Over a week ago on 9/10 (evidence that I am backed up on my reading), Scott Holleran had an interesting post about a tipped link between a 9/11 hijacker, a woman, Lake Tahoe, and a FBI investigation with unknown results. He is particularly concerned about this as a possible thread leading to a state sponsor of terrorism or Saudi Arabia.
This reminded me of comments made by John Lehman (9/11 Commissioner) during a 10 year 9/11 retrospective hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Lehman appeared during the third session titled “Counterterrorism and Homeland Security: Does the United States Have the Right Strategy?”
Relevant to the topic of FBI investigations of Saudi links to the hijackers, Mr. Lehman said in the context of intelligence issues (from the transcript):
And could I just take one addenda to that? On the issue of domestic intelligence, I couldn’t agree more. I think our domestic intelligence is very, very inadequate. And in the 9/11 commission, I think all of us were, as the weight of evidence grew, convinced that we should split the FBI, that a cop shop should not be a domestic intelligence agency. And we decided not to recommend that, because it was just too much going on. You couldn’t — that kind of major surgery right after 9/11, with all the new changes that had to be done, was just not very wise.
But I think absolutely we should relook at that and reopen that issue, because most of our effective intelligence allies have that split function. They don’t let the intelligence, domestic intelligence, have prosecutorial powers, and they don’t trust cops to be good intelligence tradesmen.
A perfect example was in our televised hearings — which I’m sure you all watched — which was when we asked the acting director — we referred to the evidence that had been gathered during the investigation from the intelligence communities of the five operatives in Saudi embassies who were clearly enablers for the — for the 19, and who were — helped them, you know, find apartments, drove them from one place to another, got them into flight schools. And there were five named individuals that were clearly very friendly to these 19 people. And so we said: What has happened with them?
And the acting director said: We did investigate them, but we found insufficient evidence to get an indictment, so we terminated those investigations. Now, can you imagine an intelligence professional saying a thing like that? I mean, here were some of the most valuable targets in the United States after 9/11, and FBI dropped — didn’t — so we followed up, said: Well, where are they now? Well, we don’t know. We — didn’t I hear — didn’t you hear me? I said we terminated the investigation. That is the prosecutorial, law enforcement mentality which makes FBI such a fine law enforcement agency, and makes them unable effectively to do real intelligence tradecraft, in my judgment.
Combining Holleran’s report and Lehman’s statements, it seems probable that the FBI would have dropped the case of the woman at Lake Tahoe, because they lacked evidence to support a prosecution. As the FBI has not publicly requested help finding this “person of interest,” I suspect that they know who she is, interviewed her, and did not pursue the link further.
On the separate issue raised by Mr. Lehman that the FBI’s cop and intelligence functions be separated, I am not eager to see such a reform unless temporary and circumscribed. Such a domestic intelligence operation would likely move from Justice to the Department of Homeland Security, which has a troubling record of hostility to individual rights (see TSA). Given the intelligence, protection, and law enforcement liaison functions, where would this new domestic intelligence agency go logically: Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or Secret Service?
Personally, I would be very concerned that it would become a Secret Service function; thus, putting a new domestic intelligence service in close proximity to the White House.