TO COVER his smoldering flanks, President Bush said the Aug. 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Brief did not have "actionable" detail about impending Al Qaeda attacks. "There was not a time and place of an attack," Bush told reporters Sunday.
But Bush did admit there was new information. The brief, which was declassified over the weekend under pressure from the bipartisan commission investigating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, noted "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings and other types of attacks."
It said the FBI had 70 full-field investigations related to Osama bin Laden. It said one of the investigations included a call in May 2001 to the US Embassy in the United Arab Emirates saying bin Laden supporters inside the United States were planning attacks with explosives. There was a reminder of uncorroborated intelligence in 1998 that bin Laden wanted to hijack an American plane to force the release of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, imprisoned for terrorist plots in New York in the early 1990s.
A reporter asked Bush, "Wasn't that current threat information? That wasn't historical; that was ongoing."
Bush said, "Right," and then went right into implicitly blaming the FBI: "Had they found something, they would have reported it to me." He said the possibility of an airplane hijacking had nothing to do with turning them into missiles.
Bush said, "I am satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America -- at a time and a place." The next day, he added, "There was nothing in there that said, you know, there's an imminent attack."
Bush is satisfied, but his surreal attempt to plead ignorance should leave even less for Americans to be satisfied about.
Bush says he needed a time and a place of an imminent attack before acting against Al Qaeda.
This is the same Bush who spit at needing a time and place of an imminent attack before invading Iraq. In his January 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said: "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have the terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?"
Since when has an American president been so nakedly two-faced?
The same president who needed more information on Al Qaeda refused to wait for more information from Hans Blix and his United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq. That was because we know now that Bush's most imminent threat was Blix. There were no weapons of mass destruction and no active nuclear weapon manufacturing. The same president who heard outgoing national security adviser Sandy Berger and current Central Intelligence Agency chief George Tenet say early in 2001 that the top global threat to America was Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda did listen enough to tone down the rhetoric on bin Laden. According to an April 2001 Wall Street Journal story, counterterrorism officials were concerned that the Clinton administration "lionized" bin Laden into a "great white whale" who could easily use anti-American sentiment to recruit assailants. By design, according to the Journal, bin Laden disappeared from the lips of Bush and top White House officials.
This strategy was discarded on Iraq. The demonizing of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein never stopped. On Aug. 17, 2001, a week and a half after the Aug. 6 memo, the Defense Department put out a press release titled "From Hitler to Hussein: The Need for Ballistic Missile Defense." On Aug. 29, Bush gave a speech before veterans in which he said, "We are committed to defending America and our allies against ballistic missile attacks, against weapons of mass destruction held by rogue leaders in rogue nations that hate America." Saddam was obviously on Bush's mind. There was no hint that the Aug. 6 memo was.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fueled the Hussein/Hitler analogy even though Tenet had testified in February 2001 that despite serious concerns about the Iraqi dictator, "there are still important constraints on Saddam's power: The UN controls his oil revenues, his economic infrastructure is in long-term decline, and his ability to project power outside of Iraq's borders is severely limited. . . . His military is roughly half the size it was during the Gulf War."
Bush clearly did not stretch himself on the Aug. 6 memo. No evidence has yet been offered that he interrupted his summer vacation or called any meetings to consider its implications. The same Bush stretched Saddam's false threat to the point where seven out of 10 Americans believed Saddam played a role in 9/11.
Bush pleads ignorance on Al Qaeda. He pleads ignorance on Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. It will always be unclear whether a less ignorant Bush could have prevented 9/11. It is crystal clear that Bush's ignorant rush into Iraq has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. Bush is gambling that ignorance over intelligence is bliss. His use of ignorance is an insult to our intelligence.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.