Information Sharing Mechanisms Prior to the September 11 Attack. Evaluation of Effectiveness and Subsequent Reforms

Term Paper, 2018

9 Pages, Grade: 1.2


Table of Contents



Intelligence Failures of the attack of September 9/11

Remedy to the Lack of Intel Sharing

Post 9/11 Intelligence Reform
Productivity of the Policies




September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the U.S cities occurred to the Americans and the world at large. This attack was regarded to as one of the most disastrous failure of the U.S intelligence, which caused 3,000 deaths. This failure was attributable to the unprecedented ineffectiveness of information sharing mechanisms. Therefore, this case study will give an evaluation of the effectiveness of information sharing regarding to the 9/11 attack and the subsequent reforms.


In the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attack, three airlines were hijacked by the Osama-led terrorists, and they were used to hit the World Trade Center building and Pentagon. Two planes: Flight 11 and Flight 175 were crashed into the North and South towers of the WTC, leading to the collapsing of the building, which killed people and injured others. Other two planes: Flight 77 and Flight 93 were also hijacked to hit the Pentagon. Fortunately, only Flight 77 was successfully crashed into the Pentagon. Flight 93 lost its target and crashed in Pennsylvania (Borjesson, 2013).

From an analytical perspective, this fatal attack could have been avoided through the formulation of efficient human intelligence policies by the Clinton and Bush Administrations to enhance information sharing among the intelligence agencies but, this aspect appears to have been given low priority. Corum (2012) claims, “The complacent Clinton and Bush administrations set rules that made it impossible for the CIA and domestic police agencies to share information about foreign terrorist threats” (par. 2).

Intelligence Failures of the attack of September 9/11

It seems evident that there was an unprecedented failure of information sharing between FAA and NORAD during the course of attack. Delayed communication between FAA and NORAD, especially with regard to the disappearance of Flight 77 from the radar provides substantial evidence of the failed communication. The Pentagon attack could have been prevented because FAA was aware of the two hijackings out of Boston but, it delayed notifying the Pentagon, until 28 minutes later. Borjesson et. al (2013) reports, “The FAA, already in contact with the Pentagon about the two hijackings out of Boston, reportedly did not notify NORAD of this until 9:24, 28 minutes later” (par. 53). On the other hand, Pentagon spokesman reaffirmed this miscommunication by stating, “The Pentagon was simply not aware that this aircraft was coming our way” (par. 56).

It is reported that the U.S intelligence agencies pieces of valuable information, which could have led to the disruption of the Al Qaeda's plot of September 9/11 terrorist attack but, this information was not shared among the agencies, leading to the fatal attack. The Center for Public Integrity (2012) cites evidence of the lack of information sharing among the U.S intelligence agencies with the July, 2001 memo. This memo was written to the bureau of executives by one of the FBI agents in Phoenix, Arizona, warning Washington of what he referred as, “possibility of a coordinated effort by Osama Bin Laden to train terrorists in U.S. flight schools” (par. 1).

Surprisingly, the memo was not seen by any of the FBI agents who were in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit until after 9/11 terrorist attack. The Center for Public Integrity reports the remarks of the 9/11 Commission that, “Had they seen the memo in a timely manner, it could have sensitized the FBI so that it might have taken the Moussaoui matter more seriously” (par. 1). Moussaoui was one of suicide hijackers of 9/11 attack whom FBI had tracked his training activities, especially with regard to flying commercial aircraft. Unfortunately, FBI failed to notify the Federal Aviation Administration of their investigations report contained in the Phoenix memo. The Center for Public Integrity (2012) reports, “A month after the Phoenix memo was written, the FBI’s Minneapolis office was kept from notifying the Federal Aviation Administration of an agent’s assessment that Zacarias Moussaoui planned to hijack an airplane” (par. 1).

The second evidence of the ineffectiveness of information sharing among the U.S intelligence agencies is provided by the August, 2001 incidence, in which the CIA described Zacarias Moussaoui as one of the possible suicide hijackers. However, CIA failed to connect its information with the intelligence reports, which had been released by the FBI agents with regard to the hijacker’s activities in the U.S flight schools. FBI reports, including the Phoenix memo warned of imminent Al Qaeda hijackings but, that information was not shared among the intelligence agencies. The unprecedented ineffectiveness of information sharing mechanisms among the U.S intelligence agencies was described by the 9/11 Commission as a significant failure of the U.S intelligence. This gap is believed to have been caused by the intelligence agencies’ culture of withholding security information gathered by their agents. The 9/11 Commission describes this as, “The culture of agencies feeling they own the information they gathered at taxpayers’ expense must be replaced by a culture in which the agencies instead feel they have a duty to the information” (Center for Public Integrity, 2012 par. 1). As a result, the Commission advocated for efficient improvement of information sharing among intelligent agencies.

Remedy to the Lack of Intel Sharing

The lack of intelligence information sharing was addressed by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which was prepared in accordance to the 9/11 Commission recommendations. In addition, the General Accountability Office (GAO) contributed significantly to the intelligence reforms through evaluating the effectiveness of intelligence information sharing among different agencies. The General Accountability Office developed valuable recommendations to reaffirm the report of the 9/11 Commission. GAO identified gaps in information sharing among the U.S Government agencies within the Federal entities. GAO’s report of 2004 indicated, “Intelligence and information sharing initiatives implemented by states and cities were not effectively coordinated with those of federal agencies, nor were they coordinated within and between federal entities” (par. 5). GAO’s report emphasized on the significance of incorporating effective information sharing strategies among Federal, State and City Governments to enhance the efficiency of information sharing process, which would enable intelligence agencies to access information across the United States (GAO, 2004).

Moreover, the designing of information sharing reforms relied on the recommendations of the DHS. The recommendations produced by the three agencies: the 9/11 Commission, GAO and DHS were regarded to as the prerequisites of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and the Homeland Security Act, which have enhanced the reliability of the U.S intelligence agencies.

In regard to the recommendations of the principal agencies and Commissions, five principal aspects were addressed. First, the Homeland Security Act was to be designed to incorporate information sharing procedures and national strategies to ensure effective information sharing among agencies, especially with regard to intelligence issues. In addition, there was a need to a clearing house, which would be in charge of coordinating the existing information sharing initiatives. This was intended to prevent the duplication of the security operation strategies among different intelligence agencies, which could cause an unprecedented confusion (GAO, 2004).

Moreover, there commendations sought to establish efficient integration of the States and other Federal entities into the policy making process, especially with regard to the national policy making for efficient information sharing (GAO, 2004). It was also recommended that a comprehensive evaluation of the barriers of information sharing among Federal agencies. Therefore, the U.S intelligence reforms incorporated these recommendations through the enactment of the current security regulations. Consequently, the lessons learned in the 9/11 attack, in which the U.S intelligence failed to stop the terrorist act prompted for a political response whose ultimate result was the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in 2002. DHS comprises of 22 agencies and, it works in coordination with Pentagon and other relevant intelligence entities. In addition, the Director of National Intelligence was established, in 2004 to oversee all intelligence agencies and ensure efficient information sharing to enhance the success in spying activities (Zakaria, 2011).

Post 9/11 Intelligence Reform

A decade after the 9/11 terrorist attack, information sharing among the U.S intelligence agencies has improved significantly. Zakaria (2011) reports, “significant changes both big and small, have broken down barriers between agencies, smoothed information sharing and improved coordination” (par. 2). Some of the most significant changes include inter-mixing of intelligence experts from different intelligence agencies and the issuing of blue badges to all member of the intelligence team. The blue badge symbolizes a universal identity to enhance corporation during intelligence activities.

Currently, the culture of the ‘need-to-know’ among intelligence agencies seems to have been changed to the culture of the ‘need-to-share, leading a remarkable progress in the U.S intelligence agencies. Intelligence agencies exchange information efficiently from the federal to national level, owing to the establishment of legislation, which emphasize on the significance of human intelligence and information sharing. Zakaria (2011) remarks, “U.S. intelligence agencies will forever be scarred by their failure to connect the dots and detect the September 11 plot, but a decade later efforts to break down barriers to information-sharing are taking root” (par. 1).

Productivity of the Policies

However, there are still some gaps in the information sharing process among intelligence agencies. It is feared that the U.S remains susceptible to future terrorist attacks because; the U.S Government introduced a substantial degree of bureaucracy through the establishment of the intelligence reforms, which have been identified to hinder efficient sharing of information among the U.S intelligence agencies.

Inefficiency in the information sharing among intelligence agencies was evidenced by the 2009 terrorist plot, in which a Nigerian national who was linked to the Al-Qaeda attempted to light explosives while in the Detroit-bound plane, although he did not succeed in lighting the explosives concealed in his underwear. Later on, it was discovered that the U.S intelligence authorities had acquired valuable information about the hijacker, prior to the incidence but, there was no security measures were taken to track his terrorist schemes (Zakaria, 2011). This inefficiency can be attributed to the failure of accomplishing some of the proposed changes regarding authorities’ response to terrorist attacks. Zakaria (2011) remarks, “creation of a common communication system for police, firefighters and other emergency personnel remains tangled up in political wrangling, in Congress, over how to implement it” (par. 17).


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Information Sharing Mechanisms Prior to the September 11 Attack. Evaluation of Effectiveness and Subsequent Reforms
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Caroline Mutuku (Author), 2018, Information Sharing Mechanisms Prior to the September 11 Attack. Evaluation of Effectiveness and Subsequent Reforms, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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