“The public was not warned.” – The 9/11 Commission Report, p.265
source: The Boiling Frogs Post Aug 7, 2011
In the aftermath of 9/11, reams of newsprint were given over to discussing the CIA and FBI failures before the attacks; the agency had some of the hijackers under surveillance and allegedly lost them, the bureau was unable even to inform its own acting director of the Zacarias Moussaoui case. However, the USA’s largest and most powerful intelligence agency, the National Security Agency, got a free ride. There was no outcry over its failings, no embarrassing Congressional hearings for its director. Yet, as we will see, the NSA’s performance before 9/11 was shocking.
It is unclear when the NSA first intercepted a call by one of the nineteen hijackers. Reporting indicates it began listening in on telephone calls to the home of Pentagon hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s wife some time around late 1996. However, although Almihdhar certainly did stay there later, it is unclear whether he lived there at that time. The house, in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, was a key target for the US intelligence community as it was Osama bin Laden’s communication hub, run by Almihdhar’s father-in-law Ahmed al-Hada.
The NSA kept the Yemen communications hub secret from the rest of the US intelligence community. However, Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, found out about it through an agency officer loaned to the NSA. Even after the discovery, the NSA refused to provide transcripts of the calls, meaning Alec Station could not crack the simple code the al-Qaeda operatives used. This was one reason the 1998 East African embassy bombings—assisted by al-Hada—were successful despite the bombers being known to numerous intelligence agencies.
The first time the NSA is known for certain to have intercepted a call involving the hijackers was in early 1999, when the call involved Almihdhar and his fellow Flight 77 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi. The NSA did not disseminate a report on this call, although the heavily redacted text of the Congressional Inquiry’s 9/11 report indicates it should have. The NSA continuedto intercept Almihdhar’s calls throughout 1999, when he apparently spoke to al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, now languishing in Guantanamo Bay.
In late December 1999, the NSA picked up a call that tipped it off about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit meeting—a unique meeting of al-Qaeda leaders in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. The NSA alerted both the FBI and CIA, the latter of which monitored Almihdhar, Alhazmi and their various associates at the meeting in cooperation with Malaysian colleagues. However, the CIA claims, it did not learn much about what the participants were planning.
Almihdhar and Alhazmi then travelled via Bangkok and Hong Kong to Los Angeles, but, the CIA says, it lost them on the way.