The system was blinking red, but Bush was on vacation

The 9/11 report doesn’t dot the i’s or cross the t’s. It doesn’t come out and say that Bush and his team screwed up. But if you read Chapter 8, there’s really no other conclusion that you can come to.

 

On Aug. 6th Bush was read a brief titled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US”, which was the 36th briefing he had mentioning Bin Ladin or al Qaeda.  He then went on vacation for a long month, apparently without talking about al Qaeda either with Ashcroft, with Rice, or with Tenet.

 

The official story line of the 9/11 report is that there were failures of process and structure leading to inefficiency and lack of coordination, which led in turn to a failure to confront the challenge of terrorism. But the details of the story itself show us Bush, Ashcroft, and Rice repeatedly being briefed about a rising threat level by Tenet and an increasingly agitated Clarke, without any of the three of them ever taking any initiative on the issue whatsoever.  

 

Chapter 8 of the 9/11 Commission report (pdf)

 

Page 7:

During the spring and summer of 2001, President Bush had on several occasions asked his briefers whether any of the threats pointed to the United States. Reflecting on these questions, the CIA decided to write a briefing article summarizing its understanding of this danger.Two CIA analysts involved in preparing this briefing article believed it represented an opportunity to communicate their view that the threat of a Bin Ladin attack in the United States remained both current and serious.35 The result was an article in the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief titled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US” It was the 36th PDB item briefed so far that year that related to Bin Ladin or al Qaeda, and the first devoted to the possibility of an attack in the United States.

 

The President told us the August 6 report was historical in nature. President Bush said the article told him that al Qaeda was dangerous, which he said he had known since he had become President. The President said Bin Ladin had long been talking about his desire to attack America. He recalled some operational data on the FBI, and remembered thinking it was heartening that 70 investigations were under way. As best he could recollect, Rice had mentioned that the Yemenis’ surveillance of a federal building in New York had been looked into in May and June, but  there was no actionable intelligence.

He did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so. He said that if his advisers had told him there was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. That never happened.

 

Page 9:

We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al Qaeda attack in the United States. DCI Tenet visited President Bush in  Crawford,Texas, on August 17 and participated in PDB briefings of the President between August 31 (after the President had returned to Washington) and September 10. But Tenet does not recall any discussions with the President of the domestic threat during this period.

Page 12:

Attorney General Ashcroft was briefed by the CIA in May and by Pickard in early July about the danger. Pickard said he met with Ashcroft once a week in late June, through July, and twice in August. There is a dispute regarding  Ashcroft’s interest in Pickard’s briefings about the terrorist threat situation. Pickard told us that after two such briefings Ashcroft told him that he did not want to hear about the threats anymore. Ashcroft denies Pickard’s charge.