Former Clinton and Bush White House top counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke alleges in an interview for a radio documentary commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that then-CIA director George Tenet and other top CIA officials withheld intelligence on two al Qaeda operatives living in the United States that ended up taking part in the attacks. Philip Shenon at the Daily Beast reports:
Clarke speculates — and readily admits he cannot prove — that the CIA withheld the information because the agency had been trying to recruit the terrorists, while they were living in Southern California under their own names, to work as CIA agents inside Al Qaeda. After the recruitment effort went sour, senior CIA officers continued to withhold the information from the White House for fear they would be accused of “malfeasance and misfeasance,” Clarke suggests.
The CIA says that while it knew about the two al Qaeda hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, the agency admits if failed to share information on them, but maintains that Tenet was not informed about them and top CIA officials were not involved in a cover-up. Shenon also notes that the 9/11 Commission investigated rumors that the CIA tried to recruit al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, but its final report found no evidence to support the claims and said “it appears that no one informed higher levels of management in either the FBI or CIA” about the two terrorists.
Clarke made the comments for the documentary in 2009 and says his theory is based on a hunch because he says its “the only conceivable reason that I’ve been able to come up with” to explain why he and others at the White House weren’t told about the two terrorists until the day of the attacks. He says if he’d been told, the 9/11 hijackers would have been captured which thus, might have prevented the attacks.
Tenet and two other former top CIA officials responded to Clarke’s allegations in a statement, saying that “his recently released comments about the run-up to 9/11 are reckless and profoundly wrong.” The statement continued, “Building on his false notion that information was intentionally withheld, Mr. Clarke went on to speculate — which he admits is based on nothing other than his imagination — that the CIA might have been trying to recruit these two future hijackers as agents. This, like much of what Mr. Clarke said in his interview, is utterly without foundation.”