By Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid
September 27, 2001

      Six years ago, the CIA and the FBI learned that Osama bin Laden was planning to hijack U.S. airliners and use them as bombs to attack important targets in the U.S. This scheme was called Project Bojinka. It was discovered in the Philippines, where authorities arrested two of bin Ladenís agents, Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Murad. They were involved in planting a bomb on a Philippine airliner. Project Bojinka, which Philippine authorities found outlined on Abdul Muradís laptop, called for planting bombs on eleven U.S. airliners and hijacking others and crashing them into targets. The CIA headquarters was mentioned as a potential target.

      The hijacking part of the plan got less attention than the planting of bombs. Bin Laden was not able to implement it at that time because it required aviators like Japanís kamikaze pilots who were willing to commit suicide. Bin Laden had no such pilots six years ago.

      He soon found followers who were willing to die for him and to learn how to fly big commercial jets. Abdul Murad, whose laptop had revealed the plan, admitted that he was being trained for a suicide mission. Bin Laden soon began training pilots in Afghanistan with the help of an Afghan pilot and a Pakistani general.

      Project Bojinka was known to the CIA and the FBI. It was described in court documents in the trial in New York of Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Murad for their participation in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Since the CIA had been mentioned as one of the targets in Project Bojinka, one would think that it would have had an especially strong interest in trying to find any evidence that Osama bin Laden was proceeding with plans to carry it out. He is on the FBIís most-wanted list. The reward offered for help in capturing him is five million dollars. It should have been a hundred million, and the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency should have spared no effort to find what he was planning.

      Reports that bin Laden was training pilots were an important clue that he was planning to execute the second half of Project Bojinka. But the pilots he was training would have to find a way of seizing control of the planes. It has been the practice for our airlines to allow other airline pilots to sit in the cockpit if there is room and they present their credentials. In July, an American Airlines crew had their uniforms and ID badges stolen from their hotel room in Rome. At the end of August, the airline alerted its employees to be on the lookout for impostors. Next came bin Ladenís warning in mid-August that there would be "an unprecedented attack on U.S. interests." None of this resulted in any heightened security.

      Bin Laden showed his contempt for the CIA and the FBI by training many of his hijackers under their noses at American flight schools. The FBI is now busy identifying Middle Easterners who have attended those schools. If they and the CIA had kept Project Bojinka in mind, they would have begun this long ago, and the CIA would have checked the names for ties to Osama bin Laden. Louis Freeh resigned as FBI director. Now it is CIA director George Tenetís turn.

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