During the festival of falsehood held by Republicans in Tampa, Fla., last month, perhaps the very biggest lie emanated from the mouth of Jeb Bush, the Florida politician, entrepreneur and potential heir to the GOP presidential dynasty.
“My brother, well,” began Jeb, referring to former President George W. Bush, “I love my brother” — and then went on to add, more arguably: “He is a man of integrity, courage and honor. And during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.”
That those words — “he kept us safe” — could be uttered in public about that leader is a testament to our national affliction of historical amnesia. The harsher truth, long known but now reiterated in a startling report on The New York Times’ op-ed page, is that the Bush administration’s “negligence” left us undefended against the disaster whose anniversary we marked again last week.
New documents uncovered by investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald show that despite repeated, urgent warnings from intelligence officials about an impending al-Qaeda attack, Bush did nothing because his neoconservative advisers told him that the threats were merely a “ruse” and a distraction.
Recalling the evidence compiled by the 9/11 Commission — which Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and numerous other officials sought to stymie and mislead — it has been clear for years that they ignored many warnings about al-Qaeda.
Specifically, as Eichenwald points out in his op-ed report, CIA officials sought to warn Bush with a glaring headline in the famous Aug. 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Brief, or PDB: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” That memorandum represented the culmination of many months of attempts to awaken a somnolent White House to the impending threat of a terrorist attack.
None of that is news, although Republicans like Jeb Bush continue to behave as if the facts uncovered by the 9/11 Commission had never emerged.
But according to Eichenwald, he has seen still-classified documents that place the Aug. 6 PDB in a new context — namely, the briefing papers preceding that date, which remain locked away:
“While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: The administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.”
On May 1, 2001, the CIA relayed a report to the White House about “a group presently in the United States” that was planning a terrorist attack. On June 22, the agency told Bush that the al-Qaeda strikes might be “imminent.”
A week later, the CIA answered neoconservative officials in the Bush administration who claimed that Osama bin Laden’s threats were a ruse to distract the United States from the real threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. “The United States is not the target of a disinformation campaign” by bin Laden, wrote agency officials, citing evidence compiled by its analysts that the al-Qaeda threats were real.
The warnings continued and multiplied into July 2001, with counter-terrorism officials becoming increasingly alarmed — or as Eichenwald puts it, “apoplectic.” Still, Bush, Cheney, Rice and their coterie failed to act.
Familiar with Eichenwald’s career, I’m confident that he is reporting what he has seen with complete accuracy and due caution. A two-time winner of the George Polk Award and a Pulitzer finalist, he concludes carefully that we will never know whether a more alert administration could have mobilized to prevent 9/11. What we know for certain — that they didn’t bother — is an eternal indictment.
But Eichenwald’s report has relevance that is more than historical. Advising Mitt Romney, foreign policy neophyte, are the same neoconservatives whose arrogance and incompetence steered Bush away from al-Qaeda and toward the quagmire in Iraq. Returning them to power would be exceptionally dangerous to the security of the United States and the world.