Monday, April 12, 2004

The incompetence coverup

The astonishing mendacity of the Bush administration regarding the ample warnings of impending terrorist attacks in the summer of 2001 -- and its subsequent failures to act in any substantive way on those warnings -- is perhaps understandable. After all, the situation reveals, as noted previously, the Bush team's grotesque incompetence.

Numerous bloggers have already weighed in on the blatant lying engaged in not merely by Condoleezza Rice, but George Bush himself, over the weekend. Daily Kos has a handy summary, including a link to David Sirota's excellent takedown.

Another problem with Rice's testimony popped up recently in this Newsday report, which found that other of Rice's claims before the 9/11 commission were on shaky ground, factually speaking:
Rice, testifying before the Sept. 11 commission Thursday, said that those 70 investigations were mentioned in a CIA briefing to the president and satisfied the White House that the FBI was doing its job in response to dire warnings that attacks were imminent and that the administration felt it had no need to act further.

But the FBI Friday said that those investigations were not limited to al-Qaida and did not focus on al-Qaida cells. FBI spokesman Ed Coggswell said the bureau was trying to determine how the number 70 got into the report.

... [Rice] said the briefing memo disclosed that the FBI had 70 "full-field investigations under way of cells" in the United States. And that, Rice said, explained why "there was no recommendation [coming from the White House] that we do something about" the flurry of threat warnings in the months preceding the attacks.

But Coggswell Friday said that those 70 investigations involved a number of international terrorist organizations, not just al-Qaida. He said that many were criminal investigations, which terrorism experts say are not likely to focus on preventing terrorist acts. And he said he would "not characterize" the targets of the investigations as cells, or groups acting in concert, as was the case with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

In addition to these investigations, Rice told the panel that FBI headquarters, reacting to alarming but vague intelligence in the spring and summer of 2001 that attacks were imminent, "tasked all 56 of its U.S. field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists" and to contact informants who might provide leads.

That, too, is news to the field offices. Commissioner Timothy J. Roemer told Rice that the commission had "to date ... found nobody, nobody at the FBI, who knows anything about a tasking of field offices." Even Thomas Pickard, at the time acting FBI director, told the panel that he "did not tell the field offices to do this," Roemer said.

But that's not all. It seems the August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing that has become the focus of the current controversy was not the only significant warning the administration received.

A year-old Newsweek "Web exclusive" by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball contained the following nugget, conveniently buried near the end:
Some sources who have read the still-secret congressional report say some sections would not play quite so neatly into White House plans. One portion deals extensively with the stream of U.S. intelligence-agency reports in the summer of 2001 suggesting that Al Qaeda was planning an upcoming attack against the United States -- and implicitly raises questions about how Bush and his top aides responded. One such CIA briefing, in July 2001, was particularly chilling and prophetic. It predicted that Osama bin Laden was about to launch a terrorist strike "in the coming weeks," the congressional investigators found. The intelligence briefing went on to say: "The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning."

What's particularly noteworthy about this is the way the document was classified:
The substance of that intelligence report was first disclosed at a public hearing last September by staff director Hill. But at the last minute, Hill was blocked from saying precisely who within the Bush White House got the briefing when CIA director Tenet classified the names of the recipients. (One source says the recipients of the briefing included Bush himself.) As a result, Hill was only able to say the briefing was given to "senior government officials."

This reeks of cover-up. The common reason for classifying a document, or portions thereof, is to protect the identity of sources of intelligence information, not the recipients.

As Mark Crispin Miller (who sent this item along) points out:
Some recipients of the briefing could have been low-visibility CIA people, and it would be appropriate to shield them. However, with regard to the White House, the identity and government role of all recipients would be well-known. Therefore, Tenet's classification of all the names of recipients would be a clear case of politicizing the classification process, if White House personnel or Bush were recipients of the briefing, as they should have been.

At this point, only the willfully self-blinded or the spectacularly dumb should unable to see what's going on here. Unfortunately, that seems to include nearly every self-described conservative.

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