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The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, and Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It
John Miller and Michael Stone with Chris Mitchell
September 11, 2001, started out as such a nice day -- no, a beautiful day. Then it all turned.
How many times have you heard someone say, "Well, things will never be the same." It is rarely true. Things always go back to being the same. But not this time. Before the day was out many of my friends were dead. Many had just barely escaped. Many of them were badly hurt. Many who got out without even a scrape will be emotionally scarred for years if not forever. Many of them don't even know it yet, or just won't admit it.
Things will never be the same.
I have been a crime reporter since I was a teenager. I have seen or heard everything that a crime reporter could. Or so I thought, until September 11, 2001. I was listening to the citywide radio frequency of the NYPD when I heard Joe Esposito, the NYPD chief, yell into his radio: "Car 3 to Central, advise the Pentagon New York City is under attack!" Been around a long time. Hadn't heard that one before.
I sat with Peter Jennings at the anchor desk in New York watching the flames when a plume of white smoke appeared where the South Tower had stood.
By the time the Towers collapsed in a cloud of metal and dust and humanity, I knew this was the work of bin Laden. No one told me. No one had to. It had been a long time coming. I was part of the small club, regarded by many as alarmists, who had been predicting a major attack on U.S. soil since just before the millennium. Even so, I never imagined this result. Nor, do I think, did anyone else.
Things will never be the same.
Those of us who had studied terrorism in general or bin Laden in particular knew that the most reliable way to predict future behavior was to examine past behavior. Truck-bombs, murders, yes -- even airplane hijackings. But no one had ever used a huge jetliner as a projectile -- a missile -- against a skyscraper before. No one had ever committed mass murder on this scale in a set of coordinated acts of terrorism in a single day. Not until September 11, 2001. That was the day my crime story turned into a war. Or had it been one all along?
We all asked, how could this have happened, how could we not have known,
why were we not prepared? This book will answer many of those questions.
No doubt years will be spent parsing every memo and intelligence report
to see what little clues might have been missed. We will deal with that
in this story too. But if there is any true value to this narrative, it
is not the little picture of the single clue passed over; it is the big
picture to stand back from, to appreciate its shape and detail.
This is not a book about how the FBI agents or the CIA's officers on
the front lines screwed up. Quite the contrary. Successful cases and captures
were made. A number of horrific terrorist plots were disrupted. We found
in almost every case that the cops, agents and spies who followed their
instincts were usually in the right place and on the right trail. But
we found a recurring pattern. Over and over again the investigators were
waved off the right trail. The reasons ranged from risk-averse bosses
to bureaucratic resigned to ensure that the left hand would never know
what the right hand was doing.
In 1998, I sat with Osama bin Laden in a hut in Afghanistan as he told
me he was declaring war on America. His words at the time may have sounded
hyperbolic, but read them now.
From the moment bin Laden declared war on America, one of his frustrations seemed to be that he couldn't get America to declare war back. Not until the loudest and bloodiest alarm sounded on September 11 did the giant finally awake.
Copyright © 2002 John Miller Enterprises Ltd. and Michael Stone
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