Sunday, February 15, 2009

Comment left by A. Fraud in the Sibel Edmonds post:

Rowley's point is that excessive cya resulted in the refusal of the FBI HQ to get the FISA warrant for Moussaoui's computer and that cya was continuing.

We are told this indicident is an example of risk aversion. Strangely such a bizarre explanation is seldom questioned. Since when did it become risky to track suspected terrorists inside the US?

Since the arrival of pressure groups eager to proclaim having evidence of "discrimination against Muslims". This is what I like to refer to as 9/12 thinking on 9/10. Everybody knows that Moussaoui's computer should have been searched now, so therefore everybody knew it then. It's the same thing as "Boxcutters, haha!" Yes, today nobody would sit still and allow a plane to be hijacked with boxcutters, but it was a different world on 9-11. Ditto with searching Moussaoui's computer; in hindsight it all seems so obvious.

Here's an analogy that illustrates the problem that the "warnings" wing of the Truthers all have. Remember the "Where's Waldo?" books of the 1990s? Imagine one kid has had the books for years, and he opens one of his favorite pages up and asks a friend to locate Waldo. And sits there fussing because his friend can't see what's so obvious to him, because he knows what to ignore.

The CIA and the FBI and the rest of the government is like that poor friend, but even worse, because in their case they don't even know if there's a Waldo on that page. They receive a blizzard of information, and most of the warnings never amount to anything. It is obvious after the fact which ones mattered, just as it is obvious to that kid where Waldo's hiding.

Even more strangely it appears the agents who obstructed the Moussaoui investigation were indeed rewarded for their efforts. Rowley and her colleagues in Minneapolis joked about a mole at headquarters. That isn't indicative of typical bureaucratic inefficiency. I would guess that Frasca, Maltbie and Bowman were following orders from someone higher up. Perhaps Watson or Pickard. Where is the media interest? Have you ever seen one of these officials interviewed? Why is that?

They joked about a mole at headquarters, which of course is a pretty good indication they didn't think there was one. The idea that there wasn't media interest in Rowley's story is a bit absurd; she was one of Time's three persons of the year in 2002. I'm not going to address the issue of the promotions and whether they were deserved or not; personnel decisions are often incomprehensible without requiring malevolent purpose.

Let's try to identify the players here. Dave Frasca was the FBI's counterterrorism chief. Spike Bowman was a lawyer for the FBI. There's a discussion at Salon from 2002 that gets to the heart of the matter:

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., raised concerns that Frasca, head of the FBI's Radical Fundamentalist Unit, intentionally misled Senate Judiciary Committee staff in a January briefing about the case of Zacharias Moussaoui.


Edwards told FBI director Mueller Thursday, during Mueller's appearance before the Judiciary Committee, that Frasca and Bowman failed to mention the existence of the Phoenix memo -- in which Phoenix agent Kenneth Williams urged headquarters to search the nation's flight schools for possible terrorists -- and "did not mention that the Minneapolis office had some serious concerns about the handling of the Moussaoui matter by FBI headquarters," during that January briefing.


Frasca made headlines on his own this week when he told a closed Judiciary Committee meeting that, although the Phoenix memo was addressed to him, he did not see the memo until October.

But sources familiar with Frasca's testimony say Frasca was cooperative with the committee's probe, and that it remains unlikely that either the FBI inspector general or the committee will recommend disciplinary action against him. "The impression on both sides was that he answered all of the relevant questions forthrightly," said one source familiar with the committee's inquiry. "There was a feeling that the committee had a good enough understanding of what happened, and that he's taken the necessary steps to address that." The source said Frasca was "unlikely to be called again" to testify before the committee.

So at least at that point, the committee and the FBI inspector general all thought he'd done nothing wrong. And from that a conspiracy theorist draws the inference that not only had he done things wrong, but that he did them wrong intentionally so that the attacks could proceed.

The much-cited Phoenix memo was nearly a lucky mistake. Williams was actually suspicious of another Middle Eastern man who was learning to be a pilot, who turned out to be unrelated to Al Qaeda:

When the arson case was solved last June, Mr. Williams returned to his investigation of the flight students. It would turn out that he was focused on the wrong men. His primary subject, an often-strident Zakaria Soubra, belonged to a British group that espouses the creation of a single Islamic state worldwide. His lawyer maintains that Mr. Soubra is against violence, and though he was detained in May for an immigration violation, he has not been charged with any crime or connected to the attacks.

Of course, serendipity is a part of lots of busts; as the Times piece points out, had Williams not been working on an arson investigation he might have uncovered Hanjour, who was taking refresher courses at a flight school in Arizona in early 2001.

This wasn't an isolated incident. The FBI ITOS (Middleton, Corsi and Wilshire (who was at the FBI in the lead up to 9/11) obstructed the search for al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. They blamed the Gorelick wall but that wasn't applicable because Bin Laden was indicted in 1998 giving US intelligence legal authority to investigate al Qaeda operatives. And al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were linked to Cole attack plotters. Both the CIA and the FBI ITOS withheld information from the FBI Cole investigators. Lawrence Wright described this as tantamount to obstruction of justice in the 1st edition of his book but for some bizarre reason changed in the paperback to something less accusatory.

I'm guessing that the bizarre reason was that somebody brought additional information to Wright's attention. The FBI didn't know that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were in the country; they were only added to an immigration watch list two weeks before the attacks and well after they were in the country.

The argument over whether the Gorelick Wall was indeed a bar to the CIA sharing information with the FBI on the overseas activities of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar appears to continue and break along partisan lines, which means it's far from clear.

Go down the line. DIA unit Able Danger allegedly prevented from briefing the FBI.

I don't buy the Able Danger claims.

Rice ignoring warnings from the CIA and Richard Clarke.

Clarke is noted for his self-serving statements and inaccurate memories. The fact that there were warnings is at best the incompetence argument which is something for the historians to figure out. Only a paranoid goes from arguable incompetence to intentional incompetence.

A CIA official at Alec Station ordering Rossini and Miller to withold the US visa information.

Certainly a mistake, but as History Commons notes, a mistake based on a false belief that the next bin Laden attack was coming in Asia.

She put her hand on her hip and said, ‘Look, the next attack is going to happen in Southeast Asia—it’s not the bureau’s jurisdiction. When we want the FBI to know about it, we’ll let them know. But the next bin Laden attack’s going to happen in Southeast Asia.”

NSA failing to get FISA warrants. Claiming they couldn't tell that one side of the calls going to Yemen was in the US. Failing to inform the FBI.

Tenet kept his job and stayed long enough to lie about WMD's. Received a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a lucrative book deal.

The FBI officials in question evidently received either promotions or cash bonuses.

Cofer Black kept his job and went to work for the State Department.

Hayden kept his job and received promotions to DDNI and then CIA Director.

Rice kept her job and received a promotion to SoS.

Let's grant all this. So what? Rice is gone. Tenet has retired. Cofer Black is in the private sector. Hayden's successor, Leon Panetta was confirmed the other day. If you want to argue that these folks were incompetent, go ahead; like I said that's one for the historians. But if you want to argue that they were intentionally incompetent, allowing the attacks to occur, it's just 20/20 hindsight combined with paranoia.