The NSA, Metadata, and the Failure of Stopping 9/11

It's common wisdom that the NSA was unable to intercept phone calls from Khalid al-Mihdhar in San Diego to Bin Ladin in Yemen because of legal restrictions. This has been used to justify the NSA's massive phone metadata collection programs. James Bamford argues that there were no legal restrictions, and that the NSA screwed up.

Posted on July 30, 2015 at 6:13 AM • 36 Comments

Comments

Bob S.July 30, 2015 7:21 AM

Certainly there were no legal restraints then or now. They do what they please and simply deny any wrong doing. It's their signature. Of course, it's always a good excuse when faced with explaining failure as has happened several times.

The article suggests there may have been technical difficulties: switches, dishes, satellites, gizmos and so on. Maybe so.

But, I wonder if over reach, collect it all, nothing is too insignificant is a good policy for focusing on an relatively known and small sample of world based criminal terrorists?

And last, in order to be fair, hindsight is perfect, foresight is elusive.

WinterJuly 30, 2015 7:28 AM

Maybe the USA should invest in a lot of social and organizational research to get an understanding why their social institutions are almost all dysfunctional?

The NSA and its siblings seem to be very strong in technology, but it, and I understand all of the TLAs in the US, are very weak on the social front. They simply are disorganized, isolated, and autistic.

In a sense I can sympathize with the idea that there is a technological fix for any problem, even social problems, like security. We just saw how the USA was able to send a machine to Pluto and send back pictures. This is a technological miracle that is unbelievable if you have not seen it. If you can do that, where are the limits that can be done?

But on the other hand, on the social front, things in the USA are falling apart. For instance, the USA seems to be unable to get universal health care insurance working. Something that even many developing countries were able to do better. They were unable to get themselves to repair the levies of a large city causing a major flooding disaster that destroyed a large part of the city costing many lives.

In the same vein, reading about USA TLAs makes one want to tear one's (remaining) hair out. British and French diplomats and IC regularly outdo the USA on a fraction of their budget.

These "Missed calls" are a perfect example where all the best technology in the world and all the power were useless because of autism and infighting between bureaus.

And what was the "American solution" for this: The NCTC, a bureau to integrate all the TLAs. It did not work.

uh, MikeJuly 30, 2015 7:33 AM

The United States government lies about surveillance, and actually murders its citizens.

Do not listen to skilled liars. More harm than good comes from analyzing conniving lies.

Rolf WeberJuly 30, 2015 7:35 AM

We have certain arrangements,” the former NSA staffer said, adding that the setup was similar to Prism, the NSA’s program in which it cooperated with major Internet companies, such as Google and Yahoo, to collect user data.

Since this is simply wrong (there is no "PRISM cooperation"), why should I believe the rest from the anonymous source?

jbmartin6July 30, 2015 7:48 AM

A pretty typical distraction technique. Congress' 9/11 report showed there were plenty of other opportunities to 'connect the dots' and prevent the attack. The implication here that illegal surveillance was the only way the attack could have been stopped is of course false.

WmJuly 30, 2015 8:14 AM

The failure of the FBI to stop 911 was due to their own arrogance. Two of their agents warned the brass about Arabs wanting to take flying lesson on large jet aircraft but also not wanting to learn how to land the plane. The brass thought themselves as being smarter by half than these lowly two agents and ignored their common sense warning. Knowing the desire of liberals to not let a crisis go to waste, it is most assuredly possible that they saw the possibility of a 911 to be a great opportunity to enact great government controls. And of course, this is exactly what has happened.

Dirk PraetJuly 30, 2015 8:55 AM

@ Rolf Weber

Since this is simply wrong (there is no "PRISM cooperation")...

Oops, and nobody even mentioned "direct access". Stop obsessing, Rolf. We know your opinion on that issue. There is no point in repeating it ad nauseam to an audience that's not interested anyway and it really is starting to sound like Cato the Elder's "Et ceterum censeo Carthaginem delendam esse".

Rolf WeberJuly 30, 2015 9:01 AM

@Dirk Praet

Oops, and nobody even mentioned "direct access".

And I didn't mention the imaginary "direct access" either.

I said there is no single evidence for a "cooperation". In contrary, it's implausible. The source nevertheless claimed this "cooperation", which is no more than a conspiracy theory, at best -- so this simply means the source is not reliable.

NotYouAgainJuly 30, 2015 9:47 AM

Very interesting article. Thomas Drake and Michael Scheuer seem to name the key reasons why no one anticipated the 9/11 attacks:

1) The NSA's failure to interpret collected data

2) the lack of cooperation of various federal agencies

Who?July 30, 2015 11:24 AM

@Rolf Weber

And I didn't mention the imaginary "direct access" either.

...imaginary "direct access" shown on imaginary "slides" imaginarily "leaked" by the imaginary government contractor Edward Snowden, I guess. Just a conspiracy theory, I know, but acknowledged a few days later by the NSA itself.

By the way, how can NSA get direct access to these corporations without internal help? Cooperation is the only word I can "imagine" to describe this program.

albertJuly 30, 2015 12:35 PM

@Winter,
I agree with you. Tech is sexy; you can see it, hold it, use it. Human intelligence is not. It's not impressive in any way, except, perhaps, in results:)

Regarding health care and infrastructure, the answer is money. The Blood-Sucking-Parasites (BSPs) are too busy squeezing every last penny out of the citizens to worry about physical and social infrastructure. This is true in every 'advanced' (or 'developed') nation.

I remember reading the memo from the female FBI agent and the flight instruction episode. Her memo got blocked by middle management, IIRC. In some countries, those guys would have been jailed. Nothing like criminal charges to keep your staff on its toes.

Does the FBI have a 'think tank'? A group that does nothing but dreams up scenarios like 911. Probably anyone of us here can think of several scenarios, hitherto unknown, or at least not revealed publicly. I don't want to believe that the agency didn't at least think about it. If it was a total surprise to them, then there is a serious systemic problem in our LE; One that is beyond correction.

@Wm,
We don't know how far up the ladder the buck went. Serious information could reach the Director in just a few hops. Did someone drop the ball? Or did they just hold it? Now we're getting into conspiracy theories.
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There's no accountability in LE. Their asses should be on the line all the time, especially the top brass. Accountability should be proportional to responsibility. 911 was a huge fail, and the brass should have been axed.
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SchneieronSecurityFanJuly 30, 2015 3:07 PM

The NSA knew about the Immarsat phone in Afghanistan and its number. I know this sounds old-fashioned, but couldn't the NSA just start "tracing the call" once the call went through.

Also, why couldn't the NSA get all of this information through its Immarsat source? Immarsat is a British company.


What the article doesn't say is whether or not the calls from San Diego were made on a satellite phone or not.

Rolf WeberJuly 30, 2015 3:14 PM

@Who?

Nowhere in the Snowden documents is a "direct access" mentioned. Neither did the NSA acknowledge it. On the contrary, they denied it.

The "cooperation" is no more than that the companies have to answer to individual, lawful requests. Like in virtually any other country of the world too.

Dirk PraetJuly 30, 2015 4:17 PM

@ Who

Don't take the bait. @Rolf is our resident Snowden denier who for the last two years has been seizing pretty much every opportunity to derail threads about NSA surveillance with his personal opinion that it's all lies and conspiracy theories. He's particularly obsessed with the PRISM-program.

Spurius PostumiusJuly 30, 2015 4:20 PM

Common wisdom that NSA was unable to intercept. That's irony, right?

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/30/the-nsas-911-cover-up-general-hayden-told-a-lie-and-its-a-whopper/

Of course NSA intercepted those calls.

The government-issue propaganda line, which Bamford falls in with here (how do you think he gets access?) is that there's no limit to the negligence and ineptitude of US government officials, and that 9/11 happened due to multiple independent screwups that compounded into an epochal synchronized one-in-a-million Charlie Foxtrot involving inter alia the entire command structure of NORAD, SOCOM, CIA, FBI, State, and Treasury.

Go ahead. Enumerate the documented 'failures' and apply reliability analysis to the parallel and sequential government security systems and organizations, using a good-enough-for-government-work mediocrity level. Such historic, disgraceful failure, What are the odds? Back of the envelope, this commenter gets 10 to the -28th. Let's round that off a couple dozen places to ZERO. No way in hell.

How stupid does CIA think we are? Oops doesn't cut it for anybody with a 3-digit IQ. This is not state failure, this is state crime.

Oh, and in checking my work, don't forget to factor in the failure-unfailure-refailure dynamics of the cover-up, such as this:

http://www.floridabulldog.org/2015/03/fbi-slams-own-911-document-new-report-discounts-sarasota-saudis-ties-to-hijackers/comment-page-1/#comment-380911

No 3rd-world warlord left behindJuly 30, 2015 6:55 PM

USA! USA! USA! Unsatisfactory in only all but three categories!

https://firstlook.org/wp-uploads/sites/1/2015/07/UN-report.png
https://firstlook.org/wp-uploads/sites/1/2015/07/Screen-Shot-2015-07-28-at-12.37.05-PM.png

The US grades don't consistently suck worse than China's, but the USG is still working on the kindergarten basics of how to be a civilized country - torture, impunity, command responsibility, redress. They're in the special-ed classes with Djibouti.

http://www.ccprcentre.org/114-session-follow-up-concluding-observation/

US surveillance was the government's second most disgraceful failure (C1/C2, magna cum loser). So you can ask why NSA let terrorists kill 2,996 Americans, but the reason was not their scruples about legal punctilios.

rgaffJuly 30, 2015 7:56 PM

@No 3rd-world warlord left behind

I wonder if reminding Americans of such grades work better than yelling "Nazi" in every thread :)

No 3rd-world warlord left behindJuly 30, 2015 8:51 PM

Well, rgaff, can't afford to be too subtle with glassy-eyed US government apparatchiki but you're probably right, nobody minds Nazis anymore. It's practically a marque d'affection. They're our plucky allies in Ukraina now and in the hollywood movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, they're polite, refined English-speakers in stark contrast to the mute Russian brutes. Everybody,

♪♫ Ei warum? Ei darum!
♪♫Ei warum? Ei darum!
♪ Ei bloß wegen dem
Schingderassa, ♪♫
Bumderassa, ♪
Schingdara!
Ei bloß wegen dem
Schingderassa,
Bumderassasa ♫♪!

winterJuly 30, 2015 9:14 PM

@No 3rd-world warlord left behind
"So you can ask why NSA let terrorists kill 2,996 Americans, but the reason was not their scruples about legal punctilios."

I would say Hanlon's razor is applicable:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Institutional stupidity is endemic in the USA. It runs from local schools to every branch of government. The underlying causes seem to lie in a fundamental distrust of human judgement (any human) that permeates US society and drives people to rely solely on written rules. That never works.

An extended case study can be found in the classic "The death of common sense"
http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B004NNUYE2?ie=UTF8&redirectFromSS=1&pc_redir=T1&noEncodingTag=1&fp=1

WinterJuly 31, 2015 2:12 AM

@No 3rd-world

From your link:
"[The CIA] did so by withholding evidence from the FBI before 9/11 about two of the eventual alleged hijackers on 9/11, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, thus ensuring that the FBI could not surveil the two men or their colleagues."

This was not special to Bin Laden. The CIA withholds all evidence from everyone. That is almost the foundation of their work.

@No 3rd-world

From your link a quote from Commission Chairman Tom Kean:
"Oh, it wasn’t careless oversight. It was purposeful. No question about that .… The conclusion that we came to was that in the DNA of these organizations was secrecy. And secrecy to the point of ya don’t share it with anybody."

That was the DNA of the CIA then, and it still is.

This is a part of what I called the endemic "Institutional Stupidity" of the USA. That "Institutional Stupidity" is why toddlers can end up on a no-fly list and cannot be removed from it. That is why the USA seems to be unable to set up an effective universal health care insurance, not even a website to register for it. That is why a children are expelled from school for harmless behavior that breaks a "Zero Tolerance" policy.
http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/issues303.shtml

With so much evidence for endemic stupidity, I need much more evidence of ill intend before I accept a conspiracy. The evidence for stupidity even suggests that they would be unlikely to succeed in such a conspiracy even if they tried.

Clive RobinsonJuly 31, 2015 4:03 AM

@ rgaff,

I wonder if reminding Americans of such grades work better than yelling "Nazi" in every thread :)

In fear of having "Good win" shouted out loud...

A little history can be quite informative, especially when viewing things from the future side of the past.

We all know that the Nazi's were evil, etc, etc, and thus the German people get condememd in every history class...

If instead you view history from the past side of the past it's quite a different story.

Briefly after WWI the monarchy in Germany and their old militaristic education and political structure failed under the weight of war reperations, rampant inflation started and lead as it often does to what effectivly is a tailspin of doom for the political structure (something we've had a taste of again recently in Europe).

New political ideas sprang up people argued and shouted fights started guns were fired and people started dying over words in beer halls etc. It was getting closer and closer to civil war (again something we've had a taste of in Europe).

But it was not just Germany it was most of Europe was in a post war economic depression, nearly everyone was looking to blaim some one. Eugenics became popular again, forced steralisation of undesirables was in vogue in several countries Sweden was rounding up gypsies on any charge and giving long harsh prison terms then offering "steralisation" as a quick get out of jail option. Various other countries were doing variations. Over on the eastern side of Europe things were a lot lot worse and Communism that had it's birth in Hampsted and the British Library in London found favour not just in Russia but other countries. Unsuprisingly the political elite saw it as a terminal cancer and by their actions against it actually made it more popular and stronger.

Continental Europe was in the early thirties close to being a basket case, the old represive order was being pushed into impotence and extinction and nobody had an idea of what was going to replace it.

You can easily read up on how Hitler came to power, but it's almost always given in a very narrow perspective, not in the General view of not just most germans but many many Europeans.

The old saying about people being "born to be lead to the slaughter" has a certain degree of truth, Europe was effectivly in it's second middle age and technology was pushing the Kings and lords of the old political order out of the window. But people needed to be lead and they did not realy care by whom as long as it brought peace and prosperity and the comfort of food on the table every day. And history showes even the Romans knew this hence the expression "bread and circuses" when talking about "stuffing the plebs in the vomitorium".

Basicaly we say "Nazi" instead of "National Socialism", yup in thirties Germany and much of Europe they were seen as "middle of the road" politicaly and for the political elite "a safe pair of hands" to work with / manipulate.

Most of Europe were in love with the ideal of what were strong leaders with moderate popularist views, who would make their world better the way thay romanticaly remembered the end of the Victorian and Tzarist era.

And Hittler did make their world better he started construction and other major projects, not only were their new roads, houses, but cars and furniture to buy and jobs that not just paid for food upon the table but the table and house and the car to go to work in, children were cherished by the state and large familes not only encouraged but paid for by the state with low or no interest loans.

It was not just Hittler other strong leaders were rising up most did not get far but in Italy the same bread and circuses was working.

The idea of one party one nation states was due to appearances very appealing it was popular, but down in Spain there was the example of what would happen if you did not embrace one party, one nation, the Spanish War. Anybody and everybody piled into what was a proxy war of the fight between good and evil or so each side thought, the out come would set the future for Europe or so it was thought at the time. As we know it was messy and not clear cut but Communisum was supressed not eliminated.

So yes what we call the Nazi party was popular not just in Europe but much of the world, the political elites loved it, it was fashionable even in America, it was the authoritarian dream and the authoritarian followers were in love with it, it made them feal warm and cosy, it gave them not just certainty but faith and a place in life, they all signed on the bottom line without reading the contract, they had a Faustian bargin that they would have to pay for endlessly. But underneath it was just another Pyramid Scam, where only those first in ate the fruits of success. But as with all such scam once you were in you had to stay in and importantly keep pulling in others behind you otherwise you got nothing and lost every thing.

Thus rather than let it colapse as it would have done, it turned to robbery and then war, but life was good it was only those you did not like or distrusted that "were getting what they deserved"... Slowly but surely the poison spread...

It's important to realise this, because we see this all starting again Strong types with appealing messages of bread and circuses but no word on who will pay the piper for the tune they sing. It does not matter if you are libertarian, collectavist, conservative or socialist unless you can pay for the bread and circuses the party will fail. Political ideals will not put bread on the table, pay the wages of the carpenter to make the table or the builder to put the roof over it. Sadly though most people don't think "where is the wealth to pay with comming from", and that's what is dangerous because it almost always leads to robbery and war. You can not have a party "on the never never" nor can you have the endless famin of austerity both kill the economy deader than a Dodo Kebab.

The problem is the common citizens want the good times but without the pain of paying, the elite have a con game to make it work, it's called "depreciating paper money". The money in your pocket buys you less but the real assets cost more and more. That's why bread is twice the price it was just a few years ago but farmers are getting less income from the crops they grow, somebody's getting wealthy, the odds are it's not you. Wealth is in assets not in money the trick is getting and keeping the good assets and derive money from them to buy more assets. The first step in wining that game is to not pay taxes... The way to do that is to give a politico the good times, so you are excempt from taxes... You win, he's like a pig in clover, and the rest of us loose.

Interestingly we are coming up to a cusp, which indicates that a sea state change is about to happen. The golden rule of tangible assets is if you own it nobody else does, thus you are the only person who can make money with it. We are moving to "An information economy" information is not tangible, an idea has no physical actuality the cost of duplicating is minimal. The problem is how do you turn an intangible piece of information into something that has the properties of a tangible asset... So far the ways we have tried have more limitations than the ideas of how to get around them. Something is going to have to give, some economists think we are about to undergo a change more dramatic than the industrial revoloution and with it our current political system and it's power structures will be decimated and reformed. If they are correct and there is currently no reason to say they are not we may very well be back in the 1930's Europe position again, though who will become the new seductive evil to replace National Socialism is unknown as is what form WWIII will have... The only thing we do know is that the new ideas in the last war will be the deciding factors in the next. Will it be nukes, will it be computers, rockets or a combination of them which drones are... your guess is as good as the next mans untill it's over and the dust settles and the historians get to work for future generations to look back on.

WinterJuly 31, 2015 5:09 AM

@Clive
The situation for democracy in the 1930s was even worse than what you describe. Democracy had become a fringe phenomenon.

Your long description matches what the historically literate in continental Europe have learned. You cannot understand the European Union without realizing that this is exactly what the founders had learned from the war(s).

It is nerve wrecking to see that the current crop of Eurosceptics are mostly populists who want to repeat not only the errors of the 1930s, but also those of the 1900s and the 1860s. The same for the Tea party in the USA.

The one ray of hope is that the European Nationalists of all countries are uniting together to fight the EU. When nationalists of all countries unite, something must have changed for the better.
;-)

Malcolm PellJuly 31, 2015 10:22 AM

@Clive,

A very well written and educating piece on the current Political, Social and Economic situations within the UK and the EU.

If only the majority of elected Politicians and voting Electorate within the UK and EU could achieve such a state of 'Enlightenment'.

Here in the UK, I have stopped been amazed and flabbergasted by the ostrich type 'head in the sand' type attitudes taken by so many people I have both worked with and dealt with on a social, personal and general living activities. Its almost like so many people are living in 'Cloud Cuckoo' land, waiting/hoping/anticipating some miracle to happen which will solve all our Economic and Social problems in 1 stroke - without costing them any money/taxes/fees, etc.

albertJuly 31, 2015 11:02 AM

Notwithstanding the off-topicness of the subject, I think you guys are looking at the 'battles', and forgetting the 'war'. The US plan for World Domination moves in fits and starts, but it _is_ moving. The US pivot towards Eurasia is the Master Plan*.

Regardless of your opinions about the origins of the second WTC attack, it certainly had the desired effects: passage of the Patriarch Act, demonizing Muslims, and opening the whole Middle East to US military power. The Ukraine situation, sanctions against Russia and Iran, the demonization of China; these are merely skirmishes.

This is _not_ a military operation; it's not a 'war'. That's why some actions seem stupid, even insane.
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*US foreign policy sees the world in 3D - disrupt, demonize, destroy.

AlanSJuly 31, 2015 11:36 AM

@Winter

Maybe the USA should invest in a lot of social and organizational research to get an understanding why their social institutions are almost all dysfunctional?

Don't we know the answer already? Power and wealth tends to concentrate and conspire in pursuit of it's own interests against the public interest. The NSA is a massive, unaccountable government bureaucracy in bed with large corporations. It serves its own private interests and those of its friends; not the public interest. Eisenhower saw what was coming in his 1961 Farewell Speech but it was hardly a new problem. And it's not just the military industrial complex, a similar dynamic plays out between government and large corporations such as banks (witness 2008 and the aftermath). It's a fundamental problem of liberal democracy and always has been. The difficult part is the solution. Hume, Smith, Madison and others struggled with this in the 18th C. What sort of institutional structures, incentives and restraints do you need to prevent the collusion of a minority against the interests of the majority? And how is this achieved and sustained in practice? There is no simple and lasting solution. Over time institutional controls tend to be subverted and corrupted.

AlanSJuly 31, 2015 11:43 AM

@Clive

Interesting post.

So yes what we call the Nazi party was popular not just in Europe but much of the world, the political elites loved it, it was fashionable even in America, it was the authoritarian dream and the authoritarian followers were in love with it, it made them feel warm and cosy, it gave them not just certainty but faith and a place in life, they all signed on the bottom line without reading the contract, they had a Faustian bargain that they would have to pay for endlessly. But underneath it was just another Pyramid Scam, where only those first in ate the fruits of success.

And we're still playing and paying for the pyramid scam. See Scheuerman's book on Carl Schmitt. Schmitt was the major political philosopher of the Nazi era and provided legal legitimacy for the overthrow of the Weimar Republic. But what's really interesting, to quote the book's blurb, is that:

Scheuerman illustrates how, in the aftermath of World War II, influential political theorists, particularly Schumpter, Hayek, and Morgenthau, imported Schmitt's ideas into American political discourse. Although none of these writers were followers of Schmitt, each one engaged in a 'hidden dialogue' with him that shaped important facets of the intellectual discourse in postwar America.

Hayek, the father of neoliberalism, who thought of himself as a liberal trying to rescue classical liberalism (e.g. Adam Smith) from socialism and Keynes, did so by adapting the political thinking of the leading anti-liberal political philosopher of the 20th C. (Smith, I think, would be appalled by neoliberalism but probably not surprised.) Scheuerman argues that Hayek's classic, The Road to Serfdom, which repudiates Schmitt's Nazism, draws extensively (and naively) on Schmitt's arguments against liberalism during the Weimar period, and eventually fails to evade the core logic of Schmitt's political philosophy. Why is this important? Hayek spends the first decades after WWII promoting his political philosophy, most notably through the Mont Pelerin Society and various off-shoots, what are now well-known neoconservative think tanks, his ideas finally ascending to enormous and on-going political influence after the economic crises of the 1970s. So Schmitt is one of the keys to understanding the world after 1980 as well as the responses to crises events, such as 9/11 and 2008.

For a blog post that extensively quotes Scheuerman's argument relating to Hayek see Schmitt and Hayek.

@Winter
"It is nerve wrecking to see that the current crop of Eurosceptics are mostly populists who want to repeat not only the errors of the 1930s..."

But not surprising given the roots of their political philosophies.


LancelotAugust 1, 2015 7:40 PM

@ Clive R
Re: National

Great post, on a too sensitive issue to comment.

Nationalism aside, what we see in today is the Greek problem. An irony even the poets of medival Brit can't match.

IanAugust 7, 2015 10:13 AM

Lancelot & Clive R

Try
The Psychology of Nations by G. E. Partridge (Contains suggestions for US policy at that time it seems.) Links both of your comments with many of the other inherent and experienced difficulties today.
Book is available at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20814

SkepticalAugust 9, 2015 4:00 PM


Bamford's points were already made by the 9/11 Commission, and indeed Hayden is cited as authority for the following passage from the 9/11 Commission Report:

Later in this story, we will learn that while the NSA had the technical capability to report on communications with suspected terrorist facilities in the Middle East, the NSA did not seek FISA Court warrants to collect communications between individuals in the United States and foreign countries, because it believed that this was an FBI role. It also did not want to be viewed as targeting persons in the United States and possibly violating laws that governed NSA’s collection of foreign intelligence.

According to the Report, the NSA saw its function as one of providing, within strict limits, information requested by policy-makers and other members of the intelligence community. Whether to take further investigative measures, particularly on the domestic side, was not within its responsibilities or authorities.

The question has never been whether the US Government had the technical ability to gather the information required - in fact the Report makes a persuasive case that it actually had collected the information required - but rather whether the relevant institutions had the operational procedures, culture, organization, and legal authorities to enable that information to be shared, identified, and acted upon.

By reducing hurdles to running a check over domestic metadata to find any linked to those of interest on the foreign side, and by clarifying responsibilities and authorities, the Section 215 program reduces the probability of information not being properly identified, not being properly pursued, or not being properly and timely acted upon - among other things.

Certainly the Section 215 program is not the only way of accomplishing those things, and there are reasonable arguments to be made against the program, but Bamford's article isn't actually overturning any narrative about 9/11. The lack of information-sharing, confusion about what information could and could not be shared, and so forth, were expounded upon at length in the Commission's report, not covered up as the article implies.

The problem is that the article is focused solely on technical capabilities (and even here it's not persuasive at all with respect to the particular intercepts it names - the very persons Bamford interviews note the importance of access to a telecommunication company's records) while the reasons that the US was surprised by, and failed to stop, the 9/11 plot are far more complicated and have always been acknowledged as such.

Dirk PraetAugust 9, 2015 7:14 PM

@ Skeptical

The lack of information-sharing, confusion about what information could and could not be shared, and so forth, were expounded upon at length in the Commission's report, not covered up as the article implies.

To the point that 28 pages of the report were redacted at the request of the Bush administration, and the Obama administration is still refusing to release them for reasons of "national security".

SkepticalAugust 9, 2015 7:44 PM


I suspect that it's something that would merely raise tensions with key players inside a government that, we hope, is stable, and nothing more.

I obviously had to flip through it to find the quote I wanted, but in the process I remembered one of the aspects that intrigued me most - the contacts between AQ members and certain Iranian forces and proxies. Not something we ever heard much about again - unlikely that it led anywhere.

Dirk PraetAugust 10, 2015 4:53 PM

@ Skeptical

I suspect that it's something that would merely raise tensions with key players inside a government that, we hope, is stable, and nothing more.

I like the way you phrased this. I'm pretty sure that it would indeed be seriously embarrassing for certain folks both in the US and in an unnamed Middle East allied country that unnamed officials of said country were in some way or another implicated in unnamed actions and events leading up to 9/11. Or whatever other unsavory information is buried in these 28 pages that allegedly cover project financials and foreign governments involvement.

You are undoubtedly aware of the efforts of former Senator Bob Graham to declassify them. Graham co-chaired the joint congressional inquiry into intelligence community activities before and after 9/11. He maintains that we are being lied to and that, contrary to what both the Bush and Obama administrations are claiming, it would actually be in the interest of national security that this information was made public, not the other way around.

It's very difficult to shake the feeling that there is a pattern of willful withholding of key information from and even deceit of the public at large on behalf of the USG. Pre-Snowden, Ron Wyden had hinted several times that PA and FISAA were being interpreted by the executive in an entirely different way than that Congress had intended. Snowden entirely vindicated his warnings.

It's very interesting to note that he has recently done the same about CISA, which he claims the executive is also interpreting in a secret way, and based on a classified DoJ legal opinion dating back to the Bush era. In his words, the proposed bill - that just keeps coming back in different forms - is not about "cybersecurity" but about more surveillance. The fact that current POTUS has openly endorsed it to me sounds even more ominous.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsAugust 11, 2015 1:32 AM

@ Nick P

It's very interesting to note that he has recently done the same about CISA, which he claims the executive is also interpreting in a secret way, and based on a classified DoJ legal opinion dating back to the Bush era. In his words, the proposed bill - that just keeps coming back in different forms - is not about "cybersecurity" but about more surveillance. The fact that current POTUS has openly endorsed it to me sounds even more ominous.

The same sentiment applies to cyber warfare too...there have been some developments that are very disturbing.

For example, the devolution of CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITIES to DECLARE/EXECUTE WAR, in an PPD (Presidential Policy Directive) 20/64 and in authorizations by DoD rule making (legal standing here is extremely shaky) such as DoDDi 3025.21 or DoDD 5111.1. What is stated is that the authority to engage in acts of war (cyber warfare in particular) is given to the SecDEF, the UnderSecDEF, and any IC member (and IC definition is not what you think it is) Secretary.

To explain by example:

The Director of the EPA is secretly defined as IC member due to control and management of particular infrastructure components (chemical plants), a cyber attack that appears to emanate from North Korea targets EPA network systems and causes the EPA director to launch a counter-strike cyber action. China, monitoring the situation sees the attacks to the North Korean networks (having to cross China's network(s)) and suspects that the United States has begun a war with an early first strike against their crazy cousin, North Korea.

Sensing that the new attack signature resembles attack code stolen two years earlier during one of China's earlier cyber espionage sweeps of DoD resources. Chinese officials decide to escalate with a response into meat-space. China's naval fleet begins aggressive kinetic strikes on tactical sea-based U.S. assets in and around the China sea. This is how WWIII begins....

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