"What did the President know and when did he know it?"
This question, evocative of the Watergate investigation, is now being posed by politicians and pundits seeking to determine what information the Bush Administration had prior to the incidents of September 11, 2001. No amount of denial and back-pedaling by the Bush Administration can cover up the fact that Bush had advance knowledge of possible terror attacks on US targets by the followers of Osama bin Laden. While it’s clear that Bush was personally briefed on August 6, 2001 about the possibility of those attacks, it remains unclear about the nature and extent of precautions, if any, taken to prevent such attacks.
Nonetheless, there is a welter of material that points to the Bush Administration’s obstruction and neglect of important leads to link bin Laden to operations in the United States. Moreover, in the months and weeks leading up to 9/11 there were warnings and signs that some members of the Administration and its national security apparatus were anticipating something horrendous. In the aftermath of 9/11 the Bush Administration mobilized the war machine and repressive legislation to promote policies that secured its economic and ideological agenda. Thus, a more intriguing and significant question is: in light of what the Bush Administration gained from the fall-out of 9/11, how was that gain embedded in the actions and inactions by the Bush Administration prior to 9/11? To ask the question about the reaping of political advantage from the tragedy of 9/11 need not assume that there was a conspiracy by the Bush Administration; merely that certain players acted out of their personal interests at the expense of the safety and security of the nation.
To piece together the various activities of these players in the Bush Administration one should recall another key component of Watergate–the famous advice of "Deep Throat," the Washington insider, to Bob Woodward, the investigative reporter from the Washington Post. When Woodward was having trouble connecting all the dots and players, "Deep Throat" intimated: "Follow the money!" The money trail links Bush’s oil background, his family’s connections to Saudi investments, the politics of pipelines in Central Asia, and the military-industrial complex. By detailing Bush’s background and fast-forwarding to the decisions of the Administration in its pursuit of war in Afghanistan, a possible war in Iraq, and a permanent war agenda, a money trail will unfold that will transform Deep Throat’s admonition into a Deep Threat alarm concerning the lives and liberties of citizens of the United States and the world.
The Bushes, bin Ladens, and Carlyle
The Bush family’s involvement with oil is not only deeply rooted in Texas oil wells, but also in the Middle East. George W’s first experience in business was in the creation of the Arbusto Oil Company which eventually merged into Harken Oil. In 1986 Bahrain came to the rescue of the failing company by accepting a drilling contract with Harken even though Harken had no real background with drilling. When George W. sold his holdings in Harken for $848,000 in June of 1990, he cashed in at a point right before the company took a nose-dive in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990. Questions about whether George W. had been given a warning by his father concerning what may have been the entrapment of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait have never been fully settled.
On the other hand, conflicts of interest were definitely developed in the 1990’s by father and son through their involvement with the Carlyle Group, an investment group filled with Reagan-Bush cabinet members. In 1990 with former Secretary of Defense, Frank Carlucci, as the CEO of Carlyle, George W. was appointed to the board of a Carlyle investment, Cateair. After his defeat in the 1992 Presidential election, George H. W. and James Baker, became Carlyle advisors and investors. Especially useful were the Bush and Baker connections to the ruling elite of Saudi Arabia. Those connections helped to generate large investments in Carlyle from the Saudi elite including the bin Laden family, a family made wealthy by an extensive construction business.
Although in the aftermath of 9/11 the bin Laden 2 million dollar investment in Carlyle was withdrawn, prior to that time George W’s administration had put up road-blocks to the investigation of the bin Laden family. The lead investigator of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in terror actions against the US, from the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 to the African embassy bombings in 1998 to the assault on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, was John O’Neill, a Deputy Director of the FBI. O’Neill had repeatedly been denied access to questioning the bin Laden family, including a January 2001 directive from the White House to desist from investigating two of Osama’s brothers who were residing in Falls Church, Virginia at the time. In the face of such continuing obstruction, O’Neill resigned in protest from the FBI claiming that the "main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorism were U.S. oil interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it." Ironically, O’Neill became the chief security person at the World Trade Center shortly before 9/11 where he, along with between 2-3,000 others, perished in the destruction of the WTC on that fateful and tragic day.
If 9/11 was a tragedy to thousands of Americans and their families, Bush and his father’s Carlyle cronies hit the jackpot, especially with renewed contracts for Carlyle defense investments. In particular, Carlyle had invested heavily in United Defense, the primary manufacturer of the Crusader artillery system. Although the Crusader faced a skeptical Congress before 9/11, Carlucci and his lobbyists certainly managed to line-up his old college buddy, Donald Rumsfeld, behind promoting the outmoded Crusader. When Carlyle went public with United Defense stock offerings in the fall of 2001, Carlucci, Bush, Baker, and other investors in Carlyle made out like bandits. However, when a possible paper trail and conflict-of-interest against Rumsfeld surfaced recently, he announced his opposition to Crusader. Of course, millions had already been made and Rumsfeld had to cover his own backside in light of the calls for the resignation of the Secretary of the Army, a former Enron executive already awash in dubious conflicts-of-interest.
The Taliban and Pipeline Politics
However, if the Saudi and Carlyle connections to father and son Bush don’t raise alarms, then the whole history of the Bush Administration’s dealings with the Taliban should. The primary focus of these dealings was the renewal of a planned pipeline from the natural gas rich fields of Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to other Asian markets. Behind this whole operation was the Unocal company. Among the advisors to Unocal was Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American academic, who in addition to being an advisor to Unocal in the 1990’s was also part of the foreign policy think-tanks that included Frank Carlucci. Khalilzad joined the Taliban’s lobbyist, Laila Helms (a relative of former CIA director, Richard Helms) in direct talks between representatives of the Taliban and the Bush Administration right up through July of 2001.
When the Taliban broke off the talks, refusing the pipeline offers, the Bush Administration made known its efforts to strike back at the Taliban as early as August of 2001. Ostensibly attacking the Taliban for its refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden, the Bush Administration refused any alternatives to the military option. During the whole military operation, the Pentagon has tried to establish security points that reflect the route of the proposed pipeline. Moreover, Harmid Karzai, the hand-picked US leader of Afghanistan, was, at one time, also a consultant for Unocal. Along with Khalilzad, who now is the US representative to Afghanistan’s interim government, Karzai is effectuating plans for the pipeline.
The CIA and Other Deep Pockets
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 a number of news stories appeared concerning investments in "put" options in United and American Airlines. Put options are shares that are bets on falling market prices for specific stocks. In the week before September 11 put options in United and American Airlines went through a furious and unprecedented spasm of investment. In addition put options for Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch, two of the biggest occupants of the World Trade Center, also saw abnormal activity. Most of the investments in these put options originated in Germany through the Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank had earlier acquired Banker’s Trust, a investment banking firm whose Vice Chairman in charge of "private client relations" in the late 1990’s was A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard. In March of 2001, Krongard was appointed Executive Director of the CIA.
Certainly, the CIA has a history of laundering money and dealings with shady investment characters. What becomes particularly relevant in the lead-up to 9/11 is the August CIA briefing of Bush concerning the potential threat of attacks by bin Laden using hijacked planes on certain sites, such as the Pentagon and World Trade Center, and the fact that the CIA had bugging equipment on bin Laden messages and international banking operations. Although no one has apparently claimed the money from the put options, questions remain about Krongard and the CIA’s involvement.
Warning Signals and Criminal Negligence
The CIA’s briefing for Bush wasn’t the only warning coming from intelligence agencies about the possible attack by hijacked planes on targets like the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Both German and Russian intelligence agencies picked up signals during the summer of 2001 about bin Laden plans. The FBI in its investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui’s activities documented his desire to fly a plane into the World Trade Center. When those FBI agents requested a warrant to search Moussaoui’s personal computer, the civil liberties-minded Attorney General, John Ashcroft, turned them down. On the other hand, Ashcroft was worried enough about the hijacking of commercial airplanes that starting on July 26, 2001 he stopped flying on commercial aircraft. Of course, neither Aschroft nor anyone else in the Bush Administration bothered to warn airport authorities to be on heightened alert and to tighten airport security in the face of such warning signals.
To suggest that the Bush Administration arranged the 9/11 tragedy is to resort to wildly speculative conspiracy theories. On the other hand, there is a substantive and documented record of neglect and obstruction to warrant a charge of criminal negligence by Bush and his national security state apparatus. It may be that part of that apparatus, especially elements within the FBI, are angered by how they and their reports were cavalierly treated by the White House. They and other congressional sources may be leaking the kind of information that was essential in bringing down President Nixon. Instead of waiting, however, for what appears as inevitable congressional investigations, we should be doing everything in our power to raise questions in public forums and the courts, if possible, about the criminal negligence of the Bush Administration. Before another pretext is created for another war for oil and the advancement of the military-industrial complex, this Administration needs to be confronted for the duplicitous and corrupt self-serving elite they are.
Fran Shor teaches at Wayne State University in Detroit. He is an anti-war activist and member of the Michigan Coalition on Human Rights. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org