U.S. intelligence officials got mired for nearly 10 hours seeking approval to use wiretaps against al Qaeda terrorists suspected of kidnapping Queens soldier Alex Jimenez in Iraq earlier this year, The Post has learned.
In the early hours of May 12, seven U.S. soldiers - including Spc. Jimenez - were on lookout near a patrol base in the al Qaeda-controlled area of Iraq called the "Triangle of Death."
Sometime before dawn, heavily armed al Qaeda gunmen quietly cut through the tangles of concertina wire surrounding the outpost of two Humvees and made a massive and coordinated surprise attack.
Four of the soldiers were killed on the spot and three others were taken hostage.
A search to rescue the men was quickly launched. But it soon ground to a halt as lawyers - obeying strict U.S. laws about surveillance - cobbled together the legal grounds for wiretapping the suspected kidnappers.
Starting at 10 a.m. on May 15, according to a timeline provided to Congress by the director of national intelligence, lawyers for the National Security Agency met and determined that special approval from the attorney general would be required first.
For an excruciating nine hours and 38 minutes, searchers in Iraq waited as U.S. lawyers discussed legal issues and hammered out the "probable cause" necessary for the attorney general to grant such "emergency" permission.
Finally, approval was granted and, at 7:38 that night, surveillance began.
"The intelligence community was forced to abandon our soldiers because of the law," a senior congressional staffer with access to the classified case told The Post.
"How many lawyers does it take to rescue our soldiers?" he asked. "It should be zero."
"This is terrible. If they would have acted sooner, maybe they would have found something out and been able to find my son," said Jimenez's mother, Maria Duran. "Oh my God. I just keep asking myself, where is my son? What could have happened to him?"
Duran said she was especially frustrated, "because I thought they were doing everything possible to find him."
"You know that this is how this country is - everything is by the law. They just did not want to break the law, and I understand that. They should change the law, because God only knows what type of information they could have found during that time period."
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