"Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else. ...
"On July 24, Mr. Bush was notified that the attack was still being readied, but that it had been postponed, perhaps by a few months. But the president did not feel the briefings on potential attacks were sufficient, one intelligence official told me, and instead asked for a broader analysis on Al Qaeda, its aspirations and its history. In response, the C.I.A. set to work on the Aug. 6 brief."
Over the past several years, other senior intelligence officials have commented on the mounting evidence of a planned attack and the failure of Bush to react.
"It all came together in the third week of June," said Richard Clarke, who was the White House coordinator for counterterrorism. "The CIA's view was that a major terrorist attack was coming in the next several weeks."
In late June, CIA Director George Tenet was reported "nearly frantic" about the likelihood of an al-Qaeda attack. He was described as running around "with his hair on fire" because the warning system was "blinking red."
Some information even began to reach Washington reporters, but apparently not enough or the right ones. New York Times reporter Judith Miller, in a 2006 interview with Alternet, said a well-placed CIA official briefed her on an al-Qaeda intercept over the July Fourth holiday in 2001.
"The person told me that there was some concern about an intercept that had been picked up," Miller said. "The incident that had gotten everyone's attention was a conversation between two members of al-Qaeda. And they had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the [destroyer USS] Cole [which was bombed on Oct. 12, 2000].
"And one al-Qaeda operative was overheard saying to the other, "Don't worry; we're planning something so big now that the U.S. will have to respond.'"
Miller, who herself had close ties to the neocons, expressed regret that she had not been able to nail down enough details about the intercept to get the story into the newspaper. The Alternet interview was published in May 2006 after Miller resigned from the Times, in part, over her cozy ties with key neocons in Bush's administration.
On July 5, 2001, at a meeting in the White House Situation Room, counterterrorism chief Clarke told officials from a dozen federal agencies that "something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon." But instead of sparking an intensified administration reaction to the danger, the flickering light of White House interest in the terror threat continued to sputter.
By July 10, senior CIA counterterrorism officials, including Cofer Black, had collected a body of intelligence that they presented to Director Tenet.
"The briefing [Black] gave me literally made my hair stand on end," Tenet wrote in his memoir, At the Center of the Storm. "When he was through, I picked up the big white secure phone on the left side of my desk -- the one with a direct line to [national security adviser] Condi Rice -- and told her that I needed to see her immediately to provide an update on the al-Qa'ida threat."
After reaching the White House, a CIA briefer, identified in Tenet's book only as Rich B., started his presentation by saying: "There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!"
Rich B. then displayed a chart showing "seven specific pieces of intelligence gathered over the past 24 hours, all of them predicting an imminent attack," Tenet wrote. The briefer presented another chart with "the more chilling statements we had in our possession through intelligence."
These comments included a mid-June statement by Osama bin Laden to trainees about an attack in the near future; talk about decisive acts and a "big event"; and fresh intelligence about predictions of "a stunning turn of events in the weeks ahead," Tenet wrote.
Rich B. told Rice that the attack will be "spectacular" and designed to inflict heavy casualties against U.S. targets. "Attack preparations have been made," Rich B. said about al-Qaeda's plans. "Multiple and simultaneous attacks are possible, and they will occur with little or no warning."