Today is the day in our quadrennial orgy of political campaigning where the two sides lay down their arms and grow silent in commemoration of 9/11. Ads get pulled, candidates lay wreaths, the military gets praised. Therefore, it took serious guts for the New York Times to publish an op-ed from Kurt Eichenwald, based on his reporting for a book called “500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars,” which shows the extent to which the Bush Administration simply ignored warnings about an impending attack from Al Qaeda.
We already knew about the infamous Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” But Eichenwald focuses on the briefings BEFORE August 6, going as far back as May of that year, warning of an imminent attack, with Al Qaeda operatives inside the United States already doing the preparation.
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.
But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.
In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.
We already knew that neoconservatives targeted their response to 9-11 to Iraq, regardless of the evidence. Now we know that they shaped their reality about terrorism to tie to their beliefs about Iraq, also regardless of the evidence.
The most frightening part of this is that these neocons, including people like Elliott Abrams and John Bolton, serve as advisers to the Mitt Romney campaign. And that’s not necessarily because Romney is some bloodthirsty imperialist; it’s because those remain the only foreign policy mandarins in the Republican Party, even after being thoroughly discredited before, during and after 9/11.
This always gets downplayed as a failure to “connect the dots,” with contempt for Clinton-era officials who put up a wall between the intelligence agencies. But I always saw it as a fish rotting from the head down kind of moment. And this confirms it.
Read the entire Eichenwald op-ed piece. And there’s also an excerpt of 500 Days at Vanity Fair’s site, which concerns Tony Blair’s equivocation on whether to join the Iraq coalition, particularly after being told the war was illegal.