Tags: Author | Lends | Perspective | 9-11 | Hindsight

Author Lends Perspective to 9-11 Hindsight

Thursday, 23 May 2002 12:00 AM

"The bottom line is these guys who did 9-11 were the consummate crime specialists. They committed the perfect crime. Once they got into the United States, it was open season. They could do anything they want. If they were picked up at 8:00 in the morning on 9-11, all stopped at the same place, they never could have been held, they would have been released immediately [for lack of hard evidence].”

In these heady days of questioning "who knew what, when,” this summing up by Emerson puts a lot into perspective. He made the remark recently to CNBC where he is a terrorism analyst.

Bolstering Emerson’s reasoned perspective is the admission by the FBI that even now -- eight months after the worst terror attack in history -- investigators have yet to find a single shred of paper or any hard evidence, whatever, defining the plot that led to the tragic deaths of thousands of innocents.

Emerson says the open and honest admission by the bureau is courageous but also ultimately "protects the FBI from charges that they missed signals that should have alerted them ... ”

After being soundly chastised for premature public conjecture that Middle Eastern fanatics might have been behind the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Emerson has been careful with hard and fast conclusions. The former CNN reporter is now executive director of the Investigative Project, the largest intelligence and data gathering organization in the world focusing on Islamic terrorism.

For the record, Emerson is now convinced that Oklahoma bomber Tim McVeigh acted alone.

What Emerson is not loath to do, however, is to chronicle how defenseless the country was over the years as radical groups moved in, set up shop, incorporated, fundraised, recruited, orated on the virtues of violence, trained, and traveled under the collective noses of the FBI, CIA and other agencies that, with hindsight, perhaps should have had an open license to investigate without clearing policy hurdles demanding a predicate of hard probable cause.

"Operating in the freewheeling and tolerant environment of the United States,” Emerson laments, "bin Laden was able to set up a whole array of cells in a loosely organized network that included Tucson, Arizona; Brooklyn, New York; Dallas, Texas; Santa Clara, California; Columbia, Missouri; and Herndon, Virginia.”

Emerson plumbs the depths of that tolerance as he looks back to 1996 and the indifference of the media and the establishment to Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war against the U.S.

An astonished and exasperated bin Laden, says Emerson, began to beat the media about the head and shoulders, giving saber-rattling interviews to both Arab and Western journalists from his haven in Afghanistan.

Finally in early 1998 after bin Laden’s dramatic "fatwa” call to kill Americans and Jews everywhere, Emerson notes that even the CIA trotted a memo up Capitol Hill warning Congress that the fanatic was deadly in earnest.

Perhaps Emerson’s favorite anecdote on the subject of America's complacency-by-policy is when he attended a Muslim conference in Detroit in 1993. The annual gathering included featured speakers and representatives from outfits that today are part of the American lexicon: Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

"After five days of listening to speakers urging Muslims to wage jihad, I was startled to hear that a senior FBI agent from the Detroit office would be making an unscheduled appearance on the program. Sure enough, the official showed up. After making some perfunctory remarks about civil rights, the official asked for questions from the visibly hostile audience.

"A series of scornful responses followed, including that of one audience member who asked, tongue in cheek, if the agent could give the group any advice on ‘shipping weapons’ overseas to their friends….

"Returning to Washington again, I asked FBI officials if they knew that their Detroit colleague had spoken at this radical gathering. They assured me it was impossible. After checking, however, they admitted within a few hours that their man had indeed been there, mistakenly thinking it was ‘some kind of Rotary Club…’”

Less amusing but equally telling is Emerson’s tale of missed opportunities concurrent with the infamous murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane by El-Sayeed Nosair in New York City. Right after Nosair's arrest, his apartment in New Jersey was searched resulting in a cache of 47 boxes of personal papers.

"The contents were ignored – until after the first World Trade Center bombing two and-a half years later. Only then did investigators discover what they had missed – a road map of an international terrorist network headquartered in the United States.”

Included in the cache was a note written by Nosair: "We have to thoroughly demoralize the enemies of God by means of destroying and blowing up the towers that constitute the pillars of their civilization such as the tourist attractions they are so proud of and the high buildings…”

These days Emerson is not as resigned as he was to the dangerous complacency of pre-Sept. 11, a mindset that once propelled him to remark, "The only difference between February 26, 1993, and September 11, 2001, is that there are…more people dead.”

America has been awakened from slumber, and like many Emerson watches and waits for what national leaders have referred to as the "inevitable."

"I was speaking with a U.S. official...who was absolutely mesmerized by the parallel between what is being heard right now and what he had heard last summer, absolutely an eerie parallel in terms of that type of similarity between the different types of chatter being received."

That observation was made by the NBC analyst this week.

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The bottom line is these guys who did 9-11 were the consummate crime specialists. They committed the perfect crime. Once they got into the United States, it was open season. They could do anything they want. If they were picked up at 8:00 in the morning on 9-11, all stopped...
Thursday, 23 May 2002 12:00 AM
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