Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The 9/11 bombshell and a useful reality check

This NY Times story has a key piece of information that has nothing to do with the dubious revelations from anonymous intelligence officials.

The account is the first assertion that Mr. Atta, an Egyptian who became the lead hijacker in the plot, was identified by any American government agency as a potential threat before the Sept. 11 attacks. Among the 19 hijackers, only Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi had been identified as potential threats by the Central Intelligence Agency before the summer of 2000, and information about them was not provided to the F.B.I. until the spring of 2001.

Atta was the key to the conspiracy. All the punditry about 'missed opportunities' ignores this fact. Coleen Rowley, the Phoenix memos, the knowing John O'Neil-none of them touches Atta and that means none of them had the potential to prevent 9-11.

Further, all the recommendations about "improving intelligence" that rely on that punditry are flawed, superficial, or wrong-headed. Again, they assume that we had the information necessary to uncover and prevent 9-11 when that clearly is not the case.

If Weldon's claims are true, we might, might, be in a position to craft better policies and methods. The key question is this: what could the FBI have done in August of 2001 if they had been told that Atta was suspected of being an al Qaeda member?

You cannot arrest him based on a statistical model. You cannot infiltrate the conspiracy because the Atta cell did not recruit in the US. Unlike the 1993 bombers they did not have to break the law to prepare for their operation which forecloses another avenue of pre-emption.

It's not as simple as the intel critics like to pretend. For four years too many pundits have been pretending that counter-terrorism is clean and easy.

For commentary on the rest of the article, Just One Minute is the place to start and the Junk Yard Blog is always worth reading.

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