August 6 briefing on Al Qaeda — smoking gun?

This speaks for itself.

President Bush was told more than a month before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that supporters of Osama bin Laden planned an attack within the United States with explosives and wanted to hijack airplanes, a government official said Friday.

The warning came in a secret briefing that Mr. Bush received at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Aug. 6, 2001. A report by a joint Congressional committee last year alluded to a “closely held intelligence report” that month about the threat of an attack by Al Qaeda, and the official confirmed an account by The Associated Press on Friday saying that the report was in fact part of the president’s briefing in Crawford.

The disclosure appears to contradict the White House’s repeated assertions that the briefing the president received about the Qaeda threat was “historical” in nature and that the White House had little reason to suspect a Qaeda attack within American borders.

Sounds like a bombshell, but it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. I’m sure lots of dire warnings were presented to the president many times and he counted on those around him to follow up on them, as any president would. So I am not so quick to say this (if true) proves Bush “knew and did nothing.”

But it certainly blows the whole “We had no idea” argument to bits. If it’s true, Clarke is vindicated and a lot of Condi’s testimony falls on its face. Actually, the administration’s entire line about 911 will have to be re-evaluated.

If Bush wants to run as a steel-nerved war-time president who has always done the right things for national security in a way Kerry the weakling never could, his message has just been dealt a major blow.

Again, I can’t say the NY Times report is true, but it’s made its way onto CNN and Fox News, and we should all know soon enough. What a week.

Update, two days later: As we all know by now, it was completely true, and then some. I like what Kevin Drum had to say about it today:

These are legitimate reasons not to routinely release presidential briefing documents. But this particular briefing was far from routine. In fact, after 9/11 it was of uncommon interest, and yet the White House has been resisting calls to declassify it for nearly two years. Up until a few months ago it was supposedly so sensitive that they wouldn’t even allow the 9/11 commission to see it in private.

Now that we’ve all seen it, though, the national security excuse has been exposed as a sham. I’ve included an image of the entire document below, and aside from the redactions there isn’t a single sentence that couldn’t have been freely released on 9/12/2001 without doing any damage whatsoever to national security.

Too often national security seems to be just a game to this administration. They habitually engage in selective release of classified information when it suits their political purpose, and it’s obvious now that national security likewise had nothing to do with holding back release of the August 6 PDB. Their motivation, as usual, was nothing more than a desire to keep something secret that might have proven embarrassing to a president running for reelection.

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