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Attorney General Janet Reno names former Senator John Danforth (R-MO) as a special counsel to investigate the events of the April 1993 tragedy outside of Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), and specifically to determine whether actions by the FBI led to the fire that destroyed the Branch Davidian compound and killed almost 80 Davidians. Reno opens the investigation after learning that the FBI concealed evidence of the use of incendiary gas cartridges during the assault on the Davidian compound, actions that some believe may have started some of the fires (see August 10, 1999 and After, August 25, 1999 and After, and August 26, 1999). Danforth is a former US attorney general and an Episcopal priest. According to an Associated Press report, “both admirers and detractors have noted his emphasis on morals as well as his stubborn independence.” Former Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO), who served in the Senate with Danforth for 10 years, says: “He calls them like he sees them. Members of the Senate or House will have full faith in his finding.” (Associated Press 9/7/1999; Yost 9/9/1999; Fort Worth Star-Telegram 7/21/2000) Republicans in Congress have called on Reno to resign, while Democrats defend her tenure and say her actions during and after the Waco assault have been “commendable.” House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) says that he will hold off on attempting to launch a five-member commission to probe the Waco debacle. He will allow the Danforth investigation to proceed unimpeded, unless he feels the Justice Department is not cooperating with the probe. “Should events prove otherwise, we will reconsider this decision,” Hyde says. (Yost 9/9/1999) Danforth’s investigation will clear the FBI and the federal government of any wrongdoing (see July 21, 2000).
Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) discloses that internal FBI documents that show information about the FBI’s use of incendiary tear-gas canisters during the 1993 Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), have been available in Justice Department files for years and were given to Congress no later than 1995. The FBI was embarrassed by recent revelations that its agents fired such canisters near the Davidian compound during the assault (see August 25, 1999 and After), though the bureau and the Justice Department both deny that the canisters had anything to do with the fires that consumed the compound and killed almost 80 Davidians. Two weeks ago, the Justice Department sent US Marshals to the FBI’s headquarters in Washington to seize infrared videotapes that contain references to the tear-gas rounds, but did not reveal that it contained FBI records in its own files regarding the use of those rounds. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the seizure, saying she was angered by the revelations after spending six years denying the FBI ever used such incendiary devices. Reno says she did not see the internal FBI documents until two weeks ago. From the documents that have been made public, there is no indication that FBI officials explained to Reno or other Justice Department officials the potential dangers surrounding the use of such canisters (see April 17-18, 1993). A senior Justice Department official says the documents will likely be scrutinized by investigators with the Danforth inquiry (see September 7-8, 1999). Waxman, the ranking minority member of the House Oversight Committee, says he released the documents because the committee chairman, Dan Burton (R-IN), has said Reno failed to tell Congress about the incendiary canisters. Burton accused Reno of failing to inform Congress about the canisters after learning that an incomplete copy of a FBI lab report was sent to his committee in 1995 (see August 10, 1999 and After). (Johnston and Lewis 9/14/1999)
Special counsel John Danforth, heading the government’s probe into the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and September 7-8, 1999), names a group of US postal inspectors to investigate claims that the FBI tried to cover up its use of incendiary devices during the final assault on the Davidian compound. Preferring not to use FBI agents to investigate allegations against the bureau, Danforth said from the outset that he would use investigators from outside the Justice Department. “My basic thought is, the FBI should not be investigating the FBI,” Danforth said. Reporters laughed when someone suggested—facetiously—that US Postal Service “cops” could conduct the investigation. Now Danforth is bringing aboard some 80 postal inspectors to look into the allegations. The use of postal inspectors may indicate Justice Department officials could be targeted by the probe. Postal Inspection Service spokesman Robert Bethel acknowledges the choice of postal inspectors may seem odd to Americans unfamiliar with the agency. “A lot of people don’t know what a postal inspector is,” he says. “If they hear of postal inspectors, they think, is that someone who inspects post offices?” Postal inspectors have been investigating federal crimes involving the mails since 1772, and often investigate crimes such as extortion, child pornography, and on occasion murder, if they involve Postal Service employees. “We’ve always been called the ‘silent service,’ because we go about our business and don’t seek publicity,” Bethel says. The specific inspectors have not yet been chosen. In 1996, postal inspectors helped FBI investigators look into the events of the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff (see August 31, 1992) and found evidence that an FBI official had obstructed justice. (Meek 10/2/1999)
The Justice Department, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, files lawsuits against 32 power plants in 10 mid-west and southeast states for failing to install state-of-the-art pollution controls—as required by the New Source Review (NSR) section of the Clean Air Act—when companies made major modifications to their coal-fired plants. The suits say that the companies’ violations of NSR has resulted in illegal emissions of tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter into the air. (US Department of Justice 11/3/1999) Some of these companies have been releasing these illegal emissions for 20 years or more. (Barcott 4/4/2004) Six months after coming to office, the Bush administration will put all of these investigations on hold, causing some companies to abandon settlements or pull out of their negotiations with the Justice Department (see June 22, 2001).
The special counsel’s office investigating the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993) asks for court-supervised tests to determine if flashes recorded by FBI infrared cameras during the final assault on the Davidian compound were made by gunshots fired by FBI agents (see October 7, 1999). The FBI has always insisted that its agents fired no shots during the assault. The Justice Department has refused similar requests from lawyers representing surviving Davidians in a lawsuit against the government (see April 1995). Justice Department officials say that such testing would be without critical data that the government has chosen to withhold under the rubric of national security. However, deputy special counsel Edward L. Dowd believes otherwise. In a letter to Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the civil suit, Dowd writes: “Both the trust of the public and the truth-seeking process are not best served by the course of events as they are unfolding. We propose therefore that the court supervise a neutral FLIR [forward-looking infrared] re-creation.” The Justice Department is facing growing criticism over what some perceive as its lack of cooperation in providing documents and other evidence relating to the Davidian siege and final assault. Even some FBI officials have privately complained that the department’s handling of the matter has further damaged the bureau’s credibility. Experts hired by lawyers in the suit have determined that the flashes captured by FBI cameras may well have been gunfire. Michael Caddell, lead lawyer for the Davidians in the civil suit, says that the special counsel’s request “forces the issue.” Caddell adds: “The procedure that’s been proposed is clearly designed to protect any legitimate security concerns by the FBI and the Department of Justice. They’ve taken away the one legitimate reason that they could have for refusing. Any refusal now is because they already know what the answer is going to be. I think that would be the most damning admission of liability they could possibly make. It’s clear now that the office of special counsel, the courts, and the plaintiffs are all interested in getting to the truth of what happened on April 19. The question that’s lingering out there is, is the government interested in getting at the truth?” FBI officials have offered to secretly conduct an examination of the FLIR videotapes for the special counsel’s investigation. (Jackson and Hancock 11/10/1999; Hancock and Jackson 11/16/1999) Smith will order the tests (see November 15, 1999).
US District Judge Walter Smith overrides Justice Department objections and orders independent field testing to help determine whether government agents fired at the Branch Davidian compound in the last hours of a 1993 siege (see April 19, 1993 and November 5, 1999). In a three-page ruling, Smith writes that he has been “persuaded” by arguments from Branch Davidian lawyers and the office of special counsel John Danforth that the tests are needed to resolve whether flashes of light recorded by FBI infrared cameras were caused by government gunfire. FBI officials have consistently denied allegations that any of their agents fired gunshots during the final assault. Flashes recorded by an airborne FBI infrared camera just before the compound began burning are inexplicable electronic “anomalies,” the FBI claims. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in their civil suit against the government (see April 1995), says: “It again demonstrates that Judge Smith wants to get at the truth. If they [the FBI] really believe that’s not gunfire on that video, then the government’s lawyers should embrace this test with open arms.” (Hancock and Jackson 11/16/1999) The special counsel’s office also requests the actual guns carried by FBI agents during the assault. Examination of the weapons may help determine if agents fired during the six-hour assault. (Associated Press 11/16/1999) FBI officials have secretly offered to conduct private tests for Danforth’s investigators, though Justice Department lawyers have rejected a proposal from Caddell and the Branch Davidian lawyers for a joint public test. These actions, along with a warning from Justice Department lawyers that they intended to use national security exemptions to withhold data needed to ensure accurate public tests, impelled Danforth’s office to ask for the public tests. Smith rules, “The court is persuaded that one FLIR [infrared] test should be conducted, with participation and observation by the parties and the OSC [office of special counsel].” (Hancock and Jackson 11/16/1999)
The CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. (Clarke 2004, pp. 205, 211) The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism (Dobbs 4/2/2000; Bridis 6/28/2002) All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. (Wingert 3/31/2004)
A RAND Corporation study finds that an attack on American chemical facilities (see April 1999) would be one of the simplest and most effective methods for potential terrorists to inflict harm on large numbers of people. Congress directs the Justice Department to conduct a study on the vulnerability of chemical plants to criminal and terrorist attacks, but the department, citing funding shortfalls, fails to complete the report. (Roberts 2008, pp. 93)
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiles two gun dealers, Henry S. McMahon and Karen Kilpatrick, who say they have endured threats of reprisal from federal officials after selling 223 guns to David Koresh, the Branch Davidian leader whose compound was destroyed by flames in a government assault (see April 19, 1993). McMahon, 37, and Kilpatrick, 42, were never charged with any crime, but they say government agents have threatened and intimidated them for seven years. They say they cannot hold down jobs, and live together in a federally subsidized apartment in a small Idaho town, surviving on government disability benefits. In 1997, the Justice Department rejected complaints they filed after finding no evidence of harassment or mistreatment. They tried to file a civil rights suit against the government, but could not pay for legal representation. They hope that the Danforth investigation (see July 21, 2000) will net them some government money. Both Kilpatrick and McMahon spent time at the Waco compound, and McMahon still has a Bible filled with handwritten notes he took during some of Koresh’s religious talks. McMahon says he never believed Koresh’s teachings: “I was there to sell David a gun,” he says.
BATF: No Evidence of Harassment - After the April 1993 debacle, the two claim that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) has persecuted them, ruining their reputations among their fellow gun dealers. BATF spokesman Jeff Roehm says their allegations have been investigated and discounted. “There was no finding that anyone behaved inappropriately and no agent was disciplined,” Roehm says. He adds that he is prohibited by law from responding to specific allegations. McMahon says they sleep on air mattresses and keep their belongings boxed up, ready to flee from “the feds” at a moment’s notice.
Sold Guns to Koresh - McMahon and Kilpatrick moved to Waco in 1990, because Texas gun laws make it easy for people like them to sell guns without regulatory interference. Koresh was one of their best customers. McMahon calls Koresh a gun collector, who stockpiled an armory of various weapons (see May 26, 1993) merely to resell them for profit, and not to mount an assault on government officials. It was a July 1992 visit to McMahon’s business by BATF agents (see June-July 1992) that helped spark the BATF assault on the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). McMahon says he told the agents, Jimmy Ray Skinner and Davy Aguilera (see June-July 1992 and November 1992 - January 1993), that Koresh was an investor. He also says that he called Koresh during that visit, and Koresh invited the agents to the Waco compound, but the agents declined the invitation.
Left Texas before Raid - Later in 1992, McMahon and Kilpatrick quit the gun-selling business in Texas and moved back to their home state of Florida; they deny that the BATF visit had anything to do with their decision. After the February 1993 BATF raid, they called the BATF office in Pensacola, informed the agents there of their business dealings with Koresh, and, though the agents told them to stay quiet, were besieged by reporters who somehow found out about their connections with Koresh.
Protective Custody - The BATF placed them in protective custody and flew them to Oregon, where they stayed with McMahon’s parents for 22 days. McMahon now says the agents told him their lives were in danger from Davidians loyal to Koresh, and adds that he and Kilpatrick now wish they had “gone public from the very get go” and not gone to Oregon. On March 23, federal agents brought them to Waco and questioned them—McMahon says they were threatened, shouted at, and physically assaulted—and told them they would be charged with manufacturing illegal weapons. They refused to implicate Koresh in illegal gun deals. Instead, the agents released the two and they returned to Florida. The owner of the gun shop that employed them, Duke McCaa, refused to take them back, citing his fear of the BATF and his lawyer’s advice. McCaa now says he does not believe McMahon’s and Kilpatrick’s tales of threats and harassment by federal agents. Kilpatrick testified for the prosecution in the 1994 trial of 11 Davidians (see January-February 1994).
Speaking for Gun-Rights Organizations - For a time, the two became high-profile spokespersons for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun-rights groups; Soldier of Fortune magazine paid for them to go to Las Vegas, where they talked about Waco.
'They Owe Us' - The two moved to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, in 1993, where they worked a variety of odd jobs, including night security at a wilderness school for troubled youth. In 1995, McMahon testified before a House committee about Waco. After the testimony, McMahon says employees at the school harassed him and Kilpatrick, forcing them to quit. He and Kilpatrick filed for bankruptcy in 1996. Currently, the two live on disability payments; in 1997, a judge determined that Kilpatrick suffered from an “anxiety-related disorder” related to her involvement with the BATF assault on the Waco compound; McMahon was found to be unable to relate to fellow coworkers or cope with the pressures of employment. McMahon blames his jobless status on Waco, saying: “I have no problem getting a job or working. After I’ve been there awhile people find out more of what I am. Once they find out about Waco, I’m branded. I shouldn’t have to carry around this baggage to explain myself to people.” As for their insistence on government compensation: “We are due some compensation from the government. That’s the bottom line,” McMahon says. “They owe us.” (Ganey 1/29/2000)
FBI agents testifying for an upcoming civil case filed against the government by survivors of the Branch Davidian tragedy near Waco, Texas, in 1993 (see April 19, 1993) contradict the government’s official explanation for its decision to dismantle the Davidians’ gymnasium with armored vehicles, as laid out in a 1993 Justice Department report on the assault by FBI agents on the Davidian compound (see October 8, 1993). The Justice Department report gave two reasons why a Combat Engineering Vehicle (CEV)—described as a modified Patton tank—tore through the back of the Davidian compound, causing the gym to partially collapse. According to the report, the CEV ripped out the back wall to give the Davidians an escape route and to allow for the eventual insertion of tear gas. However, an FBI agent testifying in the trial says the orders were to use the CEV to find a way to get to a guard tower at the back of the compound, where supervisors believed the Davidians had retreated to escape the tear gas already fired inside the compound. The agent was a passenger in the CEV in question. “You were not ordered to breach the rear side of the building to create escape openings?” plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Caddell of Houston asks in the deposition. “You were ordered to clear this path to the tower, correct?” The passenger responds, “Correct.” Caddell then asks, “What was the purpose of this path if it was cleared, or when it was cleared?” The passenger responds, “To effectively deliver gas to that tower area of the building where it was believed we were not getting gas.” He denies that the CEV was attempting to demolish the building, but Caddell asks, “You don’t call that building destroyed?” The passenger acknowledges that “portions of it” were indeed destroyed. An FBI agent who piloted a surveillance plane over the Davidian compound testifies that other agents in the plane noted that the Davidians would have to flee the compound because it was being demolished. The pilot testifies: “I recall some remarks that were made while, you know, ‘People were going to have to get out pretty soon because it’s going to, you know, the things are being kind of, during the penetrations, being taken away from them.’” Caddell also questions another agent, who drove the CEV in question. Caddell focuses on his assertion that the FBI drastically sped up the execution of the plan, which was originally conceived to take place over two days instead of a matter of hours. The driver testifies, “It was another CEV that had basically, what had been done was a railroad, a stanchion of railroad was welded to the blade itself, extending three feet on either side of the blade, and it was going to be used to drive along the side of the building, basically cutting the studs away and the sheetrock away, so we could actually see into the front sides of the building in hopes that they would come out when they were in plain view at that point.” Caddell asks, “How would the gym have looked any different if you had attacked it with the railroad CEV as opposed to the CEV you had?” The driver responds: “I have no idea. We never got to that part of the plan. I mean, in hindsight, it could have very well been the exact same result. But my plan at that point was not to destroy the gymnasium.” The agent who was riding in the CEV says that the FBI could have easily and quickly demolished the entire compound if it wanted to: “I think in no time at all the collateral destruction that you see on the empty gymnasium area would be the entire compound. I mean these are large powerful vehicles.” The driver denies Caddell’s assertion that the holes made by the CEVs could have served as openings for agents on foot to enter the compound. “They had told them we weren’t going to make entry into the building, and we didn’t,” he says. The passenger testifies that he didn’t think the Davidians would see the FBI’s actions as hostile and begin firing weapons, which led to the FBI dramatically escalating its schedule of firing tear gas into the compound. “I was actually very surprised when we were shot at,” the CEV passenger testifies. “I mean, you’ve got to keep in mind we were here 50 some days and there had been no exchanges and no shooting. And I especially felt with the notification and the negotiators talking to them and explaining what was going on, that they would not shoot. Didn’t see where that would be the logical step.” (England 1/30/2000)
The New York Times reports that “In recent months, American officials have circulated within the government a list of more than 30 groups that they are examining for links to terrorism, at least two of which are based in the United States.” The only groups specifically mentioned as being on the list are: (Miller 2/19/2000)
The Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA), a charity said to be tied to the government of Sudan, which the US officially lists as a terrorism sponsor. The State Department’s USAID program gave the IARA two grants in 1998 worth $4.2 million for work in Mali, then later cancelled the grants (see November 1996-Late December 1999).
The Holy Land Foundation, based in Richardson, Texas.
The Global Relief Foundation, also based in Richardson, Texas.
Human Concern International, a Canadian-based group shut down by Canada in 1997.
The US government is said to be stepping up investigations into such charities, and talking to countries in the Persian Gulf about their support of specific charities. “But officials said Washington had been reluctant to interfere in a domain safeguarded by constitutional guarantees of free association and separation of church and state. In addition, officials said, they lacked evidence that could be used in public court proceedings.” (Miller 2/19/2000) Later in 2000, the State Department will ask its USAID program not to give aid to Holy Land any more. It will cite the payments the charity gives to the families of suicide bombers. (Miller 8/25/2000) But aside from this one minor step, the US will take no actions against any of the four named charities until after 9/11. Three of the charities will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see December 4, 2001; October 12, 2001), while in 2004 the IARA will be shut down for providing “direct financial support” to al-Qaeda. (Miller 8/25/2000)
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger chairs a Cabinet-level meeting to review the wave of attempted terror attacks around the millennium. There are counterterrorism reports that disruption efforts “have not put too much of a dent” into bin Laden’s overseas network, and that it is feared “sleeper cells” of al-Qaeda operatives have taken root in the US. It is recommended that the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service should begin “high tempo, ongoing operations to arrest, detain, and deport potential sleeper cells in the United States.” Some ideas, like expanding the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the US, are adopted. Others, like a centralized translation unit for domestic intercepts, are not. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) In July 2004, it is revealed that the Justice Department is investigating Berger for taking classified documents relating to this review effort out of a secure reading room in 2003. Most of the documents are returned, but a few apparently are lost. (Solomon 7/20/2004; Harris and Schmidt 7/22/2004)
Six postal inspectors and two Army soldiers, all dressed in a variety of FBI-standard assault garb, reenact key scenarios from the 1993 FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The purpose is to recreate “flashes” observed in 1993 infrared videotapes made by FBI observers during the assault, and determine if they were indeed gunfire from FBI agents, as some have alleged (see November 15, 1999). The exercise is done at the behest of District Judge Walter Smith, who ordered it as part of the proceedings of a civil suit by surviving Davidians against the federal government (see April 1995); additionally, the scenario is part of the evidentiary gathering by federal special counsel John Danforth, investigating the role of the FBI in the burning of the Davidian compound (see September 7-8, 1999). FBI officials who view the infrared tapes say they bear out their long-held assertions that none of their agents fired their guns during the April 19 assault on the Davidian compound. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in the lawsuit, says he believes the simulations will prove that the FBI shot at the compound, which is what his own experts reviewing the videos have said. US Attorney Michael Bradford, one of the government’s lead lawyers in the case, disagrees. “What we’re trying to do here… is get this issue hopefully put to rest so that the American public will not continue to hear what we consider a baseless allegation without foundation that the FBI was out in the back of that compound shooting that day,” he says. “It didn’t happen.” (Yardley 3/20/2000; Duggan 3/20/2000)
Public Precluded from Seeing Videotapes - The exercise takes place at Fort Hood, Texas, under Danforth’s supervision. Initially, the infrared videos of the exercises were to be released to the public, but Smith seals the videos from public view. And, siding with Danforth against the Davidian lawyers, Smith denies motions by several news media organizations to witness the test. The New York Times writes, “The lack of public access has created the possibility that both sides in the case would offer conflicting opinions without any public review of the videos.” An independent analysis of the videos conducted by the private British company that conducts the simulations may be released to the public after they are turned over to the court some time in April. (New York Times 2/17/2000; Yardley 3/20/2000)
Simulations Carried Out to Determine Whether Videotaped 'Flashes' Might Be Gunfire - Danforth, Smith, and a group of about 20 observers watch the simulations, including representatives from the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Texas Rangers, and private lawyers representing the plaintiffs. In the simulations, the eight participants fire different weapons from prone and kneeling positions. They then slowly advance to a prescribed firing line, where they fire a series of single shots followed by short bursts and then long bursts of automatic gunfire. They repeat the exercise four times, as an FBI “Nightstalker” surveillance aircraft and a British Navy helicopter take turns filming from different angles. Additionally, an armored vehicle is driven beside a field littered with debris like twisted aluminum, broken glass, and pools of water, to see if light flashes from the debris could have caused similar flashes on the infrared video that could be mistaken for gunfire. Bradford has said that no matter how the videos are interpreted, they cannot be taken as proof that agents fired guns during the assault. “If there’s a flash in the testing, you can’t just conclude that means there was gunfire on April 19th,” Bradford said. “To me, that would mean the opposite. It would indicate it’s not a gun flash because you can’t see a person there. There’s more to be analyzed than just the flashes.” The private British firm, Vector Data Systems, was chosen in part because it owns FLIR, or “forward-looking infrared,” video cameras similar to those used by the FBI in 1993; the bureau has since abandoned those video cameras for more current technology. (New York Times 2/17/2000; Yardley 3/20/2000)
Davidian Lawyer: No Broad Conspiracy by FBI, Justice Department to Conceal Truth - Caddell disagrees with some Davidian supporters in discounting the broader conspiracy theories they advocate. “I know that may disappoint some people,” he says. “But this is not a big conspiracy, it’s a small conspiracy. There were a handful of people on April 19 who took matters into their own hands and disobeyed the orders of the attorney general and the FBI leadership. Those people have to be held accountable.” Of the Danforth investigators, Caddell says: “I think they’ll issue an honest report, a fair report. And I think it will be critical in many respects.” (England 2/18/2000; Duggan 3/20/2000)
In an interview, President Clinton says he “gave in” to the Justice Department’s arguments to go forward with the April 1993 FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. The resulting fiery conflagration took the lives of almost 80 Davidians and touched off a never-ending storm of controversy, accusations, and alternative theories (see April 19, 1993). The transcript of the interview will not be released until July 2000. When the transcript is released, Attorney General Janet Reno will say both she and Clinton required assurances about the operation’s necessity. “I think we both had to be convinced, if you will,” Reno will say. Reno signed off on the final orders for the assault (see April 17-18, 1993). Clinton says: “I gave in to the people in the Justice Department who were pleading to go in early, and I felt personally responsible for what had happened, and I still do. I made a terrible mistake.” Reno will say that she and Clinton discussed the imminent assault and the answers she had received from senior FBI officials. “My recollection was that we had a very difficult situation, that there were many issues,” she will say. “I went over those issues with him. He wanted to make sure my questions had been answered.” (Mittelstadt 7/28/2000) In November 2000, Reno will tell a group of schoolchildren in New York City, “[I]n a way, I’ll never know what the right thing to do was” in ending the standoff, but people have to “live with [their] judgments.… I’ve tried to do what is right.” Reno will make her statement in response to a direct question by a young girl. (Mangan 11/21/2000)
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 )
The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which helps obtain warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), discovers errors in several al-Qaeda related FISA applications under a counterterrorist program called “Catcher’s Mitt.” The OIPR verbally notifies the FISA Court of the errors, which are mostly in affidavits submitted by supervisory special agents at field offices. Then, in September and October 2000, the OIPR submits two pleadings to the court regarding approximately 75-100 applications with errors starting in July 1997. Many of the errors concern misleading statements about the nature of collaboration between criminal and intelligence agents. Most of these applications stated that the FBI New York field office, where the I-49 squad focusing on al-Qaeda was based (see January 1996 and Late 1998-Early 2002), had separate teams of agents handling criminal and intelligence investigations. But in actual fact the I-49 agents intermingled with criminal agents working on intelligence cases and intelligence agents working on criminal cases. Therefore, contrary to what the FISA Court has been told, agents working on a criminal investigation have had unrestricted access to information from a parallel intelligence investigation—a violation of the so-called “wall,” the set of bureaucratic procedures designed to separate criminal and intelligence investigations (see July 19, 1995). (Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002; Isikoff and Thomas 3/29/2004; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 36-37 ) The information about al-Qaeda in these cases is also shared with assistant US attorneys without FISA permission being sought or granted first. Other errors include the FBI director wrongly asserting that the target of a FISA application was not under criminal investigation, omissions of material facts about a prior relationship between the FBI and a target, and an interview of a target by an assistant US attorney. (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court 5/17/2002) This leads the FISA Court to impose new requirements regarding the “wall” (see October 2000). Similar problems will be found in FISA applications for surveillance of Hamas operatives (see March 2001).
An advisory jury of five panelists in Waco, Texas, rules that law enforcement agents did not start the gun battle that began the Waco standoff between law enforcement officials and the Branch Davidians (see April 19, 1993), and decides that the federal government owes nothing to the Davidians who survived the conflagration. The panel takes just over an hour to decide that the government has no liability in the BATF raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), standoff, FBI assault, and culminating fire. The presiding judge, Walter Smith, will issue a final verdict next month after an expert testifies as to the possibility that the FBI fired into the compound during the siege, actions the FBI and Justice Department have long denied (see June 12, 2000). The civil suit had asked for $675 million in damages for the government’s allegedly causing the “wrongful deaths” of the Davidians. Waco music shop owner Bill Buzze says he and his fellow residents are ready for the publicity and the notoriety surrounding the Davidians to come to an end. “We really want it all to just go away,” he says. “It’s gone on too long, cost too much money, and hurt too many people.” Buzze’s employee Inez Bederka is not sure that people will forget so quickly. “I think it will always be on Waco, the stigma,” she says. “People are still putting Waco down real hard these days. The outside world just won’t treat you fair after a thing like that.… [I]t’s a shame that something bad like that had to happen before people heard about Waco.” Buzze says that many people have an unwarranted fascination and even fear of Waco and the surrounding area. “The Chamber of Commerce has a tough job now,” Buzze says. “They have to reassure people that we’re not going to shoot them if they come down to visit.” Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart is quick to point out that the Branch Davidians did not live in Waco proper, but in Elk, a small township on the outskirts of Waco. (Milloy 7/18/2000; Southern Poverty Law Center 6/2001)
An investigative commission headed by former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO) finds no wrongdoing on the parts of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), or the Justice Department in their actions during the Waco standoff between law enforcement officials and the Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and April 19, 1993). Attorney General Janet Reno appointed the commission after documents surfaced in 1999 that indicated an FBI agent fired pyrotechnic gas canisters near the Branch Davidian compound during the raid, possibily contributing to the fire that destroyed the compound and killed many sect members (see August 25, 1999 and After). Danforth’s investigation also finds that, despite the documents, no government agency or individual contributed to any alleged cover-up, and emphatically clears Reno of any responsibility for the calamity. Danforth does find that a single FBI agent fired three flammable gas canisters into a concrete pit some 75 feet from the compound itself, as previously acknowledged. His report concludes that the FBI most likely mishandled that information, though the possibility exists of some sort of deliberate cover-up or falsification of evidence. Danforth’s report also notes that he had encountered “substantial resistance” to his probe from Justice Department officials, in some cases resulting in a “tug of war” over requested evidence that required intervention by Reno’s top deputy. (PBS Frontline 10/1995; Mittelstadt 7/28/2000) Asked whether she feels vindicated by the report, Reno says: “One doesn’t think in terms of exoneration when you look at something like that. That was a terrible tragedy. And what I have always said was we have got to look to the future to see what we can do, what we can learn about human behavior to avoid tragedies like that.” The final report sums up 10 months of investigation, interviews, and evidence assessment; the investigation cost $12 million. (Mittelstadt 7/28/2000)
Vulgar Betrayal, the most significant US government investigation into terrorist financing before 9/11, shuts down. FBI agent Robert Wright launched the investigation in 1996 (see 1996) and was removed from the investigation in late 1999 (see August 3, 1999). Apparently the investigation accomplished little after Wright’s departure. (Crogan 8/25/2004; Judicial Watch 12/15/2004; Robert G. Wright, Jr., v. Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/16/2005) A March 2000 affidavit named Yassin al-Qadi as a source of terrorist funds in Chicago, but no charges are brought against him. (Ross and Walker 12/19/2002) Mark Flessner, an assistant US attorney assigned to Vulgar Betrayal in 1996, later will recall, “Vulgar Betrayal was a case where the FBI’s intelligence agents would not cooperate with the criminal agents trying to put these guys in jail. They refused to let us arrest them. They only wanted to watch them conduct their business.” He will also claim that Frances Townsend, a Justice Department official working a variety of posts, helps close down the investigation. He will say Townsend did not share information but “deliberately obstructed it. And I found that very disconcerting.” He will claim that she completely supports FBI intelligence agents and refuses to share their information with the Vulgar Betrayal investigation. A federal grand jury was impaneled in 1996 to support Vulgar Betrayal, but without the information from FBI intelligence, Flessner did not have enough evidence to return indictments. “I couldn’t even get permission to do the basic things you do, such as collecting phone numbers from their targets’ incoming and outgoing calls, and addresses from their mail.” With the shut down of the investigation in 2000, Flessner will resign from the Justice Department in frustration. After 9/11, Townsend will be appointed President Bush’s Homeland Security Adviser and counterterrorism director for the National Security Council. (Crogan 8/25/2004)
Former federal prosecutor William “Bill” Johnston is indicted for obstructing the investigation of special counsel John Danforth, who led a government probe into the Branch Davidian debacle near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993, September 7-8, 1999, and July 21, 2000). Johnston, a former US attorney in Waco, is accused of concealing information about the FBI’s use of pyrotechnic CS gas rounds during the final assault on the Davidian compound (see August 25, 1999 and After). Danforth, a former Republican senator, says he preferred to release the investigation report without prosecuting anyone, but says the charges against Johnston are too severe to ignore. “I couldn’t just shrug it off,” Danforth says. Johnston is accused of hiding his notes about the use of incendiary tear gas rounds from the Justice Department and Congress. He is also accused of later lying about the notes to Danforth’s investigators and to the grand jury. Johnston has admitted to hiding his notes, but also helped bring the information about the incendiary gas rounds to the public. “My actions were foolish, regrettable, and wrong, but they were not criminal,” Johnston says. “I can’t confess to concealing the pyrotechnics when I was the government employee most responsible for disclosing them. And I can’t take full blame when there is so much blame to be spread around.” Danforth’s report found no evidence of a widespread government conspiracy to cover up the use of the pyrotechnic gas rounds, but asserted that members of the Justice Department’s prosecution team had failed to give information about the rounds to Davidian defense lawyers during a criminal trial in 1994 (see January-February 1994). The report also criticized two FBI evidence technicians, Richard Crum and James Cadigan, who checked the crime scene for failing to keep notes and giving evasive statements on their findings. Johnston says he hid his notes to protect himself from “enemies” in the Justice Department. “Certain people leaked a memo to the news media making it appear—falsely—that I attended a 1993 meeting at which the term ‘pyrotechnic’ was used,” Johnston says. “In any event, when I uncovered the notes, only days after the memo was leaked, I panicked, because I had just been ordered to place all my trial material in the hands of the people behind the smear campaign. I should have turned those notes over anyway and suffered the consequences, but I didn’t.” Danforth says that two other prosecutors on the trial, Ray Jahns and LeRoy Jahns, knew about the pyrotechnic gas rounds but did not disclose their knowledge. However, Danforth says there is not enough “tangible” evidence against the two to file charges. “There is a difference between what I believe and conclude and what I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” he says. (Ganey 11/9/2000) Johnston will accept a plea-bargain deal that gives him two years’ probation and 200 hours of community service in return for an admission of guilt. He will tell the court: “Whatever my reason [for withholding his notes], it was wrong. It will never be right to withhold something in fear or panic or whatever reason.” (Stange 6/7/2001) In August 1999, Johnston wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno that he believes unnamed Justice Department officials were concealing evidence from her (see August 30, 1999).
The Bush campaign works with Florida Republicans to orchestrate the so-called “Sore Loserman” campaign, playing off the names of the two Democratic presidential ticket members, Al Gore (D-TN) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), to bring pressure for the Democrats to concede the presidency to George W. Bush. Throughout the day, Republican activists protest and wave “Sore Loserman” signs outside the canvassing board offices in the Florida counties that are still recounting votes. One Gore ally is physically threatened by protesters outside the Broward County courthouse and requires bodyguards to exit the courthouse unscathed. Democrats charge that the protesters are trying to disrupt the recount effort (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000) and send a letter to the US Justice Department asking for an immediate investigation. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000) A few days later, Steven Meyer, a Democratic election observer in Palm Beach County, writes that both Republicans and Democrats are busing in protesters, but Republicans are paying protesters to participate. “I doubt that the people on the Democratic side are getting paid because we don’t have the cash,” he notes. Democrats who “infiltrate” the Republican protests will report being offered pay and expense money to keep coming back. He also writes: “Now, it’s reported that many of these protesters are the same people whom Cuban groups paid to stand outside of Elian Gonzalez’s home in Little Havana. It’s a regular cottage industry—have sign and clever slogan, will travel.” (Meyer 12/14/2000) Gonzalez is a young Cuban-American boy who became a cause celebre for some conservatives who accused the Clinton administration of enabling his Cuban father to “kidnap” him and return with him to Cuba after his mother died. (Haberman 1/14/2000)
HCA Inc., the largest for-profit hospital chain in the US, reaches a settlement with the Justice Department over allegations of having defrauded the government. HCA is owned by the family of Senate majority leader Bill Frist. As part of the agreement, the company pleads guilty to 14 criminal counts and agrees to pay more than $840 million in criminal fines, civil penalties, and damages. It is the largest fraud settlement in US history. The Justice Department’s investigation found that the company had employed a variety of schemes to falsely charge or overcharge for services provided to patients covered by federal health plans. HCA billed Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health care programs for lab tests that were not medically necessary or ordered by physicians. It billed the government for non-reimbursable expenses by disguising them as reimbursable “community education” expenses or as “management fees.” Other violations included using incorrect diagnostic codes when billing the government in order to increase its revenue, billing for services rendered to patients who did not qualify to receive them, and billing for services that were never performed. Of the total amount settled upon, $95 million is for violations committed by two HCA subsidiaries, Columbia Homecare Group Inc. and Columbia Management Companies Inc. The two companies had engaged in cost report fraud, fraudulent billing, paying kickbacks to doctors for referrals, and paying kickbacks in connection with the purchase and sale of home health agencies. (CBS News 12/14/2000; US Department of Justice 12/14/2002) Not all of the Justice Department’s allegations are resolved in the settlement. In spring 2003, HCA will reach another settlement over allegations of fraudulent cost reporting and kickbacks to physicians for referrals (see June 26, 2003).
Cinergy Corp., a Cincinnati-based electric utility, agrees to settle a Justice Department lawsuit (see November 3, 1999) over its alleged violation of the New Source Review section of the Clean Air Act. As part of the agreement, Cinergy will spend $1.4 billion to install state-of-the-art pollution controls at 10 coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. It is estimated that the plant upgrades will reduce the company’s annual sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 400,000 tons and 100,000 tons, respectively. The company also agrees to pay an $8.5 million fine and complete $21 million in environmental projects. (Cinergy Corp. 12/21/2000; Environmental Protection Agency 12/21/2000; Associated Press 12/21/2000)
D. Kyle Sampson, a young lawyer from Utah and a former Republican staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, takes a position at the White House as special assistant to the president and associate director for presidential personnel. He handles presidential appointments for the Justice Department, among other duties. During this time period, he is also named associate counsel to the president, where he works on legislative, policy, and environmental matters. In August 2003, Sampson moves to the Justice Department, where he serves as a counsel for Attorney General John Ashcroft. After joining the White House counsel’s office in September 2001, Sampson increases his involvement in the selection of US Attorneys. He serves on the interviewing panel for many US Attorney interviewees, and becomes the White House representative for US Attorney appointments. He is responsible for reviewing the resumes and questionnaires of all US Attorney candidates and their background files. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
The Christian Defense Coalition (CDC) urges the Bush administration to show “restraint” in its handling of the arrest of accused murderer James Kopp, whose anti-abortion beliefs triggered his shooting of Dr. Barnett Slepian (see March 29, 2001). The CDC says that the “vast majority of the pro-life community” condemns violence against abortion doctors such as Slepian, and urges Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice “not to use this episode to harass and intimidate the pro-life movement as the Clinton administration did” (see May 1994 and January 1996), and makes the same request of pro-choice organizations. The CDC also urges the general public to remember that Kopp is “innocent until proven guilty.” (Christian Defense Coalition 3/29/2001)
Attorney General John Ashcroft sends a letter to department heads telling them the Justice Department’s new agenda. He cites seven goals, but counterterrorism is not one of them. Yet just one day earlier, he testified before Congress and said of counterterrorism, “The Department of Justice has no higher priority.” (Clymer 2/28/2002) Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, will later recall nearly falling out of his chair when he sees counterterrorism not mentioned as a goal. (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004) Watson goes to see FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard and asks him, “Did you see this?” in what author Philip Shenon will describe as a “disgusted tone.” Pickard finds it hard to believe that Ashcroft’s office had accidentally left terrorism off the list, due to the focus on it elsewhere in the government. “If he didn’t think about it, his staff should have,” Pickard will recall thinking. (Shenon 2008, pp. 246) In August, a strategic plan will be distributed, listing the same seven goals and 36 objectives. Thirteen objectives are highlighted, but the single objective relating to counterterrorism is not highlighted. (Clymer 2/28/2002)
The Justice Department reveals that it failed to turn over nearly 4,000 pages of documentary evidence to the defense in the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997). Attorney General John Ashcroft postpones McVeigh’s execution (see January 16, 2001) for 30 days to allow defense attorneys to review the newly released documents. (Douglas O. Linder 2001; Johnston and Marquis 5/11/2001; Romano and Eggen 5/11/2001; Fox News 4/13/2005) Apparently many of the documents relate to the FBI’s investigation into the never-identified “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995), which the agency now terms a “dead-end” investigation. Sources say many of the documents are “302 forms,” the forms that document the raw interviews conducted by agents with witnesses. (Romano and Eggen 5/11/2001; Mayhem (.net) 4/2009) The documents were found by bureau archivists in Oklahoma City as they canvassed the agency’s 56 field offices in a final search of records related to the bombing in anticipation of McVeigh’s execution (see June 11-13, 1997). Lawyers for both McVeigh and his convicted co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) were legally entitled to review the records as they prepared for the two trials. Justice Department spokesperson Mindy Tucker issues the following statement: “On Tuesday, May 8, the Department of Justice notified Timothy McVeigh’s attorney of a number of FBI documents that should have been provided to them during the discovery phase of the trial. While the department is confident the documents do not in any way create any reasonable doubt about McVeigh’s guilt and do not contradict his repeated confessions of guilt, the department is concerned that McVeigh’s attorneys were not able to review them at the appropriate time.” The FBI blames its obsolete computer system for the error. Prosecutors say the documents were not material to either case. McVeigh’s former lawyer Stephen Jones says, “I said all along they weren’t giving us everything.” (Johnston and Marquis 5/11/2001; Indianapolis Star 2003) Law professor James S. Liebman, who helped conduct an extensive study of death penalty appeals across the country, says the failure to produce the documents is “something I’ve just never heard of.… I can tell you, it’s extremely rare if it’s ever happened before.” (Romano and Eggen 5/11/2001)
The DEA’s Office of Security Programs prepares a 60-page internal memo on the Israeli “art student spy ring.” (Drug Enforcement Agency 6/2001) The Memo is a compilation of dozens of field reports, and was meant only for the eyes of senior officials at the Justice Department (of which the DEA is adjunct), but it is leaked to the press around December 2001. The report connects the spies to efforts to foil investigations into Israeli organized crime activity involving the importation of the drug Ecstasy. The spies also appear to be snooping on top-secret military bases. For instance, on April 30, 2001, an Air Force alert was issued from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City concerning “possible intelligence collection being conducted by Israeli art students.” Tinker AFB houses AWACS surveillance craft and Stealth bombers. By the time of the report, the US has “apprehended or expelled close to 120 Israeli nationals” but many remain at large. (Cypel 3/5/2002; Ketcham 5/7/2002) An additional 20 or so Israeli spies are apprehended between June and 9/11. (Cameron 12/12/2001)
A CIA report says that a man named “Khaled” is actively recruiting people to travel to various countries, including the US, to stage attacks. CIA headquarters presume from the details of this report that Khaled is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). On July 11, the individual source for this report is shown a series of photographs and identifies KSM as the person he called “Khaled.” (Diamond 12/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 277, 533) This report also reveals that:
Al-Qaeda operatives heading to the US would be “expected to establish contact with colleagues already living there.”
KSM himself had traveled to the US frequently, and as recently as May 2001.
KSM is a relative of bomber Ramzi Yousef.
He appears to be one of bin Laden’s most trusted leaders.
He routinely tells others that he can arrange their entry into the US as well. However, the CIA doesn’t find this report credible because they think it is unlikely that he would come to the US (in fact, it appears he had (see Summer 1998)). Nevertheless, they consider it worth pursuing. One agent replies, “If it is KSM, we have both a significant threat and an opportunity to pick him up.” In July, the source clarifies that the last time he can definitely place KSM in the US was in the summer of 1998 (see Summer 1998). The CIA disseminates the report to all other US intelligence agencies, military commanders, and parts of the Treasury and Justice Departments. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later request that the CIA inform them how CIA agents and other agencies reacted to this information, but the CIA does not respond to this. (US Congress 7/24/2003) It appears that KSM will send at least one and probably two operatives to the US after this time and before 9/11 (see August 4, 2001 and September 10, 2001). On July 23, 2001, the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia will give KSM a US visa (he uses an alias but his actual photo appears on his application) (see July 23, 2001). Also, during this summer and as late as September 10, 2001, the NSA will intercept phone calls between KSM and Mohamed Atta, but the NSA will not share this information with any other agencies (see Summer 2001).
Attorney General John Ashcroft replies to the FBI’s annual budget proposal. The proposal had asked for a sizable increase for only one area—counterterrorism. However, Ashcroft says that the FBI’s budget for counterterrorism should be cut, not increased. The budgets for some other divisions will also be cut. Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard asks Ashcroft if the FBI can appeal and Ashcroft agrees. Pickard and his top assistants discuss what should be appealed and decide only to appeal the counterterrorism cuts, as they feel that this is “the most important thing,” according to Pickard. The appeal will be denied on September 10 (see September 10, 2001). (Shenon 2008, pp. 249)
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is granted a visa to enter the US, despite being under a federal terrorism indictment, having a $2 million reward on his head, and being one of only a dozen people in the world on a US domestic no-fly list (see April 24, 2000). There is no evidence that he actually uses his visa to travel to the US. Investigators speculate that he may have considered a trip to shepherd some aspect of the 9/11 plot. He applied for the visa using a Saudi passport and an alias (Abdulrahman al Ghamdi), but the photo he submitted is really of him. He uses the new, controversial Visa Express program that allows Saudis to apply for US visas without having to appear in person at any point during the application process (see May 2001). (Miller and Meyer 1/27/2004) Just a month earlier, the CIA passed a warning to all US intelligence agencies, certain military commanders, and parts of the Justice and Treasury Departments saying that Mohammed may be attempting to enter the US (see June 12, 2001). However, either this warning isn’t given to immigration officials or else they fail to notice his application. (Miller and Meyer 1/27/2004)
CBS News reports that Attorney General Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial airlines due to a threat assessment, but “neither the FBI nor the Justice Department… would identify [to CBS] what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.” (CBS News 7/26/2001) One newspaper reports, “Ashcroft demonstrated an amazing lack of curiosity when asked if he knew anything about the threat. ‘Frankly, I don’t,’ he told reporters.” (Sorensen 6/3/2002) It is later reported that he stopped flying in July based on threat assessments made on May 8 and June 19. In May 2002, it is claimed the threat assessment had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, but Ashcroft walked out of his office rather than answer questions about it. (Associated Press 5/16/2002) The San Francisco Chronicle will later conclude, “The FBI obviously knew something was in the wind.… The FBI did advise Ashcroft to stay off commercial aircraft. The rest of us just had to take our chances.” (Sorensen 6/3/2002) CBS’s Dan Rather will later ask of this warning: “Why wasn’t it shared with the public at large?” (Kurtz 5/27/2002) On July 5, the CIA had warned Ashcroft to expect multiple, imminent al-Qaeda attacks overseas (see July 5, 2001) and on July 12 the FBI warned him about the al-Qaeda threat within the US (see July 12, 2001).
David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial and the lawyer for FBI agent Robert Wright since September 1999, will later claim that he was warned about an upcoming al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan in May 2001 (see May 2001). After May, Schippers continues to get increasingly precise information about this attack from FBI agents in Chicago and Minnesota, and around July he renews efforts to pass the warning to politicians. He will claim, “I tried to see if I could get a Congressman to go to bat for me and at least bring these people [to Washington] and listen to them. I sent them information and nobody cared. It was always, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ‘We’ll get back to you.’” At the same time he is attempting to pass on this warning, he will claim he is also attempting to pass on the work of reporter Jayna Davis and her theory that Middle Easterners were involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and also Wright’s claim that Hamas operatives were operating freely inside the US (see February-March 2001). The three claims put together seem to lead to a bad response; Schippers later comments, “People thought I was crazy.” Around July 15, he attempts to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft. Conservative activist “Phyllis Schlafly finally apparently made some calls. She called me one day and said, ‘I’ve talked to John Ashcroft, and he’ll call you tomorrow.’” The next day, one of Ashcroft’s underlings in the Justice Department calls him back and says, “We don’t start our investigations with the Attorney General. Let me look into this, and I’ll have somebody get back to you right away.” Schippers will say he never did hear back from anyone in the Justice Department. Perhaps coincidentally, on July 26 it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial aircraft due to an unnamed threat (see July 26, 2001). In late August, his FBI agent sources again confirm that an al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan is imminent. (Metcalf 10/21/2001; Patterson 5/18/2002; Ahmed 2004, pp. 258-260) In 2003, Wright will say, “In 2000 and in 2001, [Schippers] contacted several US congressmen well before the September 11th attacks. Unfortunately, these congressmen failed to follow through with Mr. Schippers’ request that they investigate my concerns.” It is not clear if Wright was one of the Chicago FBI agents that Schippers claims gave warnings about a Manhattan attack, or if Wright is only referring to Wright’s investigation into funding for Hamas and other groups that Schippers was also warning politicians about (see February-March 2001). (Federal News Service 6/2/2003)
Staff at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office form the opinion that there is a “reasonable indication” Zacarias Moussaoui wants to commit a “significant federal crime,” meaning that, under the amended 1995 “wall” procedures (see July 19, 1995 and August 6, 2001), they must inform an attorney at the Justice Department’s Criminal Division about the case. However, Mike Maltbie, an agent with the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, blocks the notification. Minneapolis agents Chris Briese and Greg Jones believe that if the Criminal Division were notified, it would then order Minneapolis to seek a criminal warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings, overcoming opposition to the search being put up by Maltbie and his colleagues (see August 20-September 11, 2001 and August 21, 2001). However, Maltbie prevents the notification from being sent, saying that he does not see any evidence of a federal crime, and that asking for a criminal warrant could unfavorably affect the chances of getting a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), if the criminal application were unsuccessful. He also says that getting a FISA warrant is easier, although two days later he says obtaining a FISA warrant will “take a few months” (see August 24, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 127-8, 143-4 )
Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, asks for more than twelve sets of internal Justice Department documents that detail purported fund-raising abuses by the 1996 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Burton also wants documents relating to the FBI’s use of mob informants by its Boston office, where evidence indicates that the office literally let the informants get away with murder and suppressed evidence that allowed an innocent man to go to prison. Burton’s request causes a dilemma for the White House. On the one hand, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have given explicit instructions for staffers to resist such calls for information. On the other hand, when Burton had delved into the questions surrounding Clinton’s last-minute pardons, Bush had already given him unprecedented access to Clinton’s private conversations (see August 21, 2001). Burton immediately released edited transcripts of the tapes (see August 21, 2001). The administration ponders whether or not to release the documents, and in the process perhaps further impugn Clinton, or to refuse, preserving their standard of executive privilege. It will eventually come down on the side of secrecy (see December 13, 2001). (Dean 2004, pp. 85-86)
Patrick Philbin joins the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Philbin is an old friend and colleague of the OLC’s John Yoo; both graduated from Yale and both clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Philbin has no experience in the legalities surrounding national security issues; he spent the 1990s working for a corporate law firm helping telecommunications companies sue the Federal Communications Commission. Philbin joins the OLC with the expectation of working solely with administrative law. But after the 9/11 attacks, he will be asked to help Yoo handle the unexpected raft of national security issues. His first real work in the area of national security will be his finding (see November 6, 2001) that the president has untrammeled power to order the establishment of military commissions (see Late October 2001 and November 13, 2001). (Savage 2007, pp. 136)
According to CBS News, in the afternoon before the attack, “alarm bells were sounding over unusual trading in the US stock options market.” It has been documented that the CIA, the Mossad, and many other intelligence agencies monitor stock trading in real time using highly advanced programs such as Promis. Both the FBI and the Justice Department have confirmed the use of such programs for US intelligence gathering through at least this summer. This would confirm that the CIA should have had additional advance warning of imminent attacks against American and United Airlines planes. (CBS News 9/19/2001) There are even allegations that bin Laden was able to get a copy of Promis. (Fox News 10/16/2001)
According to his own account, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, started a video teleconference from the White House’s Secure Video Conferencing Center, next to the Situation Room, at around 9:10 a.m.(see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission says that logs indicate this conference beginning 15 minutes later than this. Included in the conference are the FBI, the CIA, the FAA, the departments of State, Justice, and Defense, and the White House shelter. The FAA and CIA join at 9:40 a.m. The 9/11 Commission says, “It is not clear to us that the video teleconference was fully under way before 9:37, when the Pentagon was struck.” Furthermore, it states: “We do not know who from Defense participated, but we know that in the first hour none of the personnel involved in managing the crisis did. And none of the information conveyed in the White House video teleconference, at least in the first hour, was being passed to the NMCC [in the Pentagon].” Clarke’s video teleconference is not connected into the area of the NMCC from where the crisis is being managed. Consequently, “the director of the operations team-who was on the phone with NORAD-did not have the benefit of information being shared on the video teleconference.” And, “when the Secretary [of Defense Rumsfeld] and Vice Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Myers] later participated in the White House video teleconference, they were necessarily absent from the NMCC and unable to provide guidance to the operations team.” Clarke, however, gives a specific recollection of Myers speaking over video at 9:28, which is seemingly at odds with the 9/11 Commission’s account (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). One witness later recalls: “[It] was almost like there were parallel decision-making processes going on; one was a voice conference orchestrated by the NMCC… and then there was the [White House video teleconference].… [I]n my mind they were competing venues for command and control and decision-making.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
Theodore (Ted) Olson, the Justice Department’s Solicitor General, calls the Justice Department’s control center to relate his wife Barbara’s call from Flight 77. Accounts vary whether the Justice Department already knows of the hijack or not. (Fisher and Phillips 9/12/2001; Channel 4 News (London) 9/13/2001; Wald 9/15/2001) Olson merely says, “They just absorbed the information. And they promised to send someone down right away.” He assumes they then “pass the information on to the appropriate people.” (Olson 9/14/2001)
Government buildings in Washington, DC, are not evacuated prior to the attack on the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. As CNN will describe, even after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the FAA’s warning to the military of a hijacked aircraft apparently heading toward Washington (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), “the federal government failed to make any move to evacuate the White House, Capitol, State Department, or the Pentagon.” (Plante 9/16/2001) Although a slow evacuation of the White House begins around 9:20 a.m. (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), it is not until 9:45 that the Secret Service orders people to run from there (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002) Other government buildings, including the Capitol (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Supreme Court, will not be evacuated until between 9:45 and 10:45 a.m. (US News and World Report 9/14/2001; US Department of State 8/15/2002) Robert Bonner, who was recently nominated as Commissioner of Customs, will later estimate that he was evacuated from the Treasury Department at “about 9:35 a.m.” (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004; Bonner 9/20/2004) But other accounts say the Treasury Department is not evacuated until after the Pentagon attack. (Crutsinger 9/11/2001; Reuters 9/11/2001; Dam 9/11/2002) Furthermore, journalist and author Robert Draper will describe that, even after the State and Treasury departments have been evacuated: “no agents thought to take charge of the Commerce Department, which housed 5,000 employees. Eventually, Secretary [of Commerce] Don Evans got tired of waiting for orders and had someone drive him to his home in McLean, where he sat for hours until he finally made contact with the Secret Service.” (Draper 2007, pp. 143) According to CNN, prior to the Pentagon attack, “neither the FAA, NORAD, nor any other federal government organ made any effort to evacuate the buildings in Washington. Officials at the Pentagon said that no mechanism existed within the US government to notify various departments and agencies under such circumstances [as occur on 9/11].” (Plante 9/16/2001)
Attorney General John Ashcroft insists that the plane he is traveling on take off from Milwaukee and head to Washington, DC, even though he has been discouraged from getting airborne due to the possibility of further attacks, and his pilot has been told by air traffic control that he will not be allowed to take off. (Ashcroft 2006, pp. 117; Spencer 2008, pp. 257-258) Ashcroft was flying from Washington to Milwaukee in a Cessna Citation V jet when he learned of the attacks in New York in a phone call with the Justice Department command center. He’d wanted to immediately head back to Washington, but his pilot, David Clemmer, said they would first need to land in Milwaukee to refuel (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Their aircraft then landed, presumably at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport.
SWAT Team Surrounds Plane - After the plane touched down, Ashcroft and the others on board were met by a SWAT team, brandishing weapons, which surrounded the plane. Then, while Clemmer took care of refueling, Ashcroft and his fellow passengers—some colleagues of his from the Justice Department—went into the airport’s evacuated terminal and found a television on which they could watch the news coverage from New York. Soon after, they learned that the Pentagon had been hit.
Ashcroft Discouraged from Taking Off - While at the airport, Ashcroft spends much of his time speaking over the phone to the Justice Department command center in Washington. He will later recall, “Some people were discouraging us from getting back on the plane until we knew whether there was going to be another attack.” But Ashcroft “didn’t want to wait that long,” so as soon as Clemmer has finished refueling the plane, Ashcroft gives him the order to take off. (Eggen 9/28/2001; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 115-117)
Ashcroft Overrules Order Not to Take Off - However, the FAA has ordered a nationwide ground stop to prevent aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and air traffic control has informed Clemmer that his plane will not be allowed to leave Milwaukee for Washington. (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25; Spencer 2008, pp. 257-258) Clemmer therefore tells Ashcroft: “I’m sorry, sir. We can’t take off. I just received orders that we are not supposed to be flying.” But Ashcroft responds: “No, we’re going. Let’s get back in the air.” Ashcroft and his fellow passengers then board the plane. (Ashcroft 2006, pp. 117) They are joined by another Justice Department aide and another FBI agent in addition to the one who’d been on the plane when it landed in Milwaukee. (Eggen 9/28/2001)
Pilot Convinces Controller to Let Him Take Off - Clemmer is eventually able to convince air traffic control to allow him to leave Milwaukee. He then takes off and heads toward Washington. However, when Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center, hears about this, he will reportedly be “livid,” and Ashcroft’s plane will be ordered to land (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Ashcroft 2006, pp. 117; Spencer 2008, pp. 258)
Although it was recently redirected toward Richmond, Virginia, the plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft tries again to head to Washington, DC, and a military fighter jet arrives to escort it into the capital. (Eggen 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 ; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118) Ashcroft’s plane, a small government Cessna jet, has been trying to return to Washington after an engagement in Milwaukee was aborted due to the terrorist attacks (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Ashcroft has ignored requests to land, and so his plane has been threatened with being shot down by the military and diverted to Richmond (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Brill 3/10/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 257-258)
Pilot Persuaded to Head toward Washington - However, Ashcroft still wants to reach Washington. He therefore calls the Justice Department command center for assistance. Then, according to author Lynn Spencer, “With some high-level coordination,” one of the protective agents on Ashcroft’s plane “convinced the pilot to try once again to enter the city.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 272) The pilot, David Clemmer, negotiates to have fighter jets escort the plane into Washington. (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Eggen 9/28/2001)
Controller Requests Fighter Escort - The FAA’s Washington Center consequently calls the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. The Washington Center controller says: “Hey, we’ve got November 4 out here. He wants to land at [Reagan Airport]. There’s some concern and they want a fighter escort.” TRACON controller Dan Creedon recognizes the plane’s N-number (specifically, N4) as belonging to one of the FAA’s jet aircraft, and confirms, “Yeah, November 4 is based out of Washington.” He then calls District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) pilot Major Daniel Caine, who recently launched from Andrews Air Force Base to defend Washington (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), and tells him of the plane requesting a fighter escort. When Caine asks who is on it, Creedon replies: “I don’t know. My assumption is FAA-1 or DOT-1,” meaning FAA Administrator Jane Garvey or Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
DCANG Pilot Gets Langley Jets to Provide Escort - Caine says the jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) that are defending Washington (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) will handle this. He forwards Creedon’s request to Major Dean Eckmann, the lead pilot from Langley. Eckmann responds that the inbound plane “can have one” of his fighters. He then directs his wingman, Major Brad Derrig, to intercept it. (9/11 Commission 12/1/2003; 9/11 Commission 12/1/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 272-273) While Ashcroft’s plane is waiting for Derrig’s fighter to arrive, it is put in a holding pattern outside of Washington. (9/11 Commission 12/17/2003 ) Ashcroft’s plane will be escorted to Reagan Airport, but the time it lands at is unclear (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 ; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Vogel 2007, pp. 453)
The FBI’s Minneapolis office asks for permission to interview Zacarias Moussaoui a few hours after the end of the 9/11 attacks, but permission is denied, apparently on the grounds that there is no emergency. On 9/11, the office’s counsel, Coleen Rowley, seeks permission from the Acting US Attorney to question Moussaoui about whether al-Qaeda has any further plans to hijack airliners or otherwise attack the US. The next day she asks again; this time the request is sent to the Justice Department. Such questioning would not usually be permitted, but Rowley argues that it should be allowed under a public safety exception. However, permission is denied and Rowley is told that the emergency is over so the public safety exception does not apply. Rowley will later comment: “We were so flabbergasted about the fact we were told no public safety emergency existed just hours after the attacks that my boss advised me to document it in a memo which became the first document in the legal subfile of the FBI’s ‘Penttbom’ case.” (Rowley 5/2/2007) Some sources will suggest that Moussaoui was to be part of a second wave of attacks (see September 5, 2002). He is also an associate of shoe bomber Richard Reid, who will attempt to blow up an airliner later this year (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000 and December 22, 2001).
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. (Chen and Schrader 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)
The FBI dramatically escalates its warrantless wiretaps of US citizens, most without the proper paperwork or oversight. The public will not learn of the FBI wiretapping program until October 2005, when classified documents will be made available to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), an advocacy group that will sue the Justice Department for records relating to the Patriot Act. According to those documents, which are heavily redacted, the FBI conducts clandestine surveillance on some US residents for 18 months and even longer. The FBI will also internally investigate at least 287 violations of its use of secret surveillance against US citizens. One target will be kept under surveillance for over five years, including a 15-month stretch where the FBI fails to notify Justice Department lawyers after the subject moves from New York to Detroit. According to an FBI investigation, that delay is a violation of department guidelines and will prevent the department “from exercising its responsibility for oversight and approval of an ongoing foreign counterintelligence investigation of a US person.” Other cases involve agents obtaining e-mails after warrants expire, seizing bank records without authorization, and conducting improper “unconsented physical search(es).” EPIC’s general counsel, David Sobel, will say in October 2005 that the classified documents indicate possible misconduct by the FBI in counterintelligence investigations, and highlight the need for greater congressional oversight of clandestine surveillance within the United States. “We’re seeing what might be the tip of the iceberg at the FBI and across the intelligence community,” Sobel will say. “It indicates that the existing mechanisms do not appear adequate to prevent abuses or to ensure the public that abuses that are identified are treated seriously and remedied.” The FBI will counter by insisting that all of the infractions are minor, mostly what it calls administrative errors, and that any information obtained improperly is quarantined and eventually destroyed. One senior FBI official will say, “Every investigator wants to make sure that their investigation is handled appropriately, because they’re not going to be allowed to keep information that they didn’t have the proper authority to obtain. But that is a relatively uncommon occurrence. The vast majority of the potential [violations] reported have to do with administrative timelines and time frames for renewing orders.” Catherine Lotrionte, the counsel for the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which is tasked with overseeing the FBI’s domestic surveillance operations, will refuse to disclose any details of any of the FBI violations, saying most of its work is classified and covered by executive privilege. The surveillance operations are conducted under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978), whose threshold for such surveillance is lower than for criminal warrants. In 2004 alone, over 1,700 new cases will be opened by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (Eggen 10/24/2005) Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
According to a former senior Justice Department official, a high-level former national security official working as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the White House accidentally walks into a restricted room, where he finds a computer system logged on to what he recognizes to be the Main Core database. Main Core contains a list of potential enemies of the state for use by the Continuity of Government program (see 1980s or Before). He will refuse to be interviewed about the matter, but will tell the senior Justice Department official about it. The Justice Department official will add that when she mentions the specific name of the top-secret system during a conversation, he turns “white as a sheet.” (Shorrock 7/23/2008)
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).
Congress explicitly refuses to grant the Bush administration the authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps and surveillance operations against US citizens in its resolution authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, will write in December 2005 (after his ouster from Congress in November 2004) that the White House and the Justice Department will claim, falsely, that the AUMF grants the right for the NSA to conduct such a program (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Instead, Daschle will write, the NSA merely usurps the authority, with the president’s approval, to conduct such an extralegal surveillance program (see December 21-22, 2005). (Gellman 12/22/2005)
Administration Efforts to Rewrite AUMF - In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Daschle will observe that the AUMF authorizes Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. But, Daschle will write, “Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States and’ after ‘appropriate force’ in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas—where we all understood he wanted authority to act—but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.”
No Vote for Domestic Surveillance - Daschle will also write that the White House attempted to add draft language to the AUMF resolution that would give the administration new and sweeping authority to use force to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States,” even against nations and organizations not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney will claim that the AUMF “granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that’s what we’ve done.” But Daschle will write that Cheney is mistaken. “As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel’s office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.” On September 12, six days before the September 18 AUMF vote, Bush officials demand that Congress authorize the use of military force to, in their words, “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” But Congress refuses, feeling that the request is “too broad and ill defined.” Instead, on September 14, Congress choses to use language that authorizes Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. Daschle later writes, “With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.… The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration’s request for an unprecedented grant of authority.” Instead, Daschle will write, the administration simply takes the authority anyway, and will argue in hindsight that the AUMF actually gives the administration the right to wiretap US citizens. However, Daschle will write, “at the time, the administration clearly felt they [didn’t have the authority] or it wouldn’t have tried to insert the additional language.”
Breeding 'Fear and Suspicion' - He concludes, “[T]here are right and wrong ways to defeat terrorists, and that is a distinction this administration has never seemed to accept. Instead of employing tactics that preserve Americans’ freedoms and inspire the faith and confidence of the American people, the White House seems to have chosen methods that can only breed fear and suspicion. If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate [detailing the breadth and apparent illegality of the NSA program], the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. For that reason, the president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions, Congress should fully investigate these actions and the president’s justification for them, and the administration should cooperate fully with that investigation. In the meantime, if the president believes the current legal architecture of our country is insufficient for the fight against terrorism, he should propose changes to our laws in the light of day. That is how a great democracy operates. And that is how this great democracy will defeat terrorism.” (Daschle 12/23/2005)
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA awards $64 million in research contracts for a program called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD). (Markoff 5/21/2003; Harris 1/20/2006) NIMD is one of several cutting-edge data mining technologies that not only has the capability of finding keywords among millions of electronically monitored communications, but can find hidden relationships among data points, and even critique the thinking and biases of a particular analyst and suggest alternative hypotheses differing from the human analysts’ conclusion. Like other data-mining technologies, the NSA will steadfastly refuse to discuss whether NIMD is used to analyze data from domestic surveillance operations. NIMD is designed as an preliminary sort program, to keep human analysts from becoming overwhelmed by raw data. In essence, NIMD is an early-warning system. “NIMD funds research to…help analysts deal with information-overload, detect early indicators of strategic surprise, and avoid analytic errors,” according to the “Call for 2005 Challenge Workshop Proposals” released by the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA). ARDA was founded in 1998 to create, design, and field new technologies for US intelligence agencies, particularly the NSA. A selected few Congressional lawmakers (see January 18, 2006) were informed that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by President George W. Bush (see Early 2002) was designed to be an early-warning system for possible terrorist attacks or plans. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella will inform the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence committees in December 2002 that the “president determined that it was necessary following September 11 to create an early-warning detection system” to prevent more attacks. He will justify the use of programs such as NIMD by claiming, as NSA director Michael Hayden and other administration officials have repeatedly claimed, that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to obtain warrants to conduct domestic eavesdropping or wiretapping, “could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early-warning detection system.” Many experts outside of the Bush administration feel that NIMD and other programs do not have to operate outside of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because of limitations in the law, but because of the fact that the programs cannot meet the law’s minimum requirements for surveillance. FISA requires that any such surveillance must have a probable cause that the target is a terrorist. NIMD has no such threshold. Steven Aftergood, an expert on intelligence and government secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists, will say in 2006, “Logistically speaking, the early-warning approach may involve a significant increase in the number of surveillance actions. It may be that neither the Justice Department nor the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves wiretapping warrants] is prepared to prepare and process several thousand additional FISA applications per year, beyond the 1,700 or so approved in 2004.” (Harris 1/20/2006) Some experts will later express the opinion that NIMD is the controversial Total Information Awareness program in a slightly different form (see February 2003 and September 2002).
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA expands surveillance operations, relying on its own authorities; some sources indicate this includes a massive domestic data mining and call tracking program, and some contend that it is illegal. In a 2006 public briefing, NSA Director Michael Hayden will say, “In the days after 9/11, NSA was using its authorities and its judgment to appropriately respond to the most catastrophic attack on the homeland in the history of the nation.” Following an October 1 briefing by Hayden to the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden on October 11, saying, “[Y]ou indicated that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance” (see October 11, 2001). Some evidence indicates NSA domestic surveillance began even before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). (Pelosi 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
No Connection to Bush-Authorized Warrantless Domestic Call Monitoring - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will clearly distinguish between the expansion he initiates under his own authorities, and the warrantless monitoring of calls with one end outside the US authorized later by President Bush (see October 4, 2001), saying, “[E]xcept that they involved NSA, these [Hayden-authorized] programs were not related… to the authorization that the president has recently spoken about.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
'Stellar Wind' Is Name of Hayden-Authorized Program - In 2012 interviews, former NSA official William Binney will indicate that “Stellar Wind” is the name of the surveillance program initiated by Hayden. (Bamford 2/15/2012; Binney 4/20/2012) Some sources will refer to the Bush-authorized eavesdropping as being part of the Stellar Wind program. (Isikoff 12/22/2008)
Differing Views on Authority for Surveillance - In his 2006 briefing, Hayden will say the Fourth Amendment only protects Americans against “unreasonable search and seizure,” and that 9/11 changed what was to be considered “reasonable.” Specifically, if communications are believed to have “[i]nherent foreign intelligence value,” interception of these communications is reasonable. In addition to referring to Hayden’s “view of [his] authorities” as “expansive,” Pelosi’s letter will give another indication that the NSA’s new standard is significantly broader than it was previously, stating, “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest.” Hayden will publicly clarify in 2006 that the authority for the NSA’s operational expansion exists under an Executive Order issued by President Reagan, saying, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” And, he will say, “I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities” (see October 1, 2001). In her October 11 letter, Pelosi will also write of having concerns about the program that haven’t been resolved due to restrictions on information-sharing with Congress imposed by Bush (see October 11, 2001). Binney, who pioneered the development of certain NSA data mining and surveillance technologies, will come to believe that what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional; he will first take his concerns to Congress (see Before October 31, 2001) and then resign on October 31 (see October 31, 2001). (Pelosi 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Surveillance Involves Domestic Communications - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will not say the NSA is only targeting foreign communications under his post-9/11 authorization. Rather, the context of his remarks will indicate he is referring to domestic communications. More specifically, Hayden will state: “If the US person information isn’t relevant, the data is suppressed. It’s a technical term we use; we call it ‘minimized.’ The individual is not even mentioned. Or if he or she is, he or she is referred to as ‘US Person Number One’ or ‘US Person Number Two.’ Now, inherent intelligence value. If the US person is actually the named terrorist, well, that could be a different matter.” Hayden will also reveal that information is being passed to the FBI, an investigative agency with a primarily domestic jurisdiction, saying, “[A]s another part of our adjustment, we also turned on the spigot of NSA reporting to FBI in, frankly, an unprecedented way.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006) One of Pelosi’s statements in her letter to Hayden may indicate an aspect of the domestic component: “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest,” she will write. (Pelosi 1/6/2006) In a 2011 interview with Jane Mayer published in the New Yorker, Binney will say the NSA was obtaining “billing records on US citizens” and “putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country.” (Mayer 5/23/2011) And in a 2012 Wired article, NSA expert James Bamford will write that Binney “explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.” Binney’s account is supported by other sources (see October 2001). (Bamford 2/15/2012)
Surveillance Program Is Massive - Bamford, citing Binney, will write: “Stellar Wind… included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” It is unclear exactly when this level of surveillance began. According to whistleblower AT&T employee Mark Klein, construction of secret rooms splitting communications traffic does not begin until Fall 2002 (see Fall 2002). Bamford will write that Binney says, “[T]he taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct ‘deep packet inspection,’ examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.” (Bamford 2/15/2012) Also, Binney’s remark to Jane Mayer that the NSA was “putting pen registers on everyone in the country” indicates the broad scope of the program. (Mayer 5/23/2011)
NSA director Michael Hayden addresses the NSA in a global videoconference, saying that the NSA, like other government agencies, will have to do more to protect the country from further terrorist attacks. The challenge, he says, is to balance Americans’ security with civil liberties, “to keep America free by making Americans feel safe again.” Hayden will say in a 2006 speech reflecting on that videoconference (see January 23, 2006) that US citizens operate under misconceptions about the NSA’s capabilities—that while citizens believe the NSA has a global electronic surveillance network that can, and does, spy on citizens willy-nilly, in reality the NSA is understaffed and unprepared to handle the technological advances of the last decade. Hayden will say that with more extensive domestic surveillance of US citizens and foreign visitors, the NSA could have caught some of the 9/11 hijackers before they were able to put their plan into motion. The standards by which US citizens and foreign visitors are monitored must change, Hayden believes.
Expansion of NSA Surveillance Powers - Using Ronald Reagan’s 1981 executive order 12333 (see December 4, 1981), Hayden expands the NSA’s domestic surveillance practices to eavesdrop, sometimes without court approval, on selected international calls made by US citizens. Though Hayden’s expansion of NSA surveillance is not directly authorized by President Bush, and is not the same program as authorized by Bush’s secret executive order of 2002 (see Early 2002), Hayden will later say that this expansion is based on the intelligence community’s assessment “of a serious and continuing threat to the homeland.” Hayden’s program is reviewed and approved by lawyers at the NSA, the Justice Department, and the White House, as well as Attorney General John Ashcroft. (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - Though Bush officials admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, some evidence indicates that the domestic surveillance program began some time before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
The Justice Department publishes an interim regulation allowing non-citizens suspected of terrorism to be detained without charge for 48 hours or “an additional reasonable period of time” in the event of an “emergency or other extraordinary circumstance.” (Shenon and Toner 9/19/2001) The new rule is used to hold hundreds indefinitely until the Patriot Act passes in October (see October 26, 2001), providing more solid grounds to hold non-citizens without charge.
At some point after 9/11, the US government begins compiling a list of “high-value” al-Qaeda linked militant leaders to be killed or captured. President Bush authorizes the assassination of high-value targets on September 17, 2001 (see September 17, 2001), so the creation of the list presumably takes place shortly after that. US intelligence agencies typically propose a name for the list, and prepare a dossier that explains who the target is and why that person deserves to be on the list. Then, a committee of bureaucrats and lawyers from the Justice Department, CIA, Pentagon, and other agencies reviews the dossier. If it finds the evidence convincing, the name is included on the “high-value target” list, which means the person cannot only be captured by US forces, but is legally allowed to be killed. At any one time, there are between 10 and 30 people on the list. Top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are on the list from the very beginning. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will secretly authorize the killing of top targets anywhere in the world (see July 22, 2002), increasing the danger of being named on the list. In 2010, Anwar al-Awlaki will be added to the list. This will be the first time a US citizen is added. (Bohan et al. 5/12/2011) The CIA already had prepared a list of high-value targets it thought deserved to be assassinated before 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
In a memo, responding to a request from Deputy White House Counsel Timothy E. Flanigan, Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo provides legal advice on “the legality of the use of military force to prevent or deter terrorist activity inside the United States.” He addresses the question of how the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution applies to the use of “deadly force” by the military “in a manner that endangered the lives of United States citizens.” The Fourth Amendment requires the government to have some objective suspicion of criminal activity before it can infringe on an individual’s liberties, such as the right to privacy or the freedom of movement. Yoo writes that in light of highly destructive terrorist attacks, “the government may be justified in taking measures which in less troubled conditions could be seen as infringements of individual liberties.” If the president determines the threat of terrorism high enough to deploy the military inside US territory, then, Yoo writes, “we think that the Fourth Amendment should be no more relevant than it would be in cases of invasion or insurrection.” (Golden 10/24/2004) A month later, the Justice Department will issue a similar memo (see October 23, 2001).
Michael Creppy, the chief US immigration judge—actually an executive branch official in the Justice Department, the title of “judge” notwithstanding—orders that all deportation hearings be closed to the public, the press, and even family members. Creppy also prohibits immigration court administrators from listing the detainees’ names or cases on public dockets. The reason is not because there is reason to believe any particular detainee is a suspected terrorist. Instead, the administration asserts, national security demands blanket secrecy because terrorist cells might read about the deportation hearings in the press, piece together bits and pieces of information, and in doing so deduce valuable information about the government’s investigation into the 9/11 attacks and terrorism in general. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write: “Thus, the public would just have to trust that the government had arrested and deported the right people, even though their names were kept a secret and the decision to expel them from the country was made behind closed doors. By invoking the chance that the enemy might detect a pattern in otherwise harmless information, the government would be justified in withholding everything. The implication of its theory was that the public had no right to know anything, no matter how innocuous, because any tidbit of trivial information could potentially be stitched together with other minor bits of information to conceivably provide some useful insight for terrorists.” In separate proceedings, the Detroit Free Press and several New Jersey media organizations will challenge the Justice Department’s decision in court (see August 26, 2002 and October 2, 2002). (Savage 2007, pp. 94)
Less than two weeks after 9/11, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets up an interagency group to design a strategy for prosecuting terrorists, and specifically asks it to suggest military commissions as one viable option for prosecution of suspected terrorists.
Membership - The initial participants include Gonzales; White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan; Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; the vice president’s chief counsel, David Addington; National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger; and State Department lawyer Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former career prosecutor who now serves as State’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues and who will head the group.
Various Options - The group spends a month in a windowless conference room at State, bringing in experts from around the government, including military lawyers and Justice Department lawyers. The Justice Department advocates regular trials in civilian courts, such as the trials of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers (see February 26, 1993). However, many in the group object, noting that terrorist trials in regular courthouses on US soil pose security risks. The military lawyers propose courts-martial, which can take place anywhere in the world and would have military protection. A third option, military commissions, would offer the security of courts-martial without the established rules of evidence and procedure courts-martial have; setting up such a system might offer more flexibility in trying suspected terrorists, but many in the group wonder if President Bush would require Congressional authorization. Prosper will later recall, “We were going to go after the people responsible for the attacks, and the operating assumption was that we would capture a significant number of al-Qaeda operatives.” In addition to the use of military commissions, the group begins to work out three other options: ordinary criminal trials, military courts-martial, and tribunals with a mixed membership of civilians and military personnel. The option of a criminal trial by an ordinary federal court is quickly brushed aside for logistical reasons, according to Prosper. “The towers were still smoking, literally. I remember asking: Can the federal courts in New York handle this? It wasn’t a legal question so much as it was logistical. You had 300 al-Qaeda members, potentially. And did we want to put the judges and juries in harm’s way?” Despite the interagency group’s willingness to study the option of military commissions, lawyers at the White House, according to reporter Tim Golden, grow impatient with the group. Some of its members are seen to have “cold feet.” (Golden 10/24/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 135)
Parallel Process at White House - Unbeknownst to Prosper’s group, the White House is crafting its own version of military commissions or tribunals (see Late October 2001). When President Bush issues his executive order creating military tribunals (see November 13, 2001), Prosper and his group will first learn about it by watching the nightly news. (Savage 2007, pp. 138)
In a secret 15-page memo to Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flanigan, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, a deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel, reasons that it is “beyond question that the president has the plenary constitutional power to take such military actions as he deems necessary and appropriate to respond to the terrorist attacks” of 9/11. Those actions can be extensive. “The president may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the states that harbor or support them,” Yoo writes, “whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of Sept. 11.… Force can be used both to retaliate for those attacks, and to prevent and deter future assaults on the nation. Military actions need not be limited to those individuals, groups, or states that participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” The memo is solicited and overseen by White House lawyers.
Power Derives from Constitution, Congressional Authorization for War - This power of the president, Yoo states, rests both on the US Congress’ Joint Resolution of September 14 (see September 14-18, 2001) and on the War Powers Resolution of 1973. “Neither statute, however, can place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make.” (Most experts believe that the Constitution strictly limits the president’s power to declare and conduct war—see 1787).
Power More Extensive than Congress Authorized - Yoo argues further that the September 14 resolution does not represent the limits to the president’s authority. “We think it beyond question” that Congress cannot “place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make.” Congress’s “Joint Resolution is somewhat narrower than the president’s constitutional authority,” Yoo writes, as it “does not reach other terrorist individuals, groups, or states which cannot be determined to have links to the September 11 attacks.” The president’s broad power can be used against selected individuals suspected of posing a danger to the US, even though it may be “difficult to establish, by the standards of criminal law or even lower legal standards, that particular individuals or groups have been or may be implicated in attacks on the United States.” Yoo concludes: “[W]e do not think that the difficulty or impossibility of establishing proof to a criminal law standard (or of making evidence public) bars the president from taking such military measures as, in his best judgment, he thinks necessary or appropriate to defend the United States from terrorist attacks. In the exercise of his plenary power to use military force, the president’s decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable.”
'Unenumerated' Presidential Powers - Yoo even asserts that the president has more power than his memo claims: “[T]he president’s powers include inherent executive powers that are unenumerated in the Constitution,” including but not limited to the power to take the country to war without Congressional input. (US Department of Justice 9/25/2001; Savage 2007, pp. 121-122)
Memo Remains Secret for Three Years - The contents of this memo are not disclosed until mid-December 2004. (Isikoff 12/18/2004; Isikoff, Klaidman, and Hirsh 12/27/2004)
John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion that says the US can conduct electronic surveillance against its citizens without probable cause or warrants. According to the memo, the opinion was drafted in response to questions about whether it would be constitutional to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to state that searches may be approved when foreign intelligence collection is “a purpose” of the search, rather than “the purpose.” Yoo finds this would be constitutional, but goes further. He asserts that FISA is potentially in conflict with the Constitution, stating, “FISA itself is not required by the Constitution, nor is it necessarily the case that its current standards match exactly to Fourth Amendment standards.” Citing Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, in which the Supreme Court found that warrantless searches of students were permissible, Yoo argues that “reasonableness” and “special needs” are also the standards according to which warrantless monitoring of the private communications of US persons is permissible. According to Yoo, the Fourth Amendment requirement for probable cause and warrants prior to conducting a search pertain primarily to criminal investigations, and in any case cannot be construed to restrict presidential responsibility and authority concerning national security. Yoo further argues that in the context of the post-9/11 world, with the threat posed by terrorism and the military nature of the fight against terrorism, warrantless monitoring of communications is reasonable. Some information indicates the NSA began a broad program involving domestic surveillance prior to the 9/11 attacks, which contradicts the claim that the program began after, and in response to, the attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). (US Department of Justice 9/25/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Inspectors General 7/10/2009)
Yoo Memo Used to Support Legality of Warrantless Surveillance - Yoo’s memo will be cited to justify the legality of the warrantless domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush in October 2001 (see October 4, 2001). NSA Director General Michael Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general.” The various post-9/11 NSA surveillance activities authorized by Bush will come to be referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP), and the first memo directly supporting the program’s legality will be issued by Yoo on November 2, 2001, after the program has been initiated (see November 2, 2001). Many constitutional authorities will reject Yoo’s legal rationale. (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Yoo Memo Kept Secret from Bush Officials Who Might Object - According to a report by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker in the Washington Post, the memo’s “authors kept it secret from officials who were likely to object,” including ranking White House national security counsel John Bellinger, who reports to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Bellinger’s deputy, Bryan Cunningham, will tell the Post that Bellinger would have recommended having the program vetted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees surveillance under FISA. Gellman and Becker quote a “senior government lawyer” as saying that Vice President Dick Cheney’s attorney, David Addington, had “open contempt” for Bellinger, and write that “more than once he accused Bellinger, to his face, of selling out presidential authority for good ‘public relations’ or bureaucratic consensus.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
The Justice Department’s John Yoo, an official in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a secret opinion regarding legal statutes governing the use of certain interrogation techniques. The opinion will not be made public; its existence will not be revealed until October 18, 2007, when future OLC head Steven Bradbury will note its existence as part of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
President Bush issues a directive authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to operate a warrantless domestic surveillance program. Author/journalist Jane Mayer will report in 2011, “[O]n October 4, 2001, Bush authorized the policy, and it became operational by October 6th,” and, “[t]he new policy, which lawyers in the Justice Department justified by citing President Bush’s executive authority as commander in chief, contravened a century of constitutional case law.” Mayer will interview NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake for her article and quote him as saying that, following the October 4 directive, “strange things were happening. Equipment was being moved. People were coming to me and saying, ‘We’re now targeting our own country!’” Bush’s directive is based on a legal opinion drafted by Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel Deputy Attorney General John Yoo (see September 25, 2001). (Mayer 5/23/2011)
Conflicting Information regarding Date of First Authorization - The existence of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program will first be made public in December 2005, following reporting by the New York Times that will cite “[n]early a dozen current and former officials” (see December 15, 2005). The Times article will state that in 2002, “[m]onths after the Sept. 11 attacks,” Bush signed an executive order authorizing the NSA to monitor domestic phone calls, including those of US citizens and permanent residents, if one end of the call was outside the country. The Times article also mentions an NSA “‘special collection program’ [that] began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, as it looked for new tools to attack terrorism.” The difference between the October 4, 2001 directive and the 2002 executive order referred to by the Times is unclear. (Risen and Lichtblau 12/16/2005)
Other Sources for October Directive - Other sources, including Bush, NSA Director General Michael Hayden, and the inspectors general of five separate agencies, will later refer to a presidential order having been given in “October,” or “weeks” after the 9/11 attacks, and say that, subsequent to this order, international calls of US persons are targeted for content-monitoring. Following the publication of the Times article, Bush will say in a December 17, 2005 radio address: “In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with US law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks” (see December 17, 2005). This presidential authorization was based on a legal opinion drafted by Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo (see October 18, 2001). (Bush 12/17/2005) Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001,” which is when he “gathered key members of the NSA workforce… [and] introduced [the NSA’s] new operational authority to them.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general,” and that “the three most senior and experienced lawyers in NSA… supported the lawfulness of this program.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006) In a July 10, 2009 jointly-issued report, the inspectors general of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, CIA, NSA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence will refer to the “President’s Surveillance Program” (PSP) and “the program’s inception in October 2001.” The report will say: “One of the activities authorized as part of the PSP was the interception of the content of communications into and out of the United States where there was a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication was a member of al-Qaeda or related terrorist organizations.… The attorney general subsequently publicly acknowledged the fact that other intelligence activities were also authorized under the same presidential authorization, but the details of those activities remain classified.” (Inspectors General 7/10/2009) Citing “a senior administration official,” the Washington Post will report on January 4, 2006: “The secret NSA program… was authorized in October 2001.… The president and senior aides have publicly discussed various aspects of the program, but neither the White House, the NSA, nor the office of the director of national intelligence would say what day the president authorized it.” (Linzer 1/4/2006)
It is reported that the FBI and Justice Department have ordered FBI agents across the US to cut back on their investigation of the September 11 attacks, so as to focus on preventing future, possibly imminent, attacks. According to the New York Times, while law enforcement officials say the investigation of 9/11 is continuing aggressively, “At the same time… efforts to thwart attacks have been given a much higher priority.” Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller “have ordered agents to drop their investigation of the [9/11] attacks or any other assignment any time they learn of a threat or lead that might suggest a future attack.” Mueller believes his agents have “a broad understanding of the events of September 11,” and now need “to concentrate on intelligence suggesting that other terrorist attacks [are] likely.” The Times quotes an unnamed law enforcement official: “The investigative staff has to be made to understand that we’re not trying to solve a crime now. Our number one goal is prevention.” (Shenon and Johnston 10/9/2001) At a news conference the previous day, Ashcroft stated that—following the commencement of the US-led attacks on Afghanistan—he had placed federal law enforcement on the highest level of alert. But he refused to say if he had received any specific new threats of terrorist attacks. (US Department of Justice 10/8/2001) The New York Times also reports that Ashcroft and Mueller have ordered FBI agents to end their surveillance of some terrorist suspects and immediately take them into custody. However, some agents have been opposed to this order because they believe that “surveillance—if continued for days or weeks—might turn up critical evidence to prove who orchestrated the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” (Shenon and Johnston 10/9/2001) Justice Department communications director Mindy Tucker responds to the New York Times article, saying it “is not accurate,” and that the investigation into 9/11 “has not been curtailed, it is ongoing.” (United Press International 10/9/2001)
It is reported that Attorney General John Ashcroft and his Justice Department is assuming control of all terrorism-related prosecutions from the US Attorney’s office in New York, which has had a highly successful record of accomplishment in prosecuting cases connected to bin Laden. 15 of the 22 suspects listed on a most wanted terrorism list a month after 9/11 had already been indicted by the New York office in recent years. A former federal prosecutor says of the New York office, “For eight years, they have developed an expertise in these prosecutions and the complex facts that surround these groups. If ever there was a case where you’d want to play to your strength, this is it.” (Weiser and Rashbaum 10/11/2001) A grand jury in the New York district began investigating the 9/11 attacks one week after 9/11. But media accounts of this grand jury’s activity stop by late October 2001 and there appears to be no other grand jury taking its place (see September 18, 2001).
On October 11, 2001, President Bush uses his first prime-time news conference to give an update on the early stages of the war on terrorism. He confirms that the Justice Department just issued a blanket alert “in recognition of a general threat.” (CNN News 10/11/2001) This general threat never materializes. On October 29, the administration warns again of plans to strike the United States “in the next week.” In a quickly called news conference, US Attorney General John Ashcroft says intelligence sources have found “credible” information the nation could be the focus for some sort of terrorist attack within the week. No specific information is provided to the public now or later to explain what information may have caused this alert. (CNN News 10/29/2001) Bush tells Americans “to go about their lives, to fly on airplanes, to travel, to work.” (Rich 2006, pp. 36)
David Iglesias is sworn in as the US Attorney for New Mexico. He is the first Hispanic US Attorney for the state. He is a former JAG (judge advocate general) officer for the US Navy, and his defense of two Marines accused of assaulting a fellow officer later became the inspiration for the movie A Few Good Men. (CBS News 2007; Thomas 2011) Iglesias will later point out that the main character in the movie, a crusading JAG officer played by Tom Cruise, “was based on a composite of the three of us JAGs assigned to the case.” (Iglesias and Seay 5/2008, pp. 31) Iglesias served in the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) from 1984 through 1988, and continues to serve as a Navy JAG officer in the Naval Reserves. He spent three years as an assistant in the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, then became Assistant City Attorney in Albuquerque from 1991 through 1994. He served in a variety of federal and state legal positions until 2001, when he entered private practice. He ran unsuccessfully as the Republican candidate for New Mexico’s attorney general in 1998, and received the active support of Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). Iglesias will tell the Justice Department that he considered Domenici his mentor and someone who might lend assistance if he continued to pursue a political career. Iglesias joined Heather Wilson (R-NM) at campaign events in 1998, when Wilson won a seat in the House of Representatives. In 2000, Iglesias headed a New Mexico group called “Lawyers for Bush.” After the election, Iglesias submitted his name for the US Attorney position for New Mexico, and again received Domenici’s support for the job. In 2004, Iglesias will be asked by the White House to become the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, and later an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security. Iglesias will turn down these offers. He will also be considered for US Attorney positions in New York and Washington, DC. There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
The Justice Department’s John Yoo and Robert Delahunty issue a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales claiming President Bush has sweeping powers in wartime that essentially void large portions of the Constitution. The memo, which says that Bush can order military operations inside the US (see October 23, 2001), also says that Bush can suspend First Amendment freedoms: “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It adds that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.” (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009)
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 ; Lewis 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 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Mikkelson 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 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Mikkelson 3/2/2009; Sanchez 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.” (Isikoff 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. (Eggen and White 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?” (Greenwald 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. (Meyer and Barnes 3/3/2009)
John McKay is sworn in as the US Attorney for the Western District of Washington State. McKay has little or no experience as a prosecutor; most of his legal career has been spent in private practice, except for a brief stint as a special assistant to then-FBI Director William Sessions. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008; Thomas 2011) McKay was president of the Congressionally established Legal Services Corporation in Washington, DC, a private non-profit corporation designed to ensure low-income citizens receive adequate legal representation. He was a White House Fellow in 1989-1990, where he worked with Sessions. (US Department of Justice 12/14/2006) There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
Newly appointed US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) begins investigating the murder of Thomas C. Wales, an Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) in the office. Wales, a popular AUSA and a strong advocate of gun control, was murdered three weeks before McKay took office, when someone shot and killed him through his basement window. Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis had recused the office from investigating the crime, because, McKay will later state, the Justice Department (DOJ) had no confidence in the prosecutor initially assigned to the case. Moreover, as the case was a likely candidate for a death penalty prosecution, he will tell a reporter that the office is recused because “[y]ou couldn’t have Tom’s friends in the office making those kinds of decisions.”
Begins Pressuring Justice Department - Shortly after taking office, McKay begins pressuring Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Larry Thompson to replace the prosecutor on the Wales case. McKay will recall having several “tense conversations” with Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Christopher Wray concerning this issue. In March 2002, the DOJ assigns a more experienced prosecutor to the case. The DOJ sends no additional manpower to Seattle to help with the case, and initially offers a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer, an amount FBI Special Agent Charles Mandigo will later call “insultingly small.” (After McKay’s intervention, the DOJ later raises the reward to $1 million.) McKay later says that while he is not directly involved in the investigation, he pushed hard for the DOJ to commit more resources to the investigation, and felt it was his responsibility to act as a conduit between the Seattle FBI office and the DOJ regarding resources for the case. He will say that while he was assertive, he remained professional and appropriate in his conduct; no one in the DOJ ever complained to him about his actions, he will say. “My mistake was that I assumed ‘recusal’ was ‘recusal’,” he will say. “I had erred in assuming that I was completely recused from even asking questions about the allocation of resources. I assumed it would have the highest priority within the Department of Justice. I once worked at the FBI for a year, and during that time an agent was killed in Las Vegas. They deploy like crazy when an agent is killed. Agents got off the airplane that night from DC to investigate. The director of the FBI flew out. That was not the reaction we were getting from the Department of Justice after Tom Wales was killed. Over 2002, I decided that really it should be my job to advocate for appropriate resources to be devoted to the Wales case.”
Speculation as to Politicization of Investigation - Many involved in the investigation believe that the Wales murder is a low priority for the DOJ because his liberal politics clash with the rightward tilt of the senior officials appointed by the Bush administration.
Aggressive but Appropriate - A 2008 Justice Department investigation of the 2006 US Attorney firings (see September 29, 2008) will find no reason to dispute McKay’s recollection of events. Both Thompson and Wray will describe McKay as being aggressive about making sure the investigation has adequate resources. Thompson will recall no tension between himself and McKay, though he will recall some of his then-staff members complaining about McKay’s pressure and demands for resources. Thompson will admit to becoming irritated with McKay on occasion, but will emphasize that McKay conducted himself in an appropriate manner at all times. It was “not new in the annals of the Department of Justice [that] a DAG got aggravated with a US Attorney,” he will say. He will not recall discussing the matter with Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the architect of the plan to fire the US Attorneys (see November 15, 2006). Wray will recall that some in the DOJ considered McKay to be “high maintenance,” in regard to the Wales investigation and with other issues. While some in the DAG’s office informally discussed McKay’s behavior among themselves, Wray will recall, no formal review of his conduct was ever undertaken. Wray will also not recall any discussions with Sampson, though he will say he kept Gonzales’s office apprised of the events surrounding the Wales investigation. Margolis will recall McKay being somewhat emotional about the Wales case and extremely pushy, he found his conduct entirely justifiable considering the situation. Margolis will say that he doubts Sampson would have listed McKay for removal because of his interactions with Thompson. (Toobin 8/6/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
Remains Unsolved - The Wales murder will remain unsolved. (Toobin 8/6/2007)
The Justice Department issues a regulation that allows eavesdropping on attorney-client conversations in federal prisons wherever there is “reasonable suspicion… to believe that a particular inmate may use communications with attorneys to further or facilitate acts of terrorism.” The regulation requires written notice to the inmate and attorney, “except in the case of prior court authorization.” Officials no longer have to show probable cause or get a court order. The Los Angeles Times says the new policy is “sharply criticized by a broad array of lawyers and lawmakers.” (Savage and Jackson 11/10/2001; Sorensen 11/12/2001)
John Yoo, the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) deputy assistant attorney general, sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft justifying warrantless surveillance of US persons. The National Security Agency (NSA)‘s domestic surveillance authorized by President Bush (see October 4, 2001, Early 2002, and December 15, 2005) will come to be publicly referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP). This is not the first Yoo memo supporting warrantless surveillance (see September 25, 2001), but a 2009 report on the PSP jointly issued by the inspectors general (IGs) of the Department of Defense (DOD), DOJ, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will refer to it as “[t]he first OLC opinion directly supporting the legality of the PSP.” The IGs’ report will quote from and comment on the memo, noting that “deficiencies in Yoo’s memorandum identified by his successors in the Office of Legal Counsel and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General later became critical to DOJ’s decision to reassess the legality of the program in 2003.” According to the IGs’ report, Yoo asserts that warrantless surveillance is constitutional as long as it is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment, which only protects against “unreasonable searches and siezures.” On this point, the IGs’ report will note that Yoo’s successors were troubled by his failure to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), which found the president’s wartime authority to be limited. His memo does acknowledge that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “purports to be the exclusive statutory means for conducting electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence,” but asserts that it is only a “safe harbor for electronic surveillance” because it cannot “restrict the president’s ability to engage in warrantless searches that protect the national security.” Yoo also writes that Congress has not “made a clear statement in FISA that it sought to restrict presidential authority to conduct warrantless searches in the national security area.” The IGs’ report will state that Yoo’s successors considered this problematic because Yoo has omitted discussion of the fact that FISA explicitly authorizes the president to conduct warrantless surveillance during the first 15 days following a declaration of war by Congress, which they considered an expression of Congress’s intent to restrict warrantless surveillance to a limited period of time and specific circumstances. The IGs’ report will also state that Yoo’s memo discusses “the legal rationale for Other Intelligence Activities authorized as part of the PSP,” and that Yoo concludes, “[W]e do not believe that Congress may restrict the president’s inherent constitutional powers, which allow him to gather intelligence necessary to defend the nation from direct attack.” The IGs’ report will say that “Yoo’s discussion of some of the Other Intelligence Activities did not accurately describe the scope of these activities,” and that Yoo’s successors considered his discussion of these other activities to be “insufficient and presenting a serious impediment to recertification of the program as to form and legality.” (Inspectors General 7/10/2009, pp. pp. 11-13)
Memo's Existence Revealed by ACLU Lawsuit - On December 15, 2005, the New York Times will report that Bush authorized an NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program after the 9/11 attacks (see December 15, 2005). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will request records pertaining to the program under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and then sue the Justice Department for the release of records. The existence of Yoo’s November 2 memo will first be revealed in an October 19, 2007 deposition filed by then head of the OLC Steven Bradbury in response to the ACLU lawsuit, which says that it “[concerns] the legality of certain communications intelligence activities.” After the 2009 release of the IGs’ report the ACLU will notify the court and the government will agree to reprocess four OLC memos, including Yoo’s November 2 memo. This memo and a May 6, 2004 memo by Yoo’s OLC successor Jack Goldsmith that disputes many of Yoo’s conclusions will be released in heavily redacted form on March 18, 2011. (ACLU.org 2/7/2006; United States District Court of DC 10/19/2007; American Civil Liberties Union 3/19/2011)
Constitutional Experts Dispute Yoo's Legal Rationale - Numerous authorities on the law will question or reject the legal bases for warrantless domestic surveillance. In 2003, Yoo will leave the OLC. Goldsmith will begin a review of the PSP, after which he will conclude it is probably illegal in some respects and protest, within the executive branch, its continuation (see Late 2003-Early 2004 and December 2003-June 2004). Following the public disclosure of its existence, a January 5, 2006 report by the Congressional Research Service will find it to be of dubious legality (see January 5, 2006). On January 19, 2006, the DOJ will issue a 42-page white paper laying out the legal bases for the program (see January 19, 2006). These bases will be reviewed and rejected by 14 constitutional scholars and former government officials in a joint letter to Congress on February 2, 2006. (al [PDF] 2/2/2006 ) The American Bar Association will adopt a resolution on February 13, 2006 that rejects DOJ’s arguments and calls on Congress to investigate the program. (Delegates 2/13/2006 ) On August 17, 2006, in the case ACLU v. NSA, US district judge Anna Diggs Taylor will reject the government’s invocation of the “state secrets privilege” and its argument that plaintiffs’ lack standing due to their being unable to prove they were surveilled, and will rule that warrantless surveillance is in violation of “the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA, and Title III” (see August 17, 2006). Taylor’s ruling will be overturned on appeal, on the grounds that the plaintiffs lack standing as they cannot prove that surveillance has occurred. In another case, Al Haramain v. Barack Obama, the government will make the same arguments, but US district judge Vaughn Walker will reject these and conclude in 2010 that illegal surveillance occurred (see March 31, 2010). (Al-Haramain v. Obama 3/31/2010)
Margaret Chiara and Daniel Bogden are sworn in as US Attorneys for the Western District of Michigan and Nevada, respectively. Bogden served for five years in the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General’s Office before moving on to become a prosecutor in Reno, Nevada. He became an Assistant US Attorney in Nevada in 1990. He was recommended for the US Attorney position by Senator John Ensign (R-NV). Chiara was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate and is Michigan’s first female US Attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor, and before her selection as US Attorney, was the policy and planning director for the Michigan Supreme Court. She will serve on three subcommittees of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC): Native American Issues, Management and Budget, and US Attorneys’ Offices Outreach. Chiara replaces Interim US Attorney Phillip Green, who becomes First Assistant US Attorney. Joan Meyer, formerly the First Assistant, becomes a line assistant. Meyer will later be appointed Criminal Chief of the office. These personnel decisions will impact later events in Chiara’s office. Chiara will successfully prosecute Michigan’s first death-penalty case since 1938, will increase felony prosecutions and convictions in her district by 15 percent, and will develop a widely used attorney training and mentoring program. (CBS News 2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008; Waas 4/2009; Thomas 2011) There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
The Justice Department announces that it has put 1,182 people into secret custody since 9/11. Most all of them are from the Middle East or South Asia. (Lewis 8/3/2002) After this it stops releasing new numbers, but human rights groups believe the total number could be as high as 2,000. (Gumbel 2/26/2002) Apparently this is roughly the peak for secret arrests, and eventually most of the prisoners are released, and none are charged with any terrorist acts (see July 3, 2002; December 11, 2002). Their names will still not have been revealed (see August 2, 2002).
In conjunction with the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation publishes a legal paper that appears to reflect much of the thinking at this time of prominent White House and Justice Department lawyers. The paper espouses the use of military commissions, arguing that this will offer the government several advantages. “In particular,” the paper’s authors argue, “trials before military tribunals need not be open to the general public and they may be conducted on an expedited basis, permitting the quick resolution of individual cases and avoiding the disclosure of highly sensitive intelligence material, which would have to be made public in an ordinary criminal trial.” The disadvantage of a normal trial would be that they would be limited by constitutional rules with regard to “what can be done to protect classified information.” In addition, in “federal district courts, the government has an obligation under Article III and the Sixth Amendment to conduct a ‘public trial’ and present to the jury, in open court, the facts on which it is relying to establish a defendant’s guilt.” But the authors do acknowledge that “[t]he use of military commissions with respect to individuals not regularly enrolled in a military force, represents a clear departure from normal legal processes and some of America’s most fundamental judicial traditions.” Surprisingly, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 are not mentioned even once. Almost in passing, the authors suggest an option that is to become reality. “[I]t is likely,” they write, “that the Supreme Court would allow the trial overseas by military commission of al-Qaeda members captured in Afghanistan, regardless of how it would treat defendants in this country.” (Rivkin, Casey, and Bartram 11/5/2001; Rivkin, Casey, and Bartram 11/5/2001) It is an indication that by this time the government contemplates using the US Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, which is formally on Cuban soil, to accommodate suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees.
John Yoo, a lawyer with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), writes a legal opinion that claims the attorney general, under Executive Order 12333 (see December 4, 1981), can grant the deputy attorney general the legal authority to approve the use of surveillance techniques for which a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes. (US Department of Justice 11/5/2001; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Patrick Philbin, an attorney with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, writes a lengthy and detailed memo arguing that the president may establish so-called “military commissions” for the trial and disposition of terror suspects without involvement in the US criminal justice system. Furthermore, Philbin opines, the president may do so without the approval or even the knowledge of Congress. (US Department of Justice 11/6/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ) Philbin’s central argument is that 9/11 was an act of war, not a crime, and therefore the attacks triggered the president’s full array of war powers, including the inherent authority to create military commissions. Philbin cites a 1942 case where then-President Roosevelt created a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs captured inside the US during the first year of America’s involvement in World War II (see 1942); even though the Supreme Court backed Roosevelt, he felt unsure of the legality of such commissions, and did not use them in later trials of captured saboteurs. Since World War II, the laws of war have undergone drastic revisions, with Congress enacting the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which said that if military commissions were ever to be used again, they should use, as much as is practical, the same procedures and defendant rights as are found in military courts-martial. The Senate had also ratified the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which granted all wartime prisoners the right to a fair trial. Philbin’s memo ignores everything except the 1942 military commissions, and argues that if the president has the inherent and exclusive right to set up military commissions, as the Supreme Court had found, then Congress has no authority to restrict that right. (Savage 2007, pp. 136-137)
John Yoo, a lawyer for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and a member of Vice President Cheney’s ad hoc legal team tasked to radically expand the power of the presidency, writes a legal brief declaring that President Bush does not need approval from Congress or the federal courts for denying suspected terrorists access to US courts, and instead can be tried in military commissions (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Two other team members, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington and White House deputy counsel Timothy Flanigan, have decided that the government bureaucrats need to see that Bush can and will act, in the words of author Craig Unger, “without their blessing—and without the interminable process that goes along with getting that blessing.” Yoo’s opinion is a powerful object lesson. Yoo later says that he saw no need to seek the opinion of the State Department’s lawyers; that department hosts the archives of the Geneva Conventions and its lawyers are among the government’s top experts on the laws of war. “The issue we dealt with was: Can the president do it constitutionally?” Yoo will say. “State—they wouldn’t have views on that.” Neither does Yoo see a need to consult with his own superiors at the Justice Department. Attorney General John Ashcroft is livid upon learning that the draft gives the Justice Department no say in which alleged terrorists will be tried in military commissions. According to witnesses, Ashcroft confronts Cheney and David Addington over the brief, reminding Cheney that he is the president’s senior law enforcement officer; he supervises the FBI and oversees terrorism prosecutions throughout the nation. The Justice Department must have a voice in the tribunal process. He is enraged, participants in the meeting recall, that Yoo had recommended otherwise as part of the White House’s strategy to deny jurisdiction to the courts. Ashcroft talks over Addington and brushes aside interjections from Cheney: “The thing I remember about it is how rude, there’s no other word for it, the attorney general was to the vice president,” one participant recalls. But Cheney refuses to acquiesce to Ashcroft’s objections. Worse for Ashcroft, Bush refuses to discuss the matter with him, leaving Cheney as the final arbiter of the matter. In the following days, Cheney, a master of bureaucratic manipulation, will steer the new policy towards Bush’s desk for approval while avoiding the usual, and legal, oversight from the State Department, the Justice Department, Congress, and potentially troublesome White House lawyers and presidential advisers. Cheney will bring the order to Bush for his signature, brushing aside any involvement by Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see November 11-13, 2001). (Unger 2007, pp. 222-223; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Attorney General John Ashcroft announces that the Justice Department is now on what he calls a “wartime footing.” The agency is revamping its priorities to refocus its efforts on battling terrorism. According to Ashcroft, a plan, which he intends to submit to Congress, mandates a reorganization of the Justice Department, as well as component agencies such as the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), both of which will be overhauled to take a more aggressive stance in the effort to ward off terrorism. The plan will take five years to fully implement. Ashcroft is reticent about the details of the plans, but some proposals include:
Allowing federal prison authorities to eavesdrop on prisoners conferring with their attorneys, effectively voiding the attorney-client privilege, if those prisoners are considered to be a threat to national security;
Redirecting 10 percent of the Justice Department’s budget, or about $2.5 billion, to counterterrorism efforts;
Restructuring the INS to focus on identifying, deporting, and prosecuting illegal aliens, with a special focus on potential terrorists.
The eavesdropping privilege causes an immediate stir among civil libertarians and Constitutional scholars. Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker notes that the order has already been published in the Federal Register and is, essentially, the law. Information gathered by authorities during such eavesdropping sessions would not be used in criminal prosecutions of the suspects, Tucker promises. “The team that listens is not involved in the criminal proceedings,” she says. “There’s a firewall there.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he agrees with the general idea of refocusing the agency on terrorism, but suggests Ashcroft’s plan be reviewed by an existing commission that is now examining the FBI’s counterintelligence operations. That commission is headed by former FBI Director William Webster. Leahy’s fellow senator, Charles Grassley (R-IA), says: “As with any reorganization, the devil will be in the details. I hope for new accountability measures, not just structural changes.” Ashcroft says: “Defending our nation and defending the citizens of America against terrorist attacks is now our first and overriding priority. To fulfill this mission, we are devoting all the resources necessary to eliminate terrorist networks, to prevent terrorist attacks, and to bring to justice all those who kill Americans in the name of murderous ideologies.” (Johnston 11/3/2001; Rich 2006, pp. 35) “It is amazing to me that Ashcroft is essentially trying to dismantle the bureau,” says a former FBI executive director. “They don’t know their history and they are not listening to people who do.” (Hodge 12/4/2001)
At a private lunch meeting, Vice President Cheney presents President Bush with a four-page memo, written in strict secrecy by lawyer John Yoo of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see November 6-10, 2001), and a draft executive order that establishes military commissions for the trial of suspected terrorists (see November 10, 2001). The legal brief mandates that foreign terrorism suspects held in US custody have no access to any courts whatsoever, civil, criminal, military, domestic, or foreign. They can be detained indefinitely without charges. If they are to be tried, they can be tried in closed “military commissions.” (White House 11/13/2001; Savage 2007, pp. 138; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Military Commissions Suitable to 'Unitary Executive' Agenda - According to author Craig Unger, military commissions are a key element of Cheney’s drive towards a “unitary executive,” the accretion of governmental powers to the presidency at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. Federal trials for terror suspects would put them under all the legal procedures provided under the US judicial system, an unacceptable alternative. Military courts-martial would give them the rights granted by the Geneva Conventions. Military commissions, however, are essentially tribunals operating outside of both civilian and military law. Defendants have few rights. Secret evidence can be admitted without being disclosed to the defendants. Hearsay and coerced testimony are admissible. Prisoners can be held indefinitely. (Unger 2007, pp. 221-222)
No Bureaucratic Footprints - After Bush peruses the memo and the draft order, Cheney takes them back with him to his office. After leaving Bush, Cheney takes extraordinary steps to ensure that no evidence of his involvement remains. The order passes from Cheney to his chief counsel David Addington, and then to associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson. At Berenson, the provenance of the order breaks, as no one tells him of its origin. Berenson rushes the order to deputy staff secretary Stuart Bowen with instructions to prepare it for signature immediately, without advance distribution to Bush’s top advisers. Bowen objects, saying that he had handled thousands of presidential documents without ever sidestepping the strict procedures governing coordination and review. Bowen relents only after being subjected to what he will later recall as “rapid, urgent persuasion” that Bush is standing by to sign and that the order is too sensitive to delay. Berenson will later say he understood that “someone had briefed” Bush “and gone over it” already. “I don’t know who that was.” When it is returned to Bush’s office later in the day, Bush signs it immediately (see November 13, 2001). Virtually no one else has seen the text of the memo. The Cheney/Yoo proposal has become a military order from the commander in chief.
Dodging Proper Channels - The government has had an interagency working group, headed by Pierre Prosper, the ambassador at large for war crimes, working on the same question (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). But Cheney and Addington have refused to have any contact with Prosper’s group; one of Cheney’s team later says, “The interagency [group] was just constipated.” Cheney leapfrogged over Prosper’s group with their own proposal, performing an adroit bureaucratic move that puts their proposal in place without any oversight whatsoever, and cutting Prosper’s group entirely out of the process. When the news of the order is broadcast on CNN, Secretary of State Colin Powell demands, “What the hell just happened?” An angry Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, sends an aide to find out. Virtually no one, even witnesses to the presidential signing, know that Cheney promulgated the order. In 2007, Washington Post reporters Barton Gellman and Jo Becker will call the episode “a defining moment in Cheney’s tenure” as vice president. Cheney has little Constitutional power, but his deft behind-the-scenes manuevering and skilled bureaucratic gamesmanship enable him to pull off coups like this one, often leaving even the highest White House officials none the wiser. “[H]e has found a ready patron in George W. Bush for edge-of-the-envelope views on executive supremacy that previous presidents did not assert,” the reporters write. (White House 11/13/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 221-222; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Quiet Contravening of US Law - Six years later, Unger will observe that few inside or outside Washington realize that Cheney has, within a matter of days, contravened and discarded two centuries of American law. He has given the president, in the words of former Justice Department lawyer Bruce Fein, “the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor in the trial of war crimes [and] the authority to detain American citizens as enemy combatants indefinitely… a frightening power indistinguishable from King Louis XIV’s execrated lettres de cachet that occasioned the storming of the Bastille.” (Unger 2007, pp. 223-224)
Paul Charlton is sworn in as the US Attorney for Arizona. (CBS News 2007; Thomas 2011) An experienced prosecutor, Charlton was recommended for the position by Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and John McCain (R-AZ). He began as an interim US Attorney, and was reappointed to the position after 120 days by the federal district court, as the law provides. President Bush nominated him for the position in July 2001, and he was confirmed by the Senate. He will go on to chair the Border and Immigration Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC), replacing US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001). He will also create a program to protect crime victims, praised by the Justice Department as a “model program” in 2006. He and his staff will consistently be ranked in the top three US Attorneys’ offices in number and quality of prosecutions and convictions, and have notably high rates of convictions in the targeted areas of drugs, weapons, and immigration crimes. Charlton will also establish the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC), which will successfully improve communications and coordination between numerous law enforcement agencies. There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. (Iglesias and Seay 5/2008, pp. 119; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
John Yoo and Robert Delahunty of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) write a classified memo to John Bellinger, the senior legal counsel to the National Security Council. Yoo and Delahunty claim that President Bush has the unilateral authority to “suspend certain articles” of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the US and Russia (see May 26, 1972). Six months later, President Bush will withdraw the US from the treaty (see December 13, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/15/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ) The memo will not be released until two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009).
Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, an official with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but its existence will be revealed in a June 2007 deposition filed in the course of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit. The memo is known to cover the War Crimes Act, the Hague Convention, the Geneva Conventions, the federal criminal code, and detainee treatment. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ) It is co-authored by OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty. (Nguyen and Weaver 4/16/2009)
The Justice Department sends a memo to the CIA approving inter alia the agency’s application of sleep deprivation, the use of phobias, and the deployment of “stress factors” in interrogating terrorist suspects. The only clear prohibition is “causing severe physical or mental pain.” (Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004) The CIA had requested legal guidance from the Justice Department on how to make interrogations more effective. The need to improve its methods was becoming pressing as the US was getting its hands on increasing numbers of people from the Afghan theater of operations. (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)
At some point in the winter of 2001, the FBI has Bruce Ivins take a polygraph test over the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Ivins is a microbiologist with expertise in anthrax, and works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. The FBI’s investigation soon focuses on the possibility that the anthrax attacks could be caused by a single person working at a US lab such as USAMRIID (see November 10, 2001), so Ivins is a likely suspect. But at the same time, he is also assisting the FBI with the anthrax investigation (see Mid-October 2001). Ivins passes the test and retains his role assisting with the investigation. In 2002, more and more USAMRIID employees are given polygraph tests, but Ivins is not tested again. Gerry Andrews, Ivins’s boss at the time, will later explain that Ivins is already considered to be in the “safety zone” of cleared suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ivins is never polygraphed again. (Williamson and Gorman 8/7/2008) However, WorldNetDaily will claim that Ivins is given a second polygraph test years later, after he becomes a prime suspect, and he passes that as well. The FBI will later grow so frustrated at the polygraph results that in October 2007 they will ask a judge for permission to search his home and cars specifically to look for any materials, such as books, that could have helped him “defeat a polygraph.” FBI handwriting analysts also are unable to match samples of Ivins’s handwriting with the writing on the anthrax letters. When this analysis is made is unknown. (WorldNetDaily 8/7/2008) Justice Department official Dean Boyd will later say, “[Ivins] was told he had passed [the polygraph] because we thought he did.” But after Ivins comes under increased suspicion, the FBI had experts re-examine the polygraph results and concluded he had used “countermeasures” such as controlled breathing to cheat the test. However, the FBI has not publicly released the polygraph results and details of the testing remain murky. (Isikoff 8/9/2008)
At the Justice Department, an attorney-adviser in the Professional Responsibility Advisory Office (PRAO) named Jesselyn Radack provides a federal prosecutor in the terrorism and violent crimes section of the Criminal Division with advice on John Walker Lindh’s case. She informs him that “The FBI wants to interview American Taliban member John Walker [Lindh] some time next week… about taking up arms against the US.” She also writes: “I consulted with a senior legal adviser here at PRAO and we don’t think you can have the FBI agent question Walker. It would be a pre-indictment, custodial overt interview, which is not authorized by law.” She also advises him to have the FBI agent inform Lindh that his parents hired attorneys for him and ask him whether he wants to be represented by them. (Newsweek 12/7/2001) In 2009, Radack will recall: “I was called with the specific question of whether or not the FBI on the ground could interrogate [Lindh] without counsel. And I had been told unambiguously that Lindh’s parents had retained counsel for him (see December 3-5, 2001). I gave that advice on a Friday, and the same attorney at Justice who inquired called back on Monday and said essentially, ‘Oops, they did it anyway. They interrogated him anyway. What should we do now?’ My office was there to help correct mistakes. And I said, ‘Well, this is an unethical interrogation, so you should seal it off and use it only for intelligence-gathering purposes or national security, but not for criminal prosecution.’ A few weeks later, Attorney General Ashcroft held one of his dramatic press conferences, in which he announced a complaint being filed against Lindh. He was asked if Lindh had been permitted counsel. And he said, in effect, ‘To our knowledge, the subject has not requested counsel.’ That was just completely false. About two weeks after that he held another press conference, because this was the first high-profile terrorism prosecution after 9/11. And in that press conference he was asked again about Lindh’s rights, and he said that Lindh’s rights had been carefully, scrupulously guarded, which, again, was contrary to the facts, and contrary to the picture that was circulating around the world of Lindh blindfolded, gagged, naked, bound to a board.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009) Shortly thereafter, Radack will be fired from, and investigated by, the Justice Department (see Late December 2001 - 2002).
Qatari citizen Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a computer science graduate student at Illinois’s Bradley University, is arrested as a material witness to the 9/11 attacks. (Lucian 12/19/2001; Hirschkom 12/13/2005) Al-Marri was interviewed twice by the FBI, once on October 2 and again on December 11. Both times, according to the FBI, he lied in response to their questions. Al-Marri claimed to have entered the US on September 10, 2001, his first visit to the country since 1991, when he earned his undergraduate degree at Bradley. (CBS News 6/23/2003; Hirschkom 12/13/2005)
Connections to 9/11 Terrorists Alleged - The FBI says al-Marri has been in the US since 2000. Al-Marri denied calling the United Arab Emirates phone number of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of suspected “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui. Prosecutors say al-Hawsawi provided financial backing to Moussaoui and the 9/11 hijackers, and allegedly helped some of the hijackers travel from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates and then to the US in preparation for the attacks. (CBS News 6/23/2003; Thompson 3/2007) (Al-Hawsawi will be captured in Pakistan in March 2003, and detained in an undisclosed location somewhere outside the US. See Early-Late June, 2001) (Hirschkom 12/13/2005) The government also alleges that the phone number was a contact number for Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, another unindicted co-conspirator in the Moussaoui indictment. The government says that two calling cards were used to call the number, which was also listed as a contact number on a package it believes was sent by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta to the UAE on September 8, 2001. The cards were allegedly used to place phone calls from al-Marri’s residence, from his cellphone, and from the Marriott hotel room he was staying in on September 11. However, none of the three calls to the UAE number were made from phones registered to Al-Marri, though, nor is there proof he placed them. Some of the calls made from the card to the UAE were placed to relatives of al-Marri. (Bradley Scout 3/29/2002) In March 2002, Justice Department official Alice Fisher will say that an unnamed al-Qaeda detainee “in a position to know… positively identified al-Marri as an al-Qaeda sleeper operative who was tasked to help new al-Qaeda operatives get settled in the United States for follow-on attacks after 9/11.” That unidentified tipster brought al-Marri to the attention of federal law enforcement shortly after the attacks. FBI officials have said that al-Marri is not considered to have played any part in the attacks, but is still considered a danger to the US. (McCaffrey 6/23/2003) In 2003, the FBI adds that it found “an almanac with bookmarks in pages that provided information about major US dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads.” (Simpson 6/24/2003) He is believed to be a relative of Saudi national and future Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani, who is said to be an intended 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). (Golden and van Natal 6/21/2004)
Bank and Credit Card Fraud - According to the FBI, al-Marri obtained a bank account under a false name, rented a motel room under a false name to create a mailing address, and formed a fake company, AAA Carpet, using the motel’s address. The FBI also says al-Marri used a fake Social Security number to open three other bank accounts. Al-Marri was carrying well over 15 fake credit card numbers on him when he was interviewed yesterday, says the US Attorney’s office in Illinois. (CBS News 6/23/2003; Thompson 3/2007) There are also allegedly over 1,000 more in his personal computer files. He has missed so many classes, the FBI says, that he is on the verge of flunking out. The FBI says al-Marri’s computer also contains Arabic lectures by Osama bin Laden, photographs of the 9/11 attacks, and a cartoon of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. The computer has a folder labeled “jihad arena,” and another labeled “chem,” which, government officials say, contains industrial chemical distributor websites used by al-Marri to obtain information about hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous gas used in chemical weapons. (Hirschkom 12/13/2005) Al-Marri consents to the search and the seizure of his computer and other possessions. (Bradley Scout 3/29/2002) Al-Marri will be charged with financial crimes in 2002 (see February 8, 2002), charges that later will be dropped (see June 23, 2003). (CBS News 6/23/2003)
The Justice Department’s John Yoo sends a classified memo to the Defense Department’s general counsel, William Haynes. The contents will not be made public, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will eventually learn that the memo concerns possible criminal charges to be brought against an American citizen who is suspected of being a member of either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The ACLU believes the memo discusses the laws mandating that US military personnel must adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and how those laws may not apply to military personnel during a so-called “undeclared war.” (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Justice Department legal ethics adviser Jesselyn Radack is subjected to intensive harassment and scrutiny by her employer after she consulted with a Criminal Division lawyer over the John Walker Lindh (“American Taliban”) case (see December 7, 2001).
Suddenly Fired - After Radack contradicts the department’s story on Lindh and his supposed failure to request legal counsel, she is suddenly fired when an unscheduled performance evaluation gives her poor ratings. Less than a year before, her performance evaluation had earned her a promotion and a merit bonus.
Leaks E-Mails to Reporter, Lindh Case Derailed - When she learns that the Justice Department has failed to turn over a number of e-mails concerning Lindh to a federal judge as requested, Radack turns over the e-mails to reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek. “I wasn’t in my mind saying, ‘Gee, I want to be a whistle-blower,’” she will later say. “I was just trying to correct the wrong, just trying to set something straight.” The resulting article prompts questions about the Justice Department’s honesty in discussing the Lindh case, and prompts a surprising turn of events: the department announces that it will end the Lindh case rather than hold an evidence-suppression hearing that would have probed the facts surrounding his interrogations. The government drops the worst of the charges against Lindh, and he pleads guilty to lesser charges (see July 15, 2002) and October 4, 2002).
Unspecified Allegations of 'Criminal' Behavior, Secret Reports Alleging Unfitness - As for Radack, even though the e-mails she released are not classified and she has broken no laws in making them public, the Bush administration wanted that information kept secret. She loses her job at a private law firm after the administration informs the firm that she is a “criminal” who cannot be trusted. She is subjected to a yearlong criminal investigation by the Justice Department; no charges are ever filed. “My attorneys asked what I was being investigated for and never got an answer,” Radack will later say. “There is no law against leaking. This was nonclassified stuff. I think they were just trying to get me to slip into making a false statement. Beyond that, it never seemed like they were really going to bring charges. This was just to harass me.” The administration files a secret report with the bar associations in the states she is licensed to practice law, alleging that she is unfit to practice law and recommending “discipline” against her. Because the report is secret, Radack finds it difficult to challenge the unspecified charges. (Most of the complaints against her will eventually be dismissed.)
No-Fly List - And Radack is placed on the administration’s “no-fly” list, ostensibly reserved for suspected terrorists and other criminals, forcing her to endure intensive and invasive searches every time she attempts to board an airplane.
Making an Example - In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will note that Radack gained no protection from the various whistleblower protection laws on the books, mostly because those laws have no enforcement mechanisms and rely “on the willingness of high-ranking executive branch officials to obey a statute.” Savage will observe: “The whistleblower laws did nothing to help Radack when the Bush-Cheney administration decided to make an example of her, sending a clear warning to other officials who might be inclined to bring secret executive branch wrongdoing to light. And Radack would not be the last.” (Leslie 6/2003; Savage 2007, pp. 107-110)
David Iglesias, the newly installed US Attorney for New Mexico (see October 18, 2001), does well in his first Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) evaluation by the Justice Department. His evaluation states: “The United States Attorney was well respected by the client agencies, judiciary, and [his office] staff. He provided good leadership… and was appropriately engaged in the operations of the office.” The EARS report contains no criticisms or concerns about his performance. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008) A follow-up report lauds Iglesias and his office for effectively implementing the department’s national priorities, praises their work on the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, and compliments Iglesias on pursuing white-collar corruption, fraud, drugs, and firearms cases. The report concludes: “In addition to pursuing national priorities, the district priorities you have set illustrate your district’s firm grasp on its issues and crime problems. The complex issues arising from the Indian Country in your district present challenges which you have met with vigor.… The management principles applied in your district promote high quality work from your personnel, allow for flexibility, yet ensure that cases are being handled appropriately.” (US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary 5/21/2007)
The Patriot Act permits federal agents to secretly obtain information from booksellers and librarians about customers’ and patrons’ reading, internet and book-buying habits, merely by alleging that the records are relevant to an anti-terrorism investigation. The act prohibits librarians and booksellers from revealing these requests, so they cannot be challenged in court (see October 2, 2001). (Bertin 9/16/2002) A University of Illinois study now concludes that federal agents have sought records from about 220 libraries nationwide since September 2001. (de Vise 9/1/2002) The Justice Department refuses to say how many times it has invoked this Patriot Act provision (see June 13, 2002). (Donegan 3/16/2003) But Assistant Attorney General Daniel Bryant says that people who borrow or buy books surrender their right of privacy. (Egelko and Gaura 3/10/2003) Some libraries and bookstores unhappy with the law begin to fight back in a number of ways. Some libraries have posted signs warning that the government may be monitoring their users’ reading habits. (Tanner 3/11/2003) Thousands of libraries are destroying records so agents have nothing to seize. (Murphy 4/7/2003) Many librarians polled say they would break the law and deny orders to disclose reading records. (Egelko and Gaura 3/10/2003)
In November 2001, US police called Nabil al-Marabh one of their top five suspects in the 9/11 attacks. (Godfrey 11/23/2001) In mid-January 2002, Canadian police call him “the real thing.” (Godfrey 11/23/2001) In late January 2002, it is reported that in Chicago, “Federal agents say criminal charges spelling out his role [in 9/11 and other plots] are likely within a few weeks.” (ABC News 7 (Chicago) 1/31/2002) Yet, shortly after this, there seems to be a dramatic change of opinion at Justice Department headquarters about al-Marabh. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago drafts an indictment against Nabil al-Marabh, charging him with multiple counts of making false statements in his interviews with FBI agents. Fitzgerald already has several successful al-Qaeda prosecutions. However, the indictments are rejected by Justice Department headquarters in the name of protecting intelligence. In December 2002, Fitzgerald tracks down a Jordanian informant who had spent time with al-Marabh in a federal detention cell earlier in the year because of minor immigration problems. Fitzgerald has the man flown to Chicago and oversees his debriefing. The man reveals numerous criminal acts that al-Marabh confessed to him in prison, and the information fits with what is already known of al-Marabh’s history (see December 2002). However, Fitzgerald is still not allowed to indict al-Marabh. Another prosecutor in Detroit, trying some associates of al-Marabh in an ultimately unsuccessful case there, also expresses a desire to indict al-Marabh, but is not allowed to do so (see Early 2003). (Solomon 6/3/2004) Al-Marabh will ultimately be deported to Syria after serving a short sentence on minor charges (see January 2004).
The Justice Department’s Patrick Philbin sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The memo’s contents will not be divulged, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that it regards Ashcroft’s review of the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP—see March 2002). (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ) The memo contains a legal review by Ashcroft of President Bush’s order authorizing the TSP, the Bush administration’s name for its warrantless wiretapping program. The review is requested before one of the 45-day reauthorizations by the president as required by law. (Nguyen and Weaver 4/16/2009)
John Yoo, a neoconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel serving as deputy assistant attorney general, writes a classified memo to senior Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes, titled “Application of Treaties and Law to al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” (Lewis 5/21/2004)
Yoo: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply in War on Terror - Yoo’s memo, written in conjunction with fellow Justice Department lawyer Robert Delahunty, echoes arguments by another Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, two months earlier (see November 6, 2001). Yoo states that, in his view, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to captured Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners, nor do they apply to the military commissions set up to try such prisoners.
Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status under US federal law. “As a result,” Yoo and Delahunty write, “any customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds, as a legal matter, the president or the US armed forces concerning the detention or trial of members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” In essence, Yoo and Delahunty argue that President Bush and the US military have carte blanche to conduct the global war on terrorism in any manner they see fit, without the restrictions of law or treaty. However, the memo says that while the US need not follow the rules of war, it can and should prosecute al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees for violating those same laws—a legal double standard that provokes sharp criticism when the memo comes to light in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). Yoo and Delahunty write that while this double standard may seem “at first glance, counter-intuitive,” such expansive legal powers are a product of the president’s constitutional authority “to prosecute the war effectively.” The memo continues, “Restricting the president’s plenary power over military operations (including the treatment of prisoners)” would be “constitutionally dubious.” (Mother Jones 1/9/2002; US Department of Justice 6/9/2002 ; Isikoff 5/21/2004; Lewis 5/21/2004)
Overriding International Legal Concerns - Yoo warns in the memo that international law experts may not accept his reasoning, as there is no legal precedent giving any country the right to unilaterally ignore its commitment to Geneva or any other such treaty, but Yoo writes that Bush, by invoking “the president’s commander in chief and chief executive powers to prosecute the war effectively,” can simply override any objections. “Importing customary international law notions concerning armed conflict would represent a direct infringement on the president’s discretion as commander in chief and chief executive to determine how best to conduct the nation’s military affairs.” (Savage 2007, pp. 146) The essence of Yoo’s argument, a Bush official later says, is that the law “applies to them, but it doesn’t apply to us.” (Isikoff 5/21/2004) Navy general counsel Alberto Mora later says of the memo that it “espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president’s commander-in-chief authority.” (Savage 2007, pp. 181)
White House Approval - White House counsel and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees (see January 25, 2002), saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” (Mother Jones 1/9/2002)
Spark for Prisoner Abuses - Many observers believe that Yoo’s memo is the spark for the torture and prisoner abuses later reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). The rationale is that since Afghanistan is what Yoo considers a “failed state,” with no recognizable sovereignity, its militias do not have any status under any international treaties. (Isikoff 5/21/2004; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004)
Resistance from Inside, Outside Government - Within days, the State Department will vehemently protest the memo, but to no practical effect (see January 25, 2002).
H.E. “Bud” Cummins III is sworn in as the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. (Thomas 2011) He actually took office on December 20, 2001. Cummins is not an experienced prosecutor, but is primarily a private law practitioner. He has clerked for several judges, and was the senior legal counsel for Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) between 1997 and 1998. In 2000, he served as a counsel for the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign. He was recommended for the position of US Attorney by Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR). (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008) There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales issues a letter stating that the administration’s refusal to turn over documents about possible FBI malfeasance to Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, is consistent with long-standing Justice Department policy. Gonzales’s assertion will be disputed by the Committee, based on an assessment by law Professor Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore (see December 13, 2001). (Dean 2004, pp. 87)
Justice Department lawyer John Yoo sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo is about the Geneva Conventions. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Jay Bybee, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents will never be divulged, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that it regards the authority of the OLC, the attorney general, the Justice Department, and the State Department in interpreting treaties and international law. (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty send a classified memo to the chief legal adviser for the State Department, William Howard Taft IV. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Justice Department’s interpretation of the War Crimes Act. According to Yoo and Delahunty, the War Crimes Act does not allow the prosecution of accused al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects. Yoo will cite this memo in a 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Siding with the Pentagon and Justice Department against the State Department, President Bush declares the Geneva Conventions invalid with regard to conflicts with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Secretary of State Colin Powell urges Bush to reconsider, saying that while Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda terrorists, making such a decision for the Taliban—the putative government of Afghanistan—is a different matter. Such a decision could put US troops at risk. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman General Richard B. Myers support Powell’s position. Yet another voice carries more weight with Bush: John Yoo, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see October 23, 2001). Yoo says that Afghanistan is a “failed state” without a functional government, and Taliban fighters are not members of an army as such, but members of a “militant, terrorist-like group” (see January 9, 2002). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees with Yoo in a January 25 memo, calling Yoo’s opinion “definitive.” The Gonzales memo concludes that the “new kind of war” Bush wants to fight should not be equated with Geneva’s “quaint” privileges granted to prisoners of war, or the “strict limitations” they impose on interrogations (see January 25, 2002). Military lawyers dispute the idea that Geneva limits interrogations to recitals of name, rank, and serial number, but their objections are ignored. For an OLC lawyer to override the judgment of senior Cabinet officials is unprecedented. OLC lawyers usually render opinions on questions that have already been deliberated by the legal staffs of the agencies involved. But, perhaps because OLC lawyers like Yoo give Bush the legal opinions he wants, Bush grants that agency the first and last say in matters such as these. “OLC was definitely running the show legally, and John Yoo in particular,” a former Pentagon lawyer will recall. “Even though he was quite young, he exercised disproportionate authority because of his personality and his strong opinions.” Yoo is also very close to senior officials in the office of the vice president and in the Pentagon’s legal office. (Golden 10/24/2004)
Undermining, Cutting out Top Advisers - Cheney deliberately cuts out the president’s national security counsel, John Bellinger, because, as the Washington Post will later report, Cheney’s top adviser, David Addington, holds Bellinger in “open contempt” and does not trust him to adequately push for expanded presidential authority (see January 18-25, 2002). Cheney and his office will also move to exclude Secretary of State Colin Powell from the decision-making process, and, when the media learns of the decision, will manage to shift some of the blame onto Powell (see January 25, 2002). (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Final Decision - Bush will make his formal final declaration three weeks later (see February 7, 2002).
Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and OLC lawyer John Yoo send a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Defense Department chief counsel William Haynes. Known as the “Treaties and Laws Memorandum,” the document addresses the treatment of detainees captured in Afghanistan, and their eventual incarceration at Guantanamo and possible trial by military commissions. The memo asserts that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al-Qaeda detainees, and the president has the authority to deny Taliban members POW status. The document goes on to assert that the president is not bound by international laws such as the Geneva Conventions because they are neither treaties nor federal laws. (US Department of Justice 1/22/2002 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
Justice Department lawyer John Yoo sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo regards the application of international law to the United States (see January 22, 2002). (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
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