April 12, 2004

2 + 2 = 9/11



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Before I mention too many new developments, I very much want to reiterate one solid point: while the Bush administration did not get telegraphed the exact time, date, location and method of the 9/11, they did in fact receive more than enough information to put them on a higher alert, so that they should have asked for and seen the clearer warnings of 9/11 that never got passed up far enough for them to see--and they could have easily prevented 9/11 had they done so. I reiterate this because I see so many excuses from Bush & Co. getting far too much credence in recent days. Here's the equation:

From the beginning of the year, they were warned by Clinton administration officials that al Qaeda cells were in fact in the country. On July 6th, the CIA warned of a terrorist attack that would be "catastrophic," and that would be quantitatively different from anything that had been done to date. In late July, during the Genoa conference, they were made acutely aware of al Qaeda's plans to use aircraft as weapons. And in the now-infamous August 6th Presidential Daily Briefing (PDF file), it was made clear that there was a great deal of al Qaeda activity in the U.S., and there were hints that they were planning to hijack aircraft.

None of that equals 9/11, as Bush is desperate to point out, but here is what it does equal: they knew that al Qaeda was here, they were up to something, and it would be very bad. That much is not in question, is not challenged. So, their reaction should have been this: shake the trees. Something bad is coming guys, and we want anything and everything even remotely concerned with al Qaeda given top priority. Bush's people claim they did this, but it is incredibly obvious they did not. If they had, then two key pieces of intelligence would have fallen from the trees, namely: the Phoenix Memo of July 10, sent from Phoenix FBI agent Kenneth Williams, which reported that individuals connected to Osama bin Laden were studying at flight schools in the area, and there was "the possibility of a coordinated effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation universities and colleges," and "[t]he individuals will be in a position in the future to conduct terror activity against civil aviation targets." And then, there was the August 15th arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in Minnesota, a man with jihadist connections who was training to fly commercial jets, but with no prior flying experience and no explanation of how he got his funding or why he was in the U.S. And it's not like the agents involved weren't stressing the intel enough.

That's what Rice would have seen: two reports within one month of potential terrorists attending flight schools in the U.S., with reports elsewhere that bin Laden was (a) thinking of using airplanes, and (b) planning a "catastrophic" attack on the U.S.

That would have been more than enough for Rice to look at and say, "hmmm, let's maybe send some FBI agents out to all the other flight schools around the country and see if there are any suspicious, Middle-Eastern flight school students with possible terrorist links." From there, it would have taken only a few days to find the majority of the suspects, go to high alert, investigate the suspects, give warnings to airports and law enforcement agencies nationwide, and well before 9/11, slap their asses in jail. No 9/11.

This method was proved in the millennium terror attempts, and the perfect job that Clinton's people did in preventing all of the al Qaeda attacks in Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston and New York. Sure, the one Seattle customs agent Rice pointed to got lucky, but (a) only because she was warned and directed to look for something in a way that Rice never warned FBI agents to do, and (b) that was only one of many attacks that were foiled by the tree-shaking which Richard Clarke described.

"But we didn't have enough time to get things set up," the Bush people whine, "233 days wasn't enough time!" Bull. A few weeks would be all that it took. A massive reorganization of the intelligence community would have been nice (though Bush & Co. were against homeland security and were cutting counter-terrorism funding), but that wasn't enough to keep the government from working--as Clinton's people showed us in the millennium terrorist roll-up. The FBI was in place, Clinton's experienced counter-terrorism people were still there, trying to tell the Bushies to do what they should have done, and the Bush people were in place. Time is not what killed the making of the connection. It was the lack of will to focus on terrorism, the plain dearth of common sense. There was more than enough time.

"But we never got warnings in the form of giant, flashing neon signs that told us the time, date, flight numbers and methods of the hijackings!" the Bush people cry desperately (and repeatedly). Well, if that's what you need to stop a terrorist attack, then we are in deep shit, because you never get that kind of detailed information in the real world. This excuse is the worst of all, because it is so ridiculous, so pathetic beneath the false formica veneer of its surface, that there is no doubt whatsoever that Rice and Bush know that they are misleading the people, desperate enough to use such a lame excuse because it's all they've got. As I have laid out above, there was more than enough warning. All the pieces were there. It would not have been hard at all to put them together without the benefit of hindsight; all it would have taken was basic competence to put 2 plus 2 together. But because Bush & Co. were do damned focused on missile defense, because terrorism was antithetical to that agenda, and because they were so keen to diss anything even smelling of Clinton, they failed to do what they needed in order to get that second "2" of the equation, and so they failed to add the pieces together. As a result, the terrorists walked right past the otherwise-engaged Bush administration, right onto the airplanes and committed their atrocious act.

There is no excuse folks, and don't let any of the Bushies tell you otherwise.

Posted by Luis at April 12, 2004 11:40 AM
Comments

It's interesting, because although it is generally acknowledged that the principal meetings Clinton held were very effective, they still continue to cite this "systemic problem." I think it's partly to deflect blame and, secondly, to justify massive government reorganization. We should be cautious about this because it risks upsetting whatever system of checks and balances we have left.

Posted by: Justin Faulkner at April 12, 2004 02:34 PM

Saying there's "systemic problem" implies that they knew a problem existed. And what did they do about the problem? They ignored it and blamed their ignorance on everybody else over the past 20 years. I read some time ago that the Bush Admin considered the Clintion Admin's persistance about terrorism as paranoia on Clinton's part. Most people know that just becuase you're paranoid doesn't mean that someone isn't out to get you.
All I see is that this happened on GW's watch. They claim they had no time. Seems to me that they should have hit the ground running when they came into office and stop complaining about not enough time, that's what the transition period before the inaugaraion is all about. Heck, they only get 48 months to make a difference, did they expect the world to stop and wait for them to catch up?
I work for the Navy and read a presentation in early 2001 that said that civil war and terrorism would be the biggest problems in defense over the next 20 years or so. I'm a nobody here and I got to know that much.

Posted by: Kate at April 13, 2004 04:41 AM