Sept. 11 attacks: Is it one of government missteps?

The FBI missed at least five opportunities before the Sept. 11 attacks to uncover vital intelligence information about the terrorists, and the bureau didn't aggressively pursue the information it did have, the Justice Department's inspector general says in a newly released critique of government missteps, informs ABC News.

The IG faulted the FBI for not knowing about the presence of two of the Sept. 11 terrorists in the United States and for not following up on an agent's theory that &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Osama bin Laden was sending students to U.S. flight training schools. The agent's theory turned out to be precisely what bin Laden did.

"The way the FBI handled these matters was a significant failure that hindered the FBI's chances of being able to detect and prevent the Sept. 11 attacks," Inspector General Glenn Fine said.

When the bureau did discover the presence of hijackers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar in the United States shortly before the attacks, "the FBI's investigation then was conducted without much urgency or priority," the report concluded.

The report provides new information about the bureau's mishandling of a warning from an agent in Phoenix in July 2001 about Middle Eastern extremists connected to Osama bin Laden using American schools to receive &to=http:// ' target=_blank>aviation training.

The F.B.I.'s cumbersome computer system - still beset by problems today - did not automatically forward the agent's memorandum to bureau officials who were supposed to receive copies of it, the report found. Those agents who did see the warning did not have the time to follow it up, or disregarded it because they felt the presence of Middle Eastern flight students was already commonly known. The agents were also concerned that racial profiling had become so "hot" an issue that they could not pursue the Phoenix agent's suspicions, according to the report.

But the report stopped short of recommending disciplinary action against any F.B.I. employees.

"What we found were significant deficiencies in the way the F.B.I. handled these issues," Glenn A. Fine, the inspector general, said in an interview. "We don't believe it was misconduct on the part of individuals so much as systemic problems, but we do recommend that the F.B.I. review the performance of individuals on its own."

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