A newly-declassified report prepared for the 9/11 Commission sheds more light on who was responsible for the lack of information sharing between U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the months before the terror attacks.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft was wrong to blame the Clinton-era Justice Department's 1995 policy for the "wall" during his 2004 testimony before the commission, according to the report obtained by the Federation of American Scientists' Project On Government Secrecy.
Rather, it was the FBI's own sloppy work and widespread misunderstanding of information-sharing procedures that led to the lack of coordination among the agencies and the much-criticized failure to obtain a criminal warrant to search so-called "20th hijacker" Zacharias Moussaoui.
According to the 31-page monograph, the last remaining commission document to be declassified, "A review of the facts surrounding the information sharing failures, however, demonstrates that the Attorney General's testimony did not fairly and accurately reflect the significance of the 1995 documents and their relevance to the 2001 discussions."
In fact, information-sharing procedures "were widely misunderstood and misapplied" resulting in "far less information sharing and coordination... than was allowed." Also, "everyone was confused about the rules governing the sharing and use of information gather in intelligence channels."
In an ironic twist, the FBI was reluctant to file applications for surveillance due to the agency's previous "factual errors contained in a series of FISA applications, most notably the Bin Ladin-related FISAs. As a result, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, insisted on a strict separation between criminal and intelligence matters, which led the FBI to be overly cautious in their applications for surveillance and agents' sharing of information.
The court's Chief Judge actually wrote Ashcroft in March 2001 that because of "continued errors on a series of FISA applications," the court was banning a supervisory FBI agent.
There were also crucial human errors, likely exacerbated by the widespread confusion over information-sharing, that led to the failure of the FBI's Minneapolis field office to obtain a criminal warrant to search Moussaoui's laptop.
In addition, the National Security Agency placed caveats on all Bin-Laden-related reports which put extra barriers in the way of sharing information.
Ashcroft did not return calls for comment.
Read the report: