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The Real Road to 9/11

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Message Randolph Holhut
The Bush administration, the most tightly disciplined and secretive White House in memory, has worked for the last five years to obscure the true story of the events surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

With the fifth anniversary of 9/11 coming up, it's worth remembering the extent of how the Bush administration ignored the threat that al-Qaida posed, and how they used 9/11 to lead this nation into a long, costly and bloody war and occupation in Iraq.

When George W. Bush took office in January 2001, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, a Defense Department-chartered commission headed by former U.S. Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, had just produced a report that concluded that "a direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century."

While Congress apparently was taking the Hart-Rudman report seriously, the Bush administration decided to shove it aside and prepare its own response to the issue.

In May 2001, the Bush administration announced that Vice President Dick Cheney would study the problem of domestic terrorism and assign primary responsibility for dealing with it to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Before the Bush administration decided to go its own way, Hart and Rudman had briefed then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and urged them to spend more time dealing with terrorism.

Nothing happened, and the Hart-Rudman commission's report was ignored. Not even The New York Times chose to report on the commission's findings until Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the 9/11 attacks.

As for the Cheney report, it was never completed.

The story the Bush people have stuck to all along is that the threats they received were too vague to be acted upon. But how do you account for these two stories from July 2001?

The G8 annual economic summit - which President Bush attended - was held that month in Genoa, Italy. The summit featured extraordinary security, including ground-to-air missile batteries. According to a report at the time in the The Times of London, "the Italian Defense Ministry ha(d) taken the precaution after a tip by 'a friendly foreign intelligence service' that Islamic suicide bombers might try to attack the summit in a small aircraft or helicopter."

During that same month, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft stopped taking commercial flights. CBS News reported at the time the reason Ashcroft started flying exclusively in private aircraft was because of a "threat assessment" by the FBI.

Here were two instances where threats were received and acted upon. But no one thought to notify other Americans that something might be up?

Another one of those advance warnings was a report in July 2001 from the FBI's Phoenix office that suspects in a terrorist investigation linked to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden were attending flight school. The New York Times reported that one of the people who saw the report filed by Special Agent Kenneth Williams was John O'Neill, the FBI's leading expert on bin Laden and one of its top counter-terrorism people.

O'Neill apparently took the memo seriously and tried to warn the higher-ups about it. Nothing was done. It was never shared with the CIA or other intelligence agencies; not even the top echelon of the FBI ever saw it. In the midst of this inaction, the Bush administration was supposedly backing off tracking bin Laden because it was more interested in cutting a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan - which was harboring bin Laden - so a oil pipeline could be built.

O'Neill quit the FBI in disgust in August 2001 to take a job as chief of security at the World Trade Center. The pipeline negotiations broke down later that month. Bin Laden's forces struck on Sept. 11, and O'Neill died at the hands of the people he had fought so hard to thwart.

Since then, it has been reported that Russian, German and Israeli intelligence agencies all picked up signals during the summer of 2001 that bin Laden was up to something big. The German intelligence agency BND warned the U.S. and Israel that terrorists were planning to hijack planes to fly them into buildings. That was echoed by Russia's intelligence services; they told the CIA in August 2001 that 25 terrorist pilots had been trained for suicide missions. Also that month, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad warned the FBI and CIA that up to 200 al-Qaida members were planning a major attack on American targets

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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.
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