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Jonathan Alter On When 9/11 Was Politicized

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From today’s interview with Jonathan Alter (complete transcript here):

JA: But in answer of your basic question, I think Obama’s plenty committed to preventing terrorist acts, and has killed more terrorists than Americans died on 9/11, more than 4,000 over the last four years.

HH: Do you think we need a commission, as we had after 9/11, to look into the intelligence failures surrounding not just the Boston attack, but the previous ones? Specifically, I haven’t yet heard anyone ask why the Bureau fumbled the ball here, and whether or not these brothers were the target of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court surveillance operation, which I assume they were, but no one’s asked the question of the Bureau, so I can’t know for sure. Do we need a special commission, Jonathan Alter?

JA: Well, that’s a very interesting question that you’ve raised, and I would like to know the answer to whether there’s a FISA Court involvement here. Not necessarily. It could be that it was just that the Russians, you know, passed on, because they monitor the Chechens very closely, passed on that these were Chechens, and there’s only a thousand of them in the United States. So the Russians can pretty much monitor all of them. That sounds more likely to me than that there was a FISA involvement, but we don’t know. I’m not sure that we need a special commission for that, but we clearly could use some Congressional hearings and more questions answered. And you know, I’m not, look, I mean, as President Bush said, you can’t guarantee 100% safety. There are going to be these situations. There have been may foiled plots that we haven’t talked about, of course, one today in Canada. But in the last 12 years, almost 12 years since 9/11, there have been many, many more foiled plots than successful ones, and I think we need to give the authorities credit for that, and not politicize this. I mean, the Democrats after 9/11 were generally pretty good about not politicizing it, and they later, the Iraq War and other things became an issue, but you didn’t see the Democrats pointing their fingers at Bush in the months after 9/11.

HH: Boy, we have different recollections, Jonathan.

JA: And I think that Republicans would do well to do the same now.

HH: We have very different recollections of the politicization of the aftermath of 9/11.

JA: Who pointed their finger?

HH: Look at the 9/11 Commission…

JA: He had bipartisan support in the months after 9/11.

HH: No, in particular…

JA: It wasn’t until the 2002 election, Hugh.

HH: Richard Ben-Veniste on the 9/11 Commission was the most partisan hack guy I have ever seen on a national security matter.

JA: Well, the 9/11 Commission, which was much later, you know, by that time, you had had the 2002 elections, which, the midterms, which were heavily politicized, and they ran a picture of Max Cleland next to Osama bin Laden in those Republican attack ads, trying to knock him off, which they did. And you know, there was a lot of debate about the creation of the TSA, and that got political. But what I’m saying is it did not happen, and I was covering it very closely, and was at Ground Zero in the days following it. I went with President Bush, and I lived in the New York area, and was very, very involved in following these issues. What did not happen is you did not see Democratic politicians saying George Bush, it’s his fault that this happened, and you’re not protecting us. That didn’t happen.

JA: Well, boy, we remember differently, Jonathan. We’re out of time. Come back when the series comes out.


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