Following the September 11 attacks, there has been a lively, worldwide debate about whether anybody had foreknowledge of the attacks and should have taken action to try and prevent them. The 9/11 advance-knowledge debate is sometimes associated with 9/11 conspiracy theories. However, certain questions of 9/11 foreknowledge are distinct from conspiracy theories because they propose incompetence and failures on the parts of many people and entities, not a deliberate allowance of the attacks to occur.
Some of the issues under debate include whether the Bush administration or military knew about the threat of planes being used as missiles; how much the intelligence agencies knew about al-Qaeda activities inside the United States; whether the put options placed on United Airlines and American Airlines and other trades indicate foreknowledge, and why the identities of the traders have never been made public.
Also under question is whether the warnings received from foreign countries were specific enough to have warranted action; whether intelligence information gathered about imminent al Qaeda attacks was specific enough to have warranted action; the extent to which the alleged hijackers were under surveillance prior to the attacks; and whether agents of the Mossad or the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence were aware that the attacks were going to take place.
Immediately following the attacks, President George W. Bush stated that "nobody in our government at least, and I don't the think the prior government, could envisage flying air planes into buildings" and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice claimed no-one "could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile". An Air Force general called the attack "something we had never seen before, something we had never even thought of." Soon after the attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller announced "there were no warning signs that I'm aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country."
Some mainstream media reports have conflicted with these statements, claiming that the FBI and CIA knew of the threat of planes being used as missiles as early as 1995, following the foiling of the Bojinka Plot. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that:
The FBI had advance indications of plans to hijack U.S. airliners and use them as weapons, but neither acted on them nor distributed the intelligence to local police agencies. From the moment of the September 11 attacks, high-ranking federal officials insisted that the terrorists’ method of operation surprised them. Many stick to that story. Actually, elements of the hijacking plan were known to the FBI as early as 1995 and, if coupled with current information, might have uncovered the plot.”
A 2004 USA Today article, "NORAD had drills of jets as weapons", describes pre-9/11 NORAD drills that suggest they were prepared for such an attack as happened on 9/11:
"In the two years before the September 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conducted exercises simulating what the White House says was unimaginable at the time: hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties. One of the imagined targets was the World Trade Center. In another exercise, jets performed a mock shootdown over the Atlantic Ocean of a jet supposedly laden with chemical poisons headed toward a target in the United States. In a third scenario, the target was the Pentagon — but that drill was not run after Defense officials said it was unrealistic."
That NORAD was aware of the threat of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States, and using them as guided missiles, was flatly denied by the 9/11 Commission, which asserted several times in their report that "The threat of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States -- and using them as guided missiles -- was not recognized by NORAD before 9/11."
The Joint Inquiry of 2002 confirmed that the Intelligence Community had received at least twelve reports over a seven-year period suggesting that terrorists might use planes as weapons. After briefly discussing each of them, it says that "The CIA disseminated several of these reports to the FBI and to agencies responsible for preventive actions. They included the FAA... Despite these reports, the Intelligence Community did not produce any assessments of the likelihood that terrorists would use planes as weapons, and U.S. policymakers apparently remained unaware of this kind of potential threat." Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testified to the Joint Inquiry:
"We heard of the idea of planes as weapons, but I don't recall being presented with any specific threat information about an attack of this nature, or highlighting this threat, or indicating it was more likely than any other"
The Times reported on September 18 that investigations were under way into the unusually large numbers of shares in insurance companies and airlines sold off before the attack, in the UK, Italy, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, France and the US. News accounts in the weeks that followed reported a notable pattern of trading in the options of United and American Airlines as well as Morgan Stanley and other market activity. An article published in The Journal of Business in 2006 provides statistical evidence of unusual put option market activity days before 9/11:
Examination of the option trading leading up to September 11 reveals that there was an unusually high level of put buying. This finding is consistent with informed investors having traded options in advance of the attacks.
Never before on the Chicago Exchange were such large amounts of United and American Airlines options traded. These investors netted a profit of at least $5 million after the September 11 attacks. Interestingly, the names of the investors remain undisclosed and the $5 million remains unclaimed in the Chicago Exchange account.
Regarding these trades, the 9/11 Commission found no malfeasance:
A single U.S.-based institutional investor with no conceivable ties to al Qaeda purchased 95% of the UAL puts on September 6 as part of a trading strategy that also included buying 115,000 shares of American on September 10... much of the seemingly suspicious trading in American on September 10 was traced to a specific U.S.-based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9, that recommended these trades.
9/11 Truth Movement members Jim Hoffman, Michael Ruppert and David Ray Griffin are among those who criticise the 9/11 Commission for using a circular argument in concluding that the trades were innocuous primarily because there were no ties to Al-Qaeda. Ruppert also claims that the intelligence agencies constantly monitor the stock exchange and should have "connected the dots" to realise that an event was about to take place involving American Airlines, United Airlines, and the World Trade Center.
The papers of two finance researchers also suggest some profited from foreknowledge of 9/11. Allen Poteshman, a professor of finance at the University of Illinois, published a paper demonstrating insider trading in options on United and American airline stocks. He concluded that, “There is evidence of unusual option market activity in the days leading up to September 11.” Similarly, Marc Chesney and Loriano Mancini, professors at the University of Zurich, reached the same conclusion in their research.
The 9/11 Commission Report states that "the 9/11 attacks were a shock, but they should not have come as a surprise. Islamic extremists had given plenty of warnings that they meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers." The Report continued:
"During the spring and summer of 2001, U.S. intelligence agencies received a stream of warnings about an attack al Qaeda planned, as one report puts it "something very, very, very big." Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet told us "the system was blinking red.""
The US administration, CIA and FBI received multiple prior warnings from foreign governments and intelligence services, including France, Germany, the UK, Israel, Jordan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Morocco and Russia. The warnings varied in their level of detail, but all stated that they believed an Al Qaeda attack inside the United States was imminent. British Member of Parliament Michael Meacher cites these warnings, suggesting that some of them must have been deliberately ignored. Some of these warnings include the following:
In her testimony to the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice stated that "the threat reporting that we received in the spring and summer of 2001 was not specific as to time nor place nor manner of attack. Almost all the reports focused on al Qaeda activities outside the United States." However, on August 6, 2001, the President's Daily Briefing, entitled Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US warned that bin Laden was planning to exploit his operatives' access to the U.S. to mount a terrorist strike:
FBI information... indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country, consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attack.
Rice responded, when being asked about the PDB at the Commission hearings, that "it wasn't something that we felt we needed to do anything about".
A classified military intelligence program known as "Able Danger" was created in October 1999 specifically targeting al Qaeda. Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) charged before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Able Danger had identified Mohamed Atta, and three of the other hijackers, prior to 9/11.
The existence of Able Danger, and its purported early identification of the 9/11 terrorists, was first disclosed publicly on June 19, 2005. On June 27, 2005, Weldon stated to the House:
Mr. Speaker, I rise because information has come to my attention over the past several months that is very disturbing. I have learned that, in fact, one of our Federal agencies had, in fact, identified the major New York cell of Mohamed Atta prior to 9/11; and I have learned, Mr. Speaker, that in September 2000, that Federal agency actually was prepared to bring the FBI in and prepared to work with the FBI to take down the cell that Mohamed Atta was involved in in New York City, along with two of the other terrorists. I have also learned, Mr. Speaker, that when that recommendation was discussed within that Federal agency, the lawyers in the administration at that time said, you cannot pursue contact with the FBI against that cell. Mohamed Atta is in the U.S. on a green card, and we are fearful of the fallout from the Waco incident. So we did not allow that Federal agency to proceed.
There is no mention of Able Danger in the 9/11 Commission Report. Two 9/11 Commission members, Timothy J. Roemer and John F. Lehman, both claimed not to have received any information on Able Danger. Weldon alleged that intelligence concerning Able Danger was provided to the 9/11 Commission but was ignored.
Following coverage in the national media of Weldon's claims in August 2005, Thomas Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, former Chair and Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission, issued a statement in which they stated the Commission had been aware of the Able Danger program, and requested and obtained information about it from the Department of Defense (DoD), but none of the information provided had indicated the program had identified Atta or other 9/11 hijackers.
Curt Weldon issued a response to this statement clarifying the mission of Able Danger, expressing concern over the statements made by various members of the 9/11 Commission, and promising to push forward until it is understood why the DoD was unable to pass the information uncovered by Able Danger to the FBI, and why the 9/11 Commission failed to follow up on the information they were given on Able Danger.
In December 2006, an investigation by the US Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Weldon's assertions were unfounded. It rejected as untrue "one of the most disturbing claims about the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes." Reacting to the Pentagon report, Weldon said that it "trashes the reputations of military officers who had the courage to step forward and... describe important work they were doing to track al-Qaida prior to 9/11".
Numerous whistleblowers and officials have surfaced, claiming that there was a deliberate effort, from high-ranking officials, to prevent investigations into Al Qaeda.
In 2002, FBI agent Coleen Rowley wrote to FBI director Robert Mueller describing her experience working with Minneapolis FBI agents tracking suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui prior to the attacks. She describes how FBI HQ personnel in Washington, D.C. had mishandled and failed to take action on information provided by the Minneapolis Field Office, and had failed to issue a warrant to search Moussaui's computer despite having probable cause. Rowley goes on to describe her superior, Agent Marion "Spike" Bowman, as having “consistently, almost deliberately thwarted the Minneapolis FBI agents' efforts” to obtain the search warrant. Senator Chuck Grassley later wrote that “If the application for the FISA warrant had gone forward, agents would have found information in Moussaoui's belongings that linked him ... to a major financier of the hijacking plot". Rowley was credited as a whistleblower and jointly awarded the TIME Magazine "Person of the Year" for 2002. Her testimony to the 9/11 Commission was omitted from their final report.
FBI agent and Al-Qaeda expert John P. O'Neill warned of an Al-Qaeda threat to the United States in 2000. He retired from his position in mid 2001, citing repeated blocking of his investigations of Al Qaeda by FBI officials. After his retirement from the FBI, the World Trade Center hired him as its chief of security. He started work on September 11, 2001; 9/11 rescue workers found his body in a staircase inside the south tower rubble.
Shortly after the attacks, David Schippers, the chief prosecutor for the impeachment of Bill Clinton, stated that the government had been warned in 1995 about a future attack on a government building and that later he was contacted by three FBI agents who mentioned uncovering a possible terrorist attack planned for lower Manhattan. According to Mr. Schippers, as the agents informed their superiors, they were briefed not to pursue the issue and were threatened with prosecution. Mr. Schippers declared, "Five weeks before the September 11 tragedy, I did my best to get a hold of Attorney General John Ashcroft with my concerns." According to Mr. Schippers, Ashcroft responded that the Justice Department does not start investigations at the top. Author William Norman Grigg agrees with Mr. Schippers in his article "Did We Know What Was Coming?" According to the article, three unnamed veteran federal law enforcement agents confirmed "the information provided to Schippers was widely known within the Bureau before September 11."
According to Senator Bob Graham, who was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee from June 2001 through the buildup to the Iraq war, "Two of the September 11, 2001, hijackers had a support network in the United States that included agents of the Saudi government, and the Bush administration and FBI blocked a congressional investigation into that relationship," as reported by the Miami Herald. And in Graham's book, Intelligence Matters, he makes clear that some details of that financial support from Saudi Arabia were in the 27 pages of the congressional inquiry's final report that were blocked from release by the administration, despite the pleas of leaders of both parties on the House and Senate intelligence committees."
There have also been allegations that the hijackers' preparations may have been given assistance by U.S. intelligence. According to CBS news, "two of the Sept. 11 hijackers who lived in San Diego in 2000 rented a room from a man who reportedly worked as an undercover FBI informant... the FBI informant prayed with them and even helped one open a bank account." Doubts have been raised about the speed with which the hijackers were identified, leading to suggestions that the FBI already had the names of the hijackers in advance. In his book Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke said that at 9:59 am on September 11, which is the time when WTC2 collapsed and 8 minutes before NORAD even knew Flight 93 had been hijacked, the FBI already had a list of the 19 alleged hijackers. A former high-level intelligence official said that "Whatever trail was left was left deliberately—for the F.B.I. to chase."
It has been suggested that some foreign governments and intelligence agencies may have had some foreknowledge of the attacks. In particular, the possible foreknowledge of the Israeli Mossad, and possible financial ties to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, have raised doubts about the 9/11 Commission Report conclusion that no one outside the terrorist organisation al Qaeda was involved or had foreknowledge of the attacks. There are also questions about how much was known by other governments and intelligence agencies in countries such as France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt, which all warned the United States of an imminent attack.
Sibel Edmonds, an FBI translator, stated that the FBI received information in April 2001, from a reliable Iranian intelligence asset, that Osama Bin Laden was planning attacks on 4-5 cities with planes, and that some of the plotters were already in the country and the attacks would happen in a few months.
In September, 2001, The New York Times and Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that four hours after the attack, the FBI arrested five Israelis (Paul Kurzberg, Sivan Kurzberg, Oded Ellner, Yaron Shmuel and Omer Gavriel Marmari) who had been filming the smoking skyline from the roof of a white van in the parking lot of an apartment building, for "puzzling behavior". They were charged with illegally residing in the United States and working there without permits. The Israelis were said to have been videotaping the disaster with cries of "joy and mockery". Police found the van and a search revealed $4,700 in cash hidden, along with foreign passports and a boxcutter which aroused suspicions and led to the detention of the occupants. The men were held in detention for more than 2 months, during which time they were subjected to interrogation and lie detector tests, before being deported back to Israel; one of the men (Paul Kurzberg) refused to take the test for 10 weeks, and then failed it. There has been speculation as to whether the men had advance knowledge of the attacks.
The five men worked at the company Urban Moving Systems, owned and operated by Dominick Suter. After the men were arrested the FBI searched their offices and questioned Suter, however Suter fled to Israel before he could be questioned further. Eventually, Suter's name appeared on the May 2002 FBI Suspect List, along with the Sept. 11 hijackers and other suspected Muslim extremists.
According to a former CIA chief of operations for counterterrorism Vince Cannistraro, there was speculation that Urban Moving Systems may have been a front for an intelligence operation investigating fund-raising networks channeling money to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. On March 15, 2002, The Forward claimed that the FBI had concluded that the van's driver, Paul Kurzberg, and his brother Sivan, were indeed Mossad operatives, who were in America "spying on local Arabs". ABC news cited this report on June 21, 2002, adding that the FBI had concluded that the five Israelis had no foreknowledge of the attacks.
In March, 2001, the US Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive had issued a warning about people identifying themselves as "Israeli art students" attempting to bypass security and gain entry to federal buildings, and even to the private residences of senior federal officials. It has been suggested that operatives in this "art student spy ring" were tracking the 9/11 hijackers and knew that the attacks were going to take place, although a Drug Enforcement Agency memo leaked in December 2001, warning military bases to be on the alert for “possible intelligence collection being conducted by Israeli art students”, was primarily concerned with the students' efforts to foil investigations into unrelated Israeli organized crime. In 2002 several officials dismissed reports of a spy ring and said the allegations were made by a Drug Enforcement Agency who was angry his theories had been dismissed.
The Associated Press reported that "Israeli intelligence services were aware several months before Sept. 11 that bin Laden was planning a large-scale terror attack" and that this information was passed on to Washington. According to Fox News, In August 2001, Israel warned the US that an al-Qaeda attack is imminent. Reportedly, two high-ranking agents from the Mossad come to Washington and warned the FBI and CIA that up to 200 terrorists have slipped into the US and are planning "a major assault on the United States... [on a] large scale target."
On February 18, 2009, The New York Times reported that Ali al-Jarrah a Palestinian activist and cousin of 9/11 hijacker Ziad al-Jarrah, was arrested in Lebanon on charges of being a paid Mossad asset over the last two decades. The Times reported that the two cousins were 20 years apart and did not know each other very well. On March 1, the Daily Pakistan noted that they did know each other and reprinted 1993 reporting by The Village Voice that Ahmad Ajaj arrested on conspiracy charges in the First World Trade Center bombing might have had a Mossad connection.
On December 5, 2007 French authorities filed preliminary charges against Guillaume Dasquié, a reporter for the daily Le Monde, for publishing state secrets related to the 9/11 hijackings. Dasquié's April 16 article in Le Monde, titled "September 11: the French had long known" claimed the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), had warned the U.S. of a possible terrorist plot that involved al-Qaeda hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings some eight months before 9/11. The article contained excerpts from a 328-page classified DGSE report on al-Qaeda activities which included maps, analyses, graphics, and satellite photos.
Moderate elements of the Taliban are reported to have given the USA advance warning of the attacks. The BBC reports that Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the Taliban's Foreign Minister, sent the USA an advance warning of the attack following a tip-off he received from Tohir Yo‘ldosh, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Like al Qaeda, the Taliban allowed the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan to place training camps in Afghanistan. Tohir Yo‘ldosh was reported to have been concerned that if al Qaeda was not stopped prior to launching the attacks, the USA would retaliate against all of Afghanistan, which would have a negative effect on his movement's efforts.
There have been claims that some individuals received warnings in advance of the attacks.
On September 6, 2001, a freshman from a class of Pakistani immigrants at New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn was overheard by his English teacher, Antoinette DiLorenzo, to say that the two World Trade Center towers "won't be standing there next week." After DiLorenzo reported the incident on September 13, the youth and his older brother were questioned by the FBI and local police. According to police, the youth admitted to making the comment but he and his brother said he had been kidding.