L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 177, June 10, 2002
Special to TLE
We have another revelation now about the state of governmental knowledge or maybe-knowledge of impending terrorist attacks prior to September 11.
According to a Knight-Ridder report, the National Security Agency (NSA) supposedly listened in to "telephone conversations before September 11 between the suspected commander of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and the alleged chief hijacker, but did not share the information with other intelligence agencies, U.S. officials said Thursday.
"The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the conversations between Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Mohammed Atta were intercepted by the National Security Agency, or NSA, an intelligence agency that monitors and decodes foreign communications.
"The NSA failed to share the intercepts with the CIA or other U.S. intelligence agencies, the officials told Knight Ridder. It also failed to promptly translate some intercepted Arabic language conversations, a senior intelligence official said.
"The officials declined to disclose the nature of the discussions between Mohammed, a known leader of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network who is on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list, and Atta, who piloted one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is believed to be hiding in Pakistan."
But another NSA official, "speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was 'simply not true' that the NSA monitored the conversations and failed to share the information with other intelligence agencies." (Does that mean that they monitored the conversations and did disclose the info, or did not monitor the conversations?)
Okay okay. The NSA listens in to so many phone calls that how can they possibly even catalog them all, let alone spend time translating terrorist Arabic. Give them a break.
But it's getting more and more confusing by the day. What exactly did sundry personages in the government know and when did they know it?
We also hear now that ringleader Mohamed Atta applied for a loan from the government -- which he apparently expected to be turned over to him on the spot in a bag of cash. Johnelle Bryant, a loan officer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told ABC's Brian Ross that Atta was very creepy and terrorist-looking.
His eyes were "very scary," she related.
However, terrorist don't have "a big 'T' on their forehead" when they come to the U.S., Bryant noted.
She also said that the scary-looking guy (who stressed that his name was pronounced like the "atta" of "atta boy!") "asked me what would prevent him from going behind my desk and cutting my throat and making off with the millions of dollars in that safe," and that he wanted to buy a picture that showed the location of the Pentagon and the White House.
She said that when she would not sell the picture to him, "His look on his face became very bitter....I believe he said, 'How would America like it if another country destroyed that city and some of the monuments in it,' like the cities in his country had been destroyed?"
No alarm bells rang. She didn't call anybody to say, "Hey, this scary- looking guy who wanted a bag of money to get a crop-duster said something about cutting my throat and destroying the nation's capital."
But it's easy to second-guess poor Ms. Bryant now, who probably has not been sleeping well for the last nine months. To be fair, there are many bitter people everywhere and some of them say lots of nasty but harmless things. You can't be running to the cops every time somebody voices a resentment or sketches a hypothetical scenario. Siblings scream "I'll kill you!" to other siblings all the time (mine did, regularly; but they just would never follow through), and not all of the dang kids can be arraigned on charges.
In any case, Bryant deserves credit for coming forward to tell her story at long last despite the ass-covering orders of her bosses at the Department of Agriculture.
Soon after September 11 we learned that the oddball behavior of the terrorist plotters had left plenty of clues to their intentions not only all over America but all over the world. The terrorists probably outlined their plans on game shows and "Oprah." When asked why they were purchasing so many box-cutters, they doubtless explained, "Oh, to cut throats of airline passengers," as the guy at the Ryder counter nodded and grinned.
Next time somebody screeches, "All Americans deserve to die, and let me put those ten nuclear bombs on my tab," maybe we'll realize, yeah, something's not quite right here. ...
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