The FBI missed a big chance to gain intel—compliments of a tapped phone network in Afghanistan—before 9/11 because it was busy fighting with the CIA, according to testimony heard yesterday in Britain's House of Commons. Stay with us on this one: As the Guardian reports, the revelation was made because the UK government wants to hold court cases related to national security in secret. And the official arguing that such a thing should not be permitted in the UK cited a US case as an example. David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said that the FBI was presented with an incredible opportunity in 1998: to listen in on every single Taliban phone call.
The FBI had learned that the Taliban had handed a UK-US venue a major telephone contract. Explains Davis, "Because the Taliban wanted American equipment for their new phone network, this would allow the FBI and NSA to build extra circuits into all the equipment before it was flown out to Afghanistan for use." Those circuits would allow the FBI to learn details like the caller's name and the number they were calling. But "Operation Foxden" got mired in a battle between the FBI and CIA over who should take the lead on the project. It finally got authorized—on Sept. 8. 2001. It's unclear whether the US would have actually gained al-Qaeda- and 9/11-related intel from these calls, but "a huge opportunity was missed," Davis said. The businessmen involved in the phone venture got embroiled in a lawsuit, which was sealed to protect state secrets; Davis was using the US case as an example of how intelligence agencies misuse laws to shield embarrassments, rather than protect security.