Stirling Newberry writes, "This breath taking shift, from the long standing line that it was ridiculous to believe that the government had any information, to evidence that specific, credible and timely information had reached the highest levels of FBI HQ has taken less than 10 days. As with all fast moving stories, the place to start is with the facts. The facts that show that there had been specific, credible and timely warnings in the possession of US law enforcement."
The 911 Files
Stirling S. Newberry firstname.lastname@example.org
The Oval office has been smearing the reputation of Federal law enforcement in the US for the last month now.
First, they claimed that there had been no credible information that pointed to the possibility of an attack on US soil by terrorists. Then, when it became clear that Bush had been briefed by the CIA as to the possibility, they claimed that the information was too vague to be a credible threat.
Then, when the content of the "Phoenix Memorandum" became widely leaked, which contained specific and credible information on terrorist activities in the US, aimed at the US they switched. Suddenly, "the dog at the dots" became the rule of the day - there were too many agencies, too many databases.
When Agent Rowley, Esq. came forward and stated that her group had had "probable cause" in their investigation in Minneapolis, the spin changed again. Suddenly, the failure was in "connecting the dots" at FBI HQ.
However, the content of the Rowley memo showed that one person at FBI HQ had had her memo, the Phoenix Memo, and foreign intelligence at the same time. Suddenly it was no longer faceless mid-level staffers at FBI HQ who were the caricature imbeciles - it was a man, with a name. Dave Frasca, head of the "Radical Islamic Counter-Terrorist Unit", reporting to Heidl, the Assistant Director for Counter-Terrorism. The dots were all on one desk, his.
This breath taking shift, from the long standing line that it was ridiculous to believe that the government had any information, to evidence that specific, credible and timely information had reached the highest levels of FBI HQ has taken less than 10 days.
As with all fast moving stories, the place to start is with the facts. The facts that show that there had been specific, credible and timely warnings in the possession of US law enforcement.
1. "Terrorism Hawks"
In the late 1980's, awareness of terrorism was growing in US intelligence circles, with one mid level agent stating. "If they can drive a truck into a building, they can fly a plane into a building". With the disintegration of totalitarian states in the former soviet block, and the attendant loosening in countries that were once seen as "battleground nations" in the Cold War, fears surfaced that criminal organizations, which had long been involved in narco-terrorism, petro-terrorism and nationalist movements, would acquire the means to strike the US much harder than had previously been the case. What was born was a growing conviction that terrorism in the US was not an "if", but a "when".
At the same time, radical groups on the right had been growing in their boldness for flouting Federal Authority. The so called "Brush Fire" rebellion, and other "Patriot" movements and militia organizations became a growing political force, going so far as to be able to send a representative to Congress who was not bashful about believing in the nefariousness of the "New World Order".
During the Clinton administration the Oklahoma City Bombing acted as a wake up call, there was the evolution of a new kind of hawk in Washington DC - the Terrorism Hawk. Lead by Sandy Berger, backed by Louis Freeh, and smiled upon by the President and Vice-President, these people took The McVeigh Bombing and the Unabomber as examples of a threat to public, civil society. They watched the growth of radical Islamicist political factions abroad, and became convinced that it was only a matter of time before large scale terrorism - of the sort that struck the Marine Barracks in Beirut, US Embassies in East Africa, and the victims of the Lockerbie bombing - would come to the United States. By the time of the hand over of power, there was an emphasis on counter-terrorism in both the FBI and CIA. The FBI had divisions for both "Radical Islamicism" and one specifically devoted to Osama bin Laden. According to Sandy Berger, he told his replacement - "You will spend more of your time on this guy, than anything else."
The new executive branch had other ideas - its focus was on drug interdiction. The new AG outlined the priorities of the bureau, and Counter-Terrorism did not crack the top 10. The wind blowing from the DoJ leadership was that what was good enough for 1982, was good enough for 2002.
Reports continued to flow in from outside intelligence sources. Several nations warned the United States, through a variety of channels, of brewing plans for attacks on US Soil. While there were rumors, rampant speculation and dark mutterings, nothing was said publicly and there was no coverage to speak of about the issue. Instead cloning, ANWR and a massive tax give away were the long-term strategic issues discussed in the media.
2. "The Trail of Tears"
In the spring of last year rumors began circulating, from sources inside commercial aviation world, I heard rumors of irregularities in flight training schools - pilots who could not speak English with Commercial Pilot ratings, pilots who did not have Multi-Engine Rating trying to get time on simulators. The seemed just that - rumors. Odd stories of the sort that people tell each other on long flights over the pacific, or waiting around in airports, or over coffee. After some cursory checking, nothing seemed to come of it, and I turned my attention elsewhere. Like many people, I have wondered what might have been if I had made a few more phone calls, followed up on inquiries made, and asked a few more probing questions. Probably nothing, of course. But that is not the way the human animal responds to trauma.
What we now know from the Rowley and Phoenix Memos is this:
Arizona - the agents based in Phoenix Arizona had had repeated indications of possible radical Islamic activities in the US. If you want to shoot weapons and not be seen much, Arizona is a good place to do it - the northern part of the state is on a plateau thick with pine trees and wide distances. Its weather makes it an excellent place to practice aviation - few people, few storms, few questions, and lots of planes to choose from. The agents there had contacted at least one group recruiting suicide bombers. They monitored apparent cells of activity.
In the spring of last year, they connected specific individuals with these radical Islamic groups with people attempting to learn to fly heavy aircraft, and with one individual who seemed not to know enough English to carry the Commercial Pilot's License he had. Agent Williams - praised by his peers as a level headed guy - wrote a memo, the famous "Phoenix Memo" which warned that there was evidence that terrorists in the United States were preparing to hijack aircraft and use them in a terrorist action on US soil, on July 11th, the memo was in the hands of FBI HQ personnel. According to Fortune magazine, he forwarded this memo to "a dozen" people in the FBI. Rumors of it circulated widely, including to the agents in Minneapolis.
He marked the memo "Routine", but sent it personally to Dave Frasca, of the Radical Islamic Counter-Terrorism group. From there, the public trail goes cold. We do not know what more was done, we do not have warrant applications, even though the information contained in the Phoenix Memo is enough, combined with the irregularities at the flight school, to seek probable cause.
Minneapolis - At the same time, the field office in Minneapolis was hot on the trail of an individual who French Intelligence had warned them of. He is Zacharias Moussaoui, known associate of Al- Qaeda whose behavior in the US raised the same flags that had warned agents in Arizona. He did not have the qualifications to fly a multi-engine plane, let alone a jet, let alone a heavy commercial jet like the 767. Yet he wanted to learn how to take off and land the plane, and was willing to pay cash for the simulator time. If he had been an eccentric millionaire, it might have been the stuff of a "personal fantasy" television program. But he had no means of support capable of producing such money, and the agents were suspicious.
According to the agent whose job it was to write warrant applications - 20-year veteran Colleen Rowley, Esq. - their suspicions "rapidly ripened into probable cause". In mid August Moussaoui was detained, but released because of lack of evidence. The lack of evidence was not from the incompetence of the field, but because someone at FBI HQ, we have not yet been told who, altered the Warrant Application to exclude information from France, failed to attach information that he had promised and had not pursued a second venue for a warrant, as Agent Rowley had felt was advisable. The field office, feeling they were on to something big, pressed buttons and sent their information CIA. Someone in CIA told Frasca or someone in his office, we know this because a reprimand came down for circumventing the chain of command. It is no longer credible to say that "no one knew" because if no one knew, then no one would have been able to issue a reprimand. If the FBI can put the dots together about breaches of protocol, then certainly their cognitive abilities are not as bad as we have been lead to believe.
At this time, Frasca was speaking, according to sources quoted in Newsday, on an "almost daily basis" with the Minneapolis office on this investigation. While Frasca had denied seeing the Phoenix Memo, has denied knowledge of other activities corroborating the Minneapolis investigation, and has not publicly taken responsibility for the reprimand - it stretches credulity to the point of chumphood to believe that he was not aware of what the agents he was directing were aware of, that they did not tell him of possible corroborating investigations, and that he did not read the contents of what he was spending time "almost every day" dealing with.
Foreign Sources - Until recently, the executive branch claimed that warnings from overseas had been vague, not disseminated widely, and were not corroborated. The revelations of the Rowley Memo and the Phoenix Memo make this impossible. To date there has been no public investigation as to which other leads from abroad were in the possession of US law enforcement - in the FBI or CIA, or other agencies. We now know that at least one of these warnings had not only been communicated and disseminated, but also acted upon by field agents, who regarded it as part of their "probable cause" case.
3. The Spin, The Spun and the Spam
Just after the attacks, the executive branch declared that it had not had anything specific enough to act upon, and there the matter sat for some months, until in February , when Daschle drafted legislation that would create an independent commission to investigate the failure of intelligence running up to 911. George W Bush Jr. personally lobbied against it, as reported in the Washington Post. Until Cynthia McKinney (D. GA) stood up and demanded an investigation as to what information the Oval Office had, it seemed dead in the water. Suddenly the dam seemed to break.
First, White House aids began an orchestrated campaign to declare the Representative's suspicions not merely partisan, but insane. The call was taken up by Slate.com, by various important press outlets such as the New York Times. It was absurd, completely absurd. Nothing was known. Nothing. The dog ate the dots.
There was almost a two-week lull, and then the executive branch itself launched a trial balloon. The problem, intoned right wing outlets such as Brit Hume, was that there were too many intelligence gathering agencies, too many sources. They began to talk about dots being connected. As someone who survived the dot come boom, I have a general suspicion of people trying to sell me anything with a dot in it, and began pressing people again. The responses I got were the same: the executive branch wants to consolidate the FBI and other law enforcement agencies into one, INS, ATF and the Secret Service were mentioned as possible candidates. But consolidation into one Committee of State Security was clearly the political goal behind the gradual unwinding of the position that "nothing" had been known.
The first desperate attempt was to say that congress had seen the same information. This lasted all of two days, when Senator Shelby of Alabama, ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee stated he had not seen the material in the August 6th briefing. The "President Daschle failed to act" line died before it had gone far out of the FreeRepublic.com and a few Internet bulletin boards where RNC spin is first tried out.
The rule that prosecutors follow with conspiracies is simple: "If they lie together, they fly together." This means that in cases where a group of individuals were all involved in some activity, if all stay silent, or tell exactly the same lie, it is difficult to break the conspiracy. This is why "Codes of Silence" have stymied prosecutions for years in places such as Chelsea Ma, and against Mafia figures and in internal investigations of police misconduct and in corporate investigations. It is hard to build a case without at least one person breaking their silence. The way this is done is by giving one or more parties an incentive to "roll" on the others, give up information for gain. The revelation of an August 6th briefing that mentioned the possibility of Al-Qaeda terrorism forced action. Suddenly nothing had become something, however remote. The executive branch's leaks suddenly created an environment where one party had rolled on the others.
Specifically, it had placed the blame on low level agents of the FBI and elsewhere, for failing to come up with anything more than vague warnings which were scattered from one end of the federal law enforcement bureaucracy to another.
This meant that to preserve their own careers and reputations, those close to the investigations that the executive branch had labeled as ant hunts, someone had to counter leak. Within days the long rumored "Phoenix Memo" had been shown to a reporter at Fortune magazine, along with incidental information on its distribution. Richard Behar's story lead with the spin that no one else had seen it - hard to prove - but closed with important details of the memo's circulation. Despite his best efforts, it really was the bottom line that mattered - the memo had been sent widely.
Soon there afterward Agent Rowley sent her memo to congress. Mueller tried to hide it, but then ordered an "internal" investigation. But bi partisan concern on the Senate Intelligence Committee over ruled this, and the memo, in edited form, was published online by Time. Again, heavily loaded with spin about how this was now "a mid level" failure. The executive branch's stance changed from "there were no dots" shortly after 911, to "the dog ate the dots", to "we couldn't connect the dots", to "the FBI HQ is filled with complete idiots who were to dim to see the dots". This last stance - backed by stories of the contempt that field officers have for supervisors being run on cable programs and a constant repetition that the failure was in FBI HQ - based on no facts whatsoever - makes one wonder about the commitment that the executive branch has to people who have, over the last several decades, been able to dismantle the mob, break billion dollar fraud rings, engage in tireless interdiction and still be able to reach further and successfully gather a case that has put Timothy McVeigh on death row.
This constant repetition is more troubling because it is an answer that assumes that many questions that have not yet been asked in upcoming June 4th hearings, have simple answers that are obvious. Does Fox News know more about what is going on that Senator Graham (D FL) of the intelligence committee? That Richard Shelby (R AL), ranking minority member of that same committee? If so, why aren't they sharing it?
What we have instead are questions: whom else did Williams send the memo to? Behar reports "a dozen" inside of the FBI. Was one of them the head of the Osama bin Laden unit? Who in CIA had received it? When? Was it a factor in the August Briefing? Who else in FBI HQ saw both the Phoenix Memorandum and the reports of the Minneapolis investigation? When did they see them? Who ordered the warrants sandbagged? On what Authority were the warrants sandbagged? Who gave the orders to reprimand? On what authority? Was it Frasca? Did he report this to his superior? If so, when? If he did, how is it credible that his superior did not look at the materials involved?
4. Specific, Credible, Timely Warnings
The Watergate scandal gave us the modern vocabulary of political deception. The Nixon Administration, desperate to distance itself from a growing stream of revelations, and aware of their own complicity, tried the tactic of telling some of the truth, part of the truth, and not only the truth. The slang of the time had the verb "hang out" ,as in "to hang it all out", as meaning telling the embarrassing, even intimate truth, or doing exactly what you felt like doing, even if it was risque or shocking. They had to tell a lie that looked enough like the truth to be convincing and end the questions. This was called "The limited hangout". However, its cover was rapidly eaten through, as the corrosive corruption involved with espionage against the political system inevitably entails - at this point John Dean advised that they could simply alter the story somewhat, but preserve the gist: "A Modified Limited Hangout".
The Executive Branch in dealing with File 911 has followed the same course. First they stonewalled. Even while both Mueller and Ashcroft, by their own admission, had seen the materials collected by Williams in Arizona and Rowley, et al, in Minneapolis shortly after the attacks, the public stance was that there had been nothing to follow up. We now know that even as FBI director Mueller and AG Ashcroft uttered these words, they had seen that the FBI had specific, credible and timely information. Information listing connections, individuals and actions, information attached to probable cause and requests for wire tap warrants under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act, and search warrants targeted at the computers of the 20th Hijacker.
These facts alone are enough to call into question whether Mueller has lied to congress - a federal offense - and whether Ashcroft has been complicit in whitewashing failures within the DoJ to act. While the whole truth of what people "knew" before the terrorist attacks may never be fully understood, what Ashcroft knew about those failures, and what he told the American People and the representatives of that people in Congress, is a much more direct connection. He said there was nothing, when he knew there was something. Now he says the failure has been pinpointed - but no one else is allowed to look inside, and a carte blanche is to be given to an executive team that, by all evidence which is publicly available - turned its attention way from terrorism and towards marijuana as the major threat facing US law enforcement.
So far there has been no solid time line comparing statements made to congress with knowledge by these officials, so far there has been no inquiry into what Tom Ridge, shadowy director of the shadowy "Office of Homeland Security", knew. So far he has not even made a public statement on what his office, in its roll of coordinating different agencies, has to offer better communication in future.
Right now the executive branch has offered to sweep the whole thing under the rug - shuffle the FBI, toast a few supervisors, and then move on with an FBI reorganization that will be neither examined in public, debated in congress, nor enacted in law - and hence established by fiat, to be changed by equally arbitrary and capricious whim at some later date when it suits political convenience. If it isn't on paper, it doesn't exist - if it isn't enacted, its written on water.
6. Dot Dot Dot Dash
"There are no Dots."
September 2001 through April 2002
Mueller and Ashcroft both publicly stated that there had been no information in the run up to 911, that it had been a complete surprise attack. Even though both had already seen information to the contrary.
"They were President Daschle's Dots"
First Week of May 2002
When confronted with the August 6th briefing, the executive branch claimed that the congress had seen the same information. Senator Shelby, perhaps unwilling to take a torpedo for the executive, denied this.
"They were very fuzzy Dots"
Second Week of May 2002
The new spin was that there will little bits of information all over entered into too many databases. This was blown as spin by the leaking of the Phoenix Memo which showed that the FBI had specific, credible and timely information that had been sent to "at dozen" people at the FBI, including directly to Dave Frasca of RICT.
"The Agents could not connect the Dots"
Third Week of May 2002
Agent Rowley then sent her explosive memo to the attention of Congress, which showed that the agents had been reprimanded for connecting the dots, and trying to get the dots connected to the CIA.
"The supervisors could not connect the Dots"
Thursday May 22nd through Saturday May 25th
Which was blown when it was clear that all the dots needed were on David Frasca's desk, and he had been in "almost daily" connection with the field.
"Headquarters was too busy dotting every 'i'"
Sunday May 26th to present.
But what evidence do we have for this, really? The constant repetition of it? No, we don't. The drumbeat could go one of two ways - pressure Frasca to speak his peace, or to bury the story. Once we laid to rest an unidentified fallen soldier from each war. DNA testing has made unknown soldiers a thing of the past, but it seems that now the war on terrorism is about to have its first truth that is "known only to God."