The U.S. Blew a Chance to Tap Bin Laden's Cell Phone Before 9/11

Inter-agency squabbling doomed an Afghan wireless network intelligence project

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Here's a missed opportunity. In 1999, the U.S. was months away from completing a cell phone network in Afghanistan that would've granted wide access to al-Qaeda and Taliban phone calls prior to 9/11. Unfortunately, inter-agency bickering between the FBI, NSA and CIA over who would control it scuttled the project, a former NSA official tells Vanity Fair's David Rose. “Had this network been built with the technology that existed in 2000, it would have been a priceless intelligence asset," the official said. “Why didn’t we put it in? Because we couldn’t fucking agree,” adds a CIA official. The opportunity dates back to 1999 when the Taliban gave license to Afghan Wireless Communications, an American company, to build a wireless and Internet network that would've been controlled by the U.S. The piece features a number of interviews with frustrated national security officials about how close they came to uncovering the necessary intel to foil the 9/11 hijacking plot. The full story is in Vanity Fair's September issue which is now on sale. For the full preview, click here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.