For Immediate Release
August 2, 2004
9/11 Commission Report Confirms Key Fahrenheit 9/11 Facts
The September 11 Commission's 567-page final report has confirmed key facts presented in Fahrenheit 9/11 . ? Here are passages from the film, followed by the 9/11 Commission's findings:
I. ? Ashcroft Briefing
Fahrenheit 9/11: “One of [John Ashcroft's] first acts as Attorney General was to tell acting FBI director Thomas Pickard that he didn't want to hear anything more about terrorist threats.”
Commission Report, p. 265: Pickard told the Commission that after two briefings on the terror threat situation (in May and early July), “Ashcroft told him that he did not want to hear about the threats anymore.”
The Report also states that Ashcroft denies this allegation and that Pickard told Ashcroft that “he could not assure Ashcroft that there would be no attacks in the United States, although the reports of threats were related to overseas targets. Ashcroft said he therefore assumed the FBI was doing what it needed to do. He acknowledged that in retrospect, this was a dangerous assumption. He did not ask the FBI what it was doing in response to the threats and did not task it to take any specific action. He also did not direct the INS, then still part of the Department of Justice, to take any specific action. In sum, the domestic agencies never mobilized in response to the threat. They did not have direction, and did not have a plan to institute.”
II. Bush in Florida Classroom on the morning of September 11, 2001
Fahrenheit 9/11: "As the attack took place, Mr. Bush was on his way to an elementary school in Florida. When informed of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, where terrorists had struck just 8 years prior, Mr. Bush decided to go ahead with his photo opportunity. ? When the second plane hit the tower, his chief of staff entered the classroom and told Mr. Bush the nation is under attack. ? Not knowing what to do, with no one telling him what to do, and no Secret Service rushing in to take him to safety, Mr. Bush just sat there and continued to read My Pet Goat with the children. ? Nearly seven minutes passed with nobody doing anything."
Commission Report, p 35: “White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told us he was standing with the President outside the classroom when Senior Advisor to the President Karl Rove first informed them that a small, twin-engine plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The President's reaction was that the incident must have been caused by pilot error. ? At 8:55, before entering the classroom, the President spoke to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who was at the White House. She recalled first telling the President it was a twin-engine aircraft—and then a commercial aircraft—that had struck the World Trade Center, adding ‘that's all we know right now, Mr. President.'”
Commission Report, pp. 38-39: “The President was seated in a classroom when, at 9:05, Andrew Card whispered to him: ‘A second plane hit the second tower. ? America is under attack…' The President remained in the classroom for another five to seven minutes, while the children continued reading.”
III. Bush Failure to Meet with Head of Counterrorism in 2001
Fahrenheit 9/11: “As Bush sat in that Florida classroom, was he wondering if maybe he should have shown up to work more often? Should he have held at least one meeting since taking office to discuss the threat of terrorism with his head of counterterrorism [Richard Clarke]?"
Commission Report, p 201: “Within the first few days after Bush's inauguration, Clarke approached Rice in an effort to get her—and the new President—to give terrorism very high priority and to act on the agenda that he had pushed during the last few months of the previous administration. ? After Rice requested that all senior staff identify desirable major policy reviews or initiatives, Clarke submitted an elaborate memorandum on January 25, 2001. He attached to it his 1998 Delenda Plan and the December 2000 strategy paper. ‘We urgently need...a Principals level review on the al Qida network,' Clarke wrote. The national security advisor did not respond directly to Clarke's memorandum. No Principals Committee meeting on al Qaeda was held until September 4, 2001 (although the Principals Committee met frequently on other subjects, such as the Middle East peace process, Russia, and the Persian Gulf).”
IV. Bush Did Not React to Security Briefing
Fahrenheit 9/11: "Perhaps [President Bush] just should have read the security briefing that was given to him on August 6th, 2001, which said that Osama Bin Laden was planning to attack America by hijacking airplanes. ? But maybe he wasn't worried about the terrorist threat because the title of the report was too vague.
Commission Report, pp. 260-262: At the time, Bush says he considered the CIA's August 6th Presidential Daily Briefing entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” to be “historical in nature,” although the “two CIA analysts involved in preparing this briefing article believed it represented an opportunity to communicate their view that the threat of a Bin Ladin attack in the United States remained both current and serious ” (emphasis added). Bush “did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so… The following day's SEIB repeated the title of this PDB… Late in the month, a foreign service reported that Abu Zubaydah was considering mounting terrorist attacks in the United States… We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisors of the possibility of a threat of an al Qaeda attack in the United States… [CIA director] Tenet does not recall any discussions with the President of the domestic threat” between August 17 when Tenet visited Bush in Crawford, and September 10.
V. The Timing of the Saudi Flights
Fahrenheit 9/11 : “At least six private jets and nearly two dozen commercial planes carried the Saudis and the bin Ladens out of the U.S. after September 13th. In all, 142 Saudis, including 24 members of the bin Laden family, were allowed to leave the country.”
Commission Report, p. 556, n. 25: “[A]fter the airspace reopened, nine chartered flights with 160 people, mostly Saudi nationals, departed from the United States between September 14 and 24.”
VI. FBI Interviews of Saudis and Bin Ladens Who Left
Fahrenheit 9/11: The FBI conducted “a little interview, check[ed] the passport.”
Confirmed, Commission Report at p. 557, n. 28: “The Bin Ladin flight and other flights we examined were screened in accordance with policies set by FBI headquarters and coordinated through working-level interagency process…Although most of the passengers were not interviewed, 22 of the 26 on the Bin Ladin flight were interviewed by the FBI…Two of the passengers on this flight had been the subjects of preliminary investigations by the FBI, but both their cases had been closed, in 1999 and March 2001, respectively, because the FBI had uncovered no derogatory information on either person linking them to terrorist activity.”
VII. White House Approved Flights
Fahrenheit 9/11: “The White House approved planes to pick up the bin Ladens and numerous other Saudis.” ? [The film also shows a copy of the September 3, 2003, New York Times article by Eric Lichtblau, titled “White House Approved Departure of Saudis After Sept. 11, Ex-Aide Says,” which states, “Top White House officials personally approved the evacuation of dozens of influential Saudis, including relatives of Osama bin Laden, from the United States in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when most flights were still grounded, a former White House adviser said today. ? The adviser, Richard Clarke, who ran the White House crisis team after the attacks but has since left the Bush administration, said he agreed to the extraordinary plan because the Federal Bureau of Investigation assured him that the departing Saudis were not linked to terrorism.”]
Commission Report p. 329: Richard Clarke approved these flights.
Questions Left Unanswered
Saudi Flights: The following information on the Saudi flights, whether the interrogation of these individuals followed normal law enforcement procedure, and other oddities, are not adequately discussed and put to rest in the 9/11 Report and should require a further inquiry, or at least better explanation.
The 9/11 Commission Report says: “Two of the passengers on this flight had been the subjects of preliminary investigations by the FBI, but both their cases had been closed, in 1999 and March 2001, respectively, because the FBI had uncovered no derogatory information on either person linking them to terrorist activity. Their cases remained closed as of 9/11, were not reopened before they departed the country on this flight, and have not been reopened since.” ? Notes, p. 557, Chapter 10, n. 28). ?
The dismissive nature of these highly-charged facts buried in a footnote of the 9/11 Commission Report certainly raises new questions in light of the following information, some of which came to light the same week of the Commission Report release:
Washington Post: According to the July 22, 2003, Washington Post, of the 13 relatives of Osama bin Laden who left on these fights, “One passenger, Omar Awad bin Laden, a nephew of the al Qaeda leader, had been investigated by the FBI because he had lived with Abdullah bin Laden, a leader of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, which the FBI suspected of being a terrorist organization.” Dana Milbank, “Plane Carried 13 Bin Ladens;Manifest of Sept. 19, 2001, Flight From U.S. Is Released, Washington Post, July 22, 2003.
Moreover, according to another article in the Washington Post, this organization is apparently still suspected of terrorist ties. ? Specifically, in May, 2004, “Federal agents have raided the U.S. branch of a large Saudi-based charity, founded in Northern Virginia by a nephew of Osama bin Laden, in connection with a terrorism-related investigation, law enforcement sources said yesterday. The raid Friday on the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in Alexandria was carried out by agents of the FBI, U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the sources said. Jerry Markon, U.S. Raids N.Va. Office Of Saudi-Based Charity, Washington Post, June 2, 2004
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.): The passenger list was made public by Sen. Lautenberg and can be found here: flight manifest. Lautenberg said, “The first rule of a criminal investigation is that when the suspect is on the run, you must interrogate the family to find out where he is. Osama Bin Laden just killed over 3,000 Americans, and one of the first actions by the Bush administration was to let Bin Laden's relatives leave without intense questioning? The President of the United States needs to explain to the American people why his Administration let this plane leave. The American people are going to be shocked by this manifest, and they deserve an explanation.”
Senator Byron Dorgon (D-N.D.): Senator Dorgan recently put it this way, “Dale Watson, the No. 2 man and former head of counterterrorism at the FBI has said none of them were subjected to ‘serious' interrogation or questions before being allowed to leave. In fact, we now know that at least two and perhaps more of the Saudis who were allowed to leave after Sept. 11 were under investigation by the FBI for alleged terrorist connections.” Grand Forks Herald, July 20, 2004.
The 9/11 Commission relies on continuing assurances from the FBI that none of the Saudis who left on these flights matched up with names on the State Department's terrorist watch list database, TIPOFF (Notes, p. 558, Chapter 10, n. 31) (even though there was no evidence that TIPOFF was actually used at the time to clear these names) (See Notes, p. 558, Chapter 10, n. 31). ?
However, the Commission's reliance on information in TIPOFF should hardly resolve the matter for the 9/11 Commission, as the 9/11 Commission Report has now confirmed that the names of two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, were not in the TIPOFF database either (p. 181-2). Hazmi and Mihdhar hijacked the plane that flew into the Pentagon. In that instance, the 9/11 Commission recognized this as an enormous failure: “[I]t is possible that if, in January 2001, the CIA had resumed its search for [Mihdhar], placed him on the State Department's TIPOFF watchlist, or provided the FBI with the information, he might have been found” prior to September 11 (p. 267).
Yet the Commission raises no question at all about their reliance on TIPOFF to clear every individual who left on those flights. ?
According to the Washington Post article, the bin Ladens flew out of the country on the same airplane that “has been chartered frequently by the White House for the press corps traveling with President Bush.” Dana Milbank, “Plane Carried 13 Bin Ladens; Manifest of Sept. 19, 2001, Flight From U.S. Is Released," Washington Post, July 22, 2003. This raises obvious questions which deserved to be address by the 9/11 Commission.
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