Oct. 29, 2004, just four days before the U.S. presidential election, al-Qaeda
leader Osama bin-Laden released a videotape denouncing George W. Bush.
Some Bush supporters quickly spun the diatribe as “Osama’s endorsement
of John Kerry.” But behind the walls of the CIA, analysts had concluded
the opposite: that bin-Laden was trying to help Bush gain a second term.
This stunning CIA disclosure is tucked away in a
brief passage near the end of Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine,
which draws heavily from CIA insiders. Suskind wrote that the CIA
analysts based their troubling assessment on classified information, but
the analysts still puzzled over exactly why bin-Laden wanted Bush to
stay in office.
According to Suskind’s book, CIA analysts had spent
years “parsing each expressed word of the al-Qaeda leader and his
deputy, [Ayman] Zawahiri. What they’d learned over nearly a decade is
that bin-Laden speaks only for strategic reasons. …
“Their [the CIA’s] assessments, at day’s end, are a
distillate of the kind of secret, internal conversations that the
American public [was] not sanctioned to hear: strategic analysis.
Today’s conclusion: bin-Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist
the President’s reelection.
“At the five o’clock meeting, [deputy CIA director]
John McLaughlin opened the issue with the consensus view: ‘Bin-Laden
certainly did a nice favor today for the President.’”
McLaughlin’s comment drew nods from CIA officers at
the table. Jami Miscik, CIA deputy associate director for intelligence,
suggested that the al-Qaeda founder may have come to Bush’s aid because
bin-Laden felt threatened by the rise in Iraq of Jordanian terrorist Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi; bin-Laden might have thought his leadership would be
diminished if Bush lost the White House and their “eye-to-eye struggle”
But the CIA analysts also felt that bin-Laden might
have recognized how Bush’s policies – including the Guantanamo prison
camp, the Abu Ghraib scandal and the endless bloodshed in Iraq – were
serving al-Qaeda’s strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of
“Certainly,” the CIA’s Miscik said, “he would want
Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years,” according to
Suskind’s account of the meeting.
As their internal assessment sank in, the CIA
analysts drifted into silence, troubled by the implications of their own
conclusions. “An ocean of hard truths before them – such as what did it
say about U.S. policies that bin-Laden would want Bush reelected –
remained untouched,” Suskind wrote.
One immediate consequence of bin-Laden breaking
nearly a year of silence to issue the videotape the weekend before the
U.S. presidential election was to give the Bush campaign a much needed
boost. From a virtual dead heat, Bush opened up a six-point lead,
according to one poll.
The implications of this new evidence are
troubling, too, for the American people as they head toward another
election in November 2006 that also is viewed as a referendum on Bush’s
prosecution of the “war on terror.”
As we have reported previously at
Consortiumnews.com, a large body of evidence already existed supporting
the view that the Bushes and the bin-Ladens have long operated with a
symbiotic relationship that may be entirely unspoken but nevertheless
has been a case of each family acting in ways that advance the interests
of the other. [See “Osama’s
Briar Patch” or “Is
Bush al-Qaeda's 'Useful Idiot?'”]
Before al-Qaeda launched the Sept. 11, 2001, terror
attacks against New York and Washington, Bush was stumbling in a
presidency that many Americans felt was headed nowhere. As Bush took a
month-long vacation at his Texas ranch in August 2001, his big issue was
a plan to restrict stem-cell research on moral grounds.
Privately, Bush’s neoconservative advisers were
chafing under what they saw as the complacency of the American people
unwilling to take on the mantle of global policeman as the world’s sole
superpower. The neocons hoped for some “Pearl Harbor” incident that
would galvanize a public consensus for action against Iraq and other
Other senior administration officials, such as Vice
President Dick Cheney, dreamed of the restoration of the imperial
presidency that – after Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal – had been cut
down to size by Congress, the courts and the press. Only a national
crisis would create a cover for a new assertion of presidential power.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world, bin-Laden and
his al-Qaeda militants were facing defeat after defeat. Their brand of
Islamic fundamentalism had been rejected in Muslim societies from
Algeria and Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Bin-Laden and his
lieutenants had even been expelled from the Sudan.
Bin-Laden’s extremists had been chased to the
farthest corners of the planet, in this case the caves of Afghanistan.
At this critical juncture, al-Qaeda’s brain trust decided that their
best hope was to strike at the United States and count on a clumsy
reaction that would offend the Islamic world and rally angry young
Muslims to al-Qaeda’s banner.
So, by early summer 2001, the clock ticked down to
9/11 as 19 al-Qaeda operatives positioned themselves inside the United
States and prepared to attack. But U.S. intelligence analysts picked up
evidence of al-Qaeda’s plans by sifting through the “chatter” of
electronic intercepts. The U.S. warning system was “blinking red.”
‘Something So Big’
Over the weekend of July Fourth 2001, a well-placed
U.S. intelligence source passed on a disturbing piece of information to
then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who later recounted the
incident in an interview with
“The person told me that there was some concern
about an intercept that had been picked up,” Miller said. “The incident
that had gotten everyone’s attention was a conversation between two
members of al-Qaeda. And they had been talking to one another,
supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not
chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the
[destroyer USS] Cole [which was bombed on Oct. 12, 2000].
“And one al-Qaeda operative was overheard saying to
the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the
U.S. will have to respond.’”
In the Alternet interview, published in May 2006
after Miller resigned from the Times, the reporter expressed regret that
she had not been able to nail down enough details about the intercept to
get the story into the newspaper.
But the significance of her recollection is that
more than two months before the 9/11 attacks, the CIA knew that al-Qaeda
was planning a major attack with the intent of inciting a U.S. military
reaction – or in this case, an overreaction.
The CIA tried to warn Bush about the threat on Aug.
6, 2001, with the hope that presidential action could energize
government agencies and head off the attack. The CIA sent analysts to
his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to brief him and deliver a report entitled
“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.”
Bush was not pleased by the intrusion. He glared at
the CIA briefer and snapped, “All right, you’ve covered your ass,”
according to Suskind’s book.
Then, putting the CIA’s warning in the back of his
mind and ordering no special response, Bush returned to a vacation of
fishing, clearing brush and working on a speech about stem-cell
For its part, al-Qaeda was running a risk that the
United States might strike a precise and devastating blow against the
terrorist organization, eliminating it as an effective force without
alienating much of the Muslim world.
If that happened, the cause of Islamic extremism
could have been set back years, without eliciting much sympathy from
most Muslims for a band of killers who wantonly murdered innocent
After the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda’s gamble almost
failed as the CIA, backed by U.S. Special Forces, ousted bin-Laden’s
Taliban allies in Afghanistan and cornered much of the al-Qaeda
leadership in the mountains of Tora Bora near the Pakistani border.
But instead of using U.S. ground troops to seal the
border, Bush relied on the Pakistani army, which was known to have mixed
sympathies about al-Qaeda. The Pakistani army moved its blocking force
belatedly into position while bin-Laden and others from his inner circle
Then, instead of staying focused on bin-Laden and
his fellow fugitives, Bush moved on to other objectives. Bush shifted
U.S. Special Forces away from bin-Laden and al-Qaeda and toward Saddam
Hussein and Iraq.
Many U.S. terrorism experts, including White House
counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, were shocked at this strategy,
since the intelligence community didn’t believe that Hussein’s secular
dictatorship had any working relationship with al-Qaeda – and had no
role in the 9/11 attacks.
Nevertheless, Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq on
March 19, 2003, ousting Hussein from power but also unleashing mayhem
across Iraqi society. Soon, the Iraq War – combined with controversies
over torture and mistreatment of Muslim detainees – were serving as
recruitment posters for al-Qaeda.
Under Jordanian exile Zarqawi, al-Qaeda set up
terrorist cells in central Iraq, taking root amid the weeds of sectarian
violence and the nation’s general anarchy. Instead of an obscure group
of misfits, al-Qaeda was achieving legendary status among many Muslims
as the defenders of the Islamic holy lands, battling the new “crusaders”
led by Bush.
Back in the USA
Meanwhile, back in the United States, the 9/11
attacks had allowed Bush to reinvent himself as the “war president” who
operated almost without oversight. He saw his approval ratings surge
from the 50s to the 90s – and watched as the Republican Party
consolidated its control of the U.S. Congress in 2002.
Though the worsening bloodshed in Iraq eroded
Bush’s popularity in 2004, political adviser Karl Rove still framed the
election around Bush’s aggressive moves to defend the United States and
to punish American enemies.
Whereas Bush was supposedly resolute, Democrat
Kerry was portrayed as weak and indecisive, a “flip-flopper.” Kerry,
however, scored some political points in the presidential debates by
citing the debacle at Tora Bora that enabled bin-Laden to escape.
The race was considered neck-and-neck as it turned
toward the final weekend of campaigning. Then, the shimmering image of
Osama bin-Laden appeared on American televisions, speaking directly to
the American people, mocking Bush and offering a kind of truce if U.S.
forces withdrew from the Middle East.
“He [Bush] was more interested in listening to the
child’s story about the goat rather than worry about what was happening
to the [twin] towers,” bin-Laden
said. “So, we had three times the time necessary to accomplish the
events. Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al-Qaeda.
Your security is in your own hands. Any nation that does not attack us
will not be attacked.”
Though both Bush and Kerry denounced bin-Laden’s
statement, right-wing pundits, bloggers and talk-show hosts portrayed it
as an effort to hurt Bush and help Kerry – which understandably prompted
the exact opposite reaction among many Americans. [For instance,
conservative blog site, Little Green Footballs, headlined
its Oct. 31, 2004, commentary as “Bin Laden Threatens U.S. States
Not to Vote for Bush.”]
However, behind the walls of secrecy at Langley,
Virginia, U.S. intelligence experts reviewed the evidence and concluded
that bin-Laden had precisely the opposite intent. He was fully aware
that his videotape would encourage the American people to do the
opposite of what he recommended.
By demanding an American surrender, bin-Laden knew
U.S. voters would instinctively want to fight. That way bin-Laden helped
ensure that George W. Bush would stay in power, would continue his
clumsy “war on terror” – and would drive thousands of new recruits into
al-Qaeda’s welcoming arms.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'