Sunday, June 27, 2004

Fahrenheit 911

My wife and I saw Moore's film yesterday and wanted to share a few thoughts. Overall, I enjoyed the movie--although I found that Bowling for Columbine gave me more to think about. Some of the themes that Moore raises are old hat--the circumstances of the 2000 Presidential election, the Saudi connection to the Bush family, and the Patriot Act getting ramrodded through Congress. The one meme I liked the best: the men and women who serve in our military do not come from all walks of life but tend to come from poor neighborhoods and there is something fundamentally unfair about that. The most touching scene in the movie is an interview with a mom whose son was killed in Iraq.

Of course Moore's film is a propaganda piece, but I think it is a side of propaganda many people have not encountered before. That is, the mainstream media tends to give credence and time to the righty wackos but lefty wackos are rarely (if ever) seen or heard.

The only part of the film that I found inaccurate involved the flights of Saudi nationals after 9/11. Moore left the distinct impression that the Bin Laden family hopped a plane when everyone else (including Ricky Martin) was grounded. Moore also suggested that the FBI did not bother to interrogate the Saudi nationals or even run their names through the terrorist database.

This is what the 9/11 Commission concluded, in its Staff Statement No. 10 [PDF], presented at the public hearings on April 13, 2004:

The Saudi Flights
National air space was closed on September 11. Fearing reprisals against Saudi nationals, the Saudi government asked for help in getting some of its citizens out of the country. We have not yet identified who they contacted for help. But we have found that the request came to the attention of Richard Clarke and that each of the flights we have studied was investigated by the FBI and dealt with in a professional manner prior to its departure.

No commercial planes, including chartered flights, were permitted to fly into, out of, or within the United States until September 13, 2001. After the airspace reopened, six chartered flights with 142 people, mostly Saudi Arabian nationals, departed from the United States between September 14 and 24. One flight, the so-called Bin Ladin flight, departed the United States on September 20 with 26 passengers, most of them relatives of Usama Bin Ladin. We have found no credible evidence that any chartered flights of Saudi Arabian nationals departed the United States before the reopening of national airspace.

The Saudi flights were screened by law enforcement officials, primarily the FBI, to ensure that people on these flights did not pose a threat to national security, and that nobody of interest to the FBI with regard to the 9/11 investigation was allowed to leave the country. Thirty of the 142 people on these flights were interviewed by the FBI, including 22 of the 26 people (23 passengers and 3 private security guards) on the Bin Ladin flight. Many were asked detailed questions. None of the passengers stated that they had any recent contact with Usama Bin Ladin or knew anything about terrorist activity.

The FBI checked a variety of databases for information on the Bin Ladin flight passengers and searched the aircraft. It is unclear whether the TIPOFF terrorist watchlist was checked. At our request, the Terrorist Screening Center has rechecked the names of individuals on the flight manifests of these six Saudi flights against the current TIPOFF watchlist. There are no matches.

The FBI has concluded that nobody was allowed to depart on these six flights who the FBI wanted to interview in connection with the 9/11 attacks, or who the FBI later concluded had any involvement in those attacks. To date, we have uncovered no evidence to contradict this conclusion.

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff raised that and other challenges to Fahrenheit 911, to which
Moore responded here (inadequately, in my opinion).

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