Although the dust hasn’t yet settled even after 15 years, the foreign policy that arose in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks was destined to be bandied about by bloggers, memes, and campaign rhetoric. But as the so-called Islamic State battles to maintain the strangleholds it has attained across the Middle East, there are some Iraq War apologists who want to muddle the official history of how we found ourselves to be in such an unwinnable foreign policy mess.
Early in the 2016 campaign, even the presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump decided to adopt the tactic of tying Jeb Bush to the fact that the Nation’s worst terror attack was executed on his brother’s watch. Now, the question surrounding whether or not George W. Bush was partly responsible for 9/11 is raging full force again, and it’s a legitimate debate – provided that one side isn’t trying to rewrite history.
The August 6, 2001 brief that was titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” turned out to not be the smoking gun revelation pointing to White House slackage when it came to pre-9/11 intelligence. The White House’s defense of the declassified document, saying it “was primarily a history of Al Qaeda, not a warning of imminent attack” was fairly accurate. Those of us who do adequate reading and pride ourselves on being intellectually honest have abandoned that talking point.
But there are lesser-known briefings that screamed of what was to come, and a somewhat overlooked op-ed first published in the September 1o, 2012 edition of the New York Times is worth getting a second look.
I'd say Trump blaming Bush for allowing 9/11 is a bit like saying McCain was a flop because they shot down his plane. Sigh.
— Tim Graham (@TimJGraham) October 16, 2015
In the piece titled “The Deafness Before the Storm,” writer and journalist Kurt Eichenwald relayed some details from other documents he was able to obtain as a journalist, and he came to one conclusion:
…the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.
Eichenwald went on to reveal how the “direct warnings to Mr. Bush” about an impending attack began well before the summer of 2001, with one report from May specifically warning of a group “presently in the United State” planning to carry out a terror operation.
But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told [Eichenwald] 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.
The document went into great detail, even citing Bin Laden’s own words in an interview with a Middle Eastern journalist. Briefs that followed were repeatedly stressed by the CIA to the White House. The intelligence almost suggested that terror operatives knew the U.S. was listening and wanted to us to know their plans. But still, nothing was done.
On July 24, Mr. Bush was notified that the attack was still being readied, but that it had been postponed, perhaps by a few months. But the president did not feel the briefings on potential attacks were sufficient, one intelligence official told me, and instead asked for a broader analysis on Al Qaeda, its aspirations and its history. In response, the C.I.A. set to work on the Aug. 6 brief.
It’s well-documented that when the second plane slammed into the World Trade Center, then-CIA Director George Tenet wondered aloud something to the effect of, “Gee, I sure hope it’s not those guys from the flight schools in Florida.” We’ll never how things would have turned out if certain people chose to take that readily-available information seriously.
You can read Kurt Eichenwald’s entire 2012 New York Times op-ed here.
[This article has been updated] Featured image via Flickr