In an op-ed appearing in Tuesday's New York Times, Kurt Eichenwald, a former staff reporter for the paper and now contributing editor at Vanity Fair, previews revelations from his soon-to-be published book that claims President George W. Bush and his top intelligent advisers were privy to a series of stark warnings about an impending Al Qaeda operation in the months leading up to the attack.
The warnings, says Eichenwald, go beyond the now famous August 6, 2001 terrorism briefing, revealed during hearings of the 9/11 Commission in 2004, that read: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US”.
Eichenwald reports that a series of earlier briefings put the August 6th memo in its proper context and, if released, would prove that Bush had a much more substantial warning that a terrorist attack was imminent or likely. "In other words," Eichenwald writes, "the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it."
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.
But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. 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.
In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.
“The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,” the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack...
Claiming that Bush's refusal to act created an "apoplectic" response by CIA officials at the Counterterrorism Center, Eichenwald says that some officials contemplated transfers out of the unit so that they would not be blamed for the disaster they foresaw.
Eichenbald's new book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, which chronicles the "misbegotten policies—torture, military tribunals, and the rush toward the Iraq War" that occurred in the aftermath of 9/11. His revelatory op-ed in the Times makes no ultimate claim that Bush could have foreseen all the details of the impending attack, but does argue that "throughout [the] summer, there were events that might have exposed the plans, had the government been on high alert."
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