September 5, 2003

The Madness of King George

Who Knew? The Unanswered Questions of 9/11


..."In May 2002, a string of explosive leaks ignited a public debate over the government’s handling of the 9/11 attacks and made the performance of the intelligence agencies a political issue. CBS reporter David Martin revealed that weeks before the attacks, the CIA had warned Bush personally of Osama Bin Laden’s intent to use hijacked planes as missiles. That followed the damaging exposure by The Associated Press’s John Solomon of a pre-9/11 FBI memo from an officer in Phoenix warning of suspicious Middle Eastern men training at flight schools—a warning that went unheeded.

"The disclosures rocked the administration. 'BUSH KNEW,' blared the May 16, 2002 cover of the Murdoch-owned New York Post. A front-page headline in the Washington Post warned, 'An Image of Invincibility Is Shaken by Disclosures.' Even worse for Bush, the news set off an interagency war of press leaks over who was to blame for the mishaps, with each embarrassing leak from the CIA provoking a defensive counter-leak from the FBI. The result of the battle, which wore on through the summer, was political misery for the White House."
"All along, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were living openly in the San Diego area, using their real names on their California driver’s licenses and rental agreements. Even more shocking, they had befriended and moved in with a prominent local Muslim leader, Abdussattar Shaikh, who, unbeknownst to them, was a long-time undercover FBI counterterrorism informant in regular contact with a terrorism case officer in the bureau’s San Diego office. According to Newsweek, it was such a close encounter that 'on one occasion the [FBI] case agent called up the informant and was told he couldn’t talk because ‘Khalid’—a reference to al-Mihdhar—was in the room.'

"The congressional investigators who prepared the report asked to talk to Shaikh, but, they explained, 'the [Bush] Administration and the FBI have objected to the Joint Inquiry’s request to interview the informant and have refused to serve a Committee subpoena and notice of deposition.'"
On orders of the Bush administration, a 28-page section dealing with suspected Saudi ties to the 9/11 plot was blacked out of the declassified version of the congressional report. Bush claimed that declassifying the information 'would reveal sources and methods' and 'help the enemy.' But Sen. Bob Graham, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, decried the redactions. 'In my judgment there is compelling evidence that a foreign government provided direct support through officials and agents of that government to some of the September 11 hijackers,' Graham said. Sen. Chuck Schumer went further: 'There seems to be a systematic strategy of coddling and cover-up when it comes to the Saudis.'

"Of course, it may well turn out that all such suspicions about the government’s motives are misplaced. Many of the facts about the mishandling of the 9/11 case are perfectly consistent with old-fashioned bungling and incompetence—albeit incredible bungling and staggering incompetence. Somehow it ought to be possible to steer a middle course between wild speculation and cynical whitewash. At both extremes, credulity is a danger. If one thing is certain history keeps surprising us with how venal our national security state can be.

"What’s needed now is more evidence. That blue-ribbon panel has its work cut out for it."


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