April 25, 2005,
As Congress considers reauthorizing the Patriot Act, it explicitly should add libraries to the locations where federal investigators may hunt terrorists. Here are five reasons why: Marwan al Shehhi; Mohand, Wail, and Waleed Alshehri; and Mohamed Atta September 11 hijackers, all.
Reference librarian Kathleen Hensmen remembers Wail and Waleed Alshehri's summer 2001 visit to the Delray Beach Public Library. Well-dressed, they resembled "the GQ of the Middle East" that evening, she tells me. Hensmen found them "very courteous, very friendly," although "they just sat at one computer, and they were staring at me, and I didn't understand why."
Hensmen had ethnic Arab neighbors in her native southeastern Michigan, though she rarely saw such folks at her library in southeastern Florida. "They [the Alshehri brothers] stood out in my mind because not many Middle Eastern people pass through here."
Marwan al-Shehhi arrived later, Hensmen says. That night, "he just sat at a table. He didn't ask for a computer." She says al-Shehhi asked her one question: "Can you recommend a good restaurant?"
Hensmen, new to Delray Beach, had few suggestions. "At that point," she adds, "a group of 'we nice Americans' who were sitting around said, 'Oh, I can recommend restaurants to you.' So, they were helping him, as I was busy signing people up for the computer, and doing my reference work, ordering books."
"When their pictures were published in the Miami Herald, that's when I broke down and cried," Hensmen says. "I lost it, knowing what they had done, and how we were so friendly towards them."
Additional evidence of the 9/11 hijackers' fondness for libraries has not fazed Patriot Act foes.
The 9/11 Commission Report discusses the man who smashed United Flight 175 into 2 World Trade Center: "[Marwan al-] Shehhi and other members of the group used to frequent a library in Hamburg [Germany] to use the Internet."
"[Angela] Duile said Atta, al-Shehhi and other Arabs regularly came to the Hamburg library where she worked," the Associated Press reported last November 10. The Hamburg Technical University librarian testified in 9/11 associate Mounir el Motassadeq's German retrial. She echoed her initial-trial testimony about an early 1999 anti-American outburst in which she said al-Shehhi bragged, "Something will happen, and there will be thousands of dead." Duile added: "He mentioned the World Trade Center." Sure enough, that's where al-Shehhi helped murder 2,749 innocents.
A page A-1, September 30, 2001, Washington Post story explained that hijacker Mohand Alshehri came from a poor Saudi family but "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 on its front page on September 27, 2001, "Atta used computers at the public library and worked out at a Delray Beach health club."
These September 11 hijackers were not the only terrorists who used libraries as 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. "I provided some of the materials, like I mentioned, aluminum nitrate, ammonium nitrate, and aluminum powder" Babar elucidated, for bombings that al-Qaeda allegedly envisioned for pubs, restaurants, and train stations in London.
The Pakistani-born, Queens-reared Babar frequented the New York Public Library (NYPL). As Deputy Attorney General James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee September 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. He knew that that was a sanctuary."
Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski's September 1995 manifesto, published in U.S. newspapers in exchange for his stopping his attacks, referred to L. Sprague De Camp's The Ancient Engineer. G-men already had sought records from Rocky-Mountain-area libraries Kaczynski may have consulted. As FBI director Robert Mueller wrote in the January 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. Since May 1998, he has been serving four life terms, plus 30 years, for 16 bombings that killed three people and wounded 23 others.
When NYPD detectives suspected Scottish occult poet Aleister Crowley may have inspired "Zodiac Killer" Heriberto Seda, a Queens grand jury granted them a subpoena on July 3, 1990, to see who requested Crowley's books from NYPL's Bryant Park headquarters. These records helped officials arrest Seda and, in June 1998, convict him for three murders and one attempted homicide. He is behind bars for 83 years.
Congress should add "library" to the Patriot Act, one place that word does not appear. Its absence has not deterred detractors from labeling the Act's Section 215 as "the Library Provision." This phrase is as invented as the light bulb. Section 215 allows the FBI to ask federal judges for "access to certain business records for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations." Unfortunately, domestic terrorism inquiries are verboten. Fortunately, so are those "conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution."
The Justice Department seems needlessly skittish about potentially equipping agents with search warrants and dispatching them to libraries to foil the mass murder of Americans. Justice "has not sought a Section 215 order to obtain library or bookstore records," an April DOJ fact sheet declares twice.
The American Library Association is underwhelmed.
"Keep Big Brother Out of Your Library!" screams a headline on its website. ALA considers Section 215 "a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users."
"I am dismayed by librarians' uninformed opposition to the Patriot Act," says Maria Vagianos, a librarian at the anti-Islamist Investigate Project and a former public librarian in Peabody, Massachusetts. "Librarians commit a disservice to society and to their profession when they succumb to the ignorance that they are charged to dispel."
Vagianos's voice is rare in her profession. Indeed, alarmist librarians heartily eliminate records that counterterrorists might need.
Like a handkerchief that can wipe the fingerprints off a smoking gun, many libraries now use computer software that automatically deletes each book's check-out history as soon as it's returned. Berkeley, California's library now shreds Internet log-in records daily rather than weekly, as done before 9/11.
"We're quiet rebels," Cindy Czesak, director of New Jersey's Paterson Free Public Library, told Fox News. Her institution collects every completed computer sign-up sheet. "After that, it's removed and destroyed." She added: "We bought a nice new shredder." Paterson happens to be the Garden State town 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 na´ve or clandestinely seditious librarians are beyond foolish. They potentially jeopardize the lives of American citizens.
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 impact: They make it easier not harder for terrorists to kill you.
Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.