by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 25, 2002
MORE TRUTH, LESS SPIN NEEDED FROM BUSH TEAM
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The extent of the incompetence of the Bush Administration grows by the day. Secrecy and spin seem to be the only things it can do right.
When the news slipped out that President Bush had received information prior to September 11 that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida forces were planning to hijack some airliners as part of some sort of terrorist action against the U.S., it contradicted months of spin that there was no advance warning that such an attack was imminent.
One of those advance warnings was a report last July from the FBI's Phoenix office that suspects in a terrorist investigation linked to al-Qaida and bin Laden were attending flight school. The New York Times reported that one of the people who saw the report filed by Special Agent Kenneth Williams was agent John O'Neill, the FBI's leading expert on bin Laden and one of its top counterterrorism people.
O'Neill apparently took the memo seriously and tried to warn the higher-ups about it. Nothing was done. It 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.
The rest of the story would be rejected by a Hollywood scriptwriter as too preposterous to be real. O'Neill quit the FBI in disgust last August to take a job as chief of security at the World Trade Center. The pipeline negotiations broke down in August. Bin Laden's forces struck on September 11 and O'Neill died at the hands of the people he had fought so hard to thwart.
How seriously was the Bush administration taking the threat of terrorism prior to September 11? Last May, 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 spent more energy on raiding medical marijuana clubs in California and fighting child pornography than in counterterrorism. Yet last July, he stopped flying on commercial airliners as the talk of a potential al-Qaida hijacking started to grow louder. Ashcroft's Justice Department didn't consider terrorism to be a priority before September 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.
We know now that Russian, German and Israeli intelligence agencies all picked up signals during the summer of 2001 that bin Laden was up to something big. And on Aug. 6, President Bush received a memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." It suggested that al-Qaida forces were planning to hijack airliners sometime soon.
The president was on vacation at his ranch in Texas that month. One only wonders what might of happened had he decided to talk publicly about the possibility that the same folks that blew up the U.S. embassy in Kenya in 1998 and the U.S.S Cole in Yemen in 2000 might be planning an attack in this country. But nothing happened.
Now, we're getting bombarded with warnings that another terrorist attack is around the corner. But, according to The Toronto Star, White House officials admitted that the warnings have little to do with increased security threats but have a lot to do with trying to deflect criticism from the Democrats.
The pressure is building for a real investigation into what happened leading up to the September 11 attacks. We must keep up the pressure on Congress to conduct one as soon as possible.
Never mind Cheney's remarks about an investigation being something that's "thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in times of war." What is the Bush administration trying to hide? Or are they more interested in maintaining a dissent-free atmosphere to carry out their "war on terrorism?"
Besides finding out the truth about what really happened before September 11, there remains one big question left to be answered - a question that a Congressional investigation probably won't touch. The U.S. is spending close to a trillion dollars a year on its military, intelligence and law enforcement operations. So how did 19 guys with box cutters hijack four airliners and turn those planes into missiles to kill more than 3,000 people, devastate our economy and provoke a full-blown war?
In other words, why is Congress still shoveling even more money at a military-intelligence-law enforcement system that failed horribly to protect the nation? Because no one wants to ask the biggest question of all: Why are we allowing our nation to pursue policies that create the conditions that spawn the hatred that inspires terrorists to attack America?
Until that question can be answered, our nation is in danger of more terrorist attacks and more bloodshed.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).