CIA, Obstruction of Justice, 9/11


The only good thing that came out of 9/11 was that the building fell on him.


Michael_scheuer_1885719c–Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA anti-bin Laden task force, testifying before a congressional committee, applauding the death of John O’Neill, former head of the FBI’s NYC anti-terrorist task force.


The New Yorker has begun to produce short documentaries to view on line. The topics are as varied as the contents of any recent print issue, and the stories might last ten or fifteen minutes. They seem to be excellently produced. I skimmed most, but a lead for a mini-doc caught my eye: currently active FBI agents and former CIA agents were testifying on camera with passion and detail that 9/11 was almost certainly preventable.

There was new evidence, and old evidence was effectively marshaled.

urlExcept as a massive tragedy and turning point in national and international politics, I hadn’t thought about the details leading up to 9/11 in years. Was there something new to be said?

This was the New Yorker, known for meticulous investigative journalism. What could they have dredged up to reopen a story I thought was settled years ago? As it turns out some formerly classified reports were declassified less than a year ago.

There was in fact new evidence, persuasive evidence, and yes, if only CIA had shared information with the FBI it seems all but certain that 9/11 would never have happened.


I watched the 15 minute exposé stunned. I can’t retell the whole story. Its detail is far too intricate. For anyone wanting to follow up, see the documentary, and read the  New Yorker articles by Larry Wright on which it’s based. Wright appears as one among several narrators and principals in this complex story of intrigue and cover up. Here are the bare bones.

416953149_6d303ccc7e_mThe CIA knew of the presence of al-Qaeda operatives in the USA more than a year before the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

They knew of and monitored an “al-Qaeda summit” in Malaysia where attacks on the US and elsewhere were discussed. They broke into a room of one delegate and photographed the US passport and visa of a future 9/11 pilot — evidence of plans of al-Qaeda to come to the States.

They knew that the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the October 2000 bombing of the US Cole — 17 Americans were killed — were present at the summit.

The CIA operatives jealously guarded their pursuits and findings from the  FBI. They hoped to infiltrate al-Qaeda abroad and here in the States. They didn’t want the FBI crashing their party or hampering their business.


imagesLegally, only the FBI can investigate suspected terrorists and make arrests within the US. The CIA’s mission is to spy on and infiltrate organizations on foreign soil. CIA knew al-Qaeda operatives were taking flying lessons in Southern California. Although persistently queried by the FBI, they stone-walled.

They monitored one of the 9/11 pilots as he returned to Yemen less than a month before the attacks to visit family (and give a last good bye?). His return to the states and his passing through customs were watched by the CIA. They had photographed the US passport and visa more than a year earlier. Neither they nor the FBI put a close tail on him as the day of the highjacking approached. They knew he had learned to fly, and that years earlier bin Laden had been recorded in an interview saying that US planes would be potent weapons of attack.

FRL62922_f-e1332286560320There was pure hatred between the CIA and the FBI. In the documentary we get to see Michael Scheuer, who was head of the CIA unit tasked to monitor and infiltrate al-Qaeda and “get” bin Laden testifying before Congress some time after 9/11. His FBI counterpart was John O’Neill, of the NYC anti-terrorism task force.

For reasons left unexplained, O’Neill left his FBI position just weeks before the 9/11 attacks. He moved into the Twin Towers as its head of security. There was something fateful about his decision.

He told a friend that he believed al-Qaeda was not done with its plans to attack the towers. (It had laid bombs there eight years earlier.) When the towers collapsed, O’Neill was inside and killed.

Scheuer appears before a Congressional investigative committee after the disaster. He responds to a question about John O’Neill and the FBI task force.

He speaks with icy deliberation: “The only good thing that came out of 9/11 was that the building fell on him.”

The CIA deliberately withheld information from the FBI bearing on a planned attack for well over a year despite the FBI’s repeated requests to see it for its own investigations. In Larry Wright’s sober judgment this is obstruction of justice.


The names of the CIA agents involved in sequestering information from the FBI are known but classified, and will remain so. Thus legal charges are impossible. Nevertheless, the New Yorker investigation and documentary make an utterly convincing case that deep institutional animosity and personal hatred assured that al-Qaeda would not be stopped in a plan that with inter-agency cooperation could have been scotched months before its tragic denouement.


—Ed Mooney, Zeteo Contributor

See his Excursions with Thoreau: Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Bloomsbury, 2015, and Lost Intimacy in American Thought: Recovering Personal Philosophy From Thoreau to Cavell, Continuum, 2009

Appendix: My shock won’t be shared by those who have followed the stream of books and reports on these events that have surfaced in the past six or seven years. My reading tends to follow art, philosophy, psychology, science, literature, or religion rather than international espionage, congressional investigations, and murky footsteps before and after 9/11. Having been stunned by the New Yorker report, I did some slogging. Googling figures named here and following their threads is both enlightening and depressing. A second notable revelation is that Condoleezza Rice and the State Department failed to follow up on CIA warnings in the months before the attacks. They didn’t want to formally acknowledge the warnings or act on them for fear of a paper trail. They wanted to be able to deny they had been warned. I’ve let the New Yorker piece speak for itself almost without comment. I trust it is fundamentally reliable.

Credits: For the mini-doc on the lead-up to 9/11, go to; and For more on Scheuer, go to “Bin Laden Issue Station,”; also, see Larry Wright, “The Counter Terrorist,” New Yorker, January 14, 2002 (on John O’Neill), and “The Agent,” New Yorker, July 10, 2006. See also his book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Vintage, 2007. The New Yorker documentary presents information declassified only last year; thus it confirms and upgrades Wright’s earlier reports.


  1. William Eaton

    There is a sense in which such stories about “9/11” throw us back on philosophy and psychology, in particular on ideas about truth, explanation, and belief. It seems plausible to me to blame the tragedy on “institutional animosity and personal hatred” or on the incompetence and laziness of individual officials or of bureaucrats more generally. It is also possible to reason backwards from the consequences. That is, seeing who (which individuals and organizations) gained power and money as a result of 9/11, we might conclude that they were a force for (at the very least) ignoring the advance warnings. In the law the phrase is “cui bono”; that is, we tend to suspect those who would seem to most profit from the crime.

    On the road toward philosophy, I would stress this point: Knowledge eludes us, and we construct our explanations based on some, presumably varying, collection of factors, to include our normative baggage, wishful thinking, personal life experiences, and social status. “Institutional animosity” may, for example, be more comforting than the idea that the putative leaders of the United States (the senior officials of the Bush Administration) were more interested in advancing their own interests and those of their friends than they were in protecting the United States from attack or US residents from being killed. Given the Bush family’s ties to Saudi Arabia, a case might be made the US political process had elected as President someone who was, in a sense, a foreign leader.

    But, for the moment, I am less interested in pushing a particular interpretation of 9/11 and the Bush Administration than in calling attention to our all-too-human lack of knowledge and to the fact that we construct explanations in the midst of it.


  2. William Eaton’s thoughtful remarks lead me to sketch an imaginary parallel case.

    The fatal accident at Bradley Lane and Second Street almost certainly could been prevented if cars had obstacle sensors, or if children were better trained to handle intersections, or if Mrs. Jones had succeeded in getting the “Slow, Children” sign and a traffic guard installed on Second Street.

    Different levels of explanation call on different explanatory factors, from a focus on Wall Street and Auto Safety concerns to neighborhood child education to the difference live traffic guards can make.

    If it turned out that Mrs. Jones had repeatedly petitioned to install a caution sign, and to hire a crossing guard, had presented evidence of the present dangers, and was repeatedly rebuffed by Mr. X, bureaucrat in charge and scornful of Mrs. Jones’ “bimbo’ appearance, then it’s reasonable to suppose that things would have been different at Bradley Lane had Mr. X dropped his scorn and had shown common decency and common sense.

    What I found to be a ‘smoking gun’ in the New Yorker account of the lead-up to 9/11 was video footage of the head of the CIA anti-bin Laden task force celebrating the death of the head of the NYC FBI anti-bin Laden task force, when cooperation was clearly called for.

    If hatred of Mrs. Jones by Mr. X and diverted her legitimate attempts to have crossing guards and caution signs at Bradley Lane installed, then at a crucial level of explanation we can say that that tragedy almost certainly could have been averted if that hatred were removed.

    It’s also true that general speed limits and failure to install obstacle sensors and to tame the corporate profit motive would have made a difference in the Bradley Lane accident.

    Corporate interests are served by keeping cars fast and cheap rather than as safe as they might be. But explanations at the level of personal animosity can have traction, too, and sometimes decisive traction.

    We have limited knowledge and fallible interpretations,as William Eaton points out, but we can’t live otherwise and meanwhile we do the best we can.


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