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A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse…

A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence…

by James Bamford

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James Bamford makes a convincing case that the United States was ill-served by our intelligence communities before 9-11 in Pretext for War. Part of the problem was the agencies were still fighting the Cold War and agents were enjoying the perks traditional with service in overseas embassies: good food, cars, great shopping, and other fringe benefits.

The beginning of the book provides a nice compliment to the 9/11 Commission report of the hijackings, a step-by-step reenactment, fascinating yet horrifying. He then provides how the spy agencies work in this country and how information was transmitted to the policy makers. The overall effect is not reassuring as evidence is provided that shows intelligence manufactured to support a policy and how Congress is routinely bypassed. The implications for balance of power and the tri-partite government created by the Founding Fathers are disturbing. The trend is away from public scrutiny, when, in my opinion, more is needed. The Bush administration appears to be heading toward increased secrecy and less congressional oversight.

Rumsfeld has gradually lobbied for and been giving extraordinary powers for "black bag" operations around the world (see Seymour Hersh's article in the January 24th, 2005 issue of The New Yorker.) The idea is that we have to become more like the enemy and act like them, i.e. giving them a taste of their own medicine. Aside from the questionable morality of such behavior, one wonders whether it will work in the long run or perhaps come back to bite us in the ass.

In a rather frightening example of how easy it can be to blow up a plane, James Bamford, in Pretext for War describes how, in 1995, a terrorist group in the Philippines blew up part of a 747. They used a digital watch with an alarm, some fine wires, a contact lens solution bottle filled with nitro glycerin soaked in cotton, to create a nasty little bomb that was placed under the seat and then detonated 4 hours later after the terrorist had left the plane at an intermediate stop. Note that none of these items would appear suspicious to airport security or show up on an x-ray.

The bomb detonated as planned, killing a Japanese businessman and disabling the plane, which was able to return to the airport with some difficulty. The terrorists were so pleased with their success that they planned several more such attacks. They were thwarted only when their apartment caught fire and a member of the cell was captured. Following interrogation by the Philippine police, it was learned they had also planed [bad pun:] to fly an airplane into the Pentagon in a suicide attack. The terrorists claimed the attacks were in protest of American Israeli policies, particularly the savage attack on a Lebanese town in which numerous women and children were killed.

The Philippine police promptly informed the FBI of what they had learned. This information, a preview of the 2001 attack, was either lost or disregarded in one of the intelligence failures that Bamford delineates in a most interesting book. The astonishing thing is that the NSA had information about the hijackers, they knew Osama was about to do something big, the FBI had information that airplanes would be used as weapons, the hijackers entered the country using their real names, they took flying lessons, they lived in a hotel within blocks of the NSA, used credit cards for their purchases, communicated daily with Osama and others using public chat rooms, and called him on the phone to discuss the impending operation. Bush had been told that something big was in the works, but he chose to go golfing. I mean, really. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Despite the weighty subject, this book reads like a novel. Some reviewers pan it as a work of fiction. You owe it to yourself to read this book and decide for yourself.
James Bamford asserts that the current Bush administration commenced its service with an agenda to topple Saddam Hussein, end involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and rearrange the dominoes in the Middle East. Bamford's premise is that the Bush administration, with the able assistance of its neo-conservatives previously employed by the Israeli government, manipulated the inadequate intelligence it received to increase public support for its war on Iraq. Along the way, tax dollars were used illegally to propagandize American citizens while the inept US media mutely watched. Additionally, the NSA spied on the UN Security Council and Hans Blix, the chief of the Iraq weapons inspectors.

Despite the complexity of the story author James Bamford writes, A Pretext For War is very readable and in fact is very interesting. Initially, Bamford follows the 9/11 terrorists and then the President and other US officials. The second section of the book traces the intelligence gathering. The third and final section of watches the Bush administration as it weaves the events, gathered intelligence and speculation into a tapestry of its own design

I recommend the well written reviews posted by Robert D. Steele and "autonomeus".

In the "how I would improve this book" category, I would like to have read more on the FBI / CIA turf battle over the terrorist investigations. In particular, more details about John P. O'Neill who headed the bureau's Counterterrorism Division. Finally, the noted fact that George Tennet, as Director of the CIA only controlled 15% of America's intelligence empire while Donald Rumsfield as Secretary of Defense controlled 85% of the intelligence was mentioned twice in the book (p 214 & p 353). Once would have been enough. ( )
  Grandeplease | Oct 24, 2008 |
I finished reading this on Aug 26, 2004. This book shows that the Bush administration intended to go to war with Iraq as early as Jan.30, 2001, and prodded the intelligence agencies to find reasons for such a war, and would leak things to the press and then cite the press stories as reasons for going to war. Unfortunately, while this book has source notes it does not have footnotes. I sppose that the lack of footnotes is to make the book more "accessible" but I think it would have been better to have footnotes. I'd give this book five stars if it were better documented. ( )
  Schmerguls | Nov 9, 2007 |
Read as a book on disc, so not experienced quite as deeply as actually reading. And, honestly, lots that I already knew. But part 1's depiction of the events of 9/11 is quite compelling and detailed. ( )
  epersonae | Aug 30, 2007 |
  investigations | Apr 11, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385506724, Hardcover)

James Bamford builds his case against America's intelligence agencies from the ground up, which makes for devastating reading not only for his subjects, but for anyone concerned with the nation's security or simply smart use of taxpayer dollars. Indeed, one can't help but cringe as the veteran journalist records the alarming post-Cold War floundering of the C.I.A., N.S.A., Defense Department, and succeeding administrations in the face of burgeoning terrorist threats that culminate with the attack on 9-11. Seemingly caught flatfooted by the demise of the Soviet Union, the U.S. intelligence community stumbles through the 1990s as it becomes institutionally hidebound and sluggish. During relatively peaceful times, its shortcomings, while not unnoticed, remain largely unaddressed. As Bamford sees it, with the arrival of George W. Bush, the situation goes from bad to worse. With the neocons in power, intelligence gathering is corrupted and politicized to create the grounds for going to war with Iraq. While much of what appears here has appeared earlier in works by Joseph Wilson, Richard Clarke, and others, Bamford pulls the loose ends together and adds new reporting to create a wide-ranging yet taut and absorbing expose of an American security apparatus that combines vast power with stunning ineptitude. --Steven Stolder

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:50 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"From the mishandling of the pre-9/11 threat to the unproven claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Bamford argues that the Bush administration has co-opted the intelligence community for its own political ends, and at the expense of American security. Bamford makes the case that the Bush administration's Middle East policy decisions, from overthrowing Saddam to ignoring the situation of the Palestinians, are driven by long-held beliefs and goals of an elite group of conservatives inside and outside of government.".… (more)

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