The Nation

Holtzman to Bush: Testify!

History usually provides a roadmap for the present. Unfortunately, leaders fail to consult the map.That's certainly been the case as the 9/11 Commission has prepared to hear behind-closed-doors testimony from Vice President Dick Cheney and President George Bush at the same time.

Members of the commission and, for the most part, members of congress, have accepted the secret-testimony arrangement. But why?

Presidents have testified before investigatory committees before. And they have done so on comparable issues. Former US Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman reminds us that in 1974, amid the national firestorm that followed President Gerald Ford's pardon of former President Richard Nixon, Ford voluntarily appeared before a House subcommittee that was reviewing the pardon.

"The President came before the subcommittee, made an opening statement and was questioned by the House members. Although each of us had only five minutes, I was able to ask the President directly whether there had been a deal with Nixon about the pardon. The public could determine by Ford's demeanor and his words whether to believe his emphatic denial of any deal," recalls Holtzman, who as a young member of the House was a key player in the Judiciary Committee's investigation of the Watergate scandal.

"The fact that important questions could be posed directly to the President and the fact that the President was willing to face down his severest critics in public were healthy things for our country. And, not even the staunchest Republicans complained that the presidency was being demeaned."

By recalling the history, Holtzman reminds us that President Bush could, and should, simply appear before the 9/11 Commission. There is no Constitutional crisis here. There is no dangerous precedent that could be established. And there is no question of proportionality--certainly, the intensity of the demands for an explanation of the Nixon pardon can appropriately compared with those for an explanation of how the current administration responded to terrorist threats before and after the September 11, 2001 attacks. "As with the Nixon pardon, the events of 9/11 have caused huge national concern," explains Holtzman. "The victims' families--as well as millions of others--have asked why it happened and what if anything could have been done to avert the tragedy. These are simple, reasonable questions."

The best response to those simple, reasonable questions, Holtzman argues, would be for Bush to volunteer to testify in public and under oath to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States.

"Bush would be wise to take a page out of Ford's book. Americans could then decide themselves whether to agree or disagree with Bush's pre-9/11 conduct. They want to trust their President. They want to know that he acted with the best of motives, that he used good judgment and that he is a leader--in other words, that as chief executive, he knows when and how to mobilize the government to take action," Holtzman asserted, in an opinion piece she wrote this week for the New York Daily News.

"If Bush refuses to answer reasonable questions in public, the indelible impression is left that he has something to hide. That impression is reinforced by the White House's insistence that Vice President Cheney sit with Bush at the hearing. The President cannot afford to convey the image that he is afraid to appear on his own. And neither the 9/11 Commission nor the public should permit a behind-closed-door session for anything except national security information. The same principle should have applied to the testimony of former President Bill Clinton. "

Holtzman's wise comments beg one question: Why didn't anyone think to put this former member of Congress and native New Yorker on the 9/11 commission? There are a number of commissioners who share her experience--including, of course, Richard Ben-Veniste, who headed US Justice Department's Watergate Task Force from1973 to 1975. But it would seem that the commission could use someone who recognizes, as Holtzman does, that: "There is no better crucible than a public hearing to help ensure that the truth will come out."

Woodward on Bush

It's hard to know what is more disturbing. That George W. Bush misled the public by stating in the months before the Iraq war that he was seriously pursuing a diplomatic resolution when he was not. That he didn't bother to ask aides to present the case against going to war. That he may have violated the U.S. Constitution by spending hundreds of millions of dollars secretly to prepare for the invasion of Iraq without notifying Congress. That he was misinformed by the CIA director about one of the most critical issues of the day and demanded no accountability. Or that he doesn't care if he got it wrong on the weapons of mass destruction.

Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, illustrates all these points. The full book, which details Bush's march to war, is not yet out, but as is routine for a Woodward book, the more noteworthy passages have preceded the book's release via a well-orchestrated PR blitz ( 60 Minutes, installments in Woodward's Washington Post, and leaks). And before this book--which follows Woodward's Bush at War, a mostly pro-Bush chronicling of the war in Afghanistan--hits the racks, it is already possible to draw conclusions. (Isn't life in the information age wonderful?)

Let's assume Woodward has gotten the story right. He may not deserve the full benefit of the doubt. Everything in the book is apparently drawn from off-the-record interviews except for two sessions with Bush. And some longtime Woodward critics still maintain (reasonably) that his book on the CIA in the 1980s, Veil, ended with a supposedly secret deathbed interview with CIA director William Casey that did not pass the smell test. But after Bush at War was published, the Bush crowd did not take exception to Woodward's work. So it is clear that he has the access and contacts (particularly with Secretary of State Colin Powell) to pen an insider's account of the Bush crowd.

The disclosure that appears to unsettle the White House the most is Woodward's assertion that in mid-January 2003 Bush decided to proceed with the invasion of Iraq. Woodward also notes that in November 2001, Bush asked the Pentagon to whip up a plan for war with Iraq. Such an order can be defended by the administration as prudent planning. After all, in the post-9/11 world, you never know when you might need such a plan. (Yes, General Tommy Franks lied to the public in May 2002 when he said, "My boss has not yet asked me to put together a plan" for attacking Iraq. Who, though, expects a military commander to reveal his secret plans?) But in the months before the war, the White House insisted that Bush was pursuing diplomatic options in good faith. At a November 20, 2002, speech in Prague, Bush said, "Our goal is to secure the peace through the comprehensive and verified disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." And in late January, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "Nobody, but nobody, is more reluctant to go to war than President Bush....He does not want to lead the nation to war."

But, according to Woodward, Bush was already leading the nation to war, having made the decision on January 11. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice--who has become the administration's explainer-in-chief--suggests that Bush was merely thinking aloud at the time. But Woodward's account is pretty strong, noting that the Saudis were informed before Bush bothered to tell his secretary of state.

Which brings us to Disturbing Matter Number Two. So you're president and you're about to go to war--wouldn't it be a useful exercise to have your secretary of state tell you all the reasons this might not be a good idea? But when Bush got around to sharing his decision with Powell, no such conversation ensued. Powell merely noted there will be "consequences." Bush did not ask for details. Nor did the two discuss what to do about such "consequences." In fact, Plan of Attack seems to contain few, if any scenes, in which Bush and his aides consider options other than a full-scale military invasion. (At the time, some non-government policy experts were suggesting more aggressive inspections or military action short of invasion and occupation.) Nor, according to the book, did Bush and his aides seem particularly interested in planning for the post-invasion period--or planning operations to secure the weapons of mass destruction that were supposedly in Iraq.

The Bush-Powell non-conversation comes across as representative of an overall shallowness that infected Bush administration deliberations on the topic of war in Iraq. (Just last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that neither he nor anyone else thought that post-war Iraq would be as tough a mission as it has been. That is simply not true. Many experts--even in the State Department--predicted the exact sort of problems that are plaguing U.S. policy right now.) And while Powell does come out positively in the World According to Woodward, he, too, can be held accountable for enabling the simplism of the Bush gang by being the good soldier who promoted and defended in public a policy that he did not believe was best for the nation or the world. What good is being the grownup in the room, if you let the kiddies take control?

Powell's role in the Woodward book--as a source, as a character--makes for good public affairs soap opera. Conservatives have quickly attacked him for being disloyal and placing his own agenda ahead of the man he serves. (If only he had truly done so when it counted.) What has received less attention in the ongoing gabfest over Woodward's latest is his charge that in the summer of 2002, the Pentagon, following Bush's orders, spent $700 million preparing for war with Iraq--upgrading airfields, bases, weapons storage facilities--and did not tell Congress. Last time I checked Section Nine of Article One of the U.S. Constitution (this morning), it read, "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law." This means Congress decides where the money goes. Congress did not appropriate funds for these purposes, according to Woodward. That is, Bush took money appropriated for other reasons and had the Pentagon use it for his war in Iraq. There are, of course, procedures governing secret spending by a president and the Pentagon, but such spending still--in theory--is supposed to be overseen by members of Congress. Then, at least, spending hidden from the public is not kept secret from the public's representatives. But in this instance, if Woodward is correct, Bush assumed imperial power and violated a basic premise of the republic. Are any of the Republican leaders of Congress interested in an investigation? Don't hold your breath.

Republicans and conservatives, instead, are paying more attention to Woodward's account of a December 21, 2002 meeting at the White House, when senior CIA officials briefed Bush on the evidence the agency had regarding Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction. When Bush expressed doubts, CIA chief George Tenet reportedly said, "It's a slam-dunk case." A-ha, Bush supporters cry, this shows Bush did not misrepresent the evidence. What's the president to do when his CIA chief tells him the evidence is solid? Well, Bush could have asked to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq himself. It was only 90 pages. And White House officials have conceded that neither Bush nor Rice read that document, which had been produced the previous October. The summary conclusions of the NIE did say that Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, but the NIE also noted that various analysts took exception to key findings of the NIE. If Bush had read the NIE he would have seen there was internal dispute over what Hussein had and whether he posed a serious WMD threat.

Moreover, Tenet's assertion does not get Bush off the hook for his own misleading assertions. Many times Bush exaggerated the WMD threat in public. He said Hussein might possess a nuclear weapon, when the CIA had told Bush he did not. He claimed Hussein was maintaining a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons, when the CIA had only reported Hussein had a development program. Bush accused Iraq of maintaining a "growing fleet" of unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to strike the United States with biological and chemical weapons. The intelligence community said that Iraq, at most, was developing such UAVs (although U.S. Air Force analysts, the best experts on this subject, disagreed that these UAVs could be used for such attacks). And, as is well-documented, Bush said that Hussein was in cahoots with al Qaeda, even though U.S. intelligence had no evidence to support such a bold statement. Tenet might have believed--wrongly--that he had a "slam-dunk case" on the WMDs, but Bush still regularly misrepresented what his government knew about the WMD threat.

Woodward also notes that after the December 21, 2002, session at the White House, Tenet told associates he should have said the evidence on weapons was not ironclad. So if Woodward's telling is accurate, this is the situation: the CIA director misleads the president, who then subsequently misleads the public and the world in order to start a war that causes the deaths of thousands and many other troubles. Is Bush upset by this? Not at all. How can we tell? First, he has retained and repeatedly praised Tenet, who committed one of the biggest errors ever made by a CIA director. Second, Bush says so himself.

In his 60 Minutes appearance, Woodward told Mike Wallace that when he mentioned to Bush that people were concerned about the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, Bush replied, "You travel in elite circles." Bush was not only saying that he was not mad about this, but that the missing WMDs were of minimal importance because the matter only bothered elite intellectuals. Discussing this, Woodward said he believed Bush had a disdain for "the fancy-pants intellectual world." Is this chilling? A president takes the country and the world to war for a very specific reason, and then this reason turns out to have been wrong. Yet that does not bother him in the least, and he brushes aside the matter by suggesting only elitists care about it. Talk about denial. A frightening mental mechanism is at work here. If Bush can dismiss all concerns and criticisms of his actions as merely the gripes of too-smart-for-their-own-good snobs, he then is free to live untroubled in a reality of his own (or Dick Cheney's) making, one unencumbered by competing views and ideas. The leader of the free world is in a bubble.

Bush told Woodward that he remained certain the war had been the right move because he has a "duty to free people." That is not how he had depicted his obligations before the war. Then he claimed his duty was to defend the United States. This remark--coupled with Bush's comment that "there is a higher father that I appeal to"--does make it seem that Bush believes he is on a mission from God. That might scare some, but it would not be so problematic if Bush also believed that God expects him to engage in self-examination and critical and honest discourse before mounting an action that claims thousands of lives and if Bush took into this heart the fact that God (assuming God exists) created intellectuals, experts, skeptics and critics as well as cowboys, oil rig workers, and truck drivers (not that any of these folks cannot be fancy-pants eggheads as well).

The Woodward book is not a full-fire blast like Richard Clarke's book. But it is in several ways more disquieting. Clarke assails Bush and Company for getting the policy wrong--before and after 9/11. Woodward depicts a president who eschews accountability and responsibility, who is embedded in a world detached from critical or challenging perspectives, who appears incapable of self-doubt, who mistakes stubbornness for leadership, and who, while looking to serve that higher father, is likely to provide Woodward more material for the next book--if he gets the chance.


DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.co

Attention Must Be Paid

The greatest economic injustice in America isn't corporate malfeasance, anemic job growth or the outsourcing of jobs, as the mainstream media suggests. The biggest scandal is the highway robbery committed against hard-working families who can't make ends meet despite playing by the rules. While the press has chronicled the crimes of Dennis Koslowski, Martha Stewart and Andrew Fastow, it consistently fails to describe the forces shutting workers out of the broad middle-class.

Upward mobility is one of our democracy's great strengths. In George Bush's America, however, opportunity is being steadily eroded. To understand this anti-worker economy, just begin with the minimum wage.

Currently, the federal minimum wage is a paltry $5.15 an hour. It has remained unchanged since 1997. In a family of three, the breadwinner earns $10,712 in annual income, which is almost $5,000 below the federal poverty level. When Washington State raised its minimum wage in 1998 to $7.16 an hour, many full-time workers with families were still living in poverty.

Republicans in Congress couldn't care less about this crisis. Callous, imperious and anti-worker, the Republican Senate leadership recently refused to even vote on a modest minimum wage increase, which could have helped offset the hardships imposed by declining wages and record job losses. When it comes to the struggle to increase the minimum wage and deal with the crisis of poverty in the US, the Senate has essentially become a "non-functioning institution," to quote Senator Edward Kennedy.

A second force driving this train are the glaring inequities in America's tax system--injustices that have further eroded workers' prospects. David Cay Johnston, who covers the tax system for the New York Times, has demonstrated that in recent decades, a growing portion of the tax burden has shifted to working- and middle-class families while the wealthiest Americans have paid fewer taxes.

Armed with lobbyists and campaign contributions, many corporations have successfully avoided paying virtually any federal income tax for years. From 1996 to 2000, 61 percent of businesses paid no federal income taxes whatsoever. Last year, business's share of the federal tax burden dropped to 7.4 percent, down from a high of 32 percent in 1952. And, this week, we learned that under President Bush, the IRS has performed fewer corporate audits and undertaken fewer prosecutions of corporate tax evaders than ever before.

Meanwhile, the US is the only country on earth where wages are being driven down. Johnston says that for the bottom 80 percent of the income bracket, wages have either fallen or remained stagnant. The next ten percent has seen "infinitesimal growth in income"---while the top ten percent has become spectacularly rich. Americans are experiencing the slowest wage growth in 40 years.

The economy is shafting workers in subtler ways as well, as corporations slash benefits and cheat people out of every last dime. The Wall Street Journal reported that Lucent is cutting medical and life insurance benefits for its retirees. Wal-Mart, America's largest employer, is facing legal action for allegedly cheating workers out of overtime pay. Some companies, according to a recent front-page New York Times' article, have even deleted hours from workers' time sheets in order to maximize profits; such illegal doctoring is "far more prevalent than most Americans believe," noted the Times.

Making matters even worse is the problem of spiraling personal debt with many Americans struggling to pay back school loans, maintain car payments and keep credit card bills at bay. In 2001 [the most recent year for which figures are available], seven out of every 1,000 adults declared personal bankruptcy, a share nearly twice as high as in the last business cycle peak in 1989, according to the Economic Policy Institute. As EPI says, "This rising debt is especially troubling in the midst of an ongoing labor market recession, when income is growing slowly at best."

"Even the few new jobs [announced in last month's Labor Department report] come with an asterisk," Senator Kennedy said in a recent speech. "They pay an average of 8,000 dollars less than the jobs lost in the Bush economy," and they frequently offer only part-time hours and few benefits.

The bottom line is that hard-working Americans face hostile economic forces arrayed against them--and the sign over the gateway to economic security now says: CLOSED FOR BUSINESS. Under President Bush's economic stewardship, America's middle-class is quickly becoming a thing of the past. But, as Willy Loman's wife Linda tells her audience in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: "Attention must be paid!"

On 9/11, CIA Chief Gets Off Easy

Despite the headlines, CIA chief George Tenet got off easy.

The day after Tenet testified before the 9/11 commission, The New York Times declared on the front page, "Sept. 11 Panel Cites CIA For Failures in Terror Case." The Washington Post blared, "Al Qaeda Unchecked for Years, Panel Says: Tenet Concedes CIA Made Mistakes." The news stories focused on a damning staff statement--one in a series of interim reports--issued by the commission that criticized Tenet's agency for years of misjudgments and errors related to its perceptions and handling of the threat posed by al Qaeda. But when Tenet sat before the ten commissioners, he was praised by the members and faced not a single round of truly discomfiting questions. Though several of its members have referred to 9/11 as a massive intelligence failure, the panel was rather tame when it had the chance to publicly query the fellow who was (and remains) in charge of the system that failed. More importantly, the commissioners neglected to ask key questions. They were doing what the CIA and the FBI have been accused of: failing to connect the dots.

Before examining the issues that Tenet did not have to confront, let's look at some of the alarming findings of the commission's staff statement on the "performance of the Intelligence Community."

* The report notes, "While we know that al Qaeda was formed in 1988, at the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Intelligence Community did not describe this organization, at least in documents we have seen, until 1999. As late as 1997, the [Counterterrorism Center of the CIA] characterized Usama bin Ladin as a financier of terrorism." This is a brutal assessment. Al Qaeda had been involved in several attacks against U.S. targets years before 1999, and the CIA even had information prior to 1997 that showed that bin Laden was much more than a moneyman for Islamic terrorists. In 1996, according to the commission, a walk-in source told the CIA that bin Laden's organization had been involved in a 1992 attack in Yemen against U.S. military personnel, the 1993 shootdown of U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters in Somalia, and possibly the 1995 bombing of an American training mission in Saudi Arabia.

* Although the intelligence community received several reports in the years before 9/11 noting that Islamic extremists were interested in hijacking airliners and turning them into weapons, the CIA did nothing in response. Its Counterterrorism Center (CTC) did not analyze how a hijacked airliner might be used as a weapon. It did not consider how to defend against such an attack. The CIA did not tell its spies and analysts--or those of other intelligence agencies--to look for signs that terrorists were pursuing such a scheme. (One indicator might be that a person linked to terrorist outfits was seeking flight training.) If it had, perhaps the hints that did come in--such as the August 2001 arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspicious flight school student, might have triggered action. In late August, Tenet and other CIA officials received a briefing on the Moussaoui arrest under the heading, "Islamic Extremist Learns To Fly." Imagine what response could have occurred, had the CIA been primed to pick up on clues that terrorists were interested in a 9/11-like scenario.

* German intelligence in 1999 handed the CIA a lead on a terrorist suspect named "Marwan." The CTC, which had a phone number for this person in the United Arab Emirates, pursued this lead for a "short time" but failed to develop any further information and dropped the matter, without asking any other intelligence agencies (say, the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic eavesdropping around the world) for help. This person was Marwan al Shehhi, who piloted United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. And he had used that UAE telephone number in the period before September 11.

* The CIA put together a plan--dubbed "The Plan" to improve its efforts to collect intelligence on al Qaeda using human sources and had developed what the commission calls "ingenious efforts" to bolster its collection using signals intercepts. But, the report notes, "there was no comprehensive collection strategy to pull together human sources, imagery, signals intelligence and open sources. Even 'The Plan' was essentially a CIA plan, not one for the Intelligence Community as a whole."

* On December 4, 1998, Tenet sent out a directive to several CIA officials that referred to Islamic terrorists and declared, "We are at war. I want no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside CIA or the [Intelligence] Community." The commission reports, "Unfortunately, we found the memorandum had little overall effect on mobilizing the CIA or the Intelligence Committee." The memo supposedly was faxed to the heads of all the intelligence agencies. But most of them told the commission they had never seen it. The NSA director at the time, Lieut. General Kenneth Minihan, said that he believed the memo only applied to the CIA.

* Though Tenet characterized counterterrorism efforts as a "war," the commission notes, he "did not develop a management strategy for a war against terrorism before 9/11." Tenet takes exception to this finding. But, according to the report, in 1998 he called for reforms that would lead to better sharing of counterterrorism data among the CIA, the NSA, the FBI and other agencies. But no plan to do so was developed prior to 9/11.

* Many of the problems the commission identified certainly loom larger after 9/11, but what might be its sharpest criticism concerned an overall institutional failure that stands out as serious and unacceptable without the benefit of hindsight: "we did not find an institution or culture that provided a safe outlet for admitting errors and improving procedures." While Tenet has defended himself and the CIA against most of the commission's criticisms by claiming the CIA was short on money and staff in the years before 9/11, such a defense does not work against this charge.

Another commission staff statement, released the day before Tenet testified, examined the CIA's handling of information on Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi, two of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. The basics of this tale have been previously revealed. The CIA learned in early 2000 that these two suspected al Qaeda operatives, after attending something of an al Qaeda summit in Malaysia, were heading toward or in the United States. But the CIA did not place their names on any watchlist for people entering the United States, nor did it tell the FBI about the two. The pair rented homes in San Diego and obtained driver's licenses using their real names and were in regular contact with an FBI informant. If the FBI had been alerted to their possible presence in the United States, it may well have been able to track the two--who were in touch with at least two of the other hijackers--during the year and a half prior to 9/11. Who knows what that might have yielded? The CIA did not pass this lead to the FBI until late August 2001. At that point, the FBI went looking for the men and did not find them before September 11.

The commission's latest report on this episode--the most significant screw-up of 9/11--makes the CIA look even worse. It notes that in January 2001, the CIA learned that the suspected leader of the October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole had been at the January 2000 Malaysia meeting. This meant that Mihdhar and Hazmi had attended a gathering with the possible mastermind of an attack that had killed 17 American troops. (There even had been speculation within the CIA that Mihdhar and the suspected leader were the same person.) Yet the report says, "we found no effort by the CIA to renew the long-abandoned search for Mihdhar." In other words, the CIA knew that an al Qaeda operative linked to the al Qaeda lieutenant suspected of engineering the Cole attack had possibly come to the United States, and it did nothing.

There's more. In May 2001, as threat reporting surged, a CIA official reviewed old cables from early January 2000 that included information that Mihdhar had received a U.S. visa and that Hazmi had come to Los Angeles on January 15, 2000. This officer took no action. Then in the summer of 2001, an FBI official detailed to the CIA was asked to review material about the Malaysia meeting--in her free time. As the report notes (in an understated way), "She grasped the significance of this information." She learned from the Immigration and Naturalization Service that Mihdhar had entered the United States with Hazmi on January 15, 2000, and again on July 4, 2001. In late August, she and an FBI analyst initiated a search for Mihdhar, but higher levels of CIA and FBI management were not told about it. The search was assigned, on a routine basis, to a single FBI agent. This was his very first counterterrorism lead. He was given 30 days to open the case. He started the process a week later. He was still looking for Mihdhar on September 11.

Did the commissioners grill Tenet about the biggest missed opportunity of 9/11? After all, what is his explanation for this series of foul-ups? Had anyone been held accountable? Demoted? Fired? Why did it take an FBI official on loan to the CIA to make the right call? Why had CIA and FBI officials in late August not reported the Mihdhar connection to higher-ups?

No such questions were asked. In fact, there were no queries about the entire matter. Tenet, in his opening statement, did say, "We made mistakes" and cited "our failure to watchlist al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar." But this intelligence blunder--perhaps the worst single lapse in the CIA's history--deserved more than one sentence.

Other obvious areas were left untouched by the commissioners. Here is a sampling of questions that Tenet ought to have been asked.

* The recent release of the August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief--titled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US"--caused a media storm regarding whether Bush had been aware before 9/11 that al Qaeda was aiming to conduct attacks in the United States. But the document also raises questions about the performance of your CIA. Why did this short report not refer to other information the CIA possessed indicating al Qaeda's intentions to hit the United States, such as material that emerged during the recent trial of al Qaeda operatives who bombed the U.S. embassies in Africa on 1998? Some of this information--such as al Qaeda's efforts to acquire uranium--had been in the newspapers. But Bush has said he does not routinely read newspapers and relies upon his briefers. Also, the PDB reported that the FBI had 70 anti-al Qaeda "full field investigations" under way throughout the United States. That number, according to testimony before the 9/11 commission, was higher than the actual amount. It turns out that the 70 figure had referred to the number of targeted individuals, not investigations, and that some of the targets were involved only in financing activities. How many investigations were there? Why did the CIA get this wrong? Did the PDB present a false impression that the FBI's anti-al Qaeda efforts were more extensive than they were? Do you believe this short briefing fully conveyed the domestic threat al Qaeda presented?

* What were the nature of your conversations with President Bush about the threat from al Qaeda during 2001? Did he ever instruct you to take any specific steps regarding al Qaeda? Did you tell him there was a "war" going on? Did he agree with this view?

* Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism coordinator, has said that in 2001 he asked you to brief national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on the threat from al Qaeda because he was concerned that Rice was not taking the threat seriously enough. What happened at this briefing? How did Rice respond?

* What did you do after you were told in late August that Moussaoui, a suspicious Islamic extremist, had been trying to learn how to fly a 747? Did you ask for any follow-up action or further reports? Did you make sure the FBI was on top of this (which it was not)?

* Why did the CIA in general fail to respond to the various reports it received over several years indicating that al Qaeda and other terrorists were interested in using airliners as weapons? In 1999, for instance, a public report prepared for the National Intelligence Council, an affiliate of the CIA, by the research division of the Library of Congress noted, "Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft...into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House." Whatever happened to this particular report? And after Bush said shortly after 9/11 that "no one could have conceivably imagined suicide bombers burrowing into our society and then emerging all in the same day to fly their aircraft--fly U.S. aircraft into buildings full of innocent people," did you inform the president he had been mistaken? After Rice in May 2002 said, "I don't think anyone could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center," did you tell her that she was wrong?

* When did the CIA conclude that bin Laden and al Qaeda was responsible for the Cole bombing? Did Bush ever want to talk about the Cole in order to consider possible reprisals? Was he interested in the case? Did he ask to be briefed on it?

* Why did your 1998 declaration of war against the terrorists go unheeded throughout most of the intelligence community you oversee?

* You told the commission that you believe that Bush White House officials grasped the urgency of the al Qaeda threat prior to September 11. But why did deputy CIA director John McLaughlin tell the commission that he felt "a great tension...between the new administration's need to understand these issues and his sense that this was a matter of great urgency"? And if the White House was granting the matter sufficient attention, why did two veteran Counterterrorism officials report to the commission that they "were so worried about an impending disaster that one of them...considered resigning and going public with their concerns"?

* Why did the CIA's internal culture, under your watch (and probably earlier), not provide, as the commission notes, "a safe outlet for admitting errors and improving procedures"?

* In February 2002, you testified before the Senate intelligence committee and said that 9/11 "was not the result of the failure of attention and discipline and focus and consistent attention" on the part of the CIA. In light of the al Mihdhar/al Hazmi episode, would you care to revise that remark?

To his credit, Tenet was attuned to the threat from al Qaeda years before 9/11. Still, the agency he directed and the community he oversaw failed. Misjudgments and specific errors of the CIA and the intelligence community made it easier for the mass murderers of 9/11 to succeed. The 9/11 commission staffers have produced stunning indictments of the CIA and the FBI in their interim reports. But during the public hearings the commissioners have gently questioned the government officials who were in charge--such as Tenet--and avoided some of the more disturbing and difficult topics. It's as if the commission is operating on two separate levels. The staff fires away at the agencies; the commissioners let the responsible people walk away unmussed. No doubt, Tenet, one of the savvier players in Washington, felt the sting of the commission's staff statement when he read the newspapers the next day. But he probably realized that it could have been a lot worse.


DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.co

President on Probation

"The President is on probation with military voters," says Peter Feaver, professor of Political Science at Duke University and an expert on military-civilian relations.

It may be anecdotal but three stories in last week's newspapers offer a sharp sense of the growing ambivalence military veterans and families feel toward this Administration. The once rock-solid GOP military voting bloc could become a domestic casualty for Bush. And, as the New York Times reports, with a large number of military personnel living in battleground states like Florida, West Virginia and New Mexico, even small changes in military voting patterns could be decisive in November.

With the occupation into its first year, casualties rising daily and no coherent exit plan in sight, Samie Drown--who voted for Bush in 2000 and has a husband in the Army's 101st Airborne Division--told the New York Times that her view of the Administration has completely changed. "My husband is a soldier and his job is to fight for freedom. But after so many months and so many deaths, no one has shown us any weapons of mass destruction or given us an explanation." A mother of four young kids, she continued: "So a lot of military wives are now asking: 'Why? Why did we go to Iraq? The Administration talked a strong story, but a lot of us are kicking our butts about how we voted last time around. Now we're leaning the other way."

Rhonda Wilson, of Astoria, Queens echoed Drown in remarks she made recently to New York Newsday. Her daughter, Shawna Herron, 26, is a cook with the Army's 225th Battalion.

"I don't know why President Bush don't let our children come home," Wilson said. "He would rather see our kids slaughtered. Who's he to say we're sticking it out? This is not our fight. It never was.

"He's busy trying to get himself re-elected and got all our babies over there risking life and limb," Wilson said. "It's wrong, wrong, and somebody needs to let him know it. So many people have lost their kids."

Samie Drown and Rhonda Wilson must be keeping Karl Rove wide awake in the wee hours of the night.

On the same base as Drown's husband in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Brittany Wood, 19, whose stepfather has spent most of the past 18 months in Iraq, says she was a Bush supporter a year ago but she plans to vote for Kerry this November.

"I was glad we were doing this because we need to help other countries fight for freedom, but now lots of people feel there's been a cover-up and it is a lie and we were not told the real reasons for being in Iraq," Ms. Wood says. ""That is making a lot of soldiers and their families think about voting. And for the first time they're thinking about voting Democratic." (A recent CBS News survey found that forty to forty-eight percent of people from "military families" would vote for Kerry.)

And buried in Sunday's Washington Post report on the small ANSWER-organized antiwar demonstration in DC on Saturday was a telling interview with a veteran on holiday who happened upon the demo unexpectedly. "What they're [the protestors] saying is correct," said T.J. Myers--who had recently returned from a year's stint in Iraq after leaving the Army after a seven year hitch. "It's all about money." Myers, who lives in Fort Benning, Georgia and was in Washington on vacation, said "It's my first time in DC, and I have never seen so many homeless people in my life and right near the White House. How can we send [billions] to another country when we have so many people in trouble here?"

Myers's sentiments are shared by groups like Military Families Speak Out, which together with http://www.unitedforpeace.org ">United for Peace and Justice, organized a press conference and walk to the White House on April 14 to deliver the message that it's time to end the occupation.

All this is showing that military families and personnel may be this election's newest swing voters. They certainly aren't Republican stalwarts anymore.

Voting to Help President Bush

At last night's press conference, President Bush was asked if he could name his biggest mistake in office. At first he said, "I'm sure something will pop into my head here." But then he couldn't name a single miscue. As he concluded: "I don't want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't--you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one."

A few Bush errors did pop into my head, as I'm sure they did yours. And the folks at the Center for American Progress, sensing a good opportunity to help the anti-Bush cause while having some fun, have unveiled a new online poll. They were able to think of five big Bush mistakes and are asking the public to vote on which one they consider the most egregious. Click here to vote today.

An Out-of-Control Occupation

As Anthony Shadid detailed in the Washington Post today, the US Marine siege of Fallujah has produced a powerful backlash in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. Hospitals report as many as 600 Iraqi civilians have been killed by US troops so far, while media accounts this morning suggest an escalation of violence with US F-15 jet fighters firing cannons at unidentified targets in the city. And the http://www.thenation.com doc.mhtml?i=20040426&s=jamail">siege of Fallujah is only the most blatant example of an Iraqi policy in almost complete chaos.

The fierce fighting and lack of a coherent exit plan are also helping galvanize a new community of antiwar activists: military families. At 12:00 noon on Wednesday, April 14, at least fifteen people from among this community, as well as several Vietnam Vets, will participate in a press conference in Washington, DC, organized by United for Peace and Justice.

Speakers will explain why US troops should be withdrawn from Iraq and will call on people nationwide to contact their Congressional representatives to implore them to take action to end the occupation. (Tell them it might also be a winning electoral issue in November.) This week while Congress is still in recess and most members are home is a good time to make your voice heard. Click here to get in touch your elected reps.

UFP recommends trying to schedule an appointment with your representatives or their staffers in the next few days--either on behalf of a group or organization or as a concerned citizen. If that fails, flood them with calls and faxes and consider organizing a vigil in front of their offices to demand that they make time to speak with their constituents on matters of life and death.

Following Wednesday's press conference, the delegation will walk to the White House to deliver the message that it's time to end the war, end the occupation and bring the troops home. One flower for each of the US dead and thousands of petals for the nameless Iraqis who have been killed will be left at the steps of the White House. Hundreds of letters from military families around the country, all calling for an end to the senseless deaths, will also be left for the President.

Tonight also presents another good way to keep the pressure on the White House. This evening, for just the third time during his presidency, George W. Bush will hold a live press conference. Let him know what you think about what he says. Call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414. And call your local talk-radio show and tell them what you think too. (Click here for contact info for media in your area.) They might not want to hear us but it can't hurt to call.

The Unsexy Ballot Initiative

Did you know that voter turnout in states with ballot initiatives is much higher in general elections? This year each additional initiative on the ballot could correspond to an increase in turnout of roughly three to five percent? 

Yet, although initiatives possess the power to draw voters to the ballot booths, their significance is often overshadowed by the sexier and louder parade of election activity created by candidate races. But initiatives shouldn't be flippantly tossed aside this year by candidates and political operatives alike--they certainly haven't been by rightwing organizations that understand the power and potential of ballot measures. Just take a look at my Top Ten list of hot initiatives for the year.

Top Ten Ballot Initiatives in 2004

1. Minimum wage increases in Florida and Nevada.

2. Anti-gay marriage bills in Missouri, Georgia, Utah and Mississippi.

3. Lottery funding for public education in Nevada and Oklahoma.

4. Conservation and open space battles in Arizona and Utah.

5. Ban on nuclear waste dumping in Washington.

6. Defense of Clean Elections in Arizona.

7. Tobacco tax for prescription drugs and health care in Colorado.

8. Defense of affirmative action in Michigan.

9. Progressive tax reform in Colorado.

10. Defense of healthcare insurance in California.

(Caveat: This is a constantly changing environment and although the campaigns mentioned in the list are highly likely to qualify, the initiative landscape won't be fully clear until August.)

And for the larger argument about why progressives need to start looking at 2004 initiatives as opportunities, check out the smart op-ed below by Kristina Wilfore, Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

The Political Opportunity of Ballot Initiatives by Kristina Wilfore

Today, initiatives are abounding in battleground states - largely in order to mobilize a conservative or progressive base, drive wedges into an opposing partisan coalition, and generate contributions to campaigns through what is increasingly considered a soft money loophole in a post BCRA world.

Tort restrictions, the denial of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, and immigration, are expected to be the hottest issues of the day and will frame the political rhetoric of a variety of campaigns throughout the country. Furthermore, several contentious tax-related ballot measures have been filed as part of a coordinated strategy among groups like Center for a Sound Economy and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform to shrink government and put Democratic candidates on the hot seat in Maine, Nevada and Washington.

But before progressives wring their hands in anticipation of doom and gloom at the ballot box, let's not forget the political opportunity that lies before us. Whether on defense or offense, ballot initiatives create an opening to define what we stand for and make the other side look as repugnant as they truly are. But this can only be achieved if the organizations and individuals on the left that constitute the fabric of voter engagement vehicles for 2004 start to acknowledge these initiatives, drive resources to them, and develop a viable strategy for victory.

The long-term political effect of even socially divisive wedge issues hasn't been all bad for progressives. After the passage of Proposition 187, the 1994 anti-immigrant initiative spearheaded by Governor Pete Wilson, Latino voters in subsequent elections become politically energized and increasingly hostile to Republican candidates. Measures modeled after Proposition 187 have been filed in Arizona, Nevada and Colorado for 2004. After Proposition 209, the 1996 measure to eliminate affirmative action in California, Republican candidate Dan Lungren received only 20 percent of the Hispanic vote, which at that time accounted for 14 percent of the state's electorate. That same year, Bill Clinton won 73 percent of the Hispanic vote against Bob Dole, who championed an English-only ballot measure. This climate persisted into the 2000 election when Al Gore received 71 percent of the Hispanic vote against George W. Bush, despite the fact that Bush, speaking Spanish, campaigned heavily to win over Hispanic voters.

On the flip side, turnout in Washington state in 1998 increased by as much as four percentage points thanks to the presence of a minimum wage initiative. This increase was even more pronounced among those with poor or inconsistent voting histories. That year, Democrats unexpectedly won 50 percent of the contests for the state House of Representatives and the state Senate switched to a Democratic majority. This is part of the reason why progressive activists in Florida and Nevada are sponsoring minimum wage ballot initiatives of their own. Both measures are being used for the dual purpose of identifying and registering disenfranchised voters and to embed progressive economic policies in the state law. Just imagine, Democratic candidates could have a positive, pro-active economic message to run on in these states rather than defining their fiscal agenda by being against the Bush tax cut.

There is a lot at stake for Democrats in this year's elections. In addition to possessing the power to take back the White House and other hotly contested positions where Republicans currently maintain tenuous control, a slew of state-based issues will hinge on the results of these ballot initiatives. Let's hope the political organizations that have the lion's share of election resources this year don't look at ballot initiatives as a burden, but rather as an opportunity.

Condi's Cover-up Caves In

A small but significant White House cover-up fell apart this past weekend.

When the White House finally released the August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief, it marked the end of a two-year effort on the part of the Bush administration to prevent the public from learning that a month before the 9/11 attacks--and weeks after the U.S. government had collected "chatter" indicating Osama bin Laden was planning a major strike--Bush received information indicating that al Qaeda was intent on mounting attacks within the United States.

Condoleezza Rice was instrumental in the attempt to keep the contents of this PDB--which was entitled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US" and which noted that al Qaeda "apparently maintains a support structure [in the United States] that could aid attacks" and that the FBI had detected "suspicious activity...consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks"--from becoming known. And it is obvious why it was so important for her and the White House to smother this PDB.

The existence of the August 6 PDB was first revealed by CBS News' David Martin on May 15, 2002. But Martin's report only referred to the PDB in one sentence that noted the PDB had warned that an attack by bin Laden could involve hijacking U.S. aircraft. CBS did not report the title of the briefing or any other material it contained. A media furor erupted after the White House acknowledged Bush had received this PDB. The day after the CBS News report, The New York Times carried a front-page story with a headline declaring, "Bush Was Warned Bin Laden Wanted To Hijack Planes."

The disclosure of the PDB came at an especially awkward time for the White House. Two weeks earlier, news reports revealed that an FBI agent in Phoenix in July 2001 had written a classified memo suggesting that a group of Middle Eastern aviation students might be linked to terrorists (including bin Laden) and that the FBI had not taken any action in response to this agent's investigation. The "Phoenix memo" received a flood of media coverage, and the Bush administration--which heretofore had not had to field any tough questions about the government's pre-9/11 performance-- was confronted with queries about the negligent handling of the agent's prescient report. At the same time, the case of Zacarias Moussaoui was in the news. On May 15, the Times reported that before 9/11 an FBI agent had speculated that Moussaoui, the suspicious aviation student arrested by the FBI on immigration charges in the summer of 2001, might have been planning to fly a plane into the World Trade Center. News reports had previously indicated that the FBI had not pursued the Moussaoui case vigorously prior to September 11.

The Phoenix memo, the Moussaoui case--all of this placed the administration on the defensive for the first time since 9/11, as the White House fended off suggestions (and accusations) that the federal government, on Bush's watch, had missed crucial tips and opportunities to thwart the horrific attacks. Then came news of the August 6 PDB.

The White House reaction was predictable: stonewall. The Bush crew clearly did not want American citizens to discover that he had been told that bin Laden was aiming to conduct attacks in the United States, and they did not want to have to answer the inevitable questions (such as, what did the president do in response to this briefing?). So Team Bush started spinning, and its lead twirler was Rice.

On May 16, she held a briefing for reporters and described the PDB as "not a warning" and no more than an "analytic report that talked about [bin Laden's] methods of operations, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, 1998. It mentioned hijacking, but hijacking in the traditional sense, and in a sense said that the most important and likely thing was they would take over an airliner holding passengers and demand the release of one of their operatives." She did not refer to the title or the other elements of the PDB unrelated to hijacking, including the report that al Qaeda members had apparently set up a support network in the United States. She did her best to make the PDB seem rather dull:

"This was generalized information that put together the fact that there were terrorist groups who were unhappy [with] things that were going on in the Middle East as well as al Qaeda operatives, which we'd been watching for a long time, that there was more chatter than usual, and that we knew that they were people who might try a hijacking. But, you know, again, that terrorism and hijacking might be associated is not rocket science."

That ho-hum description hardly matches the actual memo. And several days after the PDB story broke, Ari Fleischer, then Bush's press secretary, told reporters that the headline on the document was "Bin Laden Determined To Strike the United States." That is, he had changed an "in" to a "the"--an alteration of significance, since the White House line has been that the pre-9/11 chatter had the administration looking for attacks on targets outside the United States. A May 19 , 2002, front-page Washington Post story did report the correct title of the PDB and did state that the briefing had noted that al Qaeda members were living or traveling to the United States. But such reporting was overwhelmed by a White House, PR blitz that maintained the PDB was no big deal.

Rice, Fleischer and their colleagues succeeded more or less. The issue of the August 6, 2001, PDB went away. But there was another front to worry about. In 2002, the House and Senate intelligence committees were conducting a joint 9/11 inquiry. When the committees requested access to PDBs received by Bush and Bill Clinton, the Bush White House said no. As the final report of the joint inquiry noted, "Ultimately, this bar was extended to the point where CIA personnel were not allowed to be interviewed regarding the simple process by which the PDB is prepared."

The joint inquiry did interview intelligence community officials aware of the contents of the August 6 PDB. And the final report of the committees, which was released last summer, strongly hinted at what had been in the PDB. The committees got it right, noting that intelligence material gathered in early August 2001 had informed "senior government officials" that bin Laden had wanted to conduct attacks in the United States and that al Qaeda had a support structure in the United States. But the committees were unable to portray the PDB definitively or to provide the title. Only a few reporters picked up on the obvious hints placed in the final report. For the most part, the cover-up was still holding.

The independent 9/11 commission finally forced the August 6 PDB out of Bush's clutches. But first the White House put up a fight, refusing to allow the full commission to see this and other PDBs. The commission and the White House negotiated an agreement under which one commissioner, Jamie Gorelick (a Democrat), and the panel's executive director, Philip Zelikow (a Republican), were able to review the PDBs and report back to the other commissioners, after the White House vetted the notes they had taken. September 11 family members complained about the arrangement. They believed the full commission should have access to the PDBs, and they worried about Zelikow's credibility. (He served with Rice in the first Bush administration, co-wrote a book with her, worked on the Bush II transition team with her, and was appointed by George W. Bush to be on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.) This deal did seem to provide the White House the opportunity to continue to suppress specifics about the PDB.

But Richard Clarke got in the way. His book and his testimony to the 9/11 commission brought far more attention to the panel and to the issue of whether the Bush administration had not regarded the al Qaeda threat seriously before September 11. His dramatic appearance also highlighted the White House's refusal to permit Rice to testify. With the White House trying to limit the commission's actions, its attempt to sit on the August 6 PDB became one more example of the administration's reluctance to cooperate fully. (Earlier this year, the White House had opposed the commission's request to add two months to its end-of-May deadline and had said Bush would not consent to an interview with all of the panel's commissioners; it then retreated on each point.)

When Rice did appear, Democratic commission members--particularly Richard Ben-Veniste--grilled her on the PDB, disclosing information from the PDB and forcing her to reveal its title. But she tried to stick to her previous characterization of the PDB, noting it presented "historical information based on old reporting." That depends on what the definition of "historical" is. The PDB did run through material dating back several years to show that "bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S." But it also noted that al Qaeda was currently maintaining a "support structure" in the United States. And it cited information obtained in May 2001 that suggested "that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives." (The White House said it reacted aggressively to this tip-off and it was unrelated to 9/11.) Rice repeatedly referred to the PDB as a "historical" document and did not accept Ben-Veniste's invitation to call for its declassification. When Ben-Veniste asked Rice if she had ever told Bush before August 6, 2001, of the existence of al Qaeda cells within the United States, she did not answer the question.

With so much attention focused on the PDB, it became inevitable that the Bush White House would have to release it. The administration has established a rather clear pattern. When it comes to sharing information with the public about controversial matters, it holds the line as long as it can--until politics dictate otherwise. This is the SOP for elected officials. But Bush does seem to dig in his heels more than most. After two years of hiding the PDB, the administration let it out on a Saturday night--a rather convenient time to make inconvenient information available.

When the White House released the document, it held a background briefing with reporters on a conference call. During this sessions, one White House official said, "The release of this PDB should clear up the myth that's out there that

somehow the President was warned about September 11th." But the point of the PDB was not that Bush had been warned specifically about 9/11. At issue was what he had been told about the prospect of a bin Laden strike inside the United States, as well as what, if anything, he did in response. Under questioning from Commissioner Timothy Roemer, a former Democratic congressman, Rice had said the PDB was "most certainly an historical document that says, 'Here's how you might think about al Qaeda.'" But there are no public indications that after he received this briefing that Bush thought at all about the possibility of an al Qaeda attack in the United States. Maybe he did. But during the background briefing, a White House official declined to discuss how Bush reacted to the August 6 briefing: "That's a confidential relationship between the briefer who briefs the President each morning and the President. So not only do we not know, but it's not the sort of thing that we would discuss."

The day after the PDB was released, Bush held a short media availability at Fort Hood, Texas, and insisted that the August 6 briefing "said nothing about an attack on America. It talked about intentions, about somebody who hated America. Well, we knew that." When asked if he was "satisfied" that every agency had done all it should have prior to 9/11, Bush redefined the question: "I'm satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America at a time and a place of an attack." It was a non sequitur. No one has suggested he saw such intelligence.

The PDB controversy is not about whether Bush received a specific warning a month before 9/11. It concerns his administration's attitude toward al Qaeda and the possibility of domestic attacks prior to September 11 and whether the White House has truly been willing to see the full 9/11 tale uncovered and told. The evidence is mounting that al Qaeda was not the priority it should have been in the first seven months of Bush's presidency. Yet the White House is unable to acknowledge that it made a misjudgment. Much of the public might even believe that it was a natural mistake for a new administration to underestimate the abilities and reach of a madman hunkered down in faraway Afghanistan. In a way, such a screw-up may be more forgivable than Bush and his lieutenants' efforts to cover up information and prevent the 9/11 commission from completing a thorough examination.

Bush lost the PDB battle, but the war is not over. The 9/11 commission is working hurriedly to finish its report by the congressionally mandated date of July 28. No doubt, the commission will have to tussle with the White House over the declassification of other material. Will the administration once more attempt to censor significant information? Could this delay the release of the report? Declassification fights tied up the congressional intelligence committees' 9/11 report for eight months. A repeat would push the unveiling of the 9/11 commission's report until after the election, but commission officials say they are determined to avoid such a fate.

The 9/11 commission has not constantly inspired confidence, but thanks to the panel, Rice's PDB cover-up, after two years, caved in. Still, suspicious minds would be right to wonder: Are there other cover-ups, which are not yet publicly known, that will end up more to Bush and Rice's liking?


DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.co