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An Open Letter to the 9/11 Commission

By Jalexson

Originally published at

I hope the commission will make a serious attempt to look at what might have been done to prevent the 9/11 attack. It would be easy to blame the FBI in particular or the Clinton administration in general for the success of the attack.

Certainly some FBI agents at times make it appear that “FBI” stands for Fools, Bunglers, and Incompetents. The FBI probably needs a major overhaul.

The Clinton administration could have done more to improve air travel security, including changing the airline SOP for handling hijackings. The Bush administration was still getting its people in place and hadn’t had time to determine the adequacy of existing procedures to blame it for the success of the attack.

However, an investigation into FBI bungling or the failure of the Clinton administration to develop procedures to prevent such an attack won’t produce the necessary change in the federal government’s approach to dealing with foreign terrorists to significantly reduce the potential for successful attacks in the future.

By Clinton administration, I mean the entire administration rather than Bill Clinton in particular. Presidents cannot be expected to know everything like tv and movie heroes do. Presidents are likely to assume things are under control unless someone tells them that specific agencies cannot do a job or that changes like new laws/regulations or spending programs are needed.

Contrary to the popular myth, 9/11 wasn’t an “intelligence failure”, it was a system failure. The federal government was trying to fight a foreign military force using a law enforcement agency that wasn’t set up for it. If the federal government wants to prevent future attacks, it needs to use the people trained to deal with military threats at the Department of Defense.

Such a change may or may not require a change in laws regulating the military. It will require a change in how certain threats and individuals are perceived.

Use of the term “terrorists” to describe those who flew the planes into the buildings on 9/11 has obscured the fact that they were actually commandos acting under orders for a military force. 9/11 was the first attack on the nation’s capital by a foreign military force since the War of 1812. It occurred because the people who are supposed to protect the nation against such attacks were not told to do so.

Cops, including those in the FBI, aren’t trained to deal with military commandoes. Cops are trained to deal with criminals who often think and act differently than military personnel. Criminals are out to further their own needs. Military personnel, including people in some domestic groups, are serving a foreign power or some special cause or some combination of the two. Criminals may be self destructive or they may not care if they live or die. Military personnel accept the possibility of death if it serves their country or cause.

When the Clinton administration first discovered that a foreign force might attempt to hijack planes and fly them into American buildings, a military officer, probably an army or air force captain or higher, should have been assigned the task of determining the actual risk and developing procedures to defend against such an attack. This officer would initially have surveyed existing air transportation procedures for passenger and cargo planes to determine where the weaknesses were and what might be necessary to improve security.

He would also have surveyed the degree to which existing intelligence procedures might provide advance warning of a planned attack and how those procedures might be improved. At some point the President would have issued orders to all relevant federal agencies, including CIA, NSA, FBI, ATF, etc., to forward any potentially relevant information to the Officer in Charge of Preventing a Hijacking Attack(OICPHA). By this time the OICPHA would probably have been assigned a staff to help evaluate information and develop defenses.

Military officers know learning the enemy’s plans in advance can be very helpful, but they cannot always rely on obtaining that information. Officers have to be prepared for situations when information may be inadequate. Military personnel on all sides and all wars attempt to determine what the enemy is planning. However, they don’t rely on intelligence to prevent attacks against their position. They set up barricades, including barbed wire, to keep the enemy out, post guards to watch for an enemy approaching the base, send out patrols to detect approaching enemy forces and rely on radar to detect enemy aircraft or artillery..

One problem law enforcement agencies have is that they have many cases to pursue. They usually cannot afford to have anyone devote full time to watch for evidence of something that no one may attempt to do. Cops have to devote part of their time to other cases that may involve capturing people who have already done something or who pose a more immediate threat.

The military has sufficient people that it can spare one or more to prevent actions that may never occur. During the Cold War the United States spent billions to deal with the possible threat of a Soviet nuclear attack. More recently the military allowed a general named Norman Schwartzkopf to develop a plan for a possible Middle Eastern war without knowing if one would occur. That plan was thus available for use with Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Using intelligence information to reduce the chances of a successful 9/11 type attack required the existence of a “go to guy”, someone who would have received all information that might be relevant. Organizations cannot connect all the dots in such situations unless someone has access to all the dots. Even then its hard to connect the dots when those involved are trying to connect several different sets of dots. Even with this setup, it’s unlikely anyone would have known four groups of hijackers would hijack planes on 9/11/01.

 The best that could have been hoped for would be that some type of hijacking would occur. Shutting down the airlines to prevent a hijacking might only have delayed it until things had cooled off.

Law enforcement officers usually focus on what is already happening, such as the bombings of buildings and people. Airline hijackings didn’t appear to be a problem to federal cops because no one was doing them. Faced with the task of trying to catch people who were actually killing other people and preventing a action that posed only a vague threat, cops usually have to try to stop the killing.

Military personnel are charged with the task of preparing for attacks that may never happen, because the knowledge that the United States can prevent an action or destroy those who take it may have a detrimental affect. Soldiers thus more willing to concentrate their efforts to prevent something that someone may never attempt.

The OICPHA would have looked for ways to prevent successful hijackings. For example, he might have told pilots about the problem and suggested in the event of a hijack attempt they should immediately begin jettisoning fuel and request emergency landing instructions. Pilots might also claim a malfunction, possibly accompanied by flying the plane in a way that would make it difficult to stand up. Pilots might have been told to partially depressurize the cabin so that passengers would have to use oxygen and thus limit the mobility of any hijackers.

The biggest change would likely have been a recommendation to have NORAD monitor planes to insure that they followed flight plans. NORAD would have responded to deviations without waiting for FAA requests. FAA personnel were less likely to assume an “evil” intent to deviations than the military would have been.

The FAA failed to request military aircraft until well after the first planes deviated from their flight paths. A policy that NORAD would monitor aircraft and respond immediately would have had interceptors on the tail of the planes that hit the World Trade Towers well before they got there. They might not have received orders to fire before the first plane hit, but might have been given such orders when the second plane headed in the same direction. Launching interceptors in such circumstances would have been good training even if no problems were encountered.

During periods of heightened threat, interceptors might have been kept in the air at all times. Military pilots have to fly to remain proficient anyway.

 The military has personnel that must be paid even if they don’t have any battles to fight at the time. During periods of threat, martial arts trained troops dressed as civilian business travelers, tourists, etc. would have flown in vacant seats at the airlines “expense”.

9/11 occurred because the federal government was attempting to stop a military operation with cops rather than soldiers. Cops are trained to arrest criminals. Soldiers are trained to prevent the enemy from achieving his objectives. Except for cops who have also been soldiers, cops don’t stop military attacks very well and soldiers aren’t good at solving times. If the United States wants to prevent future attacks by foreign military forces, it must prepare to use the people best trained for that purpose.

(Note: I recall seeing a tv news story, I believe it was on 9/12/01, that might be of interest to the committee if I remember it correctly and it was accurate. As I recall the story, a man was dumpster diving near a Miami motel on 9/10 and spotted a new backpack. In the backpack he found some pilot training text books. He though that was suspicious and asked the motel to notify the sheriff. A deputy was dispatched and I believe notified the FBI. As I noted above I may have heard the story wrong, or perhaps in the hurry to get the story on the air they got the date wrong, but the committee might want to check it anyway.)




I also write at Mediard

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