|August 12, 2005|
Cong. Weldon's Preemptive Strike Against the CIA
A BUZZFLASH READER
Republican Cong. Curt Weldon's disclosure that U.S. Army Intelligence watched four al-Qaeda hijackers inside the U.S. before 9/11 is a GOP attempt to deflect a long-expected report by the CIA's Inspector General's office. Like the FBI IG report into the Bureau's pre-9/11 "intelligence failure" released in June, the CIA's internal audit is expected to contain shocking new details of errors and negligence by senior Bush Administration officials that led to the "catastrophic success" of the al-Qaeda attacks.
Weldon's widely-publicized campaign of disinformation has spun the story so that blame is laid at the feet of the Clinton Administration for the 9/11 attacks eighteen months after the CIA and DoD failed to notify the FBI about the presence inside the U.S. of terrorists known to have entered the country in late 1999 and early 2000.
The CIA IG report is reportedly complete, and is currently being reviewed by former DCI George Tenet and other Agency officials who are the subject of highly damaging accusations that the CIA withheld information and misled U.S. law enforcement about the 9/11 hijackers.
Cong. Weldon's remarks have fueled controversy over responsibility for the failure by US government agencies to prevent the 9/11 hijackings.
Weldon first spoke publicly about the issue on 27 June in a little-noticed speech on the House floor, and to a local paper in his Pennsylvania constituency.
According to a front-page New York Times report published on August 10, a US Army intelligence unit prepared a chart that included visa photographs of the four men and recommended to Special Operations Command that the FBI be informed. (also, see, How Bin Laden and Mohamed Atta Escaped Gen. Franks)
Weldon claims that course of action was rejected in large part because the four al-Qaeda operatives were in the US on valid entry visas.
He asserts Pentagon lawyers rejected the recommendation because they said Atta and the others were in the country legally.
That claim is simply inconsistent with the law as it existed at the time. That was not and is not government policy. For one thing, the Pentagon's lawyers whom Weldon claims made the decision to withhold information from FBI knew full well that the four suspects were not "U.S. persons" (citizens or lawful permanent residents, aka "green card" holders.)
The matrix the Army Able Danger unit had compiled was based on data from entry records provided by INS, which clearly showed the four al-Qaeda operatives had all entered the U.S. as non-immigrants with visas.
Warrant requirements under the Foreign Intelligence Survellance Act (FISA) and information-sharing restrictions simply did not apply to the 9/11 hijackers. This is basic national security and immigration law. Anyone who's familiar with FISA warrant and information sharing guidelines in place at that time knows Weldon's version is a most implausible cover story.
In fact, CIA, DOD and other intelligence agencies could do all the electronic monitoring they wanted on the al-Qaeda suspects, AND SHARE IT WITH THE FBI, because the subjects of wiretaps were all non-resident aliens, exempt from FISA warrant requirements.
Certainly, DoD lawyers didn't get that one wrong. Not for the reason being offered by Weldon and other GOP operatives.
Weldon's account does not explain why Post-It stickies might be applied to photos of Atta before the matrix could be shown outside the DoD. The story being spread by Weldon and the GOP is a flimsy, almost laughable CYA cover now being resurrected to blame Clinton.
It is time that the public learns why things got complicated, and stickies might have been applied. In 2000, the surveillance of the incoming al-Qaeda cells was just part of an enormous, ongoing multi-agency monitoring operation of international terrorism, WMD proliferation, arms and drug dealing, political influence peddling, and money laundering. The Army's Able Danger Intelligence unit apparently had indiscriminate access to a lot of this data, which also included data gained from warrantless NSA taps of the communications of US persons and non-US persons, alike.
Intelligence analysts are supposed to separate this out, and obtain FISA warrants where US persons are involved to authorize continuation of these intercepts. But, the agencies by and large didn't bother to seek warrants -- which is a violation of the law. That made this data the fruit of illegal searches, and the FBI didn't want to touch it, for fear that it would ruin its criminal investigations that overlapped the CIA and DIA's domestic operations.
Meanwhile, over at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI national security managers were attempting to cover a maelstrom of terrorist groups, Saudi financiers, Israeli espionage agents, corrupt politicians, and corruption within the US intelligence agencies. This is what Sibel Edmonds has tried so hard to blow the whistle about. This job was immensely complicated by the fact that the al-Qaeda ranks were riddled with double-agents serving multiple intelligence agencies, all of which were simultaneously spying on each other inside the U.S. The whole thing got too hot, and the bureaucracy overloaded. Bad decisions were made to allow operations to continue for fear of stepping on the toes of the CIA and foreign agencies working both with and against U.S. interests.
After the 2000 election, national security managers put the brakes
on investigative lines that were touching on subjects that might get
people fired. For its own reasons, the Bush Administration shut down
much of the remaining counter-terrorism apparatus. By early 2001, it
was widely known within law enforcement and intelligence circles that
some strange things were going on at DoD, the FISA court, and within
FBI counter-terrorism. The number of FISA warrant requests actually
declined during the 18 months leading up to the 9/11 attacks, and few
new applications were filed during the summer before the attacks. Recall,
this is at a time that Tenet's hair was said to be "on fire".
For more on the chaos of US counterterrorism in 2001, please see: "THE
CRIMES OF 9/11 (Part 4):
9/11 could have been avoided. The al-Qaeda cells could have been rolled up, if the order had been given by President Bush. Without that order, nobody was going to be arrested.
Finally, everyone knew there was a serious problem and nobody wanted to create more of paper trail than they had to. Warrants create paper trails, which might get people fired, subpoenaed before hostile committees, and indicted by grand juries. As a result, given the choice, people stopped requesting warrants. Had the agencies complied with the law regarding FISA warrants, Mohamed Atta and his buddies would have had to be arrested, given what was being learned from illegal wiretaps and consensual monitoring. This is an area, not surprisingly, the 9/11 Commission didn't even begin to touch on.
The CIA Inspector General's Report does not exonerate Tenet and other Agency officials for withholding information from the FBI on the basis that Cong. Weldon claims. The law clearly allowed CIA, DoD and FBI to share information about Mohamed Atta and the Al-Qaeda suspects who would carry out the hijackings. They did. The so-called FISA Wall did not cause the failure of US counterterrorism that led to their "catastrophic success" on 9/11.
Weldon's accusations are what's known as a "limited hangout" in intelligence jargon. It is an attempt to poison the well of public discourse for the far more damaging revelations about Bush Administration incompetence and obstruction of U.S. counter-terrorism that is about to be made public.
Instead, the CIA report will detail a much more complex picture of bad decisions by Agency policymakers who tried to comply with Bush White House orders that interfered with management of a mounting crisis.
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
This article is COPYRIGHT 2005, Mark G. Levey. All rights reserved.
Interested in contributing an article to BuzzFlash? Click here for more info.
Articles in the BuzzFlash Contributor section are posted as-is. Given the timeliness of some Contributor articles, BuzzFlash cannot verify or guarantee the accuracy of every word. We strive to correct inaccuracies when they are brought to our attention.