- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

A CIA-commissioned report warned the Clinton administration in 1999 that terrorists aligned with Osama bin Laden might hijack commercial jetliners to crash into the Pentagon and government buildings in the nation's capital.

The warning, given to high-ranking administration officials in September 1999, is the first known report to suggest that government sites in Washington were terrorist targets.

The alert was cited in a previously undisclosed report prepared by the research arm of the Library of Congress for the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which is attached to the CIA.

Two years later, al Qaeda terrorists crashed four jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and western Pennsylvania, killing about 3,000 people.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, wants to know what CIA officials and other government officials did with the report, which also included information that the terrorists could crash planes into CIA headquarters and the White House.

Mr. Grassley asked in a letter yesterday to the CIA's Office of Inspector General to investigate how the agency handled the information.

"The 1999 report should serve as a reminder that the focus of Congress and its oversight must be on what the intelligence communities knew and what they did in response to this knowledge," he wrote. "The FBI and CIA need to be investigated for what they did, or did not do, so we can make sure we don't make mistakes in the future."

According to the report, intelligence experts believed that suicide bombers belonging to a "martyrdom battalion" of bin Laden's al Qaeda network might crash aircraft into various government buildings. The analysts suggested that the attacks could come as possible retribution for air strikes ordered by President Clinton in 1998 against bin Laden's terrorist camps in Afghanistan.

The report titled the "Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?" noted that a terrorist linked to al Qaeda, who was arrested in the Philippines in 1995 and later convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, had suggested that such a suicide strike by a jetliner was possible.

The report was prepared for the NIC, which is made up of a dozen senior intelligence officers who assist the U.S. intelligence community in analyzing threats and priorities.

"Ramzi Yousef had planned to do this against the CIA headquarters," the report said.

Mr. Clinton yesterday said he knew about the dangerous potential of bin Laden, but discounted the suggestion that the 1999 analysis should have alerted his administration to the possibility of a terrorist attack on the scale of the September 11 attacks.

"That has nothing to do with intelligence," Mr. Clinton told the Associated Press while in Hawaii on a two-day stopover on the way to East Timor. "All that says is they used public sources to speculate on what bin Laden might do. That doesn't have anything to do with what the intelligence people, the CIA or the FBI, tell the administration."

The Bush administration has come under fire for what critics call a lack of action in the wake of a warning delivered to the president in August 2001 a month before the September 11 attacks that terrorists could be planning to hijack commercial airliners.

The administration has countered that an alert was sent to law enforcement agencies, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Department concerning hijackings but that no one in the government could have imagined jetliner attacks such as those that occurred September 11.

"I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday.

Asked about the 1999 report at his daily press briefing, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called it a psychological evaluation of terrorism. He noted that the report had long been available to members of Congress, some of whom have called for an investigation into intelligence failures in the administration.

"I don't think it's a surprise to anybody that terrorists think in evil ways," he said. "It is not a piece of intelligence information suggesting that we had information about a specific plan."

President Bush yesterday said that had he known "the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to demand that Mr. Bush explain his response to the report received in August, citing a New York newspaper headline that suggested the president knew in advance of the September attacks.

"The President knew what? My constituents would like to know the answers to those questions," Mrs. Clinton said. "Not to blame the President or any American."

Mr. Grassley, in a letter to CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson, said the report lists al Qaeda and bin Laden as "one of the most dangerous threats to the United States." He said U.S. authorities should expect that the terrorist mastermind and the organization "will most likely retaliate in a spectacular way for the cruise missile attack against his Afghan camp in August 1998."

"Clearly, this represents one of the most alarming indicators and warning signs of the terrorist plot of September 11, 2001," Mr. Grassley said. "The fact that the government, and specifically an intelligence arm of the government, had a report in hand that Islamic terrorists could crash planes into buildings raises serious questions how the government responded."

Mr. Grassley noted in the letter that the report was commissioned in January 1999 by the NIC, which reports directly to the director of the CIA and that it was completed and submitted in September 1999. He said it was not circulated to other government agencies.

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