When it comes to the subject of walls, the Democrats in Congress have a lot to be squeamish about. A little history is in order.
When testifying before the 9/11 Commission in the spring of 2004, then CIA Director George Tenet first addressed the “wall that was in place between the criminal side and the intelligence side.”
Tenet, a Clinton appointee who kept his job under President Bush, made that barrier sound impenetrable. “What’s in a criminal case doesn’t cross over that line. Ironclad regulations,” he insisted.
“So that even people in the Criminal Division and the Intelligence Divisions of the FBI,” he continued, “couldn’t talk to each other, let alone talk to us or us talk to them.”
At the time, this testimony flummoxed those of us researching the destruction of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island in July 1996, a year after the wall was put in place.
The FBI’s James Kallstrom, who headed up that investigation, certainly used the “wall” to protect the FBI’s criminal investigation from the NTSB.
That said, Kallstrom and his colleagues welcomed, or at least accepted, the involvement of the CIA, literally from the day after the crash.
In the ensuing months, the FBI criminal investigators fed the CIA intelligence analysts a steady stream of information about a presumed crime against American citizens on American territory.
This cooperation, in which Tenet himself was involved, showed the wall to be more vulnerable to presidential politics than to any pressing issue of national security.
In her response to Tenet, 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick acknowledged the wall and claimed to have used “brute force” as Clinton’s deputy attorney general in her attempt to penetrate it, but she took no responsibility for its creation.
The task of assigning credit was left to Attorney General John Ashcroft. In fact, he was the first witness to call attention to the inherent conflict in Gorelick’s double agency.
“The single greatest structural cause for Sept. 11 was the wall,” Ashcroft testified before the commission on April 13, 2004.
He was referring here to the same memo Tenet had, the one issued in 1995, which provided instructions on the “separation of certain foreign counterintelligence and criminal investigations.”
These instructions, as Tenet noted, disallowed FBI agents from communicating with intelligence gatherers at the CIA and elsewhere.
“Full disclosure,” Ashcroft continued, “compels me to inform you that its author is a member of the commission.”
That author, of course, was Gorelick. “We predicted Democrats would use the 9/11 Commission for partisan purposes, and that much of the press would oblige,” thundered a Wall Street Journal editorial.
“But color us astonished that barely anyone appreciates the significance of the bombshell Attorney General John Ashcroft dropped on the hearings Tuesday.”
For all their passion, the Journal editors themselves failed to see the significance of the Ashcroft revelation. Gorelick served as Clinton’s deputy attorney general during the TWA 800 investigation.
For her steely performance as the political officer in that department, the Clintons and their allies had handed Gorelick, an inexperienced functionary, a $5 million a year job as vice-chair of Fannie Mae.
She then gave that cushy sinecure up to join the 9/11 Commission, one of only five Democrats on that Commission. She was there for a reason.
Having kicked TWA 800 down Clinton’s ample memory hole, the Journal and all other media overlooked one outstanding fact: Under Gorelick’s watchful gaze the CIA and FBI collaborated splendidly on the zoom climb video used to discredit more than 250 eyewitnesses.
In so doing, they proved there was nothing “ironclad” about the wall. By 2004, the CIA-FBI collaboration on TWA Flight 800 was a matter of record.
If only the media had noticed.