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 place or time of an attack, but something was coming. The President needed to know.
Verbal briefings of George W. Bush are acts of almost inestimable import in the affairs of the nation—more so than is the case for other recent presidents. He’s not much of a reader. . . . 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 expert, sitting before him, has done the hard work, the heavy lifting, and the President tries to gauge how “certain” they are of what they say, even if the issues may be unfamiliar to him. Do they seem nervous or unsure? Are they fudging? Why do they think what they do . . . and what to they think of him? That last part is very important.
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.”
Here, as a reminder of what I covered in yesterday's post, is sense four of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "dereliction":
4 Reprehensible abandonment; wilful neglect. Chiefly in dereliction of duty.
If I ever find myself in the unenviable position of having to write a dictionary, the second thing I'll do (the first being to put that line drawing of the arms-akimbo guy next to the definition of "akimbo") is put that passage in place as example number one of sense four of "dereliction." Can you name a better?
Impeach George Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.