THIS Man Has Kept You Safe:
By Ronald Kessler
As we finish another year without a terrorist attack, it’s a good time to think about why. The media and liberal politicians will tell you it’s an accident or a matter of luck. They are dead wrong.
The reason we have not been attacked in the more than six years after 9/11 is the hard work of the FBI, the CIA, and our military, and the sweeping changes that have taken place in the intelligence community under George W. Bush.
Bush’s proclamation that any country harboring a terrorist will be considered a terrorist country has meant that Arab countries began cooperating in the war on terror, turning over thousands of terrorists and leads.
Bush made the FBI become more prevention-oriented. While the FBI always wanted to stop terrorist plots and did so in many cases, when it got the bad guys, as it did in the first World Trade Center bombing, it usually closed the case. Now every case becomes the basis for developing new sources who may be run out for years to infiltrate terrorist groups.
As Art Cummings, who heads the FBI’s international counterterrorism operations, told me for my book ”The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack,” “Pre-9/11, the first consideration was, I got an indictment in my pocket ... Slap it down on the table, pick the guy up, you throw him on an airplane. You bring him home, you put him in jail, and you go, ‘Okay, I’ve done a great job today.’”
If that were to happen today, Cummings says, “I would have told my agents they basically just put Americans more in jeopardy rather than less in jeopardy. It’s a completely different approach and bears little resemblance to the previous one.”
Now when an agent wants to make an arrest, Cummings tells the agent, “Your objective is not to make the arrest. Your objective is to make that suspect our collection platform. That guy now is going to tell us just how big and broad the threat might be. He now becomes a means to collection, instead of the target of collection. I want you to understand his entire universe.”
According to the media, the FBI and CIA still don’t talk to each other. But in 2005, Bush established the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Va., where 200 analysts from the CIA and FBI sit side-by-side analyzing threats 24 hours a day. A secure video conference takes place three times a day with all members of the intelligence community and the White House to analyze threats and parcel out leads.
The USA Patriot Act has torn down the so-called wall imposed by Attorney General Janet Reno, a wall that prevented FBI agents from sharing information with each other and with the CIA. The much-maligned Patriot Act has allowed the FBI to wiretap a terrorist regardless of what phone he uses, an authority the FBI already had in organized crime cases. The National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts ordered by Bush opened for the FBI a window on terrorist activity within the U.S.
Since 9/11, the FBI, CIA, and the military have rolled up some 5,000 terrorists worldwide — a headline you will never see in the Washington Post or New York Times. Thus, many plots are never hatched, because terrorists have been killed, arrested, or sent back to their own countries and imprisoned.
Instead of hailing the efforts to connect the dots, the media demonize those who are trying to protect us and portray the tools that uncover clues to plots as “spying on innocent Americans.” When a plot is successfully rolled up, the media minimize it.
When the FBI foiled a plot to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport in June 2007, the New York Times buried the story on page A37 of its final edition. In the dream world of the editors of the New York Times, such threats to America are far less important than the fact that 75-year-old Andrea Mosconi has a job of playing violins in a museum in Italy to keep them in shape, a feature which the Times played on page one the same day.
The media have even managed to portray Saddam Hussein as relatively benign. But as revealed in “The Terrorist Watch,” in seven months of secret debriefings, Saddam admitted to FBI agent George Piro that he planned to resume his weapons of mass destruction program — including developing nuclear weapons — within a year.
Many in the media could not bear to hear that Bush might have been at least partially right about Saddam, and few newspapers reported the story.
When the media and politicians run out of ways to deny credit to Bush for making us safer, they will claim that al-Qaida has chosen to space out its attacks. But al-Qaida’s attempt to blow up nine American airliners crossing the Atlantic in 2006 and the alleged role of an al-Qaida affiliate in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto are reminders that al-Qaida is constantly on the attack.
While the media underplay the threats, distort descriptions of the measures needed to uncover the next plot, and mischaracterize the progress in the war on terror, they also undermine it by revealing secrets of how the FBI and CIA are trying to stop the next attack. If the media revealed real abuses, they would be justified in exposing them, but that has not been the case. Since 9/11, the courts and Congress have allowed all of the Bush programs for uncovering terrorists to continue.
Calling the media disclosures “devastating,” Fran Townsend, who leaves this week as chief of the White House counterterrorism efforts, told me, “It’s not just a question of you’re putting individuals at risk. The real risk is to the lives of Americans who may suffer an attack because we couldn’t stop it, because the source was taken out.”
Without a reliable way to get information about this secret war, Americans are at the mercy of the media’s slanted portrayal.
Referring to President Bush, Chris Matthews said to Rudy Giuliani recently on MSNBC, “When he was in New York at Ground Zero in his most memorable statement ever, he said we`re going to get the people who knock down these buildings ... How many years do you think the American people should wait for our president to make good on his promise to get the guys who killed 3,000 Americans? This guy [Osama bin Laden] is apparently in Pakistan, and we haven’t done it. Are you satisfied with this?”
In fact, with the exception of bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, who are isolated, nearly all the al-Qaida operatives responsible for the 9/11 attack have been killed or captured.
Contrary to Matthews’ insinuation and to the New York Times’ Dec. 31 editorial assertion that Bush’s policies “have not made any of us safer,” the war on terror has been an astounding success. But that success has led many Americans to become complacent.
As a result, in the 2008 presidential election, we face a critical choice: Given that al-Qaida is intent on wiping out the U.S. with nuclear weapons, as FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has told me, do we continue on the offensive, dealing with threats before they materialize, or do we return to the pre-9/11 approach?
Back then, because of politically correct rules imposed by the Clinton administration, FBI agents were not allowed to follow suspects into mosques that are open to the public. CIA officers had to get special permission to recruit sources with so-called human rights violations. FBI agents could not look at public online chat rooms to develop leads on people who might be recruiting terrorists or distributing information on making explosives.
If NSA intercepted a call from bin Laden to an operative in New York about detonating a nuclear device the next day, the FBI was not allowed to see a transcript of the call because no warrant had been obtained in advance.
Already, politicians are trying to roll back the clock and take away tools necessary not only to connect the dots, but to find them in the first place. In fact, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last August voted against revising the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow NSA to continue to monitor calls by foreign terrorists without a warrant even if all parties are situated overseas.
In an example of that same short-sightedness, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards claimed that the war on terror is not a strategy to make America safer. Rather, it’s a political slogan or “bumper sticker” used by the Bush administration to cover up its mistakes.
“Remember that old Edmund Burke quote,” Republican candidate Mitt Romney responded. “‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ And that, I am afraid, is the boiled-down version of what John Edwards said—that good men should do nothing. Put their head in the sand and hope it all goes away.”
“When you go so far as to suggest that the global war on terror is a bumper sticker or slogan, it kind of makes the point that I’ve been making over and over again that the Democrats or at least some of them are in denial…” Giuliani said.
Contrary to John Edwards’ take, the lesson of the 1990s when terrorists first attacked the World Trade Center and attacked American embassies in Africa and the USS Cole is, “We just didn’t take it seriously enough,” Senator Joe Lieberman, also a Democrat, has told me.
Asked how he feels about attacks by Democrats on measures like the Patriot Act and programs like the NSA intercepts to help track and apprehend terrorists, Lieberman says he is “disappointed” because “my colleagues for various reasons — some ideological, some political — are missing this threat to us.”
Those on the front lines of the war on terror know exactly what is at stake. “You make a mistake, there are dead people,” Art Cummings says. When I interviewed Bush with other journalists in September, the president made it clear that he will never back down. As we enter a new year, the question for all of us is: Will we?