NBC News and the Associated Press uncritically reported Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that the absence of an Al Qaeda attack in America since 9-11 is proof that the Bush administration has done “a pretty good job” or “a hell of a job” with counterterrorism. But neither outlet contrasted Cheney's assertion with investigative reporter Ron Suskind's recent disclosure that many CIA analysts believe Al Qaeda leaders have declined to attack the U.S. again for strategic reasons.
In their coverage of Vice President Dick Cheney's September 10 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, both NBC News and the Associated Press uncritically reported his claim that the absence of an Al Qaeda attack in America since 9-11 is proof that the Bush administration has done “a pretty good job” or “a hell of a job” with counterterrorism. But neither outlet -- nor Meet the Press host Tim Russert, as Media Matters noted -- contrasted Cheney's assertion with investigative reporter Ron Suskind's recent disclosure that many CIA analysts believe Al Qaeda leaders have declined to attack the United States again for strategic reasons. Further, the AP reported without challenge Cheney's false claim that Iraq had the “capability” to build nuclear weapons prior to the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
During his Meet the Press interview, in which he was the sole guest for the hour-long program, Cheney repeatedly touted the Bush administration's effectiveness in “securing the nation against terrorists.” He said that “we've done a hell of a job here at home” and highlighted the “five years of no attacks, five years of successful disruption of attacks, five years of defeating the efforts of Al Qaeda to come back and kill more Americans.” From the Meet the Press interview:
CHENEY: Well, Tim, I think we've done a pretty good job of securing the nation against terrorists. You know, we're here on the fifth anniversary, and there has not been another attack on the United States. And that's not an accident, because we've done a hell of a job here at home, in terms of homeland security, in terms of the terrorist surveillance program we've put in place, in terms of the financial tracking program we put in place, and because of our detainee policy, where we, in fact, were able to interrogate captured terrorists to get the kind of intelligence that has allowed us to disrupt --
CHENEY: We have spent billions on homeland security. You can always find more you can spend funds on. But the fact of the matter is, I think we've done a pretty good job. And I don't know how you can explain five years of no attacks, five years of successful disruption of attacks, five years of defeating the efforts of Al Qaeda to come back and kill more Americans. You've got to give some credence to the notion that maybe somebody did something right.
I think we did. I think we did a lot right. And I think part of what we did right was to take the fight to the enemy, to treat this as a war, not a law enforcement problem, which is the way these kinds of things have been treated before we arrived; to actively and aggressively go after the state sponsors of terror, as we did, for example, in Afghanistan and Iraq; to aggressively go after those places where the terrorists might be able to lay their hands on that deadly technology they'd like to use in that next attack. So I think we got it right. Now, I can't say it's perfect; obviously, you can always look back and find things you'd like to differently or do better. But on a broad, overall, strategic sweep of what we did, what we set out as our objectives, the strategy we pursued to get there, I think we've done a pretty good job.
But as Media Matters noted, Suskind's recent reporting suggests that the absence of subsequent Al Qaeda attacks on American soil may be less a product of the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies, and more the result of a strategic decision by the terrorist group. In his book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon & Schuster, June 2006), Suskind reported that the CIA considered the Madrid train bombing in March 2004 " further affirmation of what CIA analysts had first begun to see in sigint [signals intelligence] and limited humint [human intelligence] as far back as the spring of 2002: a possible strategic shift by al Qaeda away from further attacks on the U.S. mainland" (Pages 303-304). According to Suskind, this assessment stemmed from the “growing evidence that al Qaeda might not have been trying to attack the United States in the three years since its singular triumph of 9/11.” This “growing evidence” included the revelation in the spring of 2003 that Al Qaeda lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri had months earlier called off a plot -- described as “operational” and “well past conception and early planning” -- to attack the New York City subway system with hydrogen cyanide. Suskind reported that an Al Qaeda informant had told U.S. authorities that, prior to the cancellation of the plot, the “cell members had traveled to New York City through North Africa in the fall [of 2002] and had thoroughly cased the locations for the attacks” (Page 218).
Just as Russert failed to note Suskind's reporting in response to Cheney's assertions during the Meet the Press interview, so did NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory, who on the September 10 edition of NBC's Nightly News aired Cheney's statements without challenge:
GREGORY: But five years later, the country is in a fierce debate about the president's path after the attacks. From Afghanistan to Iraq to surveillance at home and the detention of prisoners overseas. Today, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press for the first time in three years, Vice President Cheney insisted the country is safer.
CHENEY [video clip]: We're here on the fifth anniversary, and there has not been another attack on the United States. And that's not an accident, because we've done a hell of a job here at home in terms of homeland security.
GREGORY: Still, the vice president, for the first time, made an important concession about the war on terror.
Similarly, the AP uncritically reported Cheney's assetion in the lead paragraphs of a September 11 article on the Meet the Press interview:
Vice President Dick Cheney says the fact that there has not been another attack on U.S. soil shows “we've done a pretty good job” of protecting the country against terrorists.
“I don't know how much better you can do than no, no attacks for the past five years,” said Cheney, dismissing Democratic charges that serious security gaps remain.
Further, the AP article repeated Cheney's false claim that Iraq possessed the “capability” to build weapons of mass destruction:
Asked if the United States still would have invaded Iraq had the CIA told Bush and him that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction in 2003, Cheney answered yes. He said Iraq had the capability of obtaining such weapons and would have done so once U.N. penalties were eased.
In the interview, Cheney cited the Iraq Survey Group's final report (also known as the Duelfer report) as backing up his claim regarding Saddam's “capability” at the time of the U.S. invasion. But while the Duelfer report concluded that Saddam “wanted to recreate Iraq's WMD capability -- which was essentially destroyed in 1991 -- after sanctions were removed,” it also found that there existed “no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners separate from Saddam.”