The October surprise … five months late
: There are two scandals in today’s NY Times story on just-declassified portions of the 9/11 Commission report that detail the many specific warnings about al Qaeda the FAA received:
The first is the dangerous incompetence of the FAA and of airport security in the months leading up to September 11th.
The second is that this was not released before the election. That feels, sounds, tastes, and smells like election fraud.
During the commission hearings and when its report was released, based on what we were told, I was one of those who said the blame for not stopping the attacks could not fall on one administration, neither Clinton nor Bush. But now we are told this:
The report discloses that the Federal Aviation Administration, despite being focused on risks of hijackings overseas, warned airports in the spring of 2001 that if “the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable.”
The report takes the F.A.A. to task for failing to pursue domestic security measures that could conceivably have altered the events of Sept. 11, 2001, like toughening airport screening procedures for weapons or expanding the use of on-flight air marshals. The report, completed last August, said officials appeared more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing airlines’ financial woes than deterring a terrorist attack.
The Bush administration has blocked the public release of the full, classified version of the report for more than five months, officials said, much to the frustration of former commission members who say it provides a critical understanding of the failures of the civil aviation system. The administration provided both the classified report and a declassified, 120-page version to the National Archives two weeks ago and, even with heavy redactions in some areas, the declassified version provides the firmest evidence to date about the warnings that aviation officials received concerning the threat of an attack on airliners and the failure to take steps to deter it.
Among other things, the report says that leaders of the F.A.A. received 52 intelligence reports from their security branch that mentioned Mr. bin Laden or Al Qaeda from April to Sept. 10, 2001. That represented half of all the intelligence summaries in that time.
Five of the intelligence reports specifically mentioned Al Qaeda’s training or capability to conduct hijackings, the report said. Two mentioned suicide operations, although not connected to aviation, the report said….
The F.A.A. did not see a need to increase the air marshal ranks because hijackings were seen as an overseas threat, and one aviation official told the commission said that airlines did not want to give up revenues by providing free seats to marshals.
The F.A.A. also made no concerted effort to expand their list of terror suspects, which included a dozen names on Sept. 11, the report said. The former head of the F.A.A.’s civil aviation security branch said he was not aware of the government’s main watch list, called Tipoff, which included the names of two hijackers who were living in the San Diego area, the report said.
Nor was there evidence that a senior F.A.A. working group on security had ever met in 2001 to discuss “the high threat period that summer,” the report said.
Now we must know who decided to classify this material and keep it from the nation before the election. Who and why?