- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

Airlines nationwide were alerted before the September 11 attacks on America that terrorists planned to hijack a jetliner, but the information was so vague that no enhanced security efforts were made, industry officials said yesterday.
One airline executive, who asked not to be identified, said the warning "contained no specificity" regarding targets or sites, and never mentioned the possibility a hijacked jetliner laden with fuel could be used in a suicide strike against U.S. buildings or other targets.
According to the executive, the FAA notice said there was "no credible" information regarding any specific hijacking target, although terrorists were believed to be planning and training for hijackings. He said the FAA advised the airlines to "use caution."
Another industry official, who also requested anonymity, said the warning was not clear as to whether the hijackers had planned to target aircraft in the United States or overseas.
That official also said the alert was issued as an "information circular" to the airlines from law enforcement officials who had "concerns" about a potential hijacking.
He said the only specific information given to the airlines were unconfirmed reports that some terrorists had new technology to hide weapons inside cellular phones and pens.
The White House confirmed yesterday that the CIA told President Bush while he was on vacation at his ranch in Texas in early August 2001 of intelligence information suggesting that al Qaeda terrorists planned to hijack a jetliner.
Administration officials said the information was not specific and made no mention of .suicide strikes against U.S. targets. They said the data was passed to federal law enforcement agencies, the Treasury Department and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA then sent warnings to the airlines and airports across the country, saying Osama bin Laden's group might be planning to hijack an airplane, although the alert did not mention suicide strikes.
U.S. authorities, at the time of the alert, knew that terrorists considered using airliners to attack specific targets. In 1994, Algerian terrorists took over a plane, intending to crash it into the Eiffel Tower, but French authorities overpowered them on the ground. In 1995, terrorists in the Philippines considered hijacking several trans-Pacific planes to crash into U.S. targets, including CIA headquarters, but that plot never got past the planning stages.
In the September 11 attacks, two of the suspected terrorists were on FBI watch lists, but the bureau, the Justice Department and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service did not share and were not required to share that information with the FAA or the airlines.
Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, both from Saudi Arabia, were placed on the watch list last summer after U.S. intelligence officials received information that they had met with known terrorists. By the time they were placed on the list, however, they already were in the United States.
Both men were on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.
A car registered to Alhazmi was found at Washington Dulles International Airport the day after the attacks. It contained a cashier's check made out to a flight school in Phoenix; four drawings of the cockpit of a 757 jet; a box-cutter-type knife; and maps of Washington and New York.
The Airline Security Bill, approved after the September 11 suicide attacks, now requires the FBI to share information about suspected terrorists with the FAA and airline officials.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored an amendment to the bill that required the Justice and Transportation departments to notify the FAA and airline or airport security officials of persons who pose a risk of air piracy or terrorism.
The Leahy amendment also provided civil immunity for airlines and airline employees who reported information on potential safety threats or criminal violations to the Justice or Transportation departments, or to a law enforcement or security officer.


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