Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Defending My Right to Be Bombed

Now we learn this from The Times Online:
Mohammed Atta and three other men who hijacked aircraft on September 11, 2001 were identified by the US Government as possible members of an al-Qaeda cell more than a year before the attacks, it was reported today. . . .

The secret military team, known as Able Danger, recommended that the identities of the four men be shared with the FBI and other parts of the military, but the recommendation was never taken up, according to a Republican Congressman, Curt Weldon, quoted by the newspaper. . . .

The CIA tracked the men through 2000 before passing their information to the FBI in the spring of 2001.

According to Mr Weldon, who said he has tried to share this information since September 2001, when it first came to his notice, the risk posed by Atta and his cohorts never spread through America'a law enforcement agencies because of the uneasy co-operation between the FBI and the military. . . .

The classified military intelligence unit used sophisticated "data mining" techniques, which process huge amounts of data to find patterns, to identify Atta and the three other men as likely members of an al-Qaeda cell within two months of their arrival in America in 2000.
And from The International Herald Tribune:
. . . Able Danger, prepared a chart in the summer of 2000 that included visa photographs of the four men, including the ringleader, Mohammed Atta. The unit recommended to the military's Special Operations Command that the information be shared with the FBI, the former official and the Republican congressman, Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, said Monday.

The recommendation was rejected, and the information was not shared, they said, apparently at least in part because Atta and the others were in the United States on valid entry visas.

Under U.S. law, intelligence agencies may not collect intelligence on individual citizens and permanent residents. That protection does not extend to visa holders, but Weldon and the former official said it may have reinforced a sense of discomfort[*] common before Sept. 11 about sharing intelligence information with a law enforcement agency.
So we have here two lessons:
  • Data mining can actually detect bad guys.
  • Intelligence sharing might well have led to the capture of the bad guys before they did something terribly bad.
But knee-jerk civil libertarians won't have any of it. They want to defend my right to be bombed.
* There was more than "discomfort" about intelligence-sharing, there was a wall between criminal investigators and intelligence agents.

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