Earlier this week I cited an article by Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff, “What Went Wrong,” from Newsweek, May 27, 2002. The Hirsh-Isikoff and other news stories that appeared in late spring of 2002 revealed that the Bush Administration had received copious warnings about the September 11 attacks and had failed to act on them.

Much of what would later be found by the September 11 commission was in these articles. We saw Sandy Berger and Richard Clarke explicitly warn the incoming Bush Administration that they must give the threat of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden the highest priority. We learned that the Bush State Department and National Security Council decided to put al Qaeda low on their priority list, in spite of the warnings. We learned that the Bushies didn’t bother to use unarmed drones, as had the Clinton security team, to gather intelligence in the critical summer of 2001. We learned that President Bush had been given an explicit warning of a terrorist attack involving hijacked airplanes on August 6, 2001 (although it would take the 9/11 commission to pry the title of the warning, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,” out of Condi Rice). We learned that the Bush team had not followed up on this warning.

Righties quickly stepped in and declared that there wasn’t anything the Bush Administration could have done, because the Bush team had not been given the day, the hour, the airports, the targets, the exact plan. We’ve since been treated to a blow-by-blow description of what went on at NORAD and the FAA on September 11. It was not pretty. Every ball that could have been dropped, was dropped. Although there is no excuse for the inability of NORAD and the FAA to work together in this time of crisis — that’s part of their jobs — it is obvious neither agency had been given so much as a hint to be alert to anything extraordinary. By the time the managers at the FAA and NORAD realized the nature of the crisis, it was pretty much over.

Had they been better prepared, had they been on a higher alert, had even one hijacker crew been stopped, had even one tower been spared, hundreds of lives might have been saved. And that failure is the fault of the federal executive branch that existed in 2001 — the Bush Administration. Yes, many of the slip-ups originated in the intelligence agencies. But had Bush rattled cages to make al Qaeda a priority, it might have made a difference. We’ll never know.

Michael Hirsch wrote in the May 17, 2002, Newsweek, in an article titled “What Did He Know?”:

George W. Bush has been all but untouchable in the war on terror, and he has the poll ratings to prove it. Now, for the first time, doubts are surfacing publicly in Washington-and knives are being sharpened-over what Bush knew about the threat from Osama bin Laden and when he knew it.

Most of the questions center on a recently disclosed intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which the president was warned that, among other threats, Al Qaeda-linked terrorists might try to hijack an airliner. Considering that, at about the same time, FBI agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis were raising suspicions about Middle Easterners taking flight lessons in the United States and the intentions of Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged “20th hijacker” who had been arrested, the revelations have opened up a credibility gap for a White House that prides itself on giving things straight to the American people. The reason is simple: Bush and his top officials insisted in no uncertain terms after September 11 that they had no inkling of the attacks beforehand.

The Bush administration, which faces a series of hearings on Capitol Hill, is mounting a stout defense. National-security advisor Condoleezza Rice, at a White House briefing on Thursday, said the hijacking threat that Bush heard about a little over a month before the attacks was not linked to any specific threat. It came during an “analytic” briefing and only “mentioned hijacking in the traditional sense,” she said-in other words, the use of passenger planes as hostages, not missiles. “This government,” she said, “did everything it could in a period when the information was very generalized.”

In truth, the question of whether the Bush administration was paying enough attention in general to the terror threat is what is really at issue-far more than what the president specifically learned on Aug. 6 or at other briefings. The new disclosures could open a Pandora’s box of questions about just how focused the Bush administration was on deterring and disrupting bin Laden before September 11.

Newly emboldened Democrats on the Hill, for instance, and even some Republicans, might think to ask why an administration that blamed its predecessor for failing to deter bin Laden ignored, for nearly eight months, hard evidence linking the Oct. 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole in Yemen to Al Qaeda. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld both suggested publicly that the Clinton administration had left America with a weak image abroad. As Bush told The Washington Post in January, “It was clear that bin Laden felt emboldened and didn’t feel threatened by the United States.” But the new administration mounted no retaliation of its own, despite what seemed to be a clear casus belli.

I want to emphasize that these words were published in a major national news magazine in May 2002. Yet more than four years later, we are still struggling to bring these facts to the nation’s attention.

Instead of being held accountable, President Bush was wrapped in a cult of personality that protected him from criticism. The nation was persuaded that President Bush was uniquely, almost supernaturally, qualified to protect the nation from terrorist attacks. What should have been the Bush Administration’s shame was spun and exploited into an unbeatable political asset.

What happened to “the series of hearings” Hirsch spoke of? In fact, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees had announced a joint inquiry in February 2002. This was after President Bush and Vice President Cheney had personally asked Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to limit the investigation. The hearings began in June, 2002.

From The Memory Hole:

From June to October 2002, the Intelligence Committees from the US Senate and House teamed up to probe, more or less, 9/11. Of course, the Joint Investigation ran into all kinds of roadblocks. It took Congress five months to even announce the inquiry and another four months before it got started. Bush and Cheney each personally asked then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to keep the scope of the probe narrow. Republican Senator Richard Shelby openly complained of the lack of cooperation from the FBI, intelligence agencies, and others. [Read more]

Throughout June, July, and the first half of September, 2002, the Joint Inquiry held closed sessions. The second half of September saw all open hearings, while those in October alternated between open and closed. In December, the Joint Inquiry issued its report, but only 24 pages were publicly released out of a total of over 800.

In May 2003, Newsweek, Knight Ridder, and other media outlets reported that the Bush Administration was working to block the release of the Joint Inquiry’s full report. In fact, officials were quoted as saying that they’d like to retroactively classify parts of the material that came out during the open hearings. They’re upset about some of the information divulged by senior intelligence officials and by the Inquiry staff’s leader, Eleanor Hill. (They now regret giving Hill and her team access to so many classified intelligence briefings.) [Read more]

The Memory Hole has archived all publicly released statements from the hearings. The two links provided in the quote above both document the many ways the Bush Administration tried to stonewall the hearings — first by opposing any investigation at all, then by withholding critical documents and witnesses, finally by suppressing much of the final report.

The Administration also fought tooth and nail to prevent an independent, public investigation of the attacks. It was only because of pressure from September 11 families — notably the Family Steering Committee — that the 9/11 Commission was created at all.

During the 16 months of investigation by the 9/11 Commission, the Bush Administration continued to play games over access to documents and witnesses. The commission was forced to issue subpoenas to the Federal Aviation Administration and NORAD to get information about the FAA-NORAD problems I mentioned above, and it was only weeks ago that we learned the testimony from the FAA and NORAD was, um, wrong.

Even after the 9/11 Commission finished its work, many questions remain unanswered. And as September 11 faded from public consciousness, it seemed likely they would remain unanswered.

Yet now, finally, the questions Michael Hirsch and others asked in the spring of 2002 — What did President Bush know? And what did he do about it? — are being asked again. Hallelujah.

David Horowitz’s propaganda miniseries, “The Path to 9/11,” and President Clinton’s robust response, have hauled all the old questions into the light of day once again. Glenn Greenwald writes at Salon:

Republicans appear to have gravely miscalculated in provoking Bill Clinton into the debate over the Bush administration’s terrorism policies. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, most Democrats have refrained from aggressively blaming the administration for the attacks, blame that could easily be assigned by exploiting two simple facts — 1) the 9/11 attacks happened while Bush, not Clinton, was president and 2) Bush received the Aug. 6 presidential daily briefing embarrassingly titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” and apparently did nothing in response. With some scattered exceptions, both parties seemed content more or less to maintain a truce with regard to casting blame for the 9/11 attacks by agreeing that few people in either party recognized the magnitude of this threat until those attacks happened.

But ABC’s broadcast of the right-wing propaganda film “Path to 9/11” forced into the public discourse a comparison of Bush vs. Clinton on the question of terrorism. And the subsequent attempts by right-wing pundits and “journalists” to heap the blame for terrorism on the Clinton administration left Clinton with no choice but defending himself aggressively. Following the Wallace interview, Condoleezza Rice accused Clinton of making statements about the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 anti-terrorism efforts (or lack thereof), which Rice said were “flatly false,” comments that in turn prompted an aggressive response from Hillary Clinton.

My explanation of the many ways Condi Rice lied her ass off is here.

Last night, Keith Olbermann’s Countdown presented a segment on Bush’s failure to address terrorism before September 11. You can see the video here, and Crooks & Liars has the video and a rough transcript. It was well done. Attacking George Bush’s image as Our Glorious Protector From Scary Swarthy People With Bombs still takes guts, although not as much as before Katrina. (Indeed, I’m surprised there’s not more reaction from rightie bloggers today; the Word must have been handed down to shut up about the pre-9/11 thing so that maybe it’ll go away.)

Olbermann put together one part of the pre-9/11 puzzle I had not considered before, even though I’d had the pieces. This is from the Crooks & Liars transcript:

Mr. Bush was personally briefed about al Qaeda even before the election in November, 2000.

During the transition, President Clinton and his National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, say they told Bush and his team of the urgency in getting al Qaeda.

Three days before Mr. Bush took office, Berger spoke at a “passing the baton” event that Rice attended.

Berger (1/17/01): “Sitting at the Norfolk Base with survivors from the USS Cole only reinforced the reality that America is in a deadly struggle with a new breed of anti-western jihadists. Nothing less than a war, I think, is a fair way to describe this.”

Eight days later, Clarke sent Rice the strategy Clinton developed for retaliating, in the event al Qaeda was found to be behind October’s attack on the USS Cole.

The next day, the FBI conclusively pinned the Cole attack on al Qaeda.

Mr. Bush ordered no military strike, no escalation of existing Clinton measures. Instead, he repeated Clinton’s previous diplomatic efforts, writing a letter to Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf in February, and another on August 4th.

Until September 11th, even when Mr. Bush was asked about the Cole, an attack carried out on water, by men in a boat, he offered a consistent prescription for keeping America safe, one he reiterated upon taking office.

    Bush (2/27/01): “To protect our own people, our allies and friends, we must develop and we must deploy effective missile defenses.”

… According to the 9/11 report, even bin Laden expected Bush to respond militarily to the Cole bombing. Quote, “In February, 2001…according to [a] source, Bin Laden wanted the United States to attack, and if it did not he would launch something bigger.”

Obviously, W is a Weenie who encouraged that “something bigger” by his failure to act. Not Clinton’s failure, Bush’s failure.

I have never said that President Clinton was blameless, or that there wasn’t more he could have done. But the elevation of the hapless and clueless George W. Bush into some kind of Demigod of National Strength has got to be one of the most pathological events in American history. For generations historians will be looking back on our little era and asking, “How could so many people have been so blind?

I think the time is ripe for Democrats to pull a Karl Rove and mount an attack directly on Bush’s alleged “strength.” It’s past time to dismantle the Big Lie that George W. Bush is an effective leader against terrorism.

Whatever else happens, please help keep this issue out in the light. Don’t let the VRWC cover it up again. Don’t let the lies continue.

Update: See also Brilliant at Breakfast.

14 thoughts on “Finally

  1. The difference between R’s and D’s is that R’s deify their presidents, they are held to be infallible while in office and afterward and D’s do not, they admit human fallibility. This started after the Nixon mess. No R has been fallible since.
    Now we are about to enter a new level of denial- no R president has any brake on power and is above the law.

  2. The chances of the Dem’s taking a page out of Rove’s playbook are very slim. They still haven’t learned to imitate the basic GOP strategy of staking out a position, no matter how extreme, and repeating it until everybody else gets tired of correcting them and goes along, viz. “Death Tax”

  3. More differences between the Rs and the Ds:

    When presented with a solid gold opportunity, pregnant with the ability to easily and utterly demolish the opposition, the Ds cower and fumble it. The Rs on the other hand, can take a political disaster of any magnitude and can exploit it to make them smelling like roses, every time.

    Steve Jobs is famous for his “reality distortion field”, IOW his ability to convince anyone of whatever he believes in, no matter how crazy. The Rs have something like this going for them.

    The Rs are like a company with the worst product in the world but who have the most awesome marketing machine ever built. They could sell a bag of shit to my Aunt Elaine, and not only would she buy it, but she would thank them for it.

    The Ds are like a company with a great product but lousy or non-existent marketing, and who think mere facts are enough to close the deal. If I hear John Kerry talk about his 5 point plan for Iraq one more time I think I’ll scream. The guy still doesn’t get it.

    Bill Clinton OTOH does get it, and I’m hopeful that his smackdown of Chris Wallace was the start of the Ds finding themselves, stepping out of victimhood, and stepping into their (our) own power. Not a minute too soon.

    Great post, very clear layout of events, connections, and contradictions. In finding our power, it’s paramount to understand what really happened, and what lessons are contained in the outrages that occurred. This really helps.

  4. Glenn Greenwald made another post to Salon today about Democrats on Bush’s torture bill, a bill that will pretty much pass because Democratic stategists are criminally stupid and thus Democrats are afraid to look weak on terrorism. So Rovian tactics I think are basically out of the question. The problem for Democrats is not that they look weak, it’s that they look impotent, and the reason we don’t want to vote for them is that it doesn’t seem like they really stand for anything. At least both Clintons have the sense to defend themselves. (Although Hillary’s rebuttal to Condi’s interview in the Post earned her a photo of herself looking like a crazy banshee on the Post’s cover yesterday.) At least state attourney general candidate Janine Pirro made an idiot of herself, so the Post had another crazy lady to put on the cover today.

  5. Bush has at least once used the “didn’t know the exact plan” defense for his non-action. May I suggest that if anyone hears this defense used they should ask the person using it if they would accept that defense if the local cops didn’t bother to look for crooks:

    “Yes, we heard that a major jewel heist was planned but we didn’t have the exact details so we didn’t do anything to protect museums and gem dealers.”

    Would that fly? Or would the police chief be fired?

  6. I think the time is ripe for Democrats to pull a Karl Rove and mount an attack directly on Bush’s alleged “strength.” It’s past time to dismantle the Big Lie that George W. Bush is an effective leader against terrorism.

    Yes the time is ripe. It’s long past time to “dismantle the Big Lie”. Yes. It is. It really is.

    And you know as well as I do that the Dems will not do it. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not Ever.

    For whatever reason, they have made a deal with the Devil, and they will not — under any circumstances — either challenge Bush’s strength, or demolish the Busheviks’ lies.

    They had all the chances in the world. They blew every single one of them.

    We’re screwed.

  7. “I think the time is ripe for Democrats to pull a Karl Rove and mount an attack directly on Bush’s alleged “strength.” It’s past time to dismantle the Big Lie that George W. Bush is an effective leader against terrorism.”

    I think the window of opportunity for that has passed. Here’s why:

    1) 9/11 is now seen as history, rather than a current event for which someone must be held responsible,

    2a) Democrats already have the strategy of Iraq + Economy = Victory. To refocus on 9/11 would mean reorienting their election strategy, and I don’t think they have enough time to build an effective and coherent narrative and to get that narrative banged into the public’s collective consciousness

    2b) Although a recent Gallup poll says more Americans blame Bush than Clinton for 9/11, the media narrative still reliably sees Rs as “strong” and Ds as “weak” on national security – Obama’s book just reinforces this (although maybe its changing with Clinton’s interview?)

    3) Democrats should run on a strategy focused on future events that they can actually alter, not on events that have actually happened. Voters will identify more with a message of “Yeah I want US troops home and a better economy too!” than “Yeah I don’t know what Bush did pre-9/11 either”.

    4) Attacking the Rs “strength” of national security will mean significant uncertainty in voters minds – “I thought Rs were strong on security, but now I just don’t know.” While that is good in decreasing R support, I wouldn’t rely on “voter uncertainty” as a campaign strategy.

    Wow that was longer than I meant it to be.

  8. I get a pit in my stomach which says that we are rallying for a party which is beyond redemption. Their value system is defunct. Playing second fiddle is their cozy corner of security. The party is so much out of step with their base whereas the R’s are very doing what their base wants. The country is doomed for a neocon single party domination. The D’s are just out of it!
    Please read these items which define fascism and you can decide what is going to this country, unless some REAL REVOLUTION takes place ….

    14 Defining Characteristics of Fascism

    Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

    1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

    2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people
    tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

    3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

    4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespreaddomestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

    5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

    6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

    7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

    8. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

    9. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and
    power elite.

    10. Labor Power is suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

    11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

    12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

    13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect
    their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

    14. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

  9. the media narrative still reliably sees Rs as “strong” and Ds as “weak” on national security

    That’s because Rs have been attacking Ds on national security for more than 50 years. They did this by blaming Dems for alleged mistakes of the past, like the Soviet takeover of eastern Europe and Mao’s takeover of China. That these were matters outside of U.S. control, and that Rs really didn’t have an alternative plan other than nuking the other half of the planet, didn’t matter.

    I think the Dems have tried the “strategy focused on future events that they can actually alter.” They are wonderful at rolling out five-point plans for this or that. They get no traction because they are perceived as weak. They are perceived as weak because that’s The Narrative — Rs have been attacking Ds on national security for more than 50 years. Ds are going to get nowhere until they take back credibility on national security.

  10. I get a pit in my stomach which says that we are rallying for a party which is beyond redemption. Their value system is defunct. Playing second fiddle is their cozy corner of security.

    That’s partly our fault, “our” being the liberal/progressive base. It didn’t just happen. (I explained some of this sorry history here.) It won’t be corrected until we out here in the wildnerness choose to correct it. It must be corrected because there is no realistic alternative.

    And may I say I am sick to death of the incessant whining about how Dems won’t do anything to help themselves. They’ll do it if they get a stuck rammed up their butts to make them do it. And we are the stickholders, children. Stop whining and start ramming.

  11. And may I say I am sick to death of the incessant whining about how Dems won’t do anything to help themselves. They’ll do it if they get a stuck rammed up their butts to make them do it. And we are the stickholders, children. Stop whining and start ramming…

    Uh…. Nope. It is an image I reject, first of all, because the function of a People’s Representative is not to present themselves for continual chastisement and “correction,” which is what you are advocating in place of “whining.”

    A People’s Representative represents the Peoples’ interest and the interests of the Nation. Only ours — in the case of too many of the Democrats in office — do not. They represent themselves. Period. No amount of poking, prodding, chastising and correction will change that. That’s what we have been doing for the last six years in case you haven’t noticed and the result has been… pretty much nothin’. They have dismissed our interest, they have disparaged their base, they have caved, yielded and abased themselves before the Rs routinely, and I — along with millions of others — am heartily sick of it.

    There are some Good Dems, but not enough of them. And since our votes are only counted when the Rs want to count them, we are screwed. In America, the People do not rise up. It’s too icky.

    No maha. The Dems in office will not do what it takes on their own, and they will not do it — ever — under our lash.

  12. People’s Representative is not to present themselves for continual chastisement and “correction,” which is what you are advocating in place of “whining.”

    You’re missing the point. The foundation problem is not the Democrtic Party but a sick political culture in which We, the People, can no longer have rational discussions and make rational decisions about our own security and well being. This sick political culture came about because of a number of complex factors, but the liberal/progressive base played a part, as I’ve explained in past posts. Ain’t nobody innocent. The sick political culture, and the failure of liberals and progressives to form a coalition to replace the New Deal coalition that broke apart in the 1970s, cut the soul out of the Democratic Party and left it the collections of weenies it is today.

    Now, you can whine about the Dems all day long, and it’s not going to do you and the country a damn bit of good. For reasons I’ve gone on about at length in the past, third parties are for losers. Waiting for the Messiah Candidate who will go to Washington and make it all better is a fantasy. What’s real is that parties are the channel for all political power in Washington, and if we liberals and progressives are not working through a viable national party we might as well quit and move to Canada.

    So, we a choice of two parties to work with: Republicans or Democrats. We have to choose one, then we have to work to both shape the party and heal the political culture so that the party wse choose CAN support progressive values and policies. In other words, we have to change the forces that pressure them to be less progressive into forces that pressure them to be more progressive.

    It would take several thousand words to explain this in full. I’m just serving notice that the next whiny post about how it’s all hopeless and the Democrats are hopeless and there’s nothing we can do will be deleted.

  13. I am all for motivating our elected representatives to represent OUR interests, that is American human beings, not corporations or other special interests. The ‘stick’ I believe in – is voting anti-incumbent, and doing it en-masse and bi-partisan. After the second batch of bums gets tossed, self-preservation will kick in and they will start acting on issues, instead of blowing smoke up our collective butts.

    And the ONE thing we need to REQUIRE is a BAN on political contributions by corporations and special interests. After that, they still won’t always do what I want, but they will do what they perceive as best for the PEOPLE of this country. I can live with that.

  14. Janine Pirro’s lack of Prosecution In Harrison, N.Y. at another typically drunken house party when a fight broke out. One guy punched another guy, who fell backwards onto the concrete patio and hit his head hard. Rather than calling for an ambulance, the kids at the party rushed around throwing away all the alcohol and cups, destroying the evidence that they had been drinking, then concocted a story about how he had somehow hit his head in a nearby park. They finally did take the kid to the hospital, but it was too late, and he died from the head trauma. It was acknowledged that he might have survived had they called an ambulance straight away and had not tried to orchestrate a cover-up. None of them went to jail because Janine Pirro orchestrated a cover-up.

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