John Pilger on the 9/11 Stand-down

This is the final part of John Pilger's article
"Iraq: the unthinkable becomes normal"
published in the UK's New Statesman, 15th November 2004.

Flying into Philadelphia recently, I spotted the Kean congressional report on 11 September from the 9/11 Commission on sale at the bookstalls. "How many do you sell?" I asked. "One or two," was the reply. "It'll disappear soon." Yet, this modest, blue-covered book is a revelation. Like the Butler report in the UK, which detailed all the incriminating evidence of Blair's massaging of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq, then pulled its punches and concluded nobody was responsible, so the Kean report makes excruciatingly clear what really happened, then fails to draw the conclusions that stare it in the face. It is a supreme act of normalising the unthinkable. This is not surprising, as the conclusions are volcanic.

The most important evidence to the 9/11 Commission came from General Ralph Eberhart, commander of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). "Air force jet fighters could have intercepted hijacked airliners roaring towards the World Trade Center and Pentagon," he said, "if only air traffic controllers had asked for help 13 minutes sooner ... We would have been able to shoot down all three ... all four of them."

Why did this not happen?

The Kean report makes clear that "the defence of US aerospace on 9/11 was not conducted in accord with pre-existing training and protocols ... If a hijack was confirmed, procedures called for the hijack coordinator on duty to contact the Pentagon's National Military Command Center (NMCC) ... The NMCC would then seek approval from the office of the Secretary of Defence to provide military assistance ... "

Uniquely, this did not happen. The commission was told by the deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Authority that there was no reason the procedure was not operating that morning. "For my 30 years of experience ..." said Monte Belger, "the NMCC was on the net and hearing everything real-time ... I can tell you I've lived through dozens of hijackings ... and they were always listening in with everybody else."

But on this occasion, they were not. The Kean report says the NMCC was never informed. Why? Again, uniquely, all lines of communication failed, the commission was told, to America's top military brass. Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defence, could not be found; and when he finally spoke to Bush an hour and a half later, it was, says the Kean report, "a brief call in which the subject of shoot-down authority was not discussed". As a result, Norad's commanders were "left in the dark about what their mission was".

The report reveals that the only part of a previously fail-safe command system that worked was in the White House where Vice-President Cheney was in effective control that day, and in close touch with the NMCC. Why did he do nothing about the first two hijacked planes? Why was the NMCC, the vital link, silent for the first time in its existence? Kean ostentatiously refuses to address this. Of course, it could be due to the most extraordinary combination of coincidences. Or it could not.

In July 2001, a top secret briefing paper prepared for Bush read: "We [the CIA and FBI] believe that OBL [Osama Bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning."

On the afternoon of 11 September, Donald Rumsfeld, having failed to act against those who had just attacked the United States, told his aides to set in motion an attack on Iraq — when the evidence was non-existent. Eighteen months later, the invasion of Iraq, unprovoked and based on lies now documented, took place. This epic crime is the greatest political scandal of our time, the latest chapter in the long 20th-century history of the west's conquests of other lands and their resources. If we allow it to be normalised, if we refuse to question and probe the hidden agendas and unaccountable secret power structures at the heart of "democratic" governments and if we allow the people of Fallujah to be crushed in our name, we surrender both democracy and humanity.


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