What the White House Knew and Other 9/11 News

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The Tribute in Light, left, shines above a reflecting pool at the National Sept. 11 Memorial, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP)

The Tribute in Light, left, shines above a reflecting pool at the National Sept. 11 Memorial, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP)

Monday night, as I came home and looked south down Seventh Avenue, they were testing the “Tribute in Light,” the twin batteries of searchlights near Ground Zero pointed to the sky every year on the night of Sept. 11. The curvature of the earth arced the beams high and up over my head.

Those two bright, towering beacons commemorate all who died in the 2001 attacks. The official illumination began Tuesday evening and continued until dawn.

This morning, over at the 6th Precinct, the police station near my apartment, a brief ceremony was held to remember the members of the NYPD who died on 9/11. The 6th lost two men, the firehouse a couple of blocks away lost seven. Further downtown, at the site of the memorial, families began reading the names of the dead and bells were rung at the moments of the aircrafts’ first impact and the collapse of the buildings.

The lights and ceremonies have become annual remembrances, a time to look back. So it’s hard to believe that eleven years later there still can be new developments advancing the story from that awful morning. And yet there are, some of them too long coming.

On Monday, agreement was reached between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the foundation that oversees the memorial at the World Trade Center to resume construction of the 9/11 museum. Originally, it was scheduled to open on this year’s anniversary but was delayed by infighting over jurisdiction and who was supposed to pay for what. According to The New York Times:

“The two sides agreed to work together to speed construction and to more closely coordinate events on the memorial plaza, although the foundation will retain control. Still, Monday’s agreement leaves plenty of room for future disputes, because the city and state must now agree on scheduling and other details.”

The hope is that the national museum, which will display artifacts and honor the victims, will open by the end of 2013 when Mike Bloomberg, who heads the 9/11 Foundation, will finish his third term as New York City mayor. But the past history of plans to build the memorial and museum site has been fraught with snafus and sometimes petty bickering — behavior unbecoming to the memory of the dead.

Better news comes with the government’s decision this week to add 50 kinds of cancer to the list of illnesses covered by the Zadroga Act, the legislation that finally established a $4.3 billion fund to pay medical costs for first responders who worked at the Trade Center, clearing debris and searching for bodies.

As I wrote a year ago, “It was hard enough passing the Zadroga Act in the first place, beating back years of resistance and wrangling in Congress, a GOP filibuster and so-called ‘compassion fatigue’ around the rest of the country.” You may remember that Jon Stewart was applauded as a local hero here in New York last year for using The Daily Show to shame congressional opponents of Zadroga into approval.

Many feared adding these cancers to the list of illnesses would be another uphill battle, but as the New York Daily News reported, “Cancer survivors cheered the government’s decision Monday to add 50 varieties of the deadly disease to the list of 9/11-linked ailments covered by the Zadroga law — making the sickened heroes eligible to tap the fund for much-needed help.

“‘It’s long overdue,’ said 47-year-old Ernie Vallebuona, a former NYPD detective whose non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is now in remission. ‘It’s going to help a lot of people out who [have] been suffering.’”

Also getting attention on this 11th anniversary, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, a new book by former New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald. In a Times op-ed, Eichenwald summarizes some of his findings. He writes that the infamous “presidential daily brief” of Aug. 6, 2001 – the one headlined “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” — was only the latest of several warnings from the CIA:

“The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of an al-Qaida attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that ‘a group presently in the United States’ was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that al-Qaida strikes could be ‘imminent,’ although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

“But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the CIA had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat…

“In response, the CIA prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.”

Interviewed by CBS News, Eichenwald added, “… The counterterrorist center of the CIA did a spectacular job… In the aftermath, the White House and others said, ‘Well, they didn’t tell us enough.’ No, they told them everything they needed to know to go on a full alert and the White House didn’t do it.”

Responding to Eichenwald’s interview and asked whether al-Qaida is still a threat, CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, former FBI deputy director and assistant director of National Intelligence, said, “It’s still capable of being lethal on a small scale. What we have to worry about is not al-Qaida central command. It’s al-Qaida-ism, which is the way they have marshaled the internet to find followers they have never met who can also do things that are lethal through this kind of inspiration.”

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