The Neocons and 9/11
Robert Parry: The emerging history of 9/11 reveals that President George W. Bushâ€™s failure to protect the
nation resulted from neocon insistence that Iraq was the real threat, not al-Qaeda. The political relevance
today is that the neocons want back into power under a Mitt Romney presidency
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
Just a few days past another 9/11 anniversary, and the debate continues about just what did President Bush and Vice President Cheney and the leadership of that regime know about the events that took place on 9/11 before they took place. How much warning was there? What was the intelligence? And, of course, there’s an increasing amount of information that says American intelligence agencies had quite a bit of evidence something was coming.
Now joining us to talk about this is Bob Parry. He’s the editor of ConsortiumNews.com. Thanks for joining us, Bob.
ROBERT PARRY, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Thanks, Paul.
JAY: And for people that don’t know, Bob Parry is a renowned investigative journalist. He broke a lot of the Iran-Contra scandal stories. And he’s author of the book Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George Bush.
So you wrote a piece recently about this, Bob. What did you find?
PARRY: Well, basically, the emerging history on 9/11 indicates that there was a great deal of information that was being funneled to President Bush and to his inner circle about the coming attacks. And sort of the new element isâ€”that’s coming into focus is that the neoconservatives in his administration appear to have tried to dissuade him from taking it seriously. The point the neocons were making was that the real threat was from Iraq and Saddam Hussein. And they were essentially dismissing or downplaying these warnings that they saw coming from people who were holdovers from the Clinton administration, people at the CIA under George Tenet, people like Richard Clarke.
JAY: Who was demoted. He essentially hadâ€”was the terrorism czar, antiterrorism czar, and was demoted from what essentially was a cabinet-level position under Clinton to a position where he could barely get a meeting with Condoleezza Rice.
PARRY: Right. So basically there was this idea that these guys didn’t know what they were talking about, they were overreacting to these supposed threats, that al-Qaeda was not a big deal, that this wasn’t really where the real threats were coming from. And so the intelligence people and the counterterrorism people kept running up against this brick wall, and they kept providing more and more information, a lot of it coming into focus in June 2001 and early July. That’s when Tenet described himself running around with his hair on fire trying to get the president to react.
JAY: Tenet or Richard Clarke?
PARRY: What’s that?
JAY: It was Richard Clarke with the hair on fire, no?
PARRY: No, it was also George Tenet. There seemed to be a lot of people withâ€”
JAY: Yeah, a lot of hair on fire.
PARRY: â€”hair on fire at the time. But no one seemed to notice, at least not at the highest levels. But Kurt [ËˆaÉªkÉ™nwÉ‘ld] did a piece for The New York Times this week where he brings a little bit more of this focus on this issue of the neoconservatives trying to push aside these warnings. And also, that led Bush to think, well, maybe I need more history. And so the famous presidential daily brief of August 6, 2001, was somewhat historical. And that’s been one of the arguments the Bush people used, that, oh, it was too historical, thatâ€”.
JAY: Yeah, this is the one titled "Bin Laden plans to attack America".
PARRY: Correct. But the point was that Bush apparently asked for some historical background because there were all these other reports that were coming in on more current things. So to put that August 6 PDB into context, it was giving Bush more of a feel for the larger picture. It wasn’t the only thing they had. Some of those earlier documents remain classified.
However, we know from the statements of Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar at the time, and George Tenet from his memoir, that there were a lot of efforts made by people in the intelligence community to get the attention of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Bush himself, and that that failed, that basically they never were able to overcome this resistance from the neoconservatives, and the country remained vulnerable going into 9/11.
JAY: And one of the points you made in your piece was that there were other memos that got to Bush that were very specific. I mean, even the one that you talk about, which Condoleezza Rice argued was more historical, wasn’t completely historical. There were some sentences in that memo that were quite specific about an imminent attack. But you’re saying there’s now evidence that there’s other memos that were directly saying that attack could be imminent.
PARRY: Right, and that there were repeated efforts, including there was a follow-up that George Tenet described in his memoir after the August 6 PDB, where he goes down toâ€”Bush is at Crawford Texas on vacation for the month, and Tenet goes down there to try to follow up and warn the president, and they end up taking this ride around in a jeep, where Bush is describing the different fauna of his ranch, which Tenet says is not something that he had where he grew up in New York. So they basically ended up doing smalltalk rather than get [seriously] focused on this emerging national security threat.
There were also warnings, of course, from the FBI in Minnesota, where Moussaoui had been arrested, and the concern about hisâ€”why he was taking these flight courses. There were reports from FBI agents in Phoenix Arizona along the same lines, that they felt that al-Qaeda and bin Laden were placing people in flight schools so they could learn how to run some kind of hijacking attack. So there was a great deal of evidence that was funneling into Washington, except that President Bush and the people around him, the neoconservatives, just didn’t want to take it seriously.
JAY: Now, and most people when they try to explain why the Bush administration reacted this way, they usually talk about they were focused on Russia and they wereâ€”on the rivalry in Europe. But in your piece, you talk they were more already focused on Iraq, and that’s really what this was about, because focus on al-Qaeda and bin Laden leads the attention to be in Afghanistan, and they wanted eyes on Saddam Hussein.
PARRY: Right. The neoconservatives already have their plan, and we now know much of what that was. If you go back into ’96 when some of them worked for Benjamin Netanyahu’s prime minister’s campaign and they did the report about protecting the realm of Israel and howâ€”get rid of this idea of peace talks, you have to go after theseâ€”have regime change, and Iraq was one of the key ones. Then you had in ’98 the Project for the New American Century, which was urging President Clinton to go and do regime change in Iraq somehow. And so that was theirâ€”that was already their plan. Soâ€”and once Bush got into the White House in 2001, they already knew what they wanted to do: they wanted to go ahead and take out Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And these complaints or concerns raised by the old Clinton people that al-Qaeda’s about to attack seemed to the neocons, at least initially, as something that would divert the attention of the administration.
JAY: I mean, as you know, some people argue this was not just a question of wanting a different attention or focus. In that Project for a New American Century they talk about needing a new Pearl Harbor moment in order to assert the kind of projection of U.S. military might that this document called for. And a lot of people have suggested, well, maybe they knew something was coming and didn’t want to do anything about it, ’cause it gave them their Pearl Harbor moment, and that’s, of course, a matter of their intent, which is a matter of a lot of debate. But one thing’s for sure is even after 9/11 they weren’t very interested in Afghanistan; it was all about Iraq.
PARRY: No, they quickly realized that this was a great opening for them. I mean, I know some people suggest that there was this intent. I don’t see any evidence of that. But, you know, certainly the facts, if you just look at them objectively, would not dissuade you from thinking they might have wanted this to happen. But I don’t personally think that the evidence says that.
But I do think that once 9/11 occurred, you saw that the neocons very quickly understood that the anger and fear that wasâ€”existed in the United States at the time was something they could turn to their advantage and go after Iraq finally. So they did the Afghanistan thing quickly but already were beginning to move the attention of the president and the U.S. military down to Iraq.
JAY: Yeah. One of the points of your piece is that a lot of these players, either the same people or people linked to the same people, are now forming Romney’s foreign-policy team. So who are we talking about and what might the implications of that be?
PARRY: Well, Romney has surrounded himself with many key neocons. His book, No Apology, wasâ€”he acknowledges the assistance he got from Robert and Frederick Kagan, who are, of course, very prominent neocons who’ve been involved in things like the surge in Iraq. Then you have Eliot Cohen, who was a Wolfowitz protege, who largely wrote the white paper that represents Romney’s foreign policy. Cohen authored the prologue or preface to the white paper. And you have people like Dan Senor, who was another prominent neocon, who was with Romney a lot and now has been sort of shifted over to work with Paul Ryan. So you had themâ€”so, basically, Romney has surrounded himself and has taken the tone of the neocons.
The whole No Apology idea is this sense that gets back to this idea that there should never be any apology for using American power, that American power is always used for good, and that anyone who thinks even mildly critically of how the U.S. has used its power is somehow disqualified to be a leader of the nation. So Romney has taken on both the people who are part of that neocon framework, but also has taken on their overall view of the sort of hard-line America should get involved, intervene in the Middle East again, and he’s talked aggressively about what to do even in the current problems, where there have been these riots, and how the U.S. should react very harshly and in a military fashion toward that, apparently. So what you’ve got is in many ways almost a more pure version of George W. Bush withoutâ€”with even fewer subtleties than George W. Bush brought.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Bob.
PARRY: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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