Clinton, 9/11 and the Facts
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Wednesday 30 August 2006
The fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks is less than two weeks away, but the avalanche has already begun. Oliver Stone's film "World Trade Center" has been advertised in all corners and is being screened across the nation. CNN has announced that it intends, on the 11th, to rebroadcast all of the coverage of the attacks from 8:30 a.m. until midnight. If you don't have cable, they say, you can watch it for free on the CNN web site.
ABC intends to mark the occasion in far more grand a fashion. Starting September 10th and ending September 11th, the network will show a miniseries titled "The Path to 9/11." According to reports from early screenings, the writer/producer of the miniseries, Cyrus Nowrasteh, has crafted a television polemic intended to blame the entire event on President Clinton.
Nowrasteh, an outspoken conservative of Persian descent whose family fled Iran after the fall of the Shah, spoke last year at the Liberty Film Festival, described by its founders as Hollywood's first conservative film festival. Govindini Murty, actress, writer, and co-director of the Liberty Film Festival, wrote a review of "The Path to 9/11" for the right-wing online news page FrontPageMag.com.
In the review, Murty states, "'The Path to 9/11' is one of the best, most intelligent, most pro-American miniseries I've ever seen on TV, and conservatives should support it and promote it as vigorously as possible. This is the first Hollywood production I've seen that honestly depicts how the Clinton administration repeatedly bungled the capture of Osama bin Laden."
FrontPageMag, it should be noted, held a symposium back in May to argue that the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which were never found despite being the main reason for invasion, were actually spirited out of Iraq by Russia on the eve of the 2003 attack. So it goes.
Leaving aside the wretched truth that the far right is once again using September 11 to score political points, the facts regarding the still-lingering effort to blame the Clinton administration for the attacks must be brought to the fore. Nowrasteh, at several points in his miniseries, rolls out a number of oft-debunked allegations that Clinton allowed Osama bin Laden to remain alive and free before the attacks.
Roger Cressy, National Security Council senior director for counterterrorism in the period 1999-2001, responded to these allegations in an article for the Washington Times in 2003. "Mr. Clinton approved every request made of him by the CIA and the U.S. military involving using force against bin Laden and al-Qaeda," wrote Cressy. "As President Bush well knows, bin Laden was and remains very good at staying hidden. The current administration faces many of the same challenges. Confusing the American people with misinformation and distortions will not generate the support we need to come together as a nation and defeat our terrorist enemies."
Measures taken by the Clinton administration to thwart international terrorism and bin Laden's network were historic, unprecedented and, sadly, not followed up on. Consider the steps offered by Clinton's 1996 omnibus anti-terror legislation, the pricetag for which stood at $1.097 billion. The following is a partial list of the initiatives offered by the Clinton anti-terrorism bill:
- Screen Checked Baggage: $91.1 million
- Screen Carry-On Baggage: $37.8 million
- Passenger Profiling: $10 million
- Screener Training: $5.3 million
- Screen Passengers (portals) and Document Scanners: $1 million
- Deploying Existing Technology to Inspect International Air Cargo: $31.4
- Provide Additional Air/Counterterrorism Security: $26.6 million
- Explosives Detection Training: $1.8 million
- Augment FAA Security Research: $20 million
- Customs Service: Explosives and Radiation Detection Equipment at Ports: $2.2 million
- Anti-Terrorism Assistance to Foreign Governments: $2 million
- Capacity to Collect and Assemble Explosives Data: $2.1 million
- Improve Domestic Intelligence: $38.9 million
- Critical Incident Response Teams for Post-Blast Deployment: $7.2 million
- Additional Security for Federal Facilities: $6.7 million
- Firefighter/Emergency Services Financial Assistance: $2.7 million
- Public Building and Museum Security: $7.3 million
- Improve Technology to Prevent Nuclear Smuggling: $8 million
- Critical Incident Response Facility: $2 million
- Counter-Terrorism Fund: $35 million
- Explosives Intelligence and Support Systems: $14.2 million
- Office of Emergency Preparedness: $5.8 million
The Clinton administration poured more than a billion dollars into counterterrorism activities across the entire spectrum of the intelligence community, into the protection of critical infrastructure, into massive federal stockpiling of antidotes and vaccines to prepare for a possible bioterror attack, into a reorganization of the intelligence community itself. Within the National Security Council, "threat meetings" were held three times a week to assess looming conspiracies. His National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, prepared a voluminous dossier on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, actively tracking them across the planet. Clinton raised the issue of terrorism in virtually every important speech he gave in the last three years of his tenure.
Clinton's dire public warnings about the threat posed by terrorism, and the actions taken to thwart it, went completely unreported by the media, which was far more concerned with stained dresses and baseless Drudge Report rumors. When the administration did act militarily against bin Laden and his terrorist network, the actions were dismissed by partisans within the media and Congress as scandalous "wag the dog" tactics. The news networks actually broadcast clips of the movie "Wag the Dog" while reporting on his warnings, to accentuate the idea that everything the administration said was contrived fakery.
In Congress, Clinton was thwarted by the reactionary conservative majority in virtually every attempt he made to pass legislation that would attack al-Qaeda and terrorism. His 1996 omnibus terror bill, which included many of the anti-terror measures we now take for granted after September 11, was withered almost to the point of uselessness by attacks from the right; Senators Jesse Helms and Trent Lott were openly dismissive of the threats Clinton spoke of.
Specifically, Clinton wanted to attack the financial underpinnings of the al-Qaeda network by banning American companies and individuals from dealing with foreign banks and financial institutions that al-Qaeda was using for its money-laundering operations. Texas Senator Phil Gramm, chairman of the Banking Committee, gutted the portions of Clinton's bill dealing with this matter, calling them "totalitarian."
In fact, Gramm was compelled to kill the bill because his most devoted patrons, the Enron Corporation and its criminal executives in Houston, were using those same terrorist financial networks to launder their own dirty money and rip off the Enron stockholders. It should also be noted that Gramm's wife, Wendy, sat on the Enron Board of Directors.
Just before departing office, Clinton managed to make a deal with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to have some twenty nations close tax havens used by al-Qaeda. His term ended before the deal was sealed, and the incoming Bush administration acted immediately to destroy the agreement.
According to Time magazine, in an article entitled "Banking on Secrecy" published in October of 2001, Bush economic advisors Larry Lindsey and R. Glenn Hubbard were urged by think tanks like the Center for Freedom and Prosperity to opt out of the coalition Clinton had formed. The conservative Heritage Foundation lobbied Bush's Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, to do the same.
In the end, the lobbyists got what they wanted, and the Bush administration pulled out of the plan. The Time article stated, "Without the world's financial superpower, the biggest effort in years to rid the world's financial system of dirty money was short-circuited."
ABC's miniseries skates right over this, and likewise refuses to address the myriad ways in which the Bush administration failed completely to defend this nation from attack. All the efforts put forth by the Clinton administration were cast aside when Bush took office, simply because they wanted nothing to do with the outgoing government. Condoleezza Rice, by her own admission, did not even bother to look at the massive compendium of al-Qaeda data compiled by Sandy Berger until the morning of September 11.
After the attacks, virtually every member of the Bush administration put forth the talking point that, "No one could have anticipated anyone using airplanes as bombs." The facts tell a different story.
In 1993, a $150,000 study was undertaken by the Pentagon to investigate the possibility of airplanes being used as bombs. A draft document of this was circulated throughout the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In 1994, a disgruntled Federal Express employee invaded the cockpit of a DC10 with the intention of crashing it into a company building. Again in 1994, a pilot crashed a small airplane into a tree on the White House grounds, narrowly missing the building itself. Also in 1994, an Air France flight was hijacked by members of a terrorist organization called the Armed Islamic Group, who intended to crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower.
The 1993 Pentagon report was followed up in September 1999 by a report titled "The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism." This report was prepared for the American intelligence community by the Federal Research Division, an adjunct of the Library of Congress. The report stated, "Suicide bombers belonging to Al Qaida's martyrdom battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA, or the White House."
Ramzi Yousef was one of the planners and participants in the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Yousef's right-hand man, Abdul Hakim Murad, was captured and interrogated in 1995. During that interrogation, Murad described a detailed plot to hijack airplanes and use them as weapons of terrorism. The primary plan was to commandeer eleven commercial planes and blow them up over the Pacific Ocean. The secondary plan was to hijack several planes, which would be flown into CIA headquarters, the World Trade Center, the Sears Tower, the White House and a variety of other targets.
Ramzi Yousef eluded capture until his final apprehension in Pakistan. During his 1997 trial, the plot described by Murad resurfaced. FBI agents testified in the Yousef trial that, "The plan targeted not only the CIA, but other U.S. government buildings in Washington, including the Pentagon."
Abdul Hakim Murad described plans to use hijacked commercial airplanes as weapons in 1995. Ramzi Yousef's trial further exposed the existence of these plans in 1997. Two reports prepared by the American government, one from 1993 and another from 1999, further detailed again the existence and danger of these plots. The Federal Express employee's hijacking attempt in 1994, the attempted airplane attack on the White House in 1994, and the hijacking of the Air France flight in 1994 by terrorists intending to fly the plane into the Eiffel Tower provided a glaring underscore to the data.
This data served to underscore the efforts made by the Clinton administration to combat international terrorism and attacks against the United States. Unfortunately, the data and the work that inspired it was not followed up on.
A mission statement from the internal FBI Strategic Plan, dated 5/8/98, describes the FBI's Tier One priority as 'counterterrorism.' The FBI, under the Clinton administration, was making counterterrorism its highest priority. The official annual budget goals memo from Attorney General Janet Reno to department heads, dated 4/6/2000, detailed how counterterrorism was her top priority for the Department of Justice. In the second paragraph, she states, "In the near term as well as the future, cybercrime and counterterrorism are going to be the most challenging threats in the criminal justice area. Nowhere is the need for an up-to-date human and technical infrastructure more critical."
Contrast this with the official annual budget goals memo from Attorney General John Ashcroft, dated 5/10/2001. Out of seven strategic goals described, not one mentions counterterrorism. An internal draft of the Department of Justice's plans to revamp the official DoJ Strategic Plan, dated 8/9/2001, describes Ashcroft's new priorities. The areas Ashcroft wished to focus on were highlighted in yellow. Specifically highlighted by Ashcroft were domestic violent crime and drug trafficking prevention. Item 1.3, entitled "Combat terrorist activities by developing maximum intelligence and investigative capability," was not highlighted.
There is the internal FBI budget request for 2003 to the Department of Justice, dated late August 2001. This was not the FBI's total budget request, but was instead restricted only to the areas where the FBI specifically requested increases over the previous year's budget. In this request, the FBI specifically asked for, among other things, 54 translators to transcribe the backlog of intelligence gathered, 248 counterterrorism agents and support staff, and 200 professional intelligence researchers. The FBI had repeatedly stated that it had a serious backlog of intelligence data it has gathered, but could not process the data because it did not have the staff to analyze or translate it into usable information. Again, this was August 2001.
The official Department of Justice budget request from Attorney General Ashcroft to OMB Director Mitch Daniels is dated September 10, 2001. This document specifically highlights only the programs slated for above-baseline increases or below-baseline cuts. Ashcroft outlined the programs he was trying to cut. Specifically, Ashcroft was planning to ignore the FBI's specific requests for more translators, counterintelligence agents and researchers. It additionally shows Ashcroft was trying to cut funding for counterterrorism efforts, grants and other homeland defense programs before the 9/11 attacks.
Along with these new priorities, which demoted terrorism significantly, there were the warnings delivered to the Bush administration about potential attacks against the United States. Newspapers in Germany, France, Russia and London reported in the months before September 11th a blizzard of warnings delivered to the Bush administration from a number of allies.
The German intelligence service, BND, warned American and Israeli agencies that terrorists were planning to hijack commercial aircraft and use them as weapons to attack important American targets. Egypt warned of a similar plot to use airplanes to attack Bush during the G-8 summit in Genoa in June of 2001. This warning was taken so seriously that anti-aircraft missiles were deployed around Columbus Airport in Italy.
In August of 2001, Russian intelligence services notified the CIA that 25 terrorist pilots had been trained for suicide missions, and Putin himself confirmed that this warning was delivered "in the strongest possible terms," specifically regarding threats to airports and government buildings.
In that same month, the Israeli security agency Mossad issued a warning to both the FBI and the CIA that up to 200 bin Laden followers were planning a major assault on America, aimed at vulnerable targets. The Los Angeles Times later confirmed via unnamed US officials that the Mossad warnings had been received.
On August 6, 2001, George W. Bush received his Presidential Daily Briefing. The briefing described active plots to attack the United States by Osama bin Laden. The word "hijacking" appeared in that briefing. Bush reacted to this warning by continuing with his month-long vacation in Texas.
Richard Clarke, former Director of Counter-Terrorism for the National Security Council, has worked on the terrorist threat for the Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, and Bush Jr. administrations, amassing a peerless resume in the field. He became a central figure in the commission investigating the September 11 attacks. Clarke has laid bare an ugly truth: The administration of George W. Bush did not consider terrorism or the threat of al-Qaeda to be a priority prior to the attacks.
Clarke, along with former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who as a member of the National Security Council was privy to military strategy meetings, indicated that the Bush administration was obsessed with an invasion of Iraq from the day it arrived in Washington. This obsession continued even after the attacks, despite the fact that the entire intelligence community flatly declared that Iraq was not involved.
Five years later, the questions surrounding what exactly happened on September 11, and why they were allowed to happen, remain unsettled. A recent national poll conducted by Scripps Howard/Ohio University states that more than one third of Americans believe that Bush's government either actively assisted in the 9/11 attacks, or allowed them to happen so as to create a justification for war in the Middle East.
The New York Post, reporting on this poll, stated, "Widespread resentment and alienation toward the national government appears to be fueling a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories about the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Seventy percent of people who give credence to these theories also say they've become angrier with the federal government than they used to be."
"Thirty-six percent of respondents overall," continued the Post, "said it is 'very likely' or 'somewhat likely' that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them 'because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.' 'One out of three sounds high, but that may very well be right,' said Lee Hamilton, former vice chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also called the 9/11 Commission). His Congressionally-appointed investigation concluded that federal officials bungled their attempts to prevent, but did not participate in, the attacks by al-Qaeda five years ago. 'A lot of people I've encountered believe the U.S. government was involved," Hamilton said. 'Many say the government planned the whole thing.'"
The passage of time will, in all likelihood, finally expose the truth behind exactly what happened on September 11, and why. Until the moment of final revelation comes, however, we are all best served by a systematic analysis of the facts surrounding that dark day. Efforts such as this ABC miniseries to use 9/11 as a partisan club should be shunned, and hard data should be highlighted instead.
Back in 2003, CBS was forced to pull its miniseries "The Reagans," after conservative groups lambasted the network for crossing the line into advocacy against the Reagan administration. A similar effort should perhaps be undertaken to compel ABC to pull "The Path to 9/11." At no time should a conservative producer with an anti-Clinton axe to grind be allowed to use public airwaves to broadcast a rank distortion of the truth, especially on the anniversary of the worst day in our history.