Eleven years to the day after September 11 and more than seven years after the release of the government’s 9/11 Commission Report, newly public intelligence documents reveal just how much the George W. Bush White House knew in the lead-up to the attacks. In a New York Times op-ed, reporter Kurt Eichenwald writes of the presidential briefings that came before the well-known August 6 warning “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” concluding that “the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.” That included a warning from the CIA on May 1 that “a group presently in the United States” was planning to strike and one on June 22 that an attack could be “imminent.”
As the 9/11 Commission noted, “There were more than 40 intelligence articles in the PDBS [Presidential Daily Briefings] from January 21 to September 11 that related to Bin Laden.” In a section of the report called “The Drumbeat Begins,” the Commission highlights a late June briefing that alerts to the “high probability of near-term ‘spectacular’ terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties … including a ‘severe blow’ against U.S. and Israeli ‘interests’ during the next two weeks.” But whereas the Commission report describes the threat of attacks worldwide, Eichenwald’s exclusive intel specifically cites a domestic threat, one with “dramatic consequences.”
However, as Eichenwald writes, the administration was much more concerned with Iraq:
An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.
On June 29, the CIA insisted, “The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden.” Almost a month later, “the president did not feel the briefings on potential attacks were sufficient, one intelligence official told me, and instead asked for a broader analysis on Al Qaeda, its aspirations and its history. In response, the C.I.A. set to work on the Aug. 6 brief.”
This morning, leading the Bush loyalist response against these damning revelations, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted, “Disgusting op-ed in NYT by a truther implying Bush knew of 9-11/let it happen.” Eichenwald writes no such thing, nor does he imply it. His findings are frightening enough.