Ex-CIA director, staff condemn Bush White House for failing to stop 9/11

George W. Bush
(Image credit: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

In his first interview in eight years, former CIA director George Tenet revealed the multiple warnings he and his staff gave to the Bush administration in the months leading up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. As Cofer Black, Tenet's chief of counterterrorism, told Politico, by May 2001, "it was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard, and lots of Americans were going to die."

Tenet and Black pitched "the Blue Sky paper" to Bush's security team in spring 2001, calling for a "covert CIA and military campaign to end the al Qaeda threat." "The word back was 'we're not quite ready to consider this. We don't want the clock to start ticking,'" Tenet said, which meant the administration "did not want a paper trail to show that they had been warned," Politico suggests.

Things came to a boiling point in July 2001, when multiple sources confirmed the threat of an attack. Tenet arranged a meeting with Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice:

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Tenet vividly recalls the White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) "Rich [Blee] started by saying, 'There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda's intention is the destruction of the United States.'" [Rice said:] 'What do you think we need to do?' Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, 'We need to go on a wartime footing now!'""What happened?" I ask Cofer Black. "Yeah. What did happen?" he replies. "To me it remains incomprehensible still. I mean, how is it that you could warn senior people so many times and nothing actually happened? It's kind of like The Twilight Zone." [Politico]

There's even more to the story — read it all in Politico, or look for The Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs on Showtime November 28th, at 11 p.m. EST.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at TheWeek.com. She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.