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Prior hints of September 11-type attack

Pentagon-plane crash plot reported in 1995

Prior hints of September 11-type attack

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two years before hijackers seized control of four U.S. jets and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a federal report raised the specter of such an attack.

That interagency government report, ordered by the CIA during the Clinton administration and prepared by the Library of Congress, is just one of several reports, memos and observations that lawmakers and others are pointing to as they question whether the government missed several clues before September 11 that could have foretold the devastating and deadly hijackings.

"We've got to look back on what happened and try to figure out how to do better," said House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, defending calls for a congressional inquiry into what was known before September 11 about possible terrorist attacks.

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President Bush on Friday spent a second day defending his administration, denouncing what he called "second-guessing" and saying he had no clear indication that terrorists would hijack four airliners and crash them last fall.

"The American people know this about me and my national security team, and my administration," he said during an event in the Rose Garden. "Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people."

Rep. Porter Goss, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said there was no need for any new congressional inquiry because intelligence panels have already been reviewing the events leading up to the attacks. To date, he said, nothing has emerged to suggest that anyone in the government could have predicted them.

Planes-as-weapons plot uncovered

The White House on Wednesday revealed that Bush received a CIA analysis August 6 that raised the possibility of a jet hijacking involving Osama bin Laden.

But Bush administration officials said that report lacked specifics, such as where and when, and that it wasn't even fathomable at that time that terrorists would essentially turn jets into huge, fuel-laden missiles, crashing them into buildings.

But other reports show that very possibility was considered by some intelligence experts and investigators before September 11.

As early as 1998, intelligence sources told TIME magazine they had evidence that bin Laden might be planning a strike on New York or Washington in retaliation for a U.S. missile strike against al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and a factory suspected of making chemical weapons components in Sudan. Those strikes came days after two U.S. embassies were bombed in Africa.

Also, Philippine investigators said that in 1995 they told the FBI about a terrorist plot to hijack commercial planes and slam them into the Pentagon, the CIA headquarters and other buildings. Philippine authorities say they learned of that plot after a small fire in a Manila apartment, which turned out to be the hideout of Ramzi Yousef, who was later convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Then, in September 1999, came the interagency government report --- titled the "Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why" -- that referenced bin Laden's terrorist network, al Qaeda, and its potential involvement in such a plot.

In the executive summary of that 149-page report, prepared during the Clinton administration and available on the Library of Congress Web site, the authors wrote:

"Al Qaeda's expected retaliation for the U.S. cruise missile attack against al Qaeda's training facilities in Afghanistan on August 20, 1998, could take several forms of terrorist attack in the nation's capital. Al Qaeda could detonate a Chechen-type building-buster bomb at a federal building. Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al Qaeda's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House. Ramzi Yousef had planned to do this against the CIA headquarters."

FBI agent connected flying students to bin Laden

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer Friday downplayed the significance of that report, saying it did not reflect intelligence information but amounted to a "psychological and sociological evaluation of terrorism."

He said the administration only learned of it Friday morning, and he pointedly noted that the same report was available to Congress.

He said the report "did not raise enough alarms with anybody" because "it was not intelligence information."

There were other memos and events from last summer, however, that some lawmakers say could have pointed to a pending terrorist attack had the information been properly analyzed and all the dots connected.

In July, an FBI agent in Arizona wrote a memo questioning what the agent thought was a large number of Arabs taking flight lessons in the United States. That memo also specifically questioned whether bin Laden was behind that effort.

"This memo was very consequential and should have been analyzed at the highest levels of the intelligence community," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Sadly it was not."

In August, authorities arrested Zacarias Moussaoui because he had aroused suspicions at a Minnesota flight school. He was arrested on an immigration violation, but later was indicted for his alleged involvement in the September 11 attacks.

Thursday, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice outlined a series of threats U.S. intelligence gathered over the spring and summer and talked about security directives issued at that time. She said, however, "the overwhelming bulk of the evidence was that this was an attack that was likely to take place overseas."

Still, the U.S. government took some of the threats seriously enough to alert the Federal Aviation Administration, which in turn notified airlines.(Full story)




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