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By Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica 

The suicide bombing at al-Nairab military base in northern Syria on June 1, 2012, as seen in a propaganda video by al-Nusrah, al-Qaida's Syrian branch.

The suicide bombing at al-Nairab military base in northern Syria on June 1, 2012, as seen in a propaganda video by al-Nusrah, al-Qaida’s Syrian branch.

MADRID — Rachid Wahbi came to Syria from a Spanish slum, rushing toward death.

And he didn’t plan to die alone.

Facing a camera hours before the end, the bearded, 33-year-old cabdriver wore a black headdress and a black flak vest and held an AK-47 rifle. He spoke in hesitant classical Arabic with a north Moroccan accent. He said he had studied his target and, God willing, his action would end in triumph. He wished the glory of martyrdom for his fellow fighters in the al-Nusrah Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian branch.

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By Justin Elliott, ProPublica 

Hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar, foreground, passes through security at Dulles International Airport hours before American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon

Hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar, foreground, passes through security at Dulles International Airport hours before American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon

In defending the NSA’s sweeping collection of Americans’ phone call records, Obama administration officials have repeatedly pointed out how it could have helped thwart the 9/11 attacks: If only the surveillance program been in place before Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. authorities would have been able to identify one of the future hijackers who was living in San Diego.

Last weekend, former Vice President Dick Cheney invoked the same argument.

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