The Guardian August 4, 2004


9/11 questions refuse to go away

Susan Webb

USA: The final report of the bipartisan national 9/11 commission 
is unlikely to stamp out questions about the Bush 
Administration's handling of the September 11, 2001, terrorist 
attacks, its war on Iraq, or its overall foreign policy.

Rather than folding up shop after issuing their report, allowing 
these issues to fade from the public's eye, as Bush may have 
hoped, commission members announced they would spend the summer 
lobbying for their recommendations. Senate hearings are in the 
works.

Republicans clearly hope to pin the blame for the 
administration's 9/11 and Iraq failures on "faulty intelligence", 
and divert attention to the commission's recommendations for 
restructuring the intelligence agencies. But those proposals 
themselves raise troubling questions. And the report, cautious as 
it is, raises other issues that can cause problems for the Bush 
Administration as it heads into the heat of the presidential 
election campaign.

The report calls for establishment of a cabinet-level National 
Intelligence Director (NID), located in the office of the 
President, who would oversee the CIA, FBI and all other 
intelligence bodies. In addition, the report proposes the 
creation of a National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC), also in 
the President's office, which would direct intelligence gathering 
and operations both inside and outside the US.

Investigative reporter Robert Dreyfuss calls these "Big-Brother-
like" measures. He points out that "the NCTC-NID combination 
would concentrate the power to carry out domestic spying in an 
all-powerful nexus, located where? In the White House".

Warning against blurring the lines between domestic and foreign 
intelligence, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said 
bringing "the CIA's culture of covert, subversive operations" 
into the domestic arena would mean "a further weakening of civil 
liberties protections".

The Bush Administration's manipulation of intelligence to sell 
the Iraq war has sparked concerns about separating intelligence 
gathering from political pressure. But these proposals go in the 
opposite direction. An "intelligence director sitting in the 
White House would be in the hip pocket of the president", ACLU 
Executive Director Anthony Romero said.

More profoundly, as former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich 
comments, "Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that better 
intelligence is a substitute for better policy".

In a slap at the Bush Administration's unilateralist militarism, 
and indirectly suggesting that the US invasion of Iraq has 
damaged efforts to curb terrorism, the commission calls for a 
"balanced" preventative strategy "that is as much, or more, 
political as it is military". Further, the report says the US 
"should offer an example of moral leadership committed to treat 
people humanely [and] abide by the rule of law".

Although Dick Cheney continues to claim otherwise, the commission 
also reaffirms its conclusion that there is no evidence of 
collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.

In a section given scant attention by the commercial media, the 
report traces the emergence of Bin Laden and al Qaeda to the US-
sponsored war that ousted the Soviet-backed secular/democratic 
Afghan government in 1988.

The report says that war "gave Islamist extremists a rallying 
point and training field". Bin Laden, with access to his family's 
huge fortune, became known "as a person who generously helped 
fund the anti-Soviet jihad", the report says.

"Bin Ladin understood the extent to which the continuation and 
eventual success of the jihad in Afghanistan depended on an 
increasingly complex, almost worldwide organisation", the report 
continues.

He and associates "established what they called a base or 
foundation (al-Qaida) as a potential general headquarters" for 
this. "The international environment for bin Ladin's efforts was 
ideal. Saudi Arabia and the United States supplied billions of 
dollars worth of secret assistance to rebel groups in Afghanistan 
fighting the Soviet occupation".

The report claims that bin Ladin and associates received "little 
or no" assistance from the US "because they had their own sources 
of support." But the point is clear: the roots of al-Qaida lie in 
the US Government's covert anti-Soviet "jihad".

Despite efforts to spread blame equally between the Clinton and 
Bush administrations, the report paints a harsh picture of Bush's 
lack of interest in the flood of attack warnings in the summer of 
2001.

"Most of the intelligence community recognised that the number 
and severity of threat reports were unprecedented. Many officials 
told us that they knew something terrible was planned, and they 
were desperate to stop it", the commission says.

A briefing Bush received on August 6, 2001, titled "Bin Ladin 
Determined to Strike US", referred to "patterns of suspicious 
activity in this country consistent with preparations for 
hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent 
surveillance of federal buildings in New York". It mentioned a 
call received in May by the US Embassy in the United Arab 
Emirates "saying that a group of bin Ladin supporters was in the 
US planning attacks with explosives".

The 9/11 report says Bush "did not recall discussing the August 6 
report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so." 
The commission "found no indication of any further discussion 
before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of 
the possibility of a threat of an al-Qaida attack in the United 
States".

* * *
People's Weekly World

Back to index page