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Nation’s intelligence network had no warning of the attacks

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WASHINGTON — For all its technological prowess and military might, the United States didn't see this coming.

None of the vaunted intelligence tools at the nation's disposal gave any warning of the coming nightmare — a massively coordinated effort to hijack and crash at least four airliners at the same time.

U.S. officials confirmed they had no reports that such attacks were imminent.

Not from the CIA's networks of spies and informants. Not from the FBI's many counterterrorism agents. Not from the National Security Agency's telephone and computer taps. Not from the military's satellites or spy planes.

"If there had been successful intelligence gathering, we would have thwarted" the attacks, said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which oversees the nation's $30 billion-plus intelligence budget. "There's never going to be perfect intelligence, but we cannot afford these kinds of failures."

There were general warnings of possible terrorist activity, ones that come and go with some frequency. But nothing like this was foreseen.

"This is a stunning security and intelligence failure," said Mike Yardley, a terrorism expert and former Army officer. "In both those spheres, major errors have evidently occurred. Heads should roll."

The complexity of this kind of operation should have been its downfall, Yardley said.

"To coordinate the hijack of four or more is absolutely extraordinary," he said.

The U.S. investigation quickly focused on millionaire Saudi Arabian exile Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.

Intelligence agents listened to a conversation between two affiliates of bin Laden saying they had hit two targets in the United States, said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

"I'm really ticked off," Hatch said. "We should have bin Laden on the defensive so he would be thinking about how we are going to take them rather than him plotting massive terrorist plots."

"We should have kept bin Laden on the defensive," Hatch said. "That is more than intelligence, that is a military operation."

John Martin, a former Justice Department official who prosecuted espionage cases, said, "It is a failure of security and intelligence collection."

"The clues and the investigation are going to be as difficult as the intelligence that was never there leading up to this," said Martin.

Asked about the critical statements of the intelligence community, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said, "The CIA has worked diligently and relentlessly to try to counter terrorism. Our resources are being devoted to determining who was responsible for these horrendous attacks, and it doesn't serve any useful purpose in light of that to respond to such criticism."

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that if the United States finds that the attacks were state-assisted, "We should be prepared to take warlike activities."

Both he and Shelby mentioned several ways the intelligence system needs to be upgraded. The priority, Graham said, is to improve the human intelligence system, which he defined as the ability to infiltrate cells and small groups and learn what they are doing and what motivates them.

"I think the most important thing is to rebuild the intelligence community," Graham said.

He added said the United States' self-imposed ban on direct assassination "ought to be revisited."