The 9/11 Commission Report pinned a good part of the failure to prevent the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on the wall that had been erected to keep the intelligence and law enforcement communities from talking to each other. Intelligence information could taint criminal trials, and had to be kept from the FBI and local law enforcement officials. Of course, this was all before the government discovered that suicide bombers -- whether using explosive vests or passenger airplanes -- quickly become immune to prosecution.
But now that wall has come down? Hasn't it?
Maybe not, if this little-noticed report in Saturday's San Diego Union-Tribune is correct.
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Gary Maziarz said patriotism motivated him to join a spy ring, smuggle secret files from Camp Pendleton and give them to law enforcement officers for anti-terrorism work in Southern California.
He knew his group was violating national security laws. But he said bureaucratic walls erected by the military and civilian agencies were hampering intelligence sharing and coordination, making the nation more vulnerable to terrorists.
Maziarz, a member of the Marine Forces Reserve, had helped search for survivors in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“I decided to make a difference and act,” Maziarz testified during his court-martial in July at Camp Pendleton.
Maziarz has been sentenced to 26 months in prison.
The case is an intelligence nightmare, said defense analysts briefed on it.
They also said it unmasks the military's growing role in post-Sept. 11 domestic security and confirms that U.S. officials believe al-Qaeda is active in the United States.
“It gives operational security people brain cooties to think about an incident like this,” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a think tank that focuses on emerging security concerns.
“It's the apparent extent of this intelligence hemorrhage and the fact that they caught someone and prosecuted him that make this case stand out,” he added.
Steven Aftergood, a research analyst for the nonprofit Federation of American Scientists, couldn't remember another instance of people being driven by patriotic frustration to break the law.
“It's incredible. We had better understand their motivations or else this is going to keep happening,” said Aftergood, whose organization works to reduce government secrecy while improving security practices. “The failure of agencies to share information is a real one and has been raised over and over again without a satisfactory resolution.”
The people whom Maziarz described as his accomplices include:
- Larry Richards, a Marine reserve colonel and detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. He co-founded the Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning Group in 1996. On the military side, he has received a Bronze Star for developing psychological-warfare strategies during the Iraq war.
- David Litaker, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department and, until recently, a Marine reserve colonel.
- Mark Lowe, another Marine reserve officer and a pilot for Delta Air Lines.
- Lauren Martin, a Navy reservist who worked as a civilian intelligence analyst at U.S. Northern Command headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.
Richards, Litaker, Lowe and Maziarz came to know one another through their military ties.
Maziarz testified that Richards recruited him in 2004 as his successor for taking classified documents from Camp Pendleton. Maziarz said he routinely passed such information to Richards, plus to and from Martin.
What these guys did was obviously wrong, hence the 26 month prison sentence, but are the so-called first responders really getting all the information they need to protect us?