The Gorelick Wall Redux

The similarities in intelligence and interagency failures that led to both the underwear bomber attack on Christmas Day and the 9/11 attacks are striking. They appear to show a particular myopic mindset among appointees in the administrations of Clinton and Obama. One has to work very hard indeed to avoid noticing those similarities.


You may recall that the lack of interagency communication was identified by the 9/11 Commission as being the direct result of an official policy of the Clinton White House. That policy was most closely identified with Jamie Gorelick. Called the “Gorelick wall,” the policy is widely referred to as the biggest reason 19 Islamic terrorists were able to attack us on 9/11. The policy mandated a separation of criminal investigators and intelligence agents. No sharing of info. Gorelick herself proudly asserted in a Washington Post op-ed that she was the one who had erected that wall between the agencies.

The policy, however, was at best flawed, and in reality disastrous.  A 2004 Wall Street Journal article described it thus:

At issue is the pre-Patriot Act “wall” that prevented communication between intelligence agents and criminal investigators — a wall, Mr. Ashcroft said, that meant “the old national intelligence system in place on September 11 was destined to fail.” The Attorney General explained:

“In the days before September 11, the wall specifically impeded the investigation into Zacarias Moussaoui, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. After the FBI arrested Moussaoui, agents became suspicious of his interest in commercial aircraft and sought approval for a criminal warrant to search his computer. The warrant was rejected because FBI officials feared breaching the wall.

“When the CIA finally told the FBI that al-Midhar and al-Hazmi were in the country in late August, agents in New York searched for the suspects. But because of the wall, FBI headquarters refused to allow criminal investigators who knew the most about the most recent al-Qaeda attack to join the hunt for the suspected terrorists.

“At that time, a frustrated FBI investigator wrote headquarters, quote, ‘Whatever has happened to this — someday someone will die — and wall or not — the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.'”


The bottom line is that, like the Clinton administration, the Obama administration has approached al-Qaeda’s war on us thinking that it could be contained and dealt with in the civilian criminal justice system. We don’t, in other words, need to treat this as a war. We may or may not have returned officially to the Gorelick policy, but we returned to the attitude which gave us the policy when we put Democrats back in charge of the executive branch.

Granted that two data points may not prove a trend, but there’s one more puzzle piece on this line:  9/11 wasn’t the first attack on the World Trade Center. The first one occurred under Bill Clinton in 1993. Starting a war was exactly al-Qaeda’s purpose then. Despite this, Bill Clinton decided to not treat it as a war. Instead, the perpetrators of that attack were considered to be a band of outlaws to be dealt with by our criminal justice system and diplomacy.

The Gorelick wall is directly consistent with that attitude. Clinton hailed the arrest and conviction of the masterminds involved with that 1993 plot and apparently considered it a closed case, ignoring the larger network of thugs still poised and equipped to attack us. The overall feeling projected by the White House was that we didn’t need worry about terrorism anymore, because we’d made an example of the criminals we managed to catch. Certainly this made Clinton’s leftist base feel good and made him popular enough among his base to win a second term. But I daresay that the second World Trade Center attack on 9/11 was the direct result of that mistaken approach and that, obviously, terrorism had not been contained by Clinton’s approach.


The Democrats didn’t learn from that mistake. That point was driven home soundly when President Obama tried to mimic Bill Clinton’s strategy on terrorism, and the results were predictable. The only reason that they didn’t have to pick pieces of plane and people out of the tarmac in Detroit is because the detonator failed.

I don’t deny that the Bush administration made mistakes in many areas in their response to 9/11. They took that different approach post-9/11 because 9/11 proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the radical ideology behind Islamist terrorism could not in fact be contained. It became clear that it had to be defeated. Democrats mouthing sympathies about the individual liberties of those attacking us cannot shield us against car bombs or falling planes, and it seems doubtful they will make those attacking us stop.

While I’m not calling for the willy-nilly elimination of individual rights in the pursuit of security, I, like most Americans, have grown a little bit weary of 80-year-old grandmothers being told they can’t bring toothpaste in their luggage while we completely ignore Islamic radicals already on security watch lists — all in the name of political correctness.  What I’m suggesting is that a reasonable case could be made for “profiling.”


That aside, the larger lesson here is that in trying to avoid a war, both Democrat administrations have succeeded in widening it.  It’s time the Democrats learn that the path to peace is winning the war.

It certainly sounded the other day like Mr. Obama had a change of heart with regards to his policies so far.  He has now openly admitted that the United States, along with the rest of the world, is involved with a war against al-Qaeda.

Well, great, but let’s remember, please, that nobody has ever questioned Mr. Obama’s speaking ability. He has always talked a good game. What Americans on both sides of the aisle have been complaining about bitterly is Obama’s policies on terrorism.  The speech has been made. Now it’s time for him to act. He needs to move away from the policy outlined by Jamie Gorelick.

I wonder, frankly, if we will ever see such a policy reversal before Election Day 2012. Given past history, I doubt it.


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