Monday, September 13, 2004

The 9/11 Report Revisited

Atrios links to this article on the 9/11 report, and it is really worth reading through. If you don't have the time for it, here's an excerpt which reminds us all of the importance of voting in November:

As presented by the commission, the evidence of signals missed by the Bush administration is more startling than we had known. To take one example,a memorandum written in July 2001 to headquarters by an FBI agent in Phoenix, Arizona, specifically warned of the "'possibility of a coordinated effort by Usama bin Laden' to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation schools."
Though Bush administration officials said after the fact that no one could have imagined that terrorists would use planes to fly into buildings, the report shows that there had been warnings of attacks very much along those lines before September 11—including information from an informant in East Asia of the possibility of al-Qaeda's hijacking planes, filling them with explosives, and using them to crash into US cities. Richard Clarke had worried about this very possibility in connection with the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. In the commission's words, the "possibility" of this sort of terrorist attack "was imaginable, and imagined."
The most arresting document is the Presidential Daily Brief of August 6, 2001, which, until it was finally made public, had been described by the White House as "historical in nature." A single question by Ben-Veniste to Condoleezza Rice, asking her to state the title of the PDB, exposed that fiction. The title was "bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." That the commission was able to see the President's daily briefings by the CIA during the Clinton and Bush administrations at all was unprecedented. They could only do so, however, under strict rules set by the administration: only two commissioners were allowed to read the PDBs, and—for reasons that later became clear—they were forbidden to copy down their titles.
After the September 11 attacks, administration officials claimed that the information they'd received wasn't specific enough for them to act on it. But it was much more specific than they suggested. The government even received evidence in July 2001 that an al-Qaeda attack had been put off for two months but hadn't been abandoned. And the August 6 PDB itself was far more detailed than the administration admitted. It cited evidence, including reports in the press as well as clandestine information, that bin Laden had "wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US" since 1997; that al-Qaeda members had lived in or traveled to the United States for years, "and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks"; that FBI information "indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijacking or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York." It cited a call to the US embassy in the United Arab Emirates in May 2001, "saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives." It said that the FBI had seventy "bin Laden–related" investigations underway. The President told the commission that he'd found this last point "heartening." Others might have been alarmed. (The commission concluded that the FBI had exaggerated the extent of its investigations.)