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  Article & EssayTo Blame Or Not To Blame?

What did Bush know before the 9/11 attack, what did he not know, what should he have known?
By Regis T. Sabol

President Harry S. Truman kept a plaque on his desk with a simple message: The buck stops here. Apparently, President Bush doesnt believe the buck stops at his desk, unless its a campaign contribution buck.

In the wake of revelations that the CIA warned President Bush a full month before 9/11 that Osama bin Ladens operatives were planning a major operation involving the hijacking of passenger airliners, the President, White House aides, Republicans, even some Democrats and most of the press are tripping all over themselves to absolve Bush of any specific blame for the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people.

Surrounded by Air Force Academy cadets at a Rose Garden ceremony, the president earnestly declared that had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people. National Security Advisor Condeleeza Rice echoed similar sentiments at a White House briefing. After acknowledging that the president had general information about Al Qaeda plans to hijack American airlines, she pleaded that he and his advisors had no idea that hijacked airplanes would be used as missiles to crash into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, her implication being that such an idea was so outlandish it was beyond comprehension.

Balderdash, Baloney, and B_______!

My response to these sentiments is balderdash, baloney, and, well, you know what the third B stands for. Indeed, these excuses are disingenuous, at best, and much more likely deceitful. The evidence at hand was more than sufficient to warrant a sustained high level of alert both at home and abroad. At the very least, they reveal a president asleep at the wheel and top advisors oblivious to red flags waving in front of their faces, including a clear warning from one of their own, CIA Director George Tenet.

The excuses being made to excuse the inexcusable seem to contradict one another. They range from not having enough information to connect the dots, (the new administration and media catchphrase) to having too much information, more than the intelligence community could possibly absorb. The latter is the rationale for ignoring reports from FBI agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis about Al Qaeda operatives attending flight schools.

The truth, we are now learning, is that none of these excuses hold water. Bush and his advisors had plenty of evidence of an impending attack involving civilian airliners. While the intelligence information available to them didnt cite specific dates and locations, it did provide sufficient clues to warrant immediate action. After all, it is the job of the NSC, the CIA, and the FBI to connect the dots.

Could George Bush have acted to possibly prevent the attacks of 9/11? Yes. Should the American people hold him and his advisors to account for not preventing these attacks? Absolutely!

For starters, lets take the president and Ms. Rice at their word; they had good reason to suspect that terrorists intended to hijack American airliners, but they had no idea the hijackers intended to kill people. The hijackers, they suspected, would use the airliners to negotiate the release of bin Laden allies who tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993.

Does this mean that hijacking an airliner or airliners with hundreds of passengers did not justify taking immediate action? What did Ms. Rice and the presidents other advisors think that bin Ladens hijackers would do with these planes and their passengers if their demands were not met? Meekly let them go? Were talking about a man who had masterminded the first attack on the World Trade Center (hint, hint), the bombings of two United States embassies in Africa, and the attack on the S.S. Cole. Were talking about a man who has repeatedly urged his followers to kill as many Americans as possible. What were Bush, Rice, et.al. thinking?

What They Knew--Or Should Have Known

In fact, The New York Times revealed Saturday that the F.B.I. acknowledged it has known since 1996 of a specific threat that terrorists in Al Qaeda, Mr. Bin Ladens network, might use a plane in a suicide attack against the headquarters of the C.I.A. or another large federal building in the Washington area Not only that, as far back as 1994, Algerian terrorists seized a Paris-bound Air France flight and planned to crash it into the Eiffel Tower or blow it up over Paris. French commandos killed them before they succeeded. Shouldnt that act have provided a clue about what terrorists might do if they could get their hands on a fuel-laden airliner?

Three years later, in 1999, a federal interagency intelligent report predicted, Suicide bomber(s) belonging to Al Qaedas Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency or the White House. Was Ms. Rice unaware of this report? If so, then she hadnt done her homework.

Moreover, the Federal Aviation Administration had published a warning on its website months before the 9/11 attack that Bin Ladens anti-Western and anti-American attitudes make him and his followers a significant threat to civil aviation, particularly to U.S. civil aviation. Please note that last phrase--particularly to U.S. civil aviation.

Actually, Bush first received warning of an impending Al Qaeda operation last July. According to the Washington Post, Richard Clarke, the governments top counter terrorism official, told officials of a dozen federal agencies at a White House meeting July 5, Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and its going to happen soon. C.I.A. Director Tenet had been nearly frantic with concern since June 22, the Post said. And Ms. Rice, herself, no less, warned on June 28, It is highly likely that a significant al Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks. Nothing happened within a couple weeks, so no one in the security hierarchy, except for Tenet, took such a threat seriously. By August, George W. was basking in the Texas heat and just about everyone else had fled the Washington heat.

Consider another factor. While it may be true, as the administration asserts, that it would be impossible to know exactly when and where the enemy would strike, the intelligence community had received specific information from Israeli and Russian intelligence that Al Qaedas operation would involve American civilian aircraft. Wouldnt it have made sense to have drastically heightened security at the countrys major airports, including those in Boston, New York, and Washington? Why did the administration trust minimum-wage security personnel to protect us from terrorist attacks? What were they thinking?

Didnt the date September 11 ring a bell with anyone in the administration? To Islamic guerilla organizations, September 11 is what December 7 is to Americans. It commemorates the date the Jordanian army expelled the PLO from Jordan. The terrorists who attacked the Israeli village at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich were known as the September 11 Movement. In other words, September 11 was not a random date chosen by bin Ladens gang to carry out their attacks. It had symbolic meaning. Incidentally, a documentary film about the Munich massacre, Three Days in September, had won an Academy Award in 2000 for best documentary film. HBO, which produced the film, showed it repeatedly during the year. Another clue here might be the month, September.

Just how many dots did the president and his advisors need to see the picture? Anyone who watches the game show Wheel of Fortune knows you dont need to see every letter to figure out the message. By August 6, the message was relatively clear: Al Qaeda intends to launch an attack on important symbols of American power (As early as 1992, an F.B.I. raid on Islamic extremists found pictures of these symbols; they included the World Trade Center.); such an attack will probably involve American civilian aircraft; it will come very soon and have symbolic meaning, as in the importance of a date.

A Conspiracy of Lies

After 9/11, the administration compounded its astounding failure to see the abundant evidence of an impending attack by lying to the American people about the existence of this evidence and the presidents awareness of it. Up until just last week, everyone in the administration from Bush on down had steadfastly maintained the government had no warning that Al Qaeda planned to hijack American airliners.

They lied to us. Bush lied to us. Cheney lied to us. Rumsfield lied to us. Rice lied to us. Powell lied to us. Ashcroft lied to us. Fleischer lied to us. Of course, why should this come as a surprise? This is an administration mired in secrecy and deceit and lies.

Now that Bush and his cohorts have been caught in their lies, they have chosen to attack anyone who wants to know the truth. Bush described his critics as second guessers and claimed he smelled politics in the air. Cheney called any criticism incendiary. Such commentary is thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in time of war, he intoned. In other words, all you senators and congressmen, shut up!

Ari Fleischer was even more combative when he cited congressional critics by name, as if they knew what the president knew and were somehow responsible for that awful slaughter, which, in turn, has led us into a war, the end to which is nowhere in sight. Among his targets were Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Technology and Terrorism Subcommittee of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Fleischer sneeringly asked the rhetorical question, what did they know and when did they know it?

Well, they didnt know and they werent responsible. Sen. Feinstein told CNN last July that she was deeply concerned as to whether our house was in order to prevent a terrorist attack. Moreover, Vice President Cheneys office did not respond to Feinsteins urgent request that counter-intelligence programs be improved. Finally, the only information members of the Senate Intelligence Committee received was a two-page summary of the presidents briefing.

Only Bush and his inner circle knew the country was in immediate danger of an attack from Al Qaeda. And they did nothing about it. And they didnt tell anyone about what they knew. While Bush was working out in his gym, napping, and snacking on pretzels, Cheney, Rice & Co. were not minding the store.

Mr. President, please explain that to the families of those aboard those four airplanes and to the survivors of the thousands who died in New York and Washington.

Regis T. Sabol is associate editor of Intervention Magazine.


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