Despite recent evidence that Bill Clinton knew 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, this evidence was ignored by the recent Congressional report on the causes of the September 11, 2001 aerial attack on the WTC.
On May 20, 2002, David Horowitz, the Editor-in-Chief of this website, wrote an article entitled “Why Bush Is Innocent and the Democrats Are Guilty”. The article discussed Operation Bojinka, which came to the attention of U.S. authorities in 1995 when Abdul Hakim Murad, a terrorist, was captured in the Philippines. As reported by Maria Ressa in her September 18, 2001 article “U.S. Warned In 1995 Of Plot To Hijack Planes, Attack Buildings” on CNN’s website:
The FBI was warned six years ago of a terrorist plot to hijack commercial planes and slam them into the Pentagon, the CIA headquarters and other buildings, Philippine investigators told CNN.
Philippine authorities learned of the 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. Yousef escaped at the time, but agents caught his right-hand man, Abdul Hakim Murad, who told them a chilling tale.
Murad narrated to us about a plan by the Ramzi cell in the continental U.S. to hijack a commercial plane and ram it into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and also the Pentagon," said Rodolfo Mendoza, a Philippine intelligence investigator.
Philippine investigators also found evidence targeting commercial towers in San Francisco, Chicago and New York City.
They said they passed that information on to the FBI in 1995, but it's not clear what was done with it.
As reported by Doug Struck, Howard Schneider, Karl Vick and Peter Baker in their article “Borderless Network of Terror” in the Washington Post on September 23, 2001:
Arrested and tortured by Philippine intelligence agents, Murad told the story of 'Bojinka' -- 'loud bang' -- the code name bin Laden operatives had given to an audacious plan to bomb 11 U.S. airliners simultaneously and fly an airplane into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. -- all after attempting to assassinate Pope John Paul II.
Luis H. Francia reported in his article “Local Is Global” in the September 26, 2001 edition of the Village Voice that despite the FBI’s post-9/11 denial of any warning signs for the airborne attack on the World Trade Center, much of the information about Bojinka was found on the terrorists’ laptop computer years earlier:
According to Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller, there were "no warning signs" of the kamikaze assaults. But somewhere in its files there is information indicating that as early as 1995 there existed a chilling plot code-named "Project Bojinka," which included mid-air bombings of planes headed to the United States from Asian countries on a single day, as well as hijacking airliners and crashing them into targets like the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. According to Philippine authorities, this information was passed on that year to the U.S. Embassy in Manila and to the U.S. Joint Task Force on Terrorism.
Evidence of the plot surfaced when Ramzi Yousef—one of three men convicted subsequently for the 1993 WTC bombing and sentenced to 240 years in prison—hastily fled a burning Manila apartment (and the country) just 200 yards from the Vatican Embassy. Cops found Manila street maps and clothing remarkably similar to that of Pope John Paul's entourage—the pontiff was due for a visit a week from the discovery—suggesting a planned attempt on his life. They also discovered bomb materials and a laptop whose disks revealed plans for Project Bojinka—which means "loud explosion" in Arabic.
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." The expert pointed out that in fact a dry run had been conducted in 1994, on a Tokyo-bound Philippine Airlines flight, when a small bomb under a passenger seat went off, killing a Japanese tourist.
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." Abdul Hakim Murad, also convicted in the 1993 bombing and Yousef's Manila roommate, admitted to Philippine investigators that he suggested to Yousef hijacking a U.S. airliner and crashing it into the CIA building. Also, 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.
Steve Fainaru reported in his article “Clues Pointed to Changing Terrorist Tactics” in the May 19, 2002 Washington Post:
A broad array of signals -- from foiled plots to FBI field interviews -- suggested for years that al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups had considered employing airplanes as missiles and U.S. flight schools as pilot training grounds.
The clues included a 1995 plot to blow up 11 American jetliners over the Pacific Ocean, then crash a light plane into CIA headquarters -- a suicide mission to have been carried out by a Pakistani pilot who had trained at flight schools in North Carolina, Texas and New York.
FBI investigators visited two of the flight schools in 1996 after the plot was uncovered in the Philippines, school operators said. In 1998 and 1999, analysts warned federal officials that terrorists might crash hijacked aircraft into landmarks such as the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Then, last July, the Italian government closed airspace over Genoa and mounted antiaircraft batteries based on information that Islamic extremists were planning to use an airplane to kill President Bush.
Fainaru reported that in 1999:
[A] report prepared for the National Intelligence Council, an interagency group, by the Federal Research Division, which is part of the Library of Congress, was titled “The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?” In a section on new terrorist threats, the report noted the Philippines plot and warned: “Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida’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.”
Matthew Brzezinski’s article in the Washington Post Magazine on December 30, 2001, “Bust and Boom” (available in the WP archives) gave more details about the capture of Murad and stated:
According to U.S. and Philippine officials interviewed for this article, both the CIA Manila station chief and the resident FBI legal attache were notified. A team of intelligence agents flew in from Washington.
Brzezinski quoted Aida Fariscal, the retired Philippine policewoman who was instrumental in capturing Murad:
The FBI knew all about Yousef’s plans,” she says. “They’d seen the files, been inside 603 [Yousef’s apartment]. The CIA had access to everything, too . . .
In her outrage at the biggest U.S. intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor, Fariscal is not alone in the Manila law enforcement community. Gen. Avelino “Sonny” Razon, one of the lead investigators in the Bojinka case, was so shocked at what he saw on September 11 that he jumped on a plane in Cebu, where he was now police chief, and flew to Manila to convene a hasty press conference. “We told the Americans about the plans to turn planes into flying bombs as far back as 1995,” he complained to reporters. “Why didn’t they pay attention?”
Given the knowledge that al-Qaida’s operatives who had tried to topple the WTC in 1993 with a bomb that caused immense damage and loss of life, were plotting to use airplanes to crash into buildings, including the WTC and Pentagon, one would think that the Clinton Administration would have put sky marshals on all commercial jets, had the airlines install secure doors for the pilot cabins and alerted the public and the flight schools. But the Clinton Administration did not do any of this. At the very least, one would think that the Clinton Administration would have told the incoming Bush Administration about this aspect of Bojinka. However, that does not appear to have happened either.
Speaking at a press conference on May 16, 2002, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s National Security Advisor, defended the Bush Administration against charges that Bush learned enough information about a possible airborne attack on the WTC in the spring and summer of 2001 to have prevented the attack. Rice stated that the Clinton Administration did not tell her about Bojinka:
Now, on August 6th, the President received a presidential daily briefing which was not a warning briefing, but an analytic report. This analytic report, which did not have warning information in it of the kind that said, they are talking about an attack against so forth or so on, it was an analytic report that talked about UBL’s methods of operation, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, in 1998. It mentioned hijacking, but hijacking in the traditional sense, and in a sense, said that the most important and most likely thing was that they would take over an airliner, holding passengers and demand the release of one of their operatives. And the blind sheikh was mentioned by name as -- even though he’s not an operative of al Qaeda, but as somebody who might be bargained in this way.
. . . .
Q -- any specific information just prior to August 6th that raised concerns about hijacking of U.S. planes?
DR. RICE: Again, this was generalized information that put together the fact that there were terrorist groups who were unhappy about things that were going on in the Middle East, as well as al Qaeda operatives, which we’d been watching for a long time -- that there was more chatter than usual, and that we knew that they were people who might try a hijacking. But, you know, again, that terrorism and hijacking might be associated is not rocket science.
Q Why shouldn’t this be seen as an intelligence failure, that you were unable to predict something happening here?
DR. RICE: Steve, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile. All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking. You take a plane -- people were worried they might blow one up, but they were mostly worried that they might try to take a plane and use it for release of the blind Sheikh or some of their own people.
. . . .
Q So, two questions. No discussion at all then in this analytical briefing about either the information during the investigation in the Philippines about possibly flying a plane into the CIA building, or the investigation overseas about possibly flying a plane into the Eiffel Tower? No analytical information discussing those options at all?
And, B, you know that you would not be here today if it weren’t eight months after the attack we hear for the first time that, even in a general sense, the word “hijacking” and “al Qaeda” was before the President prior to September 11th. Why is it that in all the questioning of administration officials -- the President, the Vice President, yourself and others, did you have any hint, did you have any clue, that nobody simply said, you know, we didn’t; there was this general talk once of hijacking, but we looked into it, it had nothing to do with this, there was no connection?
DR. RICE: John, this all came out as a result of our preparations to help the committees on the Hill that are getting ready to review the events. It wasn’t -- frankly, it didn’t pop to the front of people’s minds, because it’s one report among very, very many that you get.
And so it’s out of that review that it became clear that this was there. I will say that, again, hijacking before 9/11 and hijacking after 9/11 do mean two very, very different things. And so focusing on it before 9/11 -- perhaps it’s clear that after 9/11 you would have looked at this differently, but certainly not before 9/11.
Q And no discussion in this briefing, or any others, about the possibility of al Qaeda hijacking, and the fact that there have been active investigations into the possibility of a CIA building plot, or an Eiffel Tower plot. Never came up?
DR. RICE: It did not come up.
It appears that criticism of Bush for failing to connect the dots before 9-11 may be misplaced given this evidence that the outgoing Clinton Administration failed to disclose the key dots to Bush’s national security advisor.
In “Why Bush Is Innocent and the Democrats Are Guilty” Horowitz stated:
Although the Clinton security team knew that Operation Bojinka included blowing up the CIA building in Langley, Virginia, it kept this information from the rest of the government. When Dale Watson, chief of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February 1998, he withheld this vital information. He identified Operation Bojinka only as a plot to blow up U.S. air carriers, and assured the senators that the FBI had the situation under control.
It is possible that Clinton never received the information about Operation Bojinka, since his lack of interest in national security matters throughout the course of his administration has been noted by many - including his chief political advisor Dick Morris, and his chief "biographer" Joe Klein. February 1998 - the date of the FBI testimony -- is also the month after Monica Lewinsky became a national celebrity.
Since the publication of Horowitz’ article, evidence has emerged that Clinton received the information. Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robert “Buzz” Patterson was a military aide to Clinton from May 1996 to May 1998 and one of five individuals entrusted with carrying the “nuclear football”—the bag containing the codes for launching nuclear weapons. On page 139 of Patterson’s book “Dereliction of Duty”, published in March 2003, he wrote:
During the summer of the 1996 attacks, I myself learned firsthand that the administration knew that terrorists were plotting to use commercial airliners as weapons. The president received a Presidential Daily Brief, or PDB, every morning. It was a document encased in a smart leather folder, and emblazoned with the presidential seal, that contained the president’s daily intelligence update from the NSC. A senior NSC representative normally delivered it to the president. On weekends, at Camp David, and on vacations, the military aide was responsible for delivering and retrieving the brief.
One late-summer Saturday morning, the president asked me to pick up a few days’ worth of PDBs that had accumulated in the Oval Office. He gave them to me with handwritten notes stuffed inside the folders and asked that I deliver them back to the NSC.
I opened the PDB to rearrange the notes and noticed the heading “Operation Bojinka.” I keyed on a reference to a plot to use commercial airliners as weapons and another plot to put bombs on U.S. airliners. Because I was a pilot, this naturally grabbed my attention. I can state for a fact that this information was circulated within the U.S. intelligence community, and that in late 1996 the president was aware of it.
Patterson’s book continues to be a bestseller. According to Regnery, Patterson’s publisher, the book “has spent an astounding 20 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list – where it has been since its first week of publication.” For the week ending August 30, 2003, it was number 32 on the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction. Despite Patterson’s widely disseminated first-hand account of Clinton’s knowledge, the media, Congress and the Bush Administration have been silent about it. Most unforgivable however, is that those whose job it was to investigate Patterson’s account, failed to do so.
In February 2002, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence agreed to conduct a Joint Inquiry into the activities of the U.S. Intelligence Community in connection with the 9/11 attack. The report resulting from that inquiry, that was released on July 24, 2003, consists of 832 pages that present the joint inquiry’s findings and conclusions, an accompanying narrative, and a series of recommendations.
The report ignores Patterson’s account of the episode he describes in his bestselling book. The report is silent about the state of Clinton’s knowledge about the plot to use airliners to crash into buildings. In an interview with this author on August 9, 2003, Patterson stated that he was not asked to testify before the investigating committees, speak with their staff or give any information at all to them. Patterson stated that he did not contact the committees.
Patterson described the nature of a PDB. He stated:
What the PDB actually is is a compilation of intelligence reports that the NSC collects. So they take, they take inputs from the CIA, the FBI, various intelligence agencies and the watch officers that actually work in the NSC, of course Sandy Berger at the time and his deputies, actually glean through that and create that document every single day. . . . It comes from the NSC. It’s a compilation of inputs that I’m sure they sit around all day long and receive data from the CIA and the FBI. They kind of probably glean through it and decide what the President needs to see and what is not all that relevant. . . . What it is is an intelligence briefing. And it covers the gamut, it runs the gamut from what’s going on in Africa to what’s happening in the United States to the Middle East. It really is everything that the NSC feels is important the President needs to be aware of. Why I thought it was so significant that Bojinka was in there was because in my mind that was there because somebody wanted the President to know about it.
When asked whether the account he gave in his book is 100% verifiable, Patterson stated: “Absolutely.” When asked whether all of the PDB’s shown to Clinton throughout his administration still exist, he stated: “Oh yeah, oh yeah. In fact I’m sure they do.” He stated that he does not know for sure where they are kept, but “they’re probably still in the NSC it would be my guess.” In addition, Patterson stated that those who prepared the specific PDB he described would know its contents.
Patterson stated that he is not sure about the exact date he saw the PDB, but believes it was in July or August of 1996. Patterson stated that he did not know if Clinton received the information earlier. He stated that it is possible that Clinton was given this information initially in 1995. Patterson stated that it has been suggested to him that the reason that the information was in the PDB in the summer of 1996 was that somebody thought it was important to give Clinton the information at that time in light of the July 17, 1996 midair destruction of TWA Flight 800. Patterson stated that it is possible that if Clinton had prior knowledge of the information from 1995, he may have requested that because of the destruction of TWA 800, the information be included again in a PDB.
Patterson stated that he has a hunch that the information was in several PDB’s “because they would repeat information from time to time” as it became relevant.
In addition to the Congressional investigation, there is the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission), an independent, bipartisan commission created by congressional legislation and the signature of President Bush in late 2002, that is chartered to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks. The Commission also is mandated to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks. The Commission released its first interim report on July 8, 2003. It stated:
The contemporary history of the country passed a watershed on 9/11. We must do the job we are required to do by law so that we may understand how we came to this turning point in the way we think about our security and to understand the choices that lie ahead.
Patterson told this author that the 9/11 Commission has not contacted him either.
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.