The warnings were going straight to President Bush each morning in his briefings by the CIA director, George Tenet, and in the presidential daily briefings. It would later be revealed by the 9/11 commission into the September 11 attacks that more than 40 presidential briefings presented to Bush from January 2001 through to September 10, 2001, included references to bin Laden.Here is a listing of some of the Intelligence warnings which the decision makers in the Bush administration, from Bush on down, were aware of.
And nearly identical intelligence landed each morning on the desks of about 300 other senior national security officials and members of Congress in the form of the senior executive intelligence brief, a newsletter on intelligence issues also prepared by the CIA.
And what did the Bush administration do about all this information?
- "Bin Ladin Public Profile May Presage Attack" (May 3)
- "Terrorist Groups Said Co-operating on US Hostage Plot" (May 23)
- "Bin Ladin's Networks' Plans Advancing" (May 26)
- "Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent" (June 23)
- "Bin Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats" (June 25)
- "Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile
Attacks" (June 30),
- "Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays" (July 2)
Other parts of the Government did respond aggressively and appropriately to the threats, including the Pentagon and the State Department. On June 21, the US Central Command, which controls American military forces in the Persian Gulf, went to "delta" alert - its highest level - for American troops in six countries in the region. The American embassy in Yemen was closed for part of the summer; other embassies in the Middle East closed for shorter periods.The key person who should have pulled all this together and gotten Bush to become aware of the overall picture was the director of the National Security Council, Condaleeza Rice. It is clear that she failed to do anything. Her main action since then has been to get her loyal subordinate, Philip Zelikow, appointed executive director of the 9/11 Commission so that he could cover up her total failure in the run-up to 9/11.
But what had Rice done at the NSC? If the NSC files were complete, the commission's historian Warren Bass and the others could see, she had asked Clarke to conduct inter- agency meetings at the White House with domestic agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI, to keep them alert to the possibility of a domestic terrorist strike.
She had not attended the meetings herself. She had asked that the then attorney-general, John Ashcroft, receive a special briefing at the Justice Department about al-Qaeda threats. But she did not talk with Ashcroft herself in any sort of detail about the intelligence. Nor did she have any conversations of significance on the issue with the FBI director, Louis Freeh, nor with his temporary successor that summer, the acting director Tom Pickard.
There is no record to show that Rice made any special effort to discuss terrorist threats with Bush. The record suggested, instead, that it was not a matter of special interest to either of them that summer.
Bush seemed to acknowledge as much in an interview with Bob Woodward of The Washington Post that Bush almost certainly regretted later. In the interview in December 2001, only three months after the attacks, Bush said that "there was a significant difference in my attitude after September 11" about al-Qaeda and the threat it posed to the United States.
Before the attacks, he said: "I was not on point, but I knew he was a menace, and I knew he was a problem. I knew he was responsible, or we felt he was responsible, for the previous bombings that killed Americans. I was prepared to look at a plan that would be a thoughtful plan that would bring him to justice, and would have given the order to do that. I have no hesitancy about going after him. But I didn't feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling."
If anyone on the White House staff had responsibility for making Bush's blood "boil" that summer about Osama bin Laden, it was Rice.
So the evidence is making it clear that the key decision-makers in the Bush administration ignored all warnings of a major terrorist action against the U.S. The question that will probably never be answered definitively was whether they did this intentionally.
It is my speculation that the Bush administration wanted to generate public support for an attack on Iraq. It is well known (Paul O'Niel's book) that the first consideration the Bush people had upon taking office in January 2001 was trying to determine how to attack Iraq. What better excuse than a terrorist attack on American soil? As Naomi Klein has documented, these are people who believe in The Shock Doctrine as a way to frighten the public into supporting an unprovoked attack on Iraq. The rather extreme lies and misrepresentations expressed by members of the Bush administration to justify the attack on Iraq made it clear that they would do or say anything to get their war. They assumed that the success of the attack on Iraq and the positive restructuring of the entire middle east that they expected to result would justify the means they used to conduct the invasion.
The utter failure of the Iraq invasion and occupation has made it even more important that they conceal their actions that led to the disaster. One set of those actions was their inaction in the face of terrorist threats and their failure to prevent 9/11.
The Sidney Morning Herald has published the story of the complete failure of the Bush administration to prevent or avoid 9/11. The reason for their clear failure is not as clear, but once you recognize that they are conservative true-believers who think that their prescriptions are certain to work but are blocked by their domestic enemies, it becomes easy to accept that they would take any action to conduct the invasion of Iraq because they believed it would allow conservative free market forces to be freed to create a democratic free-market paradise in the Middle East that everyone living there would want to join.
The failure of that fantasy is as clear now as it was predictable in 2001, but the conservative true-believers won't accept that they are out of touch with reality. Expect them to search for domestic enemies who "sabotaged" their efforts. That's what it means to be a conservative true-believer. Conservatism is seen as perfect and can never fail, so failures must either be the result of sabotage by enemies of conservatism or by alleged conservatives who tried to implement the conservative vision but who were insufficiently conservative to achieve it. Had they tried harder, put more effort into process, sacrificed more, then conservative doctrine would have prevailed.
The fact is that the Bush administration attempted to apply conservative doctrine to the combined problems of the Middle East and terrorism in 2001 and their efforts failed. Everything they have done since then has consisted of efforts to conceal their failure, punish and eliminate their domestic enemies who - presumably - caused that failure, and to apply conservative principles with greater effort in the face of great resistance.
The result is the greatest failure of any American Presidency ever, even greater than the disaster that Andrew Johnson made of Reconstruction after the Civil War and the economic disaster Herbert Hoover failed to deal with when conservative economic principles created the economic disaster we now call the Great Depression. And it all started because, for whatever reason, the Bush administration failed to act on all the many warnings they got in 2001 of an impending terrorist attack.