Interview with Gerald Posner: Why America Slept
HNN: Lets start with the end of the book. I was surprised not to find a chapter in which you summed up your conclusions. What is your main conclusion? Why did America sleep?
Posner: I want the readers to draw their own conclusions. We slept for so many different reasons, and they all combined to create an atmosphere in which a 9.11 type attack was inevitable. The fighting and rivalry between the CIA and FBI that made both less effective. The tendency by law enforcement, and political administrations, to view each pre 9.11 terror attack as individual criminal justice problems and not part of an overall campaign against the west - the infidels - by Islamic extremists. A country in the U.S. that was more interested in OJ Simpson and Jon Benet than in the trial of the blind Sheik Rahman and his fellow terrorists for trying to blow up NY city landmarks and bridges. We slept as a nation from the Reagan years when he withdrew from Lebanon after the Marine barracks truck bombing to the Clinton years when we pulled out of Somalia after the downing of a Blackhawk down to the Bush the Younger administration when we thought we had the luxury of time in dealing with fundamentalism.
HNN: Was Bill Clinton MIA in the war on terrorism? Did he fail to do his duty to protect the United States? Could he have taken steps that would have prevented 9-11?
Posner: Clinton was more energized by domestic issues, and when it came to foreign policy, he was consumed with the 'big' issues, Russia, Middle East peace, human rights, and the Eastern Bloc. Nafta took up a lot of his time. But terrorism was not high on his priority list. After the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, Clinton never visited the site, and did not meet with the CIA director about it, and never requested a single briefing on it. Clinton also had a great concern about getting the U.S. involved in any military action where we might incur substantial casualties, there could be significant civilian injuries and deaths, or the action might prompt further reprisals. Combined with his tendency to rely on public opinion polls to gauge the public's sentiment following a terror strike, his response was often tough talk but subdued action. The latter - a weak military response - only emboldened the terrorists to believe that America had become weak and that it could be intimidated - with something like a 9.11 attack - to buckle under and stop "meddling" in Muslim affairs worldwide I am not sure a Republican administration would have been remarkably different than the Clinton years prior to 9.11. There is no president who can hold his head up high prior to 9.11 for adequately addressing the real threat of the Islamic fundamentalist movement.
HNN: You indicate that officials at many levels of government blew it. But you also go after the media, as well. What did the media do wrong?
Posner: When the trial of Sheik Rahman, the blind cleric who was convicted for seditious conspiracy in the Day of Terror took place over nine months during 1995, no one paid attention because the media was broadcasting OJ Simpson's trial around the clock. People watched, and that insured that terror stayed off the front pages and the television screens. The media was much more enthusiastic chasing the domestic terror angle after the 1995 Murrah building bombing in Oklahoma City because there was an American nexus. That was only fueled with Ruby Ridge, Waco, and the Olympic Park bombing. Islamic fundamentalism and their terror war involved a much more complicated story, with Arabic names that are difficult for the public to keep separate, and characters that are hard to describe. The story is a tough one. Given the nature of our soft news and media today, it shouldn't be surprising that most of the media failed to aggressively follow the real terror story over the years leading up to 9.11
HNN: In the last chapter in the book you lay out an extraordinary tale. You explain that when the man allegedly behind the bombing of the USS Cole was captured he was tricked into thinking he was being interrogated by Saudi investigators. CIA officials were then astonished to hear him explain that 3 high Saudi officials could vouch for him. He then provided their numbers. Were these Saudi officials freelancing or were they acting on behalf of the royal family?
Posner: Great question that is still not known. I can't prove even if what the terrorist - Abu Zubaydah - has said, is true, whether the people he names were doing it at the request of the government and the leadership of the royal family. Granted, one of those named, is the King's nephew. But we also know in the U.S. from the Carter and Clinton administrations, that even brothers of presidents may not carry much sway in the corridors of power. So this question - a key one - still requires further investigation.
HNN: Why hasnt the Bush administration told this story on the record?
Posner: The Bush administration is doing what every American administration has done since FDR - treat the Saudis with kid gloves. They keep world oil prices low, and the Bush administration, does not want to embarrass it's "ally," even though Saudi Arabia has only half-heartedly joined the war on terror since a spate of bombings inside the Kingdom this past May. The Bush administration will not even release the 28 pages of the Congressional Report on 9.11 that might be embarrassing to the Saudis, so it's little wonder they don't want my story - filled with sensational charges - public.
HNN: Why did your sources talk?
Posner: I believe there is a split in the administration. The majority believe that Saudi Arabia is an important strategic ally, who while being a latecomer to the war on terror, is nevertheless critical to US interests in the Middle East. They do not believe that information like this in my last chapter should be made public. A minority believe that Saudi Arabia assisted al Qaeda for years with money, and that they should have to answer for their actions in public. I was the beneficiary of one of those officials who believes the Saudis should be held publicly accountable. When President Bush withheld the 28 pages from the Congressional Report, the Saudis asked that he release them so they could answer the charges in public. But since the release of my charges in Why America Slept, they have not conducted any investigation, nor have they answered them, but instead have launched on a personal broadside to vilify me and to denigrate my story as "rubbish."
HNN: Are we ever likely to receive confirmation of your story from official sources?
Posner: I would hope so. I would also hope to live so long.
HNN:. Early in the book you report that Saudi Arabia struck a cynical deal with Osama bin Laden after he began denouncing the kingdom for allowing the stationing of U.S. troops on Saudi soil. Bin Laden agreed to leave the kingdom and never come back if the Saudis agreed to finance his terrorist training camps. As part of the arrangement bin Laden agreed never to turn his fighters against the kingdom. How do you know there was such a deal?
Posner: This account comes directly from Abu Zubaydah, in an interrogation he gave to US investigators after his capture in March 2002, an interrogation I recount with some detail in the book's last chapter.
HNN: Are you holding back any information that would add to the story but which you couldn't confirm and therefore left out?
Posner: No, I put in everything I could get that was credible - anything that didn't make it, fell out because it either turned out to be untrue, or could not be confirmed.
HNN: Finally: In many ways this book is a real departure from your books about the deaths of King and Kennedy. While all 3 books involve conspiracies, in the case of Kennedy and King the conspiracies turned out to be illusory. In the case of al Qaeda, theres no question of the existence of a conspiracy. Comment?
Posner: Yes, it feels quite odd to be on the other side of the equation. In Case Closed, my JFK book, I had an appendix titled "The Non Mystery Mysterious Deaths," in which I set about to debunk that there were any mystery deaths in the JFK case, despite conspiracy theorists who claimed 103 such people had died. Now, in Why America Slept, I am opening the door to conspiracy speculation with my own group of mystery deaths - 3 of the Saudi princes named by Zubaydah died within days of each other only four months after his interrogation (one at 43 from a blood clot while recovering in a hospital in Riyadh from intestinal surgery, one the next day in a single car accident, and the last, a 25-year-old Prince, a few days later "of thirst" in the middle of the Saudi summer. The Pakistani chief of the country's air force, Mushaf Ali Mir, died when his plane, recently inspected, went down in clear weather killing him, his wife, and most of his top aides). These deaths may be a coincidence, but I am very doubtful that there is not some foul play here. I may have found, as an editor at Time magazine told me, my own "sandy knoll" at long last.
comments powered by Disqus
Ben Shenessey - 10/31/2003
My goodness gracious tidlieashious,
"There you go again." Blaming Clinton for not doing enough to stop the 9-11 attacks before they happened. You on the ideological "right" (wrong, that is) should look at the real history of what Clinton did do, which you don't do. Though I agree that he paid far more attention to internal economic matters as though they impact people in very real ways, which they do, he remembered "Poppy" being counseled by the Japanese and others about the weakness of our economy, and how little respect the U.S. seemed to garner in this world on economic matters. Afterall, the poor man was clocking up $300 billion annual deficits ($1.2 trillion in his four years)added to the $2.4 trillion added during the "strong economy" of Ronald Reagan.
In twelve years, Reagan and Bush Sr., in 12 years multiplied the total national debt 360% of what it took 204 years of our declared independence to accumulate. (just under $1 trillion)
Clinton was meticulous in all matters internal, including PAYING ATTENTION to al Quieda's warnings before the Millenium Celebrations, 2000. All those bastards were stopped at the borders and airports, under bridges and abuttments. The whole national law enforcement structure was placed on high alert! Clinton's effort was to show absolute dedication to the idea of
competence. But, then again, Clinton had no particular axe to grind when it came to attempting to dominate the willingness of other nations to subject themselves to what President Kennedy called "a Pax-Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war." See Bush, 41st Nat. Sec. Directives, 26 and 45.
In the case of Iraq, the U.N., including the U.S., had decided to ease consuemr trade sanctions on May 21, 2001, without requiring that Saddam have the WMD inspectors back in Iraq. (Reuters, May 22, 2001)Surely, the Bush Adminstration was as aware of WMDs in Iraq, or the lack thereof, after 9-11 as well as before 9-11. Yet, Rumsfeld (not even the State Department), talked of attacking Iraq just two days after 9-11. Seemed like a real plan, hatched with so little time to hatch.
And then, there were the warnings by the FBI agents to headquarters of suspicious men learning to fly, but not to land or take off, reported to FBI headquarters, but without attention paid to the rerports. The CIA for it's part, from all I've read, and heard on CNBC News (Brian Williams)had passed on to Congressional intelligence committees, such as the note "from Osama to President George W. Bush", which Fleicher and others said "wasn't specific enough." it told where (Lower Manhattan, Washington DC, and Northern Virginia, who (Osama's boys), when (Sept. 11 and 12, 2001, what and how (airplanes into buildings).
The Administration admitted that there had been special national security meetings in the days prior to 9-11, to discuss the threats. Based on what? (If they didn't know ahead of time, why would they have discussed the threats?) And given everyone's knowledge of bin Laden's activities during the previous eight years, HOW could any leader choose to say, the warning letter wasn't "specific" enough to shut down the air space, though very inconvenient, over those three very small areas, for two whole days?? The actions of this adminstration were simply incomprehensible both before and during that day.
It's time to stop re-writing history while we still have our freedoms intact. Iraq is a one-way benefit performance. The only entity being benefited is Halliburton and it's subsidiaries, BEchtel and the famous one, Brown and Root.If I were a forty year old bird and had perched on the shoulders of KBR's CEOs, I bet you couldn't guess what the tiny, microscopic video camera would have recorded. Could you?
Theya re still at it today.
Josh Greenland - 9/20/2003
When I looked at the About Us link at top right, I saw no mention of Gerald Posner anywhere, including in the listing for Advisory Board members.
Is the Advisory Board membership in the About Us page not current, or is there another HNN board that is not in the About Us page? If there is, what is the name of the board, what is the title for people who sit on that board, and who are its members?
Albert Madison - 9/16/2003
You can't really blame George W. Bush for the September 11th, 2001 attacks. The details within this interview confirm again that ineffectiveness, unpreparedness and myopia were much more widely spread than that. On the other hand, the Administration can, and should, be taken to task for a nearly non-existent foreign policy prior to 9-11, and for a overly simplistic and badly managed foreign policy after 9-11. A wealth of historically informed insightful commentary is available on both topics, and HNN ought to show us more of it. The juicy tidbits presented in this interview are interesting but superficial.
- 150 years later, schools are still a battlefield for interpreting Civil War
- Where are America's memorials to pain of slavery, black resistance?
- Richmond split over Confederate history
- The World's Jewish Population Is Nearing Pre-Holocaust Levels
- Bernie Sanders’s Revolutionary Roots Were Nurtured in ’60s Vermont
- Did a historian who said he’s a victim of McCarthyism get the story wrong?
- Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage cited by the Supreme Court.
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- David Hackett Fischer wins $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement in military writing