Two of the terrorist hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, communicated while they were in the United States to other members of al Qaeda who were overseas. But we didn’t know they were here, until it was too late.
The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after September the 11th helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities. The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time.
-President Bush, December 17, 2005
In the aftermath of 9/11, reams of newsprint were given over to discussing the CIA and FBI failures before the attacks; the agency had some of the hijackers under surveillance and allegedly lost them, the bureau was unable even to inform its own acting director of the Zacarias Moussaoui case. However, the USA’s largest and most powerful intelligence agency, the National Security Agency, got a free ride. There was no outcry over its failings, no embarrassing Congressional hearings for its director. Yet, as we will see, the NSA’s performance before 9/11 was shocking.
I just watched PBS Nova’s Spy Factory with James Bamford and I have a number of comments about it, both good and bad.
Starting off with the good, having been writing about al-Qaeda’s communications hub in Yemen for the last two years, I was thrilled to actually see it on the screen. Bamford actually went to Yemen and filmed it from the outside, shame he didn’t go in.
The first and most glaring omission is Alec Station deputy chief Tom Wilshire, who was not mentioned at all in the programme. It went into some detail about the blocking of the cable written by Doug Miller, an FBI detailee to Alec Station, to FBI headquarters about Almihdhar’s US visa, but this was attributed merely to the CIA officer we refer to as “Michelle.” Wilshire was her boss, she blocked the cable on his orders, and Bamford knows this well—he wrote it in the book this programme was based on.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey has admitted that he garbled his claim about the pre-9/11 intercept of a call between an al-Qaeda facility overseas and the 9/11 hijackers in the US last week. Today he told the Senate:
"One thing I got wrong. It didn’t come from Afghanistan. I got the country wrong."
I have been all over this and I know the other end of the call was in Yemen. Here is the timeline we compiled:
This is a huge issue for us. If people knew that the NSA was intercepting calls between the 9/11 hijackers in the US and a phone registered to a guy (Ahmed al-Hada) who had previously helped bin Laden murder about 240 people (including 29 Americans), but didn't bother to trace the calls, what would they think about 9/11?
The 9/11 Commission knew about this, but included only two cryptic references to it in its report. This reflects very badly on the 9/11 Commission.
Glenn Greenwald has a new piece out about the Mukasey comments at his blog:
In response to the growing controversy over plainly misleading comments by Attorney General Michael Mukasey last week in San Francisco, and in response to the questions I submitted, the DOJ's Peter Carr, its Principal Deputy Director of Public Affairs, sent me the following email:
In a question-and-answer session after his Commonwealth Club speech last week, Attorney General Mukasey referenced a call between an al Qaeda safe house and a person in the United States. The Attorney General has referred to this before, in the letter he sent with Director of National Intelligence McConnell to Chairman Reyes on February 22, 2008. In that letter, contained in this link [.pdf], the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence explained that:
Continued at link:
Attorney General Michael Mukasey is the latest government official to lie about the Yemen hub calls, which he used as a justification for the NSA's warrantless wiretapping programme. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
Before the 2001 terrorist attacks, he said, "we knew that there had been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn't know precisely where it went. You've got 3,000 people who went to work that day, and didn't come home, to show for that."
I wrote a summary of the Yemen Hub chapter in the 9/11 Timeline. It is about the NSA listening to the hijackers' calls and how their explanation for why they didn't catch the hijackers based on the intercepts doesn't make any sense.
Yemen Hub: NSA was listening in on the 9/11 hijackers’ calls for years
And how this became the rationale for the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program
The “Yemen hub” was an al-Qaeda communications hub that fell under US surveillance in the mid-late 1990s and was also home to Khalid Almihdhar, said to have been on the plane that hit the Pentagon on 9/11. There are still many unanswered questions about the surveillance, such as why were the NSA and its fellow agencies unable to roll up the plot based on the intercepts? And how did it come to be used as the justification for the NSA’s current domestic warrantless program?
You can find it here: