Tim Sumner

No One Laughed

Drill Sergeant with new recruits at Ft Dix NJ circa 1985

Drill Sergeant with new recruits at Ft Dix NJ circa 1985

What time is it, kids? It’s ‘Do Your Duty’ time. So, I enlisted in the Army on February 25, 1974.

The bus from New Haven to Ft Dix, NJ, filled up at the Port Authority Station in NYC. Two “long hairs” took the seats to my left, a semi-Italian 19-year old from Brooklyn, New York named Rios, and Keller who was fresh out of a Rikers Island prison cell.

We nodded, did not shake hands, and returned to our own thoughts while not knowing we’d become roommates in 3rd Plt, B-4-3. Madison from Patterson took the seat to my right. He was thin, 6′ 6″, assigned to 1st Platoon, and a prankster who I, weeks later, punched in broad daylight. (More later about James Henry Madison from NJ.)

The four of us glanced out the windows at the traffic, falling snow, and darkening skies as the bus rushed down the NJ Turnpike. Too soon it seemed we turned off and rolled through the Main Gate after MPs there checked the manifest. Runway lights blinked beyond the fence (McGuire AFB) outside on one side of the bus as USAF transport jets landed and took off.

We stopped at the Reception Station.

A burly, mean looking mad man in a Round Brown Hat boarded when the bus doors opened. He barked, “Listen up!” The lives of 50 ‘Swinging Richards’ were about to change.

The Drill Sergeant then said, “When I tell you to move, and not before then, you will stand up, grab your large yellow envelope with your papers and AWOL bags, un-ass this bus, line up with your toes touching the yellow line, and stand by for further orders.”

“Move!”

We un-assed the bus. He never yelled or screamed. He just walked from our left to right pointing down at the yellow line as we lined up.

He continued, “Hold up your envelope in your right hand and hold the handle of your AWOL bag with your other. … Move! Now, raise your envelope up and read whose name is on it. If it is your envelope, lower your arm to your side. If it is NOT your envelope, keep it up at eye level and, when I tell you to, sound off with the last name, printed in large letters, on it. … Move!”

Somehow, all of us had managed to grab the correct envelope. Yet two guys in the second row, 20 feet apart, still held up their envelopes.

The Drill Sergeant stood in front of the first one and said, “Sound off!”

“Smith, sir,” Smith replied in a low voice, as snow quietly fell, and each snowflake slammed into the cement.

“Welcome to the United States Army, General Smith!” The Drill Sergeant then marched down the second row and stopped in front of the second guy holding up his own envelope.

“Name?”

“Smith,” Smith replied in an even lower voice that everyone toeing the yellow line heard.

No one laughed.

“Is your first name ‘John’, Smith?” asked the Drill Sergeant.

“Yes sir,” John Smith replied in a whisper heard around the world.

“Well, Admiral John Smith, General Eugene Smith must be your older wiser twin brother, ain’t that right?”

“Yes sir,” John Smith whispered.

The Drill Sergeant leaned in until the brim of his Round Brown Hat just barely touched Smith’s forehead, and then he growled, “You will address me as Drill Sergeant. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant,’ Smith said loudly.

The Drill Sergeant then added, “I work for a living. Don’t call me sir.”

Then he said, “Now, when I tell you to move, you 50 Army volunteers will face to your left … Not yet, General Smith … and move in column by stepping off with your left foot, follow the Drill Sergeant by the door and line up standing behind the tables inside where the Drill Sergeant tells you to stand … Move! … Your other left, Admiral Smith.”

No one laughed out loud for we were too scared. But it was funny.

We followed the other Drill Sergeant into the building and lined up where he pointed, each of us behind an individual table. Then he said, “Place your yellow envelope in the slot below your tabletop and your AWOL bag on top of your table … Move!”

“When I tell you to, quickly take everything out of your AWOL bag, pockets, and concealed on your person, and place it on the table. You have 30 seconds. … Move!”

“Place your empty AWOL bag under your table.”

As we did so, Drill Sergeants moved in front of each table, surveyed the contents, and screamed at us to take everything out of our pockets, take off all hats, and removed all jewelry (except for wrist watches). They circled, surveyed, stirred each table’s stuff with a short stick, and directed those with them to place all weapons, drugs (except prescriptions), and contraband (which they pointed to) in the “large red barrels marked ‘Amnesty Box’ at the back of the room and then return to your desk.”

“Move like you have a purpose!”

A few fools actually had brought contraband. As fast as rabbits could run, they ran to the red barrels and dumped their “junk in the trunk.” It was chaos. Yet the Drill Sergeants calmly directed rush hour like the traffic squad in a Keystone Cops movie.

No one laughed.

“Now, place everything remaining on your table, except your wallet, into your AWOL bag, put your wallet in your pocket, grab your AWOL bag with your left hand, and retrieve your yellow envelop with your right hand. … Move!” … “Your other left hand, General Smith.”

No one laughed.

The next two days at the Reception Station were a blur. We were weighed, measured, issued uniforms, medically examined, inoculated, vaccinated, drilled on by dentists, had our head “shaved” by barbers using the # 1 clipper in 30 seconds flat, lined up everywhere, and hurried up and waited. I’m sure we ate three meals a day and were allowed to sleep 7 hours a night, but I don’t remember either eating or sleeping.

Then a “bus” took us 50 brand new Army volunteers to our new home for the next 7 weeks of more fun than a human being should be allowed to have, ever: Army Basic Training at B-4-3.

***

Tim Sumner is a retired career U.S. Army Military Policeman. His service included as a Drill Sergeant from 1983 to 1985. He co-founded 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America in 2004. And he is currently writing a yet to be named memoir.  

Renew the Patriot Act provisions or risk another 9/11

A police officer plays Taps in The Pit at the WTC's Ground Zero on the 1st anniversary of 9/11.

A police officer plays Taps in The Pit at the WTC’s Ground Zero on the 1st anniversary of 9/11

Before the Patriot Act, the FBI would have been stymied had it conducted a counter-terrorism investigation involving a now infamous American agent of a foreign power.

Anwar al-Awlaki was born in the United States.

Apparently, Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee believe the only thing worth remembering about him is President Obama “illegally” had him killed in Yemen using a Hellfire missile. (No matter that al-Awlaki: had sent “panty bomber” Abdulmuttalab to blow up a passenger plane over Detroit; attempted to blow up a DHL cargo airplane in flight; had become the well-publicized spiritual leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); and was heavily guarded in Yemen’s remote tribal areas – sending Americans into those wilds to arrest him would have been difficult and dangerous.)

Others vividly recall that al-Awlaki twice met with 9/11 hijackers.

I agree with former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy that the collection of metadata should be abolished. Further, I agree that federal judges are unqualified to conduct national security. Republicans and Democrats in Congress have repeatedly abdicated their oversight responsibilities of our intelligence community. Now, some Republicans are seeking to give the FISA court even more authority; far too many Democrats – who seek to vest America’s foreign enemies with our Constitutional Rights – are cheering them on.

Senators Paul and Lee seem to assume America could also safely let the business records and roving wiretap provisions of the Patriot Act expire after March 15, 2020.

Yet Americans would be less safe, and what would have happened had the FBI investigated Anwar al-Awlaki before 9/11 helps to demonstrate why. He was an American and without a suspected crime to bring before a federal criminal court judge, the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigators would have needed to clear each subpoena for business records and wiretap with the FISA court.

The background

In late 1999, Saudi Arabia informed our CIA that members of al Qaeda were about to meet in Malaysia. While Khalid al-Mihdhar was en route to there, the CIA had a foreign intelligence agency enter his hotel room and copy his passport which included an open-ended visa to the United States.

Khalid al-Mihdhar was known by the FBI to be the son-in-law of Ahmed al-Hada who ran al Qaeda’s telecommunications relay in Yemen. In 1998, U.S. embassy (Nairobi) bomber Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-Owhali told the FBI he called al-Hada’s phone number to relay messages to Osama bin Laden. The FBI’s NYC field office was investigating the two embassy bombings and conducting counter-terrorism investigations of al Qaeda; al-Mihdhar entering America would have caused the FBI to investigate.

In January of 2000, the CIA failed to inform the FBI that future hijacker al-Mihdhar had a visa to enter the United States.

That April, the CIA then failed to tell the FBI that al Qaeda member and future hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi (who the CIA observed with al-Mihdhar in Malaysia) arrived in Los Angeles from Thailand on January 15, 2000. The CIA did not know that al-Mihdhar was also on that plane; the agency with the authority to investigate inside the United States (the FBI) soon discovered it after 9/11.

Further, in 2006, the CIA’s Inspector General reported that none of the “50 to 60” people at the CIA who read – before 9/11 – about al-Mihdhar’s visa and al-Hazmi’s arrival in Los Angeles had complied with the CIA’s own directive requiring those officers to place the two on the terror watch list.

What might have been

What if the CIA had ensured their January 2000 cable was sent to the FBI? And what if the FBI placed al-Mihdhar on the terror watch list, opened up an investigation, and he was spotted when he arrived in Los Angeles the following week?

To that point, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi had committed no federal crime. It would have necessitated an intelligence investigation that would have almost certainly led to al-Awlaki.

And al-Awlaki’s travels almost certainly would have led the FBI to Hamburg, Germany. (More on this in a moment.)

An FBI informant lived in the same apartment complex and socialized with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. The latter had a home phone for his apartment, using his real name, and was listed in the San Diego directory. But except for nine phone calls to his father-in-law’s number in May of 2000 after his wife gave birth in Yemen, he did not use that phone to communicate with anyone involved in the 9/11 plot. (The NSA did not routinely investigate calls between known foreign threats and those in America before the Patriot Act due to, as former FBI Director Robert Mueller later testified, “an abundance of caution for the privacy of U.S. persons.”) 

The FBI’s informant also observed two Saudi Arabians from those once secret ‘28 pages’ socializing with al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. One of those Saudis lived in that same apartment complex in San Diego. Both regularly attended prayers services conducted by al-Awlaki. Both received significant funding from the Saudi government (which had also funded the mosque).

If fact, one of those Saudis brought al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi to meet al-Awlaki at that mosque within days of their arrival in January of 2000.

The other Saudi communicated with Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Germany by both phone and email several times during 2000 supposedly (per those emails) looking for a wife to marry.

And bin al-Shibh was the plot communications relay between 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and lead hijacker Mohamed Atta.

That same Saudi’s last communication with bin al-Shibh was in December 2000 just days after al-Hazmi and Flight 77 hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour moved from San Diego to the East Coast. (al-Mihdhar left the country in June of 2000 and returned to America in 2001.) Hanjour and al-Hazmi then visited al-Awlaki at his new mosque in Virginia. The latter had moved there during the fall of 2000.

Anwar al-Awlaki traveled extensively. That same fall, he spent a week in Europe including several days in Hamburg, Germany. The first thing a hotel there asks for when you register is your passport to confirm your identity. Strangely, Germany’s investigators were unable to find out where al-Awlaki stayed while there.

Atta and bin al-Shibh operated out of Hamburg.

Atta first came to America in June of 2000 and he traveled frequently. After 9/11, the FBI’s search of flight records revealed a Mohamed Atta flew on the very same flight number – just one day later – direct from Frankfurt to San Francisco as al-Awlaki did immediately after visiting Hamburg. The FBI never determined either Atta’s or al-Awlaki’s whereabouts for several days after those flights. Then, al-Awlaki showed back up in San Diego and Atta traveled to the East Coast a few days later.

Andrew McCarthy pointed out that the business provision of the Patriot Act, “also known as Section 215, simply gives intelligence agents the same kind of power that criminal investigators have to compel production of documents.” Before the Patriot Act was enacted, the FBI could not issue a subpoena, a National Security Letter, concerning al-Awlaki during an intelligence investigation. 

When al-Awlaki returned from Hamburg, the FBI would have had to go to the FISA court every time they needed business records as they tracked him after he arrived in San Francisco and perhaps met with Atta.

How did al-Awlaki communicate ahead of time with those he visited with in Hamburg during the fall of 2000? After 9/11, the FBI did not find communications from his known devices to anyone in Hamburg. Yet had they conducted an intelligence investigation, they would not have been authorized to conduct a roving wiretap of his communications; the law, prior to the Patriot Act, did not authorize it.

Perhaps the Saudi who called and emailed Ramzi bin al-Shibh communicated for him with al-Awlaki’s hosts in Hamburg. Or perhaps al-Awlaki used other phones or communication methods such as emailing from computers outside his home. Alas, we’ll never know.

If the Patriot Act provisions expire, we will resume taking the same risks we took while an American agent of al Qaeda assisted in the mass murder of 3,000 people here. We’ll risk another 9/11 – or worse. President Trump and every Member of Congress should take that into consideration.