The Bush White House Was Deaf to 9/11 Warnings

The Bush White House Was Deaf to 9/11 Warnings - NYTimes.com

As I've always suspected, heard from officials in the know — a must-read by Kurt Eichenwald in NYT on the Bush administration's scandalous negligence of the Bin Laden threat because it was obsessed with Saddam:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.

“The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,” the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya.

And the C.I.A. repeated the warnings in the briefs that followed. Operatives connected to Bin Laden, one reported on June 29, expected the planned near-term attacks to have “dramatic consequences,” including major casualties. On July 1, the brief stated that the operation had been delayed, but “will occur soon.” Some of the briefs again reminded Mr. Bush that the attack timing was flexible, and that, despite any perceived delay, the planned assault was on track.

Yet, the White House failed to take significant action. Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else.

And then people laugh when you suggest Bush should have been impeached. In fact, it's him and his senior team (Rice, Cheney, Hadley, Rumsfeld etc.) who should be held to account. It's still not too late, 11 years after the attacks.

Osama bin who?

Max Rodenbeck:

News cameras may zoom lustily into Middle Eastern crowds that vow vengeance. Pundits can cleverly parse the praise for a fallen warrior voiced by the usual Islamist hotheads. Cooler analysts will fret over the uses of assassination as a tool of policy, or over the finer points of Muslim doctrine regarding burial at sea. Yet for the most part the demise of the world’s most wanted man has been met, across the Arab and Muslim worlds, with a very untelegenic shrug of indifference.

It is not just that the denouement to this long-drawn-out western—with the UScavalry scouring Islamic badlands for fully a decade before dispatching the outlaw—lacked the visual immediacy that the Middle East’s drama-saturated audiences have come to expect. Nor is it simply that the Arab public’s preoccupations are very localized right now, what with revolutions—few of which seem connected to radical Islam—bursting out across the region.

Long before the choppers dropped into Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden himself had faded from relevance. His messages to the world had grown fewer and increasingly divorced from the concerns of ordinary Muslims. The last audiotape attributed to him, released in November, singled out France for attack because of its strictures on the veil. Earlier last year he had blamed the West for global warming. blasted Pakistan’s efforts at relief following deadly floods, and railed against cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad—five years after the images first provoked Muslim protest. Few bothered to listen to such predictable bluster. Bin Laden’s words failed to rate highly even in the jihadists’ own patch of cyberspace, which tends to he dominated by techie talk on weapons and tactics. or equally arcane exegesis of musty Islamic texts.

Read the rest at Bin Laden’s Death: Why the Arab World Shrugs by Max Rodenbeck | NYRBlog | The New York Review of Books

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

On Bin Laden's death and the Arabs

I had just woken up when I wrote the earlier post on Bin Laden's death, after a long flight from New York back to Cairo yesterday, so I just commented on the news. A few hours later — and after receiving some calls from journalists — there some other things worth pointing out with regards to Osama Bin Laden's place in the Arab political imagination.

There's no need to ignore that, for a time, Bin Laden had a superficial role to play as a symbol of resistance to American or Western imperialism. So did Saddam Hussein or Muammar al-Qadhafi or the Assads at various points. But I never thought that feeling ran very deep for the vast overwhelming majority of Arabs, or indeed Muslims. But the sentiment Bin Laden evokes today is probably indifference. Bin Laden simply wasn't an important figure in recent years, and was particularly irrelevant to the Arab uprisings.

Al Qaeda could have been important, perhaps, if it had scored some major military victories against the West, particularly after the Iraq war when anti-Western sentiment ran its highest. Indeed, Bin Laden's greatest achievement may have been to enable the neo-cons to carry out their loony agenda, which has done more than anything to discredit the US in the region. Between Iraq '03, Lebanon '06, Gaza '09, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib there were plenty of occasions in which the US (or its allies) discredited itself.

The radical-theological option that Bin Laden represented as a solution to the state of the Arab world has long been discredited. It was discredited before it even began, in that it was a result of the failure of the violent Islamist movements of the 1970s-1990s era. Also discredited, or at least on the ropes, are the pro-US "reformist" option of the "moderate" Arab regimes. Moderate, in the way Saudi Arabia or Mubarak's Egypt was, and reformist, because they are interested in changing to survive, not making a radical break. But the people spoke and they don't want reform, they want rupture.

The trends that are winning out in recent years are the radical-resistance ideologies of Hizbullah (and to a lesser degree Hamas) and the radical-centrist view that fueled the uprisings. And in the longer-run, it is the latter rather than the former that have a vision of societies that are not constantly mobilized towards an external (or internal) enemy. The views of Hamas and Hizbullah address the problems of war and occupation, but not those of these societies beyond those problems. Bin Laden never really addressed either, his fight was for the glory of the impossible and in the hereafter. 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Bin Laden finally dead

A bittersweet moment: he deserved to die, but it took so long  to track him down, despite all of the billions spent in intelligence and high-tech defense gear, that by the time he died it seemed almost irrelevant to the wider problems of the region. Also, to think of all the time and lives wasted, and the unnecessary, criminal ventures like the war on Iraq that were justified in the name of fighting Bin Laden. But I'm a believer in revenge, and symbolically this is important for the US, and for the families of the victims of 9/11. Let's hope this might be used as an occasion to turn the page in US foreign policy. 
Several things do strike you, though. First, outside of Pakistan and the US this won't be much of a big deal — and it probably wouldn't have been either at any point in the last decade, which goes to show how the alarmism about Bin Laden being some kind of popular figure in the Muslim world was misplaced. Secondly, where's Ayman Zawahri? And thirdly, the amount of Pakistani complicity with Bin Laden really seems beyond the pale. From the NYT:

The strike could exacerbate deep tensions with Pakistan, which has periodically bristled at American counterterrorism efforts even as Bin Laden evidently found safe refuge on its territory for nearly a decade. Since taking office, Mr. Obama has ordered significantly more drone strikes on suspected terrorist targets in Pakistan, stirring public anger there and prompting the Pakistani government to protest.

When the end came for Bin Laden, he was found not in the remote tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border where he has long been presumed to be sheltered, but in a massive compound about an hour’s drive north from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. He was hiding in the medium-sized city of Abbottabad, home to a large Pakistani military base and a military academy of the Pakistani Army.

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Meeting Osama

There was a nice edition of the short BBC World Service radio program Witness today, about Osama Bin Laden. It focuses on Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of al-Quds al-Arabi, who met him in the late 1990s.

Listen here for the next seven days. Atwan's book about al-Qaeda — The Secret History of al Qaeda —includes many of the vignettes he talks about here, and is a pretty interesting non-academic, non-CT oriented, account of Bin Laden and friends. Atwan is funnily self-deprecating as a pampered "five-star journalist" when served "soggy potatoes and rotten cheese." I wonder if the gebna qadima was al-Zawahri's contribution.

Links for 09.17.09 to 09.19.09

A few day's worth...

Orientalism’s Wake: The Ongoing Politics of a Polemic | Very nice collection of essays on Edward Said's "Orientalism" from a variety of supporters, critics, academics including Daniel Varisco, Robert Irwin, Roger Owen, etc.
The Sources of Islamic Revolutionary Conduct | I have not read in detail this small book by a US Air Force analyst, but scanning through it I see rather odd choices. For instance there are long chapters comparing Christianity and modern secularism to the Islamist outlook, except that it's never quite clear whether the latter means the outlook of engaged Islamist activists or ordinary Muslims. There is also copious quoting from Sayyid Qutb's "Milestones" as if it was representative of all Islamic thinking. Someone should give this a detailed look (and I'd be happy to post the result.) [PDF]
Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | A clean break | On Cairo's garbage collection crisis.
Irving Kristol, Godfather of Conservatism, Dies - Obituary (Obit) - NYTimes.com | Leaving behind a disastrous intellectual, social, economic and political legacy: alleged liberalism on social issues that shirks from real change, supply-side economics, and of course an imperial war doctrine.
Are Morocco And Algeria Gearing Up For Arms Race? « A Moroccan About the world around him
Big mouth - The National Newspaper | Bernard Heykal on how the strength of al-Qaeda is impossible. Which makes sense, at least if you try to do it from the Bin Laden tapes as all the silly pseudo-analysis of last week showed.
Ikhwanweb :: The Muslim Brotherhood Official English Website | Very much like the new look of the Muslim Brothers' English website, which I hadn't checked in a while. They have a very useful "today's news" feature that can also be used for archives by date.
Al-Ahram Weekly | Economy | Depleting Egypt's reserves | A good article with details on the Egypt-Israel gas deal and why it may be a bad idea in terms of resource management, never mind political and financial sense.
Al-Qaradawi's Fatwa Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The alleged liberal paid by intolerant Islamists in Riyadh attacks the alleged moderate Islamist paid by Doha:

A news item reported in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper revealed that Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi had issued a fatwa prohibiting Iraqis from acquiring US citizenship on the grounds that this is the nationality of an occupier nation. However this fatwa has nothing to do with the reality on the ground, and contains more political absurdity then it does religious guidance. Sheikh al-Qaradawi himself is an Egyptian who possesses Qatari nationality, which was given to him after he opposed the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. However when an Israeli office was opened in Doha, al-Qaradawi did not renounce his Qatari nationality.

Freed Iraqi shoe thrower tells of torture in jail | World news | guardian.co.uk

| "His brother Uday told Reuters: "Thanks be to God that Muntazer has seen the light of day. I wish Bush could see our happiness. When President Bush looks back and turns the pages of his life, he will see the shoes of Muntazer al-Zaidi on every page.""
BAE to axe 1,100 jobs and close site | Business | guardian.co.uk | So Tony Blair quashed the Yamama inquiry to save jobs (or so he says) but BAe still carries out layoffs?
Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen and Natalie Portman slam Toronto Film Festival protest - Haaretz - Israel News| Some stars come to Israel's side in the tiff over TIFF.
GDC | Economist Conferences| Economist infographic shows public debt around the world.
FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - Investors seek to revive faded glory of Cairo | On investment in Downtown Cairo properties and plans for gentrification. Look out for another article on this soon.
No concrete proof that Iran has or has had nuclear programme – UN atomic watchdog | Just a reminder that the press reports have spinned things wrongly - this comes straight from the UN: "17 September 2009 – Refuting a recent media report, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today reiterated that the body has no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons programme."
Egypt Islamic Authority Says Women Can Wear Trousers - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - FOXNews.com | The world is going to hell -- what next, capris?
BBC NEWS | Middle East | 'Many killed' in Yemen air raid | Serious turn in Yemen's trouble -- bombing a refugee camp!?


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Links for 09.14.09

Why I Love Al Jazeera - The Atlantic (October 2009) | Robert Kaplan. Incidentally, while some of what he says about al-J (here he means the English channel) is interesting, he does not seem to be conscious that The Atlantic is one of the most biased publications among the mainstream pseudo-highbrow mags in the US. ✪ Osama bin Laden: in it for the long haul | World news | guardian.co.uk | Ian Black on the new Bin Laden audio tape. ✪ Middle East Report 252 contents: Pakistan Under Pressure | New issue of Middle East Report, Getting By in the Global Downturn," with selected articles available online. ✪ A la Mostra, le déroutant voyage d'Ahmed Maher - LeMonde.fr | Success for Egyptian director Ahmed Maher at Venice Film Festival. ✪ The five ages of al-Qaida | World news | guardian.co.uk | Infographic.
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