This is a work of fiction
Two months after the Supreme Court declined to intervene in Al Gore's extremely narrow victory in the hotly-contested 2000 election, which was based on a recount of ballots in Florida, Texas Governor George W. Bush conceded the race. Just weeks before the inauguration, it was the only victory for an administration that spiraled down to defeat from day one.
Federalized Forests ... legislation to formalize Clinton's 'roadless rule'
The first Quixotic gesture of what commentator Paul Gigot has called the "Windmill presidency" was the introduction on January 31, 2000 of legislation to formalize Clinton's "roadless rule" for national forests. Quickly stymied by Republican majorities in the House and Senate, the bills went nowhere.
The legislation generated televised images which presaged the paralysis and frustration that would characterize the Gore years: Loggers from Montana to Oregon and Arkansas took a break from their jobs to clog Washington DC with fully-loaded timber rigs.
"The White House is trying to federalize the forests," said Manuel Llamas, spokesperson for Georgia-Pacific during the protests. "This is an outrageous extension of federal power. It's a theft of public lands."
The reputation for incompetence, paranoia, and hesitancy that dogged the entire administration was introduced in vignette form when Oregon logger Randolf Chum found his way through the antiterrorist blast barriers around the White House, and began dumping the redwoods from his rig in the fountain.
Secret Service agents and -- to the amazement of most Americans -- an elite Delta Force unit, charged Chum with automatic weapons, apparently prepared to kill him.
"That was the first sign that Gore was way over the top," commented David Brooks. "A sad-sack, divorced, high-school bowling champion -- a guy in a plaid shirt! -- is such a big threat that we must use the Delta Force on him?"
In February Senate hearings on the failure of White House security systems, the Administration was further embarrassed by the revelation that the Secret Service and Delta Force had been ordered not to fire, except to stop an armed assailant or a suspected bomb-laden vehicle.
"Talk about getting egg on your face and then adding Worchester Sauce," said Brooks, "They called in the most elite units, and then said 'Well ... don't hurt anybody!' This was an administration with no spine, and the American people sensed it right away."
Greenpeace supported Gore's forest legislation. "I suspect that's why he did it in the first place," Gigot said. "To pay off a campaign promise he'd made to be the 'Environmental President.'"
Chum claimed that despite the no-shooting order, he had nonetheless been fired on. He displayed a bullet hole in the cab of his vehicle to prove it. Senate analysis of TV camera footage was inconclusive. For years, accounts persisted on the internet that Chum had in fact been been killed that day in Washington.
"Al Gore is a deadwood president!" Chum said. "He's declared war on the American way of life! It's a war against the American people! We ought to drag that deadwood out of there with a hook and chain!"
While Chum may have been the first of the rabid anti-Gore movement, he was far from the last.
The Kyoto Protocol Recession ... toxic environmentalism
Gore submitted the proposed Kyoto Protocol Treaty to the Senate for approval on March 15, 2001. The Kyoto Protocol mandated reductions in the quantity of so-called greenhouse gases emitted by the signatory countries, as part of an effort to control the 'global warming' foreseen by some scientists.
American business, anticipating new regulations, restrictions and taxes, reacted guardedly. The economic recession of 2000 was blamed on Kyoto by Gore critics, while the White House insisted that there was no linkage.
"It's a fact of life that from the start of the Industrial Revolution down through today, all economic growth has resulted in increased atmospheric pollution," wrote Max Boot, Senior fellow at the Hoover Institute. "If you propose to limit emissions, that means you're going to limit economic activity. It's like capping the exhaust pipe of a car: Sooner of later the engine is going to die. Business understood this when contemplating the implications of Kyoto. The markets understood this. The investors understood this. But the Gore people did not seem to understand that they had painted a big red bulls eye on the back of the American economy, and by extension, the global economy."
Gore officials, though, tried to blame the recession on the collapse of technology stocks -- the 'dot com' crash. On March 30, White House spokesperson Angela Davis said: "The decline in the markets as a result of flight from internet technology stocks is dramatic, but not, we think, linked to anticipation of the Kyoto Treaty."
"The White House," said Senator Strom Thurman, "has made statements putting this in terms of a 'decline in the markets' -- rather than saying what it really is: a recession. They're afraid to use the word. Well I'm not. This is a recession, ladies and gentlemen, with a capital 'R...' caused by the fact that American business is running scared from the Kyoto tax and Kyoto regulations that they can see coming down the line. As one of our great, hardworking citizens has said, the President's declared war on the American way of life. This is a war against the American people."
"I got a little bit of a chuckle out of that," said David Brooks. "The Clinton and Gore people had fueled the dot-com bubble all throughout the '90s, and yet here was Davis acting like it was as a stranger in the house -- as foreign and remote as the battle of Hastings."
The treaty was rejected in the Senate on April 13, 2001, by Republicans who held it until then to be closer to the filing deadline for personal income taxes. Declaring a "Tax Relief Day," they then proceeded to "slay this beast on behalf of the American taxpayer," in the words of Senator Graham.
Even with the treaty dead, business leaders and Gore critics continued to feel it dragging on the economy. As the economic downturn continued for many months, the prospect of a Kyoto revival was perceived to hang heavy over the economy. "It's like an executioner's blade," said Paul Shultz of the American Business Council, "You know there's a president in office who wants to bring it down, and it creates a chilling effect."
After that defeat, Gore introduced legislation for tough new regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. He made a televised address to the nation on May 1. Dubbed by critics the "Mayday speech," Gore's speech aimed, Reagan style, to go over the heads of Congress to the American people. It failed. Polls showed that the only lasting impression from the speech was the revelation that an image consultant almost persuaded Gore to wear a sweater for the address.
"It wasn't Jimmy Carter's fireside malaise chat, but apparently we came close," quipped Gigot.
Vice President Lieberman’s Energy task force released its “National Energy Policy,” a politically vestigial document filled with windmills, solar panels, plume filters, fanciful, lightweight vehicles that conflicted with the average American's automotive dream, and of course: Kyoto.
The grassroots effort to determine how many radical environmentalists were consulted by the task force began immediately. Freedom of Information Act requests were filed by media, values restoration groups, and the Republican Attorney General of Texas. Opposing these requests in court, the Administration was bloodied by the open-government advocates on the Left who had supported Gore. After a sudden about face on June 6, 2001, on which date the Administration released all the files and notes of the committee, Gore's falling star shone ever more dimly.
His vacillation was seen as weak, and to critics, the released documents were widely seen as only part of the story. Speculation about which radical environmentalists had been on the energy task force dogged the White House up to and through the period of the impeachment.
September 11, 2001 ... murder in the air
The truth about the Gore Administration's involvement in the events of September 11, 2001 is still being extracted. Our account here is based on documents and testimony that came out over an extended period of time. At the time of the events described, there was incomplete knowledge of White House activity. But here we have attempted to weave what is now known into an integrated narrative.
Despite it's series of high-profile legislative defeats, the White House continued to attempt to appear responsible in an area it called "Antiterrorism and Information Security (AIS)." The idea was described in Gore first weekly radio address:
Modern technology makes it increasingly necessary that we defend our country from emerging threats posed by individual terrorists or computer hackers, or small groups of the same. Attacks on our security can come in the form of an atomic weapon in a suitcase, or a hacker on another continent who uses a computer to cause a blackout in one of our cities, or burst a dam.
Gore then described a series of initiatives to strengthen our military networks and infrastructure against computer hacking. He had far less to say about terrorism, limiting himself to a plan for installing radiation detectors at various locations around the country.
"What else are those scanners going to be looking at? And where's he going to put 'em?" said one Kansas resident in a local news segment. "I don't like being under surveillance."
Plagued by other concerns, the AIS initiative languished on paper.
On August 6, 2001, Gore read a Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) which would lead to a tragic series of events.
The following is a redacted text of the presidential daily briefing from August 6, 2001:
Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S. 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." :
After U.S. missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, Bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a [deleted text] service.
An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told [deleted text] service at the same time that Bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative's access to the U.S. to mount a terrorist strike.
The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of Bin Laden's first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the U.S. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself, but that Bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaydah encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaydah was planning his own U.S. attack.
Ressam says Bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
Although Bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveilled our Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993, and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
AI Qaeda members -- including same who are U.S. citizens -- have resided in and 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 [deleted text] service in 1998 saying that Bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" 'Umar' Abd aI-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 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.
A president is notified about numerous possible threats to the country on an almost daily basis. "We present them with visions of seas of blood," wrote former CIA analyst Karl Vincent, in his 1996 tell-all book. "Their job is to filter out the science fiction and determine which are the important threats."
Gore failed to filter effectively.
The president had been at odds with Clinton-appointed FBI director Louie Freeh, complaining to aides that Freeh was bureaucratic and unimaginative. Distrusting Freeh, Gore's response to the August 6 PDB was to personally order a memo delivered to all FBI agents:
FBI personnel who encounter evidence of al Qaeda-linked individuals engaged in suspicious activity involving planes or airports are requested to submit the information on a priority basis to their supervisors, who are likewise requested to elevate the data.
"Gore was a classic meddler and micro manager," Brooks said. "He didn't know how to delegate. He thought 'wonk' was a compliment."
Insulted at being bypassed, Freeh submitted his resignation letter as soon as he learned of Gore's memo. Gore "put it in a drawer," testified White House Chief of Staff Al Sharpton.
Gore's presidential imperative lit a fire under FBI agent Kenneth Williams, working in Phoenix. Williams had written a July 10, 2001 memo to his supervisors, that outlined his perception that an "inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest" were attending flight training in Arizona, and speculated they were part of an effort to establish a group in civil aviation that would be in a position to conduct terrorist activity.
The memo "did not raise any alarms" at FBI headquarters where it was determined no follow-up action was warranted. New York FBI agents found it to be "speculative," according to impeachment hearings testimony.
Now, with Gore's memo in hand, Williams pushed hard on his supervisor. The field managers had been told by Freeh to forward "anything and everything" related to aviation and al Qaeda directly to him. He would in turn dump the raw reports on the White House staff.
"He wanted to drown us in sewage," Sharpton testified. "It was a personal thing."
But White House staff were matchless in their misdirected diligence. Freeh delivered over 13,000 documents to the White House on August 10, consisting of over 200,000 pages of unprocessed intelligence.
Staffers worked through that Friday and then the weekend, ordering pizza and "tossing documents around like snow," testified one of the participants.
On Monday morning, August 13, 2001, they found the document that sealed the fate of hundreds of lives initially, and thousands upon thousands later. It was Williams' Phoenix memo.
Gore was informed of the memo that afternoon while jogging. He had worked the weekend as well, a frequent occurrence for him. "At one point the president went and joined the staffers sifting documents," Sharpton testified. "He even flipped a few himself."
"This stuff about Gore working weekends was always leaking out of the White House in those days," Brooks said. "You almost expected there to be a press release if he ever didn't work a weekend. The guy was so insecure in his office that he never once took a vacation in the first nine months of 2001. People started joking that he was the Teflon president: You know, stuck to the pan."
Gore was apoplectic about the Phoenix memo. "I love the man, truly I do," Sharpton said in a rare 2005 Newsweek interview, "but he totally lost his cool over that memo."
Gore called Freeh immediately and ordered the FBI to arrest all suspected al Qaeda operatives. When asked on what grounds, Gore told Freeh that national security was the grounds.
"Hold these guys without a warrant if you have to," Gore said, in conversation notes filed by Freeh that same day. "Let it be on my head."
The FBI found that their ability to track down the 'persons of interest' in question was limited. They were able to locate and arrest only one individual, Zacarias Moussaoui. He was arrested on August 16. FBI interrogators found him skilled at evasion, and were able to glean nothing from him.
The Minnesota bureau sought permission to search Moussaoui's computer, but were denied it. Agent Colleen Rowley sought permission to search the rooms of Moussaoui. Her supervisor denied this request.
Gore and the White House claim that they were unaware of these requests at the time. How likely is it, however, that Freeh, engaged in a feud with the president, would not have been informed by his bureaus -- whose staff were surely aware of his fury -- of the twists and turns of the Moussaoui case, and that he would in turn have failed to tell the president?
In the end, the Moussaoui evidence that was recovered after 9/11 did not support the White House's defense: that Saudi and Egyptian hijackers planned to fly planes into the World Trade Center. Even Moussaoui's nationality did not fit that story. He was a French citizen of Moroccan descent, while the other 'hijackers' were Saudi and Egyptian as described.
Once the FBI proved unable to locate any additional suspected al Qaeda agents, Gore Secretary of Defense John Kerry recommended that one squadron of National Guard F-16 fighters be put on alert in Virginia, and another in Southern California.
"It made no sense to me," Sharpton testified. "I said: 'John, What good are those fighters going to be if there is a hijacking? What, are you going to shoot down the plane?'"
Kerry happened to have been reading the 1994 action novel "Debt of Honor" by the Tom Clancy. The cover of the novel featured an image of a Boeing 747 being crashed into the Capitol building. In the novel, a Japanese terrorist times the attack to coincide with a joint session of Congress attended by the president. Kerry showed the book to Gore.
Testimonies of several witnesses have Gore then say "It'd never happen. They'd never crash a plane into the Capitol Building."
"They'd die!" Sharpton said.
Many looking back on 9/11 have said that if only Sharpton had kept his thoughts to himself, tragedy might have been averted. But Gore admires his own intellect, and he likes a challenge. What he said to Sharpton was:
"Well, there is the example of the suicide bombers in the Middle East. They don't care if they die; they want to die for the cause. Maybe bin Laden wants to unleash some of that on us."
Gore then turned to Kerry and authorized the F-16 plan. We know this now. However, after the events of 9/11, the White House denied that Gore had issued any such order.
Gore also ordered the FAA to report any suspected hijackings to an aide of Kerry's.
There has been a great deal of dispute over the intent of the August 13 F-16 order. Gore critics say that the intent was to shoot down civilian airliners. Gore defenders claim that the squadrons were intended merely to provide tracking of possible hijack events, and to provide a psychological check on hijackers, letting them know that they had been detected. However, the "psychology" interpretation has always had difficulty coping with the fact that the planes were armed with air-to-air missiles.
Those were the events of August 13. On August 14, the nation was subjected to the drama and spectacle of the start of confirmation hearings for Gore's nominee to be U.N. Ambassador: Jane Fonda, the actress.
Using his planned "eco-tour" of the United States as his rubric, Gore went out stumping for Fonda with a vigor that he'd never shown for Kyoto. Every time he was asked about Fonda while talking about coal-plant emissions or automative fuel efficiency, Gore defended her.
"I tried to get him to shut up about that woman," Sharpton said in the Newsweek interview. "But he was star-struck or something."
On September 5, in Miami, Gore uttered perhaps the most analyzed single syllable of his presidency. Gore had become involved in a heated back-and-forth exchange at one of his casual "town-hall" meetings. The heckler was Kansas City resident Michael A. Smith, who declared himself a Vietnam veteran, and challenged Gore about nominating "Hanoi Jane."
The exchange went on for 18 seconds when Smith interrupted a red-faced Gore's by shouting "You crawl for Hanoi Jane because she donated a million dollars to your campaign!"
Gore barked back: "I never received a dime from Ha-- from Ms. Fonda, during the campaign."
Linguists and commentators who have analyzed what word Gore could possibly have intended to speak have rejected Gore's explanation that he said "her."
"Clearly, he almost said 'Hanoi Jane,'" commented Brooks. "It was a 'hah,' nothing like a 'her.'"
Sharpton felt that Gore was being too open in his town-hall meetings. In a September 5 email, he requested that Democratic Party Chair Jesse Jackson develop a protocol to shield Gore from "hostility of Republican plants." Jackson hired longtime Democratic-Party public image consultants, the firm of Ethel & Julius Rosenberg.
USA Today reported:
The protocol developed was this: Gore's White House staff would work through a local Democratic Party office to assemble an audience of 1,000 to 2,500 people, depending on the site. Registered party volunteers would be offered two tickets — and told more are available if volunteers want to bring "open-minded friends."
Depending on the message Gore wanted to put across, the local office would also line up some carefully chosen locals to take the stage with him and explain how Gore's policies are helping them afford college, buy a home, save money on health insurance or expand a business. They would be given "talking points" ahead of time.
Sharpton presented the plan to Gore on September 7, and Gore rejected it immediately.
An account of the plan surfaced in the USA Today on September 8. The speculation in the media centered on E&JR staffer David Greenglass as the source of the leak. Greenglass, who denies leaking the plan, has moved to Montana and registered as a Republican in his new precinct.
The very existence of a filtered-audience plan caused an uproar in the media and among values restoration groups.
Gore took fire from FAIR, a liberal media watchdog group, and from MoveOn.org, which chided Gore by stating: "Staged events with scripted comments have no place in an honest White House."
An anonymous White House official quoted in the Washington Post -- probably Sharpton -- defended limiting the "Ask President Gore" audiences to Gore supporters and their friends.
"You're not going to load up an event with a bunch of your opponents," he said. "It just invites disruptions."
The Gore Administration was under mounting pressure. Talk of impeachment had been circulating since inauguration, but the first articles of impeachment were not introduced until Monday, September 10, 2001.
Authored by Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, They were loudly ignored by Republican leadership, who were intent on the Jackson-Farrakhan hearings.
The Jackson-Farrakhan scandal arose because Gore had met with Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, and Democratic Party Chair Jesse Jackson on March 7, 2001, to discuss race relations. Highly publicized because of a seemingly unexpected hug that Farrakhan gave Gore, and because of protesters calling for Gore to repudiate anti-Semitic remarks by Farrakhan and Jackson, the meeting picked up an electric significance when it was reported that Gore and Sharpton had met privately with Supreme Court Justices William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor the next day.
Speculation that the White House had urged Rehnquist and O'Connor to retire so that Jackson and Farrakhan could be appointed to the Court was not eased when O'Connor said that the meeting had been accidental, "a case of itinerary overlap", and merely social in nature. "They asked the Chief Justice about his health, but in a supportive way," O'Connor said. Rehnquist declined to comment.
The fact that Gore met with Farrakhan and Jackson again on March 9 aroused suspicion.
"It was shuttle diplomacy," wrote Max Boot, "a case of the president trying to work a deal to pressure two siting justices off of the Court, so that he could bring in unqualified, ideological radicals with no judicial experience. It's the ugliest play of the race card we've seen since slavery."
The scandal simmered for months, becoming a common topic in internet discussion groups opposed to Gore, and spilling onto the front page regularly.
Joint Jackson-Farrakhan hearings began on Monday, September 10, 2001. Seeking to create an alternative photo opportunity, Gore was sent to Florida, where he stayed overnight with major Democratic donors. The plan was that he would entertain a classroom of children on the morning of September 11.
At 6:31 AM on September 11, Gore began a four-mile jog around the golf course of the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, Florida.
At 8:21 AM, the flight transponder for American Airlines flight 11 from Boston Logan switched off. Flight control manager Glenn Michael later said, “We considered it at that time to be a possible hijacking.”
Tower officials waited until 8:25 to contact FAA headquarters, which immediately called Kerry's aide. Kerry gave the order to launch the F-16s from Virginia to intercept AA 11. The squadron in Southern California was ordered to launch and patrol.
At 8:28 AM, Gore's party in Sarasota, Florida received a call from Kerry's office, informing the president of the situation with AA 11. The motorcade continued on toward the Emma E. Booker Elementary School.
Four fighters were launched from Virginia at 8:30 AM, and military radar acquired AA 11, which had deviated from its flight plan and was descending toward Manhattan. The fighters were informed of this by radio, and vectored to intercept.
Due to an error on the ground, the fighters that had been launched from Virginia were misdirected to a spot about 100 miles off the South Carolina coast. Nonetheless, one of the aircraft continued toward Manhattan.
Lieutenant Ronald Gate, the pilot of the errant fighter, reported to his superiors, and later testified before Congressional investigating committees, that he never heard the second vectoring order. Subsequent checks on his aircraft revealed no radio malfunction. And when he arrived over downtown Manhattan, he had no trouble communicating with his superiors on the ground.
Subsequent to the events of 9/11, much amateur energy has been focused on determining if Gate was part of a conspiracy to involve the United States in a global war. So date, all that has been proven in that Gate's mother donated $200 to the presidential campaign of George McGovern.
At 8:35 AM, Gate radioed that he was "on the tail" of an American Airlines flight descending toward lower Manhattan. Back in Washington, Kerry was informed, and requested to be patched directly through to Gates. Air National Guard officials said that they would, but technical glitches prevented the attempt.
Kerry also had his staff call Gore, and they maintained the link. Gore was talking to Kerry's staff, Kerry was talking with the air base commander, and the air base was talking to Gate.
One focus of the impeachment hearings was to demolish White House's deceit that Gore had not been directing the fighter that morning. Through the use of careful wording, the initial accounts given were that Kerry had done all the communicating with the air base commander.
And indeed he had. But the White House was loathe to admit that Gore was directing Kerry while Kerry was directing the air guard. All this was eventually unraveled, and contributed to vast voter dissatisfaction with Gore.
Gore directed that Gate should weave in front of the airliner cockpit, and try to get it to change course. Gate radioed back at 8:36 that the airliner had not changed course.
"Did they see him?" Gore asked. He was told that in the pilot's opinion, there was no way they could not have seen him. Gate reported weaving a mere 20 feet in front of the cockpit of AA 11.
"Tell the pilot to get in front of it again and fire his cannon," Kerry said. "Let them see the smoke."
Gore instructed Kerry to issue an order grounding all commercial aircraft. Kerry handed the task off to FAA Administrator Al Checchi, who issued the order.
At 8:42 Gates reported that cannon fire while in front of, and immediately alongside the cockpit had produced no change of course.
"They're lining up on the World Trade center," Gate radioed to base. "They might hit a tower. They might fly between the towers."
The pilot reported that at the point that he made his guess about the airliner's destination, he was flying formation above it, at a distance of about 30 feet.
Gore panicked. "The president turned white," Sharpton testified. "The blood all drained out of him. I thought he was going to vomit."
"Let them fly through," Gore said.
"The plane is loaded with fuel," Kerry said.
"It's a huge bomb. If they hit one of the towers, they'll burn hundreds of people."
"Shoot it down?" Gore asked.
"If the pilot thinks it will hit a tower," Kerry replied.
"There are people on that plane."
"There are people in the buildings too, Mr. President."
Gore and Kerry vacillated, ultimately deciding to put the responsibility on someone else. This order was likewise the subject of evasion and misdirection by the White House, and likewise featured prominently in Congressional investigations. Gore and Kerry instructed the Air Guard to tell Lieutenant Gate that he was to shoot down the the airliner if it appeared to be trying to strike one of the towers.
With that, they tried to wash their hands of responsibility.
At 8:45 AM, Gate fired two AIM-9M "Sidewinder" missiles at American Airlines flight 11. Both missiles hit the target and the airliner broke into large segments, the wings going down in a pinwheel of flames and smoke, and other pieces crashing largely on the grounds of Public School 324, which caught fire. Children and staff fled the awful scene.
Upon being informed of the shootdown, the Gore motorcade changed its route and headed toward the airport, and Air Force One.
During the period of Gore's fixation on AA 11, the FAA became alarmed at United Airlines flight 175, which departed from its flight path, briefly turned off its transponder, and then changed to a random transponder signal. Given the odd signal, the plan remained trackable, but was believed to be hijacked. At 8:44 AM, Kerry was informed, and he relayed the information to Gore.
With another rogue aircraft to worry about, word then came to Gore that two additional flights were believed hijacked. They were not identified to Gore as such at the time, but they were American Airlines flight 77, and United Airlines flight 93.
"What to do about the other one approaching Manhattan?" Kerry asked Gore.
Sharpton testified: "The president said 'Same procedure.' Have the pilot take down the plane if it goes for a building."
Kerry relayed the order to the Air Guard, which in turn issued orders to Gate.
At 9:02 AM, Gate fired a single AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, which struck UA 175 head-on, while the airliner was still over New Jersey. It crashed onto a church, killing two homeless women and blinding a male custodian.
A great deal of controversy centered around this action, which came to be known as the Jersey Massacre. According to White House calculations, the plane would not have hit the World Trade Center until 9:03, but most experts agree that it could not have reached the WTC until 9:06, a full five minutes after the civilians on board were executed without trial.
There were no survivors from either of the two airliners shot down.
In Los Angeles, F-16s forced down a single-engine Cessna aircraft, which rolled upon landing due to pilot apprehension, breaking the pilot's neck and rendering her a quadriplegic.
At approximately 9:25 AM, United Airlines flight 93 went down in a field in Pennsylvania at 10:03 AM. Despite rigorous investigations by Congress, and the suspicions of many members, it has not been proven that the flight was shot down. It has not been disproven. The White House denied it.
Another plane went missing or was destroyed: American Airlines flight 77. The White House claimed that flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:37 AM, killing 184. Some kind of destructive event did occur at the Pentagon. There was a hole in the wall, and a fire. However, photographs of the impact point shortly after the event are not consistent with a plane hitting the building.
For one thing, the wingspan of a 757 is more than 140 feet, yet there were no horizontal damage marks on the Pentagon in photos taken shortly after the explosion. Almost no wreckage of the plane is visible outside the building. Either the wings passed into the building without leaving a mark, or they were shorn off without leaving debris.
The credibility gap surrounding flight 77 was a major focus of inquiry in the various Congressional investigations, and the eventual impeachment process.
In all, 266 people died on the aircraft, and 186 more on the ground, in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.
We will deal with 9/11 at greater length in the course of this volume.
The effect on the Gore presidency was to mark Gore and his staff as inept murderers -- a perception that the Administration never shifted.
Some saw Gore as an overt liar. Shortly after 9/11, talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said: "The man who claims to have invented the internet has invented a bizarre terrorist attack on America to cover up his murder. Those planes were going to fly over downtown Manhattan -- maybe even fly between the twin towers -- as a prank. The hijackers wanted to score humiliation points and then land and make their demands for the release of prisoners. It was an 'in-your-face-to-America' gesture. But Al Gore, the internet-inventing, beige-tone clothes wearing, Buddhist-funded environmental feminazi ... he panicked! He says he thought they'd fly the planes into buildings! Nobody's ever done that! Nobody's ever flown airliners full of passengers into buildings! He panicked, and killed innocent Americans! Let the impeachment begin!"
The Burka War ... feminist militarism
The feminists to whom Gore owed so much had been complaining about the perceived patriarchal excesses of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for some time prior to 9/11.
A typical example, from the "Feminist Daily News Wire, " on September 21, 1999, ran as follows:
UN Sanctions Taliban Abuse of Women
Sunday Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, called for international pressure to force the dissolution of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. She criticized the Taliban for the extensive, systematic abuse of women.
She called the Taliban's Ministry of Vice and Virtue, "the most misogynist department in the whole world." The ministry is the agency responsible for banning Afghan women from work and school, for forcing them to wear the restrictive burqua outfit, for demanding that they travel only in the company of close male relatives, and even forbidding them to wear white socks.
According to Coomaraswamy, violators of these outrageous rules are publicly beaten with various instruments, including radio antennae ripped off nearby vehicles, but typically "with what looks like a leather cricket bat."
Such treatment has resulted in widespread clinical depression among Afghan women confined to their homes. Reports also indicate that forced marriages and prostitution, sexual assault and confinement in camps are becoming regular.
"White socks!" said Max Boot on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. "These feminists were jumping up and down, calling for the 'dissolution' of the Afghan 'misogynist' government -- that means war. The feminists finally had someone in power who would jump at their whistle, and they wanted him to make war against a regime that hurt their feelings. If you have any grounding in reality, you know that things are pretty different in that part of the world. They have their own system, and it might not make us comfortable, but they're a sovereign state. The feminists wanted war. Whatever happened to war being bad for children and other living things? I guess that goes out the window when a feminist has a chance to kill a 'misogynist.' Suddenly the shoe is on the other foot. Or the pants are. Whatever. It's criminal that when 9/11 squeezed Gore, he went to war to distract the nation and please the feminist militarists."
"It's the Burka War," wrote columnist Charles Krauthammer at the time. "A war over fashion, over what Afghan women should wear. Why should we shed the blood of brave American men for this?"
Gore began laying the groundwork for the Afghan war in his first public comments on 9/11:
"America was attacked," he claimed aboard Air Force One, "by hijackers using airliners as weapons. They attempted to strike the World Trade Center, and they did strike the Pentagon. However, as the passengers on flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania showed, America is already fighting back. In the near future I will be calling on our armed forces and reserves to seek out and punish those who planned this attack. The group behind this attack is known as al Qaeda. We have identified up to five members of al Qaeda on each hijacked flight. Al Qaeda is a radical Islamist group that kills and terrorizes in the name of the religion that it betrays. This group is based in Afghanistan and is aided and supported by the Taliban regime there. I have sent an ultimatum to the Taliban that they must turn over al Qaeda leadership, including Osama bin Ladin, by September 18, and close all terrorist training camps and allow inspection of those sites, or face military action."
Republicans on September 12 decried the apparent attempt to distract public attention away from the 9/11 scandal and the planned Congressional investigation -- shifting blame onto hypothetical Afghan malefactors.
Doubt was also expressed about the likely success of military action against Afghanistan.
"I certainly think we are in danger of having a prolonged mission without a clear rule of engagement and without a clear mandate for exactly what victory will be. That is what happened in Vietnam," said Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.
But some Republican critics acknowledged that the deployment seemed inevitable. "He's hellbent to do it, so we're going to have to support him," said Representative Dan Burton.
"The administration ought to be allowed to make their case," said Senator John McCain. "I will be listening very carefully. I'm skeptical about some aspects of it. But I'm also keenly aware of the constitutional authority of the president of the United States."
In surveys taken September 13, ABC News said 57 percent of the public opposed war and CBS News said its survey found 58 percent against sending US troops to Afghanistan.
In Florida, commentator Pat Buchanan blasted the congressional leaders for a "pathetic" response to Gore.
"What happened to the idea that we've got a Republican revolution and a Congress that's coequal in governing?" Mr. Buchanan said. "If you're a leader, stand up and say what you believe. Take the consequences."
Gore, who famously -- and controversially -- picked up a check at a fundraiser at a Buddhist temple during the 2000 campaign, may have also been responding to pressure from Buddhist groups upset at the destruction by the Taliban of two immense Buddhist figures carved into a mountain.
Gore defenders claim that the luncheon was scheduled to be at another location, but then switched to the temple when the other location was not available. They claim, also, that Gore staffers -- not Gore -- picked up the funds in question the next day, and that, given all these factors, there was no a fundraiser. However, these definitional niceties annoyed and perplexed the voting public, which increasingly saw Gore as a smooth-talking trickster.
So it was not without justification that the public was suspicious about Gore's war plans, coming so soon after his failure on 9/11.
The Europeans, however, and the United Nations, always eager to bind American action with the webs of 'multilateralism,' generally believed Gore's tale of 'terrorist attack' on America. The international community supported Gore enthusiastically.
Obsequiously, France's Le Monde newspaper responded to 9/11 by declaring: "Today We Are All Americans!"
The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Indonesia, China, Russia, Pakistan, Jordan, Mauritius, Uganda and Zimbabwe all froze the assets of businesses thought to be linked to al-Qaeda.
The Gore Administration quickly pulled the strings to get NATO to declare 9/11 to have been an attack against all 19 NATO member nations. This fiction by the unscathed nations had the intent and effect of lending Gore logistic, military -- and most important of all -- political support. It invoked Article five of the NATO treaty:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
American aircraft began striking Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Gore's ambition was to replace the Taliban with the the so-called 'Northern Alliance' -- warlords and druglords aggrieved that their business interests had suffered under the policies of the fundamentalist Taliban.
Administration officials frequently referred to the romantic spectacle of US Special Forces personnel riding horseback. It didn't impress critics. Senator Arlen Spector charged that American forces were being sent into war "without proper equipment."
Aided by air strikes called in by US Special Forces units, the Northern Alliance made advances against the Taliban. By November 12, the Taliban had fled Kabul. As the regime collapsed, most of the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters fled to the mountainous border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many others simply switched sides, in a time-honored Afghan martial tradition.
Administration officials were privately smug that the war had been fought using largely the Afghan forces of the Northern Alliance. Looking to domestic political effects, they felt that this undercut the concerns of Gore critics who had opposed the idea of shedding American blood in a Buddhist-feminist war to justify Gore's panicked destruction of civilian airliners.
But columnist Charles Krauthammer criticized the fact that air attacks on Taliban forces had been made from high altitude in order to reduce American casualties. "This is cynicism," wrote Krauthammer, "fighting not to win, not even to save, but to feel righteous."
Yet the White House's pride in the near-absence of American regular Army troops in Afghanistan came back to mock it at Tora Bora, a mountainous region where major Taliban and al Qaeda remnants -- including leadership -- were believed to have taken refuge.
Gore suffered an embarrassing two-week pause in the prosecution of the war while the US 10th Mountain Division was brought into position around Tora Bora. Privately, Administration officials admitted that they feared that the Afghans -- with their tradition of switching sides given a large enough payment -- would allow Taliban and al Qaeda leaders to slip through their lines. Suddenly the "brave Afghan allies" that Gore had lauded were no longer good enough. Suddenly the genius of the proxy war seemed to be mostly a matter of public relations. Suddenly American blood looked likely to be shed in large quantities. Public doubts about Gore grew.
Nine American soldiers died in the assault on Tora Bora, which also netted the gangly fanatic Osama bin Ladin, supposed mastermind of the supposed 'terrorist attack' of 9/11.
But the image of al Qaeda that the White House had crafted came back to haunt it. Critics pointed out that if al Qaeda was indeed a decentralized network of terrorist cells as described by Gore, Tenet, and Kerry, then the loss of bin Ladin would not cripple the network -- which had no central leader.
"They hyped a perfect comic-book villan network that was capable of all things and could never truly be defeated," wrote Max Boot. "It was intended to sell the public on a war without end. But their own propaganda came back to bite them when bin Ladin was captured. The American people realized that Gore had spent dozens of American lives and hundreds of Afghan lives to capture one hairy, unwashed fanatic whose capture didn't make us any safer from the fictional threat. Once they captured bin Ladin, many in the Administration came face to face with their own incompetence. Truly this was the gang that couldn't shoot straight."
Documents leaked to the press hinted strongly that Gore himself had issued the shoot-down orders on 9/11, despite the official line that Kerry had done so by himself. The articles of impeachment that had previously not even come to a vote were dusted off. This time there was a vote, but the impeachment measure failed by a wide margin. Republicans, despite the fact that the president was floundering in deep trouble, felt too much respect for the office of the president to capitalize on the situation.
Hutchison's comparison to Vietnam was apt, because by the end of 2004, the Burka war had cost the lives of 169 American soldiers.
Gore's former Republican opponent George W Bush, who had stayed respectfully out of the limelight in the tradition of American politics, was taken by surprise by a question about the war, at a megachurch-organized golf-and-stock-car weekend in 2003. Bush momentarily shed his usual composure, saying: "When a president goes to war based on a lie, a fabrication, and American soldiers die and the world becomes a more dangerous place, then he should be impeached."
It was a peek inside not only what George W. Bush was thinking, but many other Americans as well.
Hurricane paternalism ... Gore panic disorder
Hurricane Bertha in August of 2002 flooded the White House with ridicule. Tonight Show host Jay Leno began using his successful gag of "Gore panic disorder" at this time.
Americans are frontiers people: proudly independent. But for Bertha, Gore sent the whole capacity of the federal government to rescue the people of Louisiana from a hurricane that they barely noticed.