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In February 2002, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence agreed to conduct a Joint Inquiry into the activities of the U.S. Intelligence Community in connection with the terrorist attacks perpetrated against our nation on September 11, 2001. Reflecting the magnitude of the events of that day, the Committees’ decision was unprecedented in Congressional history: for the first time, two permanent committees, one from the House and one from the Senate, would join together to conduct a single, unified inquiry.

The three principal goals of this Joint Inquiry were to:

􀂉􀀃 conduct a factual review of what the Intelligence Community knew or should have known prior to September 11, 2001, regarding the international terrorist threat to the United States, to include the scope and nature of any possible international terrorist attacks against the United States and its interests;

􀂉􀀃 identify and examine any systemic problems that may have impeded the Intelligence Community in learning of or preventing these attacks in advance; and

􀂉􀀃 make recommendations to improve the Intelligence Community’s ability to identify and prevent future international terrorist attacks.

It should be noted that this Joint Inquiry had the specific charter to review the activities of the Intelligence Community and was limited to approximately one year’s duration. It is recognized that there are many other issues relating to the events of September 11, 2001 that are outside the limits of the Intelligence Community, and that additional new information may be developed within the Intelligence Community that was not reviewed by the Inquiry within the allotted time. With that in mind, we look forward to cooperating with the new National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States and the continuing oversight efforts of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

During the course of this Inquiry, these Committees have held nine public hearings as well as thirteen closed sessions in which classified information has been considered. In addition, the Joint Inquiry Staff has reviewed almost 500,000 pages of relevant documents from the Intelligence Community agencies and other sources, of which about 100,000 pages have been selected for incorporation into the Joint Inquiry’s records. The Staff also has conducted approximately 300 interviews, and has participated in numerous briefings and panel discussions, that have involved almost 600 individuals from the Intelligence Community agencies, other U.S. Government organizations, state and local entities, and representatives of the private sector and foreign governments. Thus, the Inquiry has sought and considered information from agencies throughout the Intelligence Community and other parts of the federal government; from relevant state and local authorities; and from private sector and foreign government individuals and organizations. This report is based on information gathered by the Committees throughout this Inquiry as well as testimony and exhibits received during the course of both the closed and open hearings. Consistent with the need to protect the national security, the Committees will also subsequently issue an unclassified version of this report for public release.*

The statement of the Committees’ findings and recommendations in Part I of this report includes only a brief summary of the nature of the terrorist threat that faced the United States, and the Intelligence Community, in the years that preceded the vicious attacks of September 11, 2001. Given the scope of the information and issues considered during the course of this Inquiry, these findings and recommendations can only be completely understood against the background of the full hearing and investigative record. To provide that context, a detailed description of the hearings and investigative work of the Joint Inquiry is contained in Part II of this report.1

  • This is the unclassified version of the original classified report that was approved by the Joint Inquiry.


September 11, 2001, while indelible in our collective memory, was by no means America’s first confrontation with international terrorism. Although the nature of the threat had evolved considerably over time, the United States and its interests have long been prime terrorist targets. For example, the bombings of the Marine barracks and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983 should have served as a clear warning that terrorist groups were not reluctant to attack U.S. interests when they believed such attacks would further their ends.

The Intelligence Community also had considerable evidence before September 11 that international terrorists were capable of, and had planned, major terrorist strikes within the United States. The 1993 attack on the World Trade Center confirmed this point, as did the 1993 plots to bomb New York City landmarks and the [[1999 arrest at the U.S.-Canadian border of Ahmad Ressam]], who intended to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport.

Usama Bin Ladin’s role in international terrorism had also been well known for some time before September 11. He initially came to the attention of the Intelligence Community in the early 1990s as a financier of terrorism. However, Bin Ladin’s own words soon provided evidence of the steadily escalating threat to the United States he and his organization posed. In August 1996, he issued a fatwa -- or religious decree -- authorizing attacks on Western military targets in the Arabian Peninsula. In February 1998, Bin Ladin issued a second fatwa authorizing attacks on U.S. civilians and military personnel anywhere in the world. Bin Ladin’s fatwas cited the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, the Palestinian issue, and U.S. support for Israel as justification for ordering these attacks.

1 Anthrax attacks in October 2001 eventually killed five Americans, contaminated the Senate Hart Office building Wikipedia in Washington, D.C. as well as U.S. Postal Service facilities in Maryland, and significantly affected the U.S. economy. The statement of Initial Scope of this Joint Inquiry made specific reference to the anthrax attacks. In pursuing that matter, the Inquiry received briefings from the FBI and the U.S. General Accounting Office Wikipedia (GAO) regarding their investigations of the anthrax attacks. It also requested that GAO’s Center for Technology and Engineering review the attacks; current knowledge regarding the use of anthrax as a weapon; technologies available to detect anthrax; and the law enforcement community’s ability to combat chemical and biological terrorist attacks, including the FBI’s resources and analytical capabilities to investigate such attacks. The GAO report has been completed. It is summarized in Part Three of this report and is included in its entirety as an appendix. To date, no connection has been established between the anthrax attacks and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The gradual emergence of Bin Ladin and others like him marked a change from the type of terrorist threat that had traditionally confronted the Intelligence Community. Throughout the Cold War Wikipedia, radical left and ethno-nationalist groups had carried out most terrorist acts. Many of these groups were state-sponsored. The first bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993, however, led to a growing recognition in the Intelligence Community of a new type of terrorism that did not conform to the Cold War model: violent radical Islamic cells, not linked to any specific country, but united in anti-American zeal. A July 1995 National Intelligence Estimate noted the danger of this “new breed”. By 1996, agencies within the Intelligence Community were aware that Bin Ladin was organizing these kinds of cells, and they began to collect intelligence on him actively.

In January 1996, the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) – which had been established at CIA in 1986 -- created a special unit that was dedicated to focusing on Bin Ladin and his associates. The unit quickly determined that he was more than a terrorist financier, and it soon became a hub for expertise on Bin Ladin and for operations directed against his terrorist network, al Qa’ida. Officials from the unit, which started with about 16 CIA officers and grew to about 40 officers from throughout the Intelligence Community prior to September 11, 2001, had unprecedented access to senior agency officials and White House policymakers.

[At the FBI, the Radical Fundamentalist Unit was created in March 1994 to handle responsibilities related to international radical fundamentalist terrorists, including Usama Bin Ladin. This Unit also handled other counterintelligence matters, and was responsible for the coordination of extraterritorial intelligence operations and criminal investigations targeted at radical fundamentalist terrorists. In 1999, the FBI recognized the increased threat to the United States posed by Bin Ladin and created the Usama Bin Ladin Unit to handle al-Qa’ida-related counterterrorism matters].

[As al-Qa’ida grew, both CIA and FBI officials recognized that the foreign intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies of foreign governments, collectively referred to as “foreign liaison,” could be of great value in penetrating and countering the organization. They understood that foreign liaison could act as a tremendous force multiplier against terrorism and, with that in mind, tried to coordinate and streamline what had been ad hoc relationships. As a result, as former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testified, al-Qa’ida cells were disrupted in a number of countries after 1997. CTC also stepped up its efforts to enhance the capabilities of some foreign liaison services to work against joint terrorist targets. These efforts had mixed results].

The FBI also increased its focus on counterterrorism, establishing its own Counterterrorism Center at FBI Headquarters in 1996. Recognizing the importance of good relationships with foreign liaison services, the FBI expanded the permanent stationing of agents, known as Legal Attaches, or “Legats,” in principal cities across the globe. In addition to improving relations with foreign services, the FBI engaged in an aggressive program with the CIA to arrest terrorists outside the United States. Finally, the FBI established Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) in thirty-five field offices before September 11. These task forces were designed to bring together a range of federal, state and local agencies that could provide valuable assistance in counterterrorism investigations.

The August 1998 bombing of two American embassies in East Africa definitively put the U.S. Intelligence Community on notice of the danger that Bin Ladin and his network, al-Qa’ida, posed. The attacks showed that Bin Ladin’s network was capable of carrying out very bloody, simultaneous attacks and inflicting mass casualties. In December 1998, George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, gave a chilling direction to his deputies at the CIA:

We must now enter a new phase in our effort against Bin Ladin. . .

. We are at war. . . . I want no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside the CIA or the Community.

Discovering and disrupting al-Qa’ida’s plans proved exceptionally difficult, however. Details of major terrorist plots were not widely shared within the al-Qa’ida organization, making it hard to develop the intelligence necessary to preempt or disrupt attacks. Senior al-Qa’ida officials were sensitive to operational security, and many al- Qa'ida members enjoyed sanctuary in Afghanistan, where they could safely plan and train for their missions. Finally, senior members of al-Qa'ida were skilled and purposeful: they learned from their mistakes and were flexible in organization and planning.

Nonetheless, particularly after the bombings in East Africa, the Intelligence Community amassed a body of information detailing Bin Ladin’s ties to terrorist activities against U.S. interests around the world. Armed with that information, prior to September 11, 2001, U.S. Government counterterrorist efforts to identify and disrupt terrorist operations focused to a substantial degree on Bin Ladin and his network. The Intelligence Community achieved some successes – in some cases, major successes – in these operations. In other cases, little came of the Intelligence Community’s efforts.

By late 2000 and 2001, the Intelligence Community was engaged in an extensive, shadowy struggle against al-Qa’ida. Despite such efforts, Bin Ladin carried out successful and devastating attacks against Americans and citizens of other nations, including the bombing of USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000 and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.


Main article: Joint Enquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Part One Section III full text


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