Did Lawyers Hinder Bin Laden Capture?--

It is quite depressing to read descriptions of how investigations or captures of Osama Bin Laden or other Al Qaeda were hindered by lawyers, rules developed by lawyers, or fears of lawyers. For example, there were the FBI lawyers who wouldn't allow seeking a search warrant to look into Zacarias Moussaoui's laptop computer in Minnesota just before 9/11/2001.

The latest set of lawyers' restrictions to be alleged grew out of a plan to capture Bin Laden. So great was the lawyers' concern for Bin Laden's comfort that a special chair was built to hold him and they were concerned whether the tape used to hold him would hurt his beard. This latest nonsense was revealed by the man who for 10 years headed the CIA's desk tracking Bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, interviewed by Nora O'Donnell on Hardball.

O'DONNELL: But many people have made the impression that something in the Bush administration was done wrong. But there's evidence that the Clinton administration knew full well that bin Laden had the wherewithal and was planning to attack the United States. Who is to blame and did the president, Clinton, get this information?

SCHEUER: Certainly the president got the information. And most certainly his closest adviser, Sandy Berger and Mr. Clarke—Richard Clarke, had the information from 1996 forward that bin Laden intended to attack the United States. There's no question of that. And in terms of which administration had more chances, Mr. Clinton's administration had far more chances to kill Osama bin Laden than Mr. Bush has until this day.

O'DONNELL: . . . From what we know now and what you know, how many missed opportunities were there to prevent the 9/11 attacks?

SCHEUER: Well, we had—the question of whether or not we could have prevented the attacks is one you could debate forever. But we had at least eight to 10 chances to capture or kill Osama bin Laden in 1998 and 1999. And the government on all occasions decided that the information was not good enough to act. . . .

O'DONNELL: Let me ask you what you know about what we've read recently about a secret military operation known as Able Danger. There are people involved in that that say that the United States knew about Mohammed Atta a year before the 9/11 attacks. Is that true? And was there a massive failure by our government?

SCHEUER: I don't know firsthand information about Able Danger, ma'am, but from what I've read in the media, that the lawyers prevented them from passing the information to the FBI, that certainly rings true. The U.S. intelligence community is palsied by lawyers.

When we were going to capture Osama bin Laden, for example, the lawyers were more concerned with bin Laden's safety and his comfort than they were with the officers charged with capturing him. We had to build an ergonomically designed chair to put him in, special comfort in terms of how he was shackled into the chair. They even worried about what kind of tape to gag him with so it wouldn't irritate his beard. The lawyers are the bane of the intelligence community. . . .

Scheuer goes on to say that, in his opinion, the Iraq War has been a disaster in the effort to stop terror.

SCHEUER: . . . The war in Iraq has broken the back of our counterterrorism effort. I'm not an expert on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but the invasion of Iraq has made sure this war will last decades ahead and it has transferred bin Laden and al Qaeda from being man and an organization into being a philosophy and a movement. We've really made sure that the war against us is going to be a long and very bloody one. Iraq was an absolutely disastrous decision.

As Tom Elia notes (tip to Althouse), this concern for Bin Laden's comfort sounds like a Monty Python skit:

"NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition ...
Fetch ... THE COMFY CHAIR ...
Put [him] in the Comfy Chair! ...
Now — you will stay in the Comfy Chair until lunch time, with only a cup of coffee at eleven....
Confess! Confess! Confess! Confess!"

The Intelligence Wall and the Culture of the Wall.--

At Captain's Quarters, a member of the intelligence community writes in describing his experience with the wall that was observed before 9/11 against sharing intelligence about terrorists:

From 1984 until 2002, I worked as a contractor doing mainly threat assessment and projection for most of the USG intelligence services but primarily CIA, DIA, Air Force and ONI. I assert that the main point about the Wall is that it was not a memo or a directive — it was a culture. There were many walls, throughout the Intelligence Community, as well as between the Intelligence Community and Law Enforcement. Most of these were of long standing and existed for good reasons — security and protecting civil liberties. But under Clinton, all the walls got taller and new ones were added. The reason for all this was that the Clinton Adminstration viewed the Intelligence Community much more as a source of potential embarrassment than as a trusted advisor. . . .

Not believing there were critical national security issuses for which the support the Intelligence Community was vital; acutely concerned about the potential for scandals and political embarassements . . . , and having a strong personal distaste for the whole business, Clinton set out to reduce the risk that the Intelligence Community could do him harm by making it as difficult as possible for the Intelligence Community to do anything. He did this thru his appointments, seeing to it that political animals and risk-adverse adminstrators got key postions; by changing the rules by which intelligence could be collected — for example, banning using people with crimnal associations or "human rights abusers" as HUMINT sources, which meant that no one in the Intelligence Community could talk to a disaffected terrorist; a huge blow that badly hurt our ability to keep tabs on terrorist organiszation after 1998 — and by building walls.

To give you a concrete example of how far the "Wall" culture went, I offer the following personal anecdote:

In Oct 1999, my group, of which I was lead analyst, was given a task to evaluate threats from about 6-8 different countries. State-sponsored terrorism was one of the threats. In our proposal, we argued that evaluating state-sponsored terrorism without considering the actual terrorists organizations themselves made little sense. . . .

All such projects have a kickoff meeting where we and the customers go over the analysis plan in detail, discussing data issues, security issues, potential problems and limitations, and the scope of the conclusions we expect to be able to produce. Attending our kickoff meeting were us, the DIA team for whom we were doing the analysis, and a CIA rep acting a liaison. Everything went great until the topic of terrorists came up.

At once, the DIA guys explained that maybe they'd been too optimistic about the "wall" issue. Our tasking included suggestions for threat mitigation, and since that was clearly counter-terrorism in this case, that was right out. We can't give any counter-terrorist advice, they flatly said. OK, we said, what about assessment?

That depends, they replied.

So we starting giving them examples of things we thought we might be able to say. No, we can't say that, they would say, it still sounds too much like advice.

Well, what about this? we'd ask. Maybe not, they'd say, such-&-such organization vets those kind of conclusions; they're the experts and we can't step on their charter.

This went on for more than an hour and finally, somewhat exasperated, we asked them exactly what we could say; what type of conclusions we were allowed to draw. At this point, the DIA guys and CIA rep got together and basically gave us a dump on who in the government was doing what with respect to terrorism and what the rules of cooperation [or lack of it] were. At one point, they started talking about an organization we recognized as being in DIA. Wait a minute! we said, those guys are DIA! If they are working that, then we can say this and this and this!

"Yeah," the head DIA guy said, a bit sheepishly, "they are DIA, but they're a different part of DIA and we can't talk to them." . . .

We blinked a few times, and then all consideration of terrorism was dropped from the task. . . .

That is what Clinton and Gorelik's Wall culture did. It just didn't just prevent more effective cooperation and data sharing; it prevented the whole question of terrorism being addressed in a coherent fashion at all. No one was working the problem effectively, but I bet they all thought — just like we were told -- that someone else was. That's the "I thought you brought the matches" school of intelligence analysis, and that was the end effect of Clinton's intelligence policy: it turned the whole process of intelligence into one big game of "Who brought the matches?"

And on 9/11 we found out who: Al Qaeda brought the matches.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Gorelick Should Have Gone:
  2. The Intelligence Wall and the Culture of the Wall.--
  3. Did Lawyers Hinder Bin Laden Capture?--
Gorelick Should Have Gone:

The todo about Able Danger and what the FBI should or should not have known about Mohammad Atta has increased scrutiny of the 9/11 Commission report and renewed the debate over the "wall" between law enforcement and anti-terrorism efforts (see, e.g., here and here). Time will tell whether there is anything to the Able Danger story -- and whether or not the "wall" inhibited information shargin -- but it is clearer than ever that Jamie Gorelick should not have served on the 9/11 Commission. Whether or not she deserves credit or blame for the "wall" and other Clinton Administration policies, her presence on the commission undermines its credibility, and provides undo fodder for political partisans and conspiracy theorists. This is a point I made last year (see here and here). As I wrote last May:

the issue is not whether Ms. Gorelick made reasonable decisions as a Justice Department official. I have no interest in seeing the 9/11 Commission's work devolve into partisan finger-pointing about which administration is most at fault. Many people, in multiple administrations, made decisions that -- it can be seen in hindsight -- were in error. These people should be testifying before the 9/11 Commission, not participating on it. For this reason, and this reason along, Ms. Gorelick has no place on the Commission. Unless the Commissioners recognize this fact, the Commission will not fulfill its mandate of producing a neutral and credible report on the policy failures that led to 9/11.