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Deadly incompetence.

Byline: The Register-Guard

In his State of the Union address, President Bush defended his decision to allow warrantless spying on Americans by arguing that the program could have prevented the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

It was a preposterous claim that demonstrated a propensity for historical revisionism. The reason the government failed to foil the Sept. 11 plotters was not the absence of a secretive intelligence program that monitored the calls and e-mails of Americans without obtaining court warrants, as required by law.

The death penalty case against accused Sept. 11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui has provided a chilling reminder that the primary reason the government failed to "connect the dots" and crack the al-Qaeda plot was incompetence - pure, simple and glaringly ugly governmental incompetence.

In a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Va., Harry Samit, the FBI agent who arrested and interrogated Moussaoui just weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, told a jury this week that his efforts to confirm suspicions that Moussaoui was involved in a terrorist airline hijacking plot were thwarted repeatedly by senior bureau officials in Washington.

Samit accused his FBI superiors of "criminal negligence" and of putting their careers above the nation's security, as they refused to seek search warrants for Moussaoui's belongings and laptop computer, and blocked a plan to plant an Arabic-speaking agent in a cell next to Moussaoui in hopes of obtaining information.

Samit said obstructionist FBI administrators even delayed agents' efforts to escort Moussaoui to France for deportation proceedings in hopes of finding out why he paid thousands of dollars for flight training on a Boeing 747 simulator when he didn't even have a pilot's license.

This is hardly the first time the FBI's epic mishandling of pre-Sept. 11 clues and suspicions has come to light. The Justice Department's inspector general's office in 2004 sharply criticized the agency's hand- ling of information, including the failure to pay timely attention to a memo from a field agent who had become suspicious of several students taking flying lessons in Arizona.

The Sept. 11 commission, appointed by the president and chaired by Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, found that the Sept. 11 attacks could have - and should have - been prevented, and that bungling by the intelligence community played a critical role.

Ironically, another flare-up of government incompetence could even affect the outcome of the Moussaoui case. In defiance of a court order, a government lawyer working on the case recently prepped key witnesses in the death penalty phase, reducing the likelihood that prosecutors will succeed in obtaining the death penalty for the only person to face trial in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Now, the president wants Americans to believe that the only way to keep then safe from terrorists is to allow him to continue trampling on the law and the Constitution through his domestic spying pro- gram.

There's a word to describe such an astonishing assertion, and it starts with the letter "I."
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Testimony reveals pre-Sept. 11 failings
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 24, 2006
Previous Article:Not a fatal setback.
Next Article:Lady luck can turn into one cruel mistress.

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