I am posting an article I wrote back in the Fall/Winter of 2003-2004. It’s long as hell, so don’t feel the need to read it. Maybe print it out. It lost all potential for publication when Richard Clarke testified and verified most of my allegations.
What Was Bush Thinking On 9/11?
Millions around the world believe that Bush had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks.
Most are crackpots. But inconsistent statements and White House stonewalling has
given the conspiracy theorists plenty of material to work with and further damaged
U.S. credibility in the War on Terrorism.
By Martin W. Longman (aka BooMan)
When Democratic Presidential contender, Howard Dean, recently floated the theory that George W. Bush had received advanced warning of the 9/11 terror attacks, the response was swift and overwhelmingly hostile. Bush called it, “an absurd insinuation.” Former Republican Congressman and current MSNBC talk-host, Joe
Scarborough, spat, “I wonder what my reasonable Democratic friends are thinking today, as their party leadership becomes obsessed with crackpot conspiracy theories that only end up making the entire party look foolish and irrelevant. It’s gutter politics at its worst.” Conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer used the occasion to coin a new diagnosis, “Bush Derangement Syndrome: the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.” Dean even got it from the left side of the Washington Post’s editorial staff when liberal lion, Richard Cohen wrote, “(Dean) was roundly, and rightly, lambasted for what he said, suggesting once again that about the only thing that stands between him and the Democratic presidential
nomination is his tongue.”
The thrust of Dean’s comments, made on the Diane Rehm Radio Show, was aimed at the administration’s withholding of information from the independent National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, (informally known as the 9/11 Commission). Dean warned, “the trouble is that by suppressing that kind of
information, you lead to those kinds of theories, whether they have any truth to them
or not, and then eventually they get repeated as fact. So I think the president is taking
a great risk by suppressing the clear, the key information that needs to go to
Intentionally or not, Dean suggested that the President’s reluctance to share information with the 9/11 Commission was to cover-up gross incompetence at best, and the intentional murder of 3,000 Americans, at worst. Making such a poignant and pregnant insinuation without adequate substantiation, Dean quickly learned, is to invite ridicule and outrage. Yet, a careful examination of the President’s actions as
the traumatic attacks unfolded, the administration’s comments afterwards, and
subsequent revelations about the extensive warnings our intelligence services received, leads to a discomforting conclusion. Either the President was not getting good intelligence briefings, wasn’t paying close attention to them, or something far more nefarious was at play. The administration’s attempts to prevent and stonewall the formal investigations of 9/11 only contribute to both global and domestic
suspicions of the latter possibility. As 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser, explained,
“What breeds these theories is that two years out, we have no authoritative account of
how it happened and why it happened.” The Bush administration needs to address the legitimate concerns raised by inconsistencies in the official line.
The Official Line
On the morning of 9/11, the President was in Sarasota, Florida. Just before 9:00 AM he arrived at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School to hold an event extolling the good work the school was doing teaching second-graders to read. He later recounted his arrival for Bill Sammon, the Senior White House correspondent for the Washington Times. Before heading in, he was getting a last second reminder on how the event was choreographed. As he and his personal assistant, Blake Gottesman, went through the details they were interrupted by Bush’s chief of staff, Andy Card, who said, “By the way, an aircraft flew into the World Trade Center.”1
The North Tower of the World Trade Center had been struck about thirteen minutes earlier (8:46:26 AM) while Bush was riding in his limousine. The aircraft was American Airlines’ Flight 11, presumably with Mohammed Atta at the helm. CNN had been broadcasting footage of the wounded tower belching smoke since 8:48, but
this, Bush told Sammon, was the first he had heard of it. How did the President react?
“And my first reaction was – as an old pilot – how could the guy have gotten so off course to hit the towers? What a terrible accident that is. The first report I heard was a light airplane, twin-engine airplane.”2
That is but one of the official stories, from the President’s own mouth, about how he first learned and reacted to the news that an aircraft had struck one of the Twin Towers. There have been others, which agree in some respects and not in others.
1 Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism, From Inside the Bush White House; p.41-42. By Bill Sammon.
2 Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism, From Inside the Bush White Hous e p.42 By Bill Sammon.
However, the essentials have remained the same. According to Bush, he was unaware that a plane had hit the World Trade Center for roughly eleven minutes after CNN began reporting it. He was unaware that any commercial planes had been
hijacked. His information was that it was “a light airplane, twin-engine airplane.”
That Bush was not overly concerned about this is confirmed by the offhand way that he recalls being informed. “By the way” Andy Card told him. He then proceeded into a holding room inside the school to take a call from his National Security
Advisor, Condoleezza Rice. After listening to her analysis, Rice remembers Bush replying, “what a terrible, it sounds like a terrible accident. Keep me informed.”3
Skeptics have latched onto these claims and questioned their plausibility. But the
President has put his own logs on the fire of controversy by giving contradictory accounts.
Bush’s Tells a Different Story in Town Hall
On December 4th, 2001 at a town hall meeting in Orlando, Florida, Bush was asked about how he first learned about a crash at the WTC and how he reacted. He explained:
“I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the
tower – the TV was obviously on. And I used to fly, myself, and I said, well, there’s
one terrible pilot. I said, it must have been a horrible accident. But I was whisked off
there, I didn’t have much time to think about it.”
A month later, at a town hall meeting in Ontario, California Bush recalled:
“Anyway, I was sitting there, and my Chief of Staff–well, first of all, when we walked into the classroom, I had seen this plane fly into the first building. There was a TV set on. And you know, I thought it was pilot error and I was amazed that anybody could make such a terrible mistake. And something was wrong with the
plane, or–anyway, I’m sitting there, listening to the briefing, and Andy Card came and said, “America is under attack.”
These two town hall explanations are basically the same, but they disagree with the story he told Bill Sammon. He told Sammon that he was informed by Andy Card before he entered the school as he was talking to Blake Gottesman. In the town hall versions he was informed by watching the first crash happen on a television monitor inside the school.
There were four planes that crashed on 9/11, but only one of them was captured on live television. That plane, Flight 175, crashed into the South Tower at 9:02:54 after the President had walked into the classroom. It was while the President was sitting in the classroom listening to children read that Andy Card interrupted (at approximately 9:07) and informed Bush about the second plane. His reaction was captured on tape
and replayed repeatedly in subsequent days.
The only footage of Flight 11 crashing into the North Tower twenty-one minutes earlier, was captured by French filmmaker Jules Naudet, while he was making a documentary about a probationary firefighter in lower Manhattan. That footage did
not air on television until September 12th. So, it is a physical impossibility that President Bush “had seen (a) plane fly into the first building”, either while he was sitting outside the classroom or when he was walking into it. If the President actually saw Flight 11 crash into the North Tower, he did so on a monitor in his limousine, and why he would have been watching a live feed of the WTC at 8:46 AM is a question with no innocent answer.
Perhaps Bush was merely embellishing his story to make it more interesting. It is also possible, in the rush of events, he formed an imperfect memory. Columnist Stephanie Schorow commented on this for the Boston Herald:
“Will you ever forget the moment you first heard about the Sept. 11 attacks?
That moment will be a marker for a generation, the moment the world changed. For an earlier generation, the marker was hearing that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. For this generation, it will be how and when they heard about the first plane striking the World Trade Center. Memories of that moment remain posted on the Web, fodder for future historians. Which is why, ever since the one year anniversary, various Web citizens have been puzzling and arguing over President George W. Bush’s recollection of the first moments of Sept. 11.”4
More than just Web citizens are puzzling, because the pieces don’t fit together.
The two versions are mutually exclusive. While this may not be evidence of a grand conspiracy, it does suggest that the President dissembled about one of the most important moments of his life and the history of the nation.
As with a sworn witness at trial, the President’s inconsistent testimony in one area
can shed doubt about his credibility in other areas. All of Bush’s recollections, as well as those of other administration official’s, have agreed at least in this: no one
4 The Boston Herald, October 22, 2002 NET LIFE; What did Bush see and when did he see it? By Stephanie Schorow
told him about an “accident” at the WTC until after he arrived at the school (between
8:55-8:59). Many people are skeptical about that assertion. In an open letter to the President, 9/11 widow Ellen Mariani wrote:
“On the morning of the attack, you and members of your staff were fully aware of the unfolding events yet you chose to continue on to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School to proceed with a scheduled event and “photo op”. While our
nation was under attack you did not appear to blink an eye or shed a tear. You continued on as if everything was “business as usual”.”
What Did the President Know and When Did He Know It?
The President had arrived in Florida on September 10th, 2001 and made an appearance at the Justina Elementary School in Jacksonville. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” education bill was held up in conference and the administration was trying to drum up support for its passage. In the late afternoon he made a brief flight south to Sarasota, where he lodged at the luxurious, Colony Beach and Tennis Resort. The next morning Bush awoke before 6 AM and went to the nearby Resort at Longboat Key Club with Bloomberg News reporter Richard Keil, to have a jog around one of their golf courses. Bush then returned to his hotel room, showered, put on a suit, and sat down for his daily intelligence briefing at 8 AM. Right at this moment (7:59 AM by most accounts, 8:02 by NORAD) American Airlines Flight 11 took off out of Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boeing 767 was approximately fourteen minutes behind schedule for its trip to Los Angeles.
Bush’s briefing lasted less than twenty minutes and included a warning of an elevated risk of terrorism. (As we shall see, intelligence suggesting a major terror attack was immanent had been coming in all summer long). It was during this briefing that Flight 11 stopped responding to Air Traffic Control (8:13 AM) and
turned off its transponder. When the controllers gave permission to climb to 35,000 feet there was no response and the “blip” on the radar screen disappeared. Around 8:20 AM Flight 11 began to deviate from its flight plan and, after seven minutes without radio contact, the Air Traffic Controllers became very concerned about a
hijack. At 8:24 AM that possibility was confirmed when two brief cockpit transmissions were picked up:
“We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you’ll be O.K. We are returning to the airport… Nobody move, everything will be O.K. If you try to make any moves, you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.”
Another transmission reiterated these instructions at 8:33:59:
“Nobody move please; we are going back to the airport. Don’t try to make any stupid moves.”
Just about the time of this last transmission Bush entered his 2001 Cadillac DeVille stretch limousine and headed for his appearance at Booker Elementary to continue his “war on illiteracy”. When Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower at 8:46:26 AM President Bush was in transit. The seven-seat limo was designed by the General Motors Specialty Vehicle Group, hand-customed and equipped to be the most
technologically advanced car in the world.5
Michael O’Malley, Cadillac General Manager, has been quoted saying that just as Air Force One is a flying Oval Office, the Presidential limo “provides the same amenities for our nation’s leader while
5 Los Angeles Times January 24, 2001, NEW ‘FIRST CADDY’ ON DUTY AT WHITE HOUSE, TERRIL YUE JONES.
traveling on the ground.”6 Los Angeles Times reporter, Terril Yue Jones characterized
its capabilities, “…assume that President Bush has enough satellite communications technology at his fingertips to wage war from the back seat.”
In spite of the all this communications technology, all official accounts, claim that
no one made the President aware of a major “accident” during his journey from
Longboat Key to downtown Sarasota. But other travelers in the motorcade were made aware. Kia Baskerville, a CBS News White House producer recalled, “as the presidential motorcade headed to President Bush’s first event, I received a call on my cell phone from a producer who said that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center
in New York.” The White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, was informed by pager as well as by radio. As the Christian Science Monitor reported on September 17th, 2001, “about six blocks from the school, a news photographer overheard a radio transmission. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer would be needed on arrival to discuss reports of some sort of crash. The radio also said that Mr. Bush had a call waiting for
him at his holding room in the school from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.”7
And U.S. Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, was contacted by her deputy in the Situation Room, who informed her about the crash. 8
Skeptics think it is unlikely that the President was not alerted to the accident until after he arrived at the school when many other people in the motorcade were. The report of a radio transmission increases their doubt. To say the least, it seems strange
6 Los Angeles Times January 24, 2001, NEW ‘FIRST CADDY’ ON DUTY AT WHITE HOUSE, TERRIL YUE JONES.
7 A Changed World, by Peter Grier The Christian Science Monitor September 17, 2001
that millions of people around the world were aware for ten minutes, or more, before anyone thought it necessary to inform the President.
The growing suspicion that Bush may have known about the hijackings and deliberately failed to take actions to prevent them is fed by such oddities in the official line. But the real crux of the matter has to do with the President and his handler’s decision, once he was informed about the first crash, to continue on with his
reading demonstration as scheduled. Mindy Kleinberg, another 9/11 widow, wonders
“that a national emergency was in progress. Yet President Bush was allowed to enter a classroom full of young children and listen to the students read.”
The White House’s explanation for this is that the President did not realize an emergency was in
progress. According to them, Bush had been told that the first plane was small, had initially thought that it was an accident, and had been stunned and unprepared when Andrew Card leaned down and whispered in his ear that a second plane had hit the WTC and the country was under attack. For many, the difficulty in believing this explanation lies in an analysis of the extensive warnings the government had received
over the summer that we might be attacked by civilian aircraft.
The President’s Trip to Italy
The President had just traveled to Europe in late July, 2001. The main event was a G-8 economic conference in Genoa, Italy. In recent years, major economic summits had been drawing large numbers of protestors, and had resulted in riots in Seattle just the year before. So, security for the leaders of the eight major powers was a major concern. But this concern was greatly enhanced more than a month before the
conference, when foreign intelligence services began to pick up warnings that Osama bin- Laden’s, al-Qaeda organization was planning to make an assassination attempt on Bush, or, perhaps all eight leaders.
A full month before the summit, on June 22nd, 2001, the New York Post reported:
“President Bush’s meetings with world leaders at next month’s G-8 summit in Italy might be moved to an aircraft carrier or cruise ship because of terrorist threats, Bush administration sources said. Security officials from several countries
are discussing threats by Osama bin Laden to assassinate Bush and commit other acts of violence during the Genoa summit… Security officials were said to be alarmed about the vulnerability of the Genoa summit site to remote-controlled airplanes and other exotic weapons.9
The threat was taken so seriously that CNN reported, “…the U.S. President may be staying at U.S. Camp Darby military base in Livorno or offshore on the American aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise to avoid any terrorist risk.”10
In the end, the Italians cleared all the air space around Genoa, put fighters in the air
and anti-aircraft batteries on the ground, while keeping the sleeping arrangements of the various leaders a closely guarded secret.
After the disaster in September, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini reflected back on the precautions they had taken in July, “Many people were ironic about the Italian secret services. But in fact they got the information that there was the possibility of an attack against the U.S. president using an airliner. That’s why we
9 The New York Post June 22, 2001 THREATS MAY MOVE SUMMIT, NILES LATHEM and ANDY SOLTIS
closed the airspace and installed the missiles. Those who made cracks should now
think a little.”11
For those who haven’t experienced it, it is difficult to gauge the normal reaction to
being told that terrorists intend use an airliner to kill you, but it seems the idea that al-Qaeda might use aircraft as weapons should have been quite fresh in Bush’s mind.
Even if the initial report Bush received was of a “light airplane, twin-engine airplane”, the recent concern about “remote-controlled airplanes” in Genoa should have set off alarm bells.
If the fright and disruption of his sleeping arrangements in Genoa didn’t make much of an impression on Bush, there were plenty of other reminders that al-Qaeda was gunning for us. Chief among these were warnings coming in from foreign leaders and intelligence agencies that suggested an immanent threat of terrorist attack.
In the summer of 2001, the Jordanian General Intelligence Division (GID), made a communications intercept that contained not only the basic outlines of the 9/11 operation, but even its code name: “the big wedding”12. Jordan then relayed its contents to Washington and to Germany. Although the intercept did not mention
hijacking or any specific date, it did clearly state that the attack was to be within the
continental United States and that aircraft would be used. This was a warning of an
attack with aircraft, not a mere hijacking. John K. Cooley, of the International Herald
Tribune, after confirming this story, commented, “When it became clear that the
12 In Arabic, “Al Ourush al Kabir”
information about the intercept was embarrassing to Bush administration officials and congressmen who at first denied that there had been any such warnings before Sept.11, senior Jordanian officials backed away from their earlier confirmations.” 13
Two days after 9/11 Germany’s daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), citing anonymous German intelligence officers, reported that U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies had at least three months warning that Middle Eastern terrorists were plotting attacks on “symbols of American and Israeli culture” using hijacked
commercial aircraft as weapons. As in Jordan, German revelations of this type quickly dried up, but the FAZ report is partially corroborated by a report in the Times of London from June 14th, 2002. According to the Times:
“Britain’s spy chiefs warned the Prime Minister less than two months before September 11 that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda group was in “the final stages” of preparing a terrorist attack in the West…The heads of MI6, MI5 and GCHQ,
the signals eavesdropping centre, suggested that while the most likely targets were American or Israeli, there could be British casualties. Their warning was included in a report sent to Tony Blair and other senior Cabinet Ministers on July 16. But the agency chiefs admitted the “timings, targets and methods of attack”
were not known…The JIC [Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee] prediction of an al-Qaeda attack was based on intelligence gleaned not just from MI6 and GCHQ but also from US agencies, including the CIA and the National
Security Agency[NSA], which has staff working jointly with GCHQ. The CIA
13 The U.S. Ignored Foreign Warnings, Too by John K. Cooley The International Herald Tribune May 21, 2002.
sometimes has a representative on the JIC. The contents of the July 16 warning would have been passed to the Americans, Whitehall sources confirmed.”14
Even Bush friendly Fox News has reported that, “in July and August , British intelligence shared “general” information that it had learned through surveillance of Khalid al-Fawwaz, a Saudi Arabian dissident who has publicly acknowledged being a bin Laden operative…” Fox News further acknowledged
summertime warnings from India, Israel, France and reported of Russia: “President Vladimir Putin has said publicly that he ordered his intelligence agencies to alert the United States last summer that suicide pilots were training for attacks on U.S. targets.” 15
Some of this intelligence of an immanent attack may have never reached the highest echelons of the American intelligence community. But it is clear that much of it did. That the CIA and FBI were very concerned during the summer of 2001 that a highly destructive, even spectacular, attack was looming can be seen from the testimony of Eleanor Hill. Ms. Hill was the Staff Director for the Joint Inquiry Staff,
the congressional committee that investigated 9/11. When she testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on September 18, 2002, she characterized the atmosphere at the time:
“…in the eyes of the Intelligence Community, the world did appear increasingly dangerous for Americans in the spring and summer of 2001. During that time
14 Spy Chiefs Warned Ministers of al-Qaeda Attacks, by Michael Evans, The London Times, June 14, 2002
period the Intelligence Community experienced a significant rise in information indicating that Bin Ladin and al-Qa’ida intended to strike against United States interests in the very near future. Some individuals within the Intelligence
Community have suggested that the increase in threat reporting was unprecedented, at least in terms of their own experience.”
This was not news to the committee because on February 6th, 2002, DCI George Tenet had told them that in July and August 2001, “it was very clear in our own minds that this country was a target. There was no texture to that feeling. We wrote about it, we talked about it, we warned about it. The nature of the warning was almost
Given this level of anxiety it is easy to understand the July 26th, 2001 report of CBS News Correspondent, Jim Stewart. According to Stewart, the FBI, citing security concerns, had advised Attorney General John Ashcroft to fly noncommercial aircraft for the remainder of his term. Breaking precedent, the Justice Department leased a G-3 Gulfstream that cost “more than $1,600 an hour to fly.”16
It was within this context of alarm that Tenet briefed the President on August 6th, 2001.
The briefing had been instigated on July 5th, the same day the Federal Aviation Authority [FAA] issued a circular to the airlines warning that terrorists had ”an
intention of using explosives in an airport terminal.” Disturbed by all the “noise in the
system” Bush had requested that Condoleezza Rice put together an analysis of what al-Qaeda’s intentions might be. Now as Bush began a month long “working vacation” at his Crawford, Texas ranch, he got an opportunity to see the results. It was a document referred to as a Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Beyond that the details are disputed. The administration claims the briefing was titled `Bin Laden Determined to Strike the United States’. It is a tightly guarded document with very limited circulation within the government. But leaks have suggested that the title was actually `Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States’ (emphasis added). The subtle difference in emphasis has become important because the administration spent so much time emphasizing that intelligence that summer was focused abroad. A memo reviewed by the President just a month before the attacks, that focused on
domestic hijacking attacks, would severely undermine the official line.
By the time word of this memo leaked, in May 2002, eight months had passed since the attacks, and the administration had insisted emphatically that we had no warning.
No one could have predicted 9/11, they said, and nothing could have prevented it. It came as a shock to hear that the President had been specifically briefed on the subject of al-Qaeda hijacking. Tom Brokaw led the NBC Nightly News by announcing: “at the White House tonight it is all hands on deck as the White House tries to deal with a storm of criticism”.17 The pro-Bush New York Post’s headline blared, “BUSH KNEW”.
The father of WTC casualty, Bill Doyle, said at the time, “I believe our whole government let people down”. Ron Willet, whose son’s phone cut out when
17 The Hotline, May 17, 2002, FIRST PUBLIC COMMENTS COME AFTER A DAY OF DAMAGE CONTROL
the North Tower was struck, agreed. Asked whether he thought the government shared some responsibility for the loss of his son, Willet replied, “I have to. We had the suspicions all along. We’d talked about the possibility of the government knowing.”18
On May 16th, a shaken Dr. Rice held a press conference to do damage control.
She tried to downplay the significance of the leak and the memo, claiming it was merely a page and half long and was an, “analytic report, which did not have warning information in it of the kind that said, they are talking about an attack against so forth or so on…(it) mentioned hijacking, but hijacking in the traditional sense… the overwhelming bulk of the evidence was that this was an attack that was likely to take
When asked why the administration had not volunteered this information she responded, “this all came out as a result of our preparations to help the committees on the Hill that are getting ready to review the events. It wasn’t–frankly, it didn’t pop to the front of people’s minds, because it’s one report among very, very many that you get.”
Interestingly, the Bush administration refused to provide access to this memo to those “committees on the Hill” whose very existence they did their utmost to discourage.
Over White House objections, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence had decided in February 2002, to conduct a “Joint Inquiry into the activities of the U.S.
18 Springfield News -Leader (Springfield, MO) May 26, 2002 Families differ on what they want to know, Eric Eckert.
Intelligence Community in connection with the terrorist attacks perpetrated against our nation on September 11, 2001.” Eventually this Joint Inquiry produced a report (officially S. Rept. 107-351 and H. Rept. 107-792) that ran 832 pages. The result was so unsatisfying that the families of 9/11 victims raised a public outcry leading to the formation of a new independent commission called the National Commission on
Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (informally known as “The 9/11 Commission”).
Former Democratic Senator Max Cleland, a member of the new commission who recently resigned, characterized this process:
“The joint inquiry made up of Democrats and Republican members of Congress…issued a report this summer , but they couldn’t get at the PDB’s
[Presidential Daily Briefings]. They kicked the can down the street so that the 9/11 Commission could get at the full story. That’s the reason for this independent commission, with the time and energy and staff to get at all of this. Had the Joint Intelligence Committee been able to do its job, there wouldn’t have even been a 9/11 commission.”19
But the administration has set barriers to even this new commission seeing the August 6th memo, which may not have been as short as a page and a half. According to Oliver Schröm, a reporter with the German newsweekly, Die Zeit, the memo ran “11 and one- half printed pages, instead of the usual two to three.” The truth about this memo may never be known, because the White House has the Commission by the short hairs.
Technically, they have subpoena power to force the administration to turn over the document. But, the Commission is only funded until May of 2004, and
19 Salon Magazine “The president ought to be ashamed”, 11/21/03, Eric Boehlert
if Bush exerts executive privilege he can tie the matter up in the courts and run out the clock. So, Thomas Kean, the Chairman of the Commission has negotiated some very unfavorable terms just to get any access at all. Only four members of the commission will be allowed to look at the most sensitive materials and the White House can deny them the right to take notes or even to share information with other members.
Moreover, the White House reserves the right to decide what materials are relevant even within documents. Cleland says this arrangement is an attempt to, “kick this can down past the elections”, and adds, “It should be a national scandal.” Responding to the deal, Matthew Sellitto, whose son died in the attacks, said, “I have a lack of faith in the administration. How else can I feel?”
If the British Sunday Herald can be believed, the content of the memo has the potential to damage Bush’s reelection prospects if it is publicly exposed. An article published 5/19/02 claimed:
“Britain gave President Bush a categorical warning to expect multiple airline hijackings by the al-Qaeda network a month before the September 11 attacks which killed nearly 3000 people and triggered the international war against terrorism…According to US government officials, the British warning of al-Qaeda plans to hijack US airliners was contained in a crucial briefing sent to Bush on August 6, a month before the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.”.20
President Bush insists that he didn’t know “that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning.” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle responds, “I think the question is, why didn’t he know? If the information was made
available, why was he kept in the dark? If the president of the United States doesn’t have access to this kind of information, there’s something wrong with the system.”
International and Domestic Skepticism
The rise in global anti-Americanism since Bush took the United States on a path to war in Iraq is well known. The alarming growth of conspiracy theories about 9/11 is less so. Americans might expect many in the Islamic world to reject the idea that Muslims were responsible for such an atrocity and, indeed, that is increasingly true.
UPI columnist, Arnaud de Borchgrave recently observed that “It is becoming increasingly hard to find Arabs and Muslims who believe 9/11 was an attack against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by al-Qaida terrorists.”21
Yet, this conspiratorial thinking goes beyond the Muslim community to include our closest
traditional allies. In France, journalist Thierry Meysson has a bestseller called “11
Septembre: L’Effroyable Imposture” (9/11: The Big Lie). The book alleges that Flight 77 did not really hit the Pentagon and that members of the U.S. military carried out the attacks to rally the country for a series of wars. Despite its bizarre premise (where did the flight go, then?) the book had a bigger single-week gross than any European book ever published.
In Germany, journalist Mathias Broecker penned “Conspiracies, Conspiracy Theories and the Secrets of September 11” which has sold over 100,000 copies.
21 Commentary: Loony lucubrations, ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 (UPI).
Broecker made the case that unanswered questions about September 11th suggest the possibility of an enormous cover-up by the Bush administration. The book was so successful that a follow-up has recently been released. In Britain, The Times of
London recently noted the prevalence of people asking questions about what really happened on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001: “But for millions of people around the globe, the answer is clear: the US government knew the attacks were coming and allowed them to happen. The only mystery is whether the perpetrators were Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, or the Saudis. Or the Swiss. Or possibly even the Canadians.”22
Several attempts have been made to explain away the doubters and dismiss their concerns. Yet, even these attempts show signs of unease. Kelly Peterson of the Ottawa Citizen, in the process of mocking the conspiracy theorists, paused to ask:
“Why did Mr. Bush blithely go on with his public appearance after learning about the first attack? How could the U.S. defences around the Capitol and the Pentagon have failed so spectacularly? And it’s downright eerie that the bin Laden family invested in the Carlyle Group, an equity firm with large defence industry holdings for which Mr. Bush Sr. is a senior adviser, and in which several other high-profile
U.S. politicians have been involved.”
It would be a mistake to attribute this interna tional skepticism solely to knee-jerk resentment of Bush’s foreign policy, the War on Terror, or American power. There is plenty of domestic skepticism, as well. Perhaps the most telling skeptics are the plethora of 9/11 widows and survivors that have joined the choir. Mindy Kleinberg’s
22 Sunday Times (London) September 14, 2003, Plot thickens with Mossad, US and Swiss taking blame, Jon Ungoed-Thomas.
husband Alan, worked on 104th floor of the North Tower. Mrs. Kleinberg made a memorable appearance at the second public hearing of the 9/11 Commission. Talking specifically about the President’s actions on the morning of 9/11, she posed a series of tough questions:
“Before the President walked into the classroom NORAD had sufficient information that the plane that hit the WTC was hijacked. At that time, they also had knowledge that two other commercial airliners, in the air, were also hijacked.
It would seem that a national emergency was in progress. Yet President Bush was allowed to enter a classroom full of young children and listen to the students read. Why didn’t the Secret Service inform him of this national emergency? When is a President supposed to be notified of everything the agencies know? Why was the President permitted by the Secret Service to remain in the Sarasota elementary
school? Was this Secret Service protocol? In the case of a national emergency, seconds of indecision could cost thousands of lives; and it’s precisely for this reason that our government has a whole network of adjuncts and advisors to insure that these top officials are among the first to be informed–not the last.
Where were these individuals who did not properly inform these top officials? Where was the breakdown in communication?”23
And Lorie van Auken, another September 11th widow, commented stingingly, “I couldn’t stop watching the president sitting there, listening to second-graders, while my husband was burning in a building.”24
23 First public hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States Statement of Mindy Kleinberg, on March 31, 2003.
24 New York Observer, August 25, 2003, Four 9/11 Moms Battle Bush, Gail Sheehy.
Kleinberg and Van Auken’s outrage arises mainly from the fact that in spite of being informed of an airplane “accident” involving the World Trade Center, President Bush decided not to take decisive action or to personally ascertain the facts, but went ahead with his prescheduled appearance at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School with a class of second graders. But it goes deeper than that.
The first plane crashed at 8:46 am, and was reported by CNN at 8:48. Millions of people all over the world knew that a plane had crashed into the WTC for over ten minutes, the White House maintains, before anyone bothered to tell the President.
Condi Rice didn’t feel the urgency to contact him immediately but was willing to wait for him to arrive at the school. Since he arrived at the school shortly before nine, and had already settled into the classroom by no later than 9:03, it is clear that Rice did not have a very long conversation with him. She does recollect him saying, “it sounds like a terrible accident. Keep me informed.” Was Rice, the National Security Advisor, whose job it is to coordinate national security, really unaware that NORAD
had at least two other suspected hijacks in the air? After all, approximately forty minutes earlier Flight 11 had inadvertently broadcast the message, “We have some planes.”
Even if she wasn’t aware of it, might she not have reminded Bush that the WTC was a terrorist target, of his August 6th briefing, and that an accident was unlikely?
Whatever the case, it doesn’t appear that Bush was too concerned by what Rice had to tell him. As Jena Heath of Cox News reported on September 12, 2001, “Bush did not appear preoccupied as he introduced Education Secretary Rod Paige and shook hands with Sandra Kay Daniels…There was no sign that Rice had just told Bush about the
first attack on New York’s World Trade Center during a telephone call”.25
This sanguine attitude is especially strange because he has at least twice publicly claimed to have watched a plane crash into the towers just prior to walking in and shaking hands. If that is just a faulty memory or casual embellishment, we still have to evaluate Bush’s decision to go ahead with the reading lesson rather than make any phone calls or find a television. Apparently his political strategist Karl Rove, and his Chief of Staff Andy Card also thought this was appropriate. Surprisingly, even the Secret Service had no objections, although they might have been expected to fear a
repeat of the threat Bush had faced in Italy. But if this all seems strange, what happened next is even stranger.
At 9:02:54 Flight 175 struck the South Tower. In a nearby holding room, Bush’s entourage watched in horror. At this point there was no longer any question that the greatest national emergency in American history was in progress. Andy Card
considered his options. He needed to inform the President but he decided it would be best not to disrupt the reading lesson. Quietly slipping into the classroom, he carefully crafted his words, as he waited for a break in the action.
Then he leaned down and whispered to the President of the United States that “a second plane has hit the second tower. America is under attack.” But before the President could ask any
questions he walked away, out of camera shot. Bush looked to the back of the room
25 Bush Vows To Punish Attackers And Those Who Harbored Them by Jena Heath,
Cox News, September 12, 2001.
where Ari Fleischer was trying to catch his eye. He held up a legal pad on which he had written “Don’t say anything yet.”
So, Bush stayed put. He composed himself. And then, to quote from the widely disseminated cooperativeresearch.org article, An Interesting Day: President Bush’s Movements and Actions on 9/11, by skeptics Allan Wood and Paul Thompson:
“Bush picked up the book and began to read with the children. In unison, the children read out loud, “The – Pet – Goat. A – girl – got – a – pet – goat. But – the -goat – did – some – things – that – made – the – girl’s – dad – mad.”
Bush mostly listened, but occasionally asked the children a few questions to encourage them.”
Bush went through with the reading assignment as though nothing had happened.
Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon described Bush’s demeanor in his highly complimentary book on Bush, Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism- From Inside the White House. “Now that the lesson was over, Bush would finally be able to
return to the holding room and get to work. But there was no sense in rushing his exit…He decided to remain seated, as if he were in no hurry whatsoever to the leave the classroom…The notoriously punctual President…was now lollygagging as if he didn’t want the session to end.”
He asked the children if they practiced their reading and was happy to hear that they
did, “Oh that’s great,” purred Bush, smiling as if he didn’t have a care in the world.”
Bush’s press handler, Gordon Johndroe, began herding the press out of the classroom, but Bush lingered on to chat with Principal Gwendolyn Tose-Rigell. Not until all the press had run out to find a television, did the President finally leave and head over to the holding room. Karl Rove later told Tim Russert what happened next:
“And as he came into the staff room, the television was playing–was replaying the footage of the second plane flying into the World Trade Center, and the president looked–walked in, looked at the television set and said, `We’re at war.'”
A lot of focus has been directed on the performance of the FAA and NORAD.
People question why it took so long to get our jets in the air. But, ultimately, it didn’t
matter because the only person with the authority to have the hijacked flights shot
down delayed too long in issuing the order. This point is made clear from the following exchange between 9/11 Commission chairmen Kean and Hamilton and the commander on the day of the attacks, Air Force Major General Larry Arnold:
HAMILTON: Now one of the things that curious to me, General Arnold, you said that you did not learn of the presidential order until after the United 93 had already crashed. That was about a little after 10:00 in the morning. The first notice of difficulty here was at 8:20 in the morning, when a transponder goes off on the
American Flight 11. I don’t know how significant that is. But 20 minutes later, you had notification of a possibly hijack. So there’s a long lapse of time here between the time you are initially alerted and you receive the order that you could shoot that aircraft down. Am I right about that?
ARNOLD: That’s right.
HAMILTON: In your time line, why don’t you put in there when you were notified?
SCOTT: For which flight, sir?
HAMILTON: Well, (inaudible) getting the notification from the president of the United States that you have the authority to shoot a commercial aircraft down is a pretty significant event. Why would that not be in your time line?
SCOTT: I don’t know when that happened.
HAMILTON: Had you ever received that kind of a notice before?
ARNOLD: Not to my knowledge.
HAMILTON: So this was the first time in the history of the country that such an order had ever been given, so far as you know.
ARNOLD: Yes, sir. I’m sure there’s a log that would tell us that, and I appreciate the question.
HAMILTON: Yes. Maybe you could let us know that. And then, finally, as I understand your testimony, it was not possible to shoot down any of these aircraft before they struck. Is that basically correct?
ARNOLD: That is correct. In fact, the American Airlines 77, if we were to have arrived overhead at that particular point, I don’t think that we would have shot that aircraft down.
ARNOLD: Well, we’d have not been given authority to…
HAMILTON: You didn’t have authority at that point.
ARNOLD: And you know, it is through hindsight that we are certain that this was a coordinated attack on the United States.
KEAN: But, had you gotten scrambled earlier, notified earlier of 77’s deviance about when it turned east, for instance, certainly you could have got the F-16’s there and presumably there would have been time to communicate to either get or be denied authority, no, for 77?
ARNOLD: I believe that could be true. I believe that’d be true. It would have had to happen very fast. But, I believe that to be true.
HAMILTON: What efforts were made that day to contact the president to seek that authority?
ARNOLD: I do not know.
Quite aside from any precautions that might have been made to prevent the attacks, the President is, and was, the only official empowered to authorize the downing of a passenger jet, and on the morning of 9/11 the President did not issue that order in time to down any of the four hijacked planes. That fact could be the result of an innocent failure to comprehend the magnitude of the threat, an honest mistake of a
shocked, ill-prepared, and poorly briefed President, or, as many cynics claim, evidence of a conspiracy.
If we give the President the benefit of the doubt that he is not a mass murderer, it appears that the White House has tried to gloss over this failure, as well as the extent of specific warnings to our civil aviation, in the interest of calming a jittery nation and protecting the image of the President. In the process, they have made inconsistent and incompatible and sometimes misleading statements, while consistently resisting all formal investigations. But as international unease and distrust of Bush’s handling of the War on Terrorism grows, it is more important than ever that the administration come clean about the mistakes that were made. If they initially obfuscated in the wake of a devastating attack to buck up American confidence in the President, that can be forgiven. But if they don’t explain the President’s actions on the morning of 9/11, the failure of our air defenses, and cooperate with investigators they will inadvertently promote theories that America perpetrated the attacks on ourselves.
The risk, that Dean so sloppily tried to explain, is that Bush will cause damage in our
international relations that could extend well beyond the current administration.