WASHINGTON — The commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks found that the plot originally called for hijacking 10 planes and attacking targets on the eastern and western coasts of the United States.
The bipartisan commission issued its findings as it began two days of hearings.
According to the commission:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the plot, planned to have nine of the planes crash into the FBI and CIA headquarters, the Pentagon and the White House, as well as nuclear plants and the tallest buildings in California and Washington state.
Mohammed was arrested in March 2003 in Pakistan and turned over to U.S. authorities.
The hijackers of the 10th plane, which Mohammed planned to pilot, would contact the media, kill all of the adult men onboard and then make a statement denouncing the United States before freeing the women and children.
The plot also called for hijacking and blowing up 12 airliners in Southeast Asia, but al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden scrapped that part of the plan because it was too difficult to coordinate operations on two continents.
Bin Laden scaled back the plot in the United States to the four planes that were eventually used in the attack.
They narrowed down the list of targets to the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and either the White House or the Capitol.
Bin Laden wanted to hit the White House, but Mohammed and Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 19 hijackers, favored the Capitol, because they felt it would be an easier target.
Mohammed initially proposed the attacks in 1996, but planning did not begin until 1999.
Bin Laden had wanted the attack to occur as early as mid-2000, after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount tunnel, which preceded a Palestinian intifada. But the hijacker-pilots were not yet fully trained.
Bin Laden then pressed for a date earlier in 2001, such as May 12, the seven-month anniversary of the USS Cole attack, or in June or July, when Sharon was due to visit the White House. Again, the hijackers were not ready.
The September 11 date was not chosen until three weeks before. The hijackers bought their tickets only two weeks before.
The plot cost an estimated $400,000 to $500,000, not including the hijackers’ training in Afghanistan. The hijackers spent about $270,000 in the United States, mainly on flight training, travel, housing, and vehicles.
No al Qaeda, Iraq cooperation
The panel said it found “no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”
The report contradicts statements from the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda.
In response, a senior administration official traveling with President Bush in Tampa, Florida, said, “We stand by what Powell and Tenet have said,” referring to previous statements by Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet that described such links.
In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations that Iraq was harboring Zarqawi, a “collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants,” and he said Iraq’s denials of ties to al Qaeda “are simply not credible.”
In September, Vice President Dick Cheney said Iraq had been “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.”
Bush, responding to criticism of Cheney’s comment, said there was no evidence Saddam’s government was linked to the September 11 attacks.
Just this week Bush and Cheney have made comments alleging ties between al Qaeda and Iraq. (Full story)
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry said, “the administration misled America.”
“The administration reached too far,” he told Detroit radio station WDET. “They did not tell the truth to Americans about what was happening or their own intentions.”
The commission’s report says bin Laden “explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to [Saddam] Hussein’s secular regime. Bin Laden had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded bin Laden to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda.”
A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting bin Laden in 1994.
Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded.
“There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship,” the report said.
“Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied” any relationship, the report said.
The panel also dismissed reports that Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in the Czech Republic on April 9, 2000. “We do not believe that such a meeting occurred.”
The report said that Atta was in Virginia on April 4 — evidenced by video that shows him withdrawing $8,000 from an ATM — and he was in Florida by April 11 if not before.
The report also found that there was no “convincing evidence that any government financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11” other than the limited support provided by the Taliban when bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan.
The toppling of the Taliban regime “fundamentally changed” al Qaeda, leaving it decentralized and altering bin Laden’s role.
Prior to the attacks, bin Laden approved all al Qaeda operations and often chose targets and the operatives himself, the report said.
“After al Qaeda lost Afghanistan after 9/11, it fundamentally changed. The organization is far more decentralized. Bin Laden’s seclusion forced operational commanders and cell leaders to assume greater authority; they are now making the command decisions previously made by him,” the report said.
Al Qaeda seeking nuclear weapons
The commission said that al Qaeda was seeking to obtain nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Al Qaeda “remains interested in using a radiological dispersal device or ‘dirty bomb,’ a conventional explosive designed to spread radioactive material,” the commission said.
The report said that al Qaeda may also seek to launch a chemical attack using widely available chemicals or by attacking a chemical plant or chemical shipments.
The commission also said that Tenet testified that a possible anthrax attack is “one of the most immediate threats the United States is likely to face.”
Al Qaeda funding
Al Qaeda’s funding came primarily from a fund-raising network, not business enterprises or bin Laden’s personal fortune, the commission said.
Bin Laden owned some businesses and other assets in Sudan, but “most were small or not economically viable.” The report says bin Laden “never received a $300 million inheritance,” but from 1970 until approximately 1994 received about $1 million a year.
The commission found that Saudi Arabia was a rich fund-raising ground for al Qaeda, but that it had found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al Qaeda.
The group distributed the money as quickly as it was raised, with much of the money going to the Taliban for its operations in Afghanistan.
The CIA estimates that al Qaeda spent $30 million each year on expenses including terrorist operations, salaries and maintenance on terrorist training camps.
Its largest expense was payments to the Taliban, which were estimated at between $10 million and $20 million per year.