Last week, Attorney General Michael Mukasey stood before an audience in San Francisco and lied. Here’s what he said, courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle:
The government “shouldn’t need a warrant when somebody picks up a phone in Iraq and calls the United States,” Mukasey said in a question-and-answer session after a speech to the Commonwealth Club.
Before the 2001 terrorist attacks, he said, “we knew that there had been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn’t know precisely where it went. You’ve got 3,000 people who went to work that day, and didn’t come home, to show for that.”
The implication of his statement is that FISA prevented the government from intercepting a call which could have prevented 9/11. This is a lie. FISA would not have prevented the government from listening in on this call, and Mukasey knows it… he was a judge and IS the Attorney General for God’s sake.
But there is potentially a bigger lie here. Did this call really happen? If so, this is monumental. If this call was indeed made, the Bush administration completely fumbled the ball (okay, that’s not news, but in this context would be). But in all likelihood, this is a phantom phone call conjured out of thin air by Mukasey so as another attempt by the Bush administration to use fear to get us to give up more of our civil liberties.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers sent a letter of inquiry to Mukasey. Here is part of it:
First, according to press reports, in response to questions at a March 27 speech, you defended Administration wiretapping programs and proposals to change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by referring to a pre-9/11 incident. Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, you stated, “we knew that there had been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn’t know precisely where it went. You’ve got 3,000 people who went to work that day, and didn’t come home, to show for that.”
This statement is very disturbing for several reasons. Initially, despite extensive inquiries after 9/11, I am aware of no previous reference, in the 9/11 Commission report or elsewhere, to a call from a known terrorist safe house in Afghanistan to the United States which, if it had been intercepted, could have helped prevent the 9/11 attacks. In addition, if the Administration had known of such communications from suspected terrorists, they could and should have been intercepted based on existing FISA law. For example, even assuming that a FISA warrant was required to intercept such calls, as of 9/11 FISA specifically authorized such surveillance on an emergency basis without a warrant for a 48 hour period. If such calls were known about and not intercepted, serious additional concerns would be raised about the government’s failure to take appropriate action before 9/11.
Accordingly, we ask that you promptly answer the following questions:
- Were you referring to an actual pre-9/11 incident in the portion of your statement quoted above? If not, what were you referring to?
- Do you believe that a FISA warrant would have been required to intercept a telephone call from a known terrorist safe house in Afghanistan to the United States in 2001? If so, please explain.
- Even assuming that such a warrant would have been required, do you agree that even before 9/11, FISA authorized emergency interception without a warrant for a 48-hour period of phone calls from a known terrorist safe house in Afghanistan to the United States?
- Assuming that you were referring to an actual pre-9/11 incident in your statement, please explain why such phone calls were not intercepted and appropriately utilized by federal government authorities in seeking to prevent terrorist attacks.
All good questions. But is the press asking them? Are they even paying attention? No. Why is the Attorney General telling lies to support the Bush agenda. The AG is supposed to be this country’s top law enforcement official, not a partisan hack. But now we know that Mukasey is no better than his disgraced predecessor, Alberto Gonzales. Except that the media is asleep at the wheel again.
Glenn Greenwald has the whole story here.