Two 9-11 Scoops from the Times

Documenting and Exposing the Liberal Political Agenda of the New York Times.

Two 9-11 Scoops from the Times

Two generally anti-Bush intelligence reporters, EricLichtblau and PhilipShenon, have important scoops in Wednesday's paper about anti-terrorist inaction on Clinton's watch. But will the networks newscasts notice?

First up is Lichtblau's "State Dept. Says It Warned About bin Laden in 1996," buried on A12: "State Department analysts warned the Clinton administration in July 1996 that Osama bin Laden's move to Afghanistan would give him an even more dangerous haven as he sought to expand radical Islam 'well beyond the Middle East,' but the government chose not to deter the move, newly declassified documents show."

Lichtblau explains: "The declassified documents, obtained by the conservative legal advocacy group Judicial Watch as part of a Freedom of Information Act request and provided to The New York Times, shed light on a murky and controversial chapter in Mr. bin Laden's history: his relocation from Sudan to Afghanistan as the Clinton administration was striving to understand the threat he posed and explore ways of confronting him. Before 1996, Mr. bin Laden was regarded more as a financier of terrorism than a mastermind. But the State Department assessment, which came a year before he publicly urged Muslims to attack the United States, indicated that officials suspected he was taking a more active role, including in the bombings in June 1996 that killed 19 members American soldiers at the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia."

Later he writes: "Critics of the Clinton administration have accused it of ignoring the threat posed by Mr. bin Laden in the mid-1990's while he was still in Sudan, and they point to claims by some Sudanese officials that they offered to turn him over to the Americans before ultimately expelling him in 1996 under international pressure. But Clinton administration diplomats have adamantly denied that they received such an offer, and the Sept. 11 commission concluded in one of its staff reports that it had 'not found any reliable evidence to support the Sudanese claim.'

"The newly declassified documents do not directly address the question of whether Sudan ever offered to turn over Mr. bin Laden. But the documents go well beyond previous news and historical accounts in detailing the Clinton administration's active monitoring of Mr. bin Laden's movements and the realization that his move to Afghanistan could make him an even greater national security threat."

Again, Lichtblau makes sure we know Judicial Watch is a conservative group before giving it props for bipartisanship: "Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said the declassified material released to his group 'says to me that the Clinton administration knew the broad outlines in 1996 of bin Laden's capabilities and his intent, and unfortunately, almost nothing was done about it.' Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group, was highly critical of President Clinton during his two terms in office. The group has also been critical of some Bush administration actions after the Sept. 11 attacks, releasing documents in March that detailed government efforts to facilitate flights out of the United States for dozens of well-connected Saudis just days after the attacks."

More on the Times' labeling habits for Judicial Watch on MRC's NewsBustersblog.

Also on page A12 on Wednesday is a potentially explosive story by Philip Shenon, "Officer Says Military Blocked Sharing of Files on Terrorists." The text box reads: "Efforts to tell the F.B.I. of pre-9/11 Qaeda activities."

Those efforts are in reference to the secret Pentagon data-mining program Able Danger, which Rep. Curt Weldon first brought up on the House floor in late June. The claim: That 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta was fingered as a potential al-Qaeda operative back in 2000, but that Defense Department lawyers prevented Able Danger from telling the FBI about him.

Shenon explains: "A military intelligence team repeatedly contacted the F.B.I. in 2000 to warn about the existence of an American-based terrorist cell that included the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a veteran Army intelligence officer who said he had now decided to risk his career by discussing the information publicly."

"[Lt. Col. Anthony] Shaffer said in an interview on Monday night that the small, highly classified intelligence program, known as Able Danger, had identified the terrorist ringleader, Mohamed Atta, and three other future hijackers by name by mid-2000, and tried to arrange a meeting that summer with agents of the Washington field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share its information. But he said military lawyers forced members of the intelligence program to cancel three scheduled meetings with the F.B.I. at the last minute, which left the bureau without information that Colonel Shaffer said might have led to Mr. Atta and the other terrorists while the Sept. 11 attacks were still being planned."

Later Shenon points out the potential CYA factor at the DoD and FBI: "He said he learned later that lawyers associated with the Special Operations Command of the Defense Department had canceled the F.B.I. meetings because they feared controversy if Able Danger was portrayed as a military operation that had violated the privacy of civilians who were legally in the United States. 'It was because of the chain of command saying we're not going to pass on information - if something goes wrong, we'll get blamed,' he said."

He notes "The interview with Colonel Shaffer on Monday was arranged for The New York Times and Fox News by Representative Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who is vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a champion of data-mining programs like Able Danger."

Weldon was the source for the Times' initial "AbleDanger" scoop last week, which, unlike many front-page scoops by the Times, has yet to percolate widely onto the broadcastnews shows.

Lichtblau, Shenon and other Times reporters heaped criticism on George Bush for not acting on the infamous President'sDaily Briefing one month before September 11, a memo that warned in vague, general terms about the threat bin Laden posed to the U.S.

Times Watch trusts those reporters will bring equal energy to following up on these new stories, which if confirmed would drastically change what we thought we knew about the lead-up to September 11 and retraining the focus on Clinton's eight years of inaction on terror rather than Bush's eight months.

For Lichtblau on bin Laden, click here.

For Shenon on Able Danger, click here.

Inflated Doom

The Times tries to send worrying signs about the economic recovery in Wednesday's off-lead story by Jad Mouawad and David Leonhardt, "Economy Shows Signs of Strain From Oil Prices - Inflation Surged in July."

Mouawad, who last month was pushing for higher gas taxes, now frets about the rise in inflation caused by higher gas prices: "Inflation surged last month, the government reported yesterday, as the long rise in energy prices finally seemed to be pinching the American economy. After absorbing the burden of oil at $40 a barrel, then at $50 and beyond, consumers have started to react as prices have risen above $60 in recent weeks. Wal-Mart blamed high oil prices yesterday as it reported that in the recent quarter its profits rose at their slowest rate in four years. The chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., told investors that expensive oil was worrying him because it seemed to be erasing recent income gains for many customers."

They explain: "Nearly all of the jump in inflation last month came from energy. Overall prices rose 0.5 percent in July - and 3.2 percent over the last year - after having been flat in June. Across the country, families are trying to figure out where to cut corners so they can afford gas that now averages $2.55 a gallon nationwide after posting the biggest weekly jump in at least 15 years, according to the latest government statistics."

Then the Times assumes the worst: "If consumers are feeling hard-pressed by higher gasoline prices, matters could become worse this winter when heating oil bills arrive. Some commodity analysts say that is when the full impact of the higher energy costs will be felt.If history is any guide, higher prices will hurt consumption, curb the nation's output and shift spending patterns. The risks of a domino effect on the economy are real, economists say."

Deep into the piece they admit: "The biggest reason to think that the economy could avoid another downturn is that today's high prices are to a large extent a byproduct of robust economic growth." But the overall tone is ominous, one similar to an editorial from lastweek in which the Times tried to spin good economic news into a possible "sour economy": "But if oil prices stayed high or went higher while real estate prices leveled off or dropped, employers and workers, and the consumers on whom they depend, would all feel the squeeze."

The story even brings up the R-word in a graphic titled "Recession Predictor?" which warns "sharp rises in oil and gas prices have coincided with the onsets of recessions over the last 25 years."

For more from Mouawad and Leonhardt, click here.

Edmund Andrews' "Death" Wish

Economics reporter Edmund Andrews' Sunday opinion piece "Death Tax? Double Tax? For Most, It's No Tax," tries to pump life into the estate tax, or "death tax," currently endangered in Congress and being preserved by a Democratic filibuster: "When Congress comes back from its summer recess, one of the first things Senate Republicans will try to do, again, is kill the estate tax. Perhaps no other tax has so many passionate, persevering and politically organized opponents as the estate tax, or 'death tax,' as they have branded it.But repeal would be costly - more than $70 billion a year, once it was complete - and many of the populist arguments in favor of repeal are misleading."

Andrews tries to minimize the tax's import: "But despite the populist rhetoric and oft-repeated horror stories about families being forced to sell their farms in order to pay estate taxes, the battle is over a very large amount of money held by a very small number of families. A report last month by the Congressional Budget Office found that in 2000 only 2 percent of all estates - about 52,000 - were subject to any estate tax. At that point, taxes were imposed only on estates worth $675,000 or more. The limit rose to $1.5 million in 2004, and if that limit had been in effect in 2000, only 13,771 estates - fewer than 1 percent - would have been subject to the tax. All but 740 of them would have had enough in liquid assets to cover estate tax liabilities, the office estimated."

But if one thinks the tax is unfair, what does it matter if it only applies to a relatively few households nationwide?

Andrews takes the government point of view, which sees all tax cuts as a harmful drain on federal resources: "Once the estate tax was fully repealed, the Treasury would lose more than $70 billion a year in today's dollars. Over the first 10 years of full repeal, the cost would total more than $700 billion, plus interest. Assuming that the government is still running an annual deficit in 2011, which is more likely than not, the total 10-year cost would be close to $1 trillion."

Furthermore, Andrews claims "it is misleading for opponents of the estate tax to claim that it is a double tax on earnings that have already been taxed once. In many cases, that's not true."

Andrews' one-sided account ignores the fact the death tax brings in just one percent of federal revenue, and he ignores the moral issue entirely. It isn't just "the rich" who favor its repeal but the middle class as well (a finding repeated in many surveys), on grounds of simple fairness. And pro-repeal groups like the Heritage Foundation argue that the federal estate tax kills up to 250,000 potential jobs each year.

For the rest of Andrews on the death tax, click here.