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