Posted by Brad @ 9:42 pm on September 11th 2012

I Don’t Care About…the Bush Administration’s Prior Warnings About 911

There are many sense, of course, where I do care about it. Clearly, they were not an administration preternaturally focused on Al Queda or Islamic terrorism prior to 911, despite their reputation immediately after and forevermore – the chief foreign policy architects were a Cold War specialist, a Real Politik guy that had no problem using terrorists, and a leader that figured the Middle East began and ended in Iraq. I think it’s hard to argue against the notion that the Clinton administration was far more on point on the matter than the Bush one. Second, as odious as the attempts to rectify this problem were, there was clearly a lot about our intelligence superstructure that wasn’t working well – chiefly their inability to get on the same page and communicate effectively (solution: more agencies and more secrecy). All that’s valid, and there area number of others as well.

But, these kinds of stories just don’t move me at all. Not that, not “Bin Laden determined to strike in US,” none of the kind of thing that either makes Truthers Truthers or that liberals have forever used to argue that…well, I’m not even sure what. That Bush sucks!

We have a disproportionate number of bloggers and commentators that work on the periphery of intelligence and foreign policy (Rojas, however, “is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction”). So maybe I’m off base. But to my mind, the notion that a sitting President of the United States or his Secretary of State got briefings indicating “Information that talked about moving toward decisive acts,” or “Chechen Islamic terrorist leader Ibn Kattab had promised some “very big news” to his troops” or “there had been significant departures of extremist families from Yemen” or “Big American-hating terrorist with history of attacking America wants to attack America”, even explicit suggestions that terrorists may hijack planes (which, if you’ll remember, was kind of their thing for thirty years), all of which may indicate “new threats against U.S. interests in Lebanon, Morocco, and Mauritania” that could be “spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities and interests” or that “Al-Qaida is waiting us out and looking for vulnerability” and even though “intelligence pointed to overseas attacks” they “they couldn’t discount an attack on the US homeland”…well, what do you do with that information, exactly? And how many times a week do you think you hear similar, on all fronts, suggesting every manner of threat or impending attack?

I believe, hindsight being 20/20, that there probably was a “disturbance in the force” in terms of chatter and white noise. But that’s a far, far different thing than assuming it was something a reasonable human being – or even institutions with thousands of them – would have been able to recognize, classify, and find thoughtful action for.

It’s the same reason I never got the idea from neocons that always assumed torture would have guys in detention centers everywhere coughing up immediately truthful and actionable intelligence, or just recording everything that hits the air waves will lead to awesome Alias-type powers of spy agency rather than 99.9% of unlistened-to shit and a 1,000,000 to 1 ration of false positives to genuinely useful and actionable intelligence of the .1% shit you do get to.

In any event, there is no shortage of things to criticize George W. Bush on – quite possibly the worst President in American history – certainly in modern times.

But that he should have prevented 911 isn’t, to my mind, one of them.


  1. Me thinks “I don’t care about…” needs to be an explicit category.

    Comment by Cameron — 9/11/2012 @ 11:38 pm

  2. Clarification: In spite of Novak’s inaccurate claims, I am not technically “an agency operative on WMD.” Rather: I am a weapon of mass destruction.

    I myself. Am. A WMD.

    Bear this in mind the next time you consider criticizing one of my posts.

    Comment by Rojas — 9/12/2012 @ 1:11 am

  3. There is probably a better case to be made that the continueing release of information reenforces the view that the Bush administration was obsessibvley focused on the wrong things (Iraq), which distracted them, their agencies, and resource allocation decisions from addressing actual threats.

    Comment by Jack — 9/12/2012 @ 9:55 am

  4. Which is fine, and I agree with that case.

    But it also gets overstated, which is weird, because the people most inclined to overstate it also seem to be the ones that I would imagine would be least inclined to vote for an administration that takes “decisive action” every time this level of warning arises, be it raising threat levels, mobilizing intelligence operatives to act on every whiff, increasing data collection and the staffing and resources needed to act on every semi-credible lead, or engaging in covert or overt actions every time a memo was released.

    Much as I respected him circa 2005, Richard Clarke is not somebody I’d particularly want with total get-out-of-his-way control over the levers of power. Good guys to listen to and filter, but also tend to be hammers looking for nails.

    Comment by Brad — 9/12/2012 @ 1:30 pm

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