The Post 9/11 Terror Alerts
The Bush Administration has put the country on “high risk” Code
Orange terror alert on several occasions since September 11, 2001.
Without exception, Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda was identified as “a
threat to the Homeland”. The official announcement invariably points
to “significant intelligence reports” or “credible sources” of a
terrorist attack “from the international terrorist group Al Qaeda”
or by “terrorist mastermind Al-Zarqawi”. (See Chapter XIII.)
Since 9/11, most Americans have accepted these terrorist warnings at
face value. The terror alerts have become part of a routine: people
have become accustomed in their daily lives to the Code Orange
Moreover, they have also accepted the distinct possibility— stated
time and again by the Department of Homeland Security— of a Code Red
Alert, which would trigger an emergency situation. Supported by a
barrage of media propaganda, these repeated terror alerts have
created an environment of fear and intimidation, a wait and accept
attitude, a false normality.
The disinformation campaign, which feeds the news chain on a daily
basis, supports this process of shaping US public opinion. The
hidden agenda ultimately consists in an environment of fear and
intimidation, which mobilizes public support for an actual national
emergency, leading to the declaration of martial law.
Terror Alerts based on Fabricated Intelligence
On 7 February 2003, two days after Colin Powell’s flopped
presentation on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to the UN
Security Council, a Code Orange Alert was ordered. (See Chapter
XIII.) Powell’s intelligence dossier had been politely dismissed.
The rebuttal came from UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix, who showed
that the intelligence presented by Colin Powell had been blatantly
fabricated and was being used as pretext to wage war on Iraq.
The Bush administration declared a Code Orange terror alert as a
“save face operation”, which contributed to appeasing an impending
scandal, while also upholding the Pentagon’s planned invasion of
Media attention was thus immediately shifted from Colin Powell’s
blunders at the UN Security Council to an imminent terrorist attack
on America. Anti-aircraft missiles were immediately deployed around
Washington. The media became inundated with stories on Iraqi support
to an impending Al Qaeda attack on America.
The objective was to present Iraq as the aggressor:
The nation is now on Orange Alert
because intelligence intercepts and simple logic both suggest
that our Islamic enemies know the best way to strike at us is
through terrorism on US soil.1
Also planted in the news chain was a
story—allegedly emanating from the CIA—on so-called “radioactive
dirty bombs”.2 Secretary Powell had warned that,
“it would be easy for terrorists to
cook up radioactive ‘dirty’ bombs to explode inside the US. …
‘How likely it is, I can’t say. … But I think it is wise for us
to at least let the American people know of this possibility.’”3
Meanwhile, network TV warned that
“American hotels, shopping malls or apartment buildings could be Al
Qaeda’s targets as soon as next week.”
In the weeks leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the
Administration’s disinformation campaign consisted in linking
Baghdad to Al Qaeda. The objective was to muster unbending support
for President Bush and weaken the anti-war protest movement.
Following the February 2003 announcement, tens of thousands of
Americans rushed to purchase duct tape, plastic sheets and gas
It later transpired that the terrorist alert was fabricated, in all
likelihood in consultation with the upper echelons of the State
The FBI, for the first time had pointed its finger at the CIA.
This piece of that puzzle turns out to be fabricated and therefore
the reason for a lot of the alarm, particularly in Washington this
week, has been dissipated after they found out that this information
was not true,” said Vince Cannistraro, former CIA counter-terrorism
chief and ABCNEWS consultant. …
According to officials, the FBI and the CIA are pointing fingers at
each other. An FBI spokesperson told ABCNEWS today he was “not
familiar with the scenario,” but did not think it was accurate.5
While tacitly acknowledging that the
alert was a fake, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge decided to
maintain the Code Orange Alert:
Despite the fabricated report, there
are no plans to change the threat level. Officials said other
intelligence has been validated and that the high level of
precautions is fully warranted.6
A few days later, in another failed
pre-invasion propaganda initiative, a mysterious Osama bin Laden
audio-tape was presented by Sec. Colin Powell to the US Congress as
“evidence” that the Islamic terrorists “are making common cause with
a brutal dictator”.7 Curiously, the audio tape was in Colin Powell’s
possession prior to its broadcast by the Al Jazeera TV Network.8
Homeland Security’s Fake Christmas
On December 21, 2003, four days before Christmas, the Homeland
Security Department again raised the national threat level from
“elevated” to “high risk”.9
In his pre-Christmas Press Conference, Homeland Security Department
Secretary Tom Ridge confirmed in much the same way as on February 7,
2003, that “the US intelligence community has received a substantial
increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports”.
According to Tom Ridge, these “credible [intelligence] sources”
raise “the possibility of attacks against the homeland, around the
While the circumstances and timing were different, Secretary Tom
Ridge’s December 21, 2003 statement had all the appearances of a
“copy and paste” (déjà vu) version of his February 7, 2003
pre-invasion announcement, which the FBI identified as having been
based on faulty intelligence.
The atmosphere of fear and confusion created across America
contributed to breaking the spirit of Christmas. According to the
media reports, the high-level terror alert was to “hang over the
holidays and usher in the New Year”. Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld warned that:
Terrorists still threaten our
country and we remain engaged in a dangerous—to be
sure—difficult war and it will not be over soon. … They can
attack at any time and at any place.” … With America on high
terror alert for the Christmas holiday season, intelligence
officials fear Al Qaeda is eager to stage a spectacular
attack—possibly hijacking a foreign airliner or cargo jet and
crashing it into a high-profile target inside the United
The official Christmas 2003 announcement
by the Homeland Security Department dispelled any lingering doubts
regarding the threat level:
The risk [during the Christmas
period] is perhaps greater now than at any point since September
11, 2001. … Indications that [the] near-term attacks … will
either rival or exceed the [9/11] attacks. And it’s pretty clear
that the nation’s capital and New York City would be on any
Following Secretary Tom Ridge’s
announcement, anti-aircraft missile batteries were set up in
And the Pentagon said today, more
combat air patrols will now be flying over select cities and
facilities, with some airbases placed on higher alert.13
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
commented: “You ask, ‘Is it serious?’ Yes, you bet your life. People
don’t do that unless it’s a serious situation.”14
According to an official statement: “intelligence indicate[d] that
Al Qaeda-trained pilots may be working for overseas airlines and
ready to carry out suicide attacks.”15
More specifically, Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists were, according
to Homeland Security, planning to hijack an Air France plane and
“crash it on US soil in a suicide terror strike similar to those
carried out on September 11, 2001.”
Air France Christmas flights out of Paris were grounded. F-16
fighters were patrolling the skies.
Yet once again, it turned out that the stand down orders on Air
France’s Christmas 2003 flights from Paris to Los Angeles, which had
been used to justify the Code Orange Alert during the Christmas
holiday, had been based on fabricated information.
According to the official version of events, Washington had
identified six members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the Air France
US counter-terrorism officials said
their investigation was focusing on the “informed belief” that
about six men on Air France Flight 68, which arrives in Los
Angeles daily at 4:05 p.m., may have been planning to hijack the
jet and crash it near Los Angeles, or along the way.
That belief, according to one senior
US counter-terrorism official, was based on reliable and
corroborated information from several sources. Some of the men
had the same names as identified members of Al Qaeda and the
Taliban, a senior US official said. One of the men is a trained
pilot with a commercial license, according to a senior US
US law-enforcement officials said the flights were canceled in
response to the same intelligence that prompted … Homeland
Security … to ratchet up the nation’s terror-alert level to
With that information, US authorities contacted French
intelligence. … They prevailed upon Air France to cancel [their
flights], because the original intelligence information warned
of more than one flight being commandeered.16
Other media confirmed that the reports
gathered by American agencies were “very, very precise”. Meanwhile
Fox News pointed to the possibility that Al Qaeda was “trying to
plant disinformation, among other things to cost us money, to throw
people into panic and perhaps to probe our defenses to see how we
Throughout the Christmas holiday, Los Angeles International airport
was on “maximum deployment” with counter-terrorism and FBI officials
working around the clock.
Yet following the French investigation, it turned out that the
terror alert was a hoax. The information was not “very very precise”
as claimed by US intelligence.
The six Al Qaeda men turned out to be a five year old boy, an
elderly Chinese lady who used to run a restaurant in Paris, a Welsh
insurance salesman and three French nationals.18
On January 2, 2004, the French government finally released the
results of their investigation which indicated that the intelligence
was erroneous: There “was not a trace of Al Qaeda among the
The intelligence was fake. And this had already been uncovered prior
to the Christmas holiday, by France’s antiterrorist services, which
had politely refuted the so-called “credible sources” emanating out
of the US intelligence apparatus.
France’s counter-terrorism experts were extremely “skeptical” of
their US counterparts:
We [French police investigators]
showed [on 23 December] that their arguments simply did not make
sense, but despite the evidence, the flights were cancelled. …
The main suspect [a Tunisian hijacker] turned out to be a child.
… We really had the feeling of hostile and unfriendly treatment
[by US officials] (ils nous appliquent un traite-ment d’infamie).
The information was not transmitted through normal channels. It
wasn’t the FBI or the CIA which contacted us, everything went
through diplomatic channels.19
The decision to cancel the six Air
France flights was taken after two days of intense negotiations
between French and American officials following the completion of
the French investigation.
The flights were cancelled on the orders of the French Prime
Minister following consultations with Secretary Colin Powell.
Despite the fact that the information had been refuted, Homeland
Security Secretary To m Ridge insisted on maintaining the stand-down
order. If Air France had not complied, it would have been prevented
from using US air space, namely banned from flying to the US.
It was after News Year’s Day, once the holiday season was over, that
the US authorities admitted that they were in error, claiming that
it was an unavoidable case of “mistaken identity.” While tacitly
acknowledging their error, Homeland Security insisted that “the
cancellations were based on solid information.”
Had the flights not been cancelled, the Administration’s
justification for Code Orange Alert would have been put in jeopardy.
Homeland Security needed to sustain the lie over the entire
Christmas holiday. It also required an active Orange Alert to launch
emergency planning procedures at the highest levels of the Bush
On December 22, 2003, the day following
Secretary Ridge’s Christmas announcement, President Bush was briefed
by his “top anti-terror advisors” in closed door sessions at the
White House. Later in the day, the Homeland Security Council (HSC)
met, also at the White House. The executive body of the HSC, the
so-called Principals Committee (HSC/PC), was headed by Secretary Tom
Ridge. It included Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet,
Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller and
Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary, Emergency Preparedness and
Response, who overseas the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).20
In the wake of the HSC meeting held on 22 December, Secretary Ridge
we reviewed the specific plans and
the specific action we have taken and will continue to take.21
In accordance with the official
pre-Christmas statement, an “actual terrorist attack” in the near
future on American soil would trigger a Code Red Alert, which in
turn, would create conditions for the (temporary) suspension of the
normal functions of civilian government. (See Chapter XXI) This
scenario had in fact been envisaged by Secretary Tom Ridge in a CBS
News Interview on December 22, 2003: “If we simply go to red … it
basically shuts down the country”, meaning that civilian government
bodies would be closed down and taken over by an Emergency
Setting the Stage for a Pre-Election
Seven months later, at the height of the 2004 presidential election
campaign, the Bush Administration launched yet another high profile
terror alert. Based on so-called “credible” reports, Homeland
Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned that Osama was “planning to
disrupt the November  elections”. A large scale attack on
American soil was supposedly being planned by Al Qaeda during the
presidential election campaign:
Credible reporting indicates that Al
Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a
large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt
our democratic process. … This is sobering information about
those who wish to do us harm. … But every day we strengthen the
security of our nation.23
According to Secretary Ridge, “possible
targets” included the Democratic National Convention scheduled for
late July 2004 and the Republican Convention in New York in August
Barely a few days prior to Tom Ridge’s somber announcement, a
spokesman of Northern Command Headquarters at Peterson Air Force
Base in Colorado, confirmed that NorthCom—which has a mandate to
defend the Homeland—was “at a high level of readiness” and was
proceeding with the (routine) deployment of jet fighters over major
cities as well as the stationing of troops at key locations.24
This new terror warning by Homeland Security and the impending
military deployment, served to create an aura of insecurity
concerning the November presidential elections.
In other words, the Orange alert, triggered at the height of the
presidential race, was an integral part of Bush’s campaign. It
consisted not only in galvanizing public opinion in support of his
“war on terrorism” agenda, but also in creating an atmosphere of
fear and intimidation in the months leading up to the November 2004
Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge did not elaborate
on the nature of the intelligence: “we lack precise knowledge about
time, place and method of attack. … [T]he CIA, the FBI and other
agencies, are actively working to gain that knowledge.”25
These high profile statements had thus “set the stage”. Barely a few
days later, CIA Acting Director John McLaughlin confirmed that the
threat was real:
Their work is highly compartmented to a small group of people,
probably living in a cave somewhere, and our country doesn’t keep
secrets very well. So we have to watch what we release about the
details. But this is a serious threat period.26
The warning was based, according to CIA’s Mc Laughlin, on “solid
I think the quality of the
information we have is very good …It is [however] necessary for
us to hold back a lot of the specifics, because those are the
things we need to stop this.27
The “Solid Intelligence” turns out to be Fake
Two weeks later, pursuant to McLauchlin’s statement and the CIA’s
investigation, the administration triggered a Code Orange Alert in
New York City, Washington DC and Northern New Jersey. This time it
was Wall Street, the IMF and the World Bank which were supposedly
being threatened by Al Qaeda.
Homeland Sec.Tom Ridge confirmed that the intelligence was “not the
usual chatter. This is multiple sources that involve extraordinary
This afternoon we do have new and
unusually specific information about where Al Qaida would like
to attack. … The quality of this intelligence, based on multiple
reporting streams in multiple locations, is rarely seen, and it
is alarming in both the amount and specificity of the
information. Now, while we are providing you with this immediate
information, we will also continue to update you as the
As of now, this is what we know: Reports
indicate that Al Qaeda is targeting several specific buildings,
including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the
District of Columbia, Prudential Financial in northern New Jersey
and Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York.
Let me assure you—let me reassure you, actions to further strengthen
security around these buildings are already under way. Additionally,
we’re concerned about targets beyond these and are working to get
more information about them.
Now, senior leadership across the Department of Homeland Security,
in coordination with the White House, the CIA, the FBI, and other
federal agencies, have been in constant contact with the governors,
the mayors and the homeland security advisers of the affected
locations I’ve just named.28
Ye t barely two days later, US officials were obliged to admit that
this high quality intelligence referred to by Secretary Tom Ridge
was not so precise after all. In fact, it was even less “specific”
than in previous terror alerts.
In an ABC interview, Deputy National Security Adviser Frances
Townsend admitted that the August 1st 2004 alert was based on
“outdated intelligence” going back to 2000/2001, i.e., prior to
What we have learned about the 9/11
attacks, is that they do them [plans for attacks], years in
advance and then update them before they launch the attacks.29
According to Townsend, “the surveillance
actions taken by the plotters were “originally done between 2000 and
2001, but were updated—some were updated—as recently as January of
Frances Townsend headed the White House counterterrorism program.
She was Richard Clarke’s successor on the National Security Council,
holding the Number Two position after National Security Adviser
Her own statements on the nature of the intelligence blatantly
contradicted DHS Sec Tom Ridge, who had referred to “the quality of
this intelligence, based on multiple reporting streams in multiple
The Mysterious Pakistani Computer
The hundreds of photos, sketches and written documents used to
justify the “high risk” Code Orange terror alert, had emanated
largely from one single source of information, following the highly
publicized arrest in mid July of a 25 year old Pakistani computer
engineer, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan.31
Other than a New York Times report dated August 2, 2004 which had
been quoted extensively by news agencies around the World, nothing
was known about this mysterious individual. On his computer, Noor
Khan, described as “a mid-ranking Al Qaeda operative”, had
information dating back to 2000 and this data, we were told, was the
main source of the intelligence used by the CIA to document the
threats to financial institutions in Washington DC, New York City
and Newark, New Jersey.32
The Pakistani connection focusing on the 25-year-old engineer was
presented by the media as the missing link.
The CIA Meeting at Langley on July 29
The CIA held a key counter-terrorism meeting on Thursday the 29th of
July starting at 5 pm.33 This meeting, which was described as
routine, was attended by senior officials from the CIA, the Pentagon
and the FBI.34
According to an unnamed senior intelligence official (who in all
likelihood attended the meeting), the decision to launch the “high
risk” (Code Orange) terror alert was taken on that same Thursday
evening, within hours of Senator John Kerry’s acceptance speech at
the Democratic Convention:
At the daily CIA’s 5 p.m.
counterterrorism meeting on Thursday [29 July 2004], the first
information about the detailed al Qaeda surveillance of the five
financial buildings was discussed among senior CIA, FBI and
military officials. They decided to launch a number of worldwide
operations, including the deployment of increased law
enforcement around the five [financial] buildings [World Bank,
IMF, NYSE, Citigroup, Prudential].35
On what solid intelligence was that
far-reaching 29 July decision taken?
On that same Thursday at Langley, when the decision was taken to
increase the threat level, the “precise” and “specific” information
from the Pakistani engineer’s computer, including “the trove of
hundreds of photos and written documents”, was not yet available.
A senior intelligence official said translations of the computer
documents and other intelligence started arriving on Friday [one day
after the decision was taken to launch the operation].36
According to a White House aid, President Bush had been “informed of
the potential threat Friday morning [July 30] aboard Air Force
One”.37 The information from Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan’s computer,
however, was only made available ex post facto on the Friday. In
other words, President Bush’s approval to raising “the threat level”
was granted in the absence of “specific” supporting intelligence:
“We worked on it late, and through
that night [Friday]” he [the intelligence official] said. “We
had very specific, credible information, and when we laid it in
on the threat environment we’re in,” officials decided they had
to announce it.
[At first], top administration
officials had decided to wait until yesterday [Saturday] to
announce the alert, but more intelligence information was coming
in—both new translations of the documents, and analysis of other
sources’ statements—that deepened their concern about the
information, and persuaded them to move ahead swiftly. “There
was a serious sense of urgency to get it out,” the senior
intelligence official said. …
On Saturday, officials from the CIA, the FBI, the Homeland
Security and Justice departments, the White House, and other
agencies agreed with Ridge to recommend that the financial
sectors in New York, Washington and North Jersey be placed on
orange, or ‘high,’ alert. Ridge made the recommendation to Bush
on Sunday morning, and Bush signed off on it at 10 am.38
Out of date Intelligence
Following the DHS’s Sunday August 1st advisory that the Bretton
Woods institutions were a potential target, the World Bank spokesman
Dana Milverton retorted that the information obtained from the
Pakistani engineer’s computer was “largely out of date’’: “[A] lot
of it was actually public information that anyone from outside the
building could have gotten.’’39
One federal law enforcement source said his understanding from
reviewing the reports was that the material predated Sept. 11 and
included photos that can be obtained from brochures and some actual
snapshots. There also were some interior diagrams that appear to be
According to a New York Times report:
The information, which officials
said was indicative of preparations for a possible truck- or
car-bomb attack, left significant gaps. It did not clearly
describe the suspected plot, indicate when an attack was to take
place nor did it describe the identities of people involved.41
Fabricated Intelligence for Political
Not only was the “out of date intelligence” being used to justify a
“high risk” threat level, the actual decision to launch the Code
Orange alert was taken within hours of John Kerry’s acceptance
speech, prior to actually receiving the (out of date) supporting
intelligence from Pakistan.
No specific intelligence from the
illusive Pakistan engineer’s computer was reviewed at that Thursday
evening meeting at CIA headquarters on 29 June 2004.42
Tom Ridge’s Mea Culpa
Shortly after leaving his position at the HSD, Tom Ridge
acknowledged that the terror alerts were indeed based on “flimsy
evidence” and that he had been pressured by the CIA to raise the
“The Bush administration
periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks
even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued there
was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level. …
Ridge [said] he often disagreed with administration officials
who wanted to elevate the threat level to orange, or ‘high’ risk
of terrorist attack, but was overruled.
“More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it. …
Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment.
Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you
don’t necessarily put the country on [alert]. … There were times
when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we
said, ‘For that?’”44
Nothing indicated that the decision to
increase the threat level had a real foundation. When Tom Ridge was
asked “what he would say to skeptical people who see a political
motive in the terror alert, he replied: ‘I wish I could give them
all Top Secret clearances and let them review the information that
some of us have the responsibility to review. We don’t do politics
in the Department of Homeland Security.’”43
The threat of an impending terror attack was fabricated. The
deployment around the five financial buildings was totally
unnecessary. Public opinion was deliberately misled.
1. The New York Post, 11 February
2. ABC News, 13 February 2003
3. ABC News, 9 February. 2003.
4. ABC News, 13 February 2003,
7. US official quoted in The Toronto Star, 12 February. 2003.
9. See Department of Homeland Security at
10. For complete statement of Secretary Tom Ridge, 21 December
11. Boston Globe, 24 December 2003.
12. Tom Ridge’s 21 December 2003 Statement, op. cit.
13. Associated Press, 23 December 2003.
14. Quoted by ABC News, 23 December 2003.
15. ABC News, 23 December 2003.
16.Seattle Post Intelligencer, 25 December 2003.
17. Fox News, 28 December 2003.
18. Le Monde, Paris and RTBF TV, Bruxelles, 2 January 2004.
20. White House Briefing, 22 December 2003. See also Stephanie
Griffith, “Bush convenes anti-terror security meeting as US goes
on higher alert”, AFP, 22 December 2003.
23. Quoted in Associated Press, 8 July 2004.
24. Atlantic Journal and Constitution, 3 July 2004.
25. CNN, Tom Ridge interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, 11 July 2004.
26. CNN, John McLaughlin interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, 14 July
28. Tom Ridge’s news conference, 31 July 2004, quoted in ABC
Good Morning America, 3 August 2004.
30. NBC Today, 3 August 2004, quoted in The Guardian, 3 August
31. Associated Press, 3 August 2004.
32. New York Times, 2 August 2004
33. Washington Post, 3 August 2004.
34. See The CIA website at
35. Washington Post, 3 August 2004.
39. The Guardian, 3 August 2004.
41. New York Times, 3 August 2004.
42. Washington Post, 3 August 2004.
43. Washington Post, 3 August 2004
44. USA Today, 10 May 2005.
Back to Contents