- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

An FBI informant knew two of the September 11 hijackers, but never suspected they were terrorists, according to a congressional report that nonetheless concludes no single piece of information could have prevented the attacks.

The unidentified informant was with Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in San Diego during the summer of 2000, although the nature of their relationship was not clear.

Almihdhar and Alhazmi recently had been linked by U.S. intelligence officials to possible terrorist activity, but that information apparently had not been shared with the FBI, the report said. Nothing the two men said or did in the presence of the informant aroused suspicion.

Almihdhar and Alhazmi were aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. The informant also may have been introduced to Hani Hanjour, who U.S. officials believe piloted that hijacked plane.

The informant’s role in the months leading up to the September 11 attacks is among new details that emerge from the 900-page declassified version of last year’s report by the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Portions of the report, scheduled for release Thursday, were described yesterday to the Associated Press by law enforcement officials on the condition of anonymity.

Blacked out in the report is a 28-page section that the officials say criticizes Saudi Arabia’s government and details its lack of interest in tackling Muslim extremism.

The report finds no single piece of intelligence or information that could have stopped the attacks, stating at one point: “The joint inquiry did not uncover a smoking gun.”

Instead, officials say the blame is spread across the federal government, from the failure by the CIA and other intelligence agencies to share information to the failure by the FBI to focus attention on a burgeoning terrorist threat inside U.S. borders.

“There’s a lot of shared failure and blame to go around,” said former Rep. Tim Roemer, Indiana Democrat, who was a member of the joint intelligence panels that conducted the inquiry.

Newsweek magazine first revealed the report’s information about the informant. According to federal enforcement officials, the informant reported contact with Almihdhar and Alhazmi to his FBI handler in the summer of 2000. The report said he gave only their first names, and there was no reason for the men to have caused misgivings since at that point neither was on government watch lists of suspected terrorists.

It wasn’t until after the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole at port in Yemen that the FBI learned both men had attended a January 2000 meeting in Malaysia of major al Qaeda operatives. The CIA had known the two attended the meeting, but apparently the information never was shared with the FBI.

On Aug. 23, 2001, three weeks before the attacks, their names were placed on lists of suspected terrorists that would have prevented them from entering the United States or allowed their arrest and detention had they tried to leave.

Because Almihdhar and Alhazmi’s names were not on the lists or provided by intelligence agencies before then, the FBI had no way of telling its San Diego informant of suspicions about them. So the informant never was asked to collect intelligence about them, the report said.

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