|| THE CONNECTION,
JUST discovered by congressional investigators, has stunned some top
counterterrorism officials and raised new concerns about the
information-sharing among U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence agencies.
The two hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, were hardly unknown
to the intelligence community. The CIA was first alerted to them in
January 2000, when the two Saudi nationals showed up at a Qaeda “summit”
in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. FBI officials have argued internally for months
that if the CIA had more quickly passed along everything it knew about the
two men, the bureau could have hunted them down more aggressively.
|| In the meantime,
the CIA was gathering more information about just how potentially
dangerous both men were. A few months after the October 2000 bombing of
the USS Cole in Yemen, CIA analysts discovered —in their Malaysia file
that one of the chief suspects in the Cole attack— Tawfiq bin Attash—was
present at the “summit” and had been photographed with Almihdhar and
Alhazmi. But it wasn’t until Aug. 23, 2001, that the CIA sent out an
urgent cable to U.S. border and law-enforcement agencies identifying the
two men as “possible” terrorists. By then it was too late. The bureau did
not realize the San Diego connection until a few days after 9-11, when the
informant heard the names of the Pentagon hijackers and called his case
agent. “I know those guys,” the informant purportedly said, referring to
Almihdhar and Alhazmi. “They were my roommates.”
But the belated discovery has unsettled some members of the joint
House and Senate intelligence committees investigating the 9-11 attacks.
The panel is tentatively due to begin public hearings as early as Sept.
18, racing to its end-of-the-year deadline. But some members are now
worried that they won’t get to the bottom of what really happened by then.
Support for legislation creating a special blue-ribbon investigative
panel, similar to probes conducted after Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy
assassination, is increasing. Only then, some members say, will the public
learn whether more 9-11 secrets are buried in the government’s
—with Jamie Reno