Reporter Kurt Eichenwald has created quite a buzz with his op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times alleging failure by George W. Bush’s administration to adequately respond to numerous warnings from the CIA of an impending Al Qaeda terrorist plot prior to the 9/11 attacks.
In the article, Eichenwald argues that the Bush administration was warned about potential attacks from Al Qaeda well before the now-infamous Aug. 6, 2001 presidential brief was delivered to the president and his administration.
The memo, entitled Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US, provided an overview of Al Qaeda’s movement toward a potential attack on American soil.
The brief wasn’t declassified and made available to the public until 2004, and it shed negative light on the former president’s handling of terror intelligence leading up to the attacks.
Eichenwald says that the memo was just one of numerous warnings from the CIA dating back to the spring of 2001. He writes in the article:
By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.
Eichenwald charges that embers of the Bush administration dismissed the Al Qaeda threats as a smokescreen orchestrated by Osama Bin Laden and then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to divert America’s attention away from Iraq. In response, he says the CIA produced another report insisting that the threat from Al Qaeda was very real:
“The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,” the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya.
And the C.I.A. repeated the warnings in the briefs that followed. Operatives connected to Bin Laden, one reported on June 29, expected the planned near-term attacks to have “dramatic consequences,” including major casualties. On July 1, the brief stated that the operation had been delayed, but “will occur soon.” Some of the briefs again reminded Mr. Bush that the attack timing was flexible, and that, despite any perceived delay, the planned assault was on track.
Eichenwald documents this information in his new book 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars . Some critics view Eichenwald’s work as hindsight criticism of George W. Bush that offers no substantive value 11 years later.
Check out Eichenwald’s heated exchange with with former New York Governor George Pataki about the op-ed on MSNBC, then let us know what you think: