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U.S. had agents inside al-Qaeda
June 4, 2002 12:02 PM   Subscribe

U.S. had agents inside al-Qaeda U.S. intelligence overheard al-Qaeda operatives discussing a major pending terrorist attack in the weeks prior to Sept. 11 and had agents inside the terror group, but the intercepts and field reports didn't specify where or when a strike might occur, according to U.S. officials. ... But later in the article it says: Electronic intercepts as late as Sept. 10 of al-Qaeda members speaking cryptically of a major attack. Two U.S. intelligence officials, paraphrasing highly classified intercepts, say they include such remarks as, "Good things are coming," "Watch the news" and "Tomorrow will be a great day for us." Yeah, that whole "tomorrow" thing...that's a little tricky.
posted by dejah420 (40 comments total)

 
You'd think this might at least have thwarted the Pentagon attack. I mean, once there were other buildings burning and all.
posted by hackly_fracture at 1:00 PM on June 4, 2002


CNN figured out it was terrorists before the government did, it seems. Everyone was getting their news from TV stations and the web immediately after the attack.
posted by insomnyuk at 1:05 PM on June 4, 2002


Ok, again, what could have Bush done? Shut down the whole country? Maybe for September, October, how about November and December also? Without specific information on exactly who, when, where, nobody will know if it was possible to be stopped.

And now, let's go into if he had specific information. He had a list of 19 men on 3 airliners that were about to fly into the WTC. Ok, GWB gives the go-ahead to go and grab these assholes. Ok, now I see the nightly edition of the news. I see Daschle and Gephardt both yelling racial profiling because of course they were all muslim men. Then I see the ACLU jumping into it and then Jesse Jackson and of course his good buddy Al Sharpton. I see these 19 guys not only getting out of jail THAT NIGHT, but also suing the country, the airlines and even those poor guards that grabbed them off the planes. I see them now with $15 million dollars each to go ahead and do what they were going to do originally. Remember, they had box-cutters, not guns, not bombs, just box cutters, nothing illegal about that.

Again, I ask, without specific detailed information (and even with) what could have the gov't done?

Say you loathe Bush, which this is the MeFi crowd, I can imagine that percent is around 90. So pretend you were Clinton instead. Tell me what could have been done? Somehow, somebody would have yelled racial profiling or we were hurting these people's civil rights if anything WAS DONE to stop them.
posted by the_0ne at 1:22 PM on June 4, 2002


Tired of the steady drip, drip, drip of who knew what when?
Don't question or you might be helping the terra-ists!
Asscroft or Ari will tell you what you need to know and Smirk and Snarl knew nothing so stop saying that "Bush Knew" thing! Who woulda thought it?

Imagine this: Condi says "who woulda known they would use planes as missiles." Now if you gave your teenage kid the keys to the car and said "don't get drunk and drive as you may have an accident with another car." Kid gets drunk and smashes into a building and says "But who woulda thought I could smash into a building? You didn't tell me that!" Obvious troll from Condi? Yup!

This is just one example of what should be by this time famous "Bush diversion" tactics. Just set up a straw man and attack it, no problem. That easily diverts lazy media slackers from the real issues. Doesn't matter if nobody said "we want to know why Bush didn't act to prevent the attacks, etc." if it can divert attention from the real questions. I'm getting so sick of these lazy news people being so compliant to these elementary diversionary tactics! Can we get Ari and others to answer questions honestly and in a forthright manner or is that too much to ask? Is Helen Thomas the only non-whore in the White House Press Corps?

It seems obvious, to me at least, our intelligence, or lack thereof, problems have to do with POLICY decisions and those come from the toip down. For example, what CIA operative would have said "Mr. Raygun, the Soviet Union is crumbling and the Berlin Wall is about to fall!" that wanted to keep their job? Zero. Why? Policy decisions from the top down. Terrorism was THE priority before Jan. 20 , 2001 but was a non-issue after that date. Policy. Plain, simple and forthright. Why can't our media people figure this out? They can, just don't want to do that. Might "get their name noted in the building" as Ari is wont to say.
posted by nofundy at 1:29 PM on June 4, 2002


I was all ready to add a comment which parodied the Bush apologists who never get tired of saying that the government couldn't have done anything, that the liberals tied their hands and that it's all Clinton's fault. But I see the_One already has.
posted by euphorb at 1:33 PM on June 4, 2002


euphorb What the hell are you talking about???? I mentioned Clinton because most people here don't want to put their minds in Bush's because of the left slant ( and the loathing of GWB that I see all over MeFi). I never said Clinton had anything to do with it. Please re-read my post.

It's amazing how you can knock my post down, but don't even try to answer the question. I can imagine if Clinton did anything to try and stop these 19 guys, civil rights groups would have been all over it also.
posted by the_0ne at 1:38 PM on June 4, 2002


the_One,
if the FBI had grabbed these guys, and then produced the evidence that is now trickling out, I don't think there would have been much of a problem. Sure, Sharpton et al would have tried to make racial-political hay out of it, but when don't they? Using that as an excuse for the Bush Gang's fey pre-9/11 antiterrorism policy is weak, something worthy of Ann Coulter. Oh, wait...she did float that argument.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:46 PM on June 4, 2002


I'm sorry Ty Webb, in my opion you are wrong. I don't think there would have been a chance to look at the evidence with the uproar that the left-side would have caused.

And I'm not saying the current admin is completely in the right either, but like they say, hind-sight is always 20/20.

Not that I don't love that Ann Coulter, the first place I saw that argument was Neoflux and it wasn't by Ann Coulter. But thanks for the link.
posted by the_0ne at 1:53 PM on June 4, 2002


the_One: How about if I grant you that you're right about one thing: if we had arrested the 19, then someone would have complained about it, at least until all the facts came out. OK. You're right. Someone from the left or the right always screams at our government no matter what they do.

The rest does not follow. We did not set free the man coming in to blow up LAX due to anyone screaming about racial profiling. Ashcroft has not let anyone out due to the ACLU. I'm pretty sure you'll grant that if this administration had their hands on the 19 and knew what they were up to they wouldn't have been going anywhere.

And the fact that you don't like Jackson, Sharpton, or the ACLU doesn't have anything to do with whether or not the CIA and/or FBI did a good job with this.

As to Clinton, I tend to agree with you that neither he nor Gore would have stopped this. Despite what you might believe, we're not all looking to hang Bush with this. There are plenty of other reasons to dump Bush. We've got a new problem, and we need to figure out how to minimize the possibility of it happening again.
posted by hackly_fracture at 1:54 PM on June 4, 2002


Oops, sorry, Ty.
posted by hackly_fracture at 1:55 PM on June 4, 2002


Agreed on the CIA and the FBI, I think there's still more that can be done and I hope they're doing whatever "it" is.

Not sure which LAX bomber you are referring to? If this is the shoe-bomber, then no racial profiling uproar is going to stop the fact that he had a bomb, but if this is not what you are referring to, I digress.

As to Clinton, I tend to agree with you that neither he nor Gore would have stopped this. Despite what you might believe, we're not all looking to hang Bush with this. There are plenty of other reasons to dump Bush. We've got a new problem, and we need to figure out how to minimize the possibility of it happening again.

Totally agreed hackly_fracture.
posted by the_0ne at 2:03 PM on June 4, 2002


So pretend you were Clinton instead. Tell me what could have been done? Somehow, somebody would have yelled racial profiling or we were hurting these people's civil rights if anything WAS DONE to stop them.

Clinton launched a cruise missile strike on terrorist encampments in Afghanistan. I'm sure you approved of those at the time. Why is this even a partisan issue?

But back to the actual article:
President Bush has avoided criticizing the CIA and FBI. But on Monday, he suggested that they need to improve. "In this new war, against this shadowy enemy, it's very important that we gather as much intelligence as we can," Bush said.
Great. Because the one thing the FBI and CIA need is more information that they can completely ignore. Knowing is only half of the battle.

Bush made a big mistake by not calling for an independent commission. Congress won't be able to get anything done except rake the administration and the intelligence agencies over the coals and this country won't be any safer.
posted by euphorb at 2:16 PM on June 4, 2002


Not sure which LAX bomber you are referring to?

Ahmed Ressam. I think it's a decent example, although the guy did have bomb materials in his car, which defused (heh heh) any charges (sorry, I'll stop) of profiling.

However, I think it's completely disingenuous for the Bush's defenders to make excuses of possible lefty uproar over profiling, as the Bush gang a) made it a point during the campaign to trumprt the fact that they wouldn't govern based on focus groups or public opinion and b) has shown no aversion whatever to pissing people off over all kinds of other issues, energy, environment, corporate welfare, etc.
posted by Ty Webb at 2:21 PM on June 4, 2002


I'm surprised at the lack of coverage of this. The link above is to yesterday's USAToday, and I don't see anything about this anywhere else that I'm looking.
posted by mblandi at 2:28 PM on June 4, 2002


This is just one example of what should be by this time famous "Bush diversion" tactics. Just set up a straw man and attack it, no problem.

Dear god, you mean he reads Metafilter?!?
posted by rushmc at 2:30 PM on June 4, 2002


The real question is what do the CIA and FBI know about current plans that they are not telling us? How much of the intelligence failures are disinformation? Again, walk quickly in the subway.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:31 PM on June 4, 2002


the One: Again, I ask, without specific detailed information (and even with) what could have the gov't done?

They could have taken the threat of international terrorism against the American homeland seriously. At least since the release of the Hart-Rudman report in Jan 2001, both the executive and legislative branches were on notice that an eventual terrorist attack against the American homeland was inevitable and that we were ridiculously vulnerable. Of course there's no way to know if any part of 9/11 could have been prevented, but I find it unacceptable that they completely ignored the danger. I expect a bit of foresight from the people who's primary duty is to protect the nation.

euphorb: Great. Because the one thing the FBI and CIA need is more information that they can completely ignore. Knowing is only half of the battle.

I like Safire's take on this:

"They had the power to collect the intelligence, but lacked the intellect to analyze the data the agencies collected. The F.B.I.'s failure to absorb the Phoenix and Minneapolis memos was compounded by the C.I.A.'s failure to share information it had about two of the Arab terrorists in the U.S. who would become hijackers (as revealed by Newsweek today).

Thus we see the seizure of new powers of surveillance is a smokescreen to hide failure to use the old power."


(I know, Frontline covered that tidbit in January, thanks for that link in the other thread BTW.)
posted by homunculus at 2:47 PM on June 4, 2002


The real issue here is that the government came out right after the attacks and said there was absolutely no evidence pointing to the possibility of attacks. Now, it turns out, there was. Granted, Bush and Co. probably didn't know about it, and I don't blame them for not acting. I do, however, blame them for not immediately calling for a massive overhaul of both the CIA and FBI - Tenet has a lot of blame to bear here, and he's been given the soft-shoe for no apparent reason except that he's a slick player and was able to convince Bush of his importance during the "war." And now we have an unreformed Agency and a newly empowered, yet otherwise also unreformed, Bureau. Both are hampered by insular cultures, anachronistic technologies and byzantine bureaucracies. There's a reason we didn't find out until now that pre-9/11 evidence existed, and it's that the intelligence community is just now finding it.

News like this shouldn't be ammo for anti-Bush or anti-Clinton types; rather, it should spur calls for a radical reconsideration of the intelligence community.
posted by risenc at 3:00 PM on June 4, 2002


for the good of the nation, lets just impeach Bush and move on.

this back and forth squabble between both loving sides of the issue will just tear this country apart.

Bush knew, the feds knew, the cia knew, CNN knew, everyone knew and stuff got blown up.

could Bush have done something? who knows. probably yes. but since no one elected him anyway, and he was just a figurehead for the rich anyway, it shouldnt hurt so much to let him go now early and be done with it.

they wanted to impeach clinton and we let em, now lets impeach bush and love each other like brothers and sisters and really give the terrorists something to hate.

thank you.
posted by tsarfan at 3:00 PM on June 4, 2002


"Dear god, you mean he reads Metafilter?!?"

rushmc: I'd be more likely to believe someone reads it to him. In condensed form. With pictures.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:32 PM on June 4, 2002


Diversionary straw man, huh? That would be step 3.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:17 PM on June 4, 2002


And now, let's go into if he had specific information. He had a list of 19 men on 3 airliners that were about to fly into the WTC. Ok, GWB gives the go-ahead to go and grab these assholes. Ok, now I see the nightly edition of the news. I see Daschle and Gephardt both yelling racial profiling because of course they were all muslim men. Then I see the ACLU jumping into it and then Jesse Jackson and of course his good buddy Al Sharpton. I see these 19 guys not only getting out of jail THAT NIGHT, but also suing the country, the airlines and even those poor guards that grabbed them off the planes. I see them now with $15 million dollars each to go ahead and do what they were going to do originally. Remember, they had box-cutters, not guns, not bombs, just box cutters, nothing illegal about that.

Buddy, I had no idea liberals were so completely terrifying that your beloved President Bu$h would sacrifice the lives of thousands of Americans because he's afraid he'd look bad on the nightly news...or afraid of what Al Sharpton would say...or afraid to have a lawsuit filed against (gasp) the federal government.

So which is it? Bu$h and his administration and supporters so afraid of criticism they don't mind risking lives, or Bu$h and his administration and supporters just a bunch of incompetents?
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 8:31 PM on June 4, 2002


The deluge of monday morning quarterbacks trotting out their pet theories, dark innuendos, and self-righteous demands that scapegoats be identified and made to fall on their swords - while unfortunately quite predictable - really is quite interesting to watch.

The FBI and CIA face the same situation most large corporations face: The daily collection of something close to terabytes of data, coming in from a large variety of different sources, having a wide range of accuracy (from spot-on, to highly questionable), and stored in a variety of different ways (with much of it restricted due to security concerns). Even large companies, with firm-wide CRM systems and expensive and sophisticated data mining tools, generally only are able to make use of 10% - 15% of the data they collect ... i.e., to turn raw pieces of information into useable knowledge.

It is very easy, once an event has occurred, to go back through that sea of information and isolate the bits of data that - in retrospect - were related to the event. Easy then to combine those data bits together and identify the pattern that tied them all together. A CIA agent here knows something big is coming, an FBI agent there hears about peculiar behavior at a flight school, etc., etc. But it is quite disingenuous to suggest that prior to that event someone should have known what that pattern was, correctly identified the the few isolated data points out of millions that mattered, and been able to act proactively to prevent the event.

Isolating events in with the advantage of hindsight really does a disservice to the CIA and FBI (does anyone actually think that a single one of the staff of either of those agencies wouldn't have prevented 9/11 if they could have?!) - especially when they are reported so badly out of context.

To simply say that a piece of paper crossed the desk of an FBI agent, containing one of the keys, and had s/he only paid attention to it and routed it to the right place, the disaster would have been "preventable" ... ah, this gives a very distorted view ... unless one also points out how many other pieces of paper, with how many other slightly odd reports of behavior - related not only to middle east terrorism, but to the drug trade, and weapons, and interstate fraud, etc. ,etc - crossed that same desk the same week (the vast majority of which resulted in nothing). Do envision yourself for a moment being one of those agents - that has a ceaseless flood of such information crossing your desk month after month - these agencies, the FBI and CIA, are the agencies to which huge numbers of clues, and rumors, and tips, and hints are routed.

If you were to say - to an executive in the IT industry - that the human ability to gather data is significantly more advanced than our ability to process and mine it (even aided by the best technology) ... well, this is such a well known fact that all you'd get is a yawn. Yet for the last several months I've heard article after article demanding that our intelligence agencies approach perfection in an area where multi-billion dollar corporations are only in kindergarten.

You can do all of the re-structuring and re-organizing you want. Fire anyone you want. But the essential issue will remain - it is a data problem, not a political one. So long as massive (and growing) volumes of data are processed by the (at best) rudimentary pattern matching tools that are the current state of the art, terrorists will be able to strike.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:25 PM on June 4, 2002


fold_and_mutilate, buddy, you just don't get it do you? I'm not saying the administration was afraid, I'm saying this is what would have happened if the said scenario played out. If Bush would have given the go-ahead to grab these assholes, you liberals would have had a fit. Because of course before 9/11, they didn't do anything wrong. Before 9:08 that fateful day (not sure about that time), they did nothing wrong. It is not illegal to carry a box cutter on a plane, it is not illegal to hate America, sheesh 90% of liberals would be in jail if it was. So, those 19 assholes would have been out of jail in less than 24 hours. Just read my first post, I'm not going into the details of the lawsuit again.

Needless to say, if these guys were picked up before the events of 9/11, liberals would have Bush impeached because of violating their civil rights. The Muslim community would be in an uproar for picking on these poor pieces of shit. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt would have drawn up new legislation to stop racial profiling. And 9/11 would have become 12/11, however, thanks to you liberals , now these guys would have had even more money to carry the attack out on several other buildings after the lawsuits and investigations.
posted by the_0ne at 5:49 AM on June 5, 2002


MidasMulligan, thanks for the post. Very good read.
posted by the_0ne at 5:53 AM on June 5, 2002


Boy, the_0ne, "we Liberals" sure are dumb-headed sacks of shit, huh!

I'm inclined to agree with you MidasMulligan, but as more and more of these crumbs of information trickle in, it dilutes by skepticism. It forces me to ask what does constitute a red flag for the CIA/FBI, and also makes me imagine how many agents out there feel they could have prevented 11/9 (and how many are right).
posted by Marquis at 6:04 AM on June 5, 2002


Boy, the_0ne, "we Liberals" sure are dumb-headed sacks of shit, huh!

Funny, I keep getting answers back like this, but not one so far has told me I'm not correct in my assumptions, or at least given me a scenario they don't think the liberals would have taken part in. So if the liberal shoe fits...
posted by the_0ne at 6:26 AM on June 5, 2002


Again, blaming the agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA) is a deliberate misdirection. The problem is one of policy decisions made at higher levels. Just like the CIA agent and the Berlin Wall example I used previously.
The Minnesota memo response validates this as do other tidbits we're getting fed each day. Put together they all spell out a top down policy of terrorism being a non-issue before 9/11 and everyone in these agencies knew that, at least at the management level where cross-agency communications should have occured.
It's truly hard to focus on a large picture such as worldwide terrorism when you've been staring through a microscope at the President's zipper for years.
posted by nofundy at 6:54 AM on June 5, 2002


but not one so far has told me I'm not correct in my assumptions

Your "assumptions" and speculation are just as worthless as the uninformed, self-righteous assertions of some of the CIA's critics. They're just that - assumptions - and it would be absurd to argue "what ifs", especially with so white-and-black an opponent.
posted by Marquis at 8:20 AM on June 5, 2002


the_One sayeth: it is not illegal to hate America, sheesh 90% of liberals would be in jail if it was.

hackly sez: oy. Don't know which liberals you know, but dang. For what it's worth, I think you're incorrect that the 19 would have gotten out the same night, but it's an unprovable idea either way.
posted by hackly_fracture at 8:52 AM on June 5, 2002


"it is a data problem, not a political one"

in context of your words, i have to disagree. the problem is 'hum-int'. Having reams of RAW data is one thing, reams of data in a specific category (mining reports, operative movements, asset financial movement) is another. one can funnel massive data into already established assets or liabilities.
what CIA operative would have said "Mr. Raygun, the Soviet Union is crumbling and the Berlin Wall is about to fall
If I knew the Sovs were going to fall (documented) I'm sure the CIA knew...noone knew just when. (the sovs are really good about keeping the 'when' secret.)

So long as massive (and growing) volumes of data are processed by the (at best) rudimentary pattern matching tools that are the current state of the art

this assumes the data is worth collecting. (all data is worth collecting, finding its real worth is the trick) a Standard military tactic is to create alot of communications traffic to fool the enemy- rather then concentrating deciphering the words, the act of massive communications traffic becomes more relevant. (why vs. what)

during the height of the cold war, almost every country assumed that any american living abroad was a spy. (from the view of foreign intel) This thinking would trickle down to the people....'everyone is a spy' mentality. While numerous exceptions prevail, this suspect attitude by foreighn govt and its people to some degree, create an atmosphere of distrust, plus it drains resources, ya know watching all those americans. The real trick of it is that the innocent are assumed guilty, the 'guilty' are already guilty of 'spying'. with this rudimentary mindset, that all are guilty, guilt becomes...standard. (if the 'guilty' are doing nothing wrong-how can they be guilty) in reverse if the innocent are doing no spying, well, are they...what, recruiting?
posted by clavdivs at 8:54 AM on June 5, 2002


Roosevelt missed Pearl Harbor
Truman missed North Korea invading the South
Eisenhower missed Castro being a Communist and the invasion of Hungary and Poland by the Warsaw pact
Carter missed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
GHW Bush missed Iraq invading Kuwait
Clinton missed WTC1, American embassies in Africa, USS Cole
GW Bush missed WTC2 at least...
starting to look like a trend...For whatever reasons, our intelligence agencies have never been worth a damn at predicting future events or discovering plots. Afterwords, all the pieces fall into place since, like a jigsaw puzzle it is easier to assemble if you can see the end result. The 'blame game' is just 'passing the buck', and as Truman said (refering to his desk in the oval office):"the buck stops here"...we need a chief executive with the resolve to demand results and upon receipt of those results the fortitude to follow through to wherever it goes.
posted by Mack Twain at 11:03 AM on June 5, 2002


GHW Bush missed Iraq invading Kuwait

No, he didn't.
posted by Ty Webb at 11:57 AM on June 5, 2002


Can anyone prove Ty Webb's link to be accurate?
posted by BlueTrain at 12:08 PM on June 5, 2002


Can anyone prove Ty Webb's link to be accurate?

"[Saddam Hussein] had expected a casual reaction from the West to his occupation of Kuwait, based on what U.S. ambassador April Glaspie had told him a week earlier, when she said, "We have no opinions on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait."" -- CBC

"We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts," the transcript reports Glaspie saying, "such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction ... that Kuwait is not associated with America." -- Christian Science Monitor
posted by Marquis at 12:33 PM on June 5, 2002


Ty Webb, Marquis...have we had a thread discussing this before? If not, I think this may be worth a conversation.
posted by BlueTrain at 9:25 AM on June 6, 2002


BlueTrain,
What's to discuss? I thought this was common knowledge.
posted by Ty Webb at 9:49 AM on June 6, 2002


A quick GoogleMeFi search shows a few passing references to Glaspie in various comments - an indication that the story is pretty well known. I hadn't heard of it, but I wasn't paying attention to news/punditry at the time of the Gulf War. The actual minutes from the meeting with Hussein appear to still be classified, so there hasn't been "real" confirmation on the purported discussion.
posted by Marquis at 10:44 AM on June 6, 2002


Thanks.
posted by BlueTrain at 10:56 AM on June 6, 2002


Calm down everyone. :-)

Some of the comments here are dead on. Some are absurd. The one point I haven't seen brought up is the fact that other than immigration violations, none of these guys did anything illegal prior to Sept. 11. Until the moment they took control of the planes, very few citizens of this country would have tolerated having these people detained, questioned or even deported (since several of the INS violations were for overstaying student visas). Yes, and I can't believe this, liberals are claiming that somehow this could have been prevented if only we would have pieced together the clues. Assuming we had, what were the clues? Arabs taking flying lessons and talk of a great event. Please cite for me the law that makes either illegal? Hell, even taking the boxcutters on the airplane was legal. Until the moment these guys took control of the plane, there was zero, zilch, nada, we could do to them under US law except for bust them for INS violations. With estimates of several million illegal immigrants in this country, that seems a pretty tall order.

Now, you want to talk who is to blame for the next terrorist attack? Firmly place that one on the shoulders of the Democratic leadership who have mandated that 89 year old women in wheelchairs get searched while young, Arab, males get on a plane unchecked. That would be racial profiling and that would be wrong, but we would like to conduct a Congressional investigation into why the CIA and FBI didn't stop an attack by people who had committed no crimes. Talk about your double-talk.
posted by billman at 2:02 AM on June 8, 2002


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