Nine of the Sept. 11 hijackers were identified as possible security risks by the government's passenger-profiling system before they boarded their ill-fated flights, the commission investigating the attacks said Tuesday.
But, following the guidelines in place at the time, officials at three of the nation's airports merely searched their baggage for explosives rather than questioning or searching the men.
Had the government required more intense screening for passengers identified by the computer-assisted passenger-screening program, officials might have found and confiscated the box cutters and utility knives used to hijack the four airliners, according to the preliminary report from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
At least three of the 19 hijackers set off metal detectors at Washington Dulles International Airport but were allowed to proceed to their gates. Two were scanned by screeners with hand-held metal detectors, according to an airport videotape.
At a hearing Tuesday, the commission also found that the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Civil Aviation Security considered the possibility of a suicide attack as far back as 1998 and mentioned it in a presentation to airlines in early 2001.
But a warning sent in July 2001 to airline companies didn't mention suicide attacks using airplanes. Government aviation officials remained focused almost exclusively on the more traditional scenario of terrorists attacking airliners by smuggling explosives aboard in luggage.
"The assumptions were turned on their head," former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said Tuesday.
Panel commissioner Bob Kerrey chastised airline and government officials for not giving the idea of a suicide attack more credibility, given that such attacks were being used with greater frequency by Muslim extremists. Claudio Manno, the Transportation Security Administration's assistant administrator for intelligence, said the FBI had shared information with the FAA only when there was a specific threat related to aviation.
"There was not a lot of daily flow from the FBI," Manno said.
On Sept. 11, about two dozen people were on the FAA's "no fly" list, designed to protect the nation's skies from terrorists. The State Department had the most comprehensive list _ TIPOFF _ with some 61,000 names of people suspected of ties to terrorism. But TIPOFF, which experts consider the premier antiterrorism list, wasn't shared with the FAA and the FAA never asked for access to it.
Flight attendant's call for help
Excerpts from flight attendant Betty Ong's call to an American Airlines operations desk on an emergency line about Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles on Sept. 11, 2001, played at Tuesday's hearing:
ONG: The cockpit is not answering their phone. There's somebody stabbed in business class, and we can't breathe in business. Um, I think there is some Mace or something. We can't breathe. I don't know, but I think we're getting hijacked.
OPERATIONS: Can you describe the person, that you said someone is shot in business?
ONG: I'm sitting in the back. Somebody's coming back from business. If you can hold on for one second here, they're coming back. Our Number 1 got stabbed. Our purser is stabbed. Nobody knows who stabbed who. We can't even get up to business class right now because nobody can breathe. Uhhh, our number one is stabbed right now. (garbled) Our Number 5, our first class passenger, er, our first class galley flight attendant and our purser have been stabbed. And we can't get into the cockpit. The door won't open.
OPERATIONS: Can anybody get up to the cockpit? Can anyone get up to the cockpit?
ONG: We can't even get into the cockpit. We don't know who's up there.