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MI6 warned US of Al-Qaeda attacks
June 9, 2002 4:00 AM   Subscribe

MI6 warned US of Al-Qaeda attacks MI6 warned the American intelligence services about a plot to hijack aircraft and crash them into buildings two years before the September 11 attacks.... I do not subsribe but this is summary of article and may prove very "annoying" to the agencies and people involved. The Sunday Times is too reputable to be readily dismissed as off the wall.
posted by Postroad (38 comments total)

 
I thought we already found out that everyone except the US intelligence agencies and me knew about the attacks.

Seriously though, what were they supposed to do? I doubt that if someone wanted to get on a plane now with a weapon they'd have much difficulty.

Meh. Why am I even talking about this?
posted by ODiV at 4:15 AM on June 9, 2002


The article says that they didn't say which buildings in particular were threatened (registration is free btw). But still, it seems to blow another hole in the idea that suicide hijackings were unforeseeable, though we kind of knew that already.

“The Americans knew of plans to use commercial aircraft in unconventional ways, possibly as flying bombs,” said a senior Foreign Office source.

So they've got an unattributed quote - we'll see if it's officially confirmed.

Details of the MI6 warning, expected to emerge during secret Congressional hearings this week in Washington into alleged intelligence failings, will increase pressure on the Bush administration for a radical shake-up of America’s counterterrorism efforts.

But I suppose if the hearings are secret we won't get to find out whether it's true from that source. Anyway, I don't think this story is that big a deal.
posted by Gaz at 4:17 AM on June 9, 2002


OK....so let's suppose that the administration was warned last month that terrorists have rented apartments in major cities in which they've stored dirty nuclear weapons which they can explode at will. Now what?
posted by mikegre at 6:18 AM on June 9, 2002


mikegre: Then it would be time to place a nuclear bomb in Mecca as a deterrent.
posted by dagny at 6:35 AM on June 9, 2002


Dear Mikegre: there is a difference between a zillion apartment buildings and buildings to crash into with airplanes when you also know that many Arab visitors to the US are also taking flight lessons...you now put the two together and you know the names of a batch of potential hijackers. By contrast, 'a potential terroirst with a dirty bomb sneaks it into the country and blows up anb apt...how many get killed and is it worth the attempt?
Knowing a plane(s) will be hijacked for use as a weapon means it will be flown into a building by the pilot --under force (not likely) or by the hijacker himself.After all, it was attempted too in the Phillipines a few years back.
posted by Postroad at 6:37 AM on June 9, 2002


OK, I'm getting annoyed.

Yes, I'm sure intelligence knew something was coming. What the hell were we going to do, launch pre-emptive strikes? Shut down all air traffic, indefinitely? Go on a major assasination spree in advance of any specific attack? Do you have any idea of the whining, bitching, and moaning people would commence with?

Seriously, people. There are tens of thousands of targets that might be hit by hundreds of thousands of individual flights boarded by quite literally millions of potential attackers. Knowing what people are talking about and knowing what they'll eventually do are two ridiculously different things. Even knowing exactly what they'll do doesn't necessarily grant the political capital to stop it.

Lets not forget that every prediction about what would happen if a plane was flown into the WTC probably ended with the buildings surviving just fine. We even have OBL on film doing the happy dance when he saw just how wrong those predictions were.

My god. It's like people are trying to place the blame on intelligence agencies for not stopping the attack, instead of those who, I don't know, flew two fucking planes into the World Trade Center.

If we did something about everyone we knew anything about, we wouldn't know anything, because everyone would be in custody (and most of them wouldn't have done much more than talk). The only people left would be those we knew nothing about, and I have a hunch they'd be a tad bit more motivated -- and well supplied, to boot.

Welcome to the no-win situation.

--Dan
posted by effugas at 7:01 AM on June 9, 2002


is this why Mick Jagger is getting his knighthood. Soon I'll see a headline; 'Costa Rican retired intelligence agent read a book about bin laden in 1999 and informed U.S. officals about it.'

'Even knowing exactly what they'll do doesn't necessarily grant the political capital to stop it.'

its early, only one cup of joe so CARE TO RETRACT THAT STATEMENT.

"My god. It's like people are trying to place the blame on intelligence agencies for not stopping the attack"

I blame the FBI for not watching the two they had in thier radar, so to say. Intel, of cource, did not cause this but they MAY, (i say may) have been able to prevent it.
perhaps Maussoai (sic sp) was not on one of those planes by desighn, perhaps he was to misled agents in case he was being watched.
posted by clavdivs at 7:45 AM on June 9, 2002


If they knew of the concept of hijackers taking planes into buildings, then perhaps the hijacker policy would have been changed.

Prior to the WTC/Pentagon Attack, the policy regarding hijackers was to work with them, bargain with them, or do what they asked to keep someone from getting hurt. If pilots, flight crews, etc. had known about the tactics that arab-descent men might use to attack, then they most likely would have acted differantly.
posted by benjh at 7:50 AM on June 9, 2002


mikegre: Then it would be time to place a nuclear bomb in Mecca as a deterrent

No. That's what terrorists would do.

We are not terrorists. We believe in something better.

Therefore we don't do it.

It's hard not to want to do it, but we've got to be better.

Otherwise we are no different.
posted by i_cola at 8:40 AM on June 9, 2002


I tried to read the article and got the following message:

Times Online has introduced an annual subscription fee of £39.99 for The Times and The Sunday Times online newspaper editions for overseas readers. As a subscriber you will be able to read all articles published in the newspaper editions online over the past seven days for one year from the date of purchase.

Where did you guys see free registration? Somehow in my Sunday morning blur, I must have missed that.
posted by dejah420 at 9:09 AM on June 9, 2002


This story is becoming really fucking blah.

Welcome to the no-win situation. Well said, brother.
posted by catatonic at 9:09 AM on June 9, 2002


If they knew of the concept of hijackers taking planes into buildings, then perhaps the hijacker policy would have been changed.

Or they could have actually taken airplane security seriously. It was common knowledge that it was a joke and that any attempt at a hijaking would probably succeed. If even one of the four planes had had an armed air marshal on board it is quite likely less lives would have been lost.

What is really fucking blah is how totally accepting people are of the incompetence our government and intelligence services demonstrated before the attacks.
posted by homunculus at 9:21 AM on June 9, 2002


At this point, if news breaks that Al Qaeda sent an RSVP, some people will still defend the failure of U.S. intelligence (and by extension President Bush).

The U.S. intelligence budget is $30 billion, according to Jane's Defence Weekly. If it's unfair to expect our spooks to protect us from mass murder on our soil, what exactly are we getting for our money?

At the very least, I would've expected the MI6 report and other scattered intelligence to lead to some kind of air defense response plan in New York City (and an evacuation plan at the WTC -- how many people died because they were sent back up to their offices at the second tower after the first plane struck?). Instead, the city was so unprepared it had no idea who to call to get fighter jets protecting its airspace after the attacks and I haven't read anything that indicates the airlines were even discussing the possibility of an attack like this.
posted by rcade at 9:54 AM on June 9, 2002


Apparently because we're overseas, we have to pay a fee.
posted by jennak at 10:00 AM on June 9, 2002


Does this all mean that if we could not edtect the terror plot then we ought not bother about anything but cleaning up after the future ones?
posted by Postroad at 10:01 AM on June 9, 2002


So we have plenty of rumour, innuendo, stories, and perhaps even authentic, reliable reports that the US government knew that commericial passenger jets might be flown into a big building or two.

If we accept these accusations for a moment, we have to ask: why did the US government allow it to happen? What did the government gain?

I'd say that the current lockdown on private citizen freedoms is one big, big benefit. Plus a lot of people are getting rich off the military actions. And the American government gets to throw its weight around, in hopes of positioning itself to be the World Government (especially if the UN can be destablized to the point where it vapourises).

There's all sorts of plausible benefits to allowing the terrorists to smash down the WTC. For the price of a few thousand civilian deaths -- a drop in the bucket, compared to the traffic fatalities that everyone so readily accepts -- there are some big, powerful gains.

What fun.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:06 AM on June 9, 2002


I would expect the steady drip of embarrasing stories to continue for awhgile. One basic PR game is to leak bad news slowly so it doesn't come out all at once (in a congressional hearing for example) and so you can control the spin yourself. But this is one big iceberg that we've only seen the tip of and it's got lots more melting to do.
posted by euphorb at 10:35 AM on June 9, 2002


Does this all mean that if we could not edtect the terror plot then we ought not bother about anything but cleaning up after the future ones?

No, it means we ought to be concerned enough to make efforts to try and prevent them, but without major interruption to our usual everyday life. Otherwise the terrorists would have already won.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 11:15 AM on June 9, 2002


I'd say that the current lockdown on private citizen freedoms is one big, big benefit.

What lockdown on private citizen's freedoms?! I hear this meme repeated over and over again, and yet I have yet to experience this dark Orwellian "lockdown" of my freedoms. Nor have I heard of anyone else experiencing a significant "lockdown" of freedom any greater than pre 9/11. The fact that you can type that statement without harassment, arrest, or surveillance suggests that your premise of the restrictive post-9/11 America is seriously flawed. Just read through Metafilter's archives and you'll see that the American freedom to post and publish outrageous, baseless claims and hyperbolic lunacy is safe and sound.

I wish people would take the tired old bumper sticker "Question authority" more seriously and literally; this would include questioning the authority of canned dissent and freeze-dried adolescent anti-authoritarianism. Sometimes they're valid. Often they're crap.
posted by evanizer at 11:52 AM on June 9, 2002


I hear this meme repeated over and over again, and yet I have yet to experience this dark Orwellian "lockdown" of my freedoms.

Wait.
posted by fnord_prefect at 1:48 PM on June 9, 2002


Sunday Times reputable? It's long been the cheesier, broadsheet-sized tabloid cousin of The Times.
posted by kerplunk at 1:58 PM on June 9, 2002


Another drip of bad press, this time, unnamed officials say the NSA had been monitoring pre-hijacking phone conversations.
posted by drezdn at 2:04 PM on June 9, 2002


the fact that the government knew that terrorists were capable of flying planes into buildings doesn't mean they "forsaw September 11th." I was advising a gov't agency on disposal of a chemical weapons stockpile in *'97* and the most likely "emergency scenario" for response agencies was that someone would fly a plane into the storage compound. '97, mind you! defense budgets, however, were being cut and there really wasn't enough of a public mandate for a Senator or Representative to fight for the money it would take to adequately protect the compounds from a potential hit. when the public feels safe and secure they're not going to look kindly on a politician that wants more defense related spending.

so yes, of course, the government knew that terrorists were capable of flying planes into buildings. but if your representative or senator had told you in '97 that this was a realistic threat and that he or she was going to spend your tax money to prepare for it, what would your reaction have been? if the polls i saw in '97 are any indication, you'd probably assume said rep/senator was full of shit or at the very least, getting funding from some defense contractor. appropriations for these sorts of things are never available until *after* something happens.
posted by lizs at 2:07 PM on June 9, 2002


What is really fucking blah is how totally accepting people are of the incompetence our government and intelligence services demonstrated before the attacks.

The government has been displaying its incompetence in numerous areas for most of the 20th century. The fact that it failed to do something that it exists to do (namely, defend the nation's citizenry) was hardly a new phenomenon on Sept. 11th.

Being surprised by the government's incompetence is rather like being surprised that the L.A. Clippers lost a basketball game.
posted by ljromanoff at 2:47 PM on June 9, 2002


ljromanoff, that's true. But I'm not surprised by it, I'm just pissed off by it. And if I can't be pissed off at my government then the terrorists will have already won.
posted by homunculus at 3:20 PM on June 9, 2002


The thing that bothers me about the whole thing is that with all this forewarning, our government didn't do the one thing that would have prevented Sept. 11. Change national transportation policy to one that didn't turn the controls over to hijackers. This would still solve the problem, but instead we now probulate air travelers.

What a bunch of crap.
posted by shagoth at 4:46 PM on June 9, 2002


If they knew of the concept of hijackers taking planes into buildings, then perhaps the hijacker policy would have been changed.

NORAD has protocols on this exact scenario and was certain that they could scramble jets fast enough to shoot down any potential threats. There was a decent article on the subject here not so long ago. This scenario certainly wasn't unhead of.

What gets me is these warnings aren't late-night calls from nobodies but our own allies intelligence agencies. The feds are playing the "Our intelligence agencies may be a little incompetent" card because they got nothing left in the deck.

lisz, when was the last time some Senator asked that question? Intelligence is a locked door to anything outside a congressional commitee. I except the various intelligence organizations to undergo some sort of change in view of all this evidence coming in that this mess could have been avoided.
posted by skallas at 8:14 PM on June 9, 2002


After each drip, drip, drip I suppose it will be once again necessary to point out the failure WAS NOT the intelligence officers themselves but the management of information. That management was and is directly affected by the POLICIES in place at the time. Managers DO NOT pass up bad news that their supervisors don't want to hear. The Dubya regime DID NOT want to hear about the Bin Ladens and the Taliban and Al-Queda. Ashcroft could care less. He was about female frontal nudity, not terrorism. The spin is also coming from the top down as is wont to happen in a Republican organization. Loosely quoted from Condi Rice:
"What we need is something to unite us." -early 2001
"No one had any idea that planes would be hijacked and used in such a manner." - recently after the first expose`

See, top down. Rove and Cheney set the spin, Condi repeats it. The FBI, CIA and NSA managers know to follow it if they want to remain employed.

BTW, Where's Colon Powell lately?? All these "peace missions" and zero State department and diplomats, only hawks from the Pentagon and CIA going to the Mid-East and India/Pakistan. Weird. Is he locked in Cheney's rabbit hole?
posted by nofundy at 5:55 AM on June 10, 2002


Kerplunk is right. The Sunday Times (particularly the Insight investigative team) is well renowned for the imaginative use of sparse facts when stuck for a scoop... I read it for AA Gill and chuck the rest away...
posted by bifter at 6:07 AM on June 10, 2002


'Even knowing exactly what they'll do doesn't necessarily grant the political capital to stop it.'

its early, only one cup of joe so CARE TO RETRACT THAT STATEMENT.

It's common knowledge that British military command often knew of the exact targets of upcoming German attacks, due to their breaking of the Enigma cipher. Often, had they done anything to prevent them, the Germans would have quickly deduced their communications had been tapped and would have changed systems.

Sometimes, the English would spin elaborate cover stories -- once, if I remember, involving a dead British sailor washing up on shore as if he had been a spy -- to "explain" how certain information might have been purloined, aside from "our code was broken". But there were times when this just wasn't possible, and acceptable losses were taken.

It was...what, three or four years ago that Bin Ladin dropped off the Cell Phone / Sat Phone nets? He found out we were tracing the transponder, and stopped using it. I assume we prevented something major that was worth that cost -- but I can't be sure either way.

Preventing an attack today may enable an attack tommorow. In the horrific calculus that is the value of life, the WTC attacks weren't NBC, and couldn't have been predicted to have been so horrifically damaging(despite the loss that personally touched all of us, myself quite included).

I'm more concerned about the attack on the Pentagon. I don't think it would have been a horrific disclosure for anti-air missles or weaponry coming from the seat of military power in the US to have been noticed...perhaps, again, the belief was that less damage would be done against a building like the Pentagon? I wouldn't be surprised if this was the seed of a very, very nasty turf war.

As for where that thirty billion is going...the only major terrorist bombing within the borders of the US was domestic...and I tell ya, it ain't for lack of people who wouldn't mind blowing some stuff up around here.

--Dan
posted by effugas at 6:48 AM on June 10, 2002


Prior to 9/11, the British banks had several of the hijackers in their database as suspected Al Qaeda members and would not have allowed them to use the banks in compliance with British anti-terrorist efforts.

Considering that U.S. intelligence failed to know as much about these guys as British banks, and they were able to get driver's licenses and operate in the U.S. for years, I'm glad we're finally at the stage where our intelligence agencies might have to answer for failure.
posted by rcade at 7:15 AM on June 10, 2002


The british and americans also sent out fake commando raids to convince Jerry that we wanted enigma when Brits had it all along. You address a subject about communications and...showing ones hand, so to say. I.e. not always wise to close in on the enemy when one has good info to act on but no real proof...true enough but i have to politely reject your premise. (though darn good) War time and peace time offer different priorities concerning signals etc. perhaps bin laden used this premise...alot of com traffic about different things...looking at OBLs' M.O., he seems to plan one target then places variants Like the massive plot to down over a dozen airliners a few years back. well, highjacking was the key element of the plan. since intel got a hold of that fact, one would think OBL would dump that for something else. Sorry, effugas for the shouting, and you raise an excellent point. if the president was a-"knowing exactly what they'll do" you woulda have seen this plot broken. Perhaps this is why Atta was yapping to people about crop dusters, to obfuscate, see if one is obfuscating all over the place, one MIGHT not take this joker seriously. learning to fly, renting planes, trying to buy simulators, sorry but that looks like mr. wacko peeing in the wind. This plan design requires one thing to succeed. The Bluff. Like some low-tech grifter 'playing' serious radical. Now, take 5000 of these type of men (the # is arbitrary) and intel resources get stretched but this doesn't mean, in times like these, that 'we' cant. That was OBL mistake #1.(well, planning this evil thing was 1#) This intel gap, 'the wedge' is as old as hoovers files. one of the primary concerns about CIAs' creation in 47' was the 'Central' part. Democracy, by its nature, tends to prefer its intel arms to be somewhat compartmentalized. perhaps this was by design, like elements of my countries government, see, if the various intel agencies are separate, they would have a harder time coordinating something unthinkable like a coup, or plan to put a camera in ones garage. Nixon ghosts. I think we like to perfer to it as checks and balances.
posted by clavdivs at 8:59 AM on June 10, 2002


'highjacking was the key element' i retract that. not all of the liners were to be brought down by highjacking, mostly by bombs, but a book i read said a few were to be flown into something like london, new york etc.
:(
posted by clavdivs at 9:02 AM on June 10, 2002


Oooh, Eff raises an interesting idea.

The full collapse of the WTC towers wasn't anticipated by the American government. Rather, they expected some damage and some loss of life, but well within "acceptable" limits.

Just like the Brits allowing the Axis to rain bombs on London, to prevent the enemy from knowing that the Enigma code had been broken, the US Government allowed the terrorists to hijack the plans, to prevent them from knowing their organization had been penetrated.

I could buy that, except that it mostly seems that the government was utterly clueless about it all. Certainly, if the Al-Quada organization was an open book, it's certainly done no damn good at all in helping to eliminate the bastards.

Hmm. The idea almost works... almost. Acceptable loss of American civilian lives (gone horribly wrong) in trade for...???
posted by five fresh fish at 10:17 AM on June 10, 2002


Fish--

It wasn't Nuclear. It wasn't Biological. It wasn't Chemical. It did enough damage to get us to stop all three from ever occuring. Maybe.

--Dan
posted by effugas at 3:16 PM on June 10, 2002


I wouldn't be surprised if this was the seed of a very, very nasty turf war ????????????????????????????. man, make yourself more clear.
posted by clavdivs at 6:33 AM on June 11, 2002


Clav--

Acceptable losses ain't so acceptable when it's your headquarters that gets hit. The turf is simple: Who protects the homeland, and at what cost?

I'm some schlub and I'm thinking along these lines. I'm sure people with more power than I are demanding to find out just how much everyone else knew.

--Dan
posted by effugas at 8:22 AM on June 11, 2002


your no schlub effugas
Who protects the homeland -the military
and at what cost -any cost

its the 'war' aspect i was concerned with. you mean turf battles between agencies and branches? I think thats what you meant that.

Acceptable losses ain't so acceptable i do agree with that.
posted by clavdivs at 3:57 PM on June 11, 2002


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