Dianne Feinstein Is Simply Wrong In Claiming NSA Dragnet Would Have Been Helpful In Stopping 9/11

from the don't-let-her-get-away-with-it dept

We already wrote about Dianne Feinstein's highly questionable claim that we need to continue to allow the NSA to collect data on every single phone call in the US because it might have helped stop 9/11. As we noted, that claim didn't make that much sense, since it's based on the idea that a terrorist named Khalid al-Mihdhar made a phone call from the US to a known phone number for a safe house in Yemen, and the intelligence community missed it. As we noted, none of that explains why a purely domestic collection of phone call data makes sense, since this was an international call and since the recipient number was already known, it would have been possible to just track that number, rather than all numbers.

The ACLU's Michael German goes through a complete and total debunking of Feinstein's claims based on the actual history of what happened. After reading this, pretty much the only conclusion you can be left with is that Senator Dianne Feinstein is either totally misinformed over publicly known information about what the intelligence community had done (which would be quite incredible given her position as the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee) or she is flat out lying to protect her friends in the intelligence community.

There are a few problems with using Mihdhar as the poster child for new domestic spying programs, however. The intelligence agencies, which normally benefit from being able to keep secret any facts that might undermine their arguments, seem to have forgotten that the 9/11 Commission, the Justice Department Inspector General and the intelligence committees in Congress published in detail what the government knew about Mihdhar before the attacks. It turns out that the NSA was intercepting calls to the al Qaeda safe house in Yemen as early as 1999, and both the FBI and CIA knew Mihdhar was an al Qaeda operative long before the 9/11 attacks.

The safe house was discovered during the FBI’s investigation into the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, and had been monitored by the NSA and CIA ever since. The inspector general’s report couldn’t be clearer that the intercepts were being broadly shared:

“The NSA’s reporting about these communications was sent, among other places, to FBI Headquarters, the FBI’s Washington and New York Field Offices, and the CIA’s CTC. At the FBI, this information appeared in the daily threat update to the Director on January 4, 2000.”

Intercepted communications from this location allowed the CIA to follow Mihdhar to an al Qaeda meeting in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000. Though they lost him in Thailand, as Mueller suggested, the CIA knew he had a visa to enter the United States and that his travel companion and fellow hijacker, Nawaf al Hazmi, had a plane ticket to fly to Los Angeles.

The CIA, however, failed to place Mihdhar on a watch list or “notify the FBI when it learned Mihdhar possessed a valid U.S. visa,” according to the 9/11 Commission report. The inspector general’s report revealed that five FBI officials assigned to the CIA Counterterrrorism Center viewed CIA cables indicating Mihdhar had a U.S. visa. A week after the Kuala Lumpur meeting, Mihdhar and Hazmi flew into Los Angeles International Airport and entered the United States without a problem. After their entrance, the NSA would intercept at least six calls from the al Qaida safe house in Yemen to the United States, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In other words, the intelligence community clearly had everything it needed prior to 9/11. It just failed to use it. That has nothing to do with the dragnet data collection that Feinstein is claiming would have somehow caught Mihdhar.

Frankly, the other problem here is the Wall Street Journal allowing Feinstein to post that op-ed when it clearly includes things that are untruthful. I recognize that there's a difference between an oped and reporting, but a newspaper should still challenge an oped author when they write things that are easily proved false. Instead, the WSJ let Feinstein publish her clearly bogus article in support of the dragnet, despite the many problems with it. As German notes, these efforts to lie to the American public actually undermine Feinstein's case:
These repeated efforts to mislead Congress and the American people only make the case more strongly that the government’s surveillance authorities need to be sharply curbed with strong legislation that ends the bulk collection programs, protects Americans’ private communications and adds more transparency and public accountability to these activities. Americans have the right to truthful information about their government’s intelligence activities, and the current oversight system, which depends on whistleblowers willing to risk jail, certainly isn’t working.
If they can't support their program with the truth, it seems pretty clear that there's no reason to support the surveillance program at all.

Filed Under: dianne feinstein, khalid al-mihdhar, nsa, nsa surveillance

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  1. identicon
    Pixelation, 17 Oct 2013 @ 8:24am

    Ah yes, Feinstein. Hitting the Kool-aid again I see.

    Too bad being senile isn't grounds for dismissal from being a Senator.

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