Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Playing Dumb for Real

Michael Tomasky writes in The American Prospect that the White House knew far more about the possibility of a terrorist attack with airplanes than they’re letting on.

When the Bush administration started hearing more intelligence noises in June and July of 2001, why didn’t it — and Rice specifically, since this was her bailiwick — convene the same kind of daily meetings the Clinton administration had when it heard similar noise? The obvious answer, whatever she chooses to say Thursday, is that it wasn’t a high priority and that facts could not make it so. And a model existed, then not even two years old, for how to avert catastrophe.

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Then there are Rice’s own inconsistencies in her public statements, the transcripts of which are a gold mine of contradiction and pettifoggery. Did Clarke give the administration a counter-terrorism plan in January or not? One Condi says yes, the other says no. Did that plan include military options? Again, yes and no. Was the plan the administration finally drafted substantially different from what Clarke recommended, or about the same? On all these questions, Rice has contradicted either herself or explanations given by other administration officials. Whether Rice is asked to explain these inconsistencies, and to account for why the administration didn’t kick into gear as their Clinton predecessors had done, will depend largely on 9-11 commission members Tim Roemer and Richard Ben-Veniste, who thus far have been the toughest Democratic questioners. Rice is usually a cool cucumber, and such are the ways of Washington that she’ll probably receive more deference than she deserves.

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Meanwhile, remember two words: Sibel Edmonds. On March 30, Salon’s excellent Eric Boehlert interviewed this former FBI translator, who told him that she had told the 9-11 commission in closed testimony that clear warnings were received throughout the spring and summer of 2001 (Bush’s watch, not Clinton’s) that a terrorist attack involving airplanes was being plotted. Her name has not yet crept its way into the major American newspapers (with the interesting exception of The Washington Times). But there are many mentions in the international press, so the Washington bureaus should wake up eventually.

If Edmonds’s testimony is credible — and Republican Senator Charles Grassley has described her with exactly that word — it’s one more piece of a puzzle that Richard Clarke began to solve for us two weeks ago. Somehow, his story just keeps being corroborated. Funny thing.

Or, to quote the immortal Colonel Flagg from M*A*S*H (the TV series), “Don’t play dumb with me. I’ve been doing it a lot longer and you’re not as good at it as I am.”