By Jamie Crawford
Did the United States intelligence community dismiss a warning of an al Qaeda plot to hijack a commercial airliner a year before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?
That's the assertion made by Judicial Watch, a conservative, nonpartisan government watchdog group, based on a document it obtained from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) through the Freedom of Information Act and distributed to media.
In the Intelligence Information Report dated September 27, 2001, the DIA says al Qaeda planned to hijack a plane leaving Frankfurt International Airport sometime between March and August 2000. Advanced warning of that plot "was disregarded because nobody believed that (Osama) bin Laden or the Taliban could carry out such an operation," the report said.
The plot was eventually delayed after one of the participants withdrew from the plot.
According to the document, al Qaeda operatives were able to infiltrate the consular section of the German embassy in Pakistan to provide European Union visas for use in forged Pakistani passports, which would be used by terrorists.
Details including the name, address and telephone numbers for an al Qaeda operative in Hamburg, Germany, who also forged passports for Taliban and other Afghan-based terrorists were included in the report as well.
The document also describes a two-day January 2000 meeting in Kabul between bin Laden and Taliban officials, during which an operation was discussed to hijack an airplane in Germany. From Germany, the report said, the hijackers were to commandeer a U.S. airliner headed to the United States, or a Lufthansa flight headed to Turkey or Central Asia.
"The details of names, addresses and such from this reporting should have provided 'actionable intelligence' for any number of U.S. anti-terrorist operations," Judicial Watch president Tom Fitten said in a written statement. "It is clear as day that the 9/11 plot could have been derailed if the leads in these documents had been followed."
The hijacking plot detailed in the intelligence report did not bear much resemblance to the suicide attacks of 9/11, when four terrorists used four U.S. airliners to kill nearly 3,000 people.
Rather, the plane was to be flown to Iran, with backup destinations in Tajikistan and Afghanistan if permission to land were denied. The report notes that the plan was for hostages to be held for ransom and not killed.
Also, the point of the hijacking was to draw attention to the European Union's failure to denounce Russia's actions in quelling the revolt in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. This was not a central issue to bin Laden, whose wrath was most focused on the presence of U.S. military forces in his native Saudi Arabia.
However, the report is seemingly more detailed than previously declassified reports about al Qaeda's push to launch a major strike on the U.S. homeland, such as the daily intelligence briefing delivered to President George W. Bush in August 2001 about bin Laden's determination to pull off an attack.
According to Judicial Watch, the DIA report was declassified and released to the organization on August 29.
The DIA has not yet responded to CNN's request for a comment.