American History / 9/11: Could It Have Been Stopped?

9/11: Could It Have Been Stopped?

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Autor:  anton  21 December 2010
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Preventing 9/11: Could it Have Been Done?

September 11th, 2001: the American people will remember this day as the day the unthinkable happened: someone, or rather a group of people, infiltrated the seemingly impregnable American defenses and turned our own airplanes on us. Crashing several planes into different important federal buildings, these terrorists spread terror throughout the country. Nobody thought that the most powerful country in the world could be attacked so easily, and without any warning. This raises an interested question. Were these attacks really done out of the blue? Or were they a foreseen danger that the government simply ignored, or delayed action against. A deeper look behind the scenes both before and after the attacks will reveal whether or not the leaders of our country shirked their responsibilities of keeping us safe, or simply failed in their attempts to stop any potential attacks from occurring. By looking first at how the attacks were planned and carried out, then looking at the numerous reports that government intelligence agencies, principally the CIA and FBI, had ample warning and information to have better prepared the country, it will become clear whether or not the attacks could have been prevented, and if so, whether it was the government’s fault.

On October 12th, 2000, the USS Cole, a United States ship located near the Aden port in Yemen was pulling into the harbor to refuel (USS Cole History). As the ship was fueling up, a small fiberglass boat pulled up alongside it. The boat, full of explosives, detonated next to the Cole, leaving a massive hole in the side (“USS Cole Bombing,” Wikipedia). The blast killed 17 soldiers, and injured numerous others (“USS Cole Bombing,” Wikipedia). This attack seemed random at first, but in fact, it had been planned out for some time. Even worse, writes Rory O’Connor, the US government allegedly had information that such an attack might occur, and had neglected to pass along the information to the commander of the Cole (O’Connor 1). Intelligence analysts from the military have testified that the presence of al-Qaeda in Yemen was very well known, including by highly ranking officials in CENTCOM (Central Command), the division that dealt directly with the USS Cole (O’Connor 1). Had the commander of the USS Cole known about the presence of al-Qaeda in the area, it is almost a certainty that he and his crew would have been more vigilant in being wary of any potential danger. Of course, this did not happen because the government failed to inform them. The absence of any warning on the part of the US government would prove to be a mistake fatal to more than 3000 people.

September 11th, 2001 was a warm, sunny day in New York City. There were only a few clouds and the day had an upbeat feeling to it. Unfortunately, the optimistic air wouldn’t even make it to 9 AM. At 8:46 AM, this horrific image played itself out above New York City: a plane that had taken off that morning from Logan Airport in Boston flew not towards its destination on the west coast, but rather directly into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. As the plane, full of fuel for it’s cross-country journey, collided with the building and exploded, the thousands of people walking the streets stopped what they were doing and looked up in terror. At this time, the general opinion was that it was a tragic error by the pilot. That thought would be proven wrong a matter of minutes later.

9:01 AM. The sky above New York City is full of debris falling from the gigantic hole in the side of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. There is fear amongst the citizens, but not many people suspect an attack. Then, seeming to move slowly but in reality hurtling through the air, a second plane collides with the South Tower. At this point, everyone knows that America is under attack. Whom is attacking, no one knows, but there is no longer any thought of an accidental crash. A matter of 40 minutes later, yet another plane is flown into an important federal building, this time the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. About an hour later, a fourth plane is crashed. This time, however, the plane is not flown into any building. The plane, United Flight 93, was retaken from the hijackers and crashed into a field in the Pennsylvania countryside. The passengers of this plane, having called their loved ones after being informed of what was going on, decided to rise up against their assailants so that maybe they could save numerous other innocent people. The retaking of Flight 93 was a minor victory on a day wrought with anguish. At around 10 o’clock, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, showering New York with debris, and horrifically, the bodies that were on the floors that collapsed (“September 11th Attacks,” Encyclopedia Britannica). Half an hour later, the North Tower fell as well. The final death count totaled 2993 people, 19 of which were the terrorists on the planes.

America had not experienced an attack as traumatizing as this one since the attack on Pearl Harbor. The New York skyline now seemed empty, devoid of the massive twin towers that had always stood out on any postcard or photograph. So why is it that these attacks were executed so easily, and without any warning so far as normal citizens are concerned? Is it possible that the government had no idea whatsoever that such an attack was imminent? These are the kinds of questions that must be asked in order to determine whether or not the government knew about, and could have prevented, the devastating attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001.

As was said earlier, there were allegations soon after the bombing of the USS Cole of the government having had intelligence indicating that the attack would occur. Having already been attacked once, the most likely course of action for the US would seem to be to take a more active approach to anti-terrorism. Keeping a closer eye on terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda seeing as they had already proved they could successfully carry out an attack, should have been priority alpha for agencies such as the CIA. However, what they should have done and what they actually did are two completely different stories. Two of the men who would eventually become 9/11 hijackers, Khaled al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hamzi, were living in California, and the CIA knew that they were al-Qaeda operatives (O’Connor 1). The proper course of action would have been to keep an eye on everything that these men were doing. Instead, they CIA didn’t do anything whatsoever. Some theorists think that the CIA was actually spending its time trying to convince these men to spy on al-Qaeda for the US ( If the fact that there were two al-Qaeda agents in California wasn’t enough to bring about suspicion, the eight phone calls made between Khaled al-Midhar and Osama Bin Laden himself should have been adequate. Again, the government simply let this go without any action.

It became clear that something could have been done once government officials started to come out in person and say that it is possible that 9/11 could have been prevented. For example, FBI Chief Robert S. Mueller III, as quoted in the New York Times on May 30, 2002, said:

“I cannot say for sure that there wasn't a possibility we could have come across some lead that would have led us to the hijackers. . .” (Neil Lewis, NY Times, pg. 1).

This is a perfect example of one of the people who could be held responsible for a lack of action trying to admit that they may have made a mistake, without really seeming at fault. Mr. Lewis goes on to quote Mr. Mueller as saying that there were “red flags” that, when put together with all of the other leads, could have led officials to the hijackers. Some of these “red flags” were actually extremely accurate pieces of intelligence that should not have been ignored as much as they were.

Lewis writes in his article that there was a memo sent from the Phoenix FBI office to the FBI headquarters on July 10, 2001. This note warned:

“The purpose of this communication is to advise the Bureau and New York of the

possibility of a coordinated effort by USAMA BIN LADEN (UBL) to send students. . .to attend civil aviation universities and colleges. . .Phoenix has observed an inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest who are attending or who have attended civil aviation universities. . .” (“2001 FBI Memo Warned of Bin Laden Aviation Cadre,”

. There is a saying that goes, “Hindsight is 20/20,” and although this is true, such a scary rumor should have definitely been paid attention to. The note clearly presents something the FBI should have made their top priority, yet instead they did not and wasted their time chasing other leads that were undoubtedly of less importance. Even worse is the fact that two of the hijackers were living in the same house as an FBI informant (Kearney). Logic says that if an FBI informant was living with two members of al-Qaeda, then he or she should have known what they are doing and should have reported it to the Bureau. Even more distressing is the fact that this was not the only piece of intelligence that was ignored by the government.

Zacarias Moussaoui was a man believed to have been the 20th hijacker on September 11th. However, he never made it to the airport that day. Mr. Lewis writes that the reason he didn’t make it is because he was arrested in Minneapolis after his aviation teacher reported him to the local FBI field office for acting strangely. The FBI office in Minneapolis wanted to investigate Mr. Moussaoui further. Why didn’t they then? They never investigated him further because FBI headquarters quashed their requests to look into him more (Lewis 1). One of the veteran agents in Minneapolis, Coleen Rowley, wrote a letter that exposed the ignorance of the FBI, and only after this news became public did Chief Mueller admit that there was more that could have been done to prevent September 11th; specifically he mentioned handling the Phoenix and Minneapolis situations differently. He also admitted that, as said before, such intelligence as these two examples should go directly to the top (Lewis 2).

If this is not enough of an example of the government’s ignorance, then the following information will be. The government had actually been hiding another mishap from the public prior to admitting their mistakes in Minneapolis and Phoenix (Lewis 2). In 1998, a group of Middle Eastern aviation school students were reported for suspicious activities by a bureau pilot in Oklahoma (Lewis 2). This was what led the Bureau to arrest Moussaoui, who had taken classes near the school where the other Middle Easterners had. Mueller then said that the government needed to do better in terms of realizing the connections between all of these incidents. In not doing so, they let September 11th develop right under their noses. The government realized after the attacks that there were not enough people dedicated to anti-terrorism, so 400 FBI agents were reassigned from the Narcotics division to the Anti-Terrorism division (Lewis 2).

Journalist Gary Bekkum writes in an article that an item is

“...considered to be actionable if information and analysis point to a clear path of action that may be taken to achieve a goal, such as preventing a terrorist attack.”

The intelligence that was ignored by the government clearly showed that an attack was going to happen. There was a clear path of action, which at the very least would have been to keep a closer eye on al-Qaeda, but which really should have been to remove them from the country and not allow them to return, or to participate in classes that might aid them in their plans. Even with all of the obvious courses of action, and all of the signs pointing towards the attacks, somehow the government managed to handle it in the worst way possible. This was not their last screw-up, sadly.

The day of the attacks, the government still had a chance to save thousands of people. They had the ability to contact NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), which would have been able to shoot down the planes. Granted, innocent people would still have died, but in a lose-lose situation where people are going to die regardless thanks to the ignorance of government intelligence, having less people die would be the obvious choice. The commander of NORAD, General Ralph Eberhart, said himself that NORAD would have been able to shoot the planes down, had the government given the order before they all crashed (Branigin and Eggen). Once again, the government took it’s time giving the order, as Vice President Cheney did not order NORAD to shoot down hostile planes until all planes had crashed (Branigin and Eggen). With all of this in mind, there can only be one conclusion as to whether or not the attacks could have been prevented.

The United States government is absolutely at fault for letting the attacks of September 11th occur. There was ample time to stop anything from happening, but amazingly, nothing was done to prevent the attacks. The entire government is not at fault. The two main culprits are the CIA and the FBI, the two agencies that had the most information about potential attacks. They had the means to save thousands of lives and become heroes in the process, and yet they didn’t do anything. A lot of people say that the fault lies with the airlines for having such lax security, but the truth of the matter is that if al-Qaeda had been cut off months before, while they were training to fly, then nothing could have happened. Hopefully, everyone learned from this mistake. The unfortunate part is that this was a 3,000-life mistake. That number alone should be enough to make the government put forth their full effort in the future.

Works Cited

"9/11 Chair: Attack Was Preventable." CBS Evening News. CBS. 17 Dec. 2003. 27 Nov. 2007 <>. The only real use for this source was to provide solid proof that the attacks could have been prevented. The report is on a statement from the chair of the 9/11 Commission saying that the attacks could have been prevented

Bekkum, Gary S. "Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented by STAR GATE?" American Chronicle. 6 Sept. 2006. 2 Dec. 2007 <>. This was an interesting article that talks about just how much accurate information there was about the attacks and how none of it was paid attention to by the government.

Chambliss, Saxby. Interview with Martha Kearney. BBC News. 25 July 2003. 1 Dec. 2007 <>. This was a short interview in which a senator on the Senate Intelligence Committee talks about 9/11 being preventable

Digital image. [FBI Memo]. 2001. 30 Nov. 2007 <>. This site had photographs of the Phoenix memo that spoke of al-Qaeda followers that were taking part in aviation classes, and how they were probably doing so in preparation for an attack using planes as weapons.

Eggen, Dan, and William Branigin. "NORAD Commander: 9/11 Planes Could Have Been Stopped." Truthout. 17 June 2004. 2 Dec. 2007 <>. This was the site that i used to find out about the government blowing their last chance to take out the planes. They could have called in NORAD to shoot down the planes, killing some innocent people but saving thousands more.

Elliot, Michael. "They Had a Plan." Time 4 Aug. 2002. 26 Nov. 2007 <>. This article was long, and I did not use all of it. However, it was helpful in that it gave me a starting point with the USS Cole bombing. Had I not read this article, I highly doubt that I would have known about the connection between the Cole bombing and September 11th. In addition to this, the article exposed in part the passive nature of the Bush Administration concerning terrorism prior to 9/11.

Johnson, Alex, and Doug Pasternak. "Clarke: 9/11 Might Have Been Prevented." Msnbc.Com. 31 Mar. 2004. MSNBC. 30 Nov. 2007 <>. Like the Time Magazine article, Mr. Clarke says that the Bush Administration was very relaxed in its fight against terrorism. This article in particular was good because it highlights Bush's obsession with Saddam Hussein and how it allowed Osama bin Laden to operate relatively unnoticed.

Lewis, Neil A. "TRACES OF TERROR: THE OVERVIEW; F.B.I Chief Admits 9/11 Might Have Been Detectable." New York Times 30 May 2002. 28 Nov. 2007 <>. This was the most helpful source of all. I used this article for proof that the FBI was negligent with all of the leads it had prior to 9/11. It also told me that the FBI was hiding the fact that it had yet another lead in addition to all of the other ones that it had ignored. I used this to say that had the FBI not ignored the leads it had, then 9/11 would not have happened

O'connor, Rory. "How 9/11 Could Have Been Prevented." AlterNet. 7 Aug. 2006. 29 Nov. 2007 <>. This website was a bit biased, but still provided me with information regarding the USS Cole bombing. This page provided me with information on how the Commander of the USS Cole was kept in the dark about the strong al-Qaeda presence in Yemen at the time.

Ryan, Jason. "Top US Spy: FBI, CIA Failed to Stop 9/11." ABC News. 18 Sept. 2007. 28 Nov. 2007 <>. This news report is about the Director of National Intelligence admitting that the two major intelligence agencies, the FBI and CIA, failed to stop 9/11 even though they had some solid leads that turned out to be correct. It was helpful because it gave a government admission of being at fault, which is what I was trying to prove correct

"September 11 Attacks." Encyclopedia Britannica. EBSCO. Suffolk University Library, Boston. This was a very helpful website. It gave me the information I needed to tell the story of what happened on September 11th in detail.

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