Civil Liberties

Rant: Unconnected Dots

Why the FBI failed to stop 9/11

|

For years federal authorities have argued that antiquated laws kept the cops from stopping 9/11. They said the failure to prevent the terrorist attacks demonstrated the need for the PATRIOT Act and every other proposed expansion of the government's surveillance powers. But in testimony before Congress in September, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell changed tack, saying "9/11 should have and could have been prevented" after all; the authorities simply "didn't connect the dots."

McConnell did not draw the obvious conclusion: If greater federal power was not needed pre-9/11 to stop terrorists, then even more federal authority is not needed now. Instead, McConnell argued that the Protect America Act—which allows the attorney general and the director of national intelligence, without judicial oversight, to authorize surveillance of international phone calls and email involving people in the U.S.—made vitally needed changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

How does the supposed need for greater surveillance power square with McConnell's declaration that 9/11 was preventable and his lament that "we didn't connect the dots"? How did we get the dots without the Protect America Act?

Via good old-fashioned police work that top officials in the Federal Bureau of Investigation ignored. Federal agents on the ground knew that hijackers Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi had sought pilot training. They knew Zacarias Mous­saoui had sought the same sort of training; he was carrying 747 manuals when he was picked up on immigration charges. In the days leading up to 9/11, Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit repeatedly tried to obtain permission to search Moussaoui's laptop computer and belongings. Headquarters refused to seek a warrant.

New details on just how costly that denial proved to be were first published in a widely overlooked September 10 story by Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers' Washington reporter. Gordon discovered that the FBI had enough information to arrest part of Al Qaeda's financing network in the days before 9/11—information that could have stopped the hijackings. Cue McConnell's dots.

Moussaoui's fellow jihadists considered him a loose cannon and security risk. They were right: The key to the whole network was right there in his notebooks. Al Qaeda operative Ramzi Binalshibh wired $14,000 to Moussaoui in August 2001, and Moussaoui sloppily recorded the routing number.

But authorities never looked at that notebook. Instead, FBI brass rejected Agent Samit's attempts to search Moussaoui's belongings, citing lack of information that Moussaoui was a known terrorist or foreign agent. The notebooks were not searched until after the attacks.

Gordon notes that investigators almost certainly could have traced Moussaoui's money back to an Al Qaeda moneyman in Dubai; Binalshibh's transactions would have led them there. The Dubai contact used one of his Western Union receipts to jot down a phone number in the United Arab Emirates. That number received calls from 9/11 hijackers while they were living in Florida prior to their attack.

As Gordon reports, FBI agents at Moussaoui's trial testified that had he confessed to the plot after his August 16 arrest on immigration charges, thus giving them access to his notebooks pre-9/11, they could have moved on 11 of the 19 hijackers. But Washington steadfastly refused to move on information developed from the field offices. Rather than endlessly tweaking the intelligence-gathering statutes, the White House should have spent the past six years addressing the "obstructionism, criminal negligence and careerism" that Samit cited as the roadblock in his investigation. It obviously has not.

It was bureaucratic hubris, not a lack of actionable intelligence, that allowed 9/11 to happen. The same hubris continues to demand that ever more raw surveillance data be dumped into the same slavering but useless federal maw.

Contributing Editor Jeff Taylor is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Advertisement

NEXT: Picture This

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. 9/11 is not the reason government desires more power, it’s the reason the American public is allowing it.

    NSA wanted to tap the Internet before 9/11 but it took 9/11 for the telcos to be a willing participant and ignore the law.

  2. If more federal power wasn’t needed to prevent 9/11, why do we need more federal power to prevent it from happening again?

    Someone doesn’t get how gub’mint works.

  3. Good rant. But it’s a losing battle. People will always yield to bigger government intrusions for the sake of security. Even people who really should know better. It’ll take twenty years worth of hindsight (or short memory) to make folks realize that increased government powers are probably not necessary to fight terrorism. Presuming, of course, no terrorist actions in the interim. In which case, all bets are off.

  4. I was thinking the same thing just the other day. We don’t need more government, we just need to get the FBI computers.

  5. We also need people to start asking how much the government knew about 9/11 and the anthrax before (and during the time) they happened.

    Right now thre is a lot of resistance this concept among libertarians, but Ron Paul has called for a review of the FAA’s actions on 9/11, which is a pretty good starting point.

  6. And what about WTC 7?

    Huh? HUH?

  7. More to the point, how was Flt 93 able to stay in the air as long as it did. Something’s not right with the story, and it points to the gov’t having too much info, rather than too little.

    Who knows, maybe Jeff Taylor “gets this” in the linked article. I would have to read it to know, really.

  8. And I saw this one picture where the fire from the twin towers looked like the FACE OF SATAN! All the sheeple out there need to open up their eyes to the fact that the all the money in world is run by six Jews who live underground.

  9. IMPEACH THE MEDIA!

  10. WHO IS RON PAUL?

  11. GOOGLE RON PAUL!

  12. Jeebus. And to think yesterday we had some Brit complaining that mentioning guns bring out the ranters.

  13. I LIKE THE SHIFT KEY!

  14. I HOPE YOUR WEDDING ANNIVERSERY IS RUINED BY A BOUT OF EXPLOSIVE FLATULENCE, DAVE!

    I HOPE THE RESTAURANT YOU LIKE TO EAT AT USES HFCS IN THIER FOOD AND DOESN’T DISCLOSE IT ON THE MENU, DAVE!

    I HOPE AN ARAB TIES YOU UP, SLATHERS YOU WITH TRANSFAT, FARTS IN YOUR FACE, AND THEN PADDLES YOUR ASS LIKE A SCHOOLGIRL, DAVE!

  15. GOOGLE WHO IS!

  16. IMPEACH THE GOOGLE!

  17. Taser fun:

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=IMaMYL_shxc

    Note the part at the end where the government official fails to to the truth.

  18. Two things disturb me about this rant:

    1) Since when is not granting a warrant to search someone’s property a bad thing? What were the grounds to conduct the searches?

    2) It is easy to say after the fact ‘somebody just had to connect the dots.’ It is always easy to connect the dots once you know there is a pattern (Kuhn called this a gestalt shift). To put it another way, hindsight is 20-20.

  19. Since when is not granting a warrant to search someone’s property a bad thing?

    LIHOP

  20. Dave, your tinfoil hat needs to be adjusted. Some of their signals appear to be taking control of your thoughts.

  21. “The same hubris continues to demand that ever more raw surveillance data be dumped into the same slavering but useless federal maw.”

    Useless? I’ll bet they’ve busted at least a dozen pot dealers with the information they’ve collected with their amazing new powers!

  22. The world if full of bad people.

    We will never win every battle.

    9/11 was a bad defeat for the U.S.

    But George Bush is just like the coach of the Miami Dolphins, can’t win a goddamn game.

  23. 3 WTC bldgs came down faster than gravity. It took Bush 450 odd days to allow a commision and only $13 million with a 6 months closing. JUIalania made sure no evidence was left–in 3 months disappeared to China. Yah ! my @ss that some Arabs pulled this easy bombing off. Only Israel could have done the deed–U-fools!
    Get this,fatheads, Marvin Bush had the sole security of WTC and both airports and artranged the insurance on WTC. What smells the most–the Insurance company paid $7 billion without a wimper. Connect the money instead. Not one high Jacker has been proven to have been an arab and taken part–show me the bodies please. Or shut-up,your rant is foolish.

  24. Before we give more power to the Federal Government to fight the WOT, shouldn’t we examine how effective their expanded power has been on the “War on Drugs”? I’ll give you a hint, the WOD is an abysmal failure. And then shouldn’t we examine the effectiveness of the “zero tolerance” initiatives (whether drugs, guns, conservatives, etc)? Another abysmal, and predictable, failure.

    Contrary to the assertion that we’re trading “freedom for security”, we’re actually trading freedom for the appearance of security. Long lines in airline terminals don’t make you any safer, they just make the general public think the government is “doing” something. It’s all a show, and not a very good show.

    Hopefully, the stuff we don’t see is more effective but, as the article points out, the bureaucracies exist for the sake of the bureaucracies and any work that benefits the public is just incidental (and likely accidental).

  25. BUSH LIES

    They lied about Iraq not becoming another Vietnam.

    They lied repeatedly–and still do to this day–about Saddam Hussein having connections to al-Qaeda.

    They lied about the intelligence briefings both then NSA head Condi Rice and GW Bush had received in the Summer of 2001.

    They lied about Jose Padilla wanting to use a “dirty” bomb an an American city.

    They lied about knowing the possibilities of someone using an airplane as a weapon to attack buildings.

    They lied repeatedly–and still do to this day–about using torture techniques on prisoners.

    They lied about the threat level of the people picked up in Afghanistan and shipped to Gitmo, saying they’re “bomb makers” and terrorists.
    Less than 8% have any connection to aL-Qaeda.

    They lied–and still do–about not spying on Americans unless they have a court order.

    They lied in the outing of now former CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

    They lied about the FISA Court–Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act–not issuing warrants in a timely manner.

    They lied about the size and scope of the domestic spying the Bush/Cheney junta has been performing on its own citizens.

    They lied about Iraq having biological and chemical weapons.

    They lied about Iraq having a nuclear weapons program…Yellowcake, anyone?

    They lied about Saddam having mobile facilities for producing biological warfare agents.

    They lied about Iraq having UAV’s–Unmanned Aerial Vehicle’s–that could deliver chemical or biological agents to the U.S.

    They lied about finding WMD’s in post-invasion Iraq.

    They lied about Iraq being an “imminent” threat to the United States.

    They lied about the threat level of the then approaching Hurricane Katrina.

    They lied about not knowing that the New Orleans levees were in danger of being breached.

    They lied–and still do–about the need for an immediate fix on the Social Security fund.

    They lied about the tax cuts going mostly to the middle class.

    They lied about the estate tax saving the “family farm.”

    They lied about the 2003 Prescription Drug Bill cost Estimates.

    They lied about Bush’s “Clean Air Act” imposing stringent new rules on polluters.

    They lied about mercury levels in young mothers.

    They lied–and still do–about the effects of the tax cuts on the national debt.

    They lied about the provisions of the “PATRIOT” Act.

    They lied about the outgoing Clinton administration damaging White House property.

    They lied about Bush’s service in the Air National Guard.

    They lied about the level of care our wounded veterans were receiving.

    They lied about the amount of federal educational funding states would receive.

    They lied about the number of Americans having access to clean drinking water and the threat of arsenic in drinking water.

    They lied about using conservation as part of a National Energy policy.

    They lied about the White House’s connections to the now bankrupt company, Enron.

    They lied about Bush being the first president to advocate for a separate Palestinian state.

    They lied about their level of involvement in the attempted coup in 2002 of President Chavez of Venezuela.

    They lied about Cheney’s involvement in awarding contracts to his old firm, Halliburton. (Cheney still receives a deferred compensation package from Halliburton)

    They lied about Bush supporting a patient’s bill of rights, that would allow patients denied care the right to take their HMO to court.

    They lied about the safety of imported prescription drugs from Canada.

    They lied about the budget deficits being only “small and temporary.”

    They lied about the fact that Bush and the WH do conduct focus groups and listen to polls.

    They lied about the war in Iraq having nothing to do with oil.

    They lied about former NFL star Pat Tilman’s murder in Afghanistan.

    They lied–and still do–about people wanting to attack us for our freedom.

    They lied about turning information over to the 9/11 Commission.

    They lied–and still do– about addressing the security concerns and vulnerabilities at chemical plants and ports.

    They lied–and still do–about Iran having connections to aL-Qaeda.

    They lied–and still do–about Iran being a threat to the United States.

    They lied about Saddam Hussein refusing to allow U.N. WMD inspectors into Iraq.

    So, why in the hell should anyone believe ANYTHING this pack of professional liars has to say about the events that took place on September 11, 2001?

    P.S. Thanks to the excellent web site, Bush Lies: http://www.bushlies.net and to an article in the Nation: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20031013/corn

  26. and what about the BBC affiliate announcing the collapse of Tower #7 23 minutes before the actuality? Why is everyone ignoring that? There appears to be something erotic about the American public preference for ignorance.

  27. as for the 911 mishaps -Dr.Seffen at Cambridge has published mathematical models which explain and verify the extensive NIST findings.

    As for the continuing need for War on Terror – there can be no respite – it is just like the War on Drugs – every marijuana addict like every terror aider must be hunted down and incarcerated or hanged.

    Power to the Correct People!!

  28. Before commencing his amazingly ill-informed and superficial rant the autholr would have done well to actually acquaint himself with some of the verifiable evidence. For those interested in understanding what happened on September 11 2001 and not just reacting with a priori assumptions and labelling sceptics of the official story “tin foil hatters” and similar substitutes for rational thought they might like to read the following:
    1. Any of the articles in the Journal of 9/11 Studies, but particularly the articles by Steven Jones, Gordon Ross and Peter Dale Scott.
    2. Then go on to read Scott’s ‘The Road to 9/11’; David Ray Griffin’s ‘Debunking 9/11 Debunking’ Nafeez Ahmed’s ‘The War on Truth’ and Webster Tarpley’s ‘Synthetic Terror’.
    If you can cope with this exposure to reality about your own government you might then like to do something about it. Demanding a proper investigation would be a good start.

  29. “lokis | November 23, 2007, 2:35pm | #
    as for the 911 mishaps -Dr.Seffen at Cambridge has published mathematical models which explain and verify the extensive NIST findings.”

    READ THIS IF YOU WANT THE TRUTH ABOUT Dr.Seffen

  30. “obstructionism, criminal negligence and careerism”

    I’d like to focus on the “obstructionism”. There were Israelis dancing and high-fiving in New Jersey as the WTC crashed and burned. There was a troop of Israeli “art students” following the eventual hi-jackers around the US before the WTC crashed and burned.

    I don’t know, but there are certainly grounds to wonder if in fact 9/11 was not purposefully allowed to go forward to provide the “cataclysmic event, like a new Pearl Harbor” so ardently longed for in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”, the recipe for the wars of the present devised by the PNAC.

    Even in 2002 or 2003 I couldn’t have believed that people capable of purposefully allowing blameless Americans to be murdered to advance the perceived interests of Big Israel, Big War, and Big Oil could have risen to the pinnacle of power in America.

    No it’s a given fact of life.

  31. This article is pure and unadulturated trash.

  32. Just read William Colby’s book..he was the head of the CIA for a couple years. It doesn’t seem likely that the FBI “just needs computers” the higher ups just didn’t want teh lower lavel patrits to stopp the terrorist attack. The low level fbi agents were compartmentalized and had no idea what the big guys wanted to happen. The big guys that planned operation Northwoods were working buddies with wolfowitz…We know they had no moral problems with false flag attacks…only a naive idiot would believe the conspiracy theory that 19 islamic fundamentlist carried on these attacks without the knowledge of the CIA…NORAD was told to stand down and so was teh FBI.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.