February 12, 2010

Marc Thiessen was out flogging his most recent bit of ugly fearmongering -- his book that claims that the Obama administration doesn't want to capture terrorists -- on Morning Joe today, and ran smack into Lawrence O'Donnell, who gave him an earful:

Thiessen: You know, we've got to think back to the period after 9/11. We didn't even know who hit us. We didn't know that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was the mastermind of 9/11, or the operational commander of Al Qaeda. And then we started rounding up these terrorists. We caught Abu Zubaydah, we caught Ramzi Binalshibh, and KSM. And these guys provided us information under questioning by the CIA that stopped a number of terrorist attacks. They would have been planning to blow up the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, they were planning to blow up our Marine camp in Djibouti, they were well on their way to recruiting a cell of terrorists who would fly an airplane into Heathrow Airport and buildings in downtown London. And KSM had recruited a cell of Southeast Asian terrorists called the Garaba Cell, because he knew we'd be on the lookout for Arab men, to fly an airplane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles, the tallest building on the West Coast. This program is why we did not have another 9/11 after the attack.

Scarborough: Lawrence O'Donnell:

O'Donnell: Well, you're lying about the West Coast thing, that's been covered very clearly --

Thiessen: Oh that's not true!

O'Donnell: -- But you as a former speechwriter for the White House, you took an oath of office when you took that job, that you might or might not remember. You actually published a book that says that the president of the United States, on its title, the president is inviting the next attack. Isn't it true that the president you work for invited the first attack?

Scarborough: All right.

Thiessen: Oh Lawrence, that's ridiculous.

O'Donnell: By having no idea what was going on with Al Qaeda. You just admitted that when you were hit on 9/11, you just said, 'We didn't know who hit us.' You said we didn't know who hit us. You were told who was going to hit us before we were hit on 9/11, and your administration invited the first attack, you should live in shame.

All this terribly upset everyone on the set, who began saying, "Lawrence, Lawrence!" Thiessen began responding by reverting to discussing Democrats' terrorism policies, and O'Donnell demanded he talk about the Bush administration's record. It was too much for Scarborough, who broke in:

We're going to break right now. We're going to break right now, and I'm going to be interviewing Marc myself.

When they returned, it was all civilized.

Have you ever noticed that anyone who wants to talk about the Bush administration's culpability for being asleep at the wheel on terrorism when the 9/11 attacks hit -- even though the record on this matter is quite clear -- gets quickly shut down?

In fact, even bringing it up gets you described as a "conspiracy theorist." For instance, the fact that 35% of Democrats believe Bush was warned in advance about the 9/11 attacks is frequently touted by people like Scarborough as some kind of evidence that the party is full of "9/11 conspiracy theorists."

Believing Bush was warned in advance about impending attacks from Al Qaeda is not a conspiracy theory: It's a fact. Or have none of these people ever heard of Bush's August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing -- the one titled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US"?

You know, the briefing that specifically warned:

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a ---- service in 1998 saying that Bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.

It was ignored. And before that, so had been Richard Clarke's memo of January 2001 warning of the terrorist threat.

All this is consistent with what Clarke and other insiders reported about the Bush White House's pre-9/11 approach to terrorism: They viewed it as a "Clinton thing," and thus dismissed it as a minor concern for largely ideological reasons.

That's borne out by the Bush White House's pre-9/11 actions on a pure policy level:

The Bush Administration actually reversed the Clinton Administration's strong emphasis on counterterrorism and counterintelligence. Attorney General John Ashcroft not only moved aggressively to reduce DoJ's anti-terrorist budget but also shift DoJ's mission in spirit to emphasize its role as a domestic police force and anti-drug force. These changes in mission were just as critical as the budget changes, with Ashcroft, in effect, guiding the day to day decisions made by field officers and agents. And all of this while the Administration was receiving repeated warnings about potential terrorist attacks.

Then there was that New York Times report, summed up by Eric Alterman:

Tenet briefed Condi Rice about a potentially catastrophic terrorist attack on the United States on July 10, 2001. Rice ignored the briefing, just as she and Bush both ignored the August 6 "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" memo, when Bush told the CIA briefer who delivered the memo to him that he had "covered his ass" and then went fishing for the rest of the day. Rice not only ignored the briefing, but also misled the 9-11 Commission and then lied when confronted with the evidence by Bob Woodward.

Rice and the Bush administration also went to great measures to cover up their own incompetence, too.

Then there was the Hart-Rudman Commission report, which warned the White House in May 2001 that it needed to take serious steps to prevent a terrorist attack. The report was ignored.

Bush may have done everything right and the 9/11 terrorists might still have succeeded -- though taking some concrete steps (particularly heightening awareness and security at airports, given the specific nature of the warnings) would have increased our chances of catching them.

What was never excusable was that Bush and Co. were asleep at the wheel on 9/11 regarding their duty to "keep us safe" -- and no amount of historical revisionism by apologist speechwriters will erase that fact.

Nor will it erase the fact that Bush's "war on terror" has certifiably made us less safe, and more likely to suffer future terrorist attacks, as that 2006 National Intelligence Estimate made clear:

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

In other words, Bush botched the job of keeping us safe, both during his tenure and for the foreseeable future. But if we suffer another terrorist attack as a result of that botch, well, it'll be Obama's fault.

Which is the perfect setup for Bush apologists like Thiessen, who has a track record of eliding the reality when it comes to his defense of his team's terrorism policies. This was why O'Donnell called him out on his "West Coast" terrorism plot tale -- he's been taken down for it before, most notably by Timothy Noah at Slate:

What clinches the falsity of Thiessen's claim, however (and that of the memo he cites, and that of an unnamed Central Intelligence Agency spokesman who today seconded Thessen's argument), is chronology. In a White House press briefing, Bush's counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, told reporters that the cell leader was arrested in February 2002, and "at that point, the other members of the cell" (later arrested) "believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward" [italics mine]. A subsequent fact sheet released by the Bush White House states, "In 2002, we broke up [italics mine] a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast." These two statements make clear that however far the plot to attack the Library Tower ever got—an unnamed senior FBI official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush's characterization of it as a "disrupted plot" was "ludicrous"—that plot was foiled in 2002. But Sheikh Mohammed wasn't captured until March 2003.

How could Sheikh Mohammed's water-boarded confession have prevented the Library Tower attack if the Bush administration "broke up" that attack during the previous year?

Of course, this story is a favorite of Karl Rove's zombie lies, too. Birds of a feather and all that.

O'Donnell needed to call him out, even if it did upset Morning Joe. And he was on the money.

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