Don't know about you, but all this who-knew-what-when pre-9/11 stuff is
mighty confusing. So once again, I head to that all-purpose reference series
for some comprehensible answers.
Q. I've heard all these reports about the government knowing weeks and months
in advance of 9/11 that airliners were going to be hijacked and flown into
buildings, and yet the Bush Administration apparently did nothing and denied
they did anything wrong. They claimed the fault lay in the intelligence
agencies "not connecting the dots," or that it was the "FBI culture" that
failed. Can you explain?
A. Most of the "it's-the-fault-of-the-system" spin is designed to deflect
attention from the real situation. Bush and his spokesmen may well be correct
in saying they had no idea as to the specifics -- they may not have known the
exact details of the attacks -- but it is more and more apparent that they
knew a great deal more than they're letting on, including the possible
Q. You're not just going leave that hanging out there, are you? Just bash
Bush with no evidence to back it up?
A. There's no need to bash anybody. There is more than enough documentation
to establish that the Bush Administration was fully aware that a major attack
was coming from Al-Qaeda, by air, aimed at symbolic structures on the U.S.
mainland, and that among mentioned targets were the World Trade Center, the
Pentagon, the White House, the Congress, Statue of Liberty. (According to
Richard Clarke, the White House's National Coordinator for Anti-Terrorism,
the intelligence community was convinced ten weeks before 9/11 that an
Al-Qaeda attack on U.S. soil was imminent.)
Q. If they knew in advance that the, or at least an, attack was coming, why
did the Bush Administration do nothing to prepare the country in advance: get
photos of suspected terrorists out to airlines, have fighter jets put on
emergency-standby status or even in the air as deterrents, get word out to the
border police to stop these "watch-list" terrorists, put surface-to-air
missiles around the White House and Pentagon, etc.?
A. The explanation preferred by the government is to admit, eight months
late, to absolute and horrendous incompetence, up and down the line (although
Bush&Co., surprise!, prefer to focus the blame lower down, letting the FBI be
the fall guy). But let's try an alternate explanation. Think about it for a
moment. If their key goal was to mobilize the country behind the Bush
Administration, get their political/business agenda through, have a reason to
move unilaterally around the globe, and defang the Democrats and other critics
at home -- what better way to do all that than to have Bush be the
take-charge leader after a diabolic "sneak attack"?
Q. You're suggesting the ultimate cynical stratagem, purely for political
ends. I can't believe that Bush and his cronies are that venal. Isn't it
possible that the whole intelligence apparatus just blew it?
A. Possible, but not bloody likely. There certainly is enough blame to spread
around, but the evidence indicates that Bush and his closest aides knew that
bin Laden was planning a direct attack on the U.S. Mainland -- using
airplanes headed for those icon targets -- and, in order to get the country
to move in the direction he wanted, he kept silent.
Q. But if that's true, what you've described is utterly indefensible, putting
policy ahead of American citizens' lives.
A. Now are you beginning to understand why Bush&Co. are fighting so
tenaciously against a blue-ribbon commission of inquiry, and why Bush and
Cheney went to Congressional leaders and asked them not to investigate the
pre-9/11 period? Now do you understand why they are trying so desperately to
keep everything secret, tightly locked up in the White House, only letting
drips and drabs get out when there is no other way to avoid Congressional
subpoenas or court-ordered disclosures? They know that if one thread of the
cover-up unravels, more of their darkest secrets will follow.
Q. You're sounding like a conspiracy nut.
A. For years, we've avoided thinking in those terms, because so many
so-called "conspiracies" exist only in someone's fevered imagination. Plus,
to think along these lines in this case is depressing, suggesting that
American democracy can be so easily manipulated and distorted by a cabal of
the greedy and power-hungry. But I'm afraid that's where the evidence leads.
Q. You mean there's proof of Bush complicity in 9/11 locked up in the White
A. We wouldn't use the term complicity. So far as we now know, Bush did not
order or otherwise arrange for Al-Qaeda's attacks on September 11. But once
the attacks happened, the plans Bush&Co. already had drawn up for taking
advantage of the tragedy were implemented. A frightened, terrorist-obsessed
nation did not realize they'd been the object of another assault, this time
by those occupying the White House.
Q. This is startling, and revolting. But I refuse to jump on the conspiracy
bandwagon until I see some proof. Bush says he first heard about a "lone"
pre-9/11 warning on August 6, and that it was vague and dealt with possible
attacks outside the U.S. Why can't we believe him? After all, the FBI and
CIA are notorious for their incompetence and bungling. You got a better
version that makes sense, I'd love to hear it.
A. Bush and his spinners want us to concentrate on who knew what detail when;
it's the old magician's trick of getting you to look elsewhere while he's
doing his prestidigitation. We're not talking about a little clue here and
another little clue there, or an FBI memo that wasn't shared. We're talking
about long-range planning and analysis of what strategic-intelligence
agencies and high-level commissions and geopolitical thinkers around the
globe -- including those inside the U.S. -- saw for years before 9/11 as
likely scenarios in an age of terrorist attacks.
The conclusion about Al-Qaeda, stated again and again for years by government
analysts, was basically: "They're coming, by air. Get prepared. They're
well-organized, determined, and technically adept. And they want to hit big
targets, well-known symbols of America." (There was a 1999 U.S. government
study, for example, that pointed out that Al-Qaeda suicide-bombers wanted to
crash aircraft into a number of significant Washington targets; during the 199 5 trial of Ramsi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center
bombing, he revealed plans to dive-bomb a plane into CIA headquarters, and
earlier he had told FBI agents that the list was expanded to include the
Pentagon and other D.C. targets.)
Elements in the FBI, all over the country, who suspected what was coming,
were clamoring, begging, for more agents to be used for counter-terrorism
investigations, but were turned down by Attorney General Ashcroft; Ashcroft
also gave counter-terrorism short shrift in his budget plans, not even
placing anti-terrorism on his priority list; John O'Neill, the FBI's NYC
antiterrorism director, resigned, asserting that his attempts at full-scale
investigating were being thwarted by higher-ups; someone in the FBI, perhaps
on orders of someone higher-up, made sure that the local FBI investigation in
Minneapolis of Zacaria Moussauoi was compromised. All this while Ashcroft was
shredding the Constitution in his martial law-like desire to amass
information, and continues even now to further expand his police-state powers.
(Note: An FBI agent has filed official complaints over the bureau's
interfering with antiterrorism investigations; his lawyers include David
Schippers, who worked for the GOP side in the Clinton impeachment effort;
Schippers says the agent knew in May 2001 that "an attack on lower Manhattan
was imminent." A former FBI official said: "I don't buy the idea that we
didn't know what was coming...Within 24 hours [of the attack], the Bureau had
about 20 people identified, and photos were sent out to the news media.
Obviously this information was available in the files and someone was sitting
One can accept the usual incompetency in intelligence collection and analysis
from, say, an anti-terrorist desk officer at the FBI, but not from the
highest levels of national defense and intelligence in and around the
President, where his spokesman, in a bald-faced lie, told the world that the
9/11 attacks came with "no warning." More recently, National Security Advisor
Condoleezza Rice, in a quavering voice, tried to characterize the many
warnings as mere "chatter," and concerned attacks "outside the U.S." But the
many warning-reports focused on terrorist attacks both inside and outside the
United States; the August 6th briefing dealt with planned attacks IN the
Not only were there clear warnings from allies abroad, but the U.S., through
its ECHELON and other electronic-intercept programs, may well have broken bin
Laden's encryption code; for example, the U.S. knew that he told his mother
on September 9: "In two days you're going to hear big news, and you're not
going to hear from me for a while".
And, the word of an impending attack was getting out: put options (hedges
that a stock's price is going to fall) in enormous quantities were being
bought on United Airlines and American Airlines stock, the two carriers of
the hijackers, as early as September 7; San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was
warned by "an airport security man" on September 10 to rethink his flight to
New York for the next day; Newsweek reported that on September 10, "a group
of top Pentagon officials suddenly canceled travel plans for the next
morning, apparently because of security concerns"; many members of a Bronx
mosque were also warned to stay out of lower Manhattan on September 11, etc.
Q. You're giving me intriguing bits and pieces. Can't you tie it all together
and make it make sense?
A. OK, you asked for it, so we're going to provide you with a kind of
shorthand scenario of what may well have gone down, a kind of narrative that
attempts to tie a lot of disparate-seeming events together. There is
voluminous, multi-sourced evidence that establishes this scenario. It's
scary, so prepare yourself.
We believe that the HardRight began serious planning for a 2000 electoral
victory -- and then implementation of a HardRight agenda, and the destruction
of a liberal opposition -- a year or two after Clinton's 1996 victory. (The
impeachment of Clinton was a key ingredient to sully Democrat opposition.)
The GOP HardRight leaders decided early to select George W. Bush, a
none-too-bright and easily malleable young man with the right name and
pedigree. They ran into a speed-bump when John McCain began to take off in
the public imagination, and so with dirty tricks they wrecked his campaign in
the South and elsewhere, and continued on their merry course.
For a while, they fully expected an easy victory over dull Al Gore, tainted
goods for a lot of conservative Republicans and others because of his
association with Clinton, but, given the obvious limitations of their
candidate, they weren't going to take a lot of chances. In Florida, for
example, where it looked as if the race might be tight, they early on
arranged things -- through Bush's governor-brother Jeb, and the Bush
campaign's Katherine Harris, Florida's Secretary of State -- so that George
W. couldn't lose. An example: removing tens of thousands of eligible
African-American voters from the rolls.
As it turned out, Gore won the popular vote by more than a half-million votes
nationwide, and, we now know, would have won Florida's popular vote had all
the ballots been counted, but the U.S. Supreme Court HardRight majority,
despite its longtime support for states' rights, in a bit of ethical
contortionism did a philosophical reverse in midair and ordered the Florida
vote-counting to stop and declared Bush the winner, installing a President
rather than letting the people decide for themselves.
Q. That's ancient history. I'm interested in 9/11, not tearing at an old
A. OK. We're merely trying to indicate that the HardRight's campaign to take
power was not an overnight, post-9/11 whim but worked out long in advance.
After so many near-chances to take total control, they would do anything to
guarantee a presidential victory this time around -- which would give them
full control over the reins of power: Legislature (where HardRightists
dominated the House and Senate), the Courts (where the HardRight dominated
the U.S. Supreme Court and many appellate courts), and the Executive branch,
not to mention the HardRight media control they exerted in so many areas.
They had followed the news, they knew that the Al-Qaeda terrorist network was
engaged in a maniacal jihad against America, and was quite capable -- as they
had demonstrated on many occasions, from Saudia Arabia to East Africa to the
first attempt on the World Trade Center -- of carrying out their threats.
They also knew, from innumerable intelligence reports from telecommunications
intercepts, and from various commissions, CIA and foreign agents that
Al-Qaeda liked to blow up symbolic icon structures of countries targeted, and
that Al-Qaeda, and its affiliates, had an affinity for trying to use
airplanes as psychological or actual weapons. (The French had foiled one such
attack in 1994, where a hijacked commercial airliner would be flown into the
By early 2001 and into the Summer, warnings were pouring in to U.S.
intelligence and military agencies from Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia,
Israel, and other Middle East and South Asian intelligence sources, along
with Russia and Britain and the Philippines, saying that a major attack on
the U.S. Mainland was in the works, involving the use of airplanes as weapons
of mass destruction.
Indeed, in June and July of 2001, the alerts started to be explicit that air
attacks were about to go down in the U.S.; even local FBI offices in Phoenix
and Minneapolis began passing warnings up the line about Middle Eastern men
acting suspiciously at flight schools. In July, Ashcroft stopped flying on
commercial airliners and traveled only by private plane, and Bush, after but
a few months in office, announced he was going to ground, spending the month
of August on his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Cheney disappeared from view, and
our guess is that he was coordinating the overall, post-attack strategy.
Under this scenario, in mid-Summer 2001, Bush&Co. decided this was it. Bin
Laden unknowingly was going to deliver them the gift of terrorism, and they
were going to run with it as far and as fast and as hard as they could. The
various post-attack scenarios had been worked out, the so-called USA Patriot
Act -- which contained various police-state eviscerations of the Constitution
-- was polished and prepared for a rush-job (with no hearings) through a
post-attack Congress, the war plans against the Taliban in Afghanistan were
readied and rolled out, the air-base countries around Afghanistan were
brought onboard, and so on. All during the Summer of 2001.
Q. I don't understand how war against Afghanistan could have been anticipated
A. Follow the money. Various oil/gas/energy companies had wanted a Central
Asian pipeline to run through Afghanistan (costing much less to build, but
also so it wouldn't have to go through Russia or Iran); that project was put
on hold during the chaos in Afghanistan, but when the Taliban took over and
brought stability to that country, the U.S. began negotiating with the
Taliban about the pipeline deal. Even after sending them, via the United
Nations, $43 million dollars for "poppy-seed eradication," and inviting them
to talks in Texas, the Taliban began to balk. At a later meeting, the U.S.
negotiator threatened them with an attack unless they handed over bin Laden
and reportedly told them, in reference to the pipeline, that they could
accept "a carpet of gold" or be buried in "a carpet of bombs." (The later
U.S. Government spin was that the bin Laden issue and the pipeline issues
were separate, and that the U.S. threats didn't mix the two and there were
misunderstandings of what was said.) Shortly thereafter, bin Laden, hiding
out in Afghanistan, initiated the September 11th attacks, and the U.S.
bombing of that country began. Oh, by the way, in case you haven't noticed,
under the new U.S.-friendly government in Kabul, the pipeline project is back
on track. Oh, by the way, the pipeline will terminate reasonably close to the
power plant in India built by Enron that has been lying dormant for years,
waiting for cheap energy supplies.
Q. You're saying that U.S. war and foreign policy have been dictated by greed?
A. Among other pleasant motivations, such as hunger for domination and
control, domestically and around the globe -- which always ties in with
greed. That's why Bush&Co. play such political and military hardball. That's
why the arrogant, take-no-prisoners, in-your-face attitude, to bully and
frighten potential opponents into silence and acquiescence, even questioning
their patriotism if they demur or raise embarrassing issues.
Q. But this is a democracy, people are still speaking their minds, right?
A. Certainly, there are areas of America's democratic republic that have not
yet been shut down. But where there should be a vibrant opposition party,
raising all sorts of questions about Bush Administration policy and plans,
America receives mostly silence and timidity. However, as more and more of
the ugly truth begins to emerge -- and Enron, Anthrax, and pre-9/11 knowledge
are just the tips of the iceberg -- the Democrats (and moderate Republicans)
are beginning to feel a bit more emboldened. But just a bit, preferring to
run for cover whenever Bush&Co. accuse them of being unpatriotic when they
raise pointed questions.
Q. You're so critical and negative about the Bush Administration. Can't you
say anything good about what they're doing?
A. Yes. They have moved terrorism -- the new face of warfare in our time --
front and center into the world's consciousness, and have mobilized a global
coalition against it. They may be making mistakes, which could lead to
horrifying consequences, or acting at times out of impure motives, but at
least the issue is out there and being debated and acted upon.
Now, having said that, we must point out that the institutions in this
country -- the Constitution, the courts, the legislative bodies, civil
liberties, the Bill of Rights, the press, etc. -- are in as much danger as
they've ever been in. And the U.S.'s bullying attitude abroad may well lead
to disastrous consequences for America down the line.
Q. So, what's to be done?
A. The most important thing at the moment -- even, or especially when, the
inevitable next terrorist attack occurs -- is to break the illusion of
Bush&Co. invulnerability. The best way to do that, aside from ratcheting up
the Enron and Anthrax and 9/11 investigations (and it may turn out that those
scandals are deeply intertwined), is to defeat GOP candidates in the upcoming
November elections. If the Democrats hang on to the Senate and can take over
the House, the dream of unchallengable HardRight power will be broken.
Bush&Co. will become even more desperate, overt, nasty, and in their
arrogance and bullying ways, will make more mistakes and alienate more
citizens. The edifice will begin to crumble even more; there will be more and
deeper Congressional and media investigations; resignations and/or
impeachments (of both Bush & Cheney, and Ashcroft) may well follow.
Q. You're asking me to support ALL Democrats, even though in a particular
race a moderate GOP conservative would be better?
A. Yes. In some cases, you may have to hold your nose and send money to,
canvass for, and vote for a Democrat; we can get rid of the bad ones later.
The objective right now -- for the future of the Constitution, and for the
lives of our soldiers in uniform and civilians around the globe -- has to be
to break the momentum of the HardRight by taking the House and keeping the
Senate from returning to GOP control. Doing so would be even more important
than what happened when that courageous senator from Vermont, Jim Jeffords,
appalled by the HardRight nastiness and greed-agenda of the Bush folks,
resigned from the GOP and turned the Senate agenda over to the Democrats.
Q. And you think if the GOP gets its nose bloodied in the November election,
that will convince Bush to resign or lead to his impeachment? I don't get
A. Churchill once told the Brits during World War II that "this is not the
beginning of the end, but it is the beginning of the beginning of the end."
There is a lot of hard work and organizing and educating to be done, but the
recent exposure of Bush coverup-lies about pre-9/11 knowledge is "the
beginning of the beginning of the end." With a GOP defeat in November,
Democrats will be emboldened to speak up more, investigate deeper, and those
inquiries will unlock even more awful secrets of this greed-and-powerhungry
administration. And that will be the beginning of the end -- and the
beginning of the beginning of a new era of more humane values for America and
the rest of the world.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught American government & international
relations at Western Washington University and San Diego State University; he
was with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years, and has published
in The Nation, Village Voice, The Progressive, Northwest Passage and widely
on the internet.