Bush: The Ignored Warning That Will Come to Haunt Him
Gordon Thomas

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon authorised the leak of sensitive documents which reveal America's spy agencies were warned about a terrorist strike weeks before September 11. The controversial move has now directly embroiled President George Bush in the 'how-much-did-he-know?' debate over the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Sharon's reaction is a calculated response to growing claims that Mossad has been running spy operations within the United States and also reveals a split in the special relationship between the two leaders.

Mossad chiefs insist the Israeli spy agency was tracking Osama bin Laden's terrorists in America before September 11 and that the information was passed on to the CIA on five separate occasions before the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon. As late as August 24, less than two weeks before the attacks, a Mossad warning, confirmed by German intelligence, BND, said that "terrorists plan to hijack commercial aircraft to use as weapons to attack important symbols of American and Israeli culture." The warning alert was passed to the CIA.

The warning was also passed to MI6 (British Intelligence). The agency made its own checks and also informed the CIA. Frustrated by its inability to alert the CIA to an impending attack, the Mossad arranged on September 1, according to Tel Aviv sources last week, for Russian intelligence to warn Washington "in the strongest possible terms of imminent assaults on airports and government buildings." The Mossad's fury at the failure of the US intelligence community to act has been compounded by the revelation that the Bush administration had ordered the FBI only a week before the September attacks to curtail investigations on two of Osama bin Laden's close relatives living in Virginia at the time.

Sharon's decision to allow the story of Bush's prior knowledge of the attack to be leaked comes at a time when Israel is smarting over what Sharon sees as Bush pressurising the Jewish state into an accommodation with Arafat.

The feeling in Tel Aviv is that Bush's much hyped war on terrorism does not actually fit into the aggressive policy Israel wants to pursue.

Sharon has already suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of his archrival, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the central committee of their Likud Party ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian State last Sunday.

The party's decision, formalized in a resolution backed by Netanyahu, directly contradicted Sharon's own stated acceptance of a Palestinian state as the eventual conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It came as
Sharon faces mounting domestic and international pressure to find a way to stop more than 19 months of bloodshed and launch talks with the Palestinians.

The support he was expecting from America failed to materialise, said a source close to the Mossad. "Ariel Sharon is furious because he thinks Bush has not supported him as fully as he could. His coalition is falling apart, Netanyahu has sneaked ahead of him and the Israelis are generally fed up of living in fear. Sharon is quite clear where the blame lies – in the White House. Now he has really stirred things up by putting Bush right at the centre of this storm by actively allowing these sensitive documents to be leaked to the world. He feels he needs to teach Bush a lesson and this will certainly complicate America's peace efforts in the region," he said.

According to similar documents shown to the Sunday Express, the Mossad was running a round-the-clock surveillance operation on some of the September 11 hijackers.

The details, contained in classified papers, reveal that a senior Mossad agent tipped off his counterpart in the CIA that a massive terrorist hit was being planned in the US. A handful of the spies had infiltrated the Al-Qaeda organisation while a staggering 120 others, posing as overseas art students, launched massive undercover operations throughout America.

Other documents leaked to the Sunday Express from several intelligence agencies including the Drug Enforcement Agency show that two Mossad cells of six Egyptian and Yemeni born Jews, trained at a secret base in Israel's Negev Desert on how to penetrate Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

One team flew to Amsterdam and were under the control of the Mossad's Europe Station. This is based at Schipol Airport within the El Al complex. They later made contact in Hamburg with Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker on September 11.

The second group flew directly to New York. From there they travelled South to Florida and infiltrated the bin Laden organisation. In August last year, the Mossad team in Europe flew with some of the Hamburg terrorists into Boston, a month before the attack on the twin towers.

By then the Mossad team had established an attack on the US was "imminent". It reported this to its Tel Aviv controller through the Israeli Embassy in Washington using a system of secure communications. In early September Mossad Chief Efraim Halevy sent a warning to the CIA of the possibility of such an attack. The warning was noted and acknowledged. But CIA chief George Tenet is understood to have described it as "too non-specific." The FBI was also informed. Halevy sent a second alert to the CIA that reached Washington on or around September 7.

A spokesman for the FBI refused to discuss specific details of the Mossad operation but said: "There are Congressional hearings with regard to possible intelligence failures arising from September 11. We can't verify your information because it is part of an ongoing investigation."

Neither the DEA or the CIA would comment on the record, but a senior US intelligence source said: "Anyone can be wise after the event but it was extremely difficult to act on a non-specific threat given in a couple of tips from Israeli intelligence. It would be interesting to know if they could have been more specific with their information.

''Their surveillance teams must have observed Atta and his accomplices going to flying schools. I guess we might never know the real truth."

The spying operations first came to the attention of the DEA in January 2001 according to a classified 90-page dossier which has been seen by the Sunday Express. The names, passport details and other personal records of some of the Israeli-born spies are also detailed in the dossier.

GORDON THOMAS is the author of forty-three books. Seven of them are major motion pictures including five times Academy Award-nominated Voyage of the Damned; Enola Gay, which won the Emmy Awards Foreign Critics Prize.

His books of best-selling David Morton novels are being filmed by IAC International as a 22-hour television series to be screened worldwide in 2003. His Gideon's Spies: Mossad's Secret Warriors became a major documentary for Channel Four which he wrote and narrated. It followed three years of research during which he was given unprecedented access to the Mossad's key personnel. The book has so far been published in 16 languages.

Gordon Thomas lives in Ireland, with his wife.

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