Covering Their Behinds, II

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Bush Administration, Democratic Party, September 11, Terrorism

As I keyboard Keith Olbermann is delivering another of his blistering special comments, and I’m not even going to try to condense it. As soon as it’s online I’ll link to it. But the basic subject is Bush’s failures to prevent the September 11 attacks.

And through it all was threaded this bit from the Faux Nooz interview with President Clinton:

WALLACE: Do you think you did enough, sir?

CLINTON: No, because I didn’t get him.

WALLACE: Right.

CLINTON: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried.

This is something I’ve been saying since the spring of 2002, when Newsweek, Time, and other news sources first reported that the outgoing Clinton Administration had warned the Bushies about bin Laden, but the Bushies did nothing. This is from the May 27, 2002 issue of Newsweek [emphasis added]:

By the end of the Clinton administration, the then national-security adviser Sandy Berger had become “totally preoccupied” with fears of a domestic terror attack, a colleague recalls. True, the Clintonites had failed to act decisively against Al Qaeda, but by the end they were certain of the danger it posed. When, in January 2001, Berger gave Rice her handover briefing, he covered the bin Laden threat in detail, and, sources say, warned her: “You will be spending more time on this issue than on any other.” Rice was alarmed by what she heard, and asked for a strategy review. But the effort was marginalized and scarcely mentioned in ensuing months as the administration committed itself to other priorities, like national missile defense (NMD) and Iraq.

John Ashcroft seemed particularly eager to set a new agenda. In the spring of 2001, the attorney general had an extraordinary confrontation with the then FBI Director Louis Freeh at an annual meeting of special agents in charge in Quantico, Va. The two talked before appearing, and Ashcroft laid out his priorities for Freeh, another Clinton holdover (though no friend of the ex-president’s), “basically violent crime and drugs,” recalls one participant. Freeh replied bluntly that those were not his priorities, and began to talk about terror and counterterrorism. “Ashcroft didn’t want to hear about it,” says a former senior law-enforcement official. (A Justice Department spokeswoman hotly disputed this, saying that in May Ashcroft told a Senate committee terrorism was his “highest priority.”) [Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff, “What Went Wrong,” Newsweek, May 27, 2002]

As Glenn Greenwald documents, Republicans in general were sublimely unconcerned about Islamic terrorism during the 2000 election campaign. But even after Sandy Berger’s warnings, the Bush Administration shoved al Qaeda off their plates. For example, the Hart-Rudman commission report on terrorism was released in February 2001 — and ignored. From a Buzzflash interview with Sen. Gary Hart:

HART: Our commission did not have the resources to give detailed projections as to how, when and where. But the fact is that for two years we had said this was going to happen, and one major step that needed to be taken was to coordinate existing federal assets, particularly our border control agencies -– Coast Guards, Customs and Border Patrol, and Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We were very explicit about that, and we had been. And that was our first recommendation to the President. And it was that failure to act -– to begin to do that -– that I think permitted this event to happen. No one believes in absolute security. But the goal is to make it as difficult for the attackers as possible, and we had not done that. There had been no –- to my knowledge -– no major step taken by this administration in the period between January and September to stop these attacks, including coordinating the databases and communication systems of the Board of Control Agency and the INS. Everybody since 9/11 that’s looked at the situation has said the porousness of that system is what permitted these people to do what they did. And the question is: what, if anything, did the administration do between January 31st and September the 11th? And the answer is: not very much.

I hope you won’t mind me linking to this little nugget again — a CNN transcript from April 30, 2001:

The State Department officially released its annual terrorism report just a little more than an hour ago, but unlike last year, there’s no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. A senior State Department official tells CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden and “personalizing terrorism.”

still, Secretary of State Colin Powell says efforts to fight global terrorism will remain consistent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: The results are clear: state sponsors of terrorism are increasingly isolated; terrorist groups on under growing pressure. Terrorists are being brought to justice, we will not let up. But we must also be aware of the nature of the threat before us. Terrorism is a persistent disease.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The secretary of state did go on to say that South Asia, particularly Afghanistan, continues to be the focal point for terrorism that is directed against the United States.

Notice he didn’t say Iraq.

And let’s not forget the anecdote from Ron Suskind’s book, The One Perfect Solution. From a review:

The book’s opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush’s Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president’s attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.” Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”

Let’s go back to the Newsweek article from 2002:

While Bush may have a point in saying he heard no specific threat, other aspects of the administration’s story weren’t holding up. Last week Rice declared, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center… All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking”; in other words, using passenger jets as hostages. In fact, the government had ample reason to believe that Al Qaeda was no longer interested in traditional terror. The CIA had learned as early as 1995 that Abdul Hakim Murad, an associate of ’93 WTC plotter Ramzi Yousef, had talked about plunging an airliner into the CIA building. Italian authorities had warned of a similar bid at last June’s Genoa summit of the G8 leaders–and they ringed the area with surface-to-air missiles, with CIA cooperation. …

… It wasn’t that Ashcroft and others were unconcerned about these problems, or about terrorism. But the Bushies had an ideological agenda of their own. At the Treasury Department, Secretary Paul O’Neill’s team wanted to roll back almost all forms of government intervention, including laws against money laundering and tax havens of the kind used by terror groups. At the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld wanted to revamp the military and push his pet project, NMD. Rumsfeld vetoed a request to divert $800 million from missile defense into counterterrorism. The Pentagon chief also seemed uninterested in a tactic for observing bin Laden left over from the Clinton administration: the CIA’s Predator surveillance plane. Upon leaving office, the Clintonites left open the possibility of sending the Predator back up armed with Hellfire missiles, which were tested in February 2001. But through the spring and summer of 2001, when valuable intelligence could have been gathered, the Bush administration never launched even an unarmed Predator. Hill sources say DOD didn’t want the CIA treading on its turf.

And while most of the current controversy is about what America didn’t do defensively, Rumsfeld and Bush didn’t take the offensive, either. Upon entering office, both suggested publicly that the Clinton administration left America with a weak image abroad. The day after the Oct. 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole, the then candidate Bush said “there must be a consequence.” An FBI document dated January 26, 2001–six days after Bush took office–shows that authorities believed they had clear evidence tying the bombers to Al Qaeda. Yet the new administration mounted no retaliation of its own.

By the time the Bushies did get serious and gear up against Al Qaeda, it was too late. The administration says a long process of revamping the strategy against Al Qaeda culminated–in a supreme irony–on Sept. 10, when the directive reached Rice’s desk for Bush’s signature. And yet even then there were questions about how serious the administration really was. The new strategy called for little more aggressive action than Clinton had adopted: arming and financing anti-Taliban forces inside Afghanistan. And on the same day, Ashcroft submitted his budget request, barely mentioning counterterrorism.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who with Republican Sen. Jon Kyl had sent a copy of draft legislation on counterterrorism and homeland defense to Cheney’s office on July 20, also heard some news that day. Feinstein was told by the veep’s top aide, “Scooter” Libby, as Feinstein described it to NEWSWEEK, “that it might be another six months before he would be able to review the material.”

Most of the facts about the Bush Administration’s inattention to warnings have been in the public record since 2002. Yet it’s still controversial, an act of courage, to talk about it in public.

Crooks & Liars has Keith Olbermann’s comments. Highlights:

Even President Lincoln assumed some measure of responsibility for the Civil War — though talk of Southern secession had begun as early as 1832.

But not this President.

To hear him bleat and whine and bully at nearly every opportunity, one would think someone else had been President on September 11th, 2001 — or the nearly eight months that preceded it.

That hardly reflects the honesty nor manliness we expect of the Executive. …

… The full responsibility for 9/11 is obviously shared by three administrations, possibly four.

But, Mr. Bush, if you are now trying to convince us by proxy that it’s all about the distractions of 1998 and 1999, then you will have to face a startling fact that your minions may have hidden from you.

The distractions of 1998 and 1999, Mr. Bush, were carefully manufactured, and lovingly executed, not by Bill Clinton… but by the same people who got you… elected President.

Thus instead of some commendable acknowledgment that you were even in office on 9/11 and the lost months before it… we have your sleazy and sloppy rewriting of history, designed by somebody who evidently read the Orwell playbook too quickly.

Thus instead of some explanation for the inertia of your first eight months in office, we are told that you have kept us “safe” ever since — a statement that might range anywhere from Zero, to One Hundred Percent, true.

We have nothing but your word, and your word has long since ceased to mean anything.

And, of course, the one time you have ever given us specifics about what you have kept us safe from, Mr. Bush — you got the name of the supposedly targeted Tower in Los Angeles… wrong.

Thus was it left for the previous President to say what so many of us have felt; what so many of us have given you a pass for in the months and even the years after the attack:

You did not try.

You ignored the evidence gathered by your predecessor.

You ignored the evidence gathered by your own people.

Then, you blamed your predecessor.

That would be the textbook definition… Sir, of cowardice.

I’m sure the bleating and whining from the Right about the awful liberal media have already started.

I have compared Clinton’s and Bush’s pre-9/11 terrorism policies many times before, most recently here. I have never claimed that Clinton did everything he might have done to stop bin Laden, but he did a damn lot more than Bush did. And based on their record, the Bushies are the last people on the planet who ought to be taken seriously on terrorism. Yet they thump their chests and declare that they, and only they, have the cojones to keep the nation safe from terrorism. And they are taken seriously.

The Bush Administration didn’t keep the nation safe from terrorism. Spin though they may, that’s as bare-assed a fact as you’re likely to find anywhere on this planet.

See also: Juan Cole’s commentary on the Clinton interview. Glenn Greenwald comments here and here.

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3 Comments

  1. erinyes  •  Sep 26, 2006 @7:35 am

    WoW…
    The Right wing attack dogs kept Clinton Busy with “Monica Gate” while AlQaida gathered strength, then Team Bush was so busy gloating over their victory that they let the guard down for 9/11. No wonder the ground is so fertile for conspiracies of all flavor.When nothing makes sense, rational people make assumptions based on rational ideas, but you cannot second guess an insane person. No sane heads of state would allow partisan politics to trump national security, so here we are, smack in the Twilight zone.When the DOD and CIA are engaged in a “turf battle”, and the leadership is completely narcissistic, we no longer have a sane and beneviolent government.
    I would guess that Bush’s current bully tactics are a macho cover for his fear that he may face impeachment or worse. Another General has just blasted him in front of congress. I see battle lines being drawn.’Could get interesting…

  2. RealityBoy  •  Sep 26, 2006 @8:00 am

    I noticed that Olberman signed off with “Good night, and good luck.” He has earned the right to use – own – that signature sign-off. Where are the rest of the American “journalists” – Katie, Bill, Sean, Wolf/Leslie?

  3. Tom Maguire  •  Sep 26, 2006 @10:31 am

    From the 2002 Newsweek story:

    While Bush may have a point in saying he heard no specific threat, other aspects of the administration’s story weren’t holding up. Last week Rice declared, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center… All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking”; in other words, using passenger jets as hostages. In fact, the government had ample reason to believe that Al Qaeda was no longer interested in traditional terror.

    From the 2001 Presidential Daily Brief declassified during the 9/11 hearings in 2004:

    We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a … (redacted portion) … service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of “Blind Shaykh” ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists.

    Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

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