been done to hamper or even entirely avertthe 9/11 attacks. Failing to recognize thesedetails and learn from them could com-pound the tragedy either by permittingfuture attacks or by encouraging acquies-cence to measures that erode civil libertieswithout protecting the country.In early January 2000 covert surveillancerevealed a terrorist planning meeting in Kuala Lumpur that included Nawaf al-Hazmi,Khalid al-Mihdhar, and others.
In March 2000the CIA was informed that Nawaf al-Hazmideparted Malaysia on a United Airlines flightfor Los Angeles. (Although unreported at thetime, al-Mihdhar was on the same flight.) TheCIA did not notify the State Department andthe FBI.
Later to join the 9/11 hijackings, bothwere known to be linked with al-Qaeda andspecifically with the 1998 embassy bombingsin Tanzania and Kenya.
As the 9/11Commission reported, the trail was lost with-out a clear realization that it had been lost, andwithout much effort to pick it up again.
In January 2001, almost one year afterbeing lost in Bangkok, al-Mihdhar was onthe radar screen again after being identifiedby a joint CIA-FBI investigation of the bomb-ing of the USS
, the October 2000 attackon a U.S. guided missile destroyer in Yemen’s Aden Harbor that killed 17 crew membersand injured 39.
Even with this new knowl-edge the CIA did not renew its search for al-Mihdhar and did not make his identity known to the State Department (which pre-sumably would have interfered with his plansto re-enter the United States).
Al-Mihdharflew to New York City on July 4, 2001, on a new visa. As the 9/11 Commission reported,“No one was looking for him.”
On August 21, 2001, an FBI analyst whohad been detailed to the CIA’s Bin Laden unitfinally made the connection and “graspedthe significance” of Nawaf al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar’s visits to the United States. TheImmigration and Naturalization Service wasimmediately notified. On August 22, 2001,the INS responded with information thatcaused the FBI analyst to conclude that al-Mihdhar might still be in the country.
With the knowledge that the associate of a “major league killer” was possibly roaming freein the United States, the hunt by the FBI shouldhave been on. The FBI certainly had a valid rea-son to open a case against these two individualsas they were connected to the ongoing USS
bombing investigation, the 1998 embassy bombing, and al-Qaeda.
On August 24, 2001,Nawaf al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were added tothe State Department’s TIPOFF
Efforts to locate Nawaf al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar initially foundered on confusionwithin the FBI about the sharing and use of data collected through intelligence versuscriminal channels.
The search for al-Mihdharwas assigned to one FBI agent, his first evercounterterrorism lead.
Because the lead was“routine,” he was given 30 days to open anintelligence case and make some effort tolocate al-Mihdhar.
If more attention hadbeen paid to these subjects, the location anddetention of al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmicould have derailed the 9/11 attack.
Hiding in Plain Sight
The 9/11 terrorists did not take significantsteps to mask their identities or obscure theiractivities. They were hiding in plain sight. They had P.O. boxes, e-mail accounts, drivers’ licens-es, bank accounts, and ATM cards.
For exam-ple, Nawaf al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar used theirtrue names to obtain California drivers’ licensesand to open New Jersey bank accounts.
Nawaf al-Hazmi had a car registered, and his nameappeared in the San Diego white pages with anaddress of 6401 Mount Ada Road, San Diego,California.
Mohamed Atta registered his redPontiac Grand Prix car in Florida with theaddress 4890 Pompano Road, Venice.
Ziad Jarrah registered his red 1990 MitsubishiEclipse as well.
Fourteen of the terrorists gotdrivers’ licenses or ID cards from either Florida or Virginia.
The terrorists not only operated in plainsight, they were interconnected. They livedtogether, shared P.O. boxes and frequentflyer numbers, used the same credit card
The 9/11terrorists did nottake significantsteps to masktheir identitiesor obscuretheir activities.