Facts are Inconvenient
I’ve been watching the spectacular drama of Edward Snowden play out over 4 different continents, with varying degrees of fascination and sympathy for the young man.
It’s true that he’s taken on a big, big foe. He’s not to be envied at all, and I do wish him well.
But that aside, there are others who would just as soon strip him of all his citizenship rights and plunk him into prison post-haste.
Sure, it might have, except for one fact: the program they’re using didn’t exist at the time.
It is impossible to know for certain whether screening phone records would have stopped the attacks — the program didn’t exist at the time. It’s also not clear whether the program would have given the NSA abilities it didn’t already possess with respect to the case. Details of the current program and as well as NSA’s role in intelligence gathering around the 9/11 plots remain secret.
The FBI knew about the main players of the future terrorist attacks. They knew where they lived, they tracked them, and even lived with them.
U.S. intelligence agencies knew the identity of the hijacker in question, Saudi national Khalid al Mihdhar, long before 9/11 and had the ability to find him, but they failed to do so.
That’s Sheik Khalid the reference is to. You know, one of the main players.
Hell, the 9/11 Report states exactly that. All the various agencies knew about these people long before 9/11.
No metadata was used, although it could have been:
Intelligence historian Matthew Aid, who wrote the 2009 NSA history Secret Sentry, says that the agency would have had both the technical ability and legal authority to determine the San Diego number that Mihdhar was calling from.
“Back in 2001 NSA was routinely tracking the identity of both sides of a telephone call,” he told ProPublica.
The NSA did not respond to a request for comment. The FBI stood by Mueller’s argument but declined to further explain how the metadata program would have come into play before 9/11.
Just to reiterate: the NSA did have the ability to not only track these people, but the legal means as well:
Richard Clarke, who was the White House counterterrorism czar beginning in 1998 and through 9/11, told ProPublica that the NSA had both the ability and legal authority to trace calls from Mihdhar to Yemen in 2000.
“Justice could have asked the FISA Court for a warrant to all phone companies to show all calls from the U.S. which went to the Yemen number. As far as I know, they did not do so. They could have,” Clarke wrote in an email.
“My understanding is that they did not need the current All Calls Data Base FISA warrant to get the information they needed. Since they had one end of the calls (the Yemen number), all they had to do was ask for any call connecting to it.”
Yet, 9/11 happened-and the NSA didn’t stop it. Nobody stopped it, because they were all playing the ‘territorial turf wars’ as usual, and not linking together the information each agency had at hand.
There were 2,996 victims of bureaucratic incompetence on September 11, 2001-and no amount of spying prevented it.