Thursday, September 22, 2005

Military Knew About Atta a Year Before 9/11

By BART JANSEN Washington D.C. Correspondent,

WASHINGTON — Pentagon researchers linked Sept. 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta to a New York group of al-Qaida terrorists a year before the 2001 attacks, but the military destroyed the evidence after the hijackings, witnesses testified Wednesday. The Defense Department has refused to discuss the intelligence program called "Able Danger" and prohibited those who were involved from testifying at Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The refusal has fueled talk about whether the military could have prevented the attacks.

A Pentagon official acknowledged at the hearing that officials should have shared the information with the FBI if it was gathered in an acceptable manner.

Committee members called the destruction of paperwork a cover-up of missed opportunities. More urgently, lawmakers questioned what other information was destroyed that could have helped prevent future terrorist attacks.

"Terrorism remains the No. 1 problem in the United States today," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. and committee chairman. "It is not a matter of attaching blame, it is a matter of correcting any errors so that we don't have a repetition of 9/11. If there is intelligence available, it ought to be shared."

Atta was the apparent leader of 19 hijackers aboard four planes Sept. 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, killing about 3,000 people. Atta is of great interest in Maine because he and another hijacker passed through Portland International Jetport the morning of the attacks, flying to connections in Boston.

Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., and vice chairman of the Armed Services Committee, sparked the investigation of Able Danger after learning about the secret program through his congressional work. He lost a neighbor and military colleagues in the attacks.

"There's something wrong with the system, and we should be able to discuss that," he said.

Weldon has found five military officials who described seeing Atta among Able Danger records.

One was Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a civilian at the Defense Intelligence Agency and Army reserve officer who tried to pass along warnings to the FBI three times and was rebuffed.

Another was James Smith, a defense contractor who kept a chart on his office wall that linked pictures of suspected terrorists including Atta with text about them.

Both men attended the hearing, but the Pentagon ordered Shaffer not to testify. His security clearance, which was suspended after he spoke to the Sept. 11 Commission about Able Danger, was fully revoked Monday.

His lawyer, Mark Zaid, also urged Smith not to testify for fear of losing his own security clearance.

But Zaid described what they would have said. He compared Able Danger to the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," where players name actors or movies connected to the prolific actor.

At Able Danger, researchers started with links to Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Atta, who wasn't known to be in the United States, was linked to Abel-Rahman's Brooklyn group of al-Qaida, placing his picture on Smith's giant chart, Zaid said.

"It was grainy photograph," Zaid said. "He remembered it vividly because of the potentially evil, death look in Mohamed Atta's eyes, and his narrow, drawn face."

The Pentagon has refused to discuss Able Danger for fear of revealing classified secrets. But Specter said he would continue pressing for answers.

"This looks to me like it may be obstruction of the committee's activities," Specter said.

Able Danger operated primarily in 1999 and 2000, although briefings based on the program's research continued in early 2001, according to witnesses. When the program ended, the military destroyed 2.5 terabytes of documentation, which Weldon said equals one-quarter of the books at the Library of Congress.

Erik Kleinsmith, who trains others in intelligence gathering for Lockheed Martin Information Technology, was an Army major in intelligence who worked on Able Danger. He said the data "allowed us to map al-Qaida as a worldwide threat with a surprisingly significant presence within the United States."

But he told the committee that he ordered the destruction of the program's documents based on military regulations calling for routine elimination. "This destruction was dictated by and conducted in accordance with intelligence oversight procedures that we lived by," Kleinsmith said.

In another twist, witnesses at the hearing said the documents could be destroyed easily because they were not secret. Weldon said military officials acknowledged to Armed Services Committee members two weeks ago at an informal meeting that Able Danger had used voting records that were publicly available.

Lawmakers voiced frustration with the destruction of the intelligence. "I don't get the purpose of the cover-up," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.

After highlighting the public nature of the information, Specter asked William Dugan, acting assistant to the defense secretary for intelligence oversight, whether it was a mistake for the Pentagon not to share the information with the FBI. Dugan said he wasn't sure whether it was properly collected.

But Specter pressed, asking what should happen if information was properly collected.

"If it's properly collected, yes," Dugan said.

Washington Correspondent Bart Jansen can be contacted at 202-488-1119 or at:

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Beyond Infuriating

How pathetic is it really that Bush has to ask Condaleeza to go to the bathroom. I couldn't bear to listen to him speak tonight about the woeful state of the preparedness of this great nation. It is beyond infuriating that Neo-Cons will now block any investigation into the New Orleans "rescue" operation. They will no doubt set up their own investigation and parrot whatever dubious information they're told to by Karl Rove. Plausible deniability is their game and they have no shame, no heart, and no conscience whatsoever. It's nauseating that these fascists claim to be Christians. As Bill O'Reilly recently said, "the poor of New Orleans are all thugs and drug addicts anyway." Why spend money that could go into the pockets of Halliburton stockholders after they win a huge reconstruction contract? There's a pattern here and those who cannot see it are beyond help.

NEW YORK In what seems destined to become one of the most joked about photos of the month, a well-known Reuters photographer on Wednesday captured President George W. Bush scribbling a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a session at the United Nations. On the note is a message revolving around the need to take a "bathroom break."

The photo, which appeared on Reuters' official photo site, was quickly published all over the Web, though dismissed by some as a likely photoshop special. Others suggested that surely someone must have hacked the Reuters site. But a Reuters spokesman on Thursday told E&P the photo was legit.

"The photographer and editors on this story were looking for other angles in their coverage of this event, something that went beyond the stock pictures of talking heads that these kind of forums usually offer," explained Reuters' Stephen Naru. "This picture certainly does that."

--Reuters, 9/15

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Profiting Off a Tragedy: Again

This is really sickening, but it's vital that people know.


The very first thing our fearless leader did in response to Hurricane Katrina was to offer a helping hand—not to the people stranded on rooftops in New Orleans, but to his friends in the oil industry. These were the same people who gave him $52 million in his last campaign. Bush released millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve so the oil companies would have enough fuel to make gas and keep the country going. But the companies don't need this oil. They're already swimming in it.

Pouring more oil into the marketplace didn't reduce gasoline prices, which kept on going up, hitting $4 a gallon in some places.

While crude oil production doubtless was curtailed by the storm, the companies face a surplus, not a shortage, of crude oil. So why dump more on the market?

“Despite growing inventories, U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) increased by nearly 5 million barrels over the past 3 weeks,” wrote the federal Energy Information Administration. Continuing in the clipped industry jargon, the agency added, “While this may not appear to be a substantial build, it comes at a time when crude oil inventories typically decline, as refiners use more crude to make gasoline needed for current demand and heating oil as they stock up for the winter.”

Thus, any crude oil inventory increase during the month of August, much less one of five million barrels over a three-week period, might lead one to expect prices to drop. Yet the price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil has risen by $5 per barrel! If prices don't fall under these conditions, what will make them fall?

All over the world this summer, oilmen raced to dump surplus into the U.S. market, where the rigged prices made them a killing. Oil traders in China, the second biggest world market next to the U.S., were shoving oil into the high-priced U.S. market to make more money. (The U.S. consumes 25 percent of the world market; China 7 percent.)

Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Ed Wallace wrote last week that “there's actually weakening demand in Asia over the past two months, so oil is being diverted to the U.S., where it'll bring higher profits.” He quoted Reuters as noting that “Chinese oil trader Unipec resold at least 3 million barrels of August-arriving crude due to reduced refinery demand and was offering more, traders said last week.” Mary Rose Brown, a spokeswoman for Valero in San Antonio, was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying, “There is no reason for crude oil to be at $65 a barrel other than hype in the market.”

To be sure, some oil companies face shortages because of the storm, but the release of oil from the strategic reserve may not help them much. “The Capline, a major crude oil pipeline that feeds many Midwest refineries with crude oil from the Gulf of Mexico, is currently shut down due to lack of electricity at many of its pumping stations,” the EIA reported Wednesday. “As a result, one refinery in the Midwest has already reported that it has reduced its production due to a loss in crude oil supply. With the recent Government decision that crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) will be made available to those affected by the hurricane, there may be some relief for refiners that have reduced their production due to loss of crude supply,” the government service dryly continues. “However, they will need to find a way to get the crude oil from the SPR to their refineries.”

What is going on here? The story goes like this: Refineries are increasing their stocks of crude, yet not increasing production of gasoline. This may help explain the high prices. It is an odd situation, since usually, in the summer, refineries are operating full tilt to lay in supplies of gasoline and home heating oil.

The slowing of gasoline production might be due to some unrecognized problems within the refineries. But the industry says it's because of market conditions, with officials noting that while today's crude prices are over $70, in 1999 crude oil was selling at around $12 a barrel. “Refineries lost a lot of money. In fact they lost money for most of the 1990s,” Jeff Morris, president of Alon USA, owner of the Big Spring Refinery, told The Wall Street Journal last week. “People chose not to spend on refineries. So what's affecting us now is that we're behind the investment curve and it will take us five to 10 years to catch up.”

If the companies can't increase their refined products, they could end up turning not to the petroleum reserve but to the European Union. While the U.S. keeps a supply of crude oil in its strategic reserve, the Europeans maintain a stock of gasoline as well as crude. There has been speculation that in a really tight situation, the EU might be called on to export some of that supply to the U.S.


Meanwhile, the high gas prices are adding to the profits of the big companies. Says the watchdog group Public Citizen: “Since George Bush became president in 2001, the top five oil companies [selling gas] in the United States have recorded profits of $254 billion: ExxonMobil: $89 billion, Shell: $60.7 billion, BP: $53 billion, ChevronTexaco: $31 billion, ConocoPhillips: $20 billion.” The group adds: “As Americans shell out more dollars at the pump, the profit margin by U.S. oil refiners has shot up 79% from 1999 (the year Exxon and Mobil merged) to 2004.”

Bush refuses to increase the energy efficiency standards for motor vehicles, which use 70 percent of total oil production, and he recently signed the energy bill that hands out billions in new subsidies to the industry. Even he seems to recognize what a shuck this is: In April, with prices moving ever higher and the Congress debating the energy bill, Bush said, “With $55 oil, we don't need incentives to oil and gas companies.”

But this summer, Congress, with the president's enthusiastic support, adopted a series of new subsidies for the oil and gas industry. “Officially, the energy bill's giveaways are supposed to cost $14.6 billion over the next 10 years, offset in part by $3.1 billion in higher gasoline taxes on consumers,” says Robert S. McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. “But that doesn't include the bill's $70 billion in authorized but unfunded subsidies, for which cash will have to be appropriated later.”

Now they get another handout in the form of the strategic oil reserve. This is a complicated setup whereby rather than paying the federal government (i.e., the general public) for the right to drill oil on public lands, the industry puts some of this oil into the reserve. When times get bad, it then extracts some of the 750 million barrels stored in salt domes under the Texas and Louisiana coasts-with the promise to return it later on. It can therefore get cost-free oil, turn it into gasoline and sell it at high prices, hoping to buy back crude oil later on at lower prices and return it to the reserve.

In addition, the petroleum reserve will buy oil to fill its reservoirs on the market to jack up crude prices. So the industry makes a killing both ways. The public is left shelling out $4 a gallon at the pump.

--Village Voice, Sept. 3

Friday, September 02, 2005

Where Is the National Guard?

At least seven bodies were scattered outside the convention center, a makeshift staging area for those rescued from rooftops, attics and highways. The sidewalks were packed with people without food, water or medical care, and with no sign of law enforcement.

A military helicopter tried to land at the convention center several times to drop off food and water. But the rushing crowd forced the choppers to back off. Troopers then tossed the supplies to the crowd from 10 feet off the ground and flew away.

“There’s a lot of very sick people — elderly ones, infirm ones — who can’t stand this heat, and there’s a lot of children who don’t have water and basic necessities to survive on,” said Daniel Edwards outside the center. “We need to eat, or drink water at the very least.”

An old man in a chaise lounge lay dead in a grassy median as hungry babies wailed around him. Around the corner, an elderly woman lay dead in her wheelchair, covered up by a blanket, and another body lay beside her wrapped in a sheet.

“I don’t treat my dog like that,” 47-year-old Daniel Edwards said as he pointed at the woman in the wheelchair. “You can do everything for other countries, but you can’t do nothing for your own people.”

The street outside the center, above the floodwaters, smelled of urine and feces and was choked with dirty diapers, old bottles and garbage.

People chanted, “Help, help!” as reporters and photographers walked through. The crowd got angry when journalists tried to photograph one of the bodies and covered it with a blanket. A woman, screaming, went on the front steps of the convention center and led the crowd in reciting the 23rd Psalm.

“It’s like they’re punishing us,” said John Murray, 52.

--MSNBC, 9/2

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bush Fiddles While Rome Drowns

President Bush faced not only the fallout of Hurricane Katrina but also an intense political storm yesterday as relief experts, government officials and newspaper editorials criticised everything from his administration's disaster preparedness policies to the manner in which he made his public entry into the growing crisis on the Gulf coast.

The New York Times said of a speech he made on Tuesday: "Nothing about the President's demeanour yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis."
No less trenchant - and more heartfelt - was the Biloxi Sun Herald in Mississippi which surveyed the disaster around its editorial offices and asked: "Why hasn't every able-bodied member of the armed forces in south Mississippi been pressed into service?"

As when the Asian tsunami hit last year, Mr Bush found himself on holiday at his Texas ranch when disaster struck. As with the tsunami, he was soon in the firing line for reacting slowly - he spent Monday on a fundraising tour of the American West - and failing to provide adequate leadership. As survivors complained of a lack of water, food and medical supplies yesterday, fingers from across the political spectrum were pointed at the White House.
Experts on the Mississippi Delta pointed out that a plan to shore up the levees around New Orleans was abandoned last year for lack of government funding. They noted that flood-control spending for south-eastern Louisiana had been chopped every year that Mr Bush has been in office, that hurricane protection funds have also fallen, and that the local army corps of engineers has also had its budget cut. The emergency management chief for Jefferson parish told the Times-Picayune newspaper:"It appears that the money has been moved in the President's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay."

The torrent of criticism contrasted sharply to the reaction to the 11 September attacks, when political sniping was put on hold and dissenters were told their complaints were both unwelcome and unpatriotic. The change in tone partly suggests a growing disenchantment with Mr Bush.

The usually restrained New York Times said: "Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?"

--The Indepent (UK), 10/1

This guy is my hero.