Rummy And His "I Saw No Intel" Defense
On a day when Richard Clarke gets his shot at the 9/11 Commission, a quick look back at yesterday’s testimony reveals the usual concerns that a cabal which came into office with a detailed PNAC-written plan for remaking the Middle East to their own liking somehow also came into office with no idea what to do about Al Qaeda. After being briefed by Sandy Berger and Clarke in the earliest days of the administration, according to yesterday’s testimony not only did Donald Rumsfeld spend no time in the nearly eight months before 9/11 developing military plans to deal with Al Qaeda or the Taliban, he also claims he saw no intelligence indicating that terrorists plan to hijack commercial airliners and fly them into high-value targets like the Pentagon or WTC.
"I know of no intelligence during the roughly six-plus months leading up to Sept. 11 that indicated terrorists intended to hijack commercial airlines and fly them into the Pentagon or the World Trade Center," he said. "If we had such information, we could have acted on it."
Since such intelligence warnings began emerging since the mid-90’s from interrogations of captured terrorists around the globe, and since foreign intelligence services were telling us of precisely these threats during 2001, from reading Rummy’s testimony yesterday we can now assume that 1) he is lying once again and hoping to get away with it, or 2) really didn’t see intelligence that was on record inside the community. If you believe the first option as I do, then this defense by Rummy is not surprising. If you believe the second option, then both Condi Rice and George Tenet have some explaining to do.
Since Rummy seemingly had no problem seeing intelligence, both real and fabricated by zealots about Iraq’s WMD capabilities, and since we know that such Al Qaeda threats were raised to the president by George Tenet during the summer of 2001, we can assume that Rummy was “in the loop” for such briefings and would have known about the warnings. What is really at issue here is that terrorism just wasn’t on Rummy’s agenda in the months leading up to 9/11 despite the warnings.
But the report prepared by the commission staff portrayed Mr. Rumsfeld as a new secretary struggling with delays in getting his senior aides in place and focused on other priorities, like missile defenses.
Mr. Rumsfeld, for instance, never received a briefing from the Pentagon's departing senior counterterrorism expert, the report noted, and counterterrorism aides said "the new team was focused on other issues and was not especially interested in their counterterrorism agenda."
In interviews with commission staff members, Mr. Rumsfeld "did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that engaged his attention before 9/11," the report said.
Again, as I said yesterday, it can be argued that more could have been done overseas in those nearly eight months to deal with Al Qaeda. But the more pressing issue is why more wasn’t done here at home after the summer alarm bells rung by George Tenet about the threat to the homeland. Perhaps we’ll hear a little more about that today.
And, one more time, can someone tell me what in the hell Condi Rice was doing during those eight months, if Rummy can claim that terrorism wasn't on his radar screen? For that matter, can someone show me one example of an issue with Condi's fingerprints on it that was a success?