Dafydd: the Tragedy of Hysteria

This is truly stunning: more people were just killed by a lemming-like panic on a bridge in Baghdad than have been slain in any suicide bombing in Iraq (and far more than were killed by Hurricane Katrina).
Sometimes, you just don’t know what to say.
UPDATE: Alas, the estimated death toll from Hurricane Katrina has been raised dramatically; estimates vary, but it will likely be significantly greater than thought yesterday. There is enough tragedy to go all around, and then some.

The Great Not There

My column today at the Daily Standard, “Accounting for the Final Report”, reviews the standing of the 9/11 Commission report, the supposedly definitive and final word on the worst foreign attack on American soil. Able Danger started a steady stream of revelations that the Omission Commission either missed or deliberately ignored — and a couple of patterns emerge from this new data. These patterns directly compromise the narrative and the recommendations of the Commission:

WHAT DID THE 9/11 COMMISSION CONCLUDE? Despite the highly coordinated nature of the attacks, the enormous scale of the plot, and the commando tactics used by the hijackers–a combination of elements that had not previously or since been seen in al Qaeda attacks–the report concluded that the only state which sponsored Osama bin Laden in 9/11 was Afghanistan and its Taliban government. The report explicitly concluded that no operational connection existed between the 9/11 attacks and governments in Syria, Iran, or Iraq. The panel laid the blame for the failure of the United States to prevent the attacks on our intelligence communities and their political leadership, and added during public hearings recent administrations (George W. Bush and Bill Clinton) had failed to “connect the dots.” Its recommendations comprised an expansion of the bureaucracy.
For a year, the final Commission report provided the alpha and omega of all debate on 9/11 . . . until Able Danger came to light earlier this month.
The Special Operations Command data-mining program, which according to three public witnesses identified Mohammed Atta as a potential terrorist 18 months before September 11, wasn’t included in the final report and was apparently ignored by the Commission’s staff on at least two occasions. When confronted by this new evidence, the Commission changed its story several times over one week, eventually settling on a rebuttal which hinged on discrediting the one witness who had come forward. By the time another week had gone by, two more witnesses had appeared–and further damaged the Commission’s credibility.
INSTEAD OF BEING THE DEFINITIVE WORD on September 11, the report has begun to resemble a literary equivalent of Swiss cheese as more and more data came out about what else the Commission missed in its report, either by chance or by design.

Three weeks after Able Danger, it behooves us to review all of the information that has come out which the Commission apparently never considered when deriving its conclusions. One has to wonder why, as most of this had previously been known to at least the agencies involved in the 9/11 investigations. Most of it came from previously-published reports, and all of it undermines the panel’s main conclusions.
Now that Congress has scheduled hearings to review this, perhaps the Exempt Media will take all of it more seriously and refrain from duplicating the mistakes made by the Commission and themsleves the first time around: reporting only that which fits their predetermined narrative.

Freedom’s Silver Anniversary

Americans may have forgotten about this date, but Eastern Europeans should celebrate the 25th anniversary of the singular event that spelled doom for four decades of Soviet oppression — the formation of Solidarity, the first independent trade union behind the Iron Curtain:

The Polish city of Gdansk on Wednesday took the world’s collective memory back 25 years to the day when a strike at the sprawling Lenin shipyard on the Baltic Sea ended and Solidarity, the first free trade union in the communist bloc, was born.
The main streets of the Baltic seaport were draped in the red and white of Poland, with Solidarity logos and huge posters recalling that the wave of strikes across the country in August 1980, but especially the much-publicised Gdansk shipyard strike, were the first brave steps towards ending communism in Europe. …
On August 31, 25 years ago, Walesa emerged from more than two weeks of talks between the strikers and shipyard bosses, and proclaimed to his fellow workers: “We have free, independent trade unions.” Solidarity, described by Walesa as the greatest proletarian monopoly ever and the only movement able to take on communism, was born.

Walesa showed the world that the Soviet hegemony could be challenged, a particularly poignant demosntration given the track record not only of earlier attempts such as Prague Spring in 1968 but the track record of the United States in recent years prior to Walesa’s challenge. Jimmy Carter’s kiss still remained fresh on Leonid Brezhnev’s cheek when Walesa stood up to the Polish Communists, bolstered by Pope John Paul the Great and a sense that justice eventually prevails against tyranny.
Walesa touched off a series of events that took time to for their momentum to build into a movement. Americans rejected the defeatism of Carter and instead looked to Ronald Reagan for the same moral clarity in the war against Communist oppression that the Gdansk dock workers showed. His success and avoidance of imprisonment emboldened others to dissent. Within a decade, the superpower status of the Soviet state had crumbled into dust, and communism as a political philosophy got consigned to the asheap of history — in other words, limited to Western academia.
If you have an opportunity today to take a look at a map of Europe, draw a line through Germany and then look between that line to the edge of Russia. One man led a small movement at a Polish dock that eventually freed all of that territory without a shot being fired — one of the truly remarkable events in human history, and an anniversary well worth celebrating.

Yes, Virginia, There Really Are Communists, Just Not That Many

Dana Milbank and Alan Cooperman do a pretty good job of making John J. Tierney look like an alarmist nut based on their report of his presentation at the Heritage Foundation yesterday. His upcoming book apparently researches the funding and momentum behind the burgeoning anti-war protest industry and finds a lot of evidence that it primarily consists of unreconstructed communists. The Washington Post report of the event has Tierney painting a pretty broad brush on this score, however, and starts out by using what it believes to be a killer emotional rebuttal:

Cindy Sheehan: anti-American communist?
That was the accusation coming yesterday from the Heritage Foundation, which hosted author John J. Tierney Jr. for a forum titled “The Politics of Peace: What’s Behind the Anti-War Movement?” …
Tierney, of the Institute of World Politics, identified five groups: ANSWER, Not in Our Name, Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, and MoveOn.org. He said these groups “come from the Workers World Party” and are an “umbrella” for smaller groups, such as the “Communist Party of Kansas City” and the “Socialist Revolutionary Movement of the Upper Mississippi.” Of the last two, he said, “I’m just making these up.”
Tierney singled out Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq and who camped out at President Bush’s ranch this month to protest the war. “I’ve never heard of a woman protesting a war in front of a leader’s home in my life,” he said. “I’ve never heard of anything quite so outrageous.”

The problem that comes with some people who get something right about their political opponents is a tendency to go too far, and Tierney falls into this trap. I have no doubt that Milbank and Cooperman give us the most egregious quotes possible in this piece, but the one above demonstrates a high level of cluelessness. Truly Tierney cannot have been serious when he said this, or he exposes himself as little more than a rube. Considering the permanent moonbat display across the walkway from the White House, where our “leader” lives, the notion of protests at his residence should not surprise anyone. That protest zone hardly qualifies as a men-only zone, either. If Tierney objects to the protests following George Bush to Crawford, then the responsibility for that goes to Bush for moving his base of operations to his ranch while Congress is out of session.
Overshooting the target allows for criticisms to stick. Tierney names a lot of organizations in his speech as reported by the Post, which doesn’t report on whether the author brought any evidence of communist infiltration or backing within all of them. That scattergun approach leaves Tierney open to charges of McCarthyism — seeing Red wherever he looks — and diminishes his credibility even further.
Which is a shame, because he gets it exactly right with at least one of these groups: International ANSWER. One need look no further than their own website to find out the people who direct ANSWER’s political direction to understand what fuels their passion, and it isn’t an abiding love of democracy. In the About Us section, ANSWER lists its “steering committee”, the organizations that comprise its leadership:
* IFCO/Pastors for Peace
* Free Palestine Alliance – U.S.
* Haiti Support Network
* Partnership for Civil Justice – LDEF
* Nicaragua Network
* Alliance for Just and Lasting Peace in the Phillippines
* Korea Truth Commission
* Muslim Student Association – National
* Kensington Welfare Rights Union
* Mexico Solidarity Network
* Party for Socialism and Liberation
* Middle East Children’s Alliance
Edward Immler at FrontPage wrote an extensive expose of ANSWER in September 2002 which demonstrated the connections between the group and Stalinists such as the Workers World Party and the International Action Center. On this count, Tierney is on solid ground, and to the extent that ANSWER alone fuels these rallies, then he can show a solid link to communist participation in anti-war protests.
And while Cindy Sheehan may be anti-American, based on her public statements such as “America is all about killing” and her assertion that the country is not worth defending with one’s life, that doesn’t make her a Communist by default. Moreoever, it hardly helps to overly demonize Sheehan past what can easily be said about her based on her own words.
With polls showing a growing discontent with the direction of the war, one still has to presume that America has not suddenly turned Communist. Plenty of blame can go towards the media for this weakening of support, as they relentlessly cover explosions and deaths but report little of the rebuilding efforts seen by our troops and the few embeds still left in Iraq. Readers find little context in daily tallies of combat deaths (which after two years still doesn’t come close to the one-day loss on 9/11) without understanding that nation-building takes long, hard work, but if successful will lead to many more lives saved, not just American but Iraqi as well. The White House shoulders some of this blame as well. It needs to communicate these issues better.
Regardless of the blame, Tierney and others like him need to remain precise and careful about their charges. Hyperbole only destroys the credibility and gives material assistance to the lunatics at the fringe, which need real exposure that includes solid evidence that speaks for itself.

Able Danger Fox Trot III: Dances With Pentagon

AJ Strata and Tom Maguire both link to a WTOP report on an apparent shift at the Pentagon on the question of Able Danger’s ID of Mohammed Atta. Last week, Larry di Rita could barely contain his cynicism at the tale told by Colonel Tony Shaffer. Today, however, the Pentagon demonstrated that it can count:

The Pentagon appears to have reversed its position on Able Danger, the Army intelligence collection team.
A Pentagon spokesman now says “there’s no reason to doubt the specific recollections” of the growing number of team members. The team members say the project had pre-Sept. 11 intelligence on al Qaida, which Defense Department lawyers prohibited them from sharing with the FBI.

What does this reversal mean? Besides demonstrating an ability to count to three, I think it means that the Pentagon has completed its search for the missing Able Danger materials. Either they found more information and it corroborates Shaffer, Scott Phillpott, and J.D. Smith in their assertion that Able Danger identified the four lead terrorists in the original al-Qaeda cell as terrorists, or they can’t find anything at all. The formulation saying that they have “no reason to doubt the specific recollections” of the program members sounds like a generic non-endorsement/non-opposition non-position.
My guess says they came up empty for documentation, but that they may have other information that caused them to back off. The attorneys at the Pentagon may have more “specific recollections” than they want to publicly admit at the moment, and perhaps even more specific notes from specific meetings. After all, lawyers tend to maintain those records for good reasons. Had Shaffer and other AD team members actually met with the Pentagon counsel’s office, they would have wanted it on record that they recommended not only dropping the request for coordination but ending the program altogether — if 9/11 never happened. Gathering those notes would have taken just a week or two, meaning that effort should have been complete by now.
If they couldn’t find any record of AD meeting with Pentagon attorneys, they would have announced that. If the documentation turned up, that probably would have been announced regardless of whether it supported the Pentagon’s versions of events. In fact, had they found nothing, they probably would continue to stonewall. Something changed, and it would be good to find out what exactly it is.

Up Again, For Now

Having problems hitting the site today? You had good company; it looks like the servers have been down for about half of the day today. Hosting Matters has worked hard to reroute around a couple of breakdowns, but now we appear to be going strong.
As far as I know, none of the outages had anything to do with CQ. I received a few e-mails while the servers were up asking if my site had been hacked. Not my site, but apparently HM had to deal with some sort of DoS attack on one of its other servers during the middle of everything else. All I can do is shake my head and wonder what small little lives some people lead. Thankfully, the good folks at HM know how to deal with these attacks and should have the rest of their clients up again soon.
I’ll start working again soon on new posts. Right now I need to catch up with e-mail and developments in the news. Hopefully we’ll stay up for the rest of the evening!

More Dots Missing From The Omission Commission

The invaluable Steven Hayes presents yet even more information that never made it into the supposedly comprehensive 9/11 Commission report in this week’s edition of the Weekly Standard. Hayes reports that two figures tied to both the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and Iraq also have ties to the 9/11 hijackers — but Americans relying on the independent panel tasked with providing the definitive look into the latter would never know it:

AHMED HIKMAT SHAKIR IS A shadowy figure who provided logistical assistance to one, maybe two, of the 9/11 hijackers. Years before, he had received a phone call from the Jersey City, New Jersey, safehouse of the plotters who would soon, in February 1993, park a truck bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center. The safehouse was the apartment of Musab Yasin, brother of Abdul Rahman Yasin, who scorched his own leg while mixing the chemicals for the 1993 bomb.
When Shakir was arrested shortly after the 9/11 attacks, his “pocket litter,” in the parlance of the investigators, included contact information for Musab Yasin and another 1993 plotter, a Kuwaiti native named Ibrahim Suleiman.
These facts alone, linking the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, would seem to cry out for additional scrutiny, no?
The Yasin brothers and Shakir have more in common. They are all Iraqis. And two of them–Abdul Rahman Yasin and Shakir–went free, despite their participation in attacks on the World Trade Center, at least partly because of efforts made on their behalf by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Both men returned to Iraq–Yasin fled there in 1993 with the active assistance of the Iraqi government. For ten years in Iraq, Abdul Rahman Yasin was provided safe haven and financing by the regime, support that ended only with the coalition intervention in March 2003.
Readers of The Weekly Standard may be familiar with the stories of Abdul Rahman Yasin, Musab Yasin, and Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. Readers of the 9/11 Commission’s final report are not. Those three individuals are nowhere mentioned in the 428 pages that comprise the body of the 9/11 Commission report. Their names do not appear among the 172 listed in Appendix B of the report, a table of individuals who are mentioned in the text. Two brief footnotes mention Shakir.

A year after receiving almost-universal adulation, the Commission and its report have lost the credibility and authority that it held. Unlike other attempts at historical review that suffer only through the passage of time and accessibility of fresh information and evidence, the panel wrote its own epitaph through the ignorance of data already in the public sphere. Whether that ignorance came from inept investigation, the reliance on predetermined assumptions, or something more sinister may never get answered, unless Congress holds their creation responsible in public hearings for these oversights. The sudden discovery of the trove of data left out of the Commission’s report and apparently their deliberations clearly shows that the report and its conclusions can only be called incomplete in the most charitable interpretation of events.
As Hayes points out, the problem with the charitable interpretation is that it ignores a certain pattern of “ignorance”. The Commission appears to have included every data point that supports the popular notion (even before their start) that the 9/11 attacks came with almost no state support other than the Taliban in Afghanistan, and even then only in sheltering the al-Qaeda strategists who ordered the attacks. The “dots” that the Commission excluded from even a mention — if only just to debunk them — all seem to point to state assistance from either Iran, Iraq, or both. Most of them show that the intelligence community actually did uncover some interesting data, on which the bureaucracy either explicitly blocked further investigation or discouraged action. Why would the Commission want to do that? Could it be that the collection of bureaucrats that comprised the panel wanted to believe that the bureacracy could save America, and that the intelligence communities needed more constraints, post-9/11? Or could they have wanted to underscore the meme, during a presidential election, that our “unilateral” approach to policy regarding the two potential state actors had no basis in national-security requirements?
We can speculate as to the why, but we cannot speculate as to the what any longer. My column in tomorrow’s Daily Standard will provide a list of data and events that the Commission failed to include in its review, and the pattern becomes even more clear when shown in this format. (I wanted to comment last night on Hayes’ article, as AJ Strata did, but I needed to meet the deadline.) I wish I could claim it to be comprehensive, but the last two weeks have shown that any such list will likely need updates within a few hours of its composition.

Virigina Withdrawal Presaging Presidential Brawl?

The Washington Post reports that Virginia Governor Mark Warner will not run against George Allen in the latter’s bid for re-election next year, making the incumbent’s bid look much easier than expected. Allen had geared up his campaign to run against the popular governor who could have put a major dent in Republican plans to hold and expand their Senate majority. Instead, Warner will have two years to prepare for an even bigger race — one which might find him eventually pitted against the same opponent:

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) plans to announce Tuesday that he will not challenge Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) next year, leaving the popular Democrat free to explore a presidential bid, several close associates said Monday.
Warner, who leaves office in January, will announce his decision on his monthly radio show on WTOP, said Virginia Democratic Party Chairman C. Richard Cranwell, a Warner confidant.
“He is not going to run for the Senate,” Cranwell said. “He really wants to finish out his term strong. He doesn’t want anything to distract from that.”
A senior political aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because Warner wants to make his own announcement said: “He is not going to run. He is going to announce it tomorrow.”

If true, this helps Allen further his own presidential aspirations. The more he can avoid bare-knuckled political infighting until 2008, the better he can stage himself as a positive force in politics. A re-election challenge from Warner would have cost a fortune and required both candidates to slug it out on the record, a prospect that Warner did not find appealing for reasons of his own.
If re-elected, Allen could easily jump into the role of front-runner for the GOP 2008 presidential bid. However, Warner — even if he were to beat Allen — could only hope for a #2 position against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. In order to beat Allen, he would have to campaign to the left as a serious alternative to Allen and his center-right politics. That would put Warner on the left of Hillary for the primary campaigns, which might garner him some support but likely would cost him more in the end. Hillary will win the Left, anyway, based on her pre-Senate history. She has vulnerabilities from the DLC center even though she mostly espouses their positions now, but Warner could not hope to carry that banner less than two years removed from the kind of campaign he would have to wage against Allen to convince Virginians to change horses.
All that being said, I doubt it will make much difference in the end. Unless Hillary fumbles badly or the collapse of the 9/11 Commission causes a serious re-evaluation of her husband’s tenure at the White House, she will wind up with the nomination. Warner may be playing for the VP slot instead.

Roberts — Conservative But Not Crazy

Two news articles report on the release of additional material from the career of John Roberts, giving more ammunition to the opponents of his nomination to the Supreme Court while not providing any revelations or bomb bursts. Curiously, the pair continue the pattern of seeing more balanced coverage from the New York Times than the almost-hysterical tone provided on Roberts by the Washington Post.
For its part, the New York Times sticks to the relevant issues rather than rhetorical flourishes, and provides evidence both of Roberts’ conservative leanings and common-sense approach to political extremism. Roberts expressed concern over the increasing police power that government agencies had taken, seeing this as an ever-increasing encroachment on individual rights. He advised the Reagan team that federal police powers should instead remain limited to the Justice and Treasury departments:

Mr. Roberts’s advice was in a May 16, 1984, memorandum to the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, then his boss, at a time when agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Land Management were pressing for – and sometimes getting – police powers to handle problems like toxic waste investigations and armed marijuana growers in the West.
But Mr. Roberts’s view, a classic conservative articulation of the individual’s right to be protected from state power, rings with perhaps renewed relevance today, in light of the government’s use of expanded law enforcement authority in pursuit of the war on terror. The memorandum was among the tens of thousands of pages of documents released in recent weeks from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and reviewed by The New York Times. …
Mr. Roberts offered his views on expanded law enforcement powers as an associate White House counsel, reviewing proposed guidelines that would “represent a general administration commitment not to grant law enforcement authority to agencies other than Justice and Treasury.” They would require an agency that sought such powers to prove that “the need cannot be met by other agencies with such authority.”
The guidelines arose in a context in which various agencies were seeking new police powers, sometimes with the support of Congress and liberal groups, which questioned the Reagan administration’s commitment to enforce environmental laws. In February 1984, for example, The New York Times said in an editorial that argued for an expansion of criminal investigators at the E.P.A., “Toxic waste dumping isn’t just another white collar crime.”
Mr. Roberts acknowledged that the administration’s guidelines “will doubtless be viewed as an effort by Justice and Treasury to protect their ‘turf,’ but it is true that the proliferation of criminal law enforcement authority throughout the government is a dangerous trend that should be halted if not reversed.”

This is a great example of solid, conservative legal thought. The reaction to the ever-expanding bureaucracy and its power over the lives of American citizens helped elect Reagan in 1980, and Roberts’ thinking reflects this. It remains a problem today, and not just on the basis of encroaching on civil rights. Having a cornucopia of law-enforcement agencies makes for inefficient enforcement and more so an inconsistent approach to it. Unnecessary duplication of oversight eats up resources that a single law-enforcement agency could use to field more investigative personnel. Ensuring that abuses do not occur, or are quickly corrected, becomes an almost impossible task when so many different agencies conduct their own police forces.
The New York Times also notes that Roberts stuck to intellectually supportable conservatism and rejected extremists, even those who supported Reagan and his administration. The record shows that Roberts had little patience with Bob Jones University when it complained that Reagan hadn’t done enough to support its efforts to bypass the INS for one of its foreign ministers, issuing threats to keep evangelicals at home in the next election. Roberts, who had seen the political capital Reagan had already spent trying to get Bob Jones University its tax-exempt status (which the Supreme Court later reversed), barely restrains his contempt for the university in his response to Fred Fielding, Reagan’s White House counsel:

“The audacity of Jones’s reply is truly remarkable, given the political costs this administration has incurred in promoting the interests of fundamental Christians in general and Bob Jones University in particular,” Mr. Roberts wrote. “A restrained reply to his petulant paranoia is attached for your review, telling Jones, in essence, to go soak his head.”

The Times analysis gives its readers a clear look at a conservative attorney, but one who operated in the mainstream and did not advise any currrying of favor with extremists. On the other hand, the picture painted by the Washington Post gives a much different impression — a relentless portrait of a radical conservative who hates government programs. The Post gives little context to Roberts’ thought, relying on rhetorical snippets instead to create this impression:

Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. advised the Reagan administration’s attorney general that “it makes eminent sense” to seek legislation permanently barring the use of employment quotas to redress discrimination and prohibiting the busing of students to foster the integration of schools, according to newly disclosed archival documents.
The March 15, 1982, recommendation to enact administration policy into law came up in a written assessment that year by Roberts and a colleague in the office of then-Attorney General William French Smith of legal issues raised by conservative groups. …
In a memo written in 1983, after Roberts moved from the Justice Department to the White House counsel’s office, Roberts left open the possibility that he agreed with a statement that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — which is responsible for enforcing laws against discrimination — was “un-American.”
The memo, sent by Roberts to White House counsel Fred F. Fielding on June 7 of that year, noted that a citizen had written President Ronald Reagan to complain that the EEOC was “un-American” and that “he will hold the President to his promise to get rid of it.” The letter was shunted to Roberts, who told Fielding he could not confirm that Reagan had made such a promise.
“We should ignore that assertion in any event,” Roberts said, “as well as the assertion that the EEOC is ‘un-American,’ the truth of the matter notwithstanding. I have drafted a deliberately bland response for your signature.”

One can make an argument that the EEOC, which has created many headaches for employers trying to comply with its vague requirements, does not meet the American ideal of treating people equally. In fairness, however, one must recognize the EEOC came as a reaction to a long, historical failure to meet that ideal, one the victimized minorities and women for decades if not centuries. Calling the EEOC itself “un-American” would be demgaoguic, but not a sin of the mortal proportions that the Post attempts to paint it, especially through the use of the people it quotes for reactions. Nor was it what Roberts said, but in fact part of a letter for which Roberts provided a response. The Post doesn’t even report fact here — it reports that his response “left open the possibility that he agreed” with that assertion. I suppose it left open the possibility that he thinks the moon is made of green cheese as well.
Is this the kind of fact-based reporting that the Washington Post wants us to expect? On the basis of their reporting on Roberts, it certainly appears that we can see more of it. Last week, Roberts was a racist for using an official designation of the Civil War as the “War Between The States”. Two weeks ago, Roberts was a racist because of a house his parents bought, with a deed that had none of the exclusion clauses on which the Post based its allegations. Today, Roberts is a racist because he crafted a typical bland response to an angry citizen. If the Post wants us to see a pattern in these reports, they succeed — but probably not in the way they imagine.

Dafydd: the Great Wall of FISA

Several previous posts here have discussed Jamie Gorelick’s wall of separation between intelligence and law enforcement, enunciated by her now-infamous 1995 memo to U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, FBI Director Louis Freeh, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Jo Ann Harris, and Justice Department Counsel for Intelligence Richard Scruggs, who also ran the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review.
As the OIPR may well have played a role in preventing the intelligence on Mohammed Atta and three other eventual 9/11 hijackers from reaching the FBI, and as this may be related to Bill Clinton’s China problem (as a number of commenters on past Able-Danger posts here have suggested), it’s worth taking a look at this agency and its chief counsel in 2000, Frances Fargo Townsend.


The counsel for intelligence at the Justice Department is also general counsel for the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review at the Department of Justice; Scruggs held this position in 1995 (though not in 2000). The OIPR is tasked with advising the attorney general on “all matters relating to the national security activities of the United States,” according to their website, as well as advising “the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Defense and State Departments, concerning questions of law, regulation, and guidelines as well as the legality of domestic and overseas intelligence operations.”
The OIPR’s primary, day-to-day task is to serve as the gatekeeper to the FISA court on behalf of the FBI and other investigators at the Justice Department. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 established guidelines for obtaining wiretaps, clandestine searches, and other investigative tools in cases involving national security, where intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies might have to cooperate and in which classified materials that cannot be revealed in open court may be involved. The act also established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, commonly called the FISA court, which would meet in secret to consider applications for FISA warrants from the Justice Department; those warrants routinely passed through the OIPR, which rewrote them, could demand more information from the requesting group (often the FBI) — and ultimately had to decide whether to send them on as formal applications to the FISA court or reject them entirely without the court even seeing them.
In August 2002, Accuracy In Media (AIM) wrote a report about the May 21, 2002 letter by FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley to FBI Director Robert Mueller, complaining about the roadblocks thrown up by the FBI and the Justice Department in Rowley’s 2001 investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui. AIM pinpointed the blame on the OIPR, which had repeatedly refused to attempt to obtain a warrant from the FISA court to search Moussaoui’s computer and other possessions. In that report, AIM detailed some of the history of the OIPR and chronicled its role in building the wall of separation, starting even before Jamie Gorelick moved to Justice.
(Curiously, Rowley, a lifelong Democrat, went down to Camp Cindy a couple of weeks ago to protest in support of Cindy Crawford’s call for immediate and unconditional surrender to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. So it goes.)
The OIPR had long been a valuable asset to the Justice Department in obtaining warrants from the FISA court.

From 1984 to October 1993, Mary C. Lawton was the Justice Department’s Counsel for Intelligence, in charge of the OIPR, the critical node in the FISA process. During her tenure, she occasionally rejected efforts by the FBI to obtain FISA warrants, but once an application left her office it was never turned down by the FISA court. Lawton also permitted the FBI to work with Justice’s Criminal Division to ensure that it did nothing that would hinder any eventual prosecution. A former agent who worked with her says Lawton had a razor-sharp legal mind, particularly with regard to national security. Agents knew that once she approved it, the final application would sail through the FISA court.

But in 1993, Lawton died. This conveniently allowed Janet Reno to appoint Richard Scruggs, who she had brought to Washington from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami, as the Justice Department’s counsel for intelligence (hence general counsel for the OIPR).
Scruggs had no background whatsoever in national security, no connections with the FBI’s National Security Division, and no ties to the Criminal Division at Justice. I believe he was appointed to be a cat’s paw for Reno (a year later, Reno brought Jamie Gorelick over from the DoD to be her Deputy Attorney General, the second most powerful position in the department — I think for similar reasons). In 1993 — two years before Gorelick’s Wall — Scruggs himself added another layer to the FISA wall, refusing more often, and with flimsier reasons, to allow intelligence agencies to transfer data to criminal investigators.

The Chinese Connection

According to the AIM report,

Simultaneously [with the appointment of Scruggs in 1993], Director Freeh was dismantling the FBI’s counterintelligence capabilities. The China section was especially hard hit. Experienced China counterintelligence specialists like Ray Wickman and T. Van Majors had retired or sought reassignment to field offices. Consequently, the National Security Division lost the expertise built up over the years of working with OIPR and preparing FISA applications.
Scruggs was criticized by Ronald Kessler in his book The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI, for using this issue as a pretext to increase his status with Reno and expand his staff and budget. Scruggs erected barriers between the FBI and Justice’s Criminal Division and threatened to reject automatically any FBI attempt to obtain a FISA warrant should the Bureau violate his rules. In this fashion, the FBI was deprived of advice and assistance from the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in espionage or terrorist cases. [emphasis added]

It is now generally conceded that the People’s Republic of China (which I hereafter call Red China, because I’m an old fogey who doesn’t like changing terms of long usage and perfect clarity) established a spy network of stunning breadth during the Clinton administration, primarily focusing on obtaining our most up-to-date nuclear technology and strategy. Of more controversy is why: the Right asserts, and the Left hotly denies that Clinton himself turned a blind eye to Chinese espionage because of the very large campaign contributions funneled into the Clinton war chest by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and various intelligence agencies of Red China; the last estimate I saw indicated that the PLA eventually donated as much as $4 million to Clinton’s campaign and library funds and to the Democratic National Committee, channeled through various cutouts, including Maria Hsia, Johnny Chung, John Huang, and Charlie Trie.
The United States also changed its foreign policy with respect to Red China in several ways favorable to them during this period; for example, retracting our promise to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by Red China, granting technology-transfer waivers to Loral Space and Communications and Hughes Electronic Corp. to share state-of-the-art launch technology with Red China, and attempting to sell the former U.S. Naval Base at Long Beach to COSCO, the China Ocean Shipping Company — a well-known front for the PLA. Much of this is detailed in Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett II’s excellent book the Year of the Rat: How Bill Clinton Compromised U.S. Security for Chinese Cash, as well as in Bill Gertz’s Betrayal : How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security. Each person can draw his own conclusions about any connection between these events.
But how does any of this relate to the wall of separation at Justice that prevented transmitting Able Danger intelligence to the FBI in 2000?
Starting in 1993, the FBI began investigating what they believed to be one of the most effective and damaging Chinese spies in the country: Dr. Wen Ho Lee, working on nuclear technology at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Lee was eventually charged with fifty-nine counts; but the case was botched, and all but one of the charges were dropped. Lee pled guilty to one count of “unlawfully retaining national defense information” and was sentenced to time served.
In 1997, the FBI wanted to search Wen Ho Lee’s computer accounts at Los Alamos, both those for classified information that he had access to and also his personal office computer, which was unsecured: the FBI believed that Lee was transferring highly classified technical documents from the classified computer to the unsecured, web-connected computer — whence, the government eventually alleged, the Red Chinese snatched them. None of this was proven at trial; in fact, at least some of the information seems not to have been accessible by Lee. But the FBI believed they needed to inspect Lee’s computers and wiretap his phone, and they sent a Letterhead Memorandum up the chain at Justice requesting a FISA warrant… which the OIPR had to decide whether or not to turn into a formal application to the FISA court.
In 1996 or 1997, Scruggs, a protege of Attorney General Janet Reno, left that position and was replaced by an interim acting counsel, Gerald Schroeder. It was Schroeder who rejected the FBI’s request, refusing to pass it along to the FISA court.
Under Scruggs, the OIPR had significantly expanded the wall of separation; after Scruggs left, Schroeder refused even to relay an FBI request for a FISA warrant to the FISA court to investigate potential Red Chinese espionage of critical nuclear technology. At this very same time, President Clinton was under investigation by members of Congress for cozying up to Red China in exchange for campaign cash… and Janet Reno was frantically stonewalling demands that she appoint a special counsel to investigate Clinton’s China connections.
There is no proof that Reno’s attempts to stifle investigation into Red Chinese penetration of the White House influenced the decision by the acting counsel for intelligence at the Department of Justice (who heads the OIPR) to put a lid on the investigation of suspected Red Chinese spy Wen Ho Lee. But certainly it was — I can’t resist — another brick in the wall of separation. By this point, it had become terribly difficult for OIPR to approve any connection at all between intelligence and law enforcement. As the AIM report put it:

Although OIPR attorney Dave Ryan prepared the application, the key player in the rejection was Allan Kornblum, OIPR’s Deputy Counsel for Operations. He testified that he was shocked when he first read the Bureau’s draft, but he then proceeded to throw up a series of ever-higher obstacles to OIPR’s approval….
The Senate report concludes that Kornblum was applying a standard appropriate to establishing guilt in a courtroom, but not to establishing probable cause to obtain a FISA warrant. Kornblum is viewed as an experienced career attorney, but one more “political” and “attuned to the front office” than his colleagues. In this case, Kornblum may have been playing to Schroeder’s “very restrictive definition of probable cause.”

Another way to put it is that by 1997, the OIPR had become gun-shy about any interaction at all between intelligence and law enforcement. On FISA warrants, it became more important to the OIPR under Schroeder to maintain its near perfect record of not being rejected by the court than it was to get vital intelligence to investigators and prosecutors. But vigorous enforcement of the wall seeped from the OIPR through every department, every field office, and every agent and employee of the Justice Department.
The stage had been set for the colossal failure of Able Danger.

Frances Fargo Townsend

Acting Counsel for Intelligence Schroeder left in 1998, and was replaced by the soon-to-be controversial Frances Fargo Townsend. Townsend — a Republican and former deputy to Rudolph Giuliani in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York City, but a very close friend of Attorney General Janet Reno nevertheless — was elevated to that position at Reno’s request; since Townsend was also the protege of then FBI Director Louis Freeh (another recipient of Gorelick’s memo), she was a shoe-in for the job heading OIPR.
U.S. News and World Report profiled Townsend last December. Although they did not discuss Able Danger, they did report on the feeling among nearly all of Townsend’s critics that she was too enamored of that wall of separation, and that she was just as conservative in applying for wiretapping and surveillance warrants from the FISA court as Schroeder and Scruggs had been.

Townsend found herself in the middle of that debate over how much of a “wall” should exist between intelligence-gatherers and prosecutors, and her tenure at OIPR remains controversial today. Many FBI agents say Townsend was crucial in obtaining FISA wiretaps, especially during the period of heightened terrorism concerns around the new millennium. But many prosecutors felt that Townsend was less than helpful in making sure the FBI shared wiretap data with lawyers at Main Justice when there was evidence of criminal activity. Townsend believed that the FISA court and its chief judge at the time, Royce Lamberth, would refuse to approve search warrants and wiretaps if they believed too much information sharing was going on and if prosecutors were controlling or directing the intelligence-gathering efforts….
Both the Government Accountability Office and the 9/11 commission have blamed OIPR in part for the government’s intelligence failures before the terrorist attacks. Sources say that OIPR’s narrow interpretation of FISA led to misunderstandings and overly cautious behavior by the FBI. As a result, in July and August of 2001, FBI intelligence analysts prohibited their own criminal-case agents from searching for two men on the government’s terrorist watch list who they knew had entered the United States. The men later proved to be two of the 19 hijackers.

In fact, under Townsend, the control by OIPR of all connections between intelligence and law enforcement became nearly absolute through what can only be called political extortion:

The 9/11 commission said OIPR had become the “sole gatekeeper” of FISA intelligence by arguing that “its position reflected the concerns” of Judge Lamberth. “The office threatened that if it could not regulate the flow of information to criminal prosecutors, it would no longer present the FBI’s warrant requests to the FISA court,” the report said. “The information flow withered.” [emphasis added]

And of course, less than three years into Townsend’s tenure, the Pentagon’s Able Danger team requested permission from the Department of Defense’s general counsel to share with the FBI intelligence information about an al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn, a cell that included Mohammed Atta and three other soon-to-be 9/11 hijackers. Again, there is no absolute proof that the DoD lawyers contacted the OIPR; but that would be the regular source they would use to get Justice Department advice on the legality of such sharing. And assuming they did, the decision would ultimately fall to Frances Fargo Townsend: she would have to make the call.
Her personal history, as well as that of her office under two previous general counsels, and of the entire Justice Department under Janet Reno, makes perfectly clear that Townsend’s natural inclination under such circumstances would be to “just say no.” Indeed, by that time, the DoD lawyers (possibly still operating under Jamie Gorelick’s own tenure as general counsel for the Defense Department and her later memo at Justice) might not even have bothered asking, since they already knew what the answer would be.
Thus, in the end, the Able Danger catastrophe, like death and taxes, was predestined.

The Great Wall of China

Critics of the almost obsessive focus on Jamie Gorelick’s role in the Able Danger fiasco, which may have prevented the breakup of Mohammed Atta’s al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn and the quashing of the 9/11 attacks, are right in one sense: Gorelick was not alone. Gorelick’s mentor, Janet Reno, had other agents: Richard Scruggs, Gerald Schroeder, and Frances Townsend were all close associates of the attorney general; and Louis Freeh became close to Reno, as well. All followed the same trail blazed by the boss, President William Jefferson Clinton.
All six of these individuals (seven, counting the president himself) were true believers in building that wall higher and higher. I suspect that OIPR’s fear of being rejected by the FISA court and Clinton’s well-known loathing of defense and disdain for intelligence gathering in general combined into a “perfect storm.” The intelligence side would simply not even be allowed to talk to the criminal investigation side. The wall of separation became a veritable Great Wall of China, completely segregating intelligence gathering at the CIA, DIA, Naval Intelligence, the National Security Divison of the FBI, and yes, the Able Danger data-mining operation from the criminal investigators and prosecutors under the Department of Justice — including the FBI. Everybody on both sides of the wall contributed another brick or two.
That same Great Wall also imprisoned the federal criminal-justice system itself: they were isolated, sequestered, and kept in the dark about the great and terrible events swirling around the country (and the world) from 1993 right up to when the hammer fell on September 11th… and even beyond, until Congress enacted the USA PATRIOT Act a month later.
In another sense, though, the critics are dead wrong: it is worth focusing on Gorelick because she wrote the clearest (though not the first) directive expanding the Great Wall — and because she was subsequently foisted upon the 9/11 Commission by the Democrats in a crass and blatant (and ultimately successful) attempt to ensure that none of this would come out in the commission’s final report.
In this case, success may not have a thousand fathers, but it surely has at least seven progenitors.