Ex-CIA director says Bush White House ignored 9/11 warnings to avoid ‘paper trail’ of responsibility

A damning account from the ex-CIA Director under George W. Bush.

Did George W. Bush’s administration have any major warnings about 9/11, or were they buried in briefings?

According to POLITICO, the CIA director of counterterrorism, Cofer Black, and his boss George Tenet, both repeatedly and urgently told the Bush administration that Al Qaeda was gearing up for an attack. They offered solutions like “The Blue Sky Paper,” where they would insert CIA and military operatives into Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Afghanistan. The response? “Not ready.” But Tenet and Black knew what that really meant — Bush’s national security team didn’t want a paper trail that showed the administration knew about the attacks and didn’t act.

The big issue, Black argued, was the mental disconnect. Terrorists, in the mind of the Bush administration, were “Euro-lefties [who] drink champagne by night [and] blow things up during the day.” They simply did not see the urgency as Black and Tenet saw it.

The CIA gathered all the evidence it had – training camps closing, terrorists going silent as though in hiding, more threats — and on July 10, for the first time in his seven years at the job, Tenet phoned the White House and insisted on an emergency meeting to brief Condoleezza Rice, at the time Bush’s National Security Adviser, on the magnitude of the terrorist threat they were facing.


Tenet vividly recalls the White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) “Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States.’” [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’”

“What happened?” I ask Cofer Black. “Yeah. What did happen?” he replies. “To me it remains incomprehensible still. I mean, how is it that you could warn senior people so many times and nothing actually happened? It’s kind of like The Twilight Zone.” Remarkably, in her memoir, Condi Rice writes of the July 10 warnings: “My recollection of the meeting is not very crisp because we were discussing the threat every day.” Having raised threat levels for U.S. personnel overseas, she adds: “I thought we were doing what needed to be done.” (When I asked whether she had any further response to the comments that Tenet, Black and others made to me, her chief of staff said she stands by the account in her memoir.) Inexplicably, although Tenet brought up this meeting in his closed-door testimony before the 9/11 Commission, it was never mentioned in the committee’s final report.

Still the administration did nothing. At the end of July, the top CIA operatives had a meeting to discuss how they thought Al Qaeda would attack. Blee simply said, “they’re coming here.”

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Tenet watches the September 11, 2001 attacks unfold on live TV (Flickr)

Black compares to the Bush administration’s lack of response to The Twilight Zone. He still can’t understand how a warning from so many senior people could get absolutely nothing accomplished.

Tenet, who is perhaps the agency’s most embattled director ever, can barely contain himself when talking about the unheeded warnings he says he gave the White House. Twirling an unlit cigar and fidgeting in his chair at our studio in downtown Washington, D.C., he says with resignation: “I can only tell you what we did and what we said.” And when asked about his own responsibility for the attacks on 9/11, he is visibly distraught. “There was never a moment in all this time when you blamed yourself?” I ask him. He shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “Well, look, there … I still look at the ceiling at night about a lot of things. And I’ll keep them to myself forever. But we’re all human beings.”

The fact that the Bush administration did nothing in the face of the greatest terrorist attack, costing thousands of lives and thousands more in their wrongheaded response, is already being subjected to historical revisionism by certain conservative camps.

For a more in depth look in this story, check out the documentary The Spymastersdue to air on Showtime later this month:

Featured image via Flickr



  1. Avatar

    Jim Harrison

    November 13, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    THIS SHOULDN’T SURPRISE anyone… The real “inside job” (for all my conspiracy theorist friends out there) is far FAR more simple than the practical ‘re-engineering’ assumption made in such theories) is that the Bush, et al., KNEW this was coming and had a DAMN GOOD IDEA it would be NY and DC.
    I’ve dealt a bit with this in my own work – decades ago… I was paid very handsomely to do forecasting by a Fortune 200 corporation concerning places to put overseas offices. This was about 18 months BEFORE the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq.
    I utilized all sorts of reports (this was of course before the Internet) and I got my hands on some recently DE-CLASSIFIED CIA reports concerning Iraq and Saddam’s plans…
    I concluded in my report that the company should NOT put their office in Kuwait City. I was bucked by one senior VP that very much called into question my ‘skills’. I was paid well and sent packing.
    18 months later – 2 days after the invasion of Kuwait, I am watching NBC News and there is Tom Brokaw interviewing the very same VP who, sniffling tears, tells Brokaw, “we just opened our new office there in Kuwait City and now four of our employees have been shot dead in the streets! WHO WOULD HAVE KNOWN this was coming?!?!” The language I screamed at the TV I’m sure shocked even my neighbors upstairs…
    THREE DAYS after this – or their abouts a high level woman in the State Department was sacked by Bush Sr., because she didn’t provide enough warning. Bush Sr., stated, “HOW COULD WE HAVE KNOWN?!?!”
    I screamed AGAIN – because it was HIS CIA director’s reports that I HAD READ that stated – categorically – that Saddam had EVERY INTENTION of turning South after his defeat of Iran…
    So see kids… When Uncle Dude tells you that you don’t ‘need’ a vast conspiracy theory to explain 9/11 he has reason to say it – practical, ‘i was there’ reasons.
    They KNEW it was coming and they NEEDED it to happen – so they could put all their plans into play – including Dick Cheney’s plan to have CORPORATE AMERICA take over 50% of all the work the military USED to do… And SUCK UP 48 cents of EVERY TAX DOLLAR SPENT on the war into their private coffers.

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