On Tuesday, Kurt Eichenwald wrote a piece for the New York Times showing that the White House was actually warned by the CIA as to the possibility of a massive attack against the U.S. much earlier than we originally thought. He shows that as early as May 1, 2001, the CIA had been writing about the threat in the morning briefing paper for the president called the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). It turns out that several times a month in June and July, the CIA wrote memos for the PDB arguing the case that Al Qaeda had a plan to attack and it was going to be soon although no date had been set. They even warned that some operatives were already in the U.S. preparing for an attack. So The White House had very good intelligence at their disposal.
What adds to the insult against the intelligence community is that when different morning news anchors interviewed Mr. Eichenwald, they didn’t listen to what he said and kept using the phrase, “it was a failure of intelligence.” NO! The intelligence world did its job. They reported that there was a probability of a strike on the U.S. and were ignored by the political appointees who opted to focus on Iraq instead (As the article tells, the appointees at Defense tried to convince the CIA that it was a plot by Bin Laden to take the U.S. attention away from Saddam Hussein!). We will never know if the attack could have been prevented since the White House didn’t follow up on the warnings. The tragedy of 9/11 might have still happened, but why have professionals risking their lives if they’re ignored?
Both parties have had administrations ignore the intelligence professionals – and have for years. Supposedly, there were early warnings of a Japanese attack in World War II that were ignored. But today it is made worse by the talking heads on television who don’t listen to their own guests or read the papers. They repeat the incorrect phrases that make the intelligence community seem responsible for one of the worse days in U.S. history, and that magnifies and multiplies the myth.
It is impossible to guarantee that the next round of political appointees will actually listen to the professionals who are on the ground and spend their lives being underpaid and overworked to provide our leaders with viable information. Clearly it is probably unrealistic to think that TV anchors will become better listeners who will stop enjoying the sound of their own voices.
What we have to hope for are journalists who report on important topics and dig deeper into the issues. Even if it’s 11 years after the fact, at least we’re getting more of the picture. Let us hope Mr. Eichenwald gets more of the documents unclassified so the whole picture will eventually be seen.
In the meanwhile, we are lucky to have professionals who keep on working to keep us safe. Regardless of what is said in public, they keep on working with little pay and little credit. They expect that and know it when they join, but it is useful for us to remember them once in a while and be grateful.