August 11, 2005

Who is the Idiot that Refused to Pass on Atta's Name to the FBI? (UPDATED)

By now, most of the readers of The Jawa Report have heard of Able Danger. According to The New York Times, the secret military intelligence team known as Able Danger, compiled a dossier on four of the nineteen 9/11 suspects in 2000--including the mastermind, Mohammed Atta. The team recommended that the information be shared with the FBI and that the suspected terrorists be deported. Unfortunately, that information was not shared. In fact, a doctrine first developed in the Carter administration and later extended by a clarification made by Clinton Administration official, and later 9/11 Commissioner, Jamie Gorelick, that put a 'wall' between intelligence operations and police activities.

I do not blame the Clinton Administration for 9/11, nor do I think it was preventable in any meaningful way, but the so-called Able Danger revelations do raise some interesting issues.

The first is the most obvious, and that is the silliness of ever erecting a barrier between law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. In hindsight this was stupid. Some things are so stupid, though, that to need hindsight to see their stupidity one must first find a group of morons, take out the brightest of the bunch, and then find the dullest bulb in the pack. That it was enacted by Democratic Congress intent on reeling in the perceived excesses of the CIA is no excuse for this piece of legislation. Just. Plain. Dumb.

But it also raises another important question: Who was it that refused to turn over the Able Danger documents to the FBI?

I do not personally blame the individual who refused to turn over Atta and his al Qaeda co-conspirators to the FBI. That is, it's not their fault for being a brainless bureaucrat. They were just following policy. But policy or no, there was an individual who had to look at the documents and make a decision not to share this intelligence with those that could do something about it. Who was this person who made the decision to follow policy?

What exactly happened here? From The AP:

because of concerns about pursuing information on "U.S. persons" — a legal term that includes U.S. citizens as well as foreigners admitted to the country for permanent residence — Special Operations Command did not provide the Army information to the FBI. It is unclear whether the Army provided the information to anyone else.
According to the AP, the information was passed up the line, but that somewhere between the Army and the FBI the information was blocked. An individual, some actual person with a name and a face, had to look at this and say, "Nope. Can't pass this along. It's against policy."

Yesterday, Congressman Weldon, the man behind the revelations about Able Danger, said this to Wolf Blitzer on CNN--(any one have a direct link to the transcript?):

What we now know is that lawyers within the administration, we don't know whether they were DOD lawyers or White House lawyers, lawyers within the administration told the Special Forces folks three times, you cannot share this information with the FBI. They even put stickies over top of the faces of Mohammed Atta saying they're here legally, they have green cards, you can't give anything to the FBI. The second reason they gave them was, were concerned about the political fallout that occurred after Waco so we didn't want Special Forces command giving information of this type to the FBI. That stopped it dead in its tracks.
So, who were those lawyers? That's what I want to know. Not because I want to hold some one responsible for 9/11 in some legal or moral sense, but I just want to know who the idiot was who would actually follow the insane policy of the 'wall'. The policy is so patently absurd, that I had presumed that it was routinely ignored. I guess I was wrong.

I want the world to see what a true automaton looks like. A robot in flesh. Hell, if there was a policy in place why have human discretion at all? Why not just send these types of reports through some sort of computer firewall if no human discretion is needed? Probably save us a lot of money, eh?

So, who was the idiot?

One name comes immediately to mind because he was the point man for the military--and a trained lawyer.

Sandy Berger.

Ok, maybe it wasn't Berger, but wouldn't it be one of his staff lawyers that would funnel communications between the DOD and Justice Department? The truth is, it's probably very unlikely that any top administration officials ever heard about this. The modern White House is a caggle of lawyers, aides, and other hangers-on who's soul job it is to decide what information, among the reems of pages produced daily, get passed on to their various bosses. Little of this type of material ever gets seen. It's no ones fault, it's just the way it is.
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Update inserted into post: Juliette Ochieng, a.ka. Baldilocks, e-mailed me with her post. In it, she notes a third NYT story that places the individual who decided to follow the 'wall' policy squarely in the DOD:

[W]eldon said Pentagon lawyers rejected the recommendation because they said Atta and the others were in the country legally, so information on them could not be shared with law enforcement.
She notes, however, that this is an AP story filtered through the NY Times, so we don't know the original quote.

Back to original post
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Earlier today, NEIN released an editorial wherein they speculate, clumsily, that the documents Sandy Berger has admitted to stealing were somehow related to the Able Danger documents.

Bill at From the Swamp makes the same connection: What was in those documents Sandy Berger was stuffing down his pants?

Perhaps the best speculative case made against Berger was done by AJStrata yesterday (hat tip to Jim Lynch for the e-mail). In it, he develops a timeline which places Burger at the center of anti-al Qaeda efforts around the same time as the Able Danger memo would have appeared.

I would add this, that the documents that Berger has admitted to stealing and destroying were said by him to have been in regards to preparing remarks for the 9/11 Commission on the 1999 al Qaeda Millennium bombing attempts. This is what he said to the 9/11 Commission:

In late 1999, as we approached the Millennium celebrations, the CIA warned of five to fifteen plots against American targets. This was the most serious threat spike of our time in office. My judgment was that it required ongoing attention at the highest levels of government. Accordingly, I convened national security principals, including the Director of Central Intelligence, the Attorney General, and top FBI, State and Defense officials at the White House virtually every single day for a month. I am convinced that our sustained attention and the rigorous actions that resulted prevented significant losses of life.
Of course, he fails to mention that it was a U.S. Customs official engaged in profiling that actually foiled the plot and not his high-level meetings.
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Update within the post: Captain Ed also snooping around the Berger angle:
And so now we come back to the National Archives -- and October 2003. One of Sandy Berger's last visits to the Archives where he took highly classified material out the door with him was in October 2003, around the time that the Commission first heard about Able Danger. Does this start to sound just a little too convenient and coincidental?
Ok, back to original post.
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Would those documents directly implicate Berger as some one who had prevented Atta's name from being passed to the FBI? Possibly. This would not mean that Berger really knew about Atta--since hundreds of memos must have crossed his desk every day--but if there was a paper trail linking Atta's name to Berger's office this would be embarrasing, to say the least. It would be enough to kill his reputation in a way that the actual stealing of the documents couldn't.

But in any event, Berger's office, at least in late 1999 and probably until he left office in early 2001, seems to be the go-between place for various agencies intent on foiling al Qaeda plots in the U.S. If we are looking for a face to put on the idiot who decided that it would be better to follow 'policy' rather than break it--just months after a plot to blow up LAX by al Qaeda was accidentally disrupted--I would suggest beginning an investigation there.

Just remember, this is a blog and all of this is highly speculative. I welcome further information that would clarify or disprove this speculation.

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UPDATE: Judy e-mails me with this GSN report, which seems like it might be important for adding credibility to the story, if not the Berger angle:

http://www.gsnmagazine.com/aug_05/dod_lawyers.html
The Anchoress has an excellent roundup on the Berger angle here.

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Big shout out to all of you who e-mailed me about this and helped me find source material. Thanks.

Others:

Dr. Sanity sets up a timeline of events starting with the 9/11 Commission running to the Able Danger revelations here.

Lawhawk poses a series of unanswered and interesting questions here. One of which seems important, and one that I haven't seen other bloggers on the right asking is this, how Weldon came to know this information. I haven't had time to check the Leftosphere about this, but I am sure it is a question that they are asking--and a legitimate one at that. [Update] Baldilocks tracks down some additional sources answer the question. It looks like it was the soldiers involved in Able Danger who gave the information to Weldon.

The Dread Pundit Bluto notes that the idiots over at the ACLU still support the 'wall' doctrine. Inconcievable!

Captain Ed notes this:

American MI only gets mentioned in their recommendations and not in the analysis of how the US failed to detect the 9/11 plot before its successful conclusion. In retrospect, that gaping hole in analysis seems highly odd, almost as if the 9/11 Commission never bothered to ask the Pentagon about its intelligence missions -- or simply disregarded evidence relating to it.
Indeed.

Another update: Strata-sphere also thinks the investigation should include Richard Clarke.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 11:09 AM | Comments |