The September 11 Attack: US Policy Failure

The September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda attack on the United States’ soil has been blamed on tactical intelligence failure by the authorities that investigated the issue (Marrin, 2011). However, scholars and security experts who have looked at the issue critically have varying opinions about the real source of mistake that left the country badly exposed to the terror attack. Some scholars and experts believe that it was a tactical intelligence failure.

Others believe that this was a strategic policy failure that led to the disaster (Kean & Hamilton, 2004). Each group has solid grounds to defend its opinion about the source of the weakness that led to the worst terror attack in the country in the modern history. In this paper, the researcher seeks to develop an argument that the September 11, 2001 terror attack was a result of strategic policy.

The United States of America has one of the best intelligence services in the world. In fact, Eichenwald (2012) says that the intelligence service of the United States is unrivalled. Various agencies responsible for gathering intelligence did an excellent job in tracking down the activities of the Al Qaeda soon after the plans to attack the United States were hatched. The idea of attacking the United States was first presented to Osama bin Laded in 1996 by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

However, the Al Qaeda leader did not take it seriously arguing that the terror group lacked the capacity to attack such a powerful nation. Instead it opted to attack United States’ embassies in East Africa. However, bin Laden changed his mind in 1998 when he was convinced by his lieutenants that attacking the United States was a reality. The plans for the attack started in late 1998.

In 1999, the National Security Agency had already intercepted a conversation of the planners of this attack and was immediately convinced that the group was plotting a terror attack. The Central Intelligence Agency started following the lead and soon it became apparent that members of the dreaded Al Qaeda were in the country. The Saudi intelligence authority further confirmed to the CIA that the individuals whose activities were being monitored by the United States were indeed members of the Al Qaeda group. In the same year, CIA officers broke into a Dubai hotel where Mihdhar- one of the top planners of the attack- was staying (Eichenwald, 2012).

The officers discovered that he had fraudulently acquired a US visa. Other documents also strongly indicated that he and his accomplices were planning a serious attack. At first, the intelligence agency believed that this terror group was planning an attack in some of their embassies as they had done before. However, the more they investigated the issue, the more they got convinced that the attack might be in the US soil.

The strategic intelligence was very successful in providing information about an impending attack. However, the strategic policy failed the country. First, the CIA failed to inform FBI about the threat in time for the bureau to start monitoring the activities of the suspects within the country. The security agencies and the intelligence agencies did not coordinate closely to monitor the activities of these suspects, and this is evident given that the airports were not properly secured. The policy that defines how various security agencies should coordinate and operate failed to protect the country at the hour of need.


Eichenwald, K (2012). The Deafness before the Storm. The New York Times. Web.

Kean, T. H., & Hamilton, L. (2004). The 9/11 Commission report: Final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. Washington, DC: National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.

Marrin, S. (2011). The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks: A Failure of Policy not Strategic Intelligence Analysis. Intelligence and National Security, 26(2-3), 182-202.

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