So what’s the expiration date on that intel?

While in a discussion in the comments section of the Leftward-leaning (to put it mildly) Across the River site about those seven minutes that Bush remained in that classroom on 9/11, that August 6th PDB came up again.

To summarize, Marine’s Girl thinks that if Bush would have left that classroom and immediately issued a shoot-down order, he would have saved lives that day. While that is certainly a possibility, the leap of logic required to reach a decision to shoot down civilian airliners within that seven minutes, or even in time to make a difference that morning, is too great for me to consider seriously.

Marine’s Girl says that based on the August 6th, 2001 PDB (discussed here) we should have immediately realized what was happening. I don’t see much correlation between that PDB and 9/11 at all.

She quotes from the report:

Al-Qa’ida members — including some who are US citizens — have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks… FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York. (emphasis mine)

Interestingly, behind those emphasized ellipses is this:

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a . . . service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

And the next (and final) paragraph includes

C.I.A. and the F.B.I. are investigating a call to our embassy in the U.A.E. in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.

So, the hijacking tip in the 8/6/01 PDB was THREE YEARS OLD. Now, is three-year-old information actionable or not? We’ve been hammered by coverage of the recent terror alert, mostly about how it was uncalled for and that the intel it was based on was ‘dated’.

Second, the hijack threat was considered to be for a swap, not for kamikaze attacks. As the 9/11 Commission Report points out, our hijack-response procedures assumed a standard prisoner-swap operation, and the 8/6/01 PDB furthered the reason to think in those terms.

Third, even THAT information apparently wasn’t confirmed at all.

Fourth, the specific threat to New York mentioned in the PDB concerned Federal Buildings. So an airliner crashing into the World Trade Center shouldn’t be expected to bring a response of “A-ha! Just like that report said last month!” in anyone’s mind.

Fifth, the Bin Laden “supporters” in the US thought to be planning attacks against the US were going to use “explosives”. This info was from May, so at least it wasn’t old. Now if it would just have been right…

Everyone seems to like to make a big deal about the title of the PDB, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” and figures that it contains new and exciting information. It doesn’t. And we knew Bin Laden was determined to strike in the US, mostly because he told everyone he was as often as he could.

Should we have done more? Sure. Should Bush have done something different when he was informed of the second airliner crash? Probably, and I wish he would have. But WHAT he should have done, I don’t know. And if anything he would have done would have made any difference that morning seems very unlikely.

See my write-up on the first chapter of the 9/11 Report for some interesting tidbits about the timing of events, the military response, and the shoot-down order.

For those interested, the text of the entire 8/6/01 PDB is in the extended entry section of this post. I’ve pulled it from the NY Times.

UPDATE: Expat Yank comments.

President’s Daily Brief for Aug. 6, 2001

Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.

Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S. Bin Laden implied in U.S. television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America.”

After U.S. missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a . . . service.

An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (E.I.J.) operative told an . . . service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the U.S. to mount a terrorist strike.

The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the U.S. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the F.B.I. that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself, but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaydah encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaydah was planning his own U.S. attack.

Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.

Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveilled our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993, and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.

Al Qaeda members — including some who are U.S. citizens — have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks. Two Al Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were U.S. citizens, and a senior E.I.J. member lived in California in the mid-1990’s.

A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a . . . service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

Nevertheless, F.B.I. information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The F.B.I. is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. C.I.A. and the F.B.I. are investigating a call to our embassy in the U.A.E. in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.

Comments

  1. I seem to remember that we thought there were many hijacked planes flying around that morning. Can you see what would have happened if Bush went off half cocked with immediate shoot down orders. We would have been doing AQ’s job for them.

  2. Agreed, Jones. I DO wish, for appearance’s sake, that Bush had not stayed in that classroom for 7 minutes after word of the second plane reached him. But that’s only for the sake of appearance. I just don’t see this 7 minutes as a major issue outside of today’s politcal campaigning. So many things went wrong on so many levels that morning. I don’t see immediate action by Bush, even if he would have had more info available, making a noticeable difference. Maybe, if the passengers on United 93 didn’t revolt, a shoot-down order would have been able to prevent a hit against the Capitol or the White House. But even Cheney, on the phone with the Pres., wasn’t able to get one issued until about ten minutes after it hit the ground. And then it wasn’t even passed on to the pilots by NEADS anyway. And shooting down an airliner above residential neighborhoods has its own issues. As you point out, things were uncertain. What if a blanket, knee-jerk shoot-down order were issued by the Pres? If an un-hijacked airliner were shot down, do you think we’d be hearing about our cowboy, warmongering, loose cannon of a President that didn’t even bother taking a few minutes to think things over before acting?

  3. I read a quote about a submarine crew in WW II. They were in atiht fix and a lot of people had a burst of effort and quit. The phlegmatic muddled along and save the boat (Puffer I think). The author end with the quote ‘When the hurriers and worriers crapped out the plodders kept going.’ As a bona fide hurrier/worrier, I can appreciate the 7 minutes. I would have run amok, and probably screwed up.

  4. On the one hand, I’m not sure it mattered what Bush did during those 7 minutes. I certainly don’t see what he could have done positively, and he certainly could have screwed something up if he went off half-cocked. On the other hand, leaders lead. They don’t just sit around waiting for something to happen. Even if there was no decision to be made, seven minutes was enough time for Bush to make it to AF1, get on the horn, and show the world he’s on the ball.