Column: Caught in a Lie?

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Mr. Spencer is assistant professor of history at Northwest Missouri State University.

So it all becomes a bit more clear today. For months, I have wondered why
Bush's administration was so tight-lipped about pre-9/11 events. In fact, on
January 29th Mr. Bush even requested in a message to Senate Majority Leader
Tom Daschle that congressional investigations into the causes of the 9/11
attacks be limited because it would endanger intelligence gathering and
imperil national security. Many thought this was a sign that Bush's
administration had much more to hide.

I wondered just as much here in a February column that dealt with the fact
that many in the foreign press believe that the Bush administration was
hiding secret negotiations with the Taliban regarding an oil pipeline in
Afghanistan. While that still has not been adequately investigated by any in
our flag-waving corporate media, these latest developments provide, perhaps,
a more plausible answer. There may not be any sort of dark and sinister
purpose behind this penchant for secrecy about pre-9/11 events, just an
administration trying to protect its political backside. Also, one could
argue that the"bunker mentality" of the Bush administration and its
penchant for secrecy are responsible for the current situation.

Today we learned that the Bush administration for eight months has been
hiding the fact that they had received, to use Ari Fleischer's spinning
phrase, a"generalized threat" about potential highjackings by Osama bin
Laden's terrorist network more than a month before the September 11th
attacks. In fact, the President was briefed on this personally while on
vacation in Texas during August and in response the administration"notified
the appropriate agencies" of the threat. However, it appears these
notifications never reached the nation's airlines. This afternoon, Michael
Wascom of the Air Transport Association, a group that represents the major
airlines, stated"I am not aware of any warnings or notifications in advance
of Sept. 11 concerning specific security threats to any of our airlines." So
much for doing everything possible to prevent highjackings.

In his news conference today Fleischer provided no adequate answer to
questions as to why the administration had never mentioned this warning
before. He also carefully avoided mentioning that the administration had
vehemently denied that it had received any sort of prior warnings in the
days immediately following the attacks. (In response to the question"Had
there been any warnings that the president knew of ?" Fleischer's response
was"no warnings."
) Furthermore, he repeatedly insisted that the
administration had no advance warning that the highjackers would use the
airliners as weapons. Fleischer said"But the president did not - not --
receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide
bombers. This was a new type of attack that was not foreseen." The
administration seems to believe it was not culpable because it did not know
the precise nature and scope of the future attacks. Apparently it is okay to
keep a secret if"only" 300 lives appear to be at risk. How's that for
compassionate conservatism?

What if the shoe was on the other party's foot? Would Republican leaders in
Congress be so restrained if it was revealed that President Al Gore had
hidden this little nugget of information from Congress and the American
people for so long? Why we'd be hearing about how it was a criminal abuse of
the public trust. We would already be hearing rumblings about a special
prosecutor and possibly impeachment.

Before today, the administration and Congress could blame the intelligence
services for failing to prevent the attacks. There are numerous examples of
screw-ups by the FBI and CIA in the weeks prior to 9/11. However, today's
revelation has undone that defense for the administration.
The Bush administration has been caught in a lie. This is more than a minor
problem for the administration. If you tuned into MSNBC and CNN this afternoon, you
could see that the media sharks are circling. (Predictably, early this
afternoon at the Faux News Network they were avoiding this story entirely by
interviewing people standing in line for the new Star Wars movie.)

This revelation also makes more ominous the practice of Bush administration
cabinet officials (John Ashcroft in particular) only using government or
private aircraft for travel starting in the summer of 2001. At the time,
Ashcroft said he was told that the FBI had done a"threat assessment" and
notified him that he should not fly commercial for the remainder of his
term. For some reason, this"threat assessment" was never revealed in the
months prior to or since 9/11. Why do you suppose that is?

This also makes it much more clear as to why, since 9/11, the administration
has been warning us of every possible terrorist threat, no matter how small.
(Remember the explosive teddy bears?) With, of course, the rather major
exception of that nuclear bomb threat in New York City -- only a few folks
knew about that one at the time. It appears the administration learned its
lesson from ignoring the warnings in August of 2001 and never wants to screw
up like that again.

This whole situation is the result of the well-documented Nixonian penchant
for secrecy in this administration. The administration insists, with some
good reason, that the prying Congress and press of the Clinton years has
eroded the rights of an administration to privacy. They contend that they
merely desire to restore a proper amount of privacy to those in the
administration. Some, of course, would argue that, according to most
Republicans, this right to privacy seems to exist only for Republican
administrations, not Democratic administrations. Some would also argue that
it is time for a Republican administration to reap what the Republican Party
has sown during the 1990s.

Regardless of partisan politics, this administration is amazingly secretive.
Clinton's administration was an open book in comparison. Whether it is the
records of the energy task force, the presidential records of past
administrations, the details of the bunker government or the office of
homeland security, or the details of intelligence gathering prior to 9/11,
this administration isn't telling the American public anything it doesn't
have to. At times it seems that the folks in the Bush administration
essentially won't tell you the time of day unless forced to do so.

Over the last few months I have wondered when this penchant for secrecy
would cause a major and embarrassing situation for the administration.

Today it has.

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More Comments:

Bud Wood - 5/18/2002

So, "The shameful hypocrisy and lies of this administration must be exposed"? What else is new?!
Governments throughout history have used deceptions to benefit those associated with the governments. There is a term, associated with democracies, which says it all: "Manufactured consent".
Much farther back than the Spanish American war, actual ignitions of conflicts were not what the psychological stampedes were based upon. In that war, the ignitor was an explosion in the battleship Maine, from inside the vessel. Inside? Wasn't that clever of the Spanish?! WWI was started by USA ships blockade running, against warnings from Germany. The USA's participation in WWII was evidently orchestrated by the Roosevelt Administration's 10 point plan to get the Japanese warlords to attack. In most cases, the USA's entry into conflicts can be documented as logically constructed duplicities.
This is not to say that opposing governments are pure. The histories of activities of those in control of government apparatuses are unbelievably sordid.
So, again, what else is new? You want a government that is above reproach? Sorry, but it is doubtful that anyone like Buddha or Jesus, etc., would ever make it to a primary ballot.

Jon Koppenhoefer - 5/18/2002

Fleischer merely follows the example of his masters: Cheney twice has lied about his former employers at Halliburton.

First, during the campaign, he claimed that none of his 'private sector' earnings were derived from government funds when, in fact, Halliburton was and remains a major defense contractor.

Second, Cheney has more recently denied the commercial links between Halliburton and Saddam Hussein, which are easily documented via the contracts between two Halliburton subsidiaries and Iraq.

Bush's claim of 'mea non culpa' is more credible in light of his aversion to intellectual effort and history of poor performance in the world of academic pursuits. But a man who lacks the simple intelligence to make sense of the information he receives from others should not be the President of the United States. The job is simply too demanding for a lightweight like Bush to handle it competently.

He should be removed from office immediately before things get worse.

Crede Calhoun - 5/17/2002

Conspiracy theroies must be explored with a grain of salt. Howeever, one can't help but consider 'connecting the dots' when it comes to the UNOCAL/Halliburton/Enron plans to build a pipeline through Afghannistan. Asd has been reported the adminstration gave the Taliban 43 million dollars prior to 9/11 to cease poppy production. This in my opinion was a veiled bribe to grease the skids for the pipeline deal. This grant was of course given to a regime that at that time was valid enough to receive funds but now is classified as 'unlawful comabatants'.

It seems entirely plausible that the adminstration took the knowledge that a terroist attack on US soil would pave the way and justify an invasion of Afghanistan that would open the door for the pipeline plans. The administration's manadate that John O'Neil 'back off' the Taliban and Al Qaeda is what led to his resignation (and eventual death at the WTC). As we know now these pipeline plans are moving forward with the installed president of Afghanistan a former Enron employee.

It is all way to sordid and frightening and it is time for the American people to force the adminstration to abide by the same openess of information that the Republicans requied of Democratic adminstrations. The shameful hypocrisy and lies of this adminstration must be exposed.

We now are told that the airlines NEVER received a warning from the President. Yet, these liars in the oval office claim they did warn them. The truth must come out.