Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why invoking 911 to justify NSA domestic meta data is either dishonest or ignorant.

With every other argument being made for NSA meta data collection proving to be not just empty but completely dishonest (see General Alexander's claim of "51 attacks prevented" that Senator Pat Leahy after looking at supporting documents said was a completely bogus claim),  and without a shred of proof that it has had any value at all, the defenders of the program have decided to reach out  for their last and what they hope is their most reliable resort by trying to invoke the 911 attacks as a reason to justify and continue the program.

We have heard from both James Clapper, General Alexander, some members of congress and some civilian supporters of the program that if the data collection had been in place prior to 911 it could have or would have prevented the attack.

As recently as Tuesday at a senate hearing chaired by senator Leahy, those appearing before the committee defending the NSA data collection, when asked if they thought that the program could have prevented 911 simply lied and said yes. And if it wasn't a lie it was staggering ignorance.

 For those with short term memory loss, it should be remembered that 911 was also used in 2002  by the Bush Administration to justify the first pre-emptive war in America's history in  invading Iraq to prevent, we were told,  the use of WMD that in the end didn't exist which supposedly was going to be used by a dictator who had ties to Al-Qaeda even though all the evidence was he didn't. Later ample evidence was uncovered that the Bush administration not only had no valid intelligence that Iraq had any WMD but did  have intelligence that they didn't.

 The 911 attacks have always proved to be the last bastion either of scoundrels trying to scare people into going along with their schemes, or those who might be sincere but exhibit the worst kind of ignorance of the facts surrounding the 911 attacks  and how the Bush administration including Bush himself and Condoleeza Rice, without any NSA meta data collection, had  all the intelligence anyone could have ever needed or wanted  to have stopped the 911 attacks dead in its tracks.

 The attack wasn't stopped and the intelligence not acted upon, because Bush, Rice and the entire Bush administration with the exception of Richard Clarke,  had dismissed  terrorism and Al-Qaeda as a real threat to the United States from the first day they took office and so disregarded all the intelligence given them that the United States was going to be hit with a major terrorist attack.

 These facts exposed by the 911 Commission showing the Bush administration was culpable of the worst case of gross negligence in American history went largely ignored by both the news media and Democrats, both of whom were more afraid of Republican attacks accusing them of politicizing 911 and being unpatriotic than they were of Al-Qaeda.

 By August of 2001 this is what Bush, Condoleeza Rice and others in the Bush administration were told by the intelligence agencies who gathered the information about Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda without any NSA domestic meta data collection:

They were given intelligence that Al-Qaeda was plotting to attack the United States within the United States.

 They were given intelligence that Al-Qaeda cells were already in the United States.

 They were given intelligence that Al-Qaeda cells had been spotted putting buildings in New York city under surveillance.

And they were given intelligence  that the Al-Qaeda plot to attack within the United States involved the hijacking of commercial U.S. airliners.

They were told all this as of August 6, 2001.

At the same time  in both July and August of 2001 Bush and Rice were told that CIA intercepts of Al-Qaeda traffic overseas indicated the Al-Qaeda plot was in motion and that one Al Qaeda  communication translated into " the match has been lit".

The CIA had other intercepts of Al-Qaeda traffic without any NSA meta data collection, that  indicated that the attack was "imminent" and, in the words of the memo from one CIA translator, that the attack was going to be "spectacular". This information was turned over to Richard Clarke.

Richard Clarke, a member of the White House panel on NSA reforms,  testified under oath at the 911 Commission hearings that he and CIA Director George Tenant, armed with this intelligence,  were "running around the White House like men with their hair on fire"  in August of 2001 trying to get Rice and Bush to take action against what they saw as the imminent threat of a major terrorist attack.  They were rebuffed and ignored by both Rice and Bush and without taking any action, Bush went on vacation to Crawford and hung out the Do Not Disturb sign.  All because from the first day of the Bush administration when Bush's first official act related to terrorism was to demote Richard Clarke to a sub- cabinet level position,  they didn't believe terrorism was a genuine or important threat to the United States ( see the Time magazine article " 911: The Secret History). 

This refusal to consider terrorism a threat went so far that the Assistant Director of the FBI testified at the 911  Commission hearing that on one occasion he went to Attorney General John Ashcroft's office with terrorist related intelligence and was told by Ashcroft "don't ever come to me with anything related to terrorism again".

 Clifford May, the president of something called The Foundation For Defense of Democracies, a conservative group that did a good job ignoring everything the 911 Commission revealed about the attacks and a current defender of the NSA meta data program, was on CNN the other day also trying to claim that if only the NSA meta data collection was in place at the time we might have gotten a tip and been able to follow up by confiscating computers belonging to Al-Qaeda members and learned of the plot. And May reiterated this point in an online article.

Here is a bulletin to Clifford May:  We actually did just that without the need for any of the NSA meta data collection. FBI agent Colleen Rowley, following up on leads and suspicions including information from a Minnesota flight school, arrested Zacarias Moussoui later called the 20th hijacker months before the attacks. Moussoui who was part of the plot, never participated in the attack because he had been arrested and was in jail.

Agent Rowley and her FBI agents did in fact confiscate Moussoui's computer, and it did in fact provide a wealth of information which, when taken with everything else available at the time,  including the August 6 presidential intelligence briefing that informed Bush and Rice that hijacking commercial airliners was part of the Al-Qaeda plot, there was so much intelligence, there wasn't a cab driver in New York city who couldn't have prevented the 911 attacks with the information available.  (Moussoui had been taking flying lessons at a Minneapolis flight school to learn how to fly jumbo jets, but he only wanted to learn to fly them, not how to take off or land something that raised the suspicions of the school who called the FBI).

 In another instance,  an airline ticket seller in Maine testified that he became suspicious when, on the morning of Sept 11 2001 a middle eastern man came to his counter and bought a one way ticket to San  Francisco, connecting at Logan airport,  without a reservation, and paying the top dollar one way price of $2500.  The man also paid cash and had no luggage.  The ticket seller said he had never seen anything similar in all the years he worked at the Maine airport and intuitively it raised his suspicions. But since there were no bulletins or alerts by the FAA (which Bush or Rice could have easily directed) to be on the lookout for any suspicious behavior related to possible hijackings by Middle Eastern men, he did nothing. Had those bulletins been issued what do you think that ticket seller at the Maine airport would have done?  Keep it to himself?  The man who bought that ticket at the Maine airport was Muhammad Atta.

This scenario was repeated with each hijacker at Logan and Dulles airports on September 11, 2001. Middle Eastern men buying one way tickets to San Francisco, all paying cash and none of them carrying luggage. Does anyone believe that wouldn't have raised red flags had there been an alert to airports and airlines regarding the danger of potential hijackings issued by the White House?

After the attacks, FBI agent Rowley wrote a scathing letter to FBI director Robert Mueller which she also sent to Time magazine to be made public, eviscerating Mueller for claiming publicly that the FBI didn't have enough information to have stopped 911 when she knew they did.  She accused Mueller of covering up for Bush to save Bush's skin politically and outlined all the information they had extracted from Moussoui and his computer and forwarded to FBI headquarters in Washington, months before the Sept 11 attacks. All of which were ignored by the Bush Administration.

 For her courage in not only writing the letter to Mueller but for sending it to Time magazine to be made public, Time named agent Rowley along with two other whistleblowers Person of the Year in 2002 (reminding us again of what seems like political and perhaps economic cowardice by Time in ignoring Edward Snowden as Person of the Year in 2013)

 It is well worth reading what Rowley had to say post 911:

 "What if you lived in a country where, after the Administration negligently failed to prevent a major terrorist attack, they deliberately exploited everyone's fears and utilized shock doctrine to do INSANELY stupid and dangerous things: things like launching costly pre-emptive wars, subverting law, and destroying the checks and balances of the Constitution and common standards of decency by re-instituting torture? Well, We DO live in that country."

 In Rowley's letter to FBI Director Mueller which Time published she wrote:

 " It is obvious, from my firsthand knowledge of the events and the detailed documentation that exists, that the agents in Minneapolis who were closest to the action and in the best position to gauge the situation locally, did fully appreciate the
terrorist risk/danger posed by Moussaoui and his possible co-conspirators even prior to September 11th.”"

The success of the attacks was repeatedly called an intelligence failure by the Bush Administration in trying to shift the blame to the intelligence agencies . It was an intelligence failure. But the failures were at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, not at the intelligence agencies most of whom did their jobs and did it well ( an exception was Louis Freeh who was torched by the  911 Commission chairman for his failures and for disregarding a CIA request to put a tail on recent Al-Qaeda arrivals to the U.S. Arrivals who became the 911 hijackers). 

The intelligence agencies including the FBI  had gathered enough information to have prevented the 911 attacks  had it been acted on.  And without the NSA's domestic meta data collection invading the privacy of American citizens. A program that senator Leahy who has seen supporting documents, has called " a waste".  To this day, Condoleeza Rice's statement that they "couldnt connect the dots" continues to go right over the heads of journalists who saw it as some kind of clever metaphor instead of exactly what it was -- a subconcious confession. Rice, a highly educated woman with a sophisticated vocabulary could have chosen any words to describe the Bush administration's failures in stopping 911. Saying they "couldnt connect the dots" was an admission that they didn't do what a child could have done - draw a line from one dot to the other ( the specific available intelligence) in consecutive order and see the whole picture.

Claiming that having the meta data program in place prior to 911 could have prevented the attacks and that not having it at the time could have contributed to why the attacks succeeded is preposterous, intellectually dishonest and flies in the face of all the known facts. It was also refuted by the White House panel appointed to make recommendations on the NSA.

Given all the intelligence that was available at the time, and the failures by those in authority to act, the NSA domestic meta data program would have been as big a waste of time then as it's critics like senator Leahy say it is now. But it  doesn't stop its defenders from trying to exploit 911 to try and get their way.

It should be remembered, that had those courageous intrepid crusaders for truth known as journalists reported  the facts uncovered by the 911 Commission and held those in government accountable for their failures  instead of the cowardice they displayed in running away and hiding under a rock,  had they expended the same energy over the facts surrounding the 911 attacks that they did over Anthony Weiner's online sex chats, and demanded accountability to the country,  Bush, Rice and Cheney and probably most of the Bush administration  would probably have had to resign.  History would have been vastly different ( like no war in Iraq or financial crisis for that matter and a Kerry victory in 2004) and we would't now be talking about having to rein in the NSA and their domestic spying on every American.  You can blame Democrats as well for  playing See No Evil , Hear No Evil Speak No Evil, but to be fair, without the news media doing their jobs, Democrats would have been in an untenable position.

It should also be noted that while there have been long and tortured hearings and investigations by congress, especially in the Republican led House over the four deaths in the Benghazi attacks with Republicans spearheading the criticism of a Democratic administration,  when Republicans controlled congress from Sept. 2001 to January 2007, there was not a single congressional hearing by any congressional committee  into the Sept. 11, 2001 attack,  the worst attack and worst loss of life on American soil by a foreign enemy in American history. Which occured as the result of gross negligence by a Republican administration.

The last thing to keep in mind, and hopefully congress will, is that with the NSA collecting data on billions of Americans' phone calls for years, logging every phone call Americans have made and storing them in a data base, secretely monitoring everyone's internet traffic and according to the latest Snowden revelation collecting up to 200 million text messages a day,  for years,  with all of this, they couldnt prevent a couple of 20 year old Chechen brothers with outspoken Islamist beliefs living in America  from carrying out two pressure cooker bombings at the Boston Marathon in 2013, an event which,  when you listen to those defending the NSA meta data collecting, is like it never happened. Instead we hear a defense of the program from those supporting it who say, "all it takes is one attack". That attack has already happened. It happened in Boston. And the NSA domestic data collection did nothing to prevent it.

The meta data collection on American citizens hasn't kept anyone safe and  it never has.  It has not prevented or stopped even one terrorist attack contradicting the claim of General Alexander that it prevented 51, and as senator Leahy said after looking at documents given him by the NSA, the program is useless and a waste,  has prevented nothing and accomplished nothing except to violate privacy rights of American citizens.

The one current bright spot is that the Freedom Act which will soon come up for a vote (if Boehner lets it)  and is designed to abolish the NSA meta data collection and introduce other restrictions,  is authored by a conservative Republican, James Sensenbrenner, and liberal senator Pat Leahy,a Democrat. Which shows that when it comes to American's privacy and freedoms as well as their security and 911 itself, partisanship may finally have gone out the window. 

No comments: