For 15 years, questions about what really transpired in the run up to the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center have been asked and left unanswered. Unfortunately, these questions left hanging in the air have both led to a lack of accountability for the failures that resulted in the 9/11 attacks and have also given rise to a cottage industry of conspiracy theories regarding over-the-top dark and sinister plots in smoke-filled rooms.

You’ve heard these theories before, ranging from nonsense about holographic airplanes to conspiracies by our government to invent artificial wars. This article is not about conspiracy theories, but rather examines whether or not incompetence within our intelligence community contributed to the failures leading to the 9/11 attacks.

Unlike the recent rash of terrorist attacks across the United States and Europe, which at best were inspired by ISIS and executed by lone wolves who became remotely radicalized in place, 9/11 was a fairly sophisticated and elaborate plot that involved high-level meetings between terrorists, extensive planning, overseas financial transactions, the infiltration of a terrorist network into the United States, flight training to prepare for the hijackings, and a simultaneous execution of the hijackings on multiple airplanes.

The more extensive the terrorist network, the more moving parts there are in the plot, the more opportunities there are for the intelligence community and law enforcement to uncover the attack before it happens. New information leads one to believe that this could have been possible.

Richard Clarke, George Tenet, and Cofer Black

Richard Clarke has served as a counterterrorism advisor and member of the National Security Council (NSC) for multiple presidential administrations. On 9/11, he was President George W. Bush’s special advisor and later became his advisor on cyber security before parting ways with the administration in 2003. In interviews conducted over a number of years, Clarke described his experiences in the White House before, during, and after the 9/11 attacks.

George Tenet

According to Clarke, George Tenet, the then-Director of Central Intelligence (DCI); Cofer Black, who was running the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center; and Richard Blee, who was in charge of the Bin Laden station; all took counterterrorism very seriously and were very aware of the threat that al-Qaeda posed to U.S. national security. One of their main prerogatives was to acquire sources within the al-Qaeda network.

In 2000, the CIA became aware that al-Qaeda was holding a meeting to plan future strategy and attacks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They assigned personnel to follow the participants, which included Khalid Al Mihdhar and Nawaf Al Hazmi, who would later hijack Flight 77—the aircraft that was crashed into the Pentagon. The CIA lost track of them in Bangkok, Thailand, the two terrorists popping back up on their radar when they hit the ground in Los Angeles. In an interview, Clarke says that at least 55 CIA personnel were aware of this fact and a CIA inspector general report confirms this assertion.