Review of Kurt Eichenwald’s 500 Days

Kurt Eichenwald has written a book and made all the talk shows, Cooper to Stewart. It is fine and mildly helpful in terms of understanding what those disastrous years of the last decade in part comprised. But he begins with 9/11, so he has walked into my kitchen. I have a number of thoughts, but am still unable to say if what he and many others have done, was done honorably.

If you have paid any attention to the claims of the 9/11 Truth Movement, you know of Norman Mineta, who testified to the 9/11 Commission that he was bidden to the White House when the second plane hit the South Tower. He was told to go to the PEOC, where he arrived, he thinks, between 9:15 and 9:20, there to find Cheney and others at a table, Cheney giving orders. Not long after his arrival, a military aide whom he referred to as a young man, put his head in the room and told Cheney that the plane was 50 miles out. The aide returned twice with subsequent updates at 30 and then 10 miles out. Mineta made it clear in his testimony that the plane to which the aide referred was the one that, it is said, hit the Pentagon. With the last update the aide inquired of Cheney if the orders still stood.

Cheney had the wherewithal to dress down his subordinate in this moment of extreme national crisis by whipping his neck around and saying, “yes, they still stand; have you heard anything to the contrary?” Within minutes reports came of destruction at the Pentagon. It is impossible not to conclude from this testimony that Vice President Cheney was instrumental, whatever those orders were, in that destruction; because he enabled it, which is called treason, or because his orders were not carried out. The latter possibility is a matter of some importance. It normally results in Boards of Inquiry and “drummings out of the corps” as two hundred and fifty years of American military history, not to mention the military history of man, more than amply show. Of course in the case of 9/11, there were none of either. How does this version survive in the world of Kurt Eichenwald? Not well, but how, is interesting.

For starters, Eichenwald has Mineta arriving at the White House at about 9:22. He has him directed to the PEOC, the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, or bunker, by Richard Clarke, Director of Counter-terrorism, after a briefing on what was known of the attack at that point. Color is added with Mineta unaware of what or where the PEOC is, sheepish in his ignorance. We are not told from whom these facts come, simply that they are the result of 600 interviews.

We are then torn from the Mineta narrative to learn of the travels of Cheney to the PEOC, arriving there, according to Eichenwald, around 10 AM. At some point before then, we are told, Cheney finds a telephone and a television in the long, sealed tunnel to the PEOC. Cheney wants to talk to the President. If this rendition clings to some particle of truth, as all important lies must, maybe just the times wrong, for example, why call the president there and not in the PEOC with all the technological firepower in place, especially when the calls to the President keep getting lost or are plagued by static? Other witnesses, as opposed to the lone Scooter Libby, a problem maybe?

It’s peculiar.

Even this much of the story requires commentary. Eichenwald relates how the deputy director of operations(unnamed) at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center decided immediately that the country was under attack as soon as the South Tower was hit. It would hardly be wrong to impute a similar awareness to the Secret Service in charge of protecting Cheney. How long precisely before he is moved from his office? Eichenwald does not repeat the unswallowable tale told in Gellman’s Angler, where it is 33 minutes before Secret Service Agent Jimmy Scott’s hand comes down hard on the desk with the shout of “Now!”, and Cheney is lifted by the back of his belt. But there is a similar lack of haste suggested by Eichenwald if one simply goes by the chronology of his story. Is Cheney in the tunnel when Mineta arrives at the PEOC, does one overtake the other on the stairs on the way down, or does Mineta, against all reason, simply beat Cheney there as is suggested by Eichenwald’s account? Again, peculiar. Mineta had to make the trip from the Department of Transportation by car. Cheney, according to Eichenwald , was exactly two floors and a long, sealed tunnel away.

There is, one imagines, only one reason why the Secret Service would feel no urgency getting Cheney out of harm’s way, and that is that those people knew the attack did not include a small plane, like the one that landed on the White House lawn during the Clinton Administration, loaded with explosives, or a truck bomb driving up Pennsylvania Avenue, or an RPG in Lafayette Park. If the Secret Service had all of that information, the conspirators would have been taking an enormous risk that the agents would act without the dispatch that verisimilitude required, and the jig might have been up. What in the world am I saying? Apparently, no matter what mistakes are made or residue of explosives at Ground Zero found, the official story survives, without a bleat or whimper from our betters.

For all of these reasons and more, it seems most likely that Cheney was down in the PEOC when Mineta arrived there.   Because that’s the way the Secret Service handbook reads, and that is what those agents’ oaths would have required.  Cheney was there, giving those orders, precisely as Mineta testified to the 9/11 Commission, which managed to leave his account of events out of the book, and therefore, given the nature of things, out of history.


But back to Eichenwald’s recounting. Mineta’s story about the aide and the updates about a plane does find its way into 500 Days, but if Mineta is the source, he has a lot of explaining to do, because his testimony to the Commission and Eichenwald’s narrative are only barely kissin’ cousins, with differences that it is hard to overblow. The whole scene with Cheney dressing down the aide takes place in relation to what was thought to be United 93, not American 77, the Pentagon plane, though United 93 had already been destroyed, one way or another, in Pennsylvania at the time. The number of miles is no longer 50, 30, and 10, but now 80, 70 and 60. And Eichenwald leaves no doubt that the Orders are to shoot the plane down, because that has been the focus of his discussion leading up to the moment: Does the President have the right to kill innocent civilians on an airplane?

As Mineta gives his testimony to the Commission it is not clear what the Orders are, and none of the Commissioners are particularly interested in asking the question. Since then, Mineta has said he presumes the Orders were to shoot the plane down, but then again, he also made it clear that the plane was the one heading into the Pentagon. And if it wasn’t shot down and managed to successfully attack the Pentagon, shouldn’t there have been a Board of Inquiry and demotions or something, instead of promotions across the board for all of the highest-ups?

Be all that as it may, what is the target from which the plane is 80, 70, or 60 miles away? Surely not the nation’s Capitol, about 130 miles from Shanksville, where the debris from the plane which they say, and Eichenwald quotes witnesses as saying, dove intact straight into the ground, but whose debris stretches over some 8 miles, including a large part of the engine which appears to have bounced more than a thousand yards.

Eichenwald gives us to believe that the distances could be what they were according to his rendition because the military aide, or the Air Traffic Controller from whom he was relaying information, was unable to distinguish a projected, or phantom, radar track that is clearly marked as such on the scope from a real one signaling an aircraft still actually in flight that hasn’t been shot down, or hasn’t crashed into a building.

Peculiarly, none of these questions, the ability to distinguish real from projected radar tracks, the differences between the FAA’s and the military’s tracking system, the question of whether the projected flight path was actually heading toward DC, none of these are raised or addressed by Eichenwald. In fact, that there are any inconsistencies between the the Mineta account, Eichenwald’s imputed Cheney account, or Cheney’s account from his own mouth on two occasions, one to Russert within a week of the attacks, and another to the American Enterprise Institute in 2009, will be a surprise to unstudied readers of this book.  And that in itself is peculiar. Because all of these matters bear upon the veracity of his tale, which is to say suspect Cheney’s tale, as opposed to that of Norman Mineta before the 9/11 Commission. In the back of the book, Eichenwald goes into some length telling the reader why he has concluded one side of a particular story is believable and the other side isn’t. In that instance the question was whether Attorney General Ashcroft had actually told the person who happened to be alerting him to the dangers of Al Qaeda that he didn’t want to be spoken to about that matter any more.

That’s important, but not so important as whether a cabinet secretary, who is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and who has an airport named after him, is to be believed when he says that he witnessed Cheney giving orders concerning a principal instrumentality of the crimes of 9/11. None of Eichenwald’s choices concerning that matter, or how it was resolved, appear in the back of the book. If one is to admire Mr. Eichenwald’s abilities, as we must in my estimation, the omission is peculiar.

Presumably, we are simply meant to imbibe this authorized recounting of our most sordid moment …thoughtlessly…and ignorantly..

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