President Bush and other senior administration officials have tried to defend illegal domestic spying by arguing that it could have prevented 9/11. Bush included the argument in his State of the Union address:
It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. … So to prevent another attack — based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute — I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program…
This argument is false, as several sources, including the Washington Post, have pointed out. But it also runs contrary to the administration’s previous line on the attacks. In 2002, President Bush and other top officials told Americans that September 11 could not have been prevented:
President Bush, 6/4/02:
Q Had the reform been put in place beforehand, if the FBI had been –
THE PRESIDENT: I haven’t seen any evidence –
Q — could the attacks have been stopped?
THE PRESIDENT: I’ve seen no evidence today that said this country could have prevented the attack.
FBI Director Robert Mueller, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, 6/2/02:
U.S. intelligence agencies could have better analyzed information that pointed to Sept. 11, but they probably could not have prevented the attacks, the attorney general and FBI director said Sunday. …
“The information we now have does not indicate that there was a substantial likelihood of detecting this,” Ashcroft said.
So, to recap: President Bush was wrong in 2002, and he’s wrong now. The 9/11 attacks could have been prevented (as the 9/11 Commission found), but his illegal domestic spying program would not have done the job.