Thursday, March 08, 2007

Triple Cross, ABLE DANGER, and the FBI

CSPAN carried a two hour talk by Peter Lance on Sunday. It was a whirlwind tour of the material covered in his new book Triple Cross. He made an interesting point about the failure of the FBI to connect the dots before 9/11 and the problems with the implementation of the Virtual Case File (VCF) system. (Discussed here and here.) He believes that the Bureau has too many people who have too many secrets and that makes the bureaucracy unwilling to get behind any initiative that promotes sharing information with other agencies or even with other offices within the Bureau.

He may be on to something. As noted here, the FBI has engaged in cover-ups from its earliest days.

Lance emphasized that he is not positing any sort of Oliver Stone-style secret government. Rather, the FBI, like most organizations, tries to hide its mistakes and other embarrassing failures.

Some of this is inherent in any intelligence bureaucracy. Sources will contradict each other. If A is telling the truth, then B is either mistaken or lying. Not surprisingly, those officers who built their careers on their work with B will do their best to discredit A.

Of course, if A is lying, then those intransigent, careerist, naysayers become astute analysts while A’s defenders have some explaining to do…

I wonder if this happened with ABLE DANGER? Did that group’s work undercut some high profile operation? Or did it reveal some important terrorists who had been overlooked by the FBI and DOJ?

I haven’t read Lance’s latest book yet. I thought he did an impressive amount of digging in the first two, but sometimes pushed his data too hard and reached tenuous conclusions. He documented plenty of missteps by the FBI, DOJ, and NYPD, but he never produced the smoking gun that would have allowed the FBI to arrest Atta. Failing that, the mistakes are important, but not that important.

(I discussed Lance’s handling of the Phoenix memo here)

On the other hand, Ali Mohammed is a pretty big dot and his handling by the DOJ and FBI may have denied us valuable intelligence in the years before 9/11. Moreover, it is quite possible that some of those who handled him are less than eager to see the story come out.

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