Report: France warned CIA before 9/11 attacks
Former intelligence officials confirmed to the Associated Press Monday a Le Monde newspaper report that France's foreign intelligent service had heard about an al Qaeda plot which was "likely to involve a US airplane." The French paper also reported that France informed the Central Intelligence Agency prior to the attacks on September 11, 2001, in which nearly 3,000 were killed.
However, it is uncertain whether the intelligence was alluding to the specific plot hatched on 9/11.
The DGSE external intelligence service wrote a total of nine reports between September 2000 and August 2001 on Al-Qaeda threats against the US and passed all of them on to the Central Intelligence Agency's Paris bureau, the French newspaper reported.
Le Monde based its report on 328 pages of classified documents leaked by DGSE sources, showing that Osama bin Laden's network had been infiltrated by foreign agents long before the September 2001 attacks.
In a file dated January 5, 2001, also seen by AFP, the DGSE said it had learned of a plan to hijack a plane bound for the United States from Frankfurt in Germany and take it to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Le Monde said that file was passed onto the CIA in January of the same year.
"Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, the former chief of staff for the agency's director at the time, said he remembered the note and that it mentioned only the vague outlines of a hijacking plot — nothing that foreshadowed the scale of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks," the AP reports.
The former French intelligence official told the AP, "It wasn't about a specific airline or a specific day, it was not a precise plot. It was a note that said, 'They are preparing a plot to hijack an airplane, and they have cited several companies.'"
According to Le Monde, the documents included "notes, reports/ratios, syntheses, charts, graphs, flow charts, satellite photographs" gathered between July 2000 and October 2001.
Guillaume Dasquié, the author of two books on Al-Qaeda, who acquired the documents, continues in the Le Monde report, "Like all information evoking of the risks against American interests, the note was transmitted to the CIA by the service relations foreign of the DGSE, person in charge for the co-operations between allied (famous since service of the connections). Its first recipient is the chief of post office of the CIA in Paris, Bill Murray, a French-speaking person with the physique of John Wayne, sunken since to the United States. We could establish the contact, but Mr. Murray did not wish to take action on our requests. Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, for which the responsibilities with the DGSE then covered the questions relating to the co-operation with the foreign agencies, does not conceive that this information was not given to him: 'That, typically, it is the kind of information which is transmitted to the CIA. It would be even a fault of not having done it.'"
"In early 2000 in Kabul, Afghanistan, bin Laden met with Taliban leaders and members of armed groups from Chechnya and discussed the possibility of hijacking a plane that would take off from Frankfurt, Germany, the note said, citing Uzbek intelligence," the AP relates from the French report. "The note listed potential targets: American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Continental Airlines, United Airlines, Air France and Lufthansa. The list also included a mention of 'US Aero,' but it was unclear exactly what that referred to."
Subsequently, two were "finally chosen by the pirates of the September 11: American Airlines and United Airlines," Le Monde reported.
"At the time, Lorenzi said, officials had heard echoes only about a standard hijacking — they had no idea al-Qaida planned to slam planes into buildings, let alone the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," the AP article adds.
The plot described was allegedly drawn up by Al-Qaeda with the Taliban militia in Afghanistan and Chechen rebels.
But there was no discussion then of flying the plane to the United States to smash it into a building there, which is what Al-Qaeda hijackers did when they seized four planes in September 2001 in attacks that left 3,000 people dead.
The January 5, 2001 file was titled "Aircraft hijack plan by radical Islamists."
It said that in October of the previous year, bin Laden had decided at a meeting in Afghanistan his next action against the US would involve a hijacking, but that there was still disagreement among Al-Qaeda leaders over the exact details.
Al-Qaeda had in 1998 carried out simultaneous bomb attacks on the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that left hundreds dead.
The DGSE documents drew on information provided by the intelligence agencies of other countries that was corroborated by agents placed by the French in Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, Le Monde said.
These agents were often young men from European cities who had been recruited by the DGSE after trying to become "jihadis," or holy warriors, for Al-Qaeda.
The DGSE reports were also based on information gleaned from intercepting satellite phone calls, Le Monde said.
A 2004 report by the US Congress on the events leading up to September 11 highlighted failures by US intelligence services to gather and share information that might have helped prevent the attacks.
But Le Monde said no mention was made in that report of the information that the DGSE passed on to the CIA in early 2001.
Le Monde said sources close to the DGSE said the agency had as early as 1995 set up a cell to watch bin Laden.
On September 11, 2001, 19 men, mostly Saudi nationals, hijacked four airliners in the United States.
They crashed two of them into the World Trade Center in New York, which caused the centre's twin towers to collapse, and a third into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Defense Department in Washington.
The fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers tried to retake control of the aircraft.
(with wire reports)