Classified Info

Out of sorts about 9/11? Here are some ways of putting it all together.

The Bush regime has inspired a burst of energy, and not just by defense contractors and Wall Street bankers. Take a look, for example at NotBush.com, which promises "informed talking points from mainstream media" and delivers a well-organized and sober conglomeration of factoids and analysis—sorted and arranged for anyone interested in serious discussion.

Then, of course, there's Paul Thompson's Center for Cooperative Research, a frighteningly exhaustive collection of annotated timelines that's particularly valuable for helping one figure out what happened on 9/11.

Those political dendrochronologists are slicing into recent history very methodically, with their blades perfectly perpendicular. The people at n+1 magazine, on the other hand, chose oblique angles to examine the somewhat oblique information in The 9/11 Commission Report. (Thanks to Matt Haber for tipping me to this.)

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The commission's 567-page report came with no index. Great Kinbote's ghost! How could they have not done an index? (One possible answer: to make the report less accessible and accountability less clear.) The people at n+1 went to work. They flew in a bunch of paratextual troopers to go all medieval-monk on the report's ass. What they came up with was Toward an Index of the 9/11 Commission Report , "compiled by Christian Lorentzen with Keith Gessen," plus a bevy of researchers. Calling the report "admirably lucid," n+1 notes, however, that it "repeats the very compartmentalization it's been charged with analyzing. To remedy this, and following the cue of n+1 friend Caleb Crain, we have assembled a team of indexers."

What's revealed in the indexes is either funny or tragic, or both. It's good sport. The magazine notes, "Our approach has varied—sometimes tending toward the 'zone defense' style of the CIA, elsewhere favoring the 'man-to-man' coverage practiced by the FBI."

Read the indexers' conclusions here. But first, see the following entry:

Ashcroft, John

before 9/11
—acknowledges "steep learning curve" on taking his job, 209
—receives warnings about Al Qaeda, 255, 258
—doesn't want to hear about threats anymore, 265
—assumes FBI is doing fine, 265
—takes no action, 265
—seeks new, explicit authorities for killing, 512
—bad relationship with acting FBI director Thomas Pickard, 536
—complains to Pickard that "nothing ever happens," 536
—9/10/01: quashes FBI request for increased counterterrorism funding, 210

after 9/11
—unreachable on morning of 9/11, 9
—vows to take every conceivable action, 327–328
—calls detaining aliens "risk minimization," 327
—joins George W. Bush's "war council," 330–332
—charged with spearheading homeland defense, 333

And here's an excerpt from another entry:

Clarke, Richard

dire warnings by
—asks, "Is there a threat to civilian aircraft?" 179
—says U.S. has "not put too much of a dent" in Al Qaeda and calls for "markedly different tempo," 182
—12/4/99: "We need to make some decisions NOW," 176
—12/22/00: "Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are in the U.S. and attacks in the U.S. are likely," 179
—1/25/01: Al Qaeda "not some narrow, little terrorist issue," 201
—3/23/01: Warns of attacks on White House, 204
—spring 2001: Says delay will lead to final victory of Taliban over Northern Alliance, 206
—5/29/01: Says bin Laden can only be eliminated, not deterred, 204
—5/29/01: "When these attacks occur, as they likely will, we will wonder what more we could have done to stop them," 256
—6/28/01: Tells Condoleezza Rice Al Qaeda activity "has reached a crescendo," 257
—7/27/01: Tells Rice intelligence spike has stopped, 260
—9/4/01: "Are we serious about dealing with Al Qaeda threat? Is Al Qaeda a big deal? ... Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] has not succeeded in stopping Al Qaeda attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the U.S. ... What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier?" 212

In the indexers' conclusion (see the link above), they say:

The cumulative amount of information available to the FBI and CIA in the summer of 2001 was astonishing. Over and over again, agents passed leads onto their superiors; over and over again, these were abandoned somewhere in the chain of command. After the Clinton administration's frenetic and somewhat uneven attempts to deal with Al Qaeda, the Bush people appear merely uninterested. None of the concern felt by agents in the field was communicated to the public. For the media, bin Laden was allowed to become a celebrity terrorist, and capturing his threats on camera became a great journalistic coup.

Now we have threat levels, like a mood ring, but otherwise an administration obsessed with secrecy. As indexer Caleb Crain puts it on his blog, Steamboats are Ruining Everything:

secrecy impedes alerts 258, 359–360; impedes military planning 351; impedes management 410; impedes budgeting 416.

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