The right attempts to spin away a Bush intelligence failure
By Joseph Cannon on 8/12/2005, 4:52pm PT  

The Republicans have attempted to put a favorable spin on the Curt Weldon charges. Weldon claims that a DIA "data mining" operation named ABLE DANGER had identified Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 terrorists at least a year before the September 11 attacks.

Originally, we were told that an unnamed DIA lawyer directed the team not to notify the FBI and not to pursue Atta further. We were even told that the data miners literally placed tape over Atta's picture in their organizational charts of the terror cell within the United States.

After the initial account made the news, rightist pundits used Weldon's story as a cudgel against the Clinton administration. The revised version of the story (as gleaned from Hannity, NewsMax, and similarly "trusty" sources) maintains that the White House was the ultimate power behind the DIA's decision to keep mum about the extraordinary find. According to the egregious NewsMax, the Clinton administration caused the problem by erecting a "wall" between the FBI and the rest of the intelligence community.

So far, the public has seen no documentary evidence proving the existence of ABLE DANGER. In my view, the Weldon account nevertheless rests on a credible foundation --- not least because it inconveniences the official version of Atta's doings.

According to the standard version, Atta did not enter the United States until June of 2000 --- a chronology which conflicted with strong eyewitness testimony, such as the story told here of Johnelle Bryant, the loan officer for the Department of Agriculture who swore that she had encountered Atta earlier.

The spokesman for the independent 9/11 commission, Al Felzenberg, now claims that the commission did learn about ABLE DANGER and did know that the DIA team had identified Atta, but did not include this information in the final report because the data conflicted with the Authorized Standard Version of his pre-attack whereabouts. (Previously, commission members said: 1. They knew nothing about ABLE DANGER, and 2. They did know that such an operation existed but were never told of the Atta connection.) According to Felzenberg, the DIA team had told them that Atta entered the country in 1999.

Despite the frustrating contradictions, it now seems fairly safe to stipulate that ABLE DANGER did exist and did uncover Atta's ring. Even so, the right-wing spin on this matter amounts to pure bullshit...

The DIA team, we are told, knew of Atta at least a year before the attacks. During that year, Clinton was in office a mere four months to Bush's eight. Why didn't the Bushfolk do anything?

The larger question: Are the rightists correct when they insist that Clinton's White House actively prevented members of the intelligence community from talking to each other?

It is well-known that the FBI and the CIA have never "played well" together. The rivalry goes back to the founding of the CIA, when J. Edgar Hoover --- miffed that he was not chosen to lead a combined super-organization --- decreed that the FBI would not share data. Although communication between the two agencies improved after Hoover's death, the "wedge" (as it is usually called) remained a problem before, during and after the Clinton administration.

Even so, the record shows that FBI personnel did frequently communicate with other agencies on terror-related issues during the Clinton years. In fact --- and despite what the right-wing propaganda machine would have you believe --- communication within the intel community, though highly imperfect, was probably better at that time than it was after Bush took the oath of office.

According to a report by Eleanor Hill delivered on September 18, 2002 to the investigative committee chaired by Porter Goss and Bob Graham, a number of terrorist actions were foiled during the Clinton years --- foiled, to a large degree, due to cooperative efforts within the intelligence community. A few of these failed plots bear some resemblance to the successful terrorist action which took place on Bush's watch.

In 1997, the FBI and the CIA shared information on a terrorist group which had purchased a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) for the apparent purpose of flying it into an American building overseas.

In August 1998, unnamed branches of the intel community (probably including NSA) passed on to the FBI information about a plan by Arab terrorists to fly an explosive-laden plane into the World Trade Center.

In November 1998, a Turkish extremist group allied with Al Qaida plotted to fly an explosive-laden aircraft into Attaturk's tomb. The plotters were arrested after the scheme was discovered by American intelligence, which shared their information with the FBI's New York office.

The intelligence community also shared information on the following incidents:

* The 1996 Al Qaida plan to attack the White House by air

* A November 1998 recruitment effort by Al Qaida within the United States

* The so-called "Millennium Plot," which came to an end after the arrest of Ahmed Ressam

* An Al Qaida plot to assassinate various intelligence officials (including the head of the FBI) in 2000

Much has been made of the fact that the CIA identified two of the highjackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, at an Al Qaida summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000. Despite the identification, the men traveled to the United States and lived openly in San Diego --- renting from an FBI informant (about whom there is much more to say, though not here.) When this embarrassment was first revealed to the pubic in early June of 2002, initial reports indicated that the CIA did not inform the FBI or the INS. However, the CIA was able to produce emails proving that it had, in fact, told the FBI about Alhamzi and Almihdhar. Why the FBI did not act on the data remains an open question; for present puposes, we may note only that inter-agency communication did occur.

For those who still believe in the myth that Clinton had (for lord-knows-what reason) erected an impenetrable "wall" ghetto-izing the various members of the intelligence community, an L.A. Times story from October 18, 2002, reveals a very different situation:

In a world of cloak and dagger, one of the CIA's most secret campaigns was called simply "the Plan."

For two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, it was the official operational strategy that the CIA, the FBI and other U.S. agencies jointly adopted for their clandestine — and still largely unsuccessful — campaign to capture terrorist Osama bin Laden and his chief aides.

Although the intelligence agencies did not function perfectly during the Clinton years, the worst breakdowns --- breakdowns so bad some have presumed sabotage from within --- occurred after George Bush took office.

For example: When FBI agents in Minneapolis had Zacarias Moussaoui in their sites in 2001, higher-ups within the Department of Justice refused to grant a warrant to search his computer. The field agents had to circumvent their bosses in order to discover what the CIA and French intelligence had on Moussaoui.

Bottom line: On Clinton's watch, the Millenneum plot --- and a number of other schemes --- failed. On Bush's watch, September 11 --- and a number of other schemes --- succeeded.

This history lesson brings us back to current events. Is Weldon's ABLE DANGER story an accurate account that the right has twisted for purposes of disinformation? What was the real reason why the DIA turned a blind eye to Mohammed Atta? Why the effort to hide evidence that Atta entered the United States in 1999, not June of 2000?