Conason Reviews “The Path to 9/11”

Joe Conason looks at The Path to 9/11 at Salon and also notes inaccuracies:

Nowrasteh’s most egregious fictionalizing occurs in Act 4, which depicts a supposed strike on bin Laden’s Afghan redoubt that is called off at the last second by Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security advisor, who says, “I don’t have that authority.” Under cover of night, a CIA agent known only as “Kirk” leads a Special Forces team into the remote mountain compound where the al-Qaida chief is hiding. “The package is ready!” cries Kirk over the satellite phone, but Berger aborts the operation because he doesn’t want to take responsibility.

That incident simply never occurred. As Clarke himself would have told Nowrasteh, no CIA officer ever tracked bin Laden to his hideout. Neither did Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader who is shown guiding the aborted operation. The handsome, charismatic Massoud, later assassinated by al-Qaida agents, asks Kirk angrily, “Are there any men left in Washington, or are they all cowards?” That sort of rhetoric is frequently uttered by actors portraying characters such as Massoud and O’Neill, who are no longer around to dispute the script.

Had Nowrasteh consulted the 9/11 Commission report, not only would he have found no evidence to support his exciting imaginary assault on the bin Laden compound, but he would also have learned that the underlying assumptions were completely wrong. The report states explicitly, as Clarke and other senior officials have affirmed, that Clinton and Berger ordered the CIA and the military to use any force necessary to get bin Laden. . .

And in its most blatant appeal to right-wing pathology, the movie repeatedly suggests that Clinton was either distracted or prodded by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the ensuing impeachment, taking action or deferring action for political reasons. Clarke has repeatedly denied that considerations of that kind influenced policy on any occasion. (For more on the conservative mythology of 9/11 see my answer to Andrew Sullivan on the subject in 2002.)

Conason also notes that the mini-series is overly kind to the Bush Administration:

If the producers of “The Path to 9/11” unfairly indict the Clinton administration with fabricated scenes and notions, they go out of their way to exonerate the Bush White House by ignoring certain damning facts — and creating substitutes that make the president look better. The movie shows a smarmy, condescending Condoleezza Rice demoting Clarke in January 2001 when she takes over as national security advisor. Clarke tries to warn her that “something spectacular” is going to happen on American soil, and she assures him that “we’re on it,” which they assuredly were not.

Indeed, the script downplays the neglect of terrorism as a primary threat by the incoming Bush team — and never mentions the counterterrorism task force, chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney, that never met for nine months before 9/11. The famous Aug. 6 presidential daily briefing, which warned the vacationing Bush that al-Qaida intended to strike here, is given due attention. But the movie then shows Rice telling her associates that “as a result of the Aug. 6 PDB, the president wants to take real action” against al-Qaida. But the 9/11 Commission report’s section on the PDB clearly states that the August warning was not followed up on by Rice:

“We found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an Al Qaeda attack in the United States.” No action was contemplated before 9/11 and the movie’s attempt to claim otherwise is another distortion.

The case against the Bush Administration is even stronger than briefly described here. For example, not only did Rice ignore the warnings from Clarke, but she also lied about receiving both warnings and recommendations for taking on al Qaeda. Rice wrote in a March 22, 2004 column in The Washington Post that “No al-Qaeda threat was turned over to the new administration.” Evidence to the contrary came out during the investigations of the 9/11 Commission, and, from Conason’s description above, appears to have been included in the mini-series.

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