Reading Between the Lines


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Business as usual. That’s the message of today’s 9-11 Commission report. No one is held accountable for anything. President Bush, the commander in chief, left the nation’s borders unprotected—even though both he and predecessor Bill Clinton had been warned over a three-year period of a possible attack by planes. Using the same words he used last April, Bush said Wednesday, after he was briefed on the findings, “Had we had any inkling whatsoever, that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America.” Bush added, “And I’m confident President Clinton would have done the same thing. Any president would have.”

“Inkling”? Three full years of drumbeat warnings, topped off by a top-secret daily brief weeks before the attack? You had no “inkling”? Can’t we have a little straight talk here? You were asleep at the switch, Mr. President.

The military commanders charged with protecting the nation get off scot-free. Ditto the FAA, which, it turns out, has been sitting on photos of the hijackers taken as they walked through the lame security apparatus at Dulles airport in Washington, set off alarms, and then were permitted to proceed. The Justice Department and the FBI continued to cover up their parts in the mess, most notably by refusing to permit public testimony by whistle-blower translator Sibel Edmonds, along with a second person who translated an interview with a top FBI “asset”—a former high-level Iranian intelligence officer under the Shah—who gave U.S. agents news from Afghanistan, where the officer’s own operatives remained in place. This knowledgeable man told the FBI in April 2001 that Osama bin Laden was planning to use planes to attack one or another of five American cities—including New York. What happened to that report?

As for Edmonds, we are still in the dark—because the government won’t let her talk. What did she mean when she was quoted as saying, “My translations of the 9-11 intercepts included [terrorist] money laundering, detailed and date-specific information. . . . If they were to do real investigations, we would see several significant high-level criminal prosecutions in this country [the U.S.] . . . and believe me, they will do everything to cover this up.”

Congress is to blame. That’s true enough. On the other hand, the 9-11 Commission wouldn’t exist if Senator Bob Graham had not issued an Intelligence Committee report that directly raised the possibility of a government cover-up. The Florida Democrat spoke out publicly on issues involving 9-11 when few others were doing so.

On Tuesday, Bush told a rally in Cedar Falls, Iowa, “You need to know something about me. I will never turn over America’s national security decisions to leaders of other countries.”

Isn’t that interesting. While the media focus on Iran’s recently discovered possible involvement—allowing Al Qaeda people through its porous northern border with Afghanistan—the more likely culprit is Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. A state within a state, Pakistan’s powerful spy agency has been pumped up with CIA money. It provided support for the Taliban. It provided—and still provides—cover and support for Al Qaeda. But then, Pakistan is our ally, and we can’t do anything to upset that precarious situation.

That’s not all that’s shaky. Getting to the bottom of the close relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan’s spy agency could prove dangerous to some reputations.

Writing today in The Guardian (U.K.), Michael Meacher, a member of the British Parliament and former environment minister, pointed out that Omar Sheikh, who’s about to hang for the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, wired $100,000 before the 9-11 attacks to lead hijacker Mohammed Atta—on the orders of General Mahmoud Ahmed, then head of the ISI.

And it turns out, Meacher writes, that General Ahmed was in D.C. on September 11, 2001: He had just had a series of meetings “in the White House, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and with George Tenet . . . and Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs. When Ahmed was exposed by The Wall Street Journal as having sent the money to the hijackers, he was forced to ‘retire’ by President Pervez Musharraf. Why hasn’t the U.S. demanded that he be questioned and tried in court?”

Then Meacher zooms in on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a bin Laden lieutenant often identified in reports as “KSM.” He was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003. A congressional report has identified him as having been “active in recruiting people to travel outside Afghanistan, including to the U.S., on behalf of bin Laden.”

Meacher wryly notes that, although the CIA and FBI were both aware of that, “neither agency apparently recognized the significance of a bin Laden lieutenant sending terrorists to the U.S. and asking them to establish contacts with colleagues already there.” And he points out that The New York Times has already written that “American officials said that KSM, once Al Qaeda’s top operational commander, personally executed Daniel Pearl . . . but he was unlikely to be accused of the crime in an American criminal court because of the risk of divulging classified information.” Meacher adds, “Indeed, he may never be brought to trial.”

Bottom line: Some events preceding 9-11 implicate too many people high up in both the Clinton and Bush administrations for either Kerry or Bush to raise the issue in an election campaign.