May 03, 2005,
At least seven of the 19 9/11 hijackers used government libraries in the run-up to their mass killings in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. This fact should quiet critics of the Patriot Act who demonize it as a magnifying glass through which federal snoops read over the shoulders of law-abiding Americans. Instead, the Patriot Act should be reauthorized, and federal agents, with court permission, should feel anything but bashful about conducting counterterrorism investigations at U.S. libraries.
In the latest developments, Khalid Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al-Hazmi used a New Jersey state college’s computers to buy tickets for American Airlines Flight 77. They and three other hijackers plowed that jet into the Pentagon, killing 184 people.
“The computers in the library were used to review and order airline tickets in an Internet travel reservations site," Ken Wainstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, testified before the House Judiciary Committee on April 28. Investigators discovered four online sessions on those terminals during August 2001 by people registered under these two hijackers’ names. The last occurred on August 30, 2001, within a fortnight of al Qaeda’s attack on America.
"The FBI, in furtherance of their investigation into 9/11, did take a number of our public access computers," Stuart Goldstein, WPU’s assistant vice president for institutional advancement, told the AP’s Wayne Parry. "The FBI never informed us as to what they found or didn't find."
As I discussed on NRO April 25, five other 9/11 hijackers turned out to be library patrons, in addition to Al-Mihdhar and Al-Hazmi:
Marwan al Shehhi used Hamburg Technical University’s library in Germany for Internet access. He smacked United Flight 175 into 2 World Trade Center.
Wail Alshehri used the Internet at Florida’s Delray Beach Public Library in the summer of 2001, according to reference librarian Kathleen Hensmen. She spoke with me by phone and has been quoted in earlier news accounts.
Wail’s brother, Waleed, was online at that facility, too, Hensmen recalls. She also remembers meeting al Shehhi while the Alshehri brothers shared a computer one summer evening in 2001.
“The name of another suspect on the south tower flight, Mohand Alshehri, appeared on a log of computer users at the library” in Delray Beach, according to George Bennett’s July 2, 2003, report in the Palm Beach Post. Mohand Alshehri helped Marwan al Shehhi demolish 2 WTC.
While taking flight lessons, 9/11 ringleader "[Mohamed] Atta used computers at the public library and worked out at a Delray Beach health club," the Los Angeles Times reported September 27, 2001. Wail and Waleed Alshehri assisted Atta in the destruction of 1 WTC aboard American Airlines Flight 11.
“Today we learned the 9/11 murderers used our public libraries to access the Internet and help plan their travel prior to 9/11,” House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R., Wisc.) said after Wainstein’s April 28 testimony. “This newly released information demonstrates the critical importance of the PATRIOT Act’s Section 215, which allows for the production of business records with a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court order. Section 215 provides with appropriate safeguards the tools necessary to help disrupt and prevent future terrorist attacks. We put Americans’ lives at risk if we foolishly provide sanctuaries even in our public libraries for terrorists to operate.”
Sensenbrenner’s lesson could not be clearer: Had the Patriot Act existed before 9/11, FBI agents could have used Florida and New Jersey library records (and perhaps others yet unseen) to forestall al Qaeda’s slaughter of 2,977 men, women, and children. Now that the Patriot Act does exist, it should let the FBI use library records to prevent whatever pageant of mass death the Islamofascists may be plotting for a city near you.
The deepest mystery here is why the Bush administration and the Justice Department have tolerated years of public-relations hell regarding the so-called “Library Provision” of the Patriot Act. There is no “Library Provision,” since the Patriot Act neither targets, exempts, nor mentions libraries. Justice has busied itself reassuring the public that it never has used Section 215 of the Patriot Act to seek library records. Nonetheless, the American Civil Liberties Union has complained that Section 215 lets the FBI “spy on a person because they don’t like the books she reads, or because they don’t like the web sites she visits.”
This, of course, is nonsense. Educating the media and the American public about the September 11 hijackers’ love of libraries would have defused one bomb in the anti-administration arsenal. Accomplishing this does not require state secrets. I began my research on this topic three weeks ago by typing the words “Atta” and “library” into Google. I was nearly as amazed by articles I found tying the hijackers to libraries as by the fact that these pieces had vanished down the memory hole. The Administration could have avoided itself plenty of pain by retrieving and showcasing these articles. What we have here is one more administration failure to communicate.
This information is now back on the radar. The administration and those who support its counterterrorism policies should spread the word.
Meanwhile, with over a third of the 9/11 butchers now identified as library users, let’s not hear another syllable about the supposed dangers of the Patriot Act’s imaginary “Library Provision.” From America’s borders to its banks, airports, mosques, and libraries, Federal investigators relentlessly must keep “connecting the dots” before another pack of Muslim extremists separates even more Americans from their arms and legs.
Deroy Murdock is a New York-based syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.