Skip to comments.Able Danger Comes Out of the Shadows
Posted on 08/20/2005 10:03:54 AM PDT by Lando Lincoln
When the Able Danger story hit the blogosphere some two weeks ago, a few writersincluding myselfimmediately decided that the story smelled, well, right. Given the subterfuge weve all come to take for granted in Washington D.C., the politicization of the Sept. 11 Commission itself, and the misadventures of the MSM since the 2004 Presidential Elections, it came as no surprise to many in the New Media that an intelligence operation could be stopped from passing crucial information about the al-Qaeda plotters to the FBI as the result of the wall of separation created in 1995 by the Jamie Gorelick memo to FBI Director Louis Freeh and Mary Jo White, of the New York US Attorneys Office investigating the first WTC bombings.
Some, however, were skeptical and delayed entering the fray until more solid information could be had regarding the reliability of reports that anonymous members of Able Danger had spoken with Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) about their identification of an al-Qaeda cell operating in Brooklyn, New York, at least a year prior to the 2001 attacks. These sources told Weldon they had been stopped from communicating with the FBI by Defense Department lawyers who were, at the time, worried that if the information turned out to be incorrect, the military itself would be blamed for unnecessary intrusions upon the rights of those terror suspects because they were in the United States legally.
Indeed, the Drudge Report (go here) did not link to any story about the controversy until August 17th, and only after Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer stepped from the shadows to identify himself as one of the two sources for the information to the Sept. 11 Commissionand Representative Weldonregarding the identification of Mohammed Atta as one of the al-Qaeda members in Brooklyn. Similarly, the stalwart PowerLine blog did not itself weigh in until August 16thfirst to express its skepticism about Weldon and the story in general and then, in a quick turnaround, to say that the story looked as if it might be true after all (go here). Michelle Malkin has been tracking the story since August 11th, even while kicking the you-know-what out of the Air America scandal (go here) and offers a good review of how it has developed. Of course, the Freepers at Free Republic very quickly devoted a thread to all things Mohammed Atta and you can find some very lively discussions of what has so far been written there.
Now that Lt. Col. Shaffer himself has given interviews, the mainstream press has belatedly begun to carry the story. And the early skeptics, like John Podhoretz of the New York Post have come around. Instead of sniping at Representative Weldons credibility (he was, after all, selling a booknot that that seemed to give many in the MSM scruples when it came to Richard C. Clarke), he, like others, have begun to see that Weldons concerns about the Sept. 11 Commissions handling of this explosive information was legitimate.
When Jamie Gorelick, author of the wall of separation directive, was named to the Sept. 11 Commission, the Washington Times questioned the propriety of her presence given her participation in a culture that may have led to intelligence and law enforcement failures prior to the 9/11 attacks. David Horowitzs FrontPageMag went so far as to suggestin 2004that the Gorelick Memo itself was part of an attempt by the Clinton Administration to shield itself from investigations that seemed to indicate a connection between Chinese espionage and illegal foreign campaign contributions to the Democratic National Committee during the 1996 Presidential campaign. Coupled with the Able Danger information now coming to light, it is not unreasonable to conclude that one of the accidental results of the Clinton Administrations attempt to insulate itself from prosecution for illegal activities was the failure to act on information that it seems now might have helped to prevent the 9/11 attacks.
For his part, John Aschcroft, in testimony before the Sept. 11 Commission, quite explicitly identified Gorelicks 1995 memo as instrumental in creating an atmosphere in which individuals in the intelligence community were made to understand that their careers might be in jeopardy if they pushed information too hard. Specifically, he said,
And the memorandum of which I spoke, which was crafted in 1995, specifically indicated that it was based on an understanding at that time that held the law would not countenance certain exchanges. I believe it was a mistaken impression of the law which was later corrected by the rulings of the FISA court of appeals. But if you look through the history of what happened just in the cases surrounding 9/11, time after time you find individuals being advised by their superiors that they could not or should not be involved in activity because such involvement would breach the wall.
Ashcroft concluded these remarks by indicating that the Gorelick memo had a devastating effect on the US intelligence communitys ability not only to know what they knew, but to pass that information along to those who might actually do something about it:
I cited both the Mihdhar and Hazmi cases together with the Moussaoui case, each case where advice was given to individuals who wanted to be more active in their pursuit of individuals, that they should restrain themselves in their pursuits because of the wall. So it's my clear belief that the wall itself developed this culture which restrained in a substantial way the exchange of information in the intelligence and law enforcement communities (emphasis added).
Ashcrofts remarks have been wholly vindicated by Lt. Col. Shaffers impression that Able Dangers attempts to meet with and pass information to the FBI on three separate occasions the summer before the 9/11 attacks were thwarted by lawyers in the Defense Department. According to the New York Times (go here), Shaffer said he learned later that lawyers associated with the Special Operations Command of the Defense Department had canceled the F.B.I. meetings because they feared controversy if Able Danger was portrayed as a military operation that had violated the privacy of civilians who were legally in the United States. In the same story, Shaffer is quoted as saying I was at the point of near insubordination over the fact that this was something important, that this was something that should have been pursued . . . It was because of the chain of command saying we're not going to pass on information - if something goes wrong, we'll get blamed.
When Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice testified before the Sept. 11 Commission, she said that the Bush Administration realized belatedly that we were at war but not on a war footing. The entire Able Danger story speaks to the differences of approach between the Clinton and the Bush Administrations in terms of their approaches to the threat of al-Qaeda and terrorist attacks against the United States.
Lt. Col. Shaffer witnessed the Clinton approach in his own efforts to get the FBI to move on the Mohammed Atta information culled from Able Dangers open source investigations that revealed the al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn prior to the 9/11 attacks. Such a response form DoD attorneyswhose worries were tuned to legal scruples rather than to interventionist moves that might stop whatever that al-Qaeda cell was planningreveal the culture produced by the Clinton era Gorelick Memo. In a nutshell, the Able Danger fiasco illustrates what law enforcement and military personnel might tell you: lawyers worry about convictions; intelligence officers, military men and women, police officers, FBI and CIA agents worry about not only capturing criminals, but preventing crimesnot to mention acts of barbarism of historic proportions.
And given what has been said by Sept. 11 Commission members who have been caught with their pants down since the Able Danger information came to light, it is clear that the Sept. 11 Commission itself was infected from the very beginning with a Clinton-esque concern for covering all of its bases in coming up with a plausible explanation for the intelligence failures that led to 9/11. The Commission rejected the claims of Able Danger in October of 2003 because such inconvenient facts did not fit with the conclusions that, by then, the Commission had already drawn.
It is often said that the fish rots from the head down. This is true. The positive corollary to such a truism is that any institution will, over time, take on the personality of its leader. Hence, under the Clinton Administrationheaded by a husband/wife team who both were lawyersthe Justice Department, as reflected by the Jamie Gorelick wall of separation directive, became lawlerly in its approach to the ongoing problem of international terrorism and especially in its approach to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. As we all know, President Clinton had an opportunity to take Osama bin Laden into custody when he was offered to the United States by officials in the Sudan. In language that is eerily similar to the DoD attorneys who reportedly rejected the Able Danger request to pass information about Mohammed Atta to the FBI, Clinton declined the offer, explaining later that Osama bin Laden had not been directly implicated in any crimes against the U.S. or its citizensa lawyer thinking in terms of whether or not we would be able to get a conviction in a court of law, not a President whose responsibility is to protect American citizens from future terrorist attacks.
Is the Clinton Administration responsible for the failures that led to the 9/11 attacks? Depends on what the meaning of the word is is, I suppose.
Thank God President Bush is not an attorney.
About the Writer: Gregory Borse holds a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, and an MA and BA from the University of Dallas. Dr. Borse, a family man with "a beautiful wife and four beautiful children," enjoys writing, current events, media, politics, and disc golf. Gregory receives e-mail at email@example.com.
"So, when will Gorelick and that other bull-dyke, Janet [the Waco Kid], and both Clintons be imprisoned?"
Yes, "Prophet in the Wilderness." Thank you for the improvement.
Bravo! Good article/post
Bubba has always stressed "prosecuting terrorists" as the only option. It's his lawyer background.
Thank God, lawyer John Kerry was not elected to carry on the treasonous policies of the Clinton administration.
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