This week, during remarks in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell claimed that “weak” wiretapping laws were at fault for the events of September 11, 2001. In his remarks, McConnell said that those planning the attacks were under the radar of law enforcement because they had not broken any laws and there was no probable cause to conduct surveillance.
Does that mean if Mohamed Atta had been caught shoplifting in August of 2001, intelligence agencies would have had him in their sights? Probably not. Both the National Intelligence Estimate and the 9/11 Commission report clearly demonstrate that the information was there – but no one paid attention. And yet DNI McConnell wants to heap more random information on top of what’s already legally collected.
Moreover, it’s come to the attention of The New York Times, National Journal, the Rocky Mountain News and others, that the Bush administration was collaborating with phone companies as early as February 2001 to conduct domestic spying. So it appears that the administration was already circumventing the so-called “weak” wiretapping laws, i.e. the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), months before September 11. Plus, FISA was updated 45 days after September 11 in the ill-conceived Patriot Act.
The fact is that McConnell and the administration are under deadline and are pushing lawmakers harder than ever to make the Protect America Act permanent. The law – which gutted FISA and rubberstamped warrantless wiretapping – was rushed through Congress in August and will expire on February 1. It looks like McConnell has once again resorted to misleading Americans. Chalk one more McConnell fib up on the board.