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Blaming ‘The Wall’

Legal, cultural, and operational impediments prevented CIA and FBI from working together. But even if they did, could the attacks have been stopped?

During yesterday’s 9/11 hearings, Attorney General John Ashcroft cited a “wall” that prevented criminal investigators and intelligence agents from communicating effectively before 9/11.

“The single greatest structural cause for the September 11 problem was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents,” said Ashcroft. “Government erected this wall.  Government buttressed this wall and before September 11, government was blinded by this wall.”

Aschroft said that “the wall” was established firmly in 1995, saying that former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick was it’s builder.  “The basic architecture for the wall in the 1995 guidelines was contained in a classified memorandum. This memorandum laid the foundation for a wall separating the criminal and intelligence investigations as a matter of fact established the wall following the 1993 World Trade Center attack,” said Ascroft.

On Tuesday’s edition of ‘The Abrams Report,’ Edwin Meese, former Attorney General explained:  “I think that what John Ashcroft did indicate was that this was the interpretation of the law, it was on the books, and there was no question that there was a legal basis for this order…  it was in an abundance of caution, going even beyond what was legally necessary. This was corrected later in the Patriot Act and no longer is a problem, because of that.”

Robert S. Mueller, Director of the FBI, in his statement to the commission today, said the Patriot act tore down these legal impediments.  “We can now fully coordinate operations within the Bureau and with the Intelligence Community.”

According to Mueller, the wall was not only legal – but also operational and cultural.

Robert Heibel, the former FBI deputy chief of counterterrorism, explained on ‘The Abrams Report.’  “There’s a basic challenge here between a criminal investigation and intelligence, and we see it over and over again:  The goal of one is to take people to court and prove that they’re guilty.  Where intelligence, you don‘t have to take people to court.  You don’t have to have an element of proof.  Once you finished a criminal trial, it’s over.  But with intelligence, it goes on and on.”

However, journalist Ronald Kessler, author of the book “The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI,” thinks that even without the wall, the 9/11 attacks wouldn’t have been stopped. “It would have been good if it all been tied together, if someone had said ‘Hey, there‘s a lot going on here, we should do more investigation...’ but it was a lot of dots, but in fact, no information,” he said on the show.

“In order to actually find out what is going on in a plot, let‘s say just a bank robbery, you have to have an inside source or an intercept of a communication – something that actually tells you what these people are going to do.  What you needed was developing the sources the way the FBI did with the Mafia, and with the KGB.”

The intelligence gap between the FBI and the CIA was discussed on Tuesday's 'The Abrams Report.' The show airs weeknights, 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC