COLUMN SEVENTY-SIX, OCTOBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
THE BUSHIES BLEW IT!
ZACARIAS MOUSSAOUI, NOW ON TRIAL IN VIRGINIA AS THE ALLEGED "20TH HIJACKER" AND FEATURED IN THE ARTICLE BELOW, CLAIMS THAT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION KNEW THE WORLD TRADE CENTER WAS GOING TO BE ATTACKED AND JUST DIDN'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. SIMILAR INFERENCES HAVE BEEN MADE IN PREVIOUS ARTICLES THAT HAVE APPEARED IN THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST. THE ARTICLE BELOW WAS LIFTED FROM TIME MAGAZINE AND MAKES ITS APPEARANCE HERE BECAUSE OF ITS IMPORTANCE TO AMERICA
9/11 Have Been Prevented?
(Continued from PAGE ONE of SECTION NINE)
Washington, Dick Clarke didn't seem to have a lot of friends either. His
proposals were still grinding away. No other great power handles the transition
from one government to another in so shambolic a way as the U.S.---new
appointments take months to be confirmed by the Senate; incoming Administrations
tinker with even the most sensible of existing policies. The fight against
terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight
months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear.
"If we hadn't had a transition," says a senior Clinton Administration
official, "probably in late October or early November 2000, we would have
had (the plan to go on the offensive) as a presidential directive."
the new Administration took office, Rice kept Clarke in his job as
counterterrorism czar. In early February, he repeated to Vice President Dick
Cheney the briefing he had given to Rice and Hadley. There are differing
opinions on how seriously the Bush team took Clarke's warnings. Some members of
the outgoing Administration got the sense that the Bush team thought the
Clintonites had become obsessed with terrorism. "It was clear," says
one, "that this was not the same priority to them that it was to us."
other observers, however, the real point was not that the new Administration
dismissed the terrorist threat. On the contrary, Rice, Hadley and Cheney, says an
official, "all got that it was important." The question is, How high a
priority did terrorism get? Clarke says that dealing with al-Qaeda "was in
the top tier of issues reviewed by the Bush Administration." But other
topics got far more attention. The whole Bush national-security team was
obsessed with setting up a national system of missile defense. Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld was absorbed by a long review of the military's force
structure. Attorney General John Ashcroft had come into office as a dedicated
crime buster. Rice was desperately trying to keep in line a national-security
team-including Rumsfeld, Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell-whose
members had wildly different agendas and styles. "Terrorism," says a
former Clinton White House official, speaking of the new Administration,
"wasn't on their plate of key issues." Al-Qaeda had not been a feature
of the landscape when the Republicans left office in 1993. The Bush team, says
an official, "had to learn about (al-Qaeda) and figure out where it fit
into their broader foreign policy." But doing so meant delay.
counterterrorism officials think there is another reason for the Bush
Administration's Clinton proposal." Keeping Clarke around was one thing;
buying into the analysis of an Administration that the Bush team considered
feckless and naive was quite another. So Rice instructed Clarke to initiate a
new "policy review process" on the terrorism threat. Clarke dived into
yet another round of meetings. And his proposals were nibbled nearly to death.
was, after all, a White House plan, which means it was resented from the
was Bush who broke the deadlock. Each morning the CIA gives the Chief
having a plan isn't the same as executing it. Clarke's paper now had to go
April 30, nearly six weeks after the Administration started holding deputies'
meetings, Clarke presented a new plan to them. In addition to Hadley, who
chaired the hour-long meeting, the gathering included Cheney's chief of staff,
Lewis Libby; Richard Armitage, the barrel-chested Deputy Secretary of State;
Paul Wolfowitz, the scholarly hawk from the Pentagon; and John McLaughlin from
the CIA. Armitage was enthusiastic about Clarke's plan, according to a senior
official. But the CIA was gun-shy. Tenet was a Clinton holdover and thus
vulnerable if anything went wrong. His agency was unwilling to take risks; it
wanted "top cover" from the White House. The deputies, says a senior
official, decided to have "three parallel reviews-one on al-Qaeda, one on
the Pakistani political situation and the third on Indo-Pakistani
relations." The issues, the deputies thought, were interrelated. "They
wanted to view them holistically," says the senior official, "and not
until they'd had three separate meetings on each of these were they able to hold
a fourth integrating them all."
was more. Throughout the spring, one bureaucratic wrangle in particular rumbled
on, poisoning the atmosphere. At issue: the Predator.
Predator had first been used in Bosnia in 1995. Later, the CIA and the
in October 2000, the Predator crashed when landing at its base in a country
bordering Afghanistan. The unmanned aerial vehicle needed repairs, and in any
event, the CIA and the Pentagon decided that the winter weather over Afghanistan
would make it difficult to take good pictures. The Clinton team left office
assuming that the Predator would be back in the skies by March 2001.
sources insist that they were not idle in the spring. They set up, for example,
a new center in the Treasury to track suspicious foreign assets and reviewed
Clinton's "findings" on whether the CIA could kill bin Laden. But by
the summer, policy reviews were hardly what was needed.
nerves frayed. Clarke, who was widely loathed in the CIA, where he was accused
of self-aggrandizement, began to lose credibility. He cried wolf, said his
detractors; he had been in the job too long. "The guy was reading way too
many fiction novels," says a counterterrorism official. "He turned
into a Chicken Little. The sky was always falling for Dick Clarke. We had our
strings jerked by him so many times, he was simply not taken seriously."
Clarke wasn't the only one living on the edge. So, say senior officials, was
Tenet. Every few days, the CIA director would call Tom Pickard, who had become
acting director of the FBI in June, asking "What do you hear? Do you have
anything?" Pickard never had to ask what the topic was.
mid-July, Tenet sat down for a special meeting with Rice and aides. "George
briefed Condi that there was going to be a major attack," says an official;
another, who was present at the meeting, says Tenet broke out a huge wall chart
("They always have wall charts") with dozens of threats. Tenet
couldn't rule out a domestic attack but thought it more likely that al-Qaeda
would strike overseas. One date already worrying the Secret Service was July 20,
when Bush would arrive in Genoa for the G-8 summit; Tenet had intelligence that
al-Qaeda was planning to attack Bush there. The Italians, who had heard the same
report (the way European intelligence sources tell it, everyone but the
President's dog "knew" an attack was coming) put frogmen in the
harbor, closed airspace around the town and ringed it with antiaircraft guns.
nothing happened. After Genoa, says a senior intelligence official, there was a
collective sigh of relief: "A lot of folks started letting their guard
down." After the final deputies' meeting on Clarke's draft of a
presidential directive, on July 16, it wasn't easy to find a date for the
Principals' Committee to look at the plan---the last stage before the paper went
to Bush. "There was one meeting scheduled for August," says a senior
official, "but too many principals were out of town." Eventually a
date was picked: the principals would look at the draft on Sept. 4. That was
about nine months after Clarke first put his plan on paper.
CONTINUED ON PAGE THREE OF SECTION NINE
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