Clinton's Bin Laden-gate - Mother of all Scandals
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Myth: On August 6, 2001 Bush was briefed by the CIA about possible Al Qaeda attacks inside the US. Bush ordered no special precautions, and spent the rest of August on vacation.

Fact: Bush Administration Takes Action:

-The Counter-terrorism Security group (CSG) - which brings together WH officials with officials from all relevant federal agencies - began to meet several times per week, with telephone contact between key officials several times per day.

-The FBI was conducting active investigations inside the US, and issuing appropriate warnings:

--July 2 -- FBI released a warning message about a possible threat overseas. The warning specifically stated that while officials could not foresee a domestic attack, one could not be ruled out.

--July 18 - FBI issues message on Millennium plot conviction, reiterates 2 July message.

--Aug 1 - FBI issues alert on upcoming 3rd East Africa bombing Anniversary, reiterating July 2 message.

-The State Department issued a worldwide caution (June 22).

-Counter-terrorism Security Group suspends non-essential travel of US counter-terrorism staff (July 6).

-Five key FAA Information Circulars (IC) were issued alerting private carries to potential threats against airlines:

--June 22 - alerted carriers to a possible hijacking to free terrorist operatives

--July 2 - based on the testimony of a terrorist involved in the Millennium bombing plots, who told of a possible attempt place a bomb in an air terminal

--July 18 - though based on no specific threat information, urges all carries maintain a high degree of alertness.

--July 31 - reports that some active terrorist groups are known to train for hijacking operations.

--August 16 - warns carriers to be on alert for disguised weapons.

The August 6th briefing to the President that mentioned hijacking was not a threat report.

-It was an analysis of Al Qadea and Usama bin Laden that their desire to attack the US, and their preferred methods of operation.

-The analysis was prepared at the Presidents request, in response to his questions about Al Qaedas capabilities and intentions to harm US interests.

-The analysis mentioned hijacking as a possible operation Al Qaeda might attempt.

--But it did not say anything using aircraft as missiles.

--Rather, it mentioned the possibility that Al Qaeda might attempt to hijack a plane and hold passengers hostage to force the release of terrorist operatives, including the Blind Sheikh.

USA Today: "White House officials point out that the president is never off the clock. They refer to the 30 days at his Texas ranch - now it's called the Western White House - as a working vacation. He'll receive daily national security updates and handle the duties of the Oval Office from his 1,583-acre spread near Crawford."

Myth: According to Robert Scheer, a syndicated columnist, the Bush Administration sent a gift of $43 million to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, the most virulent anti-American violators of human rights in the world today.

Fact: "First, the United States is not rewarding the Taliban for any change in its drug policies. As Colin Powell and others made clear when announcing the $43 million in humanitarian aid, the money is being sent to prevent a famine that the World Food Programme estimates threatens hundreds of thousands of Afghanis who have been flooding into refugee camps in Pakistan.

Second, the humanitarian aid money is not going anywhere near the Taliban. Like other humanitarian aid from other countries being directed at minimizing the risk of famine in Afghanistan, the United Nations will handle disbursement of the funds -- much of which will consist of surplus food -- directly and through NGOs operating in Afghanistan.

Third, this is doesn't represent any change at all in U.S. foreign policy toward Afghanistan. Probably because he is an avowed Clintonista, Scheer conveniently forgets to mention the tens of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid that the Clinton administration sent to Afghanistan in 2000 to help avert famine. I don't remember anyone on either the Right or Left suggesting that Clinton's efforts to prevent young children from dying of diarrhea in Pakistan refugee camps represented "cozying up" to a terrorist state."

Myth: Michael Moore was on the Daily Show on Comedy Central and alleged that when all the nation's planes were grounded for 3 days after 9/11, the Bush Administration gave permission for a private Saudi jet to visit 5 cities to pick up around 20 members of the bin Laden family, over the objections of the FBI.

Fact: This just goes to show what a little bit of fact flipped onto its side and then spewed by a public figure can do. Yes, a couple of flights arranged by the Saudi government did collect a number of Osama bin Laden's America-based relatives and whisk them to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but this didn't take place during the FAA-imposed ban on air travel in the US. The two flights in question took wing on September 18 and 19, days after the ban on air travel was lifted.

The Federal Aviation Administration ordered all flights in the United States grounded immediately following the terrorist attacks, and that ban stayed in effect until September 13. (Even then, for that first day commercial carriers were either completing the interrupted flights of September 11 or were repositioning empty aircraft in anticipation of the resumption of full service. New passenger flights did not resume until the 14th.) During that two-day period of full lock-down, only the military and specially FAA-authorized flights that delivered life-saving medical necessities were in the air. The enforcement of the empty skies directive was so stringent that even after the United Network for Organ Sharing sought and gained FAA clearance to use charter aircraft on September 12 to effect time-critical deliveries of organs for transplant, one of its flights carrying a human heart was forced to the ground in Bellingham, Washington, 80 miles short of its Seattle destination, by two Navy F/A-18 fighters. (The organ completed its journey after being transferred to a helicopter.)

Whether bin Laden's relatives left of their own accord, whether they were urged to leave by the Saudi government, or whether they were told to leave by the FBI is a bit murky, as officials issued conflicting statements:

A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington denied claims yesterday that the bin Ladens had been told by the FBI and the Saudi government to return. He said: "There was no official warning from the government that they should go but maybe they thought it would be better if they went home."1

. . . many US-based relatives of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born terrorist who is accused of masterminding the hijackings, returned to Saudi Arabia on chartered jets. A Saudi diplomat said his government and the FBI advised the bin Ladens to leave for their own safety . . . He said all Saudi citizens who flew home were first interviewed by the FBI and that none who wanted to go home were detained.

Whether bin Laden family members left voluntarily or at the urging of the FBI or the Saudi government, they clearly did not depart on a "secret flight" a mere "two days" after the September 11 terrorist attacks, while all other air traffic was grounded. The September 18 flight was a Boeing 727 privately chartered by the bin Laden family, which left Boston with a mere five passengers on board. The September 19 flight, arranged and paid for by the Saudi government, collected about 20 passengers from a number of cities, including Los Angeles, Orlando, and Boston. Neither flight was paid for or arranged by the U.S. government, took off "secretly," or departed during the FAA-imposed ban on air travel.

How Michael Moore could have spun all of this into the tale he now spouts is beyond us. Yet spout it he does, as in this excerpt from a 2 January 2002 interview with Al D'Amato and Alan Colmes of the FOX Network:

Why don't we look at the connections between the Bush family and Saudi Arabia, why this country will not really go after where the money probably came from? Why did this country allow the bin Laden jet?

Let me ask you this, Al. Why did this country allow the bin Laden family, two days after -- two days after September 11 -- to fly around America and pick up all the bin Laden relatives, about 24 of them, and take them to Europe? Not a single one of them was interrogated by the FBI. Do you think, if your brother was accused of killing somebody, and they couldn't find him, that they might come and talk to you, maybe ask you a few questions?

The sum total of the evidence Moore cites is a 30 September 2001 New York Times article, most of which negates what he claims:

In his first interview since the attacks, Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, also said that private planes carrying the kingdom's deputy defense minister and the governor of Mecca, both members of the royal family, were grounded and initially caught up in the F.B.I. dragnet. Both planes, one jumbo jet carrying 100 family members, and the other 40, were eventually allowed to leave when airports reopened and passports were checked.

Note that these planes were grounded, they were "caught up in the F.B.I. dragnet," and they were not allowed to leave until "airports reopened and passports were checked." This is hardly evidence of "secret flights" taking off "two days" after the attacks "over the objections of the FBI."

Moore seems to have fixated on a single sentence in that article:

The young members of the bin Laden clan were driven or flown under F.B.I. supervision to a secret assembly point in Texas and then to Washington from where they left the country on a private charter plane when airports reopened three days after the attacks.

Note that this is a single-source item, that it is wrong about the date on which the flight it describes took place, and that even if it were literally true, it still belies Moore's claim that bin Laden family members were ferried out of the country before the FBI had a chance to question them -- as do other news accounts:

Dozens of Saudi citizens were flown back to Saudi Arabia at their government's expense, while the bin Ladens are believed to have paid their own way, according to a Saudi diplomat. All of those who took up the Saudi government's offer to fly home were reportedly questioned by the FBI before being allowed to board the flights.

So, to summarize:

No flights took bin Laden family members out of the USA "two days" after the September 11 attacks. The flights Moore decries took place a week after the attacks, and they left only after the FAA had allowed regular passenger air travel to resume.

Bin Laden family members were not allowed to slip out of the USA "over the objections of the FBI" or before the FBI had an opportunity to "interrogate" them, as nearly every news account of these flights mentions that the FBI questioned the departing Saudis, grounded their planes, and supervised their departures.

The flights which carried bin Laden family members back to Saudi Arabia were not "secret," as the press reported on them within days of their occurrence. (One could hardly expect that either the U.S. or the Saudi government was going to provide the world with advance notice about the departure of planes carrying people who had good reason to fear for their lives.)

Of course it was reasonable for the members of the bin Laden family to fear retaliation and to seek the asylum of their own country, especially in those first dark weeks following the attacks when Americans were frustrated about having no one within their grasp whom they could punish for the horrors visited upon New York and Washington: just consider the September 16 stabbing of a 20-year-old Saudi man who was studying at Boston University, an assault the police and the community believed had been motivated merely by the victim's nationality. And of course it was reasonable that the Saudi goverment would be concerned for their safety, and that the U.S. government would allow them to travel to a more safe location once it was feasible for them to do so.

Some folks play fast and loose with the facts when they've an axe to grind, however, and in Moore's case his axe is "the dastardly Republicans and how they're responsible for every ill ever visited upon the USA." In this case, inventing a bin Laden jet that secretly flew out of the country while the rest of us were barred from the skies, and peopling it with folks who were spirited out of the FBI's grasp by a U.S. president intent upon paying back some unnamed (but darkly hinted at) favor, is a handy way of reinforcing the stereotype of Republicans as callous and greedy politicians whose paramount values involve money, not people.