King: Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11

posted at 10:41 am on June 20, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

At the very least, Rep. Peter King tells CNN’s Jake Tapper, it would have added to the “mosaic” that could have exposed the threat before the 9/11 attack that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. But was the mosaic missing too many holes because the NSA didn’t trawl telecom metadata, or because of the barriers between law enforcement and intelligence communities? (via The Corner)

Reiterating an opinion expressed during his questioning of General Keith Alexander, the Long Island Republican told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the programs “would’ve added an extra piece of the mosaic.”  He also disputed Senator Rand Paul’s claim that pre-9/11 intelligence and policework failures had nothing to do with telephone surveillance: “If we are looking in hindsight, I’d say it’s much more likely we would have found something if the FISA authorization had been there.”

I’ve read the 9/11 Commission report repeatedly (although not recently), and I’m unclear on what Rand Paul meant by “warrants,” too.  However, Paul’s overall point was that the failure wasn’t so much a lack of intelligence on the threat developing in the two years prior to the attacks, but the obstacles present at the time in the US in sharing the data in order to connect dots.  Under the rules at the time — remember “the wall”? — even if the NSA had found some pattern in the metadata, they might not have been able to share much of that with the FBI, at least not its law-enforcement functions, thanks to exaggerated limitations on communication based on the law-enforcement approach to terrorism before 9/11.  The US government was more concerned about making a case in civil court than attacking terrorism head-on.

For a reminder of this problem, one need only read pages 78-9 of the 9/11 Commission report from Chapter 3.  Here’s an excerpt:

In July 1995, Attorney General Reno issued formal procedures aimed at managing information sharing between Justice Department prosecutors and the FBI. They were developed in a working group led by the Justice Department’s Executive Office of National Security, overseen by Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick.33 These procedures-while requiring the sharing of intelligence information with prosecutors-regulated the manner in which such information could be shared from the intelligence side of the house to the criminal side.

These procedures were almost immediately misunderstood and misapplied. As a result, there was far less information sharing and coordination between the FBI and the Criminal Division in practice than was allowed under the department’s procedures. Over time the procedures came to be referred to as “the wall.” The term “the wall” is misleading, however, because several factors led to a series of barriers to information sharing that developed.34

The Office of Intelligence Policy and Review became the sole gatekeeper for passing information to the Criminal Division. Though Attorney General Reno’s procedures did not include such a provision, the Office assumed the role anyway, arguing that its position reflected the concerns of Judge Royce Lamberth, then chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The Office threatened that if it could not regulate the flow of information to criminal prosecutors, it would no longer present the FBI’s warrant requests to the FISA Court. The information flow withered.35

The 1995 procedures dealt only with sharing between agents and criminal prosecutors, not between two kinds of FBI agents, those working on intelligence matters and those working on criminal matters. But pressure from the Office of Intelligence Policy Review, FBI leadership, and the FISA Court built barriers between agents-even agents serving on the same squads. FBI Deputy Director Bryant reinforced the Office’s caution by informing agents that too much information sharing could be a career stopper. Agents in the field began to believe-incorrectly-that no FISA information could be shared with agents working on criminal investigations.36

This perception evolved into the still more exaggerated belief that the FBI could not share any intelligence information with criminal investigators, even if no FISA procedures had been used. Thus, relevant information from the National Security Agency and the CIA often failed to make its way to criminal investigators. Separate reviews in 1999, 2000, and 2001 concluded independently that information sharing was not occurring, and that the intent of the 1995 procedures was ignored routinely.37 We will describe some of the unfortunate consequences of these accumulated institutional beliefs and practices in chapter 8.

There were other legal limitations. Both prosecutors and FBI agents argued that they were barred by court rules from sharing grand jury information, even though the prohibition applied only to that small fraction that had been presented to a grand jury, and even that prohibition had exceptions. But as interpreted by FBI field offices, this prohibition could conceivably apply to much of the information unearthed in an investigation. There were also restrictions, arising from executive order, on the commingling of domestic information with foreign intelligence. Finally the NSA began putting caveats on its Bin Ladin-related reports that required prior approval before sharing their contents with criminal investigators and prosecutors. These developments further blocked the arteries of information sharing.38

It’s certainly possible that the NSA program today operates within the law, does not violate the rights of Americans, and prevents more 9/11-type attacks on the US.  That case would be more salable if Congress had demonstrated any robust oversight over the programs prior to their exposure, but the disarray and misinformation coming from Capitol Hill over the last couple of weeks demonstrate pretty clearly that there hasn’t been much management of the NSA’s activities.  However, King’s case that the NSA could have connected dots by metadata analysis prior to 9/11 neglects the established reality of the mismanaged counterterrorism efforts of that period, where the dots that did exist were left unconnected.  If King wants to justify this program, he’d be better off making the case that Congress is keeping an eagle eye on its operation, and that it works within the law and doesn’t spy on Americans.

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For a reminder of this problem, one need only read pages 78-9 of the 9/11 Commission report from Chapter 3 The Constitution.

PatriotRider on June 20, 2013 at 10:45 AM

*face palm*

..perhaps; but this diffuses the blowtorch blast aimed squarely at the buttocks of the Pantload Administration.

The War Planner on June 20, 2013 at 10:46 AM

And, does the current immigration law address those who overstay their visas?

Um, I don’t think so…

http://www.examiner.com/article/gang-of-eight-immigration-plan-ignores-flawed-visa-system

Fallon on June 20, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Might have? Might have? That’s the best you can do?

You know what else MIGHT HAVE prevented 9/11? Bill Clinton actually taking out Bin Laden when he had the chance, instead of playing political footsie with that particular problem, and playing the other kind of footsie with Monica.

CurtZHP on June 20, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Grrrr…. FIFM – “law” s/b bill…

Fallon on June 20, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Massive concentrated surveillance did not stop Claus von Stauffenberg. A heavy oak table leg and a flimsy-walled building did, though.

NSA is a Department of Defense Activity. When NSA is used against Americans residing in America, seems to run contrary to all that Posse Comitatus stuff…and the Constitution.

And our elected officials are fine with this?

Time to get new elected officials, while we still can.

coldwarrior on June 20, 2013 at 10:49 AM

No it wouldn’t have prevented it. They data would have been ignored like all the rest was that could have prevented it.

sadatoni on June 20, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Proof positive that all politicians should be primaried.

beatcanvas on June 20, 2013 at 10:51 AM

*face palm*

..perhaps; but this diffuses the blowtorch blast aimed squarely at the buttocks of the Pantload Administration.

The War Planner on June 20, 2013 at 10:46 AM

More proof that entrenched members of both parties are more interested in holding on to power than serving their constituents. Once they get to Washington, they get infected with its power-mad culture. We need to write them off, as they have clearly written us off.

CurtZHP on June 20, 2013 at 10:51 AM

Peter, ya dumb schmuck…how would this NSA stuff prevented 9/11? Jamie Gorelick wouldn’t have allowed any of it to be used…not one bit/byte of it.

coldwarrior on June 20, 2013 at 10:52 AM

We didn’t retaliate when we had embassy killings or bombings in the 1990s either.

So much easier to come home, spend money playing policeman and mess with the locals.

IlikedAUH2O on June 20, 2013 at 10:52 AM

And maybe if we’d have been a fascist state in the 30s we could have stayed out of World War II.

If King had been around then, he’d have been defending the policies of the Nazis. I have zero doubt about that.

MadisonConservative on June 20, 2013 at 10:52 AM

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11

“Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented” — A game we all can play!

Here’s one:

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented…Bill Buckner from missing that ground ball in ’86.

Robert_Paulson on June 20, 2013 at 10:52 AM

Well, one would hope that what the NSA’s doing now would have, at a bare minimum, prevented 9/11. Otherwise there’s absolutely no justification for this massive, and massively expensive, intrusion into our basic rights.

But your points about the fact that the problem wasn’t “not enough information” but rather “not enough communication” are exactly right.

The stupid “solution” was adding another cabinet-level agency and another layer of impenetrable bureaucracy in the theory that more bureaucrats = more efficiency.

notropis on June 20, 2013 at 10:53 AM

So, Rep King believes a NSA post secret Muslim veto board re: Islamin investigations could have stopped 9-11.

I wonder what color the sky is in his world?

jhnone on June 20, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Hey! I just thought of something. A way we can reduce our numbers of nukes!

IlikedAUH2O on June 20, 2013 at 10:54 AM

And if Obama was president back in 2001…
The world would love us and there would be no need for he NSA..

Yeah…I can play along too.

Electrongod on June 20, 2013 at 10:54 AM

For crying out loud – they had the Boston bombers cold and they failed to stop that!

What the hell is he talking about?

jake-the-goose on June 20, 2013 at 10:56 AM

The bring the troops home to help the extra guests here to go home.

IlikedAUH2O on June 20, 2013 at 10:56 AM

Well, here’s the problem. We don’t know if all of this NASA crap coming down the pipeline is protecting us. So far it doesn’t seem to be working. All it does is spy on us and in Obama’s administration this is a done deal. I’ve known for years that NSA was doing this, and it isn’t exactly my idea of a free society, but when they have the info and they don’t catch any bad guys here at home(Boston Marathon?)it’s darn sure Obama is using all of this data for destroying his political enemies. He is collecting it himself for his own purposes. There’s a whole lot of collecting going on and it is illegal. Thanks Mr. Snowden. What we have suspected is true. How much more proof does anyone need that Obama is not a person who needs to be in the WH? I am sure the stupid among us need more and everyday more comes out.

BetseyRoss on June 20, 2013 at 11:00 AM

[sadatoni on June 20, 2013 at 10:49 AM]

Pretty much the nub.

Dusty on June 20, 2013 at 11:01 AM

The fat headed face of tyranny. These people need to be punished.

tom daschle concerned on June 20, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Possibly. Maybe.

Because back then jihadists were unaware we were listening. The ones above moron level today are long aware of NSA surveillance, so the point is irrelevant. Snoop the entire US citizenry to find the dumb terrorists. Meanwhile snooping around mosques is outlawed. Not PC.

philw1776 on June 20, 2013 at 11:07 AM

Current NSA programs did not stop Boston.
Okay, Pete? Now STFU.

vityas on June 20, 2013 at 11:07 AM

King: Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11

And sensible building standards might have minimized the damage from Hurricane Sandy and prevented that giant hissy fit over Congressional funding for your district.

If metadata mining did not stop the Fort Hood shooting and Boston Marathon bombing, what makes King think that having additional information would have helped? One of the biggest problems was that the 9/11 terrorists were still here on expired visas- nothing in “immigration reform” fixes that. Airline security procedures were a joke and crews were trained to cooperate with hijackers. In short Congressman, no the NSA would not have been able to stop the 9/11/01 atrocities if they had only started stepping on our civil rights before the Obama administration got involved.

Besides, I thought GWB knew it was going to happen but deliberately let them fly those planes into buildings. At least that is what Rosie O’Donnell said.

Happy Nomad on June 20, 2013 at 11:08 AM

What idiocy.

You must connect the dots before you look at call logs.

20 Jihadis overstayed their visas. After they were taking one way flight lessons.

faraway on June 20, 2013 at 11:10 AM

King: Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11

So why didn’t they catch the Tsarnaevs?

Fabozz on June 20, 2013 at 11:10 AM

Armed pilots might have prevented 9/11.

Air marshalls on every plane might have prevented 9/11.

INS arresting the illegal immigrants who had overstayed their visas might have prevented 9/11.

faraway on June 20, 2013 at 11:12 AM

If the program was working as intended the Boston Marothon bombings would have been prevented.

Tater Salad on June 20, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Profiling might have prevented 9/11.

Yeah, I went there.

CurtZHP on June 20, 2013 at 11:17 AM

Peter King, I never want to hear anything you have to say again.

Resist We Much on June 20, 2013 at 11:18 AM

I could list 100′s of things that could have prevented 9/11…

mjbrooks3 on June 20, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Peter, dear.

CNN asked you to come on. Why, you may ask?

What a tool.

faraway on June 20, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Let’s make it clear:

The technology would certainly have given our intel community an edge they lacked up to 2001.

There is little to suggest that management and action taken by government on that intel, however, would have been any different then, say, the success with which the government prevented the Boston bombings.

Good Lt on June 20, 2013 at 11:23 AM

The Boston Marathon bombing is proof this is a lie.

What actually WOULD have stopped 9/11 is if airline passengers were able to do then what they do now – i.e. beat the hijackers to death, or at least beat the crap out of them and tie them up for safe keeping until the plane lands.

The 9/11 hijackers only succeeded because the standard rule for hijackings up to that point was to sit quiet like a bunch of sheep and go along for the ride to wherever the hijackers wanted to go.

dentarthurdent on June 20, 2013 at 11:24 AM

You know what also could have prevented 911? A better enforced immigration program and background checks. Those guys trampled through without a single red flag popping up. Those were Clinton polices in effect at the time.

Egfrow on June 20, 2013 at 11:24 AM

MIGHT have?? If everyone aboard those planes had a knife with a mere 3″ blade, the devastation would’ve never happened. They didn’t have it because your government trusts you as much as it trusts Islamic terrorists. But it insists you trust them because the NSA would NEVER do to you what the DoJ and IRS did to their perceived rivals!
It’s the same government, people.

cartooner on June 20, 2013 at 11:26 AM

so the current NSA program is designed to track Saudi men who over stay their student visas?

bannor on June 20, 2013 at 11:27 AM

also a reinforced and locked cockpit door would have stopped 9/11.

bannor on June 20, 2013 at 11:29 AM

Of course, when they have completed their “mosaic” on a threat and they find it’s an ordinary radical Islamist, they proceed to ignore him.

So what’s the point?

PattyJ on June 20, 2013 at 11:35 AM

So the FBI had to ask the public for help in identifying the Boston bombers…I think Peter likes to feel he is in the know…

d1carter on June 20, 2013 at 11:36 AM

What an AH. Maybe he should recall that there all kinds of warnings about 9-11 including a FBI agent asking why Saudis were taking flying lessons but weren’t interested in learning how to land. Flight schools asking questions of authorities but getting no answers. Dicey imams, radical mosques (just like today). Chatter. Terrorists coming and terrorists going through US customs.

But there was a hands off policy towards Saudis in place.

Viator on June 20, 2013 at 11:37 AM

You know what also could have prevented 911?

If the poor ticket agent at Logan did not feel shame when he thought Atta looked like a terrorist, he might have felt free to stop him. That shame has been taught us by the government, and it cost 3000 lives that day.

PattyJ on June 20, 2013 at 11:37 AM

I could list 100′s of things that could have prevented 9/11…

mjbrooks3 on June 20, 2013 at 11:21 AM

If Wilbur and Orville Wright had stuck to repairing bicycles, the 9/11/01 atrocities might not have happened.

Seriously, we find out that Alexander way lying yet again when he claimed that the NSA Stasi had prevented an attack on the NYSE. We are not much safer than we were on 9/10/01 and curtailed civil rights. TSA security is a joke because they spend their time mauling granny instead of profiling that Arabic-looking guy behind her (the one with no luggage and a one-way ticket). NSA for all their bluster should have had the Boston Marathon bombers and Fort Hood shooter in their sights well before they killed and injured Americans but did not.

Alexander and Clapper need to show exactly what they are doing with all that data. Because it sure as hell isn’t counterterrorism.

Happy Nomad on June 20, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Yeah. It might have prevented the Boston bombing also. No, wait…

TerryW on June 20, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Nice try, Pete, but this hardly rises to the level of sell out that MR has committed. Hind sight is so 20-20.

Kissmygrits on June 20, 2013 at 11:55 AM

Hey, if we had a full Orwellian Police state in 2001 we might have prevented 9/11…

Sorry, is anyone persuaded that therefore freedom and liberty and rights are bad and we should throw them all away for a chance of slightly more security?

Yes Rep. King, put your hand down… we know YOU are for this.

Anyone else?

gekkobear on June 20, 2013 at 11:57 AM

I used to respect King…right up until the moment he declared he thinks Violating the Constitution by spying on every American citizen is a good idea! The authors of the Patriot Act have said this is NOT how the act was EVER supposed to be used. The NSA even admitts that conducting wire taps without search warrants is a CRIME / against the law. The Constitution difinitively states this activity is a violation of our Constitutional rights. I am sure Hitler, Stalin, & others justified their actions as well as being in the best interest of their nation at the times they did what they did as well!

easyt65 on June 20, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11

Alternatively.

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11 Pearl Harbor

Or

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11 The D day invasion

Or

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11 The Norman conquest of England

Or

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11 The sinking of the Titanic

Or

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11 The sinking of the Lusitania

Or

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11 The black plague

Or

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11 Acne

Or

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11 The extinction of the dinosaurs

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11 The election of Barrack Hussein Obama! Oh wait, is that racist? That’s Probably a fantasy too far.

Oldnuke on June 20, 2013 at 12:03 PM

The same government that “prevented” the Boston marathon bombing by ignoring multiple threats about the bombers from foreign governments, ignoring immigration law by not deporting the older brother after he was charged with beating up his girlfriend while he had a green card, and was reduced to begging the public for help in identifying the bombers despite having all this information at hand, was going to prevent 9/11 and will prevent future terrorist attacks if only we give it more power to spy on the administration’s political opponents here at home?

Pull the other finger.

Gator Country on June 20, 2013 at 12:05 PM

Yeah sure. Because The Tea Party was responsible for 9/11. Sorry, but this doesn’t wash. The problem is a PC government that refuses to recognize the threat of Islam.

pat on June 20, 2013 at 12:32 PM

All these fancy explanations of why a massive spying program MIGHT have prevented the 9/11 attack.

To me, it is very clear, that if we had BANNED BOX CUTTERS the 9/11 attack would have been stopped!

But, instead of adding those items to the list, and I am not sure why they were not on the list in the firstplace, we now strip search old ladies, take revealing pictures of people and post them on the internet, and increased airport delays with hundreds of new security agents that do nothing for security, cost everyone money, and even STEAL from the passengers!

Freddy on June 20, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Perhaps, but regardless of what it “might have” done, it absolutely has shredded the Fourth Amendment.

For those of you not keeping score, the Obama administration is adamantly opposed to:

a) The First Amendment
b) The Second Amendment
c) The Fourth Amendment
d) The Fifth Amendment (except for themselves)
e) The Sixth Amendment (except for some terrorists)
f) The Ninth Amendment
g) The Tenth Amendment

So much for the Bill of Rights.

Chris of Rights on June 20, 2013 at 1:00 PM

King has turned into the same fool as McCain.

Schadenfreude on June 20, 2013 at 1:11 PM

So much for the Bill of Rights.

Chris of Rights on June 20, 2013 at 1:00 PM

They’ll run Michelles next so as to not shred the 22nd.

Schadenfreude on June 20, 2013 at 1:12 PM

The rule of law and constitutional safeguards are to be suspended during this national emergency. Everything is to be permitted. Operating outside the norms of previously impermissible conduct has become the new standard operating procedure. The Constitution is not a “suicide pact.” Survival of the state is the only thing that counts.

These are precisely the very arguments used by Otto Olendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D, and his fellow defendants in their Nuremberg War Crime Trials following World War Two.

roflmmfao

donabernathy on June 20, 2013 at 1:15 PM

King’s a J@ckA$$….
The FBI knew they were taking flying lessons and didn’t want to learn to land the planes.
J@ck@$$e$ all.
This PRISM thing violates the Constitution…end it.
III

dirtengineer on June 20, 2013 at 1:33 PM

The rule of law and constitutional safeguards are to be suspended during this national emergency. Everything is to be permitted. Operating outside the norms of previously impermissible conduct has become the new standard operating procedure. The Constitution is not a “suicide pact.” Survival of the state is the only thing that counts.

donabernathy on June 20, 2013 at 1:15 PM

…. and I thought you were talking about the lockdown of Boston as they barged into house after house searching for their suspect.

Freddy on June 20, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Yes, Mr. King this surveillence appears to be working quite well. For the Obama Administration. But, not so well for the City of Boston.

DDay on June 20, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Current NSA surveillance programs might have prevented 9/11 The election of Barrack Hussein Obama! Oh wait, is that racist? That’s Probably a fantasy too far.

Oldnuke on June 20, 2013 at 12:03 PM

But could it have prevented that..erh…incident I had with Nancy back in ’82?

If only…….

BobMbx on June 20, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Like it did the Boston bombers? The underwear bomber? The shoe bomber? The killer captain (forget his name right now)? Etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Complete crapola.

Hucklebuck on June 20, 2013 at 2:28 PM

You know what also could have prevented 911?

If the poor ticket agent at Logan did not feel shame when he thought Atta looked like a terrorist, he might have felt free to stop him. That shame has been taught us by the government, and it cost 3000 lives that day.

PattyJ on June 20, 2013 at 11:37 AM

Slight correction to your post, which is otherwise OK: that agent, Michael Touhey, was actually at the Portland, Maine Jetport. Atta and his “colleague” spent the night in Portland and then took a commuter flight to Boston on the morning of 9/11. Apparently they did that so they would not have to go thru additional security in Boston.

Del Dolemonte on June 20, 2013 at 3:12 PM

I am going to step out on the limb here and also suggest that it would have prevented the American Revolution – This doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing. Hey Jack-Wad, STOP SPYING ON US CITIZENS!

You have about 5-10 million that are predisposed to act of terror – target them!

rgranger on June 20, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Armed pilots might have prevented 9/11.

Air marshalls on every plane might have prevented 9/11.

INS arresting the illegal immigrants who had overstayed their visas might would have prevented 9/11.

faraway on June 20, 2013 at 11:12 AM

But we need to encourage the Mexican Reconquista.

Steve Eggleston on June 20, 2013 at 5:18 PM

HTML tag fail.

Steve Eggleston on June 20, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Just like they prevented the Boston bombings.

John the Libertarian on June 20, 2013 at 9:11 PM

Not drafting and issuing the “Gorelick memo” would have done far more to have prevented 9/11.

listens2glenn on June 21, 2013 at 1:18 AM

Enforcing our in-place immigration laws would have helped more.

TimBuk3 on June 21, 2013 at 12:22 PM