WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- otherwise known as the Sept. 11 Commission -- was supposed to suggest changes in law and policy to help protect us from terror attacks. To make such recommendations, the commission needed to discern what happened. Regrettably, the commission's public hearings devolved into a political circus instead of a fact-finding exercise. Instead of solving the numerous riddles of how 19 terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, apologists for the Clinton administration used the hearings to deflect blame -- and point to the culpability of the Bush administration.
Consider this exchange between Democrat Commission member Tim Roemer and former Clinton administration official Richard Clarke on Mar. 24, 2004:
ROEMER (to Clarke): I want to know, first of all: Was fighting al Qaeda a top priority for the Clinton administration from 1998 to the year 2001? How high a priority was it in that Clinton administration during that time period?
CLARKE: My impression was that fighting terrorism, in general, and fighting al Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration -- certainly no higher priority.
"No higher priority"? Given what we learned this week from Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer, and newly declassified records from the State Department, Messrs. Roemer and Clarke may wish to -- in congressional parlance -- "revise and extend" their remarks.
Lt. Col. Shaffer was part of an undercover counter-terrorism unit code-named 'Able Danger." When I spoke with him earlier this week he told me that the group, created in 1999, used open-source "data mining" technology to identify and track terrorists. In 2000, the Able Danger unit identified the al Qaeda cell led by Mohamed Atta, holed up in New Jersey. A year later, Atta and his fellow jihadists -- Khalid al-Mihdhar, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Nawar al-Hamzi -- would carry out the Sept. 11 attacks.
According to Lt. Col. Shaffer, on three separate occasions, officers in the Able Danger unit tried to pass information on the Atta-al Qaeda cell to the FBI but were blocked by military lawyers because of concerns about the legality of collecting information on foreign terror suspects in the U.S. Atta had entered the U.S. on a legal visa and the lawyers determined that he had to be treated like any U.S. citizen even though he was associating with suspected terrorists. "Our lawyers told us to leave them [the Atta cell] alone because that was the policy guidance at the time."
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.