The FAA received intelligence as early as 1998 that detailed the terrorist plot to “hijack a plane and slam it into a U.S. landmark,” but dismissed the intelligence as unlikely.
Federal Aviation Administration officials were also warned in 2001 in a report prepared for the agency that airport screeners’ ability to detect possible weapons had “declined significantly” in recent years, but little was done to remedy the problem, the Sept. 11 commission found.
The White House and many members of the commission, which has completed its official work, have been battling for more than a year over the release of the commission’s report on aviation failures, which was completed in August 2004.
A heavily redacted version was released by the Bush administration in January, but commission members complained that the deleted material contained information critical to the public’s understanding of what went wrong on Sept. 11. In response, the administration prepared a new public version of the report, which was posted Tuesday on the National Archives Web site.
While the new version still blacks out numerous references to particular shortcomings in aviation security, it restores dozens of other portions of the report that the administration had considered too sensitive for public release.
The newly disclosed material follows the basic outline of what was already known about aviation failings, namely that the F.A.A. had ample reason to suspect that Al Qaeda might try to hijack a plane yet did little to deter it. But it also adds significant details about the nature and specificity of aviation warnings over the years, security lapses by the government and the airlines, and turf battles between federal agencies.
Some of the details were in confidential bulletins circulated by the agency to airports and airlines, and some were in its internal reports.
“While we still believe that the entire document could be made available to the public without damaging national security, we welcome this step forward,” the former leaders of the commission, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, said in a joint statement. “The additional detail provided in this version of the monograph will make a further contribution to the public record of the facts and circumstances of the 9/11 attacks established by the final report of the 9/11 commission.”
Bush administration officials said they had worked at the commission’s request to restore much of the material that had been blacked out in the original report. “Out of an abundance of caution, there are a variety of reasons why the U.S. government would not want to disclose certain security measures and not make them available in the public domain for terrorists to exploit,” said Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.
Much of the material now restored in the public version of the commission’s report centered on the warnings the F.A.A. received about the threat of hijackings, including 52 intelligence documents in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks that mentioned Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.
A 1995 National Intelligence Estimate, a report prepared by intelligence officials, “highlighted the growing domestic threat of terrorist attack, including a risk to civil aviation,” the commission found in a blacked-out portion of the report.
And in 1998 and 1999, the commission report said, the F.A.A.’s intelligence unit produced reports about the hijacking threat posed by Al Qaeda, “including the possibility that the terrorist group might try to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark.”
The unit considered this prospect “unlikely” and a “last resort,” with a greater threat of a hijacking overseas, the commission found. — New York Times
What else don’t they want us to know? And what other screwups has the government committed which we don’t yet know about, but put your security in jeopardy?