February 6, 10:15 AM Eastern
Director Joseph squirmed a bit in his chair, trying to hide his discomfort. He had made a short opening statement, a masterpiece of wordsmithing, which basically boiled down to “We did the best we could” and “Look at all the things we stopped.” The statements from the man and woman in charge of intelligence agencies, who sat to either side of him, had been eerily similar.
At the table across the room from him sat the newly sworn-in Joint Select Committee on the December 19th Attacks, six senators and six representatives, few of whom the Director would have counted as political allies. Today was only their second day of hearings, and it was their first closed-door session.
Could be worse, he thought sourly, I could be head of the Border Patrol. Pat’s going to get crucified tomorrow. At least there aren’t news cameras to see this.
“The chair recognizes the gentleman from Kentucky,” the chairwoman intoned into her microphone.
“Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. Director Joseph, I’m going to dispense with the customary long-winded build-up to a question, which you’re undoubtedly used to hearing,” Congressman Ferguson said, his smile sharp and tight, “and cut right to the point.”
“Thank you, sir,” Joseph said with a smile.
“Director, from reading your agencies initial report on the Christmastime attacks, I gather that the FBI didn’t have any actionable intelligence, prior to December 18, about the groups that attacked us. Is that a correct summation?”
“That’s correct, Congressman,”
“I didn’t see it covered in your report, so I’ll ask: Has any new information, gathered prior to December 19, come to light that would have tipped your agency to the attacks?”
“Not to my knowledge, although our people are working around the clock to double check our sources and data. Interrogation of the terrorist the Army captured when they cleared the cathedral in Tucson continues, and we expect to learn a lot from him in the coming months.” The directors of the National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency both nodded their heads in agreement.
“So, sir, you had nothing which could have been used to prevent or at least lessen the attacks?”
“Correct, Congressman. As I said in my statement, we did the best we could with what we had.”
“Uh-huh,” the Congressman said. He picked up a piece of paper from the table and asked, “Director, do you see this in my hand?”
“Yes, Congressman,” Joseph said, suppressing a sigh.
Here we go, he thought, I wonder how bad this is going to get?
“It’s a news article I cut out of the Louisville Gazette. It’s from their December 18th edition. Do you know what this article is about, Director?”
“I’m sorry, Congressman, I don’t.”
“It’s about an FBI operation that brought about the arrest of a man who was attempting to purchase weapons from an FBI informant.”
“Yes, sir, I’m familiar with that case.”
“I gather that the young man in question was approached on-line by FBI agents posing as terrorists and led down the primrose path to a federal conspiracy indictment.”
“I wouldn’t characterize it that way, Congressman.”
“Director, how many terrorist plots has your agency broken up in the past five years which did not involve FBI agents inducing someone, who may or may not have had a notion to commit terrorism, into something that got them arrested?”
“Director, those tactics are perfectly legal.”
The chairwoman leaned into her microphone and said, “Please answer the question, Mr. Joseph.”
“Yes, Senator,” Joseph said, “Congressman, I don’t have that kind of information in front of me.”
“I’ll help you a bit, Director,” Ferguson said, holding up an inch-thick manila folder, “Madam Chairwoman, I’ve had my staff scouring news stories and FBI reports from the past five years. They found seven instances where someone was arrested by the FBI and indicted for conspiracy to commit terrorism or conspiracy to support terrorist organizations, but was not induced into their behavior by FBI agents posing as terrorists,” he said, turning toward the Senator from California.
“Congressman…” the Director tried to say.
“I’m not finished, Director,” Ferguson said, cutting him off, “In five of those cases, the information presented to the grand jury was gathered by state or local law enforcement and handed over to your agency. In the remaining two, you arrested a total of six individuals, and the Attorney General indicted two.”
Ferguson set the folder down on the table in front of him, then steepled his fingers over them. Leaning forward, he locked eyes with Joseph.
“Sir, for almost two decades, we’ve watched our security services pat down grandmothers in airports, had our emails and telephone records scoured, and been told this was all being done to protect us from terrorism,” he said.
“We have done everything…”
“Yet with all that, you had no idea that a massive attack against the most vulnerable members of our nation was in the making?” Ferguson said, leaning back into his chair. Joseph said nothing, but looked and felt as if he wanted to throw up.
“Now, Director Joseph,” Ferguson said blandly after a few seconds’ pause, “exactly what have y’all been doing with all of the billions of dollars Congress has given you to combat terrorism, other than convincing the weak-minded to try to buy weapons from your agents and violating the rights of my constituents?”
Joseph looked down at his hands for a moment and sighed. Next to him, the director of the National Security Agency squirmed in her chair again. It would be her turn next.