It has been said that the Gorelick memo of 1995 erected a "wall" between intelligence and law enforcement, which then impeded investigation of al Qaeda in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks.
Jamie Gorelick, working as Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno was author of the memo.
In the 1995 memo Gorelick wrote the following: “We believe that it is prudent to establish a set of instructions that will more clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation from the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations. These procedures, which go beyond what is legally required, will prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that FISA is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation.”
Gorelick's memo emphasized Presidential Decision Directive 24, which Clinton had signed the previous year. PDD 24 placed intelligence-gathering under the direct control of the President’s National Security Council, and ultimately the White House.
There are two branches to the FBI, the criminal division and an intelliegence division. The wall somehow stops them communicating with each other. The wall was blamed on the FBI not preventing 9/11.
Officially however, the FBI was unaware of any hijackers presence in the United States. As far as the government will admit, only the CIA knew of the hijackers membership of Al Qaeda and of their intent to carry out an attack and this information was not shared for unclear reasons. Given this version of the story it is not obvious how or if the wall affected 9/11.
Gorelick, asserts that the 'wall' limiting the ability of federal agencies to cooperate had existed since the 1980s and is in fact not one singular wall but a series of restrictions created over the course of over twenty years
Slade Gorton, a member of the 9/11 Commission, said, "nothing Jamie Gorelick wrote had the slightest impact on the Department of Defense or its willingness or ability to share intelligence agencies."
Exactly who the wall applied to and who it didn't sit obvious to the public
Below are various opinions about the wall
On April 14, 2004 during sworn testimony before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Attorney General John Ashcroft pointed out that in 1995 a Justice Department memorandum strengthened the “communication wall” between the CIA and the FBI, and even between divisions within the FBI itself. President Clinton’s Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick authored the memorandum that greatly stymied information-sharing between intelligence agents and criminal investigators.
Coupled with the CIA’s failure to place the names of Alhazmi and Almihdhar or the terrorist Watch List on two opportunities in early 2000, the Gorelick Wall interfered with information-sharing surrounding the two future Ringleading 9/11 hijackers. Important question: Did the wall discourage the CIA from placing Alhazmi and Almihdhar on the Watch List for perusal by the FBI?
Attorney General John Ashcroft made his own observations about how the wall hindered terrorism investigations: “In the days before September 11, the wall specifically impeded the investigation into Zacarias Moussaoui, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. After the FBI arrested Moussaoui, agents became suspicious of his interest in commercial aircraft and sought approval for a criminal warrant to search his computer. The warrant was rejected because FBI officials feared breaching the wall. When the CIA finally told the FBI that al-Midhar and al-Hazmi were in the country in late August, agents in New York searched for the suspects. But because of the wall, FBI headquarters refused to allow criminal investigators who knew the most about the most recent al Qaeda attack to join the hunt for the suspected terrorists."
A Libertarian Magazine's take
In 2004, 9/11 commission chairman Thomas Kean told The New York Times he was troubled that word of Moussaoui’s arrest never made it to the top of the FBI hierarchy. “If it had maybe there would have been some action taken and things could have been different,” he said.
However it is now clear that senior FBI officials, Maltbie and Frasca, did know about Moussaoui’s arrest. They knew the case so well that they denied Samit’s request to seek a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to search Moussaoui’s computer and belongings. Because Samit never made the explicit link to Afghan terror camps, the FBI could not claim a “foreign power” was directing Moussaoui, the test for an intelligence warrant from the court. But had the bureau taken Samit’s fears of mayhem seriously, it could have sought a plain vanilla criminal warrant on Moussaoui based on probable cause. Samit was told that pressing too hard to obtain a warrant would hurt his career.
This decision not to seek a warrant gave rise to the myth that the “wall” between overseas intelligence and criminal investigations made the PATRIOT Act necessary. This myth is cherished among right-wing radio talkers and has now morphed into a clumsy justification for the White House’s warrantless wiretaps. It is pure fantasy. Samit cited “obstructionism, criminal negligence and careerism” by top FBI officials—not domestic spying restrictions—as the factors that stopped his investigation.
Errors in FISA
March 2001: The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) discovers that an application for a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is misleading.
The application is for surveillance of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the supporting affidavit was signed by FBI agent Michael Resnick.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is already investigating dozens of similar errors in FISA warrants for surveillance of al-Qaeda targets in the US. The application is misleading because its does not accurately describe the “wall” procedures being followed by several FBI field offices. Wall procedures regulate the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and local US attorneys’ offices.
The misleading description is also found in another 14 warrant applications for surveillance of Hamas. The impact of the misleading statements in the Hamas investigations has not been disclosed, but in the al-Qaeda cases the wall was breached because criminal agents had unrestricted access to intelligence information.
Royce Lamberth, Presiding Judge on the FISA Court, writes to Attorney General John Ashcroft saying it will no longer accept any applications where the supporting affidavit is signed by Resnick and asking for an immediate inquiry.
The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, which helps obtain warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, discovers errors in several al-Qaeda related FISA applications under a counterterrorist program called “Catcher’s Mitt.”
The OIPR verbally notifies the FISA Court of the errors, which are mostly in affidavits submitted by supervisory special agents at field offices. Then, in September and October 2000, the OIPR submits two pleadings to the court regarding approximately 75-100 applications with errors starting in July 1997. Many of the errors concern misleading statements about the nature of collaboration between criminal and intelligence agents.
Most of these applications stated that the FBI New York field office, where the I-49 squad focusing on al-Qaeda was based, had separate teams of agents handling criminal and intelligence investigations. But in actual fact the I-49 agents intermingled with criminal agents working on intelligence cases and intelligence agents working on criminal cases.
Therefore, contrary to what the FISA Court has been told, agents working on a criminal investigation have had unrestricted access to information from a parallel intelligence investigation—a violation of the so-called “wall,” the set of bureaucratic procedures designed to separate criminal and intelligence investigations