Sandy Berger "Disrupted" Millennium Terror Plot? - July 23, 2004 -

Times Watch for July 23, 2004

Sandy Berger "Disrupted" Millennium Terror Plot?

As expected, the release of the 9/11 commission's final report is Friday's main story, heralded by a five-column photo of the 9/11 panel spread across the front page. The real news: After a string of blame-Bush stories, reporters David Johnston and Douglas Jehl, perhaps reigned in by the bipartisan nature of the report itself, squelch much of the usual anti-Bush angle. Still, some misinformation leaks through.

Johnston and Jehl sum things up in the first sentence: "The Clinton and Bush administrations failed to grasp the gravity of the threat from Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and left counterterrorism efforts to a disparate collection of uncoordinated, underfinanced and dysfunctional government agencies, the commission on the attacks said in its final report published on Thursday."

But the Times also includes a misleading bit on Clinton's newly controversial national security adviser Sandy Berger, misstating the Clinton administration's role in preventing the millennium attacks: "Different sections [of the report] give contrasting accounts of responses by national security advisers under Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush. It describes how [Sandy] Berger, under Mr. Clinton, took the lead in December 1999 in mobilizing the F.B.I. and other domestic agencies to address the so-called millennium plot, in which attacks planned in Jordan and Los Angeles were disrupted. By contrast, the report describes Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, as not having regarded the coordination of domestic agencies as part of their responsibility after they took office in 2001, even as warnings of a possible attack continued to grow."

But journalist Byron York has a different take on the Clinton administration's alleged achievement: "At several points in the September 11 commission hearings, Democrats pointed to the millennium case as an example of how a proper counterterrorism program should be run. But sources say the report suggests just the opposite. [Richard] Clarke apparently concluded that the millennium plot was foiled by luck-a border agent in Washington State who happened to notice a nervous, sweating man who turned out to have explosives in his car-and not by the Clinton administration's savvy anti-terrorism work."

The Times should have also noted that the classified documents lifted by Berger just happened to be ones dealing with the millennium attacks-which seems coincidental at the very least.

For the full story on the 9/11 report from Johnston and Jehl, click here.

" Al Qaeda | Sandy Berger | George W. Bush | Bill Clinton | Iraq War | Douglas Jehl | David Johnston | Terrorism

Times Again Tries to Minimize Iraq-Al Qaeda Ties

Intelligence reporter Douglas Jehl's sidebar article to the paper's big 9/11 report coverage insists: "The Sept. 11 commission said that it had found no evidence that Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia knowingly provided operational or financial support to Al Qaeda in advance of the attacks, but it called for further investigation of the relationship between Iran and Al Qaeda. For the most part, the conclusion effectively absolves all three governments from allegations of complicity in the attacks. In particular, it finds no indication that contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda in the 1990's 'ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship,' a conclusion very different in tone from assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials."

Yet while a preliminary commission report claimed to find "no collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the final report clarifies that the commission found no "collaborative operational relationship," which raises the bar considerably. And, as journalist Byron York notes today, the final report goes into much further detail about the ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, a fact Jehl fails to acknowledge. The larger question: Now that the commission has had its final say on the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection, will the Times' previously dismissive reporting be corrected to reflect the new knowledge?

For the full set of sidebar stories on the 9/11 report, including Jehl's take, click here.

" Al Qaeda | Iraq War | Douglas Jehl | Terrorism