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August 17, 2005
The Second White Memo

Deborah Orin and the New York Post have the second memo from Mary Jo White to the Department of Justice, urging them to reconsider the policies put in place by Janet Reno and her deputy Jamie S. Gorelick that effectively barred law enforcement and intelligence operations from sharing data and analyses. White's second missive strongly warned of dire consequences if the US blocked cooperation on national-security issues, a subject with which White had some expertise:

PRESIDENT Bill Clinton's team ignored dire warnings that its approach to terrorism was "very dangerous" and could have "deadly results," according to a blistering memo just obtained by The Post. ...

"This is not an area where it is safe or prudent to build unnecessary walls or to compartmentalize our knowledge of any possible players, plans or activities," wrote White, herself a Clinton appointee.

"The single biggest mistake we can make in attempting to combat terrorism is to insulate the criminal side of the house from the intelligence side of the house, unless such insulation is absolutely necessary. Excessive conservatism . . . can have deadly results."

She added: "We must face the reality that the way we are proceeding now is inherently and in actuality very dangerous."

Tragically, events proved White correct. As the 9/11 Commission pointed out both in its report and in repeated assertions during the public hearings, US intelligence and law-enforcement agencies failed to "connect the dots" and find the terrorist conspiracy. The report itself only mentions the wall a few times, mostly to underscore how "misunderstood" it was (page 271):

Jane sent an email to the Cole case agent explaining that according to the NSLU, the case could be opened only as an intelligence matter, and that if Mihdhar was found, only designated intelligence agents could conduct or even be present at any interview. She appears to have misunderstood the complex rules that could apply to this situation.

The FBI agent angrily responded:

Whatever has happened to thissomeday someone will dieand wall or notthe public will not understand why we were not more effective
and throwing every resource we had at certain problems. Lets hope the National Security Law Unit will stand behind their decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, UBL, is getting
the most protection.

Jane replied that she was not making up the rules; she claimed that they were in the relevant manual and ordered by the [FISA] Court and every office of the FBI is required to follow them including FBI NY.

It is now clear that everyone involved was confused about the rules governing the sharing and use of information gathered in intelligence channels.

Two issues are apparent in this passage. First, not everyone was "confused"; Mary Jo White had a good understanding of the consequences of the 1995 policy change. She predicted this outcome five years before it happened. Second, if the policy was indeed misunderstood, who had responsibility for implementing it correctly and ensuring that the FBI understood it properly? The Department of Justice, of which the FBI is a part, and its leadership -- Janet Reno and Jamie S. Gorelick.

Instead, Gorelick sat on the Commission and said nothing about the second White memo. Like so much other evidence -- Able Danger, the Heidelberg arrests of two Iraqi spies, the 1996 State Department warnings -- the second White memo appears nowhere in the Commission's final report. One cannot help but draw the conclusion, especially in this case, that the Commission deliberately excluded it from their report. Gorelick, at least, had firsthand knowledge of it.

Once again, the 9/11 Commission gets exposed as a dangerous cover-your-ass effort by bureaucrats who made national security an almost impossible task for operational units. Again, we ask: what else got left out of the report? And again, we expect to see another answer tomorrow, if not sooner.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 17, 2005 6:56 AM

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