'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Sibel Edmonds and the Use of Airplanes, etc.

Today on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman interviewed Sibel Edmonds a former FBI translator who claims she's seen documents that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the United States had intelligence prior to 9/11 about a terrorist attack involving airplanes. She calls Rice's claims to the contrary "an outrageous lie". Here's Salon on Edmonds:

Edmonds' charge comes when the Bush White House is trying to fend off former counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke's testimony that it did not take serious measures to combat the threat of Islamic terrorism, and al-Qaida specifically, in the months leading up to 9/11.

[ ... ]

She was assigned to the FBI's investigation into Sept. 11 attacks and other counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases, where she translated reams of documents seized by agents who, for the previous year, had been rounding up suspected terrorists.

She says those tapes, often connected to terrorism, money laundering or other criminal activity, provide evidence that should have made apparent that an al- Qaida plot was in the works. Edmonds cannot talk in detail about the tapes publicly because she's been under a Justice Department gag order since 2002.

"President Bush said they had no specific information about Sept. 11, and that's accurate," says Edmonds. "But there was specific information about use of airplanes, that an attack was on the way two or three months beforehand and that several people were already in the country by May of 2001. They should've alerted the people to the threat we're facing."

According to the Democracy Now interview, Edmonds attempted to get a hold of some of the documents she saw via the Freedom of Information Act, stating she "wanted to get them out and make them public", leading to the gag order mentioned in the Salon piece. Ashcroft circumvented the Freedom of Information Act by citing the state secrets privilege:

To prevent disclosure of certain classified and sensitive national security information, Attorney General Ashcroft today asserted the state secrets privilege in Sibel Edmonds v. Department of Justice. [ ... ] The state secrets privilege is well-established in federal law. It has been recognized by U.S. courts as far back as the 19th century, and allows the Executive Branch to safeguard vital information regarding the national security or diplomatic relations. In the past, this privilege has been applied many times to protect our national secrets from disclosure, and to require dismissal of cases when other litigation mechanisms would be inadequate. It is an absolute privilege that renders the information unavailable in litigation

In the Democracy Now interview Edmonds makes the following statement regarding the Justice Department's invocation of the state secrets privilege:

[The Justice Department says] this privilege is very rare and is asserted to prevent certain information from becoming public or hurting diplomatic relations and I would underline this phrase 'diplomatic relations' several times.

It's not legal for her to elaborate on the content of the relevant documents, but this statement is obviously a clue. She seems to be implying the evidence of the eminent terrorist act implicated or was embarrassing to someone important, probably -- I would guess -- a powerful Saudi.

In a related story, I believe Atrios and Xymphora have both recently mentioned that Rice's statement to the effect that no one could guess terrorists would use airplanes as missiles is contradicted by the rumors about an airplane-based assassination attempt on Bush at the G8 conference in Genoa. Well, just to document this point for readers who don't remember the original story, here's a NY Post story from June 2001:

Bin Laden Plots Bush Hit
by Niles Lathem and Allan Hall

June 13, 2001 -- International security forces are working furiously to thwart a plot by Saudi terror master Osama bin Laden to assassinate President Bush and other world leaders at a major economic summit next month. Italian officials say they've been warned by German intelligence services that bin Laden is secretly financing neo-Nazi skinhead groups throughout Europe to commit acts of violence during the summit, sources told The Post.

The attack could also come from the sky in the form of a bizarre James Bond-style strike by remote-control airplanes packed with plastic explosives, Germany's largest newspaper reported yesterday.

The planes would fly into the compound where Bush and the heads of state of major European powers will be meeting at the July 20 G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, the Bild newspaper reported.

Experts said bin Laden's organization is known to have a lot of technical expertise and the airplane attack is not necessarily beyond its capabilities.

Officials at the White House and the U.S. Secret Service, assigned to presidential protection, said they are aware of reports of possible threats to the president during the Genoa trip, but declined further comment.

Counterterrorism sources told The Post last night the plot was uncovered after dozens of suspected Islamic militants linked to bin Laden's Al-Qaeda global terror network were arrested in Frankfurt, Germany, and Milan, Italy, in April.

Italian police are said to be taking the bin Laden threat very seriously.

Government and other terror experts believe bin Laden has been looking for an opportunity to launch another terrorist attack at a high-profile American target - his first since the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen last October.

"I have always believed that he would like to try to attack one of these [G-8] meetings," said Kenneth Katzman, a former CIA analyst now with the Congressional Research Service.

I hadn't remembered that Osama bin Laden had been specifically implicated.

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