The value of paranoia
President Bush might have ridden the September 11 conspiracy theories - but he's not out of the woods yet
Monday May 20, 2002
Last week was almost as bad for the president of the United States as for the American Catholic church. Leak after leak from "informed" sources of the "what did the big cheese know and when did he know it?" kind finally forced Bush, last Friday, to interrupt his cosy schmooze with air-cadets in the Rose Garden. A minor photo-op occasion became a desperate damage-limitation exercise. "Had I known - fateful day - hunt them down one by one." He looked bad. The Los Angeles Times frankly compared him to Nixon. "I am not a coverer-up." Were those pants on fire one could smell, or the smoking gun memos? Not roses for sure.
It was a good day for investigative journalism, which had patiently exhumed the killer evidence. The White House was, demonstrably, warned ahead of time and did nothing. Above all, Bush's discomfiture was a tribute to the value of paranoia. Sometimes, craziness pays off - although rarely in the way the crazies expect.
What had kept the heat on and finally brought this issue to the boil was a long series of conspiracy theories. Preposterous as they were they had one thing in common: they all insisted - in their lunatic way - that there was more to the September outrage than met the eye. Someone, somewhere, was hiding something.
The key moment in the long unravelling occurred three weeks ago. On a radio show congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (Democrat, Georgia) dragged into the open air an allegation that had been festering in the depths of the internet for the previous six months.
The president, McKinney suggested, knew 9/11 was coming and (here she trod carefully) might even have planned it. His surprised reaction in the Booker School was - if you went all the way with this scenario - a cold-blooded ruse. His personal entourage knew about the WTC assault 21 minutes earlier. Someone, surely, would have phoned them. The homeland, godammit, was under attack. It was Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld who ordered the USAF to stand-down, and let the other deadly planes fly on.
Why did the president do this awful thing? This was where the paranoia became really wild. All the trails, it was asserted (and McKinney hinted) led back to a Washington investment firm, the Carlyle Group, America's largest private equity firm.
Carlyle's current big-ticket item is (or was) the Crusader self-propelled artillery piece. With the Bush-Putin peace treaties, this $14bn project looked like a 80-tonne dead duck until - lucky for them - the president's war on terrorism. The Pentagon would need big armour to take Baghdad. Even the name fitted. But, McKinney implied, was it "luck"?
The Carlyle Group is a secretive outfit. Since 9/11 it has even unplugged its website. Why? Paranoia supplies the answer. Top-level complicity. Head honcho at Carlyle is Frank Carlucci. His best friend since college days? Donald Rumsfeld. Another friend? Dick Cheney.
The group's roving ambassadors are ex-president Bush and ex-PM John Major. These statesmen are on the Carlyle payroll as "advisers". How highly paid? Who knows. But Bush rates $100K for an hour's lecture. Schmoozing with billionaires won't come cheap (presumably there's a rebate if he honks over them).
Bush, Major, and Baker made visits to Saudi Arabia for Carlyle in 2000 and early 2001. The firm insists (quite plausibly) they were recruited for their "film-star glamour". But, paranoia asks, were these not the commanders in chief who saved Saudi Arabia from the moustached tyrant in 1992? Was it (drop your voice) payback time?
Carlyle has had connections with the Bush family since its inception in 1988. The group put George W (stony broke after the failure of his oil firms) on the board of one of its subsidiaries, Caterair, in 1990. This airline-food company (according to Bushwatch websites) earned handsomely for him.
The group is also apparently wired into the extended Bin Laden family who, along with the Saudi royals, are reported in the business pages to be longterm investors. This yielded more rich grist for the paranoia mill.
All this web of speculation fell apart, a fortnight ago, when Rumsfeld overrode Pentagon resistance to cancel the Crusader project. But, by this point, the damage had been done. The Bush image (standing tall, Texas marshall, "dead or alive") had been tainted. Questions of a more relevant kind could now be asked, such as just what Bush knew and when he knew it. Paranoia is rarely right. But it can be useful.