AUSTIN, Texas -- The congressional report by the committees on
intelligence about 9-11 partially made public last week reminds me of the
recent investigation into the crash of the Columbia shuttle -- months of
effort to reconfirm the obvious.
In the case of the Columbia, we knew from the beginning a piece
of insulation had come loose and struck the underside of one wing. So, after
much study, it was determined the crash was caused by the piece of
insulation that came loose and struck the underside of the wing.
Likewise in the case of 9-11, all the stuff that has been
blindingly obvious for months is now blamed for the fiasco.
The joint inquiry focused on the intelligence services,
concluding that the FBI especially had been asleep at the wheel. And that,
in turn, can be blamed at least partly on the fact that the FBI, before
9-11, had only old green-screen computers with no Internet access. Agents
wrote out their reports in longhand, in triplicate. Although the process is
not complete, the agency is now upgrading its system: Many agents finally
got email this year.
My particular bete noir in all this is the INS (Immigration and
Naturalization Service), which distinguished itself by granting visas to 15
of the 19 hijackers, who never should have been given visas in the first
place. Their applications were incomplete and incorrect. They were all
young, single, unemployed males, with no apparent means of support -- the
kind considered classic overstay candidates. Had the INS followed its own
procedures, 15 of the 19 never would have been admitted.
The incompetence of the INS was underlined when it issued a visa
to Mohammad Atta, the lead hijacker, six months after 9-11. In the wake of
the attacks, the Bush administration promised to increase funding for the
INS, to get the agency fully computerized with modern computers and
generally up to speed. All that has happened since is that INS funding has
Much attention is being paid to the selective editing of the
report, apparently to protect the Saudis. I think an equally important piece
of the report is on the bureaucratic tangle that prevents anyone from being
accountable for much of anything.
The CIA controls only 15 percent to 20 percent of the annual
intelligence budget. The rest is handled by the Pentagon, despite widespread
agreement that it needs to be centralized. The Bush administration has
ignored these calls, mostly because Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
doesn't want to give up any power.
Time magazine reports, "It was striking that the Pentagon came
under such heavy fire in last week's bipartisan report for resisting
requests made by CIA director Tenet before 9-11, when the agency wanted to
use satellites and other military hardware to spot and target terrorists in
But the most striking thing about this report is that none of
its conclusions and none of its recommendations have anything to do with the
contents of the PATRIOT Act, which was supposedly our government's response
to 9-11. All the could-haves, would-haves and should-haves in the report are
so far afield from the PATRIOT Act it might as well be on another subject
Once again, as has often happened in our history, under the
pressure of threat and fear, we have harmed our own liberties without any
benefit for our safety. Insufficient powers of law enforcement or
surveillance are nowhere mentioned in the joint inquiry report as a problem
before 9-11. Yet Attorney General John Ashcroft now proposes to expand
surveillance powers even further with the PATRIOT II Act. All over the
country, local governments have passed resolutions opposing the PATRIOT Act
and three states have done so, including the very Republican Alaska.
The House of Representatives last week voted to prohibit the use
of "sneak and peek" warrants authorized by the PATRIOT Act. The conservative
House also voted against a measure to withhold federal funds from state and
local law-enforcement agencies that refuse to comply with federal inquirers
on citizenship or immigration status. All kinds of Americans are now waking
up to fact that the PATRIOT Act gives the government the right to put
American citizens in prison indefinitely, without knowing the charges
against them, without access to an attorney, without the right to their
confront accusers, without trial. Indefinitely.
The report was completed late last year, but its publication was
delayed by endless wrangles with the administration over what could be
declassified. Former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who served on the committee,
said the report's release was deliberately delayed by the White House until
after the war in Iraq was over because it undercuts the rationale for the
war. The report confirms there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and
"The administration sold the connection to scare the pants off
the American people and justify the war," Cleland said. "What you've seen
here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends."
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other
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