Saturday, July 26, 2003

That 9/11 Report; Is Anyone Paying Attention

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that as far as Republicans and the three news Cable outlets are concerned, the congressional 9/11 report is already "history."

The consensus of the video pundits seems to have been that we already knew most of what the report had to say. How else to explain the report's hasty absence in favor of of the endless ramifications pundits found to discuss in the demise of Saddam's twin towers of evil.

This was less true of the print media, where what was expressed was surprise at how much clearer a narrative the report was able to provide, and how the accretition of details made the story more disturbing than previously appreciated.

Michael Isikoff took that view on Nightline, and does again in this lengthy "live" online talk with Newsweek readers.

Some highly selective tidbits:

Chicago, IL: Is Iraq mentioned in the report at all?

Michael Isikoff: Barely. There's one sentence in 900 pages, quoting some earlier testimony from Tenet saying that Mohammed Atta "may" have met with an Iraq intelligence agent in Prague--and that the CIA was working to corroborate this. My sense is that Tenet mentioned this in the first place for political reasons because nobody in the FBI and CIA takes that report seriously anymore--and not a scrap of evidence has surfaced to support the idea that the meeting took place.


Houston, TX: National-security people came to Crawford, Texas, to brief the president on or about Aug. 6, 2001. Was that standard procedure, and was it about a threat of attack and what was the president's response? Do you know anything about this? Will we people ever know?

Michael Isikoff: Yes, we have learned a lot more about that briefing thanks to the report. It had previously been acknowledged by Condi Rice that the briefing covered the matter of Al Qaeda using airplanes as weapons. When Condi Rice briefed the press on this last year, she dismissed the significance of the briefing, saying it was "very vague" and mostly "historical" and did not constitute a warning for the president. In fact, we now learn, the briefing was much more detailed--and alarming. Bush was told that members of Al Qaeda had come to and resided in the United States "for years" and that the "group apparently maintained a support structure here." It also included recent intelligence that bin Laden supporters were "planning attacks in the United States with explosives." None of this was disclosed by the White House before. (italics mine)

Michael Isikoff: There was a lot of government hand-wringing over trying to kill bin Laden for years. One of the things the report reveals is that Clinton repeatedly ordered attempts to kill him and actually had a nuclear submarine stationed off the Indian Ocean poised to launch another cruise missile strike against bin Laden. But the intelligence on his whereabouts was never good enough, so Clinton never pulled the trigger--expect for the one attack in August 1998 in retaliation for the embassy bombings (and of course we missed.)


Michael Isikoff: It is amazing when you read all the terrorist warnings that were being issued by the U.S. intelligence community throughout the late 1990s and right through the summer of 2001--and then stack that up against how little our political leaders were talking about the threat. In fact, I don't remember the terrorism issue even being mentioned during any of the Bush-Gore presidential debates in 2000--and yet it has turned into the dominant issue of our time.


Tahlequah, OK: I recollect hearing a report about the Bush administration's refusal to take seriously Bill Richardson's briefing about Al Qaeda's growing threat, following the transition of power. The story smacked of an arrogance on the administration's part, which has since become more apparent. Was there any substance to this report? If so, was this part of the investigation?

Michael Isikoff: I believe you're talking about Richard Clarke's briefing for the Bush NSC aides; not Bill Richardson. In any case, Clarke is quoted quite extensively in the report--especially about how FBI field offices didn't seem engaged on Al Qaeda cases.


Washington, DC: Have you read through the report? From what you've seen, do you think the attacks could have been prevented?

Michael Isikoff: I think with a little luck and a little greater vigilance it is very possible the attacks could have been prevented.

Here's an interview with Carrie Lemack, who lost her mother on 9/11. Ms. Lemack doesn't sound happy about the progress made, thus far, in figuring out how and why this happened.