Patterico's Pontifications


ABC Agrees to Edit “The Path to 9/11” After Complaints from Clinton

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:10 pm

ABC has apparently agreed to edit “The Path to 9/11” in response to a complaint from former President Bill Clinton. Hot Air has the details. According to reports, the edit alters the controversial scene in which Sandy Berger refuses to give the CIA authority to kill bin Laden. Also, the film will now be billed as based only “in part” on the 9/11 Commission Report.

A few points are in order.

First, if the changes make the film more historically accurate, that’s a good thing.

I don’t know whether that is the case or not.

Despite what some lefty bloggers think, I haven’t seen the film, so I must rely on descriptions from people who have, like my guest blogger Justin Levine.

From everything I’ve read, it appears that the particular scene probably didn’t occur exactly as depicted in the film. The scene was probably overdramatized and made into a composite of various failures.

But while Clinton’s failure should not be overstated, neither should it be understated.

For example, I see that a lot of commenters here have been making the argument: the movie is incorrect because it is inconsistent with what Dick Clarke has said. Allow me a quick mordant chuckle or four. OK, I’m done.

You see, Clarke’s credibility is toast, as I have explained before, many, many times. If Dick Clarke told me my name is Patrick Frey, I’d check my ID to make sure.

Also, while the particular scene in the movie may not have happened in the particular way the movie depicted (something that should not be excused), let’s not pretend that the Clinton Administration didn’t pass up chances to take out Bin Laden. Clinton’s folks passed on a specific plan to capture Bin Laden that had been approved at high levels, only to be scuttled by Cabinet officials worried, among other things, about killing innocent civilians, and about recriminations if Bin Laden were killed.

Some relevant details on that point are in the extended entry.

[Extended entry]

For example, look at the relevant portions of the 9/11 Commission Report. I’ll pick out a few salient paragraphs:

The CIA Develops a Capture Plan

Initially, the DCI’s Counterterrorist Center and its Bin Ladin unit considered a plan to ambush Bin Ladin when he traveled between Kandahar, the Taliban capital where he sometimes stayed the night, and his primary residence at the time, Tarnak Farms. After the Afghan tribals reported that they had tried such an ambush and failed, the Center gave up on it, despite suspicions that the tribals’ story might be fiction. Thereafter, the capture plan focused on a nighttime raid on Tarnak Farms.17

. . . .

Briefing papers prepared by the Counterterrorist Center acknowledged that hitches might develop. People might be killed, and Bin Ladin’s supporters might retaliate, perhaps taking U.S. citizens in Kandahar hostage. But the briefing papers also noted that there was risk in not acting. “Sooner or later,” they said, “Bin Ladin will attack U.S. interests, perhaps using WMD [weapons of mass destruction].”19

Clarke’s Counterterrorism Security Group reviewed the capture plan for Berger. . . .

“Mike” [Michael Scheuer, the chief of the Bin Ladin station, about whom I have more below — P] thought the capture plan was “the perfect operation.” It required minimum infrastructure. The plan had now been modified so that the tribals would keep Bin Ladin in a hiding place for up to a month before turning him over to the United States-thereby increasing the chances of keeping the U.S. hand out of sight. “Mike” trusted the information from the Afghan network; it had been corroborated by other means, he told us. The lead CIA officer in the field, Gary Schroen, also had confidence in the tribals. In a May 6 cable to CIA headquarters, he pronounced their planning “almost as professional and detailed . . . as would be done by any U.S. military special operations element.” He and the other officers who had worked through the plan with the tribals judged it “about as good as it can be.” . . . .

Military officers reviewed the capture plan and, according to “Mike,” “found no showstoppers.” . . . .

In Washington, Berger expressed doubt about the dependability of the tribals. In his meeting with Tenet, Berger focused most, however, on the question of what was to be done with Bin Ladin if he were actually captured. He worried that the hard evidence against Bin Ladin was still skimpy and that there was a danger of snatching him and bringing him to the United States only to see him acquitted.24

. . . .

On May 20, Director Tenet discussed the high risk of the operation with Berger and his deputies, warning that people might be killed, including Bin Ladin. Success was to be defined as the exfiltration of Bin Ladin out of Afghanistan.28 A meeting of principals was scheduled for May 29 to decide whether the operation should go ahead.

The principals did not meet. On May 29, “Jeff” informed “Mike” that he had just met with Tenet, Pavitt, and the chief of the Directorate’s Near Eastern Division. The decision was made not to go ahead with the operation. “Mike” cabled the field that he had been directed to “stand down on the operation for the time being.” He had been told, he wrote, that cabinet-level officials thought the risk of civilian casualties-“collateral damage”-was too high. They were concerned about the tribals’ safety, and had worried that “the purpose and nature of the operation would be subject to unavoidable misinterpretation and misrepresentation-and probably recriminations-in the event that Bin Ladin, despite our best intentions and efforts, did not survive.”29

Impressions vary as to who actually decided not to proceed with the operation. Clarke told us that the CSG saw the plan as flawed. He was said to have described it to a colleague on the NSC staff as “half-assed” and predicted that the principals would not approve it. “Jeff” thought the decision had been made at the cabinet level. Pavitt thought that it was Berger’s doing, though perhaps on Tenet’s advice. 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.30

Now, this passage tends to suggest that Tenet is responsible for having cancelled the plan — but that is far from crystal clear. For one thing, some of the principals involved have serious credibility issues. I mentioned Clarke’s issues earlier in the post, and we all know about the classified documents Sandy Berger sneaked out of the National Archives.

Noel Sheppard has a great post expanding on this at Newsbusters. He has an exclusive e-mail from “Mike” — who is “Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the CIA that used to head up ‘Alec Station,’ the Counterterrorist Center’s Osama bin Laden unit.” Scheuer is not sure who was responsible for scuttling the plan, but he confirms the quoted passages from the 9/11 Commission Report stating that a plan was in place, and was scrapped by the Clinton Administration, probably at the Cabinet level. Scheuer’s e-mail states in part:

Regarding the scene, it was never clear to my officers or myself who canceled the operation. It is true that Clarke was bad-mouthing it. What I don’t think people know, however, is that the Agency had thoroughly reviewed the plan and had approved its execution at the highest level — that is, at the level of DCI Tenet and his immediate subordinates. (NB: At Tenet’s direction, JSOC commanders at Fort Bragg also reviewed the plan. They approved it, said they could not do better, and built two sand-table mock-ups of the bin Laden’s compound for us to use in preparing the operation.) My officers and I were told that the plan had been sent to Clarke and the NSC for approval. The next thing we knew, the Chief of CT at CIA told us that the plan had been canceled because civilians might get killed, there was not a hundred percent chance that we would get bin Laden, and that if bin Laden was killed in the capture effort the CIA might get accused of assassination. The implication to us at the time was that the NSC canceled the operation, but Tenet later claimed he did it himself. I don’t know what the full truth is on this issue.

It makes me uncomfortable to be approaching the fifth anniversary of 9/11 with so much of the country engaged in a “blame game.” At the same time, it’s important to review what we did do and did not do — and to do so accurately — so we can learn from our mistakes. I think Noel Sheppard puts it well:

In the end, “The Path to 9/11” is just a made-for-television docudrama…nothing more, nothing less. As such, rather than its existence further dividing our nation on the fifth anniversary of this solemn event, maybe we should all just watch it, and decide for ourselves its merit and veracity.

This will be easier if we all remain committed to accuracy. If the film’s accuracy has improved, then I am happy. I wish the Clinton defenders were equally concerned with accuracy.

21 Responses to “ABC Agrees to Edit “The Path to 9/11” After Complaints from Clinton”

  1. To Patric F.

    It’s funny how you can be for accuracy now that ABC has already edited The Path to 9/11, but when concerned Americans like myself were asking for it to begin with we were accused, not by yourself, of everything from censorship to revisionism.

    PS You might want to tell your friend Justin Levine not to make comments like this on your site in the future:
    “For those who have been asking for a clear historical account of the build-up to the 9/11 disaster, free of political spin, politically correct whitewashing and partisan wrangling – I can say wholeheartedly that this is the film that you have been waiting for.”

    Linden (c5d150)

  2. Addendum:

    Sorry Patrick with a k 🙂

    Linden (c5d150)

  3. I wish the Clinton defenders were equally concerned with accuracy.

    Be nice, wouldn’t it? Never happen, though. It would only make them look even worse than they already do. I’d suspect that Sandy Burglar had a lot to do with the cancellation of the operation, along with good ole Richard Clarke. Those guys were risk-adverse to the max. Just take a look at this portion of Mike Scheuer’s e-mail quoted above — the plan had been canceled because civilians might get killed, there was not a hundred percent chance that we would get bin Laden. Just ain’t no way that type of thought process will ever accomplish anything worthwhile.

    Do you think it was possible Sandy was looking for written evidence of his actions on this in his escapades at the Archives?

    Bill M (d9e4b2)

  4. The Clinton regime is losing the politics on this. Normally, a TV movie like this would air then be forgotten. Now with this whole dustup over forced changes, and massive coverage, they are pounding the Clinton/Osama relationship into the heads of voters with a ball-peen hammer. Many people haven’t really thought about whether Osama was even around during Clinton – now everyone is thinking about it. Every time Sandy Berger’s name is brought up, they lose. For what he did, it is a wonder he isn’t in prison.

    Wesson (c20d28)

  5. This is a must read article by Hugh Hewitt. Here’s a taste:

    “An exclamation point on this event is the fact that Oliver Stone will endorse the project this week. Not known for his conservative leanings, he loves the project. Perhaps this and the fact that the production company that made Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” are endorsing it would underline just how far out or touch and scared the Clinton Admin is about the revelation of the facts as portrayed in this project.”

    [Relying on an Oliver Stone endorsement as evidence of accuracy makes as little sense as relying on the dishonest Dick Clarke. — P]

    Chris from Victoria, BC (9824e6)

  6. This is censorship, plain and simple. Because ABC is in the pocket of the Dems, the edits go uneeded. When Orwell talked of INGSOC and the changing of history, Orwell wrote about the modern Democrat party. If any Democrat disputes this, why not let the show run unedited?

    To contact Bob Iger:

    JSF (a90377)

  7. There’s an irony in the story of this called-off mission that goes unappreciated. Berger, for all his flaws and all his difficulties with truthfulness, had the right of it with his reservations on the plan. Talk about an inconvenient truth! Look at Bush’s speech about his requests to Congress to organize tribunals in the wake of the Hamdan decision. It’s now seven years later, and we still don’t have a good answer for the questions posed by party-like-it’s-1999-Berger.

    Sure, now that bin Laden himself has attained supervillian status that rivals Magneto’s, no tears if he’s killed, incarcerated-without-a-fair-trial-with-full-defendant’s-rights, etc. But suppose that Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Adel Mohammed Abdul Almagid Abdul Bary, or Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (I just plucked #s 2-5 from this alphabetical list) falls into American hands tomorrow. What’s the agreed-upon, internationally-sanctioned, and effective way to deal with them?

    There wasn’t one then, and there isn’t one now.

    Just to be clear, I am not excusing Berger, the Clinton Administration, or the Bush Administration for their failures to stand up to the forces who equate terrorist warriors with victims in need of protection.

    AMac (e22d95)

  8. Linden: PS You might want to tell your friend Justin Levine not to make comments like this on your site in the future:

    Perhaps you should refrain from telling Justin Levine what’s wrong with his movie review until you actually see the movie for yourself. Idiot.
    What was reviewed was a 5 hour docudrama.

    And if you’re in agreement with those attempting to censor a movie’s final cut that ABC and its filmmakers had put in the can, ready to go, then it’s just one more example of how the Democratic Party is becoming an un-American party. What you’re doing is saying you want to supress even works of art if that don’t conform to Dictator Clinton and how he demands he be depicted.

    What I demand is that ABC be allowed to air the movie that was in the can and ready to go. No one stopped Michael Moore’s movie from being shown. No one forced Michael Moore’s movie to be cut up. The attacks were in response to the movie – that is the way it should be in a country with free speech.

    If ABC’s movie stinks, or is full of lies, or whatever, then attack it. But supressing it, or deleting portions of it before it can air, is wrong and un-American. The fact that Democrats don’t see how wrong they are shows how big the divide is. These people have lost it and there will be a backlash.

    LoafingOaf (a90377)

  9. […] Even though we are NOT the same person, I heartily endorse Pattreico’s take on this controversy (including the notion that having more historical accuarcy is never a bad thing, and that Richard Clarke doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility – despite being depicted as a hero in this film). He has provided some useful links to this debate, so “Thanks P!” […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » The Path To 9/11 – A Response Thus Far (421107)

  10. If Dick Clarke told me my name is Patrick Frey, I’d check my ID to make sure.

    Wait, I thought your name was Justin Levine?

    See Dubya (93ba81)

  11. Democrat Party threatens ABC license – Uncle Joe would be so proud!…

    In a clear demonstration on how the Dem party has been thoroughly corrupted and co-opted by the far Left, ABC’s caving to Bubba is not enough to satisfy the apparatchiks. In a naked display of an old Soviet refusenik saying……

    Darleen's Place (1650a7)

  12. “I’d suspect that Sandy Burglar had a lot to do with the cancellation of the operation”

    How is it that “Socks” escaped jail anyway?

    Federal Dog (9afd6c)

  13. All political parties have equal access to and influence on the mass media, but some parties have more equal influence than others.

    All the claims prior to this recent escapade was concerning how hard they worked to go by what was in the 911 commission report, etc.

    So, I would like ABC, the people behind the movie, Sen. Reid and other protestors, and Gov. Kean have a little discussion on our behalf.

    By the way, has anyone complained about the movie hitting the film festivals about the assassination of President Bush?????

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  14. […] Patterico has evidently learned that ABC has opted to re-edit their 9/11 TV movie to remove any hint that Clinton (Bill) and his Administration might have in any way fallen asleep with our national security when dealing with Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, or terrorists in general. This despite that 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean has said that movie is accurate. […] » Friday morning open thread (879659)

  15. FYI, I was waiting for this, but Buzz Patterson has also now come forward to say that he has seen the movie and it accurately reflects events he personally witnessed while serving as a White House aide…

    *crickets chirping*

    Cassandra (c9069a)

  16. hey Wesson

    First: You might want to know that Richard Ben-Veniste who was on the 9/11 Commission ( we’ll give you a minute to bash him now….) broke the story because he was one of the few to see the original version and point-out the glaring inaccuracies.

    Second: If there was nothing wrong with the original, why did ABC/Disney feel the need to change it, and to stop promoting it as historical fact. This is not about trying to change your opinion of Clinton, that would be impossible. It is about preventing this film from being propoganda, period!

    Third: I intend to hold Mr Levines’ feet to the fire for his contradicting review of this film back on 8/31 where he said and this is a quote “For those who have been asking for a clear historical account of the build-up to the 9/11 disaster, free of political spin, politically correct whitewashing and partisan wrangling – I can say wholeheartedly that this is the film that you have been waiting for.”

    Linden (c5d150)

  17. “Few”???
    There was a large crowd who were given a viewing, but only the first half, so he didn’t have a chance to see how bad the Republicans look in part II. In addition, 900 copies were sent out by ABC to TV critics, talk show hosts, etc (but not to Patterico, why not I do not know).
    Ben-Veniste and Tom Kean, who was co-chair of the 9/11 commission, need to have a little talk, as Gov. Kean said it was a faithful representation of history.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  18. […] Again, I’m not interested in the blame game — but I’m also not interested in allowing Democrats to rewrite history according to the mythology of left-wing blogs. If the lefties stop doing that, maybe we can get back to blaming the real culprits: the terrorists. And maybe we can commemorate the awful anniversary of 9/11 in the sober way that it deserves. […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Investor’s Business Daily on Changes to “The Path to 9/11″ (421107)

  19. This is aman who as president or dictator disreguarded the constitution who called it a radical document while on MTV so why should this surprise anyone this jerk must want to be KING WILLIAM

    krazy kagu (be5799)

  20. The Legacy Thugs and the Death of an Optimist?…

    Nah, she’s probably not quite dead, but let’s get to the depressing stuff.
    My posting of the “Path to 9/11” controversy needs serious updating.
    First the new news.
    Albright, Berger, and other Clinton aides now want the miniseries cancelled, no…

    Mary Katharine Ham (95d97e)

  21. The more Clinton and the dems try to stop the docudrama, the more interested I am. They are obviously trying to conceal something. I thought from 911 on that Clinton and the dems were guilty . They just pushed their dirty laundry on to the Bush Administration. Too bad the agent who knew the truth was killed in the towers. We would have seen the real dems guilt right away. The media is in the pockets of the dems to the point that most of us don’t believe a thing they say. My congrats to ABC for finally trying to get out of their pockets. I hope they succeed. They will find that the air is a lot fresher.

    Patricia Long (772096)

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