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Why the Bojinka Blackout

On September 13, two days after the hijacked airliners crashed into the twin towers at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, my attention was called to an Agence France-Presse story in the Sydney Morning Herald that quoted Avelino Razon, the Philippines chief police superintendent, as saying that in 1995, they had discovered a plot called “Operation Bojinka” to plant bombs in U.S. airliners and hijack others to crash them into buildings like the CIA headquarters. Razon said this was found on the computer of Ramzi Yousef, the organizer of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. He had fled to Pakistan, but his laptop was found in the apartment he shared with his accomplice, Abdul Hakim Murad. Razon said both were agents of Osama bin Laden.

I wrote a column about this which appeared on NewsMax.com and WorldNetDaily and in papers that carry my column. This generated a lot of response and invitations to discuss it on radio talk shows. The hijacking aspect of Bojinka was not picked up by a major U.S. news organization until September 23, when the Washington Post published a report by four reporters it had sent to Manila to look into it. Their report, published prominently on page one and continued on two pages inside, said that in 1995, the Philippine police had found “a clandestine terrorist cell allied with Osama bin Laden” that was plotting “to plant bombs in a dozen American airliners and fly an airplane into the CIA headquarters.” The Post said a Filipino investigator exclaimed as he watched the attack on the World Trade Center on television, “It’s Bojinka.” He told reporters, “We told the Americans everything about Bojinka. Why didn’t they pay attention?”

Chief Police Superintendent Avelino Razon told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the Philippine intelligence report was passed on to the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Joint Task Force on Terrorism. He said, “It was not given credibility. Otherwise, it could have prevented the destruction of the World Trade Center.” He added, “Bojinka called for the hijacking of U.S. commercial airliners, bombing them or crashing them into several targets, including the CIA.” Yousef and Murad were prosecuted in New York by Dietrich Snell, who was quoted by the New York Daily News on September 25 as saying that the prosecution focused on the plot to plant bombs on airliners, not on the plan to crash a plane into CIA headquarters. This story also reported that two years ago Murad offered to cooperate with prosecutors in return for a more lenient sentence. His best bargaining chip would have been more information about the plan to hijack and crash airliners, which had not figured in the trial. We will never know for sure what he had to offer, because U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White wasn’t interested.

Despite the big Washington Post story, other news organizations, including the New York Times and the Washington Times, and syndicated columnists except for Robert Novak, have ignored the story. Howell Raines, executive editor of the New York Times, says they didn’t report it because it was an old story, one they reported in 1995. That is all the more reason to bring it up now. Those at the CIA and FBI responsible for this catastrophic intelligence failure should be replaced, but that won’t happen if the media don’t show the public how they dropped the ball. Howell Raines says that isn’t necessary because their incompetence is so well known. But the White House doesn’t seem to know it.

Dale L. Watson, the FBI’s counter-terrorism chief, in testimony before a Senate subcommittee in 1998, described Bojinka only as a plot to blow up “numerous U.S. air carriers.” If he and others in the intelligence community had been thinking of the hijacking side of Bojinka, they might have reacted differently to a suspected terrorist from Algeria named Zacarias Moussaoui, who had applied to a Minnesota flight school for training on a Boeing 747 flight simulator. He wanted to learn how to steer the jumbo jet. He had no interest in learning how to land it. He was detained on August 17 for suspected visa violations. The Washington Post said, “Our intelligence groups studied him but had no context in which his odd request made sense.” FBI and Justice Dept. lawyers refused to seek permission to search Moussauoi’s hard drive.

That reveals the incompetence mentioned by Howell Raines. I have commended the Post for their story, and Raines commended both the Post and AIM for our enterprise. That suggests that the reason the Times and others haven’t run the story is because the Post beat them to it.