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Bush Agrees Bin-Laden Helped in '04

By Robert Parry
July 14, 2006

After Election 2004, George W. Bush recognized that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden had helped him to victory by releasing a videotape denouncing Bush just four days before Americans went to the polls, a move the CIA has concluded was a bin-Laden ploy to ensure the U.S. President a second term.

In a post-election interview with Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon, Bush said he judged that bin-Laden’s harsh denunciation of him in a videotape released on Oct. 29, 2004, had rallied voters to the Republican banner.

“I thought it was going to help,” Bush said. “I thought it would help remind people that if bin-Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the President, something must be right with Bush.”

Bin-Laden’s diatribe – after nearly a year of silence – indeed did give Bush a crucial late boost with one national poll recording a six-percentage-point bounce in Bush’s favor. Bush supporters and many neutral voters apparently took bin-Laden’s words at face value, assuming that bin-Laden really wanted Bush to be defeated.

But CIA analysts concluded that bin-Laden was actually playing a double game, pretending to want Bush out when he really hoped Bush would stay in. Bin-Laden was cagy enough to realize that his well-timed denunciation of Bush would have a predictable boomerang effect and thus help Bush gain a second term.

Bin-Laden’s thinking apparently was that Bush’s highly aggressive “war on terror,” especially the bloody occupation of Iraq, would continue creating thousands of new extremists to swell the ranks of al-Qaeda while also enhancing bin-Laden’s personal status in the Islamic world.

CIA Analysis

This CIA assessment was disclosed 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 judgment on classified information.

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” ended.

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 war in Iraq – were serving al-Qaeda’s strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of jihadists.

“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 were 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.

‘Strategery’

Bush enthusiasts, however, have continued to cite bin-Laden’s videotape as proof that the terrorist leader genuinely feared George W. Bush and favored John Kerry.

In a fawningly pro-Bush book entitled Strategery: How George W. Bush Is Defeating Terrorists, Outwitting Democrats and Confounding the Mainstream Media, right-wing journalist Sammon devoted several pages to bin-Laden’s videotape, portraying it as an attempt by the terrorist leader to persuade Americans to vote for Kerry.

“Bin-Laden stopped short of overtly endorsing Kerry,” Sammon wrote, “but the terrorist offered a polemic against reelecting Bush. … Unfortunately for Kerry, bin-Laden then proceeded to parrot the Democrat’s litany of complaints against Bush, right down to the Michael Moore-inspired canard about My Pet Goat

It’s not clear why Sammon uses the word “canard,” which means an unfounded or false story, since it’s a well-established fact that Bush did sit paralyzed for about seven minutes in a Florida classroom reading My Pet Goat after being told on Sept. 11, 2001, that “America is under attack.”

But Sammon, like many Bush acolytes, appears to live in a world where facts and logic have no particular relevance. So, not surprisingly, Sammon didn’t weigh the possibility that bin-Laden might have understood that his “endorsement” of one candidate over another would achieve the opposite effect.

Indeed, many right-wing pundits appear to have played into bin-Laden’s hands by promoting his anti-Bush diatribe in just the way he wanted it, as a de facto recommendation that Americans vote for Kerry – and as a sure way to generate votes for Bush.

In Strategery, Sammon also quotes Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman as agreeing that bin-Laden’s videotape helped Bush. “It reminded people of the stakes,” Mehlman said. “It reinforced an issue on which Bush had a big lead over Kerry.”

Brer Rabbit

So how hard is it to figure out that bin-Laden – a longtime student of American politics – would have understood exactly the same point?

Many American baby-boomers grew up watching Walt Disney’s “Song of the South,” featuring Uncle Remus tales describing how the clever Brer Rabbit escaped one famously tight spot by pretending that what he feared most was to be hurled into the briar patch – when that was exactly where he wanted to go.

Indeed, the evidence is now clear that al-Qaeda strategists have long operated in much the same way, trying to goad the U.S. government into an overreaction that would put them in an environment where they could be most successful. [See Consortiumnews.com’s  “Osama’s Briar Patch” or “Is Bush al-Qaeda's 'Useful Idiot?'”]

By the end of the Clinton administration, al-Qaeda’s leaders had been chased to the farthest corners of the planet, the mountains of Afghanistan. They were exiles from across the Islamic world, largely because they had lost battle after battle against their respective governments.

Al-Qaeda’s 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.

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. The Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole had failed to elicit a sufficient reaction, so al-Qaeda planned something bigger.

By early summer 2001, as 19 al-Qaeda operatives positioned themselves inside the United States, 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.”

Over the July Fourth 2001 holiday, 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 Alternet.

“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 Cole.

“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 provoking a U.S. military reaction – or in this case, an overreaction.

Unheeded Warning

The CIA tried to warn Bush about the threat with the hope that presidential action could energize government agencies and head off the attack. On Aug. 6, 2001, the CIA sent analysts to Bush’s 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, ordering no special response, Bush returned to a vacation of fishing, clearing brush and working on a speech about stem-cell research.

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 civilians.

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. The Pakistani military, which included many Taliban sympathizers, moved too slowly, allowing bin-Laden and other leaders to escape.

Then, instead of staying focused on bin-Laden and his fellow fugitives, Bush shifted U.S. Special Forces toward Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Many U.S. terrorism experts, including White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, were shocked 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.

Mayhem

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 along with the 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.

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.”

Over the final weekend of the campaign, right-wing pundits, bloggers and talk-show hosts portrayed bin-Laden’s videotape as an effort to hurt Bush and help Kerry – which understandably prompted the opposite reaction among many Americans.

Behind the walls of secrecy at Langley, Virginia, however, U.S. intelligence experts reviewed the evidence and concluded that bin-Laden had achieved exactly what he wanted, a stampede of voters to Bush and a continuation of his clumsy “war on terror.”

Now as the Mid-East conflagration spreads to Gaza and Lebanon – and threatens to draw in Syria and Iran – the larger Islamic world is beginning to look more and more like the briar patch where Osama bin-Laden and other violent extremists feel most comfortable.


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.'

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