WASHINGTON -- For more than seven months, U.S. authorities probing the Sept. 11 attacks have scoured everything from caves to credit cards in the expectation that they would ultimately discover how the 19 hijackers plotted their brazen scheme.
But the global search has produced virtually nothing in the way of hard evidence about the terrorists' planning, and authorities said Monday that they now face the growing realization that they may never know many key details.
That sobering conclusion underscores the skill and sophistication of the al-Qaida terror network in its ability to conceal its activities -- and the equally daunting difficulties that authorities face in heading off another attack, officials said.
The hijackers "left no paper trail," FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said in the text of a speech the FBI released Monday. "In our investigation, we have not uncovered a single piece of paper -- either here in the United States or in the treasure trove of information that has turned up in Afghanistan and elsewhere -- that mentioned any aspect of the Sept. 11 plot."
His remarks offer the FBI's most comprehensive and detailed assessment to date of its investigation, remarkable as much for what investigators have not found as for what they have.
Mueller revealed that investigators believe the Sept. 11 plan may have been in the works for as long as five years, and that the hijackers used "meticulous planning, extraordinary secrecy and extensive knowledge of how America works" to conceal their scheme after entering the United States legally from the Middle East.
Investigators have found no computers, laptops, hard drives or other storage media that may have been used by the hijackers, who hid their communications by using hundreds of different pay phones and cell phones, coupled with hard-to-trace prepaid calling cards.
In executing wire transfers to fund the attacks, they were also careful to send money in small amounts, avoiding large cash transactions that would have triggered a government report, Mueller said, adding: "The hijackers did all they could to stay below our radar."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.