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Day April 10, 2004

The Aug. 6, 2001 PDB Revealed

The White House released the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing today (Saturday is a slow news day). The PDB is about 1.5 pages long, and has three redacted portions, each referring to the intelligence source in question. Given that the 9-11 Commission has seen the original, classified PDB and could easily cry “foul” if there are major discrepancies, we can safely assume that what we’ve got is the real document.

And, honestly, it’s incredibly difficult to see what the fuss over declassifying this is all about — other than the precedent which might be set by releasing redacted PDB’s, there’s virtually nothing in this document that we don’t already know. I’m only half joking, but one does have to wonder what the hell we get for our intelligence budget dollar if this is what the president reads every morning?

Condi Rice, in referring to the document as “historical” is skating that fine line between truth and fiction (or less generously, lies). Sure, the document has some history in it, but is it “historical” to say:

A clandestine source said in 1998 that a Bin Ladin cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a … (redacted portion) … service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of “Blind Shaykh” ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists.

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our Embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of Bin Ladin supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.

(highlighting added)

Obviously, this isn’t “historical” given the normal meaning of that term. Simply put, the document does indicate that threats were reported to the president in August of 2001. The only plausible explanation of why this has been kept so secret (and why Rice had to be virtually compelled to testify) is that it demonstrates unambiguously that Bush had indications that attack planning was afoot within the United States in mid-2001. He and his advisors didn’t completely ignore the problem, but it’s also crystal clear that they didn’t exactly put it at the top of the stack. The interesting thing here is the lengths that the Administration has gone to in order to keep this fact secret rather than acknowledging it and moving on.