Sunday :: Aug 8, 2004

Bush Has Known About Al Qaeda East Coast Surveillance Since At Least March 2003


by Steve

Sometimes in researching a story on a slightly-related topic, something jumps out at you that blows apart the Bush Administration’s claims that politics does not run their anti-terrorism policies. Basically, when you are done reading this, you realize that Bush burned an intelligence source when he may not have had to.

You’ll remember that last week, in defending himself against charges that the heightened terror alert warning was politically timed to defuse momentum by John Kerry and John Edwards coming out of the Democratic National Convention, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge claimed that the warning was based not based on politics, but rather newly-obtained evidence over the last few weeks. This recently-obtained evidence, Ridge claimed, had come to the United States through the arrest of Al Qaeda operatives overseas in July, which indicated that Al Qaeda operatives were casing out buildings and other landmarks primarily on the East Coast. When it was subsequently revealed that this evidence was years old, Ridge and the White House defended the issuance of this warning last week by saying they had only recently obtained this evidence, and therefore were coming out with the warning.

Except it now turns out that John Ashcroft’s Justice Department had in its possession as far back as March 2003 video evidence of Al Qaeda casing out landmarks here in the US.

How do we know this? Some quick background is in order. Remember the AP story I linked to earlier this afternoon about the Detroit prosecutors who claim that Ashcroft and his cronies in Washington undermined their prosecution in Detroit of four terror suspects in March-April 2003? During the trial itself, the government introduced evidence of videos taken by the suspects of Disneyland and Las Vegas casinos. But according to the AP story this afternoon, based on Justice documents and files unearthed by the AP recently, the Detroit prosecutors found out a week before the trial that the Spanish authorities broke up an Al Qaeda ring in their country in 2002. During those raids, the Spanish came across a similar video, dating back to 1999 that showed Al Qaeda operatives casing out our landmarks here in the USA. According to the AP story this afternoon, the Detroit prosecutors wanted to introduce this video evidence from the Spanish and tie it to their suspects in Detroit, but were kept from doing so by an overly bureaucratic Justice Department back in Washington.

If you read closely the AP story posted this afternoon you come across this startling passage:

In another example, prosecutors obtained a videotape showing that an al-Qaida cell broken up by Spanish authorities in 2002 in Madrid had video surveillance of the same American landmarks that were found on a video with the Detroit cell.

The Spanish and Detroit tapes, obtained by the AP, show surveillance of casinos in Las Vegas, various landmarks in New York, including the World Trade Center, and Disneyland in California. Both tapes showed nearly identical footage of security, information on how cars could access the landmarks, and other footage that could be useful for staging an attack.

The Spanish tape, which dated to 1997, included "footage of several potential targets of al Qaida" and was later carried via courier to al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan, according to Spanish documents provided to U.S. authorities.

Prosecutors obtained the Spanish footage from a Justice Department terrorism expert just weeks before the trial and even created several slides that would identify for jurors the numerous similarities between the Detroit and Madrid videos.

"The Detroit cell and the Spanish tapes identify three identical targets for surveillance," said one of the slides, which jurors never saw. A different slide said the two tapes follow the al-Qaida training manual because "surveillance is inserted into seemingly innocent tourist videos."

The Spanish tapes show an al-Qaida operative panning the World Trade Center and shooting the skyline that the eventual Sept. 11 hijackers used to fly their planes into the towers. The operative even puts his arm around a famous statute outside the towers as well as around the statue of a bull near Wall Street.

Prosecutors were told by superiors they could not introduce the Spanish tape unless they went through a lengthy bureaucratic process, known as the Letters Rogatory, that establishes chain of custody for foreign evidence.

The process would take months to complete through diplomatic channels. With just weeks before the trial and no willingness in Washington to delay the trial, prosecutors abandoned the evidence, Convertino said. That meant the Detroit tape was introduced at trial in isolation, with jurors given no chance to see how closely it resembled a tape U.S. officials knew had reached al-Qaida's leadership.

So John Ashcroft’s terrorism expert at the Justice Department had a tape at least as early as March 2003, from the Spanish, that showed Al Qaeda video surveillance of US landmark sites and buildings. Our allies the Spanish had this tape since their raid in 2002, so it is safe to conclude that sometime between the 2002 Madrid raid and the Detroit trial in March 2003 someone in our national security infrastructure, namely the CIA, Condi Rice’s NSC, the Pentagon, or even Ashcroft also had the Spanish tape showing Al Qaeda video surveillance of our landmark buildings.

Yet Tom Ridge told all of us last week that the reason he only came out with the terror warning now was because we had only recently obtained new and specific evidence, some of it video evidence of Al Qaeda surveillance of our landmark buildings, and that this terror warning had nothing to do with the Democratic National Convention.

It doesn’t help that the Brits don’t agree with how we have handled this incident, and think it may have compromised their efforts. But for Ridge or Bush to claim that the actions taken last week were based on new video evidence about New York targets is plainly wrong. The Bush Administration has had such evidence since at least March 2003, and probably months before that.

But I guess we were too busy invading Iraq that month to care.

Steve :: 6:10 PM :: Comments (12) :: Digg It!