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.

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