Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Monday, April 12, 2004
 
The Smoking Gun Memo linked below has been discussed before:

Arizona Central

The Memory Hole

(links courtesy of Nick)

Regardless, though, it deserves to be reexamined and rediscussed in light of the release of the August 6 PDB. According to the New York Times article on the White House memo that accompanied the declassification of the PDB:



In a written rebuttal twice as long as the document itself, the White House sought Saturday night to drive home a single major point: that the briefing "did not warn of the 9/11 attacks." The idea that Al Qaeda wanted to strike in the United States was already evident, senior officials argued. They also said that while the document cited fresh details to make that case, they were insufficient to prompt any action.

. . .

At a time, in the summer of 2001, when Mr. Bush and his advisers have said that the vast bulk of intelligence information pointed to the danger of a terrorist attack abroad, the Aug. 6 briefing can be read as a clear-cut warning that Osama Bin Laden had his sights set on targets within the United States and had already launched operations within America's borders. Based in part on continuing investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, the brief spelled out fresh reason for concern about Qaeda attacks, very possibly using hijacked airplanes and conceivably in New York or Washington.

Depending on which side is arguing the point in this rancorous election year, the "patterns of suspicious activity" cited in the document will be presented either as yet another sign that the pre-Sept. 11 warnings were always too vague to act on, as the White House has argued, or as new evidence that Mr. Bush and his advisers were too slow to sense the danger at hand.

In making their case, White House officials who spoke to reporters in a conference call and issued a three-page "fact sheet" sought repeatedly to minimize the significance of the document.

"None of the information relating to the `patterns of suspicious activity' was later deemed to be related to the 9/11 attacks," the document issued by the White House said. The idea that Mr. bin Laden and his supporters wanted to carry out attacks in the United States, a senior official said, "was already publicly known," while the fresh concerns outlined in the document — about surveillance of federal buildings in New York, and a telephone warning to an American Embassy in the Persian Gulf — "were being pursued aggressively by the appropriate agencies."

End quote from the NYT.


Even if hindsight tells us that the particular men whom Agent Williams was reporting on did not, in fact, having anythign to do with AQ, and even if all FBI/CIA/National Security/White House officials could have been reasonably expected to imagine was hijackings for the sake of hostages and not for the sake of weaponry, a cabinet level meeting on terrorism (advising the Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Education of the situation) and the attempt to secure cockpits would have been better than nothing. It might not have prevented 9/11 but it would have been better than nothing. Saying that there is nothing Bush could have done differently before 9/11 short of bombing Afghanistan (see the pointless posturing over at Easterblog) is essentially equivalent to saying that all of our current domestic anti-terror measures are useless. A very concrete, and relatively uncontroversial if expensive and unpopular, measure would have been to secure cockpits--or at least, start securing cockpits. Try to start securing cockpits. Think about securing cockpits. Something.

Moreover, this particular report of Agent Williams was new FBI intelligence (post 2001 inauguration), and if this is not the new FBI intelligence referred to in the memo, whoever wrote the memo should have checked with FBI officials a couple of levels down to check and see if there were any new developments before giving the President the (obviously now false) impression that there were no new developments. Where I am generously interpreting the PDB as having given said false impression.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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