On October 8, former FBI Director Louis Freeh testified before the joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee that is trying to find out why our intelligence agencies failed to provide any warning of the devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In a front-page story by David Johnston, the New York Times reported that Freeh, who resigned in June 2001, “politely but emphatically swept aside widespread complaints that during his tenure the Federal Bureau of Investigation refused to cooperate with other agencies and failed to prepare for a terrorist attack in the United States.”
The Times reported, “He said he was not aware of any evidence that the agency could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks, although he acknowledged ‘That is not to say that things could not have been done better or that more resources or authorities would not have helped.'” That has been disputed by Dan Benjamin and Steven Simon, who were coordinating intelligence on terrorism for the National Security Advisor in the Clinton administration. In a recent appearance on “60 Minutes II,” Benjamin said that every day they received about 300 cables or messages relative to their work from the CIA, State Department and the Defense Department. He said, “There was never one message from the FBI. We were not getting anything.”
Benjamin recalled that in the early ’90s they had asked the FBI for information about one of Osama bin Laden’s top aides who had been here to raise money. He said the FBI official responded, “We got it covered. Don’t worry about it.” He said that rather than giving them any information, the FBI just blew them off. Benjamin and Simon attributed this to Freeh’s dislike of Bill Clinton, but throughout Clinton’s two terms the bureau had willingly cooperated with the White House in such matters as trying to dig up dirt on Billy Dale, the head of the White House travel office who had been fired on orders from Hillary. Dale was prosecuted on trumped-up charges to justify the dismissal of him and his staff. A jury acquitted him in 20 minutes.
What the FBI did in that case was despicable, but it was penny-ante stuff in comparison with their going along with the White House-orchestrated cover-up of the Vincent Foster murder and the fraudulent video produced by the CIA and unveiled at a nationally aired FBI news conference. It was designed to discredit all the eyewitnesses who had reported seeing a missile shoot down TWA Flight 800.
If the FBI didn’t keep the White House informed on evidence of terrorist activity, it was not because Freeh wanted to make Clinton look bad. It was because its counter-terrorism division was incompetently run. Freeh himself was poorly informed, and his Oct. 8th testimony demonstrated that.
The Joint Intelligence Committee’s staff has charged that the FBI had failed to focus on the ways in which a foreign terrorist group might target the U.S. itself. It said the bureau “did not fully learn the lessons of past attacks,” such as the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 by Muslim terrorists. The New York Times reported, “Mr. Freeh disputed that finding, saying that successful investigations of terrorism had prevented other attacks.” He claimed that their investigation of the World Trade Center bombing led the bureau to break up a terrorist plot to blow up 11 American airliners over the Pacific Ocean.
That was one part of a plot known as Project Bojinka. It was foiled by the Philippine police in January 1995. They arrested one of the two bomb makers, Abdul Hakim Murad. The other, Ramzi Yousef, escaped to Pakistan where he was later captured by the FBI. He had been involved in the 1993 bombing of the WTC. Both were flown to New York, where they were tried and convicted of conspiracy to destroy U.S. airliners. The Philippine police gave the FBI and CIA all the information they had about Bojinka, including the plan to have Murad, who had learned to fly in the U.S., crash a plane into the CIA headquarters building. That was filed and forgotten by both agencies.
In February 1998, Dale Watson, chief of the FBI’s International Terrorism Section, mentioned Bojinka in testifying before a Senate subcommittee. He described it as a plot to destroy U.S. airliners and said nothing about the plan to crash planes into our buildings. Nearly two years later the FBI finally created a counter-terrorism division. Watson was put in charge of it.