Jul 25 2006
Wild speculation alert. We have seen that the NSA-FISA story was a complete hash by the NY Times since the only thing the Times reported accurately was that the NSA listens in on terrorists communications overseas. The NY Times inaccurately claimed the NSA was going around FISA, when in fact it was the completely opposite situation.
My position has been that there is plenty of evidence in statements and reporting that the big change post 9-11 was the flow of leads to the FBI from NSA overseas surveillance. There is plenty of indications that NSA leads on people in contact with terrorists overseas, once bottled up, were now flooding the FBI and the FIS Court. I had based this conclusion on information I found on the Church Committee and its view of the NSA during the time the committee was crafting the FISA statutes. My speculation was that the NSA never passed leads to the FBI because of some historic policy. I am prepared to say maybe I missed something, and it leads us back to the CIA.
My mistake was in forgetting which agency led the anti-Al Qaeda intelligence effort. The CIA was of course the lead and it failed miserably in that charter. Not only did it not capture or kill Bin Laden, it found and then lost 9-11 highjacker Mohamed Atta when he and his terrorists were in Hamburg (see this longish post on the Able Danger timeline). The German government had Atta and company in their sites and report CIA efforts to infiltrate the group there. The CIA knew of 9-11 pilots Midhar and Hamzi being in San Diego, but alerted no one. All these opportunities and the CIA kept quiet. What does that have to do with the NSA? Check out this IBD article on the CIA and 9-11 and phone calls:
Lawrence Wright, author of a soon-to-be-published history of al-Qaida, detailed in The New Yorker magazine this month how the CIA knew for more than a year and half before 9-11 that two of the hijackers were living in the U.S. The agency refused to share that information with the FBI unit investigating al-Qaida.
According to Wright, the concern then was about overly zealous FBI surveillance. In a recent interview, Wright said, “There was a fear in the Justice Department that FBI agents would be tempted to label cases as being related to foreign intelligence rather than as criminal cases because it would be far easier to gain permission to surveil suspects. So the Justice Department erected The Wall.”
This mutated into “a straitjacket” for FBI investigators, writes Wright. “Intelligence agents were warned that sharing such information with criminal agents could mean the end of their careers.” Even members of the same squad couldn’t share information.
The CIA embraced The Wall and kept information about international phone calls and al-Qaida meetings from the FBI’s al-Qaida unit.
Emphasis mine. Sorry folks, but it never occured to me there could be another agency in between the NSA and the FIS Court. I have been reporting on how NSA leads now go to the FBI, what I failed to appreciate is the NSA could have been passing leads to the CIA pre 9-11 since it was the CIA that would be in charge of interfacing to local law enforcement. It makes sense that the US will designate one center to be the prime interface the two domains. That way the NSA and DIA (Able Danger) and CIA don’t conflict in their interactions with the FBI and DoJ. Prior to 9-11 the CIA was the lead agency on Al Qaeda and all intel went through them. There are enough ex-spooks and military Intelligence out there to confirm my suspicions. The lead FBI and DoJ offices were in New York. And the Gorelick Wall barred them from comparing notes (on threat of being fired). Clearly it was the CIA’s decision whether to bring in the FBI.
I often wondered why the NSA seemed so non-plussed over all this mess. Why Hayden gladly discussed the fact that intel was shut off from the FBI if the terrorists made it here in the US. Why the NSA never detected Hamzi and Midhar in San Diego (which apparently they did) and felt like they dropped the ball. Now I see why. They didn’t drop the ball. The one agency at the nexus of all the leaks and attempts to throw elections against Bush has been the CIA. The CIA was the lead agency that allowed our defences to falter, ignored Able Danger and probably blocked the NSA leads from getting to the FBI. The picture may have just cleared up immensely. Because we know, being a military unit, the NSA probably won’t leak, but we all know the CIA does and does it regularly. We may be understanding how much a deterrant the CIA was – a deterrant to our protection. If the CIA was the organization that held NSA leads back and let 9-11 transpire, then it was not NSA, FBI DoJ and FISA which were dysfunctional. No, not at all. If the CIA was being pushed aside after 9-11 and now the NSA was interfacing directly with the FBI, the CIA agents who were losing their clout and authority would have plenty of axes to grind and have motive to leak to the NY Times. We all know the CIA has the access to the media. Was the NY Times leak payback from a now marginal CIA for being sidelined? Wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
More on the Lawrence Wright article here at The New Yorker.