In the summer of 2001, New York Times reporter Judith Miller was investigating the aftermath of the bombing the U.S.S. Cole. She had early information that Al Qaeda was involved and sought to find out more about the connection. In the course of the investigation, a source revealed to her that Al Qaeda operatives were planning something even bigger.
She didn’t write the story and the Times didn’t publish any mention of it.
After the attacks on 9/11, Miller knew what she had uncovered months earlier. In an interview with Alternet, she says that, after the second plane hit the Towers, she cried out, “It’s Al Qaeda!.”
Miller and the Times had their reasons for not publishing a story that they deemed incomplete. There were many details that Miller was unable to ascertain or confirm. But the story tells us much about where the intelligence community stood in the months preceeding 9/11.
Miller’s source, whom she describes as impeccable, told her of a conversation between two Al Qaeda operatives that was intercepted by, she assumed, the National Security Agency. The operatives were discussing the Cole bombing and that…
“they had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the Cole. And one Al Qaida operative was overheard saying to the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the U.S. will have to respond.'”
These recollections from Miller tell us three extraordinary things.
What we knew.
The U. S. intelligence community knew more about the impending threat of Al Qaeda than they are presently acknowledging. Miller describes a tense environment in Washington with nervous agents waiting for the next shoe to drop.
What Al Qaeda wants.
The stirring revelation that Al Qaeda was disappointed by our lack of response illustrates that what Al Qaeda has been interested in all along was provoking us into a larger conflict. Their hopes were dashed by the Clinton administration but were finally realized when Bush came to power. Bush, in effect, gave them what they wanted: respect, publicity, recruitment posters and coronation as the pre-eminent defender of Islam.
What the media does, and doesn’t tell us.
Despite some holes in the story, the information that Miller had from trusted sources was significant enough to publish. The public exposition of the facts that were available could have led to further investigations and sources that might have filled in the gaps.
It is an act of indescribable irresponsibility to have withheld this story. What was going through the minds of the editors at the Times? Did they think that an intercepted conversation between the perpetrators of the Cole bombing, wherein they revealed plans for an even bigger plot, was not newsworthy? And what exactly did the NSA do with the intelligence gleaned from these intercepts?
So many questions. So many lives lost. If only people would do their jobs. It really doesn’t amount to much more than that. But at least Miller is regretful.