WASHINGTON D.C.—Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday opened a direct partisan attack on the 9-11 Commission, charging that one of its members is the author of a heretofore secret memo written in the Clinton years that prevented the government from conducting the type of investigations that might have thwarted events like the WTC attack.
Questioned about why he changed from commercial to government jets in summer of 2001, Ashcroft said the decision was taken on advice of his personal security team and “related to maintenance of arms,” among other things. It was not related to any terrorist threat, he said.
In his revelation of the Clinton-era memo, Ashcroft was referring to Jamie S. Gorelick, a Democratic member of the commission and former high-ranking official in the Clinton Justice Department. He sardonically suggested the commission engage in “introspection” of its own activities. The Patriot Act, said Ashcroft, finally allowed the government to “tear down the wall” separating intelligence and law enforcement. He wants it strengthened to, among other things, include wider use of the death penalty.
Earlier in the day, Janet Reno, Clinton’s attorney general, contradicted this, saying, “There are simply no walls or restrictions on sharing” information.
According to a report by the 9-11 Commission staff released earlier today, the FBI’s problems appear to be more internal. Among other things, it said, “Given the poor state of the FBI’s information systems, field agents usually did not know what investigations agents in their own office, let alone in other field offices, were working on,” said the commission staff. “Nor did analysts have easy access to this information”
Internal reviews of the FBI, the staff report went on, determined that as many as two-thirds of the people involved in analysis weren’t “qualified to perform analytical duties.”
Finally, “Prior to 9-11 the FBI did not have a process in place to effectively manage its intelligence collection efforts.”
Many offices didn’t even have surveillance squads before 9-11. “The FBI did not have a sufficient number of translators proficient in Arabic and other languages useful in counter-terrorism investigations,” which meant, un-translated and unread intercepts were piling up. “Prior to 9-11, the FBI did not have an adequate ability to know what it knew.”