Sunday, March 09, 2008

Condi - National Security Failure?

By Cernig

Related to the last post, there's another vast body of Literature about 9/11 which almost entirely falls into the "blame, exposed" category. Unlike books on the Iraq invasion, this genre hasn't really evolved a "blame someone else" sub-genre unless one counts a few vocal conservative assertions that somehow Bill Clinton was to blame for not killing Bin Laden sooner - something that the Bush administration has singularly failed to do since and which would probably have only meant Al Qaeda had a different figurehead at the time of 9/11 in any case.

But the Sidney Morning Herald has a noteworthy extract from "The Commission - The Uncensored History Of The 9/11 Investigation" by Philip Shenon which mostly blames Condi Rice in an "exposed" look inside what the 9/11 Commission was determined to play down. The extract focusses on briefings catalogued by 9/11 Commission investigators.
It was especially troubling for Hurley's team to realise how many of the warnings were directed to the desk of one person: Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser. Emails from the National Security Council's counter-terrorism director, Richard Clarke, showed that he had bombarded Rice with messages about terrorist threats. He was trying to get her to focus on the intelligence she should have been reading each morning in the presidential and senior briefings

"Bin Ladin Public Profile May Presage Attack" (May 3)

"Terrorist Groups Said Co-operating on US Hostage Plot" (May 23)

"Bin Ladin's Networks' Plans Advancing" (May 26)

"Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent"

(June 23)

"Bin Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats" (June 25)

"Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile

Attacks" (June 30),

"Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays" (July 2)

Other parts of the Government did respond aggressively and appropriately to the threats, including the Pentagon and the State Department. On June 21, the US Central Command, which controls American military forces in the Persian Gulf, went to "delta" alert - its highest level - for American troops in six countries in the region. The American embassy in Yemen was closed for part of the summer; other embassies in the Middle East closed for shorter periods.

But what had Rice done at the NSC? If the NSC files were complete, the commission's historian Warren Bass and the others could see, she had asked Clarke to conduct inter- agency meetings at the White House with domestic agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI, to keep them alert to the possibility of a domestic terrorist strike.

She had not attended the meetings herself.
And on her utter denial of the nature of the threat as revealed in those briefings and as acted upon by some branches of the administration.
Asked if September 11 didn't represent an intelligence failure by the Administration, she replied almost testily: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Centre, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon - that they would try to use an airplane as a missile."

Rice's news conference came eight months after the attacks. Yet she was suggesting that in all that time, no one had bothered to tell her that there were indeed several reports prepared within the CIA, the aviation administration, and elsewhere in the Government about the threat of planes as missiles.

Had no one told her in all those months that the Department of Defence had conducted drills for the possibility of a plane-as-missile attack on the Pentagon? Had she forgotten that when she and Bush attended the G8 summit in Italy in July 2001, the airspace was closed because of the threat of an aerial suicide attack by al-Qaeda?
In detail, Shenon's book can doubtless be used as a "blame someone else" opus by other members of the Bush administration who had exactly the same knowledge and exactly the same duty to do something with the knowledge. In that respect at least, it plays well into the hands of neoconservatives who have tried to blame Rice for all the major failings of the Bush administration in foreign policy and the "war on terror". There's little doubt that Condi could and should have done more with the briefings she was given - but that shouldn't detract from the fact that other administration officials - Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfield, Tenet and several others - had identical briefings and didn't bypass the then head of the NSC to insist directly to Bush on appropriate action. Like her, they apparently knew and did nothing.

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