I occasionally see snarky references from (liberal) friends to the effect that the Bush Administration ignored warnings during the summer of 2001 that al Qaeda was going to attack the U.S. Usually, this is a reference to an August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing, in which the CIA reported:
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Laden implied in U.S. television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and "bring the fighting to America."
Al Qaeda members -- including some who are U.S. citizens -- have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks.
Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were U.S. citizens, and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s.
A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden 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 ---- service in 1998 saying that Bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-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 U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.
Left unsaid in these snarky criticisms is what exactly the Bush Administration should have done given what was known at the time. There's no actionable intelligence about any specific target. Should we have locked down all commercial aircraft? And the report alleges that Muslim-American youths are being recruited for attacks, but with no specifics, not even a designated part of the country. It's hard to believe that Bush critics would actually want action of the sort depicted in the movie "The Siege," where the US government rounds up Arab-Americans (and non-Americans) in New York to be detained in concentration camps. . . .
Anyway, the Independent (UK) has this explosive report about the killing in Libya of US Ambassador Chris Stevens:
According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and "lockdown", under which movement is severely restricted.
Now, I'll grant that "senior diplomatic sources" may not be the equivalent of a CIA briefing item. They may be disgruntled sources.
On the other hand, if the report is true, the quality of the warning seems much better than that in the Aug. 6 PDB. Rather than having to defend the entire US commercial air system, as well as federal buildings in New York, as well as targets of "other attacks" (talk about CYA!), the Independent report identifies a specific class of targets: our embassies.
I should say, just as I find it unfair to blame the Bush Administration in retrospect for not acting (how?) on the Aug. 6 PDB, I think it would be unfair at this point, without knowing more about the alleged warning, to blame the Obama Administration. After all, who knows how often there may be warnings of this sort, making it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.
But . . . if you're going to blame President Bush for not acting on the Aug. 6 PDB, I don't see how you can not also blame President Obama for not acting on this warning, unless you think the warning was never made.
UPDATE: Politico reports:
This is interesting, if you focus on the statement that there was no "actionable intelligence." It's possible that there was a rumor or generalized warning that we might be attacked, but nothing that you could act on -- in other words, something much like the Aug. 6 PDB.
Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, emailed: “This is absolutely wrong. We are not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent.”