"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Who can Believe Condi?: The Bush Administration Put Counterterrorism on the Back Burner Bfore 9/11

It is appropriate that Condi is on the road defending the Bush record on terrorism. The trouble is she has bent the truth so many times, she cannot be believed. When she assumed her new position, she and George W. Bush put counterterrorism on the back burner. Later, she did all she could to avoid admitting this.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor, had written that terrorism was manly part of the problem of dealing with rogue states, suggesting that she did not understand how dangerous Al Qaeda had become. She believed the new administration should deal with a few major foreign policy problems and attend to the less important later. She shared the belief of the Bush team that Clinton foreign policy had been wrong pretty much across the board and was determined pursue different approaches.1 Before leaving office, the Clinton National Security staff had three meetings with Bush counterparts. Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger attended one of those meetings himself because he wanted to underscore the warning he was there to give about Al Qaeda. Berger told Dr. Condoleezza Rice, his successor, that her main problem would he terrorism. Berger told her in a private meeting, "I believe that the Bush Administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on Al-Qaeda specifically, than on any other subject." To emphasize the subjects importance, Berger held a special briefing on the subject. Richard Clarke, who had also worked for the first Bush administration, made the presentation via PowerPoint. Clarke outlined an action plan that included assisting the fight against terrorism in the Philippines, Yemen, and Uzbekistan. It also included more aid for the Northern Alliance foes of the Taliban, far greater covert action there, the use of special operations forces, air strikes, and the freezing of financial assets. Rice later denied that Berger was present, and another Bush official minimized the meetings importance, claiming that it was only a PowerPoint presentation. Under Clinton, Clarke had the de facto standing of a cabinet officer where counter terrorism was involved. Brian Sheridan, a Clinton assistant secretary of defense , repeated Berger’s warning in a meeting with Rice and urged her to keep Richard Clarke and rely upon his expertise. Sheridan offered to brief her team on what he knew about terrorism and counter terrorism, but no one asked to hear what he had to say. Clarke did brief Rice on Al Qaeda, and "her facial expression gave {him} the impression that she had never heard the term before" or was not very concerned about it. Rice retained Clarke, was not sure a separate directorate for counterterrorism was need, and reorganized the NSC in a way that diminished Clarke’s influence. He no longer had a seat at the Principals Committee when terrorism was discussed, bur Rice did ask him to lead an interagency study of U.S. efforts to deal with Al Qaeda. Before being removed from that venue, Clarke argued that there was an urgent need to address the Al Qaeda question at the January Principal’s Meeting and warned that "We would make a major error if we underestimated the challenge al-Qaeda poses or overestimating the stability of the moderate, friendly regimes Al-Qaeda threatens." The question of what to do about terrorism was turned over to Vice President Dick Cheney for study.
Lieutenant General Donald Kerrick, a holdover from the Clinton NSC staff, wrote a paper for Dr. Rice warning that the terrorists will strike again. He believed that the memo resulted in his being excluded from meetings where he could raise the matter. The general feared that the Bush team were thinking like predecessors in the eighties, that terrorism was mainly a problem associated with rogue states. In his view, the Rice NSC demoted terrorism as a priority concern. General Hugh Shelton saw anti-terrorism moving "farther to the back burner." It is also known that a 1999 government study indicated that Al Qaeda might dispatch "suicide bombers ... [to]crash an aircraft ...into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the White House."
Dr. Rice subjected the Clinton NSC plan to an eight-month "policy review." Since the Spring, Clarke had warned Rice about Al Qaeda and once even said the organization was "trying to kill Americans, to have hundreds pf dead in the streets of America." The Clarke plan was not reviewed by Cheney, Wolfowitz, Powell, and George Tenet until September 4, 2002, when most of its provisions were finally accepted. Wolfowitz raised a strong objection to Clarke comparing Bin Laden to Adolf Hitler and said "Well, I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking abnout this one man bin Laden." Wolfowitz was much more interested in looking into I raqi terrorism. Rumsfeld seemed impatient with the discussion of Al Qaeda and supported Wolfowitz in wanting to turn to other sources of terrorism, particularly Iraq. Rice’s deputy suggested they needed a policy of Al Qaeda’s sanctuary state, Afghanistan, before a great deal could be done about Al Qaeda. The Clinton proto-plan was more surgical in nature than the action eventually taken by the Bush administration after the attack on 9-11. The latter plan had the advantage of possibly bringing enough stability to permit construction of a planned twin pipeline to take Caspian fuels through Afghanistan into Pakistan and India.. 2
In its last years, the Clinton administration assigned a high priority to counterterrorism. The president received detailed information on Al Qaeda and terrorism. George W. Bush was told by a counterterrorism expert during the campaign that Americans would die during his first term due to a terrorist strike. At their December 19, 2000 meeting, Bill Clinton told President-elect Bush , "I think you will find that by far your biggest threat is bin Laden and the al-Qaeda." There is no evidence Bush heeded the warning. At 40 morning meetings with the president, George Tenet warned about the great threat posed by Al Qaeda. The 9/11 commission was unable to turn up evidence that Bush discussed terrorism more than once prior to September 11. It did learn that more than 40 reports sent to Bush indicated that Al Qaeda was a very serious threat. Moderate Democratic vice-chairman made it clear the body was "not interested in trying to assess blame...." To counterbalance information damaging to Bush, it criticized Clinton for failure to act decisively against Bin Laden’s organization even though an exploitable opportunity to do so did not exist. The commission faced insuperable obstacles for assessing responsibility –a matter it essentially whitewashed--and settled for mainly looking at what could be done to prevent another attack. The administration repeatedly delayed turning over information, prompting member Max Cleland to observe, "It’s obvious that the White House wants to run out the clock here...." Before 9/11, George W. Bush did not make counterterrorism a major priority and he has almost admitted as much. Available evidence suggests that the Bush administration’s counter terrorism program was unfocussed and received a low priority. 3 Before September 11, 2001 the principal’s committee of the Bush NSC only met twice to consider the terrorist threat. Yet, it had met at least 90 times. On the other hand, the Clinton NSC principals group dealt regularly with counter terrorism and it had a Counterterrorism Security Group that met two or three times a week since 1998. The Clinton efforts to improve the Predator drone were subsequently hobbled by a turf battle between the FBI and CIA and disagreement about who would put out the $200,000 to replace future drones lost in surveillance missions.. There is evidence that Clinton’s more aggressive efforts to hunt down or neutralize Bin Laden were shelved. 4 It is know that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cancelled the budget for Clinton’s program for hunting down and exterminating Osama bin Laden. The secretary also rejected a request to pour $800 million into anti-terrorist activities. John Ashcroft turned down a request to hire hundreds of new FBI agents to fight terrorism. While asking for greater appropriations for 68 Justice Department programs, he did not request more money to fight terrorism. Clinton’s NSA counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke and CIA director George Tenet, a Clinton appointee, were unsuccessfully trying to direct more attention to the problem in the months before the attack. 5 In a July 5 White House Situation Room meeting, Clarke told representatives of other agencies that "something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon."6 It is known that eleven countries provided advanced warning that a major attack was imminent, and two senior Mossad officers appeared in Washington in August with information that there were 200 terrorists resident in the U.S. preparing the attack. They gave the FBI and CIA the names of four of the hijackers.7
Eventually, Congressional investigators were tipped off that President Bush had been warned that Al Qaeda planned to strike the US. Attention came to focus on the president’s August 6 daily briefing, which carried the headline: " Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," There is no evidence Bush even read the memo. It was presented to him on his first day of his month-long vacation at his Crawford ranch. If he did read it, it may have had little impact upon him as he went off that morning on a fishing expedition. 8 The administration refused to reveal exactly what information it contained or to expand upon what else President Bush may have been told about bin Laden’s intentions and capabilities. Condoleezza Rice stated on May 16, 2002 that Presidential Daily Briefing (PDP) dealt with an historical perspective on Bin Laden’s historical method of operation. She included among those methods hijacking airliners but added that "I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center…." Other administration officials echoed her assertion that no one had thought about the possibility of using airplanes as weapons to crash into buildings. Rice and others also said that while there were warnings about Al Qaeda attacks, they were about assaults on U.S. assets or planes abroad. In truth, this possibility had been discussed in intelligvence circles for several years, and the FBI had been warning about this porspect in the weeks before 9/11.
The evidence that has become public suggests that Dr. Rice and other figures in the Bush administration were telling less than the truth about what was known. If they did not know of the strong possibility that terrorists were likely to attempt to fly airplanes into buildings in the United States it is because they were not doing their homework or because the administration had placed counter terrorism on the back burner. A 1993 Pentagon study raised the possibility that an airplane could be used as a bomb to a national landmark. There were four known efforts to fly airplanes into buildings in 1994, one was by an Al Qaeda related group that tried to send a plane into the Eiffrel Tower. A massive plan , called Project Bojinka,"was unearthed in the Philippines which included an option for flying planes into "key structures" in the United States. Among them were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the Sears Tower, the White House, and the Transamerica Tower. One of the captured pilots had been trained in the U.S. and said he was to fly into the CIA headquarters. In his 1995 World Trade Center bombing trial, Ramsi Youse talked about flying a plane into the CIA headquarters, and he had earlier mentioned to FBI agents the possibility of doing this to the Pentagon. CIA agents reported in August , 1998 that terrorists were planning to capture a plane in a foreign country and fly into the World Trade Center. In 1999, the National Security Council learned, based on information gathered from a Pakistani arrested in the Philippines that "suicide bomber [s] belonging to al-Qaeda’s Martyrdom Battalion could crash land an aircraft packed with high explosives ( c-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, (CIA), or the White House. There were other intelligence reports of plans to fly bomb-laden planes into various targets the Egyptian Presidential Palace and U.S. airports. Vladimir Putin had warned in August the US that 25 Islamic terrorists were in the US on a major mission, and that number included suicide pilots who were to attack U.S. targets. Jordan accurately provided the name of the Al Qaeda mission to attack U.S. targets, "Big Wedding." Israel warned in mid-August that 50 to 200 Al Qaeda terroists were in the U.S. and gave the CIA a list 19 terrorists who were to be involved in the initial attack. It is known that four of the names were accurate, but the full list was never released.


Yellowdog said...


You're right on in your analysis. Unfortunately, just about everyone has made up their minds about Bush. He was incompetent and malfeasant about preventing 9/11 in my opinion. He surely did have the resources and information to prevent it.

Quit Smoking said...

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Gone Fishin',


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About Me

Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!