In September, 2003, I wrote a piece for Sojourners magazine on the "Project for the New American Century," a neo-con organization to which a number of key Bush administration officials had belonged, including Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In its grand plan for the future, released in September 2000, it urged a “transformation” of the American military into a robust global presence capable of fighting multiple wars, with a network of bases in critical regions around the world. But, the report said, this transformation was "likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor."
From its beginning, the project was obsessed with Iraq.
Only days later after the catastrophic 9/11 attacks, the Project released a letter arguing that "even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq."
Now it seems that strategy began well before 9/11. In a New York Times op-ed this morning, author Kurt Eichenwald wrote of the series of briefings the Bush White House received from the CIA in the spring and summer of 2001, all warning of an attack to come. Most of these are still not public, but Eichenwald says he has read excerpts from many of them.
May 1: “… the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that ‘a group presently in the United States’ was planning a terrorist operation.”
June 22: “… “the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent …’”
But the administration was hearing other voices:
“An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat.”
In response, the CIA strengthened its warnings.
June 29: “`The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,’ the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack …” It was expected that the attack would have “`dramatic consequences,’ including major casualties.”
July 9: “… at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place…”
On August 6, the one document we have publically read about, had the subject, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A little over a month later, that determination was carried out. A year-and-a-half later, the U.S. invaded Iraq, despite a lack of evidence that Iraq had anything to do with the attacks.
It is a chilling reminder of the consequences when ideology replaces facts; a reminder that many in today’s political and media discourse should heed. Perhaps in some things a single-minded obsession with an objective is good. But if the objective is ideological and not tempered with facts and analysis, the results are usually bad.
Duane Shank is Senior Policy Adviser for Sojourners.