The New Yorker has an interesting short piece about al Qeada, this week by Lawrence Wright. It concerns the recent court rulings about NSA metadata collection.
Judge Pauley invoked the example of Khalid al-Mihdhar, a Saudi jihadist who worked for Al Qaeda. On 9/11, he was one of the five hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. In early 2000, Mihdhar made seven calls from San Diego to an Al Qaeda safe house in Yemen. According to Pauley, the N.S.A. intercepted the calls, but couldn’t identify where Mihdhar was calling from. Relying on testimony by Robert Mueller, the former director of the F.B.I., Pauley concluded that metadata collection could have allowed the bureau to discover that the calls were being made from the U.S., in which case the bureau could have stopped 9/11.
Fair enough but Wright has another point.
But the Mihdhar calls tell a different story about why the bureau failed to prevent the catastrophe. The C.I.A. withheld crucial intelligence from the F.B.I., which has the ultimate authority to investigate terrorism in the U.S. and attacks on Americans abroad.
In August, 1998, truck bombs destroyed two American Embassies, in Kenya and Tanzania, killing two hundred and twenty-four people. Three days later, F.B.I. investigators captured a young Saudi named Mohammad al-‘Owhali at a hotel outside Nairobi. He had fresh stitches in his forehead and bloody bandages on his hands. In his pocket were eight brand-new hundred-dollar bills. Two skilled interrogators, Steve Gaudin and John Anticev, persuaded ‘Owhali to write down the number he called after the bombing. It belonged to Khalid al-Mihdhar’s father-in-law, Ahmed al-Hada, and was one of the most important pieces of information ever obtained in the effort to prevent terrorist acts in the U.S. It became known as the Al Qaeda switchboard.
The title of Wright’s piece is “The al Qeada Switchboard.”
The N.S.A.’s tracking of calls to and from the Hada household allowed the F.B.I. to map the global network of Al Qaeda. But not all the information was shared. In 1999, Mihdhar’s name surfaced in one of the recorded calls, linking him to Al Qaeda. “Something nefarious might be afoot,” an N.S.A. analyst wrote, but Mihdhar’s name was not passed on to the F.B.I.
Saudi intelligence also alerted the C.I.A. that Mihdhar and his friend Nawaf al-Hazmi, another future hijacker, were members of Al Qaeda. In December, 1999, the C.I.A. learned through the Al Qaeda switchboard that the two would be travelling to Malaysia for a meeting in early January. The agency broke into Mihdhar’s hotel room in Dubai and photographed his passport, which had a multi-entry visa to the U.S. That information was not given to the F.B.I.; nor was the State Department told to revoke his visa, or Immigration to place Mihdhar and Hazmi on the list of people forbidden to enter the U.S. The C.I.A. evidently had begun an operation, and it wanted no interference from other government agencies.
Maybe there was another reason ?
In 1995, while America’s intelligence agencies were still investigating al Qaeda’s 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center, the Clinton administration strengthened FISA to a degree that was unprecedented. Specifically, Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick called for increased restrictions on information-sharing between intelligence (CIA) and law-enforcement (FBI) agencies. In a 1995 memo to then-FBI Director Louis Freeh and U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, titled “Instructions on Separation of Certain Foreign Counterintelligence and Criminal Investigations,” Gorelick wrote the following:
“We believe that it is prudent to establish a set of instructions that will more clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation from the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations. These procedures, which go beyond what is legally required, will prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that FISA is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation.”
Why was that important ?
It should be noted that when Gorelick penned the aforementioned memo, President Clinton was extremely worried about ongoing FBI and CIA investigations into illegal Chinese contributions that had been made to his presidential campaign. Both the FBI and the CIA were churning up evidence damaging to the Democratic Party, its fundraisers, the Chinese, and ultimately the Clinton administration itself. It was also a period when the FBI had begun to systematically investigate weapons-technology theft by foreign powers, most notably Russia and China. Had FBI agents been able to confirm China’s theft of such technology — or its transfer of that technology to nations like Pakistan, Iran and Syria — Clinton would have been forced by law and international treaty to react (and to thereby jeopardize the future flow of Chinese money into his political coffers).
I’m not saying that was the reason, but the fact that FBI and CIA cooperation was banned by a “Chinese Wall” should have been mentioned in Wright’s piece.
When the cable about Mihdhar’s U.S. visa and the Malaysia meeting arrived at the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, an F.B.I. officer sought permission to transmit the findings to the bureau. Although there was a protocol to allow the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. to exchange critical information, he was told, “This is not a matter for the F.B.I.”
Maybe the Chinese Wall was the reason ?
What was needed was coöperation with other federal agencies, but for reasons both petty and obscure those agencies chose to hide vital clues from the investigators most likely to avert the attacks.
I’m not so sure the reasons were “petty and obscure.” I don’t believe Wright capable of such evasion as his book, Looming Tower is an essential primer in understanding the terror war we have found ourselves in since 1979 and which we are losing. Still, I wonder what his relations with Hillary Clinton are.
The C.I.A.’s obstruction of justice in the Cole investigation arguably also was a crime. Its failure to share information from the Al Qaeda switchboard opened the door to the biggest terrorist attack in history. As long as we’re talking about accountability, why shouldn’t we demand it of the C.I.A.?
Should we demand it of the Clinton Administration and Hillary ? This reminds me of the sequestering of the ABC miniseries “ “The Path to 9/11”.
The Clintons and their supporters made a point of pressuring ABC to pull or edit the production. 3 minutes of footage ending up being cut from the mini series.
After it was shown and awarded a 2007 Emmy, it has disappeared.
In August, 2008, talk show host and documentary filmmaker John Ziegler and producer David Bossie of Citizens United premiered a documentary co-produced, written and directed by Ziegler entitled Blocking The Path to 9/11, which revisits the political controversy behind the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11. Through interviews with the Path to 9/11 filmmakers and others, news clips regarding the controversy, and footage from the miniseries itself, the documentary argues not only that accusations of the filmmakers’ covert political agenda were unfounded, but that they were generated by Clinton-era politicians concerned that the miniseries tarnished their political legacy, and were reported uncritically by bloggers and a biased news media. The documentary also asserts that Disney/ABC ultimately shelved plans to release a DVD of the miniseries as a result of pressure from the political left, specifically the Clintons themselves. As noted in the documentary, Disney/ABC denies this and claims the decision not to release a DVD was purely a business decision.
And Lawrence Wright forgot that the Clinton Adminitration banned cooperation between the FBI and CIA prior to 9/11. Maybe we will finally get to see the miniseries again after Hillary ends her presidential ambitions.
UPDATE: Step Three ?