We Knew?
March 6, 2002 9:08 AM   Subscribe

We Knew? Apparently, the US government was informed in 1995 by Filipino authorities that there were terrorist agents in the US training to crash planes into buildings. I head a blurb about this on the radio and had to dig to find the article... is this something else that is just going to be swept under the rug?
posted by darian (15 comments total)
"FBI and other American law-enforcement officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said that they considered Murad's suicide hijacking idea was half-baked, and in any case involved taking control of only a small single-engine plane that could not do much damage."

20/20 hindsight. The US government probably gets leads every day telling them what terrorists are doing. They follow all the leads they can afford to follow - but it's impossible to cover everything. 90% of it probably turns out to be bogus disinformation either accidentally generated or done on purpose to keep the federal agents guessing. I don't see how it's healthy to keep harping on this: what's done is done. Bitching about who knew what when isn't going to bring back those who died on Nine Eleven.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:13 AM on March 6, 2002

There were all sorts of ways that all sorts of people in the U.S. knew the terrorists were a serious threat, and that we had done very little to protect ourselves. But the fact is that politicians would never support the necessary measures because there was too little popular (i.e., political) support. The only thing that finally got through to voters -- and convinced them it was necessary to do something about this -- was when the terrorists finally proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

There's nothing to sweep under the rug. It's a tragedy, and we just gotta learn from it and make sure we prevent things like this from happening again.
posted by mattpfeff at 9:15 AM on March 6, 2002

I mentioned a CNN article about this on Sept 20. (Just in case you want to read that discussion, although it's pretty much in line with the current comments.)
posted by Dean King at 9:32 AM on March 6, 2002

I got an email from the US Embassy in Tokyo two weeks before Sept 11 telling me to watch out for terrorism. People high up definately knew something unprecendented was brewing.
posted by dydecker at 9:35 AM on March 6, 2002

Mattpfeff, that's not right. You can't blame me for not being an expert on military and paramilitary threats around the world. I try my best, I buy all the right books, but it's not my god damned fault.

That's specifically why we hire politicans to make decisions for us. It's their job to figure out what is in our best interest, and then get it done. If they don't have sufficient public support, then they should make it.

And besides that, I think you're wrong. There was support for antiterrorist measures. People were affraid, as evidenced by support for the ABM system. But, also as evidenced by the ABM system, politicans were completely misdirecting our fears towards threats that our own intelligence agency told us were remote at best.

And don't you try calling 20/20 hindsight on my comments here. I've been speaking out against ABMs since the Clinton administration.
posted by Ptrin at 9:36 AM on March 6, 2002

When I say "swept under the rug" I mean more along the lines of the fact that we, the arrogant Americans, F'd up and just can't accept blame in our "point the finger at someone else" society.

I'm not saying that there necessarily could have been anything done about it, but all these airline security measures really don't do any good. It just makes us feel better.

In the same radio show they mentioned another clip that I have been trying to find about how nine of the terrorists were actually STOPPED and questioned before they borded because they raised red flags... Our previous system worked... the breakdown wasn't the lack of intel... it was the lack of follow up.

Our arrogance made us feel untouchable... indestructable. That is where the breakdown occured. Geez... how did I get started on that again?
posted by darian at 9:41 AM on March 6, 2002

It was mentioned after 9-11 that the CIA knew about Islamic extremist agents in the US, but hadn't pounced on them because that wasn't part of intelligence 'culture'. It seems that intelligence agencies as a rule let known spies run around freely, believing that once they're recognized, they can be fed harmless information or deliberate misinformation, and that if watched, they may reveal other spies or their handlers. This was probably a reasonable policy during the Cold War, but it misfired badly this time. This is a different kind of war, the agencies need to learn new tactics.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:42 AM on March 6, 2002

By the way, the Filipino police are not known for their integrity or reliability. Torture and physical harm to force confessions are commonplace. (I've seen it for myself firsthand.) So I can understand why American authorities were somewhat leery of info from our local police.
posted by brownpau at 9:59 AM on March 6, 2002

Our arrogance made us feel untouchable... indestructable. That is where the breakdown occured.

Not really ... we knew we were touchable ... this was, after all, the second successful attack on the World Trade Center by Islamic militants. And people within the FBI and CIA have been complaining about the potential for this stuff for years. They sure as hell have never felt as though we were untouchable. and they have been at least partially successful ... sounds like a plan to blow something in California during the millenium celebrations was stopped, etc., etc.

Sure are a lot of monday morning quaterbacks on this discussion list.
posted by MidasMulligan at 10:29 AM on March 6, 2002

darian, why are you so eager to heap blame on the people who were attacked? Isn't that a way of shifting responsibility from the people who, well, actually plotted to kill thousands?

The fact is these leads were investigated in 1995, and there wasn't enough evidence to follow up on. It's not illegal to be Middle-Eastern and learn to fly a plane, after all. I've heard they have airlines and everything. Then again, even if they had some concrete evidence that there might be a suicide attack, they had no idea when or where. And even if we said then that we should harden this target or security perimeter, the fact is that the attacker of a defensive position has all the time in the world to consider its weaknesses and devise a new plan. You can never have 100% perfect security.

And before 9/11 almost anyone would have said that a suicide plot was a crazy, impractical idea -- certainly the type of thing that a lone nut might attempt but the idea of a cool, rational attack using trained cadres wasn't even on the radar screen. Even if we had, they figured out the ruleset we were using and, boxcutters in hand, boarded their flights legally! In the end it was not negligence, but our real and defensible determination to live in an open society that was our undoing.

Sure there were people who warned that terror was an increasing danger, and we should regret not listening to them. But even now when we know it's a real danger and we've arrested hundreds of possible suspects around the world we have no idea whether or when or where there might be another attack. The attacker almost always has the initiative in these matters.

I don't see this as a "heads must roll" matter. It should be a "make it harder for them next time" matter. In that sense, most likely the flying bomb concept will always be denied them in future, thanks to the Todd Beamers of the world. We'll never again see a hijacking as a situation to dampen down carefully, but as a potential mass murder that must be prevented. So they'll try to get one another way -- by recruiting a pilot, perhaps, or carefully planting one. Or they'll look at blowing up a dam or spreading radiation or something else that we're not well defended against.

Our task is not to anticipate every possible attack and muster a 100% impenetrable defense, because that's not possible. Our task is to be prepared to respond defensively to attacks as they are detected, save lives and repair damage as we can, and respond with military and police measures as appropriate. Certainly the ongoing operation in Afghanistan should give any regime pause as they contemplate sponsoring a terror attack, because we will surely destroy them as thoroughly. That cuts terror off at the source.

Consider car accidents. We can't prevent them, nor can we predict where they will occur -- so the focus is on survivability when they happen.
posted by dhartung at 11:24 AM on March 6, 2002


I apologize if it appears that I am trying to "heap blame on the people who were attacked." What I am trying to point out is that it was our complacent attitude towards things that made it that much easier for the terrorists... not because our intelligence was not good enough.

It has been shown that the terrorists who pulled this off were already under watch... what would have been the problem in booting them out of the country? They were here by our good graces... they could be kicked out just as easily. Sure they could sneak back in, but that is another matter.

Half of them were questioned before boarding their planes... if those that were detained were not permitted to board... would they have still been able to pull off the attack?

My point is that all these new "security" measures are not really for physical security... but for mental security. President Bush was against the federalization of airport security... and I agreed with that stand. But who the hell is going to veto a bill that makes everyone "feel good?" Even though the new bill really does no good, he signed it anyways... all that means is that there are more bureaucratic layers between the employees and the bosses. Oh yea... now that they are federal employees, they are harder to terminate.

How about the privatization of the security? What if every security guard got a bonus for each item of contraband that they confiscated? I bet that would keep the guards awake at their posts and paying attention to their monitors.

I have always been security conscious. I have always felt that security in airports has been lax. Previously on a business trip, my partners and I inadvertently carried a firearm onboard a plane. The pistol had been carried in a duffle bag to a range that was later used as a carry-on bag. That bag was scanned by the x-ray machine, but no one said anything about it. We only realized this when my associate opened the bag to remove an item and the firearm was there. How's that for security?

We Americans have become arrogant and complacent. Did you really think that we could get hit like this? I was sure it was going to happen... someday. (Though I didn't think that they would choose a civilian target.) For other countries, dealing with terrorism is a way of life. They are used to it. But for us, yes... it took something this catastrophic to wake us up. We should have been awake to begin with.
posted by darian at 12:14 PM on March 6, 2002

All I know is, Law and Order is on at least twenty six times a day, now.
That's right, at least twice in a day it's on against itself.
My point?
I don't have one. It's just a crapy show, and I'd like it to go away.

Also, wait `til the suitcase nuke hits a major city. Then you'll see some serious I told you sos.
posted by dong_resin at 1:24 PM on March 6, 2002

Midas and Zach are correct that there's a lot of monday morning quarterbacking going on here. What the intelligence agencies had were rumors and vapors, which were worth looking into of course, but here in America we don't round people up based on vapors. Imagine if we had begun rounding up people based on intelligence like this, I imagine many of the "told-ya-so" crowd here would be the the ones protesting that it was unfair imprisonment and witch hunting and you'd have been right. I learned this morning that 2 of the 9/11 hijackers bought fake ID's in a hotel less than 2 miles from where I sit right now about a year ago. Silly me, I should have noticed, right?
posted by jonmc at 3:08 PM on March 6, 2002

I learned this morning that 2 of the 9/11 hijackers bought fake ID's in a hotel less than 2 miles from where I sit right now about a year ago. Silly me, I should have noticed, right?

No doubt noticing the men buying fake identification would have been tough.

But not as tough as the oh so difficult task of preventing men armed with sophisticated box cutters from simultaneously boarding several aircraft. That was no doubt an impossible security task, especially for busy business people.

Especially when airline profits matter more than safety.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 6:07 PM on March 6, 2002

"I got an email from the US Embassy in Tokyo two weeks before Sept. 11 telling me to watch out for terrorism. People high up definately knew something unprecendented was brewing." I remember...with-in a week of sept.11, an advisory for tourists was issued for Japan. I thought this odd. my parents were in Italy at the time and they had had no advisories.
posted by clavdivs at 7:54 PM on March 6, 2002

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