Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The "Able Danger" Fiasco - Libertarianism Run Rampant

The mainstream media is buzzing with reports that Defense Intelligence Agency operatives had identified 9/11 leader Mohammed Atta and several of the other hijackers as early as 1999, but didn't share the information with the FBI due to rules in place at the time.

From the Associated Press
Rep. Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican who serves as vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, said a classified military intelligence unit known as "Able Danger" identified the men in 1999.

According to Weldon, Able Danger identified Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi as members of a cell the unit code-named "Brooklyn" because of some loose connections to New York City.

Weldon said that in September 2000 Able Danger recommended that its information on the hijackers be given to the FBI "so they could bring that cell in and take out the terrorists." However, Weldon said Pentagon lawyers rejected the recommendation because they said Atta and the others were in the country legally, so information on them could not be shared with law enforcement.
Weldon's story is supported by the Associated Press:
Defense Department documents shown to an Associated Press reporter Tuesday said the Able Danger team was set up in 1999 to identify potential al-Qaida operatives for U.S. Special Operations Command. At some point, information provided to the team by the Army's Information Dominance Center pointed to a possible al-Qaida cell in Brooklyn, the documents said.

However, because of concerns about pursuing information on "U.S. persons" — a legal term that includes U.S. citizens as well as foreigners admitted to the country for permanent residence — Special Operations Command did not provide the Army information to the FBI. It is unclear whether the Army provided the information to anyone else.
There is a question as to whether the designation "U.S. persons" should have been applied to Atta and his co-conspirators, as they were not permanent resident aliens.

The main reason for the ban on sharing information seems to be concern that data obtained during investigations would be used for criminal prosecution. The ACLU has railed against the Patriot Act for just this reason:
The final version of the anti-terrorism legislation, the Uniting and Strengthening America By Providing Appropriate Tools Required To Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (H.R. 3162, the "USA PATRIOT Act,") puts the Central Intelligence Agency back in the business of spying on Americans.
Well, duh. Most of the people arrested in Lackawanna, New York and Lodi, California are American citizens.

It's time somebody told the ACLU that there's a war on.

Update: Dr. Rusty Shackelford of The Jawa Report raises the question: just what was Sandy Berger stuffing down his pants, and could it have incriminated Berger and Clinton regarding this fiasco?