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Why Didn't Bush Warn the Airlines?
May 17, 2002
By Richard J. Roman

For several months U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) has been calling for an investigation into whether President Bush or anyone else in government had advanced notice of terrorist attacks on September 11th and did nothing about it. Her efforts have been largely ignored by the press, except for a slew of conservative columnists who have gone out of their way to discredit her as some crazy kook with another whacked out conspiracy theory.

The White House has now confirmed that Bush was briefed last August about the possibility that bin Laden and his operatives were planning to hijack several U.S. commercial airliners. Now even some of Bush's most ardent supporters are beginning to ask: "What did Bush know and when did he know it?" An even more important question is "What did he do with that information and why didn't he tell the airlines?"

Ari Fleischer insists that appropriate government action was taken, based on the information that was available at the time. "The president did not - not - receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers. This was a new type of attack that was not foreseen." Condoleezza Rice echoed those statements and reiterated that the potential threats were "very vague" and more likely expected to occur overseas.

What is appropriate action? To be fair, the president receives daily security briefings and the level of detail can vary tremendously from one day to the next. The number of threats that U.S. officials receive can number into the thousands and it is very difficult to tell which ones to take seriously—but someone thought it was serious enough to point this one out. What did the president do? We are told that federal law enforcement officials were notified, but they don't say who. What is truly alarming, however, is that there is no mention of any attempt to notify one of the most important groups of all.

Why didn't Bush or any of his advisors consider the threat serious enough to alert the airlines? How could they not expect that terrorists might engage in a suicide mission? (Recall that there were two Palestinian suicide bomb attacks in August 2001.) Of course, few people could have foreseen that the hijackers would purposefully crash their planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but consider some other recent Al Quaeda missions: the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, a thwarted attempt in 1995 to simultaneously blow up 11 jet liners over the Pacific. It doesn't take an intelligence expert to realize that when bin Laden and his operatives strike, they kill as many people as possible and if they plan to hijack a plane then all the passengers on that plane are as good as dead the moment they take off. So why weren't the airlines notified?

Cynthia McKinney has been roundly criticized because she pointed out that Bush and company have personally profited from the aftermath of September 11th. For George W. Bush, the profit has been more political than financial. Remember when Bush's approval rating was hovering below 40% and nearly every piece of legislation except for his tax cut had stalled in the newly mostly Democratic Senate? An international incident would have done (and did do) wonders to draw attention away from the mediocre job he was doing as president.

We now know that Bush had some prior warning about September 11th. We know that whatever he did was grossly ineffective in preventing the attacks. Was it because he knew he would personally benefit from an incident (perhaps never dreaming it would turn out to be anywhere near as horrible as it did) or was it simply because he underestimated the threat or was unable to respond? Only time will tell.

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