Freeh denies FBI could have prevented 9/11 attacks

Former director testifies clues tell only in hindsight

October 09, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - FBI ex-Director Louis J. Freeh said yesterday that the agency didn't have enough facts to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and that only hindsight revealed clues pointing to the plot.

Freeh, who stepped down in June 2001 after eight years as head of the FBI, also blamed Congress for cutting the FBI's anti-terrorism budget in years leading to the attacks.

He said recent disclosures that the FBI had information before the attacks that should have alerted the agency to the plot did not prove the bureau had missed "obvious" warnings.

The FBI has acknowledged that a Phoenix FBI agent warned in a July 2001 memo that al-Qaida might be training terrorist pilots at U.S. flight schools. The bureau also had arrested a suspicious student pilot, Zacarias Moussaoui, who has been charged with conspiring in the attacks.

Freeh acknowledged that in "hindsight" the information showed an attack using airliners was possible. However, he said the public needed to stand in the agents' "shoes at the time" to understand the difficulty of picking the one or two pieces of information among thousands that would have helped them uncover the plot.

Freeh said the FBI and other intelligence agencies could not have predicted the attacks.

"[I'm] aware of nothing that to me demonstrates that the FBI and the intelligence community had the type of information or tactical intelligence which could have prevented Sept. 11," he told the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Freeh rejected allegations that the FBI had been unwilling to share information with the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies to combat terrorism.

A new book by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, two former counterterrorism officials at the National Security Council under former President Bill Clinton, wrote that the FBI under Freeh was a "surly colossus" that repeatedly withheld vital information on suspected terrorists in the United States.

But Freeh disagreed. "I say that the notion that the FBI, whether it's working in a counterterrorism matter or criminal matter, has a culture where information is not shared is incorrect," he said.

Several lawmakers challenged Freeh's statement.

"When it comes to terrorism and fighting terrorism, with all due respect, Judge, I think there is a disconnect, and there was a disconnect ... between the FBI and other agencies," said Rep. Ray Lahood, an Illinois Republican.

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