By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
As his advisers scared the nation stiff with talk of doomsday, Shrub immersed himself in a hectic, heavyweight schedule. Let's start with the week of Monday, May 13, which the prez kicked off by inking an arms deal with Russia, signing the farm billand flying to Illinois for a fundraiser for state attorney general Jim Ryan, a candidate for governor.
Back in Washington on Tuesday, he attended a black-tie gala fundraiser for the Republican Party, which raised $30 million, and released the first of a set of photos of himself on Air Force One, engaged in a phone conversation with Vice President Dick Cheney after the September 11 attacks. Reserved for those who donate at least $150 to GOP legislative hopefuls, the pics capture a moment when, in the president's own words, he was just trying to stay out "of harm's way."
The next day, May 15, Bush went to Capitol Hill for a discussion of welfare reform. News broke of an FBI agent's early 9-11 warning, but it wasn't until the weekend that the administration got it together enough to cover its ass.
On Thursday, May 16, the prez attended a ceremony honoring Ronald Reagan.
Thanking God it was Friday, Bush busied himself presenting the Commander in Chief trophy to players from the Air Force Academy football team.
On the sixth day he rested. Then came the storm. Growing furor in Congress over the FBI's failure to respond to early alarms left the administration with two choices: counter convincingly or thunder more loudly. Thus on Sunday, May 19, Cheney announced that more attacks in this country are "almost a certainty." The next day, FBI chief Robert Mueller said suicide bombings here are "inevitable." On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put in his two cents with the dire warning that the terrorists "inevitably will get their hands" on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
Meanwhile, the commander in chief was having himself a good old time. Bush opened the workweek of May 20 with a White House attack on Fidel Castro, a sturdy punching bag. This presumably was a swipe at that peanut farmer turned one-term president turned international appeaser and current Havana visitor, Jimmy Carter. Standing before Washington reporters, Bush sought to lift the Cuban menace to new heights, labeling the island nation a redoubt for bioterrorisma charge which appears to have no credibility. Ramping up, he traveled to Miami that very day, where he gave Castro another kick for the benefit of the Cuban Americans in Miami, a gesture designed to get brother Jeb a key bloc of votes in his upcoming gubernatorial fight. Then he dashed off to Jeb's fundraiser, while his top advisers began suggesting that the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty might be taken out sooner or later.
Back on the White House South Lawn, the president spent Tuesday, May 21, socializing with this year's NCAA champions. He met with the University of Maryland men's basketball team (the Terrapins), the Connecticut women's basketball squad (the Huskies), and the Minnesota men and women hockey skaters (the Bulldogs).
Through all this, the Homeland Security office never changed its alert from yellow, insisting the tips were too vague. They couldn't have been much vaguer than Bush. "The FBI director, yesterday, I talked to him. He comes in every morning, by the way," Bush explained before taking off for Europe. "So this subject, he came up this morning. He was talking about, he was speculating based upon a lot of intelligence that indicates that the Al Qaeda is active, plotting, planning, you know, trying to hit us. So he was speculating. He basically said, Look, I wouldn't be surprised if there is another attack, and it's going to be difficult to stop them, is what he said."
With that, the commander left his now jittery homeland on Wednesday, May 22, for ice cream in Berlin and another groundbreaking effort: condemning Hitler.
Critics have long lambasted America's lousy intelligence system, but last summer the system itselfif not the administration running itappeared to be working. In June, the rise of information about impending terrorist acts caused the State Department to issue a general warning to American travelers. On July 5, Bush asked Condoleezza Rice to look into the threats, and the next day a counterterrorism group met under the aegis of the national security adviser.
By the middle of the month more threats had piled up, most of them relating to the G-8 meeting in Genoa. These included a specific threat against Bush himself. Mid-level officials at the FBI received the Kenneth Williams memo about flight schools at the end of July.
In early August, Bush was told that aircraft hijackings might be a goal of Al Qaeda. On August 13 Zacarias Moussaoui was nabbed on immigration charges. On August 21, as part of its investigation into the USS Cole, the CIA became suspicious of Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi and alerted the INS that they were possible terrorists. Two days later, the CIA realized al-Midhar was already in the U.S., and alerted the FBI. But the Bureau couldn't locate him. Both al-Midhar and Alhazmi were hijackers on the jet that hit the Pentagon.