Fact-check, v.2

by Ted on April 13, 2004

I haven’t seen this anywhere but Unfogged, so I’m going to take the liberty of restating his post:

The famous August 6th briefing contained this sentence:

The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related. (my emphasis)

But commisioner Roemer said the following when Rice was testifying:

We have done thousands of interviews here at the 9/11 Commission. We’ve gone through literally millions of pieces of paper. To date, we have found nobody — nobody at the FBI who knows anything about a tasking of field offices.

We have talked to the director at the time of the FBI during this threat period, Mr. Pickard. He says he did not tell the field offices to do this.

And we have talked to the special agents in charge. They don’t have any recollection of receiving a notice of threat.

Nothing went down the chain to the FBI field offices on spiking of information, on knowledge of al Qaeda in the country, and still, the FBI doesn’t do anything.

Roemer brought this up before the briefing was released- he had read it, but the press had not. The apparent discrepancy has slipped past everyone but Ogged. 70 full-field investigations is a significant investment of manpower. It’s the kind of thing that the commission should have been easily able to verify, but Roemer is saying that they haven’t. Ogged charitably suggests that it may just be a difference in classification, but I find that hard to believe. Not if the number “70” bears any relationship to reality.

Unfortunately, his subsequent question (“Isn’t that some of the responsibility of the national security advisor?”) just put Rice on the defensive about her responsibilities vs. the FBI’s. It’s a shame, because there’s an important point there: was the person who prepares the President’s Defense Briefing deceiving the President?

I do hope that we get an answer to that.

UPDATE: Dave Neiwert points to a Newsday article addressing the “70 investigations” number.

FBI spokesman Ed Coggswell said the bureau was trying to determine how the number 70 got into the report…. Coggswell Friday said that those 70 investigations involved a number of international terrorist organizations, not just al-Qaida. He said that many were criminal investigations, which terrorism experts say are not likely to focus on preventing terrorist acts. And he said he would “not characterize” the targets of the investigations as cells, or groups acting in concert, as was the case with the Sept. 11 hijackers.



Brian Weatherson 04.13.04 at 8:26 pm

There was just an interchange between the commissioners and an FBI guy (sorry, I forgot the name) about that number. It seems that every individual working on OBL, including those chasing money trails, was counted as a ‘full investigation’. Slade Gorton was trying to argue that on its natural interpretation that sentence suggested everything was under control, which I think is a little too charitable to the administration, but it certainly sounds like a very bizarre counting scheme.


Dutch 04.13.04 at 8:36 pm

I did read that a bit differently.
There were 70 FBI investigations related to al Qaeda. There was intelligence of a possible attack in the near future. Nobody told the FBI about that. Roemer was asking Rice wether it was her responsibility to make sure the FBI was informed. That is, “tasking” the FBI to connect this intelligence to their ongoing investigations.

I think a bureaucratic mishap is more likely than a transparent lie.


Thomas 04.13.04 at 8:51 pm

There’s no suggestion that they haven’t been able to verify the 70 full field investigations. What Roemer says they haven’t been able to verify is a “tasking” of field offices by HQ in relation to the specific threats identified in the summer of 2001. Of course, some of those threats were identified and analyzed by the FBI, so I’m not sure why there would be any record of HQ or the NSC, through the AG, directing those investigations. And there is some suggestion that the FBI did in fact put out communications to the field on the issue. See Gorelick’s questioning of Rice, in which she calls the communications “feckless.” Finally, my understanding is that the counter-terror efforts inside the FBI were coordinated by teleconference, which would explain the limited writings available on the subject. (The FBI briefings up were also generally unwritten, which has its advantages and disadvantages from a bureaucreatic CYA perspective.)


Ted Barlow 04.13.04 at 8:52 pm

I’m thinking “shameless ass-covering” more than “transparent lie”. That is, the person in charge offers a seriously misleading report, portraying ample FBI attention spent on OBL/AQ, in order to have an answer to the question, “What are we doing about this?” The testimony cited by Brian, in my mind, reinforces that reading.


John Isbell 04.13.04 at 9:04 pm

Further to Brian and Ted, I picture the guy producing that bullet point wading through FBI investigations into, oh, just about anything, and seeing how he can refer to them a Al Qaeda investigations for the President’s big briefing. Now if you can call each G-man an investigation, so much the better. And why not.


John Isbell 04.13.04 at 9:08 pm

“As Al Qaeda” not “a.” This damn thing often posts my comment when I click on text to revise it. Oimoi, oimoi, pheu, pheu.

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