Saturday, March 08, 2008

"They knew, they did nothing."

What the 9/11 Commission really found.

[Commission member Jamie Gorelick] was astonished by the sheer volume of the warnings. Flood, cascade, tsunami, take your pick of metaphors. She could see that in the spring and summer of 2001, there was a consistent drum beat of warnings, day after day, that al-Qaeda was about to attack the United States or its allies. It was clear to Gorelick that the CIA had gone to Bush virtually every morning for months in 2001 to give him the message that the United States needed to be ready for a catastrophic terrorist strike, and from what she was reading, no one ruled out the possibility of a domestic attack.

"Something is being planned, something spectacular," she said, summarising what the President had been told by George Tenet and what Bush should have read in the briefings. "We don't know what it is, we don't know where it is, but something is happening."

She said CIA analysts were trying to tell Bush, as bluntly as they could, that the threat in those months was "the worst thing they've ever seen - an unprecedented threat," worse than the threats before the millennium.

It seemed to Gorelick that Rice had "assumed away the hardest part of her job" as national security adviser - gathering the best intelligence available to the White House and helping the President decide how to respond to it. Whatever her job title, Rice seemed uninterested in actually advising him. Instead, she wanted to be his closest confidant - specifically on foreign policy - and to simply translate his words into action. Rice had wanted to be "the consigliere to the President", Gorelick thought.

Domestic issues seemed to bore her. Her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had told the commission something remarkable in his private interview the month before: He and Rice had not seen themselves as responsible for co-ordinating the FBI and other domestic agencies about terrorism. But if they weren't responsible, who was? There was no separate domestic security adviser in the White House. They had just demoted Clarke.
Richard Clarke had repeatedly warned Condi Rice that a catastrophic terrorist strike would take place in the United States and had grown increasingly frustrated as nothing was done.
Bass told colleagues that he gasped when he found a memo written by Clarke to Rice on September 4, 2001, exactly a week before the attacks, in which Clarke seemed to predict what was just about to happen. It was a memo that seemed to spill out all of Clarke's frustration about how slowly the Bush White House had responded to the cascade of terrorist threats that summer. The note was terrifying in its prescience.

"Are we serious about dealing with the al-Qaeda threat?" he asked Rice. "Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] has not succeeded in stopping al-Qaeda attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US....

Much as the staff felt beaten down by Zelikow, so did the other Democratic commissioners. By the end, they had given up the fight to document the more serious failures of Bush, Rice, and others in the Administration in the months before September. Zelikow would never have permitted it. Nor, they realised, would Kean and Hamilton. The Democrats hoped the public would read through the report and understand that September 11 did not have to happen - that if the Bush Administration had been more aggressive in dealing with the threats flooding into the White House from January 2001 through to September 10, 2001, the plot could have been foiled.

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