by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 29, 2002
BIG OIL, BIN LADEN, THE BUSH TEAM AND SEPT. 11
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I used to think that President Richard Nixon set the gold standard for secrecy, paranoia and corruption. But President George W. Bush is coming up fast on the rail.
Maybe it's because there are Nixon alumni on the president's team such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Maybe it's because of the political lessons learned from his father, the first President Bush, another Nixon alum. Maybe it's because the methods of Nixon - thecynicism, the lying, the political trickery and the bullying of opponents - are still effective.
Whatever the reason, the present Bush administration seems determined to "out Nixon" Nixon. They have succeeded in making even the mildest criticism or question of the administration's "war on terror" tantamount to treason. They have rebuffed all attempts to obtain information on the extent of intelligence information prior the Sept. 11 attacks. They have been relentless in trying to control what the public knows about what's going on in the White House.
Secrecy, paranoia and corruption. Except this isn't about illegal campaign contributions and "black bag" jobs against political enemies, as in Watergate. Or secretly selling weapons to terrorists to illegally fund a proxy army, as in the Iran-Contra affair. It's about something bigger than oral sex in the Oval Office. It's about national security and whether or not negligence and/or incompetence by the Bush administration led to the deaths of more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11.
Instead of getting the truth, we are getting demagoguery from the Bush administration that's straight from the Nixon playbook: deny and hedge your responses, accuse your critics of being "partisan" or even "disloyal," and change the subject if things start getting too hot. But, as Nixon found out, you can only keep doing these things for so long before the truth eventually breaks through.
The truth here is pretty simple and clear cut. The Bush administration had specific information from a variety of sources that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida was planning some sort of airplane-based attack on American targets. Nothing was done with the information.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, we repeatedly heard from the White House that there was no "specific" advance warning that the attacks were going to happen. "Specific" is the key word here. Yes, President Bush didn't get a message from bin Laden stating that an airliner was going to flying into the World Trade Center shortly before 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. But there was a substantial amount of information in the months leading up to Sept. 11 that something was going to happen.
No attempts were made to improve airport security, or even alert anyone to the possibility of a terrorist hijacking. This is not to say it might of made a difference, but that the Clinton administration twice thwarted planned terror attacks in the U.S. in 1995 and 1999 by bin Laden operatives. The Clinton team may have had better luck, but it's clear they took bin Laden a lot more seriously than the Bush administration did prior to Sept. 11.
We know that the Bush administration made a point of abandoning almost all of Clinton's foreign policy initiatives. Even though outgoing National Security Advisor Sandy Berger warned his replacement, Condoleeza Rice, about bin Laden and told her that she would "be spending more time on this issue than on any other," no one in the Bush White House seemed to heed this warning.
Whatever progress the Clinton administration had made in keeping bin Laden on the run was lost when the Bush team decided there were other priorities. Building up China into a potential enemy and pushing forward with the still unworkable and useless National Missile Defense plan were more important than dealing with the very real threat of bin Laden.
This is not to imply a conspiracy of deliberate inaction by the Bush administration or that the Sept. 11 attacks were allowed to happen. But when one digs a little deeper, you can see that certain decisions that were made benefited certain people.
Take the now-infamous Carlyle Group, the Washington-based investment group that's filled with former Reagan-Bush I staffers, including the former President Bush. We know that the bin Laden family had a $2 million investment in Carlyle - money that was withdrawn after Sept. 11. Prior to that date, attempts to investigate Osama bin Laden's involvement in terrorist attacks against U.S. targets were squelched by the administration.
John O'Neill, the FBI deputy director who was the lead investigator in the bin Laden case, quit the FBI last August out of frustration with the Bush adminstration's interference. O'Neill said the "main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorism were U.S. oil interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it." O'Neill became the chief of security at the World Trade Center and was killed on Sept. 11.
The Carlyle Group made millions after Sept. 11 off its defense investments. If that smells suspicious, the history of the Bush adminstration's dealings with the Taliban to get a pipeline built through Afghanistan smells even more rank.
Back in 1998, Unocal sought to build an pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan to tap into the huge natural gas reserves located in the countries around the Caspian Sea. Afghanistan, then under Taliban control, was the main obstacle to getting it built. After bin Laden's forces bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Clinton administration barred any financial dealings with the Taliban regime as punishment for harboring bin Laden.
Once the President Bush took office, the Clinton restrictions were removed and negotiations resumed with the Taliban to get the pipeline proposal going again. The Taliban balked and talks broke down last August.
There are some reports that the Bush administration threatened war against the Taliban if they didn't go along with the deal. We don't know if that's true, but we do know that the Bush administration wasn't pushing the investigations into bin Laden that were started during the Clinton era so that the regimes involved in the pipeline plan wouldn't be offended. It may be safe to assume bin Laden took advantage of this in planning the Sept. 11 attacks.
We also know that President Bush and Vice President Cheney owe most of their political and financial success to their involvement in the oil business. It's not much of a stretch to think that many of the pre-Sept. 11 foreign policy decisions were made in deference to the oil industry.
This may explain why the Bush administration was adamantly opposed to a congressional investigation of the events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. It also explains why it is so important that such an investigation is carried out.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).