politics, history and the war on terror
Thursday, July 29, 2004
What did he know?  

CARVILLE: Today, virtually every Democrat in Washington has tried out his or her Howard Baker impression. What did the president know and when did he know it?

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I think what we have to do now is to find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, when they knew it, and, most importantly, what was done about it at that time.

In the spring of 2002, some Democrats attempted to make political hay out of the question "What did he know and when did he know it?" concerning President Bush's knowledge about the planning and execution of the 9-11 attacks. The questions led to much speculation that President Bush was warned about the 9-11 attacks but failed to act in his role as Commander in Chief to protect the nation. The 9-11 Commission report puts these questions to rest once and for all.

The transition to the new Bush administration in late 2000 and early 2001 took place with the Cole issue still pending. President George W. Bush and his chief advisers accepted that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack on the Cole, but did not like the options available for a response. Bin Ladin’s inference may well have been that attacks, at least at the level of the Cole, were risk free. The Bush administration began developing a new strategy with the stated goal of eliminating the al Qaeda threat within three to five years. During the spring and summer of 2001, U.S. intelligence agencies received a stream of warnings that al Qaeda planned, as one report put it, "something very, very, very big." Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet told us, "The system was blinking red." Although Bin Ladin was determined to strike in the United States, as President Clinton had been told and President Bush was reminded in a Presidential Daily Brief article briefed to him in August 2001, the specific threat information pointed overseas. Numerous precautions were taken overseas. Domestic agencies were not effectively mobilized. The threat did not receive national media attention comparable to the millennium alert. While the United States continued disruption efforts around the world, its emerging strategy to eliminate the al Qaeda threat was to include an enlarged covert action program in Afghanistan, as well as diplomatic strategies for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The process culminated during the summer of 2001 in a draft presidential directive and arguments about the Predator aircraft, which was soon to be deployed with a missile of its own, so that it might be used to attempt to kill Bin Ladin or his chief lieutenants. At a September 4 meeting, President Bush’s chief advisers approved the draft directive of the strategy and endorsed the concept of arming the Predator. This directive on the al Qaeda strategy was awaiting President Bush’s signature on September 11, 2001.

The full accounting of what the government knew of al Qaeda plans to attack the United States homeland during the summer of 2001 can be found in Chapter 8 of the full report (page 254 to 278). This section includes excerpts from the August 6th Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) which discussed the possibility of al Qaeda attacks in the United States. The PDB was used by certain members of the 9-11 Commission to insinutate the Bush administration was aware of the 9-11 attacks but failed to act to stop it. As the evidence shows, intelligence believe the attacks were to take place overseas and steps were taken to secure overseas installations.

The strategy to counter al Qaeda was taking shape the summer of 2001, and ironically the authorization to strike al Qaeda would have been approved by President Bush on September 11th. But had action begun against al Qaeda in the spring of 2001, it is unlikely 9-11 would have been stopped. Al Qaeda's strike assets were mainly in place; 9-11 was the culmination of years of careful planning. The U.S. government and intelligence agencies' systemic failures were the culmination of decades of mistakes and missed opportunites.

Posted by bill roggio @ 12:05 AM