Wiretapping Wouldn't Have Prevented 9/11

The Republican senator tossed Gen. Michael Hayden a big, fat softball of a question: "Do you think that if you had this program [of wiretaps without warrants] in place before Sept. 11th you might have prevented it?"

Gen. Hayden jumped right on it. He said that yes, if he had his secret powers then that he has today, he could have stopped al Qaida's plot.

Then he said, there were two guys in San Diego …

He was referring to Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar. George Bush also talks about them when he wants to justify wiretaps without warrants. The truth is that Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar are the poster boys for missed opportunities. If the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and the White House had not screwed up so royally, mostly by cherishing their secrets, they would have had al Hasmi and al Mihdhar several times over. Here are the facts.

Both of them were in the NSA and CIA files. They'd fought in Bosnia. They'd been to Afghanistan. They had friends and relatives who were jihadists and who were in Al Qaida and they had associations with bin Laden.

In December, 1999 the NSA picked up several names in relation to an upcoming meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the capitol of Malaysia. They got al Mihdhar's full name but only al Hazmi's first name, Nawaf. They could have figured out who he was if they had checked their own database. But they didn't.

The CIA tracked al Mihdhar when he traveled from Yemen to the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, arriving on Jan. 5, 2000. The CIA had the event under surveillance. Al Mihdhar was photographed there. The team noted that some of the terrorists, including al Mihdhar and al Hazmi, flew to Bangkok on Jan. 8, where they lost track of them. Also in January, the CIA found out that al Mihdhar had a U.S. passport.

The top people in the CIA and the FBI, including its director, Louis Freeh, were briefed by the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) on the meeting.

In March, the CIA's Bangkok office reported that al Hazmi had left Thailand on Jan. 15 and flown to Los Angeles. He was accompanied by al Mihdhar, though that did not show up on the flight report. Here is what had not happened.

The CIA did not put either al Hazmi or al Mihdhar on the State Department TIPOFF watch list. So they were not picked up when they entered the United States. Al Mihdrar later left the United States and went to Yemen, because he missed his family. Then he returned to participate in the 9/11 attacks. He was not picked up leaving or returning.

The CIA did not give their names to the FBI, so they were not tracked when they entered the United States. They spent two months in Los Angeles. Then they went to San Diego. In both places they associated with radical Muslims and made radical mosques the center of their lives.

They also lived with an FBI informant. Al Hazmi got picked up for speeding in Oklahoma. His license was in his real name. When the trooper ran it, nothing came back. Remember, that at this point, he was known as a terrorist associated with Osama bin Laden, and bin Laden was known to be trying to organize an attack on the United States.

Al Hazmi and Al Mihdhar both bought their tickets over the internet using credit cards in their real names.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001, and this is what happened on that day:

Nawaf al Hazmi set off the alarms for both the first and second metal detectors and was then hand-wanded before being passed [to board the plane they were about to hijack]. …
Khalid al Mihdhar and Majed Moqed were flagged by CAPPS. The Hazmi brothers were also selected for extra scrutiny by the airline's customer service representative at the check-in counter. He did so because one of the brothers did not have photo identification nor could he understand English, and because the agent found both of the passengers to be suspicious. …
Mihdhar and Moqed placed their carry-on bags on the belt of the X-ray machine and proceeded through the first metal detector. Both set off the alarm, and they were directed to a second metal detector. Mihdhar did not trigger the alarm and was permitted through the checkpoint.
… We asked a screening expert to review the videotape of the hand-wanding, and he found the quality of the screener's work to have been "marginal at best." The screener should have "resolved" what set off the alarm; and in the case of both Moqed and Hazmi, it was clear that he did not.
-- The 9/11 Commission Final Report

These are the people that Gen. Hayden uses to justify the gigantic wiretaps-without-warrants program and the telephone data collection program.

It is an insult to our intelligence. It shows contempt, absolute contempt for the Senate and the media. It shows that he is right to have that contempt since no one called him out on it. No one said it was a ridiculous and foolish assertion, unsupported by the facts. Indeed, the facts point in the other direction.

It was secrecy that did us in. We had the information. It was incompetence that did us in. Including Gen. Hayden's own.

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