On March 25, during a Pacifica radio interview, Representative Cynthia McKinney, a Georgia Democrat, said, “We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11…. What did this Administration know, and when did it know it about the events of September 11? Who else knew and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered?” McKinney was not merely asking if there had been an intelligence failure. She was suggesting–though not asserting–that the US government had foreknowledge of the specific attacks and either did not do enough to prevent them or, much worse, permitted them to occur for some foul reason. Senator Zell Miller, a conservative Democrat from her state, called her comments “loony.” House minority leader Dick Gephardt noted that he disagreed with her. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer quipped, “The congresswoman must be running for the Hall of Fame of the Grassy Knoll Society.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called her a “nut.” Two months later, after it was revealed that George W. Bush had received an intelligence briefing a month before September 11 in which he informed told Osama bin Laden was interested in both hijacking airplanes and striking directly at the United States, McKinney claimed vindication. But that new piece of information did not support the explosive notion she had unfurled earlier–that the Bush Administration and/or other unnamed parties had been in a position to warn New Yorkers and had elected not to do so.
With her radio interview, McKinney became something of a spokesperson for people who question the official story of September 11. As the Constitution‘s editorial page blasted her, its website ran an unscientific poll and found that 46 percent said, “I think officials knew it was coming.” Out there–beyond newspaper conference rooms and Congressional offices–alternative scenarios and conspiracy theories have been zapping across the Internet for months. George W. Bush did it. The Mossad did it. The CIA did it. Or they purposely did not thwart the assault–either to have an excuse for war, to increase the military budget or to replace the Taliban with a government sympathetic to the West and the oil industry. The theories claim that secret agendas either caused the attacks or drove the post-9/11 response, and these dark accounts have found an audience of passionate devotees.
I learned this after I wrote a column dismissing various 9/11 conspiracy theories. I expressed doubt that the Bush Administration would kill or allow the murder of thousands of American citizens to achieve a political or economic aim. (How could Karl Rove spin that, if a leak ever occurred?) Having covered the national security community for years, I didn’t believe any government agency could execute a plot requiring the coordination of the FBI, the CIA, the INS, the FAA, the NTSB, the Pentagon and others. And–no small matter–there was no direct evidence that anything of such a diabolical nature had transpired.