"During the course of those investigations," wrote Gorelick in 1995, "significant counterintelligence information has been developed related to the activities and plans of agents of foreign powers operating in this country and overseas, including previously unknown connections between separate terrorist groups." But Gorelick wanted to make sure that the left hand didn't know what the right was doing. "(W)e believe that it is prudent to establish a set of instructions that will clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation from the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations. These procedures, which go beyond what is legally required, will prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation."
The problem, of course, is that the inability to share information is precisely what hampered federal agents in tracking down the 9-11 hijackers. As Attorney General Ashcroft testified, this artificial wall impeded the investigation into Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, who was arrested prior to the 9-11 attack, as well as Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, both of whom were identified by the CIA as suspected terrorists possibly in the United States prior to their participation in those terrible attacks. "Because of the wall, FBI Headquarters refused to allow criminal investigators who knew the most about the most recent al Qaeda attack to join in the hunt for the suspected terrorists," Ashcroft told the commission.
"At the time, a frustrated FBI investigator wrote Headquarters," said Ashcroft, "quote, 'Whatever has happened to this -- someday someone will die -- and wall or not -- the public will not understand why . . .'"
Jamie Gorelick should step down from the commission at once. If she fails to do so on her own, her fellow commissioners should ask her to step aside. Her role as the architect of a policy that hampered the work of federal agents to track down suspected terrorists makes her unfit to pass judgment on the alleged failures of others.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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