Buzz Patterson with President Clinton
A former military aide to President Clinton who claims he witnessed several missed opportunities to capture or kill Osama bin Laden says the producer of the ABC miniseries “The Path to 9/11” came to him in frustration after network executives under a heavy barrage of criticism from former administration officials began pressing for changes to the script.
In an interview with WND, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson said producer and writer Cyrus Nowrasteh called him the morning of Sept. 1, explaining he had used Patterson’s book “Dereliction of Duty” as a source for the drama.
Later that day, Nowrasteh brought a preview copy of “The Path to 9/11” to Patterson for him to view at home. Patterson, who says he has talked with the director seven or eight times since then, also received a phone call from an ABC senior vice president, Quinn Taylor.
Patterson told WND he recognizes the television production conflates several events, but, in terms of conveying how the Clinton administration handled its opportunities to get bin Laden, it’s “100 percent factually correct,” he said.
“I was there with Clinton and (National Security Adviser Sandy) Berger and watched the missed opportunities occur,” Patterson declared.
The five-hour drama is scheduled to air in two parts, Sunday night and Monday night, Sept. 11.
As a military aide to President Clinton from 1996 to 1998, Patterson was one of five men entrusted with carrying the “nuclear football,” which contains the codes for launching nuclear weapons.
‘Everyone’s got to calm down’
Reached by phone at his home in Southern California, Nowrasteh affirmed to WND he consulted with Patterson and gave him a preview of the drama.
Lt. Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson (FrontPageMagazine.com)
During the interview this morning, Nowrasteh took a moment to watch as President Clinton’s image turned up on his nearby TV screen to criticize the movie. The director did not want to respond directly to Clinton’s comments, but offered a general response to critics.
“Everybody’s got to calm down and watch the movie,” Nowrasteh told WND. “This is not an indictment of one president or another. The villains are the terrorists. This is a clarion bell for people to wake up and take notice.”
Patterson pointed out the Bush administration also is depicted in an unfavorable light in the months before 9/11.
An ABC executive who requested anonymity told the Washington Post the network has made “adjustments and refinements” to the drama that are “intended to make clearer that it was general indecisiveness” by federal officials that left the U.S. vulnerable to attack, and “not any one individual.”
Yesterday, the New York Post reported Clinton wrote to ABC officials, complaining the “content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has the duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely.” Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, according to the Washington Post, has described a scene, in which she is depicted, as “false and defamatory.”
The Senate Democratic Leadership sent a letter to Robert Iger – president and CEO of ABC’s corporate parent, the Walt Disney Co. – urging him to cancel the “grossly inaccurate” drama.
The Democratic National Committee today said it delivered a petition with nearly 200,000 signatures to ABC’s Washington office calling on the network to drop its “right-wing factually inaccurate mocudrama.”
Democrats have been particularly critical of a scene that depicts Berger refusing to authorize a mission to capture bin Laden after CIA operatives and Afghan fighters had the al-Qaida leader in their sights.
Nowrasteh acknowledges this is a “conflation of events,” but Berger, in a letter to Iger, said “no such episode ever occurred, nor did anything like it.”
Patterson contended, however, the scene is similar to a plan the administration had with the CIA and the Afghan Northern Alliance to snatch bin Laden from a camp in Afghanistan.
The scene in “The Path to 9/11,” as Patterson recalled from the preview version, unfolds with CIA operatives at the camp on the phone with Berger, who is expressing concern that an attack could result in innocent bystanders being killed. An agent says he sees swing sets and children’s toys in the area. The scene ends with Berger hanging up the phone.
Patterson says his recollection is that Clinton was involved directly in several similar incidents in which Berger was pressing the president for a decision.
“Berger was very agitated, he couldn’t get a decision from the president,” Patterson said.
Patterson noted he wasn’t sure what Berger wanted to do – whether the national security adviser wanted the answer to be yes or no – but the frustration, at the very least, was based on the president making himself unavailable to make a decision.
In “Dereliction of Duty,” published by Regnery in 2003, Patterson recounts an event in the situation room of the White House in which Berger was told by a military watch officer, “Sir, we’ve located bin Laden. We have a two-hour window to strike.”
Clinton, according to Patterson, did not return phone calls from Berger for more than an hour then said he wanted more time to study the situation.
Patterson writes: “We ‘studied’ the issues until it was too late-the window of opportunity closed.”
Harvey Keitel plays counter-terrorism expert John O’Neill in ABC’s “The Path to 9/11
In another “missed opportunity,” Patterson writes, Clinton was watching a golf tournament when Berger placed an urgent call to the president. Clinton became irritated when Patterson approached him with the message. After the third attempt, Clinton coolly responded he would call Berger on his way back to the White House. By then, however, according to Patterson, the opportunity was lost.
As WND reported, Berger was the focus of a Justice Department investigation for removing highly classified terrorism documents before the Sept. 11 Commission hearings that generated the report used for the television program.
FBI agents searched Berger’s home and office after he voluntarily returned some documents to the National Archives.
Berger and his lawyer told reporters he knowingly removed handwritten notes he made while reading classified anti-terror documents at the archives by sticking them in his clothing. They said he also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio.
Berger’s response to the “The Path to 9/11” is similar to his reaction to the accounts in “Dereliction of Duty,” insisting the incidents attributed to him “never occurred.”
Patterson said his book put him under intense pressure from Clinton officials – an aide even spoke of taking away his military retirement benefits – but when the title reached No. 1 on Amazon.com, “they shut up.”
There are others who can corroborate his accounts, Patterson insisted, but they are still in military service and therefore legally bound not to come forward and make statements.
Three of the four other military aides who rotated being at the president’s side were additional sources for his book, Patterson affirmed.
If ABC ends up pulling “The Path to 9/11,” it won’t be the first time Democrats have succeeded in pressuring a network not to air a politically charged film during a major election season.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, as WND reported, the Sinclair Broadcast Group canceled a planned showing of “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal.” The documentary featured former POWs who told how John Kerry’s 1971 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was used as propaganda against them by their North Vietnamese captors, allegedly intensifying their persecution and prolonging the war and imprisonment.