Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bottom line: Political correctness kills.

That simple yet profound truth has been a running theme on this web page since September 12, 2001 (and there were hints before that). Sure, there's still a lot to learn about Able Danger (read Jim Geraghty), but there's enough history to think the 9-11 Commission screwed the proverbial pooch.

Next truth: The 9-11 Commission, while it succinctly organized and put events to a timeline, utterly failed in fully investigating how 9-11 was so easily executed. While collectively it touched the topic of PC-run-amok in the pre-9-11 environment it is now absolutely certain that specific Democratic members of the committee and supporting staff were far too obsessed with covering their arses to fully investigate 9-11 -- recall Sandy "Socks" Berger, former Clinton National Security Advisor, caught stealing Clinton-era investigation material from the National Archives. Recall the Rowley memo, which painfully complained of pre-9-11 bureaucracy of "careerism" ruining any breakthrough into the Zacarias Moussaoui investigation. Recall Jamie Gorelick's Wall (1, 2, 3). Recall former Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno's refusal to back Richard Clarke's request to attack Osama bin Laden camps in the late 99-2000. (And, again, this isn't a blanket indictment on Clinton, but more a statement on government groupthink and bureaucratic nonsense. But let's also be honest that it is the Left wing who supports this far more often than the Right.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Commission was told that the US government had fingered Mohammed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi as potential terrorists but did nothing because it feared civil rights violations. Likewise, it should come as no surprise that the 9-11 Commission, which previously seemed intent on destroying Bush's reelection bit, is now scurrying to cover its tracks.

The Sarasota Herald Tribune sums it up nicely:

[Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., and a former defense intelligence official] Weldon suggests that the Able Danger report and recommendation may have been rejected because Atta, al-Shehhi and the other two men, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, had valid U.S. visas.

A federal law prevents military and intelligence agents from collecting information on U.S. citizens or immigrants who hold "green cards," but it doesn't apply to visa holders. Congress should determine if such a communications roadblock could occur now. Lawmakers should also ensure that safeguards are in place that protect individuals' privacy rights but allow the government to balance the need for public safety.

The former defense intelligence official, who requested anonymity, confirmed the statements of Weldon, who is vice chairman of both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee. The former official said of the members of the al-Qaida cell,

"We knew they were bad guys, and we wanted to do something about them." But nothing was done.

The claims by Weldon and the former defense intelligence official reinforce the need to share anti-terrorism intelligence across agency lines, a recommendation made by the 9/11 Commission.

Curiously, however, a spokesman for the 9/11 Commission acknowledged Thursday that commission investigators were told of the Able Danger findings. Yet the commission didn't follow up on the information.

The reports by The Times appeared to catch commission members by surprise. Lee Hamilton, the former congressman who co-chaired the commission, said, "The 9/11 Commission did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9/11 of surveillance of Mohammed Atta or of his cell. Had we learned of it, obviously, it would've been a major focus of our investigation."

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, by the way, came out a few days ago and acknowledged that Able Danger existed, had fingered Atta and company, but the dissemination of information to the FBI and law enforcement was blocked by Pentagon lawyers.

He 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.

"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," he said.

The Defense Department did not dispute the account from Colonel Shaffer, a 42-year-old native of Kansas City, Mo., who is the first military officer associated with the program to acknowledge his role publicly.

At the same time, the department said in a statement that it was "working to gain more clarity on this issue" and that "it's too early to comment on findings related to the program identified as Able Danger." The F.B.I. referred calls about Colonel Shaffer to the Pentagon.

Yeah, you fellas go gain your clarity... the rest of us are pretty clear.

The 9-11 Commission's lack of activity on this is reprehensible. Rep. Weldon, according to Kevin Drum:

"I personally talked with [Philip] Zelikow [executive director of the 9/11 Commission] about this," recalled the intelligence officer. "For whatever bizarre reasons, he didn’t pass on the information."
That intelligence officer turned out to be above referenced Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer.

Is this a surprise? Is it exclusive to the Pentagon? Of course not. The CIA, in 2000, refused to fired Hellfire missiles from Predator drones hovering over Afghanistan because even though the target was strongly suspected to be Osama bin Laden himself because of legal hand-wringing and treating terrorism as a law enforcement problem, not a defense or national security problem. Only after Bush administration officials realized the scope of the was this situation corrected (Predators killing then #3 al Qaeda bigwig Mohammed Atef and later Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi in Yemen).

And before we get all carried away with the "If only the DOD had passed the info to the FBI" thoughts, recall that this was the same FBI that refused to poke into the laptop of Zacarias Moussaoui, because they didn't want to endanger this poor, poor Arab national learning how to land, but not fly, airplanes (land b/c of the ability to line up with structures, get it?). Do yourself a favor and refresh your memory on Rowley's frustration, because it'll make you want to strangle the nearest bureaucrat. Similarly to Rowley's account, when Special Agent Ken Williams suggested to the same Washington FBI superiors that they investigate Muslim foreign nationals attending civil aviation schools he was quickly rebuffed.

So what would happen had the Pentagon special program passed their information to the FBI? I believe nothing. And I have history to back me.

Sadly all this knee-jerk political correctness will happen again and again because too many people still exaggerate the straw man of protecting civil liberties. A data mining operation can be run while safeguarding civil liberties (we've done it with project Echelon for decades!), using open sources (remember it took 9-11 for the FBI to allow their agents to use Google-like search engines), and with less intrusion than your average private marketing company does to you on a daily basis.

Here's one such misguided opinion on Drum's website (likely the same disgruntled, Sixties-reminiscing hippy I see protesting at Baywalk in downtown St. Pete): "If some bleeding edge experimental DOD computer data mining algorithm were to finger you as a potential troublemaker, would you want the DOD alerting the FBI? Let's not get blinded by our 20/20 hindsight."

Yeah, but that so-called bleeding edge experimental DOD computer data miner (and apparently not so experimental, eh?) didn't finger an average Joe, did it? No, it fingered Mohammed FRACKING Atta, another hijacker and 9-11 two strong-arms! 9-11 could have been stopped cold.

So take your civil-liberty straw man and stuff it. Because it's lacking substance.


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