Jason Leopold: Bush Ignored 9/11 Warnings
Bush Administration Ignored 9/11 Warnings
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Tuesday 31 January 2006
President Bush and Vice President Cheney have publicly stated that the top-secret domestic spying program Bush authorized in 2002 could have thwarted the 9/11 attacks had the controversial, and possibly illegal, measure been in effect prior to the terrorist strike on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Bush's and Cheney's comments have gone virtually unchallenged by reporters covering the spying story and by a majority of Democratic lawmakers critical of the issue.
However, the reality is much different from what Bush and Cheney would have you believe. The fact of the matter is that the Bush administration ignored hard evidence from its top intelligence officials between April and September of 2001 about an impending attack by al-Qaeda on US soil. There's no chance that the National Security Agency's domestic wiretapping initiative would have saved the lives of 3,000 American citizens if an intelligence memo titled "Bin Laden determined to attack inside US" that President Bush received a month before 9/11 couldn't move Bush to take such threats seriously.
Since the New York Times broke the domestic spying story last month, the Bush administration has launched a full-scale publicity campaign aimed at convincing an unsuspecting public that the program is legal and has saved thousands of lives. It's the administration's attempt to control the news cycle.
But to suggest that the 9/11 attacks could have been avoided if the NSA had had domestic surveillance powers is outrageous.
Simply put, terrorism was not a priority for the Bush administration during the first nine months of 2001. As former Bush administration counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke told the 9/11 Commission investigating the attacks in 2004: "To the loved ones of the victims of 9/11, to them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you."
Clarke served as a White House counter-terrorism official in three presidential administrations.
The truth is that the administration received warnings about al-Qaeda's intentions to use jetliners as bombs in August 2001, but it was too busy obsessing about a war with Iraq to take action. Although President Bush has maintained over the years that terrorism was his number one priority before 9/11, evidence suggests otherwise.
A little known article in the January 11, 2001, edition of the New York Times titled "Iraq Is Focal Point as Bush Meets with Joint Chiefs" confirms that the administration was more interested in toppling Saddam Hussein than dealing with the growing threat of domestic terrorism.
"George W. Bush, the nation's commander in chief to be, went to the Pentagon today for a top-secret session with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review hot spots around the world where he might have to send American forces into harm's way," the Times story says.
Bush was joined at the Pentagon meeting by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The Times reported that "half of the 75-minute meeting focused on a discussion about Iraq and the Persian Gulf, two participants said. Iraq was the first topic briefed because 'it's the most visible and most risky area Mr. Bush will confront after he takes office, one senior officer said.'"
"Iraqi policy is very much on his mind," one senior Pentagon official told the Times. "Saddam was clearly a discussion point."
On June 22, 2001, President Bush spoke briefly about terrorism during a speech in Alabama, but used the word "terrorist" to describe rogue nations, not terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda, and to gain support for his National Missile Defense policy.
"It's time to come together and to think about a new security arrangement that addresses the threats of the 21st century," according to a transcript of Bush's remarks. "And the threats of the 21st century will be terrorist in nature, terror when it comes to weaponry. What we must do - freedom-loving people must be willing to think differently and develop anti-ballistic missile systems that will say to rogue nations and leaders who cannot stand America, or what we stand for: you will not blackmail us, nor will you blackmail our allies."
Meanwhile, as the administration continued to focus on the re-making the Middle East, the CIA sent President Bush a daily intelligence briefing on August 6, 2001, saying the agency had "detected patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings," no one in the administration acted on the report.
The subject title on the memo says more in a few words than the likely illegal NSA domestic spy program Bush and Cheney claim would have helped prevent 9/11 if it were in place back then: "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S."
But that did not appear to have an impact on President Bush's domestic agenda. In an August 31, 2001, speech Bush gave to celebrate the launch of the White House's new web site, national security was last on a list of major issues Bush planned to deal with, according to a transcript of his speech.
Clarke testified before the 9/11 Commission that he sent a letter on September 4, 2001, to then-National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice asking "policymakers to imagine a day after a terrorist attack, with hundreds of Americans dead at home and abroad, and ask themselves what they could have done earlier."
Rice said Clarke's letter was not "specific" and that she considered it a "generic warning." President Bush's aides, when questioned about the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing he received from the FBI about the Bin Laden's plans to attack the US, echoed Rice's remarks.
Yet even top officials in the Clinton administration, whom President Bush and his senior aides have blamed over the years for not being tough in fighting al-Qaeda during their tenure in office, warned the new administration that al-Qaeda was determined to strike inside the US. President Bush, it seems, heeded the warning, appointing Cheney to head a task force to "combat terrorist attacks on the United States." But the task force never met, according to the 9/11 Commission report.
There were earlier warnings as well. One of which was eerily prophetic.
Former CIA Director George Tenet told Congress that Osama bin Laden remained the single greatest threat to US interests.
"Terrorists are also becoming more operationally adept and more technically sophisticated in order to defeat counter-terrorism measures," the former CIA director said. "For example, as we have increased security around government and military facilities, terrorists are seeking out "softer" targets that provide opportunities for mass casualties."
"Osama bin Laden and his global network of lieutenants and associates remain the most immediate and serious threat," he added.
Still, in an attempt to silence his critics and prove that terrorism was a top priority for the administration before 9/11, Bush maintained that he personally requested a CIA briefing about al-Qaeda in August 2001, according to public comments the president made in May 2002. But the CIA refuted those claims during the 9/11 Commission hearings.
For longtime counter-terrorism officers, the fact that the White House was not taking threats from al-Qaeda seriously started to take its toll. During the summer of 2001, the counter-terrorism officers who were privy to intelligence reports on al-Qaeda threats "were so worried about an impending disaster that they considered resigning and going public with their concerns," according to a 9/11 Commission staff report released publicly in March 2004.
Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak investigation, and is a regular contributer to t r u t h o u t.