Why We Need the Patriot Act

You’ve probably already heard that Zacarias Moussaoui testified today that he and shoe-bomber Richard Reid had intended to hijack a fifth airplane on September 11, 2001, and fly it into the White House. That part of the plot was ostensibly foiled by Moussaoui’s arrest in August.

Well, maybe. Reid didn’t try to come to the U.S. until October, but maybe he would have flown over sooner had Moussaoui not been arrested. We may never know exactly what al Qaeda had in mind for Moussaoui–in fact, he may not know–but it is entirely possible that he was supposed to be part of the Sept. 11 attacks.

More interesting to me, frankly, was the testimony of a “senior figure in the CIA’s Laden unit” identified only as “John”:

[T]he court heard testimony that two months before the attacks a CIA deputy chief waited in vain for permission to tell the FBI about a “very high interest” al-Qaida operative who became one of the hijackers.

The official, a senior figure in the CIA’s Laden unit, said he sought authorization on July 13, 2001, to send information to the FBI but got no response for 10 days, then asked again.

As it turned out, the information on Khalid al-Mihdhar did not reach the FBI until late August. At the time, CIA officers needed permission from a special unit before passing certain intelligence on to the FBI.

[John's] testimony included an e-mail sent by FBI supervisor Michael Maltbie discussing Moussaoui but playing down his terrorist connections. Maltbie’s e-mail said “there’s no indication that (Moussaoui) had plans for any nefarious activity.”

He sent that e-mail to the CIA even after receiving a lengthy memo from the FBI agent who arrested Moussaoui and suspected him of being a terrorist with plans to hijack aircraft.

September 11 presumably cured the obtuseness of the FBI supervisor who didn’t take Moussaoui seriously, but it’s only the Patriot Act that allows full communication between domestic law enforcement agencies and the CIA. Thank goodness the Democrats didn’t succeed in killing the Patriot Act, as Harry Reid once boasted.

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