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Clinton Ignored 9/11 Warning By: Dick Morris
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, September 19, 2005

The recent publication of some once-censored parts of the 9/11 Commission report reveals that, in 1998, federal intelligence sources had shared their concern that al-Qaeda could be planning to use passenger airplanes as missiles on suicide raids against prominent targets in the United States. This is the first time we've heard that that the possibility of such a suicide mission was raised at the federal level during the Clinton years.

But the entire thrust of the administration's attitude toward air safety and security was based on the happy assumption that no terrorist would ever engage in a suicide bombing using airplanes. Now the question arises: Why did not the Clinton administration re-evaluate its air safety measures in light of the 1998 warning?

After the crash of TWA flight 800 and the bombing of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, both of which were thought at the time to possibly be connected to international terrorists, President Clinton assigned Vice President Al Gore to head a commission on air safety to counter the possible terrorist threat. With his usual technical thoroughness but cerebral obtuseness, Gore conducted a wide-ranging review of air-safety measures and set up a system to predict who would hijack a passenger airplane. The system, called CAPPS (Civil Aviation Passenger Protection System) was based in an algorithm that evaluated risk factors to spot hijackers.

And CAPPS worked brilliantly on 9/11 — picking out 11 of the 19 hijackers for special scrutiny as possible terrorists.


Gore's work was entirely based on the belief that nobody would commit suicide while hijacking a plane. So the only purpose of CAPPS was to assure that these passengers boarded the airplane with their checked baggage — since the feds assumed that the checked bags couldn't have a bomb in if the terrorist was on the plane himself.

As naive and shortsighted as this assumption was — and as disastrous as it turned out to be — until now we have only been able to chalk it up to Al Gore's particular brand of myopia. But now we have evidence that one year after his report was issued, the White House received a warning that a suicide mission was a distinct possibility.

Why did Gore or Clinton not spring into action and undertake a review of the 1997 Commission report to adjust its conclusions to take account of this new possibility?

This oversight led to the horrendous lack of preparedness on 9/11.

To be sure, the intelligence finding was cloaked in ambiguity with disclaimers that suggested that al-Qaeda would only use a suicide attack as a last resort and indicated that it did not feel such a tactic was likely. But the finding spelled out in black and white exactly what happened: Terrorists would hijack passenger planes in the United States and use them to destroy prominent public buildings.

Had Gore and Clinton acted as they should have, all kinds of changes might have been made that could have forestalled 9/11. Boxcutters and small knives could have been barred from planes (after being specifically permitted in a change in FAA rules early in the Clinton years). Passengers identified by the CAPPS system could be investigated and barred from planes without special pat downs and screening. The entire system could have been refocused to take account of the suicide option in a way that it never was before 9/11.

The blame, of course, should fall not only on a Clinton administration distracted by impeachment and fighting for its political life, but also on the Bush administration — which is why the paragraph was initially redacted from the published version of the 9/11 report.

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Dick Morris is a former adviser to President Clinton. To get all his columns e-mailed to you, register for free at DickMorris.com.

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