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FBI Wanted al-Qaida Cells Tracked in 2000

Agents in charge of FBI offices across the country were instructed early in 2000 to scour their communities for al-Qaida operatives but they made only spotty progress before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to officials familiar with a congressional report on terrorism intelligence failures. The FBI’s top terrorism official, Dale Watson, and the White House’s anti-terrorism czar, Richard Clarke, told a meeting of FBI supervisors in March 2000 that there was a high probability that al-Qaida “sleeper cells” were working on U.S. soil and that identifying them should be a top priority, the officials said. Clarke told the joint congressional committee that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that he later visited a half-dozen FBI field offices to reinforce the message and returned with the assessment that the job of getting the FBI to focus on the terrorist group headed by Osama bin Laden was like “trying to … sort of turn this big Queen Mary luxury liner,” according to officials who provided AP excerpts from the report. It is to be released Thursday. Full Story

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