Ignoring 'Old Europe'


In a bombshell story, the New York Times is reporting that the C.I.A. screwed up by failing to track down one of the 9/11 hijackers, Marwan al-Shehhi, even though the Germans had passed on his name and telephone number two and a half years before he flew an airplane into the World Trade Center.

In March 1999, German intelligence officials gave the Central Intelligence Agency the first name and telephone number of Marwan al-Shehhi, and asked the Americans to track him… After the Germans passed the information on to the C.I.A., they did not hear from the Americans about the matter until after Sept. 11, a senior German intelligence official said.

"There was no response" at the time, the official said. After receiving the tip, the C.I.A. decided that "Marwan" was probably an associate of Osama bin Laden, but never tracked him down, American officials say.

The incident is of particular importance because Mr. Shehhi was a crucial member of the Qaeda cell in Hamburg at the heart of the Sept. 11 plot. Close surveillance of Mr. Shehhi in 1999 might have led investigators to other plot leaders, including Mohammed Atta, who was Mr. Shehhi's roommate. A native of the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Shehhi moved to Germany in 1996 and was almost inseparable from Mr. Atta in their time there… American and European authorities say that Mr. Shehhi was actively involved in the planning and logistics of the Sept. 11 plot.

If heads don't roll here, and they may not given the abysmal standards imposed on intelligence information in recent months, it's hard to see when they ever will.