WASHINGTON – The U.S. government received vague bits of information about terrorism threats for years, with intelligence services in England, Germany, India, Russia and Italy all providing general, non-specific notices in 2001 that terrorists were planning something, though they couldn't say what.
Now, Washington is steeped in finger pointing, and has dragged the rest of the nation into playing the blame game.
The latest Gallup poll conducted Thursday night says 52 percent of Americans think the Bush administration did not act on pre-Sept. 11 information in a proper way. Another 54 percent blame the administration to some extent for not preventing the attacks. But 43 percent don't blame the administration at all for failing to stop the hijackers that commandeered four jetliners and slammed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania.
But when the numbers are broken down further, blame is shared by many agencies.
The Central Intelligence Agency is getting most of the heat, with 76 percent of people blaming the international spy agency to one degree or another for not stopping the attack on Sept. 11. Only 18 percent lay no blame at the CIA's doorstep.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is taking blame from 69 percent of those polled, with another 27 percent saying it is not the agency's fault that terror attacks were not prevented.
Those numbers are not only alarming, they are leading different agencies to deflect the blame from themselves and on to their counterparts.
FBI sources accuse the CIA of holding out information. The CIA says the FBI sat on the so-called Phoenix FBI memo about potential terrorists at U.S. flight schools, and failed to act aggressively.
Lawmakers in both parties are attacking the CIA and FBI together for incompetence, calling for investigations of both agencies. The Department of Justice is blasting its own Immigration and Naturalization Service for mistakes, and the INS in turn complains that the Coast Guard and the Customs Service are not guarding the nation's ports of entry.
Of course, the Pentagon complains that lawmakers aren't letting the brass run the military the way they see fit.
Everybody is accusing somebody of playing politics. Democrats want an inquiry into what the president knew and when he knew it. Republicans call that a partisan suggestion that the president did something wrong.
The Democrats counter that to accuse them of partisanship is to play politics and so on.
Thus far, the CIA and the FBI are the ones who have taken the most heat. The truth is, they were accused of incompetence long before Sept. 11. The FBI has been under bipartisan fire since the Clinton administration, and the CIA has been rocked by a string of its own embarrassments, including a series of recent double-agent charges.