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What the 9/11 Commission Missed By: Allan J. Favish
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, August 25, 2004

In “Clinton and 9/11” (FrontPageMagazine.com, Oct. 14, 2003), I wrote about the allegation by retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robert “Buzz” Patterson that while he was a military aide to President Bill Clinton in 1996 (carrying the codes for nuclear attack) he saw a Presidential Daily Briefing after it was given to President Clinton that discussed a plot to use commercial airliners as weapons and another plot to put bombs on U.S. airliners. Patterson wrote this allegation on page 139 of his book “Dereliction of Duty”, published in March 2003. The allegation goes to the heart of the recent investigations by Congress and the 9/11 Commission because if true, it would establish that President Clinton knew at least by 1996 that al-Qaida terrorists who had tried to topple the World Trade Center in 1993 had plans to hijack commercial planes and crash them into buildings on American soil. 

My article established that within weeks after 9/11 through May 2002, CNN, the Washington Post and the Village Voice published articles stating that in 1995 law enforcement officials in the Philippines captured a laptop computer owned by the 1993 WTC bombers that contained their plans to crash commercial airliners into buildings. According to these articles, the Philippine officials said that in 1995 they gave this information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Embassy in Manila and to the U.S. Joint Task Force on Terrorism. The articles from these news organizations contain extensive details, only some of which were presented in my previous article, “Clinton and 9/11”.

One might have thought that the 9/11 Commission would have thoroughly investigated these details, including Lt. Col. Patterson’s allegation, and reported the truth to the American people, no matter what that truth might be. I concluded my previous article by stating:

By failing to investigate Patterson’s account the congressional committees failed the American people and failed the approximately 2,800 people who died in the WTC attacks. We cannot depend on our elected representatives to tell us all of the important facts. Let’s hope the 9/11 Commission does its job, but don’t place any bets on it.

Unfortunately, my pessimism was justified. The 9/11 Commission Report does not discuss Lt. Col. Patterson’s allegation. Moreover, it appears the Commission did not try to obtain access to the 1996 PDBs given to President Clinton at the time described by Lt. Col. Patterson. On page 533 of the 9/11 Commission Report in footnote 2 for chapter 8, the Commission states: “The Commission received access to about four years of articles from the PDB related to Bin Ladin, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and key countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, including all the Commission requested.” It appears that this four-year period did not include 1996.

Moreover, the 9/11 Commission Report does not discuss the laptop or notebook computer. It does not discuss the extensive details reported by CNN, the Washington Post and the Village Voice, about that laptop and plans to use commercial airlines to crash into buildings, with one exception. On page 491 of the 9/11 Commission Report in footnote 33 for chapter 5, the Commission discusses Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks and others, including Ramzi Yousef, one of the 1993 WTC bombers and Yousef’s right-hand man, Abdul Hakim Murad:

After 9/11, some Philippine government officials claimed that while in Philippine custody in February 1995, KSM’s Manila air plot co-conspirator Abdul Hakim Murad had confessed having discussed with Yousef the idea of attacking targets, including the World Trade Center, with hijacked commercial airliners flown by U.S.-trained Middle Eastern pilots. See Peter Lance, 1000 Years for Revenge: International Terrorism and the FBI-the Untold Story (Harper Collins, 2003), pp. 278-280.  In Murad’s initial taped confession, he referred to an idea of crashing a plane into CIA headquarters. Lance gave us his copy of an apparent 1995 Philippine National Police document on an interrogation of Murad. That document reports Murad describing his idea of crashing a plane into CIA headquarters, but in this report Murad claims he was thinking of hijacking a commercial aircraft to do it, saying the idea had come up in a casual conversation with Yousef with no specific plan for its execution. We have seen no pre-9/11 evidence that Murad referred in interrogations to the training of other pilots, or referred in this casual conversation to targets other than the CIA. According to Lance, the Philippine police officer, who after 9/11 offered the much more elaborate account of Murad’s statements reported in Lance’s book, claims to have passed this added information to U.S. officials. But Lance states the Philippine officer declined to identify these officials. Peter Lance interview (Mar. 15, 2004). If such information was provided to a U.S. official, we have seen no indication that it was written down or disseminated within the U.S. government. Incidentally, KSM says he never discussed his idea for the planes operation with Murad, a person KSM regarded as a minor figure. Intelligence report, interrogation of KSM, Apr. 2, 2004.

Given the details in the articles published by CNN, the Washington Post and the Village Voice, this is completely insufficient. The Commission sounds like it is trying to discount the story, not investigate it. The Commission admits it received “an apparent 1995 Philippine National Police document on an interrogation of Murad” in which Murad claims he discussed with Yousef the idea of hijacking a commercial aircraft and crashing it into CIA headquarters. The Commission appears to want the public to believe that the whole story should be ignored because Murad stated that his conversation with Yousef was “casual” and at the time, there was “no specific plan for its execution.” But those are not reasons to ignore or discount the story. It is common knowledge that many plans that are later fully executed begin as casual conversation without specifics.

The Commission states: “We have seen no pre-9/11 evidence that Murad referred in interrogations to the training of other pilots, or referred in this casual conversation to targets other than the CIA.” So what? It is enough that Murad admitted that he was being trained to fly and that CIA headquarters was contemplated as a target. In his article “Local Is Global” in the September 26, 2001 edition of the Village Voice, Luis H. Francia reported “according to a Washington Post article, his interrogators learned that Murad had taken flying lessons at aviation schools in San Antonio, Schenectady, New York, and in New Bern, North Carolina.” The Post article to which Mr. Francia referred is “Borderless Network of Terror” by Doug Struck, Howard Schneider, Karl Vick and Peter Baker, published September 23, 2001 and it supports Mr. Francia’s statement.

Additionally, Steve Fainaru reported in his article “Clues Pointed to Changing Terrorist Tactics” in the May 19, 2002 Washington Post that “FBI investigators visited two of the flight schools in 1996 after the plot was uncovered in the Philippines, school operators said.”  Mr. Fainaru further reported:

But after Murad’s arrest in 1995, FBI agents seized records and conducted interviews at flight schools he attended in New Bern, N.C., and Schenectady, N.Y., instructors at both flight schools told The Washington Post last September.

In addition, in 1998, the FBI visited Airman Flight School of Norman, Okla., to inquire about another al Qaeda operative, Ihab Ali Nawawi. Dale Davis, the flight school’s director of operations, told The Post last year that Nawawi received his commercial pilot’s license in the early 1990s, then traveled to another school in Oklahoma City to qualify for a rating to fly small business aircraft.

During last year’s trial on the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, a witness testified that Nawawi later worked as bin Laden's personal pilot.

The Commission appears oblivious to the fact that if the FBI and CIA learned in 1995 that Murad was contemplating using a commercial airliner to crash into CIA headquarters and had taken flight lessons at U.S. schools, there were likely to be others attending those flight schools with similar ideas and the FBI and CIA should have been investigating that likelihood. Moreover, as seen below, information found in Murad’s laptop showed that he was contemplating targets other than the CIA.

The Commission states that the Philippine officer interviewed by Mr. Lance declined to identify U.S. officials to whom information was given in 1995. Again, so what? The Commission could have discovered the FBI, CIA and other U.S. personnel who were around in 1995 in a position to receive such information, but there is no indication in the 9/11 Commission Report that the Commission tried to do so. There is no chapter in the 9/11 Commission Report tracing the chain of custody of the information discovered by Philippine law enforcement officials in 1995.

The Commission states: “If such information was provided to a U.S. official, we have seen no indication that it was written down or disseminated within the U.S. government.” Why is the Commission stating, “[i]f such information was provided to a U.S. official”? (Emphasis added.) That is an issue that the Commission is supposed to have resolved. The Commission’s failure to see an indication that such information was written down or disseminated within the U.S. government appears to be the result of the shamefully inadequate nature of the Commission’s investigation of the Philippine story, not a result of the failure of U.S. officials to write information down or disseminate it.

In “Local Is Global” Mr. Francia reported on his conversation with a computer expert in Philippine law enforcement:

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a computer expert who regularly assists the National Bureau of Investigation (the Philippine FBI counterpart) and the Philippine National Police in their investigations of computer-related crimes said he downloaded the files, revealing the terrorists' diabolical project. One plan called for the hijacking of U.S.-bound commercial airliners from various Asian capitals and then, according to him, crashing them into "key structures in the United States: The World Trade Center, the White House, the Pentagon, the Transamerican [sic] Tower, and the Sears Tower were among the prominent structures that had been identified in the plans that we had decoded." . . .

When I noted the discrepancy between blowing up the planes in flight and crashing them into buildings, the expert said, "When we searched the files in the archive, there was a specific plan to blow planes up, but there were several other plans. One of them was to crash [the planes] into specific targets."

Mr. Francia also identified “Robert Heafner, now retired but the 1995 FBI head in Manila,” who said, “I believe everything was done that could have been done.” Mr. Francia was quoting from “Borderless Network of Terror” which reported that Mr. Heafner was living in Manila.

The 9/11 Commission Report does not discuss the laptop computer recovered by Philippine authorities. There is no indication in the 9/11 Commission Report that the Commission attempted to obtain testimony from the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation or the computer expert it used. There is no indication in the 9/11 Commission Report that the Commission searched for all information about the laptop that was in the possession of U.S. authorities. Moreover, you will not find Mr. Heafner’s name in the 9/11 Commission Report or any indication that the Commission attempted to obtain his testimony. You will not find Mr. Francia’s name in the 9/11 Commission Report.

In his article in the Washington Post Magazine on December 30, 2001, “Bust and Boom” (available in the WP archives) Matthew Brzezinski reported:

Philippine investigators called in their American counterparts for help. This was standard operating procedure. According to U.S. and Philippine officials interviewed for this article, both the CIA Manila station chief and the resident FBI legal attaché were notified. A team of intelligence agents flew in from Washington.

There is no indication in the 9/11 Commission Report that the Commission attempted to obtain testimony from the “U.S. and Philippine officials interviewed” for Mr. Brzezinski’s article. The same is true for “the CIA Manila station chief and the resident FBI legal attaché” mentioned by Mr. Brzezinski. You will not find Mr. Brzezinski’s name in the 9/11 Commission Report. (His uncle’s name, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, appears twice in the report.)

All of this is even more important now than when Clinton and 9/11” was published in October 2003 because of the controversy generated over testimony before the 911 Commission by Dr. Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s National Security Advisor. As I reported in my previous article, “Clinton and 9/11”, at a press conference on May 16, 2002, Dr. Rice stated that the Clinton Administration did not tell her about what was uncovered in 1995 in the Philippines. She repeated that point in her testimony under oath before the Commission on April 8, 2004:

MR. KEAN: I've got a question now I'd like to ask you. It was given me by a number of members of the families. Did you ever see or hear from the FBI, from the CIA, from any other intelligence agency any memos or discussions or anything else between the time you got into office and 9/11 that talked about using planes as bombs?

MS. RICE: Let me address this question because it has been on the table. I think that concern about what I might have known or we might have known was provoked by some statements that I made in a press conference.

I was in a press conference to try and describe the August 6th memo, which I've talked about here in my opening remarks and which I talked about with you in the private session. And I said at one point that this was a historical memo, that it was not based on new threat information, and I said no one could have imagined them taking a plane, slamming it into the Pentagon -- I'm paraphrasing now -- into the World Trade Center, using planes as a missile.

As I said to you in the private session, I probably should have said "I" could not have imagined, because within two days, people started to come to me and say, "Oh, but there were these reports in 1998 and 1999, the intelligence community did look at information about this."

To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Chairman, this kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us. I cannot tell you that there might not have been a report here or a report there that reached somebody in our midst.

Part of the problem is -- I think Sandy Berger made this point when he was asked the same question -- that you have thousands of pieces of information, car bombs and this method and that method, and you have to depend to a certain degree on the intelligence agencies to sort, to tell you what is actually -- is actually relevant, what is actually based on sound sources, what is speculative. And I can only assume or believe that perhaps the intelligence agencies thought that the sourcing was speculative.

All that I can tell you is that it was not in the August 6th memo, using planes as a weapon, and I do not remember any reports to us, a kind of strategic warning that planes might be used as a weapon. In fact, there were some reports done in '98 and '99. I think I was -- I was certainly not aware of them at the time that I spoke.

MR. KEAN: You didn't see any memos to you or any documents to you?

MS. RICE: No. No, I did not.

Therefore, the 9/11 Commission has left the public, including the survivors of the approximately 2,800 murder victims of 9/11 with the following unanswered questions:

[1] How far up the chain did this information get in 1995 and beyond, before 9/11?

[2] Who in the FBI, CIA or other agencies knew about this and when did they know it?

[3] Did Richard Clarke or Sandy Berger know about it prior to 9/11?

[4] If so, did they tell the incoming Bush Administration about it during the transition?

[5] Did Dr. Rice lie when she stated in a May16, 2002 press conference and under oath before   the 9/11 Commission on April 8, 2004 that she never heard about this before 9/11?

[6] If she didn’t hear about it before 9/11, who in the Clinton Administration should have told her about it during the transition?

[7] Did Bill Clinton know about it?

[8] If so, when did he learn about it?

[9] Is Lt. Col. Patterson telling the truth when he says that Clinton knew by at least 1996?

[10] Did the Commission search for a PDB matching the description given by Patterson?

[11] If so, how was that search conducted?

[12] If so, what did the Commission find?  

Where will the answers come from? CNN, the Washington Post and the Village Voice are not demanding answers to these questions. Neither is the rest of the press, President Bush or Dr. Rice. Don’t expect John Kerry or leading Democrats to demand the answers. The American public is left without answers to key questions about a matter of life and death that should have been answered by people whom we paid to answer these questions. We deserve better, but not unless we demand it.

Visit Allan J. Favish's website at http://www.allanfavish.com.

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