Jewish World Review May 31, 2002 / 20 Sivan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | More than eight months after Sept. 11 -- but only eight days after a scathing memorandum from FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley began making the rounds on Capitol Hill -- FBI Director Robert Mueller announced the FBI will make fighting terrorism its top priority.
It's nice to know the FBI has finally caught up to our priorities. But it is not unreasonable to ask why it took so long.
President Bush deserves -- and often gets -- praise for his conduct of the war on terror. But he hasn't been getting the criticism he's got coming for what has so far been a shoddy effort on homeland security.
This criticism is unlikely to come from the usual suspects. When President Bush stumbles, he usually does so while genuflecting in the direction of Politically Correct idols worshipped by Democrats and the media elite.
Foremost among these is profiling. The first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Khobar Towers barracks bombing in 1996, the embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and the Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by young Muslim men. All but the willfully blind should see a pattern.
Some in the FBI did. Special Agent Kenneth Williams sent a memo to headquarters in July, 2001 about eight Middle Eastern men attending flight schools in Phoenix who were behaving suspiciously.
In August, Rowley and her colleagues in Minneapolis suspected Zacarious Moussaoui, who wanted to learn how to fly an airplane, but had no interest in learning how to take off or land. Rowley knew of the Williams memo, and knew further that French intelligence had reported two of the eight suspects on Williams' list had links to Osama bin Laden.
The Minneapolis agents wanted to search Moussaoui's computer. But, Rowley said, big shots at FBI headquarters frustrated her efforts to get a search warrant. When Moussaoui's computer finally was searched, discovered on it were the telephone number of the roommate in Hamburg of hijack ringleader Mohammed Atta, and information on weather patterns in New York.
Mueller has acknowledged his agency ignored "red flags" which, if promptly followed up upon, might have prevented the 9/11 attacks. That the FBI was negligent is now beyond dispute. It remains to be determined why FBI headquarters frustrated the efforts of field agents to do what needed to be done.
I suspect it was concern about being accused of "targeting" Middle Eastern males. The FBI had been accused of "profiling" in its botched espionage investigation of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. The big shots at headquarters may have been more concerned with protecting the FBI's image than with protecting the security of Americans.
The FBI is hardly alone in this skewing of priorities. After Philippine police uncovered a plot to hijack American airliners in the Pacific in 1995, a commission to investigate airline safety, headed by then Vice President Al Gore, was created. The foremost recommendation made to the Gore Commission by security experts was for a passenger profiling system. Had the system recommended been in place on Sept. 11, it is probable they would have been caught before they boarded their flights. But Gore rejected profiling, for fear of offending civil rights groups.
This was appalling enough before Sept. 11. It is inexcusable now. But Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta's screeners continue to devote as much attention to 86-year-old Medal of Honor winners and three-year-old children as to Middle Eastern males. An Israeli security expert said the U.S. system is designed to bother passengers, not to protect them.
No agency has received more, or more justified, criticism than the Immigration and Naturalization Service. But the INS shows little inclination to change its sloppy ways. Over the Memorial Day weekend, New York cops stopped a van filled with illegal immigrants from Pakistan with phony IDs, but had to let them go because there were no INS agents on duty to take charge of the prisoners.
President Bush isn't responsible for the negligence, incompetence,
bureaucracy and careerism that plague the federal agencies we rely upon to
protect us from terror. But he isn't doing much to change things. It's time
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05/29/02: Taking on common sense