August 21, 2003

Four 9/11 Moms Battle Bush

Meanwhile, here are the familes of 9/11 victims doing
the heavy lifting, asking the hard questions, keeping
alive the story of what didn't happen before 9/11 and
it is finally given the respect and the attention it
deserves -- an in-depth piece on the front page, but
not of the NYTwits or the WASHPS, no, the New York
Observer...Oh, they have little articles they can
point to in the archive, "Yes, we covered that..." But
think of the consequences, think of the implications.
The White House is stalling, even former Gov. Thomas
Kean (R-NJ), the head of the "independent" 9/11
commission has said so..and yet, it is business as
usual...Please read this story and pass it on. It is a
stunning indictment of the _resident's failed
leadership and incompetent regime. Listen, the
_resident and his Brain (Rove) have scheduled the
"Republican" 2004 convention for NEW YORK CITY in
SEPTEMBER, A Rove powerpoint presentation on how to
exploit 9/11 for political advantage was "found" in a
Washington, D.C. park over a year ago (that's not
something Oliver Stone or I made up, it's a documented
fact) and yet, here we are with the victims' loved
ones investigating and the New York Observer giving
the story the attention it is due. If the Democrats
have anything left (like courage or a spine) they will
put these women on in prime time and make it one of
the central themes of the 2004 Presidential campaign.
They can be introduced by Enron workers who lost their
life savings, they can be escorted by retired military
and intelligence professionals who have spoken out and
the Dixie Chicks can sing the National Anthem before
they are introduced...

This concerns the refusal of the country’s leadership
to be held accountable for the failure to execute its
most fundamental responsibility.

Four 9/11 Moms Battle Bush
by Gail Sheehy

In mid-June, F.B.I. director Robert Mueller III and
several senior agents in the bureau received a group
of about 20 visitors in a briefing room of the J.
Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C. The director
himself narrated a PowerPoint presentation that
summarized the numbers of agents and leads and
evidence he and his people had collected in the
18-month course of their ongoing investigation of
Penttbom, the clever neologism the bureau had invented
to reduce the sites of devastation on 9/11 to one
word: Pent for Pentagon, Pen for Pennsylvania, tt for
the Twin Towers and bom for the four planes that the
government had been forewarned could be used as
weapons—even bombs—but chose to ignore.

After the formal meeting, senior agents in the room
faced a grilling by Kristen Breitweiser, a 9/11 widow
whose cohorts are three other widowed moms from New

"I don’t understand, with all the warnings about the
possibilities of Al Qaeda using planes as weapons, and
the Phoenix Memo from one of your own agents warning
that Osama bin Laden was sending operatives to this
country for flight-school training, why didn’t you
check out flight schools before Sept. 11?"

"Do you know how many flight schools there are in the
U.S.? Thousands," a senior agent protested. "We
couldn’t have investigated them all and found these
few guys."

"Wait, you just told me there were too many flight
schools and that prohibited you from investigating
them before 9/11," Kristen persisted. "How is it that
a few hours after the attacks, the nation is brought
to its knees, and miraculously F.B.I. agents showed up
at Embry-Riddle flight school in Florida where some of
the terrorists trained?"

"We got lucky," was the reply.

Kristen then asked the agent how the F.B.I. had known
exactly which A.T.M. in Portland, Me., would yield a
videotape of Mohammed Atta, the leader of the attacks.
The agent got some facts confused, then changed his
story. When Kristen wouldn’t be pacified by evasive
answers, the senior agent parried, "What are you
getting at?"

"I think you had open investigations before Sept. 11
on some of the people responsible for the terrorist
attacks," she said.

"We did not," the agent said unequivocally.

A month later, on the morning of July 24, before the
scathing Congressional report on intelligence failures
was released, Kristen and the three other moms from
New Jersey with whom she’d been in league sat
impassively at a briefing by staff director Eleanor
Hill: In fact, they learned, the F.B.I. had open
investigations on 14 individuals who had contact with
the hijackers while they were in the United States.
The flush of pride in their own research passed
quickly. This was just another confirmation that the
federal government continued to obscure the facts
about its handling of suspected terrorists leading up
to the Sept. 11 attacks.

So afraid is the Bush administration of what could be
revealed by inquiries into its failures to protect
Americans from terrorist attack, it is unabashedly
using Kremlin tactics to muzzle members of Congress
and thwart the current federal commission
investigating the failures of Sept. 11. But there is
at least one force that the administration cannot
scare off or shut up. They call themselves "Just Four
Moms from New Jersey," or simply "the girls."

Kristen and the three other housewives who also lost
their husbands in the attack on the World Trade Center
started out knowing virtually nothing about how their
government worked. For the last 20 months they have
clipped and Googled, rallied and lobbied, charmed and
intimidated top officials all the way to the White
House. In the process, they have made themselves
arguably the most effective force in dancing around
the obstacle course by which the administration
continues to block a transparent investigation of what
went wrong with the country’s defenses on Sept. 11 and
what we should be doing about it. They have no
political clout, no money, no powerful husbands—no
husbands at all since Sept. 11—and they are up against
a White House, an Attorney General, a Defense
Secretary, a National Security Advisor and an F.B.I.
director who have worked out an ingenious
bait-and-switch game to thwart their efforts and those
of any investigative body.

The Mom Cell

The four moms—Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazza,
Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie van Auken—use tactics more
like those of a leaderless cell. They have learned how
to deposit their assorted seven children with select
grandmothers before dawn and rocket down the Garden
State Parkway to Washington. They have become experts
at changing out of pedal-pushers and into proper
pantsuits while their S.U.V. is stopped in traffic, so
they can hit the Capitol rotunda running. They have
talked strategy with Senator John McCain and Senate
Minority Leader Tom Daschle. They once caught
Congressman Porter Goss hiding behind his office door
to avoid them. And they maintain an open line of
communication with the White House.

But after the razzle-dazzle of their every trip to
D.C., the four moms dissolve on the hot seats of
Kristen’s S.U.V., balance take-out food containers on
their laps and grow quiet. Each then retreats into a
private chamber of longing for the men whose lifeless
images they wear on tags around their necks. After
their first big rally, Patty’s soft voice floated a
wish that might have been in the minds of all four

"O.K., we did the rally, now can our husbands come

Last September, Kristen was singled out by the
families of 9/11 to testify in the first televised
public hearing before the Joint Intelligence Committee
Inquiry (JICI) in Washington. She drew high praise
from the leadership, made up of members from both the
House and Senate. But the JICI, as the moms called it,
was mandated to go out of business at the end of 2003,
and their questions for the intelligence agencies were
consistently blocked: The Justice Department has
forbidden intelligence officials to be interviewed
without "minders" among their bosses being present, a
tactic clearly meant to intimidate witnesses. When the
White House and the intelligence agencies held up the
Congressional report month after month by demanding
that much of it remain classified, the moms’ rallying
cry became "Free the JICI!"

They believed the only hope for getting at the truth
would be with an independent federal commission with a
mandate to build on the findings of the Congressional
inquiry and broaden it to include testimony from all
the other relevant agencies. Their fight finally
overcame the directive by Vice President Dick Cheney
to Congressman Goss to "keep negotiating" and, in
January 2003, the National Commission on Terrorist
Attacks Upon the United States—known as the 9/11
Commission—met for the first time. It is not only for
their peace of mind that the four moms continue to
fight to reveal the truth, but because they firmly
believe that, nearly two years after the attacks, the
country is no safer now than it was on Sept. 11.

"O.K., there’s the House and the Senate—which one has
the most members?"

Lorie laughed at herself. It was April 2002, seven
months after she had lost her husband, Kenneth. "I
must have slept through that civics class." Her friend
Mindy couldn’t help her; Mindy hadn’t read The New
York Times since she stopped commuting to Manhattan,
where she’d worked as a C.P.A. until her husband,
Alan, took over the family support. Both women’s
husbands had worked as securities traders for Cantor
Fitzgerald until they were incinerated in the World
Trade Center.

Mindy and Lorie had thought themselves exempt from
politics, by virtue of the constant emergency of
motherhood. Before Sept. 11, Mindy could have been
described as a stand-in for Samantha on Sex and the
City. But these days she felt more like one of the
Golden Girls. Lorie, who was 46 and beautiful when her
husband, Kenneth van Auken, was murdered, has acquired
a fierceness in her demeanor. The two mothers were
driving home to East Brunswick after attending a
support group for widows of 9/11. They had been fired
up by a veteran survivor of a previous terrorist
attack against Americans, Bob Monetti, president of
Families of Pan Am 103/Lockerbie. "You can’t sit back
and let the government treat you like shit," he had
challenged them. That very night they called up Patty
Casazza, another Cantor Fitzgerald widow, in Colt’s
Neck. "We have to have a rally in Washington."

Patty, a sensitive woman who was struggling to find
the right balance of prescriptions to fight off
anxiety attacks, groaned, "Oh God, this is huge, and
it’s going to be painful." Patty said she would only
go along if Kristen was up for it.

Kristen Breitweiser was only 30 years old when her
husband, Ron, a vice president at Fiduciary Trust,
called her one morning to say he was fine, not to
worry. He had seen a huge fireball out his window, but
it wasn’t his building. She tuned into the Today show
just in time to see the South Tower explode right
where she knew he was sitting—on the 94th floor. For
months thereafter, finding it impossible to sleep,
Kristen went back to the nightly ritual of her married
life: She took out her husband’s toothbrush and
slowly, lovingly squeezed the toothpaste onto it. Then
she would sit down on the toilet and wait for him to
come home.

The Investigation

Kristen was somewhat better-informed than the others.
The tall, blond former surfer girl had graduated from
Seton Hall law school, practiced all of three days,
hated it and elected to be a full-time mom. Her first
line of defense against despair at the shattering of
her life dreams was to revert to thinking like a

Lorie was the network’s designated researcher, since
she had in her basement what looked like a NASA
command module; her husband had been an amateur
designer. Kristen had told her to focus on the
timeline: Who knew what, when did they know it, and
what did they do about it?

Once Lorie began surfing the Web, she couldn’t stop.
She found a video of President Bush’s reaction on the
morning of Sept. 11. According to the official
timeline provided by his press secretary, the
President arrived at an elementary school in Sarasota,
Fla., at 9 a.m. and was told in the hallway of the
school that a plane had crashed into the World Trade
Center. This was 14 minutes after the first attack.
The President went into a private room and spoke by
phone with his National Security Advisor, Condoleezza
Rice, and glanced at a TV in the room. "That’s some
bad pilot," the President said. Bush then proceeded to
a classroom, where he drew up a little stool to listen
to second graders read. At 9:04 a.m., his chief of
staff, Andrew Card, whispered in his ear that a second
plane had struck the towers. "We are under attack,"
Mr. Card informed the President.

"Bush’s sunny countenance went grim," said the White
House account. "After Card’s whisper, Bush looked
distracted and somber but continued to listen to the
second graders read and soon was smiling again. He
joked that they read so well, they must be sixth

Lorie checked the Web site of the Federal Aviation
Authority. The F.A.A. and the Secret Service, which
had an open phone connection, both knew at 8:20 a.m.
that two planes had been hijacked in the New York area
and had their transponders turned off. How could they
have thought it was an accident when the first plane
slammed into the first tower 26 minutes later? How
could the President have dismissed this as merely an
accident by a "bad pilot"? And how, after he had been
specifically told by his chief of staff that "We are
under attack," could the Commander in Chief continue
sitting with second graders and make a joke? Lorie ran
the video over and over.

"I couldn’t stop watching the President sitting there,
listening to second graders, while my husband was
burning in a building," she said.

Mindy pieced together the actions of Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He had been in his Washington
office engaged in his "usual intelligence briefing."
After being informed of the two attacks on the World
Trade Center, he proceeded with his briefing until the
third hijacked plane struck the Pentagon. Mindy
relayed the information to Kristen:

"Can you believe this? Two planes hitting the Twin
Towers in New York City did not rise to the level of
Rumsfeld’s leaving his office and going to the war
room to check out just what the hell went wrong."
Mindy sounded scared. "This is my President. This is
my Secretary of Defense. You mean to tell me Rumsfeld
had to get up from his desk and look out his window at
the burning Pentagon before he knew anything was
wrong? How can that be?"

"It can’t be," said Kristen ominously. Their network
being a continuous loop, Kristen immediately passed on
the news to Lorie, who became even more agitated.

Lorie checked out the North American Aerospace Defense
Command, whose specific mission includes a response to
any form of an air attack on America. It was created
to provide a defense of critical command-and-control
targets. At 8:40 a.m. on 9/11, the F.A.A. notified
NORAD that Flight No. 11 had been hijacked. Three
minutes later, the F.A.A. notified NORAD that Flight
No. 175 was also hijacked. By 9:02 a.m., both planes
had crashed into the World Trade Center, but there had
been no action by NORAD. Both agencies also knew there
were two other hijacked planes in the air that had
been violently diverted from their flight pattern. All
other air traffic had been ordered grounded. NORAD
operates out of Andrews Air Force Base, which is
within sight of the Pentagon. Why didn’t NORAD
scramble planes in time to intercept the two other
hijacked jetliners headed for command-and-control
centers in Washington? Lorie wanted to know. Where was
the leadership?

"I can’t look at these timelines anymore," Lorie
confessed to Kristen. "When you pull it apart, it just
doesn’t reconcile with the official storyline." She
hunched down in her husband’s swivel chair and began
to tremble, thinking, There’s no way this could be.
Somebody is not telling us the whole story.

The Commission

The 9/11 Commission wouldn’t have happened without the
four moms. At the end of its first open hearing, held
last spring at the U.S. Customs House close to the
construction pit of Ground Zero, former Democratic
Congressman Tim Roemer said as much and praised them
and other activist 9/11 families.

"At a time when many Americans don’t even take the
opportunity to cast a ballot, you folks went out and
made the legislative system work," he said.

Jamie Gorelick, former Deputy Attorney General of the
United States, said at the same hearing, "I’m
enormously impressed that laypeople with no powers of
subpoena, with no access to insider information of any
sort, could put together a very powerful set of
questions and set of facts that are a road map for
this commission. It is really quite striking. Now,
what’s your secret?"

Mindy, who had given a blistering testimony at that
day’s hearing, tossed her long corkscrew curls and
replied in a voice more Tallulah than termagant,
"Eighteen months of doing nothing but grieving and
connecting the dots."

Eleanor Hill, the universally respected staff director
of the JICI investigation, shares the moms’ point of

"One of our biggest concerns is our finding that there
were people in this country assisting these
hijackers," she said later in an interview with this
writer. "Since the F.B.I. was in fact investigating
all these people as part of their counterterroism
effort, and they knew some of them had ties to Al
Qaeda, then how good was their investigation if they
didn’t come across the hijackers?"

President Bush, who was notified in the President’s
daily briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, that "a group of
[Osama] bin Laden supporters was planning attacks in
the United States with explosives," insisted after the
Congressional report was made public: "My
administration has transformed our government to
pursue terrorists and prevent terrorist attacks."

Kristen, Mindy, Patty and Lorie are not impressed.

"We were told that, prior to 9/11, the F.B.I. was only
responsible for going in after the fact to solve a
crime and prepare a criminal case," Kristen said.
"Here we are, 22 months after the fact, the F.B.I. has
received some 500,000 leads, they have thousands of
people in custody, they’re seeking the death penalty
for one terrorist, [Zacarias] Moussaoui, but they
still haven’t solved the crime and they don’t have any
of the other people who supported the hijackers." Ms.
Hill echoes their frustration. "Is this support
network for Al Qaeda still in the United States? Are
they still operating, planning the next attack?"

Civil Defense

The hopes of the four moms that the current 9/11
Commission could broaden the inquiry beyond the
intelligence agencies are beginning to fade. As they
see it, the administration is using a streamlined
version of the tactics they successfully employed to
stall and suppress much of the startling information
in the JICI report. The gaping hole of 28 pages
concerning the Saudi royal family’s financial support
for the terrorists of 9/11 was only the tip of the
900-page iceberg.

"We can’t get any information about the Port
Authority’s evacuation procedures or the response of
the City of New York," complains Kristen. "We’re
always told we can’t get answers or documents because
the F.B.I. is holding them back as part of an ongoing
investigation. But when Director Mueller invited us
back for a follow-up meeting—on the very morning
before that damning report was released—we were told
the F.B.I. isn’t pursuing any investigations based on
the information we are blocked from getting. The only
thing they are looking at is the hijackers. And
they’re all dead."

It’s more than a clever Catch-22. Members of the 9/11
Commission are being denied access even to some of the
testimony given to the JICI—on which at least two of
its members sat!

This is a stonewalling job of far greater importance
than Watergate. This concerns the refusal of the
country’s leadership to be held accountable for the
failure to execute its most fundamental
responsibility: to protect its citizens against
foreign attack.

Critical information about two of the hijackers,
Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, lay dormant
within the intelligence community for as long as 18
months, at the very time when plans for the Sept. 11
attacks were being hatched. The JICI confirmed that
these same two hijackers had numerous contacts with a
longtime F.B.I. counterterrorism informant in
California. As the four moms pointed out a year ago,
their names were in the San Diego phone book.

What’s more, the F.B.I.’s Minneapolis field office had
in custody in August 2001 one Zacarias Moussaoui, a
French national who had enrolled in flight training in
Minnesota and who F.B.I. agents suspected was involved
in a hijacking plot. But nobody at the F.B.I.
apparently connected the Moussaoui investigation with
intelligence information on the immediacy of the
threat level in the spring and summer of 2001, or the
illegal entry of al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi into the
United States.

How have these lapses been corrected 24 months later?
The F.B.I. is seeking the death penalty for Mr.
Moussaoui, and uses the need to protect their case
against him as the rationale for refusing to share any
of the information they have obtained from him. In
fact, when Director Mueller tried to use the same
excuse to duck out of testifying before the Joint
Committee, the federal judge in the Moussaoui trial
dismissed his argument, and he and his agents were
compelled to testify.

"At some point, you have to do a cost-benefit
analysis," says Kristen. "Which is more important—one
fried terrorist, or the safety of the nation?" Patty
was even more blunt in their second meeting with the
F.B.I. brass. "I don’t give a rat’s ass about
Moussaoui," she said. "Why don’t you throw him into
Guantánamo and squeeze him for all he’s worth, and get
on with finding his cohorts?"

The four moms are demanding that the independent
commission hold a completely transparent
investigation, with open hearings and
cross-examination. What it looks like they’ll get is
an incomplete and sanitized report, if it’s released
in time for the commission’s deadline next May. Or
perhaps another fight over declassification of the
most potent revelations, which will serve to hold up
the report until after the 2004 Presidential election.
Some believe that this is the administration’s end

Kristen sees the handwriting on the wall: "If we have
an executive branch that holds sole discretion over
what information is released to the public and what is
hidden, the public will never get the full story of
why there was an utter failure to protect them that
day, and who should be held accountable."

You may reach Gail Sheehy via email at:

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This column ran on page 1 in the 8/25/2003 edition of
The New York Observer.

Posted by richard at August 21, 2003 11:49 AM