Three months after Sept. 11, 2001, I was substitute teaching a high school political science course. Because the students had finished the day’s lesson plan, we began talking about current events. When the talk turned to Sept. 11, a young girl in the class said that she thought that President Bush knew what was going to happen and let it happen anyway. I instantly responded that I thought it was far-fetched to think Bush had been somehow complicit in the events of Sept. 11. Steal an election? Maybe. But my mind was simply unable to ponder such a gruesome possibility. Yet it is just this possibility that Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed considers in The War on Freedom: How and Why America Was Attacked.
Despite the fact that Ahmed is the executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development in Brighton, UK, and despite the fact that his scholarship has been recommended as a resource by Harvard University, I was prepared for a presentation fit for the pages of some wacko Web site named something like www.santakilledjfk.org. But my skepticism was soon reigned in.
Ahmed presents information within the pages of his book cited from respected sources including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Wall Street Journal. But while the mainstream media has supplied pieces of the puzzle, it’s left to Ahmed to piece together the big picture. The information presented in this book is shocking, terrifying and severely under-reported. The War on Freedom is so ominous that I felt dirty reading it, and yet I was fascinated at the same time, like a young boy holding a magnifying glass up to an ant, enthralled with the burning creature struggling on the pavement.
One of the key points that Ahmed focuses on is alleged high-level “blocks” on suspected terrorists that the FBI was investigating prior to Sept. 11. One of the most particularly disturbing findings was reported in The Washington Times, stating that local FBI investigators in Minneapolis “had immediately viewed Zacarias [Moussaoui] as a terrorist suspect and sought authorization for a special counterintelligence surveillance warrant in order to search the hard drive of his computer.” The Times reported that this request was denied by the Justice Department and top FBI officials. Rather than simply reporting this fact, Ahmed puts it into focus by presenting government reports that show “...the special court that reviews [these] requests has approved more than 12,000 Justice Department applications for covert search warrants and wiretaps and rejected only one since the act was passed in 1978.”
The question, then: Why reject a search warrant request on Moussaoui? Particularly after, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “An instructor at a Minnesota flight school warned the FBI in August of his suspicion that a student…might be planning to use a commercial plane as a weapon…warn[ing] the FBI in urgent tones about the terrorist threat posed by the student, Zacarias Moussaoui.” Ahmed also brings to light the testimony of U.S. attorney David Phillip Schippers, former Chief Investigative Counsel for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Schippers states that he made numerous and urgent attempts to warn Attorney General John Ashcroft of terror attacks planned for lower Manhattan weeks before Sept. 11.
Schippers says his warnings were based on information from U.S. intelligence sources, including FBI agents, but that FBI command killed investigations based upon his information and then threatened agents with prosecution under the National Security Act if they published any information regarding their investigations.
Currently, Schippers is representing an FBI agent in a suit against the U.S. government aimed at allowing the agent to legally speak about the alleged blocked investigations on public record. As with much of the information in The War on Freedom, you’d be hard pressed to find details of this lawsuit elsewhere.
Ahmed writes that Schippers wasn’t the only one who knew “something was up” prior to Sept. 11. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Mayor Willie Brown received a phone call from what he described as “airport security” advising him not to travel by air. The London Times reported that novelist Salman Rushdie received a similar warning. The Times went on to state that Rushdie testified that his warning came directly from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Similarly, Ahmed points to a Newsweek report stating that on Sept. 10, 2001, “a group of top Pentagon officials suddenly canceled travel plans for the next morning, apparently because of security concerns.” Here, Ahmed doesn’t even have to ask the question. It asks itself: “If Rushdie, Brown and a group of Pentagon officials were warned, why wasn’t everyone else?”
Particularly notable in The War on Freedom is a chapter titled “The Collapse of Standard Operating Procedure on 9-11.” One incredibly striking detail is the change in the official story of Air Force procedures. Ahmed details how, on Sept. 13, Joint Chief of Staff Richard Myers stated that no planes were scrambled (i.e., sent up into the air to intercept the hijacked planes) until after the Pentagon was hit. Tim Russert, Ahmed notes, also made this same statement on “Meet the Press” with VP Dick Cheney, and Cheney did not dispute it. Ahmed leads his reader into an examination of FAA flight procedures, which state that the moment a plane deviates from its flight path, the air traffic controllers must attempt to make contact. If no contact can be made, planes are to be scrambled.
Ahmed deduces that, if no planes were scrambled until after the Pentagon was hit, this leaves approximately 95 minutes between the time the first United Airlines flight deviated from flight path and the time planes were scrambled, which would be a blatant violation of protocol. The author describes how, on Sept. 14, this official story changed. Air Force and government officials reneged on their own testimonies, Ahmed writes, telling CBS that a scramble was launched from Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod and that planes were headed to New York by 8:56 a.m. Ahmed takes this official testimony to task with these words: “This story…raises more questions than it answers…F-16s can travel at 1500 mph. If it took the F-16s half an hour to cover 150 miles, they could not have been traveling at more than 300 mph—at 20 percent capacity. Boeing 767s and 757s have cruising speeds of 530 mph. Talk about a lack of urgency!” Ahmed also questions why planes were sent to protect D.C. from Langley Air Force Base, 129 miles from Washington, when, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune and the “authoritative” U.S. military information Web site, demilitary.com, fighters could have been sent from Andrews Air Force Base, only 15 miles from Washington. From this, Ahmed draws the inference that these peculiarities make the Sept. 13 explanation more believable than the Sept. 14 statement. However, Ahmed notes, even in the case of the second explanation, there would still be 24 minutes to account for between the time the first plane deviated from flight path without contact and the time a scramble was issued. According to the author, FAA manuals would note this as a violation of standard operating procedure.
Ahmed goes after the White House with tenacity. He uses a Dick Cheney press conference in which Tim Russert asks Cheney what the most important decision President Bush had to make on Sept. 11 was. Cheney responded, “I suppose the toughest decision was the question of whether or not we would intercept incoming commercial aircraft…We decided to do it.” Ahmed pins Cheney down in an uncomfortable position here. Citing FAA regulations, Ahmed notes that hijacked planes are automatically to be intercepted by scramblers if they deviate from flight path and contact can’t be made. Thus, Ahmed writes, the decision to intercept aircraft shouldn’t have had anything to do with the White House, nor should it have been a “decision.” Ahmed concludes that Cheney’s statement indicates that the White House, not the FAA, was in control regarding scrambling on Sept. 11, making the White House responsible for standard operating procedure failure. Eerily then, Ahmed pieces together an argument that the White House took the authority to call the shots on Sept. 11 and then didn’t actually call any until well after the FAA was required to scramble planes.
And on and on he goes, examining business connections between the Bush and bin Laden families through the Carlyle Group, questioning why it is that the new Afghani Prime Minister is a former paid UNOCAL oil consultant, asking the all-important, yet stomach-turning question, “Who benefited from Sept. 11?” even noting suspicious stock trading in the days leading up to Sept. 11 involving United Airlines and several WTC companies. Ultimately, however, Ahmed does not attempt to argue that his book proves that the White House and the intelligence community are accomplices in the attacks. Rather, Ahmed merely concludes that a full-scale investigation is needed.
As Senator Tom Daschle has agreed to Bush’s request of a more “limited” Congressional investigation, The War on Freedom becomes more significant. If nothing else, this book makes me wish for a time machine. If I had one, I would go back to that high school classroom where a young girl said she thought Bush was involved. This time, I wouldn’t be so hasty and closed-minded as to dismiss any possibility without thoroughly considering it first.