- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

The Monday morning quarterbacks and armchair generals of the Democratic Party leadership and their mouthpieces in the media have found a new smoking gun that "proves" their incredible slander that President Bush had sufficient forewarning of the September 11 attacks to have been able to prevent them. Now they have discovered that the French warned the administration of a similar plot nearly six years before September 11.

To the "gotcha" press, this "proves" the administration is full of dunces, who couldn't tell a skunk until they ran over it, or that they were engaged in a diabolical plot. Either way, President Bush looks bad.

Unfortunately (for the media), it didn't quite happen that way. I know, because I regularly have interviewed the French judge who first discovered the evidence and passed it on to the United States government. My latest report on the judge's courageous work, "Codes, clues and confessions," appeared in the March edition of Reader's Digest and includes the first detailed explanation of the Eiffel Tower plot in the U.S. press. Even though my story appeared well after September 11, our genius armchair generals never "got it" until last week. But now they fault the Bush administration for failing to see the warning in time.

Judge Bruguiere's tale of what he had discovered about Osama bin Ladin's thugs and when he knew it should send up red flags not to the Bush administration, who fully appreciated his warnings, acted on them, and secretly commended Judge Bruguiere on two separate occasions but to Democrats in Congress, who totally ignored them.

Here's what actually happened, and when we knew it.

In December 1994, Algerian terrorists from the GIA (the Armed Islamic Group) hijacked a French airliner on a regular flight from Algiers to Paris, and were forced to land in the southern French city of Marseilles. A French riot squad successfully stormed the plane, rescuing the hostages and arresting the hijackers. Then they handed over the case to French counter-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere.

From the very start, he told me, the hijacking was unusual, since the Algerian militants then operating in France were primarily gun-runners fueling a radical Islamic fundamentalist insurrection in Algeria. The hijacking was the first time the GIA had struck France.

As Judge Bruguiere broadened his investigation, he convinced the British authorities to raid a London safe house belonging to another GIA cell. During that raid, Judge Bruguiere discovered documents including written orders to the hijackers suggesting that the real goal of the mission had been to crash the aircraft into the Eiffel Tower. Only by luck was the plane grounded before it reached its target.

But did the aborted suicide attack show the French that more such attacks were coming? No. "We knew from this incident that more attacks were to come. But nothing allowed us to predict the terrorists' next steps," Judge Bruguiere told me this week.

Similarly, the French judge argues, nothing could have allowed the CIA or the FBI to predict the September 11 attacks, "lacking some providential piece of intelligence" which didn't exist.

"It's impossible to predict an attack on a specific target," Judge Bruguiere told me. "You can predict a threat and a scale of risk. But never the specific date, the time, the flight number or even the airlines, unless you have some absolutely providential piece of intelligence."

Information about the Eiffel Tower plot was not such a piece of hard intelligence. In fact, the judge says, it took another two to three years until he managed to corroborate the information initially found in London. And only gradually was he able to "connect the dots," leading back to Afghanistan and bin Laden.

The earliest U.S. news story The Washington Times could find that even mentioned the Eiffel Tower plot appeared after "Millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam was arrested in December 1999. The New York Times buried it more than half way down the story.

And yet, according to the White House reporters who have been grilling Ari Fleischer, everybody in the media knew before September 11 about the al Qaeda plot.

So why did no one write about it? The answer is simple; and it holds for news editors and for government terrorism analysts alike: If anyone had written prior to September 11 that Osama bin Laden was planning to send multiple teams of terrorists to the United States, train them at flight schools, hijack four aircraft simultaneously and crash them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the White House, their bosses would have slapped them into a straitjacket on the spot.

Let it be a word to the wise to those armchair generals now second-guessing an administration at war.

Ken Timmerman is a senior writer at Insight magazine, a publication of The Washington Times Corp.

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