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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FBI, INS Kept in Dark by CIA

WASHINGTON -- The CIA was watching two of the Sept. 11 hijackers at an al-Qaida meeting more than a year before the attacks but failed to keep the FBI or the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service informed of their importance, a U.S. intelligence official has claimed.

If the FBI or INS had been told all the CIA knew about the men, they might have been denied entry into the United States or monitored while in the country, the official said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity. "In retrospect, we all could have done better."

In response, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby complained Monday of "massive failures of intelligence at the CIA."

"Assuming it's true ... I believe you are going to see a lot more instances like this where, if they had acted on the information they had, and followed through, maybe things would be different," Shelby said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "We don't know."

He said CIA Director George Tenet "is in denial. But I believe he is totally wrong."

U.S. Congress sets out this week to learn why, despite disturbing reports at home and abroad, the FBI and CIA did not do more to anticipate and prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Our main goal is to protect the American people," said Nancy Pelosi, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "In order to do that, we must find out what got us to where we are now."

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate intelligence panels meet jointly behind closed doors Tuesday to begin an analysis of the U.S. intelligence agencies' preparedness for Sept. 11 and future terrorist threats.

In December 1999, U.S. intelligence learned of an impending meeting of al-Qaida supporters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia the following month, the official said.

Malaysian authorities monitored the meeting, which was attended by Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhamzi, two of the hijackers who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, the official said.

Also at the January 2000 meeting was Tawfiq Attash Khallad, lately identified as one of the United States' top 25 targets in the war on al-Qaida, the official said. The current status of Khallad is unclear.

At the time, the significance and subject of the 2000 meeting were not clear, the intelligence official said, but the CIA informed FBI headquarters, as well as FBI agents in the CIA's counterterrorism center, that the meeting took place.

The meeting gained much greater significance at some point after the bombing of the Navy destroyer U.S.S. Cole in Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000. Investigators learned that Khallad was one of the masterminds of the plot, and his known associates -- including Almidhar and Alhamzi -- suddenly took on new importance.

But it does not appear that this new information was transferred to other authorities, such as the FBI, the U.S. State Department and the INS, until months later, the official said. These agencies remained unaware of the new significance given to Almidhar and Alhamzi by the CIA.

On Aug. 23, 2001, the CIA, worried that a large al-Qaida operation was in the offing, put out an alert on Almidhar and Alhamzi, adding them to a watch list that INS and U.S. State Department officials refer to when deciding whether to grant a foreigner access to the United States. By this time, however, they were already in the country, leaving it to the FBI to track them down.

"We have no way of knowing what would have happened if these individuals had been put on a watch list earlier," the intelligence official said.

At least one other al-Qaida operative now thought to be a potential Sept. 11 hijacker -- Ramzi Binalshibh -- was denied access to the United States before the attacks. He was not arrested or interrogated and remains at large.

The failure of the CIA to share its information on Almidhar and Alhamzi was first reported by Newsweek magazine.