Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ashcroft Quit Flying Commercial in July '01 because of the "threat assessment"

From a CBS News article dated 7-26-01, we hear that Atty. Gen. Ashcroft

Fishing rod in hand, Attorney General John Ashcroft left on a weekend trip to Missouri Thursday afternoon aboard a chartered government jet...

In response to inquiries from CBS News over why Ashcroft was traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines, the Justice Department cited what it called a "threat assessment" by the FBI, and said Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term.

"There was a threat assessment and there are guidelines. He is acting under the guidelines," an FBI spokesman said. Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department, however, would identify what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it. A senior official at the CIA said he was unaware of specific threats against any Cabinet member, and Ashcroft himself, in a speech in California, seemed unsure of the nature of the threat. "I don't do threat assessments myself and I rely on those whose responsibility it is in the law enforcement community, particularly the FBI. And I try to stay within the guidelines that they've suggested I should stay within for those purposes," Ashcroft said.

Asked if he knew anything about the threat or who might have made it, the attorney general replied, "Frankly, I don't. That's the answer." Earlier this week, the Justice Department leased a NASA-owned G-3 Gulfstream for a 6-day trip to Western states. Such aircraft cost the government more than $1,600 an hour to fly. When asked whether Ashcroft was paying for any portion of the trips devoted to personal business, a Justice Department spokeswoman declined to respond. ...

The Justice Department insists that it wasn't Ashcroft who wanted to fly leased aircraft. That idea, they said, came strictly from Ashcroft's FBI security detail. The FBI had no further comment.

By itself, perhaps this is explainable, but what happens when you put it beside this story, things suddenly get a little more conspiratorial, don't they?

"A new book by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post alleges that Rice failed to take the July 2001 warning seriously when it was delivered at a White House meeting by Tenet, Cofer Black, then the agency's chief of top counterterrorism, and a third CIA official whose identity remains rotected... Woodward wrote that Tenet and Black considered the briefing the "starkest warning they had given the White House" on the threat posed by Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. But, he wrote, the pair felt as if Rice gave them "the brush-off."
Ashcroft, who resigned as attorney general on Nov. 9, 2004, told the Associated Press on Monday that it was "disappointing" that he never received the briefing, either.
... Monday evening, Rice's spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement confirming that she'd received the CIA briefing "on or around July 10" and had asked that it be given to Ashcroft and Rumsfeld.
"The information presented in this meeting was not new, rather it was a good summary from the threat reporting from the previous several weeks," McCormack said. "After this meeting, Dr. Rice asked that this same information be briefed to Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft. That briefing took place by July 17."
David Ayres, who was Ashcroft's chief of staff at the Justice Department, said... that Ashcroft could recall only a July 5 briefing on threats to U.S. interests abroad.
He said Ashcroft doesn't remember any briefing that summer that indicated that al-Qaida was planning to attack within the United States.
The CIA briefing didn't provide the exact timing or nature of a possible attack, nor did it predict whether it was likely to take place in the United States or overseas, said three former senior intelligence officials...

In the briefing, Tenet warned in very strong terms that intelligence from a variety of sources indicated that bin Laden's terrorist network was planning an attack on a U.S. target in the near future, said one of the officials.
"The briefing was intended to `connect the dots' contained in other intelligence reports and paint a very clear picture of the threat posed by bin Laden," said the official, who described the tone of the report as "scary."...

Nor is it clear why the 9/11 commission never reported the briefing, which the intelligence officials said Tenet outlined to commission members Ben-Veniste and Zelikow in secret testimony at CIA headquarters. The State Department confirmed that the briefing materials were "made available to the 9/11 Commission, and Director Tenet was asked about this meeting when interviewed by the 9/11 Commission."
The three former senior intelligence officials, however, said Tenet raised the matter with the panel himself, displayed slides from the PowerPoint presentation and offered to testify on the matter in public.
Ben-Veniste confirmed to McClatchy Newspapers that Tenet outlined for the 9/11 commission the July 10 briefing to Rice in secret testimony in January 2004. He referred questions about why the commission omitted any mention of the briefing in its report to Zelikow, the report's main author... Zelikow didn't respond to e-mail and telephone queries from McClatchy Newspapers."

Of course, it's nice to know that Zelikow and Rice wrote a book together in 1996, and that this meeting wasn't detailed in the final draft of the 9-11 commission report.

Also brings to mind an eerie program called Operation Northwoods.

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