- The White House has been caught in a lie about the
terrorist threat against Air Force One which it had cited as the reason
for President Bush's absence from Washington for most of September 11.
According to reports by CBS News and the Washington Post, White House
have acknowledged that the Secret Service never received a phone call
of a direct threat to the president's airplane. The government's reversal
has gone largely unreported in the media.
- In the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush's movements became a matter of
controversy within political and media circles. As the destruction in New
York and Washington unfolded and unconfirmed reports emerged of a car bomb
at the State Department and the danger of further hijackings, Bush, who
began the day in Florida, was whisked from one military installation to
another by the Secret Service.
- Looking pale and shaken, he taped a brief initial message
from an underground bunker at an air force base in Louisiana. Several hours
later?when all non-US military aircraft in American air space had been
grounded?Bush was flown to another fortified location at the Strategic
Air Command headquarters in Nebraska. The president did not return to
until 7 p.m., nearly 10 hours after the initial attack.
- Bush's failure to quickly return to Washington sparked
pointed criticism, including from within the Republican Party. Under
of a massive attack on US civilians, involving the destruction of a symbol
of American financial power and the partial destruction of the nerve center
of the American military, any appearance of indecisiveness or panic on
the part of the US president was of great concern to the American political
and financial elite.
- New York Times columnist William Safire, a one-time Nixon
aide and fixture within the Republican Party, suggested that Bush had
and all but abandoned his post in the first hours of the crisis. Writing
in a September 12 op-ed piece, Safire said, "Even in the first
moments, this was never seen as a nuclear attack by a foreign power. Bush
should have insisted on coming right back to the Washington area,
and calm?from a secure facility not far from the White House."
- Stung by such criticisms, Bush's chief political
Karl Rove and other top administration officials worked feverishly to
the political, corporate and military establishment, and bolster Bush's
authority among the population at large. By the afternoon of September
12, the Associated Press and Reuters were carrying stories, widely
throughout the media, that were intended to diffuse criticism of Bush's
actions the previous day. They quoted a White House spokesperson saying,
"There was real and credible information that the White House and
Air Force One were targets of terrorist attacks and that the plane that
hit the Pentagon was headed for the White House." White House Press
Secretary Ari Fleischer repeated this claim at an afternoon news briefing
that same day, saying the Secret Service had "specific and credible
information" that the White House and Air Force One were potential
- In a further column in the New York Times on September
13, entitled "Inside the Bunker," Safire described a conversation
with an unnamed "high White House official," who told him,
threatening message received by the Secret Service was relayed to the
with the president that 'Air Force One is next.'" Safire continued:
"According to the high official, American code words were used showing
a knowledge of procedures that made the threat credible."
- Safire reported that this information was confirmed by
Rove, who told him Bush had wanted to return to Washington but the Secret
Service "informed him that the threat contained language that was
evidence that the terrorists had knowledge of his procedures and
- Two weeks after these astonishing claims, the
has all but admitted it concocted the entire story. CBS Evening News
September 25 that the call "simply never happened."
- The fact that top officials, at a time of extraordinary
crisis and public anxiety, lied to protect the president's image has
implications. If, within 24 hours of the terror attacks, the White House
was giving out disinformation to deceive the American public and world
opinion, then none of the claims made by the government from September
11 to the present can be taken for good coin.
- If Bush lied about his activities on the day of the
why should anyone assume he has not lied about the government's
the identity of the perpetrators, the motives and aims of US war
and the intent and scope of expanded police powers demanded by his
to wiretap, search and seize, and detain suspects?
- This entire episode provides ample grounds for the
people to treat all claims by the government with the utmost suspicion
and not accept any of its assertions without independent and verifiable
- The duplicity of the government is all the more
since the Bush administration has taken the position that people not only
in the US, but throughout the world, must accept on faith its assertions
that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network are responsible for the
and that the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban government in Afghanistan bears
direct responsibility because it harbors bin Laden.
- It is quite possible that bin Laden played a role in
the September 11 atrocities. To date, however, Bush has offered no
and, apparently, has no intention of doing so. Instead the administration
insists that the American people place blind trust in the White House and
give it a blank check for waging war and trampling on civil
- The phony Air Force One story not only exposes the
methods of the Bush administration, it also underscores the shamelessness
and complicity of the media. When the White House came out with the story
of a terrorist phone threat against the president's plane, the media
repeated it, with banner headlines and chilling segments on the evening
news. As it has throughout the present crisis, the media functioned
as a propaganda arm of the government.
- But when the White House, two weeks later, retracted
the story, most networks failed to even report the fact, as did leading
newspapers such as the New York Times. The Washington Post, for its part,
buried the government's about-face on its inside pages. No media outlet
made an issue of this incriminating admission, or discussed its broader
- Well before the official retraction, it was widely
in the Washington press corps that the administration had made up the Air
Force One story. In her column in the September 23 New York Times, Maureen
Dowd noted that Karl Rove had "called around town, trying to sell
reporters the story? now widely discredited ?that Mr. Bush didn't
return to Washington on Sept. 11 because the plane that was headed for
the Pentagon may have really been targeting the White House, and that Air
Force One was in jeopardy, too" (emphasis added).
- Dowd and her colleagues believed the government was
but the public had no way of knowing the story was not credible since the
news media refused to openly challenge it.
- There may be another reason for the silence of the press.
The story handed out on September 12 by Rove, Fleischer and other White
House officials raised issues even more explosive and potentially damning
than Bush's feckless behavior on September 11.
- Safire pointed to one such question in his September
13 New York Times column. Referring to the White House claim that the
had knowledge of secret information about Air Force One, Safire asked:
"How did they get the code-word information and transponder know-how
that established their mala fides? That knowledge of code words and
whereabouts and possession of secret procedures indicates that the
may have a mole in the White House?that, or informants in the Secret
FBI, FAA, or CIA."
- Safire's entirely valid question as to how a supposed
terrorist could have knowledge of such top-secret and sensitive information
has never been taken up by the media at large, or addressed by the
- If, indeed, such a phone call took place, it would raise
an alternate theory of contact between the terrorists and one or another
agency of the government at least as plausible as that suggested by Safire:
Namely, that the call was not a threat, but rather a tip-off from an
for the US who had knowledge of the plans and activities of the
- The World Socialist Web Site does not claim to have an
answer to these questions. But it is legitimate and necessary to raise
them, especially since they are posed by the government's own
- One thing is clear: the government lied to the people
of America and the world. Either it lied on September 12 when it issued
the story of the threat to Air Force One, or it lied two weeks later when
it retracted the story. The millions of people who are being told they
must accept unbridled militarism and the gutting of their democratic rights
in the name of a holy war against terrorism must draw the appropriate
from this indisputable fact.
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