Daily Sentinel's Harmon distorted facts in defense of "Path to 9/11"

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

In The Daily Sentinel, columnist Gary Harmon repeated distortions of the historical record in connection with ABC's factually flawed The Path to 9/11. Most notably, Harmon repeated the long-debunked allegation that the Clinton administration had erected a "carefully constructed wall between the FBI and the CIA" that prevented the examination before the 9-11 attacks of a computer confiscated from terrorism suspect Zacharias Moussaoui.

In his column published in the September 7 edition of The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, Gary Harmon repeated distortions of the historical record in connection with The Path to 9/11, a factually flawed miniseries scheduled to air on ABC television September 10 and September 11. Most notably, Harmon repeated the long-debunked allegation that the Clinton administration had erected a "carefully constructed wall between the FBI and the CIA" that prevented the examination before the 9-11 attacks of a computer confiscated from terrorism suspect Zacharias Moussaoui. Harmon also said that the film was "based on the 9/11 Commission's report" -- although the report contradicts Harmon on his "wall" allegation.

Harmon wrote:

Sadly, no Batman or Superman, or even Daisy Duck, was there to pry open Zacharias Moussaoui's computer in defiance of the Clinton administration's eagerness to protect its carefully constructed wall between the FBI and the CIA, and thus peek into the heart of the Sept. 11 attacks before they happened.

The 9-11 Commission Report refutes that. At the most basic level, the Clinton administration did not object to a search of Moussaoui's laptop computer: Clinton was not even in office when the Minneapolis FBI Field Office considered searching Moussaoui's laptop in August 2001, nor when Moussaoui entered the United States in February 2001.

The "wall" to which Harmon presumably referred is one discussed in the 9/11 Commission Report under the heading "Legal Constraints on the FBI and 'the Wall.' " The barrier in question separated the FBI not from the CIA but from the Criminal Division of the Justice Department. The report stated that "[i]n July 1995 Attorney General Janet Reno issued formal procedures aimed at managing information sharing between Justice Department prosecutors and the FBI" and that the procedures actually "requir[ed] the sharing of intelligence information with prosecutors." The report went on to explain:

These procedures were almost immediately misunderstood and misapplied. As a result, there was far less information sharing and coordination between the FBI and the Criminal Division in practice than was allowed under the department's procedures. Over time the procedures came to be referred to as "the wall."

As Media Matters for America has noted, 9-11 commissioner and former senator Slade Gorton (R-WA), responding in a letter to The Washington Times to a charge that the 1995 Justice Department guidelines interfered with the sharing of intelligence gathered by the Department of Defense, stated that "[t]he Department of Justice guidelines at issue were internal to the Justice Department and were not even sent to any other agency. The guidelines had no effect on the Department of Defense and certainly did not prohibit it from communicating with the FBI, the CIA or anyone else."

The Bush administration also continued to enforce the Justice Department guidelines on the eve of the 9-11 attacks. On August 6, 2001, Bush administration Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson issued a memo with the subject "Intelligence Sharing" which stated that the 1995 procedures as well as interim measures regarding intelligence sharing adopted by the Clinton Justice Department on January 21, 2000, "remain in effect." The Thompson memo asserted that its purpose "is to restate and clarify certain important requirements imposed by the 1995 Procedures and the Interim Measures, and to establish certain additional requirements."

From the column by Gary Harmon titled "Disney had best tread 9/11 path carefully" published in the September 7 edition of The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction:

"The Path to 9/11" is based on the 9/11 Commission's report on the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

[...]

The last thing the critics of "Path to 9/11" want us to see is Clinton's interest in terrorists, or stunning lack thereof, thrust into sharp relief as an election approaches.

It's just so much easier to mutter, "Bush lied, people died," than it is to come to grips with the fact that while Clinton was lying, Mohammed Atta and Co. were flying.

Clinton, of course, has a newfound obsession with terrorism.

He at one point told the 9/11 Commission that he confided to Gen. Hugh Shelton that "it would scare the s*** out of al-Qaida if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of helicopters into the middle of their camp."

Shelton told the commission that he didn't remember the presidential remark, an oversight one can ascribe only to charity or astonishment, assuming it was uttered at all. Clinton might not have got it that al-Qaida would have simply gunned down the ninjas, being warned about the impending attack by the distinctive sound of chopper blades.

Clinton's comic-book grasp of al-Qaida is on full display in "The Path to 9/11," or so it's been said. Sadly, no Batman or Superman, or even Daisy Duck, was there to pry open Zacharias Moussaoui's computer in defiance of the Clinton administration's eagerness to protect its carefully constructed wall between the FBI and the CIA, and thus peek into the heart of the Sept. 11 attacks before they happened.

Given the push-back against the flick, it looks as though the picture of Clinton's buffoon brigade will be deftly drawn.

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