Two 9-11 Scoops by the Times -- Will the Networks Take Note?

August 17th, 2005 4:18 PM
Two generally anti-Bush intelligence reporters, Eric Lichtblau and Philip Shenon, have important scoops in Wednesday's paper about anti-terrorist inaction on Clinton's watch. But will network news notice?

First up is Lichtblau's "State Dept. Says It Warned About bin Laden in 1996," buried on A12: "State Department analysts warned the Clinton administration in July 1996 that Osama bin Laden's move to Afghanistan would give him an even more dangerous haven as he sought to expand radical Islam 'well beyond the Middle East,' but the government chose not to deter the move, newly declassified documents show."

Lichtblau explains: "The declassified documents, obtained by the conservative legal advocacy group Judicial Watch as part of a Freedom of Information Act request and provided to The New York Times, shed light on a murky and controversial chapter in Mr. bin Laden's history: his relocation from Sudan to Afghanistan as the Clinton administration was striving to understand the threat he posed and explore ways of confronting him. Before 1996, Mr. bin Laden was regarded more as a financier of terrorism than a mastermind. But the State Department assessment, which came a year before he publicly urged Muslims to attack the United States, indicated that officials suspected he was taking a more active role, including in the bombings in June 1996 that killed 19 members American soldiers at the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia." Also on page A12 -- a potentially explosive story by Philip Shenon, "Officer Says Military Blocked Sharing of Files on Terrorists." The text box reads: "Efforts to tell the F.B.I. of pre-9/11 Qaeda activities."

Those efforts are in reference to the secret Pentagon data-mining program Able Danger, which Rep. Curt Weldon first brought up on the House floor in late June. The claim: That 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta was fingered as a potential al-Qaeda operative back in 2000, but that Defense Department lawyers prevented Able Danger from telling the FBI about him. Weldon was the source for the Times' initial "Able Danger" scoop last week, which, unlike many front-page scoops by the Times, has yet to percolate widely onto the broadcast news shows.

Shenon explains: "A military intelligence team repeatedly contacted the F.B.I. in 2000 to warn about the existence of an American-based terrorist cell that included the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a veteran Army intelligence officer who said he had now decided to risk his career by discussing the information publicly."

Later Shenon points out the potential CYA factor operating at the DoD and FBI: "He said he learned later that lawyers associated with the Special Operations Command of the Defense Department had canceled the F.B.I. meetings because they feared controversy if Able Danger was portrayed as a military operation that had violated the privacy of civilians who were legally in the United States. 'It was because of the chain of command saying we're not going to pass on information -- if something goes wrong, we'll get blamed,' he said."

Lichtblau, Shenon and other Times reporters heaped criticism on George Bush for not acting on the infamous President's Daily Briefing one month before September 11, a memo that warned in vague, general terms about the threat bin Laden posed to the U.S.

Times Watch trusts those reporters will bring equal energy to following up on these new stories, which if confirmed would drastically change what we thought we knew about the lead-up to September 11 and retraining the focus on Clinton's eight years of inaction on terror rather than Bush's eight months.

Get more details at Times Watch.