Why You Can’t Watch the ABC Miniseries “The Path to 9/11”

On September 6, 2006, the ABC television network aired “The Path to 9/11,” a three-hour documentary, written and produced by Cyrus Nowrasteh and directed by David Cunningham, which covered the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against our country. The program broke with other accounts of the causes of the 9/11 attacks— including by the 9/11 Commission—by casting substantial blame for the attacks on the incompetent foreign policy of the Clinton Administration. 

This program aired only once. A DVD was produced but can no longer be purchased on Amazon.com. The reason? Former Clinton officials and their allies put heavy pressure on the Walt Disney Company—which owns ABC—to censor and suppress the film because it went against their false narrative absolving Clinton’s policies for contributing to the 9/11 attacks and instead putting the blame on the Bush Administration.

What’s stunning about this story today is how similar it is to the denials and outright lies about the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by Biden officials, and the mainstream media’s willingness to change the subject away from a major foreign policy failure by a Democratic president.

“The Path to 9/11” was tough on both the Bush and Clinton Administrations for not doing enough to prevent the 9/11 attacks.

Some experts criticized Bush’s pre-9/11 counterterrorism policies and criticized him for not acting on intelligence reports in the summer of 2001, warning that “spectacular” terrorist attacks by al Qaeda could soon occur. Although I believe there was some validity to this criticism, the 9/11 Commission noted that U.S. officials were inundated with terrorist threats reports in 2001 concerning almost everywhere the United States had interests, including at home. Most of these reports never amounted to anything. In addition, I believe it was unfair to blame principally the Bush Administration for failing to stop the 9/11 attacks since it had been in office only nine months on September 11, 2001. 

On the other hand, there is strong evidence that eight years of foreign policy incompetence by the Clinton Administration set the stage for the 9/11 attacks, including bureaucratic bungling, failure to take action against al Qaeda, and President Clinton being distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment.

Clinton did not respond with force to the 1993 Blackhawk Down incident. His responses to previous Al Qaeda attacks, including to the 1996 Khobar Towers terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia (backed by Iran), the 1998 truck bombings that destroyed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, were ineffective and feckless.

Journalist Lawrence Wright wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Looming Tower that the Sudanese government offered to turn over bin Laden to the United States in 1996. The Clinton Administration turned down the offer and instead suggested he be sent to Saudi Arabia. According to Wright, after the Saudis refused to have anything to do with bin Laden, Sudan—with the agreement of the United States—allowed him to go to Afghanistan. 

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden pursued terrorist attacks against the United States and U.S. troops because he perceived American weakness under President Clinton. Bin Laden indicated this in a May 1998 interview with NBC reporter John Miller in which he said he believed the 1993 Blackhawk Down incident in Somalia conveyed American weakness and led young Muslims to cease seeing the United States as a superpower. 

To protect the legacy of Bill Clinton’s presidency from these historical facts, as well as to protect a future presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton, many former Clinton officials and their allies attacked “The Path to 9/11,” saying it was fabricated. These included former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Congresswoman Jane Harman, National Security Council official Richard Clarke, and several others. Bill Clinton personally asked ABC to pull or revise the film.

But it is not as though the documentary was a political hit piece. 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean served both as a consultant and a co-executive producer of “The Path to 9/11. John Lehman, a Republican member of the 9/11 Commission, said the film portrayed events fairly. 

Nevertheless, Clinton supporters hid behind the 9/11 Commission Report, which went easy on the Clinton Administration and blamed the Clinton and Bush Administration policies equally for failing to stop the 9/11 attacks. Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste— a partisan Democrat—disputed the film’s accuracy and claimed it contradicted the 9/11 Commission Report’s findings.

Clinton officials succeeded in convincing the mainstream media to discredit and bury a film that contained accurate information about their major foreign policy failures. They told bold-faced lies about their record and the media went along. 

Now the Biden Administration is trying to do the same with its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Joe Biden called this an extraordinary success. His senior advisors continue to lie every day in order to misrepresent the results of his Afghanistan policy and change the subject.  

Will the media play along like it did on “The Path to 9/11”?

About Fred Fleitz

Fred Fleitz is president of the Center for Security Policy. He previously served as National Security Council chief of staff, a CIA analyst, and a member of the House Intelligence Committee staff. 

Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

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