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by Burt Hall
August 10, 2004

Dear Senators Kerry & Edwards:

On 9-11, when the President discovered the U.S. was under terrorist attack, what was going through his mind during those infamous 7 minutes? Some distinct possibilities are:

  • Why didn't I listen to my predecessor when he told me that al-Qaeda would be my number one problem?
  • Why didn't we listen when his aides briefed the Vice-President and my National Security Advisor on the threat and a plan to eliminate the network behind it?
  • Why did I downgrade the White House terror unit?
  • Why didn't I listen to the Counterterrorism Commission when they warned me of a catastrophic attack on the United States and urged that homeland security protection be established?
  • Why didn't I respond to the USS Cole attack when the CIA confirmed al-Qaeda's responsibility?
  • Why did I threaten Congress with a veto when they wanted to shift $600 million in missile shield money to counter-terrorism?
  • Why did we reject the $50 million request from the FBI to fund its counter-terror program?
  • Why didn't I take seriously the series of grave warnings received from other countries during the summer -- "most of al-Qaeda is anticipating an attack", "something very, very, very big", "something spectacular is going to happen", etc.?
  • Why didn't I listen to the CIA Director when he told me there would be a "significant attack in the near future" and that "the system was blinking red?"
  • Why didn't I call a cabinet meeting when I received the CIA's Aug. 6th briefing about bin Laden's intentions to strike the United States?
  • Why didn't I hold national security meetings on the al-Qaeda terror threat before September?
  • Why didn't I share some of this threat information with the American people?

Many of these facts were known before the 9-11 Commission began its investigation. The Commission's report does contain many excellent findings re: problems with intelligence community, FBI, immigration, etc. -- but, no findings re: problems within the White House, or with its priorities, or with presidential leadership. Why did't the Commission connect the dots?

For one thing, the politically-divided Commission was faced with an impossible situation during an election year -- either (1) play down the President's responsibility and have a unified, bipartisan report that would be acted upon or (2) assign at least some responsibility to the President and have a divided report that would gather dust.

More importantly, however, the Commission focused on the wrong question: Could 9-11 have been prevented? To answer that nearly impossible question either way could be construed as self-serving and encourage the use of 20/20 retrospective -- something the President did not have at the time.

The right question: Put yourself in the shoes of the President at the time and ask what would a reasonable and prudent person do in the same situation, irrespective of the result? In other words: What would any president do when confronted with an al-Qaeda declaration of war, a history of earlier attacks, exceptional advice on how serious the threat was and troublesome warnings of new attacks?

It would be nice to know exactly where the new attacks might take place and their timing. However, the only reasonable alternative for any president would be to put the country in a crisis mode and take immediate action to defend the nation. With presidential leadership and a sharing of information with the public, bureaucratic barriers within the operating agencies would have broken down and these agencies (along with flying schools and airlines) would have become much more responsive to the threat.

In the end, the measures taken should have shown a government in action, anxious to protect its people and determined to make it difficult for terrorist attacks to succeed. That's all we can expect -- but no less.

Some are beginning to connect the dots. David Ignatius concluded is his Washington Post review of the 9-11 report:

"The Bush team ... didn't get serious about bin Laden ... In truth, nothing would have prevented the National Security Advisor (to the President) from mobilizing anti-terrorism policy against al-Qaeda in the months before 9-11. That's what makes this story a tragedy -- that existing institutions of government might have averted the disaster, if they had taken action."

It does not require much "imagination" or common sense to figure out that the President could and should have taken major steps to protect the nation -- whether successful or not. Inaction, faced with overpowering information, was inexcusable. To then resist creation of an investigative commission and subsequently stonewall it is unacceptable.

The President has done his best to evade and cover-up any responsibility for 9-11. Yet, he is riding that tragedy, as well as the war on terror, back to the White House for another four years -- just as he misused these same two things to go to war in Iraq.

Senators Kerry and Edwards; are you going to let him get away with it?

If the President ultimately does not accept some responsibility, what will stop the worst disaster in our history from happening again?

Posted: August 17, 2004


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