Saturday, April 10, 2004

Hearing Focuses Harsh Light on FBI

The Washington Post finaly begin to finger Louis Freeh as the individual with most responsibility for the failures of 9/11. This is one area where it is almost certain a Gore administration would have behaved very differently. Unlike the Republicans the Democrats considered Freeh an embarrasing failure who spent his time as director involving himself in political intrigues rather than doing his job.

No Gore appointed National Security Adviser would have assumed that Freeh was doing the job he had been told to.


One of the favorite claims of the right is that Bush is a resolute leader who uniquely had the courage to invade Afghanistan in response to 9/11.

Like many claims of the right the one problem with the claim is that it is utterly untrue and there is ample evidence to disprove it. Gore did not merely support the invasion of Afghanistan, he told his supporters 'George Bush is my commander in chief'.

It is of course highly unlikely that any other President would have invaded Iraq in response to 9/11, but that is only because there is no evidence that suggests Saddam was involved. One might as well say that it is highly unlikely that Gore would have invaded Saudi Arabia in response to 9/11 even though the links connecting the Saudi regime to al-Qaeda and 9/11 are strong.

So what might have happened if the votes had been counted?

One quite plausible scenario is the one given by Richard Clarke. the predator would have been flown armed in July, Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri would have been eliminated, the 9/11 plot would have continued undiscovered and the GOP would have claimed it was Gore's fault.

It is impossible to know with certainty what would have happened if history had taken a different turn, but almost all political decisions turn on probabilities rather than certainties and it is reasonable to ask whether there would have been a greater probability of foiling the 9/11 plot if the FBI and CIA had been concentrating their resources looking for it.

The first possible turning point in the narrative was the decision made by Clinton to leave retaliation for the Kohl bombing to the incomming Bush administration. It does not appear very likely to me that Gore's first decision as President would have been to abandon the existing counter-terrorism policy in favor of no response. It is much more likely that retaliation for the Kohl bombing would have taken place before the inaugural with Gore's full approval.

The second possible turning point comes at the inaugural. Gore might not have kept Clarke on as counter-terrorism co-ordinator but it seems unlikely that he would have allowed the job to be reduced in importance. Unlike the Bush partisans, Gore had spent eight years in office dealling with the consequences of the end of the cold war. He had no interest in pushing an anti-missile agenda and no personal score to settle with Saddam. Terrorism had been the principal foreign policy under Clinton and it is unlikely Gore would expect that situation to change and certainly not until Bin Laden had been eliminated.

If we assume that a different path had been taken at the first two turning points it seems unlikely that when the armed predator was ready in July that a bureaucratic argument between the CIA and defense department would have been allowed to delay its use against Bin Laden. The chance of the predator having succeeded in July was much higher than the chance of success after 9/11.

It is impossible to know how the elimination of Bin Laden would have affected al-Qaeda. It seems unlikely that any attack plans would have been abandoned unless both Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri were both eliminated. Bin Laden's principal contribution to al-Qaeda was his money, Al Zawahiri had plenty of hate left to continue his campaign without him.

We must assume that any attack against al-Qaeda would not have caused the sleeper cells already established to abandon their plan. Eliminating the al-Qaeda leadership might well have caused all sorts of operational difficulties that would force the plan to be delayed, but it might just as easily have led to the attack taking place earlier.

The real unknown is whether the FBI, CIA and the other security agencies would have reacted differently to the warnings that appeared in the summer of 2001 and whether that would have led to the 9/11 attack being discovered and foiled in the same way that the millenium attack had been foiled. For the outcome to have been different the investigators would have to have been lucky. But as we now know the investigators had had plenty of luck, they just failled to take advantage of it.

US memo 'warned' of al-Qaeda plot

Would the latest declassified memo be damaging if Rice had not claimed that nobody anticipated an al-Qaeda attack in the US?

It is very tempting to accuse Rice of bending her testimony to protect Bush. But closer inspection shows that very little of the information revealed by Clarke or the inquiry suggests that before 9/11 Bush was responsible for anything more than misplaced trust in his appointees.

Rice appears to be protecting her own reputation rather than that of her boss. If Bush had fired Rice immediately after 9/11 the commission would not be creating a series of political crises in an election year.

Even if Rice had been left in place, very little of the testimony would have damaged the administration if they had not tried to blame Clinton for 9/11. It is now demonstrated beyond doubt that while Clinton and Bush can both be faulted for failing to act against al-Qaeda, Clinton had made eliminating al-Qaeda an urgent priority and Bush had not.

The commission has revealled a series of warnings that an al-Qaeda attack in the US was imminent. The primary responsibility for acting on them lay with Louis Freeh. Rice was culpable because it was her job to make sure that Freeh was responding appropriately to the threats.

There is little doubt that Clinton's worst mistake as president was to appoint Louis Freeh to be director of the FBI. Instead of doing his job and working out how to make the FBI do its job better, Freeh made a series of disastrous personal interventions into high profile investigations. This led to the notorious Richard Jewel and Wen Ho Lee cases where Freeh ignored protests from the field officers performing the actual investigations and demanded indictments of men that were clearly innocent.

Freeh spent a considerable amount of his time and effort pushing for greater police powers and frequently cited terrorism as a pretext. This makes the fact that he completely ignored the warnings of imminent al-Qaeda attack all the more remarkable.

STLtoday - News - World

The wheels have come off the tomato.

Of course it was a stupid idea to try to fit the wheels on in the first place, it was inevitable they would fall off. That is why everyone on the left said not to try. Of course now it is the people who warned it would not work who are to blame for the fact that they fell off.

Only in Bushieland does this type of reasoning hold. When the administration was conducting its mendatious campaign for its war liberals warned that the occupation of Iraq would prove much more difficult than the invasion. Now that things are going badly the Bush appologists claim that the it was the liberals who got it wrong.

The appologists seem to have got it into their heads that because their only post-invasion planning was for the victory parade that nobody else had thought the occupation might not be a 'cake walk'.

Few war opponents doubted that the US military was capable of defeating Saddam's army in a very short period of time with minimal US casualties. The only way the invasion was likely to go wrong was if the generals or their political masters made a collosal blunder, like starting the invasion with a division stuck in the Suez canal.

In retrospect it is just as well that the case made for the invasion was completely false. If Saddam had rebuilt his military, if the WMD had existed, if the vaunted republican guard had not been easily bribed the potential for the Bushies to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory would have been much greater.

According to the Bushies any retrospective analysis of administration policy is defeatist, unpatriotic and only helps the enemy. And of course the same applies to their future plans.

It is therefore considered unhelpful to point out that few things are more likely to make the current situation worse than attempting to hand over 'sovereignty' to an unelected puppet government led by a convicted criminal. One of the very few being the destruction of the shrine of Ali, one of the most sacred in Shia Islam. At present it appears that the administration is poised to do both.

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