Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Echoes of 9-11

Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon has revealed some news that is clearly disturbing--but not surprising. According to Mr. Weldon, a classified U.S. military intelligence unit, known as "Able Danger" linked 9-11 ring leader Mohammed Atta (and three other hijackers) to Al Qaida back in 1999, and recommended that their information be passed to the FBI, for the purpose of arresting them. However, government lawyers objected to that proposal, noting that Atta and the others were in the country legally, and expressing concern that "U.S. persons" might wind up in the dragnet, in violation of intelligence oversight laws.

Of course, we all know the consequences of the resulting inaction. It's another, tragic example of the lack of cooperation between intelligence and law enforcement prior to 9-11. Unfortunately, the 9-11 Commission plan to use the Weldon revelation as an excuse to get back into business, for the purpose of evaluating the Congressman's claim.

This is a bad idea for a couple of reasons. First of all, despite the "new" information by Mr. Weldon, his report merely reaffirms cooperation problems before 9-11 that have been well-publicized and investigated at length by the Presidential commission. Secondly, the highly-politicized 9-11 panel has shown great reluctance to explore some of the root causes of our 9-11 intelligence security and intelligence failures, including the so-called Torricelli Amendment (which prevented intelligence agencies from using sources with a questionable past) and the infamous Gorelick Memo, authored by panel member (and former Assistant Attorney General Jamie Gorelick), which created a legal wall between the counter-intelligence and law enforcement communities.

In short, a resurrection of the 9-11 panel will simply re-identify a problem that existed before 9-11, with little regard for some of its root causes. Additionally, reactivating the panel will give its most partisan Democratic members a chance to use new "hearings" to launch attacks against the Bush Administration.

However, I'm betting that the panel may (ultimately) decide not to pursue the manner. Afterall, Able Danger's association of Atta and his men with Al Qaida occurred in 1999, when Bill Clinton was still in office. The failure to pass this information to law enforcement occurred on his watch, almost three years before the attacks and two years before George W. Bush took office. With Hillary's eyes set on 2008 and Bill anxious to protect his "legacy," I'd guess the Clintons have already passed operating instructions to their friends on the panel: leave the Weldon report alone, and avoid a wider inquiry into the mistakes and political decisions that actually set the stage for 9-11.

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