The View from Benedict 
The Perfect Alibi 
… and why the administration isn't using it. 

13/04/04 Posting to Headlines Wire of Scoop
Opinion: www.UnansweredQuestions.org
Date: Tuesday, 13 April 2004
Time: 3:54 pm NZT

UQ Wire: The Perfect Alibi

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Unanswered Questions : Thinking for ourselves.

FROM: benedictus.blogspot.com/

Anyone keeping track knows that the administration has taken a hammering by the new Richard Clarke book, the 9/11 hearings, and Condi's refusal to testify under oath at those. With reluctance, they have finally given in regarding Condi's testimony, and in an almost laughable "compromise", Bush and Cheney will appear together — in private and not under oath — before commission members on some undisclosed date in the near future. Condi is obviously going to need some help, and to that end, the administration has trotted out what they hope will be the perfect alibi for the whole mess: National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD)-9. From Reuters(UK) comes the story:

The White House, feeling the heat over charges that President George W. Bush failed to make terrorism an urgent priority before September 11, has released documents showing that one week before the 2001 attacks he ordered plans for military action against al Qaeda.

Portions of a September 4, 2001, national security presidential directive were released as plans were set for national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly on April 8 before the September 11, 2001, commission."

…The September 4 presidential directive called on Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to plan for military options 'against Taliban targets in Afghanistan, including leadership, command-control, air and air Defence, ground forces, and logistics.'

It also called for plans against al Qaeda and 'associated terrorist facilities in Afghanistan, including leadership, command-control-communications, training, and logistics facilities.'

Now, you can't get this from Reuters anymore because they've pulled it (as has Wired News — if you look elsewhere in the U.S. media, you'll find a sentence or two buried deep within articles focusing on other related topics), but newspapers in the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and elsewhere have headlined it. This is quite curious, because this is really is an extraordinary story: The administration had actually called for a war against Afghanistan before September 11th, which of course takes away from September 11th as a reason for that war. And to think that they called me crazy nine months ago when I first reported this. Now even the administration is admitting this.

To read the various U.S. stories that actually report this is to become very confused. There are differences between them that are often totally at odds with each other. One might think that the writers were actually reporting from different planets, or if one were cynical, one might think that the administration simply hasn't fully flushed out how they want to spin this story. One sparsely-reported point, for example: The official date on NSPD-9 is September 4th, a full seven days before 9-11. This however is the date that NSPD-9 was first placed on the President's desk for his signature, but it was revised several times before the President actually signed it on September 17th. A more curious but entirely unreported point: If the document was not in final form on 9-11, why is attacking the Taliban mentioned first
and attacking al Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9-11, mentioned only second? Oh, to see those earlier pre-9-11 drafts, but of course, that will never happen.

For it's part, the rationale of the administration is obvious. With a date of September 4th on this document, the administration gets to say, "See? Richard Clarke was wrong. We were working on terrorism before 9-11!" Well, this document comes close but doesn't actually say that. What it does is say that the administration was working on a war with Afghanistan before 9-11, and the administration is hoping that everyone will simply assume that these are one and the same. If people do, then NSPD-9 is the "perfect alibi", … except that it isn't.

NSPD-9 is first mentioned in conjunction with the 9-11 commission by Donald Rumsfeld in his prepared remarks before that commission. It is again mentioned by Richard Clarke during his Meet The Press interview, with Clarke then calling for its declassification, clearly feeling that this would vindicate his claims that the administration was slow to move on terrorism. Indeed, while NSPD-9 was clearly worked on well before it reached the President's desk, NSPD-5 (Review of U.S. Intelligence – still classified) suggests that the administration only started to seriously consider terrorism intelligence in May of 2001, four months after it took office. NSPD-5 called for the creation of two panels to study U.S. intelligence capabilities, but it is unclear what if anything these two panels ever did or if they were even assembled. They may very well have been, but the administration's recent appointment of a new commission to do the exact same thing (second article) suggests otherwise.

All of this suggests of course that NSPD-9 is anything but the "perfect alibi". For the administration, if it works, fine, but in declassifying a portion of this directive, the administration is showing how very desperate Clarke's revelations have made it. This is a high risk strategy, and could well backfire before a press willing to look more closely (connect the dots), something they have obviously not yet done.

The problem begins of course with Dick Cheney's extraordinary suggestion (there is a reason this man tries to stay out of the spotlight) that Richard Clarke was "out of the loop". As Josh Marshall pf Talkingpointsmemo.com correctly points out here, if Clarke was given the terrorism oversight job by NSC chief Condoleezza Rice, how could he possibly have been out of the loop? Yet, as Clarke has said, not much was going on within the administration regarding terrorism for a good bit of time, at least to his tastes. Could both of these men be telling the truth? In fact, yes, but only if Cheney is not talking about the "loop" that Clarke is.

Up until shortly after 9-11, Richard Clarke was the administration's "go to" man on terrorism. If it was about terrorism, Richard Clarke was involved. After 9-11, he states that he learned within days that Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz were clearly planning to use 9-11 as an excuse to attack Iraq. Indeed, a Vanity Fair article out this week details a meeting between George Bush and Tony Blair just 9 days after 9/11, during which Bush tells Blair that Iraq is next after Afghanistan and Blair essentially agrees. Clarke himself wants nothing to do with this, and so a reassignment (satisfactory to him) takes place. The important thing to note however is that until this point, Clarke is the terrorism czar for the administration.

It is in his role as terrorist czar that Clarke brought forward with him from the Clinton administration some sort of plan for getting to Osama bin Laden that clearly involves the use of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. While the specific level of detail to which this plan had been developed at that time has not been disclosed, Clarke's comments regarding it clearly suggest that it was well beyond the conceptual stage. It is a plan that is soon presented in some fashion to members of the new Bush administration, but within weeks (February 13th) of the inauguration, NSPD-1 (not classified) is issued. NSPD-1 does a number of things, but two are critical. First, NSPD-1 eliminates inter-agency (intelligence) work groups, forcing all intelligence sharing between the various agencies (FBI, CIA, DIA, etc.) through the administration's senior staff. Second, it forces Richard Clarke to the second tier. Richard Clarke is now "out of the loop", and he will not get back into the loop until NSPD-9. These two things will prove to be fatal on 9-11.

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