Mark Thiessen: More Important to HEAR–Not Read–Daily Brief Than Actually Respond to It

Yesterday, Mark Thieseen made a what amounts to a complaint that, half the time, President Obama reads his daily brief rather than receives it from a briefer directly. Here’s Obama’s response.

I figured, as Thiessen’s bleatings often are, it was meant to distract from the incompetence of his Bush people, but it was not yet clear what he was distracting from.

Now it is.

On April 10, 2004, the Bush White House declassified [the August 6, 2001 PDB that warned “Bin Laden determined to strike in US”]  — and only that daily brief  in response to pressure from the 9/11 Commission, which was investigating the events leading to the attack. Administration officials dismissed the document’s significance, saying that, despite the jaw-dropping headline, it was only an assessment of Al Qaeda’s history, not a warning of the impending attack. While some critics considered that claim absurd, a close reading of the brief showed that the argument had some validity.

That is, unless it was read in conjunction with the daily briefs preceding Aug. 6, the ones the Bush administration would not release. While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster.

All that’s not to mean Obama’s not missing similarly grave threats: threats to the financial system and to the climate.

But this op-ed–and presumably the Kurt Eichenwald book it is based on–seems to confirm that the Bush Administration very arrogantly refused to listen to the warnings they were getting in their President’s (and Vice President’s) Daily Briefings.

And because they failed to heed that warning, they responded with all-out, Constitution eroding war, and not with the policing that might have prevented 9/11 in the first place.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. der says:

    – “The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.”

    If my memory serves me, John Ashcroft changed how he traveled from public to private air sometime in July.

    – “Immediately following the attacks, President George W. Bush stated that “nobody in our government at least, and I don’t the think the prior government, could envisage flying air planes into buildings” and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice claimed no-one “could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile”. An Air Force general called the attack “something we had never seen before, something we had never even thought of.”[1] Soon after the attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller announced “there were no warning signs that I’m aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks_advance-knowledge_debate

    Looking forward not backward, again a failure of our elites to hold and be held accountable.

  2. Peterr says:

    Bush wouldn’t listen to his briefers? No one could have anticipated . . .

    Two questions for you, Marcy:

    (1) How long will it take Republicans accuse the White House of trying to distract everyone from the Obama administration’s own record by leaking sensitive materials for political gain?

    (2) How long will it take Holder/Obama go after Eichenwald/Vanity Fair/NY Times for dealing with leakers, to try (and fail) to prove they aren’t playing politics?

  3. Jim White says:

    And Ari Fleischer jumps into the fray, accusing Eichenwald of being a truther. I just tweeted a reminder to Fleischer that he should watch what he says…

  4. Peterr says:

    I love this from the Obama WH reaction story at the link above:

    Q Do you believe this report [by Theissen] was misleading –

    MR. CARNEY: I believe the article written about it was amusing.

    The article by Eichenwald, in contrast, is not amusing at all. Not in the least.

  5. Brindle says:

    The 9/11 Commission only received 60% of the government documents they asked for. There are probably a lot more “smoking guns” as far as negligence goes….one wonders at what point does a different motivation than negligence seem the more likely?

  6. OrionATL says:

    why, with cheney ensconced in the vice-presidency, should any of us assume it was “carelessness”, “arrogance”, “negligence”, or similar cover.

    why not assume that bush/cheney deliberately ignored the warnings with the expectation that they could use such an attack to mold public opinion to support an invasion of iraq?

    it strains credulity that only “arrogance” and “negligence” are sufficient to explain the failure to take multiple warnings seriously.

  7. Arbusto says:

    Talk about deaf. Richard Clarke starting in January, 2001 with Condi, and the CIA directly to Bush the Lesser in a daily brief on 6/29/2001 warned of the threat. As a result of meeting with Condi, Clarkes position is downgraded so he is out of direct principals contact. Of course the sin of learning from history will discount the effect of continuous war on the US and lessen personal responsibility to current and future Presidents.

  8. TG says:

    @der “If my memory serves me, John Ashcroft changed how he traveled from public to private air sometime in July.”

    Actually, Ashcroft continued taking commercial flights. In fact, he and his wife took commercial flights to Germany in August 2001 and to Washington, DC, on September 3, 2001.

    He began using government aircraft for official trips because a team looking specifically at the AG’s security and the need for those traveling with him to carry firearms recommended he do so. That is why on the morning of September 11, 2001, Ashcroft was aboard a government plane to Milwaukee – not because he had advance knowledge of the terrorists’ plot. The team’s assessment had nothing to do with assessing terrorist threats.

    More here, inc. why Michael Moore revised Fahrenheit 9/11 on this specific point: http://www.911myths.com/index.php/John_Ashcroft_and_commercial_flights

  9. Jimmylegs says:

    I haven’t found a link for it, but if you can find it, Eichenwald was on CBS This Morning today. The Young Turks (which I dislike but sometimes watch) just showed a clip of the interview. Eichenwald says this:

    “…the neoconservatives at the Pentagon, as the CIA was coming in saying ‘AQ is going to attack’, said ‘oh, pfft, this is just a false flag operation; bin Laden is just trying to take our eye off of the real threat, Iraq”.

    Assuming Eichenwald’s report is reasonably accurate, does it not strike anyone as concerning that the Pentagon brass were openly talking about a “false flag” attack? It’s clear that Eichenwald doesn’t know what one is, but OBL taking our eye off of Iraq would, in no way, qualify as a false flag attack if he were acting against us (the only way that sentence makes sense is if OBL was working with the US, and surely that’s unthinkable, right? We fired him in the 80’s, right?). Obviously, it’s possible that Eichenwald misspoke, but I would be curious why “false flag” was the term that “slipped” out when it was just an innocent mis-remembering.

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