'99 report: Plane attack possible

WASHINGTON — An analysis commissioned by the CIA two years before the Sept. 11 attacks warned that Osama bin Laden loyalists might crash a plane into the Pentagon or the White House, raising fresh doubts yesterday about the Bush administration's insistence that it had no way of predicting the hijackings.

The report to the CIA, prepared by government researchers in September 1999, included a picture of the World Trade Center towers and warned the CIA that bin Laden "most likely will retaliate in a spectacular way" for U.S. missile strikes a year earlier on al-Qaida compounds.

"Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives ... into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House," the analysis concluded.

The detailed warning was not included in a classified briefing that the CIA gave President Bush on Aug. 6 about the prospect of al-Qaida hijackings — a briefing that Bush administration officials said was too vague to warrant concrete action. And White House officials did not see the report until yesterday morning, spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Former President Clinton, in Hawaii, played down the intelligence value of the report, issued during his administration.

"That has nothing to do with intelligence," he said. "All that it says is they used public sources to speculate on what bin Laden might do. Let me remind you that's why I attacked his training camp and why I asked the Pakistanis to go get him, and why we contracted with some people in Afghanistan to go get him because we thought he was dangerous."

The Justice Department is seeking to determine why the report was not relayed to the White House or other national-security personnel who might have included it their pre-Sept. 11 analyses of how the U.S. should respond to the terrorist threat, according to a department official who asked not to be identified.

John Gannon, director of the CIA's intelligence branch when the document was published, said the 1999 report challenges the notion that a Sept. 11-style attack was all but inconceivable before it happened.

The 1999 document was commissioned by Gannon as material for a broader report on the global trends and threats envisioned through 2015. Unlike Bush's August briefing by the CIA, which was based on classified information, the more detailed, 138-page report in 1999 was culled from publicly available sources by the Federal Research Division, a branch of the Library of Congress, and it was posted in December on its Web site (www.loc.gov).

The reference to a possible hijacking plot was drawn largely from comments by Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a U.S. intelligence official said.

But the intelligence community was far more concerned about al-Qaida obtaining biological or chemical weapons, he said.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.