We can & must bring them to accountability:
Setting the Record Straight
In recent weeks, President Bush has touted his record on national security issues, while criticizing others for supposedly weakening U.S. homeland
defense. But with the President refusing to meet with the 9/11 commission for longer than one hour, concerns are being raised about the whether the
Bush Administration has something to hide about it's pre-9/11 behavior. As columnist Richard Cohen notes, "If the President wants to own Sept. 11"
for his political gain "he's entitled. But it does not come alone. Sept. 10 is his, too." While Vice President Cheney has derided questioning of
the Administration's pre-9/11 behavior as "thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war," serious questions
remain about whether the White House grossly neglected counter-terrorism in the lead-up to 9/11. As a 5/27/02 Newsweek cover story noted, before 9/11
"the Bushies had an ideological agenda of their own": one that subordinated – and in many cases tried to reduce funding for – counter-terrorism
efforts. As the NYT reported on 2/28/02, the shift was so dramatic that senior intelligence agents feared it would mean "that counterterrorism would
be downgraded" over the long run and that there was a "lack of focus on fighting terrorism." What follows is an analysis of what the Administration
knew before 9/11, and what it did – and did not do - with that information:
THE WARNINGS – BUSH ADMINISTRATION WAS TOLD: Upon coming into office, the Bush Administration inherited a government that was receiving more and more
specific warnings about the threat of an Al Qaeda attack on the United States. As ABC News reported, Bush Administration "officials acknowledged that
U.S. intelligence officials informed President Bush weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks that bin Laden's terrorist network might try to hijack American
planes." Similarly, Newsweek reported "that as many as 10 to 12 warnings" were issued, and "more than two of the warnings specifically mentioned
the possibility of hijackings." Meanwhile, George Tenet, "was issuing many warnings that bin Laden was 'the most immediate' threat to Americans."
The warnings were so explicit that in the months leading up to 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft stopped flying commercial airlines and instead
began "traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines" because of "what the Justice Department called a 'threat
assessment.'" That "threat assessment" was not made public.
THE WARNINGS – POST-9/11 DENIALS: Despite these explicit warnings, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice claimed that the Administration was
never warned of an attack before 9/11, saying "I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a
hijacked airplane as a missile." Similarly, President Bush denied having any idea about the threat, saying on 5/17/02, "Had I know that the enemy
was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people."
THE FOCUS – WHAT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION INHERITED: Upon taking office, the Bush Administration inherited a national security structure increasingly
focused on the threat of terrorism. As the NYT reported, Attorney General Janet Reno ended her tenure as "perhaps the strongest advocate" of
counterterrorism spending, and Newsweek reported National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was "totally preoccupied" with the prospect of a domestic
terror attack, telling his replacement that they need to be "spending more time on this issue than on any other." As a 4/2/00 WP story noted Berger
"insists that the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks on U.S. soil is 'a reality, not a perception.'" He said at the time, "We would be
irresponsible if we did not take this seriously. I hope that in 10 years' time, they will say we did too much, not too little." And the warnings –
which the Bush Administration denied ever receiving – "found a receptive ear in Clinton. In January 2000, [Clinton] departed from the prepared text
of his State of the Union address to predict that terrorists and organized criminals 'with increasing access to ever more sophisticated chemical and
biological weapons' will pose 'the major security threat' to the United States in 10 to 20 years."
THE FOCUS - TAKING EYES OFF THE BALL: The NYT reported that in the lead-up to 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft "said fighting terrorism was a top
priority of his agency," yet upon entering office, "he identified more than a dozen other objectives for greater emphasis within the Justice
Department before the attacks, internal department documents show." On Aug. 9, the Administration distributed a strategic plan to the Justice
Department highlighting its new goals from a list of Clinton Administration goals. The item that referred to intelligence and investigation of
terrorists was left unhighlighted. Similarly, Newsweek reported that the Bush Administration "seemed particularly eager to set a new agenda. In the
spring of 2001, the attorney general had an extraordinary confrontation with the then FBI Director Louis Freeh at an annual meeting of special agents.
The two talked before appearing, and Ashcroft laid out his priorities for Freeh: "basically violent crime and drugs," recalls one participant. Freeh
replied bluntly that those were not his priorities, and began to talk about terror and counterterrorism. "Ashcroft didn't want to hear about it,"
says a former senior law-enforcement official."
THE FOCUS – THE TASK FORCE THAT WASN'T: The al Qaeda warnings were dire enough to move President Bush in May of 2001 to appoint Vice President
Cheney to head a task force "to combat terrorist attacks on the United States." As the WP reported, Bush said that day that Cheney would direct a
government-wide review on managing the consequences of a domestic attack, and that "I will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security
Council to review these efforts." Neither "Cheney's review nor Bush's took place." Meanwhile, Newsweek reported that when Sens. Dianne Feinstein
(D-CA) and John Kyl (R-AZ) "sent a copy of draft legislation on counterterrorism and homeland defense to Cheney's office on July 20," they were
told by Cheney's top aide "that it might be another six months before he would be able to review the material."
THE FUNDING - CUTTING COUNTER-TERRORISM PROGRAMS... In its final budget request for the fiscal year 2003 submitted on Sept. 10, 2001, the
Administration "called for spending increases in 68 programs, none of which directly involved counterterrorism...In his Sept. 10 submission to the
budget office, Mr. Ashcroft did not endorse F.B.I. requests for $58 million for 149 new counterterrorism field agents, 200 intelligence analysts and
54 additional translators. Mr. Ashcroft proposed cuts in 14 programs. One proposed $65 million cut was for a program that gives state and local
counterterrorism grants for equipment, including radios and decontamination suits and training to localities for counterterrorism preparedness." The
WP reported that in its first budget, the White House left "gaps" between "what military commanders said they needed to combat terrorists and what
they got." Newsweek noted that, among other things, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld elected not to re-launch a Predator drone that had been
tracking bin Laden. When the Senate Armed Services Committee tried to fill those gaps, "Rumsfeld said he would recommend a veto" on September 9. By
comparison, "Under Mr. Ashcroft's predecessor, Janet Reno, the department's counterterrorism budget increased 13.6% in the fiscal year 1999, 7.1%
in 2000 and 22.7% in 2001."
THE FUNDING: ...WHILE GIVING GIFTS TO THE TALIBAN: At the same time the White House was trying to gut counter-terrorism funding, it ignored human
rights concerns and the Taliban's known ties to terrorists, and gave "$43 million in drought aid to Afghanistan after the Taliban began a campaign
against poppy growers." As the 5/29/01 edition of Newsday noted at the time, the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan "are a decidedly odd choice for an
outright gift of $43 million from the Bush administration. This is the same government against which the United Nation imposes sanctions, at the
behest of the United States, for refusing to turn over the terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The Bush Administration is so delighted at the opium
ban that it's willing to overlook America's differences with the Taliban even its protection of bin Laden."
THE RESULT – EFFORTS TO PREVENT ATTACK WERE "UNDERMINED": According to one former FBI official, the Administration "really undermined a lot of
effort to change the culture and change the mind-set" of law enforcement agencies that were making progress on counter-terrorism. Newsweek echoed
this sentiment, noting "the question is whether the administration was really paying much attention" to counter-terrorism at all in the lead up to
Please note that there is no Op-Ed pieces in the above or conjecture - only what's supported by what they said & did.