Reading the Tea Leaves
This month, officials from the former Clinton Administrations testified before the independent 9/11 commission, indicating that members of the incoming Bush team were duly warned as early as December of 2000 about the growing threat of Al Qaeda terrorism on U.S. soil. These revelations capped off nearly two-and-a-half years of unsettling disclosures about similarly missed signals in the weeks and months leading up to the attacks, including warnings by field agents that Middle Eastern men were attending flight schools; the suspicious movement of money by terrorists among American bank accounts; and even an alert by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak -- one week prior to Sept. 11 -- that Osama bin Laden's terror network was in the late stages of mounting an attack on an American target.
All of this raises the question: How many other clues -- significant or otherwise -- were overlooked during those late summer days of 2001?
"And your Double Jeopardy categories are: Potent Potables, Broadway Musicals, Insects, The Bible, Starts With 'K,' Golf Legends, and Tangible Al Qaeda Threats Currently Facing American Security."
--Alex Trebek, host of "Jeopardy," on 9/3/01 broadcast
"Turn-ons: Enrique Iglesias, hot fudge sundaes and long walks on the beach. Turn-offs: traffic, busy signals, negative people, and the proliferation of terrorist recruits within previously impenetrable security barriers."
--Playboy Magazine's Miss July 2001, Kimberly Stanfield, on her Playmate "Data Sheet"
"I have a bad feeling in my gut about Osama Bin Laden. Could someone please call me back?
--Former Sen. Gary Hart, in message on White House answering machine, 8/2/01
"Hot Styles for Hot Times: What Gwyneth Will Wear If The Warning Signs About Increased Terrorist Activity in the United States Are True?"
--Cover line, "Us Weekly" magazine, August 2001
"Not only does it make an elegant centerpiece for your dining room table, but it can also be used as handy protective headgear in the likely event of a terrorist attack by an Islamic fundamentalist organization."
--Martha Stewart, CBS "Early Show," 6/29/01
"People are so busy being busy, they've let the colors fade from their lives. We need to spend more time listening to our hearts, listening to our souls, and listening to reconnaissance tapes secretly recorded by the CIA on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border."
--"Self Matters" author "Dr. Phil" McGraw, to Oprah, 8/27/01
"Listen, I'm serious here. I really think something bad might happen. Could somebody -- anybody -- please call me back?
--Former Sen. Gary Hart, in message on White House answering machine, 8/15/01
"He's the man with a plan /and he sits on top a llama / He's a snake in the sand /and he calls himself Osama."
--Rapper Jay-Z, from his little remembered song, "Osama, Yo Mama," July 2001
"Stay close to the bag. We don't want to risk the go-ahead run -- unless, of course, Al Qaeda strikes as you take your lead. In that case, run home as fast as you can."
--New York Yankees third-base coach Willie Randolph to base-runner Derek Jeter, 9/3/01
"And, dude, if you get the 4100 model now, it comes with a DVD-ROM drive, twenty gigs of storage space, a one-year warranty, and an emergency generator in the event that, like, some terrorist dudes knock out all the power stations across the country."
--Dell computer pitchman "Steven," in the company's summer 2001 TV campaign
"Hey, hon. I just hung up with Gary Hart, and he said nobody at the WH is returning his calls. Do you know anybody he could talk to over there? Lord knows, they don't return my calls, either : (
--Bill Clinton, in email to wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, 8/29/01
Bruce Kluger and David Slavin write satire for National Public Radio.