(An non-Conventional post from John in Portland)
In the 9/11 Committee report, no one looks worse than John Ashcroft. Since 9/11 Ashcroft has used the threat of terrorism to justify enormously expanding the powers of his office at the expense of traditional civil liberties. He has viciously attacked anyone who has questioned what he does: “Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies.” Ashcroft’s appointment was a plum for the religious right, and the religious right’s pet issues take up much of his time: he’s been tough on medical marijuana, assisted suicide, prostitution in New Orleans, and Tommy Chong’s bongs.
So what did Ashcroft do about terrorism before 9/11? Approximately nothing.
When the acting head of the FBI tried to brief him about terrorism in 2001, Ashcroft told him to shut up: “Attorney General Ashcroft was briefed by the CIA in May and by Pickard in early July about the danger. Pickard said he met with Ashcroft once a week in late June, through July, and twice in August. There is a dispute regarding Ashcroft’s interest in Pickard’s briefings about the terrorist threat situation. Pickard told us that after two such briefings Ashcroft told him that he did not want to hear about the threats anymore. Ashcroft denies Pickard’s charge.” (9/11 Committee Report, VIII, p. 265).
Ashcroft offered no leadership, but just let things happen: “The Attorney General told us he asked Pickard whether there was intelligence about attacks in the United States and that Pickard said no. Pickard said he replied that he could not assure Ashcroft that there would be no attacks in the United States, although the reports of threats were related to overseas targets. Ashcroft said he therefore assumed the FBI was doing what it needed to do. He acknowledged that in retrospect, this was a dangerous assumption. He did not ask the FBI what it was doing in response to the threats and did not task it to take any specific action. He also did not direct the INS, then still part of the Department of Justice, to take any specific action.” (VIII, p. 265)
During the year 2001, Ashcroft was preparing a budget for 2003 to be presented to Congress in 2002. Counter-terrorism was not featured in this budget: “The budget guidance issued the next day [May 10, 2004], however, highlighted gun crimes, narcotics trafficking, and civil rights as priorities. Watson told us that he almost fell out of his chair when he saw this memo, because it did not mention counterterrorism…..” (VI, p. 209). The FBI tried unsuccessfully to change Ashcroft’s mind: “The Justice Department prepared a draft fiscal year 2003 budget that maintained but did not increase the funding level for counterterrorism in its pending fiscal year 2002 proposal. Pickard appealed for more counterterrorism enhancements, an appeal the attorney general denied on September 10.” (VI, p. 210)
September 10, 2001. Great timing!