Sunday, April 11, 2004

Burying the lead

It seems to me that the press is giving President Bush a free pass on the August 6 memo. For example, the LA Times, whose reputation would lead one to believe that it could be relied upon to hold a Republican President to account, leads with "Memo Cited Fears of Attacks in U.S....But the newly declassified presidential briefing from August 2001 is short on specifics."

Well, that's not really true.

The August 6 memo says:

Although Bin Ladin has not succeeded, his attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1997 demonstrates that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveilled our Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993...

FBI information since [1998] indicates patterns of suspicious activities in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings and other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

Condoleeza Rice defends the Administrations lack of action in the face of this information on the fact that there is no indication of when the attacks were to take place. But then in her own testimony before the 9/11 comission she reveals that there were indications that attacks were imminent:

Most often, though, the threat reporting was frustratingly vague. Let me read you some of the actual chatter that was picked up in that spring and summer:

"Unbelievable news coming in weeks," said one.

"Big event -- there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar."

"There will be attacks in the near future."

Troubling, yes. But they don't tell us when; they don't tell us where; they don't tell us who; and they don't tell us how.

Um, Dr. Rice, with all due respect, the chatter and the August 6 memo did in fact tell us when ("in weeks"), where ("New York"), who ("Bin Laden"), and how ("hijackings"). Or were you expecting someone to give you the exact dates and flight numbers?

Now, to be fair, hindsight is 20/20, and I actually think it's a defensible position to look at that information at the time and make a considered decision not to act on it. But they didn't do that. They did what they did because they were willfully ignorant, because they had all their attention focused on Iraq, and because of familial obligations to the Bin Ladens and the House of Saud.

What is astonishing to me is that even in the face of news like that (and this) there will still be somewhere around fifty million Americans ready to vote for George Bush in November.

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