The Corner

Sandy Burgler

I will be very shocked if it turns out that Berger had criminal intent when he took those documents. But it is worth calling attention to the fact that the “after action” notes and memos were among the most controversial documents relating to the Clinton Administration’s handling of the war on terrorism. The Clintonites insisted that skill and diligence foiled the millennium terror plot. Others have argued it was more like dumb luck. Moreover, the policy prescriptions coming out of that episode were not heeded, according to John Ashcroft. Here’s what Ahscroft said about it in his prepared remarks before the 9/11 Commission:

Finally, the Commission should study carefully the National Security Council plan to disrupt the al Qaeda network in the U.S. that our government failed to implement fully seventeen months before September 11.

The NSC’s Millennium After Action Review declares that the United States barely missed major terrorist attacks in 1999 — with luck playing a major role. Among the many vulnerabilities in homeland defenses identified, the Justice Department’s surveillance and FISA operations were specifically criticized for their glaring weaknesses. It is clear from the review that actions taken in the Millennium Period should not be the operating model for the U.S. government.

In March 2000, the review warns the prior Administration of a substantial al Qaeda network and affiliated foreign terrorist presence within the U.S., capable of supporting additional terrorist attacks here.

Furthermore, fully seventeen months before the September 11 attacks, the review recommends disrupting the al Qaeda network and terrorist presence here using immigration violations, minor criminal infractions, and tougher visa and border controls.

These are the same aggressive, often criticized law enforcement tactics we have unleashed for 31 months to stop another al Qaeda attack. These are the same tough tactics we deployed to catch Ali al- Marri, who was sent here by al Qaeda on September 10, 2001, to facilitate a second wave of terrorist attacks on Americans.

Despite the warnings and the clear vulnerabilities identified by the NSC in 2000, no new disruption strategy to attack the al Qaeda network within the United States was deployed. It was ignored in the Department’s five-year counterterrorism strategy.

I did not see the highly-classified review before September 11. It was not among the 30 items upon which my predecessor briefed me during the transition. It was not advocated as a disruption strategy to me during the summer threat period by the NSC staff which wrote the review more than a year earlier.

I certainly cannot say why the blueprint for security was not followed in 2000. I do know from my personal experience that those who take the kind of tough measures called for in the plan will feel the heat. I’ve been there; I’ve done that. So the sense of urgency simply may not have overcome concern about the outcry and criticism which follows such tough tactics.

I am aware that the issues I have raised this afternoon involve at times painful introspection for this Commission and for the nation. I have spoken out today not to add to the nation’s considerable stock of pain, but to heal our wounds. This Commission’s heavy burden — to probe the causes of September 11 — demands that the record be complete. Our nation’s heavy burden — to learn from the mistakes of our past — demands that this Commission seeks the whole truth.

May this Commission be successful in its mission. And may we learn well the lessons of history.

I thank members of the Commission for their service and for the opportunity to testify today.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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