by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
August 1, 2003
BUSH ADMINISTRATION PASSING THE BUCK ON 9/11
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Americans have been waiting a long time to find out the truth about the events leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
After last week's release of the 800-page report of the joint inquiry into the 9/11 attacks by the Senate and House intelligence committees, it's clear that we'll be continuing to wait for the truth.
One could say that it's a minor miracle that we got to see as much of the report as we did. For months, the White House did everything it could to prevent its release. It's easy to see why.
The narrative that the Bush administration wants us to believe is that the Sept. 11 attacks were inconceivable and that there was no way they could have been thwarted. To believe this version of events is to absolve the Bush administration from any possible blame, which is exactly what they want.
The report's central theme - that the U.S. intelligence community dropped the ball concerning many significant clues and warnings that an attack was imminent - just confirmed everything we heard last year regarding just how many warnings and clues were missed by the FBI and the CIA.
To refresh your memory, here's a review of some of the clues that were missed.
FBI agents in Arizona issued warnings in the summer of 2001 that a large number of Arab men were seeking pilot, security and airport operations training at American flight schools. Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged "20th hijacker," was arrested by the FBI in August 2001 in Minnesota after suspicious activity at one of these schools.
That summer, the world's leading intelligence services were warning their U.S. counterparts that something big was brewing. The German intelligence agency BND warned the U.S. and Israel that terrorists were planning to hijack planes to fly them into buildings. That was echoed by Russia's intelligence services; they told the CIA in August 2001 that 25 terrorist pilots had been trained for suicide missions. Also that month, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad warned the FBI and CIA that up to 200 al-Qaeda members were planning a major attack on American targets.
Did anyone at the FBI or CIA remember the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center? Or the 1995 and 1996 bombings of U.S. military facilities in Saudi Arabia? Or the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya? Or the 2000 attack on the U.S.S Cole? All of these attacks were linked to Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, nobody apparently believed that 19 men could almost simultaneously hijack four airliners and use them as weapons to kill more than 3,000 people.
Nobody, except John O'Neill, the FBI's leading expert on bin Laden and one of its top counterterrorism people.
O'Neill apparently took the now infamous "Phoenix Memo" seriously and tried to warn his higher ups about it. Nothing was done. It apparently was never shared with the CIA or other intelligence agencies; not even the top echelon of the FBI ever saw it.
In the midst of this inaction, the Bush administration was backing off tracking Bin Laden because it more interested in cutting a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan so a oil pipeline could be built. O'Neill quit the FBI in disgust in August 2001 to take a job as chief of security at the World Trade Center. The pipeline negotiations broke down that same month. In a final ironic twist, O'Neill would die a few weeks later at the hands of the people he had fought so hard to stop.
The above information wasn't included in the public release of the report, because the Bush administration is trying to pretend that information is classified even though many Americans saw and heard the supposedly top secret information.
How much did the Bush administration know regarding the threat of a major attack by al-Qaeda? That information was also left out of the report. Again, in spite of the stonewalling of the White House, we also know exactly how seriously was the Bush administration taking the threat of terrorism prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
In May 2001, President Bush announced that Vice President Dick Cheney would direct a government-wide review on how to handle the aftermath of a domestic attack. That review never happened.
Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department didn't consider terrorism to be a priority before 9/11; the day before the attacks he rejected an FBI request for $58 million to hire more counterterrorism field agents, analysts and translators and proposed a $65 million cut in funds for state and local counterterrorism programs.
And on Aug. 6, 2001, President Bush - in the midst of a month-long vacation at his Texas ranch - received an intelligence memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." It suggested that al-Qaeda forces were planning to hijack airliners sometime soon. This memo apparently was ignored by the Bush administration.
Again, all this information has been in the public domain for months, but it was left out of the congressional report for reasons of "national security." Likewise for the 28 pages of the report that detailed the extent of Saudi involvement in the funding of the 9/11 attacks. And the Bush administration is hoping no one notices the part of the report that details that U.S. intelligence agencies had no evidence that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks.
The absurdity of trying to reclassify information that is already in the public domain shows how determined the Bush administration is in trying to prevent Americans from finding out the truth about why the 9/11 attacks happened and the extent of how badly the Bush administration failed to protect the nation. In their minds, it's easier to stonewall or blame others than it is to take the responsibility for the failures of 9/11.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).