Monday's must-reads

Geraldine Sealey
April 5, 2004 5:52PM (UTC)

'The story might have been different'
The independent commission studying 9/11 won't release its final report for months -- and then, only after it's been reviewed first by the White House -- but the panel's lead commissioners said publicly on Sunday that from the evidence they've gathered so far, the terror attacks were probably preventable. The New York Times writes up a rundown of the latest debate on 9/11 as it unfolded on Sunday.

"The whole story might have been different," Mr. Kean said on the NBC News program "Meet the Press," outlining a series of intelligence and law enforcement blunders in the months and years before the attacks. "There are so many threads and so many things, individual things, that happened," he said. "If we had been able to put those people on the watch list of the airlines, the two who were in the country; again, if we'd stopped some of these people at the borders; if we had acted earlier on Al Qaeda when Al Qaeda was smaller and just getting started."


Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Intelligence and International Relations committees, said, "There are a lot of ifs; you can string together a whole bunch of ifs, and if things had broken right in all kinds of different ways, as the governor has identified, and frankly if you'd had a little luck, it probably could have been prevented." He said the panel would "make a final judgment on that, I believe, when the commission reports."

The Times says President Bush's closest political advisers rejected the commissioners' statements, insisting that the Bush and Clinton administrations had no opportunity to disrupt the Sept. 11 plot.

Also on Sunday, the Times says: "Despite allegations from Congressional Republican leaders that Clarke is not telling the truth, he received new support for his account on Sunday from a prominent Senate Republican, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On the ABC News program 'This Week,' Lugar said he did not recall any contradictions between Mr. Clarke's testimony to the Sept. 11 commission and information he had previously provided to the joint Congressional investigation of the attacks. Asked if he would join his Republican colleagues in attacking Mr. Clarke's credibility, Senator Lugar replied, 'I wouldn't go there.'"


Blair to Bush: Don't get distracted
The former British ambassador to the United States, Christopher Meyer, tells Vanity Fair magazine that President Bush told Prime Minister Tony Blair nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks that he wanted to confront Iraq. The Associated Press obtained an advance copy of the magazine story.

"'Rumors were already flying that Bush would use 9/11 as a pretext to attack Iraq,' Meyer, who attended the dinner, reportedly said. 'On the one hand, Blair came with a very strong message -- don't get distracted; the priorities were al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, the Taliban.' 'Bush said, 'I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq,' Meyer said, according to Vanity Fair. "

"Meyer's statements appear to echo claims by Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief who said Bush was preoccupied with Iraq before and after the terror attacks at the expense of fighting al-Qaeda. Clarke, whose book "Against All Enemies" and public testimony have ignited a political storm in Washington, said Bush pressed him the day after the attacks to establish a link to Iraq."


The summer of 2001
On Sunday, the New York Times published a detailed tick-tock of the Bush administration's actions and plans to combat the al Qaeda threat in the months before the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Warnings about terror attacks against the United States mounted that summer and grew more dire, and the threat was communicated repeatedly to the highest levels of the White House, including the president. The response, however, was scattered.

"A review of the Bush administration's deliberations and actions in the summer of 2001, based on interviews with current and former officials and an examination of the preliminary findings of the commission, shows that the White House's impulse to deal more forcefully with terrorist threats within the United States peaked July 5 and then leveled off until Sept. 11. The review shows that over that summer, with terror warnings mounting, the government's response was often scattered and inconsistent as the new administration struggled to develop a comprehensive strategy for combating Al Qaeda and other terror organizations."


"The warnings during the summer were more dire and more specific than generally recognized. Descriptions of the threat were communicated repeatedly to the highest levels within the White House. In more than 40 briefings, Mr. Bush was told by George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, of threats involving Al Qaeda. The review suggests that the government never collected in one place all the information that was flowing into Washington about Al Qaeda and its interest in using commercial aircraft to carry out attacks, and about extremist groups' interest in pilot training. A Congressional inquiry into intelligence activities before Sept. 11 found 12 reports over a seven-year period suggesting that terrorists might use airplanes as weapons."

"There were also no specific new military plans for attacking Qaeda forces or the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Pentagon's priorities that summer were developing a national missile defense plan and conducting a broad strategy and budget review. Military planners had previously offered a comprehensive plan to incorporate military, economic, diplomatic and political activities to pressure the Taliban to expel Al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden. But the plan was never acted on by either the Clinton or Bush administrations. Money for fighting terrorism had to be justified against an array of other priorities, from tax cuts and education to missile defense. The White House Office of Management and Budget said in a report in August 2001 that counterterrorism programs were having difficulty competing."

Clarke's story holds
The Washington Post on Sunday ran an analysis of Richard Clarke's claims that the White House moved slowly to address the al Qaeda threat before 9/11, and found that despite the Bush administration's attempts to tear Clarke and his story down, it has been bolstered.


" The broad outline of Clarke's criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush's admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book 'Bush at War' that he 'didn't feel that sense of urgency' about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred. In addition, a review of dozens of declassified citations from Clarke's 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. Indeed, the declassified 838-page report of the 2002 congressional inquiry includes many passages that appear to bolster the arguments Clarke has made.

" In its July 2003 report, the congressional panel cited Clark's 'uncertain mandate to coordinate Bush administration policy on terrorism and specifically on bin Laden.' It also said that because Bush officials did not begin their major counterterrorism policy review until April 2001, 'significant slippage in counterterrorism policy may have taken place in late 2000 and early 2001.' Eleanor Hill, staff director of the House-Senate intelligence committee inquiry, said last week that she heard some of Clarke's March 24 presentation before the 9/11 commission and remembered his six-hour, closed-door appearance. 'I was there,' she said of Clarke's 2002 testimony, 'and without a transcript I can't have a final conclusion, but nothing jumped out at me, no contradiction' between what he said last month and his testimony almost two years ago. She also noted that Rice refused to be interviewed by the joint intelligence panel, citing executive privilege."

Kerry back in the race
The Los Angeles Times reports that after a vacation, fundraising detours and shoulder surgery, John Kerry will re-enter active campaigning this week to a changed political landscape. "After months of having to counter news reports about stagnant employment, President Bush now can promote economic figures that show 308,000 jobs were created in February -- giving his administration a boost and blunting a favorite line of attack by the Democrats. At the same time, Kerry's low profile has allowed Republicans to freely paint the Massachusetts senator as a tax-and-spend liberal, both on the trail and in largely unanswered advertising salvos."


"Some Democrats have worried openly about Kerry's strategy, saying he needs to more clearly and actively present an alternative to the Bush administration -- not to mention spend more time campaigning."

Voters parrot Bush ads
The USA Today studied focus groups in the bellwether state of Missouri and found that some voters' views of John Kerry mirror what the Bush-Cheney '04 ads have told them about the Democratic candidate. If you've seen the Bush ads, you won't be surprised to hear that some Missouri voters think Kerry is a "flip-flopper" who will raise their taxes.

"Conversations with voters in this St. Louis suburb signal that the Bush campaign seems to be achieving its early goal: Define Kerry in a negative way with voters in battleground states before he has a chance to make a positive first impression. Seven months before Election Day, voters who know little else about the Massachusetts senator are echoing Bush's ads."

"The 30-second spots -- the biggest and earliest onslaught of ads ever in Missouri and nationwide -- are hard to avoid here. During one week last month, the Bush campaign ran more than $300,000 worth of ads in the Show Me State. That was more than double what the Kerry campaign spent, although ads critical of Bush by the liberal Media Fund made the ad buys roughly equal in terms of partisan division. But it's harder to shape impressions of Bush. Good and bad, they are pretty well set after his three years in the Oval Office. That's not true for Kerry, even though he won Missouri's primary Feb. 3 after home-state congressman Dick Gephardt withdrew from the race."


Bush campaign: Deny global warming
The Observer (U.K.) says it obtained an email sent from the Bush campaign to the "press secretaries of all Republican congressmen advising them what to say when questioned on the environment in the run-up to November's election. The advice: tell them everything's rosy."

The email "tells them how global warming has not been proved, air quality is 'getting better', the world's forests are 'spreading, not deadening,' oil reserves are 'increasing, not decreasing,' and the 'world's water is cleaner and reaching more people.' The email -- sent on February 4 -- warns that Democrats will 'hit us hard' on the environment. 'In an effort to help your members fight back, as well as be aggressive on the issue, we have prepared the following set of talking points on where the environment really stands today,' it states."

"The memo -- headed 'From medi-scare to air-scare' -- goes on: 'From the heated debate on global warming to the hot air on forests; from the muddled talk on our nation's waters to the convolution on air pollution, we are fighting a battle of fact against fiction on the environment -- Republicans can't stress enough that extremists are screaming "Doomsday!" when the environment is actually seeing a new and better day.' Among the memo's assertions are 'global warming is not a fact', 'links between air quality and asthma in children remain cloudy,' and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is exaggerating when it says that at least 40 per cent of streams, rivers and lakes are too polluted for drinking, fishing or swimming."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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