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Profile: John Ashcroft
Positions that John Ashcroft has held:
- Attorney General (2001-)
- US Senator, Republican
June 10, 2002
“In apprehending [Padilla] as he sought entry into the United States, we have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive ‘dirty bomb’ .”
[CBS News, 6/10/2002]
June 8, 2004
“This administration rejects torture.”
John Ashcroft was a participant or observer in the following events:
Page 1 of 3 (201 events)previous
Attorney General Janet Reno, who signed the 1995 Procedures memo. [Source: US Department of Justice]The Justice Department issues the “wall” memo, a later heavily criticized memo that establishes procedures to regulate the flow of information from FBI intelligence investigations to criminal investigators and prosecutors. Such procedures already exist, but this “wall” is now formalized and extended. The memo is signed by Attorney General Janet Reno, but is based on a similar one recently issued by Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick governing the 1993 WTC bombing cases (see March 4, 1995). The wall exists to prevent defendants from successfully arguing in court that information gathered under a warrant issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) should not be used in a criminal prosecution, as the standard for obtaining a FISA warrant is considered to be lower than that for obtaining a criminal search warrant (see Early 1980s). Such arguments are usually unsuccessful, according to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which believes that courts are showing “great deference” to the government when such challenges are made. The procedures, which now apply to all intelligence investigations regardless of whether or not a FISA warrant has been issued, state that the FBI must consult the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, not local United States Attorneys’ offices, about intelligence investigations when it is considering starting a parallel criminal investigation, and that it must do so when there is reasonable indication of a significant federal crime. This means that FBI headquarters has veto power over whether a field office can contact a local prosecutor about an intelligence investigation. However, Criminal Division prosecutors should only be consulted and cannot control an investigation. [Office of the Attorney General, 7/19/1995; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 25-30 ] These procedures will be implemented in such a way that even greater restrictions are placed on information sharing (see (Late 1995-1997)), although a partial exception will be created for the Southern District of New York, which handles a lot of terrorism work (see August 29, 1997). The procedures will also be much criticized for the way they are implemented in the FBI (see July 1999). The increased barriers to information sharing often mean that the FBI monitors terrorists as before, but the information does not get passed to criminal investigators, so the cells carry on operating in the US and the FBI carries on monitoring them. For example, the FBI monitors a Florida-based cell that funds and recruits for jihad throughout the world for nearly a decade before it is rolled up (see (October 1993-November 2001)). Some money raised by terrorism financiers in the US goes to Bosnia, where the US has a policy of enabling covert support for the Muslim side in the civil war (see April 27, 1994). Prosecutor Andrew McCarthy will later call the wall a “rudimentary blunder,” and say that it “was not only a deliberate and unnecessary impediment to information sharing; it bred a culture of intelligence dysfunction.” [National Review, 4/13/2004] John Ashcroft, Attorney General in the Bush Administration (see April 13, 2004), will say that “Government buttressed this ‘wall’,” and will call it the “single greatest structural cause for September 11.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
The New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, is bombed by anti-abortion activist Eric Rudolph. The bomb, hidden in a flowerpot, kills police officer Robert Sanderson and critically injures nurse Emily Lyons. Rudolph, who flees the scene and hides successfully for years in the wilds of western North Carolina, is also responsible for the fatal 1996 bombing during the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia (see July 27, 1996 and After), and several other bombings, including other Atlanta abortion clinics (see January 16, 1997 and October 14, 1998) and an Atlanta lesbian bar (see February 21, 1997). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/14/1998; Kushner, 2003, pp. 40; CNN, 5/31/2003; CNN, 12/11/2003] Rudolph lives in Murphy, North Carolina, a small town in the mountainous western part of the state. Over Christmas, he purchased materials from the local Wal-Mart to assist in his fashioning of the bomb. Rudolph was dissatisfied with the results of his earlier bombings, and instead of relying on an alarm clock to act as a timer as he did with his previous bombs, modifies a model airplane remote control to use as a detonator. Before dawn, he places the bomb inside a pot beside the front door of the clinic and places plastic flowers on top of it. He watches from a hill about a block away; when he sees Sanderson bend down to examine the flowerpot, he detonates the bomb. A witness sees Rudolph walking away from the explosion, and, later explaining that he found it suspicious when everyone else was running towards it, watches as Rudolph gets into his pickup truck and drives away. The witness writes down Rudolph’s license plate number—KND 1117—and alerts police. The FBI will soon identify Rudolph with the bombing, and will quickly tie him to his other three attacks. [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
Opposed to Abortion, Government - Family members will later say that Rudolph is not only opposed to abortion, but to all forms of government in general; his sister-in-law will tell CNN that Rudolph’s immediate family is “against… any form of government or the form of government that we have in our country today.” Evidence shows Rudolph is an active member of the extremist anti-abortion group Army of God (see 1982 and Early 1980s) and the Christian Identity movement (see 1960s and After), a militant, racist and anti-Semitic organization that believes whites are God’s chosen people. He will be described by future Attorney General John Ashcroft as “the most notorious American fugitive on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list.” [CNN, 12/11/2003]
Will Plead Guilty - Rudolph will later plead guilty to the bombing, and other crimes, in lieu of being sentenced to death (see April 14, 2005). He will justify the bombing in an essay from prison, writing that Jesus would condone “militant action in defense of the innocent.” He will also reveal the location of a large cache of explosives, apparently gathered for future bombing attacks. [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006; Associated Press, 5/31/2009]
No Remorse for Sanderson's Death - Of Sanderson’s death, he will write: “Despite the fact that he may have been a good guy, he volunteered to work at a place that murders 50 people a week. He chose to wield a weapon in defense of these murderers… and that makes him just as culpable.… I have no regrets or remorse for my actions that day in January, and consider what happened morally justified.” [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) agents arrest Mahnaz Samadi, a leading spokeswoman for the National Council of Resistance, at the Canadian border because several years earlier, when she was seeking political asylum in the US, she had not disclosed her past “terrorist” ties as an MEK “military commander” or the fact that she had trained in an MEK camp that was located in Iraq. Hearing about the case from his constituents, Missouri Senator John Ashcroft comes to the rescue and writes a letter on May 10, 2000 to Attorney General Janet Reno opposing Samadi’s arrest. In his letter, he calls her a “highly regarded human-rights activist.” [Newsweek, 9/26/2002; Slate, 3/21/2003; US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
When the Iranian National Council of Resistance, a front group for the militant Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), holds a demonstration outside the United Nations protesting a speech by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Republican Senators Ashcroft and Chris Bond from Missouri issue a joint statement expressing solidarity with the organization. [Newsweek, 9/26/2002; Slate, 3/21/2003; US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
Thousands of African-American voters in Florida are illegally denied their right to vote, as is proven in many instances by subsequent investigations. Adora Obi Nweze, the president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, is told by election officials she cannot vote because she has already cast an absentee ballot, even though she has cast no such ballot. Cathy Jackson, a Broward County voter since 1996, was told falsely that she was not on the rolls and could not vote; she sees a white woman cast an “affidavit ballot” and asks if she can do the same, but is denied. Donnise DeSouza of Miami is told, falsely, that she is not on the voting rolls and is moved to the “problem line”; when the polls close, she is sent home without voting. Another voter, Lavonna Lewis, is in line to vote when the polls close. Though the law says that voters already in line can vote even after the polls close, she is sent home. She will later say she saw election officials allow a white male voter to get in line after the polls had closed.
US Representative Fights to Cast Vote - US Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL) is followed into her poll by a television crew. Officials there tell her that her ballot has been sent to Washington and therefore she cannot vote in Florida. Brown spends two and a half hours in the polling place before finally being allowed to vote. Brown later notes that she helped register thousands of African-American college students in the months prior to the election. “We put them on buses,” she will recall, “took them down to the supervisor’s office. Had them register. When it came time to vote, they were not on the rolls!” Many African-American voters like Wallace McDonald of Hillsborough County are denied their vote because they are told, falsely, that they are convicted felons whose right to vote has been stripped. The NAACP offices are inundated with telephone calls all day from voters complaining that their right to vote is being denied.
'Painful, Dehumanizing, Demoralizing' - Donna Brazile, campaign manager for the Gore campaign whose sister was illegally asked for three forms of identification in Seminole County before being allowed to vote, later says: “What happened that day—I can’t even put it in words anymore. It was the most painful, dehumanizing, demoralizing thing I’ve ever experienced in my years of organizing.” Hearings in early 2001 held by the US Commission on Civil Rights will record more than 30 hours of testimony from over 100 witnesses as to a wide array of racially based disenfranchisement. The commission will find that the election probably violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but Attorney General John Ashcroft will ignore the report.
Gadsden County - One exemplar of systematic disenfranchisement is seen in Gadsden County, one of Florida’s poorest counties, with 57 percent of its voters African-American. Its elections are supervised by white conservative Denny Hutchinson. Hutchinson refuses to take action to increase registration, put in more polling places, and other actions designed to increase voter turnout. Gadsden County Commissioner Ed Dixon later recalls: “He never advocated for any increased precincts, even though some of our people had to drive 30 miles to get to a poll. In the only county that’s a majority African-American, you want a decreased turnout.” After the votes have been tallied, Hutchinson’s deputy, African-American Shirley Green Knight, notices that over 2,000 ballots (out of 14,727 cast) are not included in the registered count. The reason? Gadsden uses a so-called “optiscan” balloting device, which allows voters to “bubble in” ovals with a pencil; these “bubbles” are scanned and the votes they indicate are tallied. Optiscan ballots are prone to register “overvotes,” essentially when the ballot indicates votes for two separate candidates in the same race. Overvotes are not machine-tallied. The machines have a sorting switch that when set to “on” causes the machine to record overvotes or “undervotes” (no vote recorded) in a separate category for later review and possible inclusion. Knight will learn that Hutchinson had insisted the machines’ switches be set to “off,” which rejects the overvotes without counting them at all. “I have no idea why he would do that,” Knight later says. When she learns of the problem, she asks Hutchinson to run the ballots through again with the sorting switch on, but he refuses. He is later overruled by the Gadsden canvassing board. When the ballots are run through a second time, the results are startlingly different. Gadsden uses a variant of the so-called “caterpillar ballot,” which lists candidates’ names in two columns. George W. Bush, Al Gore, and six other presidential candidates are listed in one column. The second column lists two more candidates, Monica Moorehead and Howard Phillips, and a blank for a “Write-In Candidate.” Hundreds of voters apparently believe that the second column is for an entirely different race, and vote not only for Bush or Gore, but for Moorehead or Phillips. And some voters vote for Gore and, to ensure clarity, write “Gore” in the write-in box. (Some, thoroughly confused by directions telling them to “Vote for ONE” and “Vote for Group,” bubble in all 10 presidential candidates and write “Gore” in the box.) None of these votes are originally counted. More sophisticated optiscan machines would refuse to accept the ballot, prompting the voter to correct the error. But Gadsden uses a cheaper machine that allows the error to go through unbeknownst to the voter. When Gadsden performs its machine recount, Gore will receive 153 additional votes from the erroneous optiscan. These will be included in the state’s final tally. However, over 2,000 of the “overvote” ballots will not be counted. Two-thirds of those ballots have Gore as their selection.
Duval County - Similar problems plague voters in Duval County. Duval, a large Democratic stronghold because of its inclusion of Jacksonville, is 29 percent African-American. Twenty-one thousand votes are thrown out as “overvotes.” Part of the problem is a sample-ballot insert placed in the newspaper by elections supervisor John Stafford, giving erroneous instructions as to how to complete the Duval ballot; any voter who follows these instructions does not have their votes tallied, though corrected instructions are posted in some Duval precincts. In the critical 72-hour period after the votes are complete, Gore campaign staffer Mike Langton will spend hours with Stafford, a white Republican, attempting to address the situation. Stafford lies to Langton and tells him Duval has “only a few” overvotes. It is not until after the deadline to ask for a machine recount has passed that Langton learns of the 21,000 uncounted votes. Nearly half of these are from four heavily African-American precincts that usually vote 90 percent Democratic. In theory, nearly 10,000 votes for Gore from Duval County will go untallied.
'Felons' and 'Purge Lists' - Florida law disenfranchises citizens convicted of many felonies (see June 24, 1974). In this election, thousands of Florida voters, mostly African-American males, lose their vote when they appear at their precinct and are told they cannot vote because they are felons, even though they are not. One is Willie Steen, a military veteran who loses his vote in Hillsborough County. “The poll worker looked at the computer and said that there was something about me being a felon,” Steen later recalls. “I’ve never been arrested before in my life,” he recalls telling the poll worker. The worker refuses to listen, and orders Steen to leave the line. Steen later learns that the felony he supposedly committed was done between 1991 and 1993, when he was stationed in the Persian Gulf. Tampa youth leader Willie Dixon and Tallahasse pastor Willie Whiting are also denied their votes through improper classification as felons, as do thousands of other voters. Investigative journalist Greg Palast later learns that the felon-disenfranchisement is widespread and systematic. He will publish a story exposing the scheme during the Florida recounts—in a London newspaper. No US newspaper will consider it. Palast later says: “Stories of black people losing rights is passe, it’s not discussed, no one cares. A black person accused of being a felon is always guilty.” Palast and other investigators learn that Republican legislators have in recent years upgraded a number of selected crimes from misdemeanors to felonies, apparently in order to “purge” the voting rolls of African-Americans. State Senator Frederica Wilson is one of many who believe the new classifications are “aimed at African-American people.” Black lawmakers have been unsuccessful in attempting to repeal the felon-disenfranchisement laws. After a 1997 election, where some 105 felons were found to have voted and analysis showed that 71 percent of Florida felons were registered Democrats, the Florida state government allocated $4 million to “purge” felons off the voting rolls. The government turned the task over to a private firm, Database Technologies (DBT) of Boca Raton (which later merged with the firm ChoicePoint). When the first purge lists from DBT began appearing in 1998, county elections officials were worried. Ion Sancho, the elections supervisor for Leon County, will recall: “We were sent this purge list in August of 1998. We started sending letters and contacting voters, [saying] that we had evidence that they were potential felons and that they contact us or they were going to be removed from the rolls. Boy, did that cause a firestorm.” One of the “felons” was Sancho’s close friend Rick Johnson, a civil rights attorney. “Very few felons are members of the Florida bar,” Sancho will note. In early 2000, Sancho asked Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell, a lawyer for the Florida Division of Elections, why so many “false positives”—innocent people—were on DBT’s list. Mitchell told Sancho that the problem was DBT’s, not Florida’s, and the firm had been told to handle the problem. Instead, according to ChoicePoint marketing official James Lee, Florida relaxed the criteria for its purge list, and tens of thousands of voters who had names roughly similar to those of actual felons were added to the list. Why? Lee will say, “Because after the first year they weren’t getting enough names.” Willie D. Whiting, a law-abiding pastor, is denied the vote because Willie J. Whiting is a felon. Willie Steen is denied his vote because Willie O’Steen is a convicted felon. Mitchell told a DBT project manager that it was up to elections officials like Sancho to find and correct the misidentifications. The lists even include actual felons whose right to vote had been restored by previous Florida administrations during amnesty programs. The initial database for the purge lists is comprised of people arrested for felonies, not convicted—thusly many citizens never convicted of a crime are now on the purge list. Others are incorrectly listed as felons when they were convicted of misdemeanors. A May 2000 “corrected” list stunned county elections officials. Linda Howell, election supervisor of Madison County, found her own name on the list. Monroe County supervisor Harry Sawyer found his father on the list, along with one of his employees and the husband of another. None of those people were felons. Some counties, such as Broward, Duval, Madison, and Palm Beach chose not to use the lists at all; Sancho meticulously checked his list of 697 names and ended up retaining only 33. Most supervisors use the lists without question. A thousand Bay County voters are denied their vote; 7,000 Miami-Dade voters lose theirs. It is unknown how many of these are actual felons and how many are law-abiding, legitimate voters. A 2001 class-action lawsuit brought by the NAACP and African-American voters will charge DBT and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris with deliberately attempting to disenfranchise black voters. It will be settled out of court, with Florida agreeing to provisions that nominally settle the problem (see Late August 2002), but a 2004 article by Vanity Fair will note that by 2004, Florida’s government has implemented none of the corrective procedures mandated by the settlement. Subsequent investigations will show that the “felons” on the various purge lists are disproportionately Democratic voters and disproportionately African-American. [Tapper, 3/2001; Vanity Fair, 10/2004]
2001 Investigation Proves Widespread Disenfranchisement - A 2001 investigation by the progressive newsmagazine The Nation will show a widespread and systematic program of voter disenfranchisement in effect in Florida during the 2000 elections (see April 24, 2001).
Entity Tags: Monica Moorehead, Mike Langton, Linda Howell, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Lavonna Lewis, Rick Johnson, Wallace McDonald, US Commission on Civil Rights, Willie Steen, Shirley Green Knight, Willie Dixon, Katherine Harris, Willie D. Whiting, John Stafford, Howard Phillips, James Lee, Donna Brazile, Denny Hutchinson, Donnise DeSouza, Database Technologies, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Cathy Jackson, John Ashcroft, ChoicePoint, Ed Dixon, Florida Division of Elections, Ion Sancho, Adora Obi Nweze, Emmett (“Bucky”) Mitchell, Harry Sawyer, George W. Bush, Frederica Wilson, Greg Palast, Corrine Brown
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties
Kyle Sampson. [Source: Legal Times]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]
Attorney General John Ashcroft. [Source: US Department of Justice]Attorney General John Ashcroft talks with FBI Director Louis Freeh before an annual meeting of special agents. Ashcroft lays out his priorities, which according to one participant is “basically violent crime and drugs.” Freeh bluntly replies that those are not his priorities and he talks about counterterrorism. “Ashcroft does not want to hear about it,” says one witness. [Newsweek, 5/27/2002]
Royce Lamberth’s letter to John Ashcroft, obtained by the 9/11 Timeline by Freedom of Information Act request. [Source: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court]The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) discovers that an application for a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is misleading. The application is for surveillance of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the supporting affidavit was signed by FBI agent Michael Resnick. The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is already investigating dozens of similar errors in FISA warrants for surveillance of al-Qaeda targets in the US (see Summer 2000-September 11, 2001). The application is misleading because its does not accurately describe the “wall” procedures being followed by several FBI field offices. Wall procedures regulate the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and local US attorneys’ offices. The misleading description is also found in another 14 warrant applications for surveillance of Hamas. The impact of the misleading statements in the Hamas investigations has not been disclosed, but in the al-Qaeda cases the wall was breached because criminal agents had unrestricted access to intelligence information (see Summer-October 2000). Royce Lamberth, Presiding Judge on the FISA Court, writes to Attorney General John Ashcroft saying it will no longer accept any applications where the supporting affidavit is signed by Resnick and asking for an immediate inquiry. [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, 3/9/2001 ; New York Times, 9/19/2001; New York Times, 5/27/2002; Washington Post, 8/23/2002; Arab News, 3/3/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 39 ] The Justice Department’s investigation into the misleading applications finds that “none of [them]… were the result of professional misconduct or poor judgement,” but that “a majority of the errors were the result of systemic flaws.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 40 ] Following the discovery of the errors in the FISA applications, surveillance of al-Qaeda and Hamas targets in the US is curtailed (see April 2001). Resnick remains with the bureau and will become head of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in North Carolina and then chief of the Terrorist Identities Group at the FBI’s National Counter Terrorism Center. [US Congress, 3/30/2006; WCNC, 6/20/2006]
US Attorney Alejandro N. Mayorkas, who serves the Southern District of California, announces he is stepping down as of April 20. Mayorkas is one of the small number of US Attorneys allowed to keep his position for any length of time after President Bush took office in January (see January 2001). Mayorkas, a Democrat, was appointed during the Clinton administration. He says he is responsible for President Clinton issuing the controversial pardon of convicted cocaine dealer Carlos Vignali Jr.; Mayorkas says he asked the White House to consider the pardon because of his compassion for Vignali’s family. Mayorkas has been US Attorney for something over two years, and supervises the largest US Attorney’s office in the nation. He emphasized the prosecution of hate crimes, environmental crimes, and consumer fraud during his tenure, and won plaudits for his successful prosecution of spree killer Buford Furrow, a white supremacist who killed a Filipino-American and shot four people at a Jewish community center (see August 10, 1999). The Justice Department says there is an extra issue with naming Mayorkas’s replacement. Traditionally, the home-state senators make a list of potential nominees for the president to choose from, but both senators from California are Democrats, as is the governor. Congressional Republicans may be asked to come up with a list. Attorney General John Ashcroft will name an interim prosecutor, or prosecutors, to serve in Mayorkas’s stead for up to 120 days. If no one is confirmed in that time, the US District Court has the authority to name a replacement. [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2001] Former judge Carol Lam will be named as Mayorkas’s replacement (see November 8, 2002). Mayorkas will eventually become the head of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, 8/24/2012]
Mary Schneider, a veteran Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) employee in Orlando, Florida, writes to Attorney General John Ashcroft to warn that a ring of corrupt INS officers is taking bribes from illegal Moroccan and Egyptian immigrants. She is concerned some of these illegal aliens let into the country could have ties to terrorist organizations, and calls for an investigation. Schneider started complaining to her supervisors in 1998 and claims she was retaliated against by management. In May 1999, she wrote to the FBI’s anti-terrorism joint task force in New York to warn of the possible terrorist ties of some of the illegal immigrants allowed into the country by her office. She says some of them could be linked to Ihab Ali Nawawi, an Orlando taxi driver arrested in 1999 for his ties to Osama bin Laden (see May 18, 1999). It is not known what actions, if any, were taken as a result of her warnings. [New Times Broward-Palm Beach, 11/8/2001]
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]
David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial, was hired to represent FBI agent Robert Wright in September 1999 (see August 3, 1999). After 9/11, Schippers will claim that he began privately informing congresspeople about Wright’s investigation into terrorism financing in the US in early 2001, but found little interest (see February-March 2001). Schippers appears to have had different sources than Wright who began telling him about attack warnings. Supposedly, the first warning was based on a secret February 1995 report which stated that bin Laden was planning three attacks on the US: the bombing of a federal building in the heartland of the US, shooting down or blowing up an airplane, and a massive attack in lower Manhattan. Schippers believes the first warning was a prediction of the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the second was a prediction of the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800 (see July 17, 1996-September 1996). In some versions of this warning, the Manhattan attack was meant to be caused by a “dirty bomb” - explosives mixed with radioactive materials - but other accounts described the use of planes as weapons instead. He says one of his sources for this early warning was Yossef Bodansky, director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. Schippers will claim that his sources continued to uncover further information. The Manhattan warning “had started out just a general threat, but they narrowed it and narrowed it, more and more with time,” until the “same people who came out with the first warning” tell him in May 2001 that “an attack on lower Manhattan is imminent.” Schippers speaks to several FBI agents directly, and hears that “there are [other agents] all over the country who are frustrated and just waiting to come out.” They are frustrated by “a bureaucratic elite in Washington short-stopping information,” which gives “terrorism a free reign in the United States.” Schippers later claims that some FBI agents later told him that before 9/11, “they had [Mohamed] Atta in their sights.” They also had attempted to “check out” the names and activities of “very strange characters training at flight schools.” He will claim that “FBI agents in Chicago and Minnesota” tell him “there [is] going to be an attack on lower Manhattan.” Schippers will later claim that he will attempt to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft and other politicians about this warning in coming months, but that they will show little interest (see July-Late August 2001). [WorldNetDaily, 10/21/2001; Indianapolis Star, 5/18/2002; Ahmed, 2004, pp. 258-260]
Senator Pat Roberts. [Source: Publicity photo]Based on concerns that the US is unprepared for a terrorist attack on its soil, the Republican chairmen of three Senate committees—appropriations, armed services and intelligence—arrange three days of hearings to explore how to better coordinate efforts at preventing and responding to terrorist attacks within the United States. Eighteen government officials testify, including CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Before the hearings commence, Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan) tells reporters, “The United States is very likely to suffer, on our soil, an attack by a weapon of mass destruction, by a terrorist group or cell. It should come as no surprise this nation is not prepared for such an attack.” [Washington Post, 5/9/2001; Red Cross, 5/10/2001] In his testimony at the hearings, John Ashcroft warns, “It is clear that American citizens are the target of choice of international terrorists. Americans comprise only about 5 percent of the world’s population. However, according to State Department statistics, during the decade of the 1990s, 36 percent of all worldwide terrorist acts were directed against US interests. Although most of these attacks occurred overseas, international terrorists have shown themselves willing to reach within our borders to carry out their cowardly acts.” [US Congress. Senate. Appropriations Committee, 5/9/2001] Yet in a letter describing the agenda of the new administration that he sends to department heads the day after giving this testimony, Ashcroft does not mention terrorism (see May 10, 2001). [New York Times, 2/28/2002] Also testifying at the hearings, FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh announces he will soon be establishing an Office of National Preparedness to coordinate efforts at responding to terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 5/9/2001] On the day the hearings start, President Bush announces that he is putting Vice President Dick Cheney in charge of overseeing a coordinated effort to address the threat posed to the United States by chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (see May 8, 2001). [White House, 5/8/2001]
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.” [New York Times, 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. [New York Times, 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; New York Times, 5/11/2001; Washington Post, 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. [Washington Post, 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.” [New York Times, 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.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2001]
New York Times reporter David Stout observes that the FBI’s admitted failure to turn over documents to convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, June 2, 1997, and May 10-11, 2001) will fuel conspiracy theories that will last for years. Attorney General John Ashcroft admitted as much when he ordered a delay in McVeigh’s scheduled execution to review the incident, saying, “If any questions or doubts remain about this case, it would cast a permanent cloud over justice.” Stout writes: “But for some people the cloud has been there all along, and always will be. They will never accept the government’s assertion that the withholding of the documents was simple human, bureaucratic error. And so the 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City seems likely to join the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as events whose truth—in the eyes of some Americans—is forever untold.” Charles Key, a former Oklahoma state legislator who has recently released a statement packed with assertions of a larger conspiracy and government malfeasance surrounding the bombing (see May 4, 2001), has been particularly vocal in his scorn over the document incident, and his contention that it is just part of a larger conspiracy by the government to cover up the truth behind the bombing. McVeigh’s former lawyer Stephen Jones seems to agree with Key; in his recent book (see August 14-27, 1997) Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma Bombing Conspiracy, Jones asserts: “The real story of the bombing, as the McVeigh defense pursued it, is complex, shadowy, and sinister. McVeigh, like the government, had its own reasons to keep it so. It stretches, web-like, from America’s heartland to the nation’s capital, the Far East, Europe, and the Middle East, and much of it remains a mystery.” Others go even farther in their beliefs. Charles Baldridge of Terre Haute, Indiana, where McVeigh is incarcerated awaiting execution, says, “I won’t say that McVeigh didn’t do it, but he wasn’t the brains, he wasn’t the one who orchestrated it.” Asked who orchestrated the bombing, Baldridge replies, “The government.” Many people believe that if the government did not actually plan and execute the bombing, it allowed it to happen, in order to use it as an excuse for passing anti-terrorism laws and curbing basic freedoms. Many of the same conspiracy theories that sprouted in the aftermath of the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After) are now appearing in the public discourse about the Oklahoma City bombing, Stout notes. [New York Times, 5/13/2001]
The New York Times will later report that, according to senior government officials, “A top secret report warned top officials of the FBI in the months before Sept. 11 that the bureau faced significant terrorist threats from Middle Eastern groups like al-Qaeda but lacked enough resources to meet the threat.” The internal assessment finds that virtually every major FBI field office is undermanned for evaluating and dealing with the threat from groups like al-Qaeda. The report gives detailed recommendations and proposes spending increases to address the problem. [New York Times, 6/1/2002] The report is the result of “MAXCAP 05,” short for maximum feasible capability, an evaluation effort launched by Dale Watson, the head of the new counterterrorism division created in 1999 (see December 1999), to identify the FBI’s weaknesses in counterterrorism and remedy them by 2005. It is presented to Robert Mueller upon his appointment as FBI director in early September. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 78-79; Zegart, 2007, pp. 142] The report will not be made public. [New York Times, 6/27/2007] However, in August 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard meets Attorney General John Ashcroft to ask for supplemental funding for counterterrorism, but his request is turned down. On September 10, 2001, Ashcroft rejects a proposed $58 million increase in FBI counterterrorism funding for the next year’s budget (see September 10, 2001).
Lawyers for FBI laboratory employees send an urgent letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft alleging that a key prosecution witness in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) may have lied during McVeigh’s trial. The accusations center around Steven Burmeister, now the FBI laboratory’s chief of scientific analysis, who testified that the FBI crime lab found residues of explosives on the clothing that McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested after the bomb exploded (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). The letter reads in part, “Material evidence presented by the government in the OKBOMB prosecution through the testimony of Mr. Burmeister appears to be false, misleading, and potentially fabricated,” referring to testimony Burmeister had given in an unrelated civil case, which contradicted his testimony in the McVeigh case; Burmeister had talked about the restrictions on his work area and the requirement that laboratory employees wear protective clothing. The letter is sent to Ashcroft by fax and by courier with the notation “urgent matter for the immediate attention of the attorney general.” The letter will sit in Ashcroft’s clerical office for nearly two months before being turned over to the FBI. Justice Department spokesperson Barbara Comstock will say that neither Ashcroft nor other top department officials ever saw the letter, and it was never reviewed to determine if it should be given to McVeigh’s lawyers. Prosecutors used Burmeister’s testimony to determine the exact composition of the bomb McVeigh used to bring down the Murrah Federal Building and kill 168 people. The judge in the trial, Richard P. Matsch, refused to allow McVeigh’s lawyers to hear criticisms of the crime lab’s evidence handling (see January 27, 1997 and May 20, 1997). The accusations against Burmeister were never given to McVeigh’s lawyers, even as a judge was weighing the option to delay McVeigh’s execution because the government failed to turn over other evidence (see May 10-11, 2001, May 16, 2001, and June 1-7, 2001). The letter is later turned over to the lawyers of convicted bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997, June 4, 1998, and May 15, 2001), who will face 160 counts of murder in an upcoming trial by the State of Oklahoma (see September 5, 2001). [New York Times, 5/1/2003]
Shortly after being appointed acting FBI director, Thomas Pickard gives his first briefing to Attorney General John Ashcroft. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Ruben Garcia, the FBI’s Assistant Director for Criminal Investigations, also attend the briefing. Pickard sends an agenda in advance, and terrorism is the first item on it, as the CIA is reporting there is an increased risk of attacks. During the briefing, Ashcroft suggests he does not know much about al-Qaeda, so Pickard fills him in. “I told him about al-Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden, a little history about the World Trade Center bombing and East Africa,” Pickard will later say. Pickard also talks about increase in “chatter” by al-Qaeda operatives, and says this could be a sign of an upcoming attack. The speculation is it would take place in Southeast Asia or the Middle East, but other locales could not be ruled out. His terrorism briefing lasts about an hour. Although Ashcroft listens to Pickard’s explanation, he asks few questions about terrorism. He shows more interest in other items on the agenda, such as ending delays on background checks for gun buyers, which interests him because of his relationship with the National Rifle Association. [Pickard, 6/24/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 246-247]
The CIA briefs Attorney General Ashcroft on the al-Qaeda threat. Several senior CIA Counterterrorist Center officials warn him that a significant attack is imminent, preparations for multiple attacks are in the late stages or already complete, and that little additional warning can be expected. He is told the attack is more likely to occur overseas than in the US. He was also briefed by the CIA on the al-Qaeda threat on May 15, 2001. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258-259, 534; Tenet, 2007, pp. 150] CIA Director Tenet will later claim in a book that at the end of the briefing, Ashcroft turned to some FBI personnel and asked them, “Why are they telling me this? Why am I not hearing this from you?” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 150] However, in fact, the FBI did brief Ashcroft for an hour an the al-Qaeda threat one week earlier (see June 28, 2001). One week later, the FBI will brief him again about the al-Qaeada threat and he will reportedly reply, “I do not want to hear about this anymore” (see July 12, 2001). By the end of July, he will stop flying commercial aircraft in the US (see July 26, 2001).
Anthony Williams. [Source: Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press]The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the National Emergency Management Association co-sponsor a two-day event held in Washington called Preparing the Nation: A National Policy Summit on Domestic Terrorism. Federal officials, state teams of governors’ key policy advisors, and state leaders in law enforcement, public health, fire, and emergency management attend. Speakers include Attorney General John Ashcroft, Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT), and Governor Robert Wise (D-WV). [National Governors Association, 6/25/2001; Red Cross, 7/11/2001; National Governors Association, 7/13/2001] The agenda of the event is structured around a tabletop exercise, based on a hypothetical bioterrorist attack. The scenario involves a neo-nazi terrorist releasing six liters of plague slurry in a fictional city resembling New York, called Gotham. [National Governors Association, 6/25/2001; National Governors Association, 7/10/2001 ; National Governors Association, 7/10/2001, pp. 7 ] In his speech at the event, Anthony Williams, the mayor of the District of Columbia, says it is especially appropriate that the summit is being held in DC, because “our city has been called ground zero for a potential terrorism incident. ‘It’s only a matter of time,’ they say, ‘before Washington, DC is the site of a terrorist attack.’” [National Governors Association, 7/10/2001 ] Assistant FBI Director Dale Watson tells the summit that a significant terrorist attack is likely on US soil (see July 11, 2001). [Reuters, 7/12/2001] In his speech, Ashcroft says, “Our number one priority is the prevention of terrorist attacks” (see July 11, 2001). [National Governors Association, 7/11/2001 ] Charles DeVita, the vice president for global safety and security for the Red Cross, says, “Conferences like these are starting to take place because even the federal government is realizing that [acts of terrorism are a major] threat. It’s not a matter of if, but when this is going to happen.” [Red Cross, 7/11/2001]
Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006]
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-4] Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 153-4]
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).
Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Stephen J. Hadley, White House, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft receive the same CIA briefing about a likely imminent, multiple, and simultaneous al-Qaeda strike that was given to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). In 2006, the State Department will reveal the two were briefed within a week of the White House briefing, at the request of National Security Adviser Rice. One official who helped prepare the briefing later describes it as a “ten on a scale of one to ten” that “connected the dots” to present a stark warning that al-Qaeda is ready to launch a new attack. A Pentagon spokesman says he has no information “about what may or may not have been briefed” to Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld does not answer questions about it. Ashcroft says he was not given any briefing and calls it “disappointing” that he was not briefed. After it is confirmed that Ashcroft was briefed, apparently on July 17, Ashcroft will still claim not to remember the briefing, and will say he only recalls another CIA briefing earlier in the month (see July 5, 2001). Journalist Andrew Cockburn later reports that, “according to several intelligence sources,” Rumsfeld’s reaction to the briefing at the time “was one of vehement dismissal, complete with cutting observations about the CIA falling victim to ‘vast doses of al-Qaeda disinformation’ and ‘mortal doses of gullibility.’” McClatchy Newspapers will comment that these briefings raise “new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don’t remember the warning.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 9] On July 26, 2001, it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying on commercial airlines within the US (see July 26, 2001).
John Ashcroft speaking at the National Governors Association summit on domestic terrorism. [Source: Red Cross]Attorney General John Ashcroft gives a speech at a summit on preparing the US for domestic terrorism, held in Washington, DC (see July 10-11, 2001). He says, “[W]e must be vigilant about the prevention of attacks utilizing weapons of mass destruction. And we must be prepared to mitigate the damage to human life and property should our worst fears come true.” He also says, “Our number one priority is the prevention of terrorist attacks,” but cautions, “We will not always be able to prevent terrorist attacks. When an incident occurs, we must react and react quickly.” [Associated Press, 7/11/2001; National Governors Association, 7/11/2001 ] Yet despite his claim that preventing terrorism is a priority, one day after this speech Ashcroft reportedly tells the acting FBI director that he does not want to hear about terrorism anymore (see July 12, 2001). In a letter he’d sent out to department heads two months previously, describing the agenda of the new administration and citing seven goals, he’d made no mention of terrorism (see May 10, 2001). And the day before 9/11, Ashcroft will refuse to endorse the FBI’s request for a $58 million increase in counterterrorism funding (see September 10, 2001).
[Source: FBI]At a conference on domestic terrorism held in Washington, DC (see July 10-11, 2001), Assistant FBI Director Dale Watson, the head of the Counterterrorism Division, warns that a significant terrorist attack is likely on US soil. He says, “I’m not a gloom-and-doom-type person. But I will tell you this. [We are] headed for an incident inside the United States.” This quote appears in a Reuters news story about the conference, entitled, “Terrorist Attack on US Soil Predicted.” Apparently paraphasing Watson, the Reuters article reports, “The FBI predicts terrorists will launch a major attack on American interests abroad every year for the next five years and thinks an attack using a weapon of mass destruction is likely at home.” The article also says that the number one threat is “from exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden.” Attorney General John Ashcroft also speaks at the conference about security measures for upcoming public events such as the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City (see July 11, 2001). [National Governors Association, 7/10/2001 ; Reuters, 7/12/2001; Newsday, 4/10/2004]
Thomas Pickard. [Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation]Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard attempts to brief Attorney General John Ashcroft on the al-Qaeda terrorist threat for a second time (see June 28, 2001), but Ashcroft is uninterested and says he does not want to hear about it, according to Pickard’s later account.
'I Don't Want to Hear about It Anymore' - According to a June 24, 2004 letter from Pickard to the 9/11 Commission, Pickard opens the briefing by discussing “counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters.” Pickard’s letter will go on to say: “The fourth item I discussed was the continuing high level of ‘chatter’ by al-Qaeda members. The AG [attorney general] told me, ‘I don’t want to hear about it anymore, there’s nothing I can do about it.’ For a few seconds, I did not know what to say, then I replied that he should meet with the director of the CIA to get a fuller briefing on the matter.… I resumed my agenda but I was upset about [Ashcroft’s] lack of interest. He did not tell me nor did I learn until April 2004 that the CIA briefed him on the increase in chatter and level of threat on July 5, 2001” (see July 5, 2001 and July 11-17, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] In testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Pickard will affirm that, “at least on two occasions” he briefed Ashcroft on a rising threat level and concerns about an impending attack, which were being reported by the CIA. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will ask Pickard if he has told Commission staff that Ashcroft “did not want to hear about this anymore,” to which Pickard will respond, “That is correct.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004 ] According to Pickard’s later recollection: “Before September 11th, I couldn’t get half an hour on terrorism with Ashcroft. He was only interested in three things: guns, drugs, and civil rights.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 293]
Differing Accounts of What Was Said at the Meeting - According to the 9/11 Commission’s June 3, 2004 record of its interview with Watson, “Pickard told Watson that he was briefing Ashcroft on counterterrorism, and Ashcroft told him that he didn’t want to hear ‘anything about these threats,’ and that ‘nothing ever happened.’” [9/11 Commission, 6/3/2004 ] Author Philip Shenon will write about this meeting in his 2008 book, The Commission, based on interviews with Pickard and “Commission investigators who researched his allegations,” but none of the quotes or representations of fact in Shenon’s text will cite a specific source. Shenon will make reference to Mark Jacobson and Caroline Barnes as being the 9/11 Commission staffers who interviewed Pickard. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 240-248, 433] According to Shenon’s version of the meeting, Ashcroft replies to Pickard: “I don’t want you to ever talk to me about al-Qaeda, about these threats. I don’t want to hear about al-Qaeda anymore.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 247] Ashcroft, in testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission, will dismiss Pickard’s allegation, saying, “I did never speak to him saying that I did not want to hear about terrorism.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004 ] Pickard will respond to Ashcroft’s testimony in his 2004 letter, saying, “What [Ashcroft] stated to the Commission under oath is correct, but they did not ask him, ‘Did he tell me he did not want to hear about the chatter and level of threat?’ which is the conversation to which I testified under oath.” [Pickard, 6/24/2004] The deputy attorney general at the time of the meeting, Larry D. Thompson, and Ashcroft’s chief of staff, David T. Ayres, will sign a letter to the 9/11 Commission on July 12, 2004, in which they say they are responding to Pickard’s allegation that when he briefed Ashcroft “on the al-Qaeda threat prior to September 11, 2001, the attorney general responded that he did not want to hear such information anymore.” The letter will say Thompson and Ayres were present at that and the other regular meetings between Pickard and Ashcroft, and “the attorney general made no such statement in that or any other meeting.” [Ayres, 7/12/2004] The 9/11 Commission Report will conclude, “We cannot resolve this dispute.” [Commission, 2004]
Differing Accounts of Who Was at the Meeting - Pickard’s 2004 letter will state that Ayres is at the meeting, but has left the room prior to that part of the meeting, as he does not have the required level of security clearance. Pickard’s letter indicated that the FBI Assistant Director for Criminal Investigations, Ruben Garcia, is at the meeting and also witnesses the exchange. [Pickard, 6/24/2004] Shenon’s book puts Garcia at the meeting, but does not make reference to Garcia’s account of what is said there. Also, in the notes to Shenon’s book, it will not say that he interviewed Garcia. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 247-248, 433] According to a June 22, 2004 NBC News report: “Commission investigators also tracked down another FBI witness at the meeting that day, Ruben Garcia… Several sources familiar with the investigation say Garcia confirmed to the Commission that Ashcroft did indeed dismiss Pickard’s warnings about al-Qaeda.” Furthermore, “Pickard did brief Ashcroft on terrorism four more times that summer, but sources say the acting FBI director never mentioned the word al-Qaeda again in Ashcroft’s presence—until after Sept. 11.” [MSNBC, 6/22/2004] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, “Ruben Garcia… attended some of Pickard’s briefings of the attorney general but not the one at which Pickard alleges Ashcroft made the statement.” [Commission, 2004, pp. 536n52]
Ashcroft Denies FBI Requests and Appeals, Cuts Counterterrorism Funding - Following the meeting, on July 18, Ashcroft will reject the FBI’s request for an increase in funding for counterterrorism, and instead propose cuts to that division (see July 18, 2001). Pickard will appeal this decision; Ashcroft will reject the appeal on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, John Ashcroft, Mark Jacobson, Thomas Pickard, David Ayres, Dale Watson, 9/11 Commission, Caroline Barnes, Central Intelligence Agency, Philip Shenon, Al-Qaeda, Ruben Garcia
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
On July 12, 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard briefs Attorney General Ashcroft a second time about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 12, 2001). In a later letter to the 9/11 Commission discussing the meeting, Pickard will mention, “I had not told [Ashcroft] about the meeting in Malaysia since I was told by FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson that there was a ‘close hold’ on that info. This means that it was not to be shared with anyone without the explicit approval of the CIA.” During the briefing, Pickard also strongly recommends that Ashcroft be briefed by the CIA to learn details that Pickard feels he is not allowed to reveal. The “meeting in Malaysia” is an obvious reference to the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Louis Freeh, the FBI director at the time of the summit, and other unnamed FBI officials were told some about the summit while it was taking place (see January 6, 2000). It is unknown if Pickard and Watson learned about it at that time, but Pickard’s letter shows they both knew about it by the time of this briefing. It is not known why the CIA placed a “close hold” on any mention of the Malaysian summit so strict that even the attorney general could not be told. Since two of the 9/11 hijackers attended that summit, sharing the information about the summit with other agencies may have helped stop the 9/11 attacks. [Pickard, 6/24/2004]
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]
Dan Rather in July 2001 presenting the story about John Ashcroft. [Source: CBS via Banded Artists Productions]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.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 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.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 6/3/2002] CBS’s Dan Rather will later ask of this warning: “Why wasn’t it shared with the public at large?” [Washington Post, 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).
[Source: Publicity photo]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. [WorldNetDaily, 10/21/2001; Indianapolis Star, 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]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Department of Justice, Al-Qaeda, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Phyllis Schlafly, John Ashcroft, Hamas, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Schippers, Jayna Davis
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Larry D. Thompson. [Source: National Journal]In later testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Attorney General John Ashcroft will complain, “[T]he single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the wall that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents.” However, on this day, Ashcroft’s Assistant Attorney General, Larry Thompson, writes a memo reaffirming the policy that is later criticized as this “wall.” [9/11 Commission, 12/8/2003; Washington Post, 4/18/2004]
On August 7, 2001, a version of the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” given to President Bush the day before is sent to other top US officials (see August 7, 2001). This version, called an SEIB, has the same title as the PDB but contains less classified information. Attorney General John Ashcroft - the head of law enforcement in the US - will later claim that he does not remember seeing this SEIB before 9/11. He will say he was at a conference in Chicago at the time and he does not remember his staff briefing him about it later. In the Clinton administration, the attorney general was a regular recipient of the same PDB given to the president. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
The General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, Comptroller General David Walker, issues a report detailing the history of the GAO’s request for information regarding Vice President Cheney’s secret energy task force, and reiterating its request (see July 31, 2001). The report is sent to President Bush, Cheney, Congress, the attorney general, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It reads in part: “In communications with the vice president’s counsel… we offered to eliminate our earlier request for minutes and notes and for the information presented by members of the public. Even though we are legally entitled to this information, as a matter of comity, we are scaling back the records we are requesting to exclude these two items of information.… The GAO as an institution, and the comptroller general as an officer of the legislative branch, assist the Congress in exercising its responsibilities under the Constitution to oversee, investigate, and legislate. In order to help members of Congress carry out their role and evaluate the process used to develop the National Energy Policy, GAO needs selected factual and non-deliberative records that the vice president, as chair of the NEPDG [National Energy Policy Development Group, the formal name for Cheney’s task force], or others representing the Group, are in a position to provide GAO. The records we are requesting will assist the review of how the NEPDG spent public funds, how it carried out its activities, and whether applicable law was followed.” [David Walker, 8/17/2001 ; National Review, 2/20/2002]
Attorney General John Ashcroft rejects a proposed $58 million increase in financing for the FBI’s counterterrorism programs. The money would have paid for 149 new counterterrorism field agents, 200 additional analysts and 54 additional translators. On the same day, he sends a request for budget increases to the White House. It covers 68 programs—but none of them relate to counterterrorism. He also sends a memorandum to his heads of departments, stating his seven priorities—none of them relate to counterterrorism. [Guardian, 5/21/2002; New York Times, 6/1/2002; New York Times, 6/2/2002] He further proposes cutting a program that gives state and local counterterrorism grants for equipment like radios and preparedness training from $109 million to $44 million. Yet Ashcroft stopped flying public airplanes in July due to an as yet undisclosed terrorist threat (see July 26, 2001), and in a July speech he proclaimed, “Our No. 1 priority is the prevention of terrorist attacks.” [New York Times, 2/28/2002]
Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves his Lima, Peru hotel after hearing news of the attacks. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Just prior to learning about the 9/11 attacks, top US leaders are scattered across the country and overseas:
President Bush is in Sarasota, Florida. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Lima, Peru. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is flying across the Atlantic on the way to Europe. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 19-40]
Attorney General John Ashcroft is flying to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh is at a conference in Montana. [ABC News, 9/14/2002] Others are in Washington:
Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are at their offices in the White House. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is at his office in the Pentagon, meeting with a delegation from Capitol Hill. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
CIA Director George Tenet is at breakfast with his old friend and mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel, three blocks from the White House. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
FBI Director Robert Mueller is in his office at FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is at his office at the Department of Transportation. [US Congress, 9/20/2001]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is at a conference in the Ronald Reagan Building, three blocks from the White House. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 1]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Joseph M. Allbaugh, Richard A. Clarke, Henry Hugh Shelton, Norman Mineta, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, David Boren, George J. Tenet, Robert S. Mueller III
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Susan Dryden. [Source: Davar Ardalan / NPR News]Attorney General John Ashcroft learns of the attacks in New York while flying to Milwaukee, and immediately instructs his pilot to turn the plane around and return to Washington, DC. [Daily Record (Glasgow), 9/29/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 115-116; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257]
Ashcroft Scheduled for Reading Event - Ashcroft is heading from Washington to Milwaukee in one of the FAA’s Cessna Citation V jet planes, to read with some schoolchildren as part of the president’s child literacy program. With him are David Israelite, his deputy chief of staff; Susan Dryden, the deputy communications director for the Justice Department; Ralph Boyd, the assistant attorney general for civil rights; and a detail officer from the FBI.
Command Center Tells Ashcroft of Attacks - As the plane is nearing Lake Michigan, its pilot calls out to Ashcroft, “Sir, you are to call back to the Justice Department command center in Washington immediately.” Ashcroft makes the call and is informed that two commercial airliners have struck the World Trade Center towers. He then turns toward the cockpit and tells the pilot, David Clemmer: “Turn this plane around. We’re flying back to Washington.” Clemmer replies that they don’t have enough fuel to make it back to Washington and will need to land in Milwaukee to refuel. Ashcroft says, “All right, get us down for fuel and back in the air as fast as you can.”
Plane Lands at Milwaukee Airport - Ashcroft then turns toward the other passengers and describes to them what he has learned from the command center. A few minutes later, his plane will land in Milwaukee to refuel. Ashcroft and his fellow passengers will go inside the terminal and get their first glimpses of the television coverage of the attacks in New York. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 115-117] Despite an FAA ground stop, which is supposed to prevent aircraft from taking off, Ashcroft will insist on flying from Milwaukee back to Washington (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258]
Around this time, according to his own account, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke reaches the Secure Video Conferencing Center just off the main floor of the Situation Room in the West Wing of the White House. From there, he directs the response to the 9/11 attacks and stays in contact with other top officials through video links. Clarke claims that on video he can see Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson (filling in for the traveling Attorney General John Ashcroft), Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (filling in for the traveling Secretary of State Colin Powell), and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers (filling in for the traveling Chairman Henry Shelton). National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is with Clarke, but she lets him run the crisis response, deferring to his longer experience on terrorism matters. Clarke is also told by an aide, “We’re on the line with NORAD, on an air threat conference call.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 2-4; Australian, 3/27/2004] According to the 9/11 Commission, logs indicate that Clarke’s video teleconference only begins at 9:25 a.m. (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), which is later than Clarke suggests, and CIA and FAA representatives only join it at 9:40 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36 and 462] Other accounts claim that, rather than being involved in Clarke’s teleconference at this time, Donald Rumsfeld is still in his office waiting for his intelligence briefing (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and Richard Myers is in a meeting on Capitol Hill (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Armed Forces Radio And Television Service, 10/17/2001; Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-219] The 9/11 Commission claims that, “While important,” Clarke’s conference has “no immediate effect on the emergency defense efforts.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Yet, as the Washington Post puts it, “everyone seems to agree” Clarke is the chief crisis manager on 9/11. [Washington Post, 3/28/2004] Even Clarke’s later opponent, National Security Adviser Rice, calls him 9/11’s “crisis management guy.” [United Press International, 4/9/2004] The conference is where the government’s emergency defense efforts are concentrated.
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Richard B. Myers, Richard Armitage, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III, Richard A. Clarke, Henry Hugh Shelton, Jane Garvey, Donald Rumsfeld, 9/11 Commission, George J. Tenet, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
[Source: US Department of Justice]Ted Olson, the solicitor general of the United States, calls the Department of Justice command center to pass on information he has received in a call from his wife, who is a passenger on Flight 77, and ask for someone there to come to his office. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32, 95] His wife, Barbara Olson, has just called him, and was able to say her plane had been hijacked and give him details of the hijacking before the call got cut off (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Olson Is Unable to Reach Attorney General Ashcroft - After the call from his wife has ended, Ted Olson tries to call Attorney General John Ashcroft on a direct line he has to Ashcroft, but receives no answer. He then calls the Department of Justice command center to pass on the details of his wife’s call. He contacts the command center, he will later say, because he wants to give Barbara Olson’s information “to someone who could possibly do something.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; Newsweek, 9/28/2001] “I mainly wanted them know there was another hijacked plane out there,” he will comment. [Fox News, 9/14/2001]
Olson Is Told Command Center Personnel Are Unaware of the Hijacking - He tells the person who answers the call that his wife’s plane has been hijacked and gives them the number of the flight. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32] “I want you to know there’s another plane that’s been hijacked; my wife is on it,” he says. [Newsweek, 9/28/2001] He adds that his wife is able to communicate from the plane, even though her call to him got cut off. [CNN, 9/14/2001] “They just absorbed the information,” he will recall, adding, “I expected them to pass the information on to the appropriate people.” [Fox News, 9/14/2001] He is told that officials in the command center know nothing about the hijacking of Flight 77. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001]
Olson Wants a Security Officer to Come to His Office - Ted Olson also requests that a security officer from the command center come to his office. According to Helen Voss, his special assistant, he does this because he thinks the security officer will be able to talk to Barbara Olson if she calls him again. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32] But Ted Olson will comment that at this time, “I didn’t know that I was going to get another call [from Barbara Olson].” He is told someone will be sent to his office right away. [Fox News, 9/14/2001] Shortly after he contacts the command center, Barbara Olson will call him a second time and provide more details about the hijacking of Flight 77 (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32]
Security Officer Goes to Olson's Office - Meanwhile, Allen Ferber, a security officer in the command center, is told to go to Ted Olson’s office. He is told by the watch officer that the solicitor general’s wife is on a plane that has been hijacked, the hijackers were armed with knives, and the passengers have been moved to the back of the plane. He will arrive at Ted Olson’s office after Barbara Olson’s second call from Flight 77 has ended. He will stay there, watching the television coverage of the crashes at the World Trade Center with Ted Olson, for about 10 minutes. He will leave the office before the attack on the Pentagon is reported on television (see 9:39 a.m.-9:44 a.m. September 11, 2001) but return to it after the attack starts being reported (see (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001]
General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [Source: VisitingDC.com]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. [Washington Post, 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. [Washington Post, 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]
The J. Edgar Hoover Building. [Source: FBI]Nonessential employees are evacuated from the FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 421] The FBI headquarters is located in the J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, between Ninth and Tenth Streets, six blocks away from the White House. The building is seven stories high along Pennsylvania Avenue and rises to 11 stories at the rear. [Kessler, 2007, pp. 15; US Government Accountability Office, 11/2011, pp. 6 ; Associated Press, 12/10/2012; Capital News Service, 10/6/2016]
Headquarters Is Evacuated after the Pentagon Attack - The evacuation apparently takes place shortly after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Denise Smith, a forensic scientist, is at work in a laboratory in the Hoover Building when she and her colleagues learn of the attacks on the World Trade Center. “Then, all of a sudden, we could see flames and smoke coming from the Pentagon,” she will later recall. “Seconds later,” according to the Baraboo News Republic, “everyone in the building was told to evacuate.” [Baraboo News Republic, 9/10/2011] Author Cindi McMenamin will write that her brother Dan, who is working at FBI headquarters this morning, and his colleagues “immediately evacuated” after “getting word that the Pentagon had been hit.” [McMenamin, 2012, pp. 64] It apparently takes a considerable time to get everyone away from the building. “The backup to leave the FBI’s underground garage was half an hour,” according to journalist and author Ronald Kessler. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 421]
Headquarters Is Feared to Be a Terrorist Target - The headquarters is apparently evacuated due to fears that it may be the target of a terrorist attack. “Assuming that FBI headquarters would be the next target, nonessential employees were being evacuated from the J. Edgar Hoover Building,” Kessler will describe. [Kessler, 2007, pp. 15] McMenamin will write that her brother and his colleagues evacuate “as they guessed their building—and any other federal building—could be next.” [McMenamin, 2012, pp. 64] Attorney General John Ashcroft, who will arrive at FBI headquarters early this afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), will state that sometime before his arrival it had been thought “that one of the [hijacked] planes might be headed for the FBI headquarters building.” [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ] Many FBI agents and senior FBI officials who remain in the headquarters work from the Strategic Information and Operations Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 10/14/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 5] The center, on the building’s fifth floor, is fortified so its occupants can survive a bombing or other kind of attack. [New York Times, 11/2/2001] Other security measures are also taken around this time. Police block off Ninth and Tenth Streets alongside the Hoover Building. Bomb-sniffing dogs and FBI police officers armed with submachine guns then patrol the perimeter around the building. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 421]
The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft is ordered to land by the FAA’s Cleveland Center, but Ashcroft is intent on reaching Washington, DC, and instructs his pilot to ignore the order. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 117; Spencer, 2008, pp. 258] Ashcroft learned of the attacks in New York while flying to Milwaukee in a small government jet, and immediately wanted to return to Washington, but his plane needed to land first in Milwaukee to refuel (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Even though the FAA had issued a nationwide ground stop to prevent aircraft from taking off, Ashcroft then insisted that his plane leave Milwaukee to fly back to Washington (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FAA Manager Furious, Wants Plane to Land - When Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, hears about Ashcroft’s plane defying the ground stop order, he is livid. He immediately calls the FAA’s Cleveland Center and tells it to order the plane to land. An air traffic controller at the Cleveland Center then issues this order to Ashcroft’s plane. [Newsweek, 3/10/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258] David Clemmer, the plane’s pilot, tells Ashcroft, “They’re instructing me to land outside of Detroit,” but Ashcroft tells him, “No, keep going.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 117]
Controller Reports that Plane Is Not Complying - According to a 2002 FAA report, Ashcroft then requests that his plane be allowed to immediately return to Washington, and he receives permission to do so. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ] But author Lynn Spencer will give a different account, saying that Clemmer “chooses to ignore the controller and continues toward Washington.” The Cleveland Center controller then informs the FAA Command Center that the pilot of Ashcroft’s plane is not responding and not complying. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 258] Ashcroft’s plane will subsequently be redirected toward Richmond, Virginia, and is threatened with being shot down if it does not land (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Daily Record (Glasgow), 9/29/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118]
The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft, which is heading toward Washington, DC, is threatened with being shot down by the military if it does not land, and is diverted to Richmond, Virginia. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 258] Even though the FAA had issued a national ground stop preventing aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft insisted that his plane take off and fly back to Washington after it landed in Milwaukee to refuel (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). And though the FAA has been instructing all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft told his pilot to ignore an order to land near Detroit, and instead continue toward Washington (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 117; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258]
Fighters Intercept Ashcroft's Plane - When Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, hears that Ashcroft’s pilot is refusing to land, he notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). As a result, two F-16 fighter jets from a nearby Air National Guard base intercept Ashcroft’s plane, but they remain out of sight and undetected by its pilot. The F-16s’ pilots report to NEADS that the errant plane is a private corporate jet without any markings, which is heading for Washington and does not seem to have any intention of landing.
Sliney Wants Plane 'out of My Sky' - Ashcroft’s pilot, David Clemmer, has started broadcasting a message “in the blind,” meaning it is not intended for any specific air traffic controller, stating that the attorney general is on the plane and they are returning to Washington. The F-16 pilots notify NEADS of this, but when a NEADS officer then tells Sliney about the message, Sliney asks, “Can you guarantee me that it is indeed John Ashcroft on that plane?” The officer replies, “No sir, we cannot,” and so Sliney demands, “Then get him out of my sky!” NEADS issues the order to the two F-16 pilots that if the plane will not land voluntarily, then they must take it down. The F-16 flight lead calls the FAA’s Washington Center and arranges for one of its controllers to call the plane’s pilot and tell him that if he does not divert and land, his plane will be shot down. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 258]
Pilot Warned Plane Could Be Shot Down - The Washington Center controller tells Clemmer, “Land your plane immediately, or risk getting shot down by the US Air Force.” [Newsweek, 9/24/2001] Clemmer relays this warning to Ashcroft, telling him: “Sir, there’s a shootdown order. If we get any closer to Washington, they might blow us out of the sky.” [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118] Clemmer also turns to an FBI agent who has been assigned to guard Ashcroft, and says, “Well, Larry, we’re in deep kimchi here, and basically, all the rules you and I know are out the window.” He tells air traffic controllers that he is carrying the attorney general, but is worried that this information won’t get through to military commanders who control the airspace around Washington. [Newsweek, 9/24/2001] Clemmer will later recall: “We didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our safety or the safety of the [attorney general]. I know I didn’t want to get shot down either.”
Plane Diverted to Richmond - According to some accounts, Ashcroft finally relents, and, at the insistence of the FAA, his plane is diverted to Richmond. Ashcroft will later recall, “It was a real negotiation [with the FAA].” [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 258] However, according to a 2002 FAA report, Ashcroft’s plane is diverted to Richmond “due to air traffic requests for the release of medevac aircraft in the Washington, DC, area.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ] As the plane flies toward Richmond, Clemmer negotiates getting a fighter escort for it. Ashcroft will persist in his desire to reach Washington, and his plane will eventually be cleared to land in the capital (see 11:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 272]
One of the FAA’s Cessna Citation V jet planes. [Source: Unknown]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. [Washington Post, 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). [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Newsweek, 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. [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Washington Post, 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). [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 453]
David Israelite. [Source: Publicity photo]The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft finally arrives in Washington, DC, landing at Reagan National Airport. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ] Ashcroft has wanted his plane, a small government Cessna jet, to return to Washington since he learned of the attacks in New York while flying out to Milwaukee (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001 and After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 3/10/2003; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 115-118] Despite his plane being instructed to land on more than one occasion (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), Ashcroft has insisted on returning to the capital. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 258, 272]
Plane Lands, Passengers Met by Agents with Machine Guns - Ashcroft’s plane has finally been cleared to land in Washington, and an F-16 fighter jet escorts it in to Reagan Airport. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; 9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003] After touching down, the plane taxies to the tarmac near Signature Aviation, the private executive aircraft terminal. When Ashcroft and the other individuals with him get off, they are met by numerous agents, some with machine guns at the ready. Apparently concerned about possible snipers, the agents quickly cover Ashcroft with a bulletproof trench coat and pass out bulletproof vests to the others with him. All of them are hustled into a hangar, where several vans are waiting. Ashcroft and his deputy chief of staff, David Israelite, get into a heavily reinforced SUV, while their colleagues disperse to other vehicles.
Ashcroft Advised to Go to Classified Site - Ashcroft calls the White House Situation Room to ask where he should go to set up operations. He is connected to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who suggests that he head to the remote, classified site, where other Justice Department personnel have gone, until it is known if any more attacks are forthcoming. Ashcroft’s vehicle heads toward the site, but due to the roads being clogged with traffic, it turns around and goes instead to the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center in Washington, where Ashcroft will spend much of the rest of the day. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118-120, 129]
Conflicting Accounts of Landing Time - The time when Ashcroft’s plane lands at Reagan Airport is unclear. According to a 2002 FAA report, it lands “just before noon.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ] According to USA Today, it does not arrive in Washington “until afternoon.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002] And a federally funded report on the emergency response to the Pentagon attack will claim that an unidentified aircraft—later determined to be Ashcroft’s plane—is approaching Washington and leads to an evacuation of the Pentagon site at around 2:00 p.m. (see (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 ; Vogel, 2007, pp. 453] Ashcroft’s plane is one of the last aircraft to land in the United States on this day, according to the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001]
Attorney General John Ashcroft arrives at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), located on the fifth floor of the FBI’s Washington, DC, headquarters. [CNN, 11/20/1998; 9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120] Ashcroft has returned to Washington after his scheduled engagement in Milwaukee had to be aborted due to the terrorist attacks (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003]
Ashcroft Heads to the SIOC instead of the Remote, Classified Site - After his plane landed at Reagan National Airport (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft was advised by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to head to the remote, classified site, where other Justice Department personnel had gone. But because the roads were clogged with traffic, at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, Ashcroft and his deputy chief of staff, David Israelite, turned around and headed instead toward the SIOC. While on his way to the SIOC, Ashcroft ordered that senior Justice Department officials like Thompson, who was at the remote, classified site, meet him at the center. Ashcroft will later estimate that he arrives at the SIOC sometime between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118-120]
Sophisticated Command Center Can Manage Multiple Crises - The FBI’s new, upgraded SIOC officially opened in November 1998. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] The windowless, high-tech command center is 40,000 square feet in size. [Washington Post, 11/21/1998; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120] It can seat 380 people, includes 20 rooms to support its operations, and is equipped with sophisticated computers and communications equipment. It functions as a 24-hour watch post, a crisis management center, and an information processing center. It is capable of handling up to five crises at once. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] The SIOC was operational “[w]ithin minutes” of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, according to the FBI (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and provides “analytical, logistical, and administrative support” for the FBI’s teams on the ground in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2003] Ashcroft will remain at the SIOC throughout the day, along with most of the FBI and Justice Department’s top officials (see (2:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129]
James Schwartz. [Source: Arlington County, Virginia]Firefighting and other operations are severely disrupted when the Pentagon site is evacuated due to a report of an unidentified aircraft heading toward the Pentagon. Firefighters have to abandon their equipment and run several hundred yards to protected areas. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 and A30 ] Assistant Fire Chief James Schwartz orders the evacuation after the control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport notifies the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) of an inbound aircraft that is not identifying itself and is heading up the Potomac River at a high rate of speed. It is not known if this is a hijacked plane, but no aircraft other than military jets are now supposed to be in the air. The ECC then notifies Schwartz at the Pentagon. By the time he orders the evacuation, the aircraft is reportedly just two minutes away. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 and A52 ; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 187] At one point, the controllers at Reagan Airport are reporting that the plane has disappeared from radar, though they do not say why they think this is. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 191]
Approaching Aircraft Is 'Friendly' - The unidentified aircraft is soon determined to be “friendly.” [Fire Engineering, 11/2002; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 193] According to the Arlington County After-Action Report, it turns out to have been a government aircraft flying Attorney General John Ashcroft back to Washington. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 and C52 ; Vogel, 2007, pp. 453] However, a 2002 FAA report will state that Ashcroft’s plane landed in Washington “just before noon” (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ] If that report is correct, then the identity of the approaching aircraft is unclear.
Emergency Operations Disrupted - The firefighters and other emergency responders return to the Pentagon and resume their activities, but the evacuation has significantly disrupted firefighting operations, giving fires in some areas 30 minutes to gain ground. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 ; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 193-194] The FBI’s evidence recovery operation has also been disrupted. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 191]
Evacuation Avoidable, Caused by Loss of FBI Presence - This evacuation is later determined to have been avoidable, and only necessary because of the loss of a senior FBI presence at the incident command post (ICP) at the Pentagon, which means there is no way for the ICP to verify whether the approaching aircraft is “friendly” or not. This loss is due to the FBI having relocated to the Virginia State Police Barracks shortly after midday (see (12:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The Arlington County After-Action Report will later conclude, “Friendly aircraft, carrying US government executives and escorted by fighter aircraft, should not have been cause for evacuation.” A previous evacuation of the Pentagon site due to reports of an approaching unidentified aircraft occurred around 10:15 a.m. (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and a third similar evacuation will occur on the morning of September 12 (see (10:00 a.m.) September 12, 2001). [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30-A31 ; Fire Engineering, 11/2002]
The FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center. [Source: FBI]Attorney General John Ashcroft spends most of the rest of the day at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), after arriving there in the early afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129] The SIOC, which is located on the fifth floor of the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC, functions as a 24-hour watch post and crisis management center. The huge, windowless center can seat 380 people, and is equipped with sophisticated computers and communications equipment. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004]
FBI Director Briefs Ashcroft - Ashcroft will later recall that when he arrives at the SIOC, the place is “teeming with people, abuzz with activity, voices and papers everywhere, with dozens of people coming in and out with bits and pieces of new information moment by moment.” Numerous rows of computer screens are “filled with data, and eight large video display screens were being monitored constantly.” Ashcroft is met by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who briefs him on what is so far known regarding the terrorist attacks.
Priority Is to Clear the Skies - During his initial period at the SIOC, Ashcroft will recall, the “overriding priority” is to make sure all commercial aircraft are on the ground. There are also concerns about some planes that have landed and individuals on them who might have been hijackers, and concerns about securing airports so that flights can get up and running again as soon as possible. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120-121]
SIOC Is 'the Place to Be to Get Information' - Most of the leading Justice Department and FBI officials remain at the SIOC throughout the day. Other officials in the center along with Ashcroft and Mueller include Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; US Department of Justice, 9/12/2001] According to Ashcroft, the SIOC is “the place to be to get information, and so everyone wanted to be there.” [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ] Ashcroft will later recall, “I spent the hours, days, and most of the first weeks, months, after the attack on the United States in the [SIOC].” He will add, “That day, in those early hours, the prevention of terrorist attacks became the central goal of the law enforcement and national security mission of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” [CNN, 5/30/2002]
Attorney General John Ashcroft briefs about 250 members of Congress on the latest developments regarding the day’s terrorist attacks. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001] Since he arrived there in the early afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft has spent most of the day at the Strategic Information and Operations Center at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC (see (2:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). He and other senior Justice Department officials have repeatedly heard from members of Congress who want more information about the attacks. Ashcroft will later recall, “We tried our best to provide it, but we were still in the heat of battle.” However, “No matter; Congress wanted answers.” Therefore, after attending a meeting at the White House—presumably President Bush’s meeting with his National Security Council and/or his subsequent meeting with his most senior principal national security advisers (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001)—Ashcroft heads to the police station north of the Hart Senate Office Building, to brief the House and Senate members who are gathered there. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129] About 250 members of Congress are at the briefing. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001] Ashcroft will recall, “The place was jammed with members of Congress, all shouting questions, some complaining about apparent inconsistencies, many expressing dissatisfaction that we didn’t know everything, and all wanting answers that I didn’t know or couldn’t say.” [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129] He reportedly tells those at the briefing that “the US government now believes teams of three to five individuals carrying knives commandeered those four airliners earlier today, destroying them and themselves in the process.” [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001] Ashcroft stays at the police station until well after midnight, holding what he will describe as “an intense discussion” with the members of Congress. He has to say “I don’t know” over and over again, he will recall. [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129]
During a National Security Council meeting, FBI Director Robert Mueller begins to describe the investigation under way to identify the 9/11 hijackers. According to journalist Bob Woodward, “He said it was essential not to taint any evidence so that if accomplices were arrested, they could be convicted.” But Attorney General John Ashcroft interrupts. Woodward will paraphrase Ashcroft saying, “The chief mission of US law enforcement… is to stop another attack and apprehend any accomplices or terrorists before they hit us again. If we can’t bring them to trial, so be it.” Woodward will comment, “Now, Ashcroft was saying, the focus of the FBI and the Justice Department should change from prosecution to prevention, a radical shift in priorities.” President Bush is at the meeting and apparently does not challenge Ashcroft’s suggestion. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 42-43]
After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration seizes the new opportunities to expand the power of the presidency that present themselves as part of the government’s response to the attacks (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Bush-Cheney legal team, largely driven by Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff (see January 21, 2001), aggressively pushes for new opportunities to expand executive branch authorities.
'Bravado,' 'Close-Minded Group of Like-Minded People' - A senior White House official later tells author and reporter Charlie Savage of the “pervasive post-9/11 sense of masculine bravado and one-upmanship when it came to executive power.” In Savage’s words, and quoting the official, “a ‘closed group of like-minded people’ were almost in competition with one another, he said, to see who could offer the farthest-reaching claims of what a president could do. In contrast, those government lawyers who were perceived as less passionate about presidential power were derided as ‘soft’ and were often simply cut out of the process” (see also September 25, 2001).
Suspicion of Oversight - “The lawyers for the administration felt a tremendous amount of time pressure, and there was a lot of secrecy,” the official will say. “These things were being done in small groups. There was a great deal of suspicion of the people who normally act as a check inside the executive branch, such as the State Department, which had the reputation of being less aggressive on executive power. This process of faster, smaller groups fed on itself and built a dynamic of trying to show who was tougher on executive power.”
Addington and Yoo: Outsized Influence - While nominally the leaders of the White House legal team are Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, neither has as much influence as lawyers and staffers ostensibly of lower rank than themselves. Ashcroft is a vociferous supporter of the administration’s anti-terrorism policies, but is not a member of Bush’s inner circle and sometimes disagrees with the White House’s legal moves. Neither Ashcroft nor Gonzales have prior experience dealing with the legal issues surrounding executive power and national security. Two of the driving forces behind the White House’s push for more presidential power are Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, and an obscure deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), John Yoo. Because of a dispute between Ashcroft and the Bush inner circle over who should lead the OLC, there is no official chief of the OLC until November 2002, leaving Yoo and his fellows free to be as aggressive as they like on expanding presidential power and handling the war on terrorism. When the OLC chief, law professor Jay Bybee, finally arrives, he, like Ashcroft and Gonzales, finds himself hampered by his lack of knowledge of the law as it pertains to national security. Savage will later write, “When he finally started work, Bybee let deputies continue to spearhead the review of matters related to the war on terrorism.” Yoo is only a deputy assistant attorney general, but he has “signing power”—the ability to make his opinion legally binding—and is rarely reviewed by his peers because much of his work is classified. [Savage, 2007, pp. 76-78] As for Addington, Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say that he was the leader of the small but highly influential group of lawyers “who had these incredible theories and would stand behind their principles [Cheney, Bush, and others], whispering in their ears about these theories, telling them they have these powers, that the Constitution backs these powers, that these powers are ‘inherent’ and blessed by God and if they are not exercised, the nation will fall. He’d never crack a smile. His intensity and emotions and passion for these theories are extraordinary.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 84]
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).
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).
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.” [New York Times, 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]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of State, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan, Pierre-Richard Prosper, John Bellinger, Beth Nolan, Alberto R. Gonzales, Scott McClellan, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, David S. Addington
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Four prominent Republican officials make alarming comments about terrorism and especially the use of WMDs against the US:
Attorney General John Ashcroft says on CNN: “We believe there are substantial risks of terrorism still in the United States of America. As we as a nation respond to what has happened to us, those risks may in fact go up.”
White House chief of staff Andrew Card says on Fox News, “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we know that these terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “There’s always been terrorism, but there’s never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.” He suggests several countries supporting terrorists either have WMDs or are trying to get them. “It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities.” He does not name these countries, but the New York Times notes the next day that the US military had recently identified the WMD programs in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan as cause for concern.
Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also says on Meet the Press that biological weapons “scare” him more than nuclear weapons because they can be brought into the country “rather easily.”
The New York Times reports that there is no new intelligence behind these alarming comments. By contrast, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says it is unlikely terrorists are capable of making extremely deadly biological weapons. He says that terrorists might have access to weapons that use anthrax or smallpox, but while “There are those serious things… we can deal with them.” [New York Times, 10/1/2001] Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe: “Even the Cheney-driven White House effort to provide all Americans with the smallpox vaccine that was being pushed publicly in the latter weeks of 2002 played into the environment of fear about the Iraq WMD threat. It seems to me a little cynical to suggest that its timing was calculated, but it did not hurt the broader campaign to sell the war.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 138]
Sen. Russell Feingold will ultimately be the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act.
[Source: Publicity photo]The “anti-terrorism” Patriot Act is introduced in Congress. The act is technically known as The USA PATRIOT Act, which stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” [US Congress, 10/2/2001] The legislation was ready four days after the 9/11 attacks, in what Attorney General John Ashcroft called a “full-blown legislative proposal” ready to submit to Congress. The proposal is actually a revamping and enlargement of the Clinton-era antiterrorism legislation first proposed after the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing (see April 25, 1996). [Roberts, 2008, pp. 36]
The “anti-terrorism” Patriot Act is introduced in Congress on October 2, 2001 (see October 2, 2001), but it is not well received by all. [US Congress, 10/2/2001] One day later, Senate Majority Leader and future anthrax target Tom Daschle (D-SD) says he doubts the Senate will take up this bill in the one week timetable the administration wants. As head of the Senate, Daschle has great power to block or slow passage of the bill. Attorney General John Ashcroft accuses Senate Democrats of dragging their feet. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] On October 4, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman and future anthrax target Patrick Leahy (D-VT) accuses the Bush administration of reneging on an agreement on the bill. Leahy is in a key position to block or slow the bill. Some warn that “lawmakers are overlooking constitutional flaws in their rush to meet the administration’s timetable.” Two days later, Ashcroft complains about “the rather slow pace…over his request for law enforcement powers… Hard feelings remain.” [Washington Post, 10/4/2001] The anthrax letters to Daschle and Leahy are sent out between October 6-9 as difficulties in passing the Patriot Act continue (see October 6-9, 2001).
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.” [New York Times, 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.” [New York Times, 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]
Despite the fact that two US senators, Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), had letters laced with anthrax mailed to their offices (see October 6-9, 2001), the Bush administration’s response is, as later characterized by author Frank Rich, lackadaisical. “Bush said little about it,” Rich will write in 2006, instead “delegating the problem to ineffectual Cabinet members like [Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy] Thompson and the attorney general, John Ashcroft. The rank incompetence of these two Cabinet secretaries, at most thinly disguised by a veneer of supercilious officiousness, was farcical. They were Keystone Kops, in the costumes of bureaucrats, ready at any time to slip on a banana peel.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 34-35]
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]
Attorney General John Ashcroft encourages federal agencies to deny requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In a memo to all government departments and agencies, he states, “When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions.” This is a dramatic shift from the Clinton administration, which instructed federal officials to grant all information requests, using a “presumption of disclosure,” unless there was “foreseeable harm” in doing so. [Washington Post, 12/2/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 96] The New York Times notes that while the new policy was announced after 9/11, “it had been planned well before the attacks.” [New York Times, 1/3/2003] In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write that Ashcroft turns the Clinton policy of foreseeable harm “on its head.” He will write: “Reviving a Reagan-era policy aimed at undermining the Freedom of Information Act, Ashcroft instructed the government to reject FOIA requests if it was at all possible to do so, under any legal reason for withholding documents—even if the information sought was harmless. And he promised to back up any decision to reject a FOIA request in court. The Ashcroft policy quickly discouraged the release of information to the public because few people were willing to go to the trouble and expense of an inevitable lawsuit.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 96]
Attorney General John Ashcroft issues a second terror alert for the month (see October 11-29, 2001). The intelligence received by the FBI does not, he says, “contain specific information as to the type of attack or specific targets.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 36]
White House lawyers have become impatient with the interagency group’s (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001) less than full endorsement of the use of military commissions to try suspected terrorists. By late October, Timothy E. Flanigan takes the task of designing a strategy for prosecuting terrorists away from the group and proceeds to focus on military commissions as the only preferable option. The White House lawyers now work more in secret, excluding many agencies and most of the government’s experts in military and international law, but together with the lawyers of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), with the intention of drafting a presidential military order. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] There is a remarkable secrecy surrounding the drafting process (see November 11-13, 2001). Both Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and his deputy, Larry D. Thompson, are closely consulted. But the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Michael Chertoff is kept out of the loop. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is informed through his general counsel, William J. Haynes. Other Pentagon experts, however, are excluded. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] When the order is signed (see November 13, 2001), many express surprise. “That came like a bolt from the blue,” a former Pentagon official says. “Neither I nor anyone I knew had any insight, any advance knowledge, or any opportunity to comment on the president’s military order.” [Guardian, 6/9/2004] “I can’t tell you how compartmented things were,” retired Rear Adm. Donald J. Guter, the Navy’s Judge Advocate General, later recalls. “This was a closed administration.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
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]
Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, Vaughn Walker, Ronald Dworkin, George W. Bush, John C. Yoo, American Bar Association, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, John Ashcroft, Anna Diggs Taylor, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Craig Unger, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, US Department of State, Timothy E. Flanigan, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)
After issuing several terror alerts that came to nothing (see October 11-29, 2001 and October 29, 2001), Attorney General John Ashcroft declares victory in overcoming the threat: “[T]he home front has witnessed the opening battle in the war against terrorism, and America has emerged victorious.” He claims that “two periods of extremely high threat have passed” without incident. But in 2006, author Frank Rich will note that this assessment is based solely on Ashcroft’s word, since no evidence of actual threats will ever be advanced. [Rich, 2006, pp. 36-37]
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.” [New York Times, 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.” [Harper's, 12/4/2001]
Vice President Cheney leads a meeting at the White House to put the finishing touches on a draft presidential order establishing military commissions (see Late October 2001 and November 9, 2001). The meeting includes Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes, and several White House lawyers, but leaves out senior officials of the State Department and the National Security Council. Cheney has decided to tell neither National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice nor Secretary of State Colin Powell about the order until it has already been signed. Cheney has also told no one in the interagency working group ostensibly formulating the administration’s approach to prosecuting terrorists (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). Ashcroft angrily dissents from Cheney’s plan to give the White House sole authority over the commissions, and invokes his authority as the nation’s top law enforcement official to demand that the Justice Department be given a say in the decision. Cheney overrules Ashcroft’s objections. He will discuss the draft with President Bush over lunch a few days later (see November 11-13, 2001). [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 138]
Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for Southern New York, announces that she will be leaving her position by the end of the year. According to a media report, this will impact how a number of ongoing investigations continue, including White’s probe into the last-minute pardons issued by President Clinton. Other investigations by White’s office involve allegations against Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), as well as an investigation into Osama bin Laden’s role in the September 11, 2001 attacks. It is uncertain how those probes will fare. But, says White’s former deputy, Matthew Fishbein, White “may want some resolution before her term ends.” Regardless, Fishbein adds, “[T]his is an office where US Attorneys come and go and the work continues.” White is almost the only US Attorney to retain her seat after President Bush took office in January 2001 (see January 2001). Attorney General John Ashcroft put an assistant in charge of the 9/11 investigation, and that investigation seems to be producing little new information. [Houston Chronicle, 11/23/2001]
Former FBI director William Webster and eight former FBI officials publicly criticize Attorney General John Ashcroft’s post-9/11 policies (see Spring 2001, September 12, 2001, October 9, 2001, October 11, 2001, and November 9, 2001). The criticisms come less over Ashcroft’s civil liberties abrogations and more because Ashcroft’s policies violate law-enforcement common sense. By capturing suspected low-level terrorists in public sweeps, the Justice Department and the FBI lose the ability to track those suspects to their superiors in their organizations and groups. (None of the 900 or so suspects rounded up in the Ashcroft sweeps will be charged with any 9/11-related crimes—see October 20, 2001 and November 5, 2001.) [Rich, 2006, pp. 35-36] Webster says that long-term surveillance and undercover operations are much more effective than mass arrests. [Harper's, 12/4/2001] The former FBI officials also ridicule Ashcroft’s idea of interviewing 5,000 Middle Eastern men (none of whom will ever be convicted of a terrorism-related crime). Kenneth Walton, who founded the FBI’s first Joint Terrorism Task Force, says: “It’s the Perry Mason school of law enforcement, where you put them in there and they confess. Well, it just doesn’t work that way. You say, ‘Tell me everything you know,’ and they give you the recipe to Mom’s chicken soup.… It is ridiculous.” Most of those “invited” to interview never showed up, the officials note, and those who did merely answered “yes” or “no” to rote questions. [Time, 11/29/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 35-36] Many local police officers are reluctant to participate in Ashcroft’s public sweeps. Eugene, Oregon police spokeswoman Pam Alejandere tells reporters, “Give us some legitimate reason to talk to the people—other than that they’re from the Middle East—and we’ll be glad to.” [Time, 11/29/2001]
As soon as he hears the news of his son’s capture in Afghanistan, John Walker Lindh’s father immediately hires James Brosnahan, a well-respected lawyer, on behalf of his son. On December 3, Brosnahan faxes a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. He introduces himself as Lindh’s lawyer, expresses his wish to see him, and states: “Because [Lindh] is wounded and, based upon press reports, went for three days without food, I would ask that any further interrogation be stopped, especially if there is any intent to use it in any subsequent legal proceedings.” When Brosnahan receives no reply, he writes again, “I would ask that no further interrogation of my client occur until I have the opportunity to speak with him. As an American citizen, he has the right to counsel and, under all applicable legal authorities, I ask for the right to speak with my client as soon as possible.” On December 5, still having received no reply, he urges that “we have a conversation today.” Again, no reply comes. [Los Angeles Times, 3/23/2002; World Socialist Web Site, 3/27/2002; New Yorker, 3/3/2003]
Attorney General Ashcroft says, “To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.” [CNN, 12/7/2001]
It is reported that in the wake of 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft has prevented the FBI from investigating gun-purchase records to discover if any of the hundreds arrested or suspected since 9/11 had bought any guns. The White House supports him, saying they have no intention of changing the law to clarify the FBI’s ability to search gun-purchase records. [CNN, 12/6/2001; New York Times, 12/6/2001] A spokesman for The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the largest group of law enforcement executives in the US, says, “This is absurd and unconscionable. The decision has no rational basis in public safety. It sounds to me like it was made for narrow political reasons based on a right-to-bear-arms mentality.” [New York Times, 12/6/2001] There were reports that the 9/11 hijackers on at least Flight 11 and Flight 93 used guns in the hijacking (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001).
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.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009] Shortly thereafter, Radack will be fired from, and investigated by, the Justice Department (see Late December 2001 - 2002).
The editors of the University of Maine newspaper, the Maine Campus, angrily respond to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s excoriation of civil libertarians who “scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty” (see December 6, 2001). The editors write, “The only reason why we lost liberty, you jack_ss, is because you took it away from us!” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 30]
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. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]
Attorney General John Ashcroft warns that suicide attacks “might be expected because of confidential information” the US government has received. He further warns, in regards to the five most wanted terrorists, that “These men could be anywhere in the world” and “may be trained and prepared to commit future suicide terrorist acts.” [NBC, 1/17/2002]
Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly defends the president’s decision (see January 18-25, 2002) to deny detainees the protections of Geneva Conventions. He calls the detainees “terrorists” who “are uniquely dangerous.” [CNN, 1/22/2002]
In a letter to President George Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft argues that the Third Geneva Convention should not be applicable to the Taliban, based on two grounds. First, Afghanistan is a failed state and cannot therefore be considered a party to the treaty. Second, Taliban fighters acted as unlawful combatants. Explaining the advantages of this proposal, Ashcroft notes, “[A] Presidential determination against treaty applicability would provide the highest assurance that no court would subsequently entertain charges that American military officers, intelligence officials and law enforcement officials violated Geneva Convention rules relating to field conduct, detention conduct or interrogation of detainees.” [US Attorney General, 2/1/2002] As Judge Evan J. Wallach will later observe, “Attorney General Ashcroft’s letter seems to make it clear that by the end of January, at least, consideration was being given to conduct which might violate [the Third Geneva Convention’s] strictures regarding the detention and interrogation of prisoners of war.” [Wallach, 9/29/2004]
Attorney General John Ashcroft says “I want to encourage…all Americans everywhere to be on the highest state of alert.” The FBI warns of a threat from Yemeni or Saudi Arabian terrorists who may be planning an imminent attack. [CNN, 2/12/2002] It is later revealed that the threat hadn’t been corroborated by other US intelligence agencies. In addition, the threat actually indicated a more likely attack in Yemen. This announcement was made the same day that Enron CEO Kenneth Lay appeared before Congress. A week earlier, the White House had been ordered to refrain from destroying any documentation related to Enron. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
Attorney General Ashcroft announces a second US criminal indictment of Saeed Sheikh, this time for his role in the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl. The amount of background information given about Saeed is very brief, with only scant reference to his involvement with Islamic militant groups after his release from prison in 1999. It only mentions is that he fought in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda in September and October 2001. The indictment and Ashcroft fail to mention Saeed’s financing of the 9/11 attacks, and no reporters ask Ashcroft about this either. [CNN, 3/14/2002; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2002]
Attorneys from the CIA’s Office of Legal Counsel meet with a legal adviser from the National Security Council (NSC) and with members of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The meeting concerns the CIA’s proposed interrogation plan for newly captured alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002, March 28-August 1, 2002, and April - June 2002). The lawyers mull over the legal restrictions surrounding the proposed interrogations. CIA records will show that the NSC’s legal counsel will brief National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Michael Chertoff, on the discussion. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Central Intelligence Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida, Condoleezza Rice, Office of Legal Counsel (CIA), Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Chertoff, US Department of Justice, National Security Council
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
After the capture of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), the US government is forced to review procedures on how Zubaida and future detainees should be treated. One CIA source will later say, “Abu Zubaida’s capture triggered everything.” The legal basis for harsh interrogations is murky at best, and the Justice Department will not give any legal guidelines to the CIA until August 2002, after Zubaida has already been tortured (see March 28-August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002).
Bush Kept out of Discussions - New York Times reporter James Risen will later claim in a 2006 book that after showing some initial interest in Zubaida’s treatment (see Late March 2002), President Bush is mysteriously absent from any internal debates about the treatment of detainees. The CIA’s Office of Inspector General later investigates evidence of the CIA’s involvement in detainee abuse, and concludes in a secret report that Bush is never officially briefed on the interrogation tactics used. Earlier meetings are chaired by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and attended by, among others, Vice President Cheney’s chief lawyer David Addington, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan, and Pentagon chief counsel William J. Haynes. Later, CIA Director George Tenet gives briefings on the tactics to a small group of top officials, including Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and future Attorney General Gonzales, but not Bush.
CIA: 'No Presidential Approval' Needed for Torture - Risen will note that “Normally, such high-stakes—and very secret—CIA activities would be carefully vetted by the White House and legally authorized in writing by the president under what are known as presidential findings. Such directives are required by Congress when the CIA engages in covert action.” But through a legal sleight-of-hand, the CIA determines the interrogations should be considered a normal part of “intelligence collection” and not a covert action, so no specific presidential approval is needed. Risen concludes: “Certainly, Cheney and senior White House officials knew that Bush was purposely not being briefed and that the CIA was not being given written presidential authorization for its tactics. It appears that there was a secret agreement among very senior administration officials to insulate Bush and to give him deniability, even as his vice president and senior lieutenants were meeting to discuss the harsh new interrogation methods. President Bush was following a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on the treatment of prisoners.” Later, Flanigan will say of the meetings, “My overwheming impression is that everyone was focused on trying to avoid torture, staying within the line, while doing everything possible to save American lives.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 23-27; Savage, 2007, pp. 154]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John C. Yoo, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan, John Ashcroft, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida, James Risen, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Alberto R. Gonzales, Condoleezza Rice
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
In the days following the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), a group of top White House officials, the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, begins a series of meetings that result in the authorization of specific torture methods against Zubaida and other detainees. The top secret talks and meetings eventually approve such methods to be used by CIA agents against high-value terrorism suspects. The US media will not learn of this until six years later (see April 9, 2008). The Principals Committee meetings are chaired by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and attendees include Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Tenet’s successor, Porter Goss, will also participate in the meetings. Sometimes deputies attend in place of their superiors. Rice’s group not only discusses and approves specific “harsh” methods of interrogation, but also approves the use of “combined” interrogation techniques on suspects who prove recalcitrant. The approved techniques include slapping and shoving prisoners, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, or simulated drowning, a technique banned for decades by the US military. Some of the discussions of the interrogation sessions are so detailed that the Principals Committee virtually choreographs the sessions down to the number of times CIA agents can use specific tactics. [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008] The Principals Committee also ensures that President Bush is not involved in the meetings, thereby granting him “deniability” over the decisions, though Bush will eventually admit to being aware of the decisions (see April 11, 2008). The Principals Committee, particularly Cheney, is described by a senior intelligence official as “deeply immersed” in the specifics of the decisions, often viewing demonstrations of how specific tactics work. [Associated Press, 4/10/2008]
Imminent Threat Calls for Extreme Measures - The move towards using harsh and likely illegal interrogation tactics begins shortly after the capture of Zubaida in late March 2002 (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and March 28, 2002). Zubaida is seen as a potentially critical source of information about potential attacks similar to 9/11. He is kept in a secret CIA prison where he recovers from the wounds suffered during his capture, and where he is repeatedly questioned. However, he is allegedly uncooperative with his inquisitors, and CIA officials want to use more physical and aggressive techniques to force him to talk (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004 and April - June 2002). The CIA briefs the Principals Committee, chaired by Rice, and the committee signs off on the agency’s plan to use more extreme interrogation methods on Zubaida. After Zubaida is waterboarded (see April - June 2002), CIA officials tell the White House that he provided information leading to the capture of two other high-level al-Qaeda operatives, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Late 2002 and May 2002-2003). The committee approves of waterboarding as well as a number of “combined” interrogation methods, basically a combination of harsh techniques to use against recalcitrant prisoners.
The 'Golden Shield' - The committee asks the Justice Department to determine whether using such methods would violate domestic or international laws. “No one at the agency wanted to operate under a notion of winks and nods and assumptions that everyone understood what was being talked about,” a second senior intelligence official will recall in 2008. “People wanted to be assured that everything that was conducted was understood and approved by the folks in the chain of command.” In August 2002, Justice Department lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel will write a memo that gives formal legal authority to government interrogators to use harsh, abusive methods on detainees (see August 1, 2002). The memo is called the “Golden Shield” for CIA agents who worry that they could be held criminally liable if the harsh, perhaps tortuous interrogations ever become public knowledge. CIA veterans remember how everything from the Vietnam-era “Phoenix Program” of assassinations to the Iran-Contra arms sales of the 1980s were portrayed as actions of a “rogue,” “out-of-control” CIA; this time, they intend to ensure that the White House and not the agency is given ultimate responsibility for authorizing extreme techniques against terror suspects. Tenet demands White House approval for the use of the methods, even after the Justice Department issues its so-called “Golden Shield” memo explicitly authorizing government interrogators to torture suspected terrorists (see August 1, 2002). Press sources will reveal that Tenet, and later Goss, convey requests for specific techniques to be used against detainees to the committee (see Summer 2003). One high-ranking official will recall: “It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time. They’d say: ‘We’ve got so and so. This is the plan.’” The committee approves every request. One source will say of the discussions: “These discussions weren’t adding value. Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it’s legal, [you should] just tell them to implement it.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008] In April 2008, law professor Jonathan Turley will say: “[H]ere you have the CIA, which is basically saying, ‘We’re not going to have a repeat of the 1970s, where you guys have us go exploding cigars and trying to take out leaders and then you say you didn’t know about it.’ So the CIA has learned a lot. So these meetings certainly cover them in that respect.” [MSNBC, 4/10/2008] A former senior intelligence official will say, “If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you’d see a correlation.” Those who attended the dozens of meetings decided “there’d need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics” before using them on detainees. [Associated Press, 4/10/2008]
Ashcroft Uneasy at White House Involvement - Ashcroft in particular is uncomfortable with the discussions of harsh interrogation methods that sometimes cross the line into torture, though his objections seem more focused on White House involvement than on any moral, ethical, or legal problems. After one meeting, Ashcroft reportedly asks: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.” However, others in the discussions, particularly Rice, continue to support the torture program. Even after Jack Goldsmith, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), withdraws the “Golden Shield” memo and after Powell begins arguing that the torture program is harming the image of the US abroad, when CIA officials ask to continue using particular torture techniques, Rice responds: “This is your baby. Go do it.”
Reaction after Press Learns of Meetings - After the press learns of the meetings (see April 9, 2008), the only person involved who will comment will be Powell, who will say through an assistant that there were “hundreds of [Principals Committee] meetings” on a wide variety of topics and that he is “not at liberty to discuss private meetings.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008]
Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Porter J. Goss, US Department of Justice, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Principals Committee, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Jack Goldsmith, John Ashcroft, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Jonathan Turley, National Security Council
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The CIA believes that recently captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is withholding “imminent threat information” from his US interrogators. To that end, the CIA sends attorneys from its Office of General Counsel to meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other senior White House aides to discuss what the Senate Intelligence Committee will later term “the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the US military and intelligence community” (see April 2002). The CIA proposes several “alternative” methods that equate to torture, including waterboarding, for Zubaida. After the meeting, the CIA asks the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to prepare an opinion about the legality of the proposed interrogation methods. The CIA provides the OLC with, in the committee’s words, “written and oral descriptions of the proposed techniques.” The CIA also provides the OLC with information about the medical and psychological effects of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, which trains soldiers how to counter and resist torture and harsh interrogation techniques (see December 2001). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ; BBC, 4/23/2009] Meanwhile, the CIA will send Zubaida to Thailand for torture (see March 2002 and April - June 2002).
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) turns down the Justice Department’s bid for sweeping new powers to monitor and wiretap US citizens. FISC judges rule that the government has misused the law and misled the court dozens of times. The court finds that Justice Department and FBI officials supplied false or misleading information to the court in over 75 applications for search warrants and wiretaps, including one signed by then-FBI director Louis Freeh. While the court does not find that the misrepresentations were deliberate, it does rule that not only were erroneous statements made, but important information was omitted from some FISA applications. The judges found so many inaccuracies and errors in FBI agent Michael Resnick’s affidavits that they bar him from ever appearing before the court again. The court cites “the troubling number of inaccurate FBI affidavits in so many FISA applications,” and says, “In virtually every instance, the government’s misstatements and omissions in FISA applications and violations of the Court’s orders involved information sharing and unauthorized disseminations to criminal investigators and prosecutors.” The court is also unhappy with the Justice Department’s failure to answer for these errors and omissions, writing, “How these misrepresentations occurred remains unexplained to the court.” The court finds that in light of such impropriety, the new procedures proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft in March would give prosecutors too much control over counterintelligence investigations, and would allow the government to misuse intelligence information for criminal cases. The ruling is a severe blow to Ashcroft’s attempts since the 9/11 attacks to allow investigators working in terrorism and espionage to share more information with criminal investigators. (These limitations were put in place after the Church Commission’s findings of massive fraud and misuse of domestic surveillance programs during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. See April, 1976, January 29, 1976, and December 21, 1974). The Justice Department says of the decision, “We believe the court’s action unnecessarily narrowed the Patriot Act and limited our ability to fully utilize the authority Congress gave us.” Interestingly, the Justice Department also opposed the public release of FISC’s decision not to grant the requested powers. Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA, calls the opinion “a public rebuke. The message is you need better quality control. The judges want to ensure they have information they can rely on implicitly.” Bush officials have complained since the 9/11 attacks that FISA requirements hamper the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agents to track terrorist suspects, including alleged hijacking conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). Those requirements mandate that agents must show probable cause that the subject of a search or wiretap is an agent of a foreign government or terrorist group, and, because FISA standards for obtaining warrants is far lower than for ordinary criminal warrants, mandate strict limits on the distribution of information secured from such investigations. The FBI searched Moussaoui’s laptop computer and other belongings without a FISA warrant because some officials did not believe they could adequately show the court that Moussaoui had any connections to a foreign government or terrorist group. In its ruling, FISC suggests that if the Justice Department finds FISA too restrictive, they should ask Congress to update the law. Many senators on the Judiciary Committee say they are willing to enact such reforms, but have complained of resistance from Ashcroft and a lack of cooperation from the Bush administration. [Washington Post, 8/23/2002] In November 2002, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review will overturn the FISC decision and give the Justice Department what it asked for (see November 18, 2002).
Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charles Grassley, US Department of Justice, Stewart Baker, Zacarias Moussaoui, National Security Agency, John Ashcroft, Church Commission, USA Patriot Act, Louis J. Freeh, Michael Resnick
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney General Ashcroft relaxes decades-old rules limiting government agents from monitoring domestic religious and political groups. Now, FBI agents can attend political rallies or religious meetings without evidence of a crime or advance approval from superiors. The new rules also permit the FBI to broadly search or monitor the internet for evidence of criminal activity without having any tips or leads that a specific criminal act has been committed. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/31/2002]
For the first time, Bush concedes that his intelligence agencies had problems: “In terms of whether or not the FBI and the CIA were communicating properly, I think it is clear that they weren’t.” [London Times, 6/5/2002] However, in an address to the nation three days later, President Bush still maintains, “Based on everything I’ve seen, I do not believe anyone could have prevented the horror of September the 11th.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 6/8/2002] Days earlier, Newsweek reported that the FBI had prepared a detailed chart showing how agents could have uncovered the 9/11 plot if the CIA had told them what it knew about the hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar sooner. (FBI Director Mueller denies the existence of such a chart. [Washington Post, 6/3/2002] ) One FBI official says, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together.” [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] Attorney General Ashcroft also says it is unlikely better intelligence could have stopped the attacks. [Washington Post, 6/3/2002]
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, just hours before the testimony of FBI agent Coleen Rowley, whose accusations of FBI malfeasance before the 9/11 attacks have sparked Congressional interest (see June 6, 2002). Mueller promises the committee that Rowley will not be punished for speaking out, and admits that Rowley is correct in some of her assessments, including her insistence that the bureau change to meet the threats posed by loosely organized terrorist groups. “When we looked back, we saw things that we should have done better and things that we should have done differently, but we also saw things that were done well and things that we should do more,” Mueller tells the assembled lawmakers. [CNN, 6/6/2002] Some senators take Mueller’s assessments even farther. Herbert Kohl (D-WI) says, “Had the FBI been totally alert and had the FBI used its current capabilities to the best of its ability, there was at least a very good chance that the terrorist plot could have been uncovered.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002]
Refuses to Answer Questions about Presidential Discussions - Committee member Joe Biden (D-DE) repeatedly asks Mueller whether President Bush consulted with him before the 2001 reorganization of the nation’s domestic security apparatus under the Homeland Security rubric (see September 20, 2001). Mueller refuses to discuss his conversations with Bush. “There is no executive privilege here,” Biden says. “I’m asking you whether you were consulted. I think this is ridiculous.” Law enforcement officials later confirm that both Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft were consulted as part of planning for the reorganization.
'Antiquated' Computer System - Democratic senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) questions Mueller about the antiquated computer system used by the FBI (Rowley herself will testify that her agents could not search FBI files for information pertaining to their inquiry into so-called “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui—see August 21, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001). Mueller confirms that Rowley and agents working with her could not search for terms such as “flight school,” but instead were limited to single-word searches such as “flight” or “school,” which produced masses of irrelevant results. Schumer calls the FBI system “almost laughable,” and adds, “It just makes my jaw drop to think that on 9/11 or on 9/10 the kind of technology that is available to most school kids, and certainly every small business in this country, wasn’t available to the FBI.” Mueller says it will take two or three years to upgrade the FBI’s computers. “I think we are way behind the curve,” he says.
Criticism of Civil Liberties Reductions - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) criticizes Mueller for his decision, in conjunction with Attorney General John Ashcroft, to loosen restrictions on the FBI that limit the bureau’s ability to investigate and monitor citizen dissidents and organizations. “In particular, I’m troubled by the visa-holder-registration policy announced yesterday,” he says, referring to a Justice Department plan to require that about 100,000 foreigners in the United States be fingerprinted by the government. “Your agency is expending valuable time and resources to recruit these US citizens in our Arab and Muslim communities. And at the same time, the Justice Department is photographing, fingerprinting and registering their law-abiding siblings, cousins, visiting the United States.” [New York Times, 6/7/2002] “What impact do you think these policies will have on the Arab and Muslim communities in the US if you’re holding job fairs in the morning and fingerprinting them in the afternoon?” Kennedy asks. Mueller responds that the FBI will be careful not to step on anyone’s constitutional rights: “I still believe that we have to protect the freedoms that we have in this country that are guaranteed by the Constitution, or all the work we do to protect it will be at naught.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002]
Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, John Ashcroft, Coleen Rowley, Herbert Kohl, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Joseph Biden, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, Zacarias Moussaoui
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In a memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), says that the US has the absolute right to detain US citizen Jose Padilla without charge and without legal representation (see May 8, 2002). Bybee also claims that the Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the US military from operating inside the US itself, “poses no bar to the military’s operations in detaining Padilla.” [US Department of Justice, 6/8/2002 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] The day after this memo is issued, Padilla is classified as an “enemy combatant” and transferred to the US Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina (see June 9, 2002).
President George Bush designates Padilla, who has been in custody since May 8 (see May 8, 2002), an “enemy combatant” on advice from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft (see June 8, 2002), and directs Rumsfeld to see that he his taken into military custody. Padilla is taken to the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina sometime during the middle of that night. At the time of the transfer, Padilla was awaiting a judgment on a request made by his counsel to have the material witness warrant (see May 8, 2002) vacated. [CNN, 6/11/2002]
Attorney General John Ashcroft announces Padilla’s arrest (see June 9, 2002), claiming that “in apprehending [Padilla] as he sought entry into the United States,” the US government has “disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive ‘dirty bomb.’” [CBS News, 6/10/2002] Similarly, President George Bush says: “This guy, Padilla, is a bad guy. And he is where he needs to be—detained,” along with many other “would-be killers” as part of the war on terrorism. And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld too, states that Padilla “was unquestionably involved in terrorist activities.” [CNN, 6/11/2002]
Several members of Congress submit a list of 50 questions to Attorney General Ashcroft, asking him how the Patriot Act is being implemented (see October 26, 2001). [New York Times, 7/14/2002] For instance, they ask, “How many times has the department requested records from libraries, bookstores and newspapers? How many roving wiretaps has the department requested?” Ashcroft refuses to answer many of the questions, even though he is legally required to do so. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) fails to receive any response to dozens of letters he writes to Ashcroft, and other senators complain of a complete stonewall from Ashcroft. [Washington Post, 8/21/2002] In March 2003, senators continue to complain that Ashcroft still has not provided the oversight information about the Patriot Act that he is required to give by law. [ABC News, 3/12/2003]
Zacarias Moussaoui indicates that he is willing to disclose information to the US authorities, but his overtures are rejected by the FBI and the Justice Department. After learning of Moussaoui’s offer, Minneapolis FBI counsel Coleen Rowley contacts assistants to FBI director Robert Mueller and to Justice Department manager Michael Chertoff. She says she is worried about Moussaoui’s research into cropdusting and wind patterns, and that the information he could provide may prove useful averting a second strike by al-Qaeda. Rowley will later comment: “But by that time Moussaoui had been charged with the death penalty and I deduced that [attorney general John] Ashcroft would not allow any potential for bargaining leverage to be injected into the case.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2007]
Attorney General John Ashcroft is informed that a detainee has been waterboarded 119 times. The source of the notification is unclear, although it presumably comes from the agency doing the waterboarding, the CIA. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 50 ] The detainee is presumably Abu Zubaida, who was waterboarded at least 83 times (see May 2003), although it could also be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times (see April 18, 2009).
The FBI names Steven Hatfill as a “person of interest” in the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), the first person to be so named. The same day, the FBI conductis a second search of his house after tipping the media off in advance (see August 1, 2002). [Associated Press, 8/1/2002; London Times, 8/2/2002] CBS News initially reports: “Federal law enforcement sources told CBS News that Dr. Steven Hatfill was ‘the chief guy we’re looking at’ in the probe. The sources were careful not to use the word suspect, but said they were ‘zeroing in on this guy’ and that he is ‘the focus of the investigation.’” But later in the day their story is changed and that text is removed. Instead, Hatfill is referred to as “a bio-defense scientist on the FBI’s radar screen for months who’s now emerged as a central figure in the anthrax investigation.” [CBS News, 8/1/2002] On the same day, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, one of the world’s top anthrax specialists, is interviewed by FBI agents who ask her whether a team of government scientists could be trying to frame Hatfill. Rosenberg has been very publicly critical of the FBI investigation. [Washington Times, 8/3/2002] She actually appears to be a key figure in getting the FBI to focus on Hatfill in the first place (see February-June 2002). Newsweek follows with a lengthy article purporting to detail the entire anthrax investigation, but it focuses entirely on Hatfill and fails to mention others involved in suspicious activities. [Newsweek, 8/4/2002] The Washington Post does a similar story focusing on Hatfill only, and even claims the US biowarfare program ended decades ago, despite revelations in late 2001 that it is still continuing. [Washington Post, 8/4/2002] Attorney General John Ashcroft calls Hatfill a “person of interest” on August 6. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]
A Justice Department grants administrator sends an e-mail to Louisiana State University’s biomedical research and training center, telling it to “immediately cease and desist” from employing researcher and 2001 anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill on department-funded programs. The next day Hatfill is placed on administrative leave. [CNN, 9/5/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008] On September 4, he is fired. [Associated Press, 9/4/2002] A day after that, the person who hired him is fired as well. [Associated Press, 9/5/2002] The LSU center relies on funding from the Justice Department for 97 percent of its money. [Weekly Standard, 9/16/2002] The New York Times will later report that “several senior law enforcement officials expressed embarrassment over the e-mail incident, saying the domestic preparedness office acted improperly because Mr. Hatfill has never been charged with any wrongdoing and has not been [officially] identified as a suspect.” [New York Times, 9/5/2002] Attorney General John Ashcroft and five FBI officials will later testify that they knew of no other instance in which the government had forced an investigative target out of a non-governmental job. [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]
Jay Bybee. [Source: Public domain]The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002 ] This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). [ABC News, 4/9/2008]
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. [US News and World Report, 6/21/2004] Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 155-156]
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. [New York Times, 6/8/2004; Bloomberg, 6/8/2004; Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Paul Kelbaugh, Timothy E. Flanigan, Scott McClellan, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, Beth Nolan, Al-Qaeda, Charlie Savage, Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Goldsmith
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Civil rights division logo. [Source: US Department of Justice]The Bush administration embarks on a program to politicize the Justice Department’s civil rights division (CRD). The CRD is staffed by some 350 permanently employed lawyers who take complaints, investigate problems, propose lawsuits, litigate cases, and negotiate settlements. For decades, the decisions on who should fill these positions have been made by civil servants and not by political appointees. The CRD is an obvious target for politicization, and until now the Justice Department has tried to ensure that no such politicization ever took place. “There was obviously oversight from the front office [where the political appointees work], but I don’t remember a time when an individual went through that process and was not accepted,” Charles Cooper, a former lawyer in the CRD during the Reagan administration, will later recall. “I just don’t think there was any quarrel with the quality of individuals who were being hired. And we certainly weren’t placing any kind of political litmus test on… the individuals who were ultimately determined to be best qualified.”
Hiring Conservatives in Place of Career Lawyers - But Attorney General John Ashcroft changes those rules, without making any sort of official announcement. The hiring committee is not formally disbanded, but it stops having meetings scheduled, and the political appointees begin making career hiring decisions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “The result of the unprecedented change was a quiet remaking of the civil rights division, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.” No longer would career attorneys be hired for their civil rights background; instead, lawyers from conservative law schools or from conservative legal organizations such as the Republican National Lawyers Association are given favorable treatment. Some of the new hires worked with Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigative team or had worked with other prominent conservatives, including former Attorney General Edwin Meese or Senator Trent Lott (R-MO). Some list themselves as belonging to prominent Christian political organizations that promote socially conservative views such as opposition to abortion and to affirmative action.
Shift towards 'Reverse Discrimination' Cases - After the new hires are in place, the division shifts its focus: instead of working on voter rights, employment discrimination, and other such cases affecting African-Americans and Hispanics, the division begins working to develop “reverse discrimination” cases in favor of whites and Christians. [Savage, 2007, pp. 295-297]
Driving Career Employees Away - Over the next few years, the types of cases pursued by the CRD changes drastically (see 2005, 2006, and 2006), and career attorneys with decades of service begin leaving the division in large numbers. The Justice Department will even encourage older hires to leave by offering them a buyout. Savage will write, “With every new vacancy, the administration gained a new change to use the new rules to hire another lawyer more in line with its political agenda.” CRD attorney David Becker will tell a 2006 NAACP hearing: “Even during other administrations that were perceived as being hostile to civil rights enforcement, career staff did not leave in numbers approaching this level. In the place of those experienced litigators and investigators, this administration has, all too often, hired inexperienced ideologues, virtually none of which have any civil rights or voting rights experience.” Some supporters say that the Bush administration is merely righting an imbalance, where the CRD was previously top-heavy with liberal lawyers interested in protecting African-Americans over other groups, but one of the CRD’s top career lawyers from 1965 through 1994, Jim Turner, says, “To say that the civil rights division had a special penchant for hiring liberal lawyers is twisting things.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 298-299]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Charlie Savage, Charles Cooper, Bush administration (43), David Becker, Jim Turner, Trent Lott, US Department of Justice, Edwin Meese, Republican National Lawyers Association, Kenneth Starr
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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