Bush Knew, But Failed to Act

Condoleezza Rice’s testimony before the 911 Commission on April 8 provided yet more proof that the Bush administration and some within the intelligence community were aware before 911 of specific domestic terrorist threats by Al Qaeda cells operating within the United States.

Many of those who watched Bush’s impassive reaction on television the morning of 911 to being told by his Chief of Staff Andy Card during a visit to the Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida that two planes had struck the World Trade Center towers were genuinely puzzled by the president’s unusual facial response. The 911 Commission hearings may have stumbled on to the reason for the ho hum reaction — that the attacks came as no real surprise to Bush. In fact, in answer to a question by Richard Ben Veniste, the former Watergate committee counsel, Rice confirmed that the August 6, 2001, President’s Daily Brief (PDB), which the White House had steadfastly refused to release to either the Commission of the public, was titled “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.” She added that the PDB included information on the FBI field offices pursuing “70 full-field investigations” of Al Qaeda cells in the United States. “I don’t remember the Al Qaeda cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about,” Rice testified to the Commission.

However, Ben Veniste asked Rice pointedly about information in the August 6 PDB, “not speculative, but based on intelligence information, that bin Laden had threatened to attack the United States and specifically Washington, D.C.” Rice responded that “there was nothing reassuring” in the PDB.

Ben Veniste also asked Rice about the PDB containing specific information about the Al Qaeda cells preparing for airplane hijackings, “the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that preparations–not historically, but ongoing, along with these numerous full field investigations against al Qaeda cells, that preparations were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States?” Rice responded, “It [the PDB] had a number of discussions of–it had a discussion of whether or not they might use hijacking to try and free a prisoner who was being held in the United States–Ressam [Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian, who was arrested December 14, 1999 in Port Angeles, Washington in route to conduct a Millennium New Year’s Eve terrorist bombing operation at Los Angeles International Airport]. It reported that the FBI had full field investigations under way.”

Rice also spoke of a shift by the Bush administration away from supporting the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and adopting a more evenhanded approach to forces in southern Afghanistan. She told the 911 Commission, “I brought in Zalmay Khalilzad, an expert on Afghanistan, who, as a senior diplomat in the 1980s, had worked closely with the Afghan mujahedeen, helping them to turn back the Soviet invasion.”

However, Khalilzad had been a consultant for Cambridge Energy Research Associates and had been negotiating with the Taliban on the proposed trans-Afghanistan Central Asia Gas Pipeline (CentGas) deal involving UNOCAL, Halliburton, and other oil companies, including Rice’s former company, Chevron. Enron conducted the feasibility study for the pipeline and current Afghan President Hamid Karzai was a consultant to the U.S. oil consortium and its liaison to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban whose base was Kandahar. The Bush administration, including Rice, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca, held meetings with Taliban officials in the weeks prior to 911, and they met with Pakistani intelligence chief Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, a supporter of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, on the days just prior to 911. Before joining the administration, Rice and Armitage had jobs with oil companies that had a vested interest in the CentGas pipeline.

The tilt away from the Northern Alliance and towards Pashtuns in the south (Mullah Omar’s ethnic group) who were supported by Pakistan permitted the Taliban and Al Qaeda to prepare for the 911 operations. In fact, the lack of U.S. intelligence support for the Northern Alliance likely contributed to the assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud on September 9, 2001 by two Al Qaeda suicide bombers who masqueraded as TV journalists and who arranged an interview with Massoud. One anti-Taliban Afghan leader, an anti-Pakistan Pashtun named Abdul Haq, entered Afghanistan from Pakistan on October 21, 2001, before the U.S. invasion of the country. Rice’s predecessor, Robert McFarlane, wrote in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal that Haq had been betrayed by the Bush administration by failing to come to his protection after his presence in Afghanistan had been tipped off by Pakistan to the Taliban. McFarlane, who tried to enlist the CIA’s support in coming to Haq’s aid after he had been surrounded by Taliban forces, blamed the failure on “dysfunction” within the Bush intelligence structure, a structure then headed by Rice.

It is clear that Bush and his national security team, with the exception of principled individuals like FBI special agents Coleen Rowley in Minneapolis and John O’Neill in New York, and some, as yet unnamed, intelligence professionals within the U.S. intelligence community, were asleep at the wheel prior to America’s second “day of infamy.” The words of Clarke, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, and President Nixon’s counsel John Dean speak volumes to the utter failure of Bush’s leadership.

WAYNE MADSEN is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and columnist. He served in the National Security Agency (NSA) during the Reagan administration and wrote the introduction to Forbidden Truth. He is the co-author, with John Stanton, of “America’s Nightmare: The Presidency of George Bush II.” His forthcoming book is titled: “Jaded Tasks: Big Oil, Black Ops, and Brass Plates.”

Madsen can be reached at: WMadsen777@aol.com