SON OF HARRY HOPE
2004-04-14 17:22:57 UTC
April 14, 2004
Attorney General John Ashcroft came out swinging in testimony before
the 9-11 Commission on Tuesday. "In 1995, the Justice Department
embraced flawed legal reasoning, imposing a series of restrictions on
the FBI that went beyond what the law required," he said. "The 1995
Guidelines and the procedures developed around them imposed draconian
barriers to communications between the law enforcement and
intelligence communities. The wall left intelligence agents afraid to
talk with criminal prosecutors or agents. In 1995, the Justice
Department designed a system destined to fail."
But Ashcroft's bombshell wasn't his description of the Clinton
Administration's policies, which have been discussed by previous
witnesses. "Somebody built this wall," Ashcroft told the
commissioners, and then went on to accuse one of the commission's own.
"The basic architecture for the wall . . . was contained in a
classified memorandum entitled 'Instructions on Separation of Certain
Foreign Counterintelligence and Criminal Investigations,'" said
Ashcroft. "Full disclosure compels me to inform you that its author is
a member of this Commission." Ashcroft was referring to Jamie
Gorelick, who served as Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton
From the beginning, Gorelick's appointment to the 9/11 Commission was
problematic. She served not only as Attorney General Janet Reno's
deputy but also as general counsel at the Department of Defense, jobs
which put her at the heart of the Clinton Administration's
anti-terrorism efforts. Her actions, as well as those of her
superiors, are among the subjects this commission is tasked to review.
How can she be expected to be impartial when it comes to evaluating
her superiors, much less herself?
The memo Gorelick wrote has now been declassified and offers a window
into the role she played in obstructing effective intelligence
gathering and sharing during the Clinton Administration. The memo grew
out of the Justice Department's prosecution of the 1993 terrorist
attack on the World Trade Center -- the act that apparently gave Osama
bin Laden the idea to try again in 2001.
"During the course of those investigations," wrote Gorelick in 1995,
"significant counterintelligence information has been developed
related to the activities and plans of agents of foreign powers
operating in this country and overseas, including previously unknown
connections between separate terrorist groups." But Gorelick wanted to
make sure that the left hand didn't know what the right was doing.
"(W)e believe that it is prudent to establish a set of instructions
that will clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation from
the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations. These
procedures, which go beyond what is legally required, will prevent any
risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that FISA (Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act) is being used to avoid procedural
safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation."
The problem, of course, is that the inability to share information is
precisely what hampered federal agents in tracking down the 9-11
hijackers. As Attorney General Ashcroft testified, this artificial
wall impeded the investigation into Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called
20th hijacker, who was arrested prior to the 9-11 attack, as well as
Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, both of whom were identified by
the CIA as suspected terrorists possibly in the United States prior to
their participation in those terrible attacks. "Because of the wall,
FBI Headquarters refused to allow criminal investigators who knew the
most about the most recent al Qaeda attack to join in the hunt for the
suspected terrorists," Ashcroft told the commission.
"At the time, a frustrated FBI investigator wrote Headquarters," said
Ashcroft, "quote, 'Whatever has happened to this -- someday someone
will die -- and wall or not -- the public will not understand why . .
Jamie Gorelick should step down from the commission at once. If she
fails to do so on her own, her fellow commissioners should ask her to
step aside. Her role as the architect of a policy that hampered the
work of federal agents to track down suspected terrorists makes her
unfit to pass judgment on the alleged failures of others.