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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Birdnow v. Pinkerton and Able Danger

I haven`t weighed in on the Able Danger issue yet, and I`m not really going to now since I think the 911 Commission`s purpose should have been obvious all along; why else were the likes of Jamie Gorelick and Richard Ben-Viniste put on the panel? Why wasn`t Gorelick removed when her role in the ``wall of separation`` came to light? What was a former Watergate Stormtrooper doing there? It was apparent to me from the beginning that the whole purpose of this commission was to act as a political club with which to beat the President. Able Danger merely fleshes out what I suspected all along-namely, that we had intelligence during the Clinton years which were ignored or mishandled.

The Clinton Presidency was characterized by an unwillingness to act if it had the potential to harm the President`s political fortunes or popularity. Clinton`s normal response to any stimuli was to take action to defer a problem, rather than deal with it. He didn`t care what mess he left for his successor, provided he looked good (in fact, he thought he would look better from an historical perspective if his successor floundered about.)

Below is an e-mail argument I engaged in with Newsday columnist and erstwhile conservative James Pinkerton back in April of `04 regarding the 911 Commission. I raked him over the coals in a letter to which he graciously responded. I thought this argument germane to the Able Danger issue.

Here was his original article:

Pre-9/11 Doings are Coming to Light
By James Pinkerton

April 9, 2004

If you knew that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had received a memo a month before Pearl Harbor entitled, "Japanese Determined to Attack the United States in the Pacific," and that he had done nothing about that information, would that knowledge change your perception of FDR as a wise war leader?

Roosevelt received no such memo, of course, but President George W. Bush got a blunt warning five weeks before 9/11 and he did little or nothing. He even presided over a stand-down in preparations, concentrating on other concerns.

The Washington Post reported in May 2002 that Bush had received a President's Daily Brief on Aug. 6, 2001, entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." But, of course, not everything that's reported becomes widely known, or is necessarily true. And so for most Americans, yesterday's 9/11 hearing provided their first occasion to learn, from the highest sources, just what was in that document.

Condoleezza Rice began her testimony with a statement in which she minimized the possibility that anyone could have known what was happening. All intelligence prior to 9/11 was "not specific as to time, nor place, nor manner of attack," she said. But then 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste pressed her about that PDB memo, still rated as "classified" by the government. Ben-Veniste was legally prohibited from mentioning even the title of the document.

But he wasn't prohibited from asking Rice the title of the PDB. And she obliged: "I believe the title was, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'" Ouch. Just moments after she had said intelligence was "not specific" about the place of attack, here's a presidential-level document warning, specifically, that al-Qaida's target wasn't overseas somewhere, but rather the United States itself.

David Colton, Washington lawyer and veteran of the intelligence world, observes of this exchange: "Ben-Veniste hypnotized her." Colton adds, "She fell into the rhythm of a smart lawyer's questions, and so blurted out the single most damning admission of these hearings."

Seeming to realize she had said too much, Rice tried to bury the revelation by piling on words. She insisted that the document, the PDB's title notwithstanding, "did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting." Whereupon Ben-Veniste invited her to seek the declassification of the entire memo. Rice declined.

Rice's semi-admission - she was under oath, but that doesn't guarantee that every witness will tell whole truth - stirred up Bob Kerrey, another commissioner.

Kerry was bound by the same strict rules of classification as Ben-Veniste, but he's a free-spirited war hero and so didn't care that he was breaking those rules. "In the spirit of further declassification," he announced, "this is what the August 6th memo said to the president: that the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking. That's the language of the memo that was briefed to the president on the 6th of August."

Ouch again. "Hijacking" is pretty darn specific - which seems to contradict Rice's assertion that the intelligence was "frustratingly vague" as to the "manner of attack."

Plenty of people in Washington had their "hair on fire" about the terror threat in the summer of 2001. But not Bush, apparently. On Aug. 4, he went off on a working vacation to his ranch in Texas.

According to White House speechwriter turned memoirist David Frum, that summer Bush "did something I had never seen him do: he brooded." Yet the issue wasn't terror; it seems it was stem cell research. On Aug. 9, Bush gave his first primetime policy speech to the nation - on the topic of embryos. After that, according to Frum, Bush launched a "mini-political campaign" that took him out on the stump.

And we all know what happened the following month.

What we don't know is the precise sequence of events that led to the government's Pearl Harbor-like cluelessness on 9/11. But there's at least a chance now, as documents are revealed and as officials testify under oath, that we'll find out. In the meantime, here's a prediction, based on what we know already: Bush won't dare show more 9/11 images in his campaign ads.

Copyright: 2004 Newsday

I responded via e-mail:

Dear Mr. Pinkerton,

Your commentary on the farcical and politically motivated 9/11 commission is sophomoric at the very least. You try to suggest that Roosevelt had no idea that something was in the wind before Pearl Harbor while trying to claim this empty, PDB told Bush everything he needed to know. This is ridiculous, and a historically inaccurate. FDR had been goading the Japanese for several years, and our intelligence KNEW some sort of an attack was coming. Everyone thought the attack was coming on the Philippines. No one blamed Roosevelt for being caught by surprise (except conspiracy theorists who note that most of the fleet was out on maneuvers that day) because of the lack of specificity of the intel. You are trying to hold this President accountable because of a political agenda. This is shameful.
This administration had been in office less than 9 months, and was largely staffed by holdovers from the CLINTON administration because of the highly charged political climate. If you want to point to failures of policy you should look at the previous administration. (YOU wouldn`t do THAT now, would you?)
Why didn`t Congress put this together? They had most of the same intel as the president. Also, in case you have forgotten, the Democrats pushed through strict controls to prevent the CIA and FBI from sharing information. The very people questioning Dr. Rice were responsible for this intelligence failure by putting these policies into place.
Ben-Veniste proved conclusively that this is not about finding the truth about intelligence failures-it is a partisan witch hunt. This is another tired attempt to create ``scandal`` and bash the current administration for political gain. Democrats have elevated this ``special prosecutor`` style dirt digging to a high art form. They demand an investigation (since you want to speak about FDR you will note he refused to allow an investigatory commission until AFTER the war) then cry until milquetoast Republicans are put on (to show their willingness to ``cooperate``) then they begin partisan agitation and run roughshod over the weak-kneed Reps. This is such a classic case. If this commission were serious about their work they would be investigating what went on IN the CIA and FBI, not demand ``what did Bush know and when did he know it``. The political ends were beyond the scope of this investigation and are fruitless. The preparations for this attack were in the works for years. ``What did Clinton know and when did he know it?`` I don`t believe that matters. Only a frothing-at-the-mouth partisan would think the President should be blamed for something like this. You, sir, have shown your true colors.
Yes, that is exactly the point of all this-to remove the chief political arrow from the president`s quiver. Liberals are slinging this mud to accomplish nothing more than a cheap political victory. You are disgraceful. (Don`t tell me you are an uninterested member of the media-you guys are the willing accomplices to the lies and innuendo of the left/Democrats.) WE ARE AT WAR! You should be ashamed of yourselves! Why do you think the resistance in Iraq has been so tough? Because the enemy sees us divided. They see this because you in the media and the unloyal opposition constantly attack the commander-in-chief. Never has the Nation been so divided by partisanship during a time of war. The enemy will continue to intensify their attacks before the election, hoping to put Kerry in office. Americans are dying because of this. SHAME ON YOU!

Timothy Birdnow
St. Louis

Dear Mr. Birdnow:

Thanks for a thoughtful e. I will confine myself to just one point in response.

I realize that the issue of what FDR knew, and didn't know, about Pearl Harbor in advance is a huge continuing debate among historians and other interested parties. But that was my point: for all those who think that Roosevelt knew in advance, to whatever degree, that feeling changes their view of FDR. That is, those folks who have concluded that he knew in advance will also conclude that he was either remarkably careless about American security or incredibly conniving about getting the US into a war.

And so, too, with George W. Bush. I think that most Americans believe that Bush was taken unavoidably, as well as totally, by surprise on 9-11. But is that really the case? Or was he careless? Or was he conniving? My own preliminary guess is that Bush was careless. And that should have some bearing on the '04 election since a president's judgment is critical, as he sits in the Oval Office.

By contrast, back in ’41, my guess is that FDR was at least a little bit conniving. But either way, looking ahead from 9-11-01, the American people should seek the truth, even if takes 63 years, or more, to get the whole truth out. But let’s not skip past truth-seeking in the here and now. No politician’s career should come ahead of the truth, when thousands of lives have been lost, and thousands--maybe millions--more are at risk.

And then, of course, the same intellectual thresher needs to be applied to Bush’s national security team. Because 9-11 was a big deal, and the Iraq war, which was fought in the name of 9-11, was an even bigger deal.


Jim Pinkerton

Dear Mr. Pinkerton,

Thanks for responding to my criticism of your article.

I would like to make just a couple of points regarding your response. FDR DID want to get us into the War, and he put immense pressure on both Japan and Germany before we actually went to war. (Remember, we had been embargoing steel and oil to Japan, literally strangling their industry.) I point this out not to condemn him but to set the stage for-Roosevelt understood that war with Japan was coming and we had to fight them sooner or later (sounds a bit like Iraq, does it not?) I do not believe for a moment that Roosevelt knew the exact place and time of the attack. We had broken the Japanese code, but had literally thousands of messages to decode and interpret in a very short amount of time. All Roosevelt knew for certain was that something was in the wind. The experts all expected the attack on MacArthurManilailla-just as the vague warnings about possible terrorist attacks had everyone looking overseas (after all, only the first World Trade Center bombing was on American soil. The attacks on the Kobar Towers, the Kenyan and Tanzanian embassy bombings, the U.S.S. CoMogadishuishu, etc. occured overseas-no one had any reason to believe a major attack in the U.S. was likely.)
I would like to point out that Bush WAS caught by surprise-but not because of any carelessness on HIS part. His administration had been in office 233 days, and he was largely staffed by former Clinton ``lame duck`` staff. Remember, the election of 2000 had been bitterly contested, and the Democrats were determined to make this President Impotent. (They made this strategy clear.) John Ashcroft`s appointment had been a grueling battle, the head of the CIA was a Clinton holdover, the FBI had just been turned over. Bush was still working to create a coherent administration. The Clinton administration had been less then helpful (remember the White House office trashing-computer viruses and keyboards missing the W?) Bush needed to reevaluate intelligence operations, and had not had adequate time to do this. He was forced to rely on previous Clinton policy-included the extreme interpretation of FISA created by none-other-than Jamie Gorelick when she was assistant Attorney General. (Interesting how she is now demanding answers when she was one of the creators of the bad policy. It is also interesting that a former Watergate prosecutor, Richard Ben-Venista, was the Democrats appointee.)
Bush had made efforts to improve the situation. He had restored the daily briefings by the CIA. He had demanded that a plan be developed to remove the Taliban and get Bin-Laden (who had been offered to Clinton on more than one occasion-Clinton himself has admitted this-but because of the Law Enforcement interpretation of FISA Clinton turned this offer down.) I think it is disingenuous to claim Bush was doing nothing. That he was not omniscient cannot be blamed on carelessness.
What was Bush supposed to do? Address the Nation and say ``A terrorist attackimmanentnent. We do not know where in the World, or when, or how it will occur. Now is a good time for everyone to panic``? Look at the blame his administration has received for the ``orange`` alerts. This, I would like to remind you, was in a pre-war mindset. He would have (rightly) compared to Chicken Little.
No one could have stopped the 911 attacks. The Fisa/Gorelick wall of intelligence separation made UNDERSTANDING the enormous mass of data next to impossible. The real question is how did the President adapt to the situation. Everyone but the Bush-hating Left in this country would say the President did what needed to be done. The Patriot Act (hated by the Democrats and liberals) removed the wallseparationtion between law enforcement and the intelligence community. We went after Al-Qaida in their lair and did not wait for them to come to us. We overthrew Saddam in Iraq (who, it is becoming increasingly clear was involved intimately with terrorists.) creating a bulwark in the Middle-East. (I would like to point out that we had been at war with Iraq since Gulf War I. Saddam was in noncompliance with the ARMISTICE, routinely firing missiles at U.S. planes and had attempted to assassinate G.H.W. Bush.) This President has been a true leader. That is all anyone can ask.


Timothy Birdnow

Dear Timothy:

I tend to agree with a lot of this, but not enough of it. I was not critical of Bush re: 9-11, till I realized just how totally Iraq had conquered their minds. Surely you noticed, too, how Rice said that the Cole was small potatoes, how not only was it not something for Bush to respond to once he took office, but she even told Jim Thompson that if another such attack had occurred during 43's presidency she was not sure that she would've responded to that, either. And now I see Tom Kean saying that mere publicity about an upcoming threat--of the kind that the US issues now, routinely--might've been enough to scare off the 9-11 hijackers. So I'm no longer convinced that nothing could have stopped 9-11--I now think that a lot of different actions could have stopped it,

You might look up the Israeli word "conceptsia," in regard to the Yom Kippur war, as tojust how blinding such a mindset can be.

So yes, Saddam was/is a nogoodnik, but he was manageable in his box. And certainly the US is worse off now.


Dear Jim,

Just a couple of quick points. 1. The Clinton administration considered the Cole small potatoes also. 2. Dick Clark said in his (hostile) testimony that a terror alert probably wouldn`t have done any good. 3. Tom Keen`s job isascertaintain why intelligence broke down; He is overstepping his mandate and qualifications by pontificating in such a manner.
Was Saddam really ``in a box`` like so many people claim? You may want to ask the families of those who were killed by suicide bombers in Israel. I suspect they would disagree since their loved ones were killed for a $25,000 bounty courtesy of Iraq. Furthermore, the embargo leaked profusely. Saddam bought weapons and dual-use hardware from all our ``friends`` who opposed the war. (We have not been able to keep Castro ``in a box``, and he is a mere 90 miles from our shore. How could we succeed with Iraq?) He DID possess banned weapons (missiles) and had his WMD program ready to be reconstituted. The point is that WE were the ones trying to keep this guy in his ``box``. Given the cooperation we received from the rest of the World this ``box`` would not hold for long.
We have not had a major terrorist strike in the United States since 911. Everyone predicted we would. Why? Because all of our enemies are fighting Jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. That alone makes The U.S. better off.





Blogger Aussiegirl said...

Wonderful series of exchanges, Tim -- lays the whole thing out clear as day. That being said, however, I am not so sure that part of the effort at cover up on the 9/11 Commission and now with the Pentagon looking like they want to sweep Able Danger under the rug, is not related to the fact that BOTH administrations have something to hide relating to 9/11. Why else is the present administration involved in a wholesale effort to discredit, smear, deny or obfuscate the 3 individuals who have come forward to testify as to what came about as a result of Able Danger? You'd think they'd be happy to let it come out to reveal how incompetent the Clinton adminstration was in this regard, and how dangerous the wall of separation was. Why else are they still trying to hush this up?

6:52 PM  

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