The Sins of September 11
By William Rivers 0aPitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 13 October 2003
I am beginning to despise reading. I have lost count of the 0anumber of times I have read some passage in a politically-oriented book, and 0athen been uncontrollably motivated to hurl said book against a wall or across 0athe room in fury. My library looks like someone took a weed-whacker to it; all 0athe dust-jackets have taken a fearsome beating.
The book currently on my desk has begun to retain a damaged 0aappearance. Sidney Blumenthal's "The Clinton Wars" is a meticulously researched 0aand foot-noted tour de force through the last ten years of the brainless 0asavagery of American politics. The retelling of the contrived scandals clarioned 0aby a media establishment which abandoned any pretense of journalistic integrity, 0apushed by a cabal of House members and right-wing activists whose worshipped 0aaltar was the desire for raw power, and the sad and sorry tale of the 0aimpeachment itself, is a difficult but necessary review of a truly pathetic time 0ain our history. Blumenthal manages to bring his readers back to that tar pit, 0aand keep them enthralled, with an excellent and deft literary touch.
Since I have read most of the other books on the scandal-gasm and 0aimpeachment, there was not much through the middle of this book that brought me 0aup short, though Blumenthal does present interviews and perspectives of players 0aon both sides of that aisle which are not present in the other histories (It was 0aamusing to read Congressional impeachment warrior James Rogan speak of being "On 0athe wrong side of history" regarding the trial in the Senate). No, the book 0abegan to take its obligatory pounding when I reached page 656, and the second 0apart of the chapter entitled "The Twenty-First Century."
The astounding level of blunt ignorance within the American 0apopulace about the events surrounding the attacks of September 11 cannot be 0aeasily quantified. In a nation with thousands of newspapers, thousands of radio 0astations, and a ceaseless data stream from CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS 0aand PBS, some 70% of the population believed as late as a month ago that Saddam 0aHussein was centrally involved in and personally responsible for the attacks 0awhich destroyed the Towers and struck the Pentagon. Beyond that, what most 0apeople know about the single most important event in American history does not 0ago much beyond "evildoers" who "hate our freedom."
That is, simply, incredible. It is also not an accident. This 0aignorance has a great deal to do with the stunning mediocrity of the television 0anews media, that empty well where most Americans go to become informed. This 0aignorance also, and far more importantly, has a great deal to do with the 0aClinton-era actions of a large number of conservatives, many of whom are in 0apositions of power today, many of whom are now making careers out of September 0a11.
The two great myths that have settled across the nation, beyond 0athe Hussein-9/11 connection, are that Clinton did not do enough during his 0atenure to stop the spread of radical terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, and 0athat the attacks themselves could not have been anticipated or stopped. 0aBlumenthal's insider perspective on these matters bursts the myths entirely, and 0areveals a level of complicity regarding the attacks within the journalistic 0arealm and the conservative political ranks that is infuriating and 0adisturbing.
Starting in 1995, Clinton took actions against terrorism that 0awere unprecedented in American history. He poured billions and billions of 0adollars into counterterrorism activities across the entire spectrum of the 0aintelligence community. He poured billions more into the protection of critical 0ainfrastructure. He ordered massive federal stockpiling of antidotes and vaccines 0ato prepare for a possible bioterror attack. He order a reorganization of the 0aintelligence community itself, ramming through reforms and new procedures to 0aaddress the demonstrable threat. Within the National Security Council, "threat 0ameetings" were held three times a week to assess looming conspiracies. His 0aNational Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, prepared a voluminous dossier on al 0aQaeda and Osama bin Laden, actively tracking them across the planet. Clinton 0araised the issue of terrorism in virtually every important speech he gave in the 0alast three years of his tenure. In 1996, Clinton delivered a major address to 0athe United Nations on the matter of international terrorism, calling it "The 0aenemy of our generation."
Behind the scenes, he leaned vigorously on the leaders of nations 0awithin the terrorist sphere. In particular, he pushed Pakistani Prime Minister 0aNawaz Sharif to assist him in dealing with the threat from neighboring 0aAfghanistan and its favorite guest, Osama bin Laden. Before Sharif could be 0acompelled to act, he was thrown out of office by his own army. His replacement, 0aPervez Musharraf, pointedly refused to do anything to assist Clinton in dealing 0awith these threats. Despite these and other diplomatic setbacks, terrorist cell 0aafter terrorist cell were destroyed across the world, and bomb plots against 0aAmerican embassies were thwarted. Because of security concerns, these victories 0awere never revealed to the American people until very recently.
In America, few people heard anything about this. Clinton's dire 0apublic warnings about the threat posed by terrorism, and the massive non-secret 0aactions taken to thwart it, went completely unreported by the media, which was 0afar more concerned with stained dresses and baseless Drudge Report rumors. When 0athe administration did act militarily against bin Laden and his terrorist 0anetwork, the actions were dismissed by partisans within the media and Congress 0aas scandalous "wag the dog" tactics. The TV networks actually broadcast clips of 0athe movie "Wag The Dog" to accentuate the idea that everything the 0aadministration was doing was contrived fakery.
The bombing of the Sundanese factory at al-Shifa, in particular, 0adrew wide condemnation from these quarters, despite the fact that the CIA found 0aand certified VX nerve agent precursor in the ground outside the factory, 0adespite the fact that the factory was owned by Osama bin Laden's Military 0aIndustrial Corporation, and despite the fact that the manager of the factory 0alived in bin Laden's villa in Khartoum. The book "Age of Sacred Terror" 0aquantifies the al-Shifa issue thusly: "The dismissal of the al-Shifa attack as a 0ascandalous blunder had serious consequences, including the failure of the public 0ato comprehend the nature of the al Qaeda threat."
In Congress, Clinton was thwarted by the reactionary conservative 0amajority in virtually every attempt he made to pass legislation that would 0aattack al Qaeda and terrorism. His 1996 omnibus terror bill, which included many 0aof the anti-terror measures we now take for granted after September 11, was 0awithered almost to the point of uselessness by attacks from the right; Jesse 0aHelms and Trent Lott were openly dismissive of the threats Clinton spoke of.
Clinton wanted to attack the financial underpinnings of the 0aal-Qaeda network by banning American companies and individuals from dealing with 0aforeign banks and financial institutions that al Qaeda was using for its 0amoney-laundering operations. Texas Senator Phil Gramm, chairman of the Banking 0aCommittee, killed Clinton's bill on this matter and called it "totalitarian." In 0afact, he was compelled to kill the bill because his most devoted patrons, the 0aEnron Corporation and its criminal executives in Houston, were using those same 0aterrorist financial networks to launder their own dirty money and rip off the 0aEnron stockholders.
Just before departing office, Clinton managed to make a deal with 0athe Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to have some twenty 0anations close tax havens used by al Qaeda. His term ended before the deal was 0asealed, and the incoming Bush administration acted immediately to destroy the 0aagreement. According to Time magazine, in an article entitled "Banking on 0aSecrecy" published in October of 2001, Bush economic advisors Larry Lindsey and 0aR. Glenn Hubbard were urged by think tanks like the Center for Freedom and 0aProsperity to opt out of the coalition Clinton had formed. The conservative 0aHeritage Foundation lobbied Bush's Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, to do the 0asame. In the end, the lobbyists got what they wanted, and the Bush 0aadministration pulled America out of the plan. The Time article stated, "Without 0athe world's financial superpower, the biggest effort in years to rid the world's 0afinancial system of dirty money was short-circuited."
This laundry list of partisan catastrophes goes on and on. Far 0afrom being inept on the matter of terrorism, Clinton was profoundly activist in 0ahis attempts to address terrorism. Much of his work was foiled by right-wing 0aCongressional conservatives who, simply, refused to accept the fact that he was 0aPresident. These men, paid to work for the public trust, spent eight years 0aworking diligently to paralyze any and all Clinton policies, including 0aanti-terror initiatives that, if enacted, would have gone a long way towards 0athwarting the September 11 attacks. Beyond them lay the worthless television 0amedia, which ignored and spun the terrorist issue as it pursued salacious leaks 0afrom Ken Starr's office, leaving the American people drowning in a swamp of 0aignorance on a matter of deadly global importance.
Over and above the theoretical questions regarding whether or not 0aClinton's anti-terror policies, if passed, would have stopped September 11 lies 0athe very real fact that attacks very much like 9/11 were, in fact, stopped dead 0aby the Clinton administration. The most glaring example of this came on December 0a31, 1999, when the world gathered to celebrate the passing of the millennium. On 0athat night, al Qaeda was gathering as well.
The terrorist network planned to simultaneously attack the 0anational airports in Washington DC and Los Angeles, the Amman Raddison Hotel in 0aJordan, a constellation of holy sites in Israel, and the USS The Sullivans at 0adock in Yemen. Each and every single one of these plots, which ranged from one 0aside of the planet to the other, was foiled by the efforts of the Clinton 0aadministration. Speaking for the first time about these millennium plots, in a 0aspeech delivered to the Coast Guard Academy on May 17, 2000, Clinton said, "I 0awant to tell you a story that, unfortunately, will not be the last example you 0awill have to face."
Clinton proved that Osama bin Laden and his terror network can be 0afoiled, can be thwarted, can be stopped. The multifaceted and complex nature of 0athe international millennium plots rivals the plans laid before September 11, 0aand involved counter-terrorism actions within several countries and across the 0aentire American intelligence and military community. All resources were brought 0ato bear, and the terrorists went down to defeat. The proof is in the pudding 0ahere. September 11, like the millennium plots, could have been avoided.
Couple this with other facts about the Bush administration we now 0ahave in hand. The administration was warned about a massive terror plot in the 0amonths before September by the security services of several countries, including 0aIsrael, Egypt, Germany and Russia. CIA Director George Tenet delivered a 0aspecific briefing on the matter to the administration on August 8, 2001. The 0amassive compendium of data on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda compiled by Sandy 0aBerger, and delivered to Condoleezza Rice upon his departure, went completely 0aand admittedly unread until the attacks took place. The attacks themselves 0amanaged, for over an hour, to pierce the most formidable air defense system in 0athe history of the Earth without a single fighter aircraft taking wing until the 0acatastrophe was concluded.
It is not fashionable these days to pine for the return of 0aWilliam Jefferson Clinton. Given the facts above, and the realities we face 0aabout the administration of George W. Bush, and the realities we endure 0aregarding the aftermath of September 11, the United States of America would be, 0aand was, well served by its previous leader. That we do not know this, that 0aSeptember 11 happened at all, that it was such a wretched shock to the American 0apeople, that we were so woefully unprepared, can be laid at the feet of a failed 0anews media establishment, and at the feet of a pack of power-mad conservative 0aextremists who now have a great deal to atone for.
Had Clinton been heeded, the measures he espoused would have been 0aput in place, and a number of powerful bulwarks would have been thrown into the 0apaths of those commercial airplanes. Had the news media been something other 0athan a purveyor of masturbation fantasies from the far-right, the American 0apeople would have know the threats we faced, and would have compelled their 0aCongressmen to act. Had Congress itself been something other than an institution 0aruled by narrow men whose only desire was to break a sitting President by any 0ameans necessary, we would very probably still have a New York skyline dominated 0aby two soaring towers.
Had the Bush administration not continued this pattern of gross 0apartisan ineptitude and heeded the blitz of domestic and international warnings, 0ainstead of trooping off to Texas for a month-long vacation, had Bush's National 0aSecurity Advisor done one hour's worth of her homework, we probably would not be 0ain the grotesque global mess that currently envelops us. Never forget that many 0aof the activists who pushed throughout the 1990s for the annihilation of all 0athings Clinton are now foursquare in charge of the country today.
These are the sins of September 11. Thank you, Sidney. I'm sorry 0aI broke your book.
Jump to TO Features for Monday 13 October 0a2003