Washington politicians are fond of saying nothing could have been done to prevent the 911 terrorist attacks. This would be comparable to an aircraft maintenance superintendent ignoring a letter from the safety office saying that there had been random observations of failures to follow proper maintenance procedure, then saying after a maintenance-related plane crash, “No one could have predicted that a screw installed backwards could have caused the landing gear to stick.”
Maybe not that particular screw in that spot. But what did the superintendent do about the safety office letter? If that superintendent said, “Oh, ok. Thanks for the info” — as it appears both Democrats and Republicans have done with terrorist warnings since the early 90s — some butts would be seriously and publicly kicked.
But no butts are being kicked. And the only new things coming out of the 9-11 Whitewash, er, Commission, are goofball aphorisms.
Fox News covered all the glaring clues missed by the so-called “intelligence” agencies as far back as May of 2002. Shortly thereafter Time Magazine covered Richard Clarke’s “revelations” and a lot more in an extensive cover story called “Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?” Nevertheless, the press is acting like the 9-11 Commission hearings are “news.”
Here’s Fox News’s Carl Cameron quoting Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer in May of 2002: “The president was aware that bin Laden, of course, as previous administrations have well known, that bin Laden was determined to strike the United States. In fact, the label on the president’s presidential daily briefing was ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike the United States’.”
And here’s Time Magazine’s Michael Elliott in August of 2002: “the heading on Slide 14 of [Clarke’s] Powerpoint presentation [to Condoleeza Rice] reads, ‘Response to al Qaeda: Roll back.’ Clarke’s proposals called for the ‘breakup’ of al-Qaeda cells and the arrest of their personnel. The financial support for its terrorist activities would be systematically attacked, its assets frozen, its funding from fake charities stopped. Nations where al-Qaeda was causing trouble — Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Yemen — would be given aid to fight the terrorists. Most important, Clarke wanted to see a dramatic increase in covert action in Afghanistan to ‘eliminate the sanctuary’ where al-Qaeda had its terrorist training camps and bin Laden was being protected by the radical Islamic Taliban regime.”
Just two quick examples, out of many.
So Ms. Rice et al should have known, as the Clinton administration should have known, and acted accordingly. But they didn’t do anything. And there was a predictable disaster.
Thomas Pickard, the FBI’s Acting Director pre-9/11, testified that he told his field agents about the “threat spike” in the summer of 2001, when “something spectacular,” according to federal officials, was about to happen. But most of these agents told the 9/11 Commission staff they didn’t know about the increased threats. The agent in charge of terrorism in the Washington field office, according to the Commission, “was neither aware in the summer of 2001 of an increased threat, nor did his squad take any special steps or actions.”
“I learned that the FBI didn’t know what it had,” testified former attorney general Janet Reno. “Sometimes I thought we had made progress, but then we’d find something else that we didn’t know we didn’t haveS I quickly learned the FBI didn’t know what it had. The right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.”
Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste rephrased it: “Not only did the FBI not know what it knew, it didn’t know what it didn’t know.”
I can see a somber 911 Commission recommendation like, “We believe that the FBI should institute procedures and systems which will ensure that the agency not only knows what it knows but that it also knows at least some of what it doesn’t know, and further that systems are in place to permit agents to know that there are things that are not known or not known entirely.”
FBI reply: “OK. However, the cost of such a system is unknown, perhaps in the hundreds of billions.”
Here’s a bipartisan exchange between two of our most highly articulate and esteemed dunderheads from Senate’s Government Oversight Committee in 2003 (from the congressional record).
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer: “So, let me get that straight again. In the trenches, in the Minneapolis office or somewhere else, before 9/11, if they punched in the word ‘aviation’ or ‘flight school’ — not a name, because you said it was different for a name — could they get every EC report that mentioned aviation and flight school?”
FBI Director Mueller: “It is my — and I am not sufficiently expertise in our computer systems. It is my — if you put in ‘airline,’ you may well be able to pick up those — well, actually, I’m not — can you excuse me just a second?
Mueller: “This gets into the technology. I do not believe it can be done, because I do not believe there is full text retrieval, Number 1. And secondly, there was a system in place at the time of blocking certain cases from searches, not necessarily from headquarters, but searches from around the country as the part and parcel of the security provisions, so that there are certain — for instance, the Phoenix EC at the Phoenix EC was uploaded on the computer. There are only a limited number of people that could see it.”
Mueller: “A limited number of people who would be able to do the search of it…”
Mueller: “… to pull up flight school.”
Schumer: “That’s a different issue, but was the technology there that if you punched in certain words that you can see every report that mention those?”
Mueller: “I do not believe that is the case, but I am not sufficiently technologically astute to be able say that…”
Mueller: “Swith assuredness.”
Mueller: “We are — the one thing that I do know is that you have to put in the specific — if I put in Mueller, it has to be M-U-E-L-L- E-R. It will come up M-U-E-L-L-E–R, but what we will not pull is M- U-L-L-E-R, M-I-L-L-E-R or other variations of it.”
Schumer: “You know, that’s even — that’s a little different. But…”
Schumer: “…I mean, every day, every one of us goes on our computer and does searches of certain words, and…”
Mueller: “We may have had…”
Schumer: “… it’s not very difficult to do. And I’m just — I guess what I would ask you is, how was it — I mean, because I think is important for — I am trying…”
Mueller: “I think we are way behind the curve. I have said it from the first day.”
Schumer: “But how was it we were so far behind the curve that it was almost laughable? What was wrong? That’s not something dealing with information — well, maybe it is. Maybe it deals with turf in its most fundamental way, but it just makes my jaw drop to think that on 9/11 or on 9/10 the kind of technology that’s available to most school kids and certainly every small business in this country wasn’t available to the FBI.”
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Right. Sure. Yeah. Ok. Uh-huh. Fortunately, Senator Schumer didn’t ask Director Mueller how he would search for “al-Zarqhawi.”
Mueller didn’t offer and Schumer didn’t ask for any follow up report on the question of computerized searches.
The point is that this is what passes for high level discussion of subjects which the principles themselves consider to be critical to the nation’s security.
Nevertheless the 9-11 Commissioners repeatedly say that they are “not trying to place blame.” Of course not! They’re part of the political class that didn’t know anything and didn’t do anything. Are they going to blame themselves and their friends?
Instead of knowledge or action, however, we get a lot of touchy-feely hand-wringing about 9/11. Even the supposedly “tough” president who supposedly abhors the “feel your pain” liberalism of Bill Clinton, seems to have been infected with a bad case of the warm fuzzies. In the President’s latest press conference words like sad, angry, feel, grieve, disappointed, concerned, happy, believe…were dribbled throughout.
“Some of the debate really centers around the fact that people don’t believe Iraq can be free, that if you’re Muslim or perhaps brown skinned, you can’t be self-governing and free. I strongly disagree with that. I reject that because I believe freedom is the deepest need of every human soul.
“You know, I just — I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn’t yet.
“People needed to come together to work. And therefore, empty words would embolden the actions of those who are willing to kill indiscriminately.
“I happen to believe we’ll find out the truth on the weapons.
“I was very clear about what I believed.
“And of course that concerns me. All those reports concern me.
“Look, I can understand why people in my administration are anguished over the fact that people lost their life. I feel the same way. I mean, I’m sick when I think about the death that took place on that day.
“I plan on telling the American people that I’ve got a plan to win the war on terror. And I believe they’ll stay with me.
“I’m of the belief that we’ll find out the truth on the weapons.
“I believe so strongly in the power of freedom.
“I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country’s gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world.
“If I tried to fine-tune my messages based upon polls, I think I’d be pretty ineffective. I know I would be disappointed in myself.
“I feel strongly about what we’re doing. I feel strongly it’s the course this administration is taking will make America more secure and the world more free and, therefore, the world more peaceful. It’s a conviction that’s deep in my soul.
“I hope today you’ve got a sense of my conviction about what we’re doing.”
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Who cares what the president believes, hopes, or is concerned about? The chief executive isn’t supposed to sound like a Miss America contestant.
Whatever America’s problems are, goofballs, idiots and warm-fuzzies in high places are not going to solve them.
MARK SCARAMELLA is the managing editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser. He can be reached at: email@example.com