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Fmr. CIA Analyst and FBI Whistleblower Dissect Final 9/11 Commission Report

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As the bipartisan Commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks releases its much-anticipated final report, we take an in-depth look at what it says and what it doesn’t say with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. [includes rush transcript]

The bipartisan commission of ex-government officials investigating the Sept. 11 attacks published its much-anticipated final report yesterday.

The commission concluded that “The 9/11 attacks were a shock, but they should not have come as a surprise” and warned that without a historic restructuring of the nation’s intelligence agencies and a new emphasis on diplomacy, the United States would leave itself open to an even more catastrophic attack. The Washington Post reports that the panel was much gentler on the Bush administration than many Republicans and the White House had feared.

The panel said it could not determine whether the attacks could reasonably have been prevented. However, it identifies 10 “operational opportunities” to detect the 9/11 plot that were missed and identifies nine major vulnerabilities that enabled the attacks to move forward.

In a package of recommendations for overhauling intelligence operations, the commission called for a cabinet-level national intelligence director within the White House who would control the budgets of all 15 federal intelligence agencies. The intelligence director’s office would take substantial power away from the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the Pentagon, and it would essentially strip the National Security Council of its role in coordinating the actions of intelligence agencies.

The panel also advocates encoding U.S. passports with personal information and recommends standardized driver’s licenses nationwide. Both ideas were met with immediate criticism from civil liberties advocates.

In addition, the report recommended adherence to the Geneva Conventions in its treatment of alleged combatants saying “America should be able to reconcile its views of how to balance humanity and security with our nation’s commitment to these same goals.”

The panel finds that Iraq and al Qaeda had no “collaborative operational relationship “but outlines a deeper alliance between the terrorist group and Iran. The report alleges that as many as 10 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were able to freely pass through Iran, although there is no evidence that Tehran was aware of the plot.

The report also outlines how senior administration officials turned their attention to Iraq soon after the attacks. In the most glaring example, at 2:40 p.m. on Sept. 11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers that his instinct was to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time as Osama bin Laden. Four days later, when Bush convened a meeting of his senior advisers at Camp David to decide retaliatory steps, the Defense Department submitted a paper that depicted Iraq, the Taliban and al Qaeda as priority targets in the first stage of action. The report goes on to note that a failed Iraq in the wake of the U.S. invasion could become “breeding grounds for attacks against Americans at home.”

The panel also concluded that there was no evidence that the Saudi government or Saudi officials knew of or supported the plot to attack the United States.

President Bush and former President Clinton, who were both interviewed by the commission, disagreed in their recollection of a two-hour meeting on national security and foreign policy issues in December 2000. Clinton recalls telling Bush that “by far your biggest threat is Bin Ladin and the al Qaeda” and that he regretted not capturing or killing the al Qaeda leader.

Bush told the commission. “that he felt sure President Clinton had mentioned terrorism, but did not remember much being said about al Qaeda.” Bush said Clinton emphasized other issues such as North Korea and the Israeli peace process.

The panel also found that 36 presidential intelligence briefings given Bush before the attacks that mentioned al Qaeda or bin Laden.

The 567-page report was based on 2.5 million pages of documents and testimony from more than 1,000 witnesses and is on sale in bookstores across the country.

  • Ray McGovern, 27-year career analyst with the CIA. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
  • Sibel Edmonds, former FBI translator who was hired shortly after Sept. 11 to translate intelligence gathered over the previous year related to the 9/11 attacks. She speaks fluent Farsi and Turkish.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by two guests in the Washington studio. We’re joined by Ray McGovern, who is a 27-year career analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. And we’re also joined by Sibel Edmonds, she’s the former F.B.I. Translator who was hired shortly after September 11 to translate intelligence gathered over the previous time related to the 9/11 attacks. She speaks fluent Farsi and Turkish. Let’s begin with Ray McGovern. Your response to the report?

RAY MCGOVERN: Well it’s clear, Amy, that the establishment has spoken here. The name of the game is reflected in the “Washington Post” headlines for today which says, “Final Report Faults Two Administrations.” So, the implication being that Clinton and Bush are equally to blame for overseeing this — or, you know, exercising oversight in the second sense over this terrorist threat. It’s really interesting to see how this thing has played out. The report deals with the symptoms. The analogy with malaria that I think you may have heard me use before. Defeating terrorism is like defeating malaria. Everyone knows to defeat malaria you need to set up sharp shooters around the swamp and try to kill as many mosquitoes as you can as they leave the swamp. Well, obviously, what you do to defeat malaria is to drain the swamp. That’s what you need to do with respect to terrorism, to get at the root causes of terrorism. This report, all 567 pages of it except two, deal with the symptoms, the mosquitoes, how to shoot the mosquitoes as they leave the swamp, how to set up the equivalent of radar so, when they come where they could hurt somebody, the radar will detect them and the equivalent of more easily and more protective mosquito nets to protect the possible victims of the mosquitoes. It doesn’t get to the root cause except well into it around page 400, which we can discuss later, but which very briefly talks about the root causes. Our policy toward Israel and our invasion and occupation of Iraq. That got in there to the credit of the drafters.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, former C.I.A. Analyst, also one of the top daily briefers for Vice President George H.W. Bush. When we come back from our break we’ll get first response from Sibel Edmonds, an F.B.I. Whistleblower. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: “The Price Of Oil,” Billy Bragg. He’s playing this weekend in Boston as the Boston Social Forum, leading up to the Democratic National Convention. Activists will convene from all over the country. I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now!, We’re talking about the 9/11 Commission’s report. It is out. It is being sold all over the country. It was released yesterday in Washington, D.C. We’re joined by Ray McGovern, who is a former C.I.A. Analyst, with the agency for more than a quarter of a century, and F.B.I. whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds, who also joins us in our Washington studio. Sibel, your response overall to the commission’s report?

SIBEL EDMONDS: Well, Amy, I spent my day yesterday reading most of the report, and my first reaction was, okay, it explains why the report received a blessing from the administration and from the agencies, considering just in my case alone you have so much kicking and screaming and classification of — by the Department of Justice, and talking about the sensitivity and talking about certain diplomatic relations, and we didn’t have these types of responses to this report, which explains a lot alone by itself. Also, in reading the report, I just did not come across anything that in any way would establish any specific accountability. That also explains the lack of kick and screaming and lack of that type of a response from the administration. And also I was not that surprised to see that many incidents in their timelines were not mentioned, although two days ago, “Chicago Tribune” had an article regarding the incident of a long term F.B.I. Asset who provided specific information in April, 2001, to the Bureau talking about major cities being targeted and airplanes being used, and the order being issued by Bin Laden. There’s no mentioning of this. Although as you would see on this article, it has been already confirmed by the F.B.I. Authorities. So, I was not surprised, considering the fact that I attended these hearings, and I did not hear most questions being asked during the hearings, but I must say that I was still disappointed.

AMY GOODMAN: Sibel Edmonds, for people who are not familiar with your case, clearly, you have information the government is very concerned about, based on your translations after September 11, before September 11 wiretaps, because the Justice Department has attempted to reclassify information that you put out in a public hearing.

SIBEL EDMONDS: Correct. The commission has had this information since February, 2004, and there was only one reference to it without any specifics saying that, please refer to the I.G. Report. Well, the I.G. Report, after two years of delay, came out and is entirely classified. So, the public cannot refer to the I.G. Report. As you know, the investigations by the Congress have been stopped and the only reasons cited by the Attorney General have been certain diplomatic relations, certain foreign relations. So, people cannot refer to the congressional investigations or findings, and obviously, the report by the commission does not contain this information. So, basically, that — there you have it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about some of the recommendations. Let’s go to the Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission, former Congress member Lee Hamilton. He talks about what some of these recommendations are. Among package of recommendations that there should be a cabinet level National Intelligence Director. Let’s hear former Congress member Hamilton.

LEE HAMILTON: The critical theme that emerged throughout our inquiry was the difficulty of answering the question who is in charge? Who insures that agencies pool resources, avoid duplication and plan jointly? Who oversees the massive integration, and unity of effort necessary to keep America safe? Too often the answer is no one. Thus, we are recommending a National Counter-terrorism Center. We need effective unity of effort on counter-terrorism. We should create a national counter-terrorism center to unify all counter-terrorism intelligence and operations across the foreign and the domestic divide in one organization. Right now, these efforts are too diffuse across the government. They need to be unified. We recommend a National Intelligence Director. We need unity of effort in the intelligence community.

AMY GOODMAN: Vice chair of the 9/11 commission, Lee Hamilton. Ray McGovern, former C.I.A. Analyst, your response to this recommendation. Donald Rumsfeld was not pleased with it.

RAY MCGOVERN: Who is in charge? It used to be the buck stopped with the President. George W. Bush says he admires President Truman very much. That was Truman’s attitude. Who is in charge? The answer is very clear. The President is in charge. Let me outline the logic as I see it here. Several people, including Tom Kean, made the point very early on that we are not in the business of assigning blame. Well, why not? My cousin was killed in one of those twin towers. I’d like, if not blame — I’d like responsibility to be assigned. I’d like accountability of some kind. What the logic trail here that’s outlined is we’re he not going to blame anybody, and besides, it probably couldn’t have been prevented, and therefore, it’s nobody’s fault, so it must be the fault of the system. So, we’ll figure out a way to tweak the system whereby we can make it bureaucratically better, and the strategem that was picked here is both unnecessary and mischievous. Unnecessary because the Director of Central Intelligence already has the authority and the responsibility as the Chief Intelligence Advisor to the President to do all of these things. It’s just that we haven’t had a competent one since Stansfield Turner. These folks don’t seem to realize that. In other words, the authorities already exist. A lot of them are on referendum to the President. Stan Turner, when he was director, if he didn’t get cooperation from the F.B.I., he went down to the oval office and said Mr. President, I can’t do my job for you unless you get the F.B.I. to cooperate. Carter would call Ramsey Clark and say look, get that F.B.I. cooperating, sharing information with the C.I.A. That requires a certain, what the Germans call 'vormacht' a certain self-assurance and willingness to put other noses out of joint and a certain self-confidence. None of that has been exhibited in the D.C.I.'s that have existed since Bill Casey took over. So that's one thing. The other thing, if you make this a cabinet position, that is the kiss of death for intelligence. Bill Casey demonstrated that, because Bill was the first person to be elevated to cabinet status. He sat in the cabinet under Ronald Reagan and made policy. Those two things are like oil and water. They should be separated. Intelligence cannot be in the position of making policy. Or else it loses its entire credibility. The institutional corruption of intelligence, the willingness to tell the White House sort of sniff the prevailing winds from downtown and tell the White House what the intelligence community thinks the White House wants to hear, that started to be institutionalized under Bill Casey and his protégé, Robert Gates. What we’re seeing now is a bubbling up to the top of senior managers who learned under Casey and Gates to try to tell the White House what they think the White House wants to hear. So, if you get a new Director of National Intelligence and you put that person in the Cabinet, you are further institutionalizing the prostitution, I would say, of intelligence. You are making it so close to policy that people won’t be able to distinguish between objective fact, speaking truth to power, telling it like it is without fear of favor, and accommodating to this or that policy stream.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, you have referred before to the people during the first George Bush administration, President George H.W. Bush, and when he was Vice President, saying that some of the people in charge now—and maybe you could tell us who they are—that you all, including the President, then Vice President, George H.W. Bush, referred to them as the “crazys”?

RAY MCGOVERN: Yeah, well it was commonly known that these “crazys” existed, mostly in the defense department, but they were kept at sort of mid-senior levels where they couldn’t do much harm. We’re talking about Wolfowitz. We’re talking about Fife. We’re talking about Scooter Libby, who works for the Vice President. We’re talking about Cheney, in a way; Wormser, who is now with the Vice President; John Bolten at state. All of these folks were sort of around in these days. Some of them were also working for the Israeli government, interestingly enough. But they were kept at arm’s length from the policymaking apparatus.

AMY GOODMAN: Did Vice President George H.W. Bush refer to them as the “crazys”?

RAY MCGOVERN: Well, Amy, I’m not going to divulge what happened in the presidential daily briefings sessions because those are sacrosanct and I wouldn’t want to impede the access of my colleagues to that kind of one on one relationship. Suffice it to say that when Wolfowitz came out with his Defense Policy Guidance back in 1992, it outlined all of the kinds of policies that have now been implemented with respect to Iraq—We are the sole remaining superpower. We are derelict in our duty if we don’t exert that power, especially in key regional areas like the ones that have lots of oil, and like the ones that threaten Israel in some way. And, so, when we have an opportunity, it behooves us to exert that power in a military way, if necessary—Now, that was outlined in 1992, leaked to the “New York Times” and George Bush Sr. had to deal with that. He had Scocroft, he had Jim Baker to advise him and they tore it up and put it in the circular file. They said, this is not the way we’re going to act as the one remaining superpower, we’re gonna do it different. And so when we saw George W. Bush come into office. You know, we were from Missouri, we wanted to give him a chance. But then when we saw the “crazys” coming back — you know, this includes indicted people, this includes people guilty of felonies like Abrams, who is now running the mid-east policy down in BNSC.

AMY GOODMAN: Elliot Abrams.

RAY MCGOVERN: He was pardoned, you know …Yeah, Elliot Abrams… So, when we saw that, we said, my god, what’s going to happen now? And our worst fears have been borne out in the last three years.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, what do you make as this 9/11 Commission Report is being released yesterday, that there was a hastily arranged meeting of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, and the army released a 300-page report detailing prison abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan? Were they obviously doing this at the same time to prevent attention?

RAY MCGOVERN: Of course.

AMY GOODMAN: Divert attention?

RAY MCGOVERN: Of course. And you know, Amy, I’m glad that you cited that one paragraph in the 9/11 Commission Report that talks about prison abuses, because that was sort of a gutsy thing for this commission to address. What they said was, that we really ought to proceed in a multilateral way and get our coalition partners together on a policy to deal with the treatment, the humane treatment, they say, of prisoners. And they referred explicitly to Article 3 of one of the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war. Now, why was that gutsy? Well, that’s gutsy because our President has been advised, and has acted on this advice, that he could simply exclude from coverage of the Geneva conventions whole categories of people like the Taliban. And his White House counsel has told him that he should go ahead and do that, and, quote, “there is a reasonable case in law”, unquote, whereby you could escape prosecution for war crimes under the War Crimes Act of 1996 if you go ahead and do that. Now, why do I raise that? Well I raise that because I think this is a reality that has been sort of missed in the press, and everywhere else. What does it mean? If I’m President Bush and I finally read the opinion now by Alberto Gonzales, my White House counsel, because it’s been in “Newsweek”, I’m trying to sleep at night and I’m saying, hmm, there’s a reasonable case in law where I might escape prosecution for war crimes. Then I read the War Crimes Act and it’s laid out right there. That it’s tied intimately to the Geneva conventions. Specifically prohibits anybody from, by edict, exempting categories of people. There’s a procedure outlined in the conventions as to how to deal with uncertainties having to do with categories of prisoners. And that, too, is referred to in this report. So, what am I saying? I’m saying that George Bush and Rumsfeld and the Vice President and the top leaders, I don’t think they’re sleeping all that well these days. More immediately, as far as we’re concerned, four more years takes on a deeply personal immediacy here, if only to avoid the possibility that we might be prosecuted by some ill intentioned special prosecutor for war crimes. What does this mean? Well, it means to me — you know, there are people that say, well now, there’s a line that this crowd won’t cross. Well, I haven’t seen that line. And I’m beginning to believe there isn’t that line. When John Ashcroft gets up without the support of the Director of Central Intelligence without the support of the Director of Homeland Security, and fabricates a report saying that al Queada says that it’s 90% ready to strike the United States, and this is gonna happen before the election, I say, wow, you know. You don’t have to be a super analyst or rocket scientist to sort of suspect what’s going on here? Is Ashcroft trying to prepare the American people for the possibility that the elections might be postponed or even cancelled? I say, McGovern, you know, you’re getting a little paranoid. Then, on Sunday, I’m watching CNN and the banner question for the week is — “Should the United States postpone the election in the event of a terrorist attack?” I wonder…maybe we should postpone the election and maybe not? It’s become sort of accepted as an option. I’m thinking, my gosh, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, I’m going to give Sibel Edmonds the last word. Sibel Edwards, the F.B.I. Whistleblower. If you could point to what you think is the most egregious omission based on your review of information — based on what has happened to you since you’ve tried to get out information about the translated wiretaps that you had access to after 9/11, that were actually recorded before 9/11. What would you say is missing from this report?

SIBEL EDMONDS: Well, they again here are protecting certain foreign relations and certain foreign business relations. There are no mentionings there of anything that had to do with the united emirates and involvement of certain underground and semi-legit organizations through united emirates and also obtaining visas through bribery to certain state department individuals. There was no mentioning of the cell in Chicago and the activities that it brought about, and that were directly, these activities related to the 9/11 attack. As far as the money laundering is concerned, and I’m saying 'is', because these semi-legit organizations have not been named, and are still in operation. Again, just under the name of protecting certain foreign relations, there were no mentionings of these incidents. So again, anything that the administration wanted to protect has remained protected as you would see in this report, because there are no mentionings.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much, former F.B.I. Whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds and former C.I.A. Analyst for 27 years, Ray McGovern.

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