In July, News 5 sat down with CIA Director John Brennan. We ran 3-Part Series where we talked to the Director about many security issues facing our Nation today. However, there was one story we saved until now, the 15-year anniversary of September 11th, 2001.
Brennan, then the Deputy Executive Director of the Agency, was sitting in the very room News 5 interviewed him when the first plane struck the North Tower of the WTC.
“September 11th of 2001, I was in this very room when the planes struck the World Trade Center. I remember vividly sitting in this room. We were having our morning meeting and someone from our operations center came down and said that a plane has just struck the World Trade Center,” Brennan said.
At that point, the CIA did not know the United States was under attack. It wasn’t until the second plane struck the South Tower that they knew something was wrong.
“When the second plane hit, we all knew here that it was Al-Qaeda because we had seen this growing threat reporting that they were planning to do something,” Brennan said.
The CIA knew it could be next on the list of targets and immediately worked to evacuate everyone out of its Langley, Virginia headquarters.
“In the subsequent hours, I spent my time here trying to make sure that as many people as we could get out of the building got out of the building because we knew that the CIA was on the target list for Al-Qaeda and we also, though, had to get fully engaged in terms of trying to understand what was going on, what else we might be facing and what we needed to do, as an organization, to fight back against Al-Qaeda and prevent them from ever being able to do that again,” Brennan said.
Less than a month after the deadly attack on U.S. soil the CIA had boots on the ground in Afghanistan searching for Al-Qaeda members– and their leader, Osama Bin Laden.
“CIA boots were the first boots on the ground in Afghanistan of U.S. forces. We were the first ones to take the fight to Al-Qaeda. It was a very personal experience for many of us. We lost friends and colleagues in the 9/11 attacks as well as in the days after that. That’s why here at CIA we are very proud of the 117 stars that are on our wall; of CIA officers who’ve given their lives. We take that as something very solemn, very sacred. Whenever we look that wall or see it, it just reinforces our commitment to do whatever we can to prevent these organizations, these terrorist groups, from being able to carry out such attacks again,” Brennan said.
The casualty in the War On Terror was Alabama native, Johnny Micheal Spann. He was a member of the CIA’s Special Activities Division. Spann was in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan interviewing captured Al-Qaeda members when an uprising broke out and a firefight ensued. Johnny Micheal Spann was killed on November 25th, 2001 and is number 79 on the CIA’s Wall Of Honor. Since 911, the CIA has added 38 stars that wall- they’ve decided numerous resources to fighting terrorism.
“They are continuing to threaten us and to say that they’re going to carry out these attacks. We take their threats seriously; at the same time, though, I think we feel good about the efforts that we have undertaken to protect this country. Al-Qaeda continues to be out there; just like ISIL, it is one of the groups that we need to be watching for, what they may try to do overseas. What they might try to do here in The States. We feel as though we here at CIA, working with our FBI and the state department and defense department and Homeland Security Department and colleagues, that we are up to the task. Doesn’t mean that we will be able to be perfect as we go forward, but we certainly will do everything possible to prevent any attack from taking place,” Brennan said.
It took the CIA 10 years to take down Osama Bin Laden, but that doesn’t mean Al-Qaeda is dead. Recently, Hamza Bin Laden, Osama’s son, made a threat against the United States to “avenge his father’s death.” Brennan says the CIA takes threats like this seriously.