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The National Security Agency was conducting massive unconstitutional surveillance efforts before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, according to a top telecom executive.
Joe Nacchio, the former CEO of the defunct telecom Qwest, made the allegations along with his lawyers in a federal court in Denver in 2007. NSA officials asked Qwest to participate in a warrantless wiretapping program that the telecom’s lawyers believed was illegal in February 2001, six months before Sept. 11, court transcripts reveal. The court transcripts were the basis of a Denver Post article published on Oct. 21, 2007.
The transcripts were of Nacchio’s trial for insider trading, which ended up revealing a lot more. At the trial, Nacchio maintained that the federal government punished his company for not participating in the surveillance program by not rewarding it secret federal contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And we now know, as we have reported previously, that federal agencies are now amassing databases that rival even the NSA’s.
So, to the first question: What did NSA know prior to September 11th? Sadly, NSA had no SIGINT suggesting that al-Qa'ida was specifically targeting New York and Washington, D.C., or even that it was planning an attack on U.S. soil. Indeed, NSA had no knowledge before September 11th that any of the attackers were in the United States. 9. I have briefed the committees on one area where our performance in retrospect could have been better. Ms. Hill referred to this in her September 20, 2002 testimony: "Unbeknownst to the CIA, another arm of the intelligence community, the NSA, had information associating Nawaf al-Hazmi with the Bin Laden network. NSA did not immediately disseminate that information, although it was in NSA's database." This was not some culturally based "failure to share."
As you know, one of our "value added" activities is sorting through vast quantities of data and sharing that which is relevant, in a usable format, with appropriate consumers. In this case, we did not disseminate information we received in early 1999 that was unexceptional in its content except that it associated the name of Nawaf al-Hazmi with al-Qa'ida. This is not to say that we did not know of and report on him and other individuals. We did. In early 2000, at the time of the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, we had the al-Hazmi brothers, Nawaf and Salim, as well as Khalid al-Mihdhar, in our sight. We knew of their association with al Qa'ida, and we shared this information with the community. I've looked at this closely. If we had handled all of the above perfectly, the only new fact that we could have contributed at the time of Kuala Lumpur was that Nawaf's surname (and perhaps that of Salim, who appeared to be Nawaf's brother) was al-Hazmi.
There is one other area in our pre-September 11th performance that has attracted a great deal of public attention. In the hours just prior to the attacks, NSA did obtain two pieces of information suggesting that individuals with terrorist connections believed something significant would happen on September 11th . This information did not specifically indicate an attack would take place on that day. It did not contain any details on the time, place, or nature of what might happen. It also contained no suggestion of airplanes being used as weapons. Because of the processing involved, we were unable to report the information until September 12th.
There seems to be confusion regarding NSA's domestic surveillance. According to the above web article, NSA was participating in massive domestic spying, while this article reports no domestic surveillance was in place. Which is it?
In defending the NSA’s sweeping collection of Americans’ phone call records, Obama administration officials have repeatedly pointed out how it could have helped thwart the 9/11 attacks: If only the surveillance program been in place before Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. authorities would have been able to identify one of the future hijackers who was living in San Diego.
Remains secret! Just like Bush and Cheney's testimony...secret, unsworn, and with no transcripts.
It is impossible to know for certain whether screening phone records would have stopped the attacks -- the program didn’t exist at the time. It’s also not clear whether the program would have given the NSA abilities it didn’t already possess with respect to the case. Details of the current program and as well as NSA’s role in intelligence gathering around the 9/11 plots remain secret.
Again, which is it? Was NSA conducting domestic spying or not? Indeed, they were.
...the Obama administration’s invocation of the Mihdhar case echoes a nearly identical argument made by the Bush administration eight years ago when it defended the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program.
The NSA had in early 2000 analyzed communications between a person named “Khaled” and “a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East,” according to this account. But, crucially, the intelligence community “did not determine the location from which they had been made.” In other words, the report suggests, the NSA actually picked up the content of the communications between Mihdhar and the “Yemen safe house” but was not able to figure out who was calling or even the phone number he was calling from.
Did NSA not possess the ability to track these communications?
“[Y]ou should not assume that the NSA was then able to determine, from the contents of communications, the originating phone number or IP address of an incoming communication to that place in Yemen,” said Philip Zelikow, who was executive director of the 9/11 Commission, in an email to ProPublica. “It would depend on the technical details of how the signals were being monitored.”
This seems to contradict the statement above, right?
Intelligence historian Matthew Aid, who wrote the 2009 NSA history Secret Sentry, says that the agency would have had both the technical ability and legal authority to determine the San Diego number that Mihdhar was calling from.
The NSA did not respond to a request for comment.
“Back in 2001 NSA was routinely tracking the identity of both sides of a telephone call,” he told ProPublica.
Failed to track, because they didn't, or they were unable to do so?
There's another wrinkle in the Mihdhar case: In the years after 9/11, media reports also suggested that there were multiple calls that went in the other direction: from the house in Yemen to Mihdhar in San Diego. But the NSA apparently also failed to track where those calls were going.
In 2005, the Los Angeles Times quoted unnamed officials saying the NSA had well-established legal authority before 9/11 to track calls made from the Yemen number to the U.S.
This does not appear accurate at all, after reading multiple sources.
“We didn't know they were here, until it was too late,” Bush said in a December 2005 live radio address from the White House.
NEWSWEEK has learned that while U.S. intelligence received no specific warning, the state of alert had been high during the past two weeks, and a particularly urgent warning may have been received the night before the attacks, causing some top Pentagon brass to cancel a trip.