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WikiLeaks and 911 What If

WikiLeaks and 911 What If

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Published by: ed_cobb_1 on Oct 23, 2011
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EDITORIALSOP-EDLETTERSOPINION L.A.
 WikiLeaks and 9/11: What if?
 Frustrated investigators might have chosen to leakinformation that their superiors bottled up, perhapsaverting the terrorism attacks.
October 15, 2010
|By Coleen Rowley and Bogdan DzakovicIf WikiLeaks had been around in 2001, could the events of 9/11 have been prevented? The idea is worth considering.The organization has drawn both high praise and searing criticism for its mission of publishingleaked documents without revealing their source, but we suspect the world hasn't yet fully seen itspotential. Let us explain.
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There were a lot of us in the run-up to Sept. 11 who had seen warning signs that somethingdevastating might be in the planning stages. But we worked for ossified bureaucracies incapable of acting quickly and decisively. Lately, the two of us have been wondering how things might have been different if there had been a quick, confidential way to get information out.One of us, Coleen Rowley, was a special agent/legal counsel at the FBI's Minneapolis division and worked closely with those who arrested would-be terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui on an immigration violation less than a month before the World Trade Center was destroyed.Following up on a tip from flight school instructors who had become suspicious of the FrenchMoroccan who claimed to want to fly a jet as an "ego boost," Special Agent Harry Samit and an INScolleague had detained Moussaoui. A foreign intelligence service promptly reported that he hadconnections with a foreign terrorist group, but FBI officials in Washington inexplicably turneddown Samit's request for authority to search Moussaoui's laptop computer and personal effects.Those same officials stonewalled Samit's supervisor, who pleaded with them in late August 2001that he was "trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center."(Yes, he was that explicit.) Later, testifying at Moussaoui's trial, Samit testified that he believed the behavior of his FBI superiors in Washington constituted "criminal negligence."The 9/11 Commission ultimately concluded that Moussaoui was most likely being primed as a Sept.11 replacement pilot and that the hijackers probably would have postponed their strike if information about his arrest had been announced. WikiLeaks might have provided a pressure valve for those agents who were terribly worried about what might happen and frustrated by their superiors' seeming indifference. They were indeed stuck 
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 March 7, 2003
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EmailPrintDiggTwitterFacebookStumbleUponSharein a perplexing, no-win ethical dilemma as time ticked away. Their bosses issued continual warningsagainst "talking to the media" and frowned on whistle-blowing, yet the agents felt a strong need toprotect the public.The other one of us writing this piece, Federal Air Marshal Bogdan Dzakovic, once co-led theFederal Aviation Administration's Red Team to probe for vulnerabilities in airport security. He alsohas a story of how warnings were ignored in the run-up to Sept. 11. In repeated tests of security, histeam found weaknesses nine out of 10 times that would make it possible for hijackers to smuggle weapons aboard and seize control of airplanes. But the team's reports were ignored and suppressed,and the team was shut down entirely after 9/11.In testimony to the 9/11 Commission, Dzakovic summed up his experience this way: "The RedTeam was extraordinarily successful in killing large numbers of innocent people in the simulatedattacks …[and yet] we were ordered not to write up our reports and not to retest airports where wefound particularly egregious vulnerabilities.... Finally, the FAA started providing advancenotification of when we would be conducting our 'undercover' tests and what we would bechecking."
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The commission included none of Dzakovic's testimony in its report.Looking back, Dzakovic believes that if WikiLeaks had existed at the time, he would have gone to it asa last resort to highlight what he knew were serious vulnerabilities that were being ignored.The 9/11 Commission concluded, correctly in our opinion, that the failure to share information within and between government agencies — and with the media and the public — led to an overallfailure to "connect the dots."Many government careerists are risk-averse. They avoid making waves and, when calamity strikes,are more concerned with protecting themselves than with figuring out what went wrong andcorrecting it.Decisions to speak out inside or outside one's chain of command — let alone to be seen as a whistle- blower or leaker of information — is fraught with ethical and legal questions and can never beundertaken lightly. But there are times when it must be considered. Official channels for whistle- blower protections have long proved illusory. In the past, some government employees have gone tothe media, but that can't be done fully anonymously, and it also puts reporters at risk of being sent to jail for refusing to reveal their sources. For all of these reasons, WikiLeaks provides a crucial safety  valve.Coleen Rowley, a FBI special agent for more than 20 years, was legal counsel to the FBI field office inMinneapolis from 1990 to 2003. Bogdan Dzakovic was a special agent for the FAA's security division.He filed a formal whistle-blower disclosure against the FAA for ignoring the vulnerabilitiesdocumented by the Red Team. For the past nine years he has been relegated to entry-level staff work for the Transportation Security Administration.
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