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Prior Knowledge

May 21, 2002

Tags U.S. History

Concerning the foreknowledge of hijackings by bin Laden a month before September 11, the reaction is more interesting than the story itself. Democrats responded with feigned outrage masking restrained glee. Prior to this revelation, Bush had more of a lock on 2004 than George Washington in 1792.

If you think their real concern was stopping terrorism, please tell me why Democrats have done so much to provoke terrorism in the last 100 years. Their Wilsonian foreign policy and the long-range consequences of various "Democrat wars" helped get us into this mess in the first place. Democratic fingerprints are all over the disastrous U.S. foreign policy:

Wilson’s World War I allies carved up the Middle East for their own purposes after that war. Roosevelt agreed to be the Saudi commander in chief in exchange for oil. Truman prematurely recognized Israel and made generations of Arab enemies for Americans who have no dog in that fight. Carter had the bright idea of arming the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Clinton bombed a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan.

Yes, the Democratic Party has a lot of explaining to do. Are the Democrats playing politics with this revelation; that is, are they manipulating facts and emotions for their personal aggrandizement? Of course. That’s what Democrats do for a living. They are also covering their own backsides since, as Robert Novak pointed out, some congressmen got a similar briefing and did even less than Bush did.

Now let’s talk about the Republicans. Republicans style themselves as the smart and competent and tough and realist party in foreign affairs. They clean up the messes the Democrats get us into, they say. Incredibly, the Republicans boast that their Democratic friends secretly tell them they are glad the Republicans are in charge at times like these. Well, the Republicans were in charge and on guard on September 11 and we got the worst day in American history. But it wasn’t their fault, they say; it was Clinton’s.

This is the same phenomenon currently described by the wily Novak: when you screw up, quick, blame the other guy. Republicans also manipulate fact and emotion to preserve their own power and pelf. They do what all politicians do: prevaricate for power. I was so revolted by the blame game that I held my nose and defended Clinton (sort of).

Now, the Republicans say the exact opposite: There was no way we could have known; there wasn’t enough time to act; feasible targets had not yet been identified. But if they can condemn Clinton for not acting prior to January 20, 2001, how can they say they didn’t know enough on January 21?

The truth is, truth has nothing to do with it; they’re politicians; they manipulate "facts" and emotions to achieve and hold on to power. Let’s see how they dissemble. They tried the red-herring/straw-man shuffle. Bush PR man Fred Barnes conflated concern over Bush’s response to the August briefing with charges that he actually knew the specific attack was coming but let it happen anyway. This ploy distracts attention from the original question: What did Bush do in response to the briefing and all prior intelligence?

Condoleezza Rice chimes in: nobody said there would be a suicidal hijacking. Nonsuicidal hijackings are okay? Actually, armed with information that bin Laden might plan a hijacking, one could easily imagine it would involve suicide. He was suspected of engineering the prior suicide bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and the USS Cole in October 2000.

Just in case anyone could not connect these enormous dots, a 1999 government report explicitly identified suicide hijackings as a possible terrorist tactic. These pathetic responses by the administration, and their failure to disclose the August briefing earlier, suggest a guilty conscience and make you wonder what else they knew that we don’t.

The really interesting question for Ms. Rice and the entire U.S. foreign policy establishment is: If these attacks were not foreseeable and not preventable, why were you people out and about, before September 11, in a dangerous world, when our nation has not been invaded since Lincoln invaded Virginia in 1861, kicking sleeping dogs and using beehives as punching bags?

Now, let’s broaden the critique to the federal government generally. On August 15, 2001, I wrote for Mises.org: "The FBI is a case study in how government agencies, programs, and powers expand, regardless of poor performance." Twenty-seven days later, the worst single day in American history occurs, about which the FBI ignored specific warnings by its own staff.

Low-level FBI staffers suspected bin Laden had terrorists in American flight schools; the INS had Moussaoui in custody; and the CIA had reports about bin Laden using hijackers. "They didn’t connect the dots." Why? Simply because bureaucracies are self-serving entities that are not responsible to anyone who really cares.

Even with this dreadful performance, who has been fired? Compare that to two private firms that "didn’t connect the dots": Enron, and more recently, Adelphia Cable. Market forces have speedily driven them into oblivion. If the FBI and CIA were private firms, they’d be out of business by now. Instead, they will be rewarded with bigger budgets and greater powers.

It’s settled then; government cannot protect us, but it does everything it can to make sure people around the world want to murder us. At least it doesn’t stop us from protecting ourselves. Actually, it is guilty of that crime as well. For years, the FAA discouraged pilots from arming themselves by creating a burdensome licensing process.

Then, shortly after receiving a report of imminent terrorist activity, and after receiving seven or eight similar warnings in 2001 alone, the FAA rescinded the regulation altogether and banned pilots from carrying guns. I guess they wanted to prevent lawsuits from terrorists who might get shot or to discourage pilots from shooting out the windshields when they get too foggy.

Just to make a point, the government has reinforced its absolute prohibition against permitting planes and pilots to protect themselves. Thus, in what must be very good news for would-be terrorists, the only viable anti-hijacking policy available to commercial airliners is now illegal.

With all this insanity, we have come full circle from the quaint theory that government exists to protect people and property. Instead, our government now exists to stir up foreign enemies against the people, make sure those enemies can enter the country safely and travel freely, protect those enemies from discrimination by private firms, and finally, prevent those firms from defending their own customers and property.

Republican and Democratic heads should roll, and the bigger the heads, the better.  Not because of the failure to properly respond to a single briefing, but because of our disastrous 100-year-old foreign policy and because a government that cannot protect us--and often prevents us from protecting ourselves--insists on pointlessly meddling into obscure disputes in far corners of the globe and making unnecessary enemies in conflicts in which average Americans haven’t the slightest interest.  

Institutions should roll, too, because the modern state, by its very nature, is incompetent, self-serving, mendacious, unresponsive, irresponsible, provocative, bellicose, and deadly. Above all, it is unaccountable. Just ask yourself what would happen to a private security firm that permitted this kind of disaster, even without foreknowledge. Let’s just say it wouldn’t get a raise.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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