12:36 AM EDT on Wednesday, May 2, 2007
PROVIDENCE - Just hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush administration officials began talking of including Iraq in any retaliatory attack, even though all indications pointed at al-Qaida as the guilty party.
So says Jim Miklaszewski, NBC's chief Pentagon correspondent, who yesterday in a speech before the annual Business Expo at the Rhode Island Convention Center advanced a theme garnering attention since former CIA director George J. Tenet made his public revelations last week.
In his new book, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet says White House and Pentagon officials were determined to attack Iraq long before 9/11, and afterward spun intelligence information to build a case for war with Saddam Hussein.
Miklaszewski said that while the opening anecdote in Tenet's book is wrong - Tenet writes of having an exchange with military consultant Richard Perle at the White House a day after the attacks when, actually, Perle was in France then - the veteran television newsman says Tenet is right about the president's intentions.
"Some things are right on the mark, when he says the Bush administration appeared predisposed to attack Iraq.''
How does Miklaszewski - whom the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce paid $30,000 for his talk - know for sure?
His information, Miklaszewski told an audience of about 200 people, comes from some "off the record'' notes taken in the White House situation room in the hours after the attacks. Miklaszewski said someone gave him the notes two years ago. He did not say who nor explain why, if they were "off the record'' he was now sharing them with an audience.
However, the notes describe, Miklaszewski said, then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld vowing to avenge the terrorist attacks and voicing frustration that attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and the attack on the Cole, in 2000, had gone unavenged.
Reading from his notes, Miklaszewski quoted Rumsfeld as saying five hours after the terrorist attacks: "My interest is to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time we go after al-Qaida.''
"We ought not to look only'' at Osama bin Laden, Rumsfeld allegedly said before holding a conference call with President Bush. During the conversation, "Rumsfeld says not to focus solely on al-Qaida, consider all those range of options. And the president's response was yes.''
Said Miklaszewski: "So there is no question that Tenet got the time wrong [with meeting Perle in the White House] but there is no question in my mind, and with subsequent conversations I had with officials in the Pentagon, that the Bush administration had their sights set on attacking Saddam Hussein and Iraq long before there was even an effort to gather any evidence … that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attack. And all the evidence says quite the opposite.''
Miklaszewski, just the latest celebrity journalist to espouse a personal opinion before the annual business gathering, also shared some inside political analysis that even the most casual follower of the news would have considered stale. Among them: that former First Lady and Sen. Hillary Clinton is "one tough cookie'' who White House staffers feared and that North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is a "loser'' for trying to defend a $400 haircut.
Miklaszewski seemed more comfortable talking about what he knows best: the military and terrorism.
Quoting from a recent public-opinion poll, Miklaszewski said while 50 percent of people still think the Iraq war is a priority, only 18 percent mentioned terrorism as a concern.
"The American people have begun to forget about 9/11,'' he said. "This is a very patient enemy. They can certainly wait out America's attention span and that troubles me.''
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