U.S. Congressional investigators say the CIA and FBI overlooked important clues that could have helped them stop the Sept. 11 attacks. The report accuses Germany of not having taken the threat of terror seriously enough.
Scene of the crime: 9/11 terrorists lived in this Hamburg apartment.
An explosive joint report released by the United States Congress on Thursday heavily criticizes the FBI and CIA for failing to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks despite intelligence information that could have tipped them off. The report also suggested that restrictive German laws may have prevented the earlier discovery of the Hamburg al Qaeda cell responsible for the attacks.
The report's authors complained that U.S. and even German intelligence agencies failed to identify what it described as a growing threat of terrorism in the years leading up to Sept. 11. It accused CIA director George Tenet of being "either unwilling or unable to marshal the full range of intelligence community resources necessary to combat the growing threat."
In its most damning assessments, the over 800-page report accused the FBI and CIA of failing to communicate with each other at critical times and of ignoring or responding too slowly to signs of terrorist threats. Congressional investigators further alleged that the agencies failed to translate conversations between suspected terrorists and missed a number of chances to foil the plot to hijack planes and use them as bombs to destroy the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"Significant legal barriers"
The report went on to criticize Germany for restrictive laws that made cooperation between intelligence agencies difficult.
"Significant legal barriers restricted Germany's ability to target Islamic fundamentalism," the report stated. "Before Sept. 11, it was not illegal in Germany to be a member of a foreign terrorist organization, to raise funds for terrorists, or plan a terrorist attack outside Germany."
The report noted that Germany's intelligence apparatus "was deliberately fragmented to make abuses of power more difficult. This fragmentation also made coordination and information sharing more difficult." It also concluded the German government "apparently did not consider Islamic groups a threat and were unwilling to devote significant investigative resources to this target (al Qaeda)."
In the report, the assistant director of the American FBI's counterterrorism division is quoted saying that "the Germans were so restrictive prior to Sept. 11 with their constitution about what they can and cannot do, that they could do very little."
Security laws tightened
The discovery that three of the Sept. 11 terrorists lived in Hamburg and may have planned the attacks while in the country deeply shook German officials, who quickly pushed for the tightening of laws to make it easier to investigate and take action against those suspected of having ties to terrorist organizations.
Just months after the terrorist attacks, Germany's parliament approved legislation that made it possible for the government to ban organizations that use the cover of religion to pursue extremist goals, commit crimes or support violent or terrorist organizations in other countries. The law enabled the Interior Ministry to ban the extremist Islamic organization known as the Caliphate State, led by Turkish-born Metin Kaplan, and al Aqsa, the fundraising arm of the Middle East terrorist group Hamas. Since the law’s passage in 2001, 16 Islamic groups have been banned in Germany.
The country has also embarked on the largest investigation in its postwar history -- a probe that won the praise of the State Department in its latest anti-terrorism report in May 2003. More than 600 officers from the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) and the FBI probed the roots of the Hamburg al Qaeda cell. The investigation has already led to two trials and the conviction of Mounir al Motassadeq, a Moroccan student who associated with and provided financial support for the terror cell.