In August 1998, U.S. intelligence learned that a “group of unidentified Arabs planned to fly an explosive-laden plane from a foreign country into the World Trade Center,” says the report.
This story is full of examples of clues that the Clinton and Bush administrations missed that indicated the 9/11 attacks. I don’t know how many of them are legitimate.
But let’s suppose they all are. Let’s suppose there was intelligence coming in all over, from as far back as 98, that “a group of unidentified Arabs” planned to fly a plane into the WTC. Let’s even suppose we knew that the attack was going to happen between August and October of 2001.
What could anybody have done to prevent it?
For starters, we could have tracked both of the 9/11 hijackers that were know to have terrorist connections.
But could we really? If you take a look at just one graphical depiction of the 9/11 terrorist network, it becomes obvious just how difficult it would have been to try to unravel the terrorist network due to the sheer numbers involved. Also consider that this site has the benefit of hindsight. It is aware of who the hijackers were. It knows who to include and who to exclude, and which branches of the network are more interesting. Law enforcement prior to 9/11 would have no such information.
The civil rights implications also must be considered. A fair number of the hijackers were two or more degrees of separation from the known terrorists. Can you really advocate a full investigation of someone because he knows someone who knows someone who is interesting? (Let’s hope that Kevin Bacon is never considered “interesting” or everyone would have to be investigated!)
OK, here’s another idea. Perhaps we could have investigated all the Arabs who were attending flight schools in the United States. I’m sure the civil libertarians would have just loved that sort of profiling. Profiling is not an acceptable law enforcement practice. Just because one is an Arab and is attending flight school does not constitute reasonable grounds for investigation.
Increase the number of sky marshals? There are thousands of domestic flights every day in the US. It’s inconceivable that we could have managed to get enough marshals on all four of those flights on that particular day to have stopped the attacks. The odds are too heavily against it.
Even if we’d had a specific warning of a terrorist action on 9/11, what could we have done? Grounded all the flights? The hijackers would have simply rescheduled.
Other than arming all pilots, I can’t think of a single thing the government could have done, even with more specific information that what’s been speculated that they might have had, to stop the 9/11 attacks.