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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2002

A new intelligence agency

Mounting evidence suggesting foreign terrorrist involvement in the April, 1995, bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City suggests why it is important - and may be imperative - that the U.S. create a new intelligence agency.

In the month before the bombing of the Murrah building, U.S. intelligence agencies received considerable “chatter” that Muslim extremists were planning to attack federal buildings in the United States, intelligence officials told the joint House-Senate committee investigating the Sept. 11 intelligence failure, the Associated Press reported on June 20.

On April 19, the day of the Oklahoma City bombing, a source in Saudi Arabia's intelligence service told Vincent Cannistraro, then the chief of counterterrorism for the CIA, that an Iraqi hit squad was scouting targets to attack in Oklahoma City, Houston, and Los Angeles, said John Michael Johnston, an attorney who represents relatives of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Timothy McVeigh was executed, and Terry Nichols sentenced to life in prison, for their roles in the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh insisted, and the government maintains, that these neo-Nazis acted alone. There is considerable evidence to the contrary.

Last October, U.S. News & World Report noted that “a few top Defense officials think Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh was an Iraqi agent. The theory stems from a never-before-reported allegation that McVeigh had allegedly collected Iraqi telephone numbers.” Nichols is a man who held only minimum-wage jobs, and not many of them. Yet between 1990 and 1994, Nichols spent between $80,000 and $100,000 on trips to the Philippines. On his last trip, Nichols was on Basilan island at the same time as Ramzi Youssef, an Iraqi intelligence operative currently serving a life sentence in a federal penitentiary in Colorado for masterminding the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

Youssef was arrested after a plot he was hatching to hijack American airliners in the Pacific was uncovered by Philippine police. A confederate, Abdul Hakim Murrad, told authorities that Youssef had also masterminded the Oklahoma City attack, Mr. Johnston said.

These are a lot of dots. The FBI says they don't connect. But as the investigation into Sept. 11 has shown, connecting the dots is not an FBI forte.

As Newsweek reported, in January, 2000, the CIA had followed two terrorists from an al-Qaida summit in Malaysia to San Diego, where their trail was dropped - the law forbids the CIA from operating in the United States. Those two men turned out to be among the terrorists who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon on Sept. 11

We need an intelligence service that can connect dots, whether they are gathered at home or abroad. It need not - ought not - have powers of arrest. But it must be freed of the legal constraints, the bureaucratic rivalries, and the lack of imagination that plague the FBI and the CIA.



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