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April 12, 2004

Adventures In Journalism: Missing The Point

Via the Scotsman - The full text of the memo from the FBI to George Bush on 6 August, 2001. It appears below.

The controversy over whether or not the memo should have caused the Bush Administration to act is misplaced.

The real controversy should be over why a memo so incredibly innocuous was ever classified as secret in the first place.

Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the United States

Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997/1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Centre bomber Ramzi Yousef and "bring the fighting to America".

After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to [name deemed classified by the FBI] service. An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told an [classified] service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.

The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself, but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaydah encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaydah was planning his own US attack.

Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation. Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance. Bin Laden associates surveilled our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993, and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.

Al-Qaeda members - including some who are US citizens - have resided in or travelled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks. Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens, and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s. A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [classified] service in 1998 saying bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh", ’Umar ’Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists. Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York. The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in UAE in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.

There's no reason I can see that the memo itself shouldn't have been released to the public within hours of it being shown to the White House.

Posted by Bigwig at April 12, 2004 12:46 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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Comments

The memo was classified because the gummit tends to operate with a "when in doubt, classify it" mindset, especialy when it's NATSEC stuff. This was probably really only classified because of the three names that have been redacted.

But the short reason is it was classified because it was classified.

Posted by: Matt Navarre at April 12, 2004 03:21 PM

Hey, haven't you ever read a spy novel? The memo plainly contained the names of sources of information (before these were blacked out); this is a very strong reason to declare the memo "Secret". Sources of covert information on activities of terrorists are very hard to come by; you don't want to embarrass (or endanger) them by telling the world who they are!

Posted by: Richard Shuford at April 15, 2004 05:35 PM
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