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Give us some truth

Ten years on from the World Trade Center attack, the suspicion is mounting that US intelligence knows something they’re determined to keep from the public...

Anne Sexton, 13 Sep 2011

“I’m not sure those questions could be answered,” says Summers. “Saudi Arabia is such an opaque, enclosed society that one can’t get into it to do a proper investigation. But I think the anger should be directed at the US administration, which in one way or another, put the kibosh on the leads that indicated Saudi involvement by not making anything of it at a national level; and by cosying up, as Bush did on September 13 with Saudi Prince Bander, when it was known that 15 of the 19 hijackers had been Saudi.”

Another significant strand of inquiry is the CIA. How much did they know? Was intelligence botched through human error? Why has nobody within the Agency received any official reprimand?

Tom Wiltshire, deputy chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, had information about the arrival of two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hamzi. His official interview is redacted almost entirely.

“There are national security concerns and sometimes those are legitimate,” says Swan.

However, as Summers notes, “The public could see that something had been withheld from them.”

“The CIA knew in advance that they were al-Qaeda terrorists and that they had visas to enter the United States, but yet did nothing about it,” says Summers. “Was it just a great big cock-up, as the CIA has suggested? Or was it because the CIA had something else in mind – to monitor them or try to turn them? We don’t know. But it is suggestive that Wiltshire, who was running that particular show at the time, that his whole interview has been redacted. On the other hand, what he says could reveal sources and methods and that is the reason so often for redacting documents.”

It is possible that Wiltshire’s interview may not add anything to the substantial truth, but without this information it is hard to know if the CIA’s failings point to gross incompetence or something some sinister.

“One of the things that the CIA could have done and should have done was to have their own inspector-general review the behaviour of the CIA prior to 9/11 just like the FBI did,” argues Swan. “The CIA have done a report but all they have released is a seven-page executive summary, which tends to blame what happened on mistakes as opposed to wilful behaviour.”

“That said, having claimed that mistakes were made, the inspector-general suggested that there be an accountability review board held for seven named individuals going right up to the director George Tenet himself. Tenet’s successor declined to hold such a review and described the agents involved as some of the agency’s ‘finest’. Well, if your finest officers are carrying out operations in such a manner that they contribute to the deaths of around 3,000 people by mistake, then one should think that the issue needs to be investigated further. That contributes to the aura of ‘what are they hiding?’ Maybe they are hiding the fact that they did make mistakes but if so, somebody should be held accountable.”

“Nobody has been held accountable,” says Summers. “Nobody has been fired or demoted, as far as one can tell.”

If the CIA agents involved have not been held responsible for personal professional mistakes, it suggests that the Agency itself must be riddled with systemic failures – another reason why the full report may have been withheld from the public.

“The question you are asking is what do I think? Do I think there is a secret or was it incompetence?” says Summers. “We can’t prove anything either way. But if you take all the facts together, the multiple mistakes made by the CIA at every turn, and you marry that together with the extraordinary scene of Clinton’s national security advisor, Sandy Berger, being allowed access after 9/11 to the national archives, a hugely senior man caught stuffing documents into his socks and down his shirt. Something extraordinary drives a man like that to conclusively destroy his reputation and career to steal documents. What’s that all about? On balance, I’d say there is a secret, but we don’t know what it is.”

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