NSA and 9/11
The NSA and its Congressional minions constantly state that we don’t want another 9/11, and that the intelligence that NSA provides will surely protect us. Unfortunately, that is false, as we can tell by looking at the actual 9/11. Peter Bergen on CNN writes:
Editor’s note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of“Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden — From 9/11 to Abbottabad” which this article draws upon.
(CNN) — The Obama administration has framed its defense of the controversial bulk collection of all American phone records as necessary to prevent a future 9/11.
During a House Intelligence Committee hearing on June 18, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander said, “Let me start by saying that I would much rather be here today debating this point than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11.”
This closely mirrors talking points by the National Security Agency about how to defend the program.
In the talking points, NSA officials are encouraged to use “sound bites that resonate,” specifically, “I much prefer to be here today explain these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”
On Friday in New York, Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that NSA’s bulk collection of American telephone records is lawful. He cited Alexander’s testimony and quoted him saying, “We couldn’t connect the dots because we didn’t have the dots.”
But is it really the case that the U.S. intelligence community didn’t have the dots in the lead up to 9/11? Hardly.
In fact, the intelligence community provided repeated strategic warning in the summer of 9/11 that al Qaeda was planning a large-scale attacks on American interests.
Here is a representative sampling of the CIA threat reporting that was distributed to Bush administration officials during the spring and summer of 2001:
— CIA, “Bin Ladin Planning Multiple Operations,” April 20
— CIA, “Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent,” June 23
— CIA, “Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays,” July 2
— CIA, “Threat of Impending al Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely,” August 3
The failure to respond adequately to these warnings was a policy failure by the Bush administration, not anintelligence failure by the U.S. intelligence community.A case of missed opportunities
The CIA itself also had its own spectacular failure in the run up to 9/11, which wasn’t a failure to collect intelligence, but a failure of information sharing. The CIA had quite a bit of information about two of the hijackers and their presence in the United States before 9/11, which the agency didn’t share with other government agencies until it was too late to do anything about it.
The government missed multiple opportunities to catch al Qaeda hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar when he was living in San Diego for a year and a half in the run up to 9/11, not because it lacked access to all Americans phone records but because it didn’t share the information it already possessed about the soon-to-be hijacker within other branches of the government.
The missed opportunities in the al-Mihdhar case are well-documented. The CIA failed to “watch-list” al-Mihdhar and another suspected al Qaeda terrorist, Nawaf al-Hazmi, whom the agency had been tracking since they attended an al Qaeda summit in Malaysia on January 5, 2000.
The failure to put Mihdhar and Hamzi on a watch list meant that immigration and law enforcement authorities were not alerted to their presence when they entered the United States under their real names. Ten days after the meeting in Malaysia, on January 15, 2000, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar flew into Los Angeles.
The CIA also did not alert the FBI about the identities of the suspected terrorists so that the bureau could look for them once they were inside the United States.
An investigation by the CIA inspector general — published in unclassified form in 2007 — found that this was not the oversight of a couple of agency employees but rather that a large number of CIA officers and analysts had dropped the ball. Some 50 to 60 agency employees read cables about the two al Qaeda suspects without taking any action.
Some of those officers knew that one of the al Qaeda suspects had a visa for the United States, and by March 2001, some knew that the other suspect had flown to Los Angeles.
The soon-to-be hijackers would not have been difficult to find in California if their names had been known to law enforcement. Under their real names, they rented an apartment, got driver’s licenses, opened bank accounts, purchased a car and took flight lessons. Al-Mihdhar even listed his name in the local phone directory.
It was only on August 24, 2001, as a result of questions raised by a CIA officer on assignment at the FBI, that the two al Qaeda suspects were watch-listed and their names communicated to the bureau. Even then, the FBI sent out only a “routine” notice requesting an investigation of al-Mihdhar. Nothing substantive came of this request.
A month later, al-Hamzi and al-Mihdhar were two of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77 that plunged into the Pentagon, killing 189 people.
The CIA inspector general’s report concluded that “informing the FBI and good operational follow-through by CIA and FBI might have resulted in surveillance of both al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. Surveillance, in turn, would have had the potential to yield information on flight training, financing, and links to others who were complicit in the 9/11 attacks.”
Continue reading. There’s more. And there’s this:
And as Tim Grieve points out in Salon:
Ron Suskind’s “The One Percent Doctrine” is out this week, and the Washington Post’sBarton Gellman says it’s full of “jaw-dropping stories” about the Bush administration’s war on terror.
Or lack thereof.
We’ve known for years now that George W. Bush received a presidential daily briefingon Aug. 6, 2001, in which he was warned: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” We’ve known for almost as long that Bush went fishing afterward.
What we didn’t know is what happened in between the briefing and the fishing, and now Suskind is here to tell us. Bush listened to the briefing, Suskind says, then told the CIA briefer: “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”
The NSA is trying a scam. The problem wasn’t the lack of information, it was the lack of competency at every level in the Bush Administration, beginning right at the top with Bush and Rice. And no one seems to have learned: Cheney personally worked hard to distort intelligence on Iraq to justify a war there.
The problem never was lack of information, it was an administration that ignored facts in favor of its own agenda.