Previously on The Looming Tower, “A Very Special Relationship”
This week’s episode begins and ends with the same scenes: George Tenet’s and Dr. Condoleezza Rice’s testimony during the 9/11 Joint Inquiry in 2004. Tenet is questioned about why the CIA did not inform the FBI of the arrival of Hazmi, the traveling partner of Khalid al-Mihdhar, to the USA on January 15, 2001. This information was communicated through a CIA cable on March 5, 200, however Hazmi nor Mihdhar were put on a watch list. Tenet testifies that he is unaware of who should have been responsible to read this cable and to watch list the men during that time in March. Dr. Rice also gives frustrating testimony in that she was informed by Richard Clarke of al-Qaeda terror cells present in the United States at the August 6, 2001 President Daily Brief; however, she does not remember of receiving any recommendations to do anything with this information. There was no urgency to investigate these findings even though the title of the brief was entitled: ‘Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States.’
Quite effectively, the episode is closed with the footage of the real-life testimony. The middle portion of the episode deals with how Hazmi, Mihdhar, and other al Qaeda operatives slip through the FBI fingers a mere month before the 9/11 attacks.
Agent Katherine Shaughnessy informs Sanchez that Zacaria Moussaoui, an al-Qaeda Frenchman, was apprehended in Eagan, Minnesota after being reported by his flying instructor for not being too keen on learning the landing portion of the lessons. Additionally, Moussaoui was found to be in possession of a flight stimulator, shin guards, a Boeing 747 flight manual, fighting gloves, and information on crop dusting. Confused on what this could indicate, Sanchez orders Shaughnessy to generate a list of all Arab people in domestic flight schools and to flag anyone with any relative connection to terrorism.
FBI agent Toni-Ann Marino (we are finally graced with her last name this episode) delivers this list to Diane Marsh who cross references the 800 names with Alec Station’s al Qaeda database. Marsh prints out files for all 96 names that are matched in the database and boxes them all up, including files on Hazmi and Mihdhar. Frustratingly, she tells Marino to deliver the box to the intel department and not the criminal department of I-49. Terrance Walde, a rookie special agent still wet behind the ears, receives the box with instructions to locate all of the men. I cant help but to wonder at this point why a team of agents was not assigned such an important task. But I guess hindsight is 20/20.
In response to the FBI’s peaked concern regarding al Qaeda operatives in domestic flight schools, agent Ali Soufan is sent back to Yemen by Sanchez to further investigate the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. While there, Soufan unsuccessfully tries again to convince the General to allow him to interrogate Abu Jandel.
With this being the penultimate episode, I expected more focus to be upon the terrorists and the impeding terrorist attack. Now arguably the footage that we did get to see was in fact terrifying. Mr. Attawa, Midhar, Hazmi and a group of other Arab men all travel to Las Vegas for one last hoorah before their suicide mission. As entertaining as it was to hear a high Midhar tell a black exotic dancer that her “skin is like chocolate water”, I wanted to see more footage of the terrifying Mr. Attawa as he put the 9/11 attacks into motion. On American airlines flight: #AA2558, LA to Las Vegas, Mr. Attawa confirms just how easy it is to access the cockpit as a mere passenger. He confirms that duck taping the ends of box cutters is enough to cloak them from detection in a carry-on bag at the airport. Finally, he buys the airplane tickets for the different flights that will be taken over on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. With each of these moves, I felt the sense of dread that is to surely come next week during the final episode. However, I wanted more detail about how the planning for the attacks was actually accomplished and even more about Mr. Attawa’s opinion on American society. There are hints for his disdain of American culture as he eyes a woman’s bare shoulders with disdain, judges an over-weight man on a scooter in the grocery store, and even washes his hand after an exotic dancer dared to touch his hand.
Of course the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks caused immense heart ache and loss all across America. However, until this episode, I never really stopped to think the toll it must have taken on the very FBI and other government officials who were trying to prevent them. During John O’Neal’s retirement party, it is revealed that he has decided to take a job at the North Tower as Chief of Security. Hoping that this was just simply a convenient plot device, I Googled this fact to find out it was unfortunately true. With little hope of O’Neal making it out of the North Tower alive next week, it made the sentiments and toasts made by his co-workers that much more heartfelt. How cruel and ironic is it that the very terrorist organization O’Neal tried to get the US government to take more seriously, ends up being the very people who take his and thousands of American lives? In this case, truth really is stranger than fiction.
- Security measures have increased before people boards airplanes now in the USA, but after this episode I was left wondering if the cockpits are now more secure.
- There was a previous attack on the North Tower on February 26, 1993. A truck bomb was meant to cause the North Tower to fall into the South Tower and collapse both of the buildings. Six people were killed, and thousands were injured.
- Richard Clarke has been demoted from his cabinet-level status and now reports to the Deputies Committee
- Agent Vincent Stuart is quite the snazzy break dancer.
- Presumably O’Neal is completely separated from his wife at this point. Liz accompanies him to his retirement party and his family is unsurprisingly absent. He visits his family home briefly. When no one is home, he simply leaves an envelope of money on the counter.
- At the party, Soufan confesses to O’Neal that he is in love with Heather. Again, I guess.
- Ahmad Shah Massoud, an Afghan political leader, was assassinated by presumably Osama bin Laden’s followers after his speech to the European parliament warned of the impeding terrorist attacks on US soil.