Friday, April 09, 2004

"Bin Laden Determined To Attack Within the United States." 

That's the title of the PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) that Bush received on 6 August 2001, a bit more than a month before the September 11 attacks.

According to David Corn, writing for The Nation, when CBS broke the story of the PDB, on 20 May 2002, Condoleeza Rice held a briefing in which she said this:

"This was generalized information that put together the fact that there were terrorist groups who were unhappy [with] things that were going on in the Middle East as well as al Qaeda operatives, which we'd been watching for a long time, that there was more chatter than usual, and that we knew that they were people who might try a hijacking. But, you know, again, that terrorism and hijacking might be associated is not rocket science."

The administration has repeadedly denied that the briefing, or any other intelligence they had, contained specific intelligence that Al Qaeda might attack within the borders of the United States.

But there it is, right in the title of the PDB: "Bin Laden Determined To Attack Within the United States."

In yesterday's testimony before the 9/11 commission, Rice claimed that the PDB could not be considered a warning because it contained no specific information about when and where such an attack might take place.

Corn writes:

Whether that is true or not, the PDB appears to be much broader--and more frightening--than Rice had said previously (when she was talking to reporters and not under oath). She certainly made sure back in May 2002 not to mention the alarming title--which had been classified until the hearing. In fact, the classification of the PDB's title demonstrates how an administration can abuse the classification system. In theory, the classification system is supposed to keep secret any Information that if released would harm the national security of the United States. But how could releasing the title--"Bin Laden Determined To Attack Within the United States"--cause any injury after bin Laden had already succeeded in attacking within the United States? The reason for keeping the cloak over the title for so long is clear: the White House did not want the public to see that Bush had received a document with such information--warning or not--five weeks before 9/11. So Rice disingenuously portrayed the PDB when its existence first became known in May 2002.

Now that the PDB is (partially) out of the bag, Rice and the Bush administration have to deal with the obvious follow-up question: even though most of the intelligence "chatter" in the summer of 2001 focused on a possible attack overseas, what did Bush and Rice do concerning the prospect that bin Laden might strike the United States directly?

At this point of course one can only wish that Bush had felt "that sense of urgency" to do something about the threat Osama Bin Laden posed to the U.S. There's no doubt left that the administration knew such a threat existed and did little or nothing to stop it.

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