counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke’s absorbing public testimony to the
9/11 Commission triggered an avalanche of sound bites and ink, yet the
implications of his comments remain largely unexplored. The pundits and
media continue to speak of the administration’s “failure” to grasp the
urgency of the threat, as if Clarke’s corroborated testimony had not
rendered such language obsolete.
Carefully limiting his scope, Clarke explained a situation that went far beyond anything we could call policy disagreement or failed decision-making. He clearly described a president that absolutely refused to respond to months of urgent daily warnings of imminent terror attack.
With three-and-a-half years invested in feeding the public comforting palaver about 9/11, the media seems incapable of digesting this message. Yet as credible reports continue to corroborate and amplify Clarke's point, how long can the charade continue?
It is significant that CIA Director George Tenet has not denied the most damning parts of Clarke’s testimony. Clarke said Tenet agreed with him about the seriousness of the al-Qaeda intelligence, and took it upon himself to stress the urgency of the threat "on a daily basis" in his briefings with the president. These urgent warnings, Clarke testified, went on for "weeks and weeks."
"The President was the guy who was getting those intelligence briefings every morning from George Tenet and week after week, month after month, hearing about al-Qaeda...", Clarke said recently on Hardball. As 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste explained, "people like Director Tenet, people like Richard Clarke, are running around, as they say, with their hair on fire, in the summer of 2001, knowing something big is going to happen."
So much for the "massive intelligence breakdown." In a real and practical sense, it never happened. There is a deep story to the relationship between the US intelligence community and al-Qaeda, and if we are very courageous we may yet open those files, too. But now it is clear that throughout 2001 both CIA and FBI were intercepting and translating al-Qaeda communications.
CIA didn’t drop the ball; it knew what was coming. And because CIA told Bush and his crew about it over and over again, Bush knew. So we have arrived at an extraordinary moment. Official sources have confirmed the most widely held thesis of the reviled 9/11 conspiracy theorists: Bush knew an attack was on the way and he did nothing to stop it. He "Let It Happen On Purpose" (the LIHOP theory).
Some of us will reflexively recoil from this conclusion and insist that such things do not happen. Yet historians have confirmed that FDR schemed to allow the attack on Pearl Harbor, to drag a resistant country into war. Johnson’s people invented the "Tonkin Gulf incident" to rain full-scale war down on Vietnam. Kennedy’s Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed Operation Northwood, which included shooting down an American airliner and blaming it on Castro to excuse an invasion of Cuba. Gary Sick, Carter's National Security expert for the Middle East, detailed the Reagan-Bush campaign's deal (negotiated by super-spook William Casey) with the revolutionary government of Iran, ensuring the US hostages’ incarceration until Reagan got elected. Later, in a change of plans, they extended the release date to coincide with their inauguration. According to Sick's meticulously researched book, October Surprise, the first person Casey met when returning from these treasonous negotiations was then-Republican candidate for vice-president, George H. W. Bush.
Such things do happen, over and over again. Too often, only historians have nabbed the perpetrators. This time could be different.
Official sources have also confirmed the administration’s obvious motive for "welcoming" an Arab terror attack. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill reported that the Bush circle was plotting war on Iraq in its very first cabinet meeting. To O’Neill’s amazement, the question was not, "Should we go to war?", but, "How are we going to do it?" O’Neill said that Iraq remained a constant topic of discussion at the highest levels of government.
This was hardly surprising. Cheney, Perle, Feith, Wurmser, Wolfowitz, Abrams, Rumsfeld, Ledeen and other Bush appointees had been planning war on Iraq for years. One of their schemes was cooked up for the Israeli government, which had always dreamed of neutralizing and even conquering Baghdad, its "greatest strategic threat."
So much for the hokum about a rookie administration still "timidly" finding its "decision-making style." The Bush crew was downright eager to launch a war from the very beginning. What were they waiting for? An event that could set their plans in motion. George Tenet had told them all about it.
In the chaotic hours following the 9/11 attacks, why were Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Bush all telling their subordinates to connect the tragedy to Iraq? Did they unanimously decide on the spot to exploit an unexpected disaster to force a sea change in US foreign policy? Why can’t we admit that their instant and unified "damn-the-facts-and-get-Iraq" response strongly suggests preparation and planning?
Did Bush expect his excuse for "getting rid of Saddam" to cost three thousand innocent lives? Maybe not. Roosevelt underestimated Japan’s ability to devastate Pearl Harbor. But what were Bush’s experts telling him? "Something big is going to happen." "Unprecedented." "Red lights across the board." On August 6th, Bush’s Presidential Daily Briefing included an urgent warning about the coming attack, that it could include airliners as weapons within the United States. So he spent the rest of the month at his Texas ranch, resting up for the long slog ahead.
James Brooks is a writer, activist, marketer, and webmaster. Articles have been published by numerous web sites covering the Middle East, investigative journalism and politics. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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