WASHINGTON – The 9-11 attacks have spawned a cottage industry of conspiracy theories that has only grown larger with the recent release of the congressional report on pre-9-11 intelligence.

One of the most popular theories argues that President Bush and his top advisers had advance knowledge of the attacks and let them happen anyway to have an excuse to open up new oil frontiers in the terrorists’ backyard.

Another posits that Bush secretly provoked the attacks to start a war with the Taliban, which was blocking profitable Caspian energy export routes through Afghanistan to Asia.

Both are easy to refute.

In the first case, Donald Rumsfeld was in the Pentagon when the third plane smashed into it. He even helped carry the injured. Bush’s solicitor general’s wife, Barbara Olson, was in the plane. And that same morning, Bush’s own wife was on Capitol Hill, which we now know was the target of the fourth plane.

You’d think the defense secretary, the lawyer who won Bush’s election case before the U.S. Supreme Court and the first lady would all be in on the conspiracy – or at least get some kind of warning. Apparently, they didn’t get the memo that day.

The second theory, pushed by two French journalists, is even less plausible. Bush couldn’t have provoked the attacks, because the 9-11 plot was under way before he ever took office. Immigration records show that hijacker ringleader Mohamed Atta, for one, entered the U.S. on June 3, 2000, and started his pilot lessons the next month.

Truth is, Bush was just as shocked as the rest of us on 9-11.

But when the shock wore off, he and the other war principals gathered in the Situation Room realized they had a golden opportunity to open up new oil frontiers not only for their country, but for their former clients, board members and donors in the Oil Patch.

Bush and many of his war advisers have worked or lobbied for energy companies with interests in the Caspian and Middle East. They include Dick Cheney of Halliburton, Condi Rice of ChevronTexaco, Rich Armitage of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce and Zalmay Khalilzad of Unocal.

In devising a military strategy to defeat al-Qaida, they got ambitious – some might say greedy – and opted for the broader plan of “regime change,” which would remove sanctions blocking certain American energy development over there. With the help of a key GOP ally on Capitol Hill, they quietly lifted economic sanctions in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now in Iraq – all in the name of the war on terror. The plans were already in place – they just had to dust them off, as I reveal in “CRUDE POLITICS: How Bush’s Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism.”

They got their oil deals, but not Osama bin Laden, even though they had a golden opportunity to take him out in southern Afghanistan in the months after the attacks. Bush and his war advisers, bound by common energy interests, chose instead to focus on the Caspian-pipeline-blocking Taliban in the north. By the time they decided to zero in on bin Laden at his Tora Bora redoubt, it was too late: The local Afghan Muslims they’d subcontracted to hunt him down had instead helped him slip across the border into Pakistan, where Bush again has farmed out the hunt for the al-Qaida kingpin, this time to Pakistani Muslims just as prone to betray us.

Now, on the second anniversary of the attacks, bin Laden has reared his ugly head again, while Bush continues to pretend he isn’t a threat to America, or at least not as big of one as Saddam Hussein. In Sunday’s address to the nation, as in his last two State of the Union addresses, the president studiously avoided any mention of bin Laden.

Therein lies the real conspiracy – and crime.

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