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Part 2: A real smoking gun
By Pepe Escobar

Part 1: 'Independent' commission  (or below)

If the 9-11 Commission is really looking for a smoking gun, it should look no further than at Lieutenant-General Mahmoud Ahmad, the director of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at the time.

In early October 2001, Indian intelligence learned that Mahmoud had ordered flamboyant Saeed Sheikh - the convicted mastermind of the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl - to wire US$100,000 from Dubai to one of hijacker Mohamed Atta's two bank accounts in Florida.

A juicy direct connection was also established between Mahmoud and Republican Congressman Porter Gross and Democratic Senator Bob Graham. They were all in Washington together discussing Osama bin Laden over breakfast when the attacks of September 11, 2001, happened.

Mahmoud's involvement in September 11 might be dismissed as only Indian propaganda. But Indian intelligence swears by it, and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has confirmed the whole story: Indian intelligence even supplied Saeed's cellular-phone numbers. Nobody has bothered to check what really happened. The 9-11 Commission should pose very specific questions about it to FBI director Robert Mueller when he testifies this month.

In December 2002, Graham said he was "surprised at the evidence that there were foreign governments involved in facilitating the activities of at least some of the [September 11] terrorists in the United States ... It will become public at some point when it's turned over to the archives, but that's 20 or 30 years from now." He could not but be referring to Pakistan and Mahmoud. If Mahmoud was really involved in September 11, this means the Pakistani ISI -"the state within the state" - knew all about it. And if the intelligence elite in Pakistan knew it, an intelligence elite in Saudi Arabia knew it, as well as an intelligence elite in the US.

Get Osama bin Laden
On August 22, 2001, Asia Times Online reported Get Osama! Now! Or else ...

On September 10, the Pakistani daily The News reported that the Mahmoud visit to the United States "triggered speculation about the agenda of his mysterious meetings at the Pentagon and National Security Council". If he'd been to the National Security Council, he had certainly met Rice. Mahmoud did meet with his counterpart, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director George Tenet. Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had been in Islamabad in May, when Tenet had "unusually long" meetings with Musharraf. Armitage for his part has countless friends in the Pakistani military and the ISI. Mahmoud also met a number of high officials at the White House and the Pentagon and had a crucial meeting with Marc Grossman, the under secretary of state for political affairs. Rice maintains she did not meet Mahmoud then.

On the morning of September 11, Mahmoud was having a breakfast meeting at the Capitol with Graham and Goss. Goss spent as many as 10 years working on numerous CIA clandestine operations. He is very close to Vice President Dick Cheney. It's interesting to note that two weeks ago Goss suggested to the Justice Department to bring perjury charges against the new Cheney nemesis, Clarke. As it is widely known, Graham and Goss were co-heads of the joint House-Senate investigation that proclaimed there was "no smoking gun" as far as President George W Bush having any advance knowledge of September 11.

According to the Washington Post, and also to sources in Islamabad, the Mahmoud-Graham-Goss meeting lasted until the second plane hit Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. Graham later said they were talking about terrorism coming from Afghanistan, which means they were talking about bin Laden.

Pakistani intelligence sources told Asia Times Online that on the afternoon of September 11 itself, as well as on September 12 and 13, Armitage met with Mahmoud with a stark choice: either Pakistan would help the US against al-Qaeda, or it would be bombed back to the Stone Age. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented an ultimatum in the form of seven US demands. Pakistan accepted all of them. One of the demands was for Musharraf to send Mahmoud to Kandahar again and force the Taliban to extradite bin Laden. Mahmoud knew in advance Mullah Omar would refuse. But when he went to Kandahar the Taliban leader said he would accept, as long as the Americans proved bin Laden was responsible for September 11. There was no proof, and Afghanistan was bombed anyway, a policy already decided well in advance.

It's important to remember than on September 13 Islamabad airport was shut down - allegedly because of threats against Pakistan's strategic assets. On September 14, Islamabad declared total support for the US: the airport was immediately reopened. Mahmoud remained in Washington until September 16 - when the war on Afghanistan was more than programmed, and Pakistan was firmly in the "with us" and not the "against us" column.

Million-dollar questions remain. Did Mahmoud know when and how the attacks of September 11 would happen? Did Musharraf know? Could the Bush administration have prevented September 11? It's hard to believe high echelons of the CIA and FBI were not aware of the direct link between the ISI and alleged chief hijacker Mohammed Atta.

On October 7, Mahmoud was demoted from the ISI. By that time, Washington obviously knew of the connection between Mahmoud, Saeed Sheikh and Mohamed Atta: the FBI knew it. The official version is that Mahmoud was sacrificed because he was too close to the Taliban - which, it is never enough to remind, are a cherished creature of the ISI. Two other ISI big shots, Lieutenant-General Mohammed Aziz Khan and Chief of General Staff Mohammed Yousouf, are also demoted along with Mahmoud. Saeed Sheikh was under orders to Khan.

The fact remains that even with this Musharraf-conducted purge of the ISI elite, the bulk of ISI officers remained, and still are, pro-Taliban. Other former ISI directors living in Pakistan, such as the colorful, outspoken Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, did not "disappear" and always renew their support for the Taliban. But as Asia Times Online has reported, Mahmoud did disappear. He lives in near seclusion in Rawalpindi. And he is definitely not talking. Graham and Goss may not be interested in talking to him either. Because he may be the ultimate September 11 smoking gun.

The Karl Rove-designed campaign to re-elect Bush is in essence anchored on September 11. The Republican convention in New York will happen in the first week of September. Bush's speech will be on September 2 - to force the connection with the three-year commemoration of September 11.

This whole affair is not about whether Clarke committed "perjury"; whether Rice was really up to her job; or whether George W Bush knew something and then "forgot" about it. The families of September 11 victims, US public opinion, the demonized Islamic world, the whole world for that matter, all everybody wants to know is what really happened on September 11. The only party that does not seem interested in getting to the bottom of it is the Bush administration. The official fable of 19 kamikaze Arabs turning Boeings into missiles with military precision, armed only with box cutters and a few flight lessons and directed from an Afghan cave by a satellite phone-shy bin Laden simply does not hold. The commission is not asking the really hard questions. Here are just a few - and they are far from being the most embarrassing.

1) The "stand down" order: Why, despite more than an hour's warning that an attack was happening, were no F-16s protecting US airspace? Documents easily available online reveal why the Pentagon could not act: because of bureaucracy. Why did the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) claim it took 25 minutes after the transponder was shut down to learn that Flight 11 - which hit World Trade Center Tower 1 - was hijacked? Why did fighters not take off from Andrews Air Force base just outside Washington to protect the Pentagon?

2) The pre-September 11 suspicious stock option trades in American Airlines and United Airlines were never fully investigated. Who profited?

3) What happened to the FBI investigation into flight schools - when it was proved that at least five of the 19 hijackers were trained in US military schools?

4) Why did Bush keep reading a pet-goat story for more than half an hour after the first WTC hit, and 15 minutes after Chief of Staff Andrew Card told him there had been an attack?

5) What really happened to Flight 93? An Associated Press story last August quoting a congressional report said the FBI suspected the plane was crashed on purpose. The FBI has a flight-simulation video of what happened: the video - as well as the black box - remain top secret. And as far as four "indestructible" black boxes are concerned, how come none were found, unlike Mohammed Atta's intact passport lying in the WTC rubble?

6) Why have no scientific experts examined the physical and mathematical evidence that a Boeing 757 could not have possibly "disappeared" without a trace after hitting the Pentagon? For the most exhaustive and practically incontrovertible analysis available on the net, see this  report.

7) What remains of the very tight 1980s bin Laden-ISI-CIA connection? How much did the CIA know about what the ISI was up to? And how much did the ISI know about what al-Qaeda was up to?

8) What does Rice really know about the very close relations between Mahmoud and the top echelons of the Bush administration?

The genie - the crucial information - is still in the bottle.

(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

Terrorism 'not a major White House focus'
(Apr 7, '04)


Rice: No end to controversy
(Apr 1, '04)

Bush's rare reversal
(Apr 1, '04)

Toothless commission: Holes in the investigation
(Apr 1, '04)

Part 1: 'Independent' commission
By Pepe Escobar

"The overwhelming bulk of the evidence was that this was an attack that was likely to take place overseas."
- White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, May 16, 2002

"Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." - CIA's August 6, 2001 briefing memo to President George W Bush

"If you invade Iraq you will create a hundred bin Ladens." - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, January 2003

The 9-11 Commission, according to its own website, is "an independent, bipartisan commission created by congressional legislation and the signature of President George W Bush in late 2002". The commission is "chartered to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks".

A key consequence of the political theater/media circus around former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke's revelations - in his testimony to the commission and in his best-selling book Against All Enemies - was to force the White House to "deliver" National Security Advisor Condoleezza ("Condi") Rice. She is due to testify to the commission on Thursday - just as the Iraq occupation is confronted to the ultimate nightmare: Fallujah as the new Gaza in the Sunni triangle, and an uprising by the millions of angry, destitute followers of firebrand Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

But as far as the 9-11 Commission is concerned, and at least for the moment, the White House got what it wanted. President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will have a private conversation with the commission as a tandem, not under oath, and behind closed doors. This testimony won't be recorded. The commission will hardly have more than two or three hours to ask crucial questions to both, when it could have at least double the time to ask questions to each of them separately. The arrangement of course prevents them from contradicting each other - a basic premise of any criminal investigation. It makes sure that the all-powerful, all-seeing Cheney is the Praetorian Guard capable of preventing any Bush rhetorical disaster.

Andrew Rice, chair of the 9-11 Commission Committee of the September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows organization, is one among millions of terribly frustrated Americans. He believes that as far as this official 9-11 Commission is concerned, the "fix was in" from the beginning. Beverly Eckert, whose husband died on September 11, adds: "We wanted journalists, we wanted academics ... We did not want politicians."

The commission comprises nine men and a woman, five Republicans and five Democrats. They include two former governors, a former navy secretary, a former deputy attorney-general, two former Congressmen, two former senators and a former White House counsel. It's a consummate bunch of establishment arch-insiders, all inter-connected. One wonders how such a body can possibly investigate what's behind the myriad of political, military and intelligence interplay. Even the commission itself has been forced to admit that of the 16 federal agencies covered by its investigation, only the State Department is being "fully cooperative", with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a distant second. This is leading to a growing perception, not only in Washington but in other parts of the world, of a "hidden agenda". "They seem to be interested in putting up a good show as a coverup; and of course they're very worried about damage control," says a diplomat from the European Union.

Independents in conflict
There are devastating cases of conflict of interest in the commission. Chairman Thomas Kean may be the most obvious. The US$1 trillion lawsuit filed in August 2002 by the families of the victims of September 11 includes two of Kean's business partners among the accused: Saudi billionaires Khalid bin Mahfouz (who is Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law, no less), and Mohammed Hussein al-Amoudi. They are key financial players behind al-Qaeda: Mahfouz transferred millions of dollars from a Saudi pension fund to bank accounts in London and New York linked with al-Qaeda. He is a former director of BCCI, the bank in the center of a notorious $12 billion bankruptcy scandal during the presidency of Bush senior.

Kean is director and shareholder of Amerada Hess Corporation, an oil giant involved in a joint venture with Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia - which is owned by the clans of Mahfouz and Amoudi - to explore Caspian Sea oilfields. Amerada Hess severed the joint venture only three weeks before Kean was appointed chairman of the 9-11 Commission by his friend George W Bush.

It's unlikely fellow members at the 9-11 Commission will ask Kean to reveal to what extent he was aware of Mahfouz's links to al-Qaeda; or ask Amerada Hess to open its books and reveal what kind of deals it was cooking up with Mahfouz. After all, Bush himself also had a business connection with Mahfouz, owner of various investments in Houston, Texas. As to the 28 pages of the joint congressional committee detailing Saudi support to al-Qaeda, they also seem to have vanished into thin air.

The commission, for instance, also will not investigate the foreign policy that started it all in the late 1970s and early 1980s: the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA's) full support to the hardcore international Islamic brigades which joined the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan - and then turned against the US after the first Gulf War in 1991. This would mean that the commission would have to seriously investigate Secretary of State Colin Powell and his number two, Richard Armitage, key players in those 1980s proceedings.

Former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, also one of the key members of the Council on Foreign Relations, was the mastermind behind the building of an Islamic network in Afghanistan - as part of a huge, covert CIA operation. To a large extent, the modern Islamic jihad exists thanks to Brzezinski. There are four members of the Council on Foreign Relations in the commission. There's hardly any chance of them investigating their fellow Brzezinski.

The commission's executive director, Philip D Zelikow, is a crucial player. This is the man who directs all the investigative research of the commission. On October 5, 2001 - two days before the beginning of the bombing of Afghanistan - he was appointed as one of the three members of Bush's foreign intelligence advisory board. Zelikow is the ultimate Bush insider.

Andrew Rice says that Zelikow "worked with these people and now he is defending them". Zelikow also worked for Jim Baker, former secretary of state of Bush senior. He spent three years on Bush senior's National Security Council. He is close to Bush junior, and even closer to Condi Rice: they worked together, and he even co-wrote two books with her.

Commissioner Jamie S Gorelick is very close to CIA director George Tenet. No wonder: she works on the CIA's National Security Advisory Panel, as well as on the president's Review of Intelligence. Tenet is one of the masterminds of the Bush administration "war on terror". This means no chance for the commission to investigate dubious covert operations by the CIA which may foment terrorism instead of fighting it.

Commissioner Fred Fielding is a former White House counsel during Reagan's time, at the time of the Iran-Contra scandal. He is very close to all major players in the Bush administration, in fact one of the White House men in the commission alongside Zelikow.

Commissioner John Lehman was navy secretary under Reagan. He served alongside two of the commission's key witnesses: Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former counterterrorism head Richard Clarke. He is close to all major players in the Bush administration and also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, with very close personal ties to Henry Kissinger. Lehman is Kissinger's man in the commission.

Commissioner Timothy J Roemer is a former member of the Intelligence Committee's task force on Homeland Security and Terrorism and the joint inquiry on 9-11 of the Senate and House. He is very close to Congressman Porter Goss and Senator Bob Graham, who co-headed the joint inquiry. Graham and Goss, as we will see on part 2 of this series, have very suspicious links to former Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence director Lieutenant General Mahmoud Ahmad.

If the intellectual masterminds of the "war on terror" in the Council on Foreign Relations won't be investigated, neither will be those members of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). PNAC was prophetic in the sense that even before the Bush administration, in a 2000 white paper, their members were betting on "some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor" so the American people would support their agenda of global politico-military dominance. All neo-conservative superstars - like Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle - are members of PNAC (see Asia Times Online, March 20, 2003, This war is brought to you by ...)

Clarke writes about their obsession on page 30 of his book: "I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq." On page 231, Clarke recalls in vivid detail an April 2001 meeting where Wolfowitz is obsessed with Iraq, while the CIA dismisses the Wolfowitz-peddled notion of Iraqi terrorism and the State Department agrees with Clarke's assessment of al-Qaeda as "a major threat" and "an urgent priority".

Andrew Rice could not but be a serious critic of the commision: "It is not about transparency, it is just there to appease the public. But it won't appease me or many other family members. We need a truly independent commission that is outside the realm of government. The worst case scenario is that I fear this could be a whitewash and a coverup." The final report of the commission won't be published until April 2005 - long after the November presidential election.

Clarke , Condi and the Bush doctrine
Clarke insists that he explicitly warned the Bush administration about al-Qaeda as early as January 25, 2001, five days after the inauguration: "It was very explicit. [Condoleezza] Rice was briefed ... and Zelikow sat in.". Clarke said that he gave Condi Rice a detailed memo on how to fight al-Qaeda, based on CIA briefings and lots of information collected under the Bill Clinton administration. On page 229 of his book, he writes: "... her facial expression gave me the impression she had never heard the term [al-Qaeda] before."

In 2002, the White House had to admit on the record that the August 6, 2001 president daily briefing (PDB) quoted at the start of this article said that al-Qaeda might use hijacked planes in an attack inside the US. A portion of this PDB, written by the CIA, predicted that al-Qaeda would launch an attack "in the coming weeks" and that it "will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning." So Bush knew: he's supposed to have read the PDB while on holiday in Crawford, Texas. But Bush has claimed executive privilege and the White House has refused to release the full text of the PDB.

In her famous May 16, 2002 press conference, Condi Rice said: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." Apparently Rumsfeld could have predicted it. Speaking to the 9-11 Commission last month, Rumsfeld said he, personally, didn't know. But he admitted having received "a civil aviation circular that people did know ... They sent it out on June 22, 2001".

Rumsfeld may know much more than he's willing to admit. According to a report on the US army's Internet site, a simulation of a plane crashing on the Pentagon was carried 10 months before September 11. Rumsfeld told the 9-11 Commission, under oath, that "he did not know" about this simulation, which was conducted by the Emergency Management Team at the Pentagon and involved a lot of employees. The simulation could have been just one more in an endless series of coincidences. Or it could be part of the planning for an event the Pentagon - or at least his director - knew was going to happen.

After the outbursts of the Clarke-smearing campaign - brutal even by the standards of the Bush White House - it has emerged that Condi Rice is also contradicted by none other than the all-powerful Dick Cheney. The White House insists that it did know exactly what it was doing before September 11. And Rice said the White House counterterrorism czar was indeed "in the loop". But Cheney said that Clarke was "not in the loop" - the ultimate Washington put-down. So who was outlooped, Clarke or Condi?

Clarke's central accusation is relatively mild. He says that the Bush administration was lost in space as far as al-Qaeda was concerned because of its ideological fixation on Saddam Hussein. This may have generated non-stop character assassination from the Bush camp, but the fact is Clarke has produced no smoking gun. Essentially, the only major difference between Clarke and the neo-cons is that Clarke was obsessed with bin Laden, while the neo-cons were obsessed with Saddam. Both bin Laden and Saddam, as we know, are former CIA assets.

On page 243 of his book, Clarke qualifies as "somewhat off the mark" the critique of Bush as "a dumb, lazy rich kid". But then he crucially adds: "I doubt that anyone ever had the chance to make the case to him that attacking Iraq would actually make America less secure and strengthen the broader radical Islamic terrorist movement. Certainly he did not hear that from the small circle of advisors who alone are the people whose views he respects and trusts." Condi Rice has always been in favor of regime change in Iraq.

In an article she wrote to Foreign Affairs in early 2000, Rice outlined what amounted to be a semi-official Bush foreign policy platform. She lists five key foreign policy priorities. Only the last one made any mention of terrorism. Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan, madrassas in Pakistan, al-Qaeda-style financial networks, Islamist sleeper cells in America, Spain and Germany, none of this is even mentioned. Rice only talks about North Korea, Iraq and Iran - which two years later, in early 2002, would graduate to "axis of evil" status. She is in favor of regime change in Iraq. And her top policy recommendation is national missile defense - aimed at rogue states.

Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI wiretap translator, fluent in English, Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani and with top-secret security clearance, told Salon news publication that she is nothing but outraged: "Especially after reading Condoleezza Rice where she said, 'we had no specific information whatsoever of domestic threat or that they might use airplanes'. That's an outrageous lie. And documents can prove it's a lie." Edmonds wants the commission to ask real questions to FBI director Robert Mueller when he testifies later this month: "Like, in April 2001, did an FBI field office receive legitimate information indicating the use of airplanes for an attack on major cities? And is it true that through an FBI informant, who'd been used [by the bureau] for 10 years, did you get information about specific terrorist plans and specific cells in this country? He couldn't say no." Edmonds' recent interviews also raise the fascinating possibility that al-Qaeda penetrated internal security both at the Pentagon and at the State Department. In this case, are the moles still in place?

The Bush administration as a whole took over the media to tell everyone how they had identified the al-Qaeda danger long ago - so they could not be accused of passive responsibility on September 11. But the single evidence of these later allegations was the long build up to the post-September 11 war on Afghanistan. What this actually means is that the war on Afghanistan cannot possibly be described any more as an act of legitimate defense. As to the Bush doctrine of preventive war, which was nothing more than a rhetorical artifact in the first place, it has become a significant casualty of the Clarke-White House shouting match. The doctrine has only lasted enough time to allow the Bush administration to attack Iraq.

It is expected that the 9-11 Commission will keep rolling a huge data bank of unconnected "intelligence failures" and instances of lack of dialogue between FBI and CIA. In the end, it's fair to assume there will be a fall guy to be blamed for all these "intelligence failures". It's also fair to assume it won't be one of the big guns.

TOMORROW: Part 2: A real smoking gun in Pakistan

(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

Terrorism 'not a major White House focus'
By Andrew Tully

WASHINGTON - From his inauguration in January 2001 until the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania seven-and-a-half months later, US President George W Bush's public focus on national security was to establish a missile-defense shield.

Russia and China objected to the program, as did many of the United States's allies, on the grounds that it could trigger an international arms race similar to the one that ended with the Cold War. But Bush argued that his concern was not Russia or China, but so-called rogue states - such as Iraq and North Korea - that might soon be capable of attacking the US and its allies in Europe and Asia.

Richard Clarke - who served as a counterterrorism expert under three presidents - recently told an independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks that if Bush had given terrorism a higher priority during the first seven months of his administration, it might have been able to prevent the attacks, which have been blamed on the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Clarke quit his post in the White House a year ago because he believed the Bush administration was not taking the threat from al-Qaeda seriously enough.

In addition to Clarke's accusations, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has said Bush was preoccupied by Iraq - not al-Qaeda - from the very first days of the administration. And Bob Woodward, the author of a book on the Bush presidency, says Bush once told him that he didn't feel "a sense of urgency" about al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked last week about Woodward's comment. "The threat of terrorism was broader than any one person," he said. "We needed to go after this Al-Qaeda network and have a more aggressive approach to eliminating al-Qaeda. The threat from al-Qaeda and terrorism was a high priority for this administration prior to coming into office. It was a threat we took very seriously, and September 11 is a day that the terrorists declared war on the United States of America, and war is exactly what they got," McClellan added.

But that approach is not borne out in a speech that White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was to have delivered on the very day of the attacks. The address - which was never delivered - promoted missile defense as the focus of the administration's national security strategy. It mentioned terrorist groups only as weapons clients of irresponsible governments.

Coincidentally, the day before the attacks, Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat, Delaware) - then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - delivered a speech in which he criticized the Bush administration for putting too much emphasis on missile defense and too little on the threat from terrorism.

Leon Fuerth served as national security adviser to Al Gore, the vice president under former president Bill Clinton, Bush's predecessor. Fuerth noted that, in his book, Clarke wrote that Bush aides found it "quaint" that the Clinton administration had taken terrorism so seriously. And he pointed to a passage in Clark's book in which Bush asked him to see whether then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was behind the September 11 attacks, despite Clarke's assertion that it was al-Qaeda.

Ultimately, Fuerth said, the Bush White House would pin the blame for September 11 on Iraq, whether it deserved it or not. "9/11 was converted immediately into further justification to carry out an objective that came into office with the [Bush] administration, which was - deal with Iraq," according to Fuerth.

Fuerth said the Bush administration was focused on Iraq and the missile defense shield but is now trying to convince the public that terrorism was one of its top priorities. "The record shows that the [Bush] administration's other priorities were dominating its attention right up until the day the thing happened to us [on September 11]," Fuerth said. "And so, in effect, they have been trying to mislead people into visualizing their agenda in a manner other than it actually was at the time."

Marina Ottaway studies the Middle East and terrorism at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a private policy center in Washington. She, too, said the evidence does not support the White House's insistence that it never took its eye off the terrorist threat.

"There is plenty of evidence that the Bush administration was more concerned with the rogue states and the missile issue and so on than it was with terrorism as such," Ottaway said. However, she added, "even if they had given it a high priority, that does not mean that they would have found evidence of what was being prepared for September 11."

Ottaway said the effort put into establishing a missile defense system - and the related attention to states such as Iraq and North Korea - says less about whether the Bush administration was prepared for September 11 and more about its response to the attacks.

"It is important in terms of the response to September 11 because the fact that they were more concerned with rogue states and weapons of mass destruction than they were with terrorists explains why they immediately targeted Iraq," Ottaway said. "This mindset is important not so much in terms of explaining September 11, but in terms of explaining what happened next."

In late 2001, the US toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had been sheltering al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. And one-and-a-half years after the September 11 attacks, the US led an invasion of Iraq, which it accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction.

The independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks is due to deliver its final report on July 26. The original deadline was extended after complaints about alleged lack of cooperation by the White House.

The chairman of the commission, former Republican New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, said he believes the public will be surprised by some of the panel's findings.

Washington correspondent Andrew F Tully has more than three decades' experience in journalism. He has worked as a reporter and an editor in both New York and Washington for several news organizations, primarily the Associated Press and United Press International.

Copyright (c) 2004, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036