Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Berger, Gorelick, The Wall and terrorism

The Wall Street Journal is calling for a release of the documents that Sandy Berger stuffed in his trousers. That is, making the docs public, not just taking them out of Berger's drawers.

And there's good reason for this. Why? The first reason is one that the media has not really mentioned. Berger was "not simply preparing for his testimony before the 9/11 Commission. He was the point man for the Clinton Administration, reviewing and selecting the documents to be turned over to the Commission."

More notable is the fact that the After Action Review memo on the millenium bombing attempt was authored by Richard Clarke -- the man who claimed terrorism was a top priority of Bill Clinton. Naturally, Clarke's testimony does not square with reality:

In his own 9/11 testimony, Mr. Berger described . . . al Qaeda plans as "the most serious threat spike of our time in government." He went on to say that they provoked "sustained attention and rigorous actions" from the Administration that ended up saving lives.

But Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has the advantage of having read the document in question, had a different take. In his own 9/11 testimony in April, Mr. Ashcroft recommended that the Commission "study carefully" the after-action memo. He described it as laying out vulnerabilities and calling for aggressive remedies of the type he and the Bush Administration have been criticized for. Mr. Ashcroft further noted that when he took office, this "highly classified review" was "not among" the items he was briefed on during the transition.

Maybe that is because of the potential for embarrassment at the mentality the memo reveals. Mr. Ashcroft testified that the Justice Department's "surveillance and FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] operations were specifically criticized for their glaring weaknesses." The most glaring, of course, were the restrictions on the sharing of critical information between intelligence and law enforcement -- even within the FBI itself. This was the infamous "wall of separation" that Clinton Deputy AG Jamie Gorelick instructed the FBI director should "go beyond what is legally required."

From today's vantage we can see the consequences. Ahmed Ressam was one of the would-be Millennium bombers whom the French had identified to U.S. intelligence agencies as an al Qaeda operative planning to attack America. But the "wall of separation" meant that when an alert U.S. customs officer stopped Ressam as he tried to enter the country from Vancouver, the Justice Department had no idea who he was. This helps illuminate the claim made in the missing memo, according to Mr. Ashcroft's testimony, that our success in stopping these 1999 attacks was a result of sheer "luck."

Read it all.

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