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FISA Court Prevented Al Qaeda Taps Before 9/11

How soon (and conveniently) the media forget.

Behold this passage from the May 2002 issue of the DNC organ, Newsweek :

WHAT WENT WRONG

The inside story of the missed signals and intelligence failures that raise a chilling question: did September 11 have to happen?

By Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff
May 27/02

…NEWSWEEK has learned there was one other major complication as America headed into that threat-spiked summer.

In Washington, Royce Lamberth, chief judge of the special federal court [the FISA Court] that reviews national-security wiretaps, erupted in anger when he found that an FBI official was misrepresenting petitions for taps on terror suspects. Lamberth prodded Ashcroft to launch an investigation, which reverberated throughout the bureau.

From the summer of 2000 on into the following year, sources said, the FBI was forced to shut down wiretaps of Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 African embassy bombing investigation.

“It was a major problem,” said one source familiar with the case, who estimated that 10 to 20 Qaeda wiretaps had to be shut down, as well as wiretaps into a separate New York investigation of Hamas.

The effect was to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most

And yet elsewhere Judge Lamberth has bizarrely cited the African embassy wiretaps as proof of the importance of his job:

An Interview with Judge Royce C. Lamberth

Judge Royce C. Lamberth, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was appointed to the federal bench in 1987. Before joining the Judiciary he was a U.S. Army Captain in the JAG Corps, an assistant U.S. attorney, and Chief of the Department of Justice Civil Division. He recently completed a term as presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Q: You’ve called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court "the least known, but probably most important court in the war on terrorism?" Why?

A: The FISC has nationwide jurisdiction to authorize the United States government to conduct electronic surveillances and physical searches for national security purposes when the target is a foreign power or the individual is acting as the agent of a foreign power. Major international terrorist groups may be targeted by the FBI, CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies. Since 9-11, invaluable intelligence information has been sought and obtained as a result of warrants and orders issued by this court.

There’s no question that every judge who has ever served on this court has thought it was the most significant thing they’ve ever done as a judge. When I did the hearings on the embassy bombings in Africa, we started the hearings in my living room at 3:00 in the morning. And some of the taps I did that night turned out to be very significant and were used in the New York trials of the people indicted for the bombings.

These wiretaps were so "significant" that Lamberth stopped them and any others like them in the year and a half prior to 9/11 — just because of a personal snit.

Something to bear in mind when we hear it bewailed how Bush neglected to go to the FISA court for permission to monitor al Qaeda phone calls.

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, December 27th, 2005. Comments are currently closed.

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