How to Give Up 19 Runs in the 1st Inning

This is pretty good, from Chait.

Last fall, Donald Trump claimed that, on September 11, 2001, thousands of Muslims cheered the fall of the World Trade Center. This vicious fiction drew the scorn of fact-checkers and social liberals but caused nary a ripple in the Republican field. But, on Saturday night, Trump said something else about 9/11, something so far beyond the pale that conservatives finally rose up in righteous indignation. He claimed that on 9/11 the president of the United States was George W. Bush.

Does anyone remember when CIA Director George Tenet and the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) Cofer Black got so desperate that they insisted on coming to White House to try to warn the Bush administration that a 9/11-type event was imminent?

On July 10, 2001, two months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet met with his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, at CIA headquarters to review the latest on Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Black laid out the case, consisting of communications intercepts and other top-secret intelligence showing the increasing likelihood that al-Qaeda would soon attack the United States. It was a mass of fragments and dots that nonetheless made a compelling case, so compelling to Tenet that he decided he and Black should go to the White House immediately.

Tenet called Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, from the car and said he needed to see her right away. There was no practical way she could refuse such a request from the CIA director.

They were hopeful that the administration got the message:

During the summer of 2001, Tenet, Black, and one of Black’s top assistants, “Rich B” (i.e. “Richard”), were active in advertising the dangers of al-Qaeda to the new Bush administration. At a meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others on July 10, “Rich” predicted a “spectacular” terrorist attack against US interests “in the coming weeks or months” … “Multiple and simultaneous attacks are possible”. After the meeting, “Rich and Cofer congratulated each other”, feeling that at last the CIA had gotten the full attention of the administration.

They shouldn’t have been hopeful.

MEN’S JOURNAL: You and CIA Director George Tenet met with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on July 10, 2001, to warn the administration of an impending Al Qaeda attack. What did you tell them?

COFER BLACK: Our assessment that morning was that “the ceiling was falling in,” an attack was imminent against U.S. interests and could very well be within the United States. There was no mystery; we fully expected to be struck, and struck hard. Director Tenet immediately recognized that things had taken a profound turn and there was a need for the upper levels of the U.S. government to appreciate this. It was lock ‘n’ load time. Tenet contacted the White House, but unfortunately the president was in Crawford, Texas; the senior officer in charge was Condi Rice. It was the most hard-hitting briefing I had ever participated in. Condi Rice asked, “Cofer, what do we do?” and I told her in dramatic and unequivocal terms, as is my way, I guess, that this country had to go on a war footing – now! We left that meeting thinking we had provided the alert to our leadership.

They soon realized that they needed to make some more noise if they wanted to get some action. That’s why they drafted a memo for their briefer to deliver to President Bush on August 6th. It had a title that wasn’t too ambiguous: Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US. And, in case Bush didn’t get the title, it went into a little more detail.

The memo said that there were indications that bin Laden wanted to replicate something along the lines of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, that al Qeada members were in the country and could facilitate or carry out attacks, that they had intelligence that operatives in the country were planning an attack with explosives, and that they may want to carry out airplane hijacking.

Not perfect intelligence, certainly, but the rough outlines of what was to come.

But it didn’t move George W. Bush.

He told the briefer, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.