The successful terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, represented a spectacular failure of the U.S. national security establishment. But from the very beginning there was very little media interest in examining that failure, although the attack involved extensive terrorist preparations within the United States and although the federal government (and taxpayers) are paying some $30 billion a year on security services, not including the armed forces.
There was a rush to give “security” more money, without a detailed investigation of the failure and its implications for the efficiency in use of the existing vast sums. Little attention was given to locating responsibility for this security debacle.
There was even a tendency, insofar as any pointing the finger of blame was concerned, to find CLINTON guilty for having allegedly stinted in pursuing terrorism. This was the main theme of a front page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer of January 14 that referred only to Clinton’s inattention to the subject (Dick Polman, “Sept. 11 may taint Clinton’s legacy”).
There was no mention that the Clintonites had warned Bush representatives in January 2001 that Al Qaeda was a real threat and should be a priority concern, and there was no suggestion in this article, or others castigating Clinton, that maybe Bush, in office for eight months at 9/11, was in any way responsible for the security failure during his watch.
Part of the reason for this is that the Bush team, after having failed the country before 9/11, engaged in frenzied overkill after 9/11, rushing warships and airplanes to deal with the terror threat in New York harbor and elsewhere, engaging in a dragnet operation incarcerating and interrogating thousands of alleged suspects or potential suspects, declaring a “war on terrorism,” calling for more arms, etc.
The mainstream media never pointed out that this feverish activity was not only after-the-fact, but possibly designed to distract attention from the huge before-the-fact failure.
Another reason for the failure to ask questions and investigate is that Bush immediately declared himself a “war president,” and successfully mobilized media and populace to a high yellow-ribbon patriotic pitch. This made any criticism of our leader unthinkable for many, including the media, and gave Bush a free ride, for a while.
After the pre-9/11 virtual silence on the terror threat, the Bush team was finding threats worth publicizing on a weekly basis, perhaps aiming to keep war fever high and the possibility of critical investigation low.
Still another reason for media quiescence is that Bush is a Republican president, prized by the business community, and by the numerous rightwing pundits (Will, Charen, et al.), talk-show hosts (Limbaugh, North, O’Reilly et al.), and media (Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, Fox Network et al.), so that he is a protected person at this point in U.S. history.
If the media criticize him severely, even on the basis of serious evidence of behavior harmful to the public welfare, the media will be assailed by the rightwing echo chamber and by many Republicans for “playing politics” and “liberal bias.”
In the case of Democratic President Clinton, by contrast, it was possible to play the policy-irrelevant Whitewater and Lewinski scandals for years on end, because the echo chamber and Republicans were pleased to attack him, and the “liberal media” happily joined the fray. This could not happen to a Bush, even on issues important to policy and public well-being (e.g., his link to the Enron scandal, his tainted election by black exclusion and a Republican Supreme Court gift, each treated cursorily by the media)–and now, his and his administration’s responsibility for the 9/11 security failure.
It took the mainstream media many months to pick up the story of the Bush connection to this security failure, although most of its elements have been common knowledge for interested web browsers for quite a while. And finally having picked it up, the mainstream media are not tying together its various pieces and they are showing signs of abandoning the story as no longer of any interest, in accord with the election abuse model (see Greg Palast’s chapter in The Best Democracy Money Can Buy on “Jim Crow in Cyberspace: The Unreported Story of How They Fixed the Vote in Florida”).
The key elements in this story can be divided into three parts. First, is the story of the warnings to the Bush administration that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were planning a terrorist act, possibly including the use of hijacked aircraft to attack facilities like the Pentagon and White House. These warnings date back at least to 1996, but became acute and difficult to ignore in the six months before 9/11–that is, during Bush II’s tenure.
They included explicit warnings from foreign governments including Israel, Britain, Russia, Germany, France, Jordan, and Morocco, all advising of a serious imminent terrorist attack on the United States. These even included explicit warnings of plans “to hijack commercial aircraft and use them as weapons to attack important symbols of American and Israeli culture” (a Mossad message of August 24).
There was the now well-publicized message from FBI agent Kenneth Williams in Phoenix warning that suspicious persons were taking air flight training; the finding in early August 2001 that Zacarias Moussaoui was taking such training but showing a disinterest in taking off and landing; and the disclosure that the FBI had been aware for several years that Al Qaeda was using U.S. flying schools to train its cadres.
These and several other warnings were sufficient to cause Attorney-General John Ashcroft to avoid commercial airlines from late July. A minimally alert and competent security service concerned with terrorism and the public welfare would have invested serious resources in tracking down this threat, trying to prevent it, and preparing the airlines and public.
A second element in the story is the revelation that the Bush administration had actually carried out negotiations with the Taliban into August 2001, attempting to get agreement to a pipeline through Afghanistan. Only then did the administration break off relations and threaten an attack and invasion. What is more, the Bush family had links to the Bin Laden family through the Carlyle group, with the Bin Ladens investors in that group until sometime in 2001.
The book Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth, published in France in November 2001, by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, not only describes the Bush II dealings with and willingness to accept the Taliban if it would cooperate with oil industry plans, it cites John O’Neill, the principal FBI official working on the pursuit of Bin Laden, who claimed to have resigned in disgust in August 2001, because his pursuit of Bin Laden had been hamstrung by the Bush administration, in his view because of their links to Saudi Arabia.
Such constraints and tendency to appease both Saudi Arabia and the Taliban are supported by other evidence. Other FBI agents and officials have come forward to describe the FBI’s foot-dragging and unwillingness to act (notable is the Minneapolis office’s inability to get the FBI to obtain a warrant to examine Moussaoie’s apartment and computer).
FBI and military intelligence claimed that “there were always constraints in investigating the Saudis” and that “the restrictions became worse after the Bush administration took over” (Palast and Pallister, Guardian, Nov. 7, 2001).
It is interesting also that, with the approval of the FBI, several dozen U.S.-based members of the Bin Laden family were permitted to leave the United states shortly after 9/11, even as many hundreds of Arabs were being picked up for interrogation on possible links to Bin Laden. In short, it is possible that the lack of even modest initiative in examining the Bin Laden terror threat was rooted in Bush family and Bush II policy conflict of interest.
The third element in the case is that the Bush administration’s budget request submitted on September 10, 2001, cut $58 million from the FBI’s request for money to hire more counter-intelligence agents. This points up the fact that, despite all the warnings of a serious terrorist threat, and despite the need for personnel to penetrate organizations like Al Qaeda, the Bush administraion still “didn’t get it” one day before 9/11.
The media’s treatment of this serious failure that cost some 3,000 U.S. lives has been Bush-protective and irresponsible.
Not only were the media late in coming to the story, when they got there, after giving some important facts on the Phoenix memo, the earlier warnings of Al Qaeda flight training, the Minneapolis fiasco, they quickly allowed the Bush administration to get away with claims that the warnings “weren’t specific,” the Democrats were “politicizing” the question (by asking questions!), and that the important thing was to stop this politicking and focusing on “what really matters, which is preventing another assault by Osama Bin Laden” (NYT ed., May 21, 2002).
The New York Times had another editorial on “The Blame Game” (May 21), Thomas Friedman urged “Cool It!” (May 22), and R. J. Apple, Jr. did the same (“Gotcha! One Cheer for Politics as Usual”, May 19).
The Philadelphia Inquirer gave a front-page feature story to the blowing over of this unfortunate fuss (“One storm over 9/11 that quickly blew over,” May 21), and it played down the story editorially as well.
This is the same paper that not only exploited the Lewinski story to the hilt, and even called for Clinton’s resignation over that incident, it also gave more attention and indignation to Clinton’s pardons than to the Bush-Supreme Court election coup d’etat. The New York Times also featured Lewinski at great length, and while acknowledging its political component, still treated that purely political vendetta with rather more seriousness than the present Bush scandal of substance.
Perhaps more important, the media have not examined and tied together all the elements of the story. They have failed to look at the charges that the Bush administration was trying to do business with the Taliban until into August, and that it’s (and the Bush family’s) links to the Saudis constrained investigations into terrorist connections.
Paula Zahn mentioned the Brisard-Dasquie book on Bin Laden in an interview with Richard Butler on January 8, 2002, and its theme of Bush dealings with the Taliban and John O’Neill’s resignation because of investigatory constraints, but she didn’t push it far at all, and the story was not picked up in the mainstream elsewhere. The media have also failed to tie the Bush failure with his budget action of sharply cutting the FBI counter- intelligence budget on September 10.
In sum, there was a three-pronged security failure of great seriousness: a failure to take obvious leads and do something about them; a possible conflict of interest that may explain this foot-dragging; and a day-before-9/11 budget decision that shows a degree of incompetence and misplaced priorities that is staggering.
The media have failed to discuss two of the three prongs in the story, which has helped them minimize the seriousness of this Bush failure, just as they downplayed his election theft and dealings with Enron.
The system works, but not in the public interest.