Skip to main content
On the Record

Terror Warnings

The Bush administration has been asked to answer some troubling questions this week about possible warnings to the September 11 attacks. And there are ongoing concerns regarding the current effectiveness of our intelligence and security operations. Joining me in the studio to talk about the challenge of addressing the terrorist threats is Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA chief of terrorism, Skip Brandon, former deputy assistant for international terrorism at the FBI, and Michael O’Hanlon, at the Brookings Institution.

Back to you Vince, the White House has now confirmed it was not briefed on the existence of this terror-warning memo from a Phoenix FBI agent that was issued last summer. Put this in context for us if you can.

VINCE: Well I think the memo from the Phoenix office was one thread in a matrix of other little warnings that were not put together. The question is whether all that information had been shared with a central analytical unit with some anti-terrorism expertise that could look back at the history of Al Qaeda, look back at the Ramzi Yousef case, which was the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. And then Ramzi Yousef’s later plans to blow up 11 airliners in the far east in one of his associates, a man named Murad, who was captured by the Philippine police, who confessed to them that he had been asked to fly a plane at the CIA headquarters. Well, you had that, and then you had the backdrop of a GIA Algerian-Islamic hijacking of a French airplane in Marseilles, with the intention of flying that into the Eiffel Tower. You had a lot of little bits and pieces. The question is whether if all of these bits and pieces had been assembled and analyzed by a unit with some experience in the background and the subject, you could have given more urgency to the warnings that were issued in the summer of 2001. Those warnings, mostly State Department advisories, were directed against travel overseas. No one really focused on the United States. And that’s really the question that has not been answered is would you have been able to paint a more detailed picture if you had all of these bits and pieces assembled in one place. I’m not sure that you would have. I’m not sure that even if that information had been shared up the chain or across departments with other agencies such as the CIA you still would have been able to do anything that would have forestalled September 11.

Listen to the full interview.

Get daily updates from Brookings