Sunday, May 10, 2015

Reform the 'Patriot Act'? Of course!

Now that the federal appeals court ruling has come down that the main NSA surveillance program - based on the Patriot Act  - has been illegal, what should be the reaction of our congress critters? Well, total reform! But instead we see the usual lunatics on the Right saying it must be sustained. Mitch McConnell, not known for being the sharpest knife in the drawer, actually said that had the current  dragnet, mass surveillance program existed back in Sept. 2001 the attacks never would have occurred.

Of course, this is out and out blatant balderdash. But, as usual the 'pukes play on Americans' short term memories of events to exploit new fears. The facts? There was a surfeit of data available at the time that - had the Bushies paid the slightest attention - could have thwarted the attacks.

Nowhere do reepos like Marco Rubio or McConnell mention how FBI agent Coleen Rowley  and her Minneapolis FBI field office  nabbed "20th hijacker" Zaccharias Moussaou  just before 9/11- and detained him.  The Minneapolis FBI office immediately sought a criminal warrant to search his belongings  but were prevented from doing so. Management at the FBI dealing with the request threw up numerous obstacles to the agents, and even withheld information from them, including the now-infamous Phoenix Memo written by an agent in Arizona warning of terrorists training in flight schools for a possible upcoming attack. The request was denied and agents were prevented from searching Moussaoui's laptop, which contained information that would have tipped the FBI off to the 9/11 plot.

So the information was right there, suspect at hand and a critical search in the offing, but it was ignored!  Bush himself stands accused of the most blatant carelessness in not responding proactively  to the President's Daily Briefs (PDBs)  that came his way that August. If one goes to the official 9/11 Commission Report he will find the following, under the section: ‘The System was Blinking Red’

Page 254:

"Each PDB (President's Daily Brief) consists of a series of six to eight relatively short articles or briefs covering a broad array of topics; CIA staff decides which subjects are the most important on any given day. There were more than 40 intelligence articles in the PDBs from January 20 to September 10, 2001, that related to Bin Ladin. "

On page 255:

"In the spring of 2001, the level of reporting on terrorist threats and planned attacks increased dramatically to its highest level since the millennium alert. At the end of March, the intelligence community disseminated a terrorist threat advisory, indicating a heightened threat of Sunni extremist terrorist attacks against U.S. facilities, personnel, and other interests."

And further (ibid.):

"On March 23, in connection with discussions about possibly reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, Clarke warned National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that domestic or foreign terrorists might use a truck bomb—their “weapon of choice”—on Pennsylvania Avenue. That would result, he said, in the destruction of the West Wing and parts of the residence. He also told her that he thought there were terrorist cells within the United States, including al Qaeda."

Further (ibid.):

"In May 2001, the drumbeat of reporting grew louder with reports to top officials that “Bin Ladin public profile may presage attack” and “Bin Ladin network’s plans advancing.” In early May, a walk-in to the FBI claimed there was a plan to launch attacks on London, Boston, and New York.

Attorney General John Ashcroft was briefed by the CIA on May 15 regarding al Qaeda generally and the current threat reporting specifically. The next day brought a report that a phone call to a U.S. embassy had warned that Bin Ladin supporters were planning an attack in the United States using “high explosives.”

Of course, the most sensational Daily Brief of all was that dated August 6, 2001 and headed: Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US . Bush received this while at his Crawford, TX retreat. (He took more vacations than any other president in his first year alone.) And how did Bush respond to this? He gave a quick glance then went to clear some ....bush. But what ought to have made his eyeballs pop out was the short paragraph reading (p. 255-56):

"An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told an [—] service at the same time that Bin Ladin was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike."

I also found it interesting to read through the communication exchanges as the hijackings became apparent, especially for American Flt. 11. According to the transcripts in the Report (page 20):

FAA: Hi. Boston Center TMU [Traffic Management Unit], we have a problem here.We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to,we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.

NEADS: Is this real-world or exercise?

FAA: No, this is not an exercise, not a test.

The reaction of NEADS (National Emergency Air Defense System), i.e. asking “Is this real world or exercise?” is instructional. Evidently, as came out later, no less than five different military “exercises” were planned and underway, including:

Operation Vigilant Guardian’ which simulated hijacked planes in the northeast sector-corridor. This definitely contributed to the confused response on the given day, as evidenced after NORAD received a phone call from Boston Center about a hijacking and Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins responded “It must be part of the exercise”.

Thus delaying critical response to the REAL attacks in NYC.

Then there was ‘Operation Northern Vigilance’ – planned months in advance of 9/11 (tracked to when the peak of terror warnings were being issued in May, as reported by the 9/11 Report) and for which jet fighters were removed from the east coast and sent to Alaska and Canada. Thereby, leaving a security hole at the precise date and region which would be most directly affected

As I learned more about these exercises, and the withdrawal of needed air security, the similarity to what transpired in the days before the Kennedy assassination was striking. Researchers learned only in the wake of that executive action that: 1) The Secret Service detail had been changed in the days leading up to the Dallas motorcade, with an inexperienced agent in Kennedy’s car, while the more experienced guy (Cliff Hill) protected LBJ, and 2) The usual Army security detail from Ft. Sam Houston, TX was removed so their presence was nowhere on Dallas’ streets on Nov. 22, 1963. Ordinarily they’d have had building oversight, ensuring no open windows and have had snipers posted themselves as a counter measure.

Were the 9/11 military exercises, planned in advance as a cover or distraction to make effective air defense response more unlikely? The basic answer is we don’t know, although the extent of withdrawn protection makes one suspicious.

Without wading into the morass of 9/11 conspiracy theories  - most of which I deem improbable - the main  point in context here (re: renewing of full Patriot Act) is there was: a) ample surveillance data present at the time to have stopped the attacks if proper response from authorities was forthcoming, and b) there were likely ample military resources to prevent the attacks had these not been displaced to a location where they became useless.

In effect, if a surfeit of data available then didn't stop the  9/11  attacks it is  logical to assert that vacuuming up massive amounts of data now won't make us any safer either. It will merely increase the 'haystack' in which the critical 'needle' must be found. Hence, we don't need the Patriot Act as it stands and it merely serves as an excuse to undermine civil liberties, nothing more.

As Sen. Ron Wyden put it this morning on MSNBC, citing the President's own Advisory Group  - (made up of "very conservative people with strong national security credentials") said on page 104 of their report:

"Collecting all of these phone records from law-abiding Americans with no connection to wrongdoing does not really advance the cause of fighting terror. That information can be obtained by  conventional means."

To his credit, Sen. Wyden made clear that if the fear mongers seek to go with a "short term extension" he plans to filibuster - unless there are reforms to the bulk collection program. Wyden stated he's "tired of extending a bad law".

Let's also recall that one of the original authors of the Patriot Act, Jim Sensenbrenner, has asserted that Section 215 was never intended to go as far as Bush and Obama have driven it. Writing in the Summer, 2014 issue of the ACLU Stand:

"Section 215 was intended to give the government the ability to secure 'any tangible thing' connected to specific terrorism investigations. As is now common knowledge, the Bush and Obama administrations took the limited power Congress intended and went rogue. If we had known during any subsequent re-authorizations what we now know about Section 215's blatant misinterpretation, Congress would have allowed it to sunset.  And if it's not fixed by the 2015 re-authorization, Congress will.

The basic idea behind the American search and seizure law is that you can't investigate unless you can first provide at least some articulable reason to do so. Investigations just can't be arbitrary. The government's definition, on the other hand, is the very definition of arbitrary. "

Let us hope Congress processes that carefully, before taking any reckless action to approve this egregious law's extension or reinstatement.

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