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Forewarning Heroes--there were three. They were not without voice--they just weren't heard.

Richard Clarke, senior advisor to the National Security Council who was Clinton's point man on terrorism and a Bush holdover, handed off his strategy to the Bush administration. Bush and his Neocons sat on it until too late.

John O'Neill, head of the National Security Division of the FBI was an expert on al Qaeda and bin Laden. In 2001, the FBI appealed to Attorney General John Ashcroft for additional counter-terror funds and was turned down flat. By August, O'Neill had had enough and left the bureau.

Colleen Rowley, FBI Agent, Minneapolis office, was a career FBI agent. Rowley had been working on the Moussaoui case before 9/11 and had been frustrated by the bureaucratic roadblocks she repeatedly encountered.

Antonio Taguba, a major General in the US Army, advanced rapidly through the ranks with great distinction until he found himself assigned to investigate the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib. As was his custom, he was thorough in his investigation. Calling it like it really happened, indicting not only the soldiers involved, bur the command structure ended his career.

Their Stories

Excerpts, paraphrases, and interpretations from: 4 Aug 2002

Richard Clarke and John O'Neill
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"By last summer [2001], many of those in-the-know the spooks, the buttoned-down bureaucrats, the law enforcement professionals in a dozen countrieswere almost frantic with worry that a major terrorist attack against American interests was imminent. It wasn't averted because 2001 saw a systematic collapse in the ability of Washington's national-security apparatus to handle the terrorist threat."

Sandy Berger, Clinton's National Security Advisor wanted to avoid the lack of cooperation on security matters offered by the outgoing Bush Sr. administration in 1992. So he arranged a series of briefings for the incoming Bush Administration. The Clinton years had been dogged by the first WTC bombing, two embassy bombings in Africa, and the near destruction of the destroyer Cole. There were also some near misses. A bomber was intercepted on his way to the Los Angeles airport. A kitchen fire in the Philippines led to disclosure of a plot to bomb several 747 aircraft out of the skies over the Pacific. Osama bin Laden and al Qa'ida had been identified as prime movers of the terror. A missile attack in Afghanistan hit its target, after bin Laden had left the premises.

Clarke, Clinton's point man on terrorism, developed a plan to roll back the al Qa'ida. It was completed with less than a month to go for the Clinton Administration. Not wishing to saddle the incoming administration with a war, Berger and Clinton provided the new administration with thorough briefings on the terror situation.

The plan included support for the Northern Alliance, air strikes, and special forces on the ground.

"The plan was estimated to cost 'several hundreds of millions of dollars.' In the words of a senior Bush Administration official, the proposals amounted to: 'everything we've done since 9/11.'"

Meanwhile, the al Qa'ida effectively began running the Taliban, making it even more extreme. In April 2001, outside the European Parliament Building, General Massoud, leader of the only effective opposition to the Taliban told a reporter: "If President Bush doesn't help us, these terrorists will damage the US and Europe very soon." But the Bush position was that if anything were to be done, Pakistan would have to do it. Massoud was on his own.

"'Clarke's paper,' says an official, 'was a Clinton proposal.' Keeping Clarke around was one thing; buying into an analysis of an Administration that the Bush team considered feckless and naive was quite another. So Rice instructed Clarke to initiate a new policy review process on the terrorism threat."

That took time. So did remote controlled intelligence gathering by the Predator. This proven instrument was grounded until after 9/11 by bureaucratic infighting. As this was going on, intelligence services noted increased chatter about a terrorist attack on the US. This put the country on the alert for Independence day and again when Bush attended the G8 summit in Genoa on 20 July.

Clarke's draft of a Presidential Directive was finally considered formally on 4 Sept by the Bush team. That was some nine months after Clarke's plan was first put on paper. By then he was losing credibility.

Clarke wasn't alone. John O'Neill, who led the National Security Division of the FBI, was also frustrated. O'Neill was the foremost American expert on al Qaeda and bin Laden. His people were overloaded, but his pleas for help fell on deaf ears. Beyond that, the State Department would not allow him to personally follow-up the investigation he began into the Cole bombingit was upsetting the Yemeni government, which in any case was not helping much. O'Neill's biggest problem however was that the FBI was not structured for dealing with terrorism. Language skills were close to nonexistent and so was the political or social acumen needed to understand the mind set of Islam, extremism, and terror. Further, field offices were discouraged from comparing notes.

In Europe, it was quite another matter. O'Neill's European counterparts had identified several al Qaeda cells in their midst in 2000. A French magistrate who led many terror cases said the US "had to join the rest of the world in considering itself at acute risk of attack." That year saw France, Germany and Britain all arresting terrorists. Yet the FBI told the Clinton Administration that "there's not a substantial al Qa'ida presence in the US and to the extent there was a presence, they had it covered."

In 2001, the FBI appealed to Attorney General John Ashcroft for additional counter-terror funds and was turned down flat. By August, O'Neill had had enough and left the bureau.

On 9 September, General Ahmad Shah Masoud, aka the Lion of Panjshir, bin Ladens worst enemy, was assassinated by al Qa'ida operatives. Only then did the Taliban launch their last offensive, but Massoud's forces held fast-without their charismatic leader.

As that battle raged into 11 Sept, John O'Neill reported for work at the new job he had had for just two weeksat the World Trade Center as Chief of Security. After calling his family to say he was safe, he rushed back in. "His body was identified two weeks later."

Unsung, Richard Clarke and John O'Neill performed heroic duty in the face of bureaucrats who seemed to have the mentality "It can't happen here." Their actions put them on our 9/11 Hero List.

As the battle raged in Afghanistan, another battle occurred in America that affirms the heart and soul of America.

Colleen Rowley: FBI Agent
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Excerpts, paraphrases, and interpretations from:
Time Dec 30 2002 - Jan 6 2003

Thirteen pages. That is all it took to shake an empirethey exposed the essence of a serious problem. To be sure the memo was leaked, probably before it was stamped "Top Secret" by Robert Mueller, Director of the FBI. There is much too much in the memo that is damning about the organization charged with our national safety to be hidden. Clearly the stamp was more "damage control" for the Bureau than it was "safety insurance" for the American public. See Links below for the bases upon which we say this.

Colleen Rowley, a career FBI agent, had been working on the Moussaoui case before 9/11 and had been frustrated by the bureaucratic roadblocks she repeatedly encountered. Eight months later, she was invited to Washington to meet privately with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees' joint inquiry into 9/11.

Her notes made in preparation for that meeting became a 13 page memo that Rowley delivered in person to the offices of the FBI Director and also to two offices of members of the Senate Committee on Intelligence. From there it took on a life of its ownwithin 24 hours CNN was calling.

Director Robert Mueller had to backtrack on his public pronouncements that the FBI had known nothing and could have done nothing. Rowley's case was air tight.

Her conscience and patriotism drove her to risk her career by a memo to the Director of the Bureau. After delivering it, her husband remembers her saying, "I hope somebody reads it."

To Rowley, "Truth is power, that's how you catch the bad guys." Her memo was about truth; it was not a challenge of power. Her memo came from a patriotic guardian of America; it was not self-serving nor was it from a whistle-blower (one who reveals "internal problems" that an organization would sooner hide.) There was a whistle involved however-her earlier attempts to obtain approval to get a search warrant to search Moussaoui's computer disk were like whistles in the dark.

Rowley was fully aware of the possible import. She took a lot of heat from retired FBI agents who likened her memo to the treasonous activities of Robert Hanssen, mole in the FBI. A colleague advised her that high-level agents had been overheard discussing criminal charges. Fortunately, she had requested "whistle-blower" protection.

William Safire (Conservative columnist for The New York Times, 27 May 2002) highlighted the following with respect to the Moussaoui case:

"The agents asked F.B.I. Headquarters for permission to examine his laptop computer. Permission was denied, despite reports from French intelligence relayed from our Paris embassy of his involvement with international terrorists. Not until after Sept. 11 did we learn it contained the phone number of Mohamed Atta's roommate."

Section 8 of Rowley's memo says in part: (Time Online)

"The last official 'fact' that I take issue with is not really a fact, but an opinion, and a completely unsupported opinion at that. In the day or two following September 11th, you, Director Mueller, made the statement to the effect that if the FBI had only had any advance warning of the attacks, we (meaning the FBI), may have been able to take some action to prevent the tragedy. Fearing that this statement could easily come back to haunt the FBI upon revelation of the information that had been developed pre-September 11th about Moussaoui, I, and others in the Minneapolis Office, immediately sought to reach your office through an assortment of higher level FBIHQ contacts, in order to quickly make you aware of the background of the Moussaoui investigation and forewarn you so that your public statements could be accordingly modified. When such statements from you and other FBI officials continued, we thought that somehow you had not received the message and we made further efforts. Finally when similar comments were made weeks later, in Assistant Director Caruso's congressional testimony in response to the first public leaks about Moussaoui, we faced the sad realization that the remarks indicated someone, possibly with your approval, had decided to circle the wagons at FBIHQ in an apparent effort to protect the FBI from embarrassment and the relevant FBI officials from scrutiny. Everything I have seen and heard about the FBI's official stance and the FBI's internal preparations in anticipation of further congressional inquiry, had, unfortunately, confirmed my worst suspicions in this regard. After the details began to emerge concerning the pre-September 11th investigation of Moussaoui, and subsequently with the recent release of the information about the Phoenix EC, your statement has changed. The official statement is now to the effect that, even if the FBI had followed up on the Phoenix lead to conduct checks of flight schools and the Minneapolis request to search Moussaoui's personal effects and laptop, nothing would have changed and such actions certainly could not have prevented the terrorist attacks and resulting loss of life. With all due respect, this statement is as bad as the first! It is also quite at odds with the earlier statement (which I'm surprised has not already been pointed out by those in the media!). I don't know how you or anyone at FBI Headquarters, no matter how much genius or prescience you may possess, could so blithely make this affirmation without anything to back the opinion up than your stature as FBI Director. The truth is, as with most predictions into the future, no one will ever know what impact, if any, the FBI's following up on those requests would have had. Although I agree that it's very doubtful that the full scope of the tragedy could have been prevented, it's at least possible we could have gotten lucky and uncovered one or two more of the terrorists in flight training prior to September 11th, just as Moussaoui was discovered, after making contact with his flight instructors. It is certainly not beyond the realm of imagination to hypothesize that Moussaoui's fortuitous arrest alone, even if he merely was the 20th hijacker, allowed the hero passengers of Flight 93 to overcome their terrorist hijackers and thus spare more lives on the ground. And even greater casualties, possibly of our Nation's highest government officials, may have been prevented if Al Qa'ida intended for Moussaoui to pilot an entirely different aircraft. There is, therefore at least some chance that discovery of other terrorist pilots prior to September 11th may have limited the September 11th attacks and resulting loss of life. Although your conclusion otherwise has to be very reassuring for some in the FBI to hear being repeated so often (as if saying it's so may make it so), I think your statements demonstrate a rush to judgment to protect the FBI at all costs. I think the only fair response to this type of question would be that no one can pretend to know one way or another.

"Mr. Director, I hope my observations can be taken in a constructive vein. They are from the heart and intended to be completely apolitical. Hopefully, with our nation's security on the line, you and our nation's other elected and appointed officials can rise above the petty politics that often plague other discussions and do the right thing. You do have some good ideas for change in the FBI but I think you have also not been completely honest about some of the true reasons for the FBI's pre-September 11th failures. Until we come clean and deal with the root causes, the Department of Justice will continue to experience problems fighting terrorism and fighting crime in general."

Mueller's public response after the leak?

"I cannot say for sure that there wasn't a possibility we could have come across a lead that would have led us to the hijackers."

His indefiniteness and curious double negative eight months after the bombing were still in the mode of political damage control. What a difference it would have made had Mueller simply said something like:

"Our old ingrained culture is simply not up to the new threats. The fault lies not in the field offices; Arizona and Minnesota have shown us that. Our front lines are sound and responsive even though they need to be improved with modern equipment and data bases. The primary fault lies here in Washington where our command-and-control culture is not up to the new battlefield requirements. Fixing that is our first and continuing priority. Structural changes needed to make our departmental governance proactive and responsive in these new times have been and will continue to be made." (Indeed, a few were.)

Instead, the problem only got worse, we quote directly from Time Magazine, Dec 30 2002:

"Mueller has confounded some FBI insiders by promoting and decorating officials who held key leadership positions when the bureau missed warning signs in the months leading up to Sept 11. The FBI chief outraged congressional critics by citing Marion (Spike) Bowmanthe head of the bureau's National Security Law Unit, which refused to let the Minneapolis, Minn., agents search Zacarias Moussaoui's computer and belongings in August 2001for "exceptional performance." (For his part, Bowman says that "I don't think I did anything wrong here. In fact I know I didn't.")

Some people learn nothing from their mistakes. Others do not even recognize them. Still others reward people for their loyalty, never mind their serious mistakes in defense of America.

In view of Bowman's adamant statement and the FBI's defensive style of governance, there appears to be another even less flattering explanation. Bowman (or someone) may well have been told to circle the wagons. In an Authoritarian organization one perceives it is always right to do as one is told. Doing as he was told could have been Bowman's "exceptional performance," and he could honestly think it was right to ignore Rowley's warnings.

If this is indeed true, then we are still a long, long way from being as responsive as we can be in this age of terror. Neither politics nor personal hang-ups belong on the front lines of the fight against terror. The American public will understand if it is explained to them.

Time had it right:"...the [FBI] culture of loyalty is a defense mechanism..." Decorating those who dropped the ball carries yet other messages straight from the Administration: "We don't need information from underlings. We will do it our way. Being in charge is all that matters here."

Being ignorant is no sin. Being defensive over public safety is.

As Time Magazine points out, a culture of loyalty that had always come first is in conflict with another culture, doing what is right. Colleen Rowley was/is in the front lines of that conflict. Loyalty is indeed important, it is just not as important as doing what is right.

A vital guardian to the rest of us is just a whistle-blower to the Meuller of the FBI.

One supreme irony evident here is that leaders who do things right are more in command than their defensive counterparts can ever be. People are naturally inspired when leaders do the right things. They become self-actualized and motivated. More American citizens than otherwise will proactively assist leaders trying to do things right. This perfectly fits the requirement Bruce Schneier gives us; see also Security. People are our first lines of defense whether against terrorists or hackers.

Director Mueller was nominated by President Bush, confirmed as Director of the FBI by the Senate on August 2, 2001, and took the oath of office on September 4, 2001.

Director Mueller was not personally responsible for 9/11. He was unresponsive in that he protected a culture born of J. Edgar Hoover's well known paranoid management style and is continuing to do so. Mueller seems to believe in itso his boss must also. America is not the safer for it.

Major General Antonio Taguba
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Antonio Taguba investigated Abu Ghraib and filed a formal report: "ARTICLE 15-6 INVESTIGATION OF THE 800th MILITARY POLICE BRIGADE." It circulated to the highest levels of the US Government, but somehow no one remembered seeing it. In an interview with Seymour Hersh in the 25 June 2007 issue of the New Yorker came to these conclusions:

"From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service. ...And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenents of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and miltary leaders responsible should be held accountable."

He confirmed Zimbardo's observations exactly. Like Zimbardo, he implicates the senior people in the problem. The saddest and most frightening thing about Abu Ghraib is what it indicates about our system of government and military:

"They always shoot the messenger.
To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal--that cuts deep into me.

I was being ostracized
for doing what I was asked to do."
Major General Antonio Taguba

This should close the case, but of course it won't for a leopard may roll in the mud to cover his spots, but he is still a leopard.

No matter who we are,
absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Our vaunted system of checks and balances
is prey to the same effect.

If there could be a Congressional medal for heroic citizenship, Richard Clarke, John O'Neill, and Colleen Rowley have each earned one. It might be called Distinguished National Guardianequivalent to the Medal of Honor for the military. Maybe the Medal of Honor should have a civilian version.

Either way such an award might just begin setting our priorities straight in Washington.

For more see: Voting Wisely and National Security.

See also:


Comments Nipawin, Monday, May 27, 2002, by: Mario deSantis
Rowley's 13 page memo TIME Online Edition.


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