On April 29, 2004, President George W. Bush hosted one of the most unusual meetings to ever take place inside the Oval Office. The ten members of the 9/11 Commission got to ask him and Vice President Dick Cheney any question they wanted about the September 11th attacks. The words that were spoken in that room remained secret for nearly two decades. Now, we can finally read what Bush said. Earlier this month, after more than 18 years, the government declassified a 31-page “memorandum for the record,” which compiles notes that the commissioners took during the meeting. The document shows the commissioners giving Bush multiple chances to acknowledge the numerous documented warnings he’d received from his own government of an impending Al Qaeda attack. For the most part, Bush failed to do so. Instead, he passed the buck.
Perhaps the largest of Bush’s evasions that day concerned his CIA director, George Tenet: “The threat was overseas — that was what George said.” Bush’s implication at the time is clear. He wanted the commission, and by extension the public, to think that no one could have anticipated Al Qaeda mounting a large-scale attack on US soil. But in fact, Tenet’s CIA had warned Bush on multiple occasions that Al Qaeda could strike anywhere, at any time, and that all US citizens were potential targets. The most notorious warning that Bush received, but not the only one, was a CIA briefing headlined “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.”
Very little of Bush’s excuse-making and clumsy attempts to rewrite history found their way into the 9/11 Commission’s report. Indeed, one of the commissioners, Richard Ben-Veniste, told Insider that he still had questions today about what Bush knew, and when.
“I could never square in my mind CIA Director Tenet’s intense preoccupation with the Al Qaeda threat in the months leading up to 9/11, with his claim that he never briefed President Bush on the many clues the intelligence community had developed that bin Laden was planning to launch a ‘spectacular’ attack on the US homeland,” Ben-Veniste said.