Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Post-modern war

Must reads from the Junk Yard Blog and Steven Den Beste (in the comments here)
The Wall and Fran Townsend

Captain's Quarters (which seems to be down) had a good post up that traced the development of the FISA "Wall" that goes beyond mere Gorelick-bashing. Of all the players he discusses, I think Fran Townsend is the most interesting. For one thing, she was Reno's most trusted advisor while still enjoying a good working relationship with Louis Freeh. For another, she is still in government.

This US News profile raises several other points.

1. It changes the context of the Rowley memo:

in November 2000, the FISA court held a rare meeting of the full court to discuss "wall" -related issues. "The chief judge was so annoyed with me," says Townsend, "that he wouldn't permit me personally to attend, because I had pushed so hard against the restrictions they had imposed." Others say the real root of Lamberth's anger at Townsend was the false information given by the FBI in dozens of wiretap applications to the FISA court. Lamberth declined to comment. But he told Reno's successor, Ashcroft, that he had lost faith in Townsend.

So it just was not obtuse bureaucrats at FBI headquarters who were scrutinizing FISA requests more carefully. Why? What was the FBI lying about?

2. What groups were being investigated when the FISA court approved those warrants based on "false information given by the FBI"? Was it al Qaeda? Or did the FBI have other high priority terrorism investigations going on?

3. Some of her critics suggest that Townsend kept the Wall high for reasons having nothing to do with Reno's wishes.

But others suspect an ulterior motive. Some Justice Department prosecutors felt Townsend wanted to keep the wall up because it kept prosecutors out of national security investigations, leaving more authority in the hands of Townsend and friendly bureau agents.
If Townsend used OIPR to keep prosecutors away from FBI national security investigations, did she do the same when it came to other agencies? Did the DOD lawyers fear that Townsend would resent SOCOM for encroaching on the turf of her beloved Bureau? The FBI has a well-established reputation for demanding to be the lead dog on every investigation it touches. Did Townsend restrain that impulse on counterterrorism matters? Or did she use her position at OIPR to encourage it?

Monday, August 29, 2005

ABLE DANGER: Catch-up time

Terry McDermott makes a good point about retrospective memories and high profile events in this LA Times column. It not quite the strong rebuttal to ABLE DANGER that some think. First, he weakens his case by dismissing something he does not understand:

Data mining is a technique in which huge databases are fed into powerful computers that sift them looking for links. It's a technology that holds vast promise, but its main usefulness to date seems to be giving mortgage lenders the ability to find out how much you still owe on your house.

Financial institutions have been doing more than that with data mining for more than 10 years. McDermott should know that if he is going "refute" the ABLE DANGER story. Maybe he should try googling "Capital One" and "strategy" just for a start. Or maybe "data mining" and "banking".

The even bigger problem is in McDermott's assertion that
Atta's academic, immigration, credit, transit and telephone records provide a fairly complete account from the time he left his native Egypt in autumn 1992 to his death. This includes the period during which Able Danger is said to have identified him as a terrorist in the United States. The story those records, and corroborating interviews, tell is that Atta was not in the United States and made almost no contact with the U.S. until June 2000.

Of course, he has to say that. He just invested years of his life writing a book based on the sources who thought they knew all about Atta and his movements based on cell phone records and credit card statements. The whole picture changes if al Qaeda knew how to defeat FBI surveillance and investigations. That is why Hanssen is important; why other security lapses in the FBI are of vital interest.

In my Tailhook post I wrote:

Pretend that you are one of the officers in charge or involved. Your program has promise but it has not caught any terrorists or prevented any attacks. The lawyers think you should shut it down. They are "concerned" that word will get out and ignite a media firestorm over civil liberties, high-tech invasions of privacy, and racial profiling. You suspect that they are right and you also are not confident that one of the lawyers will not leak the details to some obliging reporter.

If the story is leaked, who can you depend on? The brass? Congress? George H. W. Bush's son

This NY Post story suggests that that mindset was at work when ABLE DANGER was shut down:
The private contractors working for the counter-terrorism unit Able Danger lost their jobs in May 2000. The firings following a series of analyses that Pentagon lawyers feared were dangerously close to violating laws banning the military from spying on Americans, sources said.

Captain Ed is right to suggest that pre-9/11 there would have been a bi-partisan frenzy if word of the Rice/China chart had leaked.

I am deeply skeptical of most of what I read about ABLE DANGER. It is not that I think anyone is lying. But the stories we read are coming to us at the end of a game of telephone where each succeeding listener has less knowledge of data mining, statistics, modeling, and probability. Too many journalists are functional innumerates. That is clear, for example, when the NY Post reporter writes that the data-mining group "pinpointed" Rice. Data mining tools do not usually "pinpoint" individuals. The do not have to in order to be successful. Maybe the report's source overstated the accuracy of their work. But I think it is more likely that the reporter used Perry Mason language to describe a probabilistic outcome.

I worry that information is getting lost in transmission. That might explain why Lt. Col. Shaffer has had a hard time making himself understood to non-technical listeners.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

More on Hanssen and al Qaeda

A follow-up on Robert Hanssen's spying and the FBI's ability to track al Qaeda before and after 9-11.

This article repeats Vise's allegation that Hanssen indirectly helped AQ:

From 1982 until 2001, Hanssen gave away secrets including outlines of America's contingency plans for nuclear attack, the identities of Russian double agents, US intelligence plans, the existence of a spying tunnel under the Russian embassy in Washington and a software program that was later sold by a Russian individual to the al-Qaeda network, enabling Osama bin Laden to evade detection for two years before the September 11 attacks. The extent of Hanssen's spying led former CIA director William Webster to liken his actions to ''a 500-hundred-year flood".
This Fox News report makes the same point but is based on William Webster's investigation in the wake of Hanssen's arrest:

Hanssen sold the COIN applications to the Russians, and U.S. intelligence believes that the software was in turn provided to Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden by Russian organized-crime figures.

Government officials say the software may enable bin Laden to track the international investigation of terror assets and keep his money from being seized.

The United States is not the only nation to use the COIN software
Another key quote from the Autrailian story:

"The Hanssen case was a wake-up call. The belief that serious spying ended with the Cold War couldn't be more wrong," Vise said. ''At the time of Hanssen's arrest [just over a year ago], there were more Russian spies in America than there were at the height of the Cold War. The intelligence community thinks they number in the thousands.

''The information and intelligence they gather is of tremendous value, not only to the person who steals it but to the person he sells it to, as we've seen in the al-Qaeda's purchase of intelligence software that Hanssen stole
Here is Hanssen himself as reported by the Webster Commission:
"Any clerk in the bureau could come up with stuff on that system (FBI's Automated Case Support program). It was pathetic. It's criminal what's laid out. What I did was criminal, but it's criminal negligence what they've done on that system."

I think this information in important in light of Terry McDermott's blithe assertion that:
Atta's academic, immigration, credit, transit and telephone records provide a fairly complete account from the time he left his native Egypt in autumn 1992 to his death. This includes the period during which Able Danger is said to have identified him as a terrorist in the United States. The story those records, and corroborating interviews, tell is that Atta was not in the United States and made almost no contact with the U.S. until June 2000.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Good news but you would never know it from watching cable TV

Despite high-profile cases, sex-offense crimes decline

Government figures show the rate of sexual assaults against adolescents ages 12 to 17 plunged 79% from 1993 through 2003, and the number of substantiated sex-abuse cases involving kids of all ages fell 39% in the same time period.
This about sums it up

When the Able Danger saga is done, Curt Weldon will deserve one of two things: a Congressional Medal of Freedom for his courage, or a straight jacket for his lunacy. There really isn't a middle ground.

Over at the Junk Yad Blog.
Not all whistle-blowers are created equal

I cannot help but note that not all whistle-blowers are equal in the in the eyes of the MSM and the blogosphere. The blockbuster charges of Lt. Col. Shaffer are treated cautiously with a lot of watchful waiting for more evidence. That is as it should be. However, this go slow approach differs sharply from the reception given to three other famous whistle-blowers.

Colleen Rowley ended up on the cover of Time and is trying to parlay that celebrity into a congressional seat. The basis for her fame? A memo she wrote six months after 9-11 castigating FBI headquarters for slowing down the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001.

Her indictment of FBI headquarters was accepted as she presented it. There were few demands for corroboration, contemporary accounts, or concrete evidence that the dropped ball mattered. (An exception was Mark Levin whose article makes interesting reading.) Moussaoui's laptop has become part of the conventional wisdom as an unconnected dot that could have prevented 9-11.

The same is true with the Phoenix memo. (See here to gauge the gap between the reality and the myth.)

Finally, we have Joe Wilson. His charges that the President lied in the State of the Union were widely trumpeted in 2003 and still echo more than two years later. If ever a "whistle-blower" deserved some skepticism and demands for corroboration, it was Joe Wilson. (See this from Powerline). For some reason, he was considered a more trustworthy source than Lt. Col. Shaffer.

I'm at a loss to explain why Rowley and the Phoenix memo were deemed creditable but the ABLE DANGER material is considered suspect. To me, they all fall into the "interesting but verify" category. There is one key difference. We know now that Rowley and the Phoenix agents raised vague warnings too late to be actionable. ABLE DANGER is still an open question.

Politics, surely, worked to Joe Wilson's benefit. That best explains why his remaining wild, unsubstantiated charges ("my wife was outed as payback") are accepted even though so many of his statements have been shown to be false, misleading, and self-serving.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

As others see us

If the rest of the world watches our cable news channels, they must really hate us now. Every evening on three channels the stereotype of the Ugly American is on display: bullying, ignorant, arrogant, shallow, emotional, crass, fake, and sentimental.

Thanks Big Media.

This Blogcritics post is terrific.
The view from Aruba

"From paradise to paradox in Aruba", by David Adams

A couple of choice pieces you won't hear from Nancy Grace:

A Texas search group of mostly middle-aged men with large waistlines held a press conference to announce they would appreciate some free food.
"We feed them (the media) chum to keep them happy," said Jim Knox, a West Palm Beach businessman who is sponsoring a two-dog search team on the island. "We don't like doing it. We do it to keep the story alive
Is a new Tet looming?

Check out this post over at the Junk Yard Blog:

I never cared much for Bob Costas

but this week he is my journalistic hero.

Bob Costas Says No to Hour on Aruba

For Bob Costas, the issue was not complicated.

The longtime NBC sports and talk show host, who signed on this year to be an occasional substitute for Larry King on CNN, resisted a request last Thursday to be the host of a King program devoted to interviewing guests about the already widely covered Natalee Holloway missing-person case in Aruba.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

ABLE DANGER: Who you ask determines the answer you get

When the 9-11 Commission set out on their task the first decision they had to make to make was "where to start?" which had within it the implied question "who to believe?" They needed to establish a basic framework about the timeline of the attacks themselves, who the perpetrators were, what the activities of the killers were before 9-11. That framework shaped the questions they asked, the problems they identified, and helped screen out information of dubious reliability.

Captain Ed noted how oddly the screening worked on the Able Danger material when it was presented to the Commission staff:

Having heard this from two separate sources, one would expect that the Commission would insist on getting the data from the Pentagon themselves. When people call in tips to investigators on criminal cases, do police refuse to follow up because they didn't provide video and fingerprint evidence when they called? Kean says that the Commission requested the data three times from the Pentagon and didn't get the documentation they wanted.

If the original framework is solid, then the staff was doing the smart thing. They cannot chase down every outrageous claim, so they ask the witnesses to provide some evidence.

But that is a big if. What if the initial framework is weak? This post by Douglas Farah at the Counter-terrorism Blog points to an inherent problem:

It was this type of thinking that led Commission staff to ignore the overwhelming evidence of al Qaeda's involvement in the diamond trade as well. They received information from the prosecutor and investigators for the Special Court for Sierra Leone that they deemed unlikely because it was not fitting with what the Community, either out or ignorance or malice, was telling them. They requested information in writing from me, and said they had read the book. But they did not find me, the Special Court, Belgian police reports or other investigations to fit the conventional wisdom. Worse yet, they specifically declined to interview eye witnesses that the Special Court offered to make available to them, with no conditions or restrictions.

These are serious omissions, as is the omission of the Able Danger information. Not everything could be run down or every lead chased in the time allotted to the Commission for its work. The Bush administration compounded the problem by slowing the release of information and fighting the Commission on many unnecessary issues. But these were not issues where it would have been hard to gather more information and at least weigh in that such information exists.

At the same time, the Commission noted in its Monograph on Terror Financing that "Terrorist financing was not a priority for either domestic or foreign intelligence collection. As a result, intelligence reporting on the issue was episodic, insufficient and often inaccurate" (p. 4). The Monograph added that both the CIA and FBI failed to "comprehend al Qaeda's methods of raising, moving or storing money" (pp. 5-6). Yet the Commission staff chose to use only the information of institutions singled out for failure to understand terror finance in its report

That is a real kick in the gut: "Yet the Commission staff chose to use only the information of institutions singled out for failure to understand terror finance in its report."

I think there is a long list of issues where the Commission anchored its framework on suspect sources. They used the FBI timeline for Atta's movements, they relied on the CIA for questions of terror financing, they talked to Clarke and Berger about the thwarting of the LAX bombing but never talked to the woman who arrested the guy with the explosives at the border.

UPDATE: Captain's Quarters has another example i should have mentioned-- the reliance on KSM for many of the details about the inner workings of the plot and al Qaeda. For example:
How good was the data for the Atta timeline, and how solid did the Commission nail down his movements? Looking at the data on pages 167 and 168 of the report, it appears that all of the information that the Commission used to establish travel timelines for the Atta cell came from interrogations of Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. These two AQ officers later also discounted Atta's travel to Prague in April 2001, despite the insistence of Czech intelligence that he met with the Iraqi envoy and an IIS agent at that time.

These guys might be the only game in town, but they are not fully cooperating with their interrogators. From the Commission report, p.514 note 4:
In an assessment of KSM’s reporting, the CIA concluded that protecting operatives in the United States appeared to be a “major part” of KSM’s resistance efforts. For example, in response to questions about U.S. zip codes found in his notebooks, KSM provided the less than satisfactory explanation that he was planning to use the zip codes to open new email accounts.

Monday, August 22, 2005

ABLE DANGER: Is it fair to bring up Tailhook?

It might seem a stretch, but I think that it has some relevance to what SOCOM was doing in 2001 and why the Army shut it down without public protest. (See Jack Kelly for more.)

Tailhook started out as a scandal over the drunken behavior of some naval aviators. But it soon grew into a big political battle over military culture with a big dose of congressional posturing, anti-military press bias, and careerist behavior by senior Pentagon leadership. Although Tailhook made the Navy ground zero, both the Army and Air Force faced the same issues and PR nightmares.

The indispensable James Webb was the most prominent and thoughtful voice decrying the madness. Here is how PBS describes his Luther moment:

In April 1996, Webb delivered a powerful speech at the Naval Academy accusing the Navy's current leaders of failing to defend its hallowed traditions and unique culture for the sake of their own careers. He cited the destruction of careers in the post-Tailhook turmoil, noting in particular the cases of Admirals Jack Snyder and Stan Arthur. Webb asked: "Who expressed their outrage? Who fought this?" The Annapolis midshipmen gave him a standing ovation.

Here are two excerpts from the speech:
When the acting Secretary of the Navy, who had never spent a day in uniform, called a press conference and announced that the antics of one group of aviators at Tailhook was an indication that the Navy as a whole had cultural problems-cultural, as in ethos, as in the overall body of traits that constitutes an institution's history and traditions--how could the CNO stand next to him and fail to defend the way of life he had spent a career helping to shape?
When one of the finest candidates for Commander in Chief of the Pacific in recent times, a man who flew more than 500 combat missions in Vietnam and then in the Gulf War commanded the largest naval armada since World War II, is ordered into early retirement by the Chief of Naval Operations because one Senator asked on behalf of a constituent why Stan Arthur as Vice Chief of Naval Operations had simply approved a report upholding a decision to wash out a female officer from flight school, who expressed their outrage? Who fought this? Who condemned it

This interview with Webb goes into more detail. In it the interviewer notes that more admirals were ruined by Tailhook than by Pearl Harbor. Ponder that for just a moment.

Now, a little context:

The acting Navy secretary was a Bush '41 appointee. The Senator who ruined Adm. Arthur's career was a Republican from Minnesota.

In the 1990s, neither party was a reliable defender of the military services. Nor, as Webb makes clear, was the senior leadership willing to fight against the politicians and media when they ginned up a scandal in the post-Anita Hill world.

Any reasonably astute officer knew that a PR disaster is a career-ender-EVEN IF THE PR SCANDAL IS LARGELY CONTRIVED. The underlying facts mattered less than what "60 Minutes" put on the screen. Neither Republicans nor Democrats were willing standup to the media juggernaut to ensure a fair hearing so the facts can come out.

That is the sort of environment that might make officers just a tad risk-averse.

Now add a counter-terrorist operation down in Florida that is really pushing the envelope. New methodologies, new technology, few controls on who gets analyzed. So far it is showing promise, but the lawyers are worried that it invades the privacy of United States citizens.

Pretend that you are one of the officers in charge or involved. Your program has promise but it has not caught any terrorists or prevented any attacks. The lawyers think you should shut it down. They are "concerned" that word will get out and ignite a media firestorm over civil liberties, high-tech invasions of privacy, and racial profiling. You suspect that they are right and you also are not confident that one of the lawyers will not leak the details to some obliging reporter.

If the story is leaked, who can you depend on? The brass? Congress? George H. W. Bush's son?

Maybe we are barking up the wrong tree on Gorelick. "The Wall" may have had some impact on the men in charge of ABLE DANGER. OTOH, the post-Tailhook behavior of Republicans and Democrats might be more important.

I do not expect that this idea is going to go anywhere in the blogosphere. If it is correct, the blame is bi-partisan. Trent Lott is as culpable as Gorelick or Hilliary. Bi-partisan outrage is popular only when it can be directed at social conservatives.

UPDATE: If you have not read it, make sure you read Webb's book-- Born Fighting. Check out the sidebar to your left.

UPDATE 2: Welcome Instapundit and Michelle Malkin readers. Take a look around, stay a while. Consider adding this blog to your RSS reader. I have handy buttons on left for Bloglines and My Yahoo. And thanks for stopping by.
Unintended consequences?

From Froggy Ruminations:
As I passed over the Coronado Bridge I realized why many Americans don’t identify readily with the military. To my left was 32nd St. Naval Station, to my right was North Island Naval Air Station, beneath me was a returning frigate, and above me was a UH-60 Seahawk helicopter. I don’t live in a city like San Diego anymore where these things are commonplace and it was kind of bizarre to see so much military hardware in close proximity. That the sight of this startled me caused me to recognize how foreign these things must be to somebody from say Minnesota.
I know it makes sense to consolidate military installations and close unnecessary bases. OTOH, this also results in distancing our military personnel from the rest of us. It's not just a question of seeing an F-16 fly overhead or a frigate coming into the harbor. Those are cool. The men and women in uniform are impressive.
Is the Customer always right?

This column on bookstores in the New York Times raises a couple of interesting points.

Hell is Other Customers

By making bookstores the equivalent of literary rumpus rooms, the bookselling giants have done much to obliterate the quiet, welcoming atmosphere in which people have space and peace to look over books (a small store feels less cluttered than the chain-store weekend be-ins). This is, however you cut it, bad business sense. Given time to browse, people usually leave not just with the book they came in for but with several others as well. What kind of business sets up and encourages a situation where customers can't see the goods on sale?

For bricks and mortar retailers, other customers do shape the overall shopping experience on any one customer. Many retailers do not recognize this or refuse to manage for it.

The author thinks that this problem arises from bookstore's adherence to the myth that "the customer is always" right." That is partly true. Slavish devotion to the cliché can prevent a retailer from enforcing minimal norms of behavior, which, in turn, degrades the overall experience of other customers.

Another factor is the naïve belief that all customers are equal. This leads bookstores to try to increase retail traffic through discounting and non-book promotions. They might sell a few more books but the sales are low-margin and the stores become more crowded and noisier. In some cases this results in the loss of customers who purchases high margin items.

If the wholesale cost of a $30 book is $15 (50%), then Borders has to sell 15 copies of a "40% off" best seller to equal the lost contribution of a single customer who buys 3 non-discounted books.

It is hard to segment customers in a bricks and mortar environment. Online, Amazon can look a customer's buying behavior, margins, and total profit. Moreover, they do not have to worry that some customers are behaving in a way that lessens the loyalty of other, more profitable customers.

In the real world, bookstores cannot see the profit potential of the person who walks out the door on a Saturday when the store is noisy and crowded with non-buying slackers. But just because it is not easy to measure, that does not mean that their bottom line is not suffering because of it.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Gorelick: the once and future boss?

This post in The Corner from last year bolsters, to some extent, the anti-Gorelick case.

"9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick was mentioned during the Clinton administration as a possible appointment to the CIA and/or Defense Department!

Source: The New Republic (December 2, 1996)

Article 'Cabinet-Making, Clinton Style: E.G.G. Heads'

by Hanna Rosin

Meanwhile, the White House is hiding an ace named Jamie Gorelick, the deputy attorney general who is mentioned for just about everything, including the CIA and undersecretary of defense. 'Can you imagine, the number two in the Defense Department being a girl!' says one justice official. 'The head of the CIA in a skirt! That seems a sentimental historic move Clinton can't resist.' The widely respected Gorelick has only one problem. 'She doesn't come with the right constituency,' says a White House source. 'The women's groups don't see her as one of them.'"

If chief architect of "the wall" might become your boss, and is clearly is perceived as a "star" by the White House, it might be prudent to follow her lead on information sharing. That is so even if you don't currently answer to her and her directives do not directly apply to you department.

Captain's Quarters has more material on Jamie Gorelick, "The Wall", and its impact on the DOD.

It is good stuff, and is important for a better understanding of the pre-9-11 mindset of official Washington. I still think that we make a mistake if we over-focus on Gorelick. The legal culture of at DOD still deserves scrutiny for reasons that have nothing to do with a Clinton appointee who is long gone from government. See here:

Able Danger: Beyond Gorelick
Jack Kelly at Irish Pennants is especially good today on the still unanswered AND UNASKED questions on the whole matter.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


The Junk Yard Blog thinks the "two Attas" theory is a bit of a stretch. I agree. As i commented over there it's pretty arrogant, too. "Gee, we bloggers and reporters are so much smarter than military intelligence guys."

Plus, the EJ Epstein post noted below shows exactly how ABLE DANGER could have picked up the right Atta.

Pilgrim is skeptical of partisans masquerading as skeptics. I'm with him. We don't know enough about ABLE DANGER or Lt. Col. Shaffer to offer up a bunch of grand theories or issues indictments. What we can do is gather information, sift through it, and weigh what we know.

Lt. Col. Shaffer could be an honorable man who is mistaken about how close ABLE DANGER came to Atta. The 9-11 Commission staff may have good reasons for not following up with him in January 2004. My mind is open on both questions.

OTOH, i see no reason why Shaffer would flat out lie about so important an issue. He is smart enough to know that he will be unmasked and repudiated.

In addition, the 9-11 Commission has not explained why they were so certain ABLE DANGER was of no importance. Did they speak to ABLE DANGER team members whose recollections differ from Shaffer's? Or did they rely on the FBI/INS timeline of Atta's movements? If it is the latter, then their work is incomplete and ABLE DANGER is a live issue.

Edward Jay Epstein has some thoughts on how the data-mining could have worked.

Friday, August 19, 2005

"The scandal of grace"

A short little post at In the Agora that packs a wallop.
"How many people do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention?"

Answer: 10. That will get you live coverage on four cable networks

Dennis Rader asked the question in a letter to KAKE-TV in 1978. He wanted to be a famous serial killer. The cable news channels gave him his wish.

Who says crime does not pay?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Able Danger: Beyond Gorelick

Jamie Gorelick has received most of the blame for the sequestering of the ABLE DANGER information. She makes an inviting target given her role in reinforcing the Wall and her position on the 9-11 Commission. However, the actions of the DOD lawyers deserve further scrutiny. It is not so much the particulars of their role in ABLE DANGER. Rather, it is that this is one more example of a deeply disturbing pattern of behavior by DOD lawyers in the War on Terror.

I posted this in May 2004 when the first Sy Hersh stories about Abu Ghraib appeared.

The revelation is the aggressive actions by military lawyers to undermine the war on terror (not just black ops in Iraq). Hersh admits that the some of the impetus behind Rumsfeld's decision to use special operations began in Afghanistan when a military lawyer refused to OK an air strike against a convoy believed to include Mullah Omar in October 7, 2001. JAG lawyers began to fume about "being cut out of the policy formulation process." But here is the kicker:

In 2003, Rumsfeld's apparent disregard for the requirements of the Geneva Conventions while carrying out the war on terror had led a group of senior military legal officers from the Judge Advocate General's (jag) Corps to pay two surprise visits within five months to Scott Horton, who was then chairman of the New York City Bar Association's Committee on International Human Rights. "They wanted us to challenge the Bush Administration about its standards for detentions and interrogation," Horton told me. "They were urging us to get involved and speak in a very loud voice. It came pretty much out of the blue. The message was that conditions are ripe for abuse, and it's going to occur."

A bunch of JAG lawyers went to an outside group to encourage them to agitate against our actions in the war on terror. They had no specific examples of abuse, just a belief that "it's going to occur." They did not raise their voices publically or go up the chain of command: they opted for behind the scenes manipulation. Is that the conduct of an officer or a gentleman? Moreover, is it possible that the some of these JAG lawyers are assigned to the Abu Ghraib cases? If so,they are primed to paint the abuse by the guards as a systemic problem and to go public with the pictures This both helps their clients and makes their case against the special operations tactics employed against al Qaeda?

The DOD lawyers are important for two reasons. One: ABLE DANGER is symptomatic of their habitual foot-dragging that persisted after 9-11. Gorelick is out of government, but the lawyers in the Pentagon are still making policy, raising objections, and leaking to reporters. Two: Those lawyers may have a role in determining what ABLE DANGER information will be released and how it will be framed.

This is important in light of Andy McCarthy's question in the Corner:

What does the Pentagon have to say about all this? I repeat: it has been four years and there have been a zillion investigations during which the Defense Department (and other organs of government that may be relevant here) have been directed, re-directed, and re-re-directed to probe every scrap of paper, every databyte and every source in their possession in order that the country could understand what the state of our intelligence was prior to 9/11 and why we were unable to thwart the attacks. Why does it take more than 10 seconds at this point, August 2005, for DoD to say: "yes, we have documentation showing an identification of Atta and/or other hijackers prior to 9/11," or "no, we don't."

Other related point: AJSrata points to some other legalistic roadblocks pre-911.

Bill West at the Counterterrorism blog makes the point that the roadblocks to using ABLE DANGER were not all internal to DOD.

If the news about the DoD intelligence is true, that infamous intelligence "wall" truly did create a huge missed opportunity in this...along with what was then the Clinton Administration's generally fouled-up Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), where I served in the Investigations Division for 25 years.

The INS Headquarters National Security Unit (NSU), which was created in the late 1990s in spite of considerable obstacles generated by the INS High Command, was one of the few and small success stories within the INS. The INS/NSU, circa 1999-2000, tried to post a liaison officer to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) specifically to tap into DoD intelligence on counter-terrorism matters. The NSU Director at the time approved it and DIA bought off on the plan...but INS senior management above the NSU Director nixed it so it never happened. When I was on the job, I dealt with the NSU folks regularly...at times almost daily...on various operational matters

Contrast that this obstructionism on a reasonable counter-terrorism matter with the high level urgency the senior ranks of the INS brought to a routine child custody case in Florida (Elian Gonzalez). Now tell me again how dedicated to proactive anti-terrorism Reno, et. al. were.

In light of this information, Richard Clarke really tried to sell the Commission a bill of goods with the help of "60 Minutes."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Commission and ABLE DANGER: Beware the carefully crafted question/answer/rebuttal

As we sort through the ABLE DANGER story, we need to beware the carefully crafted statement that seems to answer more than it does or that refutes a charge that was never made. The 9-11 Commission and staff have a lot at stake here. And some members of the Commission know how to play the game. Remember the stunt over the PDB from August 2001?

But just read the PDB. You don't have to be James Bond to see there is no actionable intelligence there at all. Not a shred.

This needless declassification of a Top Secret document was the result of a stunt by Richard Ben-Veniste, a member - as unbelievable as it sounds - of the 9/11 Commission.

When it was his turn to query Condoleezza Rice during Thursday's public hearings, Ben-Veniste brought-up the PDB. He said, "Isn't it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6th PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB."

Rice replied, "I believe the title was, Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

Immediately after she finished her sentence, Ben-Veniste tried to cut her off. Clearly, his intent was not to ask a question, but simply to force Rice into publicly speaking the words of the title, thereby inflicting political damage on a war-time President.

Rice would have none of it. She verbally pushed Ben-Veniste aside, explaining the PDB piece was synthesized from historical intelligence and written in response to questions the President had asked. The article was not a threat report, said Rice.
However, it was to no avail. Ben-Veniste's words had done their work.

The next day's press was filled with reports on the 'secret warning.' The Los Angeles Times, for example, carried a front page story about "disclosures from the commission that President Bush was warned in a highly classified intelligence briefing five weeks before the attacks..."

Ben-Veniste knew what he was doing. By asking only about the title of the classified document he was determined to imply that Bush received a strong warning about 9-11 weeks before the attacks. The MSM played along.

There is a lot of soundbite wiggle room given the problems of names and known aliases. Imagine three documents. One written in December 2000 lists "Manzoor Ali" as an important Al Qaeda operative. The second, written in December 2001 suggests, based on further digging, that Ali is an alias for Atta. The third document, written in December 2003, makes a near-iron clad case that Ali is a previously unknown alias for Atta.

The skeptics can honestly say "no document written before 9-11 mentioned Atta or any of his known aliases. All they had was some dubious post-9-11 speculation that is contrary to the FBI's exhaustive investigation."

End of story, right?

Except that the FBI investigation may have been compromised in ways they did not understand in 2002-2003. The three documents, taken together, could be a serious avenue of investigation.

The larger point-that the December 2000 document might have uncovered Atta if it had been given to the INS and FBI-remains true. But that can get lost in the charge/counter-charge crossfire. Journalists and bloggers need to sift this stuff carefully.

Perhaps as a starting point right bloggers should give the Gorelick/Wall angle a rest for a few days. This is not the time to get tunnel vision.

I'll have more on that in my next post.

OTOH, I really want to know what happened between October 2003-when 9-11 Commission staffers met with Shaffer and requested a follow-up-and January 2004-when the staffers told Shaffer that they did not need to talk to him. When analyzing intelligence matters nothing beats a good chronology.

I'd also like to know how ABLE DANGER and its progeny fit into Rumsfeld's "transformation" efforts at DOD. That is a big, unseen bureaucratic war. What looks like a conscious cover-up could be routine collateral damage.

It could also be a simple case of a damaged institutional memory. This quote from Shaffer suggests some of that is going one:
Now, back to the information that DOD passed to them. DOD passed two containers, approximately briefcase-sized containers over to them in the February-March time frame of '04. That is not one-twentieth of the information which was available out there on Able Danger and the project.

And plus, they asked DIA for it. It was not a DIA project. And I think they asked the wrong questions of DOD in some cases. And I know for a fact right not DOD is trying to get to the bottom of this

UPDATE: The JunkYard Blog has a good post up that shows how well the 9-11 Commission takes criticism.
The Corner is a barnyard

One of my previous employers consolidated its operations into a sparkling new campus. Outside it was a beautiful setting-well off the highway with a large pond. They added some nice amenities: there was a paved walking path around the pond and a large terrace off the cafeteria for al fresco dining. After a hard Chicago winter (there is no other kind) the chance to eat outdoors when spring arrives is a big deal.

In my three years there, that never happened. We ran into a goose problem. Not only did they foul everything with their droppings, they nested on the grounds around the pond and terrace. Nesting geese are aggressive and territorial. They try to drive away every intruder. One poor woman was walking up the steps when a big goose came at here, squawking and flapping its wings. She was startled and, in backing away, she fell down the steps. She ended up with a sprained ankle and broken wrist.

The company could do nothing about the geese because of federal law and regulations. Geese are protected migratory birds. Therefore, for weeks every spring the patio and walking path were off limits to employees.

John Podhoretz reminds me of those geese. He is always running around the Corner making noise and flapping his arms, trying to drive people away from topics and positions he disapproves of.

The great puzzle is why the Corner let him take up residence in their shop. There are no federal regulations that protect the undistinguished sons of former magazine editors.

OTOH, many Corner denizens remind me of a bunch of chickens-loud, hyperactive, and quick to take flight at the least hint of a problem. This was made clear during election day 2004 when they caught wind of the exit polls. As I wrote then, "The namby-pambies at NRO girded up their loins and started to draft their "Why Bush Lost" articles."

Andy McCarthy seems solid though. And Derbyshire is not fowl- Eeyore was a mammal.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

ABLE DANGER and scandal punditry

It's a big temptation to think we've found the MOTHER OF ALL SMOKING guns on Day Two of any controversy. If we don't find it, the matter just drops off the radar screen.

It helps to remember that it took two years of investigation to come up with the smoking gun tape in Watergate.

Monday, August 15, 2005

ABLE DANGER and the Phoenix Memos

Podhoretz has laid down the new party line: there is nothing to ABLE DANGER, Weldon is a fraud, the 9-11 Commission deserves an apology.

Who knows, he may be right.

But if we are now in full crawl-back mode and are issuing apologies, I'd suggests that a lot of conservatives owe one to the FBI. By the new Podhoretz standard, anyone who used the "phoenix memos" to condemn the Bureau for a gross intelligence failure needs to say "I'm sorry".

Last spring i posted a lot on the question of "intelligence failure" and 9-11. This one discussed the Phoenix memos in some detail.

Here's one choice bit:
Lance lays out the background on the Phoenix Memo in great detail. It is one of the fattest dots that he thinks was ignored. But, as he presents it, the memo is nowhere close to a smoking gun.

First, he argues that it may have been a mere CYA gesture. The FBI agent who wrote it had been given the information from his source over four years before. The source was about to go public with his dissatisfaction at his treatment by the agent which may have triggered the memo to Washington.

Second, the source was romantically involved with a woman suspected of being a Chinese spy. He refused to break-off the relationship when ordered to do so by the FBI and became a vehement public advocate of the woman's innocence. So, his credibility and judgment are at least open to question.

And what was the hot intel this source provided? That radical Islamisists were taking flight training. Did the source point to any of the 9-11 hijackers? Not quite.

Harry Ellen [the source] now believes [i.e. in 2003] that one of the young Islamics he saw outside the mosque back in 1996 was an Algerian pilot named Lofti Raissi. Raissi was arrested by British authorities right after 9/11 and indicted by the US Justice Department on charges of fraud and giving false information on his FAA pilot's application. A British judge set him free months later, declaring there was insufficient evidence to tie him to the 9/11 conspiracy. But the FBI found evidence that Raissi had been in the proximity of one of the key 9/11 hijackers on three occasions.

Hani Hanjour, the Saudi who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, had enrolled at CRM Airline Training Center in Scottsdale, Arizona as far back as 1996. On five dates in 1998 he trained on a flight simulator at the same facility as Raissi

According to Lance, this should have been enough for FBI analysts to figure out that an plan to fly jets into the WTC was imminent. Because a suspect source may have seen someone who was at a school in Arizona when another guy was there. The attack was about to happen because the hijack pilot had done nothing during the five years he was in this country. Why it's a big red arrow pointing directly at Atta down in Florida where the heart of the plot was located.

By the time the Phoenix Memo was sent, there was little FBI HQ could do to prevent 9-11. Even if they ignored PC sensibilities and started to investigate all Middle Eastern men taking flight lessons anywhere in the country, they had less than two months to catch the key figures. They would have been chasing needles in dozens of haystacks with very little time to do it.

For the Phoenix Memo to be useful, it needed to be sent earlier and more digging done by the Phoenix office to describe the actual threat. Yet, in their eagerness to attack the FBI, critics lionize the agent who may have sat on the critical information for years.

JPod now worries that ABLE DANGER will become an urban legend. It's a legitimate concern. But the Phoenix memos have already achieved that status. Yet many conservative-- some of them in the Corner-- still use it when it serves their purposes.

Off to OTB's Beltway Traffic Jam.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Suggestion for NRO

Drop the gulliable old faker Ledeen and the verbose bully Podhoretz. Hire Captain V of Voice of the Taciturn and Commentary from the Taciturn.

The quality of your intel commentary will improve dramatically.
Atta, Prague, and the FBI

I reposted the Hanssen piece because i think that it raises some questions about the Prague connection.

If al Qaeda knew how to evade or trick some of the FBI's most advanced procedures and software, then the evidence offered to refute the "Prague Connection" looks even weaker.

The timing on this is critical. Hanssen was arrested in February 2001 and did not plead guilty until July 2001. He seems to have broken his promise to cooperate with the FBI on his plea agreement.

It is almost certain that the FBI did not know how many of their secrets were in al Qaeda's hands when they began their investigation into 9-11. Given Hanssen's non-cooperation, they might not know today.

It is possible that Atta or his handlers knew that the cell phone calls and other tracks would be picked up by the FBI. It is also possible, thanks to Hanssen, that they knew how cover their tracks when they had to. Hence, most of the time Atta operated in a way that made it easy for the investigation to follow him around after the attack. What did he care, he was going to die on 9-11. But there could be different procedures for meetings with his contacts that were going to survive 9-11.

All this is just speculation and questioning. But in light of Able Danger and the material Captain Ed is posting on Prague, there are a lot of new questions to ask.
Robert Hanssen: 9/11's Forgotten Man

Originally posted Thursday, October 21, 2004

I searched the 9/11 Commission's Report for any mention of FBI agent turned spy Robert Hanssen. None turned up. This is a serious oversight for two reasons. First, Hanssen's arrest and interrogation was a major event for the FBI in early 2001. Second, some of the secrets he betrayed ended up in Al Qaeda's hands.

Roberta Wohstetter introduced the concepts of signals and noise to the study of strategic surprise and intelligence analysis in her book Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decisions (1962). Generally, though, we think in those terms only as it applies to the stream of information pouring across analysts's desks or the intelligence reports that go to policy-makers. From this narrow perspective, the Hanssen case has little to do with counter-terrorism.

But, as anyone who has ever worked in a large organization knows, big crises impact everyone's performance even if they only directly involve a narrow segment of the workforce. Rumors circulate, water cooler gossip becomes a vital survival tool, managers get shifted and departments get reorganized. Perhaps most important is the fact that fear and uncertainty make everyone risk-averse and almost mandate plenty of CYA.

We could call these effects "white noise" to stay consistent with Wohlstetter's framework.

The Hanssen case created plenty of white noise-- both within the FBI and in the communications channels with CIA.

1. It was an embarrassment and public relations fiasco.

2. The FBI had to undertake the daunting task of assessing the damage Hanssen had inflicted on the Bureau and on the U.S. Everything he touched was potentially tainted and compromised. Hanssen had direct responsibility for counter-terrorist activities: he was the author of the doctrine that loosely organized terrorist and criminal networks were the chief threat to U.S. security.

3. At the time of Hanssen's arrest, the FBI was in the midst of a mole hunt inside of CIA. The revelation that the mole was in the FBI shocked the Bureau. The admission that Hanssen had never been polygraphed while hundreds of innocent CIA officers faced FBI lie detectors and hostile interrogators created a breach between the two agencies. In an environment devoid of trust and rich in recriminations, it is no surprise that cooperation and information sharing were in short supply in the summer of 2001.

So much for white noise, there is also a direct 9/11 connection. According to David Vise, who wrote a book on the case, Hanssen sold the Russians information on the technology we used to monitor spies and terrorists. Later, a rogue Russian sold this information to bin Laden. This allowed Al Qaeda to evade some of our monitoring and to send us disinformation.

This point is critical to understanding the 9/11 plot. If we see Al Qaeda as a just a bunch of 13th century thugs, then it is easy to think the FBI should have had no problem rounding them up before they caused any harm. OTOH, if they possess counter-espionage and counter-intelligence capabilities, then they are a much tougher target and the performance of the FBI, CIA et.al. should be evaluated accordingly. Vise's revelation suggests that AQ understands the value of denial and deception, knows that US technical means are a threat to their operations, and that they are willing to go to great lengths and expense to counter those methods.

The Hanssen-al Qaeda connection shows that we dare not compartmentalize when we think about state and non-state actors, or when we think about counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, and domestic security operations. Hanssen spied for a state-Russia-yet, the fruits of his treachery ended up in the hands of al Qaeda. Rooting him out was a job for counter-intelligence. However, the CI failure also hindered our pre-9/11 counter-terror efforts and may have helped al Qaeda pull off the WTC/Pentagon attacks.
Speaking of the Cambridge Spies

There is a new biography out on their American member.

Michael Straight is interesting for a bunch of reasons. Not the least of which is that he wrote an early anti-McCarthy book which was in all the best best bibliographies. His brother-in-law was one of McCarthy's "public cases" and the Straight connection was one of the reasons everyone knew Joe was wrong to accuse poor Gustavo Duran.

Then came his public confession (in the 1980s) that he had been recruited by the Soviets in the Thirties. (He maintained that he never spied on the US and that he had broken with Moscow by 1941).

Funny thing, people don't mention his McCarthy book much anymore.

From the reviews, it sounds as if the author has evidence that Straight did not break with Moscow as early as he said and that he did spy on his own country.

Get it straight about Straight

Thinker, Traitor, Editor, Spy

More on Duran:

For anti-anticommunists, McCarthy’s charges against Gustavo Duran stood as “proof of the insanity of the red scare.” Michael Straight, Duran’s brother-in-law and editor of The New Republic, would use the pages of his magazine to promote Duran’s supposed innocence and McCarthy’s assumed recklessness. Testimony by many attesting to Duran’s Stalinism and work for the Spanish Communist secret police during the Spanish Civil War—even a picture of him in a Communist uniform—was dismissed as Francoist propaganda. One would think that Straight’s later admission to being a Soviet agent should have at least sparked a second look into this McCarthy allegation by historians.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Folly of Heather MacDonald

MacDonald mounts a good tactical defense of racial profiling in this NR piece. She chooses her ground well by aiming her attack at an opponent who makes a weak case against profiling.

I think this whole debate is dangerous. Not just because it pointlessly increases ethnic tension, but also because it helps the terrorists learn how to defeat our defenses. By forcing the police to discuss and defend their screening procedures, the pro-profiling side is providing intelligence fodder for al Qaeda. It would be better if the police just said, "We are using a combination of random checks and behavior profiling" and left it at that.

What MacDonald, et. al. ignore is that the next attack might not look like the last one. AQ has not used Chechens, yet, but who is to say they will not start? Under the Krauthammer plan, a blond grandmotherly black widow is the perfect weapon.

One of the great triumphs of twentieth century intelligence work was the USSR's recruitment of the Cambridge spies in the UK and others like them. Stalin was helped enormously by out of date profiling in the UK and the US. The first Soviet agents were easy to spot because they were proletarian activists: they could not pass as bourgeois businessmen or White Russian officers. (The Poles, it is said, unmasked many fake Tsarist officers by asking them to tie a necktie. It was a skill many Bolsheviks had never had to master but which every officer could do easily.) Western counterintelligence groups ended up with a false sense of security.

Over time, the Russians learned. They found better handlers and recruiters and these recruited spies with impeccable Establishment credentials. No one wanted to believe that Alger Hiss or Kim Philby could be a traitor. When it became clear that Moscow was stealing British secrets the Brits went looking for some working class suspect-a janitor or maid or stenographer-anyone but Donald Maclean.

We do not want to make the same mistake with bin Laden. I doubt that AQ has the kind of gifted recruiters that the KGB had in the Thirties. But we should not rule it out. That pale girl in the frumpy coat and heavy backpack might just be your average San Francisco college student. Or she could be an ALF activist who thinks she is carrying a smoke bomb which will help publicize the evils of factory farming. Unbeknownst to her, the man who gave her the backpack is not named Deepak and he is not a disciple of Gandhi. He is really an AQ operative running a false flag operation. The package contains 15 pounds of Semtex studded with roofing nails and rat poison. The timer is set to go off twenty minutes earlier than little Kristin thinks it will.

In MacDonald and Krauthammer's world, she is going to get on that rush hour train with her backpack.

See also:
The wrong war, on the wrong issue, at the wrong time
At least MSNBC is consistent

Fox News thinks that Cindy Sheehan's grief does not make her a foreign policy or intelligence expert. Good for O'Reilly, Hannity and company.

Now, could those good gentlemen explain to me why Beth Holloway Twitty is getting close to an hour a night in prime time? Is she a trained investigator? An expert in the Dutch legal system? A reporter with extensive knowledge of the island?

No, she is a distraught mother. Just like Ms. Sheehan.

For those conservatives who think the MSM is not covering the whole story in Iraq, what do you say about Fox and Scarborough devoting so much time to two missing person cases? Most days there is no new evidence but the story grinds on.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Great work, Captain

Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters looks at a terrorism case that destroys the myths of the Saddam/bin Laden apologists.

It's a shame the CIA didn't know about this.
Call me odd

True crime blogging has caused a bit of a stir recently. The big push came when the killer of the Groene family in Idaho turned out to be a sex offender with a blog. No way the cable sensation programs could ignore that. Bloggers, as per usual, were ahead of the producers and talking heads, so the cable channels turned to the bloggers for sound bites.

Several interested bloggers recently had an online round table to discuss what they do and why.

I was struck by a comment by Steve Huff, who runs a true crime blog and who did some very good work on Joseph Duncan and his possible role in other child murders. Huff wrote:
I can't think of anyone who saw Silence of the Lambs and didn't kind of feel amused when Hannibal got away.
I don't doubt that this is true. The glamorization of evil is one least attractive features of our age. For my money, Silence of the Lambs was an obscene book and movie for precisely this reason.

I wrote this in October 2003:
Now we seem to be obsessed with serial killers. Without a high body count, a novel gets relegated to "cozy" status.

Figures like Holmes or Peter Wimsey are fictional and bear little resemblance to real detectives. But they are hyper-realistic compared to the serial killers in modern thrillers. Writers like Thomas Harris have turned the detectives into somewhat intelligent bureaucrats while making the killer the one endowed with the rare mind. Philip Marlowe is only the " personification of an attitude, the exaggeration of a possibility;" Hannibal Lector bears no resemblance to real serial killers. He is the personification of an impossibility as a criminal, but the perfect example of moral rot as an "artistic" creation
If we are going to put serial killers in movies, i prefer to see them portrayed like Scorpio in Dirty Harry.

Last spring there was another flurry of interest in blogs and crime solving. See here.

UPDATE: This Newsweek article is interesting and provides plenty of fodder to support my point.
Michael Newton’s 2000 book, “The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers” (Checkmark), is an Amazon.com best seller. “We like to say we want to hear about the victims, and the victims are nice people, but they are boring,” he says.
And this on the grande dame of the genre:
Ann Rule performs what she calls a “psychological autopsy” on her subjects. She describes killers with the delicacy of a gardener nurturing a sickly azalea.
What i find funny (in both a sick and in a 'ha-ha' kind of way) is that Rule gained her fame not because she was psychologically acute, but because she was obtuse. Her book on Ted Bundy was notable because she knew Bundy and never suspected him until he was arrested.

David Gerlernter wrote a piece for the Weekly Standard in 1998 addresses some of this drivel better than i can.

What matters is our communal response to the crime. Evil is easy, good is hard, temptation is a given; therefore, a healthy society talks to itself.

Goodness is unnatural, and we need to cheer one another on.

When a terrorist murders a man, it is a meaningless act. There are evil men in every society, and they do evil things; that's all

Another problem is the danger of co-option. In many of these types of books, the author needs the co-operation of the killer to tell a good story. Truman Capote fell into this trap with In Cold Blood. The killers were the only ones who could give him the inside dirt that he wanted: the Clutter family could not talk to the world famous author from The New Yorker. Capote got close and wrote a book no one else could. But it was deeply flawed because he was crushing on one of the blood-thirsty little creeps.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Give it a rest

Cable pseudo-news stations sure love those picture of Jennifer Wilbanks cutting the grass as part of her community service. We can all take great satisfaction in seeing her pay for her crime.

She pled guilty, is making restitution, and is serving her sentence.

Remind me again.... what did Tawanna Brawley do to make amends? I also don't recall seeing much coverage about the prosecution of this case either. Or this one.

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.
An Under-reported scandal

The last great financial scandal of the 1990s wrapped up in court last week when Harvard University agreed to pay the US government $26.5 million to settle charges that its star economics professor Andrei Shliefer had sought to gain a personal fortune while leading Harvard's government-sponsored mission to Moscow

Dave Warsh has covered this extensively. See his archives for more.
Two worthy posts


God of the Machine: Where's My F---ing Bonus?

Monday, August 08, 2005

More on profiling, terror, and shopping malls

This Wall Street Journal article ($$$) is interesting on a couple of points. It describes how American shopping malls are trying to protect themselves in the age of terror. They went to Israel to learn new techniques and a better theory of anti-terror security.

On profiling:

IPC has 6,500 uniformed employees guarding more than 400 malls in 46 states, including the shops at Union Station in Washington and Woodfield Mall outside Chicago. The company reached out for psychological studies of suicide bombers and was one of the first security companies to employ Israeli tactics in their training.

"We began to move away from the idea of what does a suicide bomber look like to how does he act," says Mr. Lusher. The beauty of the method, he adds, is that you are profiling behavior instead of people

On Richard Clarke's nightmare: The Journal makes no mention of Clarke's Atlantic article (discussed here), but I think that it undercuts Clarke's thesis that mall security is ignoring the threat of terrorism. It is becoming clear that Clarke's Washington-centric view of counter-terrorism makes him myopic. He assumes that if there is no law or interdepartmental task force, then nothing is being done on an issue. The WSJ story shows that work gets done in America even while bureaucrats squabble over the wording of a memos and white papers.
The wrong war, on the wrong issue, at the wrong time

When it comes to ethnic profiling, why do some conservatives insist on playing Charlie Brown to the MSM's Lucy? Why, when the issue is ethnic profiling, do they insist on defending the ineffective while pretending that it in no way deepens the impression that conservative=racist?

It might be worth it if ethnic profiling would make us safer. Unfortunately, terrorists come in all shapes and colors. Law enforcement cannot announce that anyone is immune to scrutiny. The moment you say that people in wheelchairs will not be questioned or searched, you incent the terrorists to find a way to put a bomb in a wheelchair. Give a pass to oriental females and you tell al Qaeda who to recruit, trick, or bribe in their next operation.

In the 1970s Japanese terrorists worked with Palestinian terrorists. German neo-Nazi gangs trained in camps in Lebanon. So did elements of the IRA. It seems absurd to pretend that Islamic terror attacks will always be carried out by Arab men. In fact, the London attacks show us that this is not true. We can also throw in Jose Padilla and John Walker Lindh.

So why keep arguing for a tactic that will not make us safer, will only alienate citizens and other residents, and makes conservatives look bad?

I do not have the answer to that last question. I just wish we could stop trying to kick that stupid football.

See also here.

The latest round-up of business and econ blogging is over at View from a Height.

Friday, August 05, 2005

I don't agree entirely

But most of what he said needed to be said.

Two Months Too Many of Nancy Grace and Natalee Holloway: Stop the Aruba Bashing

Now the FBI is involved and Grace believes that they will now help solve the case. Is the war on terror over or did I miss the capture of al-Qaeda cells in the USA and bin Laden? Surely the FBI has better things to do than flying to Aruba and taking up assets to look for a missing American in a foreign country. We have plenty of missing people here – is the FBI going to every small town and village to dig through the garbage looking for all of the missing Americans or is Natalee somehow special?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Plame- Wilson

The two best sites i've found for wide-ranging and even-handed coverage are Just One Minute and The Daily Howler. They do more than just chew over the day's headlines, they know the difference between fact and speculation, and they are willing to broach issues that complicate simple partisan positions.

Take JOM's follow-up on one of the early positions adopted by the Bush/Rove camp:
It may well be that insiders were well aware of her employment at the CIA. However, almost two years have passed and none of these insiders have come forward to say so. If Mr. May could amplify or clarify his anecdote, there is no time like the present.

Here's the Howler on why Wilson's credibility should matter to liberals:

Starting in July 2003, the mainstream understanding of this issue was largely framed by Wilson. Many of the things you assume to be true came to you from Wilson’s account. But, for all his manifest virtues, Wilson has frequently been a shaky witness; unfortunately, his misstatements have been bold and fairly common. From that, we would draw the following judgment—if you want to know what really happened, you probably shouldn’t simply assume that his frameworks are accurate. By the way, how do you know that Plame was still connected to valuable US security assets? You mainly “know” that because Wilson told you. As we have said, we get the impression that Fitzgerald agrees. But we are going to hold our judgment until we learn from a documented source.

There’s a million good things to be said about Wilson—but accuracy hasn’t been one of his strong suits. In the next few days, we’ll continue to sketch what we have in mind by all this—the frameworks which have come from Wilson, and the reason to be careful about assuming they’re true

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I really, really hope that this is pure comedy with no basis in fact

How to Build an NIE
This hits the nail on the head

This, friends, is the trouble with HR. In a knowledge economy, companies that have the best talent win. We all know that. Human resources execs should be making the most of our, well, human resources -- finding the best hires, nurturing the stars, fostering a productive work environment -- just as IT runs the computers and finance minds the capital. HR should be joined to business strategy at the hip.

Instead, most HR organizations have ghettoized themselves literally to the brink of obsolescence. They are competent at the administrivia of pay, benefits, and retirement, but companies increasingly are farming those functions out to contractors who can handle such routine tasks at lower expense. What's left is the more important strategic role of raising the reputational and intellectual capital of the company -- but HR is, it turns out, uniquely unsuited for that
The surprising thing is that it appeared in Fast Company. The whole article is well worth reading.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

"DNA evidence frees man after 19 years"

These stories are all too common. But this is the part that always makes me see red.
Prosecutors originally opposed DNA testing for Doswell, but a judge ordered it. When the tests came back last month showing that semen taken from the victim was not from Doswell, prosecutors filed motions to vacate his sentence and release him.
Novak not backing down

And someone at CIA may be spinning more than is seemly or excusable.

Read it here.

The closing paragraph makes me think that we are missing some really important pieces of the story.

Monday, August 01, 2005

One more note on Deep Throat's FBI

Thomas Reeves in A Question of Character recounts the aftermath of a meeting between Bobby Kennedy and a group put together by writer James Baldwin which pressured the Kennedy administration to move faster on civil rights:

Bobby was so angered by Baldwin and his friends that he had the FBI check them out, hoping to find something he might use against them in the future. (He shared his findings with Jack.)