Our Truth, and Theirs

A New York Times op-ed revealing the extent of the Bush administration’s extraordinary indifference to early warnings of 9/11 motivated former administration spokesman Ari Fleischer to tweet:

Disgusting op-ed in NYT by a truther implying Bush knew of 9-11/let it happen. NYT decries lack of civility, then adds to it.”

An additional tweet reiterated the “truther” epithet and questioned why the Times was lending its pages to such a disreputable sort. Yet the author of the piece, Kurt Eichenwald, is a longtime mainstream journalist, coming from such venues as the Washington Monthly, the New York Times, and Conde Nast: he is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and the author of several best-selling books on a wide variety of subjects. Eichenwald’s forte is investigative journalism, and his book, The Informant, was made into a major motion picture. This is hardly a portrait of a marginal figure sitting in his parents’ basement spinning out elaborate conspiracy theories: to my knowledge, Eichenwald has never published anything questioning the Official Story — and his article never says the Bush administration “let it happen.”

What it does say is that recently unclassified documents show an administration pushing back hard against CIA and other intelligence assessments warning of the impending attack:

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.”

Eichenwald describes two previously unknown briefs issued to the White House in May and June of 2001. The former described “a group presently in the United States” intent on carrying out a major terrorist attack: the latter forecast the strike as “imminent.” Eichenwald writes:

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.”

The neocon pushback was so relentless the CIA had to counterattack with a memo denying bin Laden was engaged in a “disinformation” campaign — as the neocons claimed. All through the summer of 2001, Eichenwald relates, a series of presidential briefings practically pleaded with Bush to take seriously the threat of an impending strike by al Qaeda — to no avail. The CIA had lost the internal debate, and the neocons nixed any action that might have taken out Mohammed Atta and his boys. Eichenwald has the inside scoop on the reaction from the intelligence community:

Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else.”

The real story of 9/11 has yet to be told — this in spite of the 9/11 Commission report, the congressional hearings and court cases, and the endless literature on the subject. That’s because a lot of the background documentation has been missing. As new internal documents become available, the very thin Official Narrative, aside from taking on a bit more heft, is bound to change in potentially significant ways. This isn’t “trutherism” — it’s how history unfolds.

The Fleischers of this world would dismiss as “trutherism” any such rethinking in light of new evidence — but what about the documents Eichenwald cites? Fleischer’s smear is meant to evade precisely this question: is the former Bush spokesman denying the documents exist, or that they say what Eichenwald says they say?

The “truther” epithet is meant to obscure an important distinction. It is one thing to claim the World Trade Center was struck down by an alien space ray commandeered by Dick Cheney (who, by the way, is really a Space Alien!): it is quite another to cite presidential briefings and other documentary evidence showing a concerted effort was made within the administration to effectively block any meaningful action which might have stopped the 9/11 hijackers.

It’s interesting how Fleischer immediately interpreted this to mean the Bush administration “let it happen,” as if it had been planned that way. Getting a bit defensive, now aren’t we?

Yet this idea that some people had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks has been part of the atmospherics attached to the subject from the beginning, and is not confined to “truthers.” In December 2001, Fox News ran a four-part series of reports by Carl Cameron claiming the Israelis were following the trail of the hijackers in the US, and must have had some inkling of what they were up to. “How could they not have known,” says Cameron, citing a US intelligence official.

It is hardly inconceivable some Bush administration officials had access to this intelligence — in all likelihood the very same neocons who did everything they could to divert attention away from bin Laden and focus the government’s attention on Saddam Hussein. While there is no evidence for this, the opportunity to gather it has not exactly been forthcoming: since no one has been held accountable — not a single federal employee was fired as a result of the 9/11 investigations into governmental incompetence — the proper venue has been lacking. Add to this the opacity surrounding the events that led up to that fateful day. As Cameron reported in the first few minutes of his four-part Fox series:

Since September 11, more than 60 Israelis have been arrested or detained, either under the new patriot anti-terrorism law, or for immigration violations. A handful of active Israeli military were among those detained, according to investigators, who say some of the detainees also failed polygraph questions when asked about alleged surveillance activities against and in the United States.

There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9-11 attacks, but investigators suspect that the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are ‘tie-ins.’ But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, ‘evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.’”

Slowly but surely, the real story will be declassified, leaked, or otherwise revealed. The truth will come out in time: until then, anyone who dares question the Official Narrative is derided, ironically, as a “truther.” To which the only possible response is to note that the opposite of a “truther” is a liar.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].