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The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, And Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It
By John Miller, Michael Stone with Chris Mitchell
HC, 304 pgs. US$24.95/C$34.95
ISBN: 0-7868-6900-3

The failures behind September 11

By Steven Martinovich
web posted August 12, 2002

The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, And Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop ItIn the days proceeding the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks a horrifying realization must have crossed the minds of several of the investigators. Many of the hijackers had been known to various branches of American law enforcement with a few even raising serious concern. As the months after the attacks rolled on, further revelations suggested that the events of September 11 needn't have occurred had someone just connected the dots.

In the minds of John Miller and Michael Stone, the events of September 11 belong to a chain of events that stretches back to the November 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane in New York City. His killing reinforced the perception of many that American law enforcement wasn't ready to deal with terrorism, a belief that would have deadly consequences just a few years later with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

It was a pattern that was repeated in successive attacks on two African embassies in Africa and a few years later with the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. Tantalizing hints of upcoming attacks by al-Qaida, including one outright declaration by Osama bin Laden during an ABC interview, streamed into the intelligence communities of several nations and yet they were rarely prevented. With each successful mission, the confidence of al-Qaida grew and culminated in the stunning attacks of September 11.

The story that Miller, one of the few western journalists to interview bin Laden, and Stone tell in The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, And Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It is at best a disconcerting one. It was a confluence of factors that led to September 11, the pair argue. In the United States, turf battles, administrative concerns, a lack of resources and careerist bosses prevented agents and officers on the ground from fully developing leads were among the factors for the failure to catch the plotters before they carried out their deadly plans.

Every story, however, needs a hero and The Cell anoints men like John O'Neill with that role. A former FBI agent who worked in counter-terrorism, O'Neill ironically left the bureau to become the World Trade Center's chief of security just two weeks before the September 11 terrorist attacks. While Miller investigates bin Laden and his terrorist network throughout the 1990s, O'Neill methodically investigates terrorist threats against the United States, both homegrown and foreign. Unlike Miller who is given the ample resources of ABC News and the freedom to pursue the story, however, O'Neill is frustrated by the shortcomings of the FBI's bureaucracy.

Those shortcomings included failing to see the danger of a number of terrorist suspects taking flight training at the same time or not acting on information provided by an al-Qaida defector that a hijacking plot was put into place as early as April 2001. At times The Cell reads like a frustrating manual of government incompetence and seemingly willful ignorance, one that carried tragic consequences. Hindsight is of course 20-20 but a reader of The Cell may very well be tempted to occasionally shout out loud at the ability for the many law enforcement and intelligence personnel to miss the forest for the trees.

The Cell likely isn't the final word of who knew what and when given that we're still learning details of the days leading up to the terrorist attacks. Despite that, Miller and Stone's dogged pursuit of the story is a worthwhile read if only for the story of what we do know now. Miller and Stone point out that if September 11 has done anything, it has smoothed over relations between agencies in the interests performing their duties more efficiently. It's tragic that it took the deaths of thousands during strikes at America's financial and military hearts for that to occur.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.

Buy The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, And Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It at Amazon.com for only $17.47 (30% off)

Read an excerpt of The Cell here.

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