- January 1: The 9/11 commission is investigating some of the "conspiracy theories" surrounding the 9/11 attacks. "What breeds these theories is that two years out, we have no authoritative account of how it happened and why it happened," says 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser. Chairman Thomas Kean says of the various theories, "All you can do is try to take every question that has been raised and see it is answered in the final report to the best of your ability. ...We have heard some theories that are a little unusual and some that have a possibility of being true; some don't hold water and some require further investigation." Breitweiser believes that the commission is worried about stonewalling and cover-ups from the Bush admininstration. She cites the administration's "excessive secrecy," Bush's initial opposition to the commission, his delay in turning over White House intelligence briefings and the naming of Philip Zelikow, a friend of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, as executive director of the panel, as evidence that the administration doesn't want an open and aggressive investigation. (Newhouse News/Cleveland Plain Dealer)
- January 4: New transcripts of the crosstalk between air traffic controllers in the New York area on the morning of 9/11 are released by the New York City Port Authority. They show an unforgivable amount of confusion and lack of critical information on the part of the speakers. Columnist Mike Kelly writes: "It was just after 9 If the FAA's version of he story is correct, air traffic controllers should have known at 8:20 that at least one hijacking had taken place -- and that the hijacked jetliner had then struck the Trade Center's North Tower at 8:46 But [the] transcripts reveal that air traffic controllers at La Guardia were still in the dark even after the North Tower was hit. In one exchange, with the North Tower in flames and just before a second hijacked jetliner struck the Trade Center's South Tower at 9:03 , an unidentified man at La Guardia's control tower asks: 'Do you guys know what happened at the World Trade Center?' A second unidentified man at the control tower answers: 'We are listening to it on the news right now. Do you know anything further? What happened, a plane hit it?' 'We heard a bomb hit it,' the first man says. 'We heard that a plane hit it,' the second man answers, adding that he is just turning on the TV news. 'We are trying to get an update.' 'But you don't know anything,' the first man says. 'We don't know,' the second man says. 'We're looking at it on Channel 5 right now.'
- "If that conversation was between two ordinary people, it wouldn't be all that disturbing. Indeed, it probably echoes many conversations that day between ordinary citizens trying to find out what was taking place in lower Manhattan. But that conversation was between two people who should have been on top of the information -- people in an airport traffic control tower. Why were they in the dark? The transcripts reveal that even at La Guardia air traffic controllers were still allowing jetliners to take off after the first plane struck. Only after the second plane hit did the FAA order all commercial jetliners grounded across America. Such a delay raises yet another question: Did the FAA dismiss that first hijacking report at 8:20 ? How else to explain the delay in notifying the military, the delay in notifying air traffic controllers at La Guardia, and even the delay in grounding commercial jets in the New York area and beyond? Put another way: Just what was the FAA doing?" (North Jersey Record)
- January 12: The federal 9/11 commission will ask President Bush and former President Bill Clinton to meet with the panel, and will attempt to extend its investigation by several months. Vice President Cheney and former Vice President Al Gore also would be called. Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will approach the four men and request their presence. None will be subpoenaed. It is unclear whether any will agree to appear. The issue of an extension for the commission is a touchy one for the Bush administration. Getting an extension could be a political headache for Bush if the final 9/11 report is issued in the summer. Kean, a Republican, has said the report will name names and point to failures in the Bush administration. Bush officials have proposed greenlighting the extension if the commission would agree to release the report after the November election, but then officials pulled back the offer. (New York Daily News)
Commission members testify
- January 15: The 9/11 commission stuns observers by having two of its senior officials interviewed as part of the investigation. Philip Zelikow, the commission's executive director, worked on the Bush-Cheney transition team as the new administration took power, advising his longtime associate and former boss, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, on the structure of the incoming National Security Council. Zelikow, who the commission says has recused himself from those parts of its investigation directly connected with the transition, was also appointed to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in October 2001. The board provides the White House with advice about the quality, adequacy and legality of the whole spectrum of intelligence activities. Jamie Gorelick, one the 10 members of the commission and the other official who has answered investigators' questions, was a senior official under Attorney General Janet Reno in the Clinton administration. The revelations have been greeted with dismay by the commission's critics, especially survivors and relatives of the dead, because they suggest the investigation will be, in the words of Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband Ron in the World Trade Center, "a whitewash." The families have said for many months that they are unhappy with Zelikow's role, and are furious that they were not told he would be giving evidence. "Did he interview himself about his own role in the failures that left us defenseless?" asks 9/11 widow Lori Van Auken. "This is bizarre. We entered a looking glass world on Sept. 11 and we're still in it." Gorelick and Zelikow are the two officials to whom the White House has granted the greatest access to the most secret and sensitive national security documents of all, the presidential daily briefings. (UPI/CommonDreams)
Bush, Congressional Republicans oppose extension of commission deadline
- January 19: The Bush administration and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert are refusing to extend the May deadline for the federal 9/11 investigative commission to complete its work, forcing the commission to substantially reduce the scope and detail of its inquiries. Bush and leading Republicans do not want the commission's findings to be released anywhere close to the November elections. "We need at least a few more months to complete our work," said commission member Timothy Roemer, a former Democratic congressman who has pushed for more time. "We have a breathtaking task ahead of us, and we need enough time to make sure our work is credible and thorough." Any extension would require Congressional approval, and Hastert and other leading GOP lawmakers in Congress are flatly opposed to any such extensions. "We've had it," says Kristin Breitweiser, the wife of one of the 9/11 victims who met with several commission leaders last week. "It is such a slap in the face of the families of victims. They are dishonoring the dead with their irresponsible behavior." (Washington Post)
- January 23: The US was warned of impending September 11 terrorist attacks by an Iranian spy, but ignored him, German secret service agents testify in the trial of an alleged al-Qaeda terrorist. The spy, identified as Hamid Reza Zakeri, tried to warn the CIA after leaving Iran in 2001, but was not believed, two German officers who interviewed him told the Hamburg court. Zakeri worked in the department of the Iranian secret services responsible for "carrying out terrorist attacks globally," one of the officers testifies. Prosecutors called the spy as a surprise witness against a Moroccan man, Abdelghani Mzoudi, who is on trial for being a key aide to three of the September 11 hijackers. He is said to have handled money, covered for absences by members of the al-Qaida cell based in Hamburg and trained in an Afghan al-Qaeda camp himself. Mzoudi is charged with 3,066 counts of aiding and abetting murder, one for each of the victims of the New York and Washington suicide attacks. Mzoudi is one of a clutch of suspected al-Qaeda operatives being held around the world. Iran said for the first time that it plans to try a dozen suspects who have been detained in the country. (Guardian)
- January 27: Months before the 9/11 attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration downplayed the potential threat from hijackers bent on ramming aircraft into targets, saying that the larger threat was from explosives smuggled on board. The preliminary report by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States says that in a presentation to airline and airport officials in early 2001, the FAA discounted the threat of a suicide hijacking because there was "no indication that any group is currently thinking in that direction." In July 2001, the FAA issued a warning to air carriers but did not mention suicide hijackings. Instead, it focused on the possibility that some terrorist groups might conceal explosive devices inside luggage. Bush administration officials have maintained that before the attacks there was no indication terrorists were considering suicide hijackings. But the report notes that the FAA's Office of Civil Aviation Security officially considered the possibility of suicide hijackings as early as March 1998. The full report is due on March 27, unless the Bush administration reverses its earlier decision and allows the commission more time to complete its investigation. (CBS News)
- January 27: Testimony from US border agent Jose Melendez-Perez elicits the fact that Mohammed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the 9/11, plot, aroused enough suspicion at the border with his polished appearance and a suspicious student visa that he should have been refused entry into the United States. Melendez-Perez, who in a separate encounter barred an alleged al-Qaeda operative from entering the country, tells the 9/11 commission that Atta was trying to use the wrong kind of student visa at Miami International Airport and should have been turned back. He says that Atta should have raised other red flags as well. Atta was trying to switch his student visa to a tourist visa at the Miami airport, an unusual move that generally must be handled before a passenger leaves his or her country. Atta's appearance, he said, was also suspicious. He was older and traveling alone, and was too well-dressed to be coming to the country as a student. "I would have recommended refusal," Melendez-Perez says. The details surrounding Atta's entry were among a series of new facts to emerge yesterday that appear contrary to top administration officials' assertions last year that the 19 hijackers were "clean" and entered the country lawfully. Commission investigators, for example, found that a number of hijackers used passports that had been partially forged and carried visas that might have been obtained fraudulently. Of the four passports that were recovered after the attacks, two were "clearly doctored," investigators say, and they suspect at least six others presented at the border contained al-Qaeda forgery. Investigators believe that at least three other hijackers had the same suspicious indicators on their passports, though those passports were destroyed in the attacks. (Baltimore Sun)
- January 28: The 9/11 commission intends to push the Bush administration for an extension of its May 27 deadline until at least late July, raising the prospect of a public fight with the White House and a final report delivered in the heat of the presidential campaign. Both the White House and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert have said they have no intention of granting the extension. In return, the commission says there is no chance of it finishing its work by the May deadline, largely because of delays and lack of cooperation from Bush officials. The commission is still negotiating, so far unsuccessfully, to secure testimony from Bush, Vice President Cheney, and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. Former president Bill Clinton and former VP Al Gore have already agreed to cooperate fully with the commission. Bush officials fear that Democrats will use the commission's report to attack Bush during the presidential campaign. "It smacks of politics to put out a report like this in the middle of a presidential campaign," says an anonymous Republican Congressional aide. "The Democrats will spin and spin." An extension of the commission's deadline would need to be approved in Congress in the next few weeks, and the Senate authors of the bill that created the panel last year, Republican John McCain and Democrat Joseph Lieberman, have already said that they are willing to try to shepherd an extension bill through Congress, although both have said they expect a fight with Republican Congressional leaders. "I fully support an extension to ensure that the commission's work is not compromised by the Bush administration's delaying tactics, secrecy and stonewalling," Lieberman says. "Clearly the president is not interested in a complete and thorough investigation." (New York Times)
Commission reveals numerous failed opportunities to discover or prevent attacks
- January 30: The 9/11 investigative commission reveals that the United States missed numerous opportunities to either discover or to prevent the terrorist attacks. The "missteps" include miscommunications about al-Qaeda operatives dating back to the mid-1990s, hijackers who were allowed to repeatedly enter the United States even with false or the wrong visa papers, and missed chances to stop suspects at airport security checkpoints despite warning signs. "We were asleep. Opportunities were lost," says chairman Thomas Kean. "The hijackers analyzed our system and developed a plan they felt sure would beat it in every case, and 19 out of 19 succeeded." The errors documented by the commission date back to just after the 1993 World Trade Center bombings and continued until the fateful day in 2001. The panel found airline security stopped nine of the 19 hijackers on the day of the attacks but let them go. All five of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77 at Dulles International Airport outside Washington were flagged as security risks. All that was required then was that their checked bags be searched for explosives. None was found, so they were allowed to board. Three of them also had carry-ons that set off alarms on X-ray belts. However, despite one or two additional checks, they successfully got on the plane with pocket knives and box cutters. That plane crashed into the Pentagon. Three of the five hijackers on American Airlines Flight 11 from Logan International Airport in Boston, as well as one hijacker on United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark International Airport in New Jersey, also were stopped as potential security risks. But they were allowed to board after their baggage tested negative for explosives.
- Commission member Jamie Gorelick asks Claudio Manno, the security chief of the FAA, who was charged with regulating America's air carriers, "Our briefings have told us that in the spring-summer of 2001, the hair of the intelligence community was on fire. A high-high state of alert existed. Did you take any enhanced security measures?" No, came the answer from Manno. Gorelick persisted in her line of questioning: when a passenger going through security during this high state of alert set off the magnetometer, were inspectors directed to open the carry-on bag for inspection? No, came the answer. That explains why the passenger-screening program was a failure, despite having flagged five of the hijackers when they or their hand luggage set off the magnetometers. The FAA's only requirement for security screeners at that time was to look at any knife or other object and, if it looked "menacing," designate it as a weapon. It was the "common-sense" test. So the security screeners ran the five men through a second, less sensitive computerized magnetometer and hand-wanded them, but never opened their carry-ons. Thus the hijackers on three of the four planes all managed to smuggle on bombs (whether real or fake) and compressed chemical sprays. Both items, obviously, were illegal. As the questioning wore on, commissioners became exasperated as one official after another pleaded ignorance of any "specific or credible" threats of terrorism in this country. "We know from classified brief-ings that our government was tracking Middle Eastern terrorist suspects since the year 2000 and the millennium plot to blow up LAX was foiled," says Gorelick. That catastrophe had been averted by a female customs agent, Deanna Dean.
- Gorelick then interrogated former FAA administrator Jane Garvey, who headed the agency during both the highly tense run-up to the millennium and in September 2001 and who had already stalled the commission, forcing it to subpoena FAA documents that had already been released on CD-ROM to airline executives and airports in July 2001, and even placed in the Federal Registry. Gorelick asks, "Again, did you take any increased measures to respond to the high-high state of alert in the spring-summer of 2001?" Garvey's response: "I don't recall any. I'd have to go back and look." The FAA information sent to airlines read, in part: "Members of foreign terrorist groups...and radical fundamentalist elements from many nations are present in the US, recruiting others for terrorist activities and training them to use explosives and airplanes. This increased threat to civil aviation abroad and within the United States exists and needs to be countered and prevented." Garvey claims to have been unaware of the information until after the 9/11 attacks. Kerrey was frankly disbelieving: "One of the presumptions that keeps surfacing is that an attack on our homeland was incredible," Kerrey says. "Yet there was a pattern beginning with the World Trade Center bombing in '93, followed by a much more sophisticated attack on Americans in our embassies in Africa in August '98 and the terrorist attack on the Cole in October 2000, which we knew was al-Qaeda. The possibility of a terrorist strike on our soil was obvious. Do they have to send you a memo?! You people ought to be coming to the microphone and saying, 'We failed miserably, and it cost us like hell.' What is this: 'We couldn't have imagined...'? These people defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan, for God's sake!"
- The panel also found FBI and CIA officials did not share knowledge about al-Qaeda or played down that information with customs, immigration and FAA officials. Consequently, some of the hijackers escaped capture despite questioning by customs officials after they submitted improper visa forms or acted suspiciously. The commission said if military intelligence were shared about al-Qaeda and their tendency to travel on Saudi passports, authorities would have known to stop them. But at least two and as many as eight of the hijackers were allowed to enter on fraudulent visas. Six of the hijackers eluded detection even though they overstayed their visas or failed to attend the English language school for which their visas were issued.
- "The evidence is pretty damning," says Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland. "There were many signals to the White House that we were in a state of high danger in the summer of 2001, yet no leadership was exercised to shake the agencies down." Two known al-Qaeda operatives were on a special terrorist watch list known as Tipoff, but airline officials were unaware because it was separate from the FAA's list of people barred from flying. A former FAA official acknowledged at Monday's hearing he had not known until this week that Tipoff existed. "The question is, can you take an institution like the FBI and change its culture so it is focused on prevention of acts of terrorism rather than prosecution of criminal acts," says vice chairman Lee Hamilton. "That's a major question in homeland security." Kean has said many midlevel officials clearly could have prevented the attacks, but has reserved judgment on top officials in the Bush and Clinton administrations. The panel is seeking interviews with Bush and Clinton and plans to meet soon with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. "We'll pursue every lead and follow the trail wherever it goes," he says. "When our report comes out, we're not going to mince words." (AP/Miami Herald, New York Observer)
White House blocks commission access to key documents
- January 31: The White House is refusing to allow the 9/11 commission to have notes on presidential briefing papers taken by some of its own members. Some commission members are threatening to subpoena the notes to force their release. Lack of access to the materials would mean that the information they contain could not be included in a final report about the attacks, several officials say. "We're having discussions on this almost hourly or at least daily," says the commission's vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman. "We retain all of our rights to gain the access we need. ...This is a priority item for us to resolve, and we are working to resolve it." The dispute stems from an agreement reached in November that allowed a four-member team from the commission to examine highly classified documents known as the President's Daily Brief (PDB), including a controversial August 2001 memo that discusses the possibility of airline hijackings by al-Qaeda terrorists. The deal allowed the team, made up of three commission members and Executive Director Philip Zelikow, to take notes on the materials that would be passed along to the rest of the commission, but only after the White House gave its approval. The team completed its work several weeks ago but has been unable to reach an agreement with the White House on how to share its summaries with the seven commission members who were not privy to the material.
- Democratic commission member Timothy Roemer says that "the convoluted and tortuous process set up by the White House has bottlenecked. If it's not resolved within the next few days, I believe we have to pursue other options." The commission has been trying without success to get the May 27 deadline for its report pushed back at least two months; Bush officials have repeatedly refused the request, not wanting the commission's report to come out too close to the Presidential election. Legislation to be introduced next week in the Senate would extend the commission's deadline until next January, avoiding the election altogether. "The momentous nature of the event requires that this commission not be rushed to complete its work," says Kyle Hence, co-founder of 9/11 Citizens Watch, a group created to ensure that answers and accountability arise from the Sept. 11 investigation. "The commission is coming up with new information," said Kristen Breitweizer, who lost her husband, Ron, in the collapse of the World Trade Center. "As time goes by and more comes to light, we get a clearer picture of how this terrible thing happened. The commission's report will be the definitive official account. There is only one chance to get this right, so we plan to make sure they get all the time they need." (Washington Post, Working for Change)
Rice agrees to appear before commission, but will not be sworn in or testify in public
- February 3: National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has agreed to be interviewed by the bipartisan 9/11 commission on February 7, after weeks of resistance from the White House to the panel's requests. Rice will not testify under oath, and her testimony will not be made public, says commission member Bob Kerrey. Kerrey says he will lobby the comission to request sworn, public testimony from Bush's embittered national security advisor. "I'm very much interested in following up on the statement Condoleezza Rice made at her famous press conference in '02, that 'I don't think anybody could have predicted ... that they would try to use an airplane as a missile," says Kerrey. "I don't believe that." Kerrey also reveals that the scope of the 9/11 commission will take in "about half of what the President was doing in the pre-9/11 situation in Iraq. He alleged that there were al-Qaeda and terrorist connections, and that's very much part of what we're examining." Kerrey opposes Bush's decision to create another commission to examine the intelligence failures in assessing Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction before the war, saying that it's a mission that overlaps with investigations the 9/11 panel is already doing. "When the Bush administration began in January of '01, their transition team rearranged the Clinton national-security agenda. The question is: Did they continue the anti-terrorism effort? Where did they put al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden on their list of national-security threats?" (New York Observer)
- February 4: President Bush reverses himself and agrees to give the 9/11 commission two more months to complete their report. The commission now has until July 26 instead of May 27 to complete its work. It is now expected to release its report sometime in late August. Congress has yet to agree to the extension. (Washington Post)
- February 8: Bush refuses to commit to to being questioned by the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks. "Perhaps, perhaps," Bush tells NBC's Meet the Press in an interview when asked if he would submit for questioning. The commission interviewed Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, on February 7. It met last weekend with her deputy, Stephen Hadley. (Reuters/New York Times)
- February 12: 9/11 commission member Bob Kerrey says that restricted access to White House intelligence documents will make it difficult for the panel to give a full accounting of the tragedy. In comments that contradict Republican chairman Thomas Kean, Kerrey, a Democrat, says that the summary of the classified presidential daily briefing papers made available this week to the bipartisan panel is inadequate. "What we got was a summary that had been modified substantially with many things taken out," says Kerrey. "I have not seen everything I need. The summary was confusing and limited, and does not inform anyone reading it what was going on in the White House from February 1998 to September 11 ." The summary was put together by three of the panel's members and its executive director, who were allowed to review the classified documents and report back to the other members. The commission recently voted to accept their summary, which had been edited by the White House. With Kerrey and two other Democratic members dissenting, the commission also voted against issuing a subpoena to obtain access to the original White House documents for all 10 commissioners.
- Kerrey says it is central to the inquiry to know exactly what Presidents Clinton and Bush and their top policy-makers were told about a possible terrorist attack on US soil, and "what the primary national security people were doing to prepare themselves." He says the White House promised to provide this information and "broke its word to give our reviewers wide latitude" in taking notes and making complete information available to all 10 commissioners. "Those who read the full reports are better prepared to give a full accounting than those of us who did not have complete access," says Kerrey, a former Senate Intelligence Committee member. "I wasn't able to bring my knowledge and experience to evaluate the presidential briefing papers." "It seems inconsistent to me for the White House to say we were not warned prior to 9/11, but you can't see all the documents that might help you understand this," says fellow commission member Tim Roemer. "If they want to make the claim, let us see the documents so that we may or may not validate that." (New Jersey Star-Ledger)
Bush agrees to meet with commission, with Cheney, in private, and not under oath
- February 13: Bush performs an about-face and announces his willingness to meet with the 9/11 commission to give testimony. The meeting will be in private, with selected members of the commission, and the results will not be released to the public. Bush insists on appearing jointly with Dick Cheney. Details of the testimony have yet to be worked out. (New York Times)
Damning evidence from Flight 11 stewardess
- February 16: Amy Sweeney, who like her more famous colleague Betty Ong, was a flight attendant on American Airlines' Flight 11 that was rammed into the World Trade Center on September 11. Like Ong, Sweeney made a phone call from the flight shortly after it was hijacked; unlike Ong, the 9/11 commission's chairman, Philip Zelikow, a former member of the Bush administration, refuses to allow any of Sweeney's phone call to be publicly aired. Her husband Mike Sweeney is not so coy with information: "My wife's call was the first specific information the airline and the government got that day," says her husband. She gave seat locations and physical descriptions of the hijackers, which allowed officials to identify them as Middle Eastern men, by name, even before the first crash. She gave officials key clues to the fact that this was not a traditional hijacking. And she gave the first and only eyewitness account of a bomb on board. "How do you know it's a bomb?" asked her phone contact. "Because the hijackers showed me a bomb," Sweeney said, describing its yellow and red wires. Her first call was made at 7:11 that morning, a personal call. The plane took off at 7:59; by 8:14, the FAA flight controller in Nashua, New Hampshire, knew the plane was missing. Minutes later, Sweeney used an Airfone to call American Airlines Flight Service in Boston's Logan airport: "This is Amy Sweeney," she reported. "I'm on Flight 11 -- this plane has been hijacked." She was disconnected.
- On her second call, she was connected with a friend, flight service manager Michael Woodward. "Michael, this plane has been hijacked," Sweeney repeated. Calmly, she gave him the seat locations of three of the hijackers: 9D, 9G and 10B. She said they were all of Middle Eastern descent, and one spoke English very well. Because of Sweeney's information, at least 20 minutes before the plane crashed, the airline had the names, addresses, phone numbers and credit cards of three of the five hijackers. They knew that 9G was Abdulaziz al-Omari, 10B was Satam al-Suqami, and 9D was Mohamed Atta, later proven to have been the ringleader of the 9/11 terrorists. "The nightmare began before the first plane crashed," says Mike Sweeney, "because once my wife gave the seat numbers of the hijackers and Michael Woodward pulled up the passenger information, Mohamed Atta's name was out there. They had to know what they were up against." Woodward was simultaneously passing on Sweeney's information to American's headquarters in Dallas–Fort Worth. There was no taping facility in his office, so Woodward took notes. Amy Sweeney's account alerted the airline that something extraordinary was occurring. She told Woodward she didn't believe the pilots were flying the plane any longer. She couldn't contact the cockpit. Sweeney may have ventured forward to business class, because she relayed the alarming news to Betty Ong, who was sitting in the rear jump-seat. She told both Ong and Woodward that the plane's purser, another flight attendant, and a passenger had been attacked; the passenger appeared dead.
- Ong relayed this information to Nydia Gonzalez, a reservations manager in North Carolina, who simultaneously held another phone to her ear with an open line to American Airlines official Craig Marquis at the company's Dallas headquarters. The fact that the hijackers initiated their takeover by killing a passenger and stabbing two crew members had to be the first tip-off that this was anything but a standard hijacking. "I don't recall any flight crew or passenger being harmed during a hijacking in the course of my career," says Peg Ogonowski, a senior flight attendant who has flown with American for 28 years. Both Ong and Sweeney also reported that the hijackers had used mace or pepper spray and that passengers in business class were unable to breathe. Another major clue to the hijackers' having a unique and violent intent came in Ong's earliest report: "The cockpit is not answering their phone. We can't get into the cockpit. We don't know who's up there." Contact with Sweeney was lost at 8:46, after her final words: "I see water. I see buildings. We're flying low, we're flying way too low. Oh, my God." Her husband says, "so sometime between 8:30 and 8:46, America must have known that the hijacking was connected to al-Qaeda." To the question of whether American Airlines officials monitoring the Sweeney and Woodward dialogue would have known right away that Mohamed Atta was connected to Al Qaeda, the answer, from commission member Bob Kerrey, is "probably yes, but it seems to me that the weakness here, in running up to pre-9/11, is an unwillingness to believe that the United States of America could be attacked. Then you're not putting defensive mechanisms in place. You're not trying to screen out people with connections to Islamic extremist groups."
- Peg Ogonowski, the widow of Flight 11's captain, John Ogonowski, knew both Betty and Amy very well. "They had to know they were dealing with zealots," she says. "The words 'Middle Eastern hijackers' would put a chill in any flight-crew member's heart. They were unpredictable; you couldn't reason with them. ...When Amy picked up the phone...she had to know that, at that point, she might be being observed by another hijacker sitting in a passenger seat who would put a bullet through her head. What she did was incredibly brave." Ogonowski is incredulous that the commission either missed or ignored the facts from Sweeney's phone call: "It seems amazing to me that they didn't know." What her husband wants to know is this: "When and how was this information about the hijackers used? Were Amy's last moments put to the best use to protect and save others?" "We know what she said from notes, and the government has them," says Mary Schiavo, the former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation. Schiavo sat in on the commission's hearing on aviation security on 9/11 and was reportedly disgusted by what it left out. "In any other situation, it would be unthinkable to withhold investigative material from an independent commission," she complains. "There are usually grave consequences. But the commission is clearly not talking to everybody or not telling us everything."
- Adding to the evidence that the commission is ignoring is the record of radio transmissions sent from the captain of Flight 11, John Ogonowski, that he sent surreptitiously from the cockpit. He gave unusual access to the drama inside his cockpit by triggering a "push-to-talk button" on the aircraft's yoke. "The button was being pushed intermittently most of the way to New York," said an FAA air-traffic controller the day after the attack. "He wanted us to know something was wrong. When he pushed the button and the terrorist spoke, we knew there was this voice that was threatening the pilot, and it was clearly threatening." According to a timeline later adjusted by the FAA, Flight 11's transponder was turned off at 8:20, only 21 minutes after takeoff. (Even before that, by probably a minute or so, Amy Sweeney began her report to American's operations center at Logan.) The plane turned south toward New York, and more than one FAA controller heard a transmission with an ominous statement by a terrorist in the background, saying, "We have more planes. We have other planes." During these transmissions, the pilot's voice and the heavily accented voice of a hijacker were clearly audible, according to two controllers. All of it was recorded by a FAA traffic-control center in Nashua. Shortly after the attacks, federal officials arrived at the FAA facility and took the tape. Since then, there has been no public mention of the pilot's narrative since the news report on Sept. 12. Families of the flight crew have only heard about it, but when Peg Ogonowski asked American Airlines to let her hear it, she never heard back. Their FAA superiors forbade the controllers to talk to anyone else. It is doubtful if the FBI has turned the tape over to the commission. And according to Schiavo, there is no agency within the Bush administration that is pushing for results. Husband Mike Sweeney says of his wife's airline, American: "Ever since Sept. 11, AMR [the parent company of American Airlines] just wants to forget this whole thing happened. They wouldn't allow me to talk to Michael Woodward, and five months or so: they let him go."
- The Families Steering Committee urged the commission to interview Michael Woodward about the Sweeney information, as did Betty Ong's brother. A couple of days before the hearing on aviation security, a staffer did call Woodward and ask a few questions. But the explosive narrative offered by Amy Sweeney in her last 23 minutes of life was not included in the 9/11 commission's hearing on aviation security. The timeline that is most disturbing belongs to the last of the four suicide missions, United Airlines Flight 93, later presumed destined for the Capitol, if not the White House. Huge discrepancies persist in basic facts, such as when it crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside near Shanksville. The official impact time according to NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command, is 10:03 Later, US Army seismograph data gave the impact time as 10:06:05. The FAA gives a crash time of 10:07 And the New York Times, drawing on flight controllers in more than one FAA facility, put the time at 10:10
- Reporter Gail Sheehy writes, "Up to a seven-minute discrepancy? In terms of an air disaster, seven minutes is close to an eternity. The way our nation has historically treated any airline tragedy is to pair up recordings from the cockpit and air-traffic control and parse the timeline down to the hundredths of a second. But as Mary Schiavo points out, 'We don't have an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation here, and they ordinarily dissect the timeline to the thousandth of a second.' Even more curious: The FAA states that it established an open phone line with NORAD to discuss both American Airlines Flight 77 (headed for the Pentagon) and United's Flight 93. If true, NORAD had as many as 50 minutes to order fighter jets to intercept Flight 93 in its path toward Washington, DC. But NORAD's official timeline claims that FAA notification to NORAD on United Airlines Flight 93 is 'not available.' Why isn't it available? Asked when NORAD gave an order for fighter planes to scramble in response to United's Flight 93, the air-defense agency notes only that F-16's were already airborne from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to intercept American's Flight 77. The latter jet heaved into the Pentagon at either 9:40 AM (according to the FAA) or at 9:38 AM (according to NORAD). Although the F-16's weren't in the skies over Washington until 9:49, the question is: Did they continue flying north in an attempt to deter the last of the four hijacked jets? The distance was only 129 miles.
- "The independent commission is in a position to demand such answers, and many more. Have any weapons been recovered from any of the four downed planes? If not, why should the panel assume they were 'less-than-four-inch knives,' the description repeatedly used in the commission's hearing on aviation security? Remember the airlines' first reports, that the whole job was pulled off with box cutters? In fact, investigators for the commission found that box cutters were reported on only one plane. In any case, box cutters were considered straight razors and were always illegal. Thus the airlines switched their story and produced a snap-open knife of less than four inches at the hearing. This weapon falls conveniently within the aviation-security guidelines pre-9/11. But bombs? Mace or pepper spray? Gas masks? The FBI dropped the clue that the hijackers had 'masks' in a meeting with the Four Moms from New Jersey, the 9/11 widows who rallied for this independent commission. The Moms want to know if investigators have looked into how the pilots were actually disabled. To think that eight pilots -- four of whom were formerly in the military, some with combat experience in Vietnam, and all of whom were in superb physical shape -- could have been subdued without a fight or so much as a sound stretches the imagination. Even giving the terrorists credit for a militarily disciplined act of war, it is rare for everything to go right in four separate battles. Shouldn't the families and the American people know whether or not our government took action to prevent the second attack planned for the command-and-control center in Washington?"
- Melody Homer, the widow of 9/11 pilot LeRoy Homer, who died on board Flight 93, disputes the conventional story of heroic passengers struggling with the terrorists to prevent the plane from targeting another building. Sandy Dahl, a flight attendant for United whose husband, Jason Dahl, was captain of Flight 93, agrees. Dahl knows the layout of the 757. Melody Homer says, "We can't imagine that passengers were able to get a cart out of its locked berth and push it down the single aisle and jam it into the cockpit with four strong, violent men behind the door." She believes that the victims' family members who broke a confidentiality agreement and gave their interpretation of sounds they'd heard on the cockpit tape misinterpreted the shattering of china: "When a plane goes erratic, china falls." And the biggest question of all remains unanswered. The FAA and NORAD had at least 42 minutes to decide what to do about Flight 93. What really happened? As related by Sheehy, at 9:30 , six minutes after receiving orders from NORAD, three F-16's were airborne, according to NORAD's timeline. At first, the planes were directed toward New York and probably reached 600 miles per hour within two minutes, according to the adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, Major General Mike Haugen. Once it was apparent that the New York suicide missions were accomplished, the Virginia-based fighters were given a new flight target: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The pilots heard an ominous squawk over the plane's transponder, a code that indicates almost an emergency wartime footing. General Haugen says the F-16's were asked to confirm that the Pentagon was on fire. The lead flier looked down and verified the worst. Then the pilots received the following order, from a voice identifying itself as a representative of the Secret Service. According to General Haugen, the voice said: "I want you to protect the White House at all costs."
- According to Bob Woodward's book Bush at War, President Bush had already agreed to give the order that any commercial airliners controlled by hijackers be shot down if need be: "You bet," said Bush. That was before 10:00 But according to the Defense Department, Bush did not give authorization to shoot down an airliner "until after the Pentagon had been struck." The window of time -- 10 minutes or so -- covers the unexplained crash of Flight 93 in a Pennsylvania field. Sheehy asks, "so what happened in the period between just before 10:00 and 10:03 (or 10:06, or 10:07) -- when, at some point, the United jet crashed in a field in Pennsylvania? Did the President act on Mr. Cheney's advice and order the last and potentially most devastating of airborne missiles brought down before it reached the Capitol? Did Mr. Cheney act on the President's OK? Did a US fighter shoot down Flight 93? And why all the secrecy surrounding that last flight?"
- Melody Homer says, "Whether or not my husband's plane was shot down, the most angering part is reading about how the President handled this. ...I can't get over what Bush said when he was called about the first plane hitting the tower: 'That's some bad pilot.' Why did people on the street assume right away it was a terrorist hijacking, but our President didn't know? Why did it take so long to ground all civilian aircraft? In the time between when my husband's plane took off [at 8:41 ] and when the second plane hit in New York [9:02 ], they could have turned back to airfield." She says she later learned from a member of the Air Force who worked with her husband that "a couple of weeks before the incident, they were all sitting around and talking about the intelligence that was filtering through the military that something big was going to happen. For all of this to get ignored, it's difficult to excuse that." John Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy and one of the most active interrogators among the commissioners, was told of some of the issues raised in Sheehy's article. "These are exactly the right questions," he responded. "We have to put all these details together and then figure out what went wrong. Who didn't do their job? Not just what was wrong with the existing system, but human beings."
- Commission member Jamie Gorelick said in January that she was "amazed and shocked at how every agency defines its responsibility by leaving out the hard part." She blasted the FAA for ducking any responsibility for the prevention of terrorism. "We saw the same attitude in the FBI and CIA -- not to use common sense to evaluate a mission and say what works and what doesn't." During the hearings, Gorelick addressed a pointed question to James Loy, the deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the sprawling bureaucracy which now lashes together 22 federal agencies that didn't talk to one another before the terrorist attacks. "Who is responsible for driving the strategy to defeat al-Qaeda and holding people accountable for carrying it out?" Gorelick demanded. "The President is the guy," Loy responded. "And the person next to the President, who is the national security advisor." National security advisor Rice refused to testify unless the interviews were in private, were with only selected commission members, and were not under oath. She has not been subpoenaed. As of this writing, Bush has yet to agree to be interviewed. Democrat Bob Graham, the former senator who co-chaired the first inquiry into the attacks, says, "It is incomprehensible why this administration has refused to aggressively pursue the leads that our inquiry developed." The Bush White House has ignored all but one or two of the joint inquiry's 19 urgent recommendations to make the nation safer against the next attempted terrorist attack. The White House also allowed large portions of the inquiry's final report to be censored, claiming national security, so that even some members of the current 9/11 commission, whose mandate was to build on the work of the congressional panel, cannot read the evidence. Graham snorts, "It's absurd." (New York Observer [cached Google copy])
- February 19: Newsday columnist Marie Cocco accuses the Bush administration of playing "bait-and-switch" games with the 9/11 commission. "Rumors of President George W. Bush's cooperation with the panel probing the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are unsubstantiated," she writes. "Unlike those Internet rumors that pop to electronic life and die quickly without fingerprints, this one is traceable directly to the con artist-in-chief. The world thinks Bush is cooperating with the 9/11 commission because he says he is." She quotes commission member Bob Kerrey as saying, "I've experienced two political bait-and-switches since I've been on the commission. ...The bait-and-switch in politics is a technique that is intentionally designed to lead the public [to believe] that you're going to do something that you're not going to do." Bush's latest game-playing comes from his agreement to be interviewed by the 9/11 commission. The White House made political hay with the announcement of his intent to cooperate, then immediately began backtracking.
- Administration officials said any interview would be done in private, and that Bush would only talk with a selection of commissioners of his choosing. This follows the "bait-and-switch" surrounding the documents known as the Presidential Daily Briefing: first Bush agreed to allow the commission to review the documents, then reversed himself and only allowed a few commission members to look at and take notes -- but not make copies -- of the documents, then attempted to keep the commissioners from using their own notes in their deliberations. A third game is on the horizon, with Bush announcing with great fanfare that he will allow the commission two more months to complete its work, but with the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives refusing to pass the legislation necessary for the extention. Cocco concludes, "Does the president understand the dimension of failure that 9/11 represents? It shook his presidency and changed its course. He has led the nation to two wars to avenge the attacks and, he says, prevent another. Still he obstructs the full and fair accounting that the people are due. This must be counted as another failure of 9/11. It is an indignity to history that is, somehow, imposed without shame." (Newsday)
- February 21: The 9/11 commission is pressing for the Bush administration to grant its repeated requests for an extended deadline, and says that if they fail to receive more time, they will have to scale back the scope of its inquiries and limit public hearings. Additionally, the commission is still deciding whether or not to accept Bush's offer to meet privately with only a few selected panel members instead of testifying before the entire commission as requested. And the commission continues to fight the administration for access to classified documents and materials it insists it needs to be fully informed. Republicans such as Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert resist extending the deadline because they don't want the inquiry continuing too far into the election season. (Washington Post/Boston Globe)
- February 26: Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert refuses the 9/11 commission's request for an extension on their May 27 deadline, saying that he doesn't want to "politicize" the commission's report by having them issue it closer to the November election. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card has asked Hastert to reconsider, even though it is well known within government circles that the Bush administration does not want the deadline extended. Unless Congress acts, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warns Hastert in a letter that "important investigative work will not be done, a result clearly not in the national interest." (Government Executive Magazine)
- February 26: CIA director George Tenet gives one of the Bush administration's lamest excuses for not following up on information that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks, when asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee why the CIA never picked up the trail of Marwan al-Shehhi, the pilot who crashed Flight 175 into the south tower on 9/11. Thirty months earlier, German intelligence had passed on a hot tip to the CIA: the al-Qaeda terrorist's first name and phone number. "The Germans gave us a name, Marwan -- that's it -- and a phone number," Tenet declares, adding: "They didn't give us a first and a last name until after 9/11, with then additional data." One disgusted observer notes, "I've tracked down women across the country with a lot less information than that." Bob Kerrey, a Democratic member of the 9/11 commission, told Chris Matthews, the US should have declared war on al-Qaeda as soon as it became apparent that the organization had an army with a "tremendous, sophisticated capability" and an ideology that dictated killing Americans. "To declare war on terrorism, it seems to me to have the target wrong," he said. "It would be like after the 7th of December, 1941, declaring war on Japanese planes. We declared war on Japan. We didn't declare war on their tactic.... Terrorism is a tactic." A Bush 41 official agreed: "You can't fight terrorism conventionally like a war. Any 16-year-old kid can strap on dynamite and take down any building. It must be fought clandestinely, dealing with the underlying causes and taking security measures in our own country." (New York Times/Information Clearinghouse)
- March 2: The independent 9/11 commission rejects strict conditions from the White House in its interviews with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and renews its demands that national security advisor Condoleezza Rice testify in public. Several panel members say the commission had decided for now to reject a White House request that the interview with Bush be limited to one hour and that the questioners be only the panel's chairman and vice chairman. Bush and Cheney are expected to be asked about how they had reacted to intelligence reports before the 9/11 attacks suggesting that al-Qaeda might be planning a large attack. Panel members want to ask Rice the same questions in public.
- "We have held firm in saying that the conditions set by the president and vice president and Dr. Rice are not good enough," says Timothy Roemer, a former Indiana congressman who is one of five Democrats on the 10-member commission. Roemer says that former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore had agreed to meet privately with the full bipartisan commission, and that Samuel Berger, Rice's predecessor, would testify in public. "It's very important that we treat both the Bush and the Clinton administrations the same," Roemer says. While the White House claims that it wants to cooperate with the commission, its actions have been anything but cooperative. A spokesman for the National Security Council, Sean McCormack, said earlier that the White House believed it would be inappropriate for Rice to appear at a public hearing as a matter of legal precedent. "White House staff have not testified before legislative bodies," McCormack said. "This is not a matter of Dr. Rice's preferences." Commission officials say that if the White House continues to insist on limitations on the interviews with Bush and Cheney, there might be little that the panel could do to force the issue and that the commission might have to accept the White House's terms. (New York Times)
- March 2: Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert says he plans on introducing a bill in the House of Representatives that would give the 9/11 commission an extra 60 days to complete its information gathering and write its report. The Senate has already approved the extension. Hastert previously blocked attempts at such an extension. With the extension, the commission would have until July 26 for its final report. The panel had warned that if it was held to its original deadline of May 27, as mandated by Congress, it would be unable to complete a full investigation and would have to curtail public hearings. Hastert denies suggestions from Democrats that he had tried to block the extension as a favor to the White House, given Republican fears that the report might embarrass Bush during his re-election campaign. Hastert said he had no direction from the White House. "I didn't want it to become a political football," Hastert said of his initial opposition to the extension, adding that he had been chagrined when the White House said in February that it would back the extension. Referring to the commission, Hastert said he had changed his mind last week "after it became apparent that they couldn't get their work done." (New York Times)
Clinton, Gore agree to testify; Bush, Cheney still refuse
- March 3: The 9/11 commission has scheduled interviews with former president Clinton and former vice president Gore this month but is still struggling to get similar cooperation from President Bush and administration officials. Members of the bipartisan commission said they were considering a subpoena to force the public testimony of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. She has declined to appear at the panel's two-day hearing later this month. "The commission wants to go back in the court of public opinion and appeal to the administration for them to reconsider their first stand," says commissioner Timothy Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. "If we don't get that kind of cooperation, compelling Dr. Rice to come before us is an option." While Clinton and Gore have consented to private questioning without a time constraint, Bush and Cheney have agreed only to private, separate, one-hour meetings with the commission's chairman and vice chairman, instead of the full panel. At the panel's next hearing on counterterrorism policy, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell are to testify, as well as their counterparts in the Clinton administration, William Cohen and Madeleine Albright. Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, also is to appear at that open session, which commission officials say will be unprecedented in its review of high-level officials in Clinton and Bush administrations. Rice met with the panel for four hours at the White House on February 7. After the session, at least two commissioners, Roemer and Richard Ben-Veniste, another Democrat, said it would be useful to have Rice testify in public. Relatives of 9/11 victims say they are especially interested in Rice's testimony. They cited her May 2002 comments that the administration had no prior indication that terrorists were considering suicide hijackings. Reports later showed that intelligence officials had considered the possibility. (AP/San Jose Mercury News)
- March 8: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry accuses President Bush of "stonewalling" inquiries into the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks as well as into the intelligence that suggested Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "Why is this administration stonewalling and resisting the investigation into what happened and why we had the greatest security failure in the history of our country?" Kerry asks. "The American people deserve an answer now. The immediate instinct of the Republicans and this administration was to shut it down. ...Nothing could be more important to the American people at this moment. They need to know why we had such a failure of intelligence." Bush's spokesman Scott Stanzel retorts, "This is another inaccurate attack by John Kerry. President Bush and his administration have extraordinary cooperation and unprecedented access" to the commission. (Guardian)
- March 9: The White House says it may be possible President Bush could be questioned longer than the hour he agreed to by a commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, an apparent concession that comes after criticism from Democrat John Kerry. White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked several times if Bush would stick to his insistence the session before the commission be restricted to one hour, says it was scheduled for an hour but that "the president of course is going to answer all the questions they want to raise." The shift in position came a day after Kerry attacked Bush on the issue at a time when the president was visiting a rodeo in Houston. "If the president of the United States can find the time to go to a rodeo, he can find the time to do more than one hour in front of a commission that is investigating what happened to America's intelligence and why we are not stronger today," Kerry says. Democrats say it is hypocritical for the Bush campaign to use 9/11 images in television advertisements to promote his national security credentials while the president has refused to meet for longer than an hour with the commission.
- While leaving the door open to a longer session, McClellan says Bush would still only see the commission chairman and vice chairman, although the panel has been appealing for him to meet with all members. He said all 10 members typically have not shown up for every interview. As for Kerry's criticism, McClellan says, "It appears that he does not want to let the facts get in the way of his campaign." It recently questioned national security adviser Condoleezza Rice for four hours. McClellan said only five members of the commission "bothered to show up" for that session; what McClellan doesn't note is that only five members of the commission were allowed to appear under White House demands. Commissioner Jamie Gorelick says she finds it "infuriating" that McClellan would insinuate that the commission wasn't interested in Rice's testimony. Some commissioners have complained about their access to information from the White House, but McClellan said the Bush administration has given "unprecedented cooperation" to the panel, by providing more than 2 million documents, more than 60 compact disks of radar, flight and other information, more than 800 audio cassette tapes of interviews and other materials, more than 100 briefings and more than 560 interviews. "We have provided the commission access to every bit of information that they have requested, including our most sensitive national security documents," he says. (Reuters/My Way News, USA Today)
Bush uses groundbreaking ceremony at WTC site to stage campaign fundraiser
- March 11: President Bush ceremonially breaks the ground for a 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in New York City, but inflames many victims' family members by using the ceremony as an opportunity to hold a $2,000-a-plate fundraiser immediately outside the area. Bush tells the donors, who were treated to filet mignon while waiting for an opportunity to shake his hand, "On September 14, 2001, I stood in the ruins of the twin towers. I'll never forget that day. ...The men and women searching through the rubble took it personally. I took it personally. I have a responsibility that goes on." Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani tells the crowd of big-money donors, "I said to the police commissioner right next to me [on September 11], 'Thank God George Bush is the president of the United States.'" The Bush campaign calls the fundraising event a "coincidence" with the scheduling of the memorial, and says that Nassau County Democrats (!) are responsible for the timing. (Washington Post)
- March 17: Three senior Bush administration officials, as well as several Clinton-era officials, will testify next week before the 9/11 commission. The witness list includes George Tenet, director of central intelligence in both administrations; Secretary of State Colin Powell and his predecessor, Madeleine K. Albright; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his predecessor, William Cohen; and President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger. The list is notable for the absence of Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, who has refused an invitation from the commission to testify in public. The White House has said Rice, on advice from White House lawyers, has told the panel that it would be improper under the separation of powers for an incumbent national security adviser to testify at a public hearing. She gave a private interview several weeks ago. (Washington Post)
- March 18: Roger Cressey, a terrorism expert in both Democratic and Republican administrations, speaks out for the first time about his experiences with the fight against terror in the Bush administration; he says that before the 9/11 attacks, capturing or killing Osama bin Laden was not a major priority. "There was not this sense of urgency. The ticking clock, if you will, to get it done sooner rather than later," he says. Cressey and other witnesses have told the 9/11 commission of long gaps between terrorism meetings and greater time and energy devoted to Russia, China, missile defense and Iraq than al-Qaeda. For example, documents show that an urgent meeting of the administration's top-level officials was held on the subject of Iraq on February 1, 2001, less than two weeks after Bush was sworn in as president, yet no similar meetings on al-Qaeda were held until September 2001, days before the attacks. Cressey says that the administration was convinced that al-Qaeda was operating with the support of Saddam Hussein: "It was inconceivable to them that al-Qaeda could be this talented, this capable without Iraq, in this case, providing them real support." In the spring of 2001, Bush learned that al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors, yet chose to do nothing in response. Cressey observes, "You would think after an attack that almost sank a US destroyer there would have been [a mandate] for some type of action. Yet we never saw that from the Pentagon." National security adviser Condoleezza Rice insists that Bush wanted to avenge the Cole, but not with a pinprick retaliatory strike: "We were concerned that we didn't have good military options. That really all we had were options like using cruise missiles to go after training camps that had long since been abandoned."
- However, intelligence officials say that the terrorist camps in Afghanistan were thriving, and that the United States could have hit the camps and killed a large number terrorists. Rice dismisses the idea of such a strike: "Even if you'd been fortunate enough to -- to get a few people, it clearly wasn't going to impress al-Qaeda -- al-Qaeda had to be eliminated." One piece of evidence revealed to the 9/11 commission is a videotape from a Predator spy drone, made in late 2000, which apparently shows bin Laden walking in a known al-Qaeda camp. No administration official is willing to answer the question of why, if American spyplanes could capture such clear footage of bin Laden, wasn't he the focus of a military strike. Former Bush counterterrorism official General Wayne Downing is not so reticent. "We were not prepared to take the military action necessary. ...We should have had strike forces prepared to go in and react to this intelligence, certainly cruise missiles -- either air- or sea-launched -- very, very accurate, could have gone in and hit those targets." Gary Schroen, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan, says the White House required the CIA to attempt to capture bin Laden alive, rather than kill him. Schroen says the requirement that bin Laden be taken alive reduced the chances of getting to him: "It reduced the odds from, say, a 50 percent chance down to, say, 25 percent chance that we were going to be able to get him."
- Bob Kerrey, a Democratic member of the 9/11 commission, says there was a larger issue: the Clinton administration treated bin Laden as a law enforcement problem. "The most important thing the Clinton administration could have done would have been for the president, either himself or by going to Congress, asking for a congressional declaration to declare war on al-Qaeda, a military-political organization that had declared war on us," Kerrey says. No one disputes that actually getting to bin Laden would have been extraordinarily difficult for either administration. He was a moving target deep inside Afghanistan. Most military operations would have been high-risk. Doubly crippling for Clinton was the fact that his administration was continually hammered by scandal-mongering, and Republicans in Congress actively opposed any military measures against any terrorist groups.
- Clinton security officials say they did what they could in the political climate: "We used military force, we used covert operations, we used all of the tools available to us because we realized what a serious threat this was," says Clinton's former national security adviser James Steinberg. One Clinton Cabinet official says that, in hindsight, the military should have been more involved. "We did a lot, but we did not see the gathering storm that was out there." As has been documented elsewhere, in January 2001 the Bush administration decided to yank the Predator drones patrolling Afghanistan, the single best source for information that the US had on bin Laden and his terror activities. The decision was made, after a push by the CIA, to arm the drones with Hellfire missiles and send them back up, but the drones were not in operation until after 9/11. Daniel Benjamin, a member of President Clinton's counter-terrorism team, charges the Bush administration moved too slowly getting armed Predators ready and did not send unarmed Predators back to look for bin Laden. "We tied an arm behind our back," he says. "We lost the most promising new tool we had."
- Part of the problem, everyone agrees, is bureaucratic infighting between the CIA and the Pentagon over who would pay and who would be blamed if something went wrong. The armed Predators passed final flight tests in June, and were slated to be sent up in September. Bush had said he was tired of "swatting flies." Rice insists that she and her team were behind getting the Predators up as soon as possible: "We did push very hard on getting the Predator back up. But you always have to be careful to make sure that you're going to have something that works." Government documents show senior intelligence officials thought the armed Predator still was not ready, even in September, saying, "The warhead's effectiveness argues against flying armed missions this fall." "The Predator was not a silver bullet," says Rice. "Let's be very clear about that. As hard as we tried to get the Predator up, as much as we worked to get it up, that would not have prevented September 11th." Soon after 9/11, the armed Predator was launched and proved a success -- helping kill al-Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef and his associates -- and is being used now to hunt bin Laden. (MSNBC, MSNBC, MSNBC)
"I find it outrageous that the President is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.... I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism. ...We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al-Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months." -- former counterterrorism director Richard Clarke, March 21, during a CBS interview
- March 21: A highly classified FBI program called "Catcher's Mitt" was drastically scaled back in the months before 9/11 after a federal judge criticized the FBI for improperly seeking permits to wiretap terror suspects. The program was designed to monitor and track terrorists in the United States. Further information about Catcher's Mitt can be found in the March 2003 page of this site. (Newsweek/Yahoo! Finance, Newsweek)
- March 21: The 9-11 Family Steering Committee and 9-11 Citizens Watch demand the resignation of Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission. The demand comes shortly after former counterterrorism director Richard Clarke told the New York Times that Zelikow was present when he gave briefings on the threat posed by al-Qaeda to National Security Advisor Rice from December 2000 to January 2001. The Family Steering Committee, a group of 9/11 victims' relatives, writes, "It is clear that [Zelikow] should never have been permitted to be a member of the commission, since it is the mandate of the commission to identify the source of failures. It is now apparent why there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We now can see that trail would lead directly to the staff director himself." Zelikow has been interviewed by his own commission because of his role during the transition period. A spokesman for the commission claims that having Zelikow recuse himself from certain topics is enough to avoid any conflicts of interest. (Beyond Comfortably Numb)
Montague interview proves Bush lied about his putting military on alert
- March 22: An interview with General Montague Winfield and a high-ranking White House official by the 9/11 commission elicits the fact that George W. Bush lied about a small but critical aspect of the events of September 11. At least twice, Bush has claimed that he was the one who ordered the US military to go to "Defcon III," the highest status of military alert reached since the outbreak of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. During a town-hall meeting in Orlando on December 4, 2001, Bush said that after the attacks, "One of the first acts I did was to put our military on alert." Instead, it is now clear that Bush did not give the order. Air Force General Richard Myers actually gave the order to General Winfield to put the country on high alert. And in a speech that evening, Bush told the country that "immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government's emergency-response plans."
- In reality, it was lower-level government employees activated the Interagency Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations Plan (CONPLAN), a plan adopted under an executive order from then-president Bill Clinton that details the responsibilities of seven federal agencies in the wake of a terrorist or military attack. It gives the Federal Bureau of Investigation responsibility for activating the plan and alerting the other agencies that a terrorist attack has occurred. An FBI official has testified that CONPLAN was activated by lower-level government officials without any input from the president or the executive branch whatsoever. Because the Trade Center crashes were so widely known from television coverage, he said, most of the participating federal agencies swung into action without waiting for FBI notification. A former Bush White House official has confirmed that Bush "was actually not involved in making decision on 9/11 about emergency plans until he formally signed a disaster declaration" three days later, on September 14. (The White House has so far refused to respond to questions about the president's role in activating CONPLAN.)
- The Wall Street Journal notes that these are just some of a number of inconsistencies and misstatements made by the administration about the events of 9/11: "scores of interviews with those who played key roles that day or directly witnessed events suggest that some official accounts of Sept. 11 are incorrect, incomplete or in dispute. Among other things, the commission is examining such questions as how long Mr. Bush remained in a Florida classroom just after the World Trade Center strikes, whether there really was a threat to Air Force One that day, how effectively American fighter jets reacted to the attacks, and who activated the national-emergency-response plan." While both sides of the bipartisan committee understand that the chaotic events of that day ensured that some amount of confusion and inconsistencies in recollections are inevitable, a concern is that the Bush administration has deliberately lied about some of the events: "Democratic members of the commission have said they are looking at whether some inaccurate accounts, rather than due to confusion, may have reflected administration efforts to make its response seem faster and better coordinated than it was. Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic commissioner, said the panel is also examining whether official accounts of that day could have diverted attention 'from an overall level of unpreparedness.'"
- The commission is investigating the myriad of inconsistencies and misinformation surrounding the supposed threat made against Air Force One, and Bush's decision not to return to the White House until that evening. Communications director Dan Bartlett says that the idea of a threat to the president's plane had arisen from miscommunications and the improper use of the nickname for Air Force One, "Angel," on the airwaves. Vice President Cheney insisted for days after Bartlett and others had confirmed that such an attack was never launched that the attack couldn't be disproved. Cheney also insisted that he received information about an attack on Air Force One from the Secret Service, which has always denied it passed any such information on to Cheney. Later a Cheney spokesperson changed Cheney's story, saying that Cheney actually received the information from an unidentified "person in uniform" rather than Secret Service agents. Political strategist Karl Rove has claimed that one reason Bush remained incommunicado for so long was that the White House was receiving reports as late as 4 PM that afternoon that civilian jetliners were still aloft and unaccounted for, posing possible threats to the president's safety. Rove's assertions have been disproven by Benjamin Sliney, the senior Federal Aviation Administration official in charge of nationwide air-traffic control that day. Sliney has testified that that there were no such reports. He and an FAA spokeswoman said that at 12:16 PM, the FAA informed the White House, Pentagon, and other arms of the government that there weren't any additional hijacked jets aloft, as all commercial planes had landed or been diverted away from the US.
- Other government officials have testified that Bush received a briefing before 1 PM while at an Air Force base in Barksdale, Louisiana, during which he was told that the skies were clear of any potentially hijacked planes. Bartlett testified that he didn't know where Rove got the information about planes still being in the air in the late afternoon. The commission is also looking into the tremendous delays in scrambling US military aircraft to counter the hijacked jetliners. The Air Force has long insisted that no aircraft within 130 miles of either Washington or New York City were armed and on alert that morning, even though many other sources have disputed that claim and a large-scale military exercise, "Vigilant Guardian," was running at the time of the hijackings. Fighters that scrambled from Otis Air Force Base were unable to reach New York City in time to intercept the second WTC-bound jetliner. NORAD officials have testified that, as the Journal writes, "fighter basing on Sept. 11 reflected Cold War-era fear of attacks from overseas, not from hijacked domestic airliners. Since Sept. 11, the Pentagon has said it has moved additional fighters closer to Washington, New York and other major cities to protect against domestically launched terrorist attacks." A pilot based at Langley AFB has testified that, although it is conceivable he and his colleagues may have been able to reach Washington in time to shoot down the plane that struck the Pentagon, no planes were scrambled from Langley for "a full 50 minutes after Norad had learned from the FAA that passenger jets had been hijacked, and 27 minutes after the second World Trade Center tower had been hit."
- The commission wants to know why that delay occured. Retired Air Force Major General Larry Arnold, who was in command of all NORAD fighters in the US on 9/11, said in an interview that the slow reaction at Langley reflected initial confusion about whether an attack on the US was really under way. He also blamed what he said was relatively late notification by the FAA that one or more hijacked planes seemed to be headed for Washington. Arnold also said an overall shortage of armed-and-ready aircraft at the time caused Norad to hold back until it knew where the danger was coming from. "We had so few airplanes on alert anywhere," he said. "If we got a resource airborne, and it went in the wrong direction, we didn't have anything else to back it up."
- The FAA has denied being late in notifying the military, saying that it told the military immediately when it determined that one or more jets had probably been hijacked. Additionally, some scrambled planes, including the jets from Langley, followed peacetime noise restrictions during their flights, which mandate taking off over water (i.e. away from Washington) and subsonic flight speeds. Other aircraft, including those from Otis, did not observe peacetime noise restrictions. Another question involves when the president issued orders to shoot down civilian aircraft that were threatening to ram buildings. Bush has repeatedly insisted that he gave such orders, but no one will confirm when those orders were issued. The panel also wants to know why those orders, when given, only applied to planes targeting Washington, DC targets; other planes that may have been approaching other targets were not cited as targets for possible shoot-downs.
- And another focus of controversy surrounds the Secret Service supposedly ordering the scrambling of the District of Columbia Air National Guard. Brigadier General David Wherley, who was in charge that day of the 113th Fighter Wing of the DCANG, has said in an interview that minutes after the Pentagon was hit, the Secret Service phoned the fighter wing's operations center. Wherley said Becky Ediger, a senior Secret Service agent on duty at the White House, told him the president had authorized the vice president to pass along orders to shoot down hijacked civilian jets, if that was necessary to keep them from hitting any building near the White House. Two White House officials have testified that the Secret Service acted on its own. But the Secret Service denies that in a written statement responding to questions. "The Secret Service is not authorized to, nor did it, direct the activation or launch of Department of Defense aviation assets," the statement reads. Current senior Secret Service officials said that the agents' actions on September 11 had been ordered by the vice president.
- A Cheney spokesperson says that he doesn't know if Cheney ordered the agents to call the fighter wing or not, and that he would not be able to find out. Wherley has said he swiftly sent aloft four of his F-16s at Andrews, after first getting permission from Norad. However, these fighters weren't on active duty protecting against threats to the country, and as a result, the first two fighters to take off weren't armed. Bartlett says that a swifter military response to the terrorist attacks would have been impossible because of "the unconventional nature of this attack." Even after the second Trade Center tower was hit, he says, "specific commands would have required much deeper knowledge of the [terrorist] operation that was under way." (Wall Street Journal)
FBI's counter-terrorism budget gutted after 9/11
- March 22: In the days after 9/11, the Bush administration cut an emergency request for the counterterrorism budget of the FBI, the prime agency investigating the attacks, by nearly two-thirds. Documents show that the FBI requested $1.5 billion in additional funds to enhance its counterterrorism efforts with the creation of 2,024 positions. But the White House Office of Management and Budget cut that request to $531 million. Attorney General John Ashcroft, working within the White House limits, cut the FBI's request for items such as computer networking and foreign language intercepts by half, cut a cyber-security request by three quarters and eliminated entirely a request for "collaborative capabilities." The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks. White House spokesman Taylor Gross notes that FBI funding has increased by more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2004, not including supplemental funds such as those requested after Sept. 11. Under President Bush, "the FBI has been reformed to make counterterrorism its No. 1 priority," Gross says. "No matter what sort of rhetoric gets thrown about in a campaign season, it doesn't change the fact that this president is committed to fighting the war on terrorism."
- Five days after Ashcroft agreed to reduce the FBI emergency request from $1.5 billion to $531 million, the White House asked Congress for a similar amount, $538.5 million, for the FBI as part of a $20 billion supplemental spending package responding to the Sept. 11 attacks. Just over two months later, Congress approved the $20 billion package as part of a defense spending bill but gave the FBI $745 million. Amendments that would have increased FBI funding further failed under the threat of a Bush veto if the package exceeded $20 billion. "Despite multiple terror warnings before and after 9/11, [Bush] repeatedly rejected counterterrorism resources that his own security agencies said was desperately needed to protect America," says David Sirota of the Center for American Progress.
- The group released two other administration documents, parts of which have already been made public, showing that just before the Sept. 11 attacks, Ashcroft did not agree to $588 million in increases that the FBI was seeking for 2003. That request included funds to hire 54 translators and 248 counterterrorism agents and support staff. But in his 2003 request sent to the White House, dated Sept. 10, 2001, Ashcroft did not propose that any FBI programs get increases above previously set levels and proposed small cuts to some programs related to counterterrorism. Other documents indicate that before Sept. 11, Ashcroft did not give terrorism top billing in his strategic plans for the Justice Department, which includes the FBI. A draft of Ashcroft's "strategic Plan" from Aug. 9, 2001, does not put fighting terrorism as one of the department's seven goals, ranking it as a sub-goal beneath gun violence and drugs. After the attacks, fighting terrorism became the department's primary goal. By contrast, in April 2000, Ashcroft's predecessor, Janet Reno, called terrorism "the most challenging threat in the criminal justice area." (Washington Post)
- March 23: The day before the testimony of former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the 9/11 commission releases its interim report on its findings so far. It finds that the Clinton administration began as early as 1995 to focus on al-Qaeda as a primary source of terror activities. Clinton issued the first directive regarding US policy on terrorism since 1986. It said in part that the United States saw "terrorism as a potential threat to national security as well as a criminal act and will apply all appropriate means to combat it. In doing so, the U.S. shall pursue vigorously efforts to deter and preempt, apprehend and prosecute, or assist other governments to prosecute, individuals who perpetrate or plan to perpetrate such attacks." It finds that reports of Sudan being able to turn over Osama bin Laden to US custody were not entirely credible. It calls Saudi Arabia "a problematic ally" in the US efforts to combat terror, and says that, unlike the Bush administration, the Clinton administration had little confidence in Saudi Arabia's willingness to help counter Islamic terror threats, and notes that before 9/11, the Sauds were uncooperative in providing intelligence and assistance to the US. The report is incomplete and inconclusive; further material is yet to be incorporated. (MSNBC)
"scapegoat" Tenet testifies
- March 23: CIA director George Tenet attempts damage control during his testimony in front of the 9/11 commission, saying that the Bush administration took the threat from al-Qaeda very seriously. "Clearly there was no lack of care or focus in the face of one of the greatest dangers our country has ever faced," he tells the commission, testifying before former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke. Tenet says that despite intense efforts by his agency to tackle al-Qaeda, the CIA had no prior warning of the 9/11 plot: "We didn't steal the secret that told us what the plot was," he tells the commission. "We didn't recruit the right people or technically collect the data, notwithstanding enormous efforts to do so." He says both the Clinton and Bush administrations took the threat of terrorism seriously, but that the country was not "systemically protected." "The most important systemic lesson from all this, is that for a period in the '90s we raced from threat to threat.... But the country was not systemically protected, because there was not a system in place saying you gotta go back and do this and this and this." Tenet says that a special unit was set up track Osama Bin Laden in 1996, under Bill Clinton's presidency. (He fails to mention that the unit was all but discarded in the early months of the Bush administration.)
- When Bin Laden moved to Afghanistan in 1996, the CIA set up a "dedicated component with a mission of disrupting his operations." In 1999, in an operation known as 'The Plan,' the CIA set up a network of agents in Afghanistan to counter bin Laden. "We disrupted terrorist attacks that saved lives. There were actions in 50 countries, involving dozens of suspects, many of who were followed, arrested or detained," Tenet testifies. During the summer of 2001, which Tenet calls an "intense period," there were arrests or detentions in Bahrain, Yemen and Turkey. "We halted, disrupted or uncovered weapons caches and plans to attack US diplomatic facilities in the Middle East and Europe," he says. "But despite these efforts we did not penetrate the plot that led to the murder of 3,000 men and women" on 9/11. Tenet acknowledges that US intelligence agencies needed to improve their performance. "We need to have a...seamless flow of data from intelligence community to law enforcement community, so there is never the assertion that 'I didn't see this piece of information, it could've saved lives,'" he says. "Probably we had a lot of data that we didn't know about." In a preliminary report on its findings so far, the commission said the Clinton and Bush administrations were too slow in moving away from diplomatic pressure to direct military action as a way of dealing with the al-Qaeda leadership. (BBC)
- March 23: Clinton administration secretary of state Madeline Albright testifies before the 9/11 commission that her administration took the threat of Islamic terrorism, and al-Qaeda in particular, very seriously. She states that Clinton was prepared to order the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden after the 1998 US embassy attacks. Albright says the day of the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa had been the worst during her time in office -- and days after learning that al-Qaeda had been behind the attacks, President Clinton had authorized cruise missile strikes against al-Qaeda targets. "The president was prepared to order military action to capture or kill bin Laden," she testifies. "If we had had the predictive intelligence we needed, we would have done so...and I would have strongly supported that step." She says that she told Bush admininstration officials that al-Qaeda was not a military organisation - it was an ideology that needed to be fought. "Al-Qaeda is an ideological virus," she recalls telling them. "Until the right medicine is found, the virus will continue to spread. ...We must be sure that Bin Laden goes down as a murderer, traitor to Islam and a loser." She warns that, after the recent Madrid train bombings, Americans should expect more attacks on their soil. But she also advises the Bush administration to recognise America's limits. "If we pursue goals that are unnecessarily broad such as the elimination not only of threats but also of potential threats, we will stretch ourselves to the breaking point and become more vulnerable not less to those truly in a position to harm us," she warns. Before Albright's testimony, commission chairman Thomas Kean says he regrets that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has declined to give evidence. (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3561827.stm)
Damning testimony from Richard Clarke
- March 24: Former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke gives damning testimony before the 9/11 commission. He begins by apologizing to the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks, saying bluntly, "Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask -- once all the facts are out -- for your understanding and for your forgiveness." Under questioning, Clarke says the Clinton administration had "no higher priority" than combating terrorists while the Bush administration made it "an important issue but not an urgent issue" in the months before Sept. 11, 2001.
- Clarke's criticism contradicts testimony given to the panel Tuesday and Wednesday from Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. All said the administration grasped the threat posed by al-Qaeda and was working hard to fight it. Democrats were pleased with his testimony, but Republican commission members question Clarke's integrity, morality and candor. They also accuse him of trying to spur sales of his book or boost the candidacy of Bush's rival John Kerry. The White House takes the unusual step of identifying Clarke as the senior official who had praised Bush's anti-terrorism efforts in an anonymous briefing for reporters in 2002. "He needs to get his story straight," says Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser and Clarke's former boss, who has refused to testify in public to the commission. At the hearing, Republican commissioner James Thompson held up Clarke's book and a text of the briefing and challenged the witness, "We have your book and we have your press briefing of August 2002. Which is true?" Clarke says both were true. He was still working for Bush at the time of the briefing and was asked to highlight the positive aspects of the administration's counterterrorism efforts and minimize the negative, he says. Seeking to counter White House suggestions that he is seeking a job in a future Kerry administration, Clarke says he wouldn't accept a position, and notes he is under oath. (AP/Guardian)
- March 24: Little, if any, bipartisanship is on display as the 9/11 commission grills former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke (see above item). Clarke, who has served under three Republican administrations and one Democrat until his resignation in 2002, gives damning testimony before the commission. Democrats were quick to support his testimony, while Republicans, using information funnelled to them from the White House via Fox News, attack Clarke's credibility and character. "You've got a real credibility problem," Republican commissioner John Lehman says to Clarke, the author of a new book eviscerating Bush's terrorism policies, Against All Enemies. "And because of my real genuine long-term admiration for you," he continues, "I hope you'll resolve that credibility problem, because I'd hate to see you become totally shoved to one side during a presidential campaign as an active partisan selling a book." Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey counters Lehman's attacks: "Well, Mr. Clarke, let me say at the beginning that everything that you've said today and done has not damaged my view of your integrity," says the former Nebraska senator. Shortly before the hearing, the White House violates its long-standing rules by authorizing Fox News to air remarks favorable to Bush that Clarke had made anonymously at an administration briefing in 2002. The White House press secretary reads passages from the 2002 remarks at his televised briefing, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who has declined to give public testimony to the commission, calls reporters into her office to highlight the discrepancy. "There are two very different stories here," she says. "These stories can't be reconciled."
- In the hearings, Republican commissioner Jim Thompson waves the transcript in one hand and a copy of Clarke's book in the other, demanding "Which is true?" while folding his arms and glowering down at the witness. Clarke, very calm under fire, replies, "I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done. I've done it for several presidents." With each effort by Thompson to highlight Clarke's inconsistency -- "the policy on Uzbekistan, was it changed?" -- Clarke tutors the commissioner about the obligations of a White House aide. Thompson, who far exceeds his allotted time in his attempts to smear Clarke, finally frowns, "I think a lot of things beyond the tenor and the tone bother me about this." During a second round of questioning, Thompson returns to the subject, questioning Clarke's "standard of candor and morality." "I don't think it's a question of morality at all; I think it's a question of politics," Clarke retorts. Thompson, a long-time political veteran, says he is ignorant of how Washington works, and leaves the hearings.
- Commissioner Timothy Roemer gets Clarke, who served in four administrations, to say that there was "no higher" priority than terrorism under President Bill Clinton, but the Bush administration "either didn't believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there were an urgent problem." Kerrey did his part to counter the Republican attempts to paint Clarke as a liar. "I feel badly," he says to Clarke, "because I presume that you are at the moment receiving terrible phone messages and e-mail messages." Democrat Jamie Gorelick continues to counter the attacks, saying after one Clarke statement, "Well, that's a very sobering statement, particularly from someone whose reputation is as aggressive as your reputation is." Republican commissioners labored to change that reputation. Fred Fielding implied that Clarke may have perjured himself when he spoke to a congressional investigation into the attacks but did not raise complaints about Bush's Iraq policy then. Clarke continues to respond calmly, though the back of his neck and head are fiery red by this point, "I wasn't asked, sir." Finally, Lehman takes his turn at bat. "I have genuinely been a fan of yours," he says, and adds how he had hoped Clarke would be "the Rosetta Stone" for the commission. "But now we have the book," Lehman says, suggesting it was a partisan tract. Clarke responds severely, "Let me talk about partisanship here, since you raised it," he says, noting that he registered as a Republican in 2000 and served President Ronald Reagan. "The White House has said that my book is an audition for a high-level position in the Kerry campaign," Clarke says. "so let me say here, as I am under oath, that I will not accept any position in the Kerry administration, should there be one." Lehman, and no other Republicans, have any further questions for Clarke. (Washington Post)
- March 24: Richard Clarke tells the 9/11 commission that before the terror attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon, Bush and his administration did not treat terrorism as "an urgent issue," and ignored or sidetracked his calls for action to be taken. He testifies that in the Clinton administration, there was no higher priority that fighting terrorism in general and al-Qaeda in particular: "My impression was that fighting terrorism, in general, and fighting al-Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration -- certainly no higher priority. There were priorities probably of equal importance such as the Middle East peace process, but I certainly don't know of one that was any higher in the priority of that administration. ...[A]lmost everything I ever asked for in the way of support from [Clinton national security director Sandy Berger] or from President Clinton, I got." He notes that the Clinton administration began taking military action against Islamic terrorists in the first five months of its tenure, in early 1993. But, "the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue, but not an urgent issue." He and CIA Director George Tenet "tried very hard to create a sense of urgency: "Although I continued to say it was an urgent problem, I don't think it was ever treated that way." His and Tenet (another Clinton holdover)'s urgings went unheeded even though the threat level in the summer of 2001, in Clarke's words, "exceeded anything that George Tenet or I had ever seen."
- Clarke testifies that he was so frustrated by Bush's lack of attention to the threat that he asked to be reassigned to cybersecurity in May or June of 2001. "My view was that this administration, while it listened to me, didn't either believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there were an urgent problem," he says. "And I thought, if the administration doesn't believe its national coordinator for counterterrorism when he says there's an urgent problem and if it's unprepared to act as though there's an urgent problem, then probably I should get another job. I thought cybersecurity was and I still think cybersecurity is an extraordinary important issue for which this country is very underprepared. And I thought perhaps I could make a contribution if I worked full time on that issue." The commission also hears of confusion within the nation's intelligence community during both the Clinton and Bush administrations about whether the CIA had the authority to kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. However, even if bin Laden had been assassinated, Tenet testifies that his death probably would not have stopped the attacks. "I believe that this plot line was off and running," Tenet testifies. "Operators were moving into this country.... This plot was well on its way. Decapitating one person -- even bin Laden in this context -- I do not believe we would have stopped this plot."
- In Clarke's testimony, he says he believes the Iraqi war has hindered the US efforts to curb terrorism: "By invading Iraq . . . the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism." Clarke's now-famous requests for high-level meetings to consider the threat of al-Qaeda with the "principals" of the administration, repeatedly turned down by Condoleezza Rice and others, were also returned to him with instructions that he consider terror threats only "as part of a cluster of policy issues" that also included such matters as nuclear proliferation in South Asia and democratization in Pakistan, Clarke says. "President Bush was regularly told by the director of Central Intelligence that there was an urgent threat. On one occasion -- he was told this dozens of times in the morning briefings that George Tenet gave him. On one of those occasions, he asked for a strategy to deal with the threat. Condi Rice came back from that meeting, called me, and relayed what the president had requested. And I said, 'Well, you know, we've had this strategy ready since before you were inaugurated. I showed it [to] you. You have the paperwork. We can have a meeting on the strategy any time you want.' She said she would look into it. Her looking into it and the president asking for it did not change the pace at which it was considered. And as far as I know, the president never asked again; at least I was never informed that he asked again. I do know he was thereafter continually informed about the threat by George Tenet." (The Bush administration implemented almost all of Clarke's counterterrorism plan, part of an overall plan for countering Middle East terrorism known as the Delenda plan, after the 9/11 bombings.)
- Clarke wrote a memo to Rice on September 4, 2001, that criticized the Defense Department for reluctance to use force against al-Qaeda and the CIA for impeding the deployment of unmanned Predator drones to hunt for bin Laden. The memo urged officials to imagine a day when hundreds of Americans lay dead from a terrorist attack and ask themselves what more they could have done. After the 9/11 attacks a week later, the administration rushed to implement his proposals, but Clarke muses, "I didn't really understand why they couldn't have been done in February" 2001. He says that with a more robust intelligence and covert action program in the years before the attacks, "we might have been able to nip [the plot] in the bud." But the gathering and sharing of intelligence was so poor that it hardly mattered that there was no specific information pointing to an attack in the United States before September 11 and that attention was focused overseas. "I hate to say it [but] I didn't think the FBI would know whether there was anything going on in the United States by al-Qaeda," he says. He adds that neither he nor senior FBI officials were provided with information that two known al-Qaeda members, who eventually participated in the attacks, had entered the United States.
- To rebut Clarke's charges, the administration refused to allow the testimony of national security director Rice, but instead sends Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who insists, "I'm not here as Dr. Rice's replacement," and cites his own expertise on national security matters. In the usual administration sales-speak, Armitage tells the commission that there had been "stunning continuity" between the Bush administration's initial approach to al-Qaeda and the policies of the Clinton administration and that the new government "vigorously pursued" policies inherited from Clinton while developing its own response to al-Qaeda. Armitage says that the only problem the Bush administration had was a too-deliberate approach: "We were on the right track. We weren't going fast enough." Earlier, Tenet told the commission that intelligence officials appreciated the danger of al-Qaeda and had a growing sense of urgency in the summer of 2001 about an impending disaster, but they thought it would come overseas, not in the United States. That, rather than the failure to kill bin Laden, was the more serious "systemic" failure.
- Tenet also says that Bill Clinton was determined to have bin Laden killed, but that the CIA resisted the order: "[E]very CIA official interviewed on this topic by the commission," including Tenet, emphasized capturing bin Laden and the only "acceptable context for killing bin Laden was a credible capture operation." One former chief of the agency's bin Laden unit told the commission, "We always talked about how much easier it would have been to kill him." (Clinton security advisor Sandy Berger previously told the commission that the CIA did indeed have the necessary authorization to kill bin Laden. "If there was any confusion down the ranks, it was never communicated to me nor to the president, and if any additional authority had been requested I am convinced it would have been given immediately," Berger said.)
- Jamie Gorelick, deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, asks Tenet about the lack of coordination among senior Bush administration officials about the threat, drawing a comparison with the Clinton senior-level meetings that took place almost daily in late 1999 to prepare for terrorist threats surrounding the millennium celebrations. Gorelick says that the commission has been told that Bush's secretary of transportation did not know about the threats and senior officials did not know what data the FBI had in its files. Tenet said the Bush administration had a different manner of communication in the pre-9/11 period when dealing with terrorism. Under Bush he was talking to the president, the vice present and national security adviser every day. He says it took a "galvanizing force" to mobilize both the administration and the American public to take the steps needed to meet the terrorist threat. Tenet notes that even today, the CIA is still five years away from having the human intelligence capabilities to have access to the sanctuary areas where terrorist groups operate. He also notes the commission had to establish benchmarks for the future, saying he worried that other attacks will be coming while memories of the 9/11 attack fade. (Washington Post, Washington Post [transcript of Clarke testimony])
- March 24: Clinton national security advisor Sandy Berger tells the 9/11 commission that Clinton gave the CIA "every inch of authorization that it asked for" to carry out plans to kill Osama bin Laden, flatly disputing claims the spy agency lacked the authority it needed. "If there was any confusion down the ranks, it was never communicated to me nor to the president and if any additional authority had been requested I am convinced it would have been given immediately," Berger testifies. "some of these authorities were kill. Some of these authorities were capture or kill," he says. "There could have not been any doubt about what President Clinton's intent was after he fired 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles at bin-Laden in August 1998," he continues, referring to strikes at a camp in Afghanistan where the al-Qaeda leader was believed present. "I assure you they were not delivering him an arrest warrant. The intent was to kill bin Laden," he says. Bin Laden escaped. Berger testifies a few hours after the panel releases a report that says CIA officials, Director George Tenet among them, had told investigators they did not believe they had the authority to assassinate the leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network. A subsequent decision to rely on local Afghan forces sharply reduced the chances of his bin Laden's capture, the commission said. Tenet, who preceded Berger in the witness chair, was asked about the issue. "I never went back and said, I don't have all the authorities I need," he replies, apparently contradicting his earlier statements. "If I felt that I had developed access or capability that required dramatically different authorities, I would have gone in and said, 'This is what I have, this is what I think I can do; please [give] me these authorities,' and I don't doubt that they would have been granted," Tenet says. (AP/Guardian)
- March 24: Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 commission sheds new light on the Bush administration's decision to allow 140 Saudis, including members of the bin Laden family as well as known terror suspects, to leave the US in the days following the terror attacks. He acknowledges that the Saudis did not help the US in its struggle against terrorism; "Indeed, it didn't really cooperate until after bombs blew up in Riyadh," he says. However, he says, that didn't stop the Saudi embassy from making an unusual request of the administration. "someone -- and I wish I could tell you, but I don't know who -- someone brought...a proposal that we authorize a request from the Saudi embassy. The Saudi embassy had apparently said that they feared for the lives of Saudi citizens because they thought there would be retribution against Saudis in the United States as it became obvious to Americans that this attack was essentially done by Saudis, and that there were even Saudi citizens in the United States who were part of the bin Laden family, which is a very large family, very large family. The Saudi embassy therefore asked for these people to be evacuated; the same sort of thing that we do all the time in similar crises, evacuating Americans. The request came to me and I refused to approve it. I suggested that it be routed to the FBI and that the FBI look at the names of the individuals who were going to be on the passenger manifest and that they approve it -- or not. I spoke with at that time the number two person in the FBI, Dale Watson, and asked him to deal with this issue. The FBI then approved -- after some period of time, and I can't tell you how long -- approved the flight. Now, what degree of review the FBI did of those names, I cannot tell you. How many people there are on the plane, I cannot tell you. But I have asked since: Were there any individuals on that flight that in retrospect the FBI wishes they could have interviewed in this country. And the answer I've been given is no, that there was no one who left on that flight who the FBI now wants to interview."
- The statement that there were no people of interest to the FBI on those flights is an absolute lie. Clarke does not believe they were ever interviewed in this country; neither he nor the FBI are completely sure who was allowed to leave. As stated, he is unsure who make the request, though he says, "[T]he two possibilities that are most likely are either the Department of State, or the White House Chief of Staff's Office. But I don't know." (Democracy Now)
Sibel Edmonds testifies
- March 24: Former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds says she was offered a substantial raise and a full-time job to encourage her not to go public that she had been asked by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to retranslate and adjust the translations of terrorist subject intercepts that had been received before September 11, 2001 by the FBI and CIA. She says that Attorney General John Ashcroft made the offer in private. She has appeared on 60 Minutes, but after her appearance, was gagged by Ashcroft's invocation of the State Secrets Privilege; Edmonds has been threatened with jail if she speaks out. "My translations of the pre 9-11 intercepts included [terrorist] money laundering, detailed and date specific information enough to alert the American people, and other issues dating back to 1999 which I won't go into right now." She adds, "The Senate Judiciary Committee and the 9/11 Commission have heard me testify for lengthy periods of time [3 hours] about very specific plots, dates, airplanes used as weapons, and specific individuals and activities." Her testimony has never been made public. She says, "[T]ranslators before me had ongoing personal relationships with the subjects or targets of the FBI and DOJ pre 9-11 investigations -- linked to intercepts and other intelligence--in June - July - August, just prior to the attacks. ...I also became aware of a [terrorist] criminal investigation going on since 1998." Patty Casazza, one of the 9-11 family members, says, "sibel Edmonds told me that color coding terrorist threat alerts for the American people is reflective of the intercept translations received." Casazza and Edmonds give no indication as to whether FBI translators had doctored or adjusted translations [used in the decision-making process] for Homeland Security terrorist threat alerts, for political reasons. Edmonds concludes, "This whole situation is outrageous and I am going public." (Tom Flocco)
Bush before 9/11: "mistake" to focus on bin Laden
- March 26: In April 2001, four months before the terror attacks of 9/11, the Bush administration released a report calling it "a mistake" to focus "so much energy on Osama bin Laden." The report directly contradicts the White House's continued assertion that fighting terrorism was its "top priority" before the 9/11 attacks. Specifically, on April 30, 2001, CNN reported that the Bush Administration's release of the government's annual terrorism report contained a serious change: "there was no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden" as there had been in previous years. When asked why the administration had reduced the focus, "a senior Bush State Department official told CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden." The move to downgrade the fight against al-Qaeda before 9/11 was not the only instance where the Administration ignored repeated warnings that an al-Qaeda attack was imminent. Specifically, the Associated Press reported in 2002 that "President Bush's national security leadership met formally nearly 100 times in the months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks yet terrorism was the topic during only two of those sessions." Meanwhile, Newsweek has reported that internal government documents show that the Bush Administration moved to "de-emphasize" counterterrorism prior to 9/11. When "FBI officials sought to add hundreds more counterintelligence agents" to deal with the problem, "they got shot down" by the White House. (CNN/AP/Newsweek/Daily Misleader)
- March 27: Unsurprisingly, the Bush administration is having a tough time defending its decision not to allow Condoleezza Rice to testify in public before the 9/11 commission, especially in light of Rice's willingness to appear on virtually every television news program to discuss the administration's actions surrounding 9/11, not to mention the op-ed columns she has written for several large newspapers. The question is, why can she talk to the press but not to the commission? The excuse floated by the administration that her public testimony would violate the principle of separation of powers has no legal basis whatsoever. "This is mostly about politics, not about the legalities," says Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the College of William and Mary who specializes in separation of powers. "There's not much they can point to as settled law to prevent this. This is a matter of political judgment, not legal judgment. ...It hasn't kept her from talking to the press." Pepperdine law professor Douglas Kmiec, who served as a constitutional specialist in the Reagan and Bush I administrations, is more derisive: "When courts see them coming they lock their doors and run for cover, admonishing the political branches to work out their own difficulties. It really is a political question the judicial branch feels totally at a loss to resolve." 9/11 commission chairman Thomas Kean says, "I think this administration shot itself in the foot by not letting her testify in public." But White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales responds that in order for presidents to receive the most candid advice from their staffs, "it is important that these advisers not be compelled to testify publicly before congressional bodies such as the commission." (AP/San Jose Mercury News)
- March 28: National security advisor Condoleezza Rice maintains that, while she would like to testify in public hearings conducted by the 9/11 commission, that she cannot do so. "Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify," she tells 60 Minutes, in one of the dozens of media interviews she is giving lately. "I would really like to do that. But there is an important principle involved here: It is a long-standing principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress." While she continues to refuse to testify, she is not shy about attacking the testimony of Richard Clarke in the media. She disputes Clarke's contention that Bush attempted to intimidate Clarke into finding a connection between the attacks and the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. "I have never seen the president say anything to people in an intimidating way," she says. "The president doesn't talk to his staff in an intimidating way to get them to produce evidence that is false."
- Rice also disputes claims that terrorism was not a priority for the administration -- claims made by Clarke, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. "I don't know what a sense of urgency would have caused us to do differently," Rice says. Like so many other administration officials, she defies the facts to blame the Clinton administration for neglecting the terror threat: before Bush took office, she says, "terrorist attacks were getting bolder, they were getting more imaginative, they were getting more daring. We were not aggressively going after them." The policies of the current Bush administration were different, she says. "What they've been surprised by is that this time, there has been an all-out launching of war on them." She defends the administration's war with Iraq as an offensive against terror: "The war on terrorism is a broad war, not a narrow war. Iraq is a big reason, or was, for the instability in the region, for threats against the United States. Saddam Hussein's regime was very dangerous." With Saddam out of power, she says, "the world is a lot safer and the war on terrorism is well served." She refuses to issue an apology similar to the one proffered by Clarke last week in his testimony before the commission. "The families have heard from this president -- and from me personally, in some cases -- how deeply sorry everyone is for the loss they endured," she says. "But the best thing we can do for the future of this country is to focus on those who did this to us."
- Clarke disputes Rice's contention that the Clinton administration was lax on terrorism and the Bush administration much more aggressive; Clarke says, "He did something, and President Bush did nothing prior to September 11." Clarke said a sweeping declassification of documents would prove that the Bush administration neglected the threat of terrorism in the nine months leading up to the attacks. Meanwhile, the commission intends to continue pursuing Rice's testimony. "Condi Rice would be a superb witness," says Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. "she is anxious to testify. The president would dearly love to have her testify. But the lawyers have concluded that to do so would alter the balance if we got into the practice of doing that." Instead, the administration continues to offer a second private session with Rice to clear up "a number of mischaracterizations" of her statements and positions about the attacks. She was interviewed by the panel behind closed doors on Feb. 7. Rice was "very, very forthcoming in her first meeting with us," says Republican commission chairman Thomas Kean. "But we do feel unanimously as a commission that she should testify in public. We feel it's important to get her case out there. We recognize there are arguments having to do with separation of powers. We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden."
- Commissioner John Lehman, another Republican, says Rice "has nothing to hide, and yet this is creating the impression for honest Americans all over the country and people all over the world that the White House has something to hide, that Condi Rice has something to hide. And if they do, we sure haven't found it. There are no smoking guns. That's what makes this so absurd. It's a political blunder of the first order." A White House ally, Richard Perle, says, "I think she would be wise to testify." Perle, who resigned last month as an adviser to the Pentagon, said he recognized the constitutional concerns at issue. "sometimes you have to set those aside because the circumstances require it," he says. Republican congressman Chris Shays says bluntly, "It's been one of the stupidest things this White House has done. ...She has to testify." Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has challenged Rice to appear publicly, accusing the White House of stonewalling the commission and of attempting "character assassination" against Clarke, who has served four U.S. presidents. Meanwhile, Rumsfeld, asked if Bush should apologize to the American people, says, "I think the president has recognized the failure that existed and the concern he has for those people and the fact that the government, our government, was there and that attack took place. I don't know quite what else one would do." (MSNBC, CBS/AP/WVLT-TV, CBS News)
- March 28: White House allies and Republicans investigating the 9/11 attacks are calling for the Bush administration to allow open testimony from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, with one commissioner calling her refusal a political blunder of the first order." President Bush, has so far refused. Instead he sent Rice back out for another lengthy news interview to rebut fresh criticism on the way his administration has handled the threat of terrorism against the United States. Sharpening his criticism, former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke said President Clinton was more aggressive than Bush in trying to confront al-Qaeda, Osama bin-Laden's organization. "He did something, and President Bush did nothing prior to September 11," Clarke says. "I think they deserve a failing grade for what they did before" Sept. 11, Clarke says of the Bush's administration. "They never got around to doing anything." Clarke says a sweeping declassification of documents would prove that the Bush administration neglected the threat of terrorism in the nine months leading up to the attacks. He says he sought declassification of all six hours of his testimony before a congressional committee two years ago. Some Republicans have said that testimony about Sept. 11 contradicts Clarke's current criticism. Clarke also wants Rice's previous interview before the independent 9/11 commission declassified, along with e-mails between him and Rice, and other documents. The material will prove that Bush was "lackadaisical" about terrorism before the attacks, Clarke says, because "they're basically the same thing. And they wasted months when we could have had some action."
- Asked about Clarke's request for the declassification, Secretary of State Colin Powell responds, "My bias will be to provide this information in an unclassified manner not only to the commission, but to the American people." Members of the 9/11 commissione make clear they will not relent in their pursuit of public testimony from Rice, but say they are not inclined to subpoena her. "Condi Rice would be a superb witness. She is anxious to testify. The president would dearly love to have her testify," says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "But the lawyers have concluded that to do so would alter the balance if we got into the practice of doing that." Rice was interviewed by the panel behind closed doors on February 7. The administration has offered a second private session with Rice, but the commission has not accepted. Rice was "very, very forthcoming in her first meeting with us," says commission head Thomas Kean, a Republican. "But we do feel unanimously as a commission that she should testify in public. We feel it's important to get her case out there. We recognize there are arguments having to do with separation of powers. We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden." Commissioner John Lehman, another Republican, says Rice "has nothing to hide, and yet this is creating the impression for honest Americans all over the country and people all over the world that the White House has something to hide, that Condi Rice has something to hide. And if they do, we sure haven't found it. There are no smoking guns. That's what makes this so absurd. It's a political blunder of the first order."
- A White House ally, Richard Perle, says, "I think she would be wise to testify." Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic commissioner, says that several White House staff in recent years have appeared before legislative bodies, including former national security adviser Sandy Berger when he was in office. Rice's several media appearances also undermine the White House's position, he says. "I fail to see the logic on the one hand relying on the confidentiality of such communications with the president and yet appearing everywhere except the one entity that has been created for the express purpose of investigating and holding public hearings on 9/11," he says. Clarke accuses the Bush administration of waging a "campaign to destroy me professionally and personally," and calls on the White House to "raise the level of discourse." Reacting to charges that his new book represented "profiteering" from the terrorist attacks, Clarke said he planned to donate a large portion of its sales to the attacks' survivors and to the widows and children of military personnel who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Clarke also fired back at the administration by reading Bush's response to his resignation letter. Noting it was in the president's handwriting, Clarke said the letter read that he would "be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor," and had "left a positive mark on our government." (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
9/11 widows angry about lies, omissions by witnesses, particularly Rumsfeld
- March 29: Four of the most prominent "9/11 widows," Kristen Breitweiser, Lorie Van Auken, Mindy Kleinberg and Patty Casazza, are angry about the testimony from a variety of Bush and Clinton officials before the 9/11 commission. They are particularly disgusted with the information provided, or not provided, by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. "He needs to answer to his actions on Sept. 11," says Kleinberg. "When was he aware that we were under attack? What did he do about it?" They had asked the commission staff to ask Rumsfeld about his actions on the day of the attacks, only to be told that this was not a line of questioning the staff planned to pursue. Rumsfeld told the commission that he knew of no intelligence in the months leading up to 9/11 indicating that terrorists intended to hijack commercial airplanes and fly them into the Pentagon or the World Trade Center.
- Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste countered Rumsfeld's protestations of ignorance with a list of at least a dozen cases of foiled plots using commercial airliners to attack key targets in the US and elsewhere. Ben-Veniste cited the "Bojinka" plot in 1995, which envisioned blowing up Western commercial planes in Asia; that plot was foiled by the government and had to have been foremost in the thoughts of CIA director Tenet, who was having weekly lunches with Mr. Rumsfeld through 2001. In 1998, an al-Qaeda–connected group talked about flying a commercial plane into the World Trade Center. "so when we had this threatened strike that something huge was going to happen, why didn't DOD alert people on the ground of a potential jihadist hijacking? Why didn't it ever get to an actionable level?" Ben-Veniste asked. Rumsfeld dodged, saying he only remembered hearing threats of a private aircraft being used. "The decision to fly a commercial aircraft was not known to me." Ben-Veniste retorted, "We knew from the Millennium plot [to blow up Los Angeles International Airport] that al- Qaeda was trying to bomb an American airport." The Clinton administration foiled that plot and thought every day about foiling terrorism, he said. "But as we get into 2001, it was like everyone was looking at the white truck from the sniper attacks and not looking in the right direction. Nobody did a thing about it." Rumsfeld finally muttered, "I should say I didn't know."
- The widows are still astonished that, even after the attacks were well underway, Rumsfeld continued to entertain several members of Congress in his private dining room while their husbands were dying in the WTC wreckage. They know this from an account posted on Sept. 11 on the Web site of Christopher Cox, a Republican congressman who is chairman of the House Policy Committee. "Ironically," Cox wrote, "just moments before the Department of Defense was hit by a suicide hijacker, Secretary Rumsfeld was describing to me why...Congress has got to give the President the tools he needs to move forward with a defense of America against ballistic missiles." At that moment, Condoleezza Rice, the Secret Service, the FAA, NORAD, American Airlines and United Airlines, among others, knew that at least three planes had been violently hijacked, their transponders turned off, and that thousands of American citizens had been annihilated in the World Trade Center by Middle Eastern terrorists, some of whom had been under surveillance by the FBI. Yet the nation's defense chief didn't think it significant enough to interrupt his political pitch to a key Republican in Congress to reactivate the Star Wars initiative of the Bush I years.
- "I've been around the block a few times," Rumsfeld told Cox. "There will be another event." Rumsfeld repeated it for emphasis, Cox wrote: "There will be another event." "Within minutes of that utterance, Rumsfeld's words proved tragically prophetic," Cox noted. "someone handed me a note that a plane had hit one of the WTC towers," Rumsfeld told the commission on March 23. "Later, I was in my office with a CIA briefer when I was told a second plane had hit the other tower." Rumsfeld took no action whatsoever. "Shortly thereafter, at 9:38 AM, the Pentagon shook with an explosion of a then-unknown origin," he testified. He didn't know the Pentagon was under attack until he went to his window and saw the devastation. "I went outside to determine what had happened," he continued. "I was not there long, apparently, because I was told I was back in the Pentagon, with the crisis action team, by shortly before or after 10 AM. Upon my return from the crash site, and before going to the Executive Support Center, I had one or more calls in my office, one of which I believe was the President." Then commission member Jamie Gorelick, who served as deputy attorney general and general counsel for the Department of Defense in the Clinton administration, asked Rumsfeld, "Where were you and your aircraft when a missile was heading to the Pentagon? Surely that is your responsibility, to protect our facilities, our headquarters -- the Pentagon. Is there anything we did to protect that?" Rumsfeld answered that the attack was a law-enforcement issue. "When I arrived at the command center, an order had been given -- the command had been given instructions that their pilots could shoot down any commercial airlines filled with our people if the plane seemed to be acting in a threatening manner," he answered.
- Gorelick tried to get Rumsfeld to say whether the NORAD pilots themselves knew they had authority to shoot down a plane. "I do not know what they thought," he answered. "I was immediately concerned that they knew what they could do and that we changed the rules of engagement." While Rumsfeld was backing and filling and proclaiming his own innocence, the widows got angrier and angrier. And Rumsfeld was not the only one to earn their ire. Secretary of State Colin Powell complained that the Bush administration was given no military plan by the Clinton administration for routing al-Qaeda, conveniently ignoring the specific plans provided by Richard Clarke and later implemented by Powell and the administration. Powell then described how Rice undertook a complete reorganization of the failed responses of the Clinton years -- not too much more than a series of meetings that took up the next eight months. "Then 9/11 hit, and we had to put together another plan altogether," Powell testified. He also claimed that "we did not know the perpetrators were already in our country and getting ready to commit the crimes we saw on 9/11."
- The widows were outraged; they knew that at the time, the FBI had 14 open investigations on supporters of the 9/11 hijackers who were in the US before 9/11. And after the Clinton administration foiled the Millennium plot to blow up LAX, the CIA knew that two al-Qaeda operatives had a sleeper cell in San Diego. FBI field officers tried to move the information up the line, with no success. What's more, most of the 9/11 hijackers re-entered the US between April and June of 2001 with blatantly suspicious visa applications, which the widows had already obtained and shown to the commission. The State Department had 166,000 people on its terrorist watch list in 2001, but only 12 names had been passed along to the FAA for inclusion on its "no-fly list." Powell had to admit as much, though he said that State Department consular officers had been given no information to help them identify terrorist suspects among the visa applicants. The widows were particularly disappointed that the commission refused to ask Powell why over 100 members of the Saudi royal family and many members of the bin Laden clan were airlifted out of the US in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks, without being interviewed by law enforcement, while no other Americans, including members of the victims' families, could take a plane anywhere in the US. The State Department had obviously given its approval. But no commissioner apparently dared to touch the sacrosanct Saudi friends of the Bush family. "When Republican commissioner James Thompson asked Powell: "Prior to Sept. 11, would it have been possible to say to the Pakistanis and Saudis, 'You're either with us or against us?'", Powell simply ignored the issue of the Saudi exemption and punted on Pakistan.
- To the widows, the problems with the 9/11 commission were always apparent. But the disappointing testimony from Rumsfeld was especially difficult to bear. The widows had tried to get their most pressing questions to the commission to be asked of Rumsfeld, but their efforts had foundered at the hands of Philip Zelikow, the commission's staff director. Indeed, it was only with the recent publication of Richard Clarke's memoir of his counterterrorism days in the White House that they found out that Zelikow, who was supposed to present their questions to Rumsfeld, was actually one of the select few in the new Bush administration who had been warned, nine months before 9/11, that Osama bin Laden was the No. 1 security threat to the country. They are now calling for Zelikow's resignation, with no luck. Jamie Gorelick sympathizes. "This is a legitimate concern," she says, "and I am not convinced we knew everything we needed to know when we made the decision to hire him." However, time constraints make it impossible for Zelikow to be replaced, Gorelick says: "We're just going to have to be very cognizant of the role that he played and address it in the writing of our report." The widows are not happy. They point out that it is Zelikow who decides which among the many people offering information will be interviewed. Efforts by the families to get the commission to hear from a raft of administration and intelligence-agency whistleblowers have been largely ignored at his behest. And it is Zelikow who oversees what investigative material the commissioners will be briefed on, and who decides the topics for the hearings. Zelikow's statement at the January hearing sounded to the Moms like a whitewash waiting to happen: "This was everybody's fault and nobody's fault."
- That doesn't satisfy the widows. "Why did it take Condi Rice nine months to develop a counterterrorism policy for al-Qaeda, while it took only two weeks to develop a policy for regime change in Iraq?" asks Kleinberg. The widows' work has not been a complete waste of time. It was their persistence that forced the White House to stop blocking an independent investigation. And it was their research that gave the commission the initial direction it would pursue -- Gorelick expressed her amazement at the amount of material the widows had collected, and vowed it would be their "road map." Kleinberg says, "We were their biggest advocates. They asked us to get them more funding, and we did. It could have been a great relationship, but it hasn't been." They believe that Zelikow is doing his best to keep as much information from the public as possible. "They don't tell us or the public anything, and they won't until they publish their final report," says Casazza. "At which point, they'll be out of business." Kleinberg adds, "Why not publish interim reports, instead of letting us sit around for two years bleeding for answers?" We have lower and lower expectations," says Van Auken.
- Of the four, two are Republicans who voted for Bush in 2000, and a third is a registered independent; only one is a Democrat. Until they themselves were attacked by Bush officials, they were apolitical and nonpartisan. That has changed. "The Bush people keep saying that Clinton was not doing enough [to combat the Al Qaeda threat]," says Kleinberg. "But 'nothing' is less than 'not enough,' and nothing is what the Bush administration did." An unnamed spokesman for the Bush campaign was quoted as saying of 9/11, "We own it." That comment particularly disturbed the widows. "They can have it," says Van Auken. "Can I have my husband back now?" "If they want to own 9/11, they also have to own 9/10 and 9/12," says Kleinberg. "Their argument is that this was a defining moment in our history. It's not the moment of tragedy that defines you, but what you do afterwards." The widows have a backup plan in case this one gives a whitewash. In case of a Kerry victory, they plan to ask Kerry create a new independent 9/11 commission. (New York Observer)
- March 30: Rumsfeld's testimony about his actions on the morning of 9/11 and thereafter is illuminating for the level of disconnect he and fellow administration officials evidenced during the disaster. "Two planes hitting the twin towers did not rise to the level of Rumsfeld's leaving his office and going to the War Room? How can that be?" asked 9/11 widow Mindy Kleinberg after his testimony. During key periods of time, Rumsfeld was nowhere to be found that fateful morning; he himself dismissed his failure to appear as being "out of the loop." The lead military officer that day, Brigadier General Montague Winfield, told the commission that the Pentagon's command center had been essentially leaderless: "For 30 minutes we couldn't find" Rumsfeld. He failed to appear in the Pentagon's Command Center for almost two hours after it became apparent that hijackers had taken control of at least two aircraft. It took him almost two hours to "gain situational awareness," he told the commission. He didn't speak to Cheney until 10:39 am, according to the report later issued by the commission. Since that was more than 30 minutes after the last hijacked plane crashed, it would seem to be an admission of dereliction of duty. Asked point-blank by Commissioner Jamie Gorelick what he had done to protect the nation, or even the Pentagon, during the "summer of threat" preceding the attacks, Rumsfeld replied simply that "it was a law enforcement issue."
- Reporter Gail Sheehy writes, "That obfuscation -- was the FBI expected to be out on the Beltway with shoulder-launched missiles? -- has been accepted at face value by the commission and media. Rumsfeld is in charge of NORAD, which has the specific mission of protecting the United States and Canada by responding to any form of air attack. The official chain of command in the event of a hijacking calls for the president to empower the secretary of Defense to send up a military escort and, if necessary, give shoot-down orders. Yet President Bush told the panel he spoke to Rumsfeld for the first time that morning shortly after 10 am -- 23 minutes after the Pentagon was hit and moments before the last plane went down. It was, says the report, 'a brief call in which the subject of shoot-down authority was not discussed.'" That became critically important when a decision had to be made on whether or not to scramble aircraft to intercept the hijacked airliners; with Rumsfeld "out of the loop," lower-level officials made their own, often uninformed decisions, as when fighters from Langley AFB in Virginia were sent, not to cover Washington, but to New York City, where the second aircraft had already slammed into the WTC. As for Flight 93, on its way to Washington, three minutes after the FAA command center told FAA headquarters in an update that it was 29 minutes out of Washington, the command center said, "Uh, do we want to, uh, think about scrambling aircraft?" FAA headquarters replied: "Oh, God, I don't know." Command center: "Uh, that's a decision somebody's going to have to make probably in the next 10 minutes." No one made the decision, and three minutes later, Flight 93 crashed in the Pennsylvania flatlands, apparently brought down by civilians on board. Sheehy writes, "How is it that civilians in a hijacked plane were able to communicate with their loved ones, grasp a totally new kind of enemy and weaponry and act to defend the nation's Capitol, yet the president had 'communication problems' on Air Force One and the nation's defense chief didn't know what was going on until the horror was all over?" (Los Angeles Times/Truthout)
- March 30: The Bush administration is considering recanting its opposition to having Condoleeza Rice testify publicly and under oath in front of the 9/11 commission. Reportedly Rice is in favor of appearing, but Bush continues to resist. The White House is under enormous political and public pressure to waive its claim of so-called "executive privilege." Bush has vigorously defended his right to receive advice from aides without the threat it will be aired in public. Republican commission member John Lehman says, "I think the White House is making a very serious political mistake. In fact, I think they have made a long-term series of mistakes in the way they have handled this commission." After the parade of current and former officials that have gone before the commission, Rice's absence, say former White House officials, is playing as a negative -- creating the perception that she has something to hide. "The longer they refuse to have her testify in public the more suspicion they bring. And frankly the more they string this story out," says former White House advisor David Gergen. The White House also faces charges of hypocrisy -- claiming executive privilege -- at the same time it made public confidential e-mails and transcripts of background briefings to discredit chief critic Richard Clarke. Add to that Rice's recent blitz of the public airwaves to state her case while simultaneously stonewalling the commission and it appears to some that the White House has badly stumbled. "They're in a hole," says Gergen. "First rule of holes is stop digging. Come on out. Just deal with it. The country will welcome her testimony and I frankly think she can bring the country with her. She's very persuasive." Former National Security officials, who themselves fought to preserve executive privilege, say Rice probably now has no choice; her recent TV appearances have completely undercut her case for a private session with the commission. (AP/CBS News)
Rice agrees to testify, in return for promise that no other White House official will testify
- March 30: Condoleezza Rice reverses her position and agrees to testify publicly to the 9/11 commission. Bush and Cheney also agree to testify to the panel, provided they can go together and not under oath. In return for Rice's testimony, the administration elicits an agreement that no other administration official will be asked to testify. The White House and Rice had maintained that requiring a national security adviser to testify under oath would compromise "executive privilege," which allows a president to exchange ideas freely with an adviser without fearing that they would be made public. "A president and his advisers, including his advisers for national security affairs, must be able to communicate freely and privately without being compelled to reveal those communications to the legislative branch," Bush said. "We have observed this principle while also seeking ways for Dr. Rice to testify," he added.
- Rice had said repeatedly that she wanted to testify, but only in private and not under oath, to rebut claims made before the panel last week by Bush's former counterterrorism director, Richard Clarke. He accused Bush of being obsessed with ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein at the expense of fully focusing on the war against terrorism. After citations and photos of previous security directors and other high-level officials testifying in front of independent commissions and congressional hearings were made public, the administration backed off its insistence on keeping Rice out of the hearing room. Another problem was Rice's repeated appearances in the media, which raised questions about her decisions to appear in front of reporters but not in front of the commission. "The whole idea of executive privilege is that the president's advisers should be able to give advice in confidence," says Herman Schwartz, a constitutional law professor at American University in Washington. "That means the advice should be kept confidential. But she's talked to everybody under the sun. What is the difference between appearing before the commission privately, telling them her story, and saying it publicly under oath? She can't have it both ways," Schwartz notes.
- Previously Rice had offered to testify in private, without being sworn in, but mounting pressure from the public, the media, and outraged Democrats forced her to change her mind. The exact date of her testimony has not yet been set. "We want to hear from Dr. Rice...[about] the kind of threats and dangers that were apparent to her before 9-11," says chairman Thomas Kean. "We want to talk about the day of and the immediate response of the White House. We want to understand what substantive differences there are, perhaps in testimony between Dr. Rice and any other witnesses." The panel and relatives of 9/11 victims say they want Rice to clear up, under threat of perjury, conflicting statements made by herself and Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism chief who served under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. One issue concerns a memo Clarke drafted in late 2000 after the attack on the USS Cole. The memo, which he forwarded to Rice in January 2001, called for urgent action against al-Qaeda, including covert aid to the Northern Alliance that was battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and for new Predator drone missions. Clarke says Rice put him off, in part because it was a Clinton holdover plan and terrorism wasn't an urgent priority. Rice says the memo was just a "set of ideas" that needed a more comprehensive review. Components of the plan were finally approved by top Bush officials on September 4, 2001, but were not implemented until after the 9/11 attacks.
- "There are some key questions: Was terrorism an urgent priority? How quickly was the decision made? Was it slow as Mr. Clarke says or accelerated as Dr. Rice says?" says commissioner Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman. "Was their plan handed off from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration, and was the ultimate decision on Sept. 4 significantly different from the Jan. 25 memo from Clarke, and did that justify the bottom-up review?" he adds. Critics say Rice should explain publicly a May 2002 statement she made that no one could have predicted that a hijacked airplane could be used as a missile. Intelligence reports later made public revealed that officials had in fact considered the possibility several times. "I'm glad she modified the statement, because at the very least we should have anticipated the possibility of a domestic hijacking," says commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator. Other points commissioners will probably ask Rice to clarify include the possible military options considered by the Bush administration; and the Iraq response, especially in light of Clarke's testimony that the Bush administration used the 9/11 attacks as justification for a pre-planned attack on Iraq. Rice "is a very important witness for the American people to hear because of where she's been sitting and her experience at the senior reaches of government," says Jamie Gorelick, a commissioner who was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. "she says she wants to address discrepancies, and the bottom line is that her testimony will be very important," Gorelick says. (Guardian, MSNBC)
- March 30: Conservative Democratic senator Zell Miller roundly criticizes the 9/11 commission, saying that the entire idea of an investigation merely encourages terrorism. Miller, the only Democratic lawmaker to endorse the Bush candidacy for president, says that the commission's public battles with the Bush administration "energize[s] our enemies and demoralize[s] our troops." Miller is harshly critical of the testimony of Richard Clarke, asking the Senate, "The vindictive Clarke has now had his revenge, but what kind of hell has he, his CBS publisher, and his ax-to-grind advocates unleashed?" Miller, who has backed Bush on practically every major foreign and domestic initiative, said if there were intelligence breakdowns, Clarke was most to blame because he was in the "catbird seat" for a decade. "It's obvious to me that this country is rapidly dividing itself into two camps -- the wimps and the warriors," Miller says. "The ones who want to argue and assess and appease, and the ones who want to carry this fight to our enemies and kill them before they kill us. And in case you haven't figured it out, I proudly belong to the latter." (AP/Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)
Edmonds confirms FBI's knowledge of impending attack
- March 31: Sibel Edmonds, the former FBI translator who was hired shortly after 9/11 to translate intelligence gathered over the previous year related to the attacks, confirms that the FBI had information that an attack using airplanes was being planned before 9/11. She calls Condoleezza Rice's claim that the White House had no specific information on a domestic threat or one involving planes "an outrageous lie." She has testified numerous times before the Justice Department's Inspector General, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and before the 9/11 commission, and says that for Rice "to just come out and say -- and state that we had no specific information whatsoever, that would be an outrageous lie. President Bush, I guess, he made a smart move, because he also added that they did not have any specific information stating that the attack was going to occur on September 11. But Ms. Rice's statement that we had no specific information is inaccurate." Edmonds insists that the FBI had specific information about the possible use of hijacked airliners in a terrorist attack as early as April 2001. "And many of this information has been public already. I mean, you look at what Agent Rowley provided, you look at the Phoenix Memo, the investigations that I worked on after 9-11, retranslating certain documents related to certain investigations, that is the reason I'm saying this is absolutely inaccurate. We had not one, but we had many specific informations, and this information was not maybe investigated under counter-terrorism because it's very difficult to separate these issues when you have criminal investigation, and money laundering investigation, drug related investigations that actually have major information regarding 9-11 incidents. To say that they would be mostly under counter-terrorism would be a wrong assumption, too."
- Edmonds is currently operating under a gag order issued by John Ashcroft prohibiting her from discussing the specifics of her knowledge with anyone outside the Bush administration. She says of the order, "Attorney General Ashcroft on October 18, 2002, personally asserted State Secret Privilege in my case. I would read two sentences here: 'To prevent disclosure of certain classified and sensitive national security information, Attorney General Ashcroft today asserted the State Secret Privilege in Sibel Edmonds' case. This assertion was made at the request of the FBI Director Robert Mueller,' in papers filed today, and they are citing the reason that because this case would create substantial risks of disclosing classified and sensitive national security information that could cause serious damage to our country's security. They are citing that this privilege is very rare and is asserted to prevent certain information getting -- becoming public or hurting diplomatic relations. I would underline this phrase, diplomatic relations several times." Her testimony was a key element of the Inspector General's report, which was originally slated to be released in October 2002, but now looks as if it will be sealed away from the public and never released.
- "I have been waiting to see this information to be available, and become available and be out there, but it's not getting there," she says. "And there's so much that the public just simply doesn't know. About what went wrong, what we had, and my last hope right now is this Commission. 9-11 Commission is my last hope because I have pursued all possible authority channels that I could have pursued. I have gone to the Senate. I have provided testimony to the Inspector General's Office and the FBI. They have confirmed these allegations, however, this information is being prevented from becoming public. It needs to be public because first we have to acknowledge the facts before we go about fixing these problems. If they don't want to admit to these facts and they want to -- they don't want to acknowledge it, then we have no chance of really addressing the serious issue of national security and terrorism that they are citing." (Democracy Now)
- March 31: Political columnist Joe Conason marvels at the quick turnaround of the Bush administration's agreement to allow Condoleezza Rice to testify before the 9/11 commission: "How could she have known that this essential Constitutional barrier [the reason given by the administration for refusing to allow Rice to testify publicly] would suddenly disappear less than 48 hours later [after she said she wanted to testify, but was prohibited by the doctrine of separation of powers]? Such magical lawyering is likely to annoy the frustrated members of the 9/11 commission, who have been treated with contempt by the White House. One of those frustrated commissioners might even ask Ms. Rice about the Oval Office discussions that preceded the President's turnaround on her testimony. Was President Bush influenced by the increasing political pressure to let her testify? Did an internal poll set Karl Rove's hair on fire?"
- Conason rightly doubts that anyone will ask such questions, but suggests some more substantive questions for the commission: "They can inquire about the prejudices of the incoming Bush administration, whose policy direction was set by Ms. Rice and other advisers who came to be known collectively as 'the Vulcans.' In Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, author James Mann explains that for Ms. Rice and the rest of Dubya's brain trust, the primary concerns were missile defense, China, Russia, Iraq and North Korea. 'Ironically,' writes Mr. Mann, a fellow at the impeccably conservative Center for Strategic and International Studies, 'despite the Vulcans' preoccupation with these new dangers, they rarely dwelt upon the one threat that would eventually change their lives and those of the rest of America, terrorism.' The commissioners may ask Ms. Rice why she and her colleagues didn't act on plans to attack al-Qaeda, presented to her by Richard Clarke on Jan. 25, 2001, until almost nine months later.
- "Why did she and her colleagues junk the recommendations of the Hart-Rudman commission on homeland security? The Hart-Rudman report underlined prescient warnings by former President Bill Clinton, former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger -- and by Mr. Clarke, who remained as the new administration's counterterrorism chief. And assuming that she indeed considered terrorism an 'urgent' issue, how would she justify the strange demotion of Mr. Clarke from cabinet status? He was, after all, the only ranking official in the Bush White House who knew anything about the subject. They can ask whether Ms. Rice approved the President's decision to appoint Vice President Dick Cheney as chairman of a task force to examine the possibility of a terror attack on American soil. Why did that task force never convene even once after that announcement on May 8, 2001? (Perhaps they will also ask Mr. Cheney himself to answer that question, when he and the President meet with the commission in closed session.) No doubt Ms. Rice still recalls the 'summer of threat,' those months preceding September 2001 when Mr. Clarke and CIA director George Tenet tried to convey the danger they were hearing in the terrorist 'chatter' picked up by our intelligence services. According to Mr. Clarke, those signals 'exceeded anything that George Tenet or I had ever seen.'
- "The commissioners might ask Ms. Rice -- who has claimed that she and her Bush colleagues were at 'battle stations' -- whether she ever learned of the daily cabinet meetings that preceded Dec. 31, 1999, at the Clinton White House. Was she aware that Mr. Clarke and others believed those top-level conclaves shook loose the information that thwarted the millennium terror plots? Does she regret her failure to convene such meetings in August 2001? If she truly understood the imminence of danger during that summer, perhaps she will explain why the President never got the message. He told reporter Bob Woodward, author of Bush at War, that he had felt little sense of urgency about al-Qaeda while he vacationed in Crawford, Tex., before Sept. 11. And one more question: Will she endorse Mr. Clarke's request to declassify all of the e-mail correspondence between him and her during 2001?" (New York Observer/Working for Change)
9/11 commission demands Clinton-era documents from White House
- April 2: The Bush administration is under fire from the 9/11 commission for refusing to turn over three-quarters of over 11,000 Clinton-era documents to the panel; later, the administration agrees to consider turning over the documents after a review. Although Clinton gave permission for the documents to be released to the commission, the Bush administration decided not to release most of them, and did not tell the commission that the documents even existed. Had Clinton lawyer Bruce Lindsey not publicly complained, it is doubtful that the commission would have ever known that so many documents were being kept hidden. White House spokesman Scott McClellan says some classified documents were withheld because they were "duplicative or unrelated" while others were withheld because they were "highly sensitive." Several former Clinton aides are surprised that so many files have been withheld. They say that the files contain highly classified documents about Clinton's efforts against al-Qaeda. The panel is also surprised that the files are being withheld. Meanwhile, the White House, seeking to bolster Condoleezza Rice's credibility before she testifies before panel, releases parts of a classified presidential directive that was awaiting Bush's signature on Sept 11, 2001, instructing Pentagon to plan action against al-Qaeda terrorists. The New York Times writes in a scathing op-ed: "[G]iven the repeated criticism of this administration's obsessive secrecy on other issues, it is astonishing that it would still withhold anything that did not pose an immediate and dire threat to national security. The American people would like to know that they have a government that freely gives information to legitimate investigations on matters of grave national interest, not one that fights each reasonable request until it is exposed and forced to submit. The White House is serving no public purpose by acting less interested than the rest of us in having this commission do its vital work. Its ham-handed behavior is also gravely damaging the entire concept of executive privilege." (New York Times [abstract], Washington Post/San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times/Global Security)
Hart testifies that White House ignored his terror warnings
- April 2: Former Democratic senator Gary Hart, the co-chairman of the US Commission on National Security, a bipartisan panel that conducted the most thorough investigation of US security challenges since World War II, recalls trying to warn national security advisor Condoleezza Rice about the imminent threat of terror attacks against the US -- warnings which fell on deaf ears. After completing the report, which warned that a devastating terrorist attack on America was imminent and called for the immediate creation of a cabinet-level national security agency, and delivering it to President Bush on January 31, 2001, Hart and his fellow chairman Warren Rudman, a Republican, personally briefed Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell. But, according to Hart, the Bush administration never followed up on the commission's urgent recommendations, even after he repeated them in a private White House meeting with Rice just days before 9/11. Hart is not only concerned about the lies Rice and other Bush officials are telling about their administration's lack of preparedness for 9/11, but that little real preparation has been made to secure the country against fresh attacks, and the administration's failure to hold anyone responsible for the lapses that made the US so vulnerable.
- Salon's David Talbot writes, "The Bush White House, he charges, is locked in a strange and delicate dance with intelligence officials, maneuvering to place blame on the CIA but fearing if it does so too blatantly, the Bush team's own failings will be exposed." Hart says that he was given a respectful hearing by Rice, Rumsfeld, and Powell, but that his commission's recommendation to form a cabinet-level Homeland Security agency were not only ignored, but actively opposed by Bush. "[I]n the spring of 2001, some members of Congress introduced legislation to create a homeland security agency. Hearings were scheduled. And our commission, which was scheduled to go out of operation on February 15, 2001, was given a six-month extension so we could testify with some authority. Which we did in March and April. And then as Congress started to move on this, and the heat was turned up, George Bush -- and this is often overlooked -- held a press conference or made a public statement on May 5, 2001, calling on Congress not to act and saying he was turning over the whole matter to Dick Cheney. So this wasn't just neglect, it was an active position by the administration. He said, 'I don't want Congress to do anything until the vice president advises me.' We now know from Dick Clarke that Cheney never held a meeting on terrorism, there was never any kind of discussion on the department of homeland security that we had proposed. There was no vice presidential action on this matter. In other words, a bipartisan commission of seven Democrats and seven Republicans who had spent two and a half years studying the problem, a group of Americans with a cumulative 300 years in national security affairs, recommended to the president of the United States on a reasonably urgent basis the creation of a Cabinet-level agency to protect our country -- and the president did nothing!"
- Hart recalls meeting with Rice on September 6, 2001, and telling her in essence, "Get going on homeland security, you don't have all the time in the world." She replied that she would discuss the matter with Cheney. As Hart recalls, "[T]his tracks with Clarke's testimony and writing that even at this late date, nothing was being done inside the White House. ...She didn't seem to feel a terrible sense of urgency. When Hart is asked by Talbot if he got a sense that the administration had made any progress on security since you first briefed her, Rumsfeld and Powell in January, he replies, "No. I think she made some kind of gratuitous statements like, 'We've taken your report very seriously, we're looking at it, we're thinking about it, we've asked people to give comments on it.'" He also notes, "One more thing: I met with Rice not long after the president was in Crawford and being briefed by CIA officials on the possible use of aircraft against American targets. This was all happening in the weeks before 9/11. So I think it's terribly disingenuous for the president of the United States to say, 'If somebody had told us they were going to use aircraft against the World Trade Center, we would of course have taken action.' I think it's just ridiculous to say, 'We're not going to do anything until someone tells us where, when and how.'"
- Hart deplores the administration's closing of ranks after the attacks and its refusal to hold anyone responsible for the intelligence and planning failures that helped al-Qaeda successfully mount its attack. "I have said for over two and a half years that no one has been held accountable for 9/11. No one lost his or her job, not [CIA Director] George Tenet, not [FBI Director] Robert Mueller, not anybody. Now this is the president who claims to be strong and tough, but he clearly does not have on his desk a sign that says, 'The buck stops here.' I honor Dick Clarke for what he said to the victims' families. I think George Bush should say that, I think he should apologize. I think he should take responsibility, as John Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs. That's presidential leadership, that's a strong president. This is a weak president. He will not take responsibility." Talbot notes that Kennedy "was clearly misled by his national security advisors who were bound and determined to go ahead with their Cuban adventure;" Hart responds, "And he fired some of them. None of that happened here. You know why I think George Tenet is still in his job? I think there are smoking guns all over the White House. I think if you crack the White House safe, you're going to find memos from Tenet saying, 'The terrorists are coming, the terrorists are coming.'" Hart believes that Bush and his officials were given plenty of intelligence that should have been acted upon: "[T]hat's the only explanation I can think of for why no one's been fired. Which leaves open the possibility that the president misled the American people."
- He says that there is a growing restiveness and disillusionment within the American intelligence community for the Bush administration, and a growing resolve not to be the "fall guys" to take the blame for the administration's inactions. "...I think Karl Rove is taking a huge risk," he says. "I think since 9/11 they've been walking a very fine line, between wanting to put the blame on the CIA and knowing if they did so unjustifiably, they're going to get whacked. And I think that's exactly what this little dance is about, and I think that's why they did not fire Tenet. They want him and those who work for him not to retaliate." Hart believes that the war in Iraq has made this country less safe against terror threats: "[I]t's increased our vulnerability. It's helped with terrorist recruitment, the spawning of cells in various countries. Don't take my word for it -- that's what the security authorities have said. The directors of the CIA, FBI and DIA have all warned that when America attacks an Arab state, the risk to America skyrockets, it doesn't go down. Now Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle have said we're safer, of course -- the more we keep them on the run abroad, the safer we are at home. I think that's just patent nonsense."
- Talbot asks, "What would it take for the American people to begin to doubt that Bush has made them safer?" and Hart replies, "Well, God forbid, another attack, and I don't rule that out. I know we're going to be attacked again." He goes on to say that terrorists will not necessarily affect our presidential election similarly to the effect the al-Qaeda attacks had on the Spanish elections: "I think they'd be wrong to assume that about this nation. And I think they'd be dead wrong to assume they'd be better off with a Kerry administration. John Kerry is not soft on terrorism." He concludes, "I think what will haunt this administration is its lack of accountability. Either George Bush was misled, which is his story, or he misled the American people. There are no other choices. If he's a strong president, as he and his supporters claim, then heads should roll. If the president of the United States is misled by those who advise him, heads should roll. And we have not seen this. If he misled the American people, then he must go." (Salon)
- April 2: Former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds says she has provided information to the panel investigating the 9/11 attacks which proves senior officials knew of al-Qa'eda's plans to attack the US with aircraft months before the strikes happened. She says the claim by Condoleezza Rice that there was no such information is "an outrageous lie." Edmonds, who possessed top-secret clearance, spent more than three hours in a closed session with the commission's investigators providing information that was circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 suggesting that an attack using aircraft was just months away and the terrorists were in place. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has sought to silence her and has obtained a gag order from a court by citing the rarely used "state secrets privilege." She says, "I gave [the commission] details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily."
- She adds, "There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used - but not specifically about how they would be used - and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks. There were other cities that were mentioned. Major cities - with skyscrapers." She says it was clear there was sufficient information during the spring and summer of 2001 to indicate terrorists were planning an attack. "Most of what I told the commission - 90 per cent of it - related to the investigations that I was involved in or just from working in the department. Two hundred translators side by side, you get to see and hear a lot of other things as well." She continues, "President Bush said they had no specific information about 11 September and that is accurate but only because he said 11 September." There was, however, general information about the use of airplanes and that an attack was just months away. Rice wrote on March 22, "Despite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles, though some analysts speculated that terrorists might hijack planes to try and free US-held terrorists." Edmonds says that by using the word "we", Rice told an "outrageous lie." She says, "Rice says 'we' not 'I'. That would include all people from the FBI, the CIA and DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency]. I am saying that is impossible." (Independent/CommonDreams)
- April 2: Veteran political writer Jules Witcover says the 9/11 commission gave up far too much in its deal to secure the public testimony of Condoleezza Rice. "The price the 9/11 panel paid for Ms. Rice's oath-taking appearance was ludicrous. It accepted the condition of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales that it agree 'in writing that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice.' What if she says something then or later that calls into serious question something said, before the commission, on TV or in a newspaper interview by any other White House official? The commission won't be able to explore that contradiction or conflict? The commission also had to agree to another ridiculous condition. In return for the president lifting the one-hour time limit he earlier had placed on meeting in private with only the chairman and vice chairman, the full 10-member panel will get to hear Mr. Bush, but together with Vice President Dick Cheney, rather than separately."
- Witcover continues, "While the commission has for the most part functioned internally in a nonpartisan manner, the fight in which it found itself with the White House over the conditions of the appearances of Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Ms. Rice was adversarial from the start. The president opposed the creation of the special commission. Once it was under way, he resisted demands for swift and thorough commission access to documents and witnesses needed to learn why the 9/11 attacks happened and what was and wasn't done to avert them. The administration, by dragging its feet and then making a federal case out of the availability of Ms. Rice as a public witness, merely fed a public impression that it was less than forthcoming and had something to hide. Only when the open testimony of former White House counterterrorism expert Richard A. Clarke dramatically challenged the president's performance as an antiterrorist warrior in the days before 9/11 -- and afterward, by charging that his invasion of Iraq undercut the larger war on terror -- did the president yield on Ms. Rice. At that point, because the administration's political strategists recognized that attacking Mr. Clarke's credibility was only intensifying and prolonging the spotlight blazing on the 9/11 hearings, the White House finally moved to strike the broader deal. The White House also included a stipulation that the panel agree that Ms. Rice's testimony 'does not set any precedent for future commission requests' for appearances of White House officials. This agreement was a transparent cover for the president's retreat from his argument that testimony by a key presidential staff adviser would violate executive privilege or executive-legislative branch separation. Stipulating that the deal was not to be taken as a precedent was amusingly reminiscent of the Supreme Court ruling on the 2000 presidential election that favored Mr. Bush. The court noted in its convoluted Florida decision on a state political matter that 'our consideration is limited to the present circumstances' and was not to be taken as a guide for future decisions. This time, the White House realized it needed to cut its losses over Ms. Rice's holdout and the Bush and Cheney limits. But the 9/11 commission was holding the high cards. It didn't have to have cut the unfavorable deal it settled for -- getting Ms. Rice in public but a George-and-Dick Show in private." (Baltimore Sun/CommonDreams)
- April 3: The Bush offer to appear in front of the 9/11 commission together with Vice President Cheney privately, and not under oath, is scorned by House Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi says it makes it look like Bush is a chief executive on training wheels. "It's embarrassing to the president of the United States that they won't let him go in without holding the hand of the vice president of the United States," she says. "I think it speaks to the lack of confidence the administration has in the president going forth alone." Previously Bush had said he would only agree to meet with the Republican and Democratic co-chairmen of the commission, and only for an hour. The new offer sets aside the time constraints, and allows for the participation of all 10 members of the commission, if Bush can appear with Cheney. Asked how Bush would do before the panel if he appeared alone, Pelosi says, "I don't know. I guess no one wants to take that chance." She says the joint testimony would feed the perception that Cheney is the intellectual force behind the Bush presidency: "I think it reinforces the idea that the president cannot go it alone."
- The Bush administration scorns Pelosi's comments, and says that the idea of Bush and Cheney appearing jointly is merely for efficiency's sake. "This is about making sure the commission has all the information they need to do their job and do it in the best way possible," said Bush press secretary Scott McClellan on March 30. "And so now the commission will, after having received all this information and talked to all these officials, will be able to sit down with the president and the vice president and ask any questions that they want and move forward on their important work." Pelosi also criticized the Bush administration's unwillingness to release thousands of documents from the Clinton administration requested by the commission. She says, "It is long past time for the president's actions to match his words. Failing to provide the commission with the Clinton administration's documents is not consistent with the president's promise of cooperation. The White House must immediately stop stalling, and it must release these critical documents to the commission without further delay." The administration released the documents to the commission shortly after Pelosi's comments. (Washington Post/San Francisco Chronicle)
Final commission report to be reviewed, censored by White House
- April 4: 9/11 commission chairman Thomas Kean confirms that the final report from his commission will be reviewed, and possibly censored, by White House officials before being released to the public. Speculation is rife over how much of the report will be released, and whether the report will be issued before the November 2 election. Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat and former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, says he is troubled that "under our system of government, the president of the United States controls classified information." But Hamilton says the 10-member commission, which is divided equally between Democrats and Republicans, would not "let them distort our report. ...We do not want to put out a report with heavy redactions in it." (USA Today)
Bush-Saudi connections explored
- April 4: House of Bush, House of Saud author Craig Unger says that the unprecedently intimate relationship between the Bush family and the extremist Islamist theocrats of the Saudi Arabian royal family has not only shaped the Bush administration's response to 9/11, but the entire US foreign policy in the Middle East. "This is a relationship that goes back 30 years, and never before in history has a President of the United States had such a close relationship with another foreign power," Unger says. "In this case, it's not just another Western democracy. It's an Islamic theocracy that's been the biggest force in breeding terrorism of any country in the world. So I try to put together the corroborating details. I think there are very elemental, logical questions here that America has to confront. One is: What was the Saudi role –- and I think it's a very large one -– in 9/11? Without the Saudis, you really have no 9/11. It's not just that 15 of the hijackers were Saudis. The Saudis have played a huge role in funding terrorism over the last 20 years. Two: Isn't it amazing that the Bush family has had a close relationship with them for nearly 30 years? And you don't know the exact number, but we know that it's at least $1.4 billion that has gone from the House of Saud to companies in which the Bushes and their allies have prominent positions. That's more than 20,000 times as much money as was involved in the Whitewater scandal, by the way. I think this has been sometimes dismissed as a conspiracy theory and confined to the margins, and you see a lot of it in the Internet, due to the nature of the Internet. But the fact of the matter is this is not conspiracy, it's business. This is the oil business, and the defense business. And one of the cardinal rules of business is you don't bite the hand that feeds you, and we know the extent now to which the Bushes have been fed by the Saudis."
- Unger begins his book with an overview of the secret removal of over 140 Sauds, including roughly two dozen members of the bin Laden family, from the US in the days following the 9/11 attacks, when all commercial air traffic was grounded and the US was supposedly trying to find all available evidence about the attacks. "[A]ir space was completely restricted up through 9/13," Unger recalls.
- "And on that day, the first flight took off from Tampa, Florida, to Lexington. I found at least eight airplanes that stopped in 12 American cities. This was a massive operation. They picked up roughly 140 Saudis, roughly two dozen members of the bin Laden family, and they simply were not interrogated or interviewed seriously. One of the basic rules in any criminal investigation is that even in the most commonplace murder, you interview the friends and relatives of the perpetrator. That doesn't mean they're guilty, of course. It's just to acquire information. In this case, flying required White House approval. And we know they got White House approval because nothing could fly then. In addition, Richard Clarke told me so. He was the counter-terrorism czar in the situation room at the White House, and he said that he was party to these conversations. He said that it was OK so long as they were vetted by the FBI. The problem is that they were not vetted by the FBI. There was no serious investigation. I was able to obtain the passenger list for four of the planes. We have to presume innocence on the part of most people on the planes, but we do know that one person in particular is highly suspicious, and that is Prince Ahmed bin Salman, who was a very high-ranking member of the royal family and was said to have been a link between the royal family and al-Qaeda who may have had foreknowledge of 9/11. ...[I]t's not just dereliction of duty. Within five hours of 9/11, they were going after Saddam Hussein, who, of course, had nothing to do with 9/11. At the same time, on September 13th, President Bush was meeting with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador. And we don't know exactly what was discussed, but this great escape was already underway."
- Unger then discusses the dichotomy in the Bush administration between its support for Israel and its support for Saudi Arabia: "We've had this extraordinarily complicated relationship with Saudi Arabia, but it's full of astounding contradictions. On the one hand, we're the guardian of Israel. On the other hand, we've been the guarantor of security to Wahhabi Islam [an extremist sect of Islam centered in Saudi Arabia, and a key element in Islamic terrorism]. This has gone on for more than 30 years. It's particularly interesting when you look at the Bush role in all this. There are always two factors when you look at American policy in the Middle East, and particularly the Saudis. Those factors are oil and Israel. And we had this relationship that was so full of contradictions for so many years. In some ways, it was spectacularly successful; that is, if you look at it in terms of getting cheap oil to fill the tanks of American cars. But at a certain point, that relationship becomes quite questionable. One of its tenets was that we would turn a blind eye to what was really going on in Saudi Arabia. And that may have been fine up to a point, but that point changed when the Saudis started killing Americans. And what is particularly distressing is that the Bushes appear to have turned a blind eye again and again to this. It dates back before the time when Bush got into office. In the 90s, George Bush, Sr., James Baker -- people that I see as part of the House of Bush -- Dick Cheney and Halliburton, the Carlyle Group, were investing and making very, very lucrative deals with Saudis. So they had very close business relationships. You have to wonder, given those relationships, did they dare ask the tough questions of the Saudis about their role in financing terrorism? They were making business deals with people who have at least indirectly been involved in terrorism. For example, if you look at Prince Bandar, it's astonishing that he and his wife helped finance indirectly two of the hijackers who were in San Diego. But there was no investigation into that. And he dropped by the White House afterwards and had dinner with President Bush. Why was there no outcry? Instead, former President Bush called the Bandar family and expressed his condolences....[t]hat he was being investigated for this by Newsweek."
- The Newsweek investigation stalled when State Department officials said that Bandar's wife was merely helping a poor student and had no idea she was contributing to terrorist groups. Unger's response? "That has been the excuse you've heard from the Saudis for years. But the fact is, if you go back through the 90s when the Saudi terrorism started, the Clinton Administration began looking into it. And it's important to understand, I think, that Saudi Arabia is an Islamic fundamentalist state where the state religion is Wahhabism. In its most puritanical and militant form, you end up with Osama bin Laden. So even though the Saudis have stated that they are the victims of terrorists themselves, that they are at war with the militants, in fact, the militant clergy is part of the government. There is no separation between church and state. They have not been able to afford politically to crack down on militant Wahhabism because it's part of the state. Through it, you have a religious police, and the whole educational system -- the madrassas fosters this kind of terrorism. So they have not really cracked down. There were attempts to do that during the Clinton administration, with mixed success. And you saw the Clinton administration, for example, crack down on the National Commercial Bank, and got the Saudis to investigate it, because Clinton's counter-terrorism analysts saw the bank as potentially having funded terrorist activities."
- Of course, that investigation, and subsequent ones, have been thwarted by the intervention of various cronies and friends of the Bush family: one particularly notable example is the law firm of Bush ally James Baker defending Sauds in lawsuits filed by the families of 9/11 victims. Unger notes, "Baker-Botts represents the Carlyle Group and has represented some of the Saudis in the suit by the relatives of the 9/11 victims. It represents many of the major oil companies who have deals with Saudi Arabia. So the Saudi oil family and its allies, the wealthy merchant elite, are very, very close to the House of Bushes, as I call it, which means James Baker, the firm of Baker-Botts, the Carlyle Group, former President Bush, and other people who were in the Carlyle Group." Unger then continues his discussion of the relationship between the Bushes and the Sauds: "It's an incredibly delicate relationship. The best argument for being soft on the Saudis is that if the House of Saud were to fall, virtually anyone who replaced them would likely be far more anti-American. And I think that's absolutely true, by the way. We keep saying we want democracy in the Middle East, well, if there were an election there, you would have very, very militant Wahhabi people in charge, much closer to bin Laden himself. So the best argument for being soft on the Saudis is that this is the best we're going to get, and we need oil, and we need a strategic ally in that part of the world. At the same time, there's got to be a line at which you say: If they're killing Americans, what kind of allies are they? That's unacceptable. And this atrocious act of terrorism, killing 3,000 people on 9/11 -- we've been directing all our energy elsewhere against Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration has not really focused on the root cause of it at all."
- About the Saudi funding of terrorism, Unger says, "The Saudis have had relationships with both Hamas and Hezbollah in which they fairly openly fund Hamas and Hezbollah, and documents have surfaced again and again. The deal seems to be that they say: We'll help finance you, just don't do your terrorism on Saudi soil. At the other end of the spectrum, you have people who actually favor it, and you have members of the royal family, like Prince Nayef, who is the Minister of the Interior, and whose power base is allied with the militant clergy in Saudi Arabia. And he has blamed 9/11 on Zionist Jews, and basically said that this was something Zionists are responsible for. It's important to remember that he's still a real powerful figure in Saudi Arabia, and he has a real base. And even if there are sort of good Saudis who are very much against him, they have to recognize that that is a powerful base there, and they're limited in the degree to which they can crack down without it totally alienating part of their power base. There's sort of a low-level civil war going on in Saudi Arabia. ...The Saudis have been uncooperative when Americans have been killed there. They've beheaded people before letting the FBI interview them. They have blocked inquires into Saudi role in funding terrorism. I think, by the way, that things may have started to change with the May of 2003 bombing in Saudi Arabia in which, for the first time, it looks like the House of Saud is really being attacked itself. Before that point, one could argue that most of the bombings by al-Qaeda were really directed against Westerners. Now the Saudis have clearly started to feel the pressure themselves from al-Qaeda."
- Unger concludes, "It's an elemental question in American foreign policy -– how do you deal with this? If we're going to have a serious war on terror, President Bush -– and this may be one place where I really agree with him -– has said how he responded to 9/11 should be an issue in the campaign. I agree with him absolutely on that. We might disagree on how well he's done, but the Saudi role in all this is very, very important. I would like to redirect attention back to, if I may, to what I call the great escape -- the evacuation of Saudis. The Bush administration clearly played a role. They clearly authorized that. Why did they do that? How could they possibly have done it? They were already arresting people in Guantanamo and detaining them for months and months and months. But Saudis who may have had knowledge of this were whisked out of the country in the dead of night." (Buzzflash)
- April 5: The two chairmen of the 9/11 commission, Republican Thomas Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton, say that their final report will indicate that the 9/11 attacks were probably preventable. "The whole story might have been different," Kean says, outlining a series of intelligence and law enforcement blunders in the months and years before the attacks. "There are so many threads and so many things, individual things, that happened," he continues. "If we had been able to put those people on the watch list of the airlines, the two who were in the country; again, if we'd stopped some of these people at the borders; if we had acted earlier on Al Qaeda when Al Qaeda was smaller and just getting started." Kean also notes the "lack of coordination within the FBI" and the bureau's failures to grapple with the implications of the August 2001 arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen who was arrested while in flight school and was later linked to the terrorist cell that carried out the attacks. Hamilton concurs: "There are a lot of ifs; you can string together a whole bunch of ifs, and if things had broken right in all kinds of different ways, as the governor has identified, and frankly if you'd had a little luck, it probably could have been prevented." He says the panel will "make a final judgment on that, I believe, when the commission reports." Kean and other commission members agree that it seems likely that the Bush administration largely ignored warnings and information provided by the Clinton administration because of its ideological distaste for anything connected to that administration. Bush campaign spokesman Karen Hughes is quick to dispute Kean's conclusions, saying that the adminstration simply had no chance to gather enough information to possibly prevent the attacks. Kean and Hamilton say that Bush administration officials Condoleezza Rice and John Ashcroft, and former FBI director Louis Freeh, can expect "harsh" questioning from the commission when they testify in the following days. (New York Times/APFN)
- April 6: In his upcoming testimony to the 9/11 commission, Bush says he will tell the commission that he lacked the information necessary to forestall or prevent the terror attacks. Bush insists on appearing before the commission with Vice President Cheney, and refuses to testify under oath. The date for the testimony has been set, but has not yet been released. "Let me just be very clear about this," he says. "Had we had the information that was necessary to stop an attack, I'd have stopped the attack. ...If we'd have known that the enemy was going to fly airplanes into our buildings, we would have done everything in our power to stop it." After the attacks, "this country immediately went on war footing and we went to war against al-Qaeda. And we're going to keep after them until they are brought to justice and America is secure." He adds that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice "knows exactly what took place and will lay out the facts" when she testifies before the 10-member bipartisan panel. "I'm looking forward to people hearing her," he says. (AP/Fox News)
- April 6: The 9/11 commission will investigate former FBI translator Behrooz Sarshar's testimony that the FBI received a tip in May 2001 about an upcoming al-Qaeda attack. Sarshar won't divulge details of the tip, saying that information is highly classified, but information Sarshar provided a congressional investigation is available. Sources familiar with the briefing say the FBI informant told two FBI agents from the Washington field office in April 2001 that his sources in Afghanistan had heard of an al-Qaida plot to attack America in a suicide mission involving planes. Sarshar, fluent in Farsi and the holder of Top-Secret clearance, acted as an interpreter at the meeting, held at a Washington-area residence. The asset, an Iranian immigrant who worked in the Shah's intelligence services, had been on the FBI's payroll for at least a decade, and was considered reliable. While the agents reported the tip to their squad supervisor, it is unclear if the information ever made it to FBI headquarters. Colleagues of the supervisor, Thomas Frields, say it is unthinkable that he wouldn't have passed along the information. Some familiar with Sarshar's briefings last month say the tip cited major cities with skyscrapers, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. A veteran FBI source says the tip was not that specific, and at the time was considered far-fetched. "At the time it sounded unbelievable," he says. "People in Afghanistan being trained to fly jumbo jets to attack America just seemed unbelievable. Camels, maybe. But not planes."
- America, as well as Europe, were mentioned as targets by the informant, however, knowledgeable sources confirm. And he suggested that al-Qaeda agents, already in place inside America, were being trained as pilots. Had the tip been combined with two other pieces of information, the Phoenix memo concerning Muslim terror suspects receiving flight training and the information that Zacarias Moussaoui was part of a plot to "take control of a plane and fly it into the World Trade Center," a source familiar with Sarshar's briefing says the FBI might have been able to see the outline of the plot. "Those three pieces together make a big piece" of the puzzle, he says. Condoleezza Rice has insisted that the administration could not have predicted al-Qaeda terrorists "would try to use an airplane as a missile." She is said to have recently revised her statement in private talks with the 9-11 Commission, however. FBI counterintelligence veteran I.C. Smith, who left the bureau in 1998, thinks 9/11 could have been stopped. "They've all said there's nothing we could have done anyway," he says. "Well, that is wrong, wrong, wrong. If FBI agents had been allowed to interview those Middle Eastern students at the flight schools, there is no doubt in my mind they could have disrupted them," Smith explains. "We would have found them overstaying their visas and booted them out of the country." In his July memo, the Phoenix agent had asked headquarters for "authority to obtain visa information on persons seeking to attend flight schools." But supervisors there had closed the matter the next month without taking action. Told of the 9-11 plot tip, Smith says, "I'm convinced there's more information in the FBI."
- Another FBI veteran said the informant's lead likely joined the thousands of others buried and never investigated. Sarshar, who worked more than seven years for the FBI, says he asked the Senate Judiciary Committee for immunity to testify about the informant's tip and other FBI matters. He says the FBI warned him: "If you talk about these things, you'll be locked up." Republican staffer John Drake and Democratic counsel Tara Magner told him they would look into it after he met with them, he says. Also attending the Feb. 13 meeting on the Hill, which lasted about two-and-a-half hours, were Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the World Trade Center attacks, and Sibel Edmonds, a former contract linguist for the FBI. Edmonds, who translated Farsi, Turkish and Azerbaijani recordings and documents at the Washington field office, has told both congressional and 9-11 investigators that many terror-related intercepts have not been translated accurately because of anti-American bias and incompetence among some Middle Eastern translators. Sources say she was asked to retranslate a 9/11-related document that also may have held clues to the plot. It was Edmonds who coaxed Sarshar to brief the 9-11 Commission. He met with investigators the day after she did. Her February 11 classified briefing took place in a SCIF, or sensitive compartmented-information facility, set up in commission offices on D Street.
- Commission Chairman Thomas Kean confirmed the panel's meeting with Edmonds. "We've had all her testimony and it's under investigation," he says. Sarshar says the commission has not contacted him since his briefing. He says investigators indicated they'd call him back to testify with the informant. Sarshar, a political refugee from Iran who joined the FBI in 1995, says he has testified seven times in federal court against FBI suspects, more than any other translator on the Farsi board. He says his life was threatened once after testimony he gave sealed a drug conviction. He also has worked on terrorism cases related to Mujahedin el-Khalq, or MEK, an Iranian dissident group that has killed Americans. (WorldNetDaily)
- April 6: Gary Hart, the co-chair of the 1998-2000 U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, mandated to create a plan for defending the country against terrorist attacks, wants to know why no one on the 9/11 commission has asked him or any of his 13 colleagues to testify. He writes, "I co-chaired a national security panel that warned the Bush administration the terrorists were coming. Why hasn't the 9/11 commission called any of us to testify?"
- He continues, "suppose that in March or April 1941, 14 Americans with lengthy backgrounds in national security affairs had reported to President Franklin Roosevelt that the United States was going to be attacked somewhere, sometime, somehow by the Japanese, that this attack would result in large numbers of American casualties, and these officially appointed Americans had strongly recommended to the Roosevelt administration that it take urgent steps to help prevent such an attack. Further suppose that Roosevelt had done little if anything in response to this warning, and that almost eight months later, as it happened, the Japanese attacked American facilities at Pearl Harbor, and almost 2,000 Americans died. Suppose after this attack official inquiries were launched, as it also happened, as to why there was a failure of intelligence, what actions were or were not taken based on what intelligence there was, and what could be done to prevent such catastrophic surprises in the future. And finally suppose that the official commission created to investigate the tragedy of Pearl Harbor failed to call upon the original 14 Americans who forecast the attack and forewarned against it.
- "Now move this supposed scenario forward to 2004 and you have virtually a perfect fit and an actual set of circumstances. The US Commission on National Security/21st Century, co-chaired by former Sen. Warren Rudman and myself, reported to President George W. Bush and his new administration in January 2001 that terrorists were surely going to attack the United States and that our country was woefully unprepared. We documented the lack of intelligence coordination against this threat and the lack of preparation of up to two dozen federal agencies, as well as state and local governments, to prevent such attacks or respond to them when they did occur. Though we had no ability to forecast specific times, places and methods for such attacks, we were united in our certainty that they were bound to occur. In our first report we said: 'America will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile attack on our homeland [and] Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.' In our final report we urged the new Bush administration to create a national homeland security agency to prevent terrorist attacks.
- "Now that the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- the so-called 9/11 commission -- is moving toward completion of its deliberations and preparation of its final report, I am increasingly asked what information our earlier commission, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, has provided the 9/11 commission and why that information has not been made public. When told that the 9/11 commission has not asked for any public testimony from us, most people are incredulous. If the 9/11 commission is really trying to find out what was known and when it was known, they ask, why would your national security commission's warnings and recommendations not be of direct relevance and urgent interest? Didn't you publicly and privately warn the new Bush administration of your concerns about terrorism? Didn't you specifically recommend a new national homeland security agency? Why wouldn't all this be of central importance to the work of the 9/11 commission? The simple answer to all these questions is: I don't know why we have not been asked to testify. Since the U.S. Commission on National Security officially ceased to exist as of the summer of 2001, I cannot speak for the other 13 commissioners. But I have been waiting for many months to hear from the 9/11 commission, fully expecting a request for public testimony from members of our earlier commission, and have heard nothing."
- He notes that much of his committee's recommendations were based on information gleaned from Richard Clarke, and that he fully briefed Condoleezza Rice on his committee's findings. "sixty years after Pearl Harbor, books are still being written about whether the Roosevelt administration had any warnings of potential Japanese attacks," Hart writes. "There certainly was no U.S. Commission on National Security in 1941 to issue such warnings. Only lonely Billy Mitchell, prophet of aerial warfare, some 18 years before. Now the 9/11 commission has the great burden of creating as complete a public record as possible of all the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks for the rest of history, to try to lay to rest theories of conspiracy and behind-the-scenes manipulation and maneuver, and to exhaustively examine all relevant information. This cannot be done until the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century is officially and publicly heard from." (Salon)
- April 7: The Bush White House is refusing to turn over a copy of the speech Condoleezza Rice was slated to give the morning of September 11, 2001, to the 9/11 commission. The speech reportedly consists almost completely of material about missile defense systems such as the "star Wars" program, as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and does not mention terrorism as a concern for the Bush administration. The administration contends that draft documents such as the speech, which was never delivered, are confidential. (Note: The next day, the Bush administration will allow the commission to review the speech, just hours before Rice's testimony before the panel.) (Sydney Morning Herald)
- April 7: The Center for American Progress's David Sirota warns Americans to watch for two key points in Condoleezza Rice's upcoming testimony before the 9/11 commission. Both are lies that have been thoroughly discredited, but are still touted by Rice and other administration officials. The first is the claim that she "regrets" saying that no one in the administration could have imagined terrorists using airplanes as weapons to crash into buildings; she may have regretted the statement in her January 2004 testimony before the commission, but she revived the lie in a March 22 op-ed for the Washington Post. In the piece, she again falsely claimed "we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles." Secondly, Rice told the commission in January that she should have said, "I could not have imagined," according to one official familiar with the testimony, making it clear that some in the intelligence community knew about those threats but that she did not. "Information about possible use of airplanes as missiles to destroy buildings was not briefed to her prior to that statement in May 2002," according to the New York Times. The fact is, even if Rice missed all 12 previous intelligence reports noting "that terrorists might use airplanes as weapons," it is impossible for Rice to claim she had no knowledge of such a plot, considering she accompanied the President to the 2001 G-8 Summit in Genoa, where she and the Administration were explicitly warned that "Islamic terrorists might attempt to kill President Bush and other leaders by crashing an airliner" into the summit. (Center for American Progress/Buzzflash)
Rice excoriated by commission
- April 8: Condoleezza Rice testifies for almost three hours in front of the 9/11 commission and the general public. Her testimony is aired, in whole or in part, by much of the world's media. Rice insists that President Bush "understood the threat [of Islamic terrorism], and he understood its importance." She also tells the commission that "there was no silver bullet that could have prevented" the 9/11 attacks. She begins by giving examples of the numerous amount of "chatter" which flooded her desk: "Unbelievable news in coming weeks" and "Big event...there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar," among others, but says that reports of an increase in intelligence "chatter" about an impending attack in the summer of 2001 had been overstated, and weren't specific enough to warrant a response: "Troubling, yes. But they don't tell us when; they don't tell us where; they don't tell us who; and they don't tell us how."
- Rice testifies that the Bush administration had pursued a "parallel track" against terrorism before the attacks: adopting some policies that the Clinton administration imposed or considered, while developing "a new and comprehensive strategy to eliminate the al-Qaeda terrorist network" Rice says the new strategy, which called for diplomatic efforts, covert action and the preparation of military plans, was developed in the spring and summer of 2001 and approved by Bush on Sept. 4, 2001. It "was the very first major national security policy directive of the Bush administration" she says. But even if implemented on Bush's first day in office, Rice says the strategy would not have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks.
- Asked how the Bush administration's military plan differed from a similar Clinton administration strategy, Rice says the Bush version placed the threat of force within a diplomatic context, like getting Pakistan's help, that would have made force possible. Rice defends Bush when Democrats on the commission raised questions based on an August 6, 2001 classified memo, a memo she characterizes as merely "a historical document:" "It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information. It did not warn of attacks inside the United States," Rice says. "It did not in fact warn of any coming attacks inside the United States." Rice falters when commission member Richard Ben-Veniste asks her to note the title of the memo: "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States." Ben-Veniste then asks if Rice had told Bush that the FBI believed there were al-Qaeda cells inside the United States. "I really don't remember whether I discussed this with the president. I don't remember that the al-Qaeda cells were something we were told we had to do something about," she responds. "The president knew that the FBI was pursuing this issue. The president knew the director of the CIA was pursuing this issue."
- She refuses to apologize for the administration's response to the attacks, but says, "as an officer of government on duty that day, I will never forget the sorrow and the anger I felt." Thomas Kean, the commission's Republican chairman, says at hearing's end the commission has asked the White House to have to document declassified. Relatives of the victims applaud at several points when former senator Bob Kerrey and others challenge Rice's testimony. Kerrey suggests that had action been taken on an FBI memo warning that militants may have been training at US flight school, "the game would have been over." Rice disagrees. She says the FAA and FBI issued warnings based on the threats before Sept. 11, but that the warnings were not specific.
- After she is through testifying, Rice shakes hands with several relatives, telling one she was sorry for her loss.
- Rice says the president came into office determined to develop a "more robust" policy to combat al-Qaeda. She says that she and president-elect Bush received from the Clinton administration two briefings on terrorism. After becoming president, Rice says Bush's daily intelligence briefings touched on al-Qaeda at least 40 times, occasionally in response to a question he or an aide asked. "He made clear to me that he did not want to respond to al-Qaeda one attack at a time. He told me he was 'tired of swatting flies.'" But she also says, "Tragically, for all the language of war spoken before Sept. 11, this country simply was not on a war footing." Her comment about swatting flies draws a sharp response from Kerrey, a Democrat, who noted the administration made no military response to a 2000 attack on the USS Cole that took place before Bush took office. "Dr. Rice, we only swatted a fly once. ...How the hell could he (Bush) be tired?" Kerrey asks. That was a reference to a 1998 missile strike Clinton ordered against suspected terror training camps. "I think it's only a figure of speech," Rice replies, adding that Bush felt that the CIA was "going after individual terrorists."
- She later says a further "tit for tat" attack may have emboldened the perpetrators, and American interests were better served by a broader response designed to undermine al-Qaeda. Rice was emphatic on one point: that the threat of terrorism had been building for years, and the administration was only in office 233 days before al-Qaeda struck. "The terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them," she says. "For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America's response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient," Rice acknowledges. "In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States, something made difficult by structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information by our law enforcement and intelligence agencies."
- Rice's appearance turns contentious when Ben-Veniste presses her on what was known about the terrorist threat in advance of the 9/11 attacks. Under questioning, Rice acknowledges that she had spoken too broadly once when she said that no one had ever envisioned terrorists using planes and crashing them into buildings. She says that aides came to her within days and said there had been reports or memos about that possibility, but that she hadn't seen them. Pointing a finger of blame, she says that senior officials "have to depend on intelligence agencies to tell you what is relevant." She also directly challenged one of the claims made by Clarke, who said earlier that the administration had moved slowly on some of the recommendations he and others made before the attacks. "I'm now convinced that while nothing in this strategy would have done anything about 9-11, if we had in fact moved on the things that were in the original memos that we got from our counterterrorism people, we might have even gone off course," she says. Asked to rebut Clarke's claim that Bush pressed him to find an Iraq connection to the suicide hijackings, Rice says she did not recall such a discussion but that "I'm quite certain the president never pushed anybody to twist the facts." She adds, "It is not surprising that the president would say 'What about Iraq?'" But she said that when Bush's top advisers met after Sept. 11, none recommended action against Iraq before taking military action against Afghanistan.
- Commission member Jamie Gorelick hammers Rice about her failure to inform other members of the threat warnings. "secretary [Norman] Mineta, the secretary of transportation, had no idea of the threat," she says. "The administrator of the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], responsible for security on our airlines, had no idea. Yes, the attorney general was briefed, but there was no evidence of any activity by him about this." She continues, "You indicate in your statement that the FBI tasked its field offices to find out what was going on out there. We have no record of that. The Washington field office international terrorism people say they never heard about the threat, they never heard about the warnings, they were not asked to come to the table and shake those trees. SACs, special agents in charge, around the country -- Miami in particular -- had no knowledge of this." During the testimony, Carie Lemack, whose mother died in the WTC attacks, calls out, "Accountability, ma'am, accountability." Richard Clarke later compliments Rice for a "very good job" in her testimony, and challenged her on only one factual point. He said he has asked "several times" to brief Bush on terrorism, while Rice said he had not. (FDCH E-Media/Washington Post [transcript of testimony], AP/Washington Times, AP/CBS, AP/Macon Telegraph, Guardian)
- April 8: Condoleezza Rice omits the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing from a list of terrorist attacks she cites for the 9/11 commission, in an attempt to curry favor with Libya. Families of the Lockerbie victims are outraged. Dan Cohen, whose daughter Theodora died in the bombing, said Rice's omission made him feel "sick." "This was the largest terrorist attack against American citizens prior to 9/11 and they're pretending it didn't happen," says Cohen. "It's bad enough when you lose a child and then to have this whole thing swept away," he adds. Stephanie Bernstein, who lost her husband in the bombing, says it is "disgusting [and] despicable" that Rice makes no mention of the Lockerbie bombing while praising Libya for giving up its nuclear weapons programs. "I think the Bush administration has a lot to answer for," she says. Victims' families say the White House intentionally omitted Lockerbie from Rice's speech in order not to upset US-Libyan relations and detract from what the administration sees as its biggest post-Iraq foreign policy success. The White House insists that the invasion of Iraq played an important part in Libya's decision to disarm and has been steadily increasing ties with its leader, Muammar Qaddafi, once condemned by former president Ronald Reagan as the "mad dog of the Middle East." Administration officials have no immediate comment on their rationale for leaving Lockerbie out of the address.
- "Rice tells the commission, "The terrorist threat to our nation did not emerge on Sept 11, 2001. ...The attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983; the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985; the rise of al-Qaeda and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993; the attacks on American installations in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996; the East Africa embassy bombings of 1998; the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 -- these and other atrocities were part of a sustained, systematic campaign to spread devastation and chaos and to murder innocent Americans." Her only direct mention of Libya comes in the form of praise. "Because we acted in Iraq, Saddam Hussein will never again use weapons of mass destruction against his people or his neighbors. And we have convinced Libya to give up all its WMD-related programmes and materials," she says. Bernstein accuses the administration of bowing to pressure from business interests eager to return to the Libyan oil fields. "This shows that they are willing to let Qaddafi buy his way out of jail," she says. "The energy interests have really triumphed." The Bush administration has started easing some of the economic sanctions against Libya. The OPEC member produces about 1.4 million barrels of oil daily and US oil firms are eager to invest there. (Reuters/Dawn)
- April 8: Former president Bill Clinton testifies for three hours in private to the 9/11 commission. Few details of Clinton's testimony are released, but the commission characterizes him as "forthcoming and responsive to questions." Unlike George W. Bush, Clinton asks for no conditions in return for his testimony. He stays an hour longer than scheduled, and sometimes volunteers answers to questions that had not been asked. During his appearance, Clinton says "he's going back in his mind over and over again about whether there's anything else he could have done and how he might have done it," according to commission chairman Thomas Kean. "But a lot of what we talked to him about was actually the inner workings of presidency as well as many of the classified briefings we've been able to read," Kean continues. "We asked him some pretty detailed questions on those. And he was just totally frank -- totally frank, totally honest, and forthcoming." (AP/Macon Telegraph, New York Times/MakeThemAccountable)
- April 8: The 9/11 commission has identified 69 documents from the Clinton administration that have been withheld from the panel by the Bush White House. The documents appear to be critical to understanding the Clinton administration's response to al-Qaeda terrorist threats. The White House turned over 12 of the documents to the commission yesterday, officials say, but continue to refuse to hand over 57 others which were not specifically requested but "nonetheless are relevant to our work," according to a commission statement. The panel has demanded the documents and any similar ones from the Bush administration. The discovery of the documents came as a result of a staff review of about 10,800 pages of material from the Clinton archives, including about 9,000 pages that the White House had not given to the commission despite the conclusion of federal archivists that they may be relevant. The administration had not notified the panel about the records, which Clinton attorney Bruce Lindsey discovered in February. The commission says in its statement that "more than 90 percent of the material had already been produced, was irrelevant to our work, or was duplicative." The review team, including chief counsel Daniel Marcus, also concluded that "any errors in document production were inadvertent."
- But Democratic commissioner Timothy Roemer says: "We continue to have document problems with this White House. ...Access to documents is absolutely crucial for this commission to be able to do its work." Democrat Bob Kerrey adds that although the review team did not find any "blockbusters," the remaining records "could be significant" and deal with al-Qaeda, bin Laden and other terrorism-related issues. "The commission is very strongly of the view that they need to give us a yes as soon as possible, and I'm hopeful they will," Kerrey says, referring to the 57 documents still in dispute. White House spokeswoman Erin Healy says, "We are cooperating with the commission, and we will continue to cooperate." Kerrey says the panel was provided yesterday with a copy of a draft speech that Rice was scheduled to give on the day of the Sept. 11 attacks. It focused on missile defense and made little mention of terrorism. Some commissioners had complained that the document had not been turned over to the panel, and the presidential campaign of John Kerry has accused the White House of trying to "stonewall" the commission. (Washington Post)
Rice's testimony riddled with lies
- April 8: The Center for American Progress deconstructs Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission, and finds it to be a farrago of lies, misrepresentations, half-truths, and facts. Some of the highlights:
Rice's lies before the commission are truly astonishing; the fact that relatively little is made of her testimony in the mainstream media is equally astonishing. (Center for American Progress/CommonDreams)
- Rice tells the commission, "I do not remember any reports to us, a kind of strategic warning, that planes might be used as weapons." In fact, Rice was the top National Security official with President Bush at the July 2001 G-8 summit in Genoa. There, US officials were warned that Islamic terrorists might attempt to crash an airliner into the summit, prompting officials to close the airspace over Genoa and station antiaircraft guns at the city's airport.
- Rice says, "I was certainly not aware of [intelligence reports about planes as missiles] at the time that I spoke" in 2002. In reality, while Rice may not have been aware of the 12 separate and explicit warnings about terrorists using planes as weapons when she made her denial in 2002, she did know about them when she wrote her March 22, 2004 Washington Post op-ed. In that piece, she once again repeated the claim there was no indication "that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles."
- Rice says that there was "nothing about the threat of attack in the US" in the Presidential Daily Briefing the President received on August 6th. Unfortunately for her assertions, Rice herself confirmed that "the title [of the PDB] was, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'"
- Rice says, "One of the problems was there was really nothing that looked like was going to happen inside the United States. ...Almost all of the reports focused on al-Qaeda activities outside the United States, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.... We did not have...threat information that was in any way specific enough to suggest something was coming in the United States." However, page 204 of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11 noted that "In May 2001, the intelligence community obtained a report that Bin Laden supporters were planning to infiltrate the United States" to "carry out a terrorist operation using high explosives." The report "was included in an intelligence report for senior government officials in August ." In the same month, the Pentagon "acquired and shared with other elements of the Intelligence Community information suggesting that seven persons associated with Bin Laden had departed various locations for Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States."
- Rice tells the commission, "If we had known an attack was coming against the United States...we would have moved heaven and earth to stop it." However, in another part of her testimony, she contradicts herself and admits she was told that "an attack was coming." She says, "Let me read you some of the actual chatter that was picked up in that spring and summer: Unbelievable news coming in weeks, said one. Big event -- there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar. There will be attacks in the near future."
- Rice says, "The Vice President was, a little later in, I think, in May , tasked by the President to put together a group to look at all of the recommendations that had been made about domestic preparedness and all of the questions associated with that." In fact, Cheney's task force never once convened a meeting. In the same time period, the Vice President convened at least 10 meetings of his energy task force, and six meetings with Enron executives.
- Rice says, "The CSG (Counterterrorism Security Group) was made up of not junior people, but the top level of counterterrorism experts. Now, they were in contact with their principals." However, commisioner Jamie Gorelick responds, "Many of the other people at the CSG-level, and the people who were brought to the table from the domestic agencies, were not telling their principals. Secretary Mineta, the secretary of transportation, had no idea of the threat. The administrator of the FAA, responsible for security on our airlines, had no idea."
- Rice says, "The decision that we made was to, first of all, have no drop-off in what the Clinton administration was doing, because clearly they had done a lot of work to deal with this very important priority." In fact, internal government documents show that while the Clinton Administration officially prioritized counterterrorism as a "Tier One" priority, when the Bush Administration took office, top officials downgraded counterterrorism. As the Washington Post reported, these documents show that before Sept. 11 the Bush Administration "did not give terrorism top billing." Rice admitted that "we decided to take a different track" than the Clinton Administration in protecting America.
- Rice says that the Bush Administration has been committed to the "transformation of the FBI into an agency dedicated to fighting terror." However, before 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft de-emphasized counterterrorism at the FBI, in favor of more traditional law enforcement. And according to the Washington Post, "in the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows." And according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service, "numerous confidential law enforcement and intelligence sources who challenge the FBI's claim that it has successfully retooled itself to gather critical intelligence on terrorists as well as fight crime."
- Rice says, "The FBI issued at least three nationwide warnings to federal, state and law enforcement agencies and specifically stated that, although the vast majority of the information indicated overseas targets, attacks against the homeland could not be ruled out. The FBI tasked all 56 of its U.S. field offices to increase surveillance of known suspects of terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities." Commissioner Gorelick responds that the warnings are "feckless. They don't tell anybody anything. They don't bring anyone to battle stations."
- Rice says, "I think that having a Homeland Security Department that can bring together the FAA and the INS and Customs and all of the various agencies is a very important step." She doesn't mention that the Bush administration vehemently opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Its opposition to the concept delayed the creation of the department by months.
- Rice says, "We have created a threat terrorism information center, the TTIC, which does bring together all of the sources of information from all of the intelligence agencies -- the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and the INS and the CIA and the DIA -- so that there's one place where all of this is coming together." However, according to the National Journal, informed sources complain that the president's new Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which reports to CIA Director George Tenet rather than to Ridge, has created more of a moat than a bridge. The ability to spot the nation's weakest points was going to make Homeland Security different, says one person involved in the decision to set up TTIC. But now, the person said, "that whole effort has been gutted by the White House creation of TTIC, [which] has served little more than to give the appearance of progress."
- Rice says, "There was a discussion of Iraq. I think it was raised by Don Rumsfeld. It was pressed a bit by Paul Wolfowitz." Rice's statement confirms previous proof that the Administration was focusing on Iraq immediately after 9/11, despite having no proof that Iraq was involved in the attack. Rice's statement also contradicts her previous denials in which she claimed "Iraq was to the side" immediately after 9/11. She makes this denial despite Bush's signing "a 2-and-a-half-page document marked 'TOP SECRET'" six days after 9/11 that "directed the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq," according to the Washington Post.
- Rice asks, "Given that this was a global war on terror, should we look not just at Afghanistan but should we look at doing something against Iraq?" Unfortunately, the administration has not produced one shred of evidence that Iraq had an operational relationship with al-Qaeda, or that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks on America. In fact, a US Army War College report said that the war in Iraq has been a diversion that has drained key resources from the more imminent war on terror. Just this week, USA Today reported that "in 2002, troops from the 5th Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq." Senator Bob Graham confirmed this, noting in February of 2002, a senior military commander told him "We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq."
- Rice says that after 9/11, "the President put states on notice if they were sponsoring terrorists." In reality, Bush continues to say Saudi Arabia is "our friend" despite overwhelming evidence of their ties to terrorists, including al-Qaeda and the group who carried out the bombings. The 27 classified pages of a congressional report about Sept. 11 depict a Saudi government that not only provided significant money and aid to the suicide hijackers but also allowed potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to flow to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups through suspect charities and other fronts, wrote the Los Angeles Times. Just this week, Newsweek reported "within weeks of the September 11 terror attacks, security officers at the Fleet National Bank in Boston had identified 'suspicious' wire transfers from the Saudi Embassy in Washington that eventually led to the discovery of an active al-Qaeda 'sleeper cell' that may have been planning follow-up attacks inside the United States."
- April 8: Mounir el Motassadeq, the only suspect to be convicted on charges related to the 9/11 attacks, was freed from a German jail today. His conviction was overturned by a German court; he awaits retrial on charges of aiding the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell that included three of the suicide pilots. (Sydney Morning Herald)
- April 8: Journalist Howard Fineman, who has often been very supportive of the Bush administration, asks if Condoleezza Rice understands her duties as National Security Director. He writes, "A self-proclaimed expert at understanding 'structural' change in large institutions, Rice wasn't aware -- may still not be aware -- that the nature of her job had changed by the time she took over as national security adviser in January 2001. Reared in the Cold War era, she saw herself following in the footsteps of Henry Kissinger. 'National security' was largely a matter of global state-to-state diplomacy. In fact, as her predecessor in effect warned her when he was turning over the keys, the model was no longer so much Kissinger as it was, say, Elliott Ness or J. Edgar Hoover. If, as she said, we had been at war with terrorism for 20 years; if, as she said, the terrorists are determined to attack America, then the NSC chief has to be a ruthless hunter for clues around the world -- and on American soil. Asked at the hearing why she hadn't pressed the FBI more closely about what it knew, or didn't know, about domestic terrorist threats, she acted as though the question was an odd one: It wasn't her job. Well, in retrospect, it was and now certainly is."
- Fineman continues, "Rice identified the chief 'structural' problem -- that the CIA and FBI don't share information -- in a speech she gave in October 2000. She even said that the problem could result in a disastrous domestic terrorist attack. And yet, based on her own testimony, she did little or nothing before 9/11 to break down those walls. The student of bureaucratic change didn't really attempt to foment any, at least not with the kind of urgency we know she needed to have. Rice, in the end, is just a cog in a machine. The real political question is: How did her testimony enrich the narrative of what the president did -- or didn't -- know and do about terrorism before 9/11? In an interview with Bob Woodward, Bush admitted two years ago that he didn't have a sense of 'urgency' about al-Qaeda. He said he wasn't 'on point' -- wasn't locked on a target in hunting dog fashion. That admission caused few ripples when it was published. But now voters may revisit the remark. Why? Because it's now clear that the president may have had urgent reason to be 'on point.' Rice was told about al-Qaeda cells by Richard Clarke in February of 2001. When, if ever, did she tell the president about them? The president was given the now-famous PDB of Aug. 6, 2001, which suggested not only that Osama bin Laden was 'determined' to attack inside the United States, but that the FBI had picked up a pattern that suggested the possibility of hijackings here. Did Bush follow up with the FBI? What did he do in the days immediately after getting that PDB? Rice may insist that it wasn't a 'warning,' but we'll see soon enough when it's released to the public, as it almost surely will be in the days ahead."
- Fineman concludes, "Remember the picture of the president in the classroom being told by Andy Card of the attack? The American people thought they were seeing a man suddenly thrust into a grave challenge no one could have anticipated. That won him enormous sympathy and patience from the voters. But what if he was literally on vacation -- at the ranch in Crawford -- when he should have been making sure that someone was ringing alarm bells throughout the bureaucracy? Already on the defensive for his leadership in the post 9/11 world -- the war in Iraq grows less popular by the day -- Bush now finds himself with questions to answer about his pre-9/11 leadership. He says he's running for re-election as a 'war president.' But by Rice's own standards, the war was well under way by the time he took office. He was a 'war president' the moment he took the oath. But did he act like one? The election may hinge on the answer." (MSNBC)
- April 8: Slate's Fred Kaplan says that the testimony of Condoleezza Rice before the 9/11 commission proves that she is a "lousy" national security advisor. "She has been a bad national security adviser," he writes, "passive, sluggish, and either unable or unwilling to tie the loose strands of the bureaucracy into a sensible vision or policy. In short, she has not done what national security advisers are supposed to do." He continues, "The key moment came an hour into the hearing, when former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste took his turn at asking questions. Up to this point, Rice had argued that the Bush administration could not have done much to stop the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Yes, the CIA's sirens were sounding all summer of an impending strike by al-Qaida, but the warnings were of an attack overseas. Ben-Veniste brought up the much-discussed PDB -- the president's daily briefing by CIA Director George Tenet -- of Aug. 6, 2001. For the first time, he revealed the title of that briefing: 'Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US.' Rice insisted this title meant nothing. The document consisted of merely 'historical information' about al-Qaeda -- various plans and attacks of the past. 'This was not a "threat report,"' she said. It 'did not warn of any coming attack inside the United States.' Later in the hearing, she restated the point: 'The PDB does not say the United States is going to be attacked. It says Bin Laden would like to attack the United States.' To call this distinction 'academic' would be an insult to academia."
- Her statements that the information she received was "frustratingly vague" is ridiculous: "Given that Richard Clarke, the president's counterterrorism chief, was telling her over and over that a domestic attack was likely, she should not have dismissed its possibility. Now that we know the title of the Aug. 6 PDB, we can go further and conclude that she should have taken this possibility very, very seriously. Putting together the facts may not have been as simple as adding 2 + 2, but it couldn't have been more complicated than 2 + 2 + 2."
- Kaplan continues, "Ben-Veniste urged Rice to get [the PDB] declassified, saying the full document would reveal that even the premise of her analysis is flawed. The report apparently mentions not historical but 'ongoing' FBI precautions. Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey added that the PDB also reports that the FBI was detecting a 'pattern of activity, inside the United States, consistent with hijacking.' Responding to Ben-Veniste, Rice acknowledged that Clarke had told her that al-Qaeda had 'sleeper cells' inside the Untied States. But, she added, 'There was no recommendation that we do anything' about them. She gave the same answer when former Navy Secretary John Lehman, a Republican and outspoken Bush defender, restated the question about sleeper cells. There was, Rice said, 'no recommendation of what to do about it.' She added that she saw 'no indication that the FBI was not adequately pursuing' these cells. Here Rice revealed, if unwittingly, the roots -- or at least some roots —- of failure. Why did she need a recommendation to do something? Couldn't she make recommendations herself? Wasn't that her job? Given the huge spike of traffic about a possible attack (several officials have used the phrase 'hair on fire' to describe the demeanor of those issuing the warnings), should she have been satisfied with the lack of any sign that the FBI wasn't tracking down the cells? Shouldn't she have asked for positive evidence that it was tracking them down? Former Democratic Representative Tim Roemer posed the question directly: Wasn't it your responsibility to make sure that the word went down the chain, that orders were followed up by action? Just as the Bush administration has declined to admit any mistakes, Condi Rice declined to take any responsibility. No, she answered, the FBI had that responsibility. Crisis management? That was Dick Clarke's job. '[If] I needed to do anything,' she said, 'I would have been asked to do it. I was not asked to do it.'
- "Jamie Gorelick, a former assistant attorney general (and thus someone who knows the ways of the FBI), drove the point home. The commission's staff has learned, she told Rice, that the high-level intelligence warnings were not sent down the chain of command. The secretary of transportation had no idea about the threat-chatter nor did anyone at the Federal Aviation Administration. FBI field offices and special agents also heard nothing about it. Yes, FBI headquarters sent out a few messages, but have you seen them? Gorelick asked. 'They are feckless,' she went on. 'They don't tell anybody anything. They don't put anybody at battle stations.' Bob Kerrey was blunter still. 'One of the first things I learned when I came into this town,' he said, 'was that CIA and FBI don't talk to each other.' It has long been reported that regional agents deep inside the FBI wrote reports about strange Arabs taking flight lessons and that analysts inside the CIA were reporting that Arab terrorists might be inside the United States. If both pieces of information were forced up to the tops of their respective bureaucracies, couldn't someone have put them together? 'All it had to do was be put on intel links and the game's over,' Kerrey said, perhaps a bit dramatically, the conspiracy 'would have been rolled up.' This was one of Clarke's most compelling points. In his book, testimony, and several TV interviews, Clarke has argued that the Clinton administration thwarted al-Qaeda's plot to set off bombs at Los Angeles airport on the eve of the millennium because intelligence reports of an impending terrorist attack were discussed at several meetings of Cabinet secretaries. Knowing they'd have to come back and tell the president what they were doing to prevent an attack, these officials went back to their departments and 'shook the trees' for information.
- "When Bush came to power, Rice retained Clarke and his counterterrorism crew, but she demoted their standing; terrorism was now discussed (and, even then, rarely) at meetings of deputy secretaries, who lacked the same clout and didn't feel the same pressure. Rice's central point this morning, especially in her opening statement, was that nobody could have stopped the 9/11 attacks. The problem, she argued, was cultural (a democratic aversion to domestic intelligence gathering) and structural (the bureaucratic schisms between the FBI and the CIA, among others). But this is the analysis of a political scientist, not a policymaker. Culture and bureaucracies form the backdrop against which officials perceive threats, devise options, and make choices. It is good that Rice, a political scientist by training, recognized that this backdrop can place blinders and constraints on decision-makers. But her job as a high-ranking decision-maker is to strip away the blinders and maneuver around the constraints. This is especially so given that she is the one decision-maker who is supposed to coordinate the views of the various agencies and present them as a coherent picture to the president of the United States. Her testimony today provides disturbing evidence that she failed at this task —- failed even to understand that it was part of her job description." (Slate)
August 6 PBD to be declassified
- April 9: The Bush administration says it will declassify the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." In her testimony to the 9/11 commission, Condoleezza Rice said, despite the title of the memo, the document wasn't a warning and didn't include any specific information about a possible attack. Even so, Bush critics contend that the briefing should have served as a call to action for federal officials. No word was given as to when the memo would be declassified, and if parts of it would be censored. "We're working to declassify it. It's just the bureaucratic wheels turning," White House spokesman Trent Duffy says. In 2002, White House officials refused to give the paper to a joint congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks, citing the need to protect intelligence assets. "It comes from the most sensitive sources and methods that we have as a government," Vice President Dick Cheney said at the time. "It's the family jewels, from that perspective." Commission members who've read the paper have given conflicting assessments of its significance. Some agree with Rice's characterization that it's little more than a compilation of past al-Qaeda activities, with no useful information about impending threats. Others say it shows that Bush and his advisers overlooked clear warning signs about possible terrorist attacks. "As of the August 6th briefing, you learned that al-Qarda members have resided or traveled to the United States for years and maintained a support system in the United States," commission member Richard Ben-Veniste told Rice. "The FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that preparations...were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States."
- Other sources report that the memo contains specific warnings and details of al-Qaeda's plans to attack the US, beginning in 1997 and continuing through the spring of 2001. The same month as that briefing of Bush, US intelligence officials received two uncorroborated reports suggesting terrorists might use airplanes, including one that suggested al-Qaeda operatives were considering flying a plane into a US embassy, according to current and former government officials. These August 2001 reports weren't deemed credible enough to tell the president or his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the officials say. Neither involved the eventual Sept. 11 plot. The sources say the presidential memo includes a series of bullet items that brought Bush through a history of intelligence that cites al-Qaeda's interest in hijacking planes to win the release of Islamic extremists who had been arrested in 1998 and 1999 as well as the trips of suspected al-Qarda operatives, including some US citizens, in and out of the United States. It suggested al-Qaeda might have a support system in place on US soil. The document also included FBI analytical judgments that some al-Qaeda activities were consistent with preparation for airline hijackings or other types of attacks, some members of the commission looking into the Sept. 11 attacks said earlier this week. The second-to-last bullet tells Bush that there were numerous -- at least 70 -- terror-related investigations under way by the FBI in 2001 involving matters or people on US soil. And the final bullet informs the president of a recent intelligence report indicating al-Qaeda operatives were trying to get inside the United States to carry out an attack with explosives. There are no specifics about the timing or target.
- The sources say the briefing memo did not provide the exact date of that intelligence but made clear it was in the 2001 time frame, and that FBI and other agencies were investigating it. The information had been provided to intelligence and law enforcement agencies well before Bush's briefing. They say that the final bullet in the presidential memo is based on an intelligence report received in May 2001 that indicated bin Laden operatives were trying to cross from Canada into the United States for an attack. Although the memo cites numerous intelligence reports that al-Qaeda operatives were planning on hijacking airplanes for strikes against various US targets, including specific threats against the US embassy in Nairobi, Rice stated emphatically on Thursday she did not see any such reports about al-Qaeda using a plane as a weapon until after Sept. 11, and suggested the intelligence may have reached someone lower in the White House. "To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Chairman, this kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us," she said. "I cannot tell you that there might not have been a report here or a report there that reached somebody in our midst." (AP/Miami Herald, AP/Kansas City Star)
- April 9: The 9/11 commission's final report is expected to highlight one of the biggest blunders that allowed the attacks to take place: the CIA's failure to warn the FBI that two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who were two of the men who took control of Flight 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon, to operate freely within the United States. The two terrorists, who had attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in early 2000 and had been watched by the CIA since that time, entered the US in February 2000 and lived more or less openly in San Diego until the hijackings. The CIA had enough information on the two to have the FBI add them to its official "watch list," which would have denied them entry into the US, but failed to notify the FBI of its information on either al-Mihdar or al-Hamzi. Journalist David Corn writes that, after they entered San Diego, "They rented a place and obtained driver's licenses using their own names. They took flight lessons. In July 2000, al-Hazmi applied for a visa extension. In December, he moved to Arizona with another 9/11 hijacker. And at some point, al-Hazmi's brother came to the United States. He, too, would become one of the 9/11 hijackers. Because the CIA failed to tell the FBI -- until August 23, 2001 -- that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdar were in the United States, the FBI never went looking for them. Had the FBI been searching for them, it well could have found them. The two had had numerous contacts with a longtime FBI informant in San Diego. The FBI agent who handled this informant told the intelligence committees, 'I'm sure we could have located them, and we could have done it within a few days.' Unfortunately, the CIA was 17 months late in passing information on the pair to the FBI, and then FBI headquarters did not disseminate it to the FBI office in San Diego until after September 11. All this means that the CIA had a bead on two of the hijackers, who could have led the feds to others, and it did virtually nothing. If I were a 9/11 victim's family member, this would keep me up at night and crying during the day."
- Corn continues, "Why would a high-profile examination of the al-Hazmi and al-Mihdar case be bad news for Bush? There are two reasons. First, Bush seems to have done nothing in response to this awful mistake. He has defended the pre-9/11 performance of the CIA. He has not publicly demanded accountability or explanations. Apparently, no one has lost his or her job for these mistakes. Second, if it were more widely known that the U.S. government had been this close to al-Hazmi and al-Mihdar, Bush's lack of urgency would look worse and perhaps downright negligent. Some Bush defenders have argued that a more vigorous Bush policy pre-9/11 would not have made a difference. The 9/11 plot had been put into motion long before Bush hit 1600 Pennsylvania, and a new push against al-Qaeda and bin Laden -- even the assassination of bin Laden -- might not have stopped the action. But there's a counterargument: If Bush and his aides had considered al-Qaeda an urgent matter, they might have responded to the increased warnings that came in during the summer of 2001 by going ballistic and demanding that government agencies double-check and triple-check all the information they had on al-Qaeda operatives. Had Bush and Rice sounded a call to arms, would midlevel officials have connected the dots on al-Hazmi and al-Mihdar? Would they have paid more attention to other telltale signs in their possession, such as the infamous Phoenix memo, which was sent by an FBI agent in July 2001 to the bin Laden unit at headquarters and which reported that suspected extremists linked to bin Laden were taking flight instruction in Arizona?
- "Bush and Rice are lucky such questions are unanswerable. Their line has always been, there was nothing we could have done. Just days ago, Bush adviser Karen Hughes said, 'I just don't think, based on everything I know, and I was there, that there was anything that anyone in government could have done to have put together the pieces before the horror of that day.' The case of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdar proves her wrong. With this foul-up in mind, the congressional intelligence committees concluded, 'The intelligence community failed to capitalize on both the individual and collective significance of available information.... As a result, the community missed opportunities to disrupt the September 11 plot.' The Bush crew refuses to acknowledge that mistakes were made. It's as if al-Hazmi and al-Mihdar never existed. ...September 11 family members -- and citizens who care about truth, history and government accountability -- can only hope the 9/11 commission exposes not only what went wrong but Bush's less-than-urgent attitude toward the blunders that enabled bin Laden to succeed."
- Privately, CIA director George Tenet believes that the FBI dropped the ball big time on al-Hamzi and al-Mihdar. Had the agency run a simple credit check on the two, the FBI would have found that the two had purchased ten tickets for early morning flights for groups of other Middle Eastern men for September 11. That, he believes, was knowledge that might have stopped the attacks. (Los Angeles Weekly, Bob Woodward)
- It is possible that al-Hazmi and other hijackers were never correctly identified by the FBI. Al-Hazmi apparently checked into a Maryland hotel before the hijackings using a New York State drivers license and a Manhattan address, but the address turns out to be a hotel which has no record of al-Hazmi ever staying there. And hijacker Waleed al-Shehri, supposedly aboard Flight 11, was identified as the son of a Saudi diplomat, but according to the diplomat, his son is still alive and working as a pilot for Saudi Arabian Airlines. Saudi newspapers also report that at least four of the hijackers were identified through their passports, but those passports were reported stolen by their owners, including a Saudi attending college in Colorado, Abdul Aziz Alomari, who reported his passport stolen in 1995. Hijacker Saeed Alghamdi, aboard Flight 93, was apparently using a Social Security number of a Vermont woman dead since 1965; the identification is made more difficult since that particular name is a common one among Saudis. At least four men using the same name are recorded as taking flight training in Florida. And at least six of the hijackers used identity cards belonging to other people. Although the FBI and various police departments have recordings and documents detailing the lengths that al-Qaeda terrorists have gone to obtain and use falsified identification documents, the 9/11 commission report says nothing about the possibility that one or more of the hijackers may have been falsely identified. (Seymour Hersh)
- April 9: Former vice president Al Gore meets with the 9/11 commission for private testimony. The commission says in a statement that Gore "was candid and forthcoming." "He answered all our questions," says Republican commissioner James Thompson. "We talked a lot about airline safety and security, the Cole, and the Clinton White House attitude toward terrorism." Thompson declines to give specifics. The panel is arranging a joint private meeting with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. None of the meetings are under oath and all are likely to remain secret. (Washington Post, AP/Boston Herald)
- April 9: Far from contradicting his testimony before the commission, Richard Clarke says that Condoleezza Rice's testimony bolsters his statements. He says, "...I was asked by Senator Gorton if the adoption of the strategy in February, as opposed to September, would have stopped 9/11, and I said no. And Dr. Rice said no. I think we agree on that. The adoption of the strategy would not have stopped 9/11. What I've said might have had some effect on 9/11 would have been if Dr. Rice and the president had acted personally, gotten involved, shaken the trees, gotten the Cabinet members involved when they had ample warning in June and July and August that something was about to happen. And frankly, I think that Dr. Rice's testimony today, and she did a very good job, basically corroborates what I said. She said that the president received 40 warnings face to face from the director of central intelligence that a major al-Qaeda attack was going to take place and she admitted that the president did not have a meeting on the subject, did not convene the Cabinet.
She admitted that she didn't convene the Cabinet. And as some of the commissioners pointed out, this was in marked contrast to the way the government operated in December of 1999, when it had similar information and it successfully thwarted attacks. So I don't see that there are a lot of factual problems with what Dr. Rice said. There are one or two other minor points here or there that I think are probably wrong, but overall I think she corroborated what I said. She said it was inefficient to bring the Cabinet members together to have them work to stop the attacks that they had been informed were coming."
- He disagrees with Rice's conclusions that structural differences between the FBI and CIA were critical in preventing information from being shared with senior Bush officials: "We had meetings that I chaired two and three times a week where FBI and the CIA shared information. My deputy had a daily meeting where that took place. The problem was that there was information buried in FBI and the CIA that wasn't shaken out. And by having the Cabinet members come to the White House every day in crisis mode and then go back to their departments and look for anything that is anywhere in the departments in December 1999, we were able to get the kind of information we needed to stop the attacks. You know, there may be structural problems within those agencies, but the way you overcome them in a crisis mode is by having the leaders of the agencies get together in the White House as a team in crisis mode. And Dr. Rice admits she didn't do it. Dr. Rice admits she didn't do it. "
- About the memos Clarke sent to Rice and other senior officials, and her claim that Clarke didn't try very hard to warn either herself, Bush, or other officials, Clarke says, "First of all, the document I sent to her on Jan. 25, days after the administration started, the documents ought to be declassified and people can decide for themselves. That memorandum on Jan. 25 said I urgently need a meeting with the Cabinet to approve these plans, these strategies. We can get into semantical distinctions as to whether it was a plan or strategy or a series of decisions that had to be made, but on Jan. 25, I was saying we have a strategy, it needs these additional elements, the president has to make decisions about that so we can go forward. And I think what you'll see if it's declassified and you compare it to where they came out on Sept. 4 is basically on Sept. 4, they adopted what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted. Now, on the issue of whether or not I asked for a meeting with the president, I did. I asked for a meeting with the president several times beginning, in fact, before Dr. Rice even took office in the transition briefing. I said I have given this briefing to the vice president, I've given it to the secretary of state, I've given it now to you, I would like to give it to the president. And what I was told was I could brief the president on terrorism after the policy development process had been completed." Later Clarke did get to meet with Bush, but did not discuss his fears about an al-Qaeda attack. He says of that meeting, "I had been told by Dr. Rice and her deputy that this was a briefing on countering the cyber threats and not on al-Qaeda and that I would have my opportunity on al-Qaeda if I just held on, eventually they would get to it, probably in September." (ABC)
- April 9: FBI agent Coleen Rowley and former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds both state firmly that the FBI and the Bush administration ignored critical warnings that could have helped prevent the 9/11 attacks. Rowley, despite the fact that she is under "whistleblower" protection, is forbidden to discuss much with the media, but still says that, in regard to the number of urgent memos she forwarded to the FBI's central office warning of terrorist activities in the weeks and months before 9/11, "you will see a remarkable denial on the part of the mid-level management people at headquarters that any al-Qaeda operative could exist -- be existing here in the United States. Of course, the comments that were made which I'm aware of do not display that there was any urgency on the part of these people to react to news that was being generated from the field offices. ...[W]hat I'm talking about is any special urgency, especially during the summer of 2001 which would have made people, especially the mid-level management people, more aware of information, little pieces of information that were generated to them. And again, if you read -- reread the letter and the fact that the Phoenix Memo and the information that came in from our office and other offices simply was not acted on...."
- Edmonds says, "I would like to point out the one correction that Ms. Rice made during this hearing. Two weeks ago, I said -- I made a statement saying that Ms. Rice has a statement that 'we did not have any specific information' was an outrageous lie. Ms. Rice corrected herself yesterday by saying, 'I should have said, I personally was not aware rather than we.' I think that's a very important piece that not many people have picked up on and who else is left after she herself removes herself from this statement? Who is she referring to when she says we? Now it's that 'I am not' and 'I was not aware' of this specific information. And so, that was not answered. And there was no question basically following up on that, and then another thing that she referred about breaking down the walls between counterterrorism, counterintelligence and criminal investigations and she's not mentioning the walls that the administration -- these people themselves create. And what has been glossed over so far under the name of diplomatic relations. And how many investigations were not pursued, despite the warnings, just due to the diplomatic relations that they are referring to. That leaves me very skeptical and I don't know who is going to answer these questions."
- Rowley is asked about the FBI's investigation into Zacarias Moussaoui, who is accused of being part of the hijacking plot. She says, "Of course these were agents in my office doing the investigations, not me personally. But one of our agents actually spoke with [an FBI supervisor] at Headquarters and suggested that this would be a type of a person who could fly a plane into the World Trade Center. At that time it was met with the remark, something like, 'that ain't going to happen.' Which again just displays the lack of understanding on the part of the people at Headquarters."
- Former CIA and State Department analyst Mel Goodman, also included in the Democracy Now interview, says of the August 6 memo, "Well, it was clearly a review document, but it had current emphasis and current interest. The title of the piece, as you said earlier, was 'bin Laden determined to strike inside the United States.' This in itself should have attracted a good deal of attention. And then it went into FBI reporting which was very sensitive at the time. Noting that there were increased indicators of hijackings that could take place in the United States, again inside the United States. And that there were increased indicators of infiltration from Canada, of al-Qaeda terrorists, with explosives. Now, the last time I looked, Canada was on the United States' border. So, I don't know how Condi Rice cannot see the sensitivity of such reporting. And let me add one thing about the job of the National Security Advisor. The National Security Advisor was created to do two things above all else: one, to make sure that all relevant information and options got in front of the President, which she clearly didn't do with regard to al-Qaeda cells operating in the United States. And two, to make sure that if the President wants something done, that it's indeed carried out. That's the vetting job that she has. She said several times during the testimony that the assumption was, there was an FBI director and he carried out the jobs given to the FBI, so on and so forth. But we know now that there was a lot that wasn't done at the FBI. We know that the Transportation Secretary Mineta did not even know about the increased urgency. We know that the FAA didn't get reporting, and there was no oversight responsibility by the National Security Advisor. So, on that level, she wasn't doing her job."
- Rowley concludes, "I think there's a misunderstanding that you have to have a 'silver bullet' to prevent things like this, and just as a series of mistakes can lead to a tragedy, and it's not just one thing, it can be a multitude of things, it's also a multitude of things that can lead to prevention, and in many cases a tragedy might be diminished simply because of luck, a little bit of luck along with other things. If we're to have this attitude that we have to have a 'silver bullet' to prevent things, we will really be in sorry shape in the future." (Democracy Now)
- April 9: Many members of 9/11 victims' families who were present for Condoleezza Rice's testimony were not impressed with what they heard. Rosemary Dillard, who was consoled for the loss of her son by Rice after the testimony, says, "Now it's even more confused than it was before." Patricia Casazza, who lost her husband, was unmoved by Rice's performance. "Clearly she was not aware of a lot," Casazza says, pointing out that FBI agents knew Islamic radicals were taking flight training, but the Bush administration never connected the dots. "It wouldn't have taken much to stand up before the American people and give a heads-up to what was possible." Robert McIlvaine, who lost his son, says, "It's all about my son. It's about why he died and we're not getting any damn answers." Of Rice's three hours in the hot seat, McIlvaine says, "They had her as a filibuster. I'm just angry." McIlvaine continues, "No one wants to take any responsibility. Three thousand people died, and all they want to talk about is structural problems. ...They should be ashamed of themselves."
- "I am angry at the lack of accepting accountability -- that's what the president should have done, accepted responsibility," says Beverly Eckert, whose husband died at the World Trade Center. "Instead, it's been outwardly directed, not just at the terrorists but at previous administrations." Casazza adds, "I think it made her look incompetent in her position." Carie Lemack, whose mother died in the attack on the World Trade Center, says that Rice should have admitted errors were made. "We did not hear that today. I'm hoping we are going to hear that because it is clear that 3,000 people don't just get murdered. There were mistakes made and we need to fix them to make sure Americans are safer. ...We're glad that she came forward and spoke. We're glad that it was in public, under oath, and we were able to get that information. But there is a lot more truth to be told." Debra Burlingame, whose husband was the pilot aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, gives Rice more credence: "The fact is, it wasn't our government who killed my brother and 3,000 people," she says. "It was 19 hijackers and their sponsors.... We have new enemies we face. Those are the guys I want to get in the name of my brother." Burlingame says she believes the US did all it could to prevent the attacks. She has little use for Richard Clarke's testimony, and less for his apology: "I felt that Dick Clarke's apology was theatrical and false. Nevertheless, it brought tears to my eyes. The fact that it brought tears to my eyes made me even more contemptuous of him."
- "I had a lot of questions when I came down here," Helga Gerhardt, who lost her son in the WTC, said. "Mr. Ben-Veniste and Mr. Roemer asked all my questions." But Rice "didn't answer all my questions." Her other son Stephen adds, "If she had filibustered less, it would have looked better." (Washington Post, Reuters/ABC)
- April 9: Veteran political columnist E.J. Dionne writes that, after Rice's testimony, the 9/11 commission is leaning ever closer to concluding that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented had the FBI, the CIA, and the Bush administration acted on the information in its possession. Dionne writes, "Until now, the conventional wisdom held that the Sept. 11 assault was not a foreseeable event and that it would be wrong to hold the administration accountable for failing to stop it. Rice expressed this view when she said: 'The United States was effectively blind to what was about to happen to it.' But one Democratic commissioner after another insisted the United States was not blind at all. As early as July, said former senator Robert Kerrey, information was available suggesting that potential terrorists were taking lessons at flight schools. If the FBI had acted on this information, Kerrey said, 'this conspiracy would have been rolled up.' Rice regularly referred to mid-level meetings held on terrorism in the White House, but this did not satisfy Kerrey. 'You've got to follow up,' Kerrey said. 'What was your follow-up?' Kerrey concluded that Rice and others in the Bush administration would have more credibility if they simply admitted having 'screwed up.' 'The FBI is the key here,' said Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. 'Nothing went down the chain to the FBI field offices.' Again and again, the Democratic commissioners asked why Bush did not call high-level meetings in the summer of 2001 on the immediate al-Qaeda threat and why he did not push his Cabinet officials to act more aggressively and in tandem, given clear warnings. 'You get a greater degree of intensity,' said Jamie Gorelick, who served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, 'when it comes from the top.' Richard Ben-Veniste, another Democratic commissioner, asked Rice directly: 'Did you tell the president, at any time prior to August 6th, of the existence of al-Qaeda cells in the United States?' Rice said she didn't remember."
- Dionne also notes that the Bush administration's reluctance to declassify the August 6 PDB leads one to conclude that the White House does not want the country to know what the president knew 36 days before the attacks. Tom Kean, the commission chairman says that the memo contains nothing that would compromise US intelligence.
- Dionne concludes, "Rice's testimony and the commissioners' comments guarantee that a new debate will be joined in this election year. Even Republican commissioners, notably Fred Fielding, expressed concern over the lack of coordination among federal agencies before Sept. 11. Democrats will focus on specific failures by Bush and administration officials. Republicans will join Rice in arguing that the problems owed to 'structural and legal impediments' that prevented cooperation among agencies, particularly the FBI and the CIA. This large argument will be settled in part by the details. There is, for example, a clear discrepancy between Rice's claim that the FBI's field offices were pressed to investigate an impending threat from al-Qaeda and the insistence by FBI officials that they received no such guidance. Such conflicts over the facts keep debates going -- and news stories alive. The political stakes for the commission were made clear when Mitch McConnell took the Senate floor to express his fear that 'the commission has become a political casualty of the electoral hunting season.' Liberal interest groups, he said, had 'exploited this commission for political gain.' The Kentucky Republican is a tough, shrewd partisan and his attack signaled GOP fears: The very questions that the Bush administration did not want asked about its stewardship on the terror issue before Sept. 11 are now plainly before the public. The degree to which Republicans are worried over what the commission will conclude can be measured with some precision. The more Republicans pick up McConnell's line of attack, the more certain you can be that the administration has something to worry about." (Working for Change)
- April 9: Liberal political commentator Joe Conason calls Condoleezza Rice "the Artful Dodger" for her evasive answers to the 9/11 commission. He writes, "The public testimony of Condoleezza Rice before the 9/11 commission had a strategy and a structure, to use terms that she favors. The obvious strategy was to swathe every answer to a challenging question from the commissioners in 'context' that did more to obfuscate than clarify. The underlying structure of her statements shifted responsibility away from the Bush White House, in any direction possible: toward previous administrations, the FBI, the CIA and, as subtly as possible, toward former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke. Rice was nothing if not repetitive in her response to the main issue before the commission and the country. Like the president himself, she assured us again and again that if only al-Qaeda had revealed the date, timing, location and methods to be used in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the White House would surely have done everything in its power to thwart the threat. That, of course, is the answer to a question nobody has bothered to ask. The pertinent question is not whether the president would have tried to stop an attack whose details were thoughtfully placed under his nose. The real question is whether the Bush administration paid sufficient attention to the stream of warnings it received about al-Qaeda, or whether, due to its preoccupation with Iraq, missile defense and other matters, those officials simply failed to act. This is the million-dollar question that Rice so expertly dodged on Thursday. ...Until Rice answered a sharp question from commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, most Americans probably didn't know that weeks before Sept. 11, the president had been given a CIA memorandum with the ominous title 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.' The national security advisor insisted that this 'historical analysis' of al-Qaeda did not provide 'new threat information.' But her dismissal of the controversial document undermined her own argument for keeping it classified. If the Aug. 6 PDB was merely of historical interest, why not prove her point by allowing the memo to be published in full?
- "...In the context of what Clarke and others have said about the 'threat spike' during the prior two months, that warning seems stark enough to provoke serious action. According to Rice, she and the president assumed that the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration and the rest of the federal bureaucracy had done whatever they could -- given the 'structural impediments' in a dysfunctional Washington bureaucracy. How dysfunctional was the Bush administration during that fateful summer? Commissioner Jamie Gorelick challenged Rice's assertion that federal agencies and their field offices had been put on alert status during the threat spike. Citing previous commission interviews with the FAA administrator, FBI officials from around the country, and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, among others, Gorelick said that none of them had ever heard the warnings of a potential attack. Were the FBI field offices and other relevant federal employees called to their battle stations, as Rice claimed, or were they not? Presumably the commission will assess that contradiction in its final report (which may or may not be released before the November election). Rice's testimony raised more questions than she answered. Was she truthful in describing Clarke's Jan. 25, 2001, plan to attack al-Qaeda, which remained in bureaucratic limbo until a week before Sept. 11? Nobody will know unless and until that document, too, is declassified. What about the task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, which was supposed to begin assessing homeland security in May 2001, but reportedly never met until after Sept. 11? Rice mentioned the Cheney task force but was not asked about its inactivity. The national security advisor walked away from the witness table, never to return, with her characteristic poise intact, and without apologizing or acknowledging any error. Stripped of all the seminar verbiage, her message was simple enough for her boss: Nothing could have been done to prevent Sept. 11, and the Bush administration did everything within its authority and ability to deal with the terrorist threat. But the Bush strategy for deflecting criticism is breaking down, despite Rice's cool demeanor and steely tone. The true narrative is seeping out, and the hidden facts are leaking out. What remains to be seen in the coming weeks is whether the 9/11 commission possesses the courage and commitment to complete that process, no matter where it may lead." (Salon)
- April 9: Veteran political columnist James Pinkerton says that the outing of the classified August 6, 2001 presidential daily briefing is damning for the Bush administration. He writes, "If you knew that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had received a memo a month before Pearl Harbor entitled, 'Japanese Determined to Attack the United States in the Pacific,' and that he had done nothing about that information, would that knowledge change your perception of FDR as a wise war leader? Roosevelt received no such memo, of course, but President George W. Bush got a blunt warning five weeks before 9/11 and he did little or nothing. He even presided over a stand- down in preparations, concentrating on other concerns." He notes that 9/11 commission member Richard Ben-Veniste was rather clever in prompting Condoleezza Rice to give the title of the document: "Ben-Veniste was legally prohibited from mentioning even the title of the document. But he wasn't prohibited from asking Rice the title of the PDB. And she obliged: 'I believe the title was, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'" Ouch.
- Just moments after she had said intelligence was 'not specific' about the place of attack, here's a presidential-level document warning, specifically, that al-Qaeda's target wasn't overseas somewhere, but rather the United States itself. David Colton, Washington lawyer and veteran of the intelligence world, observes of this exchange: 'Ben-Veniste hypnotized her.' Colton adds, 'She fell into the rhythm of a smart lawyer's questions, and so blurted out the single most damning admission of these hearings.' Seeming to realize she had said too much, Rice tried to bury the revelation by piling on words. She insisted that the document, the PDB's title notwithstanding, 'did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting.' Whereupon Ben-Veniste invited her to seek the declassification of the entire memo. Rice declined. Rice's semi-admission -- she was under oath, but that doesn't guarantee that every witness will tell whole truth -- stirred up Bob Kerrey, another commissioner. Kerrey was bound by the same strict rules of classification as Ben-Veniste, but he's a free-spirited war hero and so didn't care that he was breaking those rules. 'In the spirit of further declassification,' he announced, 'this is what the August 6th memo said to the president: that the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking. That's the language of the memo that was briefed to the president on the 6th of August.' Ouch again. 'Hijacking' is pretty darn specific -- which seems to contradict Rice's assertion that the intelligence was 'frustratingly vague' as to the 'manner of attack.'" Pinkerton concludes, "What we don't know is the precise sequence of events that led to the government's Pearl Harbor-like cluelessness on 9/11. But there's at least a chance now, as documents are revealed and as officials testify under oath, that we'll find out. In the meantime, here's a prediction, based on what we know already: Bush won't dare show more 9/11 images in his campaign ads." (Newsday)
Censored PDB released
- April 10: Late in the evening, the White House releases what some believe is a censored copy of the president's August 6, 2001 daily briefing, entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." While White House officials insist that none of the information given to Bush at his ranch on Aug. 6, 2001, was later linked to the attacks, the page-and-a-quarter-long briefing document shows that Bush was given far more specific and contemporary information about terrorist threats than the White House had previously acknowledged. As recently as Thursday, the White House described the brief only as a "historical" account of al-Qaeda activity. This is now shown to be a lie. The document says in part that the FBI had detected "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." The document, prepared by the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence, lays out evidence from American and foreign intelligence agencies and media reports to support what it says had been known since 1997: that Osama bin Laden "has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US." Among its citations are statements reportedly made by bin Laden in 1998, after American missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan, that he "wanted to retaliate in Washington;" information that al-Qaeda members "have resided in or traveled to the US for years" and that "the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks;" and a report from a clandestine source in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York "was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks." The document said that the CIA had "not been able to corroborate" reporting from 1998 that bin Laden wanted to hijack an American airliner to gain the release of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian sheik convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
- The briefing also referred to a telephone warning in May 2001 to the American Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, in which a caller reported that supporters of Osama bin Laden were "in the US planning attacks with explosives." At the time that Bush was briefed, while on vacation at his home in Crawford, Texas, the CIA and the FBI were actively pursuing both leads, the officials said. At some point after the briefing, two Yemeni nationals involved in apparent surveillance of Federal Plaza in New York were interviewed by the FBI, which determined that the incident was "tourism related.," Nonetheless, at the time Bush received the briefing from a CIA official in the living room of his ranch, the agency judged that in considering the risk of possible attacks in the United States by bin Laden's supporters, "there were suspicious patterns of activity that were worrisome, even though nothing pointed to a specific operation in a specific location,"a White House statement says.
- The Bush administration has fought for two years to keep this document hidden from public eyes. Until last week, the administration even refused to let the commissioners see it, allowing only three to see the document itself, and forcing the other seven to rely on a summary prepared by administration officials. Officials say that the only items deleted from the document are the names of specific foreign intelligence services that had provided information used in the report. Rice and other White House officials have said that the document was prepared at the request of Bush. In her testimony before the commission, Rice said "I remember very well that the president was aware that there were issues inside the United States," referring to the possibility of domestic strikes by al-Qaeda. Still, she added, "I don't remember the al-Qaeda cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about." Asked directly if she had ever informed the president of intelligence suggesting that terrorists were already in the United States and planning for attack, Rice said during her testimony that she couldn't remember. While the White House would not describe what, if anything, Bush did with the information in the briefing, senior officials said their reading of it was that nothing beyond the efforts already under way appeared to be justified at the time. "since there was no threat reporting, no new action was required," says Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the National Security Council. (New York Times/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Smoking Gun [photocopies of the censored PDB]. Washington Post [text of the PDB])
- April 10: As the White House announces there will be a delay in declassifying the August 6, 2001 daily briefing memo (it will reverse course and release the memo late this evening; releasing it on a Saturday night is an apparent attempt to dodge major news coverage), more information about the specificity of its content is becoming available. The classified briefing delivered to President Bush five weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks featured information about ongoing al-Qaeda activities within the United States, including signs of a terror support network, indications of hijacking preparations and plans for domestic attacks using explosives, according to sources who have seen the document and a review of official accounts and media reports over the past two years. The information on current threats in the briefing, titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," stands in contrast to repeated assertions by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials that the document is primarily historical and includes no warning or threat information. The commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, which has demanded that the 11/2-page document be declassified, referred to it in a March 24 report as "an article for the president's daily intelligence brief on whether or how terrorists might attack the United States."
- "We are actively working on declassification and are not quite ready to put it out," says Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the National Security Council. He attributes the delay to "unprecedented activity" needed to prepare for public release the article from the original briefing. Since details about the briefing first surfaced in May 2002, Rice and other administration officials have repeatedly sought to play down its importance and to suggest that it contained little information about current threats or, at first, to even acknowledge that it was focused on domestic attacks. Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, says that Rice ignores the importance of more current information that was also included in the August 2001 document. "she is right in a sense that it does not contain a warning per se," says Gorelick, one of only three commissioners who have seen the CIA-prepared PDB as part of a special deal with the White House. "she is also wrong in that it is not just an analytical piece.... It is a summary of what the agency knew that gave them reason to believe bin Laden wanted to attack the United States." (Washington Post)
- April 10: The 9/11 commission is preparing for another round of high-profile hearings. Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller and their predecessors, Janet Reno and Louis Freeh, are expected to defend their anti-terrorism efforts when they testify. Former FBI acting director Thomas Pickard, who will also testify, has told the commission in private that Ashcroft had little interest in terrorism in the summer of 2001, numerous sources have said. Thomas Kean, the panel's Republican chairman, says that "the hearing will focus very closely on the failures by the FBI and many others" prior to the attacks. (Washington Post)
FBI challenges Rice's testimony
- April 10: The FBI disputes Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the commission that 70 separate investigations of al-Qaeda cells were ongoing before the 9/11 attacks. Rice said that those 70 investigations were mentioned in a CIA briefing to the president and satisfied the White House that the FBI was doing its job in response to dire warnings that attacks were imminent and that the administration felt it had no need to act further. But the FBI says that those investigations were not limited to al-Qaeda and did not focus on al-Qaeda cells. FBI spokesman Ed Coggswell says the bureau is trying to determine how the number 70 got into the report. Coggswell says that those 70 investigations involved a number of international terrorist organizations, not just al-Qaeda. He said that many were criminal investigations, which terrorism experts say are not likely to focus on preventing terrorist acts. And he says he would "not characterize" the targets of the investigations as cells, or groups acting in concert, as was the case with the Sept. 11 hijackers. In addition to these investigations, Rice told the panel that FBI headquarters, reacting to alarming but vague intelligence in the spring and summer of 2001 that attacks were imminent, "tasked all 56 of its U.S. field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists" and to contact informants who might provide leads. That, too, is news to the field offices. Commissioner Timothy Roemer told Rice that the commission had "to date ... found nobody, nobody at the FBI, who knows anything about a tasking of field offices." Even Thomas Pickard, at the time acting FBI director, told the panel that he "did not tell the field offices to do this," Roemer said.
- Two and a half years after the terrorist attacks, it remains unclear why the FBI, given the general but dire warnings that preceded the attacks, did not go on full alert. The agency clearly believed something was afoot. On July 12 of that year, Assistant FBI Director Dale Watson, chief of the counterterrorism division, told the National Governors Association that a significant terrorist attack was likely on US soil. "I'm not a gloom-and-doom-type person," he said. "But I will tell you this. [We are] headed for an incident inside the United States." The Aug. 6 CIA memo, called the president's daily brief, includes this passage: "The FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking." This line was read into the record by Commissioner Bob Kerrey, but the memo itself remains classified. The White House said it may declassify it as early as next week. (Newsday/APFN)
- April 10: Democratic commission member Bob Kerrey says he doesn't agree with the Clinton administration's decision not to attack al-Qaeda over the USS Cole attack of October 2000. Clinton and several administration officials have said that they lacked specific information linking al-Qaeda to the bombings, and chose instead to pass the information along to the Bush administration for possible action. The Bush administration chose to do nothing in retaliation for the attacks. "I think he [Clinton] did have enough proof to take action," Kerrey says. A source familiar with the Clinton session says the former president told the commission he did not order retaliatory military strikes because he could not get "a clear, firm judgment of responsibility" from US intelligence before he left office the following January. US intelligence didn't conclude that al-Qaeda had sponsored the attack on the ship in the harbor at Aden, Yemen, until after the Bush administration took office. Bush officials have said they didn't retaliate because they didn't want an inadequate "tit-for-tat" response that would embolden the terrorists. (AP/Boston Herald)
- April 12: Attorney General John Ashcroft is expected to face heated questioning tomorrow from the 9/11 commission, who should ask him why he refused plans to boost FBI funds for counterterrorism by $58 million the day after the 9/11 attacks. Ashcroft is also expected to be asked why he instituted a hiring freeze for counterterrorism agents in the FBI on March 20, 2001, if the Bush administration was so focused on fighting terrorism. "Ratchet back from the full-court press that we were pushing when we thought we could hire 800-plus agents," says a March 20, 2001, FBI headquarters memo. The same message announced a hiring freeze for support workers. The memo shows the FBI anticipated cutting 260 agents over two years. Ashcroft is expected to defend himself by saying he was merely implementing Clinton-era budget priorities, an odd defense considering the Bush administration's efforts to reverse course on just about every Clinton initiative still pending. Former FBI director Louis Freeh is also expected to be criticized for leaving the FBI in a poor state to handle terrorist threats; Freeh left office in June 2001, a casualty of the Robert Hansson spy scandal. (New York Daily News)
- April 12: Veteran intelligence professional Larry Johnson writes a scathing indictment of the Bush administration's handling of the 9/11 attacks based on the newly declassfied August 6, 2001 PDB. Johnson, a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, served with the CIA from 1985 through 1989 and worked in the State Department's office of Counter Terrorism from 1989 through 1993. He is also a registered Republican who contributed financially to the Bush Campaign in 2000.
- Johnson writes, "Are George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice really as clueless as they are claiming to be? Bush and Rice are both on the record misstating what was in the 6 August 2001 PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing). They both insist the information was only 'historical' and 'not actionable.' They apparently are not alone in their faux ignorance. Republican partisans and even some members of the media are busy bolstering the spin that this was 'an historical memo.' Absolute nonsense! I wrote about 40 PDB's during my four-year tenure at the CIA. This particular PDB article was written in response to a presidential request. I am told that Bush's request was a reaction to the intelligence warnings he was hearing during the daily CIA morning briefings. Something caught his attention and awakened his curiosity. He reportedly asked the CIA to come back with its assessment of Bin Laden's intentions. The CIA answered the question -- Bin Laden was targeting the United States. The PDB article released Saturday is a classic CIA response to such a request. It lays out the historical and evidentiary antecedents that undergird the analyst's belief about the nature of the threat and provides current intelligence indicators that reinforce the basic conclusion of the piece: i.e., Bin Laden was determined to attack the United States. It is true that the piece did not contain specific details about the plot that was launched subsequently on 9/11. However, the details that are included in the piece are so alarming that anyone familiar with the nature of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda should have asked, 'What are they planning and what can we do to stop it?'
- "Remember the furious attacks against Richard Clarke during the past month? Now that we have seen the content of the PDB we know he was telling the truth when he said that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice did not make fighting al-Qaeda a priority prior to 9/11. At a minimum, the details in the 6 August PDB should have motivated Rice to convene a principals' meeting. Such a meeting would have ensured that all members of the president?s national security team were aware of the information that had been shared with the president. George Bush should have directed the different department heads to report back within one week on any information relevant to the Al Qaeda threat. Had he done this there is a high probability that the FBI field agents concerns about Arabs taking flight training would have rung some bells. There is also a high probability that the operations folks at CIA would have shared the information they had in hand about the presence of Al Qaeda operators in the United States. While Condoleezza Rice is correct that there was no 'silver bullet' in that PDB, she conveniently ignores the huge pieces of the puzzle that were in the hands of various members of the U.S. government. None of these steps were taken. Bush was on vacation and Condi -- the smartest woman in Washington, we are told -- was asleep at the switch. The PDB revealed another very fascinating item -- the analyst who wrote the piece had access to details about FBI investigations. This is something I never had access to when I was writing PDBs. It was forbidden territory. In other words, Bill Clinton has opened some level of cooperation between the FBI and CIA. The FBI, in a break with tradition, was telling the CIA what it was doing in some measure. Unfortunately, with the benefit of hindsight, not enough was shared." (TomPaine)
- April 12: Investigative journalist David Corn says that, with the release of the August 6, 2001 briefing, a "small but significant White House cover-up fell apart." The release of the PDB proves that the statements of the Bush administration of the past two years are lies: we now know that the administration was well aware that al-Qaeda planned a major terrorist attack on US soil. Corn says that Condoleezza Rice was instrumental in keeping that briefing under wraps. First coming to light in March 2002, two weeks after the news of the so-called "Phoenix memo" and the botched surveillance and arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, Corn says that "all of this placed the administration on the defensive for the first time since 9/11, as the White House fended off suggestions (and accusations) that the federal government, on Bush's watch, had missed crucial tips and opportunities to thwart the horrific attacks. ...The White House reaction was predictable: stonewall. The Bush crew clearly did not want American citizens to discover that he had been told that bin Laden was aiming to conduct attacks in the United States, and they did not want to have to answer the inevitable questions (such as, what did the president do in response to this briefing?). So Team Bush started spinning, and its lead twirler was Rice."
- Rice told the press in May that the PDB was merely an "analytic report that talked about [bin Laden's] methods of operations, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, 1998. It mentioned hijacking, but hijacking in the traditional sense, and in a sense said that the most important and likely thing was they would take over an airliner holding passengers and demand the release of one of their operatives." She emphatically said that the document was "not a warning," and never mentioned the title of the document. Corn writes, "she did her best to make the PDB seem rather dull: 'This was generalized information that put together the fact that there were terrorist groups who were unhappy [with] things that were going on in the Middle East as well as al-Qaeda operatives, which we'd been watching for a long time, that there was more chatter than usual, and that we knew that they were people who might try a hijacking. But, you know, again, that terrorism and hijacking might be associated is not rocket science.' That ho-hum description hardly matches the actual memo." Days after the EDB story broke, then-press secretary Ari Fleischer made a slight but significant change to the title as he reported it to the press: he said the title was "Bin Laden Determined To Strike the United States." Corn observes, "That is, he had changed an 'in' to a 'the' -- an alteration of significance, since the White House line has been that the pre-9/11 chatter had the administration looking for attacks on targets outside the United States. A May 19 , 2002, front-page Washington Post story did report the correct title of the PDB and did state that the briefing had noted that al-Qaeda members were living or traveling to the United States. But such reporting was overwhelmed by a White House, PR blitz that maintained the PDB was no big deal."
- The issue faded from the front pages, and the Bush administration filed the document away. Unfortunately, the 9/11 commission remembered the document, and requested access to it and other presidential briefings given to both Bush and Clinton. Bush refused. Corn notes, "As the final report of the joint inquiry noted, 'Ultimately, this bar was extended to the point where CIA personnel were not allowed to be interviewed regarding the simple process by which the PDB is prepared.'" The Bush White House fought tooth and nail to keep the document out of the hands of the commission, and when it finally gave in, it did so only in part. The White House refused to allow the entire commission to see the PDBs, restricting access to commissioner Jamie Gorelick and executive director Philip Zelikow. Gorelick and Zelikow were also forced to turn over the notes they made on the PDBs to the White House for censoring before they could report back to the commission. 9/11 victims' families fought the arrangement, arguing that Zelikow, a member of the Bush transition team and a Rice crony, had little credibility.
- The entire exercise in secrecy finally caved in when Richard Clarke spoke out. Corn writes, "His book and his testimony to the 9/11 commission brought far more attention to the panel and to the issue of whether the Bush administration had not regarded the al-Qaeda threat seriously before September 11. His dramatic appearance also highlighted the White House's refusal to permit Rice to testify. With the White House trying to limit the commission's actions, its attempt to sit on the August 6 PDB became one more example of the administration's reluctance to cooperate fully. ...When Rice did appear, Democratic commission members -- particularly Richard Ben-Veniste -- grilled her on the PDB, disclosing information from the PDB and forcing her to reveal its title. But she tried to stick to her previous characterization of the PDB, noting it presented 'historical information based on old reporting.' That depends on what the definition of 'historical' is. The PDB did run through material dating back several years to show that 'bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S.' But it also noted that al-Qaeda was currently maintaining a 'support structure' in the United States. And it cited information obtained in May 2001 that suggested 'that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.' (The White House said it reacted aggressively to this tip-off and it was unrelated to 9/11.)
- "Rice repeatedly referred to the PDB as a 'historical' document and did not accept Ben-Veniste's invitation to call for its declassification. When Ben-Veniste asked Rice if she had ever told Bush before August 6, 2001, of the existence of al-Qaeda cells within the United States, she did not answer the question. With so much attention focused on the PDB, it became inevitable that the Bush White House would have to release it. The administration has established a rather clear pattern. When it comes to sharing information with the public about controversial matters, it holds the line as long as it can -- until politics dictate otherwise. This is the SOP for elected officials. But Bush does seem to dig in his heels more than most. After two years of hiding the PDB, the administration let it out on a Saturday night -- a rather convenient time to make inconvenient information available. When the White House released the document, it held a background briefing with reporters on a conference call. During this sessions, one White House official said, 'The release of this PDB should clear up the myth that's out there that somehow the President was warned about September 11th.' But the point of the PDB was not that Bush had been warned specifically about 9/11. At issue was what he had been told about the prospect of a bin Laden strike inside the United States, as well as what, if anything, he did in response." Rice refused to give specifics in her testimony, and the White House has refused to comment at all on what Bush did or didn't know.
- Corn writes, "The PDB controversy is not about whether Bush received a specific warning a month before 9/11. It concerns his administration's attitude toward al-Qaeda and the possibility of domestic attacks prior to September 11 and whether the White House has truly been willing to see the full 9/11 tale uncovered and told. The evidence is mounting that al Qaeda was not the priority it should have been in the first seven months of Bush's presidency. Yet the White House is unable to acknowledge that it made a misjudgment. Much of the public might even believe that it was a natural mistake for a new administration to underestimate the abilities and reach of a madman hunkered down in faraway Afghanistan. In a way, such a screw-up may be more forgivable than Bush and his lieutenants' efforts to cover up information and prevent the 9/11 commission from completing a thorough examination. Bush lost the PDB battle, but the war is not over. The 9/11 commission is working hurriedly to finish its report by the congressionally mandated date of July 28. No doubt, the commission will have to tussle with the White House over the declassification of other material. Will the administration once more attempt to censor significant information? Could this delay the release of the report? Declassification fights tied up the congressional intelligence committees' 9/11 report for eight months. A repeat would push the unveiling of the 9/11 commission's report until after the election, but commission officials say they are determined to avoid such a fate. The 9/11 commission has not constantly inspired confidence, but thanks to the panel, Rice's PDB cover-up, after two years, caved in. Still, suspicious minds would be right to wonder: Are there other cover-ups, which are not yet publicly known, that will end up more to Bush and Rice's liking?" (The Nation)
- April 12: The Nation's Matt Bivens writes, "Only George W. Bush could study a memo titled 'Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US,' and then blithely assert that it 'said nothing about an attack on America.'" He continues, "Bush and Condoleeza Rice have slyly characterized it as a brief history lesson about al-Qaeda, when it is actually a reasonably specific warning. 'There was nothing in there that said, you know, "There is an imminent attack",' Bush insisted again as late as today. "That wasn't what the report said. The report was kind of a history of Osama's intentions." Horsefeathers. It says, among other things, that 'al-Qaeda members -- including some who are US citizens -- have resided in or traveled to the US 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 hijackings or other types of attacks;' that this suspicious activity includes 'recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York;' that the FBI is conducting 70 full field investigations across the country that are 'bin-Laden related;' and that an anonymous tip in May 2001 warned 'that a group of Bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks.' In fact, this 'Bin Laden to Strike' memo is a truly damning piece of evidence. If the President and his team had acted appropriately on it -- by which I mean, if he'd simply ordered his top people to get together to discuss how serious it was -- 9/11 might well have been prevented," according to intelligence veteran Larry Johnson, a registered Republican and Bush backer.
- In interviews, Bush is unaware that during the summer and fall of 2001, Thomas Pickard was the acting director of the FBI (Louis Freeh had resigned under fire for the Hansson spy scandal, and Robert Mueller had not yet been appointed to the post). Bush, however, says he was content that the FBI was doing its job by interviewing suspected terror suspects, and was leaving the details up to the Department of Justice and Attorney General Ashcroft. Bush fails to acknowledge that during that time, Pickard was writing memos critical of Ashcroft's lack of interest in counterterrorism. Bivens writes, "[Ashcroft] himself may have stopped flying commercial flights in July 2001 out of terrorism concerns, but that seems to have been the limit of his commitment. That, plus Ashcroft's decision on September 10, 2001, to cut the FBI's counter-terrorism budget by $58 million. Chalk this up to yet another opportunity missed. An engaged President who had ordered his national security team to gather and discuss the Aug. 6, 2001, 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US' report might have seized it, instead of kicking back while it slipped away." (The Nation)
- April 12: An observant Buzzflash reader believes that the August 6, 2001 presidential daily briefing as released to the public has been censored. Aside from layout and font oddities in CNN's posting of the two-page memo, the reader notes that in an article printed in 2002, Die Zeit, a German newspaper, reported that on August 6, Bush received a PDB that was "11 and one-half printed pages, instead of the usual two to three, and carries the title, 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.'" The reader will later be proven to be correct.(Buzzflash)
- April 13: According to information newly released by the 9/11 commission, the Bush administration had received numerous specific and urgent warnings of an imminent terrorist attack well before the August 6, 2001 PDB. In April and May 2001, for example, the intelligence community headlined some of those reports "Bin Laden planning multiple operations," "Bin Laden network's plans advancing" and "Bin Laden threats are real." The intelligence included reports of a hostage plot against Americans. It noted that operatives might choose to hijack an aircraft or storm a US embassy. Without knowing when, where or how the terrorists would strike, the CIA "consistently described the upcoming attacks as occurring on a catastrophic level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil," according to one of two staff reports released by the panel on April 12. "Reports similar to these were made available to President Bush in the morning meetings with [Director of Central Intelligence George] Tenet," the commission staff said. The information offers the most detailed account to date of the warnings the intelligence community gave top Bush administration officials, and it provides the context in which a CIA briefer put together a memo on Osama bin Laden's activities in the August 6 brief for Bush.
- The government moved on several fronts to counter the threats. The CIA launched "disruption operations" in 20 countries. Tenet met or phoned 20 foreign intelligence officials. Units of the 5th Fleet were redeployed. Embassies went on alert. Cheney called Crown Prince Adbullah of Saudi Arabia to ask for help. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice asked the CIA to brief Attorney General John Ashcroft about an "imminent" terrorist attack whose location was unknown. "The system was blinking red," Tenet told the commission in private testimony, the panel's report noted. In this context, Bush "had occasionally asked his briefers whether any of the threats pointed to the United States," the report said. Or, as one US senior official more intimately involved in the summer reporting paraphrased the president's question to the CIA: "This guy going to strike here?" A partial answer was contained in the very first sentence of the Aug. 6 President's Daily Brief: "Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Bin Ladin since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US." The document ended with two paragraphs of circumstantial evidence that al-Qaeda operatives might already be in the United States preparing "for hijackings or other types of attacks" and said that the FBI and the CIA were investigating a call to the US Embassy in the United Arab Emirates in May "saying that a group of Bin Ladin supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives."
- The commission also released new details showing how the CIA and FBI failures to track the movements of two hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and share information foiled what now appears to have been the best chance to disrupt the terrorist attacks. The CIA knew Almihdhar had attended a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000 where, officials later learned, he had helped plan the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Aden, Yemen. After the meeting, Almihdhar and others went to Bangkok, but the CIA station in Malaysia did not inform the CIA station in Bangkok in a timely manner. Only two months later, in March, did the CIA learn that Almihdhar had left Bangkok with a visa to the United States. In January 2001, two surveillance photographs from the Kuala Lumpur meeting were shown to an informant who was helping both the CIA and the FBI. He helped them understand that Almihdhar was at the meeting with a man identified as "Khallad" -- who by then was known to have planned the Cole bombing. But "we found no effort by the CIA to renew the long-abandoned search for [Almihdhar] or his traveling companions," the staff report noted.
- Also, contrary to the previous testimony of Tenet, the CIA did not tell the FBI about this discovery until late August 2001, according to the report. Almihdhar had left the United States in June 2000 but had plans to return. "It is possible that if, in January 2001, agencies had resumed their search for him" or had placed him on a terrorist watch list, "they might have found him" before he applied for a new visa in June 2001, the report said. "Or they might have been alerted to him when he returned to the United States the following month. We cannot know." In mid-May 2001, during the height of threat reporting, a CIA official went back through the Almihdhar files and discovered that he had a US visa and that Alhazmi had come to Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2000. The official concluded "something bad was definitely up," the staff report said, but he did not alert his FBI counterparts. "He was focused on Malaysia." But the report said he did ask an FBI analyst detailed to the CIA to review the Kuala Lumpur material again -- "in her free time." She began on July 24, 2001, and learned from the Immigration and Naturalization Service that the two might be in the country. She drafted a cable asking that Almihdhar and Alhazmi be put on a terrorist watch list. The FBI analyst, meanwhile, "took responsibility for the search effort inside the United States." The analyst thought Almihdhar was in New York and informed the FBI's New York field office. But she labeled her first e-mail to the office "routine," which gave the FBI 30 days to respond. "No one apparently felt they needed to inform higher levels of management in either the FBI or CIA about the case," the commission staff said. The search was assigned to an FBI agent who had never before handled a counterterrorism lead. "Many witnesses have suggested that even if [Almihdhar] had been found, there was nothing the agents could have done except follow him onto the planes," the report said. "We believe this is incorrect. Both [Alhazmi] and [Almihdhar] could have been held for immigration violations, or as material witnesses in the Cole bombing case," the commission report said. Interrogations "also may have yielded evidence of connections to other participants in the 9/11 plot. In any case, the opportunity did not arise." (Washington Post)
Ashcroft testifies, lies
- April 13: A contentious Attorney General John Ashcroft testifies before the 9/11 commission, on a day that features testimony by a number of Clinton and Bush officials. In his testimony, which was made in public and under oath, Ashcroft denies a mountain of evidence showing that he and the Justice Department showed little interest in terrorism before the attacks, and attempts to shift the blame onto the Clinton administration for leaving the nation unprepared. "We did not know an attack was coming because for nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to its enemies," Ashcroft says. "Our agents were isolated by government-imposed walls, handcuffed by government-imposed restrictions and starved for basic information technology." He produces a previously classified memo written by commission member Jamie Gorelick in March 1995 that he wrongly alleges caused critical information to be withheld from investigators, allowing the attacks to go forward (see next item).
- However, in his own testimony before Ashcroft's appearance, former acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard says Ashcroft dismissed warnings of terrorist threats that summer and rejected appeals for additional counterterrorism funds. Pickard testifies that "in late June and through July, he met with Attorney General Ashcroft once a week," according to the staff report issued by the commission, which is sharply critical of the FBI. "He told us that though he initially briefed the attorney general regarding these threats, after two such briefings the attorney general told him he did not want to hear this information anymore."
- Ashcroft angrily disputes Pickard's account, saying he met with him on more than two occasions. "secondly, I did never speak to him saying that I did not want to hear about terrorism," Ashcroft says. Pickard also tells the commission that though President Bush had been warned on August 6, 2001, in an intelligence memo that al-Qaeda was "determined" to strike US targets, neither Bush nor Ashcroft asked to meet with him between then and the attacks. Pickard adds that he was unsure whether "pulsing" the FBI -- shaking up field offices to produce information about the threat -- would have turned up those items in time to stop the plot. Pickard also tells the commission that he did not hear about the infamous Phoenix memo regarding flight training for terrorist suspects, nor the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, until after the 9/11 attacks. A day or two later, Pickard says, he learned that the FBI had been searching since late August for Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, two of the hijackers on the plane that struck the Pentagon. "It's a frightening thought to think that that could have been on my desk on September 10th, and would I have done something differently or not?" Pickard testifies. "...It keeps me up at night, thinking: If I had that information, would I have had the intuitiveness to recognize, to go to the president, to do something different?"
- Responding to the commission's criticism of the FBI, former FBI Director Louis Freeh says the agency's request for more agents and analysts were not fulfilled before 9/11 and he said the country was not on a "war footing" before the attacks. "We were using grand jury subpoenas and arrest warrants to fight an enemy that was using suicide boats to attack our warships," he says, referring to the attack on the Cole. The fight against terrorism at that time, he said, was not "a real war."
- The commission also hears from J. Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, who says that intelligence reports in the summer of 2001 indicated a "massive" terrorist strike was in the works. "None of this, unfortunately, specified method, time or place," says Black. "Where we had clues, it looked like planning was under way for an attack in the Middle East or Europe." Black says he and his colleagues at the time "are profoundly sorry. We did all we could. We did our best." But he said the agency faced a shortage of money and staff that "seriously hurt our operations and analysis." He also says, "I've heard some people say this country wasn't at war. I want to tell you, Mr. Chairman, the Counterterrorism Center was at war, we conducted ourselves at war."
- The commission reported on April 12 that an effort to locate eventual 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in late August 2001 failed, hampered by disputes over how widely agents could share information and a failure of coordination. Both men, who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, had been identified as attending a meeting of terrorist suspects in Malaysia. They could have been held on immigration charges or as material witnesses in the 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole, the report found. "Investigation or interrogation of these individuals, and their travel and financial activities, also may have yielded evidence of connections to other participants in the 9/11 plot," the commission concluded. "In any case, the opportunity did not arise. ...Notably, the lead did not draw any connections between the threat reporting that had been coming in for months and the presence of two possible al-Qaeda operatives in the United States," the report continued. "Moreover, there is no evidence that the issue was substantively discussed at any level above deputy chief of a section within the Counterterrorism Division at FBI headquarters." But Pickard testifies that restrictions within the bureau on sharing intelligence with criminal investigators "hampered greatly" efforts to penetrate al-Qaeda cells. He says the hijackers were picked because their background would raise no red flags among US law enforcement. "These 19 acted flawlessly in their planning and execution," he says. "They successfully exploited every weakness, from our borders to our cockpit doors."
- In addition, FBI counterterrorism chief Dale Watson "told us that he almost fell out of his chair" when Ashcroft outlined his budget priorities in May 2001, because the list made no mention of counterterrorism, the commission reported earlier Tuesday. (Ashcroft claims that the budget priorities were based on a list drawn up by former Attorney General Janet Reno.) "The attorney general on May 10 issued budget guidance for us, and I did not see that as a top item on the agenda," Pickard says. The Justice Department proposal did not include an increase in counterterrorism funding over its pending proposal for fiscal year 2002, and Pickard said Ashcroft rejected his appeal for $58 million in additional counterterrorism funds on Sept. 10 -- a day before the al-Qaeda attacks. (The official denial came to the FBI on September 12, the day after the attacks.) Ashcroft claims, without proof, that the Justice Department's budget requests actually sought more money for counterterrorism.
- Earlier in the day, Ashcroft's predecessor, Janet Reno, testifies that she called on the FBI to improve its ability to share information, both internally and with other agencies. She said she did not know of any legal reason the FBI could not share with other agencies information it had about Almihdhar and Alhazmi. Reno tells the commission that she felt a "certain amount of frustration" in early 2000 in trying to improve the FBI's information-sharing capabilities: "When I came into office, I learned that the FBI didn't know what it had," Reno says. "We found stuff in files here that the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing." Both Reno and Freeh say the FBI had regular contact with US intelligence services and held frequent meetings with former President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger. Reno said she instituted the regular meetings because of complaints that information was not being shared quickly and efficiently. And Freeh said he recalled "extremely close cooperation" between his agency and the CIA in terrorist investigations. The commission report says that the FBI's computers were terribly outdated, calls its counterterrorism training "abysmal," and says that the bureau had a poor grasp of al-Qaeda's presence in the United States. According to the report, White House officials, including counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke, complained about the "FBI's unwillingness or inability to share information," and an internal review found that "66 percent of the bureau's analysts were not qualified to perform analytic duties." Ashcroft also claims that he never even saw the August 6, 2001 briefing detailing al-Qaeda's plans to attack American targets; Pickard says the memo grossly overstated the number of investigations mounted by the FBI into terrorist suspects. (CNN, Washington Post)
- April 13: During his testimony, Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals a March 4, 1995 classified memo that he says calls Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick's fitness to be on the panel into question. The "single greatest structural cause for the September 11th problem," Ashcroft says, "was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents," and the "basic architecture for the wall...was contained in a classified memorandum" from 1995. Ashcroft personally declassified the memo for the purposes of the hearing. "Full disclosure," he says, "compels me to inform you that the author of this memorandum is a member of the commission." The memo claims to show that Gorelick, who was deputy attorney general during much of the Clinton administration, built a "wall" between criminal investigations and intelligence agents. Ashcroft thunders, "In the days before September 11, the wall specifically impeded the investigation into Zacarias Moussaoui, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. After the FBI arrested Moussaoui, agents became suspicious of his interest in commercial aircraft and sought approval for a criminal warrant to search his computer. The warrant was rejected because FBI officials feared breaching the wall. When the CIA finally told the FBI that al-Midhar and al-Hazmi were in the country in late August, agents in New York searched for the suspects. But because of the wall, FBI headquarters refused to allow criminal investigators who knew the most about the most recent al Qaeda attack to join the hunt for the suspected terrorists. At that time, a frustrated FBI investigator wrote headquarters, quote, 'Whatever has happened to this -- someday someone will die -- and wall or not -- the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain 'problems.'" Ashcroft uses the memo to not only blame the Clinton administration for allowing the 9/11 attacks to occur, supposedly because of the lack of communication between the FBI and CIA engendered by Gorelick's "wall," but to blame Gorelick for impeding other investigations, including supposedly illegal campaign donations to the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign.
- Conservative publications such as the Wall Street Journal, not to mention conservative media mavens such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, leap onto the story, accusing Gorelick of impeding the 9/11 investigation, demanding her resignation, and using the memo to throw accusations of responsibility onto the Clinton administration and away from the Bush administration, which seems to be the entire point. The Wall Street Journal gives the direction of the accusations: "Ms. Gorelick -- an aspirant to Attorney General under a President Kerry -- now sits in judgment of the current Administration. This is what, if the principle has any meaning at all, people call a conflict of interest. Henry Kissinger was hounded off the Commission for far less." It even gives the Bush administration an "out" to stop cooperating with the commission: "It's such a big conflict of interest that the White House could hardly be blamed if it decided to cease cooperation with the 9/11 Commission pending Ms. Gorelick's resignation and her testimony under oath as a witness into the mind of the Reno Justice Department."
- As it turns out, Ashcroft's disclosure and interpretation of the Gorelick memo is nothing more than an attempt to smear Gorelick and turn the public's attention away from the Bush administration's own responsibility for the terrorist attacks. It is specious to claim that Gorelick holds a conflict of interest more so than Henry Kissinger, who declined to serve because of the massive amounts of business his firms do with Saudis and others accused of being connected to the attacks, or of the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow, who has deep and intimate ties to the Bush administration. Other commission members, including chairman Thomas Kean, have financial interests that tie into the 9/11 investigation.
- In fact, Ashcroft's own Justice Department earlier belied Ashcroft's own testimony; as the Washington Post reports, "[B]laming [Gorelick] for the 'wall' is absurd in any event. The memo by Ms. Gorelick that Mr. Ashcroft branded as the culprit is not even mentioned in the history of impaired information-sharing that Mr. Ashcroft's department gave to the special court that finally lifted the barriers after Sept. 11, 2001. That court described the wall's origin as 'sometime in the 1980s -- the exact moment is shrouded in historical mist.' A set of procedures promulgated in 1995 codified the policy of keeping intelligence and law enforcement separate and significantly fortified the wall. But as the Justice Department's brief itself acknowledged, prosecutors knew long before those procedures were announced that they were not to direct intelligence activities or to use intelligence surveillance to develop criminal cases. And the Bush administration explicitly maintained the 1995 procedures before the Sept. 11 attacks. The wall was no individual's fault but a product of years of department practice, judicial opinions and supervision of intelligence surveillance by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court." Ashcroft knows this, of course, but instead attempts to smear Gorelick with a memo he knows does not prove the accusations he chooses to make.
- The Post continues, "In fact, Ms. Gorelick was an advocate of increased collaboration between spies and cops, not greater separation. She pushed to give the court power to authorize physical searches as well as electronic monitoring, and surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act more than doubled during the Clinton administration. The department was criticized by civil libertarians and others on the left and right alike -- us included -- for the changes that she advanced." The memo that Ashcroft declassifies for the purpose of smearing Gorelick actually gives FBI and CIA agents broader access to information than had previously been allowed. So Ashcroft's accusations are based on a complete misrepresentation of the facts.
- The "wall" that Ashcroft decries has always been viewed by Constitutional purists and civil libertarians as an essential element in protecting the rights and privacy of the individual. The Post observes, "Even after Sept. 11 and the passage of the USA Patriot Act -- a central purpose of which was to facilitate the sharing of information -- the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court unanimously reaffirmed key restrictions. It took high-level action by all three branches of government, including an unprecedented appeal to a special review court that had never previously convened, to finally clarify that the wall was a kind of legal myth that never had quite the force that both the department and the lower FISA court had imagined. Pretending that such a deep-seated institutional problem was Ms. Gorelick's single-handed creation should have been beneath the attorney general." Commissioner Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator, asks Ashcroft why he had not changed those guidelines on his own, noting that Ashcroft's deputy wrote in an Aug. 6, 2001, memorandum that "the 1995 procedures remain in effect today." Ashcroft said the 2001 order made some improvements. Gorelick will refuse to resign in the face of a brief flurry of criticism from Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators, and as the truth of the so-called "wall" is made clear, the attacks on Gorelick will fade. (Wall Street Journal/Opinion Journal, Washington Post, Washington Post, Washington Post)
- Ashcroft's insistence that the FBI's failure to predict the 9/11 attacks was caused by "organizational and operational restrictions" and "unnecessary procedural red tape" ignores the fact that those restrictions were placed upon the FBI because of its own host of illegal and un-American activities over the years. The 1976 Church Committee found that the FBI had run illegal intelligence operations against as many as two million innocent American citizens, who were guilty of nothing more than opposing the Vietnam War or espousing civil rights for blacks and/or women. Ashcroft's bemoaning that FBI agents were forced to sit on their hands while terrorists ran amok through US airports, or that they were reduced to begging for permission to "sift through the rubble following a terrorist attack," is not only a hysterical overstatement of the realities of the FBI's procedures, but ignores the fact that restrictions were placed on the FBI for very good reason. However, Ashcroft's own "Terrorism Enterprise Investigations" guidelines of May 2002 give the FBI the power to break the law whenever senior officials feel that the public safety and the common good warrant it. Major felonies need to be authorized by senior officials in Washington or the regional bureaus, but lesser crimes can be committed by FBI agents "on a word whispered into a secure telephone or an unmarked car," in Lewis Lapham's words.
- Lapham writes that the entire investigative structure of the FBI after 9/11 has been revamped to treat basic American rights as nuisances to be ignored; Ashcroft's statement that the bureau's operating procedures for the last thirty years "mistakenly combined timeless objectives -- the enforcement of the law and respect for civil rights and liberties -- with outdated means" has been interpreted by the Justice Department and senior FBI officials to mean that "outdated means" refers to just about every paragraph and article in the US Constitution which might restrict government investigations. Lapham writes sarcastically, "[A] modern war against terrorism cannot be fought with an old scrap of parchment and obsolete notions of freedom. Let too many freedoms wander around loose in the streets, and who knows when somebody will turn up with a bread knife or a bomb? Better to remember the lesson learned in the Vietnam War, which proved that the best way to save the village was to destroy it. So also now, in another time of trouble, the American people can best preserve their liberties by sending them to a taxidermist or donating them to a museum." Ashcroft ignores the testimony of former FBI director Louis Freeh, who confided to Congress in 1997 that "We [the FBI] are the most dangerous agency in the country if we are not scrutinized carefully." (Lewis Lapham)
- April 13: The 9/11 commission has obtained a previously unknown document from the Clinton administration that may clarify a long-raging debate over whether the CIA had the authority to assassinate Osama bin Laden during the Clinton administration, or whether it was required to attempt to capture him. Commissioners are vague on details, citing secrecy rules, but indicate that the document rebuts assertions by Ashcroft and others that no clear kill order existed. Ashcroft testifies that one of the first things he did after becoming attorney general was to conduct a "thorough review" of the authorities that the Clinton administration had given the CIA to take covert action against bin Laden. His review showed, he claims, that there was "no covert action program to kill bin Laden." Several commissioners show that Ashcroft is lying by citing the 1998 "memorandum of notification" signed by Clinton, which was found among the documents that the Bush White House originally refused to turn over to the commission. The memo apparently gives the CIA explicit authority to assassinate bin Laden. (Washington Post, Washington Post)
- April 13: In light of John Ashcroft's testimony to the 9/11 commission, the Daily Misleader prepares a list of Ashcroft's numerous lies and misstatements to Congress preceding his current testimony. Compiled from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Ashcroft's own statements, the Misleader writes the following: "With Attorney General John Ashcroft testifying before the 9/11 Commission today, a quick analysis of his previous statements shows he has repeatedly lied to Congress about the Bush Administration's counterterrorism record. Specifically, when questioned by Congress in 2002 about why he tried to de-prioritize and slash funding for counterterrorism before 9/11, Ashcroft resorted to dishonest denials -- even in the face of budget documents that proved he was not telling the truth. For instance, in testimony before the House of Representatives, Ashcroft said that before 9/11, his 'number-one goal' at the Justice Department 'was the prevention of terrorist acts' and that he immediately 'began to shape the department and its efforts in that respect.' But according to the Washington Post, internal Administration documents from before 9/11 'show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did.' The documents 'indicate that before Sept. 11, Ashcroft did not give terrorism top billing in his strategic plans for the Justice Department, which includes the FBI. A draft of Ashcroft's "strategic Plan" from Aug. 9, 2001, does not put fighting terrorism as one of the department's seven goals, ranking it as a sub-goal beneath gun violence and drugs.' Ashcroft tried to blame his negligence of counterterrorism on the previous Administration, telling Congress that 'the five-year plan that had been put in place by my predecessor didn't mention counterterrorism.' But according to the New York Times, 'the plan issued by Attorney General Janet Reno in 2000 said the Justice Department would have to devote more attention and resources to terrorism, citing sophisticated computer and bomb-making technology and the "emerging threats of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons'."
- Ashcroft has even been dishonest about events after 9/11, telling Congress that when the Administration was writing the emergency counterterrorism funding bill after the attacks, the FBI 'came to me with a $670 million request, and we counseled them to take that to $1.1 billion.' But according to the Washington Post, 'In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI.... The document, dated Oct. 12, 2001, shows that the FBI requested $1.5 billion in additional funds to enhance its counterterrorism efforts with the creation of 2,024 positions. But the White House Office of Management and Budget cut that request to $531 million.' Ashcroft 'cut the FBI's request for items such as computer networking and foreign language intercepts by half, cut a cyber-security request by three quarters and eliminated entirely a request for "collaborative capabilities."'" (Daily Misleader)
- April 13: Slate's Fred Kaplan wants to know why the 9/11 commission essentially gave John Ashcroft a free pass in its questioning. Kaplan summarizes the numerous failings that led to the success of the 9/11 attacks, and says that much of the responsibility lies with Ashcroft's Department of Justice along with the FBI. Kaplan writes, "At the start of the day, Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 commission, delivered the staff's interim conclusions about the FBI's multiple mishaps in the months leading up to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center—and about Ashcroft's role in exacerbating those mishaps. The FBI, as has long been observed, was badly organized to tackle the threat. It lacked money, skilled personnel, and rudimentary information technology, among other crucial resources. Zelikow reported that Dale Watson, the FBI's counterterrorism deputy, asked Ashcroft for more money, and Ashcroft turned him down. Watson also 'fell off his chair' when he read Ashcroft's formal list of the Justice Department's top five priorities and realized that not one of them concerned terrorism, even though Ashcroft was privy to the same spike of threat alerts as President Bush and other officials. This afternoon, right before Ashcroft appeared, Thomas Pickard, a former career FBI agent who served as the bureau's acting director for the three months before 9/11, testified that he had briefed Ashcroft twice about the growing terrorist threat -- and that, when he tried to brief him a third time, Ashcroft told him that he didn't want to hear about the subject anymore. Anticipating a devastating 90 minutes on the stand, the New York Times' headline this morning read, '9/11 Panel Said to Offer Harsh Review of Ashcroft.' One former official with whom I spoke predicted that Ashcroft would emerge so battered that Bush might tap him as the fall guy."
- Kaplan continues, "And yet not only did the commissioners fail to lay a glove on the guy, they barely took a swing." The only commissioner to ask any truly penetrating question was Republican James Thompson, who asked Ashcroft about Pickard's claim that he didn't want to hear any more briefings about counterterrorism. Ashcroft replied, "I never said I didn't want to hear about counterterrorism." Kaplan writes, "That was the end of the exchange. No follow-up. Somebody's lying -- Ashcroft or Pickard -- about an important matter. The commission didn't seem bothered by that fact."
- Kaplan continues, "Ashcroft began his opening statement, 'We did not know an attack was coming because, for nearly a decade, our government had blinded itself against its enemies.' The upshot of the last few weeks of hearings has been that -- while, certainly, the FBI and the CIA were plagued with bureaucratic defects—many high-ranking officials, in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, personally failed to recognize and act on the clear signs of danger. Yet none of the commissioners chose to contrast these facts with Ashcroft's no-fault claim. Ashcroft insisted that he added more money to the Justice Department's budget for counterterrorism than for any other function. This is patently untrue. It has been disputed by the commission's staff, several previous witnesses, and public budget-documents.
- "Yet none of the commissioners called him on it. Richard Ben-Veniste, the Democratic former Watergate prosecutor, who has been a tough interrogator in previous sessions, went easy on the attorney general. He did ask about the fact that Ashcroft's top five priorities -- listed in a policy document of May 10, 2001 -- did not include fighting terrorism. Ashcroft answered that, at May 9 hearings before the Senate Appropriations Committee, he cited terrorism as his No. 1 priority. Ben-Veniste let it go. Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, at least helped build on the record. Noting Ashcroft's claim that he had never seen the famous President's Daily Brief of Aug. 6, 2001 (the one headlined 'Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US'), she asked if he was aware of a very similar Aug. 7 executive intelligence briefing -- distributed to hundreds of federal officials—that was titled 'Terrorism: Bin Laden Determined To Strike in the United States.' Ashcroft said he didn't recall such a document; he was in Chicago at the time. Was he briefed about it afterward? He didn't remember. Before Ashcroft took the stand, it had been an interesting day of hearings, and not just for Pickard's revelations. This morning, Janet Reno, the attorney general in the Clinton administration, disputed the notion that legal and structural impediments made it impossible for anyone to have stopped the 9/11 attacks. In the months leading up to the millennium, the FBI and CIA shared intelligence information, to fruitful effect. They've cooperated in some circumstances, she said -- why not in others? The important thing, she added, is to get the principals -- the Cabinet secretaries -- together more often, 'to cut through the red tape.' Meanwhile, Reno noted, two things need to happen. First, the FBI has to get its act together. 'I learned that the FBI didn't know what it had,' she said. In the first four months of 2000, Reno wrote three memos to FBI Director Louis Freeh, directing the bureau to develop ways to assimilate, utilize, and share information from its own files. Second, she said, the intelligence agencies had to tear down not so much their structural barriers as their parochial loyalties. 'End the culture,' she said, 'where people say, "This is mine. I've got to keep it my case."'
- "Another message came from J. Cofer Black, who was director of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center from 1999-2002 and, by far, the eeriest witness we've seen. Black looked like the real deal, a character dropped in (by parachute, on a moonless night) from a John le Carre novel. In his book, Richard Clarke described Black as 'a hard-charging, get-it-done kind of CIA officer who had proved himself in the back alleys of unsavory places.' Black seemed uncomfortable to be out in the public glare, but he worked up a controlled rage over what he saw as the main source of our problem. Speaking on behalf of all the shadow warriors, he said, with a quietly spine-tingling fury, 'We don't have enough people to do the job, and we don't have enough money, by magnitudes.' Then came Ashcroft, who spoke without challenge on questions of culture, people, money, or responsibility. Why? One charitable interpretation might be that the Democratic panelists decided to go easy. To bear down on Bush's most controversial Cabinet officer —- the liberals' favorite whipping boy —- might make them seem 'partisan.' They have the goods on Ashcroft and the FBI; it will all come out in their final report. Why, they might have rationalized, polarize the situation by adding their own lashes? If that's what they thought, they might have a point. But then, why hold these hearings? Everything the witnesses say in public, they've already said in closed sessions. The whole point of public hearings is to let us in -- not just on the testimony and the findings, but also the judgments of and about our decision-makers. This afternoon, on this point, the commission deeply failed." (Slate)
- April 13: One question not adequately explored by the commission is why did John Ashcroft suddenly and without adequate explanation abandon the usual practice of government officials flying on commercial jets on July 24, 2001 and begin using chartered government aircraft. When asked at the time about the change, the Justice Department cited an unspecified "threat assessment" by the FBI that led to a recommendation that Ashcroft fly on private jets for the remainder of his tenure. CBS reported then, "Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department, however, would identify what the threat was, when it was detected, or who made it." Apparently, the CIA was not aware of any threats against Ashcroft or any other cabinet members, and Ashcroft himself said, "I don't do threat assessments myself, and I rely on those whose responsibility it is in the law enforcement community, particularly the FBI. And I try to stay within the guidelines that they've suggested I should stay within for those purposes." When asked if he knew details of the threat or who might have made it, Ashcroft said, "Frankly, I don't. That's the answer." The Justice Department did say that it wasn't Ashcroft who wanted to fly in leased airplanes, but that it was the idea of his FBI security detail. The FBI had no comment. All other Bush cabinet members flew on commercial airliners, save for the secretaries of Energy and the Interior when they traveled to remote areas. Janet Reno, Clinton's attorney general, traveled by commercial jets. (Village Voice)
- April 13: In what appears to be a desperate attempt to deflect the outrage sweeping the nation over the Clarke, Rice, and Ashcroft testimonies to the 9/11 commission, Bush reiterates the long-debunked claim that no one could have predicted that hijackers would have used jetliners to strike American targets. "We knew he [Osama bin Laden] had designs on us, we knew he hated us," he says. "But there was nobody in our government, and I don't think [in] the prior government, that could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale. ...Had I any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country." Two days earlier, he said, "Had I known there was going to be an attack on America I would have moved mountains to stop the attack." (CCR/Break On Through)
- April 13: Gadflyer editor Thomas Schaller, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, observes that Condoleezza Rice's insistance that "structural" problems within the FBI and the national intelligence agencies led to the failures surrounding the 9/11 attacks is "laughable." Schaller writes, "Rice's dodgy argument last week would be far more legitimate had the Administration attempted something –- anything –- of significance in those first days to reform the structure and culture of the intelligence-gathering bureaucracy. Nobody was expecting the President to reverse decades of bureaucratic intransigence. Nor is anyone saying that a bureaucratic shake-up conducted in the Administration's first 233 days would have prevented the September 11 attacks. They just had to try. But they refused. And what's especially damning is that they refused despite having the Hart-Rudman Commission hand them on their 12th day in office a detailed blueprint for how to begin making precisely the sort of changes they are now complaining needed to be made."
- The bipartisan commission spent thousands of hours and millions of tax dollars assessing the threats to America's security and developing strategies to prevent attacks and/or respond to attacks. One commission member was neoconservative darling Newt Gingrich, who signed off on all of its reports. The final part of the Hart-Rudman commission's three-part report was aptly titled: "Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change" (Schaller writes, "note that 'imperative' is a noun that has a similar, dual meaning in its adjective form"). The document details a variety of structural and organization problems, and offers 50 concrete solutions. The report's first two, and most important, recommendations, were: "The president should develop a comprehensive strategy to heighten America's ability prevent and protect against all forms of attack on the homeland, and to respond to such attacks if prevention and protection fail," and "The president should propose, and Congress should agree to create, a National Homeland Security Agency (NHSA) with responsibility for planning, coordinating and integrating various U.S. government activities involved in homeland security. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should be a key building block in this effort."
- "In short," writes Schaller, "[a] call for presidential-level, comprehensive action to fundamentally restructure the intelligence bureaucracy, and specifically the creation of a new agency to coordinate and manage the various streams of intelligence-gathering, and develop terrorist assessments and response plans." Unfortunately for America, the Bush administration refused to pay any mind to the Hart-Rudman reports. Bush's response to the report? Refuse to consider the creation of a Homeland Security agency, throw out the report, and give Dick Cheney the job of convening yet another task force to go over the same ground and make its own recommendations -- a task force that never met before 9/11.
- Schaller writes, "Prior to September 11, the shunting of Hart-Rudman might be characterized as bureaucratic malfeasance. But the fact that Bush continued to oppose creating what eventually became the Department of Homeland Security after September 11, and only relented under severe public and political pressure, is simply -– and, yes, I dare say it -– an act of unpardonable negligence. And why the post-9/11 delay? Well, because of Tom Delay's delays, and worries of radical House Republicans that -– gasp! -– some of the homeland security department personnel might be unionized. To his credit, Bush eventually backed the House Republicans down. To also be fair, had Bush adopted the commission's final report in its entirety on February 1, 2001, the day after he received it, and invested every nickel of his political capital into enacting it, not a dime would have been spent until October 1, 2001, the beginning of the fiscal year. Still, we'd already be that much closer along the path that we eventually took toward a homeland security agency anyway. That Bush had the audacity to applaud himself a month ago for establishing the department, while heaping praise on Secretary Tom Ridge, is beyond the pale.
- "...In this light, Rice's excuse-making about 'structural problems' is an unwitting, inculpatory indictment of herself and her boss. More than the absence of weapons of mass destruction or ties between al-Qaeda and Hussein, more than the loss of control in Iraq and the growing casualty rates there, more than the fractured international alliances and inability to build a suitable coalition for a pre-emptive war, more than the record-setting budget deficits or growing trade deficits, more than the lies about the true cost of a massive Medicare expansion, more than underfunding the national mandate for No Child Left Behind, more than the expansion of agribusiness subsidies, more than the flip-flop on steel protectionism, more than the aborted and misconceived plans to go to Mars or bulk-up steroids regulation, and surely more than the immediate capitulation on the Federal Marriage Amendment to include protections for civil unions, more than all of this -– combined -– the Administration's we-never-need-advice rejection of the Hart-Rudman homeland security assessment, and its blueprint for how to prevent attacks on our homeland, is sufficient and demonstrable proof of the dangers of an Administration that listens only to itself. We are still a long way from reaching a higher level of homeland security through structural reform. But our government handed the Bush Administration a map and a flashlight on their 12th day in office for how to get there. That Bush at first refused to pick them up, or even notice them, testifies to his myopia. That he continued to ignore the aid and advice of the Hart-Rudman commission after the 9/11 attacks testifies to his reluctance to put the country ahead of his own politics." (Gadflyer)
Gorelick called on to resign over bogus Ashcroft allegations
- April 14: Predictably, a Republican lawmaker comes forward to demand the resignation of Jamie Gorelick from the 9/11 commission, a request that Republican commission chairman Thomas Kean calls "silly." Representative James Sensenbrenner, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says Gorelick, who served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, should resign. He says Gorelick has a conflict of interest because she had written a memo in 1995 establishing distinctions between intelligence that could be used for law-enforcement purposes and intelligence for national-security purposes. Gorelick says she will not resign. She said the "wall" was part of a law in place since the mid-1980s. Kean dismisses Sensenbrenner's request as "silly," noting Gorelick had recused herself from everything related to her previous role in the government. "she is in my mind, one of the finest members of the commission, one of the hardest-working members of the commission, and, by the way, one of the most nonpartisan and bipartisan members of the commission," Kean says. "so people ought to stay out of our business." Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman, notes the Bush administration had reaffirmed its support for the "wall." It was only dismantled when new legislation was passed after the September 11 attacks. (CNN)
- April 14: CIA Director George Tenet tells the 9/11 commission that after he learned of the FBI's arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in late August, 2001, he could not let President Bush know of the arrest, and the information surrounding it, because Bush was on vacation in Texas. "I was not in briefings at this time," he tells the commissoin. Bush, he notes, "was on vacation." He adds that he didn't see the president at all in August 2001. During the entire month, Bush was at his ranch in Texas. "You never talked with him?" Tenet is asked. "No," Tenet replies. For much of August, Tenet too was, as he put it, "on leave." (The CIA later correct Tenet's recollection and says that Tenet did brief Bush twice during August, on the 17th and the 31st. At neither time did Tenet mention the Moussaoui arrest.)
- This casts new light on the administration's assertions that Bush was constantly in the loop and well-informed of US security issues. In particular, Condoleezza Rice testified earlier that Tenet briefed Bush daily of any security concerns -- yet in the month of August, 2001, when Tenet, Richard Clarke, and other senior officials were supposedly "running around with their hair on fire" warning everyone who would listen that al-Qaeda was planning a devastating attack on the US, President Bush was out of the loop for the entire month while he relaxed at his Texas ranch.
- Slate's Fred Kaplan writes, "And now, we learn today, at this peak moment, Tenet hears about Moussaoui. Someone might have added 2 + 2 + 2 and possibly busted up the conspiracy. But the president was down on the ranch, taking it easy. Tenet wasn't with him. Tenet never talked with him. Rice -- as she has testified -- wasn't with Bush, either. He was on his own and, willfully, out of touch." Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and the State Department's counterterrorism chief from 1989-93, explains why the August 6 PDB, and certainly the Moussaoui findings, should have compelled everyone to rush back to Washington. In his CIA days, Johnson wrote "about 40" PDBs. They're usually dispassionate in tone, a mere paragraph or two. The PDB of August 6 was a page and a half. [According to a German newspaper, the original PDB was actually closer to 11 pages.] "That's the intelligence-community equivalent of writing War and Peace," Johnson says. And the title, "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US," was clearly designed to set off alarm bells. Johnson says that when he read the declassified document, "I said 'Holy smoke!' This is such a dead-on "Mr. President, you've got to do something!"'" Unfortunately, Bush, like much of Washington, tends to view August as a vacation month. He did not return to the White House until September 4, when Clarke finally got his principals' meeting to discuss terrorism. It was the first time Bush's principals held a meeting on the subject. The commission asks Tenet if he brought up the Moussaoui briefing at that meeting. No, Tenet replied. "It wasn't the appropriate place." No one asks the obvious follow-up: "Why not? Where was the appropriate place?"
- Kaplan writes, "The official story about the PDB is that the CIA prepared it at the president's request. Bush had heard all Tenet's briefings about a possible al-Qaeda attack overseas, the tale goes, and he wanted to know if Bin Laden might strike here. This story is almost certainly untrue. On March 19 of this year, Tenet told the 9/11 commission that the PDB had been prepared, as usual, at a CIA analyst's initiative. He later retracted that testimony, saying the president had asked for the briefing. Tenet embellished his new narrative, saying that the CIA officer who gave the briefing to Bush and Condi Rice started by reminding the president that he had requested it. But as Rice has since testified, she was not present during the briefing; she wasn't in Texas. Someone should ask: Was that the only part of the tale that Tenet made up? Or did he invent the whole thing -- and, if so, on whose orders? The distinction is important. If Bush asked for the briefing, it suggests that he at least cared about the subject; then the puzzle becomes why he didn't follow up on its conclusions. If he didn't ask for the briefing, then he comes off as simply aloof. (It's a toss-up which conclusion is more disturbing.) Then again, it's easy to forget that before the terrorists struck, Bush was widely regarded as an unusually aloof president. Joe Conason has calculated that up until Sept. 11, 2001, Bush had spent 54 days at the ranch, 38 days at Camp David, and four days at the Bush compound in Kennebunkport —- a total of 96 days, or about 40 percent of his presidency, outside of Washington. Yet by that inference, Bush has remained a remarkably out-of-touch -— or at least out-of-town—leader, even in the two and a half years since 9/11. Dana Milbank counts that through his entire term to date, Bush has spent 500 days —- again, about 40 percent of his time in office -— at the ranch, the retreat, or the compound. The 9/11 commission has unveiled many critical problems in the FBI and the CIA. But the most critical problem may have been that the president was off duty." (Slate)
- April 14: Republican senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says former Bush counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke's testimony before a joint congressional panel on the 9/11 terrorist attacks did not contradict his later testimony before a presidentially appointed commission. Roberts contradicts a stinging condemnation of Clarke by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on the Senate floor after Clarke accused President Bush of failing to take Osama bin Laden seriously before the attacks. Roberts said Frist did not consult him before making his floor speech, which has been criticized by Democrats. Roberts's words make perjury charges against Clarke highly unlikely. Frist has seemed to back off his earlier position, declining to repeat the charge that Clarke contradicted himself. But the majority leader continues to say it is suspicious that Clarke, who resigned at the beginning of 2003, has waited until now, in the midst of the presidential campaign season, to level his criticisms. Speaking of Clarke's private testimony in 2002 before a joint House-Senate panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, compared to more recent public testimony, Roberts said, "It's not that he said one thing in one place and said another in another place. It's just that the subject never came up during the investigation by the House and Senate. The prime topic was basically, Did the intelligence community have the authority to take advantage of opportunities in regard to Osama bin Laden. But I don't recall any questions in regard to whether the Bush administration was responding well...I don't think the words ever came up." When asked if Clarke contradicted himself, Roberts said he did not. Roberts says Clarke's 2002 testimony was on small-bore process issues related to the intelligence community while the later testimony took a big-picture view of policymakers' handling of evidence of a pending attack. He says he wishes that Frist had consulted with him before making his floor statement.
- After Clarke testified publicly before the commission, Frist urged on the Senate floor for parts of Clarke's 2002 testimony before the Congressional joint inquiry to be declassified. Bob Stevenson, Frist's spokesman, said earlier that on March 24, while Clarke testified before the commission, "a number of staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee familiar with Clarke's 2002 joint intelligence committee testimony contacted the senator's staff and said 'the tone' was 'quite different from 2002.'" Roberts said Republican staffers on the intelligence panel "will be in trouble" if he finds out they took the initiative to relate Clarke's closed-door testimony to Frist's staff. Roberts said the appropriate handling of the matter would have been for Senate intelligence staff to brief him and for Roberts to brief Frist directly. Democrat Richard Durbin, a member of the intelligence panel, says that it would have been inappropriate for Intelligence Committee staffers to contact staff in the leader's office to relate the contents of Clarke's 2002 testimony. Durbin adds that Frist's condemnation of Clarke was excessive and out of character for him. "It's like he was handed a script from the White House," Durbin says. Frist says he was not contacted by officials at the White House, officials from the intelligence community or members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. (The Hill)
- April 15: The 9/11 commission reports that US intelligence services failed to recognize the emergence of the al-Qaeda terrorist network until more than a decade after it was founded in 1988, playing down a tide of reports that documented the danger posed by the group, according to findings released yesterday by the commission. The CIA's Counterterrorist Center never developed a plan to deal with the possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as weapons despite growing evidence during the 1990s that terrorist groups had attempted or were planning such plots, the commission's staff also found. CIA director George Tenet acknowledged that he did not brief President Bush, FBI leaders or Cabinet members after he was informed in late August 2001 of the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, who would later be charged as a conspirator in the terror attacks. The briefing for Tenet was titled 'Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly.' "We made mistakes," Tenet told the panel yesterday, referring to the general failure to detect the terror plot that left 3,000 people dead. "We all understood bin Laden's intent to strike the homeland but were unable to translate this knowledge into an effective defense of the country." Tenet also said it would take five more years to "have the kind of clandestine service our country needs."
- The findings by the panel were the second time in as many days that the commission's investigators have unveiled a sweeping condemnation of the US intelligence community, this time focused on the CIA. The same investigators released a report Tuesday that the panel's chairman had described as "an indictment of the FBI." The staff found that major collection and analysis activities targeting al-Qaeda were delayed even after a defector from the terrorist organization began providing details about the network in 1996. The CIA had learned that Osama bin Laden was linked to the 1992 attacks on U.S. military personnel in Yemen and the 1993 downing of a US Army Black Hawk helicopter in Somalia, the report says. The agency also received reports in 1997 that al-Qaeda operatives were surveilling institutions in the United States as a precursor to a likely attack. But still, the US intelligence community "did not describe this organization, at least in documents we have seen, until 1999," according to the report.
- During his testimony yesterday, however, Tenet disputed the claim that the CIA wasn't aware of al-Qaeda and bin Laden until that late date. Tenet said the report's finding wrongly assumed that "people weren't getting this kind of data. That's just not true." In one of its more stinging case studies, the staff report noted that Tenet learned on Aug. 23 or 24, 2001, about the arrest in Minnesota a week earlier of Moussaoui, a suspected jihadist who was attempting to learn how to fly jetliners. Tenet said he did not tell President Bush, who was vacationing in Texas, or FBI management about the development. Nor did he mention the case at a Sept. 4 White House Cabinet meeting, where approval was given for a new presidential directive on terrorism. Tenet said he assumed "that this was something that would be laid down in front of" the White House Counterterrorism Security Group. In fact, the Moussaoui information remained in the FBI's international terrorism division. Thomas Pickard, acting FBI director until a week before the attacks, has testified that he did not learn of it until the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001.
- Tenet testified that the case first came to his attention because the FBI agent was looking for any intelligence the CIA had about Moussaoui to get a court order to open his computer. In a separate report released yesterday, the panel's investigators were critical of the FBI's attempts at reform since the Sept. 11 attacks. Although the bureau "is a stronger counterterrorism agency than it was before 9/11," the report said, it remains plagued by chronic computer problems, erratic training, shortages of linguists and intelligence analysts, and widespread confusion among agents over its counterterrorism mission. In one example, "heard from many analysts who complain that they are able to do little actual analysis because they continue to be assigned menial tasks, including covering the phones at the reception desk and emptying the office trash bins," the report said. FBI Director Robert Mueller said in testimony that "we've got to put our house in order, and I think we are putting our house in order." "Change cannot be done overnight," he added. "Transitions take time.... I think we're on the right path." Mueller urged the commission not to endorse the creation of a domestic intelligence service that would take over counterterrorism responsibilities from the FBI. The panel is seriously debating the idea of an agency akin to Britain's MI5; the prospect of an overhaul of the nation's intelligence apparatus gained further prominence this week when President Bush said he was considering it. "I do believe that creating a separate agency to collect intelligence in the United States would be a grave mistake," Mueller said. "splitting the law enforcement and the intelligence functions would leave both agencies fighting the war on terrorism with one hand tied behind their backs." The idea has prompted widespread criticism from law enforcement officials. Former FBI director Louis Freeh on Tuesday likened the idea to the creation of a "secret police," and the 9,000-member FBI Agents Association said such an agency would "put blinders on agents in the field and tie their hands behind their backs in the fight against terrorism."
- "I came to this job with less knowledge of the intelligence community than anybody else at this table," said Chairman Thomas Kean. "What I've learned has not reassured me. It's frightened me a bit, frankly." The commission staff also confirmed an early clue to a Sept. 11 hijacker, reporting that in 1999, the German government provided the U.S. government with a telephone number and first name: "Marwan." The CIA pursued the lead but little was discovered. The individual would eventually be identified as Marwan Al-Shehhi, who piloted United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center and used the same telephone number given to the CIA before the hijackings. Commissioner Bob Kerrey said he did not know in 1996 that bin Laden's operatives might have been involved in downing the Black Hawk in Somalia. "Did you ever have a conversation with President Clinton" about the incident in order to "ramp this guy up to the top of the list?" Kerrey asked Tenet, adding that the evidence "would have galvanized the US against bin Laden." Tenet said he would have to check on what he told Clinton. Tenet said the CIA's inability to penetrate the al-Qaeda network has led to a long-term rebuilding of its human intelligence program, which was in "disarray" after the loss of 20 percent of its personnel in the 1990s. By 2001, he said, there were 25 sources inside Afghanistan who were nonproductive on the Sept. 11 plot but useful for the US-led invasion. Kean questioned why it would take five years to rebuild the CIA's clandestine service. Tenet said it takes time to create "access and cover" so that US agents can take root in the rough societies where terrorist sources can be developed. (Washington Post)
CIA declassifies documents to show Bush lies about its alleged failures
- April 15: Senior CIA officials take the rare step of disclosing the contents of the agency's 1995 and 1997 National Intelligence Estimates to counter Bush administration and 9/11 commission charges that the agency did not provide warnings of possible Islamic terrorist threats to US targets before the 9/11 attacks. The 1995 estimate provides clear warnings that Islamic extremists likely would strike on US soil at landmarks in Washington or New York, or through the airline industry. The 1997 estimate was updated to include Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as probable sources for such attacks. Philip Zelikow, executive director of the commission, confirms the 1997 warning about bin Laden, but says it was only two sentences long and lacked any strategic analysis on how to address the threat. "We were well aware of the information and the staff stands by exactly what it says" in its report, he says. However, a senior CIA official says that while the 1995 intelligence assessment did not mention bin Laden or al-Qaeda by name, it clearly warned that Islamic terrorists were intent on striking specific targets inside the United States like those hit on Sept. 11, 2001. The report specifically warned that civil aviation, Washington landmarks such as the White House and Capitol and buildings on Wall Street were at the greatest risk of a domestic terror attack by Muslim extremists, the official says. Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin testifies that by early 1996 his agency had developed enough concern about bin Laden to create a special unit to focus on him. "We were very focused on this issue," McLaughlin tells the commission. (CBS)
9/11 warnings far more specific than White House admits
- April 18: The 9/11 commission reports that the warnings received by the US regarding imminent terrorist attacks before September 11 were far more frequent and specific than admitted by the Bush administration. Six of the ten commissioners have publicly said they believe the attacks could have been prevented if the warnings had been acted upon. Chairman Thomas Kean describes failures at every level of government, any of which could have, if avoided, could have prevented the attacks. Commission member Bob Kerrey says, "My conclusion is that it could have been prevented. That was not my conclusion when I went on the commission." Bush and his campaign and administration officials continue to insist that they were ignorant of any possibility of attacks before September 11, but the facts say otherwise. The commission makes the following points:
During the Clinton years, particularly at the National Security Council, the commission has found, there was uncertainty about whether the threat posed by al-Qaeda and bin Laden justified military action. Much of the debate was provoked by Richard Clarke, who led antiterrorism efforts under both Clinton and Bush and argued for aggressive action. "Former officials, including an NSC staffer working for Mr. Clarke, told us the threat was seen as one that could cause hundreds of casualties, not thousands," according to one interim commission report. "such differences affect calculations about whether or how to go to war. Even officials who acknowledge a vital threat intellectually may not be ready to act upon such beliefs at great cost or at high risk." In the first eight months of the Bush administration, the commission found, the president and his advisers received far more information, much of it dire in tone and detailed in content, than had been generally understood. Virtually all of this information was ignored or downplayed.
- Al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, did not blindside the United States, but were a threat recognized and discussed regularly at the highest levels of government for nearly five years before the attacks, in thousands of reports, often accompanied by urgent warnings from lower-level experts.
- Presidents Clinton and Bush received regular information about the threat of al-Qaeda and the intention of the bin Laden network to strike inside the United States. Each president made terrorism a stated priority, failed to find a diplomatic solution and viewed military force as a last resort. At the same time, neither grappled with the structural flaws and paralyzing dysfunction that undermined the CIA and the FBI, the two agencies on which the nation depended for protection from terrorists. By the end of his second term, Clinton and the director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, were barely speaking, in large part because Clinton and many senior administration officials believed that Freeh was secretly cooperating with efforts by conservatives to besmirch and eventually impeach Clinton.
- Even when the two agencies cooperated, the results were unimpressive. Kean said that he viewed the reports on the two agencies as indictments. In late August 2001, CIA director George Tenet learned that the FBI had arrested Zacarias Moussaoui after he had enrolled in a flight school. Tenet was given a memorandum titled 'Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly.' But he testified that he took no action and did not tell President Bush about the case.
- Some of the most striking information to be made public was contained in the August 6 PDB. Bush has prevaricated about the briefing, saying that it contained no specific details of when and where an attack might take place. While technically true, the briefing contained far more information than one would believe would be necessary for provoking the Bush administration into ramping up its awareness and preparations -- a process which did not take place. "I don't see any evidence that our airports were on heightened alert," Kerrey says. "A hijacking was not a bolt out of the blue." Throughout President Clinton's eight years in office, law enforcement and intelligence agencies tracked al-Qaeda through a succession of plots in the United States and overseas. The commission found new evidence that counterterrorism became a priority for the Clinton national security team. But the panel said the effort was stymied by bureaucratic miscommunications, diplomatic failures, intelligence lapses and policy miscalculations.
- On the intelligence side, the commission discovered confusion about crucial issues. White House aides believed, for example, that President Clinton had authorized actions to kill bin Laden, but CIA officers thought they were legally permitted to kill him only during an attempt to capture him. Throughout the 1990's, the panel found, law enforcement and intelligence experts, often in lower-level jobs, repeatedly warned that bin Laden wanted to strike inside the United States. The threat was plainly stated in documents disclosed by the commission. One, in 1998, was titled "Bin Laden Threatening to Attack US Aircraft," and cited the possibility of a strike using antiaircraft missiles.
- Another 1998 report, referring to bin Laden as "UBL," said, "UBL Plans for Reprisals Against US Targets, Possibly in US." A 1996 review of a plot to blow up airliners over the Pacific uncovered evidence of al-Qaeda interest in crashing a hijacked plane into CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. But the CIA's efforts to thwart bin Laden's network through covert action were ineffectual, the commission found. The agency's "Issue Station," which was set up in 1996 to hunt down bin Laden, had a half-dozen chances to attack him, but each time agency higher-ups balked. A plan to kill him in February 1999 was called off at the last minute because of concerns that he might be with a prince from the United Arab Emirates, regarded as a useful ally in counterterrorism, the commission reported. Clinton tried diplomacy, but that too failed.
- In 1998, bin Laden issued a public call for any Muslim to kill any American anywhere in the world. That April, Bill Richardson, the United States representative to the United Nations, went to Afghanistan and asked the Taliban government to surrender bin Laden to the United States. Simultaneous Qaeda bombings in August 1998 at American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania galvanized talk of aggressive efforts, but brought no tangible results. Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes against a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and a suspected chemical weapons plant in the Sudan. The missiles hit their intended targets, but neither bin Laden nor any other terrorist leader was killed. In December 1998, Tenet announced in a memorandm to his senior staff at the CIA that they would henceforth be at war with al-Qaeda. "I want no resources or people spared," he wrote. In practice, the commission concluded, Tenet's declaration of war, which the CIA director has frequently cited in his public testimony since the attacks, had "little overall effect."
- The FBI, the country's other principal counterterrorism agency, struggled to repackage the tools of an interstate crime-fighting organization against a highly unconventional foreign-based threat to the United States. One interim panel report described the FBI as a bureaucracy suffocated by outmoded rules and legal barriers that barred criminal investigators from obtaining intelligence data. Agents worked on an aging computer system that kept them from knowing what other agents in their own offices, much less those around the country, were working on. Some FBI analysts hired to assess terror threats were assigned to jobs entering data and answering telephones. Throughout the 1990's, the bureau focused on investigations of specific terror attacks to bring criminal cases to court. The most successful were handled by its New York office, whose agents were among the most knowledgeable in the world about al-Qaeda. By late in the decade, the FBI recognized the need to improve its intelligence collection and analysis, but the report said that Freeh had difficulty reconciling that with its continuing agenda, including the war on drugs. As a result, the bureau's counterterrorism staff was thin. On September 11, 2001, only about 6 percent of the FBI's agent work force was assigned to terrorism. In October 2000, two al-Qaeda suicide bombers in a small boat packed with explosives attacked the Navy destroyer Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 American sailors. Clinton did not retaliate, but Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, warned his successor, Condoleezza Rice, that "she would be spending more time on terrorism and al-Qaeda than any other issue." Evidence shows that Rice spent far less time on dealing with terrorism than Berger might have liked.
- Warned of the threat during the transition, Bush's national security team started work in March 2001 on a comprehensive strategy to eradicate the terror network. But the effort seemed to plod ahead almost in isolation from the urgent notices by the CIA. Most of the threat warnings, but not all, pointed overseas. At the end of May, Cofer Black, chief of the CIA's counterterrorism center, told Rice that the threat level stood at "7 on a scale of 10, as compared to an 8 during the millennium," the period around January 2000 when the Clinton administration thwarted a huge terror attack on the Los Angeles airport. In response, American embassies were warned to take precautions. The State Department warned Americans traveling overseas. The CIA intensified operations to disrupt terror cells around the world. Tenet took his terror warnings directly to Bush. Rice said that at least 40 meetings between the CIA director and the president dealt "in one way or other with al-Qaeda or the al-Qaeda threat." Tenet later said "the system was blinking red," adding that no warning indicated that terrorists would fly hijacked commercial aircraft into buildings in the United States. On July 5, Rice and Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, asked Clarke to alert top officials of the country's domestic agencies. "Let's make sure they're buttoning down," Rice said. The FAA issued threat advisories, but neither the agency's top administrator nor Norman Mineta, the secretary of transportation, was aware of the increased threat level, said Jamie Gorelick, a commission member, at a hearing last week. On July 27, Clarke informed Rice that the threat reporting had dropped. But White House officials said that Bush continued to ask about any evidence of a domestic attack.
- In August, CIA officials prepared a briefing about the possibility of al-Qaeda operations inside the United States, including the use of aircraft in terror attacks. The briefing paper was presented to Bush on August 6 at his Texas ranch during Bush's month-long vacation. The memorandum, declassified on April 10 by the White House at the commission's request, included some ominous information. It said that al-Qaeda operatives had been in the United States for years, might be planning an attack in the United States and could be focusing on a building in New York City as a target. Bush said the August 6 report was not specific enough to order new actions. "I am satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America at a time and place, an attack," he said. "Of course I knew that America was hated by Osama bin Laden. That was obvious. The question was, who was going to attack us, when and where and with what?" The president noted that the memo said the FBI had 70 investigations under way related to al-Qaeda, a number later shown to be vastly inflated. In addition, the FBI had sent messages to its field offices urging agents to be vigilant. Thomas Pickard, the FBI's acting director from June to August, said he telephoned top agents to advise them of the threat. But the commission found that most FBI personnel "did not recall a heightened sense of threat from al-Qaeda." The commission found several previously undisclosed intelligence reports to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and national security aides dating back to April and May, when the volume of warnings began to increase. Bush was given briefing papers headlined, "Bin Laden Planning Multiple Operations," "Bin Laden Threats Are Real" and "Bin Laden's Plans Advancing." None of these reports produced any direct action.
- In August 2001, the FBI and the CIA came as close as the government ever did to detecting anyone connected to the September 11 plot. That month investigators finally made progress in the fractured effort to track down two men, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi, who on September 11 were aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. The CIA had investigated the pair off and on since they had been seen at an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in January 2000. But they were not placed on a State Department watch list until August 23, after they already were in the United States. Moreover, the CIA failed to tell the FBI's primary investigators on the Cole case of a key connection between the two men and a Cole suspect until after September 11. "No one apparently felt they needed to inform higher level of management in either the FBI or CIA about the case," one commission report said. In mid-August, after the arrest of Moussaoui in Minneapolis, the commission disclosed, Tenet and his top deputies were sent a briefing paper labeled "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly." But they took no action on the report. The commission found several missed opportunities in the Moussaoui investigation that might have detected his connection to a Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, that planned the 911 attacks. "A maximum US effort to investigate Moussaoui could conceivably have unearthed his connections to the Hamburg cell," one commission report said. The report added that publicity about Moussaoui's arrest "might have disrupted the plot. But such an effort would have been a race against time." It was not until September 10 that Bush's national security aides approved a three-phase strategy to eliminate al-Qaeda. The plan, which was to unfold over three to five years, envisioned a mission to the Taliban in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda was based; increased diplomatic pressure; and covert action. Military strikes might be used, but only if all other means failed. (New York Times)
- April 18: Contradicting three years of denials by the Bush White House, it is revealed by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, that it had conducted drills since 1999 simulating what the White House says was unimaginable at the time: hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties. One of the imagined targets was the World Trade Center. In another exercise, jets performed a mock shootdown over the Atlantic Ocean of a jet supposedly laden with chemical poisons headed toward a target in the United States. In a third scenario, the target was the Pentagon, but that drill was not run after Defense officials said it was unrealistic, NORAD and Defense officials say. "Numerous types of civilian and military aircraft were used as mock hijacked aircraft," NORAD says in a statement. "These exercises tested track detection and identification; scramble and interception; hijack procedures; internal and external agency coordination and operational security and communications security procedures." A White House spokesman says that the Bush administration was not aware of the NORAD exercises, though how this is possible is hard to imagine.
- On April 8, the 9/11 Commission testimony from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that the White House didn't anticipate hijacked planes being used as weapons. On April 12, a watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, released a copy of an e-mail written by a former NORAD official referring to the proposed exercise targeting the Pentagon. The e-mail said the simulation was not held because the Pentagon considered it "too unrealistic." President Bush said at a news conference April 13, "Nobody in our government, at least, and I don't think the prior government, could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale." The exercises differed from the Sept. 11 attacks in one important respect: The planes in the simulation were coming from a foreign country. Until Sept. 11, NORAD was expected to defend the United States and Canada from aircraft based elsewhere. After the attacks, that responsibility broadened to include flights that originated in the two countries. But there were exceptions in the early drills, including one operation, planned in July 2001 and conducted later, that involved planes from airports in Utah and Washington state that were "hijacked." Those planes were escorted by US and Canadian aircraft to airfields in British Columbia and Alaska.
- NORAD officials have acknowledged that "scriptwriters" for the drills included the idea of hijacked aircraft being used as weapons. "Threats of killing hostages or crashing were left to the scriptwriters to invoke creativity and broaden the required response," Major General Craig McKinley, a NORAD official, told the 9/11 commission. No exercise matched the specific events of Sept. 11, NORAD said. "We have planned and executed numerous scenarios over the years to include aircraft originating from foreign airports penetrating our sovereign airspace," General Ralph Eberhart, NORAD commander, says. "Regrettably, the tragic events of 9/11 were never anticipated or exercised." NORAD, a U.S.-Canadian command, was created in 1958 to guard against Soviet bombers. Until Sept. 11, 2001, NORAD conducted four major exercises a year. Most included a hijack scenario, but not all of those involved planes as weapons. Since the attacks, NORAD has conducted more than 100 exercises, all with mock hijackings. NORAD fighters based in Florida have intercepted two hijacked smaller aircraft since the Sept. 11 attacks. Both originated in Cuba and were escorted to Key West in the spring of 2003, NORAD says. (USA Today)
Gorelick disproves Ashcroft charges
- April 18: 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick writes a column for the Washington Post clarifying the truth about the March 1995 memo used by Attorney General Ashcroft to attempt to pin blame for the 9/11 attacks on the Clinton administration as well as to smear Gorelick. She writes, "At last week's hearing, Attorney General John Ashcroft, facing criticism, asserted that 'the single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the wall that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents' and that I built that wall through a March 1995 memo. This is simply not true.
- First, I did not invent the 'wall,' which is not a wall but a set of procedures implementing a 1978 statute (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA) and federal court decisions interpreting it. In a nutshell, that law, as the courts read it, said intelligence investigators could conduct electronic surveillance in the United States against foreign targets under a more lenient standard than is required in ordinary criminal cases, but only if the 'primary purpose' of the surveillance were foreign intelligence rather than a criminal prosecution.
- Second, according to the FISA Court of Review, it was the justice departments under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 1980s that began to read the statute as limiting the department's ability to obtain FISA orders if it intended to bring a criminal prosecution. The practice of prohibiting prosecutors from directing intelligence investigations was first put in place in those years as well. Then, in July 1995, Attorney General Janet Reno issued written guidelines that spelled out the steps FBI intelligence agents and criminal investigators and prosecutors needed to follow when sharing information. The point was to preserve the ability of prosecutors to use information collected by intelligence agents.
- Third, Mr. Ashcroft's own deputy attorney general, Larry Thompson, formally reaffirmed the 1995 guidelines in an Aug. 6, 2001, memo addressed to the FBI and the Justice Department. Ashcroft has charged that the guidelines hampered the department's ability to pursue terrorists Zacarias Moussaoui, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi in August 2001, but his own department had endorsed those guidelines at the pivotal time.
- Fourth, the memo I wrote in March 1995 -- which concerns information-sharing in two particular cases, including the original World Trade Center bombing -- permits freer coordination between intelligence and criminal investigators than was subsequently permitted by the 1995 guidelines or the 2001 Thompson memo. The purpose of my memo was to resolve a problem presented to me: facilitating investigations on both the intelligence side and criminal side at the same time. My memo directed agents on both sides to share information -- and, in particular, directed one agent to work on both the criminal and intelligence investigations -- to ensure the flow of information 'over the wall.' We set up special procedures because of the extraordinary circumstances and the necessity to prevent a court from throwing out any conviction in those cases. Had my memo been in place in August 2001 -- when, as Ashcroft said, FBI officials rejected a criminal warrant of Moussaoui because they feared 'breaching the wall' -- it would have allowed those agents to obtain a criminal warrant without fear of jeopardizing an intelligence investigation.
- Fifth, nothing in the 1995 guidelines prevented the sharing of information between criminal and intelligence investigators. Indeed, the guidelines require that FBI foreign intelligence agents share information with criminal investigators and prosecutors whenever they uncover facts suggesting that a crime has been or may be committed. The guidelines did set forth procedures, but those procedures implemented court decisions and, as noted, were reaffirmed by the Ashcroft Justice Department. The Patriot Act, enacted after 9/11, together with an unprecedented appeal to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, paved the way for the Justice Department to permit largely unrestricted information-sharing between intelligence and criminal investigators because the law changed the legal standard that had given rise to the guidelines in the first place. The Patriot Act says that electronic surveillance can be conducted in the United States against foreign threats as long as a 'significant purpose' -- rather than the 'primary purpose' -- is to obtain foreign intelligence. This history has all been well-rehearsed in publicly available briefs, opinions and reports, all available to the 9/11 commission.
- Gorelick concludes, "I have -- consistent with the policy applied to all commissioners -- recused myself from any consideration of my actions or of the department while I was there. My fellow commissioners have spoken for themselves in rejecting the call by a few partisans that I step aside based upon false premises. I have worked hard to help the American public understand what happened on Sept. 11. I intend -- with my brethren on the commission -- to finish the job." (Washington Post)
- April 18: The "wall" between the FBI and CIA sharing certain information was not built to hamper investigations of terrorism, as alleged by Attorney General John Ashcroft and conservative mavens, but was constructed to protect Americans' Fourth Amendment rights. According to Denver criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt, Ashcroft tried to draft the pertinent part of the USA Patriot Act to virtually eliminate those Fourth Amendment protections, an attempt thwarted by Congressional members who felt Ashcroft's attempt to change the law was unconstitutional. Indeed, Ashcroft has used the Patriot Act to twist the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (the "wall") out of shape, bending and perhaps breaking the law to perform wiretaps and surveillance on American citizens who have been charged with no crime and are not suspected of any illegal activity. Merritt reports, "Civil liberties advocates call the Justice Department's position 'a bait and switch.' According to [Law Professor Jonathan] Turley, 'The whole point of that compromise [with Congress] was to deny use of FISA in investigations that were principally law enforcement. After agreeing to compromise in congressional proceedings, they went on in secret to implement what was originally refused by Congress.' Bottom line: The wall was a good thing, not a bad thing. And under Bush and Ashcroft, it's come tumbling down." (TalkLeft)
- April 22: Newsday columnist Marie Cocco calls on the Bush administration to reveal the 28 pages of the December 2002 report of the joint congressional inquiry into intelligence failures before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Those 28 pages are widely suspected of detailing Saudi Arabian involvement in the attacks. Currently, federal investigators are investigating dealings by eminent Washington financial institution Riggs Bank, which was up until March 2004 the chief US banker for the Saudi royal family. The investigation is looking into evidence of money laundering of the movement of Saudi funds abroad, and the Saudi sponsorship of charitable organizations believed to fund terrorism. The funds include the personal accounts of longtime Bush family friend and Saudi ambassador to the US Prince Bandar bin Sultan, known in Bush circles as "Bandar Bush." Bandar, it will be recalled, was brought into the decision-making process of the Iraqi invasion even before Secretary of State Colin Powell, and given access to top-secret documents specifically detailed to be kept from foreign eyes. Bandar has also promised that the Saudis would make sure US gas prices were lowered before the election, in order to give Bush's election a boost. Cocco writes, "This Bush intimacy with the Saudi royal family is creepy. I have never believed the many conspiracy theories about official Saudi complicity in 9/11 -- the talk is cheap and dangerous. But I do wonder what the president and vice president of the United States would be doing telling military secrets...to an ambassador whose embassy money matters are under investigation by Congress, federal bank regulators and reportedly by the FBI. What was the president thinking when he sought Saudi help on invading Iraq, without mentioning terrorism, too? The Saudi government long ago asked Bush to declassify those 28 pages. He won't. He says it's a matter of national security. Now we know what he means. By the time the final congressional report was made public, Bush was on the warpath to Iraq. And he couldn't get by without a little help from his Saudi friends." (Newsday)
- April 23: 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick says she has received numerous death threats following Attorney General John Ashcroft's spurious attack on her actions as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, and follow-up attacks from Ashcroft's Justice Department, all alleging that she contributed to the failure of the FBI and CIA to share information. "I can confirm that I've received threats at my office and my home," she says. "I did get a bomb threat to my home." She adds, "I have gotten a lot of very vile e-mails. The bomb threat was by phone." The threats were "scary," she says, but adds that she was "not intimidated enough to resign from the commission." A number of conservatives have demanded that Gorelick quit the commission. Chairman Thomas Kean, a Republican, and the other commission members, Democrat and Republican alike, have defended Gorelick and supported her decision to remain on the commission. The FBI is investigating the threats. Gorelick says she has always recused herself from reviewing any actions that occurred while she was at the Justice Department. (CNN)
- April 23: Outgoing CPA administrator Paul Bremer should testify in front of the 9/11 commission upon his return from Iraq, says Chicago Reader columnist Michael Minor. Minor observes that Bremer was the Reagan administration's "ambassador-at-large" of counterterrorism. Ten years later, Bremer sat on the Gilmore commission, an advisory panel commission to study the terrorist threat to the US that concluded in December 2000: "the United States has no coherent, functional national strategy for combating terrorism.... The organization of the Federal government's programs for combating terrorism is fragmented, uncoordinated, and politically unaccountable." The commission recommended that "the next President should develop and present to the Congress a national strategy for combating terrorism within one year of assuming office." In 1999 Bremer chaired the National Commission on Terrorism, which produced a report claiming America's capacity to prevent and punish terrorism was "seriously deficient." On February 26, 2001, the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation opened a three-day conference on the theme "Terrorism: Informing the Public" Wheaton, Illinois. Bremer, who gave the keynote speech, recalled his work on the National Commission on Terrorism: "We concluded that the general terrorist threat is increasing," Bremer said, "particularly because of a change in the motives of terrorist groups.... We have seen a move from narrow political motivation to a broader ideological, religious, or apocalyptic motive for many terrorist groups -- groups that are not attacking because they are trying to find a broader audience, but are acting out of revenge or hatred, or simply out of an apocalyptic belief that the end of the world is near."
- The new terrorists, he said, weren't interested in killing just enough innocent people to get noticed; their aim was mass slaughter. Bremer recommended that the newly installed Bush administration should be held accountable by the media for working against terrorism: "It is the media's responsibility, and an important one, though very uncomfortable for people in government, to put a very strong spotlight on the government's policies and practices on terrorism, especially given the current disorganization of the federal government's fight against terrorism. In this area, the federal government is in complete disarray. There's been remarkably little attention to the major recommendation the Gilmore Commission made for a substantial reorganization of the government's approach to terrorism. Journalists shouldn't let politicians get away with that. The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?' That's too bad. They've been given a window of opportunity with very little terrorism now, and they're not taking advantage of it. Maybe the folks in the press ought to be pushing a little bit." As we now know, the press largely failed to push the administration, and the administration itself all but ignored the threat of terrorism until after 9/11, proving the prescience of Bremer's words. (Chicago Reader)
- April 23: One of the more persistent "conspiracy theories" surrounding the 9/11 attacks is that someone, perhaps CIA agents, planted bombs in the World Trade Center before the planes flew into the buildings. Although no evidence is available to prove this theory, some experts believe that the blasts that brought down both buildings were far too large to have been caused by jetliners crashing into the buildings. An interesting piece of information that may support this theory has come to light with the statement of Scott Forbes, a senior database administrator for Fiduciary Trust, Inc., which had offices in the WTC. Forbes says that an unusual "power-down" took place at the WTC the week before the terrorist attacks. Such a power-down, which had never taken place at the WTC, would give an excellent opportunity for the planting of bombs. The reason for the power-down was that the New York City Port Authority was installing new cabling for high-speed Internet access. Forbes recalls that the power-down began on September 8, and continued through the afternoon of September 9, over 30 hours of power outage. As a result of having its electricity cut, the WTC's security cameras were rendered inoperative, as were its ID systems, and elevators to the upper floors. Power and security measures were still operative on the lower floors. Forbes says other peculiarities took place. Fiduciary employees in the WTC during the attacks told family members via cell phone calls that they were hearing "bomb-like explosions" throughout the towers after the planes struck. Video cameras positioned atop the World Trade Center which were used to feed daily images to local television stations were inexplicably inoperative the morning of September 11. A Fiduciary employee who was on one of the lower floors and escaped immediately after the first tower was struck, reported that he was amazed by the large number of FBI agents that were already on the streets surrounding the WTC complex only minutes after the initial strike. (Los Angeles IndyMedia)
- April 24: Joan Molinaro, whose son, Carl, was a firefighter who lost his life after the 9/11 attacks on the WTC, says she has some questions for the upcoming testimony of Bush and Cheney to the 9/11 commission. "First, I am distressed that the President and his top aides have not yet taken responsibility for America's worst intelligence and security breakdown since Pearl Harbor," she writes in an op-ed. "Only by admitting what went wrong can we make the changes needed to protect us from future terrorist attack. Only by acknowledging past failures can we win the war on terrorism. I was shocked when Bush said during his recent press conference that no one could have known that al-Qaeda would hijack a plane and fly it into a building. Since 1995, when U.S. intelligence discovered an al-Qaeda plot to hijack and destroy 12 airliners and crash a plane into CIA headquarters, we have known of Osama bin Laden's 9/11-style plans. In 1998, the FBI and Federal Aviation Administration received intelligence that a group of Arabs planned to fly an explosive-laden plane from a foreign country into the World Trade Center. Throughout the summer of 2001, the FAA warned that terrorist groups were planning hijackings here. The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) of Aug. 6, 2001, was headlined 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.' and sounded the alarm about '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.' So when Bush said, 'The PDB was no indication of a terrorist threat, there was not a time and place of an attack,' I wanted to scream, 'Did you expect the terrorists to send you their plans gift-wrapped?' Why is he making excuses rather than taking responsibility? Here, then, are some of the questions I'd like the 9/11 commission to put to Bush and Cheney:
I will not allow Carl's death to be in vain. Since 9/11, I have been fighting to get answers. It is my hope that Bush will start providing some of them on Thursday." (New York Daily News)
- Why has the White House done nothing to help the more than 6,000 9/11 families and survivors who are working to bankrupt terrorism by taking action against al-Qaeda's financiers?
- Why did Bush let Saudi royals and bin Laden relatives flee the U.S. right after 9/11 -- violating the no-fly order -- before they could be interviewed by the FBI?
- Why did our government let two alleged al-Qaeda members -- one a roommate of lead hijacker Mohamed Atta -- go free after they had been indicted in Germany by refusing to share evidence with the German prosecutors? I traveled to Germany twice to assist in their prosecutions, and I feel betrayed.
- Why isn't Bush changing immigration laws to make it harder for terrorists to get driver's licenses and visas? The hijackers had 63 driver's licenses among them, all the ID they needed to board the planes.
- April 25: Questions and criticisms surround the upcoming joint appearance of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney before the 9/11 commission. Bush refuses to explain the rationale behind his insistance that he and Cheney appear together; Democrats charge that Cheney will be Bush's "ventriloquist" during the appearance. Independent observers say it's obvious that the two are trying to keep their stories straight by appearing together. Chairman Thomas Kean recently quipped, "Well, we recognize that Mr. Bush may help Mr. Cheney with some of the answers." Bush, asked twice at his recent news conference why he and Cheney required a joint appearance, would only say, "It's a good chance for both of us to answer questions that the 9/11 commission is looking forward to asking us, and I'm looking forward to answering them." Administration officials say that the joint testimony is a way for the two to tie together the testimony of other officials. They also say that while the commissioners are free to address any subject, they expect the panel to focus on the actions on Sept. 11, and that because the two men were in separate locations, though in constant contact, presenting the narrative jointly would allow for a comprehensive chronology rather than two largely redundant accounts. "On September 11, the president and vice president were in different locations when these horrific attacks took place, but they were in contact with each other throughout the day," says White House press secretary Scott McClellan. "It makes sense, from that standpoint, to pull together as much as possible."
- But analysts said that explanation has not dispelled suspicions that the two men are trying to keep their accounts consistent. "I've tried to think of a better explanation, and I can't," says the American Enterprise Institute's Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar. "There's little doubt if the president had a better explanation he would have addressed the issue." It is common for congressional panels to have joint appearances by witnesses. But these are generally done at the request of the committees to save time or to encourage a debate among the witnesses. Experts in probes of the executive branch say they could not think of an arrangement similar to that required by Bush and Cheney. Bruce Fein, who served in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration and on the Republican staff of the congressional Iran-contra investigation, says the arrangement has both constitutional and investigative flaws. "A joint appearance sabotages the idea of a unitary executive -- the 'buck stops here' attitude of Harry Truman -- by enabling Bush to shift blame or accountability to Cheney when politically expedient." In investigations such as Iran-Contra, Fein says, "customary legal rules require sequestration of witnesses in depositions and at trial to avoid tailoring the truth to avoid inconsistencies."
- America Coming Together, an anti-Bush election fund, offered a less clinical analysis. "Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy?" the group asked in a news release about the Bush-Cheney appearance. The commission in mid-February requested individual interviews with Bush, Cheney, Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Clinton and Gore accepted, but Bush and Cheney each said they would meet only with representatives of the commission. The White House also sought to put a one-hour time limit on the president's appearance. The commission pushed for the sessions with Bush and Cheney to be for all 10 commissioners and without a set time limit -- a request the White House ultimately accepted, but with the condition that the session be a joint appearance. The private session will not be considered under-oath testimony because of executive-power concerns voiced by the White House. "The commission's response was it was a little unusual and a little unprecedented, but it was fine," says commission spokesman Al Felzenberg. (Washington Post)
- April 27: Former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds goes to court today as US government attorneys attempt to block a subpoena to have her deposed as a witness in the $1 trillion lawsuit regarding terrorism finance brought by families of 9/11 victims. Edmonds says her testimony will prove that the FBI and the State Department engaged in illegal espionage and possibly treasonous activities during its investigations of al-Qaeda terror plots. "As you know, I cannot say much about that," she says, "but why do you think Attorney General Ashcroft asserted State Secret Privilege in my case when I decided to go public with what I had found in the translations?" Edmonds says she has proof that FBI agents contacted al-Qaeda operatives living in the United States just days before the 9/11 bombings, attempting to ascertain how the group would respond to legislation tightening American security (the legislation was signed into law on September 4, 2001). Edmonds believes that the new laws may have accelerated al-Qaeda's plans to hijack planes and fly them into buildings in Washington and New York City. The director of the Web site 9/11 Citizens Watch, Kyle Hence, says that "if what she knows is revealed, it could lead to charges of treason being leveled against officials at top levels of the U.S. government. ...If that is the case, then all those who have been involved in keeping this information from getting to the public are complicit in this treason." Edmonds says Ashcroft privately offered her a raise and a full-time job if she would not go public with her testimony.
- She also says, "My translations of the pre 9-11 intercepts included [terrorist] money laundering, with detailed and date specific information enough to alert the American people." Edmonds, who was fired and gagged by a federal judge, also says that "translators before me had ongoing personal relationships with the subjects or targets of the FBI and Justice Department pre 9-11 investigations -- linked to intercepts and other intelligence -- in June - July - August, just prior to the attacks." The Justice Department is working hard to keep Edmonds's testimony from ever going public; according to Republican senator Charles Grassley, who is familiar with Edmond's information, her charges are "quite credible." (Tom Flocco)
Bush, Cheney testify behind closed doors
- April 29: Bush and Cheney meet for three hours with the 9/11 commission behind closed doors. The two set the parameters for the meeting, insisting on meeting jointly with the commission, insisting that the proceedings not be held publicly, refusing to be sworn in, and refusing to allow any but the most minimal transcripts to be taken. "It was an extraordinarily good meeting," says commission chairman Thomas Kean. "The president was forthright. ...We said we hoped we could test some things out as to whether some of recommendations we were considering were indeed practical," he adds. "The president said he was open to some ideas, and nothing was ruled out." Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey says, "It was a very good meeting. I do think it'll help -- in particular the president's description of what happened during 2001 and most particularly on 9/11." He describes some of the answers as "surprising" and "new" but declines to give details: "I think the less I say that could be construed as critical, the better chance we have of reaching consensus when we write our final report."
- Bush and Cheney field a broad array of questions about the lack of a US military response after the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors and an August 6, 2001, presidential brief Bush received a month before the attacks warning that Osama bin Laden was preparing to strike. The government's response on the day of the attacks also was discussed, with Bush and Cheney offering a detailed narrative that will be helpful for the commission's remaining two public hearings, commission members say. On May 18-19, the commission will hold a hearing in New York City on the city's emergency response and the 9/11 plot, with testimony from former Mayor Rudy Guiliani and former city and fire officials. On June 8-9, the panel will review national crisis management. "I answered every question they asked," Bush says after the meeting. "I think it helped them understand how I think and how I run the White House and how we deal with threats." He said there was a lot of discussion about how to protect the nation better. "We are still vulnerable to attack," he continues. "And the reason why is al-Qaeda still exists, al-Qaeda's dangerous, al-Qaeda hates us. And we have to be correct 100 percent of the time in defending America and they've got to be right once."
- White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who speaks with reporters during the testimony, says it is an opportunity for the president to "talk with them about the seriousness with which we took the threat from al-Qaeda, the steps we were taking to confront it and how we have been responding to the attacks of Sept. 11." One area some commissioners say they want to focus on is the administration's response on Sept. 11, 2001. Some relatives of Sept. 11 victims believe that if military jets were scrambled sooner after the first hijacked plane hit New York's World Trade Center at 8:46 , the government could have prevented American Airlines Flight 77 from crashing into the Pentagon more than 50 minutes later. Unlike the commission's televised hearings where tempers sometimes flared, there were no tense moments in the Oval Office, says Jim Thompson, a Republican commission member. He called Bush "a bit of a tease" and says there was laughter at times. It was Bush who responded to most of the questions, officials say. Cheney spoke only when Bush turned to him about details he didn't know, according to one participant. Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member and an aggressive questioner at earlier sessions, says, "It was a very cordial meeting" and everyone got to ask questions. Unlike the commission's private meeting with former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore, the meeting was not recorded or transcribed. While details will be included in the panel's final report, they may be deleted from the version for public release if the White House deems the information classified. "We would have hoped there would have been some sort of record of the meeting for the annals of history," says Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband Ronald died in the World Trade Center. "It is enormously important for the American public to have an open, transparent dialogue and debate on our nation's ability to defend ourselves." (AP/Miami Herald)
- April 29: Monica Gabrielle, who lost her husband Richard on September 11, writes of the day's testimony by Bush and Cheney behind closed doors to the 9/11 commission. She writes, "Bush and Cheney will appear together because they refuse to appear separately. It will be behind closed doors because they don't want to speak publicly. There will be a 'note taker,' no recorded transcript. But I want to know the whole ugly truth. My husband, Richard Gabrielle, died on the 103rd floor of Tower 2 that day; I want to know what was done beforehand to prevent it from happening, and I want to know what we're doing to prevent it from happening again. My great fear is that their answers will never find their way to the public. I can't be at the meeting. I'm not allowed in. But if I were, this is what I would ask.
- For President Bush: Why was our nation so utterly unprepared for an attack on our own soil? On the morning of 9/11, who was in charge while you were away from the National Military Command Center? Were you informed or consulted about all decisions made in your absence? At what time were you made aware that other planes were hijacked in addition to Flight 11 and Flight 175? What was your course of action? Beginning with the transition period between the Clinton administration and your own, and ending on 9/11/01, specifically what information about terrorists, possible attacks and targets did you receive? Please explain why no one in our government has yet been held accountable for the failures leading up to and on 9/11. From May 1 until Sept. 11, 2001, did you receive any information from any intelligence agency official that Osama bin Laden was planning to attack this nation on its own soil? That terrorists were planning to use airplanes as weapons? That New York City landmarks were being targeted? What defensive measures did you take in response to pre- 9/11 warnings and/or threats from 11 nations about a terrorist attack, many of which cited an attack in the continental U.S.? From May 1, 2001, until Sept. 11, 2001, did you or any agent of the U.S. government carry out any negotiations or talks with Bin Laden, an agent of Bin Laden or al-Qaeda?
- For Vice President Cheney: On Sept. 11, when did you first become aware that the U.S. was under attack? The Hart-Rudman report, released in January 2001, predicted a terrorist attack within the US. Yet the White House set aside report recommendations and announced in May that you would study the issue of domestic terrorism. Apparently, responsibility was then passed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency director. Congress had been willing to support the recommendations. What happened? Besides ensuring the succession to the presidency, is there a defense protocol in the event our nation is attacked? What is it and was it followed? What subsequent actions did you take to defend our nation? Did you have open lines with the Secret Service, NORAD, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense? Who was in the Situation Room with you? Was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or anyone at the Pentagon informed that we were under attack? If so, at what time was the Pentagon informed? If not Rumsfeld, who? Why wasn't the Pentagon defended? Did you consult with President Bush about all decisions? Please describe any discussions/negotiations between the Taliban and either public or private agents before Sept. 11 regarding bin Laden and/or rights to pass a pipeline through Afghanistan, or any other subject pertaining to Afghanistan." (Los Angeles Times/CommonDreams)
- April 29: The White House criticizes John Ashcroft's decision to declassify memos that he alleged, wrongly, proved that Democratic 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick was responsible for policies that he claimed hampered investigations into terrorism. In a rare instance of public criticism of anyone in its administration, White House spokesman Scott McClellan says Bush is disappointed Attorney General Ashcroft's Justice Department had declassified and made public 29 pages of documents relating to Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick's time as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. The department posted the documents on its Web site on April 28 as "supplementary material" to Ashcroft's testimony to the panel earlier this month. "We were not involved in it," McClellan says. "The president was disappointed about that.... He's disappointed that that information was placed on their Web site like that." The documents include instructions on separation of foreign counterintelligence and criminal investigations, reactions to the instructions and even hand-written notes from Gorelick regarding the so-called wall that governs intelligence uses. The "wall," a key subject at hearings of the commission, has been cited by Ashcroft as a main obstacle to better sharing of information before the hijacked airliner attacks. McClellan says Bush expressed his disappointment about the documents to the commission during more than three hours of questioning at the White House. "The president does not believe we ought to be pointing fingers in this time period," McClellan says.
- Shortly after McClellan's public criticism, Republican Senator John Cornyn defends Ashcroft, saying that the documents were released in response to a request by him on behalf of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Cornyn says the request for the documents was made because the Sept. 11 panel did not have Gorelick provide public testimony. However, Cornyn's spokesman says the senator did not ask for the documents to be posted on the Web site. During his testimony two weeks ago, Ashcroft made public a different memo written by Gorelick in 1995 that established distinctions between intelligence that could be used for law enforcement and intelligence for national security purposes. Gorelick has said the "wall" was part of a law in place since the mid-1980s. The 1995 guidelines were kept in place by the Ashcroft Justice Department in a memo issued five weeks before the attacks. A former Justice Department official from the Clinton administration expresses concern that in releasing the Gorelick documents the department was engaging in partisan, political activities. (Boston Globe)
- April 30: In an interview with radio host Jim Hogue, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds calls the 9/11 investigation "inadequate." Edmonds restates her efforts to alert the FBI for what she calls "very significant issues" regarding the impending terrorist attacks, and how, even after contacting the highest levels of FBI authorities, was told not to investigate any further and, in her words, "just let it be." Edmonds was even threatened with retaliation if she pressed the issue. In February 2002, she was accused of giving information to members of the Senate and was forced to take a polygraph test, which she passed. A month later, she decided to do what she had been accused of doing, and took her information to both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Department of Justice Inspector General's office. The Committee requested that the Inspector General's office begin an "expedited investigation" into Edmonds' information, which she is constrained by secrecy laws not to reveal. The investigation was promised to be complete by February 2002; as of yet, no report has been issued. Edmonds says, "[H]ere we are in April 2004 and this report is not being made public, and they are citing 'state privilege' and 'national security' for not making this report public."
- Just after her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Edmonds was fired by the FBI for what it terms "government's convenience." Her efforts to bolster her claims by requesting documents she had worked on were blocked by the Justice Department's IG, who cited the "state secret privilege" and "national security" in refusing to make these documents public. On October 18th, 2002, Attorney General Ashcroft publicly asserted that the entire Edmonds case was being kept under wraps due to "state secret privilege," He also cited "diplomatic relations" and certain "foreign relations" that would be "at stake" if she were to take this issue and make it public. Since then, Edmonds has been under a gag rule about discussing specifics of her case in public.
- On February 11, 2004, Edmonds testified before the 9/11 commission in secret hearings. On April 8, Senator Patrick Leahy sent a letter to Ashcroft, citing Edmonds' case. He said that he had been asking questions, and has a lot of issues that have not been addressed, and asked Ashcroft to provide answers. Ashcroft has consistently refused to discuss Edmond's case with Congress. Edmonds says that as helpful as Leahy and Senator Charles Grassley have been, Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate, has been a powerful road block. In fact, Edmonds asserts, Grassley, a fellow Republican of Hatch's, has been less supportive than was originally the case. Edmonds says, "I'm very disappointed with Senator Grassley's office and his staff members. They initially were very supportive. But what I am getting from their office every time I call is, 'Well this issue is under the Inspector General,' and that their hands are tied. And then I press further and ask, 'Well, what do you mean, "our hands are tied?" Who's tying your hands? Untie it. Let's get it untied.' They don't have any response. They say, 'Well, this issue is very complex, and as you know, it is being investigated.' And I'm not seeing any issue being investigated. What I'm seeing is that this issue is being covered up, and relentlessly being covered up, in consideration of 'state privilege,' which people are calling 'the neutron bomb of all privilege.'"
- When asked why mid-level FBI managers would care enough to block her inquiries and testimony, she replies, "This was mainly for the reason of accountability. As you know, and as the chairman for the 9/11 Commission answered during Tim Russert's show: to this day, not a single person has been held accountable. And certain issues, yes, they were due to a certain level of incompetence. But there were certain other issues -- you know they keep talking about this 'wall,' and not having communication. I beg to differ on that, because there are certain instances where the Bureau is being asked by the State Department not to pursue certain investigations or certain people or certain targets of an investigation -- simply citing 'diplomatic relations.' And what happens is, instead of targeting those people who are directly related to these illegal terrorist activities, they just let them walk free. ...I see people detained for simple INS violations. On the other hand I have seen several, several top targets for these investigations of these terrorist activities that were allowed to leave the country -- I'm not talking about weeks, I'm talking about months after 9/11."
- Edmonds cites four other FBI investigations outside of her own, in Phoenix, Minneapols, Chicago, and New York that were "squelched." Edmonds says that "If they were to do real investigations we would see several significant high level criminal prosecutions in this country. And that is something that they are not going to let out. And, believe me; they will do everything to cover this up. And I am appalled. I am really surprised. I'm taken back by seeing the mass media's reaction to this. They are the window to our government's operation and what are they doing." When asked if the "diplomatic relations" clause points to the Saudis, Edmonds says that she cannot name any country, but that there is more than one country involved. "I understand the Saudis have been named because fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were from Saudi Arabia," she says. "However, the names of people from other countries, and semi-legit organizations from other countries, to this day, have not been made public."
- Hogue mentions the book The New Pearl Harbor, which makes, in his words, "a very convincing case" that Pakistan's ISI intelligence service had a critical role in planning the 9/11 attacks. Edmonds cannot confirm that speculation due to the gag order, but she says, "I can tell you that the issue, on one side, boils down to money -- a lot of money. And it boils down to people and their connections with this money, and that's the portion that, even with this book, has not been mentioned to this day. Because then it starts touching some people in high places." When asked to be more clear about the money, she says, "The most significant information that we were receiving did not come from counter-terrorism investigations, and I want to emphasize this. It came from counter-intelligence, and certain criminal investigations, and issues that have to do with money laundering operations. You get to a point where it gets very complex, where you have money laundering activities, drug related activities, and terrorist support activities converging at certain points and becoming one. In certain points -- and they [the intelligence community] are separating those portions from just the terrorist activities. And, as I said, they are citing 'foreign relations' which is not the case, because we are not talking about only governmental levels. And I keep underlining semi-legit organizations and following the money. When you do that the picture gets grim. It gets really ugly."
- She says of al-Qaeda, "When you think of al-Qaeda, you are not thinking of al-Qaeda in terms of one particular country, or one particular organization. You are looking at this massive movement that stretches to tens and tens of countries. And it involves a lot of sub-organizations and sub-sub-organizations and branches and it's extremely complicated. So to just narrow it down and say al-Qaeda and the Saudis, or to say it's what they had at the camp in Afghanistan, is extremely misleading. And we don't hear the extent of the penetration that this organization and the sub-organizations have throughout the world, throughout their networks and throughout their various activities. It's extremely sophisticated. And then you involve a significant amount of money into this equation. Then things start getting a lot of overlap -- money laundering, and drugs and terrorist activities and their support networks converging in several points. That's what I'm trying to convey without being too specific. And this money travels. And you start trying to go to the root of it and it's getting into somebody's political campaign, and somebody's lobbying. And people don't want to be traced back to this money."
- When asked if 9/11 could have possibly been stopped if information like hers had been properly handled, Edmonds replies, "At the very least, as early as May/June 2001, we could have issued a red code alert to the public, and we would have issued this very urgent warning system, which would, in return, have increased our Airport and INS security. Could we have prevented in 100% certainty? I don't think anything is that certain. However, we would have had a very, very good chance for preventing it."
- She blames assistant director Dale Watson for being a significant bottleneck of her information: "Look, Jim, they had those four pieces you mentioned [Phoenix, Chicago, New York, and Minneapolis] and far more than that, believe me, far more than that. And that has not been made public. And for them to say that we did not have any specific information is just outrageous. Because what were they waiting for? An affidavit signed by bin Laden? ...And they have been backing off from that. About two weeks before Condoleezza Rice appeared before the 9/11 Commission she made the statement, 'We had no specific information.' And I told the press that that was an outrageous lie. That was printed on the front page of the Independent and several other papers here. And what she did during the hearing was very interesting. She corrected herself, saying, 'Well, I made a mistake. I should not have said "we." I should say that I personally did not have specific information.' And that is exactly what I stated. 'We' includes the FBI, and therefore I can tell you with 100% certainty that that is an outrageous lie. Yet the Commission didn't ask, 'Well, who is the rest of this "we?" ...[T]hey don't want to know. This is the heart of it. The attitude of the Senate members has been 'See no evil. Hear no evil. Just let it go.' And you can't let that happen. The only people I have seen who have been truly pushing for the truth are the family members. All they have asked for are three things. They want the truth, the facts, the real facts, the straightforward truth. They want accountability. And they want us to improve our security. That's it. They have no other agenda. And now they're smearing their names. ...I have been given a warning that my turn is coming. I have been waiting for this for two years and two months, Jim. And they have not done it to this day, and they have not even denied anything. But I have been told to expect something to occur soon." (Baltimore Chronicle)
- May 3: Iraq administrator Paul Bremer backtracks on his characterization of the Bush administration as "paying no attention" to terrorism, made six months before the 9/11 attacks. At a McCormick Tribune Foundation conference on terrorism on Feb. 26, 2001, Bremer said, "The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?' That's too bad. They've been given a window of opportunity with very little terrorism now, and they're not taking advantage of it." Bremer made the speech after he had chaired the National Commission on Terrorism, a bipartisan body formed by the Clinton administration to examine US counterterrorism policies. Now Bremer says that his remarks three years ago "reflected my frustration" that none of his commission's recommendations had been implemented by Clinton or the new Bush administration. "Criticism of the new administration, however, was unfair. President Bush had just been sworn into office and could not reasonably be held responsible for the Federal Government's inaction over the preceding 7 months," Bremer says. "I regret any suggestion to the contrary. In fact, I have since learned that President Bush had shared some of these frustrations, and had initiated a more direct and comprehensive approach to confronting terrorism consistent with the threats outlined in the National Commission report. I am strongly supportive and grateful for the President's leadership and strategy in combating terrorism and protecting American national security throughout his first term in office." (AP/USA Today)
9/11 evidence destroyed
- May 6: An FAA supervisor destroyed a tape of air traffic controllers dealing with two of the four hijacked aircraft on 9/11 without allowing it to be transcribed or even listened to, according to the Transportation Department. The taping began before noon on Sept. 11 at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center in Ronkonroma, Long Island, New York, where about 16 people met in a basement conference room and passed around a microphone, each recalling his or her version of the events a few hours earlier. Officials at the center never told higher-ups of the tape's existence, and it was later destroyed by an FAA official described in the report as a quality-assurance manager there. That manager crushed the cassette in his hand, shredded the tape and dropped the pieces into different trash cans around the building. The tape had been made under an agreement with the union that it would be destroyed after it was superseded by written statements from the controllers, according to the inspector general's report. But the quality-assurance manager asserted that making the tape had itself been a violation of accident procedures at the Federal Aviation Administration, the report says. The inspector general, Kenneth Mead, says that the officials' keeping the existence of the tape a secret and the decision by one to destroy it had not served "the interests of the FAA, the department or the public," and could foster suspicions among the public.
- Mead had been asked by Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, to look into how well the aviation agency had cooperated with the 9/11 commission. On the tape, the controllers, some of whom had spoken by radio to people on the planes and some who had tracked the aircraft on radar, gave statements of 5 to 10 minutes each, according to the report. The tape's value was not clear, Mead said, because no one was sure what was on it, although the written statements given later by five of the controllers were broadly consistent with "sketchy" notes taken at the time by some of the controllers. One of the central questions about the events of that morning is how the FAA responded to emerging clues that four planes had been hijacked. A tape made within hours of the events, as well as written statements given later, could help establish that.
- A spokesman for the 9/11 commission, Al Felzenberg, says that Mead's report was "meticulous" and "came through the efforts of a very conscientious senator." He said the commission would not comment now on the content of the report but that it "does speak to some of the issues we're interested in." The tape was made because the manager of the center believed that the standard post-crash procedure would be too slow for an event of the magnitude of 9/11. After an accident or other significant incident, according to officials of the union and the FAA, the controllers involved are relieved of duty and often go home; eventually they review the radar tapes and voice transmissions and give a written statement of what they had seen, heard and done. People in the Ronkonkoma center at midday on Sept. 11 concluded that that procedure would take many hours, and that the controllers' shift was ending and after a traumatic morning, they wanted to go home. The center manager's idea was to have the tape available overnight, in case the FBI wanted something before the controllers returned to work the next day, according to people involved. "It was never meant as a permanent record," says Mark DiPalmo, the president of the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, who made the deal with the center manager. He says the session was informal, and that sometimes more than one person at a time was speaking. "We sat everyone in a room, went around the room, said, 'What do you remember?'" DiPalmo says.
- Mead's report says that it was conceivable that without that deal, the tape would not have been made at all. The quality-assurance manager told investigators that he had destroyed the tape because he thought making it was contrary to FAA policy, which calls for written statements, and because he felt that the controllers "were not in the correct frame of mind to have properly consented to the taping" because of the stress of the day. Neither the center manager nor the quality-assurance manager disclosed the tape's existence to their superiors at the FAA region that covers New York, nor to the agency's Washington headquarters, according to the report, which identified none of the officials or controllers by name.
- Other tapes were preserved, including conversations on the radio frequencies used by the planes that day, and the radar tapes. In addition, the controllers later made written statements to the FAA, per standard procedure, and in this case, to the FBI as well. The quality-assurance manager destroyed the tape between December 2001 and February, 2002. By that time, he and the center manager had received an e-mail message sent by the FAA instructing officials to safeguard all records and adding, "If a question arises whether or not you should retain data, RETAIN IT." The inspector general attributed the tape's destruction to "poor judgment." "The destruction of evidence in the government's possession, in this case an audiotape particularly during times of a national crisis, has the effect of fostering an appearance that information is being withheld from the public," the inspector general's report says. "We do not ascribe motivations to the managers in this case of attempting to cover up, and we have no indication that there was anything on the tape that would lead anyone to conclude that they had something to hide or that the controllers did not carry out their duties."
- The inspector general also noted that the official who destroyed the tape had no regrets or second thoughts: "The quality-assurance manager told us that if presented with similar circumstances, he would again take the same course of action." Mead wrote that this attitude was "especially troubling" and that supervisors should take "appropriate administrative action." Although the matter had been referred to the Justice Department, the Mead report adds, prosecutors said they had found no basis for criminal charges. An FAA spokesman, Greg Martin, says that his agency had cooperated with the 9/11 commission and that that was how the tape's existence had become known at the agency's headquarters. "We believe it would not have added in any way to the information contained in all of the other materials that have already been provided to the investigators and the members of the 9/11 commission," he says. Nonetheless, Martin said that "we have taken appropriate disciplinary action" against the quality-assurance manager, though for privacy reasons, he will not say what those actions were. (New York Times)
- May 18: Weeks after the 9/11 commission began wrapping up its task, the question of who in the Bush White House authorized the departure of over 100 Saudi citizens from the US, including members of the bin Laden family, in the days after 9/11. remains unanswered. Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton says that administration officials repeatedly refused to answer that question during a recent closed-door session with Democratic senators. Democrats suspect Bush himself, who met privately with the Saudi Arabian ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, on the morning of Sept. 13, 2001, may have personally authorized the controversial flights, several of which took place when all other US commercial air travel had been halted. Democratic senator Barbara Boxer says she asked Hamilton and Republican senator James Lehman, another commission member, if they were able to find out who in the administration authorized the Saudi Arabian flights. "Who did this?" she asks. "Why would the Saudis want to get out of the country? They said [those questions have] been part of their inquiry and they haven't received satisfactory answers yet and they were pushing." Another Democrat in the meeting who confirmed Boxer's account reports that Hamilton said, "We don't know who authorized it. We've asked that question 50 times." Boxer says she obtained a commitment from Hamilton that the commission will state in its final report if the White House refused to answer questions about who authorized the Saudi flights after the 2001 attacks.
- Last month, the commission released a statement declaring that six chartered flights that rushed the Saudi citizens out of the country were handled properly by the Bush administration. Bill Harvey, a member of the Families Steering Committee, which represents the families of the victims of the attacks, said the lack of White House cooperation on identifying who authorized the Saudi flights, fit into a pattern. Pressure from the Families Steering Committee was one of several factors that prompted the White House to agree to the creation of the 9/11 commission. "I stopped being surprised about this a long time ago," says Harvey, whose wife died in the attack on the World Trade Center. "They've not been cooperative. There's cooperation and then there's cooperation. Are they doing things under possible threat of subpoena? Yes. Are they actively fulfilling the spirit of the commission's requests? No." Harvey continues, "The White House was opposed to the formation of this commission in the first place. They did everything to neuter it. Earlier this spring when we tried to get more time for [the commission to complete its report], the White House was an obstacle."
- On the afternoon of September 13, 2001, three Saudi men in their early 20s flew in a Lear jet from Tampa, Florida, to Lexington, Kentucky, where they boarded a Boeing 747 with Arabic writing on it waiting to take them out of the country. The flight from Tampa to Lexington was first reported in the Tampa Tribune in October 2001; a synopsis of this article can be found earlier in this page. Earlier that day, the FAA had issued a notice that private aviation was banned and that three private planes that had violated the ban had been forced to land by military aircraft, according to an article late last year in Vanity Fair. The flight from Tampa to Lexington was one of several flights that Saudi Arabian citizens took in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when the rest of the country was prohibited from flying. Many of the Saudis were members of the Saudi royal family or the bin Laden family. The New York Times has reported that bin Laden family members were driven or flown under FBI supervision to a secret meeting in Texas and then to Washington, from where they left the country when airports were allowed to open on September 14, 2001. Overall, close to 140 Saudis left the US days after the attacks, even though 15 of the 19 terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks were Saudi Arabian. By contrast, prominent Americans such as former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore were stranded overseas during the crisis because of the freeze on air travel. Bin Laden's family has long disassociated itself from Osama bin Laden, head of the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The family has condemned the attacks. Nevertheless, many critics believe that law enforcement officials should have questioned the family members for any leads they might have been able to provide about bin Laden's whereabouts, his connection to the attacks, or about possible future attacks. They also note that there is plenty of evidence showing strong connections between the bin Laden family, which is deeply connected to the Bush family in business and financial interests, and Osama bin Laden. The commission is scheduled to deliver its final report at the end of July. (The Hill)
- May 19: Testifying before the 9/11 commission, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani confirms that his office never received any information about possible terrorist attacks on his city cited in the August 2001 presidential daily briefing. A Republican who is actively campaigning for George Bush's re-election, Giuliani hastens to add that the warnings would not have changed the city's security response procedures. Giuliani's testimony is interrupted with angry outbursts by victims' families, including chants of "One-sided!" and "Put us on the panel!" One man is tossed out of the hearing after shouting at the panel to "ask some real questions." The August 6, 2001, intelligence briefing for President Bush referred to evidence of buildings in New York possibly being cased by terrorists. It mentioned New York or the World Trade Center three times. "If that information had been given to us, or more warnings had been given in the summer of 2001, I can't honestly tell you we'd do anything differently," Giuliani testifies. "We were doing at the time everything we could think of...to protect the city." Giuliani says the briefings he received from federal officials indicated that New York's bridges, tunnels and subways were more likely targets. "I do think the interpretation would have been more in the direction of suicide bombings than aerial attacks," Giuliani says, a day after his top commissioners were grilled over their response.
- About 90 minutes into Giulian's testimony, some family members have had enough and begin shouting. "My son was murdered!" yells Sally Regenhard, who lost her firefighter son in the attack. Others in the audience shouted about the failure of Fire Department radios: "Talk about the radios!" "You're simply wasting time at this point," commission head Thomas Kean tells the family members. "YOU'RE wasting time!" comes the reply. Just as Giuliani finishes testifying, the unidentified man who says his brother was a firefighter jumps to his feet. "Three thousand people are dead!" he yells before security escorts him away. "They were not killed because he's a great leader. ...Let's ask some real questions!"
- Giuliani, in his opening statement to the commission, says that its priority should be preventing a new attack, not assigning blame. "Our enemy is not each other, but the terrorists who attacked us," he says. He admits that there were "terrible mistakes" made on 9/11, but attributes that to the unprecedented circumstances. "The blame should clearly be directed at one source and one source alone, the terrorists who killed our loved ones," Giuliani says, winning him a rare round of applause. Republican commission member James Thompson, before questioning Giuliani, says the panel was "not engaged in a search for blame, not engaged in a search for villains." Instead, he says, the commission hoped to save the lives of other Americans, a comment that draws more applause. Giuliani points out that the bravery and quick thinking of city rescuers under brutal conditions had saved thousands of lives. "Maybe 8,000 more, maybe 9,000 more than anyone could rightfully expect" were brought to safety before the towers collapsed, Giuliani says. About 25,000 people were evacuated from the World Trade Center.
- Commission member John Lehman said the day before that the failure of city agencies to communicate effectively on 9/11 was a scandal "not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city." Just before Giuliani takes the stand, the commission releases a 10-page staff report saying that basic flaws in the city's emergency 911 phone system denied people inside the World Trade Center potentially lifesaving information. The 911 phone system's operators and dispatchers were unaware that fire chiefs were evacuating the doomed twin towers because the city had no way of relaying that information, the commission staff concludes. With the buildings' public address systems out of service, workers inside the buildings called 911 for help but were not told to evacuate, according to the report, which was the second part of the most comprehensive probe to date of New York's response to the attacks. An unknown number of victims in the south tower might have had a better chance of survival if 911 operators had instructed them not to flee upward, where some found locked roof doors and no hope of escape, the report concludes. "In several ways, the system was not ready to cope with a major disaster," the report says. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge are also scheduled to testify on May 20, the commission's second and last day in Manhattan.
- The sessions were held at the New School University, just over a mile north of Ground Zero. After Giuliani's testimony, numerous members of victims' families accuse the commission of "sugarcoating" the questions directed at the former mayor. They also say that the commission feebly addressed crucial issues like malfunctioning firefighter radios and what they see as the city's lack of disaster preparation, failing to push Giuliani as he testified that New York was "unbelievably capable" and "terrifically effective." "He could have been a great source for what needs to be changed," says Wells Noonan, whose brother died in the north tower. "The panel didn't press hard enough." Monica Gabrielle, whose husband was killed, says the panel and Giuliani spent the morning "cloaking everything in heroism." Giuliani retorts that while he has "a real understanding and empathy with the anger" of victims' relatives, but the blame for the attacks should fall on the terrorists alone. "Here's the mistake: Nobody anticipated a catastrophic attack, planes being used as missiles, being driven into those buildings, and that's the reason for the losses," Giuliani says, making a claim that has long been refuted.
- During the hearing, commission members repeatedly salute Giuliani's leadership and refrain from challenging his positive portrayals of the 9/11 rescue operations. Several relatives of victims said they were disgusted that the 10 members of the commission, each allowed about five minutes to question Giuliani, wasted time with redundant praise. One statement thanking Giuliani should have been enough, the families later say. "The commission members don't press hard at all," says Beverly Eckert, whose husband was killed. "We leave frustrated," Gabrielle adds. "They made a huge faux pas in letting Rudy Giuliani polish his crown." Targeting Giuliani is a reversal for many of the victims' relatives, who since the attack have generally praised him as a steady leader through the chaos. After leaving office at the end of 2001, Giuliani has consistently sided with family coalitions on issues involving the trade center site, once even calling for the entire 16 acres to become a memorial. Giuliani, who has become one of the Bush administration's most vocal supporters, also told the commission that warnings of a possible terrorist attack on New York City contained in an Aug. 6, 2001, White House briefing paper never reached City Hall, but likely would not have changed local security precautions. (AP/Newsmax, AP/Guardian)
Ashcroft to reclassify evidence
- May 20: The Justice Department has moved to classify information previously released in 2002 to Congress that sheds light on claims made by Sibel Edmonds, the former FBI translator, who says that the bureau missed crucial information that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Law enforcement officials say the secrecy surrounding Edmonds is essential to protecting information that could reveal intelligence-gathering operations. But some members of Congress and Congressional aides say they are troubled by the move, which comes as critics have accused the Bush administration of excessive secrecy. "What the FBI is up to here is ludicrous," says Republican senator Charles Grassley. "To classify something that's already been out in the public domain, what do you accomplish? It does harm to transparency in government, and it looks like an attempt to cover up the FBI's problems in translating intelligence." FBI officials gave Senate staff members two briefings in June and July of 2002 concerning Edmonds, who said the FBI's system for translating intelligence was so flawed that the bureau missed chances to spot terrorist warnings. The FBI now maintains that some of the information discussed was so potentially damaging if released publicly that it is now considered classified, according to a memorandum distributed last week within the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- The material could also play a part in pending lawsuits, including Edmonds's wrongful termination suit and a lawsuit brought by hundreds of families of 9/11 victims who have sought to take testimony from her. "Any staffer who attended those briefings, or who learns about those briefings, should be aware that the FBI now considers the information classified and should therefore avoid further dissemination," the Judiciary Committee memorandum says. The FBI told Congressional officials that it was classifying topics including what languages Edmonds translated, what types of cases she handled, and what employees she worked with, officials said. Even routine and widely disseminated information like where she worked is now classified. "I have never heard of a retroactive classification two years back," says an aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject is classified. "It would be silly if it didn't have such serious implications. People are puzzled and, frankly, worried, because the effect here is to quash Congressional oversight. We don't even know what we can't talk about." Grassley says, "This is about as close to a gag order as you can get." The FBI denies the accusation. "We're not imposing a gag order," says an FBI official. Members of Congress have the information, but have to treat it as classified, the official says. "The problem is that while these pieces of information may look innocuous on their own, you put them all together and it reveals a picture of sensitive intelligence collection, and that's a security problem." (New York Times)
- June: Former FBI special agent Myron Fuller speaks with journalist Seymour Hersh about the US intelligence community's failure to share information about Islamic terrorism. Fuller, who was in charge of 200 FBI employees in 46 countries throughout Asia and the Pacific, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, and whose primary job was to help curb international terrorism, says that by the spring of 1999 his agents had uncovered a raft of information about the impending threat from Islamic militants, but that no one in the intelligence community seemed to be listening. In 1997, the FBI found that the CIA had held on to critical information surrounding the murder of four American businessmen in Karachi, Pakistan, because CIA officials had asked that the information not be revealed to anyone in the field. Fuller believes that the murders of the four, all auditors for Union Texas Petroleum, led back from the murderers themselves to the country that sponsored the murders, and possibly back to the planners of the 9/11 bombings. The 9/11 commission was inundated with similar stories, leading the commission to report that CIA director Tenet "was accountable for a community of loosely associated agencies and departmental offices that lacked the incentives to cooperate, collaborate, and share information," and conclude, "as a result, a question remains: who is in charge of intelligence?" (Seymour Hersh)
- June 11: Author Daniel Hopsicker is interviewed for INN World Report. Hopsicker's new book, Welcome To Terrorland, advances the theory that much of the government story about the 9/11 terror conspiracy is, in his words, "not just an error, it's a lie." Hopsicker tells interviewer Sander Hicks, "What I found in Florida was that the government story about the terrorist conspiracy's activities before September 11th is not just an error, it's a lie. The time line is wrong. The FBI's timeline is wrong. Everything they are doing is designed to protect an operation that was under way in southwest Florida that trained, between 1999 and September 2001, literally hundreds of Arabs to fly. In other words, in 1998, there were two or three Arabs learning how to fly, by the end of '99 it was flying hundreds of them. So obviously there was a covert operation going on; the flight school where Mohammad Atta went to, Huffman Aviation in Florida is not a business and was not operating like a business. So it was, and is, something else." Hopsicker claims to have discovered an operation operating from within Huffman Aviation called Britannia Aviation. Huffman, a tiny, two-man flight school in Venice, Florida, won a major city contract over a much larger local competitor in Lynchburg, Virginia. Interestingly, the owner of Huffman, Wally Hilliard, had given a million-dollar loan to Lynchburg televangelist Jerry Falwell that was never repaid. Hilliard and manager Rudy Dekkers also had what is described as a "green light from the DEA." Dekkers went a tour of the national media in the days after 9/11 telling interviewers about Mohammed Atta, one of the key conspirators in the attacks.
- Dekkers, a native of the Netherlands, is termed by prosecutors in his native country "the spider in the web of intrigue," and labeled an "international criminal." Hopsicker says, "[T]his international criminal was telling us who Mohammad Atta was. And its just ridiculous, it's not that they didn't do the due diligence. It's that they were told to interview this person. Several people in Huffman Aviation told me that FBI was telling this guy what to say before he went up in front of the cameras." Hopsicker continues, "[T]he basic story is...[that] the government's story is what I call the Magic Dutch Boy theory. Remember the Kennedy assassination when the 'magic bullet' has passed thru three people, the only way they could make a story of one lone gunman even remotely logically possible? ...Similarly, in 9/11, it's only through the Magic Dutch Boy theory that you can believe these people came over here without the knowledge and consent of the US government. The government's story is that the year before the terrorists began to arrive in force, two separate Dutch nationals purchased separately the two flight schools at the Venice, Florida, airport, that, eight or nine months afterward, began training terrorists how to fly." Both Dutch nationals died in separate aircraft accidents shortly after the attacks. "They [we]re inconvenient people...because if either one of them ever talked, it could bring down the government of the current administration."
- Hopsicker has discovered interesting information about Atta, the hijacker always described as an "Islamic fundamentalist." Most of Hopsicker's information comes from Atta's American girlfriend Amanda Keller, who was apparently never interviewed by anyone from the government after the attacks. Hopsicker says of Keller, "Mohamed Atta had an American girlfriend, with whom he lived for two and a half months, in an apartment across the street from the Venice airport, at a time when the FBI says he was not in Venice anymore. She was in the news briefly after September 11th. Interviewed by three or four local reporters, they did stories on her, and then she disappeared. And the story disappeared. Now, you have never heard that Mohamed Atta had an American girlfriend, because it never made the national press. Which is itself bizarre. Because she was a stripper when she knew him...so you would think, 'Interviews with the Stripper Girlfriend of the Terrorist Mastermind...' ...You'd think it would be plastered everywhere. But it wasn't. And she disappeared. And when I tracked her down six months later, actually a year later, she told me, as several other witnesses told me, that she had been personally intimidated, on a weekly basis, by the FBI, into keeping her mouth shut, and not talking, about what she knew." Keller also reveals that Atta's two closest associates are a German and two Austrians, Jurigen, Peter, and Stephan. Two of them, Peter and Stephan, accompanied Atta, Keller and another woman named Linda on what Keller describes as a three-day booze and drug fest in Key West. Hopsicker observes, "Mohamed Atta didn't act like any Islamic fundamentalist we've ever heard about." (Sander Hicks)
- June 15: The 9/11 commission report finds that the September 11 attacks may have been originally scheduled for as early as May or June, but were pushed back to September because lead hijacker Mohammed Atta wasn't ready. New evidence gathered by the commission, including information obtained from U.S.-held detainees, indicates that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, mastermind of the attacks, persuaded al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to postpone the attacks by several months because of the organizational problems. The finding contradicts prevailing FBI theories of the plot. Until now, federal investigators have said the evidence indicates that the attacks were likely planned for a narrow time frame around September 11. If there had been an alternate date, investigators have said, it was probably later in the year. The possible date postponement is included in a draft report that has been circulated among government and commission officials in recent days.
- The panel, which is preparing to release its final report in late July, is expected to issue a separate report exploring whether US fighter jets may have been able to intercept American Airlines Flight 77 before it struck the Pentagon if they had been dispatched more quickly, according to commission sources. The new evidence indicates that the original timing of the attacks was postponed for readiness reasons and not in reaction to heightened security in the early summer of 2001, when the CIA, FBI and other agencies were on high alert for a possible al-Qaeda strike. Bin Laden had been pushing for the hijackings to be carried out in May or June, but he was persuaded by Mohammed to agree to a delay because Atta and his conspirators were not prepared. The leading hijackers did not begin making reconnaissance flights for the hijackings until May, when they began flying transcontinental routes passing through Las Vegas, according to evidence compiled by FBI investigators. The FBI has long believed that the hijackers were flexible about the date of the attack, but has not previously found credible evidence of an earlier date, according to law enforcement officials.
- Instead, some bureau investigators have focused on clues suggesting that the attack may have been moved up after the August 2001 arrest of alleged al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui in Minnesota. "We've never had a theory that September 11 was supposed to occur earlier than September 11," says one law enforcement official. "There is a theory that it was supposed to be later but was moved up because of [Moussaoui's] arrest." The subject of the date chosen for the largest terrorist attack in US history has been a matter of widespread speculation and investigation since immediately after the strikes. Journalists and terrorism experts speculated widely on the possible significance of the date, noting, among other things, that it is the anniversary of the day Britain took over Palestine in 1922 under a League of Nations mandate and that "911" is the common US emergency response number.
- But FBI investigators and others who have examined the plot in depth have concluded that the evidence suggests the date was fluid, and was probably decided just weeks before the attacks were carried out. For example, one senior law enforcement official says, before the 19 hijackers bought their tickets from August 25 to August 31, 2001, they spent days researching flights and tickets, according to records of e-mails and computer activity. The searches included many dates, not just September 11, and included East Coast airports other than those used on 9/11. The hijackers were looking for Boeing 757 and 767 jetliners, for which the pilots had trained and on which a half-dozen hijackers had flown as passengers in reconnaissance missions earlier in the summer. The only days they avoided in their research were weekends, the official said. Investigators have found no evidence that the hijackers bought tickets for any other planes on September 11, nor have they concluded that other suspicious passengers were ticketed aboard other flights that day. "You can see them looking for flights, but they're not looking for September 11, and they're not only looking at Boston, Newark and Dulles," the official says. "It's not until they do all their research that they chose a date. They were not set on that Tuesday." The issue of the date and how it was chosen is particularly important for many family members of the victims. On a different day, the passenger lists of the targeted jets would have been different, and many who were killed on 9/11 might not have been in their offices at the World Trade Center or Pentagon. Kristen Breitweiser, a member of the Family Steering Committee, said in an earlier interview that evidence of an earlier date "will be a shock" to many relatives of those who were killed. "This is an example of al-Qaeda postponing something and carrying it through with great success," said Breitweiser, whose husband, Ronald, died at the World Trade Center. "This means they follow through, and I hope we learn from that." (Washington Post)
- June 16: The 9/11 commission finds "no collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al-Qaeda, as has been so loudly and systematically trumpeted by Bush, Cheney, and White House officials. After intensive analysis of intelligence community documents on the subject, the commission reports that it found indications from the early 1990s that Osama bin Laden had "explored possible cooperation with Iraq," but no evidence exists that any such relationship had ever been formed. In fact, the evidence showed that considerable antipathy and mistrust existed between the religiously extremist terrorist organization and the secular Saddam Hussein. In addition, the commission says that no evidence exists of any connection between Iraq and 9/11.
- A day later, Bush insists that the commission is wrong: "There was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda," he says, noting that "Iraq intelligence officers met with bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda, in the Sudan," even though the third-hand report of the meeting (which supposedly took place months after bin Laden had left Sudan) had been discounted as a fabrication by the commission. The same day, Dick Cheney asserts, once again, that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague months before the hijackings, even though the CIA, the FBI, and the commission have already proven that story false. (Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
- June 17: A separate 9/11 commission report finds that Federal Aviation Administration officials were so slow to react on the morning of September 11 that the fourth plane had crashed by the time Vice President Cheney gave the authorization to shoot down any hostile aircraft. The panel depicts the Federal Aviation Administration as slow to alert the military to the hijackings, even failing to pass along word that one of the planes had been seized. Both the FAA and the military were "unsuited in every respect" to prevent what happened that day, the report concludes. In testimony before the panel, General Ralph Eberhart said military pilots would have been able to "shoot down the airplanes" if word of the hijackings had been immediate. Some military pilots "were never briefed about the reason they were scrambled," the panel finds. The Secret Service, worried about a plane approaching the capital, went "outside the chain of command" to ask for warplanes to be sent aloft. "There was a real problem with communications that morning," the commission's chairman, Thomas Kean, tells reporters. "There were a lot of people who should have been in the loop who were not in the loop." The report credits the passengers of the fourth hijacked plane, which crashed in Pennsylvania, for saving countless lives: "The nation owes a debt to the passengers. ...Their actions saved the lives of countless others and may have saved either the US Capitol or the White House from destruction." It notes that officials at NORAD -- the North American Aerospace Defense Command -- maintain they could have intercepted and shot down the plane, United Flight 93. "We are not sure," the commission says.
- Eberhart, the NORAD commander, made an even bolder claim as he testified before the panel. He said all four planes could have been shot from the sky if the FAA had informed the military as soon as it knew of each hijacking. "If that is the case, yes, we could shoot down the airplanes," he said. It was a claim the panel steered clear of making, and none of the commissioners responded when he made it. On the ground, there was skepticism bordering on disbelief. "this real-world or exercise?" an unidentified NORAD official said when told by the FAA there was a need to send F-16 fighter planes aloft. "No, this is not an exercise, not a test," came back the reply. In a tunnel beneath the White House, Cheney talked later to the president. The vice president subsequently told commissioners Bush had authorized orders for military pilots to shoot down hijacked aircraft that refused to follow orders. Cheney issued the orders on several occasion, the report said, unaware that the last of the four hijacked planes -- heading for Washington -- had already crashed in Pennsylvania. A half hour later, Cheney erroneously told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld he believed military pilots had "already taken a couple of aircraft out."
- Adding to the woes were reports of additional terrorist activities. "We fought many phantoms that day," testified General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He noted that reports of car bombings and other terrorist acts spread quickly -- and falsely. About a half hour after the last of the four seized planes crashed came word of another intruder aloft. "Eventually, the shelter received word that the alleged hijackers five miles away had been a Medevac helicopter," the report says. The frontline civilian and military agencies struggled to "improvise a homeland defense against an unprecedented challenge they had never encountered and had never trained to meet," the panel says. Whatever the problems, the panel praised the actions of government personnel forced to make split-second decisions. Air traffic controllers brought nearly 4,500 planes safely to the ground, for example, juggling many more aircraft than usual once the skies were ordered cleared. The commission held its final day of public hearings as Bush challenged its day-old finding that there had been no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the attacks. "There was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda," Bush insists. "This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaeda," a statement that contradicts numerous statements made by Bush and senior administration officials, who flogged the putative connection as justification for the Iraq invasion. "We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, for example, Iraqi intelligence agents met with bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda in the Sudan," Bush adds. The tale of that particular meeting has long been discredited. (CBS)
Bush contradicts evidence, self; claims Saddam behind 9/11
- June 17: Flying in the face of the conclusions reached by the 9/11 commission, Bush reiterates his belief that Saddam Hussein had deep and intricate ties with al-Qaeda. "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda [is] because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda," Bush tells reporters. Bush said the contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda provided proof of a relationship, though those contacts have been proven to be with Kurds and Sunnis operating independently of Hussein's government in areas of Iraq uncontrolled by Hussein. The 9/11 report says that all relevant classified information that it reviewed showed that the contacts that took place between Iraq government officials and al-Qaeda officials never led to actual cooperation. In yesterday's hearing of the panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, a senior FBI official and a senior CIA analyst concurred with the finding.
- The report disproves one of the Bush administration's main justifications for the war in Iraq. Along with the contention that Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials have often asserted that there were extensive ties between Hussein's government and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. Earlier this year, Cheney said evidence of a link was "overwhelming." Asked about the commission's findings on a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq, Bush says, This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaeda. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. For example, Iraqi intelligence officers met with bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda, in the Sudan. There's numerous contacts between the two." Bush fails to note that he and his official did indeed make such explicit connections between Iraq and 9/11, on numerous occasions (many of which are documented within this site). He also fails to mention that the alleged meeting between Hussein officials and al-Qaeda officials in the Sudan produced no agreements. Bush says he had called Saddam Hussein a threat "because he had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people. He was a threat because he was a sworn enemy to the United States of America, just like al-Qaeda. Now, he was a threat because he had terrorist connections, not only al-Qaeda connections but other connections to terrorist organizations."
- Commission chairman Thomas Kean, asked at a news conference about Bush's comments, says the panel did not dispute that there were contacts between Hussein's government and al-Qaeda. But Kean says the panel's staff found "that there is no credible evidence that we can discover, after a long investigation, that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were in any way part of the attack on the United States." Vice chairman Lee Hamilton adds, "I must say, I have trouble understanding the flap over this." The commission's position, he says, is that "we don't have any evidence of a cooperative...relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and these al-Qaeda operatives with regard to the attacks on the United States." The commission's staff report said that bin Laden "explored possible cooperation with Iraq" while in Sudan through 1996, but that "Iraq apparently never responded" to a bin Laden request for help in 1994. The commission cited reports of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda after bin Laden went to Afghanistan in 1996, adding, "but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."
- As recently as June 14, Cheney said that Hussein "had long-established ties with al-Qaeda." Bush, asked on Tuesday to verify or qualify that claim, defended it by pointing to Abu Musab Zarqawi, who has taken credit for a wave of attacks in Iraq. In his remarks today, Bush again mentions Zarqawi, a Palestinian born in Jordan who runs the al Tawhid terrorist network. Bush said Hussein had "provided safe haven for a terrorist like Zarqawi, who is still killing innocents inside of Iraq." Bush also cites Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, whose Fatah Revolutionary Council was active in the 1970s and 1980s, as another example of Hussein's terrorist ties. Nidal died under mysterious circumstances in Baghdad a few months before the Iraq war. Presidential opponent John Kerry responds, "The administration misled America, and the administration reached too far," Kerry says. "I believe that the 9/11 report, the early evidence, is that they're going to indicate that we didn't have the kind of terrorists links that this administration was asserting. I think that's a very, very serious finding."
- Bush, speaking to troops in Tampa on June 16, did not mention an Iraq-al-Qaeda link, saying only that Iraq "sheltered terrorist groups." That was a significantly milder version of the allegations administration officials have made since shortly after the 9/11 attacks. In late 2001, Cheney said it was "pretty well confirmed" that 9/11 mastermind Mohamed Atta met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official before the attacks, in April 2000 in Prague; Cheney later said the meeting could not be proved or disproved. The tale of the meeting has long been debunked. Bush, in his speech aboard an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003, asserted: "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al-Qaeda and cut off a source of terrorist funding." In September, Cheney said on NBC's Meet the Press: "If we're successful in Iraq...then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." Speaking about Iraq's alleged links to al-Qaeda and the attacks, Cheney connected Iraq to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing by saying that newly found Iraqi intelligence files in Baghdad showed that a participant in the bombing returned to Iraq and "probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven." He added: "The Iraqi government or the Iraqi intelligence service had a relationship with al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s." Shortly after Cheney asserted these links, Bush contradicted him, saying: "We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th." Bush then added: "There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaeda ties." In January, Cheney repeated his view that Iraq was tied to al-Qaeda, saying that "there's overwhelming evidence" of an Iraq-al-Qaeda connection. He said he was "very confident there was an established relationship there."
- The commission staff, in its report, said that while bin Laden was in Sudan between 1991 and 1996, a senior Iraqi intelligence officer made three visits to Sudan, and that he had a meeting with bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden was reported to have sought training camps and assistance in getting weapons, "but Iraq never responded," the staff said. The report said that bin Laden "at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan." The staff report did not confirm any Iraqi collaboration with al Qaeda, but it did not specifically address two of the other pieces of evidence the administration has offered to link Iraq to al Qaeda: Zarqawi's al Tawhid organization and the Ansar al-Islam group. In October 2002, Bush described Zarqawi as "one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks." Zarqawi wrote a January 2003 letter to bin Laden's lieutenants, intercepted at the Iraqi border, saying that if al Qaeda adopted his approach in Iraq, he would swear "fealty to you [bin Laden] publicly and in the news media." In March, in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Tenet described Zarqawi's network as among groups having "links" to al-Qaeda but with its own "autonomous leadership...own targets [and] they plan their own attacks." Although Zarqawi may have cooperated with al-Qaeda in the past, officials said it is increasingly clear that he has been operating independently of bin Laden's group and has his own network of operatives. The other group, Ansar al-Islam, began in 2001 among Kurdish Sunni Islamic fundamentalists in northern Iraq, fighting against the two secular Kurdish groups that operated under the protection of the United States. At one point, bin Laden supported Ansar, as did Zarqawi, who is believed to have visited their area more than once. Tenet referred to Ansar as one of the Sunni groups that had benefited from al-Qaeda links. (Washington Post, BBC)
- June 17: A New York Times editorial on the conclusions drawn by the 9/11 commission is blunt: "It's hard to imagine how the commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks could have put it more clearly yesterday: there was never any evidence of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11. Now President Bush should apologize to the American people, who were led to believe something different." The Times notes that, as the above item confirms, that as the election-year rhetoric heats up, the grudging, backhanded acknowledgements from the administration that no links between al-Qaeda and Hussein have been found have given way to reassertions of those same, discredited links. The editorial concludes, "This is not just a matter of the president's diminishing credibility, although that's disturbing enough. The war on terror has actually suffered as the conflict in Iraq has diverted military and intelligence resources from places like Afghanistan, where there could really be Qaeda forces, including Mr. bin Laden. Mr. Bush is right when he says he cannot be blamed for everything that happened on or before Sept. 11, 2001. But he is responsible for the administration's actions since then. That includes, inexcusably, selling the false Iraq-Qaeda claim to Americans. There are two unpleasant alternatives: either Mr. Bush knew he was not telling the truth, or he has a capacity for politically motivated self-deception that is terrifying in the post-9/11 world." (New York Times/Thinking Peace)
- June 21: Under pressure from Republicans, 9/11 commission chair Thomas Kean notes that the report produced by the commission is not only an interim report, but written by the staff and may not reflect the conclusions to be drawn by the commissioners themselves. Former intelligence official Ray McGovern points out that Dick Cheney, among others, has repeatedly said that he has information the 9/11 staff is not privy to, information that may be included in the final report. Cheney's "information" has uniformly proven to be misleading at best, and outright lies at worst. McGovern writes, "When Meet the Press' Tim Russert quoted the New York Times' contention that the commission staff report 'directly contradicts public statements by Bush and Cheney regarding Iraq and 9/11,' [Republican commissioner John] Lehman, borrowing from Cheney's lexicon, branded the Times report 'outrageously irresponsible journalism.' Echoing Kean's remarks, Lehman added parenthetically, 'And, again, this is a staff statement; the commissioners have not yet addressed this issue.' Democrat Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste had just told Russert, 'There was no Iraqi involvement in 9/11. That's what our commission found. That's what our staff, which included former high-ranking CIA officials, who know what to look for [found].' Interesting. Ben-Veniste saying it is what the commission found; Kean and Lehman saying the commissioners have not yet addressed the issue. A harbinger of the wrangling to come."
- McGovern reminds us that "On March 19, 2002, the day the war began, President Bush sent a letter to Congress in which he said that the war was permitted under legislation authorizing force against those who 'planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.' If the staff's finding that there is 'no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States' is allowed to stand, the Bush administration will be shown to have gone afoul of the Constitution yet again." Obviously, especially in an election year, this is a conclusion the Bush administration would like to avoid. The White House has already tampered with the staff report; further tampering, under the rubric of "review," is likely. (TomPaine)
Ashcroft proven to have lied to commission
- June 22: Testimony from two FBI officials to the 9/11 commission contradict Attorney General John Ashcroft's previous testimony that he took seriously warnings about an impending terror attack. On July 5, 2001, Ashcroft met with acting FBI director Thomas Pickard, during a time when warnings about imminent al-Qaeda attacks were so high that the White House was warning the FBI and domestic law enforcement agencies to be on high alert. Pickard told the committee that Ashcroft brushed off Pickard's warnings about such attacks. "Mr. Ashcroft told you that he did not want to hear about this anymore," commission member Richard Ben-Veniste asked on April 13. "Is that correct?" "That is correct," Pickard replied. Testifying under oath the same day, Ashcroft categorically denied the allegation, saying, "I did never speak to him saying that I didn't want to hear about terrorism." However, two former FBI officials testify today that Ashcroft did indeed dismiss Pickard's concerns. One of the witnesses, Ruben Garcia, is the former head of the FBI's Criminal Division. "When you get two people coming forth and basically challenging a sworn statement by the attorney general regarding a critical meeting in the history of the 9/11 event, you raise serious questions about the Attorney General's truthfulness," says Paul Light, a government reform expert and New York University professor. According to testimony, Pickard did brief Ashcroft on terrorism four more times that summer, but sources say the acting FBI director never mentioned the word al-Qaeda again in Ashcroft's presence until after the attacks. (MSNBC)
- June 28: The 9/11 commission reports that, on the morning of 9/11, Washington officials had serious trouble determining who was in charge. Bush was in flight on Air Force One to hunker down in an undisclosed location, leaving the government leaderless and having given no directions as to how to handle the attacks or their aftermath. Vice President Cheney was faced with a dire decision: after three planes had already struck their targets in New York City and Washington, a fourth hijacked plane was enroute and only 80 miles out. According to the report, Cheney didn't hesitate. "In about the time it takes a batter to decide to swing," the report says, he gave the order to shoot it down, telling others the president had "signed off on the concept" during a brief phone chat. He reiterated the order as the plane approached. But others were unsure that Cheney had, indeed, been given presidential authorization for such a drastic, if apparently necessary, act. Deputy chief of staff Joshua Bolton asked Cheney to "confirm the engage order" by calling Bush. Bolton told the 9/11 commission that "he had not heard any prior conversation on the subject with the president." According to their own notes from the meeting, neither had Cheney's chief of staff Lewis Libby (noted for his meticulous record-keeping), nor had Cheney's wife Lynne. Both Bush and Cheney told the commission that Bush gave the order, and Condoleezza Rice and a military aide told the commission that they remembered such a call, though they couldn't remember many specifics. The report concludes that "there is no documentary evidence for this call."
- Did White House officials follow procedures? No, says the report, but there weren't any real procedures in place for an event of this magnitude. And the issue is moot anyway, says the commission, since Cheney issued his shoot-down order between 10:10 and 10:15 am, and the plane had crashed in a Pennsylvania field at 10:03. But many of the commission staffers believe that Cheney and Bush lied to them about the order. Some staffers "flat out didn't believe the call ever took place," according to a Newsweek source. An early draft conveying that skepticism provoked an angry response from the White House, who lobbied successfully for that section of the report be rewritten -- "watered down," says one staffer.
- This is not the only issue where the 9/11 commission's version of history differs sharply with the lies of Bush and Cheney. Cheney is currently engaged in a dispute with the commission over the connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, a connection long since disproven but still promoted by the vice president. Cheney has even gone so far as to lie on the commission's behalf, saying that the commission agrees with him that Hussein had extensive ties to al-Qaeda, a statement that commission vice-chairman Lee Hamilton says is dead wrong. "We didn't have any evidence of collaboration or cooperation," Hamilton says flatly, and adds that bin Laden's ties "to Iran and Pakistan were certainly stronger than any tie he had to Iraq." To cover Cheney's lies, White House spokesman Dan Bartlett says the White House isn't disputing the commission's conclusions on the connection -- a connection that Cheney still espouses. But Cheney is proving recalcitrant. A reporter asked Cheney if he had more information than the commission about the connections, and Cheney replied, "Probably." The response stunned Hamilton and commission chairman Thomas Kean, who have asked Cheney to produce such evidence. Cheney has refused. Cheney also continues to assert, despite definitive evidence to the contrary, that an Iraqi intelligence agent met with 9/11 planner Mohammed Atta in Prague a few months before the attacks.
- Some on the commission believe that Bush and Cheney testified together to the staff (without being sworn in, so they were legally free to lie) so as to ensure their stories matched. And Bush has so far backed Cheney in his wild, unproven assertions and accusations, though Cheney has forced Bush to back off of several assertions that Cheney has made before, particularly about UN inspections of Iraq and accusations of Iraqi involvement in 9/11. (Newsweek)
Commission proves Cheney's lies about Iraq links to al-Qaeda
- July 6: The 9/11 commission reports that Dick Cheney was apparently lying when he said he had information about links between Iraq and al-Qaeda that the commission said. Though the commission refuses to use the terminology "lying," the conclusion is indisputable when it reports that Cheney had no more information than commission investigators to support his later assertions to the contrary. "The 9-11 Commission believes it has access to the same information the vice president has seen regarding contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq prior to the 9-11 attacks," the commission states. Cheney's office says that the commission found no conflict between their position and Cheney's repeated statements to the contrary. Cheney has long asserted, even after other administration officials have backed off from such statements, that evidence depicting an Iraqi role in the Sept. 11 attacks may yet emerge. "The notion that there is no relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda just simply is not true," Cheney said in a recent CNBC interview. He also suggested that he might have more information than the panel. (Reuters/Truthout)
- July 13: The 9/11 commission is expected to completely dismiss White House theories of any connection between the 9/11 attackers and Iraq. The report will also detail "management failures" in the White House that interfered with any possible measures that may have prevented the attacks. While the commission will not single out individuals, the report is expected to focus mainly on failures by the FBI and CIA in putting together the information necessary to have predicted, and take measures to prevent, the attacks. "We don't need to point fingers in our report, because people will be able to judge the facts for themselves," says John Lehman, a Republican commissioner who was Navy secretary in the Reagan administration. Lehman has said that he expects the commission's work to result in "revolutionary" changes in the government's intelligence community. "The editorializing has shrunk and shrunk and shrunk as the facts before us have expanded and expanded and expanded," he says.
- Timothy Roemer, a Democratic commissioner and former House member, says he expects the final report to be unanimous and to call for "dynamic and dramatic changes in the intelligence community -- changes in tradecraft and also nuts-and-bolts changes." The final draft, expected within weeks, is still under discussion, with some of the general recommendations remaining points of contention. Veteran journalist Robert Scheer writes, "The Senate report is a thoroughly damning indictment of the Bush administration's doctrine of 'preemptive' war based on intelligence. In the case of Iraq, the intelligence that was false was adopted by the administration, while the intelligence that was true was ignored as inconvenient. And it is telling that the CIA, try as it did to accommodate the White House, couldn't find any evidence that al-Qaeda and Iraq were collaborators. Not that the CIA didn't try, though. 'This intelligence assessment responds to senior policymaker interest in a comprehensive assessment of Iraqi regime links to al-Qaeda. Our approach is purposefully aggressive in seeking to draw connections,' said one report. 'I was asking the people who were writing [the report on Iraq-al-Qaeda links] to lean far forward and do a speculative piece. If you were going to stretch to the maximum the evidence you had, what could you come up with?' the deputy director for intelligence at the CIA told the Senate committee. With this approach, we might as well base our foreign policy on reruns of The X-Files. Maybe this is why the president wants us to go to Mars: It's a preemptive strike." (New York Times/Neil Rogers, Los Angeles Times/Truthout)
- July 18: The 9/11 commission will report that Iran, not Iraq, was involved in helping the 9/11 terrorists carry out their attack on the US. It accuses the Iranian government of complicity with al-Qaeda and of providing safe havens for the terrorists before they carried out their attacks between October 2000 and February 2001. The accusation is based on information elicited from detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and from NSA electronic intercepts. The accusations play into the Bush administration's apparent plans to foment some kind of military intervention in Iran. (Daily Telegraph)
Bush's first concern during 9/11 attacks was image, spin
- July 19: The commission releases material from George W. Bush's interview with the commission about his reaction to the first two airliner strikes into the World Trade Center. "The President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis," the report says. "The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening." Presidential historian Robert Dallek of Boston University says that, once again, Bush was far too worried about image and appearance and less about the proper course of action, this time in a moment of crisis. "It speaks volumes about the preoccupation these politicians have about manipulating image," he says. Bush should have immediately excused himself and started figuring out what was happening and what he could do: "The way to project calm and strength is to take care of business." Fellow presidential historian Douglas Brinkley of the University of New Orleans agrees: "I don't understand how one sits there [referring to the 7-minute stretch after Bush was informed of the second strike, where he continued reading to the children]. I just don't. Minutes are an eternity in that sort of situation.... A quick presidential decision may save lives." He adds a damning assessment: "Character is not defined in good times, when you've been properly briefed, it's defined when you're in a desperate crisis situation."
- But presidential scholar Fred Greenstein, a professor emeritus at Princeton, says that Bush's inaction was understandable considering he was in a classroom: "It certainly wouldn't present the right message if he turned white, rushed out, and kids started crying." The commission report portrays a discombobulated government that can't even keep track of the hijacked planes. Fighter planes fly in the wrong direction, pilots have no idea why they're in the air (maybe a cruise missile attack?), orders don't get passed along the chain of command. Everyone's flying blind. The president borrows a cell phone to try to get through to the White House. Washington Post journalist Joel Achenbach concludes, "The commission report portrays a discombobulated government that can't even keep track of the hijacked planes. Fighter planes fly in the wrong direction, pilots have no idea why they're in the air (maybe a cruise missile attack?), orders don't get passed along the chain of command. Everyone's flying blind. The president borrows a cell phone to try to get through to the White House. Symbolically and substantively, the ship of state was foundering." (Washington Post)
- July 21: The AP releases a portion of a surveillance tape from Washington Dulles International Airport showing several hijackers being pulled aside for extra scrutiny on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Commission investigators found in an interim report released in January that three of the five hijackers who boarded American Airlines Flight 77, which would crash into the Pentagon, set off magnetometers but were eventually allowed to proceed unhindered. Investigators believe the hijackers were probably carrying knives used in the hijacking. (Washington Post)
- July 21: The 9/11 commission's report cites 10 different "missed opportunities" for both the Bush and Clinton administrations to have possibly detect or stop the 9/11 attacks. The report stops short of characterizing the attacks as "preventable." Six of the incidents listed came during the Bush administration and four were during the Clinton years, but the report acknowledges that many of the opportunities were long shots and that others would have required a lucky sequence of events to alter the outcome. The tally of missed opportunities includes the CIA's failure to add two hijackers' names to a terrorism watch list; the FBI's handling of the August 2001 arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, who has been accused of conspiring in the plot; and several failed attempts to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. "There clearly were many opportunities out there that were not taken advantage of," says one commissioner, who refuses to be identified. "From that, some will conclude it could have been prevented, others will say it might have been prevented and the rest will say it's impossible to tell.... We said we couldn't get an answer to this." (Washington Post)
Final commission report released
- July 22: The 9/11 commission report is officially released. It maintains that there is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate administration claims of an "operational relationship" between Saddam Hussein's government and al-Qaeda. The report states that representatives of the two may have been in contact in 1994 or 1995, 1998 and possibly 1999, largely because of what the commission describes as a shared hatred of the United States; it describes an attempt by Osama bin Laden to open a dialogue with Hussein in 1997 as fruitless because of Hussein's attempts to improve relations with Saudi Arabia, which officially disapproved of al-Qaeda. But the commission has found that their interests were largely out of sync, and nothing came of the contacts. The commission also reports that there is no evidence of any complicity in the 9/11 attacks from either Iran or the Lebanese-Syrian terrorist group Hezbollah, though they say that more investigation into the knowledge of these two needs to be done. The commission quotes Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his interview with the panel in January 2004, saying Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of the Iraq invasion, "was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with. And he saw this as one way of using this event."
- Powell also told the panel he felt Wolfowitz's claims were unjustified, and that he didn't believe Bush gave them much weight, an assertion highly questionable in light of other evidence. By September 17, 2001, Bush had ordered the military to be ready to occupy Iraq's oil fields. Army Chief of Staff Tommy Franks began lobbying almost immediately after the attacks for a retaliatory strike, or full-blown invasion, of Iraq. The commission states that the supposed connections between Iraqi terrorist group Ansar al-Islam and al-Qaeda are nowhere near as strong as the Bush administration has portrayed. It also thoroughly discredits, again, the administration's tales that 9/11 architect Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in April 2001, showing that the Iraqi intelligence agent in question was not in Prague at the time, and that Atta was in the United States.
- The report criticizes the Bush administration's decision not to grant prisoner-of-war protections to captured al-Qaeda suspects, calling instead for the development of "a common coalition approach toward the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists." The report also urges more aggressive efforts to prevent terrorist groups from obtaining weapons of mass destruction and reveals that in 1998 US officials worriedly discussed reports that al-Qaeda "was intent on carrying out a 'Hiroshima.'" On the subject of detainees, the report says, "New principles might endorse the application of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict. That article was specifically designed for those cases in which the usual laws of war did not apply. Its minimum standards are generally accepted throughout the world as customary international law." The report also casts doubt on whether the Bush administration has justified its use of some expanded powers under the USA Patriot Act, which gave the FBI broader authority to conduct surveillance and searches in terrorism investigations following the 9/11 attacks. (Washington Post, Washington Post)
- July 22: The 9/11 report will also sharply criticize Congress for failures in its role as overall watchdog of the nation's intelligence apparatus. It also calls for both the House and Senate to establish permanent committees on domestic security with jurisdiction over a wide range of activities that is now spread among dozens of competing committees, recommends that the role of intelligence oversight committes be greatly expanded, and recommends the creation of a permanent joint House-Senate intelligence committee. (New York Times/NewsMine)
- July 24: Bush is directly warned by the 9/11 commission that if his administration does not dramatically overhaul its strategy on terrorism, he and his administration will be to blame for the next attack. "The United States is faced with one of the greatest security challenges in our long history," says chairman Tom Kean. We do believe we are safer today than we were on 9/11. But we are not safe." The report attempts to persuade the administration to focus less on Iraq and more on gathering intelligence about Islamic terrorism, along with renewed diplomatic efforts to rebuild ties with Islamic countries. The administration "failed to protect" the American people before September 11, the report says, because "it was not active enough in combating the terrorist threat." Republican commissioner James Thompson bluntly warns: "If something bad happens while these recommendations are sitting there, the American people will quickly fix political responsibility for failure and that responsibility may last generations." The reaction from the White House has been to disengage itself from the report. The report has won praise from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, including from the Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, who says the changes were overdue: "We can do better. We must do better. And it's time to act." But critics of the report complain it pulles its punches and fails to criticize Bush for launching the war in Iraq and diverting attention from the war against al-Qaeda. Former White House terrorism chief Richard Clarke says the commission would not acknowledge that the US was "in a more dangerous position" since the Iraq invasion, which had fueled terrorism. The report goes to great lengths not to lay blame on anyone in the White House, particularly Bush, for refusing to act on actionable intelligence regarding the attacks before 9/11, even though it provides a detailed list of warnings from the CIA and Clarke that al-Qaeda was planning an attack on the US. "Our purpose is not to assign blame," says Kean, who adds, "The fact of the matter is we just didn't get it in this country. We could not comprehend that people wanted to kill us; they wanted to hijack airplanes and fly them into big buildings and important buildings." (Sydney Morning Herald)
- July 26: Veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern says that the 9/11 commission, in achieving unanimity among its members in its report, failed to address the underlying concerns surrounding the terrorist attacks. First and foremost among those concerns is the question, "Why did the terrorists attack us?" The speciously easy answer is the one Bush gives us: because they hate our freedom. That is almost ludicrously shallow. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom the report labels the "mastermind of the 9/11 attacks," is reported to have developed his "animus toward the United States...not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with US foreign policy favoring Israel." Mohammed's nephew Ramzi Yousef, the evil genius behind the 1993 Trade Center bombing, reportedly carried out his plan of attack because of the US's support for Israel's repression of the Palestinians. McGovern writes, "Michael Scheuer, the CIA analyst author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, emphasizes that bin Laden's 'genius' is his ability to exploit US policies -- first and foremost, our one-sided support for Israel -- that are most offensive to Muslims, and notes that it is particularly difficult to have a serious debate regarding US policy toward Israel." (TomPaine)
- July 29: Senator Mark Dayton, a Democrat, charges that NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and the FAA have covered up "catastrophic failures" that left the nation vulnerable during the 9/11 hijackings. "For almost three years now, NORAD officials and FAA officials have been able to hide their critical failures that left this country defenseless during two of the worst hours in our history," Dayton says during a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing. During the hearing, Dayton tells 9/11 commission chairmen Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean that, based on the commission's report, a NORAD chronology made public a week after the attacks was grossly misleading. The chronology said the FAA notified the military's emergency air command of three of the hijackings while those jetliners were still airborne. Dayton cites commission findings that the FAA failed to inform NORAD about three of the planes until after they had crashed. He also notes that a squadron of NORAD fighter planes that was scrambled was sent east over the Atlantic Ocean and was 150 miles from Washington, DC, when the third plane struck the Pentagon -- "farther than they were before they took off." Dayton says NORAD officials "lied to the American people, they lied to Congress and they lied to your 9/11 commission to create a false impression of competence, communication and protection of the American people." He says that, if the commission's report is accurate, Bush "should fire whoever at FAA, at NORAD...betrayed their public trust by not telling us the truth." (Minnesota Star-Tribune/Will Thomas [cached Google copy], Scoop [transcript of Dayton's remarks])
- July 30: After cogitating for weeks over the aspects of the 9/11 commission report, the Bush administration announces its intention to implement one of the main recommendations of the commission, the creation of a cabinet-level Director of National Intelligence. The timing of the announcement is to undercut the positive "bounce" of media coverage and poll numbers presidential candidate John Kerry received after the Democratic convention, which culminated last night with Kerry's acceptance speech. Kerry has called for months for the administration to improve its intelligence capabilities and to implement the recommendations of the commission, many of which were made by other commissions as far back as 2000. "It will be difficult for Democrats to criticize the president and steal the political advantage if he makes some swift changes via executive order," says says James Jay Carafano, a senior fellow on security issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "He'll just say he's doing what the 9/11 commission recommended. It will be impossible to say that is bad. And the president can just do it. You know that he will. That's what [the White House] has always done. When momentum builds for something, they take it over, as if it were their own." (Salon)
Pakistan heavily involved in 9/11 planning, execution
- August 3: In a stunning revelation widely ignored by the US media, the 9/11 commission concludes that Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, was fully cognizant of the plans and people behind the attacks well before they were launched. And ISI personnel were involved in the planning, advising bin Laden and his colleagues on how to attack key targets in the US with hijacked civilian aircraft. The commission also states that bin Laden has been undergoing periodic dialysis treatment in a military hospital in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province adjacent to the Afghan border. The information came to the commission's attention in a confidential report from Pakistan as the commission's own report was being published. The information was supplied with the understanding that the source would remain anonymous. Pakistan denies the allegations, just as it has denied that President Pervez Musharraf knew anything about the activities of A.Q. Khan, the country's top nuclear engineer who spent the last 10 years building and running a nuclear black market for "rogue" nations.
- Osama bin Laden's principal Pakistani adviser before 9/11 was retired general Hamid Gul, a former ISI chief who, since the 2001 attacks, is "strategic adviser" to the coalition of six politico-religious parties that governs two of Pakistan's four provinces. Known as MMA, the coalition also occupies 20 percent of the seats in the federal assembly in Islamabad. Hours after the attacks, Gul publicly accused Israel's Mossad of fomenting the plot. Later, he said the US Air Force must have been in on it since no warplanes were scrambled to shoot down the hijacked airliners. Gul has denied meeting with bin Laden in the weeks before the attacks, as intelligence reports have noted, but he did meet with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, and has publicly and repeatedly stated his admiration for bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Gul was a colleague of the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when he was ISI chief (as was bin Laden). He was "mildly" fundamentalist in those days, he explained after 9/11, and indifferent to the United States. But he became passionately anti-American after the United States turned its back on Afghanistan following the 1989 Soviet withdrawal and began punishing Pakistan with economic and military sanctions for its secret nuclear buildup. A ranking CIA official says the agency considers Gul "the most dangerous man" in Pakistan. A senior Pakistani political leader adds. "I have reason to believe Hamid Gul was Osama bin Laden's master planner."
- According to the Pakistani source, "The core issue of instability and violence in South Asia is the character, activities and persistence of the militarized Islamist fundamentalist state in Pakistan. No cure for this canker can be arrived at through any strategy of negotiations, support and financial aid to the military regime, or by a 'regulated' transition to 'democracy.' ...The imprints of every major act of international Islamist terrorism invariably passes through Pakistan, right from September 11 -- where virtually all the participants had trained, resided or met in, coordinated with, or received funding from or through Pakistan -- to major acts of terrorism across South Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as major networks of terror that have been discovered in Europe. Pakistan has harvested an enormous price for its apparent 'cooperation' with the U.S., and in this it has combined deception and blackmail -- including nuclear blackmail -- to secure a continuous stream of concessions. Its conduct is little different from that of North Korea, which has in the past chosen the nuclear path to secure incremental aid from Western donors. A pattern of sustained nuclear blackmail has consistently been at the heart of Pakistan's case for concessions, aid and a heightened threshold of international tolerance for its sponsorship and support of Islamist terrorism.
- "To understand how this works, it is useful to conceive of Pakistan's ISI as a state acting as terrorist traffickers, complaining that, if it does not receive the extraordinary dispensations and indulgences that it seeks, it will, in effect, 'implode,' and in the process do extraordinary harm. Part of the threat of this 'explosion' is also the specter of the transfer of its nuclear arsenal and capabilities to more intransigent and irrational elements of the Islamist far right in Pakistan, who would not be amenable to the logic that its present rulers -- whose interests in terrorism are strategic, and consequently, subject to considerations of strategic advantage - are willing to listen to. ...It is crucial to note that if the Islamist terrorist groups gain access to nuclear devices, ISI will almost certainly be the source. ...At least six Pakistani scientists connected with the country's nuclear program were in contact with al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden with the thorough instructions of ISI. Pakistan has projected the electoral victory of the fundamentalist and pro-Taliban, pro-al-Qaeda Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in the November elections as 'proof' the military is the only 'barrier' against the country passing into the hands of the extremists. The fact, however, is that the elections were widely rigged, and this was a fact acknowledged by the European Union observers, as well as by some of the MMA's constituents themselves. The MMA victory was, in fact, substantially engineered by the Musharraf regime, as are the various anti-US 'mass demonstrations' around the country.
- "Pakistan has made a big case out of the fact that some of the top-line leadership of al-Qaeda has been arrested in the country with the 'cooperation' of the Pakistani security forces and intelligence. However, the fact is that each such arrest only took place after the FBI and US investigators had effectively gathered evidence to force Pakistani collaboration, but little of this evidence had come from Pakistani intelligence agencies. Indeed, ISI has consistently sought to deny the presence of al-Qaeda elements in Pakistan, and to mislead US investigators. ...This deception has been at the very highest level, and Musharraf himself, for instance, initially insisted he was 'certain' bin Laden was dead. ...ISI has been actively facilitating the relocation of al-Qaeda from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and the conspiracy of substantial segments of serving Army and intelligence officers is visible. ...The Pakistan army consistently denies giving the militants anything more than moral, diplomatic and political support. The reality is quite different. ISI issues money and directions to militant groups, specially the Arab hijackers of September 11 from al Qaeda. ISI was fully involved in devising and helping the entire affair. And that is why people like Hamid Gul and others very quickly stated the propaganda that CIA and Mossad did it. ...The dilemma for Musharraf is that many of his army officers are still deeply sympathetic to al-Qaeda, Taliban militants and the Kashmir cause. ...Many retired and present ISI officers retain close links to al- Qaeda militants hiding in various state-sponsored places in Pakistan and Kashmir as well as leaders from the defeated Taliban regime. They regard the fight against Americans and Jews and Indians in different parts of the world as legitimate jihad."
- The report also says, "According to a senior tribal leader in Peshawar, bin Laden, who suffers from renal deficiency, has been periodically undergoing dialysis in a Peshawar military hospital with the knowledge and approval of ISI if not of General Pervez Musharraf himself." The same source, though not in the report, speculates that Musharraf may plan to turn over bin Laden to President Bush in time to clinch Bush's re-election in November. (Washington Times/NewsMax)
- August 5: Former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds says the 9/11 commission's report is riddled with errors and cover-ups of those errors, reported to the commission by Edmonds and others. In an open letter to chairman Thomas Kean, she writes that the report "contains zero information regarding these systemic problems that led us to our failure in preventing the terrorist attacks." She continues, "In your report, there are no references to individuals responsible for hindering past and current investigations, or those who are willing to compromise our security and our lives for their career advancement and security." Farther down, she writes, "While FBI agents from various field offices were desperately seeking leads and suspects, and completely depending on FBI HQ and its language units to provide them with needed translated information, hundreds of translators were being told by their administrative supervisors not to translate and to let the work pile up. I provided your investigators with a detailed and specific account of this issue and the names of other witnesses willing to corroborate this. Today, almost three years after [9/11], and more than two years since this information has been confirmed and made available to our government, the administrators in charge of language departments of the FBI remain in their positions and in charge of the information front lines of the FBI's counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence efforts. Your report has omitted any reference to this most serious issue...."
- She reminds the commission that in April 2001, the FBI had obtained specific information that bin Laden was "planning a major terrorist attack in the United States targeting four to five major cities;" "the attack was going to involve airplanes;" some of those involved were already "in the United States;" and the attack would be "in a few months." Edmonds reminds Kean that the information came from "a long-term FBI informant/asset" and that it was sent to the "special agent in charge of counter-terrorism" in Washington. She charges that after the attacks, "the agents and translators were told to 'keep quiet' regarding this issue." Further to that, she writes, "The Phoenix Memo, received months prior to the attacks, specifically warned FBI HQ of pilot training and their possible link to terrorist activities against the United States. Four months prior to the terrorist attacks the Iranian asset provided the FBI with specific information regarding the 'use of airplanes,' 'major US cities as targets,' and 'Osama bin Laden issuing the order'.... All this information went to the same place: FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC, and the FBI Washington Field Office, in Washington DC. Yet your report claims that not having a central place where all intelligence could be gathered as one of the main factors in our intelligence failure. Why did your report choose to exclude the information regarding the Iranian asset and [translator] Behrooz Sarshar from its timeline of missed opportunities? Why was this significant incident not mentioned, despite the public confirmation by the FBI, witnesses provided to your investigators, and briefings you received directly? Why did you surprise even [FBI] director [Robert] Mueller by refraining from asking him questions regarding this significant incident and lapse during your hearing.... ?"
- Edmonds continues to operate under a gag order issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who also forbid her to testify in a case brought by families of 9/11 victims, invoking his authority to protect "state secrets." While Edmonds is prohibited from discussing much of what she knows, what she has been able to discuss has been verified as accurate. A July 21 letter from Mueller to Republican senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, notes that an inspector general's report found her whistleblowing "a contributing factor in why the FBI terminated her services." Mueller's letter also noted that, based upon the report's findings, a new FBI determination to pursue "discipline of FBI employees" and "additional investigation" of Edmonds' allegations had yet to be made. Mueller's letter to Hatch outlined that the "OIG criticized the FBI's failure to adequately pursue Ms Edmonds' allegations of espionage" regarding the above-mentioned translator who "hastily left the United States in 2002." The OIG's report is known to have criticized the bureau's conduct regarding its pursuit of Edmonds' claim of ongoing espionage, with Edmonds revealing that "hundreds of pages of top-secret sensitive intelligence documents" were taken outside the bureau to "unknown recipients" by her co-worker in question. Edmonds describes the FBI's perspective upon this as being "that it would not look good for the bureau if this security breach and espionage case was investigated and made public," concurrently citing the blemish that the last FBI spy scandal had left, that of Robert Hanssen.
- Her letter is particularly noteworthy for its specific naming of those involved in the wrongdoing she cites, and in providing corroboration of her account, including such by those within the government. Notably, two key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Republican Charles Grassley and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, had requested the OIG's investigation of Edmonds' FBI allegations in 2002, Grassley terming her "very credible." On July 9, 2002, the two senators jointly wrote to Ashcroft, Mueller and Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine requesting that the OIG's pertinent reports be made publicly available. The senators' letter specified three OIG reports: one on Sibel Edmonds, another on the FBI translation program, and a third upon whether information "obtained by the FBI and other federal law-enforcement agencies" preceding September 11 "was not acted upon, or not acted on in the most effective and efficient manner." The senators requested that these documents either be declassified or made available to the public via summary; the letter highlight the senators' attempts "to understand how important clues were overlooked," and that the information in question is significant to both the "public interest" and "congressional oversight." No such information has ever been made public.
- In an April 2004 interview, Edmonds countered Condoleezza Rice's claim that "Despite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles, though some analysts speculated that terrorists might hijack planes to try and free US-held terrorists" as "an outrageous lie," saying, "I saw papers that show the US knew al-Qaeda would attack cities with airplanes." She charges in her letter to Kean that the US government has a powerful "unspoken policy of 'protecting certain foreign business relations'...'safeguarding certain diplomatic relations'," as substantively contributing to the general lack of candor she charges. In July 2002, she filed a civil suit against the Justice Department, citing an FBI release of information that she was the "subject of a security review," that she had been retaliated against by the bureau for her whistleblowing activity, and that there had been "interference" with her ability to obtain future employment as well as a wrongful "termination" of her FBI services. According to the court, which dismissed the lawsuit "in the interests of national security" after Ashcroft invoked the "state secrets privilege," Edmonds showed the court that she and her family have been threatened, and that her sister has been targeted by an unnamed foreign country for forcible apprehension and interrogation. The court also noted that on May 8, 2002, Grassley wrote to Mueller regarding what he perceived as the gravity of Edmonds's charges, urging Mueller to "emphasize to [FBI] officials...that retaliation against current or former FBI employees is not acceptable, especially when retaliation endangers a person's family member." (Asia Times)