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Friday, August 12, 2005

Able Danger

I haven't commented on the whole Able Danger thing, because I really didn't think it was a huge deal. It is patently obvious that throughout the 90's we were unprepared for a terror attack and we simple we not paying enough attention to terrorists. There were a number of policies and procedures in place that made it difficult for law enforcement to effectively deal with this issue, and probably more importantly, there simply wasn't much institutional 'glory' to be gained by this field. And, unlike many I don't blame Clinton or anyone else for this. I blame myself and pretty much every other American. In the 90s things were good, our only competitor on the world stage militarily had imploded, the economic engines of Japan and Europe had stalled out, while we were booming and life was generally sweet. We were complacent and let our vigilance lapse. Clinton may well have been a symptom of that attitude, but he was not the cause of it. However, this Investor's Business Daily peice on this issue is striking, and important:

Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the 9-11 commission, said the commission 'did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9-11 of surveillance of Mohammed Atta or of his cell . . . Had we learned of it, obviously it would've been a major focus of our investigation.' But they did learn of it. The New York Times reports that the 9-11 commission staff had the Able Danger data but decided not to share it with the panel members because the information sounded inconsistent with what they thought they knew about Atta.
Let's just look at that again for a moment. The 9-11 commission staff, whose primary job was to find out why our intelligence agencies had failed to idendify and counter a signifigant threat ignored information because it did not fit it's pre-concieved notion of the facts. And this isn't a minor, tiny, bit of info. This is a critical peice of information directly connected to the attacks and central to the question of what sort of policies were, in hindsight at least, a terrible mistake. But it didn't fit what they thought they knew. Probably more intelligence failures are a result of that mindset then anything else. It is an easy mistake to make, but it is also a well known danger, and the one place making this mistake seems absolutely inexcusable is as part of a commission investigating an intelligence mistake. This naturally makes me wonder what else 'didn't fit.'


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