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Interview with Peter Lance

Aired September 4, 2003 - 20:43   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Ever since 9/11, many have asked whether the attacks in New York and Washington could have been prevented. My next guest says the warning signs here there, even before the first attack on the World Trade Center back in 1993.
Peter Lance is the author of "1,000 Years of Revenge: International Terrorism and The Fbi." He joins us tonight.


PETER LANCE, AUTHOR: Good to be here Paula.

ZAHN: You believe 9/11 2001 could have been prevented?

LANCE: Well, we drew a direct link between Ramzi Yousef, the first World Trade Center bomber and 9/11. We went to the Philippines. We talked to the chief interrogator of Abdul Marad (ph) who was Yousef's partner. And he told us he confessed to a plot in 1994, 1995 where he had six targets. Ten men were training in U.S. flight schools at the time and this information was given to the FBI. So then I went well if Yousef was the architect of 9/11, which by the way his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed executed, could we have stopped him in 1992? Could the FBI have stopped him.

Then I brought the story back then as far as 1989 in my opinion the FBI dropped the ball not just once but dozens of times and could have stopped Ramsey Yousef before he set the World Trade Center bomb in 1993. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and since he was the architect of 9/11, it could have been prevented.

ZAHN: But the defense you often hear about people from the FBI is that you couldn't connect the dots that point. You're saying the FBI bungled this completely?

LANCE: I'm saying we did a timeline in my book which is 160 sections so that the average person could look at this and judge for themselves. And there are dozens of opportunities. In 1989, Paula, they had number of Middle Eastern men under surveillance. They were at a shooting range in Long Island, in 1989. Of those men surveillance, three were convicted in the Trade Center bombing, one killed a Rabbi, two were connected to the plot to blow up the bridges and tunnels around Manhattan. And one nine years later planned the African embassy bombings which 234 people died. So this is 1989. They've got them on the radar, 1998, August and they...

ZAHN: So what is your explanation for why nothing happened? LANCE: Combination of thing, but arrogance is at the heart it. It was the disbelief that these men of Arab abstract -- who they considered a loosely organized group could ever pull this off. That was point number one. Second point, the Justice Department and FBI treated this as a series of legal case. Each time they won a case, they went the danger diminished, the threat has -- we've contradicted the threat. And the fact they didn't look at it as a world wide global conspiracy which is what it was. Look at tonight. Look at the headlines tonight about bin Laden increased threats to America from al Qaeda. The FBI since 9/11 has declared bin Laden dead. As senior spokesman several times. And they've said they've broken the back of al Qaeda several times. Yet right after the invasion of Iraq you had the bombs in Saudi Arabia, Morocco. Al Qaeda is as strong today as it was prior to 9/11.

ZAHN: As quickly use can delineate, connect the dots from the late '80s to the first World Trade Center bombing to what happened in September of 2001. What are we missing here? Because we all listen to a lot of testimony. We heard George Tenet get up. We have heard a number of government officials who said in hindsight you might be able to connect these dots. But if you analyze the same intelligence we did, how could anyone predicted they were going use jets as bombs and slam them into buildings.

LANCE: Colonel Mendoza, who I interviewed with the help by the way of Maria Ressa of CNN. One of the great reporters who had this story September 18 for the first time. She had -- first one to break this story was your bureau chief from Manila, great reporter. She and I interviewed Colonel Mendoza at length. And he said he had six targets in '94, Yousef had chosen 10 Islamic pilots. The plot was well in motion 1994 and he gave to it the FBI in essentially in the spring of 1995. The problem was the bureau then, they capture Yousef, they had him for World Trade one, they had him for the Bojinka plot and no one wanted to go looking for the second gun man in the grass. You know, they thought they had contained the threat.

ZAHN: Before we let you go, we do not have a direct reaction from the FBI to what you have allege in this book.

Have you heard from the FBI?

LANCE: Only through the "New York Daily News" today where they called my book a rehash of old stories. And the FBI has to face the fact that they made massive mistakes, perhaps my title in book -- subtitle is who is guarding the guardians themselves? Perhaps the people on Capitol Hill will take some this seriously and change will come. Right now I perceive America to be at grave risk.

ZAHN: Peter Lance, hate to leave it on that note, but we have to move along. Again thank you for dropping by.


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