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Fact Sheet

September 11 warnings: Who knew what, and when?

Ken Williams, FBI agent who wrote the
Ken Williams, FBI agent who wrote the "Phoenix" memo  


Disclosures of intelligence that came in before September 11 have raised questions of possible failures of the United States to anticipate or prevent the attacks. In the words of Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, intelligence and law enforcement agencies failed to connect the dots of various clues leading up to the catastrophe.

The disclosures have ignited a political firestorm in Washington, with criticisms of the Bush administration for not revealing the details earlier and Democrats demanding to know when and what the administration knew. The administration has responded with President Bush denouncing what he called "second-guessing" and saying he had no clear indication that terrorists would hijack four airliners and crash them last fall.


  • Summary

  • Update

  • Key questions

  • Who's who

  • FBI Re-organization
     CNN NewsPass Video 
      •  FBI whistleblower testifies in Congress
      •  Lawmakers promise 'fact-driven' 9-11 probe
      •  Lawmakers promise 'fact-driven' 9/11 probe
      •  Bush: No evidence attacks were preventable
      •  FBI probe: Key Players
      •  FBI Timeline
      •  Rebuilding the bureau
      •  Bio: FBI Director Robert Mueller
      •  Bio: FBI agent Coleen Rowley
      •  Who knew what and when?
      • Bombshell memo

    The administration touched off the debate when it acknowledged that President Bush received an eleven-and-a half page report on al Qaeda during his August 6 daily intelligence briefing, known as the Presidential Daily Brief. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice stressed to the media that the briefing was an "analytic report" that mentioned hijackings but in the traditional sense. "Hijacking before 9/11 and hijacking after 9/11 mean two very different things," she said. (Transcript of Rice's comments)

    But warnings of al Qaeda attacks on the United States began as far back as 1995, when an accomplice of Ramzi Yousef -- mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing -- told Philippine authorities that he learned to fly at U.S. flight schools and had plotted to hijack an aircraft and crash it into the Central Intelligence Agency's Langley, Virginia, headquarters. (Timeline)

    Another disclosure was a memo written by an FBI agent in Phoenix, Arizona, that theorized Middle Eastern students at an Arizona flight school could be al Qaeda agents in training for hijackings. Agent Ken Williams sent it to the counterterrorism division at the FBI's Washington headquarters, where analysts reviewed the memo but deferred any action. The White House was never informed about the memo before September 11. FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft were told of it in the days after the attacks. Its existence was first reported by The Associated Press. Williams, accompanied by Mueller, went to Capitol Hill on May 21 for a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Full story)

    Another newly revealed FBI memo concerns Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspected "20th hijacker." In early September 2001, an FBI agent in Minneapolis speculated that Moussaoui might be the type of person who could fly an airplane into the World Trade Center. The FBI had notified the CIA about Moussaoui but neither agency informed the Counterterrorism Security Group at the White House. Moussaoui was arrested on August 16 after a Minnesota flight school notified the FBI about him, saying Moussaoui wanted to learn how to fly, but not land, a 747 airliner. He has since been charged with conspiracy in plotting the September 11 attacks. (Full story)

    Congressional reaction to the disclosures has varied. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt wants an independent panel to investigate. But others, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said the House and Senate intelligence committees are conducting "very active inquiries." "I think we are going to be able to get to the heart of where the system needs changing," she said. Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee, is pushing for a congressional investigation but also has said the information President Bush received was not new. "I believe that this story that the president had strong information to act on -- that's a bogus story," he said. (Full story)

    The White House has fiercely defended its actions and said any Democrats who might use the issue for political gain do so at their own peril. President Bush said "second guessing has become second nature" in Washington and told GOP senators there is a "sniff of politics in the air." (Full story)


    Why was the White House not informed of some intelligence information about al Qaeda? ( The White House)

    Could the administration have done anything differently before September 11 to prevent the attacks? ( Early warning signs)

    Why didn't intelligence agencies share more information before September 11? ( Viewpoints)

    Why weren't details like the FBI memos disclosed earlier? ( Man of the memo)

    Will the political parties pay a price if they are seen as using this issue to gain political advantage? ( View from Capitol Hill)

    Which agency should be in charge of future counterterrorism efforts? ( How safe now?)

    WHO'S WHO:

    George W. Bush: U.S. president.

    Dick Cheney: U.S. vice president.

    Richard Clarke: U.S. counterterrorism chief and chair of Counterterrorism Security Group.

    Dianne Feinstein: Democratic senator from California and member of the Senate Select Committee

    Porter Goss: Republican representative from Florida and chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. He was formerly a CIA clandestine services officer.

    Bob Graham: Democratic senator from Florida and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

    Robert Mueller: FBI director.

    Nancy Pelosi: A Democrat from California, she is the highest ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

    Condoleezza Rice: U.S. national security adviser.

    Richard Shelby: Ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

    George Tenet: CIA director who was appointed during the Clinton administration


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