Last week, during a question-and-answer session following a speech he delivered in San Francisco, Attorney General Michael Mukasey revealed a startling and extremely newsworthy fact. As I wrote last Saturday, Mukasey claimed that, prior to 9/11, the Bush administration was aware of a telephone call being made by an Al Qaeda Terrorist from what he called a "safe house in Afghanistan" into the U.S., but failed to eavesdrop on that call. Some help is needed from readers here to generate the attention for this story that it requires.
In that speech, Mukasey blamed FISA's warrant requirement for the failure to eavesdrop on that call -- an assertion which is, for multiple reasons that I detailed in that post, completely false. He then tearfully claimed that FISA therefore caused the deaths of "three thousand people who went to work that day." For obvious reasons, the Attorney General's FISA falsehoods themselves are extremely newsworthy, but it is the story he told about the pre-9/11-planning call from Afghanistan itself that is truly new, and truly extraordinary.
Critically, the 9/11 Commission Report -- intended to be a comprehensive account of all relevant pre-9/11 activities -- makes no mention whatsoever of the episode Mukasey described. What has been long publicly reported in great detail are multiple calls that were made between a global communications hub in Yemen and the U.S. -- calls which the NSA did intercept without warrants (because, contrary to Mukasey's lie, FISA does not and never did require a warrant for eavesdropping on foreign targets) but which, for some unknown reason, the NSA failed to share with the FBI and other agencies. But the critical pre-9/11 episode Mukasey described last week is nowhere to be found in the 9/11 Report or anywhere else. It just does not exist.
Yesterday, I contacted Lee Hamilton, the 9/11 Commission Vice Chairman, to ask him whether the Commission was ever told about Mukasey's alleged Afghan Terrorist 9/11-planning telephone calls and/or the Bush administration's failure/inability to eavesdrop on such calls. Hamilton refused to comment, first claiming that he was in meetings all day yesterday and had no time to talk to me. When asked if he would comment today or whenever he had time, he said he was not going to comment on this ever, since he had not read Mukasey's speech. Calls to 9/11 Executive Director Philip Zelikow seeking comment were not returned and 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean could not yet be reached.
It's unacceptable for Hamilton to refuse to comment on Mukasey's claims. The whole purpose of the 9/11 Commission was to ensure that there was full-scale investigation and disclosure of all facts relevant to the 9/11 attacks, including the Government's actions and inactions in preventing that attack from occurring.
If the Attorney General of the United States, out of the blue, makes an extraordinary and new assertion in a public speech about an easy opportunity the Bush administration had to detect those attacks -- an opportunity he claims was lost because of eavesdropping laws -- Hamilton ought to say whether the Commission was ever told about this incident and/or whether Mukasey is telling the truth. Preventing high government officials from lying about the 9/11 attacks or exposing concealment of key 9/11 facts is his obligation as Vice Chairman of the Commission. Some type of comment from 9/11 Commission officials on Mukasey's claims is vital for generating further attention to this story and for compelling Mukasey to account for what he said.
Hamilton is currently the President and Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and director of The Center on Congress at Indiana University. Please email him at the address below, politely set forth the extraordinary claims the Attorney General just made about the 9/11 attacks (with citations to media sources about the speech -- including here, here, and here), and urge him to fulfill his obligation as 9/11 Commission Vice Chair by confirming whether Mukasey's revelations are true and/or were disclosed to the Commission during its investigation: Lee.firstname.lastname@example.org.
This isn't just a matter of academic and historical interest about the 9/11 attacks, although it is that. One of two things almost certainly happened here, each of which is of great importance. Either Mukasey is lying about the 9/11 attacks in order to manipulate Americans into believing that FISA's warrant requirements are what prevented discovery of the 9/11 attacks and caused 3,000 American deaths -- a completely disgusting act by the Attorney General which obviously cannot be ignored. Or, Mukasey has just revealed the most damning fact yet about the Bush's administration's ability and failure to have prevented the attacks -- facts that, until now, were apparently concealed from the 9/11 Commission and the public.
Since I wrote about this on Saturday, there has been some slowly evolving media attention paid to it. On Monday, I discussed the story on the radio with Rachel Maddow who, as always, grasped completely its importance. The following night, she was on Countdown with Keith Olbermman, which had a lengthy and detailed segment, highlighting all of the right questions (video below). Raw Story compiled a very thorough article with the key facts, and the top Daily Kos post this morning does the same.
The great significance of this story -- that Mukasey either completely fabricated a key 9/11 event or just revealed a heretofore unknown 9/11 bombshell -- is self-evident and made clear by these growing accounts. Having Hamilton, Kean and/or Zelikow comment on the veracity of Mukasey's claims about the 9/11 attacks -- as they ought to do -- is vital for advancing the story.
UPDATE: Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission Executive Director (and former Counselor to Condolleeza Rice), obviously has no idea what Mukasey is talking about, as he replies by email (ellipses in original):
Not sure of course what the AG had in mind, although the most important signals intelligence leads related to our report -- that related to the Hazmi-Mihdhar issues of January 2000 or to al Qaeda activities or transits connected to Iran -- was not of this character. If, as he says, the USG didn't know where the call went in the US, neither did we. So unless we had some reason to link this information to the 9/11 story ....
In general, as with several covert action issues for instance, the Commission sought (and succeeded) in publishing details about sensitive intelligence matters where the details were material to the investigative mandate in our law.
That's polite Beltway talk for saying that nothing like what Mukasey described actually happened. Does anyone on TV other than Keith Olbermann care that the Attorney General of the United States just invented a critical episode about 9/11 that never actually happened -- tearing up as he did it -- in order to scare Americans into supporting the administration's desired elimination of spying restrictions and blame FISA supporters for the 9/11 attacks? We still ought to hear from Hamilton and/or Kean.
UPDATE II: I'll be on Rachel Maddow's show at 7:30 p.m. EST today to discuss these developments. Local listings and live audio feed are here.
At Daily Kos, McJoan -- who wrote about this matter today here -- has written about it again, and included contact information for key members of Congress to demand that Mukasey be compelled to account for his 9/11 claims, preferably under oath.
The reason this story has the potential to be significant is because it's easy to understand -- Mukasey's story is either true or false -- and, more importantly, nothing like it happened. He can't claim that he just misspoke or was confused because not only was there no such call from Afghanistan (at least according to everything that is known, including by the 9/11 Commission's version), but FISA could never possibly have prevented interception of any calls remotely like the one Mukasey described.
He just made this up out of whole cloth in order to mislead Americans into supporting the administration's efforts to eliminate spying safeguards and basic constitutional liberties and to stifle the pending surveillance lawsuits against telecoms. That isn't hard for anyone -- even including those who play the role of journalists on TV -- to understand and convey.
Finally, numerous people have sent me their emails to Lee Hamilton, who still hasn't commented or responded. If he doesn't soon, I think mass (though civil) calling of his office will be in order. I don't think he has the option of simply remaining quiet when the Attorney General makes a statement of this sort about the 9/11 attacks.
UPDATE III: With the help of readers, I was able to find and get in contact with Tom Kean's office, who asked that an email be sent to him requesting comment. The email I sent is here, along with the email I sent to the DOJ (at their request) asking for comment from Mukasey.
Dan Gilmor of the Center for Citizen Media -- affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University Law School -- has posted a superb piece on this matter, focusing on what it reflects about establishment press behavior. The whole thing is worth reading (Correction: Center for Citizen Media is now affiliated with Arizona State University and Harvard's Berkman Center, and no longer with Berkeley).
UPDATE IV: House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, along with two Subcommittee Chairs, just sent a letter to Michael Mukasey demanding answers to all the right questions about his 9/11 claims as well as the bizarre (though unsurprising) reference in the Yoo Memorandum to the suspension of the Fourth Amendment inside the U.S. That letter will need to be followed up with action, but it's a good start.
UPDATE V: The DOJ replies to my email referenced above, here.