The Looming Tower & The Perfect Storm (III)

OVER THE LAST TWO POSTS, I've chronicled the remarkable events leading up to 9/11 from Lawrence Wright's work The Looming Tower. In this final post, I'll continue the "highlighter worthy" events of the eve of the terrorist attack. I'm sure many of these events will be a surprise to the reader, as they were to me.
  • Most men who joined the jihad did so in a country other than the one in which they were reared. Alone, alienated, and often far from his family, the exile turned to the mosque where he found companionship and the consolation of religion. Islam was more than a faith--it was an identity. (344)
  • The Hamburg Cell, the nucleus of what would become the co-conspirators of 9/11, were able to fly below the authorities' radar. The new Germany had enshrined tolerance into its constitution, including the most openhanded political asylum policy in the world. In recoiling from its extremist past, Germany inadvertently became the host of a new totalitarian movement. (345)
  • Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 masterminds, stated in his will: "No pregnant woman or disbelievers should walk in my funeral or ever visit my grave. No woman should ask forgiveness of me. Those who will wash my body should wear gloves so that they do not touch my genitals." The anger this statement directs at women and its horror of sexual contact invites the thought that Atta's turn to terror had as much to do with his own conflicted sexuality as it did with the clash of civilizations. (347) A fatwa was ordered on the Islamic journalist who dared suggest these young men would not have carried out 9/11 if they'd had a healthy sexual life.
  • Nawaf al-Hamzi and Khaled al-Mihdhar, both 9/11 conspirators, easily obtained U.S. visas because they were Saudi citizens. (349)
  • The CIA knew about Hamzi and Mihdhar withheld this information from other governmental agencies, fearing prosecutions resulting from specific intelligence might compromise its relationship with foreign intelligence services, notwithstanding there were safeguards to protect confidential information, and the FBI worked routinely with the agency on similar operations. May in the CIA feared, however, that the FBI was too blundering and indiscriminate to be trusted with sensitive intelligence. (352). Such turf-protection was the key weakness of American foreign intelligence before 9/11. I fear nothing has changed.
  • Ramzi Yousef, mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was being flown past the towers on his way to stand trial. One of the agents pointed and said, "See, they're still standing." Yousef said, "They wouldn't be if we had more money." (357) This is for those who think President Bush is responsible for all Islamic terrorism against the west. That was back in 1993, when the nation was suffering under the laconic and narcissistic Bill Clinton.
  • On October 12, 2000, the U.S.S. Cole was bombed by an explosives-laden skiff in the Aden, Yemen, harbor. OBL later said, "The destroyer represented the capital of the West, and the small boat represented Mohammed." (361) For those who do not believe Islamofascism is religious in nature.
  • OBL was born in Yemen, in an area known as the "Hadramout," which means "death has come." (364)
  • Yemeni authorities arrested Fahd al-Quso, who was supposed to videotape the Cole bombing, but overslept. Quso admitted that he had delivered money to one of his co-conspirators, Khallad, in Bangkok. Khallad was linked to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The FBI sent Khallad's photo to the CIA, asking about this connection. The CIA withheld information about the Malaysia meeting of Khallad and Quso, which hampered the pursuit of judstice in the death of 17 American sailors. (372). If this information had been given the FBI, they could have found Hamzi and Mihdhar in the U.S., and 9/11 might have been prevented!
  • Bill Clinton did nothing in response to the Cole bombing, as it came in the midst of his Monica problems and the upcoming presidential election. OBL's belief in American timidity had once again been proven. (374)
  • In April 2001, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Afghan Northern Alliance commander and enemy of the Taliban, told American officials in Paris that he had learned of al-Qaeda's intent to perform a terrorist act against the U.S. that would be vastly greater than the bombings of the American embassies in Africa. (381)
  • Bill Clinton's Justice Department reversed intelligence policy in 1995. The new policy regulated the exchange of information between FBI agents and criminal prosecutors, but not among the agents themselves. FBI headquarters misinterpreted the policy, turning it into a straitjacket for its own investigators. (387)
  • In July, 2001, Phoenix FBI agent Ken Williams wrote headquarters, saying, "The purpose of this communication is to advise the bureau and New York of the possibility of a coordinated effort by OBL to send students to the U.S. to attend civil aviation universities and colleges." His warning was ignored. (395)
  • In mid-August, a flight school in Minnesota expressed concern to the FBI about a student, Zacarias Moussaoui, who asked about NYC flight patterns and whether the cockpit door could be opened during flight. The INS arrested him, but FBI headquarters would not allow agents to examine Moussaoui's laptop computer because the agents could not show "probable cause" for their search. (396) One wonders what probable cause would have sufficed? A cartoon showing a plane striking the towers?
  • If the FBI had been allowed access to the laptop, it would have discovered a letter of employment from Infocus Tech, which was signed by Yazid Sufaat, whose name meant nothing to the FBI, but the CIA knew Sufaat was at the conspirator's meeting in Malaysia. The FBI was not guiltless, either. It failed to give terrorism czar Dick Clarke any of the above information. (397)
  • On September 9, Ahmed Shah Massoud was assassinated by two men posing as Arab TV journalists. His murder was ordered by OBL. (401)
  • John O'Neill, the former FBI chief of counterterrorism and head of security for the World Trade Center for just three weeks, was killed in the attack when he went back inside the tower to help with the evacuation. (407)
  • Following the attack, America prepared to invade Afghanistan in pursuit of OBL, who escaped into Pakistan. (420)
9/11 was a devilish conjunction of evil intent, American hubris, and sheer luck. Though I do not believe it will happen again in the same way (airplanes used as bombs), I have no doubt that it will happen again. Most likely, a dirty bomb in a container shipment in a southern California harbor, which when detonated will kill thousands in this densely-populated area. The winds will then carry the radioactivity inland, sickening and killing tens of thousands more. Since at present U.S.Customs physically inspects only 6% of all incoming container cargo, this scenario has a high likelihood of success. God help us if we refuse to help ourselves.

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