New York Times Re-Writes 9/11 History

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Vanity Fair’s Kurt Eichenwald used the opinion page of The New York Times to revive the left’s tired attack that the Bush administration failed to do enough to prevent 9/11. “Deafness before the Storm” is how the Times headlined Eichenwald’s pathetic piece, which re-accuses and re-indicts the Bush administration for “significantly more negligence than has been disclosed” with regard to intelligence briefings and activities in the months leading up to 9/11. Eichenwald’s piece (and companion book) does little to move the nation forward or enhance the historical record. Indeed, this sort of 20-20 hindsight critique is not a very productive exercise. But since Eichenwald started down this backwards path, let’s walk a little further. To borrow the Times’ imagery, if the Bush administration was “deaf before the storm,” the Clinton administration was blind, deaf and dumb as bin Laden launched his global guerilla war against the United States.

Eichenwald reports that “The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001.” Fair enough. The direct warnings to Mr. Clinton came in two forms: First, in February 1993, Ramzi Yousef tried to topple the World Trade Center with a bomb-laden truck. Yousef had worked closely with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In fact, the two lived together in the Philippines and hammered out a plan to attack airliners over the Pacific. The second direct warning during the Clinton administration came in 1996, when Osama bin Laden issued what can only be described as a declaration of war against America. He condemned the “occupation of the land of the two Holy Places” as the “latest and the greatest of…aggressions,” promised “to initiate a guerrilla warfare” against the United States and its allies, called on his followers to focus “on destroying, fighting and killing the enemy until, by the grace of Allah, it is completely defeated,” and vowed to carry his “jihad against the kuffar (those who refuse to submit to Allah) in every part of the world.”

So, since Eichenwald is keeping score, the Bush administration had seven months and 20 days to deal with bin Laden. The Clinton administration had seven years and 11 months.

In those seven-plus years, as the 9/11 Commission reported, U.S. intelligence assets had bin Laden in their sights on at least three occasions but were prevented from acting by higher-ups. In 1999, U.S. teams were actually ordered to hold their fire because administration officials worried that an Arab dignitary on a hunting trip in the vicinity of bin Laden might be harmed. According to 9/11 Commission staff, CIA officials still call this the “lost opportunity to kill bin Laden before 9/11.” Justifying the inaction, Mr. Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright explained to the 9/11 Commission that “to bomb at random or use military force would have made our lives more difficult inside the Islamic world.” Of course, the decision not to bomb made quite an impact inside our own world.

Referring to the failure to attack bin Laden at his hunting lodge, 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey famously declared, “We had a round in our chamber and we didn’t use it.”

Of course, that sounds a lot like preemption—a dirty word nowadays. If preemption would have been appropriate to forestall bin Laden’s 9/11 massacres, why was it not appropriate to prevent Saddam Hussein from trying to top bin Laden somewhere down the road? (We’ll return to that in a moment.)

Eichenwald reports that “Operatives connected to bin Laden…expected the planned near-term attacks to have ‘dramatic consequences,’ including major casualties…Yet, the White House failed to take significant action.”

If the Bush White House failed to take any significant action that summer, what action did the Clinton White House take the previous summers, autumns, winters and springs? Very little, as it turns out.

After the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, which killed six Americans and injured 1,000, the Clinton White House responded with indictments.

In 1996, a truck bomb in Saudi Arabia claimed 19 U.S. airmen and injured 200. The Clinton White House responded with indictments.

In 1998, al Qaeda terrorists bombed a pair of American embassies in East Africa, murdering 224 civilians and injuring more than 5,000. The Clinton White House responded with an impotent volley of cruise missiles and an indictment.

Finally, in October 2000, al Qaeda used a rubber boat to blast a hole in the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors. The Clinton White House responded by sending FBI agents (not troops) to Yemen.

As former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White put it, “Criminal prosecutions are simply not a sufficient response to international terrorism.” In the words of Commissioner Kerrey, al Qaeda “knew—beginning in 1993, it seems to me—that there was going to be limited, if any, use of the military and that they were relatively free to do whatever they wanted.”

That didn’t change until, well, the Bush administration. In fact, 9/11 was the high-water mark for al Qaeda not because bin Laden was content with his handiwork, but because the U.S. finally dealt with al Qaeda as a military threat—not a law-enforcement matter.

Eichenwald asks, “Could the 9/11 attack have been stopped had the Bush team reacted with urgency to the warnings contained in all of those daily briefs?” Given the above litany, it seems fair to respond with a parallel question: Could the 9/11 attack have been stopped had the Clinton team killed bin Laden when they had him in their sights, or had the Clinton team traced Yousef’s links back to their source, or had the Clinton team waged a bona fide war on terror? Commissioner Kerrey seemed to think so. “Better to have tried and failed than to have not tried at all,” he huffed during the hearings.

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  • 70sbuff

    Uh….blame Clinton? The all-encompassing answer that the right pulls out anytime, anywhere.

    • tagalog

      Yeah, why should we let the lefties always be blaming Bush?

    • RoguePatriot6

      People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

    • 70sbuff

      9 negative votes? You can do better than that!

  • Jim_C

    Pretty sad you're still running this stuff 11 years later.

  • skeptick

    How did building 7 collapse so neatly? Which of the 19 whose passports were amazingly found in the rubble did that from which airplane?
    /sarcasm off

    • tagalog

      It was built that way; the architects and contractors who designed and built it were working with al-Qaeda. Who knew, so far in advance? It was a conspiracy. Probably by right-wingers. Those Republican jihadists, dang…

      • objectivefactsmatter

        That or terrorists always have the advantage in being able to study architectural plans and then strike at will. Notice the 1993 bombing took place in the basement. They were trying to take the building down for many years and failed in their first active attempt to do so.

        Ignore all evidence that doesn't fit your emotionally-derived views and you can come up with any theory you want to.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "How did building 7 collapse so neatly?"

      What makes you think it's not possible to happen as reported? Popular opinion, or engineering studies? What did you conclude would happen if a plane did strike such a building? "Neatly" means simply that it didn't meet your expectations (probably after you read too many conspiracy theories targeting people you already hated).

      "Which of the 19 whose passports were amazingly found in the rubble did that from which airplane?"

      Please be more clear what your point is. Using "sarcasm" is often a weak excuse for failing to make a clear point. Now that your "sarcasm" is "off" perhaps you can be more clear?

  • Sonshine Patriot

    We blame the left and the left blames the right but the Islamist are not paying attention to our political discourse; they have goals they wish to achieve and they are getting US help in doing so. We need a new direction that puts the entire Islamic world on notice that any attack emanating from there countries will be viewed by the US as an attack by that nation on the US. We are a super power; act like one. Our policy of non-state players has given cover to the Muslim radicals; obviously it is a mistaken idea. Just the logistics required pulling off terror attacks on the US and its interest should eliminate any idea of innocence standing on the sidelines.

  • Andy

    The New York Times sinks lower and lower by the day. Their censor filters out all comments by readers who do not take the leftist point of view on any issue. If you read these comments you would get an impression that all NY Times readers support Obama and all his garbage. The polls indicate that the country is quite evenly divided at this point. Thus one would have to assume that only left-leaning readers read the NY Times. One cannot fairly describe the NY Times in this space since Front Page Mag asks us to avoid profanities or foul language. I look forward to their comments when their African Socialist Idol is voted out of office.

  • Mencken

    This article is lame.

  • arishsahani

    Arabs game plan of 1400 yrs is bringing great results for them .THey will just convert your poor ,criminals and uneducated masses to their belief ,give them a war manual how and why to kill who don't believe in you ,
    Plan has given them 56 nations and 1.4 billions bodies to fight for them .One call ( in danger ) and all are ready to die and kill .Arab don't have to send arms and soldiers .Local do the job for them
    When an educated class will get it.
    Converts are destroying their own nation.
    Educated class helping them in many ways to destroy them selves.
    What a foolish world. Arabs plan no one gets it.
    Solution is simple Kill the Cat..

  • miguel

    Come on people, it's an election year. The New York Times is trying to butter up the party they think will win the election. They have no credibilty so they are not worth getting upset over. Napoleon once said that history is written by the conqueror and America is no exception. Every year researchers dig up the truth about many aspects of American history. The truth cannot change and it will lie hidden and preserved until many years from now it rises in a book written by some researcher. The truth about the Clinton, Bush and Obama years will be 'uncovered' years from now and written about and there will be no one to 'offend' so it will be placed on the shelves of libraries for all to read. But for now the lies of the will have to suffice.