Man Without Qualities

Friday, May 31, 2002

Peggy Noonan's Curious Take

Peggy Noonan has a curious column on FBI culpability in OpinionJournal today. I say "curious" because Ms. Noonan takes Ms. Rowley's suggestion that people in the FBI's Washington office might be bin Laden conspirators vastly more seriously than I have taken it, and vastly more seriously than anyone else I have seen writing about the topic take it. Ms. Noonan says:

"This is no laughing matter. When an FBI field operative who is the chief legal counsel of her office tells the head of the FBI in Washington that they've been wondering, out in the field, if spies or moles made the fateful decisions, she is saying something huge. She is saying she thinks it is possible that spies within the FBI thwarted attempts to stop or diminish the attacks of Sept. 11. And she wants the FBI director to know this. She uses the word joke, but she knows what she's doing. She's saying: This may be true. When she put this information in a memo that she knows she herself will soon hand-deliver to the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is telling Congress, the press and the people to consider the possibility that spies or moles had some part in the attack on America."

Of course, if "she is telling Congress, the press and the people to consider the possibility that spies or moles had some part in the attack on America," why does she refer to the suggestion as "flippant"? Shouldn't that be the part of the memo in one-inch type?

I don't mean to be unkind to Ms. Noonan, who I greatly respect, but unless she knows something she's not revealing, the serious suggestion that FBI(Washington) was in a conspiracy with bin Laden is the kind of thing one should take up with one's alien abductors or the voices coming from one's teeth.

Also curious is Ms. Noonan's assertion that "You can read the entire [Rowley] memo on Time magazine's Web site." Of course, you cannot do that - the TIME website clearly states that the memo has been edited.

And that leads to the third curious aspect of Ms. Noonan's effort: She correctly identifies the French intelligence contribution as key to whether the FISA "probable cause" standard was met. The Rowley memo also lays emphasis on that intelligence. But the version of the Rowley memo that appears on the TIME website contains almost no material particulars of that French intelligence. The memo does say that FBI (Washington) severely disagreed with Ms. Rowley's interpretation of that intelligence. But then, Ms. Noonan does not actually say that she is convinced that "probable cause" was demonstrated - although she seems to suggest that it was.

I fully agree with Ms. Noonan that "the FBI is supposed to be full of people with the sense and toughness to work around irresponsible demands and limitations, and not just fold in the face of potential heat. They're not supposed to be complete weenies in the FBI. They're supposed to have some guts and common sense."

But, on the other hand, I do not expect the FBI to be the way it should be after submitting for eight years to the tender mercies of a PC, liberal Democratic President who for years was in - and whose Attorney General was in - a virtual death-duel with the FBI's head. Does Ms. Noonan mean that she expected those eight years to have had no effect? I do not think Bill Clinton would have deliberately undercut the FBI's anti-terrorism capability as some form of revenge for Mr. Freeh's recalcitrance, but neither was Mr. Freeh's relationship with either Ms. Reno or Mr. Clinton such that one would expect the FBI to be in the best of shape now.

Ms. noonan also says: "You know when the FBI finally OK'd a search? On Sept. 11--after the attacks. And the bureau gave its approval based on the same evidence it had rejected in August, excluding the information from French intelligence." But this is definitely not what Agent Rowley says in her memo. She says that the warrant was sought and obtained based on the same evidence rejected in August plus the events of September 11:

"Notably also, the actual search warrant obtained on September 11th did not include the French intelligence information. Therefore, the only main difference between the information being submitted to FBIHQ from an early date which HQ personnel continued to deem insufficient and the actual criminal search warrant which a federal district judge signed and approved on September 11th, was the fact that, by the time the actual warrant was obtained, suspected terrorists were known to have highjacked planes which they then deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon."

Are we suppose to think that the events of September 11 were not substantial evidence? How could Ms. Noonan get it so wrong? By her reasoning are we supposed to suspect that her egregious error is evidence that she's in league with bin Laden? But I am being flippant!

Seriously: Does the full Rowley memo spell out the French intelligence? Has Ms. Noonan seen the full memo? Or the French intelligence? She is well connected.

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