‘They’re coming here’: Bush admin. ignored multiple pre-9/11 warnings – report

The remaining tower of New York's World Trade Center disolves in a cloud of dust and debris about a half hour after the first twin tower collapsed, September 11, 2001. © Ray Stubblebine
Disclosures from more than 100 hours of exclusive interviews with 12 former CIA directors reveal that the George W. Bush administration ignored repeated warnings of an Al-Qaeda attack before September 11, 2001, according to a new Politico report.

Al-Qaeda and 9/11

“It was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die,” Cofer Black, a former CIA chief of counterterrorism, told Politico’s Chris Whipple.

There were real plots being manifested,” Black said, referring to as far back as May 2001. Those fears were shared by Cofer’s former boss, George Tenet, who told Politico that the world felt like it was on the edge of an eruption, with terrorists going underground, as if preparing for an attack.

Tenet said the warnings of an attack began in the spring of 2001, when Tenet and Black pitched a plan to Bush’s national security team of a covert CIA and military campaign, called “the Blue Sky paper,” to end the Al-Qaeda threat by “getting into the Afghanistan sanctuary, launching a paramilitary operation, creating a bridge with Uzbekistan.”

Tenet said the administration wasn’t ready “to consider” the plan – which Politico translated to mean that the White House did not want a paper trail to reveal it was warned – but Black said the Bush team just didn’t get the new threat. He said the team was “mentally stuck back eight years [before].

“They were used to terrorists being Euro-lefties – they drink champagne by night, blow things up during the day, how back can this be? And it was a very difficult sell to communicate the urgency to this,” Black told Politico.

A key meeting took place on July 10, after the head of the Al-Qaeda unit at the CIA, Richard Blee, told Black “Chief, this is it. Roof’s fallen in.”

“The information that we had compiled was absolutely compelling. It was multiple-sourced. And it was sort of the last straw,” Black said.

Black and Tenet requested an urgent meeting at the White House and met with Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. The president was on a trip to Boston at the time. Rice was told there would be significant terrorist attacks against the US in the coming weeks or months.

“The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al-Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States,” said Blee, according to Tenet.

Rice asked what they thought they needed to do, and Black blasted “We need to go on a wartime footing now!”

Despite this warning, Black said the administration sat back.

“How is it that you could warn senior people so many times and nothing actually happened? It’s kind of like The Twilight Zone,” he said.

At the end of the month, Tenet recalled a meeting, in which Blee left a room in complete silence, after saying Al-Qaeda was “coming here,” to the US.

“The silence that followed was deafening,” Tenet told Politico. “You could feel the oxygen come out of the room. ‘They're coming here.’”

The news outlet researched Rice’s memoir, where she writes that the details of the meeting were hazy to her. When approached again in response to Tenet’s and Black’s recent comments, her chief of staff said Rice stood by her account.

Tenet’s account of that closed-door meeting was part of his testimony before the 9/11 Commission, but it was not mentioned in the committee’s final report.

CIA’s torture program

When asked about the agency’s interrogation program, which involved torture techniques and setting up “black sites” in foreign countries for interrogations, and the process of killing people with remotely piloted drones, there were a mix of responses from the former directors.

Tenet said the enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT) were all approved by everybody.

The attorney general of the US told us that these techniques are legal under US law," said Tenet. “We briefed the members of Congress fully on what we were doing at all times. There was never a hint of disapproval.” Tenet said George W. Bush was so hands-on, “he read the memo, looked at the techniques, decided he was gonna take two techniques off the table himself.”

Tenet did not recall which ones Bush removed, but Politico reported that one of them was “mock executions.” Tenet, Porter Goss, Michael Hayden and acting director Michael Morell all said the techniques were a necessary evil.

Tenet also disputed the Senate torture report’s findings, which stated that in 20 cases where the techniques were used, they provided no useful evidence. He said the agency received persuasive intelligence that indicated Osama Bin Laden had met with Pakistani nuclear scientists, and was seeking the blueprint for a bomb.

As for dissent against torture, General David Petraeus said a price is paid for what you do, and current Director John Brennan said he saw no circumstances in which the CIA would torture again.