"The Path to 9/11" (2006 Docudrama)/Facts and Fiction

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The following relates to some of the facts and fiction surrounding "The Path to 9/11" (2006 Docudrama).

Liberties taken with facts by the movie and its makers

Writer/producer Cyrus Nowrasteh said that he "was provided an incredible amount of research materials and high-level advisors from the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Diplomatic Security, etc." He "expanded" his "research beyond the commission report, which only goes back to 1998," and included the "first attack" on the World Trade Center in 1993. Filming got underway in Summer 2005 "under the very able direction of David L. Cunningham," with filming "in Toronto, Washington D.C., New York, and 5 weeks in Morocco. Filming concluded in December, 2005," Nowrasteh told Jamie Glazov for a FrontPageMag.com interview published August 16, 2006. [1]

Jesse McKinley reported in the September 7, 2006, New York Times that, in one scene, "Mr. Berger’s character is also seen abruptly hanging up during a conversation with a C.I.A. officer at a critical moment of a military operation. In an interview on Wednesday with KRLA-AM in Los Angeles, Cyrus Nowrasteh, the screenwriter of the movie and one of its producers, said that moment had been improvised.

"'Sandy Berger did not slam down the phone,' Mr. Nowrasteh said. 'That is not in the report. That was not script. But you know when you’re making a movie, a lot of things happen on set that are unscripted. Accidents occur, spontaneous reactions of actors performing a role take place. It’s the job of the filmmaker to say, 'You know, maybe we can use that.'"

"Maybe we can use that?" John Aravosis of AMERICAblog commented. "YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT SEPTEMBER 11, YOU FREAKS. You people sent this movie to 100,000 school teachers around the country and told them to show it to their kids. And now you're admitting you just made stuff up, and that's somehow okay?"

Criticisms of Bill Clinton

Describing the miniseries as "a terror thriller as well as a history lesson," Nowrasteh told Glazov that not only does it show "the heroes on the ground, like FBI agent John O'Neill and others, who after the '93 attack felt sure that the terrorists would strike the WTC again" but also "dramatizes the frequent opportunities" the Clinton administration had in the 1990s "to stop" Osama bin Laden "in his tracks—but lacked the will to do so." Nowrasteh said that the miniseries "reveal[s] the day-by-day lead-up of clues and opportunities in 2001 right up to the day of the 9/11 attacks."[2]

On the September 8, 2006, edition of Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher pointed out that, "As president, Clinton had a meeting a week about bin Laden; George W. Bush, before 9/11, had zero." (See YouTube video.) [3]

Fiction/Fact #1: bin Laden assassination story

Fiction

According to conservative pundit Michael Barone, one "gripping scene" shows "CIA agents surrounding bin Laden’s encampments and then being called back when National Security Adviser Sandy Berger refuses to give a go-ahead for the operation." [4] Conservative filmmaker Govindini Murty wrote a review published on her blog and Front Page Magazine that stated:

"One astonishing sequence in 'The Path to 9/11' shows the CIA and the Northern Alliance surrounding Bin Laden’s house in Afghanistan. They’re on the verge of capturing Bin Laden, but they need final approval from the Clinton administration in order to go ahead. They phone Clinton, but he and his senior staff refuse to give authorization for the capture of Bin Laden, for fear of political fall-out if the mission should go wrong and civilians are harmed. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in essence tells the team in Afghanistan that if they want to capture Bin Laden, they’ll have to go ahead and do it on their own without any official authorization... The episode is a perfect example of Clinton-era irresponsibility and incompetence... [which] honestly depicts how the Clinton adminitration repeatedly bungled the capture of Osama Bin Laden."

Fact

The movie's account directly contradicts the 9/11 commission report, however, which states that it was CIA Director George J. Tenet that called off the operation, which itself never got off the ground:

"Tenet told us that given the recommendation of his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to 'turn off' the operation. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back. Berger’s recollection was similar. He said the plan was never presented to the White House for a decision.
"The CIA’s senior management clearly did not think the plan would work. Tenet’s deputy director of operations wrote to Berger a few weeks later that the CIA assessed the tribals’ ability to capture Bin Ladin and deliver him to U.S. officials as low." [5]

Richard Ben-Veniste, "one of the 10 members of the independent Sept. 11 commission, whose final report producer Marc Platt credits with supplying much of the mini-series' detail and narrative structure — rose to denounce the veracity of a key scene involving Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. Berger," Jeff Stein wrote September 4, 2006, in CQ Weekly.

Berger, whom Stein "reached by phone ... seconded Ben-Veniste’s criticism. 'It’s a total fabrication,' he said tersely. 'It did not happen.'"

"Neither Berger nor Ben-Veniste was consulted on the film," Stein wrote.

Republican New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean and former 9/11 Commission co-chair, "however, is an official adviser; he says the incident was a fictionalized composite. It was 'representative of a series of events compacted into one,' he replied to Ben-Veniste at the time. In a phone interview a few days later, he added, 'It’s reasonably accurate.' And he offered a prediction that the show will 'get just as many howls from Republicans.'"

Think Progress contacted Richard A. Clarke, "former counterterrorism czar for Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, and now counterterrorism adviser to ABC", who responded on this scene (as stated by Judd Legum, September 5, 2006) [6]:

  1. Contrary to the movie, no US military or CIA personnel were on the ground in Afghanistan and saw bin Laden.
  2. Contrary to the movie, the head of the Northern Alliance, Masood, was no where near the alleged bin Laden camp and did not see UBL.
  3. Contrary to the movie, the CIA Director actually said that he could not recommend a strike on the camp because the information was single sourced and we would have no way to know if bin Laden was in the target area by the time a cruise missile hit it.

"In short, this scene — which makes the incendiary claim that the Clinton administration passed on a surefire chance to kill or catch bin Laden — never happened. It was completely made up by Nowrasteh," Legum wrote.

Fiction/Fact #2: Washington Post ruined valuable surveillance of bin Laden

An early preview of the film claims that The Washington Post ruined a valuable form of surveillance of Osama bin Laden by disclosing that the U.S. was monitoring his cell phone calls. (In the aired version of the film, the words "wonderful press" are dubbed in).

"Indeed, that charge has been made—but the alleged wrongdoer was a different paper, The Washington Times." [7]

Fiction/Fact #3: Clinton's response to U.S.S. Cole bombing

Fiction

Screenwriter Nowrasteh told Front Page Magazine that the 9/11 report "details the Clinton’s administration’s response — or lack of response — to Al Qaeda and how this emboldened Bin Laden to keep attacking American interests. The worst example is the response to the October, 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen where 17 American sailors were killed. There simply was no response. Nothing." [8]

Fact

This was contradicted by the commission's report, which stated:

"As evidence of al Qaeda’s responsibility for the Cole attack came in during November 2000, National Security Advisor Samuel Berger asked the Pentagon to develop a plan for a sustained air campaign against the Taliban. Clarke developed a paper laying out a formal, specific ultimatum. But Clarke’s plan apparently did not advance to formal consideration by the Small Group of principals. We have found no indication that the idea was briefed to the new administration or that Clarke passed his paper to them, although the same team of career officials spanned both administrations." [9]

It was also contradicted by the commission's executive summary:

"After the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, evidence accumulated that it had been launched by al Qaeda operatives, but without confirmation that Bin Ladin had given the order. The Taliban had earlier been warned that it would be held responsible for another Bin Ladin attack on the United States. The CIA described its findings as a 'preliminary judgment'; President Clinton and his chief advisers told us they were waiting for a conclusion before deciding whether to take military action. The military alternatives remained unappealing to them.
"The transition to the new Bush administration in late 2000 and early 2001 took place with the Cole issue still pending. President George W. Bush and his chief advisers accepted that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack on the Cole, but did not like the options available for a response.
"Bin Ladin’s inference may well have been that attacks, at least at the level of the Cole, were risk free." [10]

Richard A. Clarke, the counter-terrorism advisor on September 11th, described other complications to Clinton's response in his 2004 book Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror:

"The Yemeni government also dragged its feet in the investigation, leading to President Clinton’s becoming personally involved. The U.S. government left the Yemenis in no doubt about the two alternative paths that Yemeni-American relations could take... Meanwhile in Washington neither CIA nor FBI would state the obvious: al Qaeda did it... It was difficult to gain support for a retaliatory strike when neither FBI nor CIA would say that al Qaeda did it.
"Clinton left office with bin Laden alive, but having authorized action to eliminate him and to step up the attacks on al Qaeda. He had defeated al Qaeda when it attempted to take over Bosnia by having its fighters dominate the defense of the breakaway state from Serbian attacks. He had seen earlier than anyone that terrorism would be the major new threat facing America, and therefore had greatly increased funding for counterterrorism and initiated homeland protection programs. He had put an end to Iraqi and Iranian terrorism against the United States by quickly acting against the intelligence services of each nation.
"Because of the intensity of the political opposition that Clinton encountered, he had been heavily criticized for bombing al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, for engaging in 'Wag the Dog' tactics to divert attention from a scandal about his personal life. For similar reasons, he could not fire the recalcitrant FBI director who had failed to fix the Bureau or to uncover terrorists in the United States.
"When Clinton left office many people, including the incoming Bush administration, thought that he and his administration were overly obsessed with al Qaeda. … Why was Clinton so worked up about al Qaeda and why did he talk to President-elect Bush about it and have Sandy Berger raise it with his successor as National Security Advisor, Condi Rice? In January 2001, the new administration really thought Clinton’s recommendation that eliminating al Qaeda be one of their highest priorities, well, rather odd, like so many of the Clinton administration’s actions, from their perspective."

See Clinton administration anti-terrorism law

Articles & Commentary

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