FBI Agent Was Prevented From Relaying Warning on 9/11 Hijackers
By Pierre Thomas
W A S H I N G T O N, May 10, 2004 â€” More than a year before 9/11, CIA officials prevented an FBI agent working with the CIA from passing vital information to his agency on two suspected al Qaeda members â€” men who later would become Sept. 11 hijackers.
U.S. officials told ABCNEWS the agent wanted to warn his FBI bosses about a gathering in Malaysia where al Qaeda suspects Khalid Al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhamzi met with suspects in the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen.
After the meeting, CIA officials learned Al-Midhar and Alhamzi had visas to enter the United States, the U.S. officials said.
"The failure to communicate that info to the FBI, which would have been potentially able to act on it, is a very serious failure," said Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general who now works for a private consulting firm.
The CIA maintains the information had already been passed to the FBI, and that was why the agent did not need to warn his bosses. The CIA cites a statement provided to Congress on Oct. 17, 2002. In it, CIA Director George Tenet refers to e-mails that agency officials say prove the information was provided to the FBI.
FBI officials, however, told ABCNEWS they had no record of these e-mails.
Information from the Malaysia meeting could have been used to begin tracking Al-Midhar and Alhamzi, who they say came to the United States in January 2000 and began flight training in San Diego. Both men would later end up aboard American Airlines Flight 77, the Boeing 757 that smashed into the Pentagon.
"If that information [got] disseminated, would it have had an impact on the events of 9/11?" asked Jack Cloonan, an ABCNEWS consultant who previously worked as an FBI agent assigned to pursue members of al Qaeda. "I'm telling you that it would have."
Al-Midhar and Alhamzi could have been placed on a terrorism watch list, and U.S. customs and border officials might have spotted them. There were not put on the watch list until August 2001, just a month before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Al-Midhar left the United States and came back just two months before 9/11 attacks â€” no questions asked. He arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, using his own name. Then he disappeared until Sept. 11, 2001.
Bromwich described the missed opportunity as "frustrating, troubling, tragic."
"I think the failure of our government to work in the way we hoped it would is a deep set back in our confidence that our government can protect us," he said