As we noted a couple of weeks ago, when George W. Bush said that nobody “anticipated the breach of the levees” in New Orleans, he was speaking about as truthfully as Condoleezza Rice had when she said that no one “could have predicted” that someone would use a “hijacked airplane as a missile.” Experts had been warning for years that the levees around New Orleans couldn’t withstand a storm, and the FAA had warned airports, long before 9/11, that terrorists might hijack an airplane and try to use it as a weapon.
This morning, we’re getting new details about what the government knew before 9/11 — and thus, the extent to which Rice dissembled when she said that no one could have predicted it. The 9/11 Commission finished its report on aviation failures in August 2004, but the Bush administration has blocked its release. Earlier this year — which is to say, after the presidential election — the White House allowed the commission to release a highly redacted version of its aviation report. It revealed that the Federal Aviation Administration warned airports in the spring of 2001 about the possibility that terrorists might hijack a plane in order to “commit suicide in a spectacular explosion.”
Now the White House has finally relented to pressure from the 9/11 commissioners and released a somewhat less sanitized version of the report. As the New York Times reports, this version says that U.S. aviation officials were warned in 1998 that al-Qaida could “seek to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark.” The FAA was also warned in early 2001 that airport screeners weren’t up to the task of detecting weapons that might be taken onto planes, the report says.
The Times says the new information “follows the basic outline of what was already known about aviation failings, namely that the FAA had ample reason to suspect that al Qaida might try to hijack a plane yet did little to deter it.” For the people of New Orleans, this all might sound just a little too familiar.