Clinton, Bush, Terrorism & 9/11
There has been a lot of talk since the September 11th attacks about how great a leader George W. Bush was at that time and how he continues to protect America. But just what was he doing on that day? And what was he doing to protect America before September 11th?

And what about President Clinton? Did he slack off on terrorism as the rightwing would have us believe? The reality is that you would be hard pressed to find any Republicans who considered terrorism to be a priority during the Clinton years.

While President Clinton was taking the threat seriously, Republicans in Congress were focused on taking him down. Any action against bin Laden was criticized as trying to divert attention from their quest to politically damage him.

Below are a number of points that must be taken into consideration:

When Clinton tried to get anti-terrorism legislation passed in 1996, Republicans fought it tooth and nail. Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went so far as to call certain provisions in the bill "controversial" and "phony" (1) - all of which have since been passed in the wake of 9/11.

To this day there is a popular email floating around that claims that Clinton was offered Osama bin Laden and he refused him. The truth is that the Sudan offered to arrest bin Laden and turn him over to Saudi Arabia. For ten weeks Clinton tried to persuade the Saudis to take bin Laden. They refused to do so for fear of fundamentalist backlash, and the FBI & Justice Department determined there was not sufficient evidence at that time to indict him in U.S. courts. (2)

In 1998, after the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Clinton bent a President Ford-era ban on assassinations, authorizing the CIA to use deadly force against bin Laden (An attempt was made when operatives fired an RPG at bin Laden's motorcade, unfortunately hitting the wrong vehicle in the convoy). (3)

Clinton also ordered cruise missile strikes on bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan and at a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan suspected of manufacturing VX nerve gas. This action was met with staunch resistence from Republicans and immediately cries of 'Wag the Dog' dominated the discourse. Further action would have resulted in further attacks from the GOP. He also sponsored legislation that would have frozen the assets of any organizations believed to be funneling money to al Qaeda. It was killed by Republican Senator Phil Gramm of Texas. - The same legislation passed immediately following 9/11. (4)

A number of al Qaeda attacks were prevented under the Clinton administration, including plots to bomb Los Angeles Airport, the UN building, and New York City tunnels. Dozens of international terrorist cells were also neutralized. These successes were praised by a number of counter-terrorism experts, including Robert Oakley, from Reagan's State Department, who gave Clinton high marks but criticized his obsession with bin Laden. (5)

During the transition period in 2001, Clinton's National Security advisor, Sandy Berger met with Condoleeza Rice telling her she would "spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al Qaeda specifically, than any other subject." (6)

Near the end of the Clinton administration, unarmed Predator drones spotted bin Laden in Afghanistan at least three times. Clinton proposed arming the drones with Hellfire missiles to kill him. Bad weather and retrofitting required the drones to be taken offline until March 2001. They remained offline throughout that summer. One week before 9/11, the Bush administration rejected using the drones to attack al Qaeda. Days after 9/11, armed Predator drones were put in the skies over Afghanistan. (7)

Army Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick stated that Clinton Cabinet advisors had anti-terrorism meetings "nearly weekly," and that he "didn't detect" that kind of focus in the Bush administration. (8)

On February 26th, 2001, Paul Bremer (Co-chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism, Head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq) while speaking at the McCormick Tribune Foundation Conference on Terrorism stated: "The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?'(9)

On May 5th, 2001, Bush rejected the Hart-Rudman report, a two and a half year study on the threat of terrorism, considered to be the most in-depth security analysis since the National Security Act of 1947, which created the National Security Council and the CIA. The fourteen member panel of intelligence and military experts, coming to the conclusion that "Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers," recommended many improvements in our defenses (enacted since 9/11), including the creation of a National Homeland Security Agency. (10)

In the Summer of 2001, warnings of an al Qaeda attack in the United States using multiple aircraft as weapons began pouring in from international intelligence agencies all over the world, including: Germany, Russia (11) Jordan, Morocco (12) Israel (13) and Britain. (14) Additionally, Egyptian President Mubarak warned the U.S. that al Qaeda threatened to kill Bush at the July G8 summit in Italy using a plane stuffed with explosives. (15) From 1994 through 2001 U.S. intelligence agencies were aware of numerous threats that al Qaeda could use airplanes as weapons against the United States. (16)

Four months before the 9/11 attacks, a new 'Visa Express' program is started which is designed to help applicants obtain U.S. visas quickly and easily. In June and July of 2001, three of the 9/11 hijackers use Visa Express to enter the United States. (17) (Five according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence)

On July 10, 2001, Phoenix FBI agent Kenneth Williams sent a memo to FBI headquarters suggesting that bin Laden might be using U.S. flight schools to train for terror attacks, and that officials should check visas of foreigners at American aviation academies. No action is taken. (18) Vice President Cheney opposed a request by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle for a copy of the memo and stated that it should not be released to the media and public. (19)

In July 2001 John Ashcroft was told to stop flying commercial airlines due to a "threat assessment," and to travel only by private jet for the rest of his term. (20)

Also in July 2001, the FAA received a classified briefing that al Qaeda may be planning hijackings of U.S. airliners. That same month the FAA rescinded a 40 year old rule (enacted as a result of the Cuban missile crisis) that allowed commercial airline pilots to be armed. (21)

On August 6th, 2001, Bush received a briefing from the CIA titled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In The U.S.," which emphasized that al Qaeda hoped to "bring the fight to America." Hijackings were mentioned specifically. When White House press secretary Ari Fleischer stated the title of the document to reporters in May 2002, he left out the word "In." (22)

In the middle of unprecedented warnings of a major terrorist attack in the United States coming from numerous international intelligence sources, what does Bush do? He takes a one month vacation. A one month vacation after being in office for roughly six months. A one month vacation after the most contested election in history [At the end of this vacation Bush will have spent almost a quarter of his presidency at his Texas ranch]. This is the longest presidential vacation in thirty two years - just shy of the record held by Richard Nixon who beats Bush by one day. (23) And oh yeah, Vice President Cheney was also out of Washington DC the entire month of August 2001, vacationing in Wyoming. (24)

FBI Director and counter-terrorism chief John O'Neill resigned in protest of the Bush administration because he believed they were obstructing the prosecution of terrorism. (25) A day after his resignation he started working as head of security for the World Trade Center, where he died two weeks later on September 11th. (26)

In early September 2001, the Justice Department refused a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Security Act) warrant to FBI agents in Minneapolis who were trying to investigate Zacarias Moussaoui, a suspected terrorist. Moussaoui had been arrested on August 17th after an alert from officials at Pan Am International Flight Academy who reported that he paid over $6,300 in cash for his training, was only interested in learning about making turns - not take-offs and landings, and specifically asked about flying over New York air space. Even after an FBI trace found that French intelligence reported Moussaoui had been associated with members of an Algerian terrorist group and may have traveled to Afghanistan, the FISA request was still denied. (27)

On September 10th, 2001, John Ashcroft refused a $58 million request from the FBI for counter-terrorism funding and proposed cutting $64 million in state and local counter-terrorism grants. (28)

Despite the fact that Condoleezza Rice said on May 16, 2002 "I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile" (29) there was a mountain of evidence to the contrary. In October 2000, the Pentagon conducted a mock terrorist attack using a simulated plane crash into a model of the Pentagon. The exercise was called "The Pentagon Mass Casualty Exercise." (30) In September 1999, a federal report titled the "Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism" stated that al Qaeda suicide bombers might hijack an airliner and dive bomb it into the Pentagon, CIA headquarters, or the White House. (31) Condoleezza Rice has refused to testify under oath to the 9/11 commission (32) [Until public pressure forced a reversal].

During WWII, there were eight investigations into the Pearl Harbor attack. Why did both President Bush (33) and Vice President Cheney (34) pressure Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle into limiting the investigation of the greatest security failure in the history of the United States? Why do they continue to resist the 9/11 commission? (35) [Update: Both Bush and Cheney have since testified to the 9/11 commission, but only agreed to do so under two conditions - Testimony would not be under oath, and they would not meet with the commission separately].

Richard Clarke, Bush's former top anti-terrorism adviser, has condemned the administration's stance on the war on terror. Clarke, who served as deputy assistant and assistant Secretary of State in both the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, and was held over by both the Clinton and Bush administrations as their terrorism czars, holds the record as the longest continuously serving senior White House staff member. (36)
He has a 30 year history in government service. In March 2004 Clarke said: "Frankly, I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know... I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism... on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo wasn't acted on... The cabinet meeting I asked for right after the inauguration, took place one week prior to 9/11." (

9/11 Timeline:
Developed by Paul Thompson - September 11: Minute by Minute

8:38 a.m. NORAD is notified of Flight 11 hijacking.
8:43 a.m. NORAD is notified of Flight 175 hijacking.
8:46 a.m. Flight 11 slams into the North Tower.
8:55 a.m. Bush's motorcade arrives at Booker Elementary School.
8:55 a.m. A public announcement is broadcast inside the WTC South Tower, saying that the building is secure and people can return to their offices.
Between 8:55 & 9:00 a.m. After Bush arrives at Booker Elementary School he is briefed in a holding room over the phone by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
9:03 a.m. Flight 175 hits the South Tower.
9:06 a.m. Bush is in a Booker Elementary School second-grader classroom. His chief of staff, Andrew Card, enters the room and whispers into his ear, "A second plane hit the other tower, and America's under attack."
9:16 a.m. NORAD is notified of Flight 93 hijacking.
9:16 a.m. Bush leaves the Sarasota classroom where he has been since about 9:03.
9:24 a.m. NORAD is notified of Flight 77 hijacking.
9:29 a.m. Still inside Booker Elementary School, Bush gives a brief speech in front of about 200 students, plus many teachers and reporters.
9:34 a.m. Bush's motorcade leaves Booker Elementary School and heads toward Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
9:38 a.m. Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.
9:43 a.m. Bush's motorcade arrives at airport and pulls up to Air Force One.
9:56 a.m. Bush departs from the Sarasota airport on Air Force One.
After 9:56 a.m. After flying off in Air Force One, Bush talks to Vice President Cheney on the phone. Cheney recommends that Bush authorize the military to shoot down any plane under control of the hijackers.
9:59 a.m. The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses.
10:06 a.m. Flight 93 crashes just north of the Somerset County Airport.
10:28 a.m. The World Trade Center's North Tower collapses.

Full September 11th Timeline with sources can be found at: Center For Cooperative Research

What does it all mean?
With all that was known beforehand -
Warnings coming from all over the world about a major al Qaeda attack in the United States using hijacked aircraft, Ashcroft being told to not fly commercially two months before 9/11, The President and Vice President both out of Washington DC for the entire month of August amid unprecedented warnings. -
It is clear this administration knew something was on the way.

Why then was Bush so slow to act on 9/11? Why did he go to a photo-op in an elementary school knowing a plane had already hit the World Trade Center? Why did he sit there for almost 10 minutes after being told a second plane had struck the other tower? Why did he remain at the school for a half hour after being informed of the second crash? Only the President had the authority to order a shootdown of commercial aircraft. Why no shootdown order until over an hour after the drama began to unfold at NORAD?

It can be argued whether the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented or not. But there is no question, given what was known beforehand, that once informed of the first attack, not only was there time to begin evacuation of the South Tower (or at least let the evacuation continue), but there was more than enough time to prevent the Pentagon from being hit.

The PENTAGON! Almost an hour after a commercial airliner slammed into one of America's monoliths, the greatest symbol of U.S. military might was attacked and partially destroyed for the first time in our history... less than a year after an exercise that prepared for exactly this type of scenario. How is this possible?

There are many questions that need to be answered.

This is not about 20/20 hindsight.
This is about unheeded warnings and failed leadership during America's darkest hour.

Worldwide distrust of the United States is at an all time high. Wild accusations and conspiracy theories abound. On the Internet, there are two scenarios gaining strength among thousands of people: LIHOP & MIHOP. People who support the former acronym believe the Bush administration "Let It Happen On Purpose" to pursue an imperialistic agenda on the world. The MIHOP people believe the Bush administration "Made It Happen On Purpose" to further the same imperialistic intentions.

I am not willing to go that far. But I do accuse the Bush administration of gross negligence, incompetence, and an arrogance that fostered a "They could never hit us here" attitude that left the United States more vulnerable than ever before.

One month before the 2000 presidential election I wrote a diatribe stating that "If George W. Bush is elected there would be a major terrorist attack in New York City due to his lack of experience in the foreign policy arena and his poor understanding of the modern world" (I admit at the time I envisioned the attack would be in the form of a dirty bomb in Times Square, or a biological/chemical release in the subway system). I emailed this to friends and posted it on Internet message boards. Republicans accused me of trying to scare people. Less than a year later, from the roof of my apartment building on the Lower East Side, I watched in horror as the World Trade Center collapsed into dust.

The myth that Republicans are stronger on defense than Democrats is just that - a myth. I contend that George W. Bush didn't give a damn about terrorism before 9/11, failed to protect us from the worst attack in the history of our country, and has since exploited terrorism to implement an extreme and dangerous agenda on a frightened public that he had no mandate for in the first place.

9:03 a.m. at Booker Elementary School 9:03 a.m. in New York City
For A Quicktime Version Of The EDITED Video At Emma E. Booker Elementary School Click Here
NOTE: There is about five minutes of video from the time Bush enters the classroom to when it ends. There have been FIVE edits to the footage so the amount of time Bush sits there is not accurate. The tape also cuts off before Bush actually gets out of his chair.
Approximately 9:04 a.m. 9:06 a.m. Bush is informed of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center

Bush apologists will tell you the reason he sat in that chair so long was because he didn't want to alarm the children.
Why is it always an "either/or" situation with them?
Everything is black & white - good & evil - with us or against us.

Why are the only two choices:

1) Sit there frozen while America is under attack.
2) Run from the room screaming like a banshee, leaving a group of crying, panicked children in your wake.

Is there any reason a president can't act presidential and calmly say:

"Excuse me children, I have some important 'president business' that I need to attend to,
but I'd be happy to meet again with you soon."

There is one important point has been left out of this argument...

When Bush went to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School that fateful morning,
it had been announced to the public three days ahead of time that he would be there.
That puts not only Bush, but the entire school in danger.
If the public knew where Bush was planned to be that far in advance,
isn't it possible that the terrorists could have known as well?

It is also important to note that in these critical moments no one knew whether
this was the beginning, middle, or end of an attack on our country.
But one thing was apparent. We were under attack.
And every minute Bush sat there he was putting the Presidency, those children, and the United States at risk.

Didn't want to alarm them indeed.

These same apologists will state that Bush was "only" in office for eight months
and couldn't possibly be held accountable for anything that happened (on his watch)
so "early" in his administration.
This from the party of "accountability?"
This from the party of "a strong National Defense?"

Let's forget for a moment that the Commander in Chief's number one job is to protect the country,
and that amid unprecedented warnings in the summer of 2001 Bush was on a month-long vacation.
Try this:

Take a job - any job - in the United States.
Work there in a position of authority for eight months.
Preside over a catastrophic failure.
Tell your employer that you are not responsible because you've only been there for eight months.

See what happens next.

"I'm a war president"
George W. Bush, February 7th, 2004
(1) CNN - 7/30/1996 - President wants Senate to hurry with new anti-terrorism laws
(2) Washington Post - 10/3/2001 - Sudan's Offer to Arrest Militant Fell Through After Saudis Said No
(3) CBS News - 9/16/2001 - Report: Clinton Targeted Bin Laden
(4) CNN - 10/18/2001 - Bill Press: Don't blame it on Bill Clinton

(5) Salon - 1/15/2002 - Joe Conason: Don't blame Clinton
(6) BBC News - 8/5/2002 - US plan to attack al-Qaeda 'ignored'

(7) USA Today - 6/25/2003 - Bush slow on bin Laden drones before 9/11
(8) Washington Post - 1/20/2002 - A Strategy's Cautious Evolution
(9) MSNBC - 4/30/2004 - Before 9/11, Bremer ripped Bush on terror
(10) Guardian - 10/2/2001 - We can't say they didn't warn us
(11) FOX News - 5/17/2002 - Clues Alerted White House to Potential Attacks
(12) CS Monitor - 5/23/2002 - Other unheeded warnings before 9/11?
(13) Telegraph - 9/16/2001 - Israeli security issued urgent warning to CIA of large-scale terror attacks
(14) Sunday Herald - 5/19/2002 - Britain warned US to expect September 11 al-Qaeda hijackings
(15) New York Times - 9/26/2001 - A Nation Challenged
(16) Wall Street Journal - 9/19/2002 - Intelligence Agencies Knew of Airplane Terror Threats, Report Says
(17) U.S. News - 12/12/2001 - The easy path to the United States for three of the 9/11 hijackers
(18) New York Times - 5/21/2002 - Traces Of Terror: The F.B.I. Memo
(19) CNN - 5/20/2002 - Cheney: Future attack on U.S. 'almost certain'
(20) CBS News - 7/26/2001 - Ashcroft Flying High

(21) WorldNetDaily - 5/18/2002 - Armed-pilot rule nixed after hijack briefing
(22) Washington Post - 5/18/2002 - Aug. Memo Focused On Attacks in U.S
(23) Washington Post - 8/7/2001 - A White House On the Range
(24) Associated Press - 7/30/2001 - Cheney Coming Back to Wyoming for Vacation
(25) CNN - 1/8/2002 - American Morning With Paula Zahn

(26) New Yorker - 1/14/2002 - The Counter-Terrorist
(27) Newsweek - 10/1/2002 - Access Denied
(28) American Progress - 2/18/2004 - The Blame Game Continues: Intelligence and the 1990's
(29) CBS News - 5/18/2002 - Report Warned Of Suicide Hijackings
(30) MDW - 11/3/2000 - Contingency planning Pentagon MASCAL exercise
(31) CBS News - 5/17/2002 - '99 Report Warned Of Suicide Hijacking
(32) Time - 12/20/2003 - Condi and the 9/11 Commission
(33) CNN - 1/29/2002 - Bush asks Daschle to limit Sept. 11 probes
(34) Newsweek - 2/4/2002 - The Battle Back Home
(35) Washington Post - 3/9/2004 - White House vs. 9/11 Panel: Resistance, Resolution
(36) Washington Post - 3/13/2003 - Anti-Terror Pioneer Turns In the Badge
(37) CBS News - 3/21/2004 - Did Bush Press For Iraq-9/11 Link?
2003 Updated 2004