Column No. 60 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - May 12, 2005

As you undoubtedly know, two critical documents have been recently released by the 9/11 Commission.  One concerned the 52 FAA pre-9/11 warnings that lead to no specific terrorist-act-prevention actions.  The other was the Richard Clarke memo of 1/25/01 to the new National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that urgently called for a meeting on the subject of  aggressively dealing with al-Qaeda with a specific plan-for-planning to do so.

Now, it is possible that Rice ignored the memo because Clarke did not use the common English spelling for the name of the terrorist organization, but called it “Al Qida.”  Rice understandably might have thought that he was referring to a person named “Al,” and since she had many more important things to do, like planning the invasion of Iraq, she understandably put the whole thing on the back burner.  In addition, at one point Clarke used a word that is not to my knowledge found in the English language, “addressal.”  With her university background, Dr. Rice might have wondered how much could such an illiterate know about terrorism, anyway.

At any rate, with the release of these documents, presumably over the strenuous objections of the Georgite White House, the whole question of what they were thinking-not-thinking-doing-not-doing in the run-up to 9/11 gets onto the front burner again.  (Well, it is not on the front burner of our mainstream media, of course, but that does not mean that it should not be.)  In this context, in this column I am revisiting the column that I published on May 6, 2004, in an abridged version.  Much of the following text is taken from that column.

Despite the swirl of revelations over the past months, the public remains facing a large set of unanswered 9/11 questions, glaring inconsistencies, and seeming lies-at-the-time, combined with a drive by the Georgites to withhold as much information as possible (cover-up, anyone?).  Only extreme political pressure can force further key disclosures.  The subject of this writing is not a comprehensive review of that data.  I present here just a few of the more prominent unanswered questions.

There’s the famous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) that seems to contain some very strong warnings of what eventually happened, well beyond what Rice described as “historical” information. . . .  There is Rice dancing to one tune in one place, on CNN not under oath, and quite another, when under oath, about just what was in the PDB, as well as about a lot of other material.

There is the fact that Ashcroft told Mr. Pickard, Acting Director of the FBI in the summer of 2001, not to bother him with talk about terrorism and counter-terrorism.  At the same time, Ashcroft just happened to have stopped flying on commercial flights.  There is the fact that Ashcroft turned down an internal request to massively expand the FBI’s anti-terrorism budget, on 9/10/01.

There’s Bush, according to Sidney Blumenthal in The Guardian (UK, April 15, 2004) not reading anything, whether it’s his PDBs or, for example, a 17 volume State Department report entitled “The Future of Iraq”, warning of nearly all the post-Iraq war pitfalls that have been encountered. . . .

Then there’s all the background about the Georgites trying to prevent the formation of the 9/11 Commission in the first place, then under-funding it, then not cooperating with it at all until forced to, then cooperating with it as little as possible, and so on.  That is combined with the peculiar non-reaction of our Air Defenses (NORAD) on 9/11 once it was known, and it was known very early on, that at least one plane had been high-jacked that awful morning.  Plus, there’s the Great Commander continuing to read to school children after being informed of the first collision of plane with building, and then spending the rest of the day flying around the country on Air Force One.  The litany could go on.

What possible explanations might have been offered last April for this series of events, non-events, actions, and inactions?  At the time, I saw at least six.  They fall neatly into two groups of three.  The first set assumes, at the worst, incompetence.  The second set assumes rather more than that.

1.        “We, the White House and the agencies, did everything we could have, and anyway it was all Clinton’s fault.”  One variation of this or another seems to be popular with Bush, Rice, Cheney, Powell, and Ashcroft.

2.        “Mistakes were made”, not by the White House of course (remember the famous Bush non-answer to that question at his April, 2004 news conference --- since they are so rare, one doesn’t have to give an exact date for it), but rather by the agencies.  “They should have been more on the ball.  But heck, everyone makes mistakes.  Nobody’s perfect (except us).”

3.        Beyond agency mistakes, the Georgites were, and are, incompetent.  They should have been paying attention, but because of other priorities and bureaucratic bungling just did not.  It could have, and should have, been played much better.

4.        The Georgites knew something might happen, but didn't know what.  They surely thought that if something did happen, it would not be on the scale of WTC.

5.       The Georgites knew pretty well what bin Laden wanted to do but they:

a.        Thought they had a deal with the Taliban to prevent him from doing it.  However, the Taliban either did not have the power to do so, or double-crossed the Georgites.

b.        Thought they had a deal with bin Laden either not to do anything or to do something small (in return for who knows what), and he double-crossed them.

6.   The Georgites were either directly or indirectly party to the bin Laden plan, and thus knew something would happen, possibly even as to day and time.

“Conspiracy theories,” you are thinking.  That’s the disdainful epithet the Republican Religious Right always throw out when such speculation arises, in the hope that the discussion will turn to the propriety of developing conspiracy theories and away from the substance of the suppositions.

But looking more closely, why not think “conspiracy?”  We have a post World War II Republican President.  Such folks have been at conspiracies for a long time.  Think Eisenhower, through the Dulles boys: Iran, Guatemala, and the sabotaging of the 1954 Geneva Agreement that ended the French-Indochinese War.  Think Nixon: Watergate and Chile.  Think Reagan: Iran-Contra.  Think Bush I and the Kuwait War, which happened in part because just before Bush invaded, the-then US Ambassador April Glaspie told Saddam, “We have no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”  No conspiracies, full or partial, around 9/11?  Absolutely impossible?  Well let us see.

During that summer, remember, at home the Georgites were not doing so well politically.  The economy was sagging and all George was doing it about was offering tax cuts to the rich.  The Enron bubble burst, mighty close to the White House.  Cheney would not tell (and still will not) what he had talked about with his oil cronies.  There was a rapidly expanding deficit accompanied by a rapidly expanding unemployment rate.  Then there were the so-called Neocons, led by Perle and Wolfowitz, taking over most of the major foreign-policy responsibility for the new Administration.  They were looking for some pretext upon which to justify an invasion of Iraq, a policy they had been advocating quite openly, at least in neocon publications, since the mid-1990s.  Marjory about oil and bases and something called ‘establishing American hegemony.’  The public has never been let in on these little secrets.  Is that not the stuff of conspiracy?

Maybe I have read too many spy novels.  (Just think of what a left-wing Tom Clancy could do with some combination of 4, 5, and 6 above.)  On the other hand, just maybe there was no Georgite conspiracy.  Maybe it was just the Georgites moving really quickly after it happened to take advantage of public fear and panic, to regain the popularity they had lost, to rush through the Patriot Act, with a long-range view of being able to smash dissent at home without bothering with the judicial system, and to set up “grounds” the invasion of Iraq.  Can anyone say “Reichstag Fire?”  (See my TPJ columns of 6/3 and 6/24/04).