'The FBI knew in '95, why didn't we?

Published: May 25, 2002

The Indianapolis Star

 Eleven months after Timothy McVeigh was put to death for the Oklahoma City bombing, a startling revelation has come to light.

Specific information has surfaced that the FBI and other intelligence agencies were told in early 1995, shortly before the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, that Islamic terrorists were about to strike government institutions in Washington, D.C.

Less than a week later, a federal task force updated its warning. The target focus had shifted from the East Coast to "government installations" located "at the heart of the U.S.," which would include Oklahoma City.

Shortly after the bombing of the Murrah building, Yossef Bodansky, executive director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, pieced together intelligence data strongly indicating that Islamic veterans of the 1979-89 Afghan war with the Soviet Union, who trained under Osama bin Laden, were responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the Oklahoma federal building.

Sandra Howell-Elliot, assistant district attorney in Oklahoma County, asserted in a Jan. 18, 2000, affidavit, that there are "intra-agency memoranda between the FBI and a host of other agencies that were not provided to either Nichols' or McVeigh's lawyers or the State of Oklahoma." She didn't know it then, but she was on to something. But what?

Most likely prior warnings, the same type of information that bothers the nation today about Sept. 11. A CBS News poll out this week found that two-thirds of those surveyed don't think the Bush administration is "telling the entire truth" about what it knew before Sept. 11.

The Congressional Task Force's warning revealed that Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations sponsored by Iran and Syria had been discussing since late 1994 a campaign of attacks beginning in 1995. That document boils down to ideological differences between radical Muslims, peace-loving Muslims and the rest of the world.

"In a series of gatherings and conferences in mid-February 1995, senior officials of the Hizballah (Hezbollah) and other terrorist organizations, as well as senior officials of Iran and Syria, made specific threats against the U.S. Congress and the White House," the warning states.

"These threats were made during conferences devoted to declaring the forthcoming phase in Islamist 'Jihad' against the West, and particularly the U.S. Congress and the president of the United States as institutions that are great enemies of the Islamist movement and especially Iran. This is a deviation from past discussion of the subject of struggle against the U.S. in that the Islamist leaders went beyond referring to the U.S. as a single entity to pointing to specific branches of government as their true enemies."

So American intelligence agencies had knowledge nearly two months before the Oklahoma bombing that an Islamic terrorist campaign was about to begin against the United States. But they failed to tell that to the McVeigh and Terry Nichols defense teams, who were looking for any shred of evidence connecting Middle Eastern terrorists to the bombing.

On March 3, 1995, the threat to U.S. targets became even clearer. The task force built a stronger case that something big was in the offing by issuing an update of the Feb. 27 warning to intelligence agencies.

"It was based on very special material I received and verified after the first warning had already been issued,'' Bodansky wrote in 1996. "The key message of this 'update' was that there was greater likelihood that the terrorists would strike in the heartland. The language that should be of interest is that the terrorists were expected to 'strike at the heart of the U.S.' We also put 'government installations' on the list of possible objectives ahead of the communication and transportation objectives (as in the Feb. 27 warning)."

The Oklahoma bomb exploded 47 days after the task force issued its March 3 update. Bodansky later indicated that intelligence showed Oklahoma City had been at the top of the terrorists' list.

"I did get, and later confirmed by numerous sources, certain criteria on how to better identify possible terrorist targets," he wrote in 1996. "By the time I mastered this 'method,' it was too late for Oklahoma City. However, going over and reconstructing relevant data (some of which arrived only after the bombing but had originated prior to it), Oklahoma City was on the list of potential targets."

The American people have a right to see any warnings about terrorism issued in the months preceding Sept. 11 and the Oklahoma bombing. Isn't it time to release those documents now?

Patterson is a Star editorial writer. Contact him at 1-317-444-6174 or by e-mail at

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