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tv   Frontline  PBS  September 13, 2011 10:00pm-11:00pm PDT

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>> tonight, two stories in this special edition of frontline. first... >> if you don't speak out, you're helping in selling the lie. >> as an interrogator for the fbi, ali soufan witnessed the war on terror from the inside.
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>> you say it's not just mistakes made, it's lies told, it's cover-ups. >> yeah, absolutely! >> this week, he speaks out publicly for the first time about the government's failure to prevent 9/11. >> what if that information had been shared? >> oh, my god, i think the world would be very different today. >> and about harsh interrogations. >> interrogations were used on hardened terrorists. they were essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. >> not one single imminent threat was stopped because of water-boarding. >> tonight, correspondent martin smith with "the interrogator." >> it is my duty to history to tell what i believe is the truth. >> and in our second story tonight... >> police spied on local peace organizations. 53 people were wrongly labeled as terrorists. >> the war on terror in your hometown. >> everybody is subject to investigation. >> pulitzer prize-winning reporter dana priest investigates if it crosses a
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line. >> we were described as terrorists, which is absurd on many levels. >> and is it working? >> are we safer? >> are we safe enough? >> these two stories in this special edition of frontline. >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major funding is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. and by reva and david logan, committed to investigative journalism as the guardian of the public interest. additional funding is provided by the park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by the frontline journalism fund, supporting investigative reporting and enterprise journalism.
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additional funding for frontline's expanded broadcast season is provided by the bill & melinda gates foundation. >> smith: 6:00 a.m., october 12, 2000. fbi agent ali soufan was on his way to work. >> i remember i was on the brooklyn bridge. i was driving to the office. and i got a phone call saying to come to the office fast. >> a suicide bomb attack on a u.s. navy warship... >> a ship, a navy ship, was attacked in yemen.
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>> smith: soufan was only 29 at the time. how soon did you go to yemen? >> same day. >> smith: he was badly needed. how many people in the fbi spoke arabic? >> eight, nine, something like that. >> smith: how many of them were working on al qaeda? >> i don't know. i think maybe i was the only one. >> smith: soufan was made chief investigator for the uss cole investigation, a major assignment. that's soufan there in a meeting with yemen's president, ali abdullah saleh, and fbi director louis freeh. you began the investigation. how do you begin something like that? where do you start? >> you start from the crime scene. you start taking statements from people who were on the ship, or people in the harbor, anybody who saw something. and you start building on that.
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>> smith: the story of what ali soufan began to uncover in yemen through a series of detailed interrogations is now told in his new book, "the black banners." it follows a trail of evidence that goes far beyond the cole bombing into the 9/11 plot itself. ultimately, the book is an indictment of the government's failure to prevent the attacks, and of its reliance on coercive interrogations after 9/11. soufan had taken an unusual path to the fbi: childhood in war- torn lebanon, high school and college in rural pennsylvania. he only applied to the fbi after a dare from some friends. two years later, he was hired. it was 1997. he brought with him an interest in a relatively obscure figure at the time, osama bin laden. one of his first assignments was to write a report about him. >> and i gave it to my
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supervisor, and that paper ended up with john o'neill. and it was about the threat that bin laden will cause for the united states. >> smith: o'neill, a legendary fbi agent with his own al qaeda obsession, immediately took soufan under his wing. by the time he got to yemen, soufan knew al qaeda as well as anyone in the fbi. and he had a special approach to his interrogations. >> what we did all the time in cases like these is to outsmart that individual. you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. >> smith: you compared interrogations-- interrogating somebody-- as like dating. sometimes, it is. and i tried to basically... ( laughs ) ...because it's about building-- it's about building a rapport with an individual. it's about building that chemistry.
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it's about building a trust, a little bit. because if he's going to tell you something, he needs to have some sense of trust. >> smith: during his interrogation of an al qaeda operative named fahd al quso, a key player in the cole bombing, soufan used his knowledge and skills to get inside his subject's head. >> quso did not believe that anyone from outside the group would know so much about the group, and he was convinced at one point that... he told me, "i saw you in kandahar. now, i remember you." i said, "maybe." >> smith: soufan had never been to kandahar, but after just a few days, quso would take soufan deep inside the terrorist organization. >> quso provided significant information, not only about the cole itself and what happened and his knowledge about it, but he provided a lot of information about afghanistan, about the
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training camps, about people he met over in afghanistan. >> smith: during one session, al quso mentioned an operative named tawfiq bin attash, or khallad, a former bodyguard of osama bin laden's and one of al qaeda's top men. >> the very logical question-- when is the last time you saw khallad? and he said, "well, i saw him last time in bangkok." and, for me, what the heck this guy is doing in bangkok? >> smith: quso explained that khallad had asked him to deliver some cash. but soufan wondered, if al qaeda had been planning the cole attack in yemen, why would they have been moving money to bangkok? >> the amount was $36,000. many questions came to our mind. we thought maybe al qaeda was planning to do something in southeast asia. however, the very first logical step we can do is share it with the agency.
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>> smith: the agency, the cia. soufan hoped they could help fill in some blanks, tell him something he didn't know about khallad being in southeast asia. did you learn any more about what had gone on? >> no. >> smith: soufan ran into what agents called "the wall." routinely, the justice department prohibited fbi agents doing criminal investigations from access to some types of cia intelligence. but often, definitions were unclear. at the time soufan was in yemen, there was a lot of confusion. >> there was misunderstanding of the attorney general guidelines of the time period that brought this interpretation that intelligence cannot be shared with people who are working on criminal investigations. we never had this problem to that extent in previous investigations. it didn't make any sense to me. >> smith: working on his own, soufan would continue to uncover more details, including the fact
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that, before the bangkok meeting, khallad had called quso from a phone number in malaysia. soufan wondered what khallad was doing there. so you went back to the cia. you say, "we've got this phone number..." >> yeah. >> smith: kuala lumpur. >> right. >> smith: "do you know anything about it?" >> yeah. >> smith: and they said? >> no. >> smith: they said no. >> uh-huh. >> smith: how many times did you go back to them and ask them about it? >> well, we talked about it a lot on the ground, but we have a saying in the bureau-- "if it's not on paper, it doesn't exist. on paper, it's at least three times." >> smith: three times? >> it's a teletype that goes from the fbi to the cia. >> smith: soufan's last request was sent to the agency in july, 2001.
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soufan had watched the 9/11 attacks from yemen. he thought the cole investigation would be put on hold, but he had no idea that his cole investigation had taken him to the edges of the 9/11 plot. he prepared to return to new york. >> we were at the airport, ready to go on a plane, when the person from the cia came and said to me, you know, "call your headquarters. they want to talk to you." >> smith: soufan was ordered to stay in yemen. he was told, "go back and talk to quso about 9/11." >> and it was kind of like a knife, somebody put a knife, you know, in me. i was like, "quso? how the heck quso is involved in what just happened? what did we miss? what did we just miss? we caused this."
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so i was sick to my stomach. so a couple of other guys volunteered to stay with us, and then we went to the embassy, and i was handed a manila envelope. >> smith: who handed you a manila envelope? >> the cia person on the ground. >> smith: soufan opened the envelope. after many months of having his requests for information ignored by the cia, he now had three cia surveillance photos taken at a 9/11 planning meeting in the malaysian capital, kuala lumpur. the cia wanted to know if one of the men was khallad. soufan took the photo back to quso. >> and he said, "this guy looks like khallad, but he just looks like him. i'm not sure if it's him." >> smith: soufan was incensed that the agency hadn't shared their intelligence months earlier. the cia asked him to look at yet another photo. >> and basically, my answer was, "how many people need to die in order to know how many freaking photos there is out there?"
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so we get another photo. i mean, i didn't need to ask quso. obviously, it's khallad. we know what he looks like. this is definitely khallad bin attash. >> smith: khallad was linked to the 9/11 plot. from malaysia, he had flown with two of the hijackers, khalid al mihdhar and nawaf al hazmi, to bangkok. from there, mihdhar and hazmi bought tickets and flew to los angeles. >> now we know why quso delivered the money. >> smith: so you're looking at this... >> yeah. >> smith: ...and you're seeing al midhar with khallad, and you're told in the report that al mihdhar was on flight 77... >> yes. >> smith: ...that crashed into the pentagon. >> yes. >> smith: how did... how did you react? >> i... i basically ran to the bathroom and puked. >> smith: what if that information had been shared?
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how would it have played out? do you make... >> oh, my god, this is a huge "if". this is a huge "if". i think the world would be very different today. i'm convinced. >> smith: no 9/11? >> the world would be very different. >> smith: you would have put a track on mihdhar, and hazmi? >> i think we could have done so many different things. we could have been on those guys like white on rice. >> smith: in fact, the 9/11 commission formed to investigate the 2001 attacks concluded that the failure of the cia to share information with soufan's team in yemen regarding khallad, al mihdhar, and al hazmi prevented a possible early detection of the 9/11 plot. so, had they simply been put on a watch list, they would have been picked up..." >> absolutely. >> smith: immigration at
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l.a. international. >> yep. >> smith: the cia declined frontline's request for an interview, but in a written statement said, "any suggestion that the cia purposefully refused to share critical lead information with the fbi is baseless." so why wasn't the information shared? we asked the cia's deputy legal counsel at the time if he knew of any legal reason. >> no. from what i know and what i... what i remember, there would... there would've been no legal impediment to sharing that information with the f.b.i. >> smith: can you shed any light on why it wasn't shared? >> i don't know. as i say, there was no legal reason not to share it. >> smith: so when you read about this in the 9/11 commission report, it remains somewhat of a mystery as to what happened? >> well, i mean, i don't think... i mean, you know, these things, you know, regrettably but inevitably happen sometimes. there was... there was a
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breakdown of communication, if that's what it was. or someone on our side thought they had passed it, or the fbi had it. but, you know, in my long agency career, you know, these... these kind of slip-ups or glitches occur. there's no ill intent on... on either side. but they, you know, unfortunately do happen. >> smith: after 9/11, bin laden was able to escape, and crossed from afghanistan to pakistan. his trail went cold. but a few months later, a shootout at this safe house in faisalabad, pakistan. the man taken into custody was believed to be the highest level al qaeda figure ever arrested-- zayn al-abidin muhammad husayn, otherwise known as abu zubaydah.
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soufan was called in. so, in 2002, you get a call to speak to an al qaeda detainee named abu zubaydah? >> yes. abu zubaydah is a terrorist facilitator. he was involved in a series of plots to attack american and israeli targets, and even to attack... to attack the pope during his visit to the holy land. >> smith: as a result of an extensive pre-publication review by the cia, the zubaydah chapter of soufan's book is heavily redacted. the interrogation remains a controversial episode in the fight against al qaeda. the cia maintains soufan's participation is still classified. in your book, pronouns-- "i", "we", "us"-- are redacted? >> yeah, and the fact that myself and steve gaudin, you know, my partner on that mission from the bureau, we've been... we've been redacted from that
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chapter as if we were not there. >> smith: but you did interrogate him? >> yes, i did. >> smith: when soufan arrived, zubaydah was in bad shape. he had been shot three times during the raid. but orders from washington were, "death is not an option." he was on life support? >> yes. they even flew a doctor from washington, d.c., to basically oversee his situation. we continued talking to him, but keeping in mind his medical situations. >> smith: soufan and his partner comforted zubaydah, held ice to his lips so he could drink, even changed his bedding and cleaned his wounds. >> and both steve and i developed an excellent rapport with abu zubaydah. >> smith: and according to soufan, zubaydah quickly revealed critical information, including identifying the mastermind of the 9/11 plot, khalid sheik mohammed. soufan called a supervisor. >> we did not know that khalid sheikh mohammed was a member of
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al qaeda. and immediately after that, i contacted my asac in new york, and he was totally shocked. he said, "but he's not a member of al qaeda, khalid sheikh mohammed." i said, "well, think again." >> smith: abu zubaydah also told soufan about an active plot which led to the arrest of an al qaeda figure named jose padilla in chicago. but the cia believed abu zubaydah knew much more, so they brought in a special contractor, a retired air force psychologist. although he has been publicly identified since, his name is still technically classified. his real name is mitchell? >> i don't... >> smith: you cannot confirm it? >> i cannot confirm or deny the individual's name in any way, shape or form. so i describe him in the book as boris. >> smith: and so boris arrives. tell me. tell me the story. >> boris arrives, and we believed we were getting some headway with abu zubaydah.
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but he has different opinion about how to handle this interrogation. so, we said, "what's your idea?" and he starts explaining his idea. >> smith: and that's when the trouble started? >> yeah. >> smith: boris begins to enforce nudity, loud rock music? >> yes. >> smith: so there was a lot of tension between you and this contractor... this psychologist. >> yeah, absolutely. there was a tension between all of us and him. you know, absolutely. and i was really frustrated, because i think that this is not going to lead us anywhere. i mean, this guy admitted that he doesn't know anything about islamic extremists. and here he is trying to call the shots on one of the most important programs, at the time, in the nation's history. >> smith: did you confront him? >> yes, absolutely. we talked about it. we talked about the techniques, and i think he just thought that i was arrogant. and, you know, it was mutual-- i thought he was arrogant, too,
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so... >> smith: how many interrogations had you done, up to that point, of al qaeda detainees? >> oh, many. oh, my god. i mean, i... guantanamo, the cole, bin laden case. i don't know, dozens. >> smith: how many had he done? >> zero. >> smith: the interrogation of abu zubaydah, it turns out, was a test run for a new cia interrogation program. >> this kind of thing was something that we had never done, certainly in the previous 25 years of my agency career. but we collectively decided to pursue it nonetheless-- not because we were eager to throw the f.b.i. out of interrogation business. it was only because we determined that measures like this were the only possible effective way to glean from these high-value detainees-- these psychopathic, remorseless killers-- possible information
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about the next imminent attack upon the homeland. >> smith: with soufan standing by, boris started to experiment with sleep deprivation and low temperatures. after he complained to headquarters, the fbi ordered soufan home. but boris continued. by august, the justice department approved techniques that were even harsher. now they could include slapping, shoving, confinement boxes, insects and dogs. was any actionable intelligence or any valuable intelligence gained after boris arrived? >> no, we never get any actionable intelligence or any significant intelligence, comparatively to what we got before, when his techniques were going on. >> smith: and why weren't you being listened to? >> i don't know. i would like to tell you. i would like to give answers. i've been reading a lot of things, a lot of different theories. but i would like to stick to the facts, and i really have no idea. >> smith: eventually, three men
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were subjected to water- boarding-- abu zubaydah, khalid sheikh mohammed, and abd al rahim al nashiri. >> they hit the glass ceiling with water-boarding. so what do you do? you do it again and again and again: with abu zubaydah, 83 times; with khalid sheikh mohammed, 183 times. when you repeat a tactic on an individual 183 times, do you think the technique is working? because if it's working, you don't need to do it 183 times. this is just logic. >> smith: the cia claims it did work. >> it was a good, good program. it was well run, it was carefully run. >> smith: and made us safer? >> made us safer. >> smith: good intelligence was derived? >> valuable intelligence was derived. i don't think there's any dispute about that. >> the interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts had failed. they were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. >> smith: officials who approved the use of enhanced
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interrogation techniques still defend the practice to this day. >> anyone who suggests that the enhanced techniques-- let's be blunt, water-boarding-- did not produce an enormous amount of valuable intelligence just isn't facing the truth. >> guantanamo bay. soufan would spend much of 2002 at the us military prison here. without using any coercive methods, he claims many successes. >> i helped getting the confession froal-bahlul and from hamdan-- as you know, two of the people who pled guilty in guantanamo bay. >> smith: but here, too, soufan came into conflict with us military interrogators who, like the cia, were exploring harsher methods of interrogation. time and again, soufan says, he was pushed aside. one of the people that you talked to down there was
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qahtani. >> yeah. yes. >> smith: you talked to him for a short time? >> about two days, maybe. >> smith: soufan says in those two days, he uncovered the fact that mohammed al khatani was meant to be the 20th hijacker. and then what happened? >> about three or four days later, he was taken away from us. >> smith: khatani's records reveal that he was interrogated up to 20 hours a day for several weeks. he was kept awake with loud music, denied access to a toilet, forced to strip naked, and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks. he suffered severe dehydration. twice, he was hospitalized with heart problems. slowly, details of the military and cia interrogation programs leaked into public view. by 2004, the cia had completed an internal review of its program. >> the cia inspector general concluded that we cannot verify
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that one-- not one single, imminent threat-- was stopped because of these techniques. that's very significant. >> smith: ali soufan says that not one piece of actionable intelligence was produced by the application of enhanced interrogation techniques. >> yes, well... i mean no disrespect to mr. soufan, but there was a lot of information derived-- from k.s.m., from abu zubaydah, from the other detainees who were subjected to these techniques. again, whether that intelligence could've been derived without these techniques, i do not know. and to this day, i think it's unknowable. i believe strongly that that would not have happened, because we're talking about the most... the most hardened, the most determined, and the most knowledgeable of the al qaeda leaders. i simply can't accept that they
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would have succumbed to a normal question-and-answer period to provide the information they provided. >> smith: discouraged by all that he had seen, soufan would leave the fbi in 2005. in 2009, he decided to speak out. >> from my experience, i strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as enhanced interrogation techniques. >> smith: he appeared, his identity hidden behind a screen, before a senate committee investigating how and why the bush white house approved the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. >> these techniques, from an operational perspective, are slow, ineffective, unreliable, and harmful to our efforts to defeat al qaeda. we don't know whether the detainee is being truthful or just speaking to mitigate his discomfort.
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>> smith: al-libi was an al qaeda military instructor. when he was captured in pakistan in 2001, he cooperated at first with fbi interrogators, but with white house permission, the cia flew him to egypt for tougher questioning. the testimony extracted from al- libi would quickly rise to the highest levels of the bush administration. >> i wasn't involved in this interrogation. >> smith: but you're heavily critical of it? >> absolutely. i heard about a lot of the things. some of the stuff that i heard about is still classified, some of the things we can talk about. ibn sheikh al-libi, after real macho interrogation-- this is enhanced interrogation techniques on steroids. he admitted that al qaeda and saddam were working together. he admitted that al qaeda and saddam were working together on wmds. that information was given as
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evidence to secretary powell, and colin powell went to the u.n. everybody remembers that speech. >> i can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how iraq provided training in these weapons to al qaeda. after we went to iraq, after we found out that there is no wmds, after we found out that al qaeda and saddam were not working together, they went back to ibn sheikh al-libi-- and this is all according to the armed services committee-- and they asked him, "why did you lie?" he said, "well, i gave you what you want to hear. >> smith: he complied. >> absolutely. >> "i want the torture to stop. i gave you anything you want to hear." >> smith: but the consequences of that... >> tragic, absolutely. the world is different. look at all the blood that we lost in iraq. look about how the iraq war helped al qaeda, both with recruits and financially.
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it's tragic, tragic. >> smith: today, soufan runs his own risk management group advising governments and corporations around the world. his book, just released yesterday, has re-ignited a debate. a debate about how to fight the war on terror, and about just what happened inside those interrogation rooms. a lot of people are uncomfortable with enhanced interrogation techniques, but i hear you saying that you're opposed to them not so much because of their cruelty, but because they don't work? >> yeah. i oppose them mainly from an efficacy perspective, because i know the mentality of these individuals. >> smith: would you have been in favor of it, if you'd known that it was working? >> if it was saving lives? i don't believe... look, if it was saving lives and i saw it saving lives, i hate to tell you and probably i will be attacked,
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but yes, maybe. >> smith: yes, maybe? >> yeah. it's very hard. but if somebody in doj is telling me this is legal and saving lives in the united states or abroad, i think... i think, yeah, maybe. again, yeah, maybe. because i know for a fact it didn't. >> coming up next on this edition of frontline... a special encore about the war on terror in your hometown. >> everybody is subject to investigation. >> we were described as
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terrorists, which is absurd on many levels. >> pulitzer prize-winning reporter dana priest investigates if it's working. >> are we safer? >> are we safe enough? >> narrator: it was just after midnight, september 9, 2001. >> a trooper was doing what a trooper would do. saw a speeder. pulled over the speeder. ( siren wailing ) >> narrator: the maryland state trooper ran the driver's name through the local police database... >> and he gave him a ticket. the driver, from all accounts, was polite.
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had proper registration, license. and there was nothing that the trooper could have done, other than to write the ticket, tell him "have a nice day"... or "have a nice night." that was it. >> narrator: the driver headed to newark. he was meeting friends at the airport. his name was ziad jarrah. >> united flight 93 crashed near johnstown, pennsylvania. >> narrator: his burned passport was found in the wreckage. ziad jarrah, his fellow hijackers, 40 passengers and crew were dead. the near miss of jarrah by that state trooper, and near misses of other hijackers, caused the
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government to assemble a massive nationwide surveillance apparatus. >> president bush said to us in the basement of the white house on the night of 9/11, "you have everything you need." and that was true. because as soon as we went to the congress, they said, "just tell us what you need." blank check. >> what congress did, and the american people supported, was turning on the spigot of funding for all the agencies that were involved in counter-terrorism. >> right after 9/11... i mean, every agency can give you their own gradation, but a nice, popular rule of thumb is everybody doubled down. >> narrator: nine days after the attacks, congress committed tens of billions of extra dollars to launch a global offensive against al qaeda. >> yet in this first war of the 21st century... >> narrator: since then, washington post investigative reporter dana priest has been
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tracking the growth of that terrorism-industrial complex-- not just internationally, but also here at home... >> york, oregon, virginia, california, texas and ohio... >> narrator: ...where the vast effort to fortify domestic defenses began with creation of the department of homeland security. >> homeland security is, by far, the largest merger in government history. there were 17 agencies from multiple departments-- the coast guard, the secret service, fema- - all being fused together into one organization. and all at once. >> narrator: they broke ground on what will become the home of a mammoth bureaucracy. its $3.4 billion headquarters will rival the pentagon as the largest government complex ever built in washington. >> you had something that you should never offer a bureaucracy, which is a candy
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store without a price tag. >> narrator: when dhs was first created, official washington believed 9/11 was a failure of federal intelligence agencies to communicate. >> there was something like 40 different agencies that had databases that had information that was not being shared and correlated. it was not connecting the dots. >> narrator: the buzzwords became "connecting the dots" between federal government agencies and the states. that's why dhs decided to fund fusion centers in the states, a place where intelligence from thousands of local police forces and federal government databases could be brought together and analyzed. >> you need to get information. you need to get it fast. and you need to have it analyzed properly and disseminated properly. >> narrator: dhs has funded 72 fusion centers across the nation. maryland, the state where ziad jarrah slipped through the net,
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built one of the first. >> these fusion centers are very, very important entities for that information sharing between federal government, state government, local government. >> the more we collaborate and cooperate, i think, the better chance we have of preventing another september 11, 2001, from occurring. >> so the homeland security department funded intelligence fusion centers in every state. >> we have roughly 80 personnel representing 30 different law enforcement agencies, and public health agencies, including the fbi. >> contractors went in, put in the large flat-screen tvs, put in the mission-control-to-the- moon kind of facilities. >> narrator: so far, dhs has spent more than $420 million on the nation's fusion centers. the idea is built around cops on the beat. they are supposed to feed the system intelligence about possible terrorists.
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>> you want to get as much information from that trooper into the system-- into the state system, and into the federal system, so that those euphemistic dots can be connected. >> narrator: but almost right away, the imperative to gather as much information as possible got the state police in maryland in trouble. looking for suspicious characters, undercover officers infiltrated anti-war and anti- death-penalty groups that sometimes met here. >> we're trying to bring together the anti-war movement and the climate chaos people, because the pentagon is number one at destroying this mother earth. >> narrator: max obuszewski was one of the targets of the operation. >> max was well known to law enforcement. max enjoyed being well known to law enforcement, in my opinion, because he... he was confrontational.
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>> narrator: before long, the police had gathered data on 53 protesters. it made its way to a database in washington. >> we were described as "possible terrorists" that they were very, very concerned about, which is absurd on many levels, to say the least. >> the term "terrorist" is just one of the most detrimental words that could ever be applied to anyone. you know that. >> and you don't know where your name might appear... >> narrator: some of the so- called "terrorists" were actually catholic nuns. >> and i think there's a big difference, at least in my mind, between being considered a person who is non-violent and a terrorist. >> narrator: their files were now accessible to state and federal officials, and that's when the american civil liberties union entered the fray. >> there is insufficient oversight of the fusion centers to ensure that they are only collecting the appropriate information. >> narrator: mike german's
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cautions come from his own experience as an undercover agent for the fbi. >> they were contacting other local police agencies and even the joint terrorism task force, the national security agency, unnamed military intelligence people. so, the information was being disseminated very broadly. >> police spied on local peace organizations... >> 53 people were wrongly labeled as terrorists. >> maryland state police spying program... >> narrator: it was an embarrassment to the state of maryland. >> i think this is an example of the sort of cowboy excesses that you can get into if you do not have a properly functioning and professionally run fusion operation within your state. >> narrator: the files of tens of thousands of americans have been put in national databases. >> this is one case with the maryland state police, but this is the type of activity we have seen all across the country, and at all levels of government-- state, local police, as well as
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fbi, department of homeland security, even the department of defense. >> narrator: but the fusion centers in maryland and washington still need information, lots of it, and dhs continues to depend on cops on the beat. >> cops are information gatherers. that's our front line of defense for crime. terrorism's a crime. they need to do that and they are doing that. >> narrator: this is one of the war on terror's primary weapons, known as a sar-- suspicious activity report. >> if one of the 800,000olice officers in this country comes across something suspicious related to homeland security-- to terrorism-- they'll fill this information out. >> narrator: local police are being told to look out for suspicious behavior around public facilities-- picture taking, map drawing, evasive driving. >> i think any time we have
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activity and photographs of those sorts of facilities, and it comes to our attention, we need to ask the questions why, or look at who's taking the pictures to find out something about them. >> narrator: but even that simple instruction can get local police in trouble. >> a gentleman who was photographing an amtrak train was arrested by amtrak police, and handcuffed and detained because they thought this behavior was suspicious. >> narrator: it was an amtrak- sponsored photography contest. >> so this information-- again, completely innocuous, deserved no police attention-- is now being put on a report, deemed suspicious activity, and forwarded on to the intelligence community. >> narrator: inevitably, there have been cases of abuse, but experienced anti-terror practitioners say it's too late to stop the information- gathering juggernaut. >> limiting information access
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is a task that's not going to happen. in the age of information explosion, forget about it. people say, "you're keeping records on x, y and z," i'll say, "hey, get on google, get on google maps, get on google earth. get into commercial software that looks at how to investigate somebody's telephone number." you've got to be kidding me. >> that's the great american conundrum, isn't it? i mean, our very... our freedom as individuals, our freedom of movement, are the very things that are most vulnerable to terror attacks. and also, sadly, are most vulnerable to our own systems of government turning on those things and doing more harm than the terrorists do in their attacks. >> narrator: meanwhile, the federal government continues to spend billions of dollars for states to gather more information. in maryland, they've even started taking pictures of license plates. >> priest: what are we doing here? >> the system we're using has two cameras.
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they're... it's constantly taking pictures, observing the tags, allowing the system to record them, and check them against the database. we're looking for, again, it would be stolen... >> suspended or revoked registration. >> narrator: this technology, used by u.s. military forces on the streets of baghdad, has migrated to the streets of baltimore. >> with the license plate reader system, if we were to get that information, we can then go into the system and see where else this car has been. >> the software with the system, when it sees what it thinks is a license plate, it will read it using ocr-- optical character recognition-- and make a crosscheck against a database. >> narrator: surveillance cameras at vital institutions are also photographing license plates and adding them to the database. >> maybe nobody called it in when they were at ft. detrick or aberdeen proving ground, or at bolling air force base. but the license plate readers
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will tell us they were there, and when they were there, and when they passed through. that's a pattern. that's something we'd want to know about. >> narrator: and they've gone one step further. smile-- cameras are everywhere. >> we are very big on cctv. we believe that it is a force multiplier, that it is an effective way, not only to provide greater security in open spaces-- evidence times square. but also, it's a much more effective way to guard approaches to tunnels, bridges and other sorts of static targets. >> narrator: maryland, like most states, has gotten very good at following the money from dhs-- money to equip local police with the latest technology, much of it imported from the battlefields of iraq and afghanistan. here, at a sales fair in phoenix, american companies have rushed into the information- gathering bonanza.
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>> it's called micro-facial expressions. we use it to help the soldiers, the troops on the ground in afghanistan and iraq, to tell if the individual's trying to hide something... >> narrator: the new gold rush has attracted some familiar names-- general dynamics, northrup grumman-- and some newcomers. >> we can take massive stores of pre-recorded video, whether it be facial video, aerial-- in this context, anything related to vehicles-- and extract those objects, and understand the nature and behavior of those objects, and update a sybase iq system with the high-level results. >> narrator: this is all part of that massive new organization, top secret america, that the government has been constructing since 9/11. >> doesn't that make sense? >> priest: yeah. >> narrator: two years ago, with her fellow reporter bill arkin, priest began to focus on top secret america as it grew and spread.
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>> priest: what's this one? >> here's all of general dynamics in the country. >> priest: oh, my goodness! >> narrator: and hundreds of those buildings were hiding in plain sight in office parks like this. >> priest: and this is a gate to... to the nsa? >> there's a government facility back in there. you'll see it better after we turn down this road. obviously, i can't go that way. >> narrator: inside these buildings, nearly one million americans are fighting what has been called "the global war on terror." >> okay, you've got titan in here, csc is in one of these buildings, general dynamics. security station here in front where they check out the cars and look underneath. >> priest: so maybe you should put the camera down now. >> you just never know who's watching over here. >> narrator: slowly, they discovered a hidden world of military, government and private corporations. >> priest: all right, so can we just go over what you have? >> sure. this is the picture that i went up to that credit union place. >> priest: uh-huh. >> narrator: they documented the
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incredible building boom all around washington. >> had it not been for the leaves off the trees and at night, you just... you would never see this thing. >> priest: and yet it's gigantic. >> yeah. >> for the rest of my life, i will never see the world the same way again, especially around washington. these buildings that-- they might only be four stories high, but they go down ten stories. and there's a whole world down there, like shops and places to eat that you don't know about that's just for them. >> narrator: this is a world so secretive, so large and unwieldy, that no one knows how much it costs, or everything it does. >> i could not possibly claim that i knew everything that was going on. i think someone said that "only god knows all the special access programs." i think that's true. is that a good thing? probably not. can we avoid it? probably not. >> narrator: four-star general michael hayden ran the national security agency, and then the cia. but even he didn't know the
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scope and size of secret programs inside top secret america. >> i was in government service for 40 years; most of that was in intelligence. i would never claim to you that i knew all the compartments. >> narrator: and no one seems to know what it all really costs. >> you have a congress that's not doing its job on oversight, and recognizes it's not doing it, calls it dysfunctional. so, who's making the decisions? and where are they being made? well, they're being made in the 17 different intelligence agencies. and nobody's in overall charge. so, naturally, you're going to get bloated budgets, naturally you're going to get duplication. >> narrator: it's a story only just beginning to be understood, a story about the price of security, and whether all those tens of billions of dollars are actually making us safer. >> you can look, if you're objective, at all of this money and all of this effort and say, "what would have happened if we
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hadn't done that?" and in almost every case, nothing would have happened. it's true that there hasn't been another attack. it's not true that all of this expenditure and all these people have stopped it. >> the terror threat in this country is coming from within... >> ...tried to set off a bomb at a christmas tree lighting ceremony... >> ...arrested by federal agents this morning after attempting to detonate... >> narrator: but what about all those publicized cases that sounded like successes? >> ...the guy who tried to blow up more than 250 fellow passengers... >> what exactly went wrong? >> narrator: just a year ago, at christmas, the underwear bomber, who somehow evaded the security net, despite numerous intelligence red flags and a father who warned the cia his son might be a threat. >> there are more questions than answers to that... >> there were no red flags raised. >> he actually got to the point of triggering the device, which means, at that point, the only thing that's going to stop that is what happened-- is a technical failure, or maybe a human failure. >> what we found out from the christmas day bombing attempt
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was that, because the nigerian guy's name was misspelled by one letter, he did not pop up, the little bits of data about him did not... were not correlated, those dots were not connected. >> google does it. if you mistype something on google, it says, "did you mean this?" despite spending all the billions of dollars on databases, that simple spell- check, "did you mean this?" kind of software wasn't operating. >> narrator: and then, five months later, there was the times square bomber. >> ...can be assured that the fbi and their partners in this process have all the tools and experience they need. >> the times square bomber was a horrendously run operation. a bunch of vendors in times square said to the cops, "there's a problem with this car." >> both those cases-- it was not the intelligence agencies, it was private citizens. on the plane, it was a private citizen who jumped the guy. times square, it was a vendor
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saying, "something's wrong there," letting the law enforcement authorities know it. so, we were lucky, and because we have an alert citizenry. >> the fbi says it's taken down a home-grown radical. >> in baltimore, a man apparently tried to blow up a military recruitment center in... >> narrator: and then there's this case that happened just recently in maryland. >> ...tried to detonate what he thought was a bomb... >> he proceeded to drive the suv as planned to the recruiting center, where he parked it in front of the building. >> narrator: an undercover fbi agent had given the suspect an inert bomb. >> he had a detonation device, which he was to key. however, when he keyed it, it didn't work. >> he was immediately placed under arrest at that time. >> narrator: and once again, the suspect, 21-year-old antonio martinez, had been discovered by an alert citizen reading facebook. the source called the fbi in baltimore.
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>> priest: i'm trying to think of any other technology that would have helped in this case. >> this was good, old-fashioned police work by a lot of different police agencies coming together. >> priest: okay, so not so heavy on the technology? >> that's correct. >> narrator: the fusion center's new technology was not involved. nor were the cctv or license plate cameras. there was no sar report. >> ...thank you for the information. you're free to go. >> narrator: next time on frontline... >> they still had iraq inside of them. >> i didn't even want to come home. >> you took a broken soldier and you sent him back. >> i didn't want to live anymore. >> you just feel like everybody's against you, and if you don't know them, they're your enemy. >> narrator: frontline investigates the invisible scars of war.
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>> we give up part of our morality to go to war. it allows us to survive. it allows us to kill. >> narrator: "the wounded platoon." >> frontline continues online. more from our interview with ali soufan... >> how many people need to die? >> the stories of his al qaeda interrogations. what are effective interrogation tactics? >> okay. >> and from "are we safer?" >> so, maybe you should put the camera down now. >> ...a closer look at how authorities define suspicious activity. plus, find your local fusion center. watch the program again online. follow frontline on facebook and twitter, or join the discussion at >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting.
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major funding is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. and by reva and david logan, committed to investigative journalism as the guardian of the public interest. additional funding is provided by the park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by the frontline journalism fund, supporting investigative reporting and enterprise journalism. >> for more on this and other frontline programs, visit our website at
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frontline's "the interrogator" is available on dvd. to order, visit or call 1-800-play-pbs. frontline is also available for download on itunes. turn to pbs... for stories that define the american experience. it was wild and out of control the flash apparently official revealing our strengths...
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