If you thought the volume on the Trump-Twitter-Fox noise distraction machine was turned up extra loud in the past few weeks, it was not only to deflect attention from the nearly 100,000 Americans who’ve died from Covid-19, but also from the confirmation that on President Trump’s watch our country suffered the first deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 that was planned abroad.
You read that right. Last week, Attorney General William Barr and the F.B.I. said that data from cellphones of a Saudi Air Force trainee who killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight others at a Navy air base in Pensacola, Fla., on Dec. 6 confirmed that it was an act of foreign-planned “terrorism.”
The phone data “definitively establishes” that the trainee, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, had “significant ties to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — not only before the attack, but before he even arrived in the United States” in August 2017. He had actually joined the Saudi military to carry out a “special operation.”
That Alshamrani was able to kill three sailors at an American base was a massive failure of U.S. and Saudi intelligence. I mean, who should be getting more scrutinized before they come train in the U.S. on an air base than Saudi pilots?
The Trump administration clearly had no idea what was happening under its nose.
As The Washington Post noted: After the attack, investigators found evidence that 17 fellow Saudi students “had shared Islamist militant or anti-American material on social media, and others had possessed or shared child pornography. As a result, 21 cadets from Saudi Arabia were disenrolled from the training program and sent home.”
That sort of intelligence failure — the first foreign-planned terrorist attack on U.S. shores since 9/11 — is something you’d expect Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be particularly upset about. After all, it was Pompeo, when he was in Congress, who spearheaded the investigations into then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s supposed responsibility for the death of four U.S. diplomats in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.
Oh, you forgot about Congressman Pompeo’s endless campaign to nail Hillary with Benghazi? Well, let me jog your memory. Here is how The Guardian described the conclusion of the 800-page, House select committee investigation on Benghazi, led by a Republican representative, Trey Gowdy, and issued on July 28, 2016:
It “found no new evidence to conclude that Hillary Clinton, secretary of state at the time, was culpable in the deaths.” A few hours later, the Obama White House “noted tersely that this was the eighth congressional committee to investigate the attacks and went on longer than the 9/11 commission and the committees designated to look at Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President John F Kennedy, the Iran-contra affair and Watergate.”
So, let’s do some math here: Then-Congressman Pompeo led the utterly contrived campaign to blame Hillary for the Benghazi deaths — a charge that a Republican-led committee found to be without merit. But Pompeo used his crusade to gain the attention, via Fox News, of Trump and was named Trump’s C.I.A. director. And now we learn that while Pompeo was C.I.A. director, the first foreign-planned terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 was being organized here and abroad, and while he was secretary of state it was carried out.
Now that’s something worth investigating.
I don’t know much about Pompeo’s time as head of the C.I.A., except that he was notorious for spending long hours at the White House sucking up to Trump. But I do know he has been the worst secretary of state in American history, without a single diplomatic achievement.
I know you thought that Rex Tillerson had retired that title. Tillerson was ineffective, but Tillerson had integrity and ethics. Pompeo has none. American taxpayers deserve a refund from him for his education at West Point.
Pompeo’s two most notable accomplishments as secretary of state are, metaphorically speaking, shooting two of his senior State Department officials in the back.
One was the distinguished U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Pompeo removed on the orders of Trump and Trump’s nut-job lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The other was the department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, whom Pompeo got Trump to fire, reportedly because he was investigating — wait for it now — Pompeo’s own efforts to evade a congressional ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and for improperly asking a State Department employee to run errands for him and his wife.
Hell, if that were me — if the first foreign-planned terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 developed on my watch and if I had just gotten rid of the State Department inspector general without explanation — I’d also be trying to distract attention.
I mean, if it were me, I might even claim that China concocted the coronavirus in a lab in Wuhan. Wait — that’s what Pompeo did!
“There is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” Pompeo told ABC News’s “This Week” on May 3. “The best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point.”
Pompeo has a well-earned reputation for pushing conspiracy theories. I certainly think it is possible that a coronavirus from bats being studied in the Wuhan lab might have escaped by accident. But the “best” expert virologists — and U.S. intelligence agencies — say there’s no proof it was man-made, which would leave DNA tracks.
When Martha Raddatz, the ABC interviewer, told Pompeo that U.S. intelligence has said no such thing, he just reversed course and said: “I’ve seen what the intelligence community has said. I have no reason to believe that they’ve got it wrong.”
What? The secretary of state first accuses China of manufacturing a virus that has killed over 340,000 people worldwide and then, when reminded that our intelligence agencies have concluded no such thing, he backs off with no explanation. Can you be any more unprofessional?
But that’s not the only slimeball story that Pompeo wants to distract attention from. On May 19, NBC News revealed that since 2018 he and his wife, Susan, had held some two dozen “elaborate, unpublicized” dinners “in the historic Diplomatic Reception Rooms on the government’s dime. State Department officials involved in the dinners said they had raised concerns internally that the events were essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo’s political ambitions.”
Pompeo and his wife are widely rumored to harbor White House dreams. And it showed. NBC said “the records show that about 29 percent of the invitees came from the corporate world, while about a quarter of them hailed from the media or entertainment industries, with conservative media members heavily represented. About 30 percent work in politics or government, and just 14 percent were diplomats or foreign officials. Every single member of the House or the Senate who has been invited is a Republican.”
With a president, a Senate majority and Fox News always at the ready to defend him, Pompeo couldn’t care less about any of these stories. He just smirks and marches on. But every American should care. The morale and effectiveness of our State Department — and our standing in the world — are both the worse for him.
Thomas L. Friedman I New York Times