None of this intelligence helped, because low-level requests were rejected by superiors and so much data was ignored.

Anyhow, Attorney General John Ashcroft and his Justice Department staff may have had their minds elsewhere. That summer, the AG was involved in Operation Avalanche, a scheme to crack down on child pornography. His people were trying to settle the Clinton-era tobacco suits. In May, Ashcroft caused a furor by sending a letter to the National Rifle Association backing an individual's right to own guns. He stirred up more controversy when he found there was no intentional racial or ethical bias in federal death penalty cases.

Preoccupied with his own domestic agenda, the attorney general had no time for international terrorism—although Justice must have thought something was up because Ashcroft began traveling by private jet. As luck would have it, 9-11 became a launching pad for some of the administration's other domestic programs.

We now know that soon after the attacks, Ashcroft was informed of the Williams memo, but kept it a secret. As if making up for a lost opportunity, he began targeting anyone resembling a Muslim, snaring untold hundreds in a dragnet and imprisoning them on the flimsiest of pretexts. He came up with the rights-limiting Patriot Act, which sailed through Congress, then instructed federal officials to resist at all costs releasing information under the Freedom of Information Act. Top government officials soon joined Congress in blaming the overall intelligence system—a neat scapegoat for themselves, asleep at the switch.

Bilderbergers Reduced to Chain Hotel
Leave a Light On

This weekend the Bilderbergers—a tiny clutch of rich people who think they run the world—will hold their annual secret meeting just outside Washington, in the heart of the industrial military complex, at the Westfields Marriott in Chantilly, Virginia. This is a dreadful comedown for these people, who are used to meeting in ancient castles and on splendid estates where nobody can see them or know they're even there. And to be but a stone's throw from the Pentagon must give them the jitters as well. Talk about a target!

The Bilderberg Group was founded by moderate British lawmaker Denis Healey, David Rockefeller, and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands in 1954. The idea was to develop understanding between Europe and America during the Cold War by bringing together the people who matter—financiers, industrialists, politicians, and opinion molders. People, that is, who have had a proper education, dress appropriately, and know how to comport themselves in public.

Bilderbergers quite rightly think of themselves as rather important people. Henry Kissinger may be the best known. Member Vernon Jordan vouched for Bill Clinton in 1991, and he got in. New Jersey senator Jon Corzine sits on the American steering committee. Paul Wolfowitz, arguably the Bush ally most gung ho to whack Iraq, is in the ranks as well.

Not long ago Healey, now Lord Healey, described the essence of a Bilderberger to The Guardian: "To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair. Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn't go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing."

When push comes to shove, you can't shove a Bilderberger around. "I will tell you this," Healey continued. "If extremists and leaders of militant groups believe that Bilderberg is out to do them down, then they're right. We are. We are against Islamic fundamentalism, for instance, because it's against democracy."

Sing-Along for Justice

"Let the eagle soar, like she's never soared before, from rocky coast to golden shore, let the mighty eagle soar. This country's far too young to die!"—from a gospel song by John Ashcroft, performed in the manner of Engelbert Humperdinck

Additional reporting: Cassandra Lewis and Gabrielle Jackson

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