Some of the briefs again reminded Mr. Bush that the attack timing was flexible, and that, despite any perceived delay, the planned assault was on track.
Yet, the White House failed to take significant action. Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else.
That same day in Chechnya, according to intelligence I reviewed, Ibn Al-Khattab, an extremist who was known for his brutality and his links to Al Qaeda, told his followers that there would soon be very big news. Within 48 hours, an intelligence official told me, that information was conveyed to the White House, providing more data supporting the C.I.A.’s warnings. Still, the alarm bells didn’t sound.
If terror challenges democracy, the answer is more democracy, not less; more accountability and openness, not less. The question is whether the secret power we have allowed to spring up in our name is under any kind of democratic control. Do our elected representatives keep our secret agencies under sufficient scrutiny? Does the press know what is being done in our name?
We have paid for sovereign failure with secret government. Most people accept this, because our enemies have not prevailed. The mastermind is dead, his remains scattered at sea. His followers are in hiding and know they will be pursued to the ends of the earth.
But they created the apocalyptic standard, and the risk now is not just al-Qaeda but any group with the desire and capacity to emulate it.
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