Sept 11,2001 is often referred to as the "911 tragedy". But perhaps the biggest tragedy of Sept.11,2001 is that not only could it have been prevented, it should have been.
The incontrovertible evidence presented in front of the 911 Commission, largely ignored and papered over by the kind of fear and cowardice we have come to expect from the press, was that the Bush administration from top to bottom dismissed terrorism as a threat from the day they took office. This mind set led Bush and his administration on a path that allowed a collection of bumbling Al-Qaeda operatives, making mistake after mistake in plain sight, to succeed in the worst attack on American soil by a foreign enemy with the worst lost of life in American history. And it never had to happen.
The most important misstep by Bush and his entire administration was in dismissing Al-Qaeda as a major threat from the very beginning. They decided they knew better than those warning them of the severe threat Al-Qaeda posed, believing that Clinton and his administration exaggerated the threat. They believed the biggest national security threat to the United States was China, and getting out of the ABM treaty with Russia and restarting Star Wars was their number one national security priority, not terrorism. That is the attitude that directly led to all the decisions and non decisions which in turn allowed the September 11,2001 attacks to be carried out.
WHAT BUSH WAS TOLD.
During the presidential transition in January of 2001 Bush was given the national security briefings given to all presidents-elect at Blair House prior to his inauguaration. The briefings were given by George Tenant of CIA, Bob Mueller director of the FBI and their respective staffs. At those briefings, given separately, George W. Bush was told by the CIA and the FBI that Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were the single biggest threats to US national security in the world.
Also during the transition, Bush met face to face with Bill Clinton who also told him that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were the biggest threats to US national security in the world.
And again during the transition, Bush and Rice met with outgoing national security advisor Sandy Berger who told them that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were the single biggest threats to U.S, national security in the world and to emphasize the point, Berger told Bush that he predicted that the Bush Administration would spend more time dealing with Al-Qaeda than any other issue throughout his entire term as president. Bush, Cheney and Rice ignored all of them, and dismissed terrorism as a real threat to the United States.
Below are the 5 major decisions and non-decisions made by Bush that allowed the 911 attacks to succeed and, had he treated terrorism seriously and took only the most basic and common sense actions in the face of the information he was given, could have and would have prevented the 911 attacks.
1. THE DEMOTION OF RICHARD CLARKE.
The first thing Bush did with regards to terrorism after taking office was demote Richard Clarke, head of anti-terrorism for the 3 previous U.S. presidents, demoting him and his office of anti-terrorism from the cabinet level position Clarke held during the Clinton Administration to a sub-cabinet position, removing his direct access to the president.
2. THE DISSOLUTION OF THE PRINCIPALS MEETING.
Bush dissolved the Principles Meeting on Terrorism. This was a daily meeting that took place during the Clinton Administration and chaired by Richard Clarke, where the cabinet heads of every agency related to counter terrorism, CIA, FBI, theAttorney General, ATF, Immigration and others would sit in a conference room and share all the information related to terrorism collected by their respective agencies in the previous 24 hours and discuss its significance and what if anything to do about it. Terrorism was the top priority at these agencies with a standing directive that all intelligence related to terrorism be sent immediately to headquarters in Washington.That ended under Bush. It resulted in the report by the Phoenix office of the FBI reporting the suspicious activity of two middle eastern men taking lessons on how to fly jumbo jets but not wanting to learn how to take off or land, remaining in the Phoenix office instead of being sent right to FBI headquarters in Washington. One of those men was Mohammed Atta and one can easily surmise what Clarke, Tenant, and Mueller would have done with that information. Atta wouldnt have been able to have a cup of coffee without the FBI knowing about it and it is a certainty the plot would have been discovered.
3. IGNORING INTELLIGENCE WARNINGS.
In July of 2001, George Tenant requested an emergency meeting with Condoleeza Rice at the White House. His concern was the messages contained in the Al-Qaeda chatter that the CIA had intercepted. In the meeting Tenant and the head of his counter terrorism group at the CIA told Rice that the intercepts of Al-Qaeda chatter have not only spiked to an all time high, but indicated the intercepts showed that the U.S. was going to be hit by a major Al-Qaeda attack and that the attack was "imminent". The head of CIA counter terrorism said he told Rice, " this country has to go on a war footing right now" with regards to Al-Qaeda. Both Rice and Bush dismissed them and took no action. Rice wa so disinterested she testified at the 911 Commission hearings that she didn't even remember the meeting taking place and even denied they took place but White House logs prove that it did. Rice was either so dismissive of terrorism that she honestly didnt remember the meeting or she was lying. As Richard Clarke himself said in a new Smithsonian documentary on 911, "talking to the Bush Administration about terrorism was like talking to a brick wall".
4. JULY AND AUGUST INTERCEPTS OF AL-QAEDA MESSAGES
Richard Clarke and George Tenant testified that in August of 2001, the spike in intercepted Al-Qaeda traffic was the highest Clarke had seen in 20 years. The CIA translations of one of the intercepts indicated that the major terrorist attack against the U.S. had been put into place ( the exact translation was " the match has been lit") and that in the words of the CIA memo, the attack was going to be "spectacular". Clarke testified that given this information he and George Tenant were "running around the White House like men with their hair on fire" trying to get Rice's and Bush's attention to tell them of the impending attack. They told Rice they needed to see or speak with Bush who was now vacationing in Crawford and they told her why. Bush refused to meet with them and Rice took no action.
5. THE AUGUST 6, 2001 PDB.
The presidential daily briefing of August 6, 2001 was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike Within the U.S". In this briefing, a compilation put together by all the intelligence agencies into one brief for the president, giving him what they consider to be the most important recent intelligence information related to national security and giving him intelligence they consider actionable, Bush was told that not only was Bin Laden going to strike inside the U.S. but that the FBI confirmed that more than 30 Al-Qaeda cells were now operating within the U.S. But even more startling, and more damning, on page 2 of the PDB Bush was told that part of the Al-Qaeda plot to strike within the U.S. was going to involve the hijacking of U.S. commercial airliners
.( italics mine). Bush was also told that Al-Qaeda members had office buildings in New York city under surveillance. Bush and Rice took no action. Rice's defense? They had no idea would use the hijacked planes as missiles. Which begs the question, does that mean that hijacking U.S. airliners and holding hundreds if not thousands of people hostage was okay with them?
This was Bush's last opportunity to have prevented 911, only a month before the attacks but Bush ignored both the intelligence in the August 6,2001 PDB and the simultaneous intercepts of Al-Qaeda chatter occuring in early August 2001 indicating a major attack was imminent.
Had Bush simply out of a sense of erroring on the side of caution if nothing else, ordered the FAA to issue a high alert terrorist warning to all U.S. airlines and airports of a potential threat of a hijacking by middle eastern men 911 would have been stopped in its tracks.
We know this because had U.S. airlines and airports been put on a high alert for a possible threat of hijacking by middle eastern men, the 19 hijackers would have stood out like sore thumbs. They were all middle eastern, they all bought one way transcontinental tickets to California, none of them had luggage and they paid cash without having made reservations, paying the highest ticket prices possible. Had airlines and airports been alerted to the potential hijacking threat it is a virtual certainty they would have been considered 19 middle eastern men all with the same suspicious profile a potential threat and they would have been kept from getting on those planes.
There is more including the arrest of Zacarias Moussoui in Minnesota months before as a result of his also taking lessons at a flying school to learn to fly jumbo jets but not to take off or land. The investigation into Moussoui and the intelligence gathered indicating a terrorist plot was sent to FBI headquarters. After the attacks a scathing letter was written by FBI agent Colleen Rowly who was in charge of the investigation, to Robert Mueller accusing him of covering up for Bush politically when the party line was that was put out by the Bush administration was they he didn't have the information needed to have prevented 911. Mueller never contradicted it and Rowley knew it wasn't true.
From the day after the attack to this day, Bush Rice and Cheney blamed the ability of the 911 attacks on "faulty intelligence" when the only faulty intelligence was at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue. The press typically ignored the evidence presented at the 911 Commission hearing because they were clearly afraid and intimidated, as always, by the prospect of Republican attacks accusing them of being unpatriotic if they leveled criticism and accusations at Bush. For the Democrats, they also as usual, joined the press in the fetal position, afraid of the same thing and, for all their crowing about their love of national security, the goal of Republicans was to cover up what amounted to the worst case of gross negligence by a president in regards to national security in American history.
Condoleeza Rice's explanation shortly after the attacks that they "couldn't connect the dots" was actually the only completely truthful thing she said about the attacks. But in typical Washington press fashion, they mindlessly adopted her expression, still using it today, without giving any thought to what it actually meant.
Rice's admission that they couldn't "connect the dots" was, in her choice of analogy, her subconscious mind inadvertantly exposing the ineptitude, incompetence and negligence of Bush and Rice herself as national security advisor, something that went right over the heads of the press and still does. Because connecting the dots is in reality a child's game where a number of dots are right in front of you, all numbered consecutively and all you have to do is draw a line from one to the other and you get see the whole picture. Rice's analogy was an admission that they couldn't do that.
As long as the press and others allow the myths created by the Bush administration about the attacks to continue, most importantly that they couldn't have been prevented, when it was Bush's gross, even criminal negligence that allowed it to succeed, the truth about the 911 attacks will continue to remain what its been for ten years -- a casualty of war.