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Barry Crimmins

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Do your Duty W. -- Answer the Questions! Thursday, May 16, 2002

May 16 -- I'm not sure if George W Bush, six months into his new job, continued or began his nearly month-long summer vacation after being briefed on the heightened threat of terrorist activities on American shores. I only know that in the weeks leading up to September 11, he had much better information than people who boarded planes or headed for work on that infamous morning.
We now know that international intelligence was abuzz about large and lethal terrorist threats to the American populace.We now know an FBI agent literally speculated that Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called twentieth hijacker, was capable of hijacking a jet and flying it into the World Trade Center. We now know, and have for some time, that Moussaoui paid $7,000 cash for his flight training and had insisted that he be taught to fly an already airborne jumbo jet. Takeoffs and landings were not of any interest to him, aiming was. To a Minnesota flight school's credit, it alerted authorities and Moussaoui was eventually held for an immigration violation. This is a spectacular revelation. Its failure to properly place this information in a larger mosaic certainly does not bode well for the Court-appointed Bush Administration.
That said, it's important that we don't become what we resist here. Let's not form a lynch mob when what's needed is a thorough investigation. Consider how silly blatant political attempts to blame Bill Clinton for September 11 seem. Clinton, flawed as he was, always did his homework. It is likely that workaholic Clinton would have gotten past the briefing summary and actually read the memorandum by the FBI agent who drew the prescient conclusions about Moussaoui. A closer investigation of flight schools around the country would have shown a pattern of young men from the Middle East looking to learn to aim, but not competently pilot, jumbo jets. Would Clinton have ordered such an investigation? We'll never know. We do know that had he taken an extended vacation after half a year on the job, only to be greeted by terrorist attacks a few days after returning to work -- attacks that some decent investigative analysis could have prevented -- there'd be Photoshopped images of Bubba in full Arab headdress bouncing all over the Internet.
We mustn't behave in a similar fashion towards Bush. He may have been negligent but there is no need to imply complicity. Such charges will only turn us into Chicken Little and permit Bush to employ a counter-smokescreen that will cover up whatever culpability he might have for September 11. If there are in fact more spectacular revelations to come, we will never get near them without a careful and incremental re-creation of events leading up to the late summer massacres in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. It would be unwise to use such an early volley to throw the entire pie at the wall, just to see what sticks.
Also, to say that all Bush had to do was employ better police state tactics to avoid September 11 is to license such tactics in the future. So let's not be quick to condemn anyone for not participating in an immediate roundup of racially profiled people. Leave that kind of talk to Ann Coulter. What we must do, in the words of Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., is "connect the dots" and see what kind of big picture presents itself.

We must calmly demand, in the name of justice and public safety, a full and sensible accounting from the executive branch for its actions surrounding September 11. Frame it as the patriotic duty that it is and publicly presume that Bush will fully cooperate.Put simply, if Bush and his handlers are truly horrified about September 11, they won't circle the wagons in an attempt to stave off legitimate investigation. They will welcome such inquiries and answer them in a forthright manner. Anything else would be disrespectful of the victims of September 11 and negligent towards public safety. If they behave with contempt for both the living and dead, let it be on them.
But give them a fair chance to be forthright.Every element of information and analysis leading up to 9-11 needs to be on the table. If Congress has to examine some things in private because of legitimate national security concerns, so be it. But most of this stuff is simply testimony in an investigation of mass murder and the public, as both survivors of those crimes as well as potential victims of future mass murders, has a right to know.
Court-appointed President Bush needs to answer questions such as:
Could we please see any records of White House discussions of any germane security information prior to September 11?
You alerted law enforcement agencies, but not the public, of heightened terrorist threats. Why?
Law enforcement agencies failed to prevent this catastrophe after being alerted. Why?
Although you have made it clear that you now want all security information from the FBI, CIA and other organizations compared and contrasted, why didn't someone in your administration go the extra distance to pull together all such material at a time of heightened security concerns?
For instance, it was known Osama bin Laden was talking about hijackings; it was known that there was a huge buzz in the intelligence community concerning pending terrorist assaults on the US mainland; it was known that several years earlier several hijackers were thwarted by French authorities before they could fly a jumbo jet into the Eiffel Towers as they had planned; it was known that at least one man had been in a flight school asking to be taught to aim already airborne jumbo jets and an FBI agent had prognosticated that the man was capable of flying a plane into the World Trade Center. At a time all these things were known and when there was a security alert in effect, why was there was no analysis that drew a pattern?
Since there was no formal agency to act as a clearing house for all security information prior to 9-11, wasn't it incumbent upon the executive branch to pull this information together and respond accordingly?
Isn't the ex post facto creation of such a clearing house a form of retroactive buck passing? In other words, the White House is supposed to be the ultimate government clearing house so why shouldn't the executive branch be held at least somewhat accountable for 9-11?

Was the idea of stepping up airport security through the augmentation of low wage security employees with capable well-paid professionals ever considered? If so, what was concluded?

Since you are extremely and openly sympathetic to corporate bottom lines, did those sympathies play a part in not demanding more stringent security from airlines?
How much money and how many lives do you suppose might have been saved had those gates been attended by professional security personnel? (Congress needs to revisit that one itself.)

Were airline officials brought into the loop? If so, what was their response?
Did a reticence to intrude in for-profit endeavors in any way impede a more careful investigation into flight schools around the country?
Were flight schools scoured for students with MO's similar to Moussaoui's? If so, how did several of his alleged confederates manage to board and hijack four jets weeks after he was detained? If not, why not?
Was Moussaoui considered in relation to the larger threat presented by Al Qaeda boasts of an upcoming deadly assault on the US mainland? If so, what was concluded? If not, why not?

At a time of heightened security alert how did additional jets get permitted to stray into dangerous airspace and hit the second World Trade Center Tower and the Pentagon after the first WTC tower had already been hit?
Why did your administration concoct the since-disproved story about how you were the primary target of the terrorists. And why haven't you come out and spoken specifically to this issue?
And if you did believe you were truly a target, why didn't you order the immediate evacuation of the Florida elementary students you were addressing? After all, it was a building full of children.
Why the up to 30 minute lag between when you were first informed of the attacks and your first public acknowledgement of them?
Would you please disclose, once and for all, any information you have about the Afghan pipeline and any conflicts of interest it may present for you, as both the president and as a self-described "oilman?"
Did you consider cancelling your extended holiday when you received information concerning heightened dangers to your constituents?
Do you think your staff may have let up a bit in August because the boss was taking such an extended leave?

Could this have contributed to the breakdown of executive branch pre-9-11 security analysis?
These are just a few of many questions that must be answered before George W. Bush takes any more vacations. If he doesn't want to be forthcoming about these matters, he should be guaranteed an extended holiday -- beginning in January 2005.
POSTSCRIPT:
I have gotten some mail on my website accusing me of being too conciliatory with Bush in the "Do Your Duty W" essay. So in the spirit of keeping the fabled Smirking Chimp (check it out!) message boards on-point, please let me add the following:

Perhaps I should have been clearer about why this is a complex nut to crack. Strident and vituperative accusations, much as I hold them dear to my heart, won't get Bush or his handlers to the witness stand. And they won't win back the very soft support that ran to him out of fear and confusion after the September massacres. For the moment, we need to employ tactful tactics.

Lt. Colombo doesn't walk through the door screaming bloody murder. You don't make a case that way. People are finally discussing and questioning what went on in the executive branch late last summer despite Bush Administration admonitions to leave them alone. So we now have the chance begin to peel the onion, one question at a time, and take it from there. There is a civic responsibility to sort out all the details of this tragedy. If it's framed as such then Bush either has to step up to the plate or head for the bunker. If this provokes amplification of the Bush siege mentality, it will tell us a lot and can be used to win back many who ran his way after 9-11. It could also become the cornerstone for an effort to remove this incompetent from office. But I'm getting ahead of myself here and that is exactly what I don't want to do.

If you think the list of questions I proposed is from anyone who wants Bush to be anywhere but the hotseat, you missed my point. If you start with full-fledged talk of conspiracies and so on, you give them the option of "not dignifying those kind of questions with answers." If you start asking questions like "Wouldn't the Office of Homeland Security have been a redundancy in previous administrations that pulled together and analyzed intelligence data because that is what the White House and its cabinet are supposed to do?" then you have begun to get somewhere.
If they are not cooperative, and I believe they won't be, then a much larger chorus will join in to ask the musical question, "WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?"

Repubs are always calling for a streamlined government but when they dropped the ball on September 11, one of their first moves was to say it happened because the government is too small. It seems to me that the real problem was that the Court-appointed Bush Administration was either too busy doing the bidding of its corporate owners, too incompetent to connect the now proverbial dots or too lazy to remain vigilant. In my view it was all three and maybe worse. I believe these people are capable of anything but I don't think you say that right after you bring down the gavel to begin the hearing. The point is that we have to get to as much truth as possible and if we start with rants about full-fledged conspiracies, we'll give them an alibi to wrap themselves in the flag and hunker in the bunker.

Do I want to blurt out the worst I think of Bush? Of course I do. My website would use a lot less bandwith if I didn't regularly scratch that itch. But the entire world is at stake here and I don't see the sense in allowing Bush & Co. the opportunity to marginalize the legitimate questions that they have a duty to answer.

This is the time for:

"Lt. Columbo? I thought you'd left"

"I was halfway out the door sir when one more thing began to bother me....."

Barry Crimmins, May 17, 2002

© 2002 Barry Crimmins

updated: 11 years ago