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How Much Did the Bush Administration Know?

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and 9/11

by JAMES RIDGEWAY

In San Antonio over the weekend,Bush defended the NSA wiretap program,saying, "They attacked us before, they’ll attack us again if they can," he said. "And we’re going to do everything we can to stop them."

To be polite about it, this is an especially weird statement coming from a President whose administration repeatedly ignored one warning after another of an imminent terrorist attack before 9/11.

But in fact, it is clear the administration did know we could be attacked in any number of ways, including by turning a hijacked commercial airliner into a missile.

There were at least a dozen warnings from foreign intelligence services of terrorist plans to attack, including some citing the possibility of turning a hijacked plane into a suicide missile.

Explicit warnings came from British, German, Italian, Egyptian, and Jordanian intelligence, and even from Vladimir Putin. In July 2001, just two months before 9/11, there were intelligence warnings that the G-8 summit in Genoa might be attacked by "planes stuffed with explosives." Italian officials took these threats seriously enough to close the air space over Genoa and install anti-aircraft guns around the city. And Bush thought enough of them to chose to stay in a ship off the coast instead of in Genoa. Unfortunately, he thought less about the safety of ordinary Americans than he did about his own safety.

Donald Rumsfeld told the 9/11 Commission that defense against attacks on American soil was not the responsibility of the Defense Department, but a "law enforcement issue".

Yet there have been no consequences for anyone in the Bush Administration or the intelligence community. Rumsfeld should have been fired after 9/11. along with top leadership at the CIA and FBI. Instead, the intelligence agencies were rewarded with an increase in funding estimated at 30 percent, and a free hand to torture prisoners and spy on American citizens. And Rumsfeld was given what he wanted all along, which was a war with Iraq. Tenet was awarded the medal of freedom on his retirement

9/11 represented betrayal by two of America’s allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Through its powerful intelligence service, Pakistan basically created the Taliban in Afghanistan, and its agents stationed around that country cooperated with Al Qaeda. It ignored the Taliban’s support of Al Qaeda. There is little doubt that members of Pakistani intelligence knew that 9/11 was going to happen, including the details.But today, Pakistan is our best friend in the region, receiving a significant increase in U.S. aid. So,don’t go there.

The Pakistani role in all of this pales in comparison to the involvement of Saudi Arabia. Saudis are clearly the major funding source for Al Qaeda. In fact, the person who helped create Al Qaeda was Prince Turki, who at the time was the head of Saudi intelligence. He participated in the recruitment of Osama Bin Laden, along with other Islamic fundamentalists, to go to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight against the Soviets. And what were the consequences for Prince Turki? Last year he was welcomed as the new Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Thanks to the courage and quick action of flight attendants aboard Flight 11, American Airlines headquarters knew about the first hijacking no more than 10 minutes after it happened. This was before any of the other three planes had been hijacked. It was nearly 20 minutes before Flight 93 even left the ground. What would have happened if American Airlines had passed this information on, instead of keeping it to themselves.

Pilots might have been warned to secure their cockpit doors. Planes on the ground might not have taken off. Officials in New York City would have known that the first World Trade Tower crash was no accident, and they might have evacuated the other tower. How many lives could have been saved? But what were the consequences for American Airlines negligence? The official who was in charge at American Airlines headquarters that day has since been promoted to president of the airline. Along with the other carriers, American has received huge government bailouts since 9/11. And to this day, they haven’t instituted the changes that are necessary to keep their passengers safe.

A few months ago Steve Elson, a member of the FAA’s Red Team–undercover former special operations people trained to test air security by breaking through it–traveled to Toronto where with reporters in tow, he picked the locks of all the doors in the Toronto airport.He thus easily gained access to all baggage handling facilities, ramps, walkways, cockpits and seats of idled lanes, food vending trucks, and so on. It would be a simple matter to plant a bomb on an aircraft destined for New York or Washington or LA.

JAMES RIDGEWAY is the author of The 5 Unanswered Questions about 9/11 (Seven Stories Press) that investigates what the 911 commission report failed to tell us.