On this day of mourning, there are further revelations about how badly the Bush Administration bungled in the run up to 9/11 (and stealing a meme from Brad DeLong). During the summer of 2001, the intelligence community desperately tried to warn President Bush that Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had an attack planned against the United States. The August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing was entitled, in about as direct a way as possible “Bin Laden determined to strike in United States.” That PDB came out as part of the work of the 9/11 commission. But that was not the only briefing that summer, according to the New York Times:
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.
The alerts continued throughout the summer, growing more strident as they were ignored. Mired in the fever-swamp of neoconservative paranoia, the administration had decided that the warning signals of an Al-Qaeda attack were merely a deliberate decoy by Bin Laden to distract the US from Saddam Hussein. We shall pause for a moment to contemplate the stupidity of thinking that Bin Laden and Hussein, who hated each other with a passion, were cooperating anything.
The case that Eichenwald makes is pretty well known in a general way. There’s a reason that Chapter 8 of the 9/11 Commission Report was entitled “The System Was Blinking Red.” Nonetheless, it’s good to be reminded again of the horrendous incompetency of the Bush Administration as 9/11 begins to shift from popular to historical memory, especially because, as with Richard Nixon, those who failed their duties so miserably will spend much of the rest of their lives trying to elide, obfuscate, or otherwise blur their incompetency. Witness Ari Fleischer this morning. It’s probably too much to hope that they would keep silent, out of respect for the dead, but we can hope.
Update: Commentary magazine has a defense which boils down to 1) we knew this already, and 2) no one else expected it. Unfortunately, #1 roughly translates as, ‘yes, the Bush administration was as mendacious and incompetent as Eichenwald makes out, but we knew that already’ and for #2 all they have is a (hah!) New York Times op-ed from 2001 that pooh-poohs the risk of terrorism. If Commentary is really arguing that the level of knowledge within the government is represented at its maximum by what comes out on the New York Times op-ed page, then, well, I give them this.