced in Lawrence Wright’s groundbreaking book, “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and The Road to 9/11.” Wright, who interviewed Clarke for his book, said a team of FBI investigators and federal prosecutors known asSquad I-49 came to believe that the CIA “was shielding Mihdhar and Hazmi because it hoped to recruit them”

“The CIA was desperate for a source inside al-Qaeda; it had completely failed to penetrate the inner circle or even to place a willing partner in the training camps, which were largely open to anyone who showed up,” Wright wrote. “Mihdhar and Hazmi must have seemed like attractive opportunities however, once they entered the United States they were the province of the FBI. The CIA had no legal authority to operate inside the country … It is also possible, as some FBI investigators suspect, the CIA was running a joint venture with Saudi intelligence in order to get around that restriction … These are only theories about the CIA’s failures to communicate vital information to the bureau … Perhaps the agency decided that Saudi intelligence would have a better chance of recruiting these men than the Americans. That would leave no CIA fingerprints on the operation as well.

“This is the view of some very bitter FBI investigators, who wonder why they were never informed of the existence of al-Qaeda operatives inside America. Mihdhar and Hazmi arrived nineteen months before 9/11. The FBI had all the authority it needed to investigate these men and learn what they were up to, but because the CIA had failed to divulge the presence of two active members of al-Qaeda, the hijackers were free to develop their plot until it was too late to stop them.”

The 9/11 Commission was unable to substantiate claims that the CIA tried to recruit al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar and Clarke never disclosed this theory to the panel during his testimony as it was a conclusion he said he reached years later.

“Reckless and Profoundly Wrong”

In response to Clarke’s charges, Tenet, Black and Blee issued a joint statement to Duffy and Nowosielski last week upon learning their interview with Clarke would soon air publicly. The former CIA officials admonished their former colleague, stating his comments were “reckless and profoundly wrong.” Blee’s inclusion in the joint statement marks the first time he has spoken publicly about the events leading up to 9/11.

“Clarke starts with the presumption that important information on the travel of future hijackers to the United States was intentionally withheld from him in early 2000,” the former CIA officials said. “It was not. He wildly speculates that it must have been the CIA Director who could have ordered the information withheld. There was no such order. In fact, the record shows that the Director and other senior CIA officials were unaware of the information until after 9/11.”

“In early 2000, a number of more junior personnel (including FBI agents on detail to CIA) did see travel information on individuals who later became hijackers but the significance of the data was not adequately recognized at the time … Building on his false notion that information was intentionally withheld, Mr. Clarke went on to speculate – which he admits is based on nothing other than his imagination – that the CIA might have been trying to recruit these two future hijackers as agents. This, like much of what Mr. Clarke said in his interview, is utterly without foundation. We testified under oath about what we did, what we knew and what we didn’t know. We stand by that testimony.”

“We Would Have Found Those Assholes”

But Clarke says even as early as July 2001 – two months before the terrorist attacks – when Tenet and Blee called an urgent meeting with President Bush at the White House, they had an opportunity to disclose the fact that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were somewhere in the US, but failed to disclose what they knew.

The CIA waited until late August to inform lower-level FBI agents that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were in the US and were likely planning an attack inside the US. Yet, the CIA continued to conceal the intelligence from senior FBI and Bush administration officials a week prior to the attacks.

Clarke said there’s a “very obvious answer” as to why the CIA continued, as early as September 4, 2001, in a meeting attended by Clarke and other senior Bush administration officials, to withhold intelligence about the two hijackers: to protect the agency from scrutiny.

“I know how all this stuff works I’ve been working it for 30 years,” Clarke said. “You can’t snowball me on this stuff. If they announce on September 4 in the Principals meeting that these guys are in the United States and they told the FBI a few weeks ago I’m going to say ‘wait, time out. How long have you known this? Why haven’t you reported it at the daily threat meetings? Why isn’t it in the daily threat matrix?’ We would have begun an investigation that day into CIA malfeasance and misfeasance that’s why we’re not informed.”

Clarke added that even if the CIA had disclosed what it knew about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar as late as September 4, 2001, he believes the FBI could have captured the men and dismantled their plans to attack the Pentagon.

“We would have conducted a massive sweep,” Clarke said. “We would have conducted publicly. We would have found those assholes. There’s no doubt in my mind. Even with only a week left.”

Truthout contributor Jeffrey Kaye contributed to this report.

 

Richard Clarke: CIA tried to recruit 9/11 hijackers

The Daily Beast is a bit more mainstream than your average news blog sites. Today they are reporting that former Counterterrorism official, Richard Clarke, is accusing the CIA and George Tenet of a cover-up in recruiting the 9/11 hijackers. George Tenet of course has denied these accusations.

“former CIA Director George Tenet and two former top aides are fighting back hard against allegations that they engaged in a massive cover-up in 2000 and 2001 to hide intelligence from the White House and the FBI that might have prevented the attacks.”

The source of the explosive, unproved allegations is a man who once considered Tenet a close friend: former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, who makes the charges against Tenet and the CIA in an interview for a radio documentary timed to the 10th anniversary next month. “

Clarke would be the highest ranking official to ever level such an accusation. He has already accused, successfully I’d say, that the former Administration didn’t take threats seriously. But this accusation ups the stakes.

“In the interview for the documentary, Clarke offers an incendiary theory that, if true, would rewrite the history of the 9/11 attacks, suggesting that the CIA intentionally withheld information from the White House and FBI in 2000 and 2001 that two Saudi-born terrorists were on U.S. soil – terrorists who went on to become suicide hijackers on 9/11.

Clarke speculates – and readily admits he cannot prove — that the CIA withheld the information because the agency had been trying to recruit the terrorists, while they were living in southern California under their own names, to work as CIA agents inside Al Qaeda. After the recruitment effort went sour, senior CIA officers continued to withhold the information from the White House for fear they would be accused of “malfeasance and misfeasance,” Clarke suggests.”

Without any clue as to the actuality of these charges, I’ll still postulate the following: If you were going to work to legitimately bust a terror network…what better way to do so than to infiltrate and co-opt them. This is how we’ve been told that officials have busted other plots. We’ve been told that agents infiltrated the groups or cozies up to individuals who espoused a violent plan and then set them up with dud bombs or other operational support until we busted them. So Clarke’s story doesn’t seem far fetched.

Clarke says it is fair to conclude “there was a high-level decision in the CIA ordering people not to share information.” Asked who would have made the order, Clarke replies, “I would think it would have been made by the director,” referring to Tenet.

Clarke said that if his theory is correct, Tenet and others would never admit to the truth today “even if you waterboarded them.”

Who knows how big such a decision circle would need to be? If Tenet made the call, he should be investigated and put under oath. Best to try than do nothing. Then use the pecking order to find out who would have reported to him.

Clarke’s theory addresses a central, enduring mystery about the 9/11 attacks – why the CIA failed for so long to tell the White House and senior officials at the FBI that the agency was aware that two Al Qaeda terrorists had arrived in the United States in January 2000, just days after attending a terrorist summit meeting in Malaysia that the CIA had secretly monitored.

Now, we always know that people like George Tenet will simply fire back with the same denials as we always get…Lets see if this will be any different:

In a written response prepared last week in advance of the broadcast, Tenet says that Clarke, who famously went public in 2004 to blow the whistle on the Bush White House over intelligence failures before 9/11, has “suddenly invented baseless allegations which are belied by the record and unworthy of serious consideration.”

“suddenly invented basless allegations which are belied by the”: record which was created by the 9/11 commission with many dubious claims also not substantiated by facts. Clarke is not someone who had no basis of talking..he was in these offices at the time. He was in the program responsible. This “baseless” charge doesn’t come from someone who doesn’t know who is who in the NCTC.

The CIA insisted to the 9/11 Commission and other government investigations that the agency never knew the exact whereabouts of the two hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, inside the U.S.—let alone try to recruit them as spies.

Again an ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy on the part of the CIA. The 9/11 Commission’s investigation is compromised in its reliability. It found several important areas where the Administration was informed and did nothing. Clarke’s testimony before the commission doesn’t differ or contradict this new charge. If anything, it provides more context.

Agency officials said the CIA’s delay in sharing information about the two terrorists was a grave failure, but maintained there was no suggestion of deception by CIA brass. Tenet has said he was not informed before 9/11 about Hazmi and Mihdhar’s travel to the U.S., although the intelligence was widely shared at lower levels of the CIA.

“If anything, it provides more context.”…So the CIA claims that Clarke’s comments are baseless and yet…admits to the delay in sharing information. How can something be both baseless and based on something. We have admission to a delay in information. We have admission of the failure and excuse being, what? That higher ups didn’t listen to lower level analysts? Coleen Rowley testified to information the FBI received and didn’t act upon. She also called out Mueller on his testimony.

The 9/11 Commission investigated widespread rumors in the intelligence community that the CIA tried to recruit the two terrorists—Clarke was not the first to suggest it—but the investigation revealed no evidence to support the rumors. The commission said in its final report that “it appears that no one informed higher levels of management in either the FBI or CIA” about the two terrorists.

They did? I have all the hearings on tape, attended 2 of them…when did they “investigate widespread rumors”? Where are the results of these supposed investigations? And how can the author at Daily Beast say that the “investigation revealed no evidence to support”. This seems unexplained. The conclusion might still be correct that no one informed higher levels, but it doesn’t not establish why. This has still been left to some vague bureaucracy glitch. It makes no sense that lower level analysts would be tasked to find terror threats then be ignored. Again, the foundation of Clarke’s claim hasn’t been debunked.

But in his interview, Clarke said his seemingly unlikely, even wild scenario – a bungled CIA terrorist-recruitment effort and a subsequent cover-up – was “the only conceivable reason that I’ve been able to come up with” to explain why he and others at the White House were told nothing about the two terrorists until the day of the attacks.

Why is it seemingly unlikely? I’m not one who wants to throw out false flag very often. I think its been abused to the point of blaming everything on false flag. But it isn’t at all a wild scenario. We can see clear history of these types of operations in the past for very similar reasons: the people don’t want wars. While I may never find a smoking gun in the 9/11 drama…We have clear evidence of motive. We have clear stated goals from Dick Cheney and his energy friendly buddies, his ideologue buddies, and his colleagues…that indicate a desire to redraw the power map in the areas we are now bogged down in, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan (aka ….Baku pipeline territory.)

“I’ve thought a lot about this,” Clarke says in the interview, which was conducted in October 2009. He said it was fair to conclude “there was a high-level decision in the CIA ordering people not to share information.” Asked who would have made the order, Clarke replies, “I would think it would have been made by the director,” referring to Tenet.

I have read Mr. Clarke’s books. If there is one area that causes me to trust his read is that he easily excepts what I find abhorrent. It is sort of called the “science of embarrassments”…meaning, you can likely believe the part of the story the person wouldn’t easily admit to if they understood embarrassments. I learned it in hermeneutic studies. He frequently explains positions in the role of the bought in. It doesn’t mean he is right, but it helps me, the reader, determine what is true and what is his view, spin, or blindness.

In finishing the radio documentary, they recently supplied a copy of Clarke’s comments to Tenet, who joined with two of former top CIA deputies — Cofer Black, who was head of the agency’s counterterrorism center, and Richard Blee, former head of the agency’s Osama Bin Laden unit — in a statement denouncing Clarke.

“Richard Clarke was an able public servant who served his country well for many years,” the statement says. “But his recently released comments about the run-up to 9/11 are reckless and profoundly wrong.”

“Clarke starts with the presumption that important information on the travel of future hijackers to the United States was intentionally withheld from him in early 2000. It was not.”

The statement continued. “Building on his false notion that information was intentionally withheld, Mr. Clarke went on to speculate – which he admits is based on nothing other than his imagination – that the CIA might have been trying to recruit these two future hijackers as agents. This, like much of what Mr. Clarke said in his interview, is utterly without foundation.”

It doesn’t surprise me that the club would come out and defend themselves. This means little to me. If I were to go to the police union after a cop beat a citizen..I’d expect, “law officers do their job every day without thanks and this isolated incident..blah blah blah…” Same sort of comments come from Panetta, Gates, Hayden, Goss, etc. why would we expect a different response from these highly unaccountable chiefs?

But in examining the words, they are boilerplate in scope. The last phrase still doesn’t work…utterly without foundation. Nonsense. What is utterly without foundation is why didn’t agents with information get heard? Clarke is being treated as some bystander who didn’t have first hand experience here. Clearly he was in the middle of decision making. It is illogical for the CIA directors to forget that Clarke had a very key role in the decision chain. Perhaps they want us to ignore this fact.

Clarke concludes that had the names come up, we’d have sent a team out to “sweep” up the bad guys….wild leap? Clarke sounds like a detective who didn’t get the bad guy in time and is angry that those who could have done something didn’t. It doesn’t take much of a leap to get to, “didn’t want to tell” when already know that they were informed and didn’t.

“To this day, it is inexplicable why, when I had every other detail about everything related to terrorism, that the director didn’t tell me, that the director of the counterterrorism center didn’t tell me,” Clarke said in the interview for the documentary, referring to Tenet and Cofer Black. “They told us everything – except this.”

“We would have conducted a massive sweep,” he said. “We would have conducted it publicly. We would have found those assholes. There’s no doubt in my mind, even with only a week left. They were using credit cards in their own names. They were staying in the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square, for heaven’s sake.” He said that “those guys would have been arrested within 24 hours.”

Graham: Politics keep terror report secret

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Key portions of a joint congressional investigative report on the September 11 terrorist attacks that will be released this week will be kept classified by the Bush administration for political, not security, reasons, Sen. Bob Graham said Sunday.

“The classification had more to do with [any given] agency wishing to avoid embarrassment by the disclosure of their actions or inactions rather than the protection of some national security interest,” Graham said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

The Florida Democrat said key sections of the 800-page report of the joint investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees that are being kept under wraps deal with the role of foreign governments in the events leading up to September 11.

Graham, who is running for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, was one of the leaders of the joint investigation into intelligence and security failures leading to the September 11, 2001 attacks. who was chairman of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last year,

He said the part of the report that deals with the activities of foreign governments “is the most classified section.” Because of that, Graham said he could not identify the countries.

“I do not want to take a detour to the federal penitentiary in my campaign for president,” said Graham, who was chairman of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last year.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out the September 11 attacks were Saudi nationals, some of whom are believed by U.S. authorities to have received assistance from Saudi Arabia-based charities while they were living in the United States.

While not identifying the country or countries identified in the report, Graham said, “I will say that the foreign government went well beyond facilitating charitable giving to terrorists.

“There was also direct governmental involvement with some of the terrorists. And an unanswered question is, Was the same assistance provided to the other 19 terrorists?”

Graham said “it’s always been curious to me how 19 people — many of whom had very little previous affinity with the United States, several of whom did not speak English — could come into the United States, hide themselves for periods of 18 months or longer, plan, practice and then executive a very complicated terrorist attack without being disclosed.”

Saudi officials have repeatedly denied they knowingly helped the September 11 terrorists and insist they have assisted U.S. efforts to fight terrorism, both before and after the attacks.

The Bush administration has also said Saudi Arabia has been an ally in the war against terrorism.

Graham, who has been a critic of President Bush’s Iraq policy, also said the congressional investigation turned up “no connection” between Saddam Hussein and September 11 and “very limited evidence” of a relationship between his regime and al Qaeda, either before or after the attacks.

“In fact, there was an enmity between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein based on their quite different views of the future of the Islamic world,” Graham said.

The Secret History

Sunday, Aug. 04, 2002
The Secret History
Long before 9/11, the White House debated taking the fight to al-Qaeda. It didn?t happen?and soon it was too late. The saga of a lost chance
BY MICHAEL ELLIOTT

Sometimes history is made by the force of arms on battlefields, sometimes by the fall of an exhausted empire. But often when historians set about figuring why a nation took one course rather than another, they are most interested in who said what to whom at a meeting far from the public eye whose true significance may have been missed even by those who took part in it.

One such meeting took place in the White House situation room during the first week of January 2001. The session was part of a program designed by Bill Clinton’s National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, who wanted the transition between the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations to run as smoothly as possible. With some bitterness, Berger remembered how little he and his colleagues had been helped by the first Bush Administration in 1992-93. Eager to avoid a repeat of that experience, he had set up a series of 10 briefings by his team for his successor, Condoleezza Rice, and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.

Berger attended only one of the briefings-the session that dealt with the threat posed to the U.S. by international terrorism, and especially by al-Qaeda. “I’m coming to this briefing,” he says he told Rice, “to underscore how important I think this subject is.” Later, alone in his office with Rice, Berger says he told her, “I believe that the Bush Administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al-Qaeda specifically, than any other subject.” The terrorism briefing was delivered by Richard Clarke, a career bureaucrat who had served in the first Bush Administration and risen during the Clinton years to become the White House’s point man on terrorism. As chair of the interagency Counter-Terrorism Security Group (CSG), Clarke was known as a bit of an obsessive-just the sort of person you want in a job of that kind. Since the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000-an attack that left 17 Americans dead-he had been working on an aggressive plan to take the fight to al-Qaeda. The result was a strategy paper that he had presented to Berger and the other national security “principals” on Dec. 20. But Berger and the principals decided to shelve the plan and let the next Administration take it up. With less than a month left in office, they did not think it appropriate to launch a major initiative against Osama bin Laden. “We would be handing (the Bush Administration) a war when they took office on Jan. 20,” says a former senior Clinton aide. “That wasn’t going to happen.” Now it was up to Rice’s team to consider what Clarke had put together.

Berger had left the room by the time Clarke, using a Powerpoint presentation, outlined his thinking to Rice. A senior Bush Administration official denies being handed a formal plan to take the offensive against al-Qaeda, and says Clarke’s materials merely dealt with whether the new Administration should take “a more active approach” to the terrorist group. (Rice declined to comment, but through a spokeswoman said she recalled no briefing at which Berger was present.) Other senior officials from both the Clinton and Bush administrations, however, say that Clarke had a set of proposals to “roll back” al-Qaeda. In fact, the heading on Slide 14 of the Powerpoint presentation reads, “Response to al Qaeda: Roll back.” Clarke’s proposals called for the “breakup” of al-Qaeda cells and the arrest of their personnel. The financial support for its terrorist activities would be systematically attacked, its assets frozen, its funding from fake charities stopped. Nations where al-Qaeda was causing trouble-Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Yemen-would be given aid to fight the terrorists. Most important, Clarke wanted to see a dramatic increase in covert action in Afghanistan to “eliminate the sanctuary” where al-Qaeda had its terrorist training camps and bin Laden was being protected by the radical Islamic Taliban regime. The Taliban had come to power in 1996, bringing a sort of order to a nation that had been riven by bloody feuds between ethnic warlords since the Soviets had pulled out. Clarke supported a substantial increase in American support for the Northern Alliance, the last remaining resistance to the Taliban. That way, terrorists graduating from the training camps would have been forced to stay in Afghanistan, fighting (and dying) for the Taliban on the front lines. At the same time, the U.S. military would start planning for air strikes on the camps and for the introduction of special-operations forces into Afghanistan. The plan was estimated to cost “several hundreds of millions of dollars.” In the words of a senior Bush Administration official, the proposals amounted to “everything we’ve done since 9/11.”

And that’s the point. The proposals Clarke developed in the winter of 2000-01 were not given another hearing by top decision makers until late April, and then spent another four months making their laborious way through the bureaucracy before they were readied for approval by President Bush. It is quite true that nobody predicted Sept. 11-that nobody guessed in advance how and when the attacks would come. But other things are true too. By last summer, many of those in the know-the spooks, the buttoned-down bureaucrats, the law-enforcement professionals in a dozen countries-were almost frantic with worry that a major terrorist attack against American interests was imminent. It wasn’t averted because 2001 saw a systematic collapse in the ability of Washington’s national-security apparatus to handle the terrorist threat.

The winter proposals became a victim of the transition process, turf wars and time spent on the pet policies of new top officials. The Bush Administration chose to institute its own “policy review process” on the terrorist threat. Clarke told Time that the review moved “as fast as could be expected.” And Administration officials insist that by the time the review was endorsed by the Bush principals on Sept. 4, it was more aggressive than anything contemplated the previous winter. The final plan, they say, was designed not to “roll back” al-Qaeda but to “eliminate” it. But that delay came at a cost. The Northern Alliance was desperate for help but got little of it. And in a bureaucratic squabble that would be farfetched on The West Wing, nobody in Washington could decide whether a Predator drone-an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and the best possible source of real intelligence on what was happening in the terror camps-should be sent to fly over Afghanistan. So the Predator sat idle from October 2000 until after Sept. 11. No single person was responsible for all this. But “Washington”-that organic compound of officials and politicians, in uniform and out, with faces both familiar and unknown-failed horribly.

Could al-Qaeda’s plot have been foiled if the U.S. had taken the fight to the terrorists in January 2001? Perhaps not. The thrust of the winter plan was to attack al-Qaeda outside the U.S. Yet by the beginning of that year, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, two Arabs who had been leaders of a terrorist cell in Hamburg, Germany, were already living in Florida, honing their skills in flight schools. Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar had been doing the same in Southern California. The hijackers maintained tight security, generally avoided cell phones, rented apartments under false names and used cash-not wire transfers-wherever possible. If every plan to attack al-Qaeda had been executed, and every lead explored, Atta’s team might still never have been caught.

But there’s another possibility. An aggressive campaign to degrade the terrorist network worldwide-to shut down the conveyor belt of recruits coming out of the Afghan camps, to attack the financial and logistical support on which the hijackers depended-just might have rendered it incapable of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks. Perhaps some of those who had to approve the operation might have been killed, or the money trail to Florida disrupted. We will never know, because we never tried. This is the secret history of that failure.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS
Berger was determined that when he left office, Rice should have a full understanding of the terrorist threat. In a sense, this was an admission of failure. For the Clinton years had been marked by a drumbeat of terror attacks against American targets, and they didn’t seem to be stopping.

In 1993 the World Trade Center had been bombed for the first time; in 1996 19 American servicemen had been killed when the Khobar Towers, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, was bombed; two years later, American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked. As the millennium celebrations at the end of 1999 approached, the CIA warned that it expected five to 15 attacks against American targets over the New Year’s weekend. But three times, the U.S. got lucky. The Jordanians broke up an al-Qaeda cell in Amman; Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian based in Montreal, panicked when stopped at a border crossing from Canada while carrying explosives intended for Los Angeles International Airport; and on Jan. 3, 2000, an al-Qaeda attack on the U.S.S. The Sullivans in Yemen foundered after terrorists overloaded their small boat.

From the start of the Clinton Administration, the job of thwarting terror had fallen to Clarke. A bureaucratic survivor who now leads the Bush Administration’s office on cyberterrorism, he has served four Presidents from both parties-staff members joke that the framed photos in his office have two sides, one for a Republican President to admire, the other for a Democrat. Aggressive and legendarily abrasive, Clarke was desperate to persuade skeptics to take the terror threat as seriously as he did. “Clarke is unbelievably determined, high-energy, focused and imaginative,” says a senior Clinton Administration official. “But he’s totally insensitive to rolling over others who are in his way.” By the end of 2000, Clarke didn’t need to roll over his boss; Berger was just as sure of the danger.

The two men had an ally in George Tenet, who had been appointed Director of Central Intelligence in 1997. “He wasn’t sleeping on the job on this,” says a senior Clinton aide of Tenet, “whatever inherent problems there were in the agency.” Those problems were immense. Although the CIA claims it had penetrated al-Qaeda, Republican Congressman Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, chairman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, doubts that it ever got anywhere near the top of the organization. “The CIA,” he says, “were not able to recruit human assets to penetrate al-Qaeda and the al-Qaeda leadership.” Nobody pretends that such an exercise would have been easy. Says a counterterrorism official: “Where are you going to find a person loyal to the U.S. who’s willing to eat dung beetles and sleep on the ground in a cave for two or three years? You don’t find people willing to do that who also speak fluent Pashtu or Arabic.”

In the absence of men sleeping with the beetles, the CIA had to depend on less reliable allies. The agency attempted to recruit tribal leaders in Afghanistan who might be persuaded to take on bin Laden; contingency plans had been made for the CIA to fly one of its planes to a desert landing strip in Afghanistan if he was ever captured. (Clinton had signed presidential “findings” that were ambiguous on the question of whether bin Laden could be killed in such an attack.) But the tribal groups’ loyalty was always in doubt. Despite the occasional abortive raid, they never seemed to get close to bin Laden. That meant that the Clinton team had to fall back on a second strategy: taking out bin Laden by cruise missile, which had been tried after the embassy bombings in 1998. For all of 2000, sources tell Time, Clinton ordered two U.S. Navy submarines to stay on station in the northern Arabian Sea, ready to attack if bin Laden’s coordinates could be determined.

But the plan was twice flawed. First, the missiles could be used only if bin Laden’s whereabouts were known, and the CIA never definitively delivered that information. By early 2000, Clinton was becoming infuriated by the lack of intelligence on bin Laden’s movements. “We’ve got to do better than this,” he scribbled on one memo. “This is unsatisfactory.” Second, even if a target could ever be found, the missiles might take too long to hit it. The Pentagon thought it could dump a Tomahawk missile on bin Laden’s camp within six hours of a decision to attack, but the experts in the White House thought that was impossibly long. Any missiles fired at Afghanistan would have to fly over Pakistan, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) was close to the Taliban. White House aides were sure bin Laden would be tipped off as soon as the Pakistanis detected the missiles.

Berger and Clarke wanted something more robust. On Nov. 7, Berger met with William Cohen, then Secretary of Defense, in the Pentagon. The time had come, said Berger, for the Pentagon to rethink its approach to operations against bin Laden. “We’ve been hit many times, and we’ll be hit again,” Berger said. “Yet we have no option beyond cruise missiles.” He wanted “boots on the ground”-U.S. special-ops forces deployed inside Afghanistan on a search-and-destroy mission targeting bin Laden. Cohen said he would look at the idea, but he and General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were dead set against it. They feared a repeat of Desert One, the 1980 fiasco in which special-ops commandos crashed in Iran during an abortive mission to rescue American hostages.

It wasn’t just Pentagon nerves that got in the way of a more aggressive counterterrorism policy. So did politics. After the U.S.S. Cole was bombed, the secretive Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., drew up plans to have Delta Force members swoop into Afghanistan and grab bin Laden. But the warriors were never given the go-ahead; the Clinton Administration did not order an American retaliation for the attack. “We didn’t do diddly,” gripes a counterterrorism official. “We didn’t even blow up a baby-milk factory.” In fact, despite strong suspicion that bin Laden was behind the attack in Yemen, the CIA and FBI had not officially concluded that he was, and would be unable to do so before Clinton left office. That made it politically impossible for Clinton to strike-especially given the upcoming election and his own lack of credibility on national security. “If we had done anything, say, two weeks before the election,” says a former senior Clinton aide, “we’d be accused of helping Al Gore.”

For Clarke, the bombing of the Cole was final proof that the old policy hadn’t worked. It was time for something more aggressive-a plan to make war against al-Qaeda. One element was vital. The Taliban’s control of Afghanistan was not yet complete; in the northeast of the country, Northern Alliance forces led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, a legendary guerrilla leader who had fought against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan in the 1980s, were still resisting Taliban rule. Clarke argued that Massoud should be given the resources to develop a viable fighting force. That way, terrorists leaving al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan would have been forced to join the Taliban forces fighting in the north. “You keep them on the front lines in Afghanistan,” says a counterterrorism official. “Hopefully you’re killing them in the process, and they’re not leaving Afghanistan to plot terrorist operations. That was the general approach.” But the approach meant that Americans had to engage directly in the snake pit of Afghan politics.

THE LAST MAN STANDING
In the spring of 2001, afghanistan was as rough a place as it ever is. Four sets of forces battled for position. Most of the country was under the authority of the Taliban, but it was not a homogeneous group. Some of its leaders, like Mullah Mohammed Omar, the self-styled emir of Afghanistan, were dyed-in-the-wool Islamic radicals; others were fierce Afghan nationalists. The Taliban’s principal support had come from Pakistan-another interested party, which wanted a reasonably peaceful border to its west-and in particular from the hard men of the isi. But Pakistan’s policy was not all of a piece either. Since General Pervez Musharraf had taken power in a 1999 coup, some Pakistani officials, desperate to curry favor with the U.S.-which had cut off aid to Pakistan after it tested a nuclear device in 1998-had seen the wisdom of distancing themselves from the Taliban, or at the least attempting to moderate its more radical behavior. The third element was the Northern Alliance, a resistance movement whose stronghold was in northeast Afghanistan. Most of the Alliance’s forces and leaders were, like Massoud, ethnic Tajiks-a minority in Afghanistan. Massoud controlled less than 10% of the country and had been beaten back by the Taliban in 2000. Nonetheless, by dint of his personality and reputation, Massoud was “the only military threat to the Taliban,” says Francesc Vendrell, who was then the special representative in Afghanistan of the U.N. Secretary-General.

And then there was al-Qaeda. The group had been born in Afghanistan when Islamic radicals began flocking there in 1979, after the Soviets invaded. Bin Laden and his closest associates had returned in 1996, when they were expelled from Sudan. Al-Qaeda’s terrorist training camps were in Afghanistan, and bin Laden’s forces and money were vital to sustaining the Taliban’s offensives against Massoud.

By last spring, the uneasy equilibrium among the four forces was beginning to break down. “Moderates” in the Taliban-those who tried to keep lines open to intermediaries in the U.N. and the U.S.-were losing ground. In 2000, Mullah Mohammed Rabbani, thought to be the second most powerful member of the Taliban, had reached out clandestinely to Massoud. “He understood that our country had been sold out to al-Qaeda and Pakistan,” says Ahmad Jamsheed, Massoud’s secretary. But in April 2001, Rabbani died of liver cancer. By that month, says the U.N.’s Vendrell, “it was al- Qaeda that was running the Taliban, not vice versa.”

A few weeks before Rabbani’s death, Musharraf’s government had started to come to the same conclusion: the Pakistanis were no longer able to moderate Taliban behavior. To worldwide condemnation, the Taliban had announced its intention to blow up the 1,700-year-old stone statues of the Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley. Musharraf dispatched his right-hand man, Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider, to plead with Mullah Omar for the Buddhas to be saved. The Taliban’s Foreign Minister and its ambassador to Pakistan, says a Pakistani official close to the talks, were in favor of saving the Buddhas. But Mullah Omar, says a member of the Pakistani delegation, listened to what Haider had to say and replied, “If on Judgment Day I stand before Allah, I’ll see those two statues floating before me, and I know that Allah will ask me why, when I had the power, I did not destroy them.” A few days later, the Buddhas were blown up.

By summer, Pakistan had a deeper grievance. The country had suffered a wave of sectarian assassinations, with gangs throwing grenades into mosques and murdering clerics. The authorities in Islamabad knew that the murderers had fled to Afghanistan (one of them was openly running a store in Kabul) and sent a delegation to ask for their return. “We gave them lists of names, photos and the locations of training camps where these fellows could be found,” says Brigadier Javid Iqbal Cheema, director of Pakistan’s National Crisis Management Cell, “but not a single individual was ever handed over to us.” The Pakistanis were furious.

As the snows cleared for the annual spring military campaign, a joint offensive against Massoud by the Taliban and al-Qaeda seemed likely. But the influence of al-Qaeda on the Taliban was proving deeply unpopular among ordinary Afghans, especially in the urban centers. “I thought at most 20% of the population supported the Taliban by early summer,” says Vendrell. And bin Laden’s power made Massoud’s plea for outside assistance more urgent. “We told the Americans-we told everyone-that al-Qaeda was set upon a transnational program,” says Abdullah Abdullah, once a close aide to Massoud and now the Afghan Foreign Minister. In April, Massoud addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, seeking support for the Northern Alliance. “If President Bush doesn’t help us,” he told a reporter, “these terrorists will damage the U.S. and Europe very soon.”

But Massoud never got the help that he needed-or that Clarke’s plan had deemed necessary. Most of the time, Northern Alliance delegates to Washington had to be satisfied with meeting low-level bureaucrats. The Alliance craved recognition by the U.S. as a “legitimate resistance movement” but never got it, though on a visit in July, Abdullah did finally get to meet some top National Security Council (NSC) and State Department officials for the first time. The best the Americans seemed prepared to do was turn a blind eye to the trickle of aid from Iran, Russia and India. Vendrell remembers much talk that spring of increased support from the Americans. But in truth Massoud’s best help came from Iran, which persuaded all supporters of the Northern Alliance to channel their aid through Massoud alone.

Only once did something happen that might have given Massoud hope that the U.S. would help. In late June, he was joined in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, by Abdul Haq, a leading Pashtun, based in Dubai, who was opposed to the Taliban. Haq was accompanied by someone Massoud knew well: Peter Tomsen, a retired ambassador who from 1989 to ’92 had been the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to the Afghan resistance. Also present was James Ritchie, a successful Chicago options trader who had spent part of his childhood in Afghanistan and was helping bankroll the groups opposed to the Taliban. (Haq was captured and executed by the Taliban last October while on a quixotic mission to Afghanistan.) Tomsen insists that the June 2001 trip was a private one, though he had told State Department officials of it in advance. Their message, he says, was limited to a noncommittal “good luck and be careful.”

The purpose of the meeting, according to Tomsen, was to see if Massoud and Haq could forge a joint strategy against the Taliban. “The idea,” says Sayeed Hussain Anwari, now the Afghan Minister of Agriculture, who was present at the meeting, “was to bring Abdul Haq inside the country to begin an armed struggle in the southeast.” Still hoping for direct assistance from Washington, Massoud gave Tomsen all the intelligence he had on al-Qaeda and asked Tomsen to take it back to Washington. But when he briefed State Department officials after his trip, their reaction was muted. The American position was clear. If anything was to be done to change the realities in Afghanistan, it would have to be done not by the U.S. but by Pakistan. Massoud was on his own.

CLARKE: CRYING WOLF
In Washington, dick clarke didn’t seem to have a lot of friends either. His proposals were still grinding away. No other great power handles the transition from one government to another in so shambolic a way as the U.S.-new appointments take months to be confirmed by the Senate; incoming Administrations tinker with even the most sensible of existing policies. The fight against terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear. “If we hadn’t had a transition,” says a senior Clinton Administration official, “probably in late October or early November 2000, we would have had (the plan to go on the offensive) as a presidential directive.”

As the new Administration took office, Rice kept Clarke in his job as counterterrorism czar. In early February, he repeated to Vice President Dick Cheney the briefing he had given to Rice and Hadley. There are differing opinions on how seriously the Bush team took Clarke’s wwarnings. Some members of the outgoing Administration got the sense that the Bush team thought the Clintonites had become obsessed with terrorism. “It was clear,” says one, “that this was not the same priority to them that it was to us.”

For other observers, however, the real point was not that the new Administration dismissed the terrorist theat. On the contrary, Rice, Hadley and Cheney, says an official, “all got that it was important.” The question is, How high a priority did terrorism get? Clarke says that dealing with al-Qaeda “was in the top tier of issues reviewed by the Bush Administration.” But other topics got far more attention. The whole Bush national-security team was obsessed with setting up a national system of missile defense. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was absorbed by a long review of the military’s force structure. Attorney General John Ashcroft had come into office as a dedicated crime buster. Rice was desperately trying to keep in line a national-security team-including Rumsfeld, Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell-whose members had wildly different agendas and styles. “Terrorism,” says a former Clinton White House official, speaking of the new Administration, “wasn’t on their plate of key issues.” Al-Qaeda had not been a feature of the landscape when the Republicans left office in 1993. The Bush team, says an official, “had to learn about (al-Qaeda) and figure out where it fit into their broader foreign policy.” But doing so meant delay.

Some counterterrorism officials think there is another reason for the Bush Administration’s dilatory response. Clarke’s paper, says an official, “was a Clinton proposal.” Keeping Clarke around was one thing; buying into the analysis of an Administration that the Bush team considered feckless and naive was quite another. So Rice instructed Clarke to initiate a new “policy review process” on the terrorism threat. Clarke dived into yet another round of meetings. And his proposals were nibbled nearly to death.

This was, after all, a White House plan, which means it was resented from the moment of conception. “When you look at the Pentagon and the cia,” says a former senior Clinton aide, “it’s not their plan. The military will never accept the White House staff doing military planning.” Terrorism, officials from the State Department suggested, needed to be put in the broader context of American policy in South Asia. The rollback plan was becoming the victim of a classic Washington power play between those with “functional” responsibilities-like terrorism-and those with “regional” ones-like relations with India and Pakistan. The State Department’s South Asia bureau, according to a participant in the meetings, argued that a fistful of other issues-Kashmir, nuclear proliferation, Musharraf’s dictatorship-were just as pressing as terrorism. By now, Clarke’s famously short fuse was giving off sparks. A participant at one of the meetings paraphrases Clarke’s attitude this way: “These people are trying to kill us. I could give a f___ if Musharraf was democratically elected. What I do care about is Pakistan’s support for the Taliban and turning a blind eye to this terrorist cancer growing in their neighbor’s backyard.”

It was Bush who broke the deadlock. Each morning the CIA gives the Chief Executive a top-secret Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) on pressing issues of national security. One day in early spring, Tenet briefed Bush on the hunt for Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda’s head of international operations, who was suspected of having been involved in the planning of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. After the PDB, Bush told Rice that the approach to al-Qaeda was too scattershot. He was tired of “swatting at flies” and asked for a comprehensive plan for attacking terrorism. According to an official, Rice came back to the nsc and said, “The President wants a plan to eliminate al-Qaeda.” Clarke reminded her that he already had one.

But having a plan isn’t the same as executing it. Clarke’s paper now had to go through three more stages: the Deputies’ Committee, made up of the No. 2s to the main national-security officials; the Principals’ Committee, which included Cheney, Rice, Tenet, Powell and Rumsfeld; and finally, the President. Only when Bush had signed off would the plan become what the Bush team called a national-security presidential directive.

On April 30, nearly six weeks after the Administration started holding deputies’ meetings, Clarke presented a new plan to them. In addition to Hadley, who chaired the hour-long meeting, the gathering included Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby; Richard Armitage, the barrel-chested Deputy Secretary of State; Paul Wolfowitz, the scholarly hawk from the Pentagon; and John McLaughlin from the cia. Armitage was enthusiastic about Clarke’s plan, according to a senior official. But the CIA was gun-shy. Tenet was a Clinton holdover and thus vulnerable if anything went wrong. His agency was unwilling to take risks; it wanted “top cover” from the White House. The deputies, says a senior official, decided to have “three parallel reviews-one on al-Qaeda, one on the Pakistani political situation and the third on Indo-Pakistani relations.” The issues, the deputies thought, were interrelated. “They wanted to view them holistically,” says the senior official, “and not until they’d had three separate meetings on each of these were they able to hold a fourth integrating them all.”

There was more. Throughout the spring, one bureaucratic wrangle in particular rumbled on, poisoning the atmosphere. At issue: the Predator.

The Predator had first been used in Bosnia in 1995. Later, the CIA and the Pentagon began a highly classified program designed to produce pictures-viewable in real time-that would be fine-grained enough to identify individuals. The new, improved Predator was finally ready in September 2000, and the CIA flew it over Afghanistan in a two-week “test of concept.” First results were promising; one video sent to the White House showed a man who might have been bin Laden. For the first time, the CIA now had a way to check out a tip by one of its agents among the Afghan tribes. If there was a report that bin Laden was in the vicinity, says a former aide to Clinton, “we could put the Predator over the location and have eyes on the target.”

But in October 2000, the Predator crashed when landing at its base in a country bordering Afghanistan. The unmanned aerial vehicle needed repairs, and in any event, the CIA and the Pentagon decided that the winter weather over Afghanistan would make it difficult to take good pictures. The Clinton team left office assuming that the Predator would be back in the skies by March 2001.

In fact, the Predator wouldn’t fly again until after Sept. 11. In early 2001 it was decided to develop a new version that would not just take photos but also be armed with Hellfire missiles. To the frustration of Clarke and other White House aides, the CIA and the Pentagon couldn’t decide who controlled the new program or who should pay for it-though each craft cost only $1 million. While the new uav was being rapidly developed at a site in the southwestern U.S., the CIA opposed using the old one for pure surveillance because it feared al-Qaeda might see it. “Once we were going to arm the thing,” says a senior U.S. intelligence official, “we didn’t want to expose the capability by just having it fly overhead and spot a bunch of guys we couldn’t do anything about.” Clarke and his supporters were livid. “Dick Clarke insisted that it be kept in the air,” says a Bush Administration official. The counterterrorism team argued that the Taliban had shot at the uav during the Clinton test, so its existence was hardly a secret. Besides, combined with on-the-ground intelligence, a Predator might just gather enough information in time to get a Tomahawk off to the target. But when the deputies held their fourth and final meeting on July 16, they still hadn’t sorted out what to do with the Predator. Squabbles over who would pay for it continued into August.

Administration sources insist that they were not idle in the spring. They set up, for example, a new center in the Treasury to track suspicious foreign assets and reviewed Clinton’s “findings” on whether the CIA could kill bin Laden. But by the summer, policy reviews were hardly what was needed.

Intelligence services were picking up enough chatter about a terrorist attack to scare the pants off top officials. On June 22, the Defense Department put its troops on full alert and ordered six ships from the Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, to steam out to sea, for fear that they might be attacked in port. U.S. officials thought an attack might be mounted on American forces at the nato base at Incirlik, Turkey, or maybe in Rome or Belgium, Germany or Southeast Asia, perhaps the Philippines-anywhere, it seems, but in the U.S. When Independence Day passed without incident, Clarke called a meeting and asked Ben Bonk, deputy director of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, to brief on bin Laden’s plans. Bonk’s evidence that al-Qaeda was planning “something spectacular,” says an official who was in the room, “was very gripping.” But nobody knew what or when or where the spectacular would be. As if to crystallize how much and how little anyone in the know actually knew, the counterterrorism center released a report titled “Threat of Impending al- Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely.”

Predictably, nerves frayed. Clarke, who was widely loathed in the cia, where he was accused of self-aggrandizement, began to lose credibility. He cried wolf, said his detractors; he had been in the job too long. “The guy was reading way too many fiction novels,” says a counterterrorism official. “He turned into a Chicken Little. The sky was always falling for Dick Clarke. We had our strings jerked by him so many times, he was simply not taken seriously.” Clarke wasn’t the only one living on the edge. So, say senior officials, was Tenet. Every few days, the CIA director would call Tom Pickard, who had become acting director of the FBI in June, asking “What do you hear? Do you have anything?” Pickard never had to ask what the topic was.

In mid-July, Tenet sat down for a special meeting with Rice and aides. “George briefed Condi that there was going to be a major attack,” says an official; another, who was present at the meeting, says Tenet broke out a huge wall chart (“They always have wall charts”) with dozens of threats. Tenet couldn’t rule out a domestic attack but thought it more likely that al-Qaeda would strike overseas. One date already worrying the Secret Service was July 20, when Bush would arrive in Genoa for the G-8 summit; Tenet had intelligence that al-Qaeda was planning to attack Bush there. The Italians, who had heard the same report (the way European intelligence sources tell it, everyone but the President’s dog “knew” an attack was coming) put frogmen in the harbor, closed airspace around the town and ringed it with antiaircraft guns.

But nothing happened. After Genoa, says a senior intelligence official, there was a collective sigh of relief: “A lot of folks started letting their guard down.” After the final deputies’ meeting on Clarke’s draft of a presidential directive, on July 16, it wasn’t easy to find a date for the Principals’ Committee to look at the plan-the last stage before the paper went to Bush. “There was one meeting scheduled for August,” says a senior official, “but too many principals were out of town.” Eventually a date was picked: the principals would look at the draft on Sept. 4. That was about nine months after Clarke first put his plan on paper.

A BURNED-OUT CASE
Clarke wasn’t the only person having a bad year. In New York City, John O’Neill led the FBI’s National Security Division, commanding more than 100 experienced agents. By spring they were all overloaded. O’Neill’s boss, Assistant FBI Director Barry Mawn, spent part of his time pleading with Washington for more agents, more linguists, more clerical help. He got nowhere. O’Neill was a legend both in New York, where he hung out at famous watering holes like Elaine’s, and in the counterterrorism world. Since 1995, when he helped coordinate the arrest in Pakistan of Ramzi Yousef, the man responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, O’Neill had been one of the FBI’s leading figures in the fight against terrorism. Brash, slick and ambitious, he had spent the late 1990s working closely with Clarke and the handful of other top officials for whom bin Laden had become an obsession.

Now O’Neill was having a lousy few months. The New York City field office had primary responsibility for the investigation of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. But the case had gone badly from the start. The Yemeni authorities had been lethargic and uncooperative, and O’Neill, who led the team in Aden, had run afoul of Barbara Bodine, then the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, who believed the FBI’s large presence was causing political problems for the Yemeni regime. When O’Neill left Yemen on a trip home for Thanksgiving, Bodine barred his return. Seething, O’Neill tried to supervise the investigation from afar. At the same time, his team in New York City was working double time preparing for the trial in January 2001 of four co-conspirators in the case of the 1998 African embassy bombings. That involved agents shuttling between Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and New York, escorting witnesses, ferrying documents and guarding al-Qaeda turncoats who would give evidence for the prosecution.

Yet the FBI as a whole was ill equipped to deal with the terrorist threat. It had neither the language skills nor the analytical savvy to understand al-Qaeda. The bureau’s information-technology capability dated to pre-Internet days. Chambliss says the counterterrorism investigations were decentralized at the bureau’s 56 field offices, which were actually discouraged from sharing information with one another or with headquarters.

That was if the cases ever got started. An investigation by Chambliss’s subcommittee found that the FBI paid “insufficient attention” to tracking terrorists’ finances. Most agents in the field were assigned to criminal units; few field squads were dedicated to gathering intelligence on radical fundamentalists. During the Clinton Administration, says a former senior aide, Clarke became so frustrated with the bureau that he began touring its field offices, giving agents “al- Qaeda 101” classes. The bureau was, in fact, wiretapping some suspected Islamic radicals and debriefing a few al-Qaeda hands who had flipped. But at the end of the Clinton years, the aide says, the FBI told the White House that “there’s not a substantial al-Qaeda presence in the U.S., and to the extent there was a presence, they had it covered.” The FBI didn’t, and O’Neill must have known that it didn’t. So, as it happens, did some of his key allies, who were not in the U.S. at all but overseas. In Europe and especially in France the threat of Islamic terrorism had been particularly sharp ever since the Algerian Armed Islamic Group launched a bombing campaign in Paris in 1995. By 2000, counterterrorism experts in Europe knew the Islamic diaspora communities in Europe were seeded with cells of terrorists. And after the arrest of Ressam, European officials were convinced that terrorists would soon attack targets in the U.S. Jean-Louis Bruguire, a French magistrate who has led many of the most prominent terrorist cases, says Ressam’s arrest signaled that the U.S. “had to join the rest of the world in considering itself at acute risk of attack.”

Throughout the winter and spring of 2001, European law-enforcement agencies scored a series of dramatic hits against al-Qaeda and associated radical Islamic cells, with some help from the cia. The day after Christmas 2000, German authorities in Frankfurt arrested four Algerians on suspicion of plotting to bomb targets in Strasbourg. Two months later, the British arrested six Algerians on terrorism charges. In April, Italian police busted a cell whose members were suspected of plotting to bomb the American embassy in Rome. Two months later, the Spanish arrested Mohammed Bensakhria, an Algerian who had been in Afghanistan and had links to top al-Qaeda officials, including bin Laden. Bensakhria, the French alleged, had directed the Frankfurt cell involved in the Strasbourg plot. And in the most stunning coup of all, on July 28, Djamel Beghal, a Frenchman of Algerian descent who had been on France’s terrorist watch list since 1997, was arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. After being persuaded of terrorism’s evil by Islamic scholars, Beghal told of a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris and gave investigators new details on al-Qaeda’s top leadership, including the international-operations role of Abu Zubaydah. (Now back in France, he has tried to recant his confession.) French sources tell Time they believe U.S. authorities knew about Beghal’s testimony.

This action by cops in Europe was meat and drink to O’Neill. The problem was that it convinced some U.S. antiterrorism officials that if there was going to be an attack on American interests that summer, it would take place outside the U.S. In early June, for example, the FBI was so concerned about threats to investigators left in Yemen that it moved the agents from Aden to the American embassy in Sana’a. Then came a second, very specific warning about the team’s safety, and Washington decided to pull out of Yemen entirely. “John (O’Neill) would say, ‘There’s a lot of traffic,'” recalls Mawn. “Everybody was saying, ‘The drumbeats are going; something’s going to happen.’ I said, ‘Where and what?’ And they’d say, ‘We don’t know, but it seems to be overseas, probably.'”

Some didn’t lose sight of the threat at home. On Aug. 6, while on vacation in Crawford, Texas, Bush was given a PDB, this one on the possibility of al-Qaeda attacks in the U.S. And not one but two FBI field offices had inklings of al-Qaeda activity in the U.S. that, had they been aggressively pursued, might have fleshed out the intelligence chatter about an upcoming attack. But the systemic weaknesses in the FBI’s bureaucracy prevented anything from being done.

The first warning came from Phoenix, Ariz. On July 10, agent Kenneth Williams wrote a paper detailing his suspicions about some suspected Islamic radicals who had been taking flying lessons in Arizona. Williams proposed an investigation to see if al-Qaeda was using flight schools nationwide. He spoke with the voice of experience; he had been working on international terrorism cases for years. The Phoenix office, according to former FBI agent James Hauswirth, had been investigating men with possible Islamic terrorist links since 1994, though without much support from the FBI’s local bosses. Williams had started work on his probe of flight schools in early 2001 but had spent much of the next months on nonterrorist cases. Once he was back on terrorism, it took only a few weeks for alarm bells to ring. He submitted his memo to headquarters and to two FBI field offices, including New York City. In all three places it died.

Five weeks after Williams wrote his memo, a second warning came in from another FBI field office, and once again, headquarters bungled the case. On Aug. 13, Zacarias Moussaoui, a 33-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan ancestry, arrived at Pan Am International Flight Academy in Minnesota for simulator training on a Boeing 747. Moussaoui, who had been in the U.S. since February and had already taken flying lessons at a school in Norman, Okla., was in a hurry. John Rosengren, who was director of operations at Pan Am until February this year, says Moussaoui wanted to learn how to fly the 747 in “four or five days.” After just two days of training, Moussaoui’s flight instructor expressed concern that his student didn’t want it known that he was a Muslim. One of Pan Am’s managers had a contact in the FBI; should the manager call him? “I said, ‘No problem,'” says Rosengren. “The next day I got a call from a Minneapolis agent telling me Moussaoui had been detained at the Residence Inn in Eagan.”

Though Moussaoui is the only person to be indicted in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, his role in them is as clear as mud. (He is detained in Alexandria, Va., awaiting trial in federal district court.) German authorities have confirmed to Time that-as alleged in the indictment-Ramzi Binalshibh, a Hamburg friend of Atta and Al-Shehhi, wired two money transfers to Moussaoui in August. Binalshibh, who was denied a visa to visit the U.S. four times in 2000, is thought to have been one of the conduits for funds to the hijackers, relaying cash that originated in the Persian Gulf. But no known telephone calls or other evidence links the hijackers directly to Moussaoui.

Whatever Moussaoui’s true tale may be, the Minnesota field office was convinced he was worth checking out. Agents spent much of the next two weeks in an increasingly frantic-and ultimately fruitless- effort to persuade FBI headquarters to authorize a national-security warrant to search Moussaoui’s computer. From Washington, requests were sent to authorities in Paris for background details on the suspect. Like most things having to do with Moussaoui, the contents of the dossier sent over from Paris are in dispute. One senior French law-enforcement source told Time the Americans were given “everything they needed” to understand that Moussaoui was associated with Islamic terrorist groups. “Even a neophyte,” says this source, “working in some remote corner of Florida, would have understood the threat based on what was sent.” But several officials in FBI headquarters say that before Sept. 11 the French sent only a three-page document, which portrayed Moussaoui as a radical but was too sketchy to justify a search warrant for his computer.

The precise wording of the French letter isn’t the issue. The extraordinary thing about Moussaoui’s case-like the Phoenix memo-is that it was never brought to the attention of top officials in Washington who were, almost literally, sleepless with worry about an imminent terrorist attack. Nobody in the FBI or CIA ever informed anybody in the White House of Moussaoui’s detention. That was unforgivable. “Do you think,” says a White House antiterrorism official, “that if Dick Clarke had known the FBI had in custody a foreigner who was learning to fly a plane in midair, he wouldn’t have done something?”

In blissless ignorance, Clarke and Tenet waited for the meeting of the Principals. But the odd little ways of Washington had one more trick to play. Heeding the pleas from the FBI’s New York City office, where Mawn and O’Neill were desperate for new linguists and analysts, acting FBI director Pickard asked the Justice Department for some $50 million for the bureau’s counterterrorism program. He was turned down. In August, a bureau source says, he appealed to Attorney General Ashcroft. The reply was a flat no.

Pickard got Ashcroft’s letter on Sept. 10. A few days before, O’Neill had started a new job. He was burned out, and he knew it. Over the summer, he had come to realize that he had made too many enemies ever to succeed Mawn. O’Neill handed in his papers, left the FBI and began a new life as head of security at the World Trade Center.

THE TWO VISITORS
As the first cool nights of fall settled on northeast Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Massoud was barely hanging on. His summer offensive had been a bust. An attempt to capture the city of Taloqan, which he had lost to the Taliban in 2000, ended in failure. But old allies, like the brutal Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, had returned to the field, and Massoud still thought the unpopularity of the Taliban might yet make them vulnerable. “He was telling us not to worry, that we’d soon capture Kabul,” says Shah Pacha, an infantry commander in the Northern Alliance.

Around Sept. 1, Massoud summoned his top men to his command post in Khoja Bahauddin. The intention was to plan an attack, but Zahir Akbar, one of Massoud’s generals, remembers a phone call after which Massoud changed his plans. “He’d been told al-Qaeda and the Pakistanis were deploying five combat units to the front line,” says Akbar. Northern Alliance soldiers reported a buildup of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces; there was no big push from the south, although there were a number of skirmishes in the first week in September. “We were puzzled and confused when they didn’t attack,” says a senior Afghan intelligence source. “And Taliban communications showed the units had been ordered to wait.”

What were they waiting for? Some of Massoud’s closest aides think they know. For about three weeks, two Arab journalists had been waiting in Khoja Bahauddin to interview Massoud. The men said they represented the Islamic Observation Center in London and had a letter of introduction from its head, Yasser al-Siri. The men, who had been given safe passage through the Taliban front lines, “said they’d like to document Islam in Afghanistan,” recalls Faheem Dashty, who made films with the Northern Alliance and is editor in chief of the Kabul Weekly newspaper. By the night of Sept. 8, the visitors were getting antsy, pestering Massoud’s officials to firm up the meeting with him and threatening to return to Kabul if they could not see Massoud in the next 24 hours. “They were so worried and excitable they were begging us,” says Jamsheed, Massoud’s secretary.

The interview was finally granted just before lunch on Sunday, Sept. 9. Dashty was asked to record it on his camera. Massoud sat next to his friend Masood Khalili, now Afghanistan’s ambassador to India. “The commander said he wanted to sit with me and translate,” says Khalili. “Then he and I would go and have lunch together by the Oxus River.” The Arabs entered and set up a TV camera in front of Massoud; the guests, says Khalili, were “very calm, very quiet.” Khalili asked them which newspaper they represented. When they replied that they were acting for “Islamic Centers,” says Khalili, he became reluctant to continue, but Massoud said they should all go ahead.

Khalili says Massoud asked to know the Arabs’ questions before they started recording. “I remember that out of 15 questions, eight were about bin Laden,” says Khalili. “I looked over at Massoud. He looked uncomfortable; there were five worry lines on his forehead instead of the one he usually had. But he said, ‘O.K. Let’s film.'” Khalili started translating the first question into Dari; Dashty was fiddling with the lighting on his camera. “Then,” says Dashty, “I felt the explosion.” The bomb was in the camera, and it killed one of the Arabs; the second was shot dead by Massoud’s guards while trying to escape. Khalili believes he was saved by his passport, which was in his left breast pocket-eight pieces of shrapnel were found embedded in it. Dashty remembers being rushed to a helicopter with Massoud, who had terrible wounds. The chopper flew them both to a hospital in Tajikistan. By the time they arrived, Massoud was dead. The killers had come from Europe, and they were members of a group allied with al-Qaeda. Massoud’s enemies had been waiting for the news. Within hours, Taliban radio began to crackle: “Your father is dead. Now you can’t resist us.” “They were clever,” says a member of Massoud’s staff. “Their offensive was primed to begin after the assassination.” That night the Taliban attacked Massoud’s front lines. One last time, his forces held out on their own.

As the battle raged, Clarke’s plan awaited Bush’s signature. Soon enough, the Northern Alliance would get all the aid it had been seeking-U.S. special forces, money, B-52 bombers, and, of course, as many Predators as the CIA and Pentagon could get into the sky. The decision that had been put off for so long had suddenly become easy because a little more than 50 hours after Massoud’s death, Atta, sitting on American Airlines Flight 11 on the runway at Boston’s Logan Airport, had used his mobile phone to speak for the last time to his friend Al-Shehhi, on United Flight 175. Their plot was a go.

That morning, O’Neill, Clarke’s former partner in the fight against international terrorism, arrived at his new place of work. He had been on the job just two weeks. After Atta and Al-Shehhi crashed their planes into the World Trade Center, O’Neill called his son and a girlfriend from outside the Towers to say he was safe. Then he rushed back in. His body was identified 10 days later.

— Reported by Massimo Calabresi, John F. Dickerson, Elaine Shannon, Mark Thompson, Douglas Waller and Michael Weisskopf/Washington; Hannah Bloch and Tim McGirk/Islamabad; Cathy Booth Thomas/Dallas; Wendy Cole and Marguerite Michaels/ Chicago; Bruce Crumley/Paris; James Graff/Brussels; David Schwartz/Phoenix; and Michael Ware/Kabul