Attorney General Mukasey, in an emotional plea for broad surveillance authority in the war on terror, is warning that the price for failing to empower the government would be paid in American lives. Officials “shouldn’t need a warrant when somebody with a phone in Iraq picks up a phone and calls somebody in the United States because that’s the call that we may really want to know about. And before 9/11, that’s the call that we didn’t know about,” Mr. Mukasey said yesterday as he took questions from the audience following a speech to a public affairs forum, the Commonwealth Club. Mr. Mukasey said yesterday as he took questions from the audience following a speech to a public affairs forum, the Commonwealth Club. “We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn’t know precisely where it went.”
At that point in his answer, Mr. Mukasey grimaced, swallowed hard, and seemed to tear up as he reflected on the weaknesses in America’s anti-terrorism strategy prior to the 2001 attacks. “We got three thousand. … We’ve got three thousand people who went to work that day and didn’t come home to show for that,” he said, struggling to maintain his composure.
As Greenwald points out the 9/11 commission report never mentions a call from a safe house in Afghanistan. There were calls tapped from Yemen under the existing FISA law. This is confirmed by Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission Executive Director in the following response:
Not sure of course what the AG had in mind, although the most important signals intelligence leads related to our report — that related to the Hazmi-Mihdhar issues of January 2000 or to al Qaeda activities or transits connected to Iran — was not of this character. If, as he says, the USG didn’t know where the call went in the US, neither did we. So unless we had some reason to link this information to the 9/11 story ….
In general, as with several covert action issues for instance, the Commission sought (and succeeded) in publishing details about sensitive intelligence matters where the details were material to the investigative mandate in our law.
The Attorney General of the United States is aware of a call that he sternly believes could have prevented the 9/11 attacks and yet it wasn’t tapped. Why not? As Greenwald points out, FISA does not and never did require a warrant for eavesdropping on foreign targets. Does the Attorney General not understand the law he is in charge of enforcing? Did this misunderstanding permeate the government? Even if there was a misunderstanding, why didn’t the intelligence agency in charge of the surveillance ask for a warrant from the FISA court? Why did they feel they couldn’t monitor the call right away, since FISA already allows 72 hours of surveillance without a warrant. And why wasn’t this call included in the 9/11 commission report?
The proper thing to do is to get Mukasey to testify under oath about these issues. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers sent a letter to Mukasey asking some of these questions along with others. It is a good start. But, this story needs more attention. So, share it. Show some interest in it. Write letters to the editor asking for them to cover it. Demand answers. If we want a better government, now is the proper time to start applying some public pressure. If they don’t listen with an election approaching, it should be easy enough to rectify the problem come November, especially in the House.