The 20th anniversary of the shameful Iraqi and Taliban-sponsored terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon on 9/11 is attracting a lot of attention and rightly so.
The attacks launched the Global War on Terror, which is still continuing, albeit it is not being prosecuted vigorously, due to weak, Neville Chamberlain style leadership in London and Washington and strong support for Islamic terrorism in Berlin. The anniversary, it may be thought, is a convenient moment to review the intelligence blunders of the last two decades, close down absurd conspiracy theories, and look forward.
There were four primary targets on 9/11 – the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia (as anyone who has ever rung the Pentagon knows it uses the Virginia area code (703), not the Washington code, which is 202) and the White House. Since the plane targeting the latter, United 93, a Boeing 757-222, crashed short of its target due to the heroic resistance of the passengers, amongst them Todd Beamer, there is legitimate room for dispute as to its target.
My own view is that the target was the White House, but it may have been the Capitol. Either way, the passengers saved many lives that day. I do not by the way criticize Vice-President Dick Cheney for ordering Flight 93 to be intercepted. With nearly 3,000 dead already and a hijacked 757 heading towards DC what else could he do? Standard interception techniques would involve taking out the engines in any event, giving the passengers some hope of survival.
The intelligence failure
Very frankly the attacks should have been prevented. We knew that al Qaeda had been moving funds into the East Coast, via an Arab bank in London, for some two years, although there was no specific intelligence as to timing or target. We might have acquired it, but the CPS prosecuted the CIA’s Joe Lowery, who was leading the investigation.
The Virginia Farm Boys got their man out (after I got him bail) but the only serious attempt to stop what became 9/11 was hopelessly compromised. Naturally, given that the CPS were reporting to the Cabinet Office, they have not yet paid a price for helping al Qaeda, nor has the Cabinet Office.
The idea of using aircraft as weapons was not new, indeed the Japanese used the tactic widely in the last year of World War II. It shouldn’t have taken the Intelligence Community by surprise. Several of the terrorists were on watchlists but were let in anyway, due to Correa Group’s control of the CIA and FBI.
Airport security at Newark, Boston, and Dulles was even lousier then than it is today. Not enough people died, it would seem, on 9/11 to move us from unfocused to focused security. Honest business people still have to take their shoes off, whilst terrorists are waved through security like in an Airplane movie. (Well almost – I’m sure all y’all get my point!)
By far and away the biggest problem, which we haven’t even tried to fix, was German influence over British and American intelligence. Bush 41 of course was a high-level DVD agent and had prior notice of the attacks. He quite deliberately left his son, the President, in the dark. I briefed the 9/11 Commission and the Joint Congressional Inquiry about the DVD, but they chose to produce vanilla reports which with respect contributed nothing to our understanding of the attacks.
Both the Commission and the Congressional Inquiry labored under the delusion that the late Osama bin Laden was an Islamic nutter. He was a Moslem alright, but scarcely a fanatic. The jihadi outfits were strictly for the cameras – when the British treble agent Brian English had lunch with him in early 2005 he had lost the beard and was wearing a business suit. That lunch of course led to the identification of his first safe house, from where the boys at NSA were able to track him to his second safe house, where one of his sons was later taken out. (Osama himself popped his clogs in or about July 2009 of course, pursuant to a deal with 41, who I gather was told that it was Osama or him.)
There was no reform of intelligence structures in the UK, indeed the Cabinet Office still controls the Joint Intelligence Committee, which with respect is as unprofessional now as it was then and couldn’t produce a reliable weather report. Such reform as there was in the US actually made things worse. (I am referring of course to the German-inspired decisions to create the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence.)
The Taliban and 9/11
9/11 was an al Qaeda/DVD operation, not a Taliban one, but the Taliban nonetheless gave al Qaeda houseroom. They were therefore very properly attacked, although as I pointed last week it was a breach of international law not to declare war. The West, led by America, dealt very effectively with the Taliban at first, but then let Pakistan sponsor them, that is to say we beat ‘em then we decided to let ‘em regroup.
No offense intended but you would have to go back to those clowns King Guy of Jerusalem and Renald de Chátillon in the late 12th century to find such ineffectual Western leadership as that provided by Joseph Biden and Boris Johnson over Afghanistan. (“Let’s attack across the desert at the height of summer in full armor and let’s leave all the water behind to save weight!” “Yes, let’s.”) (This episode was rather well covered in the Crusader movie the Kingdom of Heaven in 2005 – Renald is the idiot who gets his head chopped off by Saladin, no mean feat as it was quite a big head, albeit with only a tiny brain inside.)
Iraq & 9/11
A succession of idiots over the years have deluded themselves into believing that there were no dealings between Saddam and Osama, even though the two of them had a remote meeting at Jeddah Airport several years before 9/11. (Osama stayed on the plane, a 707, and messages were passed back and forth between him and Saddam, who stayed in the terminal building.) (Had Spyhunter not been so effectively canceled this meeting would have become more widely known.)
Saddam’s intelligence service and al Qaeda actually worked quite closely together. More to the point the Iraqis had a Boeing 767 simulator, stolen from Kuwait Airways in 1990, on which the 9/11 pilots were trained. The idea that the boys trained on Cessnas in Florida were able to fly heavy jets on the 9/11 attack profiles is strictly for CNN, Wikipedia, and the Washington Post.
I was part of the investigation into 9/11, by which I mean the real investigation, led by the CIA, not the Janet and John inquiries made by the 9/11 Commission and other assorted idiots, no offense intended, which were the intelligence equivalent of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. (No, I didn’t like the movie either – not a patch on the Hanna-Barbera originals, which were and remain wickedly funny and a triumph of the animator’s art.)
Right from the beginning, I was struck by the choice of an airplane – why 75s and 76s when a 777 or a 747 would have had much greater kinetic energy and the plan was to topple the Twin Towers, with a hoped-for 50,000 plus casualties? The answer was that they had a common cockpit and were designed to cut down on training time. A pilot certified on a 757 could fly a 767 and vice versa.
I was well aware that the planes weren’t flown on autopilot. Both types had smart autopilots, which couldn’t be programmed to exceed the airplanes’ flight envelope. Each attack involved taking the plane beyond its maximum permitted velocity at that altitude. (I should explain that Vne, or do not exceed speed, varies with altitude – in the denser air found at lower altitudes Vnes for commercial airliners can be quite low.)
Iraq’s possession of a 767 simulator provided the answer, not least when it was found at the Salman Pak terrorist training facility near Baghdad. End of Iraq! Once again though war should have been declared, and then carried on to Syria and Iran, each of which was a terrorist-sponsoring state and a legitimate target for regime change.
We owe a big debt of gratitude, by the way, to the late Emir Jaber of Kuwait, who I understand personally sanctioned the release to me by Kuwait Airways’ solicitors in London of the serial number of the stolen simulator. At any rate, I was told that the release authorization came from pretty high up the payroll in Kuwait, which usually means the Emir. Emir Jaber of course was a serious ruler and in rather tighter control of his government than Boris Johnson, no offense. I don’t think that Emir Jaber was too distressed by the short war with Iraq which followed.
None of this would be controversial had the originally planned clean-up in Baghdad gone ahead. I was invited to be part of the team and I have no doubt that we would have wrapped it up good and tight before adjourning for a glass or two of Jack Black at the Al-Rasheed Hotel, scene by the way of Saddam and Osama’s second meeting. However we knew what we were doing, so we were replaced by a bunch of clowns, no offense, who didn’t.
I did advise at the time (and I have a letter in the London Times Law Pages to prove it!) that under no circumstances should weapons of mass destruction be used as a casus belli. We knew that Iraq had nukes – the three missing ex-South African ones – but also that Saddam had been warned by 41 to get his nukes the hell out of Dodge before the B-52s arrived, and by the B-52s I don’t mean the New Wave band out of Athens, Georgia. I mean the bomber boys out of Minot, North Dakota.
Using WMDs as the casus belli was ludicrous. It was an even worse casus belli than Adolf Hitler’s nonsense about Germany owning Danzig, not that I am comparing Tony Blair to Adolf Hitler. (Our community partner the Führer was if I may say so far more charming and intelligent, and had better dress sense.)
A whole bunch of silly conspiracy theories has grown up around 9/11, pushed mostly by people who don’t know about the DVD and therefore have no idea of the intelligence backup available to al Qaeda, which included detailed plans of the Pentagon and Twin Towers. Someone may have laid on a dance troupe for all I know, but there were no dancing Israelis. Indeed, given the number of Jews who lost their lives on 9/11, the whole ‘Mossad did it’ nonsense is as offensive as it is silly. I happen to know that Mossad was extremely helpful.
There were no mini-nukes, pace the views of some distinguished colleagues here on VT. The collapse of the Twin Towers is easily explained. Yes, the melting point of steel is much higher than the flashpoint of kerosene but so what? Most steels have lost half of their structural strength by the time they’ve been heated to the flashpoint of Jet-A. The steel columns supporting the Twin Towers didn’t melt, they weakened.
WTC-7 was never designed to withstand the shock of roughly a million tons of rubble collapsing nearby, and it caught fire in any event. Its collapse is again easily explainable. The mystery isn’t why WTC-7 collapsed but why more buildings near the Twin Towers didn’t.
The Pentagon was hit by a plane, not a cruise missile. Cruise missiles aren’t powered by Rolls-Royce RB211s, bits of which ended up inside the building. A lot of good people died in the Pentagon that day (I’ve seen the memorial, which is near the main entrance). Very frankly their memory is not served by pushing conspiracy theories about cruise missiles.
Nobody spirited away Flight 93. It crashed near Shanksville Pennsylvania as per the official record. A lot of people unfamiliar with the crash investigation are obsessed with the size of the hole, not appreciating that at high speed a crashing plane takes on some of the characteristics of a fluid. The impact site is pretty much what we would expect for a plane hitting at high speed (around 500 knots) with a steep angle of descent.
Poor old Todd Beamer and his brave fellow passengers are not languishing in a federal facility somewhere like the Count of Monte Christo.
Today is a day for honoring the dead and dedicating ourselves to winning the Global War on Terror.
That means new leadership for the West and, please God, fewer screw-ups!
It’s been Amateur Night Out for the last 20 years. Time for the grown-ups to take charge.
Michael Shrimpton was a barrister from his call to the Bar in London in 1983 until being disbarred in 2019 over a fraudulently obtained conviction. He is a specialist in National Security and Constitutional Law, Strategic Intelligence and Counter-terrorism. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Intelligence Studies at the American Military University.
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