Saturday, April 23, 2005

As Congress scrutinizes the Patriot Act, it explicitly should include libraries among the locations federal investigators may hunt terrorists. Here are five reasons: Marwan al-Shehhi; Mohand, Wail and Waleed Alshehri; and Mohamed Atta. All of them September 11, 2001, hijackers.

Florida reference librarian Kathleen Hensmen remembers Wail and Waleed Alshehri’s summer 2001 visit to the Delray Beach Public Library. Ms. Hensmen tells me she found them “very courteous, very friendly,” though “they just sat at one computer, and they were staring at me, and I didn’t understand why.”

Marwan al-Shehhi arrived later that evening, Ms. Hensmen says. “He didn’t ask for a computer,” but wondered: “Can you recommend a good restaurant?” Ms. Hensmen, a newcomer, couldn’t help. But “a group of ‘we nice Americans’ who were sitting around said, ‘Oh, I can recommend restaurants to you.’ ”

“When their pictures were published in the Miami Herald, that’s when I broke down and cried,” Ms. Hensmen says. “I lost it, knowing what they had done, and how we were so friendly toward them.”

Additional evidence of the September 11 hijackers’ fondness for libraries has not fazed Patriot Act foes.

Al-Shehhi and other conspirators “used to frequent a library in Hamburg [Germany] to use the Internet,” states the September 11 Commission’s report. Al-Shehhi smashed United Airlines Flight 175 into 2 World Trade Center, helping al Qaeda kill 2,749 innocents in Lower Manhattan.

Mohand Alshehri, the Sept. 30, 2001, edition of The Washington Post explained, “was facile enough with computers that he could use the Internet at a Delray Beach public library.”

While learning to fly, the Los Angeles Times reported Sept. 27, 2001, “Atta used computers at the public library…. ”

These were not the only terrorists who considered libraries tactical assets.

“[I]n January and February ‘04, I went myself, personally, to South Waziristan and handed over money to, and supplies to a high-ranking al Qaeda official,” Mohammad Junaid Babar confessed last June 3 in Manhattan federal court while pleading guilty to giving terrorists material support. The Pakistani-born, Queens-reared Babar frequented the New York Public Library. As Deputy Attorney General James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee last Sept. 22: “We found out after we locked this guy up that he was going there because that library’s hard drives were scrubbed after each user was done, and he was using that library to e-mail other al Qaeda associates around the world.”

Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski’s September 1995 manifesto mentioned L. Sprague De Camp’s “The Ancient Engineer.” As FBI Director Robert Mueller wrote in the Jan. 1, 2004, American Libraries: “A librarian in Montana near Kaczynski’s home told FBI agents that Kaczynski had ordered ‘tons of stuff’ on L. Sprague De Camp.” Kaczynski soon was arrested and now serves four life terms for 16 bombings that killed three people and wounded 23 others.

Congress should add “library” to the Patriot Act, one place the word does not appear. The phrase “Library Provision” is as invented as the lightbulb. The Act’s Section 215 does allow the FBI to ask federal judges for “access to certain business records for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations.” Neither lawful First Amendment-guaranteed activity nor domestic terrorism by U.S. citizens may trigger Section 215.

Nevertheless, underwhelmed librarians heartily eliminate records counterterrorists someday might need.

Like a handkerchief that can wipe the fingerprints off a smoking gun, many libraries use software that automatically deletes each book’s checkout history upon its return.

“We’re quiet rebels,” Cindy Czesak of New Jersey’s Paterson Public Library told Fox News. Her institution collects every completed Internet signup sheet. “After that, it’s removed and destroyed.” She added: “We bought a nice new shredder.” Paterson is where Nawaf and Salem al Hazmi, Khalid al Mihdar, Hani Hanjour and Majed Moqed rented an apartment in spring 2001. All five slammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Death toll: 184.

These dangerously naive or clandestinely seditious librarians are beyond foolish. They potentially jeopardize American lives.

No square inch of this country should be a safe harbor where terrorists calmly can schedule the slaughter of defenseless civilians. Whether fueled by sincere civil libertarianism or malignant Bushophobia, those who thwart probes of Islamo-fascist library patrons have the same effect: They make it easier — not harder — for terrorists to kill you.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Va.

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