By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
13) The Bush administration has made Americans safer from terror on U.S. soil.
Like the Pentagon "plan" for occupying postwar Iraq, the Department of Homeland Security is mainly a Bush administration PR dirigible untethered to anything of substance. It's a scandal waiting to happen, and the only good news for W is that it's near the back of a fairly long line of scandals waiting to happen.
On May 26 the trade magazine Federal Computer Week published a report on DHS's first 100 days. At that point the nerve center of Bush's domestic war on terror had only recently gotten e-mail service. As for the larger matter of creating a functioning organizational grid and, more important, a software architecture plan for integrating the enormous mass of data that DHS is supposed to process--nada. In the nearly two years since the administration announced its intention to create a cabinet-level homeland security office, nothing meaningful has been accomplished. And there are no funds to implement a network plan if they had one. According to the magazine, "Robert David Steele, an author and former intelligence officer, points out that there are at least 30 separate intelligence systems [theoretically feeding into DHS] and no money to connect them to one another or make them interoperable. 'There is nothing in the president's homeland security program that makes America safer,' he said."
14) The Bush administration has nothing to hide concerning the events of September 11, 2001, or the intelligence evidence collected prior to that day.
First Dick Cheney personally intervened to scuttle a broad congressional investigation of the day's events and their origins. And for the past several months the administration has fought a quiet rear-guard action culminating in last week's delayed release of Congress's more modest 9/11 report. The White House even went so far as to classify after the fact materials that had already been presented in public hearing.
What were they trying to keep under wraps? The Saudi connection, mostly, and though 27 pages of the details have been excised from the public report, there is still plenty of evidence lurking in its extensively massaged text. (When you see the phrase "foreign nation" substituted in brackets, it's nearly always Saudi Arabia.) The report documents repeated signs that there was a major attack in the works with extensive help from Saudi nationals and apparently also at least one member of the government. It also suggests that is one reason intel operatives didn't chase the story harder: Saudi Arabia was by policy fiat a "friendly" nation and therefore no threat. The report does not explore the administration's response to the intelligence briefings it got; its purview is strictly the performance of intelligence agencies. All other questions now fall to the independent 9/11 commission, whose work is presently being slowed by the White House's foot-dragging in turning over evidence.
15) U.S. air defenses functioned according to protocols on September 11, 2001.
Old questions abound here. The central mystery, of how U.S. air defenses could have responded so poorly on that day, is fairly easy to grasp. A cursory look at that morning's timeline of events is enough. In very short strokes:
8:13 Flight 11 disobeys air traffic instructions and turns off its transponder.
8:40 NORAD command center claims first notification of likely Flight 11 hijacking.
8:42 Flight 175 veers off course and shuts down its transponder.
8:43 NORAD claims first notification of likely Flight 175 hijacking.
8:46 Flight 11 hits the World Trade Center north tower.
8:46 Flight 77 goes off course.
9:03 Flight 175 hits the WTC south tower.
9:16 Flight 93 goes off course.
9:16 NORAD claims first notification of likely Flight 93 hijacking.
9:24 NORAD claims first notification of likely Flight 77 hijacking.
9:37 Flight 77 hits the Pentagon.
10:06 Flight 93 crashes in a Pennsylvania field.
The open secret here is that stateside U.S. air defenses had been reduced to paltry levels since the end of the Cold War. According to a report by Paul Thompson published at the endlessly informative Center for Cooperative Research website (www.cooperativeresearch.org), "[O]nly two air force bases in the Northeast region... were formally part of NORAD's defensive system. One was Otis Air National Guard Base, on Massachusetts's Cape Cod peninsula and about 188 miles east of New York City. The other was Langley Air Force Base near Norfolk, Virginia, and about 129 miles south of Washington. During the Cold War, the U.S. had literally thousands of fighters on alert. But as the Cold War wound down, this number was reduced until it reached only 14 fighters in the continental U.S. by 9/11."
But even an underpowered air defense system on slow-response status (15 minutes, officially, on 9/11) does not explain the magnitude of NORAD's apparent failures that day. Start with the discrepancy in the times at which NORAD commanders claim to have learned of the various hijackings. By 8:43 a.m., NORAD had been notified of two probable hijackings in the previous five minutes. If there was such a thing as a system-wide air defense crisis plan, it should have kicked in at that moment. Three minutes later, at 8:46, Flight 11 crashed into the first WTC tower. By then alerts should have been going out to all regional air traffic centers of apparent coordinated hijackings in progress. Yet when Flight 77, which eventually crashed into the Pentagon, was hijacked three minutes later, at 8:46, NORAD claims not to have learned of it until 9:24, 38 minutes after the fact and just 13 minutes before it crashed into the Pentagon.