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Sunday, March 28, 2004

CONNECTING THE DOTS? TRY INSERTING THEM FIRST. 

The OpEx section of today's Star Tribune reprints several excerpts from Richard Clarke's recent testimony before the 9/11 commission under the headline "Testimony excerpts: Connecting the 9/11 dots." (I can't find it online, oddly). A fine idea in principle--more people should read more of what Clarke actually said, rather than relying on the handful of five- and ten-second soundbites that the mainstream media outlets keep repeating ad nauseum or the tendentious second-hand characterizations of his testimony being offered by most on the left and the right.

But the ham-handed Strib editors simply pull out brief passages and string them together without providing context or even ellipsis points, giving an unwarranted impression of continuity. The bits snipped from Richard Ben-Veniste's questioning concerning Zacarias Moussaoui are particularly egregious--in fact, they are so misleading as to suggest an outright intention to deceive.

Here's what the Strib reprinted:
BEN-VENISTE: And I will have to end it here although I'd like to go further. Was the information with respect to Moussaoui and his erratic behavior in flight school ever communicated to you?

CLARKE: Not to me.

BEN-VENISTE: And yet, an FAA advisory went out. The FAA advised on the potential for domestic hijackings.

CLARKE: I asked them to.

BEN-VENISTE: And had you known on top of that that there was a jihadist who was identified, apprehended in the United States before 9/11 who was in flight school acting erratically...

CLARKE: I would like to think, sir, that even without the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I could have connected those dots.
Here's the complete passage; I've set off in bold-face type the part which the Strib editors in their inestimable wisdom thought too inconsequential even to warrant ellipsis:
BEN-VENISTE: And I will have to end it here although I'd like to go further. Was the information with respect to Moussaoui and his erratic behavior in flight school ever communicated to you?

CLARKE: Not to me.

BEN-VENISTE: Given the fact that there was a body of information with respect to the use of planes as weapons within the intelligence community's knowledge, had you received information about Moussaoui training to fly a commercial airplane? Would that have had some impact on the kind of efforts which might be made to protect commercial aviation?

CLARKE: I don't know. The information to which you refer, information in the intelligence community's knowledge about Al Qaida having thought of using aircraft as weapons, that information was old relatively speaking -- five years, six years old -- hadn't reoccurred to my knowledge during those five or six years -- and has to be placed -- to give the intelligence community a break -- it has to be placed in the context of the other intelligence reports.

The volume of intelligence reports on this kind of thing, on Al Qaida threats and other terrorist threats, was in the tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands over the course of the five or six years.

Now, in retrospect, to go back and find a report six years earlier that said perhaps they were going to use aircraft as weapons, it's easy to do now. But I think the intelligence community analysts can be forgiven for not thinking about it given the fact that they hadn't seen a lot in the five or six years intervening about it and that there were so many reports about so many other things.

BEN-VENISTE: And yet -- with your indulgence, Mr. Chairman...

KEAN: Short indulgence.


BEN-VENISTE: And yet, an FAA advisory went out. The FAA advised on the potential for domestic hijackings.

CLARKE: I asked them to.

BEN-VENISTE: And had you known on top of that that there was a jihadist who was identified, apprehended in the United States before 9/11 who was in flight school acting erratically...

CLARKE: I would like to think, sir, that even without the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I could have connected those dots.
And I'll leave it up you to connect the Strib's (absence of) dots.

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