Thursday, March 25, 2004

Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?

Lost in all of the debate is the very sensitive matter of whether something could have been done prior to 9/11.

If not, why or what will have changed so that something could be done today (hopefully, is being done)?

From this frame, we notice that common sense tells us that things could have been done prior to 9/11, but weren't.

For the most part, almost everyone has forgiven or explained away this lack of preventive action by agreeing that the risk involved and the act itself were so novel and surprising.

For the man and woman on the street, this is true. But for those with access to warnings of terrorist intentions to hijack airliners and use them as missiles (they sure look like big missiles), this excuse is not as plain as to "the street". Indeed, perception on "the street" is irrelevant, because we don't have access to the same information as our intelligence and security professionals. It's not our job, it's theirs. For them to appeal to our sensibility and perception of the threat is absurd.

Richard Clarke goes part of the way in explaining how 9/11 could have been prevented by contrasting the efforts by Sandy Berger to coordinate agencies and information in the face of domestic terrorist threats during the Clinton Administration with the efforts by Condoleeza Rice during her tenure prior to 9/11.

In all honesty, it's this very coordination that might have got the head of the FBI to somehow notice that special agents in two different locations and offices had reported suspicions concerning flight schools. It also may have ramped up efforts to locate known terrorists, and to upgrade security on that tip at airports.

All speculation, but certainly plausible in view of the facts.

And, though the risk analysis and cost/benefit calculations may still have justified (by current standards before 9/11) the Bush Administration approach, in how they and Rice handled threat assessment, response, and counter-strategy, this ought to be proven as such, and no leeway ought to be given to them for not being aware of novel attack strategies, because these suicidal airline strategies were known to intelligence and security professionals.

That's why finding out how much they knew before 9/11 is so important.

The fact they are so remiss to share what they know hints at the answer.


Though, I should add, Donald Rumsfeld is correct to assert that we more than likely couldn't have prevented 9/11 by military means. Bin Laden did not commit this act. The failure and responsibility rests exclusively on the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Advisor, the President, and any other agencies coordinating counterterrorist information involving the homeland.