President Bush claimed in his State of the Union speech to have prevented four terrorist plots. Phew! It's a good thing to know that we tossed out our Bill of Rights for some actual REASON - I mean other than turning Iraq into a training ground for terrorism.
Except that we didn't.
1.-"We stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast."
An October 8, 2005, LA Times story, headlined "Scope of Plots Bush Says Were Foiled Is Questioned," cited "several counter-terrorism officials" as saying that "the plot never progressed past the planning stages.... 'To take that and make it into a disrupted plot is just ludicrous,' said one senior FBI official....At most it was a plan that was stopped in its initial stages and was not an operational plot that had been disrupted by authorities."
On Feb. 10, 2006, the LA Times quoted a "US official familiar with the operational aspects of the war on terrorism," who said that "the Library Tower plot was one of many Al Qaeda operations that had not gone much past the conceptual stage....The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying that those familiar with the plot feared political retaliation for providing a different characterization of the plan that that of the president."
Michael Scheuer, an al Qaeda expert in the CIA's counter-terrorism center, told the Voice of America: "This doesn't sound like anything that I would recall as a major threat, or as a major success in stopping it....My impression [was that the National Security Council] culled through information to look for something that resembled a serious threat in 2002. It doesn't strike me, either as someone who was there or as someone who has followed al Qaeda pretty closely, that this was really a serious sort of effort."
A February 10, 2006 Washington Post story cited "several U.S. intelligence officials" who "said there is deep disagreement within the intelligence community over the seriousness of the Library Tower scheme and whether it was ever much more than talk."
A February 10, 2006, New York Daily News story cited one senior counterterrorism official who said: "There was no definitive plot. It never materialized or got past the thought stage."
Back on June 17, 2004, the New York Daily News quoted John Pistole, the FBI's counterterrorism director. Asked to comment on a CIA agent's statement that "I think we've probably prevented a few aviation attacks against both the East and West coasts," Pistole at first said he was "not sure what [the CIA] was referring to." The Daily News reported that "Even after consulting CIA officials, Pistole still would not call the alleged threat uncovered in the summer of 2003 an advanced plot."
2.-"We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America."
An October 31, 2006, Washington Post article describes al Qaeda's efforts as well short of "developing" and the case to tie them to the anthrax attacks in the United States as leading nowhere. A September 25, 2006, Washington Post article describes the FBI's investigation of the anthrax attacks in the United States as still open, but just barely active. If that investigation has reached any conclusion, or if Bush has discovered a plot of some other attacks that were prevented, he should produce evidence of such.
3.-"Just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean."
Well, the British "authorities" did arrest two dozen people at the insistence of the Bush Administration, but numerous reports found consensus among experts that those arrested could not have possibly mixed together on an airplane the liquid explosives they allegedly planned to use. And common sense suggested that if they had managed such a sophisticated plot, it was unlikely anyone else was working on the same thing (the assumption that prevents us all from traveling with toothpaste and deodorant unless sealed in a proper protective plastic bag, and leads to government employees carelessly tossing deadly dangerous toothpaste tubes into trashcans in the middle of unsuspecting crowds).
Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, summed this case up well:
"None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time. In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.
"What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests. Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth."
4.-"We broke up a Southeast Asian terror cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States."
Was this the one broken up in 1995, before Bush, when we still had much of our Bill of Rights intact? Is this the "tallest building on the West Coast" story by another name in order to expand the list? I've seen a lot of reports on Bush's speech, but no explanation of what he's talking about here.
5.-Of course, such claims are not new: They follow the pattern of the Padilla radiation bomb claim. The announcement of that supposed success was made at a time when Bush needed a boost in the media, even though the man had been locked up for a month already; and then the charges were later dropped. Keith Olbermann once ran a segment highlighting the suspicious timing of ten such announcements, each one of which ended up amounting to nothing at all. Olbermann's story left out plenty of more recent examples, but then, so did Bush's speech. Have we forgotten the heroic way in which he saved the Sears Tower already?
Richard Matthews provided research assistance for this article.