Saturday, April 10, 2004

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.

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