The Washington Post, reviewing Ron Suskind’s book, The One Percent Solution, described one of its anecdotes, likely from former CIA director George Tenet or one of his allies:
an unnamed CIA briefer … flew to Bush’s Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president’s attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.” Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”
Former New Jersey Governor and commission chair, Thomas] KEAN. I’ve got a question now I’d like to ask you. It was given to me by a number of members of the families. Did you ever see or hear from the F.B.I., from the C.I.A., from any other intelligence agency, any memos, discussions or anything else between the time you were elected or got into office and 9/11 talked about using planes as bombs?
RICE. Let me address this question because it has been on the table. I think that concern about what I might have known or we might have known was provoked by some statements that I made in a press conference. I was in a press conference to try and describe the Aug. 6 memo, which I’ve talked about here in the – my opening remarks and which I talked about with you in the private session. And I said at one point that this was a historical memo, that it was not based on new threat information. And I said, No one could have imagined them taking a plane, slamming it into the Pentagon – I’m paraphrasing now – into the World Trade Center using planes as missiles. As I said to you in the private session, I probably should have said, I could have not imagined. Because within two days people started to come to me and say, Oh, but there were these reports in 1998 and 1999; the intelligence community did look at information about this. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Chairman, this kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us.
Last July, Pakistani agents working for the C.I.A. spotted him driving his vehicle near Peshawar. When, after weeks of surveillance, he drove to the sprawling compound in Abbottabad, American intelligence operatives felt they were onto something big, perhaps even Bin Laden himself. It was hardly the spartan cave in the mountains that many had envisioned as his hiding place. Rather, it was a three-story house ringed by 12-foot-high concrete walls, topped with barbed wire and protected by two security fences. …
On March 14, Mr. Panetta took the options to the White House. C.I.A. officials had been taking satellite photos, establishing what Mr. Panetta described as the habits of people living at the compound. By now evidence was mounting that Bin Laden was there.
Back in Washington, Mr. Panetta met with Mr. Obama and his most senior national security aides, including Mr. Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The meeting was considered so secret that White House officials didn’t even list the topic in their alerts to each other.
That day, Mr. Panetta spoke at length about Bin Laden and his presumed hiding place.
“It was electric,” an administration official who attended the meeting said. “For so long, we’d been trying to get a handle on this guy. And all of a sudden, it was like, wow, there he is.” …
On March 22, the president asked his advisers their opinions on the options.
Mr. Gates was skeptical about a helicopter assault, calling it risky, and instructed military officials to look into aerial bombardment using smart bombs. But a few days later, the officials returned with the news that it would take some 32 bombs of 2,000 pounds each. And how could the American officials be certain that they had killed Bin Laden?
“It would have created a giant crater, and it wouldn’t have given us a body,” said one American intelligence official.
A helicopter assault emerged as the favored option. The Navy Seals team that would hit the ground began holding dry runs at training facilities on both American coasts, which were made up to resemble the compound. But they were not told who their target might be until later.
Last Thursday, the day after the president released his long-form birth certificate — such “silliness,” he told reporters, was distracting the country from more important things — Mr. Obama met again with his top national security officials.
Mr. Panetta told the group that the C.I.A. had “red-teamed” the case — shared their intelligence with other analysts who weren’t involved to see if they agreed that Bin Laden was probably in Abbottabad. They did. It was time to decide.
Around the table, the group went over and over the negative scenarios. There were long periods of silence, one aide said. And then, finally, Mr. Obama spoke: “I’m not going to tell you what my decision is now — I’m going to go back and think about it some more.” But he added, “I’m going to make a decision soon.”
Sixteen hours later, he had made up his mind. Early the next morning, four top aides were summoned to the White House Diplomatic Room. Before they could brief the president, he cut them off. “It’s a go,” he said.
During those first hours after the 9/11 attack, the murder of so many people who had never heard of Osama bin Laden, the destruction of the place where at least one public servant toiled in his first years as a professional age earner and who knew many who died that day, it was hard not to wonder whether the presidency had become less about protecting the country than the best platform from which to campaign for re-election, and for like minded people to be elected to serve in Congress.
Learning that, on that horrible day the president, indeed, was reading a book to schoolchildren in what has come to be called a “photo op” simply underscored that thought. After the national security adviser said nobody could have imagined what had happened, knowing that was either plainly false or our entire national security apparatus is made up of gum and tissues, could throw a person into hysterics.
You will recall I hope, the White House opposition to such a commission, its attempt to enlist former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger as its chair, only to have him resign when one of the victims’ wives, a lawyer, asked him whether he had any bin Laden clients, and then their attempt to prevent Ms. Rice’s testimony and the relase of the now famous memo.
But you may have missed or forgotten about this part of the commission’s final report:
we offer a reminder, and an explanation, of the one period in which the government as a whole seemed to be acting in concert to deal with terrorism-the last weeks of December 1999 preceding the millennium.
In the period between December 1999 and early January 2000, information about terrorism flowed widely and abundantly. The flow from the FBI was particularly remarkable because the FBI at other times shared almost no information. That from the intelligence community was also remarkable, because some of it reached officials-local airport managers and local police departments-who had not seen such information before and would not see it again before 9/11, if then. And the terrorist threat, in the United States even more than abroad, engaged the frequent attention of high officials in the executive branch and leaders in both houses of Congress.
Why was this so? Most obviously, it was because everyone was already on edge with the millennium and possible computer programming glitches (“Y2K”) that might obliterate records, shut down power and communication lines, or otherwise disrupt daily life. Then, Jordanian authorities arrested 16 al Qaeda terrorists planning a number of bombings in that country. Those in custody included two U.S. citizens. Soon after, an alert Customs agent caught Ahmed Ressam bringing explosives across the Canadian border with the apparent intention of blowing up Los Angeles airport. He was found to have confederates on both sides of the border.
Just as President Obama was required to explain that he was born in this country, President Clinton spent much of his presidency fighting off investigations and ultimately impeachment. President Clinton may have brought some of this on, but it can scarcely be doubted that this nonsense may have contributed to the loss of American lives. And, by the way, we need no photos to prove that bin Laden is dead. The President said so and the word of the President of the United States (at least of this President of the United States) ought to be sufficient at this point.
So, as it turns out, it is not something endemic to government that we cannot be protected from harm. As Rachel Maddow has observed more than once, when the government is run by people who disdain government, and think government is “the problem” it is simple for them to make what they believe to be so.
Hope the words don’t detract from the force of the photos.
We elected the right person in 2008. If you still have any doubts, listen to Rachel’s latest summary of what has been accomplished since then: