SECTION NINE
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COLUMN SEVENTY-SIX, OCTOBER 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)

FROM TIME MAGAZINE:
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

Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?
(Continued from PAGE ONE of SECTION NINE)

In 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."

As 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."

For 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.

Some 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.

This was, after all, a White House plan, which means it was resented from the moment of conception. "When you look at the Pentagon and the CIA," says a former senior Clinton aide, "it's not their plan. The military will never accept the White House staff doing military planning." Terrorism, officials from the State Department suggested, needed to be put in the broader context of American policy in South Asia. The rollback plan was becoming the victim of a classic Washington power play between those with "functional" responsibilities---like terrorism---and those with "regional" ones-like relations with India and Pakistan. The State Department's South Asia bureau, according to a participant in the meetings, argued that a fistful of other issues---Kashmir, nuclear proliferation, Musharraf's dictatorship---were just as pressing as terrorism. By now, Clarke's famously short fuse was giving off sparks. A participant at one of the meetings paraphrases Clarke's attitude this way: "These people are trying to kill us. I could give a fuck if Musharraf was democratically elected. What I do care about is Pakistan's support for the Taliban and turning a blind eye to this terrorist cancer growing in their neighbor's backyard."

It was Bush who broke the deadlock. Each morning the CIA gives the Chief Executive a top-secret Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) on pressing issues of national security. One day in early spring, Tenet briefed Bush on the hunt for Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda's head of international operations, who was suspected of having been involved in the planning of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. After the PDB, Bush told Rice that the approach to al-Qaeda was too scattershot. He was tired of "swatting at flies" and asked for a comprehensive plan for attacking terrorism. According to an official, Rice came back to the nsc and said, "The President wants a plan to eliminate al-Qaeda." Clarke reminded her that he already had one.

But having a plan isn't the same as executing it. Clarke's paper now had to go through three more stages: the Deputies' Committee, made up of the No. 2s to the main national-security officials; the Principals' Committee, which included Cheney, Rice, Tenet, Powell and Rumsfeld; and finally, the President. Only when Bush had signed off would the plan become what the Bush team called a national-security presidential directive.

On 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."

There was more. Throughout the spring, one bureaucratic wrangle in particular rumbled on, poisoning the atmosphere. At issue: the Predator.

The Predator had first been used in Bosnia in 1995. Later, the CIA and the Pentagon began a highly classified program designed to produce pictures-viewable in real time-that would be fine-grained enough to identify individuals. The new, improved Predator was finally ready in September 2000, and the CIA flew it over Afghanistan in a two-week "test of concept." First results were promising; one video sent to the White House showed a man who might have been bin Laden. For the first time, the CIA now had a way to check out a tip by one of its agents among the Afghan tribes. If there was a report that bin Laden was in the vicinity, says a former aide to Clinton, "we could put the Predator over the location and have eyes on the target."

But 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.

  In fact, the Predator wouldn't fly again until after Sept. 11. In early 2001 it  was decided to develop a new version that would not just take photos but also be armed with Hellfire missiles. To the frustration of Clarke and other White House aides, the CIA and the Pentagon couldn't decide who controlled the new program or who should pay for it-though each craft cost only $1 million. While the new UAV was being rapidly developed at a site in the southwestern U.S., the CIA opposed using the old one for pure surveillance because it feared al-Qaeda might see it. "Once we were going to arm the thing," says a senior U.S. intelligence official, "we didn't want to expose the capability by just having it fly overhead and spot a bunch of guys we couldn't do anything about." Clarke and his supporters were livid. "Dick Clarke insisted that it be kept in the air," says a Bush Administration official. The counterterrorism team argued that the Taliban had shot at the UAV during the Clinton test, so its existence was hardly a secret. Besides, combined with on-the-ground intelligence, a Predator might just gather enough information in time to get a Tomahawk off to the target. But when the deputies held their fourth and final meeting on July 16, they still hadn't sorted out what to do with the Predator. Squabbles over who would pay for it continued into August.

Administration 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. Intelligence services were picking up enough chatter about a terrorist attack to scare the pants off top officials. On June 22, the Defense Department put its troops on full alert and ordered six ships from the Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, to steam out to sea, for fear that they might be attacked in port. U.S. officials thought an attack might be mounted on American forces at the NATO base at Incirlik, Turkey, or maybe in Rome or Belgium, Germany or Southeast Asia, perhaps the Philippines---anywhere, it seems, but in the U.S. When Independence Day passed without incident, Clarke called a meeting and asked Ben Bonk, deputy director of the CIA's counterterrorism center, to brief on bin Laden's plans. Bonk's evidence that al-Qaeda was planning "something spectacular," says an official who was in the room, "was very gripping." But nobody knew what or when or where the spectacular would be. As if to crystallize how much and how little anyone in the know actually knew, the counterterrorism center released a report titled "Threat of Impending al- Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely."

Predictably, 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.

In 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.

But 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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