Friday, August 25, 2006

George Bush "Trusts His Eyes"

The alarming August 6, 2001, memo from the CIA to the President -- "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" -- has been widely noted in the past few years.

But, also in August, CIA analysts flew to Crawford to personally brief the President -- to intrude on his vacation with face-to-face alerts.

The analytical arm of CIA was in a kind of panic mode at this point. Other intelligence services, including those from the Arab world, were sounding an alarm. The arrows were all in the red. They didn't know the place or time of an attack, but something was coming. The President needed to know.


He's not much of a reader, this President, and never has been, despite White House efforts to trumpet which serious books he is reading at various times.... But he's a very good listener and an extremely visual listener. He sizes people up swiftly and aptly, watches them carefully, and trusts his eyes.


The trap, of course, is that while these tactile, visceral markers can be crucial -- especially in terms of handling the posturing of top officials -- they sometimes are not. The thing to focus on, at certain moments, is what someone says, not who is saying it, or how they're saying it.

And, at an eyeball-to-eyeball intelligence briefing during this urgent summer, George W. Bush seems to have made the wrong choice.

He looked hard at the panicked CIA briefer.

"All right," he said. "You've covered your ass, now."


As Crumpton briefed the President -- and it became clear that the Pentagon had not voiced the CIA's concerns to Bush -- he pushed beyond his pay grade. He told Bush that "we're going to lose our prey if we're not careful," and strongly recommended the marines, or other troops in the region, get to Tora Bora immediately. Cheney said nothing.

Bush, seeming surprised, pressed him for more information. "How bad off are these Afghani forces, really? Are they up to the job?"

"Definitely not, Mr. President," Crumpton said. "Definitely not."

Courtesy of Media Matters and Ron Suskind's book One Percent Doctrine here.

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