On the 11th anniversary of 9-11, there was not a single mention of the attacks on the front page of the New York Times. In fact, there were just two local news stories related to the attacks in the entire Tuesday edition, one on delays in opening the site museum, the other on how some towns in New Jersey were scaling back annual memorial ceremonies. (The paper did put another threat to New York City on the front page: "New York Is Lagging as Seas And Risks, Rise, Critics Warn.")
The only other 9-11 coverage was "The Deafness Before the Storm," an op-ed by Kurt Eichenwald, a former Times reporter with a book out on the aftermath of the attacks ("500 Days"), blaming former President George W. Bush for ignoring warnings that Osama bin Laden was readying an attack on the United States.
Eichenwald's op-ed also offered the only image of the Twin Towers (which the Times has long avoided showing) in Tuesday's edition, two blocks of text on dark rectangular backgrounds symbolizing the Towers.
Eichenwald's evidence of Bush's "negligence"? Well, just trust him. The information is not public, and what he offers from his perusal of classified briefings is pretty thin:
It was perhaps the most famous presidential briefing in history.
On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” --the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies -- featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.
On April 10, 2004, the Bush White House declassified that daily brief -- and only that daily brief -- in response to pressure from the 9/11 Commission, which was investigating the events leading to the attack. Administration officials dismissed the document’s significance, saying that, despite the jaw-dropping headline, it was only an assessment of Al Qaeda’s history, not a warning of the impending attack. While some critics considered that claim absurd, a close reading of the brief showed that the argument had some validity.
That is, unless it was read in conjunction with the daily briefs preceding Aug. 6, the ones the Bush administration would not release. 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.
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.
“The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,” the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya.
And the C.I.A. repeated the warnings in the briefs that followed. Operatives connected to Bin Laden, one reported on June 29, expected the planned near-term attacks to have “dramatic consequences,” including major casualties. On July 1, the brief stated that the operation had been delayed, but “will occur soon.” Some of the briefs again reminded Mr. Bush that the attack timing was flexible, and that, despite any perceived delay, the planned assault was on track.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush officials attempted to deflect criticism that they had ignored C.I.A. warnings by saying they had not been told when and where the attack would occur. That is true, as far as it goes, but it misses the point. Throughout that summer, there were events that might have exposed the plans, had the government been on high alert. Indeed, even as the Aug. 6 brief was being prepared, Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi believed to have been assigned a role in the 9/11 attacks, was stopped at an airport in Orlando, Fla., by a suspicious customs agent and sent back overseas on Aug. 4. Two weeks later, another co-conspirator, Zacarias Moussaoui, was arrested on immigration charges in Minnesota after arousing suspicions at a flight school. But the dots were not connected, and Washington did not react.
As shown, Eichenwald is suspiciously low on specifics to back his hyped-up accusation of Bush "negligence."
The Times tried the same thing against Bush when the August 6, 2001 "President's Daily Briefing" was released, getting basic facts wrong in a rush to pin blame for the 9-11 attacks on him. Times Watch noted the history last year on the 10th anniversary of 9-11.
When the famous August 6, 2001 President's Daily Briefing, the two-page classified briefing document given to Bush 36 days before 9-11, was declassified in April 2004, several Times stories hit President Bush for allegedly missing clues to 9-11, despite the memo's distinct lack of detail.
On April 11, 2004, intelligence reporter Douglas Jehl opened with a hard sell of the briefing: "In a single 17-sentence document, the intelligence briefing delivered to President Bush in August 2001 spells out the who, hints at the what and points toward the where of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that followed 36 days later. Whether its disclosure does lasting damage to Mr. Bush's presidency and re-election prospects may depend on whether the White House succeeds in persuading Americans that, as a whole, its significance adds up to less than a sum of those parts."
Here are those "parts" referenced by reporter Jehl-from the last three paragraphs of the document. Note how vague they are compared to Jehl's overheated description:
We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a"service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of 'Blind Sheik' Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.
Nevertheless, F.B.I. information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.
The F.B.I. is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. C.I.A. and the F.B.I. are investigating a call to our embassy in the U.A.E. in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.
Eichenwald is making the liberal media rounds. He appeared on CBS This Morning on September 11 and stridently made his case with host Norah O'Donnell.
Eichenwald: What I've been able to see are the presidential daily briefs before August 6 of 2001, and they're horrific, and they are – our – reports are, an attack is coming. There are going to be mass casualties. The worst of them – the Pentagon – the neo-conservatives at the Pentagon – as the CIA was coming in saying, you know, al Qaeda's going to attack, said, oh, this is just a false flag operation. Bin Laden is trying to take our eye off of the real threat - Iraq. And so, there are presidential daily briefs that are literally saying, no, they're wrong. This isn't fake. It's real.
O'Donnell: Well, then, when a lot of people hear this, aren't they going to say, this is another example of where - not just the Bush administration, but our intelligence community dropped the ball. They failed to heed the warnings that were in a number of these PDB's that went all the way up to the President of the United States?
Eichenwald: Actually, the counter-terrorist center of the CIA did a spectacular job, and that's what really comes down. You know, in the aftermath, the White House and others said, well, they didn't tell us enough. No, they told them everything they needed to know to go on a full alert, and the White House didn't do it.