Who's to blame?

Posted: Oct 08, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- No one in Washington wants to spoil the "bipartisan consensus" or the genial atmosphere that has effused our nation's capital in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden's deadly terror attacks on Sept. 11. The Bush administration, busy pursuing a broad domestic and foreign policy campaign against terrorism, is loathe to point to their predecessors' failures that prepared the ground for the assault. From the Pentagon to the Justice Department, all the president's men (and women) dutifully dismiss questions about the previous administration's culpability in an attack that intelligence sources say could have been prevented. On Capitol Hill, there is no stomach for probing lax immigration enforcement, abysmal aviation security and appalling intelligence defects that made the attacks possible. Why? It's simple. The solons know that they are complicit, as well. And now, Daschle's Democrats have whipped compliant Republican legislators into delaying any serious investigations to answer the question, "How could this happen?" In the aftermath, the media are semi-schizophrenic. Some potentates of the press seem determined to discern where the first terrorist will fall in the Hindu Kush so they can capture "live" coverage of dead killers. Others are creating fear over the unlikely prospect that Osama's cowards will release deadly plumes of sarin nerve agent or billows of Anthrax spores. Those not engaged in these pointless endeavors ask how the Bush administration is going to close the barn door now that the horse has fled. Nobody, it seems, cares to ask who left the door open in the first place. At the risk of disrupting all this comity, the record is clear: The finger of blame ought to be pointed where it belongs -- at the tawdry tenure of William Jefferson Blythe Clinton. Intelligence and law enforcement agents now believe that planning, positioning and financial arrangements for the 9-11 attacks began as early as 1995 -- the year Sudanese intelligence officers first approached U.S. officials with information on Osama bin Laden's operations in the Sudan. The offer was rebuffed on State Department orders. In 1996, the Sudanese offered to turn over Osama himself and, two days after the Tanzanian and Kenyan embassy bombings, Sudanese authorities detained two bin Laden operatives thought to be complicit in the attacks. FBI Director Louis Freeh wanted them extradited. Maddy Albright nixed the deal. Three days later, Bill Clinton leveled a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum and blasted a tent camp in Afghanistan with cruise missiles. But that's not all. After the July 17, 1996, TWA 800 disaster, Clinton appointed Vice President Al Gore to chair a "Commission on Aviation Safety and Security." To the acclaim of his pals in the press, Gore produced a report on Sept. 9, "just 45 days after beginning deliberations," crowed Clinton. Congress rushed to implement the report's recommendations and on Oct. 11, less than three months after 230 people died aboard TWA's Flight 800, Clinton signed into law H.R. 3539 which, he said, would "improve the security of air travel and carry forward our fight against terrorism." Among the bill's many new security requirements: criminal background checks on airport workers with access to secure areas and new certification standards for private employees who screen passengers and baggage. Neither of these requirements, nor many others in the legislation, were ever fully implemented. In February 1998, 16 months after enacting the law, the Clinton Transportation Department published a "Status Report" on Aviation Safety and Security. In it, the administration claimed the FAA was finally "preparing new rules to verify the backgrounds of airport employees and certify the people at our airport checkpoints." None in Congress condemned the Clinton foot-dragging. Al Gore, the VEEP, never uttered a peep. The media lapped it up. In June 2000, the National Commission on Terrorism delivered a 64-page report to Clinton on "Countering the Changing Threat of International Terrorism." Among the 37 recommendations, "The secretary of state should designate Afghanistan as a sponsor of terrorism and impose all the sanctions that apply to state sponsors." The Clinton administration ignored the advice -- along with most of the other recommendations from the control of visas for foreign nationals entering the United States to improvements in intelligence sharing and monitoring of terrorists' financial transactions. Nobody noticed. What the Clinton-Gore Team did notice was the CIA -- which suffered for the attention. When James Woolsey, the first Clinton-era spy chief quit in disgust in 1995, John Deutch replaced him. The White House directed Deutch to work with then-Rep. Robert Torricelli to rid the CIA's Clandestine Service of anyone who had contact with foreign nationals less savory than Mother Theresa. Deutch also implemented "sensitivity seminars" to improve "tolerance" -- apparently forgetting that terrorists don't get "sensitivity training." By the time the thoroughly discredited Deutch departed in December 1996, CIA morale and the ability to collect human intelligence, "HUMINT," had hit rock bottom. Months or years from now, once the bodies are buried and the rubble is cleared, someone needs to ask, "How could this happen?" For the answers, they need to look to those who pulled Washington's levers of power between 1995-2000, when these attacks were planned. The Clinton-Gore Team failed in their principle responsibility -- protecting America's citizens. They ought to be ashamed.