9-11 Failures: Blaming Bush's Neo-Cons, Ignoring Clinton's Exaggerations

The Times' lead editorial ignores Clinton's culpability in the pre-9-11 hunt for Osama bin Laden, while blaming Bush's "neo-conservative agenda" for distracting the CIA.

Thursday's lead editorial, "The C.I.A. Report," took a jaundiced anti-Bush look at the C.I.A.'s assessment of pre-9-11 intelligence failures, written in 2005 and finally released yesterday.

Predictably, the editorial focused on what it obviously considered the most important part of the story, blaming Bush for inaction - specifically, for distracting C.I.A. director George Tenet through its "neo-conservative agenda." In the Times vision of the world, again Bill Clinton completely escapes blame and is credited for things he did not do.

"The C.I.A. inspector general's report on the agency's failures before Sept. 11 was devastating - but not because it showed that America's spies missed the rise of Al Qaeda. George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, rang the Qaeda alarm. He sent a memo to the entire intelligence community saying that he wanted no effort spared in the 'war' with Osama bin Laden. He took on the president's closest advisers to agitate for a strike on a Qaeda base in Afghanistan.

"The disturbing thing was that this all happened under President Bill Clinton. When George W. Bush won the White House, Mr. Tenet seems to have shifted his priorities. The C.I.A. chief suddenly seemed consumed with hanging on to his job.

"The Bush team was so busy in 2001 trying to upend America's global relationships according to a neo-conservative agenda that the then national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, did not see any urgency in reports that Al Qaeda was determined to strike in the United States. Mr. Tenet later helped hype the 'slam dunk' intelligence that Mr. Bush used to justify diverting the military from the war of necessity against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to the war of choice in Iraq."

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball took a less partisan view, demonstrating that Clinton appeared to have exaggerated his administration's sense of urgency in taking out bin Laden.

"The report also seemed to raise new questions about former President Clinton's angry claim to Fox News anchor Chris Wallace last year that he had authorized the CIA to 'kill' Osama bin Laden - a directive that the report suggested was more ambiguous and limited than Clinton asserted."


"In September 2006, during a famous encounter with Fox News anchor Wallace, Clinton erupted in anger and waived his finger when asked about whether his administration had done enough to get bin Laden. 'What did I do? What did I do?' Clinton said at one point. 'I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since.'

"Clinton appeared to have been referring to a December 1999 Memorandum of Notification (MON) he signed that authorized the CIA to use lethal force to capture, not kill, bin Laden. But the inspector general's report made it clear that the agency never viewed the order as a license to 'kill' bin Laden - one reason it never mounted more effective operations against him."