[Mb-civic] Asleep at the Wheel -Bill Moyers

Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Fri Sep 10 17:06:41 PDT 2004

Asleep at the Wheel

By Bill Moyers, NOW with Bill Moyers
 Posted on September 10, 2004, Printed on September 10, 2004

It has taken three years for the details of the terrorist plot of 9/11 to
emerge. The fateful turns that led to the attacks have finally entered the
public discourse. Their lessons, however, have yet to be learned.

The first lesson is that the highest officials in government did not want us
to know the truth.

They already had the story they wanted Americans to believe: Nearly 3,000
people had died, we were assured, because the terrorists turned our
liberties against us, had brazenly exploited our open society. According to
this official view, the atrocities were inevitable, the plot so diabolical
and its execution so precise that only a superhero could have prevented it.

It sounded right. For the American people, the terror seemed to have fallen
out of that near-perfect September sky, out of the clear blue.

We now know otherwise. The report of the 9/11 Commission lays the story bare
in exhaustive, forensic detail:

    €      That Condoleezza Rice in the White House press room told
reporters May 16, 2002: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that
these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center,
taken another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use
an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."

    €      That George Tenet, in testimony before Congress, countered Rice's
claim: "The documents we've provided show some 12 reports spread over seven
years which pertain to possible use of aircraft as terrorist weapons. We
disseminated those reports to the appropriate agencies, such as the FAA, the
Department of Transportation, and the FBI as they came in."

    €      That the CIA in late 1999 had identified one of the future
hijackers, Khalid al Mihdhar, tracked him and a companion to Malaysia,
obtained a photocopy of his Saudi passport, learned he had a U.S. visa valid
until April 2000, obtained photographs of him and his associates, recognized
that "something more nefarious [was] afoot," and then promptly lost Mihdhar,
and his traveling partner and fellow future hijacker, Nawaf al Hazmi, in

    €      That Mihdhar and Hazmi arrived in Los Angeles aboard a United
Airlines flight on Jan 15, 2000.

    €      That Mihdhar was, according to a 9/11 Commission staff report, "a
known al Qaeda operative at the time."

    €      That Mihdhar and Hazmi lived openly in San Diego, obtained
California drivers' licenses in their own names, even rooming for a time
with an FBI informant.

    €      Even when the CIA learned of Mihdhar and Hazmi's arrival, their
names were not added to a terror watchlist until August 24, 2001.

    €      That even today, after three years of intensive FBI
investigation, the 9/11 Staff conceded an "inability to ascertain the
activities of Hazmi and Mihdhar during their first two weeks in the United

    €      That FBI director Robert Mueller said, "They gave no hint to
those around what they were about. They came lawfully. They lived lawfully.
They trained lawfully."

    €      That the staff of the 9/11 Commission endeavored "to dispel the
myth that [the hijackers'] entry into the United States was 'clean and

    €      "That all 19 of the still-existing hijacker [visa] applications
were incomplete in some way..."

    €      That the hijackers cleared U.S Customs a total of 33 times over
21 months through 9 airports.

    €      Ziad Jarrah, one of the 4 pilots, entered the U.S. a total of
seven times between May 2000 and August 2001.

    €      That "in all, [the hijackers] had 25 contacts with consular
officers and 43 contacts with immigration and customs authorities."

    €      That Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, "KSM," the mastermind of the terror
plot, used "a travel facilitator" to acquire a U.S. visa on July 23, 2001 in
Saudi Arabia ­ even though he had been indicted in the Southern District of
NY in 1996.

    €      That Mohammed Atta was readmitted to the US on January 10, 2001 ­
even though he had overstayed his previous visa by a month.

    €      That even when Atta was referred for further, "secondary
inspection" at Customs, "Atta's secondary inspector misjudged him as a
tourist, even though Atta presented him with a student/school form as a
basis for entry."

    €      That "in late June, 2001, when intelligence indicated that al
Qaeda was planning a major attack against U.S. interests in the near future,
the Visa Express Program in Saudi Arabia was expanded to include all
applicants in Saudi Arabia."

    €      That, "according to the GAO, consular officers in Riyadh refused
.15 percent of Saudi citizen visa applications during the period from
September 11, 2000 to April 30, 2001."

    €      That U.S. visa policy in Saudi Arabia "derived from several
sources"...including "common interests" that "resulted in what one senior
consular official serving in Saudi Arabia described as 'a culture in our
mission in Saudi Arabia to be as accommodating as we possibly could.'"

    €      That when the 9/11 Commission staff "asked consular officials
whether they felt pressure from their superiors or others to issue visas,
they answered that pressure was applied from several sources, including the
U.S. ambassador, Saudi government officials or businesspeople, and members
of the U.S. Congress."

    €      That "al Qaeda's senior leadership" stopped using a satellite
phone, and the NSA lost an effective avenue of surveillance, "almost
immediately after a leak to the Washington Times" in August 1998 ­ just
after the Clinton administration's failed strike on his Afghan camp.

    €      That on 9/11 "the Secretary of Defense did not enter the chain of
command until the morning's key events were over."

    €      That at 10:39 am on 9/11, Vice-President Cheney informed the
Secretary of Defense that "...it's my understanding they've already taken a
couple of aircraft out."

    €     That "NORAD and the FAA were unprepared for the type of attacks
launched against the United States on September 11th, 2001. They struggled,
under difficult circumstances, to improvise a homeland defense against an
unprecedented challenge they had never before encountered and had never
trained to meet."

 Then on page 265 the final report of the Commission concludes that the
terrorists "exploited deep institutional failings within our government."

That is not the whole truth. What are institutions if not the lengthened
influence of individuals? "The system failed" is the catchphrase now in
vogue in Washington. Critics and fans alike of Bill Clinton and George W.
Bush still rely on this hollow analysis. But "the system" is no mindless
mechanism operating independently of the men and women individuals with
names, power, and obligations ­ who are charged with making it work. Before
"the system" can fail, they must fail.

The Commissioners avoided blaming any government officials, past or present,
for the failure to prevent the attacks. They maintain that their job was not
to assign individual blame, but provide the most complete and frank account
of the decisive events surrounding the attack. To that end, they succeeded.

But to stop there is to stop short. Read the final report of the Commission
carefully ­ connect the dots ­ and a fuller pattern emerges: Key government
officials failed the system, and they failed the American people.

Judges and social workers talk of the "circle of accountability." The 9/11
Commission was indeed an historic undertaking. Yet in spreading the blame as
broadly as it possibly could, the Commissioners, rather than enlarging that
circle, have all but closed it. Americans deserve better than to allow
accountability to be passed off as a mere abstraction; they should know
where the buck stops. The nearly 3,000 men and women who died on 9/11
deserve better, too. It will not bring them back to hold accountable the
particular officials in high office who could have acted and did not. But it
will assure that they did not die in vain.

 © 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
 View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/19839/

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