Bush's Counterterrorism Record: 0 for 1

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, December 18, 2008; 1:19 PM

Has President Bush kept America safe? The only conclusion supported by the facts at our disposal is no.

Bush yesterday tried once again to take credit for the absence of a major terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001. "While there's room for honest and healthy debate about the decisions I've made -- and there's plenty of debate -- there can be no debate about the results in keeping America safe," he said. Listing four allegedly averted terror plots, he intoned: "We'll never know how many lives have been saved."

But Bush has yet to offer verifiable evidence that he's done anything to save even a single life. And there's no reason to believe the so-called plots he trumpeted yesterday were ever anything more than fantasy.

Indeed, when it comes to terrorist attacks on this country, the only one we know much about is the one that Bush did not prevent.

In the initial aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, as the nation rallied behind its leader, there was little appetite for exploration into whether Bush could have done more to avert the destruction. But over time, it has emerged that he willfully ignored any number of warning signs, and that he certainly could have taken more proactive steps against the known threat that al Qaeda presented. So much so, that any retrospective of Bush's terror policies should start with what now appears to have been a significant failure on his part.

See also my Mar. 7, 2008, column, Why Haven't We Been Attacked? and my Sept. 11, 2008, column, Bush the Great Protector.

Looking Back

Exhibit A in the case against Bush here, of course, is the infamous memo.

The president spent a month in Crawford shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks, when critics say he should have been more attentive to warning signs. And during the first week of that vacation, he waved off a memo drafted specifically for him, vividly titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US."

The memo warned of "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks." But according to author Ron Suskind, Bush heard his CIA briefer out -- then told him, "All right. You've covered your ass, now."

The very next day, as Dana Milbank and Mike Allen wrote in The Post in April 2004, Bush ran into reporters while playing golf at a nearby country club and "seemed carefree as he spoke about the books he was reading, the work he was doing on his nearby ranch, his love of hot-weather jogging, his golf game and his 55th birthday."

And Dana Priest wrote in The Washington Post in April 2004: "By the time a CIA briefer gave President Bush the Aug. 6, 2001, President's Daily Brief headlined 'Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US,' the president had seen a stream of alarming reports on al Qaeda's intentions. So had Vice President Cheney and Bush's top national security team, according to newly declassified information released . . . by the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"In April and May 2001, for example, the intelligence community headlined some of those reports 'Bin Laden planning multiple operations,' 'Bin Laden network's plans advancing' and 'Bin Laden threats are real.'

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