What Went Wrong?

International Press Reacts to U.S. Intelligence Failures, New Terror Warnings

President Bush leads students in a moment of prayer on September 11, 2001
President George W. Bush leads the students and teachers of Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, in a moment of silence, Sept. 11, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

Bangkok Khao Sod (center-left, populist), May 31, 2002 American society is undergoing a sense of dismay and fear. The mood is one of paranoia. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have haunted the American people. According to the FBI, it is very likely that the United States will be hit by terrorism again.

The Americans feel dismayed because they were told that the FBI had known about the attacks even before Sept. 11 and had warned the U.S. leader about them. They must be wondering why no measure had been taken to prevent them from happening. How could they allow American society to be faced with dire consequences on an unprecedented scale? …

Such a situation points to the fact that U.S. society seems to have tunnel vision. It is busy thinking about itself. It has little or no knowledge about the world that lies beyond the United States.
—Kiatchai Phongphanit

Jidda Arab News (pro-government), June 2, 2002 The Arabs should indeed be concerned about terrorist threats made by Arabs themselves rather than worrying about U.S. warnings to its own citizens. The effects of these warnings will be mostly confined to within the U.S. itself while the bad name attached to Arabs, in the event of another terrorist attack, will follow them to the remotest corners of the earth. This is what we have experienced in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Let the U.S. issue warnings to its citizens and let us share our fears with them.

São Paulo O Estado de São Paulo (conservative), June 5, 2002
Judging from the mudslinging taking place between the two agencies, in which one has tried to place responsibility on the other for errors committed in the transmission and analysis of the information at their disposal, it will not be easy to make the FBI and CIA work in a coordinated manner to avoid future attacks. The tradition of competition between these two estranged bureaucracies can be attributed to the different sets of rules that govern the actions of each. The CIA, which is only authorized to act outside of the United States, is not limited in its scope of action by the need to respect the civil liberties of Americans, as is the FBI, the largest federal police force in the country.

Barcelona El Periódico de Catalunya (liberal), June 3, 2002 The guidelines under which the FBI operated until very recently, including safeguards that protected civil rights—at least on paper—were precisely introduced to stop the abuses of the 1950s and 1960s. Now, faced with mounting revelations of incompetence, negligence, and bureaucratic red tape that prevented the bureau from fully investigating suspicious acts before Sept. 11, Bush and John Ashcroft have chosen to turn the agency into a espionage center beyond democratic checks. Its first victim has been the Muslim community, recalling the dark years of the FBI's victimization of even the most moderate left-wing parties.

Milan Famiglia Cristiana (Italy's top-circulation weekly newsmagazine), June 2, 2002 [FBI Director] Robert Mueller, [Vice President] Dick Cheney, and [President] George Bush himself are coming under fire for failing to sound the alarm bell despite their having had very many reasons for doing so. So now, just to be on the safe side, they are crying wolf even though this time their reasons for doing so are somewhat nebulous. But there is also another reason. Bush's team is convinced that the best form of defense is attack; and highlighting the threat of terrorism, even if it means sowing panic in half the world, is one way of winning support and resources for an attack.

The United States has been forced by the emergency in Palestine to postpone its settling of scores with Iraq, but it certainly has not shelved the plan. And on that score Bush is right: The worst is yet to come.
—Bruno Marolo

Hong Kong Ta Kung Pao (government-owned), May 23, 2002 This storm has undoubtedly called the sincerity of the Bush administration into question, and the Democrats will certainly not miss this opportunity to press on with the successful attack, fighting for votes in this year's mid-term congressional elections.

London The Guardian (liberal), May 19, 2002 Suddenly, say his enemies, the emperor seems to have no clothes. The "Imperial" White House of George W. Bush—to use the phrase of U.S. presidential historian Robert Dallek—is unexpectedly exposed, apparently in panic, and scrambling to save face.

For eight months now, Bush and his presidency have ridden on the political crest of the wave of Sept. 11, legitimized by its professed defense of America from the global terrorist menace. But now its bluff is called, as layer after layer of the warnings it received that Al-Qaeda would strike at America's heart is unpeeled. Now Bush and his aides are having to explain to the people, the press, and even to themselves why and how they either misread or failed to read the clear warning signs that Al-Qaeda would strike in exactly the way it did.

London The Times (conservative), May 22, 2002 Many have tried to portray this week as a turning-point. That is going too far. It is not Watergate, for all the Nixon-era resonance of the question: "What did the president know, and when?" It is not, as the Democrats have hoped, the way to dent Bush's invulnerability; he has not, as the Princeton scholar Fred Greenstein would have it, "gone into a non-Teflon period."

But it does show how hard it is for the United States to fight terror at home and is a warning of the Administration's vulnerability to another attack.
—Bronwen Maddox

Tehran Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran Radio (government-owned), May 31, 2002 Instead of answering the critics about his failure to prevent the Sept. 11 events, of which he was aware of before they happened, George Bush has increased the authority of the federal police in America. There is no doubt that this decision will increase dissatisfaction inside America and everyone will realize that the American administration is exploiting the issue of maintaining security to violate the basic rights of the American people and the minorities who live in that country (State Department Transcription).

Auckland The New Zealand Listener (liberal weekly), June 8, 2002 It would be stretching things to say that the White House ignored clear warnings about a likely terrorist attack.

But it is very clear that the agencies charged with protecting their citizens from such an atrocity (the CIA and FBI in particular) did have information that, due to mismanagement, communication breakdown[s], and blind policy shifts at the top, was disastrously overlooked and buried.

Worse, as we already knew, some of those agencies and their political masters had been actively seducing and supporting the foreign organizations and regimes (the Pakistani secret service and Saudi Arabia, among others) that, directly and indirectly, assisted the various maniacs of Sept. 11 onto history's page.

As we also know, the agencies that failed so terribly that day are now enjoying wildly expanded powers in the name of "homeland security."

Vienna Die Presse (conservative), May 23, 2002 The decision to go public [with warnings of new terror attacks] coincides with reports about failures and mishaps ahead of Sept. 11. The criticism of the U.S. administration is becoming harsher every day—and thus, the suspicion aroused is that Bush is seizing the bull by the horns by distracting people's attention from his own mistakes with an unprecedented series of warnings.

These mistakes were indeed serious. Concrete warnings of terrorist attacks disappeared in the jumble of Washington's bureaucracy; various security authorities blocked each other and refused to exchange information. And then, there is the question of how much the President and his secretaries really knew. Only by allowing comprehensive investigations will Washington's leaders be able to dispel the suspicion of having unpardonably ignored information…
 —Gerhard Bitzan

Cairo Al-Akhbar (government-owned), May 22, 2002 Apparently, the main bases of the Al-Qaeda network have not been eliminated despite the wide-scale military offensive in Afghanistan. The only thing that the United States has gained from its war on Afghanistan, which aimed mainly at capturing the leaders of Al-Qaeda network, is more hatred and cause for retaliation because of all the innocent blood spilled in Afghanistan. The biggest proof that the United States has failed to get rid of Al-Qaeda is that this network has claimed responsibility for last month's attack on a synagogue in Tunisia. This particular attack proved Washington's failure to destroy Al-Qaeda, which has members are scattered throughout the world.
—Nawal Mustafa

Moscow Izvestiya (centrist), May 21, 2002 Cheney's [May 20] warning was seen as the gravest warning since Sept. 11 of the possibility of new terrorist attacks. Izvestiya's information is that one conference after another is currently taking place in the White House. Washington experts claim that in recent days the special services have received reports from their agents that are very similar to the memoranda that were received last summer. As one such expert told Izvestiya, "We face the same situation: You can smell a storm in the air again, but it is impossible to predict the target of the attack—nuclear power stations, bridges, or apartment buildings."

Ramallah Al-Ayyam (pro-Palestinian Authority), May 22, 2002 We do not agree with those who explain developments according to the conspiracy theory. We, therefore, do not want to say that the rumor about the new terrorist threats to the United States, or even the belated admission by the CIA about the information presented to President Bush just before Sept. 11, are well-timed "Israeli fabrications." But we can say, however, that the confusion in the White House… will certainly make [the Bush administration] less concerned about developments in the Middle East. In the meantime, Sharon can exploit this situation as best he can, and continue with his plan quietly and confidently.
—Hani Habib

Baghdad Al-Thawrah (government-owned), May 30, 2002 The political exercise Bush performed in Europe, as he and his party prepare to go into this summer's legislative elections, has turned into an eloquent lesson. It showed that the placards of freedom, civilization, and human values, however crafty their phrasing may be, do not hide the selfish, bloated ego of financiers and weapons manufacturers in Washington. It demonstrated that war hysteria is employed to trigger the fears of Washington's closest allies and their rejection—not of international terrorism, but of American terrorism. They also fear and oppose the feverish quest to exercise hegemony over global decisions and monopolize international relations to serve U.S. visions and greed exclusively—without even claiming to speak in the name of any partnership.