Bold is the kindest word for the media campaign to somehow indict President Bush for nonfeasance in the September 11th attack. The scrawl headline on MSNBC asks: “What did the White House know?” The implication is that the Oval Office had warnings that went ignored. The basis for the story is a CIA warning that terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden had discussed airplane hijacking and this information was included in the President’s daily intelligence briefing in early August. The White House says there was no mention of using aircraft as suicide bombs. But law enforcement agencies were quietly alerted. The headlines read generically, “Bush Was Told…”
The networks and the cable outlets seemed to speak with one voice, and to recall as if on cue a memorable line from a dead president’s tortured past. “Hardball”‘s Chris Matthews went so far on CNBC as to resurrect the tape of the 1973 Watergate hearings in which we hear and see then-Senator Howard Baker utter the famous phrase, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” as if there were some dark parallel between the positions of Presidents Nixon and Bush. The constant repetition of that line serves to suggest that Bush, like Nixon before him, is concealing information that would destroy his presidency if made public.
The payoff of this seed of suspicion makes child’s play of the silly business about “the picture,” the photo of the President aboard Air Force One used as an RNC campaign coffer inducement. Let’s carry the conspiracy concoction forward into Lewis Carroll land. That photo. Was it taken as the President fled Washington for Florida in advance of the 9/11 attack that was being ignored? Is he talking to the vice president and about what? “Duck, Dick?”
Truth to tell, there were warnings and rumors well before Mr. Bush took office. There was “Operation Bojinka,” a plot to bomb some 11 American passenger planes over the Pacific that was unearthed in 1995. A test bomb placed aboard a Japan Airlines plane bound from Manila — base of the conspirators at the time– to Japan did in fact explode and kill one passenger. Information about Bojinka gleaned from the arrest of Ramzi Yousef, nabbed in Pakistan, and Abdul Murad indicated a part of the plan was to kill the Pope on a planned visit to Manila. There was sketchy information about plans for suicidal hijackings. Periodic patches of intelligence wafted in and out of government agencies from that time to the present. One FBI agent in Phoenix wondered in a July 2001 memo at the number of alien Arabs taking flight lessons at the many flying schools around the nation. Pieces of puzzles crossed the desks of several agencies but never at the same time and were never collected in one bureaucratic room to be fitted together.
Events, not whispers, should have shaken an entire nation from its sleepy complacency.
The World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, U. S. Embassies in Africa were car-bombed, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the USS Cole — a retrospective parade of bloodletting which, seen as history, makes September 11 as inevitable and foreseeable as Pearl Harbor. The vague warning of early August pales in comparison with the plethora of accomplished outrages. But the propinquity with September and the locus of the White House embolden those who would somehow assign blame to the Oval Office for not divining what was coming. Aided by Congress, the speculation will continue.
By pure chance, this is the advent of a Lucas Star Wars film sequel titled, “Attack of the Clones.” President Bush need not see it. He is living it.