Saturday, July 26, 2003

Dana Priest Pays Attention To What's In and Not In That 9/11 Report

From yesterday's WaPo:

President Bush was warned in a more specific way than previously known about intelligence suggesting that al Qaeda terrorists were seeking to attack the United States, a report on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks indicated yesterday. Separately, the report cited one CIA memo that concluded there was "incontrovertible evidence" that Saudi individuals provided financial assistance to al Qaeda operatives in the United States.

Priest identifies two "intriguing" and "politically volatile" questions that still surround the 9/11 attack: how personally engaged was Bush and before him, Clinton, in counterterrisim, prior to the attack, and the specific ties between the Saudi's and al Qaeda.

To varying degrees, the answers remain a mystery, despite an unprecedented seven-month effort by a joint House and Senate panel to fully understand how a group of Arab terrorists could have pulled off such a scheme. The CIA refused to permit publication of information potentially implicating Saudi officials on national security grounds, arguing that disclosure could upset relations with a key U.S. ally. Lawmakers complained it was merely to avoid embarrassment.

The White House, meanwhile, resisted efforts to pin down Bush's knowledge of al Qaeda threats and to catalogue the executive's pre-Sept. 11 strategy to fight terrorists. It was justified largely on legal grounds, but Democrats said the secrecy was meant to protect Bush from criticism.

And while the report contains extensive details about counterterrorism policy and operations under President Bill Clinton, it also leaves out substantial material deemed classified. The panel took testimony from former senior advisers to Clinton and Bush but did not interview either president.

How likely is it, that the Bush administration has held back anything that makes the Clinton administration look bad?

Still, the report offers bits of new information about both presidents and the Saudis, and lays out a possible road map for the independent commission charged by Congress to pick up the investigation of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. It also offers pointed criticism of both Bush and Clinton, concluding that neither "put the government or the intelligence community on a war footing before September 11" -- despite ample evidence of al Qaeda's dangerous designs.

How much attention is paid to any of these questions by the Sunday gasbags will tell us a lot about how willing is the mainstream press to continue its questioning of the administration, or how eager it is to get back to business as usual.