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Saturday, July 24, 2004

NATIONAL SECURITY 

THE 9-11 COMMISSION REPORT

By Jack Random

“I don’t believe anybody could have predicted that they would try to use a hijacked airplane as a missile.” Condoleeza Rice, National Security Advisor. [1]

“The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.” CIA Intelligence Briefing to the White House, July 2001. [2]

“I believe the President should be able to hold the July and August briefings in confidence so as to enable him to do the best job for the American people.” Lindsey Graham, US Senator R-SC. [3]

“I think it’s disgraceful that no one will take responsibility for these events. With all that evidence for years about planes being used as weapons, why didn’t they think of this? It’s really shameful.” Stephen Push, Families of September 11. [4]
______________

Are we winning the vaunted War on Terror or, in the twisted terminology of our Secretary of Defense, are we slogging through the muck? Is the leadership of George W. Bush making the world safer for Americans at home and abroad or is the world a more dangerous place for all its inhabitants?

The answers to these critical questions are all too clear to any objective observer. We are not winning the War on Terror when 130,000 of our soldiers are trapped in the crossfire of Iraq. We are not winning the War on Terror when military conscription is the only means of moving our military agenda forward while the enemy has more volunteers than operations to engage them. We are not winning the War on Terror when the president’s reelection strategy is keyed to maintaining a high level of fear in the electorate. What else could explain the fact that his administration has done so little to protect our ports, railways, subways, nuclear facilities, chemical plants and, indeed, our commercial airlines from attack by handheld missiles? What explanation do they offer for these lapses? We have expended our resources on a misbegotten war, a misguided occupation, and record-breaking tax cuts for the ultra elite.

Americans cannot travel anywhere in the world without worrying that we will be shunned, derided, or even targeted by foreign terrorists.

Are we safer now, Mr. President?

We are constantly warned that terrorist cells are operating within our borders yet the president has done everything in his power to rescind the ban on automatic weapons. He has successfully fought back all efforts to close the gaping loophole on gun show purchases, the loophole that allowed two disturbed kids from Columbine High to amass a stockpile of deadly weapons. While he presses on relentlessly in his attack on civil liberties – freedom of speech, the right to assemble in protest, the right to privacy, freedom of the press, habeas corpus, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to confront one’s accusers in a court of law – he goes the extra mile to uphold the right to bear arms. It seems the only article in the Bill of Rights this president values is that singular phrase in the second amendment. Terrorists must be comforted that within this country they are free to purchase truckloads of weapons, cash on demand, without the inconvenience of having to register the transactions.

Are we safer now, Mr. President?

The 9-11 Commission Report, limited as it may be, is sufficient to raise questions that were once unspeakable – if not unthinkable. They are spoken now at dinner tables in Des Moines, at barber shops in Brooklyn, at storefront cafes in Portland and Duluth, and at barbecues in Austin, Texas.

Though it is only a whisper beneath the roar of political posturing, the most stunning and obvious finding of this investigation, no matter how it is spun or tortured by partisan analysis, is that this tragedy could readily have been avoided. Condoleeza Rice notwithstanding, the warnings were powerful and plentiful while the response was muted and dumb. Negligence in this historical context is the mildest of terms.

It is for others to revisit the facts and events preceding 9-11. It is a fertile ground for conspiracy theories and those who dismiss them outright do so to the nation’s detriment. It is sufficient to conclude that our leaders failed spectacularly to protect their people. Members of both major parties obsessed on bitter partisanship, including a ludicrous impeachment process, when they ought to have done their jobs. The Clinton administration lobbed missiles at milk factories when they ought to have reformed the intelligence community. The Bush administration, in its obsession with daddy’s war and daddy’s arch nemesis, clearly lost focus, dismissing direct warnings, dismantling counterterrorist agencies, and ultimately allowing the family of the prime suspect to leave the country without minimal questioning.

When members of both administrations protest that they did all they could to prevent a tragedy that virtually everyone in the intelligence community knew was coming, they are not to be believed. They failed to heed the warnings. They failed to take corrective measures when obvious lapses in security and intelligence occurred. Astoundingly, they failed to sound the alarm when known terrorists entered this country to take flight lessons. Incredibly, given the level of forewarning, they failed to secure the cockpit doors.

We are not likely to learn the full extent of these failures in our lifetimes. What concerns me now is that we are repeating the same pattern. Our leaders are once again embroiled in partisan spin and political gridlock. While measures have been taken to prevent the last attack, we have neglected to secure our most vulnerable targets. Despite all the sound and fury, the administration’s focus is less on terrorism than on the political opposition.

What concerns me now is that the administration’s next failure may alter the outcome of the next election. They have announced their fear that the enemy may wish to repeat what happened in Spain last March. In that horrific event, the innocent citizens of Madrid were made to suffer for the complicity of their government in the war on Iraq. Many believe the attack resulted in the defeat of the ruling party. What happened in Spain, however, is unlikely to be repeated in America. When Al Qaeda struck Madrid, the Asnar government immediately pinned the blame on a Spanish separatist group. They lied to the people and that lie combined with the government’s support for an unpopular American war led to its defeat.

If Al Qaeda were to strike in America before the November election, the probable result would be markedly different. The administration would not blame the Skinheads of Topeka. They would return to the pulpit of the War on Terror and the people would rally to the call. If the terrorists strike now it will not be because they wish to defeat George Bush. It will be because their hatred for America has grown so deep they no longer care. They no longer distinguish between Republicans and Democrats, peacemakers and warmongers, or Americans and their government.

I pray that we will not have to suffer the unthinkable again. I fear for the world that would follow. I worry that this president’s last, best hope for reelection is his repeated failure.

Have we done everything we can to prevent another terrorist attack? No, we have not.

Is there anyone out there who feels safer now?


Jazz.

1. Condoleeza Rice. White House Press Briefing 5/16/02.
2. CIA Briefing to the White House. Newsweek 5/1/03.
3. Stephen Push. Reported online ParaPolitics Forum.
4. Lindsey Graham. Congressional Hearings on 9-11 (ParaPolitics Forum).

The War Chronicles is available at City Lights SF & Amazon.com.

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