Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Jimmy Breslin thinks that Condi Rice could use a history lesson about appearing in public and under oath before a congressional committee as an active National Security Advisor. He goes on to 'educate' her by providing an excerpt of NSA Zbigniew Brzezinski's testimony in 1980. In reviewing this excerpt, as well as some of the current 9/11 commission transcripts, I think a more salient point to be made is how little is revealed between the evasion and rhetoric of the 'witnesses'. If commission members don't sufficiently detail and pinpoint their questions, the result is no different than listening to 'Scotty' twist and dance at a press gaggle. Based on the focus and priorities of the current commission, we are left wondering if there is any point to this exercise.

The Nation:
With much of the questioning at the 9/11 hearings dominated by Clarke's charges, many issues went unaddressed or barely mentioned. Tenet was not asked about the CIA's failure to tell the FBI about two of the 9/11 hijackers it had tracked to the United States. If the FBI--which had an informant who was in touch with the two men--had been provided that information, it may have been able to locate the two hijackers-to-be and place them under surveillance. Who knows where that might have led? (The commission says it will examine this screw-up in a future hearing.) In fact, Tenet, who was responsible for a massive intelligence failure, was not challenged by the commissioners. Why had the in telligence community not focused on the reports dating back to the mid-1990s that noted Al Qaeda and other terrorists were interested in using airliners as weapons and crashing them into such targets as the White House, the CIA headquarters, the Pentagon, and nuclear reactors? Tenet was not pressed on this.

Former Representative Timothy Roemer, a Democrat, did raise a related issue with Tenet. He referred to an important section of the 9/11 report produced by the Congressional intelligence committees, which revealed that the intelligence community in August 2001 had warned 'senior government officials' that bin Laden had been looking to mount attacks in the United States, that Al Qaeda had apparently developed cells in the United States, that bin Laden was considering hijackings, and that some bin Laden supporters in America were planning attacks with explosives. In this report, the intelligence committees hinted--quite strongly--that this warning had been conveyed to Bush in a Presidential Daily Brief he had received on August 6, 2001. But the White House had not allowed the intelligence committees to review this PDB, and in previous public statements Rice had indicated this PDB had merely contained routine historical information on bin Laden. (The 9/11 commission was only allowed to send representatives to read and summarize the PDBs, including this one.)

Roemer laid out this background and asked Tenet why the intelligence community in the summer of 2001--when the dramatic rise in 'chatter' was suggesting that Al Qaeda was about to strike--had focused only on the possibility of an attack overseas, not one at home. But by the time Roemer explained all this, his allotted minutes were nearly expired. Tenet ducked the question; the subject was dropped. And the possibility that Rice had mischaracterized the August 6, 2001, PDB was not explored. Nor was Bush's reaction to a warning that said bin Laden was aiming to hit a target in the United States. (The commission promises this, too, will be examined in a coming hearing.)[Nitpicker emphasis]


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