A Panglossian Conversation
Thanks to Washington being the leakiest capital in the world, we now know that in August 2001 US intelligence reported to President Bush that some of the fiends linked to Osama bin Laden had enrolled in flying schools and might sky-jack a jumbo jet. Not only did members of our intelligence have solid information that something deeply evil was afoot, but two years before, sources from the Library of Congress had given the CIA information that the terrorists might well use the large planes as explosive weapons.
More telling, a Phoenix-based FBI Special Agent, an acknowledged expert on terrorism, had even put those pieces of information together two months before the fatal events of 9/11 and predicted exactly the kind of scenario that White House officials claim no one could have predicted. Osama or whoever did the planning for the affluent zealot would slip his suicide squads into flight schools and then do the unthinkable, the unimaginable – use passenger-filled planes as incendiary bombs.
The FBI had even discovered that the Muslim pupils showed no interest in how to take off or land; only in steering the craft once air born. In short, information galore existed that the President and his staff might have employed to avert the horrendous events of September.
So, as citizens and amateur detectives we ask ourselves the famous questions: Who knew what, when did they know it and what should they have done? This potential Washington scandal has reanimated some of my friends who still blame Ralph Nader for W’s ascendancy to the White House. Few of my friends will say that he was elected. Some of the more conspiracy-minded of my associates have even suggested that the artless and illegitimate Bush and the crafty Dick Cheney may have plotted the whole 9/11 disaster – with Israel, of course – in order to increase their power and profits.
I dismiss this kind of explanation as bordering on paranoia. Having spent 25 years in Washington, I prefer the more obvious and bureaucratic explanation for the fact that FBI and CIA officials had advised the White House of the bizarre and frightening facts they had uncovered.
I asked Dr. Slick E. Pangloss, a White House insider known for his straight talking and eternal optimism, about what Bush actually understood in August when the CIA briefed him at his Crawford, Texas ranch that Osama bin Laden’s fiends might sky jack planes and use them as weapons?
"When Bush heard the CIA’s report", Pangloss said, "he appeared confused and muttered that he could sure use a drink. Everyone in the room was quiet. The CIA also gave him written reports with long lists of policy recommendations – including alerting the airlines and the pilots, increasing security at the airports, arresting the suspected terrorists and, well lots of things that cops and bureaucrats would think of that would give them more jobs and power and prestige".
Did Bush read the reports, I asked.
"Are you kidding?" my straight-talking source replied. "Bush doesn’t read reports longer than a few paragraphs. Do you think we’re dealing with another Bill Clinton, a man who would absorb humongous amounts of written and oral information and then lie about them to the public? A president who knows less can cause less damage".
So, I persisted, what happened next?
"Bush did exactly what his father and mother had told him to do in a situation where he didn’t know what to do and felt like taking a drink. He phoned Uncle Dick Cheney".
"Uncle Dick, who for decades had been privy to Washington alarmism, told the President to relax and do a three hour work-out at the ranch. He ridiculed the idea that anyone would sky jack a plane and fly it into a strategic target. He reminded W that the business of the Administration was business, especially the oil and weapons business, in which both the Bush and Cheney families had substantial interests, and not to get distracted by so-called intelligence reports".
But, I asked, wouldn’t it have been prudent to at least tell the pilots and flight attendants about the possible threats, make the cockpit doors more secure and maybe even alert the public?
"Are you out of your mind?" Pangloss asked. "That kind of policy would have led to panic. People would have cancelled their flights, their vacations and even their shopping sprees. It could have led to ruin. Imagine what the Democrats would have said. They would have accused W of paranoia. Rumors would have spread that he had begun drinking again. No way we could have followed that scenario".
But, I insisted, we had reports from our own intelligence, confirmed by the FBI report that something terrible was going to happen...
"First", he snapped, "the FBI didn’t bother to send that report to us. Second, who ever believes the words of spies? When you say intelligence, you have to be specific. Are we talking about signal intelligence or photo intelligence? Those sources rely on technology and therefore have our credibility. Human intelligence, that’s the lowest source on the reliability totem pole. You recall that Stalin had placed Count Sorge, a top agent in the Nazi Embassy in Tokyo. Sorge, as German Ambassador to Japan, had one task: find out whether Japan planned to attack the Soviet Union from the Manchurian border. If not, Stalin could move a million troops from their posts there to the German front where they were desperately needed.
"Stalin, however, didn’t believe the word of a spy. He kept the troops where they were, his armies fighting the Nazis suffered incredible casualties and Count Sorge was discovered and executed".
Are you saying, I continued, that like Stalin our leaders dismissed vital information because they didn’t believe in human intelligence? Is this what Republicans do?
"Was John F. Kennedy a Republican?" he asked. "US officials got wind of Soviet missiles in Cuba in August 1962 from a very reliable French spy, but Kennedy dismissed the reports. Once again, he didn’t trust human intelligence. He didn’t take action to counter Soviet missiles in Cuba until he saw the aerial photographs".
Hold on, I said, by the mid 1990s the FBI had ample information about Al Qaeda operatives enrolling in our flight training schools, that French authorities had thwarted some Islamic nut’s plan to fly a plane into the Eiffel Tower, that the guys who rammed their explosives-laden truck into the World Trade Center in 1993 had also discussed suicide missions using skyjacked planes. When does the alarm bell ring with this president?
"Take it easy", Pangloss warned. "You’re stepping into dangerous territory. The President didn’t know the attack was coming. In fact, look at the confusion that ensued after the 9/11 bombings. He was taken onto Air Force One and no one knew where to take him".
But that hasn’t stopped him from selling photos of himself on Air Force One talking on the phone on that fatal day with Dick Cheney – at $5000 smackers a piece as a fundraiser for Republicans. I understand an autograph on that photo costs some $25 K more".
"Hey", said Pangloss, "that’s just politics. Gore would’ve done the same thing. Clinton, after all rented out the Lincoln bedroom at the White House".
What was W asking Cheney anyway? I inquired.
"He was asking Cheney if it was still too dangerous to come back to Washington", he replied.
It sounds to me, I concluded, that the Administration had the necessary facts and didn’t act on them for whatever reason and now we should stop this bipartisan game and demand explanations.
"You know", Dr. Pangloss replied, "Your persistent questioning of our leaders’ motives can only cause division into our up-to-now united public opinion. You’re beginning to sound downright unpatriotic. I may have to give your name to Attorney General Ashcroft".
He hung up. A chill raced down my spine. Yes, I told myself, our world has changed drastically since 9/11 – and not for the better.
Copyright 2002 Radio Progreso