More News — March 22-26, 2004

"Purported Al Qaeda Letter Calls Truce in Spain" -- Opheera McDoom (Reuters) at yahoo.com, 3/22/04:

A group claiming to have links with al Qaeda said on Wednesday it was calling a truce in its Spanish operations to see if the new Madrid government would withdraw its troops from Iraq, a pan-Arab newspaper said.

In a statement sent to the Arabic language daily al-Hayat, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the Madrid bombings that killed 201 people, also urged its European units to stop all operations. . . .

In a shock election result three days after the Madrid bombs, Spain voted in the Socialist party, which has since said it will probably withdraw its troops from Iraq. . . .

The statement said it supported President Bush in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom."

In comments addressed to Bush, the group said:

"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization."

"Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected."

"Government Accounts of 9/11 Reveal Gaps, Inconsistencies" -- Scot Paltrow in The Wall Street Journal, 3/22/04

Anti-Terror Pioneer Turns in the Badge" -- Barton Gellman's profile of Richard Clarke just after his resignation in The Washington Post, 3/13/03.

"Storm Warnings" -- Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas in Newsweek, 3/29/04 (posted 3/22/04):

The White House counterterror chief during the late ' 90s and through 9/11 was Dick Clarke. A career civil servant, Clarke was known for pounding the table to urge his counterparts at the CIA, FBI and Pentagon to do more about Al Qaeda. But he did not have much luck, in part because in both the Clinton and early Bush administrations, the top leadership did not back up Clarke and demand results.

Clarke does not absolve Clinton (or himself) of responsibility?the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa happened on Clinton's watch?but he saves his harshest criticism for Bush and his national-security team. In his new book, Clarke recounts how on Jan. 24, 2001, he recommended that the new president's national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, convene the president's top advisers to discuss the Qaeda threat. One week later, Bush did. But according to Clarke, the meeting had nothing to do with bin Laden. The topic was how to get rid of Saddam Hussein. "What does that tell you?" Clarke remarked to NEWSWEEK. "They thought there was something more urgent. It was Iraq. They came in there with their agenda, and [Al Qaeda] was not on it."

A White House official countered that the true fault lay with Clarke for failing to propose an effective plan to go after Al Qaeda. On Jan. 25, this official told NEWSWEEK, Clarke submitted proposals to "roll back" Al Qaeda in Afghanistan by boosting military aid to neighboring Uzbekistan, getting the CIA to arm its Predator spy planes and increasing funding for guerrillas fighting the Taliban. There was no need for a high-level meeting on terrorism until Clarke came up with a better plan, this official told NEWSWEEK. The official quoted President Bush as telling Condi Rice, "I'm tired of swatting flies." Bush, this official says, wanted an aggressive scheme to take bin Laden out.

Clarke sharply whacks Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as the leader of the Get Saddam squad. When the White House finally did convene a top-level meeting to discuss terrorism, in April 2001, Wolfowitz rebuffed Clarke's effort to focus on Al Qaeda. According to Clarke, Wolfowitz said, "Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?" The real threat, Wolfowitz insisted, was state-sponsored terrorism orchestrated by Saddam. In the meeting, says Clarke, Wolfowitz cited the writings of Laurie Mylroie, a controversial academic who had written a book advancing an elaborate conspiracy theory that Saddam was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Clarke says he tried to refute Wolfowitz. "We've investigated that five ways to Friday, and nobody [in the government] believes that," Clarke recalls saying. "It was Al Qaeda. It wasn't Saddam." A spokesman for Wolfowitz described Clarke's account as a "fabrication." Wolfowitz always regarded Al Qaeda as "a major threat," said this official.

If the Bush administration was sounding the alarm about Al Qaeda in its first few months in office, the national-security bureaucracy was not listening. At the Justice Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft downgraded terrorism as a priority, choosing to place more emphasis on drug trafficking and gun violence. That summer, a federal judge severely chastised the FBI for improperly seeking permission to wiretap terrorists; as a result, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Justice Department curtailed a highly classified program called "Catcher's Mitt" to monitor Qaeda suspects in the United States. The CIA and Air Force were caught up in an endless wrangle over who would arm and fly the Predator spy plane (and pay for it, as well as take responsibility for shooting at terrorist targets).

"Administration Officials Respond to Richard Clarke Interview" -- Center for American Progress, 3/22/04:

In the wake of Richard Clarke's well-supported assertions that the Bush Administration neglected counterterrorism in the face of repeated terror warnings before 9/11, the Bush Administration has launched a frantic misinformation campaign – often contradicting itself in the process.

CLAIM #1: "Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to."
– National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: Clarke sent a memo to Rice principals on 1/24/01 marked "urgent" asking for a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with an impending Al Qaeda attack. The White House acknowledges this, but says "principals did not need to have a formal meeting to discuss the threat." No meeting occurred until one week before 9/11.
– White House Press Release, 3/21/04

CLAIM #2: "The president returned to the White House and called me in and said, I've learned from George Tenet that there is no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11."
– National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: If this is true, then why did the President and Vice President repeatedly claim Saddam Hussein was directly connected to 9/11? President Bush sent a letter to Congress on 3/19/03 saying that the Iraq war was permitted specifically under legislation that authorized force against "nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11." Similarly, Vice President Cheney said on 9/14/03 that "It is not surprising that people make that connection" between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, and said "we don't know" if there is a connection.

CLAIM #3: "[Clarke] was moved out of the counterterrorism business over to the cybersecurity side of things."
– Vice President Dick Cheney on Rush Limbaugh, 3/22/04

FACT: "Dick Clarke continued, in the Bush Administration, to be the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and the President's principle counterterrorism expert. He was expected to organize and attend all meetings of Principals and Deputies on terrorism. And he did."
– White House Press Release, 3/21/04

CLAIM #4: "In June and July when the threat spikes were so high…we were at battle stations…The fact of the matter is [that] the administration focused on this before 9/11."
– National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: "Documents indicate that before Sept. 11, Ashcroft did not give terrorism top billing in his strategic plans for the Justice Department, which includes the FBI. A draft of Ashcroft's 'Strategic Plan' from Aug. 9, 2001, does not put fighting terrorism as one of the department's seven goals, ranking it as a sub-goal beneath gun violence and drugs. By contrast, in April 2000, Ashcroft's predecessor, Janet Reno, called terrorism 'the most challenging threat in the criminal justice area.'"
– Washington Post, 3/22/04

CLAIM #5: "The president launched an aggressive response after 9/11."
– National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: "In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows. The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks."
– Washington Post, 3/22/04

CLAIM #6: "Well, [Clarke] wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff…"
– Vice President Dick Cheney, 3/22/04

FACT: "The Government's interagency counterterrorism crisis management forum (the Counterterrorism Security Group, or "CSG") chaired by Dick Clarke met regularly, often daily, during the high threat period."
– White House Press Release, 3/21/04

CLAIM #7: "[Bush] wanted a far more effective policy for trying to deal with [terrorism], and that process was in motion throughout the spring."
– Vice President Dick Cheney on Rush Limbaugh, 3/22/04

FACT: "Bush said [in May of 2001] that Cheney would direct a government-wide review on managing the consequences of a domestic attack, and 'I will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.' Neither Cheney's review nor Bush's took place." By comparison, Cheney in 2001 formally convened his Energy Task Force at least 10 separate times, meeting at least 6 times with Enron energy executives.
– Washington Post, 1/20/02 , GAO Report, 8/22/03, AP, 1/8/02

CLAIM #8: All the chatter [before 9/11] was of an attack, a potential al Qaeda attack overseas.
– Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, 3/22/04

FACT: Page 204 of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11 noted that "In May 2001, the intelligence community obtained a report that Bin Laden supporters were planning to infiltrate the United States" to "carry out a terrorist operation using high explosives." The report "was included in an intelligence report for senior government officials in August [2001]." In the same month, the Pentagon "acquired and shared with other elements of the Intelligence Community information suggesting that seven persons associated with Bin Laden had departed various locations for Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States."
[Joint Congressional Report, 12/02]

"Groups Call for the Resignation of Sept. 11 Commission Director" -- Chris Strohm at govexec.com, 3/22/04:

Public interest groups are demanding the immediate resignation of the director of the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, just as the commission prepares to hold high-profile hearings this week with senior officials from the Bush and Clinton administrations.

The 9-11 Family Steering Committee and 9-11 Citizens Watch, two separate groups, are demanding the resignation of Philip Zelikow, executive director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, after information surfaced over the weekend that he participated in Bush administration briefings prior to Sept. 11 on the threat al Qaeda posed to the country.

"We believe that the very integrity of the commission is at stake here, and that he should resign immediately," Kyle Hence, co-founder of Citizens Watch, said Monday.

On Saturday, the Family Steering Committee wrote a letter to the commission arguing that Zelikow has a conflict of interest because he could potentially be held culpable for failing to heed warnings about al Qaeda prior to Sept. 11.

"It is clear that [Zelikow] should never have been permitted to be a member of the commission, since it is the mandate of the commission to identify the source of failures," the committee wrote. "It is now apparent why there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We now can see that trail would lead directly to the staff director himself."

Zelikow was a member of the team that helped with the Bush administration transition to office. When he became executive director of the commission, he recused himself from participating in any part of the investigation that dealt with the time he served on the Bush transition team.

Critics have previously called for Zelikow to resign because they believed he had at least an appearance of a conflict of interest. He co-wrote a book in 1995 with Condoleezza Rice, who is now Bush's national security adviser. Additionally, only Zelikow and commission member Jamie Gorelick are permitted to read classified intelligence reports known as the presidential daily briefs in their entirety.

Information that Zelikow participated in intelligence briefings on al Qaeda before Sept. 11 surfaced over the weekend in interviews with the government's former counterterrorism czar, Richard Clarke, who resigned last summer after 30 years of public service. Clarke served in four administrations as part of the National Security Council. He was the counterterrorism czar for former President Clinton, served on the transition team when Bush came into office and remained as a senior counterterrorism official under the Bush administration.

On Saturday, Clarke told the New York Times that he gave briefings on the threat posed by al Qaeda to Rice; Stephen Hadley, now Rice's deputy; and Zelikow when he was part of the transition team from December 2000 to January 2001. . . .

Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the 9-11 commission, said Monday that no new charges have been leveled that would cause the commission to ask Zelikow to resign. Felzenberg reiterated that Zelikow recused himself from parts of the investigation that deal with the time he served on the transition team.

"The commission finds the director's recusal sufficient," Felzenberg said. "I don't see a single charge that has been made that would cause the commission to change its view."

Felzenberg said Zelikow was not responsible for making policy decisions or implementing recommendations during his time on the transition team. He added that the commission has a policy regarding conflicts of interest and a process in which complaints should be vetted.

"9/11: Internal Government Documents Show How the Bush Administration Reduced Counterterrorism" -- Center for American Progress, 3/23/04:

Since September 11, President Bush and his supporters have repeatedly intimated that many of the President's political opponents are soft on terrorism. In his State of the Union address, the President declared: "We can go forward with confidence and resolve, or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us." In comments aimed at those who seek changes in the Patriot Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft said: "Your tactics only aid terrorists." One recent ad asserts, "Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others."

But the real story is far different, as the following internal Department of Justice (DoJ) documents obtained by the Center for American Progress demonstrate. The Bush Administration actually reversed the Clinton Administration's strong emphasis on counterterrorism and counterintelligence. Attorney General John Ashcroft not only moved aggressively to reduce DoJ's anti-terrorist budget but also shift DoJ's mission in spirit to emphasize its role as a domestic police force and anti-drug force. These changes in mission were just as critical as the budget changes, with Ashcroft, in effect, guiding the day to day decisions made by field officers and agents. And all of this while the Administration was receiving repeated warnings about potential terrorist attacks.

"Lifting the Shroud" -- Paul Krugman in The New York Times, 3/23/04:

It's important, when you read the inevitable attempts to impugn the character of the latest whistle-blower, to realize just how risky it is to reveal awkward truths about the Bush administration. When Gen. Eric Shinseki told Congress that postwar Iraq would require a large occupation force, that was the end of his military career. When Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV revealed that the 2003 State of the Union speech contained information known to be false, someone in the White House destroyed his wife's career by revealing that she was a C.I.A. operative. And we now know that Richard Foster, the Medicare system's chief actuary, was threatened with dismissal if he revealed to Congress the likely cost of the administration's prescription drug plan.

The latest insider to come forth, of course, is Richard Clarke, George Bush's former counterterrorism czar and the author of the just-published "Against All Enemies."

On "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Mr. Clarke said the previously unsayable: that Mr. Bush, the self-proclaimed "war president," had "done a terrible job on the war against terrorism." After a few hours of shocked silence, the character assassination began. He "may have had a grudge to bear since he probably wanted a more prominent position," declared Dick Cheney, who also says that Mr. Clarke was "out of the loop." (What loop? Before 9/11, Mr. Clarke was the administration's top official on counterterrorism.) It's "more about politics and a book promotion than about policy," Scott McClellan said.

Of course, Bush officials have to attack Mr. Clarke's character because there is plenty of independent evidence confirming the thrust of his charges. . . .

Still, the administration would like you to think that Mr. Clarke had base motives in writing his book. But given the hawks' dominance of the best-seller lists until last fall, it's unlikely that he wrote it for the money. Given the assumption by most political pundits, until very recently, that Mr. Bush was guaranteed re-election, it's unlikely that he wrote it in the hopes of getting a political job. And given the Bush administration's penchant for punishing its critics, he must have known that he was taking a huge personal risk.

So why did he write it? How about this: Maybe he just wanted the public to know the truth.

"Floor Statement of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle on the Administration Attacking Good People for Telling the Truth" -- democrats.senate.gov, 3/23/04:

When former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill stepped forward to criticize the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, he was immediately ridiculed by the people around the President and his credibility was attacked. Even worse, the Administration launched a government investigation to see if Secretary O'Neill improperly disclosed classified documents. He was, of course, exonerated, but the message was clear. If you speak freely, there will be consequences.

Ambassador Joseph Wilson also learned that lesson. Ambassador Wilson, who by all accounts served bravely under President Bush in the early 1990s, felt a responsibility to speak out on President Bush's false State of the Union statement on Niger and uranium. When he did, the people around the President quickly retaliated. Within weeks of debunking the President's claim, Ambassador Wilson's wife was the target of a despicable act.

Her identity as a deep-cover CIA agent was revealed to Bob Novak, a syndicated columnist, and was printed in newspapers around the country. That was the first time in our history, I believe, that the identity and safety of a CIA agent was disclosed for purely political purposes. It was an unconscionable and intolerable act.

Around the same time Bush Administration officials were endangering Ambassador Wilson's wife, they appear to have been threatening another federal employee for trying to do his job. In recent weeks Richard Foster, an actuary for the Department of Health and Human Services, has revealed that he was told he would be fired if he told Congress and the American people the real costs of last year's Medicare bill.

Mr. Foster, in an e-mail he wrote on June 26 of last year, said the whole episode had been "pretty nightmarish." He wrote: "I'm no longer in grave danger of being fired, but there remains a strong likelihood that I will have to resign in protest of the withholding of important technical information from key policymakers for political purposes."

Think about those words. He would lose his job if he did his job. If he provided the information the Congress and the American people deserved and were entitled to, he would lose his job. When did this become the standard for our government? When did we become a government of intimidation?

And now, in today's newspapers, we see the latest example of how the people around the President react when faced with facts they want to avoid.

The White House's former lead counter-terrorism advisor, Richard Clarke, is under fierce attack for questioning the White House's record on combating terrorism. Mr. Clarke has served in four White Houses, beginning with Ronald Reagan's Administration, and earned an impeccable record for his work.

Now the White House seeks to destroy his reputation. The people around the President aren't answering his allegations; instead, they are trying to use the same tactics they used with Paul O'Neill. They are trying to ridicule Mr. Clarke and destroy his credibility, and create any diversion possible to focus attention away from his serious allegations.

The purpose of government isn't to make the President look good. It isn't to produce propaganda or misleading information. It is, instead, to do its best for the American people and to be accountable to the American people. The people around the President don't seem to believe that. They have crossed a line?perhaps several lines?that no government ought to cross.

We shouldn't fire or demean people for telling the truth. We shouldn't reveal the names of law enforcement officials for political gain. And we shouldn't try to destroy people who are out to make country safer.

I think the people around the President have crossed into dangerous territory. We are seeing abuses of power that cannot be tolerated.

The President needs to put a stop to it, right now. We need to get to the truth, and the President needs to help us do that.

"Shiite Ayatollah Is Warning U.N. Against Endorsing Charter Sponsored by U.S." -- John F. Burns in The New York Times, 3/23/04:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 22 ? Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has warned of "dangerous consequences" if the United Nations endorses the American-sponsored interim constitution for an independent Iraq that was adopted over Shiite protests two weeks ago.

The warning came in a letter released by Ayatollah Sistani's office on Monday, four days after it was delivered in New York to Lakhtar Brahimi, the chief United Nations envoy to Iraq. It amounted to a warning that the ayatollah's followers, by far the most powerful political bloc in Iraq, could move to paralyze American plans for a smooth transfer of sovereignty on June 30 unless Shiite terms for changing the interim constitution were met.

Ayatollah Sistani warned in his letter that he would boycott a coming visit to Baghdad by Mr. Brahimi, refusing to "take part in any meetings or consultations" conducted by him or his emissaries, unless the United Nations offered guarantees that it would not endorse the interim constitution.

After nearly a year of discounting the value of a United Nations political role in Iraq, the Bush administration shifted its position recently, saying it strongly favored the United Nations having a part in helping to establish an interim government and organize elections.

Mr. Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria, is to arrive here late this month or early in April to help broker the talks on a transitional government and election arrangements. But Shiite groups that accept Ayatollah Sistani as their ultimate political arbiter have said they will use negotiations over the interim authority ? blocking agreement, if necessary ? to expand the Shiite majority's powers before an elected government takes over at the end of 2005.

"Why Did Sharon Give the Word?" -- Chris McGreal in The Guardian, 3/23/04:

When Ariel Sharon astonished Israelis with his pledge to pull Jewish settlers out of the Gaza strip, the first reaction from Hamas was to declare a military victory over the hated occupier.

The Islamic resistance movement heralded the promised withdrawal as a triumph for Palestinian street fighters, asserting they had driven out Israeli armour and the settlers, and as a justification for keeping up the armed struggle.

Israel's defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, and his general staff immediately made clear that they had no intention of being seen to retreat under fire. With Mr Sharon's blessing, the army stepped up its attacks on Gaza with targeted assassinations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters and accelerated demolition of property in areas the Israelis plan to retain control over even after the settlers leave. This month alone, the Israeli military has killed more than 70 Palestinians in raids mostly targeted against Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

On Sunday, Mr Sharon went further and authorised the assassination of Hamas's spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a man who was, until a few months ago, thought to be untouchable. Yesterday, he was blown to bits by a guided missile as his bodyguards pushed his wheelchair to the local mosque for early morning prayers.

The assassination further reinforces the view of Mr Sharon's critics that he has written off the internationally backed peace process. Instead he is pursuing parallel strategies of making war on "the terrorists" while unilaterally imposing a po litical solution on Israel's terms in consultation with the Americans but not the Palestinians.

"This assassination crossed a red line," said Ali Jarbawi, a political analyst at Bir Zeit university. "Sharon doesn't want negotiations, he wants a managed conflict because it justifies his strategy of unilateral disengagement on his terms. Killing Yassin ensures that the conflict goes on. It also weakens the Palestinian Authority because it looks impotent and unable to protect its citizens in the eyes of the Palestinian population." . . .

With two of Hamas top three leaders now dead, the way appears to be open to the most confrontational of the group to take power. Abed al Aziz Rantisi has argued strongly against a political settlement and in favour of attacks on Israelis in the occupied territories and on Israeli soil. Yesterday, Mr Rantisi called Sheikh Yassin the best known "symbol" for Palestinians all over the world. "He never compromised a single inch of Palestinian land, he never compromised the holy places," he said. "They want to kill the right of return, they want to kill our rights in Palestine, they want to kill our holy places and to all of that we say the war now is open."

One senior Hamas figure, Siad Syam, said there will be no automatic succession. "This is a movement which has an internal process just as the reaction to the assassination of Sheikh Yassin will be decided by the [armed] brigades," he said.

"America Denies It Knew of Attack" -- Suzanne Goldenberg in The Guardian, 3/23/04:

America belatedly acknowledged the potential fallout from the Israeli missile strike that killed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin yesterday, only criticising the assassination hours after branding the Hamas leader a "terrorist".

The abrupt reversal in Washington's response to the most devastating strike on the Palestinian leadership in years was a stark illustration of the divisions within the Bush administration on Middle East policy.

The criticism came amid growing realisation that the assassination could have potentially catastrophic consequences for America in Iraq, as well as on its war on terror. Both Hamas and an offshoot of al-Qaida, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade, threatened vengeance against America yesterday.

"You can say that the United States is deeply concerned about, deeply troubled, by this morning's actions; that the event in our view increases tension and doesn't help our efforts to resume progress towards peace," the state department spokesman, Richard Boucher, told a briefing.

His comments represented a complete reversal of statements from the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and the White House spokesman, Scott McLellan, that pointedly avoided any criticism of Israel's action.

"Let's remember that Hamas is a terrorist organisation and that Sheik Yassin has himself, personally, we believe, been involved in terrorist planning," Ms Rice told NBC television yesterday morning.

Hours later, however, officials were espousing an entirely different line. The change was widely believed to have been ordered at the behest of the secretary of state, Colin Powell, who argued that the assassination could put American citizens in jeopardy.

"Kay Implores US to Admit Mistakes in Iraq" -- Missy Ryan in The Boston Globe, 3/23/04:

CAMBRIDGE -- The former chief US weapons inspector in Iraq warned yesterday that the United States is in "grave danger" of destroying its credibility at home and abroad if it does not own up to its mistakes in Iraq.

"The cost of our mistakes . . . with regard to the explanation of why we went to war in Iraq are far greater than Iraq itself," David Kay said in a speech at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

"We are in grave danger of having destroyed our credibility internationally and domestically with regard to warning about future events," he said. "The answer is to admit you were wrong, and what I find most disturbing around Washington . . . is the belief . . . you can never admit you're wrong."

Kay's comments came as the White House sought to fend off accusations from its former antiterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, who said President Bush ignored the Al Qaeda threat before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and focused on Iraq, rather than on the Islamic militant group, afterward. . . .

He cautioned the intelligence community against jumping to conclusions, as it did in Iraq. "One of the most dangerous things abroad in the world of intelligence today actually came out of 9/11 . . . the insistence of `Why didn't you connect the dots?' The dots were all there," he said.

"When we finally do the sums on Iraq, what will turn out is that we simply didn't know what was going on, but we connected the dots -- the dots from 1991 behavior were connected with 2000 behavior and 2003 behavior, and it became an explanation and a picture of Iraq that simply didn't exist," Kay said.

"Vietnam on the GOP Scrap Heap" -- Geraldine Sealey in salon.com's War Room 2004 weblog, 3/24/04:

You might have missed this comment on Tuesday from Bush-Cheney '04's Terry Holt, speaking about Democratic candidate John Kerry, his Vietnam War service, and his nearly two decades in the U.S. Senate: "John Kerry's campaign seems to be summed up this way: I went to Vietnam, yadda, yadda, yadda, I want to be president."

Kerry's spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, asking for an apology from Holt, retorted: "George Bush's campaign can be summed up this way: 'I lost three million jobs, turned record surpluses into record deficits, denied affordable health care and prescription drug coverage to most Americans, yadda, yadda, yadda, four more years.'"

All the fun Seinfeld references aside, Holt's comment is quite telling and reveals the about-face Republicans have taken in less than a generation on Vietnam. Billmon has a post worth reading about how Holt's quote was "a kind of political Freudian slip, so to speak. Because it revealed the degree to which the Republicans no longer feel it necessary to pander to (or even show much respect for) those who served in Vietnam."

9/11 Commission website

Transcript of the 9/11 Commission Hearings on March 24 in The Washington Post, 3/24/04

"Clarke Stays Cool as Partisanship Heats Up" -- Dana Milbank in The Washington Post, 3/25/04:

If the critique presented by Clarke, who left the Bush White House after two years, is to be accepted, a key rationale for Bush's reelection has been lost. In Clarke's view, the Bush administration ignored his pleas to make terrorism a high priority before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, reacted inadequately to the attacks and then strengthened terrorists by persistently pursuing war in Iraq. Bush aides are not about to let that version stand.

Shortly before the hearing, the White House violated its long-standing rules by authorizing Fox News to air remarks favorable to Bush that Clarke had made anonymously at an administration briefing in 2002. The White House press secretary read passages from the 2002 remarks at his televised briefing, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who has declined to give public testimony to the commission, called reporters into her office to highlight the discrepancy. "There are two very different stories here," she said. "These stories can't be reconciled."

Back at the hearing, former Illinois governor James R. Thompson, a Republican member of the commission, took up the cause, waving the Fox News transcript with one hand and Clarke's critical book in the other. "Which is true?" Thompson demanded, folding his arms and glowering down at the witness.

Clarke, appearing unfazed by the apparent contradiction between his current criticism and previous praise, spoke to Thompson as if addressing a slow student.

"I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done," he explained. "I've done it for several presidents."

With each effort by Thompson to highlight Clarke's inconsistency -- "the policy on Uzbekistan, was it changed?" -- Clarke tutored the commissioner about the obligations of a White House aide. Thompson, who had far exceeded his allotted time, frowned contemptuously. "I think a lot of things beyond the tenor and the tone bother me about this," he said. During a second round of questioning, Thompson returned to the subject, questioning Clarke's "standard of candor and morality."

"I don't think it's a question of morality at all; I think it's a question of politics," Clarke snapped.

Thompson had to wait for Sept. 11, 2001, victims' relatives in the gallery to stop applauding before he pleaded ignorance of the ways of Washington. "I'm from the Midwest, so I think I'll leave it there," he said. Moments later, Thompson left the hearing room and did not return.

It was a masterful bit of showmanship by the former bureaucrat who became a household name in the past week with his charges about Bush. Though more prominent personalities testified in the commission's two-day public hearings, the longtime foreign policy bureaucrat stole the show.

With two dozen cameras recording his every twitch, Clarke disarmed the crowd by starting with an apology to those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001. "Your government failed you," he said. "Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you."

"Bush's War -- against Richard Clarke" -- Sidney Blumenthal at salon.com, 3/25/04:

One of the first official acts of the incoming Bush administration in January 2001 was to demote the office of national coordinator for counterterrorism on the National Security Council, a position held by Richard A. Clarke. Clarke had served in the Pentagon and State Department under Presidents Reagan and elder Bush, and was the first person to hold the counterterrorism job created by President Clinton. Under Clinton, signifying the importance the president attached to the issue, Clarke was elevated to Cabinet rank, which gave him a seat at the Principals Meeting, the decision-making group of the highest figures involved in national security. By demoting the office, Bush and his team sent a signal through the national security bureaucracy about the salience they assigned to terrorism -- below issues they regarded as truly serious, like Star Wars and the military threat of China. By removing Clarke from the table, the Bush administration put him in a box where he could only speak when spoken to. No longer would his memos go to the president; instead they had to pass though a chain of command of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley, who bounced every one of them back.

Terrorism was a Clinton issue, "soft" and obscure, having something to do with "globalization," and other "soft" issues like global warming and global diseases (openly ridiculed in the Republican Party platform). "In January 2001, the new administration really thought Clinton's recommendation that eliminating al-Qaida be one of their highest priorities, well, rather odd, like so many of the Clinton administration's actions, from their perspective," writes Clarke in his new book, "Against All Enemies." The Clinton team's repeated briefings on terrorism during the transition were like water off a duck's back. When Clarke first met with Rice and immediately raised the question of dealing with al-Qaida, she "gave me the impression she had never heard the term before."

The controversy raging around Clarke's book -- and his testimony before the 9/11 commission that Bush ignored warnings about terrorism that might have prevented the attacks -- revolves around his singularly unimpeachable credibility. In response, the Bush administration has launched a full-scale offensive against him: impugning his personal motives, claiming he is a disappointed job-hunter, that he is publicity mad, a political partisan (Clarke, in fact, voted for Republican Sen. John McCain for president in the Republican primaries in 2000) -- as well as ignorant, irrelevant and a liar.

Richard Clarke had a reputation in the Clinton White House of being brusque, driven, yet preternaturally calm, and single-minded. He was a consummate professional and expert who was a master of the bureaucracy. He didn't suffer fools gladly. He stood up to superiors and didn't care whom he alienated. His flaw was his indispensable virtue: He was always direct and candid in telling the unvarnished truth. . . .

At the April 2001 Deputies Committee meeting on al-Qaida forced by an insistent Clarke, the threat was "belittled" by the neoconservative Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who was "spouting" a "totally discredited" theory about Iraqi terrorism being behind the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. "Well, I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden," said Wolfowitz. At the only Principals Meeting that took up terrorism as a result of Clarke's drumbeat, the use of the unmanned Predator drone over Afghanistan was shelved. Rice helped push terrorism off the agenda by sending it to the purgatory of re-study, a classic bureaucratic method of shunting a troublesome question aside.

Rice now claims that "we were at battle stations." But Bush is quoted by Bob Woodward in "Bush at War" saying that before 9/11, "I was not on point ... I didn't feel that sense of urgency." Cheney alleges that Clarke was "out of the loop." But if he was, then the administration was either running a rogue operation or doing nothing, as Clarke testifies. Was the Bush administration engaged in an undercover, off-the-boards operation apart from the president's designated special assistant? Cheney's charge leads to absurdity.

Bush himself plaintively protests now: "And had my administration had any information that terrorists were going to attack New York City on 9/11, we would have acted." But he had plenty of information. Former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, the only member of the 9/11 commission to read the President's Daily Brief, revealed in the hearings that the documents "would set your hair on fire" and that the intelligence warnings of al-Qaida attacks "plateaued at a spike level for months" before 9/11. Bush, meanwhile, is fighting public release of these PDBs, which would show whether he had marked them up and demanded action.

"Richard Clarke Terrorizes the White House" -- interview with Richard Clarke by Joe Conason at salon.com, 3/25/04:

Clarke, an expert on surprise attacks, is not shocked by the ferocity of the White House response. During an interview with Salon on Tuesday, on the eve of his scheduled public testimony before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission), Clarke blasted Cheney as an "attack dog" and described the administration's attacks on his credibility as another example of the "big lie" strategy it has pursued since winning the White House. While he is critical of all four of the presidents he served, Clarke draws sharp contrasts between the records of the Clinton and Bush administrations. He compares Clinton's understanding of terrorism as the most significant threat to U.S. and international security and his efforts to combat it to the neglect and illusions of Bush.

You said on "60 Minutes" that you expected "their dogs" to be set on you when your book was published, but did you think that the attacks would be so personal?

Oh yeah, absolutely, for two reasons. For one, the Bush White House assumes that everyone who works for them is part of a personal loyalty network, rather than part of the government. And that their first loyalty is to Bush rather than to the people. When you cross that line or violate that trust, they get very upset. That's the first reason. But the second reason is that I think they're trying to bait me -- and people who agree with me -- into talking about all the trivial little things that they are raising, rather than talking about the big issues in the book.

Why did you write the book now? That's a question they raise. Did it occur to you that this would be an election year and it would be especially controversial because of that, and that these commission hearings were coming up?

I wanted the book to come out much earlier, but the White House has a policy of reviewing the text of all books written by former White House personnel -- to review them for security reasons. And they actually took a very long time to do that. This book could have come out much earlier. It's the White House that decided when it would be published, not me. I turned it in toward the end of last year, and even though there was nothing in it that was not already obviously unclassified, they took a very, very long time.

Were you seeking to make a political impact, in the way that the White House spokesmen have accused you of trying to do?

I was seeking to create a debate about how we should have, in the past, and how we should, in the future, deal with the war on terrorism. When they say it's an election year, and therefore you're creating not just a debate but a political debate, what are they suggesting? That I should have waited until November to publish it, waited until after the election? I don't see why we have to delay that debate, just because there's an election.

Vice President Cheney told Rush Limbaugh that you were not "in the loop," and that you're angry because you were passed over by Condi Rice for greater authority. And in fact you were dropped from Cabinet-level position to something less than that. How do you respond to what the Vice President said?

The vice president is becoming an attack dog, on a personal level, which should be beneath him but evidently is not.

I was in the same meetings that Dick Cheney was in, during the days after 9/11. Condi Rice and Dick Cheney appointed me as co-chairman of the interagency committee called the "Campaign Committee" -- the "campaign" being the war on terrorism. So I was co-chairing the interagency process to fight the war on terrorism after 9/11. I don't think I was "out of the loop."

The vice president commented that there was "no great success in dealing with terrorists" during the 1990s, when you were serving under President Clinton. He asked, "What were they doing?"

It's possible that the vice president has spent so little time studying the terrorist phenomenon that he doesn't know about the successes in the 1990s. There were many. The Clinton administration stopped Iraqi terrorism against the United States, through military intervention. It stopped Iranian terrorism against the United States, through covert action. It stopped the al-Qaida attempt to have a dominant influence in Bosnia. It stopped the terrorist attacks at the millennium. It stopped many other terrorist attacks, including on the U.S. embassy in Albania. And it began a lethal covert action program against al-Qaida; it also launched military strikes against al-Qaida. Maybe the vice president was so busy running Halliburton at the time that he didn't notice.

Did Cheney ever ask you a question of that kind when you were in the White House with him?

No.

Why did they keep you on, if they were so uninterested in what you were focused on? And then why did they downgrade your position?

They said, in so many words, at the time, that they didn't have anyone in their Republican coterie of people that came in with Bush, who had an expertise in this [counterterrorism] area [and] who wanted the job. And they actually said they found the job a little strange -- since it wasn't there when they had been in power before.

Dr. Rice said that.

Yes, Dr. Rice said that. And the first thing they asked was for me to look at taking some of the responsibilities, with regard to domestic security and cyber-security, and spinning them off so that they were no longer part of the National Security Council.

Why do you think Cheney -- and the Bush administration in general -- ignored the warnings that were put to them by [former national security advisor] Sandy Berger, by you, by George Tenet, who is apparently somebody they hold in great esteem?

They had a preconceived set of national security priorities: Star Wars, Iraq, Russia. And they were not going to change those preconceived notions based on people from the Clinton administration telling them that was the wrong set of priorities. They also looked at the statistics and saw that during eight years of the Clinton administration, al-Qaida killed fewer than 50 Americans. And that's relatively few, compared to the 300 dead during the Reagan administration at the hands of terrorists in Beirut -- and by the way, there was no military retaliation for that from Reagan. It was relatively few compared to the 259 dead on Pan Am 103 in the first Bush administration, and there was no military retaliation for that. So looking at the low number of American fatalities at the hands of al-Qaida, they might have thought that it wasn't a big threat.

Dr. Rice now says that your plans to "roll back" al-Qaida were not aggressive enough for the Bush administration. How do you answer that, in light of what we know about what they did and didn't do?

I just think it's funny that they can engage in this sort of "big lie" approach to things. The plan that they adopted after Sept. 11 was the plan that I had proposed in January [2001}. If my plan wasn't aggressive enough, I suppose theirs wasn't either. . . .

Did you have access to the president's daily briefings?

On a daily basis, no; I did see some of them. There was never any system in place that worked to get them to me every day.

Did you see the PDB for Aug. 6, 2001 [which reportedly contained references to an impending attack by al-Qaida]?

I really can't recall it. I think its importance has been overblown. What happens in the presidential daily briefing is that the president asks questions of the briefer, which is usually Tenet on Monday through Friday. And the briefer then takes notes of the questions and goes back to CIA to get papers written to respond to the questions.

In response to the drumbeat day after day of intelligence that there was going to be an al-Qaida attack, the president apparently said, "Tell me what al-Qaida could do." And in response to that the CIA went off and wrote a paper that listed everything possible that al-Qaida could do. It didn't say we have intelligence that tells us the attack will be here or there, the attack method will be this or that. It was rather a laundry list of possible things they could do.

"Condoleeza Rice's Bad Week" -- Martin Sieff at salon.com, 3/25/04:

The furor over Clarke's explosive new book, "Against All Enemies," about Bush administration incompetence and irresponsibility before and after 9/11, has so embarrassed and alarmed Rice that Monday she took the almost unprecedented step of responding to criticism publicly with a signed article on the Op-Ed page of the Post.

The article is a masterly example of evasion, answering accusations that have not been made and neatly avoiding troubling ones that have. Rice was briefly allowed to enjoy the perception that she had answered criticisms, even though she had not. But within two days, a claim she made in the Op-Ed was disputed head on.

For on Wednesday, commissioner Jamie Gorelick, the former deputy attorney general, asked Clarke, "When Dr. Rice writes in the Washington Post, 'No al-Qaida plan was turned over to the new administration [by the Clinton team when it left office],' is that true?"

Clarke again replied with a devastating single-word answer. This time it was: "No."

And he had the chapter and verse to prove it.

"I think what is true is what your staff found by going through the documents ... Early in the administration, within days of the Bush administration coming into office, we gave them two documents ... In fact, I briefed Dr. Rice on this even before they came into office," he told the commission.

In her article, Rice further claimed that through the summer of 2001 "increasing intelligence chatter" focused almost exclusively on potential attacks overseas. But this presumably was only true of National Security Agency intercepts. She acknowledges that U.S. officials realized that the potential for some kind of imminent airline hijacking operation was very real. She admits in the same article that the Federal Aviation Authority "even issued a warning to airlines and aviation personnel that 'the potential for a terrorist operation such as an airline hijacking to free terrorists incarcerated in the United States remains a concern.'"

"Is Bush Unhinged?" -- Robert Higgs for The Independent Institute (independent.org), 3/25/04:

?The war on terror,? he insists, ?is not a figure of speech.? Well, I beg your pardon, Mr. President, but that is precisely what it is. How can one go to war against ?terror,? which is a state of mind? Even if the president were to take more care with his language and to speak instead of a ?war on terrorism,? the phrase still could not be anything more than a metaphor, because terrorism is a form of action available to virtually any determined adult anywhere anytime. War on terrorism, too, can be only a figure of speech. War, if it is anything, is the marshalling of armed forces against somebody, not against a state of mind or a form of action. Wars are fought between groups of persons. We might argue about whether the United States can wage war only against another nation state, as opposed to an indefinitely large number of individuals committed to fanatical Islamism who in various workaday guises are living in scores of different countries. The expression ?war on certain criminals and conspirators of criminal acts? would fit the present case better and would entail far more sensible thinking about the proper way to deal with such persons. The idea of war, obviously, calls to mind too readily the serviceability of the armed forces. Hence the application of such forces to the conquest of Iraq in the name of ?bringing the terrorists to justice,? although that conquest was actually nothing but a hugely destructive, immensely expensive diversion from genuine efforts to allay the threat posed by the Islamist maniacs who compose al Qaeda and similar groups. ?These killers will be tracked down and found, they will face their day of justice,? the president declares, speaking as always as if only a fixed number of such killers exist, rather than a vast reservoir of actual and potential recruits that is only augmented and revitalized by actions such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It would be a boon to humanity if the president could be brought to understand the distinction between waging war and establishing justice. Whatever our understanding of the president?s ?war on terror? might be, however, he definitely parts company with reality when he states, ?There is no neutral ground?no neutral ground?in the fight between civilization and terror, because there is no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death.? Of course, this Manichean pronouncement echoes the administration?s previous declaration that everybody on earth is either with us or against us?and if they know what?s good for them, they?ll fall into line with our wishes. Aside from the undeniable fact that some nations simply prefer, as did the Spanish people (as opposed to the Aznar government), to avoid the blowback of U.S. interventions around the world, the president?s insistence on equating U.S. policy with good, freedom, and life and all alternative policies with evil, slavery, and death represents the sort of childish bifurcation one expects to find expressed by a member of a youth gang, not by the leader of the world?s most powerful government. To raise but a single example, though a highly relevant one in this context, can any dispassionate person argue that the U.S. position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is entirely good, whereas every alternative position is entirely evil?

"Who Is to Blame for Lost Jobs?" -- Lee Sustar at counterpunch.com, 3/25/04:

International solidarity is the only way workers can avoid being pitted against one another in trade wars between governments. The international labor opposition to the World Trade Organization and the Free Trade Area of the Americas show the potential for such a strategy.

If union leaders are serious about defending jobs, they have to break with the tradition of partnership with employers. For example, steelworkers could demand that the government to purchase steel for the reconstruction of run-down public schools and inner cities--or the nationalization of the steel industry.

Unions not only need to take a stand against concessions but demand that workers' higher productivity be used to support shorter hours for full pay in order to increase the number of jobs. The bosses can certainly afford it--profits as a share of national income are at an all-time high.

Rising health care costs--cited by employers as a reason to hold down hiring--can be brought under control with a national health care insurance system. Workers in factories slated for closure could take inspiration from the sit-down strikes that built the unions in the 1930s, and occupy their plants to fight for their demands. Organized labor can demand a real jobs program of public works--not the Clinton "workfare" that forces welfare recipients to take jobs for sub-minimum wages, but long-term employment.

All this will be dismissed as "unrealistic" by union officials--as if pinning labor's hopes on a free-trader like Kerry is rational. It should be recalled that it was "unrealistic" to build unions during the mass unemployment of the 1930s as well. The fight for jobs will remain an issue beyond the 2004 elections. It's time to develop a realistic strategy--one that centers on fighting back.

"Elvis and bin Laden" -- John Quiggen at crookedtimber.org, 3/25/04:

The most widely reported opinion poll in Australia is the Newspoll, which provides results for Rupert Murdoch's News Limited papers (he has about half the Australian market). There was widespread discussion recently about a Newspoll showing that 65 per cent of people thought the war in Iraq had increased the danger of a terrorist attack in Australia.

However, the really striking result was ignored. This concerned the proportion of people who accepted the claim, made repeatedly by the government here, that the invasion of Iraq substantially reduced the danger of terrorist attack. Only 1 per cent of respondents said that the invasion had made a terrorist attack "less likely". The view that the war made an attack "a lot less likely" got an asterisk (less than 0.5 per cent). You can read the details here (PDF file).

This is substantially less than the proportion of people who are reported (in other surveys) to believe that Elvis is alive or that aliens are controlling government policy. In fact, by coincidence, another story a couple of days later reported an opinion poll for a mayoral election in which an Elvis "tribute artist" has 8 per cent support.

I don't think I've ever seen an opinion poll in which the position of the government on a central issue of foreign policy is supported by a fraction of the population too small to be reported.

"Leaders of G.O.P. Try to Discredit a Critic of Bush" -- Carl Hulse and Philip Shenon in The New York Times, 3/26/04:

WASHINGTON, March 26 -- Republican Congressional leaders said Friday that they would seek to declassify past Congressional testimony from Richard A. Clarke, President Bush's former counterterrorism chief, in an effort to demonstrate that the former aide had lied this week about Mr. Bush's record.

The move on Capitol Hill signaled a new intensity in the campaign by the Bush administration and its Republican allies to undermine the credibility of Mr. Clarke, who served under several administrations.

"Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories," Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, said on the Senate floor as he condemned Mr. Clarke for accusing the Bush administration in a new book of largely ignoring the threat of Qaeda attacks before Sept. 11. Mr. Clarke repeated his charge in testimony this week before the independent commission investigating the attacks.

Yet in testimony before the 2002 joint Congressional inquiry into the attacks, Dr. Frist said, Mr. Clarke had been "effusive" in praising the administration's actions. Democrats on that earlier panel said they saw no inconsistency between Mr. Clarke's two sets of remarks.

Mr. Clarke, the former National Security Council aide, received support on Friday from an unlikely source ? Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. In a television interview, Mr. Powell said that Mr. Clarke had "served his nation very, very well" and was "an expert in these matters," referring to counterterrorism.

While saying that Mr. Clarke's book is "not the complete story," Mr. Powell said on the PBS program "NewsHour" he was "not attributing any bad motives" to Mr. Clarke.

"I'm not aware of a campaign against Mr. Clarke, and I am not a member," Mr. Powell said. "The book is the book, and you can read it and make your own judgment as to whether it's accurate."

Dr. Frist and other Republican Congressional leaders said their decision to seek declassification had not been coordinated with the White House. And it could put the White House in a potentially awkward spot since it is the administration that decides on declassification.

Officials said that the decision on whether and when to declassify the testimony would be made at the White House after consultations with the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon about the national security implications. A White House spokesman, Sean McCormack, said that "to my knowledge there was no coordination between Congressional Republicans and the White House on the request for the declassification of the documents."

A move to declassify the testimony would sharply contrast with the administration's insistence that parts of the final report of the Congressional Sept. 11 investigation remain secret. Hundreds of pages of that report have never been made public. . . .

Dr. Frist did not act alone. Representative J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the House speaker who had warned that the commission's work could become a "political football" in the middle of the presidential campaign, said on Friday he had joined the request to declassify Mr. Clarke's earlier testimony.

"We need to lean forward in making as much information available to the public as possible, without compromising the national security interests of the nation," Mr. Hastert said in a statement.

Congressional Democrats who were involved in the joint committee's investigation said their recollection of Mr. Clarke's testimony was entirely different, and that they knew of no contradiction between what Mr. Clarke said then and what he was saying now.

Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who was a co-chairman of the inquiry, said Friday that "to the best of my recollection, there is nothing inconsistent or contradictory in that testimony and what Mr. Clarke has said this week."

A senior Democratic Congressional aide said Democratic staff members from both the Senate and House intelligence committees reread Mr. Clarke's 2002 testimony on Friday and that they believed he had been "fully consistent" in his views.

Mr. Graham said he supported the request to declassify Mr. Clarke's testimony. But he said it should be released in its entirety and that the White House should declassify other documents integral to Mr. Clarke's testimony, including his January 2001 plan for action against Al Qaeda. Mr. Graham has also sought to release 27 pages of the report examining the involvement of foreign nations in support of the 19 hijackers.

"Text: Frist's Comments on Clarke's Testimony" -- New York Times, 3/26/04:

Following is prepared text of statements by Senator Bill Frist in response to allegations by Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism chief who has accused the Bush administration of not heeding warnings before Sept. 11.

There has been much fulminating in the media and by some Senators on the other side about a new book by a former State Department civil servant named Richard Clarke. In this book, released for sale by the parent company of the CBS network, Mr. Clarke makes the outrageous charge that the Bush Administration, in its first seven months in office, failed to adequately address the threat posed by Osama bin Laden.

I am troubled by these charges. I am equally troubled that someone would sell a book, trading on their former service as a government insider with access to our nation s most valuable intelligence, in order to profit from the suffering that this nation endured on September 11, 2001. I am troubled that Senators on the other side are so quick to accept such claims. I am troubled that Mr. Clarke has a hard time keeping his own story straight.

I do not know Mr. Clarke, although I take it from press accounts that he has been involved in the fight against terrorism for the past decade. As 9-11 demonstrates, that decade was a period of growing peril, and unanswered attack, against the United States.

It is awesomely self-serving for Mr. Clarke to assert that the United States could have stopped terrorism if only the three President's he served had better listened to his advice.

In fact, when Mr. Clarke was reportedly at the height of his influence as terrorism czar in the Clinton Administration, the United States saw the first attack on the World Trade Center, the attack on a U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia, the attack on two U.S. embassies in Africa, the attack on the USS Cole, and the planning and implementation for the 9-11 attack. The only common denominator throughout these 10 years of unanswered attacks was Mr. Clarke himself, a consideration that is clearly driving his effort to point fingers and shift blame.

While the reasons may be open to debate, the previous Administration's response to repeated attacks by al Qaeda was clearly inadequate -- a few cruise missiles lobbed at questionable targets. Al Qaeda could only have been encouraged by their record of success and the absence of a serious or sustained response from the United States.

After 10 years of policies that failed to decisively confront and eliminate the threat from al Qaeda, Mr. Clarke now suggests that in its first seven months in office the Bush Administration is to blame. That sounds like finger pointing and blame shifting to me.

But this has not always been Mr. Clarke's view of the events leading up to September 11. This week a transcript was released of a press interview Mr. Clarke gave in August of 2002. I will submit for the record the full transcript, but let me just cite a portion of this interview reviewing in glowing terms the policies of the Bush Administration in fighting terrorism:

RICHARD CLARKE: Actually, I've got about seven points, let me just go through them quickly. Um, the first point, I think the overall point is, there was no plan on Al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration.

Second point is that the Clinton administration had a strategy in place, effectively dating from 1998. And there were a number of issues on the table since 1998. And they remained on the table when that administration went out of office issues like aiding the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, changing our Pakistan policy -- uh, changing our policy toward Uzbekistan. And in January 2001, the incoming Bush administration was briefed on the existing strategy. They were also briefed on these series of issues that had not been decided on in a couple of years.

And the third point is the Bush administration decided then, you know, mid-January, to do two things. One, vigorously pursue the existing policy, including all of the lethal covert action findings, which we've now made public to some extent.

And the point is, while this big review was going on, there were still in effect, the lethal findings were still in effect. The second thing the administration decided to do is to initiate a process to look at those issues which had been on the table for a couple of years and get them decided.

So, point five, that process which was initiated in the first week in February, uh, decided in principle, uh in the spring to add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after Al Qaeda.

The sixth point, the newly-appointed deputies and you had to remember, the deputies didn't get into office until late March, early April. The deputies then tasked the development of the implementation details, uh, of these new decisions that they were endorsing, and sending out to the principals.

Over the course of the summer last point they developed implementation details, the principals met at the end of the summer, approved them in their first meeting, changed the strategy by authorizing the increase in funding five-fold, changing the policy on Pakistan, changing the policy on Uzbekistan, changing the policy on the Northern Alliance assistance.

And then changed the strategy from one of rollback with Al Qaeda over the course [of] five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al Qaeda. That is in fact the time line&

QUESTION: You're saying that the Bush administration did not stop anything that the Clinton administration was doing while it was making these decisions, and by the end of the summer had increased money for covert action five-fold. Is that correct?

CLARKE: All of that's correct.

Mr. President, apparently this is not the only account in which Mr. Clarke changes his story. In lengthy testimony before the Congressional joint inquiry that reviewed the events surrounding the September 11 attacks, Mr. Clarke is equally effusive in his praise for the actions of the Bush Administration. It is my hope that we will be able to get that testimony declassified so all Senators may review it and discuss it as well.

Mr. President, I do not know if Mr. Clarke's motive for theses charges is partisan gain, personal profit, self promotion, or animus because of his failure to win a promotion in the Bush Administration. But the one thing that his motive could not possibly be is to bring clarity to the issue of how we avoid future September 11 attacks.

Mr. President, in sum, there are five points that I find absolutely inexplicable about Mr. Clarke's performance this past week.

First, in an email to the National Security Advisor four days after the September 11 attacks, Mr. Clarke expressed alarm that when the era of national unity begins to crack , an effort to assign responsibility for the 9-11 attacks will begin. In that email Mr. Clarke proceeds to lay out in detail a defense of his own actions before the attack, and those of the entire Administration.

Mr. Clarke was clearly consumed by the desire to dodge any blame for the 9-11 attacks while at that same moment rescuers were still searching the rubble of the World Trade Center for survivors. In my mind this offers perfect insight as to what drove him to write his book.

Second, in the August of 2002 interview I just referred to, Mr. Clarke gave a thorough account of the Bush Administration s active policy against al Qaeda. Mr. Clarke now explains away that media performance by suggesting that he was simply telling lies in an interview as a loyal Administration official.

A loyal Administration official? Does Mr. Clarke understand the gravity of the issues being reviewed by the 9-11 Commission and the gravity of the charges he has made? If, in the summer of 2001, he saw the threat from al Qaeda as grave as he now says it was, and if he found the response of the Administration as inadequate as he now says it was, why did he wait until the Sunday, March 21, 2004 to make his concerns known?

There is not a single public record of Mr. Clarke making any objection whatsoever in the period leading up to or following the 9-11 attacks. No threat to resign. No public protest. No plea to the President, the Congress, or the public, to heed the advice he now says was ignored. Mr. President, if Mr. Clarke held his tongue because he was loyal , then shame on him for putting politics above principle. But if he has manufactured these charges for profit and political gain, he is a shame to this government.

I myself have fortunately not had the opportunity to work with such an individual who could write solicitous and self-defending emails to his supervisor, the National Security Advisor, and then by his own admission lie to the press out of a self conceived notion of loyalty only to reverse himself on all accounts for the sale of a book.

Third, Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath. In July 2002, in front of the Congressional Joint Inquiry on the September 11 attacks, Mr. Clarke testified under oath that the Administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al Qaeda during its first seven months in office.

Mr. President, it is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media. But if he lied under oath to the United States Congress it is a far more serious matter. As I mentioned, the intelligence committee is seeking to have Mr. Clarke's previous testimony declassified so as to permit an examination of Mr. Clarke's two different accounts. Loyalty to any Administration will be no defense if it is found that he has lied before Congress.

Fourth, notwithstanding Mr. Clarke's efforts to use his book first and foremost to shift blame and attention from himself, it is also clear that Mr. Clarke and his publishers adjusted the release date of his book in order to make maximum gain from the publicity around the 9-11 hearings. Assuming the controversy around this series of events does in fact drive the sales of his book, Mr. Clarke will make quite a bit of money for his efforts.

I find this to be an appalling act of profiteering, trading on his insider access to highly classified information and capitalizing upon the tragedy that befell this nation on September 11, 2001. Mr. Clarke must renounce any plan to personally profit from this book.

Finally, It is understandable why some of the families who lost loved ones in the 9-11 attacks find Mr. Clarke's performance appealing. Simple answers to a terrible tragedy; to the very human desire to find an answer why; why on that beautiful fall day two and one half years ago a series of events happened that shattered their lives forever.

In his appearance before the 9-11 Commission, Mr. Clarke's theatrical apology on behalf of the nation was not his right, his privilege or his responsibility. In my view it was not an act of humility, but an act of supreme arrogance and manipulation. Mr Clarke can and will answer for his own conduct but that is all.

Regardless of Mr. Clarke's motive or what he says or implies in his new book, the fact remains that this terrible attack was not caused by the United States Government. No Administration was responsible for the attack. Our nation did not invite the attack.

The attack on 9-11 was the evil design of a determined and hate-filled few who slipped through the defenses of a nation that treasures its freedoms; its openness; its convenience. That our defenses failed is cause enough to review the sequence of events leading up to that awful day. We must understand how to do better -- balancing our determination to protect the Nation with equal resolve to protect our liberties.

Mr. President, the answer to Mr. Clarke's self serving charges is that in fact we all bear that responsibility. Every one of us who served in government efore and at the time of the 9-11 attacks also has the responsibility to do our best to avoid any such tragedy in the future. If we are to learn lasting lessons from the examination of the 9-11 attacks, it must be toward this end, not an exercise in finger pointing, blame shifting or political score settling.

"White House, 4/01: Focus on Bin Laden 'A Mistake'" -- misleader.org, 3/26/04:

A previously forgotten report from April 2001 (four months before 9/11) shows that the Bush Administration officially declared it "a mistake" to focus "so much energy on Osama bin Laden." The report directly contradicts the White House's continued assertion that fighting terrorism was its "top priority" before the 9/11 attacks1.

Specifically, on April 30, 2001, CNN reported that the Bush Administration's release of the government's annual terrorism report contained a serious change: "there was no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden" as there had been in previous years. When asked why the Administration had reduced the focus, "a senior Bush State Department official told CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden."2.

The move to downgrade the fight against Al Qaeda before 9/11 was not the only instance where the Administration ignored repeated warnings that an Al Qaeda attack was imminent3. Specifically, the Associated Press reported in 2002 that "President Bush's national security leadership met formally nearly 100 times in the months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks yet terrorism was the topic during only two of those sessions"4. Meanwhile, Newsweek has reported that internal government documents show that the Bush Administration moved to "de-emphasize" counterterrorism prior to 9/115. When "FBI officials sought to add hundreds more counterintelligence agents" to deal with the problem, "they got shot down" by the White House.

Sources:

  1. Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, 03/22/2004.
  2. CNN, 04/30/2001.
  3. Bush Was Warned of Hijackings Before 9/11; Lawmakers Want Public Inquiry, ABC News, 05/16/2002.
  4. "Top security advisers met just twice on terrorism before Sept. 11 attacks", Detroit News, 07/01/2002.
  5. Freedom of Information Center, 05/27/2002.

"'We Should Have Had Orange or Red-Type of Alert in June or July of 2001'" -- Eric Boehlert at slate.com, 3/26/04:

A former FBI wiretap translator with top-secret security clearance, who has been called "very credible" by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has told Salon she recently testified to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that the FBI had detailed information prior to Sept. 11, 2001, that a terrorist attack involving airplanes was being plotted.

Referring to the Homeland Security Department's color-coded warnings instituted in the wake of 9/11, the former translator, Sibel Edmonds, told Salon, "We should have had orange or red-type of alert in June or July of 2001. There was that much information available." Edmonds is offended by the Bush White House claim that it lacked foreknowledge of the kind of attacks made by al-Qaida on 9/11. "Especially after reading National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice [Washington Post Op-Ed on March 22] where she said, we had no specific information whatsoever of domestic threat or that they might use airplanes. That's an outrageous lie. And documents can prove it's a lie." . . .

"President Bush said they had no specific information about Sept. 11, and that's accurate," says Edmonds. "But there was specific information about use of airplanes, that an attack was on the way two or three months beforehand and that several people were already in the country by May of 2001. They should've alerted the people to the threat we're facing."

Edmonds testified before 9/11 commission staffers in February for more than three hours, providing detailed information about FBI investigations, documents and dates. This week Edmonds attended the commission hearings and plans to return in April when FBI Director Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify. "I'm hoping the commission asks him real questions -- like, in April 2001, did an FBI field office receive legitimate information indicating the use of airplanes for an attack on major cities? And is it true that through an FBI informant, who'd been used [by the Bureau] for 10 years, did you get information about specific terrorist plans and specific cells in this country? He couldn't say no," she insists.

"John Kerry, International Man of Mystery?" -- Thomas Geoghegan at salon.com, 3/26/04:

[T]he problem is to reconstitute our alliance, which is in shambles, thanks to Bush. Yes, it's true, I'm a Democrat and inclined to think badly of him. But even I have difficulty grasping the scale of the damage to what used to be our alliance, to what should be our effort on terror.

First, he's metastasized al-Qaida. Thanks to Bush, it's now potentially everywhere. After 9/11, it would have been a great thing to track down bin Laden. Bring him to trial.

Decapitate al-Qaida. To most of us, including me, it still would be a great thing. But there's no longer much hope it can end al-Qaida. Cutting off that head now won't kill the body.

Why? Look at the polls. A recent Pew poll, surveying foreign opinion, comes as a shock. Suicide bombings in the U.S.? In Turkey, a NATO ally, 31 percent sympathize with the suicide bombers. With poll numbers like this, al-Qaida will live forever. A few years ago, we could have wiped it out.

Second, Bush has run a foreign policy that he thought would let us divide and conquer. Not our enemies: No, divide and conquer our own allies! We'd play off the Europeans. We'd have our favorites. We'd show them who's boss.

The result? Now al-Qaida can divide and conquer us. "Let's see, we'll target Spain." Is Britain next? Now al-Qaida can take advantage of the disunity Bush has sown. The terrorists are doing more regime changes than we are. And who let this happen? Bush.

Somehow a President Kerry has to stop this and restore the alliance. Here's how.

Since the Madrid bombing March 11, the Europeans have started to do what they have failed to do since the Treaty of Rome: seriously attempt to build up an EU security component. There is talk now of an EU "security council," even an EU CIA. Indeed, it now seems certain, with Spain's Prime Minister Aznar gone, there will be an EU constitution, based on some type of one person, one vote. (Spain and Poland had objected.)

Much better than an EU security council would be an EU prosecutor, and an EU court, to try terror cases. That, too, may come.

Even if it doesn't come, Kerry should make clear, in a dramatic, visible way, that he favors an EU-wide approach and dealing directly with the EU as much as possible. NATO is fine, of course, and we have to retain it. But if the EU acts, then every European country has cover.

It is not "Spain," or "Italy," or "Britain," Bush's poster children in the "coalition of the willing." Rather, it is the EU as a whole, the entire 340 million of them. Under Bush, we did not use NATO, even after it was offered for the war in Afghanistan, but a "coalition of the willing."

Indeed, we bragged about it: We don't need alliances anymore.

"Trust Clarke: He's Right about Bush" -- Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay in The Toronto Globe and Mail, 3/26/04:

Mr. Clarke was our boss when we served on the Clinton administration's National Security Council staff. We know him as a committed public servant, dedicated -- almost to the point of obsession -- to confronting terrorism. We don't doubt his rendition of events. They come from a man who has warned of impending doom --and argued for forceful preventive action -- for many years.

Our testimonial, of course, will not convince Bush partisans, let alone administration officials. They portray Mr. Clarke as an out-of-the loop bureaucrat with an axe to grind, a book to peddle and a close friendship with Rand Beers, Senator John Kerry's chief foreign-policy adviser.

That sour-grapes argument leaves unmentioned the fact that on Sept. 11, Ms. Rice asked Mr. Clarke to direct emergency-response efforts from the White House. It also glosses over the fact that Mr. Clarke was an ally of Vice-President Dick Cheney and deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, and favoured their call to march on Baghdad. Also left unmentioned is that Mr. Beers is himself a veteran of many administrations, and resigned his post as the senior counterterrorism official on the NSC staff in 2003 to protest what he saw as Mr. Bush's mishandling of the terrorist threat.

The vehemence with which administration officials have attacked Mr. Clarke's motives brings to mind the old lawyer's joke: When the facts are with you, pound the facts. When the facts are against you, pound the table.

Why are administration officials pounding the table so hard? Because confirmation of Mr. Clarke's basic accusations comes from none other than George W. Bush himself.

Take the charge that the Mr. Bush did not make fighting al-Qaeda a priority before Sept. 11. In late 2001, Mr. Bush told the journalist Bob Woodward that "there was a significant difference in my attitude after Sept. 11. I was not on point." Mr. Bush knew Osama bin Laden was a menace. "But I didn't feel the sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling."

Or take Mr. Clarke's charge that Mr. Bush immediately sought to link the attacks in New York and Washington to Iraq. According to the notes of national-security meetings that the White House gave Mr. Woodward so he could write his book, Bush at War, the President ended an early debate over how to respond to Sept. 11 by saying, "I believe Iraq was involved, but I'm not going to strike them now." At a later meeting, he linked Saddam Hussein to the attacks: "He was probably behind this in the end."

Those admissions highlight a broader, more troubling point that Mr. Clarke's accusations raise, which is that Mr. Bush does not understand the threat we confront. For Mr. Bush and his advisers it is not al-Qaeda that is the real danger so much as the states that supposedly support it. Thus, a Defence Department spokesman, responding to Mr. Clarke's claim that Mr. Wolfowitz did not take the al-Qaeda terrorist threat seriously, said Mr. Wolfowitz did see al-Qaeda "as a major threat to U.S. security, the more so because of the state support it received from the Taliban and because of its possible links to Iraq."

The assumption driving Mr. Bush's war on terrorism is that the United States can win by targeting rogue states and the tyrants who rule them. The war in Afghanistan was about ousting the Taliban and denying al-Qaeda a sanctuary; the Iraq war was about ousting Saddam.

That view of the terrorist threat is deeply flawed, quite apart from the dubious claims about ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Al-Qaeda is a transnational network of terrorists, less like a state than like a non-governmental organization or multinational corporation with multiple independent franchises. It thrives on an Islamist ideology, and extends its presence to the far reaches of the globe -- not just in rogue and failed states, but within the West as well. Its terrorists can strike -- whether in Bali, Casablanca, Riyadh, Istanbul, Madrid or New York and Washington -- without the direct support of states. That is what makes it so frightening.

Mr. Clarke's charges have stung the Bush administration not just because of the stature of the accuser, but because at their core, they say that more than two years after the worst terrorist attack in history, the President and his advisers still don't get what happened.

"Condoleeza Rice's Credibility Gap" -- Center for American Progress, 3/26/04:

"A point-by-point analysis of how one of America's top national security official has a severe problem with the truth."

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