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Jewish World Review May 20, 2002/ 9 Sivan, 5762

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Honk if you knew about 9-11 | While we're speculating

Q: Why do you suppose the GOP used that photograph of President Bush talking on the telephone to Vice President Dick Cheney shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks to raise money?

A: Because they wanted to deflect media attention from the soon-to-be-released news that Bush was warned in advance of the terrorist attacks.

Q: Why is the White House only now acknowledging that the president was warned before Sept. 11 that Osama bin Laden might want to hijack an airplane?

A: Because the White House is trying to deflect the real truth, which is that bin Laden had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks; they were all planned and executed by that nefarious mastermind extraordinaire, George Bush.

So went two of the theories extant on the Internet following reports that American intelligence failed to connect several flashing red dots that might have foretold the events of 9-11. If only someone had had a red crayon.

Conspiracy theorists are elated that finally the truth is out - Bush knew!

And Rep. Cynthia McKinney was right!

Wrong and wrong again. Let's calm down, take a deep breath, back up and learn a new word: foreshadowing.

In literature, foreshadowing is the use of hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in a work of fiction. At the end of the book, everything makes sense. The denouement was right there all along. The Arab men in American flight schools; the CIA warning that Osama bin Laden might want to hijack a plane someday; the arrest of alleged al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui in Minnesota.

But of course! Sept. 11 was inevitable.

But does that mean, as conspiracy theorists claim, that Bush knew about the terrorist hijackings in advance? Not at all. Instead, Bush learned from the CIA during a routine morning intelligence briefing that a hijacking was possible. The information reportedly was general, and the focus seemed to be abroad. In the context of pre-Sept. 11 hijackings, this security information was passed along to authorities with the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Does that mean, as McKinney claimed, that Bush knew specifically about the Sept. 11 attacks and permitted them to occur in order that he and his oil cronies get rich? Just a sec while I warm up my Ouija Board.

Does it mean that our intelligence community needs some work? Yes, but we already knew that. We knew it in 1993 when terrorists planted a bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center; we knew it in 1996 when a truck bomb exploded outside an American military complex in Dharan, Saudi Arabia; in 1998, when truck bombs exploded near U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; in 2000, when a small boat loaded with explosives plowed into the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen.

All pre-Bush, incidentally. Connect those dots.

Looking back in the context of what we now know, it's easy to say that Bush would have been smart to tell what he knew and when. The problem, as explained by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer is that what he "knew" was at best general information (a hijacking could happen sometime, somewhere), rather than specific to what ultimately did happen.

On the other hand, it is also easy to understand why, in the midst of trying urgently to rally a home security team, launch a war against the Taliban and conduct a global search for bin Laden while trying to assuage fears of anthrax contamination and other potential bioterrorist attacks, Bush might not have thought: Gee, you know, I really ought to issue a press release about that CIA warning I got back in August.

What's clear from the flashing red dots is that we need to centralize our anti-terrorism intelligence communities so that someone is in a position to connect those dots, an overdue project now in progress under the supervision of FBI Director Robert Mueller. (Note: Mueller took over the FBI just seven days before Sept. 11.)

Clearly, the White House needs to be as forthcoming as possible during congressional inquiries in the next few weeks. Presidential Rule No. 1, as foreshadowed during the previous administration: Always tell the truth as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, we all need to take our Paxil and keep in mind that a general warning of a future hijacking somewhere in the world is not the same as "Bush knew about terrorist attacks before 9-11." In a world of theories, that's a fact.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

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