Profile: Michael Chertoff
Positions that Michael Chertoff has held:
- Head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division
September 3, 2005
“[Hurricane Katrina] exceeded the foresight of planners… [and] is breathtaking in its surprise.”
Michael Chertoff was a participant or observer in the following events:
Randy Glass is a con artist turned government informant participating in a sting called Operation Diamondback. [Palm Beach Post, 9/29/2001] He discusses an illegal weapons deal with an Egyptian-American named Mohamed el Amir. In wiretapped conversations, Mohamed discusses the need to get false papers to disguise a shipment of illegal weapons. His brother, Dr. Magdy el Amir, has been a wealthy neurologist in Jersey City for the past twenty years. Two other weapons dealers later convicted in a sting operation involving Glass also lived in Jersey City, and both el Amirs admit knowing one of them, Diaa Mohsen. Mohsen has been paid at least once by Dr. el Amir. In 1998, Congressman Ben Gilman was given a foreign intelligence report suggesting that Dr. el Amir owns an HMO that is secretly funded by Osama bin Laden, and that money is being skimmed from the HMO to fund al-Qaeda activities. The state of New Jersey later buys the HMO and determines that $15 million were unaccounted for and much of that has been diverted into hard-to-trace offshore bank accounts. However, investigators working with Glass are never given the report about Dr. el Amir. Neither el Amir has been charged with any crime. Mohamed now lives in Egypt and Magdy continues to practice medicine in New Jersey. Glass’s sting, which began in late 1998, will uncover many interesting leads before ending in June 2001. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Remarkably, Dr. Magdy el Amir’s lawyer is none other than Michael Chertoff, a prominent criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey, who will later join the Bush administration’s Justice Department as assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division and then become homeland defense secretary. [New York Times, 12/18/1998; Bergen Record, 6/19/2000] After 9/11, Chertoff will play a leading role in investigating and prosecuting terrorist crimes, including terrorism financing through money laundering. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001] It seems that the only subsequent media reference to Chertoff’s involvement in the el Amir case will appear in an opinion column by Sidney Blumenthal, a strong critic of the Bush administration. [Salon, 12/22/2005]
[Source: FBI]FBI agent Robert Wright is continuing to protest and fight the cancellation of the Vulgar Betrayal investigation (see August 2000). In January 2001, he claims that his supervisor tells him, “I think it’s just better to let sleeping dogs lie.” FBI agent John Vincent backs up the allegation. [ABC News, 12/19/2002] In March 2001, Wright meets with the Chicago special agent-in-charge, who appears to be Kathleen McChesney, given that Wright calls this person “she” and McChesney held that position since January 1999. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/2001; Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] He tells her that “the international terrorism unit of the FBI is a complete joke.” Within three weeks, the FBI opens another disciplinary investigation on Wright, charging that he had supplied classified information to an assistant US attorney. Wright is later cleared of the charges. In 2002, Wright will claim, “This was a pathetic attempt… before the Sept. 11th attacks, to further silence me from going public about the FBI’s negligence and incompetence.” [CNN, 6/19/2003; New York Post, 7/14/2004] A lawyer speaking for Wright after 9/11 will blame Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Michael Chertoff for refusing to take Wright’s concerns seriously before 9/11. Chertoff will later be promoted to head the Department of Homeland Security. [Fox News, 5/30/2002]
The FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center. [Source: FBI]Attorney General John Ashcroft spends most of the rest of the day at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), after arriving there in the early afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129] The SIOC, which is located on the fifth floor of the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC, functions as a 24-hour watch post and crisis management center. The huge, windowless center can seat 380 people, and is equipped with sophisticated computers and communications equipment. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004]
FBI Director Briefs Ashcroft - Ashcroft will later recall that when he arrives at the SIOC, the place is “teeming with people, abuzz with activity, voices and papers everywhere, with dozens of people coming in and out with bits and pieces of new information moment by moment.” Numerous rows of computer screens are “filled with data, and eight large video display screens were being monitored constantly.” Ashcroft is met by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who briefs him on what is so far known regarding the terrorist attacks.
Priority Is to Clear the Skies - During his initial period at the SIOC, Ashcroft will recall, the “overriding priority” is to make sure all commercial aircraft are on the ground. There are also concerns about some planes that have landed and individuals on them who might have been hijackers, and concerns about securing airports so that flights can get up and running again as soon as possible. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120-121]
SIOC Is 'the Place to Be to Get Information' - Most of the leading Justice Department and FBI officials remain at the SIOC throughout the day. Other officials in the center along with Ashcroft and Mueller include Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; US Department of Justice, 9/12/2001] According to Ashcroft, the SIOC is “the place to be to get information, and so everyone wanted to be there.” [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ] Ashcroft will later recall, “I spent the hours, days, and most of the first weeks, months, after the attack on the United States in the [SIOC].” He will add, “That day, in those early hours, the prevention of terrorist attacks became the central goal of the law enforcement and national security mission of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” [CNN, 5/30/2002]
FBI agent Robert Wright will later claim that the FBI takes extraordinary efforts to gag him in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. According to Wright, “On September the 11th, as I watched the World Trade Center towers burn, I did not initially share the same feelings of surprise and shock and dismay most Americans felt. I just thought to myself, ‘It has begun.’” On the afternoon of 9/11, he claims that he is called by reporters from the New York Times and 60 Minutes who already are aware of his issues with FBI management (see June 9, 2001-July 10, 2001). They ask if he would be willing to go public with his story. He declines. “I’m confident if I had gone public at that time I would have been fired. I realized my termination would only aid the FBI by allowing management to claim I was simply a former employee who was disgruntled over his termination.” Over the next few days, his former supervisor prohibits him from working with the 9/11 investigation. He is not allowed to answer any incoming telephone calls from the general public. The FBI prohibits him from publishing his recently completed book on FBI failures (see May 9, 2002). His lawyers contact a congressman who invites him to come to Washington and present his information to Congress. Wright is immediately prohibited from traveling outside of Chicago without FBI approval. Larry Klayman, one of two lawyers now representing Wright, later says he calls the Justice Department a few days after 9/11 and asks that Wright be allowed to present his issues to Attorney General John Ashcroft. Klayman claims he receives a reply from Michael Chertoff, then head of the Criminal division, who refuses to meet with Wright and says, “We are tired of conspiracy theories.” [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002; Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] On September 20, Wright’s legal representatives publish a list of 20 entities described as “Tax Exempt and Other Entities to Investigate Immediately.” The US will later shut down many of these entities. [Judicial Watch, 9/20/2001] The restrictions placed on Wright will largely continue to hold in the years afterwards. For instance, as of the end of 2005, his book still has not been approved for publication (see May 9, 2002).
John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty issue a joint memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo claims that President Bush has sweeping extraconstitutional powers to order military strikes inside the US if he says the strikes are against suspected terrorist targets. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Gonzales asked if Bush could legally order the military to combat potential terrorist activity within the US. The memo is first revealed to exist seven years later (see April 2, 2008) after future OLC head Steven Bradbury acknowledges its existence to the American Civil Liberties Union; it will be released two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009). [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Granting Extraordinary, Extraconstitutional Authority to Order Military Actions inside US - Yoo and Delahunty’s memo goes far past the stationing of troops to keep watch at airports and around sensitive locations. Instead, the memo says that Bush can order the military to conduct “raids on terrorist cells” inside the US, and even to seize property. “The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” they write. In 2009, Reuters will write, “The US military could have kicked in doors to raid a suspected terrorist cell in the United States without a warrant” under the findings of the OLC memo. “We do not think that a military commander carrying out a raid on a terrorist cell would be required to demonstrate probable cause or to obtain a warrant,” Yoo and Delahunty write. [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009] The memo reasons that since 9/11, US soil can be legally construed as being a battlefield, and Congress has no power to restrict the president’s authority to confront enemy tactics on a battlefield. [Savage, 2007, pp. 131]
No Constitutional or Other Legal Protections - “[H]owever well suited the warrant and probable cause requirements may be as applied to criminal investigations or to other law enforcement activities, they are unsuited to the demands of wartime and the military necessity to successfully prosecute a war against an enemy. [Rather,] the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures would be invalid since whatever possible infringement on privacy would be trumped by the need to protect the nation from injury by deadly force. The president is “free from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment.” The Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the military from operating inside the US for law enforcement purposes, is also moot, the memo says, because the troops would be acting in a national security function, not as law enforcement. [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009; Ars Technica, 3/2/2009] There are virtually no restrictions on the president’s ability to use the military because, Yoo and Delahunty write, the nation is in a “state of armed conflict.” The scale of violence, they argue, is unprecedented and “legal and constitutional rules” governing law enforcement, even Constitutional restrictions, no longer apply. The US military can be used for “targeting and destroying” hijacked airplanes, they write, or “attacking civilian targets, such as apartment buildings, offices, or ships where suspected terrorists were thought to be.” The memo says, “Military action might encompass making arrests, seizing documents or other property, searching persons or places or keeping them under surveillance, intercepting electronic or wireless communications, setting up roadblocks, interviewing witnesses, or searching for suspects.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009] Yoo writes that the Justice Department’s criminal division “concurs in our conclusion” that federal criminal laws do not apply to the military during wartime. The criminal division is headed by Michael Chertoff, who will become head of the Department of Homeland Security. [Washington Post, 4/4/2008]
Sweeping Away Constitutional Rights - Civil litigator Glenn Greenwald will later note that the memo gives legal authorization for President Bush to deploy the US military within US borders, to turn it against foreign nationals and US citizens alike, and to render the Constitution’s limits on power irrelevant and non-functional. Greenwald will write, “It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on US soil and as applied to US citizens.”
Justifying Military Surveillance - Greenwald will note that the memo also justifies the administration’s program of military surveillance against US citizens: “[I]t wasn’t only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls ‘domestic military operations’ was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the US military, to turn inwards and begin spying—in secret and with no oversight—on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of US citizens on US soil” (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004). “If this isn’t the unadorned face of warped authoritarian extremism,” Greenwald will ask, “what is?” [Salon, 3/3/2009] If the president decides to use the military’s spy agency to collect “battlefield intelligence” on US soil, no law enacted by Congress can regulate how he goes about collecting that information, including requiring him to get judicial warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In 2007, Yoo will say in an interview: “I think there’s a law greater than FISA, which is the Constitution, and part of the Constitution is the president’s commander in chief power. Congress can’t take away the president’s powers in running war.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 131; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007] Cheney and Addington will push the NSA to monitor all calls and e-mails, including those beginning and ending on US soil, but the NSA will balk. Domestic eavesdropping without warrants “could be done and should be done,” Cheney and Addington argue, but the NSA’s lawyers are fearful of the legal repercussions that might follow once their illegal eavesdropping is exposed, with or without the Justice Department’s authorization. The NSA and the White House eventually reach a compromise where the agency will monitor communications going in and out of the US, but will continue to seek warrants for purely domestic communications (see Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, and October 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 131]
Military Use Considered - In 2009, a former Bush administration lawyer will tell a reporter that the memo “gave rise to the Justice Department discussing with the Defense Department whether the military could be used to arrest people and detain people inside the United States. That was considered but rejected on at least one occasion.” The lawyer will not give any indication of when this will happen, or to whom. Under the proposal, the suspects would be held by the military as “enemy combatants.” The proposal will be opposed by the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government lawyers and will ultimately be rejected; instead, the suspects will be arrested under criminal statutes. [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Defense, Robert J. Delahunty, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Michael Chertoff, Alberto R. Gonzales, National Security Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, Glenn Greenwald, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
White House lawyers have become impatient with the interagency group’s (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001) less than full endorsement of the use of military commissions to try suspected terrorists. By late October, Timothy E. Flanigan takes the task of designing a strategy for prosecuting terrorists away from the group and proceeds to focus on military commissions as the only preferable option. The White House lawyers now work more in secret, excluding many agencies and most of the government’s experts in military and international law, but together with the lawyers of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), with the intention of drafting a presidential military order. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] There is a remarkable secrecy surrounding the drafting process (see November 11-13, 2001). Both Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and his deputy, Larry D. Thompson, are closely consulted. But the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Michael Chertoff is kept out of the loop. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is informed through his general counsel, William J. Haynes. Other Pentagon experts, however, are excluded. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] When the order is signed (see November 13, 2001), many express surprise. “That came like a bolt from the blue,” a former Pentagon official says. “Neither I nor anyone I knew had any insight, any advance knowledge, or any opportunity to comment on the president’s military order.” [Guardian, 6/9/2004] “I can’t tell you how compartmented things were,” retired Rear Adm. Donald J. Guter, the Navy’s Judge Advocate General, later recalls. “This was a closed administration.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
The New York Times will later report that in 2002 and 2003, Michael Chertoff repeatedly advises the CIA about legality of some aggressive interrogation procedures. Chertoff is head of the Justice Department’s criminal division at the time, and will later become the homeland security secretary. Chertoff advises that the CIA can use waterboarding. And the Times will claim he approves techniques “that did not involve the infliction of pain, like tricking a subject into believing he was being questioned by a member of a security service from another country.” [New York Times, 1/29/2005] It will later be reported that the CIA tricked al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida into believing he was in the custody of the Saudis when in fact several US officials were merely pretending to be Saudis (see Early April 2002). Furthermore, Chertoff seems to have been advising on the legality of techniques used against Zubaida, strengthening allegations that ‘false flag’ trickery was used on him. “In interviews, former senior intelligence officials said CIA lawyers went to extraordinary lengths beginning in March 2002 to get a clear answer from the Justice Department about which interrogation techniques were permissible in questioning Abu Zubaida and other important detainees. ‘Nothing that was done was not explicitly authorized,’ a former senior intelligence said. ‘These guys were extraordinarily careful.’” Chertoff also opposed one technique that “appeared to violate a ban in the law against using a ‘threat of imminent death.’” [New York Times, 1/29/2005] This appears to match claims that the CIA proposed but did not implement a plan to place Zubaida into a coffin to convince him he was about to die (see Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002).
[Source: White House]Serious tensions develop between the FBI and Operation Greenquest investigators in the wake of the Greenquest raid on the SAAR network in March 2002 (see After March 20, 2002). The Customs Department launched Greenquest, an investigation into the financing of al-Qaeda and similar groups, weeks after 9/11. In June 2002, the Washington Post will headline an article, “Infighting Slows Hunt for Hidden al-Qaeda Assets.” [Washington Post, 6/18/2002]
FBI Wants Control of Greenquest - With the creation of the new Department of Homeland Security (see November 25, 2002), the FBI and its parent agency the Justice Department are given a chance to gain total control over Operation Greenquest. Newsweek reports, “Internally, FBI officials have derided Greenquest agents as a bunch of ‘cowboys’ whose actions have undermined more important, long-range FBI investigations into terrorist financing.” Meanwhile: “The FBI-Justice move, pushed by [Justice Department] Criminal Division chief Michael Chertoff and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, has enraged Homeland Security officials.… They accuse the [FBI] of sabotaging Greenquest investigations—by failing to turn over critical information to their agents—and trying to obscure a decade-long record of lethargy in which FBI offices failed to aggressively pursue terror-finance cases. ‘They [the FBI] won’t share anything with us,’ [says] a Homeland Security official. ‘Then they go to the White House and they accuse us of not sharing. If they can’t take it over, they want to kill it.’”
Derails Greenquest's Investigation into Firm with Terrorist Ties - This battle has a large effect on the investigation into Ptech, a Boston-based computer company with ties to suspected terrorist financiers. When Ptech whistleblowers approach the FBI, the FBI “apparently [does] little or nothing in response” (see Shortly After October 12, 2001 and May-December 5, 2002). Then Greenquest launches an investigation in Ptech, which culminates in a raid on the Ptech offices in December 2002 (see December 5, 2002). “After getting wind of the Greenquest probe, the FBI stepped in and unsuccessfully tried to take control of the case. The result, sources say, has been something of a train wreck.” [Newsweek, 4/9/2003]
Greenquest Based on Single FBI Agent's Investigations - Greenquest appears to have been heavily based on the pre-9/11 investigations of FBI agent Robert Wright. The New York Post will report in 2004: “After 9/11, Wright’s work was picked up by David Kane of the US Customs Service, who raided companies owned by [Yassin] al-Qadi, leading to al-Qadi’s designation as a ‘global terrorist’ and to money-laundering indictments of companies in Northern Virginia linked to al-Qadi and Soliman Biheiri (another Wright investigatee). The [Greenquest] indictments rely heavily on Wright’s work.” [New York Post, 7/14/2004]
FBI Will Win Battle for Greenquest - The FBI will eventually win the battle with Homeland Security and Customs, and Greenquest will cease to exist at the end of June 2003 (see May 13-June 30, 2003). [Newsweek, 4/9/2003]
Abu Zubaida injured, shortly after his arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.) [Source: BBC's "The New Al-Qaeda."]After al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured on March 28, 2002 (see March 28, 2002), the CIA takes control of his detention and interrogation, but there is no legal clarity over just how aggressive his interrogation can be for several months. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 241] Thereforem the CIA asks the White House “what the legal limits of interrogation are,” according to Justice Department lawyer John Yoo. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007] CIA Director George Tenet will write in his 2007 book: “Now that we had an undoubted resource in our hands—the highest-ranking al-Qaeda official captured to date—we opened discussions within the National Security Council as to how to handle him, since holding and interrogating large numbers of al-Qaeda operatives had never been part of our plan.… We wondered what we could legitimately do to get that information. Despite what Hollywood might have you believe, in situations like this you don’t call in the tough guys, you call in the lawyers. It took until August to get clear guidance on what Agency officers could legally do.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 241] This is a reference to an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo legally justifying the use of some interrogations generally deemed to be torture (see August 1, 2002). But it appears Zubaida was subjected to the most extreme interrogation methods the US used, such as waterboarding, well before August 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After). However, during this period of uncertainty and into 2003, the CIA gets advice from Michael Chertoff, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division at the time, about which techniques are likely legal and which ones are not (see 2002-2003).
Attorneys from the CIA’s Office of Legal Counsel meet with a legal adviser from the National Security Council (NSC) and with members of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The meeting concerns the CIA’s proposed interrogation plan for newly captured alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002, March 28-August 1, 2002, and April - June 2002). The lawyers mull over the legal restrictions surrounding the proposed interrogations. CIA records will show that the NSC’s legal counsel will brief National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Michael Chertoff, on the discussion. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Central Intelligence Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida, Condoleezza Rice, Office of Legal Counsel (CIA), Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Chertoff, US Department of Justice, National Security Council
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Zacarias Moussaoui indicates that he is willing to disclose information to the US authorities, but his overtures are rejected by the FBI and the Justice Department. After learning of Moussaoui’s offer, Minneapolis FBI counsel Coleen Rowley contacts assistants to FBI director Robert Mueller and to Justice Department manager Michael Chertoff. She says she is worried about Moussaoui’s research into cropdusting and wind patterns, and that the information he could provide may prove useful averting a second strike by al-Qaeda. Rowley will later comment: “But by that time Moussaoui had been charged with the death penalty and I deduced that [attorney general John] Ashcroft would not allow any potential for bargaining leverage to be injected into the case.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2007]
CIA attorneys meet with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, the Justice Department’s head of its criminal division, Michael Chertoff, and aides and lawyers from the National Security Council, Justice Department, and FBI. The meeting provides participants with an overview of the proposed interrogation plan for captured Islamist militant Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ] The CIA has already begun torturing Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, Mid-May 2002 and After, and June 2002).
The press reports that according to a Justice Department investigation, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), then the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaked highly classified information to Fox News reporter Carl Cameron regarding al-Qaeda communications in the hours before 9/11 (see June 19, 2002). After Vice President Dick Cheney threatened the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham (D-FL—see June 20, 2002), Graham and then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL) pushed for a Justice Department investigation into the leak. Though the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office conducted a probe, and even empaneled a grand jury, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone, and instead turned Shelby’s name over to the Senate Ethics Committee, which will decline to pursue charges against him. Shelby states that he did not leak any classified information to anyone, and says he has never been informed of any specific allegations. The FBI demanded that 17 senators turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules. One Senate Intelligence Committee staffer told the FBI that Shelby had leaked the information to show the shortcomings of the intelligence community in general and CIA Director George Tenet in particular. Though two senior Justice Department officials, then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and then-criminal division chief Michael Chertoff, refused to approve subpoenas for journalists, Cameron confirmed to FBI investigators that he was a recipient of Shelby’s leak. He also told investigators that he saw Shelby talking with CNN’s Dana Bash; after Shelby’s discussion with Bash, Cameron divulged the information Shelby had leaked to her, and CNN broadcast the story a half-hour after the conversations. Cameron told FBI agents he was irritated that Shelby had shared the same information with a competitor, and added that he delayed broadcasting the story because he wanted to ensure that he was not compromising intelligence sources and methods. Cameron was never subpoenaed and did not testify under oath. Bash refused to cooperate with the investigation. [Washington Post, 8/5/2004; National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, Dana Bash, Carl Cameron, CNN, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Michael Chertoff, Porter J. Goss, Fox News, Richard Shelby, Senate Ethics Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are re-elected to the US presidency for a second term. In the coming months, some important cabinet officials are replaced. Secretary of State Colin Powell resigns. Condoleezza Rice moves from National Security Adviser to Secretary of State. Her Deputy National Security Adviser Steven Hadley becomes the new National Security Adviser. Attorney General John Ashcroft resigns and is replaced by Alberto Gonzalez. Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge resigns and is replaced by Michael Chertoff. [CBS News, 11/30/2004]
Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Colin Powell, Tom Ridge, Stephen J. Hadley, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Michael Chertoff, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections
Judge Michael Chertoff is confirmed by the Senate in a 98-0 vote and sworn in as the second Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, succeeding the agency’s previous head, Tom Ridge. Chertoff previously served as the United States Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, and prior to that he was the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice. During the 2000 elections, he helped fundraise for George W. Bush and other Republicans during the 2000 election cycle and advised Bush’s presidential campaign on criminal justice issues. Before joining the Bush administration, Chertoff was a partner in the law firm of Latham & Watkins, and from 1994 to 1996 he served as Special Counsel for the US Senate Whitewater Committee. [Department of Homeland Security, 9/16/2005]
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge admits to further problems with the terror alert system. In defense of his administration of the Department of Homeland Security, he says that Administration decisions to raise the threat level were sometimes unjustified by evidence and unsupported by his department. “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it,” says Ridge. “Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on [alert].… There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, for that?” Ridge had previously disagreed with Attorney General John Ashcroft on the communication of threat information to the public. These comments mark the first time that dissension among the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a panel made up of business representatives, academic leaders, and security experts appointed by President Bush, is discussed with the press. Reform of the terror alert system is under review by current Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff. Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says “improvements and adjustments” may be announced within the next few months. [USA Today, 5/10/2005] As of 2007, no such announcement have been made.
Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security, unveils a massive restructuring plan for the agency. One of the changes envisioned by the plan, dubbed the “second-stage review,” would be to transfer the function of preparedness planning from FEMA to “a strengthened department preparedness directorate.”
[Washington Post, 7/13/2005] Chertoff further explains that he plans “to take out of FEMA a couple of elements that were really not related to its core missions, that were generally focused on the issue of preparedness in a way that I think was frankly more of a distraction to FEMA than an enhancement to FEMA.” The Wall Street Journal notes this“would cement FEMA’s reduced role” and “[strip] away longstanding functions such as helping communities build houses outside flood zones.”
[Wall Street Journal, 9/6/2005]
FEMA Director Michael Brown will spend today working on hurricane preparations in his office. Brown will sign off on two declarations; one releasing federal money for the response to Katrina, the other approving a similar request for money to battle a California wildfire, FEMA officials will later tell National Public Radio. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff will monitor the situation from his home, according to a later statement from Russ Knocke, the Homeland Security representative. [National Public Radio, 9/16/2005]
President Bush declares an emergency for Louisiana, and orders federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the affected area. This declaration activates the National Response Plan, and authorizes FEMA to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures to save lives, protect property and public health and safety for parishes in the storm’s path and to minimize or avert the threat of a catastrophe in multiple parishes. Bush’s declaration authorizes FEMA to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, including specifically, “[m]easures undertaken to preserve public health and safety and to eliminate threats to public or private property.” In response to this declaration, FEMA Director Michael Brown appoints William Lokey as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area. [White House, 8/27/2005; US Department of Homeland Security, 9/7/2005] . As Governor Blanco will later note, this pre-impact declaration is extremely unusual. The last time a president issued a pre-impact declaration was when Hurricane Andrew was bearing down on Florida in 1992. [CNN, 8/27/2005] Note that while President Bush’s emergency declaration identifies 39 parishes, it does not identify the parishes in Katrina’s path, apparently due to a clerical error. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005] This omission has no practical effect, and a corrected declaration will be issued on Monday. [US Department of Homeland Security, 9/7/2005]
Note 1 - Reuters will later incorrectly report that Bush appoints William Lokey as the Federal Coordinating Officer, and will imply that such action is somehow unusual. [Reuters, 9/15/2005] In fact, as reflected in the official Federal Register entry, and in the White House release, Brown appoints Lokey as the coordinating officer for Louisiana. This appointment is consistent with standard practice: For each declared emergency, a different (lower level) individual is appointed as the federal coordinating officer.
Note 2 - Knight Ridder (and other news media) will later incorrectly report that Bush failed to trigger the federal government’s responsibility, and that it is not triggered until DHS Secretary Chertoff’s August 31 announcement that the Katrina disaster is an “Incident of National Significance.” [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005; Knight Ridder, 9/15/2005] In fact, Bush’s declaration (a) effectively authorizes FEMA to provide a full and immediate federal response to the unfolding crisis, and (b) makes the crisis an “Incident of National Significance.” [US Department of Homeland Security, 12/2004] , at 7 (“Note that while all Presidentially declared disasters and emergencies under the Stafford Act are considered Incidents of National Significance, not all Incidents of National Significance necessarily result in disaster or emergency declarations under the Stafford Act.”); [US Department of Homeland Security, 9/7/2005] (granting FEMA full authority to respond to the emergency.) The strategy behind DHS Secretary Chertoff’s much ballyhooed—and inaccurate—August 31 announcement
[ that his declaration triggers for the first time a coordinated federal response to states and localities overwhelmed by disaster remains unclear at this time. ]
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will spend today monitoring the path of Hurricane Katrina from his Washington DC office, according to representative Russ Knocke. [Knight Ridder, 9/15/2005 Sources: Russ Knocke]
Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center hosts a teleconference with FEMA officials, including FEMA Director Michael Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. [Times-Picayune, 9/4/2005; Los Angeles Times, 9/5/2005] President Bush receives a briefing via video conference from his ranch in Crawford Texas. [US President, 9/5/2005] Brown assures Bush during this briefing that FEMA is ready for the storm, according to ABC News. [ABC News, 9/8/2005] Bush tells Brown that he is very impressed with everything FEMA is doing, according to Brown [CBS News, 8/29/2005]
Note - Whether President Bush participates in this particular briefing is not clear from current reports. However, it is undisputed that Bush receives a briefing from Mayfield via videoconference at some point this morning.
Around this time, FEMA Director Michael Brown sends a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, requesting 1,000 additional DHS employees within 48 hours, and 2,000 within seven days. Based on the letter, Brown seeks volunteers to serve as community relations liaisons. Describing Katrina as “this near catastrophic event,” Brown describes the role of the requested volunteers as follows:
Establish and maintain positive working relationships with disaster affected communities and the residents of those communities.
Collect and disseminate information and make referrals for appropriate assistance.
[Identify] potential issues within the community and report to appropriate personnel.
Convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the public.
Perform outreach with community leaders on available Federal disaster assistance.
[Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/29/2005 ] Natalie Rule, FEMA representative, will later confirm that Brown is seeking volunteers to “answer phones, do community relations and help set up field hospitals,” and similar “non-emergency tasks.”
Note - When this memo becomes public, many will criticize Brown, charging, for example, that “Brown waited until about five hours after the storm’s landfall before he proposed sending 1,000 federal workers to deal with the aftermath”
[Time, 9/11/2005] , or, as the Boston Globe reports, that “[Brown] did not ask the authority to dispatch FEMA personnel to the region until five hours after the storm had passed.”
[Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] However these reports fail to recognize that, at the time Brown requests these volunteers, FEMA has already deployed more than 1,000 staff members workers to the area (see August 28, 2005). [CNN, 9/7/2005]
Rashid Rauf. [Source: Warrick Page/ Getty Images]British police arrest 24 people in connection with a plot to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson says the plot was “intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” [CNN, 8/10/2006] Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff describes the plot as “well-advanced and well-thought-out and… really resourced to succeed.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] He also likens it to the foiled 1995 Bojinka plot, one portion of which involved blowing up up to a dozen airplanes over the ocean using liquid explosives smuggled onto the planes. [CNN, 8/11/2006] The British threat warning level is raised to critical and London’s Heathrow Airport is closed to most European flights. US officials say the plot involved hiding liquid explosives in carry-on luggage, and up to 12 flights would have been targeted. A senior US congressional source says the plotters planned to carry sports drinks onto the flights, which would then be mixed with a gel-like substance. The explosives would be triggered by the electrical charge from an iPod or mobile phone. Administration officials say the plot involved British Airways, Continental, United, and American Airlines. The plotters intended to detonate the devices over New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. Officials say the plot demonstrates “very strong links to al-Qaeda” and was nearly operational. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security raises the terror threat to the highest level, red, meaning “severe,” for commercial flights originating in Britain and bound for the US. In addition, the threat level is raised to orange, or “high,” for all commercial flights operating in or coming to the US. [CNN, 8/10/2006] British officials say the death toll could have exceeded the 2,700 of the September 11 attacks, with one source calling the plot “our 9/11.” The arrests were spurred by the detention in Pakistan of one of the plotters, Rashid Rauf. The Pakistanis arrested him at the behest of US Vice President Dick Cheney (see Before August 10, 2006 and Between July 28 and August 9, 2006). [Guardian, 8/11/2006] Officials say some plotters already had tickets for flights and planned to stage test runs over the weekend. Despite the 24 arrests, five suspects in Britain are still being urgently hunted. One official says, “They didn’t get them all.” But British officials claim the arrests in London and Birmingham snare all the alleged “main players.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] British Home Secretary John Reid says the operation is ongoing and more arrests may be made. US officials say the suspects are all British citizens between the ages of 17 and 35, with some being of Pakistani ethnicity. They add that some of the suspects had been monitored by British intelligence for several months. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, says the arrests follow an “unprecedented level of surveillance” over several months involving meetings, movements, travel, spending, and the aspirations of a large group of people. [CNN, 8/10/2006]
Liquids, Gels, Electronics Banned from Flights - Homeland Security bans all liquids and gels except baby formula and prescription medications in the name of the ticket holder in carry-on luggage on all flights. Passengers traveling from and through British airports are temporarily permitted to only carry-on items on a restricted list. These items have to be carried in transparent plastic bags. No liquids can be carried on board, including liquid medications “unless verified as authentic.” All electronic items are also banned. [Detroit Free Press, 8/10/2006]
Arrests, Alert Questioned - In the days following the security operation, the arrests will meet with some skepticism. Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail points to previous baseless terror scares in the US and Britain, as well as questioning the political motivations of the home secretary. [Daily Mail, 8/16/2006] Douglas Fraser of the Herald in Edinburgh suggests the “political component” of the operation has caused skepticism. He says the intelligence services are taking credit for foiling a major plot by “ramping up the level of public concern about the threat.” He notes that the timing coincides with an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to return to an issue it was defeated on before: increasing to 90 days the amount of time that people can be detained without charge in the case of alleged terrorist offenses. [VOA News, 8/18/2006] Sean O’Neill and Stewart Tendler of the London Times urge the public and the media to wait for solid evidence before accepting the version of events presented by the government. They say previous bungled anti-terror operations have put pressure on the authorities to build a solid case in public. [London Times, 8/12/2006] In response to these criticisms, intelligence services will be hesitant to release much information publicly, but confirm to The Guardian that surveillance and tips from informants pointed to a plot in the making. Police identify the explosives to be used in the plot as TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine), both peroxide-based liquid explosives. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Police will also reveal that the raids uncovered jihadist materials, receipts of Western Union money transfers, seven martyrdom videos, and the last will and testament of one plotter. [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
Some Suspects to Be Released; Security Measures Probably Unnecessary - However, The Guardian does indicate that some of the arrested suspects are likely to be released and that the security measures instituted following the arrests are almost certainly unnecessary. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Contradicting earlier reports, a senior British official will suggest an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some do not even have passports. [MSNBC, 8/14/2006] Over two and a half weeks after the arrests, a target date for the attacks and number of planes involved will still be undetermined by investigators. The estimate of 10 to 12 planes is characterized by officials as speculative and exaggerated. Clarke acknowledges the police are still investigating “the number, destination, and timing of the flights.” [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
12 Suspects to Be Tried - Twelve suspects will be charged with terrorism offences near the end of August 2006. Trials are expected to start in January 2008 at the earliest. Prosecutor Colin Gibbs says he expects “a very long trial of [between] five and eight months.” [IOL, 9/4/2006]
Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Paul Stephenson, US Department of Homeland Security, Peter Clarke, Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, Sean O’Neill, Rashid Rauf, John Reid, Al-Qaeda, Douglas Fraser, United Airlines, Frances Townsend, Stephen Glover, British Airways, American Airlines, Stewart Tendler, Continental Airlines
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
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