9/11 ‘could have been prevented’: ‘FBI had many pieces of puzzle’

9/11: Woman reflects on decision to leave office before attack

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Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history. The September 11 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Virginia saw 2,977 innocent people lose their lives, and a further 19 al-Qaeda terrorists too. A further 6,000 more were injured in the cowardly acts, when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers, another into the Pentagon and a fourth that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill plan to visit all three sites where the attacks unfolded, while a ceremony will be held at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum where the names of all victims will be read.

The annual Tribute in Light will also project two beams into the sky later in the evening, to symbolise the twin towers. 

It will be visible from sunset until dawn.

A documentary has shed light on the bitter feud between then FBI agent John O’Neill and top CIA official Michael Scheuer, and resulted in a lack of cooperation between the two investigating teams.

Ultimately, it has been argued that they could have prevented 9/11. 

Agent O’Neill was a counter-terrorism expert who worked as a Special Agent in Charge in the FBI. 

He retired from the FBI in August 2001 after the New York Times leaked a story about a May 2000 incident in which a briefcase containing “highly classified information” had been stolen, and started a new job as head of security at the World Trade Center.

He lost his life on September 11, and was last seen by an FBI agent walking towards a tunnel leading to the South Tower. His remains were recovered from the site on September 21.

Mr Scheuer despised agent O’Neill.

Amazon Prime documentary ‘Alone Against al-Qaeda: Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?’ explained how O’Neill was one of very few men across the world who realised the threat Osama Bin Laden and his organisation posed.

The documentary’s narrator said Scheuer and O’Neill would have been perfect allies in the fight against al-Qaeda, but “the two agents detested each other. There was no cooperation.”

Speaking to Amazon Prime, Scheuer said: “I couldn’t stand him. I thought he was someone who put himself first, the FBI second, and America somewhere down the line.

“He was a liar, and a cheat, and was constantly on the verge of bankruptcy. 

“He’s not the kind of guy you want your daughter to bring home.”

O’Neill was married with two children and a house in New Jersey, but had four women who thought that they were engaged to him to be married.

Al-Qaeda expert Lawrence Wright explained he kept all the relationships separate until his funeral, when all four met in an “unparalleled catastrophe”.

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Both the FBI and the CIA had crucial information about Bin Laden and his terror group.

Mr Wright told the documentary: “The FBI had many pieces of the pizzle. The CIA had some critical pieces of the puzzle that they didn’t put on the table.

“Had they done so, had the FBI been aware that al-Qaeda was already in America in January 2000, things might have turned out differently.

“9/11 could have been prevented, I think.”

Writing in the New Yorker, Mr Wright explained how the FBI found a phone number in Yemen in 1998 which functioned as an al-Qaeda switchboard.

Investigators had constructed a map of the organisation using data from the various callers, including Bin Laden himself. 

However, the CIA had jurisdiction on the conversations and did not provide the FBI with the information. One conversation involved Khaled al-Mihdhar, who ended up being one of the hijackers that flew a plane into the pentagon.

After a raid of a Dubai hotel room, the CIA discovered that he had a US visa, but did not alert the FBI to put him on a terror watch list, which would have stopped him entering the country.

The CIA also had further intelligence on two other men who were also on planes used during the 9/11 attacks.

Mr Wright explained the CIA was wary of O’Neill. An FBI official told him “they knew that John would have marched in there and taken control of the case”.

Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, also a 9/11 hijacker, arrived in the US almost two years before the fateful day.

The FBI made errors of their own, it should be noted.

Mr Wright added FBI chiefs rejected a proposal to interview Arabs enrolled in American flight schools. One of those they wished to interview later pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill American citizens as part of the 9/11 attacks.

In his Pulitzer Prize winning book ‘The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11’, Mr Wright wrote: “They were the two men most responsible for putting a stop to Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and yet they disliked each other intensely ‒ an emotion that reflected the ingrained antagonism of the organisations they represented.”

Scheuer’s hatred towards O’Neill was echoed in his opening line of the Amazon Prime documentary: “The only good thing that happened to the United States on 9/11 was that he [Agent O’Neill] got killed.”

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