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March 30, 2004
Did Clarke's Team Keep the FBI In The Dark?

Dueling statements by members of former counterterrorism "czar" Richard Clarke's team andthe FBI leave the impression that they didn't tell the FBI everything that they needed to know about terrorist activities in the US, calling into question Clarke's contention that the FBI failed to aggressively pursue terrorism:

The nation's former deputy counterterrorism czar said yesterday that Al Qaeda operatives trained in Afghanistan came through Boston Harbor on liquid natural gas tankers from Algeria and that officials considered Boston a "logistical hub" for the terror network's activities in New England before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The LNG tanker was an underground railroad for these guys to come into the country illegally," he said. "Were a majority just looking to come to the US and start over again? I think that's a safe bet. What we don't know is what percentage had other motives." Cressey's description of what counterterrorism officials in the White House and intelligence agencies knew about Al Qaeda's presence in the Boston area clashed with statements made last week by Kenneth Kaiser, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office. Responding to a reference to Boston-based activity by Al Qaeda in Clarke's new book, "Against All Enemies," and a radio interview in which the former White House aide criticized the FBI for not passing the information on to local authorities, Kaiser told reporters last week that the FBI had found no evidence that stowaways on the LNG tankers had ties to the terror network.

Kaiser's comments related to Clarke's accusation that the FBI knew of terrorists coming in through the LNG port in Boston and did nothing about it. However, that story changed somewhat yesterday when Roger Cressey and an unnamed associate issued these statements:

But Cressey said in an interview yesterday that the White House information came from "other intelligence sources" and that the FBI, which was not focused on terrorism until after the attacks, may not have known the full picture. He added that "there are still gaps in our knowledge of what was going on in Boston," so any definitive statement by the bureau is suspect.

"The ability of the bureau to have a real good idea of what was going on at those locations -- those apartments and elsewhere -- was not as good as it could have been," he said, referring to apartments where suspected Al Qaeda members lived.

Another former national security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed with that analysis. "Our interest in this came from foreign intelligence reporting, not the FBI," he said. "The FBI was responsible for looking into it, but two and two may not have been put together.

In other words, Clarke's team wasn't sharing its information with the FBI, and now they want to blame the FBI for not following up on what Clarke's team didn't tell them. It appears that Clinton's counterterrorism team has gone into full CYA mode since 9/11. Here's another example:

Describing concerns that the LNG terminal might be a target on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Clarke wrote in his book that "had one of the giant tankers blown up in the harbor, it would have wiped out downtown Boston."

But Cressey's initial account contained a misstatement. He said, inaccurately, that the Al Qaeda connection led to a Coast Guard order that LNG tankers from Algeria could no longer dock in Boston Harbor.

Distrigas spokeswoman Julie Vitek said that while the last Algerian tanker docked in January 2002, it was the company that chose to switch its supplier to Trinidad -- primarily because that source was closer and the company signed a long-term contract.

The Coast Guard confirms that no government order was ever received barring Algerian LNG tankers from Boston. Clarke and Cressey can't get their facts straight, which Cressey maintains is due to his shift at the end of 2001 to focus on cyberterrorism for 10 months before leaving for the private sector -- a focus that seems to have permeated Clarke's entire team.

Clarke should answer this question: if the FBI needed to pursue terrorists more aggressively, shouldn't their team have been sharing their intel with the FBI? Why didn't that happen?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 30, 2004 6:24 AM

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