Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times columnist Tom Friedman believes
that Bush shouldn't
for failing to anticipate the Sept. 11th attacks because
- I'm convinced that there was no one there who would have
put [the clues] together, who would have imagined evil on the scale Osama
bin Laden did.
He could profit by reading more of his own paper --- like the
story yesterday which reported that
- The F.B.I. knew by 1996 of a specific threat that
terrorists in Al Qaeda, Mr. bin Laden's network, might use a plane in
a suicide attack against the headquarters of the C.I.A. or another
large federal building in the Washington area
and that there had been at least one prior attempt on a civilian
target --- a hijacking of a French airliner whose hijackers intended
to crash it into the Eiffel Tower, this one in 1994. The same Times
article reports that Zac Moussaoui first came under suspicion in 1998,
when a friend of his was found to be involved in the African embassy
bombings. One of Moussaoui's flight instructors, not only warned the
FBI about him, but made a
point of telling them that "This man wants training on a 747. A
747 fully loaded with fuel could be used as a weapon!" And the same
school had earlier alerted the FAA about another student, now believed
to be the pilot of the plane that hit the Pentagon.
The line taken by the current administration's defenders is
basically Friedman's --- that the facts were known, but no one could
have put them together.
If you buy that argument, it only clarifies the spectacular
inappropriateness of the administration's response to the attack after
the fact, the ill-named PATRIOT act. They claimed that the attack
showed that intelligence and law enforcement agencies needed to be
able to gather more information, with far less interference from the
courts --- eventually floating an omnibus bill with provisions
including, among other things, nationwide judge-shopping for wiretaps,
and requiring ISPs to turn over billing records without a warrant.
When the Senate balked, the administration publicly threatened to
blame them for the next attack.
The rationale for all this was that the government didn't have
enough information. Now, they explain their failure to heed specific
warnings, like the report by that guy out in Phoenix, by saying they
had too much information, and no way to sort the wheat from the chaff.
You can't solve that problem by adding more chaff.
And yet adding more chaff is what they have done, not just with the
PATRIOT act, which had as one of its overarching themes Government
Access to More, but in the subsequent fishing expedition which
amounted to asking every Arab-American immigrant whether they were a
terrorist --- questions which real terrorists will not answer
honestly, and which loyal Arab-Americans whose cooperation the FBI may
need will remember as an insult. Yet, every available FBI agent was
diverted to this task, and when their numbers proved insufficient,
they tried to enlist local law enforcement as well --- though they
were stymied in jurisdictions where ethnically based roundups by local
police are actually against
Those agents could have been instead asking about
suspicious activity around cropdusters, or investigating security
around water mains and works --- means of attack that we know that
al-Qaeda has considered --- or even combed the dusty shelves of the
FBI itself looking for a neglected report on attack modalities we
haven't known about yet. Instead, to plagiarize
myself, they were out asking immigrant Muslim housewives what they
knew about Semtex.
So, I'll say it again: You could make an argument for strict
adherence to probable cause requirements, on the purely pragmatic
grounds that the FBI's inevitably limited resources are best spent on
information that is likely to actually matter.
First, Gary Farber attacks
unspecified "leftist blogs" for partisanship in criticizing the Bush
administration's handling of the issue, and dares them to predict the
location and date of the next attack. I don't know who he's talking
about, since he doesn't say --- but speaking only for myself, I'm
criticizing them not because they're Republican, but because they're
in power and screwing up. And the line about predictions is inane.
It suggests that since al-Qaeda operatives themselves don't
seem to know targets and dates until as soon as possible before the
attack, we're helpless. Wrong. That only means that an
effective response can't concentrate on guarding the targets,
but should instead focus on something else --- like the methods and
means of attack. A detailed sweep of flight schools and their
students in 1998, when Zac Moussaoui first came under suspiction (yes,
under Clinton) might have saved us all a lot of trouble. Ashcroft's
program of interrogating every Arab in the country as a possible
suspect would not.
Farber's complaint about partisan responses might be better
directed at the Bush administration officials who are ludicrously
trying to blame Clinton's supposedly inadequate antiterror
programs, even though their own administration apparently cut back
on them when it entered office.
Second, the Friedman
column I started off quoting is full of howlers. My favorite:
"Imagining evil of this magnitude simply does not come naturally to
the American character". So Tom, seen any summer movies lately? Read
a Tom Clancy novel? A comic book? We dote on this stuff.
He also seems to have forgotten
that the Manhattan project was a military secret until after the bomb
was dropped. I think he meant to cite Apollo, but who can tell?