By James Zumwalt, Special for USDR
As another 9/11 anniversary date arrives, anxiety levels for those in law enforcement and the intelligence community increase. Islamic terrorists attach a great deal of symbolism to certain dates and events—9/11 is definitely one of them.
One sign an attack may be imminent is increased communications among terrorists. Such has recently been the case. Other indicators are being assessed as well, but the increased chatter is worrisome.
Because the terrorist threat will remain serious for decades to come, this 9/11 anniversary—as well as many more in the future—will involve much nail biting by Americans hoping the correct security assessment has been made.
The 9/11 Commission Report stated: “The 9/11 attacks came as a shock, but they should not have come as a surprise. Islamic extremists had given plenty of warning that they meant to kill American indiscriminately and in large numbers.”
Prior to September 11, 2001, numerous indicators existed that, as one report noted, “something very, very, very big” was in the wind. As George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, said, “The system was blinking red.”
Just like Pearl Harbor almost 60 years earlier, the U.S. President knew an attack was imminent but absolutely no idea what it was targeting. In fact, less than a month before 9/11, the intelligence pointed to an overseas target.
What is worrisome is that many of the pre-existing 9/11 dots indicating a terrorist attack in the U.S. was imminent were not connected.
A month before 9/11, terrorists—last spotted in Southeast Asia in January 2000—were known to be in the U.S.
A would-be 9/11 hijacker—who aroused suspicion when he sought fast-track training on how to pilot large jet liners—was arrested August 16, 2001 for immigration violations.
These, and other indicators, should have triggered urgent analytical action. But, as one government official later put it, “No analytic work foresaw the lightning that could connect the thundercloud to the ground.”
Are we safer today than we were thirteen years ago?
Unfortunately, security against terrorist strikes is similar to safety designs built into passenger aircraft—i.e., much of it comes from “lessons learned” after a post-crash investigation and the loss of many lives. Thus, oftentimes, the best existing security system to prevent a future terrorist attack is one designed to fill in the gaps of an earlier system terrorists successfully penetrated. In other words, it effectively is a “repaired” security system that has now filled the earlier unforeseen deficiencies.
It is worrisome, however, when symbolic anniversaries approach and previously identified flaws still plague the system.
The 9/11 Commission identified numerous flaws contributing to the success of the terrorist attacks that day. In the airline industry, particularly, changes were quickly implemented to correct them. However, even those quick adjustments have subsequently been further modified due to near-successful attacks by the shoe and underwear bombers. Good security did not prevent those attacks. The wannabe terrorists saw their hopes fizzle only because of ineffective bomb technology doing the same thing.
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approached, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission issued a report card on August 31, 2011, concerning the status of the implementation of its recommendations. Clearly, as far as having the best existing security system—i.e., a repaired system incorporating all of the 9/11 lessons learned—it was not there yet. Of the 41 recommendations made in the final 9/11 Commission report, nine still remained to be done. Thus, the tenth anniversary report card stated:
“Today, our country is undoubtedly safer and more secure than it was a decade ago. We have damaged our enemy, but the ideology of violent Islamist extremism is alive and attracting new adherents, including right here in our own country.
“The terrorist threat will be with us far into the future, demanding that we be ever vigilant. Changing circumstances require that we regularly reassess our priorities and expenditures to determine what is needed to defend our country and people.”
Of the thirteen chapters of the 9/11 Commission’s final report, eleven focused on what happened and only two on future prevention. Most of the prevention measures were directed at intelligence reform.
While the 9/11 Commission’s report card gave high marks to improvements, there was a much different overall grade given by those most impacted by the events of that day—the “9/11 Families for a Secure America Foundation.”
The Foundation issued its own report card in an article titled “Report Card on the 9/11 Commission’s Recommendations,” co-authored by Peter Gadiel and Patrick Dunleavy, on September 7, 2011 in the online publication “Family Security Matters.”
While the 9/11 Commission’s ten year report card tended to leave the reader with a “warm and fuzzy” feeling, the Foundation’s did not. Its overall grade was barely passing—a “D+.”
The Foundation noted in 2009, former Co-Chair Tom Kean observed:
“I’m worried that 20 percent [of the recommendations] haven’t been addressed. I’m also worried that among the 80 percent, things aren’t fully done.”
Kean’s concerns included a number of still existing gaps such as failure to enforce national standards for state driver’s licenses and other IDs which are just as important to terrorists as are weapons; lack of an exit-entry system to monitor whether foreign visitors have left the country; failure to secure U.S. borders; etc.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the bipartisan Committee indicated its purpose was not “to point fingers.” It was true to its word. It reported the attacks of 9/11 did not represent a failure on the part of the government but “a failure of imagination.”
Thirteen years after 9/11, we are now at a point where fingers need to be pointed—for the reality today is both that the terrorist threat is much greater and the reason for it is a failure of leadership.
Many of the Commission recommendations involved lower tier (i.e., lower than at the Oval Office level) coordination among various federal agencies. But some were initiatives totally within the domain of the White House that have yet to be taken. Let us examine just two of these.
Of obvious concern to the Commission was the fact that fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. While Saudi Arabia is a U.S. ally, it has long served as a promoter of extremist Islamic thought. Many years ago, the Saudi Royal family foresaw the threat such a mindset presented to its rule. Accordingly, it reached a tacit understanding with Islam’s extremist promoters. It would fund schools and mosques—many of which were established outside the country—for them to spread their violent teachings in exchange for acceptance of the Royal family’s rule.
However, as Shiite mullahs came to power in Iran in 1979, establishing the first Islamic state, fundamentalists of both sects (Shia and Sunni) saw an opportunity to advance Islam globally. After 9/11, the Saudis discovered their earlier understanding had been deemed null and void by the extremists who came back to haunt them.
Ironically, the extremists had simply taken a lesson from the pages of the Quran. Muhammad allowed followers to accept a temporary peace, but only for the deceitful purpose of gaining strength to break it in furtherance of Islam’s cause.
But what is disturbing is that, when the 9/11 Commission report was released in 2004, a 28-page section was classified so as to deny public scrutiny. The classified section can only be read by members of Congress who cannot then comment on it. However, it is believed the classification was prompted, under the administration of George W. Bush, because it made a damning connection to the Saudi government’s complicity.
President Obama had promised to de-classify this section, but has yet to do so.
The 9/11 Commission report underscored the importance of the U.S. engaging the Saudi government to build a closer relationship in which mutual goals were identified and pursued in a united effort, with a commitment by both to fight violent extremists fomenting hatred.
This has not yet happened. In fact, just the opposite has occurred as President Obama has driven a wedge in the U.S./Saudi alliance—most recently evidenced by Riyadh’s military actions in Syria without prior consultations with Washington. Additionally, the Saudis have distanced themselves due to Obama’s repeated overtures to Riyadh’s foe—Iran.
Congressmen who have read these pages have been clear going public with the information definitely would not endanger national security. It sounds more like our national security is being endangered by keeping the American public in the dark just to protect the Saudis. This all goes to the need—in a Muslim world filled with complex relationships—for Americans to know exactly who their friends and who their enemies really are.
Ironically, it was just such an over-classification effort within the intelligence community that was identified as a contributing cause to the 9/11 attack. It needs to be released. De-classifying these 28 pages on the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11 would be the right thing to do.
The other major shortcoming for which U.S. leadership must take responsibility is the one addressed five years ago by Commission Co-Chairman Tom Kean—the failure to secure our borders.
In 2006, the late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela began giving access within his country to Iran’s puppet terrorist group Hezbollah. The group has since been building a missile base there and linked up with Mexican drug cartels to gain access to our southern borders. Ever since, Hezbollah has been gaining tremendous influence—evidenced by drug cartel members being arrested and found to have Hezbollah tattoos.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, prior to undergoing prostate surgery September 8th, made a reference to this, boasting about his country’s role in an emerging “new world order” replacing U.S. influence as capitalism collapses—with Iran expanding its growing influence in Latin America. Meanwhile, Obama continues to dismiss this growing expansion with his characteristic “What, me worry?” attitude.
The recent influx of illegals over the last several months and Obama’s program to transport them, undocumented, to various cities throughout America, only adds more fuel to the fire concerning the issue of our unsecured borders.
While Islamic terrorists plan attacks, they are known—as was done with 9/11—to plan carefully and not rush things. While they may not have initially been planning an attack for this year’s anniversary, it may be they have concluded Allah has given them a gift with what can only be called Obama’s “open border” policy. Accordingly, this could be a reason for the increased chatter being monitored by U.S. intelligence.
It may also be, while the terrorist group ISIL may not have had immediate plans to attack the U.S. until it becomes more established in Iraq and Syria, it also sees a window of opportunity has opened in the U.S. that could close after the November elections, depending on their outcome.
ISIL has been encouraging its followers to take advantage of (what one critic has described as the) “Obamination” on our southern borders. Thus, any terrorist attack on the 9/11 anniversary would probably focus on a target just across the border.
Reportedly, various concerned federal agencies are on alert, although the White House denies it. As to whether Obama remains in the dark on the threat or simply chooses to ignore it, causing these agencies to act on their own in the absence of responsible presidential leadership, will have to be determined later.
What is clear, however, no comfort should be taken from the President’s recent claim America is safer today than it was 20 to 30 years ago. Perhaps this advice was best explained recently by former 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Obviously, referencing Obama’s preference for improving his golf game rather than solving the Nation’s problems, Romney commented:
“I don’t know if you can see the reality from the fairway, but he doesn’t see reality.”
It is interesting to note, both with both the attacks on Pearl Harbor and of 9/11, concern existed among some of the perpetrators involved in launching them.
Japan’s Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who actually developed the attack plan for Pearl Harbor, harbored his own reservations. He had been stationed in the U.S. and well understood the American fighting spirit as well as its extensive industrial base to fight a lengthy war.
Just before 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s lieutenants and Taliban leader Mullah Omar were apprehensive about attacking the U.S. However, bin Laden—confident America no long possessed the same commitment to fight a long war—evidenced by its earlier withdrawal from Somalia—overruled them.
As long as we lack leadership in the White House, there will be no similar hesitation exhibited by the “bad guys” to undertake future planned attacks against America.
As Obama continues in office, the remaining three (including 2014) 9/11 anniversaries will prove to be among the most threatening to America.