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The 9/11 Commission: Could'a, would'a, should'a

By Alan Caruba
web posted March 29, 2004

Former U.S. counterterrorism official Richard Clarke testifies before a national commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks on Capitol Hill on March 24
Former U.S. counterterrorism official Richard Clarke testifies before a national commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks on Capitol Hill on March 24

I watched as much of the 9/11 Commission hearings as I could. Early on it occurred to me that it was a fairly useless exercise and one, in an election year, that the mainstream media would degrade into the typical political game of trying to transfer and place blame.

Most of the questions seemed to be of the "could'a, would'a, should'a" variety as if the participants in the events and years leading up to 9/11 could have known more, would have done things differently, and should have saved the more than 3,000 who died that day.

Only life doesn't work that day. The President gets briefed every morning by the head of the CIA and FBI. Others from the National Security Council participate. He hears from the Secretary of Defense as well. The news is never good and the news every day is filled with all manner of potential threats. After a while, a President gets used to it. Yes, the threats are there and they are real, but they are always there.

When a threat has been deterred, Americans are not told about it. Why let the enemy know that you know what he's up to?

Moreover, it's not like people in the Clinton administration or those coming into office in the Bush 43 administration weren't fully aware of the threats. They were. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, "We didn't arrive in office wrapped in cellophane." Nor was everyone in place on day one. The vetting and approval process for those serving the new administration took weeks and months.

If anything, those around Bush were among the most cohesive group of "neocons" to ever hold office at the same time. They arrived thinking that the US had to take a far more aggressive position regarding terror-sponsoring nations. By contrast, the Clinton inner circle were far less inclined to take any kind of military action, no matter what the provocation might be.

9/11, however, could not be ignored. It literally changed all the rules of the game and those rules were going to be written by President Bush and his circle of advisors. The toppling of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon was no longer going to be treated as a crime scene. It was a full-blown cause for war and that's what followed in short order.

Pakistan was told to cooperate. Or else. It cooperated. Afghanistan, home to the Taliban, mostly Saudi Arabians who had taken over the nation under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden, was attacked in order to either kill him or at least take away his base of operations.

Bin Laden has been on the run ever since. If this action had not been taken, he would still be directing new attacks on America, against which he openly declared war.

You don't have to listen to the 9/11 Commission hearings. All you have to do is read Breakdown by Bill Gertz. For a mere $15.00 you get the softcover edition published by Plume, a division of The Penguin Group. When first published in 2002, it detailed the failure of American intelligence to defeat the global terror campaign initiated by al Qaeda and the many other terrorist groups extant.

Despite the billions poured into the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, and all our other intelligence gather bureaucracies they acted like all bureaucracies, i.e., they protected their own turf and did not work well together. Since intelligence was their treasure, they often withheld it from one another or from military commanders and diplomats in the field. The FBI saw itself as a law enforcement agency primarily so it paid poor attention, if any, to the signals from its offices that some very strange things were occurring. For instance, a lot of Saudis living here seemed to be very interested in taking flying lessons.

In retrospect, this is significant NOW. It wasn't then because bureaucracies are creatures of a political world in which their budgets are subject to the oversight of members of the House and Senate, some of whom routinely voted against any increase to fund such things has hiring more Arabic-speaking translators. By the afternoon following 9/11, those agencies were desperately trying to find anyone in their midst who could understand and read Arabic or Farsi, the language of Iran. You could have counted them on the fingers of both hands.

Other factors were at work. George Tenet, the CIA chief, continues to have the confidence of George W. Bush, but before Clinton appointed him, the CIA had seen five directors in six years! There was no continuity of leadership there and, as a result, no one at the top had the ability to assess what had preceded him and was there so briefly any decision was pure guesswork. Politicians even meddled with the question of who the CIA could recruit. When you want to learn about terror groups, you don't ask the local equivalent of Boy Scouts to help you.

In sum, both the Carter and Clinton Administrations, are best remembered for being utterly feckless and immune to action against an Islamic revolution that demonstrated over and over again it regarded the US as weak. They had good reason. All that changed when Bush43 took over. 9/11 occurred barely eight months into his first term. He told the world, "If you aren't with us. You're against us."

And ever since then the French, the Germans, the Russians, and all the rest of the world's hand-wringers and bed-wetters have been telling us that all we're doing is getting the terrorists mad at us for trying to capture and/or kill them.

However, Libya's dictator has turned over his entire WMD program and wants to work with the US. Afghanistan and Iraq have begun the first steps toward becoming constitutional, democratic governments. Similar changes are occurring throughout the Middle East.

It is particularly telling that the European Union has only now begun to discuss a coordinated effort to deal with terrorism on that continent, fully three years since 9/11! If they couldn't have figured out years ago that it would also arrive on their doorstep, why should we expect our own people to know just when and how the terrorists would strike us?

The 9/11 Commission is just a typical, governmental exercise whose report will be ignored like so many other commissions before. Everyone who participates in it has their own agenda, so you might as well just pick a side and draw whatever conclusion you want. You will probably be wrong no matter which side you pick.

Why? Because history is seen in a rear-view mirror while the future is the dark, foggy road ahead, filled with unknown trouble.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly commentary, "Warning Signs", posted on www.anxietycenter.com, the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba 2004

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