Fifteen years after the 9/11 catastrophe, the Bush administration cover-up of why the terrorist attacks were carried out despite the White House being repeatedly warned of them still holds. Not only has the final word not come out about this malfeasance of enormous and arguably criminal proportions, hardly any word about it has other than farfetched theories that have not altered a fundamental fact: The hijackers' plan was so simple that it could not have worked without the negligence of virtually the entire U.S. government.
The short-attention-span mainstream media has been complicitous in glossing over this cover-up as anniversaries of the attacks come and go. This cover-up is not to be confused with the theories of so-called 9/11 Truthers, many of them amateurish rants that are reverse engineered to fit the grindings of their particular conspiratorial axes. No, the big cover-up is
an effort to hide the incompetence that characterized the government response before, during and after the attacks.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has shown only fleeting interest in trying to penetrate this veil of silence, and has been much to slow in repealing many of the draconian measures involving domestic surveillance and other civil liberty concerns put in place by the imperial Bush presidency. The president's working premise has been to let sleeping dogs lie, be it punishing Bush Torture Regime perpetrators or getting to the bottom of why America slept on September 11, 2001.
The key elements of the cover-up are:
* That President Bush, Vice President Cheney and National Security Adviser Rice were separately warned that Al Qaeda was planning attacks on the U.S. Bush alone received 44 CIA briefings that mentioned Al Qaeda, but did nothing to sound the alarm, while the feckless Rice is especially complicitous because it was her job to be vigilant about threats to the homeland, and she was adept at only one thing -- avoiding blame.
* That Rice and his other close advisers remained trapped in a post-Cold War mindset, while several of those advisers, chief among them Paul Wolfowitz, had their eye not on jihadist threats but fulfilling the long-time neocon wet dream of taking out Saddam Hussein.
* That the CIA and FBI between them were aware that five of the 19 hijackers were in country but because of their historic rivalry and bureaucratic inertia failed to communicate with each other.
* That detailed warnings of impending attacks were received from German and Russian intelligence agencies, and even Russian President Putin personally warned Bush at a June 2001 summit meeting.
* That although the 20th would-be hijacker had been arrested and FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley prepared a detailed memo outlining the eventual 9/11 scenario three weeks before the attacks, she was scolded for writing the memo and it was ignored by her superiors.
* That the military conducted secret exercises in 2000 and 2001 simulating hijackers using jetliners as weapons to crash into targets, including the World Trade Center and Pentagon, causing mass casualties, yet the White House and Pentagon feigned shock when the 9/11 attacks were carried out.
* That no communications between key military and law enforcement entities after the first hijacked aircraft hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center have been made public that might show that there was time -- albeit precious little time -- to possibly prevent the attack on the Pentagon almost an hour later.
* That the Air Force response to the attacks was extraordinarily inadequate. During the 100-minute period between the first airliner crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center and the last airliner crashing into a field in Western Pennsylvania, the Air Force scrambled a mere four armed fighter jets and one unarmed trainer jet.
* That the attacks created widespread confusion among air traffic controllers, who needed three days to sort out domestic and international flights.
* That air traffic controllers who dealt with two of the hijacked airliners make a tape recording describing the events within hours of the attacks, but the tape was destroyed by supervisor before a transcript could be made or the tape could be turned over to the FBI.
* That the attacks might never have happened had the State Department denied entry into the U.S. of 15 hijackers who failed to fill out visa documents properly in Saudi Arabia.
* That despite an extraordinary forensic investigation to understand the structural failures that led to the collapse of the Twin Towers, there was no remotely comparable effort to ascertain why Al Qaeda was able to carry out the attacks.
* That a bipartisan inquiry narrowed its scope after Bush and Cheney personally intervened and pressured congressional leaders to limit the investigation for the implausible reason that it would drain sources from the war on terrorism.
* That when the congressional inquiry was completed, key findings -- including the complicity of those well-placed Saudis -- went into the national security maw and were never made public.
* That even after being shamed into creating the 9/11 Commission by the widows of 9/11 victims, the Bush administration still withheld much of the pertinent information about the attacks, including the role of well-placed Saudi government officials.
* That the 9/11 Commission was repeatedly deceived by the Defense Department and Federal Aviation Administration, which fudged the timelines of the flights of two of the hijacked aircraft, suggesting that the agency was slow to realize what was transpiring and sound the alarm.
* That FBI Special Agent Robert Wright, who accused the bureau of deliberately curtailing its investigations, was threatened with retribution if he talked to Congress or testified before the 9/11 Commission.
* That parts of the 9/11 Commission report were redacted before publication, including a section that stated that a year before the attacks a secret Pentagon project had identified four of the hijackers.
* That major telecoms -- including AT&T, MCI and Verizon -- were instructed to keep secret the records of attack-related phone calls on and after 9/11 and were immunized against lawsuits with the help of Congress.
* That despite knowledge that the debris at Ground Zero was highly toxic, first responders and clean-up workers were repeatedly told by the EPA that the air was safe to breathe without respirators.
There is not even a shred of credible evidence that key government players conspired beforehand to conceal the coming attacks, and absent death bed revelations, the story behind the 9/11 story is unlikely to ever come out.§
Administration officials who slept through their watches were not dismissed or punished, and one high-ranking official was given a commendation by the president.
That stands in marked contrast to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
No fewer than 10 official inquiries were conducted after the December 7, 1941 attack. All concluded that Japanese intentions and capabilities had been underestimated, key Army and Navy officials were incompetent, there was a lack of adequate manpower for intelligence, excessive secrecy and unclear divisions of responsibility between the Army and Navy. A Navy vice admiral and Army lieutenant general were forced into retirement.
While the kind of hindsight that provides clarity is seldom present beforehand, it was no secret among a few knowledgeable U.S. intelligence agency operatives that Al Qaeda had shifted tactics and was planning attacks on the homeland. It's just that the warnings were not taken seriously.§
President Clinton was warned of that possibility in 1998 after the attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa and President Bush himself five weeks before 9/11. The White House later spun the Bush warning by stating that nobody in the White House or intelligence community had "specific information" about a possible hijacking plot, which was a lie.
The spinning went into high gear in the days after the attacks as senior administration warned that suicide bombers would next strike the homeland, and the White House astutely drowned out the revelation of Rowley's memo by abruptly announcing creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
Before the Bush administration, there had been no precedent in the last five decades for an administration that was so determinedly disinterested in getting to the bottom of a major disaster.
By contrast, the Warren Commission was formed seven days after President Kennedy was assassinated and investigative groups were quickly empaneled after the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters. The foot-dragging and obfuscating was legion, and the Obama administration has been complicitous, as well.
Like Pearl Harbor, there has been no end of 9/11 conspiracy theories, chief among them that Bush administration officials knew of the attacks in advance and permitted them to proceed. The mainstream media has treated these theories with bafflement or amusement, nor do I take them seriously with one exception: That Israeli intelligence agencies may have had detailed intelligence about the attacks but chose to remain silent.§
But none of that forgives the news media's uncuriousness concerning why so little of substance about key events in the months before the attacks and the response to the attacks themselves has been reported on. In this the news media has a willing helpmate -- a public that wants to move on and not look back and, in fact, lost interest in the War on Terror within weeks of 9/11.
Fifteen years after 19 suicidal hijackers "pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order," as one pundit astutely put it, America is less vulnerable, but only if you take a narrow view. And Americans remain as abjectly ignorant as ever as to why the U.S. was and is so loathed on the Arab Street, among other places.
Osama bin Laden had been denied his caliphate long before his assassination in May 2011, but Al Qaeda remains a dangerous if diminished force. And then there is ISIS, which is a direct consequence of the Iraq War, which was launched in large part because Bush and his inner circle had convinced themselves that Saddam was behind the 9/11 attacks despite an utter lack of evidence.
In the years since the attacks, the American national security state has grown to immense size out of all proportion to what is realistically needed. Hundreds of thousands of innocents have died and nations have been destroyed. Then there was the Bush Torture Regime.
Pundits declared that Bin Laden's death finally brought closure to the families of the 3,000 9/11 victims and the U.S. as a whole, but because of the continuing government cover-up and the news media's complicity in it, that is a convenient if tragic fiction.
Portions of this article were originally published in September 2011.
SOURCES: ABC News, The Associated Press, BBC News, Chicago Tribune, CNN, CBS News, Fox News, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, New York Times, 9/11 Commission Report, Salon, Slate, Time, USA Today, Vanity Fair, Washington Post, "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" (2004) by Lawrence Wright, "Bush" (2016) by Jean Edward Smith.