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December 18, 2003

THE 9/11 COMMISSION says that the attacks were preventable. Well, yes. In fact, they might have been prevented, had dropped balls at the FBI (which led to morbid speculation by field agents that Osama had a mole at headquarters) not frustrated the Moussaoui investigation. Note that no one was fired for that. Of course, had all the 9/11 terrorists been rounded up on 9/10, many of Bush's critics would have argued that it was a racist effort to distract people from the economy, or some such. And worries about such charges -- particularly the racism part -- clearly got in the way. I wonder if the Commission will look at that.

For that matter, the attacks might have been prevented if the Clinton missile attacks on Osama, delayed just a bit too long because of Clinton's fears of causing civilian casualties, had proceeded on time.

The story linked above is right to heap scorn on Condi Rice's statement that the attacks were unimaginable before they happened. There was plenty of reason to imagine them before they happened. That in itself doesn't mean that they could have, or even should have, been prevented -- I can imagine a lot of things that I couldn't prevent -- but Rice's statement has always struck me as absurd to the point of being insulting.

UPDATE: Quite a few readers think this is unfair to Condi Rice. Here's what Dennis Beezley emails:

CBS wants to make it seem that Rice claimed no one thought of planes as missiles. That is not what she said. She said no one anticipated hijacked planes as guided missiles.

These people (government people) don't think outside the box, they're not paid to. The thinking was that planes would be loaded with explosives, so the planes would either have to be planes controlled by AQ, like an old jet, or little planes like the one the kid flew into a building in Florida. And I assume measures were taken to prevent such an occurrence.

I also assume the reason we didn't fear a hijacked plane being used to just smack a building is that we didn't think anybody could get control of an airliner without a gun, which we work hard to prevent. But they did, three anyway. And they used the jet fuel as a bomb.

Now it seems pretty easy for us to think they should have thought of this. I have some friends who perished because they didn't. But because Rice should have thought of it, or nurtured an environment where someone else should have, doesn't mean her statement is incredible.

Well, as I said, I don't think that imagining it is the same as preventing it. But the statement is rather bizarre, when we had blocked a plot (via the Philippines) to hijack and crash planes, when the Columbine kids actually planned to crash planes into Manhattan, and when Tom Clancy wrote a novel on this theme. You might say that it wasn't high on the threat ladder, for whatever reason. But that's not what Condi said, and although I'm a big fan of hers in general, that statement has always grated on me.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Boy, a lot of people think I'm too hard on Condi Rice above. But on the other hand, a couple sent links to this page noting that the specific hijack-an-airplane-and-crash-it-into-a-target scenario had already been attempted: "On April 7, 1994, we came dangerously close to finding out what a DC-10 full of jet fuel and a man with nothing to lose could do to a corporate campus in Memphis. That's the day a disgruntled employee attacked the crew of FedEx Flight 705 with the intention of crashing the airplane into company headquarters."

MORE: Reader Kenton Bennett emails:

Regarding the Condi Rice and 9-11 Commission statements and conclusions..I would like to remind people that the terrorist leaders imagined it...the Algerian terrorists who hijacked a French Airliner in the mid nineties and attempted to fly it (by forcing the pilot) into the Eiffel Tower imagined it.....a computer programmer for Microsoft imagined it as my eight year old grandson was flying airliners into the twin towers well before 9-11 using one of there across the counter flight simulator games. Of course Al Gore didn't Imagine it with his committee to promote airline safety ( but of course he now has all the answers)....The problem is..... No one in the high levels of government has imagination and anyone at a lower level is ignored through a sea of jealousy and bureaucracy!!!....Read the book about Pearl Harbor by G.W. Prange and you will see the disastrous similarity of attitude and politics that are shared between these two momentous events.

Reader Catherine Johnson sends this link to an article from The New Yorker:

Bodansky and others have said that U.S. intelligence has long known that countries such as Iran and independent groups have made plans for "super-terrorism" and have trained people to carry out terrorist acts..

"We've known since the mid-eighties, for example, that Iran was training people to fly as kamikazes on commercial planes, as bombs, into civilian targets," Bodansky said. "The question was whether the political leaders of the sponsoring states would give the order to actually do it. From the moment a country starts risking the wrath of the civilized world to start such a training program, it must be serious about it." Bodansky explained that Iran's principal "school" is in Wakilabad, in the northeast part of the country, and is an entity of Iranian intelligence and the Revolutionary Guard. The school, he said, has American-made commercial jets for training its students in techniques of hijacking, sabotage, and flying into civilian targets.

Not unimaginable at all.