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Context of 'May 2000: ’Wall’ Procedures Criticized by Another Report'

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Attorney General Janet Reno, who signed the 1995 Procedures memo.Attorney General Janet Reno, who signed the 1995 Procedures memo. [Source: US Department of Justice]The Justice Department issues the “wall” memo, a later heavily criticized memo that establishes procedures to regulate the flow of information from FBI intelligence investigations to criminal investigators and prosecutors. Such procedures already exist, but this “wall” is now formalized and extended. The memo is signed by Attorney General Janet Reno, but is based on a similar one recently issued by Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick governing the 1993 WTC bombing cases (see March 4, 1995). The wall exists to prevent defendants from successfully arguing in court that information gathered under a warrant issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) should not be used in a criminal prosecution, as the standard for obtaining a FISA warrant is considered to be lower than that for obtaining a criminal search warrant (see Early 1980s). Such arguments are usually unsuccessful, according to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which believes that courts are showing “great deference” to the government when such challenges are made. The procedures, which now apply to all intelligence investigations regardless of whether or not a FISA warrant has been issued, state that the FBI must consult the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, not local United States Attorneys’ offices, about intelligence investigations when it is considering starting a parallel criminal investigation, and that it must do so when there is reasonable indication of a significant federal crime. This means that FBI headquarters has veto power over whether a field office can contact a local prosecutor about an intelligence investigation. However, Criminal Division prosecutors should only be consulted and cannot control an investigation. [Office of the Attorney General, 7/19/1995; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 25-30 pdf file] These procedures will be implemented in such a way that even greater restrictions are placed on information sharing (see (Late 1995-1997)), although a partial exception will be created for the Southern District of New York, which handles a lot of terrorism work (see August 29, 1997). The procedures will also be much criticized for the way they are implemented in the FBI (see July 1999). The increased barriers to information sharing often mean that the FBI monitors terrorists as before, but the information does not get passed to criminal investigators, so the cells carry on operating in the US and the FBI carries on monitoring them. For example, the FBI monitors a Florida-based cell that funds and recruits for jihad throughout the world for nearly a decade before it is rolled up (see (October 1993-November 2001)). Some money raised by terrorism financiers in the US goes to Bosnia, where the US has a policy of enabling covert support for the Muslim side in the civil war (see April 27, 1994). Prosecutor Andrew McCarthy will later call the wall a “rudimentary blunder,” and say that it “was not only a deliberate and unnecessary impediment to information sharing; it bred a culture of intelligence dysfunction.” [National Review, 4/13/2004] John Ashcroft, Attorney General in the Bush Administration (see April 13, 2004), will say that “Government buttressed this ‘wall’,” and will call it the “single greatest structural cause for September 11.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft, Jamie Gorelick, Janet Reno, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Andrew McCarthy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General issues a report into the FBI’s use of intelligence information in an investigation into campaign finance, and this report is critical of the “wall”. The “wall” regulates the passage of some information from FBI intelligence investigations to criminal FBI agents and prosecutors, to ensure such information can legitimately be used in court (see Early 1980s). After the procedures were formalized (see July 19, 1995), the FBI drastically reduced its consultations with Justice Department attorneys about intelligence investigations, because any consultation with such attorneys could result in an intelligence warrant not being granted, as it may lead authorities reviewing a warrant application to conclude that the warrant was really being sought for a criminal investigation, not an intelligence investigation. The result is that the FBI does not ask for input from prosecutors until it is ready to close an intelligence investigation and “go criminal.” The campaign finance report finds that FBI failed to disclose some information from intelligence investigations not only to Congress and the Attorney General, but also to its own Director, Louis Freeh. The “wall” procedures are found to be vague and ineffective, as well as misunderstood and often misapplied. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 32-33 pdf file] The “wall” procedures are also criticized by other reports (see May 2000).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A Justice Department report into the handling of the Wen Ho Lee investigation attacks the “wall” procedures. The “wall” regulates the passage of some information from FBI intelligence investigations to criminal FBI agents and prosecutors, to ensure such information can legitimately be used in court (see Early 1980s). After the procedures were formalized (see July 19, 1995), they were criticized in a 1999 Justice Department report (see July 1999). The Wen Ho Lee report finds that additional requirements imposed by the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) at the Justice Department (see (Late 1995-1997)) that hamper consultations between agents on intelligence investigations and attorneys at the Justice Department’s Criminal Division are actually in contravention of the procedures specified in the original 1995 memo. The report states, “It is clear from interviews… that, in any investigation where [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)] is employed or even remotely hoped for (and FISA coverage is always hoped for), the Criminal Division is considered radioactive by both the FBI and the OIPR.” It also says that the FBI’s deputy director has told agents that contacting prosecutors without the OIPR’s permission is a “career stopper.” Another report, published in July 2001, finds that some improvements have been made in this area, but recommends further steps. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 33-36 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Royce Lamberth’s letter to John Ashcroft, obtained by the 9/11 Timeline by Freedom of Information Act request.Royce Lamberth’s letter to John Ashcroft, obtained by the 9/11 Timeline by Freedom of Information Act request. [Source: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court]The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) discovers that an application for a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is misleading. The application is for surveillance of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the supporting affidavit was signed by FBI agent Michael Resnick. The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is already investigating dozens of similar errors in FISA warrants for surveillance of al-Qaeda targets in the US (see Summer 2000-September 11, 2001). The application is misleading because its does not accurately describe the “wall” procedures being followed by several FBI field offices. Wall procedures regulate the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and local US attorneys’ offices. The misleading description is also found in another 14 warrant applications for surveillance of Hamas. The impact of the misleading statements in the Hamas investigations has not been disclosed, but in the al-Qaeda cases the wall was breached because criminal agents had unrestricted access to intelligence information (see Summer-October 2000). Royce Lamberth, Presiding Judge on the FISA Court, writes to Attorney General John Ashcroft saying it will no longer accept any applications where the supporting affidavit is signed by Resnick and asking for an immediate inquiry. [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, 3/9/2001 pdf file; New York Times, 9/19/2001; New York Times, 5/27/2002; Washington Post, 8/23/2002; Arab News, 3/3/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 39 pdf file] The Justice Department’s investigation into the misleading applications finds that “none of [them]… were the result of professional misconduct or poor judgement,” but that “a majority of the errors were the result of systemic flaws.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 40 pdf file] Following the discovery of the errors in the FISA applications, surveillance of al-Qaeda and Hamas targets in the US is curtailed (see April 2001). Resnick remains with the bureau and will become head of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in North Carolina and then chief of the Terrorist Identities Group at the FBI’s National Counter Terrorism Center. [US Congress, 3/30/2006; WCNC, 6/20/2006]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Michael Resnick, Catcher’s Mitt, Royce Lamberth, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI opens an intelligence investigation to find future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, despite protests from the FBI New York field office that FBI headquarters has wrongly insisted on an intelligence investigation, when a criminal investigation would be more appropriate and have a better chance of finding him. The Justice Department’s office of inspector general will later conclude that “the designation of the Almihdhar matter as an intelligence investigation, as opposed to a criminal investigation, undermined the priority of any effort to locate Almihdhar.” Upon learning of the decision, Steve Bongardt, an investigator working on the USS Cole bombing investigation, writes to headquarters agent Dina Corsi to express his frustration. He points out that she is unable to produce any solid documentary evidence to support her view of the “wall,” a mechanism that restricts the passage of some intelligence information to criminal agents at the FBI (see Early 1980s and July 19, 1995), and that her interpretation of the “wall” is at odds with the purpose for which it was established. He adds: “Whatever has happened to this—someday someone will die—and wall or not—the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.’ Let’s hope the [Justice Department’s] National Security Law Unit will stand behind their decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, UBL [Osama bin Laden], is getting the most ‘protection.’” [US Congress, 9/20/2002; New York Times, 9/21/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 307-9 pdf file; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] Both the Justice Department’s office of inspector general and the 9/11 Commission will later back Bongardt and say the investigation should have been a criminal investigation, as the “wall” procedures did not apply. The inspector general will comment that Bongardt “was correct that the wall had been created to deal with the handling of only [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] information and that there was no legal barrier to a criminal agent being present for an interview with Almihdhar if it occurred in the intelligence investigation.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 351 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will remark that Corsi “misunderstood” the wall and that, “Simply put, there was no legal reason why the information [Corsi] possessed could not have been shared with [Bongardt].” It will conclude: “It is now clear that everyone involved was confused about the rules governing the sharing and use of information gathered in intelligence channels. Because Almihdhar was being sought for his possible connection to or knowledge of the Cole bombing, he could be investigated or tracked under the existing Cole criminal case. No new criminal case was needed for the criminal agent to begin searching for [him]. And as the NSA had approved the passage of its information to the criminal agent, he could have conducted a search using all available information. As a result of this confusion, the criminal agents who were knowledgeable about al-Qaeda and experienced with criminal investigative techniques, including finding suspects and possible criminal charges, were thus excluded from the search.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 271, 539]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Steve Bongardt, Usama bin Laden Unit (FBI), Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), National Commision on Terrorist Attacks, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Dina Corsi, FBI Headquarters, Khalid Almihdhar, FBI New York Field Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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