‘The Terrorist Watch’ by Ronald Kessler

Ronald Kessler has written an extremely important book, The Terrorist Watch, that discloses the inside story of the War on Terrorism. He takes a complex subject full of long functional names, leading the reader to relatively easy comprehension. He has exposed the incredibly difficult counterterrorism job of protecting this nation from Islamic extremists. This book was very difficult to write, but Kessler has humanized the people of the FBI and CIA by telling their personal stories as part of the massive efforts they undertook that overhauled our defenses from September 11, 2001, to today. There has not been a successful al Qaeda attack on American soil since 9/11. And these folks are entitled to our praise for their fine work. Along the way, Kessler reveals the distortions and harm that the left-leaning media, especially the New York Times and Washington Post, have done to the nation’s efforts to protect our citizens.

Mr. Kessler performed the difficult task of providing a documented and readable history of the 7-year period starting in 2000, but he reached back in history when the circumstances required. There are no footnotes, but the work retains an academic documented quality by providing prolific quotes from interviews of the approximately 50 government employees Kessler interviewed to bring the story together.

Almost fiction-like, the author starts the book with a Prologue, which brings the reader into the world of counterintelligence as it is today. He displays the immense power and cooperation between agencies that is being brought to bear now. Then he steps back in time and in conjunction with cases in progress involving infamous names like Khalid Sheik Mohammad, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaydah, and others, he introduces the major stumbling blocks facing the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies that existed from 2001.

A most significant stumbling block in 2001 was the artificial legal “Chinese Wall” in place at each criminal investigative agency to isolate the crime enforcement personnel of the agency from the intelligence personnel. Kessler does a good job of explaining how that procedure came into being. It isn’t simple to explain, but he does a good job. An attorney in the FBI Office of Intelligence Policy Review (OIPR) came up with the idea of using the mechanism of the Chinese Wall to be extra sure that a criminal indictment was never thrown out because the prosecutor had used the information to make his criminal case where that information had been obtained under an investigation authorized under the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA). This Wall procedure required the FBI to maintain separate files for Intelligence Investigations and Criminal Investigations and disallowed the Criminal prosecutor’s access to Intelligence files. This fear of overturn arose because evidence obtained in foreign electronic interception of a communication that originates outside the US is not necessarily subject to the same Constitutional requirements for a search warrant as is an interception (search) in the US of a US person.

The above paragraph explains the problem to be addressed by the “Chinese Wall.” However, it is understandable that most non-lawyers will still be confused. The Chinese wall mechanism is a well-known procedure in many other legal situations. However, the above paragraph defined the nature of the issue. Even more burdensome was the fact that there were rules set in place by the OIPR to handle exceptions. These rules were extraordinarily complex and were not generally understood by the OIPR attorneys. Further, OIPR put out the word that anyone who violated the rules was going to be disciplined. So, as is the usual case with human beings, everyone in the agency opted to take the easy way out. The FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies have adopted the practice of never permitting criminal prosecutors or intelligence investigators to see other investigators’ files. Although this was an unwisely set interpretation by Attorney General Janet Reno and, therefore, was only applicable to the FBI and the Justice Department, it eventually was adopted by the CIA as well. This “Chinese Wall” problem explains why the FBI was unaware that the CIA had intercepted several al Qaeda transmissions that might have related to the 9/11 plot, including a message on 9/10/01 that stated, “Tomorrow is zero days.” None of that information was shared with the FBI.

Immediately after the 9/11/01 bombing, President Bush asked for an investigation of the “Wall” problem, which showed that no Court had ever thrown out a case because of the feared mixing of information. Unfortunately, the OIPR had adopted an overkill solution that was too complex for the problem, and the workaround was too easy. The “risk avoidance” or CYA solution was predictable. Every manager needs to be on guard because every perceived possible future problem is not necessarily a real problem, or the fix, as here, can be worse than the problem. FBI Director Mueller immediately withdrew the “Wall” requirement, and Congress specifically removed any wall requirement from the Patriot Act in 2003. As an aside, the Patriot Act amendment kicked off major left-leaning media objections to the alleged expansion of governmental power and potential violations of the civil rights of American citizens.

The FBI and CIA, immediately after 9/11/01, with President Bush’s full support, attacked its other problems, including its incredibly outdated computer record systems, diminished morale at the CIA because of President Clinton’s de-emphasis on counterterrorism, and inadequate human intelligence at the CIA.

Kessler provides the entire engaging story relating to the reliance by Secretary of State Powell on information from German intelligence in preparing his speech to the UN in which he asserted that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Powell refused to use US-generated intelligence information and independently reached the same conclusion. Ultimately, the Iraqi source that had provided intel to German Intelligence was much later proven to be unreliable. He turned out to be a lower-level Iraqi employee in the Saddam nuclear program who was seeking asylum in Germany. Again, the left media accused General Powell and the Bush Administration of intentionally lying in the run-up to the Iraq war about Saddam’s possession of WMD.

The real facts underlying the Washington Post story of Dana Priest relate to alleged thousands of CIA prisoners being held in secret prisons around the world to enable the CIA to torture prisoners. This story earned her a Pulitzer Prize and caused many European nations to cease cooperating with the US in Afghanistan. The facts were that there were no secret prisons, and fewer than 100 prisoners had been rendered to anti-terrorist agencies of countries cooperating with the US in the war on terror. Also, many of those prisoners originated in those countries.

Kessler also related the embarrassing story about Brandon Mayfield. Brandon was a US attorney, a recent convert to Islam, who had given funds indirectly to Hamas. His fingerprint had shown up on a plastic bag discovered in the Spanish train bombing, and he was planning a trip to Barcelona. Multiple experts had confirmed the fingerprint match. Brandon was arrested, but there were no other links. Ultimately, in a raid on the terrorist hideout in Spain, the Jihadists blew themselves up to escape capture, and the authorities found a finger, the print of which perfectly matched the plastic bag print. Mayfield got a $2M settlement, and the FBI imposed a higher standard requiring greater assurance on a fingerprint match.

There are many more interesting stories, including the identity leak of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. Although this investigation led to the conviction of Vice President Chaney’s deputy for lying to the FBI, in the end, Richard Armitage, the ex-Deputy Sec. of State, a critic of the Bush Administration, was revealed to be the leak to Robert Novak. Although both the Washington Post and NYT were on a daily rampage to show Chaney was the source of the Plame link, when the true identity of the leaker broke, the Washington Post ran it on Page 6, and the NYT ran it on Page 12. I find both those papers disgusting.

This book describes several investigations in minute detail. The manpower and resources it takes to gather all the facts about the alleged actors and the potential links of their brothers, sisters, friends, travelers, schools, etc., mushrooms gigantically. Every day, the investigators evaluate the risk of the advancement of the plot to the point where the continuation of the investigation risks injury to citizens and property. Sometimes, where an investigation is centered abroad, and there are domestic actors linked to the plot, when we are warned by the foreign agency that it is going to roll up the plot in their country, the US must make the decision if it is better to place the US actors under 24/7 surveillance to see their response to the foreign arrest or to arrest them. How and where they respond when the branch of their plot is arrested is frequently revealing of the cell.

Homegrown US terrorists are a new concern. Several networks have already been rolled up involving prison-grown networks of Islamic extremists with serious plans of bombing and destruction. Fortunately, these groups have not been sophisticated so far.

The public is aware of only the tip of the counter-terror iceberg. In 2007, there were 60-70 terror plots in the US being investigated every day. The Threat Matrix involving these threats is evaluated every morning in the NCTC at 8:00 AM. Vice Admiral Redd, NCTC, with his small group of representatives from all the security agencies, prepares a list of 25-30, which is further reduced to 10-20. These are brought into the daily video conference involving the President, Nat. Security Council, DHS, and Nat. Intelligence Director. In 2004 alone, the Justice Department reported 379 convictions related to terrorism.

The NCTC is a 10,000 sq. ft. facility built like a TV network control center with 32 large screens and 350 computer stations. They operate a web page for 5000 worldwide intelligence analysts. They control the no-fly list and are available for instant communication country-wide access from police, customs, or immigration officers having a suspicious incident involving a terror risk. Someone on the no-fly list can be held for a surveillance interview if stopped for a traffic violation. There are 400,000 names on the NCTC list of terrorist entities.

Kessler points out that a major concern of all our counter-terror officials is the demoralizing effect of the attacks by the left-leaning media. The effectiveness of terror investigations depends to a great degree on the assistance and cooperation of the public. If the left successfully engenders suspicion of the counter efforts, it will further damage our security. At the current level, even though less than 1% of the open tips actually have led to a terrorist, they are a valuable eye on the ground that has been extremely important, especially regarding the new homegrown Jihadist threat.

The Terrorist Watch is a MUST-READ for all Americans. It contains stories of hundreds of specific events, arrests, and convictions and hundreds of details that could not be mentioned in this report

©2024. Amil Imani. All rights reserved.

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