The glaring incompetence of the FBI’s top brass isn’t limited to just the past few years. It stretches back to the year 2001, when a lower-level FBI agent tried unsuccessfully to warn the top brass about the impending Sept. 11th terror attacks.
The agent, Ken Williams, penned the “Phoenix memo” in July 2021, two months before the devastating terror attacks. The memo “warned that potential terrorists were attending American flight schools,” according to station KTVK.
“In the memo, Williams warned that Osama bin Laden was sending students to U.S. flight schools to train them for potential terrorist activity,” KTVK notes.
Included among these potential terrorists was Hani Hanjour, who reportedly trained at several Arizona flight schools and also studied at the University of Arizona.
He later “became the hijacker pilot who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on 9/11, killing all 64 people on board and 125 people in the Pentagon.”
As for Williams, he eventually testified to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about the matter. Committee members were livid.
“It went to Washington, and nothing was done about it. The FBI in Washington was either asleep, inept or both,” then-Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican, said at the time.
The Department of Justice conducted its own investigation and “acknowledged several problems in how the Phoenix EC [electronic communication] was handled,” according to a special report from the Office of the Inspector General.
“The FBI stated that the information raised in the EC should have been analyzed by the FBI, but that such analysis did not occur before September 11. In addition, the FBI acknowledged that the Phoenix EC should have been disseminated to other intelligence agencies and to the FBI’s field offices for their consideration, but it was not disseminated before September 11,” the report reads.
In the memo, Williams made several recommendations that are now listed below:
- “FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison” with the schools;
- “[FBI Headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the U.S. intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions”; and
- “[FBI Headquarters] should consider seeking the necessary authority to obtain visa information from the [Department of State] on individuals obtaining visas to attend these types of schools and notify the appropriate FBI field office when these individuals are scheduled to arrive in their area of responsibility.”
The FBI reportedly did none of this.
Despite this, the bureau ultimately decided to let everybody off the hook.
“In sum, our examination of the FBI’s handling of the Phoenix EC found that the individuals who handled it did not violate FBI policies and practices at the time, but they did not do all they could have, and should have, to respond to it or the recommendations in it,” the OIG report reads.
“They should have sought input from others in the FBI, assured that the EC received the necessary analysis, and also sought input from the Intelligence Community about the theories and suggestions contained in it,” it continues.
Why was everybody left off the hook? Because the bureau blamed its own “policies and practices” for the mishap versus any individual person.
“[W]e believe that their actions were not surprising, given that the policies and practices under which they operated were extremely flawed. We found that IOSs [Intelligence Operations Specialists] were not properly managed and that supervisors should have been more actively involved in the work assigned to IOSs,” the report reads.
“In addition, as an institution, the FBI was focused on its operational priorities at the expense of conducting strategic analysis. Furthermore, the FBI lacked a systematic approach to information sharing and lacked adequate tools to facilitate such information sharing both within and outside the FBI. As a result of these systemic failures, the FBI did not give the Phoenix EC the consideration that it deserved.”
The report continues with the FBI claiming they don’t know for certain that the memo would have made a difference had it been handled appropriately.
“We cannot know for certain what the FBI would have concluded prior to September 11 if the FBI had applied strategic analysis to the theory posed by the Phoenix EC or what information may have been uncovered in support of the theory if the Phoenix EC had been shared with the Intelligence Community or within the FBI,” the report reads.
“We also cannot know what role, if any, the pieces of other information described above would have played in the analysis of this question,” it adds.
The report concludes with the FBI at least admitting that an intelligence failure did occur: “What we do know is that the FBI was not adequately analyzing information for the purpose of drawing conclusions and making predictions. This was a significant intelligence failure, which hindered the chances of the FBI being able to detect and prevent the September 11 attacks.”
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