[Editor’s note: This article orginally appeared on the cover of the May 27, 2002, issue of HUMAN EVENTS.]
Sen. Bob Graham (D.-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told HUMAN EVENTS May 21 that his committee had received all the same terrorism intelligence prior to September 11 as the Bush administration.
“Yes, we had seen all the information,” said Graham. “But we didn’t see it on a single piece of paper, the way the President did.”
Graham added that threats of hijacking in an August 6 memo to President Bush were based on very old intelligence that the committee had seen earlier. “The particular report that was in the President’s Daily Briefing that day was about three years old,” Graham said. “It was not a contemporary piece of information.”
Graham’s comments contradicted combative statements made recently by the Democratic congressional leadership, and confirmed White House assertions that the only specific threats of al Qaeda hijackings known to the President before September 11 came from a memo dating back to the Clinton Administration.
A leak to CBS News of some pre-September-11 warnings given to the President in August occasioned fierce political attacks on Bush beginning May 15–even though the basic content of the leaks had long been known. As early as September 18, CNN had already reported that administration officials admitted to being aware of vague threats against U.S. targets before September 11. Also, a publicly available 1995 government report had even warned that terrorists could use airplanes in suicide attacks.
Still, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.) and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D.-Mo.) both made public statements attempting to stoke a scandal on the supposition that Bush withheld vital intelligence from Congress both before and after September 11. Both Democrats strongly implied that Bush sat on information that could possibly have been used to prevent the terrorist attacks of September 11.
“I’m gravely concerned that the President received a warning in August about the threat of hijackers by Osama bin Laden and his organization,” said Daschle. “Why was it not provided to us, and why was it not shared with the general public for the last eight months?”
Daschle also asserted that Congress did not have the same information as the White House–implying that the White House alone was to blame for not acting on the information. “I think it is important to emphasize we did not have identical information,” he said in a May 16 news conference, in clear contradiction with Graham’s statements to HUMAN EVENTS.
On May 22, Daschle again accused Bush of hoarding information, even trying to blame him for the FBI’s intelligence failure of September 11. “There is an increasing pattern that I find in this administration that reflects an unwillingness to share information not only with us but within their own administration,” he told reporters.
Gephardt also implied that the administration was blameworthy for its handling of the intelligence reports. “The reports are disturbing that we are finding this out now,” he said. Invoking language of the Watergate era, he continued, “I think what we have to do now is to find out what the President, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9-11, when they knew it and, most importantly, what was done about it at that time.” Gephardt also stated that Congress had not received the same intelligence as the White House.
Asked by HUMAN EVENTS on May 22 whether Sen. Graham’s statement changed his view, Gephardt responded with a simple “No” before retreating into the House chamber. Again, the following day, Kori Bernards, a spokeswoman for Gephardt, declined to comment for the record on Graham’s statement.
Other Democrats sensed a political opportunity and went on the attack. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) addressed the Senate waving a copy of the New York Post with a characteristically large and sensational headline, “Bush Knew.” “The President knew what?” she asked.
Others, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D.-N.Y.) and Rep. Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.) strongly denounced the President’s conduct in public spoken or written statements.
But as early as May 16, it had already emerged that most of the information in Bush’s August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing–an official intelligence document–had in fact been given to the congressional committees in the form of the Senior Executive Intelligence Digest (SEID), a more widely published classified document.
“Mr. Gephardt said that we didn’t have information,” said Rep. Porter Goss (R.-Fla.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on May 16. “In fact we do have it. And it’s just apparently that Mr. Gephardt didn’t know about it.”
At that point, Democrats claimed that Bush’s intelligence report had information warning of possible hijackings by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, and that Congress did not receive that particular information.
But the Democrats’ criticism appeared to be further undercut by Graham’s confirmation to HUMAN EVENTS that the committee did have the same intelligence. Administration officials had earlier said the hijack warnings in Bush’s August 6 briefing were merely an analysis based on old intelligence from 1998.
The committees were indeed aware before September 11 that a major attack could come soon, so much so, that Sen. Graham told CNN’s Kate Snow??¢â???¬ ¦quot; on the afternoon of September 11??¢â???¬ ¦quot; that he was not suprised.
“I was not surprised that there was an attack, was surprised at the specificity of this one,” Graham said in the interview, hours after the attacks.
As Democrats appeared to back away from the attacks on Bush over the weekend, Republicans went on the offensive to capitalize on an expected backlash. The Republican Study Committee, a group of about 75 conservative Republicans, released a memo detailing House Democrats’ overwhelming opposition to intelligence funding since 1996. According to the memo, 154 House Democrats voted to cut the U.S. intelligence budget in 1996, while 158 Democrats did the same in 1997. Although fewer Democrats voted to cut the intelligence budget in 1999 (only 61), almost all opposition to intelligence spending came from Democrats.
The memo also quotes several Democrats opposing intelligence spending, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D.-Calif.), who advocated the abolition of the CIA on the House floor in March 1997.
In addition, a HUMAN EVENTS survey of lawmakers found that few–even among Republicans–would have been willing to act decisively on threats of hijacking by Muslim extremists. Not one Democrat surveyed would countenance the idea that President Bush, upon learning of the al Qaeda hijacking threat, should have suspended the visas of young men visiting from nations that are al Qaeda hotbeds–even though this measure would likely have prevented the attacks of September 11.
Few support that action even now, after September 11, when new warnings of attacks by al Qaeda have been issued by FBI director Robert Mueller and Vice President Cheney.
Page 3 — Fattah: Bush Did All He Should Have
Russert Used HUMAN EVENTS To Box Daschle
Intelligence Chairmen Confirm HUMAN EVENTS Story
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