MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: 9/11 Warnings.

This week's disclosure that the CIA had briefed President Bush that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack American airliners has rocked Washington, along with revelations about what intelligence officials knew before 9/11.

July 10, Phoenix: An FBI memo warning that all 56 FBI field offices should investigate Middle East men holding student visas at American flight schools, and this could possibly be a bin Laden operation. Senior counterterrorism officials at the FBI shelve the report.

August 6th, one month later, the Bush Crawford ranch: The CIA briefs President Bush that Osama bin Laden's terrorist plans could include hijacking American airliners.

August 17, two weeks later, 24 days before the World Trade Center assault, Minneapolis: an FBI arrest -- Zacarias Moussaoui, with an expired visa, after discovering that as a flight school student, he wanted to learn to fly 747 jumbo jets but not land or take off. The FBI asks for a warrant to search Moussaoui's laptop computer, but the Justice Department says no.

These dots should have been connected.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL): (From videotape.) There was a lot of information. I believe and others believe, if it had been acted upon properly, it may -- we may have had a different situation on September the 11th.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the administration disagrees.

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER CONDOLEEZZA RICE: (From videotape.) I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Senator Clinton adds a partisan note.

SENATOR HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY): (From videotape.) I am simply here today on the floor of this hallowed chamber to seek answers to the questions being asked by my constituents -- questions raised by one of our newspapers in New York, with the headline "Bush knew." The president knew what?

VICE PRESIDENT RICHARD CHENEY: (From videotape.) Such commentary is thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) You know, what's interesting about Washington, it's a town -- unfortunately, it's the kind of place where second-guessing has become second nature. The American people know this about me and my national security team and my administration: Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people,

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: How big a problem is this for George W. Bush, Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: Well, I don't think it's a big problem for George W. Bush politically. I think it is a problem governmentally. There's no evidence here, John, that George W. Bush knew or conceived in any way that suicide bombing attacks were going to take place of the type that did, simply nothing there that indicates anything like that got to him. The warning he was given, as the New York Times has pointed out -- not a friendly Bush source -- that he got on August 6th was something that was made public six months before. So it was available all around.

The failures here that are apparent now is that information that was developed by the FBI and, I think, FAA people in Arizona and Minnesota did not percolate up the chain. There was not a good process at the FBI to put together important bits of information and draw what -- the conclusions we now all do draw from that with the advantage of hindsight.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they percolated back to Washington.

MR. BARONE: They percolated to Washington, but they did not get up to the presidential level or the director of the FBI level. The FBI obviously -- you know, the fact is, those guys in Arizona and Minnesota were thinking thoughts that might have been very helpful, even though it turned out the people they were looking at in Arizona were not connected with al Qaeda.


MS. CLIFT: This is a big problem for the president. The luster is gone from him as a war president and as a leader. His credibility, his priorities are in question before 9/11. There's going to be closer examination as to what he did and didn't do. If he was going to bring the full forces of the government to bear when he heard that there were renewed threats of possible hijackings in this country, why weren't air marshals put out? Why weren't cockpit doors hardened? He didn't take any steps.

And secondly, their cover story that it's unimaginable to use a plane as a missile -- that was attempted, and French agents stormed a runway and prevented a plane that was headed for the Eiffel Tower. The Italians uncovered a plot, when the president was in Genoa just earlier this year -- not earlier this year, last year -- that they wanted to crash a plane into the summit and kill the leaders there.


MS. CLIFT: So this is imaginable, if somebody had put the dots together.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And all through World War II, we had kamikaze pilots flying regularly.


MR. BLANKLEY: I think there's nothing more dangerous politically than to attack a president at 75 percent during a time of war. And I think the danger is much greater for the Democrats, who I think got off the dime a little too quickly. Initially, you had the story leaked to CBS News, probably from Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, that partially told the story. Friday, New York Times and Washington, neither of them friendly to the president, both said the president didn't know anything that he should have acted on at the time. Now as the story fully develops, I think that the precipitous attacks on the president will come back to haunt a lot of Democrats.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did anyone in a position of authority anticipate the hijacked planes -- airplanes might be used to attack the World Trade Center?

MR. WARREN: A report released that we were reminded of late last week, given to the Library of Congress, done by the Library of Congress in September 1999, specifically speculated about al Qaeda bombing, via a plane, the United States Pentagon. So at least the speculation, from credible sources, was absolutely there.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish.

MR. WARREN: But --

MR. BARONE: Well, it's also in Tom Clancy's novel.


MR. BLANKLEY: Let me suggest --

MR. WARREN: But there's a difference between that, the speculating in the novel and putting it in a -- (inaudible) -- the Library of Congress. The answer --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the FBI --

MR. WARREN: The answer to your question is, political problem? Not for now. Potential political problem? For sure. Just like Pearl Harbor, it took a long time before we knew how much FDR knew about --

MR. BARONE: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about --

MR. WARREN: But finally, to say that he did not have credible, obvious warnings of a terrorist attack -- is that to say that he paid sufficient attention to the subject? No, it is not to say he paid sufficient attention.


MR. WARREN: And to hear Condoleezza Rice, whom I'm sure you love quite a bit -- to hear Condoleezza Rice, in an otherwise bravura performance last week, parse, Clinton-like, in talking about that August 6th meeting by referring to an analytical piece that he received, not a warning, I think, is underwhelming.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why did the administration let eight months go by before it declared any of these now known facts?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I assume that all of this material was classified, which, by the way, probably meant the release of the information was illegal. But --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it also could have been because they didn't want to release embarrassing information?

MR. BARONE: The information was vague.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, let me answer the question. The fact is that in -- the biggest challenge for counterintelligence at any time isn't an absence of information, it's too much information.


MR. BLANKLEY: The greatest counterintelligence officer we ever had, James Angleton, eventually had to be retired because they thought he'd lost his mind trying to separate --

MR. BARONE: John --

MS. CLIFT: You know, this --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute; let him finish!

MR. BLANKLEY: -- trying to separate out phantom stories -- threats from real ones. And so --

MR. BARONE: World War II.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- you can go back in advance and find 10,000 examples of threats --

MR. BARONE: John, in World War II --

MR. BLANKLEY: -- and if you go forward -- (inaudible).

(Cross talk.)


MR. BARONE: You brought up World War II earlier, and in fact, there were charges during World War II made by some Republicans that Franklin Roosevelt had known or should've known about the Pearl Harbor invasion in advance and allowed it go forward. I don't believe those reports. The fact is that -- and I think politically in the war period they hurt the Republican opposition that made 'em -- Roberta Wohlstetter did the classic work on Pearl Harbor, and she found sort of what Tony's indicating. You have little bits of wheat coming to the government among a vast quantity of chaff. Now the fact is that the government should be able to do a better job of putting that wheat together than the FBI did in this case, and I think that's one thing --


MR. BARONE: -- President Bush needs to make sure happen and should be held accountable for.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to get back to something which we started this on, and that is the damage to George Bush. Now do you think the public might think it was tricked -- meaning that it has felt all along that 9/11 was as much of a surprise to George Bush as it was to them, and now they're hearing, "Well, he did have some information, vague as it may have been, but generalized because of the faulty lack of imagination of his staff and skill of his staff" -- whatever --

MS. CLIFT: Well, the country --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, they were living with older concepts, it seems to me, of what terrorism was.

MS. CLIFT: I agree with you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They were in the illusion that this could never happen in the Unite States --

MS. CLIFT: Well, the kinds --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- even though after 1993, the investigations in the Philippines exposed that there actually was plans of using a plane to fly into buildings like the World Trade Center. So my question to you is, is the American -- are the American people going to feel as though Bush was not as surprised as they were, and maybe there's an Achilles' heel there?

MS. CLIFT: Well, the country -- I've got it in all its varieties. The country has been almost reverential towards this president since 9/11. He's going to take care of it. He was surprised, just as you said. So that invincibility is gone, and it's against the backdrop of an administration that behaves like "You have no right to ask us any questions. Just trust us."

And they do that not only in this area; they do it in their domestic policy, whether -- how they put their energy policy together or how they balance a huge tax cut and Social Security. It's all, you know, "We're these seasoned professionals, and if you dare to question us, you're somehow unpatriotic."

MR. BARONE: All right, we're getting a tad partisan here.

MR. WARREN: (Inaudible) -- rail against the Democrats playing politics on the very week that you raised $35.3 million in Chicago and Washington for your party, in no small measure -- at least implicitly exploiting your image as the wartime president.

MR. BLANKLEY: And Tom Daschle has on his Web site a picture of a September 11th event -- his campaign-fund-raising Web site. So both parties --

MR. WARREN: John --

MR. BLANKLEY: I think I'd have to disagree with Eleanor. I don't think the American people are going to draw the conclusion about this that George W. Bush was dishonest in this connection. If we want to go back, with the clear advantage of hindsight today, we can all see that more things should've been done that were done in the first eight months of the Bush presidency. We can see, with the advantage of hindsight, that more things should have been done under the eight years of the Clinton presidency than were done. But that's not to say in either case that those leaders are necessarily hiding things from us or that they knew of this kind of attack and allowed it to go on deliberately any more than Franklin D. Roosevelt did that at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

MS. CLIFT: The administration has been less than forthcoming about what it knew and when it knew it. And they are in danger, of the way they're behaving, of turning what would otherwise be an embarrassment into a major scandal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I would like to say, I don't think -- I don't think the public will feel as though they've been tricked by George Bush. I think all you have to do is look at that video and you know that he's telling the absolute truth -- the video we just saw.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, come on, John!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Secondly, what about the story that the CIA and the FBI lacked the resources and the funding in order to properly conduct the coordination required in effective counterterrorism; isn't that a lot of nonsense?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I looked up some numbers, and $7 billion was spent in the fiscal years 1996 to '97, and it's gone up since then.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are plenty of resources. There's plenty of money.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me say that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why don't they just admit --

MS. CLIFT: John -- John -- John Ashcroft's budget --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that this was a horrible miscalculation and a horrible mistake?

MS. CLIFT: John Ashcroft's budget, dated September 10, downgraded terrorism as a priority.

This administration was focused on strategic missile defense. They were not interested in terrorism day by day.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Michael.

MR. BLANKLEY: The figures they got are even higher than you suggest because a lot of their numbers are in "black" numbers and they're not released because they're classified.

The CIA needs more money, but the failures are not a result of an absence of money, but because of the systems that have been in place, keeping in mind that back during the Vietnam War, Congress didn't allow the CIA to pass information on to the FBI. And that, combined with --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Somebody's going to take the rap, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: And that, combined with FBI arrogance and CIA insularity, have resulted in those bureaucrats being unable to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you can try and explain it away --

MR. : That's what ??? Bush did?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's going to take the rap? Who's going to take the rap, the FBI again? We've got James (sic) Hanssen, we've got the Webster report, we've got this whole history of embarrassing failures by the FBI. Now we have this -- Phoenix is talking to Minnesota --

MR. BLANKLEY: It's not a question of finding a scapegoat, it's a question of trying to reform systems that are very hard to make work, as anyone who's worked in any bureaucracy knows.

MR. BARONE: Institutional cultures.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The bedrock of reform is a resignation, or two or three.

MR. BLANKLEY: I was in favor, on this show months ago, for some resignations at a high level at the CIA.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: What kind of failure was it? An intelligence failure or a failure to act on intelligence? A failure in the trenches or a failure at the top?

Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: It was a failure in the middle, John. It was a failure, with the institutional cultures of the CIA and the FBI to put together those small bits of wheat in the very large amount of chaff that they have and to draw conclusions from it. You can't always succeed at that, but you should have an institutional culture that does a better job of it than they did.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was there enough clarity in that wheat for them to put that together?

MR. BARONE: No, the clarity is hard to get out of wheat. That's one of the problems. And that's what should be --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, was there enough clarity in this set of circumstances, as you see it, and against the background of what we've been describing here?

MR. BARONE: Well, Roberta Wohlstetter said in her study of Pearl Harbor that there was information in the government files from which you could have put together what the Japanese did, but that nobody did it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, are you paralleling the complexity of Pearl Harbor with the simplicity, relative simplicity of this situation?

MR. BARONE: They were both air attacks. I don't think that that's that much different.


MS. CLIFT: Well, if the FBI and the CIA had coordinated, and if the president had paid sufficient attention, and the rest of the administration. There's plenty of blame to go around. And what we learned this week --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A failure --

MS. CLIFT: -- is the president is not entirely blameless.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A failure at the top. It was not the responsibility of the field agent in Minneapolis or the field agent in Phoenix --

MR. BARONE: They did the right thing.

MS. CLIFT: No, they did the right thing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- it was a failure at the top, the top being the top of the FBI --

MS. CLIFT: It was a failure of institutional prerogative --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and the top of the Justice Department that refused to let them get into the -- to get the warrant, the search warrant, to get into the laptop computer.

MR. BARONE: Hear, hear.


MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, if you want to call it -- identify a failure, it's a failure of intelligence assessment at the mid- to upper-mid-level of the bureaucracies of our security services.

MR. WARREN: Point of information: Robert Hanssen was the spy, not James, if there are any Jameses out there who were slandered.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, I apologize to all the James Hanssens in the country.

MR. WARREN: And the answer is systemic failure of intelligence, period.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think that you're right and you're right. I forget everything that you said --

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm right, too.

MR. BARONE: Yeah, I'm right, too.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're right, too?

MR. BARONE: I'm right, too.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're saying that. You're saying that.

MR. BARONE: And I want to bring out one other little point --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Make it quick.

MR. BARONE: In fact, this administration was putting together a refocusing of intelligence agencies, and they were planning to present the proposal to President Bush the afternoon of September 11th. They were late, but they were doing something.

MS. CLIFT: Yes, but -- (off mike) -- months too late.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This was -- the real failure was not of money or of mission. The real failure was in stale concepts of what terrorism is, a lack of imagination at the top. They were meeting there every week -- well, regularly, in June, July and August. They were told in May that something spectacular is going to happen. I think it's a failure pretty close to the top, if not the top, but not on the presidential level.

Okay. Another McLaughlin Y20 Moment. The time: October 1985, 17 years ago. The place: the Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C. The event: a McLaughlin Group anniversary toast from a very special fan.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: (From videotape.) The McLaughlin Group also serves as the most tasteful programming alternative to professional wrestling -- (laughter) -- live from Madison Square Garden.

Well, thank you for making that half hour every weekend something very special to look forward to. I wouldn't miss it. I can't afford to. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ronald Reagan was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal this week, the nation's highest civilian honor given by Congress.

When we come back: Russia made history this week. It joined NATO. Will this help Bush protect the nation?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: To Russia, for love.

(Music: "From Russia with Love.")

(Quoting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.) "We hope this will open a new chapter in NATO-Russia relations."

Who would have believed it? Russia, the enemy that engaged the U.S. in a 50-year nuclear arms race and an often tense Cold War, the country that menaced Europe with troops and nuclear warheads, the soul of the "evil empire," has -- get this -- now joined NATO as a limited member. The announcement was made this week at a conference in Reykjavik, Iceland. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw hailed Russia's joining NATO as, quote, "the funeral of the Cold War."

Russia will have a seat at the NATO table to fight terrorism hand in glove with the 54-year-old political military organization.

Russia has President Bush to thank for its inclusion in NATO. Bush laid the groundwork and greased the skids, and Putin responded to Bush's olive branch offerings, especially by accommodating U.S. antiterrorist operations in the Russian "near abroad" republics -- Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan -- to stage military operations and carry out overflights. Putin barely raised his voice above a whisper in opposition to Bush's plans to scrap the ABM Treaty and build a missile defense shield.

And there's another key new element to the Bush-Putin partnership. They will sign a bilateral pact next week in Moscow that reduces each country's nuclear missiles by -- get this -- two-thirds, from 6,000 each to about 2,000 each, ushering in a new era.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) The new era will be a period of enhanced mutual security, economic security and improved relations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got a couple of treaties there. We've got NATO being joined by Russia in a limited partnership, and we've got Russia in a bilateral pact with the United States to cut their nuclear warheads by two-thirds.

How will this, if so, improve the nuclear security of the United States? I ask you, James.

MR. WARREN: Barely. There's nothing in this pact about verification. There's nothing in this pact about so-called tactical nuclear weapons, and there's still way too many biological, chemical and nuclear weapons floating around the old Soviet Union.

MR. BLANKLEY: This is very important. What's going to come out of this: You've got secretary of energy in the United States and his equivalent in Russia now meeting with the International Atomic Energy Association -- Agency --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Commission.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Agency. Right, right, right, right.

MR. BLANKLEY: And they're going to empower them, and we're going to fund them to help the Russians control their nuclear proliferation, weapons and outside of Russia, as well. This is going to be a big increase in the ability to monitor and control the spread of illegal nuclear material.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're very much over Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, it's adept politically. It helps President Bush, and it helps President Putin. But in terms of nuclear security, these warheads are not being destroyed. They will be disassembled, and they will be a lot easier for Saddam Hussein or some nefarious character to get a hold of --

MR. WARREN: Security.

MS. CLIFT: -- from a bankrupt --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BARONE: What this shows it that we don't need a 700-page treaty, that when we get regime change as we have gotten, arms control will follow. And the same lessons should be followed in Iraq: Regime change and not some kind of agreement is where we'll find safety.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You are all correct in varying dimensions.

We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Assume that George Bush's approval rating is 72 today. What will it be two weeks from today, June 1? Michael.

MR. BARONE: No statistically significant change.


MS. CLIFT: Precipitous drop up to 10 points.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ten points down -- 62.

MR. BLANKLEY: Up one to three or four points.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really! Up one to three.

MR. WARREN: Down an uneventful six points.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: His rating will be 68.

Next week: President Bush visits with Vladimir Putin in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Bye-bye!



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: Havana Dreaming.

FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: (From videotape.) For 42 years, our two nations have been trapped in a destructive state of belligerence, and now is the time for us to change our relationship and the way we think and talk about each other. Because the United States is the most powerful nation, we should take the first step.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What a sight! Fidel Castro, the longest- surviving communist leader in the world, standing solemn straight and tall and showing respect as a Cuban band plays the "Star Spangled Banner" in Havana this week. Standing next to him, the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, first president, past or sitting, to visit Cuba since Castro took over 43 years ago.

Castro invited Carter because Castro wants to secure his help in ending the U.S. trade embargo. Carter accepted because he wants to end the embargo also. And he wants better treatment of Cuban dissidents and democratic reforms. Castro told Carter he could go wherever he wanted throughout his island.

CUBAN PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO: (From videotape; through translator.) We shall not take offense for any contact that you wish to make, even with those who do not share our endeavors.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Carter's detente mission could not be more at odds with President Bush's entente policy. Bush is tough on Cuba now and planning to get tougher in the future.

Question: Does it impress you that Castro allowed Carter to deliver his broadcast remarks to the Cuban people utterly free of censorship?

James Warren?

MR. WARREN: Yes, it does. Although he can exaggerate the impact of it. It's still a very small dissident community, although Carter courageously gives them a boost that they've never gotten through all those broadcasts from Radio Marti, the U.S. government-sponsored radio service.

Having said that, even though Castro has a whole bunch of problems now with his economy, with the fact that a bunch of his big allies, his big trading partners -- Spain and Canada -- are unhappy with him, despite all that, the guy is a like a cockroach who can survive a nuclear winter. (Laughter.)

MR. BARONE: He's not as morally attractive as a cockroach.

MR. WARREN: And he will survive this, just as he survived, against most predictions, the fall -- just as he survived the fall of the Soviet Union, his key ally, in 1989.

MR. BARONE: Well, I mean, I disagreed with some of the things President Carter was saying in the -- parts of the thing you put on the air. I don't see any reason why we should trade with a vicious, evil dictatorship, and I don't see why we should call them anything -- (inaudible).

But I salute President Carter for talking about these brave Varela people in Cuba, who submitted 11,000 petition signatures to try to force an action by the rubber-stamp congress and for human rights. He did a great job on that.


MS. CLIFT: k It's a remarkable breakthrough, and it was made possible, from the viewpoint of this country, because of the controversy of Elian Gonzalez. There is growing sentiment in this country to lift the embargo.


MS. CLIFT: The only reason it's in place is the president is playing to the state of Florida and the Cuban American community.


What's the best argument for lifting the embargo? Ha, ha! I'll never get it from you!

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, look --

MS. CLIFT: No. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I think that the net effect -- it was a courageous speech. The net effect was to advance the likelihood of reducing -- getting rid of the embargo.

But my guidance on this politically comes from my checker at Safeway, who is a Cuban-American who follows politics, and he says that this will play well in the Cuban community here in America.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The embargo should definitely be lifted. They all know it at the State Department. They all know it at the National Security Council. There's only one reason why it's being held in place, and the best reason for lifting it is, they need a soft landing. They need Castro in place during the transition. Otherwise, it could be almost the chaos of Haiti.

MR. BARONE: They need a vicious dictator in place?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's your version of events.

MR. BARONE: I think that's right. I think this is a man who puts people in jail for criticizing the government, puts people in jail because they're homosexuals. That's a(n) outrageous violator of human rights.