The Bush administration consistently ignored intelligence that was opposed to its ideological agenda in Iraq. About that, there now is little doubt.
The likelihood is increasing that the Bushites also may have ignored intelligence that could have prevented, or at least attenuated the attacks that killed nearly 3000 people, destroyed the World Trade Center towers, and poked holes in the Pentagon and Pennsylvania on Sept 11, 2001. Was the administration blinded by ideology in that case as well?
The answer to that question was one charge of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks; created last year to probe the Sept 11 attacks. But, according to a number of influential critics, the commission has been hampered by a lack of cooperation and commitment from the White House.
The bipartisan, 10-member commission was created to find reasons for the failures of intelligence and security that allowed the terrorist to wreak such spectacular havoc. Both the White House and key members of Congress initially resisted efforts to form such a commission.
They relented only under intense pressure from family members of those killed in the attacks. When he signed the commission into existence last Nov. 27, Bush said it "should carefully examine all the evidence and follow all the facts, wherever they lead."
Organized under the rubric of The Family Steering Committee, those family members now believe the administration is blocking the commission's attempt to follow the facts. "Unfortunately, the production of a timely report no longer seems to be possible, in large part because of the delays caused by the Bush administration and the agencies that report to it," the group said in a statement last week marking the commission's anniversary. The group is seeking an extension of the commission's May 27 deadline.
Two of the commission's five Democrats, Max Cleland, former Senator from Georgia and Tim Roemer, former Indiana Rep., agree with the family group. Both have complained about the commission's restricted access. Cleland said the Bush administration is trying to "slow walk" the commission into irrelevancy. The White House argues that turning over all of the documents the commission could compromise intelligence sources.
But many Americans are beginning to question the administration's preoccupation with secrecy. If the commission's job is to determine what went wrong in order to insure there is no repeat, they ask, then why is the administration hampering that task? Does it have something to hide?
Cleland suspects that an unfettered investigation may reveal the Bush administration was more anxious to use the 9/11 attacks to justify an Iraq invasion than to apprehend al Qaida, the alleged perpetrators. "They had a plan to go to war (with Iraq), and when 9/11 happened that's what they did; they went to war," Cleland told Salon's Eric Boehlert in a November 21 story.
The "they" to which Cleland refers is Asst. Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney, who crafted a draft policy paper in 1991 that among other things urged the overthrow of Saddam Hussein while both served in the administration of the previous President Bush.
Their arguments were dismissed as too combative at the time, but they (and an influential coterie of policy allies) continued making the case. Many of these same people organized themselves as the Project for the New American Century and, in a 1998 public letter, urged President Clinton to focus on ousting Iraq's Hussein. Clinton had another focus.
The 2000 victory of the Bush-Cheney administration gave these forces an inside track. Many members of the Project for the New American Century, or their ideological sympathizers, were appointed to key foreign policy slots within the Bush administration.
Cleland, a disabled vet who has become a vocal critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, is convinced the terrorist attacks were exploited to mobilize emotion for an invasion of Iraq. His argument is bolstered by the tendentious "evidence" the Bushites offered to justify the invasion.
Cleland voted to authorize the president's action while he was still a Senator, but it's a vote he deeply regrets. "I feel like I have been duped, I don't mind telling you," he told Boehlert. "Everybody in the administration was selling this used car. The problem is all the wheels have fallen off the car and we've got a lemon."
The White House's reluctance to cooperate with the 9/11 commission feeds a growing but largely unspoken suspicion that certain forces within the administration were willing to tolerate terrorist attacks if they provided a pretext for an Iraq invasion.
Alternative media are rife with such speculation. Some analysts liken the situation to the controversial allegation that President Franklin D. Roosevelt provoked the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor to jolt Americans out of their isolationist torpor and into World War II. Such speculation remains idle for now. Americans are reluctant to attribute that kind of duplicity to their chief executive; at least, not until after the fact.
But the White House's reticence is fueling suspicions they may want some questions about 9/11 to remain unanswered. One of those questions concerns the extent of warnings from outside sources, and a story about an extensive network of Israeli espionage agents that was caught spying in the U.S.
The news of an Israeli spy ring operating within the U.S. first broke into the mainstream through a four-part series on Fox News Channel from Dec 12-15, 2001. By late December, however, the story was removed from the Fox website and disappeared for several months. Because of renewed interest in the issue, the story has been reposted.
In introducing the piece two years ago, Fox News anchor Britt Hume said, "… Fox News has learned some U.S. investigators believe that there are Israelis again very much engaged in spying in and on the U.S., who may have known things they didn't tell us before September 11.
In the first story, reporter Carl Cameron said, "Since Sept. 11, more than 60 Israelis have been arrested or detained, either under the new Patriot anti-terrorism law, or for immigration violations." He reported that the detainees "failed polygraph questions" when asked if they were spies.
"There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9-11 attacks," Cameron continued, "but investigators suspect that the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are 'tie-ins.' " When Cameron asked details, the investigator said, "evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified."
Although the story virtually vanished in the mainstream after Cameron's series, it has been kept alive by a dogged reporter named John Sugg, who writes for an Atlanta-based alternative publication called Creative Loafing. Sugg obtained and published on-line a confidential 60-page Drug Enforcement Administration document that details the apparent spying by Israeli "art students" who tried to gain access to sensitive federal buildings, military bases and intelligence officials' homes.
The Forward, a New York-based Jewish publication, also has reported on the issue. In a March 15, 2002 story, the Forward referred to five Israeli employees of a New Jersey moving company (Urban Moving Systems) who were arrested after being observed celebrating the fall of the twin towers. The Forward reported, "the assessment (from a U.S. officials) was that Urban Moving Systems was a front for the Mossad and operatives employed by it."
The specifics of the story are clear, less clear are the implications. Investigators suspect, as reported in the Nov. 2, 2003 edition of the (Scotland) Sunday Herald, that Israeli intelligence had been shadowing the al-Qaeda hijackers throughout the Middle East, Europe and into America where they trained as pilots and made preparations for their audacious attack.
If the Israelis had preliminary knowledge of the September 11 attacks why would they not have informed U.S. officials? One motive would be to bind Israel and the U.S. together in mutual suffering. If Americans felt the collective pain of civilian deaths at the hands of terrorists, then Israel would have an unbreakable bond with the world's only superpower.
But according to the Fox News report, Israel's Mossad probably shared the information with U.S. officials. "There was a report that the Mossad did indeed send representatives to the U.S. to warn, just before 9/11, that a major terrorist attack was imminent," Hume intoned. Reporter Cameron said his sources told him, "the principal question is how they could have not known?"
Those are some of the questions that could be answered if the 9/11 commission had the access the president promised.
Salim Muwakkil can be reached at Salim4X@aol.com