The alleged misdeeds and cover-ups of the administration of George W. Bush related to the events of 2001 remain in historical limbo. President Obama has refused to investigate anything that happened under his predecessor, and neither the Congress nor the media have gotten to the bottom of these tragic events. As a result, the American public has not come to closure on the 9/11 attacks or on the anthrax mailings of 2001, nor is there a shared understanding of such a critical question as the real reasons that the US attacked Iraq in 2003.
These failures have left the field open to wild speculations regarding these events, generally termed “conspiracy theories”, though this term obscures the critical distinction between elaborate, prospective conspiracies (silly in the context of an open society) and the retrospective cover-up conspiracies that government officials who have made embarrassing mistakes are all-too-prone to engage in (very realistic and plausible).
For the record, the interpretation of this writer, a professional historian and former State Department intelligence analyst, is that:
1. The correct diagnosis of President George W. Bush’s performance in the run-up to the 9/11/2001 attacks is: criminal negligence. He was repeatedly warned that an al Qaeda attack was coming, yet he did nothing to protect the American people, which was his duty. The 9/11 Commission staff covered up Bush’s negligence by deliberately failing to ask him the obvious questions: what did he know and when did he know it? It appears that the Democrats on the Commission staff were eager to cover up mistakes Bill Clinton had made in dealing with al Qaeda, and so by tacit agreement the Democrats and Republicans on the staff avoided asking tough questions about either Clinton or Bush.
2. Aware of his deep negligence, Bush sought to distract public and media attention by whipping up sentiment for attacking Iraq. Thus Bush’s need to distract attention from his negligence became one of the two main reasons for the U.S. attack on Iraq, the other being the efforts of the Israeli Lobby, spearheaded by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, to use U.S. troops against Israel’s enemies. These were the necessary and sufficient causes of the attack; all other alleged reasons for the attack were insignificant compared to these two. In a crucial way, therefore, the war against Iraq was a War of Distraction.
3. The Defense Department’s Able Danger intelligence program seems to have successfully identified and reported the intending al Qaeda attackers led by Mohamed Atta months before the September 11, 2001 attacks. The efforts by the Defense Department’s subsequent investigation to deny the assertions of Defense Department officers that they recalled Atta’s presence on the chart displaying the findings of Able Danger cannot be taken seriously in view of the indications that the investigation’s report was a cover-up. National Security adviser Stephen Hadley, the last person known to have a copy of the chart in his possession, may have destroyed it. He has never been questioned about it.
4. In 2004 FBI correctly identified Abderraouf Jdey as the Anthrax Mailer of September and October, 2001, and then shoebomber of Flight #587 on November 12, 2001. President Bush and FBI Director Robert Mueller conspired to cover up the Jdey identification because it was terrifically embarrassing: FBI and other U.S. Government agencies had permitted an al Qaeda operative whom FBI had released from detention to carry out two major terrorist attacks. U.S. Army scientist Bruce Ivins seems to have prepared the anthrax in 2000 in order to test vaccines. Al Qaeda appears to have stolen some of this anthrax from a DARPA project at George Mason University. See Was Abderraouf Jdey the Anthrax Mailer?
In other words, even though President Obama, the Congress, and the media have performed poorly, indeed, in getting at the real stories of these transformative events, the essential stories, at least in terms of summary characterizations, are known. Just not widely known.
Kenneth J. Dillon is an historian who writes on science, medicine, and history. See the biosketch at About Us.