The Terror Error


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Not only did federal officials use outdated intelligence information when they sent out their almost hysterical “terror” alert Sunday, but they may very well have been relying on information that they got from possible suspects who feds nabbed in New York City more than two months before 9-11 but let slip away.

That incident in June 2001 was originally reported on July 1, 2001, by Al Guart in the New York Post. (See this Mondo column.)

Worse yet, at the time of the federal officials’ bungle that summer, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and other city officials were saying everything was hunky-dory and there were no “credible” or “direct” terrorist threats against the city—despite the fact that, as the Post reported on July 8, 2001, there had been nearly a decade of threats against New York buildings.

“Within the government, there’s a panic,” one insider told the Post at the time of the second story. “Outside the government, we hear there’s no cause for panic.”

The Post pointed out in that story that in December 1999, Howard Safir, at the time the city’s police commissioner, said, “We’re in constant contact with our federal partners. There’s absolutely no indication of any specific threat against New York City.”

But as the paper noted, an internal report in 2000 by a top federal lawman in New York said there had been “eight years of direct threats” to government buildings in Lower Manhattan. The report—again, unearthed before 9-11 by the Post and written about on July 8, 2001—said, referring to a building at 26 Federal Plaza, “The threat issue that permeates this facility’s vulnerabilities is predominantly caused by international radical terrorism (IRT), which has presented eight years of direct threats to NYC Civic Center Facilities.” The civic center, near the World Trade Center, is the location of city, state, and federal courts, in addition to City Hall and NYPD headquarters.

The report, said the Post, was written by regional criminal investigator John Crowe of the Federal Protective Service, which is in charge of security of federal facilities around the city. “Civic Center facilities are at the hub of the U.S. government’s counter-terrorist war,” said the report, according to the paper. “It is expected that threats will continue to seriously impact the security of this facility for years to come.”

In the June incident initially reported by the Post‘s Guart on July 1, three Middle Eastern “tourists” were seen taking photographs of 26 Federal Plaza. They were questioned by the FBI and the immigration agents, who confiscated their film but then released the three men.

When the film was developed a few days later, “the feds panicked,” Guart wrote, because the pictures were of “security cameras, police posts, security checkpoints and exits and entrances at the new and old Manhattan federal courthouses, 26 Federal Plaza, and the federal building at 290 Broadway.”

Agents then checked out a photocopy they had made of one of the men’s ID and visa, said the paper, and discovered that the documents were phony and the man’s address didn’t exist.

The Post‘s July 1 story said, “The incident, which is being kept hush-hush outside federal investigative circles, has law-enforcement officials on edge for fear that real steps toward a terror attack are under way. Internal memos have been circulated about the incident and service officers in other states and in Washington, D.C., have been told about it at roll calls, the sources said.”

The paper also noted that “when the feds searched the Cliffside, N.J., apartment of convicted terrorist El Sayyid Nosair on Nov. 5, 1990, they found detailed photos of the World Trade Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Washington Monument, along with bomb-making manuals.”