Thursday, April 29, 2004

Newly released Justice Department memos show that September 11 panel commissioner Jamie S. Gorelick was more intimately involved than previously thought with hampering communications between U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies fighting terrorism.

As the No. 2 person in the Clinton Justice Department, Ms. Gorelick rejected advice from the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who warned against placing more limits on communications between law-enforcement officials and prosecutors pursuing counterterrorism cases, according to several internal documents written in summer 1995.

“It is hard to be totally comfortable with instructions to the FBI prohibiting contact with the United States Attorney’s Offices when such prohibitions are not legally required,” U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White wrote Ms. Gorelick six years before the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.

“Our experience has been that the FBI labels of an investigation as intelligence or law enforcement can be quite arbitrary, depending upon the personnel involved and that the most effective way to combat terrorism is with as few labels and walls as possible so that wherever permissible, the right and left hands are communicating,” she wrote.

The documents — released yesterday by the Justice Department at the request of two Senate Republicans — drew renewed calls for Ms. Gorelick to testify publicly before the September 11 commission about the so-called “wall” between law enforcement and intelligence agencies that many have blamed for allowing the 2001 terrorist attacks to occur.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said yesterday that Ms. Gorelick’s policies regarding the wall contributed to “blinding America to this terrible threat.”

Also, he said, the newly released memos raised apparent conflicts with statements Ms. Gorelick has made recently defending herself and her role in the Clinton Justice Department.

“These documents show what we’ve said all along: Commissioner Gorelick has special knowledge of the facts and circumstances leading up to the erection and buttressing of ‘that wall’ that, before the enactment of the Patriot Act, was the primary obstacle to the sharing of communications between law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” Mr. Cornyn said.

In a June 19, 1995, memo, Ms. White recommended a series of changes to a Gorelick policy that went beyond legal requirements in separating law- enforcement and intelligence agencies.

For instance, Ms. White said the local U.S. Attorney should be notified as soon as “criminal law enforcement concerns exist” while investigating terror suspects.

Deputy Director Michael Vatis rejected her recommendation.

“Notifying the [U.S. Attorney] as soon as law enforcement concerns exist — but before [the criminal division] thinks that the investigation should ‘go criminal’ — is simply too early,” wrote Mr. Vatis, who was concerned that Ms. White’s proposal could result in “prejudicing a possible criminal prosecution.”

In a handwritten note to Attorney General Janet Reno, Ms. Gorelick wrote, “I have reviewed and concur in the Vatis/Garland recommendations for the reasons set forth in the Vatis memo.”

The extent of Ms. Gorelick’s involvement, spelled out in these memos, in buttressing the law enforcement-intelligence wall also raises questions about statements she has made recently defending herself and distancing herself from the decisions about the wall.

Asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer earlier this month about whether she had written a memo helping establish the wall, she replied: “No, and again, I would refer you back to what others on the commission have said. The wall was a creature of statute. It’s existed since the mid 1980s. And while it’s too lengthy to go into, basically the policy that was put out in the mid-‘90s, which I didn’t sign, wasn’t my policy by the way, it was the attorney general’s policy, was ratified by Attorney General Ashcroft’s deputy as well in August of 2001.”

Also yesterday, another group of Republican senators pressed their case for Ms. Gorelick to testify publicly and poked a hole in the reason the commission has given for not calling her.

Last week the commission’s leaders received a letter from 11 Republican senators, led by Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, calling on Ms. Gorelick to testify in public.

The panel refused, saying that commissioners have only called former and current attorneys general and FBI directors to talk about the intelligence-law enforcement division, not their deputies.

They specifically listed four Justice Department deputies they did not call to testify, including Larry D. Thompson, a onetime deputy to Mr. Ashcroft.

But in a letter back to the commission yesterday Mr. Bond and his colleagues said Mr. Thompson, who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, did in fact publicly testify about his time as deputy, and commission records include a transcript and video archive of his testimony.

“Even before the horrific events of September 11, I witnessed firsthand, as the deputy attorney general, some of the problems that we in the department had with sharing information,” said Mr. Thompson, who appeared before the panel on Dec. 8.

Mr. Bond and his colleagues said Ms. Gorelick has critical information she can provide about the same topic, and said her private interview with the commission is not enough.

“We believe, as was the case of [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice, that public testimony by the decision-makers best serves the commission, the public, and ultimately Congress,” the senators said, pointing to similar sentiments Ms. Gorelick herself expressed during the debate over Miss Rice’s testimony.

“Unless Ms. Gorelick provides public testimony, like other key officials have done, there will be a significant gap of knowledge as far as what the public will know about its government prior to 9/11,” they wrote.

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