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Why we could not connect the dots before 9/11

The Democrats on the September 11 commission hoped to embarrass President Bush by releasing the CIA-prepared Aug. 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief (PDB).

In fact, it’s the Democrats who should be embarrassed. Thirty years of destruction of America’s intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities left the CIA unable to tell Mr. Bush much when he asked for information about Osama bin Laden’s ability to damage the United States.

All the information the CIA gave the president was a few years old and most of it came from friendly foreign intelligence services. The CIA and FBI contributed little information they themselves collected. The inability of the FBI and CIA to collect the information they needed about terrorists and their plans was the fault of the Democrats in Congress and the White House who since the 1970s have used legislation and pressure to undermine our intelligence agencies.

Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the commission, spent 34 years in Congress. During that time, he was on the House Intelligence Committee and in 1986 chaired it. He played a major role in promoting much of the restrictive legislation.

Democratic Commission member Jamie S. Gorelick was the deputy attorney general in Janet Reno’s Justice Department from March 1994 to May 1997. She should be a witness before the commission rather than a member. Perhaps she could tell us what she knows about Justice Department restrictions on the FBI that prevented them from doing their job.

Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste was the Democratic counsel to the Senate White Water Committee from May 1995 to June 1996. There he was the attack dog trying to undermine and embarrass witnesses who tried to tell the truth about Bill Clinton. The American people recently saw National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice respond with dignity and knowledge as Mr. Ben-Veniste tried to bite her ankles.

While the Democrats tried to blame the Bush administration for not doing enough before September 11, 2001, the only mistake of the Bush administration was to allow these partisan Democrats to serve on a commission they could misuse to smear the president. There is a big cover-up. It is the commission’s refusal to investigate the damage done to U.S. security by Democrat presidents and members of Congress.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed by Congress in 1979, made it extremely difficult for the FBI and other intelligence agencies to intercept terrorist communications. The FBI was required to prove to the FISA special court that the person they wanted to wiretap was a foreign agent or international terrorist. Strong suspicion was not enough. They had to know it and prove it.

When FBI agents in Minnesota arrested Zacarias Moussaoui on immigration violations less than a month before September 11, they knew he had told his flight school he was interested in learning how to fly a jet liner, but not how to take off or land. They seized his computer and wanted to download it. But FBI headquarters refused to request the FISA warrant.
Common-sense suspicion of Moussaoui’s strange actions was not enough. Under FISA, they had to prove “sufficient specific and articulable facts to indicate that the individual’s activities are in preparation for sabotage or internal terrorism.”

After September 11, 2001, the computer finally was downloaded. Among other things, its contained information about air currents over New York that might have provided a specific warning.

The Phoenix, Ariz., FBI office warned headquarters in July 2001 that large numbers of Middle Eastern students were attending flight schools and suggested collecting their names. Little was done. FBI headquarters had the mind set that someone who had not yet committed a crime could not be investigated. For years, the FBI has concentrated on solving crimes, not preventing them.

The CIA’s brief to President Bush was coordinated with the FBI. They boasted that the FBI was “conducting approximately 70 full field investigations through- out the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related.” That only meant they had 70 open cases, somehow relating to bin Laden. We learned in the 1970s what this really meant. Because of Justice Department guidelines and restrictive legislation, there was little the FBI could investigate. That situation continued until September 11.

In the 1970s, Maryland State Police obtained information on Maryland Ku Klux Klan plans for violence against blacks and Jews. A courageous state trooper, John Cook, was sent into the Klan under cover. The State Police reported this to the FBI. A case was opened. Under FBI guidelines, the bureau could not send in its own informant in nor could it wiretap the Klansmen. They could take information given to them by the State Police.

When some time had elapsed and the violence had not yet occurred, the FBI closed the case. The Maryland State Police did not, and Trooper Cook continued to watch the Klan. The night the Klansmen decided to fire bomb some black churches, Jewish temples and the home of a black congressman, they were arrested. They subsequently served jail terms.

If we had relied only on the FBI to protect us, the Klan terrorist acts would have been carried out in Maryland.

In the 1970s, many local and state police agencies closed the intelligence units that had been collecting information about groups advocating violence and/or run by hostile foreign powers. The police information was shared with the FBI. The Maryland State Police operation was one of the last.

Even now, after September 11, liberal Democrats in a number of major U.S. cities are preventing the local police from cooperating with FBI investigations into terrorist groups.

Most FBI agents were unhappy with the culture of doing nothing. In 1979, an FBI special agent, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, said in response to a question of Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young: “Gentlemen, where else is the federal government paying me not to investigate? If I do investigate, I can’t keep a record. If I could keep a record, I can’t disseminate it. And if I disseminate it, I have got to excise it and purge it. … [as a] veteran of almost 30 years in the FBI, I feel as though I am not earning my money.”

Democrats on the September 11 commission express shock that the FBI and CIA could not exchange information. They knew about it. The notorious so-called “fire wall” between intelligence and law enforcement that prevented the information sharing was built into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other legislation passed by the Democrats. The Patriot Act has changed some of this, but not enough.

The recent report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry on September 11 says: “Both the CIA and NSA are leery of activity that suggests they are monitoring U.S. citizens or conducting assessments linked to the activities of persons in the United States, a task that officials interviewed at these agencies believed belongs exclusively to the FBI.”

The report added, “Gen. [Michael] Hayden [Director National Security Agency], senior NSA managers, NSA legal staff, and NSA analysts made clear in Joint Inquiry testimony and interviews that they do not want to be perceived as focusing NSA capabilities against ‘U.S. persons’ in the United States. The director and his staff were unanimous that lessons NSA learned as a result of congressional investigations during the 1970s should not be forgotten.” They cannot share what they don’t collect.

All sorts of suggestions have been made since the September 11 terrorist attack. One of them would establish a new independent counterintelligence, counterterrorism agency to replace the FBI. That is just painting the deck chairs on the Titanic before moving them around. We need a serious look at our problems and how to solve them.

The September 11 commission has discredited itself and cannot do the job. After the presidential election, we need a new commission without a political agenda. It should examine our deficiencies and suggest legislation by Congress and directives by the president to repair our intelligence and counterintelligence defenses.